Category Archives: NOVELS & NOVELLAS




Maddy rang Mrs. Saxby on Friday morning. She asked if she or Zena knew anyone fitting the description that Nicola Chamberlain had given.

“I can only think of Joss Saxby, brother of Peter, although I can’t remember about his age,” said Mrs. Saxby after thinking for a while, then said vaguely, “you’ll have to go and ask Saxby about his age,” she said.

“Okay, Mrs Saxby. Thanks.”

* * * *

Maddy considered: she needed to visit more estate agents, to visit Zena’s school and to visit Nigel in hospital. She needed to phone the papers to check if Julia Robinson had put an advert in the accommodation wanted columns. She also needed to visit Peter Saxby; she’d get the worst done first.

She was about to depart when the phone rang. She picked up the receiver and heard a voice she didn’t recognise. It was macho, gruff, sandpapery.

“Is that Maddy Quebric?”


“If you….want to know about Zena Saxby come to the top floor of the Haymarket Shopping Centre. The car park. I’ll tell you everything.”

“W-Who are you?”

“I’ll explain later. Just come to the Haymarket shopping centre at eleven o’clock.”

“How do I know it’s not a trick?”

“You don’t. Come alone and don’t tell anyone. I’ll tell you everything you want to know.”

The line was cut.

Maddy put down the receiver carefully.

* * * *

She looked at her watch. It was 9.15. She had plenty of time to get to Peter Saxby’s and also to get to the car park.

The car park? Was she going to go?

The third floor of a multi-story sounded ominous. His telephone voice hadn’t sounded very gentle either. Who did it belong to? She couldn’t place it.


Somehow she felt it was. She wouldn’t go. She’d go to Peter Saxby’s and follow her original itinery. But she was turning the invitation over again. Perhaps she was being over-cautious, maybe even letting someone in trouble down. A simple visit to the theatre car park to obtain all the answers she needed was very tempting.

She stood up still not quite sure what to do. Then she decided to postpone the decision until later. She’d tell her mum where she was going in case anything went wrong. She went through to the kitchen but found her mum had gone out. Probably over to the neighbour’s.

She scribbled a note on a blue pad with a blotchy ball point: ‘Gone to Peter Saxby’s, then probably to the Haymarket shopping centre car park. If I don’t telephone by twelve o’clock you must phone the police to come and find me, your ever-loving daughter, Maddy.’ She laid both pen and note on the kitchen working surface hoping that the note wouldn’t worry her mother too much. Maddy left by the front door and walked down Meadvale to the bus stop.

As the bus headed off to the city centre there were two things Maddy wasn’t aware of. The first was that her mother wouldn’t read the note until one o’clock and the second was that a man on a motor bike was following her.

* * * *

Unshaven and still wearing the same smelly clothes that Maddy had last seen him in, Peter Saxby stood at the door, his moist eyes begging silent questions.

“Hello again,” she said, “How are you today, Mr. Saxby?.”

“Oh aye.”

He was rather pathetic. She couldn’t understand why she’d been so frightened of him before.

“Have you got a fag?”

“I don’t smoke.”

“A clean livin’ lass, eh? Look, lend me a couple of quid for a day or two. I need some snout”

“Uh, listen, Mr. Saxby, I believe you have a brother, Joss, aged about fifty?”

Peter Saxby’s eyes glazed as if he had completely become unaware of Maddy’s presence.

“….Mr. Saxby?”

His face showed no response. Nothing. She tried again louder.

“What, my gairl? I’m sorry now. What’s that you wair saying?”

“Joss, Mr. Saxby, how old is Joss?”

“Joss? My brother? Why? He’s about forty seven. Somethen’ like that.”

“Is he fat?”

“Not seen him for years. He wasn’t then.”

“Was he plump?”

“Skinny as me. Well, not quite.”

“Did he know Zena well?”

The question-answer locomotion had stalled again. It took Maddy several more prompts to get him answering again.

“Joss? Yes, when she was a little girl.”

“Where does Joss live? I want his address.”

“Don’t have it,” he said. He was coming back again. “I used to know his address in Cork, but he sold up and went to live in New York.”

“New York? America?”

“That’s what I said.”

“Oh that’s him virtually disqualified then,” Maddy sighed, “he’s skinny, not fifty and lives the other side of the world.”

“What’s that?” asked Peter Saxby.


Maddy had an idea. She still wanted a good look at his wellies.

“Hey, Mr. Saxby, I’ve just remembered….look…” She searched out several pound coins from the back pocket of her jeans.

She was going to suggest that she would wait while he went out to get the cigarettes but she didn’t have time: he had gone. He had left her in his room and had hurried off down the stairs.

Watching from the window, Maddy watched him zip up St. James Street. As her eyes followed Peter Saxby up the road they failed to notice a man who sat patiently on a wall further along.

* * * *

She replaced the boots back under the kitchen table after examining them. They appeared to be innocent. They had no tread and the soles had a rounded distinctive shape.

It was ten twenty five.

She still wasn’t sure what to do.

She left the flat, skipped down the staircase and went out into St. James Street.

She decided she would go. But she’d take another precaution: she’d phone Corky. It rang for ages but no answer. She would have rung James but she didn’t have his phone number.

She didn’t want to meet the owner of the gruff, sandpaper voice unless someone knew about it. She had left a message with her mother. Was it sufficient? Probably not. She’d phone Hanson. It was probably the wisest thing to do. She’d seen so many stupid girls in stupid TV films go to stupid rendevous at the beckon of a telephone call and end up stupidly dead or worse.

She dialed.

“Inspector Hanson is out at present. He’s just gone out.”

“Can I leave a message for him. Its quite important.”

“I’ll put you through to his section.”

The dialing beeps of another phone could be heard, as if it were ringing underwater. A younger woman’s voice was on the line.

“Hello, I want to leave a message for Detective Inspector Hanson. It’s about the Zena Saxby case.”

“Oh yes. Okay, fire away.”

“Tell him, Maddy Quebric is meeting a man at the top of the Haymarket Shopping Centre, on the car park, at 11.00a.m. The man says he has all the answers to the Zena Saxby case.”

“Will do,” she said matter of factly, and repeated the message. “I doubt if Detective Hanson will be back from Loughborough within 15 minutes but I’ll give it to Detective McTavish.”

Maddy remembered the name.

“Don’t forget.”

Maddy slipped out of the phone box onto the pavement, a conveyor belt of pedestrians heading towards the centre of Leicester. In the throng she felt even more anonymous – just a nameless face in the crowd. But the man some way behind her knew both her name and her face.

* * * *

Leicester was hot and busy. Pedestrians and drivers made angry signs and mouthed inaudible obscenities at each other as they fought to possess the road. Noise was everywhere: thousands of heels clicked on the pavements; bargain hunters babbled unintelligibly; vehicles regularly complained with their brakes at lights, crossings and other obstacles.

Maddy bustled along Granby Street avoiding the on-coming crowd as best as she could. She flurried past a corner building which looked like a cinema, passed beneath the bulwarks of another building which hung over her like a giant apple barrel on its side. She passed a puce-fronted pub, a bale of hay on its sign. She passed a Midland’s Bank.

It was now 10.50.

She pushed her way through an untidy snake of people in a bus queue, and sped by a shop for brides. For a moment Corky and James came into her mind.

She traversed a zebra crossing, caught the tantalizing smell of a passing girl’s tray of chips and baked beans. She passed a camping shop and a building that resembled a deserted cinema. She was held up by traffic pulling out from a side street. She passed a kebab house, and the Grand Hotel, with its fairy tale facade and a spirited tower. She was only half way there. She looked at her watch. It was 10.55. She was beginning to regret her previous indecision. She wanted to know the answers.

Barely short of breaking into a run she sped up. She was briefly delayed by a pelican crossing. Once over she sped through a single file walk-way under scaffolding and crossed again. She was in the hub of Leicester where buses unsuspectingly crept up from behind and tried to run you down; where cherry trees and trendy shops blossomed: Jean Jeannie, Top Shop. All the shoe heels around the market place were a thousand out-of-time castanets.

She was in Humberstone Gate. She passed the clock tower, passed a girl saying, “See you Rebecca,” and an old woman who was leaning back against the brick litter bin, asking, “Is ‘ee all reet?” Then she was under precinct trees, the shadows of their branches briefly cutting out the sun from her eye lids. She sped past a newspaper vendor, and a crowd of skinheads and punks. On she went, unconscious of the distant whistle of buses, the over-familiar squeaking breaks, the Elizabethan roofs of the Western Jean Company. She turned right, past a man wearing a blue checked shirt, past the corner of a night club and turned into the Haymarket Shopping Centre.

* * * *

The woman at Charles Street Police Station took the message she had written down for Maddy into Mctavish’s section.

“He’s just popped out for a Mars Bar,” someone said cheerily.

She left the message in his in-tray and returned to her work on her own floor.

Constable Franks came in the door.

* * * *

Maddy walked along the tiled walls of the centre; she passed two chain stores and a photographic shop and found herself in a large enclosure surrounded by neon lights, escalators, glass and metal barriers and shops galore. She was two minutes late.

She ascended a staircase which led, according to signposts, up to the second level car park.

She climbed past more chocolate block tiles, and reached for the brass stair-rails to aid her climb. First floor. More stairs and then she turned left and through a door.

She came out onto the car park.

* * * *

Constable Franks was not normally clumsy. Everyone agreed later it had been the careless position of the in-tray that had made it topple over. If it had been properly placed in the centre of the desk the slight nudge of his elbow as he passed would have had no effect.

The paper contents of the in-tray went flying. Several of the staff helped him to collect all the pieces of paper strewn about the floor.

“What about the order of all the documents?” Franks said, his face showing his anxiety about McTavish’s temper.

“There’s nothing you can do. He’ll have to be told it’s all been mixed up. He’ll have to sort through it, so that he can deal with each note, memoranda, or whatever, in its order of priority,” said the sergeant.

“Are you going to tell him I knocked it over.?” asked Franks squeamishly.

The sergeant laughed, “You don’t think I’m going to tell him I did it, do you?”

“Oh cripes, here he is.”

* * * *

Maddy came out into the sunshine, onto the roof of the shopping centre. Car parking space spread around her in all directions; ahead were the roofs of Charles Street and behind the roofs of Humberstone Gate. Higher buildings blocked Leicester’s view on the right. She couldn’t see anybody so she sat on the steps that led up to the King of Club’s night club and waited.

The car park, like the street below, was busy. It was almost completely full of vehicles and an occasional owner would either depart or arrive by the central lifts or the stairs.

Maddy’s looked at her watch. It was five past eleven. Had she arrived too late?

She looked up again. No, she hadn’t.

Oh dear. This didn’t look too good.

* * * *

After giving Franks a burst of howling abuse McTavish sat down and began to order the contents of his in-tray. He put the most important things into one pile and less important things into a secondary pile. He accomplished this very quickly, sorted them all through again to check he had everything in order and then got up and left the room.

But Maddy’s message remained unread: when the tray had been upset it had floated underneath a filing cabinet and become hidden.


The thinner of the two youths that approached Maddy was about twenty five. His long mustard hair hung untidily over his collar. His face was in need of a shave and, in contrast to his strange red-rimmed eyes, wore a vacant wasted expression. His leather jacket was partly covered in metal studs and rock group transfers. How he could wear a leather jacket over a denim one in this heat Maddy couldn’t comprehend.

The other was dressed similarly but with a different choice of transfers and an extra belt. Whereas his partner was skinny and of medium height this one was short and spherical. His face was neither marked nor deformed but was swamped in billows of doughnut flesh: tennis balls packed his cheeks. Tufts of black toothbrush, like growths, sprouted from his unshaven chin. He was not pretty.

“Come with us,” the thin one said to Maddy, now standing over her. His weasel-like eyes were active and filched around, looking everywhere but at her.

“I’m happy sitting here thanks. If you’ve got something to tell me, tell me here.”

The one with the bulldog ripples of fat threw a glance at his leaner companion. Weasel Eyes nodded. Bulldog Fat sat down on the step next to Maddy and spoke. It had been his voice that had made the phone call. “If you know what’s good for you, you come with us. Okay? There’s too many people round here.”

“You can always whisper,” she said, whispering herself. Her throat was getting drier. She knew instinctively that these were those who had put Nigel in hospital.

“Move,” rasped Bulldog Fat in her ear. “Or I’ll tear you arm off.”

“Come with us and we’ll tell you everything you want to know,” said the thin Weasel Eyes.

Perhaps they would, but an invitation to have your arm torn off didn’t make her feel too optimistic.

As she got to her feet Bulldog Fat did also. Weasel Eyes led the way.

With Maddy tightly Indian-filed between them, they moved forward and to the left between the parked cars. Maddy was led past the entrance to the back of the car park. They approached the small four foot barrier separating the car park from a three story drop into the street below. Maddy hoped desperately that McTavish was on his way.

Maddy didn’t want to go near the car park edge. She hated heights.

Don’t panic.

They surely wouldn’t hurt me in daylight.

They almost murdered Nigel.

Perhaps they weren’t the same bikers.

Over the edge and it would be an accident.

Don’t be daft.

They could never get away in time.

Keep calm.

As they neared the barrier she could see down into the street below: distant red Chinese characters of a shop front loomed up at an odd angle disorientating her. She felt giddy, faint. She was in deep trouble. She was too terrified to either run or cry out.

“Get in the corner.” Weasel Eyes had turned, spoke and was now pointing. Less cars were parked in this area, being the furthest parking space from the ramps.

“What’s all this about?” she said.

Weasel eyes smirked and looked at Bulldog fat. Then he looked back at Maddy and pointed over the edge.

“If you get near me I’ll scream,” said Maddy.

“People usually do scream when they’re going to die”

That was enough: Maddy dashed for it. Despite planning to run like quicksilver her legs were lead. She collided into Bulldog Fat who stepped in her way.

Bulldog Fat blocked her to the left as Weasel Eyes did in front. At her back was a brick wall and to the right was a barrier and fifty foot drop into the city’s traffic.

“I’m here to tell you about Zena Saxby,” said Weasel Eyes. “When we’ve done that we’re going to push you over there.” He pointed to the barrier. “It’s no use you screaming. There’s too much noise down there for anyone to hear you.”

They wouldn’t do it.

They might.

Stall them. The only answer. McTavish will be here soon.

Weasel Eyes continued, “I have only one thing to tell you….” He stepped in closer. Bulldog Fat moved in from the left.

Maddy had to think of something clever now. She’d never been in a position like this – had never imagined it could happen. Detection was a game in the head, like Cluedo, or like the stories of Sherlock homes. Nobody could really want to hurt her.

“…forget about Zena Saxby.”

She strained her dry throat. “Zena?”

“Exactly,” said Weasel Eyes. “You’re getting the message.” He moved in closer again, and Bulldog Fat followed suit. She was boxed in between the four foot barrier and the brick wall.

“We just want you to have a look below,” said Weasel Eyes and both of the youths grabbed her violently and swung her round to face the barrier. Palms were pressed against her back and she felt her legs give way. She fell against the top of the barrier which collided with her stomach, winding her. Her head hung over into the chasm, as did her arms and dangling hands. From below if anyone had cared to look up they would have seen a girl simply fooling about, watching passers by – it would have taken a lot of imagination to perceive a potential suicide.

As she was jerked into position the scream that had been inhibited by fear at last came out. Terrifying, desperate and with a passion for staying alive that Maddy didn’t know she had, it rang over the street and round the back of the car park.

But loud as it was, noise rises. And down below, no one looked up.

“Have a good look,” said Weasel Eyes.

Gasping for breath Maddy kept her eyes closed as tightly as possible. If she opened them she knew she’d faint, and then she would not have even the slimmest chance.

“She’s shut her eyes,” she heard Bulldog Fat say.

“She’d better open them again,” said Weasel Eyes.

What can I do? Where was McTavish? Or Corky, James? Had her mother phoned the police? No, it wasn’t twelve yet.

“Grab her leg and I’ll grab the other and we’ll tip her over,” said Weasel sniggering.

“C’mon,” said Bulldog, “Let’s get it over.”

Grab her leg.”

Maddy screamed again and as they grabbed her legs she opened her eyes.

Down below she saw a yawning death. The magnetism of gravity was already sucking at her head and shoulders and enticing her to fall, slowly, lingeringly, to be bashed by the walls of the buildings while descending, and to be finally crushed to pulp by the concrete paving slabs below. She saw the teeming colonies of humans below her, none responding to her gesturing and screaming. She must bite, kick, fight, anything. Everything was swimming in her head. No building looked at the correct angle. She retched as they started lifting her legs.

Her only contact with solid earth was the concrete barrier which lay under stomach pivoting her legs and head and chest. She tried to grab the barrier with her hands to push herself back but even this proved fruitless, they were so much stronger then her.

She tried to kick and twirl but again she was defeated by their strength and grip.

Then she noticed the pipe, like a water pipe running down vertically. It led to the next floor. But she’d never be able to reach it.

The higher they lifted her legs the more she felt her body slipping over. They had now gradually lifted her legs past the horizontal position.

Maddy, who didn’t believe in God, started praying fervently.

“Who’s Zena Saxby?” asked Weasel Eyes. He had to shout twice in Maddy’s ear to get a response.

“Zena…..Zena who?”

“You’re beginning to get the message,” he said again.

Suddenly she found herself going, slipping, dropping. They had released her legs and her knees stung as they hit the hard surface. Her stomach slid off the barrier and the combined weight dragged her arms and head back. Her chin jolted onto the concrete barrier and she bloodily bit her tongue. They had dropped her back on to the car-park.

She crumpled up in pain, with no restraining hands on her.

“If you ever mention that girl’s name again, or if you continue trying to find her you’ll go over the wall,” said Weasel Eyes.

She didn’t speak.

He kicked her heavily in the thigh.


She lay there crying.

“We’re going to make sure you understand.”

Weasel Eyes turned to Bulldog and nodded his head. They both stooped down and pulled her up. As she had difficulty standing, they had to prop her up in the corner again and stand close.

“Come on,” said Bulldog Fat to Weasel Eyes. “We’re taking too long, someone might notice us. Let’s get it done.”

Weasel Eyes said, “We’re warning you. We mean it. Just to make sure you remember we’re going to leave you with a little souvenir.” He pointed to Bulldog Fat, “this expert is going to decorate a part of your face.”

A steel sabre shaped blade of a large penknife was slowly being fanned out from its black plastic sheath, and was now coming up towards Maddy’s face. Weasel grabbed her tightly, while Bulldog put the cold metal point on her left cheek.

“Now listen, darlin’,” said Bulldog Fat to his victim. “If you move you’ll end up with a face like a chopped up tomato. If you stay still you’ll simply have a pretty scar that will remind you of us. So just remember that.”

He pushed the blade into Maddy’s skin. She was so exhausted and had so much pain in her knees, stomach and bleeding tongue that she didn’t even understand what he was saying. Everything was going round.

Then her head was gripped by Weasel Eyes. She wanted to faint, to collapse, to sleep, to not exist. As Bulldog put his knife shallowly into her cheek drawing his third line she started to feel her face burn. The realisation of what he was doing hit her. With all the energy that remained she squealed. It sounded as if it came from someone else, a long way off. A dirty handkerchief was stuck in her mouth to plug up the wail.

“Hurry up,” said Weasel Eyes, “I can’t hold her much longer.”

“Only one more. It’s a work of art, this one.”

He was half way along his fourth line of blood when his knife froze. A voice was shouting.

“This is the police. We are armed. You are surrounded. Give yourselves up. One at a time.”

Bulldog’s knife instantly dropped, point side up, to his side. Weasel Eyes muttered an incantation of abuse and dropped Maddy’s head.

“We’ll split up,” said Weasel eyes. “You go that way, I’ll go this.” He quickly fell down on all fours and moved off.

But Bulldog Fat didn’t move. He remained stationary as he watched Weasel Eyes weave his crouched body away between parked cars.

Looking down he caught Maddy on the ground staring up at him.

“You brought the police along, you bitch!” he spat.

* * * *

“Come out with your arms up, one at a time,” shouted the voice. It didn’t sound right somehow. Maddy couldn’t understand why. Didn’t they usually shout through a megaphone?

Bulldog moved to the barrier and looked over. No way was he going down there. Like Maddy he also suffered from a healthy fear of heights. But like Maddy earlier he noticed a pipe well secured to the wall which had a number of collars and supports that could provide valuable hand and footholds. After climbing down about eight feet he could slip over the barrier on the next floor and escape by losing himself below in the crowds.

He looked back at Maddy watching him; she obviously intended to sabotage his descent; drop something on him, pull away the pipe, or something else to make him fall the moment he started down.

And yet she looked pretty harmless and the supports looked solid and what could she drop on him; there were no heavy objects around except cars.

The voice was closer.

“This is the police. We have your friend. Give yourself up. Throw away any weapons you have and walk forward with your hands up.”

He walked up to Maddy and savagely kicked at her head, to prevent any trickery from her, but she saw it coming and moved just in time to avoid it. His foot hit crunched into red brick.

“If you don’t give yourself up on the count of five we will be forced to resort to the use of fire arms.”

That was enough.

He hunched himself carefully into a sitting position on the barrier and swung his legs round so that they hung over the street. He was beginning to doubt the sanity of his plan, beads of sweat were quickly forming on his forehead. He took a deep breath and quickly, but carefully rolled himself over so that his stomach was on the eighteen inch wide barrier top. His feet groped for a foothold on the two inch ledge below him, but before making contact he had to descend three terrifying inches; his arms gradually straightening as he did so. His grip of the barrier remained desperately firm as his feet slipped down to feel their way.

Now that he was standing on the ledge he was going to have to look down.

The pipe joined the guttering that was attached two inches below the ledge he stood on. He needed to get his hands around it but his hands were the furthest point of his body away from it; his feet being only a matter of inches. He couldn’t look down and study his problem for long because it made him panicky. He took another deep breath. Must keep cool.

He wasn’t down far enough from the barrier to obscure his view of the car park and he still couldn’t see any police. Perhaps it was safer to risk being shot, or caught than climbing down from this height. Maddy was still kneeling, blinking, staring at him, eyes like a vixen. She’s going to push me off the ledge, he thought, but she was making no movement.

I must get to the pipe before she comes over, before she can reach me. And there was a man approaching, a man in a light jacket, wearing a tie, about thirty, obviously a cop.

He looked down again. If the pay-off of failure wasn’t so great he could make it to the pipe. But it was and it stripped him of his confidence. Back to the car park. He’d fight it out. He’d made a mistake.

His arms were tiring of holding him against the barrier. He couldn’t let go but he needed extra leverage to hoist his stomach onto the barrier. He thrust himself upward, forward pulling against the rough textured concrete, attempting to haul himself over. As the man came running closer Bulldog found his stomach on the barrier, and his feet dangling away again over the street. He was almost over. Just hang on and heave. But he was slipping. The leather was sliding away. Where’s the ledge? Don’t panic; find the ledge. But his feet couldn’t find the ledge, and his leather was still slipping, and he had no support to push or pull against for his arms were sliding too, and his foot crashed through a section of plastic guttering. His feet had passed the ledge! He was going. He felt a immovable force on his jaw as it crashed against the barrier and slid away rapidly following the rest of him. His hand grabbed at the elusive pipe as his body fell but it hit it at such an obtuse angle that it was gone.

Tumbling, falling, waiting for death, a hundred years, a second, a kneeling girl’s eyes. I won’t try this, I’ll give myself up, he thought. This is stupid; I am falling. I won’t die. Anyone can make a mistake….

* * * *

At the hospital Maddy was given a thorough examination. Eventually after she’d been fed with tranquillisers she had her cheek treated.

“It will heal,” the doctor had said.

“I won’t be scarred for ever?”

“Not if it’s kept clean.”

Maddy was now sitting in a small hospital room facing Detective Inspector Hanson, and the policeman who’d been with him on their first meeting,

“Now let’s clear this up,” Hanson was saying, “You seem to be under the misunderstanding that Inspector McTavish sent a team of police officers to the car park. That wasn’t so. The only policeman who was there was PC Kean here. He’d been following you all day on my orders. After visiting you yesterday I decided that a tail on you for a week might prove useful. You’re lucky I did. I told you last Thursday you may well get hurt. I don’t think I need to repeat my warnings now.”

“You are lucky,” said the constable, “I was beginning to think I had lost you. When I saw you squashed up in the corner with those two animals I wasn’t sure what to do. I had no radio on me so I thought my best chance was to bluff them to come out one at a time: I’m trained at unarmed combat and I could use their belts to bind them up. I arrived when I saw the knife at your face then I was forced to act quickly.

“Anyway,you know the rest. This yobbo stupidly climbed over the wall and then tried to climb back but….he didn’t make it. I’ve never heard a scream like that before. He’s a dead as a dodo. I lost the other one.”

“I think the time has come for you to tell me everything you know about Zena Saxby now, don’t you? Everything,” said Hanson.

Maddy’s eyelids were tired, leaden.

“Yes. Okay,” she said.

“Right, where do you want to start?”


“That’s not good enough?”

“I’ll tell you everything, I promise. I’m too tired now. I was given some pills. I’m…..”

“You’re excellent at delaying tactics, Miss Quebric. If you don’t give it to me straight from the mouth tomorrow morning I’ll throw the book at you. And I can do!”


“I’m booked up until 11.00, so come in then,” he said.

“I’ll be there at eleven,” said Maddy. “I’ll come in and tell you everything I know. After today I don’t want to have anything to do with this case again.”

“Alright. You’ve had a rough time. I’ll do you a favour and drive you home. Okay?”

“Okay,” said Maddy, feeling grateful.

* * * *

“I was so worried by Maddy’s note,” said Mrs. Quebric to Detective Inspector Hanson later. “Thank God, she’s alright. I know she’s been looking for Zena Saxby, but I never thought anything serious would come of it.”

“You weren’t here when I came to see your daughter last Tuesday. I warned her that she might get hurt. But you know what she’s like; eager and headstrong. Fancies herself as a detective; so she goes round treading on toes. She’s obviously upset someone and these thugs were trying to frighten her off.”

“Let’s hope they’ve been successful.”

“You must make sure she gets to my office, at Charles Street Police Station, at eleven o’clock tomorrow morning.”

“Yes. Of course.”



“You stupid fool!” shouted Corky.

“Don’t go on.”

“You’re mad!”

“Oh shut up!” shouted Maddy down the phone, losing her patience.” How did you find out about it?”

“Hanson told me about them attacking you. He was at the hospital last night interviewing Nigel.”

“Oh. So Nigel can talk at last.”

“There’s nothing much to tell. Nigel didn’t have much to say. His jaw is fixed but it’s still painful for him to talk.”

“Did you find out what he wanted to tell me before he went into a coma.”

“No. James and I got there first. Nigel seemed bright at first, but then he became like a dumb cabbage. Five minutes later Hanson arrived to interview him. We were asked to leave so we listened from behind the screen.”

“Did Nigel remember the attack?”

“Only vaguely. During this time Hanson made a comment to the other cop about the same gang getting you on the car park that day! I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I dashed for the phone and rang you. Your mum explained what had happened. She said you were fast asleep but alright.”

“So you missed the police interview with Nigel?”

“Some of it – but James stayed near the screen with his ears open. Nigel was pretty useless, he couldn’t remember anything.

“Hanson knows about our visit to the station,” said Corky, “He asked me if I often broke into left luggage lockers.”

“He’ll know a lot more soon. Do you know what I’ve got to do?”

“Tell me.”

“I’ve got to tell him everything. I’m meeting him at eleven. What happened really frightened me. I hate to admit it: I’m giving up.”

“Good idea.”

“Is that all you can say?”

“Yes. They are the police and this case is big time stuff.”

“You didn’t believe I’d ever solve it, did you?” said Maddy.

There was a pause.

“I don’t think I ever really wanted to get involved.” said Corky.

“You understand why we had to, don’t you?”


“You know, just overcoming the puzzle, pitting our wits against a mystery that’s been thrown in our laps. Surely it was given to test us?”

“Test us?” said Corky trying not to laugh.


“But I don’t want to be tested.”

Maddy was thrown by this comment. It disturbed her; it awoke in her the possibility of a difference between them. She felt a loneliness for a passing moment.

“You don’t quite understand.”

“Yes I do. You like being tested, I don’t.”

“No, really….. I hate exams.”

“But you just said you like being tested.”

“But that’s different. This is solving a puzzle. Its like scratching an itch. After you’ve done it you feel better.”

“Yes, or course. I know that, but…”

“But what?”

“To be honest, Maddy, I can’t see why you haven’t told the police before. Why do you have to do everything on your own? And why can’t you work in a team? Both me and James thought you were a bit selfish, like you’re Sherlock Holmes and we are your two Dr. Watsons – the idiots.”

“That’s a horrid thing to say. We’ve all been working independently as far as I’m concerned and then sharing things.”

“I’m sorry… I don’t mean to upset you.”

Maddy didn’t know what to say.

“I can’t understand why you’re so cross with me this morning. I nearly get killed and all you do is criticise me,” she said a moment later feeling close to tears.

“I’m sorry. I’ll go. I’d better get off the phone anyway. My dad’ll kill me.”

“Before you go Corky answer me two things, they’re really important to me.”


“Did you think I was going to get to the bottom of this? “

The line was silent for a moment.

“I didn’t think about it at first, then I thought you would, and recently I’ve had my doubts.”

“You don’t have much faith in me, do you?”

“Don’t be silly. Of course I do.”

“Secondly, do you think I should tell the police everything?”

“Why fight them? You’re both on the same side. There’s nothing else we can do. Nigel doesn’t have anything to tell you. School is out for summer. The police are in a much better position to follow up the leads at the station. Yes, and that’s being realistic about it.”


“I thought you were going to anyway.”

“Yes, I am, but.. it doesn’t matter.”

“I’m sorry. Look, I’ll come round and see you later, and then you can tell me all about yesterday if you feel up to it. What time shall I come round.?”

“Make it three-ish, or later. It should be well over by then.”

“See you later then, bye. Good luck.”

* * * *

Kandy telephoned at 9.30 and invited Maddy to have a coffee in the city. “Um…..I’ve got to go to the police station at eleven,” she explained.

“If I meet you at the Italian coffee bar, Puccini’s, in Charles Street – it’s only round the corner – you’ll have plenty of time.”

Minutes later Maddy was fawning to her mum, “Don’t worry mum. I’ll get to the police station at eleven, you needn’t worry.”

“I was going to drive you. Detective Hanson was adamant I drove you there.”

“But mum, I’ve just arranged to meet Kandy.”

“And will you let me down?”

“I’ve already told you! I’m going to the police station!” Maddy snapped, completely exasperated by everybody.

“All right. If you let me down you’ll be for it! And make sure you put this stuff on the fridge away before you go.”

Maddy collected the photographs Corky had printed the previous Friday. She folded them over and slipped them in her jeans. The mini-cassette recorder, complete with the cassette recorded at Rowley Hills, and her penguin notebook, were soon arranged comfortably around her jacket pockets. She was sure Hanson would be impressed.

* * * *

Maddy found Kandy sitting in the corner of the Puccini’s, reading what looked like a legal document. The cafe smelled of garlic, strong coffee and parmesan cheese. A series of Mediterranean beachscapes in gaudy exaggerated printers colours hung from the walls. Kandy now ordered two capuchinos from the weighty proprietor who stood over her.

“What have you done to your face? It looks like someone’s tried to draw a sailing boat beneath you eye.”

Maddy explained what had happened and the doctor’s optimistic comments: it should clear up soon.

“You’ve got courage.”

“Perhaps yesterday, but it’s deserted me today.”

“You must be have been terrified.”

“Yes. I’m giving up. Although in some ways I’m more fed up with people’s lack of interest than through fear of those maniacs.”

“What do you mean?”

“Oh…What do you think, Kandy? Do you think I’m being a coward giving up?”

“Don’t you want to,” said Kandy, her eyes brightening with comprehension. You want to carry on? You’re feeling sore about giving up when the trail’s getting hot.”

“I was terrified yesterday. Hanging over that ledge – ugh. And I don’t want to think about the scream of that man. No, it’s not so much telling the police, it’s everyone telling me I’ve got to give up. It makes me feel no one has ever believed in me at all: that I could solve crimes. I pretended to be Sherlock Holmes and got a reputation for it, and everyone played along and enjoyed it. Now everyone’s got bored and seem to be saying ‘we were only playing a game Maddy and the game’s over. You didn’t take it seriously, did you? You didn’t really see yourself as a real Sherlock Holmes?’ ”

“I see.”

“I feel empty.”

“It’s simple. Just don’t go to the police at eleven o’clock.”

“I’ve thought about not going, but I’d get myself into mega-trouble with my mum and dad and Hanson would burst a blood vessel.”

“I can’t persuade you to stick you neck out?”

“No, but I appreciate it. You’re the only person who’s shown any confidence in me this morning.”

Two more coffees were delivered by a young waitress with cinnamon hair.

Kandy told Maddy her good news: she had found a new flat in East Park Road. Next Saturday Maddy was invited to a flat-warming rave up. Kandy was really excited about it.

“Look…” she said, grabbing Maddy by the shoulder. “I’m going there in a minute once I’ve got the key. Why not come along and have a look?”

Maddy declined. There wouldn’t be enough time. It would take an hour to get there and back. “I’ll come round about six, this evening,” she said.

“Write down my new address and phone number.”

Maddy scribbled them down in her notebook.

Kandy was going the same way so they left together. It was warm but the wind had grown up. A roguish breeze prevented the tiredness and lethargy that often rides on the back of hot weather. In Charles Street, neither of the girls spoke, both silently meditating upon their own immediate courses of action for the coming day.

Kandy had to go into the claustrophobic office of Clerkenwell’s Estate Agent to get her key for her new flat. Maddy followed her in amidst the colour photos and advertising displays. Inside the noisy roar of traffic from London Road lessened to a hum but the taste of central heating was nauseating. A salesgirl smelling of Eau de Cologne tapped on an old golf-ball typewriter. Maddy had been in there before. The sales girl remembered her and said hello.

“I’ve come to get my key,” said Kandy excitedly.

“Your name?”

“Kandy Lawrence.”

“Just a moment.”

“The girl disappeared behind a screen and shouted the number and the road of the flat.”

“Yes, that’s right,” shouted Kandy back.

The girl reappeared.

“Have you signed the tenancy agreement?”

“Kandy put her hand to her mouth. “Oh no. Not yet. I forgot.” She pulled out the legal document that Maddy had seen Kandy reading. She shuffled around in her basket and found a ballpoint. She placed the document flat on the counter and signed it.

“Have you actually read it?” asked Maddy.

Kandy laughed, “I tried to,” she whispered.

The shop assistant looked at Maddy and caught the conspiratorial smile on her face.

“You came in earlier this week, didn’t you? I’ve got some good news for you.”

“Me? yes.”

“You were asking about your friend. Julia Robinson. You were trying to trace her.”


“I found her name on our books after you’d left, or have you already caught up with her now?”

Maddy’s pulse jumped.


“Do you want it?”

“Yes, yes of course.”

“After you had gone last week I remembered that Mr. Thomas had the key to the filing cabinet that was locked. It was such a busy day when you came that my search was a bit halfhearted. In the late afternoon we were slack, and I remembered you were looking for your friend. I’d written her name down on a scrap of paper and I found it when I was clearing the desk. Mr. Thomas was here in the late afternoon so I got the key from him and checked through the only locker I hadn’t gone through and I found it. Unfortunately I had no way of contacting you. You didn’t give me your name. As soon as I’ve served Miss Lawrence I’ll get you her file.”

The girl returned from behind a partition and handed Kandy a door key. She started to read an inventory of things that were left in the flat, in preparation for Kandy to sign it, but Kandy stopped her. “No, its alright. Give her this address, first.”

“Here it is,” said the girl a moment later reading it from a file. Julia Robinson, flat 5A, Ratcliffe Court.” She looked at Maddy. Do you want to write it down?”

“No thanks, I can remember that. How long has she been living there…living in Ratcliffe Court?”

“According to her file here she came in on the 21st May and asked for a quiet, self-contained flat. We didn’t have any on the books at the time but we noted her name and what she was looking for and put her on our books. She said she was prepared to pay for high quality accommodation. She came in again on 28th May and we had found a flat for her. She took possession that day.”

“What previous address did she leave you?”

“7 Barncombe Avenue,” she said looking at the file.

“I see. Well thanks a lot. I’d better be off.”

Kandy gave Maddy a sly look.

“Are you going to see the Detective or do you suddenly have other ideas?”

“I’m going to get myself into lots of trouble and go hunting big fish.”

“As usual. Need any help?”

“Errr… I might need some money.”

“Five quid enough?” She dropped the coins into Maddy’s hand

“Be careful Maddy, don’t get thrown off any high buildings.”

“I’m going to be as careful as a mouse.”


Maddy checked the exact whereabouts of Ratcliffe Court by slipping into W.H. Smiths and consulting a street map of Leicester.

Traveling towards her destination in a Red Fox minibus she began to carefully consider what course of action to take. She wasn’t quite sure what she was in for. How many people would there be in the flat, or was it now no longer occupied? Would she meet those motor bike loonies again? Was she being stupid not informing Hanson? Probably, but she could always phone him later – although that hadn’t proved too useful yesterday.

The bus trundled up slowly up London Road through Stoneygate. Maddy pressed the buzzer as she approached Ratcliffe Road. She alighted from the platform and walked along London Road to the next right junction.

If Maddy had looked across into Guildford Road she might have glimpsed a tall dark figure walking away from her. It’s likely even if she had she would have made no connection. She imagined Julia Robinson inside her flat – not moving off in the opposite direction.

Maddy skirted the corner into Ratcliffe Court and yards later she turned right into Ratcliffe Court. To avoid being seen she sheltered under overhanging leaves, kept tight into the pavement and stooped behind the cars which were parked on her side of the road.

Maddy looked around. Garages were over the road, further along were blocks of brick and wood-slatted flats. Each block was fronted by a grassy area dotted with occasional saplings and each block had a white porch with a brown door. The court was residential, quiet, select.

Julia Robinson’s flat was evidently in the first block: block A. Maddy briefly looked up but could see no snooping faces in the netted windows.

What could she do now?

She kept walking. She passed B Block and on to C Block. Then she had to stop as the court terminated at a walled car park.

Who could she be? A salesman? A member of a charity collecting an envelope? Someone looking for a friend? That’s a better idea. Someone looking for a friend who used to live at No 5A.

Was she being foolish again?

The motorbike boys might open the door. Before she went into action she’d check the ground for motorbikes.

* * * *

“Where’s that bloody daughter of yours?” screamed Hanson down the phone. “She should have been here twenty minutes ago.”

“Oh no…..She left to go for a coffee over an hour ago. She promised she’d come.”

“If she’s not here in another twenty minutes she’s going to be skinned alive.”

“Oh dear…Do you think she’s in trouble?”

“She will be.”

Mrs. Quebric bit her lip.

“I’ll put a call out to look for her,” he said, “What’s she wearing?”

* * * *

Maddy found one motorbike parked alongside B block – an unlikely place to park it if it belonged to anyone in A block – so she decided to go ahead with her plan.

She crossed the grass and passed through the wooden door and found herself at the bottom of a staircase. The two doors on either side were numbered one and two. On the first floor she passed numbers three and four. She pulled herself up the final staircase until she arrived on the lino of the third floor. She now stood outside the door of No.5: Julia Robinson’s flat.

She pressed the doorbell and waited.

A while later she pressed again.

No one came. No noise stirred.

She became more courageous and gently flapped back the letter box. A mustard coloured hall led off to a number of rooms. All the doors were closed. The flat seemed deserted, empty. Maddy pressed the bell again, long and loud. This time she didn’t stand on the top stair, ready for a quick departure but remained where she was.

Either its inhabitants were deadly quiet or had gone elsewhere. She put her eye to the letter box again. A newspaper lay on the floor, too far away to have been delivered through the door and too far away to read its headlines to date it. Then Maddy spotted something else.

Maddy adjusted her position to the extreme edge of the letter box so as to extend her view. She could see a handle. It was a bag. A brown bag that was zipped up, its contents concealed.

Maddy was going inside!

She needed a telephone. Where was the nearest one?

She remembered seeing one nearby in London Road. Perhaps there was a closer one. Getting no answer from both flats on the lower floor she descended to the ground floor and knocked at number 1A.

“Oh, I thought it was John,” said an elderly lady in a grey cardigan.

“Is there a telephone in these flats?,” she asked awkwardly.

“I don’t think so. I’ve not seen one if there is. But you can use mine if you like.”

“Its very important.”

“Come in, my dear. Whatever’s wrong? Has someone hurt themselves?”

“My friend’s car has broken down, we’re in a hurry,” Maddy improvised as she passed into the lounge.

“Oh, I thought you needed a doctor. That’s not so bad then, is it?”

Maddy quickly found the number in her notebook.

Relief! He was in.

“Johnathon, this is Maddy Quebric. Listen, I need your help. Urgently.”

“Oh Hello.”

“I’m desperate. I need the same sort of service.” Maddy had to use her words carefully as the elderly lady was listening.

“What? Another luggage locker?”

“No. A door.”

“What sort of lock is it?”

“Guess.” Maddy didn’t want to mention it aloud.

“What do you mean guess?”

“Just mention a few makes. I’ll tell you when you get it right.”

“Yale, -“


“Okay, no need to deafen me. That’s no problem – I’ve got several skeleton keys – I’ll bring a few extras as well.”

“Brilliant. Jump in a taxi and get here now. I’ll settle up the money later.” She gave him the address and directions. “I’ll meet you outside Block A.”

“Okay. I’ll be there as soon as I can.”

Maddy replaced the receiver and turned to the elderly lady. “Thank you, how much do I owe you?”

“That’s alright dear.”

The lady refused to accept any money but insisted on asking awkward questions and giving awkward suggestions.

“When my John gets here I’ll get him to come and look at it. He’s so good with cars.”

Maddy left as quickly as she could and went outside onto the grass. She crossed the road and hid herself behind a parked Cortina, partly hidden itself under a cloak of beech leaves.

* * * *

Maddy grabbed Jonathon as soon as he had got out of the taxi.

“Follow me.”

“You owe me three pounds already.”

“Ssshhh.” She led him through into the entrance, up the first staircase, along the corridor and up the second staircase. Soon they were both outside No 5.

“Is anyone in?” he asked.

“No,” she said hesitantly.

“This is all a bit nerve racking. What the hell are you up to?”

“Open the door. I want to get inside.”

“But is it the place of someone you know?”

“No, its just old fashioned burglary – now give me your keys!”

He passed a key ring containing five skeleton keys.

“Just keep watch,” said Maddy as she tried to insert the first one.

The fourth one fitted. She turned it and the latch drew back. The door opened into the flat.

Jonathon’s hand touched Maddy’s arm.

“Someone’s coming up the stairs,” he whispered.

Footsteps could be heard coming along the landing. The owner of the footsteps would soon be visible, walking up the steps towards them.

The elderly lady hovered at the bottom of the stairs looking up at them.

“Hello dear. Are you up there?” she called.

“Yes,” said Maddy, coldly.

“John’s here. He said he’d have a look at your car.”

“Oh, its alright, thank you. It’s been taken to the garage.”



“But you only phoned about fifteen minutes ago.”

“Yes…they’re very efficient.”

The lady stood silently for moment, thinking hard.

“You don’t live up there, do you?”

“No,” said Maddy, “we’re just waiting for a friend.”

“I see.” Her voice brightened. “So you don’t need any mechanicals doing on the car then?”

“No thank you.”

When they heard her door close downstairs Jonathon turned to Maddy.

“Give me my keys, I’m going.”

“Don’t you want to come in?”

“No. I don’t want to get done for burglary. That woman is dead suspicious. I’m going.” He removed the key ring from the door and slowly descended the stairs.

“Good hunting,” he whispered. “Bring my money round.”


Maddy pushed the door quietly open, slid inside and quietly clicked it shut. She made towards the brown bag.

* * * *

Julia Robinson was now walking along Ratcliffe road. She pulled the hood of her cloak over her glossy black hair so that it wouldn’t be eddied by the wind. The carrier bag kept knocking against her leg; she swapped it over to her other hand.

Beech leaves flurried in the garden shrubberies. The sun above was bright, dazzling, but hazy, neon through frosty glass.

As Julia Robinson turned into Ratcliffe Court she saw a youth hurry out. She couldn’t recall seeing him in the flats. She would have remembered his stripy blazer. His unfamiliarity made her nervous. She studied his worried face as he passed her by.

She crossed over, went over the grass and through the A block entrance. She began climbing the stairs. Seconds later she stood outside her own door. She groped in her blouse pocket for the key. After the latch yielded she picked up the carrier bag and went in.

Once inside she stopped moving. She sensed something irregular. She removed her glasses and slipped them into her blouse. The door of the lounge was open. She had closed them all before leaving. She placed the carrier bag containing her groceries down on the carpet as gently as she could. She stood for a moment but could hear nothing. No voices, no movement. She relaxed and closed the flat door behind her, but more quietly than she would normally have done. She must have left the lounge door open.

She walked along the carpet and slowly stepped into the lounge.

“Oh Shit!”

“Hello Zena.”

She stared unbelievingly. In front of her sat Maddy Quebric dipping her hands into her brown bag like a child with a bag of sweets.


“She should die,” said Weasel-Eyes.

The speckled blue enamel of the Harley Davidson blazed in the sun. The chrome of the large diameter forks, exhaust pipes, headlights and wing mirrors sheened like silver. The rider and his bike hovered, waiting, potent, like a bullet in a gun.

Weasel-Eyes was red-eyed.

“Wouldn’t it be better just to get outta here,” said Eddie.

“We settle up first,” said Weasel Eyes.

“That’s right,” said the biker with the blackheads. “I’m not going nowhere ’til we settle up.”

“Remember, Eddie,” said Weasel Eyes with passion, “You may be our leader but… remember, you weren’t there, you didn’t see it, I did. ”

“You’ve turned her over once. Do we need to go back?”

“I didn’t turn her over. Jeff did, and look what he got.”

“Okay,” said Eddie. “We track them down and do ’em proper. Then we get out of here.”

“Then we split. The pigs will soon be onto us when they check out Jeff’s documents.”

“Alright,” said Eddie, “We pay off. We do it for Jeff. For the brotherhood. I know where the organiser lives. We’ll look for the others. Lets go!”

The world suddenly throbbed with the roar-blast of torque and horse power – with the violence of repressed energy unleashed. Vibrations riddled themselves up through the metal machines through every bone in the bodies of the riders. Astride their steeds were the Gods of evil.

Leaving exhaust fumes smelling like burnt toast they exploded out into the country lane with Eddie leading; three hell’s angels bent on vengeance.

* * * *

“I said Hello Zena.”

The tall dark girl was still staring.

“Or should I call you Julia?”

Zena flopped down on the adjacent settee. She looked at Maddy still quite startled by her impossible presence. “How the hell……?”

“I’ll tell you what I know and then you can fill in the missing details.”

“How could anybody find me?”

“All will be explained,” said Maddy. She held up two books from out of the bag, “You see these books here you borrowed from Nigel. Did you find anything inside them?”

“Yes,” said Zena, “Yes, I did.”

She went to the bookcase and returned with several type-written sheets of paper. “An envelope dropped out from one of the books. These two sheets of paper were inside.” She passed them to Maddy. “Look, what the hell are you doing here?”

“It’s what I’ve been looking for,” Maddy said a moment later.

“They look like someone’s scrappy address book to me.”

“I’ll have to go and make a phone call in a minute. Now, let’s talk about you, Zena.”

* * * *

After a lengthy discussion Maddy left to make a phone call.

As she was leaving the flat, Maddy matter-of-factly said to Zena, “Don’t try and get clever. I’ve a tape recorder in my pocket which has recorded everything you’ve just said. Just make sure you’re still here and let me in when I come back.”

Maddy had to walk up to the phone box on London Road as the elderly lady in the grey cardigan and her son appeared to have gone out.

* * * *

Corky was irritable. She was waiting for a phone call from James, she felt he ought to ring her for once. She desperately wanted to go out. A distant relative, Glennis Hencombe, or ‘Jaws’ as she called her, was driving her mad. The woman just never stopped talking.

The woman was droning on now.

“….Its so nice to see you, Caroline. I must say you look a lot happier than my daughter. Oh, I’ve been having such a time of it. Have you heard about Belinda? She’s been unspeakable! I keep saying to her ‘she that corrects not the small faults will not control great ones’, but she will not listen to me…..”

And on and on she went.

Suddenly the telephone buzzed. Corky dashed for it, completely forgiving James for his timely interruption.

But it was Maddy.

“Hello Corky. Are you with James?”

“No. I thought it was him calling.”

“Look phone him and tell him to come to 5A Ratcliffe Court.”

“5A Ratcliffe Court?”

“Yes. Have you got that?


“Don’t mention it to the police or anyone, okay.”

“Hey! You should be at the police station.”

“Don’t tell anyone where I am Corky! It’s really important. Listen. I’ve found Zena.”

“You’ve found her? You’re Joking!”

“Yep. Look. I’m not going to speak for long. I’m in a phone-box. and I’ve hardly any more change. I’d have rung James myself but I don’t have his number. Give him a buzz and phone me back if he’s coming.” She gave Corky the number of the phone box and hung up.

“I used to know someone who lived around that area,” chortled Jaws in the background.

Corky phoned James. He’d be over in minutes.

She phoned Maddy back.

“Is he coming?”

“We’ll both be there in minutes.”

Maddy put down the phone, grimaced and bustled out of the phone box.

She hurried back down to Ratcliffe Court. She climbed the stairs.

Zena had now discarded her Julia Robinson disguise and was now a natural blonde, wearing her familiar pink jumper.

“What’s going to happen now,” she asked expectantly.

“We wait.”

* * * *

Before leaving to collect Corky James unlocked a drawer in his bedroom. From this he procured a six inch knife and slipped it into his inside jacket pocket. He didn’t want any trouble.

A quarter of an hour later Maddy opened the door to James and Corky.

“What’s happening?” said Corky.

“She’s in the lounge,” she said.

Maddy followed them into the lounge. James stood in the middle of the carpet looking at Zena, and Corky stood just inside the room, a little in front of Maddy.

“I remember you,” said Zena, frowning in concentration, “James Riverdean, you were at my school.”

Zena gave Corky the once over.

“I know her too; I always thought you were a bit scrawny and terribly, terribly,” she said mockingly.

“Thanks,” said Corky.

“That’s alright,” she said sacastically. “What are you two doing here?”

“We’ve come because Maddy phoned us,” said Corky.

“And to find out what’s been going on,” said James.

“What’s it got to do with you?”

“I’ll try and explain everything,” said Maddy. “Some of the details that I didn’t know Zena has filled in for me. While I explain no interruptions please. Okay?”

James sat down next to Corky.

* * * *

“I thought at the very beginning,” began Maddy, “that Zena may have kidnapped herself, but I thought it was too fanciful, and without real motive. What I didn’t realise was that the motive wasn’t entirely hers.

“Briefly, her whole intention has been to create the impression that she had been kidnapped by a gang of blacks; so as to generate a bad impression of the black population in Leicester before the election. Now you will understand why the media has been so full of this case, even when the police have tried to suppress it.

“It began when a man approached Zena at her youth club and asked her if she still supported the British Empire party. They are the most active anti-black organisation in Leicester. She was never actually a member of this racist party, but she used to chat to some of them at football matches. On the first meeting the man said if she carried out a series of instructions she not only be helping Britain but she’d also receive £5,000. So much now, so much later. On subsequent meetings, he told her exactly what to do and when to do it. After a specific number of meetings he stressed it was important that she never saw him again or have any connections with the party.

“His final meeting with her was on a platform at Leicester Station. He gave her a bag. Inside was £1000 in £50 notes. She had been instructed to prepare another identity, so with some of this money, she traveled to London, bought this wig and all these clothes. On returning to Leicester station she changed into her disguise in the platform loo and using the name Julia Robinson booked a long term luggage locker in which she placed her bag containing all of Zena’s clothes.

Disguised as Julia she went to open a bank account. It was a Saturday but she had been told of one that would be open. She had identity together with relevant forged documents included in the bag. She was instructed to destroy these after their purpose had been served. She banked the majority of the money she had left from the £1000 and was issued with a cheque book.

“Then she returned to the station locker and collected the bag, got another platform ticket and changed back into Zena in the platform loo. She put all her clothes, bank book et cetera into the brown bag and put it back in the locker. You see? Zena Saxby was leaving the station to go home, Julia Robinson, her disguise, was inside the locker.

Next Saturday she did it again. She went to the station locker, took out her bag, bought a platform ticket and went down to the ladies’ toilet and changed into Julia Robinson. She then went out to find a bed-sit or flat. She also bought a bike, which I didn’t know about until half an hour ago. She had to remember all this from her original briefings. Remember the man had planned it so that she had no contact with him after the initial meeting.

All she had to do now was to set up the kidnapping and then hide in her flat until the election was over, on Thursday. Then she would change back into Zena, and suddenly reappear saying she’d lost her memory and can’t remember anything.

On the evening of the ‘kidnap’ Zena wasted a few hours and then began to prepare. After she had waved Leslie goodbye at the station she collected her bag from the locker and took it home with her. She waited until it was dark and then changed into Julia Robinson. She dropped a Rasta medallion on the floor and left the ransom note on the dressing table. She then put on some heavy Wellingtons she’d bought and climbed backwards out the window before she put her feet down. She made certain she left really heavy footprints. She walked backwards all the way down the garden until she reached the stile.”

“Backwards!” doubted Corky.

“Yes. Do you remember? I thought there was something odd about those footprints at the stile when I asked you to photograph them. When someone climbs over a stile the footprints are deeper in the direction in which they travel, because people usually drop off or jump from the stile. The strange thing about these was that their impression in the mud was deeper on the side she would have climbed up from. Zena climbed on the stile backwards, clambered over, and then dropped off backwards. It was a mistake – she should have climbed down gently.”

“Oh shit,” whimpered Zena.

“Carry on,” said Corky.

“Further down the jitty, Zena – who was still walking backwards – heard someone coming. Unbeknown to her it was the fifty year old tramp. She was close to a stile so she jumped over into a field and hid behind a large barn. She waited for about fifteen minutes but heard no one go by. She was worried because she’d walked round the barn walking forwards. She thought the best thing to do was to continue in a circle back to the stile. And of course, when over the stile she carried on walking backwards. Her instructions were to give the impression someone had walked up from the canal. She couldn’t imagine what the police would make of her unplanned detour around the barn.

“As soon as she was on the tow path she swapped her Wellingtons for her shoes from the brown bag. She walked for about half a mile where she came to a small bridge. She was quite frightened and her bag was heavy. Then she heard a splash that almost made her jump out of her skin. She didn’t know it but the tramp had fallen in.

“Over the bridge and several yards further along she unlocked a bicycle which she had previously bought and hidden in the hedge. She put the brown bag on the bicycle rack and switched on its lights. She didn’t want to get stopped by the police for not having lights on her way up to Ratcliffe Court! She avoided the traffic as much as possible and let herself in.

“The next day she took her cheque book shopping to turn this flat into something bearable to live in. She only went out as Julia Robinson and since then her only contact had been with shopkeepers. If she hadn’t been discovered she’d have waited until the election was over on Thursday and then re-emerged as Zena with amnesia. Isn’t that right Zena?”

Zena looked perplexed.

* * * *

“Where’s Oakthorpe Avenue?” asked Eddie.

“Its near Wyngate Drive,” said Blackhead.

“Let’s go,” said Weasel Eyes. He leant forward gripped his handlebar and started up his V-twin engine.

* * * *

“And there’s more,” said Maddy.

“More?” asked Corky.

Maddy pointed at James, who was – as he had been for some time – examining the contents of the brown bag.

Corky considered Maddy’s fixed frown. She didn’t like the look of it. Maddy kept her eyes firmly on James.

James suddenly became animated. He pulled the Nigel’s two books from the bag and quickly flicked through the pages of the first book, and then through the second. He thumbed through the first book again, page by page. It was obvious he was agitated. He looked up, becoming aware for the first time he was being observed. He snapped shut the book and said, “Have you found any addresses, Maddy?”

Maddy wasn’t sure how to play this.

“There was a list of addresses in one of those books,” said Zena, pointing at Maddy. “I gave them to her.”

Maddy could have kicked her. She hadn’t told Zena to keep her mouth shut about the addresses, nor – come to think of it – about the tape recorder which was buzzing quietly in her pocket.

“Oh these, you mean?” said Maddy, “they must have slipped my memory.” She relinquished the type written sheets that Zena had given her.

“Thank you.” He studied them quietly

“What are they?” asked Corky.

“What are they James?” echoed Maddy.

“What’s going on?” Corky asked them both.

“Nothing,” said “James, Everything is perfect.”

“James, what’s all this about? You’re not mixed up in this, are you?”

“Of course not.”

“Of course he is,” said Maddy. “He’s been involved in running a drugs and protection racket in several Leicester schools for over two years. He is tearing up a list of the names and addresses of the new fourth formers with wealthy families who are starting at upper schools. You see he was never a close friend of Zena’s. Was he Zena? And neither was Nigel – they were merely acquaintances. These addresses were the addresses of future victims. That’s why he’s tearing them up.”

James was tearing the pages down the middle. He continued until little strips and squares of paper floated down to the floor.

“Lists of future fourth form victims were passed down the organisation secretly, through James, on to Nigel, and then onto the next link in the other schools. Nigel kept these particular names and addresses for safe keeping in between the end-papers of a book called ‘The White Horse’, and our stupid Zena here borrowed it. When Nigel returned home and found Zena’s note saying she’d borrowed it he almost had a nervous breakdown. Not surprising really – if you do anything wrong in James’ organisation you’re treated very harshly; that’s why it worked so well, so secretly and for so long.”

“This is complete rubbish,” protested James.

“…So Nigel discovers Zena’s got these damning addresses of the syndicate. What was he to do? He must get them back. He phones Zena but gets no reply. He must go round and get the list back. If it fell into the wrong hands the syndicate may well be discovered. It was run so secretly that many people in it didn’t recognise fellow members.

“He goes round but no one is in, and there are no lights on. He walks around the back of the house – leaving his footprints – and finds the window of Zena’s bedroom flung open. He climbs inside and discovers the place is a mess. Very strange. Zena, of course had gone by now. Nigel starts hunting for the books, and makes more mess in an unsucessful attempt to find them. In the dark he finds an envelope on the dressing table. Assuming it is the envelope he is looking for he puts it in his pocket. He considered putting the light on and checking it, but it was safer to do that later. He left by the way he came in, by the window, and went home.

“Imagine his chagrin when he opens the envelope and finds a ransom note. Consider his situation: he’s in trouble with the syndicate for losing a list of revealing addresses, he’s left his finger prints all over a room where someone had been kidnapped, and where he’s committed a break-in. And remember if any of these criminal activities were discovered his father’s would be utterly livid as his political career would be compromised.

“So what could he do now? He was supposed to pass on this list of addresses at a meeting on Wednesday or Thursday. I’m not too sure which but it’s not important. Imagine Nigel’s fear. Tomorrow he has to meet other syndicate members with this important list. But he’s lost it. What did he do? He didn’t do anything. He didn’t go to the meeting. He stayed away and sweated his socks off. Or perhaps he came and saw you, James? I’m a bit hazy about this bit as well.

“Its not important what happened at this point – it all works out the same. On Thursday the police visited the school and Zena was still missing. Nigel was frantic. It had by now got back to the syndicate organisers that Nigel hadn’t shown up at the meeting. He was a marked and worried boy.

“In desperation Nigel came to see me. You remember what he said, Corky, Zena’s a great friend, she’s disappeared, I think she’s been kidnapped, we’ve got to find her. Remember? All he wanted was this precious list.” Maddy pointed to the shredded paper on the floor.

* * * *

Back at Oakthorpe Avenue the doorbell rang.

“Get that for me, Glennis,” Corky’s mum asked Glennis Hencombe, longing for a few minutes silence.

Jaws walked along the hall and answered the front door. Eddie stood on the doorstep, his a face as taught as a drum skin.

“Is James Cortenage here, Mrs?”

“No….ah…that would be the boy who Corky rang up. Yes, he came about twenty five minutes ago. They’ve gone out.”

“D’ya know where they’ve they gone, eh?”

She put on what she considered to be one of her most dazzling smiles.

“Yes, I do actually.” She was pleased with herself. “They’ve gone to Ratcliffe Court. I remember her mentioning it on the phone.”

Without another word Eddie turned and disappeared through the gate. Mrs. Hencombe was so taken aback by his abrupt and rude departure she was temporarily lost for words. However it wasn’t long before she found them again.

“The younger generation – so scruffy – can’t even find a thank you in their hearts!”


“Anyway,” continued Maddy, “we went to Zena’s bungalow, – which if you remember was at Nigel’s suggestion – and found a ransom note in the bed. An odd place for a ransom note we all thought, which indeed it was – it shouldn’t have been there at all. Nigel had placed it in another envelope, because the original one had been torn when he had opened it. The only envelope he could find was the wrong colour and wrong size but it was the best he could do in the circumstances. He brought it – with the ranson note inside it – and must have slipped it between the sheets when you had your back turned and I was in the hall. He wanted to put it back where he’d found it, by the dresser, but he couldn’t do that. The police would have smelled a rat; there’s no way they would have missed that.

“He returned it for four reasons. One, because he wanted to wash his hands of the ransom note. Two, it would put the police in the right direction and speed up their investigations in finding Zena – and his list of addresses. Three, to ferret about the room again to see if he’d missed the books. Four, for there to be a legitimate reason for the appearance of his finger prints in the room.”

“Fascinating,” said James.

“Its true,” said Maddy quietly.

“Prove it.”

“You are in trouble, James. Nigel was beaten up on your orders. He had made such a dangerous, unforgivable cock-up in your organisation, hadn’t he? Such things couldn’t be seen to go unpunished or everyone would start to get sloppy.”

“That’s crazy,” said Corky. “James wouldn’t hurt anybody. He’s been to see Nigel virtually every day in hospital.”

“And why do you think that is?”

“Because………” Corky lapsed into silence. No one spoke for several seconds.

“It was because Nigel might talk. As soon as Nigel could put the finger on who’d done him over all would be lost. James went along at visiting hour to show him that silence, lack of memory was the best policy, or he might end up in hospital again.

“The syndicate, you see, employs a gang of hit men called – guess what – the Nibes. They are very well known within the drugs/ extortion racket. Step out of line and you’re roughed up, you get a visit from the Nibes.”

“It’s not quite as simple as that,” James protested angrily, “I have to follow orders, too. I have no choice. I have people threatening me as well, outside the school. It went wrong. I never intended for the Nibes to hurt Nigel. I didn’t expect them to do Nigel over so -“

“And what about me?”

“It was the same. I only told then to warn you off.”

“So you admit its true,” said Maddy.

“You’ve only been going out with me so you could find this,” cried Corky, pointing to the torn paper on the floor. Her face now strained with disgust.

“Your behaviour was odd when you first arrived, James,” said Maddy standing by the window. “We all sat around eagerly trying to dig a trail to Zena, but there were certain things that you seemed blind to.”

“Oh no, not more of your wonderful theories.”

“I gave you a couple of Zena’s exercise books to look at. Yet you didn’t even open them. I thought that was peculiar considering how interested you claimed to be. Why didn’t you look at them? I asked Corky later if she’d shown them to you at school. No she hadn’t. So where had you seen them before?

“It’s obvious. Your first reaction to find the missing addresses was to have Zena’s locker searched. You didn’t look at those exercise books in my house because you’d already seen them and discarded them as irrelevant.”

Corky was staring at Maddy, intent upon every word.

“James told me Paul Statham and his friend had broken into the locker – which was true enough – but he forgot to explain that he’d set them up to it. The boys were so frightened by Corky’s questioning because they were being threatened in some way by the syndicate. One of the punishments was to be physically forced into a drug habit. They were well aware of what the Nibes could do.

“What really made me suspect you, James, was the incident on the car park. Who would want to stop my investigations so much? I had touched a nerve. On Thursday I had told you and Corky I was going to visit the school again. You didn’t like that idea, did you? I may go and discover something about the syndicate – or worse I may meet Paul Statham who might start blurting out dangerous information.

“So what do you do?” Maddy asked him, “You contacted your heavy boys and told them to rough me up, to frighten me off.”

“I hear you’ve killed one of them,” James said sarcastically.

Suddenly Zena piped in with a comment, “You want to watch her,” said Zena, “I drivelled on for ages – and she had a tape recorder in her pocket. She’s trying to get you as well.”

James quickly sat up, “Ah….the pocket tape recorder. I was wondering what she was up to. I should have realised. I knew it was something.”

Maddy froze. The tables could quickly turn. This hadn’t been planned well at all.

“I think you better give me the tape, and we’ll all be on our way.” said James, his voice easy, but determined.

“I’ll think about it,” said Maddy, thinking desperately.

“When Corky rang me up and told me you’d found Zena, I thought things might get a little difficult, so I took an extra precaution of bringing something with me to help in matters of persuasion,” said James. “Do I really have to slip my hand inside my jacket or are you going to be sensible and give me the tape. You know that I’m not a violent person.”

Her exit was cut off. James was nearer the door than she was. She couldn’t escape.

“You really won’t get away with this.”

“You have no evidence. Just give me the tape, please.”

She turned away from him and looked out of the window down to the drive of Ratcliffe Court.

“Give me the tape.”

“Don’t you dare touch her,” hissed Corky.

Down below Maddy recognised the elderly lady downstairs and a young man who was presumably John. They walked over the grass towards the flats.

Maddy unfastened the button of her jacket pocket and slowly began to withdraw the tape recorder which was still running.

“I’m glad you’ve seen sense,” said James walking towards her.

An instant before the recorder was free of her pocket her other hand shot out and released the locking arm of the window catch. Simultaneously, as the window was flung open, James’ arms encircled her neck, and a cacophony of shouting began. Blindly, Maddy flung the tape recorder through the glassless space into the open air. Corky jumped up and tugged at James’ collar almost throttling him. Zena watched it all wide-eyed and open-mouthed. Then Maddy was on the floor and James was at the door, in the corridor, racing down the stairs.

Maddy, closely followed by Zena, pursued him. Corky remained sitting with her head in her hands.

Downstairs, James hurried out into the blustery wind onto the grass. The tape recorder had fallen by a nearby tree. He dashed across and snatched up the machine in his fingers.

Maddy, closely followed by Zena, arrived at the ground floor seconds later. The elderly lady was just closing her door, and shouted, “It sounds like an exhausting game you’re playing.” As Maddy got to the door she abruptly stopped. Three men were getting off motorbikes. “Stay inside! Inside!” she shrieked to Zena, pulling back the door.

Maddy pulled Zena over to the window near the door. “Look! That guy who has just come into view is the one who tried to throw me off the car park! This is bad!” She started banging on the old lady’s door.

“Back again?” said the old lady. “You looked a bit puffed out. Its running up and down these stairs. Has your – “

“There’s going to be some trouble. I need to call the police.

* * * *

Blackhead arrived head on. Eddie moved in from the side. Weasel Eyes came from the rear.

“We’ve a bone to pick with you,” said Weasel Eyes.

James was startled by their sudden appearance. He knew Eddie, he was the only one he ever had to meet.

“How did you find me here? You know I only like to do business by arrangement.”

“We went to your place, then to your chick’s place, and we were told you were here.”

“Well you can get lost. What the hell do you want?”

“It’s more what we can do for you, mister,” said Weasel Eyes.

James instantly felt their menace.

“We don’t do things by your arrangement anymore, Mr.”

“Ohhh…I was really sorry to hear about the accident. Didn’t Maddy Quebric push him over. You ought to have a chat with her. She’s in there.” He pointed to the flats.

“We’ll find her in a minute. Thanks,” said Eddie.

No one spoke.

“What do you want? I’ll pay you later. I haven’t got any money now.”

“We don’t want payment in money,” said Weasel Eyes, who was now only six feet from James.

“Money won’t bring Jeff back,” said Blackhead, making his first contribution.

“You’re not blaming me for his death surely?” said James heartily.

“It was you who suggested we do over this girl,” said Eddie, whose enthusiasm for vengeance was growing by the second.

Realisation crept like a shadow over James’ face: he was being ensnared by his own trap. Eddie’s smile widened; he was enjoying himself.

“But that’s ridiculous!”

Weasel Eyes looked over to Eddie. “Okay. Let’s go.”

“Wait,” said James, holding up his hands like shields, “Hold on a – ” But they didn’t. A burning pain scorched his groin as Blackhead edged forward and kicked him. Simultaneously a blow fell across his neck which, if half an inch lower, would have been fatal. Already Doubled over and falling, his acceleration to the ground was increased by a kick in the hip delivered by Eddie. His shoulder skidded along the grass.

The grass seemed to swim about him.

I can’t move. My knife. In my inside pocket.

It was in his grasp. He snatched it out and quickly stabbed at nearest boot, inches away. It sliced through the leather last and momentarily pinned Eddie’s foot to the turf. There was a scream. Then nothing; an impasse; a preparatory silence for forthcoming pain; the precognition the second before the fall; a hush before storm for the psyche to stiffen its barriers against impending horror; a second of a thousand years duration.

Then it came: a millennia of vermilion sparks and racking rheumatic tremors in every bone. Jaws clenched so tight that the lower bit into the top, through to the skull; agony that lead to the mind shutting off, the body closing down as a means of mental and physical defense. His own knife had been buried in his side.

* * * *

“Yes, immediately! I rang a few minutes ago, but we’re still waiting,” said Maddy on the phone. “Someone’s being attacked by a gang of hell’s angels. That’s right.”

“I’ve got to help,” cried John, the elderly lady’s son. He was watching out of the window.

“Oh no,” he cried a moment later. “It’s a knife!”

John rushed passed Maddy and ran out into the corridor, through the wooden door and out into the howling afternoon. She watched him from the window, running towards the youths. They ran off down the slope towards their bikes, leaving James lying flat on the grass.

Maddy rang 999 again, this time for an ambulance.

* * * *

“You’ve murdered him!” yelled Blackhead to Weasel Eyes as they ran towards their bikes.

Weasel Eyes straddled his bike and fired his engine.

“We’ve got to wait for Eddie.”

“Sod Eddie. He’s lame. Let’s get out of here.” Weasel Eyes revved up, engaged power and wheelied off along Ratcliffe Road. Blackhead was road-borne and after him.

Seconds later a police car swung round into Ratcliffe Road.

* * * *

Corky had to stare out of the window of Charles Street Police Station out into busy traffic while Maddy scribbled behind her for forty five minutes on a pad of A4 paper. Corky hated this building with its dark leather-smelling rooms, its proliferation of plastic telephones and its profusion of secretive inmates gathering to whisper in gloomy corridors.

Hanson appeared at last in the open doorway frowning.

“I can’t believe it,” he said drolely, “Maddy Quebric in Charles Street Police Station writing down the truth! I just can’t believe it.”

“I’ve almost finished,” she said.

“Do you know this whole thing is so crazy. There is almost nothing we can charge her with. I couldn’t do her on racial discrimination. The Public Order Act and Race Relations Act doesn’t cover such third party conduct. I can’t do her on having another name – that’s not a crime. If she refuses to make a signed statement explaining in brief what she did, and how she was put up to it she can’t be charged with any crime whatsoever.”

“You’ve got the tape. You can use that.”

“Its inadmissible in court. Its not evidence. I need a signed statement.”

“Won’t she give you a statement?”

“I don’t know. I’ve not asked her yet. I’ve left her sitting alone for three hours.” he said, scratching his nose.

“What if she gives you a statement explaining it all?”

“She can be prosecuted for wasting police time under the Criminal Law Act 1967. If she wasn’t a minor she could be sent down for six months and be fined £200.”

“Couldn’t you just persuade her to go to the newspapers and TV companies and tell them what happened, and how she was set up.”

“Don’t worry about that. I’ll beholding a press conference later. But I still need a statement.”

“She’s not really a criminal, just an ignorant fool,” said Maddy.

“She’s a racist. Anyway, I think she’s been stewing long enough, its crunch-time.” He turned to leave but Corky delayed him.

“What’s happened about James?”

“Didn’t I tell you. The hospital rang an hour ago. It appears he’s in satisfactory condition. He’ll live.”

“No, I didn’t mean that. What about the trouble he’s been in?”

“A conviction is inevitable, although we have yet to root out exactly where all the drugs were coming from. No trouble with extortion: Blackmail and Theft Act 1968. He’ll probably have to do a stretch. Those pieces of paper should be quite useful once we’ve glued them all together. We’ll nab the ringleaders in each school. I’m sure that Nigel and James will be helpful in providing names of useful parties if we negotiate a little.

“What about the bikers?” asked Maddy.

“Oh yes. Three of the four are accounted for. One died falling from a great height, as you know. One is in hospital having his foot sewn together. One was picked up on the M69 an hour ago but the other one hasn’t been found yet. But we’ll get him. He’s called Gary Borell. According to the others he was the one who did the stabbing but they’re bound to say that. Wounding? That’s easy: Offences against the Persons Act.”

Maddy called after him as he turned to go, “I’ve finished this report. Can we go now?”

“Good. That’ll help me to write all this up,” he said. “I’ve appreciated your help. Don’t go yet. I’ll be back in ten minutes and you can have your tape recorder back.”

* * * *

An hour later Hanson came smiling into the room and returned Corky’s tape recorder to her.

“Can we go now?”asked Maddy again.

“I’ve done it,” he said. “She’s written a statement and signed it. I’ve got her.”

“Good,” said Maddy.

“Please let us get out of here,” shouted Corky acridly across the room.

“Of course. You can go. Nothing’s stopping you.”

Maddy pulled her chair back from the table and stood up. Corky, moved away from the window.

“When are you going to inform the media about all this?” asked Maddy thickly.

“Considerable damage has no doubt been done to race relations in this city because of this con-trick, so I’ve arranged a press meeting at 7.30 tonight. The truth should be on all tomorrow’s front pages. There’s still five days before the election so with counter publicity its possible that any public support these racialists have gained because of this trick will desert them. If the TV companies go for this story these racialist groups are going to be in for a rotten time nationally.

“Good,” said Maddy.

* * * *

Maddy and Corky walked along Charles Street towards the town centre and neither spoke.

Corky suddenly turned away to look in a shop window. Maddy wondered if she was hiding tears, but when Corky looked back, her eyes were quite dry.

“I’m going home,” she said.

“Shall I come with you?”


“I’m sorry.”

“Let’s not talk about it. You could have warned me, but I don’t really blame you.”

“I didn’t really know myself until the last moment,” said Maddy.

“I won’t be around for a while.”


Corky turned and crossed over Charles Street. Maddy’s stare followed her until she became lost in the rush hour crowds.

Maddy walked along slowly, dodging awkwardly between on-coming pedestrians. She didn’t know what to do; she didn’t know where to go; she didn’t want to go home. She felt aimless. She couldn’t understand it. She was supposed to feel elated, pleased with herself, not like this.

But she had done it, she had found Zena Saxby. Despite all the doubts and set-backs she’d done it.

Pretty good really.




Corky found more fifth year students around than she expected although none added anything significant about Zena’s whereabouts of the previous fortnight.

Jane Phillips had said Zena hadn’t been out recently. She had been revising for her GCSEs, particularly Home Economics and Biology as she intended to either go into either a catering or veterinary career. She still wasn’t sure which yet.

Mark Wilkinson said Zena had been quite ratty the last time he saw her, but then they rarely used to get on anyway.

“She was a snob in a funny sort of way – nothing to do with her mother’s money,” he said. “She’s one of those people who likes or hates someone on first meeting. The colour of someone’s hair could make her hate them for life. I got my own back by being sarky about her skin-head hair cut last year. I think that was why she grew it collar length again. Zena did like animals though. Any sort. That was the only thing we really had in common.”

Corky interviewed Marlene Tansey, Dennis Evans and several people who knew or had known Zena, but discovered nothing of interest.

Walking along the main corridor she saw James Riverdean coming towards her. She felt goose pimples forming all over.

James had an unruly mop of dark hair and lively brown eyes. His openhearted smile was irresistible and always made Corky want to fling her arms round him.

“Hello Corky. How are you!”

Gulp! She suddenly felt as if all her clothes were inside out, every button was in the wrong hole, and all her mascara was running away. He hadn’t talked to her for a year!

“What are you doing around school then? As if I didn’t know.”

“I’ve just come in to find a few friends,” she said awkwardly.

She had been out with him at a party a year ago and had a great time, but afterwards he’d been cool. He had rarely acknowledged her. It had depressed her for months. She had bored Maddy sick with it.

They were a threesome suddenly. Mr. Oxforth, the headmaster had arrived, and had taken James by the sleeve.

“Come to my office, James. We have Munich on the phone. They want to talk to you about the sixth form visit over the holidays.”

James frowned. “Will you be round later?” he asked Corky.

“I’ll be in the canteen at 12.0,” she said, remembering her arrangement with Julie.

“Brill. See you later,” he said as the headmaster led him away.

Corky felt her body floating down the school corridor. She wanted to run, laugh, jump, and shout all at once. Surely he wasn’t interested in her after all this time? She was going to see him later! Incredible!

After Corky had calmed down she resumed her journey to the science block. On arrival she asked the weary Mr. Bean, the Biology teacher, if he knew where Anthea Statham was. “Her brother might know where she is,” he said indifferently, pointing at the boy on the back bench of the laboratory. “He’s over there.”

She found both Paul Statham and an oily haired boy secretly reading comics. Her question produced such an unusual response from them both she clicked on the tape machine after only a few moments.

“What do you want my sister for?” snapped the fourth former.

“Just to ask her some questions.”

“We don’t know anything about Zena Saxby,” said Paul.

Corky hadn’t assumed they had.

“You know that I’m asking questions about Zena Saxby?”

The oily haired boy, whose jumper gave clues as to what he had eaten for breakfast, said, “Look, leave us alone. We don’t want you snooping about the school.”

“We don’t know anything.”

They evidently did.

“Do you know Nigel Swain?”

The sleepy look in Paul Statham’s face was replaced by one of alarm. Then, as if he were about to cry, he wimpered, “I-I-I don’t want no trouble with the Ni- “

“Shut up!” snapped his friend.

Corky hadn’t caught the last word. It had sounded like ‘nights’.

“What did you say?”

Oily hair had swung round on his stool and rasped into Statham’s ear: “Shut up! Don’t speak! Don’t say a word!” He looked up at Corky. “Go away. Just push off!”

As Corky continued to remain where she was, Oily hair stood up and left the classroom taking Paul Statham with him. Mr. Bean didn’t take any notice. Corky was so surprised she didn’t move for minutes. There was something going on there.

“Corky, I can’t carry on!” said Julie Kotengo, sitting down with a coffee and leaning forward and screwing up her face. She had arrived in the canteen with James just a few minutes after Corky. “I’ve just been telling James here our play is a farce and its supposed to be a tragedy! And the leading actor…..well, what can I say? How can anyone cast someone like Mr. Bean to play Hamlet? Mr. Camperbell is getting so ratty that all he does is shout. On top of this I can’t remember any of my lines.”.

James laughed at Julie; he said she always got like this when she was in a production.

“Have you found out anything about Zena then?” Julie asked a minute later.

“I’m amazed. News travels very fast round here.”

“It certainly does,” said James, “Everyone knows why you’re here.”

Corky explained that Maddy had promoted her to information-gatherer.

“If you want to know about Zena, let me tell you,” interjected Julie with a grin on her face. “I’ll tell you about her with pleasure: if she lived in India she’d be sacred. I didn’t like her at all. She was a self-centred, moody, pain-in-the-bum.”

“She was okay,” said James.

“Do you know anyone who really disliked her? Or where she could have gone?” Corky asked Julie.

“Yes, I really disliked her. I don’t know where she’s gone but I could make some suggestions as to where she could go,” she Julie.

Corky told them about her meeting with Paul Statham and his friend. She mentioned the sentence that had caused all the commotion.

“And you didn’t catch the last word.?”

“He said he didn’t want any trouble with the ‘nights’ or something. It’s okay though. I’ve got it all on tape.”

She showed them the tape recorder.

“Her disappearance is really peculiar,” She continued, “None of it fits. No one seems to know much about Zena and yet everyone seems to have noticed something out of the ordinary.” She gave the example of the broken locker.

“Curiouser and curiouser,” said Julie. “Keep me in touch with developments. I’ve got to go back to the hall. I’ll send you some free tickets.”

When Julie had gone, James explained why the head had taken him away. A party of German students were coming over in August. He was to be their guide when they arrived.

“That sounds good,” said Corky.

“It’s not as exciting as chasing missing girls, though,” said James. “I knew Zena quite well. She was okay. We got on because we shared the same crazy sense of humour. Julie’s right though, she wasn’t over-popular. I don’t think anyone I know of anyone who disliked her enough to do her any damage though. “

Corky tried to remember if he’d been out with Zena. She couldn’t remember.

“She sometimes had a short fuse,” he was saying, “Likely to lose her rag a bit when she was wound up. But she had a spark about her. Hey, I’d like to help you, Corky. I could do. I’ll go and find Paul Statham and his friend. I’ll find out what they’re hiding from you.”

“That would be great.”

“Corky, I’d like to.. Could I….”

You can ask me out, she thought.

“Everyone knows you and Maddy are trying to find Zena. Nigel came along to help out as well, didn’t he?”

This isn’t quite the way you ask a girl out.

“Now he’s in hospital. Do you see what I’m getting at?”


“Well….I’d quite like to play detective as well. I have plenty of contacts and would really like to help.”

So that’s what he wanted. She tried to disguise the disappointment on her face.

Still, spending a lot of time with him was better than nothing.

“That’s sounds okay to me. Although I can’t see what all the attraction is about: the police are bound to solve it first. You can help if Maddy agrees.”

“Great! I’ll start with Paul Statham. I’ll get him to tell me what he was on about this afternoon. Then we’ll all get together and discuss plans…..well, that’s assuming your friend agrees, of course.”

“Yes, it’s only right I ask her.”


“When what?”

“When can we meet?”

“Tomorrow should be okay. Come round to Maddy’s at ten and we’ll see if its okay.” She gave him the address. “I’d better be off,” she said.

“How’s Nigel?”

“He’s still comatose. He’s been hurt bad.”

“I’ll go and see him. ‘Bye Corky. I’ll see you in the morning.”

He watched her depart through the swing doors.

Before searching for Paul Statham James decided to tidy up the last details of organising the Munich sixth formers. Little did he realise that forthcoming events over the next five days would prevent him ever meeting them.


A considerable development was reported in Tuesday newspapers. Mrs. Saxby had received a letter from Zena. In Zena’s own shaky handwriting she explained her kidnappers demanded £50,000 for her safe return. Mrs. Saxby had until the 17th July to amass the money, she would then receive a further communication explaining the hand-over procedure. Zena was presently unharmed but terrified and begged her mother to do all she could to find the money.

As Corky was reading the news report Maddy lay back on the settee, cuddled up under her blanket, and looked at the exercise books from Zena’s locker.

The doctor had given Maddy a course of antibiotics for a flu virus. She still felt tired, wobbly on her feet, but much better than she had.

“We’ll wait until James arrives before playing back the tape,” she said.

Corky was grateful that Maddy had agreed to let James help. “I don’t mind – providing you don’t bore me with your romantic aspirations,” was all she had said.

James arrived at ten. He said he hadn’t managed to track down Paul Statham. He’d look again that afternoon.

All three semi-circled around the tape recorder listening like discerning music critics. Periodically Maddy would rewind the tape and replay a section of it. Corky got mad when the interview between herself and Paul Statham was played back because the missing word was barely audible. It sounded like nights or knives or….

“Nibes,” said Corky.

“Or knives,” rejoined James.

Maddy rewound the tape and turned the volume up full. She played it again. She put her ear closer to the speaker.

“‘Nibes’ is certainly what it sounds like.”

They played it through another three times until they all agreed it was ‘nibes’.

James was doubtful. “But what the hell is ‘nibes’?”

“I don’t want any trouble with the nibes is what he’s saying. It’s not only a question of what. It may also be a question of who.”

“They could be those men on motorbikes,” suggested Corky.

“Nibes,” said James to himself slowly, “I’ll find out when I find Statham. I’ll get it out of him one way or another.”

A loud knocking from the front door suddenly interrupted the discussion. “It could be someone complaining about the noise,” said Maddy, getting up slowly.

Detective Inspector Hanson stood behind the front door, his sweaty face boiling with sweat, his hands thrust deep in his trouser pockets.

“Madeline Quebric, you have been doing things I’ve expressly told you not to.”


“Have you read this morning’s papers?”


“The articles about the ransom letters?”


“Then how do you explain the press getting all this information, eh? The police have not mentioned any of this to the press. And you honestly expect me to believe that you’re not mixed up in this somehow?”

His flushed face looked minutes away from a heart attack.

“Of course I’m not.”

She looked him squarely in the eyes, pleased for once to be able to tell him the truth.

“I’ve been ill for the past few days. The first I heard about this letter was what I read this morning. She paused. “Have you seen Zena’s letter?”


“Is it genuine?”

“It has been verified by people who were familiar with her writing.”

“Look, I am being honest with you. I didn’t know anything about this. Surely the papers themselves can help you. Go and ask them how they found out about it.”

“The press have already been seen and we have both editors on the rack. They both claim that they both received a phone call from a man who stated he was an interested party. He then read out a short statement – identical it seems in both cases – about Mrs. Saxby receiving a letter from the kidnappers. The papers rang Mrs. saxby to check the truth of the statement. And stupidly she said it was and so it went to print. They only withhold information we tell them to withhold. They notably didn’t ask us about this.”

“But if a man rang them why come and suspect me?”

“Because I’m at my wits end. I thought you might have set it up, or know something. After all, who could know about it – apart from Mrs. Saxby and the kidnappers. And neither Mrs. Saxby nor the kidnappers would find it in their interest to deliberately inform the press. I’m still convinced that you know more than you say.

“I’ve told you what I know.”

“I’m not so sure about that. So watch yourself!” he shouted as he walked off.

Forty minutes later Maddy had another visitor.

Nigel’s sister, Leslie Swain, arrived. Her father had insisted she came round because Leslie had also seen Zena before she had disappeared. Zena had accompanied her to the station to wave her off on holiday.

Leslie was touchy and somewhat nervous. She was dressed in a oversize black jacket and trendy jeans and wore her blond hair short.

“I arrived home on Tuesday about six,” she said. “I knew Zena would be there because I had told her at school I would be catching the train at seven. She said she’d come and see me off. She was sitting on the settee when I got home. Nigel had let her in but had gone out -“

” – Nigel had let her in?” interrupted Maddy


“He couldn’t have done,” said Maddy.

“Yes he did.”

“How do you know he did?” asked Maddy.

“Zena told me.”

“But Nigel never mentioned that to us.”

“Nigel must have let her in. Nobody else could have done. Mum over was in Great Yarmouth waiting for me to arrive and dad was out at a political meeting. Does it mean anything?”

Corky and Maddy pulled faces of bewilderment at each other.

“Carry on,” said Maddy.

“Well, I made her a cup of tea. I packed a few more things, although I had packed most of the things I needed earlier. I went out to the shop to buy some shampoo. She read the paper and looked at my books. She asked if she could look at Nigel’s books in his room. She returned with a couple of his books and asked if she could borrow them. I said she’d better leave a note to tell Nigel. She wrote him a note, left it in the hall by the telephone and put the books in her shoulder bag.”

“Books?” queried Maddy. “She also looked through my books. What books?”

“The books? Oh. One was about animals – don’t know about the other one. I wasn’t really paying much attention.”

“Try to remember.”

“Leslie’s eyes glazed over for several seconds.

“One had a drawing on the front. It had a blue cover. I just can’t remember the other.”

“If you remember let us know.”

“Perhaps the titles are on the note to Nigel,” ventured Corky.

“Good thinking, Batman. Yes, we’ll check that later. Carry on.”

“When I had packed everything we left the house. She said she’d walk me to the station and see me off. I thought that was nice of her.”

“What did she talk about?”

“Oh, Just everyday things. I was talking about my holiday. She said she’d been to Great Yarmouth although she hadn’t enjoyed it much. Her dad had been drunk or something. We walked along to the station. She bought a platform ticket and waved me off. I really can’t understand what all the fuss is about? The poor girl’s been kidnapped and Nigel’s been beaten half to death by some Hell’s Angels. What are you trying to get me to say?”

“We’re just trying to do is get to the bottom of this,” said Maddy.

“Yes, but you’re almost implying that Zena was up to something.”

“Perhaps she was, and it all went wrong, and she got kidnapped.”

“Well, if she was, I’m sure I would have known about it.”

“Why have you waited until now to tell us Zena saw you off?” James asked.

Leslie explained that on Tuesday she caught the train and went to meet her mum in Great Yarmouth. Leslie only found about the kidnapping when her dad rang to say that Nigel had been attacked and was in hospital.”

“Until then we didn’t know Zena had disappeared. I should have come round on Sunday, or yesterday to tell you about Zena coming to the station with me, but I’ve been putting it off, I suppose. My dad says I’ve got to got to go to the police next.”

“When you do, please don’t tell them anything about this conversation,” said Maddy.

“I’ll try not to, but I always say the wrong thing. I don’t think I’ll go for a few days.”

Periods of silence and other chat prevailed for a while. Maddy passed Zena’s exercise books over to James for his examination. Corky made coffee and once more joined in the discussion.

James found it difficult to grasp all the facts: there were too many to remember, let alone make sense of. They went through the girl’s disappearance from the moment the police arrived at Maddy’s. They considered Mr. and Mrs. Saxby, the ticket to London, the kidnap note inside the bed, the unidentified man in the canal, the oddity of Zena buying a platform ticket but not using it when she had seen her dad. Maddy turned to Leslie.

“You said Zena bought a platform ticket when she came to the station with you, didn’t you? And she came on to the platform?”

“That’s what you normally do, isn’t it? Of course she did. She waved me off.”

“I see.”

“Oh…I’ve just remembered something that did happen though. It’s only just come to me.”


“When we walked in the station we passed the confectionery kiosk. The girl serving waved and shouted ‘hello’. Well, I know she wasn’t talking to me ’cause – well – I didn’t know her. Zena, who was the close to her and must have heard her, just ignored her. She didn’t even give the girl a curious glance. The girl in the kiosk might have mistaken her for someone else, or Zena might have been daydreaming but…I don’t really know. The girl did look put out when Zena didn’t say hello back.”

“Hmm…perhaps a visit to the station could be useful,” said Maddy. “Something seems to be going on down there.”


Later, alone, Maddy lay on the settee thinking hard. “What are the main facts around which all the others revolve?” she asked herself. Zena had got herself into trouble and run away? Inconsistent. She’d been murdered and the note received by her mother was a fake? Seemingly not, but one couldn’t ignore that there were skillful handwriting forgers around. Zena had been kidnapped by a gang of Rastafarians? It seemed the obvious conclusion, but it didn’t somehow: Rastafarians were reputedly peace loving people for all their unusual beliefs.

Why put the kidnap note in the bed? Who was this man who rang up the press? She still needed more pieces. She always needed more pieces.

Maddy stared at one of the circles in the carpet as if the key to the puzzle lay within it. She noticed the exercise books on the floor, those which she’d passed to James earlier. She stretched for them and carefully examined them page after page. It proved to be of little use: she found nothing of interest. They were simply exercise books.

But there was something. Something about them that she couldn’t quite understand. And it was nothing to do with their contents. She lay back on the settee and began to think again……

Brrrr! Brrrr!

Maddy grabbed the handset.

“Hello.” It was Kandy.

“Urghh…Hello…I’ve just woken up….I must have fallen off…I’ll be okay in a moment.”

“You sound ropy. Didn’t you get any sleep last night?”

“Yes. But I could sleep for a week.”

“Hey listen! I can’t stay on the phone for long. I’ve been snooping around for you.”


“I haven’t found out much,” said Kandy in her rich drawl. “The police have been around the black community and are making everyone jittery. No one I’ve met knows anything about the girl, although she’s gossip item of the month because of all the police pressure. There’s a pair of notable black villains who aren’t around at the moment. They’re called the Marlin brothers. They left around the same time as Zena disappeared. They’re so bent you couldn’t hang your clothes on them – but even they wouldn’t stoop to this, I’m told. They’ve gone to London.

“I tell you, Maddy, whoever has done this is not popular. The police are breathing heavily down everyone’s neck. I’ve been told that several bruisers are looking out for these kidnappers to rearrange their limbs for them.”

“Sounds nasty.”

“It is.”

“Anything else?”

“The police have been checking up blacks who have recently rented new bed-sits or flats in the last five weeks in Leicester. Everybody who has new bed-sits and flats have been, or are about to be, visited by the police.”

That disappointed Maddy. She had intended to do a check on rented accommodation in Leicester’s estate agents and the police had got there first.

“And they’ve found nothing?”

“Not as yet.” Kandy added: “And as far as my info is concerned they won’t. These villains appear to be sprayed in invisible paint – and even then I’d know. If they’re anywhere they must be outside the city, on the outskirts, or in accommodation that hasn’t recently changed hands.”

“I see.”

“Anyway must go. I’ll phone back if I hear anything else.”


Later, as previously arranged, James came to collect the girls in his father’s Rover. Corky slid in the front seat beside him and they started off.

There was optimism in the air as they drove along in evening sunshine but their high spirits were dampened at the hospital. Nigel’s coma still held him. Nigel’s father – who had arrived earlier with his wife – said the doctors now feared possible brain damage. Maddy thought Mr. Swain looked older that the last time she met him.

When visiting time was over James gave the girls a lift home and arranged to collect Maddy in the morning; Corky would get a lift with her dad and meet them at the railway station.


“I collared Paul Statham,” said James on Wednesday morning as he drove Maddy along Victoria Road towards Leicester Station.


“It’s all pretty useless. He said we had it all wrong. He said ‘Nibes’ was his nickname for the police. It was a hip-word they used they had got from some American comic.”

Maddy grimaced. “If that’s all it was why did his friend tell him to shut up so emphatically then?”

“Exactly – just what I asked. They had something to hide: it was him and Karl Snell, his friend, who tore the tore the door off Zena’s locker,” said James, manoeuvring into a car park off Conduit Street.

He pulled on the handbrake.

“Zena teased them a lot so they decided to play a nasty joke on her,” he continued. “Last Tuesday afternoon they tore off her locker door and stole four of her text books which they defaced. They were then going to return them but when she went missing they became frightened and burnt all the books. Statham pleaded with me not to tell the police. I said I’d think about it. When I left he was shaking so much he looked like he’d been electrified.”

“That’s three leads swallowed up: the locker, Paul Statham’s nervousness and this thing about the ‘Nibes’. His explanation of that sounds daft.”

“I know what you’re thinking,” he said. “You think they know something, but to be quite honest, I don’t think so. The more I questioned them the less it appeared like that.”

“Are you sure?”

“I’m never sure.”

They met Corky outside the station as planned. “You brought the photograph?” she asked Maddy.

Maddy quickly exhibited the school photograph of Zena that Mrs. Saxby had given her.

They entered through the wrought iron gates into the station forecourt and crossed the cobbled surface. Red girders of the roof stretched above them. Passing through a triangular, cheese-portion shaped foyer they came out into the central booking office area.

An eight-faced ticket office was in the centre dominating the floor space. On each face, below hanging baskets of flowers, was a glass screen separating ticket sellers from ticket buyers. To the teenager’s right, a man served in a W.H. Smith kiosk; to the left, a young girl served in a red and yellow Railbar.

“That must be her,” said Corky.

The girl had drooped down into a chair to varnish her nails as they arrived at the counter. She exuded an air of exacting boredom.

“I wonder if you can help us?” asked Maddy, “We’re looking for a friend. Have you ever seen this girl?”

Keeping her two glistening green nails away from her clothes the girl studied the photo.

“Oh Yes,” she said in between blowing on her nails, “I don’t know her to talk to, but she seemed quite nice. I often used to say hello to her. I think it’s the same girl. Yes it is. She was down here quite often”


“At the weekends, I think.”

“Was she alone?” asked Maddy.

“Mostly. I don’t know really. I can’t remember. I saw her down here with a girl once I think.”

“A girl?”

A man who wanted an apple pie and a can of Diet Coke held up questioning for several minutes.

She couldn’t remember what the other girl looked like. Maddy described Leslie. Was it her? It could have been.” She looked bored and sat down again and began to colour the nails on her other hand.

“Thanks. We might be back later,” said Maddy.

“What a div, ” said James, when they had all backed away.

“Musn’t give up,” sighed Corky, sounding like she already had.

Leaving James and Corky amongst themselves Maddy went over to the newspaper kiosk. She showed the photograph to a fifty year old man whose brown hair had been swept over his scalp to cover his baldness. Maddy thought his head looked a lot like a potato.

“Yes,” he said cheerfully. “I’ve seen her down here often.” He looked up from the colour print. “She a friend of yours, ducks?”

“Sort of.” Then she said, “When did you see her?”

“She’d probably come down once a week, possibly weekends. She used to go to that luggage locker over there with another girl.”

Maddy’s eyes widened in surprise.

“I remember the locker,” he continued, “because its different to the others. Its that big one.” He pointed. “Pretty girl, aint she?” He was looking at the photo again.

“And who was this other girl?”

“Oh, different. Long black hair, long black coat. A bit scruffy for my taste.”

“Anything else you can remember about her?”

“No. Oh yes. She wore glasses. Yes, she did.”

“How old was she?”

“The younger one? This one here in the photo should be living with her mum, I reckon.”


“She’s not old enough to live on her own is she?”

“How old was the other girl? The one with the dark hair?”

“About eighteen. And this one,” he held up the photo, about fifteen, I’d say.”

He’s wrong about Zena’s age so he’s probably wrong about the age of the other girl, thought Maddy. He echoed her thought.

“I could be wrong about that, but the dark haired girl was an inch taller or more. Have they done something wrong, these two girls?”

“No,” said Maddy.

“That’s not what I thought you know,” he said with a wicked smile. “Its drugs, isn’t it? I wondered what they kept putting into that locker. One would come and put something in and the other would come and take something out.”

Maddy couldn’t believe it. After such a prolonged drought of information floodgates had opened.

“And what did they keep putting in and taking out of the locker?”

“When the door swings open it obscures the view: you can’t see what’s being put in or taken out from here.”

“Oh I see what you mean.”

“But I know, you know. You seem to be very excited about all this,” he said. “I’m not so sure what you’re up to but I’ll tell you. I found it quite fascinating.” He grinned, exposing his tobacco stained teeth to her.”

“It was a brown bag, a travelling bag. I saw it once or twice.”

“The girls put it in the locker?”

“That’s right. I wondered what was in it.” He glared at her as if he was slightly mad. “Drugs is it?”

“Do you know at what time the girls used to arrive?”

“I’ve got my wits about me, right enough, but its busy here sometimes. I’d see them at weekends. Saturdays. And I think I saw this girl during last week, only she was with someone else then.”

Maddy described Leslie to him but he wasn’t sure. All he could say was that she didn’t have black hair.

“Thank you,” she said and walked off.

Once past the black telephone boxes she moved up to the luggage lockers.

Most were of the coin-operated type: for 40p an article could be left in the box for twenty four hours. The four larger maroon lockers were not coin operated and four months was the maximum that an article could be left inside. This information was stickered on the front, together with the instructions for their use.

Maddy queued up at the ticket office. While she was waiting to be served she noticed that the lockers couldn’t be seen from this vantage point either.

“Can I ask you some questions about the larger luggage lockers that you can leave things in for a long while?”

“Certainly,” said the young girl behind the glass.

“As far as I understand, if I pay five pounds I can leave any luggage in there for up to four months.”

“That’s right.”

“Can you tell me who had locker number two?”

“I suppose so. Yes, here it is on the list. Julia Robinson.”

“Julia Robinson.”

“Yes. She’s still hiring it. She’s been using it since the 7th of May, which means she can use it up to the 7th September.”

“Do you have her address?”

“Um…” she looked at Maddy suspiciously, “I shouldn’t give addresses.”

“I’m a friend of hers.”

“Well…7 Barncombe Avenue.”

“Do you have a key for them.”

“Yes. You take one key, we keep a spare.”

Maddy thought quickly. It was worth a try.

“I’m checking which is her locker. As I say I’m a friend of hers. As she’s not very well she asked me to come down and retrieve what’s been left in her locker. She couldn’t give me the key – she’s lost it.”

“I’m sorry we can’t open the locker for anyone except the police, who sometimes spot-check the lockers. If the girl has lost her key she will have to pay a fine before we open the locker.”

“I’m prepared to pay the – “

“No. I can’t hand over the key. Julia Robinson will have to come and see us when she’s better.”

“Okay, thanks for your help.” said Maddy.



Maddy lowered herself on the bench between James and Corky and related what she’d been told. James stared at the cut away diamonds in his leather sandals; Corky sunk her chin into her palm, her fingers fanned out and her chocolate-drop eyes stared into space.

“We have to get that locker open. And I know how to do it,” said James.


“I’ve got a mate, Johnathan Ball. He’s a magician with fixing locks. He’s got car keys, padlock keys, skeleton keys. You name it, he’s got it.”

“Its against the law,” said Corky.

“We won’t get into trouble if we’re not caught,” said James with excitement in his eyes.

Maddy wasn’t sure. But if they didn’t open the locker, they would never get to know what was in it if the police were brought in.

“We can hire a locker next to the one the two girls used. Then while my mate, Jonathan, is opening the locker we crowd round him while he unlocks the other locker. No one will see us.”

“I’ve already made it obvious I want to look inside the locker,” said Maddy. “They’re bound to think something suspicious is going on.”

“You said the girl in the ticket office can’t see the lockers from where she’s positioned. All we have to worry about is the bloke in the kiosk. Perhaps we can work out some diversive tactics for him while we open the locker.”

“That’s an idea….”

“Right,” said James, “Let’s do it.”

James reappeared fifty minutes later with Jonathan Ball and found the girls on the platform snack bar.

“So you’re a safe breaker?” said Maddy, smiling.

“I like locks,” said Johnathan, pointing to a badge on the lapel of his stripey blazer of a white key hole in a black circle.

“Very subtle,” said Maddy.

“Lets move quickly,” said James, “there won’t be any need for us to plan diversive tactics; the chap in the kiosk has gone and a woman’s taken his place. Let’s do it now in case he comes back.”

They went over what they had to do.

They climbed the platform stairs and ascended more steps to the central booking area. Johnathon walked up to the ticket office; the others went out into the lobby as planned. Johnathon, giving a fake address, hired locker number three for seven days. The girl exchanged his fee for the locker key. From the lobby only Corky could see what was going on. Maddy and James stood behind two arches separating the booking area from the entrance. Corky was positioned to keep them informed.

Johnathon walked away from the ticket-office window towards the lockers and out of Corky’s view.

“He’s in position,” whispered Corky.

“Give him a minute,” said James. It had been planned to give Johnathon enough time to unlock locker number three so that he could inspect the type of lock before attempting locker number two.

Unknown to Maddy, James nor Corky, the green door at the far end of the lobby opened. They were too preoccupied to realise a man was approaching from behind.

“Still here are you?” he shouted heartily.

Maddy turned. Oh no – it was the potato man from the kiosk!

“Still trying to find those drugs, eh? I can tell you three are up to something.” He released bad breath all over Maddy.

“Ah…there you are, sir,” said Maddy, thinking quickly, “could you spare me a little more of your time?”

“What do you mean? More questions?”

Maddy turned to James and Corky, “I’ll see you later then,” she said, and grabbed the arm of the shabby man and virtually pulled him out into the station forecourt. She flicked her head back to see if James and Corky had gone. They had.

“I ought to tell you what’s going on,” she said as she led the man into the noisiest of places to have a quiet conversation.

“She’s an addict, you know,” she began.

Maddy wove a fabulous story about the blonde haired girl. Her father was an actor who had inherited millions of pounds and part of the Longleat Estate from his grandmother. The complexities and irrelevances she brought into the tale where so great in number that as her story developed she began to forget what she had said. She wasn’t the only one getting confused.

“What’s all this got to do with the girls? I don’t understand.”

“Well, its obvious,” said Maddy, waving her arms around, realising that very soon he would know she was talking gibberish. “He couldn’t have been an actor if he hadn’t have had the lions.”

“Oh?” He scratched his dandruff-topped scalp. “But who is this man anyway?”

Maddy’s imagination was becoming full of ridiculous images. Had Johnathon opened the locker yet?

“What do you mean?”

“This actor. What’s his name?”

Maddy just couldn’t think of an actor; her mind seemed full of monsters. She couldn’t hesitate any longer.

“David Octopus,” she said.

“David who?”

The man thrust his hands in his pockets, and laughed scornfully. “Why are you interested in that locker? If you don’t give me a straight answer I’m going to phone the police. I’m thinking I was right. There’s something dodgy about all this.”

“Listen. I know it sounds crazy but listen. You see the girls were dealing in heroin. One would collect from London and stash it in the locker and the other would collect it.”

“I’d better phone the police anyway.”

“No!” She grabbed his sleeve again, and spoke into his ear, quietly, conspiratorially. “That’s why I couldn’t tell you the truth before. That’s why they’ve sent me down, so as not to raise too many suspicions.”

“You working for the police then?”

“Yes, I’m working for the police.”

“Show me your identity card.”

It struck Maddy she was breaking the law by impersonating a police officer.

“No,” she said, thinking quickly again, “I’m not a policewoman. You misunderstood. I’m the daughter of the Superintendent.”

“And your name is?”

“I can’t give my name.”

“Right! That’s enough.” He started to move off.

“Wait!” She shouted running after him, but once inside the station lobby he quickly turned right into the olive green door he’d originally come out of.

She raced through the archway into the booking hall and fought her way through crowds and queues of disembarking passengers.

James and Johnathon were fiddling with the lock of locker number two. Corky stood away dejectedly contemplating her own feet.

“The police are coming! We’ve all got to get out.” Maddy was panting. “Have you got the bag?” She couldn’t see it anywhere.

“Have a quick look at what we found,” said James. He let go of the door handle. It swung open to give her a complete view of the inside contents.

“Oh god! Lock it and let’s get out of here,” she said.

“Can’t. It’s broken.”

“Let’s just get out of here.”

Corky had gone. Maddy, James and Johnathon pushed their way past bodies and sped through the lobby without meeting the kiosk man. Minutes later, slamming doors, they fell into the Rover; James hit the accelerator and sped up to the junction where Conduit Street meets London Road. Frustratingly there was a traffic jam. A march was going by.

A British Empire Party rally, demonstrating about ethnic minorities in Leicester, was passing and blocked the road for twenty minutes.

“As they waited on edge for the rally to pass no one spoke except Johnathon.

He was apologetic.

“I’m afraid I sometimes break a lock which I don’t have a key for,” he was saying. He felt that everyone’s disappointment was in some way due to him.

But it wasn’t. The locker had been empty.

They dropped off Johnathan near his home in Filbert Street. Maddy scribbled down his address and phone number in her penguin notebook. “Sorry you didn’t find what you were looking for,” he shouted, as he waved them off.

They went to Corky’s home in Oakthrope Avenue. It was out of the way of the police and she had a map of Leicester there Maddy wanted to consult.

Oakthorpe Avenue was misnamed. It had no trees upon its wide pavements only military-green lamp posts. Near Corky’s front gate a king telegraph pole collected wire from every roof as if knitting from twenty balls of wool at once.

Inside number thirty two, Corky’s mum was preparing a salad which they refused but coffee won group approval. They held committee in the lounge and spread out a map of Leicester’s streets over the large oak table in the centre of the room. Corky tried to find Julia Robinson’s address in the map index.

“7 Barncombe Avenue, it was,” said Maddy.

“Its not there is it?” said Maddy a moment later, and she gazed despondently out the window across the street.

“Don’t say that,” said James.

“I’ll try a different spelling,” said Corky quietly. “All I can find is Barnby Avenue and Barnes Close.”

“No. Nothing,” sighed Corky a moment later.

“Its a false address,” said Maddy.

“That’s just brilliant,” James sighed. “The luggage locker led us nowhere and now the address leads us nowhere.” He turned to Maddy, “I thought you were supposed to be clever.”

Corky’s mum came in with a tray of coffee and biscuits a moment later. “You all look like you’ve found a penny and lost a friend,” she said, smirked and left the room.

“I’m sorry, Maddy,” said James a moment later, “I’m just getting ratty.”

Maddy told him to go and boil his head.

Corky, leaning over the map, began thinking out loud, “Whoever broke into Zena’s probably came from the playing fields. I was trying to work out from which direction he or she had come so as to get onto the canal towpath. They either came from the north, Middleton Street, or on the canal from the south, which means they would have had to walk a long way – the nearest connection being Gilmoreton Avenue.”

Maddy considered the map.

“Its no good, Corky, I’m afraid,” said Maddy. “The person who came from the canal could have come from anywhere: north, south, east or west. We know as much about where he or she came form as where he or she is now.”

She scratched her head and thought.

“What we need to do is to work out what happened when this character arrived at Zena’s window.”

“It was already open,” suggested Corky.


“I bet it wasn’t,” said James.

“Because the person who came round from the front had opened it already for the person who came later.”

“That’s an interesting idea.”

“What do you mean?” asked James.

“The important question is: which of the trails of footprints arrived first, or did they arrive simultaneously?”

“And what’s the answer?”

“I’m just speculating. Let’s throw around some ideas.”

“They break open the window,” suggested James.

“No need. The window wasn’t locked.” Corky’s turn.

“Zena opens the window for them,” suggested Maddy.

“That’s weird, but original,” quipped James.

“Think about it. It’s possible. Zena allows the visitor in, perhaps not realising that she is going to be kidnapped.”

“You mean it was someone she knew?”

“It could have been.”

“But why the ranson note, the medallion?”

“I don’t know.”

“Perhaps it was the second visitor who caused the mess, or kidnapped Zena. Perhaps the first person came in the window and the second person caused havoc and kidnapped two people.”

“But who was the person with such large feet?” asked James. “No one we know wears heavy soled boots like those.”

“Mr. Saxby, perhaps, or the dead man in the canal, although he was wearing the wrong tread, or – like you say – someone we don’t know.”

“Okay,” said Corky, “Try this. Peter Saxby arrives in the garden and taps on the window. She lets him in, perhaps because he’s come up from the canal and its closer than the side or the front door. He climbs in the window and they sit and talk. Then a rastafarian comes in the window and takes them out of the front door……….oh, its sounds stupid, doesn’t it?”

“What about this: supposing it was her friend, or possibly her enemy Julia Robinson. They had an argument about this brown bag in the locker at the station. She came round the back to steal it, or to take some revenge,” said Maddy.

“Hey, didn’t Hanson mention some hair on the window catch? What colour was it? Black wasn’t it?”

“Exactly,” said Maddy.


“The fact that she had black hair and there’s black hair on the window catch may be circumstantial; it may be a man’s hair; after all, how many people do you know with dark, or black hair. Although I agree it’s a bit coincidental.”

“Couldn’t Julia could have taken Zena out of the window?” asked Corky.

“There’s no sign of Zena’s footprints,” said James.

“Julia Robinson could have thrown her over her shoulder as she retraced her footprints back around the drive.”

“I see what you mean, said Maddy, but why go out the back to get round to the front. Unless she thought her mother was in? No. It doesn’t fit. In fact, her arriving at all doesn’t fit to me.”

She dropped her jaw into her cupped hand. Sun rays beamed through the window high-lighting particles of dust. Long shadows were cast across the table top.

“Nigel’s been worrying me, you know.”

“Yes,” said James, “I’ve been thinking Nigel’s got some explaining to do. People don’t just beat you up for no reason.”

“I’m not so sure about that,” muttered Corky.

“It seems more than a loss of memory to me that Nigel should fail to tell us that he’d let Zena into the house on Tuesday.”

“Perhaps Zena let herself in,” suggested James.

“Hello Corky, hello everyone.” Diane Taylor, the schoolteacher, had suddenly appeared in the room with Corky’s mum. “I knew I’d be passing this way and I thought I’d deliver those screen printing inks I promised you,” she said cheerily. “Goodness, what’s wrong with you all. You seem very subdued. What’s wrong? Haven’t you solved the crime yet?” She giggled.

“We’re marvellous at theories,” said James, “but everything we find turns out to be useless.”

“Its an uphill struggle but we’re determined to get there,” contradicted Maddy.

“You must be Madeline Quebric. I’ve heard about you. At least you’ve got a positive attitude. I’m surprised at you, James.” She looked across at him. “You sound defeated.”

“I’m not at school now, don’t give me lectures……”

After Diane had departed, James offered Maddy a lift back to Meadvale in his dad’s car but she declined: “I’m not going home. I’m going to pay a call on a black crow.”

“A black crow?” James gave her a puzzled look.

“I’ll tell you about it later,” she said.


Maddy had gone to Heathcote Street to see the black crow: Dorothy Brent.

Dorothy’s wavy jet black hair fell away from a centre parting, cascaded down her pretty face and kissed her neck. Her thin-line striped shirt, stone washed Kiku jeans with turnups, black shoes with white socks fitted her sunny personality perfectly.

“I can’t tell you anything about Zena,” Dorothy warned her in the first few minutes, “The police have been here twice and left me limp with questioning. I met her walking from school and asked if I could have some essays back. I told her I was going to see you and she invited herself along.”

“What essays?” enquired Maddy.

“I lent her some history notes on the third world. She had copied them up and said she would return them some time.”

“Has she?”

“Of course not. It would be a bit difficult to slip away from your kidnappers to return some history notes, wouldn’t it.

Maddy took Dorothy through fifteen minutes of intensive questioning but none of the answers provided any fresh information.

As Maddy started walking away from the house she had an idea.

She returned to the gate. Dorothy was turned away from her going into the kitchen door.

“Julia Robinson!” Maddy called loudly.

Dorothy turned round, her eyes wide. She emerged from the half open door into the sunlight.


“Julia Robinson?”

“Who’s she?”

“Beats me actually, have you heard of her?”

“It sounds a sort of familiar. Hmm. I can’t put a face to it.”

“Okay. Don’t mention it to anyone. I’ll keep in touch.”

“Alright. ‘Bye.”

Maddy walked towards the city centre in search of a girl’s name. Regardless that it would take days, weeks or even months to cover all the estate agents it had to be done, although she knew the effort might once again prove to be valueless.

Deep down though she really believed that dogged effort gets results. And in this case she was right.

At Corky’s James was reclining on the settee ill at ease about Maddy’s secretiveness. No doubt Maddy would explain melodramatically about the black crow when it suited her. Whatever had happened to her sense of cooperation? He said so to Corky after both Maddy and Diane had left. Corky just shrugged her shoulders and said Maddy was a law unto herself.

James had meant to leave at the same time as Diane to go home and get changed but Corky had a better idea.

James dropped the carrier bag containing fresh strawberries, plain yogurt, grape juice, bread, brie and cheddar and a pound of Granny Smiths onto the back seat of the car. He then climbed in next to Corky, into the glasshouse heat of its interior. Minutes later he was driving to Bradgate park.

Passing factories thinned out into housing estates and then into isolated dwellings as the car sped along the country lane. Soon the buildings gave way to trees; the habitats of wildlife taking over from those of humans.

Twenty minutes later they had arrived. Around them stretched rolling grass hills studied with Charnwood oaks and wandering red deer. The sound of wind, birds, and the gentle rushing of clear water gave Corky a delightful feeling of freedom. She watched her feet sink slightly into the soft ground as she walked. The smell of meadows cooked in the breeze.

“You know Corky, Maddy’s bugging me,” said James.


“This lack of team spirit.”

She looked blankly at him.

“I think Maddy knows something and she’s not telling us.”

“I don’t think so. She doesn’t have that air of confidence that she had last year. When she was investigating the school fire she made a few guesses which the police thought stupid but which eventually proved to be right. She’s not like that now; she’s floundering a lot. She may have a few ideas, but she has pride and she’s probably dubious about telling us in case they’re wrong. She doesn’t want to discover she isn’t as good as she thinks she is – which you can understand. I hope this whole affair doesn’t hurt her too much.”

“Don’t you think she’s capable of finding Zena?”

Corky looked sideways, wistfully. “I don’t know. I love Maddy. She’s a real friend, but I’ve a horrible feeling that she’ll get depressed when this is all over. I think she’s taken on something too big.”

“It sounds as if you’re losing confidence in her.”

“Perhaps I’m losing sight of what’s going on. I never wanted to be involved in this Zena Saxby thing anyway; whereas that case last year it was interesting. Perhaps it’s not that I’m losing faith in Maddy, it’s just that I’m finding you more interesting.”

Corky couldn’t quite believe what she was saying; admitting it so blatantly.

James didn’t respond.

“I think she looks awful,” he said.

“She can’t help it. There’s not a lot she can do about her features.”

“She could diet.”

Corky lay back on her elbows feeling the warming effects of the sun.”

I do like you,” said James.

“Do you?”

“Yes. I don’t know why. I don’t know you very well. You’re not the most beautiful girl in the world.”

“Thanks very much,” she laughed.

“No, sorry. I think you’re pretty, but I wouldn’t put you in the Miss World stakes.”

“It’s alright, you don’t have to qualify it. I know I’m Miss Average.”

“I think you make me feel easy. You know, relaxed, somehow.”

“I’ve fancied you for ages.”

“Have you.” It wasn’t a question. “Yes, I suppose I knew. Come here.”

The heat of the sun burnt down on their skins. Occasionally there was a gentle breeze.

Later they talked about Zena again.

“Do you think there were drugs in that bag?” he asked.

“No….I think it was…something of value but not illegal,” she suddenly said.


“Something like er….coins, stamps, antiques.”

“I’ve got it!” She suddenly sat up, “Blackmail. I haven’t followed it through in my mind, but it feels right. Photos or letters.”

He gave her a supercilious look

“You mean one of the girls was blackmailing the other?” He thought about it for a moment.

“Yes. Let’s imagine Zena was blackmailing Julia. She gradually passed on something in the bag and Julia brought the bag back with money installments in it. Finally all the blackmail material is in Julia’s possession and the blackmail stopped. Then Julia sought revenge. She decided to get Zena back.”

“ Maybe.”

“And she devises this plan to kidnap Zena leaving lots of red herrings all over the place to confuse the police, and gets all her money back, and more, by demanding ransom money.”

“Zoink! What a brilliant theory!”

Corky ignored his sarcasm. She was pleased with the idea. “We ought to tell Maddy.”

James held out his hand to pull her up.

“No wait. There’s one problem with that idea. If Zena was blackmailing this Julia Robinson how come they were seen together. They could have simply handed the bag over, so why the locker?”

“Were they seen together?” queried James.

“I think Maddy said they were.”

“I don’t remember.”

“Frankly, nor do I.”

After visiting eight estate agents around the centre of Leicester Maddy was on her her way to the ninth. So far, searching for a dubious needle in countless haystacks had proved fruitless; all it had done was tire her.

The chances of the Julia Robinson renting a flat or bedsit was remote but not impossible. It was possible she had used another name. It was possible that Maddy would simply not go to the right estate agent or flat agency – there were so many things to cover.

The ninth estate agent had no Julia Robinson on their files either.

At six, Maddy sitting next to her dad on the settee, avidly made scribbles about possible connections in the Zena Saxby case.

“You have used seventy per cent of my stationery this week,”complained her father, “What are you trying to do – Rewrite the bible? No? That’s just as well, because they used sentences – not boxes, circles and arrows.”

She ignored him.

Corky phoned at seven from Woodbridge hospital. She sounded happy. She had had a lovely day with James picnicking at Bradgate park.

“Good,” said Maddy.

“We came up with a great idea in the park about Zena.”

“Fire away.”

“Well you know the brown bag in the station locker? I reckon that photos or letters were in it. You see, Zena was blackmailing this Julia and the money was being passed in the bag as the blackmail material was passed back. Julia, having got all the blackmail material back kidnaps Zena and expects to make a huge amount of money.”

“What about the footprints, the ransom note, the ticket to London, ecetera?”

“Red herrings to confuse the police!”

“And the dead body?”

“I’ll pass on that one. I’ll leave you to work that out.”

“You give me the easy ones.”

“There is one problem. Did Julia and Zena meet together or collect the bag separately? If they collected it separately the theory holds, but if they collected it together what would be the point in hiring a locker? They could have handed over the contents to each other without coming to the station.”

Maddy considered for a moment and then said, “The man at the kiosk said they were both there on Saturdays, and I assumed he meant together, but he didn’t actually say that. I can’t really go back and ask him.”

“Hang on a mo, Maddy, James is calling.”

“Good news Maddy,” said Corky half a minute later, “James had been talking to one of the doctors. Nigel is recovering. He’s coming out of his coma and is making noises. Unfortunately he still can’t talk because of his sore jaw, but he should be on the road to recovery by the weekend. His mum, dad and sister are over the moon. They’re praying he doesn’t have brain damage – its still too early to say yet – “

“Can he answer questions?”

“No. He’s not recognised anyone yet. I’ll go there now, visiting time will be over soon. I’ll see you tomorrow.”



On Thursday morning Maddy tried to track down Zena’s Youth club by phoning the Social Services.

“You want Nicola Chamberlain. She’s in charge of St.Anne’s. She should be at home for the next two days, she’s just moved house,” she was told. Her landline hadn’t been connected yet so Maddy wrote down her address: 27 Aberdale Road.

Thirty minutes later she called on her.

Nicola Chamberlain was dark, slim-waisted, and grinned like a street urchin. She was about thirty.

“The youth club runs every Tuesday night,” said Nicola, after Maddy had introduced herself. “Its got the usual things: discos, table tennis, badminton, board games and a few extra: dancing classes and a guitar club. It has something magical about it that the kids like. Zena’s been coming since about last November – about eight months. She wasn’t a great mixer. She was a quiet girl. I remember she liked the dancing classes that we arranged; she supposed to have had quite a potential. She came regularly every week. She stopped coming just over two months ago.”

“Do you know why she stopped?” asked Maddy.

“Yes, I do. We were chatting one Tuesday and she complained about having so much work to do. She said she would probably not come for a while due to the pressure of her GCSEs.” Nicola leaned back on the white garden chair.

“I see, What did she do down the youth club?”

“She used to knock about with a girl called Leslie, who came down sometimes, although not as often as Zena. They used to get on well. Very flash parents you know.”

“Leslie Swain? Yes, we’ve met. Anyone else?” asked Maddy.

“John Edmunds used to thrash her at table tennis. She used to get quite angry about it.”

“I don’t know him. Do you have his address or telephone number?”

“No, but phone me on when I’m at work on Monday and I can give you the contacts for all of Zena’s youth club friends. If you like I’ll make a list out for you on Monday. “

“That would be great. Thanks.”

“Anything to help the poor girl.”

“Were there any girls down at the youth club who wore glasses, had long black hair – about five feet ten, about your height I’d say.”

“Yes. A few fitted that description.”

“Anyone called Julia Robinson?”

Maddy watched but Nicola answered without any change of expression.

“I don’t remember that name. I’ll have to ask the other staff. They might know. If she did attend I’ll put her name and address on the list I draw up for you.”


“No problem. I’d be glad to be of help. I still can’t believe any of this. It sounds bizarre. How are her family coping?”

“Mrs. Saxby was depressed when we saw her on Thursday. And that was before she was asked for ransom money. And Peter Saxby, Zena’s dad is drunk all the time.”

“Is he?” Nicola sounded surprised. “I can’t imagine him drinking at all.”


“He seemed too dignified to be a heavy drinker. You can never tell, can you?”

“Mr. Saxby?”


“Mr. Saxby?” asked Maddy again, her eyes widening.

“Yes, Why do you look so surprised?”

“I don’t understand. I can’t imagine how Peter Saxby could ever give that impression.”

“Well he…wait a minute…unless….”

“Unless what?”

“Perhaps it wasn’t Peter Saxby. I just assumed it was. What colour hair does Mr. Saxby have?”

“blonde, Straw coloured.”

“Oh. Is he fat, does he wear a suit?”

He’s thin as a rake. He might wear a suit. I’ve never seen him in one.”

“That’d weird. It couldn’t have been Mr. Saxby.”

“What couldn’t?”

“A man used to pick Zena up from the youth club. I assumed it was her dad. Far too old to be her boyfriend. He was about fifty, or fifty five.”

“Her dad’s younger than that.”

“Now I think about it,” said Nicola, “he only came to pick her up shortly before she stopped coming. He had short black hair. Let me think. He was thick set, square jawed and wore a blue, expensive suit. He was very polite – but on reflection – perhaps too polite. I assumed he was her father.

“The first time I saw her I followed him into the youth club. He turned and asked me if Zena was around so I directed him to the table tennis room where she usually hung out. He found her and they went outside to have a chat in the yard. I’ve no idea what about. He left and she returned to her table tennis. He picked her up when the club folded up, at around ten. He didn’t come in, he was waiting by the gate. I remember wishing that all fathers would come and pick their daughters up in this frightening city. He was there for the next two weeks waiting at the gate. He never came in again.”

“So you saw them three times together?”

“Yes. I think it was three.”

“Was there physical contact between them?”

“Oh, I see what you mean. No. They didn’t hold hands or anything. I only saw them together properly the first time when he came inside. I saw him wait for her, and go off with her on other occasions, but from a distance. I didn’t take much notice. It just seemed like a dad and his daughter to me.”

“Did they get into a car?”

“I don’t think so. No.”

“So they walked somewhere?”

“Presumably, unless a car was parked around the corner.”

“After three weeks of this man coming Zena stopped attending the youth club.”

“Yes. It sounds frightening, doesn’t it.”

“It would sound logical if she’d been abducted, or even murdered on the last night of the youth club, particularly as this man met her afterwards, but no. Everything carries on as normal and she was abducted, perhaps murdered three months later.”

“You don’t really think she’s dead, do you?” asked Nicola.


The image of a dead body floated up out of Maddy’s memory, up from the Grand Union canal.

“About fifty you said?” she said quickly.

“That’s right.”

That afternoon Maddy went back into the city but still Julia Robinson could not be found on any estate agents book. When she got home her father told her that Detective Inspector Hanson had called and was coming back at seven.

Maddy was relieved that the inspector hadn’t been angry when he had called, but not about him returning at seven. She would have to postpone her visit to the hospital to see Nigel which was particularly important now that he was recovering. Fortunately James and Corky were going so they could question him instead – assuming he was in any fit state to answer.

Maddy found the evening paper interesting again. Next to the major headline – which concerned more rubbish about Tuesday’s forthcoming election – was the following article, accompanied by a photograph of a familiar white bridge:


The police have identified the body of the middle-aged man found last Thursday in the Grand Union canal. He is Mr. Patrick Geoffrey Woebin and has been registerd with several local welfare and charity services. The pathology report stated his body contained a high level of alcohol (120 mg per 100 ml of blood) but no fractures or bruises were concomitant with the time of his death. The police suspect the cause of his death to be accidental but Detective Inspector Hanson claimed this morning that the possibility of foul play has not been completely ruled out.

Mr. Woebin’s former wife had been notified. She has been separated from her husband for twelve years although they were never divorced. She will travel from Sussex at a later date to attend the coroner’s inquest which is being delayed for a short while at the request of the police.

“So he was an alcoholic,” said Corky reading it after she had arrived.

“I think if you read between the lines it means he was a tramp, probably a meths drinker,” said Maddy.

“I see what you mean.” Corky reclined on the spongy back rest of the settee. “Perhaps he was a drunk who simply fell into the canal by accident. Zena’s kidnapper may have walked past completely unaware of him floating in the water.”

“Could be.”


Maddy explained that she wouldn’t be coming to see Nigel as Hanson was calling at seven.

“You and James go and see Nigel. See if he can talk yet. Ask him if he let Zena in. Ask him who beat him up. Ask him what books were borrowed, okay.”

“Yeh, but I doubt if we’ll get much out of him – he’s still very ill, although he’s out of danger. He’s not spoken yet. I’m sure he wanted to tell me something before he passed out.”

“I’d like to know what. Just do what you can.”

“I saw James this morning,” Corky said, “We went round to the Swain household. We looked everywhere for that note that Zena wrote to Nigel but we found nothing. Nothing at all. The only conclusion we can come to is that it was chucked away.”

“Perhaps Nigel picked it up and it’s in one of his pockets.”

“James checked all his clothes. There was plenty of rubbish in his pockets but no note.”

“Then check his clothes at the hospital.”

“That’s an idea.”

When James arrived Maddy explained that she had to stay behind to see the police.

“Up to your secrets again are you, you cunning old fox?”


“What about all these brilliant hunches you’re supposed to have. You’re keeping those quiet, aren’t you?”

“Not at all. I’ll tell you about my ideas when I can make them fit.” she said sourly.

“I didn’t mean to get you going,” said James, pulling funny faces.

Despite James’s irritating comments Maddy told them about her visit to Dorothy Brent. She mentioned trekking around the estate agents.”

“That’s a mammoth task,” said James. “Julia Robinson may have rented somewhere privately, or have rented one from the accommodation columns in the local papers. And she may have used a false name. It’s not surprising you’ve been unsuccessful.”

“True. And she may not have rented, or bought anywhere anyway. She may not live anywhere near Leicester,” said Maddy, sighing, “but this sort of checking is virtually all we have left.” She told them about her discussion with Nicola Chamberlain and about man who had collected Zena from the youth club.

“That’s got to be the man in the canal,” said Corky.

“I’m going to check that tomorrow,” said Maddy. “Apart from that I want to take another visit up to Rowley Hill’s school and wander about.”

“Why?” asked Corky. “You’ll hardly find anyone up there. It’s the last day of term tomorrow.”

“No particular reason,” said Maddy, “Just curious about people like Diane Taylor and Paul Statham and many others up there.

“You surely don’t suspect the art teacher?” laughed Corky.

“I didn’t say suspect, I said curious.”

“I’m not being secretive,” continued Maddy after a short pause, “I just felt I’d like to visit the school myself and nosy about.”

James looked at his watch. “We ought to be going,” he said.

Maddy grabbed the Leicester Mercury off the settee. “Get Corky to read you this as you drive to the hospital. It’s about the corpse in the canal.”

He took the newspaper. “Will do.”

Maddy was glad that both her parents had gone out to evening class when Hanson arrived. She didn’t want him to start winding them up or vice-versa. She sat him down on the hessian sofa in the front room and and he accepted a black coffee.

He was abrupt but less so than usual.

“Now, young lady, no points awarded for guessing what I want to talk about. This Zena Saxby case is a difficult one. I’m getting pressure from the Chief Super about it, and – to be honest – my imagination is not performing like it should be. I want you to tell me all the answers.”

“There’s nothing I haven’t already told you.”

“Leslie Swain has visited us and informed us that you know a great deal.”

“All I know is what I read in the papers. I read today that the man in the canal was a tramp.”

“How do you know that? It didn’t say that.”

“He was drunk, old and his clothes were tatty.”

“Ah. Yes. Simple deduction. An educated guess. In fact you’re right. But you could have been wrong. In fact you’re correct. I don’t mind giving you some information if you give me some back in return.” His voice evened out. “Let’s go back to the beginning.”

“I’ve told you all I know.”

“Come on, come on. If you do us a favour maybe we’ll do you one or two.”

She wasn’t going to tell him anything.

“I was interested in the case but you told me to leave it alone – so I’ve kept out of it.”

“Ah, so you won’t tell me what you know because of hurt pride.”

“I’m sorry, Detective Hanson, I just can’t help you.”

“Leslie said you weren’t the last person to see Zena in the afternoon.”

“No, Zena went with Leslie to the station. She told me that. The last person to see her was that political canvasser chap.”

“Yes, but Leslie told us you knew a lot. Didn’t say exactly what. Something about platform tickets she said. What exactly?”

She’d have to say something now.

“Oh that.” She told him about Peter Saxby finding Zena buying a platform ticket, and then leaving the station.

“Now that’s interesting. A few strange things have been happening down at the station. I have been informed by a sister department that only recently three kids had been hanging around trying to break into a luggage locker. They vandalised it and ran off. One of them, a girl, kept a man, who worked near the locker outside talking to him, while the other two broke into the locker.

“The man gave a very good description of this girl. He said she was fat, ugly and dumpy.”

Maddy wore her surprised mask as best as she could. She knew he was being deliberately horrid. She waited for him to pounce on her.

“Interesting, isn’t it? And now this,” he said. “Being seen down the station and getting a platform ticket for no apparent purpose. I was going to mosey down the station tomorrow afternoon anyway, but with all this activity down there I’ll go first thing.” He appeared to forget Maddy’s presence and be talking to himself. “What with the ticket to London, her visit to the station with Leslie Swain, this platform ticket business, and this ransacking of a locker, I’m bound to find something out.”

“It sounds as if you’re getting somewhere.”

He sighed.

“Does it? ….Not really, I’m afraid. Its all dead ends. I think I might lose my reputation through this case. I accept that, but I’m genuinely concerned for the well being of the girl. Mrs. Saxby is in a state about her daughter. If you thought she was distraught before, she’s worse now. A social worker and a police psychiatrist are on call all the time. She is very fraught.”

“Will she hand over the money?”

“If it’s the only way of catching the villains.”

“Won’t that be dangerous to Zena?”

“We’ll have to see. Mrs. Saxby has to hand over the money on the 17th – a week on Sunday. The bank have agreed to raise the money against her bungalow.”

He sat up again.

“Now come on. Let’s hear the full story. I know there’s more you have to tell us.”

Should she? She wasn’t sure. Later. Not now. She had nothing definite anyway.

“I haven’t been working on the case since you told me to lay off.”

“And when exactly did you stop?”

A trick question. How much did he know she knew?

“The last thing I did was visit Mrs. Saxby with Caroline Oughton and Nigel Swain last Thursday.”

His face was a wall of disbelief but it showed no anger. He kept his arms folded and sat quietly staring at Maddy for over a minute. She felt uncomfortable. Would he like another coffee. He sighed. No, he was going.

After he had gone she wondered why he had been so calm. Should she have told him what she knew. Julia Robinson for instance?

She had a phone call from Corky at 9.30. Had Hanson booked them for breaking into left luggage lockers? Had he said anything useful? Nigel was still unable to speak. James was fantastic.


©1986 by Michael Skywood Clifford



“Are you absolutely certain Zena’s disappeared?”

“Yes,” replied Detective Inspector Hanson.

July sunlight scorched through the large bay window illuminating the potted aspidistra, casting long dark shadows on the victorian floral carpet. An adjacent black vase fronted with Japanese characters was crammed with honesty and dried flowers. A ticking grandfather clock, regency wallpaper, an old bookcase, and the scent of potpouri added to create a stifling atmosphere in Maddy Quebric’s front room.

Maddy’s head was not unlike a bulldog’s: broad and pug-nosed with moist yet penetrating eyes. Her pudding-like figure leaned back on the hessian settee and gazed out the window, listening to the hum of traffic. She rubbed her lips pensively and then looked back at the two policemen facing her.

“And Zena didn’t turn up for her GCSE cookery exam at school, yesterday?” she asked.

“She didn’t,” said Constable Kean.

“That’s odd. She really liked cooking,” said Corky, sitting in the corner, twirling her ringlets around her fingers.

“Could you describe this strange medallion you found in her room,” asked Maddy.

Detective Hanson sat up slowly and wiped the perspiration from his eyelids as if he was trying to wake up. “I should be asking the questions, young lady, and you should be answering them, not the other way round,” he protested, squinting. “I’d like you to go through it all again. Hopefully, this time you’ll remember her visit more clearly. Let’s hope so. I’m told that you’ve previously shown some skill at police work: so far you’ve remembered nothing at all.”

Maddy Quebric averted her eyes and contemplated her knee caps for a moment. She didn’t much care for sourpuss here who had the charm and expressive qualities of a dead crocodile. He must be a newcomer at Charles Street Police Station; she had never met him before.

“At what time did Dorothy Brent and Zena Saxby call here on Tuesday?” he asked.

“It was after school – it was about 3.45.” explained Maddy, “I’d seen Zena around before but I didn’t know her. Dorothy introduced me to her. She was pleasant enough, but, as I said, quiet. She just browsed through a magazine. Occasionally she made the odd comment about clothes or things in the magazine. She also scanned though some of my books on the shelf. Dorothy and Zena left about 4.40, at the same time. That’s it.”

Constable Kean mopped the sweat from his neat beard with his hand and loosened his tie.

Corky, fidgeting on her chair, asked Hanson if he would go through it all again.

He sighed again.

“Briefly, yesterday morning,” he began, “Zena Saxby’s mother arrived back home from her Spanish holiday. When she got back to her bungalow she found things were not as they should be. Zena’s bedroom window was wide open, her clothes were in a dishevelled heap at the bottom of the wardrobe, her drawer contents had been emptied on the floor, and her perfume bottles and other things had been swept off the dressing table onto the carpet. The bedroom was a complete mess and yet, oddly, Zena’s bed didn’t appear to have been slept in.

“Even if Zena hadn’t been by nature a tidy girl, which she was, Mrs. Saxby would have been rightly alarmed. She phoned the school but was informed that Zena hadn’t attended that day at all, despite her exams, so she rang the police. We looked over the bungalow, then we visited the school, and also made other inquiries. It appears that you and Dorothy Brent were the last people to see her on Tuesday when she came here.”

“And the medallion you mentioned?” asked Maddy.

“You’re determined to know about the medallion aren’t you? Well..,” said Hanson scratching at his nose as if treasure was buried beneath it, “We found it on the bedroom floor. Zena’s mother had never seen it before, although it could be Zena’s. Its a voodoo-like charm made of ebony on a beaded necklace. We also found some black hair on the window catch. We’ve sent that over to forensic.”

“You haven’t mentioned that before,” said Maddy.

“No – and I haven’t mentioned the footprints in Mrs. Saxby’s garden either. Due to the rain last week they have recorded well. Now these footprints are odd.”

“Why?” asked Maddy.

“I’ll tell you, I’ll tell you, if you just hold your horses, madam,” said Hanson obviously vexed at being continually interrupted. “A very narrow muddy path called Haystack Lane leads up from the canal past the bottom of Mrs. Saxby’s garden. A trail of footprints led from the canal and follow along this path. After fifty yards or so the trail – for no apparent reason – suddenly leaves the path goes over a stile and into a field and completely encircles a barn. Once around the barn the footprints return to the stile and again appear in Haystack Lane. The footprints continue along the lane until they reach the stile at the bottom of Zena Saxby’s garden. They go over this, travel up the garden and finish under Zena’s window at the back of the bungalow.”

Maddy wished she had her penguin notebook handy to jot down a few notes.

“And there’s another set of smaller footprints. These come from the front of the bungalow, go around the east side of it, and then go across the lawn to Zena’s bedroom window.”

“You couldn’t go through it once more, could you?” said Corky, fanning her face with her hand. She was hot and quite bewildered.

“Not again, I’m afraid. Now, how well did you know Zena?” Hanson asked her.

“I’m at the same school,” Corky said. “I saw her around a bit. We never spoke. I heard that her mum won the pools a couple of years ago. Err…I knew she liked Home Economics. I don’t really know much else.”

Hanson turned to Maddy, “When Zena came round on Tuesday did your mother or father talk to her?”

“They weren’t here; They’re on holiday. They won’t be back ’til Sunday.”

“Okay. I see. Right, we’ll go through it all again. Tell me all about everything that happened from the moment Dorothy Brent and Zena Saxby called.”

For another twenty minutes Hanson picked at Maddy’s memory with increasing irritability. Eventually he pushed himself up from the armchair, walked over and distractedly looked out of the bay window into the street. The sunlight grazed his pitted skin into cratered relief.

“Right,” he said after a prolonged silence, “A couple of points before I leave.

“You, Ms. Quebric, have some reputation for being something of a fifth form Sherlock Holmes, don’t you? I am informed that you provided helpful information about the Thurlaxton School fire last year. It was an unusual case and credit where credit is due. Very good. Nevertheless I don’t need to tell two intelligent girls like you two that it would not be a good idea to get involved with this. Zena’s disappearance, as likely, has a simple explanation. Okay? Nevertheless, if you remember anything that may assist us in our investigations then please contact me immediately. Okay?”

Both girls nodded.

“The second thing is that we’re keeping this out of the media for the time being so please keep this quiet. Remember what they used to say in the war, ‘Careless talk costs lives.’ Right, we’ll be on our way.”

* * * *

After the police had gone Corky, who expressed little interest in the affair, disappeared upstairs to use Maddy’s father’s darkroom.

Maddy’s unclad feet trod the cold quarry stone tiles into the kitchen and sat at the old farmhouse table. The lemon air freshener activated her taste buds so she chewed some honey on toast to the accompaniment of the warm old valve wireless chortling out radio two. She decided to take her mind off Zena by reading the Daily Mirror. Boring political stuff was on the front page: ‘Conservatives still hold the lead in the polls’. More rubbish was on the inside: ‘Win a bingo-holiday for two’, ‘Love-birds in Majorca,’ etc. Three minutes later the toast was eaten and the tabloid was discarded. Maddy’s mind was on Zena again.

Had she told the police everything? She went over Zena’s visit again and again but she couldn’t remember anything new. Everything she had told the Detective Inspector had been accurate if insignificant.

It was so complicated. Where had Zena gone when she left on Tuesday? Home? Who would want to harm her? A burglar? A rival? A nut-case? Maddy wanted to go and look around Zena’s bungalow but Hanson had warned her off. Did it matter? Surely a few questions here and there could hardly do any damage?

And what trouble could she and Corky get into if they stuck together and always left messages to explain where they were. Thinking of her absent parents, she realized that leaving notes would be of little use if there were no one around to read them but ….what the hell!

It’s stupid thinking we could get into trouble, after all we’re only asking a few questions here and there.

* * * *

There was knocking on the front door.

A tall youth with black bushy hair, a large forehead and small earnest eyes, stood hesitatingly on the doorstep. He looked anxious, almost sad, as if his dog had died. His name, he said, was Nigel: Nigel Swain. He wondered if he could have a word. “I-i-it’s about Zena Saxby. She’s disappeared. You know about it, d-don’t you? The police have been round, haven’t they?”

She didn’t know him but recognised his face. She’d seen him around. He had a famous father or something. Nigel followed Maddy’s invitation and sat himself down at the kitchen table.

“I’ve come round to s-see if you can help at all. Perhaps you know something I don’t. I-I’m really worried.”

He listened but was disappointed with what the police had told her. There was no new information.

“I’d give anything to find her quickly,” he said, losing his stammer for a while. “I feel awful about what’s happened. I blame myself. I should have warned her, you know. I had a nightmare about her – last week – I must be getting psychic. She was in a dark room screaming my name. It was an omen. I know it was. She was in danger but I never warned her.”

Zena, he explained, had not only been a good friend of his for years but also of his family’s.

“Did anyone dislike her?” Maddy asked.

“Not really. I’ve wondered about that. She wasn’t Miss mega-popular but I can’t think of anyone who’d want to hurt her.”

“Did she have any rivals? Was there anyone who’d want to play a nasty joke on her?”

“Not as far as I know.”

“What about boyfriends?”

“Nothing really. She didn’t have any as far as I know. Oh I see what you mean. Oh no, not me. I was just a friend, nothing else.”

“Could she have just gone off? Ran away depressed or gone on a mad holiday, or to see a friend, and left her bedroom in a mess?”

“No, Zena wouldn’t do that; not when she had her Home Economics GCSE. S-s-she’s in trouble. I think she’s been kidnapped.”


“I’m sure. There was something menacing about the room in my dream: she was trapped. It was weird. S-s-she was calling for help. Anyway – it makes sense for other reasons: her bedroom’s been turned over, she’s not been seen for two days, and her mother is rich: she won the pools a while ago.”

“Yes I know. I see what you mean.”

Nigel thoughtfully ran his fingers along the wood-grain of the table, “I d-don’t know. Maybe not,” he said, shrugging his shoulders.

“Why don’t we go and pay a visit to Zena’s bungalow and look around.” he suggested a moment later.

“I’ve thought about that.”


“I’ve been told to keep my nose out of this but somehow I can’t resist it. Let’s do it.”

“I’m not so sure about that,” said a concerned voice from behind them. “We’ll get in a lot of trouble and a lot of hassle.” Corky scrutinized them with her dark brown eyes. She had quietly returned from the dark room and spoke from the doorway.

“That’s alright. We’ll avoid that.”

“I recognise trouble when I see it, and I see it. You’re hooked on this, already, aren’t you, Maddy? That’s a bad sign,” said Corky, twiddling with the lens cap on her camera.

“What a wet blanket,” whinnied Maddy. “Such enthusiasm. Here we are about to rescue Zena from the clutches of crime and to make that conceited copper who came here this morning look like the donkey’s bottom he is, and I’m surrounded by negativity! Listen, Corky…you met Nigel here?”

“H-hello,” said Nigel almost blushing.


“You and me and Nigel are not going to get into any trouble. We’re going to dabble a bit, that’s all. We might even sort it out. We’ll go to Zena’s and if we don’t solve the mystery in five minutes I promise to give up.”

“No you won’t, you never do. The trouble with you is that you read too many Enid Blyton mystery books when you a nipper!” scoffed Corky.

“Bring your camera,” said Maddy, “we might need a crime photographer.”

“That sounds a bit more up-market. Okay, you always get your way,” she said, “but you’re mad. Don’t blame me later if you find yourself neck-deep in cow-pat.” She pointed to her camera. “Do you really want me to bring this?”

“Yep. Good idea. Let’s go.”

Nigel face brightened at the unified decision.

Eighteen minutes later the three teenagers stood at the bus stop in Welford Road. The police had called at half past eleven. It was now half past two.

* * * *

As the teenagers walked the last few yards towards Zena’s Saxby’s bungalow they heard the shouts of an argument from further along the road. As they rounded a corner both the white bungalow and the argument came into view. Zena’s parents, whom Nigel recognised, stood yelling abuse at each other in the front drive. Irene Saxby shrieked from the storm porch while Peter Saxby formed vulgar gestures and spat obloquy back at her from between two garden gnomes on the front lawn.

“You’ve never given her any love,” he was screaming at his wife, “all you do is think about yourself. Look at you, you old gin soaked trollop! How could you! How are you gonna live with such negligence? I love that girl and now you got her murdered!”

This insult was evidently the final straw for Mrs. Saxby. She groped about as if seized by a fit, her head and arms giving up all synchronisation. Grabbing a nearby milk bottle she flung it at him but her aim was wide and it smashed into a garden gnome; milk and glass splinters flew everywhere. Peter Saxby, blackening the air with his swearing, turned heel and ran off to a parked van. Once safely inside he fired the ignition, made a high speed turn and accelerated away.

Mrs. Saxby deflated into a heap on the doorstep. Frustration was ingrained in her face, weariness lay in her crumpled posture.

“Are you alright, Mrs. Saxby?

“ startled me. Who are you?” asked Irene Saxby suspiciously, looking up.

“Hello, I’m Maddy Quebric.”


“We’d like to try and help you find Zena.”

“That would be a good idea, wouldn’t it?” she said sarcastically, running her misted eyes over Corky and Nigel.

“What do you want? Are you Zena’s mates?”

“We know Zena a bit,” said Maddy. “I wonder if…it would be possible to look around for a few minutes? I’m sure we could throw some light on this whole affair if we were allowed to look around….perhaps look inside her bedroom?”

“Everybody wants to look in her bedroom. The police have been looking through it, then that pig came round to look as well. I shouldn’t have let him in. Do you know where she is?”


She looked Maddy up and down.

“Go on then. Why not? Everybody’s trampling through my home today. Why don’t I make it open house for the whole of Leicester,” she said sadly, “I don’t know what you hope to find.”

“Huh. There won’t be anything that the police haven’t already found,” dismissed Corky sceptically to herself.

But Corky was wrong.



“That ex-husband of mine is a no-good chronic drunk,” said Mrs. Saxby, reclining on her sofa in her front room. “I did wonder if he had run off with Zena after one of his drinking sessions, but if he knew where she was why would he come round here complaining about her being missing? Yet if I catch the faintest smell of him in this business I’ll..I’ll…I won’t be responsible….

“He only comes round when he’s needs money,” she continued a breath later, “He’d spend anyone’s money. I never give him any now. He’s never forgiven me for coming up on the pools when we were divorcing.” She shrugged her shoulders. “He’s a rat!”

“I suppose you told the police about him?” enquired Maddy.

“Yes. After they had looked round here on Wednesday, the police went to question him. He said he hadn’t seen Zena and wanted to know what all the fuss was about. Suddenly, this afternoon, Without any warning he comes round and pushes past me at the door. He goes into Zena’s bedroom for a few minutes and then wanders about shouting the place down. He began screaming that I should have taken Zena to Spain with me. He said I’d neglected her. He’s a rat! I forced him out of the door by threatening to call the police. You saw what he was like.”

“Would you like me to pour you another cup of tea?” asked Corky.

“No thanks luv.” Mrs. Saxby leaned forward and studied Nigel more closely, “I’ve seen you before, haven’t I, sonny?”

“Yes. My s-sister, Leslie, knows Zena. I’ve been round here with her.”

“Ah yes, I knew I recognised you. Ah, Leslie, she’s a nice girl.”

“What’s Zena been doing in the evenings?” Maddy asked.

Mrs. Saxby explained that Zena had quietened down a lot of late. She used to visit St. Annes youth club, but had stopped going there months ago. Zena had been a skin-head a year ago and had openly neglected schoolwork; recently however Zena had changed and had been revising conscientiously for her exams. The only time she went out nowadays was to go shopping on Saturdays or to go to the library.

“She used to read a lot of books about animals, always about animals.”

“Its g-getting o-on,” said Nigel in his nervy way. “Perhaps Mrs. Saxby could do with a break.”

“Do you mind if we look at Zena’s bedroom now, Mrs. Saxby?” Maddy asked.

“You can have a look. I’ll show you where it is. I’ve tidied up her clothes in the wardrobe but I’ve left everything else a mess as I’ve no stomach for it at the moment. The police are finished with the room so perhaps you could tidy it up a little.

“Corky’ll do it: she loves tidying things up, don’t you?” said Maddy.

“Huh? Oh sure,” said Corky.

At the end of the hall they faced Zena’s bedroom door.

“Come and tell me if you find anything,” said Mrs. Saxby and left them to it.

“Go on Nigel,” insisted Maddy, who stood the furthest away, “Go for it.”

* * * *

The room was about twelve feet square and painted in autumnal colours. Several posters, mostly of animals, hung on the walls. Furniture, clothes and personal objects had been spin-dryered all around the room in complete disorder. Opposite the door was the room’s only window looking over the long back garden.

Maddy inspected the casement. The police had been thorough – they had taken all the black hair from the catch. She unfastened the catch, opened the window and looked outside. Various footprints, no doubt the ones that Hanson had earlier described could be seen imprinted into the muddy ground. She would examine those later. She closed the window and knelt down. The dirty marks on the carpet were the result of dirty shoe prints, but sadly they didn’t seem to lead anywhere in the room. The intermittent muddy stains were so poor no shoe could be identified from them. She stood up and carouselled slowly round, methodically observing the room.

Corky searched under the bed. Nigel went through the waste paper basket, which, much to his distaste, was full of used tissues and old cigarette ends.

“I didn’t know Zena smoked.” he said, half to himself.

“Nor me, I’ll go and ask her mum,” said Maddy.

“Yes, Zena did smoke,” said Mrs. Saxby drinking a gin and tonic, ” but not much.” she said. “She smoked in her room. I tried to dissuade her but – oh damn! Who’s that now?”

The doorbell was ringing.

In the hall Mrs. Saxby opened her front door to a

fair-haired man wearing a plastic jacket and a plastic smile.

“Hello. I’m Richard Courtwall, your local independent candidate,” He said, grabbing Mrs. Saxby’s hand and eagerly shaking it. “I called on Tuesday and your daughter said – “

” – Excuse me! You came round here on Tuesday night?” interrupted Maddy.

“Hello,” he said. Maddy ignored his outstretched hand.

“Who answered the door on Tuesday night?”

“Ummm….Mrs. Saxby’s daughter. A young girl – about seventeen. She told me her mother would be back after Wednesday lunch time. I couldn’t come yesterday but I’ve managed to get round here today to introduce myself.”

“What time did you call?” asked Maddy

He looked uncomfortably at Maddy’s dark hair, her thick set features, her beetling brows.

“Is there something wrong?”

Mrs Saxby went to explain but Maddy quickly cut her out:

” – we’ll explain everything to you, Mr….. Courtwall, if you’d only tell us when you called.”

“Let me see. I came on Tuesday at about 8.o’clock.”

“What about the girl? What did she say?”

“This is the blonde girl in the pink jumper you’re talking about, isn’t it? A pretty girl with a fringe? Yes?”

“That’s my Zena,” said Mrs. Saxby.

“She didn’t say much. She said she was too young to vote, but if I wanted to see her mother to come back after Wednesday, as she was back from holiday. I told her I’d come round tonight.”

Maddy continued to fire questions.

“No, There was nothing unusual in her manner,” said the candidate, “No, I don’t think I noticed any cars parked on the road, or in the drive. I’m sorry, I’ve no idea if there was anyone else in the house.”

He was suddenly cut off by a squeal coming from Zena’s bedroom.

“What was that?” he asked.

“Maddy!” It was Corky’s voice.

“I’ve got to go. Mr. Courtwall, you’ve been a great help. The police will be round to see you. ‘Bye.”

“The police?” He said, frowning, his eyelids forming the creases of a pram hood.

Leaving Mrs. Saxby to answer the questions of the perplexed candidate, Maddy dashed back to Zena’s bedroom.

* * * *

Corky’s eyes radiated with pride, as if she had won first prize. She held out an envelope to Maddy

“I sat on the bed and felt something rustling under me, like a paper bag. Nigel helped me to unfold back the blankets and about two feet from the pillow lay this yellow envelope. Its got a message in it. Have a look.”

“You shouldn’t really have moved it.”

“Its too late now.” said Corky.

“Well….I suppose you’ve looked inside it as well?”

“Yes, but we used these gloves from out of the drawer so as not to add finger prints. We couldn’t resist a look to see if it was important. We weren’t sure. It could have been a birthday card. What do you make of it. Have a look.”

Maddy’s hands, now clad in the pair of blue Shetland wool gloves that Corky had passed her, took the envelope. It was slightly creased, but despite that, looked shop-new; a yellow lemon envelope of the type to be found in a box of notelets; a special envelope – not the office standard white or brown. The outside of the envelope was virginal; there was no mark or message on it. She turned it over several times and sniffed it. No smell. She lifted the flap, as delicately as was possible with gloves on and asked if it had been tucked inside.

Yes it had been, stammered Nigel, whose complexion had bleached albanescent, as if suddenly he had become a candidate for the morgue.

Inside the envelope Maddy found a folded piece of white paper. The paper seemed dwarfed by the envelope and didn’t match in colour or size. She removed the folded sheet carefully, making as minimal a contact with her gloves as possible. She carefully put the envelope down on the dressing table and unfolded the white piece of paper. A message made of cut out letters from newspapers and magazines sprawled across the top half of the paper. It read:


Maddy read the message several times.

“I knew s-she’d been kidnapped,” said Nigel. “I knew that dream meant something.”

Maddy grunted.

“It’s a funny place to put a ransom note,” said Nigel.

“That’s right,” said Maddy, turning the sheet upside down and around. Then something caught her eye, she noticed something at the bottom. Faint letters scratched, etched into the paper. It was as if someone had written on a sheet of paper placed over another sheet and the writing pressure applied to the top sheet had left faint indentations in the underlying one. Maddy looked more closely at it.

“There’s something written on the bottom here. Its not that I can’t read it…its fairly easy to read….its just that I can’t understand it.” Maddy pulled out her penguin notebook and copied down both the ransom message and the hidden letters. These appeared to read:

Chanting Praises / and thanks / until I an / fadder/ Jah / who

After another examination of the folded paper Maddy returned it to its lemon envelope.

Why had the letter been placed in a bed. Not exactly the sort of place where it would be easily found. Perhaps it had got there by accident. And why hadn’t the police found it? Why hadn’t it been left on, say, the dressing table, the window ledge, the pillow or anywhere for that matter, where it would be seen?

“Oh, I also found this,” said Nigel. He held a pink slip of paper in his hand. “I found it in the waste bin. It’s a train ticket to London. Its dated 23rd April – Saturday – a day return. It might be important.”

Maddy studied it. “Lets have a word with Mrs. Saxby about this.”

Mrs. Saxby stepped into the room a few minutes later, and seated herself on a wicker chair by the window. Her mood had improved out of all proportions – notably by the proportions by which she had reduced the gin bottle. Maddy asked her if she’d ever seen the yellow envelope before?”

She was certain she hadn’t.

“You’ll be able to look at it when the police come,” said Maddy seriously, replacing the envelope back between the sheets.

Maddy then passed the train ticket into the woman’s knotted hand.

“Did she mention going to London; sightseeing, or anything? It was on a Saturday.”

“She didn’t say anything about going to London. She could have done: as I said she often went out on Saturdays.”

“Could this ticket belong to anyone else? Yourself, for instance?”

“No. I haven’t been on a train for years.”

“I’m sorry to keep on asking you for things, Mrs. Saxby, but I’ve just two more requests. Do you have a recent photo of Zena that I could borrow for a while? I promise to return it.”

“There’s the school photo on the shelf in the lounge taken last year. It’s a nice one in colour. The police took the other one I have.”


While Corky went off to get it Maddy made her second request. “Could you please tell Nigel here of all the clothes, books, jewelry, ornaments, etcetera, that you can remember Zena having. Nigel, here, will make a note of it all. Perhaps Nigel, you’ll do a rough check to see if they’re all here. Is that okay?”

“Sure, Maddy,” he said.

“While you’re doing that we’ll go and look at these footprints outside.”

“D-Don’t be too long or I’ll leave you to it, cause I’m ravenous,” warned Nigel.

* * * *

Following Mrs Saxby’s directions the girls went right out of the bedroom, straight along the corridor and then unlocked the side door into the garden. They stepped out into breathless air onto a crazy-paved path.

If Corky’s could have foreseen the third photograph that afternoon she would have gone back inside, locked the door, and refused to budge.



Maddy and Corky immediately found one of the footprint trails that Hanson had described earlier. The trail went down the side of the bungalow – where the girls now stood – and then headed across the back garden to Zena’s window.

Once they had reached the window the footprints reversed their direction, returning the way they had come. Maddy compared the footprints entering the garden to the ones exiting. She had no doubt that both were made by the same footwear.

As the girls studied the mass of footprints beneath Zena’s window they moved about carefully so as not to add to the confusion with their own impressions. Despite the hot weather, the sparsely seeded ground was soft from the previous weeks heavy rainfall and still fertile for footprints.

“There’s the other trail,” said Corky pointing.

The second trail came up from the bottom of the garden and ended at Zena’s window. “This looks like somebody else’s,” muttered Corky.

“Let’s see.”

Corky was right. The prints in the first trail, Maddy had estimated as about male size nine, these were about male size eleven. This second trail had the deeper impressions of a heavier man or woman. What intrigued Maddy most was the one way direction of the trail; the footprints led to Zena’s window but did not return.

Maddy and Corky backtracked these impressions down the incline of the rose avenued garden until they came to a stile at the left hand corner of the garden. After a kneeling investigation of the footprints on the garden side of the stile they climbed over. An examination of the prints here caused Maddy some excitement. Again she looked at the prints in the garden and then at the ones in the jitty. She began humming to herself.

“Can you photograph these footprints, please?”


“And photograph the footprints on the other side of the stile. Just there.”

“Why?” asked Corky. “They’re the same, aren’t they?”

“I’m not so sure,” said Maddy mysteriously.

“Come on turkey-features, what have you found out? They’re the same boots, they look the same to me.”

“You brought your camera, Corky, so you may as well use it. All will be revealed later,” Maddy teased her.

“You haven’t figured this out yet.”

“Quite right, I haven’t. Corky! What are you doing??”

Maddy began to laugh. Corky had remounted the stile, and had done it in such a cock-eyed way she had got one of her legs stuck in it. Eventually, after a giggling fit, Corky freed herself and took the photograph as requested.

Minutes later the girls were walking side by side again. They kept to the left of Haystack Lane where it had been partly rubbled. The footprints they followed sometimes strayed onto the rubble and were lost, but this was rare, for they kept a mainly straight path on the right hand side leaving a pattern of holes in the mud. Twenty yards on the girls came to another stile. In the mud below were another muddle of footprints. It appeared to have been climbed over.

After examining the footprints on their side of the stile the girls clambered over and examined them in the field. Here were two trails of footprints: one leading away to the right, the other returning to the stile from the left. The owner of these footprints appeared to have made a circuitous journey around the an enormous barn that now stood before them.

This barn, which had the height of a two-story town house with five times the width, was a moribund building that had evidently seen better days. Sections of the stackyard wall had deteriorated over the years and sheets of hardboard had been prescribed as an ineffectual remedy, for they were now warped and in some cases adrift.

The girls tracked the trail of footprints that encompassed the barn to discover that at no point did the footprints appear to enter the barn, or to deviate off in another direction. Why should someone wish to encircle a barn? “Pass,” said Maddy, “Let’s have a look inside,” she suggested. Corky, despite yawning, agreed.

Maddy followed Corky between two supporting cast-iron pillars and into the barn.

Corky felt uncomfortable inside the vast space: it was a ghostly gymnasium, a forgotten dead place, despite the regenerating attempt of a sun beam falling on her face. It came from above through the iron rib. The corrugated iron roof overhead was warped, ripped, and many gaping holes had been shaped by the cold cutting torch of rust.

Wet rot touched wooden beams with disease where the bolted shoes connected with the rafters.

Litter and debris was strewn around the concrete floor, left by the ghosts of children, animals and winds that had passed through. It was a place of silence: speech had no permission.

Maddy, walking to the right, observed crisp packets, torn newspapers and other junk wrappings beneath her feet. Corky, her raw umber pupils probing shadow after shadow, moved off in the opposite direction.

The place had the staleness, the airlessness of a multi-story.

Corky accepted that Maddy was right; despite feeling tired she would carry on: soon any clues – if there were any – would be eroded away by the weather, so they had to look for them now.

She watched Maddy wading through piled up litter; she was like a child kicking through autumn leaves. There was no litter at Corky’s end of the barn. She wondered why. The wind must have driven most of it to the top corner.

She walked over to the blank expression on Maddy’s face.

“Shall we go?”

“You’ve found nothing?”


“Nor me. Okay.”

They slipped through the wall into the full daylight; they were both relieved to be outside again. They picked up the trail of footprints and followed them back to the stile.

Once they had climbed over the girls pursued the trail of footprints towards their source.

“Made with a Wellington, or a farmyard boot, don’t you agree, Sherlock, you stuck up detective?” said Corky.

“Something in that line,” responded Maddy, feigning to kick her.

Once or twice the trail became lost in the hedgerow or on the rubble: often several boot-prints would be missing, having strayed out of the mud, but a yard later would appear again. However, when Haystack Lane came out onto the canal towpath the girls came to a halt: the scent was lost; the towpath had been treated with a grainy road surface, hard and insensitive to footprints and the trail had ended.

The girls stood perplexed. Maddy looked about her and considered. The boot-wearer could have come along the tow path from either left or right. It was impossible to say. Closely followed by Corky, Maddy strode the yard’s width of the towpath and glared into the canal.

“He or she may have had a boat,” said Maddy.

“I just thought that.”

Corky excitedly watched a yellow hammer fly over the canal.

Maddy stood at the water’s edge looking uncomfortably at the disfiguring reflections of her plump body. She felt rather cheated after all her efforts. It was pretty stupid looking for inspiration in the water, when, if it was anywhere, it wasn’t there. She straightened up and looked around again.

“Which way, Maddy? Is this the end or shall we carry on?”

Maddy looked at her watch: it was quarter past six. She noticed mud on her shoes. “Ugh. What do you want to do?”

“Well you did promise to give up if you hadn’t solved the crime in five minutes. And I am a bit tired,” said Corky, taking in a breath of canal air, which on occasions smelled like a used ashtray. “Poo. I suppose you want to carry on though, so let’s…”


They decided to walk several hundred yards in one direction, return, and walk several hundred yards in the other direction.

They didn’t speak as they walked along; they felt comfortable in each others silence.

The girls had met nine years earlier, two years before they started high school together. They had laughed, cried and argued with each other so many times since they had met that they had become like sisters. It had upset Maddy that they had been split up to go to different comprehensive schools but it hadn’t damaged their friendship. During the holidays they were still knocking around in each others pockets; Maddy wondered if they’d be still doing it when they were twenty. She remembered Corky collapsing in a fit of monkey-chuckling when Maddy had said that if they had both gone to the same school they would never have done any work at all.

They had found nothing and were now returning alongside the hawthorn hedge. Corky would have photographed the red campion if her camera had been loaded with colour film. The dark green heart shapes of the black bryony, and the delicate petals of the many dog roses in the shrubbery were beginning to soften her attention to the tracking of homo-sapiens.

“As you’re tired, Corky, wait here if you like. I’m tired and could eat a horse, but I’m not going to give up yet.”

“Its like a dream, isn’t it? You know, like it’s not really happening. Its as if I need to pinch myself to feel I’m awake.”

“Its no dream. It’s real and its peculiar, almost sinister.”

“Come on, I’ll carry on,” said Corky, grabbing her friends hand, leading her to the left and along the the canal bank.

At first there was little to choose between their walk northward along the bank and this one to the south. More hawthorn, more campion and then gradual subtle differences became noticeable. Then, after a veer to the left, the towpath broadened and Corky noticed a clump of sessile oak trees, and a pair of fox-gloves. Maddy’s attention was engaged elsewhere; on a white footbridge that traversed the canal to the towpath on the other bank.

They stood alongside the footbridge.

“Did he, she or it come from over there then?”

“I don’t know,” said Maddy.

“Some mega-detective you are.”

Maddy shook her shoulders and pulled a face. “He, she, or it may have dropped out of the sky for all I know: may have been transported by helicopter or reindeer and sleigh…..although I agree its more likely he, she, or it came from over the bridge, or from further along the towpath. I’m going over the bridge. I won’t be long. Coming?”

“No, I’ll wait,” said Corky leaning against the iron rail at the end of the bridge. She heard Maddy clonk up the steps onto the timber planks and clatter slowly over the bridge.

A moment later Corky made a discovery.

Corky yawned and felt a bit cheesed off with herself. She wanted to prove herself. She wouldn’t have admitted to Maddy how inept she felt in these detection games; it wasn’t envy; she wasn’t envious – she just wished she could have a bit of respect sometimes. She felt the need to assert herself. She needed something to wake her up. All these feelings, ticked away inside her, unchecked.

Her observation became focused again, more concentrated now she was alone. Her fascination for plant life was replaced by a concentrated scanning for anything out of the ordinary, anything that struck an odd chord. Later she compared it to photographing wildlife. Hours and hours of intense patience, watching, waiting – all for one photograph.

Her eyes scanned the river with a cold expression similar to that worn by Detective Inspector Hanson earlier that day. The eyes, the only part of her head that moved, ranged slowly, smoothly across the breadth of the canal, from bank to bank. She watched the silver threads of reflection dancing on the grey-green surface of the canal; its play of shimmering and disfiguring shapes both soothing and fascinating. She saw the reflected ripples of the inverted river bank, distorted trees with edges constantly broken by the floating patches of mirrored sky.

As her scrutiny approached the nearside bank she sensed something discordant. Something slight, but odd. Something small, but something vertical. Not exactly vertical, more at an angle.

It wasn’t far away and was close to her side of the bank. She left the bridge and walked further up the towpath. After twenty paces she could see the object quite clearly, despite its being partly submerged. It was a shoe or a boot. She knelt down on the path, taking care not to fall in, and reached forward. This was certainly a prize; was it the boot that had made the footprints? Corky had high expectations.

Maddy shouted as she returned across the bridge, “Don’t fall in!”

As Maddy arrived by her side Corky had her fingernails embedded in the stitching around the sole of the boot. She was at maximum stretch and Maddy was holding her round the waist.

“It’s stuck.”

“It can’t be stuck in the mud. The canal’s deeper than six inches. I’ll hold you again. We’ll both pull.”

“Now!” shouted Corky. The boot moved slightly but Corky lost her grip and nearly fell in. She was only saved by Maddy clinging to her dress, which fortunately didn’t tear as they fell back onto the grass.

Simultaneously, as they fell, the boot continued to move. As they were falling to the grass, the surface of the water emitted large air bubbles with accompanying belches. As they fell back, as the bubbles and belches became bigger and louder, the toe of the boot slowly, sluggishly moved up to a vertical position as though the fulcrum of its movement was axled through its submerged heel. Then to the horror of the two girls the whole boot started to raise itself out of the water. The heel became visible and the water surrounding it became thick with cloth. Then the unbuckled end of a belt emerged. Then the boot, now further out of the water, showed its attachment to a leg, which as soon as it became visible, reeled over with the boot. Suddenly images appeared that haunted Corky’s dreams for many years. A hand, brown with dripping mud, with its fingers knotted with the tendrils of underwater plants, came up in the Camelotian way as the boot had, only this time it only disappeared for a second before reappearing. More belching and gulping noises, culminating in a voluminous spewing of water, an expulsion of water by trapped air. Seconds later this liquid epilepsy subsided leaving visible to both girls the rotting corpse of a man. His hands were now floating within two feet of them. His head, which like its body was on its side, was visible but quite deep in the water. His long waterproof coat bubbled up in places where parts of his body, held back by weeds, were unable to float to the surface. The coat was like a pneumatic life belt, one that had failed.

All this had taken no more than eight seconds.

Corky turned away and was sick. Maddy, shocked herself, slowly helped her friend away from the grisly sight. She sat her on the footbridge steps.

“We’ve got to get the police.”

Corky was crying. Minutes passed before she could speak.

“I’ll…I’ll be okay,” said Corky, going greener by the second.

“Can you hang on a minute while I take some photos?”

“Oh M-M-Maddy. Surely your not….?” She looked at her friend in disbelief.

Maddy didn’t answer.

Trying to concentrate on anything other than what she had just seen Corky unslung her camera from her shoulder and passed it to Maddy.

“All you have to do is focus. I’ll wait here. Don’t be long.”



Back at Zena’s bungalow Maddy and Corky found Nigel had gone, but had left his phone number: 724386.

But it was the police Maddy dialed.

“There’s a body in the canal,” she told Detective Inspector Hanson.

“The girl? You’ve found her?”

“No, its a man.”

“I’ll be over.”

* * * *

Maddy and Corky had to hang around in the bungalow all afternoon while various policemen, photographers and police scientists attended to the body.

Later Hanson and a policeman named McTavish – interviewed both Maddy and Corky separately. During one interrogation McTavish accused the girls of being complicit in the kidnapping; Corky bit her lip to control her anger.

Hanson warned Maddy firmly, “Mrs. Saxby is definitely to be left alone.”

When the girls returned to Maddy’s in Meadvale at half past nine they were exhausted and edgy.



Corky’s sleep was broken by the noise of talking on the phone in the hall. Showered and dressed, she descended the stairs and whisked the morning newspaper from the letterbox on her way through the hall. The pervading smell of cloves excited her nostrils as she walked in the kitchen reading a news item. “It’s in the paper!” she exclaimed, “The dead man’s in the paper.”

“I thought they were keeping it out of the papers?” said Maddy looking up from her tea mug.

“…it doesn’t mention Zena.”

Maddy read the news statement. It said the public were asked to help with police inquires by phoning the police if they knew of a man fitting the listed description. An inquest was yet to be held.

There was nothing new in it.

Five minutes later Corky passed to Maddy a slice of marmalade on toast. “What are you going to do today?” she asked dreamily.

“Ssshh, just a minute,” said Maddy irritably.

“Sorry to disturb you, you old ratbag.”

“I’m thinking. None of it makes sense, Corky. Zena is last seen on Tuesday night. She goes missing between then and Wednesday lunch time, when her mum gets home. There’s a trail of footprints up from the canal, and a returning one from the front drive. Her room was thrown about and a ransom note left in her bed where it would be unlikely to be found.

“The ransom note is on a white piece of paper in an ill-matched yellow envelope. It says ‘We have girl. Wait for connexion’ which has yet to happen. Then, a hundred yards from her house, we find the dead body of a mystery man in a canal.”

“And don’t forget the steps that go around the barn.”

Frowning, Maddy bit into her toast and chewed over the sweet marmalade.

“I discovered something else,” she gobbled a moment later with her mouth full, “the man we found in the river wasn’t the man who made the footprints.”

“How do you know?”

“When the police dragged him out I had a good look at his boot soles. The soles of the footprints were ribbed. His weren’t. Although the size was about the same. It’s all quite mad.”

“So what is the solution then?”

“Zena’s… been kidnapped.”

“Oh brilliant! Where is she then?”

“I don’t know.”

“What about America?” ventured Corky, “‘Connexion’ is spelt in a sort of American way.”

“Yes. I noticed that. Pass us over some more toast,” said Maddy.

“I quite fancy Nigel,” Corky sighed. “He’s looks all sort of lonely. Not as nice as James though.” She had fancied James Riverdean for ages, a sixth former. She was quite aware he wasn’t interested but she hadn’t given up home. You never knew: one day pigs might fly.

Maddy had had some of her worst times with boys and never liked talking about them. She wasn’t pretty like Corky, but more akin to a cuddly baby elephant, and could hardly get clothes to fit her properly – and she had never got used to being insulted about it.

“I rang Nigel up when I got up. I told him what happened. Told him the police will probably call on him. He’s coming round today or tomorrow. He said he’d ring and let us know.”

“Oh. So it was him you were talking to on the phone, earlier. How did he get on with his list?” Corky asked.

“He said Zena’s mum couldn’t remember anything missing.”

“Another blank as they say in the movies.”

“We can’t complete the jig-saw because we need more pieces.”

“That sounds even more like something out of some old B movie.”

“And where do you think we get more pieces from?”

“You tell me.”

“How about her friends, family and acquaintances.”

“That’s not much good if she didn’t know who her kidnappers were.”

“Its the only thing we can do.”

“Less of the ‘we’,” said Corky averting her eyes.

“What do you mean?”

“Not for me, thanks. I’m back in your dad’s darkroom today. I’ve got a few films to develop – yes, yes – including yours, but I’m fed up with playing detectives today. One dead body is enough for a lifetime for me, thank you.”

“Corky, you can’t desert me now.”

“Today is for me. Tomorrow I may help you, but not today. As for deserting you to do photography – just watch me.”

* * * *

Maddy stood outside No 57 St. James’ Street, a three-story Victorian Terrace with shaling bricks, jammed up blinds and patched up windows. She rattled the brass crab knocker against the front door. The man who let her in drew a four in the air with his finger as he voiced Peter Saxby’s room number. Despite Hanson’s threats Maddy had phoned Mrs. Saxby after breakfast and obtained her ex-husbands address

The entrance hall was dimly lit by a 40 watt bulb, was wallpapered with pre-war daisies – now yellow with age, a filthy carpet and an old slot telephone. Maddy climbed the staircase and knocked on room number four. The door opened.

Peter Saxby’s grey hair receded to form the beginning of a widow’s peak. His pupils were tinged with bloodshot. His slim, slippery figure was a crossbreed between a short-haired terrier and a jockey. His clothes fitted well but when they were last washed was in doubt: he didn’t smell too sweet.

“Hello, Mr. Saxby.”


“I’m Maddy Quebric. I’d like to ask you some questions about Zena, if I could.”

“Are you with the police?” he asked with a tinge of irish accent.

“No. I just….”

“A friend of Zena’s, were yer?”

“Yes, that’s right.”

“Come in then. Drenking alone is no fun.”

It was a two-roomed flat, not a bed sit as she had imagined. She looked round: a portable TV, a half-eaten curry, a pin-up from a nudey magazine on the wall, a bottle of whisky on the floor….

“Just a mo,” he said. He went through the door in the corner of the room and shortly returned with a mug which he generously filled from the bottle of whisky. “Now, get that down yer,” he said.

She thought it best to take a sip. Whisky had always been a mystery of adulthood to her – she couldn’t understand why did people pay to drink such vile tasting stuff.

“So you want to know all about Zena, do you! Well, well. She loved me, you know, but she never loved her mother. We used to tark. She could never tark to her mother.

“She was a bit of a twit, really, but a lovely lass. Always books and stupid things she’d be after. She was sweet on horses. Loved to have one herself but we never had no money ’til the old lady came up on the football coupons. And then when she had the money the old Jezebel kicked me out.”

“Holy Joseph, it makes me see pink. There we were waiting fer our ship to be a comin’ en all those years, and when it did she pulled out the rug. I’d always wanted to start a business, you know. I’m a man of the world, you know, and I’ve still got a good double ledger between these ears. A small grocery shop it was, but she’d have none of it. Come on, drink up. I can’t be a drenkin’ on my own when I’ve got company. That’s it, lass.”

They both swigged back some whisky.

“Uh…How much did she win?”

“£45,729, and not a thank you fer me.”

“Come on, drenk a bit more. I can’t answer questions fer people who won’t drenk; ‘t ain’t natural.”

Maddy swallowed again, understanding why the Indians called it firewater. He tried to top up her glass but she resisted; she quickly asked him more questions.

No, he said. He couldn’t think of any one who disliked Zena. Of course he didn’t know who would want to kidnap her? Sometimes she was a pain. The last time he saw her was at the railway station. She was a bitch. She didn’t even want to say hello to him.

“Oh, what happened?”

“It was about a month ago,”he said concentrating, “I’d come back from Liverpool. I was coming out of the ticket barrier and saw her buying a platform ticket from the machine. I walked up and said hello. She turned round and said hello, but pulled an uncomfortable face and then ran off out of the station.”

“She had a platform ticket but didn’t go on the platform?”

“Yes, she had the ticket in her hand.” he thumbed his stubble. “Yes, I thought it was a bit peculiar, now you come to mention it.

“So she acknowledged you and ran off out of the station.?”

“Well, she didn’t exactly run off. Just walked fast. I think she had some luggage. She didn’t look too pleased to see me at all. And me, her own flesh end blood!”

“Can you remember anything else about it? What time it was?”

“It was….now let me thank. Yes, I remember my train came in just before twelve thirty.”

“Can you remember anything else about it?” asked Maddy.

“Not really.”

Maddy felt strange: she was hot inside, and her thoughts were becoming confused and giddy. The smell of mouldy food and the stale air was making her feel slightly sick.

“Can I have a drink of water?” she asked.

“Whisky and water?” he replied. “Through there,” he said pointing at the sliding door at the far end of the room.

Carrying her mug, she slid back the door and a long narrow kitchen presented itself itself to her.

At the sink she poured the whisky away, carefully keeping an eye open in case he should follow. She could hear him muttering to himself. After the last of the whisky had gone she filled her mug with water.

As she went to re-enter the lounge she understood what she had only half-noticed under the kitchen table. She stopped and turned to check. She had been right: Wellingtons. She backtracked, quickly bobbed down and pulled out one of the rubber boots.

“What the hell are you doin’ in there? Come on. Come end join me. I’m a-finishin’ all the whiskey.”

Then suddenly he was at the door; his hands were shoulder-high on to the frame as if to stop him dropping through. He was gabbling.

“Can you lend me a fiver? I need some fags….

“Hey, what you doin’?” he said.

He staggered from the doorway into the room and snatched the boot off her. “You’re snooping.”

“I was just looking at your wellingtons.”

“You’re snoopin’.”

His mood seemed to have changed.

“Look Mr. Saxby, I was merely looking at your boots. I’m sorry. I’ve taken up a lot of your time. Its time I left now.”

Her arm was gripped like a vice as she walked past him. He re-seated her upon a kitchen chair. “I’d like to go,” she said.

She looked up at his face. He seemed weary.

“I want to lend some money, girl. Don’t thenk I’m taking it – its only a loan – I’ll pay you back. Ah… you’ve got some whisky left. Allow me.” He picked up her mug.

Oh no.

He took a deep swallow from her mug.

“That’s water.” he looked astonished.

Slowly his languid face began to quiver. His nostrils grew larger as his breathing started to race.

Maddy forced her thick fingers into her tight pockets to find money. Like a peace offering she held out her two pound coins.

“I need more,” he said.

She dropped all her loose change in his palm.

“Piss off!”

She hurried through the lounge, onto the landing and down the staircase and went out through the front door. As she reached the ground floor she heard him closing his door and coming out into the landing.

She wouldn’t follow him. Maybe a professional investigator would probably break into his flat after he’d gone so as to get a good look at his wellingtons – but no way – this was amateur stuff and she wanted to get as far away from him as possible. She ambled speedily up St. James Street and across London Road and into the park, where she began to slow down and feel more at ease.

She arrived home with aching feet – she had no money to catch the bus – and found a message from Corky saying that she’d gone round to her mum’s for the day. Feeling tired and peculiar Maddy went to bed. She attempted to read her book about Louis Armstrong but under the soporific influence of the whisky she fell into deep sleep.




Maddy got up late, past lunch time, and moped around.

In the late afternoon – after Maddy had told Corky about her meeting with Peter Saxby – the Zena Saxby affair took on a new twist. While Maddy was examining the photographic prints of footprints that Corky had taken at Zena’s, Corky suddenly shrieked as she began to read the evening paper. “Look at this!” she shouted, “They’ve figured it all out.”

Maddy read on the front page of the Leicester Mercury:

“…GIRL KIDNAPPED. Police Make Enquiries.

A white seventeen year old girl, whose name is being with held by the police, has been kidnapped by a black gang. The girl, who was abducted on Tuesday from her own house, and who attended Rowley Hills School, will be returned to safe hands for a ransom payment yet to be stated. Police are waiting further developments.”

“Oh damn! What a twit I am,” uttered Maddy, “I understand now. That wasn’t very clever of me.”

“What do you mean?” asked Corky.

“Why I didn’t I twig it? Its in a different language, look.”

Maddy pulled her out her penguin notebook and thumbed back and forth through its pages. She found a page and passed it to Corky. Corky read the penciled message:

Chanting Praises/ and thanks/ until I an/ fadder/ Jah/ who

“That’s the writing I found at the bottom of the of the ransom note. Can’t you see? Its Patois, or Rasta. Jah is the Rastafarian god. And that medallion Hanson found I bet it was Rasta as well. I know, I’ll phone Kandy; she might be able to help. I’ll go and see her. ”

Corky, remained behind in the kitchen and pursed her lips. Some Rasta’s had abducted Zena. So what? It was little use to realise that now. It just proved how out of their depths their own pretentious investigations were. Maddy was going to feel a right fool now.

Maddy stepped off the bus in St. Saviours Road in the Highfields district of Leicester, the prominent ethnic area of the city, and the district where Kandy lived.

As Maddy walked to Kandy’s she knew she was now truly hooked. Everything that happened in the search for Zena increased her addiction for it. Even when she wanted to forget about it, to avoid it, something happened to nudge her on. She was beyond the point of no return now. It was a battle; a battle with herself perhaps.

Corky had been wrong about Maddy feeling stupid with herself for not realising something which now seemed obvious. Maddy rarely criticised herself for her intellect. Her bugbear was that she continually criticized herself for her looks.

Maddy had learned to avoid the love affair with mirrors and shop windows that many of her peers had fallen into. The reassuring reflection she hoped to see of herself never materialized. To counterbalance her lack of physical graces she had decided – somewhere, at sometime (she couldn’t remember exactly where or when) – to be a genius with her mind. That was her domain.

She didn’t know if she would discover anything else in this Zena case – after all, a body, a ransom note and a train ticket was not too bad for two days work – but she was determined to persevere. She was going to use all her energy to find the answers. She knew her strength and stubornness. Corky had been quite wrong: instead of Maddy’s confidence wilting despondently it had inflated with renewed conviction.

Kandy Davis pulled Maddy close as she came in the door and hugged her. Kandy was cat-like, elegant and her eyes were black pool-balls that moved as lazily as her speech. She was a Leicester born West Indian with beautiful black-olive skin. She kept spluttering with laughter into her coffee as Maddy told her the whole story.

“I’ve never seen you so worked up. You’re too excited – calm down, calm down.”

“This whole thing is really bugging me.”

“I can see that.”

After Maddy had gone over the story again she was surprised that Kandy already had some information to pass on.

“It makes sense now,” she said, “My boyfriend, Tyrone was stopped by a police car last night. One of the police said that they were looking for a white girl. They accused Tyrone of knowing where this girl was being kept. And then they said, in as many words: find her or things could get difficult around here. The threat was repeated before the police left. Now you’ve explained what it was all about.”

Maddy asked Kandy if she would play detective for a while: “Find a few things out for me, Kandy. You can move about the black community in Leicester – could you see what you can find out? See if anybody’s not out these days, or has disappeared? Or if anyone is frightened, or anything? Don’t get yourself in trouble, of course, but if you could just do a little snooping I’d be grateful for that.”

Kandy’s pupils rolled and her smile ripened. “I suppose I should be cautious and think about it but I won’t. Hey, I’ll be a black Miss. Marples,” she whooped with laughter.

Later Maddy said goodbye and thanked her. “Look after yourself – and don’t laugh. We have found a corpse you know.”

“Nobody’s gonna bump me off,” she said defiantly.

Maddy kissed her and went out into the evening.

About twelve minutes after Maddy had left the house the telephone rang. It was Corky asking for Maddy. She sounded breathless.

“She’s just gone.”

“Oh god! Where is she?” She sounded panicky.

“She’s on her way home.”

“Thank God! When did she leave?”

“Not long – about ten minutes ago. Are you alright? What’s wrong?”

“Absolutely everything. I’m getting jumpy. If you see Maddy send her back here as quickly as you can. Bye.”

“But I don’t….” But Corky had called off.

* * * *

At ten to eight Maddy turned into Meadvale. A figure ran towards her, calling wildly. Maddy was being embraced, then tugged along by the arm.

“Come on, quick. I’ve been waiting ages.”

“Whatever’s wrong, Corky?”

“We’ve got to go to the hospital. That’s why I’ve been waiting. Nigel’s been attacked. He’s in a bad way. Quickly – visiting time starts at eight.”

“Uh?” said Maddy moving into Corky’s stride.

“Nigel’s been beaten up. We’ve got to move if we’re going to get there.

“We’ve got to go. I’ll tell you about it on the bus, we should just catch it.”

On the bus, traveling along through the dark streets, Corky explained: “About 7.30 the phone rang and a man asked for you. He said he was Nigel’s father. He said Nigel was horribly beaten up by four men this afternoon. He was taken to Woodbridge hospital and kept asking to see you. Nigel’s father found your number on the telephone book or something. I didn’t know what he was going on about but he was obviously distraught and desperate to talk to you. He gave me the visiting hours and said he’d be there.”

“Nigel is hurt bad?”

“I think so.”

The bus, usually a fast service, tortoised its way down Evington Road.

* * * *

Nigel was found in a large ward, obscured to the other patients by an impediment of studding, a partition which gave him the privilege of privacy on three sides.

“He’s in a coma,” his father said.

Blue bruise marks had formed on Nigel’s left cheek from his top lip to his high jaw. His jaw was broken. One of his eyes was blackened, both were closed. Maddy studied him closely, Corky, saddened by the sight of him, turned her eyes away.

“I’m glad you’ve come,” Nigel’s father said to Maddy, speaking quietly, slowly. “He wanted to say something to you when he was admitted to hospital, but he began to babble and lost consciousness. The doctors tell me he’s satisfactory – but he has a broken rib. They’ve X-rayed and fortunately the rib hasn’t hasn’t punctured his heart of a lung, although as you can imagine it has affected tissue and muscles.”

Nigel’s father looked down and grimaced. He was a distinguished looking man, smartly dressed in grey trousers, a white open-necked shirt and a loosened blue tie. His animated face, his easy style and his resonating voice was calming yet carried a sense of authority.

“Is he going to be alright?”

“He’s got to have a small operation. They say it’s not difficult. They are getting it prepared now – the sooner the better.”

“Its been a shock,” he said, his voice faltering slightly.

“What exactly happened?” asked Corky.

“I’m still trying to establish the facts. I’ll explain what I know and then perhaps you can do the same for me.” He sat deeper into the chair and leaned back.

“As you can imagine,” he began, “I wasn’t too receptive to details when I was informed of Nigel’s accident. All I was concerned about was his health.”

His voice became calm now, matter-of-fact, in control again.

“Basically, two women found him. The women came out of a jitty into Kirkby Street, a small back street and heard shouting and saw at the end of the street three thugs in leather jackets kicking a body on the ground. That was Nigel. A fourth youth, who had been revving his bike, saw the women and shouted a warning. They all mounted their bikes and sped off.

“An ambulance brought Nigel here. While this was happening the police came to find me at a hosiery firm where I was giving a speech. I came here. Nigel asked for you, then started rambling, making no sense at all, and then he slipped into unconsciousness. I drove home and searched the phone book but you weren’t listed. But later, when I phoned my wife and daughter to tell them to come home – they’re on holiday in Yarmouth – I saw your name and number scribbled on the cover of the yellow pages. Then I phoned you.

“If I can find cretins I’ll break their heads open. Look what they’ve done to him. They are going to pay for this – and they’re not going to get off with a damn fine! It disgusts me.”

“Did they get the registration numbers of their bikes?” asked Maddy.

“No. They were too far away.”

“Did anyone else see them?”

“No. The police have been round all the houses near that end of the street. The police told me everything.”

“Oh? How come?” she asked impulsively. She thought she was the only one who could back fire questions at the police.

“Oh,” he said, looking surprised. “I have friends in the police,” he said, “I’m David Swain, your local MP,” he smiled. “You obviously don’t recognise me.”

“Sorry,” said Maddy.

Politics didn’t impress her. She went to considerable trouble to avoid the boring subject; television channels were switched and radios re-tuned when transmissions threatened to turn red, blue or purple, right, left or centre. Although she didn’t think the greens weren’t quite so bad. Anyway, most of it was double talk, hypocrisy and usually totally unrelated to peoples’ problems.

“Another one,” said Maddy.

“Another one?” asked David Swain.

“I met Richard Courtwall the other day. It must be my lucky week meeting two politicians in as many days,” she said.

“You’ve nothing to worry about – just imagine how many I meet in a week. Look, let’s go to the waiting room – visiting time is almost over – and you can tell me why it was so important for my son to see you.”

Minutes later, in the dimly-lit waiting room, Maddy went over the past three days with Nigel’s father.

Corky drifted over to a window on the far side of the room. She dreamily looked out into the night. A tabby went by. A church clock struck nine. It had been three days since Hanson had visited.




Dorothy Brent’s lovely face shadowed black and grotesque. An orange beak grew where her nose should be. She was a black crow; a black crow of hate; a black crow pecking at Maddy’s face. In the early hours, sweating uncomfortably, Maddy broke out of the nightmare into consciousness.

Corky laughed when she woke and found Maddy sleeping beside her.

That morning they set about the task of tidying up. The house had to be spotless – Maddy’s parents were returning from the Channel Islands that afternoon. It took more energy than Maddy could muster: occasionally she felt dizzy and had to sit down.

By the middle of the afternoon the house was well-ordered and clean; a fine example that would ingratiate any returning parent to feel easy about leaving their offspring to keep house again.

In the middle of the afternoon Nigel’s father phoned up from the hospital: Nigel was still unconscious.

After watching a channel 4 weepy, Corky left to return home for a family gathering.

“I’ll ring up later and I’ll creep a bit to your dad for using his darkroom,” she said to Maddy on the doorstep.

Left alone Maddy attempted to play her trumpet but became breathless and had to stop. She tried again but half-way through an exercise the room began to sway and her mouth craved moisture. She felt grotty.

When Mr. and Mrs. Quebric returned home at five thirty they found their daughter crumpled up on the settee fast asleep.

* * * *

Corky rang in the evening. Mr. Quebric answered.

Yes thanks, he was saying, we had a wonderful holiday. Of course the darkroom was tidy. Of course it was no trouble letting you use it, you can use it again whenever you want, providing you let me know, Corky.

“My dad says you’re in a call box,” said Maddy when she came to the phone, “why aren’t you phoning from home?”

“I can’t. A super-bore called Mrs. Hencombe has been on the phone for ages, for over an hour. Anyway I wanted to get out and walk. Its boring at home with all the relatives.”

“Come around. We need to work out what we’re going to do next.”

“Great. I’ll be around within the hour. I might be able to cadge a lift.”

“I fell off to sleep after you went. My mum insists I go to the doctor tomorrow. She’s going to see how bad I am in the morning. She’s worried I’ve got some bug.”

“Mothers always worry. It’s a mother’s complaint.” The phone lines became crackly. “I’ll come round in about an hour – about eight.”

“You can stay again if you like.”

“Okay, see you later.”

“Corky! Come back. I’ve just remembered what I wanted to ask you.”


“You know your dad’s got a tape recorder. An office pocket one.”

“Sorry I can’t hear you. Shout!”

“Tiny tape recorder! Your dad’s. Can you bring it?”

“Yes. You mean the small one?”


“Sure. If I can. ‘Bye.”



At nine thirty on Monday morning Corky walked up Aylestone road towards Rowley Hills Comprehensive School. As Maddy knew her mother would force her off to the doctors, Corky had been delegated the important task of making ‘enquiries’ at Zena’s school single handed. For this she was equipped with a note pad, a fibre-tipped pen and the miniature tape recorder of her father’s that she had taken to Maddy’s the previous night.

Maddy had foreseen that she would be restrained by her illness and her mother for at least a day and, as time was short, the tape recorder – which was small and easy to conceal – had given her the idea of getting Corky to record interviews which could then be played back later.

“It means you won’t forget anything. You can’t write down everything that people say, can you?”

Corky felt a bit put out somehow; like she was being underestimated again.

“The tape recorder is only a tool, you know. The skill of finding answers is asking the right questions, and I know you can do that,” said Maddy.

Corky was now entering the school grounds remembering their conversation. One advantage she had over Maddy here was she knew her way around. Nevertheless finding fifth year students could be difficult at this time of the year. The school didn’t break up until Friday, but like her, many hadn’t been at school since the exams.

* * * *

Under the strip lighting of the foyer, Julie Kotengo appeared, her face caked with make-up.

“What are you after, as if I don’t know?” she asked Corky.

“I’m looking for Ms. Taylor.”

“Not in trouble I hope.”

“No. I say, I do think your face painting is lovely.”

“Its much better than the script. I’m in the hall working on a dramatic production. I’ve got to buzz but I’ll see you in the canteen later.”

They arranged a time.

* * * *

Angular chairs, painted sinks, grafiti table tops, and poster displays surrounded Corky as she entered the Art room. The whir of the potters wheel, the clicking of fourth year pencils, and the smell of printers inks reinforced once again why this was her favourite classroom.

Diane Taylor, the art teacher was pleased to see Corky and asked her if she wanted the old screen printing inks that were now being replaced. Corky was chuffed. “You bet! I’ll send my dad round in his car to collect them before the end of the week,” she said.

Prior to bringing Zena’s name into the conversation Corky discretely switched on the tape recorder in her pocket.

“Ms Taylor, you used to have Zena Saxby in your tutor group, didn’t you?” she asked.

Diane Taylor’s slender neck relaxed and her pretty head lolled forward in contemplation. She smiled as if she was being flattered.

“So you’re asking questions about the poor girl as well. As I said to the police there isn’t really much to know.”

“What do you know?”

“Well…basically…Zena didn’t have a good fourth year. She had a tendency to rub people up the wrong way with her finely-honed sarcasm. She didn’t have many friends. She fell in with a bad crowd at her Youth Club. Mind you, she was different in the fifth year. She settled down a lot, although she still sometimes had her outbursts. She had got on well with another girl, Leslie Swain, Nigel’s sister.

“I don’t know her. I know Nigel,” said Corky.

“Poor Nigel,” she said. “The headmaster mentioned him this morning in assembly; he gave a talk on the senselessness of violence.

“The police have been here asking me all sorts of questions because she was in my tutor group. Yet, the funny thing is, there was something I didn’t tell them. I suppose I should let them know. It happened after they had questioned me.”

“What was that?”

“It was strange really,” said the art teacher, leaning against a table, slippery wet from kneading clay, “I don’t know if its important or not. I was looking for an overdue library book in Marjorie Alman’s locker. As I opened her locker several books dropped out. As I was bending down to pick them up I noticed one of the lower lockers had no front panel on it. The hinges had been torn off and the panel was placed inside the locker. I wouldn’t normally have taken any notice – people are always vandalizing things around here – but it had Zena’s name on it and – well this is odd, I thought. A girl who the police are looking for has had the front of her locker torn off.”

“When was this?”

“On Friday morning.”

“Go on.”

“Well, I looked at it. I removed the flap from the locker so that I could look inside. One History text book, one Communication Studies text book and two exercise books. Nothing else. I asked a boy at a nearby locker how long the front had been off. He didn’t know. I flicked through the books but didn’t find anything of interest. That’s about it, I suppose. The police asked me to report anything to them that might assist with their inquiries. I thought this seemed quite strange at the time, but now it seems fairly tame. I suppose I should let them know but they always take so long asking questions.” She turned and smiled. “Mind you, you’re bad enough!”

“Could I borrow these books for a while?”

Diane Taylor wasn’t sure at first, but Corky managed to persuade her. “The two text books have gone back into store, so they’ll be mixed up with all the others now, but her exercise books are in my form room. I’ll get them for you but I must have them back.”

“Of course.”




As he drove out of Hinckley he found his mind playing tricks on him, bringing forth false memories that postured as true history. He found himself thinking of dear aquaintances from the past; then his mind would suddenly jerk back to reality and he’d find himself having no recollection whatsoever of these people that only minutes before he called by their Christian names and knew intimately. It happened again and again: he imagined domestic problems with people in city flats only to find that he’d never known either the people or the flats. These reminiscences were sucking at his imagination and flowering with intricate detail and colour despite knowing he…he had something important to remember. He was at the seaside having an argument with his sister and he had to….. He was driving a car! He span the steering wheel anti-clockwise, automatically, without comprehension, and pulled the car back on to the country lane. Stamping down the brakes he squealed the car to a stop. He had been lucky.

He climbed out of the car and gulped in the warm December air. He broke into a short run. Maybe it would wake him.

The dream reappeared to him. He’d never had a sister, but in the twilight of sleep she had been real enough. He resumed the driving seat.

Fifteen minutes later he approached Copt Oak.

Climbing a hill a ‘Poplar Farm’ sign on the right registered in his mind, then several white cottages. Over the brow, stretched an arid landscape like Scottish heath. Descending the hill led to a bridge spanning the noisey M1. In the distance was a church and behind it were electric pylons and something like a radio telescope.

Over the fields the air was turbulent with seagulls.

Copt Oak didn’t really seem to exist. A few houses and the church. He turned off and parked in the carpark of a pub. Fighting tiredness, he hauled himself out of the car inhaled the fresh air. At last. He was here.

St. Peters Church was next to the pub. A long driveway with two tyred runnels led up from the road. Alongside it was an olive green fence which backed onto detached house gardens. An avenue of trees with bulbous barks arched over either side of the driveway welcoming him as he walked towards the church. The driveway opened out into church grounds. He stopped and listened. Birds twittered cheerfully and the traffic hummed from the main road.

He didn’t like churches at the best of times, but he particularly dislike this one. It seemed insular and unfriendly. Buttressed and spireless it stood self-righteously formal; too neat and compact. Striations of a crazy-paving pattern ran through its brick work. Diamond pattern reflections shone in its leaded windows.

A graveyard ran around the church. There was a flagpole to his right and he smiled as he imagined the congregation running up the American flag and singing the star spangled banner.

While looking around he had been walking towards two cars which were parked outside the front door of the church door. One was a red sports car and the other was a Porche. There was no one in either.

“You’ll be alright, don’t worry.” said a soft voice.

It was a girl with clear eyes and a milky complexion. She was about twenty, and was yet more a little girl than woman. “My name’s Stella,” she said. “That’s where you want to go.” She pointed to the church door and turned and walked away.

Unabashed, David unlatched the church door. He expected to find the church was empty but not so. There were several people sitting spaced apart from each other kneeling in the pews. It was when he moved forward and had gained a better view into the crypt that he saw her. Claudia. There she was.

He remembered her in an instant.The way his body reacted surprised him – shocked him – for he became aroused. He could see her standing with her back to him studying something that was placed behind glass in an exhibition cabinet. She turned slightly away from him towards the pulpit.

She must have noticed him however for as he moved closer she called out to him without looking round. “I’ll be back in a minute, David. I’ve got to play the organ. There’s a letter here for you.” He saw her take a white envelope from her basket-woven handbag and place it on the glass of the cabinet. “Back in a mo.” And she had gone up to the side of the altar and through a door.

He collected the envelope and seated himself in a nearby pew. He tore open the envelope and peered inside. It was a legal document printed on blue paper. He didn’t bother to take it out. He couldn’t remember what his last crime was. Oh yes, he could, stealing that car. It couldn’t be about that. They wouldn’t know he’d be in a church at Copt Oak.

God, he felt raunchy. Sex was a luxuriant dream in his tired state.

More people were entering the church. It seemed strange. It wasn’t a Sunday, although he couldn’t remember exactly what day it was. He pulled himself back from falling into sleep again. Come on Claudia don’t disappear again. If you do, you can sod off. But I do remember that body. And it’s a relief to see you alive.

The organ began to play, quietly at first and then slowly louder, the crecendo of a bride approaching the altar. He didn’t recognise the hymn, which annoyed him because hymns had been the only thing he had liked about his mother’s obsession for Christianity. Then he heard something else that he didn’t recognise. A percusive sound. Like a drum. It was in time with the increasing swirling of the organ. Then the beat became louder. He looked up. David felt the rat in his stomach wake up.

A man of about six feet stood directly in front of the pulpit. It wasn’t his suit and tie that caused immediate prickling of the skin but the black african mask that obscurred his entire head. Nothing could have been more incongruous in a church. The figure, in contrast with his surroundings, suggested something profoundly evil.

The figure was swaying mechanically from side to side and beating two thick milled pieces of mahogany; cracking them together in time to the soaring organ chords. It was an incubus made real; a businessman with a head by Picasso. David didn’t move; he couldn’t. Something strange was going on again. Delerium Tremens? These hullucintions were getting more regular all the time. He saw his dead mother a few days before, and then the angel of death –

His body flinched. He was going to have trouble with his head again. He couldn’t look forward. He looked down at his feet. It was a trap. He’d seen the angel of death as he’d driven somewhere near here last night.

Don’t be ridiculous. He forced his gaze up again, but the black African mask was still there tilting back and forth to the music and still staring at him with its black slitted eyes.

Perhaps he had fallen off to sleep. Perhaps he was dreaming. How the hell do you wake yourself up? He pinched himself but could feel his body. Everything around him seemed real enough. Perhaps he had killed himself in the car and he was dead. Perhaps the Harpies were calling him back for Sandy.

We can’t take you back now, David.

You won’t be able to sleep now, David.

Stay awake David.

Then the organ stopped abruptly.

But the beating of the sticks was still going. David looked around. The church was about a quarter full. Everyone’s face was rapt with attention staring at the figure in the pulpit. The sticks stopped and a resonant voice from behind the mask spoke.

“Arise and sing Hymn Number 217.”

What the hell was going on. Was it multicultural day or something? He twisted his neck as far as it would go in trying to search with his eyes for a hymn book, but as always when he was panic stricken he couldn’t operate his head or his expressions at all. Oh god, everyone was standing up. He tried but he couldn’t do it. He’d try and go to sleep. Cut the world out. Ah what bliss. To cut the world out.

But he was still awake with his eyes open when the hymn had been sung and they had all retaken their seats. The African mask appeared to read from the notes on the pulpit. Its booming voice reverberated throughout the church.

“We are gathered here on this day for the exultation and praise of god. As today is such important occasion I thought, as a continuation of my speech on Sunday, that it might be appropriate to continue on the development my own philosophical enlightenment….”

David wrenched his head about to look at the congregation. They were all like puppets; as if none of them were real. This didn’t seem to be a Christian service. He could feel the sweat dribbling down his neck as he clung on to the pew.

“….Just to paraphrase my ontological arguments of our last meeting you will remember that I reminisced about the years I’ve looked for the truth,” began the African mask, its voice reverberating and echoing around the church. “I described how I’d attempted to climb the tree of knowledge. Yet the higher I climbed the greater was my fear; I hung on full of anxiety suddenly doubting the soundness of my earliest roots. If they were wrong then everything I’d built on them was wrong also. Every premise had led to another. But if the first was wrong then all was wrong.

“What was actually true?’ I asked myself.

“Is there a really a God? I asked over and over again.

“Philosophical questions are compounded by the way we humans perceive. Our perceptions are subject to a structuring in a certain way that makes us blind to many truths. The nature of our language – which says alot about the way we percieve – obscures the reality of ‘first cause’ and other philosophical difficulties. I realised that the debate between eternal creation and a beginning of creation is impossible for the human to solve with his perception and his language. All earthly languages are so bound up with paradox, grammar and syntax that – even though some truth remains tantalisingly within our grasp in a poetic sense – it is forever locked away as inaccessable and inexpressable in logic. First cause versus beginning of creation, free will versus determinism, induction versus deduction and many other philosophical problems are all paradoxical. It is obvious that the solutions are carried within the pairs themselves; it is having the key to unlock them that is difficult.

“Carneades, the greek philosopher gave a brilliant two hour talk on the ethics of Plato and Aristotle to a Roman audience. He then returned after an interval to brilliantly refute the ethics of Aristotle and Plato. The point that he deftly illustrated was the nature of opposing arguments, and the fundamental core of scepticism which no philosopher has managed to conquer up to this day.

“It is hard to find irrefutable truth and express it in language. And yet how the world does. It builds empires and dynasties on millions and millions of sentences emanating from first premises of unprovable and often dubious reason. Tied deep within our human memories wrapped in the the webbing of paradoxical language is the first paradoxical question: is there a god, is there no god? The answer is that God is a paradox.”

David’s face was now covered with perspiration. Where the hell was he? He must get out of this dream.

“God is paradox,” the voice continued, ” and God is also infinity. Infinity is an impossible concept to grasp because it keeps running away from the mind. Infinity is the ultimate mystery and quite imcomprehensible to human beings. I refute Einsteinian theory that space is finite. Time and space are infinite and because of this an infinite number of ideas and possibilites exist. Because infinity never ends ideas also never end, never run out. God is infinity, and everything within. Every finite part of infinity is a part of god, as large or as infintesimal as the infinity is conceived wrapped around it.

“Anywhere where there is evidence of infinity and paradox there is evidence of God; this is the face of god. Infinity and paradox ask us to doubt the material world and our own perceptions. This can be alarming for some and reassuring for others.

“One common dream that many people have in their childhood is a dream where images form from a minute pin hole in the blackness of our minds. The images begin in the pin hole and grow in size as they get closer. Once these images have become large they disintegrate and reveal a new image now coming forward in the same way. These images seem to come from a central position in the mind’s eye and to approach with an enlargening perpective. Its as if all the images were coming out of a vanishing point of single point perspective.

“Another example of images growing from vanishing points is the fairly common halucination of a small pin-point of light approaching to grow into an enormous white (sometimes coloured) circle. Many of you will have had this experience, it is quite common.”

David remembered something like that happening to him. He knew it had been recently, but his mind wasn’t working too well to be more exact. Where the hell was Claudia? He knew she was here. He wanted to get out of this crazy place.

“The vanishing point, a gateway to infinity, has obviously much to answer for in our perception, which explains its abundant representation in religious icons, films, and the arts.

“Why are we compelled by film images shot from the driving seat of a train driving along a track, or from a sports car? It is because we are heading into impossible infinity; we meditate upon the vanishing point like a moth to light, wishing to be sucked in.

“God is Paradox and Infinity and God is also Hypocrisy.

“All men are part divine and aspire to purity. All men are part sensual and have strong desires. This is reflected by the behaviour of humans and their organisations which display healthy skins in public but have many dirty skeletons in the cupboard. This hypocrisy comes from the nature of our language and paradox. Hypocrisy is never far away. Coping with its presence ensures some measure of individual happiness. Treating it with disgust and vilification ensures some measure of suffering because it is part of ourselves.

“God is paradox, infinity, hypocrisy and also mythology. There is sublime truth of a personal and individual nature in mystery and mythology. Mythology is a man-made vehicle for god to ride in. God is encountered in many forms from the diverse mythologies, religions, cults and folklore explanations that exist about the nature of the universe, its creator and all within it. God has become approachable and anthropomorphicized, made in human or animal image. All the dogma and images have come by divine communication through prophets or god-touched individuals. All human activities and affairs have become ritualised. As humans are fragile, vulnerable, dependent upon factors outside their control. War, poverty, a good harvest, fertility, etc., cannot be controlled from either within or without. They are all in the hands of fortune. Mythology is necessary to the community to provide a sense of confidence that humans have some measure of influence concerning what the future brings. Mythology, through its constituent parts, is also used to raise optimism, and in the case of ill-fortune to console. When people believe they completely control their existence those people are fatally foolish. A society without mythology is doomed.

A person without mythology is doomed. Where there is no vision the people perish.”

“The highest appreciation of existence is found by mankind in and through mythology and creativity. Mythology is the interface required for man to hear God and praise God. Creativity is the expression of infinite possibilites within the finite possibilites of man.”

“At this point we will endeavour to praise god and sing Hymn number 416.”

The man with the mask stood back from the pulpit and could now be seen with the two milled sticks in his hands. Immediately all the congregation rose to their feet leaving David feeling foolish. When he realised he was out of step, something of an eye-sore in the pattern of church conformity, he made to move in line, but he soon relinquished the effort. Sod it. He sat back and let them get on with it. Thank god this God-botherer had finished. When is he going to take that silly mask off? He can’t possibly wear it all through the service.

“Thank you. I now conclude this service but before we come to the second reason why we are here I should like you to give applause to all those who have dedicated themselves to helping out with the ceremonies this morning.”

He called out two people who David have never seen before and watched them graciously take their polite applause.

“..Thankyou, thankyou. And I’d like you to give a particularly big applause to our new organist, Claudia. ” His arm was held out towards the wing of the altar which obscurred the organ.

Up the steps she climbed. David could see her as she emerged, as if she were growing from the ground. Oh hell. He squeezed his hands together as she emerged. His nails pressed hard against his palms. Her hair was long and beautiful and glinted of white gold. David’s nails began to force themselves into his flesh. She was white; like a may queen. His elbows were now juddering uncontrollably. He watched her hands, easily placed inside one another, in casual prayer, as she came level with the dias. Backbreaking fear was down his spine and sweat trickled down his neck; his body was chattering helplessly with overload. Suddenly he was moaning, then screaming, screaming, screaming, screaming. He was shaking to bits. He felt hands all over him, trying to control him, trying to hold him down.

Claudia. She had no face, just a completely blank piece of skin. No eyes, no nose, no mouth. Nothing. She had no face.


“Wake up old chap, come on now, backs against the wall. Never loose your nerve old man. Feel better now, eh?”

He didn’t recognise the voice talking quietly in his ear, nor its owner, a man dressed like one of the Sunday lunch golf-set.

He was in a church. The same church? He tried to remember. None of it could have happened. He shrugged himself to sit up. But he was still there. The man in the African mask was still there. He sat behind the pulpit and now only the mask could be seen. People in the congregation were different somehow; they sat in different places. It was still dreamsville. Had somebody spiked him with LSD? He’d never known it to be as effective as this.

“I think I’m going.”

“Keep your voice down. You’ve just had a short sleep. You needed it. You were wiped out, old boy,” said the man, who was dressed in a tweed sports jacket and had an accent which reminded David of how Biggles would of spoken. Wizard eh? He had a nervous twitch and his left eye seemed to blink twice as often as his right. “I’m here to help you. Don’t worry, old boy,” he said, reassuringly.

“I just dreamed I saw a woman I know without a face?”

“You did, old chap. Haven’t you realised that’s how you see all women. No, you don’t understand, do you? It’s just as well I’m here.”

“I’m going round the bend.”

“Maybe, maybe not, but I’m not here for that reason. I’m here to represent you. The King of Mythology is now in the seat of judgement.”

“The king of…who?” He sat up so he could see more of the church. What the fuck was this all about? He heard a voice shouting. Something about a witness for the prosecution. An echo of voices were relayed down the aisle of the church. It was a name he knew well.

“Am I on trial?”

“Yes.” He turned round and looked at David, rather put out. “You don’t mean to say you didn’t know?”

“What’s to stop me just getting up and going?”

The man with the moustache chuckled and then continued scribbling in his notebook. It was as if he regarded David’s question as an infantile question: ‘Why is the sky blue?’ It was illogical, had great charm and humour and no answer.

David prodded him, “What am I on trial for?”

He looked up again patiently. “So you slept through that bit as well did you? Its quite a complicated legal case: The King V Basnett. You are accused of various crimes but basically it’s murder.”

David slowly turned away. He looked up at the motionless African mask across the wide space. He saw a blonde woman climb the last of several steps – as had Claudia minutes before – and present herself to the congregation. It wasn’t Claudia but someone whom he recognised only too well even before she turned to face him. It was Krystle Meidner. An assistant passed her a Bible which she swore upon.

A fat man from across the aisle got up and walked down the aisle towards the witness. It became quickly apparent that he was the prosecution council.

“You know David Basnett,” he said in commanding tones.

“Yes,” she answered in her cool clear tone.

“You are aware of the indictments?”


“Would you describe him as a violent man?”

“Yes. In a way. I lived with him. He’s an angry man.”

“An angry man? Could you please give the jury an idea of the accused’s character.” The fat man turned and smiled at a group of people placed in the front pews of the church.

“It is my opinion that David is emotionally, morally and spiritually bankrupt. He has no love or faith in himself. He has no love or faith in anyone or anything. He despises everything except his own terrible past which he is always making boasts about. He’s done it all, seen it all, but now lives in a state of emotional – how do you say – rigormortis, running around and going nowhere. He’s a coward. He’s a danger to all around him.” There was no mercy in Krystle’s tone at all.

“Do you see the accused as a murderer. Could you imagine him as a potential murderer?”

“Objection!” The man sitting next to David suddenly stood up waved the piece of paper he had been scribbling on. “Objection, your honour!”

“I shall overule your objection,” said the booming voice of the African mask, “because of the strange nature of this case. The witness may answer.”

“Yes. To both questions.”

David couldn’t believe what he was hearing. Was this Krystle talking about him? It was comical.

“No more questions your honour,” said the fat lawyer and sat down.

David’s barrister went forward and took the place of the prosecution council.

“You answered that you see the accused as guilty of committing this crime, and also guilty of having the potential to commit it. Very well. Nevertheless, as the prosecution council and the learned jury well know speculation is not legal truth: this is the law. Even though you may have shown the prosecution what a strong imagination you have, it’s of little use to the jury who need facts. Isn’t it true that you have no proof whatsoever in the accused’s involvement whatsoever with any such crime? Isn’t it merely that you are a spurned woman seeking revenge?”


“Very well, your honour. I apologise, for that last comment. But I still claim this witness has no proof whatsoever.”

“David is destructive,” interjected Krystle. “He wasn’t only intent on self-destruction but of the destruction of the people he came into contact with. Show him any form of innocence and if he couldn’t murder it straight away he would either deny its existence or chip away at it gradually. This applied to both ambitions and people. He would do this through sneering ridicule or cynicism. I have seen this in English men. He hated people to have their personality all together because his was all shot to pieces. He was all up-front and his dirty washing was in public, as you say. He had nowhere left inside him to hide that was clean. Nowhere left inside where he could be at peace with himself. Any place that existed in others must be a lie – “

“Thank you! Thank you!” shouted David’s defence council drowning out the witness. “Just answer the question please. These personal speculations, which are probably interesting enough for the shadey side of fleet street are not what the jury are looking for. What they need is facts, not speculation from your bitter – I take that back. I apologise to my learned council – imagination or opinion. Let me ask you, did the accused ever physically assault you when you were together?”

Krystle wiped her nose daintily on the back of her hand before she answered.

“The accused assaulted my intelligence and my heart. He said he loved me many times but it was a lie because he could never demonstrate it. He was a six year old child, with a big ego and totally selfish. No he never hit me. He’s capable of murder but I don’t think he could ever hurt anyone – he hasn’t got the guts.”

The King of Mythology interupted, “Explain that.”

“Yes. David does horrid things to people because he’s inadequate. He would never assert himself to act directly over something – that would require belief in something. His method is to be underground, making sniping attacks at dignity, honesty, all things of value. He doesn’t destroy by the smote of the sword – that would show principles, and mean having to face his own guilt later on. That would show some courage for his beliefs. No. He neglects things – like a garden, allowing the weeds to strangle the rose while he turns his back and keeps his hands clean. He’s a coward. It’s his fault and he blames the world.”

“Ms. Meidner I would request you to be brief in your answers. Let me ask you once again. In the time that David lived with you, throughout the whole of your relationship, did he ever lay a finger of harm upon you? Did he cause you any physical harm?”


“No further questions.”

“The witness may step down.”

A minute later another woman arrived in the witness box to be quizzed by the prosecution council.

“Your name is Vivien Rookman and you are the former wife of the accused.”

“I am.”

David sat bolt upright. Vivien? She, a prosecution witness?

“Let me ask you how do you regard your former husband now? “

“I feel pretty ashamed of him.”

“Could you tell us more?”

“Well…I feel sad about David and I feel very angry about David. I felt these things before I recently met him. After I’d seen him again the feelings were much stronger. I was quite taken aback. He is now a shadow of his former self. His spirit was ill. He was a dog with its tail between its legs, continually sliding away into dark corners, as if to avoid being beaten again. He looked unhealthy, wan, pale; as if he had not been out in the fresh air for years. I wasn’t surprised. Time must have been hard on him. I knew I had been largely responsible for the way he had gone. After I left him I knew there was still unfinished business.

“He’s down on his luck. Too much drink. Unable to form relationships. He sees no value in them anyway. He needs a psychiatrist. He makes me sad. When I first met him he was beautiful. Such grace, confidence, good lucks, intelligence, compassion and ambition. All those things. But the more ambitious he got in his job the less I began to respect him. Ironically the things I admired him for began to be the things that I later despised him for. He became so ambitious in his work after a while that he had no personality for me.”

“You said you felt angry about David, why did you feel angry?”

“Angry?” She laughed. “David’s brother was a great help to me. Both David and I loved him and yet David was responsible for…David was responsible for Sandy’s demise.”

David couldn’t believe what he was hearing. Surely she wouldn’t tell. Surely If she did she’d have to admit her part in it, in the cover up.

“I’m afraid I don’t understand,” said the King of Mythology.

“Sandy was a lovely man. He was younger than David by two years, and he was a kind, caring person. I used to tell him he was my favourite youth councillor. Despite David’s love for him he had always been spitting jealous of him….”

David couldn’t believe it. Vivien. This was the ultimate betrayal. It couldn’t be true. This was vengeance. This was what she had come here for.

“…..David thought Sandy got better treatment from his parents because all life was unfair and against him. I didn’t understand until after we were married but David was consumed with self-pity. His childhood wasn’t that bad. He’d exagerated most of the bad things that had happened to him. Sandy was loved by his parents because he was a caring, vulnerable human being. David was always obsessed with himself, always lacking regard for other people’s feelings – even when he was child. I remember Sandy telling me.

“I put up with David and his ego and his drinking for seven years. When I married him I never knew he had a drink problem, and yet I should have. When I first met him in at a Leicester University Dance it was over a pint of beer and two chasers. Somehow I put up with his selfishness, his complete lack of responsibility and his monolithic egotism. After we were married he wouldn’t even let me go out to work. Eventually he agreed to part-time. I was a qualified doctor and I even had to argue with him about leaving the house at all! When I later suggested setting up a consultancy, with two other doctors, concerning fertility problems he wouldn’t hear of it – he screamed at me for having no socialist principles! I certainly wasn’t doing much good for any principles stuck in that marriage. Sandy supported me. Even though Sandy was a socialist himself, he was a real one, a democrat, and could see my point of view.

“I don’t know how we started the affair. It didn’t happen through lust; it wasn’t a mad sex thing or anything like that. It just happened because we found consolation in each other. Sandy was a clever man in many respects, but his most rarified gift was that of listening. He was a fantastic friend. I just loved and respected the man so much. I suppose I was doing more taking than he was, and I wanted to please him. I think he felt very guilty about cuckolding his brother, but I talked him out of it. I could help him at times. He had bad depressions; I gave him medication at times. “

“And when did you begin this affair?” asked the prosecution council.

“I was married at 22, so it must have been about two years later. In 1975.”

“I presume the accused knew nothing about it? How long did it continue for?”

“David knew nothing about it all. He used to come back home late. I always used to persuade him to go for a drink before he came home on the pretense that it relaxed him. I just didn’t want to have to be in the same room as him. I preferred him coming home squiffy than coming home early. I don’t know why I didn’t just pack up and leave then. That’s the question I’ve been asking myself ever since. Oh god, if only I had! Sandy and I were very careful until we finally..” Vivien’s voice throbbed with emotion, “got caught out.”

David watched her face. The mouth of the engaging smiles was now the home of the torrents, the oceans of all lies in past and the present world. The confiding eyes were now skillfully at work on the jury. David was rigid from head to toe. The Harpies were out for execution and had sent her. This was the deafening, defecating stench of public betrayal. Judas and Brutus come and join us. He would go now. It was wet and comfortable.

“Sandy and I were about to slip into bed and David came home unexpectedly. He walked into the bedroom and found me already in bed and Sandy getting undressed. I’ve never seen such a look of confusion on any man’s face from that day to this. He couldn’t believe it. No one would ever let him down. He was the perfect man, the perfect husband; no one could ever do the dirty on him. On others, of course, but not on our dear little principled master achitect David.” She laughed, and swept away the hair which curled up under her chin. “You couldn’t believe it, could you David!” she shouted across the church.

Everyone turned and looked at David. He was as white as a sheet. He seemed to have lost his senses.

“He went crazy. He started pushing Sandy about and I went rushing around trying to pull them apart. They both went out of the door onto the landing and several seconds later I heard a dreadful crash. I ran out and found Sandy at the bottom of the stairs with David staring at him. I quickly checked his pulse.” She stopped for a moment. “I couldn’t find one. The poor, poor, adorable man. I loved him. I loved him so much.

“I looked up and saw David. I asked him what had happened.”I murdered him,” he said. “I kicked him down the stairs.”

The noise of the court suddenly rose and the judge had to quieten it before she continued.

“He admitted to murdering his brother?”


“Is he capable of strangling a girl in a fairground with a scarf?”


“Thankyou.” The barrister returned to his seat.

“Has the Defence any questions,” asked the King of mythology.

“Indeed, your honour.”

David’s council stood before the witness.

“Could you tell us more about your relationship with your husband towards the end of your marriage?”

“I left David because he became a stranger to me. I couldn’t talk to him, or share my feelings with him. All he did was take. I had to provide for him, like a mother figure. I was daily transported from the kitchen to the bedroom.”

“You sound very embittered to the jury.”


“Objection sustained. The jury will ignore that remark and it will be struck from the transcript.”

“I apologise your honour.”

“You said that you used to encourage David to stay out drinking. Were you frightened of him. Are we led to infer that he used to hit you? To beat you up?”

“No. He didn’t hit me.

“You say that you didn’t see David kick his brother down the stairs. Is that correct?”

“That’s right.”

“So it only a supposition on your part that he kicked him down the stairs.”

“No, he kept saying it, ‘I murdered him, I murdered him. I had to calm him down.”

“This is merely your word against my client’s.”

“It’s the truth.”

“I will endeavour to prove to the jury that you are a wicked scheming woman whose whole mind is bent on black vengeance!”

“Objection! My lord, how long can the defence keep accusing the prosecution’s witness’s of being hell-bent on vengeance because they’ve been hurt or spurned by the accused. He’s surely not that good looking.”

The court erupted with laughter.

“Objection sustained. Please keep your questions to points of law and relevant questioning.”

“Indeed, your honour.” said David’s council. He turned back to the witness and continued, “You say that David Basnett never inflicted any physical harm on you at all during your marriage.”

“That is true.”

“So, he wasn’t – apart from this disputed crime of passion – a violent man?”

“Even though he wasn’t violent to me he could be violent to others.”

“I submit-”

“Could you give the jury some examples,” interrupted the King of Mythology turning his mask further towards Vivien’s face.

“Umm….” her eyes flashed around nervously. “He had a fight in a pub went we went on holiday to Margate.”

There was slight tittering in the congregation.

“Yes. That is one example. Can you give us others?

“Its difficult to remember your honour.”

“It is nevertheless important that you sustantiate your claim. You give us one disputed example of violence inside your marriage. You say that the accused was violent outside of the marriage. We need to hear many examples of his violence, and I don’t think one example is enough. Your inability to remember others must imply that his violent streak was hardly common.”

David’s Counsel smiled with satisfaction. The judge had pushed through a confrontation that he would have avoided and it had worked out to his advantage.

“He was a cruel man to both himself and to those around him.”

“Indeed, so we have heard from another witness, but that is not the same as physically violent.”

“I can’t think of any more, off hand.”

“No more questions.”

She was led by a police woman down the aisle, passed by David, and out of the church. As she walked passed him she kept her gaze firmly fixed on the floor.

David took a deep breath as his barrister returned and sat next to him.

“Hey, David, things aren’t going too badly. I’m pleased so far. We might even get you off.”

“This is….crazy?” he said, his voice slurring, as if he were drunk. He couldn’t be; he hadn’t drank for so long. He couldn’t remember when. He’d lost all track of time. “I’m dreaming.”

“No, no, my old boy,” said bright eyed lawyer. “This is reality. You’re not going to wake up from this. You’ve done enough dreaming for a while. Don’t you remember your dream about climbing up a grass verge and coming to a beautiful heavenly landscape. If we’re lucky you might still have a few dreams like that.”

David remembered the dream.

“How the hell do you know about that?”

“Boy oh boy, you are slow, old man. Don’t you know who I am? I’m your agony uncle, don’t you recognise me? I’m Bernard Willis. I’m a bit miffed, old man, that you haven’t already guessed. Hey look! Its our turn. A witness for the defence: it’s Claudia. You know, our old friend Claudia?”

“Claudia? Who’s she?” asked David.


“You are Claudia? Claudia Hope,” asked Bernard Willis.


At last David could see her face to face.

Now she had one. Eyes, ears, nose and mouth. Nothing unusual about her now. He had to squint to see her; his eyes were becoming blurred. He remembered the face. It was friendly, lively, full of the future. He remembered drinking champagne with it and kissing it. He remembered a gnome and a fair ground. He remembered having his arm around her.

“Could you tell the court the first time you met the accused?”

“I only met him for one night and thought he was lovely. I also thought he was very brave.”

“Could you tell us about where you met and what happened.”

“We met one evening in the Haystack, a pub in Hinckley. It was about a month ago. I had been having an awful argument with my mother about leaving home and getting my own flat. It had been awful and had ended in a shouting match. I had stormed out and gone for a walk to calm down. Later I found myself in this pub and drank a couple of ciders. I felt awful and kept bursting into tears. My mum isn’t in the best of health and I felt awful leaving her – but I had to.”

“And David?”

“Oh yes. Well, David came in. When he saw I was crying – I was the only other person in the pub as it was so early – he asked if I was alright. He was quite shy but very sensitive. He cheered me up, and I think I did the same for him, because he got more and more cheerful as the night progressed.

“Later on we joined up with some people he knew and then we all went off together in one of their cars to the the fair. The fair was lovely. Everything was wild and exciting. David won me a coconut on the coconut shy. It was marvellous. David was marvellous. Even though he was a lot older than me he was smashing. He was like no other man I’d ever met.”

“Could you tell us something about the fight.”

“Yes. David needed a leak, so –

“I assume you mean by that that he wanted to go to the lavatory,” said the King of Mythology.

“yes.” Another chorus of laughter came from the congregation.


“He went behind one of the caravans. I followed him, a short distance behind, in the dark, giggling and making jokes. We were both very drunk. Then I heard some scuffling and some whimpering. Then David was shouting. He was talking to a youth. He was telling him off for punching a girl in the face. Her mouth was bleeding. In attempting to calm the youth down David tried to pull him away, and as he did the girl ran off. David and the youth started lashing out at each other. They both ended up on the floor and David was on top of the youth with his scarf around his neck. The youth somehow rolled him off into the mud. He ran off, still wrapped in David’s scarf. David was very shocked and unsteady. After a few minutes he was dreadfully sick. I went off to get help.

“I found a woman I knew who had a car. She was with another woman. All three of us helped David to the car and then drove him home. One of them knew him. He’d been in her launderette earlier that afternoon. We put him on the settee and put a blanket on him and then left.”

“So he had absolutely nothing to do with this girl who was murdered. He was simply trying to protect her.”

“That’s right. The youth went running off after the girl, and later strangled her with David’s scarf. “

“Do you consider David to be a violent person?”

“Not at all. I thought he was very considerate: as soft as a lamb. As far as I knew him.”

“So you regard all these charges levelled at him as completely unwarranted?”



A moment later the prosecution council was addressing himself to the witness.

“Miss Hope you said that the accused fought with this youth to protect the girl that the youth was harming.”


“In your description you said, let me see: ‘David found himself lying on top of the youth with his scarf around his neck’. I put it to you, how did this scarf get around the youth’s neck?”

“I don’t know.”

“I suggest the accused put it there.”

“I don’t quite understand?”

“I suggest he put it there to strangle the -“



“I apologise to my learned friend. Let me approach it another way. The accused’s scarf ends up around a boy’s neck, in a fight that the accused starts with hardly any provocation. I submit to the jury this shows a propensity to violent behaviour. I have no further questions.”

Bernard Willis was on his feet. He was waving his notepaper around, exageratedly.

“Regarding some of the accusations that have been levelled against the accused in the testimony of Vivien Rookman we would like to call a late witness, your honour.”

The expressionless surface of the African mask almost seemed to be thinking. At last its voice said, “Very well.”

“David Basnett please take the stand.”

Bernard Willis had been whispering in David’s ear for the previous minute. David was trying to remember what he had said. We can do it. We can get you off. Deny all violence, he had been saying. Dispute it all. It’s old lovers seeking revenge. He remembered. He could do it. Just keep it simple and deny everything. It was only his word against hers. He was being helped along the aisle. He was up on the stage with hundred of eyes staring at him. He took the Bible and swore to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth so help me God.

“In the course of these proceedings trying you for the murder of one Linda Taylor at the fairground in Hinckley, another crime has been mooted against you by your wife,” began Bernard Willis. ” Let us take each of these two items separately, and in order. Do you understand?”


“Did you strangle Linda Taylor.”

“No. I didn’t.”

David had managed it, he’d given them the right answer, although he couldn’t really remember whether he had strangled her or not. He didn’t think he had. In the train he must have remembered the scarf around the man’s neck.

“Now to the next question. Vivien Rookman has accused you of killing your own brother by kicking him down the stairs. Even though your ex-wife didn’t see this act take place she claims that you admitted this to her. Could you tell the court whether this is true or a malicious lie.”

David was going to lie if he had the permission. Bernard Willis encouraging him with his face. “Is this a slanderous lie?”

David’s eyes scanned slowly over the congregation. It took him a moment to find her. She was at the back as he knew she would be. She was waving, trying to catch his attention, standing at the back of the church. My children never lie.The whole truth and nothing but the truth so help me god. David you will not lie. Mother says so. You will suffer for your sins in eternal hellfire and damnation.

“Its the truth,” said David.

“Would the witness please speak up,” said the King of Mythology.

“I did it. I kicked my brother down the stairs.”

A roar of noise came from the congregation.

“I think my client is rather confused your honour and wish to remove him from the stand.”

“I did it,” said David his voice loud but trembling. I killed my brother. I loved him. I loved him.” He reached out and held on. His throat ached and his body shivered. He face was screwed-up, his mouth was slobbering, his body was convulsed with grief. He was helped down to his seat.

Fifteen minutes later the Counsel for Prosecution presented their case and claimed that it was obvious by the testimony of all the witnesses – and particularly the last – that the accused was a violent, narcistic, and nihilistic man. Even in Claudia Hope’s testimony, David Basnett had embroiled himself once again in drunken and manipulative behaviour eventually resulting to violent action. Self-neglect had led to a neglect of everything else: respect for other people, for the community, and the jury in its responsibility could do no other than to find the accused guilty of murder and therefore to keep him at her majesty’s expense away from any gullable or unfortunate people that he might come across. Women were particularly at risk, as was most apparent by the accused’s attitudes and misogyny. His inability to handle or express ordinary emotions took a perverted form of expression in drunken binges, sadism, pyschological cruelty and violence. He had completely lost touch with his conscience through the desensitising effect of alcohol. He is pathological, a typical product of modern western society; sick and selfish, a mind and body sick with over-stimulated needs and corruptly pampered with easily gratified desires. He had killed once before and had got away with it, what was to stop him doing it again?

The Defence claimed that the testimonies had not only disproved that David was a violent man, but they had, in fact, proved that he was a kind and considerate and courageous man, ready to risk life and limb in helping a girl in distress. Even though his wife had cited violent behavior in the case of Sansom Basnett it had not been proved that her accusations were indeed accurate. It was apparent that the accused was distressed and felt responsible for the death of his brother, but it would be a very heartless and irresponsible jury that would judge the accused on an alleged misdeed which would have to be judged according to separate legal proceedings.

It was apparent, stated Bernard Willis, in his most concerned of tones, that the accused was down on his luck, was suffering from low-esteem and had a drink problem; but many people were in that position and surely they couldn’t all be accused of murder! The idea that this intelligent, and maudlin over-sensitive drunk was involved in a murder was preposterous! He had merely been unfortunate in in getting mixed up in a series of coincidences. Nothing of any value can be attributed to the evidence of his wife that he showed violent behaviour during some holiday stay at Bournemouth. It was submitted to the court that hardly any man alive hadn’t been involved in a fight at some time during his life! There was absolutely – absolutely – no evidence to suggest that David was anything other than a passive man and had never raised a finger to his wife or his subsequent girl friends. In short, David had a drink problem due to life’s misfortunes hitting him hard. He was lonely and insecure. A drink problem is not a criminal act.

“We have established,” began the King of Mythology, summing up,” that the accused, David Basnett, is a person who habitually commits gross negligence to himself and to the community at large. It would also appear conclusive that he is unable to love himself or others. He has an over-inflated sense of self importance – which doesn’t seem to be merited, or even compensated, by any special talent or ability he may have. He shows tendencies to impetuosity and impatience; when he can’t get his own way he becomes frustrated like a tantramatic child. He is both hyper-sensitive to criticism, and yet hypercritical of others; in fact he shows a complete lack of concern or interest for others, apart from disparaging those who are successful in any way. He has completely forgotten how to express his feelings. He believes everybody hates him.

“These are all the classical symtoms of alcoholism. The accused, it would seem from the evidence given and from the psychiatric reports that I have before me, would appear to be an alcoholic. This man’s whole life has been based around alcohol. Every pleasant occasion has been laced with alcohol. Every beautiful emotional experience has been when he’s drunk, and likewise every heart-rending experience has been caused by his drinking. Every anti-social act has been when he’s been drunk. Everytime he’s made a fool of himself, everytime he’s upset someone, everytime he’s felt really wretched has been caused by his drinking. David Basnett is a classical example of someone who suffers from alcoholism.

“But the question that you, the jury, have to answer is not whether David Basnett is dependent upon alcohol, nor whether he is guilty of the murder of Linda Taylor. The prosecution have sought to prove that he is a violent man. The defence, by looking for recordable evidence of his violence, have tried to prove that David Basnett, albeit a drunk, is not a violent drunk. Please note the point of law made by the defence. The jury should not be swayed by the allegation that he killed his own brother – nor by his own admission of it. As has already been stated, such allegations require separate legal proceedings and these allegations should have no bearing upon the verdict you reach. Regarding the rest of the cross examination I suggest that this lack of testified evidence of violence should be considered very carefully.

“It could be a bloody lot worse, old man,” whispered Bernard Willis to David, who had his head in his hands.”You might just get away with this.” David remained bent over. His face was still screwed-up and his throat bulged with grief.

The King of Mythology told the jury to retire.

The jury, twelve members at the front of the church, got out of their seats, walked down the aisle and went out of the back of the church. David watched them and to his complete surprise, by the time the last one had exited, the first one had returned, followed by the second and the others in the order they had just departed. They returned to their seats. They informed the King of Mythology that they had reached a unanimous decision.

“That’s impossible,” croaked David to Bernard Willis.

Bernard Willis payed no attention to David’s comment. He continued watching the King of Mythology, and biting the end of his pencil.

The court sat spellbound as the spokesman of the jury stood up ready to deliver the verdict. David couldn’t focus on him very well. It was as if the man were changing colour. His coat seemed to be changing from a dark grey to a light brown, and his posture was changing.

“You have reached a unanimous decision?”

“Aye, that we have.”

Now all of the jury looked the same funny colour brown. What the hell was going on? His eyesight was all blurred.

“Guilty, your honour.”

“Let the prisoner stand.”

“Get up.” hissed Bernard Willis, whose face had turned ashen. His eyes avoided David’s. He pushed him to his feet.

David Basnett it is my duty to punish you in the eyes of the law. The maximum punishment for this crime is to hang you from the nearest tree.”

There was complete silence from the congregation as the King of Mythology’s punishment reverberated and echoed around the church. “However,” he continued, ” due to various factors in this case I am going to modify your punishment. Bring on the Beer, Brandy and Whisky!”

An attendent brought on a table which was placed in front of the pulpit. Three more attendents came in each carrying a bottle. These were placed carefully on the table: a bottle of beer, a bottle of spirits and a bottle of wine.

“Now listen David, I’m going to tell you a story. I’m going to construct a self portrait. I’m going to describe what you’re like. I want not only you to remember these words but also the whole congregation.

” When you are sober you feel old – so you drink and you feel like a teenager. Ethyl Alcohol makes you feel youthful. When you’re Sober you’re quiet – drunk and you’re the world’s greatest charmer and entertainer. Ethyl Alcohol makes you garrulous. When you’re sober you’re tense, easily irritated, and distant with people. And yet drunk you’re super-relaxed and gregarious. Ethyl Alcohol makes you easy with people. Also, sober you’re very shy of girls and yet drunk you’re a hit with them. Sober you’re frightened of sex and yet drunk, you’re Casanova. Ethyl Alcohol gives you sexual confidence. Sober you’re friendless and lonely, but drunk you’re the rave of the town. You’re ‘favourite mates’ are drunks to socialise with. Drunks like drinking, and offer you no threat. Ethyl Alcohol is often taken in groups. Sober you’re guilty about wasting your life, drunk you’re blameless. You imagine that you’ll start doing all the projects that you always promised yourself you’d do. You’ll start tomorrow. Ethyl Alcohol takes the worries and futility away. Sober you feel under the weather, plagued by mental and physical discomfort, drunk you feel fine. Ethyl Alcohol is liquid sleep. Sober you’re too serious, drunk you’re a stand-up comedian. Ethyl Alcohol is a Woody Allen script. Sober you’re physically cold and unresponsive, drunk you’re a cuddly bear. Ethyl Alcohol makes rejection unimportant. When you’re sober life is boring, when drunk everything is exciting. Ethyl Alcohol boosts reality. Sober you’re tired and bored, drunk you’re full of for whatever’s happening socially. Ethyl Alcohol is a social stimulant to get through boredom. Sober you want to be loved, drunk it’s not so important. Ethyl Alcohol is your only big love affair.

“I believe that you are not guilty of ordinary murder. You are guilty of self-murder. Self murder is the serious act of destroying yourself. This crime carries its own punishment for the crime is directed at the criminal. The persecutor attacks the victim, and the victim is itself the persecutor. Because of this there is no point in further punishing you, as you do it so well yourself. Nevertheless it is still my duty to hand out the sentence but I shall deflect the sentence to the ethyl alcohol. Ethyl alcohol is present in every alcoholic drink, and is what causes all the damage.” He stood up.

“David Basnett is free to leave this court.” He turned and pointed. “Those bottles standing before this dock will be strung up from the nearest tree. So be it!”

Suddenly David’s focus, which had been bleary for a few moments while the judge had been talking, began to clear. During this time all the jury members had changed to a light brown and were all standing in a strange way; not like humans at all. All their ears were sticking up at odd angles and they all had bendy tails. They were like kangaroos. They were kangaroos. David could see them now. They had all got out of their seats and were beginning to dance. The organ had begun swirling again, louder and louder, and the King of Mythology was standing and banging two sticks together again. Everyone in the church began clapping and leaving their seats and dancing in the aisles. People was clambouring over the pews to try and shake David’s hand and congratulate him; others were content to just touch him. The Kangaroos were coming up the aisle, as they had when they had been a jury. They were singing; the melody was strange, slow and hypnotic and fitted between the wave crashes of the organ. The whole church knew the words, as David did to his surprise when he began to join in the fourth stanza with gusto. It began slowly, and went:


Sober he is old and warn, drunk he’s a

eye-catch hit

Ethyl alcohol makes him sexy-young

Sober he’s a sullen one, drunk he’s a chatter-charm

Ethyl alcohol loosens up his tongue

Sober he’s a strung up knot but drunk he’s most convivial

Ethyl alcohol makes him bright and free

Sober he’s shy of girls, drunk he’s a lionheart

Ethyl alcohol puts them on his knee

Sober he is paranoid, drunk he’s the mostest most

Ethyl alcohol needs drinking company

Sober’s a guilty cell, but drinking mates unlock that hell

Ethyl alcohol will get the blind to see

Sober he’s in constant pain, and drink’s like a holiday

Ethyl alcohol comes like liquid sleep

Sober he’s too serious, in drunk he’s just the cheeriest

Ethyl alcohol makes him look so sweet.

Sober he is oh so cold, drunk he will scorch your soul

Ethyl alcohol cuts out fear of no

Sober he’s tired as hell, drunk and he’s so fit and well

Ethyl alcohol makes for thinking fast

Sober he aches for love, drunk he just don’t get enough

Ethyl alcohol is one big heavy pash.

Round and round went the verses as all the congregation came out of the pews and filed up the aisles in carnival spirit. David had been grabbed by many hands and thrown up onto several shoulders and was doing his best to keep his balance.

The noise and confusion increased to a deafening level as the exiting crowd bottle-necked at the doors of the church; then minutes later, amidst all the confusion, David suddenly found himself flooding through with the speed of water breaching a broken damn. He tried to grasp the hands and arms of those holding him up, and exhulting him; outside he was filled with the prescience of an imminent crash onto the gravel. Not so however, for a minute later he was carefully brought him down and laid on the grass. For a few seconds they clapped him and then they turned and ran off. He watched them running off down the drive, occasonally turning to wave and and shout blessings and messages of good luck upon him, as if he’d just got married. He coldly and impassionately watched them; kangaroos and unknown faces, sometimes leaving in groups, then in twos and threes, then only the single stragglers departing down towards the main road.

He was alone. The sky above was blue. He could feel a gentle breeze on his face. It wasn’t cold. He lay on the grass and looked at the sky. He lay for a long time. He began to feel his shirt soaking in the dew from the grass. He knew it would take a supreme effort to move. He knew he was in a state of shock, and didn’t want to increase it in any way. Perhaps he should sleep. Perhaps he was asleep. If he really were lucid dreaming he could imagine himself standing up. But it didn’t work. Eventually he clamboured to his feet.

He stood up and found himself searching in his back pocket for something. His car keys. As was doing so he heard a soft voice. He turned round to see the girl he had met earlier.

“You’ll be alright,” she said.

He looked at her. He looked at her magical eyes. David assumed she was another mirage of his damaged mind.

“Are you going to suddenly turn into a kangaroo?”

“No – don’t be silly – I’m just Stella, remember. I’ve been here for ages. I’m just a common or garden ghost,” she said.

“You need to get home and get some sleep,” she said a minute later.

“You’re probably right. That’s what I’m going to do.”

“Did you understand the purpose of all that?”

“All what?”

“All what happened in there.” She pointed to the church door.

“Not a clue.”

“That’s not true. Being cured is often a bit painful,” she said.

“I haven’t really had time to reflect on the nature of my hullucinations yet.”

“Why do you keep assuming your dreaming. Your not.”

“If I’m not dreaming I must be stark staring mad.”

“No your not. You’re lucky. You’ve been given an insight that very few people are given.”

“Maybe its an insight I could do without.”

“That must be your choice. Where are you going now? Are you going home?”

She became tired of waiting for an answer and walked up to him and took his arm. “Come with me,” she said. She led him amid the graves and along the grass. She led him to a small gap in the hedge that bordered the graveyard.

“It’s a short cut to your car,” she said, grinning like a cat.

“If you were really a ghost you’d know it isn’t my car,” he said. He walked off into the green field. She waved to him but he didn’t look back.

Around him sprawled the green fields of Leicestershire. Directly below him a busy main road cut across the fields adding to the hum of the motorway which was out of sight now. He could see his car parked in the pub car park, but he didn’t head towards it, but directly east of it. He walked at times towards the road and and at other times parallel with it. After a short while he sat down and looked about him.

He became a fixture in the field; a clump of outrock, or granite, a sculpture. Here was the countryside. It didn’t frighten him now; the agraphobia was gone. He watched the heavy lorries rattle down the road belching out smoke from their exhausts. He watched one magpie, then another explode from the heath into the air. He felt the wind breathing on his cheeks. From somewhere in the universe came a movement, a cracking, a breaking, an archaic memory, a shock. The waves resonated in his spine. From somewhere from this two million year life span he felt the freedom of real childhood. From somewhere he felt an embrace. It took him a while to recognise it, but it was definitely there: the unshackling of chains, the release from slavery, the open and welcome arms of optimism.

THE END 10887 (476)



Roads twisted out from Woodhouse Eaves and disappeared up into the scalloped horizons of Charnwood. In this village, large dormer windows of affluence peered like bank manager’s eyes between high columns of privit and private trees. Before these, banks of poplars were stacked up like cut-outs from a child’s theatre.

Woodhouse Eaves was had been the epicentre of a tremor in 1839. In 1893 on 4th August the same village was focal point of the first impulse in a twin earthquake.

In the village a road lay awash with sunlight.

On one side of the road was a Lyon’s Maid shop frilled with a salmon pink shutter like an old ladies underskirt.

On the other side were many solubrious residences. One of these, a cottage, had arched doors framed in ivy and two victorian lamposts standing before its country garden gate. Into this Arthur Rackham dwelling David Basnett had moved two weeks ago.

Since his arrival his mental state had vassilated between semi-clarity and confusion. When the harpies descended singing songs of Claudia and scarves he fought them from his mind, which exhausted him. After the flashback in the train and the meeting with Roger he had decided not to try to remember, or to speculate any more about it. Unfortunately there were times when he couldn’t stop treadmilling on his darkest thoughts so he took immediate recourse to the best devil-blocker he knew: since his arrival he had been drunk.

Of the village pubs, David’s choice, ‘the Bull’s head’, had turned out lucky for him. On his second night there he had met Krystle Meidner, or to be more precise, Krystle Meidner had met him.

It was as if he had known her for years, yet couldn’t quite remember how she came to be living in the house. She arranged her days in the same way that she spoke; matter-of-factly, precise, cool, no more and no less. She knew what she wanted to say, and she said it. Her voice, like the way she dressed, was scando-american, but her mane of platinum blonde, with a bulging fringe overhanging her rapacious blue eyes was – like her nationality – pure swedish. She was stunning. He recalled some pickings about her past. She’d had some mad affair with a boy called Klaus whom she’d toured Europe with on a motorbike, whom she claimed had broken her heart. She seemed uninterested in money, and he found out later that her father, the founder of a Swedish microchip company, always wired through what she wanted, so he wasn’t surprised. Krystle lacked curiosity about David’s past, which he liked: it was very tedious to tell people what you were going to do when you grew up when you were thirty nine.

He had woke in the middle of the afternoon and found she was searching him with her eyes. He reciprocated. A perfect head, adorned with swathes of sensuous hair, floated elegantly on her long neck. She was probably the most beautiful girl he had ever seen.

She was ambitious is a hopeless sort of way. She often talked about how she would be revered in the future for her artistic work but from what David had seen she wasn’t even a reasonable amateur. He wouldn’t ruin her dream. She dropped her penetrating stare and continued with her drawing of his face.

It took fifteen minutes for the silence to be broken. She asked him if he felt any better for all the whisky he had been drinking. He laughed.

“I’ll make a meal,” she said, and sharpening her pencil in a rather robotic series of movements, “I’ll make a Neopolitan Spagetti. It will do you good. Its okay. I’ll shall go for the shopping. You don’t have to come. I like to spoil you.”

“I thought you had learnt not to be dominated by men? I wouldn’t say that was very Germaine Greer.”

“Why ever not. If I want to make you a meal. That’s cool.”

He grunted.

“Don’t you move. I’ll be finished in five minutes,” she said.

Presently – despite her protestations that she still hadn’t finished – he sat up on the bed, rubbed his cheeks into his head with his hands and groaned. She watched him and then came over and sat next to him. She showed him her drawing. He smiled and then took the sketch pad off her and gave it a more studied look. He praised it with as much sincerety as he could muster at four fifteen in the afternoon.

“Very nice drawing, shame about the model,” he said.

“You’re a very superficial person but I like you,” she said after studying her own drawing.

She turned and stroked her fingers under his chin, and they then began to unbutton his shirt. He pushed her away. He struggled up and went to look for a whisky. There wasn’t any, she told him.

She put her sketchpad in the drawer, stepped over some dirty clothes that David had left lying on the floor and went into the hall. She could see David slugging back the remains out of a sherry bottle.

“I’m going to get the grub. You will be here when I get back?”

He was laughing at her coloquialism. He looked at his watch. He was checking out opening time.

“If you’re not here I’ll eat it on my own. You need some food – you’ve not eaten anything in the past few days. You look very ill – you’re a wreck.”

“You know what its like. I feel rough. I just need to have one or two to ease up.”

“You are a real zombie, you are.” She walked into the kitchen, gripped him, and then danced her fingers around his waist. She took the bottle away from his lips.”

“Not now Krystle. Later,” he said.

“You’re too old,” she tutted.

She pirouetted round, like a may pole girl in slow motion and went to the closet to get her coat. David heard the front door close. He went to the window and watched her walk off across the road. He didn’t quite know who she was. The thought worried him him.

He had laid the table when she returned and was feeling slightly easier in his now lubricated mind. Thoughts were now joining together and ideas were coming thick and fast. Conversation was difficult when he was sober. In drink he was fluent, articulate and original; at least he thought so anyway. An hour later they sat in front of an aubergine, the air rich with garlic.

David trained his eyes on the apparition that lived with him. He remembered her coming back on his second night in the village and falling into bed with him. She almost devoured him. She had been in the house ever since. She had an English degree, she had told him, and had taught in TEFL schools, but now had no job. She had made a detour to Charnwood on her way up north, to see the English fox hunting country. She had recently returned from a hitching trip around Europe (this time alone). She’d had a bad time in Paris. He couldn’t remember why. Without meeting her what would he have done? What he had done: got drunk everynight. Probably – but it would have been different.

Maybe this girl was his life raft. She seemed to understand him so well without him having to explain. He knew he’d never met her before and yet she seemed so familiar. He said this to her and she smiled.

“Other men have said the same thing. Its my art that makes me know everyone so.”

He thought her comment laughably pretentious but he didn’t say so. People at 25, and below, have a sort of right to pretentiousness.

“You approve of me, then?” she said, rolling her eyes under her fringe.

“I’ve just been thinking about you. I’m glad you’re here.”

“You’re a – how do you say – a peculiar fish.”

“Not exactly a fish. Are you commenting on my hygiene?”

She laughed. “Listen, I worry about you. What was upsetting you in bed the other night.”

He looked blank.

“You were crying. You were crying and saying things. About someone. About Claudia. Who is she?”

David’s fork momentarily froze on the way to his mouth. He looked away from Krystle’s gaze, but he knew she had noticed. Calm down. Don’t think about it. Everything will be okay in a minute.

“You don’t like that.”


“She an ex-lover? A wife?”

“I really don’t want to talk about it. Okay.”

“You’re another spoilt man, aren’t you? Soft and afraid. I pity you but you’re very sweet. There’s something about you that’s so unhappy. Why are you so frightened of being yourself? Do you know who you are?”

“Do I know who I am?” He laughed, “Don’t get philosophical.”

“Why not? Its surely better than being a cynic. Than being boorish and drinking all the time. That’s what seems to happen to men in England after the age of thirty. Whatever happens to the dream of when they were little boys. Their ideals? Why do men then become so weak and wimpy when they are single? And why do they grow so like monsters when they’re not? In their youth its all fame and fortune and like wanting to be Jason of the Argonauts. When they become men the only Golden fleece they ever go to is the one that sells beer.”

Krystle persuaded him not to go to the pub that night but as part of the deal he was allowed a few bottles at home. Later when she made love to him he noticed that he wasn’t as fit as he used to be.

Many hours later in the early hours of the morning he stumbled to the bathroom. He returned through the intervening passage and pushed open the door into the bedroom. Krystles motionless form was touched by the light that trickled through the window.

Something caught his eye on the other side of the room.

It was a pin prick of light.

He couldn’t make out what it was. It was miniscule but very bright. It was like a circular star. It was gradually getting larger, with no lessening of its brightness. It was growing. It was growing larger and larger. It was becoming enormous and still growing.

It was enveloping him, and still increasing. It was upon him. White light everywhere. A burst of fear made him stumble, and somehow he found the light switch.

Once the light was on normality returned.

He heard a burst of angry Swedish; Krystle was sitting bolt upright in bed, now asking him in sarcastic English what he thought he was doing.

He sat on the bed.

“Tell me what are you doing?”

He would have told her, but she’d just say he’d drank too much. He had never seen a star inside a room before.

He switched the light off and pulled himself as close to her as he could get. He was shaking.

“Come on, now. Have you had a bad dream. There there. Come on now. Tomorrow everything will be alright.” She stroked and reassured him as if he were a child.

“I love you,” he said.

“You’d love anyone. You are so desperate and lonely.”

“I love you,” he said burrowing deeper into her neck. “I love you now. This minute more than anything I’ve ever loved.”

“Don’t fret so,” she said and squeezed him.


Fingers of frost groped along the edge of the window panes: David woke feeling cold and old. He forced himself up and made some breakfast.

Everyday he noticed more things about the house: the wainscotting particularly appealed to him today. He wished that he could be transformed by the house’s style, like an actor is by his scenery, but he knew that he and this environment were hopelessly mismatched: it was untenable for a twentieth century transient to fit happily into nineteenth century permanance.

When he had arrived the electricity had still been connected. The water he’d put back on himself. Since then a few bills had piled up but nothing too bad. Everything seemed to be okay, and there were no immediate wolves at the door. He also knew he should ring his father, and tell him everything was okay, but it was alot of hassle. He didn’t ring; he didn’t want to talk about the crummy executive job. He’d call him some other time. He found a cigarette in Krystle’s bag.

He’d go for a walk? He’d finish off ‘Brighton Rock?’ He’d do some drawing and show Krystle how it was really done? He had done a lot of life drawing when he was studying at the Canterbury, and he had been good. But what was the point? He didn’t need to prove that he could do it, he knew he could, so why bother.

It was almost eleven. He’d just slip over the pub and have a chat with Danny, the landord. He’d only have one.

Krystle stood in slippers; her body was draped with an old oversize shirt. David stared at this sexy young thing. He told her he was going out.

“Sit down. Drink is out for summer today. No drink.”

“Oh come on. If I’d have gone five minutes ago I’d have made it.”

She pushed him into a seat. “No. And when I say no….” She wagged her finger at him.

“But I’m going to suffer. I’ll be unbearable to be with.”

“You are always unbearable to be with.”

She wiped away all his further comments with her hand. Later she said they would go for a walk to Broomsbriggs farm, a local beauty spot. David shrugged his shoulders. She rationalised it so: she’d never seen him without a hangover, he’d never seen her when he’d been completely sober. He reluctantly conceeded the point.

But they never went. When Krystle went out to buy some milk she returned with the rain. It began as a drizzle which grew into an unending downpour and quashed all hopes of escaping out into the sober countryside. She wanted to draw him, but he would only agree if she went to get him some cans. She refused. He refused. She left him sitting on the bed and went in the kitchen and wrote to a friend in Munich.

From a crumbling book shelf David found several books that he tried to read. ‘Hereward the Wake’, which he’d read when a boy kept him occupied for twenty minutes, no longer. He told Krystle he was going to get some cigarettes.

“Look, tomorrow you can get as drunk as you like, but not today. Okay?”

“But I need some cigarettes.”

“I’ll go out and get some cigarettes. I just want to see you sober for one day, thats all.”

“You’ll get soaked.”

“It is okay. I like the rain. In my last life I was a duck,” she made a series of quacking noises. “Now you listen: there’s still some sherry left that I saved. I don’t want you to drink it while I’m out in the shops. I only ask one thing. I want you to go sober for a day. Okay?” She put on one of Aunt Anne’s raincoats from the closet under the stairs and left.

He wrestled with the idea of sherry for a while but he’d do what she asked. If he found he couldn’t cope he could always change his mind. What was it they said: One day at a time. In his case it was one hour at a time. He tried to sleep but couldn’t. His thoughts were tangled and panicky. It had been so long since he’d allowed himself the come-down of a hang-over that he’d forgotten how bad they were. They seemed to get worse everytime. He felt as if his mind was peeling off the wall.

Later, on hearing the Krystal knocking, he went out into the hall pulled back the door.

The face that was revealed to him was school tradgedy.

It wasn’t Krystle’s that waited outside in the blustering wet but a face that could only fall out of dreams. The wind had tossed up her hair and it had rain-glued itself to her cheeks. Compliance and surrender ran as always in those eyes. This Brownie snapshot occasionally blinked and became real. It was Vivien. It took him an eternity – a second – to recognise his wife.

“Aren’t you going to invite me in?” She asked in a low, purry voice wiping the rain from her forehead.

He grunted but remained obstructing the doorway. Suddenly, like a waxwork jerking to life he beckoned her to follow him. “Come in,” he said.

“I’m sorry about the shock,” she said.

In the kitchen he went straight to the refridgerator and poured out two full measures of sherry, emptying the bottle. He tried to remain as calm as he could but he knew she was watching, waiting to find some fault, some inadequacy – and damn it why did his hands keep shaking.

“I’m sorry to spring this on you,” she said, as he placed the sherry in front of her,”You look quite white. Do you want me to go.”

He looked up from the sherry glasses on the formica table top and shifted his gaze onto her face. He could only connect briefly into those hot confiding eyes. They hadn’t changed. He felt her pity oozing all over the room. Damn her. She had crinkled a little, but it hadn’t damaged her. The face held a new wisdom, a laughing assurance. There had been some selling out. She was rougher, and he could see much stronger, more willful. Perhaps she had abandoned her noble feelings.

“What do you want?”

“Do you mind if I dry my jacket by the stove. I’m wet.”

He took a sip of the sherry.

“What do you want?” he said. “You must want something. I haven’t seen you for years, and suddenly you turn up in a place where nobody knows I am.”

“I don’t really want anything.”

“How are you, David?” she asked a moment later.

“How do I look?”

“I’ve seen you look better.”

“Don’t fret. There’s a picture of me in the attic that looks beautiful.”

“Your father phoned me in London. He asked me to come and see you.”

“What the bloody hell for?” he said angrily, “Has he suddenly decided to completely interfere with my life?”

“He’s worried about you.”

“Its a bit late for that. He should have done a bit more worrying when I was a kid. What are you doing here? I must be seeing things again. Come on, whats all this about? It must be something important for you to come over and find me after ten years.”

“I’m sorry,” she said, looking down.

“Ah, you’ve come to seek forgiveness. Is that it? Okay. I forgive you – now piss off.”

“You’re father rang me. I’ve heard so much about him; it was really peculiar to hear him speaking. We spoke for a long time. He must have got my prvate phone number from work. He said that he’d offered you a job running some big company. You’d turned it down. He said he’d like me to come up to the midlands and talk to you. He seems to think you’re in some kind of trouble.”

“That’s incredible. I’ve heard of stooping low. He decided he’d get my wife to persuade me! I can’t believe it. How much did he pay you?”

“Come on, David. Give me a chance. I came here on my own free will. I have always felt bad about…about things. About what happened. I admit it. I felt this was a way of sorting things out between us. I wanted to get away from London for a while so I came to Hinckley to see you. I hope you don’t mind but I’ve been staying in your flat.”

“So he knows I’ve moved here?”

“When I arrived at your flat you weren’t there. The door wasn’t closed so I went in. Your flat was in an awful mess so I rang your father at his Birmingham hotel. I stayed at your flat for a night waiting for you to come back. In the end I realised you weren’t going to return and that your father was right – for some reason you’d come over here to Woodhouse. He said you had the key. I didn’t know whether to come or not. At last I decided I had to come and see you. I’m not sure why. Do you want me to go.”

“I need a drink. A good strong stiff one. The strongest drink I’ve ever had.”

“You don’t seem your happy old self at all.”

A moment later Krystle returned from shopping. As he let her in, David explained who had arrived. In the kitchen she strode up to Vivien and said, “I wish you hadn’t arrived today. I was trying to keep him sober. Now I’ll never do it.”

Vivien lifted her eyes to Krystle’s. They connected with each other like two north magnets, continually dancing to avoid real confrontation. At last Vivien spoke. “I’m sorry for that.”

“This is Krystle,” said David.

“I didn’t realise the cavalry had already arrived. Your father never mentioned this. I’ll go.”

No one spoke.

“Before I go,” said Vivien, “there’s some mail that has collected in your flat over the past couple of weeks. I’ve brought it over.” She unclasped her handbag and placed several white and brown envelopes on the breakfast table.

“As you have no interest in talking things over, David, its pointless for me to stick around. I’ll go,” said Vivien.

“What do you mean? Talking things over?”

“You know what I mean.”

“Are you serious?”

“Have you ever talked to anyone about it?”

“I don’t know how you can…..”

“I think you should.”

“Have you?”

“No. I think we should.”

“I hope things work out for you, David,” Vivien said a moment later, looking down from his face. Her nimble hands closed her handbag. There was something different about David these days, she thought. Yes, he was a lot more desperate, and had more than a hint of violence in his eyes. She had seen his violence before, but this was different. He was on the verge of conflagration; ready to ignite through frustration, yet emasculated in some way. He was tired. He must hate her. The past was blocked up inside him making him ineffective.

She smiled again but met with no warmth from either face.

Once her jacket was back in place, she gently brushed Krystle aside and headed to the front door. David followed and watched her exit into the pouring rain. As she turned to say goodbye, she remembered the present she had for him. She wasn’t sure about it now. She had hoped for better but hadn’t been completely surprised by the reception. The time wasn’t right. She looked at him. David had never ever been responsible enough to look after himself. She remembered the expression that now hung on his face. She felt old, unpleasant, but was well aware of her cathartic power.

“Okay, I’ll talk,” he suddenly said.

“Okay,” she said, in an off-hand manner.

He arranged to meet her in ‘The Bull’ at six thirty. She nodded.

It was the word ethical that was on his mind as he walked in the main street two hours later that bugged him. It was almost dark. It was approaching 6.30 and he was smashed. He was going to eat his wife. His sober wife. She would be censorious – that was if she turned up. Or would she? He didn’t know. He didn’t know anything about anything and he didn’t even know where he was. Where the hell was this godforsaken village? The winter was setting in. The rain was perfect. It said everything. He hated and loved it for its cranky humour – it was just like a trip along Brighton Pier with Chancey Walters during summer vac in 1966. Chancey was a maddy. He said to David, “You’ll never be the same again after a quart of Strongbow.” He was right. He’d never touched alcohol before that summer, and from then on he was laughing. Him and Chancey used to get as high as kites and giggle their way through all the sixth form nymphs. His wife. Oh god. HIS WIFE. It was all too much bedlam. Just keep walking. You’ll see her in a minute. It wasn’t another conversational ball-game – like the ones with Krystle – of cynicism, of here today gone tomorrow absolutes, the language of the dypso, that he was going to engage in. It wasn’t Krystle, fuck it. It was his wife. His wife. After seven years of a different sort of lunacy and bullshit.

But what the fuck, he was strong now. She couldn’t hurt him, the cow. Dionysius blessed him. She was a mess. She couldn’t pull that soft sell: ‘I’ve been through it all and I want to work off my conscience’ stuff on him. She could stick that tomboy nose of hers right up the self-righteous chaff of her interfering mother. What the fuck was she doing here? The rain was in his hair, He suddenly realised it was dark. Where were his mates?. That’s what he wanted. He couldn’t remember what he had been thinking about – ah, thats right, his wife. He’d better pace himself a bit better or it would be a gutter job in twenty minutes. Bullshit. Look at this place. I’m a king.

The rain splattered on the road like acid. Black night above without recall or redemption. Starburst from the lamppost near but not a cry in the wilderness apart. The droplets were his only company and he loved them, and they loved him. They had so many stories to tell. The hedge across the road was riddled with demons, goblins and dirty jokes. He’d seen it all before but not like this. Hell, he was getting wet. How can it get so dark at six o’clock. His wife. Holy Mary why did you let her get to you like that! He musn’t tell her how he loved her. Fuck off. It was a mess, the whole thing was brilliant. He had studied too much philosophy when he was at Canterbury. Damn it he felt like crying. How did he get so drunk? He must remember this one. Can’t go round forgetting everything he does. It was that bottle of whisky he’d managed to buy. Oh sod Krystle, she’s a cow, and hasn’t a clue. What the hell! Just because I borrowed a few quid out of her coat. He would try hard to remember tonight. Not like before. No Crap. No crap.

He walked passed the schoolhall – or was it a town hall or something? He remembered ethics. Ethics. Fucking ethics. He’d drank too much. His mind was much more usually in control than this. God, how would he behave? He must look good. Try and give the right impression of oneself – as if he’d done something with his life. No. She knew. How could he preserve a little dignity? He didn’t know. Ethics – that was a safer thought. Oh hell. He tried to grasp it – he’d had a brilliant conception about twenty minutes ago but somehow he couldn’t remember it. The more he thought about what he thought about ethics the more vacuous and disconnected became his grasp of what it meant. He needed to think about it. His wife!

“I see you’re in fine spirits.”

“I’m okay,” he said trying not to slur. He pulled himself up in his chair. He still couln’t tell if he was slouching.

She looked away, towards the bar. She was angry with him for being drunk and was trying very hard not to show it.

“You’re still looking very attractive,” he said.

“Thankyou,” She looked at him again.

“I enjoy a drink, you know,” he said and instantly regretted it.

“No. Why?” she asked like a schoolmistress who knew already that she’d disapprove of the answer.

“Well…its not everyday I see my long lost wife is it?”

She showed disinterest in pursuing that line of conversation and turned away saying, “..oh..I see what you mean.”

“Would you like a cigarette,”

“David, I have never smoked.”

“I thought you might have started.”

“David, I think we should talk about what we will both find very painful..”


“If you’d rather not?”

“The subject is of course death.”

“You have to be as melodramatic as possible, don’t you? I suppose you’re just being defensive, which I can understand. Now look….”

“Now look where?”

“You don’t still blame yourself, do you, surely? What good can it do? Is this the problem with your life?”

Problem? He’d always knew he had a big problem, but he could never remember what it was.

“I’m being a bit selfish wanting your respect,” she continued, giving him one of her most engaging smiles. “Its always bothered me. I had hoped that you’d forgiven me but… I’d like us to be friends again. We really ought to talk about what happened.”

David remembered what had happened.

He’d been working on the CAL account for the high rise flats in the Brendon estate and had discovered that one of the building plans had considerable measurement errors but had nevertheless sailed through all the relevant in-trays. All hell had broken loose between the contractors and the council when the local MP wanted to know why several constituents were complaining about losing small sections of their neighbouring land. It had been a day of sweaty collars and frosty phone calls from influencial friends. The original measurements which had been draughted to him a year before were in his filing cabinet back at home. He drove home at three in the afternoon to get them to prove that it hadn’t been his department’s fault.

He got more than he bargained for when he arrived home. He could hear two voices in the bedroom as he was climbing the stairs. He recognised his wife’s immediately but it took him a moment longer to recognise that of his brother’s. The horror of expectation descended upon him like black fog. The conception of his wife’s possible infidelity had never occured to him. He was up the stairs and – without knocking – was in the bedroom.

Vivien was sitting up in the bed buttressed by two pillows, and wearing her pink nighty. Sandy was sitting near her, fully clothed but without his shoes on. Their mouths gaped at David as he entered. David started screaming and shouting and kicking the bed. Any protestations or denials they made incensed him further. At last he grabbed Sandy by the shoulder and began wrenching him to the door. Sandy, shoeless, complied, but pushed his arm off as they traversed the carpet to the landing. As Sandy was ‘sent down’ the stairs like an ignominious undergraduate David’s temper erupted again and he lunged out with his foot. It caught his brother on the shoulder and corkscrewed his balance, making him stumble.

After that David’s memory was less sharp. Sandy bumped down the stairs crashing at the bottom. Vivien was screaming and coming down to see what was happening. The telephone was ringing. The whole world seemed to be tearing apart with noise and confusion.

Even though Vivien had been trained as a doctor it took her a lifetime to find Sandy dead. When, at last, she had grown hopeless of finding a pulse she had stood up alongside David. They stared at the dead body for an eternity.

Then he remembered how Vivien’s face of wax had veered round and confronted him. Hovering before him, impassively, with a stare of terrifying accusation, of a blame much less comprehensive than his own; born over thousands of generations of women since Medusa. David felt his hand being grasped, and then his body pulled over towards a sofa in the lounge. He followed her instructions and sat down. Vivien’s eyes were no longer confiding, they were strange and inches away burning into his own. Still the expression, the face seen underwater, a change of torque in the speed of time with which images flow. She was mouthing at him, repeating words with economy, like they were precious jewels, he wished he could lip read. He could. He fell down the stairs. He fell down the stairs.

“I didn’t murder him.”

“No. He fell down the stairs.”

“I love him.”

“I know.”

“Did you love him?”


“I killed him.”

“He fell down the stairs. Listen David, come back here and listen. He fell down the stairs and must have hit his head. It was accident. Remember.”

He had done what she told him to do. When the ambulance came to take away the body they had got their story sorted. No inclusion of the romantic infidelity, no inclusion of the kick in the shoulder. Just that Sandy has been visiting and that he had slipped. The police received the same story too.

Even though David had been distraught with grief Vivien had persuaded him to go to work. Working would keep his mind off everything.

Two weeks after Sandy died he came home to find a letter from Vivien saying goodbye. The letter was long but not rich on reasons for the separation. She wrote a whole lot of drivel about why he was such a lovely person, but that she needed to find out who she was, and not to blame her too much.

A month later he was manipulated into handing in his notice through a series of serious mistakes which had taken place in his department. If he hadn’t have been absent with so many hangovers he could have avoided it, but he knew he had partly planned his own demise at work to escape from the pressures.


There probably hadn’t been a single day in his life that had passed when he hadn’t thought about this series of events.

He got drunk.

In four weeks he had killed his brother, lost his wife, and lost his job. Life had changed its wallpaper. His shining little YUPPY carreer looked all grubby and shot with holes. The architect designs the buildings but woe-betide him if he’s under them when they fall in.

David remembered all bloody right.

“Go ahead. Tell me all about it. I might need to drink some more to be able to stand it.”

“When I left you David it wasn’t because of Sandy. I had decided to leave you weeks before…before the accident.”

“I kicked him down the stairs and we both know it. You can stop the shit here if you’re going to begin by lying.”

“Yes. You kicked him down the stairs,” she said quietly, tilting her nose towards the gin glass. ” But I haven’t come over here to lie.”


“I left because we were both unhappy. You were razzled off in that old job. You were aiming long term for the Royal Institute of British Architecture and had to keep your nose clean, but it wasn’t really you, was it? Not like you were when you were at college. You seemed to resent the work you had to do to be this ambitious person that everybody had been telling you you were for so long. You weren’t that person at all, were you? And neither was I. I wasn’t the middle class wife who cooks wonderful meals for your council colleagues and says all the right things at cocktail parties. I wanted to work full-time, David, couldn’t you see that. I wasn’t happy with the limitations of the NHS. I wanted to fully use my skills, and that job just wasn’t enough. I had ambitions too, you know. When Sandy died it was awful because I had built up enough courage to leave and then it all seemed to evaporate. You were so hopeless and dejected. It tore me apart because you needed so much support, but I couldn’t give it to you. I had to get away. If I hadn’t I’d have broken up.”

“You’re not going to tell me that you hadn’t been having an affair with my brother.”

“Yes. Exactly that. Admittedly I had thought about it. He had made quips about it, but I don’t really think I could have won him over. He was a conscientious person, David, or have you forgotten. Surely you understand that it wouldn’t have appealed to someone like Sandy to cuckold his brother. I did fancy Sandy, and I knew that sex with another man would break your hold over me – but Sandy. No way. I realised I had to go away, so I went away.”

“I don’t know whether I’ve ever believed anything you’ve ever said to me.”

“You don’t have to believe anything if you don’t want,” she interrupted sharply. “But listen. Theres nothing in this for me. I’m not here to ask favours or to try to empower you – why should I? What would be the point of me lying to you? I just want to explain that I didn’t leave you because of the accident on the stairs – but in spite of it. I loved Sandy as a person, not as a lover. I never had a relationship with him at all.”

“You’re not just saying that because of how I felt about him.”

“You’re envy of him was pathological. And yet you loved him as well. That must have been difficult.”

David leant over for another cigarette.

“You never had sex with Sandy?”


He watched her pull at the hem of her skirt, flick her mousey fringe out of her eyes and drench him in trust. “I had a migraine. He came up to read me a story. I know it sounds crazy, but sometimes the truth is crazy.”

He lit the cigarette, took a deep draw and lay back.

“I see.”

“I bloody hope you do.” She smiled wistfully. She was like he had never seen before, she had learnt a new language somewhere.

“Do you want another drink?”

“I’ll get these and then I’d better go.”

“You can always stay overnight.”

“David, why don’t you take up this offer of your fathers? What harm could it do. It might get you sorted out.”

“I still love you,” he said quietly.

“Thankyou. I suppose we’ll always love each other,” she said, smiling cheerfully.

He smiled. He felt like slapping her across the face too.

“You need to get someone to look after you before its too late,” she said in between sips, “Its good that Krystle’s around.”

David didn’t speak. He felt like a swan who had just eaten a lead weight.


Ploughed furrows twirled up, acre after acre, towards the high distant ridge. Along this, on the horizon, and silouhetted against the blinding sky, David Basnett walked. Krystle followed at the same pace some way behind; despite their mutual progress the distance between remained constant.

David stooped; he had both of his hands thrust dejectedly into the pockets of his jeans. His face was smitten with the blasting cold wind, snow-drifting his skin into momentary swellings. His head blenched from side to side to ward off the lascerations of the buffeting wind.

Krystle was swathed in a greatcoat. She carried a hold-all and a blanket under her arm. Her eyes filched about slowly, keeping her man tethered. Occasionly her mouth puckered up in an ugly way, as if in response to some ugly thought.

Below these two figures Broomsbriggs Farm sprawled down the steep edges of Beacon Hill in a helter skelter of ploughed fields, stone walls and opaque banks of trees, ever rolling on towards Woodhouse Eaves. The sky was white and cold and overtured winter.

David put his hands to his cheeks and felt the warmth in them. He wasn’t enjoying this at all. What time did the pubs close?

David had always believed he loved the countryside, but since his last ramble, he’d ventured nowhere near it. Today he had bludgeoned into it by Krystle. Being out here, beneath the sky, gave him a slightly quakey feeling; he was swallowing alot, his throat felt dry. He felt safer inside four walls. Without contstraining walls all your guts just slide all over the place.

Try as he might he couldn’t stop last night surfacing. And particularly his wife. She had left after an hour in the Bull. There had been no scenes. He had performed quite well, and civility had been the order of the day. He had been half-soaked in the pub, and super-soaked after she had gone. He got so stinking that Danny the landlord had had to carry him over to the house. Opening Vivien’s present was what finished him off. It still made him furious; his tolerance couldn’t cope with that! He seethed inside. Somehow Krystle had managed to calm him down, and luckily he’d fallen into sleep through drunken exhaustion.

Her visit seemed outrageous. Why on earth should his wife want to come over and tell him that she wasn’t having it off with his brother ten years ago? Why should she want to tell him that she was on the verge of leaving him irrespective of Sandy. Did it matter anymore? Yes. No. Yes. He didn’t know. All it did was to make him feel worse. And the gift – what an insult!

What the hell! Nothing really mattered. Why did my father phone her and tell her to come and see me here? What good did he think it would do?

Vivien go to hell! To walk around knowing that one committed the same act as Cain was hell on earth. What she had said was that Sandy had died for nothing; he had been blameless. No one – apart from Vivien – knew and was ever going to know that it hadn’t been an accident.

She wanted something, he didn’t know what, but her arrival made him edgy. Vivien wasn’t the type of woman to waste her time. With her had returned memories he’d like to erase. He had never loved any one else. Italian heaven on Earth. No honeymoon could have been better.

For a few uncomfortable moments he remembered Canterbury. He had been so fresh, so full of wonderful delusions. It all seemed pathetic now. He recalled the work he had done over the second year holidays with a post-grad Chemistry student on polyesters. When plastic is inflamable they’ll build houses with the stuff. Somebody was probably doing it now, and making millions.

He thought they had offered him that cracking job in Leicester because of his abilities. He knew now that wasn’t true. His active political exploits were an embarrassment to the college. He fell for it, took the advice of his tutors and took the job. He should have stayed and got those letters after his name.

In Exeter Life had been his oyster.

Or had it?

Maybe. But there had been something wrong even then. An anger, a depression somewhere. Something like that.

Yesterday, drink had softened the meeting with his wife. Today Krystle was on the war path, and booze was banned. She had pressed her point so he hadn’t protested too much. Now he regretted it. He wasn’t an alcoholic – but he was probably pretty close – he just felt ill when he didn’t drink! Everything flowed after a few drinks: ideas, stamina, memories, clarity. He could dance the time away with a drink. He could kill these anxiety goblins that kept landing on his shoulders. He needed a shot. Even this early in the day this hangover had him in psychotic aim.

Down below him, in the copse, deep in the downland, in between two trees he could see his mother dancing.

At first she didn’t frighten him. It was only when he tried to understand what he saw that a sense of real panic crept over him, but this didn’t happen for minutes. For a moment all he could do was stare.

There was something very different about his mother. It was her dress. It was the old familiar black but now it hung around her legs in swathes of material allowing a fluidity of movement that suggested….. sensuality! With three dropped halos of pearls around her neck, she was dancing with joy, as if in atonement, possibly against the way she had lived; somehow she had been unshackled of her defences; somehow she had become an iconoclast against her own Victorian self. This was why she was dancing – a vanity she had despised.

He looked away – then looked again – but still she danced between the two trees.

He turned away from the downland. He’d couldn’t look again. He called Krystle to hurry. She shouted back a string of words that were lost on the wind. He would wait. She would tell him it was okay

“Krystle, can you see someone between the trees?” he asked when she eventually came up to him.

“Whats that you say?” she asked, leaning forward.

“Can you see a figure in between the trees?”

“A figure?…..Ha, yes. I see. Yes I can.”

“You can see someone?”

Krystle was speaking to him again but again the wind blew away her words. He told her to shout.

“Its a what?

It was an old black tarpaulin, she said.

“A what?….”

Suddenly optimistic that logic would save the day he turned to range the trees to distinguish the dancing cloth that had got tied with its ropes to the two trunks, but however much he rubbed his eyes, logic would simply not appear.

It wasn’t the reappearance of his mother that made his teeth chatter but the entrance of a different dancer.

This woman was dressed as his mother had been, but her face and figure bore no similarity. He stared at her face until no doubt remained as to her identity. Releasing a low gutteral noise, he burst into a dash across the fields towards the carpark. The corner of Krystle’s mouth puckered up again. What was wrong with him now?

Something he had tried to forget, to push out of his mind, had returned. He knew where he had seen the woman’s face. It had been in the launderette.

Krystle hadn’t hurried back to him. She knew the car was unlocked, David could get inside and wait.

She sat on her blanket drawing into her sketch book. After five minutes she closed it. Then she shrugged her shoulders and opened it again. Damn, he could wait. She sharpened her pencil and began to work some detail in around the the two trees she was drawing. What was wrong with David now? But then didn’t he act peculiarly all the time? What had he said? Had he really thought it was a figure? She was sadly beginning to see the futility of playing nursemaid any more. If he wanted to make the effort she’d stay. It somehow didn’t seem to matter anymore. She’d met so many men like him. She had shown him a mirror, but he hadn’t enough honesty to see his own reflection.

About half and later they had just pulled into the kerb outside the house when David started coming out with the same old requests and excuses. He had to have a beer because he felt a bit on edge. Krystle was painfully silent. As the silence grew, and the shrinking bar time diminished, David shuffled around in his seat, growing more and more uncomfortable. He expected retaliation and was growing irritable to deal with it. He wasn’t going to take any more nonsense. No one is going to tell me how I’m going to live my life.

“If you have one drink today I’m going away.”

“No you’re not.”

“I am.”

“But I don’t want that.”

“In your heart of hearts you neither want a drink of alcohol, nor me to go, but it seems you will have to have both.”

“But you don’t understand, I just saw my mother running around in the trees. Christ! My mothers dead! If I can’t have a drink after that when can I have a drink.”

“You’re fraught, your body’s tired. You need a big rest. Be careful. Look out for yourself before it kills you.”

“I will. I know that what you’re saying makes sense. Only a few weeks ago in Hinckley I was staying in not drinking, being good, and all the rest, but at the moment my star signs in a different aspect and I need a drink everyday until I figure things out.”

“Figure what out?”

“My problem. Life.”

“Oh David I’m not amused. You are such a spoilt child. Grow up.”

“Come in with me, I only want one. I promise I won’t be any later.”

“Is this how you spend your days? Drinking them away? Isn’t there a more useful way of using the day than to drink yourself to death?”

“Of course there is. You know there is. Theres lots of things I want to achieve. Don’t be so frosty Krystle. Why have you got this thing about drink all the time? I love you, you know I do. How about a ploughman’s lunch?”

“You haven’t got anything, have you?” She swallowed, winding down the window, and looking away. “I pity you. You don’t know what my Art means to me.”

“Art? Thats a funny thing to say.” He found it hard not to laugh. “I can draw too. I won an award for it in Canterbury.”

“So you say. But where are the drawings? You never do anything.”

“I’ll do it. “

“I’m concerned about you.”


“You like that, don’t you? You like it for people to make concern about you, don’t you? Its how you live, David. You eat people’s concern. Do you know what I think: Its a big shmuck way of living. You are like a parasitic insect that goes round sucking peoples blood. How easy it is for you to play the naughty child. Thats where your free-bees come from. Its your way of living.”

“Lets continue this conversation in the pub.”

“No. Its all nothing to you. You use your ears but you hear nothing. I’m going into the house. Listen David. One day you must stop looking for your reflection in a puddle of mud.”

“What does that mean?”

“It means you must stop looking for your reflection in a puddle of mud. Your reflection is in much better places too. But you never listen. I’m going.”

“Alright. Suit yourself.”

Several minutes later David was in ‘the Bull’ half way down his first pint. After his second he began to feel okay. His mother was dancing in the trees. Cheers mother. He had been hullucinating or something. It didn’t mean anything, just too much religion when he was young, Forget it.

Later that afternoon, sitting alone on the settee, David poured himself another whisky from the bottle of Jack Daniels he’d bought on credit from the Bull. He was gonna freeze out these demons. They weren’t gonna get him. The whisky ramparts were up. He was okay now. He needed some more money. Krystle would give him some. He went into the kitchen to see if he could find a cigarette. He couldn’t find either Krystle’s bag or a goodbye note. She couldn’t have gone or she’d have left a goodbye note. He found the mail that Vivien had brought over. He also found the damn present she’d given him. He was compelled to pick it up.

It was a book entitled, ‘The Mysterious Life of the Beaver,’ by Michael Hopkinson. It wasn’t a big book but was very thick and full of glorious colour photographs and instructive illustrations. It affected him as it had the night before. It made him furious. He writhed with indignation at the insensitivity of such a present. He writhed with envy and horror at the publication. This should be his, not the work of some jerk he’d never heard of. It was apparent that the amount of research, knowledge and work that had gone into the book was awesome. He was to have written the ultimate book on the beaver. Perhaps he still could do it. One day…

How could his wife taunt him like this!

With a flurry of hand grips and grunts he tore at the pages, snatching and tearing them away in fistfulls from the spine until shredded concertinas of torn paper, incomprehensible text, and photolithographic remnants of ripped animals floated about and covered the floor of the kitchen. Hearing the cracking of cardboard and glue as the spine of the book snapped into two, then three, then four was particularly pleasant. This book doesn’t exist, will never exist and if it ever does it’ll be me that writes it. Where’s my bloody glass.


It must have been about an hour later when David finished the bottle of Jack Daniels. He hauled himself from the arm chair and went into the kitchen to see if he could find any more alcohol, but both the fridge and the larder were unhelpful. Not an unopened can or bottle could be found in the house. He kicked some of the beaver book pages off the floor into a whirlwind, cursing and blaming them for his frustration. It was too early to go to the pub, it was only 4.45. But he might be able to get some alc from the shop. He searched around in his coat for some money, but not finding enough, began fumbling through the pockets of all his unwashed trousers which lay in a heap in the back lounge. He eventually found 84p. That was all he could find: 84p. Krystle! Where was she? She always had had cash on her. She wasn’t around at the moment. She was sure to be back soon.

Finding his cheque book gave him an idea. Somebody would cash him a cheque as he had his bankcard. Equipped with both he left the house and began walking down the road. But he was not in luck – it was early closing day. Everywhere was shut.

He didn’t go back. He kept walking until he arrived at the junction where the village street met the main road that led to Quorn. He crossed over and took to a small bridle path which headed over fields towards Loughborough. Fine. He’d go there. He wouldn’t go back to the house; there was no drink there.

It wasn’t long before he doubted his decision. The going was hard; the subtle agrophobia of the morning was returning in strength. The effort to withstand this and to continue became more and more demanding. The wind had whipped up and was blowing hard against him. His eyes blazed as if panic-stricken: windows into a world of fear. The wind fought everystep; he was drowning in amniotic fluid. He didn’t feel good at all.

All he had to do was sleep walk to Loughborough, find a place that was open and cash a cheque and he’d be okay. It would only take him an hour to walk there and by then the pubs would be open. Don’t think. Try not to think. Just push on.

He passed a barn, with shutters flapping in the wind. Then a small holding that it belonged to. The track got stonier and steeper. He began to shiver. He should have stayed in Woodhouse Eaves, but it was too late to walk back.

He walked a furrowed path over a rolling field full of tall grasses. Ahead of him was a towering oak. Even though he trudged on, it never seemed any closer.

He realised well before he reached the oak that he was approaching an abyss: The harpies wouldn’t stay back any longer and had doubled in strength. Attack was imminent. Before, defeat had never been possible, but he was isolated out here. Pandora was close to opening up. It was too late to retreat now. He stopped, breathed deeply, touched his cheek with his splayed fingers. He had to be in company. Being alone now was the worst possible thing. He hurried on again.

Listen: you’re so angry about the way you’ve been treated.

That’s okay.

He could hear but he didn’t have to take notice; his moulded features showed no trace of anger, a self-imposed deafness was the answer.

Listen: its a way of tearing them all apart: your wife, your mother, your father, and the damn human race. There simply is nothing left for you.

He certainly could see the logic of this, and in some ways didn’t need to be persuaded – it would be a fait accompli. He wouldn’t feel sad about it. In a strange maternal way suicide was wet, nourishing and warm. He could casually resign himself to a fate of this sort. Perhaps he shouldn’t be frightened. He didn’t consciously feel any sorrow for himself, just a relief that the nausea, the fetid smell that he carried with him – that he was finding day by day, more and more impossible to endure – would soon end. He drank and he sweated and he slept. He drank and he sweated and he slept. And his body was racked with pains and he had to drink to take away the throbbing.

He thought he had lost all these old demons but he hadn’t: they had all returned recently in one way or another: His wife who had betrayed him ten years ago, had returned to humiliate him; his mother who had put the fear of god into him as a child with all her hellfire and brimstone and also emotionally mutilated him with her adroitness at being impossible to love. His father could have loved him but had tantalisingly prefered to heap his adulation on Sandy, meeting out only rebuffs, criticisms and black eyes for David. The demons wanted him to continue living so that they could carry on getting at him. No way. He’d had enough. Pandora’s argument had a lot of plusses.

He was finding it more difficult to walk. He didn’t want this nonsence in his head. He wanted a drink. He wanted a good time, someone to talk to. I’ll make it. He’d soon be at the oak tree.

Listen: Murder.

Hold on, it doesn’t matter. You’ll get there. Just get to the tree and everything will be okay.

You can’t keep on pretending you didn’t do it. You can’t keep pretending you haven’t done anything. Nor that you don’t know what I’m talking about. Listen: You have to face it. You’ve committed not one but two murders. You don’t want to remember the last one, do you? The girl. There’s no point trying to hide it. It was you. A nice little well-washed top-of-the-form Sunday-school Anglican like you. Now look at you. You feel so bad. You must face it. They are right and you know it: you are ugly. You are not worthy of living on this earth. You really are scum. You should do the right thing and slash your wrists or walk in front of a train. You make the world ugly by being in it. Think what your mother would tell you to do. She couldn’t bear such shame.

David had reached the tree. He stopped and lay against it. His head was reeling. It wouldn’t shut up. A drink. He blacked out the light with his hands by pressing his palms into his eyes. He slipped down to the ground. He was going now. His thoughts wouldn’t join together. For a moment he completely forgot where he was. Where was he? What the hell? Amnesia. He had never had it as bad as this before. He wouldn’t listen. It was all lies. He couldn’t stop them from crowding him.

Listen: you strangled that poor girl. Don’t you remember how much you enjoyed it?

No. No. Its crazy. I don’t remember anything. I can’t remember.

Do you really hate women that much?

..And you murdered a member of your own family. Your lovely brother. The nicest soul on earth and you kicked him downstairs into an early grave. What a nasty jealous piece of work you are. Your mother was right about you wasn’t she? You were spiteful and lazy and she was right when she said you were going to come to an evil end.

No. I must walk. It can’t be much further.

He was on his feet again and had been counting, saying the alphabet, reciting nursery rhymes to keep himself going, to be able to have the strength to place one foot in front of the other. Whose stupid idea was it to have walked this way. It wasn’t his. It must have been his wife’s. Or Krystle’s or anyones but not his. He couldn’t remember.

Listen: she’ll come and get you, and so will your mother, and don’t forget your father who now has a hold on you now he’s given you a key to a home. And Sandy will never let you go. He’s been after you for years for another murder: killing his cat.

Ouch! That wasn’t fair. That was an accident.

Listen, he loved that cat. You broke his heart. Can you imagine a worse way of seeing your loved pet killed – being electrocuted. You did it on purpose. You left those wires live in your bedroom on purpose, didn’t you. Did you expect Sandy to touch them? Go on, be strong, tell the truth.

No I didn’t! I swear. I didnt know I’d left them unconnected!

He thinks you did. Can’t you hear him telling you. He wants to be reconciled with you David. He wants you to stop all this pain. You don’t need it anymore. He wants you to join him. It’ll be easy David. Don’t get any stupid ideas. You can handle this with the brilliance you’ve handled everything in your life so far. You’re the king, every one moves for you, you stand firmly in the centre of the universe and everything that goes on around is laid on especially for you. You’re invincible David. Nothing can hurt you apart from not knowing. Not experiencing the greatest pleasure – the release from the rack. Sandy’s calling you, David. For the first time in your life don’t let him down. You know how much he loved you.

Yes, I know.

You’ll come?


Its nice to talk to you David. We’ll come and talk to you later. Sandy says hello by the way.

He made it. Half an hour later the bridle path led out into a dark avenue in a housing estate. He was breathing painfully shallowly, his head was erect, stiff, and stuck. He could only look ahead; the thought of moving his eyes slightly to the left or the right terified him. They would drop out of his head if he moved them. If he needed to change his viewpoint he could flex his head a little before panic set in, but finally he was forced to move his whole body. If he tried anything slightly adventurous the tension would ride up his spine and explode in his head. He had to cash a cheque. He was going to have to drink a lot to feel normal.

It took him another agonising fifteen minutes to find a pub. On the Nanpantan Road he came to a large modernised pub called the Forest Gate. He had some difficulty getting a cheque cashed but eventually won through. Immediately he ordered a bitter and a double whisky, and within minutes reordered the same.

Christ! He had made it. It had been edgy, but he had come through. Every blow that doesn’t break strengthens. He wasn’t going to worry about tomorrow.

The wheatcoloured lampshade of a small basket work lamp allowed a feint bronze light to fall around the room. The soft light midas-touched everything, stilling it, as if movement in the room would never occur again. The old and worn wallpaper – as it appeared in sunlight – was now decrepit and blistered tan. The bookshelves leather bindings rippled obscure names in toad-textured gold. On David’s bed, a dirty pillow lay sick, phlegmatic and irritatingly helpless like an ageing parent. David stared at it, unaware that he did so – for he had no thought of it in his mind. He sat motionless on the sofa; his own face frozen ochre by the lamplight.

Suddenly this womb of shadows was breached by a flood of light. The door had opened revealing the silouhette of a young man, messianically back-lit by the kitchen strip behind him.

“Hello there,” he said, embarrassment in the tone. “I-I-I say, we seen to have lost the beano. I can’t find it. I’ve s-searched the car. You don’t think we’ve left it behind do you?”

“And I can’t find any glasses,” said a girl who now stood slightly behind his left shoulder giving his black figure the appearance of having two heads.

David began to regret inviting these two back from the pub. He slowly staggered to his feet and once in the kitchen he opened a cupboard above the man’s head. “You’ll find them in here. I put it in here when I came in. I said it was in the cupboard with the glasses.”

“H-h-how do you expect me to know where you keep the glasses? W-w-we’ve never been here before,” said the young man, looking concerned.

“Its alright, Jodey. Its only a simple mistake,” said the girl, checking his confrontational tone.

“Of course you haven’t. Pour me a stiff one,” said David wearily. He felt tired. Had he promised them a bed? Too bad. They could always drive off. He didn’t want to be unpleasant. He didn’t want to think about it.

“Why have you got bits of paper strewn around your kitchen floor?” asked the girl.

“I had a fight with a book.”

“What was wrong?” asked Jodey giggling idiotically, “the last chapter missing?” He evidently thought his joke was very witty.

“I like tearing up bits of paper,” said David walking to the kitchen table. “Here, look, I’ll show you.” He picked up the envelopes that had been lying there since his wife had arrived. He didn’t need to open any of them. He recognised the creditors who chased him because the names were written on the envelopes. To the continued giggling of Jodey he called the names of the organisations as he tore their ultimatums into tiny pieces: British Telecom, East Midland Electricity Board, Severn Trent Water Authority, A letter from the Midlands Bank, Hinckley Library, and several from finance firms. Then he came to an unusual envelope: a white envelope addressed to him in hand writing. He opened it and read it through while his guests watched him. It was only when he got near the end that his eyes darted back looking for a date when the letter had been written. There wasn’t one.

He stumbled around like a blind man until he found a chair; he sat down and read it again.

57 Factory Road,



Dear David,

I don’t know if you’ve rang me or not because I’ve moved. My mum’s not speaking as I predicted would happen. I’ve tried to ring you a few times but I never got an answer. Please get in touch, as I’d love to see you again.

I’ve moved out of my mum’s and am sharing a flat (at above address) which is a bit grotty but its cheap. My mum’s not too happy about it of course but she can go and stuff an ostrich.

No doubt the police have been round to see you, as they did me. Isn’t it awful about what happened. I hope you felt better the next day. You were probably too drunk to remember too much about it. It was funny taking you home.

I really enjoyed it until all that happened. Come and see me!

Lots of love

Claudia. XXXXX

PS We’re having a phone put in soon and I’ll let you know my number as soon as I know it myself.


Jodey refused to drive him to Hinckley. “I’m too pissed to drive over there. I-I-I can’t risk losing my licence,” he squirmed. “What the hell do you want to go back there for at this time of the night anyway?”

“It would take too long to explain. Its just that I need to see someone. But it doesn’t matter. I’ll go back tomorrow.”

“I’m sure Jodey wouldn’t mind driving you over tomorrow,” said the girl.

“Maybe. I’ll take you tomorrow providing you get up early. I-I-I have got to get to my lectures.”

David looked at Jodey’s diminishing drink. “Lets have another.”

David set about entertaining his two guests like a chore to be done. It was a struggle with Claudia alive in his mind. He filled them with whisky and anecdotes – and gave them his bed as promised. The girl didn’t seem embarrassed about shedding her clothes in front of him before she slipped inside the dirty sheets; David’s eyes ran over her unblemished skin, bronzed in the lamplight.

Neither asked where David was going to sleep, which pleased him as it might have roused their suspicions – although he doubted it. Before he left them he casually checked the whereabouts of their discarded clothes and possessions; after switching off the light he made himself a strong black coffee in the kitchen and waited.

He wouldn’t move too soon. He had to avoid falling off to sleep. He couldn’t do that. He had to go and find this Claudia.

The kitchen clock killed two hours. He wanted to leave it longer, but restlessness was beginning to win the battle. What if they were still awake? He would say he was looking for something. Okay, another fifteen minutes and he would move.

He quietly returned to the room where they slept. There was no sound, and the sheets weren’t moving. He crept on all fours to the chair where Jodey had deposited his jacket. He probed its pockets. He tried the jeans. Then the girls jacket. No keys. He came across the girl’s handbag. It had a clasp. Too noisy to open in here. Once back in the kitchen he emptied its contents on the kitchen table. Sure enough, she was guardian of Jodey’s car keys – it made a sort of sense to David.

Leaving the spillage of the bag on the table, David threw on his coat, grabbed his keys and slipped out into the night. He unlocked the old Vauxhaul, and fingered about until he found the ignition. Electrics on. Lights. Windows were smeary but he could see. Now, lets get out of here. He turned the key and the car became live. Seconds later, with his hands steering wheel-tight, he drove the unfamiliar animal out of the village.

Up he climbed to the summit of Beacon Hill, then down into a valley. Then turned towards Copt Oak.

Somehow, as he drove along in the darkness, a voice came into his mind, and kept repeating. It was crystal clear – like every invasion of his mother’s voice. “The pestilence was passing,” it kept saying. “The pestilence was passing, the pestilence was passing.”

And it was. Up in the sky a black shape was slowly semi-circling his windscreen. This smudge of black in the sky was flying over prior to leaving for good. It didn’t make him shudder like the apparition of his mother, but he feared it in an awesome way; he knew it was a necessity, another missing part found.

Over the motorway bridge, up and down a hill and the road ended abruptly. He slithered the car desperately around an island and entered a dual carriageway which gave him a chance to put his foot down. Then windey roads through Ellistown to Nailstone. Occasionally the odd houselight or the blaze of an approaching garage forecourt would permeate the blanket of darkness. Soon on the last stretch. Cadeby, Earl Shilton and up the Ashby road to Hinckley.


Something concerned him. If Claudia hadn’t been strangled, who had?

David found the flat without any trouble and rang the doorbell. It was about five: the sky was lightening, the birds were beginning to tune up.

Eventually the door opened.

It was a girl with dark hair. Was this Claudia?

“Is Claudia in?”

“Oo are you? Of course I’m not. This is a sometime to call.”

“I need to see her.”

“Even if she was ‘ere, you don’t think she’d want to see you at this hour do you?”

“I need to see her.”

“Hard luck.” She yawned again, “She’s not here. She’s out. She rang me last night and said she wouldn’t be back – unless she came back and I didn’t hear.” She gave David a sideways look, as if she were seeing him for the first time. “I’ll go and see.”

She shut the door. Seconds later she opened it again. “

“She aint ‘ere. She usually comes back when she takes the car but she ‘asn’t. Must have gone somewhere. She’ll be back about 9.30. She usually is.”

“Does Claudia really live here?”

She considered his sweat covered face, then she thought better about replying and began to close the door.

“No, wait!” David pushed the door back and the girl, startled, moved away from the door. “Tell her that David rang. David Basnett. I’ll be here at 9.30. Don’t let her go out. I really must see her. Don’t – “

But the door was closed in his face.

David entered his flat. It was different. It had been tidied; everything was clean, sterile; things had been picked up and put away. Homeless Graham Green paperbacks – and many other books – that used to stray around the carpet were now confined to boxes. The kitchen had been cleaned; his face reflected back from the cooker’s shining chrome. The carpets were hoovered and the lounge curtains hung properly.

He didn’t even have to think who had done it. It was his wife. She was always making him feel – he wasn’t sure – irresponsible, ineffectual, dependent, useless, less than human. It was like the beaver book. He may be a failure but a failure by deliberation, a path of action written in his terms and through his own choices; he could hack it in the world if he wanted. To leave his place scruffy was his choice and no one elses. It was bad enough out in the outside world to have bourgeois values thrust down his neck but to have someone invade his home and preach them was intolerable. She had been right about him when they were married; he hadn’t been himself at all. A bourgeois lifestyle is a prerequisite of any YUPPY marriage but, honey, time moves on.

The telephone had been cut off. The food cupboards had been emptied, no doubt to prevent mould and smells. His wife had always ditched nasty smells.

He found a note blu-tacked on the wall. He pulled it down and read it.

Dear David,

I assume that you’ll be coming back for your possessions at some stage so I’ve arranged it with Mr. Bostock to leave the flat in your name until you’ve decided whether to move fully into your aunt’s house. I hope you don’t mind me having stayed here part of the time while I was in Leicestershire, and tidying up a little. (Mr. Bostock gave me a spare key)I didn’t interfere with any of your private things of course, but I took the licence of boxing a few things to save you the trouble if you do move to Woodhouse Eaves, which does seem likely. I hope you don’t mind. Since I saw you, I’ve had a conversation with your father and he’s prepared pay the rent arrears to Mr. Bostock, and to maintain the flat in your name until you let us know what you intend to do.

I hope our recent conversation has made things easier all round, and I do think you ought to consider your father’s offer. It won’t be around for much longer.

Look after yourself,

Vivien. X

Due to lack of sleep, too much booze over the past three weeks, anxiety and lack of food, David admitted to himself he wasn’t feeling so good but he couldn’t afford to sleep. He decided to kill the remaining hour with a hot breakfast. After breakfast he’d go to Claudias.

The Corner Cafe provided coffee, beans, sausages and eggs; a good substitute for alcohol. He hadn’t had a drink for four or five hours; but he was feeling the ague in his body again, and the harpies would start descend. Maybe Krystle had been right. If he could abstain for a day, or a few days, he would start thinking in straight lines again. Maybe he could do it if this Claudia thing was real. It was dangerous to believe it too much; somehow life had a habit of tricking you.

Something had happened at that fairground. Those images that had atttacked him on the train surely meant something. He’d done some harm; he could smell it; yet he was glad he had no recollection.

A woman who sat near him in the snack bar began to speak. He recognised her. The Italian face, the dark hair. Where had he met her before?

“And so the wanderer returns,” she was saying to him. “Maxine and I have been on the look-out for you. You left your clothes behind. My! Oh Gregory, you should have seen him.” She addressed this last comment to a spikey haired youth who sat opposite her. She turned back, “You were in a state you were. You didn’t even recognise me the next day did you?”

“I’m sorry….”

“Oh you were so funny I’ve seen people when they’ve had a skin full but you were something. Most comedians only put an act on like that once in their lives.”

“I don’t remember….”

“What? My name! Ha. I don’t think you ever knew it. Ha! The fair. Its not surprising you don’t remember, the amount you’d had.” She held out her black-gloved hand, “Pleased to meet you, I’m Maria.”

“How do you do.”

“Listen I’m just telling Gregory that he’s got to keep painting. He is so talented, but lacks confidence. You will tell him to keep it up, won’t you. Your’re such an intelligent man -“

“Oh Maria, don’t embarrass me,” said the quietly spoken but loudly dressed youth.

“So you give him some good advice because I’ve got to go. Its nice to see you again. You must come and pick up your washing.”

Confusion was written all over David’s face.

“No! Ha. You left your washing at the laundrette. I bet you don’t remember. You were so pickled. It doesn’t matter. You were with that blond haired girl, You remember that? No? And with Maxine. Maxine helped that girl to get you home. I helped them to get you in the car, but then I left them to it. You were so funny.”

“The fair?”

“That’s right. Isn’t it awful about that young girl – and it happening on the same night as well. “


“Oh, of course, you’ve watched the TV haven’t you?” He nodded. But she really had to go. “Go round and see Maxine at the laundrette and collect all your washing – unless she’s thrown it away – she’d tell you all about it. Don’t forget to talk to Gregory, he needs some encouragement.”

Then David remembered where he’d seen her before. It had been in a pub. She had said hello. He remembered ignoring her.

At last David was waiting for the door to open at Claudia’s flat. The same girl who had appeared before appeared again. He was surprised by her message.

“Its David Basnett, in’t it. There’s been a mix up. She rang me to say that she’s stuck near your home. She found out you’d moved and drove to see you. She’s broke down in the car.”


“Near a church. I wrote it down. Copt Oak or somefink. Here it is. Its a church called St. Peters at Copt Oak. I told her you were coming round and she said for you to go over and give her and help her.”

“She drove over to see me?”


“I don’t understand.”

“Well don’t ask me. I’m not her muver.”

“She rang you up and told you she’d gone over to Woodhouse Eaves to see me.?”

“Yeh. I told her you were here and she was real surprised. She said she’d gone over to see you. She wants you to go over and help at this place here: Copt Oak. Have you got that?”

“When did she phone?”

“About twenty minutes ago. I told her when you said you were coming back so she’ll be expecting you.”

“She’s expecting me?” David wiped the tiredness out of his eyes with his sleeve. “Okay. Thanks.”


©1987 by Michael Skywood Clifford


After weeks of continual drunks he had stopped. He had had to. His money was nowhere and his days were becoming unendurable agony. Hangovers had become intolerable and they usually chased him out into the night for curative alcohol and company. But not tonight: no way.

David Basnett looked out into the suburban night. Below him the estate windows reflected lamplight. Occasionally a dog barked. His eyes traced their way up the hill, over the rain-blackened leaves on the grass, back up to the wing of his block of flats. The panorama was quite empty, he could see no one. He realised how conspicuous he would be to any passers-by had there been any: a tall guant man nailed up against a window pane silhouetted in a second floor window.

He looked – he always looked – like he needed a week’s sleep. His sallow features contrasted with his broad shoulders and solid build and at first gave the impression that he was familiar with building site work. His checkered shirt and jeans fitted well but their cut and pattern seemed sadly nostalgic, a hankering for old student days of Tariq Ali anger.

Restraint wasn’t easy. His head hurt and the Harpies of Kowloon stalked him, like evil guardians writ somewhere out through these big glass windows on the night’s black sky. A nauseas fear of remembering was ever present. He had some hope – just enough – that he could control the fear. He had to hold back.

After seven years of marriage his wife had gone, just like his father had before. He flinched at the comparison. He had ended up deserting the city and had come to this dreary Leicestershire town and this second floor council flat. He had no job and was running up unpayable debts. ‘ When the going gets tough the tough get going,’ he remembered from a pop record – but all he felt inclined to do was drink.

The past – as always when he was attempting to dry out – battered on his door, unrelenting, refusing to believe he was out.

His father was in America or had probably died; he didn’t know and didn’t care; he didn’t need any more funeral wreaths, daddy, thank you. His inept and pathetic mother had overdosed on religion eons ago. His brother? His brother, well, he was dead enough, wasn’t he? His talented wife – the doctor with the best bedside manner – had left her departure note for him ten years ago. He had never had any contact with her since, apart from through a third party: Burton and Worth: specialists in divorce. She’d gone south. He sighed; successful people were depressing.

No one really knew him: all his old friends he had apathetically left behind and they wouldn’t talk to him now in any case. Chancey Walters came into his mind. He had no idea what had had happened to him. He smiled at the name.

Sometimes he just didn’t know what he was. He was a shell: the animate part of him having been removed, torn away. He was a bottomless empty shell – something he poured beer into.

Some of the people he had met in bars suggested he should get a job. He knew he could get one if he really put his mind to it; but he had enough to concern him without the problems of work. He went through the motions of filling in application forms but he never really sold the idea to himself; in fact he went out of his way not to follow things up. He felt relieved when a job went to someone else.

He didn’t want to design any more garbage housing estates. How could he believe that he ever had any real socialist principles and have done that to the public? The plans for his own dream house came into his mind, but he shrugged the thought away. Dream house was its apposite title. He’d sketch some new ideas at some stage, but architecture wasn’t his priority any more. How could you design dream houses when your foundations were crumbling beneath you? He wasn’t utterly burnt out; he still has some ideas left – but they could wait. He’d get round to earning a living doing something else rather than selling out again. He’d put all those sort of things off until he had solved his problem.

He tried to define it.

His problem, he said quietly to himself, was that he had to cut everything away. No, it wasn’t forgiving his wife, he’d already done that. He had to forget her? Maybe. Forget, forgive himself? That was difficult.

Sometimes things would get difficult. Sometimes anger would well up and he would kick the chair – a pathetic gesture – and watch it tumble away from him and crash on the floor and the anger usually led to a bar somewhere.

Occasionally he took a girl to bed with him but these encounters had no lasting consolation. Often they had made him feel worse, more lonely. The affection, the sweet lies, the swimming oblivion of physical love, the hopeless attempts at tenderness; it reminded him later of the things he had lost: a sense of the importance and meaning behind the lust. He knew a part of himself, a large slice of his ability to feel had been amputated and would never be replaced. He didn’t want to be reminded of it. It was difficult to remember exactly what life had been like with that extra arm or leg. He had to face up to his situation and the first way to do that was to stop drinking.

Later, contemptuous at the inability of the radio to amuse him, he snatched it off and grabbed some paper from a drawer. He frantically scribbled down a list of insects and animals and entitled it ‘Beaver food’. He sucked the end of his pencil. Ideas didn’t come easy.

He’d loved beavers as a child: their homemaking, their mating habits, their industriousness, their ingenious dams, their bolt-run defences, their prey, etc. His fascination had been sown by a geography project at Farnham Secondary and had blossomed when Uncle Roger had bought David a beaver in the local zoo. David – and sometimes his brother, Sandy – had visited Dobie until her death two days after David’s nineteenth birthday.

David had built up a mass of research to write a book on the subject, to be illustrated by his own photographs. Half way through the first draft his wife had pulled out the cohabital plug. He still had all the material for the book but the muse had left with his wife. He’d been promising himself for years he’d return to it. He’d return to it now. But all he really felt like returning to was a bottle of whiskey.

It was 11.30 pm. Usually by now he’d be leaving a pub to find a party, a nightclub, someone’s house, or returning home with a clutch of cans and a gaggle of can-emptiers.

He discarded his notepad and lay back. His hangover bit hard. His irises were marbled, his retinas were branded and the screw forever tightened on the skull-clamp. All he could do was go to bed.

An hour and a half later he still wrestled in the sheets.

He conjured up love again. Could sweet words really amount to anything. The more they were believed the more pressure was applied to both partners. His wife – irrespective of any lover she had found herself – would eventually discover the illusion of something seemingly so real: it was always wonderful to discover who you were born for, and so sad to discover you weren’t born for them at all.

Love was the abdication of one’s responsibilities to someone else. It was the ultimate con, the greatest method of self and dual-illusion in the human race. His domineering self-righteous and self-immolating mother and all her ‘love’ was proof of that.

This was the truth. He knew it but he didn’t want to know it. Right now he wanted it.

David had held back from alcohol for the longest time for over a year: three days. During this time he’d had a couple of brief visits from other flat-dwellers. From one he declined a smoke; he knew that a joint would finish him. His landlord, Mr Bostock, came twice for outstanding rent. David assured him he’d pay him as soon as his Giro came on Saturday. He didn’t say which Saturday.

He had too much time on his hands. He borrowed several Graham Green novels off a neighbour; reading was difficult at first but gradually, his concentration seemed to improve.

But there were times when he crashed. Gradually by trial and error and a will-power he’d forgotten he had, he found various strategies to ease himself through these periods.

One day he found writing down his feelings softened his anxiety – exorcised it somehow. Relief was strongest when these outpourings took the form of letters.

On Wednesday he’d written : “I feel so ill and so old. Why do I feel so futile, so useless? Why not simple oblivion?”

Only an hour later he wrote again: “I seem to be at the whim of my moods, of which I seem to have little control.”

Although he put these letters in white envelopes and addressed them to Bernard Willis he had no intention of posting them. He put them in a special drawer earmarked for the purpose. Each letter began, “Dear Bernard,” and ended “Yours inestimably, David.” The fiction of Bernard Willis amused him – for he knew of no Bernard Willis whatsoever – and began to look forward to his one way correspondence.

On Thursday week he described an unusual dream in one of his letters. He wrote:

‘…I was in a wood with two girls. One was about seven but very mature in her behaviour. The other was about fourteen. I was was my actual age but felt very young at heart. We strolled along a path, passing under trees which shaded us from the sunlight. The girls advised me which path I should take. They went back a few yards and turned off. I carried on.

After a few minutes walk in the wood I came out from the dark trees into glorious sunlight. Ahead of me stretched a grass carpet which rose up hiding the land beyond and making a straight horizon against the sky. I climbed up. As I approached the horizon it began to lower against the sky and I could see over the ridge. What presented itself was awesome in the extreme.

Heaven was below me. Down below me, stretching to infinity on all sides. Here was the most elegant spread of English trees, hedgerows and fields that ever could be witnessed. Rubens and Constable had combined together. Green landscape was everywhere. It was a part of heaven. A voice told me it was the ‘Plain of Hope’.

One day I knew I would return.

David wrote that after this dream he had felt more relaxed than he had for weeks. But later as his dimpled chin stared back at him from the shaving mirror he laughed. Heaven? Christ, he’d seen enough of that, thanks. No thanks!

Abstinence began to loose ground to restlessness after twelve days.

For a long time David had suspected that his solitary nature was probably the cause of all his excess. Now – it seemed – a deeper understanding of his loneliness was striking home. In his letters he began to include observations about himself that he found himself writing down without knowing why. It was almost as if his subconscious were writing things about him that his conscious mind had never understood. He wrote an account of the days in the ‘Bird in the Hand’ in Guildford where he and Chancey Walters used to go to pull the birds. Every Thursday and Friday they’d be in there slinking around, very successfully, in front of all the talent.

The pub had been very aptly named.

Even though this and other memories occasioned the wry smile to his lips it didn’t soften the words that he wrote. They were not biography but reportage; severely self-critical at times. Then he began to feel rather embarrassed by what he was writing. This self analysis was getting on top of him. He’d stop writing for a while: he’d take up a hobby: he’d get out of this damn flat. He’d do two things: he’d meet some new people and he’d avoid booze. It didn’t occur to him that there was irony, contradiction, in his resolution.

On Friday afternoon he sat in the clammy atmosphere of the laundrette reading the Independent. He only noticed the woman when she stood before him; the proximity of her soaking raincoat making him feel clammier than ever. She had a squirrely face, and looked a typical married, Hovis-eating, mother of two kids who must have had perfect teeth. She could have been anywhere from 35 to 40. Would he help her to carry in a crate of washing in that had been left outside, she asked.

He helped her to bring it in and put it on the counter.

“Thanks,” she said, “There’s no way I could have managed that lot. Fancy putting your washing in a wooden box. Some people!”

At least they didn’t put a body in it,” he said, trying to make a joke.

He noticed her eyes glancing at him uncertainty.

Later when she was at the far end of the laundrette. David followed the rhythmical movements of her arms as she fed bundles of clothes into a machine. Is she happy? Does she think? Does she worry about her family, her kids, aware that its all a waste of time? Mortality staring at her in every bowl full of Kellogs. She didn’t have that hint of sadness about her, like the average housewife, but there was something perhaps old-fashioned about her. Yes, he considered, she would have been of his generation, or perhaps a bit later. Sergeant Pepper hadn’t seemed to have caused her any damage. He turned back to the newspaper article again but before long her voice disturbed him again.

She was behind him now talking to another woman. David understood from their conversation that she worked in the laundrette and this was confirmed when the laundrette emptied leaving only David and her together. She went round singing and checking all the machines. Then surprisingly she stopped and apologised.

“I’m always making too much noise, my husband’s always telling me off for humming, he can’t stand it,” she said. David craned his head with some difficulty to look at her. She must have taken his movement as encouragement for she continued talking.

She told him about her time in Dorset ten years ago when her singing had irritated her husband so much he had gone home. They had laughed about it later, and they had compromised: “You can sing anything as long as it isn’t Gilbert and Sullivan, and it aint too damn loud,” she said immitating her husband’s Geordie accent. She had agreed. David nodded exaggeratedly, as if he were listening to a foreigner. “We had some good times then. Its funny how all the best days in the past seem faultless somehow, isn’t it? Oh, I’m sorry, I’m disturbing your reading.”

“No, its alright.”

She looked at him, and then after a second turned back to the spin dryer. There was an awkward silence. A self-consciousness.

He asked her if she worked. She worked her fingers to the bone, she complained, doing washing here and then she’d go home and do even more looking after her thankless family. He asked some more inane questions trying to develop the conversation but now she cooled; she became laconic in her answers. He escaped into the newspaper again and quickly began reading an article he’d already read.

He felt uncomfortable now that their conversation had become stilted. He always started off fine, but it was always too much effort to continue for both parties, and then there was this uncomfortable air of ‘not talking.’ The silence seemed to gleefully criticize the superficiality of his life. Its silence wept for his youth, and for all the broken eggs of its expectations. It was time to go, whether his washing was done or not. He left with his throat aching for a whiskey. Why did such small encounters throw him awry? He’d collect his washing tomorrow. He explained this and hurriedly left.

But he didn’t get away that easily. She was out in the street shouting him, calling him back. He felt angry. Why didn’t she leave him alone? What point was there in trivial lives crossing? She was still calling him. He caught his reflection in the newsagent’s window. He looked old: seven o’clock shadow, hair almost as brittle as the hairs on his chin. He would have made a perfect New York private eye, apart from his ill-fitting jacket from a Nearly New Shop. He didn’t look too good. And yet he hadn’t had a drink for ages. He was supposed to look better for it, and yet he felt worse. His whole body was aching from some internal neuralgia, some great ache like arthritis. It was difficult and boring being good. He could stand the restraint but not the feeling of trying to be perfect. When you’re perfect there was no where else to go. You had to have problems to conquer, without those you only had two choices: face yourself or make new problems. Something like that. He couldn’t think it out clearly. A whiskey would help him to figure it out. He’d only have one whiskey.

He squared up to the squirely faced woman, and hoped his compulsion to escape couldn’t be read in his eyes. Minutes before she was okay, but now all she did was annoy him.

“You left these keys and your newspaper. I assumed it was yours. “

“Thanks,” he said.

“Where do you live?” she asked.

“In the flats on the estate.

“On the Jelsen estate?”


“Forgive me for saying, but you don’t look too well. Are you alright?”

“yes, thank you.”

“Are you sure? You don’t look as if you’ve had a good meal for weeks? Have you got anyone back at home to look after you?”

“Yes. Thanks. I’d better be going.”

“Yes. You’ll be back for your washing tomorrow?”

He was off. Soon he was round the corner and out of her sight.

He couldn’t stand it any longer. He wanted to feel alive again.


A tennis ball was in his eyes. He was pissing in the headmaster’s garden under a sky bright with pain. His fingers groped in his sockets to free himself but the ball turned to grit and rolled about, scratching at his cornea, desperate like a trapped animal. Now it had blocked his throat and began to consume his face. The false leather of the settee puckered up under his nails. The…the bathroom…..

In the blackness of the corridor he groped along until he homed in on the gaping greasy toilet bowl. Sick! And sick again. Somewhere his throat had been acid-etched and remade with fur and glass. Back on the settee, feeling the cold, he covered himself with several blankets. He also grabbed his jacket and clung to it but it was smelly and covered in mud. Unable to stop his feverish thoughts he threw it aside and went into the kitchen.

From the last tea bag and inch of sour milk he bodged up a mug of tea which scalded down his throat. His wildcat thirst now satiated, the physical pains and guilt began to sharpen.

He couldn’t remember where he’d been. He couldn’t remember a bloody thing. He knew he had gone to a pub to get a drink, but which? He could recall London Road and the traffic lights. The Holly Tree, or the New Inn? He had only two pound coins left. It was Saturday. His Giro should arrive today. His mind was racing.

The Giro was accompanied by three other letters.

One was from Lloyds asking him to settle his overdraft. Another was a library reminder for a previous tenant, and the other was hand written in stylish fibretip, postmarked Birmingham.

David read the Birmingham letter twice. He took a deep breath to steady his concentration, and read it again.

He found it incomprehensible.

He had assumed that his father was dead. He had seen him only once since his twelfth birthday and that was at his mother’s funeral twenty two years ago. He had heard from him at another death seven years ago; a wreath had arrived for Sandy’s funeral. He would never recognise him.

His father was in England on business and he wanted David to visit him. Would David phone him at his Birmingham hotel to arrange a visit for next week? David knitted his forehead. His father?

He put the letter down on the table only to pick another up. This one hadn’t come by post. He scanned it and recognised it was his own work. It was one of his ‘Dear Bernard,’ letters. The contrast between this letter and his father’s was rather comic. He must have forgot to drawer this. But wait a……he didn’t remember this one.

His lips pursed as he read more of the letter. He vaguely understood the reference to a squirrel-faced woman. It seemed to be a description of the previous night but it brought back no images; it left him feeling as remote from the previous evening as he had before he read it.

The letter went:

Dear Bernard,

I’m in trouble again and feel I have to write to let you know what’s happened. I think I’ve fallen in love.

The fair ground was wheeling with crazy music and impossible crowds. It was deadly but joyful. The mechanical laughter of the clown made the night dance with joy. Claudia was a darling hanging on my shoulder like a bee-bop girl and should have worn a polka-dot dress to fit the picture.

What a night, what a glorious night. And I almost fell in love with the squirrel-faced woman too. How dare she ask me if I’ve eaten well. Such cheek, but such compassion in those eyes. And her laughter surely sets my world on fire. She is the birth of my poetry. A fine macabre time was had by all.

Yours inestimably,

David Basnett.

The letter – like the letter from his father and his lack of recall of the night before – made his sit down and breathe slowly.

He read it again.

He had no doubt he had written the letter in drink. His style was notoriously over the top when he was pissed.

When had he written it? Hangovers that completely obliterated memory of the previous night were new. Usually there were conversations he couldn’t remember very clearly, or meetings with people that he had forgotten until he had met them again. Even on the worst occasions he could usually remember the pub where he had started out, even if he couldn’t remember how he had ended up. Hopefully his night on the tiles would probably come flooding back to him when he saw someone who he’d been with. Take it easy.

A decision about his father could wait until he felt better.

A lie-down wasn’t enough to quell the ravages of his hangover; the winged beasts were descending. The only way he’d get through the day was to imbibe. He wouldn’t go over the top; he’d have just enough to pacify the crawling ague of his body and the chaos of his mind. The failure of his recent campaign of sobriety was depressing but his only need was not to feel like this.

With the collar of his leather jacket up hugging his neck – now he did look like a private eye – he searched for his mottled scarf. Had he left it at the launderette? He must have lost it.

In the Haystack, David stood by the bar with a pint of Pedigree bitter in his hand. Allan was the first person to shed any light on the previous night.

Allan Yates was a tall, raven-haired fitness fanatic. He was moaning about garage repairs.

“How much is the damage?” asked David.

“£300 is what he estimated. He also said I could pick up a better car for #150. I just haven’t got that sort of money.”

“Perhaps you could curb your taste in expensive women. God knows why they come out with you in that clapped out old Austin I can’t imagine.”

“I’m a curve crawler, they know it and like it.”

“Who needs Marlon Brando when you’re around?”

“Marlon Brando? Isn’t he one of the Perishers?”

“Very funny. Were you out last night?” asked David.

“Of course. I’m out every night, doing my curve crawling. It’s my only real profession.”

“You didn’t happen to bump into anyone you know did you? Like me for instance?” David explained his defective memory.

Allan couldn’t help sniggering and pushed his hands firmly into his pockets as if he were trying to prevent himself soaking his trousers.

“Is you’re hangover that bad, eh? Can’t remember what we did last night, eh? And you have the nerve to criticize me and my lifestyle. Yeh, I saw you, but you didn’t see me. You were pretty happy.”

“And where was this?”

“In here. You were sitting with a girl. Over there. I didn’t know her. I decided not to come over and queer your pitch. I wondered where you’d been for a while. You dog. I’d not seen you in the Barley Mow for ages. You found yourself some candy, eh? You really can’t remember?”

“Not a thing. I can’t remember coming in here, and I can’t remember the girl. What did she look like?”

“Is this some sort of game? Her identity certainly wasn’t in question last night. You were being very smoochy. Smiling at her like you’d discovered some new brand of toothpaste and playing footsy with her top bits.”

“Are you sure it was me?”

“Course I am.”

“Well go on. Describe her.”

“I didn’t pay too much notice. I’m not that nosy. She was blonde, slim. Couldn’t see much of her face from where I was, and the place was pretty packed any way. It would have taken me ten minutes to climb across the room to you. She was, say, mid-twenties.”

David found this all a bit hard to believe. Allan once again insisted that he hadn’t mistaken his identity. “Sounds like you had a real binge, if you can’t remember any of it at all. It couldn’t have been that late. It was only…let me see now…somewhere between eight thirty and nine. Perhaps a bit earlier.”

David tried to let the subject go. It was too taxing and Allan was enjoying it too much for his patience. Allan was becoming more interested by the minute.

“It seems a bit odd that you can’t remember anything about her,” he was saying. “I mean I was in here for an hour and you two were sitting over there. I must have arrived about seven forty five. You were still there when I left. I left before you did, but Dean was still here when I left. Perhaps he might be able to tell you who she was. He’s over there. Ask him. He usually sits it out in here all night. Ask him. I’ll get you another.”

Dean Herriman had a ginger mop and a gummy grin. His eyes never seemed to focus.

“You were sure enjoying yourself last night, eh? She’s quite a lady. How did you find her then?” he asked.

“Don’t ask him that. He can’t remember who she is. He can’t even remember being in here last night, ” interjected Allan.

“You were pretty pissed. It must have been that bottle of Shampoo that did you in.”

David laughed nervously and then groaned.

“Okay. You’re serious? Take it easy. You’ll remember when I tell you. Don’t get uptight.”

“Remember I came in here and Allan came in later. We sat over here and didn’t speak to you two at all. Allan left to go and see Liz about an hour later and I stayed behind and just had a pint on my own. Bob came in later so I had some company. Don’t you remember coming over when Bob and I were playing that stupid game with the folded paper, with those two students. You must remember that! Cor! Karen was a corker. You remember Karen and Michella. You don’t? Oh well, all our brain cells rot eventually, it just seems that yours are going before time. Okay, okay, take it easy. I’m telling you. You came over and you seemed in really high spirits. Like you’d won a sweepstake or something. You said you were celebrating. You said you’d like to introduce us to a great new friend. We said sure. You came back about five minutes later with this blonde you’d had stashed up in the corner for the previous two hours – and a bottle of champagne. Everybody went wild. Don’t you remember the cork hitting that fat old bloke on the head. And Karen got soaked with all the champagne spitting out everywhere. I’m not making it up. You really don’t remember any of that. None of it? It’s as true as the mole on my winky. You must remember some detail. You must remember that crazy porg at the coconut shy? What?”

David sipped at his new pint that Allan had passed him.

“Don’t tell me. We went to a fair.”

“You see, you do remember some of it.”

“Oh yes,” said David feeling sure he was being set up.

“And what happened at the fair.?”

“We went along as a sixsome. Bloody Karen kept giving me the eye but when it came to the crunch I went home to the comfort of self-abuse as usual.”

“What happened to me? And this blonde.”

“Claudia, you mean – don’t tell me you can’t even remember her name?”

“Claudia? I see. Did she wear a polka dot dress? Did she look like something out of the fifties?”

“Well. No, about the dress. Could have looked like that. Don’t know about the clothes. I’m pretty hopeless describing women with clothes on.”

“Well, what did we do? How did I get home?”

“I don’t know. We had a lot of fun at the coconut shy, and then we went for a mad ride on the dodgems and then you two got lost in the crowd and the next time I see you is now and you’re asking me all about it, as if it never happened.”

David took his fourth pint off the bar. His body felt better now, his mind felt more at ease, but the complete loss of a whole night alarmed him more than he understood. He could think more clearly about it now submerged in the clear fog of the alcohol. He’d had a crazy night with a beautiful girl. To have no recollection of it at all, and not to know who the girl was, where she lived, or whether she’d spent the night with him was off the wall, completely. Allan and Dean were both laughing at him.

David Protested they were winding him up. Eventually they convinced him that they told no lie.

“Haven’t you any idea of the girl’s surname?” scoffed Allan. “I don’t suppose you even know if you’ve arranged to see her again? You probably have – but you can’t remember!”

“I’ll come in here tonight, and see if she turns up. As we most spent most of last night together in here I can’t imagine where else I’d meet her. If she doesn’t turn up I’ll leave a message behind the bar in case she comes in on another night.”

“Sounds a reasonable idea.”

“You say she seemed keen on me?”

“David, m’boy, she wanted to eat you alive. You were well in.”

“I shall laugh about this all day,” said Dean.


David begged sleep to take him that afternoon. It would have held him longer but he was woken by his radio alarm clock which had gone on the blink. It going off at five thirty, only seemed a trivial madness in his world at present. For his hour of sleep he felt little refreshment, but his eyes refused to close again. This wasn’t unusual; when overtired he often suffered from insomnia, too conscious of wanting to sleep.

In the kitchen he discovered he was out of both tea and milk. With his jacket on and cursing the irritation of his still missing scarf, he went down the stairs. He struggled over the grass and down into the valley of Outlands Drive.

Drizzle rained down into the greyness of the estate, and dribbled down his neck into his lining. The hum of nearby building construction juddered the earth. The houses were ghost-less with no window snoopers.

In the supermarket checkout queue he began to search desperately from pocket to pocket to find some loose change. His jean pockets provided what he thought was paper money. He uncrumpled what happened to be a scribbled telephone number: ‘Claudia. 634689’. It was on a cigarette paper in black streaky ink.

“One pound and a penny please,” the vexed check-out girl said to him for the second time.

Her X-ray eyes penetrated him and he knew the aliens had the upper hand. The queue behind him were now grumbling with impatience. He could feel the pores open, a clamminess on his face. He was upstage and he had forgotten his lines. His pockets couldn’t produce enough change. His money had gone down his throat at the pub and he had forgotten to cash his giro. He began to apologise, promising to bring in the extra later. The girl, tut, tutting, and ignoring all his assurances, called the manager and his address was taken. It was shit! The humiliation! Twenty one pence! He was never going in there again.

In his flat he stared at the phone number again.

He would go into the Haystack that night and see if Claudia was there. If she wasn’t he would probably telephone her.

At eight thirty David stood in the Haystack sipping a spritzer. No beer tonight; he didn’t want to feel ill the following day.

As time passed the bar filled up, but there was still no girl fitting Claudia’s description. He considered whiskey but resisted and ordered a Marston’s. Later, he ordered another. He liked beer; he liked whiskey; he liked soul. He was beginning to feel good. What the hell! It put a little sunshine into his life. Neither the landlord and barmaid could remember any girl called Claudia. Sorry.

At nine fifty he concluded it was unlikely she would arrive. Two blondes had come in since, but both had a man in tow, and neither had spoken.

He watched the smoke of his cigarette twizzle up like a genie. He could sense a wave of vexation creeping inside, anger for being in here. His resolutions and intentions to begin his book were tapping on his shoulder. Pah!

Where was his ambition? What had happened to all his ideals and aspirations he’d had as a boy, a youth, at Canterbury? Sandy would be disappointed. Okay. He’d give all this crap up. He’d have a beer and then he’d go home and change his life.

He lit another cigarette as if it were an anaesthetic before the op.

He wasn’t convinced any more: he’d broken the rules so many times that his allotted nine lives to change were diminishing yearly, and had probably run out years ago anyway. He knew that every time he broke a good intention his degeneracy increased by an inverted proportion. Come in, slob no 9! Somebody at sometime had nurtured and rarefied his talents, yet life had programmed him to fail as an individual; what could be more sadistic. Failure was his birth name: no one had wanted him. He knew his mother was turning in her grave in empathy; she knew all about his pain and he knew all about hers.

And his wife, if she could see him now, how would she respond? Whatever her mouth said, and however engagingly it said it, it was a foolish man who believed it. She always had to have the best, and he didn’t qualify anymore. He couldn’t bear the humiliation of her seeing him like this. Bitch. He couldn’t imagine anyone more destructive than his wife with her weaponry of calculated noble feelings and little-girl sillies. He knew she’d overpower him with her champagne bubbles and purry voice. He was getting angry. He’d buy a bottle of whiskey and drink himself to sleep. Tomorrow, he’d look after himself and start work on a fantastic book.

He turned away from the bar and made towards the door when someone greeted him. It was a fat woman about forty. Sophia Loren? Her wide mouth smiled a blaze of Terracina sunlight.

He was back on honeymoon: Italy 1973.

Palm trees were playing against blue skies. Ferny trees flickered in the breeze. White and grey Mondrian hotels decked with canopied balconies of roses were topped with whipped cream clouds.

He remembered how they had laughed at the lampposts: plants with three stems each carrying a light.

Beyond the palms and the hotels stood a mountain wall of dried green and hazy blue patches. At the summit a row of ancient arch doorways; secret, mysterious, magical.

Accompanied by an incomprehensible throng of Italian chatter, a sea of floral striped and bright pink sun-shades floated on the beach. Small mopeds and scooters buttressed the sea walls; ‘Titti al mare’ was written loud on childrens’ buckets; Cressi-sub flippers stuck in the sand. Parasol spokes became beach clothes horses; from them hung towels, beachwear and water bottles. From the young spaghetti mommas hung flesh bronzed men wearing golden crucifixes. All around them spume, racket games and the tops of single swimsuits – wet only around the breasts. David remembered it all like yesterday: the brown lean twelve year olds, girls protected by their fathers and the breeze smelling of vanilla. The distant roar of motors.

Vivien loved fucking on a motorboat.

“Hello,” said the woman.

“Hello.” He hesitated, then went out into the corridor. He continued out into the cold air where he stopped and tried to remember who she was. Did she know if he had been in here last night? How the hell should she know? It was all too stupid.

He felt himself feeling sick again, but different, like when he’d drank too much cider at teenage parties and was beginning to spin. It wasn’t quite the same: it was an Orwellian rat sleeping in his stomach; it would frequently wake up and turn round. It wasn’t the movement that nauseated but the thought of the rat’s teeth.

David bought a bottle of whiskey with a cheque but drank only a glass before falling into his unmade bed. He wanted to wake refreshed and shiny new. Tomorrow was going to be different, tomorrow he was going to show the world he had something to offer!

He woke just after eleven but kept between the covers for another half-an-hour and wondered what to do with the yawning Sunday. He’d go for a walk. Maybe.

In the bathroom mirror he studied himself for wear. His cheeks which had won that little doctor’s daughter into his life many years before were still taut. His hair was greyer than he remembered. He washed it quickly, rinsed it and then swept it back with an old comb. He liked his hair swept back; it reminded him of GI blues. He loved old Elvis films.

It was mid-day when the Harpies of Kowloon began to cloud over. There was little respite these days. His hangovers usually came on mid-morning and got progressively worse through-out the day.

They first materialised in the kitchen. He wondered what to cook when a voice, his mother’s, began telling him off.

She hated dirt.

This kitchen is quite disgusting!

He could see her black skirts, the vicar’s daughter a throwback from Victoriana, warning him that Satan loved dirty children. It occasionally helped to remember that her diatribes and fanatical comments were usually at times when she was avoiding tears. Pathologically insecure after Garath abandoned her she had replanted him firmly with God. From then on her life’s work was to relentlessly inculcate David, and Sandy – she did insist on calling her other son by his Christian name, Sansom, which he loathed – with a fundamental biblical indoctrination. No son of hers was hell bound. The guilt had chained him in childhood; it was making him uncomfortable now. The squalor he lived in was sometimes ugly but he refused to follow his mother’s requests, however reasonable they had meant to be. He had wanted her affection. She could never give it. Acquiescence with detergent was acquiescence with everything she stood for.

He looked out into the sunshine. A few minutes later he looked down again at dirt.

Perhaps he would clean up. Perhaps he’d do his mother a courtesy. Perhaps. Breakfast first.

Friday night was straightening out in his mind a little. What was the fuss? Claudia had obviously been good company. The whole incident was beginning to take on a humorous light that Allan and Dean had obviously enjoyed. He considered binning her phone number, but didn’t. It felt comfortable in his watch pocket.

Outside cold air slapped his face. He liked its sting. With his collar pulled up he set off towards Stoke Golding. He needed to burn off adrenaline. When the fire hit him only exercise or booze could quell it.

Walking was therapeutic like his letters to Bernard Willis. It allowed his subconscious to bubble up and semaphore with his conscious. He always felt better for the effort, although there were times when his internal wrestling walked him too close to a thin line.

The wind was up and was bearable but the sun shone glaringly bright. The dew-covered heath was soft to shoe impressions. The southern sky was a radiant and new born blue.

As he trudged along the road his wife’s face came to face him. She was something unresolved. How could such tragedy happen over such a short space of time? His emotions were on ice, still unable to grasp it: it was a fiction, an unreality.

David remembered one Sunday he had felt the irrepressible urge to walk. He had worn shoe leather for hours tapping through Leicester’s streets, along its grey canals, past its small ethnic shops until he eventually returned to the flat in the dusk. He chain smoked for an hour and then wept. It had been the first time he had shed tears since his mother’s funeral. None had come since.

There was no reason to feel so jittery. He didn’t have a relationship in crisis, and he didn’t have any immediate problems, apart from keeping off alcohol and late nights, and keeping himself healthy, and money.

He’d pay the rent from his next giro.

He still wasn’t sure whether to see his father or not.

David watched a passing tractor’s exhaust shimmer silver. A magpie flew off from under a hawthorn hedgerow.

As miles slipped under his feet his spirits began to change; the demons were back again had taken hold and were settling in. He began to feel like something musty, like something that had been brought out of the cupboard after twenty years of neglect, like his clothes had been dragged through a hedge. He felt like he had spent an age sleeping on damp benches layered over in newspaper. Nothing fitted properly, even his skin. This inner layer of loose clothing felt as tattered and desiccated as his outer one. His face had become a desert of arid skin and dandruff. His body felt less controllable, and his movements felt slow, as was his face to show expression. As if his face had been plastered over with a face pack, like starch, or egg white and had set. He felt he should be hidden away, like a decrepit and corrupted sixty year old bookie.

There was no outward sign of the underlying furnaces burning. Indeed there was no madness, he said aloud to himself, only courage. Who else could defend such a forceful attack on their sanity. He could beat the Harpies. Get thee Satan behind thee! He was certain there was no difficulty in this. Not like the real madness he’d known for all those years when he’d given his trust generously. There was no reason for it in his life anymore. He had to forgive himself. Sanity? madness? Which was which? There were two sorts of mad people; the psychotics who thought they were perfectly sane and went about running the world like a pig sty, and those who let them.

The colours of late autumn were a tapestry. The sky keeled precariously with a promised benignity. Yet the countryside was sterile with beauty.

He received a glimmer: he was still in control of his freedom: he was neither chained to a factory floor nor to a yes-sir-no-sir-three-bags-full-sir career. Yes freedom.

But there was something wrong.

He walked over the pebbles and up the grass. He stepped up onto the bank of the canal. He kicked a stone into the water. He found another and sent it skimming across the surface. He decided to bask for a while in the cold sunlight. He sat and looked at the the water swirling past. The water swirled past.


New Street Station: after David had disembarked the train he was eager to escape the platform. Embassy posters, pushchairs and mascara. Students returning to plead for more paternal grant and holidaymakers wishing they weren’t with their in-laws. Young lovers who had no idea of love, just G spots. Executives on the wrong platform looking for an open buffet. Adverts claiming the Times was well informed.

Women with eroded faces, resigned to live alone, struggling to cope with demanding toddlers. Some of these faces had been happy once, thought David, but had chosen wrong somewhere, sometime and had shelved happiness for this sourness. The only solution seemed to be a magazine with its promises shouting from its cover. A cure to anaesthetise the wretched present and protect yourself for the future. Is your man a Rambo in bed? Have you invested your equity wisely? An update on Feminism and Social Security. How to make-up like Samantha Fox, How to spend less and eat better, blah blah.

David escalated upwards towards daylight.

It was Monday, mid morning.

It had been prearranged that they would meet near the ticket counters.

“Its David, isn’t it?”


David found his hand being shaken.

It took David a while to find the old face in the new one.

Garath Basnett’s had puffy cheeks which had dropped which made him look tired, but his mass of left-parted grey hair made him look much younger than his 68 years.

For David there were echoes in his roman nose, in the top lip that pointed down, in those hooded, baby wet eyes, in the left eye working while the right one took it easy. His well built body, clad in something expensive from suitland, stood flight lieutenant erect.

“Its good to see you again. Hello David. I hope you had a pleasant journey.”

“Hello,” he said.

“We had better move, David. Sylvia is waiting for us outside in the car. Where’s your luggage?”

“I didn’t bring any.”

As a toddler David had upset a tin of paint over kitchen flagstones. It was the first time he tasted his father’s rage. His mother protesting screams were still in his ears.

His childhood became a snapshot album of thrashings. Once delivered the punishments would never again be mentioned. Once he bitterly complained at the injustice of a severe beating for a broken cloche in a neighbour’s garden he’d been nowhere near. His mother became angry and told him he should concentrate less on the faults of his father and more on the virtues of Jesus – God had been more than a twinkle in her eye even before she found herself husband-less. The more David tried to reason the angrier she became until she had ended up shouting him out of the room. He learned the knack of never getting caught but it didn’t stop the occasional unfair beating.

Sandy’s childhood was a different story. David’s brother was never touched. His kid-glove treatment was probably due to him being the youngest, and because of the terrible bouts of melancholia he had been inflicted with since his fourth birthday. David hated the love, the fairness that Sandy got. Even now he couldn’t push away that residue of resentment. It was the law of the household: he could do no right and Sandy could do no wrong.

Garath Basnett’s complexion was ruddier than he David had imagined it. His left eye glinted somehow; it wasn’t so much the glint of an ambitious sales manager for Unilever – his job after Sandy was born – but the glint of confidence gained through success. It was an eye that had enjoyed counting a lot of money.

“Get in David. We’ll take you for a meal. I know my request to see you must have come as a shock. I’m glad you’ve come. You might as well enjoy it the best you can, after all I’m paying.” His words fluttered along at a considered pace. His tone was fluid, gentle and hypnotically persuasive, like a councillor, or a preacher. David could even hear a murmur of Sandy’s tone in it. Weird. “Oh, by the way, this is Sylvia, and I can honestly say that she is the light of my life.”

“How do you do,” she said as David climbed into the taxi beside her.

From her black berret hung a gauze veil that only partly covered one eye and a small portion of her cheek. It was difficult to establish her age; somewhere about late forties. She held his eye tight, flirtaciously – almost with a hint that she was in the market for a toyboy – but there was a respectable motherliness as well. She nodded with a delightful grin, that smacked of cheap sherry. Her presence somehow made the taxi elegant: it became a vehicle for royalty. David liked her instantly. Garath Basnett, David’s father, told the taxi driver to take them to the Bellevue Hotel in Pinnington Street.

In the taxi David traveled backwards and faced the two older passengers. He tried to look comfortable, but he felt awkwardly lost for words. His father casually took Sylvia’s hand, a hand well adorned with metal bands and glistening stones, and clasped it to his hip pocket: He smiled at her and then looked out of the cab window at the passing suburban villas.

David didn’t care for his father’s nonchalance. His arrival was a favour, and his father should be aware of it; he had not even the courtesy to put him at his ease, or, more appropriate, to get down on the tiles at New Street and to lick his boots for turning up. But no, his father, as he now clearly remembered always strove to control, and had a blind spot to showing his emotions, to his second son at least. When a situation was entirely out of hand and all about were losing their heads Garath Basnett could sit and whistle a tune and concentrate on a cryptic cross word. If the bomb were about to drop Garath Basnett would express concern but it wouldn’t stop him also remarking on the pleasant colours of a passing awning before oblivion.

Having arrived at the hotel David was given a plush room only several doors down from the double suite that his father had booked for himself and Sylvia.

Later they sat around a dinner table in the restaurant waiting for their main meals. Garath had been talking about America, but eventually he got to the point..”Anyway, David, you don’t want to hear all about my travels, you want to know why you’ve traveled here; isn’t that right?”

David nodded. He still found it difficult to say much. He knew he’d say the wrong thing, but he was trying to get his timing right; to place his spanner in exactly the right works.

“There are two reason’s why I wanted to see you, and I won’t beat about the bush. The first reason is that I have become rich and I want to pass some of my good fortune on to you. I’ve a little proposition to make.You can afford to smile a little more than that. But its not all hand-out, you’ve got to work for most of it.

“Alright Sylvia,” he said, pushing her arm away, as she nudged him in the side, “I think I can do this my way.

“The second reason,” he continued, “is that you’re my son. I’m not usually prone to getting reputations for sentimentality – but damn it! Its important. I know you never liked me too much, and maybe there’s some sense for you to feel like that, but let us not dwell upon that at the moment. You are the one remaining member of my family and I’m you’re father. I’m pleased to see you David. Very pleased. “

David nodded.

“Its not just a transaction of cash. As I say its more of a proposition. Ah, here’s the main course. It smells good. Lets eat.”

Sylvia began to talk. She began with her appreciation of England. It was only her second time she’d been; the first time had been in 47. She talked along happily, cheerfully, a glutinous musak, which wasn’t there to be listened to, or to be even conversed with: it was to take the pressure off David. He understood it well, but he also appreciated it. He couldn’t figure out what all this was about. Proposition? What was he up to? He didn’t like it at all, smelled something decidedly fishy, and it wasn’t what he was eating. His father was talking again and asked him what line of work he was in, and what had happened to him since his divorce.

“You heard about that?”

“Yes. I’m sorry for that. These things do happen. Anyway, what have you been doing? We’ve so much to catch up on in each other’s lives. It really is a delight that you’ve come over. I’ve wanted to see you for years but I’ve always felt worried of how you’d be.” He touched David’s sleeve. “It was Sylvia here who said I should try and see you. She said the Lord would give me the strength to see you. You’re my only child, David. I’d like to say thank you for coming. It means a lot to me, whatever you think of my proposition.” He patted David’s hand which lay out stretched on the table. “So, come on, tell me about you.”

David couldn’t help remembering and inwardly sneering at the genteel way his father euphemised everything; it was a family code: if you have bad news, either keep it to yourself or euphemise as best as possible. He was going to break that now. He’d tell him the harsh truth. Nothing like a bit of drama to liven things up. Both sons had been pressurised to do well, and here was the only one left and he was an abject failure; it gave David pleasure to think of how his father would probably choke on his soup. He’d give his mother a bit of her own back.

“As you know Sandy died.”

Garath slowly swallowed. “Yes,” he said slowly, then, “I couldn’t come over. I was ill. I regret that bitterly.”

“It couldn’t be helped, darling,” said Sylvia soothingly, “You were in hospital,” She flashed her eyes up at David, “Carry on David,” said Sylvia, desperate to move on.

“I was in a mess. Then Vivien left me and then several weeks after that I lost my career. After that my ambition to be the world’s greatest architect folded and then I worked non-stop at being a failure. I was successful at at. I then moved from Leicester to a town called Hinckley. Since then I’ve learned the art of drinking more and more and doing less and less. You could say that I hate the world for its illusions, its betrayals, its deceptions and its cruelties. I would be cynical if I could be bothered to be but I’ve developed idleness of thought and mind to such a high degree that it all seems like too much of a task. I’m no longer a paid up card-carying member of the communist party – like I was when I was a student – of course you won’t remember any of that, will you? That was long after you left. I left because they expected me to take it all so seriously. I couldn’t even be successful at hating the system. That was a long time ago. There you are. That’s about it.”

There was a short silence. Garath sipped his soup.

“Well well. A speech maker. Very impressive stuff,” said Sylvia, smiling at Garath. She looked over,”You poor, poor boy,” she cooed to David.

“So you haven’t fallen into the clutches of the Victorian capitalists?” asked David’s father.

David laughed.

“I’m amazed at how anyone can become so bitter and twisted at such an early age.”

“Now, now, Garath,” said Sylvia, her eyes focusing sharply on his face.

His father was thoughtful for a moment and then began again articulating his words very slowly and then with more acceleration as he went on. “You know who I mean by Victorian capitalists? They are the people who wash themselves, get up early, behave politely, dress smartly, get to work on time, and organise things in such a way as to provide something for the general public that the general public wants. You haven’t fallen into the ways of those lousy capitalists whose main enjoyment is to lie in bed at night and worry about all the money they are responsible for, and all the financial decisions they have to take, and ultimately worry about all the people in their employ whose jobs will be lost if they make any managerial mistakes. You haven’t fallen into the vices of these bourgeois capitalists who sell their filthy food and clothes, develop their filthy technology, from which they provide national wealth which can then be taxed to finance state benefits. Now I know you live on state benefits but don’t worry, I know you didn’t contribute the original wealth that creates them so I won’t confuse you with the capitalists.

“Yes I see your position. I’ve seen it in the youth all over America, and quite honestly I don’t go for it much”

“Hold on, Garry. Don’t take on so. He’s cute. He’s just winding you up.”

Garrath Basnett had gone a little flushed in the face. He turned to Sylvia and tried to smile, but it was rather diluted.

He turned back to his son. “Actually I’ve asked you over here to ask you to join the capitalist classes. It doesn’t look as if we’ve started from very much the same side of the fence does it.”

“To be honest, I don’t know what I’m doing here.”

“That’s simple: I’ll explain.” Before he did so he took another spoonful of soup. “I’ve set up a vast manufacturing and distribution network in the states. Its big, David, very big. You’ve probably heard of it: Holders and Initiates PLC.” David hadn’t. “We created a variety of food products in the states that are super-successful. I’m a rich man now, David. Very Rich.” Garath looked hard into David’s eye. “There are many American products which we can successfully market over here. One product, which is particularly successful over there has, I believe, a massive big market potential in Europe. Its an American dark beer called ‘Montegno’. We’ve done all the feasibilities, and marketing and there’s minimal re-advertising and redesigning required to make a hit according to our advertising executives and marketing strategists. We can almost move the whole product over with only minimal changes to make a killing. Its a completely different style to the other American lagers and beers. Its a winner. Well – I’m offering it to you.”

“Thanks. Now tell me what you’re talking about.”

“Your father means is that he’d like you to coordinate the whole shindig-“

“yes. That’s right. Its easy. All you have to do is be there. You’ll have all the experts you want. All the team are ready – unless you want to pick you own – which I wouldn’t advise at this stage. I’d just like you to oversee the whole thing. I’d pay you well.”

Over the next thirty minutes Garath Basnett outlined the general approach needed for the operation. Intensified by the pink light of the dining hall Garath’s and Sylvia’s faces loomed up towards David like two blancmanges, wet, sticky and repulsive; he felt pressurized, threatened. He tried to grasp what they were saying. None of it made any sense. Sylvia stopped Garath short of the distribution details.

“Leave him, Garath. The poor boy’s tired. He can always read the spec. Its surely not necessary to blind him with science.”

“Yes. You’re right, Sylvia. You always are.”

“Your father wants you in the business, David. Its a neat number. Your father isn’t going to live for ever, David, and your his only son.”

“You want me to run a business,” said David trying his hardest not to laugh.

“Your father’s got angina.”

“And I’ve already had two heart attacks. That’s the reason I couldn’t come to Sandy’s funeral. Three months ago in Washington I had another.” Garath looked up. David thought his eyes were wetter than ever.

“You will think about it David.” said his father, It wasn’t a question, it was a mild command.

David couldn’t suppress a smirk. “I’ll think about it. Give me some time to think about it before I give you a definite yes or no.”

“We’re leaving for London on Wednesday, so if you could we’d appreciate it if you’d let us know by then. At the moment you’re booked in until tomorrow night, but we can extend your booking as long as you like. Don’t go off and consider this offer without taking the Spec I’ve prepared, which is in my room. It lays the whole thing out in black and white.”

David reached over and poured himself another glass of wine. It was fizzy, fruity and French. A strange wine in a strange place with strange people. It was like some kind of fairy tale where the world could be yours if only you could get back by 12 o’clock.


David had done exactly as his father had suggested. He’d collected the portfolio and had found a bar off New Street down some old creaky steps selling ‘Davenports’. Gone to ground in the dimly lit basement it felt good to get away and be anonymous again. He’d forgotten how used he’d become to his own company. Too long with people and he became edgy.

He tried to think seriously about the proposition. He tried but got the irrepressible urge to laugh. It was ridiculous. He couldn’t really believe that he’d been given all this paper work to look at with any serious intent. He kept tumbling through it, from cover to cover, as though it were a flick book. It was crammed with charts, figures, accounts and lots of people with qualifications longer than their names. He felt envious about these: throwing up his course for that job had deprived him of these magical letters.

He pictured himself in the elevated position that his father was offering: a key executive of an international lager firm. With his problems he would end up drinking all the product! He laughed out aloud and in so doing spilt his beer over one of the two old ladies sitting next to him. Still smirking, he apologised, gulped down the remains of his pint and climbed out of the cavern.

He remembered Birmingham from his commuting days. He’d always enjoyed aproaching New Street Station at about five in the evening because all the birds would alight on the eaves of the buildings at the corner of Corporation Street and make one hell of noise. The whole ornithological clock disintegrated out of time. It was Hitchcock’s ‘The Birds’ except that it was a happy movie. He considered abstractedly: sometimes you pictured how things should be; and they actually were.

So what was he going to do? Nothing. Simply nothing. Since the meal he had known he intended to abort. He knew enough about business than to believe they would really offer him such a chance. Even if the prize were genuine he still didn’t want it. He’d eventually decided to come over to see his father for a motley bag of reasons: vengeance was obvious, amazement was another, curiosity another and – from some deep seated liberalism – perhaps to hear the other side of the story. He didn’t like to dwell too much in the past – it brought back unpleasant images and feelings of longing and inadequacy.

The vengeance that he’d built up over the years had waned considerably in the few hours he had been here. He now felt a sort of pitying resentment about the way he and his mother had been treated. She was never far from his mind.

David’s father – just after he had moved out of aeroplanes and sideways into managing NAAFI supplies for various European bases – had met Rebecca Willman, daughter of Anglican vicar, John and his wife Edwina (nee Wilman) at a RAF dance in 1947. How Gareth had managed to get such a god-fearing creature so quickly into coital position David had never understood but he had. Two months later – due to Rebecca’s passion and her parent’s outrage – they were shot-gun married. Seven months later David arrived. Two years later, mid-century, Sandy followed. Three years later his mother had a break down. From the start Gareth was hyper-critical of her. Gareth left her in 1960. After his departure she gave the almighty God so much room in the house there was little room for anyone else. The stronger her Christianity the weaker she became. She died in 1965. Garath came to the funeral, but he stood alone. Agatha Read wouldn’t let him talk to the children. She said his mother had died of a broken heart, and no one had disagreed with her.

David and Sandy had watched her wither away, as she tirelessly dedicated herself to writing tract-like articles for church magazines, running fund-raising events and singing hymns louder than anyone else. She encouraged hellfire and brimstone upon herself and those around her with missionary zeal. David had once heard her praying aloud and from what he heard he suspected that as a child she had always regarded her father’s death (when she was seven) as a heaven sent punishment for neglecting god. She had become quite deranged.

All through his years with her more than anything he wanted her to be happy. But she was ill. He hated his father who had done this. “Never blame your father,” she used to say when he used to get angry. “We shouldn’t judge others.” Bullshit. One day he was going to kill his father. He told Sandy. Sandy had listened carefully and then laughed.

David rationalised that his vengeance had diminished because his father no longer had any dominance over him; in fact the man was rather pathetic. The only vengeance left was to leave him as he was. He might have vast wealth and riches across the lands of America, and have all the greatest social contacts that panache, persuasion and money can buy, but it still left him yearning for something, and that desire made him vulnerable; it had stripped him of real authority.

David played with these thoughts as he leaned against a railing and looked down into the circular shopping arena that united four entrance points of the subway. The moonlight had cut through the clouds and was skimming across the tiled floor. He was finding the city much less threatening than the country. Probably why I chose architecture, he thought.

He could do with a drink.

The self-evident conclusion was that he had two great aces denied to his father. Youth and freedom. His father wanted to buy up him up and deprive him of the two things that he was deprived of. People spend all their lives trying to gain status, only to later discover that what they really valued was their sense of sexuality and their freedom. The falacy is that money buys freedom, but in fact it only buys slavery to making money and to spending it on those things which show wealth; somewhere or other personal freedom goes out of the window.

David remembered the greasy pole people in the planning office. What transparencies they were. The only sense of humour they had was one which meant laughing at the bosses jokes. They were always alert to the formation of a crowd, (a crowd meaning more than two) and one always had to make a showing. They all had crowd personalities: the clown, the innuendo flirt, the organiser, the moralist, the committee member, and the ‘I’m a friend of the mayors’. People who like crowds have a strong need for status. They estimate their own value by the volume of crowd applause. There was no sense of personal value or success; it could not be conceived. David didn’t like crowds, he didn’t really care what people thought of him. Or was he lying to himself? He kicked a stone and continued walking.

Later David lay awake and wondered who his father was and where he intended living out the rest of his life. How long had he been in England. Who was Sylvia? She seemed to have a firm hold on Gareth but he didn’t think she was a gold digger. She was sharp but human. There was a quiet power about her. Her presence had undoubtedly warmed the reunion. His stilted conversation with his father would have dried in minutes if Sylvia hadn’t been hovering around in the background. Funny things women, he mused.

He’d tell his father in the morning to stuff his business proposition, He should redress past wrongs and admonish his father in a caustic exhibition of rage and have done with him for ever but he wouldn’t. His father was real not imagined. He had never considered his father having failings before. Perhaps David would keep in contact with him for a while.

“You’re not on drugs, are you?” his father asked tersely over breakfast.

David smiled. He looked up and tried to find what sort of anxiety hung upon his father’s face but the stern gaze of his father made him look away again. “Pass me another piece of toast, please.”

“I assume by that scowl on your face that you wish me to mind my own business.”

“No. Of course not. I’m not on drugs. For Christ’s sake, look at me. Do you think I could afford to cocaine it every night? I can’t even afford my rent. Thanks.” He took the toast and buttered it.

“If you were in any sort of trouble like that we could fix it for you.”

This was a perfect example of his father’s pathetic-ness.

“Thanks. Its okay I’m not into fixing either.” He laughed again.

“What’s wrong with you this morning? Got out of bed the wrong side? You come down here and the first thing you say is: ‘I don’t want to have anything to do with your lager company.-“

“That’s exactly right!”

“But you won’t explain what the problem is. Is it the money? Is it the nature of the appointment? If its some feeling that you don’t have any real managerial power you’re wrong.”

David didn’t feel quite so calm and collected about his father this morning. It wasn’t that his desire to twist the knife had grown but that this was such a rare opportunity in which to do it. David had doubts about his new found tolerance. It would destroy his life. He was beginning to be so tolerant that he might end up letting anyone do anything. As his principles slipped out the front door tolerance came in the back door. Tolerance stripped him of a crusading cause because he was too permissive to the opposite cause. Tolerance was a long term recipe for muddleheaded blandness. Ugh!

“Would you like another?” , he asked, pouring from the teapot, “No? Don’t be impatient. I am trying to explain.

“The simple truth of the matter is that I am not interested in this business idea of yours. Yes, I can hear you. I am not probably a fool I am definitely a fool, but that’s my choice. I’m not interested and that’s immutable. I realise that I am broke, and idle, but at least I am me. I don’t want to have a boring argument about this. I’d rather not make it personal. All I will say is this: I don’t wan’t to be your puppet. You say I’ll be my own boss, but you’ll be paying me. I haven’t got two halfpennies to rub together but I’m my own man. I don’t want to be catapulted into the big-time. To be quite honest I can’t imagine what talents you think I possess to offer me the position? I think you must be off your rocker.”

Gareth’s remonstrations subsided much sooner that David expected. He had girded himself for third degree persuasion from the moment he declined the offer to the moment he departed. He remembered his father well enough to know how he hated to lose; it was unusual for him to back off so soon. Perhaps he was boxing clever.

His father was talking again.

“I didn’t only invite you over here to talk business. I also invited you over because I also have some bad news and some good news.” He put down his spoon with which he had been mildly augmenting his words like a conductor with his baton.

“My sister, Aunt Anne has died. I received a letter from her solicitor in America last month. She had the dreaded disease and was in great pain at the end, so it was a blessing that the Lord took her earlier than he might. As she had no children she’s left her estate to me. The most desirable chunk of the estate is her house in Woodhouse Eaves in Leicestershire. Okay?”

“Okay what?”

“I don’t need the house. You can have it. It needs a bit of tidying up but its furnished and pretty habitable as far as I’m informed. I owe you a lot David. I’ve not been a good father to you. Its the least I can do to make myself feel a little better about the past. I still want you to take on my business idea. But this house has nothing to do with that whatsoever. This is not a bribe of any sort. You can have the keys now. Here they are. You’re not going to turn this down as well are you?”

“I don’t know.”

“For god’s sake….how long will it take for you to think about this one?”

He remembered Aunt Anne. She had covered him in sand at Bournemouth once. Sandy had liked her.

“I’ll think about it and phone you here tomorrow from Hinckley. Will you still be at the hotel?”

“Look, take the keys,” Garath said pushing them along the table nearer to David. “If you decide against it send them back, although for the life of me I can’t imagine why you should. Its not everyday someone gives you a fantastic home. The address is on the tag. We’ll be here until next wednesday then we’re off to the Savoy. I’ll leave my forwarding address and room number with reception.”

“Okay.” David sat back in his chair. His stomach suddenly tightened as if it were going to burst. The feeling passed as quickly as it came.

“Let me know if you need any help from me in tidying up your affairs. I’d like to help you to sort your life out. You can also take that business package away with you. Have another read of it.”



David had the luxury of the compartment to himself on his way home. He watched the countryside roll by like a film, something he always enjoyed about railway journeys. A yellow mining construction, a war-of-the-worlds martian, came into view as the train slowed down to negotiate a sharp bend. Then peppermint fields edged with waify trees, then an occasional greetings-card homestead slipped past the window frame. David sprawled his legs up on the opposite seat and kept watch for the conductor. He suddenly felt hot.

He was sweating all over.

The train emerged from a tunnel and houses were there, banks of ugly houses, steeped rows of houses, banked, rolling down the side of a hill, their windows all staring at him, accusing eyes. And there were pictures in his head. Realer than life. A caravan. He was trying to be sick. A girl was holding the hair out of his face. His throat was constricted. He just kept spitting. He felt himself pulling the scarf tighter around the neck.

Sweat was pouring down his face. He was in a train rushing past houses. Their turquiose windows shivered at him. Cracked doors were twisting, olive green gates were distorting, crabby snowcem peeled like leper’s skin. The train pulled away in wide angle. The rickety superstructure of the carriages juddered as the acceleration increased. Window pictures became too fast to edit. Photomontages blew by; pedestrian bridges, football fields, canals, gas stations. His internal gyroscope had failed; he didn’t know if he were being flung forwards or backwards. Then a hiss of brakes. A jerk back. A minute later the train came to a stop.

As he stepped down on to Hinckley station the world around him was an idea. The weather smelt of disturbance. His head still smoked, the images still smouldered. It had been a memory of some part of Friday night – it had been too acute to be anything else. Only a vestige of the stomach-punch had remained. Like the old faded photos of the times he had spent together with his wife and brother – it terrified him.

He remembered Sandy’s cat. It had been an accident. It pricked his memory; he didn’t want to think about any of it. Forget Friday night.

There was a possible cure to all this anxiety. He could phone Claudia and ask if it was her who had looked after him on Friday and had taken him home. He would. He didn’t much like mysteries. He had felt uneasy before about Friday night, but the sudden flashback on the train had thrown him into near panic. He’d ask to meet her. If she was so wonderful, and they had got on so well, what harm could it do?

As he walked through the town, he tried to link the girl with his newly acquired residence. Thoughts of an idylic happy couple, living in a Charnwood Forest cottage, became a seductive goo in his mind.

He fished her number from his pocket and phoned her from a public call box on Hollycroft hill.

“Hinckley 67584. Who is that?” It was a woman’s voice. It sounded elderly, and croaky.

“Hello. Could I speak to Claudia please.”

The phone line crackled and buzzed. For a moment he thought he’d been cut off, but he could still hear the woman wheezing.


The wheezing changed into a gulping sound, as if the woman was trying to catch her breath. A few seconds later this was followed by a whining noise.

“Hello?” he asked again

“Who is it?….who is it?.” More swallowing.

“…I’m a friend of Claudia’s. You wouldn’t -” he began, but his words were met by a sudden burst of sobbing. The old woman was crying her eyes out. David slammed down the handset as if it were contaminated.

His eyes shifted around to see if anyone had seen him handle the disgusting thing. Compulsively he was out of the phone box and half way down the hill.

The telephone call had been a stupid idea. Don’t get panicky. Something was very wrong. He felt as if he were sliding away, as if someone else was controlling the events around him. This godforsaken town was tearing him apart; he had to fight.

For the first time in his life he felt grateful to his father. He had an escape route. Could it be true that his father given him his aunt’s old house?

Things went from bad to worse from the moment he arrived back in Hinckley. The flashback on the train and the the telephone call had heightened his anxiety state and the sobbing woman had switched his nerves to high voltage. To arrive at his flat and to find a police car parked outside, and then to subsequently discover they were knocking on his door was almost enough to push everything to overload. He could hear them talking outside his door just above him but couldn’t make out what they were saying. He didn’t wait around to discover what they were after. He quietly but speedily slipped out into the cool evening and headed down the decline towards the supermarket. He’d lie low in the estate pub and then go back about an hour later. He didn’t like the look of things at all.

At the back of the supermarket was the ‘Flintlock’. It was an awful pub but at least the seats were comfortable and he was grateful for the cold pint of nectar that slid down his neck; after two his nerves began to settle down. It was all too queer. To have a whole night missing in his mind, and then to hear that woman crying on the phone was all a bit much. And then there was the police. At first he wondered if his landlord had carried out his threat and sent the police round to collect the rent – but but then he realised police don’t come round on civil matters only criminal ones. It was like an old fifties movie where the plots was related to Freud or psychoanalysis in some way. The main character had done some foul deed which had been so foul that he had wiped it completely out of his mind. Don’t be daft. The top of his head felt ready for launching into space. Its okay, relax. Have another beer. Think about something else.

But things didn’t get any better, but decisively worse: his fears had some grounding in reality.

“I’m surprised you’re still wondering around a free man,” whispered a familiar voice. Roger Dilton squeezed between him and the overhanging plastic flowers on the window sill. “Where have you been?” he was saying.

David stared open-mouthed as if Roger’s head had been cut off and served on a plate. It took him too long to speak.

“The police have just called round my flat.” he said at last.

“Thats not surprising. They’ve been looking for you since Friday. Where have you been? You sure are in a jam?”

David asked Roger to explain.

“You do know about the murder of the girl down the fair ground on Friday night? The police want to talk to you. Its a messy business. She was strangled with a scarf. They seem to think its yours. And you can’t remember anything can you? You’re in a bit of jam, as I said.”

David remembered his scarf. His name had been sewn on it.

Still David didn’t speak.

He thought about the word innocent for a moment. It danced around in his mind. Innocent.

“Come on man! You can’t believe you’d do something like that!”

“I think I’d better go,” said David a few minutes later.

“Have another beer. I’ll get you one.”

But David, his leather jacket now on, had already began heading to the door.

As he walked he became aware of all the babble. It was like a hangover, when the slightest noise was deafeningly loud and and the brain couldn’t focus on any one voice. He could feel everyone watching him leave. They had all fingered him. He was the one, the scoundrel, the alien, the child-torturer, the job-stealer, the exploiter of people’s pain. He knew they were all just about to dash out of their seats and tear him to pieces. Only twelve more yards of crosses-to-bear to go to get away. Roger was already probably out in the back corridor phoning the police. Six more yards. Then he passed through. No immediate change of pace at first as his feet first hit the gravel of the car park. It was like building up to a jog. Slowly at first. Don’t overdo it. Leave the pub car park with some dignity, and dignity is very much related to fluidity of movement.

At the top of the hill his dignity was yards away.

He was running in the darkness, running from the pub and running from himself. Don’t think, just act. He checked the landings for police. He moved cautiously up to his flat and let himself in. He had to move fast.

Loose change, cheque book and card, travelling bag, toothbrush, toothpaste, hairbrush, socks, pants and sweaty pair of pumps. Three shirts – one of them clean, an old pair of clear sunglasses – because they looked like ordinary glasses – a paperback and some cords.

How could he have ever have boasted to his father that he was his own man.

He had to take care. If they were looking for him they’d check all the departure points. Taxi drivers would be clued up. He would be the talk of the town – and everybody would notice him. The darkness would give him some protection. He would walk through the fields and catch a bus from Earl Shilton through to Leicester, and then to Woodhouse Eaves.

He grabbed his bag, hurriedly pulled his door to and quietly descended the stairs.

Earlier that afternoon a woman in a white blouse and denim dungarees lay nibbling at her thumb nail on a sofa. Outside rumbling up from below she could hear the London traffic climbing up Dartmouth Park Road. She had received a phone call. It had intrigued her; it had also worried her because she knew what she must do.

She had been asked to make a visit, to conjure up the long ago and far away; to reopen pandora’s box. She flicked back the mousey hair that flounced by her cheek and sighed heavily. It might clear a lot of things up. The consultancy owed her some time so she could arrange a couple of weeks off. She would do it. It wouldn’t be pleasant but it had to be done. Things had never been properly settled. She phoned Tom Jefferies. “When are you going?” he asked.

“Today,” she said.

“Christ, you give me a lot of notice don’t you.”

“I could leave it for a few days.”

“How long do you want to have off?”

“Two weeks?”

“Okay. I can always get Jessica in to help. I thought you said your mother was coming down at the weekend.”

“Oh damn! It gives me a good reason to put her off.”

“Okay. See you in two weeks. Bon voyage.”

She rang her mother in Cheltenham. Yes, mother, everythings all right mother. No mother. Of course I’ve been looking after myself. I’m sorry I won’t be here but I’ve a pressing engagement. Of course you don’t need to come down and look after the place. I’ll tell you about it when I see you. Its a client mother.(She certainly wasn’t going to tell the truth). Look I’ll come over and see you very soon. No, I can’t be precise mother. But it’ll be soon. How’s the garden? (That took the pressure off. Her mother’s life was her herbaceous border and green fingery and the mere mention of a plant or vegetable would always calm her down.) Of course I’m eating well, mum. I am a doctor, remember? Bye, see you soon, take care. She knew her mum meant well but sometimes she wondered how her father put up with her overwhelming strangling concern.

When she packed, she remembered to include the batch of statistics that had just come back from the lab. She could do a bit of work when she ran out of friends to rediscover. Her days at Leicester University floated past beckoningly. Many of the staff would have moved on, although some would still be there. A 1st degree honours in Medicine and Surgery, sigh. She remembered an evening in 72 when he had starred into her eyes and mimed, ‘Your Song’. Her tomboy nose flared at the nostrils. It wasn’t going to be easy.

She booked a first class train to Nuneaton. The service was awful. It was about time they privatised the trains as well, she thought. She would hire a car, something suitable, a Porsche if she could get one. She’d enjoy that. She’d use it over the fortnight and then go back to London in that.

As the train skirted over points into Leicestershire she hummed Elgar to herself. The countryside made her think of Sandy’s depressions. This was going to be cruel.

When she arrived at David’s door that night she found the door unlocked and slightly ajar. She cautiously entered and found no one in. She switched on the lights and after checking all the rooms for a sign of life she located the telephone. Perhaps she had made a mistake, she thought to herself. But it was too late, she was here now, and it was as a doctor that she was required. She dialled a number and waited for it to be answered.


© 2015 Michael Skywood Clifford


As Kate walked through Middleton Wood she felt she was losing her mind. What a year this had been. She had had so  many things to look forward to last Christmas yet they all came to nought. And it was all such a shock, so unpredictable. She left a trail of anguished thoughts behind her as she walked.

Suddenly she became more aware of her surroundings.   Her hearing picked up. She had walked in these wood after work for over three years in the dusk after work yet had never felt even the smidgeon of unease. Instead of hurrying up, she slowed, occasionally flicking her mousey hair about her, looking to see if her sense of being followed was accurate. In all her life she had never had trouble with stalkers, prowlers or madmen. She didn’t want that history to change in any way.

Then she heard a slight footfall behind her. She turned her whole body round. The noise hadn’t come from the bridle path but from the undergrowth to its side. With her senses heightened, she kept still, listening hard but all she could hear was the buffeting of the breeze. Then a movement. A glint of synthetic blue through the organic greenery. Then it was gone.

“Who’s there?” she called in a firm voice, but not a loud one. She didn’t know whether she should bolt for it. Yet she suspected that whatever was following her was smaller than a human being.

“You are going to play a big part in my future,” said a soft voice from the undergrowth.


There was no reply.

“Who’s there?”

“I am Mir.”

A boy, she thought he looked about ten, suddenly stepped out on to the bridle path.

“Are you following me?”

He had wavy brown hair, falling into a soft fringe. He wore a light blue t-shirt and full length jeans. On his feet were stylish and unusual blue plimsolls. His left hand held onto some white fabric, a large white glove. It made her think of Mickey Mouse.

“Yes,” he said.


“I’m lost,” he said.

Exasperation flashed across her face.

“I need your help,” he said. The boy kept looking back, his face now filled with alarm.

“Where’s your mum, or your dad?”

“I haven’t got one,” he said looking worried.

Silence again.

“What was that you said about the future?”

“I don’t like to repeat myself,” he said, suddenly showing a cocky expression. He looked up and then said, “Will you look after me?”

“And why should I do that? Don’t be silly and get off home.”

“I don’t have a home.”

“You must do. You will have a mum and dad somewhere, so skedaddle and stop annoying me.” She felt quite concerned for him but she didn’t want him to know.

“How old are you?”

“Oh,” he shrugged, “I don’t know.”

“You look about ten to me. Is that right?”

“Ten? If you say so.”

“Can I walk along with you and talk for a little while?”

This was bizarre, meeting this odd child on the outskirts of the woods. “Aren’t there other walkers you could talk to? Why did you pick on me?”

“I feel good with you. You are nice, if only you would stop being suspicious. I mean you no harm. And I really need your help.”

She sighed. Everyone always said she was a soft touch to a lame dog and that’s why she always got herself into trouble. “You can walk along with me for five minutes – and THAT’S ALL,” she emphasised.

Wary that the boy might be in the process of carrying out a scam on unsuspecting walkers, she relinquished neither suspicion nor caution as she walked along with Mir. Then, suddenly to her surprise, he grabbed her hand.

“I don’t really understand what is going on here,” said Kate, shocked at how events were moving beyond her control.

“I really need you to look after me,” said the boy, looking behind him.

She stopped and looked hard at him and repeated her question: “Where are your parents?”
“Don’t ask me difficult questions. If you could just let me stay with you for one night I would be very grateful and I would be far less frightened.” Earnestness was written all over his cute little face.

“But you must have come into the wood from somewhere.”

“Yes, I did. I slept here last night.”

“You must have been quite cold at the end of September sleeping out here in those clothes.”

“No. I was in a box.”

“A box?”

“Yes, a sort of large box.”

She stopped again and pulled her hand away. “You speak in riddles. You are playing with me.”

“I only want you to put me up for one night and then I will be gone.” He shrugged his shoulders and looked like he was going to burst into tears.

“And what’s that you holding there? That white glove.”

“Oh this?” he said, lifting it up. “This is mine. It’s important to me,” he said.

“Can I have a look?”

He thought for a minute and then hugged the glove almost possively to his chest and said, “Maybe later.”

Kate was unsure. He seemed genuine enough, but how crazy to go out for an evening stroll and come back home with the acquisition of a child. His parents could be looking for him, he could have escaped from somewhere, he may be some psychopathic feral criminal. Yet as she looked at him, she felt compassion for his appeal. He looked considerably worried and his plea had appealed to her feelings of nurture.

“One night,” she whispered quietly to herself. “My mother will go mad.”

“Don’t tell her,” he said hearing her whisper.

She looked at him sharply not realising she was articulating her own thoughts aloud. “I will have to. I live with her.”

She looked at her watch again. “I’d better go,” said Kate. “I promised my mum I’d do the cooking tonight,” she heard herself explaining.

“You are not married then?”

This question shocked her, coming from the youngster. “No, I’m not married!” she shouted, making the boy back away.

“I live with my mum,” she said more calmly.

A few minutes later, as she approached where she had parked her car she asked: “And what was your name again.”

“Mir,” he said.

“You must have a mum, somewhere,” she said as they headed towards the light at the wood’s edge, just past here her car was parked in the nearby car park.

“I had better say goodbye now,” said Kate, adopting a firm voice.

“You can’t leave me here.” He started sobbing. “I really don’t want to spend another night in the wood. Honestly I am all alone.”

“All right. All right. You can stay with me and my mum for one night. One night only. You can get cleaned up, have some food and stay for one night. Then I will arrange it for you to go and live with other children.” She had been thinking of the social services but she also had a intuitive sense that a children’s home may be inappropriate for this child.

“I don’t want anything like that. I just want to have you look after me.”

“One night only,” she said resignedly, “and when you meet my mum don’t say anything. I will do the explaining.”

She smiled at the irony. Last year she had been jilted. She was childless at 39. Now she suddenly was a mother for a night, but how would she explain it to her mother?


Moments later, close to where the boy and woman had met, branches creaked, pulled apart by a pair of rough hands revealing the emergence of a short mascline figure.

A hessian body-shirt clad the short humanoid. The garment ran down to his knees with a brown belt pulling in too tightly at the waist. A black bag – holding a black flask with a red cork – hung around his neck. Below hair of straw, a dwarfish face undulated like an overexercised bull terrier, its vermillion pupils now searching the panorama. Suddenly they fixed in the distance. Over the border fence of the wood a woman was driving a car away. A boy sat next to her.


“Oy you! I want a word with you!”

As Kate drove into her Larkrise Crescent, her mother’s neighbour, Alf Buntin, was screaming at her.

She wound down the window and pulled a face.

“That bloody cat of yours, he’s been crapping on my garden again and ruining all of my prize vegetables.” Buntin was sweating with rage, his blotchy face distorting with anger. “If you don’t keep the cat off my garden I won’t be responsible for my actions.” He was so worked up, Mir thought his eyes would pop out.

“I can’t control a cat. Who can tell a cat where to roam?” she reasoned.

“Well you better had or else. You better had! Keep it locked in.”

“Try orange and lemon skins, that’s supposed to keep cats away from gardens,” she said, winding the window down, cutting his noise off as he was still blustering.

“He’s really mad,” said Mir.

“You said it,” said Kate. “He’s been a pain since he moved in last Christmas. Neighbour nightmare of the decade.”


But Kate now had a more important manoeuvre to navigate. As she turned into the kitchen, all set to explain to her mum that she had brought her a special friend, she noticed the presence of her sister, Alice. Now that could complicate things.

Both women were introduced to Mir and shook his hand politely.

“He’s a good looking little mite but he could do with some clean clothes,” said Alice as she was leaving. “Who’s his mum?”

Kate lied. “She’s one of my customer’s at the supermarket.”

Mum eyes had sparkled with delight when introduced to her cute little companion but that soon transformed into a heavy grimace when Kate – unable to restrain herself no more – burst forth with her account of their meeting. The boy kept quiet, as instructed, looking troubled and lost. Then he became distracted and a lot more cheerful when Kate’s cat, Harry, came through the cat-flap. Mir began stroking it and playing with it. Kate went on detailing the meeting in the wood to her mother.

Emily Leaning, Kate’s mum, expressed her concern at her daughter’s story. She was extremely certain that the boy couldn’t be taken under the wing without the correct paperwork.

“Boy come over here.” She beckoned.

“Now where is your real mother and father? Have you run away.”

“I have not run away. I don’t have a mother or father. I don’t want to talk about my past. I like Kate and I like the cat. It’s nice to be here.”

“You realise you can’t live here. I’m sure that would be illegal.”

“You can stay for a few days, Mir, until we have decided what to do with you,” said Kate.

“A few days!” Mir beamed. “Thank you.”

“Would you like to go and have a bath?” asked Kate.

“Yes please. Show me the bathroom and leave me to it. I am very independent.”

“Use the towels and things in there.”

“Where is his suitcase, his clothes, his possessions?” asked mum.

“He has none except that glove on the table,” said Kate, shrugging her shoulders.

“Can you show me where I will be sleeping?” he asked going over to pick up the glove.

“It’s the small bedroom next to the bathroom,” said Kate. “It has a single bed. It’s made up because we keep it for guests.” Mir nodded, turned and clattered up the stairs.

The mother and daughter wrangled about the plight of the boy for another hour until Kate grew so frustrated she put a stop to it.

“Leave it for now, let’s just put him in the spare bedroom and worry about it tomorrow. No doubt a guiding light will shine when I phone the social services,” said Kate.

“I would think about what you say to them before you do,” said her Mrs. Leaning.
Kate looked at her surprised.

“You wouldn’t want a nice young boy like that to be institutionalised. He needs go back to his real mum.”

“But perhaps they could help us foster him for a few weeks.”

“If you do speak to the social services, I would suggest telling them the whole thing is a hypothetical situation to write fiction. As soon as they know you’ve adopted a boy off the streets they’ll send round a van for strays.”


Not far away, a small girl of golden hair, ruddy cheeks and and an expression of determination. ran at breakneck speed through a barren field trying not to trip on the stubs of wheat all around her. Once, and only once, she slowed her pace to jerk her head round to look behind her to see if she was pursued, and then instantly resumed her fastest pace. She couldn’t be sure. She would surely make the safety of the woods and hide there. As she reached the perimeter of the woods she was relieved to hear a car drive off from the nearby country road. She was alone, she hoped.

Where the hell was she?

Ever cautious of danger, she followed the bridle path through the spinney. From its dry stone wall she could see a farmhouse in the next field. She had no choice but to knock on the door.

A tallish man in his late 70s grinned at her as if he was not quite in this world. A fringe of grey down curled down form his scalp to reveal twinkling eyes behind. His pronounced and fluent accent was hardly the accent of a farmer, more an army officer or a university lecturer.

“Excuse me sir but where am I?” she asked.

“Oh dear,” he said, “A little girl lost. “You’re on the outskirts of a little town called Middleton.”

“I don’t suppose I could I stay here, could I? I could help around the house.”

“Hm… Well be thankful for what the good lord brings. I live alone now my poor Madeleine has gone,” he said.“ I would welcome someone tidying up,” He opened his arms wide like some ham actor. “And I could do with some company. So welcome!”
She went in. The house was spacious, dark, damp and a total mess.


The short dwarfish figure walked cautiously through Middleton wood. Occasionally he would stop, slowly circle around, scanning everything about him. Sometimes, if he heard something coming in his direction, he would hide. After any passing dog walker or rambler was firmly out of sight, he would quickly rejoin the bridle path, heading for the footpath that led to the town of Middleton.

Eventually he stood by the gate at the boundary of the wood that opened onto this footpath across fields to a road. Assuring himself once again he was completely alone in the landscape, he popped out the red stopper from the black flask. His hoarse whisper was authorative.“Come out, Globule.”

Slowly a black mist hissed out of the bottle, slowly, disorderly at first and then growing in speed, until the mist became blacker and so dense that it formed itself into something like a black balloon, yet it still kept the qualities of a gaseous entity. “Yes, Blowfortine, my masterful wreckel, I am here to offer you my best advice.”

“These people wear strange clothes. I will be noticed when I go out of these woods?” said Blowfortine.

“Yes. That is what I receive. I am assessing your previous brain wave experiences and being informed by my uniclopeadic memory banks.” Moments went by. “I am informed that red eyes would be considered very odd here. And the sort of dress that you wear is more akin to the agricultural dress they wore over a thousand years ago.”

“What do you advise, Globule?”

“I cannot be legally responsible for giving you wrong information in this ponderous situation with limited data and my creators, Gartykin and Borjons, are in no way legally responsible if the advice I give you should prove eronious or harmful in any way. “

“Cut that out and give me hard information.”

“I advise you to sleep in the wood tonight, as any other course of action would raise the danger-probability to unacceptably high risk parameters. First thing, just before dawn when there are few people around, walk into the centre of the nearby connurbation which is called a town centre were there are retailers. Here you will find shops that sell clothes. As soon as they open you must find one and change from your present attire into some of their trousers and shirts in their changing rooms. You will then have to run out because you do not have any currency for this place. It is unlikely they will pursue, they are generally fat and lazy and there is very little in the way of official regulators. I especially advise you to get some dark glasses so that they cannot see your red pupils, which will be a giveaway of your foreign qualities. However, should someone notice, you can claim to be some sort of albino. They would understand that as a quirk of nature.”

“Anything else?”

“I cannot be held legally responsible –

“Enough!. And make sure you switch my language to the one the natives use tomorrow.”

“Of course.”

“We will head back. Now go back in.”

“And am I soon to be released if I serve you well?”

“We are not talking about that until this mission is over.”

“Yes, Oh imperious Bowfontine.” And the black cloud hissed quickly back into the black spherical flask.


Kate really did not want to make the phone call. She really didn’t know what the effect of her telling the authorities would be. She decided to take her mother’s advice and be judicious, she would reveal nothing; pretend she was doing research.

“Hello. Leicester Social Services.”

“Um.. I wonder if you could help. I am just trying to establish a point of law,” said Kate.
She found she had to to ask her question many times: If a stray child was found and looked after by an adult, what was that adults responsibility on informing the authorities and what would happen?

She was referred to six different departments: including ‘the adoption team’, ‘the fostering team’ and ‘child protection’ and even at these she was referred. No one seemed to know the answer. She was eventually referred to the duty solicitor. “I’m afraid I cannot answer that question. We are unable to give advice to the public. You will need to see a solicitor to establish these details.”

She phoned the biggest courts in the area and they said they were unable to give advice to the public. The best information she could get was for her to refer to ‘The Children Act 1989’ and the ‘Adoption and Children Act 2005’. When she looked them up on the internet she found that it was all a matter of legal interpretation.

Finding her answer was like searching for a particular star in the infinite universe.


Kate was at work behind the counter of the supermarket petrol kiosk. Pricesmart Supermarket had employed her for over two years and it had been a happy relationship.
“Pump number four,” said the public school accent in the plush suit as he came to the counter.

“That will be £41 exactly sir,” said Kate.

He selected a Mastercard from a variety of cards in his wallet, slid it in the card receiver and tapped in his pin. He smelled of Eau De Cologne. She gave him his receipt.

When the man had gone, her friend and colleague, Maureen said, “You know who that was?”

Kate didn’t.

“Giles Levine, the life-coach guru the royal family rave about. He tells you how to live your life, gives you all the right answers. Written loads of books. He supposed to be brilliant.”

“Oh yeah, I could do with advice like that with the daft decisions I make.”

“You can’t blame yourself for that!”

“He’s giving a talk at Middleton’s town hall at the beginning of next month,” continued Maureen, “It’s being televised by the MBC. I’m going. Why don’t you come along. You’d be impressed.”

“Okay. I’ll bring Mir, if I can,” said Kate.

“Anyway you should never have got mixed up with that cretin,” said Maureen.

Kate disapproved. “Who, Mir?

“No, your ex.”

“Oh, him. When is this guru on?”

“Town Hall, 7.30 November 8th.”

“I’ll put it on my calendar.”


Over the days, Mir fitted into Mrs. Leanings house like a missing part of a jigsaw puzzle. His laughter, his curiosity and his helpfulness quickly won over Emily Leaning. He was polite, bright and often quite funny. He was almost a model child. He was useful too, he ran lots of erands for everyone. He seemed to infuse the house with energy.

Kate loved her cat, Harry, but to her astonishment, the cat now seemed to prefer Mir. “It can’t be cupboard love,” she laughed to her mother because I still feed him.” Most cats were wary of children but this furball with attitude loved the boy. Kate warmed when she saw boy and animal tangled in complete accord together asleep on the sofa.

The cat seemed so taken it was as if the boy was another cat. Kate could swear she heard Mir talking to it in a strange tongue. “It’s Acorian,” he said. “Cat’s understand it.” She just laughed not sure what to say. She never asked again.

Mir and Harry engaged in a silly game where the boy tried to touch Harry’s forehead with his finger, and Harry in response would grab it. The cat usually won but never once did the cat have his claws out which amazed Kate.

One night Kate thought she thought she heard Mir talking to the cat in his bedroom. He stopped as soon as she knocked on his door.

“Who are you talking to?” she asked on entering. “I’m praying to God,” he said.
She was startled to find that he was religious.


Kate’s sister, Alice, blustered into the house the next afternoon, complete with her turned up nose, her permanent frown and her retro existentialist beret. She said she had come round because she and Kirk, her man, had become concerned. Who was this boy was and why he had been allowed to take over her mother’s house?

“I think we must grill him about his past,” said Alice.

“You won’t get anything out of him. Don’t you think we haven’t tried?” said Kate.

An hour later Kate, Alice and Mrs. Leaning were sitting in the lounge. Mir was sitting on an armchair reading a book on science. Televisions and computers were off.

“Mir…” began Alice.

He looked up from his book. “Yes.”     “We really need to know about where you have come from,” said Alice. “You won’t get into trouble for telling the truth.”

“Oh not that again.”

“It’s only right you tell us. My mum is putting you up and looking after you so you really should tell us where you come from.”

“I don’t like to go into my past,” he said, slamming his book shut as if to close the subject firmly.

“It won’t change anything, my dear. You can trust us. We won’t throw you out or anything,” said Emily Leaning.

Mir stood up. “One day I’ll tell you,” he said and let out a deep sigh and left the room. He didn’t come back down until the following morning.


On the Saturday, Kate and Mir decided to have a refreshment break in the local Woodland Garden Centre restaurant. As Kate returned to the table that Mir had allocated she placed the tray down on the table – with teapot, mugs and two chocolate eclairs – she felt someone behind her touch her on her shoulder. She turned and stared into the eyes of a man she knew. It was the man who had jilted her the year before.

“Hi Kate, I thought I ought to come over and speak to you.”

She couldn’t speak but an audible grunt came from her windpipe. She tore away her gaze from his familiar face and moved the bought items off the tray onto the tablecloth.

“I just needed to apologise,” he said.

She fixed her gaze on the silver teapot. She was without words. She didn’t even think Danny was still living in the area.

“I got frightened and lost it. I left Middleton and went off to the south coast. I’m really, really sorry.”

“I heard you’d gone away.”

“I really made a mistake. I was a fool, a coward, I’m really sorry about the hurt I gave you, I was just so weak. I want to make it up to you if you will let me.”

She remained standing because she didn’t want to have to invite him to sit down. She didn’t want to appear a push over. Yet strangely she didn’t feel that angry, just amazed.
“I’m really glad I’ve seen you. I was planning to come round,” he said

She felt the need to be strong. “I haven’t got energy for this at the moment. It’s a bit of a surprise.”

“Of course. I’m sorry. Are you still on the same number?”

“Um… yes.”

“I’ll be in touch.”

He walked off disappearing into the large garden mall.

“Who’s he?” asked Mir.

“Someone I used to know,” said Kate.

“Is he the one you were going to marry?”

“How did you know about that?”

“I hear you and your mum chat sometimes. He’s not the one for you.”

“I did love him.”

“He’s trying to win you back.”

“Do you think so?” she asked pouring tea for Mir.


“Perhaps fate is giving you a second chance to make something of your life,” said Mrs. Leaning to her daughter.

“Are you suggesting being 39 and unmarried that I am a hopeless spinster? Things are not quite like that any more,” said Kate. “haven’t you heard of Feminism?”

“It’s a shame you haven’t.”


“Look Kate, I would agree with you if your were not the family type but you are. Look at the way you enjoy the company of Mir. You’re definitely not a career girl type. You’re such a softy. You always did wear you heart on your sleeve. What do I know? Perhaps this could be the making of you, if you can trust him. If it was me I would tell him to sling his hook, look at the misery he put you through, rejecting you a week before you married. ”

“Even if I married I’m probably a bit old to be a mum. I would have liked to have been a mum.”

“Talking of mum’s, what are you going to do about Mir? He’s someone else’s child. You can’t keep him like a pet.”

“If I tell the authorities they will likely take him away. And we can’t sent him back to that tent in the wood.”

“But he needs to go to school.”

“Yes, he does. Isn’t he bright? He can read. He’s always borrowing books in the library. But you’re right he does need to go to school.”

“He is a well adjusted child – he must have very sound parents, but where are they?         That is the mystery, we must find out where they are. It’s only right that we find them, they will be worried sick about that boy, unless he’s an orphan.”

“He clams up.”

“Don’t we know.”


“I’m looking for my little brother,” said the short man wearing dark glasses to the shop assistant.

“Oh,” she replied, “Well, he’s not here,” she said curtly looking around at the empty shop. What a strange man. Why would anyone wear sun glasses in the autumn?

“He lives around here,” said Blowfontine, “His friend who is looking after him has a Ford Focus.”

“There’s lots of those about. Don’t tell me he has two legs and two arms. That won’t help to find him.”

“I have good news for him.”

“Has he come into an inheritance then?”

“Yes. Inheritance. Exactly.”

“What’s his name?”

“Mir. Mir Ahraduypi.”

“Errh… there is a Mir who lives in Larkrise Crescent but I’m sure he hasn’t got a foreign name like that. And he’s only a child.  About ten years old, so it can’t be him.”

Blowfontine pulled a strange expression. “No, that can’t be him.” And without further ado turned and walked out.


“But how can you even consider it when he jilted you a week before you planned to get married,” asked Maureen with wide eyes.

“Yes. That was terrible and I was devastated by it. Yet I did love him, Mo. And now he’s come back and apologised and wants to do it right this time,” Kate sipped her latte.

They were sitting outside a cafe in High street in a rare day of mild weather and hazy sunshine, the dying embers of summer, the final capitulation to engulfing autumn.

“If he jilted you once, he could do it again.”

“I doubt it. I think he’s learned his lesson. He does seem genuinely damaged by what he did.”

“It’s none of my business,” said Maureen,” but if any guy lets me down in such a big way like that then I wouldn’t even waste my eyesight on him.”

“We organised only a registry office wedding with a small guest list. Even the reception was a small scale affair.  So it’s not as if we were having a massively expensive society wedding. Now that would have been a disaster.”

“But you must have been taken apart by it. A guy that can let you down once can let you down again.”

“I know. It was bad. But I still feel for him, I can’t help it.”

“You’re too soft.”

“Everyone says that. There’s no law against it. I like being who I am. If I hardened up I wouldn’t like myself.”

“And what about this boy you have taken under your wing. What about him?”

“He’s a lovely kid. Don’t quite know what I’m going to do about that.” Kate took another sip of her latte and sighed.


One night the family were watching television and the news was on BBC1. Mir, who had been sitting on the sofa watching intently and stroking his white glove, suddenly stood up and said, “These televisions are boxes of evil propaganda.” He pointed his gloved hand at the television and it flickered and died.

Kate and her mother were confounded by his suddenly outburst and outcome.

“Have you just done that, Mir? Have you just switched off our television set in a pique?”

“I can’t repeat it myself, I’m sorry to inconvenience you.” He said and went off to his bedroom.

And so the Leanings television was inoperative for days. Emily was astonished to find that most of the street’s televisions had failed around the same time.

“What is going on with you, Mir? You have a remarkable set of tricks up your sleeve. How did you do break the TV?” Kate said to him over breakfast.

“Oh, when I get annoyed my emotions talk for me.”

“How come, for a ten year old, you talk with the wisdom of an adult.”

“I just can’t explain it.”

“There’s a great deal you can’t explain.”


“I’m glad you came,” said Danny

“You asked me to,” said Kate.

“I want you to tell me you’ve forgiven me,” he said.

“I don’t know,” she said. “I’m really pleased to see you again. Just the sight of you has awoken many feelings I thought had gone.”

He grabbed her hand. She didn’t retract it. He said: “I still want to marry you, Katey.  I love you more now than ever. We could start a whole new life somewhere.”

“What’s wrong with here?”

“Middleton isn’t exactly the most beautiful place in the world is it? What about us living by the sea?”

“The South Coast, that would be expensive.”

“We both have money,” said Danny, “that shouldn’t be an issue.”

“But my mum lives here and so do my friends. My work is hardly important, working in the petrol station of a supermarket, but I like the team I work with and I enjoy the meeting the regular customers.”

“I see, well let’s worry about that later. Will you marry me so that we can begin our life together.”

“I’m thinking about it. You can’t rush me. It’s a serious decision. I have to know for certain why you ditched me last time and how do I know you won’t do it again?”

He sighed.

“Katey, I was ill. Something in me snapped. I went through a sort of illness of doubt, an illness of almost self loathing. I didn’t trust myself or respect myself at all. I didn’t think I was someone worth marrying. I had a crisis of confidence, a crisis of self belief. I even went to the doctor with depression. In the end I sent you that text message saying ‘The marriage is off.’ It was cruel message because it  explained nothing. Please forgive me.”

“What brought it all on? You were convinced enough earlier to book the wedding.”

“I don’t know. I just can’t explain it but I really regretted it when I found myself in Christchurch. I realised I had made a terrible mistake.”

“Why didn’t you phone me? I left so many voice mail and text mail messages on your mobile.”

“I couldn’t. I was too embarrassed. I felt awful. I even considered suicide. I was drunk but a mate talked me out of it. He told me to come back here and to try and mend things, otherwise I would never forgive myself. Even if you won’t marry me it would mean a great deal for you to forgive me.”

She squeezed his hand.

“Okay, I suppose I can forgive you but don’t do anything like that again.”
He grinned. She loved to see it, she hadn’t seen the beauty of his open smile for over a year.


“Hello. Social services.”

“Hello. I don’t want to say who this is but I have something to report.”

“What is it about?”

“About a child that never goes to school.”

“Okay I will put you through to our duty social worker.”

A few moments passed as the caller was transferred.

“Hello, Mr. Mason speaking.”

“I’m reporting a child in our estate that never goes to school.”

“Your name?”

“I’d rather not give my name.”

“The name of the child?”

“I don’t know but the address is 27 Larkrise Crescent. He has been there for weeks but he never goes to school.”

“What is the age and sex of the child?”

It’s a boy about nine or ten.”

“Is he well looked after?”

“I’ve no idea. He looks all right.”

“And how long has this child not been attending school?”

“Ever since I noticed it, about four weeks.”

“Can we have a contact number for you in case we need more information?”

“I’m afraid not,” and the caller put the phone down.


Emily Leaning could hear someone banging on her front door and shouting. She hurried down the stairs to hear abusive comments about her cat. She didn’t have to work out who was screeching, his lips pursed through the flapping letter box. It was the neighbour, Alf Buntin. Slowing down, she didn’t know if it was for the best to ignore him or answer the door. With his fists pounding and his high voice screeching, he presented an irritating if not frightening spectacle. Then she heard the most horrible noise, midway between a coughing sigh and the dying song of a swan. Suddenly noise turned to silence, and then came a crash. She opened the door to discover her neighbour had fallen into the wheely bin waiting for collection.

Her neighbour’s eyes were open, blinking. He lay on his back with his legs on her porch.

“Call the doctor,” came a little voice from the fence. It was his tiny and rarely listened to wife, Milly Buntin. She was diffident and rarely seen.

“I think he’s had a stroke. He had a weak heart,” she said.

Mrs. Leaning phoned the emergency services and the paramedics soon arrived. They checked him out, stretchered him and took him off quickly.

Mrs. Leaning wasn’t the type of woman to gloat about the unfortunate events that overcame her neighbour but she couldn’t help thinking that anyone who got so worked up was inevitably inviting a heart attack.


Mir had gone out for a walk around the town. It was mid morning when he passed Horton High School. He stood at the railings looking at all the children, approximately if not exactly his age, engaging in the play ground. His gaze was caught by a girl who was on the same side of the fence as he was, a girl of the same age. She had golden hair that struck him as unusually bright. With an expression of great concentration, she was leaning against the fence, ticking off some things in a notebook. She looked up at Mir. Her eyes were bright and there was something in them he responded to.

“Are you okay?” he said

“You look like a friend,” she said.

“You look like you need a friend,” he said.

“I do. I’m Istina.”

“Mir. You’ve not had a good time?”

“I’m so glad to find you. Terrible. Although I am glad I have come to the Midlands.         Things are better now I suppose.”

“Would you like to go for somewhere for a chat?”

“I have a little bit of money.”

“Me too, I’ve been earning a little money washing the cars for the people who look after me.”

“You’ve fallen on your feet, as they say.”

Suddenly a young man in a suit walked up on the other side of the fence. “What are you two doing out there?” he shouted angrily. “You should be in here. Come back immediately.” Many of the pupils at this school didn’t wear uniforms and this student teacher was sure he had seen these two earlier in the morning in one of his classes.

“Follow me, Istina,” whispered Mir. “Now run!” he shouted.

And they both fled, Mir in the lead. The student teacher, Mr. Robinson, was in no position to give chase as the gate to the fence was a long way away. And as Mr. Robinson had another class to run in a few minutes, he decided he had seen nothing.

Later Mir and Irina talked over a coffee. She told him  she had come from Eastbourne. But she hasn’t been lucky like Mir. Promises had been made to her by many people and all had been broken. And then she had she had been given a lift which had turned out even worse.


“And so you’ve been having a hard time?” said Mir, stirring his milk shake. They were sitting on the seats outside a cafe in the High Street.

“Six weeks of begging and meeting strange people.”

“You did well to get away from that perve.”

“A very strange creature, exactly what we are up against,” said Istina rolling her eyes.

“Did you know his name?”

“I know his first name, but I made sure I got a good look at his car. I would imagine it was a really expensive auto.”

“Did he actually do anything to you? You don’t have to tell me.”

“No. He implied what he wanted me to do and began to unclip the belt on his trousers. I checked the door and fortunately he hadn’t put the door lock on, so it opened. I was out of there in a flash, running off through the fields. I thought he would come after me, but when I turned round later the car had gone.”

“And you have some where to stay now?”

“Yes, a farm house, a short bus ride out of town. The guy is a bit eccentric. He’s not dangerous. I have clean clothes and food and he pays me for keeping the place tidy. And I get on with him okay.”

“So you’re not too far from me.”

“Where exactly are you?”

“I’m on an estate, further in town but on the same side. 27 Larkrise Crescent. I may not be living there much longer though, It’s getting a bit dangerous.”

“Where is the danger coming from?”

“I didn’t come down with you, I came later when we had visitors at home.”

“I see.”

“No, you wouIdn’t know. We had trouble. I was on the next wave to you and I arrived here more out of panic than design.”


Blowfontine looked out of the window of his new home, a shed at the bottom of the long garden of Emily Leaning’s neighbour. He reached into his bag. He popped out the red cork from the black flask. “Out Globule!”

Globule, came out in a quick hiss and a large sphere of gas collected around Blowfontine’s ear.

“Sense data, Globule,” commanded the red eyed man.

“Let me consider, master.” A few seconds passed while Blowfontine flattened his lips in frustration.

“What  humans have you been watching?” asked the gas creature.

“In this house there is a man who has some sort of illness. He was a keen gardener but now he can no longer use his garden, or his garden shed, so this shed is safe for me. Next door is of more relevance. There seems to be a two women in the house and the boy.”

“Give me some data, Globule.”

“I sense a cat lives in the property. It is of a high probability that the boy communicates with it telepathically and he would have asked the cat to look out for strangers stalking this property. So we must either avoid or eliminate that cat.”

“You can descend upon it and suffocate it.”

“As you wish, oh imperious one.”

“And can we get into the house and get the Mysterium album manu senioribus?”

“It is hardly a secure house even for human entry. I could get in to suffocate the residents and the cat but you would the have to force the door and collect the Mysterium.”

“Should I move tonight?”

“That is a question only you can answer, master, depending upon how much you know the situation. Speed and boldness are always to one’s advantage – and we do not have a lot of time to fulfil this mission – but I suspect it may be more prudent to watch for a night or two to observe the pattern of the inhabitants. This may prove tidier with less mess in the long run, and may facilitate and aid our escape.”

The following day, mid morning, Mir had gone out for Mrs. Leaning to get some milk and bread. He was returning from the local supermarket when a police car pulled up next to him. The windscreen came down and a policeman called Mir. He stopped.

“Come here lad.”

Mir walked over to the car window.

“How come your not at school this Tuesday morning?”

“I’m not too well,” lied Mir, sensing danger.

“You must be well enough to be sent out to go shopping.”

Suddenly Mir dropped the shopping bags on the pavement and ran. The driver of the police car quickly switched on the engine and gave chase which proved difficult. Mir had raced off down a jitty impossible for the police car to follow. By the time they had circled the square and arrived at the other end of the jitty, he was no where to be seen.

The police returned to the small supermarket to ask questions.

“I think he lives on the Larkrise Crescent,” said the bespectacled retailer. “He comes here quite often to buy basics. He doesn’t seem the sort of boy to get himself into trouble.”

The police drove to Larkrise Crescent. They made enquiries, calling at a number of houses to discover that a young boy lived at number 27, but when they knocked at that door no one answered. They sat waiting in the car to see if the boy would arrive but were then diverted by radio to a traffic incident and drove off.


“Hello,” said Mrs. Leaning on the phone.

“Is that Mrs. Leaning?”


“Hello, this is the social services. We have reason to believe that you have a boy at your house who is not attending school. Could you clarify this for us?”

“Hang on, I’ll put you on to my daughter.”

She put the phone down on the hall table and went into the garden where Mir and Kate were flying a kite. “It’s the social services on the phone,” she said sourly. “They want to know why Mir isn’t at school.”

Kate went in and picked up the receiver nervously. “Hello,” she said.

“Hello. Who am I speaking to?”

“Kate Leaning.”

“We have reports that you have a boy of about nine or ten who is not attending school. Is that the case?”

“Well…. “

“Is it your child?”

“Well.. no, not he’s not mine. I’m not his mum.”

“Could I speak to the boy’s mum.”

“We don’t know who or where she is.”

“Do you realise it is an offence to keep a child away from school?”

“Well, I don’t know the law about these things.”

“I think we had better send an officer around to see you and the boy.”

“All right.”

Mir was sitting on his bed in his bedroom with the radio on. He was listening to the local pop station. Suddenly they announced Giles Levine would be coming on to show people how to improve themselves. Mir turned up the volume. He was interested in this man.
“What you all must realise is that there is nothing to be frightened of. Whatever unpleasant imaginings and worries you think about you dream them up and bring them to yourself.”
“Nonsense,” said Mir out aloud.

“There is no such thing as death,” said the well spoken guru.

“Ha! Ha! What nonsense, physical death goes on every minute of every day, all the time,” said Mir to himself.

“Thinking that you are going to die just makes it happen. If you imagine you will live for ever, you will.”

“Pure sophistry. A con to sell books,” said Mir to himself.

“If you imagine you will be a millionaire by the time your are 30 and really believe it you will.”

“It is true that thoughts can move a mountain but what does ‘really believe’ actually mean?” scoffed Mir. “

“If you pray to God he will send you a BMW or a Mercedes or what car you want.”

“Focusing on an idea does bring it into your regular consciousness but it does not bring it physically closer. In fact you are the thing that moves, you move closer to it,” said Mir.

Mir listened for a few minutes more and then said, “Claptrap,” and switched the radio off.  “There will be many false prophets..” he whispered to himself.


Mir slipped through the doors of the town hall and went into the hall. He was earlier than most. He found a seat, sat down and watched the road crew setting up the system, laying wires on the floor with Gaffer tape, and discussing between themselves the position of cameras.

It was the night where the great guru was to be interview by Channel Seven TV.
The audience was being warmed up by a young man in his twenties, who wore a crease-less blue shirt and a grey suit. He had a 50s short back and sides. He stood behind the pulpit, a bright centre piece decorated in a large logo of red and yellow flame.

“I was into drugs when I was a teenager but after listening to the advice of Giles I kicked all of that garbage out of my life for ‘rightful thinking’ and have never looked back. But I won’t go on about my experiences; Giles Levine’s philosophy will be more easily understood when MBC TVs charming Jenny Spicer interviews him in her brilliant incisive way. So first all, raise it up for, the imcomparible Jenny Spicer.”

A blonde about 40 entered grinning. She wore tight jeans and held an ipad. She sat in one of two stylish swivel chairs that had been placed upfront mid-stage.

“Now for a genius whose most controversial idea is that there is no such thing as death. Whatever happens to us happens because we dwell upon our fears and wish it upon ourselves. If we think ‘death’ we bring it to ourselves. If we think ‘wealth and riches’, they come instead. I present to you the ‘King of Wisdom’, Giles Levine!”

Loads of shouts, hoots and applause as a tall, dark haired man entered left wearing a plush black suit. A technician ran in directly behind him and attached a wireless button microphone to his tie. The guru bowed and addressed the audience.

“Welcome ladies and gentlemen. I hope today, after hearing someof my ideas, you will be go back to your homes with a new positive attitude, an attitude different to how the majority of people think. If you put my ideas into practise you will find life changes for the better in every way for you.” He then sat down opposite the television journalist.
And she began. “Hello Giles.”

“Hello Jenny.”

“Let’s start at the beginning. Tell us a little about your childhood.”

“I grew up in Western India, Bombay, as it was then called, during the Sixties…


Istina arrived just after the show started. She walked slowly down the main stepped gangway, stopping occasionally to fastidiously scrutinise each aisle of seats, as if she were looking for a lost £20 note. Some people rolled their eyes in irritation, a slow child unable to find her seat. Then her movements speeded up, she waved and entered a row of seats. She placed herself on the last seat of the row, next to a young boy. A woman sat on the other side of him.

Istina looked ahead, over the heads in front of her and in response jerked her head down. For the first time she had looked at the stage and seen its participants. The interview was in full flow. The female interviewer and Giles Levine, the guru of alternative living, were conversing annimatingly with each other.

Almost at once Irina began ferociously speaking into the Mir’s ear, for the boy next to her was Mir and next to him, Kate. He nodded strongly. Meanwhile the amplified stage voice’s were coming over the public address system.

“So what is the basic philosophy behind your wisdom?” asked Jenny Spicer, the main anchor woman for Channel Seven.

“Anyone who is sick has been calling sickness to him,” said David Guru. “Anyone who is rich has been calling wealth to him.”

“So you are saying that we call our fate to ourselves?”

“Exactly that.”

“But what about these people who have led blameless lives, have eaten correctly, have never abused their bodies and yet suddenly are stricken with cancer or some other terminal illness?”

“They have called it to themselves,” said Giles Levine.

“But isn’t that a bit harsh? I mean they have to suffer a major catastrophe in their life and yet they get the blame for ‘calling it to themselves’, isn’t that a bit much?”

“Not at all, it’s their fault. They believe in ill health, bad outcomes and essentially they believe in death.”

“But death exists, we all know death exists.”

“Death exists only if you imagine it in detail, but if you do not let it conquer your imagination death can hold no dominion.”

Their conversation went for a good ten minutes until Mir could hold his frustration in no longer.

Suddenly he stood up. He was shouting. “That is nonsense,” shouted Mir. One of the mobile TV cameras  swung round to him and a man with a mic on a boom approached him.
“We are getting some heckling from the audience. Perhaps now we should open this up to the audience,” suggested Jenny Spicer. “A question and answer session.”

“Of course. Nothing would give me more pleasure,” said the deep authoritative voice of Giles Levine.

Jenny Spicer pointed to the boy standing up on the end of the row. A  microphone was held in front of Mir. “You have a question?”

“If we reap the things that come to us, then it applies that you, Giles Levine, reap things that come to you.”

“Yes, of course.”

“Then you are reaping the accusation of child abuse. I have your victim sitting next to me.”

Suddenly there was crescendo of shocked noises coming from the audience.
Giles Levine made hesitant gutteral noises.

“You tried to make this girl perform a sexact on you when you gave her a lift in your car. She escaped from your car in the countryside outside of Middleton.”

“That is a damn lie,” said Giles Levine angrily.

“No, it’s not,” shouted Istina into the boom microphone, now standing herself so that everyone could see her. He promised a lift up to the Midlands. When we got near Middleton he pulled up in a country lane. He told me he wanted me to pleasure him. I said he was being a peadophile which was illegal. He laughed and said I should get experience. He took off his seatbelt. He undid his belt and trousers and undid his flies so I could masterbate him. Fortunately the door was not locked so I leapt out of his car, Mercedes E-class saloon, and ran as fast as my legs would carry me.”

“And what sort of car do you drive, Giles Levine?”

“I refuse to engage in this,” said Giles Levine.”

“What is going on here?” said Jenny, her face contorting.

“You are a charlatan and a hypocrite of the first degree,” shouted Mir into the microphone, “You’re a paedo and a slick conman. Your only priority is your bank account. Not only are you a paedophile, a manipulator, but this whole philosophy of ‘calling to you things that happen to you’ is not only utter nonsense but it is cruel. Suddenly, those who are ill, blame themselves because it is their own fault, having have ‘called the illness’ to themselves. With these ideas anyone who is sad, depressed, widowed or dying is likely to be shunned by others because they have brought it on themselves. This type of philosophy creates a barbaric society, a barbaric system. You, Giles Levine, know no more wisdom that anyone else does apart from how to make money through sophistry. We do not need your false knowledge.”

“This boy spreads complete lies. I do not know…” Giles Levine began, but he the rest was unheard because of the noise of the tumult in the hall.

Mir kept shouting down the microphone. “What this man is saying is garbage. He preaches the false dream of American consumerism. He is a false prophet.

“All that matters to him – and others like him – is profit, profit and profit at the cost of all that is really worthwhile.”

Pulling the microphone up to his mouth, and cutting through all the noise in the hall, Levine was rebutting the accusations as best he could. “This is absolute nonsense. I have never seen that girl before. These are wicked lies against me and I have been set up. These people will be held to account when I see my lawyer and I will say no more apart from that I am innocent. This is the end of this broadcast.” And he stood up and stormed off stage to jeers and shouts from the crowd.


Tuesday morning was the day that the social workers were calling at 27 Larkrise Crescent, and at precisely 9.30am, George Maycock and Evelyn Morris knocked on the door. After they had shown their social worker IDs, they were led into the lounge and parked on the sofa by Kate. Soon after, Emily joined the gathering.

After introducing herself and her colleague again, Evelyn Morris took the reigns as leader of the interview. She asked if the boy was available. He was upstairs getting up, said Kate. No matter, said Evelyn Morris, they would discuss the boy before he joined them. They went about a discussion as to who were the boy’s parents. They were astonished about how Kate had come across him, making no efforts to hide their incredulity.

“He must be a runaway,” said Evelyn Morris.

“Mir will shed no light on where he came from before he came here,” said Kate.

“He’s an odd boy, but very nice,” said her mother.

“Well, he must have come from somewhere. If we can’t obtain the real facts from him then we will have a child psychologist talk to him, they are very skilled in eliciting information from children.”

“I doubt they will get anywhere,” said Kate. “He’s very mature for his age in his thinking.”
Just at that moment Mir came into the room. His eyes widened to see so many people in the front room.

“Come over here, Mir. I’d like you to meet Ms. Morris and Mr. Maycock, both social workers. They have come here to help you so that you can have fun by going to school.”

“Hello,” he said cautiously, looking at the pair on the sofa.

“Hello. Mir,” said Evelyn Morris. “Now Mir, you don’t mind us asking you a few questions do you?”

“I don’t know.”

“So we understand you have been living here for a while. How long is that?”

“Oh, I’m not sure, about four or five weeks.”

“And were you forced to come and live here.”


“And no one has forced themselves upon you or hurt you in anyway?”


“Are you sure?”

“Yes. Everyone’s been nice. Harry too.”

“Who’s Harry?”

“Harry is my cat,” said Kate.

“Please don’t interrupt, Miss Leaning. I’m trying to talk to the boy,” said Evelyn Morris.

“Sorry,” she said, somewhat taken aback by this strict matron.

“He never scratches me when we fight,” said Mir grinning at Kate.

“And where are your real parents?”

“I haven’t got any.”

“Well, we will need to find out who they are? Perhaps you are from an orphanage, or a hospital? Or have you been living alone out in the open for a long time?”

“None of those,” said Mir, suddenly dropping his eyes to the carpet. The life in his eyes suddenly seemed to evaporate. He looked bored.

“Well how did you get into the wood?”

“I just arrived there.”

“But where from? Who bought you?”

The boy remained silent.

“I’m afraid we have to continue this line of questioning. We have to know where you came from to follow the law of the land. A child cannot simply arrive without coming from somewhere.”

George Maycock suddenly spoke, “What sort of things you do like doing?” he said gently.

Mir looked at him. “I like thinking, watching, listening, learning and helping people. I like to study phonies, facsimiles, falseness, duplicity and deception.”

The adults in the room became speechless. Even Kate had never heard such an expression from him before.

When she had recovered herself, Evelyn Morris said, “Tell us why you were walking around unsupervised in a wood.”

“That is not something I can talk about,” said Mir.

“Why not? Did someone tell you not to talk about it?”

“No, nobody told me to do anything.”

“So does that mean that somebody did?”

“Look why are you so determined to know why I was in the wood?”

“Because you must have got there somehow. You must have gone there yourself or somebody must have taken you there.”

“I went there myself,” said Mir.

“Who with?”

“I went on my own.”

“And why did you decide to go there?” asked George Maycock.

“Because I was instructed to.”

“By whom?”

“By my instructors of course.”

“And who was that?”

“Never you mind,” said Mir, almost grinning.

“Look Mir, you are being deliberately obtrusive and evasive and unless you explain how you got to the the wood and why you were there then we will have to take you back with us to interview you at central office.”

“I won’t come with you, I have too much to do,” said Mir.

“You will have no choice,” said Mr. Maycock in a serious male voice.

Mir threw him a disparaging glance, that made Kate force herself to suppress a chuckle.

“So Mir, let’s be serious about this.” George Maycock looked at the boy with considerable earnestness. “Why were you wandering around the wood?”

“We’ve come to instruct the human race,” said Mir

“That sounds a somewhat pretentious,” said Evelyn Morris. “And who are we?”

After recent events Kate was knew there was something uncanny about Mir but she wasn’t going to say anything.

Evelyn Morris took out her mobile phone from her handbag and dialled a number. “Hello Susan. Can you organise Debbie and Phil from the Contact team to interview a young boy this afternoon? It is a priority. Sure. Okay.”

“What do you mean, we’ve come to instruct the human race?” asked George Maycock.
“That’s what I said,” said Mir. “I think the human race is on its last legs.”

“Why?” asked George Maycock.

“You seem to have destroyed, or are destroying all the gifts you were given.”

“Go on.”

“I’ve said enough,” said Mir.

“What exactly were you going to advise the human race?” asked the male officer.

“I was going to tell them to forget their wallets and minds and go back to their hearts.”


“And how would that make a difference?”

“It will make a difference if the plan works.”

“What plan?”

“I don’t want to say any more, it’s not the right time.”

Then Evelyn cut in and said to Kate, “I think it best if Mir comes with us to HQ. We will bring him back later today. He can remain here for a while but it is important to say that until we discover his legal status we cannot easily move forward with this case.”

“You would be happy to do that Mir, wouldn’t you?” asked Kate of the boy. “You would be back later. You do need to go to school and you don’t want to get either of us into trouble, do you?”

“No. Of course not. I suppose so, but it’s not a good idea.”

“Why not?”

“I can’t be responsible for my emotions.”

Once again the adults went into a period of silence. Not quite sure of how to proceed with this precocious child.

Evelyn’s mobile rang. “Sue? Yes, oh fine. Thanks. Have Dr. Cockron attend too. We’ll be setting off now, so if you could arrange the interview room for an hours time? Okay.” She put her phone away.

“Perhaps we could leave now?” She looked at Kate. “Would you like to accompany us, Miss Leaning?”

“No, she can’t come,” shouted Mir. “I will come on my own.”

“Very well,” said Evelyn Morris, looking somewhat perplexed.

Kate rolled her eyes at this sudden explosion from Mir. Life was never dull with Mir – he was unpredictable.

“Then let’s go,” said George Maycock, his face perspiring a little, he looked intent on bringing their domestic interview to an end. They all stood up and drifted towards the hall.

“And you will bring him back this evening,” said Kate, it being more a statement than a question.

“Yes. If there is any reason for a delay in bringing him home we will let you know. However,” she said drawing Kate as far away from the earshot of the boy as she could, “I should warn you that due to the odd circumstances of this case it maybe likely that you will lose possession of the boy unless we can ‘t locate his parents and then you will need to apply for guardianship. But there could be mental health issues here from the things he was saying which might change everything. But that’s the future, you should have him back sometime today.”

“I just need to go upstairs and get something,” said Mir.

A few minutes later he returned carrying his white glove. He was escorted out by the Kate and the social workers. He sat in the back of the Ford Escort and stared at his clutched knees with a crestfallen face. The door closed and he was driven away from the home of Kate, her mum and Harry the cat.


“So what sort of sports do you play, Mir?” asked George Maycock as they drove out of Larkrise Close.

“I’m not sports fan,” Mir said. “That is all about competition to me not co-operation.”

“Not if you’re in a team game, there’s plenty of co-operation there.”

“That’s worse. That’s co-operation for competition.”


“Didn’t you see the Olympics this year?” asked Evelyn Morris.


“Where were you when all that sporting TV was going on? Almost everyone in Britain was
glued to the television.”

“I don’t watch television unless I have to.”

“Most children of your age enjoy TV,” said Evelyn Morris.

“They are not brought up very well then.”

Evelyn Morris laughed. “How can you say that when you won’t even tell us who your parents are or where they are.”

“I have told you that already.”

“No you haven’t, remind us,” said George Maycock.

“I don’t like to repeat myself.”

“You sound to me like you’d make a good lawyer,” said  Evelyn Morris, “always dodging the question.”

“You don’t listen and you didn’t listen to me when I said this wouldn’t be a good idea.”
“Well let us worry about that.”


It was about four in the afternoon when a key slipped into the door and Mir returned into Mrs. Leaning’s house.

“Where have you been?” asked Kate, looking surprised.

“I’ve been with the social workers.”

“Can you explain why we got a phone call from social services asking where Mr. Maycock and Mrs Morris and you were. They said none of you turned up.”

Mir shrugged.

“Don’t mess me about, Mir. You left here about one o’clock and they rang up about two thirty saying they hadn’t heard or seen from either Mr. Maycock or Ms. Morris. Now what has been going on?”

“I told you all, I didn’t want to go with them and if I was forced to it would be a bad idea.”

Kate looked really concerned. “You haven’t done anything bad, have you? Now what happened when you went out?”

“I left them and came home.”

“So where are they?”

“I’m a bit tired. Where’s Harry?”

“This is really worrying me, Mir. I’m beginning to think you’re telling lies. You’re not being entirely honest with me and I don’t like that.”

Mir’s face scrunched up and he looked down on the carpet. He looked very serious.         “Why can’t everyone leave me alone, I’m not doing anyone any harm.”

“Did you have the interview?”

“They asked me some questions.”

“And what about the doctor, what did he say?”

“What doctor?”

“You need to tell me exactly what happened or I’ll phone them now and they’ll come down and get you – and no doubt keep you over night.”

“You wouldn’t do that.”

She looked at her watch and realised he was right. “No,  because I have to meet Danny at 6.30 for a couple of hours and I haven’t the time to bother with all this hassle, but I hope you haven’t done anything you’ll regret.”

Mir ascended the stairs like an old man worn down with worry.

Kate noticed Mir’s fearfulness and tension. His playfulness for once had fled, he was suddenly oh so serious.  Kate watched him until he was out of sight.


Kate met Danny in the Harvest Festival, a pub on the estate. It had won awards for both beer and food but none for its plastic décor. It was more a family eating house than a quality watering hole but it had music just loud enough to prevent eavesdropping so it was a good place for a discrete conversation.

“I’m really pleased you’ve come.”  Danny grinned, showing his perfect set of teeth. He immediately stood up and pulled a chair out for Kate. She like that, remembering his politeness and charm.

“Have you eaten,” he asked.

“No. I thought we were going to have a meal.”

“Fine.” He passed her the menu

The waiter came over and they ordered drinks and food.

“I still want to marry you,” he said.

“You keep saying that.”

“It’s true.”

“I’m not.. not sure. Why don’t we just see each other and see how it goes. I don’t want to even think about what happened last year. It maybe me that pulls out this time if I’m rushed into something I’m not sure about.”

“I’ve never been so certain in my life.”

“You’re looking well,” she said.

He ignored the attempt at change of subject. “We can date and walk out together for another year, or two or three, if you insist but I don’t want that. I want to move to a higher level. I want to be married to you, to make you my wife, for me to be your dedicated husband, for us to make home and maybe raise a family. We are no longer children any more and life does not give us unlimited time to make decisions. I need to stop behaving like a teenager and grow up and be a mature man and I know being married to you will help me do that. I have known many women in my life and you are the only one that could heal me of my silly vanities and raise me to be an honourable husband and father. You still want children?”

“It’s getting a bit late. I suppose it’s still possible. I’ve always wanted to be a mum.”

“Then we can’t waste any more time. We need to move forward and become adults.”

“What about Mir?”

“Who’s Mir?”

“He’s the boy you saw me with at the garden centre restaurant.”

“What’s he got to do with it?”

“Well, I’ve almost become his guardian.” She explained how she met the child and how he had moved into her mother’s house.

“How peculiar. He’s not yours. Turn him over to the social services.”

“I can’t do that.”

“What’s he got to do with your life? What do you owe him? You can’t give up your life’s options for a waif and stray you meet in the street – or in the woods in this case.”

“But I like him. I love him in a way. He needs me and I’ve discovered I need him somehow.”

“Somehow? I can’t see us being Mr. and Mrs. Doctor Bernardo’s,” said Danny with sarcasm.

“I don’t quite like that.”

“I would rather put my energy into raising my own son or daughter than someone else’s.”

“That’s typical. Millions of men these days raise other men’s children. What does it matter? Does it mean you can only love a child if its your own flesh and blood, and all the rest can go hang?”

“Kate. How can a child mean so much after only a few weeks?”

“Over a month now. He does very odd things. Yet he’s lovely and kind and funny. The social worker thought he might have mental problems.”

“There you are then. Why do you want a boy who even at his age shows odd tendencies. He’s likely to be an animal by the times he’s 12 or 14. You surely don’t want to tie your life to someone so potentially dangerous.”

“I don’t think he does. He’s a strange boy but he’s a good soul. I just think he is very wilful. You’re a bit like that. And I’m not enjoying your attitude one bit.”

“You are really not seriously suggesting that if we get married and live together I have to agree to having this kid along as well? Are you saying, ‘If I marry the woman I love I get a boy too’?”

“Yes… I think that’s what I’m saying,” she said.

“You don’t seem even certain about that.”

“At the moment I’m certain about nothing. I suppose ‘certainty’ is a man thing. Me, I’ve never been very certain what I wanted. I knew what I wanted last year but you took that away from me.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Yes. Okay. No need to go there again. I think I had better go, Here’s some money for the order.” said Kate standing up and handing over a note. Danny was now standing too and grabbed her by the arm.

“No don’t go. If it’s what you want I’m sure I can work around to it. It’s a bit of a shock. Let’s not argue.”


The late afternoon of Halloween remained etched in Kate’s memory for the rest of her life. As she was driving back from work Larkrise Crescent she saw something in the gutter. A black shape. An animal. At once she knew what it was. Harry had been run over. Harry was dead. She braked and leapt out of the car. She struggled to look at the mess of the cat’s body with its limbs all lying in impossible directions. A horrible noise came from deep inside her. She couldn’t see for tears. She couldn’t think for grief. Suddenly Mir was by her side.

“Go and put the car in the drive,” he said quietly and I will sort him out.”

“He’s dead!”

“No, he’s not dead, but not far off. He must be inawful pain.”

“We will need to phone the vet and have him put down.”

“Leave it to me,” he said, “I promise I will do the right thing.”

She looked at his sensitive face reflecting back his great sadness.
She did as bid, got back in the car, drove it off the road and into her mother’s drive. Mir by this time had pulled out a heavy duty plastic bag and was considering the least painful way to get Harry in the bag. Somehow he managed it without the cat making any noises of protestation or maybe Harry was already past the point of complaint. Mir carried the bagged cat on outstretched arms back into the house where the door had been left open for him. He could hear Kate wailing in the kitchen. He took the cat out into the garden and down to the shed. Over the next hour he found a garden fork and spade. When he came back to the house he was physically and emotionally exhausted.

Kate was sitting at the kitchen table, drinking from a bottle of brandy. She had drunk about a third of it. She was crying silently.

“I’m sorry,” said Mir, coming up to her.

“There’s no need for a vet is there? It’s all over, isn’t it?” She quickly turned to look at him, “You haven’t buried him while he was still alive?” she said.

“Of course not.”

“It’s better he didn’t suffer for days on end. Thanks for what you’ve done. I just loved that cat,” she said.

Mir just cast his eyes down to the kitchen floor.

Mrs. Leaning came back an hour later, she had been out with a friend, and was horrified to hear the dreadful news. She helped finished off the brandy with Kate. For the rest of the day Mir stayed in his room. They didn’t dare disturb him, but Mrs. Leaning did call up and say that he could come down and join them if he wanted. They realised he probably wanted to suffer a private grief. The two women later tried to watch the television but there was a lump in both of their throats, a sadness which could not be spoken of and of which words could not assuage. And there was an occasional need to leave the room and walk around the garden to shed private tears.

“It’s strange when you cry more about the death of an animal than you do about another human being, but it happens,” said Kate to herself. And then she began to sob again.


Earlier that afternoon, a figure had been observing what had been going on from a garden to the east of the Leaning’s. Blowfontine spied from the window of his new home, a shed never locked and never accessed it would seem. It would keep his existence in the area unknown. It was not a comfortable place to sleep but it did make an excellent observational post to keep watch on the comings and goings of 27 Larkrise Crescent.
Keeping a firm eye out of the window he spoke strongly. “Out Globule!” he commanded pulling off the red bung of his flask.

“Yes master, oh magisterial one,” said his hissing slave.

“We don’t have to worry about that cat now. It’s been hit by a car.”

“Oh splendid. How wonderful for you to achieve your objectives.”

“It wasn’t any of my doing, just fate.”

“A good hand of fate then for our mission.”

“Mir’s gone into the shed. I’m sure he’s looking for a spade to bury the animal.”

“Oh jolly, jolly good. A dead cat. No more spies. But then…”

“What’s the hesitation?”

“He may have the Mysterium with him.”


The following morning, Kate felt even worse unable to fight back uncontrollable bouts of tears. Customers in the petrol kiosk were very sympathetic.

“You need to get another cat,” said one. “You’re a cat person and your house will seem empty without one.”

“I couldn’t because it would just make me think of Harry. I need to wear widow’s weeds for a while, I can’t marry on the rebound of my husband’s death.” she smiled, trying to make a joke behind her tears. But it didn’t matter what words she said, there was a throb in her throat, it was enormous and demanded attention.

“How is Mir handling it?” asked Maureen later. “He really loved your cat didn’t he?”
“He’s been amazing. He buried the cat and somehow kept himself together, but I know he was upset, and he was upset to see me upset.”

When Kate got home she found Mir in the kitchen boiling the kettle.
“I thought I would make your tea but I wasn’t sure what to cook,” said Mir.
Kate said she wasn’t that hungry, she had eaten a bit at lunch at the supermarket canteen.
“Sit at the table and let’s have a chat,” he said pouring them both a large mug of tea.
She felt terrible. How could she have lost Harry after all these years. And how did it happen? Who had run over him. Her first thought was their mad neighbour. He was home now but he had that scare with his heart. But could anyone plan to run over a cat? It seemed unlikely.

She sipped some tea and looked at Mir. He grinned at her, and then she started sobbing again. The tears just started to roll down her face. She covered her eyes with her hands and looked away.

“Woman, why do you weep so?” asked Mir. “Look.”

She didn’t really understand what he was talking about.

“Look,” he said.

And she turned towards the boy and he was pointing towards the cat flap.

“What?” she sobbed.


And the cat flap rattled and lifted and Harry’s head suddenly appeared. He looked around, made one of his squeaky acknowledgement noises and the rest of his body followed his head into the room.

“What?” Kate was astonished. She daren’t believe.

“It’s Harry, he’s come back.”

“That’s impossible,” she said laughing, keeping her eyes on the cat. “I’m dreaming, I must be.”

“No,” said Mir, getting up and slowly picking up the cat. It started purring. He put it on Kate’s lap. Harry, pawed her jumper for a while and then jumped back on the floor and mewed asking for food.

“That’s definitely him, it’s not a cat that looks like him. But I saw him crushed yesterday?” said Kate.

“Forget about yesterday,” said Mir.

“Is this real, is this really happening?”

“Yes, it looks real enough to me.”

“But I thought you buried him in the garden?”

“No, he wasn’t dead, just very badly injured, and he had to go through over an hour of terrible pain before I could work some healing on him, which was very hard on him, hard on me too. I took him away because it would have disturbed you. But now he’s as right as rain.”

“How on earth have you don’e that?”


“You’re a strange boy. What on earth is going on? Has he been resurrected like Jesus?”

“No. He never died. Are you going to feed him?”

“Am I going to feed him! Too right I am!”

Just at that moment Mrs. Leaning came in the front door. They both waited for her to come in the kitchen to watch her surprise.


Her eyes almost popped out when she saw the cat. “It looks so much like Harry,” she said.
“It is Harry,” she said. He’s not dead.”

Her mother, not taking her eyes off the cat, looked utterly perplexed.


Since their visit Kate had had several phone calls from the social services. The early calls enquired as to the whereabouts of their two social workers. Where had they gone to when they left? Why had they never got to the social services for the planned interview? How come that Mir had returned to his own house? Where had he left them?

Kate could only plead ignorance, saying that after being interviewed in the car, Mir had left them and walked home. They regarded this explanation as unlikely and extremely suspicious. Kate felt it odd too, and suspected Mir had been up to one of his strange tricks. Getting him to reveal his mystery was seemingly impossible however.

The later phone calls sounded more concerned, asking Kate if she could remember what had happened in the most exact of details, what time Mir had returned, had seen their car since they called. They sought precise information, wanting to know exactly what the officers had asked Mir in the car, exactly what time he had left them and where. The caller said some news had come to light but she would say no more when Kate queried it. She did gather that the social services were obsessed by the odd behaviour of George Maycock and Evelyn Morris. They said they would be sending an officer round shortly to run through it all again.


“Hey! Come here, boy.”

Mir was kicking a football around in the drive. A man of about 40, tall and dressed in casual buy stylish clothes, was calling to him from the pavement a couple of houses down.
Mir eyed him warily. Mir didn’t dropped his gaze and remained silent. But the man was persistent. He walked closer.

“Come here, lad. I’ve something of interest for you.”

“What do you want?”

“Are you a relative of Kate’s family or something?” asked Danny, for that’s who it was.

“No,” said Mir in his usual acerbic and laconic way of closing down questions.

“How do you manage to live here then? She really likes you. It’s like you’ve taken over the family.”

Mir looked at him as if he was from another planet. “I haven’t taken over any family, It’s more the other way, they have taken me over. And I am grateful.”

“If you go away I will give you money”

“What do you mean?” laughed Mir.

Suddenly Danny’s voice became strained and insistent. “What can I give you to sling your hook?”

“You mean leave? I might have to leave.”

“I want Kate to myself. I don’t want you around. Would you like money to disappear, or some expensive toy? You have been involved with the social services, all you need do is go back and see them and they would find you a home.”

Mir just stared at Danny. “I recognise you, you are the man that wants to marry her. I like Kate. She’s a nice woman. A woman who is not naturally suspicious and always expects the best from people. And she is regularly disappointed.”

“You have to chose. I can give you something to go away. Or I can tell the authorities about you and they will come and take you away. Which do you prefer?”

“The authorities know all about me. And you should be careful who you threaten.”

Surprise registered on Danny’s face.

“So how much do you want to leave the house?”

“I think I ought to go now,” said Mir. “I don’t want to lose control of my emotions.”

“Hey come back.”

But Mir had walked off and gone into the house.

“Are you seriously asking me to believe that one minute you were in Middleton and within seconds you, your car and your colleague all were instantly transported to Eastbourne.”

“Well, that’s about it,” said George Maycock, “ I can’t explain it. It’s the strangest thing that’s ever happened to me.”

“What happened immediately before you were transported?” asked the lean faced man with the public school voice.

“We had stopped at a red traffic light. And suddenly the boy in the back –

“Mir?” asked John Roister.

“Yes – he shouted he had to get out and opened the far side back door and jumped into the road. I should have put the child locks on but I never thought for one minute he would try and escape.”

“And then?”

“I vaguely remember a short figure running round the car after him.

“Where did this figure come from?”

“He had been standing by the kerb to cross the road.”

“Do you know who he was?”

“We’ve been over and over this. No.”

“And what happened then?”

“The lights turned green but we could hardly drive on with our charge having escaped, so Evelyn turned off and pulled up on the kerb. I turned my head and saw Mir point something at the short man who was chasing him. And then Evelyn and me found we were parked in some strange busy road which we did not recognise. We just couldn’t figure it out. Within minutes of driving around the area, the signs and the shops and the seafront told us we were in Eastbourne. We were utterly perplexed.”

“And how do you think you got there? Are you sure you didn’t just drop off the boy and go off on a jaunt?”

“300 miles in a few seconds? Give me a break.”


It was on the Monday that Maureen from work made a surprise call to the Leaning household. She wasn’t alone.

“Hello Kate, this is Cheryl,” she said at the door. The woman next to her was a dyed blonde, pretty but with a pale, washed out, face.

They both smiled and greeted each other.

Kate began leading them into the lounge where her mum was watching the television and Mir were doing a very large Jigsaw on the table, but Maureen stopped her. Mutual smiles and greetings. “Can we go somewhere private where we can talk alone. Cheryl has got something important to tell you.”

As mum and Mir were in the lounge, Kate took them into the front room. They sat around the dining table.

She offered them a drink but they both refused. They seemed anxious. “What’s up doc?” she asked Maureen.

“It’s about Danny,” said Maureen. Cheryl is a friend of my sisters and I found out that she knew him, and then I heard what happened. Cheryl will explain.”

Cheryl smiled and then pulled a face of embarrassment. “I’m afraid me and Danny ran off to the South Coast on the week that you two were supposed to get married,” she said.
Kate’s expression didn’t change but her listening became acute and focus.

“We met at a party on the Sunday night and we both ended up in the sack. He said he was smitten and over the next 72 hours  – where we saw a lot of each other – he persuaded me to leave with him to stay in a friends flat in Christchurch on the south coast. I stupidly agreed. I suppose I was in love with him. I even quit my job. That was wild but that was the effect he had on me at that time. He didn’t tell me that he had planned to marry someone then. He told me that months later, when things were falling apart. He became quite nasty and threw me out. Then he came up here with the intention of marrying back into a family that ‘had some money’, as he put it.”

Kate sat silent for a while letting that last comment wash all over her.

“You see, Kate, I told you this guy was no good,” said Maureen.

“And what has happened between you since?” Kate asked Cheryl.

“Nothing. He refuses to even admit I exist. He refuses my phone calls, text messages and wouldn’t see me on the occasions I have been round.”

“I know that feeling,” said Kate.

“Are you trying to get him back?”

Cheryl’s face lightened with humour. “No! Not at all. He owes me a lot of money. While we were down there we got through all my savings. I want him to cough up.”

“He’s a bad un,” said Maureen.

“How do I know you are telling the truth?”

“I can’t prove anything but it is the truth. Just mention Cheryl Norton to him and watch his face, but watch out, he may explode. He can quite nasty when he doesn’t get his way. When Maureen told me what was happening, I thought I had better warn you. You don’t want to go through what’s happened to you twice, and you certainly don’t want to go through what I’ve been through.”

“Thanks Cheryl.”

“I just felt it right…”

“Are you sure you both wouldn’t like a drink?”

“No, I’d better be going,” said Cheryl.

“Me too,” said Maureen. “We’ll have a chat tomorrow at work,” said Maureen.

Kate saw them out and then went back in the front room and poured herself a whiskey. She sat on the sofa and meditated.

A few minutes later a young boys face stuck his head around the door. “Are you coming in to help me with this jig-saw then?” Mir grinned and she couldn’t help smiling too. She was just too soft.


Although short in stature, Blowfonine adopted a crouching figure to make himself even less observable to anyone who may be awake as he moved in the night. Finding his way by the stars, he arrived at the conservatory at the back of Mrs. Leaning’s house. No window was open and there was no letter box. Breathing in the damp garden smells, he furtively edged himself along the slabbing that went around the side of the house and wiped off some of the gentle rain that had amassed on his bulbous cheeks.

Blowfontine, having arrived at the front of the house, his movements became even slower and stealthier. Next to the letterbox on the front door, he pulled the red stopper out of his black flask and summoned his lethal advisor out. He didn’t need to instruct the globule as what to do, they had already been through this in some detail.

The gas hissed out of the flask and poured through the letter box. Once inside it formed over a cubic metre of black gas which moved along the thick piled hall carpet. It travelled up the steps of the stair-case like a black snake until it had to decide which direction to travel.

The gas entity of Globule protected itself from corruption with the adjacent atmosphere because a thin membrane of fused gas created a skin around its volume, and so it could form any shape, yet remain untainted and wholesome. It had now found a bedroom. The leading edge of the gas cloud flattened out and began to slide under the door, the rest of the gas creature shape shifting to follow. Emily Leaning, completely unaware, lay asleep in her bed.

Once inside the bedroom, the cloud reformed into its natural sphere and hovered over her head, lying on its side on the pillow. Slowly, Globule slowly descended. Gradually the black gas filled her earlobe then crept round and began to fill her uppermost nostril. She opened her mouth and the gas strarted to enter. Moments later she involuntarily shook herself awake, unable to breathe. She coughed and wheezed and pulled herself with difficultly into an upright position. She couldn’t breathe. She lent over and put on the sidelight. All around her head was a swarm of blackness. She could just about see through it but when she moved her head, the black swarm followed. She started pawing at this black stuff around her until the whole black cloud had moved away from her but it was now coming back, like some wasp determined to sting.

She instinctively stood up, opened the door and shut the door behind her, shutting in the black cloud and luckily giving her valuable seconds of time. Startled by being suddenly awake, she opened Kate’s bedroom door and switched on her light.. “Kate,” she said blinking,  overwhelmed by the light, “There’s something wrong. I think I’m suffocating.”
Kate had been woken by her shutting her bedroom door and quickly atttended to her mum. She got her to sit on the bed, but this hadn’t calmed her mother. She was still gabbling, as if in panic. “It was a black thing trying to suffocate me,” she said.
“You’ve had a nightmare, mum,” said Kate.

“No, she’s not,” said Mir, who had suddenly appeared in the room. He was holding the white glove.

“Stay in here,” he said, “and shut the door behind me and block up the keyhole and the top and bottom of the door so that no air can get in or out.”

Kate had herself only just woke and these instructions confused her, as did this whole situation. Mir had gone out into the landing and closed the door himself.

“It was horrible, horrible,” said Mrs.Leaning.

Kate, not following Mir’s instructions, opened her bedroom door and looked out into the hall. There she saw it, about a metre of airborne blackness was chasing Harry along the carpet. Mir was pointing the finger of his glove at the blackness, and suddenly the blackness fled, all the way down the stairs, she ran out and watched it disappear towards the front door.

“I didn’t get it,” said Mir. “I have frightened it off but it will be back. It just tried to kill Harry. They now know where I am.”

“I don’t understand, Mir,” said Kate, startled.

“I will explain tomorrow,” said Mir.

And the both stood there and in the background they could hear Mrs. Leaning still rambling incoherently with shock..

“Is it safe to go downstairs?” asked Kate of Mir, with respect.

“Yes, I can keep it at bay.”

“Stay there mum and I will make you a cup of tea,” said Kate. “Mir tell me exactly what happened.”


At 10am, Saturday morning, the Leaning doorbell rang again. A tall man, with black hair wearing a long Worstead coat stood in the porch. In his late fifties, he spoke precisely, authoritatively, perfect for reading the shipping forecast on Radio 4; his voice, deep and soothing as if he was some Gray’s Inn barister.

“Is Kate Leaning in?”

“Yes, that’s me.” He didn’t look like a social worker, she thought, although appearances often deceived.

“Do you mind if I come in, Ms. Leaning? My name is John Roister. I work for the Ministry of Defence.” He held a badge in front of her.

“Ministry of Defence?”

“I will explain if you’d allow me.”

She nodded and stood aside.

“I’ll just call my PA if you don’t mind.”

He waved to a slim women in her 30s, a formidable black widow of black, wearing a grey twin set, black spectacles and who emerged from a black Audi parked outside the neighbour’s house. She came over and followed behind him as they went into the house. Kate led them, as she had her last two visitors, into the dining room.

There was a preamble as they accepted Kate’s invitation to a cup of tea. Eventually when everyone was settled in their chairs, Mr Roister asked if the boy was in the house. He failed to appear when Kate called him. “He must have gone out,” she said.

“What I say to you may come as a shock,” began Mr. Roister, his calming voice sounding less reassuring. “We are very concerned about this lad of yours, Mir.”

“Um… everyone seems to be.”

“We are informed he was taken from here in a car by Mr. Maycock and Mrs. Morris on Tuesday last and he reappeared here several hours later. Is that correct?”
Kate nodded.

“However the two social workers and their car disappeared. They were nowhere to be seen.”

“They must have turned up by now,” said Kate.

The assistant seemed to be taking notes in a reporter’s notepad.

“Indeed. We received a phone call later that night from a rather inebriated Mr. Maycock. Maycock – his voice shaking with nerves – said that they were suddenly driving around a seaside resort. They were no longer in the Midlands but in a seaside resort! It took them a few minutes to work out they were in Eastbourne in Southern England.

“He claimed he had absolutely no idea of how they got there. Before he phoned the social services he had stiffened his nerves with a drink. His colleague confirmed his experience. Both of them were shattered to suddenly appear hundreds of miles away for no apparent reason.”

“That sounds bonkers. Are they alright?” asked Kate.

“Mr. Maycock has taken time off work with his nerves, Mrs Morris seems more durable,” said the secretary.


“Even though it sounds preposterous we believe that this strange trickery is something to do with this boy lodger or yours.”

“And why do you think that?” asked Kate, feeling protective and not thinking it was preposterous at all.

“Because we have noticed a trend. A very strange one.”  Roister paused for a moment and looked out of the front room window. He looked back at Kate. “Suddenly we find many children appearing from nowhere. And they are finding homes with strangers. There has been one hundred and seventeen cases of unregistered children asking people to home them. And these are the ones we know about. Wherever these children turn up we also see a number of strange events. The whole thing sounds utterly bizarre, totally implausible, but its actually happening. Each case that has come to our attenton is being documented as I speak. I believe you have one of these ‘wooden horse’ children in your house.

“How peculiar.”

“We don’t know where these unregistered children come from, it seems likely they are aliens of some kind, from another country or perhaps even another world. They seem to have strange powers and it is the responsibility of my government to find as many of these ‘lost’ children as I can.”

Kate’s expression showed that she didn’t like the sound of that and what it implied.
“Ms. Leaning, I’m sorry to say this, but finding this boy of yours has become an issue of national defence.”

“This all sounds like gobbledegook,” she said camly. “Transferring a car of social workers from Middleton to Eastbourne! You must be joking,” she scoffed. Secretly, however she knew he was not.

“I’m afraid I have interviewed the social workers and they are not lying. They literally were transported hundreds of miles in a very short amount of time. And that is of global and historical significance, because we know that in human terms it is impossible.”
“What do you expect me to do about it?”

“I’m afraid we are going to have to take the boy with us.”

You might end up in Eastbourne, she thought, but Roister was already pre-empting her. “We would have to sedate him before we took him away from here.”

“He’s out,” she said starkly

“We can wait.”

“But he might have gone out to play all day.”

“Yes.” He looked at his watch. “We will return at ten o’clock tonight. He will have to come home at some stage. We will pick him up. No harm will come to him, but we will need to make sure that he doesn’t get up to any of his tricks.”

“But I don’t want you to take him away. When will I get him back?”

“I’m afraid this whole affair is much bigger than you or I,” said the man from the ministry.


But, despite John Roister’s hopes, Mir did not come back that night. Just after seven, Kate received a phone call from him to say that he wouldn’t be coming home but he was safe. She warned him the police were looking for him. He refused to be drawn on any questions such as where he was, saying it was better if she didn’t know. He said he would see her soon.

Mir had gone back to his ‘box’ in the wood. Istina had made him some soup when he came back. He sat down inside the spacious ‘box’ and put it to his lips. Tomato.

“Phone boxes only exist in villages now,” he said.

“Everyone here uses mobiles now. You should get one.”

“I got the shop keeper to let me use her landline.”

“You got through?”

He nodded affirmatively. “It appears that someone from the Minister of Defence has been round,” he said. “It looks like we’ve been rumbled.

”That’s no problem for you. Time to head back.”

“Not yet. there are still a few things that I need to deal with. I like Kate, it’s a shame the rest of the human race isn’t like her and her mum. They are a nice family.”

A police car arrived outside Mrs. Leaning’s that day and stayed there continually.

The police searched the wood but they failed to go anywhere near the large tent hidden within the copse at the heart of the wood.


Kate had arranged to meet Danny inside the Middleton Sports Club. He was already there, waiting for her, sitting, sipping a lager. He stood up and greeted her warmly in his winning way. She could sense what a trickster he was now, but presently she was keeping her powder dry.

They ordered a drink and took a table.

“I have made a decision,” she said.

“About the boy?”

“About getting married.. and the boy,” she said.

“That’s sound ominous. I hope it is good news.”

“I think it is,” she said mysteriously, looking around as if she had lost something.

“What are you looking for?”

“A friend of mine said she would pop in.” She looked at her watch. “Oh it’s not nine yet, she will be here in about half an hour.”

“Will she be with us all evening?” said Danny looking a little worried.

“You’ll like her, she’s very attractive, and great fun, but I doubt she will stay long.”

“Okay,” he said putting his lager down. “So what decision have you made.”

“How suitable it’s Bonfire Night because we can celebrate with all the bangs pops and flashes. We are going to get married!”

“Oh Kate! That’s fantastic!”

“Not only that, I am going to put all my money into a joint account with you.”

“Really?” He eyed her suspiciously. “Why would you want to do that?”

“So that my love never goes without, you won’t have to worry about money at all.”

“We’ll talk about that later. What about the boy?”

“I don’t know where he is. He seems to have run away. He’s not been at the house for a couple of nights. Anyway I will do as my future husband wishes. I will leave him behind. We will go off to the south coast. If Mir returns he can stay with my mother until the social services sort him out. He will be able to look after himself because he is an alien from another world.”

He couldn’t supress laughter. “You are being really funny tonight, like you’ve really got it on you, like you are jesting with me.”

“Jesting with fire in my eyes! Haha,” she said, laughing.

“But I will get a job, Kate, I won’t just be blowing my sax in local venues, I will get a day job so that we will have lots of money. And we have what’s left of my father’s inheritance.”

“And my family are not short of money.”

“No, I remember now, your father left quite a packet behind. This bodes well for our long term future. I’m over the moon!”

As this conversation was going on, three figures of complexity were coming into the grounds of Middleton Sports Club all unaware of the approach and proximity of each other. Embodiments of unresolved issues: Mir, Cheryl and Blowfontine.


Globule had informed Blowfontine that it was highly likely that Mir would go to the Firework celebrations at the sports club because Kate would be there. And the obnoxious gas was right. As Blowfontine was approaching the club house, he caught sight of a couple of small figures: Mir and Istina.

Keeping his eyes sharply on these small figures, he circled around them, making sure he wouldn’t be seen. It looked to Blowfontine as if Mir was heading for the clubhouse himself. He could either catch him before he went in or get him when he came out. The girl he did not know, she was an unknown quantity.

It was into this melee that Cheryl walked. As she entered the clubhouse bar, she was as appalled to see Danny as he was to see her. Waiting her arrival, Katey dashed out of her seat, grabbed her and pulled her over to the her table. “Just play it straight,” whispered Kate under her breath. “I’ll pour you a glass of wine.”

“Danny, this is my new friend, Cheryl.”

“Hello,” he said suddenly looking up. Both of the woman were looking deeply into his face, enjoying his discomfort. He stood up, not so much out of courtesty but as if he suddenly had to be somewhere else.

“Hello,” said Cheryl, looking at him but keeping her distance and sitting down at the same time.

“I believe you have met Cheryl before, haven’t you?” enquired Kate of Danny.

“I think I need to be going,” he stammered. “I need to get some cash out. I’ll come back later.”

“Oh yes, we’ve met before indeed. We lived together for months, didn’t we?” said Cheryl looking hard at Danny.

“That’s exactly what I heard,” said Kate.

Cheryl turned to Kate. She smiled ironically and said: “And then he kicked me out because I had run out of money.”

“Don’t listen to her, Kate,” said Danny. “She’s bitter and twisted and will only tell lies.”

“It’s the complete truth and I can prove it,” said Cheryl. “I’ve bought photographs to prove that we lived together.”

“I refuse to be drawn into this,” said Danny, “I am going before I lose my temper, I will not have my reputation dissed!” said Danny, suddenly grabbing his crotch in what must have been an involuntary need for defense.

The women’s eyebrows raised at his reaction. Danny had gone into a variety of contortions, his hands quickly moving out, stretching all over his body as if he was in a convulsion of itches from everywhere.

And then Kate saw what was happening. They had company. Mir and Istina were standing behind them. Mir was pointing his white glove at Danny. And she knew he had come under Mir’s curse.

“I can’t cope with this,” said Danny, pulling the weirdest faces and groping all about himself in a mad itch-fest. He sometimes grinned insanely as he scratched himself in one part and then pulled the oddest expressions as he rubbed himself in another. “I-I-I am not right. I must go.” And he fled out of the door that not many minutes before Cheryl had arrived in.

Cheryl and Kate looked at each other and both laughed. Mir was grinning too, yet with an innocent look on his face.

And then Kate realised that Mir had been up to some wickedness. She looked at him. “I’ve put what you would call ‘ants in his pants’. He will be itching all over his body all over his body for days, until he has a bath,” He said.

“How cruel.” And Kate and Cheryl began laughing again. And Mir joined in until the laughing bordered on the  hysterical.

But suddenly Mir was in shock. His white glove had been snatched. Suddenly it was pulled slyly and skilfully from his hand. He swung round and saw Blowfontine running for the door. Mir gave chase as if his whole life depended upon it.

Down the steps he belted – with Istina close behind him – after the short wreckel. As he came out in the moonlight, into the roasting blaze of the field bonfire he was terrified he would lose the figure in the crowds of spectators. And that was exactly where the thief had headed – into the throng of the crowd. Mir, with his short gait began to despair that would be able to catch him.

But luckily, fortunately – and the whole of history would have been different had this not happened – the short little Blowfontine tripped over. Mir was on him in a minute. Not being an aggressive person the only thing he could think of doing was sitting on him. But Blowfontine was stronger than he and he turned himself over and in the process pushed Mir off onto the grass. They both found themselves surrounded by a scrum of people.         “Fight!” a loud uncooth voice shouted, as if it was more exciting than the fireworks.         “He’s a thief,” shouted Mir, “He’s stolen a possession of mine!”

“I should have killed you when I had the chance,” snarled Blowfontine. He grabbed his black flask and pulled the stopper out, but just as it popped, Mir Kicked the flask and it went flying out over the crowd. “Globule! Come and help me!” he shouted.
The evening was a lantern of flickering light phantoms.

Whizzing and sparkling fireworks dominated the world of the eye, yet the field was consumed with multitudes of black holes of impenetrable darkness. Here, down in the gloom of the night-black grass, legs and torsoes disappeared. Bodies lashed out, bodies tangled. Occasional action was highlighted by flickering lambent red and yellow flames of the firelight slipping through the opaque moving spectators. Suddenly Mir’s hands were free of Blowfontine. Mir triumphantly stood, suddenly captured frozen in a flashlight flicker, holding his booty, having recooped his white glove. Quickly, instinctively, aware he may lose it again, he to retreated, pushing against the kettling crowd with his back. But he had the foresight, the instinct to point the glove at Blowfontine.

Blowfontine was at this moment, in a milion moments, getting to his feet in a scary haste and screaming, wailing at the same time. Now he was pushing at the surrounding human bodies trying to force his escape from a vengeful Mir. A black fog, like a swarm of bees was hovering around his head.

Both Istina and Kate had run over and stood in the crowd trying to see what was happening by looking over the shoulders of others. Kate had run after Mir, feeling that something was wrong. Very wrong. Now she broke through and Mir was next to her. No, no, he signalled, keep away, keep your distance. Then a flash from an explosion on the bonfire froze an expression on his face. He was terrified as he looked at her. A face of fear. She looked at the short man who had stolen his glove. He still could not break out of the scrum of people and make any distance to safety. And he was still shrieking. Something was happening. Red bursts of light were emitting from Mir’s glove and Blowfontine was the target. Mir was killing him. Mir was a murderer!

And she recognised what was forming and disintegrating around Blowfontine’s shoulder. She had seen this moving fog before when it had run across her landing after trying to suffocate her mother. Perhaps Mir was trying to kill the fog, this evil mist. But then they were both gone in the darkness again. She was in a state of shock. And time drifted.
And then there were screams. Massive screams. All the public at the front of the bonifre spectacle were making a hell of a noise.

Not many minutes later she was informed that a small man had run straight into the bonfire and been incinerated. Nobody seemed to know who he was, and the police found nothing to identify him. In fact, it was reported later, that they found his teeth and bones extremely unusual.


Mir, Kate, Istina and Cheryl were all sitting in Kate’s car.

“Drive somewhere where you don’t usually go, where it’s safe,” said Mir, “Don’t go anywhere obvious because the police will be looking for us.”

“I don’t understand what’s going on,” said Cheryl.

“Don’t worry,” said Kate. “It’s okay, you’re safe,” said Kate switching on the ignition, “we could go and park near the football stadium, I have never even been there. And the streets round there are quite a maze.”

Five minutes later she parked in a sheltered cul de sac, and switched off the engine.

“I want to thank you for looking after me,” said Mir. “I am   going to leave you all very soon.”

“We don’t want to lose a member of our family,” said Kate.

“He has to go,” said Istina.

“Yes, she’s right,” said Mir. “I have to go back. But I owe it to you to explain a few things.”

“How interesting,” said Kate mockingly. “You’ve told us nothing so far. You are a complete mystery. And that white glove, what is that thing?”

“My name is Mir,” he said.

“We know that.”

“I do not come from this planet or this dimension. I normally live in another dimension. A tunc planeta, as we say. I come from Acoranius.”

He stopped talking and waiting for a comment but both neither Kate nor Cheryl spoke.

“Acorians do have some small sense of prophecy and I felt instinctively that you were a good person. I felt very comfortable in your space. And I was right thank goodness. And your mum, she’s lovely. Say goodbye to her from me. And to your cat as well.

“This all sounds wacko to me,” said Cheryl.

“But let me go back to my origins. All the dimensions are interdependent on each other. If one collapses or declines it affects the other Dimensions.

“My people, my species, have been for many years trying to help the human race. It started as one of our projects. It is a very difficult mission.

“We had noticed over many decades that things were going speedily wrong. There had become an evil quality to your leaders. It is not merely a case of a barrel of good apples with a bad apple or two. No, this was becoming a  barrel of bad apples with a mere one or two good apples. And then these get railroaded, corrupted into wrong action. It all started to go wrong at the end of the Nineteenth Century. You humans have become very corrupt and very stupid. You all instinctively know this to be true but as a species you don’t seem to be able to do anything about it. You seem to think that nothing can happen to you that has never happened before. That is lazy thinking, total lack of imagination and completely wrong.”

“This all sounds a bit political to me,” said Cheryl.

”However, I criticise the human race yet the Acorians were caught short in the same way very recently.”

“Can I record this,” asked Kate, “because I’m going to forget everything you tell me.”

“Yes,” said Mir.

Kate fished in her bag and brought out her mobile and switched it on to ‘record’.

“As I say, I live on the planet of Acorianus. I am not an Earthling. I am an alien in your terms. I am not a child of the human type and I am not eight. I am 81 in our Acorian years. We never get any physically bigger than this. Istrina is 63.”

“64,” corrected Istrina.

“Weird,” said Kate, blinking. “Is this all really true?”

“All Acorians live exactly for 330 years. We do not have organ failure like humans. We do not go mad before we die, or have degenerative physical or mental illnesses. Our bodies fail everywhere, all at once, all over, within a few days. I know the difference between us and humans through experience, which is why I hate that nonsense that Giles Levine was perpetrating.

“The Acorians have a celebration ritual before we die. Death for us – at worst – only takes a matter of days. We are a very ethical and spiritual – you could say a religious – species. We do not believe that the end of life is merely the end of life but a form of transformation. Much like birth takes us from one state to another. Death takes us to another state. We go on to another life; we transform into another type of being. Humans have become so corrupted they have forgotten that. But we won’t go into that here. Do you have any questions so far?”

“Too many.” said Kate, “..but how about where are your mum and dad?’”
“I have neither a mother or father. We are not made like that. Look,” said Mir. He Turned round and pulled out his teeshirt. He rolled it up past where his navel should have been. All they could see was perfect unblemished flesh. “I have no navel. I am not human. I did come by way of the unbilical chord.”

“You want to know where I come from and how I got here. Yes I will explain that, but first I need to tell you what happened on my planet. And it’s recent history.

“The Acorians have always looked over the human race, partly out of guilt because the human race was one of their unfortunate projects thousands of years ago. However since the beginning of your 20th Century, we had noticed your species were getting into a dreadful loop of destruction through your folly and misapplication of science. We were alerted by the madness and insanity of your so called Great War. We sent waves of secret emisseries down to Earth to try and get some sense back into your global population but the policial system was so corrupt we could not get any of our small child-looking Acorians into useful positions of power. However we persisted – and still persist – in sending Acorians to try and counter-influence the dance of death that you humans seem to want to ever speed up.

“As a ‘desperatis rebus ethicae’, we were all prepared to send down a massive wave of Acorians when suddenly our own time-dimension was invaded by a mass of Wreckels. The Wreckels are foetido creaturae in every way. This was an unexpected attack and took us completely by surprise. And we were in great trouble. If the Wreckels defeated us you Earthlings would be finished within months.

“The wreckels have studied us well. They knew our needs and thus our weak points. They were determined to take away our ritual objects, one of them being the ‘Mysterium album manu senioribus’, the white glove, a very rare object, which would have destroyed much of our magic and our power.

“This all sounds a bit like double dutch,” said Cheryl.

“Shhh..” whispered Kate.

“Double Dutch? Many of our terms sound Latin because that language developed on Acorianus.”

“And what did you do to Harry?”

“I will explain that in a minute.”

He continued his narrative. “I grabbed the Mysterium and ran to a dim-nav ship which had already been programmed to set off to Earth. Wreckels chased after me from the Casadium. I ran, carrying the Mysterium, I ran into the time-ship, locking the doors behind me. I fired up her engines and escaped. Some time later I ended up in Middleton woods. I arrived in a time-ship, which to you would look like a big box. Blowfontine, a senior wreckel followed hot on my heels – as you say – in another time-ship. He mission was to kill me and return with the Mysterium.”

“And that was the man you had a fight with on bonfire night.”

“Yes. Not a man but a Wreckel. If he had took that Myterium back to Acorianus we would be hopelessly defeated. But now that he is dead, I can go back and surprise them. I have the Mysterium and I can turn it against them.”

“And you Istina?

“Switch off your recorder,” she said.

Kate did as requested.

“I should not reveal my mission, but as Mir trusts you I will tell you. I will stay here until I am called back. I continue to carry on the work trying to educate humans. We also can’t afford to fail in that either.”

“And Harry?” asked Kate switching her recorder on again.

“It wasn’t me that cured your lovely cat,” said Mir. “I knew enough about life-design on Earth to have kept him alive for a sufficient while, and then I used to magic of the Mysterium to bring him back to full health.”

“Who ran over him? Was it that horrid man next door?”

“I don’t know. I think it was just an accident,” said Mir. “I think you will find your neighbour is a lot more reasonable towards attacking vulnerable animals now that he is suffering himself, but you can never tell with some selfish humans.”

“And why did you hate that television guru so much?”

“Because he sums up the nonsensical nature of what you humans have become. My objection to your TV guru was that he is a perfect example of human sophistry and false wisdom. People are too sure of what they know, the wise man in never sure he knows anything.

“Any more questions?” asked Mir.

“Hundreds, but I need to think about them. What happens now?”

“Drive Istina to where she lives. I have instructed her to come round and visit your family while she is here. As for me, please take me back to the Middleton Woods and I will depart. I ave to get back to my home and fight the Wreckels.”

“Keep yourself safe my lovely boy,” said Kate feeling tearful.

“I hope we meet again,” he said taking her hand and squeezing it. “I shall miss you all .But I have to get back to my home and fight the wreckals. Please drive me to the wood.”