The Novel & Short Stories – Too Much Too Soon!

Too_Much_Too_Soon_Cover_for_Kindle

TOO MUCH TOO SOON!

This Edition Copyright © 2013 by James Sapsard

First published in Great Britain in 2013

by James Sapsard

The right of James Sapsard to be identified as the Author of this Work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the publisher and the copyright owner, nor be otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.

All characters in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
Cover photography and artwork © 2013
‘Grass And Supergrass’
James Sapsard
London

CONTENTS

Author’s Notes

Demoted To You
Thursday’s Children
Maybe Yes Or Not
Faking The Future
The Therapy Of A Violent And Professional Man
Looking For Elysium

Author’s Notes

The Therapy Of A Violent And Professional Man was shortlisted in the Biscuit Publishing Competition 2007
Some lines from Looking For Elysium were the inspiration for certain scenes in the author’s screenplay, Lovers, Victims And Heroes, Mr. Pinter.

TOO MUCH TOO SOON!

DEMOTED TO YOU

Chapter One

As Danielle pulled herself up and out of her car she realised just how tired she was.

“God, I’d better get to the gym,” she thought.

By the time she’d opened her front door, kicked off her shoes and stumbled upstairs, she was ready to flop down on her alluring double bed and drift off into undisturbed slumber. It was not to be. No sooner had she put down her bag than the ’phone by her bed rang intrusively.

“Hello,” she said, in a calm and level voice that belied her impatience.

“Danielle?” asked Jack, her lately tiresome boyfriend.

“Who else might it be Jack? I want to get some sleep. Whatever it is, can’t it wait?”

“Of course, darling,” he replied, as stupid as ever and put down the ’phone without having the sense to realise that even a tired Danielle would at least like a clue as to what the call was about even if she wasn’t going to do anything about it at that moment in time.

“Oh God,” she sighed in exasperation knowing she’d have to take the ’phone off the hook if she were to get any peace. She picked up her mobile and turned that off too. She could pick up any voicemails later.

She gazed through her net-curtained window at the houses opposite and wondered what her neighbours got up to in their front room every Saturday after midnight with their guests until four in the morning. “Whatever it is, it must be worth coming back for,” she mused. Then speaking rhetorically she asked her bedroom, “Why do I have such a stupid boyfriend?” “I know,” she mused silently, “Deep cover.” She undressed languidly and decided that even though it was mid-afternoon, she’d wear pyjamas to bed. She pulled back her duvet and said to her room, “and because he carries the shopping, doesn’t mind waiting, drives me around when I’m drinking and because it isn’t his ego that’s enormous.” She then fell laughing into her bed, sat up to set her alarm for two hours, lay back and was asleep within minutes.

Her alarm woke her at five o’clock and she reached out a hand and silenced it. She arose immediately, as always, regardless of how tired she might still feel and made her way straight to the bathroom. She sat on the loo and urinated with efficiency and precision. After she’d washed her hands with the soap or cleanser appropriate to her mood and the time of day, she looked at her face in the mirror above the sink. It was abundantly clear to her that she was stunningly beautiful. “God, I look awful,” she groaned. She was thirty-eight but looked about thirty. “And so old,” she moaned. After applying more processes to her face than she imagined Jack had brain cells, she looked no better. “That’s better,” she smiled to herself.

She returned to her bedroom and checked her ’phones. No joy. She rang Jack from her mobile.

“Hello darling, I love you,” he spoke tenderly as if saying it for the first time.

“That’s original Jack and not the least bit boring or repetitive,” she said in a bored voice.

“Gosh, thank you,” said Jack, “I was worried it might bore you to hear it again.”

“Darling,” she said, “as if you could ever bore me. I want you to come round and cook something original and nice for me for dinner. You can stay for dinner too if you want. Make sure you stop off and buy me some almond milk, the right one this time.”

Twenty minutes later, Jack arrived with the right almond milk and naturally with also the wrong almond milk.

“I wasn’t sure which one,” he said, giving her a look with his big childish eyes.

“Jack, it’s a waste of money for God’s sake. Why didn’t you ’phone me?”

“I couldn’t get a signal in the supermarket and I didn’t want to be late in case you were angry.”

“When have I ever been angry with you, Jack?”

“Sometimes you are and I …” he faltered.

“You what?” demanded Danielle.

“I get upset by it. You’re not fair to me sometimes. I feel you’re unreasonable and you don’t listen and you belittle me.”

“I’m angry? I’m unfair? I’m unreasonable? I don’t listen and I belittle you? Do you want it to be over between us because it can be, right now? It’ll break my heart but if it’s what you want, I won’t stop you from going.”

“I’m sorry,” said Jack, “I don’t want it to be over. I bought you some flowers,” and from behind his back he produced a not altogether crass bouquet of rare and exotic supermarket flowers.

“I don’t understand you Jack,” said Danielle, manufactured tears running down her cheeks. “You say all those horrible things and all the time you’re hiding alarming flowers behind your back. Are you playing some cruel game with my emotions? I think sometimes you use your intellect to baffle me. I didn’t know you were capable of hurting me this much after all the love I’ve shown you.”

“I’m so sorry,” said Jack, “I forget things. I’m confused.”

“I find it very difficult to want to be in your company when you’re like this,” said Danielle.

“I feel like a complete shit now,” said Jack.

“Then go and have one,” said Danielle with feigned indifference, her tears having miraculously dried away.

“No, I mean I shouldn’t have said what I said. You didn’t deserve it. I was just a bit wound up because I didn’t know which milk to buy and I don’t always grasp what you’re saying but that’s my fault.”

“I know it is but you’re a man, darling,” said Danielle, her composure fully restored, “You’re just being true to form.”

“What do you mean?” asked Jack interestedly.

“Did you ever see the film Species?” asked Danielle.

“Yes.”

“Well, it was about a woman if you remember.”

“Yes,” said Jack.

“Have you ever seen an anthropological chart of the ascent of man from the ape?”

“I think so,” said Jack.

“Didn’t you notice that man is a sub species?”

“No, I didn’t. Are we?” asked Jack.

“Yes darling, you are. That’s probably why you didn’t notice it but it doesn’t matter. The species of woman is just waiting for you to evolve. Can you evolve, Jack? Just for me?”

“If you tell me how, I will,” said poor Jack.

“Well, you have to stop shouting at me. You have to stop being unreasonable and making false accusations against me. You hurt me so much.”

“I’m sorry Danielle. Please help me to change my attitude.”

“That’s another thing Jack. Your attitude. You’ve been here ten minutes and you haven’t even started cooking.”

“I’ve only been here five minutes,” said Jack.

“And arguing when it doesn’t matter,” said Danielle. “When is it going to stop?”

“There’s a lot wrong with me, isn’t there?” asked Jack. “I can’t help being the way I am.” His face crinkled as though he were about to burst into tears.

“Oh darling,” said Danielle, hugging him, “Don’t cry. There’s nothing at all wrong with you. All my friends say how wonderfully asinine you are.”

Jack looked at her.

“Do they really?” he asked happily.

“They really do,” she said smiling indulgently at him and tickling his chin. “Even my sister thinks you’re totally inane and can’t believe I’m lucky you’re mine.”

“Gosh,” said Jack, “Please let me prepare your dinner now.”

“God, Jack, you really are precious, aren’t you?”

“Danielle, you really made me feel good when you asked your friends to guess why I reminded you of a Swiss army knife.”

“Did you hear me say that? What else did you hear?”

Jack looked down sheepishly and smiled proudly.

“I heard you tell them that it’s because I’m a complete tool.”

Chapter Two

   It was two a.m. Danielle had been awoken by Jack’s snoring and as much as she loved to lie next to his warmth, if not him, she needed to banish him to the spare bedroom if she were to get more sleep.

“Jack?” she said loudly in his ear.

“Yes, darling,” he responded sleepily.

“Go into the other room so I can get some sleep. You’ll have to make the bed but there’s a sheet and duvet there.”

“Okay darling,” he said.

He climbed dutifully out of her bed and walked, in the darkness, to the bedroom door. He opened it then turned back to her and leaned to kiss her forehead.

“I love you, darling,” he whispered.

“Jack!” she hissed, “I need my sleep. I have a modelling assignment tomorrow.”

“Gosh, sorry,” he whispered and padded out closing her door silently behind him.

“Jack?” he heard her say through the door he’d just closed behind him. He opened it quietly.

“Yes darling?”

“Get me a glass of water from the kitchen. Don’t turn on the lights and don’t spill it.”

“Okay darling,” he replied, “I love looking after you.”

He didn’t turn on any lights but she heard him gasp in pain as he stubbed his toe on the metal toolbox she’d put in the hallway just before they went to bed. She had always rather admired the way he never swore when he hurt himself. Half a minute later he returned with her water.

“Is the toolbox okay?” she asked him, “I heard you kick it.”

“I’m sorry,” he said, “It’ll be okay. It’s made of metal.”

“What about your foot?” she asked in a fleeting moment of sympathy.

“No, my foot’s not made of metal,” he whimpered like a child in the dark. As he left, she heard him sobbing almost silently in evident pain.

“What am I doing with him? I know,” she mused as she turned over and fell asleep, no longer in need of a glass of water.

Chapter Three

Extract from the recently discovered and unbroadcast “Danielle Interview”

Lady Interviewer: Jack, if I may call you that, what first attracted you to Danielle?

Jack: Easy question. Like all my friends, she’s intelligent, self-assured, articulate, witty and totally charming and she’s a model.

Lady Interviewer: Danielle, if I may call you that, what first attracted an intelligent, self-assured, articulate, witty, totally charming and if I may say, very beautiful model like you, to Jack?

Danielle: Very easy question. I wondered if, like all my male friends, he had a big dick.

Lady Interviewer: Um, ah … well I … gosh … ummm … has he?

Danielle: I strive not to be judgmental. Let’s just say we can all afford to be modest.

Jack: What male friends?

 THURSDAY’S CHILDREN

Chapter One

Scoundrel Dithering was on trial for the somewhat mundane offence of residential burglary. Both prosecution and defence counsel were senior members of the Criminal Bar; not because this was one of those relatively short cases that experienced barristers pick up to fill the brief gaps between the more serious cases they conducted and which are referred to in the confines of the robing room by pretentiously dignified barristers as “pieces of s***,” a simile they often felt more aptly ascribable to their clients, but because the indictment also contained a count for murder.

Dithering stood accused of murdering his stepmother and stealing her television set. In applying the standards required for a prosecution, the CPS lawyer had endorsed the file, “We should prosecute. This bastard is totally devoid of any sympathy or regard for his father’s physical and educational needs by depriving him, not only of a wife, but of Eastenders. In every job that must be done there is an element of fun.”

The television had been recovered within twenty-four hours and Dithering had been arrested at a friend’s address. He had a long record of convictions for somewhat mundane residential burglary and a longer record of acquittals. He also had a history of sexual offences reaching back five years. He had been out of prison for seven months and time and dogged police work would probably tell that he had been responsible for a number of attacks on women, including two rapes, in the past four months. For those attacks, the net was closing around him and the underprivileged chap was only twenty seven.

In the immediate case, the police had what they believed to be overwhelming evidence of his guilt. They could not understand why, in the face of such evidence, he was pleading not guilty. Consequently, most of the officers concerned in the case, even those not required to give evidence, had turned up in court to relish his going down.

The trial began with the swearing in of the jury, which was then sent to its room while the judge heard an application from Crown Counsel, Mr. Titus Clenchyn-Buthocks.

Clenchyn-Buthocks faced the judge and spoke forcefully and persuasively for five minutes. He concluded, “In summary, Your Honour has read the statements and knows that the Crown’s case is that this defendant was caught in the act, by his stepmother, as he was burgling the residential premises in which he, she and his father lived. He beat her savagely, intending to cause really serious injury and she died as a result of the injuries sustained during his attack upon her. He has a long record of residential burglary and my application is that this record be admitted into evidence before the jury to show a propensity to commit this type of offence.” He sat down.

The judge looked at Defence Counsel, Justin Fawcett-Gently. “Mr. Fawcett-Gently?” he enquired.

Fawcett-Gently rose to his feet, “My learned friend’s eloquence cannot disguise the fact that his application is ill founded. This is a murder trial. The allegation of dishonesty is peripheral and on the Crown’s case, at most, amounts to theft, not burglary. In my submission, my client’s record does not show a propensity to commit the offences that are at the nub of this prosecution no matter how they be dressed on the indictment. If I’m wrong on that, then, in any event, the prejudicial value of admitting his convictions into evidence outweighs the probative value. Could it be possible that I might assist Your Honour further?”

“No, Mr. Fawcett-Gently, thank you.”

Fawcett-Gently sat down and the judge solemnly delivered his judgement on the application.

“The Crown’s application, the appropriate notice having been given, is that I allow into evidence the defendant’s criminal convictions for residential burglary to show a propensity to burgle. Let me say at the outset that I am concerned that this is not a burglary. Can a man burgle his own home? How does the Crown propose to show that when Scoundrel Dithering, if it were he, entered the house, he did so as a trespasser with the intention to steal therein as opposed to lawfully entering his home, albeit by force because he had no keys, with the intention of stealing property belonging to another? The latter does not amount to burglary if the entry were lawful because there simply is no trespass. How does the Crown propose to show that the entry was unlawful? There is no evidence on the depositions to suggest that the defendant was not to enter the property until his father or stepmother returned. This was the defendant’s home, not premises he occupied by licence. I do not see that the time at which an intention to steal is formed can turn what may be a theft into a burglary. It’s a matter for the Crown which offences it prosecutes but I will not admit evidence of a propensity to burgle where, on the depositions, there is, prima facie, no evidence of burglary and I dismiss the application. I also dismiss the application for the quite distinct reason that the real allegation against this defendant is one of murder. A conviction of this defendant for murder, founded upon the possibility that undue weight had been attached to his propensity to burgle, would be, in my judgment, an unsafe conviction. The Crown may wish to reconsider its position in regard to the count on the indictment for burglary because I do not see that count, for reasons I have already given, proceeding past the prosecution case and the jury has not been given an alternative, by the Crown, of theft. If this defendant is convicted of murder, given the mandatory sentencing powers of this court, I should think that it matters not a jot whether he is also convicted of a burglary or a theft or of anything else at all. Mr. Clenchyn-Buthocks?”

Clenchyn-Buthocks rose, “I’m obliged, Your Honour. My application is to amend count two of the indictment to show theft of the television set from Fragrance Dithering, not burglary.”

“Mr. Fawcett-Gently, can you resist that application?” asked the judge.

Fawcett-Gently rose to his feet, “May it please Your Honour, yes, I can and do. It simply is not possible to steal property from a dead person. Is my learned friend intending to call evidence from the administrators or executors of the estate? If not, there is no evidence of dishonesty in this case and I object to any suggestion being made to the jury that there was a theft at all.” He sat down.

“Your Honour,” responded Clenchyn-Buthocks, “The Crown does not suggest that the defendant killed Fragrance Dithering then formed the intention to steal the television. The medical evidence suggests that Fragrance died within a time frame that encompasses the whole of the relevant activities of that evening. The jury will be invited to draw the reasonable inference that Scoundrel Dithering had appropriated the television and was leaving with it when he was disturbed, otherwise there is no accounting for the violence he displayed, in his own home, against his stepmother.”

Fawcett-Gently did not rise again.

“I give leave for an amendment to the indictment. The count of burglary will be amended to a count of theft of the television from Fragrance Dithering. Fifteen minutes, gentlemen.”

With the indictment suitably amended and reprinted and the jury of eight men and four women back in place, Clenchyn-Buthocks rose to his feet to address them. He opened by introducing his learned friend, Mr. Justin Fawcett-Gently, for the defence and continued, with an enviable indifference of style, “At ten o’clock in the evening some three months ago, in fact, on the fifteenth of May, the date you will see on the indictment before you …”

He paused while the jury members scanned the single document before them, and then continued, “Scoundrel Dithering stole from and murdered his stepmother, Fragrance Dithering. The prosecution case is that after he, his father and stepmother left their home together; his father and stepmother for a different venue than he; this defendant, believing the house was empty, borrowed some tools from a friend and forcibly re-entered the house to steal. At some stage, he was surprised by the unexpected early return of Fragrance. The Crown says that it is beyond peradventure that his stepmother realised what he was doing and confronted him otherwise there is no accounting for the violence he displayed, in his own home, against her. The only reasonable inference is that a struggle or an argument took place during which she was punched savagely, several times, to the face and fell, seriously injured, striking her head on the stone hearth. The defendant fled the scene with her television, leaving her to die as a consequence of the really serious injuries he had inflicted upon her. Displaying cold dispassion, he sold the television set that same night to a neighbour who bought it unwittingly for fifty pounds before making a statement to the police. What price human life, members of the jury?”

He paused, holding momentarily the gaze of the jurors.

“It is a very simple case. The defendant was clearly identified by people to whom he spoke and who knew him well.”

The Crown’s case did seem overwhelming. Well, it was. The man was guilty as sin or hell although one must remember that sins are not necessarily criminal offences and Hell is a place of a loving, paternal God’s invention for the eternally painful incarceration of his imperfectly created beings. As for the distinction between sins and criminal offences, gay clergy often profess to know the difference and instil it in us. As a few of the ex-public schoolboys in the Bar Mess would have it and paraphrasing Malvolio, “I am above thee; but be not afraid of gaiety: some are born gay, some achieve gaiety, and some have gaiety thrust up in ’em.” The jury already looked as convinced of the defendant’s guilt as the judge had been on reading the written statements of the prosecution witnesses before the trial.

Scoundrel’s father, Superficial Dithering, stepped into the witness box. As all the witnesses were to do, he held the New Testament aloft in his right hand and said solemnly, “I swear by Almighty God that the evidence I give shall be the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.” Clenchyn-Buthocks asked him to give his name to the court, which he did with more than a little nervousness. “Superficial Dithering, 15 Ayness Avenue …”

“Mr. Dithering,” interrupted Clenchyn-Buthocks, “You don’t have to give your address. I want you to cast your mind back to the evening of the second Saturday of May this year. Can you remember the events of that time?”

“Yes … I … I can,” replied Dithering hesitantly and clearly becoming upset at the recollection of the events surrounding the loss of Scoundrel’s fourth stepmother.

“… and then I asked Scoundrel to go around the house and make sure all the windows were locked.”

“And as far as you know, did he?” asked Clenchyn-Buthocks.

“Well, I wasn’t sure, so I went round after him and made sure that they were all closed and locked before we left.”

“Why did you do that?”

“Because I couldn’t be sure that he’d done what I asked him to. I didn’t trust him to have done it.”

“And had he locked them?”

“As far as I can remember, yes.”

“Then what did you do?” asked Clenchyn-Buthocks.

“Well, we went out. We all left the house together. Fragrance and me went to the pub and he said he was going to see his mates. It was about nine p.m.”

“How long did it take you to get to the public house?”

“Ten minute walk.”

“And what time did you leave the public house?”

“Fragrance left about ten thirty. She felt a bit queasy. Something she ate, so she went home.”

“Was there any reason you didn’t go with her?”

“I would’ve done, but she said for me to stay, she’d be alright.” Superficial Dithering’s eyes watered, “I wish I ’ad of done.”

“I’m not asking you to speculate but if she’d gone straight home, what time would you have expected her to arrive?”

“About ten minutes later. Twenty to eleven.”

“Did you return to the house that evening?”

“Yes.”

“What time was that?”

“About half past eleven.”

“What did you find when you arrived home?”

“I went into the lounge to see if Fragrance was still up. She might have been watching a bit of telly.” He broke down and sobbed, “She was on the floor.” He paused in recollection. “I could see blood on her face but I thought she was alright. I thought she’d slipped.” He sobbed loudly, “I said her name. She was still warm. I … I …”

“It’s alright, Mr. Dithering,” said Clenchyn-Buthocks quietly, “In your own time.”

“When she didn’t open her eyes, that’s when I seen she wasn’t breathing and I spoke to her but I knew, I knew she was gorn but I didn’t want ’er to be.”

“And then?”

“I called the ambulance and I was talking to them when I seen the telly was gorn. I told the 999 and they said the police was on their way too and not to move ’er.”

“It’s not in dispute that the emergency services attended. Who arrived first, the ambulance or the police?”

“While the ambulance men were running up the path, the police car pulled up.”

“What did you do then?”

“The police asked me some questions. I don’t remember …”

“Apart from the television having gone, did you notice anything else?”

“What do you mean?” asked Dithering looking a little puzzled.

“Well, was everything else as you had left it?”

“Oh no, no. One of the back windows had been forced.”

“Which one?” asked Clenchyn-Buthocks.

“Oh, the downstairs lounge window. There were marks on the outside frame. The window had been levered inwards splintering the frame.”

“Did your son, the defendant, come home that night? I take it you have only the one son?”

“No, he never. Not as far as I know. A lot more police come and was taking pictures and fingerprints and searchin’. They took Fragrance away at about two in the morning and I had to go to the police station to make a statement.”

“Does your son, Scoundrel, have a key?”

“No. I won’t give him a key.”

“Indeed? Why not?”

“Like I said at the beginning, I don’t trust him to be in the house alone. I don’t know what he’ll do. I can’t believe he’s gorn and done this.”

“Thank you, Mr. Dithering. Please wait there. There may be some further questions for you from my learned friend.”

Justin Fawcett-Gently rose to his feet. Twelve pairs of eyes looked at him properly for the first time. He was tall. He was handsome. He was quite dashing. When he spoke, his voice was warm and sympathetic.

“Mr. Dithering, I’m going to ask you some questions on behalf of your son, Scoundrel.”

Dithering looked at him expectantly. “Yes,” he said.

Fawcett-Gently made him wait. Dithering shifted visibly from one foot to the other. He looked uneasy. Just as the judge was about to look up, Fawcett-Gently’s voice broke the silence. His voice was firm.

“Let me say straight away that you have my condolences in this dreadful tragedy.”

“Thank you,” said Dithering.

“As difficult as this may be for you, I have to ask you a number of questions. Do you understand?”

“Yes, it’s okay,” said Dithering, “Yer ’ave to do yer job.”

“Thank you, Mr. Dithering. It’s right, isn’t it, that you never saw Scoundrel steal a television set on the fifteenth of May this year?”

“Well, I know he stole it because …” began Dithering.

“That’s not what I’m asking you,” interrupted Fawcett-Gently, “You never saw him steal it, did you?”

“No,” replied Dithering flatly.

“I don’t want you to tell the court what anyone else has told you but do you have any other reason for thinking that Scoundrel stole the television apart from what people have told you since that night?”

“Because Dodgy Dealer told me …” began Dithering, as Fawcett-Gently had accurately guessed that he would.

“No, Mr. Dithering. No. I am not asking you to repeat what someone has told you. I apologise if I failed to make that clear,” said Fawcett-Gently, knowing full well that he had not failed to make it perfectly clear but also aware of the effect upon the jury of Dithering’s apparent difficulty in dealing with what seemed, from the safety of the jury box, to be a simple question. He intended to capitalise on this.

“Am I right in this, Mr. Dithering, that your belief that Scoundrel stole the television did not arise until after you had spoken to other people?”

“Yes, that’s right,” replied Dithering, now feeling relieved that he had, he believed, managed to say, albeit not in his own words, that Scoundrel had stolen the television.

“Help me with this if you can,” asked Fawcett-Gently, “You said, in reply to questions from my learned friend, that you asked Scoundrel to lock all the windows and that you then went and checked all those windows because you did not trust him to have closed them. That’s right, isn’t it?”

“Yes.”

At this point the individual members of the jury began to ask themselves the obvious question, but Fawcett-Gently held back. Dithering could see the way his evidence was going and he felt that he was about to be made to look stupid. Had he known Fawcett-Gently, he would have known that Fawcett-Gently never made a witness look merely stupid when he could make him look like a liar.

“Why didn’t you trust him?” inquired Fawcett-Gently.

“Do I ’ave to say?” replied Dithering with instant regret that his answer made him look evasive. Fawcett-Gently knew that Dithering would almost certainly have been told by the police officer in the case, whose job it was to liaise with civilian witnesses, that on no account should he reveal to the jury that his son had previous convictions for offences involving dishonesty, for that would prejudice the minds of the jurors and mean a retrial if that evidence were inadmissible. None of those convictions had involved Superficial Dithering or his late wife, Fragrance. Fawcett-Gently went a step further, prepared to interrupt the witness if he had to, “I want you to.”

The judge looked up. “Take care, Mr. Fawcett-Gently,” he said, to remind Fawcett-Gently that the defendant’s previous convictions were not known to the jury.

“I take note of what Your Honour says,” replied Fawcett-Gently, quietly and politely. The jury was intrigued by the intrigue. Who was hiding what from whom?

“Let me be direct, Mr. Dithering,” said Fawcett-Gently, with heavy emphasis on his words. “Do you say that it is the case that you do not trust your son because of his previous behaviour? Yes or no?”

“Yes,” said Dithering.

“Do you mean his previous behaviour toward you?” ventured Fawcett-Gently.

“Yes,” replied Dithering relieved that with that question he was past the danger zone.

“And precisely what behaviour was that?” queried Fawcett-Gently.

Dithering hesitated and looking uncertain as to whether or not he should answer finally said, “He’s stolen from me before, several times.”

There were two or three suppressed gasps from the jury box.

“Thank you, Mr. Dithering,” said Fawcett-Gently with a tone of triumph in his voice. “Thank you. We’ve finally got there.”

Fawcett-Gently’s voice took on a new tone. It became cold and ruthless.

“Your son, Scoundrel, has never stolen anything from you in his life. That’s the truth, isn’t it?”

“No!” blurted Dithering.

“Don’t look at me. Look at the members of the jury. They are the ones whom you have to convince,” said Fawcett-Gently coldly. “Have you ever reported him to the police before, despite these several alleged thefts? Remember you are under oath.”

“No,” replied Dithering lamely.

“Because there has been nothing to report, has there?” demanded Fawcett-Gently savagely.

“That’s not right,” said Dithering. He looked pale.

“You have come here to tell this jury a pack of lies,” stated Fawcett-Gently, his voice rising in the hushed courtroom. “All you’ve said about not trusting him is a complete fabrication, isn’t it?” he demanded.

“No! No! A father wouldn’t do that to his son!” cried Dithering.

“No?” asked Fawcett-Gently. “No? Of course he wouldn’t. Any more than a son would steal from his own father’s house or kill his stepmother. Is that right?”

“He did steal from me before. He stole the television now. I’m not lying.”

“But you never saw him steal the television. You’ve already admitted that. So all you can say about this alleged offence is that you and your late wife, Fragrance, left the house with Scoundrel at about nine p.m. Yes?”

“Yes.”

“Then you and Scoundrel went your separate ways. Yes?”

“Yes.”

“When you came home, the back window had been forced, you found the body of your poor fifth wife and your television set had been taken. Yes?”

“Yes.”

“And in regard to this matter, that is the sum total of your evidence. Yes?”

“Yes,” conceded Dithering.

“Then let me deal with two final matters.”

Dithering waited anxiously but relieved that his ordeal was almost ended.

“Where do you keep your spare key?” asked Fawcett-Gently almost indifferently.

“I ’aven’t got a spare key,” replied Dithering.

“Not to either the front door or the back door?”

“No.”

“Do you recall telling the jury that you would not give Scoundrel a key because you don’t trust him?”

Dithering hesitated. “Yes,” he replied guardedly.

“Scoundrel doesn’t live with you all the time. That’s right isn’t it?”

“Yes.”

“Is it not right that those are the two reasons why Scoundrel does not have a key? He doesn’t live with you often enough to need one and even if he wanted one, you haven’t got one to give him?”

“I don’t give him a key because I don’t trust him.”

“And he’s never been inconvenienced by that has he?”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, he’s never asked you for a key. That’s right isn’t it?”

“Well …” began Dithering.

“He’s never asked you for a key has he? Do you have some difficulty with that question?”

“Yes,” said Dithering.

“Yes, what, Mr. Dithering? He’s never asked you for a key or you have some difficulty with the question?”

“He’s never asked me for a key,” admitted Dithering lamely.

“So in fact, as far as you know, he’s never needed one?”

“Well,” Dithering hesitated again, “No.”

“Would you agree that is quite a different situation from you refusing to give him a key?”

Dithering didn’t reply. He looked down.

“Well, would you agree?”

“I don’t know,” said Dithering.

“That’s your evidence is it? You don’t know?”

Dithering did not reply and Fawcett-Gently did not push it any further. He had made his point.

“Mr. Dithering, I have only one further question for you.” Fawcett-Gently delayed slightly, refusing to end Dithering’s ordeal.

“Answer this question if you will. I should be grateful if you would look at the jury when you answer it. Why on earth …?” He paused and looked at the jury bringing their minds back to the obvious question, the question he had held back.

“Why on earth, if, as you allege, Scoundrel had stolen from you before and if you did not trust him to lock the windows after you asked him to do so, did you bother to ask him to lock the windows in the first place?”

Dithering paused, appearing to search for an adequate answer. He knew that what he had done was just normal behaviour in his own household, but here it was all being taken out of context and twisted.

“I don’t know. I can’t remember why but that’s what I did.”

“You can’t remember why you did that on a day that is indelibly etched in your memory? Then I do have another question for you. Would you agree that your doubt as to Scoundrel’s reliability on the fifteenth of May was misplaced because he did in fact close and lock all the windows exactly as you had asked him to do?”

“What do you mean?”

“Let me put it this way,” replied Fawcett-Gently, the jury now enthralled, as he asked a completely different question. “Scoundrel locked the windows exactly as you asked him to do, so your belief that he had not locked them was wrong, wasn’t it?”

“I suppose so, yes,” said Dithering lamely, eager to end his ordeal.

“Yes. You were wrong. Thank you.”

To the judge, Fawcett-Gently said crisply, “Your Honour, I have no further questions for this witness,” and he sat down.

“That wasn’t the same question, Mr. Fawcett-Gently,” said the judge.

Fawcett-Gently rose promptly to his feet, “I’m obliged, Your Honour. That is the question I meant to ask.”

“Perhaps the witness would like the opportunity to answer the first question if you re-phrase it, Mr. Fawcett-Gently,” said the judge, “There may be a world of difference between the witness accepting that his doubt as to his son’s unreliability was misplaced and his wrongful belief as to whether or not his son had locked windows on a specific occasion. I don’t know.”

“If it pleases Your Honour,” replied Fawcett-Gently. The jury was enjoying this unexpected encore.

“Mr. Dithering, given the fact that Scoundrel did lock the windows, do you feel that your distrust of him was misplaced?”

“Yes,” said Dithering when he meant no, because as far as he was concerned he’d had reason to distrust his son long before this particular incident.

“I am deeply obliged Your Honour,” said Fawcett-Gently.

“Very well,” said the judge in exasperation at Dithering’s answer. The whole of Fawcett-Gently’s cross-examination amounted to very little in evidential terms. The relevant facts were not in dispute but some of the jurors were now taking a sympathetic interest in the defendant, Scoundrel Dithering.

“Are you quite sure you have no other questions for this witness?” asked the judge, aware that Fawcett-Gently had asked not one question about the relationship between Scoundrel and his fourth stepmother, Fragrance Dithering.

“None, Your Honour,” replied Fawcett-Gently as he sat.

Clenchyn-Buthocks rose to his feet, his bemusement not apparent in his expression. “Your Honour, I have no re-examination. Has Your Honour any questions?”

“No, Mr. Clenchyn-Buthocks, I do not,” said the judge. “This witness can be released unless either counsel has any objection.” Neither barrister looked up and the court usher led a relieved witness from the witness box. The jury watched as Dithering walked from the court not once acknowledging his son’s feigned look of hurt from the dock.

“With Your Honour’s leave,” announced Clenchyn-Buthocks, “I call Felonious Facilitator.”

The examination-in-chief was quite short and quite damning. In essence, according to Facilitator, Scoundrel Dithering had called at Facilitator’s address, a few doors down from Superficial Dithering’s house and had asked to borrow some tools “to do a job”. This had been at about a quarter past ten on the evening in question. The police had certainly done their homework. In his written statement, which was not referred to in court, but which Clenchyn-Buthocks had before him as he skilfully elicited the evidence, Facilitator had used the phrase “to do a job” three times. The implication was clear. Clenchyn-Buthocks made sure that Facilitator used the phrase three times in his oral evidence. Facilitator said that he had lent a bag of tools to Scoundrel Dithering, which had included tyre levers, a crowbar, a lump hammer and a number of large screwdrivers. In fact, what might amount to a more than adequate housebreaker’s kit in the right or wrong hands. The tools had been returned some forty minutes later just before eleven o’clock. The sympathetic interest for Scoundrel Dithering in the minds of some jurors began to wane. Regardless of what Superficial Dithering had or had not seen, this witness had certainly seen enough to implicate Scoundrel Dithering.

Fawcett-Gently rose to his feet to cross-examine. Each witness was not in court when the preceding witnesses gave their evidence so none knew what to expect at the hands of Justin Fawcett-Gently. Facilitator nevertheless felt confident. The officer in the case, who had been allowed to sit in court even though he might be called to give evidence, had been a reassuring figure. It was he who had told Facilitator to keep the facts simple, not to go beyond what he had said in his written statement and to deal with cross-examination honestly and as shortly as possible. The officer had made sure that Facilitator had had plenty of opportunity to refresh his memory, outside of the court, from the written statement he had made three months earlier. Facilitator had virtually memorised it.

“Mr. Facilitator, I’m going to ask you some questions on behalf of the defendant, Scoundrel Dithering,” said Fawcett-Gently warmly and relaxingly. Every member of the jury sat attentively and expectantly.

“Could you recall this matter quite clearly before you came to court this morning?”

“Oh yes, indeed,” said Facilitator loudly and clearly, to show that there could be no doubt as to the accuracy of his evidence.

“This incident that you describe happened three months ago, that’s right, isn’t it?” asked Fawcett-Gently.

“Yes.” was the firm reply.

“Did you make a written statement to the police about this matter at the time?” asked Fawcett-Gently.

“Yes, I did.”

“Did you refresh your memory from that statement outside court today?” asked Fawcett-Gently in a suspicious tone.

Facilitator suddenly felt ill at ease. Perhaps it had been wrong of the officer to let him read his statement outside.

“Yes,” he replied in a somewhat subdued tone, looking and sounding unhappy.

“There’s nothing wrong with that,” said Fawcett-Gently allowing him to relax a little yet maintaining his unease, “but it’s right, isn’t it, that you’ve been able to give the evidence you’ve given today because you were able to refresh your memory at your leisure from the statement you made three months ago?”

“Yes,” said Facilitator, clearly relieved.

“So it would not be correct to say that you had a clear recollection of this matter before you came to court today?”

“No, it wouldn’t.”

“Then why did you say, in reply to my very first question that you could recall this matter quite clearly before you came to court this morning? That wasn’t true, was it?”

Facilitator felt very self-conscious and embarrassed. His words were being misunderstood or twisted. He felt as though he were on trial.

“Was it?” emphasised Fawcett-Gently.

“No,” Facilitator said unhappily.

“Mr. Fawcett-Gently,” interposed the judge, “Giving evidence is not a test of memory.”

“I agree, Your Honour. It’s a test of answering questions accurately and truthfully,” riposted Fawcett-Gently, for the benefit of the jury.

“Let me ask you this,” Fawcett-Gently asked Facilitator, “When you answered questions put to you by my learned friend, you said that Scoundrel Dithering had asked you to lend him some tools to do a job, right?”

“Yes.”

“Were you aware, before you lent him the tools, that it is a criminal offence to knowingly lend tools to another person for use in the commission of an offence?”

“Yes,” said Facilitator, anxious to impress upon the jury that he was not implicated in what Scoundrel had done.

“Did you know or suspect that Scoundrel Dithering wanted to borrow these tools from you so that he could commit a criminal offence?”

“No, I did not,” said Facilitator with all the appearance of indignation.

“Why did you think he wanted to borrow them?”

Facilitator felt uneasy. What could he say? The police hadn’t covered this point when they took his statement. He found himself saying, “I thought he wanted them to work on his car.”

“When you gave your evidence-in-chief, why did you say, on three distinct occasions during that evidence that he had said that he wanted the tools to do a job?”

“That’s just the way it came out. It’s the way I was asked.”

“Isn’t it also the way it is written in your statement of three months ago? Perhaps you would like to see your statement?”

The original statement that Felonious Facilitator had made to the police and signed was passed to him from the bundle of papers in the possession of the court clerk. He looked first at his signature where it appeared on the document and then agreed that it was indeed his original statement.

He read it with shaking hands.

“Yes,” he said.

“Is that just the way it came out? Or is it the way you were asked?”

“Well …” began Facilitator and trailed off.

“Who wrote out that statement?” asked Fawcett-Gently.

“The police officer at the station. I just signed it.”

“Did that phrase, that he wanted the tools to do a job, get in there three times because that’s what you said, or was it put in that particular way by the police officer who wrote it?”

Facilitator felt cold and clammy, “Well, like that, by the police officer.”

“Do you accept that as a matter of fact your evidence now gives an entirely different picture?” asked Fawcett-Gently coldly.

Clenchyn-Buthocks rose swiftly, “Matter for the jury, Your Honour.”

“Relevant to the credibility of this witness, Your Honour,” replied Fawcett-Gently without pause.

“Mr. Fawcett-Gently may ask the question,” said the judge. Fawcett-Gently repeated it.

“How?” asked Facilitator.

“Were you not at first suggesting to the jury that you believed Scoundrel borrowed the tools to commit an offence and that is not now your evidence?”

“Well,” Facilitator’s voice faded away.

“You know, don’t you, what you intend your own evidence to suggest?” demanded Fawcett-Gently.

“Yes,” came the limp reply.

“And what you’re saying now is not what your evidence at first suggested. That’s right, isn’t it?”

“Yes,” whispered Facilitator.

“You’ll have to speak louder,” said the judge, “Not only does the jury have to hear you but it’s being written down or recorded.”

“Yes,” said Facilitator, his voice cracking at the implication in the judge’s final words.

“Mr. Facilitator,” snapped Fawcett-Gently, bringing the attention of the witness firmly back to himself, his voice becoming cold and hard, “It’s right, is it not, that your evidence is a pack of lies, a complete and utter fabrication?”

Facilitator was visibly shaken and the jury taken aback by this sudden and vitriolic attack.

“I, I …” stammered Facilitator.

“The truth is that Scoundrel Dithering never even called at your house, that he never borrowed any tools and that he never had any conversation with you that evening in May because quite simply you did not see him on that day? That’s right, isn’t it?”

“No! No!”

Clenchyn-Buthocks rose too quickly to his feet and protested, “Your Honour, my learned friend really must give the witness the opportunity to answer each question before the next is put,” then sat down realising that given individually, the answers might be far more damaging to the prosecution’s case. He would no longer be able to say to the jury that the defence simply had not allowed this prosecution witness to answer the questions put and that the questions themselves were not evidence.

Fawcett-Gently smiled benignly. “I don’t wish to do you an injustice, Mr. Facilitator. It’s right, isn’t it, that Scoundrel Dithering never called at your house on the fifteenth of May?”

“No, that’s not right,” replied the now somewhat dazed and unfortunate witness who had thought his reply had been to all three questions.

Fawcett-Gently hardened his tone.

“That’s what you say, is it? It’s right, isn’t it, Scoundrel Dithering never borrowed any tools from you on the fifteenth of May?”

“No.”

“That’s what you say, is it? It’s right, isn’t it, that you didn’t even see Scoundrel Dithering on the evening of the second Saturday in May?”

“No.”

“That’s what you say, is it? I’ve only three more questions for you.”

Facilitator looked relieved.

“You know what tools you say you lent Scoundrel Dithering. Did you bring them to court with you for the jury members to see or are they to be denied that opportunity?”

“I wasn’t asked to bring them.”

“Did the police take away the tools you told them you had lent to Scoundrel Dithering for any reason, such as forensic examination against marks on a window frame or fingerprints?”

“No, they didn’t.”

“Have you conspired with any other person to give false testimony against this defendant?”

The courtroom was hushed.

“What?” said Facilitator, visibly shaken at the allegation.

“Thank you. I’ve no further questions,” and Fawcett-Gently sat down having sown the seed of suspicion in the minds of the jurors that his client was the victim of a conspiracy when there was, on the hard evidence, nothing at all to substantiate this and reinforcing that suggestion by his final, unanswered question to Facilitator.

The judge looked at Clenchyn-Buthocks who rose slowly to his feet.

“Your Honour, I have only one question in re-examination. Mr. Facilitator, what is your reply to my learned friend’s last question? Have you conspired with any other person to give false testimony against this defendant?”

“No, I haven’t.”

A subdued Facilitator left the witness box.

“Your Honour, I call Dodgy Dealer,” said Clenchyn-Buthocks.

The judge merely nodded. Clenchyn-Buthocks got to the point quickly and expertly with his new witness.

“… and when the defendant came to your house at about eleven o’clock that evening, did he have anything with him?”

“Yes, he had a television set.”

“Was he carrying it openly?”

“No, it was in a dustbin liner.”

“Did he say anything to you?”

“Yes. He asked me if I wanted to buy a secondhand colour TV for fifty quid.”

“Did you ask him where he had got it from?”

“Yes. He said it was his dad’s.”

“Did you know that he had stolen it?” asked Clenchyn-Buthocks.

“Your Honour,” said Fawcett-Gently, rising swiftly to his feet, “This witness would not know that the television he describes was stolen unless he was present at the time of the theft or was told by the thief and I’ve seen no evidence to suggest either.”

Fawcett-Gently was reminding the judge that this witness’s written statement did not contain any evidence that Dealer had known that the television set was stolen. The rules of evidence did not allow the prosecution to call evidence, which had not already been disclosed to the defence in statement form.

“Yes,” said the judge, “Mr. Clenchyn-Buthocks?”

“Let me put it this way, Mr. Dealer,” said Clenchyn-Buthocks. “Did Scoundrel Dithering say anything at all to you about the way in which he came to be in possession of the television?”

“Pardon?” asked Dealer, looking a little puzzled.

“Did he tell you how he got it?” interrupted the judge impatiently.

“No, sir,” said Dealer.

“Did you buy it from him?” asked Clenchyn-Buthocks.

“Yes,” said Dealer.

“How much did you pay?”

“The fifty quid he wanted.”

“What did you do with it?”

“What?”

“The television,” said Clenchyn-Buthocks with more than a hint of exasperation.

“Well, the next morning the police came round house to house asking if anyone had seen a break in at Mr. Dithering’s.”

“Did any police officer mention Fragrance Dithering?”

“No, they just asked about a break in. I guess they wasn’t letting on.”

“Mr. Dealer,” said the judge, “No guesswork please.”

“What did you tell them?” continued Clenchyn-Buthocks.

“I said I didn’t know nothin’ about it.”

“Did you tell them that the defendant had sold you his father’s television set for fifty pounds?”

“No, I didn’t.”

“Why not?”

“I thought I’d just take it back to his old man. I didn’t want to get Scoundrel into trouble with the police. I just wanted my fifty quid back.”

“Did you take the television set back to Mr. Dithering?”

“Yes, in the afternoon.”

“Is that when you first heard about Fragrance Dithering?”

“Yes.”

“Thank you, Mr. Dealer. Please wait there. There may be some further questions for you.”

The jury waited expectantly as Fawcett-Gently rose to his feet.

“Mr. Dealer, I’m going to ask you some questions on behalf of the defendant, Scoundrel Dithering. It’s right, isn’t it, that you live in the same street as his father?”

“Yes.”

“About five doors down on the same side?”

“Yes.”

“And Felonious Facilitator lives opposite, about midway between the two of you?”

“Yes,” said Dealer.

“And the three of you have known each other well for the past fifteen years? In fact you went to school together?”

“Yes that’s right.”

“And you’re all good friends?”

“Yes.”

This was news to the jury. Clenchyn-Buthocks cursed inwardly. He knew that he should have brought this out in his examination-in-chief of this witness because it was clearly disclosed in the statements. It had seemed irrelevant to the issue so he had left it. It might now seem to the jury that the prosecution had not been completely forthright. However, not a flicker crossed his face. Again, Fawcett-Gently left the issue dangling before the jury for them to draw what might be a false conclusion.

“Let me ask you this,” he said. “You said in reply to a question from my learned friend that the police came round house to house asking if anyone had seen a break in at Mr. Dithering’s and that after that you took the set back to him. That’s right is it?”

“Yes.”

“When exactly did the police call?”

“At about nine thirty in the morning.”

“How many officers spoke to you?”

“There were two.”

“What exactly did you say to them?”

“I told them I knew nothing about it.”

“Did the police specifically mention to you that a television set had been stolen?”

“Yes.”

“From Mr. Dithering’s house?”

“Yes.”

“You didn’t invite them in and show them the television set that you say Scoundrel Dithering had sold to you?” asked Fawcett-Gently.

“No,” said Dealer.

“But you believed that was the television set they were looking for?”

“Yes.”

“Where in your house did you put the television set?”

“Scoundrel put it down in the hallway, behind the front door. It was there all the time.”

“Right under the noses of the police officers?” asked Fawcett-Gently with the hint of a smile intended only for Dealer.

“Yes,” said Dealer grinning broadly in response. The jury noticed the frown on the judge’s face as he saw Dealer’s humour at what had been a murder investigation.

“Why didn’t you invite them in and show them the set?” demanded Fawcett-Gently.

“I was scared in case they thought I had something to do with it,” ventured Dealer, “so I just took it back to Mr. Dithering after they’d gone.”

“Effectively you denied having the television?” asked Fawcett-Gently.

“No, I didn’t deny it,” said Dealer, indignation in his voice. “They didn’t specifically ask me.”

“Come now, Mr. Dealer, you may not have been asked the specific question, but you knew what they wanted,” said Fawcett-Gently, his voice rising. “You lied to the police when you said you knew nothing, didn’t you?”

“I was scared.”

“But you lied?”

“Yes, at the time I did,” said Dealer.

“You did say that the police were conducting house to house enquiries?”

“Yes, I did say that.”

“Did an officer tell you that they were conducting house to house enquiries?” asked Fawcett-Gently.

“No,” said Dealer.

“Did you see the police call at any other house?”

“No.”

“You just guessed it then, did you?” asked Fawcett-Gently.

“Well, yes,” said Dealer.

“How much of your evidence is guesswork, Mr. Dealer? And how little, if any, is true?”

“All my evidence is true,” said Dealer.

“But you cannot actually say to the jury that the police called at any house but yours. That’s right, isn’t it?”

“Well …” Dealer thought for a moment, “I suppose that’s right.”

“No suppositions, Mr. Dealer,” said the judge, “Is it right or isn’t it, or don’t you know?”

“It’s not a suppose … suppose … suppositrition. I don’t know,” stumbled Dealer.

“When did you take the television set back to Mr. Dithering?” asked Fawcett-Gently.

“In the afternoon, about half past three.”

“Not immediately?”

“No.”

“Why not?”

“Like I said, I was scared. I … wanted things to die down,” stammered Dealer.

“You wanted things to what?” asked Fawcett-Gently without displaying a hint of mischievousness.

“Die down,” mumbled the hapless Dealer, as he realised the incongruity of his chosen figure of speech.

“So you left it for another six hours? On your version of events, you left Mr. Dithering unnecessarily waiting another six hours not knowing that in fact the television set was safely in your hands?”

“Yes. I, I suppose so.”

“In fact, you must have had an uneasy morning, wondering if the police had caught Scoundrel Dithering and would call back, possibly with a search warrant. Is that right?” asked Fawcett-Gently now with an almost sympathetic tone.

“Well, yes,” answered Dealer, grabbing the seemingly plausible escape route offered to him.

“So you thought the police might call back, at your house?” asked Fawcett-Gently quizzically.

“Well, I didn’t really know,” said Dealer, uneasiness apparent in his voice and thinking to himself, “When will this end?” He did not know where this questioning was going to lead and he already felt the trepidation felt by many, if not most, of the witnesses cross-examined by Justin Fawcett-Gently.

“When I asked you, a few minutes ago why you didn’t invite the police officers in and show them the set, you replied, “I was scared in case they thought I had something to do with it.” Do you remember telling the jury that?” asked Fawcett-Gently.

“Yes.”

“And you continued, “so I just took it back to Mr. Dithering after they had gone.” Do you remember telling the jury that?”

“Yes.”

“When my learned friend asked you questions, you didn’t tell the jury then that you didn’t tell the police because you were scared, did you?”

“That is the reason. What other reason would I have?”

“I’ll be corrected if I’m wrong but the answer you gave when my learned friend asked questions was “I thought I’d just take it back to his old man. I didn’t want to get Scoundrel into trouble with the police. I just wanted my fifty quid back.” Do you remember saying that?”

“It’s the same thing.”

“It’s not at all, is it? When you answered my learned friend, you weren’t worried for yourself. If I may paraphrase, you were worried that Scoundrel would get into trouble. When you answered me, you were scared that the police might think you’d had something to do with it. These are different reasons, Mr. Dealer. Which, if either, is correct? Or is the truth that Scoundrel never came to your house at all that night and the reason you’re giving different accounts is because there simply is no true account for you to remember?”

“But I was scared,” ventured Dealer lamely.

“But you were scared?” Fawcett-Gently thrust the words at him.

“Yes, I was,” blurted Dealer.

“Because if the police called back at your house, possibly as a result of arresting Scoundrel Dithering as far as you would know, and found the television set in your possession, it would look as though you had been involved? That’s your evidence, is it?”

“Yes,” said Dealer anxiously.

“Especially as you had already lied to them about knowing nothing about the matter?” asked Fawcett-Gently quietly, looking at the jury. Dealer did not reply. Fawcett-Gently was making the point merely for the jury.

“So at half past two you carried the set back down the road, did you?”

“Yes.”

“I am sorry, my mistake. You said half past three earlier. Which is it?”

“Umm. Half past …” Dealer faltered as Fawcett-Gently had hoped. The jury watched intensely.

“Which is it?” asked the judge.

“Your written statement says half past three, if that assists you,” interposed Fawcett-Gently.

“Then it must have been half past three,” said Dealer deflated.

“So you carried the television back to Mr. Dithering’s house rather than ask Mr. Dithering to come to your house to identify it?”

“Yes.”

“What was it like, this television that you picked up and carried along the pavement? Can you describe it?” asked Fawcett-Gently who had never seen the set, because it had not been produced in court, and who was fishing for any information that might assist his client’s case.

“No, I never actually saw it. Like I said, it was in a dustbin liner.”

“A black one?”

“Yes.”

“That you could not see through?”

“No.”

“That you could see through?”

“No.”

“Which?”

“That I couldn’t see through.”

Fawcett-Gently could scarcely believe his luck.

“So it’s right to say, isn’t it, that for all you know, the black dustbin liner might have contained a cardboard box with bricks in it, because you never actually saw the television?”

Dealer hesitated. “Yes,” he conceded, grateful for the opportunity to disassociate himself from an intimate knowledge of the inanimate object.

Clenchyn-Buthocks exhaled forcefully but silently.

“Yet you gave fifty pounds for it,” said Fawcett-Gently scornfully. “Let me put this to you,” he continued, his change of tone causing the jury to sit forward in eager anticipation. “You are seriously suggesting that after the police called and after you had lied to them, you took a black dustbin liner which you believed contained Mr. Dithering’s television, back to his house without actually looking inside? It’s a pack of lies, a complete fabrication, isn’t it?”

“No!”

“When you misled the police, they appeared to believe you, didn’t they?”

“Yes, they did but …” he trailed off.

“And if this jury believed you, it would also be believing your misleading lies. That’s right, isn’t it?”

“No.”

“Perhaps you could tell the jury what, if anything, Mr. Dithering said when you took back his television set. Did he tell you it wasn’t his but Fragrance’s?”

“No.”

“What did you say to him?”

“I knocked on the door and when he opened it, I said, “I think this is your TV.” He said, “My TV? Just put it down on the floor.” Then he said, “The boy killed Fragrance.””

“Members of the jury,” interposed the judge, “You’ve already heard Mr. Dithering give evidence that is not in dispute that made it clear beyond peradventure that he did not know who had killed his wife, so you will attach no importance to Mr. Dealer’s last comment. Mr. Dealer, you were asked what you had said to Mr. Dithering, not what he had said to you. Will you please confine your answers to the questions asked?”

Fawcett-Gently spoke, “Mr. Dealer, did Mr. Dithering tell you that his wife was dead?”

“Yes. He said he wanted to be left alone so I went home.”

Fawcett-Gently again spoke slowly, “You doubtless know that Scoundrel Dithering is charged with stealing a television set from Fragrance Dithering. Your evidence is not that Scoundrel sold you a television set that had belonged to Fragrance, nor is it that Mr. Dithering told you that the television set you returned to him belonged to anyone but him? Is that correct?”

Dealer thought long and hard before replying, “Yes, it is.”

“Nevertheless, have you conspired with any other witness to give false testimony against Scoundrel Dithering, for some reason which you have not told the court?”

“No.”

“The fact is that Scoundrel Dithering never came round to your house at all that night. That’s right, isn’t it?”

“No, he did come round.”

“He never sold you anything at all, let alone something in a plastic bag for which you gave him fifty pounds without even looking at it, did he?”

“Yes he did.”

“Do you remember giving him fifty pounds?”

“Yes, I do.”

“Coins or notes?”

“What? Uh, notes,” replied Dealer.

“What denominations?”

“I think it was two twenties and a ten.”

“Can you be certain?”

“Yes, it was. I am certain.”

“Did you get your money back?”

“No.”

“Because there quite simply wasn’t any to get back, was there?”

“Yes there was.”

“If you had been as scared as you say you were, that the police might return, find the television set in your possession and jump to the wrong conclusion, you would not have kept it in your hallway for a further six hours before taking it back to Mr. Dithering, would you? The whole of your evidence against Scoundrel Dithering is a pack of lies.”

“I’m telling the truth,” said Dealer.

“And he said it was his dad’s, did he?”

“Yes.”

“Really? So you knew it wasn’t his to sell?”

Dealer stood silent.

“Because if that’s right, you dishonestly handled the television set you describe knowing or believing it was stolen, yes?”

Dealer remained silent.

“If you have no further replies, Mr. Dealer, I have no further questions. Thank you.” and Fawcett-Gently sat down.

Detective Inspector Meddler was the remaining prosecution witness.

He was the officer responsible for the case and he had interviewed Scoundrel Dithering. He had what some described as luck and others as a rare ability to crack a case. He was generally insensitive and uncompromising towards victims, witnesses and suspects although he could inadvertently make exceptions. His methods had made him a few enemies, not least for occasionally putting senior officers in the position where they had been publicly forced to endorse his successes without privately approving of his methods. Those that had addressed their minds to the question, knew that his integrity was arguable.

Although outwardly, he could appear brash and abrasive, with little concern for the sensitivities of those around him, inwardly, this was true. Some subordinate officers worshipped and emulated him even though he could appear unsympathetic towards their obvious gullibility. Unlike them, he believed that their lives were the least important of all those whose lives they touched. Despite the occasional outward manifestation to the contrary, he was a man who put himself first. He had considered most situations; even those which he had not yet encountered and he knew what he would do when called upon. The minimum required. For him, most matters were either black or white. Those few that were not were grey. Of that, he was certain. Despite having committed the faux pas of becoming a police officer, it would not have been untoward for a man of his ability to have been considered for some other career, possibly as a receptionist, although ultimate success would have eluded him were he not prepared to shed his rudeness and his disquiet at working in the hotel trade.

Few of his colleagues knew his age but it seemed that immaturity would never leave him.

He now produced in evidence a written summary of the tape-recorded interview that had taken place between himself and Scoundrel Dithering with a solicitor present. Scoundrel had answered all of the questions put to him. His account agreed with his father’s up to the point where they had gone their separate ways. He’d told the detective inspector that after he left his father, he’d gone, by taxi, to a club some four miles away. At the club, three friends, men who also lived in Ayness Avenue, had met him. In the interview he had given the names and addresses of those three alibi witnesses to the police. In the light of the other evidence against him, Meddler had not arranged for those three potential witnesses to be questioned. Additionally, Meddler had known that all three were hardened criminals who would lie to the police at the drop of a very small hat.

Clenchyn-Buthocks had told Fawcett-Gently that, as far as the prosecution were concerned, the whole of Meddler’s evidence, including the interview, could be read to the jury. He was not of course surprised when Fawcett-Gently insisted that the officer be called to give his evidence live.

When Meddler had finished his evidence-in-chief by reading, with Clenchyn-Buthocks, the transcript of the interview, Clenchyn-Buthocks sat down and Fawcett-Gently rose to his feet. The jurors wondered what he could do, if anything, with the evidence they had just heard, given that it didn’t seem to take the case either way. They were not to be disappointed. Fawcett-Gently dispensed with the niceties. The officer had been in court throughout the trial. He had experienced the varied and probing techniques of Clenchyn-Buthocks and Fawcett-Gently for years. The jury was not, of course, party to this.

“Detective Inspector,” began Fawcett-Gently, “Your first involvement in this case was after the arrest of Scoundrel Dithering, was it not?”

“Yes, Your Honour,” replied the officer, looking at the jury as a witness should when replying to a question.

“You had no part in taking statements from the prosecution witnesses but you interviewed the defendant on the strength of what they had said in their statements. That’s right, isn’t it?”

“Yes, Your Honour.”

“It was clear from the statements that you had seen that it was alleged that the defendant, after parting from his father at about nine o’clock, had borrowed some tools from Felonious Facilitator at about ten fifteen and had returned those tools just before eleven o’clock?”

“Yes,” replied Meddler, comfortably now dropping the formality.

The jurors realised here was a man purporting to be a professional witness and the difference in the quality of the evidence was unremarkable.

“During the interview, and the jurors have copies of the transcript before them, he told you that he had taken a taxi to the Red Lion Public House arriving there at about ten twenty, didn’t he?”

“Yes.”

“He said that almost immediately on arrival, he had been met by three friends of his, neighbours. That’s right, isn’t it?”

“That’s what he said, Your Honour.”

“And that they were together until after midnight?”

“Yes.”

“If, for the purposes of this question, what he said in interview was right, then he could not have committed this offence, could he?”

“That’s absolutely right, Your Honour, but I didn’t believe him.”

“No, of course you didn’t. That’s why, isn’t it, that you didn’t bother to obtain statements from these three friends of his, Convincing and Compulsive Liar and Complete Phoney.”

“Yes, Your Honour, I thought I’d leave it to a jury,” said Meddler instantly regretting his smugness.

“Leave what to a jury?”

Meddler realised he had opened a door better left closed but he had no hesitation in following it through.

“Well, to decide whether or not he was telling the truth.”

“But you haven’t left it to a jury, have you?” demanded Fawcett-Gently, his voice rising. “You’ve made the decision yourself that he was not telling the truth. You’ve just said so.”

“Well I …” the officer faltered and cursed inwardly, “I don’t quite know what it is you’re getting at, sir.”

“What I’m getting at, as your words put it, is this. You had formed the view that if those three men had given statements that supported the defendant’s version of events, then they would have been lying. That’s right, isn’t it?”

The officer was silent.

“Take your time and think about it,” said Fawcett-Gently.

A look of concentration appeared on the officer’s face and then he said, “Yes.”

“Whatever those three men would have said, the jury might have believed them, isn’t that also the case?” asked Fawcett-Gently, knowing that the prosecution would never have called them as witnesses if their statements did not support the prosecution case, but would nevertheless have had a duty to disclose those statements to the defence.

“That has to be right, doesn’t it, Detective Inspector?” assisted the judge kindly because he too knew Meddler and had a great deal of sympathy for the officers inadequacies.

“I suppose so, Your Honour. Yes.”

“It’s right, isn’t it, that Felonious Facilitator, Dodgy Dealer and the three alibi witnesses named by the defendant, all live in Ayness Avenue?” asked Fawcett-Gently, continuing to press.

“Yes, that is right, Your Honour.”

“On what basis did you really decide that statements should be taken only from those members of that small community, whose evidence supported the prosecution case?”

Every juror leaned forward.

“I know what you’re trying to get me to say, sir.”

“I’m trying to get you to tell the jury the truth,” retorted Fawcett-Gently.

“You wily old bastard. You’ve got me,” thought Meddler as he now looked directly at Fawcett-Gently who looked back knowing exactly what Meddler was thinking.

“I am telling the truth, Your Honour,” said the officer, “I may have made an error of judgment.”

“You may have made an error of judgment?” enquired Fawcett-Gently incredulously. “You call usurping the jury’s right to judge the evidence in a murder case an error of judgment, do you?”

Meddler had not foreseen this question even though he had heard and watched all of the evidence being given.

“Is the answer to that question going to help the jury, Mr. Fawcett-Gently?” asked the judge.

“I’ll move on, Your Honour. Detective Inspector, do you accept that statements should have been taken from those three men as part of the investigative procedure?”

“Yes, I do,” said Meddler.

“And that if they had been, then dependent upon what they said, it must be right that this case may never have come to court?”

“I wouldn’t know about that. That would be up to the Crown Prosecution Service.”

“Not if you decided not to charge, officer. Did you make any enquiries about the amount of money the defendant had on him when he was at the Red Lion that night?”

“I don’t believe he was at the Red Lion that night, Your Honour, but to answer the question, no.”

“Did any officer go there and ask anyone apart from the overlooked alibi witnesses, one of the barmen for example, whether or not the defendant was there and how much money he might have had?”

“No.”

“Someone should have shouldn’t they, Officer?”

DI Meddler began to wish that were the last question.

“Shouldn’t they have, Detective Inspector?”

“Yes,” said Meddler, his eyes fixed firmly on the jury.

“Thank you,” and Fawcett-Gently sat down, giving the officer a piercing look and a very uncomfortable feeling of nakedness.

Clenchyn-Buthocks rose to his feet. “I’ve no re-examination unless Your Honour has any questions.”

“No,” said the judge.

“Your Honour, there remains only the agreed medical evidence to be read,” said Clenchyn-Buthocks as Meddler crept unobtrusively from the witness box.

“Members of the jury,” said the judge, “Evidence in statement form which is not in dispute will be read to you now so there is no need to bring the maker of the statement to court for cross-examination. You treat this evidence in exactly the same way as you treat all the other evidence you have heard, as if the maker of the statement had been here in person to give this evidence.”

Clenchyn-Buthocks then read through a short statement made by the pathologist who had performed the post mortem examination upon Fragrance Dithering. Her facial injuries had been severe but her death had been caused by a skull fracture. In the opinion of the pathologist, the impact to her head from the hearth had been exacerbated by the severity of the immediately preceding punch and it was as a direct consequence of that deliberate punch that she had died, as near as he could determine between ten thirty and eleven thirty p.m. Fawcett-Gently didn’t bat an eyelid because, on his case, his client hadn’t been present when the injuries were caused.

“That is the case for the Crown,” concluded Clenchyn-Buthocks and he sat down.

“Thank you Mr. Clenchyn-Buthocks,” said the judge, “Mr. Fawcett-Gently?”

Fawcett-Gently rose to his feet, “Your Honour, there is a matter of …”

“Yes,” said the judge, interrupting him, “A matter of law which need not concern the jury. Members of the jury, as I explained briefly at the outset of the trial, there might be occasions when a question of law would arise. These are matters for me to deal with and I must now ask you to retire to the jury room. Let’s say thirty minutes. Time enough for you to have refreshment.”

The jury bailiff indicated to the jurors to rise and they solemnly followed her through the door to the jury room. Within seconds she was back and resumed her vacant expression at the front of the court.

“Your Honour, in my submission, there is no case for this defendant to answer on either count on the indictment,” said Fawcett-Gently. “Superficial Dithering’s evidence before the jury was that a television set was stolen but not to whom it belonged. Mr. Dithering gave no evidence of its return nor did he investigate what was in the bin liner which Dealer says he returned. The words “My TV”, which Mr. Dealer said Mr. Dithering uttered, do not advance the Crown’s case that there was a television, in a bin liner, which belonged to Fragrance Dithering. If Mr. Dealer did receive a television set from Scoundrel Dithering, which is denied, on the evidence it wasn’t Fragrance Dithering’s television set that is the subject of the charge on the indictment. The evidence from Dealer, a man who wilfully misled the police, is inherently unreliable. He misled the police; he never saw a television set and on his own evidence, he dishonestly received property knowing or believing it to be stolen. There is also the prospect of an inherently unsafe conviction given the failure of the police to investigate the defendant’s alibi both with his known alibi witnesses and with staff at the Red Lion Public House. Finally, there was a deplorable oversight in the lack of forensic examination, either for fingerprints on the tools or the window frame or matching the tools Mr. Facilitator said he loaned, to the damage on the window frame. The case against my client is inherently unreliable and there is no case for him to answer.”

“Mr. Clenchyn-Buthocks?” said the judge.

“Your Honour, my learned friend lends an interpretation to the evidence which the evidence does not support. There is evidence of forceful entry and that the television set was taken. The absence of evidence of ownership of the television set does not detract from the evidence before the jury that; firstly, this defendant borrowed tools from Mr. Facilitator, for some purpose, at ten fifteen p.m. and returned them at about eleven p.m.; secondly, at eleven p.m. this defendant took a black bin liner to Mr. Dealer which he said contained his father’s television set and sold it to him for fifty pounds; thirdly, Mr. Dithering returned home at half past eleven to find his wife dead, the television set missing, that one of the back windows had been forced, marks on the outside frame and that the window had been levered inwards, splintering the frame; fourthly Mr. Dealer returned the bin liner and contents to Mr. Dithering in the afternoon of the next day. It’s axiomatic, if the jury accepts the first and second points, that the only conclusion that can be reached is that this defendant was the person who forced the window with borrowed tools and stole the television which he described to Mr. Dealer as his father’s television set. There is evidence from which the members of a reasonable jury, properly directed, can be satisfied so that they are sure that it was this defendant who entered the premises forcefully with tools borrowed from Mr. Facilitator and took the television set. This case hinges upon identity and even if there is insufficient evidence upon which to convict the defendant of theft of the television from a particular person, the evidence puts the defendant there, at the time of the murder of Fragrance Dithering, with a motive. There is clearly a case for him to answer on the count of murder. It’s not in dispute that the Defence clearly knew of the three alleged alibi witnesses from the typed transcript of the defendant’s interview. Nothing has been lost. The Defence is free to call them to give evidence on the defendant’s behalf if it so wishes.”

The judge looked sombre as he spoke, “In my judgment, this case is fraught with difficulty for the Crown. Taken on its own, the shortcomings in the evidence of any single prosecution witness might have been a matter for the jury. There is the questionable aspect in the evidence of Facilitator where he implies that Scoundrel Dithering wanted to borrow tools for an illicit enterprise and nevertheless went on to lend tools to him. There is the inconclusive evidence of Dealer, on one view, the receiver of a television set which the Crown alleges is stolen but who says he knew not what he had received. There is the failure on the part of the police to interview identifiable alibi witnesses and to seek evidence in rebuttal if necessary, possibly from other witnesses at the Red Lion Public House; a failure to carry out a forensic examination of the tools and the marks on the window frame for comparison and a failure to seek fingerprint evidence from the tools, if not the window frame. There is no evidence to rebut the defendant’s claim in interview that he was elsewhere apart from the evidence the jury has heard from Mr. Dealer and Mr. Facilitator. Taken together, the prosecution evidence is not only inherently unreliable but, taken at its highest, does not amount to evidence upon which a jury properly directed could convict. In those circumstances, the count of theft must clearly be withdrawn from the jury. Where does that leave the remaining count of murder? The Crown does not resile from its position that the case for murder is predicated upon identification of the thief. That count too must therefore fall. I must say that this is an unfortunate case. It shows the dangers of adopting an “open and shut case” mentality. Regardless of what any potential alibi witnesses may or may not have said, the Crown has to show there is a case to answer. That, it has not done. Lessons will have been learned. That is all I say.”

After the formalities with the jury had been dealt with and the jury foreman had returned a formal verdict of not guilty as directed by the judge, the judge said, “Scoundrel Dithering, you may leave the dock.”

“Not yet, Your Honour,” piped up the dock security officer, “He’s got property downstairs.”

“He is free to leave the dock now, officer,” said the judge sharply. “I am not having him taken down through the custody route unless that’s the way he chooses to go.”

The dock officer flushed slightly and Scoundrel Dithering sauntered out of the dock.

“You can bring my roll ups round to the front,” he taunted the dock officer.

Fawcett-Gently didn’t bat an eyelid. He never did.

The judge turned to the members of the jury, “Members of the jury, thank you for your diligence in this matter. As it’s Thursday, I’m discharging you from further jury service this week. If you go with the jury bailiff, you can collect your belongings. Again, thank you.”

Ten minutes later, Scoundrel Dithering thanked Justin Fawcett-Gently and sauntered out through the front door of the courthouse into the sunshine outside. Several jurors also leaving the building smiled at him warmly. They were all pleased that he had been acquitted but every one of them was disappointed that the judge had directed a not guilty verdict rather than allow them the satisfaction of making the decision themselves. Still inside the building, Fawcett-Gently and Clenchyn-Buthocks, both of whom believed that Scoundrel Dithering was guilty without doubt, were talking when DI Meddler passed. He smiled at both barristers, then looking directly at Fawcett-Gently said complimentarily, “Well done, sir. You’re a real killer.”

“I’m not the only one,” smiled Fawcett-Gently gently.

Chapter Two

Two hours later, Justin Fawcett-Gently arrived home. His Jaguar slipped quietly into the drive of his substantial North London home, across the tarmac and eased slowly into the double garage, the doors of which had opened smoothly on his approach. Moments later he stepped from the garage into the late afternoon sun, his hand stitched, leather-soled, full brogue shoes crunching on the gravel approach between the garage and the house.

The house itself could only be approached across the wide gravel ring that surrounded it. As he approached the double oak doors at the front, they opened inwards. To the casual onlooker, a sixth form girl stood framed in the doorway. In her crisply ironed white blouse, pleated grey skirt and navy blue stockings, with her long chestnut hair cascading over her shoulders, she portrayed an innocentia intellectualis that belied her worldly elegance and her age. Her smile was sensuous and eager.

“Darling, I’m so glad you’re home early. I heard your footsteps,” smiled Therapy.

He took his thirty year old, post-graduate wife in his arms, his right arm around her waist and his left arm above it around her shoulders. He clasped her tenderly against his chest.

“I love you,” he said and he kissed her. Their mouths lingered long together, very long, perhaps thirty seconds.

“I believe I love you,” she replied as she gazed up into his eyes.

They moved as one through the door still wrapped in their embrace. He pushed the doors shut behind them and gently separated his body from hers.

“Do you have to go out again?” she asked him gently.

“No. The judge directed a not guilty verdict. I have this crazy idea to take you away for a long weekend. I wasn’t going to tell you but I can’t keep a secret from you.”

She looked up at him. “Where do you want to take me, so you can have your wicked way with me?”

He smiled at her suggestion. “I rather hoped it would be ways, not way. Let’s just lock up the place and drive. Any direction you like. We’ll take the MG and put the top down. When it gets dark we’ll …”

“I know what we’ll do when it gets dark,” she interrupted him, “but we might have to put the top back up again.” She laughed.

“We’ll find a quiet hotel,” he said. “We’ll just take one bag. Travel incognito. Let them think we’re having a dirty, long weekend.”

“We will be,” she smiled. “Do you want to go right now?”

“If you like, darling,” he smiled wearily, “But you’ll have to drive because I’m too tired.”

They looked deeply into each other’s eyes. Neither ever wanted any moments together to end. He felt his feelings for her beginning to overwhelm him. He always felt as though he could never have enough of her. He wanted to absorb her whole being, to consume her. He hoped that her feelings for him were identical. He knew that one day he might ask her. Each of them knew that they would not be leaving right now and also that despite his weariness he would not immediately be getting any sleep. Now she took the initiative and kissed him. Her tongue forced its way between his lips and he resisted momentarily to increase her desire. Slowly they explored the whole of each other’s mouths. After a full minute they parted to take deep breaths.

“Come to bed,” she whispered and she slipped off her shoes.

His hands moved down to the three buttons at the back of her skirt and with a deftness born of experience he undid them and slipped her skirt, with her petticoat, down her thighs and let them drop to the floor together. She lightly stepped from them and with one foot moved them aside. Her legs were slender and long. They kissed again. She tilted back her head and moaned softly. He pressed firmly but gently against her and his right hand moved down her body. She had been standing with one knee slightly forward of the other but now she parted her legs.

“Your love for me is deeply touching,” she sighed, her eyes now closed.

“I want every part of you,” he whispered into her ear.

Gently, with both arms he picked her up and carried her from the hallway up the wide staircase to their bedroom. He lay her gently on the bed and she remained motionless, her eyes still closed. He stepped to the luxuriantly draped window and pulled the sash cord. The heavy curtains closed silently leaving the room dark but not black. He moved back to the bed, pulled back the covers beside where she lay and then lifted her onto that side of the bed replacing the covers over her. Then he undressed completely and lifting the covers on the other side of the bed, slid in beside her. She opened her eyes and turned her head towards him. They embraced and kissed briefly.

“You’re so hot,” she whispered.

Languidly she wrapped her legs around his. Her skin was smooth and soft and her thighs were firm. He could never tire of touching her, of being with her. To themselves, at times such as this, they were one person, one mind, one soul, one body. His pleasure was her pleasure and hers was his. She gently ran her hand down his body. Tantalisingly she caressed his muscled stomach. He unbuttoned her blouse and helped her slip it off. He reached behind her and easily undid her bra with one hand. She sleepily wriggled out of it. He reached down with both hands and unfastened her stockings from her suspender belt. Gently he eased the belt with her panties down over her slender hips pushing them further on down until she was able to finish pushing them off with her feet. They disappeared into the foot of the bed. He began to ease down her stockings and when her stocking tops were just above her knees she slowly drew up her legs and removed the blue silk stockings completely. She straightened her legs and they held and pressed against each other for the entire length of their bodies, each wanting as much bodily contact as possible. She knew that he was tired and she whispered to him to lay back. As he did so she moved her hands over his body. He sighed deeply and she whispered, “Go to sleep, my darling.”

He was already asleep. She closed her eyes and within seconds was asleep beside him.

Two hours later, up and fully dressed, she gently spoke his name, “Justin?”

He opened his eyes.

“Wake up, darling.”

He looked up at her. “Is there a problem, sweetheart? What time is it?”

“It’s six-thirty. We won’t be going anywhere this weekend. There’s a message for you and dinner’s almost ready. Why don’t you shower?”

Another two hours later, showered and dined and at his leisure, Justin logged in. Ten minutes later, Therapy brought a tray with coffee into the study. She placed it down on the small octagonal coffee table and smiled at him.

“Can you tell me what it is, darling?”

“It’s another clean.”

“If you’re tired, why don’t you ask Section if he’ll transfer it to me?”

“It’s messy, darling. Better not discussed.” He looked pensive. “It’s not in London. I’ll go tomorrow morning and be back on Saturday. I’m sorry about the weekend. I really am.”

“There’ll be other weekends. Is there anything I can do to help?”

“Thank you, darling. I’ll be going as Paradoxically Forgettable so I’ll need to flip the number plates on the MG. I’m afraid you’ll have to use the Jag for the weekend.”

As she came up behind him to place her hands on his shoulders, he deleted the document he had been reading online but not quickly enough for her not to see the London postcode displayed. She knew that his deception was no more than a way of protecting her.

The following morning at eleven, Therapy stepped back as Justin slowly drove away, an arm waving to her, but his mind firmly focused on two other women, Cascade and Passion.

Chapter Three

That afternoon, in another part of North London, in the flat above Cascade and Passion’s, Lustful Motion lay motionless on her bed facing the ceiling. Her room was cool and sienna despite the burning sun beyond the slatted wooden blinds. She sighed and put her right hand between her thighs but then withdrew it, despite her longing, at the insistent, subliminal admission that this was a poor substitute.

It was nearly two years since Unremarkable had walked out of the door. For the nine months she had known him prior to that, he had invaded every sense of her being, every facet of her existence; her life had been lived through him. When he left, as much as he had given, he took more. Her desperation was that not only did she sometimes feel that he had taken her soul, but that she knew not where. So she had survived, allowing the days to pass; in all things, adequate.

She couldn’t recall when she had first become aware that her most frequently recurring thought nowadays, on reaching her office, was the urge to turn around and scuttle back to the security of her flat, or maybe it was because of the associations it held for her. Anyway, she told herself, it was always good to come home. Home to the sanctity of her bedroom. As she lay there, her mind toyed with words and word formations. She formulated the concept that the ghosts she wished to exorcise were not merely in her room, her inner sanctum. Some were within that other inner sanctum, which now ached to be possessed.

Earlier today, she had reached the office door. Docile, her manager, had arrived at the same time. Pleasant, inoffensive, a wife, two young children, a mortgage and eyes that said, “I wish my wife looked like you but I’ll never do anything about it.” Nor would she. He couldn’t have handled it. She heard herself say, “Docile, I’m not well. I’m going home.”

Believing he knew women better than he did, he replied genuinely and wrongly, “I understand,” adding, “Stay home until you’re better.”

She didn’t feel guilty. The previous day, Thursday, had been the traditional working late day in the office to ensure that on Friday all necessary work would be completed by the weekend without disrupting anyone’s Friday evening plans. In her case, it had been. Here she was in the now empty house. The young married Lampshades and their baby lived on the ground floor with the benefit and burden of the garden. Every morning Plastic Lampshade took the train while Satin Lampshade took the car, dropping Baby Lampshade at her mother’s. He always came home before she arrived back with baby. He always had dinner ready. She was always pleased. Their love for each other was always genuine.

The first floor was divided. Cascade and Passion, in their mid to late twenties, were the longest residents. They worked from home buying and selling on the internet and clearly profiting from it. They had a P.O. Box no.

The other flat was empty. Transmitted Disease had gone back to his parents leaving a few weeks rent arrears and a flat in need of redecoration.

The top floor, although not large, was hers. “The penthouse,” she mused. From the small entrance hall, doors opened off into her bedroom, bathroom, kitchen and living room. The bathroom had the benefit of an additional door into her bedroom. She tended to keep the hall access locked, unless she had visitors, when she kept her bedroom access locked. This was the result of a faux pas by a drunken friend of Unremarkable’s whom she had been persuaded to allow to stay overnight by Unremarkable when he had been away.

The bedroom and the living room each had windows on three sides. She had deliberately furnished the sunnier room as her bedroom because she was a romantic and still held an unfulfilled fantasy to make love for a whole afternoon in a sun-filled bedroom. For now, the sun was denied full entry by the slatted blinds yet persisted in his attempts to possess the whole room by sneaking slowly and diagonally across the blind, making sure that eventually he touched everything. The view from each room was remarkable. Her flat was at sufficient elevation that, with a telescope, she could have gazed, unseen, from her shadowed living room, into the sunny, unfamiliar interiors of unknown buildings half a mile or more away.

She sat up then stood and walked to the foot of the bed. She looked at each blind then back at the bed. She walked to the middle window, slowly unwound the cord from the cleat and fully pulled up the blind. The square of her bed was now fully bathed in the brilliant noon sunlight, as though the sun were compensating for her earlier denial. She looked out over the park. There was no one in sight, no one to see her. Slowly she undressed, dropping her clothes to the floor and standing on them.

She stood naked before the window, closing her eyes and leaning back her head. She felt the heat of the sun, intensified by the glass pane, on her upper body. She became hotter. Lowering her head and looking out to make sure there was nobody to see her, she leaned forward against the pane and gasped as she felt the unexpected and incongruous relative coldness of the glass upon her. After thirty seconds, she turned away and lay diagonally in the centre of the golden square of her bed.

With practised hands she deftly and expertly aroused her body and indulged her desires. She turned and twisted and stretched to make herself available to her own lust, until finally, unable to curb her whimpering cries, she let it all out, not too loudly, she hoped, unless of course, it attracted Cascade and Passion.

She lay there for long minutes, sweating profusely. She felt better than she had felt for a long time. She felt calm; she felt relaxed. She felt whoozy and she loved it.

She slipped into a dream. She dreamed she was lying naked on her bed when she heard a light tap at the outer door, clearly audible through her wide open bedroom door. “Cascade,” she thought, as she pictured that the not unattractive, boyish nymph who shared with Passion, both of whom eyed her discreetly; and, she fancied, fantasised about her; had knocked to borrow something she didn’t need. Perhaps they wanted a battery? Feeling reckless, as one can in a dream, and wanting Cascade to be attracted to her, she rose to open the door naked. She opened it almost fully. The young man standing outside did not avert his eyes from her nudity and even in her dream, she wondered at this.

“Hi, I’m Trace,” he said and he smiled warmly and naturally. She had never seen such beautiful eyes in a man. Transfixed, she wanted just to look into them while they looked into hers. Unembarrassed and defiant she held his gaze. A whimsical fancy had taken her. “Perhaps he’s a secret agent,” she mused.

Momentarily, she pretended to herself that his eyes said, “Want me,” Then embarrassment overcame her, even in a dream. She became suddenly self-conscious in the knowledge that he had taken in everything including her intimate aroma. She raised her arms to her chest. She all but closed the door in his face and then peered round it.

“Oh God, I’m sorry. I was expecting someone else,” she stammered.

“I’m sorry to be a disappointment,” he smiled.

She could scarcely believe the words she spoke.

“But I’ve been waiting for you,” she whispered. He pushed the door wider and walked her backwards the couple of steps across the hall into her bedroom and then to the bed. As she sat he returned to the outer door to close it. As he returned, she looked around her for her dressing gown and became self-conscious at the damp patch on the bed. She turned to face him. His eyes had found the patch.

He stood before her, his waist almost level with her face and reached out his hands.

“I’m here now.”

She offered her hands and he took them. He spoke again.

“I didn’t expect to find you.”

“Do you know me?” she asked.

“I do now,” he smiled

“Not yet,” she breathed dreamily, scarcely believing her response.

He lay her back on her bed, kicked off his shoes and stretched, fully clothed beside her. Holding her close, he lightly touched every part of her and she knew she was his. He released her only to remove his jeans, socks and shirt.

He held her quietly for what seemed like hours and in the arms of this stranger, whom she felt she had always known, she sometimes wept. Occasionally, he would lie back when she could see the bitter torments of inerasable memory on his face. She slept fitfully and wasn’t sure whether she dreamed that he too wept, his tears running hot and moistening her body. It seemed to her that with words unspoken, each exorcised the ghosts of yesterday.

A skipped heartbeat woke her suddenly when she realised that she had slept deeply and quite peacefully. She hadn’t wanted the dream to end there and hoped she would remember it. Sitting up and facing the window, she felt cold and she struggled to grasp reality. She was momentarily uncertain whether it had all been a dream or that odd thing, a dream within a dream. She wanted to turn and look, or at least reach out behind her, fearful that reality might be other than as she wished. Then, fully awake, her mind deceptively told her that it had been real. She turned round to look at him and found herself alone. She put a hand over her eyes and concentrated. She stood, found her gown and slipped into it to hide her nakedness before sitting back on the bed to try and rationalise her thoughts.

She realised how hungry she was and turned to her bedside clock. It was not quite three in the afternoon. Had it all really just been a dream, she asked herself? She went through it all step by step in her mind. She pictured herself undressing at the window. That surely had been real. Had she then fallen asleep exhausted by her hedonistic exploits and slipped into a fantasy?

The event, whether it be real or imagined, reminded her of the time when some friends of Unremarkable’s had been round and against her better judgment, Unremarkable had persuaded her to take one of the pills they’d brought. She wasn’t sure what had happened in the ensuing three hours of which she had absolutely no recollection but she had known, beyond doubt that she hadn’t wanted to think about it.

She rose and methodically took a shower. With a bath towel wrapped round her, she dried her hair. Then she looked through her modestly stocked ’fridge freezer but made only sandwiches, coffee and soup, all the time accepting more and more that she had been the beneficiary of a particularly gratifying dream. She hadn’t wanted the dream to end where it had and she hoped she would remember it and be able to repeat it.

When she finished eating it was just four o’clock. She knew Docile wouldn’t ring to ask if she’d be in on Monday even though it was Friday.

Determined to have a recurring dream if she could possibly achieve it, she took clean pillowcases and sheets from her wardrobe to remake the bed. She thought she would go out, get some fresh air and make herself feel even better by spending some money. She might go to the local cinema.

“I’ve been living alone too long,” she mused. “It totally destroys one’s judgment, objectivity and perception of reality.” Unexpectedly, a tear rolled down her cheek.

Determinedly, she sat before her dressing table and deftly applied her cosmetic façade. She decided to power dress in clothing Docile would never see. She well knew the deference this would attract and tonight she wanted to hide in the anonymity of people believing she was someone or something she wasn’t, rather than be an unnoticed, mere fieldmouse.

Her hair pulled back tightly, bespectacled and in a pinstripe skirt suit, carrying a folio size black leather handbag, she stepped from her flat. She knew that on a Friday night, when people wanted to relax, anyone dressed as she was would be studiously avoided, if not regarded as sad. Ergo blissful anonymity.

Just before she turned to descend the staircase to the ground floor, she stopped and knelt to adjust her shoe. As she stood and turned down the stairwell, she came face to face with a stranger. Justin Fawcett-Gently hesitated momentarily and then stood to one side as she passed him on the stairs. He avoided her gaze and she recognised another soul intent on anonymity.

“Difficult to pass unnoticed when you’re that good looking,” she thought. “Wonder where he’s going. Obviously not for me.”

When she reached the ground floor she turned and looked back up the stairs. He was gone and she couldn’t hear his footsteps. She smiled to herself as she thought, “Perhaps Cascade and Passion have hidden depths.”

Three hours later she returned. It wasn’t yet eight thirty but the sun was low on the horizon. She’d seen a film, she’d dined out and she’d been left alone. The perfect evening. She had decided to quit while she was ahead even though both she and the Friday night were young.

As she ascended the second flight of stairs, she was struck by a tranquillity within the building that she’d never noticed before.

“Bottle of Pinot Grigio or maybe a Chenin Blanc and a TV movie tonight,” she mused, “and two hours in the gym followed by a sauna tomorrow.”

Once inside her own flat, she’d barely had time to slip off her jacket and skirt before there was a light tap on her door.

“Cascade,” she thought and staying in her slip, she opened the door with a welcoming smile.

The man she had seen earlier on the stairs stood there. This time, he didn’t avoid her gaze.

“Hi,” he said, glancing down at her state of dress, “I’ve just moved in downstairs. I know this sounds silly but I don’t know how to programme the gas boiler. I’ve no hot water. I wondered if you could tell me, or show me, how?”

A small alarm bell rang in her mind. She didn’t know this man. She had no specific reason, other than cautiousness, to distrust him. Perhaps he caught her almost inappreciable hesitation; perhaps a flicker crossed her eyes.

“I have my keys,” he said softly and held up a bunch of keys on which she recognised the front door key and what she knew, from its tab, was a flat key.

“Okay,” she said, “I’ll be down in a few minutes. I’ve just come in.”

“That’s great,” he replied, “Thank you. I’m Paradoxically Forgettable, by the way.”

“Okay, Paradoxically,” she smiled, closing the door as he turned to walk away.

Five minutes later, back in jeans and jumper, she knocked on the door which had once been Transmitted Disease’s to find it ajar. She gently pushed it open and called out his name, “Paradoxically?” She found him in the kitchen where she’d correctly guessed the programmable timer would be, as it was in her own flat. She showed him how to programme the controls and he wrote down her brief instructions on the back of an old envelope.

“Thank you. That’s great,” he smiled.

“I thought you said you’d moved in. Where’s your furniture?” she asked as she properly took in the contents of the flat. The only furniture she could see was Transmitted Disease’s abandoned broken down settee and a table.

“Coming tomorrow. I want to give the place a bit of a spring clean first. Maybe see you tomorrow. I’d better get started. I don’t want to finish this too late.”

“Have you eaten?” she asked with the afterthought that there was nothing she was going to do about it if he hadn’t.

“I’m fine,” he smiled. “I had fish and chips and a Dr. Pepper earlier.”

“Dr. Pepper?” she smiled.

“Well, I might go out for a drink in an hour or so if you’d like to join me?”

“No thanks. I’ve done my going out for today. Just a bottle of wine and a TV movie for me now.”

“Well, enjoy it,” he smiled. “I have to get on with this,” he said looking behind himself at the grubby flat.

“God, he’s good looking,” she thought.

“Don’t you have a girlfriend to clean the place up for you?” she asked, “Not that I think it’s a woman’s role,” she added quickly.

“I’m independent at the moment,” he smiled.

“That’s one way of putting it,” she smiled. “What do you do?”

“Graphic design,” he smiled, “You?”

“I’m in advertising.”

“Must keep you busy?”

“Between you and me, not as busy as our clients think. We’ve a captive client base and the work is more repetition than innovation.”

“Sounds like graphic design,” he smiled. “What software do you use?”

“Adobe,” she replied.

“Makes sense with the dangerous little knowledge of clients today. I could talk shop all night but I don’t want to bore you. I’m not going to clean this place up now. I’m going to wander off and find a cosy wine bar. I think being tipsy will be a great advantage when I come to sleep on that thing,” and he nodded towards the broken settee.

“I wonder what he’s like in bed?” she mused. “I don’t mind talking shop,” she said, attracted to him. “I would come with you but I’ve had a strange day. I’ve been out and my mind has accepted I’m home now.”

“That’s okay. Maybe I’ll see you tomorrow but I won’t be getting up early,” he smiled.

He seemed to be pushing her out and she didn’t want to go, not just yet anyway, but his flat was hardly the place to be.

She found herself asking, “Why don’t you come up to my flat and have a couple of glasses of wine? It’s more hospitable than this.”

He hesitated.

“I won’t be offended if you say no,” she smiled.

“No, I’d love to come up. Just let me grab my jacket.”

She looked at him quizzically.

“A man’s jacket is the male equivalent of a woman’s handbag,” he said. “You wouldn’t believe what I have in here.”

“I can guess,” she laughed, “Lipstick, breath freshener, condoms, sanitary towels and Cocodamol?”

He laughed, “That old female intuition again.”

She led him up to her flat. The coffee she’d put on minutes earlier had finished filtering and she poured a mug for each of them in the kitchen.

“Milk and sugar?”

“Whatever you’re having,” he smiled.

“Sex with a stranger called Paradoxically Forgettable, I hope.” she thought.

They sat at opposite ends of the settee.

“You’ve got a nice flat,” he said, glancing around. “Some good views.”

“Come and have a look,” she said, standing up and leading him, one by one, round the three windows to show him her 270° view of London. He walked back round the three windows gazing out for some time. “Interesting vantage point,” he smiled.

“I thought of buying a telescope,” she said. “Carry out a bit of clandestine surveillance on my distant neighbours.”

He looked at her quizzically.

“I’m just joking,” she said.

He smiled and returned to the settee. She sat a little nearer to him this time.

“This is very comfortable,” he smiled, “and this coffee is superb.”

“Oh my God,” she laughed, “I’m so sorry. I invited you up here for a glass of wine.”

“I’m happy with whatever you invited me up here for,” he smiled.

“I’m kind of hungry again,” she said, “Would you like something to eat? Some salad maybe? I make good salads.”

“Yes, I’d love that. The lingering taste of fish and chips doesn’t do much for me.”

She pulled a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc from her cooler and took it into him with two glasses. “I hope you like it really chilled.”

“In this heat, yes,” he replied.

She put the bottle and glasses on the low table in front of him and said, “Would you do the honours while I make something?”

“My pleasure,” he replied.

It took her just five minutes to make a decent sized bowl of Greek salad. She always used Greek feta, baby plum tomatoes, small cucumbers and Karyatis olives in extra virgin olive oil. In that time she also made, perhaps incongruously, but because she absolutely loved it, a decent sized bowl of Waldorf salad. She deftly rough cut a Pink Lady apple and a small green celery stick, threw in a handful of raisins and walnut halves and drizzled the mix with extra virgin olive oil before roughly stirring in sufficient garlic mayonnaise to coat but not drown. She defrosted two ciabatta rolls in the microwave, crisped them on top of her toaster, stuck a serving spoon in each salad and took everything into him.

“I like my food chunky,” she smiled as she plonked the salad bowls and rolls down on the coffee table before him with a couple of plates and forks. “Tell me now; do you want Niçoise as well?”

“No, this looks great,” he said.

She smiled, “Everything is great with you, isn’t it?”

“If life’s good, no harm in acknowledging the fact,” he smiled as he picked up and offered her a charitable glass of her own wine.

The substance he’d slipped into her drink was tasteless. It was no more than a sedative which would send her to sleep sometime in the next thirty minutes. Then he would decide how he would dispose of her.

“They don’t go too well together, do they?” she nodded at the salad, “but I just love them both so much.”

She handed him a plate and spooned Waldorf salad onto it.

“I want you to taste this first,” she said excitedly. “I make fantastic Waldorf salad.”

“What a shame,” he thought. “What a waste,” but he had a job to do; his anonymity had been compromised as a result of his own carelessness. He ate as she ate.

“This really is delicious,” he said, finishing his Waldorf salad. Before he could say another word, she spooned Greek salad onto his plate.

“Try this now,” she said. “I make fantastic Greek salad too.”

He tasted it. It too was delicious. She again ate too. He realised that the food in her stomach was likely to delay her falling asleep. He didn’t want to be here any longer than he had to be although it didn’t seem as though she was likely to receive visitors unannounced, which would be an added complication.

“Tell me about your work?” she asked as she handed him a second glass of wine.

He gave her his plausible cover story knowing it would never be checked out.

“It sounds so interesting,” she said as she took the liberty of snuggling up next to him. “Why don’t you sleep on my settee tonight?”

“I’d like that,” he lied then realised in other circumstances, it would have been the truth.

“I never told you my name,” she said, “I’m Lustful.”

She turned her face to look up at him. He knew that her feelings would be terribly hurt if he didn’t kiss her. It wouldn’t make killing her more difficult but it would give him feelings to deal with that would have been better left undisturbed. He kissed her tenderly and genuinely. She tasted of a wonderful mix of Pinot and salty feta, which he knew would never taste the same from another woman’s mouth.

He kissed her again, deeply and longingly. When they paused to take deep breaths, she said, “Paradoxically, I might do something I’d regret.”

“I’m sure there’s something we could do that you wouldn’t regret.”

“I want us to take each other to bed.”

He stood and effortlessly swept her off her feet as she gasped. He carried her through the small hallway into her bedroom and laid her gently on her own bed. She lay on her side as he stood, undressing, before her eyes. His body was smooth and hard. She realised that he was older than her but she couldn’t guess by how many years. He was tall, dark and proverbially handsome, in every way. He leaned over her and unfastened her jeans and slipped them down over her long, shapely lower limbs. She sat up and struggled to remove her jumper. She lay back in her lingerie. He came to her again and undressed her fully. She felt tired but she didn’t want to sleep. She felt his mouth on hers as his tongue probed her eager mouth.

“You taste wonderful,” he said.

In her increasingly drowsy and confused state, she whispered, “Taste me again,” and languidly moved her thighs to accommodate him.

He kissed her gently and lovingly. He caressed her intimately, arousing her and kissed her soft mouth again. Despite her weariness, she responded positively.

“I can’t stay awake,” she whispered, “Make love to me now.” He made love to her quickly and powerfully and she bucked and writhed and moaned in suffuse ecstasy. After only minutes, he lay spent in her arms, his caresses deftly bringing her to orgasm.

“Thank you,” she whispered. “I had a dream last night. It might have been about you,” she said drowsily and absently. “I never finished the dream and I don’t know what happened after we made love.”

A hot tear landed in her eye and stung her momentarily.

“Oh, Paradoxically,” she whispered, “Did you need a woman’s love that much?”

Momentarily roused, she opened her eyes to look at him as he gazed back into her eyes with preoccupation. A thought occurred to her.

“Why didn’t you ask Cascade and Passion how to work your programmer?”

Faint alarm bells began to ring in her head. She tried to keep her eyes open but concentration failed her as she could no longer resist the slide into deep sleep.

“Lustful Motion,” he whispered, “I’m going to do something I shouldn’t.”

“Motion,” she whispered, “You know my name, Motion.”

She felt his hands on her neck.

“Please don’t kill me.” she whispered.

The next morning, Saturday, she opened her eyes. Her room was bathed in sunshine. Her watch lay in its usual place, next to her pillow. Eleven thirty. She felt a momentary giddiness as she sat up in her dressing gown.

“Hangover?” she thought. She couldn’t remember. She wandered into her living room and saw the two salad bowls, the single plate and fork, the single wine glass and the empty Pinot bottle. She sat down on the settee. The wine glass was half full and she couldn’t resist. She sipped and chased the cobwebs away while she tried to recollect the events of the past twenty or so hours. As she slowly sipped the warm wine, she struggled to remember her dream of the previous afternoon. She knew it had been sexual and she vaguely recalled the face of her dream lover but his name escaped her. “Well, at least I ate,” she thought, vaguely troubled by the fact that she couldn’t remember devouring what had obviously been a delectable meal.

Suddenly she panicked, “God, it is Saturday, isn’t it?” she asked rhetorically. She turned on the TV and flicked up text. It was Saturday.

Panic over, she tidied up and made for the shower. She shed her dressing gown, stood naked and stretched like a cat.

“I need a few downward dogs,” she reflected.

Stepping in to the shower cubicle, she put her hand on the control. She felt a slight itch on her leg and reached down to rub her inner thigh. She was sticky. She looked at the fluid on her hand. Unperturbed, she smelled it. There was no doubt. She stepped out of the shower cubicle, sat on the toilet seat cover and studied and cleaned herself.

“Wow,” she thought.

She had no unpleasant memories or sensations, no soreness and felt no unease.

“God, I made love to someone,” she thought, “so it wasn’t just a dream.”

Before showering, she walked back into the kitchen. There was definitely only one plate, fork and wine glass. As she washed the glass, she contemplated.

“I can’t remember a thing,” she thought. “Half a bottle or even a bottle of wine wouldn’t do this to me. God, whoever he was, he made sure he covered his tracks. A one night stand I guess. No precautions. Perhaps he knew me. Docile? No way. Rohypnol? No. Something in the wine?”

She realised that she probably had been given something, not just something to make her insensible but also something to make her forget. Speculation was futile. Perhaps she should tell the police, but what was there to tell them because she couldn’t say with certainty that she hadn’t consented to what had happened to her.

“If it was something in the wine,” she suddenly thought as she looked at the washed, upturned glass on the draining board, “they can do … nothing now.”

Still naked, she returned to the shower cubicle and enjoyed a long, hot, cleansing, aqueous onslaught. Her curiosity as to what had occurred abated, if not stifled by the futility of speculation, she became aware of a feeling of physical gratification. Returning to her bedroom, she dried her hair, dressed in clean jeans and sweatshirt and applied very little make up. She looked and felt fresh. It feels good to be alive, she mused. She picked up a canvas shoulder bag and left her flat. She was starving and in need of extravagant retail therapy. On the way down the stairs, a stray thought entered her mind and she knocked on Cascade and Passion’s door, intending to discover if they’d seen anyone with her but on the pretext that she hoped they hadn’t been disturbed by noise from her flat the previous evening. There was no reply and she could hear no noise at all from beyond their apartment door.

“I’ll ask them later,” she said to herself.

She knew they hadn’t gone away because they always left spare keys with her, pushing them through her letterbox if she was out when they left. Another thought, which carried the echoes of some lost memory, occurred to her.

“There’s no sound.” Unable to recollect the memory, she dismissed it and carried on out into the warm Saturday afternoon.

She indulged herself in a huge lunch and an afternoon’s shopping for clothes, most of which she knew she’d be returning. She spent the early part of the evening in the local cinema watching the latest release with the distinct feeling that somehow, somewhere, she’d seen it before, even though it had only been on release since the previous day.

After another fruitless attempt at Cascade and Passion’s door, she spent the latter part of the evening practising yoga before submitting to the warm internal glow of tranquil contentment and an early night.

Chapter Four

Three days later, on Tuesday evening, after a couple of uneventful days back at work and after a total absence of both movement and noise from Cascade and Passion, Lustful ’phoned their number. The ’phone rang continuously without offering her the opportunity to leave a recorded message. She knew that if their message box had been full, the machine would have told her, so their machine was clearly disconnected or switched off. Given the events of the weekend, warning bells reluctantly began to ring in her head. She ’phoned the police from home to express concern at the absence of her neighbours for what she assumed was four nights, Friday to Monday and asked that a lady officer attend if that were possible.

The Police Operator asked for the name, address and telephone number of the landlord and she gave him the letting agency’s twenty four hour emergency number. One hour later, at seven p.m., DI Meddler knocked on her flat door and introduced himself. She allowed him and the uniformed female officer with him into her flat.

“Miss Motion?” asked Meddler.

“Yes.”

“I’m DI Meddler and I’m here as a result of your call. I’ve just spent ten minutes in the flat downstairs that was occupied by the two young ladies. The Managing Agent let us in and left. When did you last see your neighbours, Cascade and Passion?”

“Last Wednesday when I saw them coming home from the station. What did you find in their flat?”

“Nothing,” replied Meddler. “The place was clean and tidy. Even the rubbish had been emptied. Everything else put away tidily or in its place, as you’d expect if a tidy person were to go away on holiday.”

“They always leave their keys with me when they go away,” said Lustful, “and they never leave the place tidy.”

“That’s not enough to launch a missing person’s enquiry,” said Meddler. “There has to be more. Did anything suspicious happen in the last few days?”

“I can’t remember the period from Friday afternoon until I woke on Saturday morning. I was asleep.”

“What do you mean, you can’t remember? What time did you go to bed on Friday, if you were in bed, that is?”

“I don’t remember falling asleep at all.”

“Is that usual?” asked the DI.

“No. Everyone remembers going to bed. I don’t even remember that.”

“Is that all you can tell me?”

“Yes, I think so. Well, no, not exactly. It’s a delicate matter.”

“The reason why you asked that a female officer attend?”

Lustful sat on her bed with the female officer while Meddler made himself coffee and started to write up his notebook.

“I thought I’d dreamed it all until I took a shower and discovered that a man had made love to me, but I have no recollection of events between falling asleep on Friday afternoon and waking on Saturday with, well, with you know what inside me. Whoever it was completely covered his tracks.”

“You must have been terrified. Why didn’t you report it?” asked the officer.

“I wasn’t terrified. It felt great. I was glad it’d been real because it was so comforting. I do now vaguely remember someone saying, “I’m going to do something I shouldn’t.” Do you think that was to do with Cascade and Passion’s disappearance?”

“I don’t know. It’s just conjecture but you may have seen something or someone you weren’t meant to and you’ve been given a drug to forget. Thank God you’re not dead. As it’s been six days we’ll sweep the hallway and both flats for fingerprints. It’s unlikely there’d be any evidence of toxicity in you, or DNA, but I’d like you to allow the Force’s Medical Examiner to take a sample of blood and a swab. Will you consent even though, I have to say, I suspect there’ll be no trace of him and no trace of any drugs?”

The officer looked at Lustful. With a faraway look on her face and not knowing why, Lustful whispered, “No trace.”

Chapter Five

Three days earlier at seven a.m. on Saturday morning, four and a half hours before Lustful had woken up, Justin had slipped out of bed beside her. He knew she wouldn’t wake before ten a.m. at the earliest. He’d spent an hour methodically cleaning her flat. When he was ready to leave, just before doing so, he looked down at her as she slept. She looked peaceful. He stepped back and quickly left her flat shortly after eight a.m. No one saw him leave and once outside the front door, he pulled off his latex gloves and pushed them into his trouser pocket. He walked the mile to where his MG had been parked in an unrestricted parking side street off a busy thoroughfare and drove to a sports complex. He took a shower, worked out on the various running and rowing machines for an hour, had a ten minute swim and then treated himself to a light brunch in the sports complex snack bar.

He glanced at his watch. Still not ten a.m. but with his body and mind renewed, he drove home arriving well before noon despite London traffic. He arrived to find the house empty and the Jag gone. He felt tired after the events of the previous two days. He made the necessary ’phone call and went upstairs to bed.

At three p.m. he was woken by the sound of the front door closing. He heard bags being put down and then recognised the sound of Therapy’s footsteps as she came upstairs.

“Someone’s left an MG in front of the garage so I haven’t put the Jag away,” she smiled at Justin. “How are you?” she asked, knowing not to ask how it had gone.

He sat up and reached out a hand. She took it and sat on the bed next to him.

“Someone saw me. A girl. I slept with her’”

“Did you clean her?”

“No. I gave her a sedative, LSD and chloral hydrate. I told Section she won’t remember a thing but she will, eventually.”

“Justin, Section won’t bend on policy.”

“Do you always clean yours? Aren’t there exceptions? A policy of discretion?”

“Only unapproved exceptions and I didn’t clean my last one. I got what I wanted and he wouldn’t know me even if I made love to him again but Section doesn’t know that. You shouldn’t have told Section, darling.”

“I know. Section has ordered me to intercept and clean her or expect a reprimand.”

“Sometimes we have to do what we have to do to stay alive.”

“I have a trial this week but the judge isn’t sitting on Friday because of witness unavailability which conveniently fits in with her movements. I’ll fix it and call you on a clean ’phone when it’s done.”

The following Tuesday evening as DI Meddler and the lady officer left Lustful’s flat, he told the officer that he saw no benefit in trying to take DNA or toxicity samples from Lustful. Whoever the man had been, he wouldn’t be on a police database. Nor did he think there’d be any fingerprints.

“Aren’t you being a bit negative, sir?” asked the lady officer as she drove Meddler back to the police station. “He must have given her a memory erasing drug. We might find a trace.”

“I’m not sure they exist as such,” replied Meddler, “Alcohol, Rohypnol and a little acid trip usually do the trick. Even if she remembers his face, it won’t be on any of our databases.” He smiled at her, “But thank you for your input.”

Wednesday was an uneventful day in the lives of Scoundrel Dithering, Titus Clenchyn-Buthocks, Therapy, Lustful and DI Meddler. Justin, having mislead Therapy into thinking that the judge wasn’t sitting only on Friday, when in fact, the judge wasn’t sitting on Thursday or Friday, contacted Section on Wednesday. He assured Section, in the form of Inflexible Automaton, his so-called superior, that Lustful would be cleaned without doubt on Friday. He had plans for Thursday which he intended to disclose to no one.

Chapter Six

Thursday was, for the early part, an uneventful day. In the evening, Lustful was on a train home after the usual late Thursday in the office. As the train approached her station and slowed, she stood up and moved towards the carriage door. Outside, the night was wild. The rain drove in sheets against the platform side of the train and she grimaced inwardly at the thought of walking head on into the storm from the station entrance. The train stopped smoothly and she pressed the illuminated button to open the door. It hissed and slid open. She stepped down onto the platform into the savage onslaught.

A frown touched her face as she saw with dismay that the platform lights were not working, but in the light from the carriage windows she could see that no one else had left the train. She smiled wanly to herself as she squared up to the storm. She leaned into the wind and walked briskly along the platform to the station entrance, shielded for the time being by the old waiting room. The train pulled away behind her.

As she turned out of the station the full onslaught of the storm hit her. “Oh!” she gasped thinking, “There won’t be anyone out in this.” She looked across the narrow, empty car park, her eyes searching for the entrance to the shortcut through the alleyway that would avoid the need to take the long walk through the car park. She cursed the station entrance bulb, which, like the platform lights, for some reason, probably the rain, was not working and made towards where she knew the alleyway to be. It was only about thirty metres long and ran between gardens with high hedgerows on either side. She always felt a little uneasy because the alley was L shaped with a right hand turn halfway along its length and she could not see directly from one end to the other. At the entrance a small rivulet of water was flowing towards her. She peered into the gloom and could see nothing. To her unaccustomed eyes it was pitch black. In the dark, she should have been able to walk halfway through with the added reassurance that the station lamp would always be in sight if she looked back, which it would have been had it been working. She began to wonder if she should take the long way round.

“Don’t be stupid,” she told herself. “There’s nothing in there. It only takes about ten seconds. There’s nothing to be scared of. Just run straight through.” She began to feel the unrelenting rain penetrating her showerproof coat. That decided the matter for her. She put her head down and ran the first few steps into the alley before slowing to a walking pace in the gloom. Her eyes had adjusted to the darkness and now she could see a few metres in front of her. Although there was no light behind her, she knew that once she reached the turn there would be a glow of light from the streetlight at the end of the alley even though its direct beam was obscured by the overgrown conifers that are the lamentable modern hallmark of suburban demarcation.

She reached the turn and looked ahead of her. She could not see very clearly and was not sure whether or not she was imagining what seemed to be a large shadow in front of her. She squinted and realised that it was someone else coming towards her through the alley. She coughed nervously to make her own presence known. The shadow moved to her right and she instinctively moved to the left. As the figure passed her, the thought struck her that there were no more trains tonight and the car park had been empty of cars. The alley wasn’t a shortcut to anywhere but the station. She felt a spasm of fear.

The shadowy figure had all but passed her when suddenly it lurched swiftly and silently towards her. She almost screamed but it was too late. She was gripped from behind with a leather clad hand covering her mouth while another arm held her from behind pinioning both her arms beside her body. She felt abject terror. She thought she said, “Dear God, please don’t hurt me.” She heard herself saying over and over in her mind, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry.” She felt a powerful, impatient intensity from her attacker. She knew she could not prevent him from taking what he wanted even if he wanted her. She thought, “Please let me be alright afterwards.”

She heard a man’s voice speak harshly into her right ear, “Not a sound, bitch.” He sounded angry, enraged, she thought, just because she was a woman. His left arm which was around her body still pinioning her arms held her more tightly with a threatening upward movement as his right hand left her mouth to reappear a second later holding a knife before her eyes. She knew she would not scream because that way she might live.

He turned her round roughly, pushing her back towards the deserted car park. Too terrified to resist she let herself be pushed. She did not know whether or not she should look at his face. The mouth of the alley was about three metres in front of her when she saw the second man come into view. He stood blocking her escape had she been able to run. She sensed her assailant hesitate and grip her more tightly bringing the knife to the right side of her throat.

The figure before her spoke in a confident voice above the noise of the wind and rain, “Let her go.”

The reply rasped from the mouth beside her right ear, “I’ve got a knife, I’ll cut her. Back off.”

“I can’t do that,” came the reply.

“I’ll cut her,” threatened the evil voice in her ear with more than a hint of angry impatience.

“I’m not responsible for what you do but if you hurt her at all I’ll kill you,” said the faceless and toneless voice before her.

Her eyes becoming ever more accustomed to what little reflected light there was from the station car park, she saw his right hand move away a little from his body and the silhouette of a pistol pointing downwards. Her assailant had also seen it because his grasp tightened as he turned her as a shield.

“Don’t come any closer,” he said, “Who are you?”

“That doesn’t matter. Don’t hurt her and I might let you go.”

She sensed that her assailant was weighing up his chances. There were only three or four metres between the two men and if the gun were real, then it was clear where the advantage lay. She felt the fear of the man holding her. She began to feel a strange disembodiment as though she were no longer directly involved but were watching from a distance. She began to wonder if this were real, if it were another dream or some kind of hallucination.

“He’s never been caught before,” she thought, then as an afterthought, “Obviously.”

She suddenly felt an overwhelming unease that the man before her was far more dangerous than her assailant. She acutely realised that she was now the object of the lesser danger. Her mind could find no explanation for the events in which her body found itself involved and she began to relinquish coherent thought as she slipped into shock. Some small spark deep in the recesses of her dazed mind pushed her to stay alert, to be able to take control if the opportunity arose, or at least to be able to flee. With a terrific effort of will she pulled out of her torpor to regain a clear head and with it the certainty that a man was going to die tonight.

She was still held within a tight grasp and she heard the voice beside her ear straining above the storm, “Stay there. I’ll let her go and I’ll back off, okay?”

That final word, asking, not telling, she knew was the manifestation of fear.

“Then do it,” came the firm reply.

She felt her assailant relax then tense himself for sudden flight. She began to relax and then without warning found herself propelled forward with a violent and painful push between the shoulder blades. She flew forwards, tripped, stumbled and felt herself begin to fall headlong. She was unable to get her hands up in time to protect her face but the figure before her stepped forward and to one side and an immensely strong left arm caught and supported her. He went down on one knee, still supporting her as her own hands met the ground and helped take her weight. His right arm came up, fully extended, with the speed of lightning. She heard a sharp crack and saw a spurt of blue flame and she realised that he had fired the pistol. She heard a surprised cry of pain behind her and she knew the bullet had found its mark. She stood and her protector, for that is how she then thought of him, stood also.

He told her to wait and he walked up the alley to the fallen figure slumped on the ground just before the turn. She too approached, cautiously, behind him. In the darkness and rain she could see no blood, no sign of any wound on the limp form at the feet of her protector. It was he who knelt down and swiftly and expertly, it seemed to her, searched the pockets of the fallen figure that lay slumped face down groaning.

“What’s your name?” he demanded.

“You shot me. You said you’d let me go,” gasped the fallen figure as he tried to turn and look up.

“What’s your name?”

The fallen man’s breathing became laboured and he spoke in short gasps.

“I never touched her. You said you’d let me go. Find out my name,” and he swore. “Why did you shoot me? Get me a doctor, it hurts.”

“I will find out your name. You hurt her,” said her saviour in an emotionless tone.

At those last three words she suddenly felt a terrible foreboding. A man was still going to die tonight.

“I’m alright now,” she said quickly, “Are you a policeman?”

The fallen man turned his head to look up at her saviour. She thought a look of recognition passed between them. The fallen man said, “What the fuck! You’re my …”, his words cut short as from the tip of the black barrel which was brought up instantly before his face, she saw two bright flashes jerk his head backwards.

She was now more frightened than she had been at any time throughout the ordeal she had just suffered. She was more frightened than she had ever been at any time before in her life. Her attacker had shown rage but this, this was cold, emotionless. This was without soul. This was an execution. Her protector rose to his feet and stood between her and the body on the ground. There were no words she could say. She was a child again; too frightened to say anything at all in case somebody became angry at her. She was too frightened even to cry. She stood mute. She felt very, very cold.

“You need a warm bed,” she heard his voice say. She was confused. He sounded so warm and kind, so caring. He turned her away from the lifeless bundle on the ground.

“You are perfectly safe,” he said and his arm wrapped protectively around her. She felt mild surprise that she found his embrace welcome and unthreatening. She noticed that he smelled recognisable perhaps, like her father, clean and somehow strong. She could not control her thoughts. Now it even seemed right that her attacker had been destroyed.

“Who are you,” she tried to say as dizziness overcame her. She felt her consciousness slip away and Justin Fawcett-Gently caught her so very gently as she fell.

Chapter Seven

An hour later, Justin sat unobtrusively in an anonymous and quiet hotel bar. He analysed the evening’s events so far. He knew that Scoundrel Dithering’s attack on Lustful was not coincidence. Inflexible Automaton and Therapy both knew he had defended Dithering but, as far as Justin knew, only Automaton knew Lustful’s identity or did Therapy know it too? Dithering had been primed. Too unreliable to be contracted, he’d doubtless been psychologically profiled and surreptitiously pointed towards Lustful. He wouldn’t have made any plans. He would have acted on impulse, immediately, just turned up and waited. Justin breathed a quiet sigh of relief. His own being there had not been coincidence either. His plan had been to relocate Lustful to a place of safety and to report her as a no show on Friday. He surmised Automaton would have been certain that Dithering wouldn’t have left Lustful’s body where it would be quickly found and would have been expecting Justin to turn up on Friday to intercept her, unsuspectingly meeting his own fate. Who would Justin not have suspected and not been on his guard against? “Oh, Therapy,” he whispered.

Not a million miles away, Lustful was gently woken up in hospital. “Lustful? Lustful?” she heard the gentle but intrusive voice grow louder and clearer. She opened her eyes and looked up. A kindly young face beneath a mop of untidy brown hair smiled down at her.

“Hello, how do you feel? I’m the duty doctor tonight. You were unconscious and we think also sedated when you came in but you’re perfectly safe now.”

Her head cleared a little and she remembered. “How did I get here?” she asked.

The doctor continued, “There’s a police officer here who wants to talk to you. He’ll explain. I’ll speak to you again later.”

DI Meddler came into the private room which Lustful had been given. He’d been told that she had been brought to the hospital from the station by taxi. The taxi driver had told hospital staff that the man who helped her into the cab had said only that she had been taken ill on the train. He had been given twice the usual fare to take her to the nearest hospital. He had described the man as tall, clean shaven, in a dark raincoat with the collar turned up and not at all distinctive.

“Miss Motion,” said Meddler, “you’re having a busy week.”

“Hello,” said Lustful, “I don’t know what’s going on,” and she burst into tears. After a minute, she looked at him, wiping her eyes and with a small smile and said, “I’m okay now. I just needed that. Did a man attack me tonight and get killed by another man?”

“Yes.” He told her what the taxi driver had told hospital staff.

“The doctor said I’d been sedated.”

“Yes. He told me you had some sort of benzodiazepine in you, administered in tablet form. Do you remember taking one?”

“No. The last thing I remember is being told I was safe.”

“Do you remember what he looked like, the man who told you that?”

“I never really saw his face.”

“What can you remember?”

“I got off the train and I was walking through the alley. A man grabbed me and was dragging me back to the car park when the other man appeared. He told the first man to let me go. The first man pushed me and the second man caught me and shot the first man. They seemed to recognise each other before the second man shot the first man again. That’s really all I can remember right now.”

“Had you seen the second man on the train?”

“No, but he may have been.”

“Or he may have been waiting for someone.”

“Who? Me?”

“I don’t know. He certainly wasn’t there to hurt you. He couldn’t have known that Dithering would be there.”

“Who’s Dithering?”

“That’s the easiest part,” replied Meddler. “The man who attacked you was a suspected rapist who was recently acquitted of murder. This is not an official opinion but as far as I’m concerned, he got what he deserved. Unfortunately, I have to treat his death as cold blooded murder.”

“Will I be safe?” asked Lustful.

“Yes, I’m sure you will be. You seem to have a guardian angel. Is there anything else you can remember? Anything about him?”

Lustful looked like she was trying to recall an elusive memory. “I have a feeling that I recognised his aftershave,” she replied, “but I don’t know what it is and I can’t think of anyone I know who wears it.”

“Okay,” said Meddler. “I’ve asked enough for tonight. I understand they intend to send you home in the morning. Would you like me to have someone ’phone your office tomorrow and tell them what’s happened?”

“Please,” said Lustful. “I’m traumatised. I want a week off.”

“Consider it done. For me, would you be able to make some notes while the incident is fresh in your mind because I’ll have to come and see you and ask you to make a statement. We’ll give it a week.”

“Can we swap mobile numbers?”

“Yes.”

Ten minutes later, DI Meddler walked out into the night.

Chapter Eight

In the hotel bar, Justin took a new mobile ’phone from his coat pocket. He put in a SIM card and rang Therapy’s number. After three rings she answered.

“Hello?” he heard Therapy’s voice.

“It’s me,” he replied.

“Yes,” said Therapy. “How can I help?”

“She’s gone,” said Justin, tonelessly.

“The long haul flight?” asked Therapy.

“Yes.”

“Just come home.”

Justin turned off his mobile ’phone and said quietly to himself, “There’s something I have to do first.”

It took Justin an hour to get to Kildare Mansions, passing close to his own home on the way. He couldn’t bring himself to clean Therapy first. The secure entry system was no barrier and within two minutes of approaching the door, he was in and on the first floor approaching flat five. He knew he’d been filmed on entry but he was wearing a hat, had wads of cotton wool in his cheeks and was wearing large rimmed glasses. He could see no light under the door of flat five and, pulling on clean latex gloves, quietly tried slipping both locks. To his surprise the door then opened and he stepped silently into the hallway. A glance behind the door told him the bolts were not drawn so perhaps no one was home. He drew his pistol and stepped silently towards a door which had the faintest glimmer of light under it. He listened. There was no sound. He opened the door silently and cautiously looked in. He saw a body lying on the carpet and stepped towards it. He felt for a pulse. Inflexible Automaton was lying awkwardly on his back and was already dead. He stood up and looked towards the source of the light, a small table lamp. Someone had deliberately left it on and he stepped towards it. He saw a typed note under it which he leaned forward to read. He read the words, “Just come home.” He picked up the note and slipped it into his coat pocket.

Twenty minutes later, he arrived home. As he stepped out of his car, Therapy emerged from the shadows, pointing a pistol at him. “Justin?”

“I have the note you left, Therapy. I’ve come home,” he said, holding out the note she had left under Inflexible Automaton’s table lamp. “Was it you who also wiped the security cameras and turned them off?”

Therapy lowered her pistol. “Yes it was me. I would die before I hurt you, Justin, Not very professional, I know, but it’s one of my principles when I love someone. I thought you might come for me first. Why didn’t you?”

“Because I love you and if Section would have you clean me, he’d just as easily have someone clean you so for two reasons, it had to be him first and then see if things between us could be fixed. Is there still a contract on me?”

“No. Section was becoming unmanageable. Setting up Dithering to rape and kill your Lustful was not a clean and efficient resolution. Control wanted Section disinfected.”

“I’ve had enough for one day.”

“I’ve had enough too. I’m sorry about Lustful.”

“She’s safe,” replied Justin.

“I’m glad. Justin, you’re a good man. Perhaps, one day, we’ll finally be able to tell each other our real names.”

Chapter Nine

The following morning, the police officer guarding the entrance to Kildare Mansions let Meddler pass with a peremptory nod. Meddler tripped lightly up the steps and through the front door. On the first floor he found flat five. As he entered, one of his sergeants, Sneaky, came to greet him.

“The body’s in here, sir,” he said, indicating what might be called the living room. He and Meddler went in to where a body lay under a cover.

“Well?” asked Meddler, ignoring the police photographer and forensic officer.

“His name’s Rigid Robot according to his ID,” said Sneaky, handing Inflexible Automaton’s driving licence and passport, in that name, to Meddler. “He’s lived here, on his own, for three years.” He nodded towards a small, paper-strewn desk against the wall beneath the bay window. “His parents live in Basingstoke. He’s forty-five. He’s so helpful all of his neighbours love him and so quiet it’s like he’s not even here most of the time,” said Sneaky.

“Anything else?” asked Meddler.

For Meddler, this was a casual enquiry. For Sneaky, it embraced a plethora of questions. Did the dead man have any known enemies, what were his habits, what company did he keep, what were his sexual proclivities, what was his specific background and were there any apparent reasons for his murder.

“Seems he was a good sort. Neighbours think he’d been married four or five years ago. Straight. Not particularly secretive. Clerical officer in the DWP,” said Sneaky.

“Probably paying maintenance if this was all he could afford,” said Meddler, casting an eye around the room. “Okay, keep me informed.”

“Don’t you want to know how he died?” asked the forensic officer who didn’t know Meddler.

“If it’s important that I know now and not in five minutes time, then tell me,” said Meddler.

The forensic officer who was young, fresh and inexperienced but highly qualified on paper looked at the older man quizzically.

“He was killed by a single knife wound through the heart from behind,” said the younger man.

“You’re a doctor as well, are you?”

“No, the doctor managed to get here before you. If you care to lift the body slightly and look under it, you’ll see the handle of the knife protruding from his back,” said the younger man, responding with like sarcasm.

Meddler responded by momentarily lifting the sheet and glancing under it before letting it drop back. “What’s your name?” he asked.

“Academic, Dyslexic Academic,” said the forensic officer who was a civilian and didn’t call any police officer of any rank sir.

“I’m Meddler. When did the Doc leave?”

“Five minutes before you arrived.”

“Okay. Have you finished in the kitchen? Can I touch things?”

“Yes. We’ve both finished in there,” said Academic, indicating the photographer with a nod of his head.

“Have you taken a full set in the kitchen, Orifice?” Meddler asked the photographer.”

“I suppose next you’ll be wanting colour fillum in me camera?” replied the stout Irish photographer who knew Meddler of old.

“Have you attained that degree of competency?” smiled Meddler.

“He’s a good ’un,” said Orifice nodding towards Academic. “He’s missed nothing.”

Academic knew this was praise but before he had time to go red in the face, Meddler turned away towards the kitchen.

The kitchen was untidy. Morning sunlight streamed down through the window above the sink. It appeared to be the kitchen of a man who used all of his dishes before he washed any of them. A full basin of dirty crockery stood on the draining board and there were pans in the sink. A cupboard with a work surface stood to the right of the sink and a half used box of eggs, a partially eaten loaf of bread and an opened packet of butter lay on the surface. A cooker stood to the left of the sink with a frying pan on the front ring nearest the sink.

A disc of congealed butter lay in the centre of the pan. Meddler looked around the kitchen taking in the washing machine in the corner to the right of the sink cupboard. He noted, against the opposite wall, the refrigerator set in an alcove which had clearly been converted from a chimney breast, and the base units either side of the alcove with wall units above.

After a few moments thought he opened a cupboard door to reveal some clean dinner plates. He slid open the drawer of a base unit to reveal a few items of cutlery in a wooden tray. He took a plate, knife and fork and put them on the work surface by the sink, pushing back the eggs, bread and butter as he did so. He reached out to the window sill and picked up the box of matches which lay there. He turned the gas tap to the burner beneath the frying pan, struck a match and lit the gas. The butter disc in the pan dissolved almost immediately.

“An experiment?” asked Academic from the doorway behind him.

“Breakfast,” said Meddler.

Academic stood there awkwardly not knowing if Meddler were joking.

“Have you eaten?” asked Meddler.

“Yes, yes thank you,” stammered Academic uncertainly. He watched in fascination as Meddler broke the last three eggs into the pan and buttered two slices of bread while the eggs fried.

“See if there’s any coffee and a couple of mugs,” said Meddler as he opened the refrigerator and with scarcely a glance, took out a virtually full pint of milk.

“Sir,” said Academic, unconsciously resolving any question of his subordinate relationship and clearly perturbed, “I don’t think we should. I mean …” he trailed off as a man he had never seen before pushed past him into the kitchen. Academic knew by the man’s manner that this was trouble.

“What the bloody hell do you think you’re doing?” bellowed the short, thickset man at Meddler. “This is a bloody murder enquiry, not a soup kitchen for down and outs.”

Meddler initially ignored the outburst and spoke to Academic, “See if you can find a third mug lad. Coffee, sir?”

“Don’t be belligerent with me, man. This time, like every other time, you’ve gone too far. I’ll have you on a bloody charge, you insolent, insubordinate, bloody little man. This is theft. Theft!” he shouted.

“I understand what you’re trying to say, sir,” said Meddler coolly, “but theft from whom?”

With restrained fury the other man replied, “From whom? From whom? Don’t get smart with me. I’ll tell you who from. That food belongs to that poor sod lying out there and you are stealing it. You’re finished.”

Meddler replied with rising anger.

“Sir, my enquiries lead me to believe that this food belongs to the estate of the deceased. My officers are making enquiries, which should reveal whether or not your assumption that he is, or rather, was, an impoverished sodomite is correct. Pending completion of those enquiries, I intend to eat my breakfast secure in the belief that I would have had the permission of the next of kin, or the executor or whoever else you believe might be the owner of this property, had he, or she, or they, known that I have been working all night and have forgone my breakfast to conduct my enquiries into the death of that lonely man.”

The shorter man looked apoplectic.

“You think you know the law. We’ll see. You’ll wish you’d never tasted that food.”

“Why? He didn’t die of food poisoning,” responded Meddler irreverently.

Orifice wandered between the two of them and his flash popped as he pointed his camera at Meddler taking in both him and the pan and plate behind him.

“I’ll have that film,” demanded the man.

“Oh, there’s no fillum in here,” said Orifice, “It’s me flash I’m testing.”

Shaking with rage, the man spun on his heel and pushed out past Academic. He turned again, raised his hand and pointed a shaking finger at the two men in the kitchen. He stood for a moment, said nothing then turned again and stormed out. The three men heard the door of the flat slam behind him.

“No fillum,” smiled Orifice, “because it takes a memory card.”

Meddler looked at Academic. “That was Detective Chief Inspector Flawless. He believes he has reason to dislike and mistrust me. My eggs are cooked. Do you want to make some coffee?”

Academic knew that his answer to that question would determine the nature of his relationship with Meddler. He was still dazed but excited by the suddenness of what he had seen. Too close an association with Meddler, it seemed, could spell trouble, but for the first time in his hitherto academic and, dare he admit it, mundane, life, that was what he wanted, adventure. He looked around the kitchen, guessed where the mugs would be and went straight to the right cupboard.

“Good man,” said Meddler, “Now tell me who killed Rigid Robot?”

“I’ve no idea,” replied Academic, “His wife?”

“If he ever had one,” said Meddler, “Unless I’m mistaken, everything the neighbours knew about him seems to have come from him. Why no mention of either kids or money from the sale of a house? There are no photographs here, no books, nothing personal, ergo no personality. Look at the way he was killed. This wasn’t a frenzied attack or one driven by emotion.”

Academic gazed at the older man, listening intently.

Meddler continued the lesson. “The knife is horizontal. There’s a single wound. One push, horizontally, into the heart, probably with the heel of the hand behind the knife. Maximum penetration. No signs of forced entry or a struggle. Someone he trusted killed him when his back was turned. Someone who either spared him the knowledge that it was coming or who couldn’t risk letting him know it was coming. Look how lean and fit the guy is.” He looked at Academic then at Orifice. “Who do you trust?”

“Whom,” corrected Academic without thinking.

“Precisely,” smiled Meddler, “Family, friends, policemen, lawyers, doctors, accountants, who else?”

“Not estate agents,” interjected Orifice.

“Least of all estate agents,” Meddler cracked a smile, “This was professional.”

“You mean a hit?” asked Academic incredulously. His words preceded his thoughts. “If that were true, whoever killed him would have faked suicide or something. With respect, they wouldn’t do it in a way a detective could figure out.”

“Sure, the boy’s been reading too many spy thrillers,” said Orifice. “Have you any idea how many more well-meaning busybodies crawl out of the woodwork after a suicide than after a good old fashioned murder? Sure, if you kill yourself, society feels responsible for ten minutes and asks awkward questions looking for answers to absolve itself. If you’re murdered, then you’re dirty and it’s someone else’s problem.”

“But why would they make it apparent to the professional eye?” persisted Academic.

“Ah, well,” said Meddler, “they just want to let us know not to waste taxpayer’s money on a real investigation. After all, there’s only the one paymaster for all of us.”

“Jesus Christ,” said Academic and he wasn’t praying for the dead.

A month later, Meddler was no further forward in his enquiries into the death of Scoundrel Dithering. House to house enquiries at every home within a mile of the railway station had produced nothing. Dithering’s father had incessantly plagued the police station demanding that his son’s death be investigated in the same way as any other murder. Of course it would. The post mortem had established the cause of death as brain haemorrhage caused by the firing of two bullets through the skull into the brain. All that remained was for the Coroner to return a verdict of unlawful killing. It would be some time before the body was released to the family so that the rapist could have a good Christian burial and be eaten by maggots. The local priest would have to wait to derive his job satisfaction but God had blessed him with the virtue of patience.

A .25 calibre pistol had been used to devastating effect. The forensic report on the two bullets fired into Dithering’s brain had not been able to match the gun used to any gun known to the police.

“What do I have?” Meddler asked himself. “This man is cold and ruthless,” then thinking of Lustful, “but he seems to be genuinely warm. He’s educated, physically strong, well-spoken and assertive when he needs or wants to be. He kills at will. Why was he at the train station? To protect Lustful or was that mere coincidence?” There were too many unanswered questions and the detective inspector knew they were likely to remain unanswered. Add to what he knew, a gut feeling born of fifteen years’ experience as a detective, he concluded unofficially that this had been a professional hit. He wrongly concluded that it was more likely the killer had known and stalked Dithering and moved in for the kill when Dithering’s intention would be apparent to all. There was no way of knowing which, if any, of the people whom Dithering had previously offended by his past behaviour was responsible so there were no positive leads to the identity of his killer. So self-assured of his anonymity was the killer that he had allowed himself to be seen by the cab driver as well as by Lustful Motion.

Meddler’s penultimate, not altogether unhappy, thought before he picked up his raincoat to go to the Crown Court where both he and Detective Chief Inspector Flawless were witnesses in a murder case being prosecuted by Justin Fawcett-Gently was, “Either he’ll never do it again or he’s only just begun” and he allowed himself to smile, albeit wryly, because justice might just become rife. His final thought was, “Whoever he is, I’d like him to meet DCI Flawless.”

MAYBE YES OR NOT

On the jostling, jockeying, crowded highway, between the symbiotic oases of just reward and unjust enrichment, our eyes locked momentarily. Maybe something passed between us, maybe it didn’t, but I’d assume it did to justify my next move. The world needs lucky people and lucky people need lucky breaks. Do we break rules or merely replace them with new ones? As far as the rules of social conduct are concerned, I’ve always written my own.

As I left the restaurant, I passed her table. I didn’t have to and I hoped she’d appreciate that. I’d seen, from a distance, that she wore no rings, bore no partner’s symbol of ownership or exclusivity. I paused by her and leaned towards her. I heard the pause in her breathing as she tensed in expectation.

“Can dreams be too simple to come true?” I whispered.

Her eyes never left the patterned rose bowl centred on the table before her as she replied softly, “She wants to belong but there’s nothing left to which to belong.”

“Or no one left to whom to belong?” I replied.

She left a couple of notes in the billet-doux tray and followed me from the restaurant, catching up with me and linking her arm in mine as I walked to the Aston.

“Where have I been for the last three years?” she smiled.

“In the fast lane,” I replied, “Me?”

“You never saw me there,” she laughed, tossing back her mane of Irish red hair. “I must have been behind you.”

I stopped and turned her to me. “No, you’ve always been ahead of me,” I said softly. “Some things never change.”

“What’s my name?” she smiled with a faint invocation of curiosity.

“What would you like it to be?” I parried with clichéd precision.

“Oh, I’m playing hard to get, am I?” she laughed.

“That’s up to me,” I smiled.

Her alabaster thighs contrasted with the red leather of the passenger seat as her black skirt rode high. She noticed my glance, which graduated into an unashamed and prolonged perusal.

She looked at me and smiled, “Where would I like to go?”

“Where would I like to take you?” I countered.

“In your unspoken dreams, home to bed. You hope I need it as much as you do,” she smiled, “For a drink, how does that sound?”

“Am I trying to get you drunk?” I laughed, “It’s a little early in the afternoon.”

“It’s never too early for what you have in mind,” she said under her breath, “but sometimes it’s too late.”

Halfway to the hotel bar I had in mind, I said unexpectedly, “You’d rather go home.”

“Of course,” she replied, “you’ll take me.”

“That’s very kind of me,” I said, “but I needn’t put myself out. I can drop you at the nearest tube station.”

“You wouldn’t dream of doing that. Your father would turn in his grave if you treated a lady unchivalrously.”

“It’s flattering that I think you’re a lady when I know nothing about you,” I smiled.

“A very beautiful lady, if you may say so,” she said quietly.

“If you give me your address, will I drive you home?” I asked.

“Yes, you’d be happy too,” she replied.

Forty minutes later, I pulled into the driveway of her North London house. It was an impressive Georgian residence.

“Would I like to come in for a while?” I asked tentatively.

“Not unless I really want you too,” she said, “and aren’t just asking out of a sense of obligation.”

“No,” I smiled, “You’d love me to come in. You really would.”

We sat opposite each other at the glass and chrome table in her modern kitchen, overlooking an adequately tended and stocked, Victorian, floral rear garden. She poured tea from a gaudy mock Gaudi teapot into two fabulous Riscado Laranja teacups sitting on equally imaginatively artistic saucers.

“Have I been to Portugal?” I asked her.

“No,” she replied, “Is that where I got these?”

“Yes,” I smiled, “Do I like them?”

“You think they’re wonderful, lively and Mediterranean, like me in some ways.”

We looked at each other and smiled.

“You seduce me with words,” I said.

“Quid nunc?” she replied.

“Pax?” we smiled together.

“That was a toughie,” she laughed, “but I win. Come on. Fifty quid.”

“Quid nunc?” I countered.

“Now!”

I handed her my wallet.

“You said I couldn’t keep it up. Do you now retract that assertion and apologise?” she laughed.

“There was no agreement that I’d apologise, just the bet.”

“Not man enough to admit you were wrong?”

“Oh, I was wrong, but every misjudgement doesn’t demand an apology. I wasn’t morally wrong.”

“Then keep your damn money,” she laughed, “and take me to dinner. Then you can seduce me with words.”

“Do I detect a certain tongue in cheek proposition?”

“That rather depends on whose tongue and whose cheek.”

And that is left to the imagination.

FAKING THE FUTURE

Five weeks after Charles moved out of Angela’s flat at her request, she invited him for dinner. As a consequence of the amount of booze with which she’d plied him, he was unfit to drive home and asked if he could stay overnight, for just one night, in his old room. She’d agreed almost before he’d finished asking, then, every day for a week, she’d asked him to stay another night. Sex had started again after three nights but now he was beginning to feel used. The inevitable argument, fabricated over nothing, was in the air and he was too tired to just let it be. It came after he asked her if she’d copy some music onto a CD for him. She accused him of never paying for blank discs when she copied stuff for him. Not only had she never copied anything onto CD for him before but he had left with her the unopened spindle of fifty blank disks that stood next to her laptop when she’d previously asked him to move out.

He believed he had managed to conclude the argument by thinking, “You bloody … woman! After all I’ve done for you,” but by saying softly, “I thought we did things for each other because we were in love or simply just good friends.”

She now got out of bed, pulled on her jeans and stood looking at him, thinking for a few moments before she spoke, “I’ve taken the point on board and I accept it in principle.” She walked out of the bedroom into the kitchen in a miffed silence.

Charles rose, pulled on his jeans and walked into the sitting room where he turned on the television. He sat thinking that it was bloody odd that she’d accepted the point only because she’d rationalised it. Angela came in from the kitchen and began to potter around unable to conceal the fact that she was behaving like a petulant child who was annoyed that she felt she had been shown to be wrong.

“Hey,” he said softly, having thought about it, “I don’t want the CD. It’s ok. It doesn’t matter.”

“No. It does matter. You want the CD. I’ll make it for you. Now.”

She flounced into her bedroom and he followed her in. He intended to hold her and tell her how deeply he loved her and that the CD really wasn’t important but that she was. He knew she wouldn’t listen any more than he would later be able to recall the words that had passed between them.

Deflecting her anger was principal in his mind as he jokingly tried to snatch her spectacles from her face as he had often done before. He imagined her capitulating in laughter as they collapsed together on her bed and the imaginative lovemaking that would inevitably ensue.

This time, momentarily before he grabbed at her glasses, she closed her eyes in a long meditative blink and opened them to see his hand coming towards her face. Instinctively she turned her head away. To his dismay, instead of grabbing her glasses, he knocked them against her nose and cheek causing a small, bloody scratch on her cheek and leaving an instantaneous small bruise on the side of her nose. She began screaming as though she’d been attacked. He was totally unprepared for this reaction and immediately panicked in fear, afraid that neighbours would hear and of the professional consequences for himself if the police were called. He tried to calm her but to no avail. His apologetic embrace resulted in her struggling and screaming more. In alarm he put his hand over her mouth to quieten her saying, “Sssh, sssh.” She screamed, “You punched me!” In terror and gripped by her own panic she fought back. They fell backwards onto her bed and she kneed him in the stomach still screaming hysterically. In desperation and panic he slapped her face and held her down on her bed, trying to stop her screaming and struggling, all the while saying, “Please just stop it. Just stop it.”

As she continued to struggle, he put his hand over her mouth again and in desperation and fear of consequences closed her nose in the hope that the need to breathe through her mouth would stop her. In her own abject fear for her life, she struggled and flailed even more wildly, trying to breathe. He just wanted to quieten her and heard himself saying, “Shut up or I’ll fucking kill you.”

In her terror, she fought harder, all the while making as much noise as she could. He released her mouth so she could breathe and to silence her, began to slap her repeatedly around the head. He said, “I’ll stop if you stop,” which she did.

He released her completely and she whimpered, “You punched me!” He realised she’d wrongly perceived his grabbing at her glasses as a punch. “I didn’t,” he said. Still petrified, she complied when he sat her down next to him on her bed. As he relaxed, she grabbed at her bedside ’phone and he pulled the ’phone cable out of its socket.

Everything had escalated out of control and he blamed her. He blamed her for ending a wonderful relationship with the most enigmatic woman he’d ever known so he began to verbally abuse her. He was incensed that this creature, sitting next to him, had robbed him of the woman he adored. Every insult that he knew would hurt her poured from his mouth in a foul torrent of verbal abuse; that she was fat, that she was ugly. He attacked all her sensitivities. He wanted to make the situation between them irreconcilable if it wasn’t already. He forced her to continue sitting with him on her bed, until the early hours when he was too tired to stay awake, then he left her and slept fitfully in his old room, now the spare room, petrified and mortified by what he had done.

She didn’t leave in the night or call the police. He’d expected both and he couldn’t have stopped her but she was too frightened to know that. He heard her rising in the morning. She moved around the flat quietly and he stayed in the spare bedroom until she’d left, then he got up very quickly and also left, sending her a text message to say he’d gone.

He’d been on sabbatical leave, writing an anecdotal book of short stories, based loosely on the experiences of his psychiatric patients. There had been other incidents between him and Angela when he’d been frustrated by the sheer perversity of her behaviour. He’d had a real go at her two months earlier during their fortnight in Morocco. They’d spent the day walking around Marrakech with no other plans for that day. Time had been theirs and they’d gone wherever she liked but as soon as he’d said there were a few shops he’d seen which he’d like to visit she’d immediately announced it was time to get back to their hotel. He’d felt put down and stung but hadn’t wanted conflict with her so they’d started to walk directly back.

They’d passed a supermarket and she’d gone inside and spent ages looking around. They’d each put items in the basket he’d taken as they entered and he’d intended to pay for everything. When they’d reached the front of the short queue at the till, she’d said she wanted to pay for her items separately. The cashier hadn’t spoken English and had impatiently beckoned them through. Their purchases were totally mixed up in the basket. She’d tried to explain to the cashier and the situation had become heated so he’d indicated that he’d buy everything telling her she could pay him later. She’d said he couldn’t do that if she didn’t want him to. He’d asked her why she hadn’t taken a separate basket at the beginning and she’d ignored his question as she’d always ignored the questions she couldn’t or wouldn’t answer.

The cashier had been getting more heated and he’d been unable to understand what principle had been at stake for her here or why she’d deliberately made it difficult for both him and the cashier. In frustration, he’d given her the basket and said, “Here. It’s all your stuff. I’ll get my own things in another basket.” While she’d picked out and paid for the items she’d wanted from the basket he’d given her, he’d picked up another basket and reselected his own purchases from the shelves.

She’d waited for him outside the store. His words poured out in an angry torrent of frustration, “Why do you do this? What point are you trying to make? Whenever you want to do things, I always do them but when I mention we do something, your response is always negative. Why are you always so perverse? I didn’t look in shops I’ll never get the opportunity to see again because you want to go back to the hotel but when you want to look in another shop I haven’t said a word. What’s your problem with me paying? If you wanted to pay for your stuff separately, why didn’t you take your own basket in the first place? You’re so damn selfish. Why do you always have to push things to breaking point? Why do you have to win every conflict you cause when we’re together when these things don’t matter? What the hell is wrong with you, you selfish, stupid, bloody little cow?”

Her face had crinkled and she’d seemed to be on the verge of tears and had said, in a little girl’s voice, “You can’t treat me like that. You can’t.”

When he’d heard that child’s voice and a choice of words that had inexplicably sent a chill through him, he knew there was something in her partially revealed, painful past that she hadn’t told him. He wanted to understand so he could love her better. The paradox was that she would never have let him. Unable to handle the situation, he’d sworn at her again and walked off. They hadn’t reconciled until the next morning.

Charles knew of course that Angela had always had a compulsion to assert control in circumstances where she regarded it as being in issue. Had he not been in love with her, he might have realised this sooner but he wasn’t seeing their relationship with clinical detachment. He’d come to believe that the twelve year age gap between them inadvertently made him a father figure and that she was a lady who, if she were going to exorcise her demons, had a need not to merely repay her father for his sins against her by humiliating him, but to fulfil her planned intention to destroy him, and if not him in the flesh, then a symbolic substitute.

A year after the incident in her flat, he found himself in Carnaby Street having coffee with two lady friends they’d made in Morocco. Their first question was, “Were you and Angela in a relationship?”

“Yes.”

“Then why on earth were you in separate rooms in the hotel?”

“That’s what she wanted.”

“Oh, Charles, you’re too nice to be with her.”

“We’re not together anymore. We had a bad fight. I didn’t emerge with credit.”

“Good! You were like a little puppy dog at her heels. The only time we saw the real you was when she went to bed early one night and you were telling jokes into the early morning. You were so different, so funny and so relaxed without her around.”

Charles felt his eyes welling up when he heard another woman criticise Angela. They saw it.

“Charles, she was just a sham. Come back to Morocco with us and leave her behind. Be yourself. Find your testosterone. Have you had a woman since?”

Now, another year later, Charles was reviewing his MA dissertation, intended for publication, part of which was about Angela.

“A had experienced the psychological loss of her father through his illness of addictive alcoholism and his abuse of her at a very young age. She had suppressed what her mind couldn’t handle, the whole experience resulting in a complex disorder of transferred guilt syndrome. No child can ever understand a parent’s abuse and the parent almost inevitably convinces the child that he or she is responsible or the child assumes the responsibility in order to rationalise the parental abuse.”

This was Charles’s explanation of Angela’s proclamation that she never wanted children but he knew there was another reason connected with a different part of her psyche. She was in her late thirties with no husband, no property and a good deal of debt. She was self-conscious about her appearance and her background but had gone into denial consequently doing nothing to own her problems. As the prospect of having children diminished, so her expressed wish not to have children increased so that it appeared the decision was hers rather than an inevitable circumstance of her life. Charles recalled Angela telling him that when a previous boyfriend had announced he was gay, she had encouraged him to leave her. Charles’s view was that if she had loved the man, she would have at least put up token resistance against the inevitable if not fought tooth and nail to keep him as one would have expected her to do had he said he wanted to leave her for another woman. In Angela’s mind, the suppressed thought was that she couldn’t let people think he’d given her up for a man. It was both hurt pride and her perception of what other people might see as her failure. So what did she do, or at least tell people she did? She encouraged him to go, thus saving face and being magnanimous in one fell swoop.

He recalled the time Angela had arranged tea at the Ritz to celebrate her birthday where someone had mentioned a partiality for truffles. Angela had declared loudly, in a conversation in which she’d otherwise remained inconspicuous, “Mmm, I love truffles.”

“Subconsciously she was asserting to herself and to the assembled company that she was as good as anybody there with no less an indulgent lifestyle.”

When Charles had visited Angela’s mother’s house, one Christmas Eve, while she was there for the first time in nearly fifteen years, while her father was abroad, her mother had answered the door with Angela close behind trying to reach the door first. Charles had never seen such an expression on Angela’s face. Anxiety tinged with fear; the fear of being judged, fear of being looked down upon, fear of what people might think of her background. Consequently, he’d noticed what he wouldn’t otherwise have given any regard, the old, faded, torn wallpaper, the chipped paintwork and the general unkemptness. The following morning, when she opened the truffles he’d bought her, she exclaimed innocently and excitedly, “I’ve never had truffles before,” and Charles saw the child, Angela, guileless, in her mother’s home, for the first time opening her Christmas presents in genuine, wide eyed wonder and he loved her.

Angela had always appeared self-assured to Charles although he thought she had some strange notions about love. From the outset, she’d told him that it was more important that a person love himself or herself than be loved by another person. He had come to learn that she hadn’t experienced love from either of her parents.

“No one had loved the child, A, and she thought she must be worthless but deep inside was a little spark that said, “I’m me and I’m not bad or worthless and I wish someone loved me because someone should.” She was innocent and her pure heart loved innocence so she loved herself when no one else would. In time, her mind didn’t need anyone to love her except herself. A consequence of that state of mind was that it allowed her to do whatever she wanted in a relationship without the responsibility for her partner that arose from her love for that partner. It also dissociated her from responsibility for any pain that her partner might suffer as a result of any breakdown in the relationship; a kind of cold heart syndrome, born not of callousness but of her fear of rejection. A was the living epitome of the colloquialism ‘looking after Number One’.”

When Charles had first met her, she had looked more like twenty-two than thirty-two. Their living together a couple of years later was inevitable. As Charles had learned more of her childhood, revealed in unguarded moments of trust, he began to appreciate the extent to which she was capable of suppressing her painful childhood and teenage memories. They were so far submerged within her that as far as one part of her mind was concerned, they were events which had never happened. When she’d talked to Charles about events relevant to her life, she’d done so with clinical detachment. Then occasionally when Charles would articulate in detail what he sensed were her underlying thoughts she’d become silent and distant and he’d feel a perceptible cover sliding over her mind. As they’d become closer, there’d be moments when a barrier would rise between them for no discernible reason other than she didn’t want to open her heart. She didn’t want to risk the revelations that might be part of the two-way traffic of unconditional surrender to love. Charles knew love doesn’t come as a partial package. The only part of her mind that she could trust was the part that she could rely upon to protect her. In the conflict with the other part of her mind, which loved Charles, she was forced to let him go. She had to get rid of him because he knew there was a door to open and she knew he could open it and she wasn’t ready to walk through that door. When Charles had been her lodger, she’d asked him to leave on the basis that her landlord needed temporary accommodation. She’d told her landlord she wanted help to get Charles out for the concocted reason that he had become a slob who stayed in bed all day. All she had needed to do was ask Charles to leave but she justified decisions by putting the reason or blame in the place which she believed showed her in the best light.

That series of decisions and reasoning were in a different part of her mind than the part that later told her that Charles was an appropriate person to have with her in Morocco, the ideal travelling companion. The Angela who loved Charles was the one who kept asking him, night after night, not to leave her.

“Her love for a partner occupied a different part of her mind and engaged a different level of reasoning which might not comprise incompatible concepts. She wouldn’t want to live with a slob who stayed in bed all day but that wasn’t to say she wouldn’t want him as a travelling companion in a separate room in the same hotel. In one part of her mind, the slob notion was of sufficiently significant concern to her that she was prepared to suffer the financial disadvantage that removing him would cause. On the other hand, it could be that she just wanted to live on her own again and had factored in the money loss in bringing that about but that wouldn’t explain why she found it appropriate to justify her decision by denigrating Charles. The part of her mind that called C a slob was concerned only with protecting her at whatever cost. The issue was best dealt with by that part of her mind because any reason given by the other part of her mind, that wanted C with her, would be susceptible to conscience and truthfulness.”

Initially unaware that she had been telling lies about him, Charles was aware that she would sometimes emphatically deny things she had previously emphatically said. He could see that she was convinced that her denials were the truth so he never argued. He had put it down to memory lapse or mistake. Now he put it down to what the mind has, of necessity, to convince itself is true for its own survival.

She had told him that when she was eight, the abuse suffered at her father’s hands had led her and her brother to plot her father’s death down to the last intricate detail. They had been ready to carry out the plan and kill him when they discovered that her brother had reached the age of criminal responsibility so for that sole reason, they didn’t follow it through.

“One can only imagine how much she must have loved her brother for her to choose to go on suffering the abuse for a further eleven years before she was able to run away to university with just a suitcase, having been forced to use a correspondence address to get her university place without her father’s knowledge.”

Angela had told Charles that her father had pursued her, had tried to kill her and had stalked her as a result of all of which she had never been listed in any professional or public directory. She’d told Charles that she had never believed that wanting to kill her father was wrong.

“Her conduct had been regulated solely by risk assessment, the probability of being caught and the punishment that would ensue. In her mind, the sanctions it would have attracted were out of proportion to the act. In that sense, she was amoral and her amorality pervaded her value system. The control on her behaviour wasn’t morality but risk and the inconvenience of consequences.”

Charles had never been aware of anything to suggest that she was simultaneously involved with anyone else, but the precepts by which she lived her life made it impossible for her to give a commitment to exclusivity even though he had asked for it. Clearly, the incident in her flat had been sufficiently serious in itself to justify her wishing to have no more to do with him if that were her choice.

“Her later claim that it was worse than anything her father ever did to her contained an unnecessary element of exaggeration because the claim was inconsistent with the fragmented history she had described of her childhood and teenage abuse. Was the exaggeration an attempt by the protective A to forestall any suggestion of reconciliation to which the loving A may be amenable? Or was it the truth in an unguarded moment, revealing that the true nature of her father’s abuse was not ostensibly violent assault but assault of a different nature? If so, then the loving A may subsequently have had to throw herself into many distractions to mask the fact she missed a loving partner”

Charles’s knowledge, as a clinical psychiatrist, of the sexual psychology of both abusers and abused suggested another potentially more disturbing scenario. Had there always been some other dark secret that the story about her father’s violence was concocted to cover? Either her father’s abuse of her was not of an intrinsically violent nature or it never occurred at all, the latter being a notion that could be dismissed because her brother had alluded to it.

“Clinically, A displayed predilections found in children who have been victims of systematic sexual abuse but the presence of those predilections in itself was not conclusive of sexual abuse and had to be evaluated in the light of other evidence.”

Charles had looked for other evidence of sexual abuse and he’d found it. Again, not conclusive but moving further down the line from possibility to probability. In another unguarded moment she had told him she’d never liked her mother because when she was a child, her mother had rejected her and had stopped showing her love, the latter possibly a metaphor for ‘failed to protect her from her own father’.

“In the annals of child abuse, such rejection is a classic reaction of a mother who believes she has failed to protect her daughter but who equally deals with it by blaming her daughter for being sexually attractive to her husband and, in the mother’s mind, tempting her husband away from the matrimonial bed. The mother convinces herself that the child brought it upon herself but there is also an awareness, not necessarily confined to the subconscious, of the effect of what would be lost in terms of security if the breadwinner of the family were gone. An equally distressing scenario is one in which the mother herself is a victim of her husband’s unbearable abuse and sacrifices her daughter to avoid her own victimisation. In that scenario, there are two isolated female minds within the mother, each of which may not be able to cope with the enormity of its perceived guilt.”

With Charles, Angela had made no secret of the fact that she neither liked nor wanted children.

“A child will invariably rationalise abuse by assuming responsibility for it when he or she can find no other explanation. The natural inclination on the part of the child is to remedy his or her fault but what a desperate situation it is for the child who doesn’t know what to do to bring this about; what a tragic situation for a child who cannot know that nothing he or she does can actually bring an end to the abuse. The child perceives that he or she is not receiving love because he or she is not pleasing to the abusive parent because he or she is in some way inadequate, undeserving or bad. The child begins to hate him or herself for his or her perceived failure to please the abusive parent and for being worthless. Add to this the fear and responsibility that the abusive parent instils in the child by saying that if the child tells anybody, daddy will go to prison and she’ll never see her mummy or her brother again, or mummy and her brother will die, then the child begins to perceive children as a source for unhappiness in parents. When that child grows into adulthood, he or she may have a pathological aversion to bringing any children into the world.”

Charles knew that if this was where Angela was, nevertheless underneath all of this was the woman he loved, the Angela he wanted to help to find herself so that she could be a woman who could both receive and give love. Charles couldn’t stay clinically detached because that would have been unnatural, neither could he ask her specific questions because she would have shut down. He just had to wait for small revelations. It hurt that him she never told him she loved him except once in her sleep; it hurt him that she never let them be photographed together; it hurt him that she concealed the nature of their relationship from her family and her friends; it hurt him that she only kissed him once when she was drunk; it hurt him that she wanted separate rooms in Morocco and that she told women who asked if they were together that he was available; it hurt him that whenever a suggestion for going out came from him she suddenly had previously unmentioned things to do; it hurt him that she wouldn’t give a commitment to exclusivity; it hurt him that she didn’t realise that she was hurting him by taking advantage of his desire to be around her but finally he saw that the reasons for all of these things were to do with her, not with him.

When Charles had told her many times, that she was beautiful, as indeed she was, she said he was saying it without meaning it. She said many times that she was just a plain Jane and admitted that she had low self-esteem. He believed that she wanted to believe in love and that she wanted to be loved but she was scared of experiencing true love followed by rejection because the two people most important in a child’s life, her father and her mother, had already not merely rejected, but psychologically abandoned her to an empty life.

As their time together had passed, Charles had become aware that she was becoming more anxious about the direction her life was taking, her appearance and her ambitions.

“She was a past mistress at dealing with or suppressing concepts her mind didn’t want to acknowledge. One day it might become too much to handle because the reality mind will no longer accept the enormity of the deception upon itself and what were once merely the symptoms of mild schizophrenia … or she’ll become an innocuous spinster living alone with her thoughts in small rented accommodation or with her unmarried brother in the ex-family home, which she may find an inexplicable need to occupy in her pursuit of a lost childhood she can never find.”

Charles reached an empirical probability in his painful evaluation. As a doctor he was aware of the changes in a woman’s body brought about by pregnancy. He realised that Angela’s body bore such indications, which although inconclusive, pointed to a very strong probability of full term pregnancy. If Angela’s past did hold an unholy secret, as a consequence of her choosing to go on suffering patriarchal abuse for love of her brother, no one could undo that any more than Charles could undo his abuse of her but it could be faced. He believed he now knew the reason, when he had enquired, for her failure to properly account for either her missing academic year or the stage of her teenage life at which it had occurred. The unanswered question was where her baby was now.

His door opened and the benign uniformed nurse said, “Time for your medication, William. Angela’s here to see you,” as her bemused eyes scanned the blank pages laid out before him.

THE THERAPY OF A VIOLENT AND PROFESSIONAL MAN

Johnny and I were tied to tubular steel chairs facing each other. He’d been beaten too but he was fully conscious. They knew who we were so he looked at me, smiled and whispered, “James.” It earned him a punch that made his right ear bleed. I looked up at the Squat who’d hit him, and then back to Johnny and said quietly, “Johnny, Johnny, Johnny.” The Squat looked at me, then beyond me and did nothing. Then the bastard, Colonel Grigori, came into my line of vision, hovering for a moment on the edge. I let my head slump forward and he lifted it.

His face was expressionless, unemotive. He spoke. “Just give me the names and you can both live. If not to save yourself then to save your friend here.”

“Whatever you do to me, he won’t tell you anything,” I said. “The least I can do is extend him a similar courtesy.”

I remember everything he did to Johnny. He did it himself while the Squat stood eagerly by hoping for his turn, which never came. Johnny died as Grigori took out his second eye with an elegant dining fork. Grigori thought Johnny was just unconscious when he put a bullet in the back of Johnny’s head, which left a lot of Johnny’s face in my lap. At that point, I wouldn’t have felt the pain of anything they did to me but they didn’t do anything because the door opened and Petrova walked in with four of his Specials.

He looked at Johnny’s faceless, lifeless body and said to Grigori, “Who did this?” Grigori blinked and replied, “I authorised it. You have no jurisdiction here.” Petrova glanced at him contemptuously, drew his pistol and shot him twice in the face, “Neither do you. This man was my agent”

He turned to me.

“Did he hurt this prisoner?” he asked quietly, indicating the Squat with a nod.

“Ask him,” I whispered.

Squat spoke, “I was only following orders …”

“Dispose of him as the garbage he is.” Two specials dragged the Squat outside as Petrova turned to me.

“You’re free to go.”

“I can’t make it,” I said.

“You’re a spy and you could be shot so you can’t expect five star treatment.” He turned to the two remaining specials, “Help him as little as you need to.”

They lifted me under my arms and held me upright as my legs buckled. Petrova stood in thought for a moment then looked at me as if he were about to impart some privileged information.

“Johnny was my best agent, but when you get back, tell your decadent paymasters that he died a hero’s death. A medal in England will not cause his family the suffering that his recognition as a Hero of the People of The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics would cause.”

“Return his body,” I looked at Petrova.

“How can I do that? He never died here.”

“You bastard.”

He just tipped his head sideways and as they dragged me out I slipped into oblivion.

Two weeks later I woke up under a dockside tarpaulin in Liverpool. The needle marks on my body told me they’d used scopolamine and sodium thiopental. My thoughts told me they’d used lysergides. They’d put some English banknotes in my pocket and I staggered to the Seaman’s Mission. The Padre made the calls. That night, an unmarked ambulance took me to a convalescent hospital where I spent three weeks while they rearranged my mind.

A black car took me to a characterless office in Whitehall. I was politely shown into The Man’s spacious office with its wine red carpet, leather Chesterman settee and grey filing cabinets.

The Man was sat at his desk. “I hear you had a difficult time. I’m sorry,” he said. “Is there anything you kept from us?”

“You tell me,” I said and told him everything. He listened unemotionally. When I came to the part about Johnny being a double agent, he spoke quietly, “Petrova’s intelligence is not as good as he would like us to believe, nor as good as he himself believes.” He paused and his faced crinkled almost imperceptibly for an instant and he swallowed, “Johnny was my son.”

He stood quickly and turned to the window. He gazed out over a grey courtyard where some secretaries and office boys were eating their sandwich lunches and shivering. “I’m glad his mother’s not alive because I don’t have to lie to her. Johnny’s name wasn’t really Johnny.”

He pressed a buzzer and two minutes later we sat and drank coffee together in silence. I don’t like shortbread biscuits.

“I have some unfinished business, sir,” I said as I replaced my bone china cup onto its saucer.

“Are you up to it?” he asked.

“The sooner the better.”

“Do what you have to do.”

I killed five men to get to Colonel Petrova. The Specials outside his door saluted the uniform I was wearing as I walked between them, through the double doors and into his room. He stood quickly and saluted, “General, to what do I owe this pleasure?” He vaguely recognised me but my face had been made to look forty years older and he struggled for a name. As he came towards me around the desk, I drew my pistol and his recognition was instant. He smiled enigmatically. “I did you a kindness once, I let you live,” he said.

“You let me live only because it suited you at the time.”

He shrugged, “May I telephone my wife to tell her I love her?”

“Of course. I’m not a barbarian,” I replied.

As he reached for the ’phone, I shot him between the eyes, as he knew I would. I then placed the silenced pistol in his hand and left by the doors through which I’d entered. In fluent Russian, I told the two Specials that he had orders of the utmost importance for them in five minutes. TASS reported his death, in a shooting accident, the next day.

My name isn’t really James. Wait, there’s someone at the door.

LOOKING FOR ELYSIUM

When Ace had been five years old his teacher had called him Dreamer because his attention was always wandering but Ace had another equally enviable facility. He possessed the ability to absorb without conscious effort or apparent understanding what little or lot his subconscious mind deemed relevant. His unreconstructed memories were of an idyllic childhood with no concept of the passage of time. Never rewoven to hide the unwanted threads.

With secondary education however, life had become a painful struggle. Suddenly, his ability to learn seemed to have evaporated. Ace never knew if it was the result of different methods of teaching, or the intensity of study or having a different teacher for each subject. Whatever the reasons were, he was still a daydreamer, an imaginer and always would be but his first year in secondary education hit him hard and he learned for the first time to feel fear of school, fear of failure, fear of not having done his homework. He experienced panic deep in the pit of his stomach. He never told his parents about the weeks of sleepless nights in the fifth form before his ‘O’ levels. Lying awake in bed at five in the morning desperately wanting to sleep and wanting not to have to get up. He was scared because he no longer knew how to learn. He couldn’t compartmentalise. He couldn’t say, “This subject ends here and another one begins”. Consequently at the end of his first year at Grammar school, he was bottom of the class. Such was the extent of his failure that the headmaster called in his parents. The school couldn’t understand how a kid who had achieved the apparently remarkable success he had in the Eleven Plus could do so badly a year later. He couldn’t have told them why then but there came a time, when no one was listening, that he could have done.

At primary school a gifted teacher had taught each child in Ace’s class of forty with no limitation on what their enquiring minds asked, but skilfully directing them to and including in his teaching, everything they had needed to pass the Eleven Plus. Ace had been with that man for one formative year of his life and never forgot the debt of gratitude he owed him.

At his grammar school, which one part of Ace’s mind told him was a great school; a teacher stood at the front of the class and spoke without communicating. Pupils had to learn from the words spoken. There was no system of integration for dreamers and Ace couldn’t have been the only one. No one ever told him that there would be exams every year. No one ever told him about a structure for learning let alone taught him one.

In the second year he was moved from the top class to the bottom class. People came and asked him if he knew why he’d done so badly but how could he know the reasons? He was just a kid. They should have realised that he did badly because they did badly. It was their job to recognise in him the lack of concentration because his mind was not being directed. He would have got there in the end if they had understood him and explained what was expected of him and what he should do. If they had taught him.

The other kids and his friends had done okay in that first year. Down to earth, practical guys whose minds, even at eleven, had been simply but firmly fixed on the task in front of them. Guys who’d heard the teachers when they’d been speaking.

Now Ace found himself going into the second year four grades lower with different class mates, most of whom had passed the eleven plus because it was there and they had taken it, but really whose families had no intention of letting them go on into higher education. In some cases, not even into the sixth form. Wasted places and wasted time.

Ace was fourteen by the time his eyes opened and he began to get it all together. He didn’t realise that he had sleepless nights to come but he did realise that most people’s lives are a bluff. He didn’t think that most people pretend to be something they’re not but that everyone thinks you are what you either tell them you are or what they perceive you to be. It’s far reaching. You can be sitting outside an interview room and be scared of people you haven’t even met, not realising they’re more scared than you. Ace had been too naïve not to discover and show one of his other real selves to the world.

It took him years to find the bastard in him. He was soft and he was lost and most everyone else had it all together. For those first three years he’d been too scared to even talk loud in case someone looked at him.

What brought the change? The dawning?

He was woken from his daydream in morning assembly. The deputy headmaster always read the school announcements and notices and Ace was sat there thinking about nothing, vaguely listening to the detention list being read. His own name broke into his reverie and pulled his attention back to focus on what was being said. He nearly missed it and then he wasn’t sure until he saw other boys looking at him. It couldn’t have been his name. He was scared, scared of authority. He wanted to cry.

In the five minutes between assembly and first class he found the detention master.

“It wasn’t me, sir.” Now he was nearly crying because he was embarrassed as well as scared.

“It’s no good complaining now, boy. You should have thought about what you were doing before you were given a detention.”

“But I wasn’t given a detention, sir,” he blurted.

“I don’t want to hear any more of this. A coward and a liar is not the sort of person we want in this school.”

He looked around. Other kids were looking at him and laughing. He felt so small, so alone. How could it be that no one believed him when he always told the truth? Didn’t they know him? He walked away quietly and two evenings later he did the detention. He stayed in a classroom until he’d written out two hundred times that he wouldn’t do whatever it was he’d been falsely accused of. He never found out who’d given his name but he realised that whoever did it had done it because they had no respect for him, because they thought nothing of him, because he was nobody. Because everyone knew he could be pushed around and wouldn’t fight back.

It’s remarkable how sometimes a small and insignificant event can make the worm turn. In the scheme of things worse had happened to him. He’d been bullied before. He’d been ridiculed before. He’d been humiliated before. But this was different. Now he knew he was going to fight back. He didn’t analyse the decision. He didn’t even make a conscious decision. Looking back, he knew the reasons. Firstly, he was just getting older, growing. Secondly, he’d been blamed and punished for something he didn’t do. Thirdly, it was just so damn unfair that they wouldn’t listen to him when he finally had something to say. Fourthly, it was time to stick it to the man.

He felt he had to do something about the injustice. He felt he had to do something about it now or he’d never be able to. The first thing he had to do was stand up for himself. The second was he had to get his own back. So at fourteen came the first turning point in his life. He’d done the punishment. Now he was entitled to do the crime. A sound philosophy. He’d seen a film where a guy said that a real man is no less a man for taking an unjust licking. He didn’t know that then but it wouldn’t have made any more difference than it would have later. A man, who repays all his debts, good and bad, is more of a man for it, became part of his philosophy until it became expedient to accommodate a different view.

Revenge may or may not be sweet but it feels good. So he played the game and he played it well. School detention became a regular event in his social calendar. He needed a couple a week to keep him going. He’d get them for the most trivial things like not wearing a school tie. When he arrived at school with fluorescent yellow socks the headmaster himself came out of his study to personally intercept him in the school drive and send him home. He’d be late for a lesson or he’d not address a master as sir or he’d gorge himself at lunchtime and lick his plate clean. Nothing too sinister, at that stage, about any of that. More just a touch of discourtesy. Anathema to the post-war establishment.

He gained a following among the like-minded and a plan was hatched. They knew whom the prefects and teachers were who didn’t know them individually. Four of them deliberately got detentions and they all gave the name of a new kid who’d only been at school a week. Not one of the prefects or teachers knew the kid. They didn’t just get one detention each, they each got three. A few mornings later, in assembly, the headmaster himself read out the detention list. For the first time in a long time Ace was not a feature, which must have raised the headmaster’s spirits. The headmaster read out a few names then he read out, “Franco, fifth form. Twelve detentions.”

The reaction was so gratifying to Ace. The whole of assembly started to laugh and whoop. Kids looked around craning their necks to look at the fifth form to see who this hero was. Ace looked at Franco who’d had no idea this was going to happen. His face was white. He was scared. The headmaster continued, “Never in the history of this school has there been such an appalling record of misbehaviour. This boy is to come straight to my study after assembly and I shall be calling his parents to the school.”

They all knew what that meant. Withdraw your son.

Ace waited outside the headmaster’s study while the headmaster saw Franco. Franco came out crying and Ace asked him, “What happened, Franco?”

Franco replied, “It wasn’t me.”

“Aw, bad deal, man. Didn’t the beak believe you?”

“I don’t know,” he sobbed. “I’ve got to come back when my parents get here.”

“That is tough, man,” Ace shook his head in sorrowful sympathy.

The headmaster’s secretary came out to see if anybody was waiting to see the headmaster and Ace smiled brightly at her. She knew him well and despite his reputation, she liked him because he’d befriended her son who’d been even shyer than Ace when they’d met in the first year.

“Oh, Ace,” she said resignedly, “What do you want?” and she led him in.

Without looking up, which was meant to convey authority rather than the discourtesy it actually displayed, the good Doctor of Philosophy said, “Yes?”

Ace didn’t reply. He waited until the headmaster looked up. He did, with his usual affected expression of disdain, which disappeared the instant he recognised Ace.

“I’d rather hoped, in vain it seems, that a week might pass when I didn’t have to see you.”

“Life doesn’t give us everything we want, sir, and we have to meet each new day as a challenge.” Ace smiled hugely and with largesse. “You said that in assembly last week.” Ace waited, forcing him to ask Ace what he wanted.

“What do you want?”

“Sir, I was given a few detentions this week and I gave Franco’s name.”

A pregnant pause.

“You gave his name twelve times?”

“Oh no, sir. Three times.”

He stared at Ace in disbelief and silence.

“It’s true, sir,” Ace said happily.

“What about the other nine times?”

“I don’t think Franco did anything wrong, sir. That’s what he told me and I believed him.”

A look crossed the headmaster’s face like Franco had told him that only he hadn’t believed him.

“Do you know who gave his name the other times?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Who?”

“I’m not going to tell you, sir.”

“You’d better tell me.”

“No, sir. I needn’t have come to you at all.”

The headmaster thought on this for a moment and then asked, “What on earth possessed you to do something so evil?”

“Evil, sir?”

“Don’t bandy words with me.”

“Sir?”

“Why did you do it?” he demanded, voice raised in best authoritative tone.

“What does bandy mean, sir?”

He stood up and began to come round the table towards Ace.

“It was an exercise, sir.”

“Have you any idea what you put that boy through?”

“Yes, sir. Have you any idea of what I put that boy through? Embarrassment, fear, humiliation. Perhaps it will strengthen his character, sir.”

“What?”

“Otherwise there’s no justification for it, is there sir?”

“Are you quite mad, boy? What on earth are you talking about?”

“The exercise, sir.”

“Is this your idea of a joke?”

“Sir, the more a society is structured upon inflexible codes of behaviour and rigid models of justice, the easier it is to cause disruption.”

The headmaster looked at Ace.

Ace continued, “Why didn’t you believe Franco? No one can get twelve detentions. He’s a new boy, sir. He’s just a softie. I mean, come on sir.”

The headmaster sat down, leaned back in his swivel chair and inhaled slowly and deeply. After a few seconds he sat forward and put his head in his hands.

“Why did you do it?”

“For kicks, sir. It was done to me once, sir, but in the final analysis that wasn’t really the reason.”

“I want you out of this school. You are a completely disruptive influence. You’re disrespectful and you look a disgrace. Your hair is unkempt and you look unwashed.”

Damn! Ace hadn’t expected this. He’d thought it was funny and clever. He obviously wasn’t in tune. There was only one thing to do. Play a new game.

“I’m sorry, sir. I didn’t mean to cause any trouble. That’s why I came to tell you the truth. Honestly, sir. Please don’t tell my parents. My father …”, Ace managed to choke up.

“I want the names of the other boys involved.”

God, this guy wouldn’t let up.

“I don’t really know who they are, sir. I just heard some boys were doing it for a laugh so I did it as well. Sir, I’ll apologise to Franco. Sir, I’ll do the detentions. Please, please don’t tell my parents.”

The headmaster looked out of the window. Finally he said, “Thank you for coming to me. You know you really should devote far more of your ability to your studies than to trying to create an impression. I’ll consider the matter. Go to class.”

Franco didn’t do the detentions and neither did Ace. The matter was never mentioned in assembly and Ace stayed at school, and, as Ace was to realise, the detention system wasn’t called into disrepute. So they won that battle, if not the war, after all.

He’d shown his indifference to school authority and discipline and he’d discovered that consequences are a myth. From now on, no payback, just a good time. Just a rebel because he was. I rebel therefore I am. But being bad for bad’s sake was over. Now there had to be a different purpose. He wasn’t unpredictable to himself and he could only enjoy the predictable for so long.

In the middle term of the fifth form, in March, the school had the school cruise. Two weeks after his fifteenth birthday, Ace went on the Aegean cruise with his classmates. His best friends were the guys at school he’d grown up with, the guys from his village but they weren’t all in his class. However, off they all went early one April morning to school and took coaches to Heathrow where they waited four hours for Ace’s first flight, in an old Britannia. Then they were all in Venice and ready to sail on a converted troop carrier. Two weeks cruising down the coast of Yugoslavia, stopping off at Athens, Corfu, Istanbul and Venice. It was crazy time.

For four months Ace had saved the money he earned from delivering the evening newspaper so he had enough money for his holiday if he was careful. He spent some on souvenirs then he blew the rest on what he naïvely believed at the time was pleasure like he’d never know again like getting drunk and smoking.

For every ten kids who went, a teacher went free. The teachers had a wild time. Best of all, after they’d told the kids to be careful they ignored them. After all, what could a bunch of fifteen year olds do?

There were kids from schools all around within a forty-mile radius of Ace’s school. Some of those girls looked so good to him. He had already observed the phenomenon that the blouses worn by fourteen-year-old girls suddenly become too tight. Men of devious character obviously designed them because they always seemed to be open between the buttons above and below that first bra.

Because the cruise took place in term time, they had lessons, because the law said so. Not regular subjects, but lessons about the places they would visit and slide shows and films. Good stuff. The teachers didn’t want to have to teach any more than the kids wanted to have to listen. The rest of the time was theirs until lights out at ten. Every night there was something going on, like a disco or a film show or sitting in the lounge listening to the jukebox and eating Mars bars. What an environment. Forced close social proximity to girls. They wanted the boys as much as the boys wanted them. That was shipboard life. On days ashore, it was eight hours continuous smoking and drinking and a few fights. And they were fifteen. On a jukebox in a small beach café in Corfu, Ace first heard Ride The Wild Surf by Jan And Dean and he played it twelve times. The locals looked upset but the café owner, Schizos, was cool, after all, the drachma spoke. Ace was learning to blow his mind.

He wanted his first girlfriend. By day three the choice was getting smaller. There were still some nice ones but he had to move quickly. There was a girl from County High who was mending everybody’s clothes and ironing boy’s shirts. No one knew how it started but that’s what she did. They called her Granny because she looked after them and because her breasts hung down to her belly. Ace told her he liked her classmate, Trish, and she introduced them. Day four and Trish and Ace were walking round together. In the evening he took her to the ship’s cinema. They sat at the back in a really black room. He held her hand then he put his arm around her then he turned her head towards him and kissed her. Oh yeah, the film? It was The Magnificent Seven.

He’d never kissed a girl on the lips before but there didn’t seem to be much to it. Nothing moved for him. He momentarily wondered if he’d get germs from her spit. When he told the guys, they told him about French kissing. He told Trish. She’d heard about it too so they tried it and that was a lot better. They liked it wet. They began to find some very quiet places to go and by the end of the first week, at the age of fifteen, he was inside a fourteen year old girl’s clothes.

After the trip ended he saw her once. She came down to the town ice rink and they both knew that was that. No heartaches or pain either side. The trip was over, that’s all. However, there was a bigger, better and different kind of trip to come.

That summer Ace tried all over to get a job. There was nothing much around. Eventually, he and his friend, Mick, got a job at the village Annual Show for a few days together helping a guy, Luke, who was building the seating stands around the equestrian arena. Then a few more days putting together a swimming pool at the house of a guy who bought the display model from the show. That turned into something funny. This pool was twenty-foot diameter with a steel frame construction and plastic walls and base. About five feet deep. It had to be built on level ground. Ace and Mick went to the guy’s place. He had a sloping lawn. Back to Ace’s place to get his old man’s spirit level and a couple of shovels. Back to the guy’s house to do a beautiful job of levelling his lawn. Construct the pool. Perfect.

Mick took a larger cut of the money because he worked the third day alone on finishing touches. Ace’s old man found him putting the tools back and he was angry. Ace couldn’t understand why because he’d only been trying to make some money but his father was annoyed that the guy was taking advantage of him, because levelling the ground hadn’t been part of the deal. Well, okay. Ace could see the point. He’d put up the tools and Mick had got more money. Ace’s old man knew who the guy was and he didn’t like him or to be accurate, didn’t trust him. It also later turned out that Mick was distantly related or something. Ace felt unsettled about it all but justice came.

Nine thousand eight hundred and forty imperial gallons later, that pool was full. Picture a hot Sunday afternoon with that full pool and all the neighbours down the street lying out in their back gardens. On a li-lo in the pool the guy’s snotty little seven year old daughter. Then a crack as the steel frame gives in an instant, the polythene liner splits and the pool collapses. The li-lo with the girl sails out on a five-foot wave down through those gardens, no fence able to contain it.

Nine thousand eight hundred and forty Imperial gallons. The girl was okay but there was extreme property damage and anger. The guy from Triang who made the thing said that it was a fault in the metal and that the construction job, particularly in view of the levelled ground, had been faultless. Oh yeah!

Ace went back to school and moved up to the fifth form. The autumn term passed. He was having his Saturday nights out. Nothing special. Christmas came and when his Ma and Pa were out and he was home alone, he watched The African Queen on television. A moving film. He liked the fat guy who died, the brother of Kate Hepburn, Robert Morley. His Ma gave him Cher’s first album. He was getting scared about his ‘O’ levels in May and June. He was doing both Englishes, pure maths, biology, chemistry, history, French and art. What do you do when too much time has gone past and you’ve not done enough work? You divert your mind.

He was still fifteen. His cousin, Tom, was seventeen. Tom had a girlfriend, Brenda, in a town about eight miles away. Ace still didn’t have a girl. His birthday was coming up and he wanted it to be Happy Birthday Sweet Sixteen. Just before Easter, Tom said to him, “Ace, why don’t you come with me. There’s loadsa girls down there. Why don’t you come down and pick one?”

“What, are they just walking around, waiting for a guy to pick ’em up? Come on.”

“Yeah, they are.”

“Aw, come on.”

“It’s up to you. I see ’em every week. Some of ’em are friends of Brenda’s.”

Ace knew it couldn’t be that easy but it was important to always have a girlfriend. No girl, no reputation. Most girls only wanted you if other girls wanted you so if you didn’t already have a girl, it wasn’t easy to get another. A couple of weeks later, Ace went down with Tom. He thought he’d just get himself any girl to start with and gradually get a better one. They met Tom’s girl in the park, by the old cricket pavilion, and he was right. She was with four other girls.

Tom said, “What’d I tell ya, Ace? You can have any one you want.”

Ace took him to one side and said, “Tom, I can’t pick a girl just like that.”

“Yes you can. I’ve already spoken to ’em. You know. They’re willing.”

Then he said out loud, “Which one d’you fancy? Have a good look at ’em and choose one.”

Ace didn’t mind picking one out and he intended to. It just seemed a bit demeaning for the girl, that’s all. More importantly, if he picked a crap one, could he change her? He guessed he could if their friendships didn’t stand in the way. What the hell, any girl is better than no girl, subject to basic standards.

None of them were fantastic. In fact, two of them he wouldn’t want to be seen with. Wendy was all right. She had a pert face with a snub nose. She wasn’t very tall but she had a nice smile and her shape wasn’t bad. So he chose her. The other girls wandered off into no boyfriend limbo land and Tom disappeared with his girl to give Ace a chance to be alone with Wendy.

They sat in the pavilion, which had an open front. She didn’t say much. Tom had told Ace her name and she knew his.

He asked her, “Where d’you live?”

“About a mile away.”

“You ain’t got a boyfriend?”

“No.”

Then hesitantly she asked, “Have you got a girlfriend?”

“Nah.”

They already knew this stuff or they wouldn’t have been there but shyness makes you ask stupid questions.

“Do you work?” she asked.

“No. I’m at school.”

“The grammar school?”

“Yeah.”

“I thought so, from the way you speak.”

“How old are you?” he asked.

“Fifteen.”

“At school?”

“No. I’m a hairdresser.”

“Yeah?”

There had been a few people in the park but now it was raining, a short-lived but heavy downpour and they all disappeared. She shivered and Ace put his jacket round her shoulders.

“No one’s ever done that for me before,” she said quietly and she turned her face to look up at his.

“I bet someone’s done this before,” Ace said and kissed her. She wasn’t much good but he didn’t tell her, he showed her. She responded and it was okay. He said, “Now you kiss me and make me feel that I can do anything I want.”

She said enthusiastically, “Okay,” and tried really hard and it wasn’t bad. She asked, “Is that good?”

“Can I do anything I want?”

“Yes,” she said and Ace put his hand on her breast and squeezed.

She gave a sharp intake of breath in surprise. She was going to stop him so he said, “You’re a real woman.”

She closed her eyes, put her head back and let him do what he wanted to do, which wasn’t much in an open cricket pavilion in a public park in the cold and rain, but he made her feel that her afternoon was worthwhile. When the rain stopped and people reappeared, she rebuttoned her now open blouse and they sat there leaning on each other. Eventually Tom wandered back with his girl, both completely dry and looking flushed and he and Ace went for a coffee with the girls before going home about six. Neither of them wanted to spend the whole day with a girl. The girls would have thought they were too keen and it would have spoiled them and anyway, at that age, they had other people to see, other places to go.

Wendy had given Ace her ’phone number and he ’phoned her on Wednesday. Tuesday and she would have thought he was too keen. Thursday and she would have thought she was a second thought. He went down again the following weekend with Tom. He spent time walking around with Wendy and finding somewhere quiet to be so he could practise his technique for undoing a bra one handed then he joined up again with Tom to take the local bus the eight miles home.

Wendy became his girl and it was a good Easter holiday although she was working days. He tried to revise for the exams but it was a hopeless cause. He just spent his days with his friends letting time pass. He saw Wendy a couple of nights during the week and at weekends because he didn’t have any transport except the bus but then that was the same for lots of guys. They didn’t have rich parents. At least being with her took his mind off everything it should have been on.

The closer the exams came, the more important it seemed to keep up the pretence that all was well.

One school lunchtime, he and Mick wanted to go into the village to just hang out. It was out of bounds so they didn’t bother to ask. A master, Priest, caught them. They walked straight into him. They had a knack for doing some things at the wrong moment.

“What are you boys doing out of school?”

They evaded the question and Mick said, “We’ve got permission, sir.”

“From whom?”

They had to run with the lie or admit it and be punished. No way!

“Mr. Mater, sir,” Ace said, determined not to let Mick have the monopoly on the dissemination of false information.

“Is Mr. Mater your form teacher?”

“Yes sir,” in unison.

“You’d better be telling the truth or you’ll be out of the school,” and he waited for them to condemn themselves knowing that they were lying through their free school milk teeth. They smiled at him.

“Right, I’m going straight back and I’m going to check it. What are your names?”

They told him because he’d recognise them anyway and because they thought that if they were convincing, he just might not check. He turned and walked to his car, which was parked about ten yards away and climbed in and started the engine. Ace and Mick smiled and talked to each other and sauntered away in the opposite direction towards the school.

They walked out of sight and watched the reflection of Priest’s car in a shop window across the street as he pulled away and headed straight back to school.

“We gotta get back before him,” said Mick.

“Don’t let him see you,” Ace said and they ran like the Hounds of Hell were after them. They knew Priest had to drive the main roads while they could run through the alleys. They reached The Green outside school and saw his car coming from the right.

“Stop,” said Mick, “He’ll see us.”

They sauntered towards the school gates. If he did see them, it never crossed his mind that it was the same two boys. After he turned into the school drive they raced up after him. Their only chance was that they’d find Mater first. Priest turned towards the staff car park, which, due to some miracle of bureaucracy, was at the opposite end of the school from the staff room. The boys raced through the warren of prefabricated corridors that linked the succession of Horsa huts to the New Building. Into the New Building and they raced towards the staff room, round a corner and straight into Mater and knocked him flying. They had a knack for doing some things at the right moment as well.

“What the devil are you boys doing?” he bellowed with arguable justification.

“Sir,” said Mick, “We need to speak to you.”

“Then calm down and do it properly,” he said.

They knew that Priest was probably only seconds away, somewhere in the glass corridor that ran the length of the New Hall and which ended at the glass swing doors just feet from where they stood. Ace took a desperate measure. He told the truth.

“Sir, Mr. Priest caught us in the village and we said we had your permission.”

“What are you talking about? What do you mean, in the village?”

“For God’s sake, cotton on man,” Ace thought.

Mick took a shot. “Sir, we were …” and the glass doors opened. It was too late. Priest. Now they didn’t care about the crime and they didn’t care about the punishment but they were seriously going to lose face.

Mater spoke first. He was the epitome of composure and order. He said, “Go straight to room fourteen and tell the class that I’ve said I’ll be five minutes late. Go on, run. And thank you.”

They didn’t know what he was talking about so they hid around the corner.

“Hello Roger. Are those boys in your class?” asked Priest sternly.

“Yes, good lads.”

“I saw them in the village. They got back quite smartly.”

“Important message for me,” said Mater.

“They were there with your permission were they?”

“Didn’t they tell you that?”

“Well, yes. Actually, they did.”

“And you didn’t believe them. You know Eric, you’ve got to stop thinking that a schoolboy’s natural state is to play truant and tell lies. Didn’t they tell you what the errand was?”

“No, as a matter of fact. What was it?”

“Nothing at all really.”

“Alright, Look, you know I’m only worried in case something should happen to these lads and we’d know nothing about it.”

“You’re right to worry. If the need arises in future I’ll give them a note before I send them to the village.”

“Alright,” said Priest and walked off.

Mater was a genius. Not a lie passed his lips. Ace began to see the value of an education. This guy knew how to manipulate. An enviable and vital skill for use in later years.

“Boys?” said Mater.

“Sir.”

“Don’t hide round corners and don’t do it again.”

“No sir,” and they both knew they’d never need to do that particular thing again.

Wendy was Ace’s throughout the Easter term at weekends and any night after school that he wanted to see her. Evenings were great at her local youth club listening to music and kissing and anything else that didn’t attract too much attention from the old ladies who ran the place. Small Faces and hot buttered crumpets and tea and Lovin’ Spoonfuls. Saturdays were good because of Marinaville market and the clothes and all the Lambrettas and Vespas down the High Street and walking round with friends and drinking coffee. Sundays were generally shitty because her old man liked to take them on a Sunday drive in his old Ford Cortina. He thought they enjoyed it. Maybe she did. Ace wished he hadn’t been so polite. He hated to waste the day like that. He even took them out to the stinking oil refinery where he worked!

Summer was coming and Ace needed money to buy a Lambretta if he was ever going to get a girl like some of the guys had. His newspaper money would barely buy a pint of two stroke.

Last week of summer term came up. He’d sat his ‘O’ levels. It was so horrific he blanked it out. In the weeks after the exams all kinds of activities and trips were arranged for fifth formers.

Then school was out. Ace got a guy’s name out of the newspaper and went to see him for a summer job. Ace told him, “I’ve just finished school and I’m looking for my first job.”

The man said, “Yeah, I might give you a job, boy. Y’sure yuh finished school?”

“Yeah, why?”

“Well, if yuh jus’ wanted a holiday job, yuh’d git three shillin’s ’n ahr but if yuh’ve left school an’ want a perman’t job, yuh’ll git four ’n six.”

God, this guy was sharp.

“I’ve left school.”

“That th’truth boy?”

“Yeah, I hated school.”

The man clearly identified with that. Mr. Mater would have been proud of Ace. He nodded his head slowly, looked hard at Ace who looked back like he thought an honest schoolboy would and the man said, “Okay, yuh got it. Labourin’. C’n yuh do it? Lemme see yur ’ans?”

Ace showed the man his hands. He’d been swinging an axe since he was ten.

The man looked at them and said, “They’re soft. Yuh’re gonna lose all yur skin, boy, catchin’ bricks. S’up to you. Yuh c’n try but if yuh’re no good I’ll fire yuh. Okay?”

Ace looked at his palms in front of the man and said slowly, “I don’t want to keep the skin. I want to keep the job. I ain’t soft.”

The man smiled like he could see right through Ace and said, “’Ow far away d’yuh live, boy?”

“Six miles.”

“Well, yuh be ’ere seven o’clock Monday mornin’. Bring yer food with yuh. Four an’ six, right? Now I’m busy.”

So in the summer holiday of the year he met Sherry, he got a job on a building site. He learned how to clean cups with sand and put the money for Squezy in his pocket. He learned to drive a dumper truck, crash gearbox, on the road between sites, no registration, no driving licence, no insurance, no tax, no worries. He even learned how to turn it upside down in an unshored trench and not get killed. All the boss said was, “D’yuh know what that f’n thing cost, Ace?”

That’s what the guy actually said, “F’n.” Maybe it was more like ‘futtin’ without the t’s like fu-in but phonetically it sounded more like f’n. Fuck it. Who cares? Ace guessed he mumbled it because deep inside, he hankered after not being vulgar by nature. Who f’n cares?

Ace smiled, “Deduct it from my four and six,” and they laughed together.

He learned how to dig a big hole in the centre of what was going to be the kitchen garden of some young couple’s dream home and tip an overflowing, fifty gallon, putrid, stinking, converted diesel oil drum latrine into it with an insufficient hundredweight of lime and two tons of dirt and lay turf on top.

He learned how to catch bricks. One guy, Jerry, who was about three years older than Ace resented the way Ace sailed through life without every second word beginning with f. He took personal offence. Ace never thought he was better than anybody else but Jerry thought Ace thought that so Jerry tried to make it hard for Ace. Ace never complained and that made Jerry more determined to break Ace. Came the day, the two of them were told to unload a brick lorry. Jerry had to stand on the back of the truck and throw the bricks down to Ace. Seven bricks thrown down will stay together and can be caught and stacked. The boss said to Jerry, “Yuh throw ’em down. Fives ’til Ace’s used to it.”

Jerry threw fives. Then he threw sixes. Then he threw sevens. Ace didn’t say a word. His hands were grazed and were beginning to bleed. He’d figured how things worked on the site and he was reckoning his chances of smacking Jerry in the mouth without coming off worse. Ace knew Jerry was tough but on Ace’s side was that to Jerry, he was an unknown quantity and he hadn’t broken yet.

Jerry decided the course by throwing eights and then nines. At eight Jerry could see the blood on the bricks as Ace put them down. When he threw the second nine Ace just let those bricks hit the ground and break and looked up at Jerry who said, “What’samatter? Can’t you fuckin’ catch ’em?”

Ace just stared up at him without a word because he knew it was easier to bluff a stupid guy that way.

“What are you fuckin’ starin’ at?”

Ace said, “I’m starin’ at you. You really are a stupid bastard, aren’t you,” and held his gaze.

The sun was shining full on Ace’s face and he was bathed in light. Even if Jerry didn’t think so, Ace thought it created an impression. Jerry couldn’t jump down off that lorry quick enough.

“What’d you fuckin’ say?”

Well, so this was it. Ace had gone too far to back off now and if he tried, at best, he’d be back to square one. So he went for broke.

“I said you’re a tit.”

“That ain’t what you fuckin’ said. What’d you fuckin’ say?”

“I said you’re a piece of shit.”

Jerry looked puzzled. He couldn’t figure it out and that worried him. He came towards Ace but hesitated sufficiently for Ace to see his uncertainty. Now Ace had the advantage although Jerry was twice as strong as him.

“Come on, boy,” Ace said softly, “I’m gonna wipe you off my boots.”

“Don’t you fuckin’ call me fuckin’ boy.”

“Ok, girl, I got blood on my hands. You gonna come and taste it?” and Ace waited for him. Ace was going to make Jerry walk to him. Slowly, hands slightly raised, Jerry came closer. Ace wasn’t scared anymore because Jerry was and no longer believed he could beat the hell out of Ace, which he could.

Suddenly, a figure passed Ace. It was Lemmie, a gentle giant. He smacked Jerry full in the face with a big fist. Jerry’s nose sprayed blood and Lemmie hit him again on the side of the head. Jerry rocked on his feet and Ace thought Lemmie had killed him.

“It’s alright,” Ace said, thinking, “These guys think nothing of hurting a guy.”

“He thinks the bully makes the rules,” said Lemmie. “I’m just showing him he’s right.”

“Lem,” Ace said quietly.

By now Lemmie was holding Jerry up, in a bear hug from behind.

“Come and kick him in the balls, Ace,” he invited. Jerry looked at Ace and squirmed futilely.

“It’s over,” Ace said.

“I know,” said Lemmie. “Just wanted to see if you’d do it. Wouldn’t have held it against you but you done right.”

From that day on Jerry always wanted to work with Ace and he did. He cried when Ace left. All he’d ever known before was bullying. That was Ace’s first ever real job. He loved the five weeks it lasted. He learned that some people look no further than what’s happening in front of them and others no further than their next payday but they ain’t exactly living for the moment either. Whatever the hell that all means. But it was all leading him somewhere.

That summer, every evening was long and dry and cool. Made for them. Made for adolescents. Made for adolescence.

One of those evenings, probably a Saturday when he didn’t see Wendy, he met Rick, for the first time, at his village social club where he went to play table tennis, talk to girls and listen to records. It wasn’t a place he took Wendy because until he had a Lambretta, he couldn’t take her the eight miles home to her place. Well, okay, although she was all right and he could’ve taken her on the bus, he didn’t want his friends to see her because he wanted them to think he could do better when it came to chicks.

Rick had moved into the village during the summer and Ace’s first encounter with him was a bit of push and shove over who was next on the table tennis table. In the end they played each other but Ace liked him from the start. He was all blonde hair and blue eyes whereas Ace was brown hair and brown eyes. Girls thought they looked good together. More importantly, so did they. Ace was clever with words and Rick had a good accent and they were pretty sharp. They gained a reputation and they did all right. Rick became the closest friend Ace ever had. He had a good background and over the next few years he taught Ace a lot. Ace’s parents had taught him how to be polite. School had taught him how to speak. Vanity had taught him how to dress. Being an altar boy had taught him that most people try to buy forgiveness with mere words and then carry on as before for another week. Rick taught him how to deal with the kind of people he hadn’t met yet; how to move in a different class with a different kind of confidence. Ace loved him like a twin brother. Ace even once ’phoned Rick’s mother and Ace had developed an accent so like Rick’s, she wouldn’t believe Ace wasn’t Rick. Ace liked to think Rick learned just as much from him as he did from Rick, but it made no difference if he didn’t.

Summer was good. Everyone thought the Beachboys sang, “I love the purple clothes you wear” and went out and bought purple clothes. Ace just dyed the clothes he already had, in a big galvanised steel tub on top of his Ma’s cooker. It was a long, long time before he found out they sang, “I love the colourful clothes you wear” but he was glad he didn’t hear it right because hearing it wrong made a better summer for his generation.

He told Wendy he loved her and all that stuff because she wanted to hear it and he wanted to hear what it sounded like when he said it. He didn’t realise that when the time came to say it truly, practice wasn’t needed.

She really did love him and that didn’t surprise him but by the end of the summer he was planning to give her up. There was nothing really wrong with her, as a girlfriend, except perhaps her hair was too short. He’d never understood why hairdressers have such short hair. He’d learned all the things he wanted to learn but it wasn’t that. She treated him real good but things were getting heavy with her family. He was only sixteen and still at school but they were talking about them getting married. Ace guessed they thought he was some kind of a catch, going to grammar school and his job on the building site and all that sort of thing. But no way. There was also no way he was going to have a time with no girl so he was looking around.

Summer over, he went back to school. He tried to get his tax back from the job but they told him there was no record of him even being employed let alone having paid any tax. And he’d had to lose his newspaper round money for the summer. Bummer. It didn’t matter. He went into the sixth form. He’d needed four ‘O’ levels to get there. If he’d been from another school, he’d have needed five. He had three, both Englishes and maths but he got in with the promise to get another at resits but principally because the headmaster got extra pay for every sixth former.

It was a different world with different rules in the sixth form. Somehow he had made it and he could enjoy the privileges, like being allowed to walk diagonally across the quadrangles and talking to masters with his hands in his pockets. Big stuff, right? Up to the fourth year, they’d had to wear navy blue caps with a maroon band around the back. In the fifth, they were allowed to wear a cap with a pale blue band around the back. It was to teach them the value of earning something that others would look up to and yearn to achieve for themselves. Yeah? One of the more important privileges was that sixth formers didn’t have to wear a cap at all.

But Ace wore one, and not a fifth form cap with a blue band. He’d never even had one of those. No, he wore the cap he’d always worn. His junior cap with its maroon band perched right on the back of his long brown hair. Cap wrong and hair long; symbols of defiance, of freedom of spirit. Even some of the teachers admired his spirit. The symbol became a trophy and he’s still got it. Somewhere, anyway.

He could hardly believe he was in the sixth form. He had a girl of sorts. He had a new friend. Life was good. What more could he expect? He didn’t expect anything. Life was just good. First day of term when he got to school there was exhilaration in the air. He and his friends were just so damn happy. How can you not be happy when life is easy and your days are your own and you have some money and girls and music and growing up and your parents to feed you?

His chosen ‘A’ level subjects were English lit, pure maths and economics. He gave up Pure Maths for French in the second week. They all had to work out their own timetables. Every single subject was being taught somewhere in school by someone and they could pick and choose their own combination of lessons. Ace never heard of it not working out for anybody. Then they were grouped together and put in a class with a form teacher. He was in a ragbag class of just six pupils which included Mick, a guy called Adam and, he could not believe it, Rick, his new friend. Rick’s public school didn’t have a sixth form and here he was. Just the six of them. Adam was new to school and he was so mature. He knew everything. They regarded him with a kind of awe mixed with love and friendly envy. He had something called carnal knowledge.

It was during that first week back at school, September 1966, with all that he had going, that he first saw Sherry. She was wearing her old school uniform. Pale grey skirt from her school in contrast to their navy blue and maroon. Crisp white blouse she wore. His heart never raced like that before. It was in the upper back corridor in the old building and she was with her new friends. He thought she was French, like when French students would sometimes come and visit your school and the teachers would tell you to show them around and look after them, well, that’s what he thought was going on. He thought her old County High uniform was her French school uniform. Man, she was skinny. Her hair was long and straight and brown and her eyes were brown, not as dark as his. He noticed her long slender white neck and her awkward ankles. She was tall and she had poise. Their eyes met and it was disconcerting, unfinished, but it was like he was looking into a mirror. Two unfinished concertos. It kind of took the wind out of him. She was beautiful and he thought she was out of his reach. But she’d set the standard for the rest of his life.

And he bought his scooter. Not the Lambretta he’d wanted nor even a Vespa. The best he could do for the thirty-five quid he’d saved from the building site was a 1961 Zundapp Bella. A monster. It turned out all right. Two hundred cc, foot gear change and seventy miles an hour. Burned off some two fifty grease but couldn’t touch an SX.

He got his provisional driving licence on the seventeenth of September. He was exactly sixteen and a half. He couldn’t recall the exact date he bought the Bella but it was three days one side or the other of that date. His old man was at work but his uncle came over when the guy brought it round.

His old man had said, “You’re not having a scooter. The wheels are too small. They’re not safe.”

Vespa’s had eight inch wheels and Lambretta’s ten inch. The wheels on this thing were twelve inch. He and his uncle looked at it and it looked all right so he bought it. It wasn’t exactly mod but it was halfway there and he was desperate for the status. When he discovered the speed he had no more doubt. Even his old man secretly liked it and openly rode it.

Now he had wheels. He repainted his Bella and did it up. It looked all right; apple green and gloss black with a bit of fur and a union jack and anything chrome. Now there were twice as many girls available.

He was looking for a way to make Wendy not his girlfriend without hurting her and, he supposed, her family. He hoped that she’d meet some other guy and give him up and he’d make out he was cut up about it, but not so much that she’d come back to him. Some hope, now he had wheels that she’d want to leave. Now he was definitely a face. He looked good.

He decided that if the worst came to the worst, he’d just have to dump Wendy straight, but now it was even more important to have a girl so he was going to keep his eyes open because he didn’t want a gap between girls. Now he could get around and the L-plates meant nothing to a sixteen year old with his eyes on a good time if there was a girl with skinny legs willing to ride with them round him. Hell, it made it more exciting. He wished he could have a girl like that French girl he’d seen at school.

He still had to earn petrol money and one Saturday afternoon, maybe a week or so later, he’d finished delivering papers and he went back to the shop. He leaned his bike against the side wall, then walked round to the front door. He stopped in his tracks because she was coming out of the shop. The French girl. His own Françoise Hardy. She was with another girl and stopped too when she saw him. They gazed at each other and their hearts yearned and their minds cried out, but he was choked with shyness. The clothes he was wearing embarrassed him. For a few moments they were motionless and then they passed without a word. He was sick for the rest of the weekend.

When he went back to school on Monday, she was there. And she wasn’t French. He was so anxious, so panicky, so shaky inside, he wanted her to be his all at once. He hadn’t felt like this about a girl before. He didn’t know what to do. He just waited for something to happen. He didn’t even realise that her reaction when she’d seen him meant she must have noticed him at school and felt exactly the same way he did when she saw him outside the shop.

Every guy in school was after her. Every time he saw her, he sweated, he palpitated. His mouth was dry one second and running wet the next. It was like he was ill but he didn’t want to get better.

Every boy tried to talk to her. She was kind and sweet. She was so natural. She was the girl Ace’s mind had never put into words because, until he saw her, he never knew the words that could describe this vision. She was the living personification of love and joy and absolute beauty and purity. She was radiant. Her presence filled the whole sphere of his existence. She was him. She was his soul. In her was everything that had made him different from those around him. She was a free thinker. She was a rebel.

He had to have her to be complete. He simply didn’t know that she was already his.

One of Ace’s friends from a different class was the first to walk around with her, because he had more guts than Ace about talking to her first. No, it wasn’t that Ace didn’t have the guts. For him, every word had to be the perfect word. Every moment had to be a pure moment, to be savoured. He was still searching to find the bridge between them and for them to meet in the middle each knowing it was always meant to be. She was to tell him that she had only walked around with his friend to get closer to him. It turned out that one of his new friends, Adam, was on the same school bus as her and he appointed himself go-between and did a lot to make things happen quicker. In those days you loved your friends and you would die for them because it was your world and those were your values. Adam said some good things to Sherry about Ace and later, when Ace ran away from home, he stayed at Adam’s place.

So Sherry and Ace came together quickly, in small ways at first, with their friends around and then, realising what they wanted, their friends excluded themselves from their meetings and left them together. Ace wanted her to be his girl. He wanted to know all about her. He asked her, “What school did you go to before here?”

“Basingstoke County High but my Dad moved down here with his job. Have you always been here?”

“Yes.”

“Do you live round here?”

“Yes, in the village, about a mile from where we first saw each other. I wish I’d spoken to you that day.”

“Oh, so do I.”

“Really?”

“Yes.”

Then they walked quietly for a while before he asked, “You don’t mind me asking you questions, do you?”

“No,” she said so quietly and shyly.

Being too shy to ask her anything else, he said, “I don’t mind if you ask me anything.”

“Have you got a girlfriend?”

“Well,” he hesitated because he didn’t want to lose her but he would never deceive her, “Yes.”

“Oh,” she sounded disappointed.

He panicked and then asked, “Have you got a boyfriend?”

When she quietly said, “Yes,” he was cut to the quick and he didn’t know what to say.

After a while he asked, “How old are you?”

“Fifteen.”

“You’re in the fourth form?”

“Yes, I had to do a year again at my other school.”

He didn’t care to ask why. He was just pleased she wasn’t fourteen. They spent every break together and they ached every moment they were apart. He began to spend all his spare time in her classroom. The boys in her class didn’t like it. Man, she was way out of their class. She was light years ahead. One fourteen-year-old kid thought he could cut it because he had about three hairs on his chest. Thought he was a man. He threatened Ace in front of his classmates and Ace laughed at him. The kid lost serious face and incredibly tried to bottle Ace. Ace told him to piss off and Sherry couldn’t keep the smile from her face. He threatened Ace with a milk bottle and Ace laughed, “If you’re gonna do it, do it.”

He wouldn’t face Ace down but as Ace turned away from him he launched the bottle full at Ace’s face from feet away. Ace caught it in a spontaneous reflex that made everybody gasp. Then he threw it and smashed it on the blackboard just above the kid’s head as he cowered in fear. Ace said to him, “If you’re ever as good as me she still won’t even look at you,” and walked out leaving him to explain the mess or clear it up in the last minute of break. Ace was beginning to notice the benefits of five weeks hard labour with Jerry and Lemmie.

A few days later, in the art labs, before their first kiss, Ace was so close to her and he held her briefly. He was overwhelmed by her presence. They hadn’t yet crossed the bridge but he leaped ahead in what he did and in offending her he hurt himself. He put his hand on her breast. Her face flushed red in an instant and she threw his hand down and turned and walked away. Dear God. Dear Jesus Christ. What had he done? Why had she been so completely irresistible? To this day he couldn’t say why he felt angry at her, maybe because he thought she’d made him lose her, but more likely because he felt he was entitled. She belonged to him. But he was pleased too that this was her character. His girl was decent.

They both just had to get past what he had done. It diminished nothing of their feelings. Ace guessed he’d been conditioned to do it and she’d been conditioned to feel insulted. But they were meant to be. They were of one ambition and they just wished that he hadn’t done it because it set them back a few days and then they were back together again.

He walked up to her and said, “I am truly very sorry and ashamed.”

She looked up at him hesitantly almost not wanting to meet his eyes in case the embarrassment returned. She nodded and he was forgiven.

“I’ve missed you,” he said softly.

“I wanted to be with you all the time,” she said.

They walked and they talked and they played and they were closer than before and they spent their time together again and someone invented Twix and they each discovered it was the other’s favourite.

Then they crossed the bridge. They kissed for the first time.

Then they had the rest of their lives to enjoy young love at its zenith.

It was Tuesday the eleventh of October 1966 in room ten, in the lower back corridor at school, her classroom. Despite all that had been said between them, they still hardly knew each other and they were awkward. It didn’t matter whom they’d kissed before. Together they just didn’t know what to say or do. But they wanted each other so much, and they were both trying to impress and say the right things not to put each other off. They both had that feeling, that you can only have when you’re young and don’t really know as much as you think you do and you’re trying to impress someone, but you don’t know their background, or what they’d like you to be like, so you don’t want to say anything stupid. Ace thought she was from a rich family. He discovered that not only was he wrong about that but she’d thought the same about him and she most surely was wrong about that.

They were like two butterflies fluttering around each other and brushing against each other as much as they could. They were very shy and naïve. They each wanted to hold and be held and Ace wanted so much to kiss her. More than anything else they wanted not to die.

They were pretending to fight over something like maybe a pen or a bottle of free school milk, when suddenly they bumped together and she was in his arms. He didn’t know if she wanted him to kiss her or not and he had this sudden doubt that she might think he couldn’t kiss properly, sudden doubt that he knew how to do it so she would like it and want him. It was the most important thing in the world. It was his whole life arrived at that point in time and for the first time, everything that was ever going to happen in life mattered. It was too late for doubt.

She was warm. She was soft. A schoolgirl clasped to the chest of a schoolboy. She was honey and milk. Oh God! God! He never knew anything could be like this before. This was sheer ecstasy. This was bliss. Everything was so real because it was for the first time like this, and the only time.

Then their lips met and he kissed her.

He kissed her.

Oh my God, how he kissed her.

They talked about that kiss afterwards. They talked about it all the time she was in love with him. It blew their minds. Their friends didn’t believe it could have felt like they told them it did because they’d never had the experience or been told of anything like it but they felt something of the intensity and the power whenever they were near Ace and Sherry.

Ace could feel it even now. When they kissed a jolt went through their one body. A huge electric shock passed between their lips and burned them. They felt the shock and the burn together. They shared its intensity but there was no mark on them. It hurt but it didn’t throw them apart. It forged them together. They couldn’t draw their lips apart and they didn’t want to. At the first touch of their lips the world had changed. Two worlds became one. Something greater than mere physical contact took place between them. Their souls found each other and fulfilled each other. Complete metamorphosis of two bodies and souls in that same instant.

They kissed long. That kiss joined them together and they stayed joined together because in that instant they became each other’s life force. Then they kissed with their mouths open to make the kiss greater, fuller, and it lasted oh, so long. That first kiss lasted over two minutes and no kiss between them was ever that short again.

They wondered at their transformation. No longer any shyness. It was as if they had known each other all their lives before the kiss. And after the kiss they thought the same thoughts and they spoke the same words at the same time. They became one in every way. They did everything that they believed two lovers could do without offending God. They drank the saliva from each other’s full mouths and they chewed the food from each other’s full mouths and passed it back. What they felt was so huge, so limitless, and they couldn’t comprehend it. They didn’t try but the intensity of their spiritual union physically hurt. Their love for each other was all there and full and complete from that very first kiss. There was nothing to build on, only to be together forever, as passionate lovers and as pure as brother and sister.

Even though they’d walked and talked and been together, before they kissed they just never knew that their backgrounds, their likes and dislikes, their tastes, their opinions, their views on everything were all identical. They knew now that their coming together had been no coincidence. This was the direct hand of God and they enjoyed their senses with a previously undiscovered intensity.

Ace still had Wendy and Sherry still had her old boyfriend from home. When he’d seen her outside the paper shop, she hadn’t known she was where Ace lived. She’d been to the village to meet her boyfriend because he had family there. Ace knew his people vaguely. Once they were together she was really worried about being seen with Ace in the village in case he got beaten up. Ace told her not to worry. Nearly every one of three thousand people in the village knew him and he didn’t know of one who didn’t try to be his friend, old or young. Those that didn’t know him knew of his family, so he told her, “You’re mine. The sooner we get out and be seen together, the better.”

Sherry’s house was twelve miles from Ace’s place. Wendy lived eight miles in a different direction. Ace said to Sherry at school, “Baby, I’m gonna to see Wendy tonight and tell her it’s over then I’ll come see you.” She kissed him deep, long and lovingly.

He rode over to see Wendy at the youth club in her town. She was already expecting him to be there. He waited outside the club. The night was fresh, not too cold then. Some girl with her friend said to him, “When you’ve finished with Wendy, will you go out with me?”

“Jesus,” he thought, “She’s psychic.” “I ain’t finishing with Wendy,” he lied.

She said, “But when you do …” so he said, “Alright.”

Wendy came up and she gave the girls a look and they backed off. Ace kissed her. That was the first time he’d ever kissed two girls on the same day. She said, “Hello darling,” and he squirmed inwardly. They went inside because the waiting had made him cold and he bought a couple of coffees from the old ladies. After they’d sat in a big old armchair and he’d touched her a little, like she expected, he said, “Let’s go outside, there’s something I want to say.”

Her eyes lit up and she said, “First, I’ve got a present for you. It’s your Christmas present but I want to give it to you now and get you another one.”

He thought, “Damn,” but said, “I can’t take it.”

She looked hurt and there was nothing he could do but open it. It was a damn wallet. Every girl and woman he ever knew, except Sherry, gave him a wallet. He said, “Come on. There’s too many people in here.”

They went out and he turned her away from the cold wind that had blown up and she snuggled against him. He said, “Wendy?” She looked up at him, her face flushed and her eyes shining and said, “Yes, I will.”

He said, “What?”

She said, “Yes, I will. I will marry you.”

He said, “That’s not it, Wendy. We ain’t ready for that.” He couldn’t do it. He couldn’t dump her. At least not tonight.

She said quietly, “What is it then?”

So he said, “I’m sorry. I can’t stay much longer because I’ve got some schoolwork to do. If I don’t do it, I won’t get my resits.”

She was pleased that he was doing schoolwork and encouraged him to get home. He kissed her and rode his scooter straight over to see Sherry. He told her, “I couldn’t do it. Look what she gave me. Oh, baby, I should’ve just dumped her.”

“You’re mine,” said Sherry and gave it no more thought as she put her tongue in his mouth. She was right. It was just a loose end.

“And it’s not a bad wallet.”

She had Ace no matter when he gave up Wendy.

He deliberately didn’t see Wendy for longer than usual but about a week later, having seen Sherry every single day, he went to see her. Same place although she tried to get him to pick her up at home. Well, he didn’t care now if he hurt her because quite simply there was no way he could do this without hurting her, and he didn’t want complications with her folks either.

He’d always got there first but this time she was there waiting. He just said, “Hi.”

She started to cry. What could he do? There were people around. He held her close. They had a good kiss. She looked up and said, “I know about Sherry. I know everything. My friends at your school told me.”

He just stayed quiet. She said, “Is it all true?”

“Yeah,” he replied.

“Do you love her?”

“Yeah.”

“More than me?”

“Yeah.”

“You didn’t have the guts to tell me yourself, you bastard.”

“That’s right, Wendy, but I don’t love you anymore,” he said, realising how easy it all became after the truth was out. He really didn’t care if he had to be really cruel, just to get rid of this girl who he didn’t even want to be with when an angel was waiting.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it. Ace, please don’t leave me.”

“There’s no point in me staying.”

“Stay with me tonight, please.”

“I can’t.”

“Are you going to see her?”

“No,” he lied.

“Then stay.”

“I am going to see her.”

Then realising he would never kiss Wendy again after tonight, they kissed, she in desperation, him because he felt he could do anything he wanted to just because he wanted to. Man, she nearly ate him.

Then he said, “I’ve gotta go. Will you be alright?”

Realising the inevitability of it all she nodded, tears streaming down her face. He really didn’t care how much she hurt.

He walked to his scooter parked at the kerb. The girl who’d asked him to go out with her after he gave up Wendy walked shamelessly towards him with a smug grin. His engine roared and he was gone without a backward glance. Down the road he stopped. He wanted to clear his head, to unwind. The situation had been a bit heavy. It struck him that he was leaving this town forever. He needed some sound, some music. He sat there for a while then he walked about. He had to see Sherry. He rode off again but turned down towards the town quay for one last look at the place. The air was better here. There weren’t many people about. He left his Bella under a streetlight and walked towards the water’s edge, his greatcoat flapping open. There was a girl standing alone in the dark, looking out across the water. He thought, “Some guy’s probably just given her the push. Might be worth a look”

She turned slowly at his footsteps. He came close enough to see her face. It was Wendy.

“Darling, you’ve come back to me.”

“No I bloody well haven’t,” he thought.

“No,” he said, “Are you gonna be alright?”

“You care,” she whispered and moved towards him. He knew she would do anything he wanted, right here, but now he had given her up. It would have been two timing Sherry, so he didn’t do it. Not even another kiss.

“I’ll always be here if you want me,” she whispered. Now that she had accepted it, he said, “Wendy, I’m sorry,” and he was, sorry that he’d wasted his time coming down here. He turned away and never spoke to her again. Half an hour later, he and Sherry were intertwined in the paradise of each other’s arms, mouths and souls and for a moment, the world was perfect.

THE END