Nothing Had Changed

Chapter 16

Stephen Hardcastle had gone to work on the buses straight from school and was now part of the furniture. He trailed to work from the tiny terraced house where he had lived with his mother until her death. Back home at the end of each shift he spent his evenings slumped in front of the television or had an occasional night at the pub when his shifts allowed it. He had been simple to find and it took no time to work out his narrow, wasted life. Simon remembered the working schedules from way back. They had used the knowledge to blag free rides and ‘Stevo’ had swelled with pride and feeble power, waving his hand at them as the gang climbed off the bus with mumbled thanks. Puffed up at the opportunity to dispense his favours never imagining that he was being used.

Of course the chances were that shift timings had changed in the intervening years and so Simon watched. From the street in the early morning, from the little café in time for the three o clock start and from the pub in the evening. The waitress in the café began to smile at him when he came in, he had become a regular but it didn’t matter. She would probably only ever remember the heavy framed glasses, bought from the local chemist, the mildest reading glasses they had. She may remember the fact that he always wore a yellow scarf and spoke with a stammer. Anything to muddy the waters, in case they looked for him before it was all over. A shy sort of chap she would say when asked, but no she hadn’t noticed a scar, well he always had his head down didn’t he, wouldn’t look you in the eye. The subterfuge wouldn’t need to last very long, just long enough.

The rota was simple and now he was ready. Stephen was on afternoons and so would finish after the last bus. The eleven thirty to the railway station was back in the garage by twelve.

Simon rang Gloria, “I’m stuck at the shop waiting for a delivery and he’s held up on the motorway. I think I’ll just hang about and then have something to eat at the pub. It could be late, I don’t want to disturb you, I’ll sleep in my own room.”

“I don’t mind, just come in when you get back.”

“It could be very late.”

“It’s okay, really it won’t matter.” He recognised the closeness now for the mistake it was but there was no choice at the stage but to accommodate it. He clenched his fist and tried to put a smile in his voice.

“Okay then. See you later. Don’t wait up though eh.”

***

It was cold and there was a fine drizzle falling. Orange mist swirled around the street lamps and dark pools gleamed in the gutters, a filthy night.

Simon slid into the narrow alley between the second hand car showroom and the church hall and waited for the bulky figure of Stephen to waddle up the hill. In the years since he had last seen him, hours sitting in the driving seat, too many burgers and a love of beer had spread Stephens backside and belly and wasted the muscles of his arms and legs. He was starting with the softest target but it didn’t matter where it began.

Cars hissed past throwing up the standing water and now and again someone would hustle along the road, head lowered and shoulders hunched but it was quiet enough.

When the dark shape appeared round the corner Simon slid his hand into the inside pocket of his new puffa jacket. The handle on the hammer was smooth and warmed by the heat of his body. Dark steel gleamed in the subdued light. His hand was steady.

The sound surprised him, he had thought it would be louder, sharper. There was just a quiet thunk, and then the slither of bulk falling to the wet pavement, the crack of his skull as it hit the floor was the loudest sound. Simon had intended to catch him as he fell but actually his reaction had been to step back as the body had fallen. It was over quickly. The quick emergence from the alley, the hammer’s arc, connection and a hardly audible gasp. He dragged the dead weight along the grimy pavement and into the dark mouth of the ginnel. He stopped and crouched in the wet, lowered his head towards the gaping mouth and listened. The hiss of rain and the gurgle of water in the downspouts and gutters obliterate any sound of breathing. Lack of light and the bulk of Hardcastle’s jacket made it impossible to tell whether the chest still rose and fell.

He pushed fingers under the dark collar, felt the sticky warmth of blood as it pooled in the fat creases. It had been guesswork, if he had struck too hard then this pig would be dead already. He didn’t want him dead.

He felt the faint flutter of life and allowed himself a smile. It took longer than he had imagined to wrap the tape round and round the unconscious, ungainly hulk and by the time he had finished Stephen was groaning quietly. He pressed a wad of rag into his mouth and secured it with a piece of tape.

He was heavy and awkward and Simon had to stop twice and rest with his back against the sopping wall before he eventually dragged Stephen through the alley.

The old van had been nicked the night before from a second hand car place, out beyond the down at heel area where his shop was. It had spent the intervening time hidden in the yard, tucked up against the walls of the workshop. An old door thrown inside just before he left was essential now to enable him to drag the still unresponsive body up and into the dirty interior. He had imagined it was going to be difficult but hadn’t realised just how cumbersome the unconscious hulk would be and by the time he dropped onto the torn plastic of the driver seat he was clammy with sweat and gasping for breath. It was only half over and he needed to move fast now before ‘Stevo’ regained his senses.

The route round the back roads and alleys to avoid the ubiquitous CCTV cameras took longer than planned and by the time they were nearly there he could hear the other man shuffling and thumping in the back of the van. He didn’t want to hit him again, didn’t want to risk him dying but nevertheless as he parked back in the yard he pulled the hammer out of his jacket and held it ready as he unfastened the rusty back doors.  Hardcastle was still lying in the middle of the van floor but his eyes were open now. As the light level increased he tried to raise himself up, thrusting with his legs, pushing and squirming, furious and confused.

“Hello Stevo – it’s me.” Simon clambered into the back of the van and watched as the fury and confusion were obliterated by fear.

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Nothing Had Changed

Chapter 15

It was worse than he had imagined.

After the agent showed Gloria around she came back with tales of damp and rot. She tried to dissuade him, suggested several other options and even brought brochures. In his mind though he had gone too far into the story. He knew the building, assuming there had been no major alterations. It was part of his past and had come to be the only place that could hold the future.

Once they agreed to go ahead he played out in his mind how it would be and now nowhere else would work.

Gloria had eventually given in with a shrug and signed the paperwork. It didn’t take long, the owners were amazed to have the chance of rental and didn’t want to risk the tenant backing out. In just three weeks she collected the keys and they had gone together to look at it.

The flat upstairs had been long neglected, paper peeled from damp walls and the toilet pan was stained brown, the drains dried out. Bathroom tiles were cracked and dirty and the linoleum curled from corners where piles of shit evidenced the large rodent population that had made themselves at home. Gloria tutted and sighed and squealed when a mouse ran from a cupboard in the cramped and dirty kitchen.

“I warned you Simon, it’s pretty awful.”

“Oh it’s not as bad as it looks, a good clean and a few cans of paint will make a big difference and I can put new flooring in, change the kitchen cupboards. We did know didn’t we that it was take it or leave it. I won’t do too much to start with, until I see how things go but I can make it habitable. It’s cheap, okay you can see why but I think it’ll work.

“Well, if you say so. Anyway I can help you, I have some spare furniture you can borrow for now. I know someone who can fit the flooring for you, cash in hand of course. Could probably even get some carpet if you’re not too bothered about the colour.

TK Maxx in Harrogate is a great place to get your towels and bedding and what have you.” She was enjoying herself, playing house and it was natural that she would feel involved and so he went along, let her have her moment. There was no harm in it…

The downstairs was in slightly better condition and the layout was pretty much as he remembered. What had been the office at the front and open to the public, was very familiar. A long wooden counter divided the space and he remembered piles of albums holding wedding invitation mock ups, menus and business cards. There had been samples of paper where now were just dirty empty cabinets.

The workshop at the back was what he was really interested in but he didn’t loiter there realising that Gloria wouldn’t attach much importance to the big empty space with reinforced concrete floors and the high metal framed windows. This was where the big presses had been and where he had spent his days earning a reasonable wage but unable to see a better future and certainly never the one that had taken him, not only from his workplace but from everything he had known or hoped for.

***

“How’s it coming along?” It was now their usual evening routine, the lights dim, jazz playing quietly in the background and each with a glass of alcohol to help them unwind. “I wish you’d let me come and see.” He had to be careful now and remember the latest lies.

“No, I’ve told you I want to have a great unveiling when it’s all ready.”

You were out a long time today, I wondered where you’d got to. He nodded, “Time ran away from me.  I was painting and stuff.”

***

He had stood for hours outside the betting shop, down the stinking alley where cat piss and discarded fast food containers scented the air. He had watched Jason Parr enter as he knew he would, as he did every Saturday and had done ever since he was able to pass himself off as old enough. People like Jason lived by rote, no imagination to bother them and make them want more and he knew that if he waited they would all arrive. They did, one by one until in the end they were all there, all the gang save one. It had crossed his mind then that he could simply fire bomb the place, throw in a flaming torch and watch them burn. The thought made his hands shake and his eyes water. It would all be over in no time.

That was why it wasn’t going to be that way.

He saw them leave in the late afternoon, laughing and pushing at each other as they stormed down the road towards the pub. All older, balder, fatter but still considering themselves cock of the walk.

Afterwards he had gone back to the nasty little shop, had taken out the electric drill and targeted his fury, mounting hooks and rings in the old walls.

The online purchasing had worked well, he’d used the library and even taken the bus into Harrogate and used an internet café there. They would trace him when they had to, he accepted that but by then it wouldn’t matter.

As they sat together in the little lounge he was suddenly aware that soon it would come to an end and Gloria and her kindness would be the only brightness in a world of darkness and that just a memory.

He walked over and pulled her to her feet. “I’m sorry Gloria but I just can’t help it any longer.” He lowered his mouth to hers, warm and wanting and felt her body soften as her arms went around his neck to hold the embrace and the kiss to herself. He pulled back. “I’ve wanted to do that for so long. Is it alright.”

Her eyes shone and she had to blink away the moisture. She didn’t speak but pulled him closer, wrapping her arms around his neck. She returned the kiss then drew back and turned away. But she took his hand in hers and led him out into the narrow hallway that led to the bedroom. Inside the room he hugged her to him again and they fell backwards onto the bed with her beneath him half on the mattress, her legs bent over the edge. Now he raised his hand and stroked away the strands of hair that had fallen across her face. She shuffled backwards and spun round to lay beside him, their heads on the heaped pillows. His fingers moved to the buttons of her blouse and as he pushed them through the tiny button holes he felt her hands on his belt, on his zip.

Afterwards, in the dark of her room, warm in bed and her spooned against him breathing deeply he allowed the tears to flow. He hadn’t meant this to happen and as he’d felt the attraction grow he had fought it back. If he hadn’t needed her to be a front for him he would have left weeks ago. If he hadn’t had to use her he would have moved on and forgotten the kindness and friendship. His quiet murmur was lost in the pillow, “I’m sorry Gloria. I am, I’m sorry.” She didn’t stir and he knew she would come to hate him in time but he had told her, in his heart he knew he had told her.

She was attentive the next morning. Dressed in a cream silk dressing gown, slim and attractive with dark hair loose around her shoulders, she brought him tea in bed. When her own drink was finished she stood and then turned to look down at him propped against the pillows, dishevelled and unshaven and she smiled. “Well, I can’t say it was a surprise Simon, but though the waiting wasn’t unpleasant I’m glad we’ve got here in the end.” And with a cheeky grin she turned and left the room. Moments later he heard the shower and he squeezed his eyes shut and fought with shame and self-disgust. Then he made himself remember, he forced himself to think of another girl with long dark hair and shining eyes, a gentle smile. He thought of Sandie and she chased away the regret.

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Nothing had Changed

Chapter 14

“Do you want to come in for a nightcap?”

“Yeah, that’d be nice. It’s been a lovely evening Gloria, thanks so much. It was special. Can I just say thanks, thanks for the way you’ve been.” He raised a hand and covered his eyes for a moment.

“Oh come on, you daft thing – don’t go getting all soppy on me.”

“Sorry. You’ve no idea though, really. I was away for a long time Gloria, a long time and I was scared shitless about coming out – excuse my French – but I was and you’ve been so lovely.”

“Yeah well, I told you, I can understand better than some people.”

“Did they know, when they made the booking for me – did they know that you’d had dealings with – oh what shall I call it – the law.”

“God no, I couldn’t let anyone know about that stuff. I’d be out of business in no time. I suppose you’ve gathered by now that I’m not actually from here. I was born in Leeds, moved here when Dave and I got married. It felt good to get away, make a new start.”

“Oh right, well it all just seems too good to be true to be honest.”

“No – just chance. So, whisky is it?”

“Lovely.” She brought the drinks and lit the fire and came to curl in the chair beside the settee with her legs drawn up under her. It was calm and quiet and for a moment he wished that he could let it all go and that this could be real, but this was not his. This was what other people had.

She leaned over the arm of the chair and pulled her bag up from the floor where she had dropped it as they walked into the room. She held out the printed paper. “There you go.”

“Oh thanks.” He screwed the paper into a small ball and threw it into the waste bin.

“What did you do that for?”

“Because it was nonsense. I can’t do any of this stuff, I have to just go and sign on and then see if I can find a job somewhere. Mind you I don’t think there’ll be anything round here will there?” I don’t see me working in an hotel or a café.”

Gloria stared into the flickering fire, swirling the brandy, warming it in her hand. “Simon,” she shifted in the chair now so that she faced him. “Did you say that you’d got the money, you know to cover renting the shop and what have you?”

“Oh yeah, I’ve got some money, from my granddad, he died while I was inside.”

He’d been amazed that the will hadn’t been changed. He assumed that it was simply that no-one had ever thought about it and for a long time he had toyed with the idea of refusing the bequest. The family, those who were left, had cut him off, they never came to visit. It appeared they believed the hype, the newspapers and the judgement and he understood, though it was like a knife in his belly.When the will hadn’t been contested, which he had fully expected he decided that it must be meant to be. In memory of the times they had enjoyed, the good times in his childhood he took what was offered.  When he came out things would be hard and he would need all the money he could lay his hands on. He was counting his blessings now because with the loss of the storage units up by the dual carriageway the money was going to be essential.

“So basically all you need is someone to give you references?”

“Well, yeah, for ordering stuff and so on. I can’t buy everything up front I don’t think and once people do a credit search, well I wouldn’t even be able to get a contract for a bloody mobile phone. What I would need would be someone to rent the shop and sort of front the thing for me. Just to put their name on it for a while you know.”

“How do you mean.”

“Well it might work iif someone else signed all the papers. it would need to be, someone who already had a good reputation, a standing you know. But it’s no good. Hey come on don’t let’s spoil the evening with this stuff. Why don’t you put on some of that jazz you were playing the other night?”

“Okay.” She smiled at him and went to the CD player. The sound of the saxophone and piano filled the room.

When she spoke it was little more than a whisper, “I’ll do that.”

“Sorry, I didn’t hear you.” She swung round to face him.

“I said I’ll do that. If you like I can rent the shop in my name, sort out the bank stuff. They know me after all. Let’s be clear, I won’t give you any money, I want you to understand that up front. I won’t go into partnership or anything but if it’s just about paperwork and so on, yes I’ll do that.”

“Bloody hell Gloria. You can’t do that. You don’t know me. What are you thinking, you shouldn’t even be considering it. No, no I can’t let you. How long have I been here – just a couple of weeks and you’re offering to do that. God, what would your old man say, you really shouldn’t be so trusting.”

She held up a hand. “I’m not going to argue; I am making this offer once. I won’t commit to anything financial and before I do it I want the money in my bank, a sign of goodwill. I’m not as stupid as I might look but, I like you Simon, I reckon I’m a good judge of character and I would like to help you. Whatever you did you’ve paid for it now, you’ve done your time and I’d like to help you get your life going again. Yes, I know most people would think I was crackers but, if you want it the offer is there. You put some money in my bank, that shows that you trust me, and then I’ll rent the shop in my name. Take it or leave it, one time offer. Don’t try and answer now, we’ve both had a bit to drink and this stuff should be done sober.”

He put down his glass and slid to the front of the settee. “Gloria, I don’t know what to say. I just don’t.” Now he dropped his head into his hands and hid his face from her.

“Come on, don’t go getting all daft on me. Tell me tomorrow if you want to take me up on it.”

He stood and crossed the room, pulling her to her feet he wrapped his arms around her and held her in a warm hug. “Thank you, thank you so much.” As she raised her face the air between them crackled with tension and he began to lower his head. At the last she turned away, pulled from the embrace and bent to tidy the glasses away.

“Right well, early start for me tomorrow so I’ll see you at breakfast.”

He stopped as he opened the door to leave the room. “Gloria, you’ve knocked me for six you really have.”

As he climbed the flight of stairs to his room he couldn’t supress the grin. Stage one had been completed in less time than he could ever have hoped for. He would have his prison. It was in progress, the end game.

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Nothing Had Changed

Chapter 13

The restaurant was warm and welcoming and there were enough customers to create a lively atmosphere.

Simon had been to M and S during the afternoon and bought a new sweater and a pair of trousers.  He realised that he needn’t have bothered, many of the men, and the women for that matter were wearing jeans and sweatshirts. Obviously the idea of dressing up for a night out was outdated. On the other hand, it made the occasion special for him, and there had been none of those in his recent past. He noticed that Gloria had made some effort and told her how pretty she looked, the compliment came easily to his lips.

They ordered, pasta and chicken dishes, salad, garlic bread and a bottle of wine. He had let her take the lead and was grateful that she understood without anything being said that he was a bit out of his depth.

“Have you been here before Gloria?”

“No, but I wanted to, it’s lovely isn’t it.”

“Yes, this is the first time I’ve been anywhere like this. Before …” he waved a hand, “You know – I used to go to that place in the high street, I noticed it’s gone now, it was Indian.” He had spoken without thinking and realised that he had given away more of his past than intended. She didn’t comment on the revelation though but instead she laughed.

“What, what’s funny.”

“Oh it’s nothing, well I don’t know if it’s true but they closed down because someone said that dead cats had been found in the freezer, skinned and ready to cook.”  She raised a hand to her mouth and her eyes grew round with amusement and mock horror.

“Shit – you’re kidding.”  She shook her head, giggling now.

“It’s probably not true. Anyway it finished them, nobody would go there after that was in the papers.”

“Yeah, well people are really influenced by that stuff aren’t they. You know, it’s in the papers so it must be true.” Illogically under the circumstances he had to work to hold back the anger that spurted up from the dark place where he kept his hate.

“Well, anyway this is nicer isn’t it.”

“Yeah, that’s one thing I noticed there are a lot more eating places now. Back in the day there was just the Indian and the fish and chip shops.” If she could be bothered she could now work out when he had last lived here but it seemed that being more open with her was bringing her closer, and so it was worth the risk.

“Yeah, well again it’s down to the tourists. It’s saved this place really. That silly television programme started it, you know the one about those old blokes and the woman with the wrinkled stockings. It made people take notice and then the coach trips started coming up here and we all benefitted.”

“But, that wasn’t here was it.”

“No but it’s not that far away and we have the waterfall and the glen. The steep streets, stone houses – all of that stuff is apparently quaint and charming now.” She gave a laugh, “My gran used to curse the hills when her arthritis was bad! It’s a funny world. Mind you I’m not knocking it, we did okay out of it, me and Dave.”

The food arrived and for a while they ate in silence and when it began to stretch into awkwardness Gloria was the one to fill it. She put down her cutlery and reached into the bag she had hung on the back of her chair.

“Is this yours Simon?” it was the printed page showing the picture of the tatty shop.

“Oh, yeah.” Simon tipped his head to one side and frowned. “I thought it was in my room.”

“Oh, right well, it was on the landing on the floor.”

“Sorry.”

“No, no it’s okay, I guessed it must be yours. I’ll put it back in my bag, remind me when we get back.”

“Thanks Gloria.” He waited for her to ask him about it but her comments were about the chicken, the music, the splattering of rain that blew against the window.

Eventually he took charge, “I spotted that place when I was out walking the other day,” he pointed to her bag. “It’s a grotty little shop up behind the old Chapel.”

“Oh right.” she was maddeningly incurious.

“It has a flat, upstairs.”

“Yeah I had a little look at the details. It’s not that nice though is it.”

“Well no, but it’s cheap.”

“Is this to do with your idea, your advertising thing.”

“Yeah,” he laughed quietly, “I can’t help thinking about it, planning it. It’s stupid isn’t it.”

“No, no don’t say that.”

“Well, it’s not going anywhere. I mean nobody is going to give me credit, all that sort of thing, not with my history.”

“Hmm, I suppose not. Have you asked?” He shook his head.

“No real point, they would want references and so on….”

“But isn’t there any way you could get those. I mean,” she stopped and he saw her visibly screw up her courage. “Look, I said I wouldn’t ask you about it and I won’t but if whatever the trouble was, it wasn’t to do with – oh I don’t know fraud, business stuff then surely you could get some references from somewhere.” Before she had finished speaking he was shaking his head.

“I am really grateful for the way you’ve been about it all Gloria but honestly, I know I wouldn’t be able to get references. I’m not in touch with anyone since before, I cut off all connections, there’s nobody, I don’t want to be in touch from anybody from back then. Oh, don’t worry about it, it’s just my daft idea and it’s not going anywhere. Come on let’s order our puddings and forget all that stuff.”

He watched, knew the ideas whirled in her mind and the feeling of success was only slightly marred by a smaller one of guilt.

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Nothing Had Changed

Chapter 12 

“What do you want me to do with the boots and stuff Gloria?”

“Keep them for now if you like, use them. Did  you have a good walk?”

“Yeah I did, it’s always beautiful up there.”

“Good, you’re looking better, got some colour in your cheeks these days.” She smiled at him, reached a hand forward and then drew it back and folded her arms tight across the front of her body. “So, what now?”

“I’m going into town for a bit, got some stuff to do. Perhaps see you later?”

“I’m out tonight so if you’ll be late make sure you take your key.”

“Oh right. Well, have a good time.” She smiled and nodded at him as she turned away, if she had caught the flash of disappointment on his face she didn’t react.

He had a shower and went into town to the library where he knew there was a computer suite. It wasn’t dissimilar to the one he had used while he’d been in jail, smaller and obviously with a greater mix of users. He was directed to a vacant desk and settled down placing the scrap of paper beside the keyboard. The librarian came to stand behind him as he logged on, Simon paused and turned, “Yes?”

“Do you need any help sir, logging on or whatever?”

“No it’s fine thanks. I’m okay, my own system has gone down and I just have some stuff I need to do. I can print stuff out here yeah?”

“Certainly, there is a small charge per copy.”

“Yeah, fine – great.”

He found the site of the agents dealing with the little shop. The price was more than he had expected but well within his budget. He printed out the details.

***

He was used to sleepless nights; they didn’t bother him anymore. They were preferable to the tormented dreams that followed him even now after all this time. When the hours crawled by and his mind refused to shut down he let it run, let it plan and enjoyed the feeling of being alone, in a warm cocoon, free and his own man again. He ran over the ideas, made a mental list of the things that he would still need, the way he would finesse it all and by the time the birds began to stir and the little gaps around his curtains brightened he was buzzing with the need to get it going.

He tidied up and went down to the dining room, “Morning Gloria, did you have a nice evening?”

“It was okay, nothing special but I have to make the effort now and again.”

“Oh, right. Maybe one evening we could do something – sorry that was forward of me, sorry.” She blushed and lowered her eyes, busy straightening the table setting.

“That would be nice Simon, I’d like that – yeah.”

“Oh, great smashing. So what shall we do? A meal, would you come with me to The Saracens Head, it’s nice in there isn’t it?”

“Great, that would be lovely but could we do somewhere else.”

He remembered that her cousin worked in the place he had suggested. He understood but was still offended that she didn’t want to be seen with him. He beat it back. It didn’t matter. “Okay, tell you what you decide. Tonight then?”

“Oh, erm – okay then, why not. I’ll look forward to it. I’ll ring that new place up by the old cinema, book us a table. It’s Italian I think – is that okay?”

“Smashing, yeah that’d be great.” She grinned at him and turned to carry the dirty plates back to the kitchen. As she went through the swing door she glanced back over her shoulder and gave him another beaming smile.

He went back to his bedroom for his back pack. He dropped the print out from the library on the floor outside his bedroom door.

He was struggling to rid himself of the irritation he felt at breakfast until he realised that Gloria’s reluctance to be seen in his company could have nothing to do with who he was – she didn’t know. So, it was just reluctance to be seen with a man, any man. He grinned, okay, yes that’s okay.

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Nothing Had Changed

Chapter 11

A skeleton of the plan had been with him for years. He had to go slowly, had to hold on; to rush it could mean failure. Then again, maybe he should change it all, just go in like a tempest, and afterwards find his own peace. He could, he knew he could. All this planning and waiting and ‘cleverness’ wasn’t necessary, it was stage business and self-indulgence.

He stood before the window trying to find calm, looking out at the hills, it worked, always had. The claustrophobia when they had first locked him up had been vile.  Gooseflesh popped on his arms as he remembered the nights when he lay, sweating and panicked in the tiny cell. The ceiling pressing down and the walls squeezing the breath from him until he had to leap up and pace back and forth, counting steps, the screams held at bay only by the knowledge that if they could say he was mad then there was a chance that he would never be released. He had wanted to pound the door, kick his way through and run and run back to the moors. Of course the moors weren’t there, no matter how long he might have run and however fast, and the door was impenetrable. So, he learned to deal with it, to work out in the gym until he was exhausted and the panic was held back and fed into the hate. It had left him physically strong, he was tougher than he looked. He was convinced that if he wanted to he could do it all now, take them all on and win. But he needed more than victory, he needed revenge and so he must go slowly.

His nerves began to settle. The short grass rippling in the breeze and the gleam of moisture on the dark leaves of gnarly shrubs was timeless, it helped.

There was a decent sized garden here. A couple of groups of metal tables and spindly looking chairs furnished a flagged patio and over towards the low, dry stone wall a wooden bench gazed out to the hills. He could see how it would make a lovely setting in the summer, a marquee on the huge lawn and wedding photographs taken with the endless sky and the rolling roughness of moorland as a backdrop. He imagined that Gloria and her husband had been right about the potential and her frustration at the aborted scheme could well be a tool he could use. He turned away to sit on the small bedroom chair. That sort of stuff, weddings and parties, frivolity were part of another world, Sandie’s world really and his mum’s, not his though. Not now and not ever.

“Did you sleep well Simon?”  He was late into breakfast and Gloria paused on her way back to the kitchen with a tray of dirty dishes.

“Yeah, great thanks.”

“So, today? What have you got planned?” He shook his head and lowered his gaze to the empty plate.

“I’m supposed to go and sign on.”

“Ah yes. Do you know where the office is?”

“Yes, I saw it the other day but,” He stopped tightened his lips.

“What, what’s the matter?”

“I’ve never done it. Before – I worked. I always worked, right from leaving school. It just feels bad. I don’t really want to do it.”

“But you won’t be able to claim your benefit if you don’t.”

“I know, but I just keep imagining my mum, what she would say. She was always so proud of the fact that I went straight into work. It feels as though I’m letting her down – Ha that’s a laugh, as if I haven’t done that already.”

“Is she still alive – your mum?”

“No, she’s not. She died a while ago, thank god before my troubles. Sorry Gloria, this isn’t your problem. It’s just getting me down a bit – the thought of it.”

“Well, I guess you don’t have many options do you?”

He didn’t answer her, this was too easy. Steady, steady take it slowly.

“Well, you know while I was away, I studied. I did computer stuff and art and I kind of had an idea.”

“Oh right,” she had put the tray down and lowered to the chair opposite to him “What was that then, your idea.”

“I thought maybe I could have my own business. It’s daft of course, I do know that, it was just a silly dream really.”

Well, you should keep hold of your dreams Simon. We had ours, plans and schemes you know, ours didn’t work out but, maybe yours could.”

I just thought that I could do advertising stuff, printing posters, banners.”

“But can’t people do that themselves? Everyone has a computer now.”

“Yeah, of course. Little flyers and things like that but I was thinking of the big stuff, those big plastic flags that you see at festivals and banners for businesses.”

“Oh well, I suppose somebody does those. I’d never thought about it. But, round here there wouldn’t be much call for it I don’t think.”

“No, probably not but it doesn’t matter does it, not these days. You can do it all on the internet. People prefer it I think, well that’s what they told us anyway. All you need are some premises tucked away, it could be anything – a garage, a house, a little shop. You don’t need big flash showrooms.  As I say I did some courses and it’s all there on-line.” He had to be careful, this must look new. There must be nothing to connect him with Tommy Webb – not even a past in the printing trade. It was true about the extra training. Anything to pass the time and keep his brain alive, to fill the useless days.

“Oh well, there we are then. I hadn’t really thought about it but you’re probably right. It makes sense doesn’t it, you can be based anywhere I suppose.”

“That’s it – I thought maybe I could have a go but – well no it’s stupid. I couldn’t do that not right now, not with my history.

“It’s a shame. I know just what it feels like to have your plans and not be able to get on with them.”

“Yeah well, anyway I think I’ll hold off for a bit, with the signing on you know. I can manage for a while.” She reached over and squeezed his arm.

“It’s going to be hard Simon, to get on. It really is.” He nodded at her and conjured up a smile. “Ah well, I can dream can’t I. It’s frustrating though, I’m sure I could make it work and I have some money, and I think there might be enough to get me started but – well, nobody is going to help me are they?

“No, I’m afraid not. Not if you’re honest with them and really I think you have to be don’t you. You can’t start off on the wrong foot, it’ll come back to bite you in the future if you do. Are there no organisations that are – you know specific for your situation.”

“Probably. I don’t want to do that though, I want to start completely new, leave it behind, do you know what I mean. Ah well.” He pushed his chair back and turned away from the table. I’ll just go and have a walk anyway, go up on the tops, it always makes me feel better.”

“You should have some better clothes, going up on the hills at this time of the year. You should have a good waterproof jacket, some boots. What size do you take?”

“Yes, you’re probably right, I could go to the big shop in town, the cut price place, see what they’ve got.”

“Tell you what, I still have some of my hubby’s stuff. If they’ll fit you then I’d be more than happy to let you use them.”

“No, no I couldn’t – God, that’s so kind of you but – well I don’t know. Are you sure?”

“Yes, it’s silly having them in the cupboard and you out there in that thin jacket, your trainers.” …

As he turned onto the dirt path, dressed in a good quality waterproof jacket and his feet in leather hiking boots Simon allowed a smile to play around his mouth. He had her, he knew he had her.

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Nothing Had Changed

Chapter 10

He went back to stand outside the empty printer’s office, there were rooms above. It would do. Of course he could just take it, break in and use it but he needed time. Time to prepare and then time to take it through to the end, on his own terms.  No, he had to have it for himself, for as long as it took. He had to keep his head down though, not draw attention to his activities. The last thing he wanted now was people researching his background for any reason. He needed help and had already decided where he would turn. She had warmed to him already.

The day passed as the others had, prowling the shops until he was tired and cold and then sitting in the manufactured cosiness of yet another pub. It surprised him that he hadn’t met more people he knew. Now and again there had been a figure he recognised and he had turned away, slipped inside whatever shop was handy. There was only one person he wanted to meet and seeing her dashing away from the church was possibly the only chance there would be and it had gone.  The old crowd couldn’t have all left though surely, then again there was a noticeable change in the mix of people walking around. There were more foreigners, more women with headscarves, men in baggy trousers and there were too many youngsters trailing around aimlessly. Too much unemployment, too much hopelessness. It was obvious this part of Yorkshire still struggled, it was just that the victim mix had changed.

He was supposed to have signed on by now, filled in forms and registered for work but that wasn’t happening, not now – probably not ever. As long as his money lasted he would keep contact with the authorities as little as humanly possible.

He bought some snacks to store in his room, crisps and crackers, some biscuits, cheese. He shopped in a small supermarket for cans of lager and a half bottle of whisky.

The weather was dull and cold with spiteful rain blowing in the chilly wind. He wouldn’t go to the moors today but he stayed out as long as he could. Walking freely up and down the roads, through the parks and then calling in for cups of coffee, another pint. Such ordinary things, such special things. He pushed away the temptation to visit the north side of town, the church, his dad’s house. It would be best not to go there, not yet. Maybe later at the last, just one more time before the end.

He knew that Gloria’s mornings were her busiest time. With a young girl from nearby for help she cleaned the rooms that had been used overnight, including his own. She cleared up after the breakfast service and did a general tidy up in her little kingdom. So, he left it until late afternoon, picked up a sandwich cake at a confectioner’s shop and went back to Mill Lodge.

He let himself in and as she wasn’t in the dining room or sitting at the computer in the tiny reception area he knocked on the door to her own rooms.

“Oh, hello Simon, come in.” She was dressed casually in soft trousers and a sweat top, her dark hair was pulled up into tail on the top of her head. She looked young and pretty.

“I don’t want to disturb you.”

“No, you’re not, not at all. I was just slobbing about to be honest. I don’t have any guests coming until later so I thought I’d have a bit of down time. It’s always a risk, if someone knocks on the door looking for digs I don’t like to look scruffy but this time of the year I sometimes get away with it.”

“Oh, sorry. I’ll leave you to it.”

“No, don’t be daft. Come on, come in – I’ll put the kettle on.” He held out the white box tied with ribbon.

“I brought this, a bit of a thank you for the hospitality.”

“It’s what you’re paying me for.”

“Well, yes but not the evenings, not the drinks.” She shrugged and grinned at him.

“I enjoyed that as well. So, are you planning on standing there much longer?” She moved into her room and left him to follow and close the door as he handed over the cake.

“Oh lovely. That’s a gorgeous little confectioner. I’m so glad we still have one or two independent shops. It’s the walkers that keep them going really, people on holiday like a bit of local colour don’t they. Course most people go to the retail park now. It’s a shame. Anyway, enough of that I’ll get some plates. Tea or coffee?”

“Coffee would be great, if you’re sure I’m not disturbing you.”

“Oh would you stop. I’ve told you.” As she laughed and walked through to her little kitchen he sat down on the cream sofa. He should have taken his shoes off and was horrified to see that he had trailed mud onto the carpet.

“Shit.”

“What’s the matter?”

“Sorry, sorry Gloria, ‘scuse me. I’ve made a mess on the floor here, with my shoes.”

“Oh never mind, here. She tossed a cloth to him. “give it rub with that, will that work.”

“Yeah, great – sorry about that.” He rubbed the stain on the carpet and then gathered the damp rag and carried it to the kitchen door. She was just inside, pouring water into the cafetière and he tried to push past to drop the cloth into the sink. As he brushed behind her he felt the slightest of touches, his hip against hers, it was little more than a disturbance of the air between them but he felt her tense. He tossed the cloth into the sink and backed away clumsily and almost fell back onto the settee. The silence was charged until she picked up the tray and spoke just a little more loudly than was normal, “It’s a lovely cake, lemon sandwich. Haven’t had one of these for ages.”

“Good, I hoped you’d like it. That shop, it was full of stuff I didn’t recognise, carrot cake, God I wonder what my mum would have made of that and Brownies, what the heck are brownies. I thought they were little Girl Guides. She started to giggle now and it was all okay again.

As she licked a smear of filling from her fingers she looked across at him. “A bit odd this really.”

“What is, what’s odd?”

“Well, don’t get offended will you?”

“No, no I won’t.”

“Well this, it’s a bit – oh I don’t know, genteel I suppose is the only word I can think of.”

“Genteel.”

“Yes, you bringing a sandwich cake.”

“Oh, should I not have done it?”

“No, no it’s not that – it’s just that – well, knowing where you’ve been, how life must have been for you …”

“Ah right, yeah. I’ll be honest it did feel odd. Standing in the queue in the shop with all those women, buying tea cakes and scones but you know while I was away, in all that – oh if I call it basic-ness, do you know what I mean?”  she nodded, “well my mum and the things she used to do, the stuff we used to have, it was what I tried to focus on. It’s hard, almost impossible not to be brutalised by it, to become –something that I didn’t want to become and I tried to fight it. I put all this stuff, the ‘nice’ stuff into a place in my mind and tried to keep it clean, you know – make it not part of what I was living.”

“Well I have to say you’ve done a pretty good job.  I wouldn’t have known. Looking at you today I wouldn’t guess.” He grinned over at her.

“Really, do you really mean that.”

“Yeah, I really do.”

“That’s just about the best thing you could have said to me.”

“It was just the once wasn’t it?”

He drew in a breath, he hadn’t intended to talk about it but now here it was, no way out without being rude, upsetting her. “Yes. Just once.”

“I thought so, you don’t seem like the sort like my dad, my brother. In and out over and over until that life was as normal to them as this one. Look, I don’t want to pry, I won’t but if you want to talk about it, anytime – well’ I’m here.”

He didn’t answer her, just nodded his head once. He stood and bent to put his plate onto the tray. “It’s okay, leave them. I need to get a move on anyway. I have to get changed and go and double check the guest rooms.” She glanced at the tiny gold watch on her wrist. “Bloody hell yes, they’ll be here soon. Thanks for the cake Simon.”

He waved a hand at her and stepped to the door, “Thanks for the company – again – Gloria. See you later, yeah.”

“Yes, see you later, come down for a drink maybe. About eightish.”

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Nothing Had Changed

Okay – at the moment that’s the title I have because it was the first few words – so I’m sticking with that for now.

Chapter 5 

He had known that there were CCTV cameras all around the town centres. There had been grumbling complaints, ‘intrusion of privacy’.  It was just whining, not much of a leap to work out what was really bothering the people he’d been sharing his life with up until recently and so he hadn’t given them any credence. Now though, it wasn’t possible to know whether the impending trouble had been seen remotely and the cameras had done him a favour, or whether it was just coincidence.  It didn’t really matter why as the police car appeared round the corner he felt a rush of relief. He hadn’t been ready for a confrontation, having just left the grave he had been in the wrong mood, his head in the past, his reflexes damped down and on other things. It wouldn’t do for them to get the better of him first, to build up their confidence, make them cocky and arrogant and wheedle away at his own resolve.

They nudged at each other as the car slowed. The one at the back, the short one turned away and stepped back into the alley.

Jason Parr leaned towards him. His voice was a hiss through the wool of the scarf, “Later, we’ll be sorting you. If you stay round here. You’d be best off leaving now. Straight away. You’re not welcome.” After he had delivered the mumbled threat they spun and shuffled off into the growing gloom.

The police car had stopped, pulling into the opposite curb. The driver wound down his window, “Everything okay sir.”

He had to resist an urge to laugh, ‘Sir’. He didn’t call over but raised a hand to them and walked away. He couldn’t become involved with them, not so soon, well not ever if it could be helped. He’d had enough of that to last a life time and more. They waited until he’d gone a few hundred yards up the road and then slowly drew away. He wondered if they would make a report, had there been enough for them to record, then again what had the camera seen. Still, if things went the way he planned none of it would matter.

He had imagined that there would be more time than this though, time to plan and organise but it seemed he was to be forced to act quickly.

It was a surprise that feelings were still running so high. As he had made the plans, seeing it in his mind’s eye over and over in the long nights he had imagined coming back and passing unnoticed until he made his move. He had supposed memories were short and in the time that had past everything would have become a footnote. Tomorrow he would get on with it all. Tonight he would have his steak, a couple of drinks and lie in the warm in his cosy bed and then tomorrow the world would change again.

***

The steak was good and the half of bottle of red wine soothed the edges of his nerves.

Gloria was in the hallway when he let himself back in through the door. “Hello Simon, been for a meal?”

“Yeah, The Saracen’s Head, had a steak.”

“Good was it?”

“Great actually.”

“The chef there is my cousin’s partner, I’ll tell him you enjoyed his cooking.” She smiled at him as she spoke and came across the oak flooring. “I was just going to have a nightcap, do you want to join me, just a quick one.”

“Oh, okay. That would be nice actually yeah.” She turned and headed into the dining room. The big sideboard cupboard held an assortment of bottles, whisky, brandy, liqueurs. “What do you fancy?”

“I’ll have a whisky, any sort.”

“I’m working my way through these. We used to run a bar, back in the day.” He tilted his head and raised his eyebrows, waiting for her to continue. “We used to do dinner, in the evening, before my hubby died.”

“Oh, I’m sorry.” A sad smile lifted the corners of her mouth.

“Yes, well, you just have to keep on don’t you but I couldn’t manage it on my own and I didn’t have the heart to interview, take someone on. My Dave used to do the cooking, he could hold his own as well, could give The Saracen’s Head a run for their money.”

“Was it recent?”

“Just over a year now. He fell in the river. Stupid sod, they said he’d been drinking. It wasn’t like him but there was an inquest and everything so …” She shrugged her shoulders. “Anyway, I held things together but just stopped doing the evening meals. She waved a hand in front of the open cupboard, “It left me with all this to finish off, this and the stuff we had stored. I’m getting through it though.” She had pulled out a bottle of brandy and a single malt and poured two hefty measures. Come on let’s sit in the lounge, it’s warmer. She handed him the heavy bottomed glass as she passed him on the way out of the room and across the hallway.

It was nice and cosy in her living room, the furniture was modern and light and a log fire burned in the hearth. Simon couldn’t tell whether it was real but he assumed not as there were no spare logs and the flames were even and regular but the effect was good and he sighed as he settled into the cream cushions of the easy chair.

“So, how long have you been out Simon?” Her question took his speech and for a moment all he could do was stare at her, trying to form a response. She in turn simply waited, smiling at him and taking a small sip of her brandy and then swirling it in the oversized glass.

 

 

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Is Jed in Too Deep ?

A  little note to say that Depths of Deception (Bus stop) has had quite a bit of a re-writing and is now available on Kindle.
dod

 

Depths of Deception

******************

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Every Wednesday

“Hello, do you mind if we sit here, are these seats taken or erm?”

“No, no it’s fine.”

“Mum, what do you want?”

“Oh the usual love, hot chocolate and a piece of lemon pie.”

“Right, here look after the bags.”

“Okay, got em.”

Sigh

“So, are you shopping then.”

“Yes, shopping yes.  You.”

“Yes, yes hitting the sales now the holidays are over.”

“Hmm nice.”

“Mind you, we come every week.”

“Oh do you?”

“Yeah, every week, rain and shine.  Me and my daughter.  That’s my daughter, getting the drinks.”

“The one who called you Mum, really.”

“Yeah, me and Bridget, every week, that’s her name Bridget, my daughter.”

“Ahu.”

“Every week, rain and shine we come here always have the same, a chocolate and lemon pie.  Always the same.  Sometimes I have coffee.”

“Coffee.”

“Yes, sometimes coffee. Every week though.”

“Right.”

“Always on a Thursday, every week on a Thursday.”

“Yes, I see.”

“Sometimes on Wednesday, but we wouldn’t miss it. Bridget, my daughter treats me, whenever she can.  They are busy though aren’t they these young people.  She can’t always make it but when she can we come, every week.  I look forward to it.  Course with the holidays it’s been a week or two but normally you’ll find us here.

“Every week, except when it’s too cold.”

Sigh.

“Not bothering you am I, only you looked happy sitting here, it’s nice to see someone smile these days. ”

“No, no.”

“Did I say, we come here on Thursdays.”

“You did, except if it’s Wednesday or it’s too cold.”

“Oh, well yes, but normally wouldn’t miss it for the world.  Regular as Clockwork.  Course, some times we go to the new place round the corner, if Bridget hasn’t got long, meeting her friends or something.  Lovely there it is.  Nice tea. Tea and a Teacake, that’s what we have.”

“Right.”

“Sometimes we go to Chester.  I like Chester, it’s not too busy on a Thursday, nice it is Chester. We went twice last year.”

“Right.”

“But no, normally here we are regular as clockwork.  Oh here she comes now Bridget, my daughter, did I say.”

“Yes, you did.”

“Oh, what did she get me, ah a lemonade and a ginger cake.  Lovely.  Oh, oh are you going.”

 

 

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