Sunday, 22 May 2011

The Journeyman - Chapter 11

If Joanna Fernyhough noticed the change in our appearance she was too polite to mention it. Ushering us through to the conservatory we were introduced to another couple as associates of John. Trying to absorb everything at once, and conscious of Pat’s constantly twitching nose ragging me on the aura the warmth of the house could generate, I promptly forgot their names. Accepting the whisky from Joanna I asked if she’d mind if I had the use of a bath. Following her upstairs I learnt John wasn’t expected until Saturday and they were both hoping we could stay till the Wednesday. I didn’t think it would be problem and said so. At the moment I couldn’t think of anything being a problem.

The bedroom, like everything else I’d seen of the house could be summed up in three words, quality, permanence and comfort. Separating my room from Pats was our shared bathroom. It was his voice and rap on the door that brought me back to a reality that was almost as good as the dream I’d been soaking in. Wrapping the bath sheet round me I gave him an imperious. ‘Enter.’
Pat dropped my bag on the floor, ‘Thought you might need this, or are you favouring us in the towel? The other thing is where do we keep the cash?’
I’d been ferreting in my bag for my toothbrush when Pat asked about the cash. I don’t know why but I had this horrible thought that turned me to stone. ‘Pat what if there’s no cash?’
‘Christ you’re slow at times haggis. You think I didn’t check when you were getting rid of the outfit. I checked for cash and transmitters otherwise the lot would have ended up in the incinerator.’
‘Leave it in the boot. I doubt if car theft is a big item up here, for now at any rate until we know the layout. I’m just going to have a couple of sociable snifters then I’ll hit the sack. Remind me, what’s the name of the couple downstairs?’
Pat started cleaning his teeth as I finished dressing, ‘Eric and Jacky something. Or is it Jacqui? I’ve called her Jacky, I feel a twit slurring words.’
I asked. ‘Any hint as to why we’re here. Or where they fit into the scheme of things.’
Pat shook his head, ‘Nothing at all. Seems it’s a week end house party no more than that.’
‘We’ll maybe have to wait for the husband before we get to know anything. What did you make of him?’
Pat spat out his toothpaste and shrugged, ‘Difficult to say from the little I’ve had to do with him. Professionally gives you the impression he knows his job, his worth and is easy with it. Somehow, once I realised Joanna was his wife and looking at all this it doesn’t surprise me. It all fits.’
I knew what he meant but wasn’t having it, ‘That’s the best you can do?’
‘Oh I can tell you he’s about six foot, slimish, black hair thinning on top. But about the man himself; not much.’
‘Pretty poor for an ex rozzer. Seems I’ll just have to wait and it’s probably time I put in an appearance.’

Pat was first to excuse himself for bed. I wasn’t so much drawn into the conversation as drugged into it. Eric and his wife with the slurred J Slieghtholme described himself as something in the city. I thought this could be an analogy for a  toilet or telephone booth. Then realised I’d been unkind to both; neither could have accommodated his girth. Jacqui was attractive but switched off - sort of on standby, pretty, probably expensive but characterless. Though she seemed to animate when Eric dragged himself off to the toilet. In the absence of John, Eric had acted as host till his consumption let the veneer crumble. Now, emptying his brandy balloon he gave a ‘Hurmph. Jacqui, Joanna and Brian’s glasses are low and I’ll have another snifter while you’re at it.’
I got a smile off Joanna when I told Jacqui to sit where she was. Filling Eric’s glass with the Cordon Blue I gave less gluttonous portions to the girls and a reasonable measure of the malt to myself. Meanwhile Slieghtholme ploughed on through the killings he’d made on the market.
‘…Definitely stocks are the new opiates and like the old religion only the powerful will know the inner working of the temple.’
Handing him his brandy I commented, ‘Well the old one never got it right. So why should we believe this one?’
Ignoring me he went on ‘Water’s the thing at the moment.’ That got my attention. ‘Thames have taken over four of the other boards and shortly they’ll have more under their belt. They don’t seem to have any problems raising finance and could end up controlling every profitable board in the country,’ a chuckle rippled through fat lips. ‘That’ll leave the like of you Joanna in districts like this having to pay a lot for the little you use.’
There was an acidic under tone in Joanna’s voice when she drew her eyes back from the moons reflection on the acres of water that graced her grounds, ‘Are you admitting Eric there’s little sense in it. That it’s all hype to keep the market looking busy by giving it something to sell no matter who it hurts or what it costs. Otherwise it could collapse and all you financial guru’s would be collecting a honest day’s dole.’
With political expertise Eric side stepped her question, ‘I’ll answer that later. Of course what you must understand is now the city has a grip on every home in the country. With no real controls or competition it can manipulate its profits, give dividends that’ll keep its investors happy, keep their investment values high and stable and all from a captive customer base.’
I looked at Joanna and asked, ‘Does Eric mean the gaining of a few with a lot, by the sqeezing of a little from a lot with even less?’
Joanna smiled, ‘Brian, you make it sound almost biblical.’
‘You have to face facts old girl.’
‘It’s not fact it’s fabrication. Eric you have a mind that can twist and turn with all the intrigues and convolutions of the market. But, like most of your ilk you’re so busy trading you can’t see what your treading in and however that ends up it’ll be your type of short term monetary thinking that will land everybody in the mire and leave us to sort it out.’
‘Bit harsh that girl, market has to have movement otherwise there would be nothing for us to do.’
‘Eric that’s an argument that says diarrhoea is one of life’s pleasures.'

 While I was heart and soul with Joanna I tried to keep my voice neutral when I asked. ‘Must admit Eric, I’ve never really bothered trying to understand the broader issues. I couldn’t understand why the market could keep rising while our manufacturing base and employment were disappearing faster than Vaseline at a woofters orgy?’
Slieghtholme guffaw didn’t mutate into any sort of answer and seeing Joanna’s frown I screwed my face into a pained expression by way of apology, ‘Point being Eric, what if I were to ask you to handle some cash for me. It’s obvious from listening to you you’re on the inside track and I’d be stupid not to take advantage.’
Eric became suitably laid back, ‘No problem Brian. Though I should warn you I don’t handle less then fifty- K. Even that’s a bit of a nuisance nowadays; but any friend of John’s and the lovely Joanna.’ 
I upped the anti a bit. ‘What about five million?’ then watched his eyes glaze and when he raised his glass wondered if it was to deliver brandy or collect saliva.
‘You’re are talking my language Brian.’
I sincerely hoped that would be a rare occurrence but, having started, ‘What if I wanted it arranged that the certificates, dividends and all that were held in offshore numbered accounts against numerical signatures?’
‘Can all be done Brian.’ There was twitch by his left eye that could have been a wink or a reaction to the sweat dripping in to it. ‘Mind you the proper fees and taxes have to be paid. Avoidance not evasion you know.’
I tried to keep it easy, as though reality allowed figures like that to trip off my tongue. ‘What would your fees cost me?’
His pupils contracted as though reacting to the flash of avarice. ‘Let’s say one percent of managed funds and seven on dividends.’
I just stared at him.
‘Of course Brian that includes all the admin of the portfolio in the manner you indicated. Quite a intricate exercise you know!’
I gave a shrug to indicate I was finished with the subject then as Eric went to speak got in before him. ‘Might be intricate but not too difficult for someone with your contacts. Anyway, Eric old boy, if I find the time I’ll give your proposition some thought’
Eric wished he’d dropped a couple of points on the dividends and he wasn’t sure it was his proposition, ‘Certainly Brian. I don’t normally mix business with pleasure. We’ll talk again before the weekends out.’

It amused me the amount of times Eric could tell a lie and confirm it in the same sentence. Joanna who had stayed only for the baiting untwined her legs from under her. ‘ I’m having a coffee before bed. Anybody else?’ I thanked her; Eric indicated he wouldn’t mix his drinks. ‘C’mon Jacqui you can help me lay breakfast while it perks.’
In the silence that followed Eric downed half the contents of his glass. It was the critical gulp that crossed the gulf from conscious to comatose. Proof was the exaggerated care of his arm lowering the glass to the side table and the clatter when he thought it was down and an inch of space said it wasn’t. Confused by the onslaught on his faculties he’d the grace to drag himself out of the chair and with a look of confused determination mumbled something about a long drive and bed.
When Joanna returned it was without Jacqui. I asked, ‘Jacqui gone to bed has she?’
Joanna grinned, ‘Soft sod’s got no option if she wants to keep the peace. Once he’s in that state he gets a bit bolshie with her.’
‘I apologise for my crudity back there but he is a bit of a pain; though I suppose it’s not my place to say so. Point is, I just can’t see them as your type?’
‘You’re right Brian it isn’t your place and he definitely isn’t my type but Jacqui is. Since school Jacqui’s been a friend and she’s far from thick. It’s just if she say’s anything Eric goes even more moronic so she switches off. Besides Eric doesn’t come up that often with her so its not so bad.’
‘Then Eric being here has nothing to do with Pat or I?’
‘What on earth would make you think that. But if we’re being so paranoid why have both of you dyed your hair?’
I’d been trying to remember the reason why we’d done it.’ We did it to look our best for the week end.’
‘If that’s all the sense I’m going to get out of you I’m off to bed, goodnight.’

Lighting a cigarette and sitting by the open door of the conservatory I watched the moons reflection ripple along the lake towards me. I wasn’t quite sure whether I’d really annoyed Joanna or if she had realised I’d been teasing and returned it. Then wondered why I should be so concerned. I didn’t feel too good about Eric either.  The mistress he was working for Money still owes for every promise it ever made. I felt pretty good after that when I realised I owed it or its disciples nothing

Saturday morning Pat and the girls were already up by the time I surfaced at a little after nine. Breakfast was a cup of coffee and couple of slices of toast that I was crunching into as I went to join them by the lake. 
Pat nodded towards my left, ‘Clever isn’t it the way the boathouse is hidden. Joanna’s not quite sure whether they scooped out the hill to hide it or brought in the soil and landscaped it. A lot of thought went into every aspect of this house.’
Joanna gave him a kiss, ‘You’re a lovely man Pat Urquhart. My Grandfather had this house built and he put more than his money into it. Thanks for seeing what a lot of people don’t.’
I was going to say I’d seen it as well, but I doubted I’d get the same response instead I asked, ‘Any chance of getting some fishing in?’
‘Yes of course there’s rods and stuff down there, use what you want.’
‘Fancy it Pat, Eric hasn’t surfaced yet, leave the girls to talk or whatever.’ Letting my tone make it clear I’d other things on my mind than fishing. Once we were out of earshot I added, ‘Can you think of a better place to count our haul than in the middle of that sheet of glass. ’
Pat screwed his eyes to look at the clear blue sky, ‘Brilliant Cameron.’
‘Bullocks Einstein. C’mon, I’ll admit to more than a touch of curiosity as to what we are worth. You get the stuff from the house and car I’ll sort out the gear and the boat.’
I found the boathouse matched the house. Inside were two boats with room for three more. My first choice, had it not been useless for our purpose, was a beautiful skiff. Its every line was made to mould and caress its watery mate. Its hull varnished to a deep golden sheen reflected the ripples of water as clearly as the water mirrored her shape. Not for the first time I looked at a piece of craftsmanship that equalled artistry and knew if I envied anybody it was the man who built her. The next berth had a boat better suited to our purpose. Bland white plastic, its hundred horsepower outboard designed to force and shatter it way through the element that gave it purpose. One was harmony, the other brute power; perhaps that said it all as a eulogy of our age. Taking the first two rods that came to hand I started the outboard and waited for Pat.

All the way to the centre I refused Pats encouragement to open her up. Making some comment about Paddy philistines, Pat said he could handle it and gave up. We could see Joanna and Jacqui had changed into suits that were a euphemism for tactfully arranged patches. Making both of us consider putting off the fishing to a later time but the urge lessened with distance. With rods over the side for the benefit of binocular watchers we stripped to our shorts, squatted on the cockpit sole and tipped the lot out.

There was a wonderful feeling of fatigue to our fingers as we fumbled and recounted towards a confident total. ‘Bloody great,’ was Pats only comment after we’d re-confirmed the bundles of ten thousands. We’d seventeen of them and the odd two thousand and seventy pounds. They’d even given us thirty in Irish Punts; probably thinking we’d have the use of them. Twelve thousand we agreed was enough for petty cash.  Telling Pat my thoughts on Slieghtholme he agreed it could be promising and to take it up with Fernyhough when we spoke to him.  Pat nodded,’ C’mon lets get back.’ At the same time giving me a smack on the back that stung like hell.

Mocking concern Jacqui was rubbing cream on my shoulders and Joanna on Pat’s when three people came round the corner of the house. From Pat’s description I recognised John though he got little of my attention. John made directly towards me, ‘Brian, how are you. Glad you could make it.’ I had the wit to be equally familiar. He then went on to greet Pat and commiserate with him over Jim; commented on Eric’s girth, gave Jacqui a kiss then a kiss and hug to Joanna that made me realise my fantasies were pure Disneyland. John went on to introduce the couple with him, ‘Folks this is Vera and Colin Nieldsen. Colin’s helping me with a couple of projects we are discussing in the Manchester area. He then went on to the introductions finishing with me. I looked hard into Neildsen’s eyes as we shook hands getting no flicker of recognition.

When the Neildsen’s left with Joanna to be shown their room, John, already the host, handed me a drink asked if I knew Nieldsen.
‘No. What made you think that?’
‘The way you looked at him when I introduced you. As though you were expecting him to recognise you.’
I smiled and tried to pass it off, ‘Nasty habit of mine, caused by a terrible memory for names. I’m not aware of doing it.’ John smiled and nodded and I decided not to underrate the astuteness of the man I supposed I’d be dealing with. Eric joining us broke the conversation. Flopping down and lifting his left leg so its heel was on the bench. He rested his glass on the raised knee unaware of the gap in his shorts and the flaccid testicle it exposed.
‘I hope we’re not about to get the benefit of your worldly wisdom Eric. Not before dinner at any rate?’ John commented, winking at me as he went off to get changed.

I was happy to be in the skiff but not with myself that afternoon. I’d been handed my vulture on a plate and didn’t know what the hell to do with him. Nieldsen simply didn’t recognise me. A fact confirmed during the conversation over lunch. Then why should he, it was over two years since we’d dealt with one another. Correction since I’d been dealt with by Nieldsen; there was a difference. Like surgeons he probably only remembers the interesting operation, not the person under his knife. By late afternoon I’d worked most of it off. Enough to forgive myself for not throttling the man the minute I’d set eyes on him. Besides it was neither the time nor the place. Not until Pat and I knew the purpose behind us being here and possibly why Nieldsen should just happen to be invited as well. We seemed a motley group for a couple like the Fernyhough’s to risk as company for a long weekend. 

Remembering my back I forsook the bath for a shower and was trying to air my back dry when Pat walked in, ‘Fucking hell Pat; keep barging in like that and I will think you’re after my body.’
‘Don’t talk shite I’ve been celibate of men since my dad stopped changing my nappy. Guess what I’ve just been told?’
The last few words sounded as though Pat had developed a cleft palate. Turning to discover the cause of this new Celtic tongue I found Pat using the toothpaste as a substitute cigar. ‘You’re the illegitimate son and the confirmed heir to the last king of Ireland?’
‘Eedgit, horses are the kings of Ireland.’
‘Holy Mary there’s times heathens like you exasperate me. I’m officially a millionaire.’ a moments hesitation then, ‘two and a half times.’
‘What!’ I hastily picked up the towel and wrapped it back round me in case he thought my morals had dropped with it. ‘You jammy bastard, this is off Jim Docherty?’
Pat gave a wave of dismissal, ‘Mind you that was last week, it’s probably more now.’ It was, though for the moment even John Fernyhough didn’t know about the five Dublin tenements and two other properties registered in Joan’s name in the Isle of Man.
‘And there’s your half of our well gotten gains.’
‘I’d forgot about that lot Brian. In fact I’ll give you my half so your not too far behind my new status.’
He’d been flippant but I knew he wasn’t joking and I found I was surprised I could find the gift so easy to believe and so difficult to find the right response. ‘Once I touch down I’ll probably be able to say thanks and sound as though I mean it.’
Laughing at my confusion Pat sprang out of the chair. ‘Forget it, the way I’m feeling now I reckon I’m due you more than that.’
Worse was, I’d to finish dressing listening to a rendition of a song Pat whistled better than he sang. Somehow the memory of the tune matched the thought that crawled into my brain. A brain that hadn’t yet settled on the right it had to self-belief and started to worry at what this development would mean.  Fortunately Nieldsen had been manoeuvred as Eric’s captive for the night. It gave me; and I suspected John, some amusement to see the provincial moneyman trying to extricate himself as his mentor’s voice substituted volume for sense. Eventually, pushed to his limit Nieldsen suggested to his wife it was time they called it a day. As the company reacted to the merit of the move, I excused myself and asked Pat if he felt like a nightcap so we could finish our earlier conversation. Getting the nod off him I poured two generous portions of the malt and said my goodnights.
My glass was half empty by the time Pat breezed in, ‘I forgot in all the excitement until you dropped the hint to ask John about the Eric thing. He said to leave it until you had a talk with him tomorrow.’
‘Fine. But that’s not why I wanted us to have a talk.’
‘Then get it out man. Most of the night you’ve been quiet; not your normal extrovert haggis self.’
Searching for the words and sense I gave up and spat it out. ‘Why the fuck are we here Pat?  Countryhouse weekends wasn’t part of my mental imagery when I approached your lot. On top of that there’s the money, your money, it must make a difference to your plans.’
Pat laughed, ‘I thought you might be worried about the money. As to the other, they’re not my lot, though in the last couple of years I’ve learnt a bit about them. You were expecting the anorak and sweaty arse brigade, what your dealing with here is the Irish establishment. They’re the ones who get things done; the rest is only allowed to happen. Your only worry is if your projects big enough to interest them.’
‘And what about you?’
‘You know what I liked Brian?’
It sounded past tense. ‘How d’ye mean liked?’
‘Bugger it Brian I’m not going to watch the tone and tense everytime I open my mouth to speak to you. The freedom got me hooked! The absolute unbridled freedom to risk all without the concern of responsibility. When Joan and the kids were alive I’d have never done it and rightly so.  Without them, the police, or any job like it has no value to me, not even running a business. That’s all going to be done by some sort of proxy thing that John’s taking care of. I’m not interested in responsibilities or relationships; perhaps never will be. But I remember you scrambling out of that market door and if you hadn’t been so pissed up I’d have hugged ye. It felt like scoring the winning goal for Ireland in the world cup.  So our next scheme better be interesting, worthwhile, not too demanding and absolutely without risk.’
‘Perhaps you would like to stipulate the location.  The time of year perhaps, whether Venus is ascending?’
‘No haggis, I won’t make it too difficult.’ 

Perhaps it was the relief after my talk with Pat. Sex hadn’t been part of my life since the tensions between Rag and I had reared their voracious heads and shredded everything else. In the moments of bliss between sleep and wake I wasn’t sure if it was dreams or what. Deciding it was definitely- the what- I lost myself in the warmth of a caressing body. The twinge of disappointment I felt fondling the shapely breast not enough to dent my swelling excitement. If Jacqui lacked the personality of Joanna it wasn’t at all apparent in bed. 

I was too late to accompany Joanna, John and the Neildsen’s to the morning service. Arrangements were for all of us to meet up at a hotel for lunch. Jacqui would act as guide whether Eric decided to rise or not. It was four by the time John suggested we take our coffees through to his study. Ignoring his desk he invited us to sit in the group of armchairs then got straight down to business. ‘You Brian we know are an ex businessman. Will you give me details of your business? Not only recorded details but the private things only you would know about.’
I nodded, ‘Anything you want, provided no records kept.’
John smiled, ‘Pat we already know quite a bit about. You’re an ex-policeman who only yesterday accepted a proposal that I would have said was out of character.  Why are you interested in Brian’s ideas and not in the movement that exists in your own country?’
‘If you’ve to ask that there’s more you don’t know about me than you know. Apart from that I’m enjoying myself, that’ll do for now. As to character, maybe that changes with the situation you find yourself in.’ Turning to me he asked, ‘will we shorten this?’
I nodded, ‘Definitely.’ 
‘Right I’ll get it.’ As Pat left the room John’s raised eyebrow showed he expected an explanation.
‘He’s gone to collect some money we’re hoping you’ll keep safe for us.’
John opened both hands, ‘Give me whatever you want. But what has this got to do with anything; it’s not a security bond we’re looking for?’
‘I know John, perhaps when you hear the explanation you can call it a bond of commitment.’
Laying the bag by John Pat asked, 'Has there been anything specifically about Leeds on the news since Friday?’
 Taking a moment to think John gave a nod before he spoke, ‘A bomb threat in a supermarket, more than a quarter of a million stolen.’
Pat and I both managed not to look at each other. Pat asked, ‘Any damage?’
‘What I can remember the bomb disposal people managed to disarm them.’
‘Any group credited with the dastardly deed?’
John’s eyes flicked to the bag. ‘Why do I feel you’re about to tell me the money’s in there?’
I opened the bag. ‘There’s a hundred and sixty K in the bag. We thought we’d keep the rest for expenses.’
John’s face had gone from host to lawyer. ‘I’ve nothing but anger for you taking it into my wife’s home and nothing but contempt for the method you used to get it.’
Pat asked, ‘Why contempt for the method John. Surely that’s hypocritical coming from your lot.’
‘Perhaps my lot as you call them isn’t the lot you think they are. Anyway I make no apologies for the past. In this case a lot of people were put at risk; but your attitude warns me there’s more to this than meets the eye.’
I felt my hackles rise, then realised it was the lawyers’ game. 
‘All right, I expected to be vetted or investigated. Although that’s not the reason we did it. I needed to know if I’d the balls to carry it out.’ I stopped when I felt Pat hand on my arm.
‘That’s not what John wants to know. It’s the details only the perpetrators or the police would know he’s interested in.’ I left to Pat to tell him.’ Pat finished off by saying. ‘It’s exactly how we plan to carry out any future operations.’
I allowed a smile when Johns mask slipped slightly at the implication, ‘I still don’t understand you getting involved here Pat?’
Pat shrugged, ‘I’m staying provided I’ve got an interest.’
‘And a few other stipulations.’ I quipped, adding. ‘Now you know all of it John and I suspect, if we get this thing off the ground, you’ll know more about us than anybody. That makes trust very much a two-way thing?’
John grinned, 'All right, enough of that. Can you stay until Wednesday? I’ll need the extra day to get some confirmation then Joanna may have things to organise with both of you?’
We both agreed, Pat asking, ‘What about the question I raised with you last night?’
‘Ah! I see. This is the money you were thinking of putting into Eric’s hands so he could transport it for you to the market.’
‘Partially, but Pat and I are both wondering whether he’s as good as he say’s he is and if the system could be used to launder funds?’
‘Nobody is as good as Eric claims he is, but that doesn’t make him bad. I invest some of my own and clients funds with him. But for funds such as yours I think Eric would be better removed from any direct connection. There are safer ways.’
We were another hour giving the details John wanted then him filling in on Pat’s new financial standing. I could see Pat’s eyes glazing over as he listened to the pros and cons of financial probity. His solution was to give John power of attorney on a document that would be witnessed in Dublin. 

There was maybe a glimmer of a smile from John when he added, ‘Now, before we finish, I should warn you, you could be going abroad for some time. Since I see little chance of my enquiries going wrong I’ll tell Joanna to start preparations. Don’t ask me where or for how long because at the moment I can’t tell you.’

Rather than spend the evening in the manoeuvres of partners I excused myself and took out the skiff. Perhaps knowing we’d overcome another hurdle and there was reason behind us being here would allow me the peace I’d tried for yesterday and failed to find.  Instead I wallowed in the comforting warmth of sex when its not dogged by dreary everyday lacks that overwhelms everything. Once it had been part of the relationship Rag and I had enjoyed. I shuddered; it was still too raw, too fresh to stand probing.  I had to smile, just another excuse in a past littered with them.

It was past eleven by the time I got back and was disappointed to find the conversations still in full swing. Joanna seemed to be chairing one group, while John had picked the short straw. He turned when he heard me, ‘Ah Brian, just the man. Before you go up there’s a detail I meant to discuss with you. Won’t take us long, five minutes at the most.’
I made a show of pulling my vest from me. ‘Can’t it wait? I need to freshen up.’
‘Only five minutes Brian, the papers are in my study.’
Reluctantly following him through I closed the study door before asking, ‘What’s so desperate?’
Grinning, John handed me a glass. ‘Me. You were the straw for me to clutch.’
‘Sorry didn’t mean to be rude but I’ve little in common with either Nieldsen or Slieghtholme.’
‘Brian it’s only talk. You’re probably not aware of it but people can’t help noticing how intense you are. You give the impression of suffering fools badly and given the slightest provocation would rip them apart, verbally at any rate. The threat makes them nervous so they prattle all the more.’
‘John the fool I suffer the least is the one I’ve to suffer the most, me. As to listening I can tell you listening to Slieghtholme added some zest to an idea I’ve been playing with for some time. But until our relationship is sorted I can only worry away at the fringes of it. Besides moody or not you seemed pleased enough to see me.’
‘True Brian, I suppose none of us like to feel we’re netted though it’s something most people are.’
‘I wouldn’t have thought of you and Joanna as netted?’
John’s smile was minuscule, ‘We’re all caught up in something. Even if it’s only history or turning our little bit of expertise into elitism instead of excellence. Eventually it leads to complacency then boredom, which is why Joanna and I prefer complicity. It’s an edge that always needs honing.’ 

I was in bed reading and waiting when Pat stuck his head round the door. ‘Guess what I found out from talking to Vera Nieldsen?’
Christ one in the morning and the Irish nut wants to start guessing games. ‘She’s Ribbentrops daughter?’
‘Who the hells Ribbonstrops?’
I laughed. ‘Doesn’t matter, somebody I’m reading about. Go on what’s the mystery?’
‘The church they went to today was C of E.’
‘Brian ye idjit. We’re regarding Fernyhough as being part of the movement. Is it possible for him to be in it and a prosy?’
‘You tell me. Now bugger off I want to get on with my book.’
‘Its not words your waiting to get absorbed in between the covers. What religion are you anyway?’ the last words were smothered as the pillow connected.
‘Me, I’ve never tarred God with religion. Now sod off.’ I needn’t have bothered. I’d over an hour to contemplate heavy cases and acres of still water before Jacqui crept in.

Tuesday was spent saying goodbyes. I suggested Pat and I made ourselves scarce for the evening and leave our hosts with a little time to themselves. It was a suggestion well received so Pat and I buggered off to the pub. When we got back John and Joanna were still up. Handing us a nightcap John toasted our health. ‘I’ll probably be long gone by the time you’re up in the morning and don’t be alarmed if you hear a God almighty clatter around six. I’ve enjoyed your company and since we won’t be seeing one another till your travels are over I’ll wish you the best of luck.’

I realised what he meant when the chopper landed on the rear lawn then immediately took off again. Very impressive I thought struggling to get back to sleep. By seven thirty I gave up and going downstairs found I was the last up. Our holiday was over. By eleven Pat had replaced the original plates on the Granada, valeted and returned it. Which left me pushing the Sierra to keep up with Joanna’s XJ Sport. On the outskirts of Liverpool within a deserted wasteland euphemistically sign posted as a business park I paid for the Sierra to be scrapped before my eyes, its demise creating not a twitch of grief.

Joanna took charge of the rest of our day. Taking us first to a department store and through to its photo booth. Our first results were case studies in evolution and were surprised when Joanna grabbed them saying, ‘They’re exactly what we need.’ She then handed us a shopping list. ‘You’ll find the sports shop round the corner and don’t stint on the quality because you will need the best and where I’ve said casual, I mean thick warm casual. Tartan shirts and cords that sort of thing. I’ll meet you back at the car around five.’
We’d a few other shops to visit before we could put a line through all of the items on our list. By this time we reckoned on having enough gear to cover most contingencies above and below ground. One item in particular caused most of the searching and was a complete mystery. Displaying it for Joanna back at the car Pat asked, ‘What’s this needed for?’
Joanna laughed, ‘Drinks tonight. Our ice- maker’s buggered. I used you to shop for a new one.’

At Joanna’s suggestion that it would be more comfortable for her to be in the back and one of us to drive I won the privilege and settled down to drive the purring cat through the Liverpool rush hour and back north. Without knowing it we’d to wait until nine before Joanna got the call she’d been expecting from John. It allowed her to tell us where we were going and roughly when but nothing else. The destination hadn’t featured any of our speculations.  Joanna had to dig out an old atlas from the study before she could show us where the state of Washington was in the U.S.A. Questions of why there, were either deftly fielded or genuinely not known other than we were expected around the middle to end of June.

 Before getting to sleep that night I realised just how subtle our evaluation had been. What for us had been a strange pleasurable but shadowy hiatus was part of a process that probably wasn’t near any conclusion yet. I’d the impression of Joanna being a lot more than the messenger she seemed and John being near the head of the executive. How much more and how near I couldn’t even begin to guess at.

© Eoin Taylor

Chapter 10 can be read here the links to previous chapters.


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