Sunday, 1 May 2011

The Journeyman - Chapter 8


Ruth Dellows awarded her last thirty hours the dubious distinction of being the most terrifying of her life.

When he’d crashed in on her, she’d thought it was bound to be rape. Maybe rape and something else but it would feature and might prove to be her salvation. The something else terrified her. Sex was nothing. She’d learnt to use her body expending the predatory male to suit her own satisfaction. Enjoyed the sport of turning the tables on the macho studs until they were as useless as a soft turd in a crossbow. And she could love. Four years with Sean had promised all before the pace of life he demanded had reneged in one flawed genetic stroke. She could flirt, tease, delight, enjoy even accept she’d been used by men, but never before had she been possessed.

This had defied experience and his quiet indifference had sunk her into a depth of submission she hadn’t thought possible. Far deeper then the day her and her father's boss had ripped innocence from her. Her first job, set up by her father and only subject to her getting through the interview with Attridge, which, in spite of her nervousness, proved to be no obstacle. In the early weeks she’d been too engrossed learning the office procedures to form opinions on the people round her. Once settled she tried to deny the opinion honesty was forcing on her. She’d regarded her dad as a quiet retiring man but the way he fawned to Attridge and the contempt he got in return disturbed her. She’d assumed she loved him until the exact moment she didn’t.

He’d stood and dithered for a seconds while Attridge's lips were sucking at her neck his hands worming into her knickers while hers were frantically trying to push and punch him off. Her plea of Daaaa…d was suffocated by the bleat of his ‘Excuse me’, and the click of the door shutting closed him out of her life. Attridge had been too busy to notice and if he’d ever wondered why she’d suddenly submitted he’d never asked. Finished he went to the office toilet returning with a wet towel.
‘Here clean yourself up. An’ stop the blubbering ye sound like your old man. It’s never been the end of the world, so learn to enjoy it. And tidy this place up.’ He’d watched as she tried to sort herself out and began to tidy the soiled desk and the scattered papers before realising she was confirming what he regarded as a family trait. Sweeping the lot back on the floor, she collected her coat and walked out.

Her mother believed the blinding headache excuse and her need to be left alone. Pandering to schoolgirl wisdom she’d practically simmered in the bath before crawling light headed into bed. She hadn’t cried, self- pity wasn’t an option when the act had practically been sanctioned. Later he’d crept in calling her his Ruthie. Asking what she’d told her mother and holding out his arms for the cuddle of absolution. Satisfaction was the venom of her palm swiping the glasses from his face and leaving a trail of snot clinging from nose to ear.

Her change of attitude had repercussion on her feelings for her mother. She didn’t hate her, just loathed the mousy nonentity she’d allowed herself to become. ‘I’m leaving home. I’m getting a flat and I’m out of here.’  If the clothes weren’t too different it was a vastly different Ruth that walked into Attridge office at ten the following morning. For a few minutes he refused to take her seriously until her mention of soiled knickers and bloodied debris had been topped by the availability of a witness. He even admitted he didn’t think she’d have the spunk but eventually accepted that as a secretary/mistress she warranted a considerable increase in salary and a flat would be more convenient.

Attridge was crass. A brute force easily used and quickly spent. It hadn’t taken her long to better herself and she’d enjoyed sticking the hairpin harshly down his erection when he’d been expecting something far more sinuous and yielding. It was Ruth’s way of closing their contract having secured her next one. It had amused her then and since, but not now as she tried for sense from the sounds that confused and tormented her.

When the doorbell rang she prayed whoever rung it would persist until the bloke was forced to answer. But only the one ring then silence. Then the rattle of keys in the lock, the door opening and the murmur of voices enticed her lips to open and her throat to release the scream and to hell with the quiet or dead. The crack of the shots forced her to choke the scream and the dull thud below confirmed it never left her lips. Movement then whispers near silent - hope of it being over shattered by one more shot that left her quivering in terror.

The sound of movement, the squeak of a lock being turned, familiarity teasing her with the knowledge it wasn’t any of the doors to the outside. More silence. Then voices, almost conversational, their cadence rising and falling her ears straining for recognition. This went on for so long she’d almost convinced herself they were Liam and Butler. Then one voice, indecipherable, but with a tone of conclusion. She’d wait, didn’t want Butler seeing her, when two more shots shattered hope. She never heard the front door clicking shut. The silence was terrifying; all her faith pinned on her promise of silence. As time crawled, her nerves tingled with terror. The normal clicks and creaks of the house became him climbing the stairs. A bird whacking against a window pain in the morning dawn had her screaming and clutching the bed frame as though it was a conduit to sanity. Every noise became a torment every thought was of a mutilated body crawling up the stairs for her help, or a creeping assassin bringing her death.

She didn’t know when the doorbell broke through her misery. The opening door and the accompanying chirp of, ‘ Ruth,’ were drowned by her scream for help and Mary’s of hysterical shock. Time made it understandable, but at the time she could have throttled the stupid mare. Blubbering incoherently to returning churchgoers, Mary kept pointing towards the house and eventually managed to form, ‘Police. Ambulance.’ Hearing the commotion of people Ruth’s second scream brought a neighbour and his son to her. After a couple of futile attempts to prise the bars out the man thoughtlessly hurried out for tools leaving the boy gawping at her.
‘Get something to cover me.’ Flushed with shame he leapt over the duvet to the bathroom found her robe and fumbled it over her. She didn’t feel safe until the dying whine of the siren was followed by an authoritative voice telling everybody to step outside and to stay in the drive until they’d given statements. When the boy went to the landing and shouted, ‘There’s someone up here.’ She’d screamed.
        ‘Tell them I’m alive you stupid bugger.’
He didn’t need to. The policeman quickly took in her situation and having tried and failed to open the cuffs with his own key took the boy with him and fetched the cutters. The brass bars gave easily but the tempered chain of the cuffs required her to lie on the floor while he pressed all his weight on the cutter. Panting with exertion he turned his back while she put her robe properly on.
        Ruth asked, ‘Do you mind leaving while I use the toilet.’
The policeman nodded, ‘I’ll have to ask you not to touch anything and not to shower.’
Ruth was too desperate to give his instructions any thought, ’Officer the last time I peed was about three yesterday. Five minutes ago it wasn’t pressing now it is. Please I just want some privacy and to wash my face.’
        ‘Sorry Ma’am; sometimes the rules are the only answers we have in situations like this. I’ll go and arrange to get a key for the bracelets.
Her face dry, she rubbed some cream into her reddened wrists. She wouldn’t go downstairs, not while the bodies were there and they’d probably want to know why Quinn and Butler were here. The explanation of mistress would probably surface as a business meeting to their respective wives. Sod it not her problem, she’d tell it as it happened what they made of it was up to them. A nervous tapping on the door startled her.
        ‘Are you all right Ruth? I was so shocked, it’s horrible.’
        ‘Oh shut up Mary. Make yourself useful; go and see if the police will let you make me a coffee and bring a large brandy with it. And Mary,’ she bit her lip before asking.’ What’s it like down there?’
It was beyond Mary’s chattering repertoire. ‘Oh it’s terrible. Two of them, I can’t look, just sidle past. At least they’re covered up now.’
The police only half relented. When Mary came back the brandy was cooking from the kitchen as was the tumbler and the coffee instant. All of it tasted like nectar. Ruth was still enjoying the calming effect of the brandy when Chief Inspector Burroughs knocked and quietly asked if she felt up to talking. He was accompanied by her doctor, who lived just up the road, and a woman of such gargantuan proportions she overwhelmed the men standing in front of her. Her doctor did this introduction.
‘Ruth, this is Doctor Jordan.’ The woman nodded but said nothing while her doctor gave her a cursory examination. ‘We’ll you seem all right girl. Do you want me to give you something in case there’s delayed shock?’ Thanking him and saying she felt all right now it was over he smiled and stepping back left the stage to Burroughs. He sort of coughed and didn’t quite look at her.
        ‘Mrs Dellows, I do realise you must want to get out of here. But you’ll appreciate there’s a lot of questions need to be cleared up. First though it’s important Doctor Jordan gives you a more thorough examination. It may give us the evidence that allows a conviction.’ His old face flushed slightly. Ruth still didn’t comprehend.
        ‘Let’s get on with it then. Quicker I’m away from here the better.’ At that the men left.

Without a word Jordan dumped her bag on the bed, sorted out a neat line of instruments then went to the bathroom and scrubbed her hands. Pulling on a pair of latex gloves she broke her silence.
        ‘Right m’dear on the bed, I’m sure you’ve had an internal before, just need a couple of swabs.’
        ‘What the hell.’ Ruth’s expletive beat by milliseconds the understanding.
        ‘Semen samples, one good one and it’ll convict the bugger.’
Ruth pushed her way off the bed. ‘You’re wasting your time. He never touched me, at least not in that way.’
Jordan raised an eyebrow, ‘You’re not saying that out of embarrassment are you deary? Doesn’t matter to us if he went at you from the other.’
Ruth had a niggling doubt that Jordan was more than a mite disappointed, ‘I’m not a school kid or suburban house frau caught with her knickers down and screaming rape. It’s the truth, he didn’t touch me sexually.’ As she said it she wondered if she’d let Jordan examine her if he had, probably not.
        ‘Okay dokay m’dear, have it your own way.’ Repacking her bag she shouted, ‘You can come in.’ in a voice that hours before Ruth would have envied. When Burroughs cautiously opened the door she barged past him.
        ‘I’m not needed. Say’s she hasn’t been touched.’ Not an ounce of belief in her voice.

Burroughs managed to flush again, ‘I’m terribly sorry Mrs Dellows. We assumed from the report of how you were found. We obviously jumped to the wrong conclusion. I’m very sorry.’

Ruth decided she liked Burroughs. He was the rare breed who put service before authority. She wouldn’t give him a hard time, ‘I understand, but if you don’t mind could we get on with whatever it is you need. I’d like to bathe, dress and get the hell out of here.’

If Burroughs was polite he wasn’t soft. She’d two hours of persistent grilling before he’d finished, as he said, for the time being.  He’d asked where Mr Dellows was and noted the date of Sean’s death. He knew who Butler was and from her learnt the other was Quinn and of their relationship. He’d expressed his regrets and noted her indifference. Constantly he went back to the warrant card. Asking her to think very hard on any detail she could remember. Eventually he’d to accept her statement that she’d hardly looked at it other than to check it was a warrant card. It was true, normal, and he knew it.
        ‘Was the picture on it the same man who attacked you?’
Ruth shook her head, ‘I can’t say. Apart from that first few seconds he wore a mask.’
Eventually Burroughs asked her to read and sign the statement the WPC had meticulously recorded. Telling her, ‘Don’t hesitate to contact me if there’s anything comes to mind.’ Nodding, Ruth got on with reading the account of her ordeal. It reduced everything to a bland series of events that wouldn’t have frightened a convent girl. This was the grey plateau of officialdom. Borrowing Burroughs pen she signed it and told him she’d be staying at the Riddle Hotel. Mary’s, or any other friends for that matter would be a hell of who’s, why’s and what’s. At the hotel she’d be left in peace.

She quite enjoyed the drive in the Mercedes even though she’d wrecked her clubs reversing over them. It was in her name and he was hardly in a position to refuse her now. Perks of the job she thought deciding to sell the Renault, the house she’d decide later. Settled in the room and with a salad and wine organised, she rang an outside number.
        ‘You all right?’
        ‘No thanks to you. Why the hell didn’t you warn me; at least I’d have been prepared. He frightened the life out of me.’
Her contact chuckled, ‘we couldn’t. It was nothing to do with us.’
        ‘What!’ she felt the chill begin to creep back into her spine. ‘Who the hell was it then?’
        ‘We can’t be sure until you tell us what you know of him.’
Ruth gave a sigh, the paternalism in his voice both annoying and calming her. ‘It’s difficult to say. You don’t bother with details when you’re terrified.’
        ‘Actually you do. So try.’
‘Well he wasn’t more than a couple of inches taller than me and he’d padded himself out. I got the impression when he first grabbed me that he wasn’t young, in fact he felt old. You know, when I grabbed his arm it had a loose fleshy feel. Not fat, flabby. He’d quite small hands and, difficult this, but in some way I thought he was ill. The one time he was near my face his breath had a sickly sweet smell to it. Other than that he never touched me. In a odd sort of way he was considerate but I knew he would have got rid of me if I’d caused trouble for him.’
        ‘Did he smoke?’
        ‘Never saw him. Wait a minute I did smell them on him and the police told me they’d taken my box for examination. So he probably did.’
The quietness from her contact made her think he was waiting for more detail. ‘I can’t think of anything else I can tell you about him.’
        ‘It seems you were never in danger my dear. An old friend has had his revenge and probably saved us a deal of trouble. You enjoy your rest. Keep in touch and send the bills as you normally do between assignments. Goodbye.’

The hotelier turned off the tape, lifted his glass and toasted Docherty. He’d done a good days work rubbing the scum from the earth.

The previous Friday morning had underlined Frank’s intuition as being right. His mood only slightly marred by his impatience at having to wait till Monday for Jim to turn up and a nagging query as to why, after all this time, he should be tempted to move without him.

When Monday passed he vowed patience for another day but no longer. Telling his secretary to mark him missing for the rest of Tuesday he drove to the Riddle and catching Paul’s eye got a slight nod in response and a wave in the general direction of his flat. It seemed he was personally waiting on a bit of a looker who was having a late lunch. He’d just poured himself a drink when Paul joined him.
        ‘Didn’t mean to cramp the patter.’
        ‘Not a problem Frank, she’s staying for a couple of weeks. Plenty time. Now what can I do for you?’
        ‘I’ve a possible development I need to talk over with someone and since the happening on Sunday I don’t know who.’
Turning from pouring his own drink Paul asked, ‘No word from Docherty then?’
Frank shook his head, ‘He was adamant he’d be back this week but when I think about it he said after the weekend.’
        ‘He wasn’t specific?’
        ‘No; just after the weekend, but he seemed to be saying it was for good.’
Paul began to pinch the bridge of his nose, ‘ Strange. Does Docherty know of this development?
        ‘It was him who sent me. He also told me to say nothing until I’d talked it over with him. Times getting tight I’ve.’ Paul’s raised hand stopped him.
‘Don’t tell me anymore. Like you it would make my life easier if we knew where he was and could talk to him.  Anyway, good luck to him. It looks as though he’s gone back to an earth even fewer people know about. I take it you need some help with this problem?’
        ‘It’s not a problem, more an interesting proposal.’
Glancing at his watch Paul downed his drink, ‘I've got to do my hospitality bit for about twenty minutes. Can you hang on here and we’ll discuss the best way to handle it when I get back.’

Frank was helping himself to a second drink when Paul came back.
        ‘Ok. This proposal of yours I’m going to tape it so I don’t miss out on the detail.’
Waiting for the tape to be set up had Frank ill at ease. Telling Paul and trying to vindicate his gut feelings to him were one thing, taping it was another. But he was determined to get it properly considered and whoever made the decision should know how strongly he felt about it. It tied in with Jim’s long held belief that eventually economics would give them a united Ireland and not to give it a try would be a sin of omission. Without allowing his mind to rehearse he ignored the machine and addressed his facts and thoughts to Paul. Then on finishing was surprised when he got no derision.
        ‘Do you think this bloke can pull something like that off?’
Frank shrugged. 'Don’t suppose we’ll know until he’s tried.' But he’s had the guts to face us and not back off. He’s a bit like a ram to the slaughter, if you know what I mean. But if it worked it could start a trend that’ll give Westminster Delhi belly and we’d have a lot of control for little exposure.’
Paul nodded and turned off the tape. He just did so when he switched it on again.          ‘One question I almost forgot. Have you any idea where Pat Urquhart is?’
‘No, but I’d to give a message to the bloke on Thursday night. That Pat would deliver the item to him at five on Saturday morning. That’s about all I’ve heard of Pat for some time.’
Paul turned this information over in his mind, ‘If the bloke rings on Thursday ask him if Pat turned up.’

On the way home Frank decided he’d every reason to feel pleased. Tonight he’d take Sarah to the best restaurant in Dublin and let her wonder why. On the way home he decided to check the shuttered house and wondered if Jim intended using it. Opening the door he sensed something was wrong. A feeling that had him head back to his car and collect the black thorn from its boot. Clutching the stick he eased back into the hall. Bastard druggies probably stoned, already he was blaming himself for not checking sooner. One thing for certain they’d be gone before Jim got here. Doubt crept in when he went into the kitchen. Nothing gleamed because of the film of untouched dust. The bathroom was the same, only when he opened the door to the bedroom did he feel his heart slump to the pit of his stomach.

The sight of his friend contorted in a swaddled heap, four empty bottles lined neatly, contrasting with the wall collaged by bloody shards of bone and brain sent him spinning from the sight. He’d thrown up in the sink before he realised he’d to turn the water on at the mains to clean it and splash his face. The mundane logic bringing sharply into recall the real meaning behind Jim’s words and the reason for them. His job now was to get Jim buried in the right place. It was a lot to ask when you just wanted to grieve, but it had to be done.

They had a miserable hour straightening the twisted body as best they could and wrapping it in the sheets Sarah had brought. Frank felt as though he was invading Jim’s privacy when he searched his pockets until finding the recorder and Pat’s warrant card he was glad he did. Listening to the tape he didn’t recognise the voice but as it progressed he knew he had more to do than simply cover up a suicide, he’d to prevent Jim being branded as a murderer. .

The need to clear up Jim’s effects forced Frank to change his plans for Thursday night. Telling Sarah of the call he was expecting he gave her the number of Jim’s flat and for the caller to ring him there. If Sarah wondered what he was up to, she never asked, which made Frank wonder how much she already knew or guessed.

Packing Jim’s belongings at the flat didn’t take long. Apart from the bulky package addressed to Fernyhough, little had been added to the cases he’d delivered to a lay-by at the beginning of an epoch. Curiosity tempted him to open the package and perhaps add to the information he’d gathered from the tape.  Gripping the package he tore it open, then concentrated on the letter written in a familiar hand. He got to the second page before replacing the notes with his feelings split between relief, anger but mostly shame. Shame by letting fear get the better of him. If there had been any possible backlash on him or the men, Jim would have warned him. It certainly explained why Quinn, a publicity manipulator in life, was scheduled for a discreet internment. Bastard. He made no attempt to disguise the broken seal. Tomorrow he’d take the package to the solicitor and tell him he’d opened it. All he could do now was drive at continuing what Jim had started. To have taken the interest he had when the Quinn/Butler thing was so close to a conclusion indicated the importance he’d placed on it. The burr from the ancient black phone interrupted his thoughts.
        ‘Hello, is that Dublin?’ The thinned voice repeated the flats number.
        ‘Yes.’  Frank was hesitant to a voice that had a different resonance. The hope he hadn’t used the operator flashed through Frank’s brain.
        ‘Have you an answer for me on my haulage problem?’
The voice, recognisable now, had Frank smiling as he remembered his warning. ‘Not absolutely, but it’s very likely. We’ve been tied up these last few days. The man who made the delivery to you on Saturday, do you know where he is?’
Brian’s hesitation confirmed it for Frank, ‘Why? Does it matter?’
        ‘It could be beneficial.’ Frank waited for five seconds but there was no bite. ‘I’ll be able to confirm next Tuesday at the same time. If you’ve got a number I’ll contact you.’
More hesitation, Frank could almost hear the guy think. ‘I’ll give you this one, it’s a pay booth but some of them don’t take incoming calls. Ring me back to try it.’
Doing as he was told Frank was answered on the first ring, ‘Right that seems to be fine, ten on Tuesday then, and if you see Pat in the meantime, tell him Ann’s husband is to be buried tomorrow next to the rest of his family. If he wants to attend there’s a seat booked for him on the six o’clock flight from Manchester.’
        ‘If I see him I’ll tell him,’ Frank smiled, it was good to know Pat was still out there.

It didn’t take long. As the sun-drenched morning sucked the dew off the grass a gravedigger was replacing its carpet over a very private burial. In due course the headstone would match a death certificate and record the death of a loving husband and father as, Friday the 11th of May 1984. The day before Quinn and Butler had visited Dellows.

Chapter 1, chapter 2, chapter 3, chapter 4, chapter 5, chapter 6, chapter 7


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