Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Day 26 - 29

Well, no point keeping you in suspenders anymore; I've finished!! So the last four days are here; if you have been reading it so far, thank you, hopefully it'll lead somewhere but I'm just glad I've done it and I might be back next year...

Karaoke night was in full swing and I’d supped enough to contemplate knocking out Hard To Handle when a bloke eased himself into the vacant barstool alongside me and motioned Amanda over with a folded twenty note.
“Pint of best love, and whatever this lad here’s on.” I turned, the almost familiar voice permeating through the alcohol haze. The bloke was Ted Churchill. Amanda pulled two pints and set them in front of us. “And take one for yourself, love,” he said, handing her the note.
“Cheersh,” I slurred, taking the top of the fresh pint and tipping the glass in his direction, a slop of beer raining down onto the bar towel.
“All the best,” Churchill said, tapping my pint pot with his. “Sounds like you’ve made a night of it son.”
“Aye, I’ve had a couple.”
“Couple of gallons?” Churchill drained half his own glass in one easy gulp. “Not a bad boozer, this. Can’t say as I’ve ever been in here before. Few of the lads from division used to live up this way and drank in here, mind, and said it were alright.”
“Should be OK for a bit of afters then,” I mused, “don’t suppose you’re here to scout for the retired cop’s good pub guide though are you?”
“No, I’ll give you that,” Churchill said, “just thought I’d pay you a social visit, see what your mate’s up to, the mate of Tony O’Neill’s.” There was no-one in earshot, not that anyone would care about the name, but Churchill seemed like he wasn’t too bothered about discretion.
“Dunno really, I haven’t spoken to him for a week,” I said, burping back a mouthful of ale. I hadn’t realised how pissed I was until I’d tried to communicate with someone other than Amanda, who was fluent in the language of the barfly. “He’s been away with work and hasn’t had his mobile on. Should have been back tonight like.” I regretted that, the less information I gave him the better, but drink had loosened my brain from its moorings.
“Any idea where he might be?” Churchill asked. “Look son, I’m not going to be grassing him up if that’s what you reckon, I know you probably think once a cop and all that, and I know the O’Neill murder team have been sniffing around, I just want to know what you know in case there’s any comeback on me that’s all. I’m sure you understand.” He swallowed the rest of his pint and belched with satisfaction. “Nice drop that, must have good pipes in here, and I don’t just mean that barmaid. Fancy another?” I’d barely touched my pint and shook my head. “Short then? Slide down a bit easier.”
“Alright, vodka and coke.” He gained Amanda’s attention again and ordered mine and another pint with a scotch chaser for himself.
“Any ideas then?” he asked while Amanda reached up to the optics and he admired her arse.
“Not really.” I weighed up the pros and cons of letting him on anything, as best as I could. “He’s not been himself lately, even after he got let out of court. You heard about that I suppose?”
“Yeah, suspended sentence, I’d heard a whisper.”
“Well, he didn’t seem right somehow, I thought that’d be an end of it but he was still moping about, and he were drinking in the Primrose more than usual.” I took an exploratory sip of my voddy and coke and got that warm, wet feeling in my brain which signified I was stepping up to another level of drunkenness. “I just thought he was worried about our friend who’s in hospital, but he’s hardly asked after her since he’s been away. It’s not like him really.” Churchill took a belt of his scotch, and lit a cigarette, offering me one first, I shook my head. It felt like it was squelching. I realised then I hadn’t asked him how he knew I drank in here when he didn’t even know where I lived, given that he hadn’t asked me for my address when I went to him originally. Give him his due though, he was a detective. I decided to give myself a bit of breathing space.
“’Scuse me a minute will you, I just need to drain the main vein,” I said, sliding all too literally off my stool and weaving towards the Gents. The sound of the pub crooner belting out a version of Sinatra’s That’s Life filled my head as I nearly crashed into a table. I righted myself, then became aware of my mobile buzzing in my pocket. I extricated it and peered at the display, assessing whether to answer it or not. When I saw who it was, I pressed ‘answer’ straight away, and held a finger in my spare ear, like a drunken folk singer, trying to blot out the noise. It was Shuggsy and when I finally deciphered what he was saying, he told me he was in Spain.

By two a.m. I wasn’t a pretty sight, in fact I was on a par with Dresden at the end of the war. I’d managed to palm Churchill off with some old crap and promised to ring him if and when Shuggsy contacted me, even though I’d obviously just spoken to him. The detective probably knew I was lying but I was so drunk I couldn’t have cared less. I came home not long after he’d left me in the Beehive and poured myself a large vodka and opened a can of Irn Bru to sweeten it with then promptly fallen asleep on the sofa. Sometime around eleven, Astrid had texted me saying she was about to leave to go to her hotel and she’d send me another message when she was there. I’d sent her a jumbled up load of nonsense that made me shudder with embarrassment when I reviewed my outbox the next day. It wouldn’t have been so bad if it had been the last message, but I’d sent three more of slowly degenerating quality and logic. Astrid must have known I was arseholed but hadn’t let on, God knows what she saw in me really, in fact I think I said as much in my last text to which she had simply replied ‘luv u, v sleepy now. Ciao baby. A x’. Yes, ‘luv u’, like I say, don’t know what she was doing with me, I really don’t.

So it was a very contrite George Kelly that crawled to the railway station the next morning to catch a connection to Manchester, then on to Lytham to visit mum. I was drinking Irn Bru neat now in an effort to calm my pounding head and shaky stomach, the orange liquid reputedly fashioned from girders being the hangover tonic that Shuggsy swore by. Speaking of which, the man himself had rung me back after I’d left the pub and now I could piece together what he’d told me. Turns out he’d heard from one of the blokes who drank in the Primrose that Haslam and Warwick had been in the pub asking for him whilst he’d been in Wales. The bloke had tipped him off and Shuggsy had panicked. He’d scarpered from the site and caught a train back, then picked his car up and driven back to the house, thrown some gear in the car (I hadn’t noticed anything missing, but then again, I never went in Shuggsy’s room if I could help it), then driven down to Plymouth. From there he’d caught the last ferry of the day to Santander, kipped in the car when he reached Spain and then motored on to near Benelmadina, where he knew another bloke who had frequented the Primrose, but who now found it more convenient to ply his trade in Spain. He had some sideline converting villas for ex-pats and had said that Shuggs could have work anytime he wanted. Shuggs had been burbling a bit by this point and in my state of mind at the time, I’d found it difficult to keep up, but I did recall that he’d kept apologising and told me twice to look behind the toaster. Of course, I’d fallen asleep not long after that and had forgotten till the morning. When I checked, there was an envelope addressed to me, with the words ‘sorry mate’ on the back. When I opened it, I found a cheque made out to me for three thousand pounds and a post-it attached saying ‘please take this in payment for the car and a bit extra for the rent etc. Look after my gear and say sorry to Marlene for me. Speak soon, Shuggs.’ It was barely any consolation that another envelope was also behind the toaster which must have arrived through the post on the Thursday morning when Shuggsy had come back from Wales and he’d placed there for me to find. It was from Pipers Men’s Clothing and contained a letter congratulating me on winning their monthly prize draw and also enclosed a thousand pounds of worth of vouchers. Guy Mattinson would have been laughing himself hoarse with my luck.
Mum hadn’t been awake when I arrived at the Home. The duty nurse said I could wait in the day room or have a walk around and she’d call me. I elected for the walk, reasoning that the sea air might bring me round a bit. I had been on the verge of bringing back the toast I’d managed to force down three hours earlier for some time, but I bought a takeaway cup of tea from a café and went to wander down the promenade for a while. The tea was hot and sweet but the weather was sharp and cold, and the combination of the two rejuvenated me enough to face returning to the Home. When I got there, the nurse said I could go and see mum in her room, but warned me that she’d been in some pain and had been sedated that morning, so she might not be quite herself. I thanked her and let myself in to mum’s room. She was sitting up in bed, but was fully dressed, at least above the covers, and was staring out of the window at the Home’s grounds. She turned when I came in, but didn’t seem as if she recognised me. I pulled up a chair and sat by her side but still with no sign of her knowing it was her son.
“Hi mum, how are you feeling?” I asked.
“Oh hello dear, I’m fine, have you brought my lunch?” She said ‘dear’ in a way she might have said it to one of the staff she knew.
“No, mum,” I persevered, “it’s George, I’ve come to see you because you haven’t come home this weekend.”
“No love, I am in the home,” she said, “but it’s nice to see you again.” I wasn’t sure by now what she thought I was. I told her about how Marlene was, and let her know what I’d been up to, but she just nodded and interjected with the odd ‘that’s nice love’ or some such and offered no acknowledgment of who or what I was talking about. There was a lull whilst I tried to think of a way of making her comprehend, then mum said,
“Do you know that Tony Christie lives in Spain now?” For a moment I thought she must have meant Shuggsy and agreed but she obviously didn’t, “It’s a shame because he used to visit his daughter when he lived in Yorkshire, but he’s allergic to dogs of course, and she’s got two dogs.” I smiled, and went to put the kettle on. For the rest of my visit she waffled on in the same vein and I didn’t make any further effort to convince her of who I was. At one point she asked if I’d defrosted the turkey, when I said I had, she asked “how did you defrost it?” I left after an hour or so, feeling unsettled and depressed. I mentioned to the nurse on the way out about mum’s state of mind and she reassured me that it was temporary and a side-effect of the sedatives. I asked the nurse to get mum to ring me during the week and walked back to the station. On the way home, I rang Marlene on her bedside phone briefly, not telling her about mum’s transitory amnesia but said that she’d sent her love. Then I rang Astrid to apologise for the previous night’s session of texting while twatted, she thought it was funny and we arranged to meet up in town that evening to see a film or something similarly undemanding. I got a cab from the station as the train was delayed. When I reached home, I put the key in the lock and was just about to push the door, when a voice behind me startled me into spinning round, and I almost put my hand straight through the glass portion of the door.
“Aren’t you going to invite me in then son?” asked the man I formerly knew as da.

Right, I hear what you’re thinking, ‘well, what a surprise his dad’s back, like we didn’t see it coming a mile off, in fact there was a taxi pulling up for that one three days ago. Yada yada.’ And I’ll give you that, maybe given the way events had been going, it was odds on that da was going to turn up at some stage. But you have to remember, this was a man who I hadn’t seen, or heard from in over fifteen years. No phone calls, no birthday or Christmas cards, no telegrams (do they still do those?), no e-mails, not a peep. And now here he was, looking more or less the same but with a few years and quite a few pounds on him.

I very nearly didn’t let him in the house, but he’d already virtually got himself through the door, so there was little I could do. I went first and ushered him into the living room, where he flopped down on one of the double sofas. ‘Don’t make yourself too comfortable, you’re not stopping’ I thought. I wandered into the kitchen, trying to remain as casual as possible, like this sort of thing was always happening. Come to think of it, things like this had been happening a lot lately. I wanted them to stop. I pushed the Pipers vouchers back in the envelope and slid it behind the toaster again, I didn’t want them leaving the house in his back pocket. I walked back through to the living room, weighing up what I was going to say. Da had picked up a small photo album off the sideboard and was flicking through it. No point messing about.
“OK, just what the fuck are you doing here?” That’s the pleasantries over then.
“Woah, George, no need for the language, where did you get that from?”
“Well I don’t know if you’ve noticed at all, but I’m thirty years old now and I’m officially allowed to swear as much as I fucking want. Especially when uninvited guests are in the house.”
“Right, like that is it?” Da said, standing up and walking over to the window. “I see old Robbie over the road never got that cherry tree chopped down.”
“He’d have a job now, he’s been dead for six years,” I said. “Anyone else you want to know about, or can we cut the crap now?”
“Jeez, George, I knew you’d be surprised to see your old man, but I thought I’d get a better reception than this.” Was he soft in the head?
“Well, let’s see. You pissed off to God knows where when I was still at school, leaving me and mum to fend for ourselves and never told us where you’d gone. For all we knew you were dead.” I paused. “And to be honest, I wouldn’t much care if you were.” There were two ways that comment could have affected him, fight or flight.
“Listen, youse.” Fight it was then, and for some reason he was becoming a stereotype Irishman again. “This is still my house you little bollix and just cos I’ve been away for a while doesn’t give you the right to tell me what I should be doing.”
“Your house?! That’s a fuckin’ joke!” I snarled, “It hasn’t been your house for years, in fact, it’s my house now, so effectively you’re trespassing.” Da laughed.
“What do you mean, your house, I bought it, it’s in my name.”
“Wrong on both counts, it’s in my name now and I pay the mortgage so you can kiss my arse. I’ll get the copies of the papers the solicitors managed to sort out from the shit you left behind after you’d been gone for eight years shall I? Or are you going to dispute that we didn’t hear from you all that time?” I was getting riled up now, I couldn’t believe the nerve of the bloke.
“Aren’t you the big man then? Suppose your little girlfriend’s moved in, looking at them photos, what was she called, Margaret?” Prick.
“Marlene, and yes she lives here in her own room, and she pays rent, so does Allan.”
“Right little love triangle isn’t it?” he sneered, “well seeing as you’re getting all that bunce in, you’ll be able to see your way clear to bunging your da a sub won’t you?” Now I really couldn’t believe my ears.
“What??”
“I just need a few quid, see me right, then I’ll be on my way, you won’t even need to tell your ma.” He looked round, past me and down the hallway. “Where is your ma, by the way?”
“She’s in a nursing home, not that you would give two shits.”
“Oh right, I get the picture, you move your big dopey mate and your bird in and there’s no room for your ma.”
“Don’t come the fucking preacher with me,” I spluttered, “she was diagnosed with MS five years ago, so I pay for her to spend the week there and she lives here at weekends, not that it’s any of your business. And you can think again if you think your sponging off me.” That had got him, finally. He put his hand to his head.
“Multiple Sclerosis, ah jeez. That’s tough.” I almost felt sorry for him for a millisecond, but I knew I couldn’t afford to let my guard down. “Look, all I need is a hundred quid or so, I just need to get back over the water for a while, get my head together, then I promise I’ll make it up to you, I’ll pay for everything I’ve missed.” I didn’t know which was more sickening, his pleading or his unbridled audacity.
“You don’t get it , do you? It’s not about the money, it’s about you disappearing and leaving us on our own, mum always thought you’d come back, that it was some sort of misunderstanding, she was distraught for ages. It’d kill her, knowing you’re here now.” I thought for a moment and came to the conclusion that it was better getting him out of the house by any means before I did something I’d regret. “Wait here, and don’t touch anything, I’ll be back in a minute.” I left him thinking over what I’d told him and ran upstairs to my room. I reached up to the top of my wardrobe and took down a model of the Millennium Falcon. Opening up the back of it, I pulled out a roll of banknotes, the balance of what was left of my winnings from the bets and the casino. I peeled off ten twenty pound notes and stuck them in my jeans pocket, replacing the rest carefully, and checking that the sneaky bastard hadn’t followed me up and was checking out where I kept my cash. Then I ran back downstairs, where I found da helping himself to a belt of scotch from the drinks cabinet. I decided to let it go.
“Get that down you then and then you’re going to leave.” I said.
“Can we not just go up the road for a pint, for old time’s sake, let me buy you a drink, c’mon?”
“Er, I don’t think so.” He swallowed the scotch and put the glass down. I held out the money to him. “There’s two hundred there, should be enough to get you to Ireland, you can fly with that.” He took the money without a murmur, then made to leave. I followed him out, making sure he didn’t pocket anything. I didn’t want to get in any discussions about what had reduced him to begging for cash, I presumed he wasn’t a fireman or even working any more. He opened the door, then turned back to me.
“Would you not tell me where your ma is son? I just want to tell her why I went.” That did it for me, he wasn’t going to tell me and yet he’d tell the woman he supposedly had loved, the woman who still carried a torch for the useless twat after all these years, the woman who was now lying in a care home, not recognising her only son. So I did the only thing I could in the circumstances. I punched him hard and broke his nose.

When I met Astrid later at the cinema I wasn’t in the best frame of mind. I’d had to strap my hand up after I’d kicked (or rather thumped) da off the premises, so naturally she had asked what I’d done and I had to tell her. We gave the cinema a miss and went for a drink and I filled her in on everything that had gone on since we’d kissed goodbye at the house. It seemed like weeks ago. And yes, I did tell her everything, including Shuggsy’s flight from the law. She listened to the whole sorry tale, snuggled up to me in a booth at the Vines, one of the old style pubs in town that had resisted the march of the chain boozer. At the end, after I’d got a bit emotional telling her about da’s reappearance and subsequent violent departure, she put her head on my shoulder and hugged me. I don’t think the shock had quite sunk in until I told her and I was a bit shaky, at the end of the story.
“Poor you,” she said. “I wish I’d been there to look after you.”
“I’m glad you weren’t there, it wasn’t good, any of it.”
“Are you sure you want to go home afterwards, won’t your father come back?” she asked.
“I don’t think so, I think I left him in no doubt that he wouldn’t be welcome,” I said, holding up my strapped hand. “But maybe I’d feel safer if there was someone with me.” I stroked her face with my good hand.
“Hm, I don’t think you are scared of the dark somehow!” Astrid said, smiling.
“I was thinking that maybe if you did stay we could go and see Marlene at the hospital,” I said. I was conscious of the fact that I hadn’t seen her for a couple of days. God knows what Mike Bradley thought about me now, he hadn’t even bothered to ring to ask if I was going to see her. After a couple more glasses of wine, I’d persuaded Astrid to come home with me, with the promise of a takeout pizza from the trattoria on the way. We called in at her flat on the way to pick up some clothes and a toothbrush, then cabbed it back with the pizza. Then we ate and canoodled on the settee whilst watching Amelie on DVD (I didn’t mind seeing it again as Astrid had never watched it, I put it down to research). After Amelie and her lover careered through the streets on his scooter we made love, then we went to bed and fell asleep holding each other. It was the safest I’d ever felt in my life.

The next day, being Sunday, I took Astrid to a local café for a leisurely brunch. Maybe it wasn’t as trendy as Didsbury or even Chorlton in Manchester, but it had a nice atmosphere and more importantly you could mix and match your breakfast choices from an enormous list of options and all at a reasonable price. We ate our fill, read some of the Sunday papers, then strolled back to the house, in the crisp winter sunshine. I had intended to go straight to the hospital, but when Astrid insisted on getting changed before leaving, I became distracted for some reason when she was standing in her underwear deciding which top to put on. Well, it wasn’t that often I had the house to myself. Eventually, we got to the hospital about half an hour before official visiting hours ended. Marlene had been moved out of Intensive Care by now as her condition had improved, but her father had paid for a private room. He had probably forgotten that we still had shared wards here on the NHS and was horrified by the prospect of his daughter having to sleep in a room with a load of post-operation OAP’s coughing and spluttering all night, but I bet he also was surprised at how cheap the room was at fifty pounds a night. You could probably quadruple that in America. Marlene was a lot brighter than last time I’d seen her and seemed genuinely pleased to meet Astrid, although I’d been a little anxious about them meeting for the first time. I gave Marlene the edited highlights of what had occurred over the last few days, leaving out da’s return and Shuggsy’s unscheduled departure. I just said that he’d gone abroad on a job for a couple of weeks to earn some extra money before Christmas whilst the weather was unpredictable in England. It wasn’t strictly the truth, but then again it wasn’t a total lie either, and I thought discretion was the better part of valour in this case, I didn’t want her having a relapse. I did tell her about mum though, leaving nothing out, I said that I’d take Marlene to see her when she came out of hospital. Marlene went a little quiet at that and looked down at the sheet. Something was coming and it wasn’t going to be good, I could tell from her demeanour.
“I need to tell you something,” she glanced at Astrid, but I nodded and didn’t say anything, whatever it was I’m sure we could both hear it. “When I’m able to leave the hospital, I’m going back with dad to California.” I was taken aback, but of I was being honest, I wasn’t totally shocked. In fact Astrid and I had even discussed it in the Vines the previous night. I’d mentioned that he’d been shaken by her accident and had said to me something about coming back to England for a while. I think he had the type of job in IT where he could virtually work anywhere as long as he was still in touch with his base in Silicon Valley by e-mail, but maybe the grim reality of the weather and culture in his old home town had made him realise how good his life was out there. I can’t say as I blamed him, I was even seriously thinking about getting a passport and seeing a bit of the world, especially now I had someone to share it with. I allude to the conversation with her dad to Marlene and we agreed that it would probably be best all round. Marlene was at pains to point out that it wasn’t forever, she would go at first on a three month tourist visa and see how things worked out. We left the ultimate consequences unspoken. I was seeing things differently now, if this had happened pre-Astrid, I would have been distraught but I was learning to accept things change, not always for the better, but life went on. Just before we left, Marlene said she had something else to tell me.
“You know that book that you kept reading and quoting things to me from?”
“Do you mean ‘Be Lucky!’” I asked.
“Yes, that’s it. Well, I’m afraid I did something bad with it.” I tensed, hoping it wasn’t that bad. “You have to remember this was when I was about to move out and we’d been arguing.” She looked as though she was about to cry.
“It’s OK,” I said, holding her hand.
“Well, I took it from your room.” She was welling up now, “it was all because I wanted to get back at you, I’m sorry about it now, it was just because you kept going on about winning the money and being lucky and I was sick of it.” A tear tracked its way down her cheek.
“Don’t cry Marlene, just tell me what you did with it, I won’t be angry.”
“I took it to your Book Exchange and put it on one of the shelves,” she shivered and dissolved into tears. I held her whilst she sobbed, as I looked at Astrid over Marlene’s shoulder she looked confused, and I realised I hadn’t told her about Be Lucky! and its supposed ‘powers’. I could see it was time for another candid chat when we got home.

In the event, Astrid didn’t come home with me, not because she didn’t want to, in fact she seemed torn for a while, but she had to travel to Glasgow in the morning and said it would be easier to go from her house to the railway station as it was nearer, plus she didn’t know if she had enough clothes for the stay up there, which was going to be three days, attending a conference. I told her I’d ring her tomorrow after work, but she could ring anytime and she said she would, after we kissed goodbye. I was starting to feel like part of me was going with her, not to be too clichéd, but I was falling in a big way, I just knew.

I was back at the Book Exchange on Monday morning and I got in early, well before the nine o’clock opening time as I was on a mission and not one of Grant’s wanky undertakings to secure a gross of unchecked proofs of the Whitbread winner or some such. I had to try and source Be Lucky! and deal with it, or at least return it to the hapless Gareth, so he could take care of its disposal. I opened up and went immediately to scan the shelves for the recognisable cover. I checked three times but couldn’t see it. When Sean got in, we exchanged pleasantries then I asked him if he remembered seeing it.
“What was it called?” he asked.
“’Be Lucky!’” I said, trying not to speak in the manner of Jim Davidson.
“Can’t say as I do. Do you know when it came in?” Sean was incredibly serious when he wanted to be and he obviously wanted to be at the moment.
“Not sure, about two weeks ago, but the person who brought it in didn’t sell it.”
“What do you mean?” Sean asked. I could see the ‘does not compute’ sign flash across his mind.
“Er, she just put it straight on the shelf I think, she didn’t want to sell it, she just wanted rid.” I didn’t bother enlightening Sean further, it would have only confused the poor lad even more. I went to put a brew on while he had a think, I’ll say one thing for Sean, when there’s a problem that he thinks he can get a solution for, he doesn’t stop thinking it through till he gets there. I once saw him solve a question posed to him by a punter who wanted to know exactly which issues of 2000AD Johnny Alpha started and finished, and no he didn’t just ring the publishers which is what I would’ve suggested, but he worked it out from the copies we carried in the shop. Eventually, he got there, halfway down his mug of tea.
“I sold it last Thursday!” he said, snapping his fingers (yes, really). Oh bugger. I tried to remain calm.
“I don’t suppose you remember who to do you mate?” He had another think.
“Yeah, I do as it goes. It was a woman who I’d given an exchange credit. I remember her ‘cos she hadn’t got enough to spend her whole credit so she pulled that book out to make up her total. I wouldn’t normally have bothered and given her a couple of quid back but Grant was hovering.” Good lad, I knew I could rely in him to come up trumps. “I thought it were strange how there was no price in the cover, but if someone put it straight on the shelf that’d explain it.” He reached under the counter for the books bought ledger. He opened it at Thursday last and slid his finger down till he reached the details of the seller. “Here it is, Julia Westhouse, oh yeah, I remember her, nice looking, student I think, yeah she gave me her NUS card as ID, that was it.” I made a note of the address, and Sean closed the book.
“Is there a problem with it or something George? Can’t say as I’ve ever heard of that book.”
“No, no problem, just want a copy myself and I thought we had it, I might just go and pay her a call. If she’s nice looking it won’t harm either!” I said.
“Don’t let your girlfriend find out then,” Sean said, smiling. Ha, me with a girlfriend, who’d have thought? I put the piece of paper in my wallet just as Grant arrived to inevitably spoil my day.

After I left the Exchange at five-ish, I did two things to try and maximise my opportunities of improving my life and then, I promised myself, I would be done with the whole luck karma thing forever. First of all, I went round to call on Julia Westhouse, hoping she would be in, and, more importantly, be willing to sell me the book. I’d taken a hundred pounds with me from my winnings, thinking that I would offer her something like a tenner to start with, then maybe up my offer if she stalled. I supposed that if I began at some higher amount she would get suspicious of my motives. I guess I would think it was a bit strange if a complete stranger turned up at my door proffering a wad of cash for a self-help book I’d picked up for buttons in a second hand shop. Then again, if she was a student she might be glad of the money. Anyway, my cover story was that I was writing a thesis on luck and I’d made a load of notes in the margins which I needed and the book had been put on the shelf by mistake by a well-meaning colleague. Not strictly a lie, but at least it had a ring of truth about it as well.

The house was in a street at the back of a row of shops off the main road which housed the college. I knocked on the door, and a late teenage girl came to open it who didn’t seem to answer the description that Sean had provided me.
“Erm, is Julia in please?” I asked.
“Yeah,” she said, darting back into the house and leaving me shivering in the thin rain which was falling. A full minute passed before the door opened again and a young woman stood before me. This must be Julia, and yes I’d be lying if I said she was unattractive.
“Hi?” she said, phrasing it like a question.
“Hi,” I echoed, suddenly feeling immensely foolish, “I work at the Book Exchange in town, the one on Mercer Street? I think you were in there last week and you sold some books?” She thought for a second, then folded her arms.
“Ye-es,” she said, slowly, obviously not wanting to give too much away. I gave her my tale of woe about how Be Lucky! was source material for a paper I was writing (appealing to her student sensibilities, I threw in something about an uncaring tutor and deadlines to tart the story up a bit) and how I needed it back for the notes and was willing to offer her cash money for it. She relaxed a little, even managing a slight smile when I said about the tutor.
“Well I have got the book yes, but..” oh shit here we go, “what I mean to say is, I had the book, but I gave it to my dad.”
“Oh right,” I said, wondering where this goose chase was going to end.
“Yeah, it’s weird really, because he used to have it and he was always going on about it and when I saw it, I thought it was fate, so I grabbed it in the bookshop.” She still seemed to be holding something back. “He seemed really pleased when I gave it him and turned straight to one of the pages. Strange really.”
“Yeah, strange,” I agreed, “listen you couldn’t do me a really big favour and tell me where he lives could you, I don’t need to get it back really but if I could just make copies of my notes it would really help me.” I didn’t want to plead, and offering her cash in the circumstances seemed boorish but I appeared to have done enough.
“OK, I’ll just go and get it, he’s just moved house actually, my mum died not long ago and he’s moved into a smaller place. Excuse me a minute, you can come in out of the rain if you like,” she motioned me into the hallway as she went back into the house. I couldn’t help but notice that she had a very pronounced limp in her left leg. Something struck me then and a cold chill ran up my spine. Julia limped back to me another minute later, carrying a diary which she was flicking through.
“Here you are, have you got a pen?”
“It’s OK, I’ll put it in my phone,” I said, pulling it out of my pocket.
“Alright, it’s thirty three Beechfield Court, it’s off Beechfield Drive, it’s a small block of flats.
“Oh yeah, I know it,” I said, “Can I just ask you and don’t think it’s strange but….is your dad called Gareth?”
“Yes, why do you know him?”
“Yeah, I do!” I made it sound as if we were old buddies, I didn’t want to freak her out completely. “Now that is weird isn’t it?”
“Very,” she agreed.
“Anyway, thanks for that, I’ll go and see him tomorrow.” I stepped out of the house, before she thought too much more about the ‘coincidence’. “Thanks for your time Julia.”
“No problem, I’ll let him know you’re coming, I was going to ring him later anyway.” She saw me to the door.
“No that’s alright, I’ll surprise him, I’ll bet he won’t believe it,” I said, waving my hand in departure. “See you.”
“Bye,” she said, and closed the door. I obviously couldn’t stop her ringing her dad, and I didn’t think she’d been entirely convinced by my story, but I decided to go straight round and see Gareth Westhouse and find out what the hell he was playing at.

The flats at Beechfield Court had two entrance ways, and I predictably chose the wrong one first. I walked to the other door, pulling the collar up against the rain which was now falling more steadily and heavier. I hadn’t worked out what I was going to say or do about the book, I’d just have to play it by ear. I located the door buzzer for number thirty three in the gathering gloom and pressed it, trying to get some shelter in the small lea offered by the porch. Somewhere in the flats a door slammed, and I thought I heard a snatch of some Bob Dylan and I racked my internal jukebox trying to work out what it was while I waited. I got there quickly, it was Most Likely You Go Your Way, I’ll Go Mine, as covered by Todd Rundgren on his Faithful album, otherwise I wouldn’t have known it, I bloody hate Dylan. I pushed the buzzer again, impatient to either gain entry to the flats or leave, I was getting chilled to the marrow here. Then a couple came down the stairs, and opened the main door.
“Are you waiting for someone to answer love?” asked the woman. Well, duh.
“Yeah, Gareth Westhouse in number thirty three, I’m meeting him for a drink if he’d hurry up and answer.” I said. I was getting good at this cover story lark, Ted Churchill would have been proud of me.
“That’s that new bloke on the top floor,” the bloke said, “go on up mate, I’m sure he won’t mind.”
“Ah, nice one mate,” I said, rubbing my hands exaggeratedly in Uriah Heep-like gratitude. I stopped short of saying ‘ever so ‘umble sir’ to him.

I climbed up the stairs which were lit by up-lights on the walls, the landing way of the top floor was in semi-darkness when I reached it though. Number thirty three was on the left, and didn’t seem to be inhabited, there was no light emitting from the crack of the door anyway. I contemplated knocking, but then the door flew open, I was so shocked I staggered back. Something dark and heavy rushed at me and I half-stumbled, half-tripped against the wall. Then my legs were swept from under me and I toppled over the top step and fell. I put my hands out to stop me but I was too unbalanced and only succeeded in slowing my fall slightly. I was aware of the floor rushing up to me then nothing but yawning blackness.

I knew I was unconscious, I was going to say I was conscious of it but that would be litotes, not to say petty, given the situation. I could hear, and feel, an incredibly powerful whooshing sound very close at hand, and I had a sensation of being prostrate on warm, wet grass. My viewpoint shifted and I had a giddy feeling of the world turning whilst I tried to hang on and I was suddenly looking up at the sky. Gradually, the reason for the noise that filled my senses became clear, although I couldn’t work out why it seemed familiar at first. I only knew that I couldn’t stay where I was, a dread of something impending filled me and I tried to stand, but couldn’t. Then I knew where I was.

A few summers ago, which now felt like a lifetime away, Shuggsy, Marlene and myself had spent a day hiking from Kendal, over Scout Scar and then onto the Sedbergh valley. Just outside Kendal, near a place called Brigsteer, they had just constructed the first phase of the enormous structures which formed a wind farm. I remembered that we stood in awe of these giant monoliths, their latent power and sheer scale humbling us, and we seemed to stand for ages in their shadow almost hypnotised and developing cricks in our necks, before moving off.

The turbines hadn’t been functioning that summer’s day, but here in the darkest shadow land of my mind they were spinning at full power, the ground thrumming with their force. I forced myself up onto my knees, holding my hands to my head in an attempt to keep my centre of gravity. As I looked beyond the generators to the top of the hill, I saw something gathering there. At first, it appeared to be one amorphous mass of black, but then gradually they separated and I could make out individual forms. They were moving, or rather almost gliding in a slow but inexorable march down the hillside towards me. My dread became palpable and I twisted away, desperate to run. The turbines seemed to shudder and an electric energy crackled in the air, making all the hair on my hair and body stand on end. I stumbled to my feet and couldn’t help but turn and look in horror as the distance between myself and the spectral shapes pursuing me became less, the first of them had almost reached the first pylon, about a hundred feet away from me now. I was aware of a screaming sound now, I thought it was the turbines increasing speed somehow, but then I was looking down on myself and realised it was me, making an almost inhuman wailing noise. I remained frozen to the spot, like some miniature Don Quixote before the windmills, too terrified to tilt against them. Then all at once, the swooshing noise ceased and the wailing stopped with it. The mass of shapes also stopped, and seemed to gel together again. Another sound started up, more insistent than the wailing but of a different, eerie timbre, coming from within the mass. I dropped down hard and fast back into my body, but now I was aware of a calm passing through me. Faced with the massed ranks of the Dream Police, I was now so certain that this was the end that I no longer felt connected with myself. I sank to my knees again and immediately the ground shook again, so hard this time that I literally had to hang onto a sod of earth to stay where I was. The chanting increased in volume and the gathering inched forward, just as a huge form hurtled past me and landed right in the middle of the black assembly. I closed my eyes and waited for the inevitable end but suddenly there was nothing, just a deathly silence. I blinked my eyes open and saw that I was now kneeling at the very edge of a huge smoking crater, into which three of the massive turbines had toppled. Then from over on the other side of the crater, a figure emerged, clad all in white. As the smoke cleared, I could make out a human form silhouetted in an orange glow. I suddenly felt incredibly peaceful and wondered idly if this was some sort of pre-cursor to the afterlife. Then the figure was by my side and I saw a familiar face smiling down at me. She reached down, and put a hand on each side of my head and I stood up. I looked into her suddenly piercing green eyes and understood who had finally saved me from the Dream Police. My Marlene.


In the hospital they had pieced together what had happened that night. Gareth Westhouse had attacked me outside his flat for reasons that the police, quite obviously weren’t aware of until I regained consciousness and told them the full story. After I’d fallen down the stairs, he’d fled to his daughter’s house, where he’d stayed the night, before she made him turn himself in the next day. I’d sustained (in order of seriousness) a fractured skull, a punctured lung, two broken ribs, a broken ankle and I’d broken two of my fingers. Even when I’d told them of my association with Westhouse, they weren’t sure of his motive, but I guessed that he’d not wanted to part with Be Lucky! even knowing what the consequences of owning it could be.

Over the next few weeks, I slowly convalesced, Astrid visited every day and made sure I had everything I needed, which included, when I was fit enough to move around, a visit from a psychiatrist, which I paid for. I wanted to get an answer to why I’d been tormented for so long by the Dream Police, and to reassure myself that it was all over now. She couldn’t offer a concrete solution for either, but simply talking about it was helpful and she never disputed anything even when to me it sounded like the rantings of a madman. In the end, the psychiatrist could only surmise that I had been deeply troubled by something intangible, perhaps a combination of things but that with time I would become able to take myself away from the fear by a combination of self-hypnosis and meditation. She recommended a couple of experts in each field and left me with their details. I wasn’t sure that I would ever be troubled by them again, but after telling Astrid everything (that was a heavy conversation), I agreed to contact them. Julia Westhouse visited me a few days before I was discharged, mainly I think to find out why her dad had virtually lost his mind, but also to apologise. I told her she had nothing to apologise for, it had just been a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Grant and Sean also visited, Grant even asked when I was coming back to work, the knob, but at least he smiled when he said it. The three other people in my life who meant the most to me never came to see me though, mum was too ill to travel, and the carers hadn’t told her for fear of her becoming more unwell. Shuggsy had rung the house a few times and eventually Astrid answered the phone, whilst she was there picking up some clothes for me. She told him everything and he rang me on the mobile but said he couldn’t come back yet. Then he told me why, obviously he hadn’t killed Tony O’Neill but he knew who had and was too afraid to come back to England for fear of reprisals. I tried to talk him round but I knew I was onto a loser, once the big man had made his mind up there was not much anyone could do to change it.

And Marlene? She left for Santa Barbara without knowing I was in the same hospital she had recovered in. She was officially given the all clear the day after I was brought in and Mike Bradley almost immediately whisked her onto a plane, only stopping briefly at the house to collect some personal things. I think she wanted to say goodbye but found it hard, she left me a note tucked into the gatefold sleeve of Something/Anything. It simply contained the last five lines from Anything song four:

Somewhere in the back of my heart it’s there
And every day it finds me, and reminds me
I will bear my cross, I will bear your cross too
I will pine forever, I will torch hold for you
I will carry my torch for you










Epilogue

Grant has opened another section in the book exchange and trades off my semi-fame in Viewer’s Commentary by flogging used DVD’s. He says I bring a ‘cache’ to the place. He’s still an almighty twat.

Sean combines working at the Book Exchange with writing scripts for a graphic novel called Diamond Geezers – he refuses to say who it’s based on.

Julia Westhouse changed her course to criminal psychology and is well on the way to gaining a 2:1 after…

Gareth Westhouse was acquitted of a charge of Grievous Bodily Harm after I refused to press charges. He now runs a centre for recovering gambling addicts.

Natalie now produces Viewer’s Commentary after its first run was a cult success on BBC2 North. It now goes out on BBC3.

Da is still in Ireland, as far as I know. Typically, he sent me a cheque last month for £220, to ‘cover the money you lent me, and have a drink on me.’ I haven’t cashed it, I leave it pinned to the kitchen corkboard as a reminder, just in case.

Mum now lives at the home full time. She has her bad days, but thankfully they’re not that often. I visit every weekend, and take her out in the car I bought after I finally passed my driving test.

Shuggsy still lives near Malaga, he’s happy as Larry and we went out to visit him. He still does the villa conversions but he’s part-owner of the Bannockburn bar in Benalmadina. Don’t visit it unless you’re Scottish or know who Chic Murray is. He’s still a big dozy lummock, but now he’s a big dozy tanned lummock.

Marlene lives near Santa Barbara, in a community of artists, writers and musicians. It sounds a bit hippy-ish but it’s really funky and she’s happier than she’s ever been. Her dad pulled some strings to allow her to stay in the USA for as long as she wants as long as she doesn’t earn money from working, he supports her and she just writes and sketches which is all she wanted to do anyway. I went out there last year and we went to see Todd play in San Francisco and then met him backstage. It was perfect.

And Astrid and me? We’re living together in the house. I don’t make subs anymore but I still help out in the Book Exchange occasionally but I work full time on Viewer’s Commentary now and I’ve just been invited to write a few pieces for Empire. Astrid has changed my life completely and I’m so happy now, she’s even took me to my first ever football match in Milan this year. It must be love. And as for luck? I know now that you make your own, good and bad and no book is going to tell you how to do it.

Be lucky!


5 Comments:

Blogger Claire said...

Clever Dick! Didn't think you'd do it but well done!
Just copied the whole thing so I can read at leisure (very tempted to read the end first - but I'll try to resist!)
C U soon Shakespeare

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