‑ THE GREAT BIG LIE ‑
Simon W. Golding
When a man loves a woman, the world can hold its breath and have mercy upon his soul. I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised ‑ women can be so cruel. I'd like you to know, I'm not some inexperienced whelk that's a bit moist behind the antennae. I'm thirty‑three‑years‑old and have had my heart shattered more times than the plates at a Greek restaurant ‑ but the last one is always the worst.
The first time I suspected there was something wrong was when everything was going right. I was in love with a beautiful, very talented singer, Zillah Quin. It's OK it was only her stage name, I call her Zill. She was bright, graceful and, most important, sensual ‑ one could not stare into her warm brown eyes without thinking of anything but desire. My heart leapt with joy every time she laughed at my simple jokes or kissed me for no reason. Whenever I thought I was suffering from flu or in the early stages of some incurable disease, my initial consideration was 'am I ever going to see her again?' Like all dreams, I woke up and she was gone. All you need to know about me is that my name is Tally, I drink ‑ most of the time, I'm kind to animals and I only swear in an emergency.
My story begins when I thought my life had ended. We were ready to return from our holiday in America, I felt good with the flush of sun that had rusted my face. Two weeks of bliss, a mixture of entertaining company and good sex. I'm no great lover, but when it's good, you think you're running on sky. To be honest, I always thought I was on borrowed time ‑ the eternal gift to the contented mind.
I was putting clothes into my suitcase when Zill, her golden blonde hair damp from a shower, kindly informed me that I'd just placed her hair dryer in my case. She went on to explain that her clothes and hair dryer were stopping in America and my suitcase and clothes were going back to windswept England ‑ not the most subtle of ends to a four year relationship. Like all women, she was doing it for the best. Yes, and I know who for.
I walked into my small flat in Bridgnorth , Shropshire, and surveyed the decor with indifference. I swear I heard Matt Monro singing Softly As I Leave. My whole world seemed crushed. I glanced at the clock she had bought me; the pub was still open ‑ I was never one for drinking at home, at least not during opening hours.
The night breeze seemed harsh, but it was probably my mood. The Dragoon was full, being a Saturday, the over‑populated atmosphere was strangely comforting. The barman winked and poured a pint.
'Nice to see you, partner,' he offered, the twinkle not leaving his eyes. The reference hit me like a dead fish.
'I've been to Arizona, Harry.' I tried to keep the bitterness from my voice. 'Not the High Chapperal!'
'Where's Zilly?' He asked, all innocence. Everyone had their own name for her, it was quite sweet really, if you're into that sort of thing. The question brought the damn girl flooding back into my mind. These people were supposed to be my friends.
'She decided to stay on, she had a business offer.' I swear I felt the hush, the statement hanging in the air like an obedient Labrador waiting for a biscuit. Harry did not respond. I moved towards the only sane one in the public house and certainly the richest ‑ the one armed bandit. Clipper, a two armed ex‑sailor, was paying its wages. I watched. Eventually he spoke, without taking his eyes off the busy machine.
''Ave a good time in Florida?' At least he had got the country right.
'Er Arizona, Clipper, although we toured a bit.' He chuckled at the flashing lights, as the bandit gave birth to several pound coins.
'Did you visit Las Vegas?'
Some people are so thick. 'Which one?' I resounded tiredly.
'Yea, the one in Nevada or New Mexico?'
The world hates clever people who don't look clever.
I suppose the Dragoon is clean, but I put up with that. It falls in the category somewhere between a political drinking club and a fun pub. Not even the carefully placed horse brasses and false beams fools the eye. The real attraction is the characters, even if they do get on my nerves every now and then. There is no true definition of the word character, as far as I am concerned. It should be a celebration of youth, becuase I believe real bearers of the title have never grown up. Who was it that said 'When the child in you dies, you're finished.' Probably some fat, Greek philosopher. I mentioned this quote to Clipper, I needed to gain respect.
'I think it was Emerson.' I added, almost as an after thought.
'It may have been, but he wasn't Greek.' He's off again, I thought. The wealthy bandit puked four more golden coins. Clipper scooped them up while they were still spinning. 'He was from the US,' he continued, feeding the machine yellow seeds. 'but you're right, he was a philosopher...essayist and poet. I think he settled in Massachusetts...' I moved away in disgust, as he raved on about transcendentalism. Some people never know when to shut up. I finished my drink and glanced at the slow clock, a legacy of depression, and disappeared through the door.
In the dark I fumbled with the keys, I must get that light in the passage fixed, it was a shared access for all seven residents in the building and they were all as lazy as me. As the door opened I heard a low growl of a dog. When I tried to back towards the exit the snarl grew louder and more intense. The aggression rose to a crescendo, culminating in the dog lurching forward and cutting off my escape. He obviously wanted me to go into the house. It was a long‑haired Alsatian of wolf/hound breed. Definitely more wolf than hound. He stayed motionless, breathing out cold air and breathing in fear. I moved, slowly, into the flat. The dog followed, eyeing my juicy limbs with wanton greed ‑ he wanted feeding.
One of these days I must get him trained, perhaps when he's older and has calmed down a little. I found him in the street, he had bit me and broke a tooth, I took him to the vets. The name on his collar was Able, but due to his anti‑social habits I had re‑named him. I placed the bowl of food on the floor with Kane not taking his eyes off me.
'Good dog.' I offered, backing away, not taking my eyes off him. I had hoped the little bastard had starved while I was in America. Zill had obviously asked one of the neighbour's to feed him.
The flat seemed a lot bigger now I was back from the Dragoon. I slumped into a chair and wondered what she was doing? She was such a fun loving girl. I remembered the first time I saw her ‑ she was dancing. Time stood still and the world stopped spinning. I asked her out and, grudgingly, she agreed ‑ my baptism in love. From that moment on, up until the hair dryer incident, I was the happiest man on the globe. That Matt Monro record was playing again. Although I wouldn't admit it to a living soul, the tears poured down my face in a steady, salty stream.
I supported a chipped brandy goblet and flooded it with whisky, I prefer brandy but times are hard. I sipped lazily and scanned my life ‑ I was an unsuccessful writer, living in a rented flat, paid for by my successful ex‑girlfriend ‑ what the hell was I going to do? Would I ever meet another girl like her agian? I supped my cheap liquor, sheepishly peeked at her clock and made for the local disco.
Getting in was no problem, after I'd paid five quid. The lights were fresh and cleansing. The music tame, but the high‑fidelity was strong. It was lovely to get away from Matt Monro. Smoke seemed to be everywhere, stinging the eyes and burning the back of the throat. It was ideal pool playing weather. I headed towards the bar, through the haze, and ordered a drink from the barman. Up one corner, Clipper was playing the fruit machine, everything was normal.
'What the hell are you doing in here, Tally? Searching the fleshspots of Bridgnorth for new story lines?' The elderly man smiling at me had a small frame with wisps of grey hair poking out a neat trilby. His moustache was a direct contrast to his mane, being trimmed and combed. His clothes were extrovert, extravagant and expensive, he was not your average farmer.
'Hi Marty, how's everything going?' I let the vowels take a nose dive ‑ I needed to talk.
'My God, what's happened to you?' Good old Marty.
'Zillah's left me...actually that's not grammatically correct. I left her, in America, but on her instructions.' I awaited a response, but my friend only lit a cigar, and raised his eyebrow. I wish I could do that.
'It's not a shock, Tally...I spoke to Zillah before you left.' They always say you're the last to know.
'What did she say, Marty?'
'Does it matter?' Yes, it mattered, I thought to myself.
'No, I suppose it doesn't.' I had some pride. 'She said she had a recording contract.' The conversation fell silent. Marty reached into his pocket and pulled out an envelope.
'She asked me to give you this...I think it explains things.' So this was all planned before I threw up in the departure lounge ‑ I hate air travel. If God had meant us to fly, he would have given us longer arms and a place to put our passport. I hadn't really got the money, but I ordered a large scotch. Marty leant forward and cancelled the order.
'I want to dampen my sadness.' I snapped childishly.
'Then do it in style...' Marty turned to the waiting barman, 'Two large Brandy and Benedictines.'
'I'm in trouble, Marty, I owe a couple of months rent, I have three novels I can't sell and two I can't finish. The woman I...cared for a lot has left me and my dog hates me.'
'I know that dog, he hates everyone...I can lend you some money ‑'
'No, Marty. Thanks, but no thanks.' I said, hoping there would be an action replay of the offer.
'There is something that might appeal to you...' Marty handed me a gold coloured business card. 'Mr James Russell, he's a farmer. Very rich and very paranoid. He thinks his wife's having an affair.'
I tried to show some interest, the flight was beginning to catch up with me. 'What's that got to do with me?'
'He's looking for a private detective, someone he can trust.' Marty lowered his voice to a whisper, which was comical due to the background cacophony. 'He want's discreet inquires made concerning the faithfulness of his spouse.' I laughed and emptied my glass, the Brandy burning my throat and the Benedictine sweetening my pallet. Exquisite.
'I know nothing about detective work. And as for following some old bag, to and from the bingo, watching her gamble away her pension money and waiting for her to eye up the caller ‑ forget it!'
'She's twenty six, beautiful, and her only gamble is a flutter on the roulette tables...I know a lad in Birmingham, I was going to phone him, but if you're interested?' I thought hard. 'You write detective novels, what's the difference?' He added, smugly.
'I've wrote one and I can't sell it...I'll do it!' Time to celebrate. 'Two large scotches, please.' Maybe it wasn't going to be such a terrible day after all. The music diminished and the DJ's practised patter filled the room and drowned my mood. I had spoken too soon, as usual. It was time for the slow dances ‑ Matt bleedin' Monro!
I'm not sickly good‑looking or a David Mellor look‑alike, I class myself as early Ealing Alec Guinness, albeit my frame is slightly fuller. This is due to alcohol abuse, well, I'm not wasting my meagre funds on luxuries like food and warmth.
I strolled into the bathroom and surveyed, through a broken mirror (I must get that fixed), my tightly trimmed beard. Perhaps I could shave it off? It had been a part of me for over six years. I imagined the clean‑cut countenance and decided against it. I had captured the heart of a ravishing woman with my appearance, so why change a winning team. Who am I kidding, I fooled one girl into loving me and now she's gone.
I stared blankly at the envelope Marty had handed me. It looked so innocent. I wondered what phrases she had used to let me down gently. 'I'm doing it for the both of us' and 'it's all for the best'. It all boils down to one sentence 'I don't love you any more'. It's funny how people find it more difficult to utter those words than 'I love you'. Unopened, I placed the envelope in a drawer.
The next day, wondering if I was doing the right thing, I dialled the number Marty had given me and waited for a response.
'Hello, Russell here.' The polished enunciation threw me slightly, my background being what it is.
'Er is that Mr James Russell?' I instinctively raised my diction a notch below BBC grade announcers English.
'Yes, how can I help you?' The voice was on edge.
'This is Tally.' Hardly a name to conjure thoughts of public school, maybe I should have said Taller's? 'Marty...I mean Martin Green asked me to call.' I was back at Heath Lodge secondary modern school, concentration was never one of my strong points.
'Oh yes, I understand.' His voice became even harsher, I thought it was going to shatter. His wife was obviously there. 'Can you meet me in The Talbot Hotel in Stourbridge at one o'clock today?'
'Could you possibly make that one‑thirty?' I didn't want him to think that I had got nothing better to do than wait for his lunch appointment.
'I'm a very busy man Mr Tally, one o'clock please.' He replaced the receiver. I hate people like this ‑ confident and abrupt. He'll go far, I thought.
I parked my car, actually it belongs to Zill but as she won't be using it for a while, in the High street and made my way to the Talbot. Shoppers pushed past and an old woman clutching a clipboard approached. I hate this sort of thing, a time waster. She probably wanted to know, after the ravages of a nuclear holocaust, would people be more likely or less likely to eat frozen prawns? I treated her to a mock smile and pointed to my watch. She let me pass, smiling warmly. Typical.
The bar was surprisingly crowded, full of insurance salesmen, blonde wigs and bull terriers. The decor was cluttered and fussy. I looked around realising I didn't know who I was looking for. I felt a tap on the shoulder.
'Mr Tally.' It was a statement not a question. I recognised the patter.
'What would you like to drink?'
'I'll have a large Brandy.' It might be my last for some time.
He ordered the drinks while puffing on a pricey cigar, the sort you get for Christmas in those metal tubes.
'Shall we sit down...' He was smartly dressed in a light green suit. His complexion was that not of a farmer, more of the new‑wave group who come under the heading of land owner. He was certainly a lot younger than I expected, around thirty, clean shaven and swarthy. The sort women go for when Mel Gibson isn't around. I didn't like him.
'Did Mr Green outline any details?'
'He mentioned that you suspected your wife of having an affair.'
'That's right. I need you to find out whether there is any truth in my speculation.'
'Have you talked to her?' I interjected. That got him.
'I need a private investigator not a marriage guidance councillor...I'll pay you forty a day plus expenses.' I was beginning to warm to him. I tried not to show my elation.
'That's sounds fine.' I can start eating, I thought.
'If you give me your address and telephone number I will contact you with the necessary details.' He then opened his wallet and paid me a week in advance ‑ more money than I had earned in four years as a writer. It all seemed too good to be true, and of course, it all was.
Owing to the fact that I write at night; it seems easier on the brain cells, I miss God's pets taking part in the morning chorus. By the time I rise, I'm lucky to get a bored swift or a bunch of coughing sparrows. But for a while things would be different. I had a job to do, and unlike my literary career, I was getting paid to do it. And if that meant stirring during ante meridiem then so be it.
I gazed out of my first floor window and inspected the wild fruit tree. A plump thrush captured my attention as he landed on a slender branch. A large ripe apple, covered in early morning dew, bobbed up and down with its new load, before it plummeted to the ground. The feathered visitor, with the new shift in weight, was catapulted into the air on an uncharted flight. I smiled inwardly. They say there's nowt grander than nature.
People who live in derelict and dispirited slum areas, the windows can be a constant reminder of their uncomfortable situation. Views of the depressing environment only reinforce the illusion of hopelessness. I'm lucky, my own outlook, which, incidentally, I can't afford, is a beautiful natural garden (natural ‑ meaning me and the other six occupants are between gardener's) and a vista of the Severn Valley Railway.
After checking that Kane was out chasing anything edible, he comes and goes through a large dog flap, I crept into the kitchen and prepared breakfast. After two slices of toast ‑ one pure charcoal the other slightly singed, two runny boiled eggs and a lukewarm mug of tea, I was ready for action. This positive attitude drained as I viewed the small pile of buff coloured envelopes on the hall carpet. Sandwiched between a British Gas final demand and an acidic letter from my bank manager, was an A4 slate grey envelope; hopefully containing the details of my new assignment. As any writer will know, the 2 by 8 inch hole; halfway up the door, can be the only contact with the outside world. When I think of all the rejections that have cascaded down, like a busy waterfall, towards the threadbare carpet.
Inside was a photograph of my target. Marty was right she was very beautiful. Unfortunately it was a head shot ‑ legs are very important to me. She had a tanned face, her hair was long, blonde and wavy. She had a button nose and deep blue eyes that radiated warmth. I fell in love. Not a very professional start to my career as a 'Private Dick'. There again it was only a temporary solution to my cash flow problem. I intended to flog it for all that it was worth.
I let the telephone ring three times and picked it up.
'Hello, Tally here.'
'Tally, this is James. Did you get the picture of my wife and the details of her movements?'
'Yes.' I recaptured the image in my mind. My mouth worked but not my brain. '...Very nice indeed.' I cringed as soon as I said it.
'I hope you will not let any amorous feelings interfere with your work?' He really was paranoid. I treated him to a dramatic pause. He continued. 'I want a progress report every other day. I assume I can count on your discretion? Don't let me down, Tally.' He replaced the receiver.
I heard the key in the door and then the sound of it opening. My heart stopped beating ‑ it must be Zill? The footsteps seemed sure of themselves. The lounge door opened. Zillah had changed; she had grown taller, had several tattoos placed on her arms and a week's growth on her chin ‑ I don't know what I ever saw in her. His tee‑shirt said, 'Screw everyone in the world ‑ at least once.' Very tasteful.
'You Tally?' The voice was similar to his appearance ‑ aggressive. Two other men emerged. They looked as if they were from the same charm school.
'Who the bloody hell are you?' I'm always polite to guests.
'We're friends of Zillah's.' I thought I knew all her friends. 'We've come for all her stuff.' My God there'll be nothing left, I thought.
'A lot of this we bought jointly.'
'I know, with her money.' The tee‑shirt was well informed. Where was that bloody dog when I needed him?
It took them two hours to empty the flat. All that was left were the items I had amassed during the two years before I met Zillah. That included a bed, settee, two kitchen stools and the carpets.
'You've forgotten the clock.' I offered sarcastically.
'You can keep it, it's slow.' Definitely his round.
'Can I have the key to the front door?' I held out my hand. The tee‑shirt rummaged in his pocket and dangled them in front of me.
'Can I have the key to Zi's car?' I told you everyone had their own pet name for her. 'She wants it back?' She really detested me. He had 'hate' tattooed on both sets of knuckles. I obliged immediately. I was now officially car-less, a humble pedestrian. A private investigator with no wheels - I was no Magnum PI. I wondered if Russell's wife was a fast driver?
I had arranged to meet Marty in the Dragoon, it's within walking distance, at one o'clock. I arrived ten minutes early and my friend had already ordered the drinks.
'I read your horoscope before I left the house.' I lifted the pint to my lips and waited. Marty continued, 'It said if you think things are bad now, just wait until next week.' I supped.
'Thanks Marty.' He slapped me on the back.
'Cheer up, it could be worse,' he joked. I gave him a double take. '...No, I don't suppose it could really.' He concluded.
I had known Marty for several years and although a lot older than me, we were as close as two men can get. Well, I suppose that's not strictly true, but you know what I mean. Whenever I found myself in trouble Marty was always there to pick up the pieces. Today was no exception.
'So what's this car like?' Marty scratched his weathered, walnut face.
'It's old, Tally.'
I wasn't going to let him get away with that. 'How old?'
'It was completely restored in 1965.' I remained silent. He continued, '1946.'
'1946!' I did not try and keep the alarm from my voice. '...nearly fifty years ago.' I thought Zill's car was getting on a bit and that was assembled in 1989.
'But it's a good make ‑ Chrysler CA Six Convertible Coupe with a 3.95‑litre engine.'
'Where on earth did you come across such a car?' I'd already decided to take taxis.
'It's what me and Beth got married in, it was my first car.' The old man stared at the log fire, the jumping flames reflecting in his tired eyes. There was a lifetime of emotion in that one sentence. Beth had died of cancer many years ago, she had taken a part of Marty with her.
'Where is the car?'
'Bewdley. I keep it in the old barn next to the well. I'm going back there after lunch, I'll take you to see it if you like?' His eyes searched me for an answer, they still held the mysteries of the past.
'I've got a few things to get, I'll make my own way there. I fancy a trip on the railway.' I ordered two more pints. It's great to have money. 'How well do you know this James Russell?'
'I don't really, he approached me at the Shakespeare.'
'I thought you knew him?' Marty shook his head. 'Then how did you know about him being a farmer and all about his wife?'
'He told me.' Something didn't fit, but I was being paid and survival seemed more important.
I don't know exactly what it is about the Severn Valley Railway that conjures up a feeling of composure and equanimity. The sights, scents and sounds feed the mind and instantly relaxes you. The whole experience is an emotion.
I bought my ticket from a bespectacled old man, dressed in the costume of the railway's era. The Stephenson Locomotive was stationary, steam fluting upwards towards the milky clouds. I climbed aboard and found a quiet carriage. The inside was probably modest in its time, but now looked resplendent ‑ the teak lined walls, engraved gas lamps and delicate lace curtains. I suddenly realised I had completely forgotten about my former love. What with the new job and equipment, (I had bought a camera, film, note pad and a pencil ‑ a sort of junior detective kit) a temporary bout of self‑induced amnesia had immersed any romantic thoughts. It was time my aching heart had a rest.
With the slight oscillation of the coach and the steady drum of the rails, we chugged through Daniel's Mill, Stern's Cottage, Hampton Loade, Highley, Arley and Northwood. The last couple of miles, tracing the old line, threads through the Wyre Forest. Nestled in the woodland, fanned by the River Severn, sits Marty's farm. I stood up and glanced across the meadows towards the fields. I could just make out the old barn and the well. I could see Marty's car and another vehicle ‑ strange for him to have visitors. The Loco slowed and jogged, as we approached Bewdley station. The engine came to an unsteady halt, belched out smoke defiantly and hooted loudly, making the hairs on my neck dance.
The air was cold but dry. I made my way slowly up the steady incline towards the farm. The added exertion forced misty vapours of pearl breath to spiral upwards towards the sky. How those golfers, carrying a bag full of steel, march up and down dale amazes me. I eventually reached flat ground and turned round to view the twisting river and catch my breath. I promised myself; one of these days I would get fit.
There was a condescending feel to the farm, a disregard for 20th century clutter. It was designed when all the Property Developers were asleep and land was cheap. It was the sort of dwelling a chronic claustrophobic sufferer would buy. I saw Marty's car parked by the well, but diverted towards the house. The smell of freshly baked bread was better than standing in a dusty barn ‑ trying revive a sick hunk of metal. I lifted the heavy brass lion's head, wondered how much it would fetch at the scrap yard, and let it fall. The door shuddered under the weight. I heard a muffled shout and then the distinctive shuffle of Mrs Chaffey ‑ Marty's house keeper. She was old, there again, she always was. Her face was sour but her heart and manner was sweet. The door opened, yellow teeth flashed and green eyes twinkled.
'Hello, Tally. I've just baked some bread, have you eaten?' The voice was flat and honest.
'Not since last Tuesday!' She laughed and I followed her in. Her bottom half reminded me of the woman's legs and feet you see on the Tom and Jerry films.
'Marty's in the barn...The kettle's just boiled, I'll get you a mug.' Of all the times I had been to the cottage I had never known the kettle not to be boiling ‑ she must have two pots. 'He tells me you're going to use Old Blossom.'
'Old Blossom?' I echoed, not really wanting to know.
'The car, what him and Beth used to drive.' She chuckled as the memories swished about in her head, a time when she was younger ‑ a time when everyone was younger. 'Marty had painted it pink, it was Beth's favourite colour, but he had left it under the large Lilac bush in the yard. When Beth came out the house to view the car it was covered in deep violet blossom. The paint was still wet and they stuck...' The words tailed off, but the recollections of yesteryear frolicked and flirted in her eyes. So what was once a sort after Chrysler CA Six Convertible Coupe 3.95 litre, was now a pink car called Old Blossom, which was probably still covered with dead flowers. And I was supposed to be inconspicuous.
Time elapsed, my belly was full, but still no Marty.
'Who came to see him?' I asked, draining my cup.
'Visitors, Marty?' She smiled and took my mug. 'What makes you think that?'
I stood up, something was wrong. 'I saw a car here earlier.' I offered, then left the house and paced over towards the barn. I shouted twice ‑ no answer. Inside I saw Old Blossom, the dust sheet was half pulled off. The outbuilding was cold, with a shortage of windows, making it dark and shadowy. My eyes widened taking in the deficiency of light. Several bales lay strewn on the floor and a couple of corrugated sheets were propped up artlessly. I immediately alighted on Marty's hat lying in the dust and picked it up, now I knew there was something wrong. And then I saw him, hanging from one of the heavy wooden rafters. The rope around his neck lifted his head awkwardly to one side and his tongue stuck out, with blood coming from it, where he had bitten through it in a paroxysm of pain. His face was a lifeless yellow mask. I did not need to check ‑ he was dead.
The police arrived. I comforted Mrs Chaffey, who like me, was beside herself with grief. I tried to keep the tears in, after Zillah I wondered if I had any left? The lion's head clattered against the door, which was ajar, and a tall, willowy sergeant entered. His name was Tanner, he was from the village. We had never got on, but death lowers many barriers.
His note pad was open and his pen was poised. 'Can you describe the car, Tally?' There was respect in his voice. I felt this was due to training rather than compassion.
'I think it was a silver Merc.'
I thought hard. 'I think so, but I'm not sure.'
'Do you think the car had anything to do with Marty's death?' Mrs Chaffey interjected through the tears. Tanner ignored her.
'You said earlier you were with him in the Dragoon pub...how did he appear to you?'
'He didn't commit suicide, Tanner.' I left his gaze and stared blankly at the walls of the cottage. What with Zillah and now Marty; if things came in triplicate ‑ World War Three was about to start.
Back at the flat I cried. It was not the aching, tearful indulgence of self pity I endured surrounding Zill, but a deep intense feeling of loss; as if my very soul had hunched up into a tight ball. My parents had passed away when I was young, so it was my first real appointment with death. This void could not be bridged by drink, only time and the wonderful memories of a gentle old man. If I ever found out who was responsible I would send them crashing into hell, with the same mercy they had obviously shown my best friend.
Lying on my bed, in the foetus position, I had the vague perception that someone had entered the room. As my eyes slowly became accustomed to the dim light, an image appeared, sending a frisson running down my back. Silently and swiftly my breath was snatched from me. Zillah was standing before me, completely naked. Totally mesmerized I got out of bed and walked autonomously towards her, studying her smouldering brown eyes and the proud, alabastrine arch of her neck. I lent forward, my whole body quivering like an executed bow. Her firm, rounded breasts heaved at the anticipation of the embrace. She froze momentarily as our lips met, her breath was hot and spasmodic. My left hand came up softly and caressed her left breast, the nipple swelled between my fingers. Our tongues probed, prodded and poked ‑ the erotic sensation tingling my pallet like cheap Spanish Brandy. The flame from the candle, the only light in the room, danced on her sculptured curves, throwing an exaggerated silhouette against the wall that any woman would have been arrogant of. I pulled away, still drunk with emotion, and gazed at her obvious beauty. She gave me a smile that said all the words and motioned all the gestures. We fell, cocooned in each others arms, onto the bed.
I knew from the start that it was a dream, I just wanted it to last as long as possible. I just thought if I could not share Zillah during my wakeful existence, I may be able to have her take part in my unconscious life. OK, so I was desperate, but since Marty's death I needed her more than ever.
Someone knocked the door. I wrapped a towel round me and lazily made my way to the front door. I wondered if it was the Tee Shirt and he had decided to take the clock after all. It was PC David Tomblin, a local, friendly ‑ Dixon Of Dock Green, bobby. I smiled.
'You look like shit, Tally!' Accurate and true. I stopped smiling, you can't fool a pro.
'Do you want a mug of scotch with some tea in it, constable Tomblin?' I offered sarcastically, hovering over his title. I staggered into the kitchen.
'I'm sorry about Marty, really I am.' He declared, embarrassedly ‑ the words working faster than his mind.
I popped my head round the louvre door. 'He didn't kill himself, Dave.' I didn't realise until then how much he looked like Patrick McGoohan who played the Prisoner. 'Any luck with the car?'
'Nothing so far. It's so remote up there, a plane could land and no one would notice.' He fingered his pocket and pulled out a key. He tossed it to me.
'What's this for?' I asked, examining it.
Dave smiled awkwardly. '...Old Blossom. Mrs Chaffey said you came to pick it up. Marty's estate will be tied up in red tape for months. I guess with your problems at the moment you might need it.' You can never keep anything secret in a village.
'He's leaving everything to the wildlife sanctuary at Slimbridge.' I said. This was one of Marty's fervent wishes. I understood and respected it. 'I think Old Blossom probably belongs to a couple of mating swans!' I added, feeling a little depressed at my honesty. It reminded me of the time I sent a former girlfreind a fluffy swan, intimating our dying love for each other; the swan signifying eternal love ‑ due to the fact that they have only one soul mate for life. She misread this inference and assured herself I was cruelly drawing attention to her abnormally long neck; which, of course, was purely coincidental. She gave me the push.
Dave spoke and broke the spell. 'You use the car, Tally, until the contents of the Will becomes public.'
'Thanks, Dave.' I really meant it. 'Dave?' I hadn't finished. 'I want to see the postmortem on Marty.' Before he could object I turned my trusting blue eyes upon him. Well, I think they're trusting.
Constable Tomblin let air hastily escape from his nostrils. 'I'll see what I can do.'
It was strange going back to the farm. This time there was no smell of new bread or the high pitched whistle of the copper kettle. Mrs Chaffey was staying with her sister. The stone cottage seemed naked without the grey puffs of smoke enveloping upwards from the chimney pot.
I sighed with relief as I noticed that Old Blossom had been pushed out in front of the crumbling, archaic well. It looked like something off the Walton's ‑ with extravagant bumpers, white wall tyres and large rounded spotlights. The vivid pink paint work had faded into a dusky orange glow and the chrome fittings screamed out for metal polish. It wasn't so much distressed as panic stricken. It looked as if it had an attitude problem.
I glanced at the barn and turned away. The image of Marty's livid, canary coloured cheeks and the crimson splashes of blood on his chest, from his half severed tongue, came reeling back, making me feel queasy. I swallowed the bile in my throat and moved towards the car. I opened the door and sat in. I turned the key unsure of what would happen. On the second try the engine fired into life. The heartbeat was steady if not a little excited. With a gentle cry from the engine, I eased the gear lever into first. She back answered, coughed and moved off.
Jessica Russell was an extremely attractive lady. I needn't have worried, her legs were very long and shapely. She held a world of adventure in her eyes and a wealth of experience in her smile. As I watched her walk, stalking the shops, it was like a young gazelle skimmimg across the grassland. It was so easy to wax poetically with a woman like Jessica ‑ just gazing at her swelled my vocabulary by a few hundred words.
I kept my distance and ambled along, occasionally darting a glance at my target. The air seemed claustrophobic and the people angry. I wondered where everyone was going and what they were doing. Jessica disappeared into a dress shop and I strolled past and glimpsed inside. We had immediate eye to eye contact. For a brief second I saw the eyes of a hunted animal. I swore inwardly and carried on. I had only been watching her for two hours and she already knew what I looked like. Depressed at my lack of professionalism I decided to have the afternoon off.
Old Blossom chatted and stuttered as I pulled into the small courtyard in front of my flat. My heart began to thump as I viewed a brand new silver Mercedes parked in my space. The car promptly bought Marty's death reeling back. I pulled myself together, went through the gate, and placed the key in my door. I shouted for Kane, there was no response so I went inside. That was the last thing I remember because someone bought down a heavy object onto my skull. I passed out.
The nurse smiled. I smiled back.
'Good morning. How are you feeling?' Her voice was gentle. I pretended not to hear. She obediently leant forward and I savoured her perfume. 'Are you feeling OK, Mr...?' The nurse tried to read the clipboard upside down.
'Just Tally.' I offered, trying to work out the brand of scent and what day it was. Somehow, I had lost twenty-four hours and gained a bump on my head. 'I feel like Sylvester Stallone's stunt man.' She smiled, more out of politeness. She looked about twentyish. I couldn't work out whether I fancied her or not. I could only see the top half, although that looked quite good, her legs could be huge. I know I'm shallow ‑ but I know what I like and nobody ever drowned in shallow waters – especially people with long legs. I had actually lost my virginity to a nurse. This was not during some depraved medical staff party, it was at Smethwick Infirmary, I was fourteen and there to have my tonsils out ‑ we just hit it off.
'The police are here, do you think you're well enough to speak with them?' I went to nod my approval, decided that was not a good idea and said yes.
Tanner strolled in smiling weakly at the staff.
'Hello, Tally...Did you see who hit you?' I was glad none of my fictional detectives were anything like Tanner ‑ nobody would believe them.
'No.' I said sourly. 'But the car was a new silver Merc...the registration was something 223 or 224 er EA...something, I think.' He didn't write it down. Typical.
'And you believe this car to be connected with the burglary.' Even though it hurt, I laughed.
'Burglary?' I echoed. 'What have I got worth stealing?'
Tanner shuffled nervously, saying, 'I'm afraid they cleaned you out, there is only the bed, settee and a couple of stools left.' His head fell as if he had delivered bad news.
'What about the clock?' I asked dispassionately.
I reached my front door, placed the key in the lock, opened the door and gingerly peeked inside. The flat was empty. I wondered in and switched the electric fire on. The first thing I noticed was the bureau cabinet had been forced open. Nothing was missing, but all the papers had been rifled. Something very strange was happening?
The telephone rang and I answered it.
'Tally? This is James Russell. Just wondering if you have anything to report?' I thought I was supposed to ring him.
'Nothing.' I said, abruptly. I had a splitting headache and I was tired.
'Did you follow Jessica yesterday?' His voice carried the usual awareness.
'Yes, I saw her,' and she saw me I thought, 'but she was just shopping.'
'All day?' He posed, matter‑of‑factly. I felt he knew more than I did.
'Yes.' I lied, listening for a response. There was a brief pause. I waited, I had all the time in the world.
'Good...very good.' The distraction in his voice was deafening. He replaced the receiver.
I had an obscure feeling that he had not rang because he was 'just wondering' if I had anything to report, but had some other questions he wanted answered. I went over the conversation and felt confident I had not answered them.
The door was open and PC David Tomblin walked in. I was feeding Kane, that is why the door was open; security ‑ ready for a fast exit.
'Tally!' He shouted. I jumped. Kane didn't. I backed away and shut the kitchen door. Kane barked angrily. 'Haven't you trained that dog yet?' Inquired the policeman.
'I think he's just overtired. Anyway, he knows whose boss.' I said, eyeing the folder in Dave's hand. 'Is that the coroner's report?' Dave sunk his head and handed to me.
'Short initial report - unofficial. Suicide...I'm sorry Tally. How's the bump on the head?' He uttered, searching my scalp.
'Sore, very sore. What about the car outside?' I was clutching at straws again.
'No luck there either, I'm afraid. It was someone visiting Lane's.'
'Tony Lane, from flat 4?' Dave nodded his head. I knew Tony very well and he certainly did not have any friends with expensive cars; he didn't have any friends ‑ period. I poured him a drink, I hadn't finished with him yet.
'Who did the car belong to?' He looked longingly at the partially full glass and I topped it up with scotch. 'Well?' I prompted.
'A bloke called John Tucker, I spoke to him myself.'
'Where's he work?'
There was a brief pause, he tasted the scotch and answered, 'Stafford Electronics in Birmingham. Why all the questions, Tally? What are you up to?' Dave smiled, not really wanting a response.
I knocked twice on the door of flat 4 and waited. I noticed the spy hole darken, but no‑one answered.
'I know you're there, Tony.' I shouted. Still no reply. I carefully lifted the letter box and saw a flabby belly hanging over a cheap plastic belt on a pair of baggy, corduroy trousers. I shouted again and the belly rippled with fright.
'You've got ten seconds to open this door, Lane, or I'll pull you through this bloody letter box.' The door opened and a fat, balding man in his early forties grinned innocently. His black matted hair was sticking up and he had marmalade on his chin. He reminded me of a termite under a microscope.
'Sorry Tally, can't be too careful.' Tony's voice was incongruous to his appearance; he spoke quite well. I walked into the untidy lounge. 'I hear you had a visitor yesterday,' he continued amusingly, coughing and lighting a cigarette. He offered me the squashed packet ‑ I refused.
'I hear you had one as well?' Tony turned around and switched the kettle on.
'Yes, that's right. Tucker, he's a mate of mine, works in Brum.' I was always suspicious when people like Lane surrendered information without money or a fight.
'Nice car, what's he do?' I tried not to sound like the brave boys in blue.
'Are you working for the police now, Tally?' It hadn't worked.
'No,' I laughed, 'I saw him parking the car and wondered if he'd seen anything?' So I hadn't actually seen him, but when you're fishing there is no rule about what bait you use. 'Isn't he a bit small for a car that size?' I assumed Tony was just a paid alibi.
Tony studied the bait and nibbled. ' I suppose he is a bit.' He said delicately. I decided not to reel him in, he was only a little fish in a large pond. I refused the outstretched mug of tea and bid him good day.
After a brief chat to PC Dave Tomblin I made a mild inquiry to the physical peculiarities of John Tucker. Without the inducement of scotch my friend pondered thoughtfully.
'Are you sure this is all to do with a new novel?' He knew I was lying, but gave me the information; John Tucker was quite tall and slightly over weight. From my injuries I knew he was not the dwarf Tony Lane had led me to believe, albeit with my help. The 64,000$ question still remained ‑ why was all this happening?
I returned to my flat and suddenly remembered Jessica Russell ‑ she could have been living in Marseille with several onion salesman as far as I knew. I would start following her first thing in the morning ‑ after breakfast of course.
I picked up the coroner's report, Dave had given me, and flicked through the long words and magnified patter. I was interested to find that the coroner had found marks around Marty's hands, that could have been a result of tying. He also mentioned a slight contusion to Marty's left cheek. This all confirmed my scepticism surrounding suicide. I knew the silver Merc was a piece in the jigsaw, I just didn't know how big a piece!
The post lay in a wigwam shape on the carpet. I tossed the rejections aside, unusual for me, I normally like to know who thinks my work stinks, and concentrated on a large white envelope. I opened it with my special knife, the toast crumbs scattering the carpet, and read the heading ‑ Stafford Electronics. They must be very keen, I only inquired the day before.
The bumph was the regular garbage about how important the company was and how they were world leaders in their field. My eyes lazily read the covering letter. I glanced at the bottom of the page at the impressive array of names, letters and titles of the money men who ran the corporation. Then my eyes unexpectedly alighted on one particular name and the hairs stood to attention on the back of my neck ‑ it was no other than Mr James Russell.