"Tales From Maple Court" is a 40-chapter short novel. It was written more to challenge myself to write daily rather than to achieve any great literary success. Hopefully, it is a decent little yarn and stands up well enough.
My other work includes:
"Retail Confidential" (2010), a non-fiction paperback based on my management career, offering insight and humour on shops, shoppers and shopping. (Check Amazon for more details)
I have experimented with ebooks - "Belfast Shakedown", a crime caper; "The Life & Poetry of Hamish Sheaney", a spoof of you-know-who; "The Tickling Point", funny poems for all ages. (Check Amazon - enter "Joe Cushnan")
I have a new poetry blog aiming to publish a-poem-a-day http://www.droppedthemoon.blogspot.com/ Let's see how it develops.
Saturday, 23 July 2011
Some months later, Jonathan was enjoying a cup of coffee on the veranda of a holiday apartment he had rented for a summer break. He looked out over the low railing as the Portuguese sun shone proudly from a perfect blue sky. The beach sand was near-white, clean and, he remembered from yesterday’s stroll, gloriously hot underfoot. The sea had a sheen of shimmering turquoise, broken by the rush and foamy spume of gentle waves playfully gliding to the shore. Other apartments and villas scattered on the mountainside seemed even whiter than normal, almost glinting in the brightness of late morning. The landscape was the normal patchwork of green and beige scorched earth, basic but beautiful. It was an unashamedly idyllic location. He leaned forward and squinted out from under his straw hat and admired the colourful flowers across the front of the terrace and on out to the small garden, a satisfyingly perfect green, without any brown blotches. There were several trees, two growing lemons and three with olives. He leaned back, took a sip of coffee and breathed a sigh. The holiday was a treat to himself after signing a publishing agreement for “The Molly Kingston Story”. He had abandoned the plans to turn it into a novel because he thought a proper biography and background history of music halls would be more true to her memory and more interesting to general readers. His publisher was trying to get Roy Hudd, the walking encyclopaedia of music halls and old-time entertainment, to write the foreword. He felt good about it. He felt sad that she would not see the finished book and then began to feel even sadder that no one from her background of family, friends or former colleagues had responded to his newspaper advertisement. But, as the increasing heat of the sun warmed his body, Jonathan shrugged off anything in his head over which he had little or no control. He returned his thoughts to the excitement of having his first book published.
After a time of mental self-congratulations, his thoughts turned to Maple Court, once the epitome of peaceful dullness but transformed during the earlier part of the year into an incident-packed soap opera. Sophie had moved out at last and set up her own place in Molly’s old flat. They were still very close emotionally and Jonathan liked her first shot at independence. It was comforting to know that she was still close physically. Poor Maxine was still recovering from the accident but confined to a wheelchair. The doctors reckoned on months of physiotherapy before she could walk again. She had moved back to live with her parents. Jonathan had visited her in hospital with Sophie but she kept giving him strange looks despite his attentiveness and sympathetic manner. Her last words to him sounded like strange advice: ‘Beware of the dog.” Later, he asked Sophie what that meant but Sophie just sniggered and barked “Woof, woof.” Matt and Cass were still living together across the landing, much more a couple than just flat mates. Sophie heard rumours that they planned to get married soon after graduation. Jonathan liked them and because of his concern for Maxine and his hospitality and support to them in that hour of need, they saw him as a kind of guardian. Angie and Chico separated in some kind of acrimonious split. At Jonathan’s last sighting of Chico, he was convinced that he had a heavyweight’s black eye. He was getting into a taxi and heading off to God knows where but Jonathan reckoned with his charm and good looks, he would find another Angie to sugar him for a while. Perhaps, he would find a job in another wine bar or even open his own, or pursue his acting ambitions. Angie had one last blazing row with Jonathan after he told her that he had no intentions of giving her any money or any property. He loved watching the £ signs drain from her eyes. She shrieked at him, demanding what she called “her fair share”. He told her that if she wanted to fight him in court, he relished the thought of tearing her apart for all her nastiness, deviousness, selfishness and any other “ness” he could think of on the day. Angie had stormed off, threatening him with legal action and vowing to rubbish him during his publicity tour for the book launch. Jonathan was worried a little by that but then again he was always worried by Angie’s behaviour. She was a loose cannon. She was capable of anything. Anyway, he reckoned she would be occupied for a while trying to find a new lover to trap, manipulate and cater to her erogenous zones. He felt sad that the bitterness between the two of them had also involved Sophie. On the dreamer’s side of his brain, he had always hoped for a happy marriage and resultant happy family life. But, he supposed, two-thirds of the trio were happy enough.
“Shit happens,” he said out loud as a seagull swooped past him. Tom was sent to prison for three months for dangerous driving and leaving the scene of the accident. It was a traumatic time for him and Sophie seemed to be very upset about the whole thing. She was there for him in court and whenever else she could visit him. When she talked about the case and the consequences, Jonathan detected quite a bond developing between his daughter and Tom. He wondered if the relationship would develop after Tom’s release. As far as Jonathan was aware, Tom’s wife, Jennifer, did not come to see him at all. It was a strange business. But not half as strange as the revelation that Tom and Dot, of all people, had had a one-night stand, not long after Jennifer had left. Jonathan didn’t know all the details but Sophie told him about seeing Dot with Tom at the police station and Tom, in a free-flowing confessional mood, blurted it all out. Dot had sat in the interrogation room mortified by this tale of her bedroom activities, made a million times worse by Sophie listening, aghast but gloating. Dot fled the police station and had remained aloof from Jonathan thereafter. They remained courteous but cool, a nodded hello, a friendly wave to acknowledge each other, but nothing else. Jonathan was relieved that her amorous ambitions towards him had eased up but he was saddened that their friendship had weakened.
He got ready for the short stroll to a local restaurant for lunch. As he shaved he summarised Maple Court in his mind. Of the apartments now, he lived alone (yes! result!!) in one, Sophie was getting used to living alone in one, Matt and Cass were building their relationship in one, Tom’s was unoccupied but still in his name, awaiting his return, and maybe Jennifer’s too. Angie was spitting feathers in one and Dot continued to live her restless life in one. “How long would things stay as they were?” mused Jonathan, thinking of a chilled white wine and some pate. It was not a bad place to live and, hopefully, it would return to a nice, pleasant blandness. He looked at another seagull, this one sitting on the railing to the left of him. This holiday was doing him the world of good.
“What else can happen, Mr Seagull? I think we’re in for a quiet period back home, don’t you?” Jonathan’s mobile phone rang.
“Mr Montague? Mr Jonathan Montague?” asked a male voice.
“Yes, this is Jonathan Montague. How can I help you?”
“I need to talk to you. I saw your notice in the paper. I’m Andrew, Molly Kingston’s son.”
The police station smelled of Mr Sheen polish, disinfectant, sweat and urine, depending on which way the breeze from the barred but slightly open window wafted. Tom was sitting in an interrogation room. It was furnished with a table and two chairs, sparse and unfriendly. He had not been arrested but was voluntarily helping police with their enquiries. He knew that it was only a matter of time before he would be charged with something, but for now the police were treating him in a softly, softly manner. He had given them a statement. He had been driving to work, he reached down to change a CD track and he hit something. That was it. But, for some inexplicable, cowardly reason, he drove on as the frightening thought that he had hit someone dawned on him. He described it to the police as an impulsive reaction in a moment of shock. When he returned to the scene, he was horrified to see a girl’s body being lifted onto a stretcher, then into an ambulance. It was panic followed by realization followed by a rush of nauseating guilt. He threw up in an alley and decided to go to the hospital. He felt he needed to be there to find out whether the girl was alive or dead. Maxine’s two flat mates confirmed some of his fears. Somehow, he thought at first, it was far worse to injure someone you knew rather than a complete stranger. Later, he thought that through again and concluded that acquaintance or stranger, it did not matter as the end result was a human being in a hospital bed. But thoughts, opinions, pros, cons, rationality, confusion and guilt were clouding his head since he heard the thump against his car. He knew he was in serious trouble but he had always faced his problems head on.
He had been left alone to drink a cup of coffee and eat a chocolate bar. The coffee had been welcome but the Mars bar lay on the table, untroubled and unwanted. The door creaked
“You have a visitor, sir,” said a young policeman. Tom looked up like an expectant puppy.
“Is it Jennifer, my wife?” he asked more in hope than expectation.
“No sir, it’s another lady. Shall I show her in?” Tom nodded and the policeman went to fetch the visitor. When she came in, Tom stood, surprised but grateful that someone had bothered to come and see him.
“What are you doing here?” he asked.
“I was worried about you,” she said, sitting down on a chair opposite him.
“Thank you. I don’t deserve other people’s sympathy at the moment,” he murmured, burying his face in his hands.
“I’m not offering sympathy,” she said. “I just feel it’s wrong to condemn people without knowing all the facts. Anyway, I care about you and I took a chance that your wife doesn’t know about this yet and a visitor might be good for you.”
Tom looked at her and extended his handed. She shook it and held onto it for longer than he expected.
“Are the police charging you with anything?” she asked, letting go of his hand.
“They will, but they told me they wanted to collate my statement and ones from witnesses. They’ve breathalysed me and I’ve given a urine sample. I told them not to bother as I was admitting that I did it. It was an accident but they have to assemble all the information, not least the condition of the girl. Do you know anything?”
“Not really,” I overheard a few things back at Maple Court. I think she’s in intensive care. So, in a way, that’s a good thing in that she’s alive and a bad thing if her condition worsens. Tom stood up and walked to the barred window.
“As a kid, I loved westerns, especially ones where the prisoner’s gang would tie one end of a rope around the jail’s bars and the other end to a horse’s saddle and rip the grill out of the wall. I never thought I’d be inside looking out through prison bars, but then again I never thought I’d have the shortest marriage in the history of creation or the stupidity to knock down another human being. One day, my life was just about as perfect as it could get. The next day, it’s a complete shitty mess.”
“Life s certainly a bitch and bastard,” she said, “it’s not just you. That’s the way it is.” Tom was still staring out of the window. He realized that he was sweating. He remembered that an old aunt had told him once that guilty people tend to sweat because it’s God’s way of squeezing all the remorse out of them. He recalled her sweaty armpits on many occasions and wondered what dirty secrets she had to hide. The breeze was cool on his damp face.
“I’m preparing myself for a prison sentence,” he said after a few moments.
“You don’t know that for sure,” she said. “They’ll know it was an accident. You’re not a bad man. Had you been drinking?” Tom shook his head.
“I was stone cold sober. I just reached down to move Bruce Springsteen on to the next track and………….” He was interrupted by a knock on the door. The young policeman came in.
“You have another visitor, sir. Shall I ask her to wait until you two are finished?”
Tom looked perplexed. One visitor was a welcome surprise but two visitors was much more than he thought he deserved.
“Is it my wife?” The policeman shook his head. Tom looked even more perplexed.
“No sir. She’s called Sophie Montague.” Tom eyes searched the room for any kind of answers to several questions buzzing around in his head. He felt his bottom lip begin to tremble.
“Ask her to come in, please,” he said with an air of uncertainty. In a few minutes, Sophie stood in the doorway and exchanged glances and half-smiles with Tom. She wondered why Dot, the deli devil woman was visiting him too.
Friday, 22 July 2011
“I didn’t know we were having a party,” said Sophie as she walked from her room into the lounge. She saw her mother sitting on the sofa and was about to launch herself into a long tirade but she stopped short when she noticed the others.
“Oh, hi Matt, hi Cass, where’s Maxine?” Jonathan wagged a come hither finger at his daughter. He spoke to her in a clumsy stage whisper.
“There’s been an accident Sophie. Maxine is in hospital. She’s been knocked down. She’s in bad shape, in intensive care.” Sophie’s expression changed from cocky to horrified in seconds.
“Oh, my God. What can we do? Matt, Cass, are you okay? Can I get you something?” She put her hand on Cass’s shoulder.
“No, no we’re okay. Just a bit tired, that’s all, “ said Matt, “and worried about Max. The hospital people advised us to go home. They said they’d call us if anything happened. But I suspect, because we’re not relatives, they won’t. Max’s parents are on their way to be with her. It’s such a shock.” Sophie gave them a sympathetic nod. Then she looked at her mother.
“What’s your involvement in all this?” she barked. Angie shuffled uncomfortably.
“No need to be so abrupt in front of company, dear. I just wanted to return her phone. I found it on the stairs. I knew it was hers when her father rang to speak to her. I just happened to be there when these poor people arrived back home.” Angie tried very hard to look innocent but Sophie detected something about her mother’s body language that didn’t stack up.
“You were banging the door and shouting,” said Matt, “is there something wrong?” Angie squirmed visibly.
“Oh, that’s just the way I am. I thought your doorbell was faulty and I thought if anyone was in they would hear me shouting.”
“And banging the door,” said Sophie softly. Angie stood up.
“Anyway, I’ll leave the phone with you two. I’ve got one or two things to do. Bye. I’ll hear from you tomorrow, Jonathan.” Angie blew a kiss and left. Jonathan winced. Sophie gaped at him. Matt and Cass sat holding hands in a trance.
“There is another thing you should know,” said Matt. “The driver of the car that hit Maxine was Tom from downstairs.”
Sophie let out a yelp. It startled everyone else. She coughed and tried to look untroubled.
“Are you alright, Sophie?” asked Jonathan. “Your face has gone bright red.”
“Ahmm, it’s just the shock of all of this. Maple Court used to be such a boring place but it’s becoming like a soap opera. You just don’t know what’s going to happen next.” Sophie was embarrassed by her reaction but she had it in her head that Tom could have been a romantic prospect, on the rebound from his wife’s leaving, and his Sir Galahad action of catching her when she stumbled was a signal that he just might be interested too - and those bedroom eyes, of course. She shook her head slightly to get back to reality.
“Some soap opera,” whispered Cass, the first words she had spoken since returning from the hospital. Matt squeezed her hand tighter.
“I didn’t mean to trivialise anything,” said Sophie, stroking Cass’s shoulder.
“What’s the news on Tom?” asked Jonathan. Sophie sat up straight.
“We think he’s been arrested or at least is helping the police,” answered Matt.
“Had he been drinking? Drugs? Did he fall asleep?” asked Jonathan. Sophie pinched her lips and gave her father the look of a pissed off headmistress.
“Dad,” she said, “we mustn’t jump to conclusions.”
“These questions have to be asked by someone at some point,” he responded.
“Shouldn’t someone be there?” asked Sophie. Matt and Cass looked at her.
“Yes, you’re right. Someone should be there,” said Matt. “Maybe we could draw up a rota so that one of us is with Max round the clock, even if it’s only to get the coffees for her parents.” Sophie looked confused.
“No, I meant someone should be with Tom.” Everyone in the room looked at Sophie, taking a few seconds to unravel the confusion of what she had just said.
“I mean, it’s a great idea about being there for Maxine too,” continued Sophie. “I just think that until we know more about Tom’s involvement, someone should be there for him. What do you think? I mean we don’t know how to get in touch with his wife, do we?”
“I suppose you’re right, Sophie. It’s wrong to condemn a person before we’ve heard all the facts.” Jonathan smiled at her. Cass jumped up suddenly.
“Well,” she said impatiently, “you can be all neighbourly if you want, but we’re concerned only with Max. Whatever Tom’s story is, we’ll deal with that when the time comes. Come on, Matt. Thanks for looking after us Mr Montague. See you Sophie. Don’t give our regards to Tom.” Sophie looked aghast. She was about to respond when her father sensed it and cut across her.
“Can I give you my phone number, if there are any developments or if there is anything I can do?” he asked. Cass and Matt nodded.
“Write it down on one of those newspaper cuttings, Sophie please,” instructed her father. Sophie went over to the pile and picked a cutting at random. On her way to the table drawer for a pen, she read the headline: “HOW TO MOVE YOUR KIDS OUT OF YOUR HOUSE AND INTO THEIR OWN LIVES”. She gave her father a withering glance. He shrugged his shoulders.
“Here’s the number,” she said, handing Matt the scrap of paper. After Matt and Cass had left the flat, Jonathan beckoned for Sophie to sit with him. They had a lot to discuss. He patted a sofa cushion and tried to project a sincere expression.
“Sorry, Pops,” she said, heading to her room, “I’ve got things to do.” Minutes later she emerged with her coat and bag.
“Where are you going? We need to talk.” Sophie opened the front door.
“You know I love you, but I’m off to the police station.” She puckered her lips, made a kissing smack noise and was gone. Jonathan watched the door close, sat back and raised his arms in a plea for some higher power to give him strength.
“What else can happen?” he asked no one in particular. He pressed the DVD remote control.
“This is Jim Rockford, at the tone leave your name and message, I’ll get back to you. Beeeppp.” James Garner’s voice was as comforting as a teddy bear to a child. Jonathan stretched out on the sofa.
“Well Jim,” he said, after a long, therapeutic yawn, “I think I might be your toughest case yet.”
Thursday, 21 July 2011
“Red wine? We’re white wine and champagne people, Chico.” Where did this come from? Angie was in the lounge and calling to Chico who was in the bathroom.
“I must have made a mistake at the off licence,” he answered. “My head must have been in a whirl knowing you would soon be back from the spa.” He looked at himself in the mirror hoping that his explanation was plausible.
“You’re a silly sod sometimes. Any other woman would reckon you’ve had a fancy piece round here while I’ve been away,” she chortled. Chico realized that he had never seen himself blush before. His neck was moist. He put his hands together in a praying pose and waited for Angie to speak. She was silent. Chico walked into the lounge and saw that Angie was asleep on the sofa. He looked at her and felt a rush of guilrt run through him. She had been good to him, even though she treated him like a puppy sometimes, but she had given him some stability. He brought a light blanket from the bedroom and placed it over her. Then he blew her a kiss, a hypocritical kiss, he thought after his session with Maxine but as sincere as he could make it. He took the red wine bottle and placed in a cupboard under the sink to avoid it prompting any more awkward questions. As he sttod up from the sink, he heard an unfamiliar mobile phone ringing. It was coming from the bedroom.
“Strange noise,” said Angie, rousing from her brief nap, “I’ll get it.” As he rushed from the kitchen Chico knew that Angie would beat him to the bedroom door. She entered and located the phone.
“I don’t recognize this phone, do you?’ she asked. Chico shook his head, aware that beads of sweat were forming above his eyes.
“Hello,” asked Angie.
“Is that Maxine?” asked a voice on the other end.
“No, it’s not. I think you’ve got the wrong number…….or I’ve got the wrong phone.” She looked at Chico with question marks all over her expressions. He shook his head, shrugged his shoulders and tried to take the phone away from Angie.
“I’m her father. John Webb. Who is this?”
“Oh, I’m her neighbour. She must have left the phone here the last time she visited.” Pennies were dropping all around Angie’s suspicious mind.
“Well, when you return the phone, tell her I called and ask her to give me a ring when she’s got a minute, if that’s okay.”
“I will Mr Webb. I will. Bye.” Angie pressed the off button, looked at Chico and threw the phone at him with all the force of an old-time thief hurling a brick at a jewellery shop window. It hit him on the nose.
“How many times?” shouted Angie. “How many times?” Chico emerged from the bedroom with blood oozing from his nostrils. He looked close to tears.
“Just one time, baby,” he blurted, hands held out in a begging pose. Angie waved him away.
“Don’t call me baby, you bloody toerag.” She picked up several magazines and threw them at him. They scattered on the floor.
“When?” Angie squared up to Chico, about a foot from him. He could smell her perfume, one of his favourites. When he failed to answer, she slapped him so hard that he fell over the coffee table, almost flying, before landing against a wall. “When?” she repeated. Chico rearranged himself and sat on the floor.
“Today,” he whimpered, “while you were at the spa. She knocked the door. I had just come out of the shower and one thing lead to another.”
“How many other times? How many other women?”
“I..it..it was just her, the once, only her, only her.” Chico’s head was bowed so low it was as if he’d broken his neck.
“Pah,” sneered Angie. She picked up two oranges from the fruit bowl and threw them in Chico’s direction. One hit him in the chest, the other bounced off the wall.
“I’m sorry,” Chico sniveled, “I’m really sorry.” Angie maintained the sneer as she looked at him.
“Get out of my sight,” she bellowed. “I’m not ready to forgive and forget. But I might need you for something later.” Chico perked up a little and tried to feign a twinkling eye.
“Not that, baby,” smirked Angie, “the bedroom is out of bounds for you until I decide otherwise. No, I might need you to move my plan to the next stage.” Chico dabbed his nose.
“Do you think it’s broken?” he asked like a toddler after a tumble.
“Not until I say so,” said Angie as she glided off to the bedroom.
“What do you want me to do?” asked Chico, standing up unsteadily and checking his shirt for bloodstains.
“Just stay out of my way for a while. When I want you, I’ll whistle.” She came out of the bedroom. “Right now, I’m going to return this phone to the little madam upstairs.” Chico stood in the furthest corner of the room away from Angie and nodded.
A few minutes later, she was banging on the students’ flat door and shouting at the top of her voice.
“Come on out Maxine dear. I’ve got a few things to say to you. Come on, come on, get your arse out here.”
“What the hell is all that noise?” Jonathan’s head was poking out from his front door. “Angie, what on earth is going on?” At that moment, Matt and Cass appeared at the top of the stairs.
“What’s up?” asked Matt. Jonathan detected some distress in Cass’s face.
“Where is she? Where’s this Maxine tart?” growled Angie. Matt and Cass looked at each other.
“She’s not here,” said Cass, “can we help?” Angie squared up to Cass.
“It’s her I want. It’s the little whore I want.” Cass pushed Angie away.
“Are you okay?” asked Jonathan. Cass glanced at him briefly and swallowed hard.
“Get out of my face. I’m in no mood for stupid people,” said Cass sternly to Angie.
“Where is Maxine?” Angie was screaming. Matt stepped forward.
“She’s in intensive care.”
Wednesday, 20 July 2011
It was white.
Everything around seemed to be white or at least bright. There was a brilliant light shining, broken only by blurred shadows and faint noises. It was calm. She was calm. Except for occasional sudden movements around her. It was peaceful.
“Stay with me, Maxine,” came a voice out of the air. “Stay with me. We’re taking good care of you.”
“Cass, Cass, can you come here?” Matt’s voice was a little more high-pitched than usual. Cass came to the front door.
“It’s the police,” he said. “Something’s happened to Max.” Cass gulped.
“Come in,” said Matt to the policeman. “Would you like a cup of tea?”
“No, thank you. I need to get a few things done. We identified a young girl who was involved in a road traffic accident. This address was on a letter in the pocket of her fleece. Maxine Webb. Does she live here?’
“She’s our flatmate,” said Matt. Cass had her hand to her mouth.
“Is she…….?” Cass blurted out a half-question, but everyone knew what the other half was.
“She’s in hospital. I can’t comment on her condition except to say that she was brought in alive. So, just to be official for a minute, you confirm that this is Maxine Webb’s current address?” The policeman fiddled with his notebook and pen.
“Yes,” answered Matt. Cass was sobbing. Matt put his arm around her shoulder and pulled her close.
“I just need a few more details – your full names, how long Maxine has lived here and if you have any information about her next of kin.” While Matt was giving some of the information, Cass went to Maxine’s room and found the address and telephone number of her parents. After the policeman had gone, Matt and Cass got ready to go to the hospital.
“We had a row, Matt,” said a subdued Cass.
“What about?” Matt was tying a scarf around his neck. Cass pointed to her wall. Matt walked over to read it. He smiled at the heart and grimaced at the writing on the other sheet. He turned round to Cass with a look of horror.
“She saw that?” asked Matt. Cass nodded and burst into tears. Matt took her in his arms.
“I probably did her head in with all my stupid, selfish honesty and she must have been distracted when she crossed the road. I’m responsible.”
“Cass,” said Matt sternly, “stop this nonsense. You can’t blame yourself. It sounds like an accident. That’s all. An accident. Let’s go to the hospital.”
They said nothing on the bus. In fact, the first words uttered on the journey were at the hospital reception. They were directed to the Accident & Emergency department where they were told to wait in the public seating area. As they were not relatives of Maxine’s, they were given very little information but they felt compelled to stay, just in case they were needed or if Maxine called their names or whatever happened. They just felt they had to be there.
“Isn’t that Tom from downstairs?” Matt asked Cass, pointing discretely to a man in the corner of the waiting room. His head was bowed but Cass nodded. Matt walked over to him.
“It’s Tom, isn’t it? I’m Matt, from up stairs in Maple Court. Cass is over there. We were at your party.” Tom looked up.
“Oh, yeah, I remember. What are you doing here? Has something happened?” Tom looked at Matt and then back at Cass.
“No, no, we’re fine but our flatmate Maxine has been in an accident and we rushed here in case we could do something or help in some way.” Tom bowed his head again.
“She was knocked down near Maple Court, according to the police and it sounds as if she is in bad shape. Are you okay? Is there anything wrong? Can I get you a coffee?” Tom looked back at Tom, over to Cass and then stood up. Tom could see that he had been crying. His eyes were red. He went to say something but stayed silent for a few moments. Tom noticed that he looked very ill at ease, nervous about something.
“A coffee would be great, thanks.” Said Tom finally. “I’ll give you the money.”
“Don’t worry about that. I’ll get it. Do you want to sit with us?” Matt pointed to Cass. Tom nodded, got up and moved to a chair next to Cass.
“I’ll get the drinks,” said Matt as he rushed off to find a machine. After five minutes, he returned holding three cups between the fingers of both hands.
“Take them quick. They’re burning my fingers.” Cass took two cups and handed one to Tom. Matt noticed a strange look on her face.
“What’s up? Any news about Max?” he asked, taking a sip of coffee.
“Matt, sit down.” Cass outstretched her hand to him. “We’ve something to tell you.” Matt looked at Cass, then to Tom before he sat down.
“Matt, Tom was the driver,” she said quietly. It took Matt several seconds for the message to register. “He was the driver that hit Maxine,” she clarified. Tom squirmed in his seat, spilling his coffee a little on the floor as his hands began to shake. Matt stood up suddenly and started walking back and forward in front of the two of them.
“What? How? Were you speeding? Were your drinking? Do the police know? What the hell is going on?” Cass stood up and touched his shoulder.
“Calm down, “ she said, squeezing his arm.
“It was hit and run,” said Tom, out of the blue. I knew I’d hit something but I didn’t know it was someone until later. I just lost my nerve and just kept driving. I stopped a few miles away, parked the car in a side street and got a taxi back to the accident. I wasn’t sure who the girl was. I knew it was a girl and I heard an ambulance guy say that they were taking her to this hospital. So I got another taxi and came here to sit and wait.” Cass and Matt looked at each other.
“So, the police don’t know it was you,” said Matt. Tom nodded.
“You can tell them, if you want. You won’t be grassing me up. I just needed time to think, time to understand what I’d done. Tell them.”
Matt headed for the hospital reception and reported what had happened.
“Stay with me, Maxine,” came a voice out of the air. “Stay with me. We’re losing her. We’re losing her.”
Tuesday, 19 July 2011
“I’m sorry I’m late Jonathan,” said Angie as she stepped into his flat without a formal invitation, “but the roads are blocked. Someone said they think there was an accident. Probably, some yobs out joy-riding or something. All very inconvenient, I must say. But I’m here now.” Angie sat on the sofa and placed her handbag on the coffee table.
“Would you like a drink?” asked Jonathan.
“A gin and tonic with ice and slice would be just perfect.” Angie seemed to have forgotten how to use words like please and thank you in her new airy-fairy world. Jonathan made the drinks, handed her one and sat down in the armchair opposite her.
“This is nice,” she said.
“The drink?” asked Jonathan.
“Oh, the drink is lovely. You always did make great gins and tonics. I’m never sure whether to say gin and tonics or gins and tonic or gins and tonics. Silly, isn’t it? No, I meant it’s nice, the two of us alone together, enjoying each other’s company.” She sipped her gin and noticed Jonathan looking slyly at her.
“Let’s not go too far down the cosy road, Angie, until we are clear about what’s going on here.” Jonathan sat back in the chair and waited for Angie to speak. They spent a few awkward moments, he sitting still except for short arm movements to siup his drink and she looking everywhere but at her husband.
“Well?” asked Jonathan. “What’s brought all this on?” Angie fidgeted and then sat up straight.
“I just think that life is too short for squabbles,” she declared before taking a large swallow of gin. “We have had too many years together just to squander the good things. I know I haven’t made things easy but………”
“You left us, Angie. You left us and said some horrible things as you disappeared from our lives. You drew a line under your family life, not me, certainly not Sophie, you did.” Jonathan could feel himself getting tense. He breathed in deeply and relaxed back in the chair.
“I know, I know,” said Angie, trying to look as coy as possible. Jonathan could not deny that she was a very attractive woman but he was certain that she was up to something but he couldn’t figure out what it was. He was sure that family life was not really top of her priority list. He knew that she hadn’t the patience to devote time and energy to reconcile herself with Sophie. So, he concluded to himself, she must be after money, property, something tangible to support her aspirational lifestyle.
“Let’s cut to the chase, Angie,” said Jonathan, standing up. “What do you want?”
“Love, Jonathan. I want the love of my husband and daughter back. I want us all to be back together living under the same roof.” She looked at him innocently.
“Bullshit,” snapped Jonathan. “As my grandmother used to say, I didn’t come up the lough in a bubble. I know you want something but it’s not your old life, that’s for sure. You’ve tasted a new existence without the shackles of marriage. You have no intentions of getting back with me, you know the guy you ridiculed and called the most boring dullard since Adam tended his allotment in the Garden of Eden.”
“Oh, well, I thought it was worth a try,” said Angie, putting her glass on the table. “If you want it straight, I want a share of our money.” Jonathan tutted and looked to the ceiling.
“You mean my money.” He shuffled from one foot to the other.
“Jonathan,” she said, standing up, “if we had gone through the divorce courts, I would have ended up with around half of our assets. We can still make this legal of course or you could write me a cheque in full and final settlement for £100,000. Now if you think about that rationally, it’s a very, very good deal. Get it signed and sealed by a solicitor, if you like. In court, I could probably claim three or for times that with all the savings, investments and this flat. You would not hear from me again. Now, do we want all that hassle or can we come to an arrangement?”
“What?” Jonathan started pacing up and down. “£100,000? Are you crazy? Well, I know the answer to that already. I need to think this through. I’ll let you know tomorrow.”
“Okay,” said Angie, picking up her handbag and heading for the door. “Until tomorrow.” Jonathan was abvout to open the front door, when he heard a key in the lock. Sophie came in and came face to face with her mother.
“Been in the wars, dear?” asked Angie, eyeing up a red lump on her daughter’s forehead. “I assume the other person is in casualty, knowing your fiery temper.”
“What’s she doing here?’ Sophie was sneering. Jonathan blushed.
“She’s just leaving. I’ll explain later.” Jonathan ushered Angie out of the flat and closed the door.
“Where did you get that bruise? Are you alright?” Jonathan almost touched the injury with his finger but Sophie ducked under his arm.
“I’ll explain later.” She went to the bathroom. Jonathan fixed himself another gin and tonic and sat back in the armchair. He looked at the rough manuscript of Molly’s book lying on the floor beside him. The call from an interested publishing agent earlier had encouraged him and raised his spirits. But it seemed to be a pattern in his life that as soon as something good happened something else was waiting in the wings to give him a surprise kick in the arse. He looked at Molly’s name on the front of the book and realized that there was an opportunity for Sophie to move out of their flat and into Molly’s old place. They would still be close but living independently. It might just work. He would have to choose his words with care to sell the idea to Sophie properly. But would £100,000 be enough to sever links with Angie forever? If he wrote the cheque, would there be a guarantee that she would not keep returning for more and more handouts? He had little doubt that he would relish getting rid of her from his life once and for all, but he could not make that decision on behalf of Sophie. She would have to come to terms with not seeing her mother – her biological mother, as the crime shows emphasise – ever again. The explanations and discussions over the next few hours between father and daughter would be blunt and bruising.
Monday, 18 July 2011
Cass was in the flat on her own. She knew Matt was at a university lecture and she neither knew nor cared where Maxine was. She had grown to dislike her attitude and presence more and more since the dog business and she was under no illusions that she was either jealous or annoyed by her relationship with Matt. Matt had confided to Cass that Maxine had acted like a bully to him at times and he admitted that he was embarrassed more by his own weakness than frightened of Maxine’s strength of character. Cass looked at Maxine’s wall of dog posters and pictures and felt like ripping them all to shreds. But she turned to her own “LIKES, CONCERNS, SUGGESTIONS” wall and decided to clear off all the old stuff and start afresh. She dumped the old notes in the bin and pinned up two full sized flip chart pages, side by side. On one sheet, she drew a huge heart and wrote inside it: “Cass Loves Matt & Matt Loves Cass”. She stood back to admire her artwork and knew that it would make Matt blush and Maxine blanche but what the hell, it was her wall, her feelings and her business. She divided the other sheet into three sections and wrote a big L in one part, a big C in another and a big S in the third part. Again, she stood back to admire and to think. In the L for Likes section she wrote: “I would like Matt and I to share this flat on our own.” In the C for Concerns section she wrote: “My concern is that Maxine will be stubborn about moving out.” Finally, in the S for Suggestions section she wrote: “I suggest I tell Maxine straight that she is no longer liked or wanted in this flat.” Cass stepped back and re-read the words.
“Mmmmm, a bit harsh maybe but honest. Perhaps it’s a bit too soon to be putting this stuff on display.” She started to remove the pins from the flip chart sheet when Maxine came into the flat.
“Oh, hi. Having a tidy up are we? Not before time, if you ask me but you didn’t so what’s it to do with anybody?” Maxine appeared to be a little bouncier and upbeat than normal. Cass looked at her.
“You’re perky today.” Maxine did a little dance.
“Well, love tends to do that to a girl, as you would know, I’m sure.” Maxine flashed a wide smile.
“Oh, sounds like a gossipy tale in there somewhere,” said Cass, a little perplexed by Maxine’s jauntiness.
“If we were true friends, I might tell you but you’ve been a bit offhand with me lately and I’m not sure if I can trust you to keep a few secrets.”
“Secrets! Not one, mind you, but a few. Wow, sounds intriguing.” Cass turned back to her wall.
“What’s that you’ve written?” Maxine moved closer.
“Oh, nothing very interesting. I’m just freshening things up a bit.” Maxine read the top line, the L for Likes section, over Cass’s shoulder.
“You cow,” spat Maxine, “you bloody, bloody, bloody selfish cow. What else have you written?”
“Max,” Cass started, “I………..” Maxine brushed past and read the rest of the flip chart. She turned to face Cass with the most furious face she could muster, said nothing, and calmly walked to the kitchen.
Cass heard the kettle being filled. “Do you want me to make the tea?” she called to Maxine.
“Get stuffed,” answered Maxine. “I don’t want anything from you.” Cass stood at the kitchen door.
“Max, it’s just the way I am. I have to be honest with people and sometimes I go about it like a bull in a China shop. I should have discussed it with you properly. But I’m just so impulsive when it comes to decisions. I didn’t mean you to see it. I was about to take it down when you came in. I’m sorry.”
“It doesn’t change anything,” said Maxine, “because I know where you stand with me and where I stand with you. Matt will take your side for obvious reasons, so it puts me in a difficult position. I realized some time ago that it was becoming more and more fraught between us and that it was only a matter of time before things came to a head. But to see it written on a wall, well that takes the biscuit.”
“I’m sorry,” said Cass. Maxine looked at her with disdain.
“Stop saying that, okay? You can keep saying sorry forever but it means nothing unless I accept it as a proper apology and, do you know Cass, I can’t at the moment. I can’t trust you, so please leave me alone.”
“I’m sorry. I really am,” whispered Cass as she left the kitchen. Maxine walked to the window and looked out across the roofs of a lot of not very interesting buildings. She caught the faint reflection of her face in the glass and saw that she looked glum. She reset her mind to the wonderful few hours she had with Chico and smiled. She had moved on. She was determined that Chico was not going to be a permanent lover, more a bit of fun to re-energise her life. She had a few bits of unfinished business to attend to. She had to find Billy Bob. She had to find a way of punishing Matt for betraying her. She wanted to make life hell for Cass and she had not forgotten her resolve to seek revenge on Sophie’s father for his blatant cruelty to her beloved dog. She liked being busy and she also liked the thought of an occasional bedroom romp with Chico as a reward for a job or jobs well done.
As she was about to turn from the window, out of the corner of her eye, she caught sight out of a familiar dog. She couldn’t be sure at that distance but it looked a lot like Billy Bob. Excitedly, she grabbed a fleece, rushed from the flat and ran as fast as she could to the street corner where he had been relieving himself on a lamppost. She was oblivious to the BMW until it hit her with enough force to throw her six feet in the air.
Sunday, 17 July 2011
Sophie bounded down the stairs and almost knocked Tom over as he was entering his flat. He caught her in his arms as she stumbled.
“Hey, where’s the stampede?”
“Oh, I’m really sorry. I’m in a rush to get something done and, you know us girls, once we get a bee in our bonnet, we just have to get it over with.” Sophie was breathless. She realized she was being held by Tom and slowly untangled herself from his arms. As she did so, they locked eyes for a few seconds and smiled simultaneously.
“I’m really sorry,” she said walking away.
“You’ll have to buy me a drink sometime to prove you mean it.” He winked at her.
“Oh, yeah, right, deal.” Sophie disappeared round the corner. Tom assembled a few thoughts in his head and allowed a satisfying “mmmmm” to ease from his lips.
Sophie ran out into the street and turned towards the deli. It was busy with all elderly people. She spent a few minutes watching Dot run backwards and forwards along the counter, serving customers. She was surprised at how much she detested this woman but now was not the right time to get analytical. She reckoned that as she seemed to be rushed off her feet, Dot was vulnerable to maximum embarrassment. She barged in, sending the glass door swinging back fully on its hinges. It bounced against a rubber doorstop with a boing noise. The people in the shop fell silent as they stared at Sophie. It was like Calamity Jane had barged into a saloon with both guns drawn and the poker table noise and tinkling piano player just stopped in unison.
“Do you people know what kind of a bitch is running this dump?” screamed Sophie.
Nobody moved for at least a minute. Calamity Sophie had made quite a stunning entrance. Whip-crack-away!
“Somebody call the police,” shouted Dot. All the customers looked at her quizzically.
“Somebody call the police,” she repeated, this time more emphatically. The customers looked at each other as the penny dropped in Dot’s head. Of all the delis in all the towns in all the world, nobody in this one had a mobile phone. The tandem thoughts about the odds against that happening and the sight of a mad girl, hands on hips and pinch-lipped in the middle of her shop made Dot flicker her eyes and screw up her face in puzzlement. Sophie moved towards the counter.
“She’s a manipulative, conniving, devious old crone who thinks she can get her claws into my father. She once accused me of stealing. She’s nuts. She stands there, Mrs Businesswoman, all smiley, smiley, please and thank you but deep down she is a man-grabber, a slapper and a……………”
“Allllrrrriiiigggghhhtttt! That’s enough.’ Dot was furious as she walked round to the customer side of the counter. Sophie noticed that she was carrying a full size salami sausage. “Get out of my shop, right now.” The customers began to sidle towards the door. Sophie stood still trying to work out if the salami was just to give Dot confidence or if she intended to use it as a truncheon. She even had time for a fleeting deli joke to pass through her mind – truncheon meat. But this was no time to laugh. This was crunch time. This was her moment to force this woman to understand that she was not and was never going to be any part of her family. The customers were mumbling amongst themselves, trying to make sense of events, looking to Dot for some sign, some indication of leadership in this traumatic situation. They were inching to the door.
“Not you lot. Her!” Dot screamed, pointing the salami weapon in Sophie’s direction. The customers stopped moving.
“Now what’s your game, you little shit?” An old lady gasped at the expletive. She was comforted by another customer.
“Now look here,” said the comforting customer. Dot waved her hand at him.
“Shut up.” She glared. “I’m sorry. Shut up, please, sir.” Dot tried to smile at him sincerely whilst maintaining a serious expression for Sophie’s benefit. It ended up like an angry smirk and just made her look ridiculous. The man tutted and looked away. “All I wanted was a piece of cheddar,” he grumbled.
“Just stay away from my father and get rid of any notion that he would ever think of marrying a witch like you. Just stay away or I’ll stick that sausage where nothing has been for a long time.” Two of the male customers sniggered like schoolboys and one of the women shook her head in disbelief at the very thought of an inserted salami. She worked her face into a sneer, sniffed the air and turned her head in a melodramatic movement.
Sophie turned to go but not before Dot launched herself and hit her on the head with the salami. Dazed, Sophie rubbed her head, stuck a finger up at Dot and left the shop. Dot stood for a moment, salami in hand, sweating and breathing heavily. She sniffed a noisy snort, shrugged her shoulders to calm herself, threw the salami in the bin and went back behind the counter.
The cheddar cheese grumbler was the first to speak. “Is that salami free for the taking?”
“What?” asked Dot, irritated and shaking.
“Salami? Free of charge? Damaged goods?”
“Oh take it and get out of my shop the lot of you. I’m closing early. Come on, come on, out, out, out.” Dot herded the customers out, closed the door, locked it and turned the sign to “Closed”. She went to the little office, poured herself a generous slug of bourbon and knocked it back in one gulp. She poured another one, sat in the chair, put her feet up on the desk and stared at a small cobweb in the corner of the ceiling.
“Oh, Incy Wincey Spider, what lives we both have. We think we’re doing decent, hard work, you with your silky patterns and me with my little deli. It should be so simple but oh what a tangled web, eh, oh what a tangled web.” she said out loud.
Saturday, 16 July 2011
“She did what?” Sophie was pacing up and down the lounge.
“She asked me to marry her.” Jonathan was sitting on a kitchen chair, legs together, hands on knees, looking for all the world like a child being chastised by a bullying nanny.
“What the fuck does she think she is doing?’ Jonathan recoiled in horror at the first time she had heard his daughter use the F-word.
“Watch your language, Sophie,” Jonathan still looked like a kid that had stolen the apples from the orchard. “She’s entitled to ask whatever she wants. It’s the answer that counts.” Sophie stood in front of her father, hands on hips, thrust forward and looking as stern as a female Conservative Prime Minister on the edge.
“Sod my language. That desperate, dried up old woman is trying to get her claws into you in an attempt to get rid of me.” Jonathan could have sworn that he saw actual steam coming out of his daughter’s ears.
“You’re being too hard on her. She’s really quite nice. I know you’re still upset about her allegations against you, but that was all so long ago and at some point you have to let go of that.” Sophie turned away and stomped across the room with all the elephant noise of a six year old. She rested her forehead against a wall.
“Sophie,” Jonathan said in a quiet whisper, his bid to diffuse the fiery atmosphere, “please listen to me.” Sophie relaxed her shoulders and stepped back from the wall.
“Go on,” she said, “and it had better be good.” Jonathan stood up. He walked over to Sophie and put his hands on her shoulders. She turned round and looked at him like a trapped animal.
“She asked me, completely out of the blue I might add, to marry her. I told her that……I told her that I….I…..I told her that I would…think….about….it.” Jonathan coughed from somewhere in the driest throat of his life. Sophie jolted back.
“Jesus Christ, are you completely insane? You mean to tell me that you hesitated, that you didn’t tell her there and then to sling her hook. It can only mean that you’ve got, oh God it makes me want to vomit just saying the words, that you’ve got feelings for the bitch.” Sophie threw herself onto the sofa. Jonathan detected slight sobs. He moved towards her.
“Oh Dad, just stay away from me. Just stay away. She brushed past her father and went to her bedroom, banging the door with as much force as she could muster. Jonathan moved a step in pursuit and then withdrew, knowing that whatever he did for the next few hours would only worsen the situation. Maybe Sophie was right, maybe he should have been more decisive with Dot. Maybe he did have feelings for her. Maybe Sophie had hit the nail on the head. What the fuck did he think he was doing? He knew he had no desire to form a relationship beyond friendship with Dot, let alone marry her. Why hadn’t he just said no there and then? Okay, her feelings would have been hurt and things would have been a bit frosty between them for a while but he reckoned the cold shoulder treatment would have passed given time. She was a forgiving soul and she would conclude that her romantic target was a bit of a wimp anyway.
He poured himself a whiskey and pulled out his file on Molly Kingston. It had been a while since he had looked at the material. He missed her a lot and particularly their meetings. He understood at times that Molly found the whole process of recalling details a little intrusive. Sometimes he had probed a little too much into the more private and emotional moments but that was all academic now that Molly was dead. Jonathan had to decide whether or not to shelve the project or proceed. He needed a change of direction and a biographer or novelist seemed to be something worth pursuing. He needed a reasonably steady income to supplement his pension from his old job but he wanted to respect this lovely lady by doing the best job he could at recording her life.
The phone rang just as Sophie ran out of her room, across the lounge and out the front door without saying a word.
“Er, hello?” Jonathan.
“Jonathan, it’s Angie. I’m in the car. Don’t worry, I’m hands free.” Jonathan was staring at the front door wondering why his daughter seemed to be on a mission to somewhere.
“I know this is unusual but I’ve just had a wonderful spa day which gave me lots of down time to think and I need to talk to you.” Jonathan blinked twice.
“What about, Angie?”
“Well, I’d rather talk in person. You know, over a glass of wine, sort of like a modern peace pipe.” As ever with Angie, Jonathan was as suspicious of her as Sherlock Holmes would have been standing looking at a dead body and the man standing next to it holding a smoking gun.
Jonathan sighed. “Angie, you’ve got form, I mean we’ve got form when it comes to chats. We stopped having them a long time ago because we couldn’t think of anything significant to say to each other. What’s this about?” Jonathan heard Angie cough to clear her throat.
“Jonathan, I think we should try again, repair the damage to our relationship, renew our vows, do whatever it takes to sort ourselves out. What do you think?”
“I don’t know what to say. What’s brought this on all of a sudden?”
“Dear, dear Jonny,” breathed Angie, “ true love will always be true love. Lying in the mud bath, I realized what was important to me and I just want us to talk it through to see if there is any way we can, you know, start again.”
“What about Chico?”
“A plaything, a sweet, wonderful plaything. But we grow out of our toys, don’t we?”
Jonathan shook his head to ensure he was taking all of these words in. He didn’t say anything for a few moments.
“Are you still there, Jonathan?
“Yes, I’m here. You’d better come over then.” He put the phone down, aware that his head was spinning about Dot’s proposal, Sophie’s temper and the same question that seemed to buzz around in his head like an agitated wasp in a jam jar. What the fuck?