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Saturday 19 April 2014

Prismatic Reflection

    Inside his cottage, Number 6 is still lying in bed. He checks the time by his wrist watch, then throwing back the sheets, he climbs out of bed dons his dressing gown with the prospect of facing yet another day in the Village. But there’s no electricity laid on, no water coming out of the shower. What’s more the black speaker is eerily silent!
   Opening the door of his cottage Number 6 steps outside. The Village is as silent as the grave, with only the breeze to disturb both the trees and bushes. The central piazza is deserted, as it the cobbled square. The only sounds are the wind, and the birds in the sky. And his only companion the black Village cat that stares at him with cold green eyes. Number 6 goes back into his cottage, and picking up the receiver of the telephone he presses the cradle, nothing, the telephone is dead!
   After dressing Number 6 goes back out and begins his exploration of the deserted Village. The café is locked, on the patio there are still cups and saucers on the tables. The Old People’s Home is locked and deserted. Outside there are over-turned tables and canopies. Crossing the lawn Number 6 stands at the balustrade looking down at the Stoneboat. There is no-one aboard her. But her black sail is raised, and bunting flaps in the breeze. The only sound is the squawking of the sea gulls.
   Having made his way up the hill back into the Village, Number 6 climbs the Bell Tower and tolls the bell by the use of a rope in an attempt to attract someone’s attention. But there is no-one, the Village is deserted but for the Prisoner! From the top of the Bell Tower Number 6 sees the Green Dome, he decides to make his way there..
   Descending the Bell Tower Number 6 makes his way to the cobbled square. Just round from the General Store there is a taxi parked in the street, the key is in the ignition, which he turns, and starts the engine. Switching off, he pockets the ignition key and makes his way up the steps to the Green Dome. Standing in the large portico the door does not open automatically for him. He tugs on the wrought iron bell pull, the door remained closed against him. So Number 6 pushes on the door to open it. Passing through the foyer he approaches the pair of closed steel doors, they remain closed. He prises the doors open with his bare hands and pushes them open. In the office the black spherical chair is turned away from him. Entering the office he turns the chair to find only an umbrella shooting stick.
   Leaving Number 2’s residence, Number 6 takes to the road in the taxi. He drives out of the Village and long a deserted track into the countryside. But the track peters out. Coming to a stop there is no longer a track to follow, only the tall impassable mountains lay ahead.
  Later in the woods he uses an axe to fell a number of small trees. These he attaches to the back of the taxi, and drags them through the Village down to the slipway. Then having found a store of oil drums, Number 6 proceeds to empty a number of these into a drain. The empty oil drums will act as floats for the sea-going raft, which he spends the next couple of days constructing.
    With his raft built and on the water, he sets about provisioning his craft, with tins of Village Food generously supplied by the General Store, and a barrel of fresh water. Also taking a camera from a display in the store, he sets about taking photographic evidence of the Village.
   When ready, Number 6 prepares to cast off his raft from the shore. At that very instant he hears the breaking of crockery. Have “they” been toying with him all this time? In allowing him the time to built his craft, in giving him hope of escape, only to dash it away at the last moment. Could even “they” be so cruel? Slowly Number 6 turns round to face the expected. But what he had not expected to see was the black cat sat on the table. Surely the cat could not have smashed that cup and saucer? There was no time to waste, Number 6 had been given a second chance. Filled with renewed hope he casts off his raft and quickly puts to sea on his epic voyage of discovery.
    There are two things for certain. Number 6 doesn’t know where he is sailing to, because he doesn’t know where he is sailing from!
    Far out at sea Number 6 removes the roll of film from the camera and wraps it in a cellophane bag to keep is free from water. He makes himself a compass, employing a number of items. A jam jar half filled with water, a large flat piece of cork upon which are the four points of the compass, a needle which he magnetises using a magnet in the speaker ripped out of the black speaker taken from the General Store, and two pieces of wood with degrees marked on them. This homemade compass it then suspended from a frame. As for a log, he keeps the most rudimentary log on the back of a copy of The Tally Ho.
  At first Number 6 keeps up his toilet by shaving and washing. But all alone at sea, being cold, wet, and tired these acts of human dignity soon fall by the wayside. As for food, he is surviving on cold baked beans and corned beef, along with cold water to drink and tinned pineapple. He sleeps four hours out of each twenty-four, and spends a total of twenty-five days at sea, which in itself is remarkable. And yet finally the Prisoner’s stamina gives out, and he collapses unconscious aboard his raft.
   Whether by accident or design, as it is never confirmed only supposed, that the two men aboard the unnamed motor cruiser were gun runners {maybe  agents working for the Village} yet there they were, on the spot so to speak. The Prisoner having collapsed from exhaustion, suddenly this boat with two men appear, somewhat fortunate I would say. I should think they had been shadowing the Prisoner aboard his raft all the time, just for safety’s sake. After all they were taking a terrible risk with their prize prisoner!
    But then with one of the boat’s crewman aboard the raft, he tips the body of the Prisoner into the water. Then takes aboard the supplies from the raft. Then just as one of the crewmen revs the motor cruisers twin engines, the Prisoner, still floating the water, takes his chance to get aboard the boat and into one of the cabins, while the motor cruiser gets underway once more.
   In the cabin the Prisoner finds a crate. From a tool box he takes a jemmy from a tool box and opens the crate, to find it full of weapons……the two men must be gun runners! He leaves the cabin and crosses the gangway to the Galley. Placing some old cloths in a frying pan, he drenches it in wine, or some other flammable drink, and sets light to it with a match. Then smothering the flames, the galley fills with smoke, which drifts along the gangway up into the wheel house, where Ernst and Gunter were eating out of cans of Village food.
   With the smell of smoke, Gunter is sent below to see what the trouble is. He is then attacked by the Prisoner who emerges from a cabin and goes into the galley. Rendering Gunter unconscious, the Prisoner drags the crewman into one of the cabins and ties him up with rope which he finds in a cupboard. Meanwhile in the wheel house Ernst shouts down to Gunter. But upon receiving no reply he sets the automatic steering gear and goes below to find the smouldering rags in the frying pan, which he throws out through an open porthole. Ernst is also attacked by the Prisoner, rendered unconscious and tied up with rope in the same cabin as Gunter, securing the cabin door with a length of chain which he finds in the tool box in a cupboard. Then the Prisoner takes command of the vessel, switching off the self-steering, and taking the helm he sets course for a distant light.
   In the cabin, the two crewmen have regained consciousness, and manage to untie themselves. They break out of their cabin, through a partition into the other cabin, and then along the gangway, out onto the stern of the vessel, then along both sides of the boat towards the wheelhouse.
   Suddenly the Prisoner is attacked with the crewman coming at him from both sides. There is a vicious fight, Gunter goes for a pistol in a drawer. He goes out of the wheelhouse, the Prisoner sees him, and jumps overboard, and is shot at as he swims away from the motor cruiser.
   The Prisoner wakes up lying on a beach at Beachy Head. There’s the white chalk cliffs and the lighthouse. Thankfully for the Prisoner there has recently been some cliff erosion which allows him the scale his way up the cliffs to the top. Making his way inland he meets with a man walking his whippet. The man looks at the raggedy man with suspicion and walks on. The Prisoner follows the man to a gypsy camp site. There are two men and one young woman. The woman treats the Prisoner to the first genuine act of kindness since his abduction to the Village, as she gives him a mug of hot tea or broth. He asks her where is there a road. She answers him in Romany and points the way, sending him on his way again.
   Further into the countryside he encounters a police road block, a British police road block. The irony being that they are looking for an escaped prisoner! A large Luton van is about to pass through the road block. From his place of concealment behind a hedgerow the Prisoner sees this, and makes his way passed the road block keeping the hedge between him and the police. Once clear, he sees the van coming along the road, and runs after the van, it has a half open back. The Prisoner runs and reaching out grabs hold of the raised tailboard and pulls up self up into the back of the van, and settles himself down to sleep.
    A siren wakes the Prisoner from his sleep, and in panic he hurls himself out of the back of the Luton van, to find himself sprawled out in the middle of a road, that of Park Lane in London to be precise. This is very fortunate for the Prisoner, as to have hurled himself our of the back of the van like that and into the road, could very well have ended in his death by being run over by a vehicle in the London traffic. And what a way to die, especially when you think what the Prisoner has put himself through to get back home to London. And writing of home…….
   The Prisoner makes his way across London on foot to his home in Buckingham Place. He walks passed his house to the corner of the street and looks about him, as though sussing out the lay of the land. Then he calmly walks back to his house, and mounts the step to the front door, upon which he knocks. I cannot imagine who he thinks will be there to answer his knocks. But there is someone, for the front door opens.
    “Yes” asks the housemaid looking down her nose at the raggedy man stood on the door step.
    “Who owns this house?” the Prisoner asks.
    “I beg your pardon?” barks the housemaid in reply
    “I’m sorry, what I meant was, I’d like to see your master.”
    “My mistress is not at home!” the housemaid replied
    “Do you mind if I wait?”
    But the housemaid closes the door in his face. So left standing on the doorstep the Prisoner walks down the steps and back into the street. But he doesn’t have long to wait before his attention is caught by a very familiar sound, the sound of an engine. He turns to see a green Lotus Seven with a yellow nose come along the street towards him, the license plate reads KAR 120C.
   It is a woman who the Prisoner watches climb out of his car, cross the pavement and enters his house. Before the woman can close the front door he is up the steps and accosts the woman.
    “What’s the number of that car?” he asks her.
    The woman looks the raggedy man up and down “Terribly interesting” she says.
   “K a r a hundred and twenty c” he tells her and asks “What’s the engine number?”
    “Do tell me” mocks the woman.
    “Four, six, one, o, there, four t z.”
    “Marvellous” says the woman still mocking him.
    The Prisoner knows every nut, bolt, and cog, he built it with his own hands. Well cars like the Lotus Seven come cheaper as a kit car. And he would have to know every nut, bolt, and cog for the car’s road license. So he’s just the man Mrs. Butterworth’s looking for. Apparently she’s been having a great deal of trouble with the car overheating in traffic, perhaps he could advise her. And so Mrs. Butterworth invites the raggedy man into what had been his house. It must have been strange for him.
    The Prisoner is led into the hallway, then into the study. For all he knew, at that point he could so easily be entering the study of his cottage back in the Village.
   “Make yourself at home” offers Mrs. Butterworth “I’ll organise some tea, you would like tea?”
    “Very much” he tells her.
    “I’m Mrs. Butterworth, and you are?”
    “An exile.”
    “A nameless exile?”
    “Smith, Peter Smith.”
    “Enchanting. Be comfortable and I’ll be back in a moment and then you can enlighten me on the intricacies of k a r a hundred and twenty c.”
   Mrs. Butterworth leaves the study closing the door behind her, leaving the Prisoner alone. He can see little has changed, apart from a few different knick-knacks, and ornaments and pictures. He begins to check the bureau, the view outside, and lifting the telephone receiver he listens to the dialling tone, all for the purposes of reassurance of his surroundings.
   Mrs. Butterworth re-enters the room announcing that refreshments are on their way, now he can tell her more, this man of mystery.
    He asks her the date, it’s March the eighteenth, tomorrow is his birthday. She sees him as a very odd fellow. He thinks she must think him to be crazy, but it’s the nineteen sixties who isn’t? The Prisoner tells Mrs. Butterworth that the house used to be his, in better days, and before he went away. Mrs Butterworth suggests that he must miss it. The lease had six months to run he informs her. It’s been renewed, Mrs. Butterworth has it for ten years fully furnished. And what’s more the inventory is in order.
   “The only thing missing is a body!” the Prisoner says mockingly.
   “Don’t tell me you’ve been delving into my private affairs!”
   The Prisoner feels sorry for what he said, and for which he apologises. Then asks her to do him a very great favour. Mrs. Butterworth asks him if he’s growing a beard. No he tells her, which is a pity as Mrs. Butterworth has always had a soft spot for bearded men. But she could never get her late husband Arthur, Navy, now unhappily deceased, to grow one.
   The housemaid Martha then enters the study carrying a laden tea tray which she places on the coffee table.
   “Is this the gentleman you said called earlier?” Mrs. Butterworth asks.
   Martha gives the man a disdainful look “It is, madam.”
   Apparently Martha’s description of Mister Smith was hardly flattering. Martha must learn to delve beneath the surface! Mrs. Butterworth takes her seat on the couch, dismissing her housemaid, and asks the man to sit down, which he does, beside her. She offers him a plate of dainty sandwiches, with the crusts cut off. So small are the dainty sandwiches that the Prisoner eats them all, and all the fruit cake as well. After all it was the best fruitcake he had ever tasted! Apparently Mrs Butterworth is a very good cook!
    Rising to his feet the Prisoner says he asked if she would do him a very great favour. Behind the desk was an area of dry rot which was made good about twelve months ago. The bathroom door is sliding, it opens to the left. The bathroom sink is on the right as you go in. The hot and cold taps of the shower were put on the wrong way round. Mrs Butterworth smiles, and laughs, she had them changed. And the Prisoner isn’t to be silly, he doesn’t have to prove anything, she believes him.
    He then asks to see the lease of the house and the logbook of the car. Mrs. Butterworth ferrets in the bureau, finally producing the logbook for the Lotus Seven, which the Prisoner examines.
   “This is a new one, you’re the first name on it. There’s no record of the previous owner.”
   Mrs. Butterworth is still ferreting about in the bureau “The estate agent arranged it all. They said the car was for sale, it was reasonable, and I’ve always had a taste for a little speed” smiling she hands him the lease of the house.
    “The estate agents were Stumbell and Croydon.”
    “Most reputable and a very charming man dealt with me, Mr. Croydon himself. Did you ever meet him?”
    They were not the firm the Prisoner did business with. Which is very odd. Mrs. Butterworth has been extremely kind in allowing him to intrude in this way. But now he has two calls to make, one in town and one in the country. So she’ll understand if she’ll excuse him, and he’ll say goodbye.
   “Mister Smith you mustn’t go….”
   “But I have to.”
   Mrs. Butterworth is most anxious about him.
   “You mustn’t go like that. Some of dear Arthur’s things, you’re very welcome. I’ve kept them all you see. I suppose it’s stupid, even though there’s isn’t a man about the place, I like to feel that there is. Do you understand what I mean?”
   Yes he does, and is just as keen to go, while Mrs. Butterworth is equally keen to see that he doesn’t leave like that. She makes the Prisoner wash and have a shave, she also goes as far as to lend him both a suit of her late husbands clothes, and the Lotus. This on the condition that he stops that nasty overheating. The Prisoner makes the deal, as Mrs. Butterworth has been so kind. But there is no need for speeches, off he goes now, on the condition he comes back, which the Prisoner promises to do. Mrs. Butterworth might even bake him a birthday cake, to which the Prisoner will hold her.
    The Prisoner is once again behind the wheel of his Lotus, and looks to be at ease with himself. His first call takes him to an office he knows very well in indeed, it’s where he handed in his letter of resignation!
   “Anyone at home?” the Prisoner says leaning over the desk.
   We are not privy to whom the Prisoner might have seen there, apart from the bald-headed, bespectacled man sat behind that desk. But the Prisoner did say he had two calls to make, the second was in the country, at the Colonel’s country house.
    The Colonel is at home with his assistant Thorpe, two of the Prisoner’s ex-colleagues. The Colonel is looking through the set of photographs of the Village, a charming spot, a mixture of architecture, Italianate. It certainly has a Mediterranean flavour.
   “What do you think Thorpe?”
    “I wouldn’t mind a fortnights leave there. Prison life eh, a far cry from Sing Sing!”
    The Prisoner is sorry to interrupt an afternoon’s golf, but this is no joking matter.
   “My dear fellow, you really mustn’t blame Thorpe. After all you yourself on occasion could be a little sceptical. That’s why you were such a good man, why we were sorry to lose you” the Colonel told him.
    The evidence is there. A set of photographs taken at ground level of a holiday resort, and a schoolboy navigational log on the back of what the Prisoner calls the Village newspaper. The Prisoner is sorry, but it was the best he could do under the circumstances. You’d hardly expect the Village Store to issue sextants!
   “Indeed, indeed, if the place was as you said it was” says the Colonel “The Tally Ho” he reads.
   It’s a daily issue.
   “Morning or evening?”
   Daily at noon.
   “What are facts behind Town Hall” reads the Colonel “Town Hall?”
   That’s right.
   “Town Council?” Thorpe asks.
   “Were you a member?”
   I could have been, it’s democratically elected once a year.
   That’s what they claim
   “And they’re all numbers, no names, no names at all?”
    Just numbers.
    “I see” said the Colonel.
    Numbers in a village which is a complete unit of our own society. A place to put people who can’t be left around, people who know too much, or too little. A place with many means of breaking a man! They have their own cinema, their own newspaper, their television station, a credit card system. And if you’re a good boy and cough up the secrets, you are gracefully retired into the Old People’s Home!
   “But no escape?”
   They also have  a very impressive graveyard.
    “Which you avoided!”
    The Village was deserted!
    “Perhaps they were on the annual democratic outing!” Thorpe quips sarcastically.
    This remark sends the Prisoner into a whirl as he takes the photographs and names each one to the Colonel. But there’s a problem you see, the Prisoner resigns, he disappears. He then reappears, and spins a tale that even Hans Christian Anderson would reject for a fairytale. And they have to be sure. People defect, they defect from one side to the other. The Prisoner too has a problem, he doesn’t know which side runs this Village, and that seems to be a mutual problem, which the Prisoner is going to solve. If not here, then elsewhere!
    However the Colonel decides to have every detail in his ex-colleagues report checked. Mrs. Butterworth receives a visit from the police, or Special Branch. A uniformed office checks out the gypsy campsite, and the beach. The one aspect of the Prisoner’s story that cannot be checked is the gun runners, seeing as there was no name on the boat. But in any case let’s just say that the dice are heavily loaded in the Prisoner’s favour.
    And so it is that with the aid of a Naval Commander and an RAF Group Captain, they set about calculating a search area for the Village, using maps and charts. On the basis of the Prisoner’s log and allowing for the variance of the Prisoner’s primitive compass, and the laggard speed of his craft, it is estimated that his speed would have been some three and a half knots. Always assuming he had fair winds, which he did mostly. There can be no allowance for tides, seeing as the Prisoner had no means of gauging them.
   The Prisoner slept for 4 out of each twenty-four which is remarkable. So in twenty-five days at sea the Prisoner proceeded at an average speed of three and a half knots on a north-easterly course would put us……………..four hours sleep, twenty hours under sail, maximum travel on a true course……one thousand seven hundred and fifty miles would be the Prisoner’s maximum range of travel, minimum would be five hundred miles.
   “Where was the lighthouse?” asks the Prisoner.
   Thorpe points to the position on the south coast of England on a large map of the world.
    Two hundred miles to the square inch, and allowing five hundred miles to allow for drift and tide, leaves a search area of some one thousand seven hundred and fifty square miles, and this search area is marked on the world map. The coast of Morocco, southwest of Portugal and Spain, might be an island!
    A Gloster Meteor jet aircraft is acquired from the RAF, the Group Captain is to pilot the aircraft, and the Prisoner to act as navigator as they set about making a search for the Village. Refuelling has been arranged at RAF Gibraltar. They have five hundred by one thousand five hundred to sweep, seven thousand seven hundred and fifty square miles, quite an area to search. Good, and so they’ll sweep as far as they can today, and then again tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow. Number 6 really is a stubborn fellow! But if James calls him that once again he’ll be in for a bout in hospital!
   The Prisoner leaves the kitting-out room with the Colonel, and sets off for the aircraft. The Group Captain won’t be a minute. There’s the milkman, what’s he doing going into the kitting-out room? He has no business in there surely!
    The Prisoner climbs into the navigator’s seat in the aircraft as the pilot walks toward the aircraft watched by the Colonel and Thorpe.
    The aircraft taxies towards the end of the runway, and prepares to take off. Then the Prisoner is on his way, in search of the Village.
   And so the search begins “Turn, sweep back fifteen degrees south west.”
   “Sweep nine degrees south west.”
    Below there is nothing but empty sea and coastline. Then…….the Prisoner spots something familiar to him.
    “That could be it, go closer.”
    Below is the estuary, the woods and the Village itself.
    “There it is, we’ve found it, that’s it!” exclaims the Prisoner.
    Suddenly the pilot raises the tinted visor of his helmet, as the Prisoner lowers his against the rays of the sun. But it’s not the Group Captain who is piloting the aircraft, it’s the milkman! He puts a hand on a yellow and black striped handle. He looks over his shoulder at his navigator.
   “Be seeing you” and pulls the handle. The canopy of the aircraft is released and the Prisoner ejected out of the aircraft!
   He floats down to the beach on the end of a parachute. As he descends, he bends his knees, pulling his legs up giving the impression that the Prisoner is trying to delay contact with the ground. But hit the ground he does, and releases his parachute, removing his helmet, and stands up on the beach facing the Village!
   Slowly he walks back across the beach towards the Village, through the Village, back to his cottage. He pauses outside for a moment to look about the deserted square. The Village is just as it was when he set out on the day of his escape. It is deserted, save for the black cat.
   The Prisoner enters his cottage. Suddenly water gushes from the shower he neglected to turn off, and the coffee percolator is boiling away. The black cat meows as the slim figure of Mrs. Butterworth enters the cottage bearing a cake. She is wearing the same blue and white dress diamond patterned dress, but with the addition of a black badge sporting the white numeral 2.
    “Many Happy Returns” she says greeting Number 6 with a cake, a promise kept.
    Number 6 remains silent. He goes to the window. Outside the Village has come to life. The Brass band plays, and the citizens twirling their open umbrellas, parade around the central piazza, with the butler looking on from on high. The Prisoner looks to the sky as though looking for the aircraft, which has long gone, and with it any hope of escape!

Be seeing you next time when we meet the white Queen’s pawn.

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