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Monday 28 November 2022

Village Day - Chapter 4

 

4

Protection and Escape

    The Prisoner” spun round as the door closed behind him with a familiar electronic hum and a solid click. The foyer was small but adequate, a round quarter table with a vase of flowers set upon it. On the walls were paintings of sailing ships, and to his immediate right a large fire place. A diminutive butler, in black tails, waistcoat, white shirt and black bow tie and black gloves, had been standing waiting for the visitor, he bowed politely and led the visitor the short distance to a pair of French doors, on either side a pair of matching burgundy leather winged armchairs. The butler opened the doors, showing the way up a short ramp to a pair of solid looking steel doors, which suddenly opened into a domed chamber beyond. The butler stood in the opening and holding his arm out ushered the visitor into the chamber, who paused in the doorway for a moment as he stared into the circular chamber, at the curved desk and at the figure sitting in the black spherical chair behind that desk. Taking in the purple circular wall and the large wall screen to the left of the door, he was greeted by the dark curly haired bespectacled man who now looked up from the file he had been reading.

    “Ah there you are my dear fellow, do not hesitate, come in.”

    The butler stepped forward, strode down the ramp and attended to the breakfast trolley, setting out knives and forks, plates, cups and saucers upon a table which had risen up through a hole in the floor.

    “The Prisoner” then slowly and tentatively walked down the ramp spinning round sharply as the pair of steel doors slid shut with a solid clang.

    “I assure you there’s absolutely nothing to be nervous about, but I can understand your apprehension at being here, and I suppose they have taken a bit of a liberty. But we are all friends here as you will soon come to realise” Number 2 assured his visitor.

    “Friends I don’t know you” the Prisoner replied with suspicion.

    Number 2 observed his butler having completing the setting out the breakfast things “You’ll feel better after you’ve eaten, what would you like, full English, or continental, pancakes perhaps. Buttered toast and marmalade with tea or coffee?” Number 2 offered.

    “Just coffee’ the Prisoner replied.

    Number 2 nodded and the butler filled two cups from the silver coffee pot, added milk and sugar to one, and the other plain black which he offered it to his master’s visitor.

    The Prisoner took the cup and stared into the strong black coffee, while the butler held out the second cup of coffee on a tray to his master Number 2.

    “Thank you that will be all” Number 2 told his manservant.

    The butler bowed and pushing the breakfast trolley up the ramp took his leave through the opening steel doors, which closed behind

him leaving Number 2 alone with his visitor.

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    “There’s no need to be suspicious.”
    “I have every need!”
    “I should think you’re feeling a little disorientated” said Number 2 stirring his coffee.

    “You know I am. What’s this all about?” the Prisoner demanded to know.

    “Please help do yourself to breakfast, I think one should never begin the day on an empty stomach, besides my butler has gone to so much trouble in preparing your favourite for you” offered Number 2.

    The Prisoner cup in hand walked slowly over to the round table, glanced at the man sitting behind the desk and lifting the cover off the dish found a full English bacon, eggs, sausage, baked beans, grilled tomato, and fried bread. For some reason Number 2 found this amusing and smiled quietly to himself.

   The Prisoner replaced the cover helping himself to three lumps of sugar from the small silver bowl, then turning back to face the man behind the desk, slowly stirring, drank his coffee, before putting the empty cup and saucer down upon the desk. Number 2 said nothing, he simply observed the man from the comfort of his chair, through his black rimmed spectacles.

    “Now that the pleasantries are over, perhaps you could answer me a couple of questions?” the Prisoner asked politely.

    “Perhaps, but I can’t promise” Number 2 replied between sips of coffee.

    “Who are you…. where am I…. and why was I brought here?” the Prisoner demanded aggressively.

    “That’s three questions” returned Number 2 putting his cup down and holding up three fingers of his right hand.

    “Yes, and if you can’t answer them, I’ll find someone who can!” the Prisoner barked across the desk.

    “I am in charge, I am Number Two” the man behind the desk said, tapping the white penny farthing badge upon the left lapel of his plain black blazer, indicating the red numeral 2 with an index finger.

    “Get Number One!” the Prisoner growled.

    “I’ve told you, I’m in charge.”

    The Prisoner showed Number 2 nothing but contempt and began to circle round the chamber, pausing just long enough to examine the free standing Penny Farthing bicycle strangely fitted with two stabilising wheels either side of the farthing wheel. There was also a tall lava lamp standing on the floor, but this proved to be two, the one on top of the other, blue green in colour, the hot wax rising up and floating down in unending repetition. And the wall screen which depicted the same lavonic movement as inside the lava lamp, but on a much larger scale.

    Number 2 remained silent, but kept pace with the Prisoner, revolving his chair as his visitor walked round him and his desk.

    “And this place?” asked the Prisoner staring at the large wall screen.

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    “Is the Village, to be perfectly honest I’m surprised they bothered to send you here, you’re not at all important to us or anyone else for that matter” Number 2 informed him.

    “Then why am I here?” asked the Prisoner turning away from the screen and resuming his pacing of the chamber.

    “Don’t sound so surprised, you’ve been asking people some very embarrassing questions” Number 2 informed him finishing his coffee.

    The Prisoner stopped his pacing, crossed the floor and stared Number 2 directly in the face “What people?”

    “Oh please, don’t play dumb with me, it doesn’t suit you. We know all about you” Number 2 told him opening the file “especially of your recent activities, since leaving…… where was it now?”

    “If you know, you don’t need me to tell you, do you?” the Prisoner said somewhat sarcastically.

    Number 2 looked at the page in the file and at the same time pressing a button on the control panel of his desk “Oh yes…… Prague!”

    Instantly the image on the wall screen changed, from lava lamp to a hotel room, more than that, an image of a hotel room with the Prisoner lying on a bed with the telephone receiver in his hand. Then the image changed again, to the Prisoner standing by the window looking out of his hotel room and into the street below. Then again the image changed, this time the man was holding a hand gun, a revolver, then busy packing a suitcase, then dashing for the door and out through the door, the screen went black.

    “You were in Prague for one thing, or should I say one person….. Karl Kopec. But he had proved to be most elusive, you waited and waited, but he never turned up. Perhaps you were fed some duff information, or on the other hand, he might have been too clever even for you. And such an important man, well he was up until that telephone call, how so quickly he became forgotten.”

    The Prisoner was stunned by what he had been watching on the screen, and turned to face Number 2 in disbelief, Number 2 simply sat back in the comfort of his chair, smirking back at him.

    The large wall screen returned to life, the Prisoner seen on screen handing over his passport to a customs officer and again in a series of shots taken during his time in London “Ah, here you are arriving at London airport. And again checking in at your hotel, you made a telephone call, you went out…..”

    The screen carried on with the slide show, arriving in Buckingham

Place, driving off in the Lotus Seven, being followed through London, the meeting with Sir Charles, then later the meeting with his daughter Janet in Regents Park. The freedom of the open road…….. then smash and the screen went blank.

    “You see, there is nothing we don’t know about you old boy, what you were doing in Prague, why you returned to London so abruptly….”

   The Prisoner glared at the man in the chair.

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    “That’s alright old boy there’s no need for you to say anything else, you have simply been brought here for you own good, you need protection!” Number 2 offered.

    The Prisoner stormed forward and stared at Number 2 still sat in his chair “Protection, protection from who, you?” he shouted angrily.

    Number 2 remained calm and composed as was his usual demeanour, always cool and calculating “From yourself my dear fellow! Once you settle down you’ll find that life here can be quite pleasant.”

    The Prisoner was growing quite agitated and began to pace up and down “Supposing I don’t want to……. settle down?”

    “Oh you will my dear fellow, given time. The Village is for life, you have no choice, and there is no escape. Think about it Number Six.”

    “What did you call me?” snorted the Prisoner.

    “Number Six, for official purposes everyone has a number, yours is Number Six.”

    “I am not a number, I am a person” the Prisoner responded.

    Number 2 leaned forward in his chair and lowered his glasses “You’ve been here before?”

    The Prisoner looked about him and then at the man sitting in the chair “Here, what should I do here? I assure you that I was never here in my life.”

    “Then I must have been thinking of someone else…… good day Number Six.”

    The interview over, the pair of steel doors opened and Number 6 departed up the ramp and out through the foyer. Number 2 sat back in the warm comfort of his chair, yet a chill ran up his spine as he thought for a moment, it was as though someone had walked over

his grave. He must have been thinking of someone else…… “Good day Number Six,” the words echoing and re-echoing as they disturbed a not so distant memory.

    Number 6 stormed out of Number 2’s office, the steel doors closing behind him. The butler bowed as he swept passed him through the foyer, out through the door and portico, onto the balcony into the bright morning sunshine of the Village.

    “No escape, well we’ll see about that” he thought as he stood at the balustrade.

    During his interview with Number 2 the Village itself had come to life, people were everywhere and everyone was dressed in brightly coloured clothes, piped blazers, straw boaters and some citizens wore colourful striped capes or carried colourful striped umbrellas. There was, Number 6 found admitting to himself, a holiday camp atmosphere about the place. He stormed down the steps of the Green Dome and in the road a cyclist pedalled passed on her bicycle, ringing her bell either in warning to pedestrians, or greeting to him. It was an ordinary looking bicycle, but with the added protection of a candy coloured canopy which gave it a touch of the unusual. And then a well dressed gentleman in deerstalker hat, tweed dog coat and plus sixes walked passed pushing a squeaking Penny Farthing bicycle.

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    An open topped taxi then pulled up sharply “Where to sir?” the oriental girl asked with a cheery smile.

    Number 6 looked at the young girl, who couldn’t be more than in her mid twenties, and wondered what a girl like her was doing here.

    Number 6 climbed into the front passenger seat “Take me to the nearest town.”

    “I couldn’t do that, we’re only the local service” the taxi driver informed him.

    “Local you say, then you’ll know the way out of here!” quipped Number 6, with a determined look in his eye.

    The taxi drove forward down the street, taking the scenic route around The Village. Number 6 sat looking out at the Village as the taxi wound it’s way along the roads and streets which he himself had driven earlier that morning, and they were getting precisely nowhere!

    “Look can you tell me if we’re ever going to leave the confines of this place?”

    The girl simply smiled at him.

    “This is a strange job for a girl.”

    “Being a taxi driver you mean?”

    “Yes. I suppose you get all kinds of fares” Number 6 asked.

    The taxi continued on its journey, passed the café, round the corner passed the ice cream parlour and down the hill.

    “I’m kept busy if that’s what you mean” the girl replied.

    “Tell me, have you ever given a fare to a man looking similar to me, about six feet tall, light brown hair, blue eyes and possibly wearing a

suit similar to mine?”

    The taxi driver looked at her fare “Dressed like you, you mean a new arrival?”

    “New arrival?” Number 6 queried.

    “Well no one dresses like that here in the Village, so you must be new here” the girl explained.

    “Well have you seen anyone looking like me?” he persisted.

    The taxi sped passed the Town Hall sounding its two tone horn, warning pedestrians of its approach.

    “Looking for this man are you?”

    “I had started out doing so, now I’m beginning to think that my search has led me here, or seen me brought here. So I wondered if the same had happened to the man I’m looking for, and perhaps you had seen someone of that description that’s all” he explained.

    The taxi reached the bottom of the hill and turned round for the journey back.

    “You can’t expect me to remember everyone sir” the taxi driver told him.

    The taxi took the right fork and passed the pink pavilion, from which the Village brass band were emerging playing the Radetski March. The taxi slowed for the procession to pass as the brass band slowly made its way towards the lawn and the bandstand beyond. Then moving on, the taxi went up the cobbled street, turning right at the top and into the cobbled square, a short distance from where Number 6 had begun his ride.

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    “What are we doing here?”
    “I can take you anywhere you like; just as long as you arrive back where you started” she told him “I did tell you we’re only the local service!”

    Number 6 climbed out of the taxi in frustration, well he might have known really.

    “The fare is two units” the taxi driver told him.

    “Units?” Number 6 queried.

    “Credit units, never mind pay me next time, be seeing you” the girl saluted with thumb and index finger of her left hand, and then drove off looking for her next fare.

    Number 6 was left standing in the cobbled square wondering what his next move should be, when a man walked passed holding up an open umbrella.

    “You expect rain?” Number 6 asked.

    “Showers later!” the man replied.

    Number 6 looked up into the clear blue sky, showers later, ridiculous! Then turning towards the General Stores he found it closed. He stood there thinking for a moment, then stormed off down the road, bumping into a couple of pedestrians as he went. Flanking his left was a stone wall and the top of the bandstand, on his right a rocky tor rose high above him. The road turned to the left, on the opposite side was a pair of wrought iron gates, through them the garden of a very impressive pink and white mansion, a miniature Chatsworth one might almost say. To his immediate right were stone steps leading upwards, this for the prisoner was enough, he quickly scrambled up the steps, through an archway and into the gravelled clearing at the back of a set of terraced cottages, beyond which lay the woods. Crossing the gravelled clearing the prisoner ran into the woods and along the twisting, winding path. Now and again he would pause and glance over his shoulder, and listened, just in case he had been seen and was being followed. He need not have worried, there was no one behind him and no sound of any such pursuers, yet he was under close surveillance, although he did not know it. Leaving the path, Number 6 forced his way through undergrowth and bushes alike, and from which he was about to emerge, but ducked back just in time as a taxi passed by along the road. Then turning another way he quickly ran through two lines of stone busts mounted on tall stone plinths, Voltaire, Darwin, Archimedes, Socrates, Brunell and Gariboldi. The bust of Voltaire began to turn upon its plinth and in the direction of the escaping prisoner. For mounted in Voltaire’s left eye, was an electronic surveillance camera.

    Observing the man to be some distance away from the Village, it was the supervisor in the control room who advised Number 2 of the Prisoner’s approach to the ‘Outer Zone’, and it was that very same supervisor who authorised the ‘Orange Alert.’

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    “Orange alert, orange alert” the Supervisor ordered into the ‘L’ shaped telephone.

    From somewhere there came a blood curdling roar, both terrifying and unearthly, a combination of Gregorian chant, the sound of a bicycle pump, and the roar of something. Number 6 instantly dropped to his knees, such were his reflexes, and as he turned he saw the white membranic mass of the Guardian bounding towards him. Standing up, and realising instinctively that running was not an option, he prepared to stand his ground and confront this white balloon looking thing, yet as he did so the Guardian was upon him, knocking him to the ground. And as he scrambled to his feet again, was knocked back down, it was upon him again, covering its prey’s face with its membrane, against which the fingers of its victim clawed and struggled. The Prisoner screamed and screamed again as he gasped for air, his lungs burning, his heart pounding, pounding fit to burst, as his struggles slowly ebbed away, the Guardian suffocating its prey into unconsciousness.

    The Guardian stood quivering by the unconscious body lying on the woodland ground, as the siren of the white ambulance, towing behind it a white canopied Red Cross trailer, drew nearer and nearer along the track leading into the woods. Finally arriving on scene two medics and a nurse clambered out of the white Mini Moke ambulance, the nurse carrying a medical bag, to attend to the patient, the medics taking a stretcher from the trailer, upon which they lifted the unconscious body as the nurse prepared a hypodermic syringe of amber coloured liquid, pushed up the patient’s right sleeve and injected the drug into his arm.

    The Guardian rolled away, either to return to its patrolling duties, or to be deactivated and returned to its containment area somewhere out at sea deep below the waves.

    The ambulance with the patient placed securely in the Red Cross trailer sped along the track through the woods where it met with the road leading to the hospital on the outskirts of the Village, a huge stone building which had once portrayed itself to be a castle.

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Friday 25 November 2022

The Prisoner - Village Day - Chapter 3

 

3
The Arrival

    The un-named man began to regain consciousness. Opening his eyes he realised that he was lying on a couch staring up at the ceiling with the blue and white light shade suspended above his head. Slowly he eased himself up and swung his legs round so that his feet were on the carpet, he felt shaky, unsteady and confused. For here he was in the comfort of a room he neither knew nor recognised, certainly it was not the familiar, and spacious home of his converted warehouse. Certainly, something didn’t feel right at all, because the last thing he remembered was being behind the wheel of the Lotus Seven, enjoying the freedom of the open road. Yet here he was, with no idea of where he is, how he came to be here, or why. He slowly rose to his feet and went over to the window, pulling back the curtains he looked out upon the unfamiliar view beyond. Not that of the docklands, with ships on the Tyne, but one of tall trees, bushes and shrubs and the water and hills beyond. He spun round in a panic and dashing across the room flung open the French door and stepped outside onto the paved patio, his eyes darting everywhere, trying to take everything in at once. The pink and white, red and blue cottages, huge green dome that over shadowed the cobbled yard, the narrow archway which led through to a large gravelled area and to the woods beyond. There was a round outlook just off the cobbled yard. The scene it produced was identical to the one he had seen through the window, yet below the outlook was a tarmac road, one end of which disappeared into an archway at the base of a building, whilst the road itself curved through another arch at the far end.

    The man turned away, crossed the lookout and passed through a turquoise gate, along a gravelled path and up four steps onto the balcony of the green domed building. Leaning on the stone balustrade he could see over the road below which reappeared on the other side of the archway and carried on down the slope. There was a cobbled square below with colourful candy coloured buildings on three sides, white and with dark stained weather boarding, oh yes and a blue and red statue of a man holding a scroll in his left hand, with the right hand raised, standing on a balcony. Over the roofs of the candy coloured building towered a tall tree, and more, a bell tower which as far as he could see from this vantage point, was easily the tallest structure and a far better vantage point from where he could see all about him, and gain his bearings at the same time.

    He turned to the steps which led him down to the road and the square the other side. He saw a black and white striped pole with a candy striped canopy, beneath which was the blue sign which read in white lettering ‘General Store.’ He paused to look in the bay window which displayed all manner of tinned provisions, along with a selection of fancy goods and records. But it was the red labels of the tinned goods “Village Foods” this together with the canopied Penny Farthing logo which grabbed his attention. Leaving the General Store behind, the man crossed the corner of the cobbled square and through a turquoise gate, up the steps and path towards the bell tower. Finding more steps he climbed them to the door of the bell tower and found it stoutly locked against him, he put his shoulder to the door, but it would not yield. In frustration he turned back on his steps, the quiet was absolute, there was not a sound to be heard, save for the gentle rustle of the trees in the breeze and the call of birds. But then as he stood upon a grassy bank looking around at the candy coloured buildings, working in the flower borders he saw two figures busy tending the flower beds. He quickly dashed back across the square, passed the General Stores and down the road, down a set of steps he ran, to his right a set of cobbled steps led onto a stone structure with several columns. And then more steps leading down onto a lawn where a sign invited him to ‘walk on the grass’, across the lawn and up yet more steps onto the piazza, with its fountain and shallow pool, “free sea” as the sign indicated below its candy striped canopy set upon a black and white striped pole where the two gardeners were on their knees busy planting new bedding plants. Both seemed happy in their work and neither seemed aware of his approach until he accidentally kicked a tray of plants.

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    “Watch out sir, don’t damage the plants” said one gardener.

    “Sorry” he replied looking down at the tray of petunias.

   Both gardeners stood up, hand fork and trowel in their hands, both wearing dove grey overalls and deck shoes. One wore a pair of steel rimmed spectacles, and the other a matching dove grey cap, curiously more than that, each wore pinned to their overalls a white badge with a black Penny Farthing bicycle together with a canopy and a red numeral in the penny wheel, one 36b and the other 184.

    “You alright?” asked Number 36b.

    “Looks lost doesn’t he” said Number 184 to his colleague.

    The man looked at the gardeners and then round at the Village about him “I’m slightly confused, I don’t know where I am. This place, it looks Italianate.”

    “I was right, he doesn’t know where he is…..” said Number 184.

    “That’s saying nothing, neither do you!” quipped 36b.

    184 shot 36b a glance of annoyance then continued “He’s a new arrival, spot ‘em a mile off I can.”

    “Yeah, a new arrival” sniggered 36b.

    “Where am I, what is this place?” he asked, but doubting that he would get a straight answer.

    “The Village” answered 184.

    “Doesn’t it have a name?”

    Number 184 looked at the man quizzically “A name, of course it’s got a name, everything has a name.”

    The man was showing inward signs of annoyance with this pair of gardeners “What is it then?”

    “The Village” responded 36b.

   Looking at Number 36b with disdain, he knew he had to find a way out of there, and to the nearest town “Can you show me the way to the bus top?”

    “No buses come through here mister” replied Number 184 with a knowing smile.

    “Is there a railway station?”

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    The two gardeners looked at each other “No trains, no railway station” they answered in unison.

    He was being thwarted with every answer, and so was not over confident when he asked “Where can I hire a car?”

    “No car hire, only taxis” they informed him.

    “You mean I can get a taxi from here?” the man asked delightedly.

    “Oh yes, you can get a taxi alright, local service only, but they’ll get you where you want to go” 36b confirmed.

    The man was delighted as 36b pointed out the way with his trowel in hand “Along the piazza, up the steps and left through the arch there. Walk along the road passed the café and the taxi rank is on your right, can’t miss it.”

    The two gardeners watched the man storm off along the piazza, then turning to one another with something of a knowing smile, they went merrily back to their work.

    The man bounded up the steps and through the archway of a stone wall into the road beyond. He stood there for a moment gathering his bearings, then set off along the road, passed the café where a waitress was just setting out the tables on a black and white tiled patio, of which a gardener, the exact image of Number 36b was busying hosing down. The gardener looked at the Prisoner and gave him a knowing wink.
    The man surprised by this moved briskly on and just around the corner from the café was the taxi rank, where a white Mini Moke taxi with a orange and white striped canopy stood waiting for its driver. Looking over and around the vehicle he noticed the key in the ignition, so seeing no one about he climbed aboard. Turning the ignition key firing up the engine, engaged first gear and drove off from the taxi rank, passed the sign indicating the Labour Exchange, and through a tall yellow archway and away along the narrow tree lined road. The road turned right and over a stone bridge, then carried on meandering its way quite aimlessly through the trees, then out into the open passed a large castle before turning right, winding its way down between the blue and white rhododendrons which lined the road. It wasn’t long before he found himself driving back along that road, back into the village. Passed several buildings, round through the first entrance arch, through the second entrance archway and passed the cobbled square and the General Store, the green domed building, and down the road, round the corner at the bottom of the hill and passed the café, with its canopy covered tables and white wrought iron seats, all set out ready for the day’s customers, and 
finally coming to a stop near the taxi rank, from which he had set out! Surely he had missed a turning somewhere, so off the taxi went again on the exact same trip but the other way! On his way back into the Village he saw the two gardeners ahead, one pushing a wheelbarrow, and the other riding a lawnmower. They gave him a cheery wave as he drove passed into the square, through an archway and into a cobbled square. There was a young man wearing a striped blazer and straw boater sat on a bench, the Moke stopped.

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    “Pardon me, but could you direct me to the nearest town, it’s stupid I know, but I can’t seem to find a road out of here.”

    The little man peered through his thick black rimmed glasses at the man sitting in the taxi, and stooped a little to see the face underneath the canopy. He spoke in some indeterminate language, some incomprehensible gibberish.

    “Do you speak English?” he asked slowly and clearly.

    “Dibb” Number 3 replied.

    “A road, where is there a road, a main road. I can’t find my way out of here” the man persisted.

    The little man raised a hand and pointed this way and that with the following instructions “Bossfaday, kankadoy, bossforshore, mankadore.”

    Now utterly and completely confused the man bid his farewell and started the engine of the taxi “Thank you, thank you, I’ll find my own way” he waved.

    “Bashatta’ said the little man, as he watched the taxi disappear down a slope between the Round House and the General Store. 

    The shopkeeper was cleaning the glass panes of the bay window of his shop

    “Good morning Number Nineteen, open for business?” asked Number 3 in perfect English.

    “Give me a moment and I’ll be right with you sir” said 19 ringing out his chamois leather.

    Meanwhile the Mini-Moke turned left down a cobbled path, ahead of him was a statue of Hercules on a large plinth, the man drove the vehicle round the statue then sharp left coming to a dead-end pulling on the handbrake switching off the engine and abandoning the vehicle where it was parked. He walked across the lawn, up steps and through a small portico and up the cobbled road which he had so recently driven both up and down, the stone lion growling at him from his position upon his stone plinth. It was not difficult to find his cottage, across the street, up the steps, through the gate, along the gravelled path and he was there. The only difference was, that now outside the French door stood a sign on a black and white striped pole and hung beneath a candy striped canopy ‘6 private’. The man gave it a cursory glance as he walked passed and through the now automatically opening French door into the lounge beyond, the French door closing behind him with an electronic hum as the door secured itself.

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    All alone in his cottage, he saw nothing for it but to take in his new surroundings. True the cottage was as unfamiliar as the Village outside, yet the furniture, fixtures and fittings were those of his own home, his converted warehouse. His desk, table lamps, two leather armchairs and sofa, the two large bookcases containing his modest library of horror, ghost and tales of terror and the macabre, and his copy of the ‘Danger Man Omnibus’ lying on the glass topped coffee table. His paintings of sailing ships hung upon the walls, along with prints of steam locomotives and traction engines. And something else, Gus his large soft toy Orang-utan, who sat by the phone in the far corner of the room, strangely dressed in striped jersey, brown trousers and straw boater. It was then he spotted a mistake, for above the mantle piece were two crossed foils, weapons he thought, and made to grab one of the foils, but both were solidly fixed in position prohibiting their removal. No ‘they’ had made a mistake!
    The kitchen was fully equipped and stocked with both fresh and tinned provisions, cheese, milk, butter and cooked meat in the fridge, tinned ‘Village foods’ in the wall cupboard. Upstairs was the bedroom, single bed, chest of draws and a wardrobe, both of these were devoid of clothes of any kind. And the bathroom was simply the bathroom, bath, toilet, shower, hand basin and wall cupboard which contained the usual toiletries, all of which was knew, and still sealed in their paper wrappings.

    Returning downstairs to the lounge, he scanned the room for a second time, his record collection of classical music, record player, military statuettes all were in place, then his attention was suddenly drawn to his desk, upon which was a small white card, it read ‘Welcome to your home from home.’ Someone was obviously having a laugh, ‘home from home’ indeed, this was nothing like his home! Making a search of the desk he found it to be void of anything, save for a brown leather bound ‘Map of Your Village’, he unfolded the map which was in colour, and depicted the Village, the mountains, the woods, the sea, the beach, but nothing to give away exactly the location of this village. Refolding the map, he replaced it in the drawer and slammed it shut. Then he recalled the secret drawer he had built into the desk, there in was something in case of emergencies. Opening the top left drawer he felt inside for the catch, but there was no catch, nor was there a secret drawer……this was not his desk! Then he checked his pockets and felt the photograph, he took it out, glanced at it and placed it in the desk for safe keeping. Other than the photograph his suit pockets were empty, wallet, passport, even his loose change all gone. He began to feel like a prisoner, confined, disorientated, but with questions. Where is this, who had done this thing to him? Trying the French door he found it now secured against him, as too were the windows. He began pacing back and forth like some caged animal, the anger growing inside him. There were two items not familiar to him in the room, lava lamps, as he paced this way and that he stared ever deeper

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into the one in the small niche in the wall. It was lit, and globules and long streaks of wax or what he took to be wax, floated to the top and then descended to the bottom. It served no purpose what so ever, yet curiously there was something about it, something malevolent, as though the wax inside was every bit a prisoner as he was inside his cottage. There was also a black silver edged speaker set upon the mantle piece which began to play music. He picked it up and looked for the on/off switch, there wasn’t one, nor was there an electrical lead, in fact there were no external connections or wiring of any kind, and it was while he was wondering how the device worked that the cream telephone on the corner table where Gus was sitting began to bleep, and by its tone somewhat impatiently.

    He crossed the room and lifted the receiver to his ear.

    “Good morning, I hope you enjoyed your short excursion this morning” a voice greeted.

    “Who is this?” he demanded brusquely.

    “Quite a picturesque place really, don’t you think?” asked the voice.

    “I’m sure it’s quite charming when you get to know it” he replied “where am I, who are you and what am I doing here?”

    “I thought as neighbours we should get to know each other, join me for breakfast, Number Two, the Green Dome” said the voice, and before he could say more the line went dead.

    Replacing the receiver he hesitated for a second before crossing to the French door, which now opened automatically for him, allowing his passage out onto the patio beyond, over which the Green Dome cast its shadow.

    Making his way through the gate and along the short gravelled path, he wondered about the man he was about to meet. Certainly the voice had sounded both charming and polite, and he had been right about this Italianate Village, it was picturesque, that much was certain, and peaceful in its atmosphere. Yet as he climbed the steps onto the balcony of the Green Dome, there was something at the back of his mind which told him that all was not as it seemed. And what of this man he was about to meet? And so it was with a look of concern that he turned to face the door of the Green Dome, a brass numeral 2 upon it, and a black wrought iron bell pull to its right which he tugged, and from somewhere a bell tolled and with it the door opened automatically allowing his way over the threshold and into the foyer beyond.

26

Monday 21 November 2022

Village Day - Chapter 2

 

2

An Accident Occurs!

    A black London taxi turned the corner into Buckingham Place finally coming to a stop behind a dark green Lotus Seve parked at the kerb outside the house of number 1.

    It was a perfectly ordinary looking house, but one of the larger ones on that side of the street, just one of many such houses to be found in the city of Westminster. Ground floor, basement and three upper floors, with a total of nineteen front windows, with window boxes at two ground floor windows either side of the front door above which was a white portico, and black spiked railings ran along the front of the house.

    Having paid the taxi driver his fare, the man dressed in a two piece grey suit and black shirt, stood on the pavement looking this way and that, and at the house. Curiously it was one of only two such houses in Buckingham Place to have grey looking shutters at the windows. He stared at the windows which stared back at him, empty, like black eyeless sockets, yet someone had been watering the two window boxes. His attention was then captured by the green, yellow nosed Lotus Seven parked at the kerbside. KAR 120C was the car’s registration number. He recognised the car instantly knowing it to be the owner’s pride and joy. After all he had built it with his own hands, and prided himself that he knew every nut, bolt and cog. Yet he had resented slightly the fact that he himself had not been allowed behind the wheel of the car. KAR 120C looked to be something of an enigma, true the house itself had no garage, and true it was often seen parked outside number 1 Buckingham Place, but why was it parked here if the owner appeared to be away, especially parked on a single yellow line? The hood was down, the car looked as though it was ready for its driver to appear from out of the house. It was clear the Lotus had not been parked there for long. Its paint work gleaming in the sunlight, as though it had only just this morning been polished. Perhaps Janet had had the car looked after, no, that wasn’t Janet’s style at all, she knew nothing about cars and cared even less about them. Standing at the side of the car he put a hand on the bonnet, it was cold. It was then that he noticed the three parking tickets upon the windscreen, all dated for that month, those together with a police warning notice. He removed the parking tickets, each carrying the statuary penalty of £2, payable to the city of Westminster Council, Wilton Road. The police warning notice stated that unless the vehicle was removed within 28 days this car would be towed away and impounded, held in a secure car park for 3 months, and if not collected in that time and the statutory fine of £50 paid, this car would be either sold or destroyed. Curiously there was no date upon the police notice, he screwed it up, together with the three parking tickets, and tossed them onto the passenger seat of the car. Then walking round the frontof the car, crossed the pavement and mounted the three steps leading up to the door of the house. He tried the door, then with clenched fist pounded upon it, but there was no-one there to answer his knocking.

7

    Turning his back on the house with his attention back to the Lotus, he descended the steps, crossing the pavement he crouched down at the rear near side wheel and from under the wheel arch collected a small black box, which contained a spare ignition key. This he tossed in the air in a gleeful manner, a broad grin upon his face as he caught the key and walked round the back of the car, climbed in, sliding behind the steering wheel, inserting the ignition key, turning it and firing up the engine. He pressed down upon the accelerator gunning the engine, the sound roaring between the two rows of houses of Buckingham Place. The engine sounded fine and it felt good to be behind the wooden steering wheel which he gripped gently but firmly in his hands. Did it still overheat in traffic, he wondered, well he was about to find out, as he pressed down on the clutch, engaged first gear and released the handbrake. Then pressing down on the accelerator and releasing the clutch, the Lotus Seven moved away from the kerb and turned left out of Buckingham Place, merging with the busy London traffic.

    He telephoned Janet Portland earlier that morning and arranged to meet her in Queen Mary’s Gardens in Regents Park. Parking the Lotus on Park Road, the man checked his watch, he was early, it was better like that sometimes, and looked cautiously both up and down Park Road for any old familiar faces, before making his way into Regents Park. It was a pleasant enough afternoon, people were enjoying themselves, boys playing football using their pullovers for goal posts, whilst another was flying his kite with his father or uncle or someone, other people lying on the grass reading, or having a picnic or simply walking the dog. Uniformed nannies pushing babies in their prams, and walking towards him as he approached the boating lake, crossing over Clarence Bridge an old salt dressed in naval cap, bushy moustache, double breasted blazer and grey flannel trousers. He was carrying a large grey painted battleship which was still dripping with water. At the lake side he might have purchased a bag of bread crumbs from a vendor in order to feed the ducks, whilst watching those messing about in boats upon the lake, but there was no time for that kind of nonsense, and he quickly made his way along paths to Queen Mary’s Gardens. He found Janet Portland waiting for him, she had been waiting for several minutes, she was early! At five feet two inches Janet’s figure was hardly slight, nor could he say plump, dressed in a light green sleeveless dress, with matching shoes, a pill-box hat and matching handbag. Her hairstyle fashionable as it was neat, in a debutante bob!

    As Janet saw the man approaching, she hesitated, she was nervous, and looked about her as though she had expected to have been followed. She saw no-one she recognized, save for the man now afew feet away.

8

    “It’s good to see you Janet” he told her, yet she looked tired and drawn, something which she had tried to hide beneath her make up.

    “I can’t tell you how good it is to see you, I’ve been out of my mind with worry” Janet told him.

    This he could see in the lines of her face and relieved no doubt to see him, “let’s walk shall we” he suggested offering his arm which Janet gladly took.

    “Why did we have to meet here?” she asked, trying to be nonchalant, but not making a very good job of it.

    “Well its public and out in the open, and besides I didn’t want to meet with your father Sir Charles. Best he doesn’t know I’m back just yet” the man explained as he guided Janet by his arm, his eyes carefully taking in everything about them.

    “You will help me, wont you?”

    “I will do all that I can, all that is within my power to do, that is all I can promise and all that anyone can do. He could be simply working, don’t you think, unable to contact you. You know the kind of work he does for your father, certainly it should come as no surprise to you that he may not be able to contact you for a year, perhaps longer.”

    Janet looked at the man whose arm she suddenly released “Oh don’t you start! You’re a great help, of course I knew that working for my father the way he did.”

    “Then your father……”

    “I told him that he knew where he is” Janet began to explain “all this time that he has known and he’s let me go through this hell. That he’s sent him on a mission and he can’t get in touch with me, my

fiancé. My father told me that he honestly doesn’t know if he can get in touch with me, that he hasn’t sent him on a mission. When I asked him, he said that I must realize that he is telling me more than I should,  that he shouldn’t even tell me that! Apparently even my father doesn’t know where he is, he told me that he has no idea. And when I told him that he must know someone who does, all he said was, there again I can’t help you! It’s awful, I don’t know whether he’s telling the truth or not.”

    “That’s Sir Charles for you, never could give a straightforward answer to a straightforward question, mind you he’ll not exactly welcome me back with open arms, and there’s the department…….”

    “But you’ll do what you can, I mean you will be able to find him?” Janet pleaded.

    “If he’s able to be found, if he wants to be found, of course I will.”

    Janet looked at the man sternly “What do you mean if he wants to be found?”

    They walked on “When did you last see your fiancé?”

    Janet looked at him with a tearful eye and fingered her engagement ring “It’s been over a year now, well there was that time when……” and there came a far away look in Janet’s eye.

    “Janet……. except for that time when…..” he prompted.

9

    The far away look in her eyes disappeared “Well it was strange really, it seems stupid now, I couldn’t explain it then and cannot explain it now,  but at the time it was like, well like losing him all over again.”

    “You mean he came back?” he asked.

    “No, well in a way….. at the time I thought…… There was this man you see, he said he was a friend, it all happened a few days before my birthday. I was walking down Buckingham Place and saw his car parked out his house, I thought he must be back, and couldn’t wait to see him. My heart was pounding as I rushed up the steps and knocked on the door, and then the surprise of having the door opened by a man who I had never seen before. I asked if he was with him, and this man told me that he was, so I brushed passed him into the hallway and called out for my darling, then went about the house looking for him.”

    “This man, what was he like?”

    “Perfectly ordinary, I asked him who he was, how he knew my name, what he was doing there and how he got hold of his car. He told me that my fiancé was here, when it was perfectly clear that he wasn’t! He said he was a friend and when I asked where he was, my fiancé, and why he left without a word to me he came up with some story about my fiancé seeing me last night, and told him that he had done so, that he had had dinner with me after the fitting for my dress of yellow silk. But I hadn’t seen him the previous night, that had been a year before, at the time I took him to the final fitting……. I haven’t seen him since.”

    He led Janet to a nearby bench and sat her down “So he made a mistake about the date.”

    “And the year’ Janet added “he couldn’t have seen him, even if he had he couldn’t have made that mistake. And then this man, who was acting very strangely admitted that he must have got it wrong. I asked him what he was doing there and how he got in. But he talked about the kind of work he did, and the possibility that he, my fiancé, may not be able to get in touch for a year, or even longer, well you know that. But then he told me that he may have a message for me soon. I asked him when and he told me that he would bring it to my birthday party.”

    “And did he?” he asked sitting next to her.

    “Yes, that was the strange thing, he knew things……..” And then that far away look in her eyes returned.

    “What was the message he had for you?”

    Janet looked at the man beside her “Simply a caress of a cheek, a gentle kiss to my cheeks and nose, then he embraced me, this stranger, and shared a long and passionate kiss, until he let me go…. but it wasn’t him you see, it was my fiancé, only he could have held and kissed me in that way,……. This stranger asked me who else could have given me that message, and I had to admit, not only to him, but to myself, and said………nobody but you. It was him, his mind in another man’s body. He explained to me all that had happened to him since his disappearance, his abduction, to a place called the village. They took away his identity and worse, it was incredible, unbelievable, and yet. He told me there was no-one left he could trust anymore, but that he needed my faith.”

10

    “I don’t understand?”
    “No neither did I. He asked me for something which he had left with me in case of trouble, a receipt of some kind.”
    “You gave it to him?”
    “Yes.”
    “And you haven’t seen him since?”
    “………No.”

    The two of them sat in silence, Janet composing herself, he thinking how little he had to go on.

    “I’m sorry” she said suddenly “I forgot to ask how you are. How do you live, I haven’t seen anything of you, not since….”

    “I live from day to day, travelling the world, after all a man with my skills is never out of work, if one knows where to find it, and someone is always hiring new help.”

    “And my father doesn’t know you are back yet?”

    “He didn’t, but I’m not so sure about now” the man told him, recognising and old and familiar face two benches down.

    Janet turned to look “You mean the Nanny, could she be one of my father’s people?”

    “No but he is, the man wearing the grubby raincoat, sitting on the bench over there pretending to read the newspaper….. Potter, now he has seen me I have no doubt that your father knows I’m back. Potter would fall over himself in the rush to give Sir Charles Portland that piece of unwanted news.”

    Janet reached into her handbag and produced a photograph of her fiancé, and handed it to the man who was about to stand. Merely giving it a cursory glance he slipped it into his jacket pocket.

    “I have to leave you here, best that we do not leave together’ he told her rising on his feet.

    “You’ll let me know when you find him?” she asked.

    “It could take some time, my resources are limited” he told her.

    “Are you going to see my father?”

    “He’s on my list, but perhaps I’ll be seeing him sooner rather than later” he said glancing at the man called Potter.

    “Look, on second thoughts” helping Janet to her feet “let me get you a taxi home, walk briskly now.”

    Janet taken by the arm was moved briskly along the path and then across the well cut grass and through a gate onto the outer circle of Regents Park and finally the man hailed a taxi on Park Road.

    A black London taxi pulled over to where the couple were standing “Where to guv?” asked the driver.

    Eton Square, Belgravia” the man said opening the door and bundling Janet inside “stay at home and wait for my call.”

11

    Janet gave him a worried glance “If anything should happen to you, that man Potter….”

    The man took a small card from his wallet and wrote a number upon it and handed it to her “If you don’t hear from me, ring that number and ask for Cedric, he’ll know what to do” he closed the door and watched the taxi pull away, merging with the Park Road traffic.

    Janet watched the man through the rear window as the taxi pulled away, watching him go back through the gate and into Regents Park, and then he was gone.

   Potter had been keeping the couple under the closest possible surveillance from the cover of nearby bushes. He was wondering just which of them to follow, when the taxi pulling away from the kerb had made his mind up for him. She was probably going home anyway he thought, it was then that he felt a hand upon his shoulder.

    “Well, well, if it isn’t the Regents Park prowler, happy in your work Potter?” the man said pulling him roughly out of the bushes.

    Potter, a man in his late thirties, well built and of medium height, a man who showed little or no imagination or aptitude for the job, turned swiftly round.
    “I thought it was you, but then I thought no, he’d never dare return here, not after….”

    The man now had Potter by the throat “Spying on me, weren’t you Potter, not very good at it are you Potter, you should have come over and joined us, I pointed you out to Miss Portland.”

    Potter was finding it increasingly difficult to breath “Not…. spying…. on… you” he spluttered.

    The man felt reluctant to release his vice like grip on Potter’s throat, but did so “Who were you spying on, if not me. Or are you some kind of peeing Tom?”

    Potter bent double, feeling his throat as he coughed and barked, gasping for air “No…. one…cough…. that you… cough…. would know.”

    “Don’t give me that, I saw you following Miss Portland, you sat on that bench over there in your grubby raincoat, pretending to read that well thumbed newspaper of yours.”

    “Its part of my disguise” Potter retorted with pride.

    “Well it’s not a very good one. On whose orders were you following Miss Portland, the Colonel’s?”

    Potter remained silent.

    “If you don’t tell me, that charge of the Regents Park prowler……..”

    “What charge?”

     “Well I ask you, a grubby little man like you, wearing a grubby raincoat lurking here in the bushes….…..”

    “Alright, alright, it was Sir Charles Portland, if you must know.”

    “What contact do you have with Sir Charles?”

    “None, as well you know, the Colonel passed the assignment on to me.”

12

    “Not a top priority job then” the man quipped with a wry smile “and Sir Charles, does he know I’m back?” the man demanded.

    “Shouldn’t think so, I was going to telephone the office the first chance I got” Potter replied “why have you come back?”

    The man helped Potter to his feet who then began to straighten his hair and raincoat, for what it was worth.

    “Know what you’re going to do Potter, your going to keep quiet about our little meeting” the man suggested strongly.

    “I am?”

    “And in doing so you’ll possibly be helping an old colleague of yours” the man went on to suggest.

    “I wouldn’t help you, not if…….”

    “Not me, another old colleague, and for your information Miss Portland has gone home, I suggest you go there and keep the house under surveillance, there are some bushes in the square there, you should feel very much at home in. But just one more thing Potter” the man then reached into his jacket pocket for the photograph Janet had given him and held it under Potter’s nose.

    The head and shoulders photograph was of a man in his late thirties, with light brown hair and light blue eyes, Potter recognised him instantly.

    “Where is he, ZM seventy-three where is he?”

    “I, I don’t know.”

    “Not good enough!”

    “I heard he stormed into the office one morning” Potter began “ranting and raving about something. He was in a right angry mood, slammed down his letter of resignation on the desk and stormed out. No one has seen or heard of him since. Some people thought he’d sold out, or gone over to the other side.”

    This remark seemed to outrage the man as he once again gripped Potter by the throat “Now mark me Potter and mark me well, you are going to tell me what you know.”

    Potter nodded “I’ve told you, he resigned and no one has seen or heard of him since that morning, and that was over a year ago.”

    “What about the Colonel and Sir Charles, what have they done about it?”

    Potter shrugged his shoulders.

    “When you next see the Colonel, tell him I’m back and that I am looking for answers.”

    Potter was much relieved when the man suddenly up and walked away, he scurried off in the opposite direction towards the nearest telephone box.

    The green yellow nosed Lotus Seven made its way through the busy London traffic, all the time the driver with one eye in the rear view mirror. But even then he failed to take any notice of the occasional glimpse of a black hearse. Along Portland Place and Regents Streetround Trafalgar Square, passed the Palace of Westminster before turning right into Abingdon street, and another right, down the ramp into the underground car park whilst the black hearse turned round and parked, just a few feet from the entrance to the car park.

13

    The roar of the Ford Cosworth engine was loud and distinctive as the Lotus sped down the ramp and into the underground car park, as it came to a halt at the yellow barrier and ticket dispenser. Taking the automatically dispensed ticket, and seeing the barrier raise itself, the driver pressed on the accelerator and the Lotus moved forward with a roar which echoed loudly around the car park, being unable as it was to escape its confines. With the Lotus parked the driver got out and headed for the pair of double doors WAY OUT and pushed them open stepping through into a dimly lit corridor which he marched sprightly along, his face lit by the occasional overhead light.
   Having left the car park the man made his way along Whitehall and to a particular building. Once inside he made for an office he once knew very well. Pulling open the double doors he calmly entered that office and approached the desk, behind which sat a bald-headed man wearing black rimmed spectacles who stopped writing and slowly looked up from the paperwork on his desk.

    “You still here then?” the man asked leaning over the desk.

    The man looked up blankly at the man staring down at him.

   Sir Charles Portland was already in a meeting when the man was shown into an elaborately decorated and furnished office, sat as he was behind his solid oak desk. He was a man in his fifties with a head of distinguished white hair, wearing his usual attire of dark jacket, grey waistcoat and trousers, white shirt and blue striped tie, oh yes and being a keen Rosarian, he always wore a red rose in his button hole. He looked at the man framed in the doorway, and the two men standing behind him in the corridor “I’m sorry gentlemen” he said turning his attention back to his three colleagues “perhaps we can continue this, this afternoon, shall we say at ten past two.”

    The three men collected their files, papers and briefcases and took their leave as the man was escorted into the room and now stood before Sir Charles Portland, who waited patiently for his colleagues to depart.

    “I had hoped that our paths would never cross again.”

    “I’m only too pleased to have been able to disappoint you Sir Charles” the man quipped “I see nothing has changed, you still enjoy a lavish life style, with all the creature comforts that your position can afford.”

    Sir Charles Portland’s office was more of an elaborate study than a working office, with its plaster columns and busts, military paintings of Cook, Wellington, Gordon, and Marlborough. Book-lined walls, plush carpeting, comfortable armchairs and not forgetting that well stocked drinks cabinet.

    “What is it you think I can do for you?” Sir Charles asked.

14

    “That’s what I liked about you, straight to the point” the man took the photograph from his jacket pocket and held it out for Sir Charles to see “where is he?”

    Sir Charles gave the picture a cursory glance “No doubt my daughter has put you up to this. I can tell you what I told her, that I honestly don’t know where he is, and I haven’t sent him on a mission, and I told my daughter more than I should. So having spoken to her you now know as much as she does. Now if you will excuse me.”

    He hasn’t been seen for over a year. If you don’t know where he is, then surely you know someone who does, and don’t try and palm me off like you did Janet.”

    “Getting irate will not help the situation in any way.” began Sir Charles “he stormed into the office, shouting his mouth off, slamming down his letter of resignation and stormed out again. And now I’ve told you more than I should.”

    “You haven’t told me anything I haven’t heard before. Resigned, why should he resign? He would never…..he was loyal, he enjoyed his work, you of all men should know that. He was going to marry your daughter. Why should he have given all that up? But then again perhaps he was becoming tired of being used to clear the mess other people had left behind!” the man retorted forcefully “besides that doesn’t account for why he disappeared!”

    “That kind of thing was down to the General, you know the way he and his department operates” Sir Charles told him “anyway it was all rather sudden and unexpected, one day he resigned and the next there he was, gone” the after effects of his future son-in-laws actions still left a bitter taste in the mouth.

    “You haven’t told Janet that her fiancé has resigned from the department, have you?” the man asked sternly.

    “What I do or do not tell my daughter is of no concern to you, just as his current whereabouts are of no concern to me or that of my department” retorted Sir Charles calmly.

    “Possibly not to you personally Sir Charles, but ought to be to your department, I should think his whereabouts are most important, all that knowledge inside his head. That must be of great value to one side or the other, wouldn’t you say? No-one is permitted to resign, well they can of course, but they are kept on a very long leash, more often than not given a menial job of some kind for a few quid a week. Put out into the cold, sometimes to be brought back into the warm. But your department went and lost him, or he lost them!”

    “ZM seventy-three had resigned from a top secret and highly confidential position” Sir Charles began to explain “his whole future lay before him and he threw it away with one selfish action. I was the one who had to pick up the pieces, both professionally and privately, I was the one left to clean up the mess he left behind…. I lost a future son-in-law! Apparently I should have seen it coming, and if I had perhaps the action of having a good man walk out might have been averted, and now I have his capricious and mulish brother to deal with.”

15


    “He came back, didn’t Janet tell you?”
    “You mean a man turned up one day claiming to be ZM seventy-three.”
    “The Colonel!”
    “You know about that do you? I don’t know who he was, never seen him before?”
    “He told Janet everything, she must have told you, she told me about his abduction to the village, what village might that be?”
    “I have no idea what you are talking about!”

    “I think you do.”

    “He has gone the same way as you, take care that you do not take the same path as he” Sir Charles warned.

    “Then you do know.”
    Unseen Sir Charles pressed a hidden button under his desk. The pair of doors opened and two men in dark suits stepped into the office. At a nod from Sir Charles the two men took the man securely by the arms and escorted him out of the office, and ejected him from the building.

    Sir Charles picked up the receiver of the red telephone upon his desk “He’s been here and is now leaving. He cannot be allowed to pursue this matter further, I leave you to resolve this situation and to bring it to a satisfactory conclusion best suited to both departments. My daughter is my concern, she can do no harm, so keep your men away from her. Is that understood?” replacing the receiver he turned his attention to the papers on his desk, giving the matter no further thought.

    Despite Sir Charles warning, our friend had no option but to pursue the matter, he called on some old familiar faces in the department. He visited many of his old haunts, asking questions here, demanding answers there. It was like hitting his head against a brick wall, people put the shutters up. It was only to be expected, he had become an outcast of the department. People do not forget, old friends and ex-colleagues melt away. His last chance was the Colonel, and that meant a trip out into the country, calling in on the ‘Hope & Anchor’ public house along the way.

    And so it was that he found himself enjoying the pleasures of the open roads of Hertfordshire. The roar of the Cosworth engine, the wind on his chilled face, set in a grimace. The green–yellow nosed Lotus Seven sped along the hedge lined country roads, braking for tight bends, then putting his foot down hard on the accelerator for straight road ahead, then the driver expertly steering the Lotus through a series of ‘S’ bends before coming to a halt at a ‘T’ junction, where the Lotus turned left at the signpost towards ‘Hazelwood’ 2 ½ miles.

    It was in the car park of ‘The Hope & Anchor’ public house that the Lotus finally came to a stop, the driver climbing out and walked smartly inside a large white building with a thatched roof. The public bar was occupied with the usual clientele, the gin and tonic brigade, a courting couple in a booth and a regimental looking gentleman with a bushy moustache reading ‘The Times’ newspaper. A hat stand stood in the corner and upon the oak panelled walls hung paintings of the local hunt. The bar was made from solid oak and behind it stood a barmaid with dark hair and wearing a tight fitting, low cut flowery dress. He leant on the bar and took a ten shilling note from a brown leather wallet and placed it upon the bar.

16

    “Yes sir, what would you like?” the barmaid asked him.

    “A pint of your best bitter please Doris” he replied with a warm smile, as he watched the barmaid get a glass and pull his pint from a Watney Mann pump.

    Doris, a not unattractive brunette somewhere in her mid thirties, cut a trim figure, with a large bust, which she enjoyed showing off to her customers {well it improved the tips she received} and put the pint filled glass down on the bar and picked up the ten shilling note.

    “How do you know my name sir, I don’t think I’ve seen you in here before.”

    “From a mutual friend, he used to drink here from time to time” the man informed her, and took a photograph from his inside jacket pocket and placed it on the bar under Doris’s nose.

    Doris gave the photograph a cursory glance, then turned to the till and rang up two shillings and sixpence, then closing the till turned back to her customer placing his change on the bar and the photograph.

    The man sipped his pint, picking up the change left the photograph on the bar.

    “Is he the mutual friend?” Doris asked glancing down at the photograph again.

    “Don’t you recognise him?”

    “Yes he used to come here quite often, or at least he used to” Doris told him, picking up the photograph.

    “Used to?”

    “He hasn’t been in for sometime, must be over a year now.”

    The man continued to sip his pint “And you haven’t seen him in all that time?”

    “I would have remembered if I had, quite handsome isn’t he?” Doris smiled handing back the photograph “come to think of it, you look a lot like him, related are you?”

    “You must see and hear a great deal standing behind the bar.”

    “You’re not the law are you?”
    “No, not any more.”
    “Why are you looking for him, what’s he done?”

    The man took a long draught of his beer and put the quarter half filled glass down on the bar and the photograph back into his pocket   

17


    “He’s disappeared and I’m looking for him that’s all, in fact he disappeared without a trace. He might have been thinking of going away, on holiday. I don’t suppose he told you anything did he?”

    “Why should he do that?” asked Doris suddenly on the defensive.

    “Well some men prefer to confide in a barmaid, rather than their loved ones. Besides drink loosens a man’s tongue.”

    “Not that one sir, that much I can tell you” Doris replied.

    “I just wondered if he ever said anything in passing?” he said pressing her for an answer.

    Doris shook her head “He gave me the impression that he was the kind of man who kept himself to himself, didn’t ask other people about their business and expected them not to ask about his.”

    The man fell silent for a second, as though remembering “Yes he could be like that.”

    “Perhaps he found himself another drinking hole. You could try the ‘George & Angel’ down the road” Doris suggested.

    The man picked up his glass draining it, and to Doris there came a far away look in his eye “The ‘George & Angel’, I used to drink there!”

    “Same again sir?” Doris asked him.

    The man stared into the empty glass, the froth sliding down the inside and placed it upon the bar “No thanks Doris, I’m driving, besides I have a call to make on an old colleague and I don’t think I’m going to be made very welcome.”

    “You’re not in any kind of trouble are you?” Doris asked, looking concerned for her customer.

    “No, but someone’s going to be!” and unsmilingly the man walked briskly out of the pub and into the car park.

    Doris picked up the empty glass off the bar, and watched a man wearing a grubby raincoat fold up the newspaper he had been reading, get up from the corner table and follow the man outside, but thinking nothing further of it, turned to serve another customer at the bar “G & T is it sir?”

    Outside the ‘Hope & Anchor’ our friend climbed into the Lotus, turned the ignition key firing up the engine. Engaging reverse gear he backed round and then drove out of the car park and then sped off at speed along the narrow road.

    The man in the grubby raincoat, stepped into the car park and stood watching until the green-yellow nosed Lotus was out of sight. From a pocket he produced a walkie-talkie, pulled out the aerial and pressed the red button “Potter here, he’s left the Hope & Anchor, he’s on his way to see the Colonel….don’t worry, I’ve seen to it that he doesn’t arrive.”

    There wasn’t another car on the road, it was a beautiful summer’s day and he was enjoying the drive along the B road, so much so that he put his foot down just that little bit harder on the accelerator. The Lotus Seven sped ever faster along the long winding road, and with the great ease of an expert driver. The freedom of the open road, there is nothing quite like it in an open topped sports car, it’s always fresh and exhilarating, the wind in your hair. The needle of the speedometer was north of seventy and pushing eighty. The trees, hedges and green pastures flashed by and beyond the sweeping bend the final straight before Hazelwood, the loud bang of a sudden burst tyre, a blow out! The driver fought to maintain some control of the Lotus as it swerved across the road, straight towards a telegraph pole. The impact was unavoidable, even with the driver’s foot on the brake. The front end of the Lotus was completely crushed and buckled, the hood a sheet of twisted and contorted metal, with the driver slumped over the wooden steering wheel, blood trickling from an open head wound.

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    Nothing stirred along that long and deserted road, save for the wind as it whistled in the over head telegraph wires and the mooing of cattle in the pasture as they stared at the crumpled car wreck. The man stirred himself and tried to sit upright, but the tightness of his chest and his trapped legs, together with the confined space he sat in, restricted any kind of movement. His vision was blurred, and what he could make out through a thin veil of blood, was going round and round, and the pain in his head was comparable to a hammer striking an anvil. Suddenly there came the noise, far and in the distance, yet all the time growing louder by the second, the noise of a two tone siren. Again he tried to stir himself, to lift himself up to see what it was that was coming, but the pain forced him to remain slumped over the steering wheel, blackness slowly engulfed him, and he slipped peacefully into unconsciousness.

    The distant siren was getting louder as the white ambulance sped along the road towards the scene of the accident, its blue light flashing, until at last it came to a halt in the road beside the crashed car. Two ambulance man quickly clambered out, the one to attend the unconscious driver, and the second opening up the back to collect a stretcher for the patient who was carefully eased out of the car wreck and onto the said stretcher. Then covered with a blanket, an oxygen mask applied over the patient’s nose and mouth, and carried on the stretcher into the back of the ambulance. One ambulance man stayed in the back of the vehicle, while his colleague climbed into the cab and drove away along that long deserted country lane, siren blaring and blue light flashing far into the distance.

    Drifting in and out of consciousness the patient became aware of movemet, or rather being moved, pushed on a trolley to be exact. The pain he had felt in the car crash was now replaced with a feeling of numbness throughout his entire body. He tried to move, but could not, not even his head from side to side, and all he could do was lie on his back. Through his still blurred vision, he could make out the pale intermittent overhead lights and the shadowy figure who continued to push him along on the trolley, down a long corridor of the hospital.

    A second shadowy figure hurried at his side, keeping pace with the trolley as it was quickly pushed along by the male orderly.

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Then came a disembodied voice which wavered, echoed. A female voice which seemed most concerned about him

    “Is he still alive, I can’t find a pulse, is he still alive, I can’t find a pulse, is he still alive, alive, alive, alive?”

    Through a pair of double doors the trolley was pushed. The patient could see only the dim ceiling over head as he was lifted off the trolley and onto the operating table around which other shadowy figures gathered, each wearing green surgical gowns and face masks. The patient tried to speak, lips moved but no sound was uttered. Then a sharp pain in the numbness of his body, and the finger of unconsciousness beckoned him, as blackness engulfed him once more.

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