Archive | March, 2017

ROSIE BAUR D.I. Chapter 2.

19 Mar

2. THE VICTIM.

“There I was, constable, the sun replacing all the vitamin D that hard work’s dragged out of me as I luxuriate in my lounger, and I get that phone call!” said Detective Inspector Rosie Baur rather crossly. DC Martin Thrives fought a blush down when he recalled rumours of the DI’s naturist preferences when she was on holiday and secretly hoped that one day, somewhere, he might bump into her. He shook the thought from his head. It wasn’t a healthy one.
As for the DI, it had all been a rush and went against everything the twins had dreamed of enjoying, but the awning had been dragged down and packed away as neatly as rushing allowed, the caravan hitched up after anything breakable had been put safely away and her Xtrail coaxed into action, and all within an hour of the telephone call from Peter Jenson.
The journey back had taken a bit longer, but here she was, the hitched-up caravan still attached to her car in the station car-park and her ten year-old twins still moaning on the back seat. Their holiday had been ruined and they couldn’t see why. After all, mum might be in the police, but she wasn’t the only one. Cars full of them raced around the town all the time, didn’t they?
“Why does mum have to be a copper?” moaned Jack.
“So that she can afford to take us on holiday,” replied Jill, who saw the economic side.
“Funny!” almost snapped Jack.
In the station DC Martin Thrives had been put into the firing line as he was the junior member of the team and consequently unlikely to receive both barrels from the Inspector. She was famously generous to those who couldn’t so easily blast back at her on the rare occasions when her impatience got the best of her.
“It was most inconsiderate of the bloke…” said Martin calmly, knowing how to defuse most situations. “Getting himself murdered like that, and both of his eyes gouged out the way they were. If he were still alive I’d tell him so, and no messing.”
Rosie sighed. “Where’s Peter?” she asked.
“In hiding,” replied Martin. “In the office,” he added.
“I need to get the details and then take my load home before I get down to serious work,” she said, scowling, her attractive dusky face not at its best when she thought of having to face the twins again. A homicidal maniac would be easier, she thought. Or even two.
“The sergeant’s waiting for you, ma’am,” said Martin. “And I’m sorry,” he added.
“For what, constable?”
“For your holiday, ma’am. I know what it’s like, being promised and then having to miss out. The poor kids,” sniffed the constable.
He’d done enough. Sophie sighed and then smiled at him. Her face lit up with the first hint of that smile like it always did. I know she’s a brilliant copper, but with a smile like that she’s just got to be able to melt any heart, thought Martin Thrives, who could quite see himself sharing her doubtlessly perfumed sheets with her despite the fifteen year age gap between them. But it was all in his head, solely and unrealistically in his head, and he knew it.
“It’s a bloody nuisance,” greeted D S Jenson as she entered the main office. “And you building sandcastles with your angels on the beach!”
“We weren’t on the beach and I was sunning myself,” Sophie told him.
“And you in your best sunbathing costume, I’ll bet,” he grinned.
“If you want to know if I was totally commando then I guess you’ve worked out the answer to that,” murmured Sophie. “When I choose to soak up some sun then that’s what I do, no messing. Now what’s the story?”
“You know that little cul-de-sac on the way out of town, going towards Swanspottle?” asked Peter, “you know, all on its own and a good mile from any other living soul,” and assuming she knew where he meant, continued, “well, a gent by the name of Buttery, Philip Buttery to give him his full moniker, was found there around eight this morning by his wife, Mrs Miriam Buttery. Like him, she’s in her fifties and in shock. It wasn’t a pretty sight. Someone had seen fit to take his eyes out with a table spoon and it was a bloody mess.”
Sophie shuddered “Sounds nasty,” she said. “What does Cardew say?” Cardew Dingle was their pathologist, forty-odd, overweight and filled with all the charm of mortuary humour.
“He’s yet to do a full PM, but he reckons the bloke was killed around midnight, give or take. It seems he was putting the bin out, seeing as today’s collection day round there, and his wife was already in bed. She says he snores a lot, so they have separate rooms so she can get some sleep, so she never suspected he wasn’t curled up and in the land of nod himself. Anyway, he suffered from the proverbial blunt trauma to his head … and those eyes.”
“Separate rooms, eh? That sometimes tells a story…”
“The dead man looks to have been a bit of a scholar. He runs ” or ran ” the local library as librarian. Seems he was pretty diligent and the two girls who work there with him haven’t a bad word to say about him.”
“Might he have been having an affair with either or both of them?”
“It didn’t look like it to me. They were shocked, as you’d expect, and upset, but no great flood of tears and gnashing of teeth.”
“I’d best see them anyway. They might give us a better insight into the man than a wife who doesn’t sleep with him.”
“She, the missus, seems a bit mousey, on first meeting her. Works in a charity shop … I’ve got to check her out there … and Uniform are talking to the neighbours, to see if any of them noticed anything.”
She looked at him firmly, and then relaxed into a smile. “Well, I’ll climb into the harness when I’ve got my ankle-biters home and set up with a minder. This would have to happen during the school holidays! But it won’t take me long, I hope. Until then, keep an open mind. It’s not always the wife who murders the husband, you know!”
“Don’t I know it! Right, I’ll carry on, and I’m truly sorry that your holiday’s been wrecked like this, but there was nobody else with enough seniority to run this particular investigation, and murder is your speciality.”
“I know,” She smiled at him. “And I had to get dressed in double-quick time, and just for a dead man! It’s not the same, coming to work and having to wear clothes!”
“There’ll be another time….”
“You can bet your arse on that much, Peter!”
She returned to the car and caravan outfit and apologised to her twins.
“It’s a murder,” she said, making her voice sound morbidly hollow, more to amuse them than because that’s the way she felt. “The librarian,” she added.
“What? Mr Buttery?” asked Jack.
“You know him?” asked Sophie, surprised.
“I do go the library, mum, and he does try to help me when I’m there. I reckon he knows every book in the children’s section and he’s … he was … an expert on Biggles!”
She looked at her son, and ruffled his hair. “I see,” she said, “then I’d better sort out who killed him, and do it in double-quick time!

TO BE CONTINUED…
© Peter Rogerson 23.02.17

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ROSIE BAUR D.I. Chapter 1

18 Mar

1. D.I. ROSIE BAUR

Rosie Baur lounged luxuriantly in her upholstered camping chair and grinned at Jack, her ten year-old son as he ran a race against his twin sister, Jill, and lost by tripping over a blade of grass and scuffing his knees.
“You’ll have to be more careful than that!” she called and he shouted something inaudibly cheeky back before asking for an ice-cream, which might help his knee get better.
Rosie had parked her caravan on a small site with minimal facilities and a welcome to campers who enjoyed a more naturist life-style, which meant it wouldn’t be as busy as some, and being within a couple of spits of the North Sea it provided what felt like a proper holiday without being excessively sand and surfy, which she didn’t like but the kids did, but today was her day for relaxing, for recharging her personal batteries and regaining her perspective on life, and she was going nowhere. The kids would help her there. They always did.
One of the downsides of her job, a detective inspector in Brumpton where there was just enough crime to keep her job interesting, was contact with those kids, especially during a difficult case. She loved them, more than anything else in the world, but needed to earn a crust and anyway she loved her job as well, and was damned good at it.
It hadn’t been easy getting to the rank she’d reached. Not for a pretty woman from a mixed race genetic pool in a world where there were still deeply rooted prejudices in some corners, against women and against colour, and she’d had to fight her way up with basic intelligence and determination her weapons. But fight she had and had repaid, she thought, in full, for the trust that had been shown in her abilities. Her clean-up rate was second to none in the county and nobody could argue with that. And it came from the way she attended to each detail of a case as if it was more important than all the rest.
She watched Jack with his ice-cream and warned him against dropping the wrapper and then stretched out again. This was the life she loved, the kids nearby, the world quiet and peaceful and the only people likely to come near not likely to hide their personalities behind the outpourings of the fashion world. Not that everyone was naked like she was, lounging near her awning and soaking up the sun. There were some who used the site who would never cast off all their clothes, and she supposed the world should be grateful for small mercies when she thought of some of them. But most braved the naturist’s uniform and didn’t give it a second thought. Even the kids accepted being in the altogether as natural.
“Can I have an ice-cream too, mummy?” asked Jill, and she smiled back, and nodded.
“Is uncle Peter coming?” asked Jack, “like he did last time?”
Uncle Peter wasn’t really an uncle or even any sort of relation to the twins, though it felt like he was closer to her than any sibling she had could possibly be when they were at work. Detective Sergeant Peter Jenson was by far the best friend she had. He was stolid, reliable, prepared to go the extra mile if it was called for, and never argued back publicly when he suspected she might be wrong, which was rare anyway. Instead he quietly murmured his own views, privately, and contributed to decisions that way. And she appreciated it.
But the best thing was the basic fact that they’d become friends without going through the awkward maze of being lovers. Him being a lover would have put a different and most likely unhelpful skew on their relationship, and she didn’t want that any more than she was ready for a lover. She was grateful for the way things were, just as she’d been more than grateful for everything he’d done to help when Paul had been killed.
Paul, her husband and father to her children had been an angel, but an angel with a dangerous hobby. He’d raced cars, not proper racing cars but old bangers on stock car tracks, where there were frequent accidents that normally didn’t mean very much. But on one disastrous occasion and unknown by him his seat belt had been tampered with and he’d been killed tragically in the first collision, but not outright. He’d lingered in a coma for days before he’d given up the ghost and plugs had been pulled and he was no more. It had taught her to loathe any kind of motor sport because, to her, it wasn’t a sport at all, but yet another of mankind’s weapons that can be used in murder.
She hadn’t been allowed to solve the problem of who had as good as killed her husband, of course, she being much too close to the victim, but Peter had struggled day and night until he’d worked out what had happened and why Paul was dead, and now the bastard who’d taken a blade to a safety harness was behind bars and would be until he was old and grey. Justice of a sort was being done, and he deserved it.
But the whole process had brought herself and Peter even closer together. The two years that had elapsed since she’d buried Paul hadn’t been easy, but without her doughty sergeant they would have been one hell of a lot harder.
“Well, is he?” demanded Jack.
“Pardon? Oh, uncle Peter? No, he’s at work, but he might pop by at the weekend,” she said.
“That’s good,” grinned Jack. “He’s going to show me how to make a bow and arrows.”
“Like Robin Hood?” smiled Rosie.
“Or Little John,” said Jack, “It’s good here to shoot arrows because there’s nobody to get in the way and end up with an arrow in their eye, like that old king of hundreds of year ago.”
“As long as you’re careful,” murmured Rosie.
It worried her when the children were encouraged to play what she considered dangerous games, but she knew that boys must be boys and with sensible supervision they should be all right.
“That’s your phone, mummy,” called Jill from the awning where she was busy unwrapping her own ice-cream.
“Darn it,” she said, “bring it here, darling.”
Jill ran up to her, and the phone stopped ringing just as she handed it over to her mother.
“How annoying,” muttered Rosie, and she started checking the missed-calls register.
It was Peter Jenson, and she would have called him back but the phone started ringing again.
“Rosie,” said Peter, “Better get your drawers on! You’re wanted here. There’s been a murder, and it’s what I’d call bloody nasty!”
TO BE CONTINUED…
© Peter Rogerson 22.02.17

THE BLASTED DESERT Chapter Twenty-six

11 Mar

26. THE FAIRY CASTLE

The island, when they got there, was beautiful and contrasted most favourably with everything Digory had ever known.

It was green where it should be green, the beaches were golden where they should be golden and Digory felt instantly at home there.

Yet there was just one obstacle to his joy.

Fanny had landed on the beach after a short bird-powered flight from a considerably bigger island, one that had an airport where they had landed after the longest flight he could imagine anyone taking. But he’d got used to it … just. He supposed he’d had to, or go insane

The feel of sand beneath his feet, warm and soft, made him rip his shoes off and bask in the glory of it. He had little experience of sand and had yet to learn that it can be truly annoying if it gets between the toes, and sticks there. But if that were to happen at all it would happen in the future.

Then they came to the aforementioned obstacle.

It was a turnstile with a large notice attached, advising any who wished to pass it to pay their taxes OR ELSE. It didn’t say or else what, but it did look serious as though the person who had erected it had privacy in mind, and privacy for one can mean danger for everyone else.

“The coins,” murmured Fanny, “the special coins you were given.”

It hadn’t been so long ago in real time but Digory remembered what the Father Superior at the Monastery had said and pulled a small bag out of his pocket. More by luck than judgement he hadn’t lost it despite the changes of clothing he’d had to make in the interim.

“Good boy,” approved Fanny, and Digory felt like telling her it was almost a lifetime since he’d been one of those. It wasn’t that he felt particularly old, he didn’t, but by the same token he didn’t feel particularly young either. Some of his joints ached and he couldn’t bend his legs like he once had.

He inserted the coins into the turnstile money-slot and pushed against it.

A mechanical voice made him jump. “Thank you,” it said, and “Welcome, but leave your gods here.”

The two of them passed through the turnstile and stood for a moment looking around them.

The path that they were on was green with springy grass, the sky above them was the sort of blue that pollution has yet to get to and the air smelled sweet, of the growing things about them, wild spring flowers, fragrant trees, things like that.

“It’s perfect,” sighed Digory.

“That’s what I’ve always thought,” whispered his mother. “Come on, we’ll walk from here on. It isn’t far.”

They hadn’t gone far when the verdant growth thinned out and sand, a very different kind from that on the beach, crunched beneath their feet and Digory replaced his shoes. It was harsh to his soles compared with the softness of the beach.

He trudged on.

“Look behind you,|” whispered Fanny after they had walked a few hundred yards on the crunching sand, and Digory turned round to look. The verdant path they’d walked along had already merged with the distance and all he could see in any detail was the grey sand beneath their feet.

“This is weird,” he said,

“It’s an optical illusion,” his Mother told him, “and it discourages anyone who’s managed to trespass this far.”

Digory nodded. It would have discouraged him had he been on his own, he decided, and he turned back to carry on walking across that monotonous sand.

“It always was a little weird, as you put it,” whispered Fanny, “but fear not. It doesn’t go on like this for ever. Look, and what do you see?”

She pointed, and Digory followed the direction her outstretched arm was indicating. Ahead of them, as if out of a mist or a dream, emerged a building. And he had never seen such a building before. If there ever was such a place as a fairytale castle, this was it, but on a cosily small scale, unthreatening and certainly not looking remotely military. It had spires and towers, crenelations and turrets, and yet at the same time it looked homely.

“He’s here,” whispered Fanny. “I brought him here to die.”

“Who,” asked Digory.

“Your father,” silly,” replied his mother, and she led the way to the castle door, over a drawbridge and through an arched doorway until she came to the door itself.

“I’m here, so open,” she said quietly, and the door swung open.

“Those are the words that are better than a key because keys can be lost,” she told Digory. “However, you can only forget words, and it’s best to make sure you don’t.”

“I’m here, so open,” whispered Digory.

She smiled at him. “And I’m in, so close, she said, and the door swung silently to behind them. To Digory it was magic. He’d never met anything voice-operated before and so it was indistinguishable from fairytale magic.

The vestibule they were in was small but tastefully modern in the minimalist style with very little to break its contours or collect dust. Digory looked around and thought how well it contrasted with the Monastery and its diry untidiness that had been his home for so many years.

“Now remember this,” whispered Fanny, “the message I left at the beginning, about seeking a desert and crossing it, and doing it soon?”

Digory nodded, too confused to trust himself to actual words.

“Well, you’ve just crossed the desert and now that you’re here you’ll find out why it had to be soon.”

He nodded again, his mother’s words as good as meaningless.

“This way, then” said Fanny, and she led the way through another door into a sumptuous yet human-sized lounge. Around the edge were sofas and soft seats and against one wall was a large television screen. But in the very centre, and like a king commanding his domain, sat a lonely figure in a high-backed chair.

“There’s no need to stand on ceremony here, Imageous,” it said in a voice that quivered with age and yet was instantly recognisable to one who had known it all his life.

“Father Superior…” gasped Digory/Imageous.

“The very same, my son, and welcome at last to my true home…” croaked the ancient figure with the merest suggestion of a transatlantic accent, and as he said those words his head sunk down onto his chest and his eyes closed, and a long and final sigh escaped his lips, followed by a dead silence.

THE END

© Peter Rogerson 19.02.17

THE BLASTED DESERT Chapter Twenty-five

9 Mar

25 DADDY-O!

There was an uncomfortable silence on the Jumbo-jet whilst the elderly Digory sobbed quietly to himself and scratched his genitals when he thought his even older mother might not notice. But she did. She was quite used to the behaviour of men even though it was a good half century since she’d last charged for her more feminine services.

After a while she nudged him and smiled fetchingly. At least he thought it was fetchingly, though to her it was a bit of a grimace.

“I spoke of your daddy,” she said after a while, and he nodded, looking at her through pale eyes and wondering what she was going to tell him now. A stray feather, black as the bird she’d morphed into, still clung to one eyebrow and he thought it put her into some kind of perspective. Not even she was perfect.

“I thought I’d take the time it takes us to get to the southern ocean, called the Pacific if you didn’t already know…”

“I know nothing about such things,” he mumbled at her, “my education was limited to a few stories about a war in Heaven and twelve volumes of prayers…”

“Then I’d best fill you in, Digory,” she said with the sort of look that advised him to keep quiet until questions would be allowed later.

He nodded again, and she took this as total unremitting agreement.

“You were born during the war,” she began, and he wanted to ask what war but daren’t.

“It was a terrible time and I was yet to make a name for myself. There were shortages of everything and a girl in my trade … I’d already started my career as a whore … has certain needs to keep herself respectable. I mean, the right shade of lipstick was just about unattainable, and as for nylons and knickers … I hate to tell you the lengths I had to go to, and I was really only a slip of a lass.

“Then I met a special man. He was quite high up in the American Government even though he wasn’t much older than me, but what was particularly special about him was all the money he could get his hands on. And what was even better was the fact that he not only liked my services … don’t be shocked, Digory, even back then a girl had to do the best she could with the raw materials at hand, so to speak, and my raw materials were my looks and my intelligence. With the combination of those, natural gifts from the gods, qualities that were mine from birth, I could fly as high as I wanted, and fly I did!”

“Like this, in an airyplane?” Digory dared to ask.

“No, silly, but metaphorically. He had the money, I had the looks, but the bad thing was he was already married to a scheming bitch who he’d never loved but had sadly got pregnant. And he told me she only changed her undies once a week! Can you imagine that! By the end of the week they must have reeked!”

Digory remained silent when he remembered the leather codpiece that he’d been obliged to wear at the Monastery, and the infrequency with which that had been changed.

“Anyway, back during the war I got pregnant. By him, and with you, to tell the truth. I was usually so careful to make sure nothing like that ever happened, but it was a couple of decades before the pill was invented and other forms of contraception weren’t so easily found even though John-boy (that was … and is … his name) was usually good at providing them. But there was one occasion when neither of us had the relevant article.”

Digory had no idea about what the relevant article might be. He had only the vaguest knowledge that there was any such thing as contraception and an even vaguer idea about contraceptive methods. His life had been a simple affair and the only times anything remotely gender-related had entered into it he had been totally on his own, and becoming increasingly ashamed.

But his mother carried on, unaware of the ignorance that was tripping him up.

“After you were born I did my best to look after you but when the war ended and things started very slowly to get somewhere near normal I just couldn’t cope. I had John-boy around still, at least once a week even though he spent most of the time he was with me moaning about his wife. During the war she had been in America because she thought it too dangerous to be in a country where bombs rained down day and night, but when hostilities were over she joined him in London and he had to be careful or she’d have found out about me, and the divorce she’d insist on would have cost him a great deal of money. He could afford it all right, but didn’t want to. Anyway, to cut a long story short I took you to the monastery to be looked after just in case he had to divorce the bitch and wanted to marry me.”

What’s a divorce, wondered Digory, as an ignorant ex-monk might. But he carried on listening without seeking enlightenment because he really believed that it would go into one of his ears and out of the other.

Fanny carried on.

“Anyway, time passed and your father’s job in England came to an end and he returned to America with his bitch. I was sorry to see him go, strangely more sorry to see him go than I was to see his wallet go! But life must go on and I carried on bravely, making a few pennies on the way. That’s where the island we’re going to comes into my story. It was used for some kind of atomic testing while me and a very dear friend were there when the blast of a test caught him and … it was dreadful, but one moment he was alive and the next he was very dead. Somehow I survived but had suddenly become half woman, half bird! Anyway, I heard again from your father much later, and he told me his time was up and he was dying. And I took him to my island with all his medical pariphernalia where he could die in comfort and he started asking about you, which is when I told him I would fetch you.

“And that’s it, really. End of story, except to tell you the dad you will meet is a hundred years old, frail and American. Think of it: even without an NHS he’s lived to be old enough to get a telegram from the queen if he were a Brit!”

“I don’t understand…” croaked Digory.

“What don’t you understand, dear?” asked Fanny.

“Just about all of it,” he confessed. “Look: I’ve lived my life isolated from the world chanting nonsense to a god who probably never existed and I know very little about anything!”

“That’s what the religious freaks do,” sighed his mother, “they keep you in ignorance when they can and replace what you should get to know, what we all call common sense, with rubbish of their own. I should have known better when I took you there all those years ago, but I didn’t. I was only a slip of a lass, and almost as ignorant as you.”

Digory looked at her, and sighed.

She sighed, too.

© Peter Rogerson 18.02.17

THE BLASTED DESERT Chapter Twenty-four

5 Mar

24. UP, UP AND AWAY

It took the best part of a day for Fanny to take Digory to the airport and contrive to escape the country without him having a passport or any kind of identification. Most people might consider that a tall order, but she was quite happy to set herself the task and remarkably achieve her end with little trouble.

In addition to that, they must have looked a suspicious duo as they had no discernible luggage and only an apparently vague idea of what they were doing. They were even short of spare underwear, and that hit Digory hard as he’d only just got into the habit of changing his loose woven boxers on a daily basis and quite enjoyed the sense of cleanliness round his more precious parts. Life in the Monastery had hardly provided him with fragrant cotton and little buttons on the fly. No, back then it had been a leather codpiece, and he’d rarely changed it. It was the way things had been.

However, with the aid of a little clandestine metamorphosis (though a huge black bird with a nervous elderly gentleman on its back was a difficult thing to conceal in a crowded establishment like an International Airport, but it could go where foot passengers couldn’t and do it with ease). In remarkably little time considering the obstacles they both managed to find unoccupied seats on a jumbo jet going South.

“We’ll be on our way soon,” sighed Fanny. “Then you’ll see what a blasted desert can look like, in spring when the sun’s shining. And, of course, meet your ever-loving daddy.”

“It’s nearly the end of summer,” pointed out Digory moodily. Besides virtually terminal confusion he was getting the start of a migraine, the first in his entire life, but then it was hardly surprising that recent events had conspired to wreak havoc to the inside of his head.

Fanny, on the other hand, was quite calm. After all, she had a recharged pacemaker keeping her heart pounding and the psychological impact of knowing that your batteries won’t be likely to let you down can do wonders to a very old lady’s morale and peace of mind. So she sat in a seat next to her rediscovered son, who himself was next to the window, and smiled broadly at the rest of the passengers.

A stewardess, with a sheaf of papers falling out of her hands, asked where their documents were and why they were occupying seats that were supposed to be empty, but Fanny had a long history of confusing officialdom whilst seeming as innocent as the day is long, and after a bit of paper-shuffling the stewardess left them in peace, only slightly troubled by the presence of two passengers who shouldn’t be there, a fact that she found it easier to dismiss from her mind.

Had Digory been aware of where he was and what he was doing he might have been apprehensive, but it never crossed his mind that he was actually on an aeroplane about to take off and fly half way across the world, not that he had a clear idea of what half way across the world really meant. Indeed, his concept of what the world was would have sounded silly to an average five year-old because his notion of existence was bound up with archaic prayers he’d had to repeat ad nauseam and tales of derring-do amongst mysterious spirits in a place called Heaven, which was the same place as where he was quite certain he didn’t want to go to when it was his turn to join the Hereafter, a concept that in itself was almost beyond his understanding. So in a state of absolute confusion he sat in his seat and received the shock of his life when a roaring sound was followed and accompanied considerable vibration of a troubling nature together with an apparent movement of his entire universe, and when he peeped out of the nearby window the world was hurtling past at a speed almost beyond comprehension.

And then it was below them. The whole darned world was below them, and receding as if by magic, going much higher than the helicopter had. It was aiming for the few fluffy clouds that decorated the blue skies of summer, and Digory felt sick.

He whimpered and Fanny glared at him, her ninety-year old features a further threat beyond his comprehension. He’d never liked being glared at. The Father Superior had done it straight at him when he was in a bad mood, and it had usually been followed by physical punishment of a painful nature.

So he closed his eyes and muttered one of the prayers he’d been taught, a chant about death and hope and the spilling of unworthy blood by the copious bucket-full, and would have continued along the same line, but his mother nudged him.

“Shut up!” she hissed, “if the rest of the passengers hear that nonsense they’ll be convinced that something is wrong, and that could start a riot!”

But what’s a passenger, and am I one if the other people around me are the rest, his brain asked.

But he said nothing other than a feeble “what’s a passenger?” and merely slumped into himself with, and he would have been ashamed if anyone had noticed, a tear forming in the corner of one eye and beginning to trickle down his drawn face. By all definitions of sufficiency, he’d had enough.

“Is he frightened of flying, dear?” asked a jolly woman the other side of the aisle from Fanny.

“He’s not been well,” replied his mother, winking at the woman. “He’s had a man’s complaint, and you know how dreadful they can be?”

The woman nodded sagely. “That I do, and no mistake,” she replied. “Now my old man, the Lord bless him, he was taken from me of a man’s complaint! Alive and kicking one day and dead as a dodo the next! It can’t be that good, to be born a man when a woman’s got more about her. I used to tell my old man that, and he never believed me, even though it was clear as day. But he was taken, that he was, before his time. I had plans for the two of us and no mistake, and now there’s just me enjoying the plans we came up with together…”

Digory was on the brink of a breakdown and the talk of a man just being taken from the woman was enough to make him weep aloud. He knew all about men being taken, hadn’t just about the entire community of the Monastery been taken leaving just a skeletal tribe of monks behind, but he knew where they’d gone, they’d been taken to Heaven, so it was all right. Or some of them might have made the easier journey to Hell, which was where he wanted to go, he told himself, when his time came. Away from the singing and the flowers and to an eternity by a nice hot fire and forget the psalms..

But not yet. By no means not yet.

He sat and hugged himself next to the window, and watched a cloud surround his nightmare like a sudden descent of fog.

And he wept even louder while his mother dug him in the ribs and said, loud enough to be heard by just about everyone, “Shut up, Digory … I always said I should have had a daughter…”

TO BE CONTINUED…

© Peter Rogerson 17.02.17

THE BLASTED DESERT Chapter Twenty-three

4 Mar

23. TO THE SKIES

“What in the name of…” gasped Alphonse, his eyes suddenly seeming to be as big as saucers as he reached for Enid’s hand in order to steady himself, and missing as he grasped her left breast and squeezed inadvertently.

“Many apologies…” he added. “I didn’t mean…”

“I did warn you,” said the bird in its well-modulated rather masculine voice. “Radiation can do strange things, even create a monster like me, if you think I’m a monster, that is … but with a little lateral thinking I can return to…” and before their very eyes the bird seemed to melt into smoke and reform as the old woman in a bed complete with pace-maker and a winsome smile.

“That’s some trick,” whispered Bertie.

“I do it all the time,” grinned Fanny, “which is why I like my life with the fair. You see, I’ve got twenty/twenty night vision and when nobody’s likely to see I can fly wherever I choose and only return to my human shape when I get there.”

“It’s impossible…” breathed Alphonse, “one set of DNA can’t do that, can’t become two such very different beings at the drop of a hat!”

“There are no hats involved,” reprimanded Fanny, “and yes, I can as you just saw, so before you use words like impossible try trusting the evidence of your own eyes.”

“It’s a clever trick, but what use is it?” asked Enid, her voice coloured by the merest suggestion of jealousy. She would rather have liked to be able to morph into something outrageous herself.

“I can get about in an unexpected way because, as you know, birds can fly, even huge black ones,” shrugged Fanny, “and I want to get about very soon and take my sweet little boy with me.”

“I can’t do that and change myself into a bird!” protested Imageous, “I can’t even jump very high,” he added emphatically. “I’ve never been very good with heights.”

“I’m bigger and stronger than I look,” said Fanny softly, “and I can carry you quite easily. I could if you weighed twice as much as you do, but by the look of you they half-starved you at that Monastery where I left you for safe keeping. So you’re no great weight. You have the coins, don’t you?”

“What coins?” asked Imageous weakly.

“For the turnstile. There’s a turnstile that we’ll need coins for or we’ll not get through. Didn’t that senile old monk tell you? I left them with him to give you after you rang my neck. You’re good at that, ringing scrawny old necks!”

“I didn’t know you were my mother,” confessed Imageous, wondering how he could possibly have guessed anyway. “I wouldn’t have tried to strangle you if I’d known,” he added.

“Of course you didn’t know me, dearest, because I never told you and its not the sort of thing you could easily imagine,” soothed Fanny. “So we must depart soon. I meant to go the other day, but you were a silly boy and got arrested by the police before I could pick you up. What were you thinking, wearing that outrageous kilt and then taking a wee-wee in public? And it didn’t suit you, not one bit, though in my younger days I’d have looked a treat in it! And then there were your leather undies … they say they stank to heaven!”

“I’ve given that life up now, mother,” muttered Imageous, not liking most of the memories created by the past seventy years and bitterly aware how uncomfortable that codpiece had been for year after year. “The thing is, it’s all I knew and I didn’t have a single parent around to teach me different!”

“And that was my selfish fault,” sighed Fanny. “But we can change all that and for starters you can drop that daft name Imageous and become my own sweet Digory…” she smiled at him.

“Digory … Digory … Digory …. yes, it does sound a bit more like me,” whispered the newly renamed Digory.

“So what are we waiting for?” demanded Fanny. “I need to get to that desert sooner than soon, and have you with me. Your daddy’s there, and he wants to meet you before he pegs it.”

“My daddy?” Digory was more confused than a marble on a pin table.

“Yes, the sweet man,” sighed Fanny. “He’s basking in the sun but I’m afraid he’s on his last legs what with his age and the way time mistreats us poor mortals.”

“Is this desert on the island that was blown up sixty-odd years ago and still radiates nasty stuff if you go anywhere near it?” asked Enid with a frown. “I don’t want to talk out of turn, but isn’t it certain death to go near a nuclear test site within a thousand years of the idiocy of nuclear testing?”

“They’ve tried to clean it up, but there is a patch on it a few miles across where not much grows,” explained Fanny, “but then, nothing much ever grew there. It was always a desert, which is why my beau and I built our cute little hideaway on it all those years ago, before they even dreamed of testing bombs.. But to keep it isolated and off the average back-packer’s beaten track we encourage an exaggerated belief in the dangers of going there. After all, it does belong to us and we can say what we like about it and who’s to gainsay us?”

“Not even you could fly all that way!” scoffed Bertie, a little peeved now that Digory was the centre of his mother’s attention.

“There are aeroplanes, dearest,” smiled Fanny. “We’re to fly to a much larger island and then I’ll fly from there. I love flapping my wings, you know, it’s almost as good as sex!”

“Mother!” exclaimed Digory, shocked.

“Oh, don’t be so Victorian,” laughed Fanny, “after all, it’s how all of us were conceived. I know you were. I was there and it was quite yummy!”

“Yummy?” asked Enid, “That’s an odd word to use.”

“You weren’t there and I was,” winked Fanny. “Now are we ready?”

“We would be, only you’re in a hospital bed and going nowhere until the doctors say you can,” said Alphonse, “and in this I think they know a lot better than an old woman who knows how to do daft things, like grow wings.”

“That’s right,” said a new voice just behind them. It was the doctor who had taken charge of Fanny and her pace-maker. “And I say you need rest before you do anything. After all, you are ninety and we want you to make ninety-one.”

“He’s right, Fanny,” advised Alphonse.

“Tiddle!” snapped the patient, and before any of them could say tiddly-poo she started, before their confused eyes, morphing into a gigantic black bird with a stupendous beak.

“Come on, my sweet baby boy!” she aid in the modulated masculine tones she used for her avian life, “come to mummy and off we’ll go!”

And the ex-monk who hadn’t a clue what was going on felt himself being lifted bodily and plonked with no proper ceremony on the feathery back of what he could only think of as a monster and then, with a slow but scary rhythm, two gigantic wings flapped and he, with great majesty, soared until his head was not far short of the ceiling while his mother sought the wild freedom outside the hospital walls.

“Help…” he cried, but there was nobody anywhere near who had the faintest idea how to go to his aid, and couldn’t have even if they got one.

A large plate-glass window shattered, and he closed his eyes so that he couldn’t see what was what, and he kept them shut while cool summer air ruffled his hair and the unbelievably gigantic wings on both sides of him beat a beautiful rhythm in the blue skies above Brumpton.

TO BE CONTINUED…

© Peter Rogerson 16.02.17

THE BLASTED DESERT Chapter Twenty-two

3 Mar

22. METAMORPHOSIS

It was several hours later, the helicopter had been carefully repositioned on a playing field that bordered a half-full reservoir where random people fished and where a sad old man spent half his life walking mindlessly round it, and a doctor told them they could see his patient at last.

His patient was sitting up in bed, a crusty old man with prostate problems and a penchant for using a fascinating range of four-letter words, and nothing like the ancient woman with a dicky heart they were expecting to see.

“This isn’t her!” said Enid, “our friend’s an old bird!”

The doctor immediately apologised for his mistake, said it was on account of having worked a seventy-three hour shift on account of financial cuts in the National Health Service and said he was looking forward to giving the Prime Minister a vasectomy any day now if he bothered to turn up for a photo opportunity like politicians do.

“Isn’t the prime Minister a woman?” asked Bertie, who was up to date with such things.

“Then she can have a mastectomy instead,” he growled, “A double one. I think your old woman is in this bed over here.”

“They’ve recharged my batteries and I’m ready to go, go, go,” Fanny squawked when they finally found her bed. “Though they want to keep me for observation on account of my age,” she added. “I am ninety, you know. I do hope someone’s watching my hook-a-duck stall or I’ll be down a few bob.”

“You’re as rich as Croesus!” snapped Enid, “I reckon to have a few coppers shelved away, but you’ve got ten times more!”

“I want my boy to inherit it so I’m not likely to spend it,” murmured Fanny Crotchet. “He’s such a sweet child in his cute little grey flannel shorts and lisp.”

“He doesn’t wear grey shorts any more, Fanny,” said Enid, “though I hear he looks cute in a kilt.”

“He’s here and doesn’t like being talked about as if he was deaf and stupid!” put in Imageous. “I’m afraid your little Iggy has grown old and grey and hasn’t much longer in this world than you have,” he added, finally seeming to drop the last emasculating echoes of seventy years in a monastery under the loving discipline of a harsh Father Superior.

“Of course! It’s you!” smiled Fanny, “come here, sweet boy, and sit on mummy’s lap for a maternal cuddle.”

“You? Maternal? That’s the funniest thing I’ve heard this decade!” almost screeched Enid. “It’s like saying the Pope’s atheist!”

“Oh, so you’ve heard?” grinned Fanny. “I don’t know which pope it was, but I had one of them on my books for quite a long time and when he got to me I’ve got to say he was keen! Trouble is, he was so keen it was all over in not much more than a moment and it seemed rather cruel when I asked for my payment. But he always coughed up. Said there are rooms of the stuff in the Vatican and nobody would ever miss the odd trinket.”

“You see, I never managed a Pope, but I did make a few thousand myself from the clergy,” sighed Enid. “And I know what you mean about them being keen! It’s the celibacy that does it, especially now they’ve been warned to keep their hands off choirboys.”

“Mummy, you squawked,” interrupted an increasingly bored Imageous who’d had enough of the clergy of one kind to last him a lifetime. “I heard you,” he added.

“Oh dear. You did?” Then I’d better tell you before they give me an injection that makes me sleep,” sighed Fanny.

“Go on then before we all nod off. Dear,” urged Enid.

“It was way back in the fifties,” sighed Fanny. “The second war hadn’t been over so long and all the main countries were testing nuclear weapons as if there was going to be no tomorrow, and, truth to tell, some of us thought there wouldn’t be. Anyway, I had a particularly cute little man on my elbow back then, a Lord of the Realm, and not one of the Jonny-come-lately types but a gentleman who could trace his ancestry back to William the Bastard.”

“You mean William the Conqueror?” asked Bertie, who knew more history than a novice has any right to know.

“The same,” nodded Fanny. “Anyway, he, that was my trick and not the ancient king, got it into his head that we’d be safer on a nice little island he’d had in his family since the South Sea Bubble burst, and we should hide there until all the silly talk of war was over and done with, and as he was paying me handsomely for my company I went along with it. So we flew to the South seas, and true to his word we found the island. There was a lovely little cottage with five or six bedrooms in the middle of it, and beaches with foaming briny all the way round, and we would have been fine there bur for the fact that the yanks or someone decided to blow it to smithereens with a nuclear test.”

“How awful!” whispered Enid, who couldn’t quite remember the bad old days when just about everywhere was polluted by the effluence of nuclear testing.

“Anyway, we were on the beach when we got the first idea that something might be wrong, and he pushed me into a cave for safety, but was a bit on the slow side himself. The blast hit him and turned him from being a three-dimensional man to a dusty shadow on the rocky wall of the cliff-side in no time at all, and that was him over and done with.”

“Poor you,” soothed Enid.

“Anyway, the radiation got me, too, even though I was protected by the walls of the cave. After the winds had died down, and they were scary, I can assure you, they scattered the last dust of my beau to the four corners of creation, I found I had changed beyond belief.”

“You had?” stammered Imageous.

“I had indeed. You see, somehow, don’t ask me how it happened, I found I was able to change myself with very little effort, at will, from the very attractive woman I was to something quite horrible.”

“You could?” stammered Imageous.

“Oh yes, son, I could. And I could change myself with the same amount of ease back again.”

“So what could you change into, Fanny?” asked Enid.

“That’s easy. I’ll show you and then you’ll understand. At first I’m me, an old woman who’s taken care of herself and then I can be … squawk….”

And before their eyes and to their huge and heart-numbing surprise the patient in the bed metamorphosed from a delicate old woman with a recharged pacemaker to a huge, black-feathered bird with a dangerous looking hooked bill and a tendency to stare out of one eye at the time.

“Oh my…” whispered Imageous.

TO BE CONTINUED…