Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Good Life by Brooke Fieldhouse

Viv strikes up a relationship with an unlikely partner, but soon discovers that he's not being entirely honest with her; by Brooke Fieldhouse.

'Is that the Bridgend Hotel, Llangollen?'

'...'

'Is Mr Morgan there, Mr R Morgan - he's known as Radio?'

'...'

'He... uses other names - Mr Martin, or Ryan?'

'...'

Viv puts the phone down.

The bastard!

He's given her the number just to increase suspense - draw out tension; knows she's planning something.

He probably hasn't even gone on his bloody climbing trip. He could be just down the road, sitting in his Discovery, waiting to pounce as she leaves the house. Thank God she managed to switch off the CCTV cameras he fitted.

She has an awful vision of him appearing, catching her all packed up and ready to go.

'Well Vivvie Love, we've really gone and upset the applecart this time, haven't we!'

She's packed her wheeled luggage; one photo album, Mum's jewellery - small non replaceable items. She's decided to take a back pack. No supper...too nervous. Book taxi for 0600hrs; go to bed, can't sleep.

She gets up and paces the sanded floorboards...shuffling from room to room, and staring through windows at yellow-grey sky, bald mud lawns, ragged fences, and coloured trampolines.

0400; she gets dressed, sits on the bed. She breathes in. Puts her head in her hands; breathes out.

'Where are we now, where are we now?'

And wherever that might be, how the hell did she get there?



'So what went wrong with Pete?' asked Radio, as he and Viv sat in a macrobiotic restaurant. First date; she was paying, and weren't they were the most unlikely couple you could imagine?

Met at ET, he a dogsbody on some scheme, she a senior manager. He didn't usually ask direct questions, just made comments - you know. She couldn't decide whether it was cheek, or... no, probably nervous, poor love. Still, it was an open and honest thing to ask, and she liked that in a man.

'There's nothing wrong with Pete, he's a good man, and a good father to Charlotte and Harrie. That's the trouble, he was boring, and I've got a rebellious streak - hadn't you noticed?'

'No.'

She laughed. She was middle class, he wasn't. She'd been to smart school, he hadn't. It was common knowledge - in the office - that there was a five year unexplained gap on his CV. But it had been a point in his favour at interview when he'd said, '...yeh, so what! It was a difficult time. I can make something up if you want - people do, but I'm not like that.' Viv was impressed. He'd had a bad time, but there was nothing that love couldn't solve, and she had plenty to spare.

'So it was you who left?'

'...Much to Mum and Dad's horror, yes. Doing what I did was about as far away as you can get from Dad's world of insurance underwriting. He suddenly thought I'd turned into a very bad risk! Harrie was two, Charlotte four. I cleared off, got myself a Council house and survived on benefits until the kids were school age... Got the job at ET and hey presto! That was sixteen years ago, I think I made a bloody good job of it.'

Radio was deadpan - fiddled with his five earrings, twirled his pigtail. He was funny! Nobody seemed to like him, but that was prejudice. 'Ginger Jesus,' they called him at the office. She felt hurt at first, then it made her think of Holman Hunt's painting - you know - The Light of the World.

Everybody liked Viv.

'All right Viv?' he'd shout when they met in the corridor. Then he'd give her the biggest warmest smile you could imagine. Most people in the office never smiled, but it didn't cost anything, so you couldn't argue with that. She'd known then that something would happen between the two of them.

She waited for his back story but it didn't come. Poor love, too painful. He was divorced, she knew that much, and that he'd got two boys who still lived with their mum.

'So why didn't you get married again?' asked Radio.

'...I just never felt able to... I mean nobody can really take on somebody else's children can they?' Radio was silent, this time fiddling with two recalcitrant flageolet beans on his plate. 'Anyway, they're grown up now,' she laughed again. 'Charlotte's in her last year at Liverpool and Harrie's in her first year at de Montfort...' She stopped herself... suddenly remembered why Radio's children were both at home. Ben the older one had learning difficulties, and Fred the younger, had volunteered to stay at home with their mum to help. 'I'm sorry.' How patronising could she get!



Six weeks later, he proposed. What! It wasn't what she'd been expecting.

'Think about it Viv - no pressure, it's just the time thing...it's going by, I want to make a go of a relationship; life isn't going to wait for any of us you know.'

She didn't need to think about it. She'd been the first in the family to marry, have children - get divorced. Now her sister Lorraine was divorced, but not yet remarried so Viv would beat her to it... of course she was too old to have more children.

He'd guessed what she was thinking.

'We could have another twenty five years together.' He was eight years younger than her, like a child sometimes - in a nice way that was. Here he was, the little love; searching for the family life he'd never had, and she was going to provide it. It was as if it was always meant to happen like this.

He moved into the Council house with her. Working at ET was a good job - but she was still a single parent so she'd hung onto the rented property.

'We ought to buy somewhere together Ray.' He'd just been promoted. 'We can afford it.'

'Let's see what the future holds Vivvie Love.' Love! She liked that. He said it like it was her surname; sweet. Then she found out that he owned two properties - didn't live in either of them, lived off the rental income.

'Look love, I really think we should be buying somewhere. We shouldn't be living here on affordable rents - taking up Council stock when there are people who need it more than us.'

'Worry not Vivvie Love.' He cupped her cheeks in the palm of his hands. 'We've both had a tough time, society owes us; believe me, I know!'

She just stood there - ash-blonde fringe, five feet tall, he was almost a foot taller. Then he stepped back and gave his beard that nervous tug and stood with his hand on his hip. She loved it when he was so firm and reassuring, he sounded like Michael Caine in the Italian Job.



It was Radio who'd told her that her nickname was Sybil Fawlty.

'I know, I know, I've got a tendency to gloss over things without getting to grips with the underlying problem; but that Ray, is the legacy of struggling to cope with the pressures of bringing up two children single-handedly...' She stopped. Now she felt really patronising.

Then it turned out that when Ben was born, Radio had had a 'breakdown' - that's why he'd left Fi! God Viv felt bad.

'Mum once said I was a bit "naïve" - too trusting - maybe I'm just a bit unsure of myself when it comes to judging character.'

She could feel Radio's hand on hers. 'You'll be all right; you're with me now Vivvie Love. It's all about getting to a person's essence, you know, sussing people out.'

They were going to make a great team.



'Vivvie Love? I think we should keep it a secret. I mean at the office - about our living together... Just for a wee bitty'

'I don't see why...'

Viv felt proud, she wanted to share it with everybody.

'...It isn't as if people see us going around together; we never go anywhere these days.'

'Now you're getting at me because I don't like going to toffee-nosed restaurants.'

'We could join the Rambler's Club?'

'Christ! Even worse; they're definitely the wrong types there. What we need Vivvie Love is something more holistic.'

Viv tried to visualize holistic rambling.

'I'll show you.'

And he did. Viv decided that she had a lot to learn about life.



'Why don't we retire?' he said one day, 'Move north - somewhere really wild. You know, off the beaten track!'

'But Charlotte's just met Edward, and they're in London. Harrie's there as well. Then there's Dad to think about. It's moving further away from the family when I'd always promised myself I'd live nearer to them.' Radio wasn't listening.

Edward was in 'Futures.' That's how Charlotte described it, but Edward always added - in his modest way - 'it's only mortgages really.'

'We could run a café - organic, proper Gaggia machine.' Viv suddenly felt a thrill. Yes, she could see it now.

They decided to have a joint leaving do... Wouldn't mention the wedding - no he was against that.



'I don't think your dad likes me.' Radio sounded so sad.

'It's to be expected love. Permanency; Dad's dedicated his life to it, he can't get something in his mind unless he's got someone's provenance and business plan - all written down preferably!' She laughed again.

Charlotte and Harrie didn't like Radio either. Neither did her sister Lorraine - oooh, that argument they'd had about the London Congestion Charge. Lorraine had said Radio was like a child who couldn't get his own way. But it simply wasn't true... Anyway Lorraine could talk, she was always getting upitty. Lorraine's thirteen year old daughter Emma said, 'Radio smokes too much dope.'

Viv was relieved that Charlotte had got together with Edward. Neither she nor Harrie had been home since Radio moved in. Still, it would do them good to stand on their own two feet. Charlotte's Edward specialised in 'taking Radio off'. He seemed to have a soft spot for him though; in fact Viv was surprised how well the two of them seemed to get on.

'Believe me, I know,' parodied Edward standing there twisting at an imaginary beard - hand on hip.

'You've got him a bit too camp,' laughed Viv stoutly as she and the children sat together on one of her three-times-annual visits to London. But she couldn't help feeling a stab of hurt. It was all right for Edward and Charlotte, buying their expensive Waitrose meals then leaving half of them. When Viv was bringing up Charlotte and Harrie, it was she who'd gone without; never them. None of this was fair on Radio, but she would make up for his loveless childhood.

They didn't even tell her dad about the wedding. Viv thought that it would only stress him out. It was then she'd found out about his name. She'd guessed that Radio wasn't his real name, but he'd changed his surname as well.

'I think that we should do a Council house swap, just for a wee bitty until we find our feet with the income from the café.'

'Are you sure Ray...?' But there was too much to be excited about to argue.

'Remember Vivvie Love,' he chanted 'negative thinking will cause bad vibes.'

They found an ideal location near to one of the beauty spots on the Cleveland Way. She discovered several lovely-looking shops for rent in the town. Then he dropped the first bombshell.

'Vivvie Love, I've moved on a wee bitty with the thinking. The way forward is a mobile coffee shop. We'll need to apply for a licence for one of the stop-off places on the Cleveland Way.'

Viv was crestfallen. She'd pictured herself - the life and soul of the town - and of the social magnet that little café was going to become.

'Café Latino van, chrome Fracino grinder for genuine Italian ethically-sourced fresh-ground roast coffee, hot chocolates, supply of marshmallows...' Radio quoted from the brochure, 'and best of all,' he gave his beard a little tweak,' the Ford engine's been converted to run on electric. Sustaaiinability!' he chanted.

'Heee it's exciting!' Viv jumped up and down on the spot, 'it'll be fun to be a barista!'

The first thing Radio did when they moved into the new house was to visit the Jobcentre in the town.

'But you don't need a job Ray.'

'It's a thermometer for the social conscience of a place. You can really judge a town by its Jobcentre.' Viv's dad had always said the same thing about libraries and public conveniences.

'This one's got a good warm vibe about it.' There were people hanging around he said - outside on the street, and he'd made some 'good contacts' whatever that meant.

In between taking up the carpets and sanding the floors of the house, Viv had visited the art gallery, quaint cafes, restaurants, and best of all an independent bookshop. She was a wide reader - loved Thomas Hardy, wrote poetry. She too was impressed with the town.

They agreed that she would pay in full for the van out of her lump sum, and he would reimburse her - monthly as he was making all the cash payments.

'It's only until we get the Company set up, then everything will come out of the joint account. It's all about being open and honest with one another, just like any relationship. That's where my marriage went wrong,' said Radio, 'Fi just wasn't open with me. It wasn't her fault - it's just the way she's made. Some people need their little secrets.'

He'd never talked about it before. She'd thought that his 'breakdown' had been the cause of his leaving Fi. Now she realized he'd been wronged; it made her feel awkward, guilty. If anything with her and her husband Peter, she'd been the one at fault.



The licence for the coffee site came through. It was fun at first. The weather was important, and winter meant an almost complete shut down.

Not every customer who turned up was walking the Cleveland Way, some were local and just drove out of the town, parked, and stared at the view. There was a couple who came regularly - suggested Viv join the Writers Circle. The man said that they should make up a foursome and go to a restaurant in the town. Radio wasn't keen.

'We could try that macrobiotic place love?'

'I think we need to focus on the coffee van, Vivvie Love.' He stood there unsmiling, his hands chopping air as he delivered words. He was telling her off. She badly wanted to say, 'Oh come on love, loosen up a bit,' but he was so serious.

One day a man turned up at the van who suggested that Viv join the Civic Trust. The two of them struck up a lively conversation. Radio started making a noise - banging equipment about, slamming van doors.

'You can be so bloody charming can't you,' he said after the man finally got into his car and drove off. She thought he was joking at first, but then she could see he was jealous. It gave her a funny feeling - as if she had done something wrong at school and was about to be punished.



Friends Reunited; she joined, found an old schoolfriend who lived in nearby Northallerton. They agreed to meet. Radio pooh-poohed it.

'We need to think about the future Vivie Love, not the past.'

Then there was the wedding - Charlotte and Edward that was. He didn't want to go.

'You don't need me; Charlotte's dad'll be there.'

'Of course you've got to come, love.' In the end he agreed to go. Viv was surprised how much time he'd spent talking to Edward - him being the groom and all that.

On the way back up north Radio was very quiet, like he was brooding. Then he suddenly said...

'We need to do some re-ordering Vivvie Love.' She thought he meant more coffee and marshmallows the first time he said it, but it was a special phrase he used whenever he changed tack in his thinking. 'We need to economize - sell the Ford Estate.'

'I know we can't justify three vehicles,' sighed Viv, and The Estate was the least important in their new life. Radio needed the Discovery to go on his climbing weekends. But the Ford was her car - she would just have to take the train when she went to see Edward and Charlotte.



'Charlotte's going to be a mum! I don't feel old enough to be a grandmother.' She'd decided to wait until she'd got back from her latest London visit before she told Radio. He looked odd; smiling and fingering his beard as he showed her the CCTV system he'd had fitted.

'What on earth do we need that for?' He'd just made her sell her car and now he'd gone and spent money on a security system. 'Nobody else on the estate's got one.'

'It's all about commitment Vivvie Love.' What was he talking about? She knew all that, but he had a knack of implying that she wasn't pulling her weight.

'Could I just make myself clear...' God he sounded formal, had something gone wrong while she'd been in London?

'...It's a bit like George Orwell when he wrote Down and Out in Paris and London,' drawled Radio. 'He was experiencing hardship alright, but he always had that middle class family behind him to fall back on.'

'All right all right I'm privileged! I've got middle class parents. You've had to live off your wits and street wisdom. Ray, I badly need your help to make this relationship work, but here I am out in the wilds with you and that bloody big chip on your shoulder.'

He was jealous. He'd told her his mother had been jealous of his father. She laughed inside herself at the irony of it. Jealousy - like heart disease, or high cholesterol, was hereditary; you had to fight like mad to hold it back, but you could never rid yourself of it.

As the thought invaded her mind, she saw his eye catch hers. For a split second she thought he might see her point of view - 'All right love let's go and have a nice meal in a restaurant and talk it through,' but he didn't. All he said was,

'It's all about understanding the concept of order in a relationship.'

That wasn't just pompous pontificating shit; it was frightening. She knew then it was over, she'd made an awful mistake, and she was a prisoner.

But what the hell was she going to do now?



The important thing was to maintain some kind of normality while she worked out a plan. He wasn't going to change, and any attempt she might make to soften him could bring on more of this 'reordering' lark.

She had to escape but she'd cut herself off from everyone, it was her own damn fault. She had to have help, needed an ally - thought of ringing ex husband Peter but he'd remarried, they'd got a son, they had their own lives, his wife wouldn't like it.

It's a boy said the text from Edward. The next day came the news that Viv's father was dead. Her elation at the news of the baby was mixed with sorrow... and yet more guilt.

'You've been living the good life,' chided Lorraine who undeniably had borne the brunt of the filial duties. Radio didn't attend the funeral, and she and Lorraine only spoke to one another when necessary. Afterwards she stayed at Ed and Charlotte's - just till the following day. Radio would damn well have to fend for himself.

'Ed, you're going to think I'm an utter fool, but I've made a terrible blunder.' It had taken real strength of mind to admit that to her son-in-law; she hadn't wanted to bother Charlotte... what with little Wills and all that.

'...He's never actually violent... it's just that it's always there... in the air.'

'What we need to know Mum...' Edward always called her that now - it brought a tear to her eye - real old-fashioned he was, '...is a bit more about him.' Viv could feel herself nodding. 'We need to know what he's up to - hack in to his computer, are you up for it?' Viv nodded again, felt a little tug of fear.

'I'm not clever enough to do it from here, but I can talk you through getting in without the password. We'll do it over the phone when he's off on one of his climbing jaunts. We have to look at his diary first.'

'He's not like me you know, he never leaves his diary lying around.' The only way she could possibly get a look at it was to take it out of his pocket while he was asleep.

'He's got all his hard copy stuff in one of those grey metal filing cabinets, but he always locks it and he takes the key with him.'

'Double length of wire, splayed at the end - learnt it at Uni... Not easy - you just need a few minutes fiddling around.' Edward looked solemn. Viv could see that he didn't think she would be able to do it.

'Look Mum I'm worried about you. Why don't you just stay here, don't go back? Or I could take some time off and come with you?'

It didn't seem right absconding as Ed was suggesting. If her dad had known the half of it he would have understood. He'd been a man of honour, Dad. No, she would go back and take her time, find out the truth; then she would make her escape as honourably as she could.



Now she was a grandmother she decided to join Facebook. Back at the house she clicked on Outlook, Explorer; when her internet was 'down' and his wasn't, the truth dawned, he'd cancelled her account.

'We can't justify two accounts Vivvie Love, we can share mine.' She wanted to shout at him but couldn't. This was punishment for spending time with her family. It wasn't as if she could tell him to stop being so childish. It wasn't the work of a child. Years of practice and skill had gone into his technique. 'I know what you're thinking,' he would say. Ten per cent of the time he'd be wrong, but it was that ninety percent accuracy which so disconcerting. It was a psychology of bluff, all dependent upon the isolation of his victim.

'It's a bad weather forecast for Cleveland, Vivvie Love.' She felt a pang of adrenaline. This was her first chance; he was going away - midweek this time. She would have to look at his diary before he went. Edward had said, 'diary first, then we'll go through the computer stuff.'

Of course there was another side to all this. She could be mistaken about everything - it could be her who was paranoid - yet she was gripped with a restless and incomprehensible conviction that Radio was hiding something.

Viv was a sound sleeper. Invariably it was Radio who would be up before her, moving noiselessly around the house. They had finished their bedtime 'session', and she lay there, tormented with the despair of one who is about to betray the person she has just made love with. Her heart refused to return to its normal pace, and like the clouds visible through the uncurtained window, it raced on into the night.

He was lying on his back. Both eyes shut, breathing imperceptible, yet every few seconds there was an almost inaudible murmur, like the grunt of a very elderly person. The diary was almost certainly in his trousers, half-folded across the Lloyd Loom chair on his side of the bed... Those damned 'cargoes' - loads of pockets, it could be in any of them. As she gently slid out from under the duvet she felt sad. Look how helpless he looked, and his little worried brow, so furrowed!

She stood up, lifted her fleecy dressing gown from the chair on her side - if he woke she would just be going to the bathroom... Amazing how fear can affect you. The person who was methodically squeezing each pocket of those wretched cargoes, couldn't be her, surely?

Something was wrong. She'd seen the diary, it was a W H Smith five inches by three inches - but it wasn't in any of the pockets. He must have transferred it - perhaps into one of the two breast pockets of his Barbour hanging in the wardrobe. She felt like a ghost which has just failed in a haunting. The room was filled with moonlight but she had no option - she must continue her search.

She slid her hand through the open wardrobe door. Yes she could feel, it was in the right pocket! She tugged at the zip, feeling the vibration of each tiny steel tooth as the zipper travelled silently on its undeviating journey. At last the diary was in her hand - her dressing gown pocket, and as she glided into the bathroom she remembered not to switch on the fan with the light. She sat down and read.

Some time later she switched off the light but stayed sitting on the loo, mystified. There were names of roads; Wilson Avenue - 7.00pm, Bevan Road - 8.00pm, Atlee Crescent - 9.00pm. The appointments were regular - every month. God! Who was he seeing? Was he having multiple affairs? There was never any mention of climbing in North Wales.

'Not well are we Vivvie Love?' She let out a small scream as she entered the bedroom. He was sitting up - lights off but she could see his eyes in the moonlight.

'I thought I was going to be sick.' Then she had a brainwave. 'Ray... make me a cup of tea would you, I feel really faint.'

He switched on the bedside lamp, smiling strangely, looking straight at her. His face had that 'I know what you've been up to' look about it. He'd probably checked the pocket of the Barbour, and had re-ordered the situation. As he passed her he was still smiling.

He left before lunch the next day saying he would be back about the same time on Thursday. Whenever he telephoned it was never on her mobile, always on the house land line.

On Wednesday morning she decided to go for it. Edward was in a meeting when she telephoned him, but - bless him - he came out for five minutes to take her through the procedure.

'Remember to give yourself a few minutes to shut down - also the lock on that filing cabinet could be troublesome.'

She was in, and started methodically going through the files. It was going to take too long - she skipped. There were letters to tenants - new ones. A picture was emerging but no more than a sketch. More detail was needed - she would try the hard copy in the cabinet. The wire trick seemed impossible, but wrestling and panting she pulled out two folders; Mortgages, Tenants.

She'd forgotten to look at the time - fifty minutes maybe since she'd started? She sat back trying to summarize.

In the folder labelled mortgages there were three agreements; different companies, fictitious accountants, proof of income. She caught sight of a letter with Edward's name on it. It would be another person of that name of course. There were even letters from employers - counterfeits, three fake IDs, extortionate rents being paid by tenants because they believed that they would eventually own their own home, but the bastard was pocketing the discounts from the right to buy scheme. It was a professional job, flawed because sooner or later his tenants would be unable to pay him. He would default on the mortgages and they would be evicted and made homeless.

He hadn't thought it through, but that wouldn't matter to Radio because this wasn't about money, it was about him having power and control over those around him whatever the cost.

A door slammed downstairs. Two windows left open in the living room. She must go down and close one of them.

As she passed the front door - for some inexplicable reason - she tried the handle, opened it a few inches, almost screamed. He was standing on the front path, and staring up at the study window.

'Oh Ray you're back,' she heard herself say - voice like that of someone about to vomit. He seemed vague - perhaps he'd just smoked a joint.

'Oh hello love, bad weather in Wales after all... I've got to go straight out again, I'll see you later.'

She watched him walk down the path, get into the Discovery and drive off. Then she hurled the front door shut, stamped upstairs. Five minutes she needed! The bloody wires seemed like an endless battle. Then she sat on the chair sobbing quietly.

When she'd calmed down, he still hadn't returned. She got a meal together; veg-burgers, roasted walnut salad, grapes, wholemeal brown bread and white wine. He'd probably gone to see his tenants; trouble at t' mill? Serve him bloody well right! She tried to imagine who he was most like. Was it the menacing Alec D'Urbeville in Hardy's 'Tess', or was Radio's the holier-than-thou hypocrisy of Angel Clare?

When he finally came in he was looking at her in a strange way - as if he knew she'd been up to something. This was how he worked - his psychology, what he was best at. That's what the staring up at the study window was all about, it didn't mean to say he'd seen her; he just wanted her to see him. It was charade, designed to work only if the other party felt guilty - which she did. Oh Christ, if only she had the strength of mind to say, 'I think you've been hiding something from me,' but she didn't - she was too frightened. All she wanted to do was to escape... and she would have to sleep with him again that night.

There comes a point - Viv had once read - in a hostage-taking, where the victim comes to fear freedom more than the terrorist who has imprisoned him. Every day that passed, she grappled with the fear which uncoiled itself every time she thought about the moment when she must take flight.



'There's a bad weather front for the next few days, Vivvie Love.' By early afternoon the next day he was gone. This time he left her a land line telephone number. Supper time came and she tried ringing it; knew he wouldn't be there. Her real fear was that he was here, hiding somewhere. She ordered the taxi, went to bed. At 0400hrs she decided to get dressed and sit on the bed.



At 0530 she struggles downstairs with the back pack and wheeled luggage... Peers out of the window; raining hard, but no black Discovery. 0555 she opens the front door. There's the taxi - driver sitting reading by the glow of its interior lamp. She's had this guy before, he's surly.

'On your own are you?' barks the northern voice. No need to rub it in.

Muttering, he lifts the wheeled luggage into the boot. Why don't taxi drivers ever wear anoraks? She sits in the back gagging on the toilet-air-freshener smell, watching beads of water on his black hair, quivering like blobs of mercury. It must have been raining all night and she's barely noticed.

The car cuts through huge pools of water, sending up sparkling waves and making a noise like a cardboard box being ripped to pieces.

She turns; Oh Christ, the black Discovery! Headlamps on and right up their arses. She has a wild idea.

'Can you take the next right and drop me on the other platform.' It's about half a mile; over a level crossing. She can walk then, across the footbridge to the station. There's thirty minutes before the train comes.

She can see Mr Surly in the mirror smiling.

'On the run from the law are we?'

She badly wants to say; actually I'm on the run from my husband, a coercive controlling psychopath who has a pathological need to frighten women, but perhaps Mr Surly wouldn't appreciate the irony of it.

He pulls up at the base of the footbridge where there's no metalled road, and as she gets out she feels her right foot sheathed in coolness as she steps into a small pothole. There's still twenty minutes; no Discovery. From the bridge she'll have a view of both platforms. She can stand there concealed behind the parapet until the train comes, then make a dash.

She looks toward the car park; no Discovery, but he's probably parked by the station buildings and waiting at the entrance - out of sight, like her.

Edward's agreed to meet her off the train at London Kings Cross and she fiddles with her mobile checking to make sure she's got his number in the directory. 'Contacts' won't come up; panic, she prises the back off the phone. He's taken the SIM card and she didn't even notice. What's Edward's number? It's written down somewhere at the house. Hope to God there's no change of plan. What if Radio appears now?

What does she look like?

...Fifty nine years old, hiding under her anorak hood, and weighed down by her backpack. Her right foot and face are soaking wet and she's standing waiting for the signal, for that mad scramble to freedom. If her senses weren't so whetted with terror she would feel sorry for herself.

...Train coming and she stands like a statue until it comes to a halt. The final squeal of brakes and she lunges forward, hauling her luggage with her right hand, while her left pulls at the handrail, feet stamping on steps, knees bouncing up and down. She leaps through the first set of open doors and stands swaying, praying for hissing doors.

No sign of Radio.

Then she has an awful thought. Of course he won't try and confront her here. This is just a branch line. That's why the Discovery didn't follow her to the level crossing. He'll be waiting for her at Northallerton, on the platform, to stop her getting on the London train. She'll have to go through the whole thing again.

At Northallerton she scans the platform; strains her way up the stair - eyes shooting everywhere, praying that he won't ambush.

There's a Ladies on the platform. She makes it inside, lifts her luggage into a cubicle and sits on the loo still wearing her backpack. The announcement comes and she launches forward, panicking as the old-fashioned bolt on the door refuses to draw.

Hovering within the comfort zone of the Ladies she peers up and down the platform, and as the train doors slide open she rushes on, collapses into a seat. There's a beep - beep - beep of the door, followed by a click, a forward motion, and she falls into a sleep of nervous exhaustion.



When she wakes she can look down on the glowing red roofs and illuminated miniature valleys of the Home Counties. The rain has long since gone.

Then it's three tunnels - or is it four - and the train is gliding into London Kings Cross.

There's Edward on the platform, what utter joy! What would one do without one's children?

But there's something odd about him, something distant, and as he hugs her, his hand gently pats her back.

'I'm glad you got the train okay Mum... Love. Radio telephoned a wee bitty ago to say he'd seen you off all right. He's worried about you; very worried. You know... I think you and I need a little talk.'

10 comments:

  1. I really like the rhythm and pace of the writing - the succinct sentences that set the scene, build the character, lay subtle hints. The tension and the back and forth giving you some background are well played. Nice little story. Well done!

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  2. Finely nuanced writing that exposes a grooming process, and the onset of control and abuse. I found this story to be convincing and terrifying, and the collusion of others is the final straw. An impressive understanding, skilfully expressed within a credible narrative. Thank you,
    Ceinwen

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  3. Such a captivating and suspenseful story! Excellent writing too.

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  4. I agree about the pacing, fast and interesting, no lulls. Enjoyed the read.

    Tim Macy

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  5. first class Story, the last third i found particularly impressive, all building up to this excellent ending.

    well done

    Michael McCarthy

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  6. Hi Brooke, I was engrossed from the beginning to the end with this story of distrust, manipulation and finally betrayal. The hammer blow at the ending was just right for me the reader to ask if the character was at fault and go back into the story to see if she missed the indicators..

    James McEwan

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  7. Whew! Excellent build-up of tension, hinting at an unhappy outcome. Your concise, no frills writing well suited to this kind of plot. A totally believable scenario. Well done!
    Beryl.

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  8. Thank you all for your creative and constructive comments.
    Silly Viv!
    Whatever happens next she's well and truly shafted.
    However, on the 20th August 2014 the UK Government Home Office agreed to a consultation to consider extending the present law governing domestic violence to include making psychological abuse through coercive and controlling behaviour a criminal offence.
    Understandably because the police and courts have had enough on with cases of physical abuse this hasn't had much of an airing in the past.
    Whatever the outcome of the consultation it will help bring this insidious and inimical behaviour out of the shadows.
    Brooke

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  9. The sense of menace which just keeps escalating...very good.

    George Semko

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  10. Excellent story! I loved how you built the sense of foreboding and danger. Viv's decisions, while irrational, are entirely realistic for a woman with her personality and circumstances. Radio was a bone-chilling villain: manipulative, brilliant, and sociopathic.

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