Flinder's field (a murder mystery and psychological thriller)

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FLINDER’S FIELD

____________________

 

A novel by D. M. Mitchell

 

 

 

 

 

FLINDER’S FIELD

 

Copyright © D. M. Mitchell 2013

 

The right of Daniel M. Mitchell to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. All rights reserved.

 

This book is a work of fiction. Characters, names, organisations, businesses, places and events are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental.

 

 

Agamemnon Independent Publishing

 

 

By D. M. Mitchell

 

Max

Silent

Mouse

Blackdown

The Soul Fixer

Flinder’s Field

The Domino Boys

The King of Terrors

The House of the Wicked

The Woman from the Blue Lias

Pressure Cooker

 

The First D. M. Mitchell Thriller Omnibus

The Second D. M. Mitchell Thriller Omnibus

The D.M. Mitchell Supernatural Double Bill

 

 

Please check the D.M. Mitchell Author Page at Amazon for details of all his latest releases

CHAPTERS

 

 

1: Flinder’s Field

2: Forty-Four Years Later

3: A Dismal Old Place

4: An Indescribable Urge

5: Poor Sylvia Tredwin

6: The Measure of Success

7: A Small Place

8: An Old Friend

9: An Angry Voice

10: The Ballad of Sylvia Tredwin

11: Hands from the Sky

12: No Secrets

13: A Dog with a Scent

14: Bad Dreams

15: Bad Egg

16: Connections

17: Swallowing Pride

18: The Disappearance

19: Stone-Cold Dead

20: Pacific-Wide, Pacific-Deep

21: Crosses

22: Two of a Kind

23: Imagined

24: The Stinging of the Wind

25: A Bright Blaze of Colour

26: Disappear Forever

27: A Mumbled Jumble of Voices

28: Mad, Bad and Dangerous

 

1 1974 Flinder’s Field

 

He was going mad with worry. Going mad without her.He simply couldn’t take the anguish anymore.

Bruce Tredwin grabbed his scruffy old waxed jacket from the hook by the door. It was still dripping wet from his morning excursionin the fields. He never even noticed the damp feeling on his arms as he threaded them automatically through the muddied sleeves.

‘Bruce, please…’ said his mother, her face anxious and pale.

‘I’ve got to find her,’ he said determinedly, his own face drawn, almost skeletal, like the life had been sucked out of it. His once attractive features had now assumed the grey bloom of unremitting stress, and his skin seemed to hang loose on his high cheekbones, as if it had lost the will to cling on.

‘You’ve been out already for three hours this morning,’ she pleaded. ‘Leave it to the police.’

‘The police!’ he snorted, zipping up the coat with a vigour born of frustration. ‘Sure, like what good have they been this past fortnight? She’s missing, mum. My wife is missing and what are they doing about it? Well she ain’t run off with a travelling salesman, that’s for sure, but that’s what they’d like to believe. She’s in trouble, I can feel it.’ He stomped to the door and she followed him.

‘You don’t know that, Bruce,’ she said. ‘We’ve searched every inch for miles around and she’s not been found. Almost the entire village has been out.’

‘And even they’ve given in,’ he retorted. ‘Well I can’t, I have to find Sylvia. My life might as well be over without her.’

‘Don’t say that, Bruce!’ Her eyes sorrowful, hands clasped at her waist.

‘Well it’s the damn truth.She’s all I ever wanted, and now she’s gone and I want her back.’

‘Maybe she did leaveyou…’

He stuck out a warningindex finger that hovered a few inches from his mother’s ashen face. ‘You watch what you say, mother!’

‘You know what she’s like…’

‘She’s been different since we got married. Sylvia loves me. She’d never leave me for anyone else, she said so and I believe her. You’re no better than the rest of the fools in Petheram if you believe everything you’ve heard.’

‘But you’re wearing yourself to a frazzle with all this worry. I’m concerned about your health. Going out in the rain like this will only make you ill.Leave it until morning at least.’

He lowered his head, let out a painful breath. ‘What else am I to do? She’s gone missing. She didn’t take anything, not a single piece of clothing, nosuitcase, nothing. Went for a walk and never came back. I know she’s out there somewhere, and I know she needs me. I won’t rest till I’ve found out what’s become of her.’ His eyes screwed up in misery. ‘Christ, if anything has happened to her…’ And with that he slammed the door shut on his mother and stepped outside into the driving wind and rain.

He pulled the lapels of his coat tight to his neck, but his dark hair was soaked in seconds. Their cottage was surrounded by high trees of hazel and ash, and the wind whipped their naked boughs into a frenzy, the sound not unlike the pounding of the sea raging upon some jagged, forbidding shoreline. They appeared to mirror his inner turmoil, the savage sounds giving voice to his tormented soul. His Wellington boots splashed in the mud of the lane that ran from their house to the main road, the main thoroughfare that cut like a scar through the small Somerset village of Petheram. But while others on this wintry day sought the cosiness of their inner sanctums he could not ever think of comfort, not without Sylvia, not while she might be lying wounded in a ditch somewhere, in pain, desperate for his help. Nor could he think about eating, or sleeping. He was as a man barely alive. A wandering spirit, a shadow of his former self.

Bruce Tredwin searched the high hedgerows meticulously, though he had done so on several occasions, but hewas worried he might have missed something. A tiny detail that pointed in her direction. The police made a pretence of searching for her, but leant towards believing the tales of Sylvia’s supposed latent promiscuity, her proclivity for chasing young men. Sure, she had a few boyfriends, and his friends had warned him off her, but he wasn’t going to listen to lurid tales born of jealousy, because in the end beautiful Sylvia had chosen him above all others to be her husband, to have and to hold forever. Even on his stag night he got into a fight with one of his so-called mates when the drink-fuelled banter got around to Sylvia being the village bicycle. Bruce punched the guy’s lights out and they never spoke again after that.

Sylvia and he had been happy for two years. Blissfullyso. They bought old Hoskins’ place that had stood empty for ages, and were in the throes of doing the cottage up. They’d even managed to get the living room sorted and had chosen a brand new settee two days before she went missing. Why would she leave him after buying a new settee? She loved it when she saw it in the shop in Exeter and tried it out; couldn’t wait to pay for it and get it home. On the way back she even talked about having a baby, painting up one of the rooms as a nursery. Was that the talk of someone about to leave him for another guy? Was that the Sylvia of old, the young, headstrong, passionate, footloose, flighty Sylvia?

No, there was somethingdreadfully wrong here and the more he dwelt on it the more his gut screwed itself up into a taut, painful ball.

He measured time only by the dimming of the light as dusk began to creep over the storm-racked land. He must have beenout about two hours, he estimated dismally. Damn the light fading like this. He should have brought a torch.

He was up onthe expanse of ground known as Flinder’s Field, a large open field system on the high, wooded hills overlooking Petheram. The field was dominated on all sides by palisades of dense woodland, towering firs that appeared to scratch the sky with their spiky boughs. The place was sinking into shadow as the bruised clouds overhead continued to mass into a single, dark, boiling ceiling that appeared to press down on him, to crush his hopes out of existence.

‘They’ve always suffered emotionally,’ said Bruce’s mother of Sylvia’s family, when the young couple were first going out with each other. ‘Look at Sylvia’s mother – locked away in an asylum or something. That has to mean something.’ Bruce told her straight that Sylvia’s mother wasn’t in an asylum. Unwell, yes, but not a nutter. He took the comment as being born of the archetypal reaction of a clinging mother afraid of losing her son to an attractive younger woman. But he had heard the tales. He’d have had to be deaf otherwise. Small communities like Petheram’s always had their fair share of spiteful tall tales and malicious myths that circulate like bad smells in the small village confines, finding no way out and getting worse.

‘Did you know Sylvia’s father once had to go into hospital, too?’ she continued. ‘Problems up here,’ she said, tapping her temple. ‘They say it runs deep in the family. Think on what that would mean if you were ever to have children…’

‘Her father had a nervous breakdown down due to stress at work, and the fact he was a Japanese prisoner of war doesn’t help. A few months off work to recover. Nothing sinister. Give the man a break!’ he fired bluntly. ‘It can happen to anyone!’

Excepthe had to admit that Sylvia could be a highly-strung wreck sometimes, a little irrational. Even a bit vacant and otherworldly at times. But she was young, they both were. She was twenty when they started going out. He was twenty-two. The young can be forgiven for being vacant, irrational and highly strung. Look at him now; strong, dependable, no-nonsense Bruce Tredwin as everyone thought – how highly strung can you get? And irrational… He was searching a spot he’d searched only the day before. How irrational is that?

But something kept drawing him back to Flinder’s Field…

He looked at the blackening sky and spat out a glob of rainwater that had seeped from his wringing hair into his mouth. Perhaps, in his mind, even spitting at God for visiting this unwarranted distress on him.

‘Sylvia!’ he screamed, the word stretched out longand aching so that it sounded more like the pitiful howl of a tormented dog.

Then he saw her.

A ghostly figure, like a smudged splash of muted grey paint against the canvas of growing stygian gloom. Silent and ethereal. Staggering over the muddy field, the thrashing trees as her shivering backdrop.

‘Sylvia?’ he said, hardly daring to believe what he was seeing. He moved swiftly over the boggy ground towards her. ‘Sylvia!’ he yelled as the thought struck home that it wasn’t some kind of stress-induced mirage.

It was only then that he saw she was totally naked.

She looked up in his direction but appeared not to see him. Her eyes vacant. Traumatised. Her pale, almost bloodless cold body was covered in splashes of mud, her lower legs and feet torn and bleedingwith bramble cuts. Her long black hair was plastered down with the wet onto her forehead, and sat on her bare shoulders like glossy coiled serpents.

Bruce Tredwin grabbed his wife in a tight hug. ‘Sylvia! Sylvia!’ he sobbed, kissing her forehead and wiping away the hair from her bloodshot eyes. ‘My God, what has happened to you?’ he said, slipping off his sodden coat and wrapping it around her shivering shoulders.‘Where have you been?’

At last her eyes registered recognition, but it was as if she regarded him through a gauzy curtain. ‘Bruce?’ she gasped. ‘Is it you, Bruce?’

‘It’s me, it’s me!’ he said, crushing his cheek against hercold, wet forehead, afraid she might disappear again. ‘Where have you been? Where are your clothes?’ He saw bruises on her slender wrists. ‘Who did this to you?’

‘They came and took me,’ she said drowsily.

‘Who took you?’

‘They came down and took me.’

‘Down?’ he said, frowning. ‘Down from where?’

She looked upmeaningfully to the storm-tossed clouds, rain dripping off her upturned chin and dribbling in rivulets down the wet channel formed by her naked breasts. He followed her rapt gaze heavenwards.

‘They came down from the sky and took me.’

Then she screamed hysterically, fighting off the coat as if it were a clammy beast clinging to her shoulders. He tried to control her, but she broke free and ran across the field, yelling at the top of her voice, but it was swallowed by the melancholy sound of the thrashing trees. He gave chase, desperately calling after her.

And high above, the ominous dark clouds churned.

 

2 Forty-Four Years Later

 

‘Tell me about Sylvia Tredwin, George.’

His attention wasn’t on the smart young man sitting before him and asking questions, his hair cut with expensive precision, the faint smell of musky aftershave sending out its tendrils of fragrance to irritate his nose, a fancy gold watch sitting just proud of an immaculate white shirt cuff. No, George Lee had been more interested in the results of the room’s redecoration.

‘There used to be an awful picture hangingover that cabinet,’ he said absently, his thoughts given voice. ‘Pink flowers in a vase. The type of painting that makes you feel nauseous just by looking at it. You know the kind; they usually put them up in old folks’ homes in an effort to sweeten things up. Like lacing foul-tasting medicine with sugar.’

His quick, darting eyes swung to examine the young man. How old was he? Still in his twenties? Early thirties? Whatever the case, he looked like a babe in arms.Soft skin, large eyes that had been trained to be endearing, empathetic or indecipherable, depending upon the mood of the meeting.

‘Did you hear me, George?’ the man said evenly, unhurriedly, but with purpose. ‘Do you mind me calling you George?’

‘Of course I heard you. I’m not deaf.’He sniffed. ‘Sure, you can call me George. Mind if I call you David?’

The man’s posture stiffened, but you had to be looking very carefully to notice it, George thought.

‘You know my name already?’

‘David Massey, isn’t it?’

‘That’s right. You can call me by my first name, if that makes you feel more comfortable.’

‘Or is it Dave, or Davey?’

‘David will do fine. You didn’t appear to hear me. Your attention appeared to be elsewhere.’

‘They’ve done the old place up,’ George Lee said. ‘Since the last time I was in here.’ He looked over the man’s shoulders to the large window behind him. An expanse of green lawn stretched away to a high brick wall lined with mature trees. He was reminded of thick-set security guards manning a perimeter fence. ‘I heard you clear. You want to know about Sylvia Tredwin.’

‘That’s right. Tell me about her.’

George Lee shuffled uncomfortably in his padded leather chair. ‘This chair new, too?’

‘Are you avoiding the question, George?’

‘I know what you want,’ George said.

‘Is that so?What do I want, George?’

God, he hated this kind of conversation. He’d heard them so many times beforeover the years. Their words like vile worms insinuating themselves inside your skull, probing about, looking to feed off the contents.

George said, ‘What happened to old manFerguson?’

‘He retired.’

‘He didn’t look old enough. What was he – fifty, fifty-five? Lucky bastard to have such a good pension these days. Most people have to work until they’re touching seventy.’

‘Is that you being evasive again?’ he asked with an oh-so-faint smile. ‘Let me ask you a question: do you know where you are, George?’

‘Christ, of course I know where I am –David.’ He shrugged back his shoulders. ‘Don’t treat me like I’m mindless shit.’

‘I would never do that, George. But you know why I’m here.’

‘Sure I know.’

Silence, filled by the chirruping of sparrows outside.

‘You’ve been here a long time, George. Do you know how long?’

‘Another test? Four years. That’s how long.’

‘Five,’ David returned, scratching his lower chin. George wondered if the action held deeper meaning.

‘Five, huh? Doesn’t time fly when you’re having fun?’

‘The sooner you tell me what happened to Sylvia Tredwin, George, the sooner we can both get out of here.’

George sighed, rather theatrically. ‘You gonna write this down?’

‘There’s no need, George. I’m going to record our conversation, if that’s OK with you?’

George smirked at the irony of what the smug man had said. ‘Go ahead, record away.’ He sat back in his chair, his eyes again wandering to look at the lawn. ‘Where’d you want me to start?’

‘How about when you first went back home to Petheram, to attend your father’s funeral?’

The branches in the trees by the wall were shifting in the breeze. George couldn’t hear the wind rustling the leaves, but he thought he could. As he could almost smell the tang of their summer-kissed foliage.

The imagined smells un-tethered the memories of five years ago with disturbing ease and clarity. Did he really want to dredge them up to the surface yet again? He glanced over at the young man’s eager eyes; the man was desperately trying not to give his excitement away. But it leaked out in the spark of light that sat on his wide, wet orbs.

‘OK,’ said George. ‘I wished I’d never heard of bloody Sylvia Tredwin, let’s get that straight. I never asked for any of this.’

‘Sometimes that’s the case, George. Things happen of their own accord, don’t they?’

George didn’t appreciatethe barbed question, and the man’s manner and aftershave were getting irksome. He wanted to get this over and done with.

‘It all began for me in thatsummer of 2013,’ he said falteringly, his mind peeling back five years. ‘Unusually hot, even for the time of year. I was tired. I hated driving. And I wasn’t looking forward to seeing Petheram again…’

He found himself getting hot and bothered just thinking about it.

 

 

 

3 A DismalOld Place

 

Driving long distances, he surmised, forces the mind to concentrate. Not on the business of keeping to the road ahead as you’d think, but sometimes on the strangest of things. At least, it did with his. He didn’t like driving. He found it a bore at the best of times. But anything longer than fifty miles and he’d start to go mad with the act of staring out of the windscreen at another person’s bumper. Motorways were both a boon and a bane. Sure, they got you to where you wanted to be faster, which no one more than he appreciated (except this country’s motorways were all clogging up faster than a couch potato’s arteries). But man, did they have to be such long threads of excruciating boredom?

Which is why, after he’d listened to the hum of his car’s wheels on a variety of surfacesfor a few hours – black, reddish-brown, tan, grey – and tried to work out what different notes they played; after he’d counted the inordinate number of BMW’s and Audis that all but flashed him two fingers as they thundered past him in the outside lane doing far, far more than the speed limit, and wished them all caught and fined; after he’d cursed the stupidity of lorry drivers for always pulling out in front of him to overtake, always on a hill, and always with no hope of their laboured hulks overtaking anything in ages and slowing him right down; after he’d felt himself nodding off at the wheel and coming round with a start, he decided to keep his mind active by counting the number of murders he’d committed that year.

Nine, he thought. Or was that ten?

He counted again, slowly so as not to miss any of them. Yes, it was definitely nine this year. So how did that compare to last year?

Tenminutes later he decided last year had been a bumper crop, even by his standards, because he had twenty murders under his belt.

In all fairness, this year was only half done with so it really didn’t count, not till the end of December. Butstill, nine murders in six months...

If anything, though, the variety of ways he’d carried out the murders were far more imaginativein the last six months than in any of the previous years. They had to be, to stop him getting bored, to keep things fresh, to keep his mind alive and ticking over - a woman choked on a rolled-up newspaper; a man being plunged into an iron furnace; a man having a red-hot poker pushed up the backside; a woman drowned in motor oil.

‘You’re sick’, his wife used to tell him. ‘You’re sick in the head’.

‘It’s a business’, he told her. ‘That’s all it is. I’m in the business of killing people.’

‘Why can’t you write half-decent stuff like other writers? You know, literature, stories about people who have real things happen to them. Stories with depth and emotion.’

‘Real things? Like going to the supermarket, vacuuming the rug, defrosting the fridge, that kind of real?’

‘Now you’re being facetious.’

‘Real things won’t sell,’ he argued. ‘And we need the money so we can maintain this lifestyle, remember?’

‘Lifestyle?’ she burst. ‘We haven’t had a holiday in four years! Look at this blasted house. It’s falling apart. Oh, I forgot, you can’t, because your head is so far up your own arse, your mind so focussed on churning out that shit you call writing that you can’t see the real world. We have no money, for all you like to brag off about how successful an author you are. We have no goddamned money! Get yourself a proper job!’

‘You want more money, then go out and get more money!’ he fired back.

She did. She got a better job, divorced him and married her new manager.They sold the house, and he got enough after paying off the remaining mortgage on their shared property to buy a cramped, one-bedroom flat in a not particularly nice part of the neighbourhood. So he finally got to be the archetypal lonely writer, abandoned by his woman and bruised by love, sitting in his cramped garret penning novels that nobody read in great numbers, awaiting his big break. And in truth it felt like shit.

George Lee guessed hedeserved it. He deserved everything.

She was right, of course. He wrote dross. He knew it,reputable publishers knew it. The equivalent of the Penny Dreadfuls back in Victorian times. Lurid murders and mysteries that sold cheap and took hardly any brainpower or time to churn out. His publisher – the only one willing to take him on – was noted chiefly for its hard-porn magazines, but had decided to take a punt on the crime genre, and a punt on George Lee – or Cameron Slade, his pseudonym, indeed a character in his own right now, a character he had grown to hate more than he currently hated George Lee. At least Slade’s books sold. OK, maybe only in paperback and online, not a lot, but enough to cover his fragile sensibilities with the reassuring, though all-too-thin, veneer that he was a real, established writer and genuinely earning a crust from it.

When had it all gone downhill? He used to have ambitions.He used to have such high expectations of himself. So much so he was considered a snob where books were concerned. For a long time he only read Booker winners and the prize’s shortlist, and in his own way tried to emulate them by producing sure winners of his own. While others dreamt of winning the lottery he regularly dreamt of his book being discussed by intellectuals in a TV studio and hailed as being the work that finally supplants Rushdie’sMidnight’s Childrenas the new Booker’s Booker.

As it transpired, his huge tomes detailing the lonely lives of sad people who drank a lot, took drugs, or were recovering from both, who spent the greater time beating themselves up over things, trying to get relationships off the ground and failing just as the books ended, were a miserable failure.

Now he had become one of those characters. He drank too much, lived alone, found it difficult to relate to any other woman other than his ex-wife, and beat himself up over where things had gone so catastrophically wrong.

One night, as he sat at his laptop trying to generate enough enthusiasm to finish his latest offering, a lager on his right, a Big Mac on his left, he decided enough was enough. He needed acomplete change of direction. Not just his writing but his life. It was a mess. The whole damn thing was a mess and he’d grown so bitter with it. His sourness had lost him his few remaining friends. He didn’t even have anyone to confide in as to how shit things had got for him.

He took the row of paperback books by Cameron Slade and threw them into the recycling bin.

And for the first time in years his insides lit up with the intense glow of bold determination.

But deciding on a change and making it happen were two different things. In truth nothing much happened to alter the course of his life for months after his lame Road-to-Damascus revelation. Cameron Slade paid the bills, after all. He couldn’t simply kill him off as easily as he could one of his imaginary cardboard characters. Cameron Slade had to return to keep the books coming. As George Lee cranked up the laptop he could almost hear the bastard crowing in his victory, Like Napoleon coming back from exile to have one last go at world domination. Swine.

It turned out theunexpected death of his father would be the laxative to his constipated existence.

George Lee came off the M5 and swung around the busy roundabout at Taunton, taking the long drag that is the A358 towards Chard and its environs. He sighed, frustrated, as he came up behind a tractor pulling a trailer, and, with a long line of traffic headed in the opposite direction for Taunton and no opportunity to overtake, he had no option but to slow to a crawl and stare at the muck-covered thing and watch as great clods of earth and cow shit were flung into the air from the tractor’s caked tyres.

He hated the country. He was a city guy through and through. He might have been born in deepest, darkestSomerset, but he sure as hell didn’t feel any strong urge to return. He couldn’t wait to escape the claustrophobic life of his parents and that stuffy little village they called home, stuck out in the middle of nowhere, with no chance of going anywhere. The furthest his mum and dad had gone was Bristol, some fifty miles or so away. Fifty fucking miles! Jesus! And that was because they were forced out of the village in order to attend a wedding. They talked about going up North. North! They would die if they had to go as far as, say, Sheffield or something, because beyond Bristolthere be dragons…

George Lee shook his head. He was finding himself getting heated up just thinking about them and their smothering duvet of a world. Calm yourself down, he told himself. You’re pushing forty now; they shouldn’t be getting to you after all this time. You’re not a kid anymore. Stop letting it bother you.

His mum was bound to mention the divorce. Bound to say it in such a way that she blamed him. Now there was no way in the immediate future he’d ever produce grandchildren…

Halfway between the towns of Chard and Crewkerne he came across the familiar turning, the long arm of the white-painted iron signpost pointing to Petheram, the village credited with being the birthplace of George Lee, and which, in his now fading dreams would one day display a blue plaque informing busloads of tourists exactly where and when. Not that he was particularly proud of it, and when he went north to university, eventually finding work and a wife there, he had tried to scrub his past away, as if none of it had ever happened, in the same way he guessed Thomas Hardy did his best to create a false version of his humble beginnings by first failing to mention it and secondly by burning much of the evidence.

There was only one thing worse than being considered a hick from the sticks,and that was being considered a hick from Petheram. The village was the butt of the meanest in-bred jokes. The kids at school bullied him relentlessly, and he got into more childhood scrapes than enough over whether he slept with his sister or not.

So Petheram had to go.He’d even taken elocution lessons to smooth out his southwest accent, with some success, but it crept back when he was drunk, angry or upset. Like Cameron Slade, there are some things that are just too difficult to eradicate. Indestructible, like they’re some kind of social cockroaches, he thought.

The road snaked downwards, cutting through countryside heavy with lush green, the high hedgerows filled with swaying blooms of lacy cow parsley and the pink paint-like splashes of red campion. All so familiar. The road narrowed till it was barely wide enough to take one car, passing-places carved into the hedges every now and again, but barely adequate. Visitors would be forgiven for thinking thatnothing was at the end of this road but empty fields and sprawling woodland, but after a couple of miles, and entering a long tunnel of trees that he swore was far gloomier than he remembered, he emerged into sunlight again, driving past the first couple of ancient-looking cottages that marked the village boundary, and into the village of Petheram itself.

Maybe it was just the long journey south. Maybe he was simply tired, or getting himself all worked up over having to come back to the place of his birth, but his stomach contracted and an icy feeling of dread crept up through him, which caused him to shiver in spite of the heat of the June sun. He blamed the air conditioning, but when he went to adjust it he realised it wasn’t on.

‘You damn fool,’ he chastised himself, shrugging away the sensation. ‘Just get in, get out, and get this entire thing over and done with,’ he said.

But the creeping anxiety did not go away. It seemed to intensify as he came toa T-junction, hitting what constituted the main road that ran through Petheram. Almost directly opposite him was the White Hart pub. He remembered taking his first drink there, at the invitation of his father. A traditional spit-and-sawdust kind of joint, at least it had been back then. It’s insides a webbing of black wooden beams and dank shadows that the sun never penetrated. A dismal old place, he recalled. Or maybe that was just a reflection of his mood at the time. It looked like it had undergone a facelift in recent times, the thatch replaced, the windows painted up nice and neat, a new sign over the door.

But the feelingsof unease didn’t disappear with this deliberate attempt to submerge them. As he pulled out onto the road he wondered why he had the irrational urge to turn back.

He was so deep in thought that he didn’tinitially see the car bearing down on him from his right. George Lee covered his face with his arm just as the red Ford Escort, its wheels screeching on tarmac as the brakes were hastily applied, hammered into his car, the driver’s door crumpling inwards with a painful rending of metal.

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