Simon Parke  
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Golden moments

CHAPTER 34

In the last episode, Lord Jo received a macabre history lesson; Dr Hafiz met a ghost with airs; and Rex explained the exact price of death to Mrs Post. Jane heard a voice from the deep and discovered an ally in Billy, while Inky rather regretted making the tackle.

‘Mrs Pump!’ exclaimed Inky. ‘I had no idea it was going to be you!’

And nor was he glad it was! Better a child-eating one-eyed monster staring at him now than Mrs Pump. Children at school would call her ‘The Village Witch’ because she was always so cold. ‘Witchy bitchy, witchy bitchy!’ they sometimes said naughtily, hoping no one would hear.

And though Inky didn’t think she was a witch, he had always found her chill and scary, and avoided her whenever possible. And of course the last time he’d seen her had been late Saturday night, when she had ignored him completely.

‘What do you think you were doing, Inky?’

Inky’s heart beat fast within. How the tables were turned! It was now he who wanted to run away. ‘We didn’t know who you were.’

‘So?’

‘You could have been anyone!’

‘And do you rugby tackle everyone you don’t know? It would be interesting to see you in a shopping mall.’

Inky was feeling a little bit ridiculous.

‘Cadbury and I just wanted to know who you were.’

‘Why? What’s it got to do with you?’

‘Well, nothing really, I suppose.’

‘No, as you say, nothing; absolutely nothing.’

Inky was screwing up his eyes, and trying to think of a plan or distraction. Instead, however, he just told the truth. ‘We just thought you were really kind.’

‘Did you?’

‘Yes. I told Cadbury you could be the kindest person in the world.’

‘So kind, in fact, that you attacked me?’

‘We knew you left baskets of stuff for the Kid – and just wanted to say ‘thank you’.’

‘Assault is not a traditional ‘thank you’.’

Mrs Pump was preparing to leave. She had taken off the shroud of disguise, put it in her carrier bag, and had returned to her immaculate and smartly dressed self – apart from some grass in her hair and shoes covered in mud.

‘So why did you do it, Mrs Pump? Why did you help the Kid?’

*

‘Did you ever meet Oliver Cromwell?’ asked Dr Hafiz as he walked with the royal ghost.

‘Meet him? Why would I wish to meet him? I was king, and he, my subject.’

‘And did you not talk with subjects?’

‘Talk with them?’ asked Charles, surprised by the question. ‘You have strange ideas. Cromwell was low-class gentry before the war; not of noble stock at all. A farmer in St Ives for five years, after his father went bankrupt! What would I ever have to say to one such as him?’

‘So although your names are always linked by history, you two never sat and talked together?’

‘No!’

‘Remarkable. And would you have liked to?’

‘I have no feelings on the matter. He was not important.’

‘Not important? He brought you down.’

‘And if we did meet, I have quite forgotten.’

‘Was he there at your trial?’

‘It was no trial. I did not plead, because I did not recognise its authority. Its only authority was Cromwell’s army! A farmer from St Ives thwarting God’s chosen one!’

‘We must beware of false notions of self.’

‘And now you, bald fellow, are beginning to tire me as he did.’

*

Billy made short work of the stone door, which swung open on strong hinges.

‘What a remarkable piece of work,’ said Jane admiringly. ‘True craftsmanship, and not recent, I’d wager.’

The long and varied history of the English hinge had always fascinated her; an interest only stoked by the recent bestseller on the subject: No Hinge, No Door.

‘There’s a secret passage, Long Lane Jane.’

‘Just ‘Jane’ will do.’

‘OK Just Jane.’

Jane did not have the will to correct him again, for she was looking down into a darkness, which started as some stone stairs. Whatever this was, it was an ancient entrance to somewhere; an ancient entrance long covered over. Who would have thought that beneath the bleak interior of Café Disappointment, and the dry cheese rolls, lay such mystery?

‘Where do you think it goes?’ asked Billy, wondering if he was now meant to hop it back to wherever he’d come from. This is what the bastards usually said.

‘I don’t know,’ said Jane. ‘It could simply be the cellar of the house; but whatever it is, we are going to find out, Billy.’

‘We? Can I come, Just Jane?’

‘Well, I’m not going alone – and I can’t think of a better companion in a fight.’

‘I’m good at fighting; I can nut anybody!’

Jane grimaced.

‘No, really, Jane!’

‘I believe you.’

‘I got the copper a pearler in the privates, before they dropped me down the hole!’ Billy enacted the move again – the move which had left PC Dave Spittle groaning for some while.

‘Well, I trust we shall not meet any of the local constabulary down here,’ said Jane. ‘They’re rare enough above ground – so what chance below? Now – follow me.’

*

Cromwell wandered alone in the glowing glory; never more alone, in fact. He had become more and more alone in the living years; and since then, more and more sad.

He surveyed again the amazing cavern in which he now stood. There at the centre was the carriage he had sought in 1644, preserved in extraordinary detail. Inside the carriage sat the gold that had sunk with it; sunk down through the slime to rest now in this cave of extraordinary light. The gold! Cromwell always came back to the gold!

The gold had never belonged to him. It was always Charles’ gold; gold destined for the king’s army, and rightfully his, as much as any possession is a right. So what had Cromwell to do with it? Nothing! Yet somehow – and here was the pain – he had always felt a sense of loss; always felt that the gold was his to find, had been given to him to find; and that he failed. How near to the treasure he had stood, in the High Street of Misty Longings. How near, yet how far!

‘Things might have been better,’ said Cromwell to himself, finally encapsulating his feelings. ‘What is the gold to me but a dream I lost somewhere along the way? I was given the chance to do all things, and achieved nothing.’

He looked over towards the girl, who remained fast asleep; a young girl who seemed to know so little about the ways of the world.

‘All might have been better; that is how I feel. Is that why I am here?’

*

‘Yes, Mr Gloom, I understand your distaste, but we did agree a fee.’ Rex was taking another difficult call from Mr Gloom, who, having seen the body, now wanted a further £2,000 for the job.

‘It is, after all, what you do, Mr Gloom. Collecting bodies – it’s your chosen profession,’ said Rex, after Mr Gloom had explained to him the stressful nature of the enterprise. ‘I understand it must be stressful at times, but as the saying goes, ‘If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen!’ I do get very bored of people talking about stress.’

But Mr Gloom was adamant. It was £2,000 extra on top of the triple time payment already agreed – or he and his highly skilled staff would withdraw from the job.

‘But the funeral’s tomorrow!’ said Rex.

‘It’s not about the money,’ said Mr Gloom. ‘It’s about the principle.’

‘Well, you hardly leave me with much choice!’

‘I’m glad you are able to view it in that way, Reverend,’ said Mr Gloom.

‘You’re off the job,’ said Rex.

‘I beg your pardon?’

‘The financial agreement is hereby withdrawn.’

‘Withdrawn?? But the funeral’s tomorrow. You won’t fund another undertaker in that time!’

‘Then I’ll do it myself, Mr Gloom! I’ll collect the body myself!’

That was telling him!

*

Inky was still a little bit down about the rugby tackle incident with Mrs Pump, and although Cadbury had been really nice about it, and said it wasn’t his fault, he was aware that he’d been a mad impetuous fool.

‘You did say sorry,’ said Cadbury.

‘I didn’t quite say sorry,’ said Inky.

‘You didn’t say sorry?’

‘I said how kind we thought she was, but I didn’t actually say ‘sorry’.’

‘Well, they do say it’s the hardest word. ‘Sorry seems to be the hardest word’, as the song says.’

‘Do you think I should have said sorry?’

‘It might have helped.’

‘But she’s never said sorry!’ said Inky, rallying to his own defence.

‘Sorry for what? You attacked her!’

‘She’s never said sorry for all her coldness down the years.’

‘Oh I see.’

‘And that’s much worse. Years of cold!’

Just for a moment, Cadbury began to rock again, fearful of things dreamed and imagined. She didn’t like years of cold, and never wanted to go back to anything like that.

‘Dr Hafiz would know what to do,’ she said, as she snuggled into Inky’s side. ‘I wish Dr Hafiz was with us now, because he’d know what to do.’

‘How do you know?’

‘He is an expert on sorry. He once said sorry to me when his phone started ringing. I was telling him about the body I saw in the Post Office, when his phone started. He was ever so quick to apologise – and I knew he meant it, because he switched the phone off, and said ‘Carry on’! No one had ever switched a phone off for me before! No one had ever switched a phone off and said ‘Carry on’!’

Just then, they heard footsteps in the distance, movement down by the bridge. They were hardly expecting anyone; no one ever came to the abbey ruins.

‘Kid? Is that you?’ called out Inky, into the dark.

Cadbury instinctively moved behind Inky – she knew the armies would come one day.

‘I’ve always been a loser in the loving wars,’ she said. ‘You won’t leave me, will you?’

Bu Inky was too intent on the approaching steps.

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