Simon Parke  
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Shimmering like silver

CHAPTER 32

In the last episode, The Kid met a ghost; Inky and Cadbury made for the ruins and a new life; while Dr Hafiz entered an underground maze. Mrs Post and Jane discussed Cromwell, and Alky welcomed David, as a spider welcomes a fly.

David had already had a couple of glasses of wine by the time the food came. Alky was rushing in and out, but never forgot to empty his glass when in!

‘Drink up!’ he’d say, before disappearing off to the kitchen.

And David did. It was nice to be warm, comfortable and waited on, after the 24 hours he’d endured. And he was just wondering whether to ask about the possibility of a bath, when Alky returned with some sandwiches.

‘Something of a disappointment,’ thought David, who had been hoping for something hot.

‘I can tell you are a little disappointed,’ said Alky.

‘Sandwiches are fine!’

‘But perhaps you imagined something rather more enticing?’

‘Well, I suppose – ‘

‘The thing is, I have some news for you, David, which may make you less concerned about the food situation. And it’s not good news, I’m afraid.’

*

‘Yes,’ said Rex, as he tried to explain the situation to the local undertaker, Mr Gloom. ‘The body does need collecting, but it will not be a pleasant task.’

‘It’s never exactly a ball, Vicar, collecting bodies.’

‘Of course not, Mr Gloom, but this one will be even less of a ball than usual. In fact, it will be the opposite of a ball, whatever that is.’

‘So what appears to be the problem?’

‘Mr Gloom – the body in question is about nine months old.’

There was some choking at the other end of the phone.

‘Mr Gloom? Mr Gloom?? Are you all right?’

‘Nine months? Nine fucking months?? That’s – no, that’s disgusting!’

‘Well, I grant you it’s not as normal as it might be.’

‘She wasn’t the one still feeding the corpse, was she? The one in the local paper?’

‘Well, funnily enough, I did mention that story to her – it didn’t go down well.’

‘Our fees will be double, of course.’

‘Fine; that does seem fair.’

‘No – treble.’

‘Treble?’

‘Treble.’

‘That’s really quite a lot.’

‘That body will be like a dried out rat.’

‘Treble, though – does seem a bit pricey.’

‘Of course, if you can find someone else to do it?’

This was always the trouble with Mr Gloom. He had something of a local monopoly in undertaking.

‘No, well, I mean, if that’s what it must be, Mr Gloom – I’m sure we can come to a suitable financial arrangement.’

‘Treble.’

‘That’s right, Mr Gloom – treble.’

*

At first, Dr Hafiz thought he had imagined it. ‘Hallucinations are not uncommon in circumstances such as these,’ he said to himself. ‘Wishful thinking comes into play.’ He certainly wished for some hair. The drops of water on his bald pate were a considerable grievance, and one he was unused to. ‘You don’t realise how much protection from the elements hair affords,’ Dr Hafiz reflected, ‘until that protection is taken away.’

And then he saw it again! What looked like a figure in the distance – moving. Last time it had gone one way; now it returned the other. Yet Dr Hafiz was confused – how could he see a figure in the distance when all was so dark?

With Mrs Pump’s torch beginning to fade, it was hard enough to see his feet. These batteries must have helped her to the cow’s field on Saturday night, and now had little left to offer.

So the figure he saw – was this wishful thinking? Twice?? He didn’t think so, because as far as he knew, the only thing he really wanted to see was a hole in the roof he could escape through, back to the land of the living. Instead, however, he had just seen a figure up ahead, shimmering like silver.

He moved forward to investigate.

*

‘The thing is,’ said Alky, ‘you are shortly to die. I’m sorry about this, and all that, but in the end, it was either you or me?’

‘You still have to kill me,’ said David, feeling the sweat break out around his neck.

‘I’m afraid I already have, dear boy.’

David instinctively looked at his wine glass.

‘But I do want you to know it is nothing personal,’ said Alky.

‘Murder is usually considered personal,’ said David.

‘Not on this occasion. It’s just that I got much too melancholic and confessional with you in the pub yesterday, and told you all sorts of things which you really shouldn’t know.’

‘About Cadbury?’

‘Of course – no one knows what happened to that stupid little girl, and no one ever will. Once you are dead.’

‘I’ve told no one.’

‘And I believe you. It’s just that this way I’m sure about the future. Who knows what you might reveal at a moment of high excitement.’

‘You can trust me.’

‘It’s too late for all that. Did you enjoy the wine?’

‘It was very nice.’

‘I was rather disappointed, actually – especially as mine wasn’t laced with vast quantities of anti-freeze.’

‘So there was anti-freeze in each of my glasses, but not in each of yours?’

‘Precisely – as you will realise any moment now. Relax with a sandwich or something. Any activity will only hasten the effects, and I do so wish a restful end for you.’

‘How considerate.’

‘You do seem calm.’

‘I feel calm.’

‘I like that in a man; none of that hateful female hysteria. Like Charles, king and martyr, death has brought out the best in you.’

*

The letters made interesting reading. Jane had seen them stuffed behind the radiator as soon as she had entered the spare room at Cromwell’s. With Mrs Post gone – after insisting she be called ‘Deirdre’ – Jane began to read.

Addressed variously to ‘The Vilij’, ‘thoze hhoo mite be intrested’ and other misspelled appellations, they were all from the Kid, bidding people come to the hole. ‘Gud thingz hair’, ‘cumsooon’ and other encouragement and exhortation spilled from each desperate letter. It was as if the girl knew some sort of treasure was there and wished to alert everyone else. But instead of Mrs Post circulating the letters, she had ignored them.

‘It’s unfortunate when the only one who knows the truth is dumb,’ said Jane to herself.

She needed to get out.

‘I’m going out for a while, Deirdre,’ she called down the stairs.

‘Anything in particular?’

‘Just a little matter that needs dealing with.’

‘Sounds very hush-hush. I won’t ask!’

‘I need to find the Kid.’

‘The Kid? Well, good luck when you do. She’s trouble, that girl – mark my words.’

‘I found some very interesting letters stuffed down the back of the radiator in my room.’

‘Oh, the badly spelled ones! Yes – awful, aren’t they? I wasn’t going to waste my time opening those.’

‘So you stuffed them down the back of the radiator?’

‘That’s right. I believe in correct spelling and correctly addressed mail – and that lot fell down on both counts.’

Jane stepped out into the afternoon chill. It was now 36 hours since last she had seen the Kid; and certainly that length of time and more since last the child had eaten – if indeed she was still down the hole. She couldn’t be sure – she just feared.

Of course, anyone watching the scene might well have thought Jane had gone completely mad. She seemed to be walking round the hole, as though in a trance. She would circle it close by, and then circle at a distance. She would sometimes crouch and listen; and on occasion, she even knelt on the ground and put her ear to the cobbles.

She was doing exactly that when Lord Jo drove past in his 4X4! ‘I see Long Lane Jane has finally gone completely mad,’ said Lord Jo to Patricia.

‘You shouldn’t be so quick to judge, Jo. You don’t know what she’s doing.’ (It is possible Patricia could be a good influence on Lord Jo.)

‘Mad is as mad does, in my book,’ said an unrepentant self-made man.

‘I agree it does look a little odd!’ said Patricia, smiling wickedly.

Lord Jo had taken the day off work, and they were driving to the nice clothes shops in Lesser Needing. But Lord Jo would gain more pleasure from inspecting the newly filled hole in the High Street. ‘A job well done,’ he thought to himself, with some pride. ‘Why didn’t I do it sooner?’

Now to get the lady at his side to the dead-posh clothes shop. Women! He pressed his foot down on the accelerator, and felt the power.

*

Inky felt Cadbury’s hand on his arm.

‘The ghost is back!’

‘What ghost?’

‘The shrouded figure!’

In the half-light of winter afternoon, they sat together by a fire in the Tilting Tower. They wanted nothing more to do with the village, of that they were sure, and had talked of getting away and starting all over again; but there was no question their visitor was back.

‘And this time, the darkness cannot hide them!’ said Inky.

‘Careful,’ said Cadbury.

‘No panic. Remember – this is not a murderer or yob we’re dealing with,’ said Inky. ‘This person could be the kindest person in the world – keeping the Kid alive all this time.’

‘I suppose.’

‘So let’s find out, once and for all, who they are – when the shroud’s removed!’

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