Simon Parke  
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The tilting tower

CHAPTER 12

In the last episode, Patricia gave David the brush-off, Mrs Post accepted an invitation to The Palace, and Cadbury slept as the Doctor and Jane took stock. David rang a helpline, Patricia rang the Manor bell, Lord Jo felt furious within, and the candle-lit silence of the dark church was shattered, leaving Rex in a state of some fear.

We find ourselves amid some ruins.

The ruins of St Bede’s outside Misty Longings had been The Kid’s home for some time. Little of the original abbey remained, after so many years of decline and neglect; time makes history of us all – even grand and thriving abbeys! Yet the Tilting Tower – formerly for grain storage and the making of bread – still stood, clear against the wooded horizon, and affording good shelter from both wind and rain.

The Kid shared her tall stone home with stalking, squawking crows, which huddled in the parapets, and flew with noisy flappy wings, high in the circling sky. Really, the Tilting Tower was so tilty that it should have been the first thing to fall when history came to call. The old refectory, the monk’s dormitories, and even the great chapel had more cause to remain – yet lay now as empty shells. With walls laid low and grassy banked, they were home only for moss and rabbit.

Perhaps history just assumed the Tilting Tower would fall without any help:

“It will fall with no help from I!” says history.

But it didn’t. The Tilting Tower remained standing. And the Kid found a home in its surprising arms.

*

“It is truly a structural mystery,” Rex had said in an afternoon talk for the Women’s Guild. He had made something of a study of the Tilting Tower, and had been pleased to be asked to speak on the subject.

“The angle of the tilt is similar to that of the Leaning Tower of Pisa,” he had said.

“Does that lean as well then?” asked Margaret.

“Well of course it leans – that’s why it’s called the Leaning Tower.”

“Well I never,” she said. “Did you hear that Bessie?”

“Did I hear what?”

“The Leaning Tower of Pisa – apparently it leans.”

“Don’t know what you’re talking about. You’re a hateful woman, Margaret Tolley.”

This unfortunate conversation should not be taken as a yardstick by which to judge the Women’s Guild. The Guild was a thriving organisation, drawing from the ladyfolk of Misty Longings, Deep Longings, Much Needing and Lesser Needing. They rotated the venue each time, and a minibus was hired to collect those who needed a lift. Interestingly, the ladies liked it best when it wasn’t in their village, because they enjoyed the ride more than the meeting, especially with jolly Mr Johnson at the wheel. He was quite a card, and certainly got the ladies going. Soon, he would take them to Fishnet-on-Sea; this was the trip planned for the summer, when the warm days returned.

“I was evacuated there during the war,” said Elspeth. “Though it has no doubt changed a little since then.”

“And not for the better,” said Marisa with feeling. “It’s a crime what they’ve done to that place.”

She had never been there, or even heard of it, but was generally bitter at the passing of time.

*

But Rex was hardly thinking of such things now; reflecting neither on his fairly-well received talk on the Tilting Tower, nor on the summer trip to Fishnet. He would have to go, of course, and play the jolly reverend, but presently, he was a long way from sun, sand and amusing beach-related escapades.

For Rex stood alone in the dark church, listening for movement. Or was he alone? His heart beat hard, as he strained his eyes in search of monsters. Was that something in the side aisle by the Sunday school table?

“Is there anybody there?” he said again.

Still no reply. He thought there was someone, and then he thought there wasn’t. This is how it is. You know someone’s there, and then you don’t know. Perhaps it was nothing. But then doesn’t everyone feel that the moment before they are attacked?

“Oh, it’s nothing,” they say, and then – “aggghhh!”

But sometimes in these situations you have to get a grip. Perhaps the wind had merely dislodged the vase. It was possible. Insulation had not been a priority for the Saxon builders, who apparently thought nothing of lying in snow and ice to wash. So don’t ask them to advise you about draughts! And then perhaps the cat screeching had just got Rex imagining ridiculous things about Satanists taking over the place, as once they had in the 18th century. Satanists in Misty Longings?

Well not now! No way. Rex beat a determined path to the vestry and turned on the lights. There! Nothing! His mad imaginings were shown to be exactly that. Everything was fine.

“It’s nice when your heart stops being scared,” he thought to himself as he left the church, locked the door behind him, and walked through the graves. “Perhaps I’ll talk about that on Sunday. How we shouldn’t be scared of our imaginings.”

His route to the Dog and Whistle took him past the hole in High Street. Sadly, that wasn’t an imagining. What was to be done? He wasn’t the best priest in the world; he knew that well enough. Yet he did hope in his heart, that the hole would not break the village, but make it; that somehow, this gaping sore might turn out for the good.

Misty longings indeed, you might say.

*

“It’s nice to get out,” said Mrs Post, as Algernon opened the door to her.

“Then I must lure you out more often!” said Algernon. “I’m sure I could think of some murky plans!”

A frisson of excitement passed through Mrs Post, but she couldn’t quite think of an answer, because she was also thinking that, really, it wasn’t a very appropriate remark in the circumstances. A simple welcome from Algernon would have been sufficient.

“Well now – am I going to stand on the doorstep all day?” she asked.

“Dear lady, my house is yours to do with as you will! As indeed am I! Follow me!”

If Mrs Post could truly have done as she willed, she would have given the house a good clean; there was something rather male about the place. It didn’t smell or anything, but it did have a waft, if you know what I mean.

“Now, a little glass of something, to warm us through on this cold night! Gin or sherry?”

*

Meanwhile, Patricia was confused, disappointed and perhaps a little angry. Her planned supper with Lord Jo was not turning out well. The hall light was on, yet no one answered either the door or the phone. She peered through the window, and could see the stone-floored hallway, with its Tudor refectory table and brass candlesticks. Beyond lay the grand staircase that led directly to the master bedroom and the large four poster bed.

It was then that she noticed the window; Patricia noticed that one of the windows was open. Not wide open, but unlatched and vulnerable to any burglar’s hand. What should she do? Should she call the police? Yet she had only recently had dealings with them, after Billy went berserk with the knife. To call them again may not be the wisest of moves. They might begin to imagine her as one of those busybodies. They might say something like:

“Oh, it’s that f***ing busybody again! Tell her I’m out on a job.”

Well, no one wanted that sort of reputation – particularly not with the police. And then another possibility struck home – what if burglars had already been and left Lord Jo unconscious? If Lord Jo was in trouble, then someone must help him.

All these ideas passed through Patricia’s fevered breast. And then she determined upon her course of action:

“I will go in,” she said to herself.

She would climb through the window, not as burglar, but as saviour. It really was unlike him not to answer his calls – or at least, to get his PA onto it. (He was a busy man. He couldn’t always answer himself.)

And so it was that for the first time in her life, Patricia broke into the property of another. She did it to help, but technically, it was still breaking in.

*

Dr Hafiz was returning from his ministrations down Long Lane and found himself thinking of Azure. He had a beige cat called Azure. Only he didn’t really have the cat, not in the traditional sense, because the cat had him. And isn’t that always the way? Azure was well acquainted with most homes in the village, and used the doctor only in extreme emergencies. Home may be the place that, when you have to go there, they have to let you in; but this doesn’t mean you have to go there very often. So Dr Hafiz didn’t scratch his head in puzzlement when Azure did not return home that evening, for Azure hardly ever returned home. Her presence would have been more of a shock than her absence.

There was another reason why some people said that Dr Hafiz didn’t scratch his head, but this was just tittle-tattle; cheap village gossip. And of course they never said it to his face, when they needed his healing hands.

“Oh Doctor, I’m feeling better already! You’re wonderful! What would we do without you?”

That’s what they said in those situations; they kept the quips about the “Persian rug” for later.

*

Meanwhile, the Kid was also feeling wonderful. The parcel had arrived again today, full of food and provisions. Lately, it had been arriving every week, though how or why, she did not know. But someone out there liked her, and perhaps one day she’d catch them, and find out exactly who it was.

She lit a fire in the entrance of the Tilting Tower, gazed into its dancing flames, and felt its crackling heat. All is well, truly well, when you sit by a fire beneath the stars.

It was to shine for another as well.

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