This is the twenty-first part of a fiction serial, in 830 words.
The courier arrived on a motorbike, and said he had to wait for the return wallet. Jon signed the contract, kept his copy, and handed it back to the man standing outside. That saved him a trip to the Post Office, so he quickly popped along to see Alanah, to ask her to feed his cat for a few days, and hand over the spare key.
She wasn’t her usual self. Despite agreeing to do as he asked, she appeared to be distracted, and she didn’t ask him in. That was something she had never failed to do previously, but Jon was relieved not to have to make up an excuse to avoid her attempts at seduction. He spent the rest of the day going over his notes, and giving the final edit of his email to Claudia a good tidy up.
By the time he pressed the box to send her the email, it was already late afternoon. So he went upstairs to pack a bag with what he would need the next day.
A smart young woman dressed in a pinstripe suit arrived with the hired Mercedes the next morning. The car was in metallic grey, but otherwise identical to the one he had hired before. He wasted no time getting on the road, as he knew it would take at least five hours, and wanted some time that afternoon to try to locate Dennis.
With a brief stop for fuel and an indifferent sandwich later, he arrived in front of his hotel just after three. The receptionist arranged for his car to be collected by a valet and driven to the car park, then Jon left his things in the impressive seafront suite he had booked and walked quickly to the pier.
Although it was late in the season, there were still people on the beach, and the pier was surprisingly busy. He spotted Steff, a woman he knew from the old days. She was running the three balls stand, surrounded by tasteless soft toys that were given out as prizes. The skin of her face looked like crumpled crepe paper, ruined by a lifetime of chain smoking. And her voice betrayed that too, for anyone who might still be in doubt.
“Jonny, love. Long time no see. I wondered where you had disappeared to”. He hated being called Jonny, but smiled. He told her that he had moved away, but was in town for business, and hoping to look up some old friends.
When he mentioned Dennis, she got into a fit of coughing, taking a few moments to recover. “Dorothy Emerald? He’s not around on the pier much. He was working in Maurice’s seaside rock shop on the promenade, last I saw him. Do you wanna try your luck with three balls in the bucket, Jonny?” Jon thanked her for the information, declined the offer to win a soft toy, and headed the short distance back along the front to the rock shop.
A greasy-haired girl was leaning against the back wall of the small shop. She looked to be in her teens, and a spot between her eyes seemed ready to erupt into some kind of dermatological Vesuvius. Her faded black dress was so short, Jon averted his eyes as she moved, lest he see something he didn’t want to.
“Yes. I help you? He guessed at East European, as he glanced briefly at the sign in front of the multi-coloured sticks of rock. £1 Each Or 5 For £4. He told her he was looking for Dennis Green. Immediately losing interest, she slumped back against the wall, shouting so loudly, it startled him. “DENIZZ!”
The door behind her creaked as it opened, and Dennis appeared.
Looking much older than he was, and wearing a teal chiffon scarf that looked out of place above his grey cable-knit cardigan, Dennis managed a weak smile. “Hello Jon old love, great to see you”. Jon told him he was trying to trace Lawrence. “Lolly? Let’s have a little walk along the seafront old love, and I’ll tell you what I know”. Dennis wasn’t breathing that well, and it wasn’t long before he suggested sitting down on an empty bench. Fishing around in the pocket of the cardigan he produced a single cigarette, lighting it with a Zippo from the other pocket.
“He only stayed with me for a few nights, old love. No funny business, you understand. I was just helping him out. I told him what a stupid boy he had been. I think he really did love you, but he couldn’t stop himself when someone flirted with him. Anyway, he got a job, somewhere north of London. Working as the barman in a pizza place. I lent him the money for the train fare to go for the interview, but he never sent it back to me. Radlett it was. Yes I’m sure. Radlett.” That made Jon take a sharp intake of breath.
Radlett was only two miles from Aldenham.