It has just occurred to me that I forgot to compile my last serial into one long post. So here it is.
A long read, at 19,164 words.
George hadn’t been sleeping that well since retiring. Losing the routine of working all day had upset his body clock, and left him restless at night. And being around Eileen all day felt strange too. He had realised that you can be married to someone for forty years, and hardly know them. Forty-three years in the same job, doing it well, but with no ambition to change. What did that say about him? He thought about that a lot now he wasn’t working.
Still, they were only sixty, and probably had a good twenty years ahead of them doing things that they had always said they would do once they could. But so far, they had done almost nothing. The days passed by in a blur, and before he knew it, George was coming up to his first anniversary of retirement, and they hadn’t even been on a holiday, let alone done anything remotely exciting. Perhaps if they had children it might have been different. But one or the other of them hadn’t worked properly, the children had never come along, and they never bothered to find out why.
Eileen had resisted the idea of moving. Their small semi-detached on the edge of a market town suited her nicely, so she said. George wanted to sell up and move to a completely different part of the country, but his wife liked the neighbours, and enjoyed her moderate social life. He used some of his savings to change the car, and Eileen had chuckled when he came home with the two-door fastback. “Will we even get all the shopping in the back of that, George? What were you thinking, love?” So she didn’t really want to go for drives, and George ended up washing and polishing the car every weekend, dreaming of swooping around sharp bends and enjoying country lanes.
But so far the only place he had swooped to was the new Aldi on the trading estate. Sitting inside the car waiting for Eileen to return with a trolley load of groceries.
It wasn’t long before she started to suggest that he found himself a hobby. She had her crochet, her lunch club, and she helped out at the library too, reading to illiterate adults. The husbands of most of her friends went fishing, or spent the day in garden sheds making things. Some of them made models, collected stamps, or followed the local football team. None of that interested George though. He had hoped they would do things together, explore new places, just drive off somewhere and find a hotel, come home when they liked.
Then she talked about him landscaping the garden, or decorating all the rooms in the house. She bought him books to read, without even asking if he wanted to read them. Very soon the bookcase was full of books he had no intention of ever reading. The final straw was when Eileen bought him a new electric drill with all the accessories for his birthday. What did she expect him to drill? The house already had every hole drilled it would ever need. That went up into the loft, never to see the light of day.
He still loved her of course. His first, and only love. They had been together for so long it had become a habit. It was a good habit, he had always thought, but forced together twenty-four seven, he could see the cracks starting to emerge.
There were also the differences he could also feel in himself. After a year of doing almost nothing, he was slowing down, feeling his age. Many of the people they knew had carried on working, determined not to retire until they had no other option. But he had always planned to leave at sixty, while he still had some life left in him. He had planned for it, saved hard, and paid extra into his job pension. Eileen had gone part-time when she was fifty-five, mainly so she could do more of her other activities.
Sometimes, he thought she had given up, and couldn’t wait to be an old lady, sitting in a chair working her crochet hooks, and staring out the window at the garden.
Another unsettled night. Eileen snoring softly next to him as he tossed and turned, trying to get off to sleep. No sooner had he managed to do that, when the room was bathed in a blue light. It was strong enough to show through the curtains, and seemed to be directed at his face. He got out of bed and opened one side of the curtains, amazed to see the blue light illuminating the garden and boring into his eyes through the window. What could it be, at three in the morning? Something one of the neighbours in the street behind had set up perhaps? Eileen hadn’t noticed it, and was still sleeping soundly.
Closing the curtains and going back to bed, George decided he would walk around the corner and have a word with that neighbour tomorrow.
Then the light went out.
Eileen woke up with George on top of her. He was definitely amorous, and she struggled to remember the last time he had done anything like that. It had to have been at least five years earlier, after too many whiskies on his fifty-fifth birthday. Despite the surprise, she had to give him credit for performance. He was like a tiger, and she definitely could not recall the last time she had ever thought that about him. When it was over, she was left flushed and breathless.
“What was that about, George?” He shrugged. “Just in the mood, woke up feeling good, so why not?”
Over breakfast, she could definitely sense a twinkle in his eye, and she added that to the rest of the memories. Eye-twinkling was something that used to happen, but had not happened for a very long time. He ate his breakfast like a man who had never seen food, demolishing it, then asking for extra toast and marmalade.
“I might go for a drive later, love. I fancy giving the car a good run”. Eileen smiled and nodded. She had crochet club at eleven, so it didn’t concern her if George went out.
It took him two hours to get to the south coast. Two hours of driving on the edge, and ignoring speed limits as he changed up and down through the gears like he was driving in the Monte Carlo Rally. When he got to Brighton, he pushed on to Worthing, finally deciding to park for a while, and have a nice walk along the seafront. He was hungry again, and found a nice fish restaurant. Nothing like fish and chips at the coast, freshly-caught and cooked, and eaten from a proper plate in an upmarket chippy.
The waitress was in her forties. Black hair that was probably dyed, a bit too much eye make up, and a uniform rather too short for her age. But when he gave her the eye, she returned his gaze, and smiled. “What time do you finish, love?” It was as if someone else was saying it, but he was glad they had. She checked her watch. “I’m off at four, why?” There was a smile included with the question. He smiled back. “Well I thought I might offer you a lift home, save you walking or taking the bus”.
When she brought the bill, she presented it upside down. On the bottom, she had written, ‘Okay, meet me outside at four’. He left her a very large tip, almost as much as the food had cost. He only had to wait until ten past, and she appeared from the back, smiling. George was feeling great, and in charge. He couldn’t remember the last time he had felt in charge of anything. “Not far to my car, just along the front here”. She held his arm. How long was it since Eileen had held his arm?
“I don’t live far, only about ten minutes from here. You can come in for a cup of tea if you like”.
He name was Valerie, and she liked it too. She liked it enough that George didn’t leave her bedsit flat until it was almost seven at night. She puffed on her cigarette as she spoke. “Will I see you again?” George was getting dressed, and felt amazing. “Yes, you definitely will, I just don’t know when”. Then he kissed her and left.
It was almost nine-thirty when he got home. Eileen was angry.
“You could have phoned and let me know how late you would be, George. I was worried, and your dinner is in the oven, but it will be ruined now”. He was not fazed by her moaning. “I told you I was going for a drive, and that’s what I did. I went to Worthing, and had fish and chips. Then I carried on along the coast, and really enjoyed the drive. What’s your problem with that, love? You went to crochet club, and I didn’t complain about that”.
She was grumpy. “Well, I’m going to bed, so goodnight!”
George stayed up until after midnight. He felt energised, and he was buzzing. Valerie had been the only other woman he had been with in his life, and compared to Eileen, she was a revelation. She hadn’t cared about the age difference, and had made him feel like he was the best lover in the world. Eileen needed to step up, no doubt about that.
Sleep was hard to come by, as usual. When the blue light flooded the room, it was later, just after four. He opened the curtains fully, to get the complete effect. He could feel the energy coursing through him, something he hadn’t been aware of since he was in his twenties.
The light went out fifteen minutes later, and he slept the sleep of the dead.
When George woke up late the next morning, Eileen was already busy in the living room. The crochet club had a new project, and she was occupied with the squares that were her contribution. So he cooked his own breakfast of three sausages, three fried eggs, and four slices of toast. She was still being sniffy about him returning late last night, so he decided to take no notice of her. Instead, he went out into the garden, and got to work.
By the time he came in for a cold drink four hours later, George had transformed the garden. The small lawn had been cut, the edges trimmed, and all the weeding done in the flower beds. He had finally cut back the overgrown shrubs too, something he had been promising to do for at least seven years. When he finished his cold drink, he went out there again and gave all the fence panels two coats of wood stain. Feeling very pleased with himself, he went inside and asked Eileen what was for dinner, as it was almost six.
She was still working her hooks, and trying to make a point, obviously. “I haven’t thought about what to do yet, might warm up that casserole I saved from Sunday”. In no mood for a warmed-up casserole, George picked up his wallet and car keys. “Right then, you can have that if you want, I’m going for a Chinese takeaway”. He knew Eileen hated Chinese food. There were some people in the queue in front of him, so George perused the menu written above the counter as he waited. When it came to his turn, he smiled at the grumpy-looking Chinese lady, and placed his order.
“Right then, I will have some sweet and sour chicken balls, two spring rolls, beef in black bean sauce, and special fried rice”. He was unusually hungry, probably all that work in the garden.
Back at the house, Eileen was continuing the spat. “Please don’t eat that around me, you know I can’t stand the smell”. He took his food into the rarely-used dining room and laid it out on the mahogany table. His wife shouted from the kitchen. “Use the table mats, and don’t spill any of that muck onto the wood!” He didn’t use any mats, and he didn’t spill a drop onto the table, as he ate it at great speed, surprising himself when he realised he had finished it all.
Eileen couldn’t keep her bad mood going. She wanted to watch her favourite soap opera on TV, and George usually sat with her on the sofa as she watched it. He didn’t care anything about the characters, and who they were related to, but Eileen would give him a running commentary nonetheless. “That’s her sister, and she had sex with the blonde’s husband. But of course, the blonde doesn’t know yet. There is going to be hell to pay when she finds out”. George was zoned out. The northern accents of the cast seemed like a foreign language to him anyway, but watching it with Eileen had become a habit.
At least he didn’t have to wait too long to turn over to the news.
It was well before ten when he started to feel very tired. Perhaps he had overdone it in the garden? His muscles would probably ache tomorrow. “I’m off to bed love. reckon I did too much gardening today”. He kissed her on the cheek and made his way upstairs. So tired, he didn’t even bother to brush his teeth before collapsing into bed.
The light woke him. He checked the time on the digital alarm clock, and it was four-fifteen. Standing at the window listening to Eileen snoring, he felt rejuvenated by the blue light. Well, he had just had over six hours sleep, so that might have something to do with it. When the light went out, he didn’t want to go back to bed. He went into the bathroom and had a wash and shave, before grabbing some clothes from the bedroom without waking his wife.
Downstairs in the kitchen, he had a cup of tea while writing a note. ‘Gone for a drive. Not sure when I will be back’. He left the note next to the kettle, sure that Eileen would see it when she got up.
By five thirty, he was forty miles away, heading north. Time to go somewhere he had never been before. Just after eight that morning, he was looking for somewhere to park in Lincoln.
He had seen photos of the castle and cathedral there many years ago, but Eileen said it was too far for a day trip.
Enjoying his walk around the unfamiliar city, George got to see the castle and the cathedral just as he had hoped, stopping for lunch in between. It was a nice day, so he decided to head east to the coast, and the seaside town of Skegness. That took him longer than expected, so by the time he got there he realised he wasn’t going to have time to drive home that evening. There were plenty of small hotels along the seafront, and he chose the nicest looking one that had a ‘Vacancies’ sign in the window. After booking a room, he walked up to the shops and bought some toiletries and a change of underwear.
On the way back to the hotel, he stopped at a phone box. He anticipated problems with Eileen when he told her, but was pleasantly surprised when she seemed alright about it.
“I’m glad you left me a note, or I would have been worried. Lincoln, you say? Well, you did always want to go there. And you are in Skegness now? I have always heard that is a rather run-down place, so I hope you found somewhere decent to stay. So I will see you tomorrow when you get home. Goodnight, George”.
He had to admit it was just as his wife suspected. Run-down, rather seedy, and also unusually crowded for the time of year. He had seen many caravan parks on his way through, and guessed that most of the people thronging the streets would have been staying in a caravan. That was probably why so many of the hotels had vacancies. His hotel had a restaurant, so he booked a table for one and went down to eat. It was rather disappointing,, offering a bland set meal, three courses at a fixed price.After dinner he went and sat in the bar, but his only companions were two much older couples who sat sipping their drinks and staring into space.
The Lincolnshire adventure had fallen flat, and he decided to go to bed early.
Eileen used the absence of her husband to crack on with her crochet project. Then she cooked a fillet steak for dinner, and decided to have a glass of Port while she ate. After two more glasses of Port, she could feel her eyes getting heavy, so she turned off the television and went to bed.
When the light woke her, she checked the time. It was just after three in the morning. Wondering what it could be, she put on her dressing gown and went out into the garden. The light was concentrated there, feeling like one of those floodlight football matches you saw on television. It wasn’t shining on the adjoining house at all, and it also didn’t scare her, or make her annoyed. After trying to see the source of it for some time, it suddenly went out. Eileen went back to bed feeling remarkably peaceful, and she had no trouble getting back to sleep.
George was down in good time for the full breakfast provided by the hotel. He paid the bill after eating, and walked to his car to drive home. Only then did it occur to him that he had not been awakened by the blue light during the night. The traffic was bad all the way home, and even trying to change his route didn’t help. He had got as far as Bedford when he suddenly felt overwhelmingly tired, so stopped at a roadside cafe for some strong coffee.
After that stop it still took him over two hours to get home, and when he went inside, he was surprised to find Eileen was out. There was no note, and as she didn’t drive, he presumed she had been picked up by one of her friends, or taken a bus or taxi somewhere. He had been home for more than an hour when she came in. Not wanting to start any arguments, he didn’t ask where she had been, but she told him anyway.
“Oh I had a lovely day, George. I joined the new health club out on the Ring Road. They have a lovely pool there, and I have been swimming on and off most of the day. The people are very nice, and they have a restaurant too. It’s a bit pricey of course, but very upmarket. She produced a sports bag with the logo of the health club printed on it, and removed a one-piece swimming costume and towel from inside. “I bought these there, they can go in the wash”.
As she loaded the washing machine with her swimming things and other items to make up a load, Eileen was singing. An old song they used to listen to almost forty years earlier.
He couldn’t remember when he had last seen her looking so relaxed and alive.
That evening, Eileen cooked a Beef Stroganoff for dinner, something she hadn’t served up for years. Then she got the Port from the cupboard, suggesting they had a glass or two. George couldn’t fail to notice that she hadn’t turned on the television or mentioned her soap opera. But he didn’t remind her. She was full of chat about the health club, and hadn’t asked him anything about his trip to Lincolnshire.
“Oh, George, you wouldn’t believe how accepting they are, those health club people. Nobody mentioned my age at all, it was as if I was twenty-five again, I tell you. One young man who sold me the bag, towel and costume even asked me if I was busy later. Can you imagine that!”
He couldn’t imagine it at all.
“Naturally, I told him I was married, but I thanked him for the compliment of course. That seemed to be the right thing to do. I might tell the crochet club that I have a touch of arthritis in my fingers. It’s much more interesting at the Health Club, so much going on, and lots to see and do. Who knows, I might even start working out at the gym. They have those exercise bikes that tell you how far and how fast you have pedalled. I reckon I could manage some time on one of those. But before I go again, I am off to town tomorrow to get some sports gear. I felt quite overdressed, I can tell you”.
He told her he might take another drive, exploring places he had never seen. She didn’t hesitate to agree with him. “You do that, love. That’s something that interests you more than me. Besides, I intend to get full value out of the membership fees, so you can expect me to be spending much more time at the Health Club from now on. George couldn’t help feeling a little jealous. Okay, he had gone home with the waitress in Worthing, but now it seemed his wife had a new found exuberance, almost a lust for life. And his trip to Skegness paled by comparison.
That night in bed, Eileen’s glasses of Port had taken their toll, and she was snoring soon after her head hit the pillow. George was tired too, but after a night with no blue light, he was intrigued to see if it came back once he was at home. He lay awake in bed for ages, and didn’t realise he had gone to sleep until the light woke him up at three-thirty. Standing at the window, he could feel the sense of well-being as the light flooded over him. Tomorrow would be a good day, he was sure of that.
But he woke late. Eileen had already left, and as there was no note, he concluded she was off on her shopping trip for sportswear, followed by a day at the Health Club. He just had toast for breakfast, then after his bath he packed an overnight bag. Sitting in the petrol station after filling up the car, he decided to head west, and see where he ended up.
George had never been to the ancient Roman city of Bath, and it was only two hours away by car. Definitely west of where he lived, so that worked into his plan. He was there by midday, and although it was cloudy, it wasn’t cold. Finding a hotel, he had an intake of breath when they quoted the price for one night, and that didn’t include breakfast, which was extra. But he was there now, so accepted the rate. Unfortunately, parking for the car was difficult in Bath, so he decided to drive out and visit the caves at Cheddar Gorge, as the hotel receptionist had told him he could park outside after six in the evening.
It took just under an hour to find Cheddar, and he parked close to one of the big caves and bought an entrance ticket. There was quite a crowd, mostly old people, but one group was being shown around by a female guide, and he was sure that the woman kept looking back and giving him the eye. So he tagged along, litening to her commentary, and it wasn’t long before his guess was proved correct. Outside the cave, the woman waved goodbye to the minibus full of her tour party. Then she turned and smiled at him. He walked over and spoke to her, thanking her for the tour, even though he hadn’t been part of her group. She was very forward.
“Well, if you really enjoyed it, you can thank me by taking me to dinner later. I live in Wells, not far. I can give you my address and you can pick me up at seven. I know a nice place where we can get a table”. He was happy to agree, even though he was surprised by how obvious she was. And he doubted she was more than thirty years old. As well as her address, she gave him directions once he got to Wells. Not bothering to drive back into Bath, George decided to explore the area. An empty minibus had turned up to collect her, and she waved at him as it drove off.
Weston-Super-Mare was on the coast, and not far. He thought he might have a look at the seaside while he waited for his dinner date.
While George was in Bath, Eileen made the most of a day on her own. Although feeling out of place in the sportswear shop, the staff were very kind to her, and she was soon kitted out with three changes of appropriate clothing for wearing at the Health Club, as well as two new swimming costumes. She had a locker provided there, and the new outfits almost filled it. The young man at the sales counter had winked at her when she was signing in, and called out as she walked past. “Good morning! Lovely to see you back with us!”
That had made her blush.
Relaxing after a swim, she considered trying out the gym after a light lunch. There were both female and male instructors in there to guide you through a proper regime, and she had spotted a very muscular young man when she had looked through the perspex doors leading to it. Once she was changed and had walked through those doors, she didn’t have to seek him out. He walked straight over to her, his white-toothed smile dazzling. “New to us? I’m Floyd, and here to help”. Eileen had not had much to do with black people during her life, but she could feel herself tingling in his presence as she admired his tall frame and easy manner.
Although she had expected to be embrarrassed at her ability to use the equipment, it turned out to be relatively easy. In fact, the harder Floyd made it, the more invigorated she felt. And he was so encouraging. “Well done, Eileen! You can do more. Come on, five more minutes”. When she had signed up, they had measured her and weighed her, suggesting an easy start to the exercises. But she exceeded both their expectations, and her own. After an hour with Floyd, and before she went to shower, he stood close to her and gave her a business card.
“This has my number. I am freelance, and would be happy to give you some one-on-one training at your home, if that is something that would interest you”. Surprising herself, Eileen looked him straight in the eye. “Yes, that would interest me a great deal. Would you be free this afternoon by any chance?” Floyd grinned. “Absolutely. Call my phone and let me have your address. Shall we say three o’clock?” Getting dressed after showering, Eileen could feel herself trembling with excitement. She was going to get a taxi home, so she had time to get ready.
As she chose the most modern-looking outfit in her wardrobe, Eileen started to feel very tired. Her legs were aching after the morning exercise, and she began to worry about whether George might suddenly return home. But she had crossed a line she never imagined she would cross, and was determined to see it through. So she rang Floyd’s phone and left a message with her address. He arrived exactly at three, wearing a different outfit, and carrying a sports bag. He declined her offer of something to drink, and rolled out a rubber mat that was under his arm.
“Shall we get started? I find a nice relaxing massage is the best way to start. Why don’t you lie down on the mat?”
Floyd abandoned all pretext of massage or exercise as soon as she was lying down. He began to kiss her, undressing her with practised hands that had done this so many times before. She could feel herself surrendering to him completely, as his strong arms moved her around as if she was weightless. When it was all over, she was breathing heavily, and exhausted. No experience in her life had ever come close. She had no idea it could be like that. She looked up at him as he got dressed, hardly able to believe what she had just done. He turned and smiled.
“I will have to ask you for the hourly rate, I’m afraid. I know that sounds horrible, but I have to book out my hours, and account for my time every day. That will be seventy-five pounds, if that’s okay with you”. Pulling on her dress, she found her purse and gave him four twenty-pound notes. “Don’t worry abouth the change. Perhaps you could come round again next week?” He nodded. “That would be my pleasure, Eileen”.
On her own once he had left, Eileen made a cup of tea. She was still trembling, but felt no guilt or shame at having paid for sex. Speaking out loud, she smiled as she addressed the empty room.
“Well it’s only money, and you can’t take it with you when you die”.
Before he left Weston, George phoned the house to let Eileen know he wouldn’t be home that night. But there was no answer, and he left a message on the answerphone. It wasn’t like his wife to not answer, and he wondered if she might still be out. Of course, he had no idea that she was sleeping off the excesses of her encounter with Floyd.
Finding the house in Wells was easy enough. A small cottage, full of character. She came out as soon as he stopped the car, and got into the passenger seat before he had time to open the door for her. “I forgot to say, my name is Anne. I have booked us into a nice inn a few miles away, we are eating in thirty minutes, and you will be pleased to know that they had a double room free, so I took that”. George told her his name, and followed her directions. He had never encountered such a forward and no-nonsense woman before, and had to admit to himself that he had no idea what she saw in him.
As they arrived on the gravel car park of the inn, she placed her hand over his. “I won’t be able to stop over, unfortunately. I told my husband it was a work thing, so I will have to be back before midnight. We should skip the starters and dessert, and just have a main course. You can have me for dessert”. George actually blushed when she said that. Anne was out of his league, in every way.
During dinner, she kept it very professional, talking to him about travel plans, prices, and group numbers as if she was arranging some kind of excursion. He presumed it was because she knew people in the restaurant, and wanted to keep up some pretence. When the bill came, he signed for the food, and left a cash tip for the waitress. Anne leaned forward and spoke in a whisper. “Get your room key from reception. The rooms are at the back in an annexe, and I will pretend to leave and wait for you there”. He nodded.
She had done this before, undoubtedly.
When he got the key, he had to leave his credit card details to pay for the room and dinner. The man behind the desk was rather cold-mannered. “Breakfast is from seven until eight-thirty. It is served in the bar”. Walking to the annexe at the back, it dawned on George that he was going to have to return to Bath the next day and pay the bill for a room he hadn’t used there. It also occured to him that he had no luggage of any kind, so perhaps the reception desk man knew exactly what was going on.
In the room, Anne wasted no time. Flinging off her clothes, she sprawled out on the bed, laughing at him. “Come on, get your clothes off. Unless you like to leave them on. I don’t really care either way, but let’s get on with it”. When Anne had finished with him, he lay back on the bed feeling wonderful. Choosing to ignore why this attractive young woman had decided she wanted him, he listened to the water running in the bathroom as she washed. When she reappeared, she was fully dressed, and back to being businesslike.
“You are going to have to get dressed and drive me home, George. I’m never going to get a taxi around here on a weeknight”. He stopped the car a few doors from her house, and noticed a curtain move in a window at the front. “He’s spotted me, so no goodnight kiss. Thanks for a lovely time” Then she was gone.
Sleep came easily to George that night, and no blue light disturbed his slumber. After breakfast, he drove back to the hotel in Bath, collected his things, and paid the bill. Driving home that morning, he reflected on what an expensive trip it had been, but Anne had certainly been worth the expense. He had seen nothing at all of Bath, but that hardly mattered. He felt alive, desired, and youthful again, and there was no price you could put on that.
Eileen was at home when he got back. She seemed distracted, asked nothing about his trip, and didn’t mention the Health Club, or why she had not answered the phone. At just after two in the afternoon, she came into the living room carrying two cups of tea. As she handed him one, her face looked blank.
“We have to talk, George. A serious talk”.
George waited as his wife appeared to be composing her thoughts into words. He had no idea why she wanted a serious talk, or what that might be about. When she started talking, he was genuinely shocked.
“I think we need to talk about splitting up, George. Ever since you retired it is obvious to me that we have so little in common. I don’t want to travel around the country every week, and I have my own hobbies and friends that hold nothing of interest to you. When we were both working, we went through the motions, because that’s what people do, isn’t it? But stuck together in the house day in and day out, surely you can see that it has all become rather pointless?”
He didn’t know what to say in reply, so sipped the hot tea carefully and waited for her to continue.
“It’s not that we don’t love each other, but that love has become a habit. There is no passion, no spark, we don’t even really argue. Every day was the same, at least until recently. Then you bought that silly car and started travelling around, and I think that’s when I realised we certainly don’t want the same things out of life. The house is worth twenty times what we paid for it all those years ago, and we don’t owe a penny to anyone. We could sell up and both buy a nice flat, as well as having some money left over. There would be no need not to see each other, we could remain friends, but I suddenly feel the need for some freedom, to explore something different in life. Much like you have been doing, but in another way”.
She seemed relieved, almost as if she had made a confession. Her face relaxed, and she managed a smile.
“What do you think, love? It must make sense to you, I’m sure. Think about it for a while while I do some of my crochet in the dining room, and we can talk later”.
Left on his own with his thoughts, George was conflicted. A new flat and freedom to do anything sounded good to him, but he also liked the comfortable life, the company in the evenings, and he loved their house. He was sure they could work something out around staying together, each doing their own interests and still being a couple. When Eileen came back into the room an hour later, that was exactly what he said to her. Her reaction was surprising.
“That won’t work for me, I’m afraid. I have given it a lot of thought, and quite frankly, I don’t need your approval to do what I want. I have made an enquiry about renting a place until the house is sold, and we need to get someone in from town to value the house and put it on the market. Let’s not waste our latter years in retirement by dragging this out, George. You can stay here if you want, but you will have to agree to show potential buyers around, and keep the house tidy. Or if you prefer, you can take on the rental flat, and I will stay here. What do you say?”
For the first time in his life, George felt rage. Not annoyance or irritation, not even anger. Pure rage. Then he did something he had never even thought he would do.
Standing up, he walked to where his wife was sitting and slapped her hard across her face. Harder than he had intended, hard enough to knock her out of the armchair onto the floor. As soon as he realised what he had done, he felt terrible. But it was too late, he could see that in her face as she got slowly to her feet.
“That is never going to happen again. You are going to have to leave today, and take on the rental flat. Stay in a hotel until you sign the papers, I don’t care what you do. I am going upstairs to pack some of your things, and I don’t want you to speak to me”. Her face contorted into something resembling a sneer.
“Now I didn’t want to tell you this, but I have been seeing someone. A younger man, a man who makes me feel desired and alive. I want to continue to see him, so that’s it. We are over”.
She was at the top of the stairs by the bedroom door when he caught up to her. He wanted to shake some sense into her, vent the frustration he felt. But as he reached out to grab her, his hand caught the material of her dress and tipped her backwards. He watched as if in a dream as his wife tumbled past him down the stairs, falling over and over until she hit the bottom step. When he walked down, he noticed something strange. Her head was facing the wrong way.
Even someone with no medical knowledge whatsoever could tell her neck was broken.
George sat on the sofa looking across at the crumpled body of his wife. For some reason, he felt if he looked at her long enough, she would be alright. After almost forty minutes had passed, he realised that wasn’t going to happen, and walked across to pick up the house phone. Dialling 999, he waited for the operator to ask which emergency service he required.
“Police, please. I have killed my wife”.
Less than ten minutes later, there was the sound of fists hammering on the door, and shouts of “POLICE!”. He opened the door, and four officers charged in, one of them grabbing him by the arms so he couldn’t move. Soon after, an ambulance arrived and the two women came in and looked at Eileen. The younger one turned and shook her head at the policeman standing next to her. “Broken neck. Nothing we can do”. The policeman who seemed to be in charge then turned to George, and formally arrested him on suspicion of murder. He was led outside, searched, and put into the back of a car in handcuffs, a young officer sitting close next to him.
The rest of the day was a blur. He was driven to a police station, fingerprinted, told he was being detained pending investigation, and asked if he wanted a solicitor. When George shrugged, the desk sergeant said, “I will take that as a yes then”. Then he was put into a cell and told he would be questioned when the lawyer arrived. He sat on the blue mattress, and burst into tears.
Given ten minutes with the duty solicitor until the detectives came to question him, the weary-looking man advised him to say nothing. “Just reply No Comment to every question”. But when a male and female detective came into the room shortly after and began to ask him questions, George ignored the advice, and answered them. He told them about the argument, denied intending to kill her, and described how he had grabbed her and she had fallen downstairs. The solicitor shook his head in frustration as George rambled on, finally closing his notebook and folding his arms.
Both detectives seemed pleased with themselves when George happily signed the statement. The female one escorted him back to the front desk, where she charged him with manslaughter, having accepted it was not pre-planned. He had to go back into the cell overnight, before appearing at court for arraignment the next morning.
As George tried hard to sleep that night, over one hundred miles away in the Worcestershire countryside, Adam Brice woke up in the early hours, his bedroom illuminated by a blue glow from the west. When he opened the window, the land in front of the farmhouse was bathed in a deep blue light. He started to get dressed to go and see what was causing it, but before he could get his boots on, it went out. As far as he could tell, it was coming from the direction of the farm of his neighbour, old Jess Inchcape. He would go and have a word with the grumpy old bugger tomorrow.
Adam was a reluctant farmer. In fact, it was only circumstance that had led him into farming. His mum had died young, when he was still at junior school. Dad never really explained all the details, saying only “Women’s problems, boy”. Adam did alright at school, but was never happy at home. He thought he might join up when he was old enough, if not the army, then the air force. That would get him away from his miserable dad, and the run-down farm that struggled to make a profit.
That was not to be, as on his seventeenth birthday, Adam’s dad suffered a serious stroke that left him unable to move or speak at first. With the guidance of the farm-hand, Callum, Adam had to leave school, and learn to run the farm. They sent his dad home eventually, when he was able to just about get around using a walking frame. A nurse came in to check on him every week, but Adam was left to do everything else.
By the time his dad had died four years later, Adam was almost twenty-two, and inherited a farm he didn’t want. But he knew nothing else by then, so stuck with it.That was ten years ago, and now he lived alone, hating every single day he had to go out into the fields.
Unable to get back off to sleep, he felt himself getting really angry. If this was something to do with old Jess, he would make him sorry.
Jess Inchcape had also had a disturbed night. Some kind of blue glow had illuminated his bedroom, but by the time he had woken up Hilda to see it, it had gone. She wasn’t happy. “You imagining stuff, Jess? Now I’m awake for no reason and I need the toilet. If I don’t get back off to sleep, it will be your doing”. As his wife stomped off to the bathroom in a bad mood, Jess felt himself getting angry. It will be something to do with Brice, he was sure of that. Their feud had been running since old man Brice had died, and Adam had refused to sell the land to him to expand his farm.
Once Callum had arrived to get started in the field with the tractor, Adam climbed into the old Land-Rover and made the short drive to the Inchcape farm. As soon as he stopped the car near the farmhouse, Jess appeared, walking fast in his direction. “I gotta have a word with you, young Brice. What’s your game with this blue light nonsense? You woke my Hilda up with your prank, and I’m telling you it’s not good enough”.
Holding up a hand to make Jess keep his distance, Adam was confused. So Jess had seen the light too? Maybe it wasn’t him after all. But Jess didn’t stop walking, and when he reached Adam he pushed him hard with both hands, taking the younger man by surprise. He tried to reason with him. “Calm down now, Jess. I thought it was you shining that light, but if it bothered you as well, then we are have to going to see what it’s all about”. Jess didn’t believe him, and pushed his face close enough for Adam to smell the foul breath from the brown stumps of the old man’s teeth”.
“You better get going, young Brice. And if you know what’s good for you, don’t mess around with any lights at night from now on”.
When he was back in the Land-Rover, Adam couldn’t remember hitting the old man. But there he was, close to the car, spark out unconscious. Seeing Jess’s chest rising and falling, Adam decided not to be around when he woke up, and he drove home quickly, before joining Callum in the fields.
Hilda Inchcape wondered where her husband had got to. She hadn’t heard the shouting earlier, as she had been having a bath. But Jess was normally back inside for tea and toast by now, so she thought she had better go out and call him. When she found him flat on his back in the front yard, she slapped his face a few times until he looked up at her. She was confused. “What happened, you old fool? Did you fall over? Have you got pains anywhere?” He struggled to his feet, rubbing the left side of his jaw.
“No, it was that bastard Brice from next door’s farm. Punched me, he did. And for no good reason, I tell you”. Hilda was still confused. “What would make him do that, for God’s sake? Shall I ring the police?”. Jess shook his head as he walked inside for his tea and toast. “No police, I’ll sort him myself”.
In the Scottish town of Falkirk to the west of Edinburgh, Kirsty Douglas woke up feeling different. During the night, she was sure she had seen a blue light lighting up the bedroom window, but before she had got out of bed to see what it was, it went out.
She was a quiet girl, an only child, and being fourteen wasn’t much fun for her. With no friends at school, her days felt lonely, and the former friends who had gone to a different school almost never contacted her now. The girls in her class used to bully her, but then they had discovered that boys were more interesting. So now they just ignored her, and she wasn’t sure which was worse.
But this morning, she felt a new confidence, and a tingling sensation all over her body. When she was doing her make-up for school, she sensed a different look in her eyes too. Spending more time than usual on her hair, she put on her school uniform and went down for breakfast. Since dad had run off with the woman from work, mum was like a beaten woman. She wandered around feeling sorry for herself, and never bothered to look nice. Kirsty watched her as she ate her Coco-Pops. She didn’t ever want to end up like mum.
On the short walk to school, she stopped and turned over the waistband of her skirt to make it shorter. Much shorter. Looking down at her legs after, she smiled to herself.
Today was going to be very different to yesterday.
After eating his toast and drinking his tea, Jess could feel his jaw aching, and he was sure that one of his teeth was loose. But as he hadn’t been to a dentist since he was at school, he decided not to worry about it. If it became unstable, he would just pull it out with some pliers. That had always served him well-enough in the past. His anger had not subsided though, and he could feel a pulse beating in his temples as he remembered Adam Brice knocking him out with one punch.
So before going out to the fields, he went up and loaded the old twelve-bore shotgun that he had inherited from his father. If that bastard Brice came near him again, he would get both barrels, and to hell with the consequences.
Across from Inchape Farm in his own field, Adam could also not contain his anger. He was unable to concentrate, and left Callum to drive the tractor and get on with the harrowing. Back at the house, he went up to the bedroom and took his dad’s double-barrelled shotgun out of the wardrobe. Adam had used it quite often in the past, mainly to shoot pigeons and crows on the crops, or at least to scare them off. But it still worked well, and he had twenty cartridges left in the box. He would leave it in the Land-Rover, just in case old man Inchcape turned up.
Around the same time in Falkirk, Kirsty was sitting in Maths class smiling at her teacher. She had attracted some attention when she arived at school, her hair and make-up near perfect, and her skirt much shorter than was actually allowed. Now she was sure that her Maths teacher had also noticed the change in her, as he stumbled over his words every time he caught her eye, or looked at her deliberately splayed legs.
Tom Corcoran was almost thirty-three, and had been teaching for nearly nine years, six of them at this school. His wife Sarah had decided to give up work once she had the first child, and the second baby had come along soon after that. Money was tight, and life at home was all about crying children and Sarah’s moaning. He was struggling to run his old car, pay all the bills, and deal with Sarah’s increasing demands for things they could never afford. He had been overlooked for promotion, and knew full well that he had little respect from his colleagues. He was an unhappy man, in every sense.
Kirsty Douglas was not one of his brightest students. She normally sat alone at the back, said nothing, answered no questions, and handed in below average home-work. But today, she was sitting right at the front, still alone, but exuding confidence. Her skirt was far too short, but he hadn’t sent her to the Headmistress. He couldn’t be bothered with petty discipline or school politics. It seemed to him that his colleagues had all forgotten they were young once, even the ones still in their twenties. All he wanted to do was to get through each day, and get home. Not that home was that attractive, with the prospect of two screaming kids and a wife who nagged him until he switched off his brain to shut her out.
He had no idea why she kept smiling at him this morning, and it was disconcerting. So too the way she kept crossing and re-crossing her legs, wiggling her shoe in her black tights until it seemed it might fall off of her foot. Why had she suddenly started this? Probably her age, he concluded. In his experience, there was a huge difference between thirteen and fourteen. The boys started to rebel and become aggressive, and the girls became knowing and sly.
The bell went for the end of class, and the kids rushed out as always. But not Kirsty. She took time to pack her books into her bag, still smiling. When the room was empty except for them, she gave him a big smile, and spoke in a husky voice. “Sir, I didn’t understand any of that today. Can I come back after school later and go over it with you?”
Against everything his mind told him to say, he found himself nodding. For the rest of the school day, he wondered why he had agreed. After school classes had to be notified to the Headmistress, and agreed by the parents.
But surely one couldn’t hurt?
At the end of the school day, Kirsty appeared in the empty classroom. Tom smiled at her, and indicated that she should sit at a desk. “Now, Kirsty. What didn’t you understand earlier?” The girl shrugged. “Well that Geometry stuff leaves me cold, to be honest. I think you could explain it twenty times, and I still wouldn’t get it. Actually, there’s no point in me being here, but thanks anyway”. She stood up and left the classroom, leaving Tom confused.
A few minutes later, she was in the office of the Headmistress, Elizabeth Pilbeam. The woman looked up at her standing in front of the desk. “What is it, Kirsty? I am very busy you know”. This time, Kirsty wasn’t smiling. “It’s Mister Corcoran, Miss. He said I had to come back after school because I couldn’t understand Geometry. But when I sat down he stood next to me, and put his hand up my skirt. Then he touched me between the legs, you know, right on my thingy”. Miss Pilbeam told her to sit down, then left the office to get someone to stay with the girl while she went to speak to Tom.
He denied it of course, and was flabbergasted that Kirsty had made such an accusation. But Miss Pilbeam was resolute. “You don’t deny being alone with the girl in this classroom. What were you thinking of, Tom? You know the rules. I am going to have to suspend you on full pay, pending an investigation, and I am sure the police will be involved once I speak to her mother. You have to leave the school premises now, and I will have to escort you to your car and watch you drive off”.
The colour drained from Tom’s face, and he put his head in his hands.
That night, Adam was woken up at just after three by the blue light. He managed to get the bedroom curtains open before it went out, and could definitely tell it was coming from the Inchcape Farm. It was also flooding Jess’s place with light, and it was impossible to see where it was coming from. For a second, he wondered if it was nothing to do with Jess at all, then his anger returned, and he was sure it was something to do with the old bugger. Something would have to get sorted, he thought. He needed his sleep to be able to work properly the next day.
In Lanark, Kirsty had provided a detailed statement to Miss Pilbeam, and then her mother arrived at the school, looking like some old dishrag. Not long after that, the Police arrived, and they also went through the whole thing again. After hearing her side of things, they drove to Tom’s house and arrested him for the sexual assault of a minor. Sarah was still screaming as the police car took him away. Kirsty was told not to come in the next day, as the police would be visiting her at home for a full statement, then Miss Pilbeam ordered them a taxi to take them home. Mum didn’t say anything to her on the way home, and when they got in she just shook her head and mumbled “Men”.
She was too excited to get to sleep. Kirsty had done her bit, getting back at men for how her and her mum had been treated by dad. Corcoran should have known better, but he was too lustful to turn down the chance to be alone with her. Lying in bed smiling, she was very pleased with herself. He was going to be the first of many, she was sure of that. When the light appeared, she opened the curtains and felt the tingling as it came in through the windows. Whatever it was didn’t scare her at all, quite the opposite.
It made her feel powerful.
Early the next morning, Adam Brice was driving his tractor on the top field, adjacent to the boundary with Incape Farm. He started chuckling as he thought of something, then turned the tractor around and got close to the fence dividing the properties. It was an old fence, and poorly maintained by Inhcape, so as he drove the tractor hard against it, it fell down easily. He didn’t stop until he had completely destroyed the fencing all the way along the top boundary.
Still laughing, he shouted out of the tractor window. “Put that in your pipe and smoke it, you old bastard!”
Tom was released on bail, pending investigation. But by the time he got home that night after collecting his car from the school car park, there was no trace of Sarah and the kids. He eventually found a note on the pillow in the bedroom. She was at her parents’ house and would not be coming back. Unable to understand why Kirsty had said what she had to Miss Pilbeam, he felt his life unravelling around him.
Sarah would never believe he hadn’t touched the girl, and he doubted whether Pilbeam or the local Education Authority would either. In all his years of teaching nothing remotely like this had happened before. What was it about Kirsty today that had made him agree her to see her alone?
Looking out the window of the farmhouse, Adam was expecting old Jess to arrive to complain about the fencing. But so far, there had been no sign of him. Maybe he hadn’t been in the top field to notice? Time would tell, he was bound to discover the damage soon. That night, he slept through the blue light, but it still illuminated his bedroom. When he woke up the next morning, he felt full of energy, and ready for anything.
Detective Constable Frazier was glad that he was accompanied by a female officer, Sergeant Carlyle. There was something strange about this Kirsty Douglas, and the girl made him feel uncomfortable. She kept crossing her legs, and spreading her knees, and as the Sergeant questioned her, she was looking at him, not Carlyle. He started to feel very warm, and kept fiddling with his tie.
Kirsty’s mother had to be there for the official statement, but she was of little use. She sat chain-smoking in her armchair, staring out of the window. Unlike her dauughter, she had made no effort for the visitors, and was still in her dressing gown, her hair flat on one side from where she had slept on it.
By contrast, the girl appeared to be dressed for a night out. Short black dress, polka-dot nylon tights, and far too much make-up for someone who was still legally a child. It seemed to him that the Sergeant was trying to catch her out, but the girl was more than a match for her.
“Like I told you, I’m not much good at Maths. He told me I had to come back after school to go over the Geometry, so I did. As soon as I sat down, he put his hand up my skirt and touched me. Well, rubbed me really. It couldn’t have been an accident, and he looked like he enjoyed it. I told him straight away that I wanted to go, and he let me leave”.
Carlyle had done some research on Tom Corcoran. Not one complaint after all those years in teaching, and nothing about him had ever come to the attention of the police. He had never so much as had a parking ticket. Not much of a go-getter by all accounts, but a family man with long service at the same school. As far as she was concerned, he just didn’t feel right as a sex offender. She pushed the girl further.
“You’re telling me he touched you over your tights and panties. That means ther is no forensic evidence that we could discover. But I will take away the tights you were wearing yesterday, in case there is any DNA on them from his fingers”. Kirsty shrugged. “They are in the wash now, along with all my uniform. Seemed a good time to wash them, as I was given the day off”. The Sergeant pushed again. “In that case, it is your word against his, and we may not have enough to prosecute him. What do you say to that?”. This time, she smiled, a smile that made Constable Frazier even more uncomfortable.
“Well if you want to leave a pervert free to touch other schoolgirls, we will see what the newspapers and local TV have to say about that. Let him go, and I will be contacting them, believe me”.
Sergeant Carlyle believed her.
“Okay then, Kirsty. I have your statement, and will continue to investigate your allegation. I will of course let you know what happens”. With that, they both stood up and left. Kirsty’s mum didn’t even acknowledge their goodbyes. In the car, she turned to Frazier. “Was it just me, or is there really something creepy about the girl?” He turned the ignition key. “Not just you, Sarge. I felt it too”.
As they drove off, Kirsty was waving to them from the doorway. He could swear she was laughing.
As Kirsty was waving goodbye to the police officers, Adam Brice was drinking tea and eating bread and jam, wondering why old man Inchcape had not showed up to complain about the fencing. But Jess Inchcape was biding his time, waiting until it got dark. He had discovered the fence just before midday, and that had made him lose his appetite for lunch. Hilda had just shrugged, and put his meal to one side. She was used to his moods, after being married to him for almost fifty years.
She went into the sitting room, and thought about her only child. Matilda Inchcape had been named after a great aunt, as they hoped the old lady might leave her something in her will when she heard about it. Matilda never forgave them for calling her by that archaic name, and went by Tilly as soon as she was old enough.
But the old aunt came good, leaving the girl a house worth many thousands that her namesake soon sold as soon as she was eighteen. Then Tilly took off on a trip around South-East Asia, backpacking in Thailand, Vietnam, and Cambodia. That was where she met Rob, who came from Australia. He invited her back to see his home town, and that was where she had stayed.
Hilda had wanted to attend the wedding, but Jess said there was no money for that foolishness. Now she never contacted them at all, not even phone calls. Calling her after the great aunt had backfired, as Jess was happy to remind her a few times a year.
Jess took the big trailer on the back of his tractor, to clear away the ruined fencing. It was hard work, harder than he expected, and he was back late for his dinner. When he realised it was just his lunch warmed up, he refused it, eating cheese and bread instead. Hilda seemed grumpy, not unusual, and she went to bed early. But Jess stayed downstairs, his anger building minute by minute. Brice was going to get what was coming to him.
As soon as it was completely dark, Jess took the pickup truck, and drove to the Brice farm. He had put the old shotgun in the back, just in case.
Adam was not surprised when the headlights of a vehicle shone across the windows of the living room. He already had his dad’s shotgun across his lap, determined to settle this thing once and for all. Jess saw young Brice walking fast in his direction carrying a shotgun, and reached into the back of the pickup to grab his. But Adam fired first, both barrels at fairly close range.
It was like being hit by a car, and the impact knocked him off his feet, leaving him lying on his back. There was no pain at first, but he couldn’t move his legs, and his underwear felt wet. Brice acted as if he had just shot an animal, not bothering to come any closer, and turning round to go back into the farmhouse.
That was when Jess fired at his back, the aim high because of his awkward position. The pellets hit Adam in the head and neck, killing him instantly. He fell forward into the doorway of his house, and didn’t move. Jess felt suddenly cold, colder than he had ever felt. He started to feel the pain in his gut, then it got march darker.
In Falkirk, Tom Corcoran answered the door, to see the police Sergeant standing in the outside light. Carlyle didn’t ask to come in. “Just to let you know that the prosecution will not go ahead, for lack of evidence. But I understand the Education Authority will be contacting you about an internal investigation into the girl’s allegations. If I were you, I would start looking for another job”.
Tom went back into the living room, and opened a bottle of Cognac that had been hanging around since last Christmas. He wasn’t much of a drinker, but he filled a tumbler to the brim, and drank half of it down without pausing for breath. The he sat down heavily on the sofa, and said out loud, “Heads you lose, tails you lose”.
Sleeping heavily, Hilda Inchcape had not heard Jess leave in the car. She was also unaware of the blue light that had filled the room just after three in the morning. When she woke up just after six, she felt determined to do something. It would mean tackling Jess, but she felt very ready for that. One thing was on her mind that day.
A long-overdue trip to Australia, to see Matilda.
When Sergeant Carlyle told Kirsty the next morning that no prosecution would go ahead, the girl closed the door in her face. Five munites later, she had looked up the phone numbers for the newspaper and TV news covering her area, and took out her mobile phone. They were both very interested in her story. The newspaper man said he would come round this afternoon with a photographer, and said her mum had to be there. The TV news woman said she would be there in an hour, so they could get the report on the lunchtime news.
Running upstairs to get ready, Kirsty went into her mum’s room and shook her awake. “Get up and get dressed, mum. You’re going to be on telly”.
Just under an hour later, Kirsty was dressed in her school uniform, and wearing no make-up. She had knee socks on, and looked even younger than her fourteen years. Her mum was slumped in an armchair smoking, wearing a sweatshirt and jogging bottoms. When the doorbell went, Kirsty was ready. Moderating her voice to sound as childish as possible, Kirsty went over the fictitious incident in great detail, naming Tom Corcoran, and occasionally wiping her eyes with a tissue. If the reporter could not see any tears, she didn’t care. The girl looked vulnerable. Her mum looked mentally ill, and the house was like a rubbish tip.
It was going to be great TV.
Before she had a chance to watch herself on the news, the newspaper man arrived early, with a woman photographer. He listened to the same tale, and the woman took dozens of photos using a flashgun. He also tried to get her mum to comment, but she remained completely silent.
An hour later, Tom Corcoran answered insistent knocking on his front door, wondering if it was the police again. But all he saw was a flash going off on a camera, a bright light on a video camera, and a large microphone thrust in his face. He closed the door again without answering any questions, then went around the ground floor oh his house closing the curtains.
By four that afternoon, the newspaper man and TV crew had gatecrashed the school, managing to get a comment from Miss Pilbeam outside the main gate. Then they went after Carlyle, who refused to answer any questions. On the six-o-clock news, it was the main story locally, and by the nine pm news, it even featured nationally, albeit less sensationally. Kirsty received so many phone calls that evening, she had to finally switch her phone off. In Tom Corcoran’s house, he stayed in the dark. He had also muted the volume of his mobile, and unplugged the house phone.
Sitting shaking on the sofa, he didn’t even want to know what Sarah was thinking.
Miss Pilbeam had tried ringing Tom so many times, she decided to leave a message on his mobile and tell him to call her. “Tom, you have to contact me. Have you seen the news on television? I think your only option is to resign. There is going to be no hope of your job surviving an internal disciplinary hearing, and at least if you resign, that might put some closure on this”.
Kirsty stayed off school for the next couple of days. She wanted to make it look as if she was too traumatised to go in. On the thrid day, there were no more phone calls, and no reporters near the house. Looking out of the window, she felt a twinge of disappointment. It had been fun while it lasted.
Tom finally listend to Miss Pilbeam’s message, and knew she was giving him the best option. He rang her directly, and tended his resignation. Then he rang his in-laws, hoping to speak to Sarah and explain that it was all a lie. But his mother-in-law answered, and refused to hand her the phone. “Give it up, Tom What you did was vile, and Sarah will never speak to you or see you again”. He decided to drive to their house, and stay outside until his wife agreed to speak to him. Looking out of the curtains, he could not see any journalists hanging around. So he grabbed his car keys and walked quickly over to his car.
Every window was smashed. All four tyres were flat, and someone had painted the word ‘Pedo’ in huge letters along the side with a spray can. Someone else had scratched the word ‘Pervert’ on the tailgate using something metal.
Glancing around to make sure nobody had seen him, he ran back inside the house.
When Callum arrived for work early that morning, he was shocked to discover the two bodies in the front yard of the farm. He wasn’t the brightest man in the county, but he knew enough not to walk across a crime scene to use the phone in Adam’s house. Getting back on his bicycle, he rode off into town to raise the alarm.
Hilda Inchcape looked out of the window. The pickup was gone, so no doubt Jess had made an early start somewhere around the farm. That suited her, as it gave her the chance to look up flights to Australia on the old laptop. Jess couldn’t cope with computers, and it had taken Hilda a long time to discover how they worked. But now she could buy things online, and contact the relevant authorities to do with farming by email. The previous year, she had even set up online banking, and had been very pleased with herself when that worked.
Detective Inspector Harris arrived at the farm, having been phoned at home to take the job. When he saw the two bodies and the inexperienced uniformed constable looking white-faced, he knew it was going to be a long day. Using his personal radio, he contacted the control room. “I’m going to need a full forensics team with two tents, a uniformed search team to cover the search of the house and farm, and at least two more from my team to assist for now. Can you jack that up for me?”
Harris had transferred from London as a Detective Sergeant twelve years earlier. His wife had originally come from Stroud, and wanted to be closer to her family as they got older. He had thought it might be a nice change from London. A quieter life, with less stress. He had been so wrong about that.
These country people were nutters.
Remembering she had to renew her long-expired passport, Hilda was just researching how to do that online when there was a knock at the door. Not a pleasant knock, a loud one that made her jump. There were two men in suits at the door, and a policewoman in uniform. “Mrs Inchcape? I’m Detective Inspector Harris. Could we come in and talk to you please?”
As Hilda showed them in and put the kettle on for tea, Callum was giving the same version of his statment for the third time, and wondering why he had bothered. Those coppers were acting like he had done something, and he wasn’t pleased about that. Finally losing his patience, he folded his arms across his chest, and shook his head. “Enough’s enough. I reckon it’s time I had a lawyer, and I ain’t saying no more until I get one”.
The Inspector was a nice man, respectful and considerate. Hilda could tell from his accent that he wasn’t from those parts, but that wasn’t a bad thing, in her opinion. When he told her Jess had been found dead, and had likely killed old man Brice’s son too, she had to suppress a smile. At last! Jess had gone too far, and she was finally free. No need to argue the toss with her husband about visiting Matilda. And she could finally sell the farm that had been like a millstone around their necks since her wedding day.
When he said she would have to go and identify Jess at the mortuary, she reacted a little too soon. “No problem. Just let me get my coat, and my outside shoes”.
A cursory examination of the crime scene had led Harris to an instant conclusion. Two farmers, known locally for decades of grievances, had finally taken it too far. One had shot the other, then been shot in return. It didn’t matter who fired first, as there was nobody left alive to try to lie about that. He made the decision before escorting Hilda to the mortuary, and informed the control room. “Stand down everyone else. This is a tit-for-tat shooting, and I am not looking for any other suspects”.
That was a lifeline for Callum, who was immediately released before the solicitor arrived, and was on his way home long before he would have finished work. It didn’t occur to him until later that day that he was now unemployed.
After Hilda got back from the identification, she turned on her laptop and began to compose an email. She was hoping Matilda still had the same email address when she pressed ‘Send’.
In a quiet village due west of the town of Dorchester in Dorset, Emma Howard was looking out of her bedroom window with a puzzled look on her face. It was hundreds of yards in every direction to another house, and she had no idea where the strange light could be coming from. It reminded her of the floodlights that illuminated sports grounds, but this light was only shining across her garden and into the room. Although it didn’t scare her, it made the room too bright for her to continue to sleep in. As she went to get her watch from the bedside table to check the time, it went out.
Three in the morning was a strange time for aircraft, helicopters, or anything else, to be shining lights around the village, but at least it had gone out and she could get back to sleep. And there had been no sounds suggesting aircaft anyway, so she forgot about it and slept soundly.
The next morning, Emma woke up feeling full of energy for the first time since she had retired last September. After forty years in the Library Servioe in Dorset, the rumours that her library was going to be closed down came true. As she was already sixty, she took the opportunity to retire and take her pension. Not that she had much need of money, as her father had left her comfortably off when he had died fifteen years earlier, and she still lived in the five bedroom family home that she had been born in, with no debts.
Her mother had died when Emma was a child, and she had little memory of her. So as soon as she was old enough, Emma assumed the role of housekeeper, and later became the carer to her father. Because of that, she had never married, and had not even had so much as one date with a man.
That feeling of well-being extended to cooking an unusually large breakfast, then taking time to look her best for the day. Having used the last of the eggs, and needing some other groceries, she decided a trip into Dorchester for a supermarket shop was how she would spend her day. She might even have lunch in the town while she was there, something she hadn’t done since she worked at the main library.
Father’s car might have been well over twenty-five years old, but it was a very good car. He had maintained it well, and she had carried on using the same dealership when she inherited it. No longer needing her small Fiat, she had sold it for cash after advertising it in the Post Office. Starting the engine of the Daimler Double-Six, she smiled at the purring, burbling sound it made. You couldn’t buy cars of this quality any longer, and she didn’t care that the petrol consumption was so high, as she rarely used it anyway.
Emma’s preferred supermarket was Waitrose, to the north of the town. More expensive, certainly, but much better quality. The journey took less than thirty minutes, even in unusually heavy traffic. In the car park of the store, she spotted a good space fairly close to the entrance, and swung the front of the car in to claim it. The blast of a horn made her jump out of her skin, as a small Japanese car drove into the same space at speed, almost hitting the Daimler. Feeling shaken up, she reversed back, eventually finding a space nearer the back. As she locked the car, she could feel herself getting very angry.
In her entire life, Emma could not remember ever being angry. It was a weird feeling, but also felt surprisingly good.
Once she had bought her shopping, she was heading back to the car with her bags when she spotted two women walking to the Japanese car that had stolen her original parking spot. They were wearing vest tops and leggings, and one was smoking a cigarette. She also had tattoos all over her arms and neck. Just the sort of white-trash newcomers that were lowering the tone of the once sedate town. Too many new housing developments that included social housing, that’s what Emma blamed it on.
As she was driving out, so was the small white car, and she stayed behind it. The women headed west, past Poundbury, and onto the A35 main road. Still driving behind them, Emma slowed a little to make some space between the cars. Two minutes later she accelerated rapidly, reaching over sixty as she rammed the car from behind, careful to make contact with the rear corner of the bodywork. The small car lurched to the left, then rolled over. It rolled again, then came to a halt on its roof. Nobody tried to get out.
Other cars were stopping to help as she got her phone out of her bag. Sitting in her car in the inside lane, she dialled 999.
“Police, please. I appear to have been involved in a traffic accident”.
Emma was impressed by the turnout of the emergency services. Three police cars, two ambulances, and a fire engine. A smart traffic policeman spoke to her through the window of her car, to make sure she wasn’t injured. “I think we will have to get your car recovered to a repairer, madam. The nearside lights are broken at the front, and the impact may have damaged your steering. Someone will give you a lift home once that happens”. The he asked to see her driving licence, and took details of her insurance before asking her what she remembered about the accident.
“Oh, I remember it clearly, officer. I was heading home from Waitrose, and I was about to overtake that car when it pulled out from the inside lane unexpectedly, for no reason I can think of. There was no chance I could avoid hitting it in that situation. I didn’t even have time to apply the brakes. I hope the people in the other car are going to be alright”.
Surveying the scene in front of her, she saw one stretcher being loaded into an ambulance with the body completely covered by a blanket. Before the recovery truck arrived to take her, the second woman was removed from the car apparently still alive, an oxygen mask over her face and a stiff medical collar wrapped around her neck. The traffic policeman came and told her they would call on her at home to talk to her, perhaps tomorrow.
She told the recovery driver to take her to the main Jaguar dealership in Christchurch. Despite that being some distance away, it was the one her father always used. She would pay whatever it cost to have the Dailmer repaired, and they would give her a replacement car to use while it was in the workshops.
By the time she got home in the loan car late that afternoon, Emma was feeling very pleased with herself. She decided to have some of the good vintage Claret with her meal that evening. As she ate, she sat and thought about things. An intelligent woman, and quick-witted too, it soon occurred to her that the mysterious blue light must have something to do with it. After spending her life being so meek and mild, such a change in her character could not be explained by anything else.
That night, she slept naked for the first time in her life. When the light illuminated the curtains and woke her, she rushed to the window and opened them, standing in the blue glow. Once the light went out, she felt wonderful, and soon managed to get back to sleep.
Up bright and early, Emma opened the door to the police officers just after ten. They were very professional, declining her offer of tea or coffee, and asking her to make an official statement about the accident. Once that was noted down, she showed interest in the proceedings. “What will happen now, officer?” He looked across at his colleague before replying.
“I’m sorry to have to tell you that the driver was killed in the accident, Miss Howard. The passenger is still unconscious, so we cannot get her version of events. To be completely honest, it doesn’t look too good for her, she is on a life-support machine. I also have the information that the female driver had no driving licence, so the car was technically uninsured. You should inform your insurance company of that”. Emma made herself look suitably shocked and upset. “Oh, those poor women. Were they not wearing a seat belt?” He shook his head, and stood up.
“There are no traffic cameras on that stretch of the road, and we cannot find any other drivers at the time who actually witnessed the accident. So as things stand, there are no charges being made against either driver at the moment. Unless the passenger wakes up and has anything to tell us, it will be resolved as a tragic accident and dealt with through your insurance company. You may be required to appear at the Coroner’s Court in the future”.
Thanking them as she closed the door, Emma turned and smiled. She would inform her car insurance company, and tell them she was not intending to claim. She had more than enough money to pay for the repairs, and she didn’t want to get into any legal entanglements over a compensation claim. Although tempted to go out for a drive in the replacement car, she knew that might not be a good idea.
Best to make it look as if she was too upset to venture out so soon after an accident.
On the fourth day of her self-imposed house arrest, Emma received a phone call from the policeman dealing with the accident.
“The passenger has woken up, and her account is that the driver was her sister, and that she was using her mobile phone to ring her husband at the time of the accident. Apparently they come from a traveller community, and were living in a caravan on an illegal site when the accident happened. As a result of this information, and considering that using her phone was an offence under law, there are no further investigations into the accident”.
Emma thanked the officer, remembering to add that she was pleased to hear that the passenger would survive. To celebrate, she drove down to nearby Weymouth, walked along the beach, and treated herself to a high tea in a very nice cafe in the town. Five nights of the blue light had made her feel very different, and as far as she was concerned, in a good way. As she drove home, she was thinking about Internet dating. Although she had never considered it previously, she was wondering what value might be placed on a sixty year-old virgin with her own house and comfortable financial situation.
That evening, some brief research led her to a dating site specialising in older members. She paid the fee to sign up for three months, and took some photos on her phone to add to her profile. Some of them were slightly provocative, at least by her standards. A low-cut dress once worn to a Christmas event, and a relatively short skirt that she had only ever worn once, many years ago. As she was compiling her profile, she noticed an email from the car repairer. They might have some trouble sourcing some parts, but the work should be completed in two weeks if they could get them. The estimate was almost three thousand pounds, but she replied by telling them to proceed.
By the time she was thinking of going to bed, the dating site had already produced five suitable matches. She discounted three of the prospects, as they were all over seventy. The last two were accepted by her, and she gave permission to disclose contact details. One, named Dennis, was a similar age, and a widower who lived in Dorset. The other was only forty years old, and looked younger in his profile photos. She liked the look of him very much, especially his bright smile and taut physique.
Not stupid by any means, Emma knew full well that if he was genuine, ‘Mark’ was not interested in her for her company, or desire for her sixty year-old body. He would be a money-grabber, perhaps a gigolo, that was obvious. But when she approved his request to contact her, she was smiling.
Two could play that game.
In the early hours, she stood naked in front of the light once again. During the short time before it went out, she experienced the delicious nerve tingle, and the brain activity that made her think about sex again. The light had awakened long-dormant feelings that she vaguely remembered from puberty. It made her realise that life was indeed short, and it was time to discover things she had denied herself.
Dennis contacted her by email the next morning. He suggested they meet in Christchurch, and mentioned a restaurant with a good reputation where he would book a table. So he didn’t want to collect her from her house. He lived in Christchurch near the restaurant. And expected her to walk into a restaurant alone to meet him. No, that wouldn’t do. Her reply was rather curt.
‘Try again, Dennis’.
Mark’s email was so predictable, it was laughable. He addressed her as if she was twenty-five, and used phrases hardly appropriate for a woman of her age.
‘Hello lovely sexy lady! I see you live in Winterbourne Abbas, not far from me in Dorchester. I have to say I don’t normally do this kind of thing, but I definitely could not resist your profile as you seem incredibly well-suited to me, classy, and very attractive. Please say you will meet me. I am happy to collect you from your home, or if you prefer I will meet you outside the Coachhouse Inn. We can start with a drink, and if you like what you see, stay on there for dinner. On me of course! Let me know soon, as I can be free tomorrow night, and I am so excited! Mark. xx’
Still lauging at that, Emma ignored Dennis’s second try and replied to Mark. ‘Yes. Shall we say six tomorrow evening at the Coachhouse Inn? That will suit me nicely’.
His reply took less than one minute to arrive. She had her first date.
The man who liked to call himself Mark was in fact named Martin. And he wasn’t forty, he was fifty-one next birthday, in five weeks. Hard work at the local gym, and copious amounts of black hair dye, kept him looking presentable. Add a lot of money spent on cosmetic dentistry, and using old photos on his profile, and so far he was doing okay. He usually preferred the older section of the dating site.
Seventy-plus guaranteed success, and often came with financial rewards too. In his opinion, there was no fool like an old woman. Viagra helped of course, and he regularly gave thanks for the invention of that wonder drug. This latest one was a bit younger than his recent conquests, but he was sure he could live up to her expectations.
Although the pub was in walking distance at less than a mile, Emma didn’t do walking. And she didn’t drive to meet someone she had never met before, not even in a loan car. So she had booked a taxi for the short journey, asking them to arrive at her house at five-fifty sharp.
Martin allowed twice as much time as he needed to drive from Dorchester. He wanted to be there outside the pub, when she arrived. No lady should ever be expected to walk into a hostelry alone, he knew that. Touching up the sides of his hair with black dye, fretting slightly about how it was receding at a widow’s peak, he decided he would do, and made sure to slip the packet of little blue pills into his suit jacket before leaving.
Her taxi was a few minutes late, but Emma thought that was appropriate. Although she had never been on a date with a man, or so much as kissed one other than her father, she knew that women would be forgiven for not being on time. He was there when she arrived, standing outside but looking significantly older than his profile photos. Oh well, he was still younger than her, so he would do. The twelve red roses were too much though. She might have had no experience with men, but she knew that instictively. Nonetheless, she was gracious.
“Thank you, Mark. The flowers are lovely”.
In the bar, he seemed to know how it worked, so she followed his lead. Her white wine was handed to her with just the gentlest touch of his fingers. His eyes never left her face, seemingly ignoring her ample breasts, or her exposed knees in nylon stockings. After two drinks, he suggested a meal there. Emma was ready.
“Why don’t we just go back to my house? I had a sufficient lunch, and I am happy for us to continue this meeting in the comfort of my home”. Martin was greatly relieved. He had less than one hundred pounds in his bank account, and a meal at this place might have left him without enough to put petrol in his car later. Keeping up the facade, he appeared to be surprised, but grateful. “Dear lady, that would be my pleasure”.
His ten year old Peugeot car was less than impressive, but he remenbered to open the door for her to get in, and to make suggestive hand movements as he fastened her seat belt. On the short drive back to her house, Emma let loose with a prepared speech. “Mark, you don’t have to seduce me, I am already seduced. Let’s just get into my house and get on with it. Is that acceptable to you?” He swallowed hard, and nodded.
“More than acceptable, lovely lady”.
One hour later, and Martin was breathing hard, more thankful than ever for the Viagra. He had given her his full repertoire, but she showed no sign of being even remotely satisfied. “Is that it? I will go down and get us something to drink, and then we can start again”.
He had been given little time to scope out the house and the things in it, but the cursory appraisal of the size and location, along with substantial grounds outside, confirmed she was worth plenty. The house alone woud sell for not much change from a million, and it was packed with genuine antiques inside, from what he had seen so far. Resisting the urge to open a few drawers in the bedroom to see if they contained valuables, he waited for her to come back with the drinks.
This one was worth taking his time over. He was going to try the long-haul approach, make her fall in love with him.
Martin had hardly slurped down a mouthful of his wine when Emma took the glass off him. “Come on now, Mark. Time to try again. I’m sure you can do better this time”. He looked up at the intense expression on her face as she slid back and forth on top of him. He had never known a woman of that age he could not satisfy, and was beginning to doubt himself for the first time.
His mouth was dry, and he could feel a pulse pounding in his temples. And Emma was no lightweight, the pressure of her body bearing down on him felt as if someone had but a sack of potatoes on his belly. Soon wishing it could all be over, he struggled to finish, hoping that his own satisfaction would coincide with hers.
But it was not to be.
“Perhaps you are hungry, Mark? It is getting rather late, so I will make you something to eat and bring it back to the bedroom”. This time he didn’t hesitate to check through the drawers and wardrobes, but found nothing more valuable than some old brooches that he quickly secreted in the inside pocket of his jacket. They were probably her mother’s as the stle was very out of fashion.
He was back on the bed trying to look keen when she returned with a plate containing two sandwiches. “Get these down you, they are both for you. I am not remotely hungry, at least not for food!” When he had eaten them, he excused himself and slipped into the bathroom, stopping to take something from his trouser pocket on the way. With a mouthful of water, he took another Viagra tablet, determined to prove to this insatiable woman that he was up to her demands.
Emma was lying on her back when he returned. She raised her head and grinned. “Ready when you are!”
Screwing his eyes closed tight, he tried to imagine the sexiest moments of his life, and was able to do the deed with some vigour. But the woman gave no indication if his extra efforts were working for her, and no sign that she had any intention of stopping.
A sharp pain around the left side of his chest reminded him that he had recently eaten two beef sandwiches very quickly. He put it down to indigestion, and continued. But then his left arm went numb, and a crushing pain spread all over his chest. It caused him to stop what he was doing, and moments later he was struggling to breathe. Emma noticed of course.
“Oh dear, you have gone very pale, Mark. What’s wrong with you?” He tried to reply, but then fell sideways off the bed onto the floor, gasping for breath. Shaking her head in annoyance, Emma picked up the house phone extension next to her bed, and dialled the emergency number. “Ambulance please, I think my friend is having a heart attack”. Then she gave her address and the person at the other end told her to look out for the ambulance in around fifteen minutes.
Sufficient time to make herself presentable and get dressed.
When the ambulance arrived, she showed the two men up to the bedroom, describing vaguely what had happened. The men looked at each other, hiding their smiles. They didn’t need the full details. After wiring him up to some machines, and placing oxygen on him, one of them turned to her. “I think he’s going to be okay, but he has definitely had a heart attack. We are going to take him to the County Hospital in Dorchester, you can come with us if you want”. Emma looked confused.
“Why would I want to do that? Just take him please”. As she showed them out, with Mark wrapped up in a blanket on the small stretcher, she noticed his car on the driveway. Closing the door, she wondered what was going to happen to that, if he didn’t make it. She had put his clothes and shoes into a plasic bag and given them to the men, but now she realised his car keys would still be in his jacket. Rather irritated, she went into the kitchen to make some tea.
The clock on the microwave told her it was two-fifty-three in the morning. That surprised her, and made her realise just how long they had been at it. Forgetting the tea, she rushed upstairs, pulled off her clothes, and stood naked in front of the window. The light should arrive in less than a minute, making her feel wonderful again.
She stood there intil three thirty, then sat on the edge of the bed until four.
But no blue light shone.
Roger Calthorpe was really beginning to tire of looking at the back of the driver’s head. It had been a long drive from London, and various traffic problems had almost doubled the expected travelling time. Ministry drivers were not expected to make conversation, so any talking in the car had been limited to why it was taking so long to get to their destination.
He held the briefcase on his lap, almost afraid to let go of it. There were too many stories of top secret papers being lost, and he wasn’t about to let himself become the next newspaper headline. When the whole project had been cancelled abruptly, six weeks earlier, he was given time to prepare his full report. But the sudden summons to see the director had still made him nervous. His whole company was at stake, along with his own future.
As the car slowed and the driver indicated to turn right, Roger was a little surprised. They were turning into a service road on the edge of a run-down industrial estate just outside the town of Walsall, part of the West Midlands conurbation that seemed to be endless. Driving around the back of what appeared to be a closed-down factory, they entered a narrow service road leading to a nondescript building in the distance. The car slowed at a security barrier, and the driver showed his identitiy card to a guard who peered into the back and gave him a cursory look.
When they drove under the open barrier, Roger noticed the guard was wearing something similar to a police uniform and was also armed, as he could see a holster with a pistol visible inside it. He should have known of course, Ministry of Defence Police were protecting the facility.
When the car stopped, the driver opened the back door for him, and pointed to the centre of the building where he could see a shabby-looking sign that said ‘Reception’. “In there, sir. Someone is waiting for you”. A smartly dressed but sour-faced young woman was waiting for him. “Follow me please”. As he walked behind her, listening to the sound of her short-heeled shoes on the concrete floor, he looked around to see a completely empty industrial area that might once have housed lots of machinery used for some sort of manufacturing or distribution. At the end of the room was a long corridor, and a large metal door at the end of that guarded by another MOD policeman. He nodded at the woman and opened it before they got there.
The door closed with a loud clang behind them, and he found himself in a very different place. Hundreds of screens and computer terminals shone inside a vast room that had no other lighting and no windows. Perhaps twenty or more operatives were sat in front of curved desks, all wearing headsets and typing on keyboards. At the end of the room, twelve huge screens showed random scenes. From what appeared to be a very untidy kitchen in a house, to a lecture hall at a university full of attentive students. The woman was getting ahead of him, so he quickened his pace to keep up.
They went up a flight of stairs at the end of the room, and the woman knocked on a wooden door at the top of them. She didn’t wait after the knock, opening the door immediately, and indicating that he should go in. Roger walked into a well-appointed office that was larger than he had expected it to be. Sitting behind a desk at the end was William Furlong, also known as Director of Projects. Roger had met him before, in London. He looked up at them. “Thank you, Isla. Could you organise some tea please? And sandwiches for mister Calthorpe. He has had a long journey. Please sit down, Roger”.
There was no handshake.
Furlong went back to what he had been doing, ignoring Roger for quite some time. Long enough for the tea and sandwiches to arrive, brought in on a wheeled trolley by Isla. Then he looked up, closed a document folder, and smiled at the woman as she left the room. “Help yourself please Roger, I have already had my lunch”. Feeling self-conscious, and the briefcase still on his lap, Roger poured himself a cup of tea, which was welcome after the long drive. But he had no appetite for the sandwiches. When he saw that nothing was going to be eaten, Furlong sat back in his leather chair, and folded his arms.
“Well then. Shall we start?”
Before Roger could say anything, or even open his briefcase to show the report, Furlong launched into him.
“So, just to summarise. Your company goes to a government office with a plan, and a device to make that plan happen. For some reason unfathomable to me, the idiot you see thinks it’s a great idea, and gives you the go-ahead to implement it, along with enough funding to build a new hospital, which I am sure you will agree would have been a far better use of the wasted millions. Your crazy idea is some kind of beam that can alter the brainwaves of those exposed to it, making them feel younger, invigorated, and convinced they can do almost anything. Am I right so far?”
Feeling himself shrinking in the chair, Roger nodded, almost imperceptibly. Furlong was shaking his head as he continued.
“Stop me if I am getting this wrong, but your plan was that this would encourage older people to either stay on in their jobs, or go back to seeking work following retirement. In your addled brain, you somehow thought this would save money on pensions, as the pension age could be increased with no protest from the suddenly lively old folks. It would also compensate for the loss of the available labour market following Brexit, and provide a huge potential workforce of grey-haired people keen to work for a lot less than they might have earned before they retired”.
Roger finally got the briefcase open, but only managed one word before he was interrupted.
The director carried on, ignoring his ‘but’.
“A test sample was authorised, with surveillance run from GCHQ at great expense. This was because your only evidence that it would work was based on laboratory apes that appeared to act much younger after exposure to the beam concealed in the blue light. But now we had to have cameras and microphones in houses, teams to follow and report on individuals, and stump up a great deal of money for your stealth drones that hovered silently above the houses to project the blue light. I also note that the tests with the apes lasted a matter of seconds, but you wanted to expose humans for between ten and fifteen minutes.”
Nodding fiercely, Roger attempted to read from his lengthy report, but he gave up when he was interrupted again.
“I cannot even imagine why you thought this would work. From what I have read about the experiment, the beam mostly induced an abnormal sex drive, with the strange effect of making those exposed to it more attractive to the opposite sex. It also increased temper and anger in most subjects, and as I understand it, not one of them felt a desire to continue working into old age, or look for a job post-retirement. Your test sample was small, and your subject choices ill-advised. Anyway, go ahead, read your report.”
It took Roger over an hour to carefully read the report, finally adding his own conclusions, and admitting some liability. He had to be very careful, as he had committed his company resources totally to the failed project, and he knew that if this interview went bad, the whole company would close down overnight. And he might never secure another government contract. In fact, there was no might about it. He would be bankrupt.
Furlong sat quietly, listening to the report. When Roger finished, he was unimpressed.
“Excuses don’t cut it, I’m afraid. One of these days, a junior minister is going to have to account for the extravagant expenditure to a parliamentary committee. And they are going to roast him alive, believe me. If you want your company to survive, you are going to have to do better than that pile of shit you have just read out to me”.
There seemed to be no way out. Roger had banked everything on the report, and the truths and half truths. He knew he had no definitive answer for Furlong, but tried his best to counter the facts.
“There are some genuine positives to take from the project, William. Some of them might even have a military application, think of that”. Inside, he knew he was clutching at straws, and Furlong’s response felt like the first nails in the coffin of his company.
“Roger, we have booked you into a hotel in Walsall tonight. I suggest you take the time to re-think what you have said this afternoon. The driver is waiting to take you to the hotel. Go and have a bath, a nice meal, and spend the rest of the time thinking about how you can possibly justify this nonsense to me tomorrow. The car will collect you just after nine, so have a good breakfast. And come prepared.”
Walking back to the car, Roger did not have a clue what he was going to say the following morning.
Sitting in the small restaurant of his two-star hotel, Roger considered drowning his sorrows by ordering a bottle of Valpolicella to accompany his -probably microwaved- lasagna, then finishing off with a few large glasses of Cognac. But not wanting to face Furlong with a hangover tomorrow, he settled on sparkling water instead.
The car was there after breakfast, and he had steeled himself to expect the worst once he arrived at the clandestine factory complex. The young woman was waiting once again, and he fancied her expression was less sour than it had been yesterday. Repeating the same routine, he followed her up to the door of Furlong’s office and went inside. But the man behind the desk was not Furlong. He was younger, casually dressed, and looked more like one of those people who played computer games. Smiling genially, the man looked up.
“Please take a seat, Roger. My name is Jonathan Spencer, and I will be reviewing the project today”. He reached across the desk and shook hands without standing up. For a long time, he read from a file on the desk in front of him, then sat back and clasped his hands.
“Okay, let’s get on with it. Your subjects had some unexpected reactions to exposure to the beam, to say the least. One man became obsessed with having sex with younger women, and driving around the country to visit random places. It’s worth noting that this was a total change of personality for him. Then his wife was accidentally exposed, resulting in frantic exercise, followed by extra-marital sex with a much younger gym instructor. As a result, she was killed by her husband, who is now serving twelve years for manslaughter, and according to the prison authorities is on suicide watch because of his depression”.
Roger said nothing, so the younger man continued.
“Now the farmer, Inchcape. Run-down farm, and chosen in the hope that the beam would inspire him to increase productivity. But for some reason not clear from your report, the beam extended to the farm of his neighbour. That ignited a fued that had been brewing for years, and they both ended up dead. Then Inchcape’s wife must have been exposed, because she decided to sell her land to a property devoloper and move to Australia. So whatever was grown there before will be replaced by expensive houses. Not looking good so far, is it?”
Spencer stopped for a moment to swig from a plastic bottle of water.
“Next we have a teenage girl whose personality changed, making her into some kind of sex kitten overnight. That destroyed the career of a reliable teacher who is now unemployed, and living in a bedsit flat. I note that she recently accused a delivery driver of asking her to get into his van for sex. Luckily for him, CCTV showed that he was nowhere near the location where she claimed it had happened. What do you say about that, Roger?”
Dry-mouthed, Roger replied. Feeling fortunate that he at least had a reason for that.
“Well, we discovered later that the girl Kirsty was sleeping in her mother’s room. Our intention had been to shake the mother out of her malaise, and get her back to work. We were not to know then that she was sleeping in the smaller room, or passing out on the sofa most nights”.
The man opposite was trying not to laugh out loud, but his shoulders were moving as he failed to control his obvious laughter.
“Let’s move on, Roger. A retired woman, who discovered her sex drive following exposure to the beam. At no time did she think about going back to work. In fact, you seem to have failed to notice that she was a librarian in a town where the library had been closed down. Did you expect her to go to work as a checkout woman at the local supermarket? Come on, the woman is as rich as Croesus. That was never going to happen. Instead, she almost sexed a sad gigolo to death. He has had to have a triple bypass operation, and has sensibly removed himself from the dating site where they met”.
Closing the folder on the desk, he sat shaking his head.
“I don’t think I have ever seen such a catalogue of catastrophe. The only positive is that it gave me a good laugh last night before I had to get up early to drive here”.
A cold feeling crept over Roger’s stomach. This was it, the end of his company. He decided to speak up.
“It falls to me to apologise. The blame is all mine, and if I could go back in time, I would have been far more careful in the choice of subjects. I understand that we will never get a government contract again, and I don’t know what else to say”.
Spencer’s reply left him open-mouthed.
“Not at all, Roger. Why don’t I order some tea? And then we can talk about those military applications you mentioned”.
15 thoughts on “The Blue Light: The Complete Story”
Once again another great story Pete! I haven’t read one of your stories in such a long time, I was so happy when you posted this one. I get so excited when you finish a story. 😁😁
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Happy to hear you that enjoyed the story, Christina. Your kind words are always much appreciated.
I had a break from serials after this one, but I am into a new one now.
Best wishes, Pete. x
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Finally got the chance to read this. What an imaginative story, Pete! 👌 It’s chilling to think what the military might do with the blue light.
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Thanks so much for reading this long story, Debbie. I am so pleased you enjoyed it.
Best wishes, Pete.
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This was a wonderful series, Tweeted! Hugs, C
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Thanks for your kind words, dear Cheryl.
Best wishes, Pete. x
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Always enjoy your stories Pete. It’s fun trying to guess where you are leading us, but you always manage a surprise.
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I do try hard not to make them too obvious. That doesn’t always work of course.
Best wishes, Pete.
I will read it, Pete, eventually. Many apologies that I can’t keep up these days. In urgent need of reorganizing and rebooting my life! Sunday lunch is currently running half an hour late….
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It really doesn’t matter if you read it or not, Pippa. I know you have a busy life. We don’t have Sunday lunch, we have the same meal for dinner, around 6:30pm.
Best wishes, Pete. x
Aha! Thank you! Lately I’ve been unable to keep up with much besides life and I lost this one somewhere in the middle. I just pulled one short and two long serials out with BlogBooker so I can edit them. I might not post much worth reading for a month. Or two.
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No problem, Phil. It is a bonus if people get the chance to read my serials.
Best wishes, Pete.
Sue has been looking forward to this….thanx chuq
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I hope she enjoys it, chuq.
Best wishes, Pete.
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I am sure she will…she always enjoys them chuq
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