Thursday, 23 September 2010

The Obscurati Chronicles- Part 9

Mary Doughty was dreaming deeply and took a few seconds to recognize the sound of the telephone. She and her husband woke up almost simultaneously and he reached straight for the phone. “Hello?... Yes… Yeah I do… Right, I’m on my way.” His Scouse accent always returned slightly when he was half asleep. He put the phone down and rolled out of bed without looking at his wife. Mary sat up and stared at him until he sensed her eyes and agreed to meet her gaze. “How long will you be gone this time?” she asked.
“I don’t know!” he muttered grumpily as he pulled up his trousers. “You know I never know.”
“It’s just that Lucas promised he’d call today.”
“I’m sure he’ll understand that his father is indisposed.” Charlie’s posh voice was returning. “We’re paying for him to be educated in the realities of living decently as well as the three R’s.”
Mary looked at the clock; it was 2.38 AM.
“Remember what we're doing Friday night.” said Charlie loudly as he entered the adjoining bathroom. The sound of the washbasin filling with water came through the open door. “Go out and buy yourself a new dress.”
“The Nugents? OK.” said Mary half to herself. “I used to love shopping for expensive clothes… before I could afford to.”
“Well, learn to love it again.” he answered with a touch of irritation. He strode out of the bathroom fastening his tie. “I’ll be back…”
“I know!” she interrupted. “Maybe later, maybe tomorrow morning.”
He smiled jovially. “And what a life my going away has given us eh?” He leant down and kissed her briefly on the cheek, which nowadays was the limit of his physical affection. “Do you know that, hour-for-hour, I’m spending less time at work now than I did when I was at Collinger’s?... Have a nice day.” He walked out of the bedroom without looking back. Mary heard the front door slam. A few minutes later the growl of an engine echoed in the drive she looked out of the window in time to see her husband’s plain white van pulling out onto the road. It vanished around the corner. Its engine died away into the distance of the quiet night. Mary stood by the window for a few minutes. It was a hot, sticky night and sweat tickled her skin. “There’s a difference though, Charlie.” She murmured. “At Collinger’s you used to tell us about what you were doing.”
She went back to bed and tried to sleep. She kept her eyes on her precious Madonna statue, which she’d insisted remained in the bedroom with them, praying until sleep descended onto her again.
Mary awoke to the sound of birds in the front garden. Hot, dusty sunbeams shone through the open window. After washing she went downstairs in her dressing gown. She surveyed her huge kitchen with a strange sense of anticlimax. This one room was twice the size of the kitchen in their first house in Belswill and almost as big as the entire floorspace of her former council flat in Liverpool. She’d once dreamed of living in a house like this. It was a fairytale palace that had filled her head all those years ago when Charlie had taken that little velvet box out of his pocket and placed that ring on her finger. They’d lived for three months in their new home. It was a six bedroom modern detached property set back from the plexus of twisty, leafy cul-de-sacs off Belswill’s exclusive Lowdown Road area, on a forested hill to the west of the town. It had a huge wetroom and Jacuzzi, a master bathroom, pantry, cellar, reception room, study, double garage and conservatory. There were two acres of garden surrounding the house on all sides and hedges and trees that gave the house privacy. It was just four months since they’d moved from Liverpool. She looked at the framed portraits of Lucas, Brendan and Cara in their immaculate and complex school uniforms. Charlie didn’t permit their children’s old school photos from Liverpool to be displayed in the house, in fact he loathed any memoir connected to their previous life before March, so Mary kept them in one of the kitchen drawers. She pulled one of Lucas out to compare it with the more recent photo. His elaborate, traditional blazer and tie of Galton looked incongruous beside his simple local state-school sweatshirt. She signed and took out her mop and bucket to do the cleaning. Charlie had suggested that they employ a housemaid, but Mary had hated the idea of somebody else looking after her home.
The phone rang; Mary’s heart leapt. She picked it up before its first ring ended. “Lucas?”
“Hi, Mum.”
“Lucas, my darling! How are you?”
“OK, Mum.”
“How’s school?”
“Hm.” He gave a verbal shrug. “OK, I suppose. I do miss (Name of Lucas’ former school- Ed).”
“I know, Son. But Galton will make you the Best of the Best. Me and your dad only want everything that’s the best of the best for you, Bren and Cara.”
“I know, Mum. Thanks.”
There was a pause. “Lu, how’s Brendan?”
“I… haven’t seen him all week, Mum. Juniors dine separately from us.”
“I thought you all dined together.”
“Only in the Winter Term.”
“I’ve not heard from him all week; I’m a bit worried about him.”
“Don’t be, Mum. I’ll take care of him.”
“So… are you coming home for the weekend?”
“I can’t, Mum. I’ve got CCF.”
“What, all weekend?”
“Yeah, we’re camping out Saturday night at Hallingbury… I’ve got to go, Mum. Mr Blaine is coming. Bye,”
“OK, Son. Take care. Love you.” But he’d put the phone down before she could get all the words out.
Mary went out to the shops in her new Lexus. She didn’t like driving, but the good thing about being a two-car family was that she no longer had to plod along the pavements with bulging shopping bags, the rain soaking her or the sun baking her, the handles cutting into her fingers. She didn’t go to the usual supermarkets either; Charlie insisted that she buy her groceries from the high-class shops in town where everything looked and tasted nicer and was wrapped in decorative green packaging. It was a glorious summer’s day and as soon as she’d stowed the shopping in their huge fridge, one you could walk into, she sat on the patio. Charlie did no gardening in the huge two-acre grounds; instead he paid a horticultural contractor to do it. As Mary sat under the awning with her magazine a man in a yellow uniform was mowing their lawn. He was the only other person she saw all day. The neighbours, a hundred and fifty yards away on both sides, were virtually unknown to her; people to exchange good mornings with on the odd occasions she saw them. She watched TV all evening and read a book and went to bed at about ten o’clock after saying her prayers. She knew when Charlie would be back, or rather she could narrow it down to the nearest twenty-four hours. Sure enough she was woken at 5.15 AM by the van’s tyres crunching on the gravel drive. He always left between midnight and 3AM and came back came back between 4 and 6 in the morning, most of the time the following morning. Occasionally he’d return a couple of hours later the same night and once he was away two days, returning two mornings after leaving. He always went away in midweek, occasionally a Thursday to Friday. He never called her while he was away and fielded all her questions on his return; she’d given up asking him. He carefully locked the van in their smaller separate garage with an extra large padlock and never opened it except when he drove it. All she knew was that whatever work he did was obviously paying very well. Maybe it was foolish and unfair to question it too much.
“Morning, Mary.” He sounded exhausted, even more so than usual. He kissed her on the cheek and then went into the bathroom to brush his teeth. Mary pretended to be asleep and Charlie hardly noticed whether she was or not.
He slept through the morning and got up in the afternoon to make plans for the Nugent’s party the following day. He phoned Lucas in the evening and the two chatted about Lucas’ forthcoming mock battle with the Combined Cadet Force. “Keep your rifle oiled and your ammo dry!” recommended his father enthusiastically. “Once the enemy is in your sights remember: he’s not a man, shit! Just blow the motherfucker’s head off!”
Mary turned to her husband and gasped. When he’d finished the call she said: “Charlie! Do you have to use language like that to our boy?”
“Come on, Mary. He’s sixteen years old; nearly a man. He can handle a few four-letter words.”
“That’s not what I meant. You’re talking to him as if violence and killing is something glorious!”
Charlie groaned. “As if you’d understand! I tell you Mary, I think our oldest boy is bound for a career in the Forces. Not just as a common squaddie either; we’re talking officer material. I can see him going to Sandhurst!”
Images of the recent invasion and occupation of ACAIR by US and British forces filled Mary’s head, and she imagined her two sons dressed in combat gear running around in the desert with mortars and bullets falling all around them. She put her fingers in her mouth and bit her nails.
Charlie raised his eyebrows and grunted noncommittedly when Mary asked him what he thought of her new dress and jewellery. “Come on; we’ll be late.” He walked to the bedroom door and beckoned her to follow.
“OK; I’m ready.”
He swung round. “Mary, could you say ‘alright’ instead of ‘OK’?”
“Why? What’s the difference?”
“’OK’ is a word only common people use.”
Mary bit back a guffaw of laughter. “Sure, Charlie.”
“’Charles’.” He corrected again. “Decent people don’t shorten names.”
Charlie wore a stiff black tuxedo and bow tie. He walked unnaturally as they left the house for the car with his body straight and his head rigid. They got into Charlie's BMW and drove through town to the Nugents’ house. Ever since he’d first been a guest there he’d obsessively chortled at every opportunity about how the Nugents’ house was far smaller than their own, and he wasn’t planning on breaking the habit tonight. “Call this a garden!?” he laughed as they drove in through the gates. “It’s a bloody window box!... And look at their porch! It’s half the size of ours.” Mary didn’t reply. As they parked in their allotted space beside Mercedes, Bentleys and other expensive cars a butler approached. “Good evening, Sir and Madam.” He said. “Mr Nugent bids you welcome; please step this way.”He led them into the house where he took their overcoats and showed them into a high-ceiling reception room which resounded with happy and enthusiastic voices.
“Charlie and Mary, how are you?” Jeff Nugent came up and shook their hands. Mary noticed that Charlie didn’t object to his name being abbreviated this time. “Would you like an aperitif… Dobson!” he snapped his fingers. Another butler appeared at their side holding a silver tray of glasses filled with pink liquid. “Thank you.” said Mary as she took hers and sipped it. “Very nice.” She said to the butler “Did you make it?”
“No, madam. I merely serve them to your good selves.”
His traditional butlers’ accent made her giggle. “Is your name Jeeves by any chance?”
He laughed politely. “No Madam, it’s Dobson. And nobody here is called Mr Wooster either.”
She smiled at him although she didn’t understand.
“Mary!” her husband hissed at her and motioned her away from the crowd with his eyes. When they were alone together in the hallway he turned on her fiercely, his eyes burning like hot coals. “Are you deliberately trying to make me look a fool!? What have I always told you!? Never speak to a servant except to order. Do not engage them in conversation and never thank them!”
“Why not?”
“W… why not?” Charlie stuttered. “What do you mean ‘Why not?’ It’s just not done!” His manner softened a bit. “Look, Mary… you have to do things this way to fit in. These parties are an essential part of the civilized society we’ve moved into. It’s very important that we play our part and impress.”
Mary found herself wanting to laugh. “OK…erm… alright, Charlie… Charles.”
“And could you try to do something about your accent?”
“Right you are, Pet.” She laughed in her old Scouse accent.
Charlie glanced quickly behind him with such an expression of embarrassment on his face that she apologized and they returned to the gathering.
The aperitif was a sweet, punchy cocktail. She sipped it and tried to blot out the conversation around her. When dinner arrived she took her seat beside her husband and worked her way through the delicious courses. She concentrated on the flavour of the food and the feel of the silver cutlery and bone china plates. She never spoke to anyone through the entire meal. The women were as irksome and inane as the men. Carol, Nugent’s wife, sat opposite her on the table, but she hardy even looked at her. Charlie waffled to Nugent and the other guests in his best accent, telling them his prestigious tales about his various non-existent money-making enterprises. He was a very proficient blagger and never slipped up on any details. All Mary had to do was nod her head and look proud of him. God, when can we go home? She seethed to herself.
Unfortunately the party lingered on after dinner; bottles of brandy were passed round like soda pop and the guests slowly became more glassy-eyed and red-cheeked as glass after glass was knocked back. Charlie was no exception and Mary deliberately avoided the brandy because she knew she’d have to drive home. The guests hit the roof at about 2AM and the party began to break up. They all bade each other a warm farewell and Mary helped Charlie stagger to the car. He slouched in the passenger seat dribbling as he drunkenly eulogized the evening and the people he’d met there. He never stopped talking for the whole journey. “You know, Mary,” he said as they opened their front door. “You were wonderful tonight.” He kissed her and fetid brandy fumes filled her nose. “Thanks for being such a good wife to me.” He stomped up the stairs ahead of her and crunched onto the bed. He was instantly asleep. Mary stood watching him as he lay prone on the bed snoring. His tuxedo jacket was pulled up around his midriff and his creased, stained shirt-tails were hanging out. One shoe was still on his foot, the other sat on the floor on its side, its laces splayed. For a brief moment Mary felt a flash of bitter hatred for him; but it was only momentary and she scolded herself before undressing for bed too.
He was still asleep in the same position when she awake in the middle of the next morning. She yawned and stretched and went downstairs to make two cups of coffee. When she brought them back upstairs Charlie had not moved and continued his raucous slumber oblivious to the scent of the coffee. So Mary drank both cups and then placed a big glass of water and some aspirin on the bedside table in anticipation of Charlie’s hangover when he finally awoke. She reached down to pick up his discarded shoe; as she did so she saw that his bunch of keys had fallen out of his pocket and had been lying underneath the shoe all night. She picked them up too and was about to place them on the bedside table so Charlie would find them when an idea struck her. She tried to stifle it but it reemerged. She turned the keys over in her hand. There were four of them in the bunch, a front door key, the BMW key, the back door key and another that she didn’t recognize, but she immediately guessed which lock it opened. She walked out of the bedroom to the landing window which overlooked the back garden and the garages. Her eyes moved from the secret garage housing Charlie’s work van to the keys in her hands. “No!” she said aloud and returned to the bedroom to leave the keys for Charlie. As she entered the room her eyes caught the Madonna and she stopped in her tracks. “What should I do?” she whispered to the statue. Then she put her hands together and prayed, the key-ring hooked around one of her fingers: “Hail Mary. Full of Grace. The Lord is with Thee. Blessed art Thou amongst women and blessed is the fruit of Thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, mother of God. Pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death.” The statue of her worshiped namesake met her eyes and she made a decision.
Mary walked quickly, afraid Charlie might wake up and also that she might hesitate. She went out of the back door and stepped up to Charlie’s secret garage. It had a thick white-painted door with dark frosted glass windows. Mary felt a cold shiver as she approached it. The padlock was hard and solid, sealing a slightly rusty hasp. It felt as heavy as lead as she lifted it and inserted the key. It opened. Click! She jumped at the sound as if it might carry to the bedroom and awaken the man she was deceiving. She lifted off the lock and pulled open the hasp, placing the lock on the floor by the door.
There was nothing but darkness inside. The first thing which struck Mary was the smell. The garage was full of a harsh chemical odour like bleach or tarmac, underlined with the oily, rubbery scent of a motor vehicle. There was a light switch on the wall which she flicked on illuminating the white shape of the van, the only object in the room. She peeked through the windscreen and saw nothing except the usual dashboard and seats. The doors were open and the ignition key lay on the dash above the steering wheel. As she went around to the back of the vehicle she ran her hand along the rear chassis, which was unmarked and windowless. The chemical stench got stronger as she approached the rear. She opened the double door at the back and pulled them wide. She was faced with another set of doors; these ones were made of smooth grey metal and fastened with a hook-latch. She recognized it as a refrigerated compartment. As she opened the inner doors a foul, meaty stink made her reel back. It reminded her of the smell in her fridge when a pork chop went off. She held her nose and peered into the back of the van, her heart pounding. The interior of the van had four shelves arranged along both sidewalls. They were the size of small bunks, but had nothing on them except man-sized metal trays on a bed of rollers as if the trays were meant to be slid in and out of the vehicle. She felt herself go dizzy with shock as she recognized what they were; this was an undertaker’s van. Except most undertakers’ vans were black and this one was white. She whimpered aloud when she saw that one of the trays was caked with dried blood. “Oh, Charlie!”
She screamed aloud and turned to face the garage doors. A silhouette filled the doorway. It was Charlie, shabbily-dressed, unshaven and with only one shoe on his foot.


Saturday, 17 July 2010

The Obscurati Chronicles- Part 8

Charlie walked swiftly down the garden path keeping his head down and hiding his face with his hand. He got into the car and started driving, heading instinctively down Bedford Road into town. It was dark now and the evening traffic was heavy. He heard a police siren and braked hard in reflex; tyres skidded behind him and horns blared. He drove around the edge of town, carefully avoiding the police station, and parked in a twenty-minute slot beside a pizza parlour. A dozen yards down the street was a bus shelter and a man was pasting up a flier on the side of it. When the man finished and left the area, Charlie got out of the car and went over to look. The face was a plasticky computer-generated image adapted from the shop’s CCTV picture, but it was still an excellent likeness. The caption read: WANTED- for armed assault, robbery and criminal damage. Have you seen this man? Call Belswill Police on…
Charlie fell into a state of chronic panic. His thoughts were silent and his survival instincts took the helm. He forgot his future, his family, his work and his home; his entire mental being was focused on how he was going to survive the next hour. London! he thought. I can disappear there! He drove out of town onto the M-Twenty-five, scrupulously keeping to the speed limit. He headed east and turned off at the next junction to follow the main road south into the metropolis. The traffic became thicker as he drove through Enfield and Edmonton, the glare of headlights and tail-lights dazzling him. The buildings grew taller and more closely packed until he was in London proper. Big, red buses passed him and pedestrians packed the broad pavements. Charlie turned off the main road and parked in a little side street. He stopped the engine and lay back in his seat, letting his exhaustion and fear soak into the silence. He reached into his jacket pocket and took out the familiar yellow book, The Key to Life. It was crumpled and dog-eared from his constant reading, and was also stained and water-damaged from his previous night’s activities. He stared at it blankly for a few minutes, turning it over and over in his hands and felt tears bud in his eyes. He suddenly began to weep. He cried and cried more than he’d ever done in his adult life before. “Oh, God!” he sobbed. “What have I done!? What am I going to do!?”
Sometime later he sat back drained of tears and felt desperately thirsty. Across the street was a small, garishly-lit cafĂ©; he got out of the car and walked towards the door. He ordered himself several glasses of Pepsi from the counter and then noticed that there was a row of computers along the far wall; a crude handwritten sign said: Internet access- £150 per hour. Charlie let his eyes blur as he looked at the sign and it took him a few seconds to reach the idea. Quick as a flash, he reached into his pocket and pulled out The Key. He opened the back cover where the author’s website was printed: He bought an internet token from the counter and dropped into a chair by a terminal. He feverishly opened up the browser and entered the website address into the search box. He clicked Search and the results appeared at once. He immediately selected the website of the book and the introductory graphics appeared. Anonymous photos of bright-eyed, smartly-dressed and successful-looking young people scrolled across the monitor screen accompanied by text in quotes: “If life seems difficult is that because I’m not up to it?”, “All I’ve ever wanted to do is achieve. I can be the best!”, “A man with nothing is not a man at all.” The animation was eventually replaced and swallowed up by a single full-sized portrait of a thin-faced man with black eyes; his dark hair fell to his earlobes. Underneath the portrait were the words: “Jared Ariston- Author of The Key to Life.” Then the homepage came up. It was an extensive and well-designed website, more up-market than the book, with numerous options, articles, downloads and links. There was a secure shop for ordering copies of The Key as well as affiliated titles by other authors. Charlie returned to the homepage and clicked Contact. There he found an email address and telephone number which he wrote down on the back of his hand; and then he jogged back to the car. He dialed the number on his mobile phone; it rang for a long time before it was picked up. “Hello?”
Charlie gasped. “Hello? Is that Mr Ariston?”
“Oh, thank God! Listen, I’m in a spot of bother and I need your help.”
“Who’s calling please?” The voice was robotic and toneless, not what Charlie had expected. It had a hint of a foreign accent.
“My name’s Charles Doughty. I’ve read your book; I’m a big, big fan of yours!”
There was a pause and then the voice continued, totally unmoved by Charlie’s compliment. “Very well, Mr Doughty, what’s the problem?”
The address he gave Charlie was in Kingston-upon-Thames; Charlie had to buy a street-map from a late night shop to locate it. He crossed the river at Hammersmith Bridge and worked his way through the south-western boroughs to his destination. The cul-de-sac was dark and winding; trees obscured the streetlights. The houses were all big and detached, set back from the road behind neat gardens. At the end was an oval and at the head of it was the house he was looking for. It was surrounded by a high red-brick wall with a dense hedge behind it. Charlie got out of the car and approached the driveway. A double gate blocked his path with a small side-entrance for pedestrians. It was a heavy steel affair which Charlie was not surprised to find locked. There was an intercom on the side pillar, but as he went to press it the gate swung inwards with the hum of electric motors. He wondered how they know he was there until looked up and saw a CCTV camera; it rotated on its bracket, its dusky eye following him as he passed inside the property. The back of his neck prickled as he walked up the garden path. The garden was covered by a closely-mowed lawn as smooth and flawless as a snooker table's baize. It was dotted with stone statues scattered randomly like bizarrely-shaped chess pieces, looking eerie in the darkness. The house’s walls looked old, but the building was fitted with modern windows and skylights on the roof; most of them were lit and uncurtained. Charlie stepped into the porch and rang the doorbell. The faceted oak door opened immediately and a slim, blonde woman stood before him. “Come in.” she said woodenly and beckoned.
Charlie followed her into a broad vestibule. She turned to him without meeting his eye and pointed to a door at the far end. “Please wait in the library.” Then without another word she walked over to another door and entered the room beyond. There was the sound of many voices in the room beyond that door and Charlie got the impression that a party was in progress; the woman was in eveningwear too. She shut the door behind her and he was alone in the vestibule. His footsteps echoed loudly on the checkerboard floor, making him feel self-conscious and vulnerable as he walked along to the door she had indicated. The vestibule was decorated by expensive-looking ornaments and paintings. He pushed the door open.
“Hey, I wouldn’t mind living here.” he muttered to himself. This room was long and broad and ended in a row of patio doors, beyond which nothing was visible through the black of night and reflection of the interior. A fake coal fire blazed in the near corner and several high-backed chairs faced it. A grandfather clock ticked loudly next to the door. There was a top-of-the-range PC set on a desk, a bar and a collection of armchairs in the centre of the room. The walls were almost completely covered with bookshelves and Charlie walked along one of them looking at the contents. There were a few old antique volumes with leather binding, but most of the books were shiny, new paperbacks. None of titles familiar to him: Body and The Beast, The Scarred and Depraved- the World of Marquis de Sade, Arthur Machen and Lovecraft’s Legacy, The Psychology of All and One, The True Story of Aleister Crowley. Then he came upon some books on science and philosophy. He spotted a book about Albert Einstein and a whole series about the Buddha. There was a Bible, a Koran and a shelf full of other various religious texts. At the end of the bookcases on the meagre free wall-space were a set of pictures in gilt frames. Charlie frowned. There was a photograph of Adolf Hitler in pride of place; next to it was one of Josef Stalin. There were a few more of individuals he didn’t recognize. There were also a series of prints depicting grotesque creatures: dragons, huge earthworms, beings that looked as if they might be from Mars and monsters that looked like crossbreeds of various animals. Some of the beasts even looked like human chimeras, including a sinister being that looked half-man-half lizard. Charlie drew back in disgust. “My God!”
“Yes, in a way they are.” said a voice from behind him.
Charlie yelped aloud in shock and spun round. Jared Ariston was sitting in one of the high-backed armchairs facing him. He must have entered the room quietly while Charlie was engrossed in the books and pictures. Charlie’s heart was pounding; he opened his mouth to speak, but no sound came out.
“You must be Charles Doughty.” The expression on his face was as blank as his voice, but his eyes stared intently at Charlie as he held out his hand. They were strange eyes; dark, intelligent shiny and liquid, but somehow lacking liveliness. Charlie suddenly remembered that the woman who’d met him at the front door had a similar quality gaze. Ariston looked very much as he had in his online photo, only his hair had grown and now reached his shoulders. Even though he was fairly young, no older than thirty-five, he dressed like an elderly country gentleman in a tweed suit and waistcoat. His handshake was gentle, cold and dry. Charlie filled with emotion as he looked at Ariston. “It’s an honour to meet you, Mr Ariston.”
Ariston’s face remained uncommitted and he simply gestured to an armchair opposite him. “What can I do for you, Mr Doughty?”
Charlie sank into the comfortable upholstery. “I’m…in terrible trouble, Mr Ariston. I’ve…”
“I know what you’ve done.” Ariston interrupted.
“I know about the loans, your debt, the threats you’ve had. I know everything.”
“What!? Even…”
“Yes, I know about the robbery too.”
“But… how?”
“There are ways and means of finding out if you know how to.” Ariston shrugged dismissively. “I know why you did that shop over. I can guess what was going through your head.”
Charlie felt an intense mixture of embarrassment and relief. “I never meant this to happen. All I was doing was following The Key.”
“I must say I’m impressed by the level of commitment you’ve shown to realizing The Key to Life. I’ve never seen such… faith… in any of my other students.” His tone changed ever so slightly, revealing just a hint of feeling. His foreign accent was very slight, barely noticeable.
“I know I’ve never met you before.” said Charlie. “But you’ve been like a friend to me. I’ve read your book over and over. I’ve lived your book!... That’s why you’re the only person I could turn to.”
Ariston was looking down at the floor now and didn’t seem to hear him.
“Will you help me?”
Ariston raised his eyes. “What would you like me to do, Mr Doughty? One of the elements of The Key is to teach people to be self-reliant and not need assistance from others.
“But you wrote The Key! It’s your book!”
Ariston sighed.
“Please! If you don’t help me I’m finished. I languish in jail for the next ten years, my wife and kids leave me and I lose everything I’ve ever earned!”
“How can I prevent that?”
“I don’t know… get me a good lawyer! Explain at my trial that all I wanted was to improve my life the way you devised and didn’t mean to harm anybody.”
Ariston hesitated. “This is highly irregular, but…”
Charlie’s eyes widened in hope.
“I feel that you have important qualities, despite your background, that deserve... attention.” He picked up a telephone lying on the table beside him and dialed a four-digit number. It was answered immediately. “Hello this is Hintergrund.” He said to whoever was on the other end of the line. “Yes, he’s here… I think so… No, there’ll be no initiation other than is necessary for his role… I’ll assume full responsibility; tell that to the Chairman… not at all.” He put down the phone and studied Charlie with the hint of a smile. “It’s done, Mr Doughty.”
“Then… you’ve got me a hot lawyer?”
“No need. The criminal charges against you have been dropped.”
Charlie gaped. “What do you mean ‘dropped’!?”
“You will not be prosecuted for the armed robbery in Belswill last night.”
“H… how!?”
“I’ve also canceled all your debts, paid off your mortgage and given you enough funds to complete all your plans for The Key.”
Charlie was speechless.
“There’s one condition.” Ariston said in a sharper voice. “From this moment onwards, you work for me. Agreed?”
Charlie paused then nodded fiercely like a child. “But… I don’t understand… How…? Why...?”
“That’s one other condition, Mr Doughty.” Added Ariston. “You never ask the question ‘why?’.”
(Definite major chapter/section break here- Ed)


Friday, 4 June 2010

The Obscurati Chronicles- Part 7

He headed west along Herford Road, cursing the rush-hour traffic, towards Kelly Green industrial estate where his fledgling business was housed. He parked outside the big, breezeblock and corrugated iron buildings and walked down an alleyway between skips and wheelie-bins to his little printshop. The premises of JA Print were in a converted mobile home tucked into the supplies yard of a lot belonging to one of the bigger companies. He opened the padlock on the door and stepped inside. The chipboard floor gave a little under his weight and it was chilly inside. The coffee was starting to burn his stomach so he downed a couple of antacid tablets before switching on the portable heater. He made himself another cup from his sideboard kettle and switched on his laser copier and offset-litho press; both were working OK. He’d reserved most of his office space to store completed orders, but only two wrapped piles of fliers for the local newspapers stood in the corner ready to be delivered. He switched on his computer and scanned his emails, but for the third day that week there were no orders. He sat down on his stool and sipped his coffee then The Key to Life out of his pocket and read a passage from chapter 7:
It doesn’t matter what the business is, so long as it’s yours. Then you cease to be an employed chattel and become a businessman, responsible, independent, able to generate your own income. This transformation is one of the most defining stages of the Key. Therefore, your first APL should have starting your own business on or near the top.

As with all elements of the Key, you can’t expect things to happen overnight. It is beginning the process that counts; this might mean starting off as a small-time sole trader, working from home or from a very modest locale. Don’t be downhearted if this is the case; just remind yourself that you are on the right track. If you are committed to the Key, this stage will not last long. No matter how small your profit is, its exchange rate is ten times the same social value in the salary of the most well-heeled employed individual. He is a mere cog in a machine, spoon-fed and dependent, one of the useless morons.

Charlie closed the book with a smile, feeling reassured. He gingerly returned it to his pocket and buttoned the flap so that the book was safe and wouldn’t accidentally fall out.

The post arrived at 8 o’clock and Charlie jumped up with an ambivalent feeling of both dread and eagerness as a number of envelopes cascaded through his letterbox. There were no orders; he was worse than disappointed. There was a bill for the business rates, the rent a series of second reminders for his car loan and credit cards, an acidic letter from the bank about his overdraft and, far worse, a final demand from Elasmo Finance for his first mortgage repayment. His hands shook and his sweat soaked into the paper as he read it:

Dear Mr Doughty. Despite three reminders dispatched to you (it gave the dates) we have received neither payment from you nor any correspondence as explanation. If you do not contact us within seven days we will have no choice but to deploy one of our representatives to locate you and retrieve the amount due from you personally. Yours Sincerely, Jack Scartane (Collections Manager)

Charlie whimpered aloud in terror. He knew very well what “retrieve the amount from you personally” implied. His other creditors would have to wait; the very worst they could do was take him to court; Elasmo Finance didn’t bother with niceties like that. Paying Elasmo was all that mattered right then. His fingers fumbled on the keyboard as he opened his books. He almost fainted with relief. The fee from the Belswill Gazette had cleared giving him just enough to pay the mortgage instalment. He’d only have ten pounds left for housekeeping, but that would just have to do. He’d told Mary that he’d been granted a mortgage from his building society. He hated lying to his wife, but he had no choice; no high street institution would lend him what he needed so he’d been forced to go... elsewhere. He quickly filled out a cheque, slipped it into the return envelope and went out to post it.

He sat around the office all day reading from The Key; he had nothing else to do. The phone never rang, no email arrived and no more post was delivered except a few more bills. He closed the office at 3pm and drove out of town to Bishop Stortford. He shuddered as passed the children’s school. Brendan, Lucas and Cara went to the local, cheap, square-block comprehensive, no better than the one they’d gone to in Liverpool. It wasn’t good enough. As soon as he reached Bishop Stortford he found Galton School for Boys and drove straight in through the cast iron gates. He smiled with satisfaction and admired the old stone buildings covered in ivy and the surrounding gardens dotted with sycamore trees. The headmaster met him in the carpark. He was an elderly, distinguished man with an academic gown and half-moon spectacles. He led Charlie into the building, along oak-panelled corridors with old paintings and black-and-white photos of past pupils and teachers. His office was similarly furnished and a big globe stood in the corner. He offered Charlie a seat in a red leather armchair and gave him a glass of sherry. “So, Mr Doughty.” He said in an old-fashioned accent. “You wish to enrol your two sons, Lucas and Brendan, aged 15 and 13, until the end of the next academic year?”

“Yes indeed, Dr Crossley.” Charlie replied in his best enunciation; the elocution lessons were beginning to take effect. He had listened to recordings of himself and was gratified to hear that the ugly Scouse drawl, his life-long unknown curse, had been scrubbed from his voice. “Do the children sleep in separate rooms?”

“No, all our boys sleep in dormitories of thirty-six.”

“Good.” said Charlie. “A staunch, traditional public school education! That’s what I desire for me progeny.”

The headmaster looked at him over the tops of his glasses. “This is a very traditional school and our fees reflect that: twenty-one thousand pounds a term.”

Charlie recalled an appropriate passage from The Key: Your children are your legacy to your own eternal glory. Give them the best and only the best. Get them out of the state system and give them an elite education. This will augment your own status as well. The privately-educated are in a class of their own.

Charlie indignantly suppressed a gulp of unease. “Very well.”

“I trust you have the two thousand pounds deposit available now.”

Charlie hesitated. “There’s a cheque in the post.”


Charlie’s mind was churning and palpitating as he drove back to Belswill. Thoughts kept popping into his head and were instantly annihilated before he had the chance to study them; it was as if his brain had some kind of antivirus installed. Eventually, a rogue worm broke through: “You fool!” it shouted at him. “What the hell do you think you’re doing!? You’re going to ruin yourself and your family!”

“No!” Charlie put his hand to his forehead to blot out the voice. “This is the path to success!”

It was getting dark by the time he left the M25 at the Belswill junction and headed home along the Hertford Road. He passed a pub and his foot went for the brake. He pulled up at the side of the road, feeling a sudden craving for alcohol. He put the car into reverse and then stopped himself. The pub was a conventional English one, of the type where he used to waste time in Liverpool. Through the windows Charlie could see a group of men in T-shirts around a pool table. He drove on, knowing that to enter such a premises would be a betrayal of The Key. He recalled the relevant passage: Once a member of the Elite, not always so. Status requires effort to maintain because the tides of society are continuously ebbing. You will be forever battling the current that wishes to pull us all down into mediocrity. Avoid all social contact with your inferiors; cross the street when they walk towards you, ignore them when they speak to you, for they are a claw that, if given a chance, will to tear you down from your citadel. Charlie turned the car around and headed for a place he’d been meaning to go to for weeks: Belswill Tennis Club.

He parked the car a few hundred yards away so that the members wouldn’t see it and walked to his destination. Belswill Tennis Club was situated in a leafy residential district of large detached houses. It was surrounded by a high wall and as he walked towards it, Charlie could hear the sounds of bouncing tennis balls from within. The sky was by now almost black and the courts were floodlit. There was an upstairs terrace covered in parasols and gazeboes. Charlie waited outside the gate and after a few minutes a couple appeared who looked like the sort of people he was seeking (They are the Nugents- Ed). The man was in his forties, dressed in shirtsleeves, with bright and intelligent eyes. His partner was slim and attractive, wearing expensive-looking clothes and jewellery. Charlie stepped out to meet them as they walked into the gate. “Good evening.”

“Good evening.” they answered in chorus with a smile.

“I wonder if you could help me. I’m recently moved into the area and...” He only hesitated briefly for the lie. “...I’m a keen tennis player. Would you tell me how I can join the club?”

“Certainly.” said the man in a deep, distinguished voice. “You need to apply to the membership officer in writing, enclosing a letter of reference from your previous club. Your application will be put before the committee and you should hear back from them within a month.”

“Thank you. Would you be willing to sign me in tonight so I can take down the details?”

“Certainly Mr...”

“Doughty. Charles Doughty.”

“I’m James Nugent and this is my wife, Carol.”

“Delighted.” Charlie smiled as he shook their hands.

The interior of the club was finely decorated and scrupulously clean. There was a uniformed concierge at the porch who held the door open and all the bar-staff, or “stewards” as they were called, wore white jackets. The air was scented by well-arranged flower vases and the clientele spoke slowly in low, educated voices. There was no juke box, no pool table, no dartboard, no peanuts on sheets of card behind the bar, no widescreen Sky TV on the wall and the people drank mostly wine instead of beer. Charlie felt his spirits rise as the Nugents gave him a tour of the club. The bar had a strict dress-code and sportswear was forbidden. Anyone coming in from the courts had to shower and change before having a drink. The changing rooms were luxurious with individual showers, scented soaps and acres of fluffy towels. The Nugents then led him to the club’s eight clay tennis courts. “So tell me, Mr Doughty.” said James Nugent. “What do you think is the best way to play a stop-volley?”

Charlie clenched his teeth to stop himself from stuttering. He prayed that he wasn’t blushing. “Erm... well it depends on the circumstances.”

“You mean whether you’re forced into a backhand position?”

“Well... yes.”

“You’ve got nothing to lose by trying eh?” Nugent nudged him with his elbow in a friendly manner. “The point’s gone either way. I’ve heard boasts that it’s even possible to deliver one right off the serve. What do you make of that?”

Charlie had no clue of what Nugent was talking about, but he bluffed his way through the thicket of the conversation until it thankfully moved onto another subject. Charlie made a mental note to get some private tennis lessons as soon as he could.

James Nugent signed Charlie in and gave him a membership pack, then he bought a round of drinks and they sat down on some velvet seats beside a rosewood table. Charlie’s throat spasmed in disgust as he sipped his white wine, but he managed to force a smile. “Mmm, what an excellent finish. It was a good year.” He knew that he’d miss his beer, but he had to give it up. He considered for a moment having a stash of beer at home to drink secretly, but then remembered what The Key had to say about that: Don’t be tempted into hypocrisy or having a double-life. You are what you are, both in private and in public. Do and say nothing at home alone that you would not do and say in front of your friends and acquaintances.

Nugent was a high-court judge and his wife sat on the board of a children’s charity. Needless to say, Charlie embellished the truth when telling them about his printing company. JA Print was situated in a six-story office block in London. He had three hundred employees and turned over a million and a half every year. Nugent and his wife seemed adequately impressed. They left the club at 11pm and bade each other a warm farewell outside the club, exchanging telephone numbers and email addresses. The Nugents even half-invited him and Mary to an opera in London the following month. Charlie walked back to his car with a spring in his step. Making friends with the Nugents was a major achievement, number 3 on his APL. This rich and sophisticated couple were his ticket into Belswill high society.

When he got home he switched on his PC and went online. He’d need to do a lot of research into tennis clubs if he were going to produce a forged reference.



“Yes, Mary?” He looked up from his breakfast cereal.

“A funny thing happened yesterday. I went down to the bank for the housekeeping and the machine said ‘request denied’. Why’s that?”

A cornflake lodged at the back of his mouth. He swallowed and felt it dig into the tender flesh of his throat. He grunted and coughed until it shifted. “Ahem... I’m sure it’s just a cock-up, Pet. Some cashier wanted to get off work early and hit the wrong key. I’ll pop in there at lunchtime and sort it out."
“Well, have you got any cash on you, Charlie? I need a few quid for groceries.”
“Erm... sorry, Love, no. Not on me at present. How much food have we got left?”

She opened the cupboard and shook her head. “It’ll have to be beans on toast tonight... again.” She turned slowly and looked at her husband. “Charlie, is everything alright?”

“Eh? What do you mean?”

“The business is doing well, but you never seen to have any money on you. Why’s that?”

“Erm... well...” He fiddled with the table cloth. “I’m going through a bit of a cashflow trough at the moment. Happens to all businesses.”

She raised her eyebrows. “'Cashflow trough'?”

“Yeah... I’m waiting for the bank to clear the returns on my expenditure.” He quickly drained the last of his cereal and stood up. “I’ve got to get going now. I’ll see you later.” He kissed her and walked out. As he left the kitchen and headed for the front door he felt her eyes on the back of his head.


When Charlie arrived at the JA Print hut the postman had already called and a number of envelopes lay on the floor. He made some coffee with one hand while he opened them with the other. One of them was a big brown one marked “Hertfordshire Country Court”. He opened it and the coffee mug dropped from his hands. It bounced and came to a rest intact on the damp floorboards, splattering its contents everywhere.

His eyes jerked on and off the lines of text like a stylus on a scratched vinyl disk, but the words they jumped from and too echoed around his mind: Gross arrears... grievous debt... culpable neglect... enabling order... bankruptcy... bailiffs... arrestment of earnings... warrant sale... His breath hissed between his teeth. The interior of the hut orbited around his head. He forced himself to sit down and tackle the panic that was rising inside him. Slowly his breathing returned to a normal rhythm. “OK... OK... This is real.” he panted aloud. “It’s happening. You’ve got to deal with it.” He stood up and marched out of the hut, his mind hijacked by pragmatism, his emotions held firmly in check. He went to his car and straightened his tie in the rearview mirror, then he drove to the bank, marched purposefully up to the reception desk and asked to speak to his account manager.

The accounts manager’s handshake and greeting was more forced and insincere than is used to be. He invited Charlie into a private office to talk. “So, you’d like a business loan?”

“Yes please.”

The banker tapped his keyboard. “But you already have a business loan, Mr Doughty.”

“I know, but...”

“It’s for eight thousand five hundred pounds.” He looked up sharply. “We’re still waiting for your first repayment.”

Charlie stammered. “Yes...well... could I extend the loan?”

“By how much?”

“Fifteen thousand pounds.”

“Fifteen thousand pounds!?”

“Yes... I’ve... incurred some extra costs lately.”

He shook his head. “We can’t lend you any more money.”

Charlie trembled. “Why not?”

He frowned. “Don’t you know!? We’re extremely concerned about your position, Mr Doughty. We’re very concerned about the eight thousand pounds we’ve already lent you, let alone an extension of fifteen thousand!”

Charlie felt tears budding in his eyes and blinked to fight them back. “Mr Cathcart... I really need this money. I’m begging you...”

“I’m sorry, Mr Doughty. The answer is definitely no.”

Charlie staggered back to the car and drove. He cruised aimlessly around town for a while with one hand on the wheel. He parked in a side street and opened The Key. There had to be some mistake; he’d been confused with someone else. He’d spent the last three months following The Key, not following it, living it. In every detail, to the letter. He put The Key back in his pocket and returned to his office. As he emerged from the alleyway he froze. The door to his hut was open. As he approached he saw that it had been forced; the hasp was smashed and ripped off the wall. Voices came from inside. “Oi!” he yelled and burst in. “What the hell is going...” He cut off.

“Mr Doughty?” said one of the intruders, a smartly-dressed young man.


“We’re from Elasmo Finance. May we have a word?” The speaker was of average height and build, but his three companions towered over him. They all wore identical suits into which their enormous muscular bodies barely fitted. Their heads were all shaved and their eyes hidden by sunglasses.

Charlie took a step back towards the door, but one of the men immediately leapt behind him, as if anticipating his move. The other two heavies closed in on him from the front like American football players. “We’d really appreciate a moment of your time.” said the speaker in a calm Cockney accent. “It won’t take long.”

“What... what do you want?” This time Charlie didn’t care about the terrified quiver in his voice.

“You owe us a lot of money, Mr Doughty.” He stepped forward between his companions until he was less than a foot away.

Charlie backed off, but then felt the cliff-like chest of one of the heavies jam against his nape. “I paid you!” he blurted. “I sent you a cheque last week!”

“And we received it, but unfortunately it bounced.”

“That’s impossible!”

“Tell that to the bank.”

“OK! OK! I’ll write you another cheque...”

“We’ll take cash if it’s all the same to you.”

“I don’t have it.”

There was an icy pause. “Oh dear. Those are regrettable words that we hear all too often.” He briefly glanced at one of his companions. The heavy produced a baseball bat and began repeatedly driving it into a palm of his hand with a rhythmic slap... slap... slap...

“Wait!... Just give me one more day!... please!...I’ll have the cash for you tomorrow afternoon.”

The speaker hesitated. “First thing in the morning... without fail!”

“OK! OK! I’ll have it for you tomorrow morning. Four-sixty, right?”

“Wrong. One thousand six hundred.”


“Last month’s instalment, plus this months.”

“But that comes to only nine hundred and twenty!”

“Yes, but seeing as you defaulted on your first repayment we were forced to add on a... minor service charge.”

Charlie tried to respond, but his mouth had frozen solid.

“We’ll see you in the morning, Mr Doughty. Have a pleasant evening.”


Charlie was frozen on the spot. He stood there for many minutes after the four men had left. Then he took a few steps and fled. He ran along the pavements and roads, not knowing why or where he was going. People jumped out of his way and cars hooted him. He eventually fell to his knees on a corner, gasping and panting, his heart thumping painfully in his gullet. He drooled and spat to clear his burning airways. He was at a crossroads in a side-street residential area and over the road in a little corner slot was a public house. He crossed the road and went inside. “”Double scotch please.” He said to the barmaid.

“Ice or water?”

“Neither thanks; I’ll take it neat.” He knocked it back in one, his teeth rattled against the glass, then he slammed the empty glass down on the bartop. “Same again please.”

The barmaid gazed at him suspiciously as she pushed the glass up against the spirit optic twice.

Charlie had another, and another, and then another, and soon the world around him began to liquefy into a comfortable, warm slush. His fears eased from a sharp sting to a dull ache. Sounds around him became muffled and distant, the electronic noise from the fruit machines, talk and laughter from other customers, the clatter of billiard balls, the door to the toilets squeaking on its hinges. “Same again please.” he said with his numb mouth.

“Sorry, Pal.” The barmaid who’d served him up to now had been replaced by a gruff landlord.


“I think you’ve had enough.”

“Aw come on! Just one more!”

“No. Look, Mate, you’ve been here three hours; why don’t you just go home eh?”

Charlie looked at the clock, but couldn’t focus his bleary eyes on it. It felt like just twenty minutes since he’d arrived at the pub. “Iss not late.” He could hear the slur in his voice as his tingling tongue and lips struggled to form the words. “One... one more for th’ road, eh?”

“No way. Come on, Mate! Let’s have you moving!” The landlord escorted him to the door.

Charlie was outside and the fresh air and noise of the town felt loud and intrusive. He staggered along the pavement, clutching at fences and gateposts for support. He hummed and sang to himself, the deeper part of his mind drew amusement from his own drunkenness. He went into a shop and bought a bottle of whiskey, then sat down on the steps outside the shop and drank. He could hardly taste it now. He opened his eyes, but he was virtually blind; his surroundings were just splotches of light and dark. Sounds were unrecognizable, as if distorted by an electronic synthesizer.

He awoke from a deep stupor. His first thought was that he was very cold; he was also soaking wet. He was sitting on some cement steps in an alleyway beside the shop. All around him was rubbish. It was raining and heavy drops plopped onto his head from a gutter above. He raised his hand to touch his forehead but missed and poked himself in the eye. He didn’t feel any pain. He looked down at the whiskey bottle and picked it up. He tipped it into his mouth, but only a few drops came out. He shook it as if he were pouring ketchup but tasted only fresh air. “Fuck it!” he spluttered. “Gotta... get more... whiskey.” He tried to get up, but his body was paralysed and refused to move. He grasped a drainpipe and eventually hoisted himself to his feet. As soon as he let go he pitched face down onto the ground. Blood dripped from his nose. He clambered upright again and this time managed to stay so.

As he stepped into the forecourt of the little grocers shop he saw that it was dark. He had no idea of the time, but the shop was still open. He fell against the door and the bell rang loudly as it fell open.

The shopkeeper was a small, elderly Asian with a thick white beard. “Hello, can I help?”

“Got any... whiskey?”

He turned to the shelf behind him. “We have Bells, Grants, Famous Grouse in hip bottles or...”

“Just giz a big bott... bottle.”

The man took down a full-sized bottle and placed it on the counter. “That’ll be thirteen seventy-five please.”

Charlie leaned on the clear plastic box that dispensed scratchcards as he prospected in his pocket. He struck a deposit of damp, screwed-up banknotes and handed them to the shopkeeper.

The clunking, bleeping sound of the till opening made him start. He gawped as the drawer slid out; the compartments inside were stuffed with tight, copious wads of notes; fives, tens and twenties. He stared at them hungrily. “Here, Mate.” he said. “Can I have some o’ yer money?”
The shopkeeper slammed the till shut and handed him his change. “No! Of course not.”

“Aw, please! Listen, Mate. I’m in the shit, OK? There’s these blokes, big fuckers wi’ baseball bats... gonna beat the shit out of me. You understand? I gotta pay ‘em in the mornin’ or I’m fuckin’ dead. You hear me? I need yer help, Mate... Please. I need some fuckin’money.”

The shopkeeper back away. “No, I’m not doing that. I’d like you to leave now please.”

“I’m not leaving ‘til you give me some money! Come on, Mate. Please! Save m’ life!” As he looked at the indignant shopkeeper he felt rage build inside him, a kind of rage he’d never felt before, primitive, infantile, primeval. “Come on! Giz some money!... NOW! Yer tight Paki cunt!”

The shopkeeper pointed at the door. “Get out now or I’ll call the police!”

Charlie always found it hard to recall what happened next. He looked down and saw a section of copper pipe lying underneath one of the shelves. He felt the pipe in his hands, hard and cold. He felt the rage, the madness, the horror and panic. He heard himself bellow and scream incoherent abuse and maledictions at the shopkeeper. He brought the pipe down on the counter again and again, shattering the scratchcard box, the chewing gum display. Newspapers and magazines flew everywhere. There was terror in the eyes of the shopkeeper as he fumbled with the buttons on the till. The next thing he knew was that he was pelting down the street with his pockets jammed full with money.

He awoke on the floor of his office. Cold misty air filled the little Portakabin. He sat up and saw an ant crawling on his hand, his clothes were ripped and there were scratches and bruises all over him. Dark morning sunlight washed in from the open door. Pain shot through his skull as he moved his eyes; he clutched his temples and groaned out loud. There was a slimy pool of vomit on the floor and his trousers stank of urine. “Oh, God!” he rasped through his dry throat. He grabbed the reservoir pot from the coffee-maker and gulped manically. The water was tepid and mouldy, but he didn’t care. He stopped when the pot was empty and collapsed back down onto the floor.

He didn’t stir again until a row of dark shadows blotted out the sunlight. “Good morning, Mr Doughty.”

Charlie opened his eyes and yelled in shock. He sat bolt upright and kicked his heels against the floor, backing away from the four suited men.

“Deary me.” said the small man. “What have you been up to? Some sort of party obviously.”

“Uh.” Charlie moaned and reached into his pockets. “I’ve got your money.”

“That’s good.” The small man smiled thinly. “Let’s have it then.”

“OK, Sixteen hundred pounds, right?” Charlie took the thick bundles of notes out of his pocket and began counting off some twenties. But then three huge pairs of hands reached down and seized all the money.

“Hang on!” protested Charlie. “There’s at least five grand there!”

The small man bowed in mock-courtesy. “I know. You are so generous, Mr Doughty. This is the biggest tip we’ve made in weeks... Come on, boys.” The four men headed for the door. The small man turned and looked back at him when he reached the doorway. “And remember, your next instalment is due on the twenty-eighth. I trust we’ll receive it on time. Good day, Mr Doughty.”


Charlie knew that he was in no fit state to drive, but he didn’t care. He drove home as quickly as he could. As soon as he put his doorkey in the lock the door was snatched open by a haggard-looking Mary. “Where on Earth have you been!?” She glared at him.

“Sorry, Mary. I’ve been working late.”

“Late!? You’ve been out all night! And look at the state of you!”

“Sorry, Pet. I fell in a puddle.”

“I’ve been ringing and ringing your mobile phone! Ringing and ringing the office! I was about to call the police!”

“The police!?” he snapped. “You didn’t did you!?”

“No but...”

“Thanks God for that!... Well I’m home now so quit panicking!”

“So what...”

“Give it a rest! Please, Mary!” He softened his voice. “I’m tired OK?” He climbed the stairs and went to the bathroom, stripped off his reeking clothes, showered, shaved and brushed his teeth until he felt more himself. However the stench of stale spirits clung to his body like glue. He took some paracetamol to tackle his headache then he dressed and went back to the office to repair the broken lock on the door. His alcohol-induced coma was no substitute for natural sleep and in the afternoon he went home to get some.


He felt much better when he woke up. It was getting dark outside and he stared up at the ceiling; his worries seemed far away and he enjoyed that feeling, knowing that it might now last long. He went downstairs, ate dinner and then joined his family in front of the TV. The national news was on and most of the programme reported on the progress of the war. The invasion of ACAIR was well underway and embedded journalists spoke to the camera in front of convoys of armoured personnel carriers and lorries.

“Can I watch Southeast Today?” asked Mary.

“OK by me.” Charlie shrugged.

The channel changed to the regional news. The programme began with a grim-faced reader: “There has been an armed robbery at a shop in Belswill, Hertfordshire. Last night at approximately eleven pm, a man entered the Biskin Street newsagents and demanded money after purchasing a bottle of whiskey. When the owner refused the man became violent and used a water pipe to vandalize the shop and threaten the staff. He then fled with over five thousand pounds in cash. The shop’s owner, sixty-three year old Mohammed Badran, had to be treated in hospital for shock. The police have recovered fingerprints and CCTV footage of the suspect...” The TV picture showed a grainy monochrome security video of a shop interior in a series of stills. A man in a tousled suit approached the counter and purchased a bottle and then reached down, picked up a blunt instrument and used it to demolish the shop’s fittings. The footage froze and zoomed in on the assailant’s face. The image of his features was particularly clear. “The robber is described as aged forty to forty-five, is sockily built and spoke with a Liverpudlian accent. The police have appealed to the public to...”

“Hey, Dad. He looks like you!” laughed Brendan.

“Ho ho!” chuckled Lucas. “What have you been up to, Dad?” Mary and Cara laughed too.

Charlie’s mouth smiled and his voice laughed. “Well, they say everybody’s got a double somewhere!” Inside his heart was pounding and his stomach clenched with terror. He felt the reality of the situation crashing down on him like an avalanche. “Erm... I’m going to pop out for a stole, OK?”

“Sure.” replied Mary, not taking her eyes off the TV. “Could you pick me up a packet of peanuts from Ellensmart?”


“And I’ll have some fruit saucers, Dad.” piped up Cara.


Charlie paused in the corridor and listened to his family chattering idly about the next news story. Then he turned his back on the lounge and fled.

Next: )

Saturday, 22 May 2010

The Obscurati Chronicles- Part 6

The following morning Lucas and his mother arose before anyone else and left in the car. At the Belswill service station they turned west onto the M25. Lucas sat quietly in the front passenger seat while his mother drove. She talked non-stop about the new home; her earlier misgivings and regrets appeared to have dissolved. “...and the Cooker, Lu! It’s got a halogen hob and extractor; have you ever seen anything like it? To think that we could ever own something like that! Your dad’s an amazing man!...” Lucas thought of his father’s little yellow book and remained silent.
They took the M1 and the M6 up to Birmingham then continued north through Stoke-on-Trent to Liverpool. They arrived at their old hometown at midday after having done the entire journey without stopping. His mother parked outside their block of flats and got out, Lucas rubbing and stretching his stiff limbs. It was a bright, warm day, washing hung on the lines outside balconies and music blared from one of the windows. In the shadow of the huge tower children frolicked in the little rec. The concrete canyons echoed with the thunder of the warplanes which cruised overheard above the city since the disaster at Anfield. Lucas and Mary entered the familiar doorway and walked through the graffiti-covered lobby to the lifts. The door to their old flat had a council notice on it announcing that the home had been vacated. Mary paused, as if wondering if the locks had been changed, but her key opened the door as normal.
Their home was untouched, exactly as they’d left it down to the half-finished drawing on the kitchen table that Cara had been doing. Her colour-pencils lay beside it. On the sideboard by the sink were his and Brendan’s dirty teacups. “Right.” said Mary, stiff-lipped. “Let’s get on with it, Lu. Just the bare essentials; remember it has to fit in the car.”
“What will happen to the stuff we leave behind, Mum?”
“The council will bin it. Some of it might go to charity.” She jerked open a drawer and began rummaging.
Lucas went to his bedroom and stood in the doorway for a few minutes, his eyes shuttling from one of his possessions to another. He sighed, then unplugged his Playstation and tipped his collection of DVD’s and books into his suitcase. He was about to seek out his favourite clothes when he realized that his father probably wouldn’t let him wear them.
“Don’t look so dismal, Love.” She smiled sympathetically as he appeared in the lounge with his suitcase. “Nothing lasts forever. God has given us all a wonderful gift, a new and better life.” They went back down to the car and loaded their belongings into the boot and onto the back seat. “Right, Lu. Let’s go and pay Tina and Sean a quick visit.” She got into the driving seat.
“You go, Mum.” He replied quickly. “I want to visit someone else. I’ll meet up with you later.”
His mother tilted her glance and said in a curious tone ”Alright, Lu; I’ll see you at Tina’s flat at 3 o’clock.”
Lucas waited until she’d driven out of sight then set off in the opposite direction, his heart thumping. His destination was a twisty cul-de-sac of modern, red-bricked houses; these were private properties, not council and were four or five bedroom jobs, even bigger than Lucas’ new abode. He shivered as he caught sight of one of the homes, with its familiar frosted-glass door and smooth lawn. His hands fumbled with the gate-latch and his heart sprinted as he walked up the path and rang the doorbell.
“Oh... Hello, Lucas.” The woman who answered the door wore her usual reluctant smile of welcome. “I heard you’d moved away.”
“I’ve just come back to visit, Mrs Lovelock.”
“Oh.” She appeared relieved. “I’ll call Jody for you.” She shut the door, leaving him on the front step.
Lucas glared at the woman’s shape, wondering if her hostility would ease if she knew the kind of house he was living in now. The door reopened a minute later and Jody peeped out. “Lucas!” She smiled broadly and swung the door wide.
“Hello, Jody.”
“Oh, Lucas! It’s good to see you.”
They embraced and kissed. “Oh, Jody!” Lucas felt he’d melt with relief and pleasure. He squeezed back tears from his eyes.
She let him go a little sooner than usual and stepped back. “It’s good of you to come and visit me, Lucas.” There was a strange, almost embarrassed tone in her voice.
“I’ve come home with my mum to pick up our stuff. I’ve got to go back soon... I just wanted to see you, Jody. I wanted to say... I’m thinking of you and I want to stay in touch with you. I can visit you in the holidays and...”
“Lucas.” She interrupted. “Now’s a bad time.”
He paused. “”What do you mean?”
She turned away from him nervously and folded her arms. “I’m a bit busy this afternoon.”
“What do you mean, Jody?”
“You’re going to have to go now, Lucas. I’ve got to do my homework or Mum’ll do her nut.” She turned back towards him and kissed him briefly on the cheek. “I’ll call you, OK? We’ll sort out a time when we can meet up.” She stepped back inside the front door. “Have a safe trip home, Lucas.” She avoided his gaze and stared at the floor as she shut the door.
Lucas walked sadly back up the street. Before he’d gone a hundred yards he saw a boy on a bicycle ride into the close whom he recognized as Marvyn Paynton, a tall and handsome Year-10 who was captain of the basketball team and head of his house. He glanced briefly at Lucas and greeted him with a nod as he passed. Some instinct made Lucas stop and look back. Marvyn freewheeled down the close towards Jody’s house and braked. He mounted the curb by her front gate and locked his bike. Lucas felt no shock; it was as if a jigsaw piece that he knew was there had just fallen into place. Marvyn strode confidently up the garden path and Jody came out to greet him. They kissed passionately in the middle of the front garden. They then walked hand-in-hand into her house and Lucas heard the door shut.
He ran until he could run no longer and collapsed onto a park bench panting dryly. He moaned through his breathing, his nose running and his eyes blurred by tears. After a while he recovered and just sat motionless for a long time, his vision out of focus and his mind blank. The sun was sinking into the line of trees when his mobile phone rang. It was his mother. “Lucas! Where are you?”
“Er...” He cleared his throat. “In Everton Brow Park, Mum .”
“What are you doing there!? Get down to the main road where I can pick you up! We’ve got to go home now.”
“OK, Mum.” Lucas stood up and took out his wallet. He gazed at the photo of Jody for a few seconds then screwed it up and dropped it into the litter bin.
The TV picture shows a vast desert landscape of dunes and rocks. Soldiers in camouflaged battledress and helmets are running in front of the camera brandishing rifles. A news reporter begins his commentary: “These are the men of the Royal Welsh Regiment engaged in Operation Cannard, the largest multinational exercise since the Cold War. When they came here none of them expected it to be a prelude to a real war. However, like all the British armed forces, the unexpected is always on the cards. These two battalions are awaiting redeployment to the borders of ACAIR, but until their orders are finalized they continue to train in attack and evasion methods, here in the harsh desert sand of Oman and Qatar.” The picture switches to a cloudy day on an airport apron. A C-130 Hercules transport plane is backed onto the camera with its cargo doors wide open exposing its black cave-like interior. Servicemen are pushing pallets of boxes up the ramp into the aircraft’s hold. “At RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire supplies are being sent to the prospective battle lines almost every hour. “There’s a feeling here that war is inevitable...”
Charles Doughty flicked off the TV and dropped the remote control onto the coffee table. He got up and went to the kitchen. “Everything alright, love?” asked his wife getting up from her seat and putting s hand on his shoulder.
“Fine.” He replied shortly, scooping a large spoonful of coffee and dumping it into a mug. He threw in a splash of hot water from the kettle and gulped it back. His brain was churning over his various problems... challenges, he corrected himself while Mary was talking in the background of his consciousness.
“Charlie.” She said loudly.
“What?” He turned to look at her.
“I said do you want me to pick the kids up from school?”
“Erm... yeah. Sure.”
She chuckled. “What planet are you on, Love?”
“Sorry, Mary. I’ve got a few things on my mind. I’m going to open the shop early today.”
“Why’s that?”
“Business is so good; I need time to deal with the extra orders.” he lied.
She grinned broadly and gave him a hug. “It’s wonderful that you’re doing so well.” When will you be ready to begin expanding?”
“Any day now, Pet.” He said quietly.
“I’m so proud of you.” She sat down and returned to her half-finished breakfast.
After a pause she said: “One of thing, Love. When are you going to have that little chat with Lucas?”
“Soon, Mary.”
“Being his dad you might be able to get through to him.”
“Brendan and Cara seemed to have settled in here OK, but not Lucas. Do you think he’s happy at that school?”
“How would he know; it’s only his fourth week there. They’ll all be moving schools soon anyway.”
“Well whatever niggling him it needs to be cleared up. Perhaps you could take him out somewhere for the day; to the flicks, or to football.”
“Not to football!” he retorted, then added more quietly: “I’ll heart-to-heart with him sometime soon. I’ve got to go now.” He kissed her. “I’ll be home a bit late tonight; I’ve got my elocution lesson.”
“OK. Charlie. Drive carefully; God bless.”
Charlie left the house and walked towards where he’d parked his car fifty yards down the street. He glanced around him before opening the door to check that none of the neighbours were watching. It was a Volkswagen Passat, the best he could afford right now, but it wasn’t good enough. Buying a new car was currently Number 3 on his APL, Advancement Priority list.
(Possible section break here- Ed)


Wednesday, 21 April 2010

The Obscurati Chronicles- Part 5

Lucas awoke slowly the next morning; sunlight shone through his eyelids. He wondered for a few moments why he was lying on such a hard surface. He sat up and opened his eyes all in one movement and remembered everything a second later. He was sitting on the floor of one of the upstairs rooms in their new house, the one with the bedstead in it. He’d tried sleeping on that at first, but without a mattress the steel mesh base was like a bed of nails. He’d spent the rest of the night sleeping on the floor using his shoes as a pillow and his jacket as a blanket. He stood up and stretched, his body numb and aching; there was a carpet burn on his left elbow. The room’s window overlooked the back of the house, facing the rear facade of another row of houses. Their new garden consisted of a cracked cement patio and a patch of overgrown grass and brambles a dozen feet square. After living all his life in a sixth floor flat the thought of having a garden was a strange one to Lucas.
He heard a voice outside his room and went over to the door to investigate. His mother was standing at the top of the stairs with her back to him; her hair was unkempt and her clothes creased. She was holding her mobile phone to her ear. “Yes.” She said. “It’s totally unfurnished; well we’ve been left one settee.... Seventy-two thousand and he reckons that’s a bargain... Maybe if it had furniture it would cost more... He won’t tell me, Gail! Somehow he’s managed to wangle a mortgage... God knows! Gold alone knows! He can barely meet the council’s rent!... I just don’t know what in Heaven’s name is going on... No he’s quite with it in every other way; he’s not hallucinating, not sleepwalking or anything, and if he’s hearing voices he’s not telling me. Something happened to him after he got hurt... Well I don’t see what we can do now we’ve lost the flat... I don’t know, Gail, he says he’s got something lined up... No, he’s quit Collingers, and he could hardly commute from here anyway, could he?... Oh no! He says he’s thought of everything!... We’ve got to find some furniture and stuff, get a GP and dentist, get the kids into local schools... No, to tell you the truth it hasn’t sunk in yet. I don’t know anyone in these parts! I’ll have nobody to talk to!” She started to cry. “Of course we’ll stay in touch, Gail. We’re in Hertfordshire not Burma; I’ll come home and visit whenever I can...”
Lucas closed the door quietly and walked back to the window. He took his wallet out of his pocket and unfolded it. There, in the picture window, was a photograph of Jody. He’d taken it a few months earlier after school one day. She was standing facing the camera smiling; her blonde hair was curled around her shoulders and her eyes gleamed in the afternoon sun. He put the wallet back in his pocket and looked at the floor. He sniffed and wiped his eyes. A little later he went downstairs. His father and Brendan were still asleep in the car while his mother had returned to her bed on the settee. The kitchen smelled of grease and the steel takeaway trays still lay on the worktop where they’d left them last night. “Lu!” Cara ran up behind him.
“What is it, Caz?”
“Will you wake Daddy up? Please please please!”
“He’s got the back door key and I want to go out in the garden.”
By nine o’clock the whole family were awake. Lucas’ mother and father were chatting in the lounge while Cara frolicked in the garden; Lucas was in the back bedroom watching her. The tears that had been brewing up all morning burst out. He leant his head on the unvarnished windowsill and wept quietly into his screwed up jacket.
That afternoon Lucas and his father went out in a taxi, his father was eager to see more of their new hometown and Lucas went along just to get out of the house. They headed out of the residential district onto a main road with shops and businesses on both sides. The first stop they made was to a bank and Charlie made Lucas wait in the taxi while he went in. He came out a ten minutes later fanning a thick wad of notes. “Dad! Where did you get that!?” exclaimed Lucas as his father lowered himself into the taxi.
“My savings.”
“But you’ve quit work.”
“I know.” he replied and laughed manically. His father seemed to be in a state of ecstatic lunacy. He sang and hummed to himself as the taxi rolled along the street. They stopped at a large, modern shopping centre; the taxi fare was eight pounds fifty. Charlie gave the driver a twenty pound note and told him to keep the change, then he hobbled the sliding doors into the glass enclosure and made straight for a stylish clothes store where he had both himself and his son measured for suits. “What do you think of this, Lu?” he asked. “You’ll look smart as a brass button in that, eh?”
Lucas looked down with distaste at the green jacket and trousers laid out for him on the fitting room table. There was also a starched white shift with a colourful tie. “Dad, I can’t wear this.”
“Of course you can.” Charlie began stripping off his jogging bottoms, tugging them roughly over his plastercast; his leather jacket and football shirt followed. He kicked the sandal from his good foot against the wall.
“But, Dad! I’ll look poncy!”
“Lucas.” Charlie said in a low, threatening voice. “We’re a decent family now. Decent! You understand? Children from decent families do not walk about dressed like that.” He gestured at Lucas’ casual trousers and t-shirt.
Lucas paused then began to strip. Once in his new suit he examined himself in the mirror in dismay.
“Come here, Son” His father crouched down in front of him. “I’ll show you how to do up your tie.” He flipped and twisted the tie around Lucas’ neck and pulled the knot tight.
Lucas choked as the tie closed around his throat like a noose. “Ah! Not so tight, Dad!”
“OK, OK. I’ll loosen it a bit.”
“That’s still too tight, Dad.!” Lucas tore at the collar with his finger, but his father stopped him.
“That’ll do, Son. Don’t worry, you’ll soon get used to it. Charlie paid for the clothes in cash and left the shop with their old clothes in a plastic bag, which he dropped into the first litter bin they passed.
The shopping spree continued. They bought furniture and kitchen appliances, a TV set, a stereo, beds, bathroom fittings. When Charlie’s cash ran out he started putting bills on his credit card, one he hadn’t had before, Lucas thought. They caught another taxi out of town to a garden centre where Charlie purchased a whole plethora of gardening tools and a small greenhouse. It was getting dark by the time they stopped for a cup of tea at the garden centre cafe. Lucas sat opposite his father at the table and felt weepy again. He forced his emotions down and sipped his tea noisily to cover the sound of his runny nose. On the way home in the taxi Lucas asked: “Dad, why are we doing this? You’ve spent thousands of pounds this afternoon; you’ve bought piles of gear. We can’t afford it.”
Charlie laughed again. “Who says we can’t afford it?”
“Well, you’re out of work now.”
“Not for long, Son.”
“What are you going to do?”
He shrugged in an evasive yet teasing way. “Something... different.”
“Different in what way?”
“I mean we’re different people now, Lu; different from what we used to be.”
“But, Dad; I don’t want to be different.”
“You do, Son.”
“No I don’t...”
“Yes you do!” interrupted his father sharply. “When you grow up you’ll be glad this happened.”
“But what about...” He gulped down hard. “ friends back home in Liverpool?”
“Forget them, Son; they’re losers, worthless nobodies. And this is home now.”
“But... they’re my friends...”
“No! You’re above them now. Don’t let them drag you back down. You’re going to live the rest of your life among proper folk: homeowners, professionals, people with money and status.”
“People who wear suits?”
“Yeah.” replied Charlie, appearing to miss Lucas’ ironic tone.
There was a long silence. “So this is our new life?”
“Yeah.” Charlie grinned. “Great, isn’t it?”
“What’s this place called?”
“No, I mean the name of our town.”
Oh, it’s called... er... hang on.” Charlie pulled a piece of paper out of his pocket and unfolded it. “Belswill.”
“So that’s its name?”
“Yes,” His face became wistful. “Belswill: a clean, happy little English town. No council estate, no inner city schools and not an asylum-seeker in sight! Sweet country churches instead of mosques and cultural centres. This is the life for us, Lu!”
“Dad, what brought this on?”
“What do you mean?”
“You go out one day a perfectly average guy, the dad I’ve known all my life, you get hurt in that riot and you come out of hospital... like this.”
Charlie sighed and leaned his arm on the taxi’s window ledge. “A lot happened to me while I was in hospital. You know, when that wall fell on top of me it shook me... jarred me out of my normal train of thought, my daily life organization, everything! It made me sit back and think, to assess who I am and where I’m going. In that hospital bed I had days and days to sit and think and process that feeling, just think for the first time in my life. To think and... to read. I’m still the dad you’ve known all your life; I’m just... an upgraded dad, a better dad who can provide for his family and give them what they deserve.”
“So how did you decide that this was what you were going to do?”
His father didn’t reply and just sat still for a long time. Then, just as Lucas was about to repeat his question, he leaned forward and slid closed the window between the passenger compartment and the driver’s seat. He reached inside his jacket pocket, brought out a book and dropped it in Lucas’ lap.
Lucas picked it up and read the words on the cover aloud. “’The Key to Life- Ten Steps to True Success by Jared Ariston.’ Where did you get this?” The book looked old and was creased and tattered. Its yellow cover had not been laminated and the plain black lettering was its only decoration. The pages inside were thin and made of poor quality paper, the typeface and print were crude and untidy and the margins uneven. It was as if the book had come out of a cornershop photocopier and been bound in somebody’s garden shed. Lucas turned to the introduction. It began with a quote: “’If you’re born poor it’s not your fault, but if you die poor it is.’ Joselito Saliendra.” He turned the page: “So you want success? True success that will make you shine out above all the rest and make everyone around you envy you? Well, who doesn’t, but only a very few strive to attain it. Ninety-nine percent of the people in this world achieve almost nothing and live lives of no value. They spend their lives in menial employment, gaining little in the way of money, property or assets. Our society, quite rightly, shows no respect to this dispossessed underclass and treats them with the contempt that they deserve. If you’ve read this far, now is the time to tell you a few home truths: This book is the most important book you will ever read in your life. This is because it tells one how to live. If you put this book down now and walk away then you are unworthy to have ever been born. You’re unfit to be a parent, your parents don’t deserve you as a son or daughter; in short you are a disgrace to humanity. Sorry to put it so bluntly, but it’s the truth...
“I just found it.” said Charlie. “It fell into my lap. When they moved me out of Intensive Care and onto the trauma ward it was sitting there in my bedside locker, right next to the Gideon Bible. It was as if it had been left there for me, a sign from God! I’ve read it three times!” His eyes glowed with passion. “This book spoke to me, Lucas! It made me see the world in a new light and understand what life is really for, what it’s true meaning is. It’s a terrible shock when the blindfold is lifted and the light of the real world is laid before your eyes, but it’s wonderful too!”
“Dad, this doesn’t look like a very nice book.”
“Nice? What do you mean?”
“It says you’re an unfit father. You’re not; you’re a good father to me...”
“I am now. I wasn’t before.”
“No, Dad; you’ve always been good, all my life.”
Charlie sighed and bowed his head. “Don’t say that.”
“Lu!” he snapped. “I said don’t say it!... We’re not going to live in denial any longer.”
The household appliances Charlie had bought arrived the following morning and the family spent the next two days locating and installing them; the bare house slowly transformed into a furnished home. The novelty and excitement lifted the spirits of the whole family and even Mary became enthusiastic as she planned out her new kitchen, bedroom and lounge; she chattered excitedly as she unpacked box after box of matching crockery, cutlery and culinary tools. Lucas and Brendan were given the back bedroom where Lucas had spent his first night, only now there was a mattress and clothes on the old bed and Brendan had a brand new divan. They had a cupboard and a desk with a PC and a case of bookshelves. The windows had been hung with Venetian blinds. Brendan set up the second PC in the lounge while their father assembled the greenhouse. In the evening of the second day Charlie went out to introduce himself to the neighbours, “announce ourselves” as he called it. He came back an hour later ruddy with frustrated gloom. “Damn it!” he shouted as he slammed the door. “I’ve been to four doors; next door is a contract carpenter!” He pointed to his left. “That side they’re in roofing tiles and opposite is a pest-controller and a bloody nurse! Damn and blast!”
“What’s wrong with them?” asked Lucas.
“Didn’t you hear what I said? They’re all losers!”
“The nurse is a loser?” said Lucas. “Nurses helped save your lives a few weeks ago.”
His father ignored him. “It’s a shame we have to start off in this area. It’s all we can afford right now. Never mind, we’ll soon be selling and moving somewhere better.” He pulled a folder out of a kitchen drawer and dialled a number on the newly-installed telephone. “Damn, I’ve got a voicemail... Hello, is that Prickells Estate Agents? This is Charles Doughty at Sixty Madeira Terrace, Belswill. I’d like to put my house on the market please. I’ll call back about this tomorrow.” He put down the phone.
“Dad, we’re not moving again are we?” asked Brendan. “I’ve only just got the PC set up.”
“Of course we’re moving again, Bren.” he replied. “We can’t stay here; this area is much too common for us.” His voice had changed. His Scouse accent was now heavily disguised by Queen’s English.
“Common!?” shrilled Lucas.
“But we’ve only just moved in!” continued Brendan.
“So what?” said Charlie. “This ain’t... isn’t going to be our permanent home. This is just the first rung of the Property Ladder. We’re going to do this joint up and sell it for more money than we paid for it. Then we buy somewhere a bit better, do it up and flog it again; and so on till we’re living in a proper home in a really decent area. It’s called property development and all professionals do it.”
“Talking about professionals, Charlie.” Said Mary. “What kind of professional are you planning on becoming to pay for all this development?”
Charlie started filling in a form on the estate agents’ folder. “I’m working on that.” He replied without looking up.