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: )