They drove steadily through the cold, clear night. Charlie kept to every speed limit and cruised down the exact middle of every motorway lane. Sitting in the van felt strange to Mary; it was like being on a highchair or stepladder, raised above the road far higher than she was normally in her car. She and Charlie never spoke for the whole journey; they never even looked at each other. Mary just kept her eyes on the road in front, illuminated by the headlights and the red tail-lights of the vehicles in front. The motorway narrowed to a dual carriageway and the roadsides became built up. Streetlamps joined the verges, illuminating the scene with their carotene glare. The dual carriageway ended at a roundabout on the edge of a big city. “Where are we?” asked Mary, the first words they’d spoken in the two hours since they’d set off.
“Oxford.” Charlie replied.
They drove along the city’s streets until they came a huge square building with rows of lit windows like an ocean liner. Mary saw a sign for a hospital and an ambulance passed them as Charlie steered the van up the wide sweeping drive. He took a side road away from the brightly lit main entrance which led around the back of the building to a small single-storey extension. He parked the van outside a pair of double doors and cut the engine. “Keep your head down, Mary.” He warned. “Don’t let anyone see you.” Charlie opened the door and got out while Mary unclasped her seatbelt and crouched down so she could peer out of the windscreen discreetly.
The doors opened and three men appeared. One was a thin man with a craggy, frowning face dressed in worn jeans. He was accompanied by two men in light blue uniforms. He greeted Charlie warmly and they shook hands. Then he barked orders at the two uniformed men and they all went inside. A few minutes past then they reappeared pushing a hospital trolley on which was a human shape wrapped in a white sheet. Mary heard the rear doors open and from the sound and vibration at the back of the van she guessed the corpse was being placed on one of the trays there. Her husband and his companions went back inside and brought out another shrouded corpse and stowed it in the van the same way; a third followed. Then the men appeared to relax and they stood in a circle chatting for a few minutes then they said their goodbyes and the three hospital staff went back inside and shut the double doors while Charlie returned to the van. As soon as the van had driven out of the hospital grounds Mary sat up and glared at the side of Charlie’s head. He ignored her and kept his attention on the road ahead. They left the main road and drove for about thirty minutes along small country lanes until they came to a small town that was barely more than a village. It was now about two o’clock in the morning and the village was completely still and silent; apart from the intermittent streetlamps hardly a light showed. The houses were black shadows, the roads grey and empty. Parked cars lined the curbs like sleeping hippoes. At the end of the main village thoroughfare was a row of trees which Mary recognized as the borders of a railway line. A small rural station appeared ahead. It was an unmanned station with nothing on it except two platforms and a glass rain shelter. It had a handful of floodlights which were all switched off at this hour. There was a cracked tarmac track leading up to the platforms and a level-crossing. Charlie drove the van the last few yards along it to the station; he cut the lights before he parked and glanced nervously out of the window in case anybody from the village noticed his arrival. “What now?” asked Mary as Charlie silenced the engine.
He gazed at his mobile phone; its display illuminated his face with an eerie multicoloured glow. “We wait.”
Mary looked at her watch, 3.14AM. An hour had passed. Charlie seemed to read her mind and glanced at her. “Won’t be long now.” He said.
“Won’t be long till when? What are we waiting for?”
The sound began a whisper which turned into a rumble. The rails in front of them hissed and whistled from the vibration. A pair of bright train lights appeared, blinding after Mary had sat in the dark cab for so long. The rumble grew to become a raw and the glare of the lights engorged the cab. The borderline-ultrasonic squeal of brakes shot through Mary’s head as the train slowed. It approached the platform and ground to a halt. Without being told Mary once again shrunk down in her seat to hide her presence as Charlie opened the door and stepped out.
The train was just a simple freight locomotive pulling two coaches. The coaches were painted a dark colour and the windows were covered with shutters; however from within Mary could see bright interior lights glinting through. The four figures that came out of the train were very different to the ad-lib individuals who helped Charlie at the hospital. There was no chatting or greetings at all. They worked swiftly and professionally without faltering, as if used to the job they were doing. They were all dressed in white overalls with hoods and their upper faces were shielded by thick sunglasses, almost like skiing goggles, which Mary noted was a strange thing to wear in the middle of the night. This time they removed the three corpses from the back of the van and wheeled them to the train on similar trolleys to the ones used at the hospital. The scene was illuminated by light shining from the open door of the forward train carriage. The operation took just a few minutes and then without further ado the white-clad crew boarded the train, the carriage doors were shut and the trained revved up its engine and pulled away. Soon its red tail-lights were lost in the darkness and they were once more alone in the night, with the small of train and formalin lingering over the platform. Charlie looked relived as they drove away from the station through the village and saw that the place was still slumbering, oblivious to the train and its non-timetable calling. They returned to the main road and then to the motorway home.
It gave Mary a creepy feeling to be returning to the house with Charlie; so many times she’d watched him come and go in his mysterious white van and now she in the passenger seat. Charlie parked the van and locked the garage while Mary went indoors to start up the coffee percolator. When Charlie came in the splodge of sunrise was just seeping through the garden trees, but instead of taking some coffee Charlie went to the drinks cabinet and splashed himself a measure of Scotch. “Right.” He said tensely to Mary. “Curiosity satisfied?”
Mary sighed. “Charlie... what are you involved in?”
“God’s truth, I know very little more you do.”
“But you’re a grave-robber!... a body-snatcher!”
“You wanted to know!” shouted Charlie. “You wouldn’t get off my case until I showed you! Why couldn’t you just let it be?... Why do you bloody women need to have your nose in everything your men do!? Isn’t this enough!?” He gestured in the air to indicate the house around them, and by implication their entire plush lifestyle. “Will simply relaxing and enjoying it not suffice?... Don’t you realize how many people back home envy us? How many would shag their own grandmothers to swap places with us?”
“Charlie... I’m frightened for you.”
“Frightened? Where’s the danger? What can possibly go wrong?”
“Well, is it... legal?”
He shrugged evasively. “It’s hardly the crime of the century even if it’s edging a teensie-weensie bit off the legal straight-and-narrow.” He added hastily: “But it might not even be that; it might be one hundred percent legit.”
“Might be!? What if you end up in jail!?”
“Don’t be stupid, Mary!” I’m just doing my job! If anybody faces the music it’ll be... my boss.”
“And who’s that?”
Charlie ignored her and sat down; he drank deeply from his glass.
“Is it those guys at the hospital?”
“No. They’re just working like me; they’re on the hospital’s regular staff, but they get paid for doing these jobs on the side.”
“Then who gives you these jobs? How the hell did you get involved in all this?”
Charlie shrugged sarcastically. “I haven’t got a clue! One of the conditions of my job is that I don’t ask questions; I just do it!... Really that’s no different from most other jobs. Doing what I was told was all I did at Collinger’s, the only difference was that at Collinger’s I took home three hundred quid a week whereas now I take five thousand.” He paused then became angry again. “OK, Mary, I’ll be completely honest: I don’t know what my job is! I don’t know why I do it and I don’t know fuck-all about what I’m involved with! Will that do as an explanation!?... Tell you what? I’ll quit! I’ll resign tomorrow! That’s what I’ll do. Then I’ll give Collinger’s a ring and ask them for my old job back and we can all move back to Liverpool! We’ll go back to that mouldy little pigsty of a flat we used to squeeze into! We’ll go back to poverty! Back to scrimping and fretting over every penny! The kids can go back to the local school and get beaten up by Paki gangs at every breaktime! They can get hooked on drugs like all their mates; who gives a shit!?... Is that what you want, Mary!? Is it!?”
“No!” she shook her head. “But I want us to be happy making an honest living... I have to stand before God and...”
“Oh don’t give me all that God stuff, for pity’s sake! An honest living is what those nobodies back home make! It’s what Jim and Gail and Sean and Tina do, slaving away day-in-day-out for a pittance! That was all we had to look forward to as well! That and just that till the day we died! Somebody has given us a chance to change that, to break out into something better... and I’m taking it!”
Mary turned away from him and folded her arms. “I need to think about this. I need to talk to Tina and...”
“NO!” Charlie almost screamed. He jumped to his feet and rushed at her; Mary shrank back, scared that he’d hit her. “No, Mary!” he yelled jabbing a finger in her face. “You will not say a single word to anybody! Anybody! D’you hear me!?” He softened and stepped back. A guilty flash passed over his face. He then became almost pleading. “I’m sorry, Mary, but... please don’t tell anybody. Don’t spoil this.”
Mary bowed her head.
“Look, Pet; maybe those bodies are people from the hospital who die without relatives. The folk on the trains are kind of... undertakers for lonely people. I’m providing a service for them; giving those poor people a good send-off when they wouldn’t usually get one. And look what kind of life we earn from it!”
Mary picked up the phone. She glanced out of the window for the fourth time to check Charlie was not returning and dialled the police helpline. It was picked up immediately. “Hello. Hertfordshire Constabulary” said a voice.
Mary opened her mouth but no sound came out.
“Hello, caller. This is the Hertfordshire Constabulary Crimeline. Do you wish to report an offence?”
Mary replaced the phone and signed deeply. It was a week since Charlie had divulged his employment to her and he’d called earlier to tell her he to get ready for another houseparty that evening. He’d been even more generous than usual these past seven days, buying her eight new dresses and some jewellery; and he talked of planning a holiday for them abroad in a 5-star hotel.
Mary went to church. There was no Catholic church in Belswill and so she caught the bus to the one in nearby Cockfosters where she’d been attending Mass since they’d moved. She sat in prayer for an hour, ticking off the beads on her rosary until she’d been all the way round about 5 times. She then sat in the confessional and told Father O’Brien that she suspected her husband of being involved in some kind of shady activities omitting the details. “Four Our Fathers, Three Hail Marys” replied the priest woodenly and slammed the window between them.
She went home and sat in her favourite armchair trembling and praying again. Her eyes fell onto her husband’s desktop computer and a thought came to her. She went over to it and switched it on, acting instinctively, not sure yet of what she was doing. Mary didn’t use the internet much. She occasionally wrote emails and ordered products at online shops, but no more. She went to Google and thought for a moment what to write. She tried “body snatching” and pressed Search. The first hit was a Wikipedia page which began: Body snatching is the secret disinterment of corpses from graveyards. A common purpose of body snatching is to sell the corpses for dissection or anatomy lectures in medical schools... It went on to describe the history of the practice, its purpose and its prevalence all over the world. The only paragraph on modern versions of the crime referred to the disinterment of a deceased farmer’s mother from her graveyard by animal rights activists. Mary closed the page, thought for a moment and then typed: “body snatching secret trains”. This time a different selection of pages came up. One drew her eyes in particular; a blurb which read: Have you witnessed strange trains travelling the railways at night? Do you see them picking up dead bodies... Mary clicked the link and a blog called ConspiracyReport.com appeared. As Mary read she felt a strange mixture of fear and satisfaction. The site had an email address that appealed for readers to contact the author.
She looked up to see him smiling down at her. He wasn’t what she expected; a very young man, just a few years older than Lucas. He had spiky hair and a convex Jewish nose. His eyes were small and close together and his mouth was crooked. “Hello, you must be Mr Southsea.” She shook his hand. His skin was warm but his grip limp and uneasy.
“Call me Glyn.” He smiled, showing uneven teeth. “Can I get you a cuppa?”
She looked at his baggy jeans and leather jacket as he fetched them both a coffee from the cafe counter. The venue of this covert meeting was in the most ordinary imaginable. They’d met each other halfway in Birmingham and were at a suburban cafe far from the city centre. He placed the cup in front of her and they talked. She told him everything; the van, the bodies, the hospital, the train. As she spoke she looked around herself at the other cafe patrons, thinking how ordinary they looked and how ordinary their surroundings looked; a very incongruous contrast to the events she was describing.
“I think I’ve met your husband.” said Southsea when she’d finished. I’m a porter at the hospital you visited last week.”
She gasped. “You’re not...”
He chuckled. “No, I’m not one of them! I know who is though. I’ve been trying to expose them. This is why I’ve written about this on Conspiracy Report. The ringleader is one of the mortuary technicians; he’s got several of my fellow porters to help him. Like your husband, they got drawn in simply by the money. None of them know what they sell the bodies for; none of them know what happens to them after your old man drives them away. I know more than they do and I’m not a part of the plot.”
“And what do you know?” she asked.
He gave her a pained look, as if reluctant to speak. “Information has come to my attention which suggests that the government... has a secret scientific programme connected to the body-sales.”
She failed to understand. “What!?... Why?... What are you talking about?”
(Author’s note. Sorry, but at this point I’m going to have to pause this particular storyline for a while. I’m not exactly sure how to develop the role of the Doughty family characters, their experiences and how they relate to the Glyn Southsea character. I’m pondering several possibilities at the moment and need to put them on the back-burner for a bit until I decide. I’ll continue to explore the plot structure, but only in my notes for now, which will remain private. I know some of you might feel a bit indignant if you’re very keen to follow what occurs. This is what happens in all the books you’ve read before, doesn’t it? I’m sure it does; but what you have to understand is that the books you’ve read before were finished products. As I’ve explained, this is a first draft which other authors don’t usually let the reader see. Don’t worry, I will eventually come back to this plotline and tie it in, but I’m not ready to do that right now. Welcome to the real life of a novelist! LOL)
(New chapter or section break here. Ed)
“I have the right of reply!” yelled Kevin Davies, the Deputy Head Porter of a hospital in Manchester. “Mr Chairman, I’d like to answer Glyn’s point and according to the Guild constitution I can!”
The chairman nodded.
Davies grinned with satisfaction. “I think all members suspect that you are not entirely unbiased, Glyn, or should I say... Your Highness.”
Everybody in the conference auditorium laughed.
Glyn smiled with a mixture of embarrassment and self-deprecating admiration at Davies’ wit. “That was a long time ago, Kev.” He said and the chair allowed him the interruption in the interests of comic relief.
Davies continued. “What’s the effective difference between our Brother and Sister Porters in Wales and us? Doesn’t the Great Awakening mean we’re trying as hard as possible to escape from the very division that Glyn is suggesting we endorse...”
Glyn listened as Davies droned on. He was at the Annual General Meeting of the Hospital Porters Guild of Great Britain (Continuity- slightly different name. Was “British Hospital Porters Guild” before. Ed). Traditionally this always held on June the First, St Theo’s Day, or the closest convenient weekday to it. St Theobald of Roggerio had been identified as the Patron Saint of Hospital Porters for some time now, but only Hospital Porters recognized this. The argument had broken out over a proposal by Davies that The HPGGB approach the Hospital Porters Guild of Wales, currently independent, and offer them a merger. The benefits for the Welsh guild would be the increased resources, but Glyn was worried by the whole thing. He thought Wales really needed its own guild. He introspectively realized that Davies had a point regarding Glyn’s own feelings; there was an element of sentimentality behind it because of what had happened to him during the Great Awakening and the role he’d played in that country. He rebutted a bit too angrily, accusing Davies of not understanding what that division meant and that forced unity was just as bad. It didn’t go down well with the other members and the AGM eventually passed the proposal 240 votes to 160. The meeting broke up after any-other-business. Most of the other members retired to the bar, but Glyn didn’t feel like socializing and headed out for a walk, cursing himself for his lapse in self-control. The headquarters of the Guild was in Gosvenor Gardens, London, just outside Victoria Station. The weather was warm and fresh with an affectionate breeze and Glyn’s spirits rose as he crossed the street and entered the station forecourt. There had been a campaign running to change the name of the station and, consequently, the entire Victoria district of London, but it had been rejected. Glyn was relieved; and this was part of his discomfort with Davies’ motion: the attempt to change too much too soon, to erase history, a sexy Year Zero fetish. The ancient Chinese book of wisdom, the I Ching, had warned against proceeding with excessive haste during a revolution.
Glyn walked up Buckingham Palace Road till he got to the square and straight-sided stone edifice. The home of the House of Windsor was completely open to the public now, including the secret basements where the Reptilians had carried out their unspeakable Satanic rituals. It had the atmosphere of the preserved World War I trenches in Belgium or Auschwitz. Some of the reproductions were a bit kitsch and excessive, thought Glyn. For instance there were mannequins outside the palace doors dressed as old Household guards and the golden coronation carriage stood in the forecourt. Glyn stopped by the open gates and looked in, watching a group of young children excitedly playing around the coach, unaware of the macabre historical shadow it represented. The children’s parents were gathered in a group a few yards away staring up at the palace facade, clustered together for comfort. A handful of people appeared on the balcony where the Bloodlines had once stood to greet their minions and looked around curiously, taking a few photos.
Glyn left the palace and walked up to Mall towards Trafalgar Square, a location that had achanged a lot since Glyn's youth. The phallic monolith of Nelson’s Column was gone. It had been felled by the Communists during their brief ascendancy and the square now felt very open and airy, more so than it should have after the loss of the column; the energy and ambiance of the whole area had been altered by the destruction of Nelson's Column. Here Glyn came across the only working building in the area: the National Gallery. Here was one of the few places that had remained virtually as it had always been and Glyn poked his head inside to examine one or two paintings before heading out to Whitehall. He strolled along the wide, straight imposing road with Big Ben looming over its end. He passed the fibreglass rider and horse that stood outside the Horseguards Entrance and let his eyes wander over the dissused old ministry buildings. After the Great Awakening the Transitional Government had considered moving into these buildings, but had wisely chosen not too. It would have been an insult to themselves and the people of the past, present and future. Then Glyn came to Downing Street and walked up towards Number Ten. The famous black door was shut, preserved in its original form; visitors to the home of the old UK Prime Ministers had to pass in and out of a side entrance. A pair of happy-looking young women sat on the steps outside the front door laughing at something, perhaps a joke about the old regime. Glyn turned back to Whitehall and made his way to the houses of Parliament. He had now entered the former operational heartland of the country, where the Illuminati-occupied government had dominated and abused the entire nation and places much further afield. He crossed over the now disused roads and sat on a bench in Parliament Square in front of the pavement where protesters had once had their tents. Years ago, almost further back than his memeory could reach, he had attended an anti-New World Order protest here.
His mobile phone rang. He took it out of his pocket and put the crystal and Orgonite-lined earpiece to his head. “Hello?”
“So what happened after you spoke to Mary Doughty?” it was Jerry Nicholson’s voice. (I’ve changed Dave Nicholson’s name to Jerry Nicholson. Ed)
Glyn chucked. “I had a feeling you’d call, Jerry.”
“Where are you, Glyn?”
“London. I’ll be back tonight.”
“So, what happened?”
“I made an attempt to speak to her husband.”
“Did it work, Glyn?”
“Hmm” he gave a verbal shrug. “I’ll explain later.”