(In Part 15 it’s unclear what motivated Glyn’s assailants. It’s a bit ambiguous and could be interpreted as Miss Skinner organizing it. This is not the case; the boys did it of their own volition, and I must make that clearer. I also wish to alter the end of Part 15 too and insert an entire scene between where Glyn is assaulted and when he leaves the hospital. I'll begin this part with that scene. Also to make the narrative fit I'll have to reduce his injuries a bit; hope you appreciate that, Glyn!)
Glyn Southsea limped from the taxi in through a set of sliding doors up to the reception desk in Accident and Emergency. He was admitted and made to sit in a waiting room. Luckily there weren't many people in the queue and before long he was shown to a treatment cubicle and examined by several doctors and nurses who cleaned his wounds, examined his bruises and took his blood pressure and temperature. They gave him a dressing for his bleeding nose and stuck his arm with a needle to extract a blood specimen. Then they left him alone for a while in the little cubicle to arrange for an X-ray.
The chamber was about ten feet square and the walls were tiled, rather like the police cell he had been in a few weeks before. There was a dustbin in one corner with a yellow liner and a very clean mirror over a polished steel sink. Glyn was sitting on a wheeled hospital trolley with a black rubbery mattress and rails at the side like a baby's cot. There was no door, just a bare, oblong opening covered by a curtain which was left retracted. The hospital smelled strongly of disinfectant, ozone, ammonia and several other things Glyn didn't really want to contemplate. The nurses and doctors walked past every so often, paying him no attention, dressed in green and blue uniforms that looked like pyjamas. Outside the sound of telephones ringing, controlled voices and monitor alarms filled the tainted air. Glyn's ribs were throbbing where Jonathan and his accomplices had beaten him. His nose still continued to bleed and he filled up more and more of the dressings. Up till then the adrenaline from the shock had held back much of the pain, but now he was relaxed and calmer it began to wear off letting more and more of the pain flood into his nervous system. He recalled the humiliation he had felt as well as his injuries and tears budded in his eyes. A fog of misery settled over him. Nobody likes me! he thought. I'm an outcast, a leper! He was about to roll over onto his side to hide his face when he noticed a man standing just outside the doorway to the cubicle. He was so striking to look at that Glyn sat up with a start. The man was very tall; his head almost at the level of the ceiling. He was standing completely still side on, looking just slightly at Glyn through the corner of his eye, although it was hard to tell because his face was almost entirely covered by the thickest hair and beard Glyn had ever seen, almost like a lions mane, but pure white. It was long and stood out like a styled Afro, but enough of his skin was visible for Glyn could see that he was a white man. His beard was almost as long as Santa Claus' and entirely covered his throat. He was well built with a slight paunch and could have been almost any age from forty to sixty. (Does he resemble
Land too much?) He was wearing a uniform that Glyn had seen
several men on the hospital's staff wearing: a dark blue pair of trousers and
light blue polo shirt. He'd seen them pushing patients around in wheelchairs
and on beds; porters, Glyn remembered they were called. The man slowly
lifted a huge muscular hand and held a blue card up to his face. "And the
winner is... Glyn Southsea." he said in a deep, mellow voice. Warren
Glyn looked at him. The man turned his head and their eyes met.
"Are you Glyn Southsea?" he asked.
The man slowly stepped into the cubicle towards him, his eyes never leaving Glyn's. The man's eyes were deep brown and he had such large pupils they looked like a pair of chestnuts embedded in his face. Glyn stared back at him with a feeling he couldn't quite explain.
The man stopped beside the edge of the trolley. A smile slowly broke out on his face. "You're the one I've been looking for." he said, barely above a whisper, but his voice was so deep it almost made the floor vibrate.
"Er... what?" gasped Glyn.
"You're the one I've got to take to X-ray." he said more quickly in a louder voice. "Glyn Southsea. That's your name isn't it?" His voice sounded educated, more like a doctor than a porter, Glyn thought. The man approached the trolley and kicked a foot pedal to release the brake. He was wearing a large plastic oblong identity card on a lanyard around his neck. It featured a photograph of his face and his printed name: Mr A. Grace and beneath that his job title: Porter. The porter pushed Glyn's trolley out of the cubicle and along the corridor with consummate skill; he wasn't bumped or jolted once. Glyn had never before considered that there might be a skill involved with pushing hospital trolleys and when he said so Mr Grace responded: "Oh yes. There's definitely a knack to it. I have to wheel people with very painful conditions, like fractures; any bump would be agony for them. There are several designations of vehicle we use, wheelchairs of various kinds, beds and trolleys like these."
"Have you ever thought about getting a job as a nurse or doctor?" asked Glyn.
Grace paused and then said in a voice that sounded both weary and annoyed: "Why would I do that?"
Glyn sensed his discomfort and turned round to look at him. Grace's face was impassive under his bushy white fringe, concentrating on the corridor ahead. "Well" said Glyn. "You sound like a clever man. You obviously care about what you do..."
Grace interrupted him sharply. "And one has to be a heartless moron to be a porter, does one?"
Glyn didn't know how to reply; he knew he'd offended Grace, but he didn't understand how.
Grace continued sarcastically: "Maybe you're right. Maybe I shouldn't be wasting my life doing something as worthless as hospital portering."
"Sorry." murmured Glyn.
Grace stopped the trolley in the middle of the corridor and came round to face him again. This time his cheerful smile had returned. "No, I'm sorry. I shouldn't be so grouchy. It's just that I get asked that so many times; I come to call it 'popping the question'. I'm very proud to be a porter you know, Glyn. We're essential members of a life saving team, doing one of the most important jobs in the world. I can't get a 'better job'; not because I don't have the brains or ambition, but because there is no better job. You understand, Glyn?... May I call you Glyn?"
"My name's Alman." He held out his large, powerful hand and Glyn shook it.
Alman? thought Glyn. He'd assumed the A in the porter's name stood for Andrew or Alex or something else equally common.
"I'm sure you do a terrific job." said Glyn as they continued along the corridor. "If there were no porters around nobody would get moved to where they need to be."
Alman Grace didn't respond, as neither to confirm nor deny what Glyn had just stated.
"I mean, take that helicopter crash in Belswill. I bet that must have been a busy day for you?"
"Helicopter crash?" Alman Grace said in an exaggerated inquiring tone.
"Yes, you know. The big one in Belswill the other week..." his voice faded away as Grace pulled the trolley up again.
He came round to face Glyn with a quizzical and meaningful half smile behind his white beard. He asked slowly in a quiet voice: "Is that what it was?"
A jolt of acidic memory shot through Glyn's system like electricity; memories he'd been trying to forget. "Yes!" he growled defiantly.
"Is that really what you think?"
Glyn angrily flicked his head away.
They arrived at the X-ray department and Alman handed his charge over to a young woman who took him into an X-ray chamber and took a shot of his chest and arms. Then he was wheeled back to the Accident and Emergency department; this time by a different porter, a taciturn and grim-faced Asian with a turban on his head who made no attempt to talk to Glyn. Glyn was surprised to find himself wishing that he could see Alman Grace again, but he didn't know why.
A doctor then came to see Glyn and explained that he'd cracked two of his ribs, but it wasn't too serious and he could go home. Then his parents arrived to pick him up. As they fussed over him and goaded him out of the hospital towards the car park Glyn spotted Alman Grace fiddling with a large gas cylinder in a corner. He looked up, as if he sensed Glyn's gaze. He smiled and waved. Glyn waved too, and smiled back as well as his damaged lip would allow.
(The first meeting between Glyn and Alman Grace must be very dramatic and prominent because Grace is going to become a major character in the story.)
(Section break here)
Glyn walked up
Bailey Avenue. The
street was beginning to return to normal; the rubble had been cleared up and
the residents whose homes had not been completely demolished were making
repairs. Builders vans and skips lined the kerbs. The road-menders had been in
and resurfaced the tarmac. Some of the paving stones had been replaced. It was
two months since the helicopter crash and subsequent clean-up operation. The Government
had reassured the public that the toxic spill had been successfully contained
and there was no longer any risk, but this didn’t pacify everybody and there
was a FOR SALE sign in almost every front garden. There was a huge gap
in the row of houses, as obtrusive as missing front teeth. Three houses had
completely vanished. Now that even the rubble mounds that they used to be were
gone, the street looked totally different; light shone in a way it had never
done before. The detritus had been carted off to avoid the danger of PSA
contamination and all that was left were patches of bare earth with the stubble
of foundations poking through. Most of the people inside those houses had been
killed when the large cargo helicopter crashed onto their roofs; a pile of
flower bouquets and sympathy cards had been left on the pavement.
Glyn stood and stared at the site of the crash. It was a cold and damp December afternoon and the light was beginning to fade. Children from Glyn’s school filed past in loose bunches; they were in uniform from the lower years. They stopped talking as they approached the ruins and looked at the site for a few moments before continuing their journeys home; their expressions were of reverence mixed with fear.
His grandmother’s car turned the corner; Glyn thought of turning round and walking off, but it was too late for that. She had seen him and was slowing down to pull over. She didn’t speak at first as she got out of the car, but their eyes met as she walked over to him. She pulled the hood of her black cagoule over her head even though the rain was very light. “Hello, Glyn.” she said nervously.
looked down at the ground and put his hands in his pockets. For a long time
“I come here every day, you know.” said Beryl Southsea eventually. “I think about what happened. I suppose I feel a bit guilty.”
“Why?” Glyn shrugged.
“It feels like everything’s gone downhill since then. That girl in
happened that same week.” Judith Wright’s murder had shocked the country. The
fact that the killer was still on the loose spread a veil of fear and suspicion
all over the land.
“And poor old Joe!” continued Beryl. “I knew he had his money problems, but he wasn’t that desperate. I think what happened that night drove him to it… and it goes on. Do you know what happened at that Tescos on the
“What?” Glyn felt a shiver as he guessed what she was talking about.
“Gary, that young man who’s the manager; he was killed just the following day.”
“Hmm.” Glyn knew what had happened to
acted as casually as he could while his grandmother explained. Gary
“He was driving over that bridge at
his car swerved off into the river. They dragged out the car but never found his
body… Glyn, are you alright?” Windsor
Glyn had taken an abrupt step away. He heard his grandmother sigh.
“Glyn, what’s wrong? You’ve not been yourself since the UFO. Something’s bugging you, I know it. You’ve hardly been round my house once since that day.”
He turned back round to face her. “Well…
if there was no UFO?”
Beryl scowled in surprise. “Glyn! You were there! You saw what happened at the seance!”
“I saw something that could have been a big bag of cotton wool and somebody wearing a mask! It was late at night and I was tired.”
His grandmother paused. “Has somebody been talking to you, Glyn?... They have haven’t they?”
Glyn felt his face burning. He began to walk away. “I’ve got to go,
got homework to do”
“Glyn! Listen!” She seized his arm. “The accident at the seance opened up a portal between this world and another. It let the UFO though! That portal is still open and it needs to be closed. Will you help me?”
“Help you with what? There’s nothing there you need help with! It was a helicopter crash and it’s been helped! It was helped by the Government.” He strode swiftly away from her.
“Really?” she called after him. “Then how come so many strange things keep happening everywhere?... The UFO was just the start, Glyn. Come and see me when you’ve finally understood that.”
(I don’t like that last scene. Can’t put my finger on it, but it needs rewriting.)
Glyn walked slowly home down the High Street. He looked around him at the cars and vans rumbling past on the road. Women walking along with arms sagging under the weight of shopping bags, a postman emptying a pillar box, an old man walking his dog. All the everyday and mundane sights of Belswill filled his senses as he thought about what his grandmother had told him. There was something strange in the air, he had to admit. It was very apparent on
Avenue, but it was still present
He jumped as he heard the sound of a woman screaming. He looked across the road in the direction of the sound and saw a group of people running out of the door of a bakery. They were both customers in outdoor clothes and white-smocked staff. They clustered into a defensive posse on the pavement nearby and stared back into their premises.
“Oh dear, they’ve seen another ghost.” muttered a man standing beside Glyn.
Glyn turned to him. “What did you say? A ghost?”
“Oh yes. That place is haunted.” he replied nonchalantly. “It’s been haunted for about three months.”
“So’s the Morrisons on Hertford Road.” said an old woman standing near him.
“Seem’s to be happening everywhere these days.” The man agreed.
They continued to exchange anecdotes of the supernatural as Glyn walked on towards his home.
He used his latch key to open the door. “Hi Mum, I’m home.” He called as he always did. Usually his mother or another member of his family would respond with a cheery greeting but this time there was silence. “Mum? Dad?” He walked into the kitchen. “Daisy?” There was no response. He was alone in the house. Then he saw a note on the table: “Glyn, Daisy and Charlie. Sorry I’ve had to go out. Got a call from Gwen at the WI, emergency meeting this afternoon. Very important. Food is in the fridge, just needs M-waving. Back about 7 or 8. Love. Mum” Glyn went over to the kettle and made a cup of tea then took it into the lounge and switched on the television.
Bing bong! The doorbell rang. Glyn stood up and started walking over towards the door of the lounge when he froze. He almost yelped aloud as an inexplicable and sourceless wave of terror flooded over him. He stopped dead in his tracks.
His sudden attack of fear confused him. “What the hell’s the matter?” he mumbled to himself aloud.
There was a shorter pause between the second and third ring than there was between the first and second, as if the caller was impatient and their business urgent. Glyn had to force himself to move; he entered the hallway and stared at the front door ahead of him. Through the panes on the door and around the frame he could see a small, slender human figure, distorted by the frosted glass. Glyn's hand shook as he reached for the latch to open the door. He fought the powerful urge not to open the door, rotated the latch and pulled.
A boy of about ten years old stood on the doorstep. He had scruffy black hair and wore a nondescript faded blue jacket and jeans. His skin was very pasty white and his face carried no expression. It took Glyn several moments to notice something very obviously wrong with him. His eyes were completely black; not just in the sense of a black iris, but his entire eyeball. Everything between his eyelids was a featureless black, empty void. Glyn froze and stared.
"Can I come in please?" the boy said. His voice was flat and monotone, almost mechanical like a computer-generated voice. "Can I come in and have a drink of water?"
Afterwards, when Glyn was remembering this incident, he had trouble recalling and understanding what went on in his mind at that moment. As his eyes met the black voids where the eyes of the boy should have been his willpower diverged into two separate forces each motivated differently. One side of himself felt a deep sense sympathy and pity for the child, a longing to invite him inside and give him whatever he wanted. The other felt an overwhelming and incomprehensible horror, disgust and repulsion. These two temporary distorted manifestations of Glyn's consciousness battled each other inside his brain.
"Can I come in please? I need to use your phone. It won't take long."
The door felt as if it weighed ten tons, but Glyn managed to get it shut. As soon as his eye contact with the boy was broken so was the strange mental spell he was under. He ran into the kitchen and screamed aloud with terror. He blundered straight into the table, bashing his ribs which were still bruised, and turned around, pressing his back to it. The shape of the boy through the frosted glass of the door was still visible. Glyn's heart thundered in his chest like a pile driver; his breathing came in gasps. After a few minutes he saw the shape of the boy move away from the door. Glyn slowly tip-toed into the lounge and peered out of the bay window. The boy was still there. He was outside the house uncertainly walking away. The moment Glyn spotted him the boy turned his head and stared back at Glyn, even though it should have been impossible for anybody to see anything inside through the Dutch crocheted netting Glyn's mother has put up over the windows. But somehow the boy sensed Glyn's eyes on him.
Glyn screamed again and pounded upstairs to his own bedroom at the rear of the house. He slammed the door and leaned against it. For a few minutes he just stood there, panting and weeping with fear. Every time he thought of the face of that little boy he almost yelled aloud in fright again. He half expected him to burst out of the wardrobe in his room. It was about half an hour later that Glyn emerged from his room. He made his way along the landing to his parent's bedroom at the front of the house and nervously peeped down at the street between the closed curtains. The mysterious boy was nowhere to be seen. A postman rode by on his bike and several cars passed; everything was normal.
Glyn telephoned his grandmother. Beryl Southsea picked up the phone as if she had been expecting his call. "You're not the only one who's seen them, Glyn. Things are going haywire all over town." she said. "Do you believe me now?... Don't worry. Come here as quickly as you can. Don't stop to talk to anybody and if you see anything out of the ordinary run away from it."
Glyn sensed there was somebody else with his grandmother, listening at the other end of the line. And when they ended the call she hung up first, but just before the connection was cut Glyn heard her say to somebody else: "He's on his way over now."
(Chapter break here. The story now flashes back and returns to follow to the Doughty family whom I last wrote about in Part 10, and how they cope with the "helicopter crash" see: http://hpanwo-bb.blogspot.co.uk/2011/02/obscurati-chronicles-part-10.html)
On the day of the helicopter crash Charles Doughty was relaxing in the kitchen after breakfast with a cup of coffee when the policeman banged urgently on the door. "Do you have your own car, Sir?" he immediately asked.
"Yes." Charlie answered. "Why?"
"Get everybody in the house into your car immediately and head for the M-One. This will give you directions of where to go after that." He pushed a leaflet into Charlie's hands.
"What's going on?"
"There's been an emergency that has made it necessary to evacuate the town... Quick as you can now, Sir. Do you have any children?"
"My sons are away at boarding school but my daughter is at
..." St John's
"Don't worry, Sir. She'll be evacuated to safety with the school. Come on now; into your car! Leave your house unlocked..."
Within minutes a very confused Charles and Mary Doughty were driving past rows of parked police cars out of Belswill in a huge convoy of other residents towards the sports arena in north London where they were all to be housed. It was only when he arrived that he found out that it was a helicopter that had crashed spilling its load of toxic PSA all over Bailey Avenue. "Thank God it was on the far side of town!" he sighed. Shortly afterwards the MoD coaches arrived full of schoolchildren and they were reunited with Cara.
Charlie's mobile phone rang at around seven-thirty just when he was hunched on the edge of his put-you-up eating dinner with Mary and Cara. It was their fifth day in the arena sleeping on the camp beds and eating from paper plates and their spirits were low. This was why Charlie snapped as he took the call. "Charles Doughty; what is it!?"
"Ah, Charles. Always a friendly welcome." came that familiar voice.
Charlie dropped his plate on the bed and jumped to his feet. "Mr Ariston."
"And good evening to you too, Charles."
"What can I do for you, Mr Ariston? If it's work I'm afraid I can't make it. Thanks to that helicopter thing I'm..."
"I know where you are, Charles. I have got a job for you, but you won't need the van. You only need your car."
"Why? How can I do a pick-up without the van?"
"You're not doing a pick-up, at least not a normal one."
"What do you mean?"
"I need you for a very special job. I want you to go back to Belswill."
"Er... I don't understand."
"I need you to pick-up at the helicopter crash site."
Charlie chuckled for a moment. "Are you serious?"
"Am I ever not?"
"But, Mr Ariston, the army are in there dealing with it."
"They need your help."
"The army needs my help?"
"Correction, I need your help. I need somebody in there I can trust."
But... Mr Ariston... what has this got to do with you?"
"Remember the second condition!" Jared Ariston barked.
"Yes, yes, of course. Sorry." You never ask why, Charlie recalled. Very well, Mr Ariston. I'll be on my way. How do I get them to let me through the roadblock?"
"Just tell them I sent you." Ariston then hung up with his usual abruptness.
Charlie as always ignored Mary and Cara's curious glances as he left the arena and headed for the carpark. It was pitch dark and raining slightly as he drove up the M-One towards Belswill. He was stopped twice along the way, but the moment he said: "I've been sent by Mr Ariston," the police immediately stepped back and let him through. The darkness became more intense as he neared Belswill. It took him a moment to realize that the street lights were off; the electricity must have been cut. The familiar roads looked odd in just the headlamps of his BMW and the various police and army vehicles that drove past him. A huge pool of light lay ahead over Belswill, reflecting off the low clouds; it was white light, not the carotene glow of the street light. He saw the row of tanks as he passed the final police checkpoint; then his car was surrounded by armed soldiers and he was ordered to proceed the rest of the way on foot. They escorted him along Hertford Road, swerving to avoid parked Landrovers and lorries, stepping over the rubber pipes and cables snaking across the road. The familiar shop fronts, pubs and the post office looking ghostly, frozen in time. The street was lit by the artic white of portable lamps. Generators rumbled. The air and ground shook under the constant rumble of helicopter rotors overhead. "I hope none of them crash too!" Charlie muttered. The soldiers ignored him. They kept their eyes straight ahead, their rifles at their shoulders in professional catalepsy. There were other people around as well, army officers in utilities and berets and men in dark suits who looked like Government officials. They stood in clusters, convening with grave expressions and disturbed body language. Charlie took a glimpse to his left as they passed the turning leading to his home street wondering how his own house was. They came to yet another cordon built right across the market on Chester Street; it seemed that the crash site was protected by a multiple layer of security rings. This time the edge of this zone was marked by a high fence covered in white canvass sheets, obviously intended prevent anybody seeing what was going on inside the cordon. Oddly enough this stockade was manned by very different people. They were armed men in military utilities, but their uniforms had no regimental flashes, badges or insignia of any kind. They also had their faces covered by balaclavas, making them resemble IRA members. Charlie felt a chill in his stomach; it occurred to him that the helicopter crash scene might be a grisly spectacle. Since he'd been doing this job he'd quickly forced himself to get over his initial feelings of squeamishness, but this might be an extreme situation. There might be bodies dismembered or crushed by the impact, buried in rubble or burned and disfigured by exposure to the PSA. Could he cope with it? The PSA! That thought suddenly made him aware of another problem: was he in any personal danger? The toxic chemical leaking from the helicopter wreckage was extremely dangerous, as experts interviewed on the television news had attested. He gulped as he once more told the gate guard: "Mr Ariston sent me." He was reassured straight after as he was led to another screened-off corral where a temporary hut had been set up which contained a changing room. As he stepped inside he was gruffly ordered to strip off his clothes by the masked ghouls manning the area. He felt embarrassed as he stood their naked and cold in the room, but was immediately given a pair of cotton overalls to wear. Then he passed into another room and was made to dress in a heavy protective white plastic suit similar to the one he once wore when working as a builder; he'd had to clear an old Victorian warehouse of asbestos. It included a hood and breathing mask that covered his whole face; two glass-covered holes allowed him to see. The mask smelled rubbery and it restricted his vision somewhat, but he could breathe easily in it. He left the hut and was led up Chester Street towards the residential district around Bailey Avenue. There were fewer people around in this area, but they all wore the same chemical protection suit he had on. Some were armed with assault rifles or cowboy-like pistol belts. Bailey Avenue was almost unrecognisable. It was filled with parked vehicles; some were military lorries, others were white painted. None of them had number plates. As he came round a corner Charlie saw that part of the row of detached houses on the left had been badly damaged and several completely demolished. Over the worst of the destruction had been erected a huge white tent with a scaffolding frame completely covering the helicopter crash site. There was a subdued and frightened atmosphere among the personnel which was palpable even through their chemical suits. As they approached the tent one of the armed men held open a door flap. Charlie entered.
It was a sight that would haunt him for the rest of his life. There was no helicopter. What he saw instead was an enormous smooth metallic disk-shaped object looming over the entire scene, teetering as if it would fall and crush them all. It took Charlie a few moments to see that it was not actually standing on the ground but was suspended in the air; it's curved bulbous base was a few feet off the dirty, broken brick-covered ground. It looked exactly like a flying saucer that one might see in a movie. A group of men were working on the hull of the object with some kind of tool; a collection of other tools, including a welders torch, were scattered on the ground around them. Charlie then noticed that a few of the suited personnel were crouched in a row with their rifles levelled at one corner of the tent. When he looked into that corner he saw a light source which he at first assumed was just another of the electric flood lights set up to illuminate the inside of the tent, but then he saw it was something else: a luminous man... No, it wasn't a man. It was a creature that looked vaguely human; it had two arms and two legs, it had a head. But its head was too large and its body comparatively too small for it to be human. It had two huge completely black eyes and its body glowed as if phosphorescent, casting an unearthly light all over the interior of the tent. Like the flying saucer it was not connected to the ground and floated above it, apparently weightless. The creature moved gently and gracefully as if underwater, waving its limbs and rotating its head like a fish in an aquarium. The armed men kept their attention on it continuously. As Charlie watched another squad came into the tent and relieved the watch. The initial squad then stood down, made safe their rifles and marched out.
"Over there." One of the men said to Charlie, his voice muffled by his breathing mask. Lying on a pile of bricks and other debris were a group of four dead bodies. They were splayed randomly like rag dolls thrown onto the floor. There was no visible sign of injury, but they remained motionless. They were of the same species as the creature in the far corner, but they did not emit any internal light. "Get to work." commanded the other man to Charlie. "All your equipment is outside."
Charlie exited the tent and for the first time saw a familiar sight: a set of folded body bags and plastic mortuary caskets. He then went about his usual business. With the help of another man, to whom he was never introduced, he carried the caskets into the tent and proceeded to wrap the bodies in the bags. The creatures had grey, featureless skin which was loose on their spindly limbs. Their arms and legs appeared to have no joints and bent at any place along them like the body of a snake. Their eyes were pure mat black and had no lids. He studied their blank faces carefully as he zipped up the body bags; their tiny noses, their thin slit-like mouths. Despite their flimsy physique they were fairly heavy and Charlie needed all the strength he had, along with that of his ad hoc colleague, to move the body bags to the caskets. The practicalities of the task calmed him down and distracted him from too much deliberation of the situation he was in. There was a freezer van parked near the tent from which Charlie shovelled ice cubes into a wheelbarrow. He then wheeled the ice into the tent and tipped it into the caskets on top of the body bags. It was tricky moving the loaded wheelbarrow over the rubble-strewn and muddy ground. He turned to his companion. "Can't we just take the caskets outside and fill them direct from the van?"
"No." the man replied, his face invisible behind his mask.
The man ignored him.
When the caskets were all full of ice Charlie sealed them with plastic ratchet-tags, just like the ones he normally used in his job. The armed men then ordered Charlie and his colleague to carry them out of the tent and across Bailey Avenue to the deserted dual carriageway. The crash barrier had been removed and several trees felled. Parked on the road, covering the central reservation, was a huge transport helicopter, a double rotor Chinook. Its engines were off and its rotor blades drooped; its rear loading ramp was lowered and the interior was lit. Charlie and his colleague loaded the caskets onto the floor and the helicopter's crew, also dressed in protective clothing, secured them in place with straps. When all the caskets were stowed aboard Charlie made to disembark from their aircraft, but then one of the crew yelled: "Hey! Where do you think you're going? Stay aboard! You have to come with us." Charlie was shown to a seat and strapped himself in with a safety belt. After about twenty minutes he heard the engines start; their noise rose to an overwhelming roar which blocked out all other sound. The cabin lights went out and a few minutes later he felt the aircraft lift off.
He guessed that the flight lasted around an hour but it was impossible to tell for sure. He couldn't see his watch because of the chemical suit he wore. It was completely dark except for a few indicator lights and a slight glow from the front of the helicopter where the cockpit was. As his eyes adjusted to the dark he managed to make out a few features in the cabin; including his nameless colleague sitting opposite him. Charlie estimated that it was now an hour or so past midnight. Then the pitch of the engine noise changed and after a few more minutes he felt a bump. There was some activity in the cabin around him and the rear ramp was lowered. Bright yellow light filled the inside of the helicopter.
The next part of the job was fairly easy compared to what he'd already done. All Charlie and his companion had to do was carry the caskets out of the Chinook and across a smooth concrete surface, and then up another loading ramp into a much larger aircraft, a long-distance military transport aeroplane; its four silent jet exhaust nozzles yawned like pythons on each side of their workplace. A few hundred feet away were large square buildings. He got the impression that he was at some kind of airport or air force base, although the bright lights shining in his eyes prevented him from seeing his surroundings very well. More people in protective suits, although of a different design, were there to help them load the caskets and secure them in the massive cargo hold of the aeroplane. When this task was finished he was immediately instructed to take his seat back aboard the helicopter and its engines spooled up for takeoff at the same time that Charlie heard the jets on the aeroplane firing up for its own journey.
On reflection Charlie found it odd that he fell asleep. (Repetition- the same as Glyn in the police cell) The growl of the engines, his labour and the hour of the night contributed to lull him off into a dreamless slumber. He awoke when the aircraft touched down back where its flight had begun on the dual carriageway in Belswill. He was escorted by the armed guards back to the changing hut where he stripped off his protective suit and was made to take a shower in a large stall. There were three other people in the shower with him all naked and silent, all nervously ignoring each other. Charlie blushed and stared at his feet when he realized that one of them was a woman. The water was extremely hot and the liquid soap he was given smelt like bleach; it stung his eyes. After he dried himself with thin, cold disposable towels his own clothes were returned to him and he dressed in them. Then he was then accompanied by the soldiers back to his car and the roadblock opened to let him drive back out into public territory. The white glow of the arclights and the thudding of rotor blades was soon left behind.
Charlie drove back to the M-One and instead of going straight back to the arena he left the motorway north of Belswill and cruised aimlessly about for a bit; it was getting light and his watch said six-thirty AM. He stopped at a service station and had a coffee in Starbucks. He chose a medium cappuccino and a piece of Highland shortbread. He was hungry so he had breakfast at the Little Chef; picking an Early Starter Special with extra hash browns. He bought a copy of The Daily Telegraph to read and scanned the political pages. All around him men in overalls munched over copies of The Sun and businessmen in suits tickled the keyboards of laptops. The TV screen on the wall showed the news with an economic analysis interview played at a low volume. As he flicked through his paper Charlie's eyes spotted a story about the helicopter crash. He clenched them shut and his hands contracted involuntarily, crumpling the newspaper. He gasped as he recalled what he'd been doing during the night. A mysterious feeling came over him, a revolted shock and horror mixed with a strange and inexplicable thrill. He looked at all the ordinary things around him and wondered if it had all been a strange dream. However his eyes were still sore from the soap he'd been made to wash in. His hair was still damp and his skin was tight and dry.
His mobile phone sang out and he looked down to see an SMS had arrived. "CHARLES, PLEASE COME AND VISIT ME. J.A."
Jared Ariston met him in his library again. It was the first time Charlie had been back to his employer's house in Kingston-upon-Thames since that terrible day the previous year. Ariston poured a glass of sherry from a decanter. "Will you have one, Charles?"
"Not for me thank. Mr Ariston. It's a bit early."
Ariston settled into his leather armchair with his crystal glass and sipped his drink. "That's a good job you did last night, Charles. I wanted to congratulate you personally."
"Thank you, Mr Ariston."
"I wasn't sure whether to give the operation to you, but I'm now glad I did. You've confirmed the faith I had in you. In fact there'll be a nice bonus in your next salary."
"Thank you, Mr Ariston."
"Dealing with a crashed helicopter is a very unusual position to put somebody in."
Charlie paused. "What?"
"Well the helicopter wreckage, the bodies, the risk of PSA poisoning..."
"Sorry, Mr Ariston, what do you mean? It wasn't a helicopter..."
"Yes it was!" Ariston shouted. He leaned forward; his manner transformed to rage in a moment.
Charlie shrank back in shock.
Ariston put down his glass on the rosewood table with a loud bang and jabbed a finger at him. "Last night you dealt with the Belswill helicopter crash!... Is that understood!?"
"Yes." whimpered a deflated Charlie.
Ariston calmed down almost as instantly as he had ired. He picked up his glass and took another sip. "Jolly good. You'd do well to remember that, Charles. As always I expect you to keep all the activities of your work confidential... but if you do happen to let something slip, make sure it's the right thing."
"Yes, Mr Ariston." replied Charlie.
Ariston smiled. "Sure I can't interest you in a sherry?"
Charlie returned his grin. "Well, maybe just a small one."
Next: (Coming soon))