Powderfinger by Keller Yeats

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Chapter 20

The early morning mist was just beginning to dissipate as people started to leave home and head off for another day at work. The traffic was beginning to queue at the lights, as they turned red. The metal snakes of waiting vehicles grew longer, with even the merest of delays. He was casually sitting there, floating above the mists, observing the world outside of his protective shell of one way glass, eating his breakfast while observing one of natures ever recurring patterns. Alan liked to observe these revolutions of nature, like a swirling eddy in flowing water, or the night sky constantly rotating on an invisible axis,or the changing seasons, without which, the world of men would appear to be more or less identical every day.

He had gone through a period in his early twenties, when he had been quite enamored with the idea of uniformity, but as he grew older, he started to appreciate the seasons with their contrasting nature’s, more with each passing year. 'I knew that there was something wrong with that uniformity theory,' he thought, while stroking his chin. He whimsically considered the problem, then let his thoughts dramatically drift away into 'The Ether.’A tiny voice, which sounded remarkably similar to his own but more lyrical in its tone, began to rise in his consciousness and then desperately broke the surface, gasping for air, crying one solitary word with the clarity of The Arc Angel Gabriel and the word was,

"Boring.” He chuckled at his own humour and poured out the last of the tea from the pot. 'Gods, man, can you imagine it?' he thought. 'Easter everywhere and every day.’ The voice from the void interrupted again, but this time it was one with the sound of gentle and familiar, self recrimination that spoke.

“You know Mr. Turnbull, you don’t half come up with some real crap on a consistent basis.” He forced down an inner chuckle, smiled to himself conceitedly at the quality of his wit, then resumed waiting for his Porridge to cool down enough for him to eat it.

Unexpectedly, for some reason that was not particularly clear to him at this time, as he silently gazed out of his window overlooking the canal, his mind started to recall a series of long buried memories. As usual, whenever he was troubled, 'Parker,’ who had been his girlfriend many years previously, turned up in his mind’s eye and caught him,as he fell. Unfortunately for him, she was the same girl, who, when he was 21, had surprisingly just upped and left him to go to Canada, with her bloody parents. Since then her ‘ghost’ had turned up regularly, to plague his conscious mind and disrupt his sleep patterns.

Catherine Parker. Now there was a girlfriend he would never forget. Alan had little trouble remembering their final day together. He had turned the events of that painful morning over in his mind, many times. Once or twice he thought he’d felt deeply about Parker. Her sudden departure, at the end of Finals Week, had delivered him a ferocious curve ball that had taken him at least two years of utter confusion, to recover from. The circumstances of that weekend, were still etched into his mind. Even now, after all this time having passed and embarking on his own life’s adventure, Alan could not suppress a twinge of sadness as he drifted off into warm thoughts concerning, Miss Catherine Parker and their time together, which had mostly been spent, at her bed-sit in Chorlton. He wondered what she was doing now and silently hoped, that she was happy. However, added to those generous and genuinely charitable emotions, he wondered which other saps had fallen for her charms, only to be ripped up and thrown away, like he had been.

He wondered, why it was he always seem to end up thinking about her, whenever the world took on a weird aspect. “Parker,” his mind called to him and he found himself wondering, what she looked like these days. Was she a chunk, as he suspected, or had she somehow maintained her size 10, figure? Christ, he couldn’t allow himself to think like that, imagination only stretches just so far. She’d been living in Canada, for more than two decades and nobody stood a chance, that close to The Yanks. So, he imagined her, as she was the last time that he saw her. It was kinder to her memory, that way. However, all amusement aside, regarding Miss Parker’s possible modern day weight problems, he found his mind drifting back the evening they first met.

As he recalled, he had been going through a particularly rough time with his then ex-girlfriend, Helen. She had ended their patchy relationship because Alan was going to see The Grateful Dead in London and he would be away for five days. Helen, had rather pathetically, given him an ultimatum, which went something like, “It’s either, that fucking band, or it’s me.” Well, it was no contest. He went to London and she just went. So, on his return from the Capital, reveling in his regained freedom, Alan, had decided to get himself down to The Grapes and live a little. He had arrived at the hostelry, having already smoked two hefty joints and as he happily wobbled in, he spotted a couple of his friends, propping up the bar, laughing.

Things were looking up, as over in the corner, he had noticed this girl, who had the thickest Auburn hair he had ever laid eyes upon. For some reason, he was immediately taken with her figure and more to the point, the sway of her hips. Usually, it was a great pair of legs, that drew his attention but this was something different. She had instant sex appeal and he desperately wanted her. On the jukebox, ‘The Blue Oyster Cult,’ were just finishing “Don’t fear the reaper,” when he noticed her again, walking over, in his general direction. For some hormonal reason, he was finding this woman fascinating but he didn’t quite know why? 'Well, if you don’t say something now, you’ll be forever wondering,' he had thought to himself and so, as she approached, he looked her straight in the eyes and smiled. Just, as he was about to speak to this strangely attractive female, she took a hard right and disappeared into the Ladies Lavatory.

“Oh bugger,” he exclaimed, took another large gulp of his Lager and to cover any possible embarrassment, he pretended to be overly interested in the play list on the jukebox.

The evening continued much as expected, until later on, when the alcohol blurred his mind and he had more or less forgotten about the Girl with Auburn Hair. Alan, was at that moment, considering after leaving the pub, wether to have a No. 38 Prawn Fried Rice, or the equally satisfying bog standard Fish and Chips. 'Ah, decisions, decisions,' he said to himself, as the bell for last orders sounded. Then, just as he took the last mouthful of his drink and swallowed it down, he almost physically jumped out of his skin, as he felt two arms encase him from behind and a sweet, yet deep female voice, asked him just one simple question;

“Do you want to fuck?” He had spun around in response to the rather unexpected enquiry and found himself looking straight into the green eyes of the Auburn beauty. Alan, again smiled at her and placing his hands on her waist asked,

“What here?”

She in turn laughed and replied, “No, at my place. Let’s go.” For eight weeks he was in heaven. She was a Nurse and eighteen months older than him but that didn’t matter, he never thought about it. For the next couple of months, he hardly ever went home, spending most of his time in her bed, lost in a world of sexual gratification. Until that fateful day dawned, when she totally stunned him with her news about emigrating to Canada in the morning. He had no warning of her departure and after eight weeks together, Alan, was starting to believe, he was deeply in love with her. This awful revelation, simply shattered him.

When she had gone, he saw women in a different light. Since that grotesque day he had undertaken any number of shallow relationship based purely on sex. He had even briefly been married to Denise. Here he grimaced, he really regretted ever letting that one go so far. The marriage lasted a whole week until Denise realised she couldn’t compete with the denizens of steam or Cathy Parker. So, the girls had come and the girls had gone, but apart from Cathy Parker, he couldn’t recall any that had gone to such extremes when breaking up with him. Usually, like Denise, it was just a plain,

“This isn’t working,” or “We’re just not right for each other,” and that was O.K. but Parker, was something else. Nobody measured up to Parker. Secretly, he still felt she was his perfect partner. He sighed quietly to himself. Obviously, he had not possessed her heart, to anything like the same extent, that she had grabbed hold of his.

“Stupid man” he chided himself, “let itgo...”

However, saying it and doing it, were plainly not the same thing. Looking back, over so many years, he could only see himself, through the eyes of others and their initially sympathetic uttering’s, that had all too rapidly turned to derision and nowadays, if they referred to him at all, were referring to him as, “Parkers Clown.” Oh, how easy it was, for him to lose himself in some historic romantic imagery and miss so much, of what was going on, in the real world.

A rumbling emanated from his empty stomach brought Alan back to the real world and he realised his porridge was going cold. At this time of year and on mornings like this, the pale glimmering sun, rose like a precious stone over the late Medieval, Jenkins’ Walkway. The sudden brilliant light, that ripped the air, as it’s first beams broke the horizon, rippled down the canal, dancing on the water like a tide of glittering diamonds.

“The Morning Eclipse,” as he liked to call it, was worth running a bit late for. However, that moment had passed and he did need to get a move on. He quickly finished his porridge

and last dregs of his coffee. Time to depart for the City and his post at the Central Library.

“Come on, Buddy, let’s get it on.” He drawled, in a particularly poor American accent but to no effect, so he tried again. “Todays excitement is way past it’s best. Move along now.” he ordered himself out loud, in his very best old school teacher voice. Success, he prized himself out from the comfort of his padded, ergonomically designed, leather armchair, grabbed his last crumpet and headed towards the door, pausing only to smile one last look at the dark bridges spanning the canal.

The Local History Society, of which Alan was the present Chairman, had played a leading part in bringing these iconic bridges to the public’s attention. After a long and sometimes antagonistic campaign, they had succeeded in getting them all grade one listed. The Council, together with a Marine Development Company and the Local History Society, had finally agreed a suitable plan for the preservation and redevelopment of the canal area. All the bridges would be cleaned, repaired and preserved along with the old Quaker Meeting Hall which was to be turned into a local Industrial Heritage Centre. The Ravens Gate Works and Jenkins Hollow would be redeveloped into a Marina and wildlife pond area together with a private development of quality housing. The compromise was the development of an affordable housing estate on the grounds of the old Gildabrooke Manor House.

The Gildabrooke Estate, though now derelict had a colourful history. The Estate had been on the slide for many years when the death of his only son at Balaclava, sent the dotty Lord, over the edge. His proclivity for the best things in life, those special, expensive things, that only the inordinately wealth and privileged could provide, enticed the grieving Lord, into their lair. His life literally ran, like a Stallion out of control, until it plunged over the precipice and killed him, during an ill advised game of Russian Roulette, on which he had placed a bet, of £20,000, winner takes all. From that point on, try as they might, the family was doomed. The outlay required to maintain the ‘Great Hulk,’ as Lady Gildabrooke always called the Manor house, was far beyond the dwindling estates means. Slowly the lands and holdings were sold off to maintain it and the remaining family.

The Gildabrooke’s struggled on until the mortal blow was struck on a Thursday in November of 1940, when the frightened crew of a wayward German bomber, had jettisoned their cargo on the first large structure they could see and fled back home. The house itself, was struck by three bombs and the pond in the grounds got a lot deeper, after two more, blew up right in the middle of it. After that, the Gildabrooke family, just vanished into the background and it was said, that Lady Gildabrooke, had moved to Australia and simply disappeared from local history. The original Estate, was now, just a large tract of land, with a bombed out house in the middle of an unkempt wilderness of Bracken and Brambles.

The Council had come into possession of the Estate after it was declared a health and safety hazard to the public. Somewhat belatedly, they decided they wanted to redevelop the entire site and modernise the whole waterfront. Alan and the Local History boffins, found out about the plans and objected. They brought in The Heritage of England Society, and it seemed, as if a long fight was about to ensue. It was The Council, who blinked first and after teaming up with the Local History Society, the Marine Developers and a Housing Association, a plan had been eventually thrashed out to the satisfaction of all interested parties. 'That was a truly outstanding day,' he thought to himself, as he stuffed the last crumpet in his mouth,

“Oh, happy days,” he smilingly mused. “Happy days indeed.”

As he stepped out into the world he instantly realised he’d underestimated the depth of the cold but the car was only a few feet away so he made a dash for it, jumped into his new Volvo XC90 with some relief.

“Bloody hell, it must be a few below today,” he said as he pushed the ignition button, the car obligingly started and he quickly increased the heater up, to Max.

Had he wished to, Nick, could have caught a fleeting glimpse of Alan Turnbull’s Volvo, making its way carefully along the modern bit of roadway, that lead to the Main Expressway. Ten yards of pot holed gravel track, was all that separated The Old Toll House, from the modern Tarmacadamed world. The Highways and Byways Committee, had for some reason, not seen fit to adopt the old toll road, that used to run along the canal side. Every morning, as he carefully negotiated the thirty feet, or so, he cursed the pettiness of the elected members of the local Council. He suspected, that now he had just won a victory over 'The Chamber,’ he was going to wait a very long time before the fucker’s, changed their minds and finished the job. As he drove towards the last obstacle, that the decrepit old road had to offer, he noticed that the ramp up, now appeared to be a lot steeper, than it had been a few days ago. In fact, it was a good deal steeper, than it had been yesterday. That was before, a particularly heavy downpour, in the middle of the night.

“Ummph,” he spluttered, as the front wheels hit the exposed edge of the new road surface, a little too quickly. The seatbelt, brought him wheezing to a halt, just as he was about to take a bite out of the steering wheel.

However, at The Hostel, Nick saw nothing of Alan’s perturbations. He was absentmindedly looking through the latest editions of the ‘Free Rags‘ and picking them to pieces. Headlines, such as the nowadays rather mundane, “Woman Leaves Pet inWasher,” to the highly unlikely but not impossible, “World To End in Sixteen Days” emblazoned their garish fronts. Somehow, they just didn’t seem to have the same effect as they used to. Maybe they had lost their punch, or possibly he had. Either way, sitting and reading the papers, wasn’t as amusing as it used to be. What he needed was something more weighty to get his teeth into.

Since the first murdered woman’s body had been found in the water, a few yards downstream from St. Joe’s, he had spent many an hour, just looking out of the upstairs windows at the canal, with it’s bridges and old industrial past. The place began to intrigue him. He started to feel he wanted to know a lot more about the history of this area.

History, had been one of his favourite subjects when he was back in school and he had always enjoyed the lessons, particularly those he had taken at 'A’ level, in Industrial History. Maybe, he could get back into it?

“Well, Nick, my old son, you’ll never know until you find out, will you?”

Downstairs in the office he continued to look through the local papers. Turning to the next page, “Looking for Manure?” the headline said, and then continued, “We will deliver all you need. Large or small amounts our speciality.” Something, obviously wasn’t quite right in his head because he simply didn’t laugh a little inside, when he played this advert over in his mind. 'Strange how one small month, can make a man so serious,' he considered, as he lazily cast his eyes over the last couple of pages of, “The Patricroft Meteor.” There, in the top right hand corner, a notice caught his eye, which read; “Local History, needs you.” It was an emblazoned mock-up of the famous old Great War poster of General Kitchener, or someone, pointing a finger directly at the observer. It drew his attention and he brought the newsprint closer and read on. At the bottom of the rather clever notice, was an E-mail address which read, [email protected], to contact should you be interested in the history of the local area. After that it said; Or, write to; Alan Turnbull, Head Librarian, Manchester Central Library and then gave a post code.

Now Nick was firmly on the hook. “Alan Turnbull. Now there’s a name from the past. Is that you out there, you old dog?” He became conscious of the fact, that he was smiling again and he could feel some of the tedium lift from his mind. Of course, it could just be A.N. Other Alan Turnbull but then again it just may be his old College friend, who he had lost touch with, when they both chose different Universities. Nick, chose Leeds, while Alan, who had always been the more academically minded, had made it to Magdalene College, Oxford. They both experienced a touch of culture shock, after exchanging the comfortable surrounds of College life in a small town, for the cosmopolitan lifestyle of a major City but Nick had far fewer problems, fitting in with the In-Crowd. He chose to live the rock ’n roll life, of Drink, Drugs, Girls and too little sleep, for the entirety of the three years, while he was at University and he always said to anyone who asked,

“You will rest a long time inthe grave.” Now, completely, out of the blue, he was being presented with the possibility, of getting back in touch with the guy, who had been his best friend for all those years, they had endured the stifling atmosphere of expectation the old school, had tried to engender in all its pupils.

He drifted off into a nostalgic moment, or two concerning the old days with Alan, like the pram race they took part in as a team and somehow, had won. The victory was in itself, most likely due to the size of their 'Baby.’ They managed to guarantee the services of the redoubtable Johnny Reed, who coincidently was the smallest lad in the whole school and proved to be a breeze to push. Nick, recalled how most of the other teams, had rather plump, overfed individuals, who clung on for dear life, when the prams went around the sharper corners on the route. He was chuckling again, this time mostly at the expense of Stuart Waters, who despite his finest efforts, had been tipped out of Team 3’s pram, as the pushers rounded the Village Green and took the top bend far too fast. Stuart had taken a rather inelegant roll, ending up sitting on his backside, in the duckpond. 'Happy days,' Nick mused to himself.

Then, rational thoughts took over again. 'No use getting your hopes up, if you haven’t done anything to resolve the situation. So get off your arse and do something.' Nick, reached over the desk, towards his lap top and dragged it to him.

“There’s no time like the present,” he said and started to construct an E-mail to altorro, whom he suspected was in fact, Alan Turnbull. Frustratingly, he just couldn’t think of anything to say that would make any sense. It was like some kind of writers block. The words just kept coming out in the wrong order and were constantly being deleted.

“Fucking pitiful,” he silently screamed, as he deleted yet another attempt. Eventually, after a few more aborted efforts, he settled for composing an innocuous sort of correspondence and pressed ‘send.’ No sooner had he dispatched the e-mail, than all the doubts regarding it, surfaced. 'Bet it’s not him and there’s some person, somewhere out there, deleting it right now,' he thought. 'I should never have opened with ’Hello old friend,’ bloody hell, I must’ve seem like a right dork, to anybody reading it but it’s too late now. Its gone.'

He needn’t have been so apprehensive. A reply was forthcoming within thirty minutes.

“You have mail,” said the machine and a tingle of excitement ran through his body, as he hurriedly opened the latest arrival in his mailbox. “Hello Nicks,” it read in the first line and he already knew that it was indeed, his old friend Alan Turnbull. Only he ever called him Nicks and now he was feeling a little nervous.

“Christ man, just read it and be done,” he muttered and began to read. “Hello Nicks, long time no see. How are you man?” That was typical, Alan, he never did mince his words. It was one of the things that Nick had always liked about him. There was no subterfuge, in what he said to you. If you asked him a straight question, you would always get an honest answer. Nick read on. “You must be living local, we should meet up for a drink, sometime if that’s O.K. with you. Let me know where you are and we’ll sink a few.” This was brilliant. All this time and it was as if he had never been gone. Nick, instantly began to write back to his old friend and tentatively invited him for a drink at The Dutch Barn, a haunt that was familiar to both of them, from the old days.

“Only if you buy me a Barn Burger,” came back the reply, from altorro.

“You’re on. How does Wednesday night at 8.00 sound?” Replied Nick.

“Nice one, Man. See you there,” came the response from Alan’s site.

“Fucking magic, can’t wait,” shouted Nick, as the punched the air, then answered, “See you Wednesday Mr. T.”

Mrs. McLintock, who was in the dining area, undertaking the thankless task of putting out the places for the hostel’s evening meal, was startled by his sudden ebullience and rushed over to the office, knocked on the door and enquired,

“Everything alright in there Nicolas?” She had this habit of always referring to him as Nicolas, when she thought, as she put it, 'Something was up.' He tried to control the excitement but failed miserably and resorted to a form of gentle humour.

“I may have found the two things, that my life has been lacking for many years.” Mrs. Mack looked bemused, so he elucidated the point for her benefit. “I’ve rekindled my love affair with Local History and found an old friend at the same time. Who could want for more?”

Mrs. Mack, just chuckled to herself; 'That’s more like the old Nick Swann, though I was hoping he’d found love.....’ she thought and inwardly smiled to herself.

At The Central Library, Alan was fully aware that he was at sometime, going to have to make a start on the report he had promised that bloody Copper, who had called around the other evening.

“Jeez, just what I needed. Why did I promise that?” He sighed and lowered his head, stared at the parquet floor and earnestly asked himself, "How on earth, am I ever going to find the time for all that research, when Gladys needs me?” The Gladys in question, was the old Tank Engine that Alan had a part share in. She was a lovely old thing that the grandly named Patricroft Steam Preservation Society, a group of four like minded individuals, had purchased six months ago after seeing an advert in some trade magazine, of an auction of 'Railway Memorabilia and Ephemera.’ They were now restoring the old dear, to her former glory.

‘Gladys,’ previously, had been a much loved workhorse, at the local and now long closed Moseley Common Pit. However, these days she was just a mass of rusty parts, that as they say, 'May need some assembly.' Between his love of astronomy and his commitment to the restoration of Gladys, Alan now had very little free time to devote to his role, as President of The Local History Society.

“Me and my big mouth,” he cursed. To provide DCI Findlay with what he wanted, which was nothing less than a comprehensive picture of the Ravens Gate area including its social, industrial and criminal history, was going to take considerable research time. Findlay was particularly interested to know if any similar events to the present murders had taken place in the past. One thing was for sure, a great deal of time was going to have to be spent unearthing and collating data from local history tomes, documents and the mountains of old newspapers. The library had digitized the last twenty five years but before that, they were still on microfiche, all the way back to 1897. He then remembered, that all the even earlier papers, were still in stored in heavy bound volumes deep in the Libraries basement archives.

“I need an assistant,” he pleaded to the heavens, “But I don’t think one’s on the way, anytime soon.”

Come Wednesday, Alan was getting excited about meeting up with his old friend Nicks, at The Dutch Barn. Knowing the reputation of the place, Alan chose to order a taxi to get him there and even more importantly, to get him back home again, in one piece. On the last occasion he had frequented ‘The Barn,’ with Nicks, all those years ago, he had gotten himself entangled in some stray barbed wire, which had tripped him up in the dark as he was crossing Bushel’s Field, whilst taking a short cut home from the bus stop. Not only did the wire hurt, but every time he attempted to extricate himself from the now hopelessly tangled wire, it’s hold on him grew tighter and the barbs sank deeper into his skin.

He must have been very drunk that night because at some point sleep overtook him. When he finally woke up in the morning, the Sun was high in the sky and he was being observed by a couple of curious children. Alan, through blurry eyes, observed their overly protective mothers, anxiously dragged them away exhorting them,

“Not to touch the strange man,” as, “he probably has all sorts of diseases and you never know where he’s been.” He smiled at the recollection and shook his head. 'From that drunken wreck, entangled in the wire, like some latter day 'Tommy,’ to Head Librarian, in one easy move,' he thought but then corrected himself. “No, it wasn’t. It was actually, a great deal of good old fashioned hard work, with a sprig of diligence, thrown in on the side.”

Alan, checked his appearance again in the bathroom mirror, while he waited for his taxi to arrive. He realised he was actually feeling a little nervous about meeting Nicks again, after all this time. It had been his fault their friendship faded away. Nick, would write to him

on a semi regular basis during their first twelve months at University. It was a sort of ‘solidarity in the face of chaos’ kind of thing. He really should have made the effort to reply, but Oxford got in the way. He lost contact when the letters stopped arriving, sometime during the first semester of year two. By this time, he had made some new friends and his erstwhile buddy from afar, drifted into the shadows. During the last twenty plus years, he remembered Nicky, in some of his most priceless memories.

There was the time at Moss Bank College when he, Nicks and Tony Anson, had produced an underground magazine they proudly entitled, 'Bizz, Wank, Turd.'” He smiled again at the memory. The afore mentioned BWT, as it was known, was placed surreptitiously inside ‘The Guardian‘ newspaper in the college library and left there for someone to find and spread the word. Along with the magazine, there was a short note requesting the reader to, “Think of others and replace this fine Mag, back on the rack.”

Everything went well until Kevin Salt, the school snitch, got hold of the magazine and took it to the Deputy Head, Harry Grape. He was a particularly severe individual, who didn’t hold much store with outrages like those BWT provoked. Having had the first issue seized by Mr. Grape, Alan and Nicks, set about producing Issue No.2. Tony, had dropped out of the project, just days after No.1 had been discovered, fearful for his future, but Messer’s Turnbull and Swann, pressed on. Six weeks passed before they could stick anothertwo days.

“Somebody grassed on us,” Alan quietly hissed, for the umpteenth time since that bleak day, all those years ago, when his Underground Press credentials died. Those events, still rankled with him and even after all this time, he still wondered who was the Judas?

Nick was also a little on edge as he travelled in his cab heading for his evening inThe Dutch Barn with Alan. He was not thinking about adolescent pranks, he was looking for an undercurrent that he was hoping a rekindling of his previous friendship with altorro, would provide. As this meeting of old friends drew closer, they were both experiencing a degree of butterflies. 'Shit, this is like going on a first date,' mused Nick, as he peered at his own reflection, clearly visible in the glass of his Taxi’s window. He didn’t have much time to think anything more, as the Cab pulled into the car park, that served The Barn and drew to a halt outside the door. Nick, looked at the Meter and handed over the cash, saying

“Keep the change” as he exited the vehicle. As the cabbie pulled away, he called toNick,

“Thanks man” he said and stuck his right hand thumbs upward, like some latter-day Roman Emperor in the arena, granting mercy, to some bloodied and beaten Gladiator.

Then disappeared through the exit heading off in the direction of Warburton Valance. Distracted, Nick watched the Taxi turn onto the main road and speed up, just as a second yellow ‘Pronto‘ cab pulled into the car park, sidled up to the entrance and disgorged it’s passenger.

Alan disentangled himself from the seatbelt and having dispensed the customary tip to his driver, casually strolled towards the door. Nick was truly amazed that he recognised him immediately, after all these years. His hair was a lot greyer and he appeared to be taller than he recalled, but then again, he hadn’t seen him for two decades and then some.

Alan recognised Nick, at the same instant and they both greeted each other, with the same greeting.

“Hi, Nicks/Alan, really average to see you, you old fuck,” and with that, they both dissolved into gales of laughter.

“I believe, that I may owe you a Barn Burger, if my memory serves me well,” said Nick, as he reached out, to shake Alan Turnbull’s hand.

“You bet your arse you do,” he responded and shook his old friends paw, enthusiastically. “Lead on,” said Alan, as they entered the main body of The Barn and the music grew louder.

“What’ll you have?” Nick asked.

“I think that I’ll be having, ’a wee dram’ of a smooth single malt,” Alan jokingly stated in a hammy Scottish vocal affectation. Nick, just smiled and nodded his head, as he strode off towards the bar. 'Same old Alan,' he mused and then, he remembered the promised Barn Burger.

“When do you want to eat?” He called to his old friend, who was obviously paying scant attention to a word that he was saying, as he had his head buried in the digital Jukebox selection.

“Wow.” Or, “Amazing.” Chunnered Alan, as he explored the ‘Classic Rockers’ section, which held such trusty gems as Z.Z Top’s ‘La Grange’ and Led Zeppelin’s ‘Immigrant Song,’ among it’s choices. Then, by the simple press of the arrow symbol, it was followed by ‘The Golden Greats,’ which included another two Led Zeppelin tracks. That section was followed by, something called ’To Die For,’ a selection of tunes, it was suggested, were so good they could kill you, should you ever hear them again.

“Very good,” observed Alan. Nick realised it was hopeless to expect a response, so he decided to get the burgers now and then, Alan could eat his, whenever he finally stopped making love to the Jukebox.

Having ordered, Nick carried the drinks over to the table in the far corner and sat down. Alan, swiftly noticed that his Single Malt, had mysteriously arrived at the table and instantly stopped what he was doing and slid over.

“That was like a wolf following a scent.” Nick, commented but couldn’t resist passing his nose across the top of his own glass.

“Think of it as prey,” Alan said as he sat down. “Do you come in here often?” enquired

Alan, mischievously. Nick, missed the joke and downed his Cognac, in one gulp. This time, it was Alan who followed and he quickly did the same. They both slammed their glasses down on the table, with a resounding, “Skol” and immediately started to laugh again.

“Christ man, I’m forty odd years old and acting like a teenager. How sad is that?” Alan, looked at his friend and then started laughing again.

“Fuck off, you boring old fart. You’re only a couple of months older than me. Get a grip of yourself man.” This was going to be one shit hot evening, if these early doors, were anything to go by and Nick, suddenly realised, just how much he’d missed Alan’s company, and how incredibly alike they had been back then. It seemed to him, as if this unlikely friendship of their’s, had matured into something that could be even stronger than it had been in the past.

“Do you want another drink, or are we going to be sensible this evening?” Alan, cocked his head over to one side, looked at Nick quizzically and pushed his empty glass towards him. “What do you think,” he said as Nick tried to catch the rather dapper waiter’s eye. At this point, The Barn’s lounge, was pretty much deserted, with only about fifteen people present and it was a simple task to get his attention.

“Can we have, a double Cognac and a twin shot of your finest Single Malt, please.” The waiter, who’s badge said that he was called Ryan, nodded to Nick and dutifully presented the second round of Spirits as the Burgers, arrived simultaneously.

“Bon Appetit,” said the young chap, as he spun on his heels and headed back to the serving hatch.

By the time that Nick had finished with all the niceties, Alan had a large bite of his Burger in his mouth and was attempting to converse with his compadre but Nick, was struggling to make out a single word that he was trying to say.

“I’ll just sit here and nod, in

what seem to be the appropriate places. You carry on stuffing your face and don’t mind me.” Alan laughed and took another bite of his obviously delicious Barn Burger. With his cheeks still bulging with food, Alan tried to enquire about putting something on the Jukebox. Nick got a rough idea of what he was attempting to communicate and got up to go over to the machine and select a few tunes. “Hairway Huh Huhvan,” mumbled Alan and that was enough. Besides that good old classic, Nick dialed up two songs that he hopedmusic began. “There’s a lady who’s sure, all that glitters is Gold......” Alan was nodding to the beat and with his mouth now almost empty, he smiled at Nick, while saying,

“Fantastic,” and Nick grinned back at him.

They spent much of the remainder of the evening, catching up and getting rather inebriated. “How are you earning a crust these days, man?” Asked Alan, never expecting the answer he got. “What, you mean to say, that you’re working at St. Joseph’s, on the Canal bank at Gildabrooke, get away!” He was both pleased and somewhat surprised, to learn of this information. “I’ve been living in The Old Toll House, by Balaclava Bridge for years. How come I’ve never seen you?”

Nick, was equally amazed by this snippet of information but The Devil himself, could drive past every day and nobody would notice, if the windows were mirrored. “So, you must know about the murders,” he said and Alan just nodded.

“I had some stupid copper around at my place, a day or so after. Then his boss turned up and I foolishly said, that I’d furnish him with a potted history of that section of the canal, but I’ve not managed to get round to it yet. Gladys keeps getting in the way”

All sorts of possibilities flowed through Nick’s head at this point. “Who’s Gladys?”

Alan grinned, “The latest love of my life,” he paused to see if Nick would take the bait. Nick raised an eyebrow,

“Girlfriend,” he enquired.

“No,” responded Alan, “Tank Engine.”

Nick, remembered his friends love of anything to do with steam engines. He too enjoyed the romance of steam, having spent many happy hours on preserved railways, but Alan he recalled, was more interested in the engineering nuts and bolts side of things. He let his friend prattle on for a while describing the preservation and rebuild demands of Gladys.

Then, casually he steered the conversation back to what really interested him, the history of the canal area.

“This report for the police, maybe I can help. I could look through the newspaper archives if you’d like,” offered Nick.

“Oh Man, that would be great. I’ll do the local historybooks and documentary archive and we can compile our findings and put the report in together.” Both of the old friends beamed at each other, “Do you remember BWT?” They both laughed and there followed several happy reminiscences of school and college life. In a pause to recover from laughing, Alan asked

“Have you had any dealings with The Police, or are you being seen as just an ancillary, to the facts?” That, was a good question, which he hadn’t given much thought to.

“Don’t know, can’t be too sure about that one. The top cop, DCI. Findlay, is O.K. but the others, well I just don’t know. His second, is a bit of a prat but I’ve not had too much to do with him. Deacon’s his name, Arch Deacon. Who says that coppers have no sense of humour?” Alan laughed, ironically at his words.

“I ran into the Junior officer, DS. Deacon, first and I thought that he was a bit of a dick but that’s me, I never got on too well with the law, I don’t trust them.”

Nick, smirked at his observations. “Yeah, Deacon is a bit ‘by the book’ but his boss, Findlay is a curious one. He seems to be caught between two stools. It’s like he’s got a foot in both camps. On the one hand, he is after all, a custodian of the law but sometimes I got the feeling he doesn’t totally agree with the conduct of the investigation.” Alan, was considering his friend’s words, while searching for the right expressions required to express his doubts, regarding the police.

“Findlay, is the cop who I promised the report to. Deacon, on the other hand, can go and swivel. I got the impression that DS. Deacon, was looking for an easy rap and that anybody was fair game, for his suspicions.”

Seeing that both their glasses were empty, the waiter approached their table once again and asked them, if they wanted a top up? “One more for the road?” asked Alan.

“O.K, why not.” Nick replied. Alan, then jumped in before Nick could place the order,

“Same again Garçon and don’t spare the horses.” As the drinks were being downed, the

Dutch Barn’s Jukebox, began playing another killer track, “City girls just seem to find out early, how to open doors with just a smile,” the song went and both Nick Swann and Alan Turnbull, sat back in their chairs and were transported to California for a few minutes, but West Coast dreams couldn’t go on for ever and as they parted, they promised to keep in touch to organise the research for the report. Alan, then got into his ordered Taxi, for the journey home and casually waved farewell, to Nick, as his ride drew away from The Dutch Barn. Nick was left waiting outside for a few minutes, until he saw another bright yellow ‘Pronto’ Cab turn into the car park, he raised his hand and signaled it over.

Once he was settled in the warm surrounds of the cab and his journey home had begun, Nick reached into his pocket and pulled out his phone. He had turned it off before he went into The Barn. That was something he always did, he considered it very bad manners to be answering a mobile while you were in the company of others. Now that he was alone in the back of the cab and it would be a good twenty minutes until he arrived in Willowbank, he could check to see if anybody had been trying to contact him during the evening.

“Hmm, five calls,” he said out loud, as he looked at his phone. “Two, from Findlay. I wonder what he wants that’s so urgent?”

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