Now at last, he could now go home and Larry could suffer a little. Twenty-seven hours in the saddle and he was buggered. He was so strung out, after the intense Police search of the hostel and all that went with it, that he left his set of keys attached to his belt loop as he left the building. This oversight went unnoticed until he had almost made it to the car, then, cursing himself he had to make a swift return to the office to hang the damn things up on the board. The trudge back demonstrated how tired he really was, as his poor legs began to ache. The dull sensations of utter fatigue were becoming almost unbearable, as the hostel entranceway approached and he still had to endure Larry’s sarcastic smirks, at his colleagues absent minded oversight. However, Nick needn’t have worried, because as he walked through the swing doors, he could clearly hear Larry’s voice coming from the dining room area. Larry, it seemed was talking to a couple of the lads and was totally unaware that Nick was anywhere near the office. Larry, was under the impression that the place was his to command until the morning. Nick, took full advantage of this God given opportunity and quietly made his way into the office, silently hooked his set of keys in the usual position on the board and stealthily crept out again, like a thief in the night. He congratulated himself, as he departed the building and the heavy doors swung silently shut, behind him. “What Lawrence doesn’t know, won’t hurt him. Well, not too much, anyway,” he sneakily said to himself and quickened his pace across the car park. Rapidly, he reached his goal and having noiselessly gained access to his Volvo. Larry would never notice that his co-workers keys had suddenly appeared on the board, whilst he was out of the office. Actually, Larry would most likely never have noticed this discrepancy but Nick’s sneakiness had saved him having to listen to a torrent of sarcasm from Lawrence Walsh if he’d caught him.
Once ensconced inside his car, a rather beaten up but well loved 15 year old machine, Nicolas turned on his trusty iPod and began to fully relax in its well moulded leather seat, for the ﬁrst time in what seemed like an age. Maybe it was the music, or more likely it was simply, that Valerie B. could not reach him in his 'metal box of solitude.' He had felt her presence all to clearly today. With a shrug of his shoulders, he turned the key and started “Deek,” the name he had given to the old Volvo, due to itʼs number plate which was WDK 277. He had considered the fact that WDK was dyslexic text speak for “wicked” but that didnʼt sit right, so he christened the old dear “Deek.” She had 147,000 miles on the clock and had never given him a moments trouble. So, with the Beatles blasting out through the speakers, he pulled out of the car park and set off for his home in Willowbank.
He wasnʼt turning around again, not even if the place was on ﬁre, which on consideration, wasnʼt be such a bad idea right now. Helter Skelter, rather aptly came pouring out of the rather expensive, constantly updated in-car stereo system, and Nick howled along to the lyrics. Ever since heʼd heard a Blaupunkt car stereo when he and his wife Joanne, had done that, “one last crazy hitch-hike, around Europe,” heʼd insisted on great in-car sounds. This was just prior to giving up on their previously chaotic lives and settling down to a more sedate existence, which in their maturing dreams, included some children and a rather hefty mortgage. These life changing commitments, did not necessarily ﬁll either of them with overwhelming amounts of joy but it felt right. “Time marches on and none of us, can stay young forever Nick,” Joanne, was all too fond of saying.
It had been during a particularly lengthy lift theyʼd gleefully accepted from Arnhem in Holland, to Frankfurt in Germany. That they got to know a rather plump German Hippie, with a long pony tail, who went by the name of Reiner. Regrettably, throughout the trip, they never did discover his surname and although that didnʼt seem to matter at the time, it was to prove to be a point of infrequent regret. They had often wondered about the porky German and wished they could have contacted him. Reiner drove a very slow 1950ʻs Citroen Safari, with an uncomfortable, lumpy interior that had seen many better days, but it had a fantastic “in-house,” sound system. For the entirety of the trip, they had both been serenaded by the dulcet tones of various ʻKraut Rock Bands.ʼ The appreciation of which, had been greatly enhanced by the fantastic quality of the sounds emanating from the six speakers and a seemingly endless supply of Afghan Hashish, offered freely by their host. The extremely loud music and the exotic smokes, were both greatly appreciated by Nick and Joanne, as they were transported sedately through the German countryside.
In one of those surreal moments, Nick found himself lost in visions of his triumphal entry into the halls of Valhalla, atop a ﬂaming Citroen Safari pulled by winged steeds. All this of course, was whilst the attendant Valkyries, served up ladles of Sauerkraut, Sausages and giant steins of foaming beer. As they slowly ﬂowed along the endless autobahns, and the intoxication levels grew, these periods in ʻThe Netherworld,ʼ became decidedly longer and increasingly pleasant. It was during this time, that he recalled Joʼs face, when he put forward the proposition, that he would trade her, a beautiful house in the country and two kids, for an in car sound system like Reinerʼs! Being the charmer that she was, Jo, O.Kʼd this bargain and Nick, lost in these happy memories, felt his mood, slowly begin to relax. The feelings of stress loosened their vice like grip on his aching temples, as he remembered those carefree days and he began to smile. This was just what the doctor ordered and the Beatlesʼ “Itʼs only a Norther Song” rang to its end as Nick pulled into the drive at Lilac Cottage.
“Oh, man, those were the days,” he said to “Deek” as he decanted and locked the doors. “Oh fuck,” spluttered Nick, as he put the car keys into his pocket and felt nothing else present. An image of his house keys hanging up in the ofﬁce, while he had driven all this way home, didnʼt bear thinking about. Almost in a panic, he desperately patted all his pockets, mercifully, as he patted his trouser pockets, there on the left hand side, he felt something that felt like his keys. Using the same hand, he then withdrew an old fashioned looking key from itʼs hidey hole, sighed contentedly, placed it in the door lock and so, opened the front entrance of ʻLilac Cottage.ʼ
Once again, the house was silent as he stepped inside the doorway. Even though, it had been ﬁfteen years since Jo had died, he never felt more alone than at times like this. It was on returning home after days like the one he had just suffered, that made him realise just how much he missed her. Another partner seemed out of the question, nobody could live up to Joanneʼs memory, but perhaps he should get a dog? As he stepped into the warm house and started to make his way towards ʻThe Music Room,ʼ as he called the lounge, Nick was deciding, what to do ﬁrst. It was between, a) Preparing his late evening meal, or alternately, b) having a big Joint ﬁrst, in order to get the day, into some sort of perspective? It was no contest, ʻB,ʼ won. So, Nick walked in and picking up his “Stash” box from the desk drawer on the way past, clicked on the Hi Fi system and the gentle melodies of The Grateful Dead ﬁlled the room. He parked himself in the soft leather armchair, positioned strategically, facing between the enormous speakers and the massive ﬂat screen television. Putting his feet up on the tuffet he began to slowly unfold the three cigarette paperʼs and build himself a really big Joint. “You deserve this one, Nicky,” he said to himself, as he ﬁred up his old Ronson lighter, held the ﬂame to his home made Marijuana cigarette and inhaled deeply. He would get the evening meal presently, but right now, he was going to relax for a little while outside, in the garden.
Parking himself on his favourite wooden bench, he watched the full moon light reﬂecting on his carp pond. He just sat there, smoking and relaxing in the gentle warmth of the early autumn evening. As he ﬁnished his smoke, Nick stood up and took himself, back inside the house, casually clicking off the player. The chill of the oncoming night, had reminded him how hungry he was. On his way to the kitchen, Nick ﬂicked on the T.V, vaguely hoping there would be something on the news to entertain him, while he was cooking his pizza. Unfortunately it was Saturday, a universally crap day for intelligent news gathering. He would have to be content with a quick cliche of headlines, unsubstantiated rumours, library footage and endless sport, well Football really. Not exactly riveting thought Nick.
So, returning with his cooked pizza, he turned onto the T.V. planner and browsed his previous recordings. He located the ﬁrst episode of the Science Fiction series that heʼd been collecting over the weeks, for an occasion such as this. He had heard great things about this one but in his usual style, had resisted the temptation to watch, preferring to record the whole thing, before embarking on the unknown journey to Planet Sci-ﬁ. Well, that moment had arrived. The ﬁnal episode, had been recorded earlier in the week and tonight, after the day that heʼd had, was as good a time as any to be taken away from this universe. Settling back he clicked go and watched intently as he ate his pizza. When he ﬁnished he reached over to retrieve the Cognac bottle, poured himself a generous one and then sat back again to enjoy a couple of hours in front of the ʻgoggle-box,ʼ fully prepared to be transported to another world.
Strangely, despite the quality of the show, he couldnʼt let go of his troubled thoughts about that damn disciplinary meeting at Peninsular Tower. One member of St. Josephʼs Board of Governors would attend the hearing and Nick sniggered as he suddenly had a vision of Vera as Q, from and old Star Trek episode, ﬂoating on high in that ornate throne, acting as omnipotent judge of the human race.
“Shit, you wait for ages and then two birthdays come along at the same time.” Nick said to the wall. “What was I supposed to do?” Then an alarm bell went off in his mind, “damn it,” he pitifully squeaked, “that fucking report for Vera.”
It was no good staring at some ﬂickering pictures on a big plasma screen, he had work to do. So, reluctantly, he turned off the T.V and retired to his ofﬁce.
Lilac Cottage was a small property, so he didnʼt have far to go, from the lounge to the dining room, which nowadays he referred to as, ʻThe ofﬁce.ʼ Half way across the sea of deep blue carpet covering the lounge ﬂoor, Nick, suddenly stopped and balletically turning on his heels, he returned to retrieved his 'Stash Box.' Writing a report, that had to pass muster with Vera, in only a few hours was pressure enough but to even attempt it without some herbal assistance, was unthinkable. Like some ʻjourno hack,ʼ he sat at the Computer console for the next couple of hours, his ﬁngers dancing across the keyboard and the smouldering dog end of a Joint dangling idly, from his lips.
“The woman. Her dog. The dead body.” Nick, physically counted them out on his ﬁngers, hoping that he wasnʼt leaving anything undeclared. “That only leaves the Police Search and............” He stopped there and then facetiously added........... “And what I had for my fucking tea.”
Nick ran through the early evenings events again in his mind. DCI. Findlay and the distinctly not amusing, though comically referred to, Arch Deacon, had called in at the hostel for their fruitless search of the residents rooms and pointless interviews, at the arranged time, but instead of being a little discrete, they had arrived ʻmob handedʼ. That factor alone, would not play well to the board. They had arrived, not long after he had put the phone down to Larry Walsh who had phoned in to say he was going to be “a gnatʼs ass,” late taking over from him. Larry used the phrase, to convey an amorphous length of time delay. Looking back, all Nick could say about Larryʼs judgement of time was, “that particular gnat in question, must have had a very big ass!” Larry, had not turned up until Findlay and Deacon, were almost ready to leave. “A fat lot of use, as usual” said Nick, as he reached upwards and stretched his arms, out wide. If anything else had happened at that point, he could possibly have gone mad. At least, he thought, if I had gone do-lally earlier on in the day, I wouldnʼt be sitting here now writing this fucking report. Would I?
When he had eventually dotted all the ʻIʼsʼ and crossed the ﬁnal ʻTʼsʼ Nick, signed off the report, took the rancid ʻroachʼ out of his mouth and poured himself, another large self congratulatory Cognac. He then began the process of rolling himself another ʻdooby,ʼ while he relaxed after his efforts of the late evening.
“Not a bad effort, Nicky, even if I sayso myself,” he mused aloud, as he took a good swig of his Cognac, rolled it around his mouth for a while, self satisfyingly swallowed it and reached for the Joint that was lying on the top of the coffee table. Carrying both, he opened the French windows and stepped outside and sat in the chair on the wooden decking. The night time was almost silent around ʻLilac Cottage.ʻ Only the strategically placed lights in the garden offered any artiﬁcial illumination.
Nick loved sitting out here, after a long day at work. There was a peace in the garden, that somehow deﬁed logic and heʼd often found himself just sitting here and talking to Joanneʼs Spirit, when his mind was troubled and he needed a little help. She had built this garden, by shear force of will and oh, how he appreciated it now that she was gone. He rose to his feet and wandered languidly, over to the Carp Pond, which was bathed in a soft Cerulean Blue light. One of the ﬁsh rose to the surface, as he approached, hoping to be fed a morsel, or two but Nick, simply sat down in Joeʼs old chair and pulling out his trusty Ronson, lit the Joint heʼd rolled earlier. Somehow, sitting alone, out here in the night, enabled Nick, to get close to his darling Joanne once more. Breast Cancer had stolen her from him, all those years ago and he still missed her terribly. She was the rock, that he built his life upon, his ʻSoul mate,ʻ his best friend and my God, he was still bereft. Here, around the Carp Pond, with itʼs lilly beds and the reeds hugging the banks, he felt that her Presence, was always at its strongest. Nick, sat there for a while, conversed with Jo and ﬁnished smoking his ʻDooby,ʼ whilst he waited for sleep, to catch up with him.
Despite his tasks being completed and the long shift, his mind was still racing. Nick and Jo, thought that they were a match made in heaven. The two of them, both considered, that it was fate that had drawn them together, in this tryst of love at ﬁrst sight. However, when they were sure, that neither, Nick, nor Jo could hear them, none of their friends actually considered, that this professed instant attraction, was anything more than lust. Nobody thought, that the frenzied affair theyʼd embarked upon, could possibly last. The joke was on them. Nick and Jo, who was indeed, going to prove to be the love of his life, moved in together, after just twelve days and after traveling great distances together, they took up residence in “Lilac Cottage,” which was to become their home in the country. Just after they moved in, Nick managed to acquire a position in The Probation Service and Joanne, found a role in education, helping Dyslexic teenagers. They couldnʼt have been more contented. Life, was a dream and the future was stretching on towards the horizon, before them. Their life together, was indeed looking bright and there wasnʼt a single cloud, that could be seen in their sky. In his mindʼs eye, Nick, could plainly see Jo, tending her garden and he fondly remembered digging the Carp Pond on that unusually warm day, in a furious June all those years ago. Jo, directing the whole operation from her deckchair, strategically placed to garner the maximum sunshine. Now he was simply drifting, aware that he was seeing himself looking into Joʼs bright blue eyes, swiftly he pulled himself back from that blue pit. It only led to tears and despair.
Rising he made his way back inside and ﬂopped down into his easy chair. Aware that his mind was wandering and ever conscious of the dangers that a lighted cigarette could pose, he ﬁnished his joint, stubbed out the butt, clicked the repeat button on the C.D. player and promptly slipped into a deep sleep. He awoke several hours later, with his bladder feeling as if it were about to burst and had to make a rather undigniﬁed dash for the toilet. He couldnʼt believe it when he looked at his watch and it said 5.23am and the date counter indicated that it was Sunday. “Bugger me,” his mind screamed internally “Iʼm sure that this place attracts the purest form of cold.” Nick muttered and as his right foot landed on a particularly frigid tile, other less polite profanities followed, as he almost stepped on a big black Cofﬁn Beetle, that was making its way towards the lounge.
He slowly and unsteadily tried to traverse the space between carpets on tiptoes to the stairs. Fleetingly, he hoped that the insect was not a portent of things to come but still working on autopilot, he made his way to the bedroom and fell into his softly enveloping quilt of oblivion. Try as he might, sleep would not come, his mind was preoccupied with the Disciplinary Hearing, after all, he could lose his job on Monday and that would not be good.
When he finally managed to fall asleep, it was just as dawn’s first light broke over the eastern horizon and he dreamt about his father. The dreams had been vivid and personally painful to the somnambulant Nicolas Swann. Right now, Nick could not escape his memories of the recent events leading to his Fathers death. They were on the one hand totally tragic, both for his Mother and him but on the other hand, in some lights, could be seen by the casual observer as quite amusing. It all began with a little overtime at the office after the financial error in the accounts of L. T. Benson’s, the local purveyor of “Fine Tobacco Products for The Connoisseur,” had been found. He remained late to ensure it was resolved. Fortunately, the errors were quickly corrected and he found he could make it home before 7.00 o’clock, in plenty of time for Vivaldi concert on the radio that evening.
Everything went like clockwork, until as he was walking past Piccadilly Gardens, when he noticed the crowd standing expectantly outside the Station Concourse. If he didn’t hurry, he was going to miss his train back to Worsley and that would never do. He fiddled in his pocket for his wallet, intending to extract his travel card when he reached the new tram lines, just as the local press photographers got there. They came out from the crowd, like some strange extrusion and began to flow into the road, jostling in order to find the best location to snap pictures of Manchester’s latest transport innovation, a new tramcar line.
He was finding it difficult to negotiate his way across the tramway as the stampede of sweaty humanity pushed against him. At this point, he realised that he was standing in the path of the oncoming Tramcar and shoved even harder against the mass. Suddenly, they gave way and as he lurched forward he let the wallet which was in his hand slip from his grasp. He turned and looking down, he spotted his now open wallet lying on the track in front of him. Foolishly, he bent down to retrieve it and then the tram was upon him, catching him a glancing blow on the right shoulder as he pulled himself away from the oncoming vehicle.
“Phew, that was lucky,” he said to himself as he strode off towards the Station Entrance. Brushing off any dirt that had found its way onto his immaculate Italian suit jacket, Bernard Swann, quickly swiped his travel card and strode onto the 6:25pm Sprinter and found himself a seat by the window. After having had a minor brush, with what was the very first Manchester Tramcar on the new line, he smiled wryly to himself. That smile was mostly due, to the fact that, he had almost re-enacted the Hodgkinson incident, that had plagued the original line back in the early days of rail transport. This was when an important dignitary, Mr Hodgkinson M.P, had been mowed down and killed by the Manchester to Liverpool train on its inaugural journey on the line.
Bernard smiled to himself, at least he had lived to tell the tale. The difference was, that the tramcar had merely brushed his shoulder as it ceremonially processed by Piccadilly Station, which it was intended to service with a rapid passenger transit service to the city centre. Mr. Hodgkinson had not been so lucky, he had his legs cutoff.
Bernard Swann, continued on his journey home and giving a passing thought to the days events, he casually brushed his shoulder again and opened the Evening Paper. As usual, his journey back home, went smoothly and he got off the train with only one thought on his mind. The evenings “Vivaldi concert.” As he alighted at Worsley Station, Bernard glanced up at the old clock which read 6:58 and checked the time, against his own watch.
“Come on, up the pace Bernie or you’re going to be late,” he muttered to himself and his walk became like a trot as he set off from the station and headed for home. The distance from the station to his abode was roughly half a mile and he reckoned that he would be there within the next ten minutes. About half way, he felt a stitch coming on and he had to slow down a little. Presently, the pain in his side eased and Bernie picked up the pace again, his schedule was back on track. He hardly noticed, that he was perspiring quite freely and breathing reasonably hard, as he ascended the slight rise which lead up to the old bridge which crossed a tarmac pathway. This, some eighty years ago, had been a single track rail line, until the coal mine it serviced, caved in after an explosion, which sadly killed twenty six miners and precipitated the closing of the pit. Now it was a pedestrian walkway.
Later that evening, he began to feel a little dizzy so went to bed early at about 9:30 and never woke up. Although he could not have known it, delayed shock had set in and a pre-existing, though undiagnosed heart condition led to his demise during the night. His wife, Estelle, had discovered him in the morning and she was never quite the same again after that. She would often sit, almost motionless, for hours just staring tearfully off into the distance. Estelle, would never remarry and the concept, of dying alone was a fate, that Nick had considered often, now that Joanne was gone. Nick woke from his disturbing dreams covered in sweat rolled over and reached for his stash box.......