Chanter's Hide

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TWELVE

“It’s yet to touch the water,” said Efram. ” I bought it just before we moved to Chanter’s Hide. I thought that once Peter was more mobile, we could get out and get some sea air, maybe do a bit of fishing.”

“Why didn’t you?”

“Drake warned us off; telling me about the strong under-currents flowing between here and the rock and how unpredictable they were. At that time, I had no reason to doubt him.”

“What sort of boat are we talking about,” I asked him.

“It’s only a dinghy,” he replied. “But it’s pretty robust.”

“And it has a pair of oars,” Peter added.

“A dinghy?”

“It might be a bit of a squeeze, but I reckon, for the short distance to the island, we wouldn’t be too cramped,” Efram said.

“Dad, we’ll be fine,” said Peter. “We can do this.”

“What if we don’t find the last key before Drake?” I asked.

“What if, what if, what if,” Peter blurted in frustration. ” Would you rather sit back and let Drake do his worst?”

I looked at Peter and then at Efram. “You should be very proud of your son, Efram,” I said. “He has courage and common sense in spades.”

Efram beamed. “He takes after his Mother,” he said with a sad smile.

Peter sighed. “When you two have stopped with all the schmaltzy stuff?”

“Okay,” I said. “First off, we’d better make sure this dinghy is still seaworthy and hasn’t perished, or whatever rubber does.”

“It’ll be fine, “Efram said. “The problem is going to be, making sure that Drake is not out there when we are. We could do with some sort of diversionary tactic.”

“How about your wife?” Peter asked.

“What about my wife?” I said sharply.

Efram picked up on his son’s stream of thought. “Can’t you get Jan to invite him and his fancy piece to dinner? Return the compliment, so to speak.”

“That’s all well and good,” I said. “But I think both she and him would expect me to be there as well, don’t you?”

That seemed to take the wind out of their sails until Peter’s face lit up.

“Have you still got that step ladder?” He asked his Dad.

“Yes, it’s lying along the back fence. Why?”

“Is your bedroom window big enough for you to get out of?” He asked me.

“I guess so,” I said. “At a push.”

Peter had a glint in his eye. “If we play this right, “he said. “We may be able to pull the wool over our friendly vicar’s eyes.”

“Come on then, clever dick, let us into your cunning, little plan,” I said.

He grinned. “It’s simple really. Your wife invites Drake and his whore for....”

“Peter!” Efram exclaimed.

Peter looked at his Dad sheepishly. “Sorry Dad, but she is.”

“Well, I’d prefer it if you didn’t use words like that. I’m sure your mother wouldn’t have approved.”

Peter nodded, looking suitably ashamed. “So, Jan invites Drake and Shona (he emphasised the woman’s name) to dinner,” he continued.

“What if he declines the offer?” I asked.

Efram snorted. “As if that’s going to happen. He thinks he’s got you by the short ones, he’ll come, just to gloat and wind you up. He plans on convincing your wife that you’re a suitable case for treatment.”

“Mmmm, I guess that’s it, in a nutshell,” I said. “Go on Peter, I’m all ears.”

“Well – halfway through dinner, you feign illness and tell them you need to go and lie down for a while. Drake will think you’re just trying to get away from his taunts and will just love telling Jan how worried he is about you.”

“He’s right,” said Efram. “This is just a little game to Drake, something to pass the time. Watching you fall apart is what it’s all about.”

I sighed. “And, so far, I’ve been giving him, more or less, what he wants.”

“That’s about to change,” Peter said, his expression suddenly stern. “We’re going to wipe that stupid, evil grin off his face.”

“Or die trying,” I said.

“Come on, Ben; we have no choice. If we do nothing, we dead anyway; and so is your unborn child. We’re doing this, yes?”

I looked at the two of them, the determination etched into their features, and felt ashamed. “I’ll get Jan to invite them tomorrow night. She’ll love preparing a meal for her favourite vicar. I just wish she could see what an evil bastard he actually is.”

“She will,” Efram said. “Soon, she’ll see him for the devil he really is.”

“Before we get ahead of ourselves, shouldn’t we check out the dinghy?” I said. “Without it, we don’t have a plan.”

Efram shook his head. “It’s still in a sealed bag in the shed. It will be fine, oh ye of little faith.”

“Ben’s right Dad, with all the weird things the vicar appears to be able to do around here, we’d better make sure it hasn’t turned into a..... bucket or something.”

“Okay, follow me.”

We went out into the back garden, which was a total contrast to the front, I have to say. It was a vegetable grower’s paradise, rows, and rows of shoots in various stages of growth. Efram unlocked his shed and I was impressed. It was as tidy as it could possibly be. I let out an involuntary gasp.

“I like things tidy,” he said, as if reading my mind. “I just hate gardening for the sake of it. I’m fine with the veg but Kathy was the gardener.” He took a plastic bag off a shelf on his left. “Here it is, good as new.”

It looked as if he had just bought it from the shop. Surely it wasn’t possible for Drake to be aware of all his parishioners’ possessions. I crossed my fingers.

“Have you got a pump?”

Efram bent down and straightened up with a red foot pump in his hand. “The adaptor for the dinghy is in the bag, I think.”

“Well, I hope it is, because we’ve got no chance of popping into Bridport for one, if it isn’t,” I pointed out.

Peter grabbed the bag from his Dad and tore it open. A small, yellow plastic spout fell to the floor. “There it is,” he said excitedly. “We’d better pump it up, make sure there are no holes.”

“I told you, it hasn’t been out of the bag, son,” Efram said again.

“But what if it was faulty when you bought it,” I said. “It could have been sat out here all these years and it’s a dud.”

Efram shook his head. “I bought it from a reputable store in Dorchester, it’ll be fine.”

I couldn’t shake the thought that Drake was watching everything we were doing; waiting for us to pump the bugger up and then, somehow, mentally puncture it. After all I’d seen and experienced so far, it wasn’t that far-fetched.

“Let’s just do it,” I said. “The bloody suspense is killing me. “

Peter lay the dinghy flat, smoothing out the edges and, I must admit, it was in pristine condition. Efram picked up the adaptor and fitted it to the foot pump’s corded tube. I held my breath as he pulled the plug out of the dinghy’s air hole and inserted the adaptor. He took the safety clip off the foot pump, put it on the path and started to pump. Slowly the craft began to become the shape it was meant to be. I listened for the hiss of escaping air but heard nothing. After a minute or so, Efram removed the pump and reinserted the plug. “There you go – what did I tell you?”

I let out my breath slowly, not wanting to disturb the optimistic atmosphere that had suddenly enveloped the three of us. We stood, still as statues, looking at the dinghy.

“It seems we have finally been given a slice of good luck,” I said quietly.

Peter was grinning and Efram’s expression said, ‘I told you so’. I was just relieved. “Shall we let it.......” I stopped mid-sentence as the hiss of escaping air confronted us. “Oh Jesus, no,” I said with a groan.

Peter was on his knees running his hands over the dinghy. “It’s here,” he exclaimed. ” Just a tiny hole. Dad, have we still got that puncture repair kit?”

“Er, yeah, I think so.” He dove back into the shed. I was distraught. This was Drake’s work. I could just see him watching us, laughing like a drain.

Peter looked up at me. “It’s just a pinprick, we’ll fix it. This is nothing to do with him.”

“How do you know?” I said. “How can you possibly know?”

He shrugged. “I don’t know, I just do. Have faith Ben, we can do this.”

We waited with bated breath whilst Efram rummaged about in his shed. If he couldn’t find it, we were sunk – literally. I suddenly realised how futile some peoples’ lives must seem, when life never gives them a break. A line from an old blues song came to mind, originally recorded by Albert King, I think – If it wasn’t for bad luck, I wouldn’t have any luck at all. At that specific moment, that was how I was feeling. I was growing more and more impatient and dreading Efram emerging, empty handed.

“Is it there?” I almost pleaded.

It seemed like an eternity before he finally ducked his head under the door’s lintel. He was smiling broadly, holding up a small, yellow, oval shaped tin.

“You worry too much, “he said, clapping me on the back.

“Never mind that,” I retorted. “Open the bloody tin and make sure what we need’s in there.”

He struggled with the lid for a few seconds before it popped up. He reached in and brought out a piece of chalk, a sheet of six patches with one missing and a tube of glue.

“How old is that?” I asked, imagining the patches to be perished and the glue to have lost its adhesive quality completely.

“Probably three of four years, but it will okay, stop worrying.”

“That’s easy for you to say, your unborn child’s life isn’t on the line,” I muttered.

“For Christ’s sake, pull yourself together, Ben. I’ve told you – we’re in this together. Win or lose, the consequences will be the same for Peter and me, as for you, Jan and Charlie.”

“He’s right, Ben,” Peter said. “And no matter what is thrown at us, we knock it for six and carry on.”

Despite myself, I had to admire his turn of phrase. Yet again I felt like the weak link in this fragile chain.

I sighed. “I’ve got to man up, haven’t I?”

They both nodded. Efram grabbed hold of my shoulders. “Ted used to say you were a feisty bugger.”

“I guess I used to be,” I said. “That was before I had others to think of. I’m just so scared of screwing this up.”

“Well, get that feistiness back. It’s the only way we’re going to beat this bastard.”

“One for all and all for one,” said Peter, with a grin, holding up his hand for a high five. We obliged, the action lightening the moment.

“Now, let’s repair this puncture and get ourselves seaworthy, like true musketeers.” Efram suggested.

“Just call me Aramis,” I said, trying on a smile for size.

I couldn’t leave until the puncture had been repaired and tested. I still wasn’t convinced that this was nothing to do with Drake. It was only when the dinghy had been pumped up and let down three times that I began to regain a smidgeon of my earlier optimism.

Efram looked at me and shook his head. “Go home, Ben. Everything’s good this end. Go and talk to Jan, get this dinner party sorted out.”

Peter gripped my forearm and looked into my eyes. “You really need to start being more positive, Ben. We’re going to get him.” He dropped his voice so that his father couldn’t hear. “We’re going to blow the bastard out of the water.”

I couldn’t help smiling. Here was a young kid, still suffering from the remnants of polio, eager to take on the vicar and his moll; and here was I – one step up from a nervous wreck. I was beginning to wonder how ashamed I could feel. I held out my arms and said something I’d never said before, in fact cringed, when it had been said by others. “Group hug.”

Peter was there in a flash, although Efram seemed to be a little reluctant. I must admit, that, up until that point, other than my dad, I’d never wanted to hug another male. At this moment, it had passed from desire to need.

After a few seconds Efram pulled himself free. “Now go home,” he repeated, clearly uncomfortable with hugging other men, himself. Peter peeled himself away. “Yeah, let’s get this show on the road,” he said, with a glint in his eye.

I nodded. “I’m all over it.” I managed another smile, before turning to go.

“Wait,” said Peter. “Aren’t you forgetting something?”

I stopped and looked at him. “What?”

“Duh – ladder.”

“I’ll get it,” said Efram.

“I’d forget my head if it was loose,” I said to Peter. “Especially at the moment.”

Seconds later Efram was back with a wooden, two section ladder, easily long enough to reach the bedroom window. “There you go, Ben. Good luck.”

“Cheers Efram, I think I’m going to need it. If everything goes to plan, I’ll meet you at the beach as near to nine as I can manage.” I took the ladder from him and manoeuvred it through the front door. I made my way up the path attempting as hard as I could to walk the walk. My determined stride probably looked more like one of Monty Python’s silly walks, but at least I was trying.

Luckily, I never bumped into any of the dreaded ‘Hiders’, on the way home. I couldn’t muster any enthusiasm to lie about why I was carrying a step ladder; I wasn’t in the mood, to say the least. I went over Peter’s plan in my head and, although it seemed quite simple, there were two factors that were plaguing me.

First off, I was crap at lying, especially when it was premeditated. Secondly, I was convinced that Drake would see straight through my deceit. I berated myself yet again for negativity. “Come on, you spineless git,” I said to myself. “You can do this.”

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