Chanter's Hide

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Efram asked me if I would like a tea or coffee and I nodded eagerly, rather like a drowning man clutching at a sliver of flotsam. I knew I was putting off the inevitable, but I figured a little procrastination, at this point, was acceptable.

While his father was in the kitchen, I asked Peter if the pendant had provided him with any more info on the remaining key.

“’Fraid not, “he said. “Maybe when we get to the island, it’ll.... sort me something else.” He held his hands up in a ‘don’t ask me’ gesture.

I nodded, returning to the fear and apprehension that was addling my brain and turning my stomach into a cement mixer. I didn’t think I’d have any need for Peter’s disgusting lump of ‘confectionary’; I was doing fine on my own.

“Anybody would be nervous,” the boy said softly, as if reading my mind. “I would be and, although my Dad would say he wasn’t, he would be too.”

I smiled. “Thank you, Peter. I wish I could say that helps but, if I did, I’d be lying.”

“Lying about what?” Efram returned with a tray of mugs. He handed me a coffee and Peter, a tea.

I shook my head. “Nothing really,” I replied. “Your son was trying to pour a little oil on my troubled waters, that’s all.”

“Look, Ben, I’ll be honest, I wouldn’t want to be in your shoes tonight,” he continued. “But, if I was, I’d look at my options.”

A bit more flotsam floated by. “What options?” I asked excitedly.

Efram pulled a face. “That’s what I mean – you don’t have any.”

The flotsam sailed out of sight. “For a moment, I thought I’d missed something,” I said morosely.

“I suppose Peter and I could go over to the island, while you keep Drake happy.”

It’s coming back, I thought.

“No. It has to be all three of us,” Peter said, with a firm nod of his head. “It won’t work, otherwise.”

“Will you stop getting my hopes up,” I said sharply.

Peter glared at his Dad.

“I wasn’t,” Efram said bluntly. He looked sheepish. “I was just looking for another option for you. I guess there isn’t one.”

I sipped my coffee, my insides churning even more. I wished Efram would keep his mouth shut. He wouldn’t.

“If Jan and Charlie weren’t involved, how would you feel?” he asked me.

I thought about it for a minute or two. “If my wife and baby were safe, elsewhere,” I said. “I’d throw everything I’ve got at the evil bastard.”

“That is the way you have to look at it,” he said. “Because, if you don’t, you’ll be handing them over to him.”

Realisation crashed over me in a torrent. I’d been looking at this the wrong way all along. Thinking that by not upsetting the apple cart, I was keeping Jan and Charlie safe. The truth was, while Drake was breathing, they would never be safe. I had to fight. I stood and shook Efram’s hand. “Why didn’t you say that to me before? Let’s destroy the sadistic piece of shit.”

I left Efram’s feeling positive. We were going into battle, he, I and Peter, fighting for our families. Throughout my life, although I hadn’t committed any serious crime, I had never considered myself – good. I had been a reasonable enough sort of person, I guess, but never gone out of my way to do a good deed. There were much better people in this world than me, let’s put it that way. In this scenario however, I was a member of the diminutive ‘Team Good’, the definite underdog in this conflict. Earlier today, that thought would have chipped away more of the paltry self-belief I had left. Now, it spurred me on. As I reached my garden gate, my stride was determined. It was just pat 10.45 as I opened the front door.

“I’m back,” I called.

“Well, don’t get in my way,” came the response. Jan’s head popped around the door frame, her hair scraped back, anchored with an elastic band, her face smeared with flour, her expression determined.

“What did they say?”

“They jumped at the chance. By the way, you look gorgeous,” I said with a grin.

“And you’re a liar. Now go and do something.... that......keeps you out of my way, all right?”

“Whatever you say, my sweet. Just remember – it’s only the vicar.”

“Not helpful,” she said.

“Okay, I’ll leave you to it,” I said holding up my hands. “I’ll carry on with the back garden.”

“Mmmm,” was all I got.

I went back out of the front door and down the side passage to the garden. I didn’t fancy going through a war zone. I went to the shed, pulled out an old flowerpot and sat for a while, feeling the sun’s vibrancy on my skin. I took out Peter’s obnoxious sweet and sniffed it. It didn’t smell disgusting, in fact, there was little odour at all. The proof of the pudding, however, is in the eating. I made a mental note not to forget to put the ladder in place before I went back in. In the unlikely event of Jan coming into the garden and seeing it, I already had a response ready. Tomorrow I was going to clear out the guttering and, maybe, clean the windows as well.

I decided to clear more of the undergrowth and retrieved my trusty scythe. A couple of hours hard labour would do me a power of good. I took off my shirt and starting swinging; unable to shake the sight of Drake’s head tumbling from his body with every cut. One day, in the not too distant future, that would, hopefully, become a reality. I swung harder, relishing the pull on my muscles. I was feeling more alive than I had done since arriving in this Hell hole. I watched the seventieth vicar’s head fall to the ground and then looked up to the sky.

“If you’re really there, big man, we could do with a little help,” I said softly. I’d never been a religious sort, probably veering towards agnostic rather than atheist. I guess. I thought there was something inside each of us, the seed of our individuality that, maybe floated off somewhere when we shuffled off this mortal coil. But as far as God was concerned, I’d never been a believer.

Just after one, Jan called me in for lunch. I was rather disappointed to be met by a tuna and cucumber sandwich and a banana. Apparently, I failed to hide my chagrin.

“I thought a light lunch would be best today,” she said. “Don’t worry you’ll be able to make up for it tonight.”

“No – no, that’s fine,” I said with a smile, disgusted with my lack of appreciation. “I’d rather save myself for whatever delights you have in store for us. It smells wonderful, by the way.”

“It should, I’ve put my heart and soul into this meal.”

“I’ll bet,” I said, hating the fact that she’d gone to so much trouble for the vicar and his whore. If she only knew what was really going on here, in this, supposedly, idyllic village. Hopefully, when it was all over, she’d see him for what he really was – the spawn of the devil.

We both munched away, mine gone in a couple of minutes. I didn’t realise how hungry I was.

“Good God,” Jan exclaimed. “What a pig!”

I grinned and tried, unsuccessfully, to suppress a burp. “Gardening’s hungry work,” I said.

She suddenly looked concerned. “You know, you’ve been weird altogether, since we moved here, with your mood swings and the fluctuations in your appetite.”

“Nothing to worry about, my sweet,” I lied again. “Must be the change of water. Everything will settle down soon, just wait and see.”

“I hope so. What are you going to do now, because I still have stuff to do in here and I don’t want you under my feet?”

I held up my hands. “No probs, I know my place. I’ll go and do a bit more in the garden and work up more of an appetite for tonight.”

“Don’t go getting sunstroke or anything, it’s pretty hot out there now.”

I gave her the thumbs up. “I’ll be fine.” Her mention of sunstroke, however, had put ideas into my head. What better excuse to use tonight? That way I wouldn’t need Peter’s toxic waste; just say I was feeling a bit lightheaded and needed to lie down. Jan would jump on it and berate me for ignoring her earlier. I would apologise profusely to her and our guests and, regretfully, take my leave.

I left her to her preparations, went back to my scythe and imagination. I was feeling better than I had in ages and was looking forward to our trip to the island. Whatever happened, Drake was going to have a fight on his hands, I was going to make sure of it. I couldn’t believe how negative I’d been through all of this. How did I expect to defeat him with an attitude like that? I applauded Efram for making me see things differently. I started swinging again and Drake’s head began rolling once more.

If I do say so myself, I put in a damned good afternoon’s work. By the end of it, I had enough cut grass to make a couple of good-sized bales, and the garden was less of a jungle and more of a hacked-up mess. It would look fine when I’d put the fine touches to it. I was surveying my good work when Jan popped her head out.

“I’m going to grab a shower,” she said, and then, as she took in my efforts, she added. “It’s a lot shorter, I’ll give you that, Percy. By the way, it’s nearly six thirty.”

I looked at my watch in disbelief. I’d been hacking off vicar’s heads for nearly five hours. It’s true, time flies when you’re enjoying yourself.

“I’ll finish off out here, then jump in when you’re done,” I told her.

She moved her attention from the garden to me. “My God, you’ve caught the sun, you look like a beetroot.”

“I love you too,” I replied, with a grin. This couldn’t be going any better, I thought. I could feel sunstroke coming on already.

“Yeah, I think I got a bit carried away. I didn’t realise I’d been out here for so long. Don’t worry, I’ll rub some ‘After Sun’ on.”

Jan disappeared back into the house, making herself beautiful for Drake more important than my sunburn, obviously. I put my gear back in the shed and stretched my aching back. Hours bent double, scything away takes its toll, believe me. I waited until I heard Jan turn on the shower, Then I went to the back wall where I’d lain Efram’s ladder. It was well maintained, and the sections slid easily and quietly. I placed it gently just under the bedroom window, jumped on the bottom rung a few times, making sure it was safe on the dry ground. The last thing I wanted, was to go from top to bottom quicker than I intended. I would be hard pushed to explain why I was lying in a heap in the back garden, after going to bed with suspected sunstroke. Especially with an extended ladder lying by my side. I think Drake would definitely smell a rat. I went up to the top and back a couple of times and was satisfied with its firmness. I heard the shower go off and Jan called out. “It’s all yours.”

By the time I reached the bedroom, she was sat in front of the dressing table mirror, in her bath robe, drying her hair.

“The aroma in that kitchen is intoxicating,” I said to her, walking over and putting my hands on her shoulders. I bent and kissed her neck. “And so are you,” I added.

She giggled. “Sometimes, you’re so sweet,” she murmured. “Now go and get in that shower – you stink.”

“Whatever you say Ma’am,” I said. I kissed the top of her head, only just avoiding another swing of the hairdryer. I took off my sweaty clothes, dropped them in the linen bin and hit the shower. Soon I would have to give my first acting performance but now, I was relishing the thought, although still very apprehensive.

By eight fifteen, we were both ready and both nervous, for different reasons, obviously. Jan was worried, unnecessarily, that her dinner wouldn’t pass muster, and I was feeling first night jitters. Jan looked radiant, her maternity dress a subtle shade of blue. Tiny white flowers meandered randomly, the neckline bordering on low cut, but tasteful. After seeing Drake’s ‘Dark Side of The Moon’ T shirt, I had dug out one of my own, depicting another ‘Floyd’ classic – ‘The Wall’. I wore this over a pair of black chinos. Maybe we could pretend to chat about music for a while, before I made my excuses and went off in search of something that would, hopefully, contribute to his demise.

“You look gorgeous,” I told Jan.

“Huge, more like it,” she said with a sigh. “I’ll be glad when Charlie decides to make an appearance.”

“Not too long now, darling,” I said, feeling for her. It must be hell on earth for women in the latter stages of pregnancy in weather like this.

“I haven’t seen that T shirt for a while, didn’t Simon have a.......”

I cut her short. “Yeah, ‘Dark Side of The Moon’,” I said. “Maybe we have more in common than I thought.”

She smiled. “I’m sure you have, Ben. You just need to give him a chance, that’s all.”

“Yeah,” I said, smiling back. “We just got off on the wrong foot.” I held up my hands. “I know – my fault entirely.”

“Let’s just enjoy the evening,” she said.

“I can’t wait,” I lied. “Especially for the wonders you’ll have conjured up for us.”

She suddenly looked terrified. “I hope they like it. They might hate it. Oh Ben, I’m so worried. What if they don’t like what I’ve cooked, I’ll be mortified.”

I took her in my arms. “Your cooking is legendary,” I said soothingly. “It’ll knock spots off what Shona dished up, believe me.”

“But she cooked a beautiful meal. She......”

I put my index finger over her lips. “Ssshhh. Yours will be better. Now stop worrying.”

She took a couple of deep breaths. “I just want it to be a nice evening.”

Lying, by this time, seemed to be second nature. “And it will be. Now, come on, pull yourself together, they’ll be here in a few minutes.”

A sharp knock at the door heralded their early arrival. Jan went into panic mode again. “They’re here now, they’re early. Oh my God.”

“Calm down woman, it’ll be fine, I promise. I’ll go and let them in, you take a few more deep breaths.”

I kissed her cheek and went to the door. I had to take on some extra oxygen myself before I opened the door. Show time, I thought.

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