Root Memory

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The Remorse Of Nero

Clouds had reclaimed the peak of Goatfell and a penetrating drizzle trickled down Nigel’s back as he stood out on the bow of the ferry for the return trip to Ardrossan, but he enjoyed every moment. For once he had an appetite for life instead of being the sneering deflater of enthusiasm. However, before he could start afresh he had plenty of unfinished business to settle.

In a state of mind bordering somewhere between euphoria and impatience, Nigel floored the Transit down the M6 – once again flying past the sign to Penrith – his thoughts full of plans and apologies. Fragmentary visions from the last two days continued to fill his mind as the last remnants of the drug left his system.

He pushed further, passing Preston by 12.30; the grey gantries proclaiming Birmingham and beyond: an ever advancing “SOUTH”. He played no music; his senses fixed on the thrum of the road and the trance of movement towards an ever unfolding vanishing point. The further he drove from Arran, the tighter imaginary elastic pulled him back to the island.

Another three figures’ worth of miles passed somewhere easily forgotten as Nigel’s bottom grew increasingly numb and fidgety from the driving seat. The arteries were clogging: rush-hour was approaching and the Transit’s engine note dropped as Nigel indicated left onto the slip road for Watlington and the A34 to Oxford. It wouldn’t be long now.

Not relishing a return to the hush of his dad’s old place, Nigel drove past his usual turn on the Northern Bypass and continued round to Blackbird Leys: to Tonya’s house. He knew he wouldn’t find peace to sleep that night unless he saw her and was able to apologise and offer some kind of redress for what he’d done. Turning the corner of Tonya’s road, he noticed a blackened patch of tarmac under the street lamp opposite her house. In a split second he was back in that BMW, surrounded by all those jeering yobs baying for his humiliation. The back of Nigel’s neck tightened and his pulse quickened at the thought of the events that night. As he climbed out of the van and walked towards the house, half expecting youths to suddenly materialize, recognise him and pounce once again. His worries were unfounded, the road was empty.

While knocking on the door, he noticed the house was in darkness. There was no answer. He waited a few moments then gave several urgent taps on the living room window. Nigel couldn’t remember a time when there hadn’t been noise leaking out of the place. Then he walked around the side of the house and tried once again, this time at the kitchen door around the back.

For the last few hours, Nigel had been rehearsing what he was going to say to Tonya, with suggestions of how perhaps he could help her. Money from his dad’s estate would arrive soon, and once he’d paid off Dixey he could also pay off Tonya’s debt too; maybe an extra sum as well to help her get back on her feet. He hadn’t been sure quite how to approach offering her the money; it could easily be taken the wrong way, especially after the course events had taken that night; she could misinterpret the gesture. In his visions, he experienced something of the shame and repulsion she’d felt hitting rock bottom like that, having no other way out of the fix she was in; offering her body to him to pay off a few pathetic pounds. Guilt washed over Nigel again as he recalled that night and how casually callous he’d acted.

No answer at the back door either; clearly there was no-one in. He tried a neighbour’s door. After a few seconds, a light came on in the hall and slowly the front door opened, followed by a cautious head peeping around it. A tiny, fragile old lady peered up at him, appearing surprised.

“Oh, hello. Have you seen Bobby?”

“I’m sorry, who?”

“Bobby. His food’s ready. It’s duck and chicken with gravy. He likes that. He won’t take to the dried sort – there’s a box in the cupboard gone to waste.”

Nigel turned around and scanned the garden for a roaming feline; it seemed the most likely creature she was referring to.

“No, I haven’t seen him. I was wondering if you could help me. Tonya, next –“

“I’d better see if he’s out the back,” the old lady muttered as she retreated indoors, gently closing the door behind her.

Nigel tried the neighbour on the other side. He had better luck there, at least in the sense of being able to get his question out. She seemed friendly and outgoing, looked in her mid-thirties and was wearing a grey, baggy top with matching leggings.”

“Yeah, I know Tonya. We’re mates. Well, we were mates. She’s gone off, back up to her mum’s; moved out at the weekend.”

“Oh, I see. You don’t happen to have an address or number, do you?”

She tilted her head and scrutinized him. “I’ve seen you, haven’t I? Didn’t you use to come here?”

“Yes, that’s right; she was one of my clients. If you happen to have the new –“

Her expression switched and she folded her arms, giving Nigel an accusing look. “Now I know who you are. It’s was you, wasn’t it; your fuckin’ fault she went! Yeah, she told me what you did,” she replied, laughing scornfully and pointing at his groin. “Is that the only way you can get it? You sad bastard! Wherever she is, good luck to her.”

Nigel stepped backwards briskly off the step as the front door slammed a couple of centimetres from his face.

He felt the queasy sensation of blood seeming to empty from his head and arms. As he walked back to the van, it dawned on him that his task of trying to undo his wrongs might not be as straightforward as he’d anticipated. It wasn’t how he’d planned it out at all. He wanted that warm feeling of seeing Tonya out of trouble and at least going some way to forgiving him.

But that was his old way of thinking: from his own point of view; how he would benefit. If there was one thing he’d learnt from the ibogabeta, it was trying to see things from other people’s perspective, how it felt to be on the other side of his careless or selfish words and actions. It dawned on Nigel that he wanted Tonya to feel good so he could feel good about himself again. A quick “sorry” sprinkled here and there wouldn’t magically heal the sensibilities he’d trampled on in the past. Surely, he attempted to convince himself, if he genuinely meant his apologies and didn’t automatically expect forgiveness it could go some way to making amends.

Nigel arrived at Kevin’s place. He’d arranged to drop the van back later in the evening, once the traffic had died down, but he felt impatient to speak to his friend. The front door opened to reveal a backlit Kevin making an unwittingly theatrical “rock” entrance amid what appeared to be dry ice escaping from the building.

Nigel appeared momentarily puzzled but continued with his planned greeting. “What a trip. I’m bushed.”

Still in his slippers, Kevin leant out of the doorway to examine his cherished Transit parked on the drive, glancing over the vehicle the best he could without illumination for anything unexpected. “You’ve brought it back in one piece then?”

“Breezed it, considering how old it is.”

“As long as you didn’t thrash it... Anyway, come on in,” beckoned Kevin, placing an arm around Nigel’s shoulder as he wiped his feet on the mat.

“I’m glad I could see you before Muriel gets back.”

A suspicious looking Kevin narrowed his eyes. “Why, what is it?”

A cloud of steam clung to the ceiling all the way from the kitchen and along the hall. It seemed that Kevin had been tasked with the evening meal.

“I’ve had my eyes opened, mate – up there. I hadn’t realised...”

Kevin took the lid off one of the saucepans, momentarily recoiling while being engulfed in a fresh plume, adding to the balmy fog of culinary creation.

“What are you going on about?”

“I don’t know how to put it. It’s just that I wanted to say I was sorry for all those sarky things I’ve said... you know, over the years.”

Kevin wore a defensive, fixed expression on his face, as if Nigel was either building up to the punch line of a joke or that he’d lost his senses. “What do you mean?”

“Look, it made me realise I’d been belittling you and taking the piss all this time; you know, since we were back at school. I’m sorry, that’s all.”

“Well, you’ve always been a bit of an arrogant sod, if that’s what you mean. I’m used to it.”

“But I’m going to change, right. The iboga stuff I took, it makes you see things how they really are,” Kevin raised a cautious eyebrow as Nigel looked at the lino for inspiration, clasping his fingers together. “It’s difficult to explain unless you’ve taken it. I was able to feel the pain I’d given people; what it was like for them.”

Kevin turned the gas down on the cooker and escorted Nigel into the living room. “Are you sure you haven’t lost your marbles having that stuff? You know what you’re like; you’re not the type for taking drugs and shit.”

Nigel exhaled and stared upwards with a benign smile. “Look, I’m not being patronising – for a change, I know – but unless you took it yourself you wouldn’t understand. I’ve wasted so much time...”

“Not likely. I’ll stick to the booze, thanks very much. It wasn’t one of these ‘cults’, then?”

“No, of course not, “ A wounded expression briefly contorted Nigel’s face before he continued. “Do you honestly see me getting caught up with something like that?”

“I dunno. Look, it’s none of my business, mate. Anyway, she’ll be here in a minute. Do you want some of this fish I’m doing?”

Returning to the old house next morning, Nigel found a pile of mail waiting for him on the other side of the front door. As he bent down to pick it up, he heard a familiar voice.

“Morning, old son.”

“Didn’t see you there. Morning, Jack.”

“I wanted to have a word. It’s about that Jag of your dad’s.”

“Oh yeah?” Nigel glanced up at Jack’s cap of the day. He generally sported the large, button-top variety. Sometimes it was a tweed one, occasionally brown leather, or even patchwork denim, but today it was an unwittingly cheeky white one worn to set off his matching powder blue zip-up jacket and slacks. He mused for a moment on why this whimsical choice of headgear contained a seemingly contradictory appeal both for pimps – at least in the popular expectation of how they should look, gleaned from seventies’ American cop shows – and for male pensioners.

“There’s a classic car auction on next week; thought you might be able to get it in. Reckon an XK like that would get a bit of interest, what with its history.”

It wasn’t an issue that Nigel had placed near the top of his priorities list. And he felt a sense of uncertainty at selling something his father had so clearly put his heart and soul into for all those years. But over the next few minutes Jack persuaded Nigel in agreeing to get someone out to at least value the car – and successfully winkled out his plans for the house too.

“You’ve got to be careful with renting. Can get some funny types in: no respect

for people’s property.”

“But I’ve got no choice. Nobody’s buying since the crash. Anyway, they’ll have to cough up a deposit.”

Jack looked pained and slowly shook his head from side to side, appearing decidedly unconvinced. In his conservative mindset, tenants meant trouble.

As soon as his neighbour was safely out of the way, Nigel sorted through the junk mail and ripped open the more interesting looking correspondence. Amongst a couple more condolence cards, as expected, a couple of cheques had arrived: one for over three thousand, covering his dad’s life policy, and the other from the bank; the seventeen thousand or so from his dad’s old accounts was now in his own.

Uppermost in Nigel’s mind was the fact that he now had the wherewith-all to pay off what Dixey was demanding from him. He reached for his mobile. Seven rings later it was answered.

“Dixey. It’s me.”

“Yeah, I can see that. What do you want?”

“I’ve got it... the money. I can pay you.”

“Well well, that’s really made my day,” he sneered. “So, you bringing it round in a suitcase or something?”

“When I say I’ve got it, I haven’t actually got the cash,” Nigel looked at his watch, wondering if he had time to get to the bank before it closed. “I mean, I might be able to today-”

“For Christ’s sake, Nero. Have you got it or haven’t you?” Dixey replied tersely.

“It’s in my account.”

“Well it’s no good there, is it.”

“But it might be a bit tight trying to get it out today, that’s all.”

“Nero, mate. I don’t do business on a weekend anyway. It’ll have to be Monday. Cash.”

With a combination of anger and anticipation, Nigel hesitantly enquired as to the total amount owed. “So, how much is it now?”

He wasn’t sure if the silence that followed indicated that Dixey was doing quick mental calculations or making him sweat. “Let’s call it 14k.”

There was a sense of relief for Nigel that it hadn’t leapt by yet another large margin, another week having passed. “OK, fourteen.”

“Settled. I’ll send Lorcan for it, 10.30 Monday morning. The house in Marston, yeah?”

“Yeah, Marston. So we’re square then, yes; no more payments?”

“Square.”

A fraction of a second later Nigel heard the dialling tone. He noted the way Dixey avoided identifying it was his late father’s house.

Later that day, following a dash to the bank, Nigel was back over in Iffley Village, getting down to some research on Muriel’s computer. She and Kevin had left him to it; they were off into town for the weekly shop. It still amused him, the taming of Kevin, visualising him pushing a groaning trolley of groceries around a supermarket.

A jumble of thoughts passed through Nigel’s brain, each struggling to coalesce into a proper plan of action. First to pop into his head was what Jack had said to him about selling the car; he looked at the auction website and printed off some details, though with a nagging sense of guilt at parting with an object which was so much a focus of his dad’s enthusiasm – but what would he do with the car if he kept it; he couldn’t share the same passion for it as his dad had done. No, he would definitely put it in the auction.

With that decided, it was a short magpie hop to the practicalities surrounding the renting out the house. He fretted too with just how he would make Dixey atone for hastening his dad’s death; to force him to reflect on his actions – it was all spinning around his head as he opened window after window on the screen.

But increasingly, it was the prospect of being able to track Laura down that became most important to him: the distant lost love of his life. Since his breakdown, throughout his wanderings, and especially after his ibogabeta experience, Nigel knew he must contact her.

Thirty years had been stripped away as if they’d never passed. He felt Laura’s intense disappointment and sense of betrayal superimposed on top of his own self-loathing and frustration at his stupidity back then. The events came to life again, so alive and vivid of that night back in the Summertown squat when Laura had walked in and caught him with that girl; the sleazy shame of it had haunted him down the decades. Taking the drug had re-ignited the agony like it was yesterday. But this time it was Laura’s pain he experienced more than his own, like he was in her skin, looking at himself squirm. He felt an overwhelming desire to try and turn the clock back, at the same time as being all too aware how futile it was. But he couldn’t just leave matters as they stood. He could at least make the effort to try and let Laura understand just how much he now realised the significance of what he’d done all that time ago.

Sabrina’s words returned to him; what she’s said back to back at the funeral do: this enigmatic “someone” she’d referred to who could ask questions on his behalf. Nigel rummaged in his wallet for Sabrina’s business card. It showed a 1940s-style airbrushed illustration of an elegantly erotic woman wearing sleek suspenders and a crimson pout. He tapped the number into his phone. Sabrina answered with a distracted giggle and sultry greeting, switching to her normal voice when Nigel announced himself.

“How nice of you to call. Do you mind terribly if I phone you back in a about half an hour? You could say something has come up.”

“Of course, whenever you’re ready.”

“Thank you darling. Speak soon.”

While he waited, Nigel found the website of the estate agent in Arran that was dealing with the guest house. For some minutes he repeatedly scrolled up and down the photos and text, visualising himself living there some day soon. Moving to the kitchen, he decided to make himself a sausage sandwich and chewed on it as he stared into the garden through the French doors, watching a wary robin scrutinise him from the washing line.

The phone rang mid-mouthful. He hurried back to the sitting room, swallowed, and lunged for the handset, reassured to see Sabrina’s number on the display.

“Sorry about that. I’m all yours now.”

During the call, Nigel told the abridged version of his reasons for why he wanted to take up Sabrina’s offer of putting him in touch with her private detective friend. It was agreed he would meet her in London on Monday.

Spot-on 10.30 on the Monday morning, The Black Banana pulled up outside the house. Nigel waited for the doorbell to ring as he clutched a large Tesco’s Bag for Life bulging with twenties. Lorcan avoided all pleasantries as usual and got down to emptying the bag’s contents onto the dining room table and counting out the notes in his customary methodical and practised fashion.

“Could I have a receipt to show I’ve paid up?”

Lorcan silently acceded to his request. They both scrawled their signatures and Nigel picked up and examined his blue copy, not quite believing it was all over. His huge sense of relief at finally having the burden lifted from his shoulders produced a manic laugh and a gush of superfluous comments. Lorcan gave him a pitying look, stuffed the cash back into the bag and let himself out.

Nigel walked out of Paddington station a little after 2pm. As he was flush for once he took a taxi to Sabrina’s flat, which was just off Kilburn High Road. He recalled visiting the area years before, in the late seventies, for Blast Manifesto’s one and only John Peel session at the BBC’s Maida Vale studios. Nigel searched down the line of named buttons at the communal entrance, coming across Sabrina’s at the bottom. After a short interval the intercom crackled and the door clonked open, accompanied by a strident buzz. A smartly-dressed man brushed past him in the dim hallway and left the building as he squinted in search of her number.

“Over here, Nigel,” Sabrina called, leaning out of her doorway.

“That was good timing.”

“My one o’ clock just leaving.” Several possibilities ran through his mind. He chose a non-committal reply. Sabrina gave him a wry smile. “I bet I know what you’re thinking.” Nigel chose silence as his best course, accompanied by his best stab at projecting an innocent expression. “You reckon I’m on the game, don’t you?”

“No, of course not.”

“You big fibber. Anyway, don’t hover out there, come on in.”

As Sabrina ushered him into her sitting room, he noticed that she was as beautiful and as immaculately presented as when he’d last seen her. Today she was wearing a kimono and had her hair worn up in a traditional Japanese twin-braided odango style.

“Bit of a Geisha fetish, that one. But he’s harmless.”

“So, if you’re not...”

Sabrina reached into a small clutch bag and retrieved her lipstick, applying it as she spoke. “Well, you’re speaking to ‘Sabrina Del Rio’s’ alter ego at the moment. When I’m not performing I supply a little service, you might say, as ‘Shona Mercy’. Strictly speaking – and I do mean strictly – “I am a sex worker... of sorts, I guess. It’s just that I don’t actually have sex with my clients; certainly nothing intimate anyway. They generally pay a lot more than if they did, too – which of course is very agreeable. The gentlemen that visit me all have a tiny bit of a ‘kink’ – but so much more interesting than being straight, wouldn’t you say?”

“What, you mean bondage and stuff?”

Nigel was well out of his depth in this territory, being decidedly “vanilla” in his sexual tastes: more M&S than S&M.

“Some of it is; there are a couple of my boys into that sort of thing. You know, a little bit of collaring; spanking and being cuffed to the bed and so on – surprising how many men out there like to be dominated by a woman. Often the type you’d least suspect; you know, the normal-looking, quiet ones,” she giggled, lifting an enquiring eyebrow towards Nigel. Having now tired of making him feel uncomfortable, she decided to get down to business.

“Anyway, that’s enough about me. Graham suggested we see him before three. It’s getting on for that now. His place is only just around the corner. Shall we pop round now?”

On the way, Sabrina explained that Graham had become a private detective after being kicked out of police training college. His career ended rather suddenly due to gross misconduct: a rather over-zealous and unapproved approach to surveillance. Graham had become quite an expert in the many gadgets available for prying on people. The devices he’d chosen to spy on his colleagues with were seen as inappropriate by his seniors and a total invasion of their privacy.

Since then, he’d managed to carve out a modestly successful career as a private investigator. His fascination with computer crime, bugging devices, hidden cameras and all manner of spying equipment meant he was no stranger to the specialist shops up and down the Tottenham Court Road. He had an arrangement with several of them, purchasing examples of their most cutting-edge new stock for a discount and giving feedback on their efficacy through his blog.

Sabrina had first met him in a local bar when he’d tried to chat her up.

“So, was he successful?”

“He’s sweet, but not really my type,” she replied diplomatically.

Graham rented a small flat over a betting shop, part of which doubled as his office. As they approached the ground level door to his staircase, the door opened. Sabrina turned to Nigel and gave a resigned roll of her eyes.

“Each time I’ve come here it does that. After you; just go on up.”

“What, do you reckon he’s watching us?”

“I’d be surprised if he wasn’t.”

On catching sight of Graham, Nigel had expected someone quite different to the gaunt and skinny twentysomething standing there in impossibly tight black jeans and wearing huge headphones – he slid them off his head as they entered his flat. All three went through to his improvised office. The cramped bedroom was stuffed full of technology: computers, cameras, obscure looking black boxes with knobs on, and an array of five flat-screen monitors positioned above his desk. Graham hurriedly cleared papers and folders off the sofa to make space for them to sit down.

“How’s it going, Gray?”

“Hello, Sabrina.”

“I was telling Nigel how we met.”

Graham looked embarrassed and turned away to tap something into the nearest of his laptops. “Oh, cheers for that.”

“Gray, while you’re on that thing, show Nigel the job you did on the club’s website.”

“You do know you still owe me a date for what I did?”

“I don’t quite remember agreeing to that. Hey, did I tell you that Janey on the check-in was asking about you?”

Graham momentarily lost interest in the laptop screen and turned to face Sabrina, shyly attempting to appear unconcerned at the information. “Oh yeah, I think I’ve seen her around.”

“What do you mean; you’re always staring at her. So, shall I say you’re interested?”

Graham squirmed. “Yeah, she’s all right. But I know what you’re like; has she actually mentioned me – really?”

“Yes. Come on, Gray, I wouldn’t be that cruel. So I’ll tell her you’ll ask her on a date?”

Graham appeared panicky. “No, don’t do that. I’ll say something next time I see her.”

Sabrina slowly shook her head. “Feint heart...”

Graham glanced at Nigel and twisted the laptop towards him so he could see the homepage of the burlesque club’s website. “Nice job, yeah. Looks classy.”

“Thanks. Anyone could write the code, but it’s the finessing that makes all the difference. That’s what I was trying to tell Sabrina; where all the time goes.”

Graham touch-typed most of what Nigel related to him about Dixey, Laura and Tonya. He told him he’d make a start straight away, once he’d been paid a “retainer”.

“Five hundred should be enough – cash would be cool if you’ve got it.”

Nigel looked a little taken aback. “I don’t really carry -“

“How about two-fifty?”

Sabrina scowled disapproval towards Graham. “Don’t be such a mercenary little twat. Don’t you trust him?”

“It’s for expenses. If I’m going to talk to people I’m gonna need some walking around money, aren’t I?”

Sabrina leant back on the sofa huffed. “Nigel, I could take two-fifty off my card for now if you do the same; there’s an ATM just down the road.”

On his way back home, Nigel did his best to pretend he hadn’t seen the inebriated hooligan wandering along the train corridor. He swiftly turned his head and feigned interest in a cement works blurring by as the shuffling character took turns in attempting to engage each disinterested passenger in conversation.

Nigel hoped he hadn’t appeared rude in declining Sabrina’s invitation to see her perform at the club that night, but he was more than a little uneasy at the prospect of seeing his half-sister half naked. She’d guessed as much and had teased him, suggesting it was hardly a sin if he did become aroused, asserting that it wasn’t as if they were planning to have babies together or anything. He reflected on the fact that he’d always been the straight one.

That evening, Nigel was round at Kevin’s again borrowing Muriel’s computer. There was an email from Graham waiting for him. He’d already managed to gather a few facts together about Laura’s personal life. For the last ten years she’d lived in Pennsylvania, where she’d met her second husband, Karl; the pair of them fellow academics at the same prestigious Ivy League university where they both lectured at the business school. It was clear she’d attained her parents’ great expectations. Nigel saw that Laura had one daughter by Karl and two sons from her previous relationship. He followed the link that Graham had provided to the university website. Scrolling down from the upbeat intelligent faces of undergraduates promoting the college, he came to a photograph of Laura; or Professor Laura Petersson as she was now known.

Seated there in her large office, Laura looked capable and confident, but still recognisable as the shy teenage girl he’d fallen in love with. Nigel recalled the distraught figure of her he’d inhabited during his recent ibogabeta vision. A sudden hesitancy replaced his previous earnest resolve to make contact.

There was another link in the email; it was to Laura’s Facebook page. After a few moments thought, Nigel realised he must go ahead with his plan; after all it was the Laura from back then he wanted to apologise to rather than the outwardly cheerful and accomplished middle-aged woman he could see on the screen. He typed a brief introductory message and sent it off.

Unusually, the atmosphere of the kitchen was unobstructed by either smoke or steam that evening as Kevin prepared his latest meal. Instead, there was the unmistakably pungent aroma of a fiery curry. To Nigel’s nose there didn’t seem much in the way of subtlety to Kevin’s latest dish, so he thanked him on Muriel’s behalf for the use of the computer and chose to make other plans for his dinner.

There were more official-looking letters on the hall mat the next morning. Much of the legal language went over Nigel’s head, but he believed he got the gist of the one from his dad’s solicitor. There had been no complications with the will. There were tax liabilities to be incurred, but all in all, including the life policy and savings, it appeared he would be receiving around thirty-five thousand. Even knocking off Dixey’s fourteen-thousand, it was still a tidy sum.

He’d got a lot to thank his dad for. Every day he continued to find more reminders of him around the house. Gordon’s presence still inhabited each room. At first it had been comforting, but now a mood of melancholy descended each time he dwelt on how his father had died.

But if he was going to rent the place out he realised he must decide which possessions of his dad’s to keep as mementos and which to dispose of. That would be his task for the afternoon. This morning he would visit a few estate agents and get the ball rolling.

As Nigel turned from locking the front door and set off down the drive, he noticed Jack across the street. He looked somewhat animated out there in his lime green cap, waving across at him.

“Very good news, very good news indeed, old son.”

“Morning, Jack. What news is that, then?”

“I’d have told you last night but I couldn’t see a light on. Your dad’s car: try and guess how much it’s worth. Go on.”

“I’ve no idea. It’s not something I’m up on.”

“Just guess a figure.”

“Oh, all right. I know you thought it was collectable. I dunno... say twenty-five thousand?”

“More like fifty-five thousand!”

Nigel was genuinely shocked that the XK could fetch such a high figure, so much so that he cautiously enquired more closely from Jack just how he knew it was worth such a sum.

“The auction house. Remember?”

“Oh right, yeah. So, someone’s seen it?”

“Well we agreed, didn’t we, last week? I got one of their chaps to come out and he had a good look over it – hope you didn’t mind me using the emergency key.”

“No, of course not.”

“Well, he was happy with all the paperwork and got quite excited about the Diana Dors connection; reckoned there’d be a lot of interest.”

The news would take some sinking in for Nigel. “Great, yeah. Guess we’ll go ahead with it then.”

“That’s right. We can’t hang about, the auction’s on Thursday.”

At the estate agents, Nigel had discovered he could get nearly a thousand a month for the house; a couple of hundred more than he needed to fork out for the bungalow on Arran. For once, things appeared to be falling into place. That night he managed to sleep without the need of chemical assistance.

Wednesday morning was dull and overcast. The late autumn sky was as grey as the damp pavement outside the house. The forecast had promised rain, so Nigel took his dad’s umbrella from the old clothes basket next to the front door and ventured into town.

He decided to give Kevin a break from intrusion for once and instead checked his email at the Central Library. Amongst the usual spam in his inbox was a message from Graham. He’d discovered Tonya was living up in Sunderland; had her address too. Nigel thought for a few moments, wondering what to do with the information. He considered travelling up to see her. He pictured himself at her door clutching a bunch of flowers, perhaps, as a gesture to emphasise his contrition. But however he rehearsed it the appropriate words just wouldn’t come. Maybe it was chickening out, but he decided that instead he would attempt something more practical; still send some flowers, but some money too: a thousand pounds he thought would be a useful amount to help her get started again. It could go towards renting a new place; anything she chose to use it for really. Nigel resolved to write out a cheque and post it that very afternoon.

Further on in his email, Graham also mentioned that he’d been making progress in rooting around for juicy facts about Dixey; chiefly that he’d discovered he had a woman on the side that he visited every Friday night. In reply, Nigel thanked him and requested he text him as soon as he could fill in the gaps on the affair. It seemed very promising.

Returning to his inbox, he noticed a new message had popped in: via Facebook. It was from Laura.

As he exited the library, Nigel was keen to share his revelations. Sabrina was his first choice; he reached for his phone.

“I think we’ve got him! Graham reckons Dixey is having it off with some woman.”

“What a quaint turn of phrase you have,” she joked. “Reminds me of the sort of thing you’d hear in an old TV sitcom. But good news, yes.”

Nigel barely heard her mild mocking; instantly deflecting the comment in favour of sharing his other news. “And Laura’s got back to me too.”

Sabrina had to stop and think for a second who he meant; this recently introduced annex of family needed more familiarity before the detail would sink in properly.

“Good. What did she say?”

“She’s doing well for herself; teaches in some posh university in the States. From how she worded it, I think she was a bit perplexed why I would suddenly contact her out of the blue; but she seemed to appreciate me making the effort. There was something in what she wrote, though; a bit cold, I guess.”

“It must have been an odd surprise for her, digging up those memories?”

“I know. I just hope she realised I was being sincere, that’s all...”

“Well, if what you said to her came across anything like how you told it to me, I think she will have done. Do you feel better for it?”

“Well sort of; I suppose so. I don’t really know how I expected to feel.”

“Look, keep me posted on it all. I’ve got to dash off in a minute. Thanks for calling.”

“Oh, of course. I’m sorry, I just had to tell somebody. I’ll be in touch. Seeya.”

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