Seriously, I am fed up with all of this shit!
(What Thyroid would like to say to Henry if he had the nerve)
Thyroid drove back to his apartment to go through everything he had on the Scatologist, the whens and wheres, the elusive hows. Looking at the long list of instances was almost shocking; in his self-obsessed huff, Thyroid had forgotten just how many people had suffered at the hands of this madman. Once he had collected all the information he needed, he got back into his car and made his way to the offices housing The Contemporary. Fortunately, Henry was out for the next few days, touring universities to give lectures to media students on the pros and cons, the ups and downs, of the newspaper industry, giving Thyroid the opportunity to root through his editor’s papers. He had not been able to forget Gary’s suspicion about Henry, or Marie’s insistence on the matter. He had fought it for a while but now it even worried him. He had to know, if only to prove to them both how wrong they were about Henry.
Eventually, just to get Thyroid out of his face, Fabian unlocked the door to Henry’s office and let him pass through. ‘Rest assured,’ he told Thyroid before he could close the door, ‘Mr. Gunther will hear about this.’
Thyroid didn’t have any problems with that. He would find a way to explain it all to Henry at some point. For the moment, he just needed to review all of Henry’s appointments for the past two months or so. Hopefully that wouldn’t take too long, he thought. The less time in Henry’s office, the better. He knew that Henry kept two agendas, one which he carried around everywhere and another that forever remained in his office. Thyroid prayed to any passing generic deity that the drawers were unlocked.
He hit the jackpot straight away. Thyroid lifted the diary from its place and opened it, running his fingers down the list he had brought with him and checking each date against the corresponding time in Henry’s agenda. He repeated the procedure three times, just to be sure, before flopping weakly in Henry’s throne.
For a while he did nothing. Then, briefly determined, he reached for the phone, lifting the handset from the cradle and dialling with the same hand. He put the phone to his ear, it was strangely warm, and waited for the pick up. The phone rang twice before it was answered. ‘Gary,’ said Thyroid, ‘it’s me. Meet me at KB tomorrow morning. I’ve got something to tell you.’
Chester is feeling a lot better for having well and truly cooked Rice. The magistrate’s death gave him the moral strength he needed to overcome the fear and doubt that the previous night’s bout of diarrhoea momentarily instilled in him. He woke up that morning to find he had slept seven hours. Chester has not slept so long since the change and takes it as a sign that his soul is at peace and that the forces necessary to help him defeat the Beast of Shit are already gathering about him. He feels cocooned in an energy he has never experienced before. He feels invincible.
He has his breakfast in a local fry-up café (there is nothing left to eat at home), wolfing down two fried eggs, three fat sausages, two thick strips of meaty bacon, a mound of baked beans and seven rounds of toast, washing it all down with four cups of scalding instant black coffee. The café clanks and hisses continuously and is garishly lit by the cold, brilliant sunshine streaming in through the windows. Chester observes the people passing by, going about their daily lives, blissfully oblivious to the cosmic nature of the events that shape and mould their existence, unaware that angels and demons really do walk amongst them. Chester sees he is above all that now; petty ambitions, mortgage payments, office politics, social politics, it is all the same inane bullshit to him, bullshit he will soon be cleaning up once his mortal enemy has been removed from the equation. And Bolton, thinks Chester, is the algebraic n to break that equation, a mistake of the Scatologist’s vanity and pride that Chester will attempt to use to his advantage. He pays for his food and leaves.
Chester parks the Audi a short walking distance from Bolton’s office and strides directly to King Bacon, where he has discovered the journalist can often by found at these hours, apparently just watching people eat, as far as Chester can make out. A news-vendor sits outside, holed up inside his warped, blue box. In front of the tiny stall is a stand-up notice-board proclaiming the headline of the day: SCATOLOGIST HITS AGAIN. Beneath that, in smaller script: RESTAURANT PROFITS DROP. Chester is neither surprised nor perturbed. These weekly headlines usually elicit all sorts of emotional responses from Chester, from agonised rage through to righteous wrath. They are a constant reminder of the shit-hound dogging his every step. They tell him what the Monster wants him to know, that the Scatologist owns the city. Yes, Chester’s rebalances also make the headlines, cause public fear and concern, but what the Scatologist understands all too well, and what Chester is just beginning to see, is that death is too everyday an occurrence. It appals, even shocks for an instant, but is soon assimilated into the social consciousness as just one more terrible, regrettable murder to add to the list of millions that already informs people's time on the planet like seconds on a clock. The Scatologist attacks from the inside and leaves people alive to know it. Chester did think for a while that death would win out over shit but now he sees that it is the other way around. The Scatologist reminds the world that existence is crap, literally, and that death is only the end, a release, one second and it is over. Life, on the other hand, says the Beast, is a long drawn-out act of defecation, sometimes smooth and easy, the rest of the time passing between formless, unbound chaos to constipated, knuckle-biting stress. This is the Scatologist’s message to the world, and his challenge to Chester as representative of that world. It is up to Chester to prove the Demon wrong, to show it that life is not shit, that shit is a bi-product, and one which can be limited, just as Chester has been proving through his nocturnal hunts.
Chester’s thoughts are interrupted as he spots Bolton sitting at his usual seat, talking to the big woman with the lobster-like complexion behind the counter. Chester takes a seat a few tables behind the journalist and opens a paper, peering over the top once in a while to make sure his mark has not disappeared. A few minutes later, Bolton is joined by a thickset man in a sharp suit holding on to a briefcase, very much like the one he himself used to carry, Chester notices. This is Gary, Bolton’s friend, although, having heard the way they sometimes speak to one another, Chester finds it hard to imagine that they are good friends. Yet they do spend a lot of time together, he concedes, and accepts there must be something to the relationship. The man, like a number of others in Bolton’s circle, refers to the journalist as “Thyroid” for reasons that are so far beyond Chester.
He watches Gary slap Bolton forcefully between the shoulder blades, causing Bolton to spill his tea and the lobster-woman to scowl at him reproachfully . ‘Here I am,’ Gary practically shouts.
‘For fuck’s sake, Gary,’ says Bolton, making alternate circular movements with his shoulders, ‘we’re not in a fucking club. I can hear you perfectly well over the radio.’
Gary shrugs and stares at lobster-woman until she goes away, still scowling. ‘So, how’s it going?’ he asks.
‘Same as always.’
‘No further contact?’
‘Nothing. I guess he just wanted to shake me up a bit. Apart from the letter, there has been nothing at all. Not a word.’
‘Strange, don’t you think?’
‘Well, you know, in the movies, these guys are always after some kind of recognition, aren’t they? They choose some detective or,’ he nods at Bolton, ‘reporter to be their confidant. Because really all they want is a bit of attention, innit?’
‘Yet another example of how life is not like the movies.’
‘I suppose so.’
‘He doesn’t want to get caught, this one, he’s enjoying himself too much. He’s got people staring at their food in case it’s going to jump off the plate and bite them on the arse. It’s as if he’s on a holy mission or something.’
Chester’s soul stirs on hearing that. A holy mission. His instincts are correct; the Scatologist is using this man. Bolton will lead him to his destiny. Gary looks as though he is about to say something but is interrupted by Bolton’s phone. ‘Maybe that’s him,’ he says.
‘Marie,’ says Bolton and smiles broadly. ‘Hmm? No, not really. I’m in KB with Gary. Yeah. Yeah.’ Chester watches Gary look away from Bolton, to give the illusion of space and privacy. ‘Tonight? Great. Where? Ramon’s? Never heard of it… oh right, a tapas bar… Havelock Avenue? I’ll find it. Cool. I’ve never eaten tapas before. You can show me what to eat. Um… about eight thirty? Okay, I’ll see you then. Bye.’ He lowers his phone and slides it back into his pocket. ‘Marie,’ he explains unnecessarily.
‘Yes,’ says Gary. ‘I had worked that out. So… another date then?’
‘They’re not exactly dates. We’re just trying to get an angle on the Scatologist together. Two heads being better than one, that sort of thing.’
‘Whatever you say, pal.’
‘I mean, obviously, I enjoy her company. And she is a very attractive woman.’
‘I know, I’ve seen her. She’s a nice catch. If I were in your shoes, I’d have been in her knickers twice already.’
‘Fortunately, you’re not me, are you?’
Chester switches off. This is fairly typical of the variety of conversation engaged in by these two apparent friends and Chester finds it tedious and pointless. It is enough that Chester has a hook on Bolton’s movements for this evening. He will also make a reservation at Ramon’s for that night. Chester’s prejudices have also disappeared down the drain with many of his old personality traits, including his distrust of foreign food. Since the concepts of cooking and obsessive healthy eating are no longer crucial factors in his life, Chester has been stopping off at all sorts of places, whenever his body demands sustenance. Recently he has eaten Peking duck with fried rice and spring rolls, several chicken baltis with onion bhajis, pakooras and duvet-sized naan-breads, ravioli and pesto with garlic bread, couscous and kefta and almond pastries and sushi; he has consumed French dishes, Thai, Korean (this after killing Stephens), Indonesian, Greek and even Welsh rarebit. In fact, he is even looking forward to tonight – although he admits this may have more to do with the way events now seem to be moving fluidly in the right direction than the prospect of tasting a Spanish omelette. Like Bolton, Chester has never eaten Spanish food before, at least not consciously.
‘Can I get you anything, love?’ Lobster-woman is looming over Chester, her chest an avalanche frozen in mid-explosion. Chester instinctively leans away from the imposing breasts.
‘No,’ he tells her, pushing back his chair and standing. ‘I’ve changed my mind. It’s too hot in here.’
‘Suit yourself,’ the woman responds, turning around and walking calmly back to the counter. Chester leaves the café, passing unnoticed behind Bolton and his friend. ‘So,’ he can hear Gary saying as he steps outside, ‘what did you want to talk to me about?’ Bolton’s answer remains unheard as the sounds of the café are replaced by those of the street.
Chester walks through the city, pleased for once that he isn’t on a reconnaissance mission and can, if he so chooses, enjoy the day ahead. It will be a couple of hours before he can call Ramon’s and book his table. The morning, although chilly, is crisp and invigorating and Chester is happy to stroll where his feet take him, feeling himself a part of the world for whose soul he so valiantly and selflessly fights. Without destination, Chester passes alongside the Bullring shopping centre, down to the open-air market with its varied offerings of foodstuffs, leather goods, cheap films and music, all shrouded in the smell of ripening fruit and the hot cooking oil from the fish-and-chip caravans, already doing good business despite the early hour. He walks along New Street, past the train station, up to the comic shop next to the roundabout, turning right before reaching the store to head once again for the main centre, heading up the road which leads to the square outside the library and to the top of the High Street, pausing at a newsagents to read a repeat of the same headlines he saw posted outside King Bacon.
As usual, the city centre is full of people. They are wrapped up against the cold, thronging the High Street in a never-ending bustle from one place to another. Chester glides through them as though they were all as insubstantial as air. Nobody jostles or pushes against him; he walks against the current, slipping through the suited, uniformed melange of Birmingham’s working hordes like an electric eel through oil. Chester’s skin feels as though it has been coated with static; his entire body thrums and tingles with unaccustomed self-assuredness and power, so much power he thinks he could light the whole city. In fact, he reflects, bringing light to the city is exactly what he is doing, what he now knows he was born to do. This is where fate has led him. There is no arguing with fate, he tells himself; you can no more go against fate than you can give up breathing oxygen. He doesn’t know what is going to happen. He doesn’t know when it, whatever it is, will happen. But every nerve in him is poised and sprung, ready for the moment, ready for his true and final renaissance.
‘Come in, dear.’
‘It was very kind of you to see me, Mrs. Gunther,’ said Marie, shaking the regal-looking woman by her delicate, manicured hand.
‘Not at all. Any friend of Christopher’s is a friend of ours.’
Marie smiled at the woman, although she was in no mood to smile. She wasn’t really sure what it was she thought she was doing here and she didn’t know how Chris was going to react when he found out. She’d had the address for a while, waiting to see if Chris would act on Gary’s suspicions before finally, almost reluctantly, acting herself. She had taken down the details while Chris had dropped her off at her uncle's the day they had shared fish and chips with Gary. Chris had left his mobile in the car while he went to pay for some petrol and it was there where she had found the number. She had copied it down and then hid the piece of paper in her handbag. Yesterday she had called the number and asked to speak to Mr. Gunther, who, she knew from Chris, was already away, on the pretext of writing an in-depth report on Birmingham’s most prominent editor. Feigning disappointment at Henry’s absence, she had asked if it would be okay to talk to Mrs. Gunther about her husband’s youth and how he had made his name in the industry. Elsa Gunther was only too happy to oblige, especially once Marie, feeling only a little guilty about it, had dropped Chris’ name into the exchange.
Before she left that morning, she had called Chris to tell him what she had decided to do but had then chickened out, worried he might think she was treading on his toes. Plus which, the Gunthers were clearly close friends and it might make him angry that she should bother them with what was, essentially, his business. As far as he was concerned, anyway. For Marie, the fact that her uncle had been a victim meant that all of this, in reality, was actually more her business than it was Bolton’s. Even so, it didn’t feel that way. So instead she had asked him out to dinner that night. She had heard Gary in the background, so kept the conversation short, although that was rather more because she was afraid of blurting out her intentions than supplying Gary with some fresh ammunition to tease Chris with.
Marie followed Elsa Gunther into her spacious, airy living room. ‘Would you like some tea, dear?’ she was asked.
‘Yes please,’ she replied. Elsa was so glaringly a “very nice lady” that Marie immediately felt sneaky and underhand. After all, here she was, snooping around and taking advantage of the woman’s kindness just so she could get the lowdown on her husband. Marie was certain that she was not going to feel any better if it did turn out that Henry was the Scatologist, which in a way made it worse. But, she reminded herself, what had feeling good got to do with anything? To take her mind off these preoccupations, Marie inspected the room she was in. Everything bespoke the easy luxury of wealth. These were people used to living in comfort, she told herself, fingering the polished surface of a small, individual darkly wooded writing desk set into an alcove beside a window that afforded a view of verdant garden outside. She was holding a photograph of a younger couple, Henry and Elsa maybe twenty or so years ago, on the deck of a yacht, when Elsa returned bearing a silver tray laden with cups, saucers, a small teapot, a pot of sugar, a mini jug of milk and a three-tiered silver dish containing a selection of small cakes.
Elsa sat down, bending her knees and lowering herself gracefully to a stop on the edge of the sofa and patting the space beside her as an invitation for Marie to join her. Elsa had a finely sculpted face and her silvery-grey hair was swept back and held up with a tasteful, elegantly designed clip. ‘So,’ she said after a moment’s appraisal, ‘you want to be a journalist, do you?’ Marie nodded. ‘A fine profession,’ said Mrs. Gunther. ‘How did you meet Chris?’ she asked suddenly. Her voice made it clear that she was hoping for a sweet tale of romance.
‘At a lecture,’ Marie replied quickly, having been unable to think up anything more credible. ‘He gave me some pointers on how to be a success and…’
‘Who? Christopher? That doesn’t sound like him. He must really like you,’ said Elsa mischievously, pouring the tea.
Marie demurred. ‘I don’t know about that,’ she said, feeling her face redden. ‘Anyway, he promised to see if could find any freelance openings, too, as well as suggesting this project to your husband.’
Elsa regarded her silently for a moment, as if expecting more. When it was obvious that nothing else would be forthcoming, she said, ‘Well, deep down, he does have a heart of gold. Sugar?’
‘Just one, please.’
‘No thank you.’
Elsa handed Marie a cup and held out the cakes. Marie took a chocolate sponge and placed it next to the cup on her saucer. ‘So,’ said Elsa, after choosing a bakewell tart for herself, ‘you want to know all about dear Henry, do you?’
“Dear Henry,” Marie thought. Oh Christ. But she nodded eagerly all the same. ‘Please,’ she said, making a show of removing a recording device from her bag. She went through the motions of checking the gadget and then, apparently satisfied, pressed a button on the side of the device and said, ‘Whenever you’re ready.’
Elsa settled herself comfortably on the sofa and began. ‘Henry, middle name Gordon if that’s any use to you, was born in Ealing in 1938. His father was a chemist. During the war, the family business had been hit rather badly. It had been hit by a bomb,’ she added meaningfully. ‘But anyway, they survived, Hitler was defeated and things began their slow march back to normality. Henry often helped his father after school and was encouraged to follow the old patriarch’s footsteps. Henry offered no resistance; he was a quiet boy back then by all accounts. Perhaps it was the filth and horror he had witnessed as a child that made him so introspective and thoughtful. This is not to say he was incapable of engaging in normal, everyday chitchat with the people that entered his father’s chemist or with his fellow school mates. Quiet he may have been, but he was not a sullen boy.
‘As he got older and continued to believe that he would one day take over from his father, he went to university and did the relevant studies in pharmacy. Two years after he obtained his Masters and took over the day to day running of the store from his father, he was already a success and well known and respected in the community. But then, tragically, his father was killed.’
‘How?’ asked Marie, sensing perhaps an important clue.
‘He was knocked down in the street, by a manure truck,’ replied Elsa, with no trace of irony.
A manure truck? Marie thought, her mind starting to work overtime. Could it be that simple? No. No, surely not.
‘Anyway,’ Elsa continued. ‘Henry left the chemist almost immediately, leaving it in the capable hands of his three brothers, and then, shortly after that, he left Ealing, too, for good.’
‘What did he do?’
‘He moved to Camden and discovered LSD.’ She must have seen the shocked look on Marie’s face. ‘Don’t worry, dear. Henry has never made any secret of his experimentation years. It’s common knowledge. It wasn’t long before he lost his old taciturn habits and became an outspoken representative of the Marxist movement. He decided to take another degree, this time in politics, but dropped out after a year to marry a Brazilian woman he had fallen in love with.’
‘I didn’t know Henry had been married before.’
‘He wasn’t. Tragedy struck again, my dear. This time in the form of Bill Hogarth.’
‘Who was he?’
‘Bill Hogarth had also fallen in love with this Brazilian beauty and was mad with jealousy that she had chosen Henry over him.’
‘Hogarth murdered her, a month before the wedding.’
Marie put her hand over her mouth in genuine surprise.
Elsa grimaced as she thought about it and gave a shudder. ‘He drowned her,’ she said. ‘He pushed her head into a toilet and kept it there until her body gave up fighting for breath.’
‘My god,’ breathed Marie. ‘That’s horrible.’ But she was also thinking that now there were two moments in Henry’s past that connected suffering with the scatological. She felt herself getting hot again.
‘Are you alright, my dear?’ asked Elsa, regarding her young companion with some concern.
‘I’m fine,’ Marie told her. ‘Maybe the shock of hearing news like that.’
‘Of course,’ said Elsa with understanding. ‘Mind you, you’ll have to grow yourself a thicker skin if you’re going to work in the media.’
‘You’re right,’ said Marie, pulling herself together. ‘Please go on,’ she said once she was composed.
‘Well, Henry threw himself into his politics to help him forget but, by the seventies, he became disenfranchised with Marxism and was looking for new avenues to explore. During his leftist revolutionary days, he discovered he had a talent for expressing himself in ways which made people take notice. He had a way with words, you see.’ For a moment, Elsa sat there, peering wistfully out of the window at memories only she could see. Probably thinking about Henry’s way with words with her, thought Marie. ‘I suppose,’ Elsa went on, ‘it was only a small step from there to writing articles for local newspapers.
‘He worked freelance for many years until he found a permanent position at a prominent London paper at the time. He wrote constantly, achieving a quiet notoriety for his acerbic wit and sharp observation. That was when he met me. I was his editor’s secretary. We were married six months after our first evening out.’ She reached back over the sofa and removed another photograph from the wall. ‘We had four beautiful children,’ she told Marie, showing her the image on the photograph of four children, all smiling and waving cheerfully. ‘Little tykes.’
‘They all look very cute,’ said Marie sincerely.
‘Thank you,’ said Elsa, obviously very pleased by the remark. ‘Now where was I? Oh yes… More often than not, Henry found himself in conflict with his editor – Henry used to say it was because he had taken me away from under the cantankerous old man’s nose. Whatever the cause, Henry eventually left and became freelance again, writing two books on the subjects of war and poverty. With the money we saved, and the connections Henry had made in the city, he found the funding to set up his own journal, a weekly magazine dealing with serious socio-political discussion. It flopped.’
‘Oh,’ said Marie, realising how ridiculous that sounded. From what Chris had told her about the man, the last thing she expected to hear about Henry was that he had failed to do something he had set his mind to.
‘That’s the way the business is, dear,’ Elsa elaborated. ‘It wasn’t really Henry’s fault. Everyone who read the magazine agreed that it contained fascinating stuff. Unfortunately, there just weren’t enough people reading it. That was when we decided to move to Birmingham and where Henry eventually got The Contemporary off the ground. This time it was a success, if only a little one. It was certainly enough to give Henry the boost he needed. And every day,’ said Elsa proudly, ‘The Contemporary is gaining more and more national respect. One day, Henry hopes to be asked to return to London… just so he can turn them down.’ She winked at Marie, who grinned back at her, even though all she could think of was manure truck, toilet drowning, manure truck, toilet drowning.
Marie sat on the train and reviewed everything Elsa had told her. She had painted a picture of Henry as a kind, solid and dependable man with a wonderful sense of humour and a strong sense of decency. The way she lauded him, this faithful husband, this loving father, Marie suddenly found it more difficult to believe that he was responsible for the attack on her uncle. Yet those horribly ridiculous but salient incidences could not be ignored. Such experiences could have buried themselves deeply even with the prodigious mind of someone like Henry Gunther, where they would have bubbled and brewed beneath the surface of the subconscious until they finally found release in the shape of the Scatologist. And he had the technical know-how. Marie realised that it was all just a bit too obvious, that it smacked too much of the easy solution, but even so, there it was. Henry was, at the very least, a strong suspect. Maybe it was just to sell a few more papers, maybe it was as a result of the tragedies of his past, but whatever the reason, Marie felt now that her intuition was justified. She would have to tell Chris, and she wasn’t looking forward to that, but they both needed to make sure.
Elsa had told her that tomorrow Henry would be at the University of Central Lancashire. Marie could hardly believe it. If she had been Chester Guberson, the coincidence might have been too much to take and perhaps she would have stripped naked and run all the way to Preston to meet her destiny. However, Marie was not like Chester. For her, the news meant that it was going to be much easier to confront Mr. Gunther away from home. She was sure she would be able to remember her way around her old place of study but knew she would find him at the university anyway.
Which was why the train she was on was not taking her home but instead towards Preston. She owed it to her uncle to uncover the truth, whatever that truth might turn out to be.
When she arrived in Preston, Marie went to find a cheap hotel and booked a single room in a bed and breakfast near the train station. After that, she went to scan around, pleased that her sense of direction had not diminished in the intervening years. She went to the university first, to find out when and where Henry would be giving his lecture, and then went to get something to eat.
It wasn’t until nine o’clock, while she was sitting in a Pizza Hut around the corner from the B&B that she remembered she was supposed to have met Chris half an hour ago in another part of the country. She took her mobile from her bag, switched it on – she must have forgotten to do so after her interview with Elsa – and noticed that she had several missed calls from Chris. She gathered herself together and rang him. His relieved, almost joyful “Marie” almost made her hang up out of remorse but she persevered. ‘Chris,’ she began. ‘Look, I’m sorry I couldn’t make it but, well…’ She took a deep breath and explained why she wasn’t sitting in front of him at that moment. When she put the phone down a few minutes later, she didn’t know whether to feel deliriously happy or thoroughly miserable. Chris had sounded really angry with her, really mad. On the other hand, she thought with a guilty smile (did she have any other kind lately?), he would be sitting right here with her in just a few hours.
Immaculate is the word. From this point on, it will all be immaculate. Chester is laying out his finest black clothes upon the bed, an Armani suit and shirt, gold cufflinks (a small tribute to the golden armour he has dreamed of) and the shoes his mother had bought him from Vogue as a parting gift. The shotgun has also been cleaned and oiled once more and sits besides the clothes, gleaming dully with dark, glossy menace. Chester will be immaculate for his confrontation. He is not certain when this will be – all he has is his gut instinct and for Chester, nowadays, anything he feels in his gut is, of course, loaded with significance – and so will be dressing immaculately every day.
At a quarter past seven exactly, Chester leaves his home in Solihull and drives his Audi (also buffed up in honour of the days of glory to come) to Havelock Avenue. It isn’t really an avenue he notices when he arrives although it is a pleasant enough stretch of road. The street seems more residential than anything else but there are two or three fashionable looking places to eat dotted along the way, one of which is Ramon’s. Chester parks his car on the opposite side of the avenue and enters the restaurant, where his reservation is set for eight o’clock. Chester believes it makes better sense to be there before Bolton arrives since people tend to notice those already seated less than they do those coming in.
Ramon’s is plainly a popular establishment. Chester sees that most of the tables are already occupied, with one or two empty but for small metal signs proclaiming them to be reserved. A waiter approaches him to check his name in the bookings and then leads him to a table situated on a raised section of floor overlooking the main dining area. The décor is simple enough, brick walls plastered with framed images of flamenco artistes – although no bullfighters, he notes; but then, of course, blood sports are certainly not fashionable – and strange agricultural looking objects shaped from bound straw. Chester thinks it is the low lighting that really makes the place, that and the Spanish guitar playing softly in the background.
He orders a bottle of red wine and a plate of spicy chorizo and battered squid while he waits. The waiters are all English-speaking students from Spain, no doubt trying to earn some extra money while they improve their language skills over here. A young woman, the badge on her red t-shirt says her name is Manuela, brings his order to the table. ‘Anything else, señor?’ she asks.
‘No,’ he tells her. ‘That’s fine. Gracias.’
It is twenty past eight when Bolton enters and is shown to a table, just as Chester has been hoping, directly in his field of vision. The journalist looks mightily pleased with himself as he sits down, taking in his surroundings appreciatively. He orders a beer while he waits for Marie to show up.
At ten to nine, Bolton is still alone and starting to look fidgety and annoyed. He is still alone ten minutes later. Chester calls the waiter over and asks for the bill. He has a feeling that Bolton will be leaving soon, too. He has watched Bolton try and reach Marie (Chester cannot imagine he would be calling anyone else), without success, a number of times. The waiter arrives with Chester’s bill. He puts some notes onto the dish containing the slip and tells the waiter to keep the change, not once taking his eyes from Bolton’s table.
The journalist is standing up, having also just paid his bill, and getting ready to leave when his phone finally rings. Chester sees the smile on Bolton’s face and knows that it must be Marie calling. It is confirmed a second later when Bolton almost cries out ‘Marie’ down the phone. He is clearly happy to know that he has not been forgotten. He does not look happy for long however. Chester is fascinated by the way the colour simply drains from Bolton’s face. From the journalist’s body language, Chester can easily believe that someone has just pulled the rug from under Bolton’s world. Bolton peers about furtively as he listens to what he is being told. For a second, he catches Chester’s eye. Chester smiles at him encouragingly but Bolton just turns away, looking suddenly hunted. After a minute, Bolton thrusts his phone back into his pocket and hurries from the restaurant.
Chester rises calmly and makes his way through and around the other diners, stepping outside just as Bolton is opening the door to his Mini, which is parked, conveniently, not fifteen yards away from Chester’s motor. He steps across the street and enters the Audi, revving the engine and waiting for Bolton to pull out. Chester raises his eyebrows as the Mini noisily screeches away into the night. Chester drops the clutch and follows at a steady pace.