‘I’m sure he’s got ADHD! Never listens to anything I say; in cloud cuckoo-land I reckon – then starts this here hyper-thingamajig.’
‘Well, that is the nature of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder,’ she said.
‘Do you reckon there’s anything I can do about it?’
‘No, I think you’ll just have to accept that’s how he is, Sir,’ she said.
‘So you can’t recommend any sort of therapy, then?’
‘You’re talking about Cognitive Behavioural Therapy,’ she said. She giggled.
‘Yeah – I’ve tried talking to him, tried changing the way he thinks… you know, paint word pictures, slowly but surely catch his attention, but he doesn’t seem to know what I’m saying; definitely aloof in a world of his own I’m afraid!’
‘I don’t think talking would do any good whatsoever in this case, but you could try altering his diet, Sir,’ she said.
‘…His diet? He certainly is a very faddy eater!’
‘Yes, it’s a fact that food colourings, additives, sugar, can cause problems – he may be intolerant to something in his food; poor nutrition can cause all sorts of complications,’ she said.
‘So, could a change of diet also control his symptoms of OCD? He seems to have that as well…’
‘Obsessive – Compulsive Disorder you say; what makes you think that, Sir,’ she said.
He kept a straight face. She did not. She giggled.
‘Yeah, just between you and me, he has this repetitive thingy – some sort of ritual, I reckon. No matter what I say or do, I don’t seem to be able to stop him fidgeting; rapidly rocking his head backwards and forwards with his tongue sticking out!’
She giggled. She picked up a folder… The patient’s name…?
She suddenly, became aware her colleagues had made a simple error of identification. Sir Wilfred Scarlett was the large Maine-Coon ginger tomcat. The man… was just a man!
Better tell my staff it’s the cat who’s called Sir – they keep on addressing this chav as Sir Wilfred…!
‘Anyway, it’s not a ritual – he’s doing what we call “grooming” if you ask me. And about the flea problem, just put this preparation on the back of the cat’s neck – not your own…’ She tittered.
‘Okay, m’dear – but I call it playing-the-harp…’
This guy’s crazy…
‘Is that about everything Mr… errm?’ She slid the folder across her desk, traced the print at the top of the page with her forefinger; ‘Mr… errm, Ben McVeigh?’
Abednego McVeigh hated his name. To him it was a source of humiliation; he preferred to be known simply as Ben. His father had bestowed the odd name on him in recognition of a distant ancestor – a legendary Nottinghamshire prize fighter known as “Bendigo”, a corruption of “Abednego”. His father had been a consummate devotee of pugilism. Unfortunately, most of Ben’s close friends had been quite aware of his real name. When speaking of him but certainly not to him, would refer to him as “Bendy”. The nick-name was a million miles from reality because once Ben McVeigh had mentally deliberated, his mind was set in granite and it could not be moved.
Cocks on sticks, hard, sticky, sweet, vibrant candy lollies shaped like cockerels, he remembered them well. Mushy peas cooked on an open brazier with lashings of mint sauce and hotdogs and burgers, their meaty derivations just that little more dubious. Goose Fair, Ben recollected; that hotchpotch confusion of stalls and roundabouts crowned by the big wheel and helter-skelter. Thoughts came flooding back as he twiddled the little bronze token in his pocket.
The fair, held once a year in October went back around seven-hundred years or so – originally a market for selling fattened geese herded from the surrounding areas. As times changed, it had become a huge fairground site operated by travelling showmen, gypsies… and thieves.
Ben, and his pal Twinkle, had begun their merry jaunt at The Hall of Mirrors. Nothing was as it seemed. Cheeky boyish faces taking on comical shapes, hoots of laughter and glee. Their joviality had been short lived, however, replaced by the extreme opposite… terror. It was the ride on the Waltzer. Giddily spinning, bucking and tossing about as swarthy roughnecks, slapped the carriages and collected fares. It was that one ride that had kicked off Ben McVeigh’s dislike of tattoos. He had passed over a twenty pound note, but the heavily tattooed low-life failed to return any change. That was it! Ben’s loud protestations alerted the stall owner, who instantly materialised and sacked the man on the spot. The roustabout, wearing a heavily stained string vest, had arms like totem poles – covered in tattoos to such an extent that no bare skin could be seen from his “love-hate” knuckles to the “cut here” dotted line across his carotid. The large peak of his frayed baseball cap hid the upper part of his gnarled face, looking much like something belonging on a rubbish tip. The cap that is…
The worthy showman, who had sacked the man, had offered profound apologies. He returned all Ben’s money and gave him a consoling gift of a strange coin before returning swiftly to his punters. The roughneck remained unobserved in the shadows. Ben had not seen him lurking behind the cock-on-a-stick stall waiting for revenge until…
‘…BENDY – WATCH OUT!!!’ His school pal Twinkle suddenly screamed at the top of his voice.
The cry had been lost in the din and racket of the fair as his young pal grabbed his arm hauling him in the direction of the exit two hundred yards away. The thug, although having teeth black to the core, was obviously agile and only a few feet behind as the two young lads clawed, scrambled and slid through the crowded fairground; a mud bath from a recent shower of rain.
A drum solo pounded inside Ben’s heaving chest as he ran for his life… coloured flashing lights, diesel smells from large static generators intermingling with hot dogs, burgers, fried onions and rancid hot fat…
Smoky, rancid hot fat –Gonna be SICK…!
Must get away – run for it – faster – FASTER…!
He looked back and saw that the thug had overtaken his pal and was hell-bent on catching his prey. God that’s me! – He’s after KILLING ME…!
Ben’s head was spinning. Faster – faster – FASTER! Each carousel played a different tune competing against its rival. Louder – louder – LOUDER…! A cacophony of jumbled melodies crashing into his head…
Mind swimming, cheeks on fire, legs turning to lead, and pain in his stomach – out of breath – stitch.
Rancid hot FAT…!
The deafening commotion: discordant sound of hurdy-gurdy punch-card music, the inane shrieking laugh of an automaton clown – the ting of lead pellets hitting tin men – the metallic slap of them tumbling back… dead.
Louder – louder – louder – LOUDER!
A hand from behind spun him round… ‘HEY… you all right, son?’
He turned to see, to his relief, a policeman. Fortunately the roughneck had disappeared along with his tattoos, frayed cap and snarling mouth of decaying teeth, the nasty experience only returning in nightmares. Although held every year on his doorstep, he would never again go to Goose Fair as a youngster, or would he know the significance of the showman’s mysterious little bronze gift for many years later.
But that was years ago, must get over it, even my dentist’s got tatts… be the vicar next… Huh, Rev Hallett, as if…! He thought, as he gave the little coin in his pocket another twiddle.
He had been in his early twenties before returning to the event – a couple of local lads tagging along. They dared him to have-a-go in Ron Taylor’s Boxing Booth. He had floored his opponent in the first round with a left hook to the Habsburg – the stunned gypsy had not known what day to get up. They gathered him from the canvas like a jellyfish – his bloody nose a shipwrecked rudder guiding him beyond oblivion, as he was stretchered through the curtains. His working week had been put on more than temporary hold by Mr Ben McVeigh!
After the experience with the roughneck, and with pressure from his father, Ben, had joined a local gym and taken up boxing. The intention had been to get hardened up a touch, and it had worked. The only thing that bothered him nowadays was loneliness. Loneliness caused by his relocation to Norfolk. That had all started, and finished, with his altercation with Sally Peters. Over her cuffing him to the bed… stark-naked! To his horror, his mother had burst in on him accompanied by Sally’s mother – she seemed to have enjoyed the experience. He had managed to push that fiasco to the back of his mind, but now, Sally had taken things further – her latest vindictive stunt had pitched Ben McVeigh into utter humiliation, leaving him the laughing stock of Hogsthorpe.
Spite, that’s what it was…! Pure bloody-minded spite! He had concluded.
December 2006, Norfolk, England.
Ben had moved to Spring Cottage earlier in the summer, intent on escaping his femme-fatale, Sally Peters. The Cottage was ancient, like most other vernacular dwellings in the village of Hogsthorpe, North Norfolk. The main construction was of random rubble, a fabrication of flints and baked red clays, roughly held together with lime mortar – so roughly, that Ben thought it unlikely the builders had possessed neither plumb-line nor level. In sleepy Hogsthorpe, he thought he was well away from tattooed gum-chewers, thugs in tatty baseball caps, and… Sally Peters.
Now it seemed her sordid tentacles had no bounds. She had discovered his hideaway. How, he had no idea.
The incident had been unforgettable for the locals, particularly his new neighbours, Jonathan and Jackie Stone. They had lived next door in April Cottage for a couple of years since inheriting it from Jonathan’s grandmother. Initially, the debacle had convinced them and the locals that Ben was a sexually depraved pervert; debauched – a degenerate townie! They began to worry who actually had moved in next door.
Ben could not even hazard a guess where Sally had obtained his new address, but obtain it she most certainly had. And the scheduling had been absolute perfection. Saturday morning, Christmas carol practice – the innocent angelic tones of the choir drifting from the church hall, “A Virgin Unspotted” just fading out, then a couple of clicks from the choirmaster’s batten summoning the chirpy upbeat of “Good King Wenceslas” to break out across the pastoral landscape. Reverend Hallett, a pleasant smile on his face, had dismounted his pedal-cycle and was graciously chatting to a lady parishioner before the twice-a-day village bus entered the scene. All was flawlessly timed.
‘Heavens above – in my parish of all places – I can’t believe what I’m seeing! God help us, has the man no shame?’ The vicar exclaimed. He attempted to cover the parishioner’s eyes with the palm of his hand as he studied the incident with growing shock.
For the next few months, everyone had kept their distance, sniggering and nudging behind Ben’s back. He was beginning to wish he had never come to the village at all. Sally Peters had almost won; struck a mortally vicious blow, and he knew it was her. The postcard had arrived the following week.
It was not until later, that an incident at the local pub brought Ben, and his next-door neighbour, Jonathan, together. Then after, the word had spread like wildfire that Ben was a sound chap – an okay guy with the misfortune to get involved with a city cow. Well, that might have been what was meant when whispered by the village elders through loose dentures…
He had been sitting alone at the bar having a pint. The pub was about half full, couples dining and mates imbibing the hops after a hard day. A couple of louts had ordered toad-in-the-hole from the slightly-built, attractive barmaid, and were getting more agitated by each passing minute as they waited for their gastronomic delight. Comments were getting more frequent, louder and more vulgar, the senseless tirade directed towards the poor defenceless girl. A silence started creeping over the place.
‘Where’s that tart? Hey you, it’s about bloody time we got our toad-in-the-hole ain’t it? We’re bloody sick of waiting. Tell that bloody cock-jockey in the kitchen to get his finger out!’
Ben had interjected: ‘Okay, okay pal, wind your neck in, it’s worth waiting for – all cooked from fresh, mate.’ He noticed the heavy tattoos on the back of the man’s hands – his hackles started rising…
Then the tirade: ‘What’s it gorra do with you yer nonce? You wanna keep yer feckin’ nose out before I spread the fecker across yer face,’ the man snarled as he gesticulated in the air with his fist before converting it to a two-finger salute.
‘You’d better calm down a tad before I get cheffy to put a toad in your hole!’ Ben was riled.
The clacking of knives and forks on porcelain suddenly dropped deathly quiet. All eating stopped. The barmaid was stunned into silence; Jonathan Stone looked on, backing further away towards the safety of the gent’s urinal…
The lout exploded from his stool with such force, that it toppled backwards and clattered to the stone floor. He leaped towards Ben’s table and grabbed his coat lapels dragging his face towards him. It was less than a foot away. He belched sulphur, pushed Ben back into his seat and took a swing. It missed. Ben ducked, sprang from his seat and managed to catch the next punch in his palm; the table went over… ‘I think you’re just about to leave, tosser!’ He growled, twisting the man’s wrist behind his back and restraining him in a headlock. The lout’s colleague rose from the table preparing to engage. ‘Yer feckin…’ his words were silenced by Ben, who slammed his right heel backwards into the man’s gonads. He screamed; Ben smirked.
Bring it on…
The yob went gorilla trying to free himself, as his mate hopped about clutching his crotch. By that time, Chef Gérard had opened the door from the kitchen and was timidly peering through, cleaver in hand. Jonathan Stone’s eyes were on stalks peering around the urinal door. Ben’s shocked audience was frozen silent as they watched him kick the door open and eject the drunkard – a persuasive shiny brogue up his jacksie. The man’s squeal when crashing down on the flagstones outside indicated considerable injury; his arm had remained twisted behind his back on landing. The lout would not return, his legs transporting him at great speed with right arm dangling like a marionette with a snapped string. The other man shot from the establishment as though the first course had been Senna-pod soup!
Ben returned to a round of applause. ‘Floor show over folks…’ He called, briskly sweeping his hands together as though dusting away dirt. He righted the furniture, turned and winked at the barmaid, ‘I hear you’ve an excellent toad-in-the-hole on this evening. I also understand the waiting time is only a couple of minutes or so, would that be correct, sweetheart?’ Ben stood there with a grin. He looked across the room. ‘Neighbour, would you like to join me – my treat?’ He called over to Jonathan, who was still positioned halfway through the door to the gents’. The inoffensive, bashful artist-come-writer, Jonathan Stone, was trapped; he could not refuse. With comforting cleaver in hand, Chef Gérard retreated to the safety of the kitchen to put the final touches to his perfect toad-in-the-hole.
That was the time villagers started altering their opinion of Ben McVeigh, and understanding it might be prudent to keep on the right side of him. Even Chef Gérard had taken a fancy. And, to her grave misfortune, the pretty stripling of a barmaid, Jessica, was also beginning to like him; like him very much…
The chill of a cold winter evening had persuaded Jonathan to light a fire in Ben McVeigh’s multi-burner to warm the place up – a friendly gesture to a good neighbour he had now grown to know well. A handful of kindling, couple of well-seasoned split logs and good shovel of smokeless cobbles.
Lighter… He patted his pockets. Matches…? He looked along the hearth and saw that Ben had left his lighter next to the scuttle. He lit the tinder and pulled the damper out. Job done…
Ben’s profession of consulting automotive engineer had taken him over to Nottingham, to re-examine the wreckage of a car for Gascoigne, Scargill and Bond, Solicitors. He was to be expected back later in the evening. The solicitors had previously engaged him to carry out a full inspection and supply a written report regarding the damage and possible cause of the accident. It now seemed that the case was going to Crown Court and he needed to be sure of himself.
Jonathan picked up a magazine, flicked through it, and waited for the fire to take hold; racy… he thought. Hogged-up in Hogsthorpe, poor chap, he mused. He was brought suddenly to his senses when he heard the sound of a car pulling into the drive, so quickly tucked it behind the cushion where he had found it… very quickly. Spicy one that…
Jonathan poked the fire, and turned his attention to the surroundings: the main oak ceiling beam hung with an old coach horn, a brass-handled dress sword with ornate handle bearing the letters “VR” and various horse brasses. A large oil painting hung over the fireplace strangely depicting a ferocious looking bull incongruously surrounded by gentle lambs. Each side of the bull-and-lamb painting hung old cap-lock pistols and a flintlock blunderbuss. Jonathan was running his fingers against the cold barrel of the blunderbuss just as the back door opened. Ben, had returned home earlier than had been expected, he caught his neighbour standing there admiring the old gun. It had obviously caught his attention after attending to the stove, or so it had appeared.
‘Hi Ben, you have a good journey, boy?’ Jonathan asked as he casually stroked the wooden stock of the gun.
‘Yeah, not much traffic – well not until I got to the Lynn by-pass anyway. Flaming snarl up with road works; blokes leaning on shovels watching others doing nothing, and a one-armed plod directing traffic round an RTA!’ He replied.
‘I was just admiring your old flintlock blunderbuss…’ He fibbed. A saucy mag that one – I wonder what happened to that other thing… He picked up the poker and proceeded to casually poke the fire.
‘Got the gun from Newark Antique Market last year,’ Ben replied. ‘Reckon it’s an East-India Company gun… possibly an anti-boarding gun. They reckon that by the mid seventeenth century it was the largest and richest private company in the world. They’d over forty five thousand staff and probably a couple of hundred or more ships including warships and private soldiers. All that to bring us curry, my friend… they made a fortune in spices before going into gold, silver, silk and stuff!’ he blabbed on to a not-much-interested Jonathan Stone – his mind was elsewhere. ‘And opium – the black spice of China…’ He sharpened his words attempting to draw his attention. Jonathan closed the stove door, placed the poker to the side and rubbed his hands.
‘China, you say… talking about China, I’ve just had a funny experience with some bone china,’ he mumbled recalling the previous Sunday. Dare I let him know what a plonker I’ve been?
‘What’s that then, Jonno?’ Ben had picked up his unease.
Jonathan awkwardly started to describe his latest exploit at a Sunday market at Ruston Creek, just a few miles away.
Ben listened intently, ‘speak up – you’re not in the confessional, mate.’
‘Well Ben, reckon I’ve been a bit of a bloody fool really,’ Jonathan grunted, with a nervous stroke of his dark shoulder-length hair. ‘Real wazzock, truth be known.’
Ben grinned broadly, ‘already know that, Jonno, but what’s suddenly convinced you?’ He laughed and reached for a large stoppered flask containing home-brew. He loosened the cap; it fizzed gently. ‘A little drop…?’ Summat’s bothering him to be sure…
‘…Oh, well, go on then – twist my arm,’ Jonathan replied. He settled down in an armchair.
‘Here we go, mate,’ Ben reached to the shelf opposite the fireplace, took two pewter tankards and started to fill them. He passed him one, filled to the brim.
Jonathan continued in a matter-of-fact manner. ‘You know that old Crown Derby tea service, the one on my Welsh dresser? Well it was all wrong; incomplete – could only ever display five cups and saucers – one of the cups got smashed back in gran’s day when Samson, her cat, knocked it off the ruddy shelf! Forever getting into places it shouldn’t. Could never get on with the thing – forever having to knock it out of the chair when I wanted a sit down, then ended up with heat-bumps all over my ass, well that’s what I thought they were until I found they were ruddy flea-bites…’
He’s blethering, come on Jonno… what’re you trying to tell me?
Jonathan subconsciously scratched his rear.
‘Bloody cottage, ended up infested…’
‘Not using that stuff you put on the back of their necks that’s your trouble… gets rid of worms and all.’ Ben made a point of staring at Jonathan’s backside where he had scratched it.
‘Watch it Ben,’ he chortled.
‘Jonno – get on with it – fess up – what’ve you gone and done?’
‘Getting back to China, Jackie spotted a cup and saucer on the market; really good nick – exact pattern, and I thought we’d struck lucky. The trader offered a reasonable deal, and really chuffed, I brought it home. But, when we got back, I found we’d been turned over. Nothin’ of much value mind you, just gran’s old China. Reckon it must’ve been earlier that morning. I’d left a window open a bit – just to clear the condensation and air the place – the dresser’s just opposite the window as you know.’
‘…Down to solo tea parties then, mate, eh!’
‘Look you here, boy, things seemed to sort themselves out – well in a fashion, anyways. This ale’s a bit strong, Ben…’ Christ…more like barley friggin wine...
Ben kept topping Jonathan’s tankard up. He did not like the idea of burglars in Hogsthorpe – he thought he had left that well behind in Nottingham. ‘You say that things were sorted “in a fashion”… what do you mean by that?’
‘Yeah, eventually sorted in a way that benefits me, Ben, well I reckon so, anyway,’ Jonathan muttered.
‘How’s that…?’ He doesn’t seem so sure…
‘Well it went like this. Goes to the Ruston Creek market again early last Sunday whilst Jackie did breakfast, and there was another Derby cup and saucer on the same stall. Dealer told me she’d three more besides if I wanted ’em, making four in all.’
‘So you managed to make the set up to five again then, Jonno. No better off – still one short, then.’
‘Yes and no! That’s when the whole ruddy thing started to stink a bit. Well, rather a lot really. I began to realise we’d more than likely bought our own cup and saucer the week before. What’s more, a small mark in the bottom of one of the cups confirmed it. You see, whoever the burglar was, must’ve pinched the friggin gear and whipped it straight round to the market, getting rid before anyone wised up the stuff was nicked!’
‘God’s strewth, what did you do about that then? I hope you grassed her up.’
‘I didn’t have the heart.’
‘What are yer like, Jonno – you big softy…’
‘No harm done anyway,’ he replied. ‘In the end I got all my money and the stuff back, and more besides. The trader said she’d bought it in good faith half an hour earlier from a young woman. One she described as being spotty and wearing a baseball cap.’
‘Could’ve guessed – a bloody baseball cap, tatts and chewing gum, I’ll bet. But what do you mean by “more besides”?’
‘Well it was like this – the stall holder was in tears; dead upset – begged and pleaded with me not to report it. She promised to give me a fancy dagger – a nice old antique jobby I’d been looking at; said it was compensation.’
‘And?’ questioned Ben.
‘Well I took her up on it, but then started to wonder if the dagger was nicked as well!’
Ben made a tutting noise. ‘You walked right into that one… get it back to her sharpish; handle first if you know what I mean. If you don’t, you could feel the sharp-end of the law and get done for receiving, Jonno… qui facit per alium facit per se!’
‘…Per what? What’s all that crap about, Ben?’
‘A principle in law, m’duck; it means that somebody who acts through others acts through himself and in the case of a thief, is just as guilty – or more so. Just think about it, if there wasn’t anybody receiving nicked goods then the thief wouldn’t have a bloody job!’ Ben shook his head and threw an unsettling glance at Jonathan.
‘So you reckon I’d best get it back to her then?’
‘…As I said, sharpish, my friend…’
‘Well, seeing its Sunday tomorrow, I’d better pop down the market, have a word – see what’s going off, boy. Fancy tagging along, Ben? I could do with a bit of moral support and all that; perhaps nip for a pint or so after if you feel like it.’
‘It’d be a bit of a change I suppose, get me out of the cottage wouldn’t it now,’ Ben replied, uncertain what he was letting himself in for.
‘Reckon it’d be best nipping over in my Land Rover, it’ll save shunting motors about first thing in the morning – just park your motor so I can get mine out in the morning, boy,’ Jonathan continued in his soft Norfolk drawl.
‘Yeah, sensible… they’ve forecast rain – the field could be a quagmire.’ Ben thought it was indeed a good idea to go in Jonathan’s four-by-four. His own ride was a rebuilt Austin Healey 3,000 – a brawny thoroughbred packing plenty of grunt, but very low slung.
With that, Jonathan, drained his tankard and made his apologies for leaving. ‘Must skidaggle, Jackie’ll wonder where I’ve got to, and if we’re booting tomorrow…’
‘Okay mate, nine o’ clock sharp then, cheers for now…’
‘Oh, and by the way, you’re getting a bit short on smokeless cobbles,’ Jonathan advised as he was going through the door.
‘Tar, Jonno, I’ll order some first thing Monday – good night, and see you first thing tomorrow.’
He stumbled round to April Cottage, hazarding trailing brambles, to find the rickety interconnecting gate. The heavy curtains to Spring Cottage prevented any illumination to the back yard, and apart from masses of silvery pinpricks above, it was as black as the inside of a sweep’s wallet. Ben was just thinking how early it had got dark since putting the clocks back earlier in the month, when he heard muffled cursing, followed by breaking twigs. He laughed and realised what had happened. The words, ‘blessed cat’ were the clue.
On arriving home earlier, Ben, had observed Sir Wilfred strutting around the gardens swanking his huge racoon-like tail to any local feline interested in combat or bawling contest. He quietly lifted the latch and allowed the animal in, opened a tin of tuna, which was most gratefully received, and poured a single-malt nightcap. Ben stood warming in front of the wood-burning stove, deep in contemplation. A fancy ancient dagger, on a ramshackle market… what’s that all about, I wonder…? Best he gets rid.
Elliott Judd was a strange character, both in looks and actions. He was a loner, preferring to keep his own counsel. Anyway, he did not need anyone else and considered he never really did. He was born in Norwich in the late eighties, after his mother fled from North Halsham, three months pregnant, not daring to tell. Without lease or rent book, she had squatted in a disused office above a dry cleaning and laundrette business and was only known by her first name, May. No one knew her surname. May would help out in the laundrette on a casual basis, cash-in-hand, when the Iranian proprietor had to go out on his very frequent “business trips”. He had considered her a good front, having a local accent and being good at keeping herself to herself. That was until the natural course of events resulted in a patron of the laundrette ringing the emergency services for assistance when May went into labour. She had collapsed on the floor, and being on her own, had instructed the ambulance crew to lock the shop and post the keys through the letter box, thinking she was lucky that the one remaining customer of the day had just finished his laundry.
May had been trapped in her lonely tenure less flat, hoping that one day she would return to North Halsham, to her kith and kin, apparently the same young girl who had left to do her own thing. She would have the child adopted into a good Christian family, she thought, and in the meantime keep in touch with her lover and her own family by weekly letters, which after a while dwindled to monthly, eventually petering out as depression set in.
Looking out of her bedsit window, she would see and hear the banter of revellers entering the Cross Keys pub across the road; hear them being merry and making fun. Others would just hang around outside the main door, indulging their ciggy addiction, glass in hand saving their drink from being nicked or spiked in their absence. She would observe the movement of young lovers walking arm-in-arm, older folk drawn by habit, men with pool cues and then eventually she would see the lights go out, as the publican closed and locked up. She would observe all this whilst subconsciously rubbing the small silver trinket on the chain around her neck. It was ornate, embellished with swirling circular designs and had been given to her by her lover, who had promised to replace it with a ring. But of course, by now, his letters were just a memory.
Next door to the Cross Keys stood a stone built pseudo-gothic styled building which had originally been a bank. This had been taken over by a company called May, Judd & Matheson, Solicitors and Commissioners for Oaths. Clients entering those premises usually had a completely different look on their faces to those of the pub: timid expectation, sorrowful distress, or plain indifference, and when leaving: anger, condemnation, or disgust. May had often wondered if this had been due to their actual circumstance, or whether the fee had been disproportionate to the outcome. She thought possibly there had been no outcome at all, apart from a hefty bill. Nevertheless it had comforted her a little, thinking that her Christian name, and by God she was a Christian, was there on the opposite side of the road emblazoned in gold copperplate script. It directly faced her window, “May”, it declared! “…May, Judd & Matheson!” This gave her strength and fortitude, a sign from God. May, you are not going to have an abortion, it would be murder!
On May’s admission to hospital, and her wish to preserve anonymity, she gave her name as May Judd, considering it a sign from the Almighty. She passed away shortly after a complicated delivery exacerbated by the total lack of pre-natal care, medical history and undiagnosed preeclampsia. The only thing of value she had left behind for her new-born was the small silver trinket – a gift from the child’s father who by now was history. The surgeon overseeing the birth, and saving Judd’s life (but losing his mother’s) was called Doctor Jane Elliott. So the staff called the child Elliott, this being duly registered as Judd’s first name. Like all names, the bearer has no choice in the matter and is reliant on those who go before to bestow upon them something sensible.
It could have been worse, Judd had thought, when told of his origins. It could have been Jane… ha, ha, Jane… what a fucking thought! But who the fuck am I really…? I must be somebody. Fact is… nobody, can be nobody…
Elliott Judd was fostered to a family named Pratt, and he certainly did not want to be known as that. He would remain Judd. The Pratt’s were a large family, made up of adopted and fostered youngsters all older than him. Mrs Pratt was the wrong side of forty when she had accepted Elliott, for what was supposed to be a short term arrangement, until he could be adopted. She had taken him in at fourteen days of age, but he was soon conveniently forgotten by the authorities. He became a mere name in a miss-mash forest of paperwork, and eventually, a fading ghost number drifting somewhere in the digital ether.
Frances Pratt loved children but could not have any of her own. She therefore pandered to her feelings by filling her house to the gunnels with little souls, whether well-behaved or otherwise. She found it impossible to turn any homeless youngster away. However, the overcrowded conditions meant little time could be individually afforded to each child. Elliott, in his early teens, had likened Mrs Pratt’s situation to a case he had seen on the television, where the RSPCA and police had raided some old biddie’s house overrun with dogs. Although there had been genuine love, and good principled intentions, the place had ended up a shithole and the animals starving.
Mr Pratt had more important things to do, and conveniently kept out of the way being “very busy”. He was absolutely not a father figure, but a completely different bottle of crabs. Many folk have a huge territorial range – some the whole globe: London, Paris, New York. Not so Henry Pratt, not even Bognor or Blackpool. After losing his driving license for the second time, his range had shrunk to about three hundred yards or so – to the Duke’s Head and back, walking or staggering depending on the direction. He thought himself a cool dude, but had not worn specs when looking in the mirror: Crumpled heavy-metal T-shirt augmented by silver medallions on long chains around his neck. Unkempt hair and straggly beard; a real he-man he thought – well it was cheaper than buying razorblades, all the more money to spend on ale. And, anyway, water happens to be exceedingly wet and uncomfortable. Altogether, his appearance was similar to something that had crawled from a Glastonbury hedge-bottom a couple of weeks after the event.
Henry Pratt considered his luck had changed for the better when his mother passed over leaving him a small cottage which he immediately converted to cash. No doing-it-up to achieve full potential; just instant liquidation. This allowed him the wherewithal to buy each member of the Pratt household a present at Christmas. Elliott was a young lad of nine years, so he deemed a colouring book and crayons would be a kind and fitting gesture. All for a princely sum of £1.95; crap quality for that sort of money, he thought. He bought his dear wife Frances, a hair drier from a pub yard sale, commanding her to sharpen herself up a bit. The remainder of his windfall was gratefully digested and splashed up the Adamant glazed pot urinal of the Duke’s Head.
He was a good ten years older than his wife and did not love children but loved himself, along with copious amounts of ale; ‘enough to float the Titanic,’ the local landlord had remarked when out of earshot. Henry Pratt, found that the monetary benefits of fostering and adoption, allowed him to indulge his passion quite admirably, as his windfall rapidly shrank. From his favourite stool at the bar, he would give his piss-soaked judgments to anyone who would listen, or continually scowl at the occupant who had the rare opportunity to find the seat vacant. His demise came at the early age of fifty eight, when his place at the bar was taken by a younger candidate for the after-hours lock in. Henry Pratt had been confident that the Landlord loved and admired him because he had always laughed at his jokes, listened to his wisdom, and… taken his money.
Mrs Frances Pratt decided she had better attend the funeral. Then, after the despatch of Mr Henry Pratt from this world, and with the waifs and strays off-hand apart from Elliott, Mrs Frances Pratt, or Nan, as she was affectionately known to her adopted brood, moved to the east coast of North Norfolk. Elliott Judd tagged along.
Elliott Judd definitely was strange. He had tried his chance at about everything from garage hand to window cleaning, but nothing really suited apart from bar work. A nice warm and dry inside job; excellent. Inside job in more ways than one… ha! He thought. He found he could slip the odd tip into his pocket, and drink his many mistakes. The only down side was, he did not hold onto the job long at any one particular pub, and nowadays pubs were closing and making way for wine bars and restaurants by the minute. Wine bars? Elliott didn’t know the difference between a Cabernet Sauvignon and a cabinet maker’s shellac – but what he did know was the need for spare cash, so he decided that his future endeavours would be aimed precisely at… anything to keep the wolves from the door!
Judd was thick-set, round faced, and strangely devoid of any hair. Even his eyebrows and lashes framing his steel grey eyes were missing. Judd could not understand why this was; whether it was due to a hormonal disorder or some sort of alopecia he had not a clue. He believed his doctor to be positively hostile. The only time he had consulted him with regard to his condition, began with: ‘do you smoke – how many? Do you drink – how much? You’re a little over-weight – you’re possibly at risk of diabetes – what’s your diet like? Does anything like this run in the family?’
What family? What fucking family? Him and every fucker else are okay. Family this – family that – family home, dog-and-cat! Why does my head keep buzzing with that filthy fuckin’ name…? BASTARD!
Who am I…? What am I…?
Judd’s mind ran berserk. In his view, it was the quack who was the bastard, and any minute now, he was going to ask if his dog had mange. Judd firmly made up his mind to give up on medical advice, resolving to wear baseball caps, ones with exceptionally large peaks, pulling them well down over the upper part of his face. A cap comforted him, not only keeping his naked head warm, but snug in the fact that no one could see his face – the face of the misfit underneath.
Regrettably, the baseball cap did nothing to hide a most hideous scar on his upper lip, which, owing to his misfortunate condition, could not be veiled by a moustache. The scar, together with the missing tooth, was the consequence of him losing balance when the lavatory chain he was pulling came apart. He had been rat-arsed drunk, relying too much on the rusty chain for support, when it parted company with the cistern lever. It resulted in his front teeth and upper lip smacking heavily on the encrusted porcelain of a public house toilet bowl. He may have fared better had he closed the lid before pulling the chain, like his Nan had continually demanded, or indeed if he had used the stand-up urinal for a piss like anyone else, but Elliott Judd was a very private individual. Very private indeed…
I don’t like the fuckers looking at me – what does Nan know anyway? She’s a prat – ha, ha, with a capitol P!
Elliott Judd’s pudgy, snow-white and hairless forearms bore fuzzy blue-black tattoos of the self-inflicted kind. There was nothing of the Picasso about them. Most landlords demanded he covered up with long-sleeved shirts when at work, and made him wear a first-aid plaster on the back of his right hand to hide a particularly offensive, crude doodle. There had been no need for this with his new dodge. Fingerless gloves were just the thing for a temporary market tallyman…