Crossed Lines


“No, don’t worry, he doesn’t suspect a thing,” my wife Tracy said to the man. “We can meet up this weekend while the old sod is away on business. The boring old fart is so stupid he has absolutely no idea what I get up to.”

I gulped as I held the phone to my ear. I’d phoned my wife, but instead of getting through I’d got a crossed line, and was, apparently, listening in to her conversation with someone else.

“So I’m not your first boyfriend since you married him?” the man asked her.

“Not even my third!” She gave a hoot of laughter. “But the others definitely weren’t as sexy as you.”

“Do you really hate it when your husband comes near you?”

“Yuck, he makes my flesh crawl!” Tracy made a mock vomiting sound. “I was planning to divorce him one day but I reckon I need to stay married a bit longer, so I can be sure of skinning him in the courts for all he’s worth. But I decided I can’t wait around that long. Which is why I’ve decided to have him killed.”

“Shut up, Tracy, for God’s sake—”

“Why not?” My wife laughed again. “When the old bastard dies I get all his money, not just half of it. A neighbour I had in the flats is on the case already as it goes. He’s an ex-soldier, he knows what to do. Of his trolley he is, had a head injury, mad as a box of frogs. My poor old hubby won’t know where and he won’t know when…”

“Are you all right Mr Lassiter?” my secretary had asked me as I sat in dumb astonishment when the call had ended.

“Yes, fine, Sally. I think I’ll just go out for some air.”

“Right you are, sir. I’ll field any important calls.”

Outside on the roof balcony I took a lot of deep breaths, trying to suppress my tears, wondering what to do, thinking of my wife’s ominous words about my forthcoming murder: “He won’t know where and he won’t know when…”

I’m a hedge fund manager. What it means basically is that I invest on the stock exchange on behalf of my company and I’m very good at it, and consequently I’m tremendously rich. At fifty years old I have all the trappings of the good life: a huge stately home in the country, a town house in Chelsea and several lovely cars. I also own a block of flats that I let out to tenants, and a year ago I had met the girl who wanted to rent one of the flats on the top floor, and, after a whirlwind romance, we had got married. Tracy is quite a bit younger than me, but the age difference hadn’t seemed to matter, at least not to me. I had visited her many times at Flat 8A Tennison Court, fallen in love with her and married her six months ago, and she’d moved out of the flat and moved in with me. Tracy was a real ‘party girl’ and when I was with her, she made me feel alive and vibrant. I thought back to those passion-filled afternoons in the bedroom of 8A Tennison Court.

How had it all come down to this? Now the thought of Tracy made me feel like crawling under a stone.

How had I made such a fool of myself?

Standing there in the stunned silence as I looked out over the glass-and-steel skyline of Canary Wharf, I contemplated my wife’s lover, whom she’d been talking to on the phone. I pictured some young dark-haired Lothario, much taller than my five-foot six-inches, with a six-pack torso, film-star good looks, probably with black designer stubble, smouldering eyes and huge muscles. I looked at my reflection in the plate glass window beside me, and my flabby jowls and doleful eyes put me in mind of a good natured warthog. That’s when I thought of my mother’s words: “Not everyone is handsome, Harold. But the nicest people make the most of their personalities, and a nice personality is much more attractive than any pretty face.”

I like to think I’m not exactly heartless. I give thousands to various charities, and I’ve set up several food banks in deprived areas, and when any of my tenants get behind with their rent, I never allow the managing agent to take action against them. Okay, you’re saying that with all his money, he can afford to be generous. But I’m telling you this, because I don’t want you to think I’m a just a rich bastard who doesn’t give a shit about anyone else.

“Mr Lessiter?” I jumped as I heard the voice from behind me. I recognised the huge powerful frame of Arthur, one of my tenants at Tennison Court. A year ago I’d been very upset to learn that he’d had a head injury and had had psychiatric trouble ever since, and lost his job as a result. He hadn’t been able to pay any rent, but, as I’d chatted to him and liked him, I’d let him stay on rent free since that time. After all, I reckoned that having the accident wasn’t his fault, was it? So I felt I owed him some help. Now I remembered something about him being ex-special forces, SAS I believe, one of those so called ‘trained killers’. I’d also heard that his head injury had made him dangerous and violent, prone to mood swings where he got into fights.

Trained killer? Oh my God! I remembered Tracy’s words: “My neighbour when I lived in the flats is gonna do it. He’s an ex-soldier, mad as a box of frogs, he’ll know what to do.”

“Hello Arthur,” I said in surprise, my voice trembling. “How on earth did you get past security?”

“Old soldier, I know lots of tricks,” he told me, tapping his nose and meeting my gaze head on. As I looked at his face, with a sinking heart, I remembered that he’d been friendly with Tracy. Then I realised the hopelessness of my situation: my assassin was much bigger and stronger than I was.

“Mr Lessiter, I just reckoned I should let you know, that your wife offered me money in return for me killing you.”

As he stepped closer I gulped, wondering if I’d be able to overcome him. Over the balcony was a huge drop, and he’d have little difficulty throwing me over.

“I pretended to agree, because if I hadn’t, the evil cow would only have gone to someone else to do it,” he went on. “But I solved your little problem, same way as you solved mine, when you listened to my problems and let me off paying any rent. You’ll never know how much you helped me by doing that.” He looked at his watch. “I threw her off the roof of Tennison Court about an hour ago. Hope you’ll agree I did the right thing.”

Looking Back


One vicious little boy held the head of the other boy inside the toilet’s pan and flushed it. He heard the screaming and crying and watched the snot mix with tears as he emerged. That’s not all he did: he took every opportunity to lead the others in tormenting him, the odd one out, just for the sake of it, and always took pleasure in his misery.

Looking back on my schooldays I am deeply, deeply ashamed of myself. Bullies are disgusting creatures. The trouble is, many boys are bullies – perhaps it’s some kind of unchecked cruelty that diminishes in later life. If any boy is different from the others, has a strange face, a funny walk, a club foot, anything at all, other boys make fun of them, they make their lives a misery. I thought with shame how the master with the funny walk was jeered at, and the misery of the boy who stuttered in class.

My shame was one of the reasons why returning to St Boniface school, after all these years, was such an effort. Because the place apparently now regards me as one of their ‘success stories’, the headmaster had asked me to give them a talk today, on the school’s Founders Day, some little homily to advise the boys on how to make a success of their lives.

I should know. The brutal and vicious regime of public school had equipped me well for the hustle and bustle of life. After a short career as an officer in the army, I took various jobs in business, eventually ending up as a multimillionaire. My motto for business life ‘dog eat dog’ has served me well and I’ve never looked back. Because the truth is, the winner really does have it all, and the loser is always forgotten.

It took a lot of courage to come back here, to face the place where it all started, and where I behaved in such a shameful way

The day in fact went fairly well. I gave my speech, there was a lot of clapping and ‘three cheers’, and the headmaster, a fussy little man called Prenderghast, shook my hand warmly.

There were quite a few other ‘old boys’ there from my year, and it was surprising to see how little some of them had changed, as we pottered about chatting about our various careers, families, politics and so on. Most of us fortyish men still have our hair, but many of us have put on weight and a few have acquired a faintly comical air of self-importance.

It was late on in the afternoon that I spotted him: my nemesis, the boy who I was ashamed to remember. John Maddock, whom I’d always called ‘Maddock’, just as he’d always called me ‘Archer’ – we always used just surnames in those days. Maddock was apparently now, of all things, a bishop. I asked the headmaster about him, and he waxed enthusiastically about him, how Maddock sat on all sorts of committees and had led all kinds of movements helping the homeless, the unemployed, the mentally ill. He was, according to the headmaster ‘a truly good man who’s achieving some truly great things.’

And I looked across the crowded room at him. He hadn’t changed that much. Still small, weedy with a pasty face and a nose like an anteater. Now his narrow shoulders were hunched, and the clerical collar circled a scrawny neck, making him look like more like a turkey than ever.

I realised that I had to go and talk to him. I had to clear the air. We’d each spent a lifetime doing our own things, and we’d each achieved a lot, albeit in our own different spheres. He was clearly a ‘good’ man, whatever that may be. And me? Well, that’s for others to judge.

I caught up with him in the lavatories, or ‘the bogs’ as we used to call them when we were children. We were on our own. He was standing at the urinal, his back was to me, and he had no idea I was there.

“Maddock?” I called out to him. “Do you remember me?”

He turned round, zipping up his fly, a half smile of recognition on his face until he saw me and froze.


I could see the fear in his eyes, just as I remembered it from when we were both ten.

“I want to apologise,” I said to him, tears forming in the corners of my eyes, as the years fell away and I remembered, in this very room, all the tortures and the pain and humiliation.

I came closer to him.

And then, as he looked up at me, I kneed him in the groin. And as he was doubled over in pain I smashed my fist full in his face.

“That’s for all the times you made my life a misery, you bastard!” I spat in his face. “All the times I let you bullied and beat me and I never fought back! I’ve been ashamed all these years of not fighting back when I should have done. But I also wanted to thank you. Because of you, every time I came across a bully in my life, I’ve always fought back, whatever the odds. And do you know what? I always won.”

As I kicked him one last time and turned to leave, I caught a glimpse of my face in the cracked mirror over the sink. The huge bright pink birthmark that covered my features, my bulging eyes and strangely protuberant ears were every bit as horrific as they had always been, and they were the reason why Maddock and the other boys used to call me ‘the elephant man’ and bullied me mercilessly, and I just took their beatings and humiliation without fighting back.

But Maddock had done a lot for me.  He had taught me to fight back.

“Sorry mate.” I turned back, knelt down and offered him my hand and helped him to his feet, putting my arm around his shoulders companionably. “I really am sorry.”

Luckily, life had also taught me to be kind.

Good For Something


“I’ve got you!”

We were touching, chest-to-chest. I could smell his sweat. The whites of his eyes and the ebony black of his skin were an inch away from my face.

And I was scared stiff. I knew beyond any doubt, that I was a few seconds away from death or serious injury.

This was in 1962. I was a ten-year-old schoolboy, jumping onto the number 3 bus at the busy roundabout at Crystal Palace, London, at the height of the rush hour. Late for school, stupid and reckless, I had dashed on to the rear platform of the bus (in the days long before safety doors), misjudged my step and was teetering backwards. In that ‘all too aware’ stage of prescient danger I felt myself falling out of the bus and onto the road. I was going to crack my skull on the pavement, then fall under the wheels of whatever speeding car was behind me.

And there was nothing I could do to save myself.

It didn’t happen.

Because at the very moment when the bus suddenly accelerated, tipping me backwards to oblivion, the quick-thinking bus conductor grabbed my lapels and literally hauled me back to safety. My feet had actually come off the platform, one was already scraping the tarmac. I have this vivid memory of being hauled forwards and upwards through mid-air, about eight inches, being pulled up against his body, the bus’s grab-bar, which acted as his anchor, being the only thing stopping him being dragged out of the bus by my weight.

I was young, stupid, embarrassed and confused. And scared. I’d almost been killed. And black people were a mystery to me, in fact I’d never seen a black person up so close, nor had anyone saved my life before.

And, to my eternal shame, I never even thanked him. I just walked shakily into the bus, sat down, didn’t even talk to him, and pretended it hadn’t happened.

To my eternal shame, I didn’t even thank him. And I didn’t tell anyone about it. If I’d told my mother, I know categorically that she would have gone to the ends of the earth to find out the name of bus conductor no. 50462 (I still remember his number) from London Transport (before London buses were run by TFL) and thanked him personally and made it her business to make sure his employers and colleagues knew what a hero he was. Giving him money would have been crass, perhaps an insult, but, as she always said to me, “All people want is to know that they are appreciated, and that the good things they’ve done have not been forgotten.”

Now that I’ve retired, my children are grown up and my wife and I have parted, I’ve got plenty of spare time and more than enough money for my needs. So I decided to embark on what would obviously be a wild goose chase, and try to find the man who’d saved my life, fifty-four years ago.

The person in the media department of TFL turned out to be a young, delightful and enthusiastic chap, by the name of Jack Paradine. Jack told me that this was his first job after graduating in modern history at university, and he thought that my story was fascinating. He went on to say that black bus conductors of the 1960s were amongst the first wave of people who’d been encouraged to come to this country from Trinidad and Jamaica, to provide valuable labour. He promised to contact the ‘historian’ who kept the archives of the old London Transport, and, with any luck, he said there was a chance they might find out who bus conductor no 50462 was.

The next day he phoned back, full of enthusiasm. My conductor had been Sammy Adebayer, and he had his address in those days. Since, by Jack’s estimation, Sammy would be ninety-four now, the likelihood was that he had met his maker, but, Jack encouraged, “you never know. Good luck in your search.” He advised me to try the services of a private detective, as he’d told me they had access to electoral roles, censuses, and all kinds of other data that others could not reach.

The detective wasn’t hopeful, but within a day he phoned me back, sounding surprised. “Your Sammy Adebayer, according to our records, seems to be the same as the one I found, who matches with the census of 1961,” he told me. “He died ten years ago, but I do have a current address of his son – it’s in Birmingham.”

Having come this far, I thought, why not go all the way, and take the train up to the Midlands?

But my luck had run out. A neighbour told me that Fergus Adebayer had left that address last year, but they had the phone number of his wife. Passing on my mobile number to the helpful neighbour, the wife rang me ten minutes later, telling me that her husband had left her and she had no idea where he was. All I can think of, she told me, “Is to give you the address of my son Gary – he’s a good boy, he still keeps in touch with him.”

Feeling more and more despondent, trudging up the steps of the grim-looking block of flats, I wondered why I was doing all this. The man who answered the door seemed wary at first, but when he heard my story, he was welcoming and friendly and invited me inside, where his wife and children were bustling around the overcrowded living room.

“My grandad?” he said in surprise. “I can’t believe it! He saved your life? You’re kidding me.”

“No, it’s true,” I told him.

His face broke into a huge smile. “All my life I’ve heard nothing but what a no-good bastard he was. How he abandoned three wives and lots of children! How he ran around with gangsters and never held down a job for long in all of his life. If it hadn’t been for his brother, Jonny, this family would have been finished. Jonny died years ago too, but he was the great hero. Jonny looked after my mum and her brothers, apparently, he was the rock of the family, was my great uncle Jonny. Sammy, my granddad, I’ve always felt kind of sorry for him. He was supposed to be a really useless bastard. A waste of space. Good for nothing.”

“Well,” I told him, “he was certainly good for something. He saved my life, or maybe saved me from something possibly worse – being seriously paralysed or brain dead. And I’ve been a doctor in a London hospital all my working life, so, in fact, he made all my work possible too, when you think of it that way.”

“No kidding me!”

We chatted a bit longer. And, to my relief, he accepted my cheque for £20,000. He was over the moon, telling me that, added to the couple’s savings, meant they now had enough for a deposit on a flat in a decent area, where his children could go to a good school and have a fair start in life.

“It’s not just the money you’ve given me I’m grateful for,” he told me as I was shaking his hand at the door, promising to keep in touch. “It’s the knowledge that, scoundrel that Sammy obviously was, I accept that, but now I know that my grandad did at least do one good thing in his life that we can all be proud of. He wasn’t just a good for nothing waste of space like everyone says. And that means a lot to me. The money means everything, of course it does, but knowing grandad Sammy wasn’t the complete arsehole that everyone says he was means a whole lot more. I can tell my kids that although their great grandad from Trinidad did lots of bad things, he did do this one good thing in his life. You’ve given us all a good memory of him. Can you understand?”

A couple of weeks later, I got a photo of my erstwhile saviour: Gary had sent an old black-and-white snap of his grandad, Sammy Adebayer, wearing a suit and smiling at the camera. I put it on the mantelpiece in pride of place.

Next day, my new friend Jack Paradine phoned me at home.

“Peter, I’m so so sorry, but there’s been a mistake.”

“About what?”

“Well, it seems that Alistair, my friend who looks after the archives of London Transport, has muddled things up. Bus conductor no 50462 wasn’t Sammy Adebayer, it was in fact his brother, Jonny. To double check, Alistair tracked down the personnel records and it seems that Sammy Adebayer was sacked at the end of 1961. Something to do with stealing money, attacking a passenger or something. Brother Jonny is the good guy who saved your life. Looking at his work record it seems that Sammy was pretty much good for nothing.”

“No, Jack,” I told him, smiling at the black-and-white picture of Sammy, who was beaming at me from beyond the grave, as if our shared secret was a great joke. “Everyone is good for something.”

Sticks and Stones

landscape-1866579_1280I pushed my friend from the first floor window ledge. His screams rang in my ears as I ran back home, crying my eyes out.

It had all happened sixty-five years ago, and now, having returned to England after a lifetime in Australia, I was revisiting my old haunts.

Incredibly, the derelict house in the forest was still there. Of course now most of it had collapsed, and where my eight-year-old self and my friend Guy had been able to climb up to the first floor window, now there was no first floor, in fact the roof and first floor had crumbled in, leaving just part of the ground floor. In the 1950s, small boys could play unsupervised, unlike today.

I still remembered the day it had happened. I was upset and tearful because the following morning Mum and Dad, my sister and I were leaving England forever to start a new life in Sydney, Australia. All the usual clichés had been trotted out, how “you’ll make new friends there”, and “We’ll be able to go to the beach every weekend”, made little difference to how I felt. I really didn’t want to go.

We lived in a small village in Cambridgeshire, and my world was my family, my friends at school, and grandad and grandma. I didn’t want to make new friends, I didn’t want to go to the beach all the time. I wanted to stay here and play in the woods, kick the football around the school yard. Most of all I didn’t want to leave my friends, especially my very best friends, Guy and Richard.

It had happened on that last day. Richard had gone home early, leaving Guy and me playing in the woods like we did most days after school. But I knew that this would be the last time I would ever play in the woods with Guy.

Even though small boys aren’t known to be sensitive, Guy was being particularly obnoxious, as usual his sense of humour overriding his finer feelings. He seemed to think my enforced leaving was all a great joke, and kept repeating “Sidney is going to Sydney”, proud of his pun. Suddenly all my pain erupted, and as we sat on the window ledge we’d just climbed up to, and he chanted that phrase again and again, I leaned across and pushed him so hard that he overbalanced and fell.

I don’t remember everything that happened after that, time has a way of glossing over the details. I know that I was crying and never looked back. But soon after I’d got home I realised what I’d done, and was afraid that Guy might have been hurt badly, and I should have stayed to help him. However when I raced back to find him, he’d gone.

So I thought no more about it, joining in with all the things that had to be done on our final evening, the excitement of the long journey somehow ameliorating my sorrow. I assumed that Guy must have got up, dusted himself down and gone home, none the worse for his experience.

Next morning everything was happening in a rush, all of us keyed up and nervous, yet excited about our impending journey. After breakfast, Mum asked me when I’d last seen Guy, because his mum had just phoned to tell her that Guy had had a bad accident in the woods and was in hospital – he’d broken both his legs and was seriously injured in intensive care, and his mum was in pieces.

I was terrified, and while Mum was of course upset about Guy’s plight, nonetheless she was preoccupied with our new life. I told her I’d left him in the woods, and didn’t know he’d had an accident. My first lie, and my first and worst experience of terrible shame and guilt. When I burst into tears, she naturally assumed I was worried about poor Guy and was still emotional about leaving England, so she cuddled me, and I remember thinking how utterly wicked I was, and how if Mum had known the truth, she’d have smacked me and shouted at me, as I deserved.

Afterwards I pushed the terrible incident to the back of my mind. Had Guy lived or died? I had no idea. And when I was a newly settled ‘pom’ in Australia, all my energies went into my new life, which, as it turned out, was pretty good. I trained to be an engineer, grew up and got married, had three children, and almost forgot I had ever been English.

However now that my children had children of their own and after my wife died unexpectedly last year, I had the sudden urge to go back to my roots. Things had changed in Australia, I no longer liked the hot climate, and, since I had a good pension and plenty of money behind me, I decided to sell up and come home to England. I realised, at this late stage of my life, that I longed to return, at first for a long holiday, perhaps forever.

I strolled through the village, looking at all the new buildings and roads, the many changes. I wondered what had happened to Guy. After all these years, my guilt was as fresh as ever, and I longed to apologise to him for what I’d done on that day. Maybe he’d died? Maybe I had killed him? I just didn’t know.

And then I stopped short. I was in the oldest part of the village, which was more or less unchanged. There was the same old shop that I remembered from my childhood: Ivanbryth and Son, Ironmongers.

That was the shop that Guy’s parents had owned and where they’d lived. The very same premises where I’d go with him after school and Guy, Richard and I would play games in his back garden, usually cowboys and Indians, as I remember.

On impulse I went into the shop. There, at the counter, was an old man. When he turned towards me I recognised him: the stooping old bald-headed fellow in brown overalls wasn’t an old man after all! It was a small boy in an old man’s body. It was Guy! He’d obviously taken over his father’s shop.

“Sidney!” he said in delight as he turned towards me, his face breaking into the smile that I remembered from all those years ago.

“Hello Guy.”

Where were the words to tell him how sorry I was, how the guilt of pushing him from the first-floor window and not even fetching help, had eaten away at me over the years? My mouth went dry. I felt as if I was going to cry.

“All these years,” Guy said to fill in the embarrassing silence. And then I remembered one of the reasons I’d always like him so much. The slow smile, the ever-ready kindness in his eyes. “Sidney, oh my old mate, as I live and breathe! You’ll never know how guilty I’ve felt all my life about what happened when we last saw each other. I was such an insensitive little bastard, taunting you and teasing you when you were so upset about leaving England.”

“But I pushed you off the window ledge, Guy. You were injured, and I just ran away—”

“—yes, but afterwards I saw you come back to fetch help. I remember, as the ambulance was just pulling away, I saw you racing along from your house going back to the woods. That’s why I pretended I was on my own when I fell. Mates don’t sneak on each other.”

“We’re still mates? Guy, all you did was tease me, whereas I could have killed you! What was that phrase people used to say at school: Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.

“Sidney, that was bollocks then and it’s bollocks now. Physical pain fades away with time, but words can hurt you forever. I knew you never meant to hurt me, but nothing can excuse me tormenting you as I did. Will you forgive me, mate?”

The Sharp End


I met Barry one evening in the Dog and Duck.  Here’s his story:

I stood in the queue with all the other down-and-outs, wondering whether the food tasted as awful as it looked.

It was a pretty dispiriting scene: a large church hall, stinking of unwashed bodies and misery. We shuffled forwards slowly, coughing, burping and grunting to each other.

I’d made a few friends today. Max, who’d been a roofer, until he’d fallen from a height and injured his spine, so that he forever walked with a limp and was unable to climb ladders. Losing his work meant that he’d soon lost his flat and then his marriage went by the wayside. And Bob, who used to work in a bank but had a problem with alcohol, so that he lost everything that mattered to him apart from the occasional shot of booze.

I’d soon learnt that my comrades and acquaintances who were euphemistically were referred to as having ‘no fixed abode’, weren’t all at rock bottom because of alcoholism, drug addiction or just sheer bad luck. A very few of the others had actually adapted well to the life to the extent that it was almost second nature, and they’d probably have found ordinary living and a nine-to-five job, more of a struggle than life on the streets.

And you know there really is quite a network of good people who help us. It always warms my heart to see a new face behind the steaming tea urn or the boiling pans and food-filled plates. Sometimes it’s a youngish person, mucking in and doing the humdrum duties, often it’s the silver haired ladies and gents, the newly retired I like to think, rolling their sleeves up and doing what they can to help us unfortunates. The nicest ones call you ‘mate’ or ‘love’ like they mean it, and you can almost bask in the warmth of the kindness in their eyes as they beam at you.

I’ve been to all the different places in town: the soup kitchens, the homeless shelters, the food bank, the Salvation Army hostel. Word gets around amongst us about the places to go for a warm-up or a bite to eat. Because, believe it or not, most of us who’ve experienced life at the sharp end have got to know pleasures many people never know about. Mainly it’s the joy you get from sharing the little you have with others, whether it’s buying a few cans when some kind punter has dropped a tenner your way, or putting the word out about a new shelter that’s started up when the rain’s begun to pelt down. Most of us look out for the youngsters and the vulnerable ones – especially the young girls. Many’s the time I’ve put the frighteners on some bastard who’s tried to force his attentions on some poor defenceless kid, and other guys have done the same.

What I disliked most when I started on this lark was the bad hygiene and the smells and the squalor. Who would have thought that the use of a private bathroom would be an impossible-to-attain luxury? I like being clean, me, I used to be fastidious about cleanliness in the old days.

All the volunteers are friendly, but there’s often this invisible barrier when they talk to you, know what I mean? Some of them might ask you about your circumstances, but you’d never dream of asking about theirs.

Funnily enough, it wasn’t like that with Molly. I liked her the moment I first saw her, stirring a large pan of stew. Molly looked to be in her sixties, about my own age, with lots of hair, lovely freckles, and the kind of great big genuine smile that warms your heart.

Molly and I got chatting that same evening she first arrived at the soup kitchen. After a while I felt as if I knew her well. She even told me all about the replacement hip operation she’d had in the summer, and how well she’d recovered from it.

“I’ve never lived in an ordinary little house or a flat,” I didn’t mind admitting to her. “In fact I don’t usually stay in one place for long.”

“Not like me then. I’ve been a real stick-in-the-mud. My husband was a solicitor,” she confided in me. “We had a comfortable life really – I worked as a secretary in London until I retired. Hugo was quite a bit older than me, so I suppose we both expected him to die first.”

“You’re not like the others, are you?” I said to her. “They never tell us about their lives, I suppose they think we’d be jealous of your good fortune. But it isn’t like that. You have your life, we have ours. We don’t get jealous. In fact some of the guys here enjoy living on the street.”

“Do they?” she said.

“Yes. There’s companionship at least.  How many rich widows and widowers do you reckon there are, living alone with all the money they’ll ever need, but no one to talk to?”

“That’s very true,” she agreed.

And then we began to chat about all kinds of things: our families, my divorce, politics, history, current affairs, putting the world to rights. Molly and I met up the following day, and all the time she had for her breaks she spent with me. Same happened next day and the day after. I got to look forward to our chats. In fact talking to Molly was the highlight of my day.

After the weekend I went the soup kitchen, looking forward to seeing her, but she wasn’t there. I was really disappointed. But I reckoned that she’d probably got bored and found some other voluntary activity to occupy her time.

That’s when I decided to pack it all in.

What on earth was the point in going on at my age? Might as well give it all up now, for I’d suffered long enough. End it all. Take the easy way out.

But as I was leaving, never to come back, having made the momentous decision to end it all, I saw her in the distance, rushing up towards me.

“Barry!” she called out, slightly out of breath. “I’m so glad I’ve caught up with you. I left that place. I didn’t really get on with the others. They told me I was too familiar with our ‘clients’, and I had to ‘maintain a distance’. I told them to stuff their job.”

“Good for you.”

“But I’ve been thinking. In our chats you’ve made me realise how unfair life is. That you can’t get a job or claim benefits if you haven’t got an address, and you can’t get a room if you haven’t got an income. Well, the thing is, I’ve got a spare room, if you’d like to stay with me. It really upset me when you were telling me about the indignity of life, not being able to keep clean. You’d have privacy. Your own room, use of kitchen and bathroom. And with a proper address you could claim the benefits you’re entitled to.”

“That’s really kind of you, Molly.” I felt so choked with emotion that I found it hard to speak. “But I won’t be taking you up on your offer.”

“Oh!” Her face fell. “Why not?”

“Well the thing is, you see, I really can’t accept your charity.”

“But it’s nothing to do with charity!” She said angrily. “I want to help you because I like you. I like your company!”

“And I like yours. But I’ve made my decision.”

“Are you certain?”

“Absolutely. Oh Molly, by the way, what make of hip replacement did you have?”

“Hip replacement?” She was still angry, the twin red spots on her cheeks still prominent. “I think they said it was a Winterhalter unit. A newer type apparently. Why?”

“It is one of mine then! From the way you walked so well so soon after the op. I can always tell.”

“What on earth are you talking about?”

“I retired as a consultant orthopaedic surgeon six years ago to produce the hip replacement units I’d invented, and you’ve got one of mine. They sold rather well all over the world. I became a multi-millionaire and retired, but I wanted to do something worthwhile with my money, so I spent this year researching the best charities to support and work with. I reckoned that the best way to really find out which would benefit best was by testing them out at the sharp end. And I decided just now that I’ve learnt all I’m ever going to.”

Molly’s mouth fell open even wider.

“So thank you Molly, but I don’t want to move into your spare room, because I’ve already got a rather embarrassingly large detached mansion of my own. It’s strange but in addition to researching exactly how best to use my money when I sell it and move somewhere smaller, I rather hoped I might also be lucky enough to meet a nice woman to share my life with, who likes me for myself and wasn’t just interested in my money, like all the others. I think perhaps I’ve succeeded on both scores, don’t you?”

The Wrong Coach


(This is my friend Paul’s story.)

Working as an ‘extra’ on films can be fun, and years ago I tried my hand at it.

It was an unusual film, and the director was an unusual person. He was an over-the-top American, and it was a story about a Scottish village that was taken over by lunatics. Walter J. Harrison insisted on authenticity to such a degree that he was filming it in the Scottish Highlands in a tiny village, where he’d paid locals to have the use of local beauty spots and the pub and church.

Also, not content with having actors portraying the parts of mentally deranged people, he had done a deal with a psychiatric hospital in Inverness, and arranged for any of their patients who wanted to be in the film to do so. There were problems with Equity, I think, but he managed to sort it all out. The idea was for the psychiatric people to ‘behave naturally’ and act out the kind of outlandish behaviour that came naturally to them, something he was sure that ‘normal’ people wouldn’t be able to do authentically.

The psychiatric hospital was in Inverness, and this was where we, and most of the actors were staying, that town being the closest to our location, the village of Haggisburn (yes that really was its name). The logistics person had organised coaches to take us (few) extras, plus all the actors to the village every morning and return us back every night. It was a bit unnerving on the morning of the third day when we knew that, for the first time, the mentally-ill people would be making the same journey as we were. Extra coaches had been laid on, and we were late arriving at the despatch post, and there was a certain amount of confusion about who was to go in which coach.

Which was why my fellow extra Derek and I ended up on a different coach from our usual one that morning. This was probably because with the extra influx of patients from the psychiatric hospital, things were even more chaotic than usual, and we knew that at least two extra coaches were due to be going in the convoy to Haggisburn, and everything was at sixes and sevens.

My first feeling of unease was when I saw the man sitting in front of us – a distinctly odd looking character with a completely bald head – put a pipe into his mouth, with the bowl facing downwards. He sucked and pulled at the thing as if it was the right way up and full of burning tobacco, occasionally taking it out of his mouth to prod at the bowl’s imaginary contents with a stick as he stared out of the window, simultaneously sticking his tongue out and making his eyes bulge dramatically.

Behind me I could see a woman who was taking her clothes off. Aside from the fact that the weather was freezing cold, this behaviour was made even more bizarre when she proceeded to remove her top and began to unfasten her bra, to finally release its extremely large contents. All the while she was muttering to no one in particular, a mumbled angry diatribe of indecipherable words.

A man nearby was singing to himself in a peculiar falsetto tone, his voice rising up to a crescendo as he closed his eyes, because he was obviously so moved by his emotions. He couldn’t sing at all, but clearly thought he had the talent of Alfie Bow, and the sound was absolutely embarrassing and quite dreadful. Two women nearby were having a blazing row, shouting at each other so loudly that I wondered if they’d come to blows. One of them had a wild maniacal gleam in her eyes as she glared at the other woman, and I was glad she was several feet away from us.

Derek and I looked at each other in surprise when we noticed that a man and a woman were half undressed and had begun to copulate on the rear seats. The ‘pretend pipe smoker’ in front of us noticed our surprise and told us:

“Don’t worry. Eric and Jean can get a bit carried away sometimes. You see they’re both married to other people, and they don’t often get the chance to be together. Live and let live, eh? I find it’s best just to turn a blind eye.”

Derek and I nodded grimly, wondering what else was going to happen.

“I’m forever blowing bubbles,” sang out another, quite beautiful, male voice from somewhere near the back of the coach. “Pretty bubbles in the air. . .”

He finished his rendition, then produced a child’s bubble-blowing kit from his pocket and proceeded to produce clouds of lovely bubbles that filled the coach. As one of them hit a lady nearby she started screaming and batting at her hair angrily. She went on screaming and shouting for a long time.

Derek was deep in conversation with a woman in the seat behind him. She was telling him that a man had proposed marriage to her the previous day but that she’d warned him off, telling him that it would be unwise, since “madness runs in my family – if we had children they might be idiots.”

I was certainly glad to reach Haggisburn, wondering what other insane things were going to happen. Derek and I staggered off the coach, relieved to see our nice ‘organiser in chief’, resourceful bespectacled Alison, who was cuddly and kind and always did a grand job. She was busily checking our names against the list.

“It makes no odds now, but you two took the wrong coach,” she said, smiling. “Didn’t you realise that?”

“Of course we realised it!” Derek told her, appearing to be shell-shocked. “My goodness, what a surreal experience! Blimey, I wouldn’t want to go through that again.”

“Oh well, no harm done.” Alison looked down her list and up at the coach that was fast approaching behind ours. “Things could have been a lot worse for you. After all you might have had the bad luck to have found yourselves travelling with the psychiatric patients. Luckily you landed up in the coach with the doctors and nurses who are looking after them for the day.”

The Zeus Virus


My clever friend Alison told me this story. This happened to her not long ago, and it’s a cautionary tale…

Attention, you have the Zeus virus! Do not shut down this computer! You must contact Magasoft Technical Department immediately for help on 0800………

When the message appeared on my computer screen, accompanied by a voice shouting out the same sentiments, I panicked inside. I froze.

It was one o’clock in the morning. I was already tired out and desperate to finish my work.

My heartbeat kicked up sky high and I burst into tears.

I had barely two hours left before the deadline for emailing the final documents for my postgraduate thesis, and missing this deadline would mean possibly years of work wasted. All my documents, the result of thousands of hours of painstaking research and analysis, was almost ready to send, stored in my computer desktop, yet now the screen was frozen, the thing was making noises, and if I touched any key nothing happened except a horrible beeping sound.

What’s the golden rule, I thought?

Ah yes. Shut it down and restart, then, hopefully that should fix the crash.

But what about that message on my screen? If you shut down this computer, on restarting, the Zeus virus that is inside your hard drive will destroy everything, all your documents will be irrecoverable. And it also said that the virus would also automatically be sent on to everyone in my address book, to infect their computers.

All my documents? All my research work, that I was within minutes of sending off! Years of other work, not to mention my personal photos, my music, the three books I’d started writing, my private documents, all of it! Like a fool, I’d always meant to back up my files, but for ages now I simply hadn’t bothered.

All my hundreds of contacts having their computers infected, their work destroyed too, and all because of me!

What choice did I have?

With trembling fingers, I dialled the number. I was crying with fear and I was, literally, terrified.

“Hello, how can I help you?” said the Asian-accented male voice.

“I’m p-panicking,” my voice was shaking as I spoke, trying to control my tears. “Thank goodness I’ve reached you this late at night. My computer’s frozen. It says I have the Zeus virus. There’s a message on the screen that says you can help me.”

“Of course, do not worry, we will help you. But I warn you, madam, this is very very serious indeed. The Zeus virus is something new and positively catastrophic. Your entire network will be completely destroyed unless we act quickly.”

“Okay, okay, thank you so much. What should I do?”

“Well, madam, you are indeed very lucky to have contacted me. What you must do now is allow me to control your computer remotely. That way I can repair your computer from here.”

“Oh, thank you.” My voice was shaking and desperate, I was trying to stop myself crying. And on top of all this, the clock was ticking. Would I get my computer fixed and still have time to send the files for my thesis?

Would my work even exist in five minutes’ time?

I was already late for my deadline, and Professor Dragfire was doing me a big favour waiting for my material. He’d delayed his trip to Paris in order to help me, and if I couldn’t deliver my papers, that was it. If my hard drive went down…

Oh God, it didn’t bear thinking about!

“Now, madam, will you press the key with the four squares on it?”

“Done that.”

“And at the same time, press the R key.”


“Yes, good, that is fine. Now type in these letters.” He recited them. “And then press return.”

I did so.

“There’s a little screen appeared.”

“Good,” he went on calmly. “Now highlight the key that says you allow me to take remote control and press return.”

I did.

“Thank you, madam. You have now allowed me access to your computer, so we can take over from here.”

“This is so kind of you to help me. I don’t know how to thank you.”

“Madam, this is what we at the Megasoft Technical Department are here for. But I am sorry to say that before we start there has to be a small charge.”

“How much?”

“Well, a one-off fix would be $200, but I would recommend an insurance cover for two years. That will be only $499. And for that we are available at any time to help you. Because I warn you, madam, that once the Zeus comes it may come gain. It is a most bad bad naughty virus indeed. By the way, my name is Kevin Wilson.”

The name Kevin Wilson appeared on my screen, alongside the figures for his terms.

“Erm, okay, if you say so. But how can I trust you with my credit card details?”

“I understand, madam. But it is all secure and safe.”

“Well, err, I don’t know…”

He launched into a long spiel.

That’s when I took the small device on my desk and clipped it onto the mouthpiece of my phone. The little light on the back of it was blinking red. I pressed the button and the light turned green. It stayed green for about ten seconds, then reverted back to red.

In my ear I heard Kevin’s sudden agonising screams of agony.

I had already tested the device (illegally, I’m ashamed to say). I had used it on a prisoner in America awaiting his fate on death row, an unrepentant mass murderer. The ultra-high level pulses of sound waves transmitted through the phone and into his ear had caused his eardrum to shatter, and the incredibly fast pulses had penetrated his brain, stimulating the pain centre, instantly causing a reaction that created such agony in the whole of his body, that he stated screaming and literally could not stop.

In fact an observer had said it was as if ‘his brain had literally been set on fire’. He had screamed non-stop for the two days it took him to die.

The screaming was still going on in my ear. Next, banking on the fact that my computer was still connected to his, I plugged the memory stick into the USB socket on my computer and pressed several keys in the sequence I had memorised. I’d tested this piece of software a month ago, when I had made contact with an internet site that published films about extreme violence and child pornography. My device had caused all their computers to not only destroy their hard drives, but for the internal parts to overheat to such a degree that within seconds they spontaneously combusted. The sudden uncontrollable inferno at the firm’s offices had meant that many of the employees had died.

“Please, you are English? I talk English to you?” came a voice in my ear. “Help me, please! All our other phones have gone down, you are my only lifeline! There is a catastrophe here in Mumbai, a fire, a man is seriously injured, we need help…”

I smiled to myself and pressed the button on my gadget again. This second man’s screaming began even sooner than the first man’s had started.

I shut down my computer, let it rest for five minutes before starting it up again, using my malware removal tool to make it safe.

Yes. Why had I become so keyed up and tearful? This final test had indeed worked better than I could possibly have hoped.

Why had I got myself so upset, imagining myself into the scenario that, indeed, must have happened to so many innocent people over the years? I suppose trying to experience what so many poor people must have suffered was a way of forcing myself to go ahead with my rather drastic idea.

All my work was now complete and after this final test I could send my work to Professor Dragfire. My thesis on ‘Computer fraud and how to combat it’ would certainly have some original ideas in it, I could be pretty sure of that.



The night I strangled my wife


Martin’s story:

On the night I strangled my wife I realised that this was probably the biggest turning point in my life.

Now there was no turning back.

We’d been arguing more and more in the last few years, and the guest house on the South Coast that we ran together was becoming more and more like a war zone with every miserable day. The guests avoided us whenever they could, embarrassed at our obvious antagonism when we came anywhere near each other.

We shared the hundreds of the various day-to-day jobs, and also Elaine did most of the cooking and some of the cleaning when she wasn’t arguing with me. We ate separately, slept separately, and indeed we hardly ever spoke except to shout at each other, or for her to sneer at me in that whiny sarcastic voice that got on my nerves.

Of course it hadn’t always been that way. And as I thought back to the early years of our marriage, it was hard to remember the beautiful shy timid creature she used to be, the girl who was always ready to have a laugh. Now Elaine, in middle age, was portly, out of condition and the only expression she ever seemed to have when she was with me was one of contempt.

Of course she’d probably say the same about me: I know I’m not the raving Lothario I used to be, and as Elaine constantly reminds me, I’m overweight, I’ve lost my hair and I’ve gathered wrinkles like nobody’s business.

And now we’d almost reached the point where we hardly even argued any more. Our non-communication and silent dislike when we were together had got to such a pitch I could hardly bear to be in the same room as her. And whenever I was angry with her, my anger grew inside, festering and brewing. When I saw her glaring at me sometimes I imagined she probably felt exactly the same way about me.

It was like a horrible chain of hatred that neither of us could break.

Yet we both acknowledged to ourselves that divorcing would mean we’d lose the guest house, so neither of us would have an income, or be able to do the work we enjoyed. That was one thing we were agreed on: getting stuck in to changing the bedclothes, cleaning the bathrooms, organising the comings and goings and chatting to the guests were ploys, ways of keeping ourselves occupied, of not thinking about our situation and putting off the harsh reality that if we hadn’t been bound together by the guest house, we’d have been divorced long ago.

So when she started going to the club in town I was glad to have a bit of peace when she went out in the evenings. I could stretch out and watch telly, even have the odd natter with the guests. I took up playing the guitar again, and wondered about joining the local folk music club, but I never did.

Elaine began going to the club regularly and she seemed to be smiling now and again. It suited me just fine.

It suited me fine until I found out exactly what went on, when I followed her car on one of her ‘club’ evenings, suspicious about what Elaine was getting up to, wondering just what it was that seemed to be making her so happy.

Was it some kind of swinger’s club for sex? A happy-clappy group of Christians who sang hymns to praise the Lord all evening? A witches’ coven with them all standing around bollock naked looking at a goat?

I had no idea.

But I tell you this: I jolly soon found out!

And a couple of months later, as I knelt above her on that fateful evening, it all ran through my mind. The way I’d been so surprised and astonished when I found out what she had been doing. It had been something I’d never have imagined in my wildest dreams!

All evening my anger had been building up to this and Elaine had seemed oblivious to my mood, unaware of my anger, acting as if nothing was wrong.

I had been getting more and more frustrated.

I just wanted to put my hands around her throat and squeeze the life out of her.

So I did.

“Very good, Martin,” said our producer Jenny, as she put a hand on my shoulder. “I told you that psyching yourself up to look angry would pay dividends, didn’t I? It’s what we call ‘method acting’. But let’s take it from the top one more time. Remember we only have this one dress rehearsal, and tomorrow ‘Murder at the Manor’ goes on for real.”

“Okay Elaine?” I asked leaning down to help her up, so that we could act out the entire murder scene once more.

My wife nodded as she smiled. “You know joining this amateur dramatic club was the best decision I ever made,” she said, brushing her hair away from her neck so as to make it easier for me to strangle her next time. “I’m so glad you joined too. Getting away from work and meeting other people has made us talk at last. It’s made all the difference.”

“Yes,” I agreed. “In fact I think it’s probably saved our marriage.”

Roman Remains


A friend of mine called Tony Bradley, told me an interesting story about an experience he had a few years ago. In Tony’s words:

Bert Baverstock tossed the skull up into the air and caught it two-handed, then he kissed it on its shiny brown forehead before putting it down on the desk.

“Well thank gawd we found this thing when them wretched archaeologists were looking the other way,” he said, laughing. “If they’d seen this Herbert’s skull they’d have been able to stop us building the north section for goodness knows how long, just like they’ve held up our work on the southern site. I ask you! Six months of arsing about, picking little bits of pottery and old iron out of a hole and pissing about with it, while all we can do is watch them while we’re losing money!”

“But it is interesting,” I argued. “After all, it’s incredible to think that this was once the site of a Roman Manor.”

“I don’t care if it was the site of Julius Caesar’s personal shithouse! While those clowns are playing about with their artefacts, we’ve got customers who are waiting to move in to the flats we haven’t even built yet!”

Of course Bert was right, and to some extent I agreed with him. On the other hand I’ve always loved history, and, though I would never admit it to Bert, the idea of finding items underground that have been used and handled by people thousands of years ago just blows me away. Ever since I saw a film about the tomb of Tutenkamun on telly when I was a child I always had this secret ambition to be an archaeologist. But of course real life intervened. When I left school I joined Baverstock Construction, even though I had pretty good GCSEs and could have stayed on. Since then I’ve worked my way up from being labourer to senior manager.

And, unknown to Bert, I had made a few friends amongst ‘the enemy’. A few weeks ago, when I’d inquired about what was going on, they’d all been really nice to me, gathering around and showing me all their finds and explaining their plans in detail. They were a really matey crowd, and since then I’d often passed the time of day with them, chatting whenever I passed. One of them, Alison, a thin dark haired girl who always seemed to wear the same huge red pullover that reached her knees, had spent a couple of long lunch hours chatting with me in the local pub. We’d got on so well that I’d even admitted to her my secret childhood ambition to be an archaeologist.

Later that morning, Bert happened to be in a foul mood when Henry Fortescue, the senior archaeologist in the team, called into the office. He was six-foot-four, as thin as a rake, with long grey hair that had a habit of constantly falling across his large owlish spectacles.

“Look, I know that according to the law, we have to leave the site on Friday,” Henry began, in his irritatingly posh cut-glass accent. “But the fact is we’re certain there are still a wealth of artefacts still underground there that we won’t have time to reach. Please, Mr Baverstock, I know you resent us being here, and I understand how inconvenient it is.” Henry frowned, a lock of his hair falling across his face. “But please, I’m begging you, couldn’t you let us have a couple more weeks?”

“Beg all you like you idle ponce,” jeered Bert. “It won’t get you nowhere.”

“Please?” he begged. “Just a few more days then—”

“—Don’t you understand English? I want you off this site the second that order from the local authority expires.”

“You ignorant bastards!” Henry roared, turning to include me in his tirade. “All you numbskulled builders ever think about is making a quick buck. Don’t you care about posterity? About leaving something for future generations?”

“I’m leaving a good few quid to my future generations, mate. What are you leaving your kids? One of them broken old pots to piss in?” shouted Bert.

“All we need is a few more days,” Henry yelled, turning as he was about to charge out of the door. “And you bastards are going to bury valuable items for evermore! And you don’t care a damn! You stupid ignorant bloody philistines!

The door slammed.

Bert was fuming. “Who does that jumped-up prick think he is, looking down his nose at us? He might have got a posh accent and degrees coming out of his arsehole, but most archaeologists earn a bloody pittance. Remember this Tony: unlike that glorified streak of piss, you’re earning good money and you’ve got a decent future in front of you!”

I was upset, doubly so because the humiliation of being called ‘an ignorant philistine’ had infuriated me. And later that day, when I was approaching a group of the ‘diggers’, I overheard some of them laughing, and the phrase ‘chav builders’ until he caught my eye. He quickly looked away.

Of course Bert was right, as I reflected later. I’d got a good job, a decent future with Baverstock Construction, and when I married Bert’s daughter Tracy I was on the fast track to the big time. But I sometimes wondered if everything was happening too fast. Did I want to work in the building game all my life? Did I really want to marry Tracy? Truth to tell, Tracy and I never really talked much, and hadn’t got that much in common. If I’d talked to Tracy about the Roman Empire she’d have thought it was a new TV series on Channel 4.

Yes, it really did hurt to think that Henry thought I was an ignorant chav, and I realised that Alison and the others had an ulterior motive for being nice to me: they obviously thought I could influence Bert to prolong their stay. I realised that all the time I’d thought they were being genuinely friendly, they were actually laughing at me, stringing me along. I thought back to my talks with Alison, when she’d suggested that this might have been an important burial site.


An important burial site?

I thought of the skull that Bert had found in the trench in the northern section.

Over the next few days, I stopped talking to the snotty-nosed archaeologists, pointedly ignoring their shouts of ‘Morning’ when I passed by.

On the Friday evening I was held up in the site office alone, already late for going to the family party that Tracy had organised to celebrate our engagement. I’d seen the archaeologists leaving the site for the last time, and thought ‘good riddance’.

There was a knock on the door, and Henry entered.

“Hello, Tony” he said. “Everyone’s gone, and I’m the last to leave. I just wanted to call in and apologise to you. We’re having a few drinks at the local pub, and Alison and the others are hoping you’ll join us. So am I.”

“Why would you want to mix with an ignorant philistine like me?”

“Come on mate, I didn’t mean it.” He looked genuinely shocked. “Is that why you’ve given us all the cold shoulder recently?”

“No one likes being laughed at.”

“Laughed at?” Henry looked genuinely aghast. “Tony, good lord, why on earth do you think that? No one has ever laughed at you! The other day in here, I was out of order. I lost my temper and said the first stupid insults I thought of. But I didn’t mean it and I shouldn’t have said it. I was just so heartbroken to think of not being able to explore this valuable site properly, the terrible waste.”

“Forget it, it doesn’t matter.”

“Well I think it matters very much,” Henry contradicted, shaking his head and putting his hand on my shoulder. “Look, believe me Tony, I’m deeply ashamed to have insulted you. Especially as I now realise I was totally wrong. Alison and the others have been telling me that you were interested in our work, and she even said that you once considered becoming an archaeologist yourself.”

“It was a long time ago,” I replied.

“But you’ve still got your life in front of you. Which is why,” he went on, “I took the liberty of getting you some prospectuses of several universities that do courses on archaeology, and I phoned one of my old professors and asked about their policy on mature students. He told me they’re pretty flexible. Thing is, you see, I was in your position a few years ago. I was about your age when I threw up a good salary at a merchant bank and became a mature student. And I haven’t regretted it once. Life’s about more than money.”

He passed across a weighty envelope.

“Of course I can see you’ve already got a good career here. I just thought that it’s always worth knowing your options. And I also wanted to let you know that soon we’ll be organising another ‘dig’ not far from here, so you’d be very welcome to join us if you’d like to be a volunteer, if you have any spare time. You really fitted in with the team, we all liked you. Frankly the others were a bit miffed when you stopped chatting to us in the mornings, and now I realise it’s all my fault, and I’m so very sorry.”

I accepted his outstretched hand to shake, and I suddenly realised that since he was never going to see me again, he’d had no need to contact his old college, or to invite me to drink with them.

And that’s when I remembered how exciting it had been to hang around the site with Alison and the others. The thrill when she’d shown me the latest pot they’d found, the ancient piece of broken sword. And the worst of it was there’d been no one to tell about my experience. No one who would understand the way I could see the past come alive in front of my eyes.

“Come on Tony, join us in the pub, won’t you? Actually the party’s going to be a bit of a bummer, we’re so sad to be leaving, but we’d like to buy you a few drinks for all your kindness over the past weeks.”

“Thanks Henry. Thing is, I’m supposed to be going to a party.”

“And I’m delaying you, sorry again.” He stepped towards the door, smiling. “Well, maybe another time then, there’s my contact number in the envelope. Call me anytime. And please think about joining us on the dig.”

He’d almost closed the door when I called him back.

“We found something on the northern section of the site recently,” I told him, taking the skull from the bottom drawer of Bert’s desk. “Do you think it might indicate that this could prove that his might have been the burial site that Alison was talking about?”

“My goodness, yes, I do believe it could!” Henry’s excitement was infectious as he rushed across to inspect the bone. “In fact, if this was found here, then the local authority will undoubtedly agree to extend our permission to stay on site – for quite a long while I should think. Sorry Tony. That’s not good news for your boss, I’d say.”

“But good news for us.”

He smiled.

Us? Why had I said us?

I thought of what Bert’s reaction would be when he found out what I’d done. I thought of my engagement party that I was already late for.

I realised right then, that life is all about choices.

“Look Tony, please, you’ve got to come to the pub with me and Alison and the others to talk about this, just for five minutes! I reckon when I tell them you’ve found this you’re going to be the hero of the hour. What do you say?”







“I cut off my husband’s penis. But then of course you know that.”

“But you’re sorry about it?”

“Oh yes, it was a terrible thing to do.   I’m thoroughly ashamed of what I did.”

Yvonne Parsons had caused quite a sensation two years ago when she’d ‘grievously assaulted’ her husband, David Ronald Parsons, and the case  had become quite a cause célèbre in the tabloid newspapers, where it was known as the ‘Parsons’ Penis Case’, akin to the American case of Wayne Bobbitt, whose wife had done the same thing.  The court had taken into account the husband’s cruelty towards her, as well as her fragile mental state. Nevertheless, the judge had given her a four-year sentence, and in a week’s time she would have served two years of her sentence, and the parole board were releasing her early.

So why did she do it, when everyone agreed that Yvonne was a thoroughly nice person, agreeable, friendly and likeable?

As  a Behavioural Investigative Adviser to the police my training meant that I could make myself useful chatting to soon-to-be released previously violent criminals, and senior officers had asked me to talk to her to see what I thought of her mental state.  On the whole I thought she seemed perfectly well balanced, friendly and agreeable.

“As you know, Jack, two years before I met David, I won the lottery,” Yvonne told me, flicking ash from her cigarette and passing a hand through her shortish blonde hair.  “Four million quid to a girl who works 9 to 5 in a factory and lives in a council house is literally a dream come true.  I was in my twenties, living on my own with no family nearby, and it was pretty well intolerable to stay where everyone knew who I was.  I wanted a complete break, where no one knew who I was or about my win, so I moved to a posh part of town, even changed my name, decided to have a completely fresh start.  Trouble was, loneliness was something I’d never thought about, especially as I had no job, no way of meeting people.  I got a dear little West highland terrier, Benji, and he was my only companion really.

“I was fat and out of condition, so I joined a gym, thinking it might be a way of getting a bit of a social life. But they were rich people, from different backgrounds to mine, and although I chatted to them, shared a gossip over coffee, they never really accepted me.  I was always the odd one out.

“David was one of the personal trainers at the gym.  The moment I saws him I was mad about him.  All the other women fancied him, and I couldn’t get over the fact it was me he asked out.  We got on pretty well, so well in fact that after a couple of months he asked me to marry him.”

“Wasn’t that a bit sudden?”

She nodded.  “I should have realised it at the time, but I was in love, more fool me.  I should have realised he was wrong for me the first time he met my little dog, Benji.  Benji hated him, snapped and snarled all the time, and David hated him back.  He kicked him once, and he was always threatening to open the door and let him out onto the busy road so he got run over.  Then, a couple of months after the honeymoon, we had a real shouting row, and he hit me.  He told me that he only asked me out because he’d found out about my lottery win.  That he was actually seeing lots of other girls and he was going to go on doing so, and that he didn’t even fancy me.  I was heartbroken, but do you know what he said?  He told me that if I didn’t like it we could get divorced.  But that he’d take me for a fortune – I checked with a solicitor, it was true.  Even though we hadn’t been married long, he could still get a huge settlement off me if we divorced.

“Well the following night he kicked Benji again.  I was so angry that I started hitting him.  He hit me back hard, knocked me right across the room.  And then he just stood there laughing at me, then he told me he’d had enough and he was going out to see this other girl.  And he came home in the early hours, smirking and drunk, jeering at me, telling me how much more attractive she was then me and how he found me repulsive.  Then he collapsed into bed, pissed and giggling before he passed out.  So that’s when I did it.”

“You cut it off.”

“Yeah. I held the end of it in one hand, closed my eyes and then hacked down and sawed with the other hand, with a really sharp carving knife.  I regretted it instantly, of course, I was horrified at what I’d done!  He was screaming in agony, blood everywhere, so I called the ambulance.  But by that time, Benji had picked up David’s penis in his teeth and had started chewing it. I managed to grab the bloody thing out of his mouth, luckily he hadn’t bitten into it too badly. I wrapped it in a bag of frozen peas and gave it to the paramedics when they came.  In all the rush and confusion, Benji ran outside and I heard a screech of brakes, and realised David had got his wish – my poor little dog had been run over.

“So there I was in a police cell, Benji had been rushed to the vet and I didn’t know if he’d survive, and they were doing a big operation on David, micro vascular surgery they called it.  After a few days they found the operation was a failure.  Apparently there was a bacterial infection that stopped the healing process – they thought it could have come from Benjie’s teeth. They had to amputate.”

“What a mess.”

“Not really.”  She smiled.  “In fact it all worked out quite well in the end.  I was held in jail, pending the court case, meanwhile David fell into a deep depression and started drinking heavily. One night he got drunk one night and drove into a wall and killed himself.”

“So no expensive divorce?”

“No.  And best of all, Benji recovered.  The vet who’d operated on him fell in love with him and looked after him for me. And he visited me in prison and fell in love with me too.  So it all worked out well in the end.”

I’ve published a book of similar stories to this THE JACK LOCKWOOD DIARIES and it’s free today, so why not download a copy here