Terry, his mum and Naomi are kidnapped and fear for their lives as the Simms seek revenge for the death of Justin and the incarceration of their father. Will their murderous intentions be the end of Terry, his mum and Naomi or will help arrive in time?
The priests and the acolytes’ pace and turn on the altar as the distant faces of the choir mouth their devout responses. It is as if she is a remote witness rather than a figure central to the solemn rite being enacted here. The fine black mesh, the veil that hides her swollen eyes, intervenes, a screen, a barrier that brings into sharp relief the vivid, richness of vestments, flowers and gleaming brass, like staring in through a keyhole, a secret onlooker. Still dazed, still shocked in her empty loneliness; she turns her head; regards the flag-draped coffin; a confusion of runaway memories outstrips her efforts to fix her mind; wilful recollections that run on beyond control; an endless loop of intimate distractions.
Uniformed and plain clothed police officers, rigid grief in each pale face, eyes downcast, line the front pews, here to honour their comrade and to bid personal farewells.
She grips the hand of her precious son as the priests intone the Requiem Mass; the acting Chief Constable delivers his eulogy; distant words fade indistinctly at the rim of her consciousness; decay amongst the aged stones and rafters.
A lifetime of churchgoing ensures that she observes the ritual, mouths the familiar responses, and crosses herself. But her mind is not engaged.
As the broad west doors swing back, cold, October light swamps the sombrous interior, a rude inundation, flushing out dark odours of tallow and incense, blanching the musty dimness, purging all but the furthest niches and corners with its curious brightness.
Pallbearers step forward, hoist their burden, and execute their awkward, shuffling turnabout then step off, leading the solemn procession. She follows, tall, impressive in her apparent dignity, the pale child pacing bravely at her side and many a mourner in that packed congregation wipes away a tear to see them pass by.
It is as she smells the newly opened earth, leans forward with her handful of soil, and sees the narrow coffin far below in that sheer sided pit, that the bitter finality overwhelms her. The tumbling earth bounces like far off drumbeats as she turns into the warmth of her mother’s embrace. Her father hugs the boy and, feeling so helpless, rests a hand on her back.
Ringing reverberations of the iron bell toll the solemn hour as the Guard of Honour elevate their weapons. The salute cracks out and large, black birds rise suddenly from the towering yews; a cacophony of beating wings and coarse, protesting cries counterpoised with the echoing gunshots. The echoes fade in diminishing ripples; lamentations that die away: lost among the stark outlines of a multitude of headstones: the old leaning and lichen-clad, the recent startlingly cold in their white, marble purity. The vociferous birds fall back in ragged disorder to settle, concealed, silent again within the evergreen foliage.
A witness in the high tower might see the concluding rites: the dwindling of that tightly knit gathering of mourners as smaller groups drift away along the gravel path until only the melancholy families are left standing over the open grave.
Young Terry Driscoll waited anxiously in the toilet cubicle. So familiar was he with the arrival and departure times at each stop, he could judge with accuracy when the train was nearing his station. He travelled the route five days a week and on Saturday mornings if there was a school match.
Terry was an above average performer at most things but when it came to games, he was exceptionally gifted. Tall and naturally athletic he could hold his place in any of the school teams; but hockey was his passion. At thirteen he was the youngest member of the school team, played on Saturday afternoons for a local club side and had been invited to take part in the forthcoming junior county trials. Terry was a popular boy, but lately he’d found himself out of favour with a group of the senior boys and he had no idea why.
He sat with his bag on his lap, holding his hockey stick between his knees, swaying to the rhythmic motion of the train as it rattled on its way. Oblivious to the noise and discomfort, he pondered on his chances of escaping the attentions of Justin Simms and his gang of yobs. He had chosen the carriage that would stop nearest to the station exit and he knew that once through he could outrun them easily. The question was could he get onto the platform with a head start? Not for the first time, he debated whether to stay hidden until the train pulled out of the station, get off at the next and then telephone his mum to fetch him in the car. This idea was attractive but the thought of having to explain why and all that this would lead to, convinced him that it was not a realistic option.
Picking on Terry had become the gang’s regular sport because it had been such a success the first time. They had seized the unsuspecting youngster, punched, and kicked him unmercifully, and tried to force his head into the toilet pan while they flushed it. He had fought with a strength and vigour that surprised them but in so doing had only prolonged his own discomfort, thus increasing the delight of his tormentors. Terry’s friends all lived closer to the school than he, so they didn’t need to use the train and the bullying had isolated him from some of them who were fearful in case they came in for similar treatment during the school day.
Simms and his gang had refined the game to the point where they would sometimes surround and thoroughly frighten him and then let him go to jeers, catcalls and a casual slap but on other occasions they would beat him up and dare him to tell anyone. Friends were sympathetic of course but could offer no solution other than to urge him to complain to the school’s management. In short, Terry’s school days had become a misery and thus far, having taken Simms’. threats very seriously, he had told only his closest friends.
He checked his watch and saw it was time to make his move. He did not think they’d seen him enter the toilet as there had been none of the usual kicks and bangs on the door or attempts to call him out: but he knew that they might well be waiting. There was no way of telling how punishing these encounters might turn out, so he always expected the worst. Reaching anxiously for the lock on the door, he eased it open, looked both ways, then stole out into the corridor.
He saw at once that he had miscalculated.
The train still had quite a long way to go before it would reach his station. It must have reduced speed along the last stretch and, being preoccupied with his thoughts and unable to see out through the opaque toilet window; Terry had been unaware of this. Sensing someone behind him, he turned, and his heart sank.
‘Wrong!’ crowed Simms in an exultant falsetto as he grabbed Terry’s collar and wrenched him away from the toilet door. ‘Get that window down,’ he shouted as he forced Terry back against the wall and held him there by the lapels of his blazer. One of the gang lowered the window and stood back. Simms dragged him sideways and he became aware of the rushing cold air as he was forced closer and closer to the open window. He resisted fiercely, but the bigger boy had a man’s strength. He could not believe that they would push him through, but he was unable to speak because Simms’ bruising knuckles were digging into his throat.
‘Chuck him out. Chuck him out,’ chanted the gang and he felt strong hands gripping his clothing and pushing him out and into the chill turbulence beyond. When his upper body was out, they held him balanced there, the sharp-edged window frame digging painfully into the small of his back. Through his tears he looked into the grinning faces.
‘Please, please,’ he begged but his entreaties and tears were whipped away in the violent maelstrom, the buffet, and the roar of the train’s clattering progress. If Simms heard him, he chose to ignore it.
‘Wotcha doin’ out there, Sunshine?’ He shouted. ‘Ain’tcha got a ticket then?’
They held the boy there for long agonising seconds, raising and lowering his legs as they sang at the tops of their voices:
‘Rock-a-bye baby, on the treetop
When the wind blows the cradle will rock.
When the bough bends, the cradle will fall.
Down will come baby, cradle and all.’
Terry’s heart lurched in his chest as, on the word, ‘Down,’ Simms raised his legs and pretended to let go. His upper body began to drop lower as he grew weaker and fatigue began to set in. Terrified, he tried to turn his head, fearful of striking a bridge or some other trackside object.
‘Let him in Jus’. He’s had enough.’ This was Ray, a big lad who had suddenly become aware of the malign intent in Simms’ expression: suddenly become aware, as he exchanged anxious glances with his mates, that this escapade had entered a realm of frightening possibilities. It was one thing to pick on a younger boy and rough him up a bit – but this was something way beyond nosebleeds and split lips: they were rattled by Simms’ vicious treatment of the youngster. Simms glared darkly at them.
‘You bloody well pull him in!’ he snapped.
The distressed boy was hauled in quickly and one of his tormentors moved to raise the window. ‘Leave it,’ bellowed Simms, hauling the terrified boy up from the floor. ‘See this?’ he sneered, holding Terry’s bag up before the snivelling boy’s pale, dirt streaked face. ‘See it?’ he repeated, shaking him fiercely. Terry nodded weakly and Simms flung the bag through the open window. ‘See this?’ he repeated, holding up the hockey stick. Terry lunged to grasp it but doubled over in agony as Simms punched him hard in the solar plexus, pulled the stick from its case and tossed it after the bag. He dragged his winded victim to his feet and leered into his face. ‘One-word Sunshine and you’ll be next: out you’ll go. Got it? Wipe your snotty face, you bloody little creep.’
He forced the cowering boy to the floor, kicked him in the back then ran down the length of the carriage. The gang followed but they were driven by shame, they ran to distance themselves from their unfortunate victim, not to stay close to Simms: Simms who no longer held their trust. Their habitual swagger was gone; all bravado had drained away during those fearful minutes at the window when they had sensed that Simms had been close to letting Terry fall.
Passengers, disturbed at the sudden invasion, looked ruffled and muttered about such uncouth behaviour but no one challenged the boys in their headlong dash along the aisle.
The train drew into the station and Terry, hanging back to watch Simms and company leave, began to make his painful way to the exit. Every step he took sent a stab of pain into his lower back and he was forced to stop several times and rest. The attendant who checked his season ticket was shocked at his dishevelled state but said nothing. God only knows what goes on, on that train, he thought to himself, watching with some sympathy, as Terry shuffled away across the car park.
As he limped out of the gateway and onto Station Road Terry heard Simms’ mocking tones yet again.
‘Looks as though you’ve lost your walking stick Sonny.’ Simms, alone this time, stood over him. ‘Remember,’ he whispered, ‘not one single fucking word or you’ll be straight out the window. Now off you go to Mummy. Jolly hockey sticks eh.’ Terry felt a cold hatred welling up in his chest, but he was too frightened to say or do anything that might provoke his tormentor to hurt him anymore.
As he set off for home, hobbling in pain, he became aware of a disreputable figure shuffling along next to him. His nervousness increased when this unsavoury character came close and laid a hand on his sleeve.
‘Just a moment old man,’ said the stranger.
Terry stopped, astonished at the cultured voice, so at odds with the man’s appearance.
‘What do you want?’ he asked. ‘I haven’t any money.’
‘No! No! No!’ the man cried, obviously put out by Terry’s remark. ‘Here take this.’ He held out his walking stick towards Terry. ‘This will help; like this see?’
He placed both of Terry’s hands on the stick and showed him how to move it forward and then shuffle up to it before moving it forward again.
‘That’s right,’ he said, encouragingly. ‘Support your weight with your arms, then move forward with small steps. Move the stick forwards and repeat. How’s that?’
‘Much better thanks,’ Terry replied, grunting from his efforts.
He concentrated on the stick, using it Zimmer fashion, and made good progress, his back pain being much reduced. At first, he was embarrassed at the way passers-by stared at them, but he was grateful for the old man’s help and their overt disapproval soon ceased to worry him.
His new companion kept pace, offering encouragement the whole time and at last they arrived at Terry’s house. He opened the gate and saw Terry to the front door.
‘Here we are old man,’ he said, holding his hand out for his walking stick. ‘Home at last.’
‘What’s your name?’ Terry asked.
‘Mummy always calls me Matty,’ replied the old man.
‘Thanks ever so much for helping me Matty,’ Terry replied. ‘If you wait a minute Mum will give you something.’
‘I appreciate the thought chum but that won’t be necessary: glad to be of help.’
He walked back to the gate, let himself out and gave Terry a wave.
‘Cheerio old man. Take care,’ and he was gone.
Terry ached all over, but it was his back injury that really worried him and his inability to straighten up and move without that terrible pain was frightening. He opened the front door and fell to his knees inside.
‘Terry?’ called his mother. ‘Where have you been? It’s nearly ten past six.’ Receiving no reply, she stepped into the hall. ‘Dear God,’ she cried, putting her hands to her face.
Terry was lying stretched out on the floor his dirty face tear stained and drained of colour.
‘Mum,’ he whispered.
She ran to him, dropped to her knees, and cradled his head in her lap.
‘Who did this to you my darling boy?’ Terry, eyes tightly shut, shook his head. ‘You must tell me. You’re badly hurt. Now who was it?’ Terry maintained his stubborn silence. ‘It was that Simms boy wasn’t it.’ She said this with such conviction that Terry nodded eventually.
‘It’s my back that really hurts Mum,’ he gasped. ‘I can hardly walk for the pain. I’ve never had anything like it. I don’t think I could’ve made it home on my own. This old tramp lent me his stick and helped me along. He was great. But he didn’t talk like a tramp. He was really posh. He said his name’s Matty. He talked like an archbishop, but he was pretty smelly.’
Gently, his mother lowered his head to the floor, fetched a cushion and settled him more comfortably.
‘I know Matty. I’ll tell you all about him one day. Now you just stay where you are while I telephone the doctor.’
As soon as she had made the call Maureen hurried back to where Terry lay on the floor.
‘He’s out on a house call but they don’t think he’ll be long. You comfy there? Another cushion?’ she asked, settling next to him.
‘I’m fine Mum. Lying flat like this has eased away most of the pain. Tell me about Matty.’
‘You don’t want to hear about all that now. I’ll tell you when you’re feeling better.’
‘Honestly, Mum, I’m fine; come on, he’s such a funny old bloke.’
‘Well his family was very well off once. They were businesspeople. They had servants, a chauffeur, and a big Daimler – and other cars as well. They had a big estate called Kingsfield Park – a big house with stables and horses and everything – they were really well to do.’
‘What happened?’ Terry asked.
‘I can’t tell you exactly. It was all before my time.’
‘How d’you know about it then?’
‘Because people were still talking about it when I was a child. Anyway, they ran into financial difficulties, so everyone said. There was a scandal too. Matty’s mother had a fling with one of the staff and his father found out about it and threw the man out, literally – they had a fight. There was talk of a blackmail attempt, but I don’t know the ins and outs of that. Well things got worse and worse. All the horses were sold, the staff was let go and they sold off most of the land. Then one night, the big house caught fire – Matty was about your age at the time. They found him wandering in his pyjamas. He’d found his mother and father dead in the stables and was in shock. It seemed that Matty’s father shot his wife and then turned the gun on himself. The shotgun was on the floor. The odd thing was that the gun was one of a pair, but they never found its partner. The police made extensive enquiries, but it never came to light. They were very distinctive English guns handmade especially for Mr. Cobbett; that’s Matty’s surname, and folk were convinced that no matter how hard up he was, he would never have split them up. They were worth so much more as a pair. Your grandfather saw them once when he was invited to a shoot and said what fine guns they were – drove the family mad going on about Mr. Cobbett’s pair of Woodwards. Anyway, one gun and the case disappeared, and I don’t think they ever got to the bottom of it. Poor Matty was put into care and never really got over it. He’d been close to his mother. He must be well over sixty and he still says, “Mummy calls me Matty.” Kingsfield Park was all sold off for building, but nothing’s been done out there. Arthur Simms bought the house and a few acres. Evidently, he had plans to rebuild the house and put holiday chalets in the grounds but none of that ever happened either. I don’t know if Matty ever got anything out of it. You wouldn’t think so to look at him. All he seems to have left is his posh accent. I’m glad he was there to see you home safely though.’
She smiled, reaching out to push the lock of hair from his forehead. Terry returned the smile and they held hands, waiting for the doctor.