TEXT © JOHN HARDY 2014
PHOTO OF HUNTCLIFF, SALTBURN © WENDY FOSS 2014
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
The latest book of short stories by John Hardy is ‘Malaga Mysteries’, available from amazon as an e-Book and paperback, and directly from http://www.troubador.co.uk/book_info.asp?bookid=3245
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
John Hardy was born in the (then) small seaside village of Marske-by-the-Sea to the south of Middlesbrough in Cleveland, North Yorkshire where his father was the village plumber and his mother kept a hardware shop. After attending the village junior school, he became a student at Sir William Turner Grammar School, Coatham, Redcar. At sixteen after passing the school certificate, the precursor to O levels, he became a trainee Quantity Surveyor. Over the next 21 years he worked as a Chartered Quantity Surveyor for both private QS firms and local authorities in Durham, North Yorkshire, Norwich and Essex. In 1971 he became a lecturer in Construction and Building Economics at the, then, Mid Essex Technical College in Chelmsford. The college has gone through several changes of name and is now Anglia Ruskin University. During his time at the college he led a team which developed first a diploma and then a degree in Quantity Surveying.
1979 saw a big change in his life when he met his present wife Wendy, a Speech and Language Therapist. Early in their relationship he became Warden of the College Hall of Residence in Chelmsford, where they lived for two years.
In the 1980’s he trained as a Homoeopath with the Association of Natural Medicine in Witham, Essex. During his time in Essex he served on the Governing Council of the ANM, becoming its chairman under Nelson Brunton, its founder and president.
In 1986 he left the college to take up a career in natural medicine, also qualifying in Acupuncture and Massage. During this time he wrote several articles on natural medicine for the Association’s journal.
In 1989 he moved with Wendy to Cumbria, where he continued to practise natural medicine and they opened a wholefood vegetarian guest house and restaurant. Wendy continued her career as a speech and language therapist whilst he ran the guest house.
For many years he had a growing interest in Spain and its history, inspired by such writers as Gerald Brennan and Laurie Lee, but as a socialist would not visit it during the time of Franco. Then just a couple of years before his death things began to change in Spain, and he also met 3 Spaniards from Bilbao at the Othona Community which he was helping to run, and made his first trip to Spain to visit them. After that first holiday he made several visits with his family, alone and then with Wendy. Once they did a week long pony trek in the Alpujarras, their first taste of rural Andalucía. A couple of years later, they decided to move to Spain and started house hunting.
In 1994 they moved to Sedella, a small mountain pueblo blanco, white village, in the Axarquía in southern Spain. Since then, in his retirement, he has from time to time continued practising natural medicine, done sundry building work around the finca and taken up writing. Wendy, who is almost fluent in Spanish, is very active in the local village life and plays flute, piccolo and alto saxophone in two municipal village bands, Sedella itself and Salares, the next village along the mountain road.
During his years in England he was active in the Scouting movement, an interest continued by his daughter who now runs the scout troop in Navestock, Essex. Also when living in Northallerton, Yorkshire he was very active in the Labour Party, becoming the secretary of the local party.
During his time as a lecturer, as mentioned earlier he helped to run the Othona Community at Bradwell-on-Sea, Essex, under its founder and then leader Norman Motley. In those days the community was only open during the holiday periods. It was during his time there that the community became an all year round venture under the guidance of Colin Hodgetts, who is the present chair of the executive committee. One of the many things he did at the community was to help the cook in the kitchen. This together with cooking in the guest house led to his interest in and development of culinary skills.
Also at this time he became a lay preacher and pastor in the United Reformed Church in the Danbury area of Essex.
During his time at Chelmsford he was an occasional lecturer and postal tutor for the College of Estate Management at Reading University, and wrote several study papers for them and a technical book on Civil Engineering Measurement. Since moving to Spain, he has written several short stories, some published in local English language magazines, and two full length books, both as yet unpublished. He has always been an avid reader but several years ago developed Age Related Macular Degeneration, which made reading first difficult and then eventually impossible. Then he discovered Kindle, and thanks to its ability to enlarge the print size, has once more been able to read. It was through Amazon Kindle that he discovered that you could self-publish both e-books and paperbacks. Therefore together with his wife Wendy, who types and edits his work, he began to publish in 2013.
OTHER BOOKS BY JOHN HARDY
MORE ANDALUCÍAN MYSTERIES
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WITH JANICE ONWUZOR:
MISTERIOS DE ANDALUCÍA
WITH URSULA A. FEILER:
NOCH MEHR ANDALUSISCHE GESCHICHTEN
WITH DAVID LÓPEZ
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This short story, which is free on my webpage and at the minimum price possible on Kindle, is published as a thank you for everyone who has bought one or more of my books – as a preview of the forthcoming new one ‘Twisted Tales’ (which has stories set in England as well as Spain) – and also as a free story for anyone else just to read for their own pleasure.
It is set in the north east of England in Cleveland, Yorkshire, a place where I grew up in the 1950’s, a time also that I knew well. Unlike most of my other stories the places mentioned are actual locations not disguised or fictionalised. All the characters however are fictionalised and bear no resemblance to any actual person alive or dead. The story also is pure fiction and a figment of my imagination.
The story is dedicated to my grandchildren who I hope will enjoy it.
Once again I am indebted to Wendy for publishing it and to Peter for creating the webpage.
Sedella, Spain September 2014
6.10 FROM DARLINGTON
Five thirty on a cold February morning with a keen wind blowing the length of the platforms. The overnight London train came to a noisy halt amid a cloud of steam and smoke, and to the cries of “This is Darlington, Darlington. Change here for Bishop Auckland, Stockton, Yarm and Saltburn. Darlington. This is the King’s Cross train to Edinburgh.”
Clutching my suitcase, I stumbled sleepily from the express and looked at the station clock, just five minutes late and time enough to drink a cup of tea from the buffet which was already open and full of early morning passengers.
I carried my tea in its cardboard cup down the opposite platform, past the waiting room and toilets and Stevenson’s Rocket, to the short train already waiting to leave for Saltburn at ten past six. Here near the open mouth of the station the wind was stronger and seemed even colder, and I huddled deeper into my blue school mac, hands clasped around the cup to keep them from freezing.
The train was old with no corridor, just single compartments, so I went back to use the Gents before boarding. I chose a no smoking carriage near the front which was unoccupied, hoping that it would stay that way and I could stretch out and doze on the hour’s journey to Marske, just one stop before Saltburn. I had slept fitfully on the journey from King’s Cross as the express had been full and noisy, with no chance to lie down full length on the seat. At seventeen I was used to travelling from London as my elder sister lived in Leytonstone and I visited her often. Last year I had stayed with her and gone to see the coronation of the new queen, although that time with my parents. This visit however had been shorter and I had gone there and returned alone. I had travelled down on Friday evening after school and now today, Monday, I was due to return home, have breakfast, and then go back to school. When you’re a teenager missing a night’s sleep is not a problem, a good price to pay for a few days away. When I entered the carriage the air was much warmer, out of the wind and with the heating already on. I took off my mac and began to thaw out. The carriage smelt of dust, smoke fumes and had a metallic whiff which was almost a tangible taste on the tongue. On the wall of the compartment were several paintings one of which, a view of Huntcliff, was titled Saltburn-by-the-Sea, with the council’s motto “Twixt Heather and Sea” underneath.
From the platform outside the carriage there was the sound of doors slamming, whistles blowing. With a jolt the train started to move, a loud puffing coming from the small engine at its head. Just outside the station the clock on the Pease building showed the time to be just after ten past six. The sky was dark and the lights of Darlington soon faded. I stretched out on the seat and closed my eyes. I was vaguely aware of the train stopping at Dinsdale but after that was oblivious to any others, Allens West, Eaglecliff, Thornaby, I knew them all by heart but I only surfaced at Middlesbrough where the lights and noise woke me up. I was asleep again before we left and was unaware of the stations between there and Redcar. I was however aware of the smells of the steelworks as we passed by them. Hot sulphur with a metallic taste, mixed with the coal fumes from the engine. Some inner awareness, some instinct keeping me abreast of the journey. At Redcar I woke and opened the window watching the passengers alighting from what must have been the now nearly empty train. Newspapers, post sacks and parcels were unloaded and then we were once again underway. We were nearly there, just one more stop, Redcar East Halt, and then Marske. It was five past seven and still dark, but the wind had dropped and the sharp smell of the sea came into the compartment.
After the Halt, the line ran behind the back gardens of a long row of houses and here the train crawled along at almost walking pace, and I remembered that on the outward journey we had passed men working on the line. The repairs were obviously still not finished. I leant out of the window and gazed at the rear of the houses and gardens. At some I could see people in kitchens, cooking and eating breakfast, not many bothered to close their curtains obviously not concerned by passing trains. Then my eyes became fixed in astonishment on one window as we clanked and crawled past. A young woman stood at a French window, naked except for a flimsy pair of knickers, blue I remember. She had long blonde hair and, to my eyes that had never seen a naked woman before, looked to be beautiful. But what held my gaze was the man behind her, with black hair and a moustache, in a dressing gown, who was lunging at her with a knife.
And then we were past.
A confusion of thoughts went through my head. What to do? Pull the alarm? “Penalty for improper use £5”was the notice next to it. I didn’t have £5. What was improper use? Had the man actually stabbed her? I hadn’t seen that, we had gone past by then. I was in a quandary of indecision. Then we reached Marske and I got off the train and, still unsure of what to do, handed in my ticket to the Stationmaster. As I left the platform I noticed that the church clock was showing just before seven ten. We were almost exactly on time. Then I set off down the slope. At the bottom I turned left by the Zetland Hotel, known locally as the Top House, and went down the High Street. When I got home my father was having his breakfast before going to work, and my mother asked if I was hungry and if my sister and her family were well. What she actually said was, “There you are, our David, train’s in then. Want some grub now I expect. How’s our lass and t’bairns keeping?” She must have sensed the turmoil my thoughts were in as she added, “What’s up, lad?” She soon had the full story out of me and after giving me a quick breakfast sent me off to see the local police sergeant.
As I walked down the street I wondered if anyone would believe me. Wasn’t there a Miss Marple story of seeing a murder from a train? The 4.30 or was it 3.30 from Paddington? Something like that. And wasn’t there also a Hitchcock film about a murder seen through a window? But that surely wasn’t seen from a train but between apartments. What was it called ....? Rear something, I thought, yes, Rear Window. So will Sergeant Cook believe me or put it down to my imagination?
Sergeant Cook lived at the bottom of the High St opposite the Ship Inn, known to Marskites as the Bottom House, in an old stone building that served as his home, as well as having an office and also a couple of cells attached to one end. Even at that time of the morning the door was open into the front room which was in fact the police station. There was a counter across the room with a bell on it, which after a brief hesitation I rang. In the kitchen behind the office the voices of Sergeant Cook and his wife went silent and the clatter of crockery stopped. The Sergeant came through the door beyond the counter. He was wearing his uniform trousers and a blue shirt and waistcoat with a watch chain across the front.
“David,” he grunted. “A bit early for you, isn’t it? What’s trouble?”
I started to tell the story over again growing less sure with each telling if it had actually happened, or if it was just some feverish dream I’d had when half asleep after a night’s travelling. Halfway through his wife came into the room.
“Alf, your breakfast’s going cold. Oh, hello David, can’t it wait, whatever it is?” She was a short overweight woman and a friend of my mother, both stalwarts of the W.I. and the Mothers Union.
“Nay, love,” Alf Cook said. “It can’t wait. Put my plate in t’oven to keep warm. I’ll be in shortly. Carry on lad.”
And so I completed the story. Alf Cook looked at me for a few moments after I’d finished and then came to a decision.
“Right, it’s not a tale, is it?” and then, at my shake of the head, he grunted and picked up the phone.
The day then developed into a long series of slow events. First I sat and waited in the Cook’s kitchen where Mrs. Cook gave me a cup of tea and, despite my protest that I’d had my breakfast, a scone. Then a police car arrived and I was driven to Redcar Police Station where after another wait I was taken by a rather severe looking policewoman, with a faint line of hair on her upper lip, to see Detective Inspector Cameron, a soft spoken Scot. Then once more I went over the events seen from the train. But he also wanted the whole story of the weekend away, an account of the entire journey from King’s Cross to Darlington, then the one on the branch line and what had happened up to when I came to the police station at Redcar in the police car. Then he and his sergeant, who up until then had been silent, questioned me on the whole episode and made me repeat parts of it. I think, on reflection, that they were testing my memory, reliability and honesty. Not wanting to waste police time on fairy stories. It seemed to go on forever but at last they were satisfied and told me that I was not to say anything about the events to anyone. This, they said, was both to protect me from being threatened by the man or his associates, and so that no warning of their investigation would reach him. Inspector Cameron then phoned my school to explain why I was not there that day and instructed me to warn my parents not to speak to anyone about the story. He then sent me home in a police car. The whole thing had taken hours and it was nearly tea time by the time I reached home.
Two days later they spoke to me again and I had to go over it all once more. House to house enquiries had brought no result despite being carried out on all the houses backing on to the railway line, and no missing person had been reported or any injured woman treated by a hospital or doctor locally. Neither had any body been found. DI Cameron assured me that they believed my story, though I’m not sure his sergeant did, and that the report would remain on file. His sergeant, Phillips I think he was called, looked at me sceptically. He, like I had, was probably thinking of Agatha Christie and Hitchcock and overactive teenage imaginations. Or even of the deliberate and mischievous creation of fairy stories. And who could blame him? But I knew it was true, or I was almost sure it was and not some half awake nightmare. I was also told to hold my silence on the matter, which I have done until this day.
However at seventeen curiosity, and a reluctance to not know answers, led me into doing some investigating myself.
One blowy Saturday in early March a few weeks after the events, and a couple of days after my last session with the two detectives, I cycled along the coast road to Redcar and went into the road running parallel to the railway. I didn’t know this part of the town at all and found that the houses were obviously upmarket with neat front gardens. What my mother would call ‘posh’. Not at all like the terrace house in Chapel Street where I lived in Marske. I cycled up and down the road several times but was at a loss at what to do next.
“What are you doing then?” The question came from a youngish girl of about my own age. “Why are you cycling up and down our street?”
“Just out for a ride. Are you taking your dog for a walk?”
That meeting was to change the direction of my life and wipe the events of that railway journey from my mind. Or at least push them to the back of it. The dog’s name was Bonzo and the girl was Madge Whitfield.
“Daft name for a dog, isn’t it?” she said, explaining that it was her brother’s dog and his choice of name. He had recently left home to work in Wales and it was now her job to look after it. I walked with her that morning over the strand, the grass that lies between the coast road and the prom, along the sands and over the sand dunes. We became friends and then started courting. Over the next few weeks Madge inducted me into the joy of sex and took my virginity. She herself had already lost hers, having had many boyfriends. The only drawback was Jean Severs. There is always a plainer girl alongside a good looking one. And Jean was always, it seemed, with Madge. A year younger, a whiner and a drag, at least in my opinion.
“Don’t be hard on her, Dave,” Madge would say. “She hasn’t any other friends, her elder brother went to Australia earlier this year when she was away on holiday. She adored him and he just left without saying goodbye. He left with his fiancée when she and her mother were away for a few days. Oh, she knew he was going, but not when. And her dad walked out on her mother a year ago and she hasn’t seen him since.”
I knew all about it. Jean lived a few doors from Madge, their mothers were close, Madge’s parents were well off whilst Jean’s mother was hard put to get by. Madge and Jean had been friends since they were little just as their elder brothers had been before. Now Madge’s brother was in Wales and Jean’s in Australia. As we managed to get quite a bit of time together on our own I just had to put up with it. We roamed the sandbanks between Redcar and Marske where there were plenty of safe hideaways for lovemaking. I was besotted with Madge. She was one year younger than me but already had her future mapped out.
“When I get my ‘A’ levels,” not if, you note, but when, “I’m going to Edinburgh to do a degree in Chemistry. What are you going to do, Dave?”
I had no idea but my ‘A’ levels were due in just a few weeks time. So I said on impulse, “If I get mine, I’ll go to Edinburgh too.” I’d no knowledge about universities at all, had never thought about life after school. I had no idea of what universities existed apart from Oxford and Cambridge. So I had just picked Edinburgh as if I knew it existed (hadn’t Madge just told me?) and also to be near her.“But I’ll study Physics,” I added as this was my strongest subject.
As I said earlier, Madge changed my life. She introduced me to sex and also decided my future career. I passed my ‘A’ levels, went to Edinburgh and got a 2.1 in Physics and Maths and then took up a teaching job in Leyton to be near my sister. Madge didn’t get her ‘A’ levels, didn’t go to Edinburgh the following year and got a job in Woolworths. But our courting had come to an end earlier for as soon as I left for university, she started going out with someone else.
Jean however the year after that did come to Edinburgh where we met up again. She was reading English and had grown up to be a bright, intelligent and quite beautiful, in my eyes, young woman. Two years at that age could make a big difference.
Several years later we got married and moved back to the northeast to Darlington where we now both teach, me at the Tech and Jean in a grammar school.
This year her brother is coming home. She hasn’t seen him since 1954 when he went to Australia. He didn’t stay there long, his fiancée who went out with him left him after about a year and he took up with a local girl. That didn’t last either and he went first to New Zealand, then Argentina and then Panama, moving countries and discarding girlfriends as he went. He had, Jean said, itchy feet. Well now after eight years he’s coming home, and we’ve come to Redcar for the week to meet him. He arrives tomorrow and we are staying with Jean’s mother to be on hand for the big family reunion. Madge and her husband are here as well, as is Madge’s elder brother and his family. Madge’s brother Brian I find disconcerting and I can’t take to him. He has a disturbing and a slightly sinister air about him. But his wife and kids are fine, as is Madge’s husband, and they get on with him ok so it’s probably just me. Jean always says I brood too much. I put it down to the dreadful events of that morning in February nine years ago now. I’ve kept my word to the police and never mentioned them to anyone, not even Jean. I always feel uneasy when I visit Jean’s mum as I know they happened not far from there, if they did happen and I didn’t imagine them. In that row of houses.
Tonight we are reminiscing over the past and Jean is looking in her old scrap books and photo albums that she has found at the back of her mother’s cupboard. Many cuttings and photos are about the amateur dramatic society that both Madge and Jean as well as their brothers belonged to. Pictures of them performing in plays of all sorts. “An Inspector Calls”, “The Monkey’s Paw”, “Hamlet” and many others. Most of them are thrillers, crime or mystery stories and the like. Several involve bloody acts, “Is this a dagger I see before me?” Jean quotes as she shows me the pictures. “We spent hours rehearsing,” she recalls, a sentiment endorsed by both Madge and her brother. Jean’s mother agrees, adding that they often took over the whole house when learning their lines. “All hours of the day,” she confides to me, “them and all their friends. Bedlam.”
Then Jean turns over a page in her latest photo album. “Look,” she says to me. “This is my brother Henry, and Shona his fiancée, just before they went to Australia all those years ago.”
I look at the photo. He is a well built black haired young man with a black moustache and she is a pretty blonde with long hair and a good figure.
It is the couple I saw from the train. What shall I say? What can I do? Did they both go or is her body hidden somewhere? In the house? In the garden? And what about the other girls he has left strewn around the world, are they alive or dead too?
Is he a killer, a serial killer, or did I just imagine it all?
I wonder if DI Cameron is still at Redcar Police Station.
If you have enjoyed this story, other books of short stories are available. Please visit www.johnhardybooks.com for more information.