Text copyright © John Hardy 2015

Cover photograph © Kevin Bruce 2015


All rights reserved




















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 Franco’s 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 EBooks and paperbacks. Therefore, together with his wife Wendy, who types and edits his work, he began to publish in 2013.















This ‘mini book’ of three short stories, free on my website as was ‘6.10 from Darlington’, is once more offered as a thank you to anyone who may have bought any of my previous books. It is also, I hope, for anyone to read just for pleasure. It is once again a forerunner of another book of short stories that I hope to produce in the near future. Keep an eye on my website for details of that.

Two of the stories also indicate a slight change of style.

‘Casualty of War’ is more of a romance than a mystery story. It is set in my home village at a time when it was just that, before it was expanded to almost join up with the two small towns on either side. Although unnamed, it will be easily identified by anyone from the Teesside area of Cleveland in North Yorks.

‘The Othona Valediction’ is set around the small Saxon chapel of St Peter’s on the Wall, at Bradwell-on-Sea in Essex, and also the Othona Community. For anyone who wishes to know more of the history of the chapel, it can be found by looking on Google. A link to the Community can be found on my website.

The third story, ‘Winterfest’, once again follows the actions of DI Andrew Farthing and his sergeant, Penny Collingwood. Stories about them have appeared in all 3 of my previous books.

I am indebted to Kevin Bruce for the picture of St Cedd’s in moonlight, which is the cover picture.

All characters in the stories are fictional and not based on any real people, with just three exceptions. A story set in the Othona Community couldn’t be written without mentioning its founder, Norman Motley.  Martin and Tim, who are also mentioned in the text (with their consent), will be known to many who read this.

As always, my thanks to Wendy for all her work in putting this book together.

John Hardy

Sedella, Málaga, Spain

August 2015




Murder in the Marshes

The body of a young woman was discovered yesterday by members of a bird watchers’ group, near their hut on the Essex marshes at Bradwell-on-Sea. The young woman, as yet unidentified, was said by police to have been shot. They are treating the incident as one of murder, and have appealed for anyone who may have any knowledge of the incident to contact the police at their Southminster station. The incident occurred sometime the previous day, near the ancient Saxon church of St Peter’s on the Wall.......


I came across the yellowing newspaper cutting a few days ago, as I was clearing out my possessions, detritus of many decades, prior to going on what will be my final journey. The date at the head of the old cutting, from the Evening Standard, was May 5th 1956, nearly sixty years ago. I am an old man now, over 90, and am riddled with pain, with not long left to live. I have been clearing out my house, throwing out junk, passing some more useful things to friends and family, prior to going into a hospice near Chelmsford to end my days. A friend is coming to take me in his car the short distance from where I live, in Witham in Essex, to the hospice. On the way he is kindly going to go on a huge detour to Bradwell, so that I can pay one last visit to the chapel there, the one mentioned in the old newspaper clipping, to say my last goodbyes to the place, which has featured largely in my life.

I found the article, yellowing and faded, in an ancient shoebox, amid old photos and letters from a long past era of my life. It was the only thing of any value in the box, and has brought back many memories of a time I have long buried in the depths of my mind. Traumatic events. After reading it, I wrote out the events of that day, together with a summary of my life up till then. Just as I told them to Cedric all those years ago. Now on reading it once again, waiting for my friend, the long buried incidents of that time flood back again, unwelcome, disturbing, yet as vivid now as if they happened yesterday. I fold the paper up once again, and put it into my wallet together with my notes. I will keep them with me to the end, perhaps add the details of this last journey, so that when I am gone the truth of that murder, and of my early life, can be made known to anyone who is still interested.

Meanwhile, I sit and wait for my friend to come in his car, to take me on this last journey, deluged in memories of that time. As I sit, my mind wanders and I am back at the time of that fateful day.

It had been a fine warm spring day, that day in May 1956, and I am sitting in the old Saxon church, once cathedral of St Cedd, though I knew nothing of that then. I am hot, agitated and out of breath from running, and have come inside the building seeking shelter, and a respite from the events of the afternoon.

The door to the old building had been unlocked, and once inside with the door closed behind me, I am overcome with a feeling of peace and stillness. There is an atmosphere I can’t describe, a feeling, almost a presence, of serenity. Alien to all I have known in my life up till then. It is a strange building, stone-built with just three small windows and a high tiled roof, supported by large timber trusses. There are a few benches set out facing what I took to be a wooden altar, over which on the wall behind hung a cross. A rather stylised affair of red and blue on which a figure is hanging.

I make my way to one of the benches and sit down facing the altar and cross, and close my eyes. I have never really been in a church before or prayed in my life. This building, though, I recognise as a church, and I think that now I am praying as I sit. Or perhaps I am just beginning to come to terms with it, to renounce and disclaim the recent events. Whatever it is, I go into a sort of trance, and only come to when I hear the heavy door open and close, and soft footsteps approach. Then someone sits on the bench next to me. I turn to look at him, for it is a man, and he smiles at me. He is a strange figure in a coarse brown cloak and sandals. He has a shaved head with a fringe of hair all round the edge of the bald patch. I take him to be a monk.

“Welcome, stranger,” he says.

“Are you a monk? Do you live round here?” I ask him. I am worried that he might have heard the shooting. I’m not sure if I should be afraid of him or not. If I should do anything to stop him remembering me, describing me to the police. But I know that even I, with my past record of violence, could not do anything of a brutal nature in a peaceful place such as this.

“I am a brother, yes, and I abide here near the cathedral.”

I’m not sure of this reply. Presumably a brother was a monk of some sort. But could this old chapel be a cathedral?

“What is your What group, is it faction, of monks, brothers, do you come from?” I am, I know, talking nonsense, but the old fellow just smiles and answers.

“My name is Cedric, and I am of the Celtic brethren, followers of Cedd, who built this cathedral. Now, tell me how you came here. What you seek.”

I feel a great need to tell this strange little man the story of my life so far.

Just then, the doorbell rang, woke me from my reverie and broke my flow or recollections. It was my friend, come to take me back to Bradwell, to St Peter’s where I had my meeting with Cedric, and then on to the hospice in Chelmsford.

Soon we were in the car and driving out of Witham, over the A12 and on to Maldon. There we stopped at a pub for a midday snack. This was part of the day out organised by my friend. A treat, so that my last journey was not just a quick ride from my ordinary everyday life to my final resting place. Given my condition and painful guts, I could not eat or drink much, but could enjoy a small glass of wine and a cheese sandwich. I could also enjoy the experience of sitting at a table in the small garden at the rear of the pub, watching the world go by. My early life came back to me as we sat and ate and drank. The life I told to Brother Cedric in the chapel all those years ago.

I was born in 1928 and then brought up in North Ormesby, on Teesside. It was a rough area, and by the time I was 12 and the war had broken out, I was already out of control and running wild on the streets. My father was killed at Dunkirk, and by the end of the war I was, at 17, well into the local gangs. Black marketeering, petty robbery and gang warfare were then the main part of my late teens and early 20’s. I was fortunate not to end up in jail or with a criminal record. I finally got a job at the steelworks when I was in my mid 20’s, and settled down for a few years. Then when I was 32, in 1954, my marriage split up and I lost my job.

My most serious crime came shortly after, when I robbed a post office in Eston and, with over a hundred pounds in my pocket, took a train to London. I remember at this point in my tale looking at the small figure of the monk beside me, expecting him to show some sign of shock or disgust, perhaps even of anger, but he just stared at me with his clear blue eyes, I remember the eyes clearly, a slight smile on his lips.

“Go on, my son,” he said, in his quiet mild voice. “What next?”

So I told him how I had met Ida shortly after I got off the train at King’s Cross. Ida was a few years younger than me, bottle-blonde, brassy and beautiful. She was also a prostitute. I didn’t know this when she took me back to her flat and into her bed. Next day, she introduced me to Steve, who she said was her friend. It was much later that I discovered he was also her pimp. She had listened to my story and taken me in, as she and Steve were looking for a rough, tough character to do a job for them. And I fitted the bill. I didn’t know this, of course, at the time, and only worked out what was going on on the day I met Cedric.

After living together for a few weeks, Ida said we should go out one day for a picnic. So we borrowed Steve’s car and drove to Bradwell, on the Essex coast. Here we parked the car and walked down a track, past the chapel and out on to the edge of the marsh. We found a patch of grass and Ida opened her bag, which had sandwiches and bottles of beer in it. After our meal we made love, and then Ida opened her bag again. In it there was a gun, a revolver. I’d not handled a gun before and Ida showed me how it worked.

When I reached this part of the story, the daylight was going fast and the chapel becoming quite dark. In the corner of the room was a metal candelabra. It stood about six feet high and had a circular metal band at its top, with about a dozen candle holders on it. There were only three of these with candles in them, and they were well burnt down, but I went across to it and, striking a match, lit them to give some light to the building. When I had reached the point in my story where Ida and I made love after the picnic, I had been hesitant describing these events to Brother Cedric. Monks, I thought, might not want to hear about such things, might even disapprove. He was unperturbed, however, simply nodding, smiling gently and saying, “Ah, yes. Copulation.” He was more disturbed, however, when I was describing Ida producing the gun, and showing me how it worked. She put on a pair of gloves before handling the weapon, and made me wear a pair also, explaining that we should leave no fingerprints on it.

Brother Cedric looked puzzled when I was explaining this, and kept muttering to himself, “Gun?” and “Fingerprints?” as if he didn’t understand the terms, as if they were words from a foreign language. I took this at the time to be a sign of his other worldliness. An innocence resulting from his life in an institution, removed from everyday life. After much muttering to himself, Cedric seemed to come back to normal and his brow cleared of his frown, and he nodded to himself. Smiling once more, he said the one word, “Weapon.”

“Yes,” I answered. “A gun, a revolver I think, but I have no knowledge of such things. But a weapon certainly.  A lethal one at that.”

The gun, at the time I was telling Cedric about it, was in Ida’s bag under the stool I was sitting on, and I debated getting it out and showing the monk what it looked like. Then I came to my senses and simply got on with my tale. I told him how I had been a violent man in the past, fighting in gangs in the northeast and recently in East London. Fighting with fists, broken bottles, knuckledusters, cudgels, bicycle chains, and even once or twice with razors or knives. But never with firearms. And never with intent to kill.

Ida, however, I went on, had wanted me to kill someone for Steve and herself. He was a member of a rival gang, a notorious and infamous East End criminal. He had a house near a village called Althorne, only a short distance away from Latchingdon. To get there would only mean a slight detour on our route back to London. When I refused, saying that I was no killer and would not use a gun for any reason at all, she became angry and tried to force me to take hold of it and practise using it. She tried all manner of means to get me to change my mind, from saying I owed it to her and Steve for taking me off the streets, using her sexual charms, offering money, wheedling and then when they all failed, anger. We struggled together, as she tried to force me to take the gun.

Suddenly, there was loud bang and the gun went off. With a cry, Ida fell back, blood oozing from a hole just under her naked breast. Horrified, I looked down at her body at my feet, nude, still, and obviously dead. I had killed her. I almost ran off then in a panic. Then, I pulled myself together.

I told Cedric how I hurriedly dressed, for all this had taken place shortly after our coupling on the grass after the picnic, and we were both totally bare. Then I pulled Ida’s body into the marshes, and put her clothes and the gun into the bag she had brought the food in and, still in a state of shock, had run along the edge of the marsh, past the birdwatchers’ hut and the small cottage next to it, and out into the nearby field. In this field was the chapel, and I had gone there seeking a temporary shelter. A place to rest, collect my thoughts and decide on my next move.

“Then, when I was sitting here, you came in,” I told the small monk, “and the rest you know.”

“As you describe it, my son,” brother Cedric replied, “it was an accident as much as anything. But you have led a violent and lawless life. It is time now to change. To settle down and start living a better life.”

But I knew nobody would believe it was an accident. I would be tried for murder. That is, if I was caught. But I had time. No one had heard the shot, not even the monk, who said his community was nearby. And Ida’s body was hidden and would not be found until tomorrow at the earliest. Then, she would not be easily identified as I had her clothes. In addition, I could get rid of the gun, which in any case did not have my fingerprints on it. So thinking, I must have dozed off, for when I once more became aware of my surroundings, it was night time, the candles had burnt out and Brother Cedric had gone. The chapel was not dark, however, as moonlight streamed in through one of the small windows, the beams falling on the figure on the cross. Quickly, I picked up the bag, went back up the track and drove back to London.

I had fallen asleep in the car, and only came awake as we arrived at Bradwell. Here my friend stopped at the Cricketers, a pub that is on the road to the chapel. This stop was also part of the treat devised by my friend. Over the years I have visited the Cricketers many times, from the first time when I came back to the village seeking Cedric, and during the many years while staying at the Community. In the pub I had a whisky, against my doctor’s advice. It would be my last chance before being cloistered in the hospice, no doubt then under the eyes of the nurses. When we left the pub, we went the short distance along the track to the Community. Once there, I told my friend I needed a few minutes on my own before getting out and meeting other people, and he left me and went to seek out the Warden, and other friends who were in the Community.

Once more, my thoughts went back to the events of 1956. When I reached London, I had stopped the car on the embankment and thrown the gun out into the Thames. Then I had gone back to Ida’s flat, packed my few belongings, and made my way to Liverpool Street station. I couldn’t go back to the northeast; neither could I stay in London, certainly not anywhere near Steve. When Ida was trying to persuade me to carry out the murder of the rival gang leader, she had tried to bribe me, not only with her body and her charms, but with £5000, which she said was the fee that Steve’s boss was willing to pay an assassin. This I found at the bottom of her bag, when I took out her clothes to leave at the flat. So I was once more on the move with such belongings as I possessed, and five thousand pounds. I was not willing to go too far, for I was determined to go back to Bradwell to seek out Brother Cedric as soon as I could. When, after the discovery of the body, all the inevitable hue and cry had died down.

That was how I ended up living and working in Witham. Over the years I got a job as a mechanic in a local garage, bought a house, married and had two children. Now my wife is dead, as I also soon will be. My son is married and living in Bristol with a family of his own. My daughter is also married with a family, and lives in Chelmsford. She has a very high-powered job and is always busy. That is why my friend and not her is driving me on this journey. Once I am settled in the hospice, she will come and visit to see that I am alright, and have everything I need. I look out of the car window at the collection of huts in the field next to where the car is parked. This is the Othona Community, and I remember my first visit just a few weeks after the murder, in July 1956. The camp in those days was very different; for one thing it was in the next field, a triangular piece of rough ground between the sea wall, a small coppice and the dyke. And it was much more primitive, just a few Nissan huts and two wooden buildings. There was also not a direct track from the farm to the camp, but a long rutted and uneven track that went round three sides of a square.

But I am getting ahead of myself. When I got off the train in Witham all those years ago, I was determined to change my life completely. The murder of Ida had brought me to my senses. I was a chastened, frightened and guilty person. Feelings that I have not ever fully overcome, despite the time that has passed and the amends I have tried to make. So I took digs and found a job in a garage and eventually, using the five thousand pounds as a foundation, was able to buy a house and become a family man.

First, however, I bought a motorbike and in the July went back to Bradwell to seek out Cedric.

I stopped at the Cricketers, the pub halfway between the village and St Peter’s, the old Saxon church. It was lunchtime and I went in to seek a sandwich, a pint and some information. There was a local at the bar, a farm worker, and we soon began chatting. I asked him if he knew of a monastery, or a religious community of monks who lived nearby, and who used St Cedd’s chapel.

“You’ll want the Othona Community,” he said. “Don’t know about any old monks or such, but they’re a queer old bunch. All sorts and types there. That’ll be the place. Go in at the farm at the end of the road on the left, and just follow the track. You can’t miss it. Or if you do, you’ll end up in the estuary.”

So I did just that, and found myself in the middle of a rundown collection of Nissan and wooden huts, and bell tents. There were people everywhere, but none of them looked like Cedric, or like any kind of monk. But they were friendly and took me into their dining hut, and plied me with tea and questions. None, however, had heard of a monk called Cedric, or of the existence of any monastery in the area. It was and always has been a mystery that I have never solved. They took me to meet the leader of the Community, Norman Motley, who had founded it some years before, just after the end of the war. He was a shortish, plump man with tousled hair, wearing long, baggy khaki shorts and a torn khaki shirt. He was, they told me, an Anglican vicar. But he too had no knowledge of a Brother Cedric. He did, however, lecture me for a long time on a St Cedd, a Celtic monk who had built the chapel on the site of, and with the stones from, a Roman fort that had been there previously. As this had happened in 654 AD, however, it was no help to me in my search for the mysterious Cedric, interesting though it all was in its own way.

Since then, of course, I have visited the Community many times and become one of its members. I got to know Norman well over the years, and was saddened by his death some years ago. Since moving to Witham, I have lived a good life and tried in many ways to atone for my early life. All this, however, is a different story, and not related to the account of my life of crime up to the murder, and my meeting with Cedric. Which happened not far from where I am now sitting in my friend’s car.

I have written all this down over the last few days and as I sit here, I put the final words to the account, telling of my finding of the newspaper cutting and my drive down here today. I will put them both in my wallet, and then when I am gone, my daughter can find them and do with them what she will. At least I will have set out my part in those events of so long ago.

I get out of the car and, leaning heavily on my stick, make my way across the field to the far corner, where I go briefly through the wood and then out into the field where the chapel sits. Nobody saw me leave the car and so I am quite alone, as I make my way to the door set in the far wall. For that I am grateful.

As I did then so I do now, I open the door and look at the inside of the old Saxon church. It is little changed. The altar is different and now sits away from the wall and not up against it. But the cross, candelabra and benches are, I think, the same.

I hobble down the aisle and sit as I did then on one of the benches. My guts are on fire, and the pain is worse than it has ever been. The cancer is eating me up alive. I know that this is probably my own fault. Wine, whisky and cheese, all against the advice of my doctor. But I don’t care. This is my last taste of normal or near normal life. However, the same feelings of fear, guilt, apprehension and self-loathing that assailed me then, and have never, ever, completely gone away, still hang over my head like a cloud. I’m tired and I close my eyes. But unlike that first time, I know that this time I am praying.

I am aware of the door opening and then closing, and hear the soft footfall of two people coming close. They sit either side of me. I open my eyes and look to my left and am unsurprised to see brother Cedric sitting there, smiling his gentle smile. He is unchanged. The high-laced sandals, brown cloak, and what I now know is his tonsured head, are just as they were when I first met him.

“Brother Cedric,” I say. “Where have you been? I’ve been looking for you for years.”

“Hush, my son. I have brought my Abbott, Brother Cedd, to meet you.”

I turn to my right and see a similar figure, but sterner, older, and with an air of authority about him, unlike the more placid Cedric.

“Cedric has told me much about you,” Cedd says. “We have come to find you and take you back with us to our monastery. I believe you have been seeking it.”
      “For years,” I tell him.

“So now we have come to take you there. To take you home.”

Both monks take one of my hands and I close my eyes once more. A feeling of peace comes over me. All my feelings of guilt and fear that I have carried for years are slipping away. The pain that has racked my body for the past months is going too. I get up, and with Cedric and Cedd holding me between them, leave the chapel. I am going home with them.

The police sergeant is sitting in the dining hut of the Othona Community, drinking a welcome cup of tea. The doctor and the ambulance have both departed, taking the body of the old man who was discovered slumped on one of the benches in the chapel. It all seems straightforward. He was suffering from terminal and inoperable cancer, and was on his way to a hospice to see out his days.  Well, the sergeant thinks, his bed won’t be needed now.

There are three men with the sergeant. One was the friend of the dead man, who was apparently taking him from his home in Witham to the hospice in Chelmsford. With a long detour via Bradwell, and which also included, it seemed, stops in two pubs. The sergeant wondered if it had been advisable for a man in his condition to go on a pub crawl, but then decided that if it had been him, he would have been happy to do the same. May as well have some pleasure before the final curtain.

The other two men have told the sergeant that their names are Tim and Martin.

Tim is shortish and stocky, and is apparently the Warden of the Community. Martin is tall and a German, who speaks almost fluent English with a slight American accent. He is on the staff of the Community in some not quite explained capacity, but apparently he spends most summers at the camp and has done for many years. All three were long-standing friends of the dead man. It is all a bit outside of the sergeant’s experience and comfort zone. He knows nothing of churches, or religious or any other sort of communities. He had, however, been totally overawed by the chapel, sensing an atmosphere he was unsure of and was almost ill at ease with. He was glad to get out, and wanted now to the leave the place as soon as he could.

In front of him on the table are the two documents found in the dead man’s wallet. An old faded and yellowing newspaper cutting, and a neat handwritten document, which is the account of the early life of the deceased. The sergeant has read them both, and is unnerved by them. It is clearly, he thinks, not his day. He clears his throat and says, “Thank you, gentlemen, for your help in this matter,” and then stops, clearly at a loss for words.

“At least it was quick and peaceful,” Tim ventures. “He was in much pain, you know. It really is probably for the best. In the end.”

“At least you have the solving of the old crime,” Martin says encouragingly to the obviously unhappy sergeant. Martin is a born peacemaker, and clearly wants to cheer up the policeman.

“Well,” says the sergeant. Then he seems to become agitated, excited. “Ah...but, but.” He gestures to the two pieces of paper. “But how do I explain to the Chief Constable that her father was a criminal, a thief and a murderer?”





If you have enjoyed this story, you may like ‘Malaga Mysteries’ by John Hardy, available from Amazon or direct from Matador with the following link:





That winter it was so cold that snow lay on the beach. For a village facing the North Sea, where the salt air usually cleared the streets within a short time, the sight was both singular and ethereal. On that Sunday afternoon, I had wrapped up warm and walked down to the water’s edge and stood a solitary figure, fascinated at the sight. Behind me the sand, sandbanks and slipway were coated white, whilst at my feet even the wet sand was covered by a thin almost translucent layer of half-melted snow, which dissolved in front of the advancing gentle waves, to re-settle as the water drained back. 

I turned my back on the light breeze, blowing from the north, and walked along the edge of the sea towards the distant outline of Huntcliff, clear and white against the dark sky. The strange muffled silence of the February afternoon was broken by the soft lapping of waves and harsh eerie cries of seagulls. After walking about a quarter of a mile, as far as the old church on the sandbanks to my right, I turned to retrace my steps back to the village along the wide deserted beach. The light breeze was now in my face, bringing with it dense snowflakes which obscured my view. 

During the war, the seashore had been out of bounds, guarded by scaffolding and barbed wire against an invasion, but was now once again open and had become a favourite haunt of mine. As I walked, I was puzzled that I had the place to myself and that no-one else had ventured out to witness the unique sight of a snow-covered beach. Nearing the cluster of fishing cobbles drawn up on the sand at the end of the slipway I saw, through the curtain of snowflakes, that another person was standing at the water’s edge, on almost the same spot where I had been earlier. He, for I took it to be a man, was wearing a heavy coat and trousers with a scarf high round his neck and a black sou’wester.  I had assumed it was a man, as back in 1947 women seldom, if ever, wore trousers, especially in a small village in     northern England. As I drew nearer, however, the figure turned  to greet me and even though I could see no more of her face than the eyes, mouth and a few stray hairs escaping from  her hat, there was no doubt that it was a young woman, not very much older than me, and extremely attractive.  Although it was many years ago now, I can remember her first words as though they had been spoken yesterday. 

“Hello, isn’t this wonderful? It’s something unique, why aren’t there more people out enjoying it?”

She spoke with a light Tyneside accent and her eyes sparkled with pleasure.  I replied that it was probably too cold, but that I had been there for over an hour.

“Yes, I know, I saw you from my window and decided to come out as well.” 

Her answer surprised me. The village in those days had only a few hundred inhabitants and everyone knew everybody else, at least by sight. She must have seen my surprise, for she grinned and explained that she had only recently moved into a flat in Cliff Terrace, just above where we were standing.  We stood together for over half an hour chatting as the afternoon wore on, the light slowly fading around us. I learned that her name was Elena and that she was twenty, just two years older than me, but already a widow. She had married a soldier five years her senior when she was just seventeen. They had had only three weeks together before he was sent to Burma, from where a short time later she received the news that he was ‘missing presumed dead’.  She was working at the time as a typist and living with her mother in South Shields. Her husband had been a lieutenant in the Royal Engineers and eventually she had received a small pension. This, together with a better paid job in Redcar with a firm of solicitors, enabled her to leave home and rent the flat where she was now living.  She had needed to leave home as there were too many memories, she told me. 

Despite the proximity of our ages, she was much more mature than me, girls of course mature earlier than boys, and she had already been married and was living away from home, so how could it be otherwise? However, I was able to tell her about myself, albeit hesitantly. I told her my name, Robert, that I was eighteen, worked for the local estate and was studying Estate Management and Surveying by postal course. My parents, I explained, lived on Redcar Road, to the rear of her flat, and my father was a bank manager in Saltburn. Finally, I told her that two years before I had had an accident when a car hit the bicycle I was riding, breaking my leg, with the result that I now walked with a limp and had failed my medical for National Service. She looked at me wide-eyed and said fervently that that was a good thing, and I should keep as far away from the army as possible. I remembered her husband then and became tongue-tied with remorse. Seeing my discomfort, she suddenly laughed and told me not to be silly. It was all years ago now and she had been so young when she married, “all of a rush, before he went abroad”, and that now, looking back, she did not think she had really loved him, but had been rather beguiled by the drama of the situation. 

We had been getting colder and wetter by the minute as evening drew in, but I was so desperate not to end our  encounter that I would have gladly stayed all night, frozen, on the beach, rather than go home. She, however, shivered and turned to walk up the beach and I followed, at a loss as to how to prolong our meeting and far too shy to suggest seeing her again. I was therefore delighted that, when we reached the top of the slipway and she was turning  back to walk along the cliff top to her flat, she said,  “You must be cold and wet, I know I am, why not come home  with me for a cup of tea?” 

Gratefully, I mumbled a reply and followed her to a house about halfway along the terrace. She unlocked the door and led me upstairs to the first floor. The stairs opened into a largish living room with a bay window overlooking the slipway and seashore. It must have been from here, I realised, that she had seen my lonely vigil on the beach, now however it was too dark to see anything and she quickly drew the curtains. There was a small coal fire in the grate, and she threw on a couple of small pieces of timber which had obviously been gleaned from the sands. Telling me to take off my coat and shoes and dry them beside the fire, she disappeared down the corridor. Sometime later she returned, saying that the kettle was on, and carrying a plate of biscuits. She had taken off her wet slacks and coat and changed into a warm woollen dress revealing a nicely rounded figure. Her olive-skinned face was framed by shiny black hair which hung down to her shoulders, showing a beauty only glimpsed at when muffled by scarf and hat.  If I had been attracted before, I now became completely captivated, but also overawed and even more incapable of expressing my feelings. The gulf between us seemed to me more like twenty years than just two. We had tea and biscuits in front of the fire, and then she showed me her flat, which consisted of the main room we were in, a small bathroom, separate toilet, kitchen and a bedroom at the rear equal in size to the living room. 

When we returned to the sitting room, we sat in front of the fire talking. I learned that she was from South Shields and that her father had died many years before. Her mother was Italian, which no doubt explained her colouring and jet black hair, and had a strong and domineering character. This had caused her older brother and sister to leave home some years earlier and speeded up her own departure. I told her I had my first examination in March, just a few weeks away, and more about myself than I had ever divulged to anyone.  I had been unaware of the time passing, and was surprised when she said it was ten o’clock, and that it was time I was leaving, as she had to be up for work in the morning and was going to bed. When I reached home, my parents were sitting reading and showed no surprise at my late return. Quite often, I was out for most of the day at weekends and would often stay for a meal at one friend’s house or another. I made myself a sandwich and hot drink then went to bed, lying awake for hours going over the afternoon’s events. 

The following week passed slowly with work every day and studying in the evenings. On Saturday, I went down to the beach but could see no sign of life in Elena’s flat. It was the same on Sunday, and I was much too hesitant to go up and knock on the door. It would have been to no avail, I found out later, as she had travelled by an early train to York to stay the weekend with her sister, returning late on Sunday. 

The following week took on the same pattern as the previous one, except that on the Wednesday night I took a break from my studies to go to the pictures with Barry, a friend who was due to leave for Aldershot on the Thursday morning to  start his National Service. 

The cinema was in the old Miners’ Institute, half of which was now a billiard hall and the other half the picture house. Barry and I went into the large entrance hall and joined the queue buying tickets. The woman in front of us turned round on hearing our voices and smiled. My heart gave a great leap as I recognised her as Elena.

“Hello, Robert,” she greeted us.  “What a nice surprise.”

She always called me Robert, never Bob like all my friends and my father. The only other person to use my full name was my mother, who referred to me as ‘our Robert’. With Barry present, I was able to overcome my feelings of inadequacy and return her greeting, and then introduce them.

 In those days, the cinema charged a few pence for the front rows downstairs, sixpence for the main area and nine pence for the rear seats under the balcony. We always sat in the ninepenny seats. Upstairs it cost a shilling, and was the realm of those we considered to be ‘grown up’ and staid.  After a few minutes in the queue, Elena reached the ticket office and asked for a seat upstairs. At that moment, I decided that it was time I too grew up and in my turn asked for a shilling ticket, simultaneously kicking Barry on the shin to still his surprise and, by a facial scowl, stop any comment from the girl in the kiosk, who was a young woman of my own age and Barry’s girlfriend. Barry in his turn also bought a ticket for the balcony, and received instructions from his girlfriend to “save a seat next to him on the back row” for her, she would join us as usual when she could leave her duties.   

Elena was waiting at the bottom of the stairs for us and we went up together. She then, with a smile at Barry, led the way to the back row at the top of the balcony. Once seated in the warm, we took off our coats and put them on a spare seat, and I became aware of the presence of Elena’s arm next to mine. The supporting film began, one of those  featuring  an American band which were common in those days, and as it did, I felt Elena snuggle close up to me. After a while, she turned her head and told me softly to move my arm as it was in the way. I lifted it over her head and placed it along the seat behind her, whilst she at the same time nestled up close, and I became aware of the swell of her breast against my side. Emboldened, I brought my arm around her shoulders and put my hand on her waist. I can honestly say that I was unaware of the film or the Pathe News which followed it. 

The lights came up and we broke apart. During the short interval I noticed that Sheila, Barry’s girlfriend, had joined him and we chatted for a while. Then the lights dimmed once more, and the main feature began which, apart from it being a western, I remember nothing about at all.  As soon as it was dark, Elena and I resumed our previous position and then she gently took my hand and placed it on her breast, sending a jolt like an electric shock through my whole body. By the end of the show we were certainly, as they say today, an item. As we left the cinema, I asked her to come to the Saturday dance with me in Saltburn. Her reply both disappointed and relieved me.

“I’d love to, Robert, but I’ve promised my mother I’d go up to Shields to see her this weekend. Next week, perhaps?” 

This respite would give me the weekend to break off with my current girlfriend, Jean, who I had arranged to meet at the dance.  Jean was a year younger than me and lived at Brotton a few miles away. We had been seeing each other for about six months, but her mother would not let her go out with boys, and we could only meet from time to time by prior arrangement, or through dates fixed for us by a friend of hers who lived in Saltburn. Whilst we liked each other well enough, the relationship had always been limited by the situation, and by Jean’s fear that if her mother got to hear of it she would not be allowed out. 

The next couple of months went by in a whirl. I saw Elena once or twice a week, she would permit no more because of my studies, then I was away in Leeds for a week sitting my  exam, and after that it was Easter and, as usual, my parents  and I went to visit my uncle in London. 

The first Saturday after our return, I went to visit Elena and a new phase of our relationship began. It was just after lunch, and she was in her flat drinking a cup of coffee as I came in. She stood up to greet me and we kissed. On the few occasions we had met before my exams, on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon, we would go for walks along the beach or on the sand dunes. Today, however, she took me by the hand and led me into her bedroom. 

The difference in our levels of maturity had never been as obvious as that afternoon. She had to lead me all the way as this was completely outside of my experience, whilst she was a married, if widowed, woman. I could no more have gone into a chemists to buy contraceptives than I could have initiated the events of that afternoon. She, however, saw to everything. 

The next few weeks went by, for me, in a wondrous blur. I was completely head over heels in love with her, as I think she was with me. Fortunately, we were able to keep our affair secret, as in those days sex outside of marriage, especially by someone of my age, was not common and very much frowned upon. A secret from everyone, that is, except my mother, who I realised was aware of what was going on but not sure what to do about it. She referred to Elena as ‘that woman’ but was polite to her on the few occasions I took her home for tea.  My father on the other hand was completely taken with her and called her a ‘champion lass’. 

It was early in June that things changed. One Monday evening, as I left the Estate Office behind the church, Elena was waiting for me in the lane outside. This had never happened before, but I was delighted to see her. She came straight to the point as was her way.

“Robert, love, can you get a few days off at the weekend?”

For her, she was strangely tense and agitated, but it was not until the following week that looking back I realised why. I had several days’ holiday owing and said it would be no problem as we weren’t particularly busy. She insisted I go straight back in and arrange with the Estate’s secretary, who was still in the office, to take Friday, Monday and Tuesday off. 

She arranged everything, as usual, and we were soon booked up to go off for a long weekend in the Lake District, staying at Keswick. My mother was not happy, but as I was now nearly nineteen, could do nothing about it. 

We travelled by train to Darlington, and then by bus over the Pennines through Alston and Penrith, and arrived at Keswick late on the Friday afternoon. We checked in at the small hotel under Elena’s married name, as she had her marriage certificate with her should there be any questions asked. In those days, just after the war, unmarried couples were not welcome in most places. There were no problems, however, as I believe Mrs Jones, who ran the hotel, thought we were newlyweds. For me it was a magical weekend, and if Elena was somewhat troubled, it was only with hindsight that I was aware of it. 

On the Sunday morning, we took a boat across Derwent Water to the jetty at Ashness, and walked up the steep hill to Ashness Bridge. From here, we had a clear view of the lake below and the hills beyond. We walked beside the stream away from the road into a wood on its bank. Soon the road and the farm just a few fields away were lost from sight, and we sat in a clearing beside the stream to eat our picnic. After eating, we lay on the grass in the hot June sun listening to the birdsong all around. 

Some indication of my confidence and new maturity, since my meeting with Elena, can be measured by the fact that it was not her who initiated our lovemaking that afternoon. Rolling towards her, I began by unbuttoning her blouse and then slowly undressing her until she lay naked on the turf beside me.  All through that long sultry afternoon we made love, until tired and sated we made our way back down to the lake and returned to Keswick by boat. 

When I finished work on the Thursday, after our return, I walked to Cliff Terrace to call on Elena. I had determined to ask her to marry me, despite my age and only earning two pounds a week. With her job and pension, we would manage somehow until I qualified and could expect a good salary.  Her door was locked, and as I knocked on it the lady from the downstairs flat came out and handed me a letter. I have it to this day, worn and creased now from constant handling and reading, but in fact I can still quote it fully and accurately without the need to read it at all. 

It began “My darling Robert”, and went on to say that just over a week before she had been contacted by the authorities to say that her husband was still alive. He had been found just after the war finished in Burma, in a poor state, having been ill-treated and tortured by the Japanese. He had no identification on him and was suffering from a total memory loss. After months of treatment, he had begun to remember certain things and a short time ago had said his name. To check this, his old regiment was contacted and his identity confirmed, and then she had been informed. Despite her love for me, which she said was true, she felt it was her duty to go back to him and make a home for him. She finished by saying that she was heartbroken but sure in her resolve, and wished me luck for the future. 

Life goes on of course, though it was many months before I could believe it. Just over two years later, when I was 21, I married Jean and we had a happy year together until she died giving birth to our daughter, Helen. I sold the house Jean and I had bought, and moved back in with my parents, so that my mother could bring up my daughter. After two such short-lived and tragic relationships, I could not face becoming involved too closely with anyone else and remained single. 

Some years later in 1962, when Helen was eleven, I received quite a shock. That Saturday morning I was cutting the lawn in front of the house, when I was aware of someone at the garden gate. I looked up and my heart almost stopped beating, for there looking over the gate at me was Elena. The same eyes, mouth, hair, body even, but it could not be Elena, for instead of ageing over the years this was a girl in her early teens. She opened the gate and came down the path towards me. 

“Excuse me,” she said, with the same light Tyneside accent I remembered so well. “Excuse me, I’m looking for a Mr Robert Dundass, he used to live here. Have you any idea where I may find him?” 

Recovering my composure, I smiled back at her. “I’m Robert Dundass. Who are you?”  I think I knew then what her reply would be.

“I’m Roberta,” she began. “Elena’s daughter.”

Roberta, I thought, named after me just as I’d called my daughter Helen after Elena.  She went on to explain that her father had died just a few months before. He had never fully recovered from his treatment during the war and had suffered one illness after another, until he had finally died from pneumonia. A few days before, whilst talking with her mother, Roberta had learnt that since his torture by the Japanese her father had been impotent. As she had been born in 1948, and he had been captured in the last year of the war, she had soon worked out that he could not be her true father, and had challenged Elena as to the identity of her real one. Elena had told her of me and so here she was. 

I was overcome with the news, and went up to her giving her a hug and a kiss, my mind going back to the events of years ago. I kept my arm around her and led her towards the house.

“Come in and meet your half-sister Helen and your grandparents,” I began. “They’ll be delighted to meet you once they’ve got over the shock.”

I paused, standing still on the garden path, still thinking back over the years.  Elena had been so careful with her precautions to make sure she didn’t get pregnant. Then, I remembered the one time we had not been careful, when we went off by boat for a picnic, leaving everything else behind us at the hotel.  I turned back to my new daughter.

“You were conceived on a beautiful sunny afternoon by the side of a small beck, high on a Cumberland hillside near Ashness Bridge,” I told her, gently steering her once more towards the house. 

“I know,” she smiled at me. “My mother said the same and I went there first before coming to find you. It’s a beautiful spot.” 

All that was over forty years ago now. My parents were delighted with their new granddaughter, and Helen and Roberta were friends from the start. They still are after all these years, even though they are both married with children of their own, Helen living in Middlesbrough and Roberta in Whitby.  They still visit us regularly with the grandchildren, both myself and my wife being now well into our eighties. Later that day, after I had taken Roberta into the house to meet her new family, I drove up to South Shields to her home and asked Elena to marry me, just as I had intended all those years ago.  She needed no persuading, just as I’m sure she wouldn’t have then, if things had been different.       






The latest book of short stories by John Hardy, ‘Twisted Tales’ is now available as both an e-Book and paperback from Amazon






The Assistant Chief Constable (Resources) sighed as he leaned back in his chair, studying the rota given to him by his civilian assistant (Human Resources). What had happened to Christmas and New Year? He thought. ‘Winter Fest’, what sort of name was that? An innovation by the new Chief Constable, who was into this sort of thing of course. And just what were ‘Human Resources’, what was wrong with personnel? He was glad his retirement date was fast approaching. In fact, he was doing the new Chief Constable an injustice. The CC had had the term imposed on him by an outspoken member of the police committee.

He scrawled his signature at the bottom, and put the list into his out tray for his PA (“Secretary,” he muttered to himself) to distribute to the relevant sections. That was why

DI Andrew Farthing came to have two weeks holiday over the Christmas period that year, leaving his sergeant on duty for much of the time.

Several weeks later, therefore, DI Farthing was on the plane to Málaga as it neared its destination, having passed over the high Sierra de Guadarrama and then gone to the west of Madrid. The first could be clearly seen by the passengers looking out of the small windows on the left of the gangway, the ridges and lakes dwarfed and shrunk by the height of the plane. The second was unseen in the haze on the horizon. Soon they would be over Córdoba, their journey nearly completed. 

Andrew Farthing sighed and settled back in his seat, sipping his whisky and soda, inwardly contemplating the strangeness of life. He had not been on holiday for years, and now here he was going away for Christmas and the New Year, just a few weeks after returning from a previous stay in Spain in September. His first visit had been initiated by a series of events which included a break up with his wife, a bad time at work and a general state of depression. On that holiday, he had met with and become quite close to a young woman who he had met by chance, the daughter of an escaped convict.  The invitation from both her and her mother, for him to come out and spend Christmas with them, had not been unexpected, having been hinted at before he returned the previous time, but he had considered carefully before accepting. On the one hand, Molly was the daughter of an escaped prisoner, a bank robber, and he was a detective inspector with the force who was still, theoretically, looking for him. However, she had only been thirteen when she had last seen her father and in no way could be thought to be associated with him. In any case, Andrew was ninety nine percent sure that her father was dead. The problem here was that he was also fairly certain that her mother had killed him, and then concealed the body, and was also, probably, living off the proceeds of his crimes.  All these were only assumptions on his part, indeed as far as he was aware no one else knew of the identity of Molly’s mother except her sister. And even if all his suspicions were true, he did not know how to confirm them, or even if the Spanish authorities would act on his information without any facts to substantiate them. 

On the other hand, he did not really want to divulge any of his speculations to either the British or Spanish police forces, or disturb the life of the women. He believed they had already suffered enough at the hands of Molly’s father, a violent and brutal man, a killer, who in his eyes did not deserve any consideration at all. Most of all, he wanted to maintain his relationship with Molly, despite her being only 20 whilst he was 34. 

“That’s no difference at all,” Molly had insisted last September, just after they had first met. 

He had therefore accepted the invitation, and managed to get a seat on a plane to Málaga, which would arrive two days before Christmas Eve. Getting leave from the force had been no problem either as he had not taken any for years and had worked over the last two Christmases. He had no concerns about leaving his sergeant, Penny Collingwood, in charge.

Sitting in the departure lounge with the other passengers, he had studied them and, to pass the time, decided to play a game with himself. He thought that like himself most of the passengers would be returning in either a week or two weeks’ time, after the holiday period. A few would not, like the Spanish family opposite him, who were obviously returning from a trip to London. A proportion of them might therefore be on the same flight as him on the return trip in two weeks’ time. He therefore decided to try and memorise as many as possible, and then try to spot them on the way back. All his life he had been good at this sort of thing, ever since he had developed the skill playing ‘Kim’s Game’ in the scouts.  It was one of the things that made him a good detective; and was also of course why he had recognised Jane, Molly’s mother, during that first trip to Spain in September. 

Sitting on one side of the departure lounge, he studied as many faces as he could, discounting any he thought were returning to Spain. He then got up and wandered to the opposite side, and scrutinised those on the other line of seats. On the plane he continued his game, by going to and fro to the toilets several times. 

Now the aircraft was nearing its destination and he sat back in his seat, sipping his drink, anticipating seeing Molly again. His thoughts were interrupted by the Captain’s voice over the intercom. 

“We are only a few minutes away from Málaga, but I’ve just been informed that we have been stacked, and that there will be a delay of about twenty minutes before we land.”

A wave of sighs and muttering broke out in the plane, and the stewardesses came down the aisle to calm the passengers down. After only a few moments, the Captain’s voice came over the airways once more. 

“Well, that’s a strange thing, it’s never happened to me before, I’ve just been given the all clear to go straight in and land.”

The middle-aged man sitting next to Andrew, who had quietly sat reading during the whole flight, turned to him with a smile and said, “I expected that. My daughter is married to a Spaniard and lives over here, I’m going to spend a month with them.”  Cross him off my list of faces, thought Andrew.  “Her husband is the senior air traffic controller in Málaga and he knows I’m on this flight. He’ll have given the order to allow us to land straight away.” 

Almost immediately, the plane began its descent and landed smoothly on the runway. When they came to a stop and began to disembark and enter the airport bus that would take them to the terminal, Andrew noticed a man in a smart uniform go up to his silent companion, shake hands, and drive him away in a private car. His son-in-law, Andrew assumed. 

About half an hour later, after being taken by the bus to the terminal and retrieving their baggage, the passengers began to stream into the arrivals hall. Outside the exit doors beyond the customs area was a square space surrounded by railings, behind which thronged those meeting the new arrivals. Friends and families jostled with tour guides and taxi drivers holding aloft signs. ‘Abacus Tours’; ‘Mr Kettle’;  ‘Avenue Cars’; ‘Mr and Mrs Capping’; all pushing forward to catch the eyes of those entering the hall. Andrew gazed around and spotted Molly who was jumping up and down, waving and shouting to attract his attention. 

Just over an hour later they arrived at Tejedos, the small village in the Axarquía, where Molly and her mother lived. All the way there, as she drove, Molly had chattered on to him about the plans for the festivities. 

“We have our Christmas meal on Christmas Eve here, we do things the Spanish way .....Christmas evening itself we’ll go to eat in a restaurant, probably in Nerja or Torre del Mar.......On New Year’s Eve we’ll go into the village, to the Salon, that’s the church hall, for a village party. There’s a free bar, a ‘party bag’, with fancy hats, streamers and so on, then there’s champagne and twelve lucky grapes for twelve o’clock.  You have to eat a grape on every chime of the clock ..............We don’t give presents on Christmas Day here, but on the  Día de los Reyes, that’s the Three Kings, twelfth night. But because you won’t be here then, a great pity as there’s super processions in Torre and Antequera, anyway because you won’t be here, we’ll give you your presents on Christmas Day .......” 

Andrew had agonised over his presents, involving his sergeant in their choice. 

“Help me, Penny, what can I get for a middle-aged Englishwoman and her daughter? I’m spending Christmas with them in Spain and want to get something suitable.” 

“So that’s why he came back from Málaga so revitalised,” Penny thought. “He found himself a girlfriend. Well good luck to him, he deserves some, and she’s a fortunate woman, whoever she is.”  Aloud she asked, “Tell me more about them, what they’re like, what are their interests, what do they do? And how much do you want to spend? What sort of present, intimate or just something general?” 

By his answers, especially his descriptions of the two women, their appearances and interests, she was able to not only help him choose his presents, but also to form quite an accurate picture of his relationship with them.  For Jane, Molly’s mother, they chose, after Andrew had described her love of and collection of antiques, a pair of old silver candlesticks that they discovered on a visit to an antique shop.  For Molly herself, Penny picked out a set of silver earrings and necklace with rubies set in. 

The festivities went well and largely as outlined by Molly during the car journey from the airport. During the holiday, the casual relationship between Andrew and Molly deepened into something more serious.  Between Christmas and New Year, on the Thursday morning, the three of them visited the weekly street market in Vélez-Málaga.  The day was pleasantly warm and sunny, and at about midday they went into a small bar, Cafeteria Ancalar, at the side of the street behind the stalls, for a coffee. Sitting at the bar, they could see the rest of the room reflected in the large mirror on the wall in front of them. Andrew became aware of a woman, of about fifty years of age, talking to a tall grey-haired man at one of the tables. It was one of the ‘faces’ he had memorised on his flight over. He was pleased with his skill and examined the pair who were engrossed in a serious conversation. Soon, however, his study was interrupted by his companions, who were chattering about their plans for New Year and wanted his opinion. 

All too soon the holiday was over, and Andrew and Molly were driving once more along the Málaga ring road, this time away from Tejedos and towards the airport to catch his flight home. 

“Come and see me in England, Molly, I don’t know when I’ll be able to get over here again. Not before the summer, probably, and I do want to see you,” he told her. 

“I’ll try love, but I work too, you know. What are we going to do, I’m here and don’t want to go back to live in England, and you’re there. How many years until your retirement?” 

“I’m only 34, so at least another twenty before I get a good pension. But don’t worry, we’ll just have to work something out.” 

Andrew was so occupied with his thoughts and emotions that he forgot all about trying to pick out any of his fellow travellers from the outward flight. The only one he noted was the woman he had seen in the cafe in Vélez-Málaga, and her only because she was opposite him, across the aisle. As the plane neared Stansted, he noticed that the woman was becoming quite agitated and appeared to be nervous. She kept glancing behind her and also easing something that was out of sight, round her waist, under her blouse. Her antics and nervousness at last broke through his own thoughts and concerns, and he became increasingly aware of her and her actions. At last, he decided that she was becoming more tense and nervy the nearer they came to landing, as if she was steeling herself for an ordeal.  He went to the back of the plane and spoke quietly to one of the stewardesses, who in turn asked the Captain of the plane to come to the rear galley. Here Andrew showed the man his warrant card.  

“I think you’ve got a smuggler on board. Could you call airport security for me and ask one of them to meet me off the plane, discreetly, we don’t want to alarm her.” 

The Captain agreed and returned to the cockpit. A few minutes later the intercom buzzed and the stewardess took a message. 

“A senior customs officer will meet you on landing, Inspector, please stay behind the others when they disembark, and he will then take you straight to the customs control area for you to pick her out.” 

This time when the plane landed, it was Andrew who was greeted on the runway by a smartly uniformed figure and driven off quickly by him in a private car. On the short trip from the plane to the rear of the terminal, the inspector explained his suspicions, and the customs officer agreed that the woman should be stopped and searched. 

“Just stand next to me and point her out, and my staff will do the rest.” 

First, Andrew was taken to a room behind the baggage reclaim area, where the luggage from his flight was being unloaded before being put on to the conveyor belt. He picked out his own cases and then the two men walked to the customs counters. After a slight delay, the passengers from his own flight began to appear.  When the woman came into sight, it was apparent that she was nervous and was still fingering, surreptitiously, whatever was concealed under her clothing. 

“That’s her,” Andrew said quietly to the man beside him, who motioned two women officers forward to stop her and ask her to follow them. A small scene then followed, when the woman resisted them and started shouting, causing quite a hold up in the stream of passengers who were behind her. 

“Thanks,” said the customs official. “You were quite right in your suspicions. We would have almost certainly picked her out by her manner, but thanks anyway. Well, we’ll follow them when they manage to get her into the interview room, and see if your suspicions are correct. But I’m quite sure they are.” 

They watched the woman being half dragged away by the two customs officers and the queue of passengers who had been held up behind her, by now quite a large group, being hurried through by the remaining officials.  Most were reluctant to move on as they were interested by the event, and wanted to see the end of the drama. The by now near hysterical woman was at last pushed through a door and out of sight. 

As Andrew stood watching, his mind subconsciously worked on, something was wrong with the situation, he had missed something, but what? Then he had it. He realised that what he had seen on the plane was the woman psyching herself up to give a performance, and practising her reactions to being held up.  She was not nervous of going through customs, rather she had wanted to be picked out and stopped. Something else he had noticed on the plane, but not registered, also came into his mind. The man she had been talking with so intensely in Vélez-Málaga had been sitting behind her in the plane. They had ignored each other during the flight. He looked at the group of passengers now being almost hustled through the barrier, and there he was, head turned aside staring like all the others, as the door closed behind the woman and her captors.  Andrew tapped the customs officer on the arm. 

“Him, it’s him, that tall grey-haired man, stop him, I’ll explain later.” 

The officer needed no second telling, without hesitation he signalled to one of his men and they both started forward to intercept the man. He saw them coming and tried to run, but was stopped by a police officer near the exit doors into the reception area. 

Later, in the customs office, the official explained.  “It’s an old trick, but quite an effective one. The woman was carrying nothing really important, just a couple of watches, obviously bought illegally on the street in Spain, but nothing we could prove or charge her with. We would have let her go and just put it down to a normally law-abiding person, who was agitated at breaking the law. She acted nervously deliberately, to catch our attention, and cause a hold up, so that her accomplice would go through unnoticed as we cleared the backlog of passengers. But thanks to your intervention, we were able to stop him. He was carrying several kilos of cocaine by the way, and quite a few diamonds. Well, he won’t bother us for a while, and we’ll put a tail on the woman when we let her go to see if she leads us to any more of the group. A good day’s work all in all, as it turned out.”

Whilst the inspector was away over the holiday period, Penny Collingwood, his sergeant, enjoyed her time in charge. She was due to take her Inspector’s exam soon and knew she was up to the job. Christmas, the first part of the ‘Winter Fest’ break, as everyone now insisted in calling it, was quiet with not much call on the CID section.

New Year’s Eve came and Penny, who had been on duty all day, was at last able to leave for home late in the evening. She left strict instructions with the DC’s on night duty to call her if there was any serious occurrence, and drove out of the police station car park.

‘The Haystack’ on the green at Woodham Leighs was packed this last night of the old year, with revellers getting ready to see the New Year in. It was a large half-timbered coaching inn, dating back many centuries, that had been progressively extended over the years. Tonight, the restaurant was fully booked for the special New Year’s Eve dinner dance, and all the four other bars were packed to overflowing. Noise and music spilled out into the still night air of the village. Here and there around the green some of the houses were also lit up, with the laughter and music from their parties clearly audible. Most of the other dwellings were glowing with coloured Christmas lights.

Woodham Leighs and the surrounding area was a ‘commuter belt’ and most of the inhabitants worked either in the city or the West End of London, or in the nearby county town of Canford. The majority of them were in the middle to upper salary class, and the customers of the inn reflected this. Not many of the original agricultural workers of the area now lived in the village, and those that did preferred the smaller brick-built village pub, which had not been modernised, on the far side of the green, ‘The Hanging Man’. 

Penny Collingwood had to pass through the village on the way home to her flat, which was in the next village along the small country lane, at High End Green. Here, she rented a small flat that had originally been built as a ‘granny flat’ by the owners, but who were now without any grannies, or granddads, to occupy it. She had been due to come off duty at four that afternoon, after a stretch of duty that had extended over the Christmas period. Her intention had been, if possible, to head up the A1 to Redcar, her home town on Teesside, and celebrate the New Year with her friends in the town. She  would have been home easily by about ten, time for a quick  shower, a snack with her parents, and then go out into the  night for a round of ‘first footing’ with her contemporaries  who still lived in the town.         

Ever since leaving home to go to college, she had usually managed to get home for New Year’s Eve. She had spent three years working for a first degree in Law, an LLB, and then another two doing a MSc in Criminology. During this time, it had been easy for her to go back to Teesside whenever she wanted. Three years ago, to the surprise of everyone who knew her, she had joined the Eastshire police force, and as a degree entrant had soon joined the detective division after passing her Sergeant’s exam. Since then, she had only managed one New Year at home, and had been looking forward to this year with anticipation. 

She had not minded being on duty over Christmas, as she had made few close friends in Eastshire during her time there, except for her inspector, who lived in a village quite close to her own, but who of course was away on holiday in Spain over the festivities.  In fact, she had quite enjoyed her time on duty over Christmas, with the extra responsibility, and the atmosphere at the police station had been quite pleasant. The canteen had laid on a reasonable meal and there was not much activity locally, so she had not had a lot to do. But New Year’s Eve was different, she was not expecting to have to work, had no current boyfriend and was anticipating going back north for a ‘proper’ New Year’s Eve celebration. The ‘Winter Fest’ rota drawn up by the ACC (Resources) had made provision for her to have the afternoon of New Year’s Eve and all New Year’s Day off duty.

Earlier in the afternoon, however, she had been called out to a case of domestic violence, and by the time she had sorted that out and finished the paperwork it was past nine, and too late to attempt the drive north. Tired and dispirited, she had finally left the station to go back to her flat in High End Green, after having a snack in the canteen and ringing her parents to tell them not to expect her home. She did not fancy being  alone at midnight, and was too emotionally charged from the case to sleep, so she decided to stop off at Woodham Leighs to see the New Year in. One thing about living in the south east, was that here in the next village to her own, she was extremely  unlikely to meet anyone known to her, even though it was only a few miles away from her flat. In the north east, however, she would most likely have bumped into someone who knew her in quite a wide circle of villages around her home town of Redcar. Tonight, she did not want to meet any of her acquaintances and have them feel obliged to ask her to join them, and then for her to feel the odd one out in her present far from party mood. Because of her need for anonymity in a crowd, she chose to stop off at ‘The Haystack’ over ‘The Hanging Man’.  It was the most crowded and there was also more likelihood of being recognised in the smaller and more homely ‘The Hanging Man’. 

She drove into the car park behind the inn at about half past ten, parked and pushed her way into the nearest bar, a large room decorated in bright colours with chromium fittings, called incongruously ‘The Snug’. Feeling physically tired, dispirited and empty inside, she forced a path to the bar through the crowded room, finally managing to squeeze in between two groups at the counter. 

Rosie had spotted her almost as soon as she had opened the door to come into the room. She quickly turned away so that Penny  did not see her, and then moved over to the opposite end of the  bar to where she was shouldering her way through the tightly  packed customers thronging the counter to get served. 

Penny at last managed to catch the barmaid’s eye, who came over towards her. She was a young blonde girl with a perfectly groomed appearance, wearing a smart blouse two sizes too small, which moulded to the shape of her breasts and through which her nipples stood out provocatively. Penny, grubby from a day’s work and in clothes worn for the job, and for too long, felt even more depressed. She needed a pick-me-up and it was New Year’s Eve, and at home at this time she had always drank whisky, ever since she was fourteen. Remembering back brought a smile to her lips for the first time that evening. She had been fourteen the first time her parents had allowed her to go out ‘first footing’ with her pals. The ages of the group had ranged from about twenty down to Penny, one of the youngest.  They had taken her to a pub in the High Street, where those under sixteen had sheltered behind the older ones, so as not to be spotted. During the time in the pub, she had only drunk soft drinks, but when after midnight they had gone to their first house  to ‘let in’ the New Year, she had asked for and been given a small scotch by the father of one of the group. Several houses later, they had knocked on her own front door and been admitted by her father, who had offered drinks all round. She still remembered vividly him saying to her, “And you, our Pen, what’ll you have?” 

She had looked him straight in the eye and boldly replied, “A scotch, Dad.” 

He had reached down the side of his chair and brought up his own bottle of malt, the ‘good stuff’ he always called it, not the blend he had given to the others, and put a measure into  a glass. 

“What’ll you have with it, lass, ice, water, soda or what?” 

She knew what he thought of people who diluted malt and answered, “Nowt, Dad, just at it is,” bringing a gleam to his eyes. 

Her mother had come across to them. “Here, Frank, what’re you giving our Pen then, that’s not whisky is it?” 

“Don’t prattle on, it’s what t’lass wanted, and a drop won’t harm her,” came the reply. 

Smiling now at the memory, she asked the elegant barmaid, “What malts have you got?” 

The girl looked at the shelf behind her, reaching for a bottle.  “We’ve Glenfiddich.” 

Penny once more thought of her father and his description of this, irreverently and no doubt slanderously, as ‘cooking malt’. 

“What other?” 

The barmaid’s eyes searched the shelves. “We've a Laphroaig, if you’d prefer that.” 

“Fine, give me a double.” Then, thinking of the scrum at the bar and the time it had taken to get served, altered it to, “No, make it a treble.” 

“Anything with it, love?” 

“No, just as it is, that’s fine.”       

Taking her drink, she fought her way out of the crowd around the bar, having a sip as she did so. The smoky flavour of the malt and the kick of the spirit helped to further lessen her tension and increase her rising spirits. The room was full, noisy, hot and smoky. Next year it would be different, she thought, as by then the smoking ban would be in force. The doors leading out on to the terrace had been opened, letting in a welcome stream of cool, clean air. She went over to them and looked out. Two or three groups were outside in the fresh air. Some of them were sitting on the patio chairs and others were standing talking, whilst a few were dancing to the music that was playing loudly in the bar and could be clearly heard outside. 

Penny went outside, and crossed the terrace and entrance drive to sit on the low wall that ran down the far side. She pulled her coat tighter around her, and sipped at the drink to keep warm. From where she sat, she could see into the car park on her left and down the side of the inn to the road and village green to her right. 

Once she saw Penny leave the room, Rosie moved back into the middle of the crowd and once again chose her mark. She dipped her fingers into a pocket and removed a wallet. Quickly she sifted through it, took out about half the notes and then replaced it back in the same pocket. In this way, with care, she could work her way around the bar without anyone being aware of what was happening. Nobody would know what had happened until much later, probably in the morning, and some would not even be sure if they had lost anything or had simply spent more than they realised. Since adopting this method, rather than taking a whole wallet, she had not been arrested at all. In the past she had been caught twice with a stolen wallet on her. She also shunned taking credit cards as these had also led her into detention in the past. This way was safer and also meant she could stay in one place without moving on, and, like tonight, also enjoy the occasion. 

At about eleven o’clock, when she had been sitting on the wall for about ten minutes, Penny saw a transit van turn off the road and come down the drive towards her. It stopped at the side door of the inn before it reached her and the driver got out and went inside. Shortly after that he came back out, followed by a second man, who she knew from previous visits to be the publican. The two men looked in both directions, but she was hidden from their view by the dark shadow of a nearby tree, and no-one else was in sight at all.  The publican was asking the driver if he had had a good trip. 

“Fine. It’s a good time to travel on New Year’s Eve, everyone out enjoying themselves and not many of the Bill are on duty, and those that are, are too busy to worry about the likes of me.” 

“So what’ve you got for me then?” 

“I’ve several cases of lager, some sherry, brandy, some of that French beer you sell a lot of; oh, and some whisky, think of that eh, all the way from Scotland, over the channel and back, and it’s still cheaper than buying it here. And I’ve also got a few bottles of Calvados.” 

“I’m not sure of the Calvados, not a great demand for it here.  But bring your lists and prices in, and if the rest is ok, I’ll take the lot.” 

The two men went back inside the door still talking.  Penny was annoyed at the cocky manner of the driver, and whereas she may not have bothered with the pair another time when off duty and enjoying herself, she decided to act. She got up and retreated to the car park, out of sight of the side door, put her glass carefully on the bonnet of a car and pulled out her mobile phone. She dialled the number of the police station to speak to the sergeant on duty. 

“Police headquarters, Canford.” 

“Bob, it’s Penny here. Look, I’m at ‘The Haystack’ in Woodham Leighs. A van’s just arrived which I think is full of smuggled booze from France. I’m off duty and don’t want to get involved, can you send a car out to deal with it? Tell them not to look out for me, it’s too near home, I don’t want to be seen as snooping on my own doorstep. They can deal with it themselves, the van’s down the side of the pub near the door to the kitchens.” 

“Hold on, Pen.” She heard the desk sergeant giving orders to his constable and then he came back to her.  “Right, there’ll be a car there in a jiff, one’s just answered from Bradbury, just over the way from you. We’ll contact the customs boys too, they’ll love it getting a call tonight, spoil their party using up all the reclaimed booze, I’ll bet. Now, Pen, I’ve a message to all officers from the ACC.” 

“Hold it, Bob, I’m off duty, leave it till I get back in a few days’ time.” 

“Look, it’s about a missing kid, so be a good girl and listen, just in case you see or hear anything. She’s called Sandra Lodge and went missing at about six this evening. She was due to be at a do her parents are holding and hasn’t been seen.” 

“How old is she, Bob?” 

“Oh, about fifteen I think, she’s the daughter of Councillor Lodge.....” 

“Fifteen,” Penny broke in. “Come off it, Bob, she’s at a party of her own, what’s all the fuss, it’s New Year’s Eve. Sandra Lodge, I know her and her mother. It’s only ’cause she’s on the police committee that the ACC’s involved, I’ll bet.” 

“Calm down, Pen. Yes, it’s Councillor Lodge’s daughter, and yes, she is fifteen, and yes, she’s only been gone a few hours and is probably out enjoying herself. But we don’t want a ‘Girl found raped and murdered on New Year’s Eve whilst the police ignored her mother’s pleas’ story in the press, do we? Especially as her mum’s the vocal Brenda Lodge, vice chair of the police committee and friend of the ACC.” 

Penny returned to her seat on the wall to keep an eye on the van, and await the arrival of the police car. Brenda Lodge, she thought, bossy, self-opinionated, chair of the local Conservatives and, in her view, far to the right of Attila the Hun. She could just hear what her Dad, long time trade union and Labour Party stalwart on Teesside would have said about her. Sandra, her daughter, was another matter though. Penny had met her during a series of talks she had given to a local school, as part of a ‘Civics’ course. Sandra was a lively and open youngster and, by what she had gathered from her teachers, a bit of a rebel and always at odds with her mother. 

Thinking of her father and his likely comments on Brenda Lodge brought her mind back to New Year at home. At each house they visited, they would be given not only a drink, but also a slice of rich fruit cake with a piece of sharp white Wensleydale cheese on it. No chance of that here, she thought, as she finished her whisky in a final gulp. Hurry up, lads, it’s nearly half past eleven, my glass is empty and I want another one to see midnight in with.

Just then the two men came out of the door of the inn and began to haul the first of the cases of alcohol out of the van. Almost at the same time, there was a  swish of tyres on the drive and a dark blue car turned in from  the road and pulled up to them. Two constables in uniform got out and advanced on them.  Good timing lads, thought Penny, quietly leaving her seat and re-entering the snug.

Once again Rosie, who had been keeping an eye on the terrace door ever since Penny had left the room, saw her enter and moved over to the opposite side of the room to the sergeant. They were well known to each other and Rosie did not want spotting and being questioned, believing Penny to be on duty. She decided enough was enough and not to pursue her  ‘business’ any more that evening, but to relax and enjoy  herself seeing in the New Year. 

Once more Penny forced her way to the bar and asked a now somewhat less polished barmaid for double malt. Sweat glistened on the barmaid’s face and someone had spilled a drink down part of her blouse, her hair was untidy with some loose strands sticking damply to her forehead. Penny felt quite sorry for her as she was hustled to serve the crowd at the counter. Her own feelings were now more balanced, and she scanned the crowded room to see if there was anyone she knew.  I can face meeting and talking to people now, she decided, who is there I know that I can see the year in with, it’s just a quarter of an hour away.

In the far corner, she spotted a group of young women and girls, some keeping well out of sight of the bar, obviously under eighteen, but all with drinks in their hands. A small smile lit her face and she crossed over to them. She went up to one of the girls furthest from the bar and said, “Hi, Sandra, having a good time?” 

Sandra Lodge looked at her doubtfully. “Do I know you? I’m sorry, but I can’t place your face.” 

“No reason you should. I’m Penny Collingwood. I came to your school to give a few talks on crime and policing to your civics class.” 

“Oh,” said the girl nervously. “The policewoman.” She looked down at her half pint of shandy. “You’re not going to charge me for drinking under age, are you? I’m sixteen, well nearly, in January, so I’m almost old enough to come in here.” 

Penny smiled at the girl. “No, don’t worry, I’m not on duty.  And I went into a pub before I was sixteen too. That was on New Year’s Eve as well. But look, Sandra, ring your mother, will you, and tell her you’re alright and will be home soon.  She’s got an all stations alert out for you and it’s a waste of police time, and also spoiling their New Year having to look for you.” 

“The stupid old bag. I told her I didn’t want to go to her do at home. Why won’t she listen to me? Ok, I’ll ring her now, is there a phone in here?” 

“Use my mobile, then I’ll call in to the station and tell them all’s well. Don’t worry, I’ll not let on where you are.” 

Twelve o’clock came a short time later, and found Penny toasting it in with Sandra and her friends. On the other side of the bar, Rosie was also drinking to a prosperous New Year with a small group she had joined, and working hard at impressing one of their number, a man who appeared to be unattached.

 After about fifteen minutes, Penny left for her flat, congratulating herself on a good night’s work despite being off duty.

Sitting in a taxi, returning to her home in Canford, Rosie, despite having been rejected by the man she had been chatting up, was also well satisfied with her night’s work.

When she reached home, Penny telephoned her parents and wished them a happy new year, toasting them over the phone with a final malt, whilst her father did likewise far away in Teesside.  Despite all her protests that her failure to get up there that  year was nothing to do with her inspector, and that he was  far away in Spain on holiday with friends, her father rang  off saying, “Hey, lass, let’s hope that Farthing fella lets  you get up here next year, eh?” 

A few days later, when they were both back at work, Andrew outlined the events of his trip to his sergeant. When he had finished he added, “Oh, and by the way, the presents were just right thanks to you. Especially Molly’s, she was delighted by her jewellery and impressed that I got the style and colour right for her hair and complexion. How did you do it, Penny?”      

“Instinct, I suppose,” Penny shrugged, adding, “By the exact description of her you gave me, of her hair, her colouring and the sort of clothes she wears.” 

She had always been impressed by her inspector’s capacity for remembering and recalling details of people he knew and had met. 

“And especially this one, who obviously means a lot to you,” she added privately to herself.

She then told him of her time in charge and of the exploits of New Year’s Eve.

“Councillor Lodge was not best pleased, I hear,” she told him. Bringing a snort of dismissal from the inspector.

 “Serves her right for insisting on us calling the Christmas break ‘Winter Fest’,” was his rejoinder.





Hope you have enjoyed this mini book of stories.

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John Hardy August 2015