Conspirator: a member of a group of people planning a subversive act

November 2011

I’M NO JULIAN WIKILEAKS.

Fighter jets and military helicopters are overhead. There is an ear-splitting bang. Nobody moves but some applaud. It is cannon fire – the saluting battery for the tourists.

Chris is seated in the outdoor café at Upper Barrakka Gardens in Valletta. He looks up to check that he is understood. Then he wipes away the words with the side of his hand.

*****

‘HE’S FINALLY FLIPPED, STEPH. I hardly recognised him’ said Nick, putting his forefinger to his temple to signal insanity.

Steph could see Nick pretty well on Skype. Nick was in a red and white, minimally furnished, hi tech, executive office at Supramax Life’s Chicago HQ. Steph was at the breakfast bar in her kitchen in Sheffield, England with a laptop precariously balanced on a pile of books and magazines which were on top of a stool. She was sitting, cross-legged, on another stool, wearing a russet blouse, grey suit trousers and no shoes. She was eating a slice of toast whilst asking Nick, who she’d never really warmed to, questions about Chris.

Nick had been ‘shooting the breeze’, as Steph, liked to call it, with her occasional lover, Chris. Nick had recently been in Malta on business and called in to see his old friend. Later Steph would be seeing more of Chris’s oldest friends at the ATP World Tennis Finals at the O2 Arena in London. They would want to know, some hopefully, whether Nick thought Chris was closer to death’s door.

Short open questions would elicit long answers and allow Steph to finish her toast and green tea before she dashed out the door to catch the tram to work. It was just after seven o’clock in the morning, UK time.

‘What did he look like then?’

‘Just weird, Steph. He looked as if he was in fancy dress or perhaps he’s just acting out the batty Englishman. He’s always been a drama queen. He was wearing all red, apart from black cargo shorts. Red T shirt, red trainers, red trainer socks, red Skull Candy headphones, red rimmed shades and a red and, wait for this, silk scarf covering his mouth, topped off by a red and black striped trilby-type hat.

The hat looked like something you’d wear in a Ska band. He’d put an ‘I love Malta’ badge on the hat and hung those little black plastic bulls, that he gets from his red wine bottles, from the brim. Suppose that’s his version of the Aussies’ bush hats with hanging corks. Inconspicuous he is not.

He’s carrying the largest red canvas shoulder bag I’ve ever seen. It was packed full of books and plastic folders with newspaper clippings in. It means he walks lopsidedly too.’

‘How do you know what was in the bag?’

‘He kept rummaging around in his bag to find something and then jabbing his finger at the words for me to read them. If he wasn’t pointing at something from his files he was writing phrases down on, like, a mini whiteboard for me to read. It was like having a conversation with Twitter although he was using less than forty characters rather than a hundred and forty. He’s also got one of those red drawing toys, with the two white knobs, you know it makes stick drawings and shapes – it was in Toy Story. Anyway he draws little pictures on it. For a man that can type quickly and has an iPad and smartphone which he could write messages on then that mini whiteboard has to be for effect too.’

Steph was laughing: ‘It might be quicker and it’s safer. It’s very unlikely that he’s mad Nick. He’ll be known in all the places he goes to in Malta. He’s a friendly face – an eccentric, elderly writer on his last legs. Writers carry their research around with them. He probably has a poor memory. His world will be in that bag. What made you think he’s weird?’

‘For one thing, his apartment is a disgrace. For someone who used to tell us he was a domestic goddess, able to cook, clean and care for himself, he’s gone downhill fast. He always said he loved ironing and, I’ve seen his party trick of neatly folding his clothes into an outrageously small kit bag, whilst the rest of us were chucking ours into our coffins. I don’t think he’s done any ironing or folding for a while looking at the scattered clothes and what he was wearing.

Just about every door, cupboard, drawer and wall in his apartment has post it notes on them. The post it notes on the drawers say what’s in them. He probably doesn’t have a drawer for socks as they seem to be scattered everywhere. There are corks, empty wine bottles, milk cartons, yoghurt cartons, plastic spoons … it’s a mess. He’s got a heap; you couldn’t call it a shrine, like he had for Dusty Springfield, of books, magazines, photos, DVDs and CDs of Amy Winehouse on his dining table’.

‘Worse, far worse,’ Nick said with, for the first time a smile, ‘he now watches every game Man U play in the outside bars. This is a Yorkshireman that’s lived in London nearly all his life, so why would he start supporting Manchester United? He told me they only play well when Giggsy is playing. Did I want to know that?

He didn’t make a sound all the time we were together and kept his scarf over his face. Afterwards I worked out what was different about him. He’s clearly losing weight. He was always podgy – not anymore.’

‘Does it matter what he looks like?’

‘Well if he wanted to be the centre of attention he’s succeeded. He looks and behaves like someone the Malta pulizijo should stop and look in his bag just because he’s so weird. Then where would we be? He’s spending money fast too. We walked around Sliema and we stopped for wine at three kiosks. He says he does the same walk every day. One old dear started pouring a half pint glass full of red wine as soon as she spotted Chris.

He gave them all a twenty, or maybe even fifty, euro note for our drinks and he let them keep the change. At one of the kiosks they gave him an envelope which he stuffed in his bag. You’re right, they clearly love him over there but I found it all bizarre. He asked me to tell you he loves you. There you are – I’ve told you’.

‘Thanks Nick. It wasn’t the most sensitively delivered romantic message I’ve ever had – but thanks. Chris is a good man he would never do anything which could hurt any of us, Nick, and….’

‘He is, though Steph, I know he is. He’s changed and not just physically. Loose cannons are dangerous. Why not go and see him yourself? I gave him your envelope. He says he’ll be around for ages yet but I don’t believe him. If the cancer doesn’t get him the wine will’.

‘Something must have happened to make you think that?’

‘Two things come to mind. Firstly he asked me to help him with his research – for him to ask me to help him so much is very unusual.’

‘And what’s the second thing? Then I’ve really got to get going Nick’

‘Well it’s nothing he did but something that was said to him. When we got to the restaurant in Valletta across from the Sliema ferry, there was a suited and booted, big gold watch, gold bracelet, Arab-looking gent – mid-fifties, I’d guess. He was with a young, probably Eastern European, tall, skinny, very classy, very pale, long blonde haired, woman who’d clearly been busy shopping. She had at least three designer shop bags. She may have been this guy’s daughter but I don’t think so. Chris pointed to a table for me to sit at and then went straight over to this couple.

He’s always been a bit deaf but I think it’s far worse now. I had to almost shout at him so it wasn’t difficult for me to hear some of what this guy, let’s say he was an Egyptian, this Egyptian said. Most of it was in another language, Greek, perhaps, I don’t think it was Maltese and it wasn’t Italian. The English words I heard included: ‘Game’, ‘India’ and ‘Portal’. I agree I don’t know the context – but it got my mind racing. He could have just been telling Chris a joke but no-one laughed – suppose Chris couldn’t laugh.

The only saving grace is that the Egyptian wasn’t concerned about being overheard because, apart from me, just close to them were two Maltese geezers, amongst the outside tables, fishing. Bizarre’

‘OK, look, thanks Nick and for the message. Let’s hope your imagination is running away with you. Chris is totally trustworthy. I don’t think I’ll be in contact with Chris. He clearly doesn’t want to hear from me and I really don’t want to interfere with how he wants to see out his days. I’ll tell the others. I’ve got to go, Nick. Ciao’.

The ‘others’ were the Chamberpots – the Lord Chamberlain’s Men. Steph wasn’t a Chamberpot but, she’d known them all for fifteen years and thought of herself as an honorary member. Nick’s main role in the Chamberpots was to give Chris information on where in the world certain people, that Chris was interested in keeping track of, had travelled to.

*****

CHRIS PUT DOWN HIS CROSS gold fountain pen. He put the magnetic clasp around the leather-bound book he’d been writing in and placed it in the front pocket of his canvas bag on the seat next to him. After leaving Nick in Valletta he’d gone back to Upper Baraka Gardens, changed his clothes in the public conveniences, and then taken a white taxi from the rank outside. The taxi had taken him to Virtu Ferries where he’d caught the late afternoon catamaran to Sicily. It’s a ninety minute crossing which Chris made quite often.

The seats on the high speed catamaran were similar to comfortable, wide, first class, airline seats but as usual, there were far more people being sick than in a plane. In the side block there was no-one within three rows of him. He could now; unobserved, open the package Nick had given him.

In the package were three envelopes and a small packet. Chris had always enjoyed opening presents He had a process for unwrapping to ensure he didn’t rip the wrapping paper. He’d then fold the wrapping paper neatly, ready for future use. He loved prolonging the anticipation. This, he thought, must be how prisoners or soldiers feel when they receive a present from home.

The first envelope that he opened contained a world tennis finals sweat band and a postcard with a picture of the Eiffel Tower. It was from Steph and he’d look forward to reading it later when he was back in his apartment.

The second envelope mainly contained diagrams, none of which made too much sense to Chris but he could give it to someone who could. The diagrams were of the plumbing in a yacht. That envelope was from Scalesy.

The third envelope was from Dave containing a short progress report from the meetings that Chris had asked him to carry out in London. The progress report was only understandable to Chris. To anyone else it would have been an update on the new additions to Dave’s collection of old football programmes. .

Chris hoped the fourth packet contained something from Pup and Tricks. He was relieved to find that it did. Inside were three small silver cups and some tiny red sponge balls. Chris pinched each of the balls between his forefinger and thumb. The second ball that he pinched had a hard centre. He slotted everything, including the packaging, into his bag.

*****

NO-ONE SHOULD WORRY. When you get to our age, Dave, you realise that we’re so beneath the radar that folk can’t even remember whether we’re dead or alive. We, well certainly you, may be thought of as old do-gooders. We’re better than that but our contributions will always remain anonymous – you can count on me.  

I’ve a bone to pick with you, Dave. When I asked what women get out of having your prick in their bottom I was referring to anal sex not what you described. That’s ‘Spoons’ to me. Every porn film seems to go two mins blowing, two mins licking – cunnilingus is a funny old word? Two mins doing doggy – that always makes me laugh too, two mins on cow girl, two mins on reverse cow girl and then, what seems like, the next 2 days on anal sex. What’s all that about?

I wouldn’t care if it was only porn but I’ve met blokes who say they love ii. I’m reliably informed that butt plugs are top sellers. Why? If you’re gay then there are fewer options but still – can you see what the guy underneath gets out of it? Did you know that Eskimo men choose their women based on how fat they are, with the fatter women being the most desirable? They’re interested in keeping warm, you see. So they choose on girth. I suppose they sleep under their wife, instead of a duvet.  

So, let’s get back to Spoons. To be crystal clear, I don’t mean the stirring or supping kind of spoon but the arm around the waist, other hand cupping her breast, knees bent, all points connected – her back and my front sort of melded together.

‘Silly Sod’ Dave muttered. Dave had just about got to the toilets at Kings Cross station in time. Very little leakage and that only caused by the ‘ruddy idiots’, men and women, that get all the way to the barrier before it dawns on them that they haven’t got any change. Like rabbits stuck in headlights. This caused a queue of desperate, hopping mad people all trying to look really cool. Dave was now comfortably seated and reading Chris’s handwritten letter. Chris is Dave’s oldest, living friend. This is only the second letter Dave has ever received from Chris and the first was less than a month ago.

‘Spoons’ is a big, all-time favourite memory – back in the day. It’s eleven in the morning and Sue and I have still got hangovers. Hell! I used to drink snakebites then – remember? We’re weak from laughter and making love. We don’t give a damn about what we should be doing and we may stay in bed ‘til tea-time the next day.

Then one of us will raid the meter and pop out to the deli down the road to get some bread rolls, a huge lump of his finest mature Canadian cheddar and a bottle of Frascati. Funny, I can’t see the point of white wine now. The wine and cheese rolls were the finest meal we could have – perking us up in more ways than one.

Do you use those blue pills or have you no need? I’m not sure that I have the need – I was still OK with ‘Happy Endings’ last time I went to a Thai massage parlour over here – felt a bit old, sad and silly – don’t think I’ll bother any more. I think 68 is a good enough age to give up sex out of decorum and good taste – don’t you? Nah, you wouldn’t.

Anyway, the smoke and musky smell in the room would get smokier and muskier. The sun streaming in through the holes in the curtains turned to darkness again and we’d stay in bed until at least the next lunchtime.  

Cor ‘Eck, Dave, I’m turning myself on here. No wonder I married Sue. Of the two goes I’ve had at marriage the one with Sue made the most sense because of the sex. Bet we’d still be married if we’d had kids and I hadn’t made a few little mistakes along the way. My wanting to go and live with Trish didn’t help things. Of course there’s never any future in men-women relationships. I’m surprised we keep trying.

Women will always be a complete mystery to men. The pursuit of hedonism is not possible if there’s a relationship with a woman involved. One minute they’re eating, drinking, laughing and playing in bed with their toes curling up and down, in sheer contentment, then, out of the blue, just as you’re falling asleep they’ll ask you a trick question. A question to which there is just no answer you can give that won’t turn the warmth into black ice. Questions like; ‘you don’t like my hair short, do you?’; ‘which meal would you really fancy at your mother’s?’, ‘which of your previous partners was the best in bed and why?’; ‘if it was a choice between winning the lottery and having me, which would you choose?’ A moment’s hesitation or deviation – ‘aw let me sleep’ – and you are dead in the water.

 BTW the sex I was describing is now termed ‘hot vanilla’ and my extra-curricular exploits would now be termed ‘polyamory’ – the practice of simultaneous relationships as a way of keeping your primary relationship vibrant and healthy – who knew? Mind, you’re meant to get the agreement of all the parties. If only someone had told me the rules. I blame the pill – it encouraged men to be irresponsible, why we never even thought about condoms. Life was just one big love in.

You deliberately twist everything I say just to wind me up. It is a dangerous trait of yours – dangerous for safety and sanity. Then again, anyone looking at us just sees old farts. They look at us with disdain. They think that by sixty we’ve lost the right to be of interest as individuals but that we’re part of some community of neutered squatters that all look the same and are just whiling away the hours until we’re moved on. How many times have I been mistaken for you when we’re sat together? From the back we’re identical twins.

Anyway, I won’t be sodomising anyone but likely you will. I started and will finish in nappies. Even designer incontinence pads may not make me a sex magnet. So, I need your opinion on anal sex from the woman’s point of view – it’s for an article I’m doing. My piggy bank is hungry. Just a few paragraphs will do – a testimonial, if you like – anonymous of course.    

Mind, you’ve probably done more of all this stuff than I have because you got off to a better start at the poly –‘uni’ now, Dave. What was the female to male ratio at Trent Park? Was it six to one? It certainly scrambled your brain. For at least four years you were a robotic, seek and score machine leaving damp patches and tear stains throughout North London.

Dave hated Chris seeking his help. Dave hated the mental effort of decoding Chris’s instructions. Chris was obsessed by lists and numbers. Dave hated the effort and the insult to his intelligence. Dave never read Chris’s articles and blogs. Dave hated looking back. Dave realised this last sentiment might be considered unusual by others that knew him. After all he was a retired history teacher who was an avid collector of pre 1950 sports and variety theatre programmes. He loved classic cars too. But to Dave what counted was right now. What interested him was what he’d do today and what would make tomorrow more fun. If it didn’t make him happy or make him money – he wasn’t interested.

‘Bloody Holland & Barrett – I’ll sue ‘em’, he thought – ‘the thousands of pounds I’ve wasted on Saw Palmetto capsules. It’s a passion killer too – always dashing to the loo, pinching your knob end …. That and piles … and skin folds … and a memory that splutters and sometimes flat lines …. and the falling down ….and the anxiety … and the moods – the temper …but then again I look and act sharp … young for my age…about tomorrow not yesterday … not like Chris’.

Dave scanned the rest of Chris’s letter and got to the next part that he needed to remember.

I’m gutted that I won’t be with you at our Chamberpots get together. Not as gutted as I am about missing the Olympics in nine months’ time – that’s the once in a lifetime opportunity that will pass me by. I enjoyed the tennis last year and whenever it’s Trude’s turn then it’s always fab.

When you’re at the tennis could you pass on to Trude, Scalesy and Tricks my next ‘Top Ten, All Time, Sporting Greats’? I’m counting on you all to help with my collection of memorabilia. I’ll get it to Pup through Nick as Nick’s here soon. So, the list is:

  1. TB
  2. WH
  3. JL
  4. PW
  5. DC2
  6. NM
  7. PM
  8. LC
  9. RI
  10. FST  

There must be a chance that Number 6 will visit his niece this year or next. If he does get up to your neck of the woods it may present an opportunity for you to get his autograph for me. Of course, he’s so famous now his minders may not let you get close?

I’ve enclosed a job advert for you. They come up from time to time. So, if you’re serious about Malta for after the Olympics? The Fondazzijoni Wirt Artna, the Malta Heritage Trust, is looking for full time and part time tour guides. That’s you – sound knowledge required of Maltese and International military history – you can get away with that too.

Here is better than America, Dave. Everywhere in Europe, North Africa and the Middle East are easily accessible. If you enjoy it half as much as I have then you’ll be a very happy lad. In the meantime thanks for doing London. Take care, my old mate.

It wasn’t hard for Dave to remember the list. There were only three new entries – all, unusually, American. Most of the names had been on the list for many years. Some on the list Dave knew they’d never get near to, such as TB. Dave paid most attention to NM. NM would be the number one collectible now. He knew who NM was: Sir Nigel Morris. He knew how Chris’s warped mind worked. He doubted whether the others would know NM. The niece that NM might be coming to see would be Charlene Wright or Charlie as she was known to one and all. Dave would be seeing Charlie shortly at the tennis. She would be there as Dave’s guest.

Sir Nigel Morris was a former Cabinet Secretary and almost certainly would know the ‘what’ and the ‘who’ of every cover up going; corporate crime, political corruption, regime change, media propaganda and assassinations – character and career.

Dave felt that the Iraq invasion combined with the financial sector crash and bail outs had been the two tipping points that escalated Chris’s activism and moved it from just being focused on British targets. Then there was Michael Moore’s documentary ‘Bowling for Columbine’. Chris, like many others of his age, hated the UK government being a pawn of Corporate America and subject to the same media propaganda.

Chris would rant about the impotence of the GPs campaign for an inquiry on Kelly’s alleged suicide and the failure of human rights groups regarding Guantanamo Bay and Bradley Manning’s incarceration, without trial. Dave’s view was that Chris should ‘Get a life’.

Dave felt that Chris’s loathing for the US had always been bubbling underneath. Chris had resented most of his career as an HR Director at US multinationals. He’d labelled himself as a ‘Hire, Fire, Fix and Settle Professional’. He felt implicated in the rich getting richer. He understood excess and what City Boy and City Girl revealed about the big swinging dicks and the incompetence of the guys at the top with the fat bonuses. He knew and loathed all the lobbyists from The City of London Corporation to the Taxpayers Alliance. Early retirement hadn’t come too soon for Chris. Dave despised Chris.

Dave loathed Chris’s inability to just move on. Dave thought Chris was a dinosaur and the last person on earth that wants revenge for bankers’ gambling and corruption and still wants to find out what the White House knew about September 11.

Dave thought all Chris’s questions where Michael Moore’s. Michael Moore twisted the presentation of the facts and images just as much as Governments. Chris would argue that you fight evil propaganda with good propaganda but Dave though life is too short – what’s done is done.

Dave thought Chris saw himself as the English Michael Moore. ‘Who supplied the highly trained and experienced pilots? How did each tower collapse? Why did Bush say he’d seen the plane fly into the first building on a telly, outside the classroom he was waiting to go into? No-one had seen that bit live on TV, as those video pictures weren’t on air until the next day.’ Why are the US Drones massacring targets plus civilians, every day, from a base in Saudi Arabia? On and on he’d go. Dave felt it was megalomania – no just sick – for Chris to think he could get the answers and, anyway, ‘Who gives a shit?’ . .

Chris believed that Saddam, Gadaffi and Bin Laden will have been tortured before they died. He believed that as all three had so many years being funded by, and in the case of Bin Laden trained by the US, that the manner and all the media content on their deaths will have been staged. Stooges, lookalikes, films after the event – all these were certainties in Chris’s world. He didn’t care about them being killed it was just that he took the government’s media propaganda as a personal insult. Same with the major corporates running every government, government and corporate crime and the inexorable pursuit of wealth and power so the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, Dave’s view was that Chris was ‘One sad bastard’.

Dave thought it poetic justice that Chris could no longer rant about all this, since his last operation in Malta. Silence is golden. Dave was amused that it was entirely his fault that Chris had formed the Chamberpots to counterbalance government and media propaganda. Dave had just been trying to impress the attractive wife of a miner, during the strike in 1984, when he said to Chris: ‘We must do summat about it’.

Dave could still picture the miner’s wife. Pint glass in front of her, cigarette always poised within a foot of her lips – pink lipstick. Slim, tall, light jeans, brown leather boots, black top, blonde, frizzed, shoulder length hair and a hard woman, no doubt, but she was amazing looking. Thankfully, for self-preservation, Dave thought, nothing happened. Mind, she was the one that told us that all their phones were tapped. The miners proved it by sending the police on wild goose chases. It’s why the Chamberpots, until recently, only ever communicated face to face.

Chris’s number one target is always the number 6 on the list. This is a Chris joke which only fans of the late sixties. Prisoner’ TV series would get. In the series the Number 2 would act as the Head of the Village of prisoners – like a President of any state in the world. The burning question was ‘Who is Number 1’.

The main character, the Prisoner, was played by Patrick McGoohan, who also wrote and directed the most important episodes. He was Number 6. In ‘Fall Out’, the last episode, Number 6 gets to see Number 1 who looks uncannily like himself. Dave was as much a fan of the series as Chris, but for totally different reasons.

Number 10 on the list is always FST. This refers to the late, Frederick Seward Trueman, who gives legitimacy to the list being about ‘Sporting Greats’. About the only thing Dave agreed with Chris on was that FST was the ‘greatest bloody fast bowler that ever drew breath’. This was FST’s description of himself. Fiery Fred Trueman was a fellow Yorkshireman. He was a superstar cricketer in the late fifties and early sixties. When Chris and Dave were at school together FST was their sporting hero.

Dave knew that Chris felt this was his final project. It was the opportunity for Dave to make a killing, in the financial sense. After all, Chris had money to burn and some very wealthy contacts. Chris was already paying Dave handsomely to do some meetings in London. Dave was enjoying using the Institute of Directors magnificent buildings in Pall Mall as his London base. This was courtesy of Chris’s IoD membership card and Visa card.

Dave resented that he hadn’t enough money to really enjoy his retirement. He could use Chris’s loss of speech to his advantage. He’d started to dream of a better life with Lions and Ashes tours Down Under; tennis and horse racing in Dubai; golf holidays to Penina in Portugal and, perhaps, Florida too. He would certainly go on a World Cruise. His wife, Gill, would not be a part of his future travel plans.

At his rugby, cricket and tennis clubs his fellow members thought Dave was well off. After all he had a good pension, some inherited money from his and his wife’s parents and a nice detached house in Scarborough. His house was in one of the most sought after residential areas.

The spacious houses had large front and back gardens and as a bonus, for Dave, he was just a short walk from the Old Scalby Mills pub and the sea. Dave had bought vintage sports cars over the years, which enhanced his cache. His current pride and joy was a 1946 Jaguar SS 100. Dave was always immaculately dressed. He was regularly photographed for the local media, with the Scarborough elite, attending fund raising events for charities and community causes. He gave the impression to everyone that he was a prosperous and generous man.

However, Dave’s every penny had gone into keeping up appearances. He had no savings. For the last eighteen years he’d been paying at least a quarter of his income into the account of an Orange Lodge in Scotland. This arrangement had been made by the late Geoff Richardson, one of the Chamberpots.

To Dave it had always felt like blackmail but Geoff had regarded it as a fair arrangement that would do some good for others as well as eventually repaying the loan. The loan had covered a sizeable pay off to someone who was threatening to expose an indiscretion of Dave’s.

The monthly repayments would continue for the rest of Dave’s life. Although Geoff was now dead Dave didn’t want to see what happened if he should stop paying. Only twice during the last eighteen years had he defaulted on the monthly repayment and the penalty cost had convinced him that the Orange Lodge money had to be his priority even above his mortgage payments.

Geoff had never told him whether Geoff’s son, Pup, also one of the Chamberpots, knew about this arrangement. It was not the sort of thing that Dave would ever bring up in conversation with Pup.

Dave tore up Chris’s letter into small shreds and flushed it down the toilet. He washed his hands and looked in the mirror. For a decade or more he’d always been surprised at how very pale and smooth his skin was. He thought the upper half of his head looked just like many of the free range eggs he collected weekly from his cousin’s farm.

The clues to his sixty-eight years were the grey hair surrounding his shiny, bald pate, the brown marks on his cheeks and neck, the deep wrinkles in the forehead and an open fan of, what seemed like, fine cuts at the side of his eyes. The dark semi circles under his eyes he’d had for as long as he could remember. ‘Born like that, maybe?’ He felt he looked quite hard and fit still. Certainly he looked hard enough for any young lout to think twice about picking on him. ‘Damn’ – he should have trimmed his nose and ears hair – ‘typical – not a hair seen for years up top but it sprouts everywhere else like crazy’.

Dave had bushy grey eyebrows, grey-green eyes, a slight and bony nose, long and pointy ears, high cheekbones and slightly hollow cheeks with a small mouth and thin lips. Everything about the parts of Dave’s body that were on show gave the impression of a man whose skin had been pinched rather too tightly. Apart from the face wrinkles there was no evidence of fat anywhere. This made Dave the envy of his peers and invited constant enquiries as to the state of his health. It annoyed them even more when he told them he’d never felt better. .

He smiled at the mirror. The mirror replied with a one careful owner, full set of, slightly off white, teeth. Despite, hundreds of attempts, and chewing so much gum he could fart for England, he’d never fully kicked the fags. He knew it was a winning smile – a smile which he hoped was still on a lucky streak. He liked turning it on. He smiled again, straightened his tie and silently mouthed to the mirror ‘Show Time’.

Dave knew he’d be the only one in a jacket and tie. They’d expect him to be the ‘life and soul’ of the O2 get together, but his heart wasn’t really in it. Chris’s current crusade probably involved all of them, to some degree, but Dave would be the only one that knew the scale of it. All were worried about being implicated. He wouldn’t be sorry when Chris was dead. He consoled himself that at least he could look forward to the journey back to York, with Charlie.

*****

CHARLIE SAW HER FRIEND, Gail, walking back to their table. She was carrying a tray with a bowl of soup, a small tuna salad, a bottle of Evian, and a mini bottle of Pinot Grigio – all to be shared. ‘Well, have you decided?’ Gail said, as she unloaded the tray. Charlie felt herself blushing. Hopefully, she thought, no-one, including Gail, will notice.

Charlie was tall and slim and athletic looking. She had a small roundish face which always had a little red triangle in each cheek. The little red triangles were more obvious when she blushed. To Charlie they felt like the little red ‘do not cross’ men flashing away at pedestrians on zebra crossings. Experience taught her not to worry as most people’s attention was drawn to her large blue-green eyes, underneath a startlingly black, fringe.

Gail had left Charlie to grab a table at the café in Covent Garden, while she got the food. Gail’s parting words had been ‘At least one of them must go – you can’t have three of them at the same time. By the time I get back I want to know which one, or preferably two, you’re going to ditch?’

Gail was imposing. She was always intense despite being quite pretty – small, voluptuous and slim, pixie like face with fine, shoulder length blonde hair, piled high. She was power dressed in a light grey suit and russet blouse which was quite a contrast with Charlie’s all black – boots, skinny jeans and short jacket over a red roll neck top.

Both young women were an advert for wealthy, healthy living and the best in couture. Dolce & Gabbana, Alexander McQueen, Philip Treacy, Chloe, Christian LeBouten and Jimmy Choo featured in their wardrobes. Both would have been comfortable with the other guests if they had been invited to the Royal Wedding, as some of their friends were. All they were wearing was very now.

Despite being the same age as Charlie, Gail’s career and independently earned income was way ahead. Gail co-owned a successful PR consultancy and corporate speaker bureau. Charlie knew that she’d have to answer the question now that Gail had returned:

‘It’s complicated…’ started Charlie

‘Madness’ interrupted Gail

‘It’s complicated by Andy wanting to leave his wife. He wants me to leave Graeme so that we can live together and….. not where we are…’

‘Where?’

‘I don’t know but not in Yorkshire, certainly not Yorkshire – and he’s in a hurry.’

‘Like, how much in a hurry?’

‘Like days. He’s not worried about losing his job …. I doubt whether the club cares either way. He’s pissed about not getting clearance to be with the VIPs. Gail, he’s desperate and he’s violent.’

‘Ditch him. He’ll wreck everything, Charlie. It starts by you keeping your legs shut.’

‘It’s so fucking unfair. I love what Yorkshire could do for me. I don’t know why Uncle Dave is helping me so much but this is my big chance. Andy looked fantastic when we first met. Now he looks like shit – probably having a breakdown or something. I know for a fact that he owes more people than me money. Money he’s probably blown on numbers 17 and 35. The bit that scares me rigid is that I don’t think he’s read the rule book about not hitting women’.

‘What about Mike?’

‘Whatever. Mike’s not an issue, never will be. I’ll see Mike now and again. God Gail, I’ve known Mike since our first day at Uni. The chat, sex, whatever is all really cool. I stayed at his place last night. Gail, it’s just so good to see you and to be back in London, even as a day tripper. Wish I’d stayed with Mike rather than marry Mr Boring.’.

‘Get over it. Go to the police. I don’t think you ever were the marrying kind Charlie’

‘Too late though now isn’t it? I’ll work something out but I am scared Gail and …. Look we need to finish this because I’ve got to meet these grumpy old men and women at the O2 in under an hour. Must admit, I’m really, really looking forward to the tennis. When you’re back at your office could you text me with the deal on that social media, speaker guy – . I think we could book him?’

*****

TRUDE ALWAYS LOOKED FORWARD to a day out without her mother. Today was extra special as she’d organised the Chamberpots get together from top to toe. As an added bonus she’d end the day with a few hours of Steph’s company on the train journey back to Sheffield.

Just walking through St Pancras was thrilling to Trude. She thought it was one of the very best renovation projects she had ever seen. She loved the sculptures, the light, the cavernous space, the arches, the big clock, the champagne bar next to the Euro shuttle, the colourful shops and cafes – it was all quite magical. Walking through St Pancras station was a lovely way to start a day in London.

After a moment’s reflection, Trude concluded that the recent building of the parade and fountains outside Sheffield station was a pretty damned good bit of renovation too. Trude was intensely proud of everything to do with her county, Yorkshire. Although she lived in London for many years, now she was back in the North, she found it hard to give the southerners credit for anything.

Trude and her mother were minor celebrities in Yorkshire as they attended every home game of both Sheffield United football club and Yorkshire County Cricket Club. They looked like mother and daughter. They both wore glasses, never contact lenses. Trude was taller and heavier. Trude never really did anything with her straight, golden once but white now, hair. She just scrunched it under her Blades beanie for trips to Bramall Lane and under her wide brimmed Yorkshire CCC sun hat for matches at Headingley. Trude and her mother, Pat, both showed their support of their teams by wearing replica shirts but they wore different headgear. Pat’s immaculate perm was covered by the various headscarves she wore, in the team colours.

Pat certainly had the loudest voice of the two of them and there wasn’t a footballer, cricketer or official that hadn’t been given some of her expert advice. Astonishingly, to Pat, her advice never seemed to be followed. This may have been because when shouting at sporting venues both her accent and her expressions were somewhat opaque. Each sentence ended in the words ‘you big aporth’,

Trude and Pat were more famous at the cricket than the football. This was due to the security personnel at Headingley, presumably forewarned by their superiors, allowing Trude through the turnstiles along with a large shopping trolley bag. She dragged this bag behind her from her home in Sheffield onto to the free city bus, onto the train at Sheffield station, back onto the train at Leeds station and then off the train at Burley Park station and all the way to her seat in the members’ stand.

In this trolley bag was delicious fodder that had taken at least two hours for Trude and Pat to prepare. Large flasks of hot and cold drinks, appropriate for all weather conditions, were also in the ‘packing up’, as Pat called it. The hot, milky coffee was a particular favourite as it was laced with whisky. Trude and Pat would feed and water many grateful members in their vicinity throughout the day’s play. Not surprisingly it was a rule in the members’ stand that all would ensure that, whatever time Trude and Pat arrived, that their usual four seats would be available to them. They needed four seats as they were both quite large women and they also needed space to unpack.

Trude and Pat were following a tradition. When Pat’s father had died she had taken her father’s season ticket and place and accompanied her mother to watch the games at Bramall Lane and Headingley. When Pat’s husband, Trude’s father, died then Trude had happily agreed to accompany Pat. Trude, an only child, had neither been married nor had children so this tradition would die with her. In the meantime the Yorkshire members intended to make the most of it.

Most Yorkshire members watching a four day game of cricket on a week-day are elderly, retired and don’t have the money to spend in the club’s splendid bars, cafés and restaurants. Watching the cricket outdoors was certainly preferable to many of the alternatives.

One of the indoors alternatives was sitting in an armchair, in a circle, in a very warm old people’s home with the smell of urine and disinfectant in the nostrils. Worse than the erratic conversation from those with and without Alzheimer’s, in the circle, was when their babble was interrupted by the staff’s regular ‘tellings off’.

These ‘tellings off,’ addressed to your first name, were shouted using a tone and vocabulary more appropriate for admonishing a toddler. Breakfast, lunch and dinner were just the same in terms of social discourse but would be accompanied by tasteless food and medication. For those living in such ‘homes’, who had no cooking facilities of their own, Trude and Pat provided a dream opportunity to sample proper home-made fayre.

A constant stream of grateful friends came to sit next to them all day. Each visitor was guaranteed one, or all, of a knowledgeable chat, laughter, a cup of tea, a beef and mustard sandwich, pork pie, sausage roll, hard-boiled egg and a slice of Pat’s, famous throughout the Broad Acres, Parkin cake.

Many of the more well-to-do of the Yorkshire members disapproved of Trude and Pat’s demeanor. However, those that had chosen in the past to confront them had been surprised by how articulately they were out argued. Trude and Pat were graduates and professionals in music and librarianship, respectively. They were strongly and vocally supported by the vast majority of the members’ stand. The establishment had decided it was not wise to admonish Trude or Pat on anything.

Trude was worried about Chris. She knew that the journey back to Sheffield would include a gentle interrogation by Steph as to what Trude knew about Chris’s plans. All the Chamberpots suspected that Trude and Chris had been an item at some stage. Neither Trude, nor Chris, had ever confirmed this.

Trude had not let the Chamber Pots know that Chris never asked her to do anything to help him with his list of targets. She couldn’t let on that she was treated differently as the others might draw conclusions. Chris had always confided in her but never asked her advice. But if the Chamberpots knew what she knew, they’d never believe that he wasn’t influenced by her. He wasn’t, he was just someone who never wanted to upset anyone and so he ended up making bad decisions that caused great upset. Trude was the only Chamberpot that knew Chris had left his wife Sue to live with Trish because Trish had threatened to commit suicide if he didn’t. Trude would never say anything to alienate her oldest and closest circle of friends.

She liked Steph a lot and could see why Chris had fallen for her. The only time that Trude had felt very envious of Steph was when Chris had taken Steph on holidays abroad. Trude hadn’t been abroad for many years, ever since her father died. Every year her mother insisted on an autumn break in the Lakes or the Highlands and an early spring break in Swanage. All their breaks were planned to ensure that not a game was missed at Bramall Lane or Headingley.

Continue to Chapter Two

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