Imperialist Lackeys

The soldiers were sitting in a circle, tied with their backs to a large tree. Their eyes were still streaming, noses running and they had been stripped to their jockeys and boots.

“We may have overdone the stink gas. They’re all barking. Say they’re Navy Seals, but anyone can see they’re not remotely blue, and a bit short on flippers to be Phocidae,” reported Kiki la Berserker.

“They do sound hay beet confused, dearrr. But who sent them, hheye should like to know?” Consuella inspected the pile of discarded uniforms. “They arre Amerricanos. Hnow young man…” She towered over one of the prisoners, aggressively thrusting her ample breasts, like the twin warheads of deeply tanned ICBMs, into his face. Hwhy eez thee Hunited States of Aamerreeca eenterrfeering een hour leetle problems?” Her bosoms heaved and the pathetic farm boy, away from home for the first time in his life, whimpered.

“I was only following orders.”

“Thee Nurremberrg Deefence eez a discrredeeted excuse, my frriend. Hyou arre an Imperrialeest Lackey.” Consuella moved on to the next victim. “Hand you, what werre yourr orrderrs?”

“Always the same, sir. We get slapped round the helmet and told ‘Go get the f*ckers!’”

Consuella straightened in exasperation, “Thees ees useless, they arre but minions. Kiki, dearr, get them lost een thee woods, confiscate their boots and turrn them loose.”

Augusta King looked concerned, “I must get back to Les Chats. This American intervention is something we have not accounted for and will have to be entered into the Analytical Engine. The Lizard Kings will not like it, but I may have to go on social media to investigate the extent of US involvement. Have you a geek I could borrow?”

“Do as you must, cariño. When hyou get back to thee convent ask foorr Zelda. Herre hwe weell carrrry thee strruggle to thee enemy. La lucha continua.”

*

By the time Boz and Phoebles emerged, spluttering from the pool the airship’s crew of Kronstadt gunners and Lascar stokers were sitting around the edge sharing Rizla rollups. The Chinese cooks and stewards of the catering department were playing Mahjong. Next out came Beryl and Dark Flo carrying her rucksack between them and giggling. Finally a paw appeared holding a briar pipe clear of the water and Ginsbergbear, his corduroys rolled up above his knees, waded out of the shallow end.

“How dare you? Get that thing out of my pool… at once!” A daunting woman dressed in tight evening gown and fluffy pink slippers, holding a cocktail glass, was storming down the path towards them.

Bozzy’s mouth dropped open.

“Have you any idea who I am?” the woman continued.

Flo stepped forward. “No. But do you know who I am?”

“I haven’t the foggiest,” said the woman.

“Good,” said Dark Flo. “Now get back inside the house and lock the door.”

The woman, obviously made of sterner stuff than your usual, did not retreat.

“Comrade Matyushenko,” Flo addressed the gunnery starshina without taking her eyes off the woman “are your men carrying side arms?”

The Kronstadt starshina’s reply and woman’s response were drowned out by the buzz of a five-cylinder, 105 hp Armstrong Siddeley Genet Major I radial engine. Ferdy’s crimson lake and gold painted Cierva autogyro descended steeply out of the sky to land heavily on the croquet lawn and taxi towards the pool, leaving deep gouges in the manicured sward.

“Oh, really!” huffed the woman as she stalked back up the path to phone the authorities.

999
“Which service do you require?”
“Police.”
“There aren’t any.”
“Well, get me the fire brigade then.”
“They’re out.”
“Ambulance?”
“Nope.”
“Put me through to someone in charge.”
“Have you been out lately? Does it look like anyone’s in charge?”

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The Way We Lied

She was very surprised that the Reverend Richard White had not mentioned the flower festival idea at the parochial church council meeting the previous week. That was where important events were planned and discussed and Sarah was noted for always making an enormous contribution, in terms of new ventures and strategies for enticing more people into the parish church.
Mother’s Day had been a great success because she had persuaded a local florist to donate bunches of daffodils which were distributed to all the women in the congregation, whether they had children or not. Then, for last year’s Harvest Festival, she had liaised with the village school and they had brought in pumpkins and vegetables grown in the school’s own garden. So she began to think about this new challenge as she swam, alternating between breast stroke and crawl. She concluded that Richard must have been approached by Mary or someone else, as he was most unlikely to have had such an original idea by himself.
After ten lengths she realised that the vicar might have met Mary on one of his outreach visits, when he called on newcomers to the area. After 20 lengths, she came to believe Mary had probably persuaded him to exhibit her work in the church in the interest of personal gain and after another five turns of the pool she jumped to the conclusion that Richard may have been subjected to bohemian behaviour unbecoming to a man of the cloth. By 30 lengths, she was convinced that this woman was an immoral influence who had to be prevented from displaying herself and her work at all costs. And after a final five lengths Sarah had decided that she had a much better idea for the Harvest Festival and would contact Richard as soon as she was dressed and her hair was restored to blonde perfection.
Driving back from the club, Sarah’s mind busily sketched out her plan for a Harvest Festival to celebrate local produce. It would mean contacting farmers and food producers in the area, but there were plenty of those who regularly took stalls at the bi-monthly farmer’s market and they would all welcome the opportunity to draw attention to the high quality products they created. She would present it to Richard as a return to the roots of the harvest; a reflection of the true spirit of the festival and the phrase ‘harvest home’. That should convince him.
“Sarah, how simply delightful to see you,” Richard said as he ushered her into the threadbare surroundings of his study in the rectory. “What can I do for you?” He removed some church magazines from the old sagging armchair so she could sit down while he sat at his paper strewn desk and peered at her over his half-moon spectacles. She ignored the stained coffee mug by his side, knowing that he would never think to offer her refreshment.
“I just dropped by to see if I could do anything else to help with the rectory garden party next month.” Sarah had ensured there was another pretext for her visit and knew that the party was always an irksome tradition for Richard whose busy doctor wife had little time for such preparations.
“I’m sure the usual suspects have the catering well in hand,” she continued, “but I wondered if you would like me to organise a little task force to make the garden look especially nice for the day.” The Rectory was a small modern detached house, the old Victorian vicarage next door having been sold for a substantial sum in the 1980s, and its large garden bore little of interest apart from some spectacular old magnolia trees, which would no longer be in flower by the time of the party.
As Richard vaguely smiled and dithered, Sarah jumped in with her clinching argument. “And I thought I could plant up some colourful pots and hanging baskets and, if you wanted, we could raffle them at the end of the afternoon?”
He assented to this charitable offer immediately and then she plunged in with the primary object of her visit. “And I’ve also been thinking more about all you have said recently about making the church more accessible and relevant to the area. So I was wondering whether we couldn’t organise a local farmers market type of Harvest Festival this year?” She went on to list the participants she had already considered and the impact of the event on the community and the village school. By the time she had finished describing how it would celebrate the origins of the festival, Richard was in full agreement with the idea.
“Well Sarah, there have been a couple of other suggestions already, but I must say your proposal would seem to be the most suitable. You really have thought it through splendidly. Can I say yes in principle and confirm with you when I have run it by the church council? I am absolutely sure they will agree that it is a simply marvellous idea. Leave it with me for now, will you?”
Sarah was more than satisfied. She had no doubt her theme would be adopted. But as she left the rectory, she thought there might be one more little precautionary measure she could take to ensure that there would be no unconventional or unsuitable sculpture on display in St Michael’s Church. And she smiled to herself.

Breaking out Grandad – Ben’s tale

 

Chapter five

I couldn’t concentrate throughout the rest of the day and had an evening of work ahead of me – that Fascism essay was still not finished and there was a physics paper on top of it – but there was nothing for it. I would have to call in on Grandad before I did anything.

Grandad was in the front garden raking some grass cuttings into a small pile. He looked up and smiled at me.

“Ben, old boy! How are you!”

“Hi Grandad.” I felt suddenly wobbly with relief and had to blink and cough to bring myself back to my normal cool self.

“Just got to pick up this grass and then I’m ready for a cup of tea.”

“Let me do the grass.” I thought of how frail he had looked last night and, though he seemed bright enough now, I realised how small he was too. Had he shrunk? Had I grown? Had I only just realised?

“Thank you. Just put the grass in the wheelbarrow and bring it round to the compost heap. I’ll get the kettle on.” He turned and walked towards the house, or rather he shuffled. I hadn’t noticed before how much he shuffled.

I finished the raking and pushed the barrow round to the back of the house and down the garden to the compost heap near the hedge.

“Hello! You!”

I looked up startled. Mrs Stuck-Up-Nose was staring at me over the fence, the fence she had made Grandad pay for.

“Yes! You’re Mr Heath’s grandson aren’t you?”

“Yes.” I didn’t want to talk to her so I pushed the wheelbarrow further up the garden.

“Mr Heath’s grandson!” Mrs Stuck-Up-Nose continued.

I looked up again. A growl seemed to be coming from low down in her body. I looked at her with more interest.

“My name is Ben.”

“Ben.” She paused, clearly filing away my name for later use against me. “Your grandfather has been causing trouble.”

“Oh?”

“He’s been digging that great hole in the garden.”

“So?” I drew myself up to my full height and glared down at her. “It’s his garden.” I spotted the source of the growling. Her dog was snuffling round her ankles.

“But digging it in the night and in the early hours of the morning is most unusual.”

“Was he digging last night?” I was alarmed.

“No. But he was out first thing this morning. It’s not right.” She lowered her voice and gave a thin, unconvincing smile. “I’m worried about him.”

I sincerely doubted the truth behind that last statement.

I took a deep breath. I was going to have to stand up against her. “I think he has the right to be digging in his own garden at whatever time he wants to,” I said, and bent to pick up the barrow again.

“In his pyjamas? It’s a little odd”

She was right of course but I had had enough. I grabbed the wheelbarrow handles and marched off.

Back in the house Grandad had made tea and he seemed so normal that I decided not to worry. He had suffered no apparent ill-effects from his adventures the previous night and there was nothing to show for it. Even the wet clothes that he had left on the bathroom floor had been cleared away. Chin Woman had obviously been and there were no nasty smells in the kitchen. The milk in my tea was still fresh.

There was a knock at the front door. Grandad looked startled and a look crossed his face, like the shadow of a bird in front of the sun. He got up and backed away towards the back door.

“I’ll go!” I said as enthusiastically as I could.

It was Charlotte.

“Oh hello Ben! I didn’t realise you were here.”

“That’s my bike you’re using as a table.”

“Oh, sorry, is it? I didn’t notice it.”

I had chained my bike to the drainpipe by the front door and Charlotte had balanced a substantial black shoulder bag on the saddle.

“I came to see if your grandfather was alright,” she said, looking at me with wide, oh-so-innocent eyes. “Dad and I were worried and I said I’d pop by after school.”

It sounded feasible so I nodded. “He’s fine thanks. No problems.”

“I’ve brought this round for him.” She plunged deep into the shoulder bag and extracted a huge, round biscuit tin. She held it out but I was staring at the bag which hadn’t apparently lessened in size, despite the girth of the tin. I wondered what else it held and if it was one of those Mary Poppins-style bags which could contain everything and remain the same size. Perhaps Charlotte would suddenly fly off, holding an umbrella. Perhaps she was a witch and that is how she turned up everywhere I went.

I refocused. “Thank you.” I took the tin, which was heavy, and stared at it, looking inspiration about what to say next. In the end I said the first thing that came into my stupid head. “Come in and see him.”

But he wasn’t there.

“Grandad!”

The back door was open and I looked down the garden, just in time to see a figure hurrying through the back gate and across into the woods. I set off at a run, Charlotte at my heels.

Unfortunately Mrs Stuck-Up-Nose’s dog was at my heels too. As soon as I was out of the gate it was in the lane, yapping and snarling, though it was so small that its snarl was more of a squeak. I decided to ignore it and plunged into the undergrowth, hoping it would just go away. It didn’t but snapped at me when I climbed onto a log for a better view. And I didn’t mean to kick it, honestly, but I lost my balance and when trying to regain it, my legs flailed out and I caught the dog a glancing blow on the muzzle. It fell back whimpering, Mrs Stuck-Up-Nose hove into view and I came crashing down on my back in a holly bush.

Charlotte didn’t make it any better when she laughed.

“I’m sorry, I’m so sorry!” she spluttered as she helped pull me up.

“My poor Peggy-Sue!” shrieked Mrs Stuck-Up-Nose, seizing her dog who had started yapping again and seemed anything but injured.

“I can’t find any mushrooms!” announced Grandad.

We all swung round to see Grandad holding out his empty hands to us.

“What?” I shook my head to try to make some sense of this.

“Mushrooms. I suddenly thought there might be some and we could have mushroom omelette for our tea. You are hungry, aren’t you Ben?”

“Yes but…”

“Your grandson has just kicked Peggy-Sue!” squawked Mrs Stuck-Up-Nose, holding the dog close to her heaving chest and having to move her head around to avoid its yapping, snapping mouth.

“I’m sure he didn’t mean to,” snapped Grandad. “That hearthrug is always getting in where it shouldn’t.”

“How incredibly rude! She,” Mrs Stuck-Up-Nose emphasised the pronoun, “is a dog and an injured one. I shall to ring the vet and send the bill to you!”

“It was an accident Mrs Snelling,” said Charlotte. Mrs Stuck-Up-Nose glared at her but at that moment Peggy-Sue nipped her on the nose and she dropped her hurriedly and flounced of with as much dignity as a woman with a nipped nose can muster. Peggy-Sue scampered after her.

“What was I doing?” asked Grandad.

“I think you were looking for mushrooms,” I replied, pulling a holly leaf out of my backside.

“Of course. But perhaps there aren’t any. What month is it?”

“April,” said Charlotte.

“Of course, that would explain it. I was getting confused. It’s not yet mushroom season. Shame, Bess, that’s my wife, makes the best mushroom soup.”

That was true. She did. Once. I hoped it was just a slip of the tongue, a slip of the tenses. Charlotte hadn’t seemed to notice, or perhaps she didn’t know Gran was dead.

“We’ll have to have plain omelettes, or cheese. I didn’t know Ben was calling in for tea you see, though I’m delighted,” Grandad said. “Will you have some Miss er, Miss..”

“Watson. Charlotte Watson. Call me Charlotte please.”

“And I’m Reggie.” They shook hands and when Grandad smiled at her he looked just like his old self, not like the frail, bedraggled, confused man she had met the night before.

“So, will you have an omelette?”

“If it’s not too much trouble.”

“Of course not; no trouble at all.”

“In which case, I will, thank you. And I’ve brought cake.”

 

“They talked away like old mates!” I moaned to Tom later. “He invited her round again!”

Tom just laughed down the phone. “Maybe she’ll be useful. Keep an eye on him.”

“That’s not her job. That’s mine.” I was surprised to find how protective of him I felt. Tom was right, she might be useful, but I didn’t want Charlotte worming her way into my life. “Anyway, supposing her has one of his funny moments?”

“What funny moments?”asked Tom.

Ah. Of course, I hadn’t told anyone about them. I didn’t want them knowing. I didn’t even want to know myself that they happened. But they did and they weren’t just a case of him being a bit eccentric. The look on his face when Charlotte had knocked on the door had been fear. Or had he just thought ‘I must go and fetch mushrooms for tea’? And I still had no idea what he had been doing in the woods the night before, nor why he was digging a hole in the garden.

“Oh, nothing,” I said, and hoped he’d forget it, though Tom wasn’t the sort to forget.

The Way We Lied

Sarah’s life was organised to such a precise degree that chance occurrences were simply not permitted. The children’s school calendars were pinned up on a notice board in the kitchen and important dates were transferred into a large diary which always lay open on a table beside the telephone. Holidays were booked months in advance, meals were shopped and catered for with maximum efficiency and minimum waste. And while unforeseen events did not shake Sarah’s composure deeply, they unsettled her when they were beyond her control.
And she was beginning to feel that she had just become aware of an element beyond her influence in Mary Reid. Normally she would have dismissed coincidence as being of no consequence whatsoever, but this was different. This woman suddenly seemed to be intruding into various compartments of Sarah’s carefully scheduled life and she did not like it one little bit.
First there had been the unpleasant disclosure at the hospice shop, then the possible contact with the girls at the school and now Sarah had just discovered that Mary was suggesting projects to the vicar of St Michael’s Church. It was Sarah’s turn to help with the flowers and although Ursula Timms who was the principal flower arranger was frightfully conservative and loved her chrysanthemums and carnations and would never consider incorporating a single piece of corkscrew hazel or a brightly coloured gerbera, Sarah rather enjoyed helping with this task every couple of months.
Today they had created two large urns of late spring flowers, adding scented sprays of purple lilac donated from local gardens. Sarah was just sweeping up the fallen florets and leaves from the floor beneath the pedestals, when Ursula said, “Now what do you think about our vicar’s idea for a flower and sculpture festival in the autumn?”
It was the first Sarah had heard of it, so Ursula went on, “Richard’s very keen to do it for this year’s Harvest Festival when there are so many lovely brightly coloured chrysanths around. And he’s been talking to a local artist woman he’s met, who has promised to lend us some of her pieces of sculpture. It sounds as if it could be very exciting, don’t you think?”
Sarah’s ears were suddenly alert. She knew immediately who this would be and felt irritated that this woman was violating yet another area of her life. Ursula could not recall the artist’s name; she only knew that Richard White the vicar had assured her of their fame and that their work was highly acclaimed.
“New ideas like this can be such a help in drawing new people into the church, Richard thinks. Don’t you agree?” Ursula was enthusiastic but Sarah was noncommittal, feeling sure this had to be another instance of Mary infiltrating the ordered composure of Little Elham with her louche ways.
When the floor had been swept and the flowers given a final spray of refreshing water, Sarah left promptly for her swimming session. She swam twice a week at the sports club, constantly trying to beat her personal best in terms of speed and numbers of lengths. She calculated that she had already swum the English Channel since Christmas and was now nearing the Isle of Wight on the home stretch. As she swam, keeping her head and chin neatly out of the water because chlorine did so wreck one’s highlights, she thought about the growing annoyance that was Mary.

The Protected Cruiser Авро́ра

Lord Fluffy was looking out of his penthouse window in utter disbelief. He had gloried in the view across the bay with his two mighty battleships riding serenely at anchor. Now it was a junkyard. Wreckage littered the sea, one of his warships was sinking by the stern, the Texas was retreating, at a limp, towards the open ocean and a spreading grey-brown cloud was rising ever higher over the docks.

“What the hell? Where did that bloody cruiser come from?”

Thérèse was sorting through the papers on his desk while Lord Fluffy’s back was turned, photographing anything that looked important on her iPhone.

“According to your Pravda mole it’s probably the Bolshevik museum ship Авро́ра. A crew’s worth of Kronstadt sailors turned up the other night disguised as cleaning ladies. They overpowered the nightwatchman and slipped out of St Petersburg before anyone knew what was happening.”

Fluffy ducked, just a hunching of the shoulders and the merest hint of a bow, as two Chats Souterrain Grumman Ducks aimed straight for his window. But they zoomed harmlessly, low over the hotel roof and were gone. He looked round into the room where Thérèse was innocently disinfecting his telephone handset. They could hear distant gunfire in the outskirts of St Hellier.

“Get Mad Jack back here, two minutes. And I want my Roller outside in ten. We’ll take the Chinook to the Tyrany of Sark, re-establish command from there.”

It was a minute and fiftytwo seconds before Mad Jack, in shirtsleeves and carpet slippers, was standing before Mr Fluffy.

“Ah, Major Belvoir. You are in charge. Do not fuck up.”

“Car’s waiting downstairs, Lord Fluffy.” Thérèse Defarge hovered in the doorway holding two overnight bags.

“Shred everything, major,” said Mr Fluffy as he departed with his secretary.

And Major Mad Jack Belvoir of the Third (King’s Own) Hussars was alone in the vast, luxurious and deserted hotel room.

Author’s Note:

At 9.45 p.m on 25 October 1917 a shot fired from the fo’c’sle gun of the Cruiser Aurora (Авро́ра), pride of the Kronstadt Fleet, signalled the start of the assault on the Winter Palace and the beginning of the October Revolution. The round was a blank.

dogger_bank_russian_outrage_incident_1904_st_andrews_dock_hull_postcardSomewhat earlier and less auspiciously Авро́ра was involved in the infamous Dogger Bank Incident. On the night of 21/22 October 1904 she was accompanying the Imperial Russian Baltic Fleet en route to reinforce the 1st Pacific Squadron stationed at Port Arthur during the Russo-Japanese War. After negotiating a non-existent minefield, the Russian fleet sailed into the North Sea and whilst beset by fog (a traditional excuse) a fleet of Hull coleyfishtrawlers was sighted. Despite being more than 20,000 miles from Japan this was assumed to be a flotilla of Japanese torpedo boats. The officer class of the Imperial Navy left much to be desired. Sans further ado the Russian warships illuminated the trawlers with their searchlights and opened fire. The coleyfishtrawler Crane was sunk and its skipper and first mate killed. Four other trawlers were damaged, and six fishermen were wounded, one of whom died a few months later. The trawlers had their nets down and being Yorkshiremen their skippers were too canny to cut the warps. Consequently they were unable to flee. In the ensuing chaos Russian ships shot at each other. The cruiser Aurora, mistaken for a Japanese warship, was bombarded by seven battleships sailing in formation, causing damage to the ship, killing a chaplain, at least one sailor, and severely wounding another. During the pandemonium, several Russian ships signalled that they had been torpedoed and on board the battleship Borodino rumours spread that the ship was being boarded by the Japanese. Some of her crew donned life jackets and lay prone on the deck, whilst others drew cutlasses. Further losses to both sides were only averted by consequence of the extremely poor quality of Russian gunnery, the battleship Oryol reportedly firing more than 500 shells without hitting anything. The ‘battle’ lasted for some twenty minutes.

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The Way We Lied

And while the mothers cooed over the dribbling baby and waited for their little broods, Sarah thought about the woman she had seen in the charity shop and considered whether she should take action. She did not want to be seen as narrow minded and petty, nor did she like to appear to be constantly criticising and undermining the school’s decisions. She liked to be able to make constructive, positive comments. However, in this instance, she wondered whether a promiscuous, tattooed sculptor was a good role model for young girls. Sarah’s daughter Amy was not a talented young artist, so she would not be deprived if the visit was cancelled and the school was fortunate in attracting many other successful and well known speakers during the course of the year.
Sarah decided to speak to the art teacher first and as the girls flowed into the arms of the waiting mothers, she told Amy to wait in the hall while she went in search of Mrs Edginton. She found her pinning some recent artistic efforts on the walls of the art room and after complimenting her on the encouragement she gave the girls, she launched into the purpose of her visit.
“Some of the parents I was just chatting to were saying that they were concerned about the planned talk by Mary Reid, the sculptor. They’re worried about the kind of work she does and what she will say to the girls.”
Mrs Edginton looked startled. “Oh I don’t think they need to worry. Mary will just be showing the girls a variety of pieces and demonstrating the different materials that can be used in sculpture. You know, casting in bronze as opposed to working with stone.”
“It sounds great,” Sarah said enthusiastically. “Just right. But… and I don’t want to put a damper on things, but people are asking whether she’s the right kind of image for a girls’ school. She has got a somewhat colourful reputation. I’m sure you’ve heard. And some of the parents are saying that it’s not really appropriate for the girls to be lectured by someone with a tattoo.”
“Oh that. It’s nothing. Really nothing. I’ve seen it.” Mrs Edginton blushed. “It’s the tiniest thing. Oh dear, but if you think people are going to make a fuss…..well, perhaps we shouldn’t…..”
“No, don’t be silly. You know how people talk,” Sarah said, with a cheerful smile. “ If you think she will be good for the girls you should go ahead. Don’t worry about it.”
But Mrs Edginton was frowning. “Well, just to be sure, I’ll talk it over with the headmistress. I wouldn’t want to upset everyone.”
“Good idea,” said Sarah brightly. “In fact I’m popping into Mrs Lee’s office next, so I’ll mention it. Kill two birds with one stone that way.” And she left immediately, her heels clicking as she walked down the corridor, leaving Mrs Edginton shuffling pastel drawings of vases of flowers.
Sarah almost skipped down the stairs, humming with satisfaction, then popped her head round the door of the secretary’s office. “Hello Rachel, do you think Mrs Lee has a moment?”
She was ushered through and in minutes was sitting before Mrs Lee, who was offering her hot tea in a porcelain cup. “I really don’t want to be a killjoy, Mrs Lee, but some of the parents are making noises about the artist who is meant to visiting later in the term and I hate to have to say it, but I heard a most unpleasant rumour a few days ago.”
Mrs Lee had not been in post very long and although she was well supported by experienced staff and a most capable deputy head, she did not yet have sufficient confidence in her own judgment to brush aside parental concerns. She listened intently to all Sarah had to say and raised her eyebrows when the tattoo was mentioned. Finally all she said was, “I shall have a little word with Mrs Edginton. We haven’t quite finalised all the term’s activities yet.”
And Sarah left the school feeling satisfied, knowing that her words had been heard and that bohemian behaviour had been prevented from besmirching the innocent pupils of Bluehills.

Breaking out Grandad – Ben’s Tale

Chapter Four

 

“Are you two alright? You’re wet through!” The voice belonged to a tall, broad figure who, when he led us into the light of his warm kitchen, turned out to be a middle-aged man with a bristling moustache.

“I was just trying to get the cat in and I heard something going on in the woods,” he told us. “I thought maybe it was Za-Za – that’s the cat – having an altercation with a fox, or that dog that lives up the road. It wouldn’t be the first time. And I found you two.” He turned and called through the doorway: “Lottie! Can you come and give me a hand here?”

“Just a minute!” The voice sounded worryingly familiar, worries that were confirmed when a red-haired girl stuck her head round the door and squeaked “Ben! What are you doing here?” Yes, it was Charlotte. Oh, hooray! Embarrassing or what!

I made up some story about looking for one of Grandad’s chickens that had got loose and might be in the woods, while I dried my hair with the towel Charlotte found for me. She kept staring at me. Perhaps she was hoping that I’d strip off completely and towel myself down. Nah, I’m not the sort of person anyone hopes that about.

Then Charlotte’s Dad looked at Grandad who was shivering and shaking like his teeth would fall out and said: “Mr Heath, isn’t it? I’m Mark Watson. You’re going to be ill if we don’t get you out of those wet clothes and into a hot bath straightaway. Lottie, go and run a bath and I’ll find you some of my spare clothes.”

“No!” Grandad’s voice was so loud it made me jump. “Leave me alone!”

“Seriously Mr Heath, you’ll catch pneumonia or something.” He made towards Grandad who shrunk back, fear in his eyes.

“Get off me!”

I stepped forward between the two men. I didn’t know what was happening but I knew that I had to take Grandad’s side, even though Mr Watson was right.

“It’s alright Grandad,” I said. “It’s alright.” I felt like I was talking to a frightened child. “We’ll go home and you can get warm there.” I turned to Mr Watson and smiled awkwardly.

“Tell you what,” Mr Watson blustered. “I’ll give you both a lift home. It’s still pouring with rain.” He gave a nervous laugh.

“Thanks Mr Watson.”

“Mark,” he replied.

Charlotte smiled.

‘Oh no,’ I thought, ‘he’ll be saying ‘call me Dad’ soon’.

 

Back at his home, I had just persuaded Grandad to have a quick bath when my phone rang. The name ‘Mum’ came up on the screen.

“Ben, where are you?” She sounded either annoyed or anxious, probably both. I sighed. When would she work out that I was almost 16?

For a moment I couldn’t work out what to say. What had I said when I left? The events of the last hour or so had confused me.

“I dropped in to see Grandad,” I told her.

“Oh.” Her voice softened. “Is he alright?” The anxiety returned then, but at least I was off the hook.

“Yes. Fine.”

“Can I have a word?”

Awkward.

“He’s just gone in the bathroom.”

“So what have you been talking about?”

Maybe it was my imagination but I thought she might be suspicious.

“History. I’ve got a difficult essay to write about the years leading up to the war. I thought he might be able to help.”

“Oh. I thought you went to Tom’s. He lives miles away from Grandad.”

“It’s not miles and I went to Tom’s too.” This was irritating. Why didn’t I just tell her the truth? Because she would start a spiral of worry and who knew where that would lead.

“Are you coming home? Do you want a lift? The rain’s awful?” She rattled on in this vein for a while as I began to shiver. I cut her off with the promise that I’d be home soon and went to check that Grandad was alright.

Was I right to say nothing? I hadn’t quite worked out what had gone on in the woods, or maybe I had, but I didn’t want to admit to it. If I admitted that he seemed to be running from something, that he seemed to be re-enacting our old war games but taking them seriously, then I would have to tell someone and that would put a chain of events in motion that would change everything. And I wanted to keep Grandad as he was.

Charlotte, of course, said something the next day.

“Are you OK? Is your Grandad OK? Did you get the chicken back?”

“What is she on about?” asked Tom. I was scrabbling in my bag for a text book at the time and didn’t reply. I was trying to work out what to say.

“What are you on about?” Tom asked Charlotte.

“Oh it’s just that Ben was in the woods and…”

“Found it!” I announced, waving the book in the air and hitting Tom in the face. “Sorry Tom! I’ve got to go.” I loped off leaving Tom and Charlotte staring at me. Maybe Charlotte was just being kind but I didn’t want her interfering. I didn’t want anyone else involved.