A Tiding – Part X
by Timothy J Jarvis
Part X of ‘A Tiding’. The first part can be found here.
Soundtrack: Svarte Greiner, ‘The Dining Table’
Mark goes to present his collection – a cry – ‘Welcome to London’ – the old man scrutinises the offering – the seven-inch – a sham – Harris – a dark vision – blue-and-white police cordon tape – the hospital
The light in the sky had dwindled to a faint glow in the west by the time Mark arrived at the square in Kentish Town, clutching a plastic carrier bag containing his collection. Wary, he looked about him before crossing over to the old man’s tenement. The front door stood open. He hesitated on the threshold.
Then he heard the old man cry out. He pelted up the stairs, but when he ran into the garret room, saw the old man sitting placidly on the edge of the bed, gazing at a postcard he held.
He looked up, beckoned Mark to approach. Mark did so, and the old man held the postcard out to him. On it was a photograph of a young woman wearing a bowler hat and scanty Union Jack underwear. Behind her there was a red double-decker bus.
‘Welcome to London,’ Mark said.
The old man shrugged, began turning the card over and over in his fingers, rapidly, so the image flickered. As Mark watched, it seemed the pretty flesh fell from the girl’s face leaving a grinning hollow-eyed skull. Then the old man stopped spinning the postcard, folded it in half, and put it in the breast pocket of his pyjama shirt.
‘What have you brought me, Mark?’
Mark held out his bag.
‘Empty it out on the floor.’
Mark did so, then watched as the old man picked up and scrutinised each item in turn. When he came to the seven-inch he held it up, shrieked, ‘What’s this sham?’
He flung the record at Mark. It missed, arced passed him, smashed against the wall.
‘Treachery! I suspected as much. Just as well I had Harris watch you. He’ll bring the missing item to me.’
‘He tried for years to get a tribute together, but due to bad luck and, well, idiocy, never managed it. He never learnt to read the signs. You picked that up quickly, I’ll give you that much. Anyway, Harris didn’t, so I offered him another way to gain my favour. He acts for me whenever there is violence to be done. He’s good at violence, is Harris.’
The old man spat a clot of sputum on the dusty boards and stuck his tongue out at Mark.
‘Harris?’ Mark asked a third time. Then he had a vision of the giant pirouetting naked in the living room of Marguerite’s flat, erect cock in fist. He turned and ran.
Forty minutes later he arrived, gasping, outside Marguerite’s building. Blue-and-white police cordon tape was wrapped around a tree and threaded through the iron railings out front. A small crowd had gathered. Mark spotted Marguerite’s downstairs neighbour, Ellen, and went over to her.
‘Oh Mark,’ Ellen said.
‘What? What is it?’
‘Mark, I’m sorry.’
Ellen looked at him helplessly.
‘There was someone hiding in her flat when she came home from work. He… They’ve taken her to the Whittington, Mark. You should go to her.’
Mark went straight to the hospital, but was told by a nurse he couldn’t see Marguerite that night. She couldn’t have visitors until her condition stabilised, till she was ‘out of danger.’
To be continued…