Dead Clever

August 2, 1996

Part four: the story so far...

Henry Battersby, university PR officer, and Toni Jagusiewicz, his rage-prone bodybuilding assistant, notice that a student who died notoriously two years earlier by falling off her bike into a canal, appears on graduation lists. The pair think they have uncovered a funding scamand set about trying to expose the scandal. Meanwhile, Henry has apparently done his back in and convinces Toni to play servant. After some time off work, he returns to the university only see to Toni shoot past on her motorbike. Henry recklessly pursuesin his beige Maestro and after observing a secret rendezvous just manages to beat herhome, narrowly avoidingdeath and several major accidents. The Maestro and an outside toilet are not so lucky.

Chapter 12

Toni spread out the printout of the upper seconds from the faculty of art. She showed Henry how there were in fact two separate lists of names, both in alphabetical order. Henry nodded and looked interested.

"So what does that tell you?" he asked.

"Well - that there were originally two lists and that someone botched the job and mixed them together. But I did a little test. You see these ticks by these names? I rang the departments where these students were supposed to have studied. The ticks mean that the department has heard of them. Crosses mean they haven't."

"And lo, all the crosses are on the second list?" "The one with Lamorna's name on."

Henry nodded approvingly. "So?" "It's fishy."

"Yes, it's fishy - but what can it mean?" Toni bit her lower lip. "Well, I got stuck there too. But then I thought - we know that Lamorna is dead, right?" "Right. She is definitely dead."

"Well - maybe all these others are dead too?" "Yes . . ."

"You don't think that's crazy?" "Not at all. So what now?" "Well, this afternoon - you remember I mentioned that I know this girl in student records? The one I see at the gym? The one who told me about Norma Wall? - OK: well I thought - journalism is all about contacts, and she's a contact so I arranged a meeting. I thought - if I give her this list, or some of them, we can see whether there are any more stiffs on parade."

Henry's face, which had been looking a little deflated, began to regain some of its normal shape.

"You arranged a meeting with a contact?" "Yes."

"Secretly?" "Well, yes."

"Oh . . . oh . . . wonderful!" "Thank you. Well, I gave her some names from the list - picked out at random, and . . ."

"Ha ha ha ha ha!" " . . . and she said she'd look . . ."

"Ha ha ha ha ha!" " . . . into it. Henry what on earth is the matter?" "Nothing, nothing. This is simply marvellous. Marvellous!" "Oh - well, thank you. That's really nice of you," she said. She was pleased he was pleased. She thought she'd done a good job, too. "Of course, it may get us nowhere," she added, modestly.

"Ha ha ha ha ha!" "Henry, are you absolutely sure you're all right?" Toni asked as Henry got his hanky out and began dabbing his eyes.

"Yes, yes. It's just that I love clearing mysteries up, that's all."

"But we haven't cleared up anything."

"Oh yes we have. Oh, ha ha ha ha ha. Ha. I'm sure you meant well, but the university isn't MI5 or the CIA exactly, not yet anyway. I'm sure you can find somewhere secret enough without going all the way to the Motor Inn! Oh dear me."

Henry finished mopping his eyes, cleared his throat and looked at Toni. Toni was looking at him, too; only the colour had completely gone from her face and she was trembling slightly.

"What did you say?" "Eh? Well - I suppose it doesn't matter now - but, well, I - er - followed you there this afternoon. I felt I'd go mad, staying here, so I decided to come to work after all. I arrived just in time to see you leaving. And since I was only coming in to see you, and I thought you were coming to see me, I thought I'd - follow you."

"You followed me?" "Well - yes."

"In that thing?" she pointed in the direction of the back of the house. "I touched 102 the Eadington Road and you followed me all the way to the Motor Inn?" Toni got up and began pacing up and down on the opposite side of the room.

"Yes. It - wasn't easy."

Toni uttered a cry that was half scream, half growl. "You followed me. I can't believe you did that! You - ****ing creep!" She was panting very hard. Her face, normally so tanned, was drained of all blood. Her shoulders seemed to get even broader.

Henry watched her pacing with mounting apprehension. "Listen, you're not going to go green and split your shirt and turn into Lou Ferrigno are you?" he joked, rather unwisely.

Toni repeated her roar. Before Henry quite knew what was happening he was on the floor struggling to find his spectacles and burbling.

"Look, I understand you're upset that I followed you, and I'm sorry, really, but one thing sort of led to another and anyway, what's the problem? You were trying to protect your source and all that, and that's good, that's right - I mean I'm only saying that booking a chalet and drawing the curtains is a bit over the top, that's all . . . " "You know about the chalet?" Toni screamed.

"Number 467 . . . " said Henry, getting to his feet.

He didn't stay on them for long. Toni uttered the loudest scream yet, called him a "****ing, ****ing bastard" and before she knew what she was doing, punched him in the eye. Henry sailed backwards through the air, out of the living room, through the hall and into the bedroom. There he landed on the foot of the bed, bounced off and lay in a crumpled heap.

Toni stood over him, panting with fury for a few moments. Then she rushed around the flat picking up all her stuff, including the food but overlooking the video of Bringing up Baby, jammed it hurriedly back into her bag and slung the rucksack over her shoulder. Then, having already opened the front door, she paused and went back to the bedroom.

Henry was still lying where he had fallen. Toni put down her bag and crouched over him. She shook him gently, calling his name. He didn't stir. Toni put her hand to her mouth and muttered: "Oh ****, I've killed him." She rolled him on to his back and listened to his chest intently for a moment or two.

Then she closed her eyes and rose to her knees, facing the crumpled form of her employer, and shook her head slowly.

Chapter 13

When Henry opened his eyes, or rather his right eye, next morning, he stared at the ceiling and realised quickly that he was in bed. He put his hand to his left eye and felt something cold, fleshy and moist. He sat up. The cold, fleshy moist thing came away in his hand and he stared at it uncomprehendingly with his good eye.

Slowly, the events of the previous evening came back to him. He realised, of a sudden, he was undressed. With his free hand he quickly lifted the covers and with some relief discovered that he still had his shorts on. Slowly he realised also that he was in pain. His head thumped and his eye hurt when he did anything that involved moving any part of his face. His attention returned to the object in his left hand.

As his eyesight was not too good, he brought it close to his nose to examine it. His nose told him what it was. It was a piece of calves liver.

It was early - about half past seven. For about ten minutes he sat where he was, running over yesterday's events like a drunkard trying to work out how he had got home.

He became dimly aware, during this process of reconstructing his immediate past, that there was some commotion outside in Aphasia Avenue. There were people talking, and the sound of two-way radios squawking. He also fancied the room was being swept by shafts of blue light.

Suddenly the doorbell rang. Henry put the liver down and got stiffly out of bed. In the hall he pressed the intercom.

"Yes?" he moaned.

"Mr Henry Battersby?" "Yes . . . " "Police. Might we come in and have a word with you please? There's some questions we need to ask you."

Henry didn't reply. Absurd notions of escape flashed through his mind.

"Mr Battersby?" "Er - yes?" "Right away please sir, if you don't mind."

Henry pressed the button and opened the door to his flat. Two police officers in plain clothes came into the hall. Henry was aware that a small crowd of Aphasia Avenue crumblies had gathered by the front gate in slippers and hairnets. The officers stood before him in the entrance hall. They were tall, rather good-looking chaps, with that slight fleshiness that bespeaks rugby and beer.

Identification was produced. "My name is Detective Sergeant Mounce of Eadington Police Station. This is Detective Constable Buck. May we come in? Thank you." Henry stood back to avoid being trampled. "In here?" asked DS Mounce, walking into the bedroom. Henry followed them.

"What is this about officer?" he asked, more because he thought it was the right thing to do, than because of any nagging doubts.

DS Mounce sat down on the only chair in the room, while DC Buck looked around at the objects on the chest of drawers and the bedside table.

"Please sir, do sit down," said DS Mounce, indicating the end of the bed. Henry did so. "Perhaps you might begin by telling us where you were yesterday afternoon, sir."

"Yesterday afternoon? Um - at what time exactly?" "Well let's begin with lunch, shall we, and take it from there." DC Buck took out his notebook.

"Lunch. I see. Well I was here at lunch, and . . . " "Alone, sir?" "Er - yes."

"I see sir - and did you leave the house at any stage during the afternoon?" "Yes."

"What time was that then sir?" "About half past three. I took my car and drove to the university. I work there. I have been ill, you know."

"Yes sir, we know."

"Oh, you know?" "Yes sir. How did you get to the university?" "By car."

"I see sir. What kind of car do you have?" "It's a beige Maestro - registration DNY 395B."

"Thank you sir. We shall want your driving licence and registration documents in due course, but not for the moment. Now then sir, would this be the same beige Maestro currently standing in the area behind this house under assorted items of clothing and about a hundredweight of rubble?" "Yes," said Henry, as nonchalantly as possible.

"Fine. I take it it is not your usual habit to park in the outside toilet sir?" "Er - no. But it is my outside toilet and my car and what I do with them is, I would have thought, entirely my business."

"Quite so sir. But from the condition of the car would it be reasonable to say that you had - a rather more eventful drive to the university than normal?" "I suppose so . . . " "Then perhaps you can take us through it - in your own time, in as much detail as you can."

Henry described his uneventful route to the university in excruciating detail. DS Buck wrote it all down. As he got to the point where he saw Toni, Henry hesitated.

"And what happened then sir? Did you go into the Senate House as you had intended?" "No. I - decided that I wasn't yet up to going to work after all. I felt a little strange. I decided to go for a drive instead."

"Strange, sir? In what way strange exactly?" "Difficult to say, really. I have been ill, as I said, and had been taking some pills . . . " "And what pills would they be sir?" Henry fetched the pills from the bathroom cabinet and DC Buck took their names.

"It says here that you should avoid alcohol with these pills, sir. And that they may cause drowsiness. It says 'if affected, do not drive'. I hope you don't mind me asking sir, but had you been drinking at all?" DS Mounce's eyes went to the bottle of Wild Turkey, almost empty, which was still standing by the bed.

"I had not."

"It's just that your neighbours say you are - shall we say - fond of a little drink now and then."

"I am not a total abstainer."

"No sir, I can see that. Perhaps I should put it more plainly. They say that you are fond of more than one little drink, and that you satisfy this fondness rather often. What would you say to that sir?" "I'd say that they are a bunch of nosy old dossers."

"You don't get on with your neighbours, sir? Well that's not a crime. One gentleman told us that a few days ago he saw you being carried home by a young man. Does this ring any bells, sir?" "It was not a young man."

"He said, sir, that the young (alleged) man was carrying you across his shoulders. He said he exchanged words with him."

"It was a young lady."

"A very strong young lady, presumably?" "Southwest amateur women's bodybuilding champion, actually. She is my assistant. She was carrying me home because I had put my back out. Remember? The pills . . . ?" "I see. And she will be able to confirm this, sir?" "She will."

DC Buck spoke up for the first time. "She wouldn't be Toni something or other, would she, by any chance?" "Jagusiewicz," said Henry. The policemen looked at one another and chuckled.

"Ah yes. We are familiar with Ms Jagusiewicz."

"You are?" said Henry, widening his eye and regretting it immediately.

"Yes, sir. Perhaps I should explain. A colleague of ours, DS Marchmont, has a clipping of the Western Daily Press stuck up on her locker door, showing Ms Jagusiewicz winning her title. We have our theories about DS Marchmont, but we won't trouble you with them."

"I'm obliged."

"So - you decided to go for a drive. Perhaps you could explain to us precisely what happened after that?" "Well - it's a bit vague actually . . ."

"Really, sir?" "Yes . . . " "Well, perhaps you wouldn't mind trying to remember. In your own time. Perhaps you would be more comfortable in a dressing gown?" Mounce signalled his colleague, who brought a robe from the back of the door. Henry thanked him and put it on. "Incidentally, sir, I can't help noticing that that's quite a shiner you've got there. Perhaps at some stage you could enlighten us as to how you came by it."

Henry described, as neutrally as possible, his route to the Motor Inn. He had got as far as the intersection with the motorway when DS Mounce interrupted.

"Do you remember stopping at any traffic signals along the Eadington Road?" Henry said he couldn't remember. "Only we have reports of a car answering the description of yours failing to stop at the intersections with Fosbury Road and - where was it - Brunel Lane."

Henry looked non-committal and smiled. DS Mounce was about to ask him to continue, when he stopped short. "Tell me, sir, is it your habit to feed your cat liver on the pillows of your bed?" Henry turned around. Benson was tucking in to the slimy object with relish. Henry shooed him away and explained how the liver had come to be there.

"I thought steak was the preferred remedy, sir?" "Yes, well I didn't have any steak. It was either that or fish fingers."

"I see. So from junction 18 of the M5 you proceeded south along the motorway as far as the slip-road to the Motor Inn?" Henry nodded.

"An officer of the RAC reports seeing a beige Maestro enter the nearside lane of the motorway and nearly cause a multiple pile-up. He was too far away to get the number, unfortunately. Can you shed any light on that at all? No? Very well. So you went to the Motor Inn. There, you say, you parked and rested for about an hour. In the shade. I wish more drivers would do that sir. It'd save hundreds of lives a year. You wouldn't happen to know about 15 flattened laurel bushes at the Inn? No? I thought not. What happened when you finished your rest?" "I drove back."

"Along the same route?" "Yes, more or less."

"And do you remember stopping at any traffic signals in that direction? Only we had another report of a vehicle failing to stop at the intersection with Henbury Road. The driver of the car coming across had to execute an emergency stop and his wife, who was doing her lips in the mirror of her visor, was thrown forward against the windscreen. Luckily, she had her seatbelt on."

Henry shook his head gravely.

"Now then, sir, perhaps you could tell us what happened when you got to the university. Did you turn in through the main entrance?" "Yes."

"Now that is where we have some positive independent confirmation."

"You do?" "Yes. A Mr Alfred Hipkiss - you familiar with Mr Hipkiss, sir?" Henry nodded.

"A most observant man - and an ex-special constable, as it happens. Did you know that sir?" "No, but I can believe it."

"He identified you positively and was able to give your registration number and everything. He says you tried to kill him. He says you tried to mow him down - a fate he only avoided by the expedient of leaping sideways into a hydrangea bush. Do you have anything to say to that, sir? You bear Mr Hipkiss any ill-will?" "Not until now, no."

"Yes, sir, very droll. I am afraid Mr Hipkiss is not taking the matter in a light-hearted way at all, sir."

Henry went through his route back to his house, leaving out the part where he turned down the alley. DC Buck was still writing.

"Well, that is all very helpful, sir," said DS Mounce, at length. "There are still one or two things that require your assistance, if you would bear with us for just a little while longer. First, there is the matter of the condition of your car. We took the liberty of examining the vehicle before disturbing you. DC Buck has the details of the damage - of which I am sure you are aware. Shall we say, sir, that this damage is not wholly consistent with the collision that you obviously sustained with your outside toilet, nor that with Mr Hipkiss's barrier. I refer in particular to the damage along both wings, the missing mirrors, tail lights, and so on. Could you, first of all, offer us any explanation of this? I should say at the outset that Mr Hipkiss's description of the vehicle which approached him does not mention any element of damage . . . " Henry told them about the alley, which he said he took in error, in mistake for the turning at the end of the road.

"This is the alleyway some doors down? The one dedicated to pedestrians only with a sign clearly denoting this fact?" "Yes."

"There is, if I remember, a bollard at the end of it."

"There was."

"I see. And after colliding with the bollard you turned right towards your own house?" "Yes."

"That's fine." said DS Mounce.

"If you examine the alleyway you will probably find traces of beige paint on both walls, and the remains of two wing mirrors."

"Thank you, sir, we shall be sure to look. Now then the other matter - and I think this will probably be almost the last question I shall ask you - concerns the washing appertaining to a certain Miss Crispin. Miss Crispin reported her washing - which I understand she is accustomed to hanging to dry in the alley - as stolen yesterday evening. However, she has since positively identified the assorted items of clothing on your car as hers. I take it that you did not intend to steal these items, but that you - in your confusion - found yourself unavoidably entangled in them?" "That is correct."

DC Buck spoke again.

"In this context sir, could you therefore explain the presence of ladies' underwear in the top drawer over there? There are several such items - all panties of one kind or another. To whom do they belong, sir?" "To my wife. Well, that is to say, to me."

"Is there a Mrs Battersby, sir? I wasn't aware."

"There was. We are divorced. The panties are hers - she - er - left them behind."

"Not have much use for them did she sir?" Henry looked at DS Mounce with stifled hatred. Mounce smiled malevolently. "I am keeping them for her in case she should . . . " "Come back to you, sir?" " . . . want them back."

"I see." Mounce and Buck looked at each other very briefly and smirked. "And you keep them - in your top drawer - just in case?" Henry smiled feebly. DC Buck stopped writing.

"Well, I think that about wraps it up - for now . . . " "Are you going to arrest me?" DS Mounce laughed. "No, there's no need for that, sir. I shall make a report and it's up to the authorities how they take it forward. There have been no actual complaints, apart from Miss Crispin, and of course Mr Hipkiss. Whether they decide to press charges of course is up to them.

Henry swallowed. "What do you think is likely to happen?" "Well, sir," said DS Mounce, rubbing the back of his neck, "that was evidently quite a ride you had. There's potential grounds, I think, for several charges - including failing to stop at a red light (three or four counts), failing to stop after an accident, driving without due care and attention, driving while under the influence of drugs, and depending on Mr Hipkiss, possibly one of driving in a manner likely to endanger life. Then there is the matter of Miss Crispin's smalls. As I say, she has not said she wishes to press charges, and the circumstances of the alleged theft being what they are, I don't think that the case would come to anything - despite the presence of ladies' underwear in your bedroom drawers. You have your rather touching explanation by way of defence. It's usual, for minor traffic offences, for drivers to get a written warning from the Chief Constable. But in this case that's not very likely. You'll probably get a summons. You'll get the chance to save the court's time by pleading guilty in your absence (which I would strongly urge you to do), and then they'll take away your licence and fine you an enormous sum of money. Hope you weren't planning any fly-drive holidays in the near future, sir."

"I wasn't."

"Well that's probably for the best. Cancellation fees can be crippling."

"What about Alf Hipkiss?" "Ah yes now that is more interesting. The incident where he alleges that you tried to mow him down actually took place on the university precinct. Now that is private property - not a route dedicated to the public use, as we say. However, Mr Hipkiss is, I understand, making a complaint against you to the university. The upshot of that is likely to be no action, since the university's disciplinary procedures are unlikely to wish to take on a charge of attempted murder. If that's what he alleges, the university will insist that he turn the matter over to us. Then it will be up to him. If he does go to law, then we shall very likely meet again. And if there is a prosecution, then the university might thereafter take its own action, as your employer. It's not for me to say, really. We had all this explained to us by a Mr . . . Francis?" "Dr Ffrancis - with two effs. The second is silent. Or maybe it's the first."

"Ah, yes. Very eager to explain it all, he was. Obviously something of an enthusiast. He also seemed interested to know that you were apparently well enough to attempt the murder of Alf Hipkiss but not well enough to be at work."

"Yes, I bet we was."

"Hmm. Well, that will be all, as I say. All we need before we go are your driving licence and your insurance documents. Thank you for your assistance - you have been most helpful. It really is a pleasure, you know, in our line of work, dealing with educated people for a change."

Henry took the compliment graciously, fetched his papers, and then showed them out. The little crowd of spectators, he noticed, had dispersed.

"Just one thing before we go, sir - how did you come by that black eye?" "On the steering wheel. When I hit the outside toilet."

"Just as I thought, sir. Thanks again."

Henry closed the door and went into the kitchen. He put the kettle on and while waiting for it to boil, leafed through the yellow pages, looking for scrap merchants who did collections.

Chapter 14

Toni sat at her desk the next morning, scanning the newspapers as she did every day, cutting out odd articles of interest and pasting them on sheets of A4. It was the most menial part of her job and the one she resented most.

She was worried about Henry, who was already an hour late. After she had put him to bed, placing an appropriately sized piece of liver over his rapidly closing eye, she had stood at his bedside for some time wondering what she ought to do. She was worried that the liver wouldn't stay on - though she reckoned without Henry's corpse-like sleep patterns.

Her sudden rage had cooled. Now she was furious with herself for letting it get the better of her. Some girls she knew had been taking steroids for years and had less of a temper problem than she did. And it was getting worse. She needed a change.

All the usual reflections flashed through her mind, just as they had done the night before: no job prospects, no chance of getting into the media, no use trying to rely on Henry, no money to buy a flat of her own. She had some spare income of course, but that all went on keeping her bike on the road, clothes, dietary supplements and gym fees. What she wanted was a complete break.

A week or so before she had gone to the yacht club in the new Marina, and had registered for some introductory water-skiing lessons. She had rather enjoyed it. In the bar afterwards she had met a woman who strode over from the other end of the bar, holding a pint of lager, and intoduced herself as Ginny Marchmont. She had that weather-beaten look that people get who spend half their lives before the mast, and a rather hearty, back-slapping manner.

She said that she and some of her chums were a racing team, and they were looking for someone to fill a vacancy created by a rather unexpected pregnancy. Had she ever done any sailing? Well it didn't matter. What they wanted for their all-women team was someone to work the capstans - someone fast and strong. The woman looked at her in such a way as to make it clear why she thought her suitable. She could come out with them one day and give it a go. It could mean all kinds of interesting opportunities. They had lots of sponsorship already. It could mean foreign trips.

Toni was tempted, and had taken the woman's telephone number. She had tried to call it once that morning already, but it turned out to be a police station. Toni had been taken by surprise and hung up.

She sighed and looked out at the city. She really didn't know who to be more angry at. So many strange thoughts had been going through her head lately, she felt she hardly knew herself any more. She had really gone over the top last night. Of course he shouldn't have followed her. She hated to be tailed - to have someone hanging on; it symbolised everything messy and involving that she tried to avoid.

Also, she was embarrassed. She knew that Henry would have guessed what the score was. Some months earlier, Henry had sent her out to the Motor Inn to see if their conference facilities were suitable for hosting some university events. She had arranged a meeting, and had got there only to find that the manager had stood her up. As she waited in the entrance hall, a young man who said he was the under-manager, came over. He had said his name, but she hadn't caught it. He offered to take her around.

He was a pleasant young man, very slim and rather good-looking. She thought - although perhaps this was due to his uniform, which said Nordic Hotels Group on the pocket - that he was Scandinavian. After he had shown her the facilities and given her the promotional leaflets to take away, he had invited her for a drink in the bar. She had agreed. There he flirted rather prettily with her and she had felt flattered. Then, gradually, a neat scheme had grown up in her mind.

He had just got to the point of inviting her back again one evening for another drink and maybe a meal, when she suddenly blurted it all out.

"Do you want to have sex with me?" she said. This seemed to faze the young man rather less than she had expected. He blinked a few times and said yes. Toni was encouraged. "Do you want to do it now?" she went on. "Is there somewhere we could go?" He said, perhaps still not quite believing his ears, that for a hotel under-manager, there was always somewhere to go. She said: "Then let's go. If you can manage it three times in one hour then I have a proposition you might be interested in." They had gone to a chalet in the motel part of the Motor Inn.

An hour and a quarter later, she asked him if he had enjoyed himself - because her idea would only work if he had. He said he had.

"Here it is then. You don't know my name, and I've forgotten yours. This is the way it will stay. If you make any attempt to find out my name, the arrangement is over. Agreed?" He nodded and asked what the arrangement was. "Here it is. I will ring you - now and then - with a view to doing what we just did. I will tell you when, you will tell me where. You will comply with this request. Any excuses, even the slightest, and the arrangement is over.

"I shall ring you. You will not ring me. Any attempt by you to contact me, and the arrangement is over. OK?" The young man laughed nervously and nodded. "Are you going to pay me at all?" he joked.

"You have just had sex with the strongest pair of thighs - indeed the strongest everything - you are ever likely to experience. I don't know if you are aware what possibilities this opens up, but we haven't started exploring them yet. As I make this evident to you, you will realise that it is you who should be paying me."

The young man looked chastened.

"OK then. I am going now. And don't hold your breath. I won't be calling very often."

Since then she had met him about five times. And the most recent time, she had decided, was the last.

This was also a source of frustration to Toni. At one stage in their proceedings, she had been on top of him, lifting her body clear of his. She saw how he was staring at her with an expression of wonder, admiration possibly, tinged perhaps with disbelief.

She did like the boy. She liked it that he was lean and good-looking. And she liked it that he was so slender; it gave her the impression that she could break him like a reed if she wanted to - which aroused her. But actually, apart from having a dick like a rubber dinghy that didn't deflate under heavy weather, all she required of this partner was that he have a pair of eyes - all the better to see her with. Suddenly, what others might have called empty meaningless sex - with which she had no quarrel, since this was her plan - seemed suddenly even emptier. Was this just a posing routing with a genital element? She had to admit, it was. So much for all this independence she kidded herself she had. She needed witnesses. That was all he was.

She thought herself so strong and insular. Yet why did the thought of the beach turn her on so much? Because she loved going there alone, and having everyone stare at her: shapeless, stringy women curling their lips, blobby men staring in disbelief, all of them slightly appalled and terrified. It was almost as though none of her achievements had any meaning except in the reaction they provoked. These reactions isolated her, made her stand out, and she loved it. But they were just another form of dependence upon the common herd she so despised.

She felt disgusted with herself for harbouring this paradox and not noticing it. She felt depressed that she was apparently so inadequate, after all. She suddenly wanted to demonstrate to herself that she could share herself with someone who wasn't watching her all the time - that she could actually enjoy sex without knowing she was being admired or feared. The banality of the emotion appalled her, but it was real none the less.

And so, as she had ridden away from Chalet 467, she had determined that that was going to be her last visit. As a first step she would just give up sex altogether. And as she made that decision, it comforted her to think that Henry would approve. She felt, though why she hardly knew, as though she were making him a gift of her abstension. But by following her the way he did, the idiot had thrown this secret gift back in her face - and it was this that had sent her into orbit.

Maybe the time had come just to quit and see what came along. It was up to Henry. All he had to do was give her one good reason why she should stay.

II

Henry approached the office door silently, watched her staring out of the window and ducked back behind the door. Steeling himself, he walked briskly in.

"Good morning!" he trilled.

"Henry!" said Toni, appalled at the sight of his closed, purple eye.

"So - what's happening today in the wide world?" It was their regular morning exchange.

"Nothing," she said flatly.

"Anything in the post?" "No."

Henry had got to his door and paused.

"Aren't you going to ask me if I've found you another job yet?" Toni looked up. Her face was twisted in a way that Henry had never seen before. Her eyes were swimming. Huge tears were dripping off her chin.

Dead Clever continues next week with the fifth of eight parts.

The characters in Dead Clever bear no resemblance to persons living or dead.)

Ted Nield 1996


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