Tuesday, 14 January 2014

A Woman of Conviction Ch.1

For the rest of the week, I'm going to be blogging my short story, A Woman of Conviction, as it's not been blogged before and deserves to be read. If you are an illustrator and you want to get involved with making the story complete (I can't draw for toffee), get in touch. 

She’d won her uni’s Casino Night and first prize was a weekend in Amsterdam (a story in itself). From there she ends up going to France with these friends she met. Camping down near Versailles right, and Paris is forty minutes on the train. They head into the city and she leaves them to go busking. Gave up after half an hour. Said the Parisians were horrible. People are horrible in Liverpool too, but at least here she’s got the language to sweet talk ‘em. Then she gets lost on the underground. Ends up stranded. Said some guy ran her in rings ‘round the Metro and tried to get her back to his, so she legged it. I guess there’s dickheads everywhere.

Lucky she remembered what someone told her a few weeks before:

[Three drawn panels:

  1. ¾ profile, medium shot of a guy in a fedora, sat down, right foot resting on his thigh, cigarette in right hand, grasped between two fingers pointing in the same direction of his gaze, slightly right of frame. The writing above the panel reads: “If you ever get stuck in Paris, go to Notre Dame. That’s where the travellers hang out.”
  2. Long shot, Notre Dame dominating the right of the picture, Helen coming into shot from the left (seen from the back). Men dominate the middle distance. Writing above the panel reads: “There were no travellers, only dealers.”
  3. Same shot, but Helen seen in distance, having passed the dealers. Slight glow emanating from beneath her. Writing below the panel reads: “But she passed through unchallenged.”]

There were some Israeli lads by the sundial that took pity on her. Offered her the floor of their one star dive.

“I can’t remember how we got from Notre Dame to Gare du Nord, but I do remember when we reached the hotel there were three significant landmarks making a triangle. There was Gare du Nord train station, there was a church, which was very unique looking, and the hotel was next door to a sex shop. So with those three landmarks in my head, I knew where I was, I knew I could find my way back.”

The guy on the front desk didn’t want to let her up. Said they’d only paid for three. She faced the exit, not knowing what to do next, and being very vocal about it. Must have worked, ‘cause suddenly the guy fuckin’ relented and sent her upstairs. A proper dive, but dry and sort of safe.

Next day she gets back to the campsite, to the relief of her mates. And that night there’s a storm, biggest in years, and the campsite gets washed out. Her tent was fine, but her mates were sleeping in a puddle. They made for Paris and went in search of this hotel...

It wasn’t there. She reckons she found the train station, the church, the park and the sex shop, “but it just was not there. It did not exist. We marched up and down that stretch, up and down. We knocked, we went everywhere, I had those landmarks in my head and I found all of them. I found the sex shop, I found the door that was next to the sex shop, and we were knocking on the door, there was no sign of a hotel, there was absolutely nothing. We went to see the owners of the shops and none of them could tell us where there was a hotel on that block. We spent two or three hours just figuring out.Hotel.We spent   And they were all looking at me like I was mad. We did we find a hotel a few blocks away just as dire. The floor sloped one way and the beds sloped the other.”

That’s Helen for you.

You know Helen: Everyone knows Helen. About yay high, nose ring, hazelnuts for eyes, birthmark on her left wrist. Blonde. Bears more than a passing resemblance to Tori Amos. People say it was more striking when she was young. Yeah, I’ve seen the pictures of her with burgundy tresses and I see what they mean. You do know Helen. Her cousin jokes that half the urban legends in Liverpool are based on something that’s happened to her. ‘The Helen Marr Adventures’ he calls the yarns she spins him. She does have the strangest luck though, not all of it good. Like Paris.

If you ever went up to Helen’s boat in Lydiate, you’ll have seen the volumes of address books filled with the names of musicians and mechanics and auctioneers and spice traders and wine merchants. As I said, everyone knows Helen and Helen knows everyone and there ain’t room for everyone on a SIM card. Some of the names you would know. I saw more than a few famous names in there, proper royalty too.

Because of her connections, Helen boasted that her company, ‘Bonjour’, could get hold of anything on commission. Anything legal that is. Like a bottle of 1811 Vieux cognac, or a first edition ‘Hound of the Baskervilles’, or even a hot air balloon in the shape of a bong. But most of her punters were rich executives too busy to find the perfect present for daddy’s little girl. Well I was working a few hours a week on her boat at the time. I processed payments and scoured the internet for the bread and butter orders, leaving Helen to hunt down the rarities. We had a few adventures in the process. And, as it turns out, I was the one discovered she’d disappeared again. But I’m getting ahead of myself...

[schematic of ‘The Great Hiatus’]

The lion share of The Great Hiatus is the main living space. You walk down steps to the right of the wheel house into this main room. Directly ahead is a long, thin sofa, furnished in dark red leather. This extends all the way to the kitchen area, which occupies most of the last third of the room. To the left of the stairs is an antique wingback chair, with footstool before it. Both are done in the same leather as the sofa, though the sofa is obviously new. Behind this chair is a bookcase. I have a list of the books on the shelf, too wieldy for inclusion here. However, when this schematic is put online, I would like it to be clickable, with images of all the books appearing as a pop up. Above the bookcase is an Indian design embroidered on cloth.

To the right of the bookcase is a short space which ultimately leads to the engine, but has a recess within it that contains a desktop computer. Above the computer is a framed Plan of Shanghai, 1928.

Behind the sofa is a wooden surface with a statue of Buddha at one end and Vishnu at the other. There is a small flat touch-screen built into the bulkhead, which serves mainly as a preloaded MP3 jukebox. At the end nearest the breakfast bar, a hinged section has a turntable stored in it. There is a gatleg table at the front of the sofa, which slots into the deck via poles. These poles can be adjusted to serve as a coffee table or up to waist height, sitting down. Speakers are fitted to each corner, with surround sound speakers built into the bulkhead behind the sofa. Opposite, a plasma flat screen is suspended at an adjustable angle from the ceiling.

The kitchen is fitted with all mod cons. There is a breakfast bar at one end with retractable stools. A well stocked drinks tray occupies one corner. The fridge, freezer and washing machine are hidden beneath the worktops. Opposite the kitchen is a small music space, with a ship’s piano and a small collection of musical instruments suspended from the walls. An accordion box sits next to the piano.

Walking through the corridor, we leave the room and find a shower room and toilet, as well as a further entry hatch. Walking through, we come to the bedroom. It has a double bed, fitted wardrobes and suit of Samurai armour standing in one corner. A drawn picture of Django Rheinhertd against a puce background hangs over the bed. The room is an L shape, with a final room behind it, a smaller L. This is the bathroom, including a freestanding bath. By pulling on a chain, the bath can even be pulled up on a platform through a double hinged hatch and out onto deck.

A Woman of Conviction

I guess it started with the phone call. I was online in the stern alcove, running down a couple of orders. Actually, I was replying to Jo’s new email from Addis Ababa. She was back Tuesday. I confess I was excited, it’d been a long couple of months.

Helen was listening to a vinyl first pressing of ‘Pink Moon’ in the living room. The first one she’d found was scratched to hell but the guy had felt so guilty he’d refunded her money and got her another one for free. It was only going in a frame, but for a hundred and fifty quid a pop the details had to be right. She was wrapped in a sheepskin body warmer after working the allotment all morning. Matching boots stood on the mat by the stairs. It had been a blustery, grey morning, but the sun was starting to burn through.

So, the phone call. “Bonjour.” says Helen, the customary greeting. “Oh, it’s you. What do you want?” I poked my head out. In the time I’d known her, she’d never been anything but warm to everyone she met. Here she was ice cold. “What time? Ok, I’ll be there. I said ok didn’t I?” She hung up. I tried to concentrate, but you could feel the air change. I walked out to the kitchen. “Cup of cha?” She was unresponsive, slumped in antique leather, her fingers grasping the arms of the chair. On a post-it note I saw she’d scribbled, ‘Egg, 2pm. ALP?’

For a second I thought the kettle whistling had set Toby off barking. I peered through the porthole, his black and white tail wagging at two figures outside the gate. Helen was out in an instant. A few short words were exchanged and she let them in, tickling Toby behind his ear. I gave them the once over. Middle aged, both large about the waist. She was dressed in an orange and white chintz dress, him a pale blue shirt, oxblood tie and black pants. She was sobbing on his shoulder.

Helen guided them down from the wheelhouse. Rear wheel drive, if ya get me. “Sam, can we get Mrs O’Connor an Earl Grey please.” I took another cup out from above my head and threw in a bag. Helen took the needle off the record. I placed the cup and saucer on the gateleg table and withdrew.

“Now then,” Helen said, leaning forward to mirror the man’s pose, “how can we help?”

“Ms Marr.”

“Please, call me Helen.”

“Very well, Helen. I understand you find things. Is that right?”

“It is, yes.”

“Good Helen, because I want you to find my daughter for me.”

Helen smiled thinly: “I’m sorry Mr O’Connor, I’m, a business woman, not a detective. Have you been to the police?”

O’Connor looked incredulous. “The police? They were no help at all. Think she’s mixed up in all of this, as if I don’t know my own daughter.”

The woman fell before Helen, grasping at her mud flecked jeans. “Oh won’t you help us find Sarah Ms Marr? She always spoke so kindly of you. Please help Ms Marr.”

I made to help and saw Helen’s face change. “Sarah O’Connor’s your daughter?”

O’Connor waved me away. “That’s right Helen,” he said, helping the woman back to the sofa, “and as my wife says, Sarah always spoke well of you.”

“We were good friends. Once.” She patted the woman’s knee. “Try not to upset yourself Mrs O’Connor, I’ll do what I can. Now, tell me about Sarah. What’s she mixed up in this time?”

“Well Helen, I’m sure I don’t need to tell you that my daughter has always been a wilful child, used to getting whatever she wanted. In my line you tell people no all day, every day, but I couldn’t ever say no to her. I found out she was seeing that scumbag and had it out with her. Didn’t stand a chance did I? Had me believing she knew what she was doing in about thirty seconds flat. So I left her to it.”

“Scumbag?” Helen asked.

“Man called Lennox, Terry Lennox. I had him checked out and he’s pure gangland. Operated out of Edge Lane.”


“That’s right Helen. You know them?”

“Only by reputation, I’m glad to say. Lennox I’m afraid I don’t know.”

“Don’t be. Small time enforcer. Sarah went off with him and we didn’t hear from her for about six months. That was until someone spotted her up in Garston. I went up there and got a gun waved in my face for my troubles. She begged me to leave it. Looked doped up if you ask me, but, as I say, I’ve never been able to say no to her.” He leaned back, his big hands grabbing handfuls of red leather beneath him. His wife sobbed quietly. “And that was the last we heard of it. Until yesterday, when I spotted this in the Post.” He removed a newspaper cutting from his wallet. I read it after Helen and have it still:

April 11th 20--

A man was shot dead in what police are describing as a gangland-style killing in the heart of a Liverpool housing estate yesterday afternoon.

Police were called to a house in Caldwell Road, Garston, by a neighbour shortly after 3.30pm. The man, believed to be in his 40s, was pronounced dead at the scene.
Although the man has not been formally identified, sources have named him as Terry Lennox, an employee of the notorious Nicholson family.

Residents who attended the scene expressed their shock over what had happened.

One, who did not wish to be identified, said: “I heard a loud bang and saw a guy in jeans running off through my window. A load of us came out and found him lying in the doorway. He’d been shot in the head, it was horrible. No one went in, but we could see the place had been turned over.”

Officers said they were particularly interested to talk to a woman in her 20s, who was believed to be residing at the property. They also wish to speak anyone who may have seen anything suspicious prior to the incident.

Anyone who can help police with their inquiries can contact the Merseyside Police Guncrime Hotline on 0800 458 1211, or Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.

“I don’t know what this country’s coming to.” O’Connor said. “Too many guns. Some kid blew his head off on our street only this morning. Life’s too cheap these days. Young uns all want to be Yanks.”

 “Parents have been saying the same for generations.” Helen replied matter-of-factly.

His O’Connorbull‘s head jerked to one side. “I suppose. I’ll give the police this though, it was a professional hit. They want to speak to Sarah anyway. No one’s seen her. We just want to know she’s safe.”

Helen starred into space a moment, her lips pursed, like when she’s thinking. Then she nodded slowly and smiled warmly on the O’Connors. “Leave it with me. I can’t promise anything, but I’ll see what I can find out.” She took their details and showed them to the gate. Then she slumped back down in the red leather and didn’t emerge for half an hour. I left her to it and tried to get some work done. Nothing doing. “Sam.” she called at last. I wheeled myself ‘round the corner. “I’m supposed to meet a guy in the Egg at two. Go for me will ya?”

“Ok. Who?”

“Trust me, you’ll know. Head for the best looking guy in the place. That’ll be him.”

Get it done.

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