Marjorie: Part Seven

This is the seventh part of a fiction serial, in 990 words.

By the time the first officers responded to Marta’s call, it was getting dark. They did a search of the house and surrounding areas, ignoring Marta’s protestations that she had already done that. As she insisted that they should use more men to search, and that Marjorie had never been late, ever, they continued to write down the names and addresses of her school, and any one else Marta could think of. They asked for a photo, but the only one Marta had was from the girl’s eighth birthday, so useless. The two policewomen didn’t seem to be taking it very seriously. They kept suggesting that Marjorie might be with a boy, or have gone home with a school-friend. When she told them about the taxi dropping her at the gate, they just shrugged, and said that didn’t mean she had actually come to the house.

It took some time for Marta to sort out how to view the CCTV on a computer in Mr Calder’s office, but that at least confirmed Marjorie had not approached the house after the taxi left. When the two women just kept exchanging bored looks, Marta finally lost her temper. “We are talking about a fifteen year old girl here. She left school, and was dropped at the gate by a taxi. After that, she disappeared, and anything could have happened to her. Stop asking me about boys, she never had any boyfriends. And stop asking about friends at school, she never had any of those either. Mr Calder is an influential man, and you are putting his daughter in danger by not taking this seriously”. The older policewoman looked at the young one, and shrugged. “OK, call it in from the car”.

The first thing Marjorie noticed was the smell. Heavy, musky, and something else. Sour shit. She opened her eyes, and ran her tongue around the inside of her mouth. It was dry, really dry. Her arms and legs felt heavy too, unresponsive, sluggish. Then a loud sound startled her. Something like a maniacal cackling, rising to a crescendo. Chimpanzees. It was chimps, she was sure of it. Had she gone to sleep, and left the TV on? The memory suddenly kicked in. Something sharp had hit her leg, and it felt like she had been kicked, hard. She remembered something; a syringe, perhaps, and then running. She reached out a heavy hand, and found the end of a thin mattress. She was definitely lying on something soft, and she could feel a dull ache in her left leg. Trying to rub it, she watched her hand move up and down her thigh, but had no sense of actually feeling the fingers. Her eyes felt heavy, and try as she might, she had to surrender to the sleepiness that overwhelmed her.

Tina Collier was tidying some files when a uniformed officer knocked on her office door and walked in. He was holding a sheet of paper. “This has just come in from a patrol car, boss. A missing schoolgirl, fifteen. Her name is Marjorie Calder, daughter of Tom Calder, that rich guy. She left school on time, and never made it home. Do you want to take it?” Tina grabbed the paper and scanned it quickly. “Yes that’s for us, leave it with me”. The officer looked pleased, and left. Marching out into the main detective office, Tina could see that there were only three who hadn’t already gone home. She raised her voice, grandstanding the moment. “Listen up! We have a missing teenage girl. Get on the phones, and get everyone back in. Call down to the uniform Duty Officer and tell him I said to keep everyone on for a search. Someone contact County Headquarters and tell them I need the helicopter and dog teams, maybe the underwater search team too. Get hold of the patrol car officers and tell them to stay at the house until relieved”. The three detectives were still frozen to the spot. One had his outdoor coat half on, and another was putting her shoes on. Tina walked forward, and clapped her hands. “NOW!”

As they reluctantly started to do as she asked, Tina walked over to a large whiteboard on the wall. She wrote Marjorie’s name, age, and address at the top, then added ‘Time last seen 16:30’. Without turning, she yelled, “She was dropped off by a taxi. Someone find out the name of the taxi company, and tell them I want the driver in here within the hour. Sooner if possible”.

When the girl started to stir, Rodney grabbed the mask and pulled it over his head. He had forgotten to tie the clinical face mask first, so quickly pulled the Scream mask off, and did that before putting it back on. He waited for her to say something, but she didn’t. The night duty staff were putting the chimps inside for their evening meal, and they were making one hell of a racket. Rodney wondered if that had woken her up, and braced himself for the inevitable confrontation. But she just kept trying to rub her leg where the dart had gone in, and though her eyes were looking straight in his direction, she didn’t appear to be able to see him. When she slumped back to sleep, he took the mask off, settling down to wait for a bit longer.

There was nothing on the news. Phil had watched it for almost two hours, and was on his fourth can of beer. No reports of a missing girl, on either the national or local bulletins. Maybe they hadn’t missed her yet. He put a spaghetti bolognese into the microwave, and turned the dial. Although he didn’t actually feel like eating, he knew he had to have something. All he could think of was Rod and the girl, and those old cages in the Zoo.

He hoped it was all going to plan.

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Thinking Aloud on A Sunday.

Fur.

Earlier this week, I saw a feature on a BBC programe. It appears that many items being sold as ‘fake fur’ are nothing of the sort. They are real fur. Unimaginably, it appears that raising animals in awful conditions, then killing them for their fur, is cheaper than producing the fibres needed to simulate it as fake fur. The TV show had distressing images of rabbits and Raccoon Dogs (I had never heard of Raccoon Dogs) being kept in abysmal conditions. Crammed into wire cages, and stacked on top of each other. As well as coming from the Far East, this animal fur is also widely produced in Poland, a member of the EU.

Is it used to provide warmth at least? Perhaps to help people who live in very cold places survive harsh winters. Of course not. It merely provides decoration. Bobbles for beanie hats, facings on sweaters, and adornment on the sides of handbags or on the toes of high-heeled shoes. Those poor animals endure pitiful lives, painful deaths, and all for something that serves no purpose on top of a winter hat, or fashionable bag. That’s appalling.

But when I woke up today, I was thinking of a time when fur was not only desirable, but acceptable in the mainstream. A time when my aunties coveted a fox-fur stole, worn around their neck with the head of the poor creature still attached. Fashion. Fur collars on the overcoats of wealthy gentlemen. Fashion. Chinchilla-fur wraps covering the shoulders of starlets, who never walked outside anyway. And let’s not forget the mink coats, the ultimate symbol of sexuality and wealth; worn by film-stars, and the girlfriends of sugar daddies all around the world. Worn in the heat of a Californian summer, not the desolate wastelands of Siberia. White Arctic Fox, one of nature’s most beautiful animals, Reduced to a bolero jacket discarded at the entrance to a film festival in the south of France.

The poor made do with dyed rabbit skins, even dog fur. But they still had their furs. Fashion.

Then came the backlash, and rightly so. Protesters threw blood or red paint at models and actresses wearing fur. They mounted permanent demonstrations outside shops selling furs in big cities like London. We signed petitions against the fur trade, and the companies began to listen. Over the decades, they changed to fake fur, using man-made materials. These eventually became so convincing, only an expert could tell the difference between the two. Fashion was changing, and reflecting the sympathies of a better-informed public. A public learning respect for the small animals previously bred for an early death, and just for their skins.

Now it is 2018, and you might have hoped that the fur trade was a memory, outside of places in certain countries where there is little or no alternative for warm clothing. But profit rules, and if it’s cheaper to kill a rabbit to provide a bobble for a hat, or slaughter a Raccoon Dog to have some bits of fluff to stick on the front of some high-heeled shoes, than to use commercially-available alternatives. Market forces rule, and the animals are being caged and killed once again, in ever-increasing numbers.

I am not a vegetarian, I hasten to add. And I wear leather shoes, as well as owning leather furniture. But when it comes to breeding animals for adornments to woolen hats, shoes, or handbags, then surely that is a step too far in animal exploitation?

Let me know what you think about the Fur Trade.

And if you feel inclined to do so, please share this post on social media, to spread the word that fake fur is mostly real fur.

Great Albums: It’s All About The Stragglers

This choice may surprise most of you. Despite being in a musical genre known as ‘2-Step Garage’, (no, I don’t know what that means either) this is one of my most played albums over the last eighteen years, and one of the favourites I return to time and time again. I apologise in advance to readers from outside the UK, who will probably never have heard of the performers, the genre, or anything involved with that very British sound back then.

When I heard a track played on the radio, I went into a branch of a big record shop chain in London, and asked about the CD. I was 48 at the time, in the year 2000. I am sure that the young man serving me must have thought I was buying it for a teenage child, but he was suitably respectful when I told him it was for me. Artful Dodger was not a group or band, in the usual sense. It was a duo made up of two white guys, DJ/Producers who developed a sound, then recruited session singers, backing vocalists, or unknown artists to sing the songs they wrote. This led to some of those singers, like the smooth and handsome Craig David, becoming household names in the UK.

The CD had fifteen tracks, but as is usual with modern albums, quite a few of those were extended remixes of the same songs. I preferred the ‘radio edits’ in most cases, and I was caught up in the CD from track one, playing the whole thing again immediately.
Think About Me.

The second track was the Craig David vocal that I had heard on the radio.
Re-Rewind.

This really captured the mood of the club scene back then. Something I knew nothing about aged 48 of course. 🙂

By track three, my feet were tapping uncontrollably.
Outrageous.

Track four was an irresistible smooth groove. I love this one!
Please Don’t Turn Me On.

By track five, I was introduced to Nicole singing this nice funky pop song.
24/7.

Romina Johnson took the vocals for track seven. Just when I thought it couldn’t get any better, this came along.
Movin’ Too Fast.

By track ten, I was already looking forward to hearing it all again, and Craig David was joined by Robbie Craig for this one. I was on my feet by now!
This was so infectious, I replayed it straight after.
Woman Trouble.

OK, you get the idea. A timeless album that still gets me in the groove at the age of 66. One of the first things I would take to a desert island, or rescue from a house fire. Eighteen years later, it keeps getting better for me, and though I appreciate that this sound is not for everyone, please give some of the tracks a chance.

And if you feel your feet moving, I told you so.

Marjorie: Part Six

This is the sixth part of a fiction serial, in 830 words.

The girl wasn’t moving, and Phil was concerned that they had given her too much sedative. As he unfolded the stretcher, Rodney was going through her pockets. Finding her phone, he turned and flung it as hard as he could, across the driveway, to the opposite side. It landed out of sight, close to a large tree. Phil put the stretcher next to her, and they rolled her over onto it. Rod took the pillowcase from a pocket in his overalls, and slipped it over her head. Then he picked up the school bag, and hung it around his body, before going back to get the dart from where it had fallen onto the ground. He placed the crossbow and dart between the girl’s legs, and nodded at Phil. “Ready? Let’s go”.

Despite her size, the girl didn’t feel too heavy on the stretcher. Two strong men made light work of carrying her back to the car, and they were there in no time. Phil was surprised at how normal it felt, as if they did it all the time. He had calmed down a lot, losing all of that previous panic. Once the dart had hit the girl, there was no going back. And that had made him feel much better, finally committed to what they had done. At the car, Rod wrapped some of the strong tape around her shoes, pinning her legs together so she couldn’t kick out if she woke up. Then he did the same with her hands, moving them behind her back before securing them. When he was happy with his preparations, they lifted her from the stretcher into the car, making sure to lay her on her side, so she couldn’t choke or suffocate. Rod placed the crossbow and dart to the side of her, then wedged the school bag behind her, to keep her in position.

As Rod went to close the lid of the boot, Phil reached in. He felt uncomfortable that he could see up her skirt, and pulled it down to cover her up. Rod smiled and shook his head. “She won’t know any different, mate. She’s out of it”. As the lid slammed, Rod handed the keys over. “You drive. Go slowly, and stop as you reach the tarmac road”. Rod reached inside the back, and took out the lawn rake. As Phil crept the car forward in low gear, his friend walked backwards behind it, moving the rake back and forth. You had to give him credit for thinking about that. No tyre tracks, and any possible footprints erased. Once the car was on the proper road, Rod jumped back in, all smiles. He clapped his hand on his friend’s shoulder. “Well, we did it. And it went without a hitch”.

Phil drove back to his flat before handing the keys back. Rod slipped into the driver’s seat, looking incredibly relaxed. “Now don’t forget. Tomorrow, you go to the house as normal, intending to clean the windows. Act calm, act surprised if they say anything, OK? Don’t overthink it, leave the thinking to me”. Inside the flat, Phil opened a can of beer and switched on the TV. He changed the channel to rolling news, and waited.

George checked on the horse before he left work. It took him almost an hour to walk home from the Calder house, but he didn’t mind. It was a good job, and he was left alone to do it. Wandering up the driveway that afternoon, he enjoyed gazing at the trees lining it. There was no chance he would notice a mobile phone lying next to one of them.

When Marjorie wasn’t home by five, Marta telephoned the taxi company. They called the driver on the radio, and confirmed that she had been dropped off by the gate as usual, at her own request. So Marta rang Marjorie’s phone, and after six rings, it went to answerphone. She left a message, asking where she was, and what she was doing. Twenty minutes later, she decided to walk around the house and grounds. Maybe the girl was in the stables, or hanging around by the pool? Could she have crept up to her room without being noticed? Marjorie’s room was empty, and she wasn’t in any of the bathrooms, or other rooms in the house. The horse was in its pen in the stables, and the pool area was deserted too. Marta was concerned, mainly because that had never happened before. The girl always came into the kitchen after school to get a snack. Before she ever did anything else, that was a routine she never changed. She phoned George’s mobile. He sounded a little out of breath, still walking home. No, he hadn’t seen Marjorie. He had settled Prince, then closed up and left for home as usual.

Marta checked the clock in the hall. It was almost six.

She dialled the emergency number, and asked for the police.

Lyrically Evocative (18)

Almost four years ago, I chose this song for inclusion in my series of ‘Significant Songs’. It was number 54, of a series that has now run to 201 posts. At the time, I suggested that the lyrics were worth examining, so it seems appropriate to include them here. Even though it was released as recently as 1991, the song had a big impact on me at the time, and the sentiments contained in it still resonate with me today.

This is an excerpt from my January 2015 post.

In 1991, Crowded House released their third record, the album ‘Woodface’. This was to be their breakthrough record in the UK, and contained five tracks which were released as singles, to much acclaim. As well as the mournful ‘Four Seasons In One day’, there was the great song ‘It’s Only Natural.’ It also contained this song, about devotion, and unrequited love. The lyrics are worth reading on their own, and together with the music, make up one of the most complete yet unusual love songs ever written.

Here are the lyrics.

Fall at Your Feet
Crowded House

I’m really close tonight
And I feel like I’m moving inside her
Lying in the dark
An’ I think that I’m beginning to know her
Let it go
I’ll be there when you call
And whenever I fall at your feet
You let your tears rain down on me
Whenever I touch your slow turning pain
You’re hiding from me now
There’s something in the way that you’re talking
Words don’t sound right
But I hear them all moving inside you
Go, I’ll be waiting when you call
And whenever I fall at your feet
You let your tears rain down on me
Whenever I touch your slow turning pain
The finger of blame has turned upon itself
And I’m more than willing to offer myself
Do you want my presence or need my help
Who knows where that might lead
I fall
Whenever I fall at your feet
You let your tears rain down on me
Whenever I fall
Whenever I fall

Songwriters: Neil Mullane Finn
Fall at Your Feet lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group, Kobalt Music Publishing Ltd.

And here is the band, singing them.

Marjorie: Part Five

This is the fifth part of a fiction serial, in 970 words.

Hardly able to sit still in the passenger seat, Phil had to admit to himself that he had never been so scared. Rod had got the overalls, and a couple of those masks of the face from the old film ‘Scream’. The hardest part had been getting finished early, and he had rushed the last window-cleaning job to be back in time. Rod appeared to be completely calm and collected. Over the last few days, he had got everything ready, and even though he still had no firm idea about the ransom drop arrangements, he had been adamant that they should go ahead as planned.

The car had all kinds of strange things in the back. A folding canvas stretcher, once used at the Zoo for carrying around large animals that had been sedated. It looked worn out, and was very stained, but Rod said it would do fine for their purposes. Then there was a battered-looking lawn rake, with the handle cut down so it would fit inside the car. A roll of heavy-duty parcel tape lay in the footwell near his feet, and there was an old pillowcase, which Rod said would be used as a hood. The small crossbow looked menacing enough on the back seat, with the long dart and its neon-yellow flight. Rod had covered it with the pillowcase, but it slipped off every time they took a corner too fast.

Behind the driver’s seat was a box of latex gloves, and a few plastic shoe-covers, all filched from the Zoo. There were some medical face-masks too, which Rod said would muffle their voices, making them hard to recognise. Phil wasn’t so sure that would work. They went the long way, skirting the city on the northern route. Using small roads, they would avoid the car being caught on any cameras used for traffic management. When Phil asked if there wouldn’t be lots of home security camera footage to consider, Rod had just shrugged. That was’t very reassuring. As the car entered the lane bordering the house, Phil did have to admit that his friend had chosen a good spot. The car would be impossible to see from the country road at the end. Rod did a tight three-point-turn expertly. He had thought to leave the car facing the right way for their departure.

Once out of the car and carrying the stretcher, Phil didn’t feel quite so nervous. Rod’s confidence, however unfounded, was infectious, and it felt like the school holidays again, two friends off on an adventure in the woods. Their boots were covered with the elasticated covers, so as to leave no footprints, and they were both wearing the blue latex gloves. The old khaki overalls were ex-army, and blended in well with the surrounding woodland. The masks had stayed in the car for now. They wouldn’t be needed until later. Rod checked his watch and smiled. “Fifteen minutes, and she should be walking past”. They couldn’t see the gate from that spot, but they were close enough to the tarmac driveway to see when she was approaching, and far enough from the house not to worry about the CCTV at the front.

With just two minutes to go, Phil felt a sudden panic overwhelm him. The desire to just stand up and run away made him start to tremble. He turned to Rod, who looked as casual as if they were on a camping trip. “Should we think about this, Rod? Maybe do it next month instead, when we have had more time to work out the money drop, and other stuff?” Rodney shook his head. “We are here now, everything’s in place at the Zoo, and there will never be a better time. Calm down, Phil. It will be OK mate”.

Marjorie wasn’t listening to the driver making small talk. She was thinking about the amount of homework she would have to do tonight. An essay about ‘Wuthering Heights’ for English, and her thoughts on the causes of The English Civil War, for History. She knew she could do it. It wasn’t that she didn’t have the academic skill, just that she found long essays really boring. She resolved to get started as soon as she was in her room, knowing full well that once distracted by the TV or her Tablet, she would be up half the night getting it finished. The driver stopped at the gate. “Are you sure this is alright, miss? I am happy to drive you up to the house”. Marjorie couldn’t place his accent. South African perhaps? Maybe New Zealand. She smiled, opening the door. “No this is fine just here. I like the walk”.

Rodney heard her shoes on the path before he spotted her. Big black school shoes, sensibly strong. He reached over and picked up the crossbow, staying flat for now. Phil could hardly breathe, and thought his heart might just stop beating. She was close to the edge of the path, on their side, and she walked past slowly, not noticing them at all. Phil watched her, the heavy shoulder bag on the opposite hip, the typical clothing of a schoolgirl; skirt a little too short, thick black nylon tights, and a blazer unbuttoned. As she passed and the back of her head came into view, Rod fired the crossbow. The dart hit her in the thigh at the back, just below the hem of the green skirt. She didn’t scream or yell. Instead she turned and looked at the dart, with the fluffy yellow flight quivering at the top. Instinctively, she pulled it out of her leg, and then started to run, the school bag falling from her shoulder.

Less than ten paces later, she collapsed in a heap onto the path.

Swallowing flies

I had to take Ollie out early yesterday. My car had been recalled for a manufacturer’s safety adaptation, and it was booked in for Ollie’s usual walking time. So I headed out much earlier than usual, at 11 am.

It was unusually warm for November, with real heat coming from the low sun that could also temporarily blind you, when walking in certain directions. At that time of day, there are few other people around, but Ollie was very lively, and rushing around smelling and marking as always. By the time we got to the river bend, I was regretting wearing even a light coat, and my legs and feet were hot, in my heavy rubber boots. But despite the warmth, I needed the boots for the damp grass, and the mud that remains from the last rainfall.

Turning along the riverside section of the path, It was hard to avoid the harsh glare of the reflections of the sun from the water. As I shielded my eyes, I was rather startled to see clouds of insects ahead, small gnats or midges, no doubt revitalised by the unexpected heat of what should have been a cold November day. Walking into them, I flapped my hand around to disperse them, and at the same time, I sneezed unexpectedly. A few steps further on, and I could feel something peculiar in my throat, a strange tickle that was completely unfamiliar. My natural inclination was to swallow.

As I caught up with the scampering dog, it dawned on me that a lot of those flies must have got into my mouth when I sneezed, and it was not at all pleasant to realise that I had swallowed them.

Today it is dark, cloudy, damp, and raining intermittently.

I doubt I will have to worry about swallowing any flies this afternoon.