The End

Meanwhile, back on the other side of town Celia was led through to the interview room. The police man looked serious and she knew that this time she was in trouble. She had asked for a lawyer to be present and sure enough a lawyer had been provided. A black suit, long legs with high heels and a stern look helped along by the tight chignon that her brunette hair was manipulated into. Celia didn’t instantly warm to her lawyer who sat there next to her across from the policeman.

The policeman started

“Celia Pemberton? You have been charged with fraud under section 2 of the Fraud Act 1979. Do you have anything to say to this?”

“No” Celia responded.

“Why were you in the old ‘Thorrs’ factory at 141 Long View Road, off Cheap Street on the 23rd April 2012?”

Celia shrugged.

“Ok, can you tell me who this man is?” A photograph of the spotty youth that had also been arrested was put in front of Celia. She looked at it and shrugged once again.

“Ok, Celia. I have to tell you that your mother was taken ill earlier this afternoon. She was taken to hospital in an ambulance and as I understand it is critically ill. You know your mother’s health was fragile anyway” he paused “You can take your pick; co-operate with me and you will be free to go and see your mother in no time at all or don’t co-operate and you will stay in a prison cell, without bail until your trial from which point you will stay in a prison cell until the end of your sentence, which, could be up to ten years and you will not get to see your mother, probably ever”.

At these last words Celia recoiled. The police man could tell that he had hit a nerve.

Celia still didn’t say anything.

“So, are you ready to start talking?”

Celia sat in silence. The policeman pushed his chair back and said

“Ok then. You can wait in your cell until you are ready to talk.” And returned Celia to her cell.

Celia sat in her cell pensively for an hour, during which time the policeman walked past and looked in on her. She was sat on the floor, her head in her hands. Her eyes blood-shot and tired.

A short while later a shouting protruded the thoughts of the policeman as he sat at the front desk. He headed down to the cell block to find out what was causing the disturbance. As he got closer he could hear Celia calling out “I’m ready”

‘I’m ready to talk’

‘I want to see my mother’

The lawyer had gone home. Rachel was led back into the interview room where she sat opposite the police officer who set up the recorder.

“Celia Pemberton, you have been charged with section 2 of the Fraud Act 1979, do you understand”

“Yes” Celia said quietly.

“Please can you tell us how you came to be at xyz on the night of the 23rd April 2012”

“I paint pictures. I go there to paint pictures”

“What sort of pictures?”

“I paint pictures that have gone missing. They are sold to people who want them, that covet them”

“Why do you do this?”

“I do it to make money and to revive lost art that may otherwise never be appreciated again”.

And with reticence and resigned desperation Celia began to open up. She told the police the whole story, right from how she has got involved with these people when she needed money as a student; how her parents had bailed her out and how she still owed them money for bailing her out as they lost their inheritance through helping her. She explained that when her mother had been diagnosed with terminal cancer Celia had worked out that the only chance she had to repay her debts to her parents was by getting involved with these people and the obvious skill she had was her painting. Then, in an effort to help her father when he got into financial difficulties she had arranged for him to take a job too, although she had not shared with him either her involvement or the details of the nature of the business. She had been trying to protect him. As Celia spoke the tears ran down her cheeks, her sadness and desperation to see her mother making her compliant.

The policeman listened and made notes; the tape machine rolled around and around, picking up every word; and the chair that the lawyer once sat in now stood empty beside the door.

Celia explained about the death of Si and how the gang had not liked him working with them anymore as he was becoming ‘unreliable’ as they put it, so they chose to make a few phone calls and give away a few secrets about where he would be and when, knowing full well that he wouldn’t be a problem to them any longer.

“Would you be willing to testify to this in a court?” the policeman asked.

“I ….I…..They would never forgive me…they would come after me”

“What if we could guarantee you would be safe?”

“If you promised…really could guarantee…then yes, I guess I could do”.

After a draining couple of hours Rachel was led back to her cell. As the policeman opened the door and let her into the room she protested

“I want to see my mother now, please let me see my mum”

“Not just yet” the policeman said as he clanged the door shut and turned on his heel, walking noisily down the corridor.

“Let me out” Celia yelled after him but he just kept on going.

Meanwhile on the other side of town Frank sat beside Rachel’s bedside; her pale limp hand held firmly in his. As he talked to her, her eyelashes fluttered open. Frank leapt forward. “Rach, Rach it’s me honey” he cooed softly to her as she gradually took in her surroundings.

“Rach, you are in the hospital, they are going to make you better honey”

“Police? Where’s Celia?” Rachel whispered back. Concern creasing her still beautiful face.

“She’s ok”

“Where is she?” Rachel sounded irate despite the weakness in her voice.

“She’s on her way honey, she won’t be long”.

“Police?”

“No hon, the police let her go, she’s ok”

Rachel’s face relaxed, the corners of her mouth turned slightly upwards into the beginning of a smile and Rachel lay back and closed her eyes. As she fell into a deep sleep she could feel the warmth of Frank’s hand against hers and his face against the skin on her face as the world of unconscious pulled her into eternal oblivion.

“Good night my love, I shall see you soon” whispered Frank.

**

Four years later Celia woke up. It was eleven o’clock and she looked around her modest apartment on the outskirts of LA. Her light shade was dusky pink, not her choice; her carpet was a pale blue, not her choice either; and the woodwork was painted grey. Celia’s white fluffy dressing gown hung on the back of the door next to her name badge on a lanyard proclaiming her to be Maria Nelby, a museum ‘host’ at The Los Angeles Museum Of Art and Culture’. She had been working there a whole year now, since she was released from prison and entered on to the Witness Protection Program. Her father, also on the program, would be arriving shortly ready for their Saturday lunch time meet up at a local restaurant, after which they would take a stroll through the park. Celia enjoyed meeting up with her father and she missed her mother with every inch of her being with every day that went past.

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Part 44- Under Pressure

Frank sat and waited in the tiny cell. It seemed like hours that he waited until the door to his cell was opened and he was led to an interview room. Further confusion followed as Frank tried to understand why he had been arrested.

“What were you doing at the 141 Long View Road, Milford Industrial Estate this evening?”

“Nothing, well I went there to find out what was going on”

Frank was being careful not to land Celia in any more trouble than she had already gotten herself into.  

“What do you mean to find out what was going on?” the policeman probed, looking for more, something else he could use to secure the conviction that would ensure his own promotion.

“Well” Frank continued, feeling a little more confident, “I landed a job running some errands and doing some deliveries and whilst I was running them I realised that they were counterfeiting art, so, I reported it to the police and I gave them a witness statement, photographs, scientific evidence that the pieces of art work were indeed fake and an address too”

“What address did you give”

“I gave an old one, it was only a week after I had reported it that they moved address”

“Did you go back to the police with the new address?”

“Well, no, but I was going to gather some more information and then go back to the police with it…That’s why I was there tonight” Frank concluded a sudden flash of inspiration.

After what seemed like an eternity of questioning the police man stood up and thanked Frank.

Frank breathed a sigh of relief and pushed his chair back.

“Am I free to go then? “he asked tentatively, almost in disbelief that getting out of the situation would be so easy.

At that moment a loud blaring sound echoed off the empty walls of the police station corridors. A red light on the wall flashed and footsteps thundered down the corridor outside of the interview room. Wait here, I shall be right back, the police man told Frank, obviously ascertaining from his slight paunch that he was no real flight risk. As he disappeared out of the door to the interview room his footsteps joined the stampede down the corridor towards the scene of the drama that was beginning to unfold in Cell 3.

Frank waited what seemed like forever as he listened to shouts down the corridor, more footsteps. The alarm finally silenced but his ears continued to ring long after. As he sat and waited he heard the wail of ambulance sirens approaching. More footsteps. Frank got increasingly anxious. He needed to know what was going on. Would he be in more trouble if he opened the door? Would it be safe to do so? What had happened, was it Rachel? Celia? As people ran past the interview room Frank knocked at the window desperately, in an attempt to ascertain what was happening. After a short while longer he heard doors banging and more shouting. Two paramedics ran past Frank as he peered through the small window in the door, a stretcher carried between them.

Frank began to chew on his thumb nail anxiously; each minute seemed to last an hour. Eventually more doors banging and the fading away of ambulance sirens as the ambulance disappeared into the distance. After several more moments the police man re-entered the room. Frank looked at him and before he even had chance to ask what had happened he knew it was serious. The police man looked sadly at Frank, a kind of regret written across his face.

“Frank” he said softly.

“Rachel’s had a seizure. She has been taken to St Marks’ Hospital by ambulance. It doesn’t look good I’m afraid”.

“Let me go, I need to be there”

“Frank, as you have already blown the whistle on these guys we will need you to testify as a witness but we will not be pressing charges against you. You are free to go”

Frank wasn’t waiting for the final words, he was already running towards the door, Rachel his only care.

“Frank” the policeman called him back.

“There is a police car waiting out front to take you to the hospital”.

Frank didn’t stop around for polite appreciation. He threw open the door, ran down the corridor and past the receptionist proffering him a sheet to sign himself out on. He ran down the steps outside the police station two at a time and threw himself into the back of the police car that was waiting outside. Within seconds he was speeding across town in the back of the police car, sirens blaring and lights flashing, taking him to his Rachel’s side.

“I will not let her down” thought Frank as he sat impatiently in the back of the car, leaning as far forward as his seatbelt would allow. “I will be there for her”.

As he reached the hospital he raced into reception, a young nurse that he recognised from his and Rachel’s time in the hospital recognised him as he ran in to the empty waiting room.

“I….Here….Rach” Frank gasped, trying desperately hard to splutter out the words in a coherent manner.

“Intensive Care ” the nurse replied instantly, not needing Frank to finish and not wanting to delay him.

Frank ran off down the corridor, thankful that he knew the hospital so well by now.

As he reached Rachel’s room he looked at her lying in the bed, hooked up to more tubes and monitors than he had ever seen before. Her face looked wan and waxy, her hair, just hours ago had been washed and dried but now looked limp and greasy.

“Rach” He approached her bed and sat down on the chair beside her.

Taking her hand firmly in his he murmured

“Rach, you scared me. I’m here now. Everything will be ok. It will all be back to normal in no time”

“Are you Rachel’s husband” asked a junior registrar emerging from the doorway to the side of Frank.

“Yes”

“A word please?”

“Of course” Frank replied.

“Rachel’s in a bad way. The tumour has grown further and is putting pressure on her brain. This, coupled with the increased stress, which has triggered a massive rise in blood pressure, is proving too much for her body to handle, hence the fit she had at the police station. Rachel is not conscious at the moment as we are having to keep her sedated to minimise the pressure on the brain, although it is possible that she can hear you and it can only help to hear familiar things and loved ones around her.

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Part 43 – That Familiar Smell

Part 43 – That familiar smell

“On the floor” a man snarled in a gruff voice.

Rachel, very slowly and very carefully lay down on the floor in front of her.

“Now” growled the man losing patience.

As Rachel lay on the floor waiting for her next instruction from her captor she could smell a familiar smell, the same smell she had experienced in the disused hospital building. She lay there trying to work out what it was, then she realised, it was oil paint and brush cleaner. Of course! Rachel felt a foot in her back pushing her closer to the floor and was jolted back to the present and her current dilemma. Who were these people and where were they from? Rachel lay on the floor for what felt like an eternity, listening to the shouts and cries, orders and directions being barked and she watched the air straight ahead of her as it cleared. Her wrists were cuffed together, painful on her frail wrists. Eventually the gruff voice growled “Get up”

 Rachel tried to pull herself up to her knees without the use of her hands but her leg muscles were too weak now, months of them wasting away as she dealt with one side effect of the illness or the treatment after another. A large hand on her shoulder grabbed her arm and pulled her to standing, a sharp pain soaring through her shoulder joint as it did.

As Frank and Celia looked on, the room began to fill with a thick, heavy fog. The two of them froze, looking around desperately in an attempt to establish what had happened. Something, a ball perhaps, landed a few feet from them as they crouched and instantly began hissing, exuding more of the thick, heavy fog. Frank looked at Celia in horror; Celia’s own face reflecting a similar level of horror.

As they crouched some more bangs sounded downstairs, doors bouncing open, doors being forced; voices shouting, footsteps pounding up the stairs towards them.

“Quick, the other way” Celia whispered.

Frank turned and began to crawl in the opposite direction. He was starting to panic once more, he could feel the adrenalin coursing around his body, faster and faster.

There was more shouting downstairs and then Frank could hear the main doors bursting open.  Frank and Celia sped up crawling along the hard concrete floor of the gallery that ran around three sides of the building. Just as they approached another flight of stairs Frank hazarded a look over the railings and into the room below. Paintings and easels had been knocked over, paint covered the floor, chairs had been knocked over and by the main double doors glass littered the ground. Then as Frank looked closer he saw Rachel, hands in the air being made to lie on the floor by a stocky figure wearing a black helmet with face mask and eye protector so that none of his face was visible.

Frank could help himself no longer

 “Rachel” he yelled out.

“Rachel!”

She didn’t respond but he was certain it was her. Absolutely definite. Her clothes, the way she moved, her hair even. Yes, it was definitely his wife but what was she doing here?

Frank felt the tightening in his chest once again.

Celia turned to look as Frank shouted and glancing over the railings she turned back and grabbed Frank’s arm.

 “C’mon” she yelled back.

“But…but…. Your Mum” Frank stuttered.

“She’ll be fine!” Celia threw back as she sped towards the staircase.

Frank looked back at Rachel, then looked forward at Celia just in time to see a black figure emerging from the fog at the top of the staircase. As Celia ran full pelt towards the staircase the black figure grabbed her with both arms and wrestled her against the wall. He pinned her down until a second figure dressed in black came and cuffed Celia’s wrists. Frank looked about frantically. Could he take on the two of them? Not much chance but he could try. If he managed where could he and Celia run to? A million questions chased around in Frank’s head. He knew he couldn’t get to Rachel right now but he was not going to lose both of them!

As he prepared himself to run at the two men dressed in black the fog cleared enough for him to be able to read the word on the back of the black vests that they wore over their black jumpers.

‘POLICE’

Frank breathed a momentary sigh of relief. Followed very quickly with the shocking realisation that this had been his doing and Celia would now be in trouble for something she was caught up in and it was all his fault. Frank’s eyes widened in horror.

“No” he shouted.

“She’s my little girl” as he ran towards Celia”

One of the men turned around and “Hands up” he yelled out.

Frank wasted no time in putting his hands into the air above his head.

“I told you, I tipped you off about this” he yelled. “I have been helping you” he cried desperately.

“She’s my little girl, let her go”.

“Hands behind your back” came the reply.

Frank did as he was told, still protesting.

“It’s all a misunderstanding”

“You will get your chance to have a say later”

“But you don’t understand”

“Tell the judge”

He and Celia were led out of the building towards some police vans with cages built into the back of them and ushered into the back of the van where they found the spotty youth and Rachel already cuffed and sitting quietly in the van. Rachel looked very pale and drawn, her hands still bound behind her back.

 

As the van doors closed with a heavy clunk Frank caught a glimpse of Rachel’s friend Paula’s car parked further down the road. So that’s how Rachel had got there! The Policeman climbed into the front of the van and started the engine. Frank looked nervously at Rachel. What was she doing there? Rachel looked back at him. He was struggling to read her. He could usually read everything that she was thinking but for the first time in all their years of marriage he had absolutely no idea what she was thinking. Celia sat in the back of the van for the duration of the bumpy journey her head hung low.

Once they arrived at the police station the back of the van was opened up and the four occupants were led from the van to a separate police cells.

 

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Part 43 – The Concert

Frank looked over the railings. He couldn’t believe that Celia was painting behind the easel. Frank, keeping his crouched position edged his way around to the adjacent side of the gallery so that he could see what was on the easel. As he did so he gasped. Propped up on the easel stood the famous ‘The Concert’ by Vermeer. Stolen in 1990 from the Isabelle Stewart Gardener Museum it is thought to be the most expensive ‘missing’ piece of art in existence. Two men dressed as police carried out a heist on the museum, binding the guards in the process. Frank remembered it from the news. He looked at the piece of art; something was missing; as he craned his neck to see more of the picture he noticed that the chequered floor and the cello that lay upon it was still missing. The painting was incomplete. Sure enough Celia dabbed the paint carefully and precisely onto the canvas. Did she know what she was doing? The implications, both moral and legal. It wasn’t right to impersonate such great works of art. Not to mention the trouble she would be in with the law if she was to get caught. Frank felt physically sick with the gravitas of his discovery.

 

 After another moment or two she put down her paint brush and said something to the guy with the too tight shirt. She began to walk towards the stairs behind her up to the second floor, Frank’s floor. Frank’s heart began to pound harder in his chest. He prayed that the sound of it hammering inside of his chest cavity would not give him away. He sank down below the railings trying to decide whether he should confront Celia and find out what she was doing and why or whether he should take it at face value, get out of there and then perhaps confront her at home. The decision was taken out of his hands. Celia rounded the corner and as she saw the unexpected sight of someone hiding beneath the gallery wall she opened her mouth to scream. Frank leapt up, grabbed Celia covering her mouth. He knew that once she saw it was him she wouldn’t scream but he had to buy those moments. He struggled with her a moment or two, now standing behind her. He desperately tried to get in front of Celia so she would see who he was but he couldn’t, so instead he whispered ‘Shhhh! It’s me, Dad’ as he said those words Celia’s physical protestations stopped instantly. Frank let go of her and she spun around, instantly dropping down to the floor next to her father.

‘What are you doing here?’

‘ I errrr…I’ Frank stammered. Did he tell her the truth or did he tell her he had gone to collect something but no one opened the door.

‘I was worried about you’ Frank compromised.

‘I’m fine Dad but you have to go’

‘What are you doing?’

I’m painting Dad….and it isn’t any of your business so please leave before you get me and yourself in trouble’.

He could see the sparks of anger, or was it fear in his daughter’s eyes? He knew that he would be made to pay for this later but he could also see, with some relief that his payment wasn’t to be made right there and then.

At that moment a movement caught Frank’s eye. The double doors in the room below were ever so slightly ajar, opening into the corridor and Frank was sure that he had seen some movement out there. That meant he wouldn’t be able to get out of the building, his escape route foiled. He felt a tightening in his chest.  

Frank tried to remind himself who the parent was. ‘We shall talk about this later’ he promised Celia in the sternest voice he could muster. He knew full well that if he didn’t initiate the promise they would still be talking about it later but the trump hand would be owned elsewhere. 

‘Dad you have to leave now’

‘Ok, Ok’ Frank agreed rather more keenly than he felt he should have but he had found out what he was there to find out and now he was more than a little worried for his safety and that of his daughter. Celia took the lead ‘Quick, this way’ she muttered as she ushered Frank back the way he had come. As the two of them ran in a crouched position back towards the stairwell a loud bang and the shattering of glass interrupted them.

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Part 42 – Search For Truth

As Paula glided the car smoothly along the road Rachel’s heart leapt into her chest as she saw Frank’s car parked on the roadside.

“Stop” she yelled out, trying to see whether Frank was in the car.

 “Here?”

“Yes stop!”

Paula hit the brakes. Rachel slouched down in her seat, her body less willing to mould to the shape of the seats than it had done when she was younger and fitter.

Rachel looked frantically around, trying desperately to see where Frank was. Paula looked too, but still bolt upright in her seat.

“There! He’s there” she hissed at Rachel, equally dropping herself down as far as she could into the foot well, eyes still peering above the base of the window.

Rachel turned to look in the direction that Paula was pointing just in time to see Frank disappearing around the side of the building. Rachel pushed the door open.

“Where are you going?” asked Paula.

“I have to know where he’s going!” Rachel insisted.

“But Rachel, it’s not wise, you shouldn’t be….” Paula’s protests were truncated by the slam of the car door.

Rachel was off, her mind lost in a dogged determination to find Frank and to understand where he had been going all this time. As she ran across the road, trying to keep Frank in sight as he rounded the corner of the building she stumbled, her body reminding her of her failing health. Her chest began to wheeze as she was forced to slow to a fast walking pace. Her muscles heavy with a fatigue beyond exhaustion as she rounded the corner of the building. She heard the car engine cut out back where she had left it, a car door slam. Paula was following her.

As Rachel rounded the corner she felt her legs wobble under the exertion. It had been a while since she had walked any real distance. She grabbed hold of the wall to steady herself and took a couple of deep breaths. As she looked up she saw Frank disappearing through a door at the other end of the building. The yard behind the building was covered with old and used pieces of building material, some mounded up concrete where a hole had been dug and some weed strewn grass. Seeing Frank disappear inside the building gave Rachel a renewed vigour, a new determination to carry on with her mission. She glanced behind her to check that Paula was following but Paula was still nowhere in sight. For a brief moment Rachel considered waiting for Paula but her need to find out who Frank was meeting here was too much. She pressed on, willing her legs to continue to carry her forwards towards the door.

 

Arriving at the door she realised that as well as being wedged open with a piece of discarded wood it was also broken. Pushing the door open gently Rachel crossed the threshold, taking care to wedge it back the way she had found it. Rachel stumbled as she bent over to replace the door wedge, her balance still a little off. Holding onto the wall to steady herself she started to make her way down the empty corridor. There were some large double doors in front and some dark stone steps upwards to Rachel’s right. Rachel stood still for a moment. There was no sign at all of Frank and no clue as to where he had gone to. Rachel listened at the bottom of the stairs. She toyed with the idea of heading up the stairs but as she entertained the idea she noticed that through the panels of glass in the double doors at the end of the corridor Rachel could see movement. She could see people moving backwards and forwards, there was conversation and shouting. Rachel headed towards the glass, moving close to the wall to avoid being seen herself through the frosted glass, although she recognised, she did at least have the benefit that she was in a darkened room making her less vulnerable to being seen than those in a lit room. As she rested herself on her heels she felt grateful for the opportunity to sit down and catch her breath.

As Rachel edged her way closer to the double doors her heart began to pound, her mouth was dry, she was aware of her hot breath as she longed for a glass of water. She could feel her hands getting clammy. Just the other side of these doors was Frank. She was so close to finding out exactly what he had been up to. So close to learning the truth, and, she reasoned, although she may not like what she finds at least it will put an end to the torturous wondering what he was doing, where he was and who he was doing it with.

As Rachel reached the door she edged it open, a fraction of an inch, just enough to see what was going on the other side. The air was thick with the smell of pot, Rachel, for a fleeting moment wondered whether just smelling it might have therapeutic benefits for her. But she had never smelled anything like this on Frank before and Frank was so straight he would never have touched it. In fact, the one time that Rachel mentioned it at home, suggesting for a moment that it may help to relieve some of her symptoms Frank was so against the idea that Rachel abandoned all consideration of using Pot to self-medicate.  Between the two doors Rachel could catch a glimpse of the individuals inside the room. There was a young guy wearing a tight-fitting shirt. He looked foreboding, in a bad mood even. Then there was a young spotty guy with headphones in; Rachel noticed his pupils were dilated, her medical training kicking in. There were a couple of other individuals and over by the far wall was another set of metal stairs. Just in front of these metal stairs was an easel. A head bobbed up and down behind the easel. Rachel couldn’t see what was on it from where she was sitting. As she looked a young girl with short hair stepped out from behind the easel. It was Celia. What was she doing here?

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Part 41 -Searching for Celia

Frank waited a few minutes. There was no sign of life from within the building, no lights, no noise, no-one coming or going. What was Celia doing there? Was she involved in some way? Maybe she was just hanging out with her mates? After all, it was Celia that put him onto the job in the first place. Frank sat and waited and after twenty minutes there was still no sign of Celia. He cautiously slipped out of the car, and walked as casually as possible towards the building. When he arrived he tried the door, just gently pulling on the handle in the hope that it wasn’t locked. The door didn’t move. Frank surveyed the outside of the building and he could see no way in so he headed down the side of the building, canvassing the perimeter. He hoped he could find a way in somehow.

 Following Celia just raised even more questions within him than he’d already had. Frank reasoned that if he got caught he could just say that he had received a message to make a collection. Surely text messages turn up late or arrive twice, that kind of thing right? Convincing himself of this buoyed his confidence. He tried the gate at the back of the property and it was open. He passed through the gate to find yet another wall stretching out into the abyss of the concrete jungle that is the business park. There were few windows, ‘it must be a very dark building’ mused Frank, ‘I wonder what it was used for before’. When Frank had made collections and drop offs in the past he had always been met in the hallway at the front of the building and had ever seen beyond that. As Frank turned to head back to the car he spotted a wooden door on the far side of the building. He headed towards the wooden door, hoping it might help him find a way in so that he could find Celia. The door was in poor shape, paint peeling and blistering from years of neglect. It had glass panes in the door, top and bottom and Frank could see that the bottom glass pane was smashed. As he peered into the dark hallway the other side of the broken glass he looked upwards to see that the door was secured by a large fire escape pad on the bars that go upwards into the ceiling and floor. Pushing the pad would mean that he could open the door. He reached carefully between the broken shards of glass, hoping that no one would see him and he stretched his fingers out but without moving his arm nearer to the top of the glass, unwilling to run the risk of cutting himself if he couldn’t reach. Frank thought for a moment or two. If only he had something flat. As he thought he looked at the ground and his eyes focussed themselves on his black leather shoes. Possibly not the best footwear for a stealth situation he thought ironically, but, he had always had large feet and the leather uppers would protect his hand whilst the soles gave him the extra reach. Perfect. Frank pulled his rucksack from his shoulder and lay it beside the door. Then he took his shoe off and rested his foot, as lightly as he could on the pavement, hoping that there were no unseen shards of glass lurking still. His dark blue cotton sock catching on the rough pavement beneath his foot.

The shoe reached perfectly and Frank applied the pressure to the door pad. The metal bars protested against years of having not been moved and were reluctant to give. Frank gave the metal pad a ‘thwack’ with his shoe, only as loud as he dared and the door gave. Frank sat for a moment, hoping no one had heard. Frank caught the door and pulled it back to, just keeping it open with the straps of his backpack as he replaced his shoe. With the shoe back on and the lace done up Frank pushed the door open and gradually made his way in through the door, picking his back pack back up and swinging it onto his back. As he did so he wedged a nearby off cut of wood in the door frame, lodging the door open, just in case he needed to get out in a hurry. He tried to ignore the persistent feeling of being watched that was bothering him. It was as if he had eyes boring into his back, but he put it down to guilt and paranoia. Once inside Frank looked around, where to start? He crept down the hallway towards a door where a chink of light showed promise of life. As he passed a doorway from which the door had been removed he looked inside the empty room, boxes upon boxes, and some old packaging machines sat, redundant in the idle of the room. He walked on and as he got nearer to the end of the corridor he heard voices. There was a glass door at the end of the corridor and light shone through. Frank could see various people walking about but the glass was so heavily frosted he couldn’t make out much more than the odd human shape. He needed to find out what was going on but he couldn’t possibly just open the door, that would be too obvious. As Frank headed closer to the door at the end of the corridor he passed the bottom step of a stair case. He turned up the stone steps and listening intently he took the stairs, tiptoeing so as not to alert anyone to his presence. As he reached the corner he waited patiently to see if there was any movement, any noise, anything to suggest that he might get caught. When he was satisfied that no one was there he would carry on. Frank marvelled at the ridiculous nature of the situation. Why in the world was he, a man in his fifties, sneaking around in the idle of the night? Even more crazy when Frank considered that he knew the warehouse was being used for something illegal. It seemed insane, but the concerned parent in him had to know what Celia was up to and with Rachel as ill as she was it was up to him to look out for their only child. With that he composed himself and carried on up the steps.  At the top of the staircase Frank had two options, one door to his left and one to his right. He tried the door to his left first, locked. He tried the door to his right and it led into a gallery area that overlooked the main hall that had obviously been a production plant at some point. Around the outside of the gallery area were doors along the one wall, Frank assumed these led to offices but he knew he couldn’t start opening doors without attracting unwanted attention. He crept inside the main room crouched down below the railings that topped the chest height wall shielding him from sight. The lights were on full and people busied about below. Frank looked down, the smell of cannabis in the air. He recognised the spotty young guy that met him with the deliveries, smoking pot in the corner, earphones in his ears. There was an older man, tall with a shaven head. His chest threatening to burst through the cotton of his shirt, fibres stretched so tight, a menacing grimace adorning his face. And Celia.

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Part 40 – In the Still of The Night

Rachel sat on the edge of her bed. She held the piece of paper in her hand; crumpled and dog-eared at the corners. She had found the piece of paper in Frank’s  pocket a couple of weeks ago and she had kept it in the back of her book since then, each evening taking it out, looking at it, fighting with her conscience about what to do with it. It looked like an industrial address or at least was in an industrial part of town. Rachel wrestled with her imagination, trying to tame the lions that roared inside her head, discarding years of truthfulness and honesty; once let out of their cage there is no going back. These are not tame lions, they are savage wild beasts, capable of ripping her relationship with Frank, or what relationship they have left, limb from limb. Frank had left the house shortly after dinner. Rachel had noticed that his car was still on the drive a short while later as she had brushed her teeth whilst getting ready for bed. As Rachel ran her fingers over the paper, trying to read it’s history, it was Frank’s writing, it was on their telephone pad paper but why was it in his pocket, why did Frank keep disappearing in the evenings  and stay out late into the night. Were they linked. There was nothing left to lose. With that, the front door clunked shut as Celia went out. Rachel took a deep breath and picked up the phone. She dialled her long standing friend Paula and as the ringtone buzzed profusely in her ear she wondered whether she was doing the right thing. After a moment or two the friendly and upbeat tones of her long term friend chirped in her ear

‘781 287 Hello’

‘Paula, Hi, it’s Rachel’

‘Rachel, are you OK, what’s wrong?’ concern flashed through Paula’s voice.

‘I’m fine, really, I’m fine’ Rachel was quick to reassure ‘I need to ask a favour though’.

‘Shoot’

‘ I need you to take me somewhere’

‘Sure, when?’

‘Now’

‘Now!’

‘Urm yeh’

‘ Why? Where?’

‘I’ll tell you when you get here’

‘Ok, see you in few minutes’. Paula must have flown over as she was knocking on the door in less than seven minutes time. True to form, she needed nothing, she was just there to help.

Rachel had managed to pull herself off the bed and drag some clothes on. Clutching the piece of paper tight with their aging copy of the A-Z Rachel opened the front door and for the first time in days let herself out.  She felt slightly unsteady on her feet and getting into the car was quite an effort but she managed it with Paula’s help. The car smelled reminiscent of sweaty sports socks Rachel noted, her sense of smell heightened by the treatment.

‘ Where are we going?’ Paula asked by way of greeting.

‘ End of the road turn right’ Rachel responded, her nerves apparent in her unusually brusque manner. As the car pulled away Rachel looked back at the driveway, registering the absence of their car for the first time. Celia couldn’t drive so maybe Frank had driven it out somewhere after all.

They drove in silence for a few minutes. The hum of the engine filling the silence until after a short while Paula turned to her old friend and demanded

‘so what’s the story?’.

Rachel explained how she had found the piece of paper in a pocket of Frank’s a few weeks prior and that it had been bothering her ever since and she felt she needed to find out what it was. Even if it was some kind of seedy club he was going to, at least she would know and could put other possibilities out of her mind. For Rachel, the unknown was the most frightening thing.

Paula nodded and listened and nodded some more. She seemed to intuitively know that she wouldn’t be able to change Rachel’s mind so instead she just accepted and accommodated.

Their chatter was interspersed with directions. ‘Turn left’, ‘Right at the end’, Straight along’. 

Frank followed Celia along the bumpy road, he had no idea where she was going but he knew that it couldn’t be too far if she cycled it. He could see her rear cycle light flashing in the distance, as he carefully kept a respectable pace behind her. On the quieter roads he kept his lights turned off, afraid that If Celia saw him, caught him following her there was no way at all that she would forgive him for following her. She would read into it all of the mistrust, and dishonour that she could possibly imagine and it would stay with her until every last remote whiff of these emotions had evaporated.

The evenings were closing in and it was gone ten, enabling Frank to hide under the cover of relative darkness. He pursued his target, his own offspring and hoped that whatever it was she was hiding, he would have the strength to deal with. They headed into the Old Town. After several more minutes Celia took him down Cheap street and a short while later Celia pulled off the road and cycled up to the entrance of a disused warehouse. The same disused warehouse that Frank had been to just a couple of days earlier to make another collection. But what was Celia doing there? And why was she there in the middle of the night? He slowed the car gradually until it came to a complete standstill just a short way up the road and ducked down in the car, escaping the glare of the few street lamps that the council had seen their way to provide, a half-hearted deterrent for the red light workers.  Frank watched as Rachel was let in to the building, disappearing behind a steel door with her bike in tow. Now what? Thought Frank from his crouched position behind the steering wheel.

Sorry guys but there is no voting option this week as we will not have the opportunity to write into the story line the results.

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Part 40 – Patience is a virtue, sometimes it’s a curse.

They had moved to some new premises. A warehouse just off cheap street in the old town. It looked derelict from the outside. Frank had never been inside. After several weeks following the move he had given up all hope that the police would do anything following the report he had made. He felt frustrated that his efforts had been treated with the contempt that he had received. Frank considered going back to the police and telling them the new address but he quickly reconsidered this idea when he realised how blatant it would then be that the person talking to the police was working within the business and for the likelihood of being taken seriously Frank had decided that it wasn’t worth the risk. So, as he had done all his life he kept his head down and got on with job. He even allowed himself to enjoy the money that kept coming in…and enjoy watching how the draw full of bills grew emptier and emptier.

Celia had made another payment last night. In the same off hand manner as before Celia had handed Frank a wad of notes, counting it alone later that evening he realised the wad was a somewhat sizeable £7,000. Whilst Frank knew that she was a fully grown woman and that he wasn’t responsible for her actions any longer he couldn’t help but worry where this money was coming from. To be in such quantities and with such regularity he fought back the demons that whispered to him the various illicit ways that Celia could be getting that sort of cash. He searched for more legitimate ways she could be attaining that level of income but he coulddn’t find any. He looked for tell tale signs; strange men, track marks, unusual clothing, and all he could see were the signs and symptoms of a tired young woman struggling to come to terms with her mother’s illness. As much as Frank tried to fight that feeling of dread that surged up inside him every time his daughter left the house he couldn’t ignore it. He had made up his mind and Frank now sat and waited. It was six thirty pm. The kitchen air offered the promise of Shepherd’s pie, the stronghold within Frank’s repertoire. He was cooking more and more often nowadays and his cooking skills were improving. Tea was ready and he and Rachel sat at the table waiting for Celia to come down for dinner. They were trying to eat as a family as often as possible and use the time to talk about their day. Rachel had some days, usually those following her treatment where she was washed out and unable to do much more than sleep and listen to the others and other days when she would potter about in the same manner she always had for up to several hours at a time. 

 

The two of them sat and listened to the tick tock of the clock, cutting through the atmosphere with inanimate innocence.  Celia bustled in and sat down at the table. She was dressed in black jeans and a black polo neck. As she pulled up a chair she asked “what’s cookin’ Dad” “Shepherd’s Pie” Frank proudly announced. “Mmmm Mmmm”  Celia returned. She seemed happy and relaxed.

“How was your day love?”

“Good thanks, yours?”

“Good”

 

No matter the moods around the table there was always the white elephant that sat on the table. The one area none of them wanted to go but all of them were thinking about.

Rachel, intuitive as ever, massaged the conversation gently. “Did you hear on the news today about the family saved from a fire by their dog?”

“No, I didn’t catch the news, what happened” Frank was grateful for the help.

And with that Rachel launched into a ten minute description of the three minute news article.  Celia sat and ate her dinner quietly, taking dainty bites with her rosebud lips, painted dark against her pale skin.

Celia kept checking the clock. Frank knew that she would be out most of the night once more. He had to know where.

 

Once dinner was over Frank and Celia cleared up the kitchen as Rachel resumed her post in the living room. She had had a quiet day today. Made a few phone calls but beyond that had taken it easy. Unusual, as she was only a week away from her next treatment cycle and usually she would be feeling better by now. Frank had become used to the routines, the cycles and how much he could expect from his wife and how much she would need him at each point of the treatment cycle.

As they cleared up the kitchen Celia’s phone rang. She excused herself from the kitchen to take the call. Frank could hear her if he strained as she spoke in low tones.

“Tonight!”

 

“Why does it have to be tonight” she exclaimed.

“Yup, Yup. See you later” she rounded off the conversation and returned to the kitchen, the corner of her mouth curled slightly into a grimace of annoyance. Frank bided his time. Rachel went off to bed. Frank went out to the car where he sat patiently; car keys in the ignition, phone beside him next to his borrowed insurance… Just in case. He knew it would only be a matter of time before she went out.

Sure enough after an hour the front door opened and Celia stepped out. A backpack slung over her shoulder, car keys in her hand. She opened the garage door and wheeled her bike, complete with shopping basket on the front, out into the street. She paused for a moment, tapping digits into her phone frantically before she mounted her bike and rode off down the street.

Frank felt a nervous fluttering in the pit of his stomach. He knew that tonight his life was going to change forever. He just didn’t know how.

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Part 39 – What’s Mine Is Yours

Rachel lay in the cold, empty bed. It had been several weeks since Rachel had met with Paula and she bitterly regretted not sharing her concerns about Frank. Frank’s evening absences had become more frequent, when present in body he wasn’t present in mind, his preoccupation distressing and Rachel had this constant feeling of being under a time pressure to get it all ironed out.

Each evening the same routine, Rachel would lie there in bed waiting for Frank to join her, and invariably one of two things would happen…either Frank would eventually climb the stairs, think Rachel was asleep and slide between the wrinkled cotton sheets next to her where he would then lie awake for hours (Rachel could tell from his breathing and the way that he would swallow and turn over, trying to make himself comfortable in the uncomfortable reality that had become life) or alternatively, he would come up to the room, pop his head around the door disappear again, leaving behind just the echo in the hallway of the front door catch on his way out. Rachel would lie awake for hours. With the nausea and the thoughts she had spinning around in her head about her mortality, her life, her death, her family, it wasn’t difficult to keep herself awake. Eventually, in the early hours, Rachel’s eyes could stay open no longer and she would give in to the waves of exhaustion, both emotional and physical that would conquer her body, sleeping until almost midday. When Rachel did emerge from her slumber Frank had gone to work and when quizzed would claim that she was fast asleep when he had got to bed and tell her how he had taken pains to not disturb her before he left for work. Rachel didn’t believe him anymore.

 

Rachel strongly regretted not having shared her concerns with Paula but the moment hadn’t been right. Rachel felt she would have sounded ungrateful, uncaring and that wasn’t right after everything Frank had been doing for her lately, so she had bitten her lip and when there was a gap in the conversation she had fought with her own instinctive urges to plug it. Celia was still behaving strange too. The poor girl was really struggling to come to terms with Rachel’s diagnosis, at least that is what Rachel and Frank believed. Rachel’s health was still declining further, she often couldn’t eat her meals properly and was becoming even more thin and frail. It would soon be time to go back in for another round of radiotherapy and Rachel was not looking forward to that. She hated the sessions and they seemed more and more pointless as her health declined as they just promised a more drawn out and painful end to her short life. There were dark moments when Rachel couldn’t see the point, things with Frank being what they were and Celia scarcely being around. But, then Rachel fought back, making herself battle these intruders, determined not to let depression set in and change who she was for the time she had left.

The door clicked open, light from the hallway flooded the room. Rachel lay on her side, eyes wide open, wondering whether tonight she would sleep or whether she would spend yet another night wondering where her husband was. Frank’s medium frame slipped into the room and he undressed, his pale body with its sprinkling of silver hair demanding Rachel’s attention as it always had, only nowadays for a different reason. When did they suddenly get old? When did the skin get too saggy for the flesh that it adorns? When did the hair on the head start to fall out, or the hair on the body become wiry and unruly? Rachel marvelled at how skilfully the aging process had hunted them down, pouncing and seizing its prey when no one was looking.

***

Frank slid into bed. He was exhausted. He had once again fallen asleep in front of the television, his body desperately fighting to regain some of the nights that have been stolen from him lately. The physical toll on his body was nothing compared to the mental and emotional stress that he felt  pushing down on him daily. He had thought that going to the police would be the end of his journey. As it appears it was actually not even the half-way point.

“Have you any names sir?”

No

“Have you any paintings available now sir”

No

“Have you an address sir?”

Yes. Finally something he could give them. As it turned out that was of limited use.

“We need more information than that, keep doing what you have been doing, see what you can find out, here’s my number. Call me when you have something useful

Frank felt as though he had been kicked in the stomach. That horrible, heart wrenching feeling that you get when a personal effort so mountainous, so beyond the realms of comprehension is not just unappreciated but completely, entirely, and comprehensively unrecognised. So, Frank had continued when a week later he got a call that made his blood run cold.

“They know. Someone did grass us”. Did they know it was him? Was he in trouble? How did they find out? Did the Policeman take his information seriously? What if they knew he did it? They gave him a three line whip to move three pieces that very evening. Frank worked all night, collecting, delivering, still taking the photos, the paint samples. Frank had always believed that good triumphs over evil and he could not help but feel in his heart that his efforts would not be wasted. What he was doing was for the greater good, he just couldn’t yet work out how. Each collection made on tender-hooks, what if it was a ruse? What if they were trying to get him there on false pretences? That afternoon Frank had visited an old friend of his that lives on a farm. His friend popped out to check on the chickens that were ‘upset’ by something shortly after Frank arrived. Frank borrowed his shotgun.

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Part 38 – Those who have gone before

Frank had decided. He was resolute in his decision. He had lain awake all night long trying to decide what to do and he now knew that he only had one option. He puffed out his chest, pulled himself up to full height, shoulders back and pushed open the glass door with its stainless steel handles that curved back on themselves ever so slightly. The room smelled of disinfectant, his footsteps echoed all around him. An empty Formica desk at chest height sat in the middle of the room at one end, flanked by a door either side. On one side of the desk was a doorbell to get attention. The other side of the desk was a computer, the time spinning relentlessly, making Frank nauseous as it commanded his attention. The silence was deafening and Frank felt uneasy but he was determined. He reached inside the pocket in the lining of his jacket and pulled out the envelope, its contents sealed safely within.

As Frank stepped up to the desk he looked around but there was no one to be seen. He reached out, his finger poised above the protruding doorbell button and as it got closer he paused. Was he doing the right thing? He could do with some more money! ‘No’, Frank told himself. This has to end and he took a deep breath before moving his first finger towards the button touched by criminals, and victims, lawyers, concerned mothers, furious fathers, inconvenienced friends, estranged relatives, and so many more before him. Before he could press it a door to one end of the desk swung open and as it bounced back into position, bashing the door beside it a young woman with blonde hair tied back busied towards the desk.

“Can I help you?” she enquired.

Frank glanced nervously at the door as his fight or flight reaction triggered.

Huuu Huuum. He cleared his throat. “I would like to make a statement please”

“To anyone in particular” the young girl, who was probably just out of school Frank decided, asked.

“No” Frank replied too quietly.

“I’m sorry?” asked the girl.

“No” Frank almost shouted in an effort to control his nerves.

The young girl picked up the phone and spoke quietly into the receiver. She nodded, asked Frank to take a seat and he did.

A couple of moments later they were joined by another man, greying hair, slim but the tell-tale signs of a developing paunch borne through an excess of time behind a desk, his career building days pounding the pavements behind him. He showed Frank through to an interview room with a rubber floor, a basic table the type usually inhabitant of school canteens, and two red plastic chairs, each with metal legs. A tape recorder sat on the end of the table. The only other thing in this room was a panic button on one wall.

“Can I get you a drink?” the policeman asked.

“Coffee please” Frank replied. “One sugar”.

“Take a seat and I shall be back in a moment” and with that the police officer left the interview room with a slam of the door.

Frank looked suspiciously at the chair. How often were they cleaned he wandered? It looked clean enough. He gingerly pulled it out and sat down. After a few moments the man returned and took a seat opposite Frank, sliding across the table a polystyrene cup full of scalding hot coffee. Frank looked at the drink, taunting him. His mouth was dry from nerves and he desperately wanted to take a sip, feel the fluid sliding down his throat and relieve that tickly dryness that was making it difficult to talk. He blew fruitlessly on the coffee, putting it to his lips but removing it much quicker as he felt the liquid scald his tongue.

With that Frank forced himself to begin. He slid the brown envelope over to the police man who took it from him without saying anything. He opened the brown envelope and out fell the images that Frank had so diligently taken and printed out, the paint samples and the emails from the Art Doctor confirming that several of the paintings were indeed fakes.

The policeman looked at Frank quizzically.

“Do you mind if I record our conversation” he asked.

“No” Frank replied. Still not feeling comfortable about what he was doing.

A clunk filled the room as the officer started the tape rolling, recording every sound, every cough, every pause for breath, every admission, and every omission.

Frank took a deep breath and began his story. He started with Rachel, her illness, the debts and moved onto his daughter, her ‘friends’ and the job that she had told him about.

Rachel sat at home. Frank was out yet again. He snuck out in the early hours once more and she couldn’t reach him on his work mobile. He had been gone hours and Rachel was starting to get frustrated. Where could he be? Rachel smiled to herself as she remembered that that day she had a good friend that she had worked with coming to visit her.  Rachel loved to catch up with Paula. She was about the same age as Rachel and was also married with a teenage daughter so they had a lot in common and since Rachel had left work Paula would come by from time to time and chew the fat with Rachel, covering the families, work, politics, recipes, and of course Rachel’s treatment. Paula always knew exactly what to say and what not to. There was never any awkwardness. Maybe Rachel would talk to Paula about Frank’s behaviour. It will at least provide a sounding board and maybe Paula would see things a different way. “If the treatment, or the tumour is making me paranoid she will definitely tell me” Rachel thought out loud in an attempt to console herself as she busied herself, slowly drying the dishes and putting them away in the cupboards.

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