So Enneas the makepeace had to find some way of calming the increasingly and inexplicably hysterical Parish Clerk, Gregory; he called for help from Gregory's secretary, Marcia, who sashayed into the office, oozing muliebrity and Enneas thought she looked as if she would be more at home in the pages of some plutography magazine, Tatler, Homes and Gardens or The Field, rather than the mundane offices of a small, rural, local authority, but when she walked straight up to Gregory and slapped his face hard with her open right hand, leaving the Clerk chapfallen and dazed, the Solicitor realized that he had once again made the mistake of judging a book by it's cover and was relieved that his own jaw was not hanging in sympathy with Gregory's; but Marcia simply turned, and said: "he spilt his whisky, again, shall I make some coffee?" and Enneas nodded gratefully.
Of course, Enneas - or N as he was beginning to get used to being - had always been a makepeace kind of guy, even in his memories of being a child at Nutwood Village School, he was the one who defused arguments and disagreements between his school-fellows before they became scratching, spitting, biting scraps, and those memories were so fresh and vivid, they might almost have been newly-minted - well, of course, they were, weren't they - so the letter he spent all night on, addressing the justified grievances of The Nutwood Players over the Performing Licences for the Village Hall and the Bandstand in Nutwood Village Park, were a model of sound argument with no descent into rancour or bitterness, and when he read it over to Olive, in the morning, before taking it to the Village Clerk, she was full of admiration for his tact and common-sense, but even so, he did feel a little nervous as he entered Gregory's office, even though he and Gregory had been through school together and even in the same year at University in the town of dreaming spires which was situated just a short distance away, over the hills and in the next valley to their own; true, they weren't particularly close - Gregory played rugby while Enneas played chess, and Gregory was the rhythm guitarist in an amateur rock band while Enneas sang tenor in the University Operatic Society - but they had known one another all their lives, though while Enneas went into his father's legal practice, Gregory had followed in his father's footsteps, becoming first the Assistant Parish Clerk, then Deputy and on Gregory Senior's retirement, Nutwood Parish Council Clerk and de facto senior administrator of the entire valley, for Councillors and Chairmen came and went according to the whims of the electorate, but the Clerk was in with the bricks; however, Gregory was beaming at the sight of his old chum, and rose to welcome him into the inner sanctum, offering a chair by the fireside, while he poured them each a glass of an extremely expensive Scottish Single Malt which he had shipped direct from the Distillery on a regular standing order: "this is the first time you've been in here, Enneas," he said in his deep bass voice, "to what do I owe the pleasure?" and as he handed the letter over, Enneas explained briefly the concerns of the Players at the Licences being assigned to a third party, to wit, Gilly Grasper; at once, Gregory's face paled, his hand shook and several costly drops of the amber nectar splashed his expansive waistcoat; this was a remarkable sea-change, for Gregory was a consummate legal officer and had by now been the steady hand on the helm of local government in the Parish for seven years and Enneas could not for the life of him think of any reason for Gregory's flustered state: "there has been a development with regard to these Licences, and indeed other things, Enneas, maybe nothing to do with the Licences directly, maybe everything to do with other things, absolutely unknown unknowns, malicious gossip, you know what it's like in a village seething with Miss Marples and Neighbourhood Snoops, it's all rather up in the air, under a cloud, lost in the fog, needle in a haystack sort of thing, taken something of a wrong turning, come to a dead end - oh!" he reddened and Enneas stared in bewilderment, totally at a loss: "what on earth do you mean Gregory?" he asked when the Clerk paused for breath, but that only prompted him to stand up and, as if in the grip of some kind of amour fou begin walking in circles, figures of eight, backwards, even for a time doing the Shadows Walk he and the other guitarists had performed during their years of playing at student dances, christenings, weddings, bar mitzvahs, birthday parties, and even some funerals - well, at the wakes anyway - and he waved his arms, his glass now empty though not a drop had reached his lips, and prattled on incoherently, something about a mystery, a local scandal, a disappearance, a kidnapping, a flight to a distant country without an extradition agreement, concrete boots, deep sixed, all a misunderstanding, public enquiry, and then, ominously, Scotland Yard!
When the oleaginous Nutwood villain Gilly Grasper opened his eyes, it felt as if he had been erased – not physically, of course, because, obviously, he was still alive and breathing and had the use, albeit limited, of his hands and feet, arms, legs and head – for he had no memory at all, of who he was, where he was or had come from, what he was doing there, why he was there, or when this had happened, nor any way to find out; in fact, he would never discover the answers to any of these questions and soon they would cease to concern him, for surviving as nobody would be the only purpose in his life, all-consuming, and there would be no resiliating for him, ever; others might try to fight the system, buck authority, and they would pay for their stubbornness, but No. 36101 was a makepeace – submissive, meek, obliging, still rather oily, for it seems that personality traits can survive the removal of memory, but in a survivalist way – one of those who always do as the Guards order, never questioning, challenging, or refusing, because he had quickly learned that it would make no difference, other than cause him pain, and then he would do it anyway, so it might as well be straight away so as not to earn a beating or deprivation of rations, or worse; so he accepted the verbal abuse, the sexual abuse, the jibes and taunts of other prisoners as well as the Guards, and by making himself useful he even found the time to develop a little hobby, an interest in Dmitri Mendeleev's Periodic Table of Chemical Elements: he found, swapped crusts for, even begged, sucked up, cajoled, coloured crayons with which he made detailed charts, simple and basic at first, but as he progressed he developed these into swirls and amoeba-like creations which were soon noticed and brought to the attention of the Senior Guards and eventually the Commandant, who was very impressed and wanted to see more and that is how life for No. 36101 became more comfortable and instead of lifting, heaving, dragging, carrying, humping, bumping, crawling and scrabbling, he was given a small cupboard in the Administration Block and supplied with white paper, black ink and gouache with which to make better, larger, more elaborate charts which the Commandant then had framed and sold and proved to be a nice earner for him; and the Commandant, unlike many of the Guards whose sexual exploitation of the prisoners arose, as it did for prisoners themselves, from the complete absence of women, was a man whose interest lay among men, and the artistically talented prisoner attracted him in ways unconnected with his Tables and Charts, so it was not long before he was transferred from the bunk bed in Hut 13 to the Commandant's bungalow where he was given a small, fairly spartan, bedroom, but that hardly mattered to him because he never spent any time there – but, really, the present life or future, if there is any, of No. 36101 is of no concern to us, so let us forget him, as we have already forgotten Gilly Grasper.
The Holy Rollers – as they were affectionately and collectively known across the hills and valley of Nutwood Parish – relaxed in the warmth of the woodsmoke and sipped their drinks, the first stage of the extraction having gone smoothly and to plan; Bashir was sipping Irn Bru which, since a holiday on Skye a few years back, was his soft drink of choice and now always stocked in The Bluebell; Benny had his regular Mamont vodka, sent over from the same Siberian distillery where his great-grandfather Moishe had worked during his years of exile and long-since dekulakized; Sean, of course, was a Jameson's man – not only because of history and heritage – for he knew it was the finest whiskey in the world with the same certainty that maintained his Faith; the G&T that Michael sipped contained Hidden Curiosities – one of his more recent discoveries – for he could never be regarded as staid, stuffy, or set in his ways and although he always stuck to gin, would happily ferret out tiny artisan distilleries, or filch others from distant valleys with special waters, said to contain unique blends of minerals and botanicals, to add to his current choices; not one of them would be dismissed as a know-it-all, in religion or everyday life, they were all sociable, ecumenical – and sometimes economical – learned and diligent and, right now, rather yevery and looking forward to the plates of home made steak pie and mash they had ordered; and the Imam leaned towards his friend, the Rabbi: "what's it now, Benny, ten years since we were in theatre together?" and Benny thought for a moment: "yes, that's when you retired, Bash, I had another year before I put down the needle," as Bashir nodded: "you were the best Anaesthetist I ever worked with, mate, was it about twenty years, twenty-five?" and again Benny reflected: "twenty-six, I think, just shy of twenty-seven, longest partnership in my career," and Bashir nodded: "mine too, and the best, L'Haim," and their other two friends joined in with the Hebrew toast and all clinked their glasses as the door opened and the chef himself, Alfonso, came in with their dishes, the last orders of the night, for four of his favourite customers: "it might just seem to be steak pie," he said with his broad Brummie accent, "but it's Black Country steak pie, like Desperate Dan used to eat, it'll put hairs on yer chests, tuck in and if you want seconds, we might just have a wee bit left, so give us a holler!"
Which was when Gilly Grasper felt a sudden chill, as if some wantwit had opened the outside door and admitted a blast of Jack Frost, but no, the door was still shut fast, logs were blazing in the fireplace and the windows were locked tight as Gilly's own arse, indeed – not to put too fine a point on it – the Snug in The Bluebell Inn was as secure as Aunt Fanny's fanny in her flannelette drawers, albeit, there was definitely something wrong, or not quite right, like a twite stuck up the lum, and that was when he realized that the four shadows on the far side of the room – almost, he shuddered at the sudden, irreverent, thought, like the dark side of the moon – were somehow drawing nearer, like oil moving across a piece of ground that was not quite dead-level or an incoming tide that was going to encircle an unwary sunbather because the place he had chosen was imperceptibly higher than the rest and almost before he knew it there would be no safe return to shore, and Gilly tried to stand, but his legs were feeble and the muscles like candy-floss, he tried with his hands on the table to push himself upright, but the table felt like marshmallow and his hands seemed to sink into it, and the glass of Highland Park which had contained the drug, rolled across the sticky surface and fell in slow-motion over the edge, and Gilly could see it spinning, revolving, as it dropped to the floor which seemed to recede until the glass must be falling down a well, some bottomless cavern, with him transfixed on it to the extent that when the needle sank into the side of his neck he still couldn't take his eyes off the tumbler as it slowly, imperceptibly tumbled, and the room tilted and he somehow registered that the glass was falling horizontally, and wondered if that was why it was taking so long, not realising that it was he who now lay on the floor, but his eyes and other senses had stopped taking in any information even before the hand of the Captain of Nutwood Cricket Club – Bashir Amiri, a retired neurosurgeon and now the village Imam – had closed around it and set it back on the table: "smashing catch, Bash," said Rabbi Benny Goodman, handing the hypodermic to Father Sean Mallow who placed it carefully in a small tin box, which he slid into his coat pocket, while the Vicar of St Crispin's, the Reverend Michael Tippet, opened the door which had concerned Grasper but now didn't bother him in the least, and together the four men carried him out and slid him into the back of a waiting hearse: "it'll be a few hours till he wakes," said Goodman, watching it move away, "we've plenty time for a round," and they re-entered the Snug, where Tippet slid open the shutter, and gave their order to the Landlord, then joined his companions at the welcoming fireside.
"Drink up!" shouted Dylan above the throng of voices, "sup up!" roared Brendan, "for tomorrow we'll be well-hung, over, and a drop o the Pure is the finest cure-all known to man nor beast, not even the rectitudinous swinehood would utter a syllabub against it, bejasus, for I am moved to consider becoming involved in a triangulation exercise," he lowered his voice and whispered into the bar-maid's shell-like, and she, to her immortal credit blushed and said: "away with you, Mr Brendan, too, to imagine I would participate in such a thing, a three-some with yourself and himself," indicating with her thumb Dylan who was balancing a pint glass on the tip of his snubby nose while singing Land of Our Fathers to the tune of The Good Ship Lollipop being hammered out on The Bluebell's joanna by Morrie the Gaffer, and then, to her perpetual discredit, gave the playwright a sly wink and indicated that when the pub closed she might well be walking his way, while in the Snug, Gilly Grasper, Boss of the Nutwood Underworld gave himself a smug grin and snapped his fingers for another double at the double, for everything was going exactly to plan, just as he had been assured it would, oh, yes indeed!
"Well," said Bernie, getting to his feet and putting his chair at the back of the stage, "if that's the endlong debate over, an' we're waitin' for N to tell us 'ow 'e gets on with the Appeal against the Pronoia issued by the Licensing Committee, I reckon we ain't gonna be workin' tonight so I propose we adjourn to the Bluebell Inn an' talk about somethin' else over a jar of ale, and. . . . ." ha paused for several beats, then continued "termorra's Leap day an it's a Public 'oliday, so pub's stayin open a hour later by Special License, so who's up for it?" and this trenchant move by the Gaffer was seconded by several others so, with a scraping of chairs, the stage was quickly cleared and the Nutwood Players trooped into the early evening gloaming: "you know," said N to Dudley, who was busy lighting a pipe as they walked along, "the concept of the Overton Window?" and Dudley nodded: "always seemed to me to be a cynical acceptance of the fact that Public Opinion on the important Social Issues is just as malleable and capable of manipulation as when the harassed worker or housewife needs to buy some beans and doesn't realise that the choice of which to purchase has been, if you'll forgive the pun, instilled in his or her brain by advertising rather than experiment and experience, and will be there until a better advertising campaign changes his or her mind – when are the next Parish Council Elections, one wonders? perhaps a hint of possible challenge might encourage a re-consideration by the members of the Licensing Committee, what do you think, dear boy?" but before N could reply, John, one of the cast, who had been studying the menu board outside, said: "the Chef's Special is a Lamb Carbonado, can I coax anyone to share a large bowl?" at which another, Celia, a swellegant woman dressed impeccably and with chestnut hair, commented: "that's fine by me, Johnny, but first can you get me a large Bloody Caesar? meetings numb my brain," and somewhither close by, the ubiquitous cockney said: "if it's Alfonso who's in the kitchen tonight, I understood his Speciality to be Cod Pieces, he works wonders with them, ha ha ha," and laughing at his own joke he sashayed in, waving to some acquaintances who were already drinking at the far end of the bar, while the others pulled a couple of tables together and ringed it with chairs; everyone agreed to try the Special and John went to the bar to place an order for several large bowls, which they would share and Alfie made a list of the drinks, before joining John at the bar; N - which Enneas was now referred as - asked Karel, seated beside him, about the play, The End of Time: "it's a tragi-comedy," explained the Director, with a slight Polish accent, "based on the theory that after the Big Bank, the Universe will expand until it reaches the point at which it's velocity will reduce and the force of gravity will kick in and time will run backwards as the whole Universe falls back on itself and eventually implodes, in a new Big Bank, yes?" and N must have looked mystified, as the Director laughed and said: "do not worry, we express this idea by the simple device of a love story in which the second half is the first in reverse," but N admitted that he lacked the imagination to grasp how this would be done, then asked who had written it: "ah," said Karel, "it is the joint work of a couple of local writers, Brendan and Dylan - they write together under that nom de plume, Brendan Dylan, well, when they are sober, which is not very often, but they are both quite brilliant; you know, I have found that what is referred to as the Celtic Fringe - Scots, Welsh and Irish, Manx, even Cornish and Breton in France - possesses writers and thinkers who have a perception that appeals considerably to me; my family were Polish Jews, I lost all of them in the Shoah, The Holocaust, and I suppose I can identify with the cultural and physical repression which the Celts believe they have suffered under English domination for centuries, a domination which is quite untenable and yet it was only the Irish who fought fiercely for their independence, in recent times," and N sighed, just as the door burst open and two stocky, wild-haired men rolled in, arms linked as hough they were holding each other upright and made straight for the end of the bar where Ray and his chums were located: "is that them?" asked N, watching the interplay between the various members of the group, and as Karel nodded, he added: "quite a double-act," but Karel shook his head: "ah, no, it is a threesome!" and when N looked startled, he explained: "the third is something of a canker-blossom, Madame Alcohol, she will kill the both of them and yet, conversely, they cannot live without her and even when they have no money, it is one of the perks - I think that is the word? - of being a poet and a playwright, that someone will always stand them another drink when they cannot stand up themselves," and N thought about this, this whole new world in the village where he had lived all his life, these poets, dramatists, actors, directors, people he had never heard of before, never met, and supposed it was because he was a Solicitor and in all probability none of them had ever needed, or could have afforded, his services, but then he remembered his promise, and stood, shaking the hand of the Director: "tonight I must write the Request that the Licensing Committee rescind it's award of the various Rights to Mr Grabber, and while I firmly believe that The Law and Human Rights are on your side, it may be necessary to dicker a bit at some point, so I will neither rule that possibility in or out, it's always best to keep one's powder dry if you get my drift?" and Karel, who had a long, successful and distinguished career behind him, of which the young lawyer seemed quite ignorant - although he had been familiar with the names of several members of the cast - smiled modestly and said: "in this matter, N, we are in your hands and trust that you will do your very best on behalf of The Nutwood Players, particularly now that you and your young friend are members of our small enterprise, so L'Haim," and they clinked their glasses, N finished his drink and left the Inn, deep in thought but without sparing any for Ezekiel, who might not exist outside of the small stretch of Space/Time they had shared earlier., and it struck him that those past few hours felt as if they had expanded and filled as many days, and realised that Nutwood, as he now knew it, had changed utterly and forever and even supposed that he had too!
Somewhither, over yonder, over moor and bog we wander, seeking the untenable, dispensing the detestable, forgiving the forgettable, regretting the exculpable until . . . .once, on a far and windy sill, we see the rising swellegant shape of a sunlit distant hill, and in a FLASH! we know we have reached the very End of Time itself!
Somewhither in the Wide Blue Yonder,
By the Big Rock Carbonado,
A lost Coaxial Connection,
Means I can't Drag and Drop my fiction,
Each syllable a small confection,
Each word a meaning or misdirection,
Each clause and phrase a self-selection,
Each article a contradiction,
Each wee participle a section,
Each punctuation speaks with diction,
Each statement bubbles with conviction,
But now, in lonely desperation,
I feel as one who knows rejection,
And so I turn in introspection,
to Bloody Caesar, my selection,
Ye can aye depend in him tae hit the spot, Perfection!
The Stage Manager, Ray – with the cockney accent – pulled over a couple of chairs for Enneas and Ezekiel and the solicitor listened as Dudley explained that he had received a letter from the Licensing Committee stating that the Entertainments License for the Village Hall and the Bandstand in Nutwood Park had been granted to a Mr Gill Grabber and anyone wishing to put on an Entertainment – or rehearse such an Entertainment – would require the agreement of Mr Grabber on whatever terms and conditions he chose to apply so long as the Entertainment fell within the general conditions applied by the Parish Council to those venues; so Dudley had written to Mr Grabber and received, by return post, a brief note assuring the Nutwood Players that they could continue with their planned rehearsals and performances on receipt by him of the sum of £200 for each day on which they required the premises: "it's daylight robbery," said one of the Players, Alfie, and: "we all know he's a crook," said Joe, "and this is proof – we finance our shows out of our own pockets and charge very little from the audience, kids get in free and we provide tea and coffee and juice for the kids in the interval, free, gratis and for nothing," and Brenda: "we do the shows because we love doing them and want to give something to the Community, at the end of the day we're only covering the rental of the Hall and Bandstand and maybe the Performing Rights we've paid to the Author, we've all been professionals, but this is strictly voluntary, we don't make anything from putting the shows on and I'm damned if I'm going to put money into that Grabber's pockets!" which garnered a round of '"hear, hear," and "good for you, Bren!" which was when Enneas offered to write to the Licensing Committee requesting that it revoke it's decision and return the arrangements regarding the two venues to their previous, traditional form, as they had been 'since time immemorial, and long-established precedent," but Bernie muttered: "aye, natheless and not doubting your knowledge, but what'll that cost us? we can't afford to go to Law to get an Injunction against a man like Grabber," and there was murmured agreement, so Enneas explained: "there's no question of me charging a fee, if you accept Ezekiel and myself into the Company, I will be acting in that capacity, and I'm confident that the Licensing Committee will take heed," then Karel, the Director asked: "how long will it all take, this Licensing Committee? we are due to open next week and if we are not allowed to rehearse in here, it is going to be very difficult for us, you see?" but Ray chipped in: "don't worry Charlie, you're just a 'alf-empty guy, I'm 'alf-full and I think that Enneas 'ere is bold enough to make a bona roll of it, aintcha?" addressing Enneas, who coloured slightly because he didn't understand what Ray had said, but he nodded: "if I write the Appeal tonight and hand it to the Town Clerk in the morning, I'll ask for an Emergency Meeting because of the short time you have and I'm sure it will be sorted out very soon, maybe the next day," at which Morrie, the Gaffer, asked: "so am I getting my Best Boy?" and Ray assured him: "yes, Morrie, you're getting Ezekiel to clean your paint-brushes and separate the hakes from the badgers, the camels from the hogs and the sables from the stables, he's a fit young fellah, an he'll pull and haul and lug and tug you to your heart's content, but I'm getting Enneas as my ASM and he's the bestest, so there, put that up your pipe and suck it!" at which the Company collapsed in laughter and Dudley apologised to Enneas: "just ignore Raymondo, he's highly-strung and over-excitable, and his middle name is Innuendo – Raymondo Innuendo La Martine – but he's the best Stage Manager in the business and he'll keep you right, but just remember, as novices in a highly structured world, you and Ezekiel are on the bottom rung of the ladder and will have to take direction from, in your case Ray and in Ezekiel's, Morrie," and to demonstrate their good faith, the new members shook hands with their bosses, who high-fived in triumph as the vacant positions had been putting a considerable strain on their separate work-loads: "so," said Ray to Enneas, "what's your nickname, or what does your wife call you, Enneas is a bit of a mouthful," and he winked, and Enneas replied: "well, she tends to call me Enn," and Ray asked: "just the initial, N?" and Enneas shrugged: "I always assumed it was E, n, n, but you could be right, N, it sounds the same either way," so it was agreed that he would be referred to and listed in the Programme by the initial N and his surname.
Inside, there was no sign of a rehearsal, indeed, the hall was bare and quiet, but then they could hear a quiet mumble of voices from behind the heavy, red plush curtains, so advanced towards the stage and climbed the steps to the right, finding themselves in the wings, with boxes, heaps of clothing, tangles of electrical cable, and narrow black curtains which baffled any view backstage from the audience; on stage, a group of men and women of various ages were seated in a semi-circle, while another man moved about, talking, persuading, cajoling, and answering questions: "it's up to us, the entire Company, we're a democratic body and I want everyone to be involved, it's not a decision I can take alone. . . . ." he broke off, having spotted the two intruders abaft the semi-circle: "hey" he called to them, "who are you? the Hall isn't open tonight," and the seated people turned to stare at them; so Enneas said: "I hope we aren't intruding, we wondered if you were still looking for a couple of helpers back-stage," then an elderly man in dungarees spoke up: "I'm the Gaffer and I need a Best Boy to help with the lights," and someone else said: "Morrie helped out the Spark in a short film for the Ministry of Information in 1960 and he's called himself 'Best Boy' ever since, now he's the Gaffer! for the love of God, will someone put him out of his misery and find a Best Boy for him?" the man who was on his feet turned and asked for quiet, then back to the newcomers: "hello, I'm Dudley, I'm the Producer, but to be honest, our next production may be cancelled, we're in the middle of a crisis here, could I get my secretary to call you tomorrow, if we're still able to go ahead?" and someone asked: "are you taking a stand on it Dud?" and another shouted: "stop dissembling, Dud, it's blackmail is what it is!" and Enneas spoke louder than he had intended: "I don't know what kind of trouble you have, but I'm a Solicitor, and if there's anything I can do to help. . . . ." and a cockney said: "done a bit o solicitin' meself, but there's not many decent cottages round 'ere!" and another said: "speak for yourself Raymondo, farmers' boys too big for you?" and a wolf whistle was followed by: "good hailsome stock wi rosy cheeks," and: "depends if they've been spanked!" and the laughter brought the banter to an end, and Dudley spoke to Enneas: "whether a lawyer would be able to help or not, I don't know, but someone has acquired all performing rights for three years, including rehearsals, in this Hall and the Bandstand where we intended to present our show, and is demanding an exorbitant royalty which a) on principle we don't want to pay and b) we can't afford anyway," which was followed by a raspberry and: "you tellem, Dud!"
At first there was an uneasy silence, as Enneas and Ezekiel strolled through the village, then a stilted conversation, when each asked vague questions and received monosyllabic answers, but in the Park, approaching the deserted Bandstand, just as he caught sight of Olive and Mariah in the distance, jogging comfortably now, Enneas said: "do you play an instrument, Ezekiel?" and the other chuckled: "the banjo, badly – well, it's Nurse Mariah's and I found a Teach Yourself book which I'm working through, what about you, Enneas?" and got a grin back: "a tuba, of all things, somedeal – it belonged to Olive's dad, he was in the Village Band, they played here every Sunday afternoon, I remember coming with my mum and dad and lying on the grass, letting the music roll over me, but it seems a long time since there was a Band, I wonder what happened to all the other instruments?" and then, hoping he didn't sound histrionic: "maybe we could track them down, they're probably in lofts or at the back of wardrobes, would you be interested in re-constituting the Village Band, Ezekiel? we'd probably all be beginners – I've certainly never heard anyone playing anything but the occasional piano for years, but speaking of the piano reminds me, one of my clients is Madam Manatalini, she used to teach music and dance until she retired and when her husband – he was apparently rather a fine opera singer, baritone – when he died, she moved back here to live with her sister, who's a painter; perhaps we could interest her in being the conductor," and Ezekiel looked impressed by his new friend's organisational acumen: "is this what you do as a Solicitor?" he asked, "find solutions?" and Enneas blushed, being naturally too modest to be able to accept praise or compliments easily, but then he nodded: "actually, it pretty much sums up my career – helping clients identify problems and then focussing them on resolutions, it's always best if the realisation comes from the client, with me being a facilitator, then people are more likely to embrace it and make a success of it, that if someone else tells them what to do," he glanced at his watch: "let's head for the Village Hall," he suggested, "check out what Olive and Mariah were saying about the Players needing help, though I'm not much use with hammers and saws," and so they left the Bandstand and made for Water Lane, where the Hall was situated beside Amber Beck, the brook which joined River Rolling just a half-mile from the footbridge; near the Hall they noticed a large, red-faced man whoo seemed to be lurking under a tree while eating a pie as if he hadn't eaten for a week or more, but the gype was oblivious to their arrival, so carefully was he searching for and finding any crumbs of pastry or smears of gravy then sucking them off his fingers: "don't look round, but I know him, Gilly Grasper, he owns the woollen mill and used to fleece the sheep-farmers, offering them less than their wool was worth, but they're all wise to him now and sell through an honest merchant in Midtown, so Grasper's Mill buys inferior wool from abroad and sells inferior fabric to an overseas market – I think he thrives on conflict and resentment, I hope he's not involved with the Players," and they made their way to the front of the Hall and pushed open the red double-doors.
Ezekiel, of course, was taken aback when Nurse Mariah told him that she had arranged to go out for a Power Walk that evening with her friend Olive and that Olive's husband, Enneas, wanted to speak with Ezekiel and perhaps go for a walk with him too: "who's he?" and she replied: "he's the local Solicitor," which brought a worried look to Ezekiel's face: "why does he want to speak to me? have I done something wrong?" and Mariah laughed: "no, no. nothing like that – Olive thinks he spends too much of his day sitting down, indoors, either in his office or at home, he's probably putting on a bit of weight and she wants him to get some exercise and it's more fun to go out with someone else, she and I are planning to progress from walking to jogging and then join the local Jogging Club, and I thought the company would be good for you too, Ezekiel, you only go out to do the shopping, the rest of the time you're in here with only my misbegotten cat Greymalkin for company, I'm not saying you're spending too much time navel-gazing, because you keep the place far better than I ever have and your cooking is brilliant – that gribiche sauce last night with the pork chops was delicious, but I would like to see you making other friends," and Ezekiel shot a glance at the cat, perched, as usual, on the back of Nurse Mariah's favourite chair by the fire, but the cat merely stared up at the mantelpiece, where a little carved wooden mouse seemed to be looking back at him: "that's alright then," agreed the young man, relieved that no-one was saying he needed a lawyer and when Mariah added that she had also suggested he and this Enneas person might take a look into the Village Hall where The Nutwood Players were rehearsing their next production: "it's called The End of Time, and the poster says it's a Matrilingual Romance, which might be fun, but it seems they are short of a few hands back-stage and maybe you and Enneas would be able. . . . ." – ". . . . .to lend them a hand?" "yes," she confirmed: "but I don't know anything about acting," objected Ezekiel: "don't worry about that," assured Mariah, "they have plenty of people on-stage, it's more stage-hands they need, to move props and scenery and costumes and stuff, all the things the audience doesn't see, you never know, Ezekiel, you might pick up some new skills – painting scenery or building sets, or even sewing costumes," and he looked askance at her, "don't worry, I'm only joking!" but after she'd left for the Cottage Hospital, where Dr Graham had his surgery and Mariah treated minor injuries and ailments and there were two beds for – thankfully, rare – in-patients, Greymalkin fixed Ezekiel with a beady eye and hissed: "there's something fishy about this new pair, Enneas and Olive, they only arrived yesterday and overnight everyone's memory banks have been updated, it was a bit slower with you, I know, because your arrival was unorthodox and although a few people got your name in time others lagged badly, so they must have come in the lift – there can be a considerable delay that way, the passenger isn't aware of it, but it gives plenty of time to get all the residents' updated so that everyone's memories match and correlate," he gave a little whicker, "but you realised that you hadn't been aware of Olive and her husband and he didn't know about you, so something isn't right, I'll try to find out what, but just be careful," and Ezekiel felt a shiver of apprehension running down his spine, as if someone was closing on him with a switch-blade, or even a battle-axe, either of which would be a bad way to go!
When they woke in the morning, Enneas and Olive had no memory of End of Time Street, the crime scene, their attacker, the mysterious lift, nor arriving in Nutwood; so far as they were concerned, Nutwood – a village or, to certain discerning residents, a pair of villages, so close to each other that their boundaries had blurred and all but disappeared, yet some still distinguished them as Bigge Village and Smalle Village, each of the descriptives having lost an r over time, in an idyllic English valley, a kind of shallow bowl with no roads leading in or out, and it's environs – had always been their home and their pleasant cottage, complete with thatched roof, a small but pretty front garden in front and a larger one at the back, with two oaks and a hammock hanging between them, had ever been the constant in their lives, along with their two daughters, Rosie and Daisy – just like in the story books; Enneas was a Solicitor, with a practice that served both the village community and the rural hinterland and Olive worked in Nutwood Village School where she taught the younger pupils, while Dr Montmorency was Headmaster and taught the older ones: "what day is it?" asked Olive, sleepily and Enneas, carrying in the breakfast tray, said "today," and laughed, this being the usual question and response each morning: "is there any news?" was her next question and, as always, his reply was: "no news is good news – tea, toast, soft-boiled eggs and marmalade, what more could you want?" and Olive stretched: "I had the oddest dream, I hope I didn't disturb you, dear," but he shook his head: "I was out like a light, unconscious, I don't think I had any kind of dream – what was yours about?" but she was shaking her head: "I really don't remember, it didn't wake me, but I think I was running in it," and he asked: "are going to join the Jogging Club?" at which she nodded: "yes, Nurse Mariah and I are going out this evening, though we'll probably just be having a brisk walk and gradually speed up – I think you're supposed to build up stamina before actually starting to run, and there's probably a technical difference between Jogging and Running anyway, but we're doing it for a bit of fun and to get some exercise, I can't see us racing any time soon!" and Enneas smiled, it was good that Olive had a friend like Mariah, but then Olive said: "you know Mariah's got a lodger?" but Enneas shook his head: "first I've heard of it, who?" and she said: "a young chap, Ezekiel, his mother recently passed away and he doesn't have any other relatives; actually, it was him saw Soft Mick fall off his ladder that time, and he ran for Mariah and then Dr Graham," at which Enneas snorted, "he should have been struck off, for certifying that poor chap as dead, what an experience, buried alive and only coming to in the coffin under ground – he was lucky the Churchwarden heard him shouting and knocking and they managed to get him out before he really was dead!" but Olive raised a hand: "please don't pontificate, Enneas, I'm sure we've made mistakes in our time, we're just lucky we don't deal with matters of Life and Death," to which he agreed: "you're right, dear, a spelling mistake in a deed or will usually gets spotted before the signing and no-one gets buried alive, but what do you want me to do with this Ezekiel chap?" and Olive grinned: "just have a chat – Mariah says he spends most of his time talking to her cat, Greymalkin, and I don't suppose he gets much back; Aunt Mabel is going to pop in this evening to give the girls their bath and read their bedtime story, so you could take Ezekiel out for a walk, it's going to be a lovely evening," he stared at her: "what should I talk to him about, I don't know anything about him?" but she waved his objections aside: "you're a Solicitor, Enneas, you can vamp, you can talk the hind leg off a donkey, improvise, but I'll tell you what Mariah suggested – The Nutwood Players are rehearsing in the Village Hall and she says they are short of stage hands, why don't you and Ezekiel have a deek, se if you could make yourselves useful, that way he could get to know a lot more people and wouldn't be dependent on just Mariah, or you, for that matter,," and Enneas gave a little whicker: "you are quite incorrigible, Olive, I don't know how the Cubs are managing without you and your projects, but you manage me and the girls quite excellently, and seem to have come up with a rescue plan for this Ezekiel chap, I don't suppose he knows anything about it?" and she conceded: "no, of course not, and why should he? he's just a member of the cast and I, dear boy, am the Director!"
The door clicked shut behind them and the ceiling became a dazzling light, all four walls were mirrors, so that they seemed to be crowded in with clones of themselves, and feeling disoriented, they clung to each other, whickering nervously: "what's this?" asked Enn Crusted, but Olive Major shook her head in mute disbelief: "some kind of lift," the DI said, pointing at rows of buttons which climbed the wall on his right, in threes, he leant closer: "look, Marj, there's a big 0 on it's own and then above it 1, 2, 3; 4, 5, 6," he ran his finger up, "the top ones are 97, 98, 99," and Olive pointed to the figures by the buttons below the 0: "-1, -2, -3; -4, -5, -6," she crouched, "-97, -98, -99!" they glanced at each other: "it's bloody impossible," said Crusted flatly, "we're on the top floor, third? fourth? and there's only a flat roof, not even room for a loft so far as I could see," to which she readily agreed, then looked around, there was no sign of the door through which they had entered, nor any Door Open or Door Hold button, no Emergency button either: "what should we do, Guv?" she asked, unexpectedly reassigning him to his role as her superior: "how the fuck would I know?" he asked, feeling like a little lost boy, so she suggested: "the 0 must be the ground floor, shall I?" and without waiting to be contradicted, reached out a finger, rested it briefly on the button and pressed, just before his strangled cry of "WAIT!" which was now too late; the 0 became a 0 but there was no discernible lurch, nothing substantial, just the faintest whoosh, yet they both felt as if they had left their stomachs behind, and then a momentary silence, and the wall behind them slid away and they turned to look out: no longer night, no longer End of Time Street, it was onto a vista of rolling hills, fields, blue sky with fluffy white clouds drifting in different directions but as if the sky was slowly turning anti-clockwise, taking the clouds with it, like a painted – or digitally enhanced – piece of scenery; Olive Major was the first to move, leaning slightly forward, so that her head could turn and she could check to right and left: "it's like a bandstand, Guv, like you used to get in Public Parks, before they paid off all the Keepers," and she took a step forward, then another, and turned to glance at him: "nothing to be scared of, Guv!" she walked right out from the Lift and gazed around, turning 360 degrees, seeing Crusted step forward, out of nothing, no Lift, nothing at all, they were both in the middle of a fairly substantial, round, Municipal Bandstand, with pillars supporting a conical roof, painted rails connecting a number of the pillars, with four open spaces where steps led down to a path, about four feet wide, which encircled the place; on one of the pillars, Olive noticed a piece of paper fluttering in the slight breeze, and she said: "look, Guv, there's going to be a show here," and read out:-
The End of Time
A Matrilingual Romance
on Thursday, Friday & Saturday
Brenda de Banzie
& The Company
with Music by
Harry Roy's Tiger Ragamuffins
"might be good fun," she ended, but Enn scowled and said: "they're all dead!" which she ignored, simply asking: "what's a matrilingual romance?" and he explained, "it's the Mother Tongue, so presumably it's in English," at which she smiled: "we should come and see it, then," but noticed him picking something up and studying it, "whatcha found, Guv?" and he replied: "some kind of coin, but I don't know quite what – any good at numismatics, Marj?" but she shook her head, "what's it say?" and he scratched his own head: "no words, just a lion on one side and a triangle, or pyramid, on the other, look. . . . ." handing it to her, she squinted and then laughed: "it's an old shopping-trolley token," and Crusted had the good grace to laugh at himself too, then, glancing around, said: "home-along, Marj?" and she nodded, so arm in arm they began to amble along the path wich wound between flower-beds and seemed to be heading towards an open gate which looked as though it would take them into town.
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