Strangers

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Thriller story - 19,000 words - 60 minutes reading time
1



The time-period is the early 1970s. The location is England.

A nurse, in full uniform, loads up a big syringe with a cloudy liquid. She sucks the liquid out of a small bottle, and sprays out a little, to get rid of any air-gaps. She places the syringe on top of a small, square, metal trolley, with also has two other small, and opaque, bottles sitting on the top tray.

She walks, with purpose, along a long hospital corridor, passing many shiny doors, and various treatment rooms. The corridor-floor is highly polished and there are chunky white radiators, and big red fire-extinguishers, placed along each side, at regular intervals. Above her head, harsh, white, lighting shines down, providing clinical illumination.

She glances at one of the open doors as she walks along. This room contains a youngish man, with shoulder-length dark hair, sitting on the edge of a bed in his pyjamas. He is rolling down his sleeve after receiving an injection from a doctor, who is standing over him. The patient looks forlorn.

As the nurse passes a huge fire-hose reel, bolted on to the wall, she slows down, and turns her trolley into a dimmer corridor. She stops next to a shiny door marked with a big “12”. And then she peers through a small spy-hole which is set at eye-level on the door.

The spy-hole-view shows a hospital bed illuminated by clean white light. There is a blanket over the bed, and it covers a person lying underneath. The person is still. The nurse closes over the spy-hole-cover and takes a key from her belt. She unlocks the door and opens a gap in preparation to enter. She picks up a small metal tray from her trolley, which contains the syringe and bottles, and walks into the room. The room is bare, and more like a cell. She closes over the door from the inside.

The nurse goes over to a small, high up, window, to the side of the bed, and swings over the curtain. She has left the full syringe momentarily unattended. While the nurse’s back is turned, a hand grabs the syringe. The nurse gets quickly stabbed with the syringe and then there is a violent struggle. The nurse falls to the ground.

Out in the corridor a security-man turns his head as he is approached. He looks shocked at what he sees and then succumbs to a blow which knocks him, violently, to the floor. An orderly hears the commotion and heads for the room with the patient and nurse. He enters, and is stunned at what he sees.

2

Outside, in the darkness, someone, who is breathing heavily, is running through the woods at speed. Their rapid footsteps are pounding on the leaves and twigs. Meanwhile, inside a nearby house, a couple, in their mid-20s, are relaxing in their living room, watching TV, under subdued lamplight. The man is dozing. 

The woman hears creaking, and then smashing glass. She becomes anxious. She nudges her husband. “There’s someone in the house” she says, worriedly. The man quickly jumps up, grabs a big torch, and then they both go to investigate the source of the sound.

"There’s someone in the house."

The couple both go to investigate the source of the sound and find, to their distress, that a window is wide open, the curtains are flapping, and their main bedroom has been ransacked and, whoever did it, has since run off.

Meanwhile, out in the night, on a lonely country road, the solitary driver of an Austin 1800 saloon-car speeds along. He is wearing a dark coat, over a shirt and tie, and looks respectable. He is maybe some kind of a businessman, or the like. The driver appears physically strong, and of the type who could probably handle himself.

He decides to stop his car, on a dark stretch, to use a telephone box by the side of the road. As everywhere else is pitch-black, the bright-red phone-box appears lit up like a beacon. He pulls the handbrake on, switches off the engine, and gets out of the car. He casually walks towards the phone-box. He swings the door open and stands inside. The box is clean, with internal lighting, and is in full working-order. He shuts the door over and picks up the handset with his right hand.

He begins to dial with his left index-finger. The circular label, marked CHENTON 8421, spins around as he dials. He just gets a couple of numbers dialled when he hears his car engine turning over and starting up. And then the headlights come on, full beam.

The businessman runs out of the phone-box. His car is being driven away. He stands out in front of it and shouts “Hey!” and waves his arms about. The car thrusts forward and hits him. He bounces off the bonnet, with full force, and then rolls over the windscreen. His body crashes to the ground. The car stops a short distance away. Someone gets out. They keep the engine running. A hand checks over the body lying on the ground, riffles through the clothing, and then takes the valuables. The figure slowly walks back to the stolen car, gets in, and then drives off at speed.  

The following day a big tanker-truck drives into the forecourt of the Roadhouse Café. It’s a grey, damp, and somewhat winterish-morning as the trucker walks over the tarmac towards the entrance-door. He passes by a blue Austin 1800 that is parked, in a slot, with the other cars. The trucker is in late-thirties and wears a black donkey-jacket. He’s got shoulder-length straight brown hair and a sturdy build.

He breezes into the busy café and heads towards the cigarette machine. “Bacon and egg please, Doris” he shouts over to the waitress behind the counter, in a cheerful manner. Standing nearby to the cigarette machine is a finer-boned, good-looking, blond-haired man, putting coins into a one-armed bandit. His drink is sitting on top of the bandit and it looks to be a generous whisky, on the rocks. He carefully places 5p coins into the round slot on top of the machine and pulls the handle.

The trucker gets a packet of fags from the machine and doesn’t waste any time in lighting one up. He walks over to the counter and takes a deep drag on his fag.  Doris comes over. “The usual please love” he says. 

Doris, dutifully, heads over to the beer pump and begins to fill up a pint glass. The boss-man comes over to speak to the Trucker while Doris is pouring the pint.

“You’re late today, Jim?” he asks.

“Yeah,” says the trucker, as he drags on his fag, “Some nutter’s escaped from Bromwood.”

“Dangerous?” the boss-man asks.

“Yeah, they’ve got roadblocks all over the place” Jim replies.

At this point, a young lady walks into the establishment. She is about twenty-five, with medium-brown, shoulder-length, neatly-trimmed hair. She looks out-of-place in this rough-and-ready trucker’s joint. The blond guy, at the bandit, sees her entering, in a reflection on a mirror above the machine he is playing. He turns his head around, and away from the machine, to get a more direct look at the wholesome-looking woman.

The woman heads up to the counter. “Excuse me, I want to get to Bromwood Station” she says to the boss-man, in her middle-class, refined, accent.

“Well, there’s only one bus on a Sunday,” he replies, while polishing a pint glass with a cloth. “And it left ten minutes ago.”

“Yes, I know,” she says, already resigned to this. “Can I get a cab?” she asks, politely

“Not from around here, I’m afraid.” He pauses. “Hang on a minute …”

The boss-man walks over to Jim, the trucker, who’s sitting at the other end of the counter.  Jim’s had a few by now. “You’re heading for Bromwood, aren’t you?”

“Yes,” the trucker replies, with slurred speech. “But no passengers.”

The young blond guy is keeping an eye on this, from a distance. He heads over to the counter to settle up his bill with Doris, and also to get within earshot of the posh lady, who is waiting expectantly for the boss-man to come back over.

The blond guy looks presentable enough in his grey flannel trousers, dark-brown open jacket, over a light-blue casual shirt with a soft collar. The girl is wearing a lightish-coloured soft-coat, with pockets, over a dark open-neck top with buttons on it and a loose-fitting skirt. The pair would probably make a good match, judging by their style, manner, and attire.

“Aw, c’mon.” says the boss-man, persuasively, to the trucker. “You can’t let her walk … what, with a maniac on the loose…”

Jim looks over towards the innocent-looking girl, standing by the counter, with lecherous thoughts on his drunken mind. 

Jim and the posh girl walk out of the greasy joint and head towards his tanker truck. He helps her up the high step, into the passenger side of the cab. She seems so small compared to the size of the big truck. As Jim shuts the cab door over, he has a smug grin on his face, as he clocks her legs, as she enters the cab. “This is my lucky day, and it’s all too easy.” he is probably thinking. Or maybe it is just wishful thinking. 

The girl sits in the passenger side, on the big bench-seat, inside the cab. Jim bangs the door over, and this makes her flinch. She fixes her hair, as her wide eyes adjust to the cab environment. Jim appears, through, the door, from the driver’s side. He glances at her, with a stupid grin on his face. She looks away, but inadvertently displays her legs, as she crosses them. Jim takes a gasp of breath and fires up his truck.

As the truck rolls out of the forecourt, onto the main road, the blond guy is standing outside, watching. He gets into a blue Austin 1800. He closes over the door and then winds the window down. He doesn’t start the engine, however. Instead, he produces a half-bottle of whisky and takes a huge swig from it.

There is the blaring sound of a police-vehicle siren. The blond guy tucks his bottle away, starts up the engine of his blue Austin, and carefully drives over the potholes and puddles of the forecourt. He then accelerates off onto the main road.

A few seconds later, a Rover P6 3500 white police-car comes screaming along the main road at a crazy speed. The Rover swerves into the forecourt of the café and screeches to a halt. Two cops leap out and head into the café.

The cops talk to the café boss-man, showing him notes and pictures, and asking him questions. The boss-man answers. The cops depart, in a rush.

Meanwhile, Jim is man-handling the big steering-wheel of his tanker-truck. “What time’s your train?” he asks her.

“There’s one at two O’clock,” she answers.

“We can take it easy then …” he says. And then he pauses. “Quick, get down!”

“What?”

“There’s another road-block ahead. I’m not allowed to give lifts.”

She dives down below the dashboard. He throws a coat over her. Two traffic-police, in high-vis jackets, beckon him to stop. He does. He opens the cab door to speak with them.

“Where d’you come from?” one cop asks, while the other walks around the lorry, and checks underneath.

“Birmingham.”

The guy at the rear of the vehicle signals “all is ok” with a thumbs-up to his colleague at the front. Jim gets waved on. Back on the road, he pulls the coat away and she sits back up on the bench-seat.

“I could lose my job,” he says, gruffly.

She strokes the back of her hair. “I can’t thank you enough,” she says, in her refined voice.

“Wanna bet?” he gives her a ‘look’. She then realises what she has just said, and her eyes widen with concern.

Jim, the trucker, has another good look at her legs. “You a model, eh?” he asks.

“No,” she says, soberly, with a slight laugh, as if to say “Don’t be silly”

“You could be,” he has another letch at her legs. “You’ll be glad I came along?”

“I’m very grateful to you,” she replies.

“I hoped you’d say that.” he says, with a smirk.

Jim's head darts from side to side, as he looks about outside, trying to find an appropriate place to stop. He finally pulls the wagon into a deserted lay-by and puts on the air-brakes, with a hiss. It is a cold, grey, damp and miserable, day out there.

“What’s the trouble?” she asks him, with surprise, and wariness, on her face.

He leans towards her. “I thought we’d settle the fare…”Jim lunges towards her. She lets out a cry, fights him off, opens the door, and jumps out of the cab. It is quite a height, and she lands, heavily, down on the tarmac. She rolls over, and then quickly gets up. She runs towards the back of the lorry, away from the cab. Jim appears from around the back and grabs her.

He roughly pulls her hair, and shakes her about, trying to rip her coat off. There is quite a thick drizzle in the air and they are both getting wet. He tries to kiss her on the neck.

In the distance there is a car speeding their way. Jim hears this, looks up, and gives up on his attack. He gives her a look of contempt, and, in a rage, throws her at a nearby iron railing. She crashes into the rails and falls to the ground, puffing and panting. Jim darts off, and gets in the cab. He leans over and slams shut the passenger-side door. He sees her handbag on the seat. He thinks for a brief moment, and then throws it out of the window. The rain is now lashing down, and the girl is lying, crumpled on the ground. 

3

The girl recovers her composure, just enough to realise her immediate danger is over, but she is keen to get her bag. She staggers upright and, in a daze, wanders over into the middle of the road to retrieve her handbag, and its scattered contents, which are spread out on the wet ground. She isn’t aware of a blue Austin car, bearing down on her, at great speed.

The driver of the blue car sees her late, he hits the brakes and swerves, and only manages to miss her by inches. She is still kneeling down on the road, picking up her handbag contents. The driver of the blue car is the young blond man from the café. He has screeched to a halt and has jumped out of his car. The rain is pounding off the tarmac and the wind has whipped up. He runs towards the girl.

“What the hell do you think you’re doing? I could have killed you!” he shouts at her, as he stands over the girl.

He bends down close to her. Her face looks appalled. “You’re drunk,” she says.

“Me?” he seems offended at this. “Oh, that’s typical, you run out onto the road and it's my fault.” The rain lashes down and the wind whistles around them. She is still bent down, putting items into her bag. There is the sound of a blaring horn. “Look out, or we’ll both be killed!” he grabs her up and to the side. A car flies by. The heavy rain blasts of their faces.

“Are you alright?” he says, with genuine concern.

“Yes,” she replies. She is becoming more composed.

“Well, what are you doing out here anyway?”

“Trying to get to Bromwood Station” she says, putting a scarf over her head.

“Can I give you a lift?” he asks.

“In your state? You must be joking.”

He pauses for a bit, looks a bit concerned, and then decides he better just leave it at that. He heads over to his blue car, gets in, and begins to drive off, leaving her standing in the lay-by, on her own, in the torrential rain.

As he drives away, he looks in his mirror. He sees her battling with her scarf and the wind, in the lashing rain. He can’t bear to drive away and leave her. He stops the car, and reverses. He winds down his window, and shouts to her.

“There are other ways of getting killed, you know! You can drown, or die of pneumonia.” his voice is also quite posh, and assertive too. “Come on, get in,” he commands her, in a friendly way.

She totters towards his car and jumps into the passenger seat. He drives off while she is getting herself together. She takes her scarf off, and opens up her coat, and settles in.

As she is adjusting herself, he gets his whisky out. In a generous offer, he hands her the bottle. “Here, this’ll warm you up.”

“No thanks,” she politely declines, almost primly. He seems slightly taken aback by her reaction. She dries off her face and neck with a handkerchief.

“Weren’t you at the Roadhouse?” he asks. His voice is middle-class and clear.

“Yes,“ she says. “I got a lift. The fare was too high.”

“Ah, one of those.”

“Hmmm. One of those.” she confirms.

“You were asking for it, hitching lifts with those drivers.”

She looks at him. “I had no choice, my car broke down. Gonna take a couple of days to fix. Anyway, I can take care of myself.” She is not frightened to look directly at him.

“Glad to hear it,” he says, not sounding entirely convinced.

You were asking for it, hitching lifts with those drivers." he says.

"I had no choice, my car broke down. Gonna take a couple of days to fix. Anyway, I can take care of myself." She is not frightened to look directly at him.

"Glad to hear it," he replies, but his face says that he is not entirely convinced. He glances at her, drying herself down with a hanky, and he thinks for a bit. “Haven’t you got a case or anything?”

This time, she doesn’t meet his eyes. “I wasn’t planning on spending the night, I have to get a few things in Strickham tomorrow.” She looks at her reflection in her compact mirror. “Damn,” she says. She folds down the sunblind-flap to get access to a bigger mirror, and a better look at her eye-make-up and hair. She combs her hair, vigorously, and then flaps the blind up, satisfied that she now looks presentable.

Out of the blue he says, “Do you know how long it takes to boil an egg, on the top of Mount Everest?” She looks at him, warily. “Four hours,” he answers. Her look becomes more one of concern. He sweeps his hair back, nervously. “Imagine having to wait that long for breakfast.” he says. Her eyes lock onto him, and they widen. Tension begins to build. “Well, eh, I’ve got this book … how to win friends … it says that, to break the ice, you have to say something …” and then a gentle smile comes on his face and he laughs a bit. She laughs too. “You see, it works.” he says. She gives him a warm smile in return. They both immediately become more relaxed with each other.

The girl clicks the radio on. There is a news bulletin in progress.

“…escaped, last night, from the mental hospital … residents have been warned to lock all doors and windows … “ says the announcer.

“Got a cigarette?” she asks.

“No, sorry” he replies. He switches the radio to a music channel. “They’re always breaking in and out of there.” he says.

“Hmm?”

“Bromwood.”

She opens up the glove compartment, and takes out a pack of fags. She shows them to him. “Oh, eh, sorry, I thought I was out.” She dangles the cigarette in her mouth. “That’s the place they send you if you are … guilty … of being insane.” he is watching the lingering cigarette.

“Hmmm, I’ve heard of the place,” she says, indifferently.

“It’s funny, I’ve been reading a lot about those cases recently. Right as rain one moment, and then the next minute …” he tails off.

“Got a match?” she asks.

He searches for a packet of matches inside his left jacket-pocket. He continues to speak. “Some of them look so normal … to take a look at them, you’d never think they were dangerous. In fact half of them, don’t even know it themselves … sorry, I’ve got a lighter somewhere …”

“You also have matches,” she points out to him, as she rattles a packet she has found in the glove-compartment. She lights up, and takes a deep drag.

“You should have turned left.” she tells him.

“What?”

“You should have gone left, there’s a sign, you’ve taken the wrong road.” she says. He slows right down, to an almost stop. He looks around. There is the sound of police helicopters above them.

“Well I can’t turn here.”

“You can back up,” she says to him. He stops, selects reverse, and starts to drive back the way. The sound of overhead spinning rotors becomes louder. He passes a post with small white signs, pointing in three different directions, at a junction. They head off, down a country lane. They don’t say anything for a while, but they glance at each other now and then. He gives her a friendly wink. She remains aloof.

He breaks the silence. “D’you know, I read somewhere, that only one woman in ten can wink.”

“You certainly are a mine of information Mr …”

“Green. Simon Green” he informs her. “And you? What’s your name?”

She appears to be in a bit of a dream. “Sarah. Sarah Adams” she finally replies.

“Beautiful name,” he says.

“Did you read this somewhere?” she says. “The ‘beautiful name’ thing?”

“How did you know?” he replies.

He looks back at her. She gives him a slow wink to indicate she is joking with him. He puts on a shy smile that quickly turns into a warm grin. They lean, slightly closer, to each other.

“Did you say you’re going to Strickham?” he asks her, now with confidence in his voice.

“Yes, I can pick up a connection in Southlee.” she says. They head into the village and he parks the car just outside the deserted train station. She moves, to get out of the car.

Simon parks the car outside the deserted train station. Sarah moves, to get out of the car.

“No wait … I’ll go and … check on your train,” he says. “You never know, you might have to wait a few minutes.” he taps his fingers, rapidly, on the steering-wheel. “We could have a cup of coffee?”

“Ok” she replies. He gets out of the car, and walks purposely towards the station platform leaving Sarah sitting in the passenger seat of the car. As he is just about to enter the platform-area, Simon sees a group of policemen, talking together, at the other side of the line, in the distance. He gets a bit anxious about their presence and decides not to draw attention to himself. He remains at the other side of the white wooden fence and doesn’t head onto the platform itself.

Meanwhile, Sarah is sitting, patiently, in the car, waiting for his return. She reaches underneath the glove-compartment, for the cigarettes and matches, and stumbles on a thick-brown envelope. She picks it up to have a closer look at it. The typed-out address on the A4 envelope reads:

J. W. Hartman Esq.
   8 Richmond Street,
      High Wycombe,
           Buckinghamshire.

Her eyebrows raise at the name. She checks to see if Simon is coming back, sees he is not around yet, and then decides to have a look inside the envelope. It contains a bunch of single-sheet sales-brochures for technical equipment.

Meanwhile, Simon is hanging about, trying not to draw attention to himself. He heads back to the car, without actually checking anything. She sees him walking back. She quickly stuffs the envelope back with the brochures and carefully puts it back in its place, out of sight. The driver’s door opens. He leans in.

“The last train just left.” he tells her.

“But there’s one at 2 O’clock?” she says, looking surprised.

He shakes his head. “There isn’t another one ‘till tomorrow.” Her look says that she is not entirely convinced. “Well, it’s Sunday. They only run a skeleton service.” he reinforces. She looks confused. Not quite buying it. “You can go and check for yourself, if you like.” he says, causally, in a way to emphasise that there would really be no point. He gets back into the car.

Simon gets back into the driver’s seat, and closes the door. “It’s my fault,” he says, apologetically. “If I hadn’t taken that wrong turning we might have made it.”

“I better find some place to stay,” Sarah says, and then she moves to get out of the car.  

He reacts quickly.  “No, you won’t find anywhere around here,” he says, with some concern in his voice. She pauses, and looks directly at him.  He carries on. “Look, I’ve got some business to do, in Highcliff.  There’s a small hotel I sometimes stay, near there. They’re bound to have some rooms. What would you say?” He holds his gaze on her. There is a second’s pause.

“I don’t think I have much choice,” she says, with resignation.

Now, they are speeding down the road. The weather has improved, and it is bright and dry outside. “I know Strickham,” he says, with a lift in his voice. “Beautiful beach.”  

“Yes,” she says. Her voice is distant. Sarah starts to day-dream. She has a flashback of herself as a young girl, riding a small horse, along a beach. There is a big, fancy, Humber car, with white wheels, parked on the sand. Her mother is dressed in a smart red suit and her father is wearing a dark jacket and lighter trousers. Sarah has a yellow top on, over blue jeans. The parents look well-to-do, judging by their clothes and car. They have a floppy-eared, friendly-looking, black dog, with them, which is straining on a short leash.

“Come on Sarah!” her parents shout across the sand. “It’s time to go now.” Sarah skilfully turns the horse around and heads back towards them. In her day-dream, Sarah is now remembering the journey back from the beach. She is in the back of the car and is playfully wrestling with the dog, in a lively manner. “Silly dog!“ she laughs, as they lark about. They are making a lot of commotion in the back. Her father, who is driving, is getting distracted. He turns around, and says, sternly, “Will you behave!”

Her father turns back around, only to see a lorry pulling out from a side-road. He has no time to react. Their car smacks right into the side of the vehicle and there is a lot of screaming. Sarah snaps back out of her day-dream. She has become aware again that she is sitting next to Simon, in the blue Austin. She has her hand over her face.

“Are you alright?” he enquires.

“I’m just feeling a bit sick, that’s all”. She looks drained, and her face is pale.

“Are you alright?” he enquires, with concern.

“I’m just feeling a bit sick, that’s all”. She does looks drained, and her face has become pallid. “When I’m driving, I’m fine, but the moment I get in the passenger …”

“Wanna stop for a minute?” he asks

“No, no, it’s passed, I’m ok.”

“You were talking about Strickham?” he reminds her.

“I lived there. Until my parents were killed in an accident. After that, I went to live with my uncle.”

There is the loud sound of a bell ringing. He looks ahead, anxiously, out of the car window.

“Thank God,” he says, with a sigh. “I thought it was another road-block.”

They approach a level-crossing, and the barriers are swinging down. “I’ve dodged two already today.” he says.

“Why?” she asks.

He puts on a contrite face. “You were right, I had one too many. Can’t afford to be stopped.”

“Why do you drink so much?” she pushes him.

“I’ve been on the wagon for ages, but … it’s my birthday today,” he says, with a smile. “You know how it is…”

She looks doubtful. “Is it really your birthday?”

“Yes. But don’t ask me how many.” he says.

“I won’t.” she smiles. “Many happy …”

A train whooshes by.

“I thought you said the last train had gone?” she says, with surprise.

“Well, I asked the porter …”

“What’s the next stop?”

“Springfield I think.”

“How far is it?”

“Well, about six miles.”

“If you can catch it, we can pick it up there” she says, with some urgency.

“I can’t catch it in this.” he looks incredulous.

“Well, you can try!” her voice is becoming demanding.

The barriers rise up. And they head off, at breakneck speed.

Given his instructions to “catch the train” Simon drives like a maniac. And he has a slightly crazy look on his face too; almost as if he is enjoying the danger and recklessness. The tyres of the Austin 1800 screech and howl as he stretches the performance of the car to its limits, and beyond.

Hammering down a narrow country-lane he whizzes past a white Rover P6, parked behind some bushes. The powerful police-car takes chase and pursues the blue saloon-car. Simon’s driving becomes faster, and riskier. He sweeps around bends, barely holding the car on the road. The police-car activates its siren, and flashing blue lights. Simon spies the police-car in his rear-view mirror.

“Oh, no.” he exclaims. Sarah looks back, out of the rear window, and clocks the cop-car. “You and your bloody train,” he says to her, with annoyance.

They come up to a single-lane part of the road, where road-works, and lights, are in operation. Simon, jumps the lights, nearly has a head-on with a lorry, but just swerves by it, almost running a road-worker over, in the process. The cop-car, following on behind, arrives too late to get around the lorry that Simon swerved by, and it now blocks the entire single lane.

4

Having broken free of his “tail” Simon drives along for another half-mile and then does an emergency stop. Blue smoke rises from the tarmac, and there is a deafening screeching from the tyres. He crunches into reverse, and accelerates backwards. He then turns, sharply, into a muddy track, and drives under a small stone railway-bridge. He has a lot of trouble keeping the car going in the mud. Meanwhile the police-car speeds by, on the main road. It looks like they have escaped the cops completely.

Simon lets out a sigh of relief. “Just hope they didn’t get my number.” he says. 

Simon lets out a sigh of relief. “Just hope they didn’t get my number.” he says. 

Sarah looks at him directly. “You lied to me, about that train.” He starts to squirm. Her tone is serious. “Why?” she says. He looks uncomfortable. And , as they sit there in the car.

He struggles to answer her. He looks straight ahead. He can’t meet her eyes.

“I suppose that hotel of yours has some ‘cosy double rooms’  ” she emphasises the word “double”. This provokes him into speaking. He looks slightly hurt.

“No, it wasn’t like that.” His tone is apologetic. “I … I liked your company … it was a long way to drive and I … I didn’t want to lose you.” he sounds convincing. She hadn’t expected this response. His softness and sincerity. Now she looks away. Sarah can’t meet his eyes now.
Sarah lights up a cigarette. She takes a deep drag.

“You were talking about you uncle,” he prompts her.

“Was I?”

“Yeah”

Sarah’s face goes melancholy, and distant again, as she flashes back to her youth.

“You said that, after your parents died, you went to live with him at Strickham.”

In her flash-back Sarah sees herself, as a young woman, dismounting a full-sized horse, in the yard, and being greeted by her uncle, a tall man, with straight black hair, who looks to be in his late forties. She smiles brightly at him. He gently smiles back at her, protectively. Perhaps even possessively. 

As the young Sarah leads the horse into the stables, in her memory, the friendly look from her uncle turns to more of a mean and predatory one, now that she has her back to him.

“I know this will sound crazy,” she says to Simon, with her mind back in the car. “But I suddenly had this yearning to visit Strickham, just to see where I used to live.” He gently smiles at her, supportively.

“How’s the time?” she asks.

“Oh, it must be about 2.30,” he replies.

“Don’t you have a watch?” she asks.

His eyebrows raise. “It’s at the menders” he quickly says. “I must remember to pick it up,” he continues, in a hammy sort of way, as if he doesn’t really believe his own story.

And so Simon and Sarah are driving along on the main road again. The roads are dry and the afternoon is quite bright. She is leaning slightly towards him and taking an interest.

“Where do you live?” she asks him, casually.

“Birmingham,” he replies, flatly. “Got a room there.” She takes a drag from her cigarette. “Not that I’m hardly ever there. Stay in hotels mostly.”

She puts on a curious face. “Are you a traveller?” she asks.

He thinks about it, just for a second, and then answers, “Yes.”

“Can’t be much of a life?”

“I’ve no complaints. I mean, everyone you meet’s got some sort of problem, haven’t they.”

“Oh. What’s yours?” she asks.

“I’ve no complaints,” he says. “I mean, everyone you meet’s got some sort of problem, haven’t they.?”

“Oh. What’s yours?” she asks.

Simon’s thoughts start to drift to a memory of a trendy party in his past. He is with an attractive, and slim, girl. They have ‘hooked up’ and decided to head for a bedroom. The girl looks classy and is vivacious. “We’ll be alright in here,” she says to the younger Simon. And then she puts her arms around his shoulder and kisses him, passionately. He still has a drink in his right hand, as they tightly embrace. “Lock, the door, just in case,” she tells him. He dutifully obliges. The girl exudes confidence. She pulls the zip down on her skirt and takes it off, in a hurry. Simon seems a bit taken aback by her precociousness. He grasps her waist and they fall onto the bed. She kicks her heels off. “No, keep those on,” Simon says. And then he abruptly comes back to reality.

“You need some petrol.”

“Hmmm?”

“I said, you need some petrol. We’re almost out.” Sarah informs him, in a serious tone. Sure enough, the gauge shows the petrol-tank to be near empty. Simon ‘tuts’ a bit, as if it is not his fault. Soon they are entering a filling station. Simon parks in front of the pumps and puts the handbrake on. He looks at her, as if to say, “is this ok for you?” The petrol station is deserted. No sign of anyone around. There are only three pumps but the station, itself, has quite a few separate buildings around its forecourt. Simon, impatiently, sounds the horn to gain attention. He taps on the steering-wheel with his fingers, waiting for a response.

Simon has an annoyed look on his face. He gets out of the car. Leaving Sarah in the passenger seat. He walks over the forecourt. He looks into a small kiosk-building. It’s empty. He heads over to a big swing-door at the back marked “PRIVATE”. He knocks. No response. He then walks around the building, past a small parked-scooter, next to the wall. It is late in the afternoon now and the sky is turning grey. The wind is picking up and blowing his hair about. He looks chilled. As he steps around a huge puddle, he spots a window, with a light on inside. He heads towards it and stands just a few feet away. The window comprises of six square panels of frosted glass. There is someone, moving, behind the glass. Someone swishing about.

There is a small crack, and a hole, in the frosted glass. He peers through. His eyes get wider. His face shows eagerness. He looks back to check that Sarah can’t see where he is. Through the crack, Simon sees a young woman, with long black hair, standing in her underwear. She has just taken off her dress and now is only wearing a white bra and matching pants. He is looking directly into the bathroom and changing-room. Simon is very much aroused by what he is viewing. The woman is putting on her uniform and shoes, under his watchful eyes. She buttons up the front of her overcoat. Her ample breasts are pushing out of the top of her bra.

Meanwhile, Sarah has got out of the Austin and is walking around looking for him. Across the forecourt she spots him, peering through the window-crack. Simon snaps his head around. Sees it’s her, and puts on a smile. He walks towards her, with his hands in his pockets.

“I can’t seem to find anyone,” he shakes his head for emphasis.

"I can’t seem to find anyone," he says. A door opens behind him, and the lady with the long black hair walks out onto the forecourt. “Oh, eh, are you open?“ he says, in his best, posh voice.

“I’m always open love,” she says, in a friendly manner. Her voice is working-class. “What’d you want, petrol?”

“Yes, yes, five, please,” he says, with his jaw hanging open. She heads for the pumps. He follows. They immediately start flirting with each other, as they walk across the court. Sarah heads towards the door marked “Toilets”, the one the black-haired woman has just come out of. Sarah walks through, and closes the door behind her.

Meanwhile, the girl is filling the Austin with petrol. She stands, holding the pump, with her legs spread wide, crouching, in a sexually-provocative manner. Simon looks on, approvingly. “Cor, ain’t it cold, eh?” She gives him a wide smile.

“I’m not surprised,” he says. “You haven’t got your buttons done up, have you?” He speaks as if he is telling her off. Sarah comes around the corner of the building, and sees them, in the distance, laughing and joking. She is not impressed by this. Her face is stony. Sarah walks over to the Austin, passing them. Simon is paying the pump-lady. He gives her a generous tip, in cash, and a big smile.

“Cor, thanks,” she says, appreciatively

“Is there a telephone around here?” he asks her.

“Just over there,” she points. Sarah gets in the car. Simon heads for the phone. The pump-girl walks back into the office and deposits the notes into the big cash-register and pushes the tray shut. She then picks up a small, circular vanity-mirror, which is lying on top of the register, and begins to touch up her foundation. It’s almost dark outside now.

Someone is walking about in the forecourt. The office door is pushed, slowly, open. The pump-girl is bending over the desk, next to the register. She spins around. Her eyes look shocked at what she sees. She lets out a blood-curdling scream. Her hand reaches out and knocks the compact mirror of the register. It falls to the floor, and rolls away. There follows an intense struggle, and a lot of screaming. The woman’s uniform is violently ripped off her body. She falls to the floor. She fights back at her attacker, in defence.

Meanwhile, Simon comes back to the Austin. Sarah is dozing in the passenger seat. He sits in the driver’s seat. She wakes up. He sweeps his hair back, and with a smile, he says, “Sorry to be so long.” He’s slightly out of breath.
Simon starts the car, puts it into gear, and wastes no time in getting moving. He drives away from the pumps, over the potholed forecourt, and onto the main road. He accelerates down the road, at considerable speed, with zeal in his eyes. Back at the garage, the pump-girl is lying on the office floor, surrounded by sheets of A4 paper, that are lying around her body. She has been strangled to death.

“Did you get through all right?” Sarah asks him.

“After a bit, yeah” Simon replies, as he races along. She notices dust on his shoulder. She brushes it off. “I had to phone my boss to tell him I’ll be in Highcliff tomorrow.” He starts to get agitated at her brushing his jacket. He pushes her hand away and flicks the dust off himself.

“What do you sell?” she asks.

“Have a guess?”

“Vacuum cleaners?” He doesn’t answer. But he does have a slight smile on his face.

She thinks for a bit, then “Em … encyclopaedias?” she tries. He doesn’t react. “I know,” she says, and then, very deliberately, “Machinery and equipment.”

He looks at her, very directly.

Simon looks at her, very directly. And he is slightly perturbed. Sarah smiles, and then gets the envelope out, from under the glove compartment. "I peeked," she says. "Who's Hartman?"

"Hartman?" he looks confused. And then he glances over at the envelope. "Oh . he's the chap that had the job . before I took it on."

A bit later, they stop at a café. Simon is standing at the cigarette-machine. He has just gotten himself a packet of fags. He walks over to the counter, waiting to be served. He seems relaxed. Someone cracks an egg, and drops it into a large frying-pan, which contains boiling fat, about an inch deep. Sarah is already sitting down at a long, canteen-type, table, eating breakfast.

"Two more coffees, please," Simon says, to the waiter. And then there is a deep, rumbling, sound from outside. Simon looks out of the big front window. Two bikers have just arrived, and are parking their choppers, and dismounting. Sarah screws her face up the noise of the bike engines.

The two bikers swagger in, through the swing doors. And they take their helmets off. Immediately, they clock Sarah, sitting on her own. They walk over to her. They haven't noticed Simon yet. Sarah is uncomfortable, and she looks away, not acknowledging their presence. The younger biker, who has long, straggly, black hair, and a big biker-jacket on, leans forward, to get close to her.

"  'Allo darlin'  " he says, "Keep these seats warm for us." he instructs her.

And then the two bikers walk over to the counter, behaving as if they own the joint. The older biker has straggly light-brown hair, and is taller than Simon. The younger biker, is shorter, and just looks like a kid. 

The taller, and older, biker, who has a scruffy beard and moustache, comes up to the café counter. He stands, with his side-kick, right next to Simon. “A couple of cokes.” he demands. Simon drops some change on the floor. He bends down to pick it up. The young biker takes the opportunity to grab some sugar-lumps and overload Simon’s coffee re-orders that are still sitting on the counter. The bikers think this is most amusing and giggle to each other. When Simon stands up, he notices what they have done. He gives them a stern look. They look away, acting all innocent, with silly smirks on their faces. With a plastic white spoon Simon scoops the excess sugar out of the small-white cups. He doesn’t say anything. He then walks over to the table to join Sarah. She is daintily wiping her lips with a napkin.

“Are these alright?” Simon hands over the fags, as he stands above her.

“Oh, yeah, that’s fine,” she says, with a smile. “Here, let me…” She offers to pay for the cigarettes.

“No, really, it’s alright,” he waves away the payment-gesture. “Oh,” he says, “I forgot the matches. I’ll go get some.” Simon spins around quickly and takes a step … right into the young biker. Simon knocks his polystyrene cup of coke, spilling some of it. The young biker gives him a hostile look. Simon walks away. The two bikers now pace about. They don’t take a seat.

Simon and Sarah are now leaving the forecourt in the blue Austin. There has been a lot of rain, and, as the leave, the car bumps up and down over large puddles and potholes, before they get out onto the main road. It’s a horrible, wet, winterish evening. They speed along.

At one point, they pass a couple of bikers, who have been keeping out-of-sight, just off the road, behind some trees. The bikers, clip their helmets down, and set off to pursue the blue Austin. The wipers are going in the car and Simon is having difficulty seeing out of the front windscreen. And then they both hear the roaring of engines. Simon looks back, over his shoulder. The bikers are chasing them.

Simon is driving at a pace but the bikers, from the café, are closing in. Both bikes overtake, and get in front of them. They then obstruct, causing Simon to have to slow down. Simon tries to weave around them, but they keep blocking his path. Simon is looking annoyed. Sarah has a frown on her face. “I’d pull up, if I were you,” she says.

“Like hell I will,” Simon replies. 

Simon has a determined look on his face. He hits the gas. He tries to get between the bikers, but they weave about and continue to block him. There are a bunch of metal milk churns, sitting on a big table, up ahead, just on the verge. Simon, in his waving about, hits right off of them, and they scatter. Sarah lets out a scream at the clattering and banging. Simon is really riled now, as the bikers speed away into the distance.

“Ok, ok, ok …” Simon mutters, to himself. Sarah is looking increasingly worried. Simon steps on it. He races towards the two bikers, ahead, catches up with them, and positions the Austin, in his sights, in the gap between them. Then he goes full throttle.

“What are you doing!” Sarah shouts. “For God’s sake, stop!” she screams. She grabs his arm. “Will you stop!”

He hits the back-wheel of the older biker. The bike flies right off of the road, and the biker is thrown with it. The bike strikes a stone wall and explodes, and then it becomes completely engulfed in flames. Sarah screams, and covers her face. The younger biker stops to check on his mate. He has a look of horror on his face at the burning motorbike.

“Bloody fool!” she shouts at him.

“Well, I didn’t start it,” he answers back, defiantly.

“Well stop, he might be dead!” she shouts.

“Stop? You saw what happened.”

“Yes, I saw alright, you went completely crazy, now stop,” she grabs the steering wheel.

“What the hell are you doing?” she shouts at her. Their blue car is swerving all over the road, and goes onto the grass, at a bend.

“Will you stop, I want to get out!” she grabs at the ignition keys. They are having an intense struggle. She opens the door, and jumps out of the car. 

She opens the passenger door, and jumps right out of the car. 
“Sarah!” he shouts. She lands on the grass, puffs and pants for a bit, then quickly recovers, gets up, and starts to run. Simon is now out of the car and chasing her. He catches up and, firmly, grabs her arm.
She struggles. “Let go of me!” she shouts.

“Get back in the car,” he man-handles her. “Get back in the car!” he shouts. While they are wrestling around, a white Rover P6 slows down nearby. It’s a civilian car. It comes to a halt. Two men get out. 
“Get back in the car,” Simon commands.

“Let go of me,” she answers back. 
Two mature, and well-dressed, blokes in long coats, get out of the white car. “You saw what happened,” Simon says to Sarah. “Get back in the car.”

“No!” she cries.

The confident blokes walk a bit closer. “Anything wrong Miss?” asks the one wearing the hat.  He is distinguished-looking, and has an authority about him. They both stop their struggling and turn to address this man.

“What do you mean?” Simon answers back, pretending all is well.

The bloke moves forward, with purpose. “I was talking to the lady,” he says, firmly. “You alright?” He addresses Sarah directly. There is concern in his voice.

“Yes, yes,” she replies, a bit out of breath. “Yes, fine,” she says, convincingly. She even manages to put on a smile for the gentlemen.

“Are you sure everything is ok?” he asks, with some doubt in his voice.

She maintains her smile. “Yes, everything’s perfectly ok, thanks.” She touches her chest, in a gesture of sincerity.  The guys are not completely convinced, but they decide to leave it at that.  They walk back to their car, and drive off.

They are both a bit calmer now, as they stand there, on the grass, watching the white Rover drive away. Simon takes his whisky bottle out of his jacket pocket, and has a swig. “Why didn’t you say something?” he asks her. She is clutching her coat shut, tightly, around her neck, in a protective gesture. “You had the chance?” She maintains eye-contact with him, but says nothing. “Alright, you win,” he says, in a conciliatory manner.  “Let’s get back and take a look.” He walks towards the blue car.

“It’s a bit late for that now, isn’t it?” she says, as he walks away. He stops, and turns around.

“Why? What do you mean?”

“Those two there, will be ahead of us,” she flicks her head in reference to the good Samaritans who have driven off. “And the police could be there by now.” She grabs his whisky bottle and throws it to the ground. “One whiff of your breath” she scolds him. “I think, I better drive.” He remains silent. “I can drive, you know. Or do you want to see my licence?” she says, sarcastically.

Sarah walks, over the grass, to the car. He stands there, for a bit, contemplating, and then decides it will be best to go along with her. He walks over to the car and gets into the passenger-seat. She revs up the engine, and drives off. 
The night has fully arrived now, as they drive along. And they only have one working-headlight now. The other one is bust.

5

Sarah is at the wheel now, as they drive along the dark road.

“How much further to Highcliff?” she asks him.

“I don’t know,” he says, tiredly. He looks a the milometer. “An hour, maybe.” There are twin headlights close behind them. And, up ahead, there is a checkpoint. The police are stopping cars and asking the drivers where they have come from, and where they are going to. Sarah stops the car, and looks ahead, at a checkpoint, way in the distance, down at the bottom of a long hill.

“If that kid was killed back there,” she says, “They could have your number.”

“Already?” he queries.

“How long does it take to put out a call?” she informs him. They look ahead to the flashing lights at the checkpoint. “Come on, let’s get off the road, they can’t stay there forever.” she says.

“Well, we just passed a place, back there,” he says. She winds the window down, to get a better look, and reverses the car. They drive the other way, in the opposite direction of the checkpoint, and then go off the road onto a muddy track. After a while, she parks the car, in the concealment of a wood.

“Ahhh, I’m tired.” she yawns, and strokes her brow. “I think I’ll put my head down, we could be here to the morning.” Sarah rests her head back on the seat. It’s pitch black outside.

She rests her head back on the seat. “Listen, Sarah,” he says. “I think it is best if we take you to the nearest hotel, and find you a room for the night. If that boy’s dead, I don’t want you involved.” He speaks as if he means it.

She leans her head up, and takes him seriously. “If he’s dead, then you’ll need a witness.”

He turns towards her, looking perplexed. “I don’t understand you. One minute, you want to get out, the next you’re trying to help me?”

She thinks for a moment, and then puts on sympathetic eyes. “You helped me, didn’t you?”

He holds her gaze. “Might have been better if I hadn’t.”

“Sorry, you gave me a lift?” she says, with sadness on her face.

“No, course not,” he says, softly. She gives him a charming, and gentle smile. “Here, let me.” he leans the chair back and helps her to get comfortable.

Simon leans the car-seat back for Sarah, and helps her to get comfortable. As he lies back himself, his attention is drawn to her finely-shaped legs. He has a problem taking his eyes off of them, and this sparks off some memories. Simon’s mind starts to drift to an encounter he had with an attractive, dark-haired, lady. He is making love to her, in bed. Or trying to. But he has to call it quits. He turns away from her.

“What is it?” his lover asks. “Is it me?”

“I told you before, it’s nothing to do with you,” he says, sounding a bit pathetic.

“What is it then?” she says, giving him another chance to explain himself.

“It’s difficult to talk about,” he whispers.

Back in the car, Sarah comes out of her doze. “Did you say something?” she asks Simon.

“No,” he says, with a troubled face. He turns away from her.

“Goodnight,” he says, politely.

“Night,” she replies.

As the rain pelts down on the car windscreen, Simon does not sleep. He just sits, and stares, in anguish.

He eventually drifts off to sleep. And then there is the sound of birds tweeting. It’s morning. And the sun is shining. Simon comes to, in the passenger seat. He yawns. And then he looks over, with affection, to the driver’s seat. But it’s empty. His face shows concern. Simon, quickly, gets out of the car, in a mild panic. He stands in the bright light, wringing his hands, and shouting for Sarah. He darts about, his head going from side-to-side.

“Sarah!  Where are you!” His voice echoes off the land. “Sarah!  He jogs about, searching, and getting out of breath. He heads to the edge of the nearby country-road. A gray Land-Rover speeds by, fully laden with hay-bales. He looks out, further, to the main road. It is now busy with traffic. He runs back to the car.

As he walks around the vehicle, he crouches down and takes a closer look at the left-hand headlight. It’s completely smashed up, with no bulb in it. He jumps back into the driver’s seat, starts the car up, and revs hard. The blue Austin is stuck in the mud, and there is little traction. The wheels just spin. Eventually, after a lot of impatient revving, he manages to get the car moving. He heads onto the main road, and then starts to drive like a maniac again. His face is full of anger.  “Bitch!” he shouts, to himself.

Meanwhile, looking quite relaxed, Sarah is wandering around the local grocery store. Her handbag is dangling over the shoulder of her black top. She doesn’t have her coat on. She has a hand-basket and is picking up some items from the shelves. She hears a car, speeding along, outside. She sees, through the window, that it is a blue Austin. She rushes outside, basket in hand, and waves her arms at the car, but it has already sped by.

“Simon!” she shouts! Simon!” Sarah looks distraught as she watches the car fade away into the distance.

Sarah looks distraught as she watches the car fade away into the distance. Inside the blue Austin, Simon is still in a foul mood. His face looks mean and moody. His chin is protruding.  “Bitch!” he mutters to himself, in anger.

Sarah walks along a quiet country road, with her bag of messages from the shop. She sees a horse, just behind a gate, in a field. Her face lights up. She heads over to stroke it. “Good boy,” she says, with a big smile on her face. She feeds the horse a potato.

Her memory then flashes back to when she was a girl, feeding her own horse in the stables. She hears tittering from the hay-loft; a man and a girl. She walks up the wooden steps to investigate. She sees her uncle persuading the young stable-girl to take her clothes off. And then they start to roll about in the hay. The young Sarah is shocked, and loses her balance on the wooden stairs. In her memory, all of the potatoes spill out of her bag, and bounce, and roll, down the stable stairs.

Back to reality, outside the gate, Sarah has dropped her bag of shopping, and the potatoes she purchased are all over the road. She crouches down to pick them up off the ground. One at a time she places them back into her bag. There is the growling sound of a big car approaching. Preoccupied, Sarah does not hear it coming.

An eccentric-looking man, in his 50s, with a longish grey bushy beard, stops his silver-coloured Alvis TC 21-100 DH Coupe, just a few yards from Sarah. He gets out of the big, open-topped, classic car, and walks towards her. The man looks well over six feet tall. He has a dark flat cap on his head, and is wearing a long black coat. His straggly grey hair sticks out from either side of his cap. He addresses Sarah in a cultured American accent. 

“Bonjour mademoiselle” the tall man greets Sarah, by casually touching his cap. He is wearing light-brown, leather, driving-gloves. “May I offer you the pleasure, and the privilege, of a ride in this magnificent motor-vehicle,” he says, in a flamboyant manner. He glances towards his car. She looks at him, and then the car. She is only slightly wary. “Oh, I hasten to assure you that my offer is made with the very best of intentions.” She is still trying to make her mind up about the character. Her mouth opens a bit. “I would even go as far as to say, you should be highly honoured, perhaps even flattered,” he leans towards her, with persuasive emphasis. “For you have been fortunate enough to encounter someone who is both … eh …” he pauses. And walks to his car.

He picks up his jacket, and brings it over. He confidently, wraps it around her shoulders, much to her surprise, and appreciation. He towers over her, in his stature, as they both stand there, on the road. “As I was saying… someone who is witty, chivalrous, impeccably-mannered, and exceedingly handsome to boot. His manner is warm and friendly. He seems genuine.

“And by no means, immodest,” she gets a word in edgeways.

“… and by no means immodest,” he parrots her, “In fact, if I have a fault, it is that I sometimes become overly enthusiastic.” he lets out a hearty laugh. She smiles. His confidence has won her over.

“Thank you,” she says, looking grateful.

He makes a gesture, with his arm, to show the lady to his open-top car. He gently takes the bag of groceries out of her hand, and courteously opens the car-door for her. She sits in the passenger seat. He is still standing outside the car. He leans forward. “You will, of course, have dinner with me this evening?”

She flicks her head, flattered. “You don’t believe in wasting any time, do you?”

“No,” he casually leans on the car door. “We Fortesque-Rowbarts never do. It’s a family motto. “In fact…” he lapses into incomprehensible Latin. “… which means, roughly translated, proceed with all possible haste.”

“Your accent is showing,” she says, trying to put him down a peg-or-two, in a friendly way.

“You mean, as the result of my 42 years of staying in the United States?” he gets into the driver’s seat. “It’s still noticeable?”

“Oh, only every now and again,” she runs with the joke.

“Well, what I’ll do is dispense with the Fortesque-Rowbarts, and simply announce myself as Malcolm Rowbarts.

“Sarah Adams,” she holds out her hand.

He takes his glove off, holds, and then gently kisses her hand. “What a beautiful name,” he says. His face is serious with sincerity. She is giving him a slightly wary look again. She’s heard this line before.  “Sarah and Malcolm Rowbarts. Goes rather well together, eh? Sort of … rolls off the tongue.”

She laughs, “We haven’t even had dinner yet.”

“No, you’re quite correct. That being the case, what I’ll do, is exercise incredible self-control, and not mention the matter again, until I propose over brandy or coffee, or whatever is your delectation.” They both smile at each other. He starts the engine, and they roar off. The wind blows her hair around as they speed along. 

There is a throaty roar, as they speed off in the classic car. Malcolm carries on with the conversation.

“Of course, after dinner, we could always …”

“Go back to your place?” she says, not being serious.

“There’s one problem. I cannot promise you breakfast.”

“Oh, I couldn’t presume on your hospitality, that far.” she says, projecting her voice over the engine noise.

“On the other hand, if you actually pressured me, I could always rustle up some bacon and eggs.” he assures her.

“It wouldn’t be practical,” she says, “You see, I’m an early riser, and I know how you older people need your sleep.” she gently mocks him.

He laughs, that hearty-laugh again. “I can tell you that there is a lot of mileage in this old dog yet, rather like my friend here,” he taps on the steering-wheel. “It may look a bit rusty, but this can still do the ton.”

“Without falling to pieces?” she says, raising her voice with incredulity.

“That, my dear, we jointly accept as a challenge.” He hits the gas. The powerful engine roars, as they accelerate.

Meanwhile, Simon is standing at a filling station, next to the pumps. The bonnet of the blue Austin 1800 is up, and the mechanic is checking the oil. He hears the roar of an engine, and then Simon sees a classic car come around the bend, at great speed. He looks out to the road and clocks Sarah, and the bearded guy, speeding past in the car. Her hair is blowing wildly and she has the driver's jacket on. Simon looks livid. He slams the bonnet down on the Austin, jumps in, and drives off to chase them down. The mechanic waves his arms about, and runs after the blue car. “You haven’t paid!” he shouts.

Simon drives like he is taking part in a Le Mans race, as he gains ground on the classic car. “Nutter!” he shouts to himself, offering his opinion of Malcolm. “Bitch!” he refers to Sarah.
But Simon cannot keep up with the classic car, no matter how crazily he drives. And so he heads into a multi-story car-park, gets a machine-ticket, and drives, up the levels, to the open roof-top, and parks. He sits, quietly, in the car, collecting his thoughts.

Meanwhile the wooing continues. Malcolm has parked his fancy car on the Grand Pier. And he, and the lady, are treading the boards. As they walk along, she has his jacket-collar turned up, to protect her neck from the wind, and Sarah also has a scarf tied, tightly, over her head. They walk along, like a couple. He has his hands behind his back, as he towers over her.

“Incidentally, my Dear, I was quite sincere about my offer of dinner this evening.” his confidence is unshakable.  

“But we’ve only just had lunch,” she skilfully tries to temper his precociousness.

“Hardly what we would call lunch, you know, we are out of season at the moment,” he gently puts a protective hand on her shoulder, as they walk along. “What I had in mind is, that perhaps this evening, we could drive out into the country, and, eh …” he’s beginning to haver.

She takes control. “The lunch was excellent. Thank you.” she looks up at him, as they walk along, in such a way, as to moderate his advances.

Unperturbed, he grips her shoulder, firmly, this time, in a masterful manner. She doesn’t exactly object. “Alternatively, of course, we could always dine on the yacht, you know.” he stops her at a telescope, which is mounted on a plinth. “Cook could always rustle up, say, a little cold pheasant, and …” he puts a coin in the slot, spins the telescope out to sea, and focuses on a ship. “… his crêpes suzette is something else.” With a hand on her shoulder, he gently gestures her to the eyepiece of the telescope in order for her to have a look at his boat. She keenly peers, and sees a big fishing-trawler in the viewfinder. Her face falls. She turns around and looks at him. His expression says, “What’s the problem? Anything wrong?”

“Ten out of ten …” she says, taking his joke in a warm spirit, “… for perseverance.” she smiles. He throws his head back, and laughs, that big cheerful laugh.  

Meanwhile, Simon is standing outside a seedy newsagents shop. There are girly magazines on display in the window. His attention is drawn to the topless ladies on the covers. He leans towards the window, for a closer look. This sparks off some impressions in his mind.

In his memory, his dark-haired, alluring, girlfriend is sitting on a bed, flicking through a magazine. She has a sullen face on. Simon’s attractive girlfriend has stumbled on his collection of racy women dressed in leather, and the like. She flicks over the pages, in a mood, almost tearing them in the process. Simon has been in the shower. He enters the bedroom, holding a towel, and wearing a white dressing-gown. His hair is wet. She gives him a pitiful look.

“What are you doing?” he says, with annoyance. “Give that back to me.” he demands. She jumps off the bed, still clutching the magazine. “You’ve got a bloody nerve. Give it to me!” he shouts at her, angrily, and tries to snatch the magazine away from her. She steps back, out of his reach.

“So this is what you like?” She stands there, waving the magazine. Taunting him with it.  An ashamed, and vulnerable, look comes over his face. His shoulders fall. “No wonder you couldn’t make it,” she says, mockingly. “You want me to whip you then?” He stands there, in his gown, looking humiliated.

Simon’s mind comes back to present-day reality. He’s standing outside the newsagent’s front window. He walks around the corner to enter the shop, passing a newspaper display-board, leaning on the wall at his feet. It boldly says, in thick, black, marker-pen.

BROMWOOD
ESCAPE -
GIRL MURDERED
AT FILLING
STATION

Malcolm and Sarah walk around a deserted, out-of-season, amusement arcade. “It’s mine you know, all mine, the whole damn kit and caboodle.” There are covers on the fun-rides and machines. Sarah walks over to a small merry-go-round and sits on one of the horses, clutching the pole.

“Well, maybe I should use my lonely-old-man approach,” he says. “After the death of my wife, I thought I would never love again.” he speaks, in a sad voice. “But today, when I saw you, standing by the side of the road, something within me stirred.” His voice now lifts. She realises he is being serious and she gazes at him, with empathy. “Something that lay dormant for a long time. Perhaps it is the way the wind sifted through your hair…”

“Mr Rowbarts” she cuts him off.

“Miss Adams?”

“I give in,” she says. He grins. And then he laughs, warmly.

6

Meanwhile, looking dejected, Simon is shuffling along, with his hands in his pockets. As he approaches the pier area he spots a classic car, parked at the other side of the road, next to the pier building. He sees Sarah and Malcolm getting into the car.

Simon sees Sarah and Malcolm getting into the classic car. “Sarah!” he shouts, across the busy road. The car starts up, and the engine growls. Simon dashes across the road, dodging the traffic. Malcolm is slowly reversing out of his parking position. Simon shouts again. Sarah stares at him, in surprise. He doesn’t come right up to the car. Simon stands back a bit, up at road-level. The car is down a bit, next to a wall.  

“Eh, is that the young man you were telling me about?” Malcolm says to Sarah. Making it a statement, rather than a question. She nods her head. “Well, looks like I’ll be having dinner alone then, huh.”

“Sarah!” he shouts again, looking down at them, from his higher vantage-point. This time, there is pleading in Simon’s voice. Angst shows on his face, as well as Sarah’s.

Sarah turns to Malcolm. “I better go,” she says, giving him an apologetic look.

“Are you sure?” he asks.

“Yes,” she nods her head. He knows that she means it.

Resigned to his new girlfriend being stolen back, with dignity, Malcolm says, “Let me help you,” in a flat voice of defeat. He gets out of the car to open the door for Sarah. She gets out, and stands on the pier parking-slot, with Malcolm’s jacket drooping over her shoulders, and a scarf over her head. “Do you remember my name by any chance?” Malcolm asks.

“Malcolm Rowbarts” she says, confidently. She hands him his jacket back.

“Malcolm Rowbarts, he repeats. “Isn’t that funny. That is exactly what it says in the local telephone directory.” 
She smiles. Simon is watching down on them, and is starting to lose patience. “I trust, if you come this way again, you can give me a call. Is that clear?” Malcolm’s eyes are wide with expectation.

“As day,” she replies. Malcolm grasps her hand, and gently kisses it.

“As day,” he repeats, in confirmation. “Au revoir” he says, and tips his cap to her. She heads up the steps to meet Simon. Malcolm’s expression shows sadness, but also concern.

Malcolm throws his jacket into the car, in defeat. He heads over the road, towards the newsagents. Sarah and Simon are walking up the slope of an overpass, that takes them across the busy road, and leads to the multi-storey car-park. They are bickering away. She is carrying the paper bag of groceries. Minus the jacket, she now just has her dark-top on, and a loose, knee-length light-coloured skirt. He is still wearing flannel trousers, and a dark-brown open jacket, over his light-blue casual shirt with the soft collar. It’s a bit breezy, and cool, and so they walk, briskly along, with Sarah shielding herself with the grocery bag, and Simon with his hands tucked away in his pockets.

“You could have said something before you left,” he tells her off.

“I didn’t want to wake you,” she defends herself.

“Why did you just disappear like that?”

“I hadn’t been gone ten minutes and you drove past. I saw you.”

“How was I supposed to know where you were?” his voice-pitch is high.

“Don’t shout at me,” she says, subduing him, with her posh voice of authority. “Anyway, I was the one who was left stranded.”

“Not for long,” he retorts, flippantly, and then looks away from her.

“Look, since when do I have to ask you what I do?” her tone is commanding. She is holding her own. “Just because you gave me a lift, doesn’t mean you own me.” she informs him, while she clutches the grocery bag to her chest.

“Oh, be honest,” he says, “You just got fed-up with me and decided to … bugger off.” he accuses her.

“Oh, I did, did I?” she comforts herself by stroking the hair at the back of her neck. “Without my coat?”

“What coat?” he looks confused,

“In the back of your car.” she says. “Or didn’t you notice?”

Malcolm has just bought a newspaper. He stands on the pavement, outside the shop. He opens it up, and looks at the front page. His face is grim.

“I said I’m sorry,” Simon says to her.

“I don’t want any apologies, I just want my coat,” she replies. “Now, where’s your car?”

They are at the top-level of the car-park now. Simon walks over to the blue car and opens the back door. Her coat is lying in there. It’s fallen down behind the seats.

“That’s why I didn’t see your bloody coat,” he says to her, with annoyance in his voice.

“I’m sorry,” she says.  

While she is collecting her coat, Simon walks over to the wall of the car-park and looks down to the street. She puts her coat on. As Simon looks down, he sees the classic car slowly coming to a halt, down below him, and parking on a double-yellow line.

“Your friend’s back looking for you,” he informs her.

Simon looks down at the bearded-man who is sitting in the classic car. Malcolm looks up at him, and points. “Hey you!” he shouts.

Simon turns to Sarah, and says, with surprise. “It’s not you he wants, it’s me.” She comes over and looks down.

“If that boy, on the bike, was killed, they could have issued your description?” she says. The classic car starts to move. It turns into the car-park, at the ground-level.

“He’s coming in,” says Simon, with concern. They both jump into the Austin.  

"He’s coming in," says Simon, with some concern.

They both, quickly, jump into the blue Austin, and slam the doors. Simon reverses the vehicle and heads out of the car-park at considerable speed, swerving his way down the levels, making the engine groan, and the tyres screech.

As he emerges outside of the dark interior-levels he gets onto a part, outside, which resembles a race-track, or roller-coaster, as it takes the cars, in a curved route, down, and out of the building. As the tyres of the Austin screech and howl, he passes, near to, the classic car, coming uphill, in a parallel track. Malcolm shouts and screams, and waves at Simon, but he is ignored.

The blue Austin has to, eventually, stop at the ticket-machine and barrier, however, allowing time for the classic car to jump lanes and get in the same track behind Simon. With a lot of skilful driving, Malcolm manages to get into the lane behind the blue car, but he is still obstructed by a small vehicle. He honks the horn at it, but it remains in blocking-position, directly front of him.

Meanwhile, the barrier swings up to let Simon out of the car-park. He throws his ticket at the attendant, with the money, and then speeds off into busy traffic. Malcolm is still now approaching the barrier, but he sees the blue car, already outside, speeding away, while he is unable to move forward at all.

Inside the blue saloon-car Sarah says to Simon, “I think we’ve lost him.” trying to get him to moderate his speed.

“I wouldn’t bank on it,” Simon replies, as he races along in his usual reckless style.

“I think we’ve lost him.” she says, as they start to head off the city streets and onto the country roads.

“I wouldn’t bank on it,” Simon replies, as he races along.

Sure enough, a classic car starts to come into view behind them, in hot pursuit.

“What did I tell you,” Simon says, with a determined look on his face.

The road starts to get narrow. But Simon doesn’t let up the pace. The classic car is still gaining on them, however. Malcolm has a steely look about him, whereas Sarah, in the Austin, keeps glancing back, anxiously. The classic car is revving high and is now only fifty yards behind the blue Austin. Simon does a crazy swerve, over to the right of the road, at a bend, and nearly has a head-on with a white Ford Cortina. Malcolm, then tries to avoid the same Cortina but skids off the road, right through a farm gate. His engine stalls. He tries to start the car up, but the carb is flooded. The engine won’t fire.

“Have we lost him for good this time?” Simon says to Sarah, relying on her to check out the back window.

“I’d still turn off if I were you,” she says.

Simon takes the next road-junction on the left, at speed. The white signpost has a familiar name on it, but neither of them notice this. Meanwhile, Malcolm is walking, briskly, to a nearby telephone box. He gets in the big red box, picks up the handset, dials the operator, and says, “Get me the police, please.”

“Have you had anything to eat,” Sarah says to Simon, in a caring way, as he races along. She reaches for the grocery bag on the back seat.

“No, I’m not hungry,” he replies.

Sarah then picks up a small box from the back that is wrapped up like a present. She shows him it. “Happy birthday, by the way,” she says. This takes him aback a bit, and he breaks out into a bashful smile.

“What is it?” he asks her, still smiling.

“You open it later,” she says, and puts it away in the back again.

He can’t seem to wipe the glow off his face as he drives along. “That was nice of you,” he says, still grinning.

“What are you going to do?” she asks him, in a more serious tone.

“Don’t know,” he replies.

“Will you give yourself up? I mean, you can’t drive around forever.”

“Head back north, I suppose.” he says. They pass a white sign on the left, it says:

Strickham
Welcomes
Careful Drivers.

“We’re coming into Strickham!”, she says, with surprise and excitement in her voice.

“Hmm?”

“Remember I told you I used to live here?”

It is starting to rain a bit, and he has put the wipers on.

“Now look, Sarah … please …” he says. She wants to stop, to look around.

“This is why I set out in the first place.” she tells him.

Sarah and Simon are riding along Strickham beach on their horses. She gallops past him, with a big smile on her face. “C’mon!” she shouts. He chases her, with a grin on his face.

“Hey, slow down,” he calls out, with a grin on his face.

Later on, they tie there horses up, and head for the Comfort Inn. The rustic pub is quite bus inside; packed with local socialites. Simon comes back from the bar with a full pint. He hands a half-pint glass, with a handle, to Sarah. The glasses are so full that they both have to take a quick sip before anything spills over. “Cheers,” they say. Sarah licks her lips, relishing the coolness and taste. Simon is still taking his first gulp from his huge beer-glass. There is a guy nearby throwing a few darts at a board, and there is enthusiastic, and pleasant, chatter in the air.

With his mouth still in the glass, and foam forming on his upper lip, Simon glances around the lounge. His eyes widen as he sees someone he know, chatting to a good-looking dark-haired young lady. It is the young biker from the café. The biker, turns around, swigs his beer, notices, and then locks eyes on Simon. A dark look comes over his face.

“C’mon,” Simon says to Sarah, with great urgency, grabbing her glass from her.

“What!” she says, in surprise, as the drink spills over her.

Simon quickly dumps both glasses down on a side-table, grabs her hand, and says, “We better get out of here fast.” They both elbow their way through those, who are casually standing about, much to their annoyance, inadvertently drawing attention to themselves, as they rush for the door.

The boy biker turns to his girlfriend and, with a wide-eyed look, he tells her to “Phone the police, get them ‘ere, like yesterday!” He then pushes through people in the pub and chases after Sarah and Simon. As he stands outside, there is an oval sign behind him which reads, Fresh Country Snacks. He scans around, trying to see where Sarah and Simon have gone. He darts about the car-park area, with an anxious look on his face, looking around the parked cars. And then he sees two horses in the distance. He shakes his head in disappointment. A voice behind him shouts, “Hey Gus! What’s up?” The boy-biker turns around to see his older-bike mate, from the café, walking towards him. His mate limps a bit, and has his left-arm is in a sling.

Simon and Sarah leave the horses tied up and get in the blue car, which is parked in the sand, on the edge of the beach. He then drives the car along the flat sand of the beach.

“Madness,” he says to her. “Sheer bloody madness,” he says again, with conviction. “Half the police force in the country are looking for me, and what am I doing? I’m riding around the countryside on a bloody horse.”

“Alright, don’t go on,” she chips in.

“Look, I’m going to take you back, to pick up your car …”

“Oh, it’s much too far,” she says, with a slight frown on her face. “Anyway, it won’t be ready until tomorrow,” her face relaxes. “Why don’t we find a hotel somewhere?”

He glances at her, and pauses for a moment. “I suppose so. I could do with a bath, couldn’t you?”

"Yes," she replies. Sarah’s voice becomes distant. Her memory trips back to her, as a young woman, sitting in a big bath, and then standing up, out of the water. The door suddenly opens, and her middle-aged, dark-haired, uncle walks in on her. He puts on a lecherous grin, as he eyes her up and down. She gasps, and attempts to cover herself with her arms. “There is no need to be so shocked Sarah, I’ve seen it all before.” He licks his lips. She stands there, dripping with foam and water. There is a full-length mirror, next to the bath, which gives him a perfect view of Sarah’s body from behind, even although her arms protect her modesty from the front. He slowly picks up a towel, and throws it to her. But he still hangs around, having a good look at her. “And to think I used to have you on my knee,” he says, creepily. “Nature’s a wonderful thing.” he whispers, and then walks out.

“Eighty miles,” Simon says.

“Hmm?” she replies. Sarah has been staring into the distance and hasn’t noticed the time passing. It's dark now, as they drive along the main road.

“Eighty miles,” to Highcliff, he says, matter-of-factly. He sighs. “I’d still be a lot happier if we had some mileage on the clock.”
A police motorbike, with a white fairing, and a single headlight on, passes them in the opposite direction. 

The police motor-biker, stops, does a u-turn, and starts to tail the blue Austin. The bike gets ahead of them, and the cop gestures, with a wave, for them to pull over. They both glance at each other, and then slow down and stop, at the side of the road, behind the bike. The cop dismounts, and puts his bike on the side-stand. He walks back towards them, while pulling his gloves off.

“Yes, officer?” Simon says, from the rolled-down window, trying to sound nonchalant. 

“Turn it off,” the cop instructs. Simon kills the car engine. The tall copper leans right down, to meet Simon’s eye-level. He still has his helmet on. He throws the visor up. “What happened to your car?” he asks, in a no-nonsense tone.

“Sorry?”

“Your missing a nearside headlight,” the cop says, in a manner, as if to say, are you daft or something?

“Oh, yeah,” a frown appears on Simon’s face. “I had a slight bump, I’ll get it fixed tomorrow.” Simon nods his head, and tries to reassure the intimidating copper. The cop just stares at him.

“Let me see your license,” the cop demands, while keeping a very close eye on the driver. Simon begins to squirm and look about. The cop glances over to Sarah. She does not look back; she keeps her head down, looking at the floor. The cop continues to stare, but says nothing.

“I’m … eh … sorry, I don’t seem to have it with me.” Simon volunteers.

“Get that headlamp fixed in the morning,” the cop says, sternly. “It’s an offence to be without one, and dangerous.”  The cop walks off, putting his gloves back on.

Simon leans his head out of the window. “Eh, officer, is there a hotel around here?”

“Down the road, about six miles,” the cop waves a gloved hand in the direction of the hotel. The cop then revs up his motorbike, but waits. Simon starts up the car, and heads off in the direction the cop pointed to. The cop then turns his bike around, and rides away in the opposite direction.  

They pass an illuminated wooden sign, on the left, that indicates that they are approaching the Court House Hotel.

Simon looks slightly uneasy. “Do you want to stop off?” he asks Sarah.

“Why not,” she says.

“Let’s just hope they’re not full.” he says, sounding a bit strained.

“We’ll take anything they’ve got,” she says. Her expression is serious, and she looks tired.

Simon’s mind starts to drift into a fantasy-dream. He sees Sarah getting undressed, as he peers at her through a keyhole. She takes her top off, then pulls her skirt down. She is standing in her black bra and pants, and stockings, while he secretly watches her. In the dream she spins around to look at him. “Simon,” she calls for him. Her voice is refined, almost hypnotic. It beckons him. “Simon … Simon … Simon…” She walks towards him.

“Simon?” she says, from the passenger seat.

“Hmm?” he comes out of his trance.

“Could I have a light?” she asks him, politely, in her posh voice.

Simon is still a bit disorientated. “Oh, eh, sure … sure.” Gripping the steering-wheel tightly, he searches around in his jacket-pocket for his lighter. He finds it, and flicks it on for her. She holds his hand, to steady it, and then lights up her cigarette. She puts her head back and takes a deep drag.

“Your trembling,” she says to him. It is more of a question, than a statement.

“Well … are you surprised.” he says.

She says nothing. They don’t look at each other.

The car tyres crackle over the wet gravel surface of the parking area at the front of the hotel. It is an imposing, Tudor-style building, with an impressive set of steps that rise up to a stone archway which then leads through to the main entrance-door. There is next-to-no external lighting and so everything is all dark and damp outside. Maybe even sombre. And there is no sign of anyone else around. Eerily quiet.

Simon pulls the car handbrake on. He gives Sarah a quick look, as if to say, “Ok, here we go.” He takes a breath, gets out of the car, slams the door, and walks towards the archway. He heads up the big steps, and through a narrow foyer area, which has one small desk-lamp, lit up, on a wooden table. There are drab coats hanging on the wall to his left, on big iron pegs, and also umbrellas, and the like, on metal stands. It is a traditional, maybe even old-fashioned, type of place. As Simon walks through the open door, there is a small sign marked “Reception” high up on the facia, above a window-hatch. He heads towards this.

Meanwhile, Sarah is still sitting in the passenger-seat, having a good look around, through the car-window; checking the lay of the land. Her eyes are wide, and slightly wary. She has direct line-of-sight to Simon and she can see him talking to someone at the reception-point.

7

Sitting at a desk, there is a man in his 60s, working away, under a lamp. He has grey, almost white, hair, at the side of his head, just above his ears, but nowhere else. He has a dark waistcoat on, and a dark tie, over a beige shirt. He peers, at Simon, over a pair of horn-rimmed black spectacles. His look says “Why are you bothering me, at this time of night?”

“We’re full up,” he says, abruptly, and uncompromisingly.

“Oh,” says Simon, with genuine disappointment. “Haven’t you got anything? Just one room will do.”  

The stern man’s eyes glance out, towards the car, and Sarah. She is looking out, through the car-window, with an expectant expression.

“Is that your wife?” the stern man asks.

“Yeah, sure,” Simon replies, with a tone that indicates that this should not be in doubt.

The reception-man pauses for a moment, and then says, “There’s a fishing lodge in the grounds that we sometimes use. It’s not Buckingham Palace, but it’ll do for what you’ve got in mind,” he says, disapprovingly. He spins around the big registration book, to orientate it for Simon. “Sign here,” he instructs him. Simon signs the big book. 
“Ten pounds for the night, in advance,” the grey-haired man says.

“Ten?” Simon reacts with incredulity. The grim man just looks at him.

“Yeah, alright,” Simon has a resigned look. He rifles in his jacket for his wallet and gives the man a tenner.

“Keep on the way you are facing, and it's about another 200 yards further on.” the grey-haired man informs him.

Simon grabs the keys, and begins to walk out, through the foyer area, but he stops, as he notices a folded newspaper lying on a table. “Are you finished with this?” Simon politely asks the receptionist.

“Finished with it?  I haven’t had a chance to look at it yet,” the man says, in a disgruntled tone. Simon puts the paper back down.

“Oh, take it," the grumpy man says, I know what’s on telly.”

Simon picks the folded newspaper up again, and walks out of the building. “Goodnight,” he calls back.

“Goodnight, Mr …” the receptionist looks at the register, “…Jones.” the grey-haired man says, with a hint of sarcasm in his voice.

Simon runs back to the blue car, and jumps in, with a smile. He puts the paper down, and starts the engine. Sarah looks about, still wondering what she is getting herself into.  

Simon starts up the engine. They drive away from the main building, past a few parked cars, and pretty-soon, they are outside the lodge building.

“Well, this is all they had,” he says, with a slight sigh. “Do you want to open up while I go and park the car.” Simons says this, as a request, rather than a question.

Sarah nods her head. “Ok.” 
She gets out of the car and walks over to the building. Simon watches her for a moment, and then drives off. It’s all dark, but the sea must be nearby, as there is the rhythmic sound of waves breaking on a shore, probably not that far away.

Sarah opens the main, solid, wooden door, with a Yale key, and enters the lodge. She puts the light-switch on. A dim main-light illuminates, as well as a table-lamp to the side. The gentle sound of waves can be heard, even from inside. The furniture is bare, and adequate. 
There is a main room with a round, dark-oak, dining-table, and a big couch, and the like. There is also a smaller kitchen-bedroom area with an adjacent bathroom. Not a lot of frills; perhaps a bit drab, but adequate enough for just an overnight stay. There are dull-looking pictures of fish and stuff, on most of the walls. And they look as if they have been hanging there for many years.

Sarah has her coat on, and her handbag over her shoulder, as she looks about. Simon appears through the entrance-door, carrying the newspaper. He puts the folded paper down and takes his jacket off.

“It’s alright, isn’t it?” he says.

“Yes, fine,” she agrees.

“Are you going to have a bath?” he asks her, with just a slight bit of tension creeping into his voice.

“Hmm,” she affirms. “After you.”

Simon just has his soft-collared, blue, casual shirt on, as he checks out the basic bathroom. Sarah, is standing in the bedroom-come-kitchen, nearby. She still has her light-coloured coat on, as she opens up her packet of cigarettes, and takes one out.  

She heads into the living-room to look for Simon’s jacket. It is lying over the back of the couch, with the folded newspaper on top of it. With an unlit cigarette dangling from her mouth, she moves the paper to the side, still folded over, and searches the pockets of the jacket. She finds the lighter and flicks it. A huge flame appears and she lights up her cigarette, taking a deep draw from it.  

She walks through, into the bedroom-area, with the folded newspaper, and places it on a side-table, and then she unties her coat-belt, but still keeps her coat on.

Simon comes out of the bathroom, drying his hands with a dark-blue hand-towel. “Sorry, the water’s not hot,” he says, apologetically, “You’ll have to wait until the morning.”

“Oh … well I’m too tired anyway,” she says. Sarah stands there, still wearing her coat, with a lit cigarette dangling from her right hand.

Still holding the blue towel, Simon lies down on the bed. “It’s quite comfy,” he says, in a friendly manner, with perhaps an expectant look in his eyes.

“Hmm,” she says. Not really taking him on.

Simon waits for a brief moment, and holds eye-contact with her.

She doesn’t fold. She takes a deep drag from her cigarette, and says, “Who’s going to take the couch? You? Or me?”

Simon wrings his towel. He doesn’t answer. And then he can't bear it any more.

“Well, me, of course.” He gets up, and sits on the edge of the bed. Huffing and puffing a bit, and with slight annoyance in his voice, he finally says, “There must be a blanket somewhere.” He walks over to a chest of drawers to have a look. He finds one, and stands there looking at her, while holding onto his blanket.

She still has her coat on, and the lingering cigarette is now in her left hand. “Well, good night,” she says. “Sleep well.”

His face shows disappointment. “You too,” he says, flatly. Simon walks out, into the living-room, and closes the door, leaving Sarah, standing, in the bedroom.

Simon walks out, and closes the bedroom door. Sarah takes her coat off. She arranges the two pillows on the bed, gives them a pat, and then gets onto the bed, in a sitting position, leaning back onto the pillows and headboard.  

As she smokes her cigarette, on her own, her memory drifts back to an encounter with her middle-aged uncle. As a young woman, Sarah is sitting upright in her bed, and has the covers over her. She is wearing a light pink, frilly nightdress, and is reading a romantic novel, which she holds out in front of her. The door opens and her dark-haired uncle staggers into the bedroom. He’s wearing a dressing-gown and his speech is slurred. As he approaches the bed, unsteady on his feet, he holds out a long, and pretty, necklace.

“Herro Sarah. Don’t rook so scaarred, am not gonna bite you,” her uncle slurs. “I’ve gotta a liddle pwesent fur yoo,” he leans over her with the necklace spread out. “Here, now prut it on.” He attempts to place the necklace around her neck.  As he does so, he starts to, forcibly, kiss her on the lips.

Sarah snaps out of her dream, with a start. The bedroom door is open, and Simon is standing there. 

The bedroom door is open, and Simon is standing there, with the blue bathroom towel in his hand.

“Yes?” Sarah says, anxiously, still clutching her neck, protectively.

Simon holds up the towel, as if to say that he forgot to return it to the bathroom. He walks across the room, and into the bathroom. He hangs the towel on a peg. Simon then walks back over to the living-room door. He stops and turns, before leaving. “Goodnight,” he says, softly.

“Goodnight,” she says. He closes the door.

Sarah looks at the lock on the bedroom door, and decides that she needs more security. She gets off the bed and picks up a wooden chair. She places the chair in front of the door that Simon has just walked out of, blocking it.

In the living room, Simon puts the light off, at the wall-switch, and then he puts a couple of small cushions near to the arm of the couch to make up his bed for the night. His attention is drawn to a bright strip of light, at the bottom of the door, that leads to the bedroom. He can see a shadow of Sarah walking around, and he can hear her heels on the floor as she steps.

Simon walks over, and crouches down, to bring the keyhole to his eye-level. He peers through. He can see Sarah getting undressed. She takes her top off, to reveal that she is wearing a white bra. Simon’s peering eye widens. Sarah pauses for a second, and then walks over to the door and places her coat over the door-handle, blocking out the keyhole, and Simon’s view.

There are the gentle sounds of waves, on a shore, coming from nearby. 
Simon heads for the couch, but stops. He sees a bright dot of light coming through the plasterboard of the wall, about four feet up, next to the bedroom door. He goes over and looks through the small hole, and then he gets an idea. He heads into the kitchen and searches around the drawers for a knife. He finds a decent-sized one, with a sharp point. 

He takes the knife to the hole in the plasterboard and twists it about, making it bigger. He looks through, and Sarah comes into view, standing in her bra and skirt. She takes a drag from her cigarette, puts it on the ashtray, and then pulls her skirt down, to reveal her tight, white, pants. Simon is becoming increasingly aroused. Sarah then moves to take her bra off. His peering-eye gets wider. She takes her bra off, clutches it in her left-hand, then picks up her cigarette with her other hand, and walks out of view of the makeshift spy-hole.

8

Now topless, Sarah walks around the room. She picks up the newspaper, and unfolds it, to have a look at the front page. She stares at a police- identikit picture of Simon. She tries to take-in what she sees. Sarah heads over to the bedroom-door and puts her ear to it, to try and hear if Simon is awake.

Simon is still peering through his spy-hole, waiting for Sarah to come back into view. From behind the door, Sarah flicks the light off from the wall-switch, next to the door. Simon’s face falls. Sarah remains calm, and still. All that can be heard is the sound of crashing waves.

Meanwhile, back at the local police-station, a biker-cop walks through the door, into the office. “Evening Sarg’ ” he greets his superior, as he takes his helmet and gloves off. On the desk there is a spread-out newspaper. The police-biker picks the paper up, and stares at it in disbelief.

“Jesus Christ,” he says to himself.

Trying to be as quiet as possible, Sarah slips her bra back on, and then she pulls on her skirt. In the living-room, Simon switches off the standard-lamp, shakes open the blanket, lies down on the couch, covers himself up, and settles himself in. He lies there with a thoughtful look on his face.

Next door, Sarah, hurriedly, puts her top on, and then her coat. She goes over and puts her ear to the door again, and listens. She takes the chair away from the door. Simon is restlessly moving about on the couch. Sarah lights up another cigarette, and waits for a while. She moves the chair, and puts it below a small, square, window. Sarah is in a heightened state of anxiety and her memory flashes back to her predatory-uncle bursting into her bedroom, late at night.

In her memory, her uncle staggers towards her, in his pyjamas, and this time he means business. He dives onto the bed and grabs her. The young Sarah tries to fend him off, but she is slight, compared to his, much-stronger, build. They struggle around, on the big wooden bed, both grunting with their efforts.

Sarah then snaps out of her traumatic flashback, and back into the present. She puts her handbag-strap over her shoulder, and listens at the living-room door again. There is only the gentle sound of waves, lapping on the shore, outside the window. 
Sarah carefully, and slowly, opens the door, creates a gap, checks to see if he is sleeping, and then opens it wider, to allow herself to, quietly, walk into the living-room area. She immediately spots the kitchen-knife, lying on the floor. Wide-eyed, she tip-toes over to Simon, who is now dosing, and gently picks up his jacket from the arm of the couch. He moves his head, and starts to stir.

Sarah manages to get the car-keys from the jacket pocket, into her hands. Simon’s head is moving from side-to-side, and he is muttering, what sounds like a woman’s name, in his fitful sleep. Sarah walks away, into the bedroom, and closes over the door, with a click. Simon’s eyes open.

Simon pulls his blanket off and gets up from the couch. He doesn’t put the light on, and so the living room remains in darkness. Sarah, in the bedroom, is listening for movement, from behind the door. Simon, now standing upright, takes a packet of fags from his jacket, and takes one out. Sarah has her ear to the door, listening intently. Simon walks over to the bedroom door, and gently taps, twice. Sarah, still with her coat on, darts over to the bed, jumps in, covers herself up, and pretends she is sleeping. Simon, gently knocks on the door again; three short taps.

Simon walks into the bedroom. He stands there, in his blue shirt, looking down on Sarah. He watches her for a while. The sheets are tucked up to her chin. She keeps her eyes closed. He then, slowly, walks past the bed and over to a small table. He picks up a lighter. Sarah, half-opens her eyes, to check on him. He lights up his cigarette, and takes a deep draw. He glances over towards Sarah, with a gentle smile, of affection, on his face. She snaps her eyes shut.

The newspaper has fallen off the bed, when Sarah leaped in, and it is now lying on the floor, spread open. Simon picks it up, and folds it over, without actually looking at it. He puts the paper under his arm, and walks out of the bedroom, and into the living-room.

As soon as Simon shuts the bedroom door, Sarah, throws the covers back, and springs out of the bed. She sweeps the curtains back on the window behind the headboard. She tries the small handle, but the window is jammed and she can’t budge it. She goes over to a small square window, and tries that, but it is locked shut. Sarah is beginning to getting desperate, and she is beginning to pant. She heads into the bathroom. When she is sure she is safe. She comes back out, walks across the bedroom and, tentatively, opens the door to the living-room. She scans around. Simon is not there. The newspaper is lying on the floor, unfolded. The headline says: Maniac Escapes. Below the headline, she can see the top of the identikit-picture of Simon. She picks the paper up, and puts it in her bag.

Sarah walks across the living-room to the front-door. She stands at it, with her coat on, and her handbag over her shoulder. Ready to make a run for it. She swings the heavy, wooden, door open. Simon is standing just outside. He turns around with a start. She lets out a squeal, and bangs the door shut, and locks herself in.

“Sarah!” he shouts, from the outside, with concern, and surprise, in his voice.

Sarah runs away from the front door, in a panic. Simon bangs on the door, from the outside. “Sarah! Sarah” Saaaraaaah!” she shouts.

And then he hears the sound of smashing glass. Simon runs around to the side of the lodge. He sees a broken window, and wide-open shutters. He spins around, and looks about, in all directions. The sound of waves lapping on the shore, is now quite pronounced, in the dark night-air. Simon spots Sarah in the distance, running through the trees. He pursues her. “Sarah!” he keeps shouting. She doesn’t let up. She keeps running.

Sarah stops for a moment, turns around, and hears him calling again. “No! No!” she shouts, to herself, in desperation, as a nightmare unfolds for her.

In her trauma, she flashes back to the attack, on the bed, from her uncle. “No!” she shouts. “Go, away!” She flips, back-and-forth, from the memory of her uncle, to the present. She swipes at the air, in the woods. “No!” she screams.

Sarah is in such a heightened state of anxiety that she swipes at the air, in the woods. “No!” she screams. She is reliving the traumatic experience of her uncle trying to rape her. As she tries to get away, her uncle grabs her nightdress, and rips it right off her back, bearing her flesh. In the woods Sarah starts to run again. Her bag is swinging, from her hand, as she runs from her memory, and from Simon.

In her traumatised mind, her uncle grabs her, and prevents her from escaping the bedroom. He picks her up, off the ground, and roughly throws her back onto the big bed. And then he dives on top of her.

In the woods, Simon is still shouting out, and pursuing, the running-Sarah. She does not know what to do, to get away from Simon, or her uncle. She spins around, among the leaves and trees, looking for a way out of her nightmare. “Sarah!” Simon shouts, from the dark distance.

Sarah, puffs and pants. She is exhausted, and in a confused state of fear. But she has been running around in circles. To her surprise, she ends up back at the main hotel building. She recognises the blue Austin car. In her intense panic, she opens the door and jumps into the driver’s seat. She fumbles around, and puts the keys, she has, into the ignition. She turns the car over, but it doesn’t start. She tries again. Nothing. Simon, in the distance, hears the starter-motor and runs towards the blue car. Sarah turns the starter-motor again. The engine is dead.

In her mind, Sarah is being attacked by her nasty uncle. The extreme fear, and instinct for survival, gives her a surge of incredible strength. She puts all her effort into one big push. Her uncle falls back, off her. His full weight, and head, strike the solid corner bed-post with a sickening thump. He lets out a grunt.

Simon is running towards the blue Austin. He stops, about twenty yards from it. He stands there in the dark, out of breath. The starter-motor has stopped turning, and there is no-one in the driver’s seat. Confused, he looks around, and from side-to-side. “Where has she gone?” he thinks.

A white Rover P6 turns into the hotel forecourt, at speed, its siren wailing, and its blue-lights flashing.

Simon staggers, with heavy footsteps, over the gravel, and up to the blue car. The driver’s door is open. He look in, and sees a newspaper on the dashboard, with a flat, circular object, sitting on top of it. He reaches out for it, but the paper, and the object, fall off the dashboard, and down to the floor. He gets into the driver’s seat, and looks down at the spread-open newspaper. He stares, in horror. There is a stark photograph, on the top-right, of the front page.

The headline, above it, says: BROMWOOD ESCAPEE.

Below the headline, there is a picture of Sarah, with a mean look on her face.

Sitting on top of the paper is a circular vanity-compact. The one from the filling station.

Simon leans over to pick up the compact, with a curious look on his face. There is movement from behind him. A leather bag-strap gets put over his head, and then it is quickly tightened around his neck, before he has a chance of resisting. Sarah has sprung up from the back seat. And she has a crazed look on her face.

She quickly increases the tension around Simon’s neck. He makes choking sounds and flails his arms about, but Sarah has super-human strength, as she is living out the memory of strangling her uncle with a rope-cord as he lies, injured against the bed-post. In her memory she tightens, and twists the cord around her uncle’s neck, almost bonding him to the bed-post. Her face is full of rage.

In the car, she is doing the same to Simon, with her bag-strap. Sarah’s face is contorted with raw anger, and she looks quite demented.  Simon’s last life-experience, before he is ruthlessly strangled to death, is a glance of the left-side of the newspaper. He sees an identikit picture of himself, with a caption underneath that says: THIS MAN IS IN DANGER.

Simon’s eyes bulge, and he abruptly stops breathing. His head is pulled back over the seat, at an extreme angle. He didn’t stand a chance.  

The man at the reception directs the cops to the lodge. Sarah hears the siren, lets out a big sigh of relief, and then throws her head back.

She then, calmly, sits up and slowly gets out of the car, to meet the police-vehicles. She walks over to them, clutching a gift-box in her hands. Two burly detectives, in car-coats, are standing there, on the gravel, under the flashing blue strobe-light. She puts up no resistance. One of the detectives, knowingly, flicks his head to her. “C’mon” he says. They both take an arm each, and quietly escort her to the police-vehicle.

A uniformed cop walks over to the blue Austin, and looks in. He sees the lifeless body of Simon, slip, and fall over, landing face-down on the passenger seat.

In the back of the cop-car, Sarah opens up the box she has. It contains and big, chocolate egg, wrapped in shiny paper. “Do you know it takes four hours to boil and egg on the top of Mount Everest? Imagine having to wait that long for breakfast?” she says, quietly, and sadly.

And then she just stares into the distance. The cops say nothing. A gentle smile appears on Sarah’s face as she thinks of the happy times she had, with Simon, riding along the beach on the horses.

THE END