For one minute, walk outside, stand there, in silence, look up at the sky and contemplate how amazing life is.
18 April 2020
FEAR AWAITS AT JOURNEY'S END - a repeat
deeper the express train travelled into the tunnel the clearer became the
woman's reflection in the window, giving Arthur Mott a chance to stare without
her knowing. Now, instead of occasional glimpses of her profile, he could see
the whole of her face. Short, wiry hair curved around her ears like dappled
muffs; dark hair, so flecked with grey it reminded him of pewter. He guessed
her wistful expression belied a sunny disposition, for he detected the hint of
a smile dallying at her lips. The pronounced cheek-bones attracted him. They
made her almond-shaped eyes seem so submerged that he felt, if she turned to look
at him, he would drown in the abyss of their dark beauty.
The notion of being captured in an all-embracing glance made him fidget and he
rocked slightly on his seat. Forward and back. Soon, the agitation filled his
head, turmoil he thought had long ago subsided. He was compelled to suppress it
with a system of deep-breathing. As he inhaled, he ran his fingers along the
plastic armrest, counting to ten. With every exhalation he scratched his chewed
nails on the jagged edges of sundry burns, wilfully accomplished with
cigarettes, no doubt, by drunken barbarians. Mother wouldn't have liked that,
he thought, recalling what a stickler she was for neatness, how she would toss
into the bin anything marred by cuts or stains.
Now that he had a chance to study the woman, he saw that the skin on her throat
was crinkly, like crepe, like his mother's, and he longed to touch her neck to
see if it felt the same. There was an unusual fragrance in the compartment, of
spicy perfume mingled with the polluted smell of soiled upholstery. Neither
pleasant nor repulsive, simply unusual.
Her thinness intrigued him. How could a modern woman look so haggard when the
whole nation was bordering on the obese? Arthur laced his nicotine-stained
fingers, remembering his mother's bulk, her flesh hanging over him at night,
her protruding eyes devouring his nakedness. He shuddered, as he had shuddered
throughout his childhood.
Once again daylight entered the carriage. Fields rushed by, measures of green
allocated for farming stock, an occasional house stowed aimlessly in the
middle. Shouts could be heard in the next carriage, choruses adored by football
supporters, some kind of convoluted vocal meandering punctuated with cries of
‘three-one, three-one’ which meant nothing to Arthur. He wasn’t a sporting man.
As if weary of the view, the woman changed her pose, languidly shuffling round
until she faced him, her cream blouse taught against diminutive breasts. Her
eyes were moist and her lips trembled slightly, drawing his notice to the lines
on her upper lip. A pity the lurking smile had disappeared. He would have liked
to see it go. Sweet anticipation set him rocking again; back and forth, a shade
faster than before, foreseeing an exhilarating adventure, when she would be as
putty in his hands.
Suddenly, the door slid open and a fat-faced man, carting a battered brown
suitcase and a bundle of newspapers, barged in like a squall of blubber.
Another example of modern living. Without asking if the seat was reserved, he
dropped the bundle on the table adjacent to Arthur's green trilby and slung the
case on the overhead rack. 'Teenagers make me sick,' he said to no-one in
particular, 'the way they behave in public.'
Having secured the case, he flopped on the seat opposite Arthur, puffing out
his cheeks with the exertion. 'I've been sharing a compartment with the
Liverpool brigade,' he told Arthur, who was not at all interested. 'Had to
leave 'em to it. Couldn't stand the noise. Comes to something when a body can't
enjoy a train journey in peace.'
Agitatedly plucking the front of his fawn jersey, Arthur Mott eyed the woman
wondering if the moment of contact was lost.
It brought a small, involuntary cry to Leonora's lips and she knew she’d been right to be afraid
Leonora Deloitte rummaged inside a lizard-skin bag, searching for her wallet
and the small notepad contained therein. She had thought of passing the big man
a note concerning that measly little man who had stared constantly since they
joined the train. She was used to being goggled at by men and enjoyed the
experience, for it boosted her sometimes deflated ego, but this man was not a
typical voyeur. When he stared it was like being mentally dissected.
She unzipped the inner compartment and flicked through the papers there, but
she had no joy. The wallet, containing money and credit cards, was missing. She
could only think she must have left it at her daughter's. She leaned back,
wondering what on earth she was going to do, so absorbed with her dilemma she
failed to adjust the black skirt that had ridden up.
'I'm going to Birmingham-on-sea,' said the rotund man. 'Though I confess I have
no bucket or spade. Or a red and white scarf, for that matter.'
This smattering of humour went some way to persuading Leonora that he was an
approachable individual who might help solve her predicament. Not that she
would relish asking a perfect stranger for a loan, yet she couldn't see any
alternative. She could hardly walk from Birmingham to Solihull. Hesitantly she
smiled at him and the man promptly inclined towards her, stretching out his
arm. 'Godfrey's the name, Ma'am. Godfrey Hastings. You going far?'
'Birmingham,' said Leonora.
'Well, isn't that just dandy. My luck must be in.'
In his corner, the scrawny little man scowled. His hands twitched in his lap,
busy fingers stretching and curling as if he was squeezing an invisible object.
It brought a small, involuntary cry to Leonora's lips and she knew she had been
right to be afraid. Collectively, the two men arched their heads, but only
Godfrey Hastings spoke.
'Whatever is it, Ma'am,' he enquired.
Leonora opened her mouth to express her fear but, feeling inanely foolish, she
hastily closed it. She felt rather testy, hating to feel intimidated, but the
horror of being thought ridiculous prevented her from launching into an
unjustified dialogue of complaint. Instead, as calmly as she could, she
announced the loss of her wallet, and was relieved to see a token of concern
remove the disagreeable glower from the man's contemptible face.
Even the brief glimpse of pale thigh that had so excited Arthur was powerless
to squash his loathing for Godfrey Hastings. He had completely wrecked his
intentions. If he had an appropriate weapon he might stab him through the
heart. In the few minutes since he arrived he had not only gained the woman's
trust, he had destroyed the possibility of seduction. Unless he could outwit
him his prospects would be dashed. An offer of cash to the lady would stand him
in good stead but he only had a paltry sum in his breast pocket, a sum
estimated by the authorities as sufficient for his needs until he could fend
for himself. He had let loose a hollow laugh when they told him that and had
been warned to behave. Well, he would cope; always had and always would. The
only quandary he had was how to manipulate the woman.
He liked the notion of offering funds, even falsely, but recognised the
infeasibility of such a suggestion, reluctantly acknowledging the numerous
unwanted problems it would pose. Anyway, to do that he would have to find his
voice. He always became incoherent when he was nervous. Words would jumble
together in his mouth and emerge in the wrong order. It was the reason he had
not engaged the Leonora in conversation. Leonora. As delightful a name as any
he'd come across. Most of the casualties in his life had ordinary names:
Margaret, Sylvia, and Mary. Those were the three he commemorated most in darker
moments, each one thin as a rake, with eyes like pools. Like Leonora. Arthur
covered his mouth with his hand to hide the excessive salivation.
'You mustn't worry, my dear,' Godfrey said. 'I'll see you're all right for
ready cash. Leave everything to me.' He was helping Leonora return her
haphazardly strewn belongings to her bag.
Arthur beheld a gold-coloured lipstick case rolling between a plastic cup and
some cellophane biscuit wrappings. He was fascinated by it, for Leonora's lips
were unadorned and he could not imagine her defacing them with tawdry paint. On
the other hand, removing it could prove to be a lot more stimulating.
'Oh, dear,' exclaimed Leonora. 'I've just remembered where I left it.'
At that point Godfrey Hastings espied the lurching lipstick and retrieved it,
presenting it to Leonora as if it was a nugget of real gold. Arthur's
resentment rose up like bile when he saw the gratitude on her face.
'Thank you so much, Godfrey,' she said in her low, rich voice, its contralto
timbre giving the impression that she was or had been a vocalist.
Arthur was captivated by it. He mused on the possibility that her screams would
be musical and therefore so much nicer than the terror-stricken sort he’d grown
used to hearing. He momentarily closed his eyes the better to imagine it.
Leonora dropped the lipstick inside the handbag and snapped it shut, offering
the explanation almost apologetically, that she had placed the wallet by the
mantel clock at her daughter's house while she looked for the ticket for the
train. She had been distracted by her grand-daughter insisting she be picked up
and nursed. In the event, she had forgotten it.
'Well, there you are,' Godfrey said. 'All's well that ends well.'
Godfrey fixed his probing sights on Arthur but swiftly re-established his
concentration on Leonora. Arthur was excused the confusion of replying. In
those few seconds, as he shrank from the fleeting inspection, it struck him
that the man was familiar. But recall eluded him and he guessed he was
Godfrey took a visiting card from the inner pocket of his navy suit. 'I'll
withdraw enough cash to tide you over,' he said, handing the card to Leonora.
'There's my address and telephone number. I'll take my reward in kind.' He
chortled and gripped Leonora's hand. She delivered a sumptuous giggle as if she
was a teenager on a first romantic date.
She did, after all, live entirely alone. Not even a dog to defend her
For the rest of the journey Arthur was besieged by despondency as Leonora
Deloitte chattered about the holiday she'd had with her daughter and
son-in-law, five grandchildren and a dog. She didn’t care for the dog, she
said, would never have one herself, although she admitted a pet was good for
youngsters. Leonora talked exclusively to Godfrey as if Arthur was but a
travelling ghost. Though she did occasionally glance in his direction, at his
hands, she did not once raise her eyes to his. He spent much of the time trying
to visualise how her lips would look when painted. Older lips looked grotesque
when highly coloured. On her scarlet might be appealing.
He meddled with the square card he'd rescued from the floor, thrilled that he'd
had the sense to pocket it instead of handing it over. Surreptitiously, he
glanced at it, scanning an address in Hermitage Road. Residence of Deloitte, it
grandly proclaimed, in gold.
'Five!' exclaimed Godfrey. 'You don't look old enough to have five
Arthur silently agreed. Though the outward signs were that Leonora Deloitte was
old enough, she possessed a genteel manner that defied age. It showed in those
extraordinary dark eyes. Such a contrast to his mother.
The disclosure that she was going home to an empty house inspired Godfrey to
ask if she was a widow. Leonora's eyes misted again when she conceded that she
had been alone for twenty years. Exactly the length of time since Arthur lost
his mother. He wanted to tell her that. But he couldn't, his mouth would never
manage the words. In any case, her attention was rooted to the comically stout
intruder who, for all his portliness, knew how to hook a woman with spontaneous
Leonora peered through the window. She had not liked that last, lengthy tunnel.
She had imagined the seedy little man making a grab for her, his heavily
veined, dirty hands seizing her by the throat. But Godfrey's hand brushing hers
had reassured her that she was safe.
Arthur stood up, lurching as the swaying train arrived at their destination. He
picked up his hat and positioned it on his head. Having no luggage to collect,
he just stood there waiting for the train to stop.
'Travelling light, are you?' boomed Godfrey.
Arthur nodded and looked away, finalising his strategy. He would leave the
train first, linger on the platform until they passed. Then he would follow.
Godfrey Hastings couldn’t protect her all day … and she did, after all, live
entirely alone. Not even a dog to defend her.
'Here, Leonora, let me help you with your coat,' Godfrey said, readily taking
up the crimson garment. Another whiff of spicy fragrance was released as he
held it behind her like a matador's cape.
'Birmingham New Street,' came the guard's announcement. 'Please be careful
bridging the gap between the platform and the train.'
By the time Godfrey and Leonora left the train, Arthur was studying the
contents of the vending machine. He selected a chocolate snack bar and inserted
coins in the appropriate slot. He could have pretended to be procuring
something, but he was by now extremely hungry. It had been hours since he had a
proper meal and the arrowroot biscuits he'd eaten on the train had made no
inroads into his hunger. Clutching the chocolate, he leaned on the machine and
watched Leonora teetering on silly stilettos beside her escort. Hurriedly,
which suited Arthur's schedule. The sooner her monetary crisis was sorted, the
sooner she would be free to travel home. Gleefully, Arthur tore the wrapper
from the snack bar. The blue paper fluttered down to the dusty platform. Like a
child, he stuffed the whole bar in his mouth … the chocolate would run down his
chin and his mother would be furious if she could see. At that moment he didn't
care. He had other things on his mind.
Ahead, at the entrance to the escalator, he saw Leonora sailing through, her
hand resting lightly on Godfrey's arm. A beautiful slut, thought Arthur,
chomping the snack bar as he moved quickly in the same direction. There must have
been a dozen people between him and them yet he could easily pick them out by
her red coat and his fair hair. Arthur gripped the rail as the escalator glided
steadily upwards. He almost lost them in the station's main precinct when a
crowd of high-spirited football supporters surrounded him, claret and blue
scarves waving like streamers as they jostled for a place at the exit. Arthur
panicked, thinking his plan had been foiled, but then he saw the red coat
half-way up a second ascending escalator. Holding his hat in place, he ran,
jubilantly, towards the subsequent bank of moving stairs.
She looked exquisite, standing there.
Mother would have adored her
One eye on Arthur Mott, Godfrey withdrew the money from the machine in the
wall. He had known who he was as soon as he saw him board the train. He had
been partly responsible for the man's incarceration after the dreadful murder
of the prostitute, Patsy Musewell, in Small Heath Park. The morning papers had
reported the news of Arthur's release only that morning: Ex-Banker's Sentence
at an End. The report had gone on to describe Arthur Mott as formerly a smart
intellectual, held in great esteem by his profession until his mother died and
the man slipped into decline. Typical of newspapers to publish the man's
antecedents before he was barely out of Walton Jail. Godfrey had resolved that
while he was on the train he would watch him like a hawk and that was how he
came to locate him sharing a carriage with one female occupant. Godfrey had
been mighty troubled when he glimpsed the rapt look on his face. That's why he
barged in like he did.
Leonora's polite cough stemmed his thinking and he turned to see her noting the
time by her watch. Bygone police practices had driven her predicament
completely from his mind. Noticing her anxiousness, he wondered again about the
absurdity of giving money to a complete stranger. He'd have been stripped of
his stripes if he'd been so daft in the old days. But he had a good feeling
about Leonora. He trusted her. And he liked her a lot.
Movements beyond caught his eye. Two constables on the prowl, one redoubtable
individual, bearing the hallmark of a long-serving copper, the other innocent
and fresh: a slight-framed, bit-of a-kid rookie, just right for tackling the
inhuman Arthur Mott should the need arise. 'Excuse me a tick, Leonora,' he
said. 'There's a man over there I must have a word with. Will you wait for me
here? And don't fret about getting home. I'll order a taxi.' Maintaining covert
surveillance on Arthur, who was hiding behind a picture stall, naively
believing he couldn't be seen, Godfrey scurried towards the two coppers.
Arthur laughed, rejoicing over his success. His plan had worked. Leonora was
alone, scanning her watch and peering anxiously after the Hastings man. He
wanted to yell at her that she had seen the last of him. The last of anybody,
come to that. Very soon. Why didn't she walk away, he asked himself, wondering
if he ought to make his presence known. But he preferred the concept of tailing
her. The element of surprise was more exciting. She looked exquisite, standing
there. Mother would have adored her. She liked thin women, being grossly fat
herself, and often urged him to marry one. He might have, if he hadn't grown
accustomed to mother's corpulence shrouding him in sleep, her podgy hands
clutching him, thick lips beseeching his dormant parts to wake. Yes, she liked
thin women, but thin women didn't like her, and it annoyed him that his
mother's desires were unfulfilled; accordingly, after her death, by a process
of selective slaughter, he had satisfied her needs.
Hoping her loitering would not be misinterpreted by staff inside the building
society, Leonora stood inside the doorway. The area was dreadfully crowded.
People dashed in all directions: passengers with suitcases and shoppers lugging
bulky plastic bags. She could smell the dampness on people's coats as they
hustled by. Rain. And she wasn't wearing a mac. A long-haired mongrel dog of
indeterminate parentage paused briefly to sniff a Malteser box, then snorted as
if disgusted by its emptiness before scampering on its way.
She had totally lost sight of Godfrey. She longed to get away but she had yet
to make arrangements to return the cash. A black girl stopped at the cash
machine, tossing her silky hair out of the way as she confidently punched in
her numbers. Oh for the assurance of youth, thought Leonora, who had no
aptitude for technical contraptions. Taking Godfrey's visiting card from her
bag, she examined it and tried to recall exactly where Northfield was. An
appreciable distance, she imagined, from Solihull, and probably the opposite
direction. Nevertheless, she had his number. She could ring and quickly rectify
the situation, whatever he thought of her for disappearing.
Arthur’s heartbeats were like tom-toms as he watched her advance towards the
exit ramp that would take her to New Street from where, presumably, she would
head towards home. Her coat bounced around her slender, though shapely calves,
her hips swaying like a model's as she sashayed past the health food shop. He
struggled with the disorder in his pants, recognising the need for control if
he was to beget another offering for Mother. The best he'd netted to date. Why,
even he could fancy her.
His courage rapidly returning, Arthur glided down the ramp and veered into New
Street, his eyes fixed on the swinging red coat. And the added, useful
accessory: a red scarf with white dots, half on, half off her hair.
Unconsciously, he flexed his hands, tugging taut the imaginary ends, enthusiastically
blessing the rain.
The crowd had moderated and he had no difficulty keeping tabs on her. She
twisted round once, surveying the street. He thought she might have seen him
but she was merely monitoring the traffic prior to crossing the road. Not that
it mattered if she did see him, he had as much right to be here as she did, but
if she saw him now that terminating jolt of bewilderment and incredulity that
possessed his victims at the end would be forfeited.
After navigating a course through the queues of buses and taxis waiting at the
lights, Arthur slowed almost to a halt. Ahead of him Leonora was contemplating
the display in Principles' window. She looked weary. He chuckled contentedly,
feeling certain it would not be long before he could administer a permanent
She tried to fight the fear,
reasoning that her imagination was playing tricks
Clutching the scarf that refused to stay in place, Leonora followed the window
round so that she was concealed from the road, yet her view of it was unimpeded.
She had been so sure she was being watched that she needed to check it out.
Then she saw that awful man from the train, staring at the site she'd just
vacated, not even bothering to mask his interest. She saw him shove his hand
inside his grey jacket, lift the scruffy jersey and slowly release a narrow,
black leather belt until it hung by its buckle from his waist like a snake
waiting to strike.
Alarm bristled like cactus spines, punching a warning at her brain. Beware. She
realized she'd been spotted, the odious man was eyeing her through the window,
toying with the buckle of his belt. He began to shuffle towards her, his face
contorting in a hideous leer. Leonora's panic surged, swelling up like an
eruption of boiling lava. She felt she would faint if she didn't get away. She
tried to fight the fear, reasoning that her imagination was playing tricks,
asking herself why she should feel so threatened, telling herself that nothing
could happen to her in a public place. She attempted to pull herself together,
relating her consternation to the man's obvious dirty-mindedness, a factor she
so abhorred. The reasoning did not work. As Arthur Mott drew near, she
retreated until her backside touched the frame of the shop door. She jumped at
the unexpected contact. Certain she was being attacked from behind, she
screamed, cries rising from the pit of her stomach like a welling spring and
emerging from her throat like a salvo of ear-piercing howls.
Some passers-by gawked inquiringly, others swerved sharply away. No-one came to
Leonora's feet were welded to the ground, her knuckles white as she gripped the
door handle. He was only yards away, his colourless face distorted, hooked nose
almost meeting twisted mouth, pupils enlarged with impatience. As if witnessing
something in a dream, Leonora saw him release the belt from the waistband of
his trousers. She became mesmerised by a snag in the material running from his
fly to his left hand pocket. A drawn thread, looped in places. She heard
children laughing in the distance, but couldn't tear her gaze away. The belt
swung like a pendulum as he neared.
A youngster begged his mother to look at the strange man with a strap in his
hand. He was sharply ordered to come away.
The incident distracted Leonora. Her common sense returned. Shaking her head,
she paced back, intending to demand the use of the shop's phone. But she didn’t
need it. There was a sudden tableau of flying bodies. Godfrey Hastings and a
boyish policeman, brandishing a truncheon, had entered like Mounties in a
movie, overpowering Arthur and pinning him to the slippery ground.
Godfrey didn’t shout, he merely said, 'Got you, Arthur Mott,' as he hauled the
puny man to his feet, thrusting him at the young officer, who quick as
lightning slapped handcuffs on the man's wrist. Arthur squealed like stuck pig
as he struggled within the policeman's grasp. Leonora trembled, her relief so
heartfelt she was sapped of all her strength.
Later, in a coffee shop, sheltered from the world and its psychopaths,
Godfrey's hand covering hers, Leonora listened to Godfrey outlining Arthur
Mott's criminal history, though he benevolently apportioned blame to Arthur's
mother: an overweight, oversexed woman with cross-grained chromosomes.
According to Godfrey, Arthur had no spunk. His pitiful attempts to stand up to
his mother resulted in physical and mental bruising until, in the end, her
terrible dominance and his frantic desire to please, drove him to kill,
believing the mutilation of the women she had so hankered after in life would
indulge her in death.
Leonora quaked, remembering the earnest scrutiny on the train, those rheumy
eyes, the twitching hands and fingers that curled, guessing he had decided to
kill her. It would have been so easy to overpower her and wrap his hands around
her throat. The reality of the situation eluded her as she imagined how easily
he could have overpowered her when she was hedged in that doorway. No-one would
have taken any heed. Others had been killed in broad daylight. She shook as the
horror recurred of that awful, insane moment when she was sure she was going to
die. It took a while for her mind to clear and to realise that such a thing
couldn’t happen in a public place.
'Now, dear lady,' Godfrey said, 'There's no need to be scared any more. It's
been quite a day, but there have been good bits. Certainly there were good bits
for me. Meeting you, Leonora, was like emerging from a dark cave onto a sunny
beach and basking in the warmth.'
Leonora blushed as she regarded him, loving his style and liking what she saw,
admiring the friendly blue eyes and the blonde lashes that fanned his cheeks
when he blinked. Was it possible they had only met that day? The image of
Arthur Mott slowly crumbled as the prospect of running her fingers through the
tight spirals of hair filled her soul, the need to unwind one and watch it
spring back into place so essential it was like a pleasant pain. She was
comfortable in his company; she thought she could be snug and protected in his
bountiful arms. 'I'll try to put the bad bits behind me, Godfrey,' she said.
Godfrey chucked her under the chin and murmured affectionately, 'That's my