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Open Features: Two For The Road - Part 1

...Unpacking, Fran said, "You know, I feel I've seen him somewhere before."

"Yes, I thought so too. I've a feeling that his double had a stateside accent, not an English one." She yawned, "I'll take a shower; it will make me sleep better."

Five minutes later, Fran popped her head round the shower curtain, saying, "Bates Motel! That young man's a dead ringer for the guy that played Norman Bates in 'Psycho.' Same lean and hungry look."

Alice laughed and switched the shower off. "Yes. A much younger Anthony Perkins, but he's got the same reticent look. What a laugh. Wait until we tell Bob."...

And if that doesn't persuade you to read Betty McKay's tale, nothing will.

The second and final part of this story will appear in Open Writing next Monday. Can you manage to wait until then to find out what happens?

Fran bundled garments at random into her suitcase. "Alice, the trouble with having a great time, is that it makes departures too late for comfort."

This was Fran's second visit to Oxford and the first for Alice. Originally it had been Bob's suggestion taking Alice, Fran's widowed sister, along for company, while he attended a business conference in London. "You could go to Stratford-on-Avon again, and perhaps this time actually to get to the theatre."

Later, on the phone, Alice had been delighted at the idea of a break in England. When departure day arrived, she travelled from her Saratoga Springs home, meeting up with the Duvals at Logan airport in Boston.

On the flight Bob spent time checking and finalising the paper he was presenting later in the week. Meantime the sisters brought each other up-to-date on home and friends. Alice talked about her married daughter Michelle, and her two small grand-daughters, Flora and Caro. Fran filled Alice in on Darcy's summer exploits. Her nineteen year old daughter had back-packed across Europe with friends. Now thank goodness she was safely back in Amherst, nose once more to the academic grindstone.

Fran could have told her about her paintings and how she had sold several of them to tourists. She and her artistic friends had a gallery in Hyannis Port. Early each summer they flew off like migrating birds to Europe. Renting a house, they spent nearly every hour of every day painting. Fran adored the colour, the heat and the exotic characters she met.

This had been her third year, but she couldn't talk to Alice about this because Alice didn't seem to be having much of a life outside of Michelle's family. Before Tom died Alice's life had been so full her cup had runneth over.

In London the next morning, they collected their hire car and set off, with a whole week to themselves - something they hadn't managed since they were teenagers - and it felt good.

As far as Fran was concerned, this holiday in England was something of a stratagem. Since Tom's death, Michelle, no doubt for the best of reasons, had become very possessive. "Bob, Michelle would have Alice decked out permanently in widow's weeds. She's taken over my sister's life. I think Alice deserves better than being on constant call as child-minder and mother's help."

Bob had agreed, but thought Fran shouldn't interfere. Fran said nothing, but knew she was right. Alice merited more than being Michelle's dogsbody, and the first step in Alice's rehabilitation would be this holiday.

The women packed their luggage into the car after checking out of the Randolph, and decided to have lunch before taking the Woodstock Road out of Oxford. No sooner had they sat down than a voice from the next table said, "Hello! We thought you two took off this morning. Will you come and join us?"

It was the McCraes, an Australian couple they'd met up with the day before. They were in Oxford visiting Alec McCrae's brother, Don, a professor at Durham College, and that must be him with them. As the meal progressed Fran realised that the attractive dark-haired Australian was paying a deal of attention to Alice. Looking at her sister, she thought how happy Alice looked. What would it matter if they didn't reach Stratford-on-Avon today? They could visit Blenheim Palace instead, Shakespeare could wait until tomorrow.

Two hours later they left after exchanging addresses. "Don McCrae's eyes certainly brightened up at the sight of you."

"Aw, come on, Fran. He was just being friendly, but he was kind of cute wasn't he? Not my idea of a professor."

"Cute! He was a hunk, all six foot three of him. When he stood up he dwarfed everyone else in the place or didn't you notice."

"Sure, Fran, I noticed. We may be seeing him again. He said he was going to Stratford-on-Avon on Tuesday to meet up with an ex-student of his."

After spending the rest of the afternoon at Blenheim they drove north, finally arriving at a small friendly-looking inn, called the George and Dragon. They had an excellent dinner but no sleeping accommodation was available. Overhearing their conversation, the waitress said, "Excuse me, but if you require a room I believe a new motel has opened up in the next village. It's in the grounds of an old house there called The Grange."

Thanking her, they quickly settled the bill and left.

"That's it", Fran spotted the motel sign, and Alice turned into the drive. This opened up revealing against the now darkening landscape a large house to the right situated on higher ground, while on the left were about a dozen new cabins set amongst trees.

"Thank heavens for that. Let's get settled in for the night."

There was a light in the empty office, so they rang the bell. Hearing footsteps, they looked up at a tall, slightly built figure. He was very young, and, thought Fran, looked reticent and vulnerable. Then he smiled, showing very white teeth and his face lit up. Suddenly this slightly odd-looking young man became handsome. It was quite a transformation and both Fran and Alice warmed to him.

"You're our first customers," he said. "Cabin One OK?"

"Sure," said Fran. "You look very young to own this set-up."

He laughed: "Oh it's not mine. My sister and her husband and my mother own it."

He strode ahead of them along the path to the first cabin. Opening up, he put on the light and stepped politely aside, gesturing them to enter. A great deal of thought had gone into the design and furnishing of the cabin. The curtains and quilts were pretty and set off the pine furniture perfectly. The young man showed them the bathroom, which was as well appointed as the bedroom.

"This is delightful, real homey," said Alice.

"There's a supply of biscuits, coffee, tea and Ovaltine next to the kettle, on the tray with the cups. If you need anything else, see me in the office. If I'm not there come up to the house."

"I'm sure we won't need anything. This looks perfect," said Alice.

Unpacking, Fran said, "You know, I feel I've seen him somewhere before."

"Yes, I thought so too. I've a feeling that his double had a stateside accent, not an English one." She yawned, "I'll take a shower; it will make me sleep better."

Five minutes later, Fran popped her head round the shower curtain, saying, "Bates Motel! That young man's a dead ringer for the guy that played Norman Bates in 'Psycho.' Same lean and hungry look."

Alice laughed and switched the shower off. "Yes. A much younger Anthony Perkins, but he's got the same reticent look. What a laugh. Wait until we tell Bob."

Fran clapped her hand to her head, "Ye Gods! Bob! I said I'd ring him. He'll be pacing the floor wondering whatever's happened to us." She looked around. "Hey, Alice. There's no phone here!"

"There was one in the office. We could try there."

They both slipped on their robes and went back along the path. The office, when they reached it, was locked and in darkness. Only the light above the door shone brightly.

"He said we could go up to the house, Fran."

"Do you think they would mind? It's very late."

"Oh, come on, he said it would be OK to go there."

They walked up the slope towards the large, old house. From this distance it looked far less imposing than the new cabins. The paintwork was peeling and the place looked shabby.

Fran grimaced, "Definitely Bates's Motel, I hope Norman's mommy isn't at home."

"Stop it Fran." Alice tapped at the door and, as she did so, it swung creakily inward. They stepped into the dark hallway. There was light at the top of the stairs, which shone fitfully downwards. From one of the rooms came the murmur of voices. It sounded as if three or four people were up there.

Suddenly, one voice could be heard loudly above the others, sounding outraged and angry. The trouble was, because it was coming from behind a half-closed door, certain words came across clearer than others. Distinctly they both heard "Dear father murdered,'' then a soft murmuring, followed sharply by "Revenge,'' then another outburst "Like a whore" followed by a cry of "guilty creatures." Once again he cried, "Murder," and again "Murder of my father."

"How strange," whispered Alice.

"Strange!" hissed Fran, "It's weird." She turned sharply, grabbing her sister's hand. "We're both getting out of here, back to the cabin. At least we'll be behind the safety of locked doors there. I'll ring Bob first thing in the morning, after we check out."

In the cabin they gazed wide-eyed at one another. "Who would have thought it?" said Alice.

"Well, I guess anyone who looks like Norman Bates has to be a bit of a weirdo. It was him and he was yelling fit to raise the roof, wasn't he? I wonder who did murder his father?"

"Oh Fran, he looked gentle and sensitive to me. Something must have driven him over the edge. Do you think we should contact the police?"

"Police nothing. We're in the middle of nowhere. We're going to bed. Forget murder, it's none of our business anyway. I don't know about you but I'm dead on my feet."

"Yes," said Alice, "we'll think about it in the morning. It will all look different in the morning, you'll see."

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