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Ratcatcher: Chapter 21

...I was just coming out of the kiosk, and the rumpus was coming from the main square. I ran back and saw, in the middle of the traffic and a rapidly growing crowd, young Danby the one who'd gone on about The Magnificent Seven handing out a beating to a car.

That's what I thought he was doing as I ran over. When I got there, I saw that was what he really was doing...

Undercover man Jim Hussy steps in to sort out the problem.

Colin Dunne continues his intriguing tale set in a quiet north country town. To read earlier chapters please click on http://www.openwriting.com/archives/ratcatcher/

One of the few things you can say in favour of the north of England is that the old-fashioned breakfast is not yet extinct there.

In London, it's been hunted into oblivion by dietitians and doctors and Califbrnians with creaseless faces and fat publishers, but up in those cold hills they still think cholesterol is a make of engine lubricant.

I like breakfast. In the general way of things, I don't often get the chance to eat it. The sort of women who interest me at midnight tend not to be the sort of women who juggle frying pans at eight in the morning.

The next day was going to be my last in the hotel so I went through the card. If it was fattening and could be fried, I had it. Bacon, egg, fried bread, black pudding, sausage, tomato, all served - in accordance with the tradition in English hotels by a 93-year-old man with fallen arches and a deficient razor.

All the time I didn't bother thinking about my decision. There wasn't any need.

On my way through, the receptionist was sweeping the Wilton with' her spectacles. She paused on me, then passed on, her jaw snapping shut. She'd discovered I wasn't the key to the secrets of the stars after all. It was just as well I was leaving-before she moved me to the meat safe.

I found a telephone kiosk and rang Cringle. I gave him a potted version of The Story So Far.

'And?' he said. Just like he was talking to a kid who'd forgotten to say Please.

'And I'm pulling out,' I said, with bright finality.

'Say again?'

'Pulling out. Going. Striker topped himself because he didn't want to face a rape charge. Tomkins is just waiting to die quietly in the country. There's nothing for you boys here.'

'I'm ordering you to stay,' Cringle said in a heel-clicking voice.

'And I'm going.'

We both listened to each other breathe for a while.

'Very well. We'll be coming round to visit you. You've funked it again, haven't you?'

'Oh, funk off,' I said and banged the phone down. Even so, I didn't like that coming-to-see-you stuff. Their idea of a social chat was to put a bag over your head and turn the radio up.

But. I'd followed my conscience. I'd taken Kentish's advice. I'd become part of his conspiracy and I liked myself in the role. I wouldn't say I felt virtuous but I did feel less verminous than usual.

Then I remembered Dawn's squalid story. Most of all I remembered her 'I didn't want it to happen until I were in love.'

It was probably the only dream she'd ever had. Now that was gone. The virtuous glow faded. I felt dirty and male and ashamed. Then I heard the shouting.

I was just coming out of the kiosk, and the rumpus was coming from the main square. I ran back and saw, in the middle of the traffic and a rapidly growing crowd, young Danby the one who'd gone on about The Magnificent Seven handing out a beating to a car.

That's what I thought he was doing as I ran over. When I got there, I saw that was what he really was doing.

He was lashing the front of a pre-war Alvis with a riding crop and the dark green paint was curling off in strips. The long bonnet made mournful booming sounds under the attack.

'You bloody thing!' he was shouting, again and again. He was wearing riding breeches and shirtsleeves, and the crowd, curious but afraid, hung back as his massive shoulders swung the crop over time after time.
I walked up and took him by the arm. He spun round. For a moment I thought he was going to take the crop to me.

'What's the problem?' I said. Very quietly. Very calmly.

'The car, the Alvis,' he said. In his eyes, tears were mixed up with the rage.

'What's wrong with it?'

'It's run out of petrol,' he said. 'The bloody thing. It's always doing that. It does it on purpose.'

He lifted the crop again, but I reached over and took it from his vast fist. I could feel his whole frame shaking with frustration.

I saw Westlake in the crowd and asked him to see to the car. Then I put the big crazy boy into my car, asked him directions, and set off to take him home.

He sat shaking for a while, then it subsided. I saw him giving me sneaky looks.

Finally, he sat upright, held out his right hand, and said, 'I'm Charles Danby, pleased to meet you, sir. I expect you're a friend of father's.'

Crossing arms, I shook his hand. Apart from giving me directions, he didn't speak again until I got him home.

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