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Illingworth House: Chance Child, Part Two - 14

...As he negotiated her car in the small yard, she came to the door with Grimstone. They didn't see John and they couldn't be seen from the street as they stood on the steps and kissed. Not the usual peck between friends, but a long lingering smooch. John coughed loudly and strolled from behind the car, hitching his post-bag over his shoulder. The couple parted like crazy...

Young John Illingworth sees what he was not meant to see as he delivers Christmas mail.

John Waddington-Feather continues his engrossing novel.

To read earlier episodes please click on http://www.openwriting.com/archives/illingworth_house/

By this time they'd finished their coffee and John said he'd better be off. He'd a long round that afternoon and didn't want to be late. She took him to the garage to drive him back. Inside was a natty two-seater M.G., her brother's. Other cars, including Harry Clemence's white Rolls Royce, had standings there. The smaller the man, the bigger the car, it seemed.

A Ford Popular hid in a corner and Ann opened the door, telling John to get in. John discovered by chance there was yet another car which was missing. He located it later that day. It belonged to Rosemary Clemence.

Ann dropped him outside the sorting office, where he set up his bag for the afternoon delivery in the centre of the town. It included Grimstone's office and the house next door where he lived. There were some registered letters for the lawyer's office which needed receipts, and John had to go inside. It seemed strange going in there again after all those years, and he was in for a surprise.

The old names across the green painted window had gone and in their place in bold black lettering was "Simon Grimstone, LL.B., Solicitor, Commissioner for Oaths." The ghosts of Leach and Leach, his senior partners had been laid at last. A shiny brass nameplate at the side of the door repeated the windows' glad tidings. The steps were scrubbed clean and the old woodwork replaced and freshly painted. The whole building had been given a facelift, for Grimstone's ship had come home on the tide of post-war affluence.

Inside, neon lights had replaced the old fly-blown lampshades and the office had been vamped. Gone was the dismal reception area, where John had queued with his aunt for the weekly paternity allowance, sitting with all those other let-down women each Saturday for their pittances. They were paid through the post by cheque now. In the warm entrance hall were Christmas decorations and paper-chains hanging from brightly coloured walls. All was plush and plastic.

He entered the vamped up waiting-room and tapped at the frosted panel, beyond which was the typing pool. The panel was pulled back and the face of the clerk who used to deal out the alimony poked out at him. He looked older, much older, but still had his hacking cough. He was nearly bald and had developed a twitch in one eye. Grey stubble tufted his face where he hadn't shaved properly and that corner of his mouth which he sucked his cigarettes was stained brown.

He didn't recognise John, but stared at him, picking that dreadful wart which was now grotesque and looked as if it needed surgery. Behind him four young girls, surrounded by Christmas cards, were working at electric typewriters on very new desks. The clerk signed for the mail, then looked at the addresses on the envelopes.

"These are for Mr Grimstone. His house is next door," he said hoarsely, handing back some Christmas cards. The address had a different number from the office, which the clerk was at pains to point out. "Would you mind taking them round?" he whispered. "It'll save me a trip. Can't take the cold. I've a bad chest." He gave a raucous cough to prove his point. Then shut the panel. A thin stream of cigarette smoke trickled through from an ash-tray behind the panel and before he shut the window he stuffed another fag in his mouth.

John walked round the back of the office taking a short cut next door. A pair of gates with a heavy padlock opened into the yard and garage. The gates were closed but there was a side gate and as John opened it, he recognised the car inside. It was Rosemary Clemence's. It had been there some time and from what he'd seen at the coming-out party, he guessed which wild horse had dragged her from her bridge.

As he negotiated her car in the small yard, she came to the door with Grimstone. They didn't see John and they couldn't be seen from the street as they stood on the steps and kissed. Not the usual peck between friends, but a long lingering smooch. John coughed loudly and strolled from behind the car, hitching his post-bag over his shoulder. The couple parted like crazy, Rosemary almost losing her balance.

"Good afternoon," said John cheerily, but the look he received from Rosemary held anything but Christmas cheer. "There's some post for you, Mr Grimstone."

The lawyer recovered quickly, but she was too flustered to do anything but pat her hair and look wildly round for some place to run. Grimstone, however, remained calm. "Well, well, well, if it isn't young John Greenwood," he said, putting his arm round her waist again, only it wasn't as low as her bum this time. "Catching us under the mistletoe, eh?" He grinned and looked up. Under the lintel was a bunch of mistletoe.

"Full marks for quick thinking," thought John, as Grimstone gave Rosemary another kiss, this time on the cheek. It didn't reassure her. She was flustered and she could only muster, "Simon, will you please let me out?" rushing past John to her car. She started the engine viciously, but it stalled. When it fired, she couldn't get out of the yard fast enough and nearly knocked over a passing cyclist.

Grimstone closed the gates behind her and locked them, then he turned to John. "You embarrassed Mrs Clemence catching us under the mistletoe," he said gaily. "Still, better you than the regular postman. He's a right old gossip. It would have been all round Keighworth tomorrow." He grinned again and patted John on the shoulder. He was a right one for touching folk. "So you're on the Christmas post," he said. "Good for you, lad. I like to see folk doing summat to earn a bob or two. Too many idling about these days." They made small-talk till John left him wiping Rosemary's lipstick off his face.

John began to feel sorry for her after that, even though she became more hostile than ever. Perhaps it was what Ann had said about her mother being in love with John Illingworth. If she'd only her husband and Simon Grimstone now, she was to be pitied.

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