Caribbean Chocolates

 

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Caribbean Chocolates

Snow was falling heavily, covering the pavement in white, blowing across the street, in flurries. Slush formed heaps in the gutters and pavement edges, as soft flakes touched the windows of those eye catching, ultra promotional, choc a bloc displays you find in the post-Xmas-period shop windows, temporarily blurring the view.

Most of the retail outlets appeared to be concentrating on getting rid of the type of reduced stock the keen January shopper is grateful to drop on after braving the queues to grab a bargain at this time of year. Lots of trendy clothing, like BHS ladies' wear at half price, was slung across the usual creamy skinned mannequins, behind the curved plate glass panes which were so tastefully decorated in tinsel and eye catching slogans.

It was the time in the New Year when everyone suddenly becomes tempted to grab a bargain. Some people set their eyes on offers, attracted by expertly arranged window space. . Others headed for expensive children’s' toy shops or gratefully grabbed items from the curtaining and homeware departments of leading stores.

The snow then turned into yet more messy grey slime and puddled dirty water, spoiling the middle of the walkway. People trod it underfoot, stamping on the ground with their winter boots, venting their frustration. They huddled into groups for a quick chat, pulling gloves tighter across their fingers, shivering. Some tried to stave off the January cold by expressing their joy at receiving the perfect Christmas gift, or by discussing a scandal interrupting the newsprint flowing normally from Fleet Street press offices. A few people wondered if the media was currently selling up the most recent novel release festooned in an Xmas garland behind Waterstones plate glass. Others stood there debating whether or not the cold snap would end in the very near future, bringing warmer days again. The low grey sky was overcast, the atmosphere affected by that pregnant silence usually experienced when more snowfall is imminent. It was easy for Kate Allenham to survey everything that was going on. She appeared engrossed in watching the persistent, eager crush of shopaholics traipsing past the front of Chesterton's Chocolates in Hammersmith. It seemed so very appropriate to just stand there, slightly arrogantly, flinging her head back, her commercially astute green eyes and long frizzy auburn tresses visible from the shop floor. She gazed straight ahead with the interest of a hawk, from her vantage point behind the shiny silver sales counter. The bright, fluorescent strip lighting overcame the sombre, darker mood outside. With curiosity that could have killed the proverbial cat Kate occupied herself by watching people within sight at that moment, weighing up their appearances, their tendencies, and their probable role in life. She guessed the size of the bank balances of

those who looked richer, and assumed them to be living more in the stock broker belt or in the Sloane Range culture, typical of certain areas of London. She knew some people like to label and categorise such individuals, and in that she was no different. She imagined many less well dressed personalities among the crowd being from identifiable Cockney origins. Maybe they were living within a stone's throw of the famous Bow Bells, the scene of the Eliza Doolittle musical that used to pop onto the box at this time of year. Then she reminded herself that society had gone digital for years now. She was used to the age of broadband, iPad and iPhone, so maybe the antics of Eliza were very much out of date in the age of Skype.

All this happened in a flicker of time, thoughts and impressions rushing through Kate's head. Then she knew she must face reality. Late opening period was still an issue. Her boss had politely reminded her she was a supposedly responsible worker who should be grateful really to be employed where she was. So she must gradually get back to her duties. It was crucial to also keep on friendly terms with Gail, the woman she worked with. Both of them must present themselves well, eager to handle the fresh influx of customers, who were heading frantically towards the counter grasping multiple packages of boxes of fine quality chocolates.

She became less distracted, beginning to direct her attention back to the immediate present. Who would her next customer be? Exactly what type of person may be repeating to themselves a phrase like 'decisions, decisions' as they faced up to the inclement weather, keen to indulge a sweet tooth? People's attitudes to life and shopping preferences differed so very much. She again tried to check out the crowd. Some she could see were rushing, scurrying along like cats on a hot tin roof. Some were running to the comfort of their stylish snow spattered ultra modern cars, such as the latest emerald green Kia Picanto or the most stylish black BMW model on the market. No one wanted to be pelted by more of the white stuff. Others, undeterred, held huge black City executive style brollies in clenched fists, whilst attempting to prove their talent for identifying a real bargain, as they browsed the range of goods in the High Street. They refused to be affected by the weather. Their frenzy to search out lucrative rock bottom priced purchases, or to grab some retail therapy, caused them to behave with as much unconcerned abandon as if they were strolling along in the heat of midsummer.

Kate told herself that it was hardly likely to increase profits if she slacked off, spending unnecessary minutes weighing up the potential clientele, wasting precious sales time in the process. She could hardly expect to be overwhelmed by the jet set in the very near future. Some people around there were just struggling along, due to the recession, and were dubbed the local hoi polloi. Hammersmith was hardly an upper crust region. Still, it is amazing how any astute media guru or advertiser can employ the art of persuasion to encourage people from the any status in life to splash out extravagantly.

No one was certain precisely how well off the proprietor of Chesterton’s was in financial terms, but it was assumed he was at least a millionaire as rumour had it. In recent weeks Londoners had heard in the Big City that he had been liaising with a colleague from the glossy big screen film market. This colleague also had links with those who were well established in the world of television, having also had come into some enviable inheritance of some sort in his youth. Jacques Saint-Martin was a leading protagonist in the French film industry in particular. Lots of people had heard that he was about to launch a new film called "Les Frontieres". This forthcoming big screen release was said to be a major send up of the unpredictable way asylum seekers were being passed about. It portrayed them as wandering confused and unsettled like animals in cattle trucks, moving chaotically across Europe. In some cases they were eventually returned to their own countries, a great distance away. Some said the film was rather insensitive, but it was expected to bring in even more profits than Saint-Martin was already accruing at the Box Office if that was possible.

Suddenly just before the actual Xmas holiday period, attention grabbing posters, with pictures of the delicious confectionery bought in regularly by Mike Chesterton, began appearing on billboards. These posters were plastered on all over across central London, being easy to read from the bus by tourists on an away day ticket. It was so very easy to assume that Mike Chesterton, had slipped his high profile chum some discreet extra bucks on the quiet, asking him to do a favour and sell him up big style around the City of London.

Kate then pinpointed a middle aged, plumpish, blonde lady, wearing fur trimmed dark gloves and an expensive green woollen winter coat, in designer style of Dolce and Gabbana. The woman's bobbed ash-blonde haired profile was distinct, contoured, showing up in the light of the nearby street lamp, which had just been

switched on at half past five in the afternoon. She was preoccupied, fumbling in her handbag, maybe intending to check her incoming text messages or her Gold Platinum card cash. She appeared fascinated by the attractively packaged chocolate coated stars, arranged so very appealingly on the shelf behind the curved surface of the left window. Kate felt almost jealous of her, wondering to herself if she would, likewise, enjoy the sun shining on her similarly during her own journey through life. Would she become able to regularly afford such coats herself?

Kate was twenty one now and grateful to be a single girl. It had been a gradual rise to fame to her, she often joked. In the end she had become a fully paid up employee in this privately owned confectionery outlet. She had learned to play her cards right in her journey through her life since leaving school at sixteen. It had been rags to riches story really. At first, she had despaired of ever finding a job. This was because she had been educated in a cash strapped inner City comprehensive that many senior government figures were concerned about. It was failing deplorably in the school league tables. Predictably enough she had left with just a fair to average level of expertise in academic skills, and an acquired knowledge that some were saying you were as well to get pregnant and become a gym slip mum in order to get on in life.

Kate had initially lived at home with her parents, Nathan and Margaret, eating and sleeping protected by her father's wage as an engineer. Then she had taken the bull by the horns and signed up with ATS Training, finding them keen to put her immediately on placement in Chesterton’s. She experienced things unexpectedly suddenly going very much her way. The staff monitoring her began to like her a lot, and her boss proved to be very approachable as she took her first steps towards a satisfactory career. During the course of her first year she learned a lot about life, rapidly being shown the ropes, learning exactly how people wished to be greeted as they came in. She learned how to depend on the art of subtle diplomacy, amid gossipy controversies and conventional veiled pleasantries, typical of the High Street retail sector. ATS Enterprises Limited, or whatever they were officially called, applauded Kate as their star trainee in the end. By the time she was seventeen and a half she knew you had to discreetly climb over others even when starting a career. Experience showed that it was best not to exactly flatten other contenders in your path, but to outsmart them, without using the steamroller technique to crush them entirely. So she became a full time choccie shop assistant and was far more commercially aggressive, with ambitions for yet more career advancement, by the time she was eighteen.

Girls around the area, who were doing well in similar positions in that particular area, often chatted to Kate when they met up. They discussed the day's front page tabloid

release, the government cut backs, or the latest opinions on the divorce rate, debates about gay marriage or the ordination of female Bishops. Otherwise they switched the conversation round to the familiar subject of forthcoming staff changeovers. Kate often became totally cheesed off when they began making ridiculous complaints to her about what they chose to call their sex starved love lives, for she simply could not believe all they said. They invented so much in order to either shock or impress; it was difficult to distinguish truth from fancy. Kate was sure most girls she spoke to were not living exactly like wildly alternative whores or raunchy geisha girl lap dancers, degradingly open to all offers. Liz Appleton, a woman of twenty with glassy pale blue eyes, dressed very conventionally indeed yet claimed she lived like a tramp. Her image consisted of thick shiny blonde hair which she kept regularly permed, and a habit of speaking with a plum in her gob. So despite her not being above making hints of an unsavoury past, Kate knew her words were belied by her appearance and reckoned she was deceitful, telling silly fibs to conform to the in-crowd.

Sometimes those she met up with invited her out for a drink, the giddier girls occasionally howling with laughter as if they were hiding some mysterious secret they shared, as they wandered away. Kate closed her ears and told herself they must wish to turn the air purple, for no apparent reason as far as she could see, and she would only end up feeling a fool if she let them bother her.

"You're getting on really well Kate" a loud mouthed woman, aged about thirty, complimented her one day as she was buying a prawn sandwich from the local branch of Greggs. Kate turned her head and saw Elaine Burroughs, an assistant in T J Hughes ladies wear department two streets away from where they stood. Elaine was a short, stick thin woman with an ethnic cut brown hair cut, and a flirtatious manner. Some said she had blatantly used and manipulated every man on the planet to get where she had.

"Thanks for the compliment" Kate replied, flashing a smile. "Glad they like me round here. I know you've worked in the sector far longer than me so I have to respect your judgement!” It seemed advisable to keep her own counsel she felt, so she stood there impassively, without batting an eyelid.

After a moment of silence Elaine showed keen to weigh her up further. She ran her eyes down Kate's tall five foot ten figure, putting her under rapier-like surveillance, appraising her glitzy diamante vermillion-red dress and sophisticated dangly black and silver earrings with a supposedly experienced eye.

"Tell you what though" she said with a cheeky wink, "you'd do well to get yourself a bloke. It helps you get on, if you know what I mean? They say you're single from what I heard, is that right?"

Elaine spoke in a slight drawl. Everyone knew that such casual bavarderie was her forte. Kate knew she had London origins, for the accent was there, but she had no idea where Elaine lived. She always kept her own voice unaccented and well modulated nowadays, having taught herself to speak in her own version of perfect Queen's English since she left school, in an aim to impress all comers. It was best to come across as a bit superior after all.

"That's my business Elaine". Kate made it quite clear she was no easy lay for any lascivious pervert who Elaine may irresponsibly introduce her to. She suspected Elaine had links to men who would willingly play with her like a piece of meat to get their unscrupulous talons into. Kate did have her definite limits. Many girls around that area had agreed Elaine was certainly reputed to entertain far from trustworthy opinions about the opposite sex; some people referring to her as nothing more than a trollop, a tricky low socialite with a dirty face, so Kate was not prepared to be forthcoming at all.

"I've no obligation to tell you or anyone what I do in my spare time. You know that. I'll get involved with anyone I fancy. I'll tell you if I've anything to say, about any developments in that direction- that is if I feel like it. Suppose you may hear stuff on the grapevine if I attract anyone I like the look of. I can't prevent rumours going round."

Kate smiled, rather self protectively, tossed back her sleek well conditioned tresses and moved away, having paid for her sandwich. As she strolled back to Chesterton’s she mulled over how she had in fact tried more than once to attract her ideal man before; but her efforts had never succeeded. Still, how was Elaine to realise she had not been always home alone, so to speak?

But by this stage in her life, she had learned it would help her progress in life and her career moves, to get in with a man about town. She was after one who was not exactly a figure of notoriety, nor a weak and nervous type. She wanted to relate to someone who was achieving what they desired to achieve, impressing all and sundry in excelling in some kind of prosperous enterprise. She had contemplated trying her chances with one or two of the lads in the area who were being talked about as outstanding success stories, some even ranked as potential commercial managers or legal eagles. However, her judgement did not prove as accurate as she would have wished. Obeying her instincts had led her in the wrong direction entirely.

Consequently she loved and lost two notable contenders for a place in her heart. Neither had turned out in practice to be a person who she would be glad to appeal to for the rest of her time on planet earth. Patrick had at first presented as a good bet, a friend who may promise her the universe, and act on his word. Then he let her down. She had met him just over eighteen months years ago when she was nineteen. He had seemed to be something like the type she was after, a highly adept software engineer in fact, employed by Axis Technical Design a few streets away from her home. He was said to be proving himself as no soft touch to his boss and colleagues. Kate was fully genned up on him and convinced herself that he was looking out for an up and coming young female to promote as an icon. In actual fact he was seeing her as merely a glamorous toy to hang around with, an appendage to compliment his own success. She agreed to go along with his offers, and to play him back, to enhance her own curriculum vitae. Yet in the end, despite his curly black hair, and his discreet yet seductive patter, Kate had ended up merely humouring him. They had engaged in an almost ruthless game of cat and mouse, taking mutual advantage of each other as they went along.

She decided to dump him after a year. It was easy to feel yourself rising in social stakes when doing well in your job. So why should she hesitate to use her own powers of decision?

It was disappointing for them both really. Kate and Patrick had enjoyed several trips to Hammersmith Odeon to watch the latest films before they broke up. They had debated getting involved with media site Flikr, in order to create their own videos. This would be means of making themselves glaringly obvious to those looking on who were not from within their restricted range of acquaintances. They flattered themselves that they were truly a sparkling young couple, proving anyone could do well in life at a young

age. However they abandoned plans to overcome the world beyond their own circle when their relationship seemed to go sour.

"I'm sick of turning up for you Patrick" Kate moaned, ringing him on her BlackBerry, reluctant to travel to his house, and refusing to go out in a threesome for a Chinese meal with him and his single parent mother Mandy to celebrate her twentieth. She decided to spitefully throw back at him a birthday card and supposedly very expensive secret gift, which she had seen hidden in his bedroom cupboard.

"I'm fed up making my face up for you, giving you amazing Bollywood style smiles with Red Magenta lip colour. I think the whole thing between us is getting so dismal we're like a whiter shade of pale. It's no longer a relationship at all."

She paused and breathed in deeply, feeling she was facing up to some form of crisis.

"It's all over anyway; I think you know that already..."

Kate sounded so cynical about how her life was progressing as she sat there by the expresso coffee machine in her parents' kitchen. Her parents would forgive her if she threw Patrick. They told her they loved her no matter what and only wanted the best for her. She could not be forced to attract the rich and successful. Her father was only a car mechanic after all; her mother had no reason to be anything other than a placid stay at home housewife. Her background was hardly exalted.

It was immaterial to the parents if Kate heavily involved herself with anyone or not. However, since she was so extrovert, and such a live wire nowadays, they dare not interfere with her choices and decisions. They simply were not feeling confident enough to advise her to do in such situations. Their classy only daughter merely followed her own nose and obeyed her own instincts and could crush their opinions under each brand new pair of high heeled strappy sandals.

Patrick's voice came through so clearly from down the line. He sounded deflated, bored out of his head, like a wounded young stallion.

"Leave me alone now will you Kate. I did kind of twig it was fizzling out last time I came round, but you could be more sensitive. Why don’t you keep quiet and not phone me like this? I'd get the message if you just didn't come round here, instead of all these ridiculous excuses and complaints coming down the phone.." His voice sounded lacklustre. Kate imagined never holding his hand again, realising he would never sell her up as a self assured ultra-bitchy world beater, as they walked around together in areas of the City.

"I'll get out, don't you worry. I have a new date lined up now. I'm getting off with a sixteen year old called Natasha. She's gorgeous and bubbly as champers with it. I'd advise you to drink a glass of Bailey's and have a bath, and forget all about us being together. Life's like that. It's never plain sailing exactly. Things change. Okay!"

He rung up abruptly. His voice had faded out, and Kate imagined him pretending to wipe a cloth over the end of the mouthpiece, his long black hair clinging wetly to his head and shoulders after a quick shampoo, adjusting his striped shirt collar, glancing downwards in abject humiliation, at his mock Cartier style wristwatch.

Patrick had tried to preserve a stiff upper lip, she thought. Kate visualised him sitting there by the phone, determined to resent her. She was fed up of him really. Everything would begin over now.

Kate continued to practice her own self assertion techniques, helped by a guidebook she bought from a book sale, called “Make Your Presence Felt; Ultimate Self Assertion Advice". Over the weeks following this most upsetting parting of the ways between her

and Patrick she dashed occasionally to the library, grabbing yet more literature and glossy colourful web prints on what was hardly the most popular of subjects, feminist behaviour. She read through pages and pages of advice on how a woman should refuse to have her ego busted in, and should make her viewpoint count out there. She meant to leave the book in her own bedroom, beneath her new purple and white striped duvet cover, just for her own information. After reading the first few chapters at home she restyled her long auburn tresses, piling her hair up at the back, catching it elegantly in a black plastic clasp, allowing it to fall to her waist. The effort to reinvent herself may be just the right thing to do to get everything moving in her direction, providing her with the future she wanted, who knew?

Her next move was to ask her boss, whilst treading carefully in the process, if she could have overtime, in order to help her to forget Patrick. The very private and elusive manager of Chesterton’s Choclatiers, Mick Chesterton, was a young man of thirty two, currently obsessed by chic and idiosyncratic Yves St Laurent waistcoats and slinky shiny trousers. Kate confided to him that she would not mind staying over, doing extra hours with her usual sales associate Gail Peters, a mother of twosome eventual overtime, beginning in the heat of July, boosted her image, her attempts to work on 'talk talk' techniques, maximising her contacts, aspirations and chances. Her life positively buzzed. It became apparent to all comers that she was putting herself around, as if she wanted to yell all the ins and outs of her personal life all round the Capital. Some suggested that she was acting as a real poser. Her voice came out at full volume in all directions, as she presented herself behind a counter. Men came around her regularly as a result, clustering around her like flies around a honeypot. Her problem was, to get rid of these new contenders unless they attracted her with their particular type of X Factor. Her next chosen candidate must not spoil his copybook by a single blot.

Mark turned up when she had just passed her twentieth birthday. Kate had given herself free rein to enjoy life until then, finding most lads she encountered in the course of her work and daily existence either utterly plausible, an irritant, or a turn off. No matter how they approached her, somehow she never risked taking the plunge for a while after Patrick. She gave it a rest for at least a year and nagged her parents to take

her out for slap up meals instead. The family took her to the Chinese around the corner, enjoying noodle fry ups after her shift ended. Otherwise she ended up seated with pride in the expensive restaurant a few streets away from their home in Tavisham Road, called Sushurams', run by an Asian and an English couple. The proprietors were involved in what was said to be an extremely successful business partnership. The parents assured Kate she was very important to them whether she chose to dangle a friendly young man on her arm or not. She was treated to a delicious meal consisting of pan fried crisp roast duck and accompanying vegetables. Her parents praised her up as they all ate, and told her they were so thrilled at how well she got on in the confectionery outlet.

It was after this that she she met Mark, who told her he made his living by taking the excellent wedding photographs that everyone was always chasing him for. They first met in a crazy situation, almost falling over each other at the back of the wedding reception room after her cousin Rachel's wedding across in Fulham, that August.

Kate met Mark when she was invited to the supposedly highly prestigious wedding celebration. Rachel worked in Scotland, as a courier for a travel company. She was happy and fulfilled in her occupation, where she acted as an agency guide, dashing about frantically on passenger coaches, providing a running commentary to a multiplicity of tourists who visited Edinburgh and the surrounding area at various times of the year. Rachel had a firm jaw line, frizzy tinted brown hair that sometimes fell like sixties style ringlets, to her shoulders. She showed up as a very hyperactive and loud personality type indeed, and spoke in a softly burred imitation version of a Scottish accent due to acting as a tour guide for such a long time, which all helped her mingle.

However despite her job satisfaction, some people felt Rachel was highly inappropriate for the job due to her being slightly obese, verging on thirteen stone with a height of merely five foot two. Still, she had survived so far without being demoted. Some said her job was far too dossy, for she was criticised for spending far too much time seated on her posterior after she passed the age of eighteen and completed her traineeship with Gordon’s Travel. They said she could talk the hind leg off a donkey and was a distant fan of Rangers Football Club despite the recent publicity about problems with the governing body there. When she did occasionally honour London with her presence, foisting herself upon her parents or even Kate's family for the odd weekend stay over, she revealed a fascination with chunky jewellery and extremely colourful, vibrant medium length dresses, woollen in winter, cotton mix in the summertime...A teenager once compared her to a video clip dating from a few years ago, when Pop Idol had featured the remake of 60's hit Mr Bo Jangles, seeing her as a female version of it.

Kate's relatives had heard their Rachel was to marry Gary Spence, a driver for a company specialising in transporting frozen goods across Scotland. Gary was a really wonderful person, Rachel bragged, describing him as charming and charismatic, possessing the gift of the gab like her. For some inexplicable reason she believed him to be the double of Richard Burton in his heyday, despite him being far shorter in posture. Gary sported a pug like head of close cropped brown hair resembling the hair cut of a hard headed professional boxer. He lived in Forfar and they had met over a web chartroom, which Rachel enthused about to her more cautious parents down the BT line. Despite some calling her daft for splurging out, she spent quite a lot of her earnings on visits to Gary's home, although most of their travel expenses were met by him heading in her direction, covering a distance of about fifty five miles at what they both described as the speed of light.

Rachel told her father that she felt being picked up by Gary was a real victory in her life, giving her a very proud feather in her cap. Unfortunately she spoke down to her father when she rang, as if he was a dormouse, just something to patronise, and very indeed inferior to Gary. She claimed that Gary had loads of driving experience, having been absolutely everywhere on the job, as in the phrase in the pop song, 'from Paris to Berlin', although his supposedly extensive itinerary covered largely specific areas of Scotland and Northern England. Not that she was a blatant liar; she just tended to twist the truth that bit, claiming that Gary Spence was one of the richest men in Scotland, without stating his precise income for very obvious reasons. Actually his job was far from easy, often compelling him to get up early, to get his hands cold, clammy and wet by occasional handling of packaged freezer goods, unless he wore the recommended gloves. His fellow drivers were unreliable in their attitude towards Gary. Some regularly made very effusive gestures of friendship, behaving like utterly dependable mates, swearing blind they would be in any crisis to lend him a hand, often meeting up with him after work in the pub around the corner from his terraced house. Others unfortunately resented and slandered him as a bone idle idiot. Rachel put round tittle tattle that he was genuinely like a million dollar kid, as a result of being King of the Road around there. She knew that to be honest he was far from self made, having inherited money that amounted to considerably less than that amount, from his now deceased father Ray, who had won the lottery just before he died. Rachel's parents humoured her, not sure whether to believe her or not, but they were in no doubt that the wedding was on. Rachel and Gary were to marry in church and enjoy their reception

in the premises of the Ship and Anchor pub, which had a spacious wedding reception area upstairs despite the pub itself not exactly being comparable to the Ritz.

Kate became acutely aware of Mark as they were listening to her uncle Tony. Tony was Rachel's father, married to her aunt Sofia, a gangly Italian female expatriate with lank dark hair, and hooded deep amber eyes, who Kate's immediate family rarely heard from. Sofia did cleaning jobs in an area of Fulham suburbia near their home. Her uncle was tentatively giving the after dinner speech after the wedding party. Kate knew that Rachel and her father just did not get on. Rachel had benefitted as she grew up by her father Tony having worked before early retirement with a back injury as a skilled fitter, and having accrued savings as a result. Her mother commented that her daughter ate them out of house and home, but Rachel had neither respect nor gratitude, despising her dad as she grew up and eventually flying the nest. So Tony did the after dinner speech warily, due to him not wanting to upset Rachel, who could be bumptious and reactionary, and had a tendency to turn nasty if even a very tiny thing upset her. Tony's wide candid grey eyes looked occasionally across at her, but she remained oblivious to anyone but herself, brooding on her own recent words, and her confirmation that she intended to tie the knot with Gary Spence and become a permanent part of his life.

After the stressful business of giving her away, her long suffering father blinked and wiped sweat from his brow, smoothing his black and white chequered shirt, and, insisted on continuing to do his duty to her, no matter how she humiliated him. He tried to avoid the fact that people were ignoring him, apparently hearing his voice as muted, almost inconsequential, as they became being lost in their own conversations, as they sipped their glasses of wine. He assumed they were all engaged in intensive discussion about the supposedly resplendent wedding they had just been privileged to attend.

Mark firstly presented himself to Kate as they were all indulging in 'After Eight' mints after eating chicken cacciatore, and all the trimmings, washed down with copious

glasses of pino grigio. Kate watched him as he positioned himself behind his camera equipment, trying to decide if he was a ladies' man, crouched there like a jaguar ready to pounce on any prey that came across his path. On the other hand, was he as docile as a dormouse, a stay at home type? Did he have an adoring mother, who gratefully sucks their contented offspring for their wages, always being prepared to put their meals on the dinner table? Kate could not be quite sure of Mark's tendencies. Her first impression was that he was about twenty, a bit older than her, since she was now about nineteen and a half. He wore a sharp black Argyll designer photographer's vest and fashionable pinstripe trousers, paired with an impeccable white shirt. Kate eyed up his shiny leather shoes and wondered how clear a view he must have of her as they were separated by many other happily chattering smartly dressed guests, relaxing after the final course of the big meal, all seated at the long table where she sat at the very end near the tall sash window. Directly behind her was the wide windowsill filled with delicate white and pink artificial roses, in slender cream vases.

Kate became preoccupied in watching her uncle Tony as he timidly straightened his tie, and began to tail off his speech, congratulating the newly wed lovebirds, focussing on how appealing Rachel had looked, speaking as if someone had put the syllables into his mouth for him. He referred to the very minute he had officially given her away, when she confidently received the diamond ring onto her finger, whilst disdainfully holding onto his own left arm. The new couple, claiming to be wildly and madly in love and determined to revel in what should be the most memorable occasion of their lives, tipped the wink to each other and made sure they did not treat Tony with any huge favours. He had been made to feel he was there just to perform a role, to give Rachel away to a man with far more street redacting as a mere instrument, able to set his daughter off on the road to eternal happiness. The couple's adoration for each other became so evident as they openly expressed their affection. Onlookers curiously watched them as they canoodled. They had almost irreverently sworn undying love for each other during the promises, as they stood beneath the watchful eye of Reverend Barlow, a balding old priest, aged about sixty, previously flummoxed by recent schisms and controversies within the church, who had however been fully prepared to give them his full attention that day.

"It only remains for me to wish you both all the best for your future together" Tony announced, with a hesitant quiver in his voice, gazing absently at the bronze and gold patterned wall paper in front of him, forced to watch those who were celebrating the couple's union, by toasting them, enjoying all the gossip, laughing and joking amongst themselves. He sensed that by this stage in proceedings that people were no longer listening to him, for he seemed a small inconsequential figure beside Rachel, who was about to move to the front of the room. Gary Spence stood out well against the

Background, dressed in the Steve Allen designer suit he had splurged out on to impress his newlywed and everyone else. He held his arm tightly around her ample waist. Rachel insisted on being photographed in the ultimate, most attention grabbing pose she could muster, and would accept no criticism whatsoever on how she posed.

"Click click". The shutter dropped, and the flash on the Canon model DSLR flickered, dazzling Rachel momentarily. She almost whooped in delight, assured she was getting first class service from Mark, so certain that their fantastic, memorable day was permanently captured in a photo shoot that would last forever.

The snapshots for Rachel's expensive wedding album, had been taken so efficiently, as Mark bent his semi-professional knee and seemed almost to fall, swooning in admiration, under her cream lace decorated wedding dress, under which she wore expensive white mesh Marks and Spencer’s tights. He behaved as deferentially as an obedient lapdog.

"That okay for you both" he asked, as he stood up, straightening his back. Kate then realised that Mark was not as she had first thought, someone slightly competitive with a mildly aggressive edge, but actually quite a shy person like her uncle Tony. He then moved across, shifting a few inches away from his clients, wiping dust off his tripod, reaching for the camera case, immersing himself in avoiding the invitees behind him, concentrating on collapsing and stacking up his complex range of equipment.

"Yes, I'm fully satisfied" Rachel replied. She glanced at her partner who nodded in agreement, after considering his verdict on Mark's photography. Rachel turned to Gary, and continued to sing Mark's praises.

“He’s done a brilliant job there, I reckon? Do you agree with me on that? I'm chuffed. I'd buy him an extra drink for that if I were you...”

Gary smiled to himself. He was so quiet and had been all evening, Rachel thought, going into his shell after they had left the Parish Church in central Fulham. It was odd how he had not been his usual self, and had not exactly enthused about being among so many people. His customary reaction to being among crowds was to put himself about and actively engage with others. When he put himself out to willingly socialise Rachel would feel she complimented him by verbally fizzing like a bottle of champagne, acting as the life and soul of the party. Still, maybe it was only natural for him to feel out of place, when meeting up with relatives he had only had brief contact with down the phone line. These relatives had of course been filled in by a gushing, effusive Rachel on the size of his TSB Reward Saver account, which included inheritance from his father. Rachel's relatives were said to be proud of being legal, honest and trustworthy. But Gary probably felt, since he did not regularly visit their home, that he could not place full confidence in them. Could he be entirely certain that they would not be after his dosh, or otherwise about to prey on very intimate aspects of his relationship with Rachel? There was hardly an atmosphere of trust between all parties, which was a shame.

Kate wiped her fingers, which had become sticky as a result of touching a dribble of wine on the otherwise spotless white cloth, and sussed out Mark from her end of the table. She was sitting next to her aunt Sofia who the family had not spoken to for months before now, with her mother beside her on the left. Her mother was involved in an intense discussion, leaning occasionally across the drinks glasses and half scraped dinner plates, to exchange ideas with a rather alternative, madcap red head called Marge, who was said to be from Gary's region North of the border. They were considering how best to bake a lemon drizzle cake, inspired by one of their dessert choices at the wedding banquet.

As she sat there demurely, to all intents and purposes tuning in to their informal exchanges about where to find the best recipes, Kate became mesmerised by Mark. Although she was unable to hear every word as Rachel praised him up, Kate was satisfied Mark was outstanding at his chosen occupation and fantasised about being chosen by him as a headline hitting Miss-England-type figure. She imagined herself being offered the opportunity to be put under the spotlight in his professional studio, then put out in glorious technicolor across centrefold pages across South of England. They could do so much with reprographics these days. Why should she not aspire to be a celebrity? Maybe he could put her on various sites across the world wide

web, by using his skills in digital photography to highlight the best features of her face. The world was her oyster if only she could get him into her clutches.

Suddenly Kate stood up and smoothed down her pink and white candy striped skirt. She whispered quietly to her mother that she was going to the toilet, and swooshed her body around the back of the still seated wedding reception guests, asking them politely to budge and give her space to allow her to saunter past. She placed herself directly behind Mark, and casually winked at him as he lifted his head, breaking off from his task in putting away his equipment.

"Hi. I don't know if you were told my name when I came in. I'm Rachel's cousin Kate. They told me all about you before you arrived!” She spoke softly, and then paraded herself in front of him, assertively, making it clear she was wanting to shift near his slim body. If any skilled matchmaker had weighed them up, they were hardly a perfect couple according to height at least, for Kate stood at least five inches taller. Mark still appeared to be preoccupied in putting away his stuff. He was hardly contemplating Rachel fitting into the role of a highly photogenic client, lingering near for purposes of splashing out on a session with him the following week. He would have soon forgotten her. Her voice had come across irritating, and far too loud for his liking anyway.

Kate pretended to herself that it was Valentine's Day and time for her to vary the conventional approach to the opposite sex. She must learn to make first move.Therefore she gently and tactfully smiled. She shifted a tiny bit further towards her target, inching towards him, without exactly touching his body or rubbing him up in other ways. Mark remained lost in his own thinking for the moment, then stood up and straightened his back. He started to address her out of the side of his mouth, as if keeping his own options open whilst in the process of being sounded out by a stranger. Rachel and Gary had mutually agreed to move away from Mark's area of the

room by this time. They were found to be seated together on a shiny black leather three seater settee at the back, beside the tall window giving onto the veranda.

"Don't think I've met you, no. Don't you realise I'm not from London? Your Rachel asked me to come down with her. I actually live near her. I was born South of Birmingham but moved up there with a mate a few years ago".

Mark spoke in a kind of staccato voice, using shortish words. Was he always a man of few words Kate wondered? Did he genuinely give signs of wishing to further the acquaintance after finding her lingering near his left shoulder? She stood there so convinced of her own beauty, dressed in her lovely white blouse and cherryade skirt, with her hair piled up glamorously at the back. In fact, after consideration, she told herself that he sounded rather preoccupied, wanting to preserve his own privacy. Mark continued to explain to her about his background and his previous knowledge of her.

"Any reason why I should have got your name? Only reason I found out about Rachel is because she called me to do some business on her behalf, by taking these wedding snapshots, as that's my line of work as you'll have heard..."

His voice slowly tailed off, and he grabbed a duster, proceeding to wipe dust from his tripod stand. Kate imagined him in the role of a BBC cameraman, joining in with a film crew on set. She could see him posing with his camera and all his gear in the street, taking hot shots of celebrated actors in Eastenders. Then she told herself she was being silly and unrealistic. Even if she managed to pull Mark, and make him her next catch, how on earth could she manage to mould him into such a role? He was by no means clued up on hi deff film clip editing?

The most animated conversation at that moment was being led by Rachel, as she frantically dashed around the guests, giving a vivid description of their honeymoon destination, Tenerife. She pushed the Thomsons holiday brochure beneath the keen eyes of her family and friends. They humoured her as she pointed out interesting features in Las Teresitas, the resort where they were to soon enjoy their new state of married bliss. Gary was to whisk her away the day after the reception. Rachel was

quite content when all was said and done, with how their day had gone, and only longed for everyone to share their joy.

Still, Kate decided Rachel and the one she adored were by now fading into the background. The way was now clear for her to concentrate her efforts on attracting Mark. She wondered which technique to use. Should she go all out? Should she swear undying love and eternal devotion? Should she force herself on him so he had no option but to pair up with her? She finally chose the art of subtle persuasion. It was so important to not overwhelm him.

"You've done that job excellently" she praised him, implying a wish to definitely get further acquainted. "I bet you're in demand all over with skills you have. Do you get lots of client appointments?” She breathed out, and budged closer yet, enclosing them both in about a metre of floor space. Mark sounded rather insecure in his reply.

"Not that many to be honest. I manage to get by though. I can afford to pay the bills and all that..."

Kate changed the subject and tried to find out what Mark knew about digital technology. She quizzed him, telling him about her own recent research into the subject. "I've been reading up on modern multimedia and all the jazz you know. It's dead interesting if you like that kind of thing. I managed to pick up a cheap copy of a guide to Flash Player in WH Smith's sale last week. I'm half way through. Do you know about video link ups and Broadband interfacing and Skype and all that kind of thing?"

"Maybe. I'm only concentrating on wedding photos as my business though. That's an in appropriate question to ask really. Why do you mention Flash Player so specifically?"

Kate shrugged, then replied. "I know a lot about networks and computer jargon. It just came into my head that's all.."

"I bet it did" Mark said in mock cynicism. He wondered if Kate was like other women he had heard of, not afraid to come on strong. "Are you being suggestive or something? Reckon I'm into having affairs or something?"

"You mean like blokes who sleep around to get in to male modelling and acting - a player in the theatre of life you mean? I don’t' know what you meant really. I meant nothing of the sort".

Kate gazed mesmerized into Mark's green eyes, asking herself how much charisma he would reveal to her on the quiet. He should liven up, to prove that he too was not wanting to merely go on a slow boat to China. Mark's body was slim but not so thin that he was anorexic, and he had short fringed brown hair and narrow high cheekbones. Kate told herself they often said people trying to survive as artists had a sensitive appearance. He may have been doing well though, just needing someone to check out his status to confirm he was not struggling.

Kate continued. "Are you tied up at the moment?"

Mark began to get her drift and made sure he began to come across as casual and relaxed, wary of someone who was still virtually a total stranger.

"Maybe not" he replied, and tried to appear distracted as he bent down to tie a lace on his slick imitation leather boots. Kate winked at him meaningfully.

"I'm on the look out for a new boyfriend Mark." she continued. "I think you look great and must be a really nice person. But it's hardly Valentine's Day yet and I'm not exactly Eva Pankhurst. So the ball's in your court. It's all up to you. Do you fancy me or not?"

Mark wondered about Kate again. She seemed okay and had by no means treated him like a total nerd or aids ridden idiot as yet, refusing to make identifiably mucky jokes or to issue invitations to join a swingers' party. Still, you never knew. She may be a dangerous bitch to stand near, he thought, or, on the other hand, he could be standing

in the vicinity of an absolute angel. Was Kate one who was swiftly rising above her class, or a pretentious ignoramus? Could he use her as an asset to increase his profits, if he asked her to suitably position herself beside his tripod each time he went out on a job?.

"I'm not sure about you Kate" he said, quite seriously. "There are certain things to take into account if I consider taking you on as a girlfriend right now. I get tied up with the job and life can be difficult, depending on how many clients I attract each week. The distance will be a major problem, when I return up Scotland, as you can imagine."

He was so aware, since they lived so far away, that he would be restricted to very remote contact over mobile phone masts or e mail links. Despite this however, Mark told himself he was not ready to abandon Kate yet. There was no doubt in his mind that she was very pretty. Almost like an auburn haired less emaciated version of Twiggy, or a small time imitation of Angelina Jolie. He based his view of her on starlets he had tremendously admired for years, of course. Now he must pluck up courage if he wanted to foist himself upon her and her party. He had not been out with a woman for over a year since he dumped girl next door Samantha Grainger up the swannee, after they enjoyed a rather subdued liaison, spent too much time in the house, and had eventually become totally cheesed off with each other, bombing off in opposite directions like athletes involved in races on alternative racing tracks.

"Relocate and rent a property near me" Kate replied. "Can't you manage to attract clients round Fulham and Kensington? We can get you started here. You'll probably find life much easier down here. They're always wanting people like you to show your face at celebrations like birthdays, weddings, funerals and theatre events. I heard schools were keeping people like you occupied with publicity shots - you'd be called upon now and again according to their requirements I expect if you were polite and spoke to all the right people at the right time."

Mark bit his lip thoughtfully and reflected on her advice. "You're so right. The problem is I'm so settled where I am and I'd have to sell up my flat and refurbish. Added to which I'd be forced to go it alone without what few mates I have and I'd never meet up with

them in the pub and in the pool hall again. It'd be forced to exist without them all if I left I expect."

"How much would you miss them though? I reckon I can offer you a better package than they can. Life's what you make it round here. Far more stimulating and exciting than up Scotland. Are you into nightlife at all? We've some fantastic nightclubs where we could have a brilliant time together. They'll blast your ears out with the acoustics but it's worth putting up with that for the thrills".

She dropped her eyelids and tried what she felt was another alluring smile. "I'm not kidding" she continued. "We're all part of the beautiful people round here. We have a laugh and tell ourselves that it's like a small scale South of England version of Beverley Hills! I'd really like you to move down here permanently and then we can get close and cuddly. If you see what I mean?"

Mark blushed, apparently overwhelmed by her attentions. Kate must have assumed him to be a cover page pin up, after sussing him out at face value. He scraped his heels on the carpet and coughed.

"I'm not into nightclubs Kate. I know people can't understand that but I keep away because I got beaten up on my last visit to Club Catatonia near my home, when a teenage thug realised I had my card cash in my anorak pocket and mugged me on the spot. It all developed into a very nasty situation indeed. He busted my lip and gave me substantial bruising down the left side of my body that did not fade for over a week. They tell me if I go to any more nightclubs again, I could reveal symptoms of post traumatic stress. Some would just say I say I was dead weak then, and try to chuck me off my job, which would not be to my advantage at all. So I avoid clubs and that kind of scene, okay?"

"Can't see your point really. How can they hurt you when your name has caught on around here?"

"You'd be surprised. People have ulterior motives like that these days. I'm better safe than sorry I reckon."

Kate thought for a moment to herself, going over his words. She had to decide her course of action. Remaining in contact with Mark may mean a constant exchange of Yahoomail or Outlook Express and Hotmail updates. She determined her next move, and rephrased everything she had already said.

"What if we look at things from a different angle then? If you like we can give you time to think things over. Can we link up on face book networking sites? I've my own Intel laptop at home. You could fill me in on how everything is going for you, and open up your heart. Maybe we are at a crossroads in life, where you have to make up your mind about whether to stay up there or take the bull by the horns and leave. Let me know what you decide. There are rented properties on the market near us as I say. My e mail address if you are still interested is kallena11@yahoo.co.uk - I'll tell you that for nothing."

Mark felt nonplussed at her persistency. Then he took a deep breath, twisted his neck round and glanced to the window space across the room. Guests were still gossiping, drinking coffee, which was poured out regularly by Rachel's mother. He could see through the glass, at a space of a hundred yards, that the sun had gone in ages ago already despite it being July already. His prospective partner was fully aware he wished to hold her at arm's length but told herself he had to respond to her probings.

They became overpowered by the sudden overpowering crush, as the guests gradually left the room in couples and small groups. Next they proceeded to the entertainment suite, where a resident DJ Mike Holness was about to blast out a selection of Rachel's favourite charttoppers. Mike's appearance was like that of a lascivious weasel or unscrupulous love rat in Kate's opinion. She wasn't particularly impressed by him but they said he had a big reputation. Rachel was by now eagerly chattering again to Gary, her new spouse, having clamped her left arm on his, clinging like a leech. She occasionally embraced him as they both gradually departed. A couple of lads ran towards them in an enthusiastic spurt and cheekily threw lots of multicoloured confetti all over them. Kate assumed they had been asked to come along on advice of

Rachel, when meeting up with her in the travel offices run by her boss Terry Gordon. The rest of the guests dodged to avoid being pelted with paper florets.

Kate was under the distinct impression that Mark was not prepared to give her the information she required immediately. She wished to tread carefully in order not to offend him. Maybe she should settle for a mutual exchange of unspoken exchanges in due course, relying on the Web to preserve confidentiality..

"Shall we leave it at that then Mark?" Kate's tone became more pronounced, whilst her eyes rested on the still departing backs of others. She could hear definite signs that the disco was beginning, as vocals from songs from a past era, such as a remake of a Diana Ross compilation album, filtered through from the adjacent room. Kate was surprised at her cousin's taste in music. Rachel seemed to be living so much in the past for some strange reason. Kate considered she must be thinking back to the seventies, instead of being immersed in the pop world of 2012. That was so out of character though, for Rachel was so bouncy and hated being perceived as hugely out of touch with the twenty first century.

As she was watching Mark pack his equipment into huge black cases, they heard the distant animated vocals of one of Lady Gaga's releases from recent years, Born that Way. Mark began to reluctantly move again, picking up his gear, ready to walk to his car. He knew his immaculate grey Austin Micra was parked outside. He told Kate that he intended to do a second trip to collect his cameras, and whispered to her as he stomped through the door, weighed down with his tripod, promising that he would talk to her on his return.

Kate self consciously blushed, as she began to walk around the now deserted tables. Smeared tall wine glasses, caffeine stained coffee cups, dinner plates full of left overs, and scraped trifle bowls, were all that remained of the meal. She wandered slightly disconsolately across to the window, cynically fearing the worst. Mark would probably feel he should drop her as an acquaintance. There would be no point crying over spilt milk then. So she would just have to keep her chin up and try to immerse herself in her work the next week.

She heard the sound of Mark's boots as he came along the corridor, and opened the door. Feeling happier and more hopeful once again, resolving to let nothing get her down, she marched resolutely towards him, wishing that she had a bottle of the new Vivienne Westwood fragrance Cheeky Alice to spray on herself in order to intentionally turn him on.

Mark lifted his head on her approach. "I've thought things over and I must tell you this Kate. That idea of yours sounds spot on as far as I'm concerned. How would it be if I arranged for you to come up and visit me instead, one day? You could see where I hang out and we could explore Edinburgh. I could take you up to the famous Castle.. I'd be prepared to treat you to a day return ticket to use on Northern Line. You'd swap trains once you are in Scotland. Then we can communicate over social networking after that, and distance will be no object! We're both experienced in pressing the 'send' button by now I expect! If you agree to all this, that is?"

Kate's experienced a sense of relief and reassured herself that she had achieved her mission after all. The prospect of a prepaid journey to Mark's homeland went down well with her. Mark was obviously prepared to splash out, and treat her to a rail ticket, which proved that she had a very definite impact on him. Who knew what the future would bring? Even if she could not convince Mark that the grass was greener on the other side, and inspire him to move to her patch, there often proved to be a solution to situations like this. Maybe she could go to Scotland herself in the long term. Mark could tell his contacts that his girlfriend was actively seeking work again, backed up by an impressive reference from Chestertons'. He could then help her keep her ears open for lucrative opportunities North of the Border.

She was by now in full control, tending to humour Mark, who she saw as a soft touch, believing he was now like putty in her fingers. They both pricked up their ears on hearing the sounds of Robbie Williams' new chart topping song Candy thumping through the walls, and felt inspired to join the others, not yet joining hands. They pushed themselves in among the mixed group of about two hundred people, who were all strutting their stuff and enjoying themselves in their own particular ways in the big open plan bar and disco suite, where vivid red and yellow and orange lighting effects threw exhilarating luminescent flares across the floor and seating areas. People of various ages and temperaments were either drinking in an approachable and friendly

manner, seated at polished black or white tables, filling the air with their opinions and comments on how well the couple had managed their special day. Or they were dancing and gyrating around, behaving as if they possessed the secret of eternal youth, jigging up and down to keep up with the effervescent beat. Kate and Mark found it difficult to attract attention, then Kate's mother saw them as she was standing up with intentions of going to the bar, and she changed direction to come across to them as they entered the room.

"I'm looking forward to an all-expenses paid trip to Scotland mother!" Kate announced, and pointed her index finger in Mark's direction as he followed her in. "Mark wants me to meet him up there soon and see how things are going for him. A prepaid second class return ticket should soon arrive in the mail. I'm really keen on him now. He must like me a lot to invite me to his home?”

Her mother nodded, and told her daughter to be grateful and thank Mark for his offer. Kate ignored her, asking the object of her affections to follow her onto the disco floor. Her mother left them to their own devices and tactfully walked across to the bar. Soon both Mark and Kate were lost in the fluctuating rhythms and lyrics of the contemporary pop chart and golden oldies from past years, played at full volume by Mike Holness.

After another hour during which everyone became hypnotised by the heated atmosphere, and entered into Rachel's enthusiasm about her newly married status, Mark told Kate he was ready to leave, asking her to accompany him to his car. It was almost nine o'clock in the evening as they strolled towards the car park, and Kate was momentarily distracted by the sunset, which suffused the horizon as strips of cirrus cloud sped across tangerine-orange and yellow glow of the skyline. A light breeze was getting up and Kate tried in vain to straighten her hair as it became tangled. Pretty rapidly she discovered herself standing alongside the car door, which was now partly open, as a result of Mark having pressed the central locking button whilst they crossed the parking lot. He invited her to get in, offering to drive her home. He wondered if they could maybe have a drink and watch the Sky News or a documentary on the recent issues of youth unemployment and child abuse, passing half an hour on before he set off.

"Are you into sports at all Mark?" Kate asked, changing the subject, as he put his key in the ignition and carefully placed his foot on the accelerator. She did not want to disrupt his concentration, but dreaded an unhelpful silence between them. Why not discuss sports? There had been a lot going off which she could talk about. The Olympics had finally come off well this year, despite the initial problems with the security team monitoring the event. Should she talk about that or something else? Mark straightened his slightly creased trousers as he replied.

"I suppose so. I don't flatter myself I'm as clued up as an expert commentator such as Johnathan Pearce and his mates. I've not been to football matches for over a year but I often keep myself up on developments in football and cricket by watching the box and web forecasts. That's why it's proved so useful to have invested in a computer as you can imagine..”

"I watched the Premier League fixture between Fulham and Queens' Park Rangers last week on Match of the Day on iPlayer. I was surprised when they gave so many corners away. Fulham won 2-1 in the end. I felt I was going the other way at half time. I suppose I kind of lost interest during the second half and spent half the time in the kitchen experimenting with a Delia Smith recipe for Chilli Con Carne. It tasted scrumptious when I ate it."

Mark wondered if he should start to flirt a bit with her and answered lightheartedly.

"Do you want me to say I could eat you and find you as yummy as your cookery then, if I take the hint from all these questions you ask me?"

"Not exactly. I reckon you should concentrate on driving. it looks as if we've hit some congestion now, as we're getting near the traffic lights at the end of Fulham Road."

Mark put his head back and stared ahead, after checking the rear view mirror and Satnav. Cars were slowing down, making a tail back as long as a hundred yards. He switched on the radio and suddenly heard the news announcer starting to give news out about a road accident, causing the tailback. The accident had apparently happened only approximately five minutes or so ago, at the other side of the crossing. Emergency vehicles were already there but the drivers of both cars involved in the collision, a white Austin Micra and a blue Vauxhall Chevette, were only mildly injured since both had managed to slam the brakes down quickly enough to avoid absolute disaster.

After a few minutes the queue began to move forwards. During this time Mark and Kate had taken the time to make physical contact, as she daringly softly stroked his left leg, complimenting him on his driving ability. Mark reddened, as if embarrassed by the attention she lavished on him whilst in the car's interior, then moved ahead again as the lights showed up green. They spent the remainder of the journey to Kate's home mesmerized by the Latin beat of the Candy song.

Kate instructed Mark to park up directly outside her parents' house, at forty seven Cleveland Close. The house looked something like he had imagined it to be, he thought, as he cast his eyes over the tall beige pebbledashed semi detached residence, positioned midway down a cul de sac, with casement windows, and a front garden plot full of a mixture of red and purple roses, marigolds and asters. He switched the radio off and quickly scribbled his e mail and personal address, seventy nine Castle Street Edinburgh, on a piece of memo block. He made Kate write down her details in return, after which he kissed her on the right cheek, tentatively, and then stepped out of the car. He then walked alongside her, and let her get out too, before accompanying her to the gate of her home. They agreed to resume their relationship at the earliest opportunity. Kate opened the small white gate and headed off up the path, cheerily waving to him as she did so.

"See you sometime then" she shouted, enthusiastically. "We could really make it together, don't you think?”

Mark waved back, then appeared irresolute, as he swung himself into the driving seat. The sunset sky faded, and he soon vanished into the dusk, ready to tackle the uninviting prospect of several hours of driving up north. Kate realised he had allowed for driving well into the night, when taking on the supposedly lucrative booking, although it

was hardly convenient to have to travel home in the dark, not arriving in his home area until early morning.

That was the last Kate saw of him, and she continued her life in his absence, by engrossing herself in her work and going out with her friend Andrea, who was twenty one, spent her time working part time in a hair salon and who was proud to be an expert NVQ level 3 stylist. Andrea had crimped blonde hair and regularly benefitted from the perks of the job by getting other stylists to touch it up with highlights and gel. She was a fan of Tottenham Hotspur and loudly cheered on the team every few weeks, when she chose to buy herself a ticket and join the riotous crowds on the stands. They said she had a voice like a fog horn when she chose to promote anyone or anything that she really admired. Kate shared her tastes in clothes and liked to browse around with her in the Top Shop and Dorothy Perkins stores in the shopping mall.

“You expecting to hear from that young photographer again Kate” Andrea asked, as they stood at the bar of the Ship and Anchor pub, trying to isolate themselves from the clamour.

“Not yet but then I only met him last week. He has promised to ring or text me when he can. I expect he’s tied up with commitments at the moment, since he told me he’s to take on any job he can get during this recession.”

They spent the rest of the evening drinking aperitifs and cocktails, and booked a taxi journey back. Kate said to herself that she really must check out her Intel Pentium laptop the following day, to decide if Mark had anything to tell her. Only seven days had passed since they parted. If he had not bothered to chat to her on line, she would consider phoning him the next day. She wanted to consult BT number 150 to help her decide whether her outstanding phone bill costs would allow for her to make a long distance call.

After her tea on the Monday, Kate left the family tea table and walked up the burgundy carpeted stairway. Her bedroom was just as she liked it, walls papered in white and purple squares, and carpeted in a rich shag pile black carpet. It gave off a mysterious aura that suited her style down to the ground, she thought. The bed was covered in a thick blue cotton duvet, patterned with white stripes. She kept her computer on a

second hand table by the far wall, alongside her bookcase, which was full of unread novels from the Asda bookshelves.

She sat herself down and tossed her hair back, then turned on the power supply and the ‘on’ switch.

After clicking for a few seconds Kate easily accessed her yahoo inbox and was absolutely thrilled to see a boldly asterisked message from Mark at the top of the list. It had apparently been sent first thing that morning before she assumed Mark had set off to his studio. The wording read as she had hoped:

Top Priority! Important! Invitation confirmed here! Please accept and reply ASAP!"

Kate opened the e mail without hesitation. Her satisfaction increased. Mark wanted her to travel up there to meet up with him on the following Saturday and informed her that he had just sent tickets in the post, since Network Rail did not allow people to purchase tickets at mainline stations at the moment but instructed rail travellers to pre purchase their tickets on line. So he had not been able to just send a cheque for Kate to purchase her own. The remainder of the message consisted of a copied and pasted map and guide. Kate was to travel from King's Cross to Edinburgh in a single journey lasting just over four hours courtesy of East Coast Mainline, in order to meet up with Mark and accept his invite.

Everything seemed to be going according to plan. Kate printed off the message in order to show it to her mother as evidence of much appreciated resumed contact with Mark. On scrolling down the screen she discovered a free pattern from the free 'Sew on Line" site she subscribed to. The pattern, sent in attachment, contained instructions on how to design a pyjama case, in the shape of a koala bear, consisting of a furry head and a brown fabric pouch in which to keep pyjamas!

It would be a good idea to fill in her free evenings between now and the weekend by using this design, intending to send the completed koala case to Rachel, who was, as she heard on the grapevine, becoming a substitute mother to Gary's ten year old live wire niece Nadia, whose natural mother had abandoned her father Vince for a temptress

called Ms Sadie 'Hot Bot' Thompson, who some said resembled either a raunchy lady from the Lido or a spicy ten-times-divorced Hollywood diva.

The remainder of the week flew by. Kate regularly checked the hand on the bedside wall clock, decorated in red and white hexagons. She wished the much anticipated weekend would soon arrive. On the Friday evening after work she confidently sauntered in to the local Transport Interchange Travel Information shop, her purpose being to ascertain if there was likely to be any alteration or postponement in affecting routes the next day, or anything else that would interfere with her journey.

A sturdy, practical-looking middle aged female clerk with short cropped brown hair, bluish eyes, a firm jawline and a strictly-no-nonsense manner assured her that as yet the rail network was not expected to experience any major disturbance the next day.

Kate returned home on the number eighty nine City link bus and rushed upstairs. She stood erect in front of her long wardrobe mirror and admired her appearance as she usually did when she returned after work. She saw every detail of her own reflection, and convinced herself that she was one of the best attired of all the retail personnel in the area. Her slim fit tapered black trousers were beautifully complimented by an indigo-purple imitation silk top. After throwing her best Scope charity shop purchase, her bottle green Calvin Klein designer jacket, onto the bed, she sighed, collecting her thoughts. She sensed another spurt of energy coming on, and opened the long white painted doors of her elegant double door white wardrobe, running her eyes over her favourite skirts and dresses. Soon she had plumped for two items of clothing to consider as outfits for her forthcoming trip. First she spread out for her personal inspection a bright canary-yellow polyester and acrylic mix ankle length dress with an unusual mock feather boa neckline, purchased the previous year when for a joke she had ventured into a theatrical supplies shop. Next she chose a short magenta purple calf length traditional style cotton mix acrylic dress, and tried to decide between the two. Finally going for the former, she imagined herself stepping off the train in style after arriving at her destination, thereby having a tremendous impact on Mark...She was prepared to bowl him over immediately he set eyes on her, despite the dress being suited to autumn rather than summer!

Mrs Allenham was intensely preoccupied in frying chips and large pieces of haddock covered in batter which she had mixed up herself, using her own recipe for batter

found in one of her traditional Good Housekeeping cookbooks, when her daughter shoved the printoff under her tending to retroussee shaped nose. In order to offer Kate her full attention, she broke off from cookery efforts, stood back from the cooker, and carefully flicked a strand of black hair from her hot forehead. Kate tapped her mother on her shoulder after she turned the heat down. Mrs Allenham attempted to walk a couple of feet towards the sink in order to wash her hands with the tablet of creamy soap kept on the dish behind the sink.

"This is fantastic love" she commented, as she read the message with real interest. “I bet you can't wait to set off? As you know your dad's not working tomorrow and we're both hoping to enjoy a lie in, so we'll hardly be up and about when you leave? I expect you will want to use the Underground from here, in order to arrive at Euston on time? Is it there where you change for Kings Cross?"

"You're about right there mother. I think I prefer to travel on the tube. It should save time changing buses. I'm hoping there aren't too many people around when I set off though. Do you think I should be okay by myself at eight o'clock in a morning?"

"I expect so Kate. You're a full grown adult now. I know you're not soft enough for me to have to remind you of the Safeguarding Adults and Child Protection policies. I should think noone dare challenge or attack you for walking to the tube at that hour. You're tall enough; five feet ten is a fair size to tackle!"

Mrs Allenham washed her hands thoroughly before she quickly dried them. She then resumed her duties at the cooker and spoke over her shoulder as the fat boiled up again.

“I expect you're packing a few bits now for the overnight stay there? His mother says she'll gladly put you up in a spare room according to this e mail?"

Kate pointed out the lines offering a private room for the Saturday night in Mark's parents' house, the provision of a single room presumably being a ploy to avoid them becoming too heavily involved too quickly. Her parents would be absolutely furious if their daughter ended up needlessly pregnant. Kate confirmed her mother had read

the message correctly, before she went upstairs, taking two steps in every stride. It occurred to her to spend the rest of the evening listening to music from established Lloyd Webber musicals like Cats and Evita, which her mother had passed from her own much cherished CD collection, as fond memories of her own glory years. It would be possible to pack now she was once again alone in her room, able to spend time as she pleased, then to luxuriate in a Radox shower, before turning in for the night. When in a state of slumberous bliss, wearing her best slinky lace trimmed pink nightgown and white silk negligee, she could dwell on visions of idyllic tours of to Castles owned by the National Trust, or imagine lovely days out to unspoiled, gloriously blue skied Scottish beauty spots with Mark.

That particular August Saturday morning turned out to be misty, potentially sultry and very hot, predicted to crack the thermometer at ninety five degrees Fahrenheit as the day progressed. Radio and podcast weather forecasts in seaside resort sunspots across Britain emphasised to everyone the importance of listening to updates on heatstroke warnings and to take all necessary precautions.

After visiting the bathroom, Kate cleansed her face with a fruity apricot facepack, and then made up her face in Max Factor beige foundation, applied sparkly pale green eye liquid to her lids, thoroughly brushed her hair out, and gave her image for the day the thumbs up in the mirror. It was a tremendous confidence boost to see how good she looked after pulling on the posh if unconventional yellow dress. She suspended an elegant stylish black clasp bag from her left shoulder, and folded her jacket, depositing it on top of her outfits. Her yellow and orange striped straw sunhat was squashed down under the lid. She had already arranged her personal hygiene products such as sunscreen, sunblock, shampoo, conditioner, lady shave, exfoliating cream and so on, at the bottom of her white and grey diagonally striped lady's mini suitcase. Wiping beads of perspiration from her brow, she belted for the house door, shoved her key in the lock and departed, unobtrusively, making her exit as quietly as possible in order to avoid disturbing her parents.

Since she had decided to walk the distance to the tube station, avoiding most public transport, Kate ignored passing early morning traffic and the occasional City link bus,

and walked at a rapid pace, intending to cover the distance, meaning that she must go through two housing estates and go along Hammersmith High Street, before arriving at Hammersmith 'D and P' tube station in Beadon Road. Since she had exercised her feet twice as fast as usual by the time she hit the High Street, and the vicinity of Chestertons choccie shop, which was as yet protected by shutters and blinds, closed to the public at the early hour, Kate was understandably exhausted due to the weather. The sun had really begun to make its presence felt, and to cause the atmosphere to boil up, by the time she joined the rest of the early morning commuters congregating on the pavement space beside the entrance.

Inserting her fingers cautiously into the clasp bag compartment Kate found the first ticket of the batch, since Mark had kindly thrown it towards her in the post, fully aware that she needed to take the connection to Euston tube station. From here she would travel to King's Cross, then jump onto a East Coast Mainline train in order to arrive in Edinburgh Waverley mainline station after a journey lasting more than five hours. Mark had stressed that he was keen for everything to go ahead without a hitch, wanting Kate to turn up for him by one o'clock pm on the dot.

After she had separated the ticket from the rest in the long envelope, Kate then hurried eagerly towards the ticket barrier, attempting to appear the most carefree and unruffled Glamour Puss in town. Mark had treated her to a really expensive ticket, costing over a hundred and twenty pounds. Kate got the message he was obsessed with her and would lavish out huge amounts of cash, according to his behaviour at present, with a desire to cling onto her at all costs. The ticket was an off peak supersaver, second class return. Kate had never had been treated to such a journey before, not had she travelled cross country by any transport provider on the national rail network. .

A lad selling examples of the new Oyster card approached her. He was promoting his product, swearing blind that purchasers of this card would benefit from special offers of credit savings and dirt cheap journeys, as he approached her. She was not impressed by the card which he flapped before her face, though, and refused to invest.

"You just go through the barriers as usual don't you? she asked. "I've not taken advantage of modern tube travel for over two years. I didn't exactly pay for this journey myself. A friend gave me this!" She pointed at the saver ticket with her pink varnished fingernail. "We think you just shift along though the barrier and scan it as everyone used to do? Is that right?"

"Yes, that's correct." The lad smiled and moved aside, avoiding her. He knew he would not be able to persuade her to go for the Oyster card, at least not today. He held out his advertising flyer and shoved it in the face of a burly but pimply chinned middle aged man, dressed in Levi's and a black teeshirt. The man's apparently full leather wallet, which he opened in their presence to pull out his own tickets, belied his straggly chin hair, unshaven aspect and poor overall appearance. The lad indicated to Kate that she should next step onto the escalator, move through the barriers, before getting onto her train at her leisure. The train should arrive in fifteen minutes, according to the regularly updated arrival and departure information on the CCTV overhead.

Kate was soon able to insert her ticket, wait in queue for her connection to Euston to arrive, and then hop onto the train. Within the brief space of half an hour, as, bored, she closed her ears to the noisy clamour echoing down the tube, occupying herself by fixing her gaze on the white explanatory map showing the network of stops between Hammersmith and Euston, she had descended the train, ready to suss out her directions to King's Cross. Soon she had circumnavigated the station and found racks of leaflets about routes to King's Cross. She had left herself time to go though her tube connections at her leisure, since she was only due to travel off peak and the connection to Edinburgh Park mainline station did not leave until ten o'clock am. As she fingered then read the leaflet, ready to let ten minutes elapse before set off again on the tube network, Kate was approached by a yellow jacketed guard, the type of individual usually identified as someone who watched out for unwarranted breaches of security, experienced in helping particularly the infirm and disabled through the barriers, touched her unexpectedly on the right arm.

"You're okay to go through now" he informed her, speaking in a relaxed tone. "But be careful and watch if anyone suspicious is following you. I know that sounds a strange thing to say but a responsible bloke whose opinion I respect just told me he followed you up the road and a strange character leered out of a green Austin Micra, peering at your posterior in no complimentary way - if you don't mind my vocabulary, I try to be as sensitive as I can when dealing with incidents of this nature."

Kate stared him in the face, somewhat aghast.

"I'm tending to believe you" she said, sounding still rather shocked. She took a deep breath and thanked him for his concern. "Of course I'm terribly grateful for any advice like this. I'd just not seen or heard him, that's all. I've no particular reason to doubt your word. You're experienced at detecting incidents and threats to public safety I expect? I've no reason to doubt what you say?"

"I am vastly experienced yes..They give you a full training contact in this job. Not that it's a nice job. I've no flies on me after being in this game for over five years. Seen it all. It is notorious round here for reports of illicit sex trafficking and prostitution rings at the moment. I don't know if you heard that on the news? They keep most of it out of the press gang office to be honest. It's all hidden culture they don't want the average person in the street to bothered about. We swap news as if communicating in Morse. Girl victims can be gagged up as if breaking the Official Secrets Act. We found out about a couple of sex traffickers of Asian origin trying to pull a poor girl into a car and abduct her only a couple of weeks ago. We had no doubt they were linked to some creeps who were masterminded an international sex trafficking ring. Just a load of rotten pimps. We referred the case to Interpol in the end but as yet they've not come back to us about any results of their investigation." He paused and inhaled, pushing his chest out as if taking pride in his cause, refusing to be afraid of anyone, then repeated his caution "So be careful who you talk to. Okay."

He reflected on his words and wondered if his confidences and salutary warnings had affected Kate, watching for her reaction. But she refused to panic, and listened for further advice, advised they were discussing these sensitive issues very much on the hush hush. Immorality and sexual abuse had been an utterly taboo subject for so very long. She absolutely agreed with the security guard on that.

The guard confirmed he was not kidding, by focussing on Kate's need to be alert as she moved away from him towards the coffee bar and escalator area, then continued to fill her in on how bad things were.

"It's a month or so ago now but we actually had to tackle a very brutal rape round the back, when a big headed louse called Stan Bassinger grabbed hold of a thirteen year old whose name was protected, known to noone but our team. Someone whose name I can't reveal for confidential reason told me he'd rubbed her up and dubbed her an insulting and filthy name like 'Tutti Frutti'. They're too young for it at the age in my opinion. The rapist was a sick git - nothing better than an unemployed

yob, up to no good whatsover. The screws only got him into custody four days ago but he still won't admit it so the girl can't exactly get him shoved into the lock up and sent down the line after a hearing in Bow Street Magistrates'. These tighter laws don't give the frights to his type.. So I tell you to have your wits about you."

Kate gave a dispassionate shrug and walked further towards the ticket booth area. Throwing her head back like a wild mare, she totally ignored the sensible and pertinent cautions she had just received. No one would scare her. She was determined to show the world she could stand up to anything life cast in her direction. So she slid unobtrusively through, and found herself predictably enough on the escalator leading to the platform for the route to Caledonian Road area and King's Cross/St Pancras station itself. .

Images regarding the security man's apprehension flooded Kate's mind. How justified was she in and assuming herself to be totally immune from dangerous advances by predators, or sadistic macho men who may hang about nowadays anywhere she went? Many previously undisclosed reports of sexual offences against women were taking over national headlines. The BBC building in Portland Place was strongly rumoured to be about to permanently close down, its reputation in tatters as a direct result of allegations. Across the slightly discoloured grey blue walling of the platform, she saw occasional posters and advertising material either advising the practice of safe sex or stating in most hedonistic terms the current state of the art concerning the sex trade.

'Aids alert! VD on the increase! Practise safe sex! Use a condom and be better safe than sorry!"

This particular ad was accompanied by a moribund most satirical comic strip of a sallow faced, pellucid looking youth supposedly in his agonising final death throes on a specialist aids ward. Ironically enough, beside this poster she read a strictly speaking illegal slogan unashamedly publicising Swingers and sex swap parties, targeted at unprincipled adult pleasure seekers. Interested clients were requested to telephone or text message, to link to a particular number, which to anyone reasonably moral sounded a rather sordid connection to say the least. They would then be instructed how to pay for a range of 'services on offer'.

Kate kept her distance from others, moving her lips and whistling to herself in mild outrage and consternation. Who on earth in their right mind would imagine they would come across such a shamelessly provocative piece of blurb in the underground when the country was supposed to be on a mission to clean up Britain and protect vulnerable individuals?

The posters stared her directly in the face whether she liked such material shoved towards her or not. No one else was heard to utter recrimination or disapproval. She walked ahead a few paces across the platform. Soon she was directly behind other passengers, these being a lady with a diagonally cut blonde hairstyle, dressed in a beige camel hair jacket, who was waiting for the tube alongside a couple of teenage male joyriders in dark leather bikers' jackets, and outmoded sixties style quiffs. Behind these three individuals Kate spotted a debonair looking gentleman, about six feet in height, who she guessed was maybe an early retired headteacher, since he carried a brown academic crocodile skin attaché case. It was a true fact that schools were suffering some staff shortages and cutbacks due to the economic downturn, and perpetual rumours of a permanent recession. It was likely that they would maybe try to put more conventional school staff and headteachers on redundancy status, as the first casualties and contingencies, due to harsh measures taking effect..

Suddenly everyone fell abnormally silent and pricked up their ears. The tube was cruising into the now vastly populated platform, slipping in as smoothly as mercury. The long sleek salmon pink train came to a stop, and people staggered on. Kate hesitated, preferring to be one of the last to embark, in order to avoid the potential crush.

"Next train to depart from platform nine is the nine o'clock service to King's Cross!" the announcer's voice shouted, from the overhead, as it echoed among the crowd. Everyone was either chatting, or yelling at others in an uncontrolled manner over others' heads, if not preferring to stand alone, wishing to avoid any involvement in the crush. Doors snapped shut, as guards remained on standstill. The train set off. Kate clung onto the black straps above the entrance door, due to finding it difficult to find immediate seating space. There were five stations before King's Cross she realised, as she read one of those itineraries of rail links and maps laid out on a white background, which they display to help passengers to check out journeys. She recited the route and nearby tube stations to herself. Walthamstow, Finsbury Park, Caledonian Road, Euston Road. ......

"Do you want this seat then woman?”One of the teenage Elvis freaks jeered at her, interrogating her with a derisive sidelong wink accompanying his question. He ejected himself from the seat opposite the exit door, twisted his body like a cougar eel on traction, before her, and quickly joined his mate who was about to press the 'open door' button to enable them to jump off prematurely.

Both lads then shot off down the aisle and disappeared. They ridiculed and hooted at any civilised passenger they went past, bumping into arms and legs. Everyone in Kate's carriage heard the guard catch up with them as they disappeared into the next carriage. The guard must have ticked them off and forced them to calm down, Kate thought, for there was no sign of a temporary halt of the train to enable them to disembark... Kate wondered if the joyriders were heading for a rock concert which she had not heard of herself. Usually she was well up on the music scene, aware of forthcoming concerts since she always picked up leaflets produced by entertainment venues offered as freebies on Transport Executive stands or as leaflets in public places like libraries. The freaky lads appeared as if they were out to really stir it when they finally hit the City's residential areas. Would they attempt to reinvent the anti establishment message bikers' theme tune of the sixties record, the Shangri La's one off hit Leader of the Pack, regardless of public opinion? If they followed such a course of action, it would inevitably result in discord, for roads nowadays were ruined by deplorable lack of investment in repairs by London City Council. Huge potholes were consistently making driving difficult, and car journeys were bumpy and tortuous for the sensitive. There was every chance of this being a high risk factor, causing potentially dangerous collisions on the road if drivers were not careful to within the guidelines laid down by the Highway Code.

A stranger's voice interrupted her thoughts:

"Hello dear. Do you fancy doing a survey with me? Can I grab a few minutes of your precious time whilst we're here together? To put it more specifically, I could see you wondering about those two young hoodlums living it up courtesy of London Underground, who we both saw so unashamed of their acts just now. You seem to be a nice young lady to me. You'd be an ideal candidate to give me answers. I need to be regularly supplied with public feedback to preserve momentum."

Kate had hardly noticed the small squirrel like woman, with the narrow dry skinned walnut face and astute brown eyes, seated opposite her in the now vacant seat. She decided to humour her, and smiled pleasantly, as if welcoming compliments from any source whatsoever. The survey lady continued probing her, keen to get her ideas down on paper presumably, in order to boost her survey statistics and earn her as much dosh as possible.

"What is your real opinion of the youth of today? I've had as much contact with them as I can take in my life I can tell you. I'm a teacher by the way, hoping to qualify for early retirement soon. I've had it up to the neck with kids like those lads. Some call them nothing but vermin. My name's Annette Jeffreys. I'm needing your help as you can imagine for my opinion poll business, which I do as a sideline and earn a bit of profit from."

On second glance Annette would certainly bore the pants off any ambitious and enterprising young person, Kate decided. The teacher was an oldish, maybe slightly anorexic, lady, who must long ago have lost any attraction to potential suitors, being apparently in her late fifties and no seductive femme fatale. She was dressed in a tight supremely boring mustard hi necked crinkle cotton top and faded nigger brown trousers, which were possibly hand me downs from a trendsetter female friend. Hardly seasonal wear for a hot midsummer in August.

"She is an old fogey" the younger woman thought. "She really is. I bet she's a hangover from the prehistoric age of the Brontasuri or Tyrannosaurus Rex! What a dinosaur! They laughed their socks off at her type when I was in the educational system...”

Still, she knew it was best to be kind and show friendly, not revealing her deepest reservations and tendency to despise anyone like Miss Jeffreys. Taking everything into account Kate believed herself to be a very nice person, with an admirably democratic attitude to the human race. Once in a while she reminded herself she ascribed to the philosophy that it takes all types of people to make the world go round.

It was relatively easy to be totally polite and respectful. Kate herself was hardly enthralled by the youths.

"I'd agree with you Miss Jeffries" she said, hoping she came across as a plummy voiced debutante who was out for the day from finishing school, or excellently prepared for a Freshers' Ball at a leading university. "Why should we put up with their antics, when all they do is create mayhem and pandemonium on public transport, giving us nothing but a headache? They were talking at a rate of decibels fit to bust eardrums out weren't they?"

Miss Jeffries nodded and sat back in her seat, a grateful expression flickering over her face.

"Thanks for that dear" she mouthed, gazing at Kate with true appreciation and trust. "Can you add to what you already gave me please? I will write it all down in two shakes of a duck's tail!"

Kate considered and then found inspiration, realising how she should conclude her session as a willing survey participant.

"To be honest Miss Jeffreys I dread to think what they will do when they are on the roads in inner London. The worst case scenario is that they will soon be jetting around dangerously on big black Honda and Mazurki bikes, belching out exhaust fumes, hitting the highway so to speak, proving themselves a real menace to motorists. I bet they behave amateur Iraqi terrorists like Azbu Hamza if authorities let them get away with it. I've no doubt they could be a serious threat to public safety?"

"Thanks once again!" Miss Jeffreys gushed, leaning across the seating area and patting Kate on the arm, with repressed enthusiasm. She then proceeded to open a pink handbag, pulling out a mauve and white spotty spiral bound notebook. Perching the book on her knee, she opened it, and scribbled the main points she had gathered whilst speaking to Kate, on specific pages she had headed up as sheets on which to document her participants' views. It was possible to see multiple paragraphs scrawled across the notebook, as Kate watched her recently spoken words forming on the pages.

The train jerked to a sharp stop again, as they spotted the red circular sign with blue lettering informing them they had arrived at the tube platforms of Kings Cross station.. Miss Jeffries stood up before Kate since she was nearer the aisle and soon she was on her way, her handbag clasped in her tightly clenched right hand. As they stood to walk down the train to the exits, people began to regroup and concentrate on their immediate agendas, finalising projects in their minds, adding material to diaries, planning their day if they were off to work and so on. They gave each other repeated effusive goodbyes and offered their best wishes to strangers they had agreed to engage in conversation with, before an inevitable parting of the ways.. Kate knew there would soon be bedlam, as everyone either went into the City or moved in chaotic formation towards the railway platforms to buy tickets from the Ticket Hall.. York Street, Pancras Road and Wharfedale Road constitute a mesh of side roads and junctions near King's Cross station, which managers proudly state is the third ranked mainline station in the City, with routes operated by Network Rail, Virgin Trains, East Coast Mainline, London Overground and so on. King's Cross is situated near St Pancras International Eurostar station, with easy access to many tourist attractions including The British Library and Regent's Park. Sign boards pinpoint attractions such as Shaw Lane and Bloomsbury theatres, London Canal Museum, Gagosian Gallery and London Eye, all within the vicinity of King's Cross or inner London. Kate discovered on surveying a map in the main station complex that the stone flagged pavement in the foreground of King's Cross entrance, before the red arrow and circular signs designating the building as a rail station, was accessible from either York St, or Pancras Road, both thoroughfares being as a rule lined with a cars. She went outside to breathe in such fresh air, since she had a half hour's wait before she began on the route to Edinburgh. Carrying her overnight case in her hand, still, she toured around the immediate streets outside the station, as the sky still showed up as a lovely shade of kingfisher blue overhead.

People who park in this supposedly prestigious part of London town tend to invest in cars from top manufacturers, preferring models by motor trade giants - for example a jet black Mazda Shinara, bright blue Citroen C3 Picasso, or magenta-purple Toyota

Yarris, were to be seen propping up the kerb. Occasionally taxis operated by boisterous and cheerful London cabbies from either Westminster Cars or Victoria Taxis drew up for a short time then left like a shot in a haze of engine fumes. Vans whose sides were patterned with logos of office equipment manufacturers and specialist digital technologist companies like Philips showed up interspersed between the other vehicles. The cars predictably enough belonged to either employees or visitors to office suites in York Street or Wharefedale Road, or to staff of prestigious privately run restaurants already established in the region. Regular commuters from all walks of life who were travelling alone or drifting in tumultuous droves towards King's Cross, prepared for an overnight stay, were forced to otherwise temporarily abandon their precious cars in the parking lot round the back,, proving that lucrative customers were taking advantage of either the tourist attractions in the vicinity, or enhancing the profits of the rail transport bosses.

Anyone choosing to invest their own time in trying to analyse the scene around there, making their own assumptions about the people-traffic, there, or the pros and cons of the residential and commercial areas surrounding the station, would imagine there to be clear through routes and uncluttered spaces everywhere. But over optimistic expectations were regularly foiled when visitors came upon an unsightly range of grey plastic rubbish bins. These bins formed an off-the-beaten-track dumping ground in a corner of a small patch of gravelly wasteland where cracked flagstones were overgrown with straggly dry green-brown grass and dock leaves, which passers-by glimpsed as they crossed over into Wharfedale Road, and this patch of waste ground gave out an inexplicably magnetic aura to all sorts of undesirables. Hardened junkies, feckless and jobless dossers and homeless drop outs, petty criminals, and City tramps, regularly hung lackadaisically around the bins. Lifting dustbin lids at their leisure, without fear of being classed as thieves, they would forage for a bite to eat, desperately scavenged from office lunch leftovers. Otherwise they would search for items to pawn, or to exchange for variable amounts of cash purloined from striking bargains with the less reputable secondhand dealers. Kate became acutely aware of an old woman who at first sight appeared to be of poverty stricken appearance, and who gave off a distasteful, slovenly smell as she sidled nearer, wondering who on earth she was. As Kate peered at her, she saw the presumed vagrant was fiddling about with flimsy cellophane covering a thrown away pack of cheese pies. The woman's coat was dingy and discoloured, ripped under the arms, and of bilious shade of green, worn over a faded pair of beige cotton trousers. The old hag, as Kate dubbed her to herself, wore a twisted gold amulet ring for good luck on her

right index finger. Kate wondered if she was a gypsie. On her feet were a pair of black Chelsea ankle boots with cracks in the leather.. Yet despite her condition, and her hopeless search for food, the aging drop out had no identifiable association with pop idol Madonna, who also once reputedly lived a semi nomadic existence, being obliged to grab the only main sustenance she could lay hands on, from municipal refuse bins and piles of disposable food abandoned at the back of domestic gardens.

So what was she doing there? Maybe most commentators would compare the derelict to the typical stereotype of a dirty old bag, or third generation prostitute. The question Kate must contend with was whether she should ignore her comrade, and avoid confronting the situation as one requiring urgent attention, or whether she should express her personal concern. In the final analysis she felt it would be good to be benevolent on this occasion, and support the petitions flying regularly if sporadically around Downing Street, crying out for signatures, to enable the powers that be to act against unmerited abuse and injustice prevalent in society's backwaters. Kate was well up on reports by social science experts who claimed that offences against the person had regrettably poisoned the existence of the underclasses for so very long.

There remained of course every possibility that the supposedly disreputable commoner had been cast out of property, fleeing a bad relationship with an appealing toy boy who had merely taken advantage of her and thrown her away like a torn and crumpled flower. Had she been rendered penniless as a result? Kate wondered. So she began to try to address the problem. Kate liked to reinvent herself as an activist who would indubitably have acted swiftly to prevent the terrible Baby P tragedy in Harringay which had been splayed across the centrefold pages of the Daily Mirror, Sun and Daily Express and used for shocking headlines across the major national tabloid press, and which had destroyed that particular borough's reputation completely. She harboured ambitions of getting to the top of the tree if she was fortunate enough as to be able to change focus and train as a field worker. Could she be an applauded child abuse expert, one who everyone respected, whose opinion was valued on top committees in Downing Street? Maybe she would realise her aspirations before she grew retired? Who could predict where you may end up in your career path provided you were determined to grasp your opportunities with both hands?

"Hello" she mouthed, speaking with deliberately honey toned sympathy as she addressed the homeless tramp. As she spoke fluctuating patterns of sun and shade danced intermittently, creating a patchy effect, on the sidewall of the adjoining building. "Now tell me your name and if you are lost. I'm no Marge Proops but I did come upon a placard somewhere only last week, asking any concerned members of the public to refer

those like you to Streetlink, a government service for disadvantaged and rough sleepers. I reckon you have issues? Can I help you? Don't be afraid to blurt it all out. Okay!"

Kate made it quite obvious she believed in being kind to dumb animals. The crone responded by cautiously lifting her head. She stared balefully at the opposite side of the road, as if she bore a deeply rooted grudge against the establishment, and wanted to check the coast was clear from peeping Toms and interfering bystanders. Kate observed a head of straggly dishevelled blonde grey hair, an unnaturally pallid and pock marked complexion, with a tiny scar on one cheek, and a damaged eye socket, where the lid dragged across half of the iris of the left eye.

"Just shove off me darling. I'm fine as I am. I move on when the powers that be tell me, and bide my time until then. There's no law against what I do.You live your life and make your own bed and that's that. I could act like Delilah when she soiled the good book, and paint the town red whenever. I don't expect anyone is able to forbid me doing what I do. There’s no law against it. I do what I do to eat and for sex and drugs and rock and roll. For kicks..... They'll take me in when I'm at death's door - so leave me be".

This confession of an existence only describable as tacky in the extreme, came with no surprise to Kate, who nonetheless determined to be philanthropic in accordance with her views. The crone's voice had whined, droned in a hoarse and rasping tone like that of a played out prossie..Kate identified a marked accent, evidence of regular contact with others?.. So she nodded at the vampish style old stager very diplomatically and urged her to continue to confide in her.

"No ducks" her dubious associated drawled, as she stared at the bin, probably expecting to find portions of a meal to fill her stomach. She foraged under a torn cornflake packet, found little to whet her appetite, and once again turned around in order to become audible. "I need no support as such. They offered me a room up in that newly refurbished place in Tower Hamlets, but they were only after me for what they could screw me for. Screwing me for hard dosh I mean. So I refused to go in point blank. I left last night after dropping in on reception who told me the rules again. I went to that English Churches Housing unit where they tell you anyone can go. I'd trust them as far as I could chuck them. I got yelled at and called a common criminal! They wanted me to pay as much as twenty quid for two nights in there. Cheek of it ! Then they dared tell me I'd to to find regular cash to stay there all week, or out on my ear! They know

I've no way of getting off the streets now. I've been on the game ten years now on and off, and they've heard of me around most Red Light areas! I've had it with every man on the planet. Blokes appreciate a bit of nookey, bit of slap and tickle, even with one of my years!"

Kate fought off feelings of mild nausea after hearing all this and wondered what to ask next. She was really fed up of hearing all this sleaze.

"How old are you and what's your name?" she said, trying to ferret out personal details, to enable her to do something.

"My name's Nellie Tavistock and I'm be sixty five now. They say I'm like a young 'un between the sheets though! Never had it different! They all know me. Some people want to use you, some people want to abuse you, as the song says. That's life I suppose ducks. Not that I'd expect a nice young lady like you to want to meet my contacts and carry on like me. I will admit that!"

Kate realised Nellie, if that was her real name, did have a bit of tact and reservation then, being reluctant to drag as yet unpolluted young ladies down to the gutter with her. Maybe she had become accustomed to her lot over the years. She may have hated herself for what she did when she started out? So she watched Nellie as the old woman again slipped her fingers in the bin, searching for bits of meat and fish, or items to sell for profit. Nellie then shifted surreptiously across to the other side of the patch, presumably her happy hunting ground, gazing at Kate with some curiosity, pouting her lips seductively, as if recalling her glory years. Kate pictured the old hag's past as an appealing self made pin up, an inexperienced young girl dolled up in shiny cherry lip gloss and artificially mascara'ed eyelashes.

Nellie spat on the flagstones as if she was for a brief moment disgusted with herself, before sticking her right arm out as if to cock a snook at society. She lurched towards the refuse, pulling out a half eaten Asda brand ham and tomato pizza in cardboard box. Kate high stepped carefully away from the stack of refuse bins, retreating, glad to be able to escape Nellie's presence. Let her sink to it, if she preferred to be a dirty whore girl. She had done her best to help her.. She spotted an apparently costly silver and rose quartz brooch on Nellie's coat lapel, and wondered if it had been stolen or given as a gift by a toy boy. Intimate but dirty private confidences were probably

extractable from nearly every hobo on the planet. Because of civil liberties laws protecting people like Nellie, as a victim of circumstances, Kate dared go no further in her well intentioned probings. So she sniffed and once again discreetly avoided Nellie's posterior, expecting she would come upon an odour that stank the place out, if she went too near. Nellie must genuinely prefer to boost the profits of to the sex trade, as if she was a self confessed nympho. So Kate must abandon Nellie and leave her to her fate. Kate now had no further desire to hear any more about the habits of the underclasses who formed regular groups around the end of that particular road.

On departure from King's Cross, mulling over the attractions and suburbia of inner and outer London she had been treated to at periods of her life, Kate was treated to lots of beautiful rolling countryside lying along the banks of the Thames. When in the station complex she had been totally mesmerised again by a paraphernalia of hyped up images of London Eye, of up and coming showbiz stars and established West End theatricals, and of popular tourist spots such as the London Eye adorning the foyer, stuck alongside the retail units and cash point areas of the complex. Now she paid attention instead to the natural world she witnessed from her window. In preparation for a journey lasting over two hours she had grabbed a much sought after window seat in what she told herself was a very classy second class carriage. At her side a fashion student with well conditioned long blonde hair dropped a few glossy glamour publications such as Glamour, Vogue, You, Elle and Seventeen mags, onto the white and grey speckled table between the passenger seats.

As the train pulled out of London heading for Stevenage she passed acres of rich agricultural land, bordered by green hedges which ran down to the railway siding and embankment, clearly visible as the train rumbled through at moderate speed. Pure white fleecy lambs and sheep, their luxuriant fleece growing back after the annual shearing season in spring, stood peaceably in lush grass of the fields bordering the aluminium track, utterly content, soaking up the rays of the sun. The countryside was interspersed with build up residential areas, predictably enough, and rows and rows of housing complexes, emanating from the rear of cul de sacs, were part of the habitual scenery on the route.

"Where you off to then?” A cheeky inquisitive voice interrupted her privacy. The teen girl had shoved her mags to one side of the table and had produced a small graphics

tablet from her versatile Provence tote bag.. On it she was preoccupied in drawing sketchy details of her own patterns, experimenting with her own logos, testing her own intelligence to discover how inventive she could be. Kate wondered if she was especially keen on emulating the raunchier high end couture labels of Prada and Chloe?

Realising immediately that the girl had spoken to her in indirectly, out of the side of her mouth, which was painted in mauve-pink lipstick, complimenting the plush dark purple shadow coating her eyelids, she replied in guarded if dulcet tones, reluctant to give more details about herself. She felt wisely that yellow jacketed security bod who had instructed her to take precautions wherever she went had been so very correct. Even ladies may be linked up to distasteful cyber traffic and illicit sexting.For instance a teenage commissioner for some type of Youth Forum had just come a cropper for irresponsibly spitting out eff words and all sorts of false inferences and provocative racist remarks on an afternoon broadcast the previous week recorded from a crackpot radio ham's studio in West Pimlico.

"I'm going to visit a friend if that answers your question." she said. The girl reconsidered her brief answer over and then appeared to divert her attention to the snacks trolley coming into sight at the end of the carriage, pushed by a happy clappy female employee with a well made up complexion, dyed orange hair, a mock diamond studded nose ring below a pair of alluring sapphire blue eyes. The snack lady wore a polyester skirt possibly bought from a chainstore sale, and a spotless lacy white blouse..

The student girl tossed back her blonde ponytail and relaxed in her seat. Kate saw she sported a pink silky chiffon scarf and appeared over confident as far as she was concerned, revealing her black short ballerina leggings, sticking them out under the table between them..

"Yes, that's enough for me to know if you don't want to tell me more. I'll tell you my name if you like. I'm called Tessa Golding. My friends call me Tootsie for short, after that reactionary sex change woman who landed the job in the eighties Dustin Hoffman movie. One of my mate's parents pulled my leg one day when I went round to their house, and dubbed me that name for fun she said, saying I brought back memories of that particular film... Sounds crazy I expect but that's how they get on with me".

Kate did some guesswork and came to the conclusion the girl's aim was to flaunt herself on the catwalk, and knock out at the audience at the London Fashion Show. She would know she must be determined to make her mark, to beat all the competition, to rapidly get to the top of her tree, replacing recognised names in the trade. The young lady certainly did not strike Kate as a lesbian though, on first impression at least. She believed you could sense if the person next to you was anything but heterosexual in tendency. Tessa was certainly straight and no hippy chick or deviant. The girl sat there in a civilised pose, still preening herself, taking out a little white plastic handbag mirror. She appraised herself in the glass with a self congratulatory simper. Kate avoided any obligation to comment on the last remark and once again immersed herself in the scenery flowing past as the train drove easily through the junction before Stevenage and hit the outskirts of the New Town. She remembered her mother telling her Stevenage had been established as one of the New Towns during times of wartime instability in the forties. It was years since she had been taken there, and she would have only a vague recollection of its shopping malls, built up residential areas designated by town planning committees, and general ebb and flow of suburban life in an industrial New Town.

The town itself was soon left behind after the train ate up the electrified track, and proceeded on the cross country route towards open countryside. Kate reclined lazily in her seat, diverting attention from Tessa, watching lush countryside, with fields alongside aluminium tracks, and fleecy sheep and lambs, basking in summer heat after shearing season. She eventually went into a dream, and imagined herself lying on a beach mat in the Maldives or Tenerife, as rays of sunlight slanted through the vitreous glass window, tickling her face, feeling warm the side of her neck.

After half an hours dozing like this, Kate resumed her interest in her surroundings, when hearing the sounds of the snack trolley rumbling down the corridor. A tanned Afro Caribbean stewardess with a brisk attitude, short frizzy black hair, rouge red lips and miniscule gold studs in her ears, wearing uniform of black skirt and white blouse, and badge with insignia of the rail company, pulled up the trolley beside their seat.

"Hi" she said, cheerfully, and arranged a variety of sandwiches and hot drinks on the trolley. "Can I interest you in anything? I expect you're both ready for something to eat?"

Kate heard Tessa order a white coffee and followed her example, asking for a tuna fish and salad sandwich to go with her drink. She would then be able to eat her meal

steadily, as the train directed itself towards the Welwyn Garden City and the Digsbury tunnel.

The stewardess smiled ingratiatingly, and poured hot water from a silver urn on small packets of coffee granules, placing the drinks and sachets of low calorie sugar in front of her customers.

"Anything else I can get for either of you?" she asked, as she pushed a sandwich pack across the table to Kate. Both girls said thankyou but they were satisfied and started to eat their food, as the stewardess pushed the shiny surfaced trolley further down the second class carriage. They heard the sound of her voice pressuring other passengers to tempt their palate as she proceeded on her way.

By the time the Digsbury viaduct and tunnel gradually loomed into view, the tunnel space causing passengers to disappear into temporary oblivion and darkness for a few minutes, both girls had finished their meal and drinks. Both kept their mouths closed for there seemed little to say. Kate reminded herself that Welwyn Garden City also was a New Town, this one being constructed and modelled in the forties too, and recollections of geography lessons came to her mind, of when she and her mates had done a special project, having to complete an exercise where they pretended to be amateur planners and architects, creating technical drawings of how they would hypothetically have done things if left to their own devices.

Kate knew there was at least another four and a half hour's journey to elapse before she made her presence felt in Edinburgh. Maybe one method of occupying herself would be to get ideas on how to spend the time by watching those who had just got on, and their behaviour. Opposite Tessa and herself, she noticed a middle aged Indian lady, with a black ponytail, dressed in an amethyst-blue spangled sari with a young boy, probably her son. For at least fifteen minutes Kate scrutinised the lad grappling with one of those outdated Rubik cubes, moulding the cube between his fingers, pressing multicoloured squares, rolling it backwards and forwards across his palm in frustration. She reckoned the mother must be on the breadline and buying him dirt cheap toys from somewhere or other. It was rare to see a Rubik cube nowadays. After a while the mother nudged her kid, who looked about six, and pulled a Daily Express newspaper and a cheap children's art book with pencils from her overflowing shopping bag.

Kate saw the boy open the book, and start to fill in some kind of animal shapes. She watched him at this activity for over half an hour, to kill time, but it was hardly practical or advisable to copy him. Maybe she should give it ten minutes, close her eyes to preserve energy she would need when she arrived at her final destination, and give the next hour over to eating a full meal in the buffet bar two corridors away between the first and second class carriages. There would only then be another three or four hours to endure, before the seemingly interminable journey ended. In due course she strolled to the buffet bar only to be told it had been closed down two years previously and meals were only offered as a complimentary service to first class ticket holders. So she invested in a couple of newspapers and a magazine, as well as a bottle of mineral water, and spent the rest of the boring and protracted journey by reading, cleansing her system out with the spring water, and buying coffees or teas whenever the trolley lady invited her. At one point Tessa gave her some of her magazines and Kate became engrossed with pictures of top cat walk pin ups, sleek or stick thin, who were being used by major fashion houses to carry out advertising campaigns in publications such as Glamour.

When they heard the welcome announcement that Edinburgh Waverley Station was in sight some travellers cheered, feeling trapped and pent up after their five hours spent cramped inside sweaty carriages. Kate felt they sounded like a football crowd demonstrating relief after their team unexpectedly beat the odds, winning the game after facing predictions that they would be utterly vanquished by a team ranked much higher in the league tables. Everyone piled off the train onto platform five, where they were sheltered from the sun, as a result of the refurbishment work and partly constructed new fibreglass roofing overhead. Kate sat down between two hard pressed blonde students who were taking it easy on benches on the platform, and felt sympathy with how hard it was for them to exist, or rather, subsist, on loans these days. Both lads were thin and wore tee shirts and anoraks over their arms, with rucksacks beside them. She wondered if they were twins for they were similar in appearance. There was as yet no sign of Mark and it was nearly two thirty pm, this being the expected time of arrival of the train he had instructed her to come there on. She gauged that the work being done on the station, which was so apparent all around them as they stood there, would be completed in a few weeks. She could see a partially erected escalator visible a few hundred yards away, on the far side of the tracks, on platform ten, and a lift at the opposite end of the concourse, at the far side of the ticket booths.

She could have screamed with delight when Mark ran at top speed in her direction a few minutes later, followed by his mother, a small woman about five foot two in height, who his girlfriend felt came across as mutton dressed as lamb. Kate peered wide eyed in wonder at his mother's extremely short flounced silky black dress, clinging

close to her thighs, and at her black scrunch bow tying her dyed bright blonde hair into a tight knob. Mark's mother dragged herself behind him, as he flew towards Kate like a shot from a gun. She opened her arms as he came within reach, and laughed to herself as she saw he was sporting a tam o shatter baseball cap above his jeans and teeshirt.

"This is great Kate" he assured her, exuding confidence. "I don't know if they gave you the information but the castle is only a stone's throw from here, so if you don't mind carrying your case around with you, we can go round there right now. My mother's only coming here to see us meet up and get together again, then she's off to town to shop for the week. She parked the car in a sidestreet at the far end of Princes Street".

He delved into his pocket and brought out a photo of Edinburgh with a three dimensional effect, taken from a point somewhere high up within the station, and showed Kate many of the City's historic buildings and landmarks such as the splendid Balmoral hotel, world famous shopping area on Victoria Street, Princes Street Gardens and the Royal Observatory. After seeing they were getting along well, Mark's mother inclined her head slightly, as if indicating she was ready for leaving them to their own devices, and murmured her goodbye, slithering away almost like a panther, moving down towards the station's Princes Street exit, where she vanished from their sight. Gradually their relationship became something tactile as they stood there together, absorbed in each other's company. Mark slid his arm around Kate's waist and kissed her smoochily on the cheek. He reminded that the Castle was near and they agreed to explore it for the next two to three hours, with Mark offering to treat Kate to a slap up meal. Lifting her overnight case momentarily over his head, assuring her he was as strong as a horse and prepared to carry it to the castle to take the weight off her arm, he accompanied her to the exit of Waverley station. He told her, still prepared to spend lavishly on her, that she would not have to pay a penny towards her food and entertainment.

"The castle is actually built in the middle of an extinct volcano Kate" Mark confided, as they passed through the massive sliding doors of the station exit. "Have you seen the marvellous views of it before?Do you look through all the tourist guides for example?"

"No. Can you tell me if it has any outstanding features of interest to the casual tourist then? Is this how I ask for information, the right phrase to use I mean?"

"Edinburgh Castle has been turned into a prestigious World Heritage Site now Kate, Lots of people come here as you can imagine. Are you sure you know nothing about it, for there has been lots of stuff written about how it was linked to historical battles and wars involving groups like the Jacobites. You can see all the Royal Jewel collections and the Destiny Stone which they showcase and sell up as part of the exhibition there for over ten years now. I'll take you to the Great Hall and show you the special exhibitions and all the memorabilia when we arrive there. We can head for the restaurant and I'll show you how to be an epicure after that.” He tried to give a charming smile and forced her to walk at an increasingly rapid pace, starting to job as they headed towards the Princes Street exit.. Kate responded to him as they began to tread on the pavement.

"What does the word 'epicure' mean Mark? Is it a word they use to describe someone rich who eats lavish meals at the Ritz? I'm sorry but I'm not quite sure about every word in the dictionary? I should do an A level in English literature really I suppose? Then I'd never have to ask for the meaning of any word again."

Mark nodded and confirmed to Kate that he had meant he genuinely meant to hint at a wonderful gastronomic feast being soon laid out before her. He then pointed at the white signposts beside the road, indicating how they should go up the hill to arrive at their destination. It reminded Kate of the long trek up the Great Orme, to the hillside plateaus offering attractions of restored copper mines, as well as a mini railway and adventure playground for children, at the top of the long walkway from Llandudno beach, which her parents used to drag her up on childhood holidays. Willingly she followed her new boyfriend and soon they joined the motley throng of people out for an away day, and keen tourists, all en route for the Castle.

"This is really tiring Mark" Kate said, as they reached the half way point. She was cheesed off with having to hold her head down, carefully avoiding watching cracks in the stone slabs of the walkway as they tackled the Royal Mile and esplanade, which she remembered was the site of the annual Edinburgh Tattoo, as they headed with some enthusiasm towards the erratically positioned buildings of the Castle itself. "I'm getting rather exhausted already!” She then paused, considering what to say next.

"Are you intending to take me immediately to see the jewel collection after we have paid ourselves in? I hope you keep your promise to pay or we're going to have problems getting in there together. we get there? I haven't much cash in my purse."

Mark felt into his right trouser pocket and pulled out a ten pound note. "That should cover it Kate" he said, reassuringly.. Kate heaved a sigh of relief and recouped her resources, ready to perk up when they had paid themselves in at reception, then passing over the drawbridge and through the Gatehouse entrance.

They followed the small groups of locals, day trippers, casual tourists and holiday makers lodging in the City's hotels, immediately after they strolled through the Gatehouse. Other people were taking it steady or casting supposedly spiritual glances at the old exterior walls of St Margaret's Chapel. Mark put his arm around Kate's slender waist and pulled her up the steps to the castle battlements, wanting her to spend as much time as she liked admiring the picturesque views from there, since from their high position it was possible to see a large area of the City, full of places of interest for the casual tourist to visit. The sky was kingfisher blue, the sun still high in the sky, as they stood there. A young girl dressed in a blue pinafore dress, with a club cut blonde hair style, pulled a small child's keyring with a green fluffy object attached to it, and threw it daringly at her posh looking mother's stomach. Kate laughed as the middle aged mother gently admonished her daughter, at the ridiculous nature of such a spectacle. The family soon vanished in embarrassment, scurrying in a threesome, the tall, thin black haired father grasping the kid' hand, as they went down the steps towards the main castle forecourt area.

Ten minutes later they had come down from the heights of the battlements, and discovered themselves wandering around the southern regions of the Castle, where they went into the 15th century palace commemorated by Mary Queen of Scots, before they began to explore the Crown Room in the centre, where the Crown Jewels, the Scottish Crown, a fifteenth century sceptre, and the Destiny Stone, a coronation throne for Kings in Scotland, could be found appropriately arranged in glass fronted display cases.

Kate picked up a leaflet proclaiming that the Destiny Stone was one of the most important jewels exhibits enshrined in the cabinets and display cases of all museums in Britain. She shoved the leaflet, full of photos and paragraphs about the Stone's history, directly under Mark’s nose. He ignored it, since he had been to the Castle on several occasions before and felt that he did not require the information she offered him. Kate's interest in the blurb on the leaflet soon waned, and she dropped it into her handbag. Mark took her hand and suggested that they satisfy their hunger pangs, by partaking of lunch in the Castle's huge refurnished restaurant. Kate thought this

sounded an excellent next move. She told Mark how her stomach was rumbling already. The journey had lasted so long, and she had eaten no full meal since grabbing an early breakfast of cornflakes and marmalade on toast.

Within ten minutes both of them found themselves seated behind a shiny white formica table in the restaurant hall, which had places for over two hundred visitors. The room was pulsating with life, and all types of people were indulging their taste buds, enjoying a range of drinks, snacks and full dinners. Mark ran his index finger alongside the items on the menu list, and asked his new girlfriend what she wanted to eat.

"I'd not mind the chilli con carne option Mark" she replied. "It's made on premises, according to this menu, not from processed food or canned chilli like you find in the supermarkets. I love chilli beans and paprika. It says they serve lots of naan bread with the meal. That suits me fine! I fancy something spicy for a change".

She replaced the posh looking menu card in the plastic stand in the centre of the dining table, and rearranged an artificial yellow freesia from among the bunch of flowers in the vase before them.

"I adore this decor and all the modernist paintings on the restaurant walls Mark" she commented, in a very complimentary tone. "Freesias are so unusual. It's such a shame we couldn't get a seat by the window though."

Mark sniffed non commit ally, and they linked hands across the table, as if swearing a vow of undying love and affection. Kate tickled his left arm, cheekily, and then retreated to her corner of the seating, as the waiter, dressed in a high necked white tunic, with an identity badge saying "Adam Forster, Customer Services Team, Castle Restaurant" approached them.

"What can I get you sir" he asked, pleasantly enough. Mark and Kate reasoned he had been highly trained in how to speak to customers, for his voice was smooth and persuasive. "Anything tempt you particularly on the menu? I expect you've had lots of time to see all the choices available?"

Mark quickly responded to the waiter's prompts, and ordered two large portions of chilli and white balti rice, with accompaniment of naan bread and chips. They both chose strawberry ice cream for dessert. The waiter came across as so debonair, they both agreed on that. He offered them both an extra coffee with cream, free that day with any order over ten pounds in total.

Soon the young couple were engaged in conversation again, exchanging opinions of Castle's attractions, and the features of its interior chambers and ante rooms. Their meals arrived on white china plates and were placed before them. They complimented Adam on his service, and wondered if the restaurant employed an fully paid up Gourmet chef, for Kate had said this was one of the best meals out she had ever been treated to.

Intending to spend the rest of the outing pretending to be on a spiritual journey, they discreetly tiptoed around as they examined the religious icons and artefacts of St Mary's Chapel, Mark told Kate that he would accompany her to his home at five o'clock that afternoon, when they would catch the number fifty eight City circular at the stop outside the station.

Edinburgh was throbbing with riotous crowds of football supporters, who were thrusting themselves into the City Centre, creating absolute mayhem, lobbing stones at empty shop windows, and breaking bottles into gutters, enraging passers by who either cursed or simply ignored them. The Rangers supporters were rejoicing as the Club had just scored a resounding victory, scoring three goals to one, over their rivals Celtic Utd. But refusing to acknowledge any sense of inferiority, the vanquished Spurs supporters enthusiastically waved blue and white striped scarves in the air, whilst yelling boos and derision in unadmitted defeat, as they piled onto the train. Kate laughed at them and disdainfully bragged to Mark about her preference for civilised culture, assuring him she personally considered deranged football supporters to resemble herds of animals on the loose from London zoo!

When they arrived at Mark's home, a semi detached grey stoned house in a well to do area on the City's outskirts, in the middle of a cul de sac, sixty nine Teasdale Close, Mark's mother did them both proud, and served up lots of salmon and cucumber sandwiches, reminding them that they were not to get into too many steamy cinches,

but to avoid temptation by sleeping in separate beds, They consequently restrained themselves, spending the evening kissing and canoodling, on the black leather three seater settee, watching video clips of the previous year's series of Eastenders and Who Wants to be a Millionaire. Mark's mother, wanting to disguise her age by pretending to be a young trendsetter, perched herself up high and assumed her own vantage point from her seat on the digital piano stool in the far corner of the nicely furnished living room. Mark kidded Kate along, calling his mother a scrawny necked flamingo, for she had changed into a pink cotton skirt, in a vain endeavour to reinvent her youth, and held her head abnormally high. Kate knew that Mark resented his mother and probably would gratefully jump at the chance to ignore her advice, by getting Kate into straight into bed, in a no holds barred encounter.

Kate suspected that despite his apparent reserve, Mark was possibly like a tethered animal on heat, keen to unleash his pent up desires if she let him. Appearances can be deceptive. But it was best to play it cool as yet, as they checked each other out. They mutually agreed on that.

Consequently they were both in bed by eleven o clock, using the bathroom separately. Kate reclined, luxuriating in the sense of peace, now she was able to get away from the constant noise of the inner City, the incessant crowds of people, the constant buzz of inner city traffic that constantly bugged her in the capital. She stared at the white artexed ceiling, then sat up slightly and glanced at the black duvet cover, as rays of light reflected onto it, falling in stripes across the bed, projected from the grey and white striped Habitat bedside lamp. Kate could see dim outlines of posters of famous footballers, who Mark presumably admired and idolised tremendously, on the far wall of the small spare bedroom.

She reached out her arm across the bed and sat up, so she was able to grasp and pull the cord and turn the light off. Lying down on her back, closing eyes fully, she fantasised about her version of the perfect Summer holiday, relaxing in blazing sunlight on a tropical beach, drinking coconut milk and watching beach performers strut their stuff in brightly coloured hula skirts. Suddenly she remembered that she had meant to check out a book which she had found unexpectedly on the floor beside her, and had forgotten about before she got into bed. Sitting up again, leaning over, she momentarily sighed, for it had been a long and exhausting day, then picked up the book which was enticingly half open from the floor beside her. What on earth had Mark or his mother left it there for? They obviously wished to attract her attention to it for some strange reason.

The book cover and title struck Kate as quite unusual, and dazzling her eyes with its implied message and conjured up

mages in her mind. "Aphrodisiac", she thought. What a controversial title. She recalled how people were gossiping like fury over the novel, which was rapidly pushing up the Top Ten Bestsellers rack in W. H. Smith's.

Some said Aphrodisiac had only just escaped being censored for sleaze, for it was according to reports of those who had dared to immerse themselves in it, full of steamy sex scenes and dirty innuendo. It described a failed relationship in which a love struck glamorous teenager is pulled by a good looker in the guise of an affluent car salesman, who turns out to be married and unfortunately incites her to prostitution. Kate wondered what on earth Mark had left the book there for. Maybe he wanted to hypnotise herself with the contents of the book, although according to snippets of it she had dared read on Amazon web pages and kindle, it hardly appealed to her. She had her limits. Did Mark hope she came on strong herself, imitating the novel's cast off unfortunate heroine, who in the end throws her pimp lover boy in front of the law courts, according to the novel's storyline? She had her suspicions and would watch Mark with an eagle eye from that point onwards. She hardly wanted to be forced into a marriage him the next week, and dreaded being put her into the position of being a young mother, old before her time, burdened down with two time consuming and dissatisfied kids, and a disastrous marriage into the bargain. She shuddered at the prospect of struggling to pay the rent in a high rise cheap with dingy wallpaper, which she could not afford to repaper, or of being left to cope in a garret whilst Mark struggled to earn.

Who could guess Mark's thinking, the reasoning behind this particular novel being placed at convenient arm's length from her right arm, anyway?

Kate finally felt a flicker of anger and threw the book across the floor, refusing to read it. She reclined on her back again, resting her had against black cotton pillows, pulled the matching duvet cover to her chin, and allowed her imagination to wander, wondering how she could replace Mark with another, more suitable partner, who would not hesitate to agree with her on the irrelevance of such literature left alongside her on the carpet.

She awoke the following day when she heard the noise of Mark’s mother banging sharply on the door of the bedroom, and rushed as well as she was able to open it, rubbing sleep out of her eyes. Mrs insisted that she dressed and did her make up routine as quickly as possible, for she was almost ready to serve up cereal, bacon and eggs, at the large pinewood dining table downstairs. Mark had already eaten and was on an errand to the corner shop in the streets beyond the cul de sac, I order to buy extra milk.

Soon Kate was partaking of her breakfast, accompanied by steaming hot coffee in a blue mug. She asked if Mark had any idea what he was to do with her that morning, before they went together to the rail station, to catch the one o’clock train home.

“I think he said he’s arranged for you to go for a stroll around the Royal Botanical Gardens and Inverleith House. Kate. He knows you've never been there. It’s situated just outside the City centre, and has lovely walkways and paths, and lots of beautiful summer flowers such as unusual blue poppies and marigolds. They organise speaker's events for all the community to go along to, with visiting speakers. The Edinburgh Ornitology Society turns up there every month without fail too, unless the weather is really wet or circumstances prevent, and they sometimes compile quite interesting booklets from photos they take of any interesting birdlife..”

Sure enough within the next hour Mark had arrived home, shoved two bottles of milk into the fridge freezer, and was showing keen to set off to the park. He pulled her on to the Sunday service bus route, and they turned up at the park gates by ten o ‘clock. There were few people around at that hour, although it was a mild day if overcast. Scattered clouds blew across the grey sky, as the followed an elderly couple with a dachshund dog on a lead, the man attired in a traditional grey suit, the lady in a calf length cream dress and pale blue jacket. The park’s sidewalks were beautifully maintained, Kate commented. The lady in front was heard to mention what an excellent job the wardens and gardeners did, keeping the park in the condition it was in. Kate considered the praise should probably be given to kids on rehab programmes, however, for she had heard municipal authorities often used such individuals to tidy public spaces and recreation grounds, using them as free labour. She pretended to be a horticultural expert and told Mark how impressed she was by the profusion of red roses, blue poppies and startlingly yellow asters, forming a vivid contrast on opposite borders.

Mark blushed, as she admired the layout of the park. He whispered sweet nothings into her ear and guided her towards Inverleith House, prepared to pay Kate in once again. As they strolled along the flagstoned path on the way, he showed her a red squirrel, wriggling around beside a tree bole. Kate said she would remember seeing a rare Scottish red squirrel as one of the highlights of her stay.

A flock of starlings suddenly flew over, obscuring sunlight filtering through clouds. They soon stood before the entrance of Inverleith House but on second thoughts Kate decided she would prefer not to go inside, and would save Mark his money by asking him to buy her a coffee in the cafe instead. They were really impressed by the open plan cafe decor, with the walls displaying pictures of the landscaped gardens commissioned from local artists. Kate informed Mark she wished there had been an aviary in the Botanical Gardens for she would have liked to see some humming birds, and Mark said he was sorry to disappoint her. Maybe she could go to an aviary in London one day if she was still fascinated with humming birds. She mentioned to him her unease at finding the suggestive novel half open on the floor of the bedroom the previous night, having been a bit uneasy in his presence all morning, disguising her real feelings about this. Could she fully trust him? Mark placated her, and swore blind that his mother, who he called dippy and impractical in the extreme, had left the book there by mistake, telling him over the breakfast table that she should have hidden it somewhere in the house. He assured Kate she need not doubt him at all, for he was worthy of trust and had never let a nice woman down. He hoped this trip would prove to be the beginnings of an exciting relationship.

As the clock in the cafe indicated it was by then half past eleven, Mark suggested it was time for Kate to wash and brush up in the toilets, after which they would then set off towards the station. His mother had arranged to pack up Kate's overnight case and come along to the station to give her belongings to her. After getting off yet another bus, standing there irresolutely as the air reverberated with the clamour of bells rung from the heights of St Andrew's bell tower, they had met up again with his mother and grabbed Kate's suitcase. Soon she had staggered up the steps of the inter city train and was seated proudly in a second class carriage, and well on her way. Her journey passed with few problems, and she spend the time on board by reading a Catherine Cookson novel which Mark's mother had pushed into her fingers. His mother had made rather convincing attempts to apologise for the previous night, when Kate found the steamy novel Aphrodisiac beside her bed, agreeing the provocative contents were possibly pornographic. She hoped Kate would read the Mallen Streak, since this was a novel which had a less sordid story line, as she would once again have lots of free time to fill in on the train.

Her father collected her, waiting in the silver grey Astra. He greeted her cheerfully as he shoved her luggage onto the backseat of the car. Kate noticed that he was unduly preoccupied however, as he monitored traffic movement from the influx of cars behind him. on the Satnav. The traffic flow slowed down considerably as he slammed on the brakes when they hit the traffic lights at the end of the dual carriageway before the network of streets leading towards their own estate. Kate wondered if he had something on his mind, and asked if anything in particular was worrying him.

"You're right there Kate" he agreed, responding quickly to her concerns. He wiped the beads of sweat from his brow and pushed a lock of dark hair off his forehead. "I'm thinking about recent bad news we heard whilst you were away." He hesitated as he diverted his immediate attention away from the Satvav. A kind of traffic jam began to form at the junction, with a long tail back of vehicles in either direction. Kate took advantage of this temporary halt, to question her dad further, to investigate the possible reasons behind his apparent unease.

"What do you mean exactly? Has there been a major accident or has someone died?"

Her father paused, then managed to press his foot on the accelerator again as the lights turned to green. He continued talking as the cars set off again, easing congestion.

"The bad news is about the area councillor, Andy Fenton. You know he wrote to us last year when we had that dispute about the rising water bills? He is that sturdy bloke who resembles a boxer with a bull neck and crew cut, who they always say dresses too casually to be a councillor. They say he never let on about it but has been suffering from bowel cancer for the last few months, and he died two days ago. It was a terrible shock when we heard it announced on the radio."

He drove the car through the lights and they proceeded on their way, as Kate absorbed the news, nodding in unspoken sympathy. The car increased speed as they approached

their end of the estate. Kate was soon belting up the path towards the front door, charging into the house like a bull in a china shop, as her dad checked the central locking and followed her at a distance. It was a relief to be home, after a long weekend away. She left her father in the kitchen, boiling up the kettle to make himself a cup of tea, and went upstairs. The bed was freshly made, and her mother had obviously recently dusted and hoovered the carpet. After taking off her jacket and hanging it in the wardrobe, Kate decided to go to her facebook account, wondering if she had any new messages or notifications from her friends. As she was about to power up the computer she spotted a note on the desk beside the screen, and recognised her mother's rather florid signature, at the bottom of the white vellum page. She reckoned the note must have been hurriedly scribbled before her mother left for the supermarket, or to call on her aunt and uncle across in Fulham.

"Suspect activity on Facebook Kate!". She read the warning and felt rather taken aback.

"Advisable to check it out and report it to the on line security team?” The writing ended there. Kate was flummoxed. What could this mean? Her mind and senses were on full alert. You heard so many horror stories about Facebook these days, even hate plots and unexpected murders.

After logging in Kate found evidence which confirmed her mother's warning to be genuine. In the top left corner of the screen, in the message box, she came upon two rather worrying statements, both apparently from Lynn Cawthorne, a blowsy and buxom twenty five year old who lived a few streets away from her home. Lynn was notorious for dossing about in the less reputable bars around the area during the week, and was rumoured to be a drop out who appeared obsessed with spreading her opinion round, as if she was emulating the Tatler magazine. They said Lynn's parents spoiled her rotten, despite her being at an age when she had far outgrown her status as their baby, supplying her every need, throwing money at her whenever she required ready cash, and allowing her to doss around as much as she liked. Someone had compared her to a cast off member of the Paparazzi, skilled in preying on those she resented, or wanted to get rid of. She sold up falsified stories to whoever would lend a listening ear, and was willing to entertain her. The pleasure she gained from hurting innocent people she had it in for was verging on the sadistic, for she loved to paint the town red, with her deceit and lies.

As she scrolled down the bottom part of the Facebook page, Kate's face reddened in embarrassment. She was almost convinced the portrayal of her she read was true. She was described as a devious type, who had deliberately two timed Mark. Lynn informed Kate on the messaging links that she had just e mailed him and alerted him to her game. Mark would have every right to put Kate in front of the court for falsely representing herself to him as a nice young lady, according to Lynn.

Believing this to be rubbish, Kate stood up and admired her profile in the long mirror. Lynn had no power over her. She knew she was a victim of a hate campaign, and could not see what Lynn would gain from this slander, unless she wanted to get her hands on Mark herself. Girls did deliberately tell untruths about relationships they became involved in, and cause boyfriends to drop them as a result, but it was rare that this led to legal action. Most couples just rowed and parted after such deceit was exposed. However Kate knew she was genuine and not in the same category as the typical femme fatale. Lynn was certainly misrepresenting her character to Mark, blackening her name. This was assuming she had actually e mailed him with a false alert about her behaviour and intentions anyway. She wondered who on earth Lynn had paired her up, in the alleged two timing farce she was accused of, and imagined names of two lads from her past, or individuals associated with her current job, being pulled into these ridiculous accusations about her private life.

Opening her e mail box again, she raised her hands in mock horror. Mark himself had again written to her inbox, proving that the venomous message had been sent to her Facebook account. Although Kate realised that Lynn would have had significant problems getting into Mark's e mail account, unless she had found a means of hacking it, the message did imply that she had phoned him, and must have found his name in directory listings. On line services such as 192 White Pages may have listed his number... Lynn had only to have overheard a few words uttered by one of the guests at their Rachel's wedding, or to have tuned into street talk, and she would have been able to discover everything she needed to know to slander Kate up.

Mark turned nasty and said he resented Kate then, struggling with feelings of intense mistrust, even hatred, for he firmly believed he had been reliably informed from a source in which he could place implicit trust, Lynn, that his girlfriend had been heavily involved with two married men, who she had met from amongst her contacts in the retail world. He was sure she knew how to put herself about, to exploit her sexuality to her own advantage. He believed her behaviour was only done to make him o feel rotten, but he was not going to let her get him down. He would fight back using every means he could find. He threatened to sue her in the City's law courts, but Kate again could not see how he could succeed in doing so.. What if she was able to send legal letters in return, in her own defence, to instruct Mark to stop doubting her integrity, showing him what a lying bitch Lynn actually was?Noone with any sense or insight would pay attention to her deceit, she told herself. Lynn simply would not get away with this if she could help it. Why must such nasty bitching and jealousy prematurely destroy a potentially beautiful relationship?

Yet within a few hours, after responding to Mark's accusatory messages, sure that he would refuse to pay attention to Lynn's false claims about her, Kate realised she had lost her case. No immediate apology appeared on her computer screen. She did not hear any distant ringing of the phone from the extension in parents' bedroom or from the white cordless phone downstairs in the living room. Holding her head in her hands she sat down on the bed in despair and almost started to weep. Fighting back the tears she quietly cursed Lynn and wondered what on earth she could do next. In an effort to take her mind off the subject, she eventually went downstairs and watched the BBC news bulletin over coffee with her mother.

Kate's mother noticed Kate was out of sorts but merely thought she had just been disappointed by how her relationship was going. She offered a few words of consolation, saying what you do on these occasions. There are always other fish in the sea. Kate should always keep her options open.

Conforming that her suspicions were correct, Kate informed her mother that it was over between her and her new partner. She cynically watched the news, and was not surprised to see how legal aid was soon to be slashed, which would not exactly help domestic violence victims and vulnerable women like her. There was no way she would be able to instruct a lawyer to send letters to Mark's home, hoping to confirm that Lynn was nothing but a lying trouble causer, who no sensible person would listen to for a minute. Lynn's slander had won the day, and had blackened Kate's character out of all recognition...

After another two days she had heard nothing and determined to put Mark out of her mind for ever. Life was not always plain sailing after all. Undesirable happenings can interrupt the progress of anyone's life. Bad things happen to us all. How could she, despite her rise to fame in Chestertons, change attitudes to favour young women like her, women whose happiness could be torn to ribbons by enemies, eaten up by jealously, taking a sadistic pleasure in cutting them up and spoiling everything for them? She must return to work after a week off, to recover from the shock of being single again, and in due course try to once again watch out for Mr Right to turn up. In the meantime she must immerse herself in her work as usual. Maybe one day she would partner or marry. Who knew what could happen for her during the next year?

After being let down once too often it is only natural that a young woman should take a step back and reflect. Maybe it was advisable to stand on her own podium, Kate thought, and to keep the opposite sex out of sight and out of mind for a considerable period of time. So she began to perceive men as vastly inferior to herself, with small insect like torsos, which she could willingly crush beneath the heels of her red strappy sandals.

The remainder of that year passed quickly enough. Kate revelled in her freedom and continued to prosper in her job. Chesterton’s continued to acquire an excellent international reputation as a choclatier, and the shop was privileged to receive visits from an oil sheik, two foreign signatories in mysterious jackets, and the new financial manager of the English branch of the Deutschbank. The latter gave a flippant smile when he met Mike Chesterton on premises, arrogantly surveying the shop as if he owned it, before flicking back his Beryl creamed jet black hair, gloating that he was an unbeatable expert financier, specialising in foreign exchange and Stock Market speculations. He believed he could outsmart everyone else who competed for shares on the Stock Exchange and Wall Street.

The weather that September caused the thermometer to clamber to almost a hundred degrees Fahrenheit, and sultry days were succeeded by nights when people positively sweated in bed, and cursed the sweltering heat. Kate continued to go to her work on foot, saying a friendly 'hello' to anyone she recognised. She had been asked to monitor a young placement trainee called Alison Cottrell . The purpose of Alison being there was to learn how to correctly package stock, and to keep the sales floor and shelves clean. Mike Chesterton only wanted her to do a certain amount of till work to get her experience. He was obliged to liaise with Kensington High, about any girls he agreed to

take on placement. He was pleased with Alison and praised her up, saying out loud on the shop floor for all to hear, that the school had chosen the right person for the job. The glamorous placement officer, Carolyn Bracket, had promoted Alison by filling everyone in on how attractive and friendly she was. Alison apparently was keen on keeping up with all the new fashions, and often bought her gear from off the rack in the Top Shop, spending money given by her parents. She was into urban chic too. Mike saw that she often hung up her stylish clingingly tight indigo blue coat in the cloakroom after she arrived, and sported that particular store's logo on the ticket.

He was thrilled with Alison's progress by Christmas, and set her on with the task of handing out leaflets. He had printed the blurb on the printer at home, and they were used to advertise chocolate bells. The trainee girl revelled in her success, and decided to plaster more make up on her face. Her sparkly purple eye shadow and glossy magenta red lipstick predictably enough acted as a magnet in attracting extra customers. Mike was really chuffed about that. He presented Alison with an unexpected present of a Marks and Spencer's gift voucher worth thirty pounds, when she returned to Kensington High in the January.

Predictably enough, after her break up with Mark, Kate had kept her promise to herself, and had avoided further encounters which may only lead to her being damaged by Lynn or by any other person who had it in for her.

In the January the weather changed again. The winter was so chilly that year despite the abnormally warm autumn. Kate bought a fashionable thick black trench coat and treated herself to a pair of plush leather gloves. It occurred to her that she was bored. But she preferred her own company. She thought to herself how bigheaded most men were. She found that she had oodles of time to kill, and spent her breaks by browsing through magazines, full of megastar pin ups. In the evenings she was able to feast her eyes on videos, and give her own rating to A list celebs. . By March she turned her attention to collecting holiday brochures, discussing with her parents if they could choose to spend a couple of weeks at Butlins or otherwise head for a seaside resort on the South Coast.

One day in April, she had gone to catch a bus after visiting the hairdressers for a cut and blow dry. As a result of having picked up a printout of a flyer promoting Britten's Beggar's Opera in the bus station Kate became preoccupied with the West End, and the world of contemporary Opera in particular. Her experience of the operatics

was limited.She had only attended a mainstream Academy school. Opera was hardly likely to be on the syllabus of an Academy whose business was to prepare girls to face the outside world and get a job.. It was not that she had no skills at all in how to play an instrument tough. When in school she had managed to acquire some expertise in digital piano and had been privileged to occasionally perform in the lower school music group as an accompanist, although she had no passed no exams.

It was quite natural to head in the course of events that Spring to head for the West End operas as a way of spending an evening. Kate had spent lots of time at home, footloose and fancy free, glued to popular soap operas, or feeling increasingly cynical about the constant news headlines flooding the screen regarding the social and economic turmoil caused by the recession. She determined to overcome her blues, whilst things were quieter in her life in general, and booked an expensive premium seat in one of the boxes, for a forthcoming performance of Verdi's Rigeletto. Her mother encouraged her not to be afraid to splash out lavishly to compensate for them not going on holiday that year as a family, and treated her by enthusiastically phoning the Box Office of the Avanti theatre, and ordering a ticket for the evening production the next Saturday evening, asking that it be posted out first class. She allowed her daughter to go through her own wardrobe and advised her to choose one of her party dresses. Kate expressed her gratitude and pulled on a slinky medium length purple dress covering in sequins. Soon she was fancying herself as a true opera lover. Predictably enough, after her usual trek across London on the underground she soon discovered herself seated next to an apparently elderly couple and a mysterious young woman dressed in a scarlet tunic, adorned with a mock feather boa, who had presented an NUS card in order to get in for half price She was fascinated by how the lighting effects created kaleidoscopic patterns on the floor and ceiling, as the long red velvet curtains opened and exposed a white circular stage.

Soon everyone was immersed in the farcical outplaying of events in the ducal court of Mantua. Kate smiled to herself as the ignominious hunchbacked jester Rigoletto deviously cuckolded courtiers, who were easy targets for his tricks and mockery. Kate became engrossed, hearing the desperate pleas of the Count Monterone regarding the return of his daughter from the promiscuous Duke's clutches. She compared the plot to real life stories she had read about recently - in particular stories about sex scandals, emphasising the necessity of laws to protect girls from abductors. She sat through the cut and thrust of the two hour performance of love, lust and vengeance and grimaced to herself quietly as it concluded with the murder of the Duke.She pursed her teeth and discreetly whistled to herself, concluding that it hardly proved a nice ending to a spectacular and bemusing series of events, before she switched off mentally and began to move towards the exit.

A guy called Vernon Carlisle cornered her before she got there.The snazzy electronically charged double doors smacked her in the face as the crowds surged out. She almost felt the whack of his torso in her chest.

"Hello there lady" said this creamy voice, and she noticed him alongside the publicity rack. A tall handsome stranger with clipped black hair, a perfectly profiled face and impeccable designer gear. Hugo Boss style trousers, nice striped shirt, shiny boots.

"Hi' she replied, telling herself not to be shy. This guy may be a really well intentioned charmer, rather than a sod. So she waited with bated breath for him to tell her where he knew her from. He informed her he had been frequenting visiting Chestertons but maybe she had not seen him. He was familiar with the venue for quite a long time and was an avid people watcher. Kate started pressing him to reveal what he knew. Had he heard the latest news or had he any particular interest in the latest pop releases? Vince seemed so indifferent, blasé in attitude. She diverted attention by pointing at more debonair opera buffs, who apparently had prospected the shot after work, still carrying crocodile skin exec briefcases. A thin gangly lad interrupted the pattern and dashed out to the exit. Kate wondered if he was an intern in HR. Vince declined opinion as to who he was. He told his prospective new girlfriend, who he was trying to get into his clutches, that he had been shocked by recent updates about shootouts in the Ukraine and USA.

"Do you live alone?" she asked, breaking his chain of thought. "You look like a single person to me."

"I do actually. I live in my own semi in central Harringay, near the dog track. My mother's the only contact I have, but she lives in Birmingham and it is too far to travel to see her often."

Kate was becoming rather infatuated by this new acquaintance for he seemed so terribly nice. She waited for him to chat her up, or come on strong or at least to do something proactive and impactful. She went all dewy eyed.

Vernon duly obliged and filled her in more. "You've a bit of a stunner aren't you?" he commented. Kate mused to herself for a minute and decided that he certainly was not backward at coming forwards She gazed fascinated at his cobra tie pin and wondered if he was super rich as well as being super cool.

"Of course I am" she agreed, flirtatiously. She wondered at the advisability of exposing herself with her next words, then took the plunge. "That's why I come here, to display my feathery plumage!”

Vernon’s opinion coincided, when he assented and said she was indeed as beautiful as an opera starlet in ostrich feathers and boas, and freely ogled her in the nicest way possible.

As they further engaged in conversation the exit became quite claustrophic, as lots of colourful opera goers with snapshot cameras left en masse. Everyone was talking rapidly at a rate of knots, and almost fell through the double doors like a gaggle of garrulous geese.

Kate and Vernon gauged each other, comparing character type and tendency, discussing the state of the art, the constant influx of credit agencies and food projects into the community, the state of economically damaged Britain and the instability of the NHS.

Vernon informed Kate with some bravado that he was sole proprietor of a string of boutiques, and chain outlets, which gave him a lucrative career. The outlets were part of the Hesley Group and were splayed out across central London. Kate had no particular reason to doubt him or to rubbish his claims. She imagined him being highly solvent, enjoying privileged existence in an upmarket pad. Life comes easy to some. She had always had to work for it herself. Vince certainly would not be in debt to companies selling double glazed windows and composite doors.

Kate tried to get out of him whether the shops had overwhelming sales figures, pulling profits exceeding those of his market competitors, but he refused to divulge stats.

Eventually they were the only remaining people in the foyer and were compelled to part and go separate ways. Having liked what they saw in each other during the casual

encounter they arranged to meet up again. Vernon invited Kate to a performance of Phantom of the Opera. She giggled and asked if he felt ready for a ghostly encounter. He pooh poohed her question and informed her that the performance was to be held at the Majestic, in ten day’s time. He offered an all expenses paid outing. She must just turn up on the door. They slipped past the security staff as they were about to secure the glass exit doors and insert the key, and unashamedly linked arms as they went towards Vernon’s parked up silver grey Mazda, opposite the entertainment complex Raffles.

Vernon bundled Kate into the front seat, after flicking the central locking device, and consented to drive her all the way home. He put in the clutch and drove at fifty through the West End, passing through central London, and suburbia, and braked abruptly outside her house. She effusively thanked him as she stepped out, demonstrating no qualms about being in the company of a total stranger.

The next few days elapsed again in peace and tranquillity, bearing in mind it was the period just after January crush. Kate wiggled her thumbs in the kitchenette and brewed up a repeated stream of cappuccino and latte cupfuls. Trade adjusted to normal levels, and she felt considerably less tired. Elaine relaxed too, and they mutually agreed it was a relief to be back to normal routines. They dismantled the post Xmas display shelves and tore up and trashed gift card tags and product labels.

Vernon buzzed Kate on the cellphone before the event. She had to walk to the corner in her glad rags with a snazzy handbag, and all accoutrements, and he could collect her from opposite the launderette at 6.30 pm. She gladly consented and clicked off her own smart fone. They were soon feeling a bit ecstatic, seated alongside each other again, on leather seating in the car interior. Kate stuck her sylph like legs out under the glove compartment, and sneaked a look in the side view mirror. She looked pretty attractive, she reckoned, and smiled to herself softly. Self gratified alley cat syndrome. Cat who got the cream. She felt well prepared to go on an enterprising visit to watch a contemporary production on the theme of unearthly hauntings and strange entertainments.

The duo chattered about the plot of the Phantom opera all the way to the sumptuous refurbished Majestic theatre. Christine, a chorus girl from the

 Opera Populaire. is tempted by the

,

the Phantom to fly in various directions of potential infatuation, but desists and refuses to respond to his advances. Her attentions turn to another but he will not be deterred.

The story begins as Manager of the Opera Populaire, Lefevre, is leaving. His successors, Andre and Firmin, stage manage after his departure, and introduce their new patron, le Victome Raoul de Changy. The opera throws a gala, but a diva refuses to perform. Her reluctance is due to the mysterious 'Opera Ghost' who wants rid of her. Protagonists Andre and Firmin are determined to get h old of a new leading lady. They call upon a young, singer named Christine Daae, who has been taking lessons from Raoul, Christine's childhood sweetheart He recognizes her during her ala performance, and longs to get Christine back into his life. Christine's mysterious tutor finally reveals himself to her... The plot hinges on whether l Christine will ask everything of Raoul or listen to the Music of the Night?

Vernon winked at her frequently, in efforts to turn her on whilst in the car, but she kept her own privacy and counsel for the first part of the journey. Gradually Vernon’s slim fingers slipped down towards her knee and he stroked her golden mesh tights and velvet dress seductively. Kate’s reserve forsook her and she did not repel him when he pressed her thigh with one implication, only, when he stalled at the traffic lights.

"You're playing heavy on me or what?" she wondered aloud. Vernon ignored her completely and removed his hand.The car slid through after the lights on vivid green alert. They continued towards the theatre in silence, apart from the burr of the engines and muted radio commentary.

A lurid pixel display in protuberant artistry decorated the approach to the Majestic. A leading new film star who had just taken a major role in new release Clandestine, a sad story describing discrimination encountered by a vestal virgin nun in the midst of Irish Catholicism turmoil and schisms, was proudly signing off autographed leaflets outside the theatre wall. Everyone shoved in as quickly as possible to get prime seating in the allocated boxes for civvie street and non Royal personnel. Soon both Vernon and Kate were seated, and Kate was chomping voraciously on raspberry fondant and marzipan sweets, in the second row of stalls behind the stage. They stared fixedly at the orchestra in front of them. A medley of strings, violins, viola, cellos, basses, kettledrums, and

a keyboardist, as well as sporadic wood wind players, filled the pit. They listened to the sonorous rehearsal as everyone anticipated the rise of the huge voluminous red curtain.

The young couple embraced and exchanged conventional pleasantries and romantic chit chat during the first act. They managed to hold an intelligent debate regarding rivalries in the play being representative of a sexual obsessions and relational fallout in society now. Kate agreed with her new partner, that tragic unaccounted for incidents and even suspect deaths, ultimately resulting in dissentions and jealousies, are on the increase. In the intermission, she seemed rather torpid or languid, and Vernon attempted to cheer her up by treating her to oodles of vanilla chocolate icecream, in mini tubs. She gorged on the lot and enthused about being well on the way to forging a meaningful permanent relationship with Vernon.

After the performance they rushed towards the exit and drove home. As he dropped Kate at the gate again Vernon invited her to play quoits in the Royale Casino Hall in Piccadilly Circus. He would treat her and buy her a gift of jewellery after wards. he was not ready to accompany her to his home yet. He said he valued privacy and it may not be appropriate they were alone in a bachelor pad at this stage in their relationship. His mother was semi invalid due to heart problems and despite her being a jazz enthusiast and snazzy society lady, he was often on edge in case the phone rang with bad news about her having endured an attack or collapse in properly in which case he would have to go round there straight away and hope she had summoned sufficient strength to call on medics by herself. That sounded okay to Kate. She liked jewels and opal necklets in particular. They left on very friendly terms with no tensions between them at all.

----------

Vernon sighed as he opened the latch and barged in the house. He knew he was not being above board with Kate and was an unashamed interloper and clever deceiver. Elena had been in the house all along. Of course Elena was his much maligned wife and always kept her own counsel in the side room reading old books by Trolloppe and folklore enthusiasts from the seventeeth century. She used to work as a beautician but was far too timid for her role and they got her out by disseminating lies and

slander. She had become quite moribund and had cried whilst listening to Desert Island Discs and whilst brewing up the kettle.

Elena was on the sofa in the lounge for a change when he entered.He found her reading glossy Vogue magazines, whilst in a brown stew. She told him she had not expected him back so early but he demurred and said he had been shunted out of the pub before closing time, since the proprietor of The Ship had been compelled to close early for some undisclosed reason. He glanced towards the artificial roses she had set on the coffee table and sneered. Their relationship had long palled; there was no way he would assume an attitude of hypocritical appreciation of her talents now.

Elena had once been pretty. In a sense she still was. Her hair was light brown but she had it tinted regularly with highlights and she wore flawless foundation. Her lids were usually covered in beige or pale orange shadow and she seemed to go for red or pink lipstick whenever she could get hold of it.

Vernon watched her inclined head and she realised suddenly he was appraising her as if a ruthless boss gauging the ability of a hard pressed trainee at an interview. But she was not consenting to be under his thumb for ever. She had resisted his intimidation before with an obstinate refusal to be utterly cowed although she had not been happy for years.

Vernon had been married, assumed faithful by neighbours, for approximately six and a half years. He was now twenty nine, his wife a year younger. They had had their first encounter on a ferry to Dieppe when she had been returning from a shopping trip to Boulogne with her parents. She had been buying duty free perfumery from Anais Anais, and Givency, and he had found her attractive and cheerful at first sight. As she jigged back across the ferry lounge he had openly flirted with her, standing alongside and winking. She had returned the compliment and they had become deeply engaged in conversation about their mutual interests, in scuba diving and cinema and volleyball and Indian Punjabi restaurants and cafeterias. Elena’s full name was Elena Rimmington and she lived with her father and mother, who ran a hostelry, in Shoreham.

After the ferry trip they had reunited and liaised over the miles, by means of GPO mail, cell phones, and the grapevine. Elena had been working self employed as a nail and beautician expert and had decided to shift her home and entourage to rented property a

few streets distant from Vernon’s home. They had found each other satisfactory company and had found the area a perfect place to fraternise in. The frequency of their contact increased significantly about seven years ago and he had asked her to marry him. They spliced and tied the knot in London East End equivalent of Little White Chapels everywhere and were sent off with a ribbon decorated swish black wedding car , hooting its horn like fury, and the predictable shower of confetti.

It was after the ceremony and post nuptial blessings and celebrations that Elena sensed things were not quite as they should be. She had been given the same account as Kate about Vernon’s commercial activities and shown numerous impressive flyers about his business. Retail podcasts became part of her life. It was after a few weeks of supposed marital bliss, that she heard Vernon murmuring down the phone to a contact.

“Don’t let on mate but mock us up some more blurb will you? She’s hoodwinked now.”

Elena wondered if the snide aside referred to her. Was she supposedly seen as his dupe? Was the word ‘blurb’ describing the flyers? Were they not all what they were sold up to be? So was the retail outlet agenda real? How plausible or implausible was new spouse Vernon?

She got his back up immediately by looking at him in disdain with a brow as overcast as the horizon on a grey day.

“You been brainwashing me about those shop chains?” she asked, peremptorily. “If so, I want to know.”

“Maybe. As you’re asking I will tell you. I have led you up the garden path, yes. You seemed easy to do it to. I do in fact survive from income from a massage parlour and sauna business and earnings from my last job in a chippie.”

He looked at her cheekily, with a lackadaisical grin, and sidled away across the room. Elena decided he would sidle like a scalded cat if he moved again. She would give him a piece of her mind, for she was furious about the way he had misled her and boasted about commercial involvement he could not prove. He had certainly spun her some tales.

“So what do you do in this massage parlour then? Is it a sordid enterprise at all? How lucrative is it? You have not got this house for nothing but a stipend and investment of a couple of quid.”

Vernon began to explain about his activities. He owned the Walsingham Sauna a few blocks away. It consisted of a couple of spas pools, swimming pool, sauna, Jacuzzi and a swing. He employs a masseuse, Alison Belling. He invested in it from savings from his last job when he won on the National Lottery and his number came up as a winning ticket for three hundred thousand grand. The massage parlour is popular but some say it is a bit steamy. That hardly bothers Vernon. All he is concerned about is his profits and potential to survive in a competitive market.

Elena wondered exactly how bona fide this sauna was. Despite their relationship gelling since they began to cohabit and he gave her a share of his bank account, with account records she had never seen, Vernon was now showing up as rather a risk. He had shot his own foot and shown that he was dishonest. Elena hated dishonesty. She had once reported a girl for theft in Debenhams, urging the girl to own up and take it in the neck..

Vernon offered to take her round there on a day when the sauna was doing well.Elena cheered up a bit and he kissed her softly, since there seemed signs of reconciliation after a temporary rift in their still developing relationship.

So three days later after a lull in the friction between them he dragged her round to the sauna one afternoon as the kids were aggressively playing in the yard of the neighbouring school, Evesham Academy. Elena saw a bright fluorescent effect signboard emblazoned with lettering ‘Stupendous Spa and Sauna, moderate rates’ above a flight of steps leading to a door of a restored cinema complex now being used by sauna and exercise groups. Vernon led her inside and showed her rows of heat rods, and bottles of oil his masseuse relied on. The ceiling of the main sauna room beside the small pool he had built in was covered in twinkling stars and moons. He explained how the sauna heated up instantly, relying on infra red heaters. He boasted that he had done well to invest in the sauna and spa.It was possible for a person to sweat off many kilograms of weight and up to 800 calories each session, congratulating themselves when they weighed in. Deep penetration builds muscle heat, increasing circulation.

Elena was rather reluctant to praise up the sauna bearing in mind Vernon’s previous conduct. So she chivvied him along as he was an old stoat in order to embarrass him and insult his sense of savour vivre. She asked him how long he was obliged to stay in there since he closed for the afternoon on Thursdays and there was noone there. He reassured her they would not stay much longer now she had a general impression of what he was really playing at, and how his enterprise functioned, and led her out after presenting the signing out book which he kept at reception. All very professional and confidential. She liked that. But said she would not trust him far as she could throw. They left arms interlinked, but as if walking on eggshells.Their relationship may crumble or it may

cement again but at that moment it was on thin ice despite Vernon at least attempting to make amends for his past sycophancy.

In future months they found their union becoming increasingly unstable and Elena flunked off work with depression.She simply could not trust her partner. She had always been aware that traditionalists say that marriage is for life, but her patience was being sorely tried. Had Vernon told her other lies? Had he been knocking off other women? Seeing them as conquests, to brainwash and delude, whilst all the while sleeping in the marriage bed like an unscrupulous floating bloater fish of the male variety? Would she ever find out his acts and inclinations by procuring visible and indisputable proof of infidelity?

Vernon continued to strenuously deny her unarticulated allegations by assuming a butter would not melt attitude, attempting to impress her with her culinary expertise, and staying in at night. Unless he took her to a civilised bar and played it cool, postulating as the perfect gentleman. But Elena knew he was not the perfect gentleman, just the opposite. So after while she brushed off his advances and deterred him from even planting kisses on her forearm, and strictly forbade him to kiss her, demurely or passionately, on her lips and neck. He told her she was frigid after so long and began to go out at night again, joining pool matches and a betting syndicate.

So why did he begin to hate her, not just tolerate her unnatural reserve and inherent mistrust of him? It was a festering resentment, that grew into an almost obscene abhorrence of her face and features, of her disappointment in him, her fading trust,her prettiness, her honesty and lack of guile. So they agreed to separate beds and to live as individual entities whilst in the house itself. They were like two warring babies, silently sparring in separate cots, one of them deceiving the other maybe but denying his faults and failings whilst in the house.

Yet Vernon knew Elena would not leave him. He knew she was against divorce and dare not go to a lawyer. He knew he had pretended to be what he was not in business terms, and although solvent with accounts in the red in Nat West and Santander he had given impression he was a virtual millionaire with a vast chain of shops under his jurisdiction, many people who should be grateful to be employed under his thumb, and she had been significantly lied to. She had correctly sensed he had a wandering eye for he repeatedly brought copies of girlie mags and top shelf topless model mags into the side room lobby, and engrossed himself in the steamier pictures after they admitted she knew what he was. He often found he looked at ladies in the street, in shops, in libraries and other public buildings, as potential extra marital girlfriends, but then repressed the urge to get involved and did not quite follow the dictates of temptation and his defective conscience.

So things had been progressing and regressing like this in terms of an utterly failed relationship where they were still inevitably cohabited by the time Vernon really began to stray and dared chat up Kate in the Majestic.He had been following her for ages whilst he checked out the confectionery outlet, with gimlet eyes, appraising her figure like a possibly sleazy yet outwardly good looking and clean profiled character.

In a sense Vernon both knew and intuited that he was veering severely off course in terms of moral direction when he began to fancy Kate A. Yet he experienced no real qualms about potential betrayal of Elena. When he scowled at the world and his wife, whilst praising up his appearance in the bathroom mirror, splashing on creamy shaving foam and scraping with the Gillette, he analysed how he really felt at this juncture. He found the concept of an extra marital liaison very interesting and was insensitive to the impurity of adultery. Elena’s potential hurt was a marginal issue as far as he was concerned. The damage he would do to her if he wandered was immaterial. His attitude was frivolous, remorseless in that regard. He had heard and read about adultery often in the press, and knew journalists did well from criticising those who broke their marriage vows deliberately. Novelists used the topic of extra marital affairs to put round many steamy stories, whatever slant they chose to adopt on the subject. Vernon's masseuse's father had committed adultery in a one night stand, with a bar maid when she was small. He had found his wife predictably threw him for it and departed the house with a heavy set of suitcases and private cheque book and documents hidden in her bag, within a remarkably short period. The encounter in the Majestic had become feasible when he heard Gail Peters murmur to a customer that her friend and colleague had an event in her diary and agenda that she was greatly looking forward to, having been following the opera scene, fascinated, for some time. She described how Kate was into all types of opera - operetta, main stream performances, and grand opera. Vernon had carefully replanted his approach to Kate, intending to spring a surprise on her, like a magician leaping out of a box. He wanted to inveigle himself into her good books, to engage her affections, to take over her phone book, her appointment schedule, her pinboard, her love life etc and so on. So he had finally succeeded, having got her to point of surrender. First tactic had been to get her into the vehicle and to make lot of verbal and physically tactile contact. She was now well duped and brainwashed, convinced that he was an upfront and trustworthy person, who may lead her on from previous disappointments and romantic misadventures with the opposite sex.

The immediate problem facing him lay there directly before him. Elena was an irreplaceable part of his existence. He knew there were some people who were malign

and sufficiently twisted as to pay assassins, aiding and abetting them to bump off inconvenient partners. Others discarded them by telling deliberate fibs and putting up lawyers to see them as the breaking the marriage contract in the first place.

But he was no murderer or assassin himself. He failed to fit the jelly mould in that regard. It would be terribly difficult to persuade a corrupt solicitor to slander her and blacken her name. Maybe Elena’s mother, a solvent professional dressmaker who lived as far away as Manchester would be informed and start a legal battle that may turn the tide against him. He knew she had once won a court case managed by a consumer rights organization, against a home furnishing manufacturer, who had supplied her with a defective triple door wardrobe.

So the only way to get round the Elena problem and the fact that Kate would eventually suspect there was something odd going on, was when he refused to invite her to his home after further acquaintance, was if he left Elena and the district too, getting Kate to effectively elope with him to the blue hills in the far blue yonder.

Purloining a woman by means of a forged marriage licence was risky though. Courts came down on fixed marriages, particularly those of asylum seekers, which were being carried out illegally constantly nowadays. He could not make Kate marry him against her will, but would she like to be his partner? He intended checking out if she would be tempted by a chance to shack up with him on the quiet, in a place where she could control developments and ongoings, where the rig up was hardly emulating 24 hour sex sessions as seen on soft porn films and cine productions.

The next stage of his thought processes went in the direction of getting Kate, his crush candy girl, to whom he could relate to as a boy-from-next-door-alias-Don-Quixote-type, out of the country. England was familiar territory. So many people were acquainted with Elena his other half. It would be positively disastrous if he was spotted hanging round the neighbourhood with a ginger haired novice, obviously to all intents and purposes conveniently forgetting and not regretting that he had left his wife at home like a dropped stone.

So what would be the prequel or sequel to any plans and projects he started up, regarding an overseas holiday with Kate A? He thoroughly rehearsed a forthcoming venture in his mind. Photoshoots used by Thompson and Horizon holiday brochures filtered across an imaginary reflective wall.

The main issue confronting him was how to plump for a particular holiday destination. Fascinated by glorious full page spreads of the Canaries, Balearics, Tenerife, Magalluf, Majorca, Scilly Isles and Tuscany, accentuating emerald green seascapes, rocky headlands, first class hotels with palm frescoed balconies, he repeatedly leafed through the blurb with tremendous enthusiasm, which did not wane for over three hours one Saturday afternoon.

In the final analysis, his index finger pointed to Jamaica, an island of hula skirts, and bongos, lush greenery, coconuts, and wide creamy open beaches lapped by soft wavelets. So he paid avid attention to flight itineraries, package tours, low cost or moderate cost, hotel star index. The best option seemed the Hotel Astoria, apparently run by a couple from Sydney Australia, fronted by a large pool and array of striped deckchairs. Alongside the ad snap he saw a photoshoot in the brochure of a character from adjacent theme park Coco Harlem.

Whilst his prospective venue failed to offer the appeal of the West End opera scene, Vernon reckoned he could tempt Kate to an extended Club Med holiday break in Jamaica. After spending over a thousand pounds for a brilliant couple of weeks in the Astoria, all facilities and full board provided, he could cut expenditure, by going self catering, or investing in a cheap beach cabin suitable for two. He would retain possession of the deeds of the property in London of course.

Vernon realized that if he sold up completely and came out of the spa business, selling off the house too, which Elena and he cohabited, he could shove Elena into a flat after they became semi mobile and dispossessed, and create an enforced separation where she would most likely agree to sign a legal contact to firm up terms of a trial separation that may become in fact permanent but necessary. He could be one of those pushy intimidating types holding the more naïve individual under their thumb forever. Could he get her onto the sick register? Some doctors are easily influenced, insecure enough to let him tip the wink and to then forge up diagnoses such as alzheimers, dementia, psychosis, phobias. Many such freak show diagnoses come under mental health of course. Elena could be made helpless, like a baby, as in a state of utter dependency, in order to survive, made to tell whitest of lies. But she may be glad to get rid of him at last if they did it that way.

On the next outing Vernon again greased up to Kate and tried to work out her likes and dislikes in order to keep on her right side. After an evening of fun and frolics at the bowling alley, Cathcart Bowling Arena, he refused to be tentative and broached the issue of going on holiday to the Caribbean. Kate was fairly chuffed at the concept. She would love to get away from it all, to escape the rat race. The rat face was for rats.

“How long do you envisage this long vacation will last then?” she asked. “Any chance we could permanently settle there?”

“Maybe. I intend selling up the sauna and taking my flair and expertise elsewhere. I would hope and anticipate to ask around when we get there and to get a job as a management assistant in a leisure complex in Las Cartas”.

“Sounds fine to me. Let’s go for it!”

So in the end Vernon was spurred on and refused to hesitate when he booked. He arranged to fly on Virgin Airlines on February 19 keen to avoid the winter chill factor,heading for far warmer more temperate climes as migrating swallows fly to a better habitat.

He presented Kate with a bunch of red roses and some liqueur chocolates. She was deeply gratified and told him he was her chosen Sainted Valentine. He appreciated that but refused the Sainted label.

Packing luggage and eating a final piled plateful of macaroni cheese and ham prior to departure, proved chaotic. Vernon had still not invited Kate back to his place, as she may be justified in expecting. Of course she was still well persuaded that his mother, a virtual chronic invalid for the last few months according to him, caused her now serious boyfriend to be persistently suffering anxiety, when he was in his own pad. Any minute he would dread the phone sounding off, intimating that his mother was on her last legs and requiring urgent medical attention and his presence at her bedside.

Burdened down with a trunk and a clasp suitcase, they staggered to the door of Kate’s house. His mother cheerfully waved them good bye and winked at them, as if they had it

all sewn up like a glove. She wished them all the best, for a successful and delightful romantic interlude. A taxi from London A Line Cab service turned up on the dot and a burly bloke called Roger Timms helped them with the heavy luggage. Kate declared she was off as if on the hot trail to Oklahoma and began to look forward with great anticipation to boarding the Delta airlines plane within a couple of hours. Vernon had planned for them to spend at least two weeks in Montego Bay, and had been impressed by publicity about the Astoria. The hotel had a spa like his own business, a swimming pool, three Jacuzzis, a draughts and pool activity room and an expansive bar. They simply could not wait to arrive at the two hundred and fifty guest capacity hotel and take advantage of a luxurious double room booking on the third floor.

Montego Bay was an excellent place to play golf, Vernon expatiated as he extolled the attractions and merits of the resort. Kate conjured up apparitions of ladies with garishly coloured cocktail sticks in slim glasses of aperitifs, and of gentlemen and young people with dark brown regularly melanin pigmented tanned skin. She could already hear the sights and sounds of the riotous place in her ear drums. Vernon described to her how the hotel ran tours to the beach and esplanade and how there were high mountains and other places of interest where they could spend their hours whilst there.

The taxi landed them within double quick time at the airport and they were accompanied to the departure lounge after tipping the taxi driver. Sweat was pouring down their faces despite the February being cool if temperate for the time of year. A fresh breeze was blowing but the sheer exertion of carrying heavy luggage caused them to perspire and feel rather tired. Kate grabbed Vernon’s arm and he made a definitive if mild pass at her as they stood there beside a young couple Jennie and Lennon who Kate knew worked in a neighbouring warehouse, Allens’ Distribution, packing vehicle components and keeping accurate admin records in the works office.Kate certainly felt him cheekily stroking her bum as he held his arm around her as they sat down on the seating.Jennie and Lennon walked away and peered at the notices regarding flight overhauls and delays that were imminent in the next few weeks as a result of planned strike action. They peered at their wrist watches, expecting the flight which was scheduled on the overhead screen, amidst the melee usual in departure lounges, to arrive within an hour if operating according to plan.

The flight was due to depart at 3.15 pm. On the dot. So they fiddled about the clicked their fingers, using the drinks dispenser to indulge in copious cups of cappuccino and fresh lemon tea, before they headed for the runway. The announcer spoke with an impeccable accent and her silver tongued vocals filtered through the communications network. They heard flights to Northern Ireland, Dublin and Belfast announced, then flights to Australia and New Yorks, before their flight passengers were to queue up for the boarding of flight 301, direct route to Jamaica. They had been informed by the travel

office that the entire journey would last nine hours and ten minutes, before they disembarked, hopefully not too badly affected by jetlag, at Sangster International Airport (MBJ as abbreviated, which is the leading tourism gateway to the island of Jamaica .

Kate reminded herself of the glorious holiday she was destined for and told herself how Vernon would maybe prove to be one of the most beautiful people in the world as she got to know him even more.The airport is excellently located in a prime position on the northwest coast of the island – at the centre of the country’s main tourism region, where there is a regular influx of tourists. It is adjacent to many hotel and resort facilities. MBJ, Sangster International, is a stone’s throw from the ports at Montego Bay, Ocho Rios and Negril.

Vernon went on and on about the attractions and main features of the island as they were instructed to leave the departure lounge and head for the runway. Everyone eventually formed a queue as people do when boarding a plane, and steadily walked up the steps onto the Boeing 707. Vernon had purchased two very nice premium economy seats in advance and they soon found themselves seated in a cabin with ample leg room.

The three man cockpit crew were soon prepared to put their controls in the cockpit into action and they heard the engine begin to purr and buzz, assuming they were ready to leave. Soon the flight was diving like an elongated white bullet into the sky, and Kate relaxed in her seat, feeling her new partner had everything under control. An easy going hostess in a smart white and blue suit did the rounds and checked everyone was okay, no worries, ready to enjoy the flight to the Caribbean. Vernon laughed and joked and tickled Kate’s shoulder. He reminded her how the seas of the Caribbean were so beautiful, in blue green splendour, rolling out over a vast expanse of oceanic bed. She said she could not wait to arrive and unpack at the Astoria.

The pixel screen of the tiny telly perched in a corner of the cabin kept flickering and Kate perceived a news broadcast was on. Passengers chattered and mentioned how the newscaster was highlighting the current state of the art in England, how the boom and bust era had caused catastrophe, how some people felt like leaving the country due to the NHS in crisis and several disturbing reports of high level abuse scandals. They both looked forward as a newsflash mentioned forthcoming entertainments and films. Riotous comedies, gut busting crime thrillers, pioneering nature programmes, Disney channel specials..

The glitzy magazines on the rack beside the seating occupied Kate and she enthused at the rise of the fashion industry in outer London and middle England, where many factories were developing, with more jobs on offer for young machinists and designers, as a result of economic improvements and public demand. She started reading a brochure on gardening and horticulture which someone had donated and wondered if she could start growing her own petunias in window boxes.

After the occasional nap and lots of time spent idly commenting on the programmes and the type of people they were on the flight with – executives electing to use less than top range priority seating, families and groups of young people off on a holiday treat, some people heading for the same country as themselves, to different hotels presumably, a Rastafarian man who stood out like a sore thumb, and an aging geisha girl type looking ready for her retirement package – they finally arrived at their destination. Predictably enough everyone disembarked and bombed for the baggage hold area, where Vernon and Kate dragged their own luggage with great exertion, trundling the trunk down the aisle unaided, to the exit doors. Somehow they once again managed to manoeuvre it along the steps leading to the landing strip, as by a miracle they had succeeded in getting everything on the plane by dint of many strenuous efforts in the first place. Vernon congratulated Kate on her strength.

“Those bags and the trunk are dead heavy, Kate” he commented drily. “You must have strength of a female Goliath!”

She thanked him for the appreciation and felt happier when on ground again. She hated the sensation of turbulence associated with air travel and had felt slightly sick at instances during the journey despite having eaten a breakfast before they boarded the aircraft.

They knew after arriving at the main airport there was a passenger bus arranged by Club Med to take them to the hotel. Signs and overhead projection panels reminded them how Sangster International Airport is the gateway to the island of Jamaica – which is a renowned and desirable destinations for many eager sun seekers and tourists.

Kate accepted a promo flyer about the Island from a lad acting as an agent for a publicity guru. It described how Jamaica was once notorious for piracy, due to

buccaneers and swashbuckling pirates making the island their home over 300 years ago. Kate learned how Jamaica lies 550 miles to the south of Florida. As such it lies at the heart of the Caribbean. Jamaica is famous for the unique appeal of its scenic and rugged interior. Blue Mountains rise to well over 7,000 feet. Dazzling tropical beaches surround the turquoise water of the Caribbean.. The island is said to have world class facilities.

Kate liked the sound of everything and could hardly contain her desire to get onto the coach. They only had to hang around the airport another ten minutes and it would soon be there for them, after they had checked out and gone through customs. They pulled passports out, asked for help from the trolley guy and soon were dashing through customs like over exited frenetic whirling dervishes out on an extended day release from Colditz, which the United Kingdom in some views had effectively become in recent years.

Vernon told Kate as they had just another few seconds to wait, that the airport is on the northwest coast of the island, within easy driving distance of cruise ports Montego Bay and Ocho Rios, and the popular resort town of Negril.

The hotel itself turned out to be all they had longed for without actually imitating the Majestic utopia of a millionaire’s patch in Hawaii. Sumptuous façade, emerald design glazed windows, pure white cemented exterior walling, garden plots below the driveway and patio, pics of hula skirts and bongo drummers splashed across the signboard. “Astoria, 5 star board, rated hotel, full board, all inclusive, all facilities included” they read as they perused the board with avid attention.

The coach driver dropped them off after a young woman from an incoming flight from New York, and an Indian girl, who had arrived at the coach park behind the airport, having travelled in from Montpelier. Once again they hauled baggage between them and followed the girl up the steps. She smiled at them, and popped into the hallway, greeting the landlady Mrs Ambrosia, a dark skinned local in a red dress, bejewelled black necklet and beaded gold belt. The landlady seemed to know the girl and gave her a warm, firm semi masculine handshake.She told them there was a full tennis pitch most hotels made use of to hire for a small charge behind the expanse of ground behind the hotels. They asked how much the sauna on site cost to chill out and bronze themselves in and were told it merely cost the equivalent of five pound an hour. Kate liked the sound of that. She

had been through currency exchange and brought her cash card and cheque book from Nat West with her and was ready to spend on herself.The landlady told them there were beautiful coves on the beach and advised them to stand on the balcony and enjoy the views, which were breathtaking, over the Northern edge of the beach and esplanade.

Mrs A turned her attention to the young girl who appeared about nineteen and was nearly fix feet tall, dressed in slacks, with black opal danglers in her ears

“Hello Jemima” she said, in a welcoming and extrovert manner. “You’re back again I see? For ten days this time?”

The girl paused and nodded, and assented.. Vernon and Kate stamped into the entrance way after her. They were glad to get out of the blistering heat. The sun shone blue as pure amethyst overhead, as wisps of cloud disappeared gradually from sight.

Kate pronounced over and over again how she was regretting how she had not kept sunscreen in her Dolce and Gabbana handbag. Her skin was peeling and her left shoulder was sore under her blue and red striped Primark sundress. Mrs Ambrosia sympathised readily and told Kate she could be her protégé for the season. She would treat her to a dollop of her after sun cream when they had both unpacked and were settled in their room. She promised them they would both receive an excellent service and full hospitality during their stay. All rooms were ensuite and had coffee and tea facilities, teasmaid and cafetiere, provided in all rooms. They would be provided with a full a la carte menu card at all meals.

The double room or chamber on third floor corridor exceeded expectations really. The wide balcony overhung the hotel lined street and the bay. Vernon rejoiced with Kate at how they had just got a good package deal with proprietors. They refused to be fobbed off with poor quality accommodation. There was a bathroom, shower unit and douche, attached to the bedroom. Kate commented that she had no complaints regarding provision for personal hygiene.

It was now so late, nearly eleven o clock at night, after the long journey by air travel, and Kate was tired. The landlady had arranged to meet them late for she was used to late

arrivals from incoming flights and welcomed any paying guests she could get, who seemed to be her type. By midnight they had drunk coffee, washed and unpacked the essentials they required, turning in for the night to the double beds, which were not too close for comfort in their mutual opinions for they agreed they wished to use the holiday as a time to throw inhibition to the winds of fate.

For the next few days they used the spa and sauna frequently and ate lavish helpings of traditional Jamaican food – smoked marlin, jerk pork, homemade rum or raison ice cream. They went for long walks, their hands interlinked down to the Southern Bay, or Mo Bay, where the legendary Round Hill hotel and surrounding villas sat in state above a secluded beach. Half Moon hotel, one of the most impressive hotels in the world, according to popular reportage, with its Sugar Mill restaurant, was a nice place to visit and eat in. Kate picked up tourist leaflets from anywhere she could, which described how two miles of coastline were taken up by the Half Moon complex. She became interested in the golfing, reading about the White Witch of Rose Hall Golf Course, designed as a complex by Robert von Hagge associates.

Kate found Vernon more and more fascinating the more she got to know him and spent oodles of time with him. They persistently kissed and incited each other to romantic temptations and experimentation, nibbling ears and touching each others’ bodies as they walked. They felt a deep intense satisfaction in each others’ company and became almost satiated with desire. After another few days they felt that desire must be fulfilled and discussed how it may be advisable to relinquish the concept of separate beds.

All the while of course Vernon was subconsciously aware that he was as usual weaving a network of lies and innuendo as thick as pea soup. He had lived and flourished through sufficient light years in time and space, having acquired a lot social integration and knew that the way of the world consisted often of practising the art of subterfuge and subtlety in order to survive and laud it over other citizens. He rarely asked himself if he cared for the feelings and inclinations of other citizens and buddies either. He had met and played back many buddies in the game of life with similar tendency. They dallied and pulled triggers of social interchange and pulled hypothetical handles with no really genuine intention.It was hard to see wood for trees sometimes.

So he experienced few prickings of what should have been his conscience for at he did to Kate and failed to feel remorse for how he was treating Elena like a cast off brush and unfortunate

invalid when in a good marriage, she would be a healthy and contented woman. Kate simply did not know what his secret hidden agenda was. It was as if his other life was hidden and squashed down under a carpet, or subsisting at the other side of a brick wall. The concept of bigamy occurred to him, but if he managed to get into a career and stay where he was longer term, then she may content to shack up with him in a partnership, and be a successful knock off, who would never find out the truth of his other life. As such as he could survive, exhibiting a shameless attitude, exuding deceit and double entendre and no one be the wiser, including of course his two women, both victims of his tactics.

After ten days they had decided to abandon their reserve and allow Kate to forsake her sexual inhibition. She had never done the full job with a man before. So Vernon brought her into sexual relations like a willing novice. Within an hour, after breaking down her boundaries in a drinking session in a public house full of Club Med tourists from the Western World, meeting up from other hotels around the resort in the Opulence Pub and Bar in the centre of Montego Bay township, he succeeded in getting his girlfriend into bed. She was slightly tentative but after a lot of smooching, kissing, heavy petting and oral sex, he managed to persuade her to disrobe, taking off her white cotton nightgown fully.She lay before him under the narrow lightweight duvet and they gradually penetrated. Kate gave a small murmur of pain as he broke into her still virgin womb and he remarked how rare it was to find someone of her age and occupation still untouched.She gave willing consent and he thrust around in her, until they reached orgasm.

“I meant to do it Vernon and we got there” Kate said, in rampant glee. She had been fantasising, about how she would refuse to be inhibited, and no longer wished to hold on to her morals. She wished to be tarnished, if the fuddy duddys and convent girls called per marital sex sluttish, and now felt more conventional, more human, a woman of the world. Vernon had caused her to want to go for this loss of virginity and purity, wanting to debauch herself in eyes of prudes, and she had got there. They would continue to do the full act whilst away, and behave as if the double beds were shared.

So did Vernon have a chance to get Kate away from everything once for all and start up another independent commercial enterprise? After another few days they were on the move again anyway, whatever investigations and inroads Vernon made in the direction of new business opportunities, for they had stayed out the term of the hotel booking and must shift into a self catering chalet.Soon they were paying considerably less, in a low

quality chalet behind the Southern bay, on the top of a cliff, where wind blew against the thin roofing and distracted Kate during the day when they were not out exploring the resort and its attractions.They went on a nature tour, a river adventure and felt they were luxuriating in Tropical paradise.The sun continued to beat down and sunbeams accompanied by a sultry heat haze clogged the atmosphere most days. Kate loved being out. It gave her a buzz. She told Vernon she loved the place but had only a month allowed off work on her leave. She what on earth would happen when he found a new job as a spa and sauna assistant or even arranged to buy up an outlet that existed already in some area of Montego Bay?She surely would have to return home? So would they have to part forever or would he be planning to return to her birthplace Hammersmith next year?

Within another short period Vernon could inform his girlfriend he had received happy news and had been phoning round from his Orange mobile to saunas around the resort. He had finally contacted a guy in the North East, who ran a sauna with a Jacuzzi and spa near a venue where they held regular SunFest and reggae parties. The individual concerned was a guy called Mark Sanders, who originated from South of Birmingham for some coincidental reason and was a really friendly person, full of beans, young, virile and wildly extrovert, always bouncing round like a roller ball. His outlet, Razzmatazz Sauna Spa, was doing really well but his wife was demanding he take time off work, due to her being pregnant. Having made substantial profits before the age of twenty eight, which he and wife Anna now were in terms of age, he had agreed it was time to share out the business and take on an extra pair of hands.So after a long chat discussing both their requirements, Mark and Vernon had come to an agreement, provisionally, where Vernon could sell up and take over the running of the sauna for at least a year. The job would probably become permanent then, for since he had made over half a million pounds from tourist trade and the appeal of his sauna and personality, Mark had decided he would take it easy when the baby came and be a house husband. If he built up a reputation and people got to know him, in due course, assuming Mark came back and asked Vernon to quit, Vernon could probably set up his own sauna by using money from selling out the premises in London. That would mean getting rid of his masseuse of course but she could go to friends or her mother and find a new job pretty easily he reckoned. So as things stood he could move abroad and live in Jamaica permanently. Could Kate establish herself as a permanent fixture in his life and sign up to a partnership on a live in co habiting basis, if it appeared likely that he would survive and be able to keep her? Would she throw in his job for the sake of his commitment to her?

So that is what in fact did happen. Kate took the plunge and gave notice over the international network without even going back home.. Mr Chesterton was not pleased of course. Most dissatisfied that he was about to lose a valued employee who he had trained

up from the outset, who stood as an excellent example of the merits of the youth training placement project. Her mother was most concerned for she did not know Vernon at all well, and could not imagine what his motives were with her daughter. What on earth was he doing to Kate anyway? Kate declined to tell her when she rang home. Her mother had to let her go for her daughter was a late starter beside some. Birds fly the nest all the time. Many people do move and relocate abroad these days. She sighed and put the phone down in the end. Kate resolved to go home once every six months to suit her mother and to write home every now and again. But would not tell her parents what Vernon was up to with her and did not reveal that he had caused her to lose virginity. Her mother did not know she was fully virgin before recently anyway, although she did not suspect Kate to have extensive experience in that direction. They always told her it was not au fait nowadays to check out the inclinations of one’s adult offspring. Sexuality was said to be a very private business even before the age of sixteen around Hammersmith. Kate had attended a secondary modern academy school full to bursting with gymslip mums anyway. She had hardly been to a convent school run by the Order of Celibacy and Noviciate Society.

Vernon found learning the ropes with his crony Mark quite easy and soon he and Kate were invited to live in an apartment behind the detached house behind the sauna which was run by Mark during the week. Soon he was earning approximately the equivalent of two to three hundred pounds in exchange rate UK finance, paid each week up front, into his account, in Jamaican dollars.

Clients liked Vernon and found him suave and pleasant. He was a tactician and used to flattering people up, with a very engaging manner, taking in anyone he pleased. They did not at all realise that his nice demeanour disguised a terrible secret of a wife at home. He had not contacted Elena whilst in the Astoria, in the chalet or in their new accommodation as an accepted partnership, recognised as part of the beautiful people sector, taken into the local employment and solvent economy after an assumed encounter on a Club Med package holiday. As far as he knew, when he gave her a passing thought, not regretting his infidelity and adultery with Kate one little bit, Elena was now in a convalescent home being visited occasionally by her adoring mother or her aunt.She was effectively invisible from the world he was part of, whilst he conformed to a culture that preferred and preferred his behaviour and unscrupulosity rather than her personality type.

He never asked Kate to marry him though. So she merely understood that was how his type carried on. He invented more of a story; he was involved in the past with many

people who had found it benefitted them to shack up and live over the brush, rather than tie the knot. It made existence more convenient, more free flowing. People had for many years superseded the era of Ibsen, the Norwegian playwright who was criticised for applauding open marriage, for example. Maybe marriage was old hat.

Kate began to lean his side of the argument. She did not check out how marital law went in Jamaica. Thankfully Vernon did not dare commit fully to her in a legally binding contract for that would be bigamy and he knew it. To that shame he would not exactly dare sink, for it was likely legal checks would be made. But he dared risk deflowering Kate and behave like a louse to any woman who wanted true love and constancy – that is, if there were any such women about. So really, having felt previously let down in romantic aspirations by her previously male encounters, who she had only gone so far near, Kate was being brainwashed utterly, for if the veil was taken from before her eyes, Vernon was a bigger louse than all the rest by far.

The deception practised and promulgated by Vernon however was bound to come out one day, as when a bubble bursts with a pin prick, as blown up by hot air only. Clients and visitors to the sauna near the Northern Bay usually came from the tourist trade, or locals who happily shunted in surrounding townships such as Spanish Town or Kingstone, coming there on the tram linkages and fragmented rail network. Vernon usually kept them all sweet, being extra friendly whenever it suited his chances to be so. His attitude to work, manning the reception occasionally, promoting the venue in person, advertising his relationship with Kate as A1 and stupendous and perfect, was brilliant according to his conveniently absent boss. He felt he had Kate in thrall, caught like a rat in a trap, or a fish in a tied net, but events transpired so that she had a means of escape, after his ploy was made transparent in the most horrible way possible.

Kate was beginning to help out in the tiny snack bar in the sauna, serving cakes and cold drinks in the middle of May, as the summer season was imminent, when a female American tourist approached with a concerned expression on her face. The lady was dressed in black like a modernist Goth and yet her hair was most conventional, with her blonde tresses resting on her slim shoulders, and a clasp handbag in strident vermillion imitation leather slung under her arm.

“Hi dear” she said, in a most emphatic, some would say overly preoccupied voice.

“I came in here because I want to tell you something. I hope I do not give you too great a shock but the guy you are with is just using you and is already spliced. He is actually married if the Londoner I mean. He’s just using you as a bit on the side. I need to tell you that...”

Kate reeled back in shock as she poured our fizzy orange from the jug.”Really”she said, in astonishment and distress. Her correspondent could hear the unease in her tone. “How on earth do you know that? He seemed okay to me. Are you sure you got your facts right? His name is Vernon and he used to run a sauna in London, yes, but if you are from USA I really cannot see how you found out his personal circumstances? I know he introduced himself as a single man who came to the choccie shop where I used to work. We moved here when he brought me on a holiday package tour with Club Med, after he got a job and resettled. We intend staying together for we like each other’s company too much to split. I simply cannot believe what you are telling me.”

“It is true what I say. I’m called Mrs Vermont and originate from New York City and have been holidaying at the Calypso. The proprietor received a call the other day intimating that someone had passed on a message that he is the same guy who migrated from London and his wife has learned a girl called Tania is out here from her area. Tania is someone who Vernon never met and just flew back home, but she came in her recently and spotted Vernon, after seeing pics his wife showed her when she went to visit. He is nothing but a two timer and you should get rid.”

So the cat was out of the bag and heads would roll. Kate began to accept the truth. She was so gullible. As soft as butter with men. This time she had been falling for a slick charmer and had fallen for his ploy, hook line and sinker. The problem was how to face him out.

She took the bull by the horns and faced him out that night. He was about to get into bed and she forbade him her company under the covers. She accused him on the spot and he reddened but since she had evidence had to accept his blame. He said yes, he had a wife, but she was convalescent, not fit to be related to. He hoped Kate would understand some people were not full eggs, and were not fit to be related to and called human. Maybe even though disappointed in him, she would consent to remain a nice bit on the side, since he valued her and gave her a status, as his partner, although of course aiming to get married would be very difficult unless he divorced Elena.

But to his surprise, even though he had loosened Kate’s stays and morals so far, she had her sticking point and said he should get out of her life. She tried law firms in the area, but they were slick, flimsy, easy on men of his type who had taken liberty to cajole and wander. She flung insult after insult at him calling him a failed big shot, a rabid adulterer, a person fit only to be put

out with a stun gun, though she would only dare use a child’s toy as a Colt 45. She was an object of ridicule and resented being so.

Vernon determined that he would hold on to his job. He had few scruples about what he did to Kate. Elena knew what he was. So how on earth would she survive and resume a career? If the law was fixed to favour philanders, lawyers maybe having it off with affairs themselves both in the Caribbean and Western World, although hopefully only a few strayed, what world of entrepreneurial intrigue and marital double dealing was she being pulled into? A world where money talked, and extra marital sex ensured survival. She had thrown in notice over the network. Her rise from rags to riches in London Town had been once applauded. Now she had let Chesterton down. Would he allow her back?

She sat back at home within three weeks, disconsolate and head in hands, having released floodgates and wept copious tears to her mother. Her mother was flabbergasted and appalled. Kate was to apply for a new opening in the retail sector to go part time in Debenhams next week. She could not dispute that Vernon had got away with it. The issue was would the system that swung with his racket, and booted up his ballgame, ever allow her to show herself behind a public counter again?

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