previous chapters already posed
Arthur had given George enough money for a room the night prior to his journey back to London. Both men had agreed it was best if he had a good nights’ sleep and freshened up before his journey home. Close to the station he came across a boarding house that had a vacancy. The lodgings were in a respectable area and the landlady who answered the door seemed pleasant enough, despite her initial stern approach.
“I’ll let yer the room but on certain conditions. No women, no alcohol, no noise and be in by 9.30 after which me front door is locked. I take the nights rent in advance and no refunds.”
It seemed that as long as he agreed to abide by her rules, she wasn’t put off by his unkempt appearance. He wondered how much the sight of the money clutched in his fist had swayed her opinion.
“Seems fair enough, Mrs,” George nodded, agreeing to her terms. There didn’t seem anything else he could do other than agree. He needed the room. Silently, she showed George to his room.
“Supper is at supper at half past seven. I don’t wait,” she said, as she left the room as sternly as she’d opened the front door to him several minutes beforehand.
George sat, once again, on a strange bed in a strange room as he contemplated his next move. His thoughts were interrupted by a sharp tap that heralded the doors’ opening. The landlady placed a china jug of hot water in a large matching bowl on the small set of drawers under the window.
“Thought you might welcome this. I keep a respectable house,” she announced gruffly, and left before George had a chance to say his thanks.
Washing himself and dusting off his clothes he felt more respectable than he’d done in a long time. It was good to be going home. He hadn’t written to Mary to tell her of his imminent arrival. He felt guilty but there had been no point in giving her false hopes in case things didn´t go his way. The thought of Mary warmed his heart. His night time dreams always heralded his waking moments with thoughts of the touch of her lips and the scent of her neck. The reality of his dreams beckoned.
He’d given the landlady his own name. He had no reason any more to hide behind another alias. For the time being there was nothing more he could do, although he knew he wasn’t finished with Joe Kempton. He never would be. He was brought back from the depth of his thoughts by a voice calling him. He realised it was time for supper and his grumbling stomach confirmed as much.
There were three other gents around the table who politely greeted George.
“Mince beef and onion pie with peas and mash, Mr. Hinkley,” said the landlady, her pink powdered face smiled as she spoke, the peach lipstick bleeding into her plump lips. George had scrubbed up well and she felt proud her initial judgement of him wasn’t disappointed.
“A feast fit for a king,” said George as he sat on the indicated chair.
“Mrs Beagley’s food is famed for miles,” a sandy haired, freckled faced man told George.
“I’m Norman Flint, by the way. Salesman of household goods. Stay here whenever I’m down this way. What about you?”
“George Hinkley. Just visiting old friends. I’m going back to London tomorrow,” he said courteously. He’d decided to tell the truth but keep it to a minimum.
“One of them be Joe Kempton? Saw you talking to him t’other night,” Norman said.
George nodded, realising the man liked to talk.
“Trouble maker, if you ask me,” Norman didn’t need questions for him to provide the answers; he just did. George nodded.
“I’d stay clear of him if I were you,” Norman was free with his advice. “I’ve come across him a few times over the years. Nowt but trouble. Always with the lasses, if you know what I mean. Plenty of rumours.....” Norman paused to take another bite of meat pie. The other men nodded in agreement.
George made no comment as he concentrated on eating his own meal.
“Yes, quite the one with the girls. Sometimes saw him in the pub. Like to have a small glass of ale before my supper. Yes, I’d see him once or twice then not again for awhile. ‘E liked the ale too, if you get me drift. Was a good boxer too, so I heard,” Norman certainly had a talent for talking and eating at the same time.
“Ever talk to him?” George asked, thinking Norman may have heard something that would prove useful sometime in the future.
“On several occasions. Like a good chat, I do.”
“What did he talk about?” George asked, encouragingly.
“Boxing and the fights he won. The girls he dallied with. Loved ‘em and left ‘em. He thought himself a hard man and a stud,” Norman winked, chortling as he forked more mash into his mouth.
There was a further hush around the table broken only by the munching of jaws.
“I think for all his bravado he had a soft spot for one girlie though. Heard her name mentioned on more than one occasion. Married ‘er was. Local lass but moved to London.”
George’s knife jangled against his plate. He waited with baited breath.
“Mary; that was it. I remember as it’s the same as me Missus; she left me you know,” Norman sighed, placing his knife and fork squarely on his empty plate.
George didn’t answer. The conversation turned to other things.
“I’ll bid you all goodnight. I have an early start in the morning,” George said as Mrs Beagley began to clear the dishes away. He rose and left the room to murmured goodnights.
Back in his room, he lay down allowing his thoughts to run riot. It couldn’t be his Mary, could it? Mary was a common enough name. But how many Devon lasses called Mary hadmoved to London? How many of those knew Joe Kempton? The questions revolved around his head like a carousel. He found no answers. Knowing Joe, he’d never tell the truth if asked. He’d lie just to goad George. No, best he did as he had planned and return to London the next morning. He wouldn’t rest until he knew the truth and until he’d dealt with Joe Kempton. The night crept and time ticked by but sleep was absent.
Dawn gave birth to a new day and new thoughts entered George’s head. The evening before, he’d planned on returning to London but now he wasn’t sure. Norman had innocently changed all that. If he did go back to London he’d have to face his colleagues and his Inspector. They would want an explanation of his absence. He had his reasons but the fact that he’d gone without permission would go against him. He could ask Mary about the conversation he’d had with Norman. If there was any truth in what the man had said, would she tell him the truth? Would she be like Joe and deny it, to protect herself? He’d always trusted her, but Norman’s words had been the chorus to Joe’s verses, and George was no longer sure he could believe anything Mary said.
It wasn’t a question of not trusting her. He needed to know the truth. If it turned out that anything untoward had happened between her and Joe, and it had been Joe’s fault then he would have forgiven her. He still loved his wife but that didn’t alter the fact that Joe Kempton had to pay.
By the time dawn broke, George had decided he wasn’t going to London. He would stay and seek the truth. One way or the other he would force the facts from Joe and make him pay. His conscience tugged at him and he realised he needed to write to Mary, regardless of what had happened in the past. He couldn’t offer her a return address. The least he could do was tell her he loved her and would be home when he’d taken care of unsettled business; whenever that would be. She was with Ma who’d take care of her. Lil and Eileen would watch out for her too. Thinking of Mary spurred him on.
As the church clock struck eight o’clock George bid Mrs Beagley farewell. Despite her stern manner, the woman believed him to be an honest man with a heavy weight on his shoulders. Just as he stepped on to the pavement she called him back.
“Wait a minute Mr. Hinkley. I hope you’ll accept some help from an old lady who sometimes acts with suspicion,” she said quietly, a fond smile crossing her mouth.
George looked back at her, not answering. He wasn’t sure he wanted her help but was willing to hear what she had to say.
“I hope you don’t mind me saying, but the late Mr. Beagley was about your size. I still have some of his things. Let’s go and take a look,” she turned as she spoke, and walked back into the house, evidently expecting him to follow, which he did.
She was waiting at the end of the hallway outside a room next to the kitchen. The varnished hall sparkled as it had done the night before. The aroma of lavender hung in the air. A small posy set in a fake crystal vase sat on a small polished table. It was obvious Mrs Beagley was a proud woman who liked the niceties of life. She opened the door and her hand waved him inside. He stepped gingerly into a room that was dominated by a double bed covered with a neat fuchsia pink bedspread and matching cushions against the bed head. A Victorian doll sat propped against them: her gaudily painted face beamed a welcome china smile. He felt her porcelain eyes follow his as he looked around. A large mahogany wardrobe filled a wall. The opposite wall provided a backdrop to a matching dressing table. The Beagleys´ had taste. Mrs Beagley crossed the room to the wardrobe and opened it. Her long, once feminine fingers flicked through the masculine clothes hanging within. George stood and watched. She pulled a suit from a hangar, then a shirt from a drawer and placed them on the bed.
“Try them. You’ll find a few other bits in the drawers,” she told him with an air of authority as she exited the room.
George looked at the clothes, fingering them gently. He had no doubt they’d fit him. Taking his time he changed into the clothes laid neatly in front of him. They were a good fit. He looked into the dressing table mirror, realising how much tidier he looked. He was pleased with what he saw, despite his shaggy hair and unshorn beard. Opening the door, he came face to face with Mrs Beagley who smiled approvingly.
“I can neaten the hair,” she said, holding a pair of scissors as if already invited. Having been bidden, he sat on the bed. Minutes later he was as neatly shorn as a newborn lamb.
“I don’t know what your story is, son,” the older woman said, “but I think you’re an honest man. I’ll help you as I can. Just don’t let me down.”
“I appreciate your help. It’s a long and complicated story.”
“It’s got something to do with this Joe, hasn’t it? Do you know this Mary that Norman talked about? I was watching yer face” she spoke gently.
“Yes,” he replied, wanting to repay her generosity with the truth.
“We won’t say any more about it. But if you need any help you know where I am.”
George nodded and turned down the hallway towards the front door. There was no need for words. Mrs Beagley stood in the door of the bedroom and watched the big man disappear, knowing that it was unlikely she’d see him again. She was just thankful she could have been of help.
In his new clothing and with his rucksack over his shoulder George stepped out along the street feeling in a lighter mood than he’d done in a long while. He’d lost track of Joe but knew it wouldn’t be long before he caught up with him again. The only thing that bothered him was the money he had in his pocket that Arthur Flaherty had lent him. Arthur had given it to him with the intention of helping him get back to London. No, he’d not tell Arthur he’d decided not to return to London yet. Both men knew the debt would be repaid. In the meantime George would continue his quest of truth and retribution.