Op. 20

 

DECEPTIVE MOTIVES

OR

A SYMPTOM OF DELIRIUM

 

Long Prose

 

Copyright © 1981-2010 John O'Loughlin

_____________

 

CONTENTS

 

Chapter One: A Birthday Favour

Chapter Two: Encounter with an Old Flame

Chapter Three: Mind of an Outsider

Chapter Four: Conversation with a Friend

Chapter Five: A Fatal Slip

Chapter Six: Anxious Husband

Chapter Seven: Disposal of the Evidence

Chapter Eight: On Morrison's Trail

Chapter Nine: A Most Unexpected Discovery

Chapter Ten: Encounter with Destiny

_______________

 

                                           Yet each man kills the thing he loves,

                                                            By each let this be heard,

                                                            Some do it with a bitter look,

                                                            Some with a flattering word.

                                                            The coward does it with a kiss,

                                                            The brave man with a sword.

                                                                                                  Oscar Wilde

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CHAPTER ONE: A BIRTHDAY FAVOUR

 

Julie Foster knew herself to be a beautiful woman, and so she was!  Barely five-feet seven inches tall and of slender build, she looked every bit the ravishing blonde that Dennis Foster had considered her to be ever since that day, just over three years ago, when he first laid eyes on her at a party thrown by some university friends.  This evening, she had determined to enhance her natural beauty with the aid of make-up and clothes which could only be described as tasteful, since it was her husband's thirty-eighth birthday and they had decided to go out to dinner together in the company of their best friends, rather than spend the evening indoors ... as they usually did on birthdays - her own not excepted. 

     Thus she carefully attended to her facial appearance in front of the dressing-table mirror, making slight textual adjustments to the pale-brown eye shadow as she sat in the calm glare of their brightly-lit bedroom.  She felt quite proud of herself, as women usually do, for looking so beautiful and smelling so fresh.  A bath had taken care of any impurities that clung to her skin and rendered it free of stain.  What is more, she had relieved both bowels and bladder just prior to taking it, which meant that she felt even cleaner, not to say purer, to herself than would otherwise have been the case - a feeling which was very important to her, since she usually felt more pleased with herself when she knew that she was clean not only outside but, in a manner of speaking, inside as well!

     Getting up from her seat in front of the dresser, she next turned her attention upon her clothes, checking to ensure that no stain or loose hair marred the purity of her sartorial appearance.  Her white cotton dress, freshly dry-cleaned, was suitably spotless and, satisfied that everything else was equally blameless, she switched off the bedroom light and headed along the narrow corridor of their five-room flat to where her husband reclined, reading a newspaper and sipping cognac, on the sitting-room's velvet settee.  He hardly looked up as she entered the room, for he was too engrossed in the sports pages.  But when Julie informed him that she was ready to go out, he glanced at his watch and casually noted that, at seven-thirty, it was still too early to set off for the West End.

     "But aren't we supposed to be meeting John and the others at eight o'clock?" she protested, slightly disappointed.

     "Eight-thirty actually," he corrected, turning back to his paper.  "Since we're not going to have dinner till nine, I decided to postpone our rendezvous thirty minutes."

     "Oh I see," said Julie, and she drew herself closer to the settee in order to scan the front-page headlines.  "Well, I guess I'll just have to wait until you're ready, won't I?"

     Dennis caught a fragrant whiff of his wife's perfume at that moment and, to her surprise, put his newspaper to one side.  Then he cast her an appreciative glance, briefly scanning her dress and facial appearance, before finishing off the rest of his cognac in one lusty gulp.  Next, to her greater surprise, he proceeded to run his free hand up-and-down the back of her dark-stockinged calf muscles, commenting on the pleasure it gave him to see her so nicely 'dolled-up'.

     Blushing faintly in spite of her self-confidence, she smiled down at him on reception of this compliment.  It was a slight reward, after all, for all the trouble to which she had gone to perfect her appearance, and somehow she didn't have the inclination or nerve to move away.

     "One wonders whether you're all dressed up for me or for someone else," he added, a touch cynically.

     "For you of course," Julie automatically responded.  "It's your birthday, remember?"

     Dennis nodded his curly-haired head and smiled faintly through crowned front teeth.  "Yes, and that being the case, I'm going to demand a special favour of you this evening," he remarked, putting his empty glass to one side.

     "Oh?"

     "I'm going to have your sweet little arse before we go out rather than after we come back, so as to experience you fresh and sober instead of stale and drunk for once!"  He had got to his feet and was encircling her waist with his large hands, drawing their bodies together.

     Instinctively, she made an effort to repulse him.  For she was quite taken-aback by this sudden change in his demeanour.  But he was too strong for her and proceeded to shower kisses and caresses upon her without further ado.  He slid his hands down her back as his lips pursued hers, hunting them down and squashing them against the front of her sparkling white teeth as soon as he had ensnared them.  Despite her misgivings, there was little point in resisting him, especially since it was his birthday and she was anxious not to spoil it for him.  He would just have to have his way, if they were subsequently to go out to dinner together in anything approaching an amicable mood.

     And so she gave-in to his caresses as he slid his hands down to her rump and squashed her buttocks in a powerful grip, violently drawing her groin against him in a frenzy of newly-awakened lust.  She felt his penis expanding under his jeans at this crush of groins and was less inclined to resist him now than before, especially since his hands had got under her dress and were seemingly pulling her buttocks apart, showing no respect for her panties but diving under them in order to get a firm grip on her flesh, as he wrenched the one buttock apart from the other with a ferocity which might have suggested he was intent upon tearing her in two rather than simply exposing her sex to his avid assault.  But before he could get at the latter he would have to remove her panties, which is what he next proceeded to do as, lifting her clean off the floor with one hand, he grabbed hold of them with the other and tore them from her trembling body with all the savagery of his pent-up lust.  She screamed as the pain of this forcible removal registered itself in her groin, but it was quickly eclipsed by the more familiar pain of penile intromission which followed hard in its swift wake as, clumsily unzipping himself, he thrust his newly-rampant organ into her with a powerful incisiveness that seemed like the thrust of a knife or sword, cleaving her in two.  Entwined, they stumbled to the floor, and it was there that she discovered her womanhood afresh, as he thrust powerfully backwards and forwards with an almost maniacal determination to bring himself to a peremptory climax, his lips chasing hers while his hands abandoned her buttocks for the ample contours of her half-naked breasts, thumbs pressing and rubbing against their nipples with an eagerness that could only intensify their mutual pleasure.

     She wailed and moaned, as he rode her towards ecstasy, her hands involuntarily clawing at his back in response to the mounting pressure of clitoral stimulation.  Her eyes began to roll and she was beginning to forget who or where she was, as she approached the thrilling destination towards which her husband was compelling her through the increasing urgency of his phallic thrusts.  She had even forgotten that she was spurring him on more ardently with each thrust and that, from being wide apart, her legs had slowly climbed up his sides to a point where they were beginning to encroach upon his back and crush him in a python-like grip.  But this was disturbing him and, fearing that he might lose his rhythm, he felt obliged to grab hold of them and hoist them up over his shoulders, as he drew nearer to the goal of his quickening ride.  And, sure enough, he arrived with a flurry of rapidly spasmodic ejaculations which burnt the core of his member as they streamed through its narrow pulsating channel, to enter the much wider channel of Julie's gaping sex, which, convulsed in turbulent orgasm, could only reciprocate his climax in synchronous submission.  Proudly, he felt her spasms of sexual relief engulfing his own, as her eyes rolled more violently in confirmation of orgasmic fulfilment.  Her body had become as limp as jelly, it seemed to be melting into his own, losing its density, becoming like wax in his hands.  Ah, how good it felt to have her completely at his mercy like this, completely under his physical domination!

     However, much as he had assuaged the brunt of his lust, Dennis was as yet nowhere near through with his sexual pleasures.  For his penis was no less erect now that it had shot its fiery load than before and, taking advantage of the fact that he still held her thighs over his shoulders, he fiercely disengaged it from its temporary nesting-place and turned her onto her stomach, squeezing her breasts in both hands as he forced it between the gaping lips of her sex with a no-less incisive thrust than before, obliging her to renew the by-now familiar patterns of her moaning-and-groaning as much, seemingly, for his benefit as her own.  It was in this rear-entry position, curiously enough, that he sometimes allowed himself the benefit of the spoken word, never in the more liberal one, and this occasion was to prove fruitful in that respect as, withdrawing his erection to a point where its tip rested against the tangled fleece which richly crowned her gaping sex, he threatened her with a number of unorthodox pleasures, boasted of what he had achieved, and even congratulated her on being such an accommodating wife, the possessor of such a 'ravishing hole'.

     "I thought I was going to fuck the shit out of you," he went on, "but it appears your arsehole has remained in control of its burden after all, even with the weight of my cock to contend with."

     It was modesty that prevented Julie from confessing she had no faecal matter in her at present, but she couldn't resist succumbing to a broad smile all the same, even though the creamy tip of Dennis Foster's rampant phallus was tickling her anus and causing her a slight discomfiture.  She knew him well enough by now, however, to realize he was simply teasing her.  For, in reality, he was averse to sodomy and only inclined to threaten her with a damn good 'rectal rogering' as a means of further asserting his sexual power over her.  Where her anus was concerned, his principal interest lay in looking at and occasionally smelling it, as though to verify whether or not she had taken the trouble to wash and perfume it, which, incidentally, she usually had!  Frankly, it quite astonished him to think that she could make herself fresh and sweet all over, not just in the obvious places, and if, from time to time, he gave-in to the luxury of applying his lips to her rear orifice, it was more from an overspill of gratitude for her beauty than from any inherent anal fixity.

     If he had any specific perversions to confess to, however, they were more in the line of sexual curiosity or voyeurism.  Such as that time he had requested Julie to take a kind of hollow dildo, rather like the cardboard core of a toilet roll, into her vagina.  This cylindrical object once in place, he had then proceeded to push a tiny electric light-bulb on the end of a plastic wire along its length until, reaching the far end, its light gave him the necessary illumination with which to survey what he took to be the interior of her womb - a not particularly enlightening experiment, as it turned out, in that Julie wasn't pregnant and therefore subject to an expansion of the womb area.  But he reckoned that he had learnt a little about the fallopian tubes which he didn't already know, at any rate, and so concluded the experiment to have been moderately successful.  Months later, he wondered how he had ever brought himself to do such a crazy thing!  But by then he had acquired certain other sexual foibles and slight perversions.

     The worst he had ever done, he reflected, was to get Julie to shit into his hands - an event which he subsequently regretted more on account of the foul stench than the novel spectacle which the opening of his wife's sphincter had afforded him.  Thereafter he always confined this experiment to his fantasy life, giving it an occasional place-of-honour in defiance of Dean Swift, whose reproachful face he would endeavour to conjure-up at the climactic moment.  Contrary to the well-documented anti-faecal attitude of that madman, Dennis Foster's attitude to the fact that Julie shat was more usually one of contemptuous amusement than existentialist horror.  He would occasionally tease her by averring that she got more pleasure from shitting than fucking, and would remark, in Lawrence Durrell's time-honoured phrase, that people were partly tubes of shit, no matter how attractive or intelligent they happened to be.  "People will always be partly contemptible," he had once said to her, "so long as they're obliged to shit.  For shitting is contrary to the spiritual life and a diurnal detraction from the dignity of man."  And Julie had to concede that he had a point, although she knew enough about her seductive power over him to know that his spiritual life was neither particularly earnest nor advanced, and that he all-too-readily succumbed to fleshy temptations - so readily, in fact, that at times it was inconvenient to her, woman or no!

     But tonight was scarcely an exception!  For, unknown to Dennis, she had once again acquired a moral victory over him, obliging the smug dupe to abandon his spiritual preoccupations - admittedly not, in the form of reading the paper and drinking cognac, particularly elevated ones - and acknowledge her seductive power.  For the past thirty minutes he had been her sexual slave, giving himself to her with an ardour worthy of classical antiquity.  She had taken his loving gladly; for it was highly gratifying to her, making her feel newly proud of herself and satisfied, moreover, that her campaign of seduction, laid from the moment she evacuated her bowels to the moment she put the final touches of eyeshadow to her brows, had paid off, leading to an unequivocal, if at the time surprisingly swift, victory over Dennis Foster's spiritual life.  He would think, in his masculine self-centredness, that he had got the better of her.  But, in reality, it was her victory, and she knew it!

     However, that victory wasn't to last long, in her estimation.  For, with the termination of his carnal ardours and the chiming of eight from the nearby grandfather clock, she remembered that they were due to meet their friends in thirty minutes' time for dinner in the West End.  Almost panic-stricken, she disengaged herself from the futile residue of her husband's attentions and staggered to her feet, before casting a nervous glance towards the room's solitary wall-mirror.  Oh God, there was pink lipstick on her cheeks and the eyeshadow had somehow got smeared all over her brow!  Her hair was no longer presentable but tangled and greasy - in fact, positively dishevelled!  So much the mirror told her.  For she could see for herself that her stockings were no longer quite straight, and that her dress was slightly crumpled and stained.  Worse, her new nylon panties were lying on the carpet, torn in two places, and her brassiere, no longer in its original position, was damp with her husband's saliva.  Alas, her perfected appearance of a short while ago was ruined and, to such a deplorable extent, that she figured it would take her at least another thirty minutes to dress again, put her make-up to rights, and straighten out her hair, by which time they would be late for their rendezvous and in no question of having dinner at nine, as previously arranged!  And, to cap it all, Dennis fucking Foster was still lying stretched out on the carpet, smiling to himself and showing not the slightest concern over their predicament.  Really, birthday or no birthday, he might have shown some consideration for John and the others!

     "Dennis, darling, it'll take me at least half-an-hour to put my appearance to rights," Julie protested on a note of unfeigned concern.  "Which means that, if we're not to disappoint our friends, you had better phone them straightaway and postpone our rendezvous till nine."  She waited for him to make a move for the telephone or at least respond to her in some way.  But, to her consternation, he continued to smile and lie where he was, showing not the slightest interest in her suggestion.  "Dennis, did you hear me?" she pressed, raising her voice slightly.

     "Naturally, my dear," he replied.  "But there's no need for me to contact them, because we're not going anywhere.  I cancelled our engagement over an hour ago, on the grounds that I had a severe stomach ache and felt too sick for dinner.  When I saw you all dressed-up and ready to leave, I decided to lie to you rather than disappoint you with what, in the circumstances, you would only have regarded as bad news.  Besides, I wanted you to do me a birthday favour.  Had you not thought we were going out, you would never have gone to the trouble to make yourself so attractive tonight.  My birthday favour wouldn't have materialized, let alone been granted!  However, now that it has, I have nothing further to ask of you."  Having said which, he picked himself up off the floor, zipped-up his jeans, and returned to the settee where, helping himself to another drop of cognac from the main supply source on the adjacent table, he soon recommenced reading his newspaper.

     For her part, Julie simply hurried back to their bedroom, on the verge of tears.

 

 

CHAPTER TWO: ENCOUNTER WITH AN OLD FLAME

 

Peter Morrison had just dejectedly collected another rejected typescript from a cagey West End publisher and was feeling as glum as he usually did when confronted by such negativity, the fruit, he reckoned, of the extent to which most publishers had 'gone to the dogs' of heathenistic commerce.  His small leather bag now contained three typescripts which the publishing establishment had seen fit to reject, largely, he suspected, because they were too ideologically progressive and hence insufficiently commercial to guarantee their publisher a substantial profit.  It was becoming more than a little frustrating, especially as one knew that one was developing Truth to an unparalleled degree ... where the more important subjects in life, such as religion and culture, were concerned.  One had no option but to accept the fact that one was a literary outsider for whom commercial criteria were anathema, a hater of the capitalist status quo, with its market slavery.  No matter how much work one put into one's writings, no matter how technically or thematically accomplished they became, there was scant prospect of publication under the circumstances of continued market domination, least of all for somebody who was about as far removed from influential connections as it was possible to be, short of not being a human being at all, and a borderline if not confirmed misogynist, to boot!  One was simply knocking one's progressive, unworldly head against a solid wall of commercial reaction.  And Peter Morrison's head was severely bruised by now, after well over a hundred rejections of more than eighteen different typescripts!  Verily, life was no easy or laughing matter.  It was all too often an evil and troublesome affair!

     Gripping his burden to his chest, the literary outsider crossed the busy road along which he had been dejectedly walking and turned down a side street towards the little restaurant where he usually ate lunch whenever he visited the West End on a typescript-delivering and/or collecting mission these days.  It was a decent restaurant, the 'Three Lanterns', with a copious helping of tasty food at a very reasonable price.  Greeks ran the place and, as he well-knew by now, Greeks were usually a generous people - unlike the English, with their stinginess and money-grubbing commercialism!

     Ugh, how Peter Morrison loathed England!  He hadn't made a single friend during the past eight years of his residence in the north London borough of Haringey, and neither could he reasonably expect to make any.  For one thing, he was too poor to regularly venture beyond the depressing confines of the overcrowded environment in which he languished, a prisoner of penurious circumstances, and, for another, he disliked London anyway, especially his part of it, instinctively equating it with something inherently alien to himself, a sort of quasi-lunar Protestant-dominated environment in which the madness of commercial materialism prevailed, and to which he, an Irish-born Catholic outsider, had been exiled by unaccommodating people, who weren't really of his calibre, several years ago.  Besides, when one lives on a low income one can't afford to go to pubs or restaurants or cinemas or clubs on a regular basis, even if, by any chance, one wanted to, and neither can one afford to date women.  One remains, if one is in any degree a cultural cut-above-the-common-philistine-herd, a lonely celibate.  And a lonely, depressed, 'Steppenwolfian' celibate was exactly what Peter Morrison considered himself to be, despite his undeniably handsome appearance and relatively high intelligence. 

     To some extent, it was a combination of these and other qualities which had kept him solitary, since he regarded himself as both culturally and intellectually superior to most of the local people among whom he was obliged to live.  Women were rarely attractive to him in Hornsey, a factor which further contributed to his solitude, since he was incapable of fancying a woman unless she was both beautiful and, more importantly, intelligent with it, as few of them in the neighbourhood ever were.  And coupled to a negative response to an uncongenial environment, solitude inevitably led to depression, thereby strengthening the bars of the prison in which he morosely languished, forcing him, against his will, to lead a sort of psychologically crippled life.

     Yet at least women could be beautiful in the West End, which was some consolation.  There was usually at least one good-looking woman to be encountered every hundred or so yards, and sometimes more than one - women who either came from a different part of London or from outside it, and had the look, in consequence, of belonging to a superior milieu.  Ah, but how tantalizing and frustrating such women could be!  Sometimes he could hardly bear to look at them, so painfully conscious did they make him feel of what he ordinarily lacked.  He hadn't even so much as kissed anyone in over nine years!  Nine long years!  Ah God, what deprivation and misfortune!  What a way to live one's life, bereft of even the faintest shred of romance!  To be sure, one had a right to feel sorry for oneself under those circumstances, to curse one's fate for keeping one poor and, most especially, to curse the bourgeois publishing establishment for preventing one's work from reaching a potential public.  For, of course, there would be a public for his work, Morrison sensed that much.  There were always people who could be depended upon to take an interest in works which attacked capitalism for its competitive individualism and pointed the way towards a more civilized or, better, cultured future.  But, not altogether surprisingly, such people were usually denied access to works of a progressive nature by the capitalistic publishers, who controlled the flow of typescripts in-and-out of their offices and only published what they felt would make them a profitable return at that juncture in time, discarding literary merit in response to pragmatic considerations of the kind that turned the world into a place where 'smartness', or 'cleverness', was conceived in terms of opportunistic relevance rather than in relation to the intrinsic artistic or philosophic excellence of any given work!  The more progressive people were obliged to suffer the consequences of this deplorably immoral state-of-affairs, to make do with what they were supplied with or, assuming that was beneath them, to search further afield for more congenial publications elsewhere, perhaps scorning books altogether in favour of some more radical medium of literary dissemination which, in any case, would do greater service to the content and scope of their work than ever the overly liberal medium of books could, what with their rectilinear and other limitations that, certainly in the case of paperbacks, owed more to the earth than to any other-worldly transcendence of it.  Sometimes they were lucky, sometimes not.  All too often they became either embittered enemies of the capitalist status quo or defeated pessimists, refusing to accept that things could ever be any different.

     Arriving at the 'Three Lanterns', Morrison ill-temperedly pushed his way through the crowded doorway where, as ever, people were queuing to pay their bills and, seeing that the upstairs part of the restaurant was full, he quickly descended the stairs to the basement.  Once there, he straightaway established himself at an empty table and gratefully disburdened himself of the seemingly ever-increasing weight of his typescript-laden bag, putting it to one side of himself on the elongated leather bench which stretched beyond his table to the adjacent ones on either side.  Almost immediately a waiter descended on him with bill-pad in hand and, after a brief scrutiny of the menu, he nervously ordered curried beef, which was about the cheapest thing on it.  Then he poured himself a glass of water and took a casual look round the tables in order to ascertain the approximate nature of his fellow-diners.  It was pretty crowded down here too, for the most part with people in suits and dresses, but it didn't take him long to recognize the face of a young woman seated at the table almost exactly opposite his own.  For a moment, he thought his eyes were deceiving him.  But there was nothing about the sudden increase in the pace of his heart, or the equally sudden nervousness in his hands, which would have confirmed that supposition!  Rather, these all-too-real physical factors combined to assure him that the woman with whom he had so tragically fallen in love some nine years ago, the only woman with whom he had ever been deeply in love, was now sitting no more than a few yards away, and talking to a female companion who sat in front of her.  Amazed, he continued to stare at her, forgetful of the glass of water he held in his trembling right hand and only conscious of the extraordinary beauty of this woman whose love he had sought in vain, all those years before.

     Yes, it was Julie all right, what with that unmistakably cultured and self-confident voice, but now more beautiful than ever, her blue eyes brighter and her blonde hair blonder than when he had last seen her.  Oh God, what a tragedy it had proved to be for him, not having secured her love and taken her as his girlfriend, if not, eventually, his wife!  No other woman had come to take her place in his affections since that magical moment when he had fallen in love with her at Victoria Station on his way home from work, one fateful evening in March or April 1972, during the days when he used to commute up and down from Surrey by train.  And hardly a day had passed, in the meantime, when she had not entered his thoughts at some time, no matter how briefly, or played a star role in his fantasy life.  At times it seemed as though he would go mad from thinking about her, so tight a grip did her beauty still have on him.  She was like a Solonge de Cleda for him and he was her hapless Grandsailles, loving from a distance.  No wonder he was still alone!  It appeared that only a certain type of woman could please him, and that once such a woman had got an emotional hold on him he was incapable of taking an interest in anyone else.  There was more than a passing comparison not only with Dali's fictional characters, but with Dante's factual reality in his life and experiences.  Had not Julie become a kind of Beatrice for him throughout these solitary, celibate years?

     Inevitably, his curiosity aroused her attention and in some degree obliged her to reciprocate.  He blushed violently and lowered his eyes in shame, though not before he had noticed that she, too, had recognized him and was becoming subject to more than a hint of emotional confusion.  Indeed, her expression betrayed a momentary astonishment.  But she had recognized him, of that there could be little doubt, and, in spite of the intervening years, was prepared to offer him a modest smile by way of acknowledgement.  His blush deepened, though not before he had returned the compliment and made an attempt at acknowledging her table companion, who, with some reluctance, had half-turned around to see who or what had attracted Julie's attention.  However, the arrival of his dinner precluded him from getting to his feet and worming his way into their conversation - a thing he might have felt obliged to do under different circumstances.  For Julie was not now the woman she had appeared to be a few minutes ago, prior to his appearance on the scene, but had become strangely self-conscious and seemingly absorbed in her meal.  He thought maybe she was regretting that she wasn't alone at table.  For he knew that she had always liked him, in spite of his failure to secure her love.  He still believed her excuses, all those years ago, about already being engaged to be genuine, and wasn't prepared to accept that he had been coldly snubbed.  Besides, it was usually possible to tell when a woman fancied one, and he had been given little cause to doubt that his desire for her was the converse side of her desire for him, being but one side of a two-way reflection.  There was always a basic logic to love, which made it natural for the attractiveness of the persons involved to be mutually acknowledged.  Comparatively rare was the fate of the man whose tastes were not subject to a reciprocal response!

     Meanwhile Julie had finished her meal and was doing what she could to keep her attention to herself; though Morrison could see that his presence in front of her was still causing her a degree of emotional confusion.  He wondered if he oughtn't to carry his dinner over to their table, but somehow that seemed out of the question, especially with the other woman there.  He had always been shy and reserved, in any case, and never more so than in the company of female strangers!  There seemed to be no alternative but to sit still and pretend that Julie wasn't there.  Yet she wasn't making this easy, what with her furtive glances and the occasional comment that passed between the two women.  On the contrary, it was becoming steadily harder.  So much so that when, less than five minutes later, they both got up from their table and slowly headed towards the stairs, it was quite impossible for Morrison to restrain the impulse to follow suit.  Grabbing his leather bag, he staggered up from his table, leaving the curried beef less than half-eaten, and followed them up the stairs.  He had waited several years for the opportunity of seeing her again, and now that it had so unexpectedly arrived, he wasn't going to let it slip away from him that easily.  Rather, he wished to renew their tenuous links of the past and, if possible, acquire what he had lacked all these years - namely a girlfriend.

     But Julie appeared not to want to make the task very easy for him.  For she was already half-way up the stairs in close pursuance of her companion.  Only when she reached the top of them did she cast a brief glance over her shoulder, in order to verify whether she was being followed and, when this became evident, succumb to a faint smile, accompanied by a fresh wave of embarrassment.  For his part, Morrison was as nervous and self-conscious as he had ever been, but, at the same time, strangely detached, like he had some imperative task to attend to which had to be accomplished whatever the consequences.  That task was made more imperative now as he, too, reached the top of the stairs and stood immediately behind her, behind that tantalizing rump and wavy-blonde hair which had caused him so much frustration in the past!  Today, as luck would have it, Julie was dressed in a pair of tight-fitting pink cords which more than amply emphasized the curvaceous outlines of her highly seductive behind, making it difficult for him to restrain the impulse to reach out a hand and caress it.  But restrain himself he did, if only because he was holding his leather bag in one hand and searching for some money with the other, in order to pay the bill or, at any rate, expenses (since he had left his table before the waiter could hand him one) at the door.  His tongue, however, was quite free, and he used it to stammer a few words to the effect that he hadn't seen her for a long time.

     She turned briefly towards him, smiled, but made no comment upon what was, after all, a self-evident admission.

     "You do remember me, don't you?" he asked, feeling pathetic.

     Again she turned and smiled.  "Am I supposed to?" she evasively replied.

     "Well ...” He hesitated on the verge of an explanation, not knowing where to begin.  It was evident that she wasn't particularly happy to see him after all - possibly owing to the presence of her female companion or perhaps even his down-at-heels look.  "You might recall that I ...” But again he couldn't bring himself to continue and, to his dismay, blushed crimson.  Meanwhile her companion had paid her bill and she was next in line.  He didn't have time to say anything further to her, under the circumstances, but nonetheless edged a little closer, so that they were almost touching and he could distinctly smell the scent of her hair, despite the immense variety of conflicting aromas in the room.

     "Next please," beckoned the white-coated waiter on the till, and now it was Morrison's turn to pay, which he reluctantly proceeded to do, albeit with a shaky hand in view of the state of near arousal to which the close proximity of Julie's body had brought him.  She, however, had left the restaurant in silence, leaving him staring out onto the pavement while he waited for his change.

     Not to be rebuffed, he hurried out after her, determined to follow whichever way she went, and was more than a trifle surprised to discover her standing to one side of the entrance, ostensibly staring into the window of an adjacent shop.  Her companion, however, was walking on down the street, apparently having decided to go her separate way.  It didn't take much imagination for Morrison to grasp that they had probably arranged to split-up in order to allow him to renew his acquaintance with Julie and, basing his next move on that supposition, he walked over to where she was standing and smiled a tentative but engaging smile at her.  "Yes, what a long time it is since we last met," he remarked, without further ado.  "You were still a student then, if I remember correctly."

     "A teacher now," Julie admitted, in a soft though firm voice.

     "Oh, really?"  It came as quite a surprise to the literary outsider, who could hardly disguise his relief at getting a reply.  Her subject, he remembered, was geography, so doubtless she was teaching that now.  "And where?" he wanted to know.

     "In London," was all she would say, which quite puzzled him.  "And what are you doing?" she asked in due course.

     "Oh ..." he hesitated, blushing anew "... I'm a writer actually.  Have been so for a number of years - since 1976 in fact."  He almost regretted having said this.  For he had still not found a publisher several years on, as confirmed by the typescripts in his leather bag.

     "My, so that's what all this is about, is it?"  She was eyeing the bag in question.

     "Yes," he shamefacedly replied, hardly daring to look.  "These are the typescripts of three recent novels."

     She looked at him suspiciously, almost mockingly, and then turned her attention towards the shop window again.  "Who's your publisher?" she wanted to know.

     He felt a lump in his throat and a sort of sick feeling in the pit of his stomach.  "Unfortunately, I haven't acquired one as yet," he managed to confess, averting his eyes from her.  "My attempts to find one have met with no success."

     "What, since 1976?"

     "Regrettably."

     She looked slightly concerned, if not worried.  "But how do you manage to survive?" she asked.

      "I have a part-time job," he lyingly replied, fearing that if he told her the shameful truth about being on the dole and officially unemployed, she would simply walk away.

      "And presumably that leaves you enough free time to write, does it?" she conjectured.

     "Yes, three whole days a week, plus some time at the weekends," he admitted.

     "But don't you find it depressing, being alone so much?" she remarked.

     "Sure it is," he conceded, grimacing slightly in spite of himself.  "But one learns to live with that fact and to carry on as best one can, since one can't very well write in company or with other people hanging around one all the time, you know.  A writer's lot is mainly solitary, in any case.  Though, for me, solitude is largely a consequence of exile in this city, not to mention country, and of not having very much money to live on." 

     Julie blushed in spite of herself and quickly lowered her eyes.  She felt momentarily sorry for him, since she could tell that he wasn't bluffing.  "Don't you have any friends at all?" she asked, curious to discover something more about his private life.

     "None whatsoever," he confessed.  "I lost the last friend I had about eight years ago, when circumstances beyond my control obliged me to leave Surrey and move to London.  Since then, apart from a brief stay at my mother's flat during my first year in London, I've lived entirely alone."

     Julie could hardly believe her ears.  "No wonder you're depressed!" she exclaimed.  "One can't live alone all that time and not suffer the consequences."  Frankly, she was almost afraid of him.  For he suddenly seemed, on the face of it, more like a monster than a human being.  To be sure, there was always an element of self-defence in ordinary people that drove them to scorn those more unfortunate than themselves, rather than to help them or show compassion towards them, and she was beginning to feel the pressure of this ignoble element now, as she stood beside him, as beside an outcast from society who was likely to be more of an enemy than a friend.  Maybe he was no longer capable of friendship, in any case?  She didn't know how next to speak to him and was surprised when she heard him ask her if she wouldn't like to come back to his bedsitter, since it was cold standing out here on the pavement and, anyway, they could talk better in private.  It was an offer which also caused her a degree of trepidation.  For she didn't know whether she could trust him to behave decently or considerately if she did by any chance accept his invitation, especially since he couldn't have invited all that many people to visit him in the past.  Nevertheless, since she had no specific plans for the afternoon (it being the first week of the Christmas holidays), she felt vaguely attracted to the idea, if for no other reason than simple curiosity.  "Where exactly do you live?" she at length asked, blushing faintly.

     He told her.

     "Well, if you promise not to detain me beyond four o'clock, as I have a friend to meet later this afternoon, I think I can accept your invitation," she informed him, doing her best to sound grateful.  Her heart was beating fiercely while she spoke, partly because it seemed to her a betrayal, implicitly or otherwise, of her husband, whom she had never been unfaithful to before.  Perhaps, however, now was the time, bearing in mind the deceitful nature of his behaviour towards her on Saturday evening, when he had led her on under false pretences and then forced himself upon her in such a callous manner?  Of course, she couldn't be sure that this Peter Morrison had sexual ambitions in mind, though it seemed unlikely, if he still fancied her, that he would remain content merely with conversation for very long.  After all, he evidently wasn't the kind of guy to go out of his way to establish purely friendly relations with anyone.  There had to be some ulterior motive and, as she now knew, he had no shortage of serious problems - not least of all where sex was concerned!

     Despite her surface misgivings, however, she realized, deep down, that she was agreeing to his proposal not only out of simple curiosity or, indeed, the desire to avenge herself on Dennis Foster, but, more significantly, as a means of atoning, in some degree, for all the suffering she had unwittingly inflicted upon him in consequence of his unrequited love.  She felt that a sacrifice of some kind on her part was long overdue, especially now that the Christmas spirit had taken hold of her and made her more willing to befriend someone.  Besides, it seemed to her that it was partly her fault that he was now in the fix he was in, hiding away from people, and women in particular, out of a fear that he might get dragged into another unrequited love-affair, and have to suffer the bitter consequences all over again.

 

 

CHAPTER THREE: MIND OF AN OUTSIDER

 

All through the years of his enforced exile in London, as he still preferred to think of it, Peter Morrison had lived in bedsitter accommodation - a fact which he mortally loathed and never ceased to regret.  His neighbours, in each of the old tenements he had inhabited, were for the most part obnoxious to him, especially the nearest ones, who lived either overhead or underneath or right next-door, as the case might be.  He had never established friendly relations with any of them, and this was also a source of regret to him.  To be surrounded, all the time, by people one despised - ugh! how loathsome such an experience was for him.  How he had wished, on various occasions, that there was someone living in close proximity to him whom he could regard as a kindred spirit and fellow-intellectual.  Yet there was never anyone, seemingly, but the lumpen proletariat around him, and so he had been obliged to turn his back on them and become increasingly introverted and solitary.  He regarded himself, not entirely without justification ... in view of his provincial background, both in Surrey and, before that, in Hampshire, as effectively déclassé, an intellectual outsider isolated amid the urban proletariat, forever doomed to a life of solitude tempered not only by personal suffering, such as depression and poor health generally, but by the impersonal suffering caused by the steady barrage of noise and insults his neighbours inflicted upon him, wittingly or unwittingly, in the course of their simple pleasures.  There could be no question of one's identifying with their interests and behaviour!  Culturally speaking, his was a world apart from theirs, though, unfortunately, a world brought all-too-close to their one by his neighbourly proximity to them in three successive bedsitters.  Their world, revolving around the television, the radio, the stereo, or the video-recorder, all-too-frequently encroached upon his studious and literary one, making it necessary for him to plug his ears with wax in order to minimize the painful disturbances to which their various noises gave rise. 

     Ah, how one suffered through the ears!  There were times when he wished he were deaf, so that he could forget about the damn neighbours and get on with his studies in peace.  Times, too, when he reflected that it would have been better had man been endowed, at birth, with a tiny switch on the side of his head which enabled one to switch hearing on-and-off at will, as the occasion demanded.  Being partly of diabolic origin, however, nature had not supplied any such device, and so one was obliged to tolerate whatever crude noise came one's way - assuming one hadn't taken the sensible precaution of plugging-up with wax.  For his own part, Morrison was prepared to believe that 70-80% of his impersonal sufferings were directly or indirectly related to noise, and that, without hearing, life would be almost agreeable.  Almost!  Because then one would be deprived of the sound of great music, not to mention the possibility of listening to the sounds, sexual or otherwise, of an attractive woman's voice every once in a while.

     Returning to his bedsitter with Julie, it was indeed the sound of her voice that he was particularly conscious of, so pleasant was it for him to be hearing her speak again, after so many years.  How sick and tired he had grown of proletarian voices, of cockney accents laced with vicious expletives and snide denigrations!  Whenever he ate lunch at the local café, there would always be a group of men there whose conversation was copiously laced with swearwords of an explicitly sexual nature.  His cultivated sensibilities would be offended by their coarse words and banal phrases, and he would turn away from them in disgust, filled with a kind of Trotskyite loathing for their incessant vulgarity.  Paradoxically, however, he had come to understand the logic of the proletariat's particular choice of swearwords and to regard it, not altogether unreasonably, as manifesting a basic moral superiority over the upper classes. 

     Of course, he knew himself to be essentially upper-middle-class in his moral sensibilities, and thus subject to the occasional use of words such as damn, bloody, bastard, and so on.  But, having lived so long in a proletarian environment, he could to some extent empathize with the employment of such typically proletarian expletives as 'cunt', 'fuck', 'fucking bastard', 'cock-up', etc., which testified, whether or not their users realized the fact, to a contempt for sex.  J.B. Priestley had himself remarked somewhere that, in using such words, the people concerned were 'coarsely contemptuous' of their sexual relations, and, by God, how true that statement was! 

     On the other hand, the bourgeoisie, in living closer to nature in their suburban houses, generally had more respect for sex, which is, after all, a natural act, and consequently refrained from the use of swearwords expressing contempt for it.  Yet this, ironically, struck Morrison as representing a lower and inferior attitude to that expressed by the typical proletarian, who was only too ready, at times, to accuse someone of being a 'fucking bastard', i.e. a bastard who fucks, or a 'fucking cunt', i.e. a cunt which fucks or, alternatively, a cunt for fucking, and other such variations on an accusatory theme.  The proletariat, instinctively or otherwise, could see the sexual act and parts of the body as being intrinsically low and were prepared, in consequence, to brand them with words designed to emphasize that lowness.  Not so the bourgeoisie, who had a much greater respect for such matters, and would have been ashamed to use anything stronger than 'bastard' or 'bloody'.  And so it generally was with Peter Morrison, though he had on one or two past occasions given way to stronger denigrations of his neighbours when circumstances had obliged him to lose his temper and hurl retaliatory abuse at them - either directly or, more usually, through their walls.  Afterwards he would regret it, but that was only to be expected.  He could never quite evade his idealistic conscience!

     Julie's voice fell silent, however, as soon as they reached the house where Morrison lived, whether because she was becoming nervous at the fate she imagined probably lay in store for her or because of some other reason, he couldn't quite decide.  Perhaps it was simply the derelict appearance of the old tenement itself, which now disgusted or depressed her?  Yes, he had often felt that way himself when approaching it.  There could be no question of one's identifying with the building or even the street as a whole, no possibility of one's thinking: 'This is a community I'm an integral part of, and this is where I'm proud to live!'  No, absolutely not!  All one could be conscious of, apart from a feeling of shame, was the thought that one was simply isolated here, an outsider blown in from the provinces by adverse circumstances who couldn't pretend that he had been brought-up in such a street or had any real respect for it.  It was all somehow alien, other, distasteful.  And one was obliged, through poverty, to endure it, to live with it willy-nilly.  One was, in a very real sense, its victim.  Just as, in living in a single bedsitter among noisy neighbours, one was a victim of the lumpen proletariat.  No question of one's loving them, under those circumstances!  One's socialism, largely forced upon one through environmental conditioning, could only be tempered by a loathing of their condition, by the hope that one day it would be replaced by something higher.

     And so we needn't be surprised if Peter Morrison felt ashamed to be living where he was and, partly on that account, disinclined to invite such women as would ordinarily have appealed to him back to his room.  The thought of dragging a well-spoken, cultured young lady (assuming he could have found one in the local milieu) up the dismal stairs, past the scratches and dirt on the walls, along the bare floorboards of the carpetless corridor, and into his dingy room, with its dirty walls, battered furniture, stained ceiling, grimy windows, tattered carpet, etc., was too humiliating to bear for long, and had always precluded him from making the experiment.  So, needless to say, had the fact that, once there, she would have been subject to both neighbour and environmental noises, including, in the latter case, the malignant barking of several nearby dogs, the screaming of vicious kids - not children! - in the next-door alleyway, the hammering of nearby workmen, and a whole host of often indescribable disturbances which would have contributed, he felt sure, to their mutual humiliation and disgrace!

     But as if that wasn't bad enough, there was the even worse prospect, so far as Morrison was concerned, of having his conversation and actions overheard by the nearest neighbours, whose close proximity to him behind their all-too-thin walls, under his floor in the ground-floor room or above his ceiling in the attic room, would be bound to inhibit him and make him feel unpleasantly self-conscious, what with his classy accent and studious interests.  He couldn't even bring himself to play classical music or modern jazz through his stereo speakers these days, but, partly because he was afraid to draw more noise from his neighbours than he already had to endure, and partly because he didn't want to unduly emphasize his cultural superiority over them, habitually employed headphones for the purpose, thereby keeping his musical tastes to himself. 

     Alas, what a pity that the downstairs neighbours couldn't do the same!  How often he had to endure the regular thump-thump-thump of exceedingly banal bass parts to tedious rock or pop songs which the young couple underneath habitually played, the volume of their radiogram at a level guaranteed to disturb even someone half-deaf!  Why, he wondered, did responsible adults and irresponsible adolescents have to share the same house?  Surely a law prohibiting the indiscriminate mixing of such disparate age-groups in lodging houses or other communal buildings would have saved people like himself a great deal of unnecessary hardship?  Yes, but like it or not, there were a thousand-and-one other non-existent laws which could have been brought into existence expressly for that purpose too, but which, thanks or no thanks to the existing political state-of-affairs in the country, failed to materialize.  That was simply the way of things!

     Fortunately for Peter Morrison on this occasion, however, the room into which he led his female captive wasn't subject to the intrusion of any such external noises but, to his great relief, almost deathly silent.  Even the huge shaggy dog, a few houses away, was uncharacteristically quiet, probably because he was dozing or sleeping.  Good, let sleeping dogs lie, as the saying went.  Too often people did their damnedest to disturb them!  "Well, this is it," he said with an air of enforced bravado, after he had gently closed the door behind Julie's advancing form and freed himself from the oppressive burden of his rejected typescripts.  "This is where I live and work."

     Julie gave the room a brief if slightly condescending inspection, before removing her short leather coat and, at Morrison's bidding, sitting herself down on the nearest chair to-hand, which was neither hard nor soft but somewhere in-between, part of the stuffing knocked out of it and the upholstery torn in a number of fairly conspicuous places.  This aspect of its appearance, however, she preferred not to notice but, instead, focused her attention on the modest bookcase which stood next to it, the top shelf crammed with his typescripts, the middle shelf given over to his tiny collection of favourite paperbacks, and the bottom one, which was the tallest, serving to house his fairly substantial collection of LPs, most of which had been bought second-hand and were now, like their owner, somewhat dated.  "Gosh, what a lot of work you've done!" she exclaimed, as her bright eyes alighted on the piled-up typescripts.  "And not one of them accepted by a publisher?"

     "No," Morrison tersely confirmed, a look of embarrassment on his clean-shaven face.  "In a sense, they're all too good to be published."

     "How d'you mean 'too good'?" she queried, slightly puzzled.

     "Too philosophical, too progressive, too revolutionary, too serious-minded, too truthful, too anti-Christian, too anti-bourgeois, too ... transcendental," he replied, his tone-of-voice grave, his countenance stern, like he had just stepped out of his natural self into some all-too-familiar professional persona with world-shattering implications!  "My approach to writing is ... too idealistic, in a word, for the money-grubbing commercial requirements of the capitalistic publishing establishment, who require much less-elevated typescripts.  The publishing bourgeoisie live off adventure stories, war stories, pornography, crime stories, thrillers, romances, the occult, etc., which I would find it impossible, not to say undesirable, to write.  My works, focusing on religious, political, social, and cultural matters, are evidently insufficiently commercial to prove economically viable, so far as the great majority of publishers are concerned.  No doubt, the bastards are right to believe that!  Most people are probably either too base or too stupid to appreciate such writings, or have been corrupted and brainwashed by the publishing establishment into only buying the sort of commercial trash which tends to prevail!"  Julie did her best to smile sympathetically through the haze of embarrassment which engulfed her in the wake of his bluntness, before dropping her gaze down to the middle shelf, where some thirty or so publications were to be seen in order of author.  They were all classical works and included six by Nietzsche - The Will to Power being the most conspicuous on account of its greater bulk.  "I see you like Nietzsche," she commented, by way of observation.

     "Liked Nietzsche would be nearer the mark," he corrected, looking at the battered spines of the paperbacks in question.  "All those works were bought over five years ago and aren't particularly indicative of my current tastes, which, for want of adequate money, are dependent on the local library.  Some idiotic impulse compels me to hold on to them, as though to prove to any prospective visitor to my room that I'm relatively cultured and not semi-literate, like the neighbours.... Not that I have any visitors as a rule, as I think I intimated to you earlier.  Still, one grows sentimentally attached to certain books, whether or not one is no longer inclined to read them.  They were important to one once, and that's the main thing!"

     "Yes, I quite agree," said Julie, offering him a brisk nod of her wavy-blonde head.  "Where Nietzsche is concerned, one's virtually on sacred ground.  He's one of those writers whose works didn't appeal to a very wide public in his own day, either."

     "Quite so," Morrison conceded, grimacing slightly at the thought of Nietzsche being sacred, though he was quite the most Catholic Lutheran he knew and no mean transcendentalist as far as the Superman was concerned.  "Nietzsche didn't sell very many books in his own day, and neither, for that matter, did Baudelaire and Schopenhauer - two outstanding geniuses who also grace my shelf," he went on.  "But that's usually the fate of exceptional men, in any case.  They're too intelligent and noble for the broad masses, and not therefore subject to mass appreciation.  Only a relatively small number of higher types ever appreciate them, and not always while their alive, either!"

     Julie had lost interest in the books and was looking through his collection of records, which were mostly modern jazz.  She was relieved to see that he shared a number of her tastes and commented approvingly on various albums, including ones by Jean-Luc Ponty, Frank Zappa, Chick Corea, John McLaughlin, Al DiMeola, George Duke, and Herbie Hancock.  She, too, was into modern jazz and progressive rock these days, especially when it was of a transcendental order.  "Do you meditate?" she asked, during a pause in her investigations.

     He smiled wryly and emphatically shook his head.  "I used to practise a sort of Taoist brand of Transcendental Meditation in the past," he confessed, blushing slightly, "but nowadays I'm fundamentally too socialist to be much interested in it."

     She wondered what on earth he could mean, and accordingly pressed him to explain himself.

     "Well, if I were English, I think I'd be more inclined to practise meditation," he averred.  "But because I'm Irish, I tend to look on it as an irrelevant pursuit at present."

     Julie frowned deeply, wondering what-on-earth he was getting at.  She had almost forgotten he was Irish anyway, his accent being passably English.

     "I mean, to me," he went on, "Ireland is potentially if not actually a revolutionary country, whereas Britain, well, Britain is simply part of the old capitalistic order, the civilization that's slowly coming to a decrepit end.  There's no chance of radical social change ever happening in this country, but I believe there's a fair chance of such change happening in Ireland in the future, and that it's therefore the duty of every intelligent, politically progressive Irishman to encourage it."

     "You sound like a revolutionary," said Julie, a shade nervously.

     "Maybe I am one," Morrison admitted.  "After all, these works ..." and here he pointed to his typescripts, those in the leather bag included "... are fundamentally revolutionary, pointing the way towards a brighter future.  I don't have anything positive to say about parliamentary democracy, and nothing particularly positive to say of its puritanical religious corollary, either.  On the contrary, I look forward to the establishment of what I call the transcendental civilization, the next and final civilization in the world, which must surely follow on the heels of socialism."

     "So you do believe in transcendentalism!" Julie exclaimed, a distinct note of relief in her voice.

     "Yes, but with certain reservations," Morrison conceded.  "I'm not a practising Buddhist or a radical Hindu or anything of the sort, and neither can I envisage the future development of transcendentalism in traditional Oriental terms, which are much too naturalistic to pass muster in tomorrow's world.  What we'll require, for want of a better phrase, is technological transcendentalism, in which the natural body will be superseded by an artificial support-and-sustain system for the brain, for the self, which will then be able to cultivate an extensive and well-nigh exclusive spirituality.  Only thus, with the most advanced technological assistance, will the long-awaited goal of salvation from the flesh become transcendentally possible.  Only thus will mankind be able to attain to the heavenly Beyond in the spiritual perfection of the Holy Ghost."

     Julie's face had turned pale, then red, then back to pale again, or so it appeared.  "Christ, you seem to speak with some authority!" she remarked, her voice strained with nerves.

     "That's because I believe I have the truth," he confidently asseverated.  "Because I have pursued the truth of our future destiny further than any other living man and am consequently in possession of ideas which are completely new to the world and, for that very reason, suspect and even worrying to the publishing bourgeoisie!  Now d'you begin to see why I've had my works rejected time and time again?  I'm a voice crying in the urban wilderness, and this time it isn't the voice of Christ but, to all intents and purposes, of the Second Coming - the Messianic figure who stands at the cross-roads between Christianity and transcendentalism and, in rejecting the former, points the way towards the latter!  I'm not a materialist in any strictly Marxist or, rather, Bolshevik sense.  Rather, I trace my intellectual lineage from Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, and Spengler to Huxley, Koestler, and de Chardin, with particular emphasis on Nietzsche, whom I regard as the last great thinker prior to myself.  I have carried the burden of enlightenment beyond Zarathustra, with his concept of the Superman, to a stage whereby the destiny of man is explained in terms of attainment to the heavenly Beyond through the aid of technological progress and, consequently, the gradual phasing-out of the natural body.  What the future will signify is not so much the East or the West ... as the coming together of both East and West into the highest possible civilization - the combining of the maximum technology with the maximum meditation, until the goal of heavenly salvation is attained to in spiritual transcendence.  The endemic doing of the West will be placed at the service, through technology, of the endemic being of the East, so that, instead of remaining a largely mundane and ultimately futile exercise, meditation will become the means through which spiritual salvation can be achieved.  By itself, without technology, it's doomed to frustration and, ultimately, to failure.  The body inevitably detracts from one's spiritual potential, imposing so many sensual obligations upon one.  The Asians, in their valiant endeavour to overcome it, only succumbed to disease, poverty, and starvation.  They lacked technology.  In the future, we shall increasingly supply that lack or, rather, they'll compromise with technology while we compromise with meditation, albeit spicing it up, so to speak, with synthetic stimulants.  Eventually, once technology has reached its peak, meditation will take over completely, freeing the whole of humanity for the last leg of its evolutionary journey to the heavenly Beyond.  And this last leg I regard as the post-human millennium, the higher phase of the transcendental civilization when, with the gradual 'withering away' of the State, religion will completely supersede politics, freeing man from materialistic concerns once-and-for-all.  It will be the 'open stretch of realization' that Henry Miller describes in Sunday After the War."

     Julie lip-smiled half-heartedly in her bemusement, her blue eyes staring at the writer as much out of astonishment that she was actually hearing all this from him ... as out of respect that he was actually speaking to her.  "So you're not satisfied that the Millennium, the coming time of happiness on earth to which socialists look forward, is the goal of evolution?" she deduced, after due consideration.

     "No, not by any means!" Morrison immediately confirmed.  "That's why I'm not a socialist in the narrow Marxist sense, but can see further ahead to a transcendental climax of evolution, largely because I haven't dismissed spirituality and thereby reduced everything to materialism.  Our ultimate goal must be the heavenly Beyond, as Christians have for centuries maintained, though especially during the ages of faith.  They weren't fools or madmen to do that, and we would be grossly oversimplifying the issue to imagine otherwise!  Rather, they looked upon it from a necessarily egocentric, and therefore misguided, point of view, which led them to posit salvation in a posthumous afterlife.  This we can no longer accept, for at death one simply dies, and that's all there is to it.  Our evolutionary progress, over the past two centuries of rapid industrialization and expanding urbanization, has ensured that we don't fall into the same egocentric trap.  For, living as we do ... cut off to a considerable extent from the proximity and influence of exterior nature, our psyche is no longer quite as balanced between the subconscious and superconscious minds as was formerly the case, but has become increasingly lopsided on the side of the latter, and thus subject to a greater influx of logical, rational thought than ever before.  We must accordingly come to accept, now, that salvation from the flesh is something which will take us centuries to achieve rather than something that happens following death.  At death, the spirit simply dies, it isn't saved.  But, in the future, the spirit will be enabled to overcome the mortality of the flesh through our technology largely having got rid of the latter, and thereby freed us for the privilege of attaining to the heavenly Beyond.  We'll be elevated to so many static units of potential transcendence and consequently live, as self-centred brains, for an indefinite period of time - until such time, in fact, as highly-cultivated spirit detaches itself from the brain and becomes truly transcendent.  For transcendent spirit doesn't at present exist in the world, but is only potentially present in our rather mundane, flesh-clogged spirits.  It's something which can only come about at the climax of evolution."

     Julie frowned slightly and involuntarily bit her lip.  It was somewhat upsetting for her, a beautiful woman, to hear that the flesh would have to be overcome through technology in the future.  She couldn't resign herself to the idea but, for the sake of avoiding argument, kept her misgivings to herself.  Nevertheless, the contention that transcendent spirit didn't exist at present prompted her to ask whether, in that case, the world was devoid of God, as Nietzsche had maintained.

     "Yes, I'm afraid it is," Morrison replied.  "For if we equate God with the highest possible existence, it follows that such a supreme existence, being dependent for its manifestation on the conversion of mundane spirit into transcendent spirit, doesn't yet exist.  We live in a world struggling towards God, not in a world under God's protection."

     "Then what has man been worshipping these past two, nay, several thousand years?" Julie retorted, her incredulity tempered by scepticism.

     "If you want to know the painful truth ... the Creator," Morrison averred.  "And the Creator, whether regarded as the Father, the Ground, Jehovah, the Almighty, or whatever, isn't really God in any true and ultimate sense but, for want of a better word, the Devil.  Yes, man has been effectively worshipping the Devil!  At first, in the earliest phase of his religious evolution, more or less openly, in the form of sun-worship, but subsequently, in the later pagan and early Christian eras, under cover of euphemistic extrapolations from the Cosmos, like 'the Father'.  Of course, true Christians put more emphasis on Jesus Christ than His 'Father', the Creator.  But even they weren't entirely immune to Creator-worship, as any Catholic will tell you.... I, however, don't worship the Creator, for I'm opposed to unconscious diabolism.  I wish to see men creating God, doing what they can to further the development of pure spirit in the world instead of worshipping some extrapolation from the Cosmos which, rather than being supremely divine, is fundamentally diabolic, a sort of powerful alpha rather than a truthful omega.  Thus I'm an atheist, but an atheist with this difference: I know the Devil exists."

     "As the sun?" Julie asked.

     "Yes, and not only as our sun but, more pervasively, as all suns, or stars, in the Cosmos," Morrison confirmed, his voice stern and, for the first time that afternoon, almost bitter.  "At bottom the Cosmos is evil, and so, needless to say, is life.  But, as men, it's our duty to further the development of civilization, which is an artificial phenomenon, and thus attain, eventually, to absolute salvation in a supreme order of being.  This, essentially, is what life's all about.  Struggling to defeat nature and attain to the Supernatural, no matter how difficult the struggle or protracted the attainment!  We can only go forwards and up, not backwards and down, like some writers, including D.H. Lawrence and John Cowper Powys, would evidently have us do!  However, they're unlikely to prevail over us."

     "But you are, though?" Julie surmised.

     "Eventually," he averred.  "Which is to say, once I can find a publisher and acquire public recognition - a thing, alas, which seems increasingly unlikely in England, as the typescripts on my bookshelf should indicate.  For the publishing establishment here would not appear to be interested in higher thought or inner truth, but only in making what money they can out of commercial writings which are inherently the converse of Truth!  A sad fact, but there it is!1  In a sense, nothing more than a reflection of the moral inadequacy of the capitalist system, its dependence on commercial success, and consequent reluctance to take chances with revolutionary or original works.  Besides, they're not revolutionary here but decidedly reactionary, opposing radical change in the aforementioned direction.  They have ceased to lead the world, as, in some ways, they did a century or two ago, but are only really interested in defending what they've achieved against assailants or would-be assailants of a progressive order, especially anti-worldly and other-worldly ones.  In my view Britain is no longer Great, or magnanimous, but becoming increasingly petty, an enemy of evolutionary progress.  Fortunately or unfortunately for me, I'm not British but Irish.... Yes, I've lived here most of my damned life, having been brought over from Ireland at the tender age of two-and-a-half by a pro-British mother whose father was a Belfast Protestant who converted, nominally, to Catholicism in order to marry a Southern Catholic while serving with the British Army in the South during the Irish Uprising.  Subsequently he moved to England and settled down with his Irish wife, who bore him a daughter.  I never knew him, but when he died my grandmother took her daughter back to Ireland, which she evidently missed, and there the latter met my father, who was also a Southern Catholic, and I, too, am a man of culture and truth, unable to reconcile myself to British so-called civilization, with its materialistic individualism and competitive economics, its endemic brutality.  That's why I've now decided to send typescripts to Dublin, in the hope that they'll meet with more appreciation there than here.  For Ireland is, after all, a different country, not one that need necessarily remain tied to bourgeois values.  There's a possibility that Ireland will become an evolutionary country, not an opponent of ideological progress, like Britain.  If my writings are likely to be understood and appreciated anywhere, it should be in the land of my birth, not in this superficial place!  These people, on the contrary, are played out!  We, however, are only just beginning to live again after submission to several centuries of alien rule at the hands of, first, feudal and, then, capitalist barbarians.  But the times are changing and we should be among those who are in the vanguard of changing them, not aligned with the stuck-in-the-muds of bourgeois reaction!"

     "It's a pity I'm not Irish," Julie at length remarked.  "Then at least one could have some confidence in the future."

     "Julie Phillips ... you're Welsh, aren't you?" Morrison half-smilingly deduced.

     Again Julie bit her lip, but managed to nod all the same.  It would hardly have been appropriate, she felt, to admit now that she was married, and married to an Englishman by name of Foster at that!

     "That's probably why I was able to fall in love with you all those years ago," he averred, turning sentimental, "you being a Celt, like myself.  As it happens, I've never felt drawn to Anglo-Saxon women.  Which is one of the reasons why I've been alone all these years, I suspect."

     It was a comment that brought a deep blush out of Julie, for it confirmed her suspicions concerning Peter Morrison's previous feelings towards her.  He had been in love with her after all, though she had never been absolutely sure of it, especially since he had once sent a love letter to a friend of hers.  "You positively sound like a racist!" she opined.

     "I suppose it's more a question of ethnic tribalism than racism," he replied, smiling, "since I have no time for racists in the usual anti-black sense of the word, and am all in favour of racial equality in the usual multiracial sense.  Yet I'm in no doubt that I've experienced a degree of racial or, at any rate, ethnic prejudice at the hands of various Englishmen and, more especially, Englishwomen over the years, bearing in mind the number of rejection slips to my name, which only confirms what I believe about their fear of ethnic subversion at the hands of radical Irishmen like myself.  But that doesn't surprise me really, since, with due respect to the largely protestant Scots and Welsh, only an Irishman of Catholic descent could have pursued Truth so intensely as I did, and, as it runs contrary to the interests and beliefs of British civilization, which is rooted in power and accordingly upholds a constitutional monarchy, what else could I expect?  The amazing thing is that, having lived all but the first three years of my life in England, I'm still an Irishman, still a person who attaches more importance to Truth than to power, and accordingly to the inner than to the outer, to omega than to alpha.  It just goes to show that ethnicity can't be discarded as an insignificant thing, not even in this day and age, and that one's name is more than just a name.  As a Jew to an Arab or a Greek to a Turk or a Croat to a Serb, so an Irish Celt is to an English Anglo-Saxon, whether or not he likes the fact.  We don't belong to their civilization, for our blood doesn't beat in time with theirs."

     "And what would you say I was?" Julie asked him, unable to suppress an involuntary smile of complicity.

     "A bit of a Welsh Celt," he smilingly averred.

     Julie nodded gently in response to the apparent logic of Morrison's suggestion.  "I suppose I'll have to concede you a point there, though I must say you don't sound particularly Irish yourself.  They'd take you for an Englishman in Ireland, I'm sure."

     "Until they read my writings," he confidently retorted.  "However that may be, I've no desire to stay any longer in London.  It's nothing but a source of depression to me, a long-standing humiliation!"

     She had almost forgotten about his depression by now and felt momentarily sorry for him again.  He had need of company all right, especially from the opposite sex.  But was she the one to give it to him?  She thought of her husband or, rather, Dennis Foster's smug face came stealing into her mind's eye, and she remembered that she would have to be back home by five if she didn't want to arouse his suspicions.  It was already ten-past four - later than she thought.  She couldn't afford to spend any more time with Morrison and told him so, reminding him that she had a friend to meet.

     "Oh forgive me!" he responded, becoming embarrassed.  "I hadn't realized I was detaining you."

     "Not to worry," said Julie, as she stood up and began to put on her coat.  "You made the time pass quickly anyway."

     It was only now, when she was on the point of leaving, that Peter Morrison felt a tinge of regret that he hadn't initiated any sexual relations with her but, on the contrary, had kept talking all the time.  If there was one thing he really needed it was sex, and here he was, letting a beautiful woman take her leave of him without having given her so much as a single kiss!  His intellectuality, born of years of solitude and poverty, had got the better of him as usual, making him quite overlook the sexual possibilities her presence afforded.  And he had waited so long for the opportunity of being alone with her, had tortured himself night and day with thoughts about her body.  Really, it was enough to make one ashamed of oneself!  However, maybe there was still a way of saving the situation or at least of turning it to some future account, and so he asked, albeit without any confidence of success: "Would you like to come over here again some other day?"

     'Like' was hardly the word to Julie, who found the experience of being in his company something of a strain.  But, remembering that he was desperately lonely and in need of what company he could get, she returned him a positive answer, despite her marital qualms or, perhaps, because of them.

     "Then how about Thursday afternoon?" he boldly suggested.  It was now Tuesday.

     "Yes, I think I may be able to make it then," she agreed after a moment's deliberation, during which her mind went through a plethora of calculations and permutations.

     "Excellent!  Then I look forward to seeing you again."   And, with that said, he politely escorted her to the door.

 

 

CHAPTER FOUR: CONVERSATION WITH A FRIEND

 

It was a day later that Julie Foster took advantage of her husband's temporary absence, during the evening, to telephone one of her best friends - a former fellow-student at her old university by name of Deirdre Gray.  It was Deirdre in person who answered the phone, not her husband, John.

     "Hi Julie!" she responded eagerly.  "How are things?"

     "Pretty much as usual as far as Dennis is concerned, but new in one other respect."

     "Oh?"

     Julie hesitated a moment to formulate her thoughts, then asked: "Do you remember a guy called Peter Morrison, by any chance?"

     "Hmm yes, I think I do.  Wasn't he the freak who came to visit us up North one time?"

     "That's him!" Julie confirmed, smiling.  "Well, you'll never guess, but he came into the restaurant that Tricia and I were having lunch in yesterday afternoon.  Then, when we got up to go, he followed us out and asked me whether I'd like to come back to his bedsit with him."

     Deirdre had to take a deep intake of breath here, so great was her surprise.  "And did you go?" she at length asked.

     "Believe it or not, I did," Julie replied.  "I just couldn't help feeling sorry for him, after the woeful tale he had to tell.  I could see he needed someone."

     "What was the substance of it?" Deirdre wanted to know.

     Julie did her best to explain, placing emphasis on his solitude in London and concomitant depression.

     "And has he changed much?"

     "Quite a lot in small ways," Julie opined.  "But still fundamentally the same guy."

     "Nothing much in it for you, then," Deirdre joked.

     "No, but plenty of intellectual conversation that would have suited a man better," Julie averred.  "He's become a kind of revolutionary ideologue with a desire to inflict some kind of transcendental socialism, or socialistic transcendentalism, on Ireland."

     "I certainly can't imagine him in the role of a revolutionary," Deirdre declared, still patently amused.  "He always struck me as being essentially too much the gentleman freak to be anything but a kind of intellectual outsider, a sort of potential Hermann Hesse.  It was The Glass Bead Game he was reading when he came to visit us that time, wasn't it?"

     "So I recall," said Julie, casting her memory back to that January weekend in 1974, she thought it was, when Morrison had dragged himself all the way up from London to Newcastle for a weekend visit.  "And, from what I remember, he seemed more interested in reading that book than in talking to us!" she added, as an afterthought.

     "Maybe because he was disappointed by the fact that we already had sufficient male company," Deirdre suggested.

     "Well, he ought to have thought of that before he came!" Julie retorted, feeling, in spite of the lapse of time, a twinge of regret.  "We could hardly have been expected to remain alone, under the relatively promiscuous circumstances of college life.  Anyway, to cut a long story somewhat shorter, he has invited me back to his place again tomorrow afternoon, so I'm afraid I shall have to cancel our arrangements, since I didn't have the heart to turn him down.  I hope you don't mind."

     Deirdre did mind really, but graciously pretended otherwise for Julie's sake.  "I hope you'll find your second visit more congenial than yesterday's," she remarked.

     "Well, it's not as though I have anything against him personally," Julie admitted, ignoring the ironic overtones in her friend's comment.  "For he's really quite handsome and intelligent with it, as you can probably recall.  Indeed, judging from what he told me about his religious beliefs, I shouldn't be surprised if he were a kind of genius, since he seems to have evolved a theory of religious development which has gone beyond any existing religion and put him in the unique position of being a sort of Western guru and prophet.  However, his writings have met with no success vis-à-vis London publishers, which doesn't particularly surprise me, in that they're obviously pretty uncommercial in their ideological earnestness, and therefore scarcely the kind of literature to appeal to a mass public!  If he writes the kinds of thoughts he verbally conveyed to me yesterday, then I can't see that he stands even a remote chance of having them published, particularly since he's a total unknown with neither an academic nor a journalistic background, and therefore could hardly be described as grist to the publishing establishment's exploitative mill.  He flies in the face of the natural grain too much, which is only to be expected, I suppose, from a die-hard paddy who is of the opinion that Britain is a land of materialistic philistines with no real interest in the pursuit of Truth and, consequently, scant regard for even philosophical literature, never mind philosophy."

     "Gosh, I had no idea he was a writer," Deirdre declared.  "When did he start?"

     Julie made an attempt to explain most of what she had learnt from Morrison, which took her a good five minutes.  Deirdre listened in silence, though with a tinge of jealousy that Julie had been party to his revelations and confessions rather than herself.  After all, he had once written her a long letter and consequently she had no reason to think that he didn't, at the time, also fancy her - perhaps even more than he had originally fancied Julie.  For the theory was that, having gone to Newcastle all those years ago to see and, if possible, get off with Julie, he had been sorely disappointed by the fact that she already had a boyfriend and wasn't therefore accessible to him.  Consequently he had turned towards Deirdre in the hope of establishing a sexual connection with her instead, only to be disappointed on a similar count, since she had a boyfriend too - something which he didn't at first realize.  There were, of course, other possible theories for the strange turn-of-events, none of which, however, seemed as cogent as this one.  Whatever the case, Morrison had gone away disillusioned, never to return.  But he had sent a sort of love letter, and it had been addressed to Deirdre rather than Julie.  She still possessed it in fact, though without her husband's knowledge.  Was it genuine or had it been simply designed to spite Julie for having disappointed him?  Despite no real conviction either way, Deirdre preferred to think it was genuine, if only for vanity's sake.  After all, she had always considered herself a better-looking woman than Julie, and more intelligent as well.  There was every possibility that Peter Morrison had realized, in spite of his emotional loyalties to Julie, that he was temperamentally and intellectually closer to Deirdre and could therefore regard her as being more of a kindred spirit.  But now it was Julie who was going to visit him, having been party to his deepest thoughts.  It was slightly annoying to Deirdre, even given her status as a happily-married young woman.

     "Well, good luck with everything," she commented, following her friend's monologue.  "Perhaps, if he's as intellectually precocious as you claim, he'll prove a useful guru to you."

     "I rather doubt it," Julie responded, smiling.  "But I can at least listen to one or two of his LPs and maybe get him to fondle me.  You never know, there may be a man hiding under the surface of his ideological persona."

     Deirdre gave vent to a forced laugh, more to smother her jealousy than anything else.  "I hope your husband doesn't get to find out," she declared.

     "Not if I keep it to myself he won't," Julie assured her.  "Besides, you know how strained our relationship has become of late.  I'd be quite resigned to a divorce now, especially in view of the foul trick Dennis played on me on his birthday.  I was all ready to go out, unaware that he had already cancelled the rendezvous with you and John and the others.  Really, it was one of the unkindest things he has ever done to me!  I was virtually in tears afterwards."

     "We were pretty disappointed too," Deirdre confessed.  "Particularly since we had made no alternative arrangements that evening.  But if he was feeling ill ..."

     "He couldn't have been feeling that ill," Julie interposed, on a wave of ill-feeling towards Dennis, "not to have had sex with me the way he did!  At worst, it could only have been a slight stomach upset."

     "Oh well, no use crying over spilt milk," Deirdre rejoined.  "Perhaps you'll get a chance to avenge yourself on him tomorrow?"

     With this implicit reference to Peter Morrison, the conversation seemed to have reached an impasse, so Julie terminated it, having arranged to meet Deirdre in the West End the day after, that being a Friday, to discuss what happened.  She hung up the receiver on her wall-mounted telephone with a sigh of relief and returned to the volume of short stories by Maupassant which she had been reading.  Dennis would be back from his social club any minute now, so it was just as well to have got the phone call over and done with in good time.  He had no suspicions of anything unusual afoot at present, and that suited her fine.  If he wanted sex when he came in (as he usually did when arriving back home with a wine-soaked consciousness) she would do her level best to accommodate him.  She was an experienced woman where sex was concerned, and this in spite or perhaps because of her spiritual predilections.  There was a place in her life for yoga all right, but there was also room for sex, and she could hardly pretend otherwise, not with her good looks!

     Poor Peter Morrison, on the other hand, seemed to have no room for either, and this fact saddened her a little.  He deserved better than he had got from life, what with his depression and solitude.  There ought to be something she could do for him.  Tomorrow she would wear a short skirt and stockings, perhaps even a pair of high heels.  She would show off her physical charms to good effect and see if she could tempt him out of his celibacy.  She would be fresh and sweet for him, and, if he was really a man, he would respond to her, giving her a woman's satisfaction in life.  Yes, it would be one way of paying Dennis back for the rotten trick he had played on her the other evening.  And, besides, it would be highly flattering to achieve a sexual victory over a man who was so obviously spiritually earnest - more flattering to her seductive vanity than ever it could be with her comparatively lecherous husband!

 

 

CHAPTER FIVE: A FATAL SLIP

 

Peter Morrison was waiting with mounting impatience for Julie to arrive, as the small alarm clock in his room showed one-thirty on the Thursday afternoon.  That morning he had hardly been able to concentrate on the essay he was writing, so much did her impending visit play on his mind.  He had struggled for about two hours with the future transformation of man, but the prospect that he would soon be seeing Julie again had continued to obsess him and interfere with his concentration.  He was conscious now, as never before, of his great need of female company, and could only half-heartedly attend to the business at hand.  He realized - how poignantly! - that he was still in love with her and could think of no-one else.  The years of solitude may have toughened his spirit, but they hadn't done away with the weakness of the flesh, and his flesh was sorely in need of satisfaction.  He was no saint to live all those years in voluntary celibacy, and felt that much precious time had been wasted.  He ought to have taken her for his wife from the day he fell in love with her, instead of living alone all that time.  Ah, what a misfortune was prolonged solitude!  It could only be to one's detriment, no matter what countrified writers like John Cowper Powys happened to think.  Depression was its inevitable corollary.  And few men could have been more depressed than him!

     The minutes ticked by and still she hadn't come.  He began to grow panicky, wondering whether she had changed her mind and decided to keep her distance.  How foolish of him not to have taken her address or telephone number the other day!  Then he could at least have got in touch with her.  As things stood, he was completely at her mercy, not knowing whether she would show him any.  But then, just as he was on the point of giving-up all hope, the door-bell rang and who should it be at the door but Julie, looking every bit the beautiful woman he had always known her to be.  He was more than a little relieved to see her again, and quickly led her up the winding staircase and along the dark, carpetless corridor into his room.

     "I'm so glad you could make it," he impulsively declared, as soon as she was safely across the threshold.

     "I had no intentions of deceiving you," she calmly assured him.  "I was looking forward to returning here."  She removed her leather coat, this time a full-length one, and, taking it from her, he hung it against the door.  Underneath, she was wearing a pale-pink nylon blouse, which was semi-transparent, and a short black cotton skirt with a gentle flounce.  It was a skirt she didn't wear very often these days, but had opted for partly because she hoped it would remind him of how she used to dress when he first knew her.  Yet it seemed to have the desired effect, since he quickly drew attention to it, remarking how it had always excited him.

     "In fact, everything about you always excited me," he added, "including the way you dressed."  He stood back to admire her.  "Where women one is in love with are concerned," he went on, turning philosophical, "there's always this pleasure, it seems to me, in their clothing, a feeling that if one were a woman oneself one would dress in exactly the same way.  You never once wore anything that turned me off, like the majority of women did and, for that matter, still do.  I always admired your tastes."

     Julie couldn't help blushing on the reception of this generous compliment which, in any case, came as a surprise to her, especially since she had only just arrived and not yet made herself at home.  Nevertheless she returned him a grateful smile, which had the effect of making him feel even more romantic.

     "Come over here," he coaxed her, leading the way to where his ten-bar electric fire stood, just in front of the blocked-up fireplace.

     She nervously obeyed him and, when they were standing close to it, allowed him to place a delicate exploratory kiss on her lips, closing her eyes in the process.  Gently, ever so gently, he placed another, then another, and, finally, a fourth one there, which lingered on to twice the duration of the other three put together.  Then he drew her closer to himself and, holding her about the waist, applied a series of gentle kisses to her cheeks and neck, noting all the while the additional satisfaction this apparently gave her.  For a moment they stood simply looking into each other's eyes.  There appeared to be a faint glow of pleasure in hers, which was attributable to more than just the warming effects of the electric fire, and he took comfort from it, steeling himself for his next move.  She waited patiently, continuing to gaze at him, while he gently detached his hands from round her waist and reached for the zip to her skirt, located on her right-hand side.  It slid down without too much effort on his part and, kneeling down in front of her, he tugged at the skirt, which came down even more easily than the zip, forming a small pile of material around her feet.  Curiously she made no attempt to step out of it, and neither did he bother to free her.  Instead he cast his attention over her legs, noting, with quickening heartbeat, the enticing seductiveness of her thighs which, though not too expansive, were sufficiently firm and fleshy to testify to the beauty of a mature woman.  They were, for the most part, covered in black nylons, while pink suspenders stretched from the stocking-tops to the matching suspender-belt above.  Pink was also the colour of her panties, which, like the stockings, were nylon and semi-transparent.  There was a band of patterning around their edges, but more eye-catching by far was the dark mound of pubic hair which her panties evidently weren't designed to hide!  He stared at it in fascination awhile, before placing a firm kiss on each of her thighs, to one side of the suspenders.  A glance up her body revealed that she was still gazing down at him, though beginning to blush ever so endearingly.  He stood up to unbutton her blouse, a gentle smile on his face from fear she might obstruct him.  But she remained completely passive, as before.

     Casting her blouse to one side, he took an appreciative glance at the upper halves of her breasts, decided he would like to stroke them and, having planted a fresh kiss on her lips, betook himself to her rear, where he proceeded to unclip her bra strap.  With that removed, he gave-in to his designs on her breasts, gently stroking and cupping them from behind.  Then he kneeled down to allow his gaze to wander over her rear, which had always struck him as being one of her chief assets.  Yes, it was still as beautifully curvaceous as ever, and it wasn't long before his visual exploration gave way to a tactile one, as he lightly played the fingers of each hand across its nylon-clad expanse.  Ever so gently he slid the panties down her legs until they joined the little pile of cotton skirt at her feet.  It was a veritable revelation for him to be looking at her thus, her flesh bare to his avid curiosity, and, more from thanksgiving than anything else, he applied a kiss to each of her buttocks, taking care to inhale the fragrance of her skin in the process.  That done, he once more climbed to his feet and gently ran a hand between her thighs, backwards and forwards along the groove of her crotch, as though to reassure himself, after all these years of fantasy and solitude, that she actually had something there.

     Yes, she evidently enjoyed having it stroked, for she half-turned her head towards him, and there was a cute little smile on her lips.  He nervously kissed her on the cheek, as much from gratitude as desire.  Then, feeling his lust quicken as his hands slid over her breasts, he turned her fully round and passionately embraced her, obliging her to stagger free of her clothing as she turned towards him.

     "Ah, Julie, how good it is to have you in my arms after all this time!" he declared, while she gave herself up to his embrace.  "So good!"  Nervously, he led her to his single bed and, pulling back the quilt, requested her to lie down on top of it, her flesh against its nylon sheet.  "Now open your legs as wide apart as possible," he added, impatient to get a good look at everything.

     She felt slightly embarrassed at the prospect of completely exposing herself to his gaze, but found herself obeying him even so, until her ordinarily private parts were rendered as conspicuously unprivate as possible, which was evidently all he needed to get rid of his own modesty and free his rapidly-rearing member from its cotton prison.  He had never seen it look so positive!  For this was an erection with a purpose, whereas all his previous erections had been futile because entirely divorced from vaginal stimulation, even voyeuristically.  He felt, for the first time in his life, the pride of his engorged masculinity with Julie's body completely at his mercy, and lost no time in approaching her with a view to burying himself in it up to the hilt.

     Once inside her, he knew that he had found his long-lost companion, his beloved sweetheart.  He rode himself to a pulsating climax, reaching his orgasmic destination within barely four minutes of the starting gate and causing her to squirm with unconcealed pleasure beneath him.  Predictably there wasn't all that much pleasure in the climax itself, since he had long been accustomed to rather lukewarm wet-dreams and had grown to regard himself as virtually impotent.  But the main pleasure, if anywhere, came from the fact that he was actually riding the woman with whom he had long been in love and was no longer technically a virgin.  The real pleasure came from the satisfaction of having sex in reality instead of in imagination for once, and it was a pleasure he greatly relished!  It didn't occur to him to wonder whether Julie had achieved orgasmic release, under the circumstances of his relatively quick discharge, since she wasn't now being particularly demonstrative and had more-or-less relapsed into squirmless quiescence with the termination of his ride.  He took it for granted that a mutual agreement had been reached.

     But he wasn't personally satisfied that he had done everything he wanted to and, withdrawing his inflamed and by-now quite sticky member from its nesting place, he requested that she lick it clean for him, though not before he had repositioned himself, so that they were facing in opposite directions.  Would she respond, he wondered, or ought he to take the initiative and plunge tongue-first, as it were, into her voluptuous trench?  Thankfully she obliged him by lowering it to his mouth while proceeding to stroke and gently suck his member, licking away the stickiness which coated the greater part of its glossy length.

     Feeling freshly excited by this unprecedented experience, he likewise applied his tongue to an oral adventure, at first tentatively and with a twinge of disgust but, as he gradually acclimatized himself to it, by degrees becoming bolder, proceeding to prod between her inner labia in pursuance of her clitoris, that cynosure of her sex.  Ah, what satisfaction it gave him to be looking up her from such close range, to be in such voyeuristic possession of everything normally hidden to the eye!  His tongue growing tired of prodding and tasting her most secret flesh, he thumbed her labia as far apart as possible, while his nose inhaled the musty spermatic odour which issued from the cavernous depths in between them.  It was slightly disgusting and yet, at the same time, distinctly fascinating to be in this advantageous oral position for the first time in his life, especially since it was with the only woman who had ever really mattered to him, and she was not only beautiful but intelligent and cultured as well - a lady, such as his mother, with her plebeian instincts, had never been!

     Yes, he needed the company of a lady as opposed to an uncultivated woman.  He would have been incapable of taking an interest in an ordinary woman, for her lack of culture or interest in intellectual matters would quickly have bored and offended him.  Only someone like Julie could keep his interest alive, making him feel that he was consorting with an equal or, at any rate, a suitable companion.  And if he had an 'accident' with her ... well, he would know it was with the right person.  Indeed, an 'accident' would hardly be possible where she was concerned.  He couldn't have begrudged her a child.

     Removing his nose from her gaping sex, he applied it, by contrast, to her clenched anus, which smelt faintly excremental, although he thought he could also detect some perfume on it.  That being the case, he involuntarily planted a terse but fairly firm kiss to one side of it, and Julie, completely taken by surprise and forgetting herself for a moment, exclaimed: "Why, you're almost as bad as my husband!"

     The words shot through Morrison's brain like a thunderbolt from the blue, causing him to break off his oral explorations and open his mouth wide in horror.  Had he heard correctly or was it simply his imagination?  Frantically he pushed her body away from himself and sat up to confront her, obliging her to abandon her fondlings and lickings.  "What was that you said?" he imperatively demanded, on a mounting wave of foreboding.

     She immediately realized that she had made a grave mistake, but pretended to treat it lightly.  "Only that my husband is also given to kissing my arsehole," she replied, modifying her response.

     Morrison was beyond himself with anger.  "Why didn't you tell me you were married?" he snapped, his voice breaking under the sudden strain of the situation.

     She stared at him aghast.  "But I couldn't ..." was all she managed to say.

     "Couldn't?" he echoed, becoming even more furious.  "What d'you mean, you couldn't?  You've a sodding tongue in your bloody head, haven't you?"

     "Yes, but you wouldn't have been pleased to hear that I was married," she protested, becoming distinctly nervous.

     "That's not the point!" he snapped, his face distraught.  "I'd never have invited you back to my room in the first place and thereby ran the risk of getting sexually involved with you, had I known you were married.  I'd have said goodbye to you outside the restaurant and gone about my own wretched business.  But you tricked me and induced me to think that you were still Julie Phillips, so that I was unaware of the exact position.  You just wanted to see what you could get out of me, didn't you?"

     "No, not at all, Peter, I just wanted to help you," Julie protested, on the verge of tears.

     "Help me?  D'you think this has helped me - obliging me to make a fucking fool of myself for your sexual benefit?" he exploded.  "Why, you dirty little slut, you're nothing more than a base opportunist and exploiter of other people's passions!"

     "No, don't say that!" cried Julie, as tears came into her eyes.  "I love you."

     "Love me?" Morrison sneered.  "Which is why you're married to someone else, is it?"  He had reached the zenith of his anger and frustration by now, and was trembling like a leaf in the autumnal wind.  All those years of solitude were crowding-in upon him, making him aware that his depression was largely a consequence of the fact that he had suffered unrequited love at the hands of this very woman, and become completely cut off from congenial company.  He had suffered on account of her all right, but had she suffered on account of him?  Not if her husband was anything to judge by!  And now she had the audacity to say she loved him - as if he could be expected to believe it!

     Furious, he struck her across the face and threw himself upon her, gripping her throat in both hands and pressing against her windpipe for all he was worth.  It took her a while to wake up to what was actually happening, so unprepared was she for anything so drastic.  Yet when it became clear to her that he wasn't bluffing or joking but was in deadly earnest, she put up a ferocious struggle with him, bucking and twisting like a wild bronco.  However, his hands were too powerful to be dislodged and, slowly but surely, as the minutes ticked by, they squeezed the life out of her.  She gave a last pitiful gasp, succumbed to a tortuous spasm, and was no more.  He had killed the thing he loved!

     There were tears in his eyes as he bent over her dead body, and his heart and the blood vessels in his head were beating in a wild frenzy of inverted passion.  For a moment he thought he was dreaming, that he had become a prisoner of some ghastly nightmare, caught-up in a sequence of unreal events completely beyond conscious control.  But this illusion was quickly shattered by the sound of pop music coming-up from the nearest of the downstairs neighbours, who was evidently at her usual inconsiderate and irresponsible tricks again.  She must have been playing her radiogram for the past half-hour, he supposed.  Though, for once, the novelty of his preoccupations with another person had distracted his attention from it, making him oblivious of external interferences.  Yet now they were patently back again, thus testifying to the resumption of the noise-ridden hell in which he was ordinarily obliged to live - a prisoner of circumstances beyond his control.  Even the Pyrenees mountain dog had started to bark gruffly from its kennel by the adjoining alley behind the house, and that was just as bad, if not worse, than the pounding drumbeat coming up from below, as though from Hell itself.  Really, it was enough to drive one mad sometimes!  What rotten luck he had always had, being surrounded and thwarted in his work by such empty-headed idiots as the neighbour in question!  No wonder he had often failed to concentrate properly and produce the sort of literary results he knew he was capable of!  He frowned sullenly and cursed to himself but, remembering there had been quite a lot of noise in his own room prior to the violent termination of Julie's life, decided that perhaps it was just as well, for once, that the adolescent's radiogram had been on, after all.  At least it would prevent her from having any untoward suspicions about him, he supposed.

     Turning back towards Julie's lifeless body, he felt overcome by a wave of remorse and automatically smacked a compassionate kiss on her brow.  He knew she was really an 'it' now, but he preferred to regard her as in some sense ‘she’ for comfort's sake.  After all, her flesh was still warm and scarcely less beautiful in death than it had been in life.

     Goaded on by years of celibacy, he decided to make the most of the opportunity for impersonal curiosity and sexual experimentation which her corpse now afforded him, and so lost no time in looking it over from head to toe, dwelling on its various physical characteristics with the patient care for detail which only a lover can muster.  Her arms had always been a highpoint of her physical beauty, being fleshy, smooth, and soft as well as delicately shaped, and he found himself becoming newly conscious of their feminine charm as he scanned them at leisure - something which her live presence would probably have inhibited or even precluded.  Likewise her legs still fascinated him, especially her thighs, partially clad in dark stockings and rendered more alluring by the pink suspenders.  He stared at them long and hard and, becoming aroused by their fleshy seductiveness, duly decided to expose her sex to his scrutiny again.  Thus he pulled her legs as far apart as circumstances would allow, so that it seemed as though her clitoris would pop out, like the bird of a cuckoo clock.

     Giving way to the perverse temptation to mount her, however, wasn't so easy.  But after dismissing his moral qualms and convincing himself that her body was now completely his to do with as he liked, he forced himself upon her and entered it for the pleasure of a fresh orgasmic assault.  However, he quickly grew tired of this and, turning her onto her stomach, renewed his carnal assault from behind, gripping a breast in each hand and pumping away like a piston-engine in full steam.  Then, deciding on a spot of manipulative adventure, he thrust a hand into her sex in the wake of his member, curious to see how far it would go.  But here, too, he felt a qualm, this time on the basis of what he might encounter in the depths of her womb, as it were, if he pushed the hand in too far, and consequently was unable to bury more than the length of his fingers in her.  He had always rather childishly, and some would say irrationally, felt that a hand pushed too far into the vagina might encounter some kind of obstacle or even bite from an insect-like creature lying in wait at the mouth of the womb, like a temple guardian, and was still to some extent a victim of this rather puerile notion.  Thus he withdrew the hand after a few seconds' tentative exploration and contented himself, instead, with caressing her buttocks and back.  His curious psychology, he reflected, was probably shared by other men, too!

     Later on, after he had brewed some tea and listened to a couple of records through his headphones, he began to wonder what to do with the corpse.  For in a day or two it would begin to smell most unsavoury and become extremely disagreeable to live with.  He would have to set about getting rid of it tomorrow at the latest ... for his neighbours' sakes as well as his own.  But tonight, at any rate, his only real desire was to experiment with it and have what pleasure he could at its physical expense.  He had lived long enough without any real sexual satisfaction and could hardly blame himself for wanting to get what pleasure he could from Julie's lifeless body while the opportunity prevailed.  And now he had an idea in his head that he saw no reason not to translate into action.  He would dress Julie in her clothes and amuse himself by putting her body into a variety of alluring positions, treating her as a model whom he was intent on making as seductive as possible. 

     He had long been interested in soft pornography but, these days, could ill-afford to buy any, not even from the local newsagents.  Also, he had grown to despise a majority of magazines for their bourgeois advertising content and the unsatisfactory way in which models were generally portrayed.  He had long come to the conclusion that the only magazine he would be tempted to buy, even at the risk of being left short of money, would be one in which Julie was to be seen.  But, of course, he knew only too well that she wasn't the kind of woman to go in for pornography, even when soft, and that there would be no opportunity, in consequence, for him to buy a magazine with her in it.  Now, however, he realized that, with her body at his disposal, he could make his own pornography free-of-charge, as it were, simply by arranging her appearance to suit his tastes and then taking photos of her.  He was still in possession of an old instamatic, a gift of several birthdays ago, and had enough prints left over from his jerk-shy past to last him through the evening.  With a number of snaps of Julie's body, he would have easy access to a private pornographic world which would mean more to him than any number of glossy magazines ever could.  And if, in later years, he wanted to remind himself of how beautiful she had once been, all he need do would be to turn to the photos and reassure himself to his heart's content.  And no-one else need ever know anything about it.

     Eagerly, he lifted Julie off the bed and carried her over to the centre of his room, directly under the powerful electric light which dangled, in shadeless severity, several inches from the cream-coloured ceiling, like an inquisitive spider.  There he dressed her in the clothes he had personally removed from her body no more than a few hours before, putting everything back into place except for her leather coat which, at this point, he preferred to use as a kind of rug beneath her.  With that accomplished, he applied himself to her hair, combing it down either side of her pallid face, so that she seemed as if bathed in a halo of wavy-blonde light.  Then, free to attend to the erotic side of things, he hitched up her skirt until the bulk of her thighs was exposed, leaving her legs stretched out in front.  Her arms he placed at her sides, as though she were sunbathing.  At length, she was ready to be snapped!

     The photographic aspect of things was relatively straightforward but, not altogether surprisingly, there were more than a few hitches to what followed, during the course of the evening.  For her body, becoming increasingly subject to rigor mortis, would sometimes refuse to stay in a given position, but had a tendency to flop down or back from the increasingly erotic demands he was making on it.  Nevertheless, through sheer perseverance, Morrison succeeded in producing some fairly satisfactory results, and, by midnight, he was beginning to regard his venture with a degree of almost professional pride.  One would hardly have suspected that what he held in his hands were snaps of a corpse, especially where the ones focusing on the middle to lower parts of it were concerned!  And these, naturally enough, were the ones which predominated, since they served his pornographic purposes the most. 

     There was something about looking up a woman's skirt which had fascinated him as a young child, not least in respect of his mother, and now that he was an adult this same tendency held no less fascination for him than before.  In fact, its erotic element was now much sharper than it had been in those distant days, when he was simply led by infantile curiosity to peer up his mother's dark-stockinged legs from the floor with toy car or soldier in hand, to ascertain what mystery her skirt ordinarily concealed from him.  By positioning himself with camera in hand at Julie's feet, he could capture the subtle eroticism of a pair of panties glimpsed under the shadow of a hitched-up skirt, reminiscent in a way of his mother's beige knickers, and by parting her legs slightly, as he now did, this glimpse could be expanded to include the dense mound of public hair which lay compressed beneath the tightly-fitting panties in question, something which his mother's knickers had always concealed from him even when he had been bold enough to gaze up between her legs while pretending to retrieve a toy car from under them, as on more than one occasion.  The one thing he couldn't get Julie to do, however, was to stand up!

     But he could turn her onto her stomach and photograph her from the rear ... with particular emphasis on her rump and thighs, as well as remove various items of clothing in order to expose her naked flesh to his camera lens.  Of the dozen or so photos he took that evening, at least eight showed her bare flesh to clear erotic advantage, some of them concentrating on her vagina, others on her thighs and rump.  In one, he managed to capture all three together by pinioning her legs back under the weight of a wooden chair, while he sat on it and photographed them from above.  That was such an erotic position, that he felt tempted, in spite of his qualms, to indulge in a renewed bout of oral sex with her.

     Thus, freeing her from the clamp-like hold of the chair, and putting his instamatic to one side, he lifted her legs back until they were parallel with her ears and squatted down on them, so that the slightly-upended rump was exposed to his eager hands.  Her flesh had by now become somewhat colder, though the heat of his electric fire partly compensated him for this inconvenience and enabled him to proceed with his activities without undue disgust.  By swivelling her round, so that her upended rump was directly in front of the fire, he was able to warm up her vagina and thus make it more inviting to himself, whether for purposes of kissing, prodding, or stroking.  Not content with that, he permitted his mischievous fingers access to her anus as well, tugging on the surrounding flesh until its sphincter expanded sufficiently far in every direction to enable him to peer down into a dark fleshy recess. 

     However, close-up the smell wasn't particularly pleasant, so he quickly abandoned this experiment in favour of a closer look at her urethra, pulling at and stretching the surrounding flesh in like-manner.  He wondered whether he oughtn't to pour lots of water down her throat, to see if she could be induced to urinate in due course.  But, much as it intrigued him to discover whether a corpse could be made to pass water, on second thoughts the idea didn't really appeal to him all that much and he easily abandoned it, fearing it would only cause him additional inconvenience.  After all, she might make a lot of noise in the process, and that would hardly be to his advantage, what with the neighbours to consider.  Besides, watching a corpse piss didn't strike him, on further reflection, as likely to be a particularly interesting experience.  It would be wiser to concentrate on her vagina, as at present, and thereby save himself additional bad smells.

     And so he continued to play with it, opening it out as far as he could and peering into its sticky crevice.  But soon this game tired him too, and he gave up the pursuit of further carnal pleasure, resigning himself to the fact that a dead woman could never match a live one where oral satisfaction was concerned!  A corpse was simply something whose basic anatomy quickly bored or disgusted one.  Wearily, and not without a degree of self-contempt, he covered Julie's stiffening body with a few items of clothing and retired to bed.

     Under the circumstances of having a corpse in the room, sleep didn't come too easily to him.  But when at last it did, he was mercifully spared any recollection of the terrible things he had done.  The next morning, however, was to bring all that back to him, and with a vengeance!

 

 

CHAPTER SIX: ANXIOUS HUSBAND

 

The grandfather clock in the sitting room of Dennis Foster's North Finchley flat struck ten, and rarely if ever had the regular patterns of its monotonous striking seemed more oppressive to him!  Ten o'clock and still no sign of his wife, not even a telephone call!  Nervously he poured himself another drop of brandy, possibly the eighth or ninth of the evening and, with trembling fingers, raised the glass to his lips.  He needed it all right, though it didn't seem to be doing him much good, wasn't making him feel any the less concerned about his wife's mysterious and totally unprecedented absence.  Rather, he felt more depressed and hopelessly pessimistic with each additional glass. 

     Had she left him at last, as she had on more than one occasion threatened to do?  Was she taking revenge on him for all the humiliations he had so selfishly inflicted upon her on his birthday?  These and other such questions plagued his worry-stricken mind, and no amount of brandy could dispel them.  Supposing she had been involved in an accident?  He tried a more optimistic line, but soon found a way of disparaging it.  An accident would surely have led to his receiving a telephone call by now.  Yes, how could he think of such a thing!  Desperately, he reached out his hand for the telephone, since the connection with hospital gave him a new idea, and at this late stage of the day he was prepared to try anything.  He would phone Tricia Kells and find out from her what, if anything, was going on - assuming she would be able or willing to tell him.  Tricia was, after all, one of Julie's closest friends.

     Wearily he rang her number and waited out the intervening time with the aid of a few extra sips of brandy.  His nerves were still sharply on-edge.  Fortunately it was Tricia in person, and not her ebullient fiancé, who picked up the receiver.  She recognized his voice straightaway, despite its circumstantial impediments.

     "Hello Dennis!  What's up?"

     He made an effort to explain, slurring and stammering all the while.

     "Well, she's certainly not here," Tricia declared, doing her level best to sound sympathetic in response to Dennis Foster's manifestly distraught tone-of-voice.  "I haven't seen her since Tuesday, when we dined together in the West End."

     "And the pair of you were alone?" he asked, eager to glean every little scrap of information from her.

     "Yes, of course.... Although, now I come to think of it, there was someone sitting near us who recognized Julie and decided to follow her out of the restaurant when we left."

     "Oh?"  Dennis Foster's suspicions rose perceptibly at this point, and so did his impatience to acquire new information.  "Who was this someone?" he demanded, suddenly becoming emboldened and seemingly free of inebriation.

     Tricia automatically shrugged her shoulders at her end of the line and privately wondered whether she oughtn't to have kept the information concerning the stranger to herself - for Julie's sake.  But, since Dennis Foster was pressing her to answer, she replied: "All I know for sure is that he had originally met Julie while she was still a student, some years before, and was apparently keen to speak to her again.  He wasn't anyone with whom I'm familiar."

     "You're certain?"

     "Positive."

     Dennis Foster's hopes sank drastically.  It seemed there would be no way of tracing this man, since he knew little of Julie's past relationships.  "And did he get to speak to her?" he asked.

     "Apparently he did," Tricia replied, after some nervous hesitation.  "Since he followed us upstairs to the till on our way out, Julie decided she would let him and, once outside the restaurant, politely suggested we go our separate ways.  So I left her to him."

     "I see," sighed Dennis, who could only just manage to hold the telephone receiver up to his ear, so much was his hand shaking.  There could be no doubt that she had cuckolded him by going off with this former acquaintance of hers!  He felt doubly humiliated, what with Tricia on the other end of the line.  What would she be thinking, he wondered?  "Tell me, can you remember what this fellow looked like?" he asked, endeavouring, as best he could, not to sound too concerned.

     There ensued a short pause while Tricia gathered her impressions together.  "Well, I only took a brief glance at him while we were having lunch, since I had my back turned to him," she confessed.  "But I'd say he was in his late thirties and of slight to medium build, with dark-brown hair.  Quite a good-looking chap really, although not a particularly smartly-dressed one, if the worn state of his jacket was anything by which to judge!  That's the best I can do, I'm afraid."

     "Thank you," said Dennis.  "You've been a great help."

     Tricia smiled to herself and wondered whether Julie would have said the same.  "But you don't actually think she's with him now, do you?" she rejoined, by way of incredulous curiosity.  "I mean ..."

     "I don't honestly know," he wearily responded.  "She might be."

     "Oh no, don't think that!" the young Irishwoman protested in a gently reproachful manner.  "Julie's simply not that kind of woman.  Why, in all probability, she'll be at Deirdre Gray's house, having a pre-Christmas party."

     "You think so?"  Dennis Foster was almost hopeful this would indeed prove to be the case.  But in his heart-of-hearts he rather doubted it!  Tricia was probably just trying to help him save face with her.

     "Yes.  Why not give her a ring?"

     "Okay, I'll do that," he agreed thoughtfully.  "Thanks for the suggestion."  And, bidding her a terse goodnight, he returned the receiver to its slot and straightaway rang Deirdre's number.  He was now feeling even more nervous than before, especially since the last time he had phoned her it was to cancel the prior arrangements made for his birthday dinner.  He felt sure the cancellation had been resented!

     Knocking back the last of his brandy, he heard the response of a man's voice at the other end of the line.  It was Deirdre's husband, John.  "Good evening mate, it's Dennis here," he stammered, unconsciously letting the glass fall from his hand.  "I wonder, is Julie there, by any chance?"

     "Julie?  Good heavens no, of course not!  Why do you ask?"

     Deirdre Gray, who was sitting next to her husband on the settee by the telephone, pricked up her ears and simultaneously turned down the volume of their television, the better to overhear his conversation.

     "It's just that, er, she's been out all day and still hasn't returned home," said Dennis.  "I'm beginning to wonder where-on-earth she could possibly be, since she gave me no advance warning or anything.  In fact, it's the first time that anything like this has ever happened."

     Realizing that something was amiss, John Gray adopted a suitably sympathetic tone-of-voice.  "Well, all I can say is we haven't seen her since before your birthday.  By the way, are you fully recovered from your sickness now?"

     "Oh, much better thanks," Dennis responded, becoming all of a sudden embarrassed, as well he might.  "I'm sorry I had to cancel our engagement."

     "No trouble," John Gray assured him.  "We were both rather concerned for your health."

     Deirdre Gray smiled to herself and wondered whether Julie's absence from home might not be attributable to her visit to Peter Morrison's place.  She might have put the suggestion to Dennis via her husband but for her feelings of jealousy concerning the probable implications of Julie's behaviour.  Besides, she thought it best to keep the business of Julie's own phone call, the previous day, to herself, since it would have unduly compromised her in their affairs, as well as compromised Julie in her husband's eyes, since Dennis was evidently more than a little suspicious that something adulterous was afoot.  After all, Julie had made it perfectly clear, over the phone, that she was intent upon getting her own back on her husband for the gross humiliations he had inflicted upon her on his birthday.  It wouldn't do for Deirdre to betray their confidence, not when her long-standing friendship with Julie, dating back to college days, was at stake!  Rather, it served Dennis Foster right for having behaved in such a deceitful manner! 

     And so she maintained a discreet silence, content to keep what little she knew about Julie's affairs to herself.  Tomorrow, when they were due to meet in the West End, she would doubtless find out exactly what Julie had been up to with Peter Morrison the previous night, and if possible would then wriggle her own way into his life to see if he still felt attracted towards her - as, on the strength of his one and only love-letter to her, he once evidently had been.  For why should Julie be the one to have all the fun, she thought, especially in view of the fact that she was both less attractive and less intelligent?

     Smiling inwardly again, Deirdre Gray relapsed into television-viewing.  What John had to say to Dennis about his birthday didn't really interest her.  It was what Peter Morrison would now be doing with Julie that did!

 

 

CHAPTER SEVEN: DISPOSAL OF THE EVIDENCE

 

Disposing of Julie's corpse wasn't a problem that Peter Morrison greatly relished, and scarcely one he felt competent to handle.  Yet awakening, early next morning, to the sight of it lying half-naked on the floor, he knew he couldn't afford to waste any time in the matter.  Already, grown stiff and cold, the body was beginning to smell somewhat disagreeable.  In a day or two the smell would be even worse, and that was a prospect he could ill-stomach!  Consequently he determined, there and then, to begin disposal operations that very morning, once he had acquired the necessary tools.  It would be a disgusting, not to say frightening, task, but at least he could be confident that no-one would interrupt him and expose his crime.  As things stood, the landlord wasn't due to collect the following month's rent for another two weeks.  Since there were no other visitors to expect in the meantime, that gave him plenty of time to set about the task of dissection.  For once, he was almost grateful that he lived in solitude, without obligations to friends or relatives.  The corpse would certainly be safe from prying eyes, so long as it remained in his room.

     Resigning himself to the difficult task ahead, he repaired to the local hardware shop for the purchase of a large carving knife and a medium-sized hand-saw.  He had determined, meanwhile, that the best way of disposing of the body would be to remove all its internal organs, chop them into tiny pieces, and wrap the pieces in newspaper or hide them in empty tins and cartons, which he would then deposit in the dustbins behind the front hedge.  The rest of the body he would simply saw into small pieces and dissolve in sulphuric acid, reducing it all to a thick scum which he could then dispose of either down his sink or down the toilet bowl.  And with that done, he would be free of the corpse and thus of any incriminating evidence for his terrible crime.  Life would gradually return to normal or, at any rate, to what it had been prior to Julie's brief and catastrophic intrusion.

     Once he had secured the necessary tools it was time to tackle the problem of dissection, so he lifted Julie's body onto the single table in his room and prepared himself for the ordeal ahead, covering his clothes in a white overall and squeezing his hands into a pair of old rubber gloves which he sometimes used when washing up.  He reflected that it was a pity he didn't have a peg for his nose, as, steeling himself, he stood over the body with carving knife in hand, his nerves distinctly on edge and his heart beating more fiercely than ever it had done when he was making love to Julie or indeed strangling her, the previous day.  But he did at least have some air-freshener to-hand and had taken the precaution, moreover, of opening one of his four windows as wide as it would go.  Fortunately for him, the view from his first-floor room gave-on to an abandoned factory at the back.  Only with the left-hand window, which, like its right-hand counterpart, was set at a thirty-degree angle to the middle two, would the interior of his room be exposed to some of the people who lived in the tenements across the far side of the intervening alley.  But ever since first moving into the room he had availed himself of a thick curtain there, which remained permanently in place.  Light, however, there was no shortage of, since the sun shone in through the other three windows during the greater part of any day when the sky wasn't overcast, which, luckily, it was far from being on this occasion.  All he need worry about was a lack of nerve and the possibility of making too much noise.

     Thus after a little preliminary blood-letting, during which he drained what he could from a number of incisions into various limbs, including her right-hand wrist, into some empty milk bottles, he plunged the knife into her abdomen and began to carve an opening there which would give him sufficient access to the interior organs.  The smell, as he carved the flesh apart, was more revolting than he had expected, causing him some involuntary retchings, but by periodically turning his nose away and inhaling large gulps of fresh air from the nearby open window, he found that he could survive its oppressive effects on himself and continue with his task without serious mishap. 

     Her flesh once opened up in this manner, he was obliged, in the absence of wedges or supports, to carve a contrary opening to the first one in order to get leverage on it and slowly tear it apart, thereby exposing her internal organs to his horrified gaze.  And yet even then he was obliged to carve a further opening in her flesh, to have access to both bowels and bladder.  His nerve almost failed him at this point, as blood poured over his gloved hands and sullied his overall, some of it even dripping down to the plastic sheet and bowl he had judiciously placed, at the last moment, under the table.  What, he wondered, would the nearest neighbours think he was up to?  However, for once he had determined to play some classical music on his record-player in order to smother the noise he was making, and this now streamed out of the twin speakers at opposite ends of the room in full stereophonic oscillation.

     And so, between retchings and near faints, qualms and curses, he slowly succeeded in removing, one by one, each of the internal organs, which he carefully placed in a second and somewhat larger plastic bowl ... preparatory to carving them up.  He was particularly ashamed, when the moment came, to handle her heart, since he felt it to be in some sense associated with her former love for him and therefore inherently sacred.  Yet that, too, would have to go the way of the kidneys, bladder, lungs, spleen, bowels, and appendix, not to mention everything else.  That, too, would have to be carved into numerous fragments and wrapped in newspaper or deposited in empty cans.  There was no sense in keeping it.  Now it was no more than a broken pump.

     The morning being dedicated to the unsavoury task of disembowelling Julie's corpse, the afternoon was given over to the even more unsavoury task of sawing it into separate pieces, to make possible its eventual liquidation through sulphuric acid.  Here, too, he found it necessary to take intermittent breaks from the stench which the dismembering of the corpse engendered, and even though he worked damn hard at the task all afternoon, it was still unfinished when, tired and revolted, he committed his vulnerable stomach to an evening meal, which, for once, he took in a local café.  But his appetite had completely failed him and, returning dejectedly to his room with little more than a third of the food eaten, he plunged anew into the dissection of what remained of Julie's body.

     The following day, after a restless night's sleep, during which he dreamed he was making love to her all over again, he felt so faint and weak that he could barely stagger out of bed, let alone attend to the terrible business of carrying-on from where he had left off.  Yet he knew there was no alternative but to go through with it to the bitter end, and so, after a mouthful of tea and a little light porridge, he began to busy himself with the reduction of the internal organs to so many tiny pieces of offal.  Of all the organs, the bowels were unquestionably the most disgusting to handle, since weighted with a day's excrement which had to be squeezed out of them before he could proceed to slice them up.  How he now regretted that he had ever invited Julie back to his room in the first place!  How foolish he had been to involve himself with her and thereby run the risk of doing what he did!  Murder was the last thing he would have considered himself capable of, and, now that he was saddled with the sordid consequences, he deeply regretted having committed it, regardless of the outraged state-of-mind which seemed to justify him at the time.  The body he had once loved above all other things in life had now become for him the source of his deepest loathing and disgust!  Reduced to its basic components, it was no better than a cow's or a pig's carcass - maybe even a shade worse.  And he still hadn't got rid of it!

     By mid-afternoon, however, he was ready to attend to the delicate business of acquiring himself a large quantity of concentrated sulphuric acid, and when, after much haggling and pleading with the nearest purveyor of industrial chemicals, he eventually succeeded in this nerve-wracking objective, nothing remained to be done except to dissolve the severed limbs of Julie's body and dispose of the tiny sliced-up parts in the outside dustbins.  How he would survive over the Christmas holidays on what little money he had left, after the expense of buying the acid and acquiring, on loan, a couple of small non-corrosive metallic drums in which to pour it ... he didn't honestly know.  But so long as he could completely free himself of Julie's remains in the meantime, that was all that really mattered.

     And so, having wrapped up the fragmented organs and disposed of them in the half-full dustbins which always stood, well-hidden from public view, in the narrow front-garden of the old lodging house, he applied himself to the task of destroying what remained of the dismembered body in the sulphuric acid, taking care not to splash or soak his hands in the process.  One by one, the severed limbs were prodded down into it with the aid of a metal rod and the drums then covered over and left to do their grisly work.  There was still a lot of mess to clear up in his room, however, and this he next attended to, being especially careful to wipe away the stains Julie's blood had made on both the table and plastic covering on the floor.  Even the nearby chest-of-drawers had got spattered with it, thereby requiring the application of a damp rag, followed, in due course, by a fresh coat of polish.  Hardly anywhere in the immediate vicinity of the 'operating table', as he somewhat euphemistically thought of it, had escaped untarnished, despite the unremitting care he had taken to ensure the avoidance of unnecessary mess.  He had completely underestimated the difficulties of disposing of a corpse, never having tackled one before!

     At last, the final patches of tell-tale evidence having been wiped away, he turned towards his bed and heavily slumped down on it with an almighty sigh of relief!  It seemed that the worst two days in his life were behind him, never, he hoped, to return.  The drums of sulphuric acid might still be in his room, safely hidden from view under the table, but at least they were clean and metallic, sufficiently impersonal not to be of any great personal inconvenience to him.  In a day or two, following a little intermittent prodding of their increasingly nondescript contents, he would be able to dispose of them too, first pouring away the scum and then returning them to their owner.  If anything remained partially undissolved, he would wrap it up in newspaper and dispose of it some other way, if not in the dustbins then in some other suitable hiding place, possibly behind the fireplace cover or under the floorboards.  But knowing the strength of this particular type of acid, he was convinced that almost everything would be taken care of the way he wanted - without any further risks.

     That Saturday evening he went out to dinner again, and this time, free of the oppressive smells in his room, he ate a good-sized meal, helping it down with a few glasses of sweet wine.  Afterwards he took a leisurely stroll round the local streets before deciding that, for a change, he would drop-in on his aged mother, who lived only a couple of miles away.  Actually, he had never enjoyed visiting her address, which was even more decrepit than his own, but, for once, the prospect of doing so gave him a welcome reprieve from his room and enabled him to think of other things.

     His mother seemed concerned about his health, saying how pale and tired he looked, but he persuaded her that it was only a mild attack of influenza and nothing particularly serious.  She had never really bothered herself all that much about his health anyway, and he couldn't understand why she should suddenly want to take an interest in it at present.  Perhaps the horrendous activities of the past two days had taken more out of him than he thought, making him seem positively cadaverous to her?  Yes, that was quite possible.  However, he accepted a glass of sherry and, when he had watched to the end of a film on television and played with her cat awhile, he betook himself back home on the bus, relieved to get away again.  If there was one thing above all others that prevented him from getting involved with local girls, he reflected, it was his mother.  She had somehow inoculated him against following in his father's unfortunate footsteps and marrying intellectually and culturally beneath himself.  He was determined, even at the continuing price of prolonged solitude and depression, never to associate with ordinary unintellectual women.  If he couldn't meet with anyone on his own cultural and intellectual wavelength, not to mention fundamental ethnicity as an Irish Catholic, he would simply stay alone.  That would at least save him the humiliating prospect of fostering children he could only despise!

     Once back in his room, however, his thoughts unaccountably turned to pleasure, and he began to sort through the various photos he had taken of Julie's seductive body on Thursday evening.  Not satisfied with that, the perverse idea of dressing himself in her clothes duly entered his mind and, removing his own clothing, he eagerly gave-in to this new experience and betook himself, newly attired, to his wardrobe mirror, where, availing himself of its elongated shape, he proceeded to admire his dark-stockinged legs, having first hitched up the black cotton skirt to expose them.  The skirt, however, wasn't a particularly good fit, being rather too tight about the waist, so he quickly removed it and contented himself with contemplating Julie's underclothes on him instead.  But this, too, soon bored him, and before long he felt obliged to step out of the rather tight-fitting panties in order to free his semi-erect member from their material constraint.  He wasn't, he realized, greatly taken with the experience of dressing-up in women's clothes, not even when they had once belonged to his only love.

     However, now that he was in a state of semi-undress and feeling slightly aroused by the spectacle of his dark-stockinged legs, with their pink suspenders, he decided he might as well avail himself of one or two of the erotic photos he had taken the other night to do something he hadn't done in months - namely masturbate.  So masturbate he duly did, holding a photograph of Julie's scantily-clad body in one hand and rhythmically massaging his engorged member with the other.  The fact that he would almost certainly regret this act, in due course, didn't seem to bother him.  What particularly mattered to him, at this moment, was to test the erotic potential of his home-made pornography and relieve himself of a quantity of sperm in the process - in short, to give-in to a temptation which might otherwise have plagued him for several weeks.  For he knew from experience that once a temptation had been given-in to, it didn't usually come back, at least not in a hurry!

     Thus it was that the combined effect of the photos and masturbatory stimulus, in tandem with the inhibition-reducing factor of being slightly drunk, produced the desired result, as he frantically brought himself to orgasmic fruition and ejaculated various-sized globules of milky-white sperm all over the wardrobe mirror, their substance partly adhering to and partly sliding down its shiny surface onto the carpet beneath.  Satisfied that the experiment had been brought to a successful conclusion, though not particularly thrilled by it, he replaced the last photo in his free hand among the others in his collection and duly applied a paper tissue to the mirror and carpet, reserving for Julie's panties the necessity of wiping the remaining sperm from himself.  Then, on an impulse, he put them to his nose in order to discover if he could detect any traces of her vaginal odour on them, but, not surprisingly, there was little to be encountered in that respect.  Rather, he noticed a urine stain there and, disgustedly, he tore them apart and threw their tattered remains to the floor.  Originally he had intended to keep them as a souvenir of his sexual conquest, but now that seemed out-of-the-question.  One thing he realized, there and then, was that he must also get rid of Julie's clothes, not just her body.  Her leather coat, skirt, blouse, shoes, stockings, suspenders, and underclothes simply couldn't be left in his room to gather dust.  He would take everything along to the local Oxfam shop with the excuse that his wife no longer had any use for them and wished to bequeath them to charity, or something to that effect.  The old woman who usually ran the shop would be bound to welcome such a gift, since she was often short of attractive clothing to sell.  The leather coat alone would doubtless fetch her a tidy little sum.

     Removing the rest of Julie's clothing from his body, he made a neat little pile of it on the floor and then hid it away in the bottom of the wardrobe.  He would dispense with it all on Monday morning - all, that is, apart from the torn panties and matching brassiere, which, carefully wrapped, could be thrown in the dustbins.  The home-made photos, however, he would most certainly keep, and these he now decided to hide away in various parts of his room, putting the majority in his bedside locker, safely out of sight, and reserving a few as bookmarks, just for the privilege of being able to look at Julie's image from time to time during the course of his studies.  Indeed, on second thoughts, he would also put one in each of his favourite novels, not only to keep them hidden away, but free of dust and stain as well.  No-one ever came into his room to look at his books, so what did it matter?  The photos would be perfectly safe there - safer, in fact, than anywhere else, including the locker, which, in a sense, was a more obvious hiding-place.  People would never think you kept photos in books.

     Smiling to himself, he disposed of his private pornography accordingly and, once properly dressed again, settled down to listen to a record via his headphones.  Earlier in the evening it would probably have been modern jazz.  But at this time of night it could only be classical.  He was generally a man of inflexible habit - like Schopenhauer, his favourite philosopher.

 

 

CHAPTER EIGHT: ON MORRISON'S TRAIL

 

Impatiently, Deirdre Gray ordered another coffee and cast a rapid glance at her tiny gold-plated wristwatch.  Two o'clock and still no sign of Julie!  What could have happened to her?  Wearily, Deirdre went over the Wednesday-evening phone conversation with Julie in her mind for the third or fourth time, just to reassure herself that she hadn't made a mistake by turning-up here at one-thirty this Friday afternoon.  No, she was convinced that these were the arrangements to which they had agreed at the time.  Besides, had she ever made a mistake in her calculations before?  Certainly not where a rendezvous of this nature was concerned!

     The coffee arrived and she wearily thanked the waiter, whose less than respectful smile was personally abhorrent to her; although she couldn't exactly blame him, under the circumstances, for thinking what he might be.  Not many young women of her sexual calibre made a point of hanging round in coffee bars at this time of day, periodically glancing at their watches.  Oh well, another five minutes, the time it took to drink her coffee, and she would be gone - before the rather insolent-looking waiter got any worse ideas into his lewd head.  She could take no real pleasure in the experience.

     Another man, a fellow customer, was staring at her reflection in the wide mirror in front of them, and this also annoyed her, despite the fact that she was well-used to such things by now.  Sometimes she wished she were a man in order to escape her beauty for a day, take a holiday from it.  Being under constant facial and bodily scrutiny was, at times, a somewhat oppressive experience, more a burden than a pleasure.  The man next to her duly looked away, however, and she almost heaved a sigh of relief, thankful that he hadn't said anything.  He wasn't particularly good-looking anyway, and would only have caused her additional inconvenience.  Fending off bores and louts was just one more depressing aspect of being an attractive woman!

     She was nearly through with her coffee by now and would soon be gone.  Julie, it seemed, had failed to keep her word - not, incidentally, for the first time - and wouldn't be turning up, after all.  Perhaps she had forgotten or had decided, at the last moment, that Peter Morrison's company was more important to her?  Yes, that was probably the case, thought Deirdre, as she recalled Dennis Foster's concern over her absence from home the previous evening.  The little bitch had evidently found herself a worthier companion in life or, at any rate, acquired more immediate obligations.  She might even have eloped with Peter.  To think of it!  Left her wicked husband in the marital lurch!  Well, to some extent that could only serve the pompous bastard right, especially in light of his recent behaviour towards her!

     Yet Deirdre was determined to find out for herself exactly what Julie was up to and, now that her watch showed ten-past two, she decided to return home and set about tracing Peter Morrison's address with the help of such information as she had on him - namely the love letter, or professed love letter, he had sent her back in her undergraduate days.  But, before that, a telephone call to Tricia Kells would be in order, to see what she had to say.

     However, as things turned out, Tricia could tell her nothing she didn't already know, and this disappointed her.  The fact that Dennis Foster had rung Tricia, the previous night, came as no real surprise.  But the fact that Tricia knew no more about Julie's whereabouts than herself most certainly did!  That meant she would have to start from scratch and hunt them down herself.  With that in mind, she thanked Tricia for her co-operation and, after a quick lunch in the West End, took an underground train back to Finchley.

     Arrived home, she set about unearthing Peter Morrison's letter from its hiding place, tucked away in a vest at the bottom of one of her drawers, and quickly read it through.  There was nothing in it with which she wasn't already thoroughly familiar, including the silly little poem he had enclosed for good measure, which had simply added aesthetic insult to emotional injury.  She must have read each of them at least ten times before.  Now, however, she was chiefly interested in its address, which happened to be a nearby north London one, and, noting the absence of a telephone number, she immediately set off for the address in question, availing herself of the nearest bus routes to it.  An hour or so later she arrived at its dark-blue front door, and, to her relief, the bell was duly answered by an elderly woman who lived in the front room.

     "Excuse me, does a Mr Morrison still live here?" she asked in what she hoped would sound like a reasonably optimistic tone-of-voice.

     The elderly occupant scratched her wiry head.  "Not that I'm aware of," she replied hesitantly.

     Deirdre swallowed hard and tried not to look too displeased.  "You're quite sure?" she insisted.

     "Yes, I am," the elderly woman admitted.  "I know all the tenants who live here."

     There was another possibility and Deirdre immediately seized on it.  "Is this the landlord's only house?" she asked, automatically assuming the probable relevance of the male choice of gender.

     The old woman reflected a moment, scratching her head in the process, and answered that she thought he let out another property somewhere nearby.  "But, unfortunately, I don't have its address," she added, a shade apologetically.

     "Do you by any chance have his private phone number?" asked Deirdre, who was prepared to try anything to trace Morrison's current whereabouts.

     "Why, yes.  Just a tick."  The elderly tenant shuffled back into her room and reappeared, little over a minute later, with a crumpled strip of paper bearing both the landlord's surname and telephone number, which she handed to Deirdre, who gratefully accepted it and was soon on her way again - this time to the nearest public phone-booth.   However, Mr Stone couldn't be reached during the afternoon and so, having decided it was pointless to stick around, she returned home to North Finchley, determined to try again later that evening.

     As it happened, it was about seven o'clock when she finally got through to him and was able to make inquiries concerning Peter Morrison's whereabouts.  "Yes, I found him alternative accommodation a couple of years ago," Mr Stone revealed, speaking from his private address in Muswell Hill.  "He had been living at the old address for several years and, as I was then intending to sell the property and he'd had no luck in finding alternative lodgings in the area, what with being unemployed and everything, I suggested he take a room in my other Hornsey house, which he summarily agreed to do.  He's still there now, in fact."

     "Oh really?" cried Deirdre, breaking into a smile of relief at her end of the line.  "Could you give me the address, please?"

     Mr Stone duly obliged and, thanking him for his help, she set about hunting through her London street atlas for the street or, rather, avenue in question. (Her husband was having a bath, so he was safely out-of-earshot.  She didn't want him to intrude into her private affairs, especially when there were personal interests of a romantic nature at stake.)  As it happened, the address given her by Peter's landlord was very close to the other one - a mere stone's throw away.  What a pity the old lady couldn't have told her it in the first place!  She could then have gone straight there that very same day.  As it was, she would now have to wait until Monday at the earliest, since the weekend was too risky, what with her husband prowling around, and, besides, they had a number of Christmas engagements to honour.  Whether or not Julie would still be with Peter on Monday remained open to doubt, but at least she would have a chance to see for herself exactly what, if anything, was going on between them.  Curiously, she still remembered him as a rather shy, reserved, outsider type, with no real interest in women, and Julie's phone call on Wednesday evening had done little to cause her to modify that impression.  Indeed, it had simply been reinforced, since Julie had spoken of his intellectual conversation and absence of sexual interests.  Perhaps instead of having found herself a new lover, she had simply found a new guru - the type of man for whom she seemed to have a special weakness?  Perhaps Peter Morrison's conversation was more enlightening to her than that of her previous spiritual masters, who were often enough more interested in instructing their female devotees in the Karma Sutra than in the path to divine salvation?  The mind boggled - especially where a woman like Julie Foster was concerned!  Why, she was virtually capable of falling in love with just about anyone who had a spiritual reputation!  Anything less wouldn't have becomed her, apparently.  With the gurus, on the other hand, sex was somehow rendered clean and respectable, not to mention highly pleasurable, through mystical elevation.  No doubt, she relished their physical-cum-metaphysical intimacies as only a woman with her spiritual vanity could.  A conquest of them was worth any number of lesser males!

 

 

CHAPTER NINE: A MOST UNEXPECTED DISCOVERY

 

At last Monday arrived and, having attended to some outstanding domestic business in the morning, Deirdre Gray stood poised for action at the door to the house where Peter Morrison lived, her heart beating expectantly for the footsteps in the hall that would answer her mechanical summons and bring her face to face with someone she hadn't seen in years.  It was a pleasantly mild day, bright and dry, which made a change from the recent spate of inclement weather.  She hardly needed to wear the long fur coat she had automatically resorted to that morning, more out of habit than premeditated response to the weather.  Nevertheless she always took a special pride in looking lady-like and feeling smug.  To some extent a distinguished appearance kept the monkey-rabble at bay, and when one was visiting a largely lower-class area like this, it was just as well to have an expensive-looking coat on one's shoulders.

     At length the doorbell was answered, and Deirdre found herself confronted by a young woman of extensively raffish appearance.  "Oh, excuse me, but does a Mr Morrison live here?" she automatically asked, although she already knew the answer.

     The raffish young woman nodded vaguely.  "First floor, room six," she replied, with a hint of condescension in her voice.

     "Thanks," said Deirdre, closing the door behind her in the wake of the retreating tenant, who evidently lived downstairs.  Ugh, what a depressing hovel she had stepped into!  She almost shuddered with disgust as she turned to the left and began to mount the grubby grey-carpeted, creaking stairs which led to the first floor.  No wonder Morrison suffered from a severe depression!  No intelligent man could possibly live in such a dingy hovel with impunity!

     Arrived at the floor in question, she passed through a heavy fire-door, which slammed noisily behind her, and halted at the top of the dingy corridor which apparently led to Room 6.  There was no sound coming from within and she found herself half-hoping, in spite of her determination to get to the bottom of Julie's mysterious disappearance, that its inhabitant would be out.  Nevertheless she duly advanced along the bare corridor and applied the knuckles of her right hand to the cream-painted door at the far end a number of times.  Her heart was now in her mouth, or so it seemed.  Anxiously she waited with baited breath for a response, but nothing came.  Surprised, she knocked again, this time longer and louder.  Ah, success at last!  The door jolted open with a creak and a pale-looking man of average height but rather less than average build stood before her.  At first he didn't recognize her, since she was standing in partial shadow, but as soon as she spoke his name and asked whether she could talk to him a moment, his face brightened and his mouth shot open in wonderment.

     "Deirdre!" he cried.  "What a pleasant surprise!"  He stood back to admit her to his room.  Smiling, she crossed the threshold and was shocked to discover that it was otherwise empty.  No sign of Julie.  Only a rather sharp smell in the air, like acid or disinfectant or something, and this in spite of the fact that one of the windows was wide open, like in the middle of summer.  Baffled, she blushed suddenly and stammered something to the effect that she had half-expected to find Julie Foster there.

     "What makes you say that?" he asked, as he gently shut the door behind her.

     "Only that she told me she was intending to visit you last week," she nervously replied.

     "Yes?"

     Deirdre's blush deepened.  Could she have been mistaken?  "Well, I just thought that, since she hasn't been at home these past few days and her husband is worried about her, she might still be here with you."

     "Really?"  Morrison's face turned grey with apprehension and his hands began to tremble slightly.  "Julie told you?" he repeated, in subdued astonishment.

     "Why, yes," Deirdre confirmed.  "She phoned me last Wednesday to say that she had visited you the day before and had been invited to do so on Thursday as well.  Since then, I haven't heard anything from her."

     Morrison had gone across to the open window in order to close it.  "Are you sure you're not imagining things?" he queried, turning round.  "I mean, are you absolutely certain she mentioned me personally?"

     "Yes, positively."

     There was a moment's shocked pause while he endeavoured to gather his thoughts and steady his nerves, which were fast becoming something of a serious liability.  At length, he drew attention to the room's only armchair and requested Deirdre to take a seat, which she reluctantly did, not bothering to remove her fur coat.  "And you think I may have hidden her somewhere, is that it?" he commented, almost insolently.

     "Well no, of course not," Deirdre responded, blushing some more.  "Only ... it does seem rather odd that she should be missing from home all this time, with no apparent explanation.  Her husband phoned us - my husband and me - late last Thursday evening, wondering what could have happened to her and, since we had no idea, we weren't able to be of any real help to him."

     "Yet you apparently knew she was with me," he remarked.

     "Indeed," Deirdre admitted.  "But I could hardly allow myself to betray her, under the circumstances."

     "And what circumstances would they be?" he asked.  There was a distinctly suspicious note in his voice.

     "That she wanted her visit to you kept a secret," Deirdre revealed, becoming flustered under pressure of her mounting embarrassment.

     Morrison smiled to himself.  Yes, how feasible that statement seemed, the dirty double-crossing bitch!  "And her husband presumably phoned you again, over the weekend, to inform you she still hadn't returned home, is that it?"

     "No, in point of fact my husband phoned him," Deirdre corrected.

     "Oh, I see."  At which point Morrison paused to reflect, before asking: "So how did you get my address - through Julie?"

     Deirdre blushed anew and swallowed with difficulty a ball of saliva which was threatening to choke her.  "Actually, I traced it through your landlord, Mr Stone, by first referring to the address you had once sent me in a letter, remember?"  It cut a long story drastically short, but seemed better than nothing.

     "Am I supposed to?" he rejoined, conscious of her marital status.

     There ensued another pause while Deirdre tried to figure out whether or not the question was rhetorical.  At length, undecided what to make of it, she opted for a question of her own.  "You did mean what you said in that letter, didn't you?" she ventured.  "I mean, you claimed to be in love with me."  The words virtually spoke themselves, despite her evident embarrassment at saying them.

     "I guess I was to some extent," he unsmilingly admitted.  "Or perhaps it would be truer to say that I'd had my love for Julie severely compromised by the discovery of her musical tastes - the records in her collection being anything but compatible with my own record-buying predilections.  At the time, I would hardly have considered myself a fan of the Monkees, let alone J.S. Bach!  The spectacle of those records in her room, coupled, I might add, to the fact that she already had a boyfriend whose presence I could hardly ignore, was sufficient to dampen down my enthusiasm for her.  And since you were the only other attractive woman to-hand, and one, moreover, whose musical tastes I subsequently discovered to be more approximate to my own, I automatically gravitated to you, though hardly as a man head-over-heels in love.  For I was still emotionally involved with Julie, despite my cultural disillusionment.  It was more an act of defiance, at the time, than an amorous craving ... which goaded me in your direction."

     A further blush erupted from Deirdre's face, this time with every justification.  For she had quite misinterpreted the motives for his behaviour, not to mention the letter that followed it.  She had simply assumed, out of vanity, that he was genuinely in love with her.  "And the letter?" she asked, now merely seeking confirmation of his duplicity.

     "Written in part to establish my position in your eyes and in part to avenge myself on Julie, though I don't suppose she ever saw it," Morrison replied.

     "No, I kept it a secret," Deirdre confessed, with lowered eyes.

     Looking at her thus, he couldn't deny that she was a beautiful woman, even if a little on the thin side.  She struck him as a ballet-dancing type, a nimble ballerina, what with her slender physique, aquiline nose, piercing blue eyes, and fine dark-brown hair, tied-up, as it now was, in twin plaits on the back of her head.  She could also have been taken for a nurse, if an unusually pretty one!  Of course, he knew from experience that, unlike most nurses, she had an element of the bitch in her character, an imperiousness coupled to an impertinence which could prove unnerving, not to say socially offensive, to anyone unfortunate enough to fall foul of it.  Of aristocratic temperament, she wasn't above whispering or even saying false or deprecating things about one in the presence of others, and then under the mistaken assumption that one wouldn't overhear it or take offence if by any chance one did, presumably because one was too stoned or stupid or deaf or something.  This public openness and apparent lack of social tact had more than once been directed against Peter Morrison himself, and although he pretended to not having heard it, he was by no means immune to its malign consequences.  No doubt, it had played a part in ensuring that his relations towards her remained relatively cool, even after he had turned away from Julie in disgust at her musical tastes.  She wasn't the most warm-hearted of persons, in any case.  Yet if one thing more than any other had led him to take an amorous interest in her in the first place, it wasn't so much her looks, unquestionably good though they were, as her temperamental and intellectual compatibility with himself.  She was like an alter ego to him, reflecting his own cultural predilections not only in her choice of records but, just as importantly so far as he was concerned, in her choice of books as well - literature being her principal study while still an undergraduate.  With Deirdre a mutual appreciation of the arts would have been both possible and feasible.  With Julie, on the other hand, such a thing would hardly have been possible or feasible at all!  In some respects, Deirdre was a freak, an exception to the female rule, a kind of Irish Simone de Beauvoir.  Julie, on the contrary, was more the typically sexual and maternal woman, unsophisticated to the point of philistinism.  No woman could ever be less guilty of philistinism than Deirdre.  In her cultural sophistication, she was virtually a man!

     But what of her body?  Morrison was beginning to wonder if he hadn't been mistaken, previously, in considering it too slender to be particularly seductive.  Perhaps there would be something sexually compensatory about it which he hadn't as yet envisaged - an ardour or intimacy which transcended Julie's calculated reserve.  To be sure, there was little of the Rossetti-like wounded deer or hunted Beatrice about Deirdre, as with her friend.  Au contraire, the chances were that, where Julie had been passively submissive and almost begrudging, she would be actively encouraging, shamelessly involved in the sexual act and providing every incentive she could, short of actual copulation, to attain her ends.  Struck by this speculation, he wondered whether he oughtn't to attempt having it verified that very day.  After all, Deirdre was there for the taking, despite her ostensible concern over Julie's welfare.  Would not a convenient excuse or false explanation on that score put her mind at rest?  Yes, he didn't see any reason why not.

     Taking advantage of the opportunity afforded him by the silence, he said: "You know, there was a degree of sincerity about my letter, whatever else may have prompted it.  I was becoming romantically interested in you at the time.  Still am interested, for that matter, in spite of Julie's presence here recently.... By the way, if you want to know what she's doing, I sent her on an errand."

     Deirdre pricked up her ears.  "Oh, what sort of errand?" she asked, clearly baffled.

     "A political one, actually," Morrison declared, frowning.  "If you must know, I have some political contacts in Dublin and wanted her to attend a conference in my stead.  I haven't been very well recently and, besides, I couldn't afford to make the trip just now, so I asked her to take my place, giving her a note of introduction.  Fortunately she agreed to go, and that's where she is at present."  It sounded a rather lame explanation to him, especially since Julie wasn't Irish, but it was arguably better than nothing, and certainly better than the truth!

     Deirdre felt somewhat nonplussed by this, since it was quite unlike Julie to involve herself in political affairs, whether or not on anyone else's behalf.  Indeed, despite what her friend had told her on the telephone last week, she couldn't believe that Peter Morrison was involved in politics anyway, least of all in a revolutionary capacity.  And yet if he was, then it could only mean that Julie was determined to do what she could for him in order, presumably, to worm her way back into his affections.  No wonder she hadn't told her husband anything.... "Well," said Deirdre, after Morrison's explanation had begun to sink in and establish something like a credible niche for itself, "if that's the case, then I guess I'm simply wasting my time here.  Now that I know where she is and am in possession of the knowledge, at long last, as to why you once wrote me a long letter, I may as well leave you to your own devices again."

     She stood up and was on the point of exiting the room when he approached her and put a restraining hand on her shoulder.  "I said there was a degree of sincerity in that letter, and so there was," he averred, blushing faintly.  "If you must know, I think you're a better-looking woman than Julie and would be interested in winning your friendship and keeping you here a bit longer.  Besides, since you took the trouble to come here anyway, why not prolong your stay an hour or so, eh?"  He moved closer to her and, putting his arms about her waist, ever so gently placed a kiss on her lips.  She stared at him blankly a moment, as if a kiss was the last thing she had expected, then briefly smiled and relaxed a little.  He unbuttoned her fur coat and drew her against himself, causing her to encircle him with her arms.  "I used to like the way you'd occasionally move up really close to me," he said in a low voice, "until our bodies were virtually touching, like you wanted to give yourself to me on-the-spot, wherever it might be.  You had a peculiar knack of being physically intimate without necessarily committing yourself or saying anything."

     Deirdre smiled coyly.  "Still have," she admitted.

     "And I was tempted to take advantage of it," he confessed, smiling in turn.

     "In what way?" she wanted to know.

     "Like this," he said and, applying his lips to her mouth, he pressed a long hard kiss upon it, a kiss which mysteriously had the effect of inducing Deirdre to wrap a leg around his legs in order to increase their intimacy.

     Yes, there could be no denying that she was a very different kind of woman from Julie, not one to hold back when sex was at stake, and now that Morrison felt sexually aroused, he lost no time in gaining the quickest possible route to her affections ... as he lifted her off her feet and tumbled to the floor with her, kissing her violently while groping for her panties.  There could be no question of undressing her gently and slowly, like with Julie, for she was no hunted Beatrice but an accomplice at inflaming passion.  What did it matter that she still had her skirt on, if he could get the panties off her in double-quick time and thus speed-up their sexual coupling?  Once they were out of the way and she had opened her legs, pulling them back in order to facilitate his entry, he would be free to remove his own sartorial obstacles and drive himself between them with lustful vengeance, like a battering ram assailing the gates of a besieged citadel. 

     She cried out from the sharp pain of his phallic onslaught and turned her head to one side, as if to hide it from him, but put no physical obstacle in the way of his rapid advance.  Rather, she opened her legs wider to ease the passage of his rampant organ and so reduce the pain of phallic intromission.  He was already riding her fiercely, like someone on the point of orgasm.  For this was the way he had decided to deal with her - in complete contrast to Julie.  He wanted to drive his member in as deeply as it would go, to use it as a lever with which to lift the interior of her womb up to the wall of her stomach, or somewhere nearby, and just as eagerly he wanted to take it right out and ruthlessly drive it back in again.  But this wasn't to be, since Deirdre was doing everything in her power to facilitate his ride and keep him mounted, now that she could sense the rapid approach of their destiny.  And not only her but he could also sense its approach, which further prompted him to intensify his ardour and quicken his ride.  They were both heading for an orgasmic collision somewhere further along, and nothing short of disaster could have averted it.  Within seconds he was feeling the tension rise precipitously towards the tip of his erection, and then, suddenly, fierce spasms of ejaculated semen surged through it with a forcefulness he hadn't known with Julie and would never have suspected himself capable of, triggering off a return broadside from Deirdre.  He had put a lot of effort into this coupling, though hardly to no avail, and now he realized that he wasn't impotent after all, but simply dependent on the right kind of woman - like Salvador Dali, who, if what he'd read about him was true, could only reach sexual fulfilment with his wife, Gala, and with no other.  Peter Morrison had certainly reached such fulfilment with Deirdre, and, unlike Julie, she had simultaneously arrived at it with him.  He could hardly believe his luck!

     Withdrawing himself from her, he flopped over onto his side in physical exhaustion, the sweat streaming off his brow.  He had found sexual satisfaction at last, and with a woman whom he would previously have considered too slender to be capable of giving him any! Now he realized how mistaken he had been, in the past, to think that; for his speculations of the minute before had indeed been verified.  There was certainly nothing passive about Deirdre's approach to sex.  She was liberated all right, and a pussy to boot, the kind of female for whom he had a special weakness.  Why, with her fur coat still relatively in place, despite the exigencies of their joint coupling, she was every bit the classy, dark-stockinged, suspender-wearing feline woman of his dreams, even down to the fine texture of her tied-up hair, which complemented the rest of her seductive appearance and highlighted the slender beauty of her nape.  There was perfume of an alluring sweetness behind her ears, although that wasn't, by any means, the only place where such a sweetness could be smelt.  There was plenty of it elsewhere, too!

     He sat up beside her, a warm smile on his face, and began to stroke her hair.  Then he crouched down by the tip of her toes, in order to get a better look at her crotch.  "Lift your legs up and pull it apart for me," he demanded, his curiosity growing.

     Obediently she did as he wanted, her hands coming round from under her thighs to assist in the business of exposing, to his avid gaze, the hitherto buried treasure of her sex.  He was well pleased by this performance and, as much to tell her so as to satisfy a nagging desire, he crawled forwards on hands-and-knees and tenderly placed a kiss on it, which briefly caused her to titter, in spite of her customary serious tone of mind.  Julie would have been frightfully self-conscious and bashful here.  Not Deirdre!  She rather revelled in his sexual curiosity.  After all, it had been a long time since husband John had shown anything similar.  "Do you like it?" she teasingly inquired.

     "Sure I do," he admitted, before proceeding to stoke her.  "You're pretty all over, just as I had always suspected you'd be.  Women like you generally are.  Their cute little faces suggest as much.  Still, I'd long been curious to discover exactly what sort of a pussy you had between your legs - whether it would be of the elongated or squat variety or something in-between, how much pubic hair it would sport, what it would smell like, and so on.  Now I know and am well satisfied that it matches up to my previous high expectations.  Little diamond-shaped pussies like yours I find particularly alluring, as should be evident by the avid response of my cock."

     He got to his feet and lifted her legs up, pulling them back as he straddled her stomach with his back to her face in order to survey her sex from above.  She made no attempt to resist him but allowed him to stand astride her, like a colossus, as he held her inverted feet against his groin and continued to stare down the length of her legs to the hairy cynosure of sexual commerce beneath.  She was both intrigued and slightly amused by his stance, and when he pulled her legs right back, so that her knees were pressing against her breasts, and proceeded to squat down on them ... she could do no more than wriggle a little and titter anew.  Yet squatting was no less a temporary measure than standing, and before long he was transforming his voyeuristic curiosity into oral sex, as he gently slid himself down upon her and applied an exploratory tongue to her upended orifice - a thing she had never experienced before, since her husband was fundamentally too shy and morally squeamish to indulge in oral, especially from such a dominating position as the one Peter Morrison had now adopted!  She liked the way his tongue caressed her most tender flesh and, for his part, he was in no doubt that the identical experience with Julie would have been more satisfying, had she been alive at the time of his succumbing to it.  Deirdre was proving this point to him in no uncertain terms, as he orally manipulated her and listened, with mounting pleasure, to the non-verbal responses which were involuntarily issuing from her mouth.  He would make her quiver with ecstasy before the afternoon was out - of that she could rest assured!

     And so time passed and, wearily, his lust fully sated, Morrison picked himself up from Deirdre's limp body and slowly started to get dressed.  For her part, Deirdre had only to put her panties back on and straighten out her skirt, which she quickly did; though not before she had taken off her fur coat and realigned her nylon stockings.  Then she sat down in the armchair again while Morrison, having put himself sartorially to rights, decided he needed to visit the toilet, which happened to be situated between the ground and first floors to one side of the main stairs.  This left her alone for a minute or two and, since she was sitting within easy reach of his bookcase, she casually scanned the titles on display there, all or most of which were on the middle shelf.  Before long her eyes alighted upon a rather worn Australian reprint, dating from 1971, of Tropic of Cancer, and, curiosity aroused, she fished it off the shelf in question and began to flick through its yellowing pages.  Almost at once, a photograph tumbled out of it onto her lap.  Surprised, she picked up the photo and cast its garish colours an inquisitive glance.  Automatically her hands began to shake and, involuntarily, she dropped the Henry Miller novel to the floor.  Her eyes were virtually popping out of her head, as she stared aghast at the half-naked body portrayed there in instamatic colour.  With legs wide apart and skirt hitched-up round her waist, arms to her sides and a ghastly white face, Julie Foster's was the body stretched out on the floor of this very same room, the very same electric fire burning behind her head, the same wallpaper above it, the same carpet hugging the contours of her prostrate form.  It took Deirdre no time to realize that, when this photo was taken, Julie had been anything but a live woman.  A live Julie Foster would never have allowed anyone to photograph her like that!

     Horror-stricken, Deirdre felt like vomiting, so ghastly was the impression the photo made on her.  Instinctively she staggered to her feet, gripping her stomach in one hand and the incriminating evidence of her friend's murder in the other and, just at that moment, an unsuspecting Peter Morrison casually returned from the toilet.

     "What have you done with her?" she cried, as he approached her with a surprised look on his face, a look that was soon to turn to dread and dismay when he realized what had happened.

     "Done with whom?" he responded, feigning puzzlement.

     "Julie!" came her immediate almost hysterical response.  "Tell me at once!"

     He attempted to snatch the photo from her hand, but she backed away from him in one swift movement.  "Give it to me," he demanded, holding out his hand.

     "What have you fucking-well done with her?" Deirdre repeated, this time in a much louder voice.

     "I told you, I sent her on a political errand," he replied, trying to contain his nerves and fearful of what her voice might reveal to the nearest neighbours.

     But she simply repeated her question yet again, as if incapable of saying anything else, and this time so loudly that he felt compelled to hurl himself upon her in order to silence her.

     "What I'm fucking-well going to do to you, you nosy little bitch!" he snarled, dragging her to the floor.

     She struggled bravely, putting up more resistance to his assault than ever Julie had done, but he held her throat in a powerful, two-handed grip, and nothing she could do would release her from it.  The life was slowly ebbing out of her as her struggles became more desperate and involuntary, her face turning crimson.  She was losing strength by the second and, inevitably, she too went the way of Julie Foster, the tensions in her body suddenly dispersing as she choked to death in the throes of one last terrible spasm.

     Only after five minutes had elapsed did he loosen his grip on her throat, and by then there was absolutely no life left in her.  It was a ghastly experience for him and, as he turned away from Deirdre's prostrate body, tears once more welled-up in his eyes and came flooding down his cheeks.  Ahead of him lay another terrible ordeal in disposing of a corpse, and that no sooner than he had got rid of the previous one!

 

 

CHAPTER TEN: ENCOUNTER WITH DESTINY

 

For Tricia Kells the New Year was to prove of special significance.  Not only did she get married to her fiancé, an Irishman from Cork, but she also returned with him to Ireland, where she duly took up a position as Office Skills Tutor in a small business college on the outskirts of Dublin.  He, too, had found congenial employment in another, albeit more prestigious, institute of learning nearby and, together, they were quite satisfied with the progress both their public and private lives were making.

     Ireland was altogether more to Tricia's liking than England, especially since the last few months of her stay there had been marred by the mysterious disappearance of her two closest friends, presumed dead, and the corresponding grief of their bereaved husbands.  Poor Dennis Foster had more than once sought her sympathy in the ensuing period of his bereavement, and so, too, had John Gray, whose own precious wife had shared the same mysterious fate as Julie.  How Tricia regretted that she hadn't been able to offer them more help at a time when they so desperately needed it!  She almost felt personally responsible for the fate of the two women, whom she had grown accustomed to regarding as the best friends she had ever had, since, without her suggestion that she and Julie dine together in the 'Three Lanterns' on that fateful Tuesday in December, none of what followed would have happened.

     But what exactly had happened?  That, alas, she had been unable to establish, in spite of her presence with Julie on the day in question.  Her uninquisitive nature, coupled to the understandable reluctance which Julie had shown to divulge any information to her concerning the handsome stranger seated behind them in the restaurant, had left her in some doubt as to the nature of the proceedings which followed.  She hadn't even taken a good look at him, and what little information she could subsequently impart to Dennis Foster about his physical appearance was another source of shame and guilt to her, insofar as a more detailed description would probably have led to his arrest by now.  As it happened, the police hadn't been able to trace him on the basis of the scant information she provided, and so everyone, including her husband, was in the dark as to what actually became of both Julie and Deirdre over the ensuing few days.  The fact that they had probably met with a violent death ... was certainly the chief supposition on everyone's lips.  But since conclusive proof of it had yet to be established, there was still the possibility that they had been brainwashed into joining some out-of-the-way religious cult, in which they were now hiding.  And yet, knowing them as she did, it was rather difficult for Tricia to grant this possibility much credence, even though it had a certain paradoxical appeal to each of the bereaved husbands, if only because it kindled a faint hope of recovery and rehabilitation of their missing wives in due course.  Somehow the thought that the mysterious stranger, with his shabby jacket and leather bag, was an abductor of young married women ... didn't seem plausible.  Yet neither, oddly enough, did the idea that he was a murderer.  The enigma continued.

     In Ireland, however, Tricia was to some extent able to put it all behind her and, with her husband's assistance, begin to build a new life for herself.  She was respected as an able tutor in her own college and had achieved, on the whole, satisfactory results from her students, who were embarked on a one-year course of elementary typing and word processing.  The first couple of years back in Ireland had been the hardest, what with the strange locations and everything.  But now that she was in her third year of employment there, things were becoming a good deal better, both personally and professionally.  Her husband, Michael Keenan, was also profiting from his work and had introduced into the study of philosophy some exciting new names on the intellectual horizon, including, from Ireland itself, a certain James Coughlin, whose largely philosophical books were currently creating a national ferment in intellectual circles.  Ever since the publication, over two years ago, of Coughlin's first book, Michael Keenan had hailed him as an outstanding genius who was destined to have a seminal influence on the future development of political, religious, social, cultural, and other thought in Ireland as a whole, and this prediction, at the time shared by few others, was rapidly bearing fruit, as each successive publication increased its author's reputation as a revolutionary thinker of the first rank, destined, some were already saying, to become the future leader and saviour of his country.  For not only was Coughlin in favour of a united Ireland; he was in favour of an Ireland that, abandoning political republicanism, would eventually embrace transcendentalism, in many ways its religious counterpart, and so become one of the world's foremost cultures in the centuries to come.  Of course, he had his detractors, and not only in Northern Ireland.  But there could be no denying that he was gaining a greater influence over his Southern contemporaries than virtually any other Irish writer, past or present, and had become something of a national conscience, a moral inspiration to his growing ranks of followers, among whom could be numbered many revolutionaries and leading intellectuals whose disaffection with the republican status quo was well known.

     For Tricia Keenan, the influence of Coughlin's books was hardly less keen than with her husband, and she, too, had come to the conclusion that Ireland's future salvation to a large extent depended on the implementation of his teachings, which made no bones about the need for a new religious stance, one centred in self-realization and scornful of traditional Christian criteria of worship.  She, too, had come to acknowledge his Messianic status and was anxious to hear him speak in public, as he increasingly did these days, to sympathetic audiences up-and-down the country.  As yet, she hadn't seen a photograph of him and was therefore curious to discover what this man, whose books were already a part of her daily life but who scorned media publicity, actually looked like.  Consequently an opportunity such as the one that now presented itself ... in the form of an appearance Coughlin was making in Dublin to address an audience on the future of religion ... was not to be wasted, and, in her husband's company, she set off by bus, one Friday evening in July, from their suburban Inchicore home to attend the lecture in person.

     When they arrived at the venue - one of the largest public halls in the city - there were already several hundred people inside and, although not quite filled to capacity, it was impossible to obtain a seat near the front, where the speaker would be most visible.  Resigned to an inferior position, the Keenans took seats a few rows from the back and waited, with baited breath, for the coming man to make his appearance.  Tricia was especially excited since, unlike her husband, she had never heard him talk before.  She wondered what kind of an accent he would have.

     At last, however, the moment came when James Coughlin appeared on stage from one of the wings, striding purposefully towards a waiting lectern in the centre.  An expectant hush suddenly descended on the audience, as he stood before them with a gentle smile on his face and a folder of notes in his hands.  These he duly placed on the lectern and, following a brief personal introduction, proceeded with his lecture, which he delivered in a soft Surrey accent, almost cockney in places.  He would begin, he said, with the development of religion from its pagan roots to its contemporary flowering in transcendentalism, pausing, en route, to discuss the intermediate, and therefore humanistic, nature of Christianity and its promise of a better world to come, the sort of world that he believed he alone was qualified to establish in the wake of the bankruptcy of republican ideals, with their secular disregard for religious values and, not least of all, the facts of religious life in Ireland as a whole.  Already, the audience was under his spell and no-one more so than Michael Keenan, who sat entranced by the flow of words which issued from the stage, as from Heaven itself.  Beside him, however, his wife had a very different expression on her face - one more suggestive of puzzlement than of rapt attention.  For she was beginning to wonder where she had seen that face and heard that accent before, since the longer she looked at him and the more she listened to his voice, the greater became her conviction that she had in fact encountered them  somewhere before.  But where?  She knitted her brows in cogitation and then, all of a sudden, like a flash of lightning, it struck her, momentarily blinding her to everyone else, including her husband.  She had seen that face and heard that accent in the 'Three Lanterns' on that fateful day, over three years ago, when Julie had abandoned her for his company!  It was he, Peter Morrison, whom Julie had gone off with - he, the would-be saviour of his country!

     Suddenly the thought assailed her that this same man, who under a pseudonymous name was now delivering his messianic lecture to the crowded hall, must be the reason behind both Julie's and Deirdre's subsequent disappearances, and therefore if not their killer then almost certainly their abductor.  But how could one man abduct two women, especially two such intelligent and self-willed women as them?  Automatically, as if by a miracle, the scales of doubt fell from Tricia's eyes and she realized that the man on the stage was none other than the murderer of her former friends, that the whole idea of abduction had been a gross mistake.  For Peter Morrison, alias James Coughlin, had been described, on the flyleaf of his latest book, as a married man, and his wife's name was Moira.  There could be no question of his having abducted anybody, least of all for sexual reasons.

     Horror-stricken, Tricia rose to her feet and, without saying a word, hurried towards the rear exit.  Her husband, hardly noticing her swift departure, turned round in his seat in order to see what was happening.  But, before he could call after her, she had already pushed her way through the exit door and dashed out into the street beyond.

     Once on the pavement, she began to run towards a bus that was slowly heading in her direction.  It stopped some thirty or so yards back and she was able to climb aboard, although she had started to shake like an October leaf and could only just manage to pay her fare.  She realized that she would have to get home as quickly as possible, no matter what her nervous condition.  A minute's delay and she might break down, confess there and then that Coughlin was a double murderer, and thus put the ideological future of her country in jeopardy.  She continued to shake all the way home, and when, finally, she got indoors and staggered up the stairs, it was with the sole intention of killing herself that she approached the bathroom cabinet for the necessary means.  To delay would be fatal, since she would eventually have to explain to her husband why she had run out of the hall in such a panic.  And if he didn't then call the gardai, which seemed unlikely, she knew that, left to herself, she most certainly would, thereby bringing ruin and disgrace upon a man who had already become something of a national hero, and whose continual freedom appeared to be of the utmost importance to the future deliverance of Ireland from its moribund past!

     Arriving home in a perplexed state of mind himself, Michael Keenan called after his wife and then rushed straight upstairs, to find her lying unconscious on the bathroom floor in a pool of blood, an open razor and a half-empty bottle of sleeping pills at her side.  After a failed attempt at reviving her, he rushed back downstairs and phoned for an ambulance. 

     At the hospital he was allowed, after the doctors had done what little they could, to sit by her side, although she was still unconscious and seemingly beyond recall.  Once or twice she seemed to revive and to recognize him, but then she would relapse into her private hell again, oblivious of anything anyone, including the doctors and nurses, said to her.  Only on the point of death did she momentarily revive, and it was then that her husband made a last, desperate attempt to communicate with her.

     "Trish darling, it's me, Michael," he said, in his most compassionate voice.

     "No, it's him," came the feeble semi-conscious response from the dying woman.

     "It's me, darling," Keenan insisted, more hopeful than surprised.

     "No, it's him, he's the one," Tricia faintly repeated, and, with a dying gasp, she turned her head away and expired.

     A doctor placed a consoling hand on Keenan's shoulder as he bowed his stricken head over Tricia's body, unable, in his deep misery, to fathom what her last words could possibly mean.  Evidently they had been a symptom of delirium!

 

    

LONDON 1981 (Revised 1982-2010)

 

 

DECEPTIVE MOTIVES 

 

 

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