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?"


     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!



Bookmark and Share