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!

 

 

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