A novel by
1st September 1991.
As Louise turned from Brick Lane onto Fashion Street, she felt a hand on her shoulder.
"Alright, you're nicked," said a low voice in her ear.
"Hello, Gary," she replied, without looking round.
With a tut of annoyance, a short, slightly tubby figure appeared beside her. "My impression of a police officer obviously leaves something to be desired," he said looking offended. However, his round face was not made for such an expression and so it didn't really have much effect at all. Louise shrugged.
"I recognised your voice, and you an actor as well. Doesn't say much for your skill, does it?"
"Only a part-time actor, it doesn't take much skill." Gary put up the hood of his green nylon anorak as it began to rain steadily. "Quick," he urged as the two of them stopped before number twelve and Louise fumbled in her pocket for her key. "I hate getting wet."
Opening the door, she allowed Gary to push past her as though he was escaping from boiling water and not rain. She hesitated before closing the door; her attention caught by the figure of a boy dressed all in white, standing on the pavement opposite. He was leaning against a lamppost, staring at the toes of his pointed white shoes as though trying to identify them through a haze of indistinct memory. He had a mass of golden curls falling almost to his shoulders; he looked ethereal. Everything about him looked odd and incongruous, from the way that the rain didn't seem to make any mark on the blank smoothness of his suit, to his straw boater hat which was tied round with a red and white striped ribbon. He looked like a character from Brideshead Revisited, a university student deliberately slipped out of time in order to confuse the established order, a ghost sent to sabotage the rigid structure.
"What are you doing, Louise? Shut the door, can't you?"
She did so quickly, feeling a little guilty, as though she had been caught spying. As she moved past the window, she drew aside the net curtain and looked out; she wasn't surprised to find that the figure was no longer there.
"Andy's not going to be late, is he?" called Gary from the kitchen.
"Don't think so, he didn't say anything." Throwing down her copy of The Real Jack the Ripper on the table, Louise removed her jacket and flung it down on a chair. "Have you got the kettle on? Good."
She watched as he picked up the book from the table and studied the cover carefully, frowning as he did so.
"You're not reading this, are you?" He made a sound of impatience, rather like a horse, causing the ends of his sandy-coloured moustache to quiver as though alive. "No wonder you're so jumpy."
Louise smiled vaguely, saying nothing. She considered telling Gary about her meeting with Guy Saint, but somehow doubted that her choice of words would do justice to the significance that the occasion had assumed for her. It occurred to her that the incident had grown to grotesque proportions, filling out unseen dimensions to become symbolic of something even more abstract.
"That book reminds me actually, of the play I'm trying to adapt for the group at the moment. Are you at all interested in this Louise?"
"Of course I am." Pushing 'The Real Jack the Ripper' aside, Louise sat on the edge of the table, drawing up a chair on which to rest her feet. "Is it about 'Jack' then, this play?"
"Not 'Jack', though it's set in roughly the same time. Another murderer - a fictional one. I'm adapting it from 'Lord Arthur Saviles' Crime', one of Oscar Wilde's short stories. Ever read it?"
"It sounds vaguely familiar. That's his crime, is it - murder?"
"Well, yes but he's driven to it really, by Fate. Destiny foretells the terrible truth in his palm when he reads it at a party. Sugar?" Gary stirred both cups and handed one to Louise. As he did so, he bent close to her and whispered dramatically in her ear. "And guess who the victim of this appalling crime was?"
Louise bit her lip apologetically. "I think I have read it, actually. It was the fortune-teller, wasn't it?"
"None other. So Fate has her little joke, after all. Which just goes to show that you shouldn't take superstition too seriously."
"Mmm… well, I'm not so sure about that. I remember reading that Wilde, who was actually very superstitious, never forgot what a palmist said to him concerning his destiny."
"She foresaw his fall from glory, then?"
"I suppose she did, in a way." Louise kicked the cupboard door closed with her foot gently. "In his right palm, which shows what you'll do with your destiny, there was tragedy, sorrow… stuff like that, but the strange thing was that the markings on his left hand, which show your destiny, were completely different. They showed success, fame, a brilliant career… so, you see he brought about his own downfall."
"A sort of death-wish, you mean?" Gary frowned, stirring his tea. "I'm not really sure if I believe that. Why would he want to wreck everything?"
"It's only something I read in a book. I think it's a bit of a dodgy theory myself."
"Well, anyway it's an interesting sideline." He paused, removing a huge white handkerchief from the pocket of his jeans and blowing his nose loudly. "But to return to the fortune-teller. Who, incidentally, I'll be playing."
Louise tried unsuccessfully to smother a laugh before it properly surfaced.
Gary looked away, offended.
"Nothing against your acting ability, it just never ceases to amaze me how you manage to lead such a double life," she explained. "In the day, such a respectable bank clerk and at night…"
"At night, Padgers the fortune-teller," finished Gary triumphantly. "A double existence is entirely necessary to me, you see. And to most people I'm sure. Take your brother, for example. Do you know what he gets up to in that office of his all day?"
"Insurance, isn't it?"
"Ah, but how can you really be sure?" Gary paused for a moment as the front door clicked quietly open and shut again. "Beneath that innocent exterior may fester a hideous mangled texture of lies, deceit and trickery".
Louise shook her head, sliding off the table as her brother came in.
"I think it's highly unlikely Gary," she said putting on her jacket. "Andy's straight as a die, aren't you?"
Andy shrugged, looking completely disinterested. Removing his spotless grey jacket, he hangs it carefully over the back of a chair so that it wouldn't crease any further. He stood behind the chair, his hands in his pockets, looking all round the kitchen, whilst taking care to avoid catching anyone's eye.
"There's some tea in the pot," said Gary, moving aside to allow Louise to pass. "You off to work?"
Louise nodded, reaching for her book, which Andy had picked up and was leafing through a look of disgust on his face. He was a tall, thin man who gave the impression of being a policeman or some other figure of authority, due to his permanently grim expression and formal manner. He was always ruthlessly clean-shaven, leaving on a meticulous line of black on his upper lip. He and Gary together, appearing as joke opposites, two sides of a caricature.
"You shouldn't read stuff like this, you know," said Andy, frowning at Louise. "It gives you bad dreams, disturbs the balance of the mind."
"Just give it to me, will you?" Snatching the book from him, Louise turned to go, nodding to Gary as she did so. "See you again, Gary. Good luck with the script."As she passed the front window, she couldn't resist peeking out once again just to ensure that the young man in white hadn't returned while she had been in the kitchen. He hadn't.
Now go to Chapter Four