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Beneath Doghampton Pier


A story written for TCW Defending Freedom

4 – A most odd feeling

THE following day Barkwright went for a long walk. Later he rang Dennis Palgrave and told him about the chamber and the skull. ‘Wow,’ said Palgrave. ‘Sounds interesting.’ Barkwright described some of the markings but they were as mysterious to Palgrave as they were to him. Palgrave said he might come down and have a look. Afterwards Barkwright went to the beach but when he got under the pier he found that the tide had shifted the shingle again, and the stone and ring were hidden.

The next day, Sunday, was fine. He ‘did’ the church mentioned in Colonel Fling’s guidebook. Here, he thought, was a filming opportunity not to be missed. He would stand in front of the carved Norman door and intone something deep but also a little mocking, his style to a tee. In the afternoon he took a nap in his room and woke as the light was starting to fail. He buttoned his collar as he looked out on to the expanse of lawn next to the hotel. A sea fret was in and a foghorn sounded in the distance. Barkwright considered putting a call through to the Appleshaws’ room, to invite them to dine with him. Tonight might be the night to reveal his television fame. He reflected that beyond the odd quizzical look, no one else in the hotel seemed to have recognised him. Perhaps, he thought wryly, I am not well known any more.

At that moment he saw something on the mist-shrouded lawn.

Close to the trunk of the last spectral tree in the line that led to farthest corner of the lawn stood a figure. Barkwright could make out nothing of its appearance in the silver gloom except a dark smudge yet, and this was a most odd feeling, he had a strong conviction that the figure was looking up directly at his window, indeed right at him, with unmoving concentration. Barkwright blinked and in that split second the figure had vanished from the farthest tree and was now stationed by the next one.

Barkwright leaned closer to the window. The figure in the mist was dressed in sheer black. Though he could not make out any facial features – for the figure appeared to have a sort of covering on its head – he still had the strange but compelling notion that he was being stared at. ‘They ought to do something about these kids hanging around,’ he said to himself, and then he turned away to splash on some cologne. That done, he went back to the window, but the figure had vanished.

He encountered the Appleshaws in the lounge and suggested they dine together. Over starters Barkwright told them about his adventures under the pier.

‘You’re so brave,’ said Mrs Appleshaw.

‘Really you are,’ said her husband.

Barkwright, his pre-dinner gin and tonic, a glass of decent claret and the agreeable ambience of the dining room warming him nicely, nodded at this. ‘We-ell, we television historians do hope to make discoveries for our viewers; we will take risks where necessary.’

Neither Appleshaw seemed particularly impressed by his admission. He glanced furtively at them to see if they were showing any interest but the pair seemed quite absorbed with their grilled scallops. He stared out of the window. The lawn was in darkness. The trees were half lit by the glow from the dining room. Barkwright’s thoughts wandered back to the figure he had seen earlier. After dinner he would tell Borys that kids were getting into the hotel grounds and messing about, and that this would not do.

He topped up the Appleshaws’ glasses. As he poured wine into his own glass something moved outside. The dark figure he had seen earlier was standing by the tree nearest to the dining room. Barkwright stared.

‘Mr Barkwright, you’re spilling the wine!’ squealed Mrs Appleshaw, and so he was: his glass was brimming over with claret. Barkwright apologised but did not take his eyes off the window. ‘Do you see that?’ he said with great urgency.

‘See what?’ said the Appleshaws as one. Barkwright turned back to the window; the figure had vanished. ‘There’s a person out there,’ he said. ‘Well, there was.’ Borys arrived to mop up the claret. Barkwright told him about the intruder. The waiter went to investigate. Barkwright and the Appleshaws watched him walking about on the lawn. ‘If person was out there, sir, they have gone now,’ he said on his return.

Barkwright was a little disturbed, and over his steak he found himself saying things he did not usually say, such as why on earth were premises not more secure from prowlers and burglars. The Appleshaws nodded along. He mentioned that he had seen the intruder earlier. ‘Really,’ said Mrs Appleshaw, ‘I don’t know what we’re coming to.’

After more claret Barkwright felt he was back on an even keel – though he kept glancing at the window.

To be continued.

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Robert James
Robert James
Robert James is a national newspaper journalist.

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