Gethin’s Holiday

Gethin tried very hard to keep from dozing on the long train destined for London. He had been keen to observe the change of scenery through the wide window beside him. It was all rather new and exciting for the young Welsh lad. Although a Cardiff boy at heart, Gethin had never strayed further then the border. England was a strange and curious place to him. The first part of the journey was nothing new. The hilly, green and somewhat empty landscape of Wales blurring past in a myriad of greens and browns.

As the train crossed over the border however, certain nuances made themselves present to Gethin. The English countryside was far more flat and tidy. All the fields had neat fences and specified grids. Whilst this was true for some of the Welsh countryside, their was something more wild and overgrown about it’s landscape. Even the houses appeared more presentable this side of the river, looking like toy doll houses with their green doors and well kept front gardens.

It reminded Gethin heavily of the Beatrix Potter novels his mother used to read to him when he was a small nipper. There was something quaint and idyllic about the scenery around him. At certain points it seemed almost as if it wasn’t real at all but that Gethin had actually fallen asleep ten minutes ago and had conjured this up in his mind. Yet all the pinching, rubbing of eyes and fidgeting evidenced that it was real, which made it all the more fantastical.

By the time they reached the outskirts of London, Gethin was fading fast. The exhaustion of the previous night had taken a toll both physically and mentally. He should be at home resting, as Bridge had recommended. But instead he was here on a train, travelling to the heart of the rat race. Once again the scenery began to change. The first noticeable difference was the sudden lack of green. The buildings although varied in their design, all shared that same dull grey look. The houses which Gethin had so fondly marvelled over previously had been replaced by towers of drab looking flats and pokey bedsits with poorly maintained gardens and fences.

The more residential and suburban parts of outer London reminded Gethin heavily of Cardiff. It was only when the train delved further into the heart of the city, that the real changes could be witnessed. Massive tower blocks of offices and businesses loomed over him, thrusting up into the misty sky with their steel tips. Gethin craned his neck eagerly to see the tops of the buildings. Back home, there were plenty of impressive hills and mountains but this was different. Gethin had never seen a city on such a scale as this and his eyes flickered around hurriedly trying to take it all in before the train whipped past.

Eventually when the initial elation had past, Gethin began to feel drowsy once more. He was still fascinated by the sprawling city around him but the combined rocking of the train and his fatigued state soon lulled him into a deep sleep.

 

A good forty five minutes had passed before Gethin was roused from his sleep by the rattling of the refreshment trolley. He sat up and rubbed his bleary eyes, his throat was dusty dry and in despite need of something to quench his first. He looked out the window. There were even more towers now and Gethin could make out the swarm of cars and people far below, running around like ants in a maze.

‘Anything of the trolley dear?’

Gethin eyed the various drinks and snacks on the trolley and licked his lips. The old lady pushing the cart gave him a kind smile but also placed a hand on her hip, urging Gethin to hurry up.

‘Got anything to drink?’ He asked croakily.

‘Certainly.’ She gestured to the drinks section of the trolley, which had an assortment of beverages both alcoholic and soft.

Gethin spotted a Hobgoblin, a drink he was partial to on occasion and selected it. He extracted a slightly crumbled five pound note from his pocket and the exchange took place. He held out his hand for the change and almost choked, as he went to take a sip of Hobgoblin.

‘Where’s the rest?’ He said affronted.

‘That’s London prices I’m afraid.’ She said with a shrug.

Gethin pointed out that they weren’t actually in London yet but was drowned out by the rattle of the trolley, as she shuffled away. He smirked and shook his head, as he looked around at the many eyes studying him. Businessmen, couples and families suddenly averted their eyes. One particular gentleman was staring so hard at the newspaper in front of him, that Gethin thought his eyes would burn a whole in the paper.

He took another swig of the Hobgoblin. It was nice enough but it seemed to be tainted somewhat by the extortionate price. He returned his attention to the vista once more. There was something eternally stagnant and grey about the English weather. Wales, Scotland and even Ireland to a certain extent oscillated between heavy downpours and brilliant sunshine. England on the other hand seemed in a permanent state of murky grey, as if unable to decide what it wanted to be or do. Gethin chuckled to himself. That was a perfect analogy for the English funnily enough.

He took another sip of the malty beverage. Gethin had decided that if he did have to fork out an arm and a leg, he might as well savour it. Most of the other passengers read their papers or tapped nosily on their blackberry phones. Gethin, however was much too observed by the sights and sounds. Growing up in the valley he had never seen such architectural grandeur. A kid sat a few rows down from him had his hands and face pressed up against the glass. Despite his exclamations of surprise and delight, the boy’s mum paid him no attention. Instead, she chatted loudly and in the most self involved of ways on her mobile. I know how you feel kid, Gethin thought to himself.

As the train neared the sprawling and concentrated hub of London, the train began to stop more often and more people bustled on board the already filling shuttle. Gethin had to give up his footrest and bag spot for two serious looking men in dark suits. One carried a leather briefcase and the other wore dark sunglasses. Gethin suddenly felt like Mr Anderson from ‘The Matrix’ and hoped the train would reach Waterloo soon.

When the carriage finally pulled into its final stop, there was a great shuffling and rustling, as everybody tried to depart at the same time. Gethin hung back, preferring not to be squashed by the stampede of feet and barging of luggage.

Unlike most other commuters, who were either too accustomed to the smell or rather displeased by it, Gethin welcomed the foul stench into his nostrils. It was unpleasant yes but Gethin was too thrilled by the novelty of it to let it bother him. It was like when city slickers traveled out of the city. The smell of manure and earth was a new experience for them. A sense to be enveloped.

Suddenly Gethin remembered the importance of his being here and so he fell in behind the stream of bodies heading down the platform. It was a strange mix of travellers. Some marching hurriedly and with purpose. Others slow and casual. They you had your tourists, who like Gethin were studying everything. And finally you had your long distance runners, ducking and weaving their way to the front.

There was some minor difficulty at the barriers. Mainly because Gethin had misplaced his ticket. People bustled and shoved roughly past him, as he turned out his pockets. The ticket warden looked bored and disinterested but sympathy was not an emotion present. Eventually, Gethin retrieved the crumpled orange ticket and smoothed it out. He felt the warden’s judgement, as he jabbed it into the barrier and darted through.

The station itself was less busy than the platform but still abuzz with activity. The smart shoes and wheeled luggage of businessmen and women echoed around the large building. A nearby Burger King beckoned to Gethin, it’s large bright and colourful front tugging at him like an Empire ship. He resisted the urge, remembering the purpose of his assignment. He also recalled how dear the ale had been on the train down and he shuddered to guess the station’s prices.

Glancing around, he caught sight of the large, ornate clock, suspended in the centre of the station. This had been the agreed meeting spot. He moved under it, stuck his hands awkwardly in his pockets and waited for his informant to make an appearance. He looked around as he waited, agitatedly fiddling with a loose thread in his coat pocket. The station was busy with commuters rushing to and fro. Gethin scanned an eye over the crowds and travelers to try and gauge if any of them could be the informant. It was too hard to tell and soon he was lost in the myriad of faces.

Five minutes passed and still no sign of his informant. He began to tap his foot impatiently, his K Swiss trainers echoing against the cool marble. He was just debating whether to give up and leave, when he felt something tug at the hem of his coat. Glancing down, he found himself looking at a chubby child with sandy blonde hair. Gethin smiled and squatted in front of the kid.

‘Hello there.’ He said warmly.

‘Hi.’ The kid said shyly and rubbed one eye with a tiny fist.

‘Are you lost?’ Gethin asked helpfully, looking around to see if there were any flustered or concerned parents to hand.

No one seemed to be looking for the child, which made Gethin slightly nervous.

‘My mummy said you need to come with me.’

Gethin was still looking around, when it dawned on him what the boy had just said.

‘Did your mummy say where?’

The boy nodded decisively and before Gethin had time to react had turned on his heel and disappeared into a thick crowd of Asian tourists.

‘Hey, come back.’

He darted after the fleeing child, barging through the group, receiving a few alarmed responses and disgruntled murmurings, as he emerged out the other side. His hammering heart had a moment of reprieve, as he regained sight of the boy trotting away merrily. Gethin glanced back at the meeting spot and then back to the child once more. He would like to say he was torn between his mission and protecting the boy but there wasn’t even a moment’s hesitation, as he followed after the kid. Mission or not, he had two younger brothers and understood how he would feel if it was his kid.

It didn’t take him long to catch up to the sandy haired boy. Busy as it was and slippery as the young child was, his legs were still little and Gethin was quick on his feet. He reached out a hand ready to hook the boy by the arm but faltered at the last moment. The child had reached a table in front of the Burger King stand and had clambered up a young woman’s legs and settled himself in her lap. Gethin assumed it must be the mother, as she did not seem perturbed in the slightest at the sudden intrusion.

‘Thank god, I was worried he was going to hurt himself.’

The young woman didn’t say anything but gave him a hard searching stare. She was good looking but had a harsh,  almost tough quality to her face. Gethin wasn’t sure if this was due to being a mother or something she had possessed from an early age.

‘Well, I’m glad to see he is safe and sound.’

He was about to turn and leave, when he noticed something odd. The chair opposite the young woman was empty but there was a full Burger King Meal set out on the table in front of it. Gethin looked at the meal, then at the woman. She indicated the empty chair with a nod of her head and the realization finally hit him.

‘You’re…’

She nodded subtly and took a large slurp from her Coke, her eyes still fixed on the standing Gethin. The sandy haired boy, pointed a pudgy finger at Gethin and giggled excitedly. Gethin his ears turning a slight shade of pink, pulled out the chair and sat down. His stomach rumbled, as his eyed the meal in front of him.

‘Eat.’ She instructed sternly. ‘It must have been a long journey for you.’

Gethin eyed the food suspiciously for a moment before relenting and taking a large, mouthful of the quarter pounder. He could feel the greasy goodness dribble down his chin. The three of them sat in silence for a moment, as Gethin made progress through his meal. The sandy haired boy was trying to do contortionist acts on his mother’s lap, which she did not look best pleased about.

Eventually, Gethin managed to tear himself away from the artery clogging meal and wiped at his chin with a paper napkin.

‘So…’ He began awkwardly.

The young mother raised her eyebrows but didn’t say anything. It was clearly evident she was not going to make this easy for him.

‘I see informants these days are getting younger and younger.’ He gestured to the young boy, who stuck his tongue out in response.

His mother smiled slightly at Gethin’s attempt to break the ice but remained silent. Gethin cleared his throat and straightened out his coat in an effort to appear more professional.

‘You said on the phone that you and your father hadn’t spoke for a number of years.’

The young woman opposite slurped through the straw nosily, sipping up the residue of the coke syrup. Gethin had to wander if this was deliberately intended to throw him off. He cleared his throat again and shifted slightly in the uncomfortable, plastic backed chair.

‘Sarah…may I call you Sarah?’

She gave him a brief and curt nod. Gethin continued.

‘I realize this must be difficult for you. I understand that you and your father didn’t see eye to eye.’

Sarah snorted loudly.

‘Biggest understatement of the century.’ She remarked bitterly.

Gethin gave her a sympathetic smile.

‘Do you know, he didn’t visit me once whilst I was in the hospital with Alex.’ She commented, brushing the hair out of her son’s eyes as she spoke.

Gethin thought about the folder on Sarah’s father that he had in his backpack. He wondered how long it would take Fran to discover it. Or Bridge for that matter. Not that it mattered. Gethin knew his off the clock antics would not go unnoticed.

‘Are we alright to discuss this in front of…Alex.’ Gethin said awkwardly.

Sarah regarded the young boy fondly, who was having great amounts of fun rolling around her legs on the floor.

‘He knows about his grandfather. Besides, I decided to be honest with him from day one. There are enough lies and secrets in this family already.’

Gethin raised an inquisitive eyebrow.

‘Such as?’

‘I hardly think that it is any of your business.’ Sarah said frostily.

Gethin fingered a peeling corner of his bandaged hand agitatedly.

‘Apologies. I am just trying to get a sense of what Arthur was like as a man. You are the only person I have met so far who knows anything more about him then his home meal delivery preference.’

‘I wouldn’t be so sure about that.’

‘Oh?’

‘Arthur wasn’t exactly the paternal type. My mother practically raised me alone.’

‘Was that due to your father’s time spent in the army?’

‘Not just that. Even when he was here, he was never really present…it’s hard to explain.’ She trailed off, her brow furrowed prominently.

‘I know what you mean.’

She shot him a sharp glare.

‘Do you? Or is that something you people say to keep me talking?’

Gethin allowed himself a smile.

‘Whilst you are probably right about that…I do know where you’re coming from. My dad walked out when I was four.’

‘Lucky.’

Gethin felt himself prickle slightly.

‘At least you didn’t have to put up with one for 10 more years.’

She faltered, seeing Gethin’s clenched jaw.

‘Sorry, I didn’t mean to infer…’

Gethin relaxed.

‘Don’t worry, you are probably right. I don’t know much about my father either but I am sure he is not about to win any father of the year awards any time soon.’

The two of them laughed a little. Gethin could feel the tension easing somewhat. If he could exploit their connection on this topic, then he might be able to get somewhere. He could feel a certain amount of irony at the fact that the only good thing his own father had done was to assist in getting information out of a witness. And without even realizing.

‘So are you going to ask me then?’

Gethin looked up at Sarah perplexed.

‘Um…ask you what?’

‘If I did it.’

Gethin opened his mouth once or twice before answering, so thrown off course by her question. This what not how it was supposed to go.

‘Why would I ask that?’

‘Well because we hated each other and I am his only close family and because that is what policeman always do in interviews.’

Gethin took a while to respond before he finally said.

‘Did you do it?’

Sarah laughed. She was a serious looking woman but her smile was warm when it did grace her face upon occasion.

‘No…someone else beat me to that one I am afraid. Believe me I thought about it enough times.’

She gripped the paper napkin into a small ball in her hand. Gethin felt a shiver shudder through his spine.

‘Did he ever….?’

Sarah shook her head quickly.

‘No…but my mother wasn’t so lucky.’

Gethin sat back in his chair, momentarily stunned. So their poor innocent victim was a wife beater. No wondered he had ended up murdered. He eyed Sarah for a moment. She looked capable of it. She had admitted first hand that there was no love lost between the two of them. But that didn’t explain the ritualistic method of murder. Whilst Sarah had motive, this wasn’t a crime of passion but a cold and calculated execution. The person who had done this had experience. The crime scene was evidence of that.

‘Do you know anyone who would have wished your father harm?’

Sarah scoffed.

‘No…my dad…the bastard… was very good at keeping up appearances. Besides he was popular with both his army pals and his work colleagues. It was only me and mum, who knew him for what he really was.’

Gethin shot a sideways glance at Alex, who was gnawing on the corner of a picture book. Sarah’s hardened expression returned once more.

‘I expect you think I am a bad mother. For exposing my son to this sort of stuff and swearing in front of him.’

Gethin shook his head but she went on unheeded.

‘Well…my way of parenting may be unorthodox but it works and at least when he grows up, he won’t have to find out the hard way.’

‘I agree.’ Gethin said.

‘You know people judge you for…wait what?’

Gethin shrugged.

‘I actually think your right. People shouldn’t hide stuff from their kids.’

Sarah looked slightly taken aback but her face had softened somewhat. Gethin took the opportunity to push further.

‘Do you know if Arthur had any contact with any of his army friends after he came back.’

Sarah frowned, thinking hard.

‘I remember there was a get together for one of the guys from his unit who passed away but apart from that…I don’t think so.’

‘Did he ever fall out with any of them?’

‘Not to my knowledge.’ Sarah replied with a blank frankness.

Gethin chewed his lip thoughtfully. He studied her face hard, searching to see if there were any signs that she was hiding. But either she was too skilled an actress or she genuinely didn’t know anything because Gethin couldn’t discern anything. He was wondering where to go next with his questioning, when something tucked away in the recess of his mind clicked on suddenly.

‘Do you recall cancelling one of your father’s home delivery meals on the night of his murder?’

Sarah looked completely bemused at the question.

‘I didn’t even know he ordered them in the first place.’

Gethin nodded, his brain whirring madly.He thought back to the hidden note in Arthur’s house. So if Sarah didn’t cancel the meal then that begged the question of who did? He needed to speak to the home food delivery service.

© [Daniel Ashby] and [Ashby Tales], [2016]. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to [Daniel Ashby] and [Ashby Tales] with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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