The Sydenham Hill House job
Mark is a navvy by trade. He’ll try anything and being pretty much brainless he is almost fearless, except for things like ants, he doesn’t like them at all. At the moment Mark is trying his hand as an exterior painter, working for Mike Beaulieu of Beaulieu Builders, light building works, interior and exterior decoration. Mark is a short squat lad of about 28 to 30 years of age. For summer jobs like the Sydenham Hill House one, Mark wears sports clothes – a V-neck T-shirt, football shorts, his exposed skin is weather beaten and raw red, tanned like a cow’s hide. The whole look is offset by his socks which he likes thick, white and pulled up to the top of his calf, giving the overall impression of a Wimbledon tennis player. He’s pretty much two-dimensional.
At the start of the summer Beaulieu Builders did a job on a large house on Sydenham Hill some of the locals & estate agents describe it as being the residence of a past German Ambassador. The house is on the peak of Sydenham Hill, a ridge running through southeast London. The city of London lies in a bowl surrounded by low-lying hills that provides viewpoints of the city. Highgate to Hampstead & Muswell Hill form the northern heights with Streatham, Sydenham & Forrest Hills providing the southern side.
One feature of Sydenham Hill House is it’s commanding vistas. Look south you can see the wooded more affluent suburbs of south London and beyond them the rolling hills of north Kent. Looking back over the rim of the ridge the house has views (o/w) of the city of London, from upstairs if the air pollution is not too bad you can just about make out on the Alexandra Palace on Muswell Hill, the Crystal Palace’s north London counterpart.
The ramshackle and sprawling property was occupied by a single man, Mr Frobenius, who is about 75 years of age. Beaulieu is a traditionalist and therefore very formal all of the time, always referring to the owner as Mr Frobenius. Mark is not so formal or good with names and referred to all the punters, including Mr Frobenius, as ‘the man’ if he was talking to the boss, or ‘mate’ when addressing the customer.
“Use your loo? Mate?” was about the likely extent of Mark’s conversation with the proprietor.
Mr Frobenius has warm hazel eyes cast in round steel rimed spectacles. He was always immaculately dressed in shirt selves and blazer, the very model of an English gent at play. Frobenius exhibited extrovert tendencies, being a straight talking conversationalist, in a friendly sort of way. Frobenius would always greet Mark each morning with cup of tea for Mark and his boss. The boss was away for much of the day, pricing up or supervising other jobs & what not. So Mark was left for much of the day unsupervised with the owner.
The wiry & energetic Frobenius processed an infectious enthusiasm for all things Victorian. While the paint was drying, which was much of the time, a highly animated Frobenius would bamboozle Mark with his Victorian stories, which Mark was unable or uninterested in linking together. Frobenius spoke to Mark at length about the Victorians & the Cult of Death. Mark had no idea who the Victorians were, thinking they were probably akin to Martians, never mind knowing the Victorians had been so industrious, inventive or busy in this part of London, rebuilding the Crystal Palace a glorified greenhouse initially constructed in Hyde Park to house the Great Exhibition of 1851 but burnt down in 1936 tragically just before it was scheduled to host a cat show. Prior to meeting Mr Frobenius, Mark had never heard of the Victorian expansion though the Crystal Palace was just the name a second rate football team.
A big problem with the Sydenham Hill House job was the immense size of the property and the amount of painting Mark was required to do, alone. Mark found the place unnerving and hated being alone there. The next issue was the amount of time Mark spent on the job, he had “people to see” as he liked say, other things like his bird he liked to do and most importantly he was moving out of the estate. In not being there he found a natural balance to being alone. Moving out meant spending much of the time he should have been working he used Frobenius’s phone to try and organise things for the move which was due to happen at the end of the week – after the Sydenham Hill House job was done. On Thursday night Mark & his bird had a great partly, to celebrate finally being shot of the place – this god forsaken estate -they pissed all over it. It was great fun! But when Friday morning came everything was just too much, especially work. Mark turned up an hour late and because Beaulieu wasn’t around he spent the next 2 hours in café with is head in his hands painfully flirting with the waitress. He took an hour for lunch before attempting to return to the job in hand. It was still too much. He splashed paint over Frobenius’s windows and frame, letting it dry before scratching back the paint of the glass. “I gotta move. I shouldn’t be here, I shouldn’t be here,” the tennis player repeated as he worked, using the mantra to build up a frenzy of shoddy workmanship. Finally, the boss turned up and on hearing Mark’s moronic mantra sympathetically took over the job. On leaving Mark called out to Mr Frobenius “I’m done. I’ll see you around”. “Yes, I look forward to it . . .” came the reply in cut glass English tones from Frobenius’s study. As soon as the skivvy had gone Beaulieu looked around for the owner. There was no sign of him in the study or anywhere else. Beaulieu shrugged, leaving the job poorly finished he locked up & posted Frobenius’s keys back through the letterbox and before taking off. “If Frobenius can’t be bothered to take a look at the work, then too bad”, mused Beaulieu as he cut easily in to the pre-rush hour traffic on Sydenham Hill. £5K in the bank with the economy stalling is a job well done.
Careful and considerate contractors
Mr Beaulieu had agreed to tidy up and ‘make good’ the house’s main entrance hall. A large, uncarpeted wooden staircase sweeps down in to the main passageway where several paintings and other objects of art are thoughtfully arranged. A grandfather clock tick-tocks sonorously. The several of thick coats of paint and vanish on the banister and slats are worn and peeling badly in places. The overall ambience of the hallway reminds Mark of the haunted houses in American cartoons and films of his childhood.
Driven by unease, Mark sets about the job by vigorously sanding back the warn paintwork, there wasn’t time to put down dustsheets or be too careful. The series of unknown portraits studied Mark as plumes of sanding dust were thrown up, hung for a second or two before raining down on them and everything else in the hallway. The door to Frobenius’s was study quietly pulled closed. Between burst of sanding Mark kept a cautious eye on the paintings, returning their gaze. There was one painting, not a portrait, Mark really liked. It was a bit bigger than a sheet of A4 paper and much more brightly coloured than the others. It hung between the main door and the door to Frobenius’s study, opposite the strangely empty front room. It must be his best one, the one he looks at the most. Beneath the blistering paint Mark revealed a nice mahogany wood. Mark found this discovery part of the job, when it happened, quite rewarding work seeing himself as an archaeologist uncovering precious antiquities unseen by human eyes for millennia, or something like that . . . Anyway, Mr B and Mr F will be pleased, the mahogany bannister might even be Victorian. Working determinedly and lost in these thoughts Mark reached the landing of the first turn in the stair in surprisingly good time and stopped to admire the dark red wood he had uncovered. It was smooth to the touch. Despite the paint dust, which has spread surprisingly widely onto the stairs and floor the passageway below the bannister sang out, it changed the whole tone of the space.
Mark felt his heart stop for a second. Coming up the staircase, quite apart from his own marks were a series of footprints in the dust. His brain boiled as he tried to figure out where these footprints had come from. F Frobenius must have walked upstairs whilst Mark was lost in his work. Glancing across in search of an explanation he saw the door to Frobenius’s study still shut! Where the fuck was the old ct? Mate! Marooned by the dust he called out. Mate! Part relieved, part horrified Mark watched the study door open and Frobenius appeared craning his neck to make eye contact.
“Mate, you’re here!”
“I am here. Is there a problem?”
“What’s this you’ve unearthed” Frobenius looked at the bannister. “Mahogany?”
“Footsteps” repeated Mark pointing at the stairs.
“What’s the matter old boy? You seem rather . . .”
“. . agitated”. Frobenius finished his sentence carefully picking his way through the dust to the foot of the staircase and inspecting his newly dusted artwork.
“Footsteps in the dust” rooted to the spot Mark needlessly pointed them out.
“Yes, you have made quite a mess.”
“It’s not me!”
“You’ve been at it for an hour and a half”, Frobenius drew a finger across the head of an African standing figure carving.
“The footprints. . . I didn’t make them.”
Frobenius gently laughed. “You must have done. I’ve been in my study and there’s nobody else here”.
Mark was still, transfixed. “There must be some one else here. . . upstairs”.
“Look, you can see my prints coming from the study.”
“Look at the prints on the stairs, their different to mine and yours!”
“I can assure you there’s nobody else here. Now, do try and work more carefully and tidily. I think you should get some air this paint seems to have a rather high lead content”, Frobenius smiled.
“You’re damn right I’ll keep it tidy, mate! This won’t be happening again.”
Stimulated by adrenaline and the urge to take flight Mark began to brush up the dust, thrashing away at it from the very end of his broom but only securing a wider distribution of the sinister powder.
“Gonna lunch, mate!” the door slammed. In the study Frobenius chuckled to himself as the dust settled in the hall.
For the rest of his time on the job Mark worked in short tidy bursts, carefully brushing up any dust and always looking over his shoulder.
A proper job
Mark’s new gaffe is on the second floor of the old Harvester Pub on the South Circular was OK, more than OK but it came at price & money was tight. Mark has a devised plan of sorts to pay for it. Sitting down to a dinner and watching some cartoon capers on TV, he tells his’ bird, Tara, an eastern European girl, about his plan.
“I got way to help finance this place”, Mark nodded at the walls & gestured at them with his knife for emphasis. Tara sighed, visibly deflating. “ I was doing this job and the geezer left the keys on the shelf of the bookcase by the front door. When I’d finished painting the front door, I’d say I was going down the shop and that I’d leave the door open for the paint to dry. This meant he wouldn’t leave his precious house & he wouldn’t go looking for his keys neither, you get me? I took the keys, went down the shoe repair shop by the station & cut him a second set which I still got, like. I’ve it given a couple of weeks so I’m gonna back one evening this week, when he ain’t in or after he’s gone to bed. He got all these crazy ornaments & shit. Like there’s this tasty painting in the hallway, it’s small – portable like – d’ ya get me? It’s gotta be worth a bit, a pretty bob or two, he even told me so.”
“I don’t like it Mark. This is stupid idea. I wish you wouldn’t. We have good jobs there is no need. Anyway who can you sell a painting too?”
“Yeah, well, I’ve got it all figured out”. Mark fed his mouth and chewed starring back at the television.
On the first Friday night after telling Tara his plan, Mark waits for until she has gone to sleep before going back to rob old man of his painting & and anything else that might come to hand. Not exactly possessed of Moriarty’s cunning Mark goes to into the night to execute his plan dressed in his trademark tennis players’ look, the all white outfit.
The night was warm as Mark set off passing the Harvester pub he walked toward Cox’s Walk that climbs through Dulwich woods. Mark likes walking pretty much everywhere – what with the price of public transport and everything. The wind gently moved the trees and Mark watched the yellow lamplight playing on the path as he strode upwards. Half way up the hill he turned to look at the lights of the city of London that become visible at this height on the hill.
Frobenius’s house is one of the biggest on the ridge of Sydenham Hill. His bedroom is upstairs and Mark can easily see it and the whole of the front of the house from the bus stop a little further up the road. Mark sat & waited. Before long all the lights in Frobenius’s property went off. 10.10 pm, sweet, thought Mark just time for a quick one at the boozer. Why not? I’ll soon have a few more available readies. After a couple of beers, at The Dulwich Woodhouse pub all of two minutes away, a long chat to the lady behind the bar and despite is best efforts not to be turned back onto the streets Mark is kicked out at midnight. Remembering the job in hand the tennis player ambles back towards Sydenham Hill House, taking a bit of time to skin up and smoke a J at the bus stop. No hurry, it’ll still be there.
He waits until 2 am before crossing the road. His hollow thoughts on how spend the money are occasionally interrupted by slowing of approaching night buses before he wave them on. Not wanting to use the keypad to open the automatic gate he easily scales the boundary wall, and makes his way slowly across the gravel forecourt to the house. For the first time he uses the illicitly cut keys to enter. They work! The adrenalin is going and he can hear his heart pounding in his ears ripping through the silence. The main corridor extends away in front of him into the darkness of the house. The bookcase is on the left hand side with the Gauguin painting opposite it, just past the sitting room. Mark turns to close the door as quietly as he can, squeezing out the yellow light of the main road, the initial adrenalin rush now washing over him. Addled by the booze and spliff he tries to recall the precise details of the plan – what he’s doing here. Gently swaying in the darkness he recalls the fear he experienced on his earlier visits. He gets the sense of somebody else downstairs with him.
Looking into the sitting room he can see the outline of a person sitting in the armchair opposite. Fuck! Looking right at him is the old man. Waiting, unsurprised, expectant almost. Mark can see other shadows moving in the room, people wearing large African or American carved masks. There is the sound of a drum but the drummer is unseen in the dark carnival.
“Thanks for coming back Mark!” Frobenius is clear & surprisingly friendly as he gets to his feet. ”But, it is a bit a strange time to return my new set of keys you so kindly had cut . . . or are you after something? One of my paintings, perhaps?”
‘Eh? Mr Frobenius? Yeah your keys. I thought you’d. . .’ his voice tailed off.
‘No need to explain Mark I’ve set the whole thing up, I brought you here, manipulated your circumstances & well, you’ve struck lucky, mate! You’ve returned to pick up your fate. What a bright future you have!’
‘Eh, what? Set up how?’ Mark struggled to come to terms with what was happening.
“During our “conversations” it became apparent to me Mark that you are a completely vacuous individual, an empty vessel, a white canvass”.
“I need an assistant, no a vehicle . . . an envoy. Some new blood, somebody who looks, sounds acts and thinks like a native. A clean skin”.
‘No. . . I meant nothing by it. It’s just I found them in my bag like. I shouldn’t a come back. . .”
Frobenius cut him off’ “Stop blathering & listen! There are many unusual. . . things happening in this old town. Ancient & powerful artifacts have bought to these shores and with them came forces unseen, unknown, incomprehensible to modern humans. In the immortal words of Donny Rumsfeld ‘These are unknown unknowns.’”
“What like the Wombles?” asked Mark fortified by the alcohol. His brain, somewhat slow at the best of times, was more jumbled after the beer & weed.
“Wombles? Are you taking the piss you retarded little runt?” He paused trying to regain control “I should rip off your fucking balls for the mess you made of my windows!”
Then mocking Mark in weak, distressed tone Frobenius whined, “I shouldn’t be here, I shouldn’t be here.” Frobenius rose to his feet. Mark saw a different, older man, looking him in the eye, the same warm hazel eyes but now he exposed a naked, rat-like cruelty and sadism. Again Frobenius mouthed, “I shouldn’t be here, I shouldn’t be here,” but this time the voice was Mark’s own, mocking him. Mark’s whole body spasmed. He knew he was fucked.
Stepping back Frobenius’s cold rancid breath crystallising in front of his face as his lips tightened into a narrow smile. “You have gone pale, my friend. You have realised I am not a your average, lonely old man to be stolen from. Perhaps you have thought as far as” he paused before adding, “I am not of this time.”
What ever Frobenius was, he retained the same voice but his body was much older, darker. Mark now saw him against the yellow glow of the streetlight filtering through the window and silhouetted in the head headlights of an occasional passing car. Older, darker and colder.
“You & your feeble wits are trying to reason! Trying to find a way out. What am I, from where do I hail?” Frobenius threatened, fixing Mark in his steely gaze. “A Victorian ghost, a mere shadow on time & space? A shadow emerging from your addled mind? A demon perhaps, or something more substantial, tangible even, here to take possession of your pathetic mind, for what it is worth? Are you not curious Mark? Would you not like to know what shinny new function I have for you? Some people’s stay on Earth is short lived, what with things like diseases, accidents & neglect. But you have been chosen for a much longer stay, luck you! I can see that you’re very please with your new circumstances.”
“Whatever you’re doing. Just do it!” Mark instructed, strangely bold again but resigned to whatever fate Frobenius had lined up for him. “I’ve always fucking hated it here”.
“Not much of one for a game of cat and mouse are you? I am disappointed”. ‘I see melodrama is more your forte’. Frobenius replied in a smooth conciliatory tone, before countering. ‘I need a clean skin. I need . . . somebody who is largely unknown to the police & even better is someone like you unknown by the entire media. To them you are but a nameless arsehole”. Frobenius toyed with an object in his hands. “Why is this of importance? I need something done they can’t anticipate never mind track or trace. I need a new start’. As Frobenius said this Mark saw a flash of yellow in the dark behind him. In the shadow of the flash the masked creature rushed passed Frobenius to towards him, careering through him, he tried to scream. . .
A Victorian tour of the Great Shalimar
Later that evening Mark and the old man are talking & walking to the train station at upper Sydenham. On the ridge Frobenius looks peers down into the neon bowl and points with his cane in the direction of east London, “I used to live down there in Whitechapel” He paused, “When I frequented Whitechapel. I had quite a lot of fun there.”
The lake was constructed as a lower reservoir, and was known as the “Tidal Lake”, as Paxton’s waterworks caused the levels of the lake to vary significantly as water was drawn off to feed the many fountains in the park.
They walk past the Dulwich Woodhouse to reach the station where they pay and catch the pneumatic train to Crystal Palace. Frobenius is waxing lyrical.
“This building was also designed by Joseph Paxton, the architect of the Crystal Palace.”
They walk down to Sydenham Hill Upper railway station.
“We can catch a train to The Great Shalimar from here.”
“The great what?”
“The Great Shalimar. It is another name for the Crystal Palace.”
Ghost train emerges from the tunnel. They board and ascend into the darkness of the tunnel.
They emerge to see a massive ice Palace. Shinning with an inner radiance against the night sky that seems almost black behind it.
The Crystal Palace!
“In 1850 the Royal Commission appointed to organise the Great Exhibition of 1851 held a competition to design the building that was to house the extravaganza! Of the 245 designs submitted only 3 were suitable, but these would take to long to build. Paxton the man who designed the public house we have just seen was a gardener & published a design for an enormous greenhouse that would be permanent but quick to build in a newspaper – the Illustrated London News. This Exhibition was held in Hyde Park after which it was disassemble and brought here. One day there was a temporary exhibition a particular collection of antiquities – to rival my own. It seems they had become carless over years and whoops the whole place caught fire. It disposed of my competition in one feel swoop. Oh well. Certain sacrifices have to be made. You’d have thought they would have learnt, I tried at the original exhibition. As you can see, it was destroyed by fire on 30 November 1936.” Frobenius arched his arm gesturing like a magician. “As you can see. . .”
Suddenly the building was ablaze. Casting an intense light over the surrounding ground. Mark could see that aside from himself and Frobenius only one other person, a small boy standing alone was watching the fire.
The following morning Tara wakes up alone. Mark’s keys are gone but his old brick of a mobile is on the kitchen table accumulating unanswered messages. With rising anxiety Tara waits until on Monday morning to phone Mr Beaulieu, to see if Mark has turned up for work but there is no show of him there either. Listening to here account of what’s happened Mr Beaulieu tries to allay Tara’s worries. As Mark’s been missing for two days, they decide to report him missing.
When the police ask for a description of Mark, Mike Beaulieu tells them “Well you know, he’s a bit what people round her call a pikey”. “Is that why you use him then Sir, because he’s cheap?” the officer replied.
Tara tells the law Mark mentioned he might go for a walk up on the hill, near the house Beaulieu Builders had recently been working on. He liked the stroll and the views from the top of the hill. The Police decide to look around the area finding nothing unusual on the paths or in the woods. In the Dulwich Woodhouse the one of the staff tells the police “He was here then I saw him walk past at about 3.05 I was up in my room having tidied & locked up downstairs. He seemed to be talking to himself and disappearing in the wasteland/round the corner where Sydenham Upper Station House is.
There’s no railway there, is there?
There used to be & the station house is still there at the top of Sydenham Wells Park Road. The governor thinks it haunted & if it’s not it should be. He say the place gives him a chill every time he sees it”
“As may be the case. Did you see anybody with Mr Turner when he went past on his way to the ghost house?”
“Nobody I could see- like I say she was talking to himself. It was a warm night & I had the window open. I could here him. Just him.”
“Maybe he was on his phone?”
“No, he has left his phone at home”, the second officer cut in.
The Wandsworth job
The guard opens the cell door. A thick set man with a permanent scowl beneath his hooded eyes looks up from is bed.
“Who is it? Not another fucking journalist?
“Don’t think so”
“Somebody from probation, a lawyer?”
“No, nothing like that, weird looking guy, Frobenius, say’s he’s one of your own.”
“Frobenius? Never fucking heard of him”.
Livery is sitting at a table in a visitor’s room in Her Majesty’s Prison Wandsworth. A man unknown to him & wearing tennis kit walks and sits down opposite him. The tennis player seems dazed, his head slumped forward chin on chest breathing heavily. He is catching his breath.
Livery looks at the guard raising an eyebrow.
The visitor is seemingly struggling to come to terms with his surroundings as his head rolls round he tries to draw the contents of the room into focus. Slowly he raises his head from the table, the eyes still rolling until, independently the fix on Livery. He smiles. He has regained complete control over his body.
He leans forward over the table, drawing Livery towards him. In Frobenius’s hushed voice he speaks, “It’s weird Sid. After all these years somebody is trying to psych the Golden Wonder job.” Then later. “Have you seen the work of Billy Slunden? Remember him?”
“He’s really very good, he’s a psychic artist now he’s all grown up. Should you ever get out of this place you must pay him a visit. His studio is in Forrest Hill. If you can’t get there then maybe you could even send somebody over to take a look for you”. “I could go over in my new vehicle but I think he might recognize me”.
“I’ll bear that in mind”.
As he leaves Mark tells Livery “By the way. Get ready, it’s nearly time. I need the Xlab to finish the job”.
On returning Livery to his cell the guard asked “What was all that about?”
“I’ve no fucking idea”.
Livery made a couple of calls on his mobile phone before quietly hanging himself after lights out.
The long walk home
Mark leaves through the large prison gates. The bone pervading damp & darkness of the Victorian fortress is gently dissipated by the evening sunlight as Mark strolls down the Earlslfield road towards Clapham Junction, his task complete. The sky glows reds and orange the warm embers of the late summer sun set.
Getting nearer to Clapham Junction there is the sound of sirens and whir of helicopters. The acrid smell of smoke . . . there is rioting at Clapham Junction. . . which is well fucked up & it’s on fire! Mark walks stoically forcing on against the surging tide of middle class people flooding from the everyday side away from where the looting is happening, into the up market Northcote Road side. Mark crosses the south circular to the high street where the real people shop in normal shops. This is where the action is, there are hundred of kids looting & enjoying it. Waterstone’s bookshop is immune from the plunderous advance of the raging mob & next weeks paper’s would show it remained so all night. Mark pushes on through the anarchy, oblivious to it, emerging on the other side he finds a line of police in riot gear. Again he seems to ignore its presence. As Mark tries cutting through the police cordon one of the officers in the line addresses him.
PC1 “Where do you think your going?”
Mark stares blankly past the police officer.
PC2 “What have you been doing here, in this riot?”
Again no response.
PC1 “Name?” Nothing. “What are you a mute, or are you hiding something”?
PC2 “Right in the van. Procession of stolen goods & resisting arrest!” He turns his head to address his commanding officer, ”Another easy catch to fatten up the charge sheet, eh Sarge? Doing quite nicely with out really getting involved. They’ll burn ‘em selves out, quite literally, before long.” He turned back to Mark’ “Come on sunshine, cuffs first then in the van”.
Mark didn’t move toward the van but tried to continue in the direction of the train station. PC1 lost it, his anger rose. Holding Mark by the scruff of his neck rammed his forearm into to Mark’s chest “In the fuckin’ van. Now you’re really are resisting arrest, you ct!” Mark threw PC1 back and flattened PC2 before PC2 had even thought of a course of action. With in seconds the whole police line was on Mark, it took 20 of the fuckers in riot gear and with batons to get Mark cuffed and in the van. Unconscious and battle scarred, Mark was thrown onto the floor of the van. A trainee rioter who had all ready been put in the van watched Mark’s performance and commented “Real horror show you put on there with those pigs, boy! Wow! What are you Tyson? No gotta be more Rambo, motherfucker!” Mark was out cold on the floor. When the van was full it made the short journey back the to the station,
At the station, groggy and almost certainly concussed, Mark awaits charge. He appears awake but unresponsive when asked for his Name & address by the Charge Sergeant. The Charge Sergeant turned to his colleague. “What’s the matter with this one? Is he mute or something? If he’s not going to answer let’s make it up for him.” She turned to Mark ‘OK sunshine we are charging you with public disorder, possession of stolen good, possession of drugs & resisting arrest’ then the again the Charge Sergeant turned to her assistant and said “They must have beaten him pretty bad, he’s mute, brain dead or catatonic or something. I think we should get a doctor to him?” ‘Too much to do at the moment, Sarge. Let’s get on. Beside they are easily when they are like this. If only we could do this to ‘em a matter of policy. I’ll get him finger printed & processed’
The assistant officer entered Mark’s details into the database immediately finding a match that of a previously entered petty criminal. He called to the Charge Sergeant
“Hey Sarge! The cabbage matches the description of a missing person Mark Turner from Penge, with previous for theft. The address is Trovid House on the Anerley Estate”.
“Right give’m a ring and see they can come over and ID the cabbage for us.”
The police called Marks’ mum who puts them in touch with Tara who in turn calls Mr Beaulieu. The following day Mr Beaulieu picks up Tara in his van and they drive over to Clapham together, the van inching along the south circular in the direction of the rioting.
“They say Mark is not speaking to them. I have hardly slept Mr Beaulieu.”
“No me neither. It’s a funny business is this, that for sure”. Mr Beaulieu stared out at the busy London traffic snaking it’s way round Brixton Road. Then added “Please, call me Mike”. They had come to a halt. Up ahead he watched an irate driver get out of his car and remonstrate with the driver of the bus behind him. He taught ‘It’s a bloody good job the driver’s of those busses are so high of the ground where nutters like that bloke can’t collar them. Still watching the road he asked “Clapham? What he doing in Clapham? Does he know any body there?”
“Not that I know of. The only places he went were the things he did with you at work. He never mention Clapton”
“It’s called Clapham. We’ve not done any work there in years, a long time before Mark started with us. There was rioting and looting there last night. I just hope Mark didn’t get caught up in it all”.
“No. Mark would not be involved in such things”.
The van swung onto the great traffic island that circles Clapham common. As they drove the towers of Battersea power station would occasionally appear in the gaps between buildings the right hand side, looming in front of the grey sky. They pulled up just before the Police Station, the street was crowded with good citizens with brooms going to help clean up the High Street. Mr Beaulieu & Tara watch briefly before entering the Police Station where Mr Beaulieu introduced himself to the desk sergeant. “Take a seat. Somebody will be out to see you in due course. As you are probably aware we somewhat busy at the moment”.
After about an hour Tara & Mr Beaulieu were called & lead into an interview room where Mark was seated behind a desk.
“Mark!” Tara exclaimed as he went to hug him, but he did not reciprocate, sitting passively & starring straight ahead.
“Come on now lad. It’s not like the pain stripper fumes have rotted your brain, stop messing about.” Mr Beaulieu tried to cajole Mark out of his trance.
“He is like a statue! What have you done to him? You have turned him to stone!” she wailed, her relief turning to anger as it becomes apparent Mark is not speaking and not responding.
“Looks like we got a positive ID” the officer said under his breath before asking what they knew about Mark’s disappearance.
Beaulieu told the copper ‘He’s been missing for 4 days, we reported it 2 days ago but the lad could speak absolutely fine before he disappeared & turned up here. What have you buggers done to him?” “I demand you to get a doctor to him”. Finally a doctor is called for. Tara & Mr Beaulieu return to the waiting room. Following examination the doctor tells them, “In my opinion he seems fine, except for the bruises and scratches. I can see no medical reason why he cannot speak. I recommend we get him into hospital ASAP and get him checked out properly”. An ambulance is summoned and Mark, Tara & a WPC are transported to King’s College Hospital Accident and Emergency department. Mr Beaulieu follows on anxiously behind.
The medics embark on an extensive series of tests and scans on Mark. At one point late in the evening one of the police officers notices Mark has gone missing, from under the gaze of the medics and the police. A search is initiated for him. Calling in the loss of the prisoner the PC’s radio billows “How the fuck an a catatonic patient escape surveillance?” Finally Mark is reported as being out on one of the general wards following a disturbance there. They find him starring at a wall after apparently intimidating another patient.
Late into the night a member of staff approach Tara & Beaulieu as they sit exhausted in the sickly light of another waiting room. After confirming their identity the doctor said “I’m Dr. Chadwick? I have given Mark an assessment.” He ushered them into a consultation room. “There are no obvious physical signs of damage that we can see. But as I believe you have recognized he is in some sort of trance. Have you ever heard of catatonic schizophrenia? He has developed a psychiatric condition, that occurred either before he went missing or something that happened during that lost time. Does he have any history of mental health issues?”
“Is there any medication he should be taking?”
Tara shook her head.
“How about a history of drug use?”
“Not that I’m aware of, only a few beers and perhaps a little bit of a smoke,” Tara replied.
“Cannabis or nicotine?”
“Both” Tara nodded.
The doctor mused unconvincingly. “Well that might be enough. On it’s own or compounded with other factors.”
“It’s not to do with paint-strippers, is it?” Mr Beaulieu asked nobody in particular.
“What can you do for him?”
‘In cases like this we have to admit him to a psychiatric unit. The Maudsley is a psychiatric hospital, just across the road from here. We’ll be sending him there.’
“Can I go with him’ asked Tara.
“I’m sure you’ll be able to visit, but I want to be clear. Mark’s is a serious condition, it will probably take a long time to get him back to health”.
At the Maudsley Hospital Mark get’s his own room & undergoes more intensive analysis. One day Raj Chadwick the renowned clinical psychiatric & media celebrity/pundit dogged by accusations of plagiarism goes to clerk a new patient. Chadwick has olive skin, almost black hair and thick dark beard that by passed by grey and gone straight to white in places. He is quite stocky but not fat as he is generally energetic and his most obvious feature a sartorial unawareness is his bizarre penchant for beige clothing. He enters the examination room is surprised by the supposedly non-responsive patient immediately standing up to greet him.
“Ah, Professor Raj Chadwick, still up to your old tricks? Please sit down”
“Do I know you?”
“No but I am familiar with your work and I chose my works carefully.”
“You speak very clearly, like a well educated & confident man, not a painter’s lackey”.
“Yes, well I’ve had a bit of an education the past week & as such I know my rights, why don’t you let me go?”
“All in good time. When you get back to your healthy, old self we will release you – back to the police.”
“Back to health and the police? We both know I’m as fit as butcher’s dog and the courts will see me as the victim of yet more police brutality”.
“Well let’s start by you telling me just what did happen to you in the last week? It’s seems rather eventful & intriguing.” Mark did not answer. The moment & who or what ever had answered for him, was gone. To all intents and purposes Chadwick was alone in the room and on completing his examination writes up the other details of the visit but omits the nature of Mark’s episodic speech; Chadwick sees a lot of quite weird cases. The hospital staff implement numerous combinations of treatment regimes but to no avail, Mark remains in a robust catatonic state. Not speaking, responding to external stimuli or eating.
Self improvement I
At the Maudsley Mark is still largely unresponsive. They have noted the sleep walking from A&E to intimidate another random patient. Mark has still not eaten & is being drip feed.
“He seems to honestly not know what he’s doing here or where he’s been”.
“It seems he’s almost completely mindless or his mind has been stolen, borrowed, put up for repossession”.
At a ward meeting the psychologists chattered about this intriguing new case. The psychiatrists debate if returning Billy to Clapham junction may help. Dr Chadwick conjectured at his speculative and controversial best, “I wonder if Mark was hypnotised to perform certain errands. Think of him as being programmed to undertake a predetermined series of tasks in a predetermined order. Interrupt that sequence and the brain no longer knows what course of action to pursue. Mark is no longer in control of the higher parts of his brain and is stuck there, waiting to complete the tests. If we return him to Clapham Junction then the brain may pick up where it left off & re-enter the program. We could be able to find out what he was doing & possibly who, if anybody, responsible for this catatonic hypnosis”. This statement was met with derision from his colleagues at the meeting – particularly those whose opinions mattered more than his did. So Chadwick tried it again on what he though might me a more receptive & sympathetic audience, Tara and Beaulieu.
“I think we have to try everything,” Tara agreed.
In hushed tones Chadwick told them, “Off the record, unfortunately, pretty much all of my colleagues and superiors have vetoed this a course of action. We are to try art therapy first & failing that, which it will, we will try Clapham Junction in 2 days time, but don’t let anybody know.”
Speaking loudly again, with a voice so full of optimism that Tara mused Chadwick might have his own personality disorder the doctor said, “So back on the record. As we are all well aware, nothing seems to be working. We will try some art therapy, if you are willing”.
Beaulieu snorted, “What’s that? You’re going to treat the lad with crayons? Is that really the best you can come up with?”
“The National Institute of Clinical and Health Excellence also known a NICE has been promoting the use of programs offering music, art and dance therapy. Activities include playing musical instruments and creating collages. What do you think”?
“Drawing” Tara said instinctively. “He’s always liked drawing, but he’s not very good at it”.
The following day they tried art therapy. Paper and pencils were placed on the desk in front of Mark. After about 10 minutes the therapist placed a pencil in Mark’s hand triggering the first response from Mark the team had witnessed, since his admission to the Maudsley – other than the of the record chat with Dr Chadwick on the first day. Starring straight ahead his hand began moving rapidly over the paper.
“This has never happened before” the therapist said with a bemused encouragement.
Over a period of an hour a detailed drawing seem to burst out of Mark. “Jesus” sighed Beaulieu under his breath, as the picture took shape “What is going on in his head?”
The sketch was of two figures, on the left stood an old man with gnarled grotesque features wearing something akin to a monk’s habit – or a hoodie. Next to him was a bipedal creature in a large painted mask. The image carried an over riding sense of menace. The top quarter of the paper had been left blank. The therapist called the Dr Chadwick. Who when he came in saw the picture and became more excited than the therapist. They asked Tara and Beaulieu a plethora of questions: Did they recognise the figures in the sketch? Did Mark have similar types of drawings at home? Did Mark have such a mask at home? Has he been the British Museum or the local Horniman Museum, he could have seen such a thing the there? All the answers were the same, negative.
“Mark has never drawn as well . . . er as detailed as this before. I don’t think he’s ever been to a museum in his life” said Tara adding, “Except possibly a museum of sorts in Amsterdam.”
While the animated conversation continued. Mark started to add to the picture a speech bubble in the top quarter. It read: “Dr Chadwick I guess you’d really like to know what’s going on in here? I would too. Back to Clapham?”
“OK. No time to loose, we have to get a conversation going here”. The psychiatrist said nodding to the art therapist, “Get a new piece of paper in front of Mark”. “Yes, we’ll take you back to Clapham Mark, then what will you do? Where will you go from there? What is it you want there?”
The pencil in Mark’s hand stayed in exactly the same spot while Chadwick talked. They stood there expectantly starring at Mark & his paper for the next 15 minutes, awaiting a repeat of the miracle but he didn’t move a muscle.
Chadwick broke the silence “If Clapham Junction’s where he wants to go, then go reason to take him there.”
Return To The junction
Via wheelchair and ambulance Mark is returned to Clapham Junction, as near to where Chadwick believes the police arrested Mark. Mark stands up, gaining his bearings he almost immediately begins walking towards the train station. “Like a greyhound out of the trap!” whispered Professor Chadwick. Mark fishes his Oyster card out of his small brick red shoulder bag and enters the station, where he studies the departure boards, identifies his next train, goes to the platform & waits. Mark boards the London Bridge train; Tara, Beaulieu and the psychiatrist sit in the same bay as him. Mark is oblivious to their presence. He alights at Forrest Hill, easily negotiates the ticket barriers & walks towards Sydenham Hill. He crosses London Road where it is part of the busy south circular, he walks past the artist dens at Havelock and into the supermarket at the mouth of the Mews. Tara, Beaulieu and Chadwick follow him in to the shop keen to see what he is doing.
Despite have eaten nothing for a week at the Maudsley he has stopped for a sandwich, selecting one from the reduced to clear section he heads back toward the checkout. The trio swivel collectively watching him pass, centimeters away but still oblivious to their presence.
“Remarkable” whispers Chadwick beneath his breath.
“Nope. Nothing remarkable about a JS sandwich. Happens all the time.,” replied a member of staff who’d caught the eminent psychologist’s remark. “What is remarkable is when they remember to pay”.
Mark was walking at pace up the south circular towards central London, past the white Art Deco apartments & flats with stained glass in the window wells. The road is wide, lined with large Georgian and Victorian building and is filled with the almost constant sound of buses straining up the hill. Mark reaches the pedestrian crossing, after pushing the button he waits patiently for the light to change before crossing. The buildings lining the route change, he is now passing terraced flats opposite the Horniman Museum, tower of the museum peers over the bus stop like an enormous cat. A little further up, in front of the museum is a totem pole that stands 6 meters high depicting figures from Tlingit Alaskan legend of a girl who married a bear, with an eagle. The Tlingit are the “People of the Tides” and their totem pole now starring out over the crossing where Sydenham Rise joins London Road watching the ebbs and flows of the traffic on the south circular.
Dr Chadwick points at the Horniman Museum “There are many things around that connect us to and provide glimpses into the past, people, objects, they could be on the street, collected in somebody’s house near you or in a local museum”.
Mark starts up the sharp incline of Sydenham Rise, he is physically fit and going at quite a quick pace. He knows the way everywhere by foot and cuts into an alley, the entrance of which is all but invisible from the road. Leafless trees, reaching up out of the bricks and tarmac, overlook the narrow greasy path between lock up garages and a housing estate.
“He has to walk everywhere as you don’t pay him enough to get the bus” Tara informs Mr Beaulieu.
The following trio are beginning to feel the pace, with only the stocky Chadwick keeping up. Mr Beaulieu is really struggling with out the aide of his van. The final part of the rise becomes really steep where even the hardcore cyclists get off and start pushing. Stopping for breath Mr Beaulieu turns round and looks at the view of the whole of the City of London. “By heck it’s hard going. But its worth it just for the view” panted Mr Beaulieu “Never get to look at it properly when I’m in the van. A bit like trying to look at the scenery at Monaco from a F1 racing car.” At the top of the hill Tara and Mr Beaulieu have to break into a run to try to catch up. “I do hope he’s not going much further.” Mark is now walking along the ridge of the hill to Sydenham Hill House. He opens the gates with key the code and starts to go inside and Chadwick follow him through the gate and onto the forecourt of the house. Mark knocks and waits. After a minute he fishes out the keys from his rucksack, proceeds to open the door with the keys and enters leaving the front door wide open. The house is completely empty.
Squeezing through as the security gate closes Beaulieu gasps “At least we know where the keys are for, but how did he get hold of them?” then on entering the house “Bloody hell. What’s going on here then?” of the property Beaulieu is amazed, “That’s our paint work, but where is everything?”
They hear the sound of shuffling footsteps upstairs.
Light, the sound of bird song. New sounds and strange surroundings. Mark’s room down by the Harvester is dark and despite its proximity to the woods and the conservation area the bird song is drowned out by the road noise of the heavy traffic of the south circular.
Mark recognises the old man’s body, the array of untouched medications and begins to realise the full horror of what’s happened. It couldn’t be true. Was he really this old? Had he forgotten his life? Had been so cruelly deceived? Nothing could be done. Hopeless Mark drifts listlessly in and out of consciousness, dreaming of birdsong rising into a cloudless sky above empty roads. There is a loud knock at the door. The first visitor! Maybe they can help me – explain what’s happened. Even if it’s a postal delivery they could get help. A message to Tara. . . With all the urgency he can muster Mark propels himself down the dark hall, his trembling hands on the walls for support. . . I won’t get there in time. . . Please don’t leave. . . Reaching the top of the staircase he hears the sound of a key in the lock. . . carefully he begins the descend. The door opens and peering into the bright daylight he sees his old reflection and shouts, “It’s me! It’s me!”
“Hello Mark! It is me. I’ve come back.”
The new Mark strides boldly into the hall.
“Still here? I wondered how long you’d survive. Old Frobenius isn’t to well, is he? But I guess you know that by now. Sorry about not leaving you any furniture and stuff. I couldn’t risk it. Anyway, let’s get you to somewhere where the know what their doing with old people. I’ve got work to do. . .”
“It’s me! It’s me!” the old man rasped again as Tara and Mr Beaulieu appeared in the doorway behind Mark, “Tara! It’s me!”
Recognising the voice but not the body Tara screamed and Mr Beaulieu blacked out. Having been unsure as to what might unfold when he organized the return to Clapham Junction, Chadwick now stood astonished in an old suburban house on high ridge overlooking London watch the scene unfold. Mark has snapped out of his lucid state and now stood motionless as a raving old man feebly tried to pummel him. Mr Beaulieu was coming to, lifting himself of the floor and complaining about how it must have been the race up the hill that left him feeling dizzy. Tara was gone. . .