What Pegman Saw – Overcoming

“What Pegman saw” is a weekly challenge based on Google Streetview. You can read the rules here. You can find today’s location on this page,  from where you can also get the Inlinkz code. It’s been quite a while since I last wrote a Pegman story – many thanks to Karen for providing such a stimulating prompt this week!

WPS - Overcoming 181215

Garnet Mountain Fire Lookout, Big Sky, Montana

Overcoming

It was four o’clock before Jodie parked her old compact under the trees at the trailhead. The nervous tension of driving had taken its toll. She was pooped.

She checked her backpack; sleeping bag, meals, and water, with bear spray easily accessible. All very well for her therapist to encourage her to face her fears; he wasn’t likely to run up against a live bear.

She climbed. It was tough. Even before she reached the tree line she was wondering whether to turn back.

“Keep going, girl,” she muttered to herself. “You daren’t let yourself be beaten this time.” Every rustle from the forest brought thoughts of wild animals.

The sky was awash with the aftermath of sunset as she arrived at the shelter. She nibbled a sandwich and watched the day fade. One by one the stars appeared, until the Milky Way arched gloriously across the heavens.

Jodie wept.

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Friday Fictioneers – Betrayal

Every week, Rochelle Wisoff-Fields (thank you, Rochelle!) hosts a flash fiction challenge, to write a complete story, based on a photoprompt, with a beginning, middle and end, in 100 words or less. Post it on your blog, and include the Photoprompt and Inlinkz (the blue frog) on your page. Link your story URL. Then the fun starts as you read other peoples’ stories and comment on them!

FF - Betrayal 181212

Copyright – Douglas M. MacIlroy

Betrayal

After the betrayal Samuel had hidden in the garage and turned to Facebook for consolation.

“In life, we never lose friends, we only learn who the true ones are.”

The truism had hit him like a bullet.

The one person – the one person he had entrusted with his secret, had told the world. Now everybody knew that Samuel was gay. Now he had no friends at all.

The daintily typeset words on the screen mocked him as his feet kicked and the noose tightened around his neck.

Friday Fictioneers – Escape

NaNoWriMo is over for this year, and I’m delighted to have succeeded in writing 50,000 words of a novel in the month. I’m now trying to continue at the same pace until the first draft is finished.

However, this week the siren voice of Friday Fictioneers has lured me into the shoals of flash fiction, especially as Rochelle has picked such an evocative photoprompt from Dawn. Thank you to both of you!

Friday Fictioneers - Escape 181206

PHOTO PROMPT © Dawn M. Miller

Escape

If Saaburah had looked back, she would have seen a smudge of smoke on the horizon where her house had once stood, but she didn’t look back.

If she had listened to her memories, she would have heard gunfire, screams, and the roar of fire as her family and friends were slaughtered, but she didn’t listen to her memories.

With her baby swaddled against her breast, she had walked towards the border, at first alone, then with a few others, then with a multitude.

Filthy, exhausted, frightened, they streamed across the railway bridge into Bangladesh, homeless, stateless.

Alive.

NaNoWriMo – The Dove on the Pergola

NaNoWriMo

The dove on the pergola - Holi 180731

For those of you who haven’t come across this before, “NaNoWriMo” is the (rather ugly) contraction of National Novel Writing Month, which is the (slightly misleading) title of an international writing event. The idea of the event is that you write a novel during the month of November. To qualify as a winner, you have to complete 50,000 words in 30 days. And that’s tough.

Now, in my writing CV I can claim to have completed 2 novels and half-completed a third. Additionally, at the end of October I had the plot and some reasonable research for a fourth. I was struggling, though, getting bogged down in the detail. I was also spending much writing time and creative effort on writing flash fiction, which is fun, but if that’s all you do it’s like trying to survive solely on candy.

So I thought I’d give NaNoWriMo my best shot.

The first thing I realised was that I had to write the novel. The words had to go into the text. If I didn’t average 1670 words each and every day, I wasn’t going to succeed.

What did this mean in practice?

It meant:

  • Stop plotting – you’ve got word count to meet.
  • Stop researching – you’ve got word count to meet. (Hack for this – put in a provisional word/phrase in red, so that it’s easy to check in a subsequent edit of the draft)
  • Strictly limited time for editing.

Forcing myself to stick to this was really difficult, especially restraining my urge to edit!

What do I have at the end? 16 chapters – 53,000 words – of a rather badly written novel, “The Dove on the Pergola”.

Would I have this without NaNoWriMo? Definitely not. Would I have even one well-written chapter? Almost certainly not.

So, what would I have?

A lot of detailed notes and a maze of plotting getting in the way of writing…

And, to my surprise, the simple act of writing has clarified the plot and grown the characters. So, as well as 16 chapters written, I have a pretty clear idea of what I need to write to complete the novel.

I’m going to continue with similar intensity until the first draft of the novel is complete (going to allow myself Sundays off, though). Then I’m going to leave the manuscript for a short time while I work out a plan to edit it, a plan which will set targets for achievement that will limit the time I spend editing. (NaNoWriMo have an editing programme in the New Year, I believe, and I’m going to check it out).

Then I’m going to edit the manuscript, sticking to those targets, until I have a completely edited text. At that point, and not before, I shall print out the novel, and invite my trusted reader to give me her honest and unvarnished opinion… (Judgement Day!)

Was I a winner? Yes, I was – but the big win is having completed those precious 16 chapters that are going to be the basis of my novel. And maybe an even bigger win is that I now have a better understanding of how I need to work in future.

So thank you to the genius who came up with NaNoWriMo!

And a special thank you to Gabi, for being my writing buddy during the month. Those emails gave a precious extra boost to morale when it could have flagged!

It was a great and productive experience!

 

 

At First Sight – Part 8

Jon and Vikki fell in love the day before Vikki returned permanently to Australia, leaving Jon in London. He books a flight to visit her. Meanwhile, Vikki’s abusive former partner, Guy, has tracked her down. Vikki disappears. Jon, and her childhood sweetheart, Dan, pursue Guy. There is a showdown, in which Vikki is rescued, Guy is killed, and Jon and Dan both critically injured

At first sight 8 - Manor on High 170715

Jon’s head was aching. He couldn’t remember a worse pain, except for…his mind shied away from an explosion of agony that he couldn’t quite recall. Instead, he opened his eyes. The ceiling was white. The light hurt his eyes.

“Jonathan?”

“Dad?”

“Thank God. You’re back with us. Praise the Lord!”

“Where am I?”

“Hospital. The Royal Melbourne Hospital, to be precise.”

Jonathan closed his eyes again.

“Where’s Vikki? Is she…is she alright?”

“Yes, she’s fine. She just popped out for a bite of breakfast. She’ll be back.”

“Breakfast. I’ve been out overnight, then?”

“A bit longer than that, I’m afraid.”

Jon’s eyes opened abruptly.

“Dad! What the hell are you doing here?”

“I flew out last week when the hospital told us you might not pull through.”

Jon said nothing.

“I’ll be able to help you travel home, too.”

“I have something to do before coming home. In fact, I may not come back to the UK at all.”

“Don’t be ridiculous. There’s your PhD to finish…” James Hall’s voice faded as he looked at his son’s pale face and the turban of dressings round his head. The doctors had warned him of possible brain damage; maybe Jon wouldn’t be capable of completing his studies.

The door opened quietly. Jon looked and smiled.

“Vikki!”

“Oh, Jon, I’m so glad!” Her tears welled up, and poured down her cheeks, even as she beamed with joy. She swabbed at her eyes with a tissue. “Drat this crying. Anybody would think I was sad!”

Jonathan stretched out his arms towards her. As she moved into his embrace, the door opened.

“Now then, Mr Hall. Lie still and don’t get excited. You’re still a very sick man.” But the nurse’s face was cheerful, and her manner light.

“I’ll… er… go and phone your mother, tell her that you’re back in the land of the living.”

“Yeah.”

Little fragments of memory were flashing before Jon. He held onto Vikki’s hands.

“You’re safe!” he said. “I was so afraid of what Guy might do to you.”

Vikki frowned. “Best leave that for the moment. Some other time?”

Jon went to nod, and realised that his head was restrained. Instead, he made a circle with his thumb and forefinger, and smiled. His eyes closed, and he drifted off to sleep. He looked happy, Vikki thought.

The nurse spoke quietly to Vikki. “I know I told him to keep still, but it’s an excellent sign that he was able to move his arms. There didn’t look to be any weakness. We have to wait for the consultant’s say-so, but it looks good. You’re a lucky girl, I think.”

Vikki coloured. She gazed at Jon. What was it about him that made her desire him so much? She stroked his arm with her fingertips. The muscles were relaxed in sleep, but she could feel their tight definition. The hair on his skin was downy and fair, hardly more than a fuzz.

She looked at his face and remembered the last ten days, and the tears came again. At first the doctors had thought he would die; you could tell from their faces, and from the nurses’ refrain, “He’s receiving the best possible care,” which so often becomes, “We did all we could.”

But now he was out of danger.

The door clicked as James Hall came back into the room.

“Ah, good. He’s asleep. That’s what he needs.” He looked at Vikki, who half-nodded. “I wonder if we could talk together for a few minutes?” he asked. He held open the door. Vikki stared at him, set her lips and walked into the corridor.

“Well?”

“I wanted to talk about Jon, and his future.”

“I didn’t think you wanted to talk about the weather.”

“Vikki. Please don’t be hostile. There’s no need. We’ve both got Jon’s best interests at heart.”

“Say what you want to say.”

“Jon’s a very bright young man, you know. He has a great future. He could become a professor.”

“Your point being?”

“He needs to come back to the UK to finish his PhD. His academic network is centred in the UK. It will set back his career unless he returns and stays in England.”

“Do you suppose he doesn’t know that?”

“I’m sure he does. But I want to be confident that you understand. I’m sure you want to act in his best interests.”

“Of course I do. But I think that Jon can perfectly well decide his best interests for himself. Don’t you?”

“I’m concerned that he may not see them clearly while he’s infatuated.”

“I’d prefer to say that he’s in love. Look, Mr Hall, Jon’s big enough to make his own decisions. If he asks me to marry him, I shall say yes like a shot. And – I’ll be blunt – that is none of your business. It’s about time you recognised that he’s a man, now, not a little boy.”

“I see. Thank you for making your feelings so clear. Perhaps you’d like to rejoin him? I shall go and find something to eat. Good day to you.”

Cheeks flaming, Vikki went back into Jon. She moved quietly across to the bed, and slipped her hand into his. He didn’t wake, but his fingers closed gently around hers. She sighed, and the hostility she’d felt for Jon’s father melted away. Sitting here, with Jon safe, was all she wanted. It was a moment of perfect calm and happiness.

*       *       *       *

It had been the first day Jon had tried walking since his injury. He’d been okay; the doctors were pleased, but he was exhausted. The door clicked. He looked up, hoping the nurse had come to adjust the bed so that he could sleep, but it was Dan. Jon sat up a little straighter and greeted him cheerfully.

Dan dropped into the chair by the bed.

“Glad we did it, eh?”

Jon nodded.

“Your doing mostly, Dan. I didn’t stop him; you did.”

“Team effort, mate”

“You’re too generous.”

Dan gave him a sideways look. “Only a Pom would say that!”

Jon grinned.

“Look, I’ve got something serious to say,” went on Dan. “It’s about Vikki. I’ve seen how she’s been with you the last couple weeks.”

He paused and thought a little.

“If you ask her to marry you, she’ll say ‘Yes’, you know. I just wanted to say there’ll be no hard feelings on my part. I love her, yeah, I have done as long as I can remember, but, well, she loves you and I want her to be happy. That’s what matters. I’m a big boy. I guess I’ll get over it.”

Jon was briefly silent, then he held out his hand. Dan grasped it.

“Thank you,” said Jon.

They sat like that for several minutes, then Jon said, “I shall ask Vikki this evening. If she says yes, would you be my best man at the wedding?”

“I’d be honoured. Provided I’m not in gaol on the day.”

“Gaol?”

“Yeah. They’ve charged me with manslaughter for killing Guy. My brief reckons with the extenuating circumstances I’ll probably get a couple years.”

“But – you saved my life!”

“Yeah. That’s the extenuating bit.”

“Dan, I’m so sorry.”

“The law’s the law, I guess. I tell you what, though. I’d do it again tomorrow. We got Vikki out. You’re still alive. And Guy’s dead. Good riddance. Vikki’s told me some of what he did. He was a piece of shit. I’m bloody glad I shot the bastard.”

He looked at Jon.

“Here, you’re looking a bit peaky, mate. Do you want me to call the nurse?”

“I’m OK. First day out of bed today, that’s all.”

The door clicked open.

“Out you go now!” The nurse was brisk. Dan winked at Jon, and loped out. Jon fell asleep even before the nurse had finished reclining the head of the bed.

*       *       *       *

Jonathan Hall, newly minted PhD, sat next to Dan in the Regency Room of the Manor on High in Melbourne. In his room in Vikki’s mum’s house was the letter offering him a post at Melbourne University, together with confirmation from the Department of Immigration and Border Protection that he qualified for permanent residency.

Dan was quiet, self-controlled; calmly cheerful; on parole.

Carolyn Hall sat behind her son, but her husband, James, was absent, unable to reconcile himself to Jon wedding an atheist.

The string quartet drew their music to a close at the registrar’s signal, and then struck up Pachelbel’s Canon.

Vikki entered, on her mother Margaret’s arm. She was heartbreakingly beautiful. Her honey-coloured hair was put up in a French Pleat, emphasizing her classic features. Her amber eyes seemed to glow.

Jon and Vikki exchanged vows, and rings; the registrar pronounced them man and wife.

The reception afterwards was joyful and lively, but Margaret made a moment of seclusion to speak quietly to Jon. “Do you remember what I said at the yard gate? ‘Find my girl, Jon. Bring her back to me.’ You did that, Jon, and I am eternally grateful to you and Dan”. She hugged him close for several minutes, and then added, “She’s told me things, Jon, things she’ll probably never tell you. Be gentle with her, won’t you?”

And that is where this serial stops. It would be nice to say that ‘they all lived happily ever after’, but that never happens to real people, and it doesn’t in my tale either. But whether you ever hear of what happened later will depend entirely upon the caprice of the author!

 

 

At First Sight – Part 7

As I’m taking part in NaNoWriMo, which requires me to write 50,000 words of a novel in the 30 days of November, I’m afraid I have no time to write original material for my blog. Instead I’m repeating a serial I first posted in 2017, one episode per day. I hope you enjoy it!

At first sight - camper van 170708

Jon and Vikki fell in love the day before Vikki returned to her home in Australia – leaving Jon behind. Her abusive former partner, Guy, is tracking her. Her childhood sweetheart, Dan, has proposed marriage to her. Jon flies to Melbourne and learns that Vikki has disappeared. The police are dismissive, but Dan hacks computer records and discovers Guy’s whereabouts.

“Are you nearly finished with that – what did you call it? – that witness statement? Because we’re about five minutes away from the campsite.”

Jon pressed ‘Send’ on his tablet.

“All done. Can we pull off for a minute, to work out what we’re going to do?”

There was a halt half a mile ahead, and Dan pulled in.

“I’m worried that confronting Guy may cause him to harm Vikki. The last thing we want is for him to use Vikki as a hostage,” said Jon.

“Yeah. What do you suggest?”

“Do you know the registration number of his camper van?”

“C-A-M-P-3-7. He shouldn’t be difficult to spot in any case. It’s the low season. There won’t be many campers.”

“I guess we go in and see if the van’s there, and see whether he comes out?”

“I can’t think of anything better. I’ll park just inside the entrance. We might need to block his way out.”

Jon touched his nose gently; it was still slightly swollen and sore. “He’s quite a handy brawler. Better than me. What are you like?”

“I reckon the two of us can take him, don’t you?”

“I think so. Only be careful; he fights dirty”

Dan nodded, and put the car into gear.

“Got you.”

The campsite was two miles down the road. As they pulled into the entrance, a man came over.

“You got a booking?”

“No. You got any vacancies?”

“No. Cabins are all shut for the winter. Unless you got a tent in the boot?”

“Yeah, that’s it”

“How many nights?”

“Just the one.”

“That’ll be twenty-five”.

Dan pulled the notes out of his wallet.

“You can pitch up through there, straight ahead, ‘bout three hundred yards.”

“You got somewhere we can freshen up before we settle in?”

The man jerked his thumb in the direction of the wash-house, a low, block-built structure.

“Happy camping, fellers”. He disappeared behind the building.

Dan pointed. A camper van stood barely one hundred yards away facing the exit.

“I guess this is it.” Dan leaned across and removed the automatic from the glovebox.

They had barely started moving towards the van when Guy emerged from the wash-house. He glanced casually in their direction, and his eyes opened wide. He sprinted towards the camper van, pulling keys out of his pocket as he ran.

“Block him with the car, Dan!”

Jon raced after Guy. He hoped Guy would fumble the keys in the door, but he didn’t. As Jon arrived, Guy was sliding the keys into the ignition. The van’s engine roared. Jon grabbed the door handle but he was too late. The van shot forward, dragging him off his feet. He let go, toppled sideways, and rolled on the ground, winded.

There was a crash and the van lurched sideways as Dan rammed it with his car. The van’s wheel caught Jon on the head, stunning him. He fought to stay conscious, forced his eyes to stay open, saw Guy leap from the camper van swinging a baseball bat. Jon saw the blow coming, tried desperately to dodge, heard a sharp crack, and then an overwhelming pain that plunged him into blackness.

At first sight - baseball bat 170708

Dan rushed around the van and saw Guy lying, a large red stain spreading through his shirt, a pool of blood on the floor. Beside him lay Jon, face white, still as death, a bloody dent in his skull. Dan pulled out his mobile phone, called for an ambulance and the police. Then he  removed the keys from the ignition, and ran to the back of the van. His chest was hurting where he’d hit the steering wheel in the crash.

He flung open the doors. Vikki, bound and gagged, lay on the floor of the van, struggling to breathe. Swiftly, Dan tore the tape off her mouth, and she took great gulps of fresh air. He pulled out his knife and cut her bonds. Sobbing, Vikki clutched him.

“Oh, Dan, thank goodness you’ve come. I knew you’d find me.”

“Jon’s outside,” he said, grimly. “Badly hurt, I’m afraid. Ambulance is on its way.” Blood welled up into his mouth. He turned and spat it out of the back door.

“Dan, you’re hurt!”

“Hit the steering wheel when I rammed the van. No airbags in my old wreck. Cracked rib or two, I reckon.” He brought up some more blood. “Sorry,” he said, and toppled forward.

Vikki screamed.

“Help! Get an ambulance! Somebody help!”

She scrambled to her feet, pushed past Dan’s unconscious form and jumped clear of the van. The campsite owner was some twenty yards away, too frightened to approach closer.

“Please,” called Vikki, “they’re all out cold. Please help me.”

“This one first,” panted Vikki, leading him to Dan, who was choking. Bloody froth streaked his chin. “Help me get him into the recovery position.”

Together they lifted him out of the van, and laid him on his side. A trickle of blood ran out of his mouth. He groaned, but breathed more easily.

They moved around to Jon. He lay perfectly still and silent, the blood from his head wound already coagulating. Vikki let out a howl of despair. “No!”

She knelt down and leaned over him, feeling for the pulse in his neck. It was faint, but regular. She clutched his hand.

“Stay with me, Jon. Stay with me!”

There were flashing blue lights, and sirens. Vikki hardly noticed, until a policewoman laid a hand on her shoulder.

“Come on, madam. You’re obstructing the paramedics. Let them look after the casualty. Come with me now.” Gently, talking, cajoling, guiding, she led Vikki away from Jon.

The senior paramedic shook his head at the severity of the injuries, even as he busied himself with the task of stabilising the patient’s condition.

“Can you spare a minute to look at this feller? He looks bad.”

Dan was wheezing, and his legs were jerking.

“Get him on oxygen right away. He’s got a perforated lung. Let’s get him into the wagon; we might need to insert a drain.”

Police had cordoned off the scene. Guy lay still, his corpse already cooling, while the pathologist did her job. Not that there was any doubt about the cause of death; a bullet through the heart is unambiguous.

Dan and Jon were loaded into the ambulance, which set off, sirens blaring, for the hospital.

“Please, can I go with them?” Vikki begged.

“We’ll take you in a few minutes. The officer in charge needs to talk to you first. Both your friends will be getting the best possible care.” The policewoman handed Vikki some tissues. “Here. Dry your eyes. Everything will be okay, I’m sure.”

 

 

At First Sight – Part 6

This month I’m participating in NaNoWriMo, which requires me to write 50,000 words in the 30 days of November. I’m afraid that leaves no time for writing original material for my blog, so I’m republishing my serial “At First Sight” one episode per day. I hope you enjoy it!

Jon and Vikki fell in love the day before Vikki returned to her home in Australia – leaving Jon in London. Her former abusive partner, Guy, is tracking her. Her childhood sweetheart, Dan, has proposed marriage to her. Jon must move fast. He has scraped together the air fare and flown to Melbourne. Dan meets him at the airport and tells him Vikki has disappeared…

At first sight - Great Ocean Road 170701

“Missing!”

“Yeah. She set off to the bakery this morning early and never came home. Here, do you need to sit down? You don’t look too good.”

Jon shook his head.

“Did she leave a note?” he asked

Dan took the handle of Jon’s luggage.

“Here, let me. Car’s this way.” He gestured. “Note? No, she didn’t. Margaret – that’s her mum – told me to bring you straight to the house.”

“You’ve told the police?”

“Yeah. They can’t list someone as missing until they’ve been gone twenty-four hours.”

“Where might she have gone? You know her well, don’t you?”

“The only place I would expect her to go would be home. I’ve never known her go walkabout, and I’ve known her since we were both little kids.”

Dan dropped the luggage into the boot of the car.

They sat in silence as he drove, slickly, as though he thought of himself as a racing driver.

“Here we are.”

A short woman, with dark, curly hair, burst out of the front door, and ran down the path. She was at the yard gate even before Dan had applied the handbrake.

“You must be Jon!” She grabbed him, as he climbed out of the car and hugged him fiercely. “I’m so glad you’re here. Did Dan tell you about…?” She looked up at him.

“About Vikki going missing? Yes.”

“Come in, come in! I’ll make you a cup of tea – that’s what you English drink, isn’t it? Dan, be a love and bring his case would you? No, Jon, you’re staying with us. I insist.” Her voice was unemphatic but decisive.

“I’ve been through Vikki’s stuff with a comb,” she announced, as they sat in the kitchen, Margaret at one end of the long table, Dan and Jon on her right and left. “There’s absolutely nothing to suggest she was going to run off. All her clothes are there.” Her voice quavered; her lip trembled. Dan put his arm round her shoulders.

“Keep your spirits up, Ma,” he said quietly. “We’ll get this sorted.”

“Did she tell either of you about the man she used to be with?” asked Jon

“You mean Guy? Yes, she did.” Margaret’s face became pinched and hard.

Jon moistened his lips.

“Did she tell you that he had taken a flight for Melbourne? He would have been here a few days ago.”

Dan and Margaret glanced at each other.

“She didn’t tell me. Did she tell you, Dan?” Dan shook his head. “How do you know, Jon?”

“The police told me. I was burgled and they thought it might have had something to do with Guy. When they checked, they found he had flown to Melbourne. I wrote and told Vikki.”

“If that bastard does anything to Vikki, I’ll kill him.” The words were a shocking contrast to the quiet voice in which they were uttered. Both Jon and Margaret stared at Dan.

“Now, Dan, there’s no need for threats. Our job is to get my girl back.” Margaret put an arm around both young men.

“Jon. You say the English police are investigating Guy? That gives us enough to go back to the police here and insist they take Vikki’s disappearance seriously. Will you two boys do that for me?”

At the station, the desk sergeant was anodyne.

“Do you fellows know how many people officially go missing in Australia every year? Thirty-eight thousand. That’s more than one every fifteen minutes, every day of the year.”

Jon leaned forwards.

“Look, sergeant. One,” he raised a finger, “Vikki has been the subject of threats from a man in the UK. Two,” he raised a second finger, “He has a record of violence. Three, he made it plain he was determined to obtain her address in Australia. Four, he’s flown to Melbourne, and five, Vikki’s disappeared. How much more do you need? With every moment that passes it will be more difficult to trace and catch him, and rescue her.”

“We’ve heard nothing from the English police. If she’s still missing tomorrow morning, you know what to do.”

As they trailed home, a fine rain started. The droplets made halos around the streetlights. Jon walked with his fists clenched in his jacket pockets.

Dan strode freely.

“Looks like we’ll have to go unofficial then.”

“What do you mean?”

“Better you don’t know the detail. Like I said, unofficial. Do you know Guy’s surname, and roughly where he lives?”

“He’s Guy Northcott. I think Vikki said he had a house in Luton.”

“Okay. Might be enough. You see, if I were going to kidnap someone and I didn’t live here, I’d rent a camper van. We might find him that way.”

Dan stopped, and Jon realised that they were back in front of the house where Vikki lived.

“I’ll be round in the morning, about eight,” said Dan. “We’ll go and see if we can stir up some action from the police.” He drove away. His car was dirty, and one of the rear lights had failed, Jon noticed.

Margaret welcomed him warmly, fed him, chatted to him about Vikki, but it was a melancholy evening. She was troubled at what Dan might be planning.

“He’s very fond of Vikki, Jon. He always was, even when he was an age when boys don’t like girls. I’d always thought Vikki would probably marry him. So did he, I think. This is hitting him very hard. I’ve never heard him threaten anybody like that. I hope he doesn’t do anything stupid.”

Jon excused himself early, and went to the bedroom Margaret had prepared for him. It wasn’t large. There was a single bed and a bookcase filled with novels, all well-worn. He sat on the bed and phoned home.

“I’ll see if I can help,” offered his father. “I have one or two senior contacts in the police. They might be able to encourage liaison with the Australian force. Call me in eleven hours and I’ll let you know if there’s anything useful.”

“Thanks, Dad. I appreciate that. I’ll put a reminder in my mobile.”

“Yes. Yes, I suppose you would. Okay. Chin up, Jonathan. Chances are that everything will work out. Till this evening, then.”

Dad always knew someone. And never knew how people felt inside. “Irritating old bastard,” Jon said to himself.

Despite the fatigue of the journey, and the comfortable bedroom he slept badly.

Dan was early next morning, and Jon was still on the phone to his father.

“So I need to email Bedfordshire police, and complete a witness statement for them, and then they will contact Melbourne with a formal request for help with tracking Guy?”

“That’s it. I should give the locals twenty-four hours after you submit the witness statement before you contact them.”

“Thanks, Dad. I’ll let you know how it goes.”

Dan greeted him with a wolfish grin. “Maybe we won’t need the jacks after all. I found something last night. Come on; I’ll tell you about it in the car.”

“Hang on while I grab my tablet. I can do the witness statement on that while we drive. Are we going far?”

“Couple hundred miles maybe.”

“We’d better tell Margaret.”

“All done, mate, while you were chatting to your dad.”

And even as he spoke, Margaret entered the room with a large bag.

“Breakfast, lunch and probably dinner too if you’ve not been able to stop.”

She hugged them, first Dan, then Jon. As she held Jon close she whispered, “Find my girl, Jon. Bring her back to me.”

Dan had been driving for about ten minutes, and Jon had been typing on his tablet. He pressed send.

“Okay. I have to wait for a reply before I can do anything more. So. What did you find out last night, and where are we going?”

“Guy Northcott rented a camper van in Melbourne. He picked it up two days ago. Last night he was booked into a site about a hundred miles up the Great Ocean Road. And that’s where we’re going.”

He paused, and added, “We’re going ready for trouble. Look in the glove pocket, but don’t touch anything.”

Jon opened the glove pocket. Lying on an oily cloth was an automatic pistol. It had a long barrel, and a large magazine. It looked, to Jon’s inexperienced eye, to be very deadly.

At first sight - pistol 170701

“Is that legal?”

Dan laughed.

“No, of course not. Do you have a problem with that? Because if you do, now’s the time to say so. I’ll drop you off, and you can take a taxi back to Margaret. I’m sure she’d understand.” His scorn was obvious.

“Don’t be stupid. I’ll do whatever it takes.”

The two of them drove on in silence.