You are Vanguard

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Horror  |  House: Booksie Classic

Chapter 10 (v.1) - CHAPTERS 31 - 33

Submitted: August 05, 2017

Reads: 35

A A A | A A A

Submitted: August 05, 2017

A A A

A A A

THIRTY-ONE

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“You don’t actually believe any of that, do you?” Freeman asked.

“I don’t know what to believe,” Capper replied. “What I do know is: we’ve got our star back. Was she torn limb from limb, sewn back together and brought back to life by some mad scientist type because a couple of little girls asked him to? Perhaps not. But this could actually be a blessing in disguise.”

“Why on earth could this be a blessing in disguise?”

“Whether she’s been dead or concussed or in a coma or whatever, she’s lost a huge chunk of her memory. She can remember words, she still knows how to talk and move and so on, but apart from that she has no memory of anything prior to Love Letters. Nothing. Gary, she actually believes her name is Oliver. She believes she’s a boy.”

“Oh come on, all she has to do is go to the toilet and she’ll know.”

“You’re certain you’re a man, right?”

“Yes,” Gary said, confused.

“And you have no memory of ever being female at any point in your life, right?”

“…No Ron, I don’t.”

“If you went to the toilet now and found you had female parts instead of male parts, would you think ‘Oh, it looks like I was a girl all along’?”

“…Ron, that scenario is very hard to imagine.”

“Anyway, we’ll be able to get to the bottom of this when she’s here.”

“How’s she getting here? You said you haven’t rung the police. Is O’ Neill bringing her back?”

“No. I don’t want O’Neill linked to the case in any way. I don’t want the police to find out who he is.”

“Why not?”

“Because if the police find O’ Neill, then they will be able to find the two girls and Dennis Downs.”

“But don’t you want the police to find the two girls and Dennis Downs? They’re responsible for Oliver going missing. The two girls are probably Downs’ daughters. Downs probably used them to kidnap Oliver. He probably made Oliver think she was going off to meet a couple of fans and then the next thing you know, Downs has got himself a sex slave.”

“According to what Oliver has told O’ Neill’s daughter, Downs was good to her, fed her, never touched her inappropriately, nothing like that.”

“So Oliver’s been living with Downs?”

“By the sound of it, the first thing Oliver remembers since waking up is being in some dungeon behind Downs’ house. From then on, she was living with the girls.”

“A dungeon? Well that settles it, then. I smell a nonce, Ron.”

“According to Oliver, the guy never touched her. Besides, we might need Downs.”

“What?”

“I don’t believe for one minute that Oliver was ripped to pieces but I think it’s fairly likely that Oliver was at death’s door. And Downs has somehow managed to revive her. We’ve often worried about what we’d do if Oliver ever got ill, if Oliver had to go into hospital, if she had to be operated on. We’ve always worried about how we’d be able to keep her gender a secret in that scenario. Well, now we have ourselves a personal physician for Oliver. Downs figured out at a very early stage that Oliver is a girl, but he won’t speak out about it because we’ve got him by the balls. What was he doing harbouring a kid whom the whole country was looking for? He’s looking at jail if we shop him to the police. If we make sure he knows that, then we have a place Oliver can go any time she gets ill. By the sound of it, Oliver quite likes the guy.”

“Stockholm syndrome,” Freeman said, dismissively. “Nothing more.”

“There’s something else,” Capper said. “The two girls and Downs have the same story: that Downs brought Oliver back to life. Downs explained to O’ Neill how he did it. I’m no scientist, but it was something to do with giving Oliver a whole host of transplants, and a dose of stem-cells and cancer in order to repair damaged tissue. The stem cells regenerate the tissue, the cancer accelerates the process.”

“He’s given Oliver cancer?”

“That’s part of the story, yes.”

“He’s kidnapped Oliver, probably sexually abused her, then given her cancer, and you don’t want to ring the police?” Freeman, now furious, got up from his seat and headed for the door of the office.

“And what if we do contact the police?” Capper said, with steel in his tones. “What if we tell the police what you just said to me; that Oliver was kidnapped, raped, given cancer? Firstly- she gets a medical. Secondly- she strips off and gets inspected for signs of sexual abuse. How the hell are the police not going to find out she’s a girl?”

“But–”

“And if we go to the police, Downs has no incentive to keep quiet about Oliver’s true gender. Don’t forget, he’s got as much on us as we have on him. Sit down, Gary.”

Freeman sat back down.

“Eventually,” Capper said, “she’s going to die of that cancer.”

“Oh for Christ’s sakes, Ron.”

“But then Downs can just do the same thing again. He can remove the parts of Oliver that have been destroyed by the cancer and use the same treatment, in conjunction with transplants and tissue grafts, to bring her back to life again. In theory, Oliver could live for years. She could live for as long as we need her to.”

“And die over and over again. Ron, no offence, but are you aware of how ridiculous this sounds?”

“Of course I’m aware,” Capper snapped. “What do you think I am, an idiot? Listen to me: O’ Neill located Oliver by tracking down the girls. He posed as a girl himself and messaged them online. When the girls gave up Downs’ name, O’ Neill did some digging, found out his address, found out all kinds of information on him. Downs isn’t just some fantasist. He’s an ex-surgeon and he’s been working with bodies all his life. He was forced into early retirement after trying unconventional, maverick methods of bringing dead patients back to life. Then O’ Neill started following him. O’ Neill saw him picking up road-kill, dead squirrels, and taking them back to his home, his dungeon. Then O’ Neill saw him letting live squirrels out of the dungeon a few days later.”

Freeman shook his head. “How can we know they were the same squirrels?” Freeman said, dismissively. “Perhaps he was taking dead squirrels into the dungeon and letting different, live squirrels out?”

“And why the hell would he do that? To trick Ben O’ Neill? He didn’t even know O’ Neill was there! Now, I’m not saying I believe all this, but I’m saying we should keep an open mind. React first, ponder later. Whatever happened, we have a fit, healthy pop-star ready to re-join the group, and we have to keep the details secret from the police in order to maintain the charade of Oliver being a boy.”

Freeman picked up his tea and sipped it.

“Oliver is totally unaware that she’s been in Bradford for the past few weeks,” Capper continued. “Also, she doesn’t know the names of the two girls or Downs’ name. They all gave her false names. Not only do they not live in Leeds, where Oliver went missing, but they also don’t live in London, where Oliver will be found. She doesn’t know Ben O’ Neill’s name either. They won’t be caught unless we want them to be caught. You and I and Lynne are the only ones who can connect the dots.”

“Oliver knows what those people look like.”

“The two girls look like any two little girls and as for O’ Neill; he’s a private investigator, it’s his job to look inconspicuous.”

“Inconspicuous? He was in a fucking white suit when he turned up here that time!”

“Those aren’t his work clothes, Gary,” Capper replied.

Freeman ran his hands through his hair. “Okay,” he said “you said Oliver will be found in London.”

“The girls have put Oliver on a train from Leeds to London Kings Cross. When she arrives, you will be there. The story you will tell the police is that you were waiting at the station to pick me up, because I’d been at a meeting in Luton and I needed someone to meet me off the train and give me a lift home. You will be standing on the platform waiting for me when you will stumble across Oliver departing from the King’s Cross train. You will act surprised. You will try ringing my mobile but I will not answer. Then you will ring Lynne, who will. Lynne will meet you outside the station ten minutes later and the three of you will walk into the nearest police station. Lynne is a qualified solicitor and will be present during the police’s interviews with Oliver. The most you will have to do is make a statement and then leave.”

“Ron, please, don’t ask me to lie to the police. I’ll lie to the boys, I’ll lie to the public about Oliver being a boy, but not–”

“Some of the public are police officers, are they not?”

“I don’t want to go to prison, Ron.”

“You won’t. Needless to say, Vanguard will be keen to show its gratitude.”

“Ron, you’re asking way too much of me.”

“…And whilst Vanguard uses one hand to give, the other hand can take away.”

Freeman was startled. He sat up straight in his chair. “Is that a threat?” he asked.

“Does it sound like one?” Capper asked.

Eventually, Capper lifted his cup and drank the last of his tea, before placing the empty cup on his desk. He then dug into his suit pocket, found a wallet, pulled out a twenty pound note and placed it on the desk in front of Gary Freeman.

“Get yourself a taxi back to the rehearsal space,” Capper said. “Pick up your car. You’ll be on the train platform, London King’s Cross, in exactly one hour and thirty minutes. Find out which platform the train from Leeds is stopping at and hang around there. The twenty quid should cover your travelling costs.” Capper then stood up.

“I’ve got a horrible feeling about it, Ron,” Freeman said, desperately. “There are so many things that could go wrong, and if just one of them–”

“Nothing’s ever 100% safe, Gary,” Capper said, walking round to Freeman’s side of the desk and patting him on the shoulder. “Sometimes you need to take a punt. You’ve got to speculate to accumulate.”

Freeman picked up the twenty pound note from the desk, rose from his seat and faced Ron Capper.

“Alex should be downstairs now, in the fourth floor conference room with Lynne,” Capper said to him. “Considering how important he is to us now, I think it’s right that you go and apologise to him for the things you said to him earlier.”

Freeman grimaced.

“Surely you can see why that’s necessary,” Capper said.

Freeman’s head dropped. Slowly, he nodded.

 

The table was meant for at least twenty people and she invited Alex to choose any seat. Once Alex had seated himself, Lynne Pearlman told him she’d be back shortly and then left the room. Alex spent the next five minutes trying to compose himself. After over a year of trying to look as boyish as possible, he now wanted to look wise and manly. He wanted to look like someone who was willing to drive a hard bargain, someone who would immediately notice any attempts to con him. He sat up straight in his seat and clasped his hands in his lap, interlocking his fingers. He contorted his face into a sceptical, been-around-the-block expression. But then he looked at his clothes and realised he still looked like a boy.

Eventually, Pearlman re-entered the room with a folder under her arm. She took a seat next to Alex, opened the folder and placed various documents on the table. She left Alex’s new record contract in front of him and made sure that he had enough time to glance at it. She was teasing him with it. Then, rather than discuss the contract or refer to it in any way, she chose to talk about Gary Freeman and allowed the contract to become the ever-growing elephant in the room.

“The thing is, Alex,” she said, crossing her legs and facing him. “Freeman’s a bum, we know that, but there’s not a lot we can do. Freeman isn’t an employee of Vanguard, he works for you, and Love Letters have signed a contract with him which states that he’ll represent you for the next three years.”

“Is there any way around it?” Alex asked.

“No. It’s watertight. However, Freeman’s contract stipulates that he’ll represent you as a member of Love Letters. It doesn’t stipulate that he must also represent the four of you individually. If any of you were to become solo artists and release material outside of the Love Letters umbrella, Freeman would have no entitlement to any of the earnings you make in those ventures and he would not be legally bound to be your manager.”

“So I would have to leave Love Letters in order to be rid of Freeman?”

“Not necessarily. Ron has told me about the things Gary said to you earlier and I want to state categorically that Vanguard do not agree with any of his opinions. We do not see you as a… what was it?... a ‘bit part player’?”

“That was one in a series of insults, Lynne.”

“Yeah, he’s a bum. But Ron and I don’t see you as a bit part player, Alex. Over the past few weeks, we’ve seen that you clearly feel restricted by Love Letters. Gary seems to see that as a bad thing, he doesn’t want anyone upsetting the apple cart, but Ron and myself don’t see it that way. We can see that you’re ambitious. We can see a career for you outside Love Letters, a career where you can mature and develop with Vanguard’s support. Love Letters are successful at the moment and we want to keep you included in the group because we see you as an integral part of that success. But we’ve also always thought that you could have a career once Love Letters turns stale. After all, you’ve got the best voice in the group, and we’re in the music industry after all, aren’t we?”

“I guess.”

“How long do you think Love Letters has left anyway? Two, three years? The young fans will grow up and look for something less manufactured. They will want a more mature sound, something more real. Can you see baby-faced Will satisfying that need?”

“No way.”

“But you can. You can grow up with these fans, Alex.”

Pearlman placed a long finger on the contract and slid it towards Alex.

“This is a three album deal,” Pearlman said. “Three albums may not sound like much but you’ll have to fit your solo career around Love Letters, so we don’t anticipate these albums coming out any more regularly than once every two years. The plan is for Love Letters’ albums to be alternated with yours so you’re never competing with your own group in the marketplace. So next year there will be a new Love Letters album, the year after there will be an Alex album, the year after that there will be another Love Letters album, and so on.”

Alex picked up the contract and looked at it intensely, pretending to understand the small print and legalese.

“Ron’s given me a summary of what you discussed with him on the phone earlier,” Lynne continued, “and it sounds like your intention is to blackmail Vanguard, to make us do something we would normally refuse to do. That was your intention, was it not?”

“Well…”

“I hope you’re not disappointed then, Alex. After all, this,” Pearlman said, pointing at the contract in Alex’s hand, “is something that’s been in the pipeline for a while. This is something we do want to do. Needless to say, if you decide to tell the press about Oliver, then Vanguard Records will never recover, and you’ll have to advertise yourself to another label and start all over again.”

“…Can I sleep on it?”

“Sure,” Pearlman said, getting up from her seat. “I’ll take you home now, if you want. Also, do some thinking about who your new manager might be, for your solo career.”

“I don’t really know anyone,” Alex said.

Pearlman fished something else from her folder. It was a business card. She held it out. “Here’s someone whom Ron and I think very highly of. We think he’d be the ideal person to manage your interests in this new phase of your career.”

Alex looked at the card in Pearlman’s outstretched hand. A few seconds elapsed, before he took it from her. He glanced at it. It was a black card with white lettering. The lettering read ‘Kenny Illingworth – Artist Management,’ with a mobile number and email address underneath.

“I hope you’ll trust my judgement,” Lynne said. “I know it was Vanguard who recommended Gary Freeman to you, but everyone makes mistakes.”

Alex shrugged, then nodded, then placed the card in his pocket.

“Ron told me about something else he overheard you saying to Freeman,” Lynne said. “You said Vanguard only ever saw you as a way of making money.”

“Erm…” Alex began. “I might have said it. I can’t remember.”

“In a way, you were right,” Lynne said, shrugging. “We do see you as a way of making money. Fortunes, in fact. And that’s why we’ll back you all the way.”

At that point, there was a knock on the door. Both Alex and Lynne turned to face the door. Lynne walked past Alex and arrived at the door, before opening it.

Alex could only see Lynne and the open door. Then he heard a voice he recognised; “Is Alex still here?”

Lynne stood to one side and beckoned Freeman into the room.

“I’ll leave you to it,” Lynne said, addressing them both. “Alex, meet me in reception when you’re done and I’ll take you home.”

Lynne left the conference room and closed the door behind her.

“What do you want?” Alex said to his manager.

“I want to apologise,” Freeman said, quietly.

“Pardon?” Alex said, pretending he hadn’t heard.

“I want to apologise for what I said earlier,” Freeman said. “I was just scared because you’d found out about Will. You were threatening me and I didn’t react well. All those things I said about you not being a star, about how you’re just some minor member of the group, that you’re just making up the numbers: none of it was true. That’s not how I really feel, I was just scared and lashing out because you suddenly had all the power.”

“Those things you said were just plain wrong.”

“Yeah I know.”

“Vanguard know too. They’ve offered me a record deal. They want to develop me as an artist and see me grow.”

“See, that proves that I was wrong when I disparaged you back at the rehearsal space. It’s good that they can see your potential.”

“I expect to outgrow Love Letters, Gary, and I’m willing to do all the work it takes. But I’ll be staying in the group for the next few years, and you’ll still be the manager, so we’re going to have to put everything behind us and work together, even if we don’t like each other.”

“I totally agree.”

“I probably shouldn’t have threatened you. I could have gone about things differently. I suppose part of it was that you were never available to take my calls, that you never seemed to be listening when I tried to talk to you or give my views on anything. It was like I didn’t matter. So I guess I thought ‘the boot’s on the other foot.’ So I’m sorry too. Not too sorry, mind you.”

“I accept your apology,” Freeman said, smiling. “So are we friends again?”

“We were never friends, Gary,” Alex said, before walking past his manager and leaving the office.

Once he was at the other side of the door, Alex jogged to the lifts and hammered on the button to summon one. He was pleased with his pay-off line to Freeman and felt that the impact would be diluted somewhat if he was stuck in a lift with him moments later. Inside the lift, he held his breath until the doors closed, then breathed a sigh of relief when they did.

In the lobby, he met a smiling Lynne Pearlman again and they went out to her car. All the way home his head was full of hopes, ideas, optimism, for the first time in so long. What a day it had been. What a transformation. Before today, he was being fobbed off by no-marks like Gary Freeman, and now he was being escorted back home by one of Vanguard’s secret deities, a woman whose every detail spoke of unimaginable wealth and accomplishment. Alex visualised Freeman, in his shades, trying to look like a player. ‘If Gary had Lynne’s money’ Alex thought, ‘he wouldn’t be driving something as subtly stylish as this Jag. He’d be driving around in a fluorescent Lamborghini and revving the engine any time the mood took him, which would be often.’

“You know what?” Alex said, turning his head to face Pearlman, “I don’t need to sleep on it, Lynne. I’ll sign the deal. I’ll sign it now if you’ve got a pen.”

 

 

 

 

THIRTY- TWO

_______________________________________________________________________

After leaving the Vanguard building, Gary Freeman stepped into a taxi. After a short journey he was let through the checkpoint at the rehearsal space, then left the taxi, entered his own car and drove away. He needed something to eat so he parked his car near a sandwich shop, bought one, then went back to his car and sat in the driver’s seat. There was a betting shop over the road and Freeman found himself transfixed by it as he ate his sandwich. With all the thoughts and fears in his head, he needed something else to focus upon. It was just over an hour before Oliver’s train was due to arrive and Freeman realised that if he was to spend that time thinking about what was going to happen, he’d be so petrified at the end of it that he may well mess up his task. He finished the sandwich, grabbed his laptop from the back seat, left the car and crossed the road.

Inside the bookies, Freeman noticed the screens on which horse racing was being covered, in different countries, different time zones. He took a seat in front of one of the screens, opened his laptop, went online and began to look up the form of the horses who were due to race in twenty minutes.

Once the race was over, Freeman had lost £20. Then, one of the electronic betting terminals became free so he closed his laptop and walked over to the vacant terminal. By the time all his money was gone, it was time to set off for London King’s Cross.

As he parked in the train station’s short stay car park, he realised his hands were shaking. He wished he smoked. He wished he had something to take the edge off the nerves. He spent five minutes gripping the steering wheel and staring out of the windscreen, trying to compose himself, before eventually leaving the car and walking into the train station.

He wasn’t allowed through to the platforms. He had to purchase a ticket. He explained that he was just picking someone up and he’d be straight back out, but the employee suggested that Freeman could just wait here in the foyer instead. Freeman thought on his toes and said that the person he was meeting had a lot of luggage and needed help carrying it off the train, but it was no use: the employee wasn’t budging. Eventually Freeman accepted defeat and asked for the cheapest ticket he could buy. He still had some small change left in his pockets. The employee directed Freeman to a long line of people, which apparently led to a ticket kiosk. Freeman glanced at his watch and swore to himself as he joined the queue.

Half way through queuing, his phone began to twitch in his pocket. He withdrew the phone and gulped when he saw Ron Capper’s name on the display.

“Just checking you’re there,” Capper said.

“I’m here, but they won’t let me through to the platforms without a ticket,” Freeman explained. “So I’m stuck in the queue for a ticket.”

“Oliver’s train arrives in five minutes, Gary.”

“Maybe I should wait out here. Maybe she’ll have the sense to come out here after she gets off the train.”

“I’d say it’s better not to risk it.”

Freeman looked forward at the queue, which seemed to speeding up. “Fair enough,” he said.

“Remember your instructions. You pick Oliver up from the platform, you try ringing me, I don’t answer, you lead him out of the station and ring Lynne Pearlman, then you all go to a police station.”

“Sure. I’ve got it.”

“If the police confiscate your phone and ask about this call, the one I’m making right now, tell them I was just ringing to let you know my train’s about to arrive.”

“Wh… hang on, why would they confiscate my phone?”

“There’s no time to talk about this, Gary. If they do take your phone, they’ll check the duration of this call, which has already lasted longer than it should have done if it was just a case of me saying ‘I’m on my way, I’ll be there in ten minutes.’”

“Ron, I’m nervous.”

“You don’t have to do much, Gary. Lynne will take care of everything.”

“Okay.”

 

The train was a huge white serpent, slithering onto the platform. It was so long that Freeman couldn’t even see where it ended. He took some deep breaths and tried to calm himself as the first few coaches opened and commuters left the train. Thankfully, there weren’t many people, so Freeman didn’t have to try and screen a huge crowd of people for a diminutive nineteen year old who could get so easily lost in the mix. He had no idea what Oliver would be wearing, or if the unfathomable experiences of the fast few weeks had made her look drastically different to how she had looked the last time Freeman had seen her. As the commuters slipped past him, he couldn’t spot Oliver. After a couple of minutes, the flow of people shrank to a trickle, and then he was pretty much alone on the platform. Then he began to panic. Had he missed her? He turned and looked behind him. The commuters were now pooled together at the ticket barriers. He jogged over to a spot where he could see them all, and scanned the crowd again. He still could not find Oliver, or even anyone who could have been mistaken for Oliver.

Was this the right train? Had something gone wrong? He pulled his phone from his pocket, brought up Capper’s number and rang it. But Capper didn’t answer. Then Freeman remembered the instructions Capper had given him: ‘You try ringing me, I don’t answer.’ A cold sweat pushed through the pores on Freeman’s back. He realised that Capper was probably staring at his phone at that very moment, looking at Freeman’s caller I.D. on his phone’s display and assuming that everything was going to plan. Freeman kept ringing and hoped that Capper would twig that something was wrong. Eventually, the call went to voicemail.

Freeman terminated the call and placed the phone back in his pocket.

Now he started to move. He walked along the length of the train and stared through the windows. Coach B was empty. Coach C was empty. Coach D and Coach E were empty. Had Oliver got off at another stop? Had she got on the train at all? Coaches F and G were empty. Coach H was…

Freeman pulled on the brakes and skidded to a halt outside one of the windows of Coach H. He moved closer, until his face was almost pressed up against the glass. On the other side of the window, there was a beautiful, sleeping teenager, arms folded. A hood was pulled over the teenager’s head but a few blonde locks were peeking from the hood’s rim. Freeman raised his hand and touched the window.

He pulled the hand away when he saw a second figure inside the train, stood over Oliver. He was tall and burly with a white shirt and a purple tie. He was trying to talk to Oliver. He was trying to wake Oliver up. Then he leaned forward, placed his hand on Oliver’s shoulder and started to shake her lightly.

Freeman ran to the door of Coach H, sprawled up the steps and jogged up to the conductor.

“Sorry,” Freeman said. “He’s with me.”

“This is the last stop,” the conductor said.

“Yeah I know, I’m sorry.”

A new voice rang out. It said “Gary?”

Oliver was awake and staring up at Freeman.

“Come on mate, we’ve got to get off the train,” Freeman said, slipping his arm behind Oliver’s back and helping her out of the seat.

“Gary?” Oliver asked again.

“Is he alright?” the conductor said.

“Just tired,” Freeman said. He led Oliver through the coach and towards the door. “Thanks for your concern,” he said, looking back at the conductor.

 

The sun was now going down. As Freeman looked through the car’s windscreen, the sky was slowly becoming inky, and long shreds of dark cloud were covering much of the sky’s remaining light. In half an hour, it would be a night sky.

After some reassuring words, Oliver had fallen asleep in the back of Freeman’s car. Freeman could hear her heavy breathing behind him. He adjusted his rear view mirror, so he could see Oliver’s body curled up in the back seat.

Within a few minutes, a green sports car moved into the car park. It parked in the space next to Freeman. Its passenger side window wound down. Freeman wound down his own window. He was now looking across at Lynne Pearlman.

“Any problems?” Pearlman asked.

“No,” Freeman replied. “She’s asleep in the back seat.”

Pearlman peered into Freeman’s back seat.

“I can’t see her,” Pearlman said. “Show me.”

“She’s asleep.”

“Then wake her up.”

Freeman exhaled, unfastened his seat belt, clambered over the gear stick and the hand brake, stretched his arms into the back of the car and placed a hand into each of Oliver’s armpits, before yanking her upwards. As he did so, Oliver stirred, and began to look around the car with a confused expression on her face. Freeman glanced through his windows and Pearlman’s. Lynne was looking back at Oliver. She caught Freeman’s eye, nodded her approval, and Freeman clambered back into the front seat. Oliver fell asleep again.

Freeman and Pearlman looked across at each other again.

“Have you seen her face?” Pearlman said. “We can’t take her to the police station looking like that: the first thing they’ll do is send her to hospital.”

“She has scars on her hands too,” Freeman said. “And her neck. And those are just the parts I’ve seen.”

“Does she have a personal stylist?”

“Yes.”

“Ring her up. Those scars need to disappear.”

“Now?”

“It’s 6pm: it’s not like you’re getting her out of bed.”

“But she’ll ask questions.”

“Then don’t answer them.”

“…But Ron said we need to go to the police station right away.”

“We’re not taking her in that state. If the police ask, we’ll say we took her to the Vanguard offices first to ask her what happened to her.”

“You mean we’ll tell the police that we took him to the Vanguard offices first and asked him what–”

“Yes, Obviously,” Pearlman snapped. “I’ll leave the car park first, you follow me.”

“Okay,” Freeman said, though Pearlman’s passenger window was already scrolling up between them before he had said it.

 

Eventually, the detective walked into the interview room. He took a seat on one side of the table. On the other side of the table, Pearlman was sat next to Oliver. A cup of tea was on the table in front of Pearlman, a glass of water was in front of Oliver. Oliver looked tanned and radiant. The detective pressed a button to activate some recording equipment at the end of the table. Looking at the equipment, he began to speak.

“Okay, present are Oliver Forbes, his solicitor Lynne Pearlman and myself: detective inspector John Ridge. Mr Forbes has given his consent for Ms Pearlman to be present during this interview.”

Ridge then turned to face the two people in front of him. “So the investigation is being run by West Yorkshire Police, because that’s where the incident happened,” Ridge said. “I’ve contacted West Yorkshire: they can’t send a detective down here this evening to conduct an interview but it’s important that we take some form of statement right away so I’ve been briefed on the case and I’m going to conduct a short interview with you now. It should take about an hour. It’s normal procedure in cases such as these for the person who found the missing person to be questioned, in case they become a suspect. That’s why Mr Freeman was separated from you. He’s in another interview room now, speaking with another detective. Is everything okay so far?”

“Fine,” Pearlman replied.

“You’ve both got some refreshments there. Is there anything else you need at all?”

“No,” Pearlman replied.

“No,” Oliver replied.

Down the corridor, Gary Freeman was sat in a different interview room with another detective: Barry Clissold. Their interview was also being recorded. There was no cup of tea in front of Freeman. Clissold was flicking through Freeman’s phone, looking at his call log. It was a deliberate attempt to make Freeman sweat.

“So, you say you went to London King’s Cross to pick up… your boss?” Clissold asked.

“He’s not my boss, no,” Freeman said. “I work for the group. Love Letters. Artist management. Really, Oliver’s my boss. And the other boys too.”

“So why were you going to pick up Ron Capper? Is he a friend?”

“Well… because Love Letters are signed to Vanguard records, I sometimes have to work closely with the record company. That’s how I know Ron.”

“And you pick him up from train stations after meetings?”

“No, that’s not my job, just… he asked a favour, that’s all.”

“From you? You don’t even work for the record company. It seems odd to me. Couldn’t he have asked a friend or a family member? Couldn’t he have asked someone from work?”

“Are you allowed to leave work early to pick up friends?” Freeman said, tired and stressed.

“What I’m allowed or not allowed to do is not why we’re here,” Clissold stated.

“I don’t know why Ron asked me,” Freeman said. “He asked, I said yes. If you want to know why he asked, you need to ask him, not me.”

“Your phone shows that he called you five minutes before Oliver’s train arrived.”

“Yeah, he was telling me he was on his way.”

“That’s all? The call lasted over a minute.”

“He was just telling me he was on his way.”

Clissold turned and faced the wall, then spoke towards it: “Hi Gary, it’s Ron. Just to let you know I’m on the train and it’s about to arrive.” Then Clissold turned and faced the other wall. “That’s great Ron,” he said, “I’m here now waiting for you.” Then Clissold turned his head again and faced the first wall. “Okay Gary, see you soon, bye.”

Clissold then shifted in his seat, placed his arms on the table and stared back at Freeman. “I can’t see how that conversation takes over a minute, can you?” Clissold said.

“He was having reception problems,” Freeman asked, wincing as he said it. “He was on a train, after all. And he also needed to tell me which platform it was arriving at.”

“Yeah? Which platform was it arriving at?”

“What?”

“Which platform did he tell you it was arriving at?”

“I can’t remember. What is this?”

“Mr Freeman, I’m only asking you to remember a telephone conversation you had, what, just over an hour ago?”

“A lot’s happened since then. I can’t remember what platform he said.”

“See, I was on a train myself this week. In fact, I catch quite a lot of trains. Last week I caught six trains in total.”

“Really,” Freeman said, before shrugging.

“But on average, I’d say I catch maybe four trains a week. I’ve been doing that for about three years. That’s how long I’ve been based in this precinct. Now, there’s 52 weeks in a year, and I have eight weeks annual leave per year. So if we subtract the eight weeks’ leave, that makes 44 weeks. Plus, if we take another week off for bank holidays and another two weeks for sick, that’s 41 weeks. So if I catch four trains a week for 41 weeks per year, how many trains is that per year?”

“I failed my maths G.C.S.E,” Freeman said.

“164 trains a year,” Clissold said. “And like I said, I’ve been doing that for about three years, so over those three years I will have caught 492 trains. That’s a lot of train journeys, isn’t it Mr Freeman?”

“Yes. You should probably learn to drive.”

“See, on all those 492 train journeys, when the train approaches a new stop, or when it approaches its destination, there’s a voice over the tannoy, which says ‘The next station is Portsmouth’ or ‘the next station is London King’s Cross, your final stop.’ The tannoy never says ‘the next station is London King’s Cross. This train will be pulling into platform eight.’ The tannoy never tells you what platform the train is arriving at.”

“So?”

“So Ron Capper wouldn’t have known what platform his train was arriving at.”

Freeman had a brainwave: “Ron tells me that he gets the train from Luton all the time, and it always drops him off at the same platform. So that’s how he knew.”

Freeman leaned back in his seat, pleased with himself.

“So Ron told you which platform the train was arriving at?” Clissold asked.

“Yes.”

“But since then, you’ve forgotten which platform?”

“Yes.”

“But at the time, you wouldn’t have forgotten straight away, would you? You wouldn’t have forgotten it as soon as the phone call finished, would you?”

“…I don’t know. What do you mean?”

“The Luton train arrived at platform fifteen. Yet you went to platform six. Why didn’t you go to platform fifteen if that’s what Ron had told you?”

“I can’t remember. Maybe he told me the wrong platform.”

“But you said his train stops at the same platform every time he makes that journey. It doesn’t seem likely that he’d get it wrong and tell you the wrong platform.”

“Who cares? Why is this even important?”

“I’m just trying to get a picture of how you discovered Oliver.”

“Look, if you must know, I couldn’t be arsed walking all the way over to platform fifteen so I thought I’d wait by the ticket barriers because I knew that’s where Ron would be heading on his way out. I thought I’d meet him there instead. Platform six, where Oliver’s train stopped, is the closest platform to the barriers. I was cold and bored and waiting for Ron so I just went for a stroll up platform six to waste a bit of time before Ron turned up. And I was just walking up platform six, glancing into the windows and I saw Oliver sat there. So I jumped on the train and got him off.”

“And then what?”

“I rang Lynne Pearlman, his solicitor. I’d been in touch with her since the incident at the Leeds concert and she’d told me that if I heard anything at all about Oliver, any developments, I should ring her right away.”

“But Lynne works for Vanguard Records, right?”

Freeman paused. He hadn’t counted on Clissold knowing that.

“Yes, Lynne works for Vanguard,” Freeman replied.

“Does she work with Ron?”

“I’ve seen them together, yes.”

“So she has two jobs?”

“Why are you asking me this? Look, my understanding is that Vanguard have a legal department and they can serve the interests of any of the artists on the label. Lynne probably works in that department and represents Oliver. So no, it’s not two jobs.”

“Oliver’s train arrived well over an hour ago. Why didn’t you come straight to be police station?”

“Because we wanted to make sure he was alright. We care about him. Do you have a daughter, Mr Clissold?”

“No. I have two sons.”

“If one of your sons, your youngest, went missing, for weeks, and then you stumbled across him, if he just appeared out of the blue, would you take him straight to the police station?”

“Hard to say. I work for the police, so I know I could trust the people at the police station. I’d also know the importance of getting him to speak to a detective as soon as possible. But I’m biased.” As he was speaking, Clissold thought to himself ‘I wonder why he said daughter.’

Across the hall, in another interview room, John Ridge was trying to interview Oliver, with mixed results.

“So how did you get on the train, Oliver?” Ridge asked.

“My friends showed me,” Oliver replied.

“Which friends, Oliver?”

“…I was staying with Abigail… and before that I was with Marie. They looked after me.”

“Where are these friends? What city are they from?”

“I don’t know.”

“Can you remember the city you were in when you got on the train? Can you remember the train station?”

“No.”

“Have you known them long? Are they close friends?”

“Abigail is.”

“Can you remember the concert you played in Leeds?”

“I can remember playing concerts. I can remember singing.”

“But can you remember the one in Leeds?”

“All concerts are the same.”

“The concert in Leeds was different though. Something happened. You were hurt. Can you remember what happened?”

“I can’t remember.”

“So you were in Love Letters, singing, being in your group and living the day to day life that you were living as a member of Love Letters, and then suddenly you were staying with… Abigail and Marie? Can you remember anything in between?”

“I can remember Philip Smith.”

Philip Smith?”

“Yes.”

“Can you tell me anything else about him? Where he lives?”

“I don’t know.”

“The city?”

“I don’t know.”

“Did Philip Smith harm you in any way? Did he do anything to you that you didn’t want?”

“No. He fed me and gave me water and he gave me painkillers when I was in pain.”

“Pain?”

“Is this going anywhere?” Lynne Pearlman asked. “So far, there’s no evidence of a crime.”

“Not yet, no,” Ridge said. “But he doesn’t seem to have much memory of anything. I think he needs to see a doctor.”

“Oliver is nineteen years of age. He’s an adult. He has to give his consent for a medical examination. Now, I don’t know about you, but he looks healthy to me. If you’re picking up on any confusion, it’s probably due to the fact that he was asleep when we brought him in here and now he’s been woken up. Oliver doesn’t need police officers or doctors asking him questions or prodding and poking him. He needs his bed and he needs his loved ones.”

“With all due respect Ms Pearlman, Oliver has been a missing person for over a month.”

“But he’s an adult, inspector,” Pearlman said. “There is no evidence of a crime. Oliver vanished for a while, now he’s re-eappeared, he may have just run away for a month. Whilst he was taking that break, it sounds like he’s asked some people for assistance, and they’ve provided him with shelter, food, clothing. If Oliver, a grown man, has decided to have some time away for a while, the people who have assisted him in doing that have committed no crime. This whole episode may be concerning, but it’s not a crime. The important thing now is to move forward.”

“Did you run away, Oliver?” Ridge asked Oliver.

“I can’t remember,” Oliver replied.

“Oliver has to give his consent for a medical examination,” Pearlman said, before turning to face Oliver. “He doesn’t want doctors prodding and poking and violating him. Do you, Oliver?”

“No.”

“But don’t you want to find out what happened to him?” Ridge asked Pearlman. “Don’t you want to find out where he’s been?”

“His bed and his loved ones, detective,” Pearlman said. “Those are the important things.”

 

When Freeman left the police station, he noticed that Pearlman’s Jag was still parked next to his own car. It had been agreed that Oliver would stay with her that night. Freeman looked at his watch and saw that it was now 10pm. He was dying for a piss but didn’t want to use the toilets in the police station because he was desperate to leave. Paranoid that he may be being watched via CCTV, he retained composure until he’d driven his car out of the car park and onto the road, at which point he started swearing at maximum volume. He thought about ringing Ron Capper and blowing his top, but Clissold had taken Freeman’s phone out of the room at first and who knows what he’d done with it in those few minutes? Could he have fitted some kind of monitoring device to it? Resentful of his phone and how it had betrayed him in the police station, Freeman switched it off.

He found a quiet road with an alley at the side, pulled over and left the car, before relieving himself down the alley. He took a lungful of fresh air for the first time in what seemed like weeks, then made a decision.

Back in the car, he re-started the engine and headed for Soho. He wanted to fuck away the frustration and the helplessness. He wanted to fuck himself better again.

 

 

 

 

 

THIRTY-THREE

___________________________________________________________________

The next morning, he woke with a mild hangover: the result of throwing a few drinks down his neck the previous night in order to give him the courage to solicit sex. Eventually, he had been laid on a single bed in a small upstairs bedroom whilst an emaciated but pretty-faced Eastern European girl had climbed on top of him. Each of her strokes had felt like another nail being hammered into his coffin and he had wailed shamelessly at the point of ejaculation: it had sounded like a woman’s voice as it left his mouth.

Naked, Freeman pulled the covers away, shuffled out of his bed, grabbed his jeans from the floor and slipped them on. He could feel something in the right hand pocket. It was his phone, which he had switched off the previous night. He turned it back on and walked downstairs for some breakfast whilst the phone loaded up. In the kitchen, he looked at the phone’s display and noticed a number of text messages from Joe, Callum and Alex, all of which had been sent that morning whilst Freeman had been asleep. All the messages asked for Gary to ring the sender urgently, but were vague as to the reasons why he should. Normally, he wouldn’t reply to them, but he remembered his vow to try to be more available when Alex rang, and he also remembered the power Alex now had over him, so he rang Alex’s number.

“Gary, what the hell’s going on?” Alex asked, not bothering to even say hello or good morning.

“I don’t know, Alex,” Freeman replied, “what is?”

“There’s a ton of press outside my door, and Joe’s door, and Callum’s. Don’t you know what I’m talking about?”

“Why don’t you tell me?”

“Have you seen the news?”

“I’ve only just got up.”

“It’s all over the news, Gary. Oliver’s been found, alive and well, so they’re saying. You don’t know about this?”

“Well…”

“And they’re already saying he’s ready to play the concert at Wembley Arena.”

“What?”

“They’re saying that Oliver is part of Love Letters again, like none of this ever happened, and he’ll be with us, on stage, at Wembley Arena. That’s less than a week!”

“Who’s saying this?”

“The news! It’s on the news! You didn’t know?”

“Alex, I’ll sort it, okay? I’m as surprised as you are. It’s Vanguard. They must be behind it. I’ll go over there now and I’ll ring you and the others back later.”

“You’d better,” Alex said.

Freeman hung up on Alex, called him a name, then walked into the front room and turned on the television. He found a news channel and there it was. Alex had given an accurate summary. Freeman ran upstairs, hurdling three steps at a time, then dressed himself properly before diving back downstairs, towards the front door.

As he slipped his coat on and put his hand on his keys, which were protruding from the lock of the front door, he noticed something on the floor. It was an envelope, which had been posted through the letterbox. Freeman bent to pick it up. The word ‘Gary’ was written on the front of the envelope but there was no address. He opened the envelope and found a ‘thank you’ card with a wad of twenty pound notes filed inside it. There was no writing inside the card but it was obvious who it was from. Freeman’s focus was now shaken. He didn’t want to leave the house with a wad of money lying around inside. They were things in the house which were worth more than the sum total of those twenty pound notes, but there was something about the actual cash in his hand which made him paranoid about burglars. He put the money back into the card and stuffed the card into the inside pocket of his coat.

He jumped into his car and within twenty minutes he was outside the Vanguard building. There was a cluster of journalists outside the doors. He kept one hand on the bulge in his coat, kept his head down and found his way through the front doors. As he entered the building, a journalist was being ejected by a security guard. After the journalist had sprawled outside, the security guard spotted Freeman and placed his hands on Freeman’s shoulders.

“Whoa,” Freeman started, “I’m not press! I’m not press! I’m here for… a meeting!”

“That’s what the last guy said,” the security guard said, pushing Freeman back towards the door.

“Do I look like a paparazzi?” Freeman said. “Have I got a camera? Have I got any recording equipment? No.”

“Let’s search you then,” the security guard said. Freeman was still gripping the bulge in his inside pocket. The security guard patted him down, removed a wallet from one of Freeman’s pockets and sifted through his cards, to see if there was anything that would identify Freeman as a journalist. Once the wallet was deemed satisfactory, it was returned.

“Take your hand away, please,” the security guard said, nodding at the hand that was pressed against the bulge.

“It’s nothing, nothing at all,” Freeman said.

“Don’t care.”

“No, it’s private, okay?”

“No it’s not okay. Let me see or you’re being thrown out.”

Begrudgingly, Freeman tucked his hand into his inside pocket and handed over the ‘thank you’ card with the wad of twenties inside.

“Blimey,” the security guard said, counting the money, “there must be £1000 here.”

“If you let me upstairs,” Freeman said, “you can keep one of those twenties.”

“What makes you think I won’t just take them all,” the guard said, puffing out his chest. Then he relaxed. “I don’t take bribes, arsehole.” He held out the card and the money for Freeman to take. “The reception desk is over there.”

Not being a Vanguard employee, Freeman wasn’t allowed access to the upper floors, so he was forced to argue with the receptionist. She was new.

“I need to see Ron Capper,” Freeman said to her. “It’s an emergency.”

“Do you have an appointment?” the receptionist asked.

“If I had an appointment for an emergency, that would mean I’m able to see the future, wouldn’t it?”

“If you don’t have an appointment, I can’t let you through.”

“Yes, but like I say, it’s an emergency, which means I don’t have an appointment. You do… You do grasp the thinking behind what I’m saying, don’t you?”

“Yes, Mr…”

“Freeman.”

“Yes Mr Freeman, I do, but Mr Capper is very busy and you will have noticed the commotion outside when you arrived: Vanguard has an emergency of its own today.”

“Your emergency and my emergency are the same emergency. I’m the manager of Love Letters.”

“…I’ll ring Mr Capper for you now.”

“Thank you.”

As the receptionist talked on the phone, Freeman continued to talk to her under his breath, knowing that she couldn’t hear: “Y’know, it’s a good job you’re pretty, because you are without doubt the stupidest fucking drongo I have ever–”

“Mr Capper can see you now,” the receptionist said, putting down the phone. “I’ll buzz you in, use the lifts, his office is room eighteen on the ninth floor.”

“Yeah, I’ve been here before. Thanks.”

Once Freeman arrived on the ninth floor he pushed through a set of doors and strode through an open plan office before arriving at room eighteen. He didn’t bother knocking, just walked right in. Capper was on the phone, deep in conversation. Capper noticed Freeman and then pointed to the vacant chair at the other side of the desk. Freeman sat down.

Eventually, Capper put the phone down. Freeman began to speak but Capper held up his hand for Freeman to stop talking, which he did, then Capper took the phone off the hook and left it lying on his desk.

“Morning Gary,” Capper said.

“What’s this shit about Oliver playing Wembley on Saturday?” Freeman asked.

“It’s not ‘shit.’ It’s happening. Did you check your mail this morning?”

“…Yes, I checked my mail. It’s from you, I take it?”

“Yes.”

“What’s it in aid of?”

“Yesterday. You came through for us.”

“How did you know I didn’t tell the police everything, or snap under pressure and give them a bunch of clues without realising?”

“Because if that was the case you wouldn’t have got out of the police station. You would have been arrested. Lynne saw your car had left the station, so she knew you’d done fine.”

“Oliver can’t play the concert, Ron. She won’t be playing any more concerts at all.”

“She has a contract. She’s bound.”

“Have you seen her?”

“No.”

“But you’ve spoken to Lynne?”

“Of course.”

“Well she’s obviously not given you the full picture: Oliver is in no state to play a concert. She’s all over the place.”

“Yes, I gather.”

“So how can she be expected to play a concert? How can she be expected to sing and dance and remember all the stagecraft and choreography and the lyrics and the set list and when to leave the stage for the costume changes and–”

“She’s not expected to remember. She’s not expected to do any of those things.”

“…Ron, I don’t understand.”

“The media are telling the public the information we’ve given them: that Oliver is back in the band and will be on stage at Wembley on Saturday. If they want to assume that it’s the same old Oliver, singing and dancing and et cetera et cetera just like she was before Leeds, then Vanguard can’t be held responsible for that.”

“Wh… So what will she be doing?”

“Her best. She can still remember her vocals. She still knows the melodies, the lyrics. People want to see her. We’re giving the public what they want. We have a huge pile of unsold tickets for the Wembley show, or rather, they were sold but then refunded when parents started asking for their money back after Oliver’s mishap. I’ve just been on the phone to the box office at Wembley: the remaining tickets are now going like hot cakes. A lot of the tickets are being sold back to the same people who asked for refunds. We’ve just created the most hotly anticipated gig of the decade.”

“She’ll be confused and fluffing lines all the way through the show. The public won’t stand for it.”

“She was never in the group for her vocals, Gary. The main part of Oliver’s job has always been to stand there looking gorgeous. According to Lynne, she can still do that.”

“She’s scarred.”

“Cosmetics. Trust the staff.”

“She’s missing a hand.”

“We’ll deal with it. Michael Jackson wore a glove onstage for years, never did him any harm.”

“How do we explain all this to the people who have to work on her?”

“We don’t. They’ve all signed confidentiality agreements. They get paid, they shut up, and they know that if they start whispering to the press they lose their jobs.”

Capper reached for his tea, took a sip, then grimaced when he realised it was cold. He put the cup back down on the desk and continued: “This only seems unusual because it’s the first time any of us have been in this situation. But Vanguard is a business. If we can’t react quickly to stuff like this, we go under. React first, ponder later. If I was to call the Wembley box office, right now, I reckon they’d tell me they’ve sold another forty tickets since we’ve been talking. Each ticket is retailing at £45. So that’s nearly £2000 in the past five minutes or so. React first, ponder later.”

“So it’s just about money? That’s it?”

“Gary, please,” Capper said, reclining in his seat. “I could sit here and say you’re the pot that’s calling the kettle black, but that wouldn’t get us into a position of understanding, would it?” Capper then left his seat. Its leather creaked loudly as his trousered backside emerged from it, before he walked to the window of his office and looked out.

“Why do you think this is one of greatest cities in the world?” Capper asked. “Do you think it’s the nurses, the policemen or the teachers who built those skyscrapers? Do you think it’s the social workers and the binmen who made this city a place which everyone in the country is magnetised towards? Do you think the politicians made the name of ‘London’ resonate throughout the world? There will always be bleeding hearts and champagne socialists looking down on what we do and paying lip service to public servants who do something ‘positive,’ but what do they create? The public sector only exists to maintain a world we created. We take the risks and we get called greedy. They become desk jockeys in public sector offices, jobs they’ll never lose because there’s no business to drop off or slow down, and they complain about being underpaid when their salaries come from the corporation tax or capital gains tax or higher rate income tax levied on the risk-takers, the creators. Tax imposed on the sale of a ticket to see Love Letters at Wembley Arena. We created this city, Gary. We created the skyscrapers, bus stations, railways and roads. We created homes and schools and hospitals. We created dole and benefits money so the unemployed don’t starve. We created prosperity for everyone. We dug our hands into the mines and pulled out the diamonds so the cowards didn’t have to get their hands dirty. And we carry on doing it even when they say we’re the bad guys.”

 


© Copyright 2018 Rueben Holland. All rights reserved.

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