Ben’s Bit, part 7 – Heels in the Night
The sound began one night; an insistent tapping entering my dreams, making me think of leaking pipes and other failing elements of the old infrastructure of Bakewell’s ‘improving’ jail.
When it continued, my thin sleep on the thinner mattress came to an end, and I lay with ears straining in the total blackness as the insistent clicking grew louder. It stopped outside my cell door and for a second I wondered if Yellow Eyes was playing some sort of trick on me; but the slats in the door’s inspection grill did not flick open–as I half expected–instead, the clicking noise started, again, diminishing in volume as the perpetrator moved away, down the stone-flagged corridor.
The following night it was repeated at the same time, with exactly the same pattern. To a man there is something special about the sound of a woman’s heels; but it is an incongruous and threatening sound in the middle of a prisoner’s night when a hard-won sleep should be at its deepest.
That had been two days ago. Now I am seated across the old metal desk from Dr Grey and a very smart young woman of indeterminate age; but probably early thirties. She has shiny jet-black hair that flows over her shoulders and halfway down the back of her designer pinstripe jacket.
Dr Grey has a zealous look in his eyes. “Good news, Ben!” he says, opening his clenched palms in an expansive gesture, and indicating that there is something coming for which I should be grateful. “I have been assigned an assistant to help with my work on your … case,” he continues.
“What exactly is my case?” I ask, in a voice which is surprisingly moderated, given that my heart is hammering.
“Well, Ben,” he leans forward as though I am part of the conspiracy. “We …” He nods to the attractive woman at his side. “… are pretty sure we can get you out of here on a charge of being psychologically,” he pauses for effect. “shall we say … disturbed.”
I nod at him, giving the impression that I consider this dubious expediency to be a good thing. “And your lady friend here–miss Goodnight?” I’m proud of this; and it’s a direct hit … the skin of Miss Goodnight’s throat flushes, telling me far more than I expected to discover.
Dr Grey furrows his brow more than is needed to dismiss the intimate suggestion. “My lady friend?” The fingers drum, noisily, on the metal surface. He’s very good at it and my smile is not the response he is looking for. “Oh no, Ben. Miss Golding is a research assistant at a nearby University,” he says, as though this precludes the other.
Miss Golding, recovering quickly, holds my eyes like a snake; copying Dr Grey’s concerned nod with perfection.
Order restored, except in the eyes of the madman, he continues, “She’s studying for her Ph.D. in criminal psychology. Your case will form part of her project experience, and may even become its core.” The fingered drum roll fires up again. Miss Golding looks pleased at the star billing and its audio track. “I think you’ll find she has a brilliant mind.” says Dr Grey, sitting back and letting his assistant’s genius seep into the room, along with her expensive perfume.
“And she’s a very attractive woman,” I say, genuinely. And then I add, searching for the sensitive spot, “You must enjoy your work together?” Before Dr Grey can manifest his anger I add, “All this for a relocated ancient stone?” I lean forward and drum my own fingers in a poor imitation of Dr Grey’s rolling punctuation. “Isn’t that a bit over the top?”
The Doctor takes a deep and calming breath. ”Oh, you misunderstand us, Ben.” The subtle shift of possession is not lost on me. “This isn’t about the stone at all,” he continues. “It’s not even about why a respectable businessman would be motivated to shoot out the church lights in a peaceful Derbyshire town, then steal a cherished piece of the town’s history …” he pauses,watching me visualise the forces stacked against me in this close-knit place. “.. it’s about what else that strange person with a penchant for firearms might do …”
My jaws are locked with the anguish of the trap. The air-rifle which was the cause of my capture does not belong to me; and I suspect Dr Grey knows that; but this moment of dread has been, once again, created to bring me face to face with the consequences of maintaining my silence. But it’s been done like this to emphasise that the alternative is already underway; that the bargaining stage is well and truly over …
In desperation, I reach for a diversion, “I thought you were speaking of getting me out of here?” My tone has become flat – he smiles at the change and takes a breath to compose something important. But the air is cut by the scalpel that is the precise and subtle voice of Miss Golding.
“We are, Ben,” she says. “We’re working on a plan to get you relocated to a much more comfortable place …”
It’s a masterpiece of psychology; right down to the blade of the word ‘relocated’ – pushed, silently between my ribs. Relocated – The word I used in describing how we, no, idiot, don’t even think ‘we’–how I moved the stone back to its rightful place.
But Dr Grey is furious at the intrusion of his assistant. Something has gone wrong with their carefully choreographed double act. She looks at him, flushes–differently–and is immediately silent.
“We have many good reasons for wanting to see you moved, Ben,” says Dr Grey, clutching at a reasonableness that is long past its sell by. I can tell his changed tack is a reaction to Miss Golding’s intrusion, which has revealed a dispute about something of which I’m ignorant, but now partially aware. Surprisingly, Dr Grey throws some light on it, “It’s embarrassing for the town to have you imprisoned so visibly in its heart, like this – it makes us seem Victorian in our attitudes to justice . . .” He means punishment, of course, but the double-speak provides the right word, automatically …
“I’m very happy to be released …” I offer, with genuine humility. “I have no love of this place, either, and my martyr streak is non-existent.” They are listening, but with a hopeless look in their eyes, as though they, too, have become pawns in a bigger game.
This is confirmed when, after a long silence, Dr Grey says, “We have our orders, Ben. We can’t stop the process now. Whatever unexpected friends you may have, the processes of the law … and mental health, must be seen to be followed – no matter where it takes us all.”
. . . . . . .
Back in my cell, lying on my single piece of furniture, I think about that phrase ‘We have our orders’. We all have our orders; we all have to conform to a ‘normal’ pattern. Yet the lives that result from that acquiescence are the multi-storey blocks of the mass ego; the fractured attempts to make society work, despite everything in the inner nature of mankind being revolted by it. Conditioned revulsion describes how we live, sheltering behind domesticity to take us out of the howling gale …
I have no idea where I’m going. A simple act of reverence for an ancient artefact; blindly following the lead of Wen, our chief assassin of the normal … An action that spoke so clearly to the three of us has, seemingly, kicked away the foundations of my life. What really happened on that night, which now seems so long ago – and from where did those dark figures appear–to take away my liberty, seizing the air rife which I had risked all to retrieve? Too many questions, and only the darkness to ask …
Women and fools … it’s harsh, and I wouldn’t give the breath of life to the words; but I can’t help thinking it. But even the bile of that unworthy sentiment won’t prise open my lips … and yet it would appear that, beyond my long-gone friends, I have others … and powerful enemies, too. I sense that the latter know they must strike quickly and put me out of interference’s way.
There are no heels in the night as I fall asleep, but I have seen that look in her eyes; the chance to make a name, and I know they will be back … the part of me that watches everything without judgement smiles at the name I have given her: Miss Goodnight. I think it will stick.
Something very deep in me has not yet been threatened. Something very deep, which reminds me of the ancient spiral surface of the stone, is watching …
How can you watch yourself?
<See index below for other parts of this story>
———————————————————–< to be continued-
Ben’s Bit is a continuing first-person narrative of the character created by Stuart France and Sue Vincent, which may bear some relation to the author of this story, Steve Tanham, their fellow director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness. In the latest of their books, Scions of Albion, Ben is arrested for his overly enthusiastic part in a mad escapade, and the other two are nowhere to be seen . . . For more, enjoy their Doomsday series of books, and the new series (Lands of Exile) beginning soon. Click here for details.
Index to Ben’s Bits:
The Silent Eye School of Consciousness – a modern mystery school.