JaNE WADDINGTON was seeKING GEORGE Varley's advice about painting her kitchen.
"What colour do you fanCY - PRUSsian blue?”
"Well," said George, "that would certainly be better than the BLACK WALL that my neighbour painted last week.”
"On the other hand," said Jane, a keen member of the Women's Institute, "we could try emerald GREEN. W.I. CHose it for their meeting room recently.”
"Emerald is such a nice shade of green - I've seen an entire house painted like that," said GEORGE. "STREET never looked nicer. Now a LIME HOUSE, that would be ghastly.”
"You know what I was thinKING? HENRY'S DRIVEn here from HuddersFIELD - WAY out of his usual patch. Perhaps we should let him decide."
“Of course! Yes, let’s ask Henry! Good idea, Mrs wADDINGTON. VILLAGEs around here benefit from your good ideas! You should take a BOW! CHURCHes around here ARE NAturally enriched from their clever members of the Women’s Institute!”
“Well, that’s fine praise indeed!” said Jane, thinking George was perhaps going a little over-the-top. “Just because I’m suggesting how we choose the colour to paint my kitchen wALL! SAINT Stephen’s Church never gave their W.I. members as many compliments as you do!”
Suddenly, Jane got a phone call from someone she was dreading to hear from.
"Hi Jane, this is BECK. TONight OK with you for junction spotting?”
"Yes, it seems so," said Jane. "What's that noise?”
"It's Hillary singing - she's obsessed with some singer, Dington I think. She won't stop singing and go to BED.”
"LA-NE-la-ne-la, I think it's called. Really grates on my nerves.”
"Perhaps you should ask her to try something else.”
Jane hung up quickly. BECK ENHAM, JUNCTION spotter supreme of Leyburn Avenue, was very highly strung. Being her acquaintance was dangerous - you could not let any barB IRK BECK or she'd be on your back immediately.
Far away in Leyburn Avenue, Beck was arguing with Hillary.
"You could try singing something calming, something suitable for bedtime. Perhaps something classical, like BaCH.”
"URCH! STREET music is cool, Mum. Like Na-La-Na-La-Na. I can't sing Bach!”
"Or what about singinG RAVEL?”
HILLary whined. "Mum, I want to sing POP! LA-Ra-la-ra-la, na-la-na-la-na, a-na-da-wa-la-da-da...”
Jane was in despair. "Oh George, this is awful. I get out of one mesS AND I LAND Straight in another one.”
"Who was that on the phone then? Where did you meet her?”
"BECK ENHAM. ROADtrip to Ford in Sussex, organized by the W.I. No idea how she got on it. She seized on me and started going on about how she eats roaST RAT FOR Dinner.”
"FORD HIGH STREET isn't the sort of place one wants to hear such things. Anyway, I foolishly gave her my phone number and now she wants to take me on one of her ridiculous junction spotting expeditions. She says she's been let down by her brother MITCH.”
"AM I hearing things? What's junction spotting?”
"Oh, don't ask. I've noticed HER ON QUAYSides, sitting with her notebook scribbling down street names. No idea what the point is.”
"Can't you get out of it?”
"I've put her off too many times. She's getting really CROSS. HARBOURs grudges very easily."
“You say you met her in Ford. Isn’t that quite close to ELMER?”
“SENDs me lots of texts as well as phoning me. Er, yes, Elmer is near Ford, I think. I’m not too familiar with the coast down SOUTH. QUAYsides on the Thames Estuary are the closest I generally get to the sea.”
Just then, there was a loud cLANG. DON PARKed his car outside, and rang the doorbell.
"Hello?" said Jane.
"Hi," said Don. "My name's LLOYD PARKins, and I can offer you the neWEST SILVER. TOWN traders will never be able to match my prices.”
Needless to say, Don had absconded from HG Transport with the contents of his latest delivery.
"No thanks," said Jane, sensing something suspicious. "I've a full collection of silverware - there's nothing to ADD.”
"IS COMBE Road anywhere near here?”
"Yes - you're almost theRE. EVE'S CORNER shop is just up the road - turn right there.”
"You're a STAR. LANE on the right then?”
"Yes. Sorry - I've got a pressing engagement.”
For once, junction spotting seemed somehow appealing. Jane jumped in her car and headed EAST. IN DIAlogue with Beck on the phone earlier, she’d hung up before they’d arranged a meeting place. So she just drove towards Leyburn AVENUE. ROADs were a little confusing in that area, but eventually she found her way to Beck’s house. Nervously, she rang the bell…
"Hi, Jane," said Beck. "Glad you could make it. I had an entry in my diary - 'MITCH, A.M., JUNCTION spotting', but he stood me up. I've been sCANNING TOWN maps carefully for the last couple of hours.”
"So where are we going?”
"Waltham ABBEY. ROAD junctions there are particularly fascinating, I'm told.”
"So how does it work?”
"It's really simple,” said BECK. " 'T' ON PARK Street. Do you understand what that means?”
"There's a T-junction on Park Street. I started doing this in CENTRAL Exeter. DEVON'S ROAD junctions are a great place to start.”
A wholesaLE BAN ON ROAD junctions would be better than any of this, thought Jane, but she didn't dare say anything. 'I'll change the subject', she thought.
"Oh, look! What's that?" she asked, looking at a photograph on the mantelpiece.
"That's my husband Tom’s rugby team from his schooldays. Tom – tell Jane about your team!”
“Nice to meet you, Jane. Yes, let’s have a look through this photo. What a team we were! Now, that’s John, ROY, AL, VICTOR, IAn, James Smith, James WOOD, SID, Eric, another ROY, AL – ‘ALBERT’ we actually called him to distinguish him from the other Al. Then Pete, LEWIS, HAMish WEST, HAMish Jones…”
“Okay, that’s enough!” interrupted Beck. “You can get back to the dusting now.”
“Stay in foCUS, TOM! HOUSEwork isn’t your thing, I know, but if this place gets too dirty, we may get a rat infestation!”
“Isn’t that what we want? Free food?”
They both looked at Jane. There was silence…
Jane squirmed. Not the dreaded roaST RAT. FORD! INTERNATIONALly renowned businesswomen had avoided her there because she associated with this madwoman who ate rats and obsessed about road junctions. She thought she'd better ask.
"What were you thinking of eating tonight, Beck?”
"Oh, I always eat ELVERS ON ROADtrip days. You know, baby eels. I've got a licence to trap them. It's not common urBAN Knowledge, but you can catch most of your own food round here.”
"And what are you having for PUDDING?"
"MILL LANE is where we ought to start, Jane," said Beck, studying the map. "Come on or we'll be late. We can discuss food later.”
They drove off in Beck's car together. There was a long, awkward silence.
"I could do with a holiday soon," said Beck eventually. "I've had enough of the LONDON CITY AIR. PORTugal would be nice. Have you been away?”
"I was in west Africa recently, investigating endangered species," said Jane. "The population of SeneGAL LIONS REACHes less than a thousand now.”
"I've been to Africa. Grand CANARY. WHARFie Dag took me - that's my son who works on the docks.”
"I think it's called Gran Canaria," said Jane quietly.
"Well, that's Spanish for Grand Canary, isn't it? Who did you go to Africa with?”
"Helen PHIPPS - BRIDGE partner of mine.”
"Oh, you spot bridges together do you? That's nice."
Jane cringed. How could anyone be this ignorant?
"No, we play bridge together. It's a card game.”
"Oh, like PONTOON? DOCKyard workers play that a lot - Dag taught me.”
"No, not really."
They fell into silence again. Jane hoped that Waltham Abbey wasn't too far away.
“You know,” said Beck eventually, “I did enjoy that day trip to Ford. You Women’s Institute ladies are quite remarkable.”
Finally, thought Jane, we can talk something sensible.
“Yes”, she said. “The W.I. have some quite remarkable ladies. This year’s champion W.I. knitter, Dorothy, can do anything with a ball of WOOL. W.I. CHARS ENA, Louise and Crystal are the best cleaners in the area. In fact, Crystal’s recently taken a house-keeping job with a local scoutmaster, Mr. Bromley.”
“Richard Bromley?” enquired Beck.
“You know him?” said Jane.
"Sort of," said Beck. "My younger son Syd was in his scout troop for a while, but got expelled for eating rats while he was a cAMPER.”
"A Young boy like that needs protein. Can't see what's wrong with using initiative. The scoutS HAD WELL too much power over him.”
Just then Jane's phone rang. It was her husband, Alan.
"Jane? I was expecting you home. You know Henry's coming down from Yorkshire tonight.”
"Yes, but I've double-booked myself. Don't worry - I'll take THE RAP.”
"I," ALAN Explained, "am happy to take the blame. I just wanted to check that you were all right. What are you doing?”
"I can't say. My name will be MUD.”
CHUTEs from nearby blocks of flats were spilling rubbish all over the ground, and rats were scurrying around. Jane started to feel sick.
"Look, Beck, I'm not feeling very WELL.”
"ESLEY ROAD is just coming up. Some great junctions on that one, but I've done them already.”
"Beck, can we stop please? I'm really feeling rather loW.”
"ADD ON MARSHall Street to that. This is going to be brilliant!”
Jane wanted to screaM.
"OR DEN ROAD," continued Beck. "It's one of my neWEST. CROYDON's got some good junctions, but it's not a patch on this area.”
"Listen, you bEAST. CROYDON's road junctions mean nothing to me. I need to get out of this car, now.”
"Relax, Jane! We're nearly at Waltham Abbey. Junction-spotting is the bees knees! Can't you think of a better way of spending the sumMER? 'T ON PARK' street! We're gonna find it, like it or not!!!”
Jane couldn't contain herself any more; finally she cracked. She grabbed hold of the steering-wheel and crashed the car straight into a traffic ISLAND. GARDENS of the nearby houses were showered in fragments of concrete. The car burst into flames and the bonnet was cHARRING.
"T ON ROAD street, Road Park, Park Street, or whatever it was!" Jane shouted. "You can keep your junctions to yourself!”
She ran off out of sight as fast as she could, and ended up in the local cemetery. She tried to work out how she’d get back home, when her phone rang. It was Beck. "So!" shouted Beck. "You label me nuts for being a rodent-eater and junction-spotter, but now I'm giving you a laBEL! "GRAVE-WALKer!" Running into cemeteries like that! I've seen some low tricks in my time, Jane, but this is one of the loWEST. FERRYing you around brings me no pleasure whatsoever. What am I going to do now?”
Jane looked down at one of the gravestones. It said 'Killed in action at VerDUN. DONALD ROADen, 1893-1916. R.I.P.' What a tragedy that anyone should die so young, she thought. "I don't know, Beck. Please don't call me.”
She hurriedly switched the phone off. In these situations, her mind wasn't very aDEPT. FORD, BRIDGE parties - that's where she felt comfortable, not stranded in a cemetery on the edge of north London. Suddenly a stranger approached her.
"Can I help you at all? You seem lost.”
"Er... I was taking a shortCUT.”
"TYSARK Street is down there on the left. It leads back to the main road.”
"Oh, just head in the direction of the church TOWER?”
"GATEWAY is just by the church, that's correct.”
"Thank you. Excuse me, but I can't help noticing you've a big scar on your arm. How did you do that?”
"Oh, I scraped it on a sharp rock at the beach last week. My friend, Reg and I were going for a sWIM. BLED ON and on for several minutes until Reg could get a first aid kit. But he saved the day.”
"Sounds like he's a real PRINCE!”
"REG ENTwistle is one of life's real good eggs. Oh look, someone's running towards us!”
Jane turned round, and was horrified to see a large horse charging towards her, and on its back was a man.
"Watch it!" yelled the man in the cemetery. "You and your BLACK HORSE. LA! NEarly took our heads off!”
Jane looked up at the horseman, recognising him suddenly.
"You're that guy with the silverware, aren't you?" she asked. It was indeed Don.
"Er, yes," replied Don. "Don't you live out in Norbiton or something?”
"Yes, that was me. Weren't you looking for Combe Road?”
"It turns out I was supposed to be looking for Mr. Roaden, in Coombe. I've tried Coombe in Buckinghamshire and Coombe in Wiltshire, but I can't find him.”
"I live near COOMBE! LANEs round there can get quite confusing. It's very near Norbiton, where I live. Anyway, aren't you supposed to have a van?”
"Well, er, I lost it while searching for Coombe," said Don.
The truth of the matter was, Detective Superintendent Worth Roaden had recognised Don as a wanted fugitive, and Don was once more on the run. He'd ditched the van in an attempt to keep hidden - this was only his second slip-up and he was determined not to be caught this time.
"Look, I'm in trouble with my boss, I need to lie low," he said. "Take the horse, use it to get home.”
This sounded extremely suspicious to her, but Jane was desperate to get back. She thanked Don, took the horse, then set off home at a gallop. The stranger in the cemetery looked at them oddly, then towards the horizon where the fires from the wreck were still blazing.
"Who are you, anyway?" he asked, finally.
"DyLAN S. DOWNE, ROAD haulage driver at Queenstown Road Haulage. Pleased to meet you," said Don. It was best to go under a new name, of course.
The horse certainly wasn't sloW, AND L.E. PARK, its trainer, had brought it all the way from WEST INDIA. QUAYside workers were impressed by the progress it was making. As one of them said: [Continued]