Read Road Rage Online

Authors: Ruth Rendell

Road Rage (4 page)

“Great scenario,” said Burden. “There’s only one objection. Trotter did it.”

But the next day Stanley Trotter was back at work, busy along with Peter Samuel, Robert Barrett, Tanya Paine, and Leslie Cousins in picking up from the station and
driving to the meeting point the hordes of bypass demonstrators who arrived from London.

Some walked. It was only a mile. The young and the poor were obliged to walk. Some of the activists were virtually penniless. A comfortably-off elite, most of the Wildlifers, a few Friends of the Earth, and a large number of independent but dedicated conservationists, formed a long queue outside the station waiting for taxis from Station Taxis, All the Sixes (named for its phone number), Kingsmarkham Cabs, Harrison Brothers, and Contemporary Cars.

The meeting point was the roundabout on the road between Stowerton and Kingsmarkham. Something over five hundred people gathered there, members of a group called Heartwood carrying tree branches felled the day before, so that, as Wexford put it, they looked like Birnam Wood coming to Dunsinane.

They marched through the town, heading for Pomfret and the site that would be the start of the new bypass. Councillor Anouk Khoori, joint managing director with her husband of the Crescent supermarket chain, had dressed herself from head to toe in appropriate green, even to green eye shadow and green fingernails.

The dying leaves on Heartwood’s green branches dropped off along the route, leaving a trail down the middle of the road. Debbie Harper was there in her sandwich board, but this time it was apparent she was adequately clothed underneath it in blue jeans and green T-shirt. Dora Wexford, having met with no opposition from her husband—“I wish I could join you,” he’d said—marched in the orderly ranks of middle-class KABAL. Its members had all rather ostentatiously eschewed green garments and, indeed, anything in the nature of the gear that might associate them with the New Age.

Wexford, who watched the march from his office window
(and waved to his wife, who didn’t see him), noted some newcomers. Their banner proclaimed them as members of SPECIES. He amused himself for a while trying to think of what this could be an acronym for—Save and Protect Environmental Culture in Ecological Something or Sanctuary for the Preservation of Earth Cooperation and Integration Something Something.

At their head marched a commanding figure. He was tall, at least as tall as Wexford himself, and he exceeded six feet by a good three inches. He carried no banner, waved no flag, and his clothes were very different from the uniform that was a mixture of denim and medieval pilgrims’ gear. This man, whose head was shaved, wore a great cloak of a pale sand color that flapped and rippled as he walked. Wexford saw with something of a shock that his feet were bare. His legs appeared to be bare too, as much as could be seen of them. The swinging folds of the cloak hid so much.

If he hadn’t been concentrating on this man, staring at his profile of huge forehead, Roman nose, and long chin, he might have seen one of the marchers throw a stone through the window of Concreation’s offices on the Pomfret Road. However, up there at his window, he was probably too far away to have seen anything.

This converted Georgian house, which housed the company building the bypass, was separated from the roadway by a lawn and drive-in. No one seemed to know who had thrown the stone, though there was a lot of speculation, the more conservative partakers in the demonstration suggesting a member of either SPECIES or Heartwood. Wexford asked Dora later, but she hadn’t seen the stone thrown, only heard the crash and turned to look at the smashed window.

The rest of the demonstration passed without incident. Three days later eviction notices were issued on people
living in the four camps on the bypass route. But before the Under Sheriff of Mid-Sussex could begin carrying out the evictions, building had begun on two new tree camps, one at Pomfret Tye, the other at Stoke Stringfield, “under the auspices,” as the announcement to the press rather grandly had it, of SPECIES.

The crime tape around the area where Ulrike Ranke’s body had been found came off and the badger movers returned to their task. The British Lepidopterists announced that eggs of
Araschnia levana
had been seen on nettles in the new plantation, though no larvae had yet been hatched.

It was August and the tree felling had resumed when the masked raiders came into Kingsmarkham by night and made their onslaught on the premises of Concreation.

4

T
hey invaded the building, smashing windows, computers, fax machines, phones, and copiers. They pulled open the drawers of filing cabinets and either tore up the contents or slung them in the shredders. The police got there very quickly, but while arrests were being made, another group had occupied the headquarters of Kingsmarkham Borough Council. A third rampaged about, destroying High Street shops.

Some of those arrested were tree people, but the hooded ones, wearing black stockings over their heads with eye and mouth holes, were newcomers to the town. They had come in during the day and set up a new camp on the bypass route, this one making the seventh. Yet more eviction orders had been applied for.

The day after what became known as the Kingsmarkham Rampage, Mark Arcturus, a spokesman for the campaigns section of English Nature, appealed for the protest to remain law-abiding.

“Everything we can accomplish,” he said, “will be lost if the public associates the protest with violence and criminal damage and we shall lose the public support we have enjoyed, which has been so heartening to us. Until yesterday the action was peaceful and civilized. Let us keep it that way.”

Sir Fleance McTear said that KABAL was dedicated to
peaceful protest. “We do not condone violence even for so good a cause.”

The
Kingsmarkham Courier
, but no other newspapers, carried a statement from a man called Conrad Tarling to the effect that desperate situations called for desperate measures and what choice had the public when Government ignored the voice of the people? Tarling described himself as the King of the Wood and the leader of the SPECIES representation on the bypass site. Wexford recognized him from the picture accompanying the story. He was the cloaked man who had marched in the procession.

A team of workers was brought in under guard to remove spikes and wires from tree trunks. The tree people in the camps watched them at work and bided their time until the guards, who for a while kept up a round-the-clock shift system, eventually went home.

Patrick Young, of English Nature, announced in
New Scientist
the discovery in the river Brede of a rare caddis,
Psychoglypha citreola
, its larva a tiny worm in a mosaic-like cast, the adult form a yellow-winged fly about an inch long. As a result the government’s conservation advisers considered whether parts of the river should be designated as an area of special scientific interest.

“Under the European Habitats and Species directive,” Young said, “super reserve status gives the highest level of protection.
Psychoglypha
could still save this unparalleled area of beauty and rare species. Its discovery highlights the Department of Transport’s failure to carry out an adequate environmental assessment of the Brede and String-field Marsh.”

One of the tree houses in the camp at Elder Ditches caught fire on a hot afternoon toward the end of the month. Its occupants, a man and a woman, were leading lights in SPECIES. The tree house and its tree were both
destroyed, but after some initial alarm it was decided that the fire was an accident, caused by a spirit stove used for tea making falling over.

“These people,” said Burden to Wexford, “destroy more of the environment than they save.”

“One tree. You’re ridiculous.”

“Being right often seems ridiculous at first,” said Burden sententiously. “How’s Sheila?”

“She’s fine. The baby’s due in three weeks. I’d feel a lot better if she’d have it in hospital.” Wexford went on, principally to rile the inspector, “One of her friends has joined the protest. He’s called Jeffrey Godwin, he’s an actor, owns the Weir Theatre.”

“That converted mill at Stringfield? He ought to know better.”

“He’s got the Weir to stage a protest play, opening next week. It’s called
Extinction
.”

“Sounds a bundle of laughs,” said Burden. “I for one shan’t be buying any tickets.”

On the last Monday in the month Concreation shifted its earthmoving equipment from the meadow at Pomfret Monachorum and the first digger plunged its great spiked shovel into the green hillside.

Wexford had been mildly worried for six months, waking up in the night sometimes and imagining the icy emptiness, the great yawning abyss opening at his feet, if Sheila should die in childbirth. He had never known of childbirth death, since the only occurrence of this in his own life had happened to an aunt of his when he was only four, but he was still worried. The coming child he thought of too, not especially about it but about the effect on Sheila if it should be less than perfect, about her grief, which would in the natural course of things be his grief too.

But he knew during those months that the anxiety he suffered would be nothing to what he would suffer when Sheila’s due date arrived, in the days that followed that due date, for first babies, they say, are never on time, and—unbearable to contemplate—once he knew labor had begun. This worry, though, was yet to come, not to start until September 4. He told himself not to be a fool, to banish it from his mind, at least until that due date, for there is no point in worrying twice, once for real and once about the prospect of future worry.

“Most of the things you have worried about,” he said to Dora on the evening of September 1, “have never happened.”

“I know,” she said, “I taught you that axiom,” and as she spoke the phone rang.

He picked up the receiver.

“Hi, Pop,” said Sheila. “I just had the baby.”

He had to sit down. Fortunately, the chair was there.

“Can you hear me, Pop? I had the baby and she’s fabulous. She’s called Amulet. She’s got black hair and blue eyes. And do you know, it wasn’t half as bad as I expected.”

“Oh, Sheila …” he said, and to Dora, “Sheila had the baby.”

“Well, aren’t you going to congratulate me?”

“Congratulations, darling.”

“She weighs three-point-four-four kilos. I don’t know what that is in pounds, you’ll have to find conversion tables. I could have phoned you when labor started, but I knew it would only worry you and then things happened so fast …”

“Here’s your mother,” he said. “Tell your mother all about it.”

Dora talked for fifteen minutes. When she finally put
the phone down she said to Wexford that she’d be going to London in two days’ time.

“She asked me to come tomorrow.”

“Why not go tomorrow?”

“Too many things to see to here. I can’t just up sticks and go off like that. Besides, I think I should give her a day or two. Let her get used to the baby. It’s not as if there’ll be anything for me to do there except be with them. She’s got a private nurse.”

“Amulet,” said Wexford. “I expect I shall get used to it.”

“Don’t worry. She’ll be called Amy.”

SPECIES and the tree people swarmed over the earthmoving equipment during the night, removing metal parts, cutting cables, immobilizing engines, and mixing iron filings with diesel fuel. A number of arrests were made, a guard was put on the diggers, and James Freeborn, the Deputy Chief Constable of Mid-Sussex, appealed for a government grant of £2.5 million for policing the bypass.

Wexford asked for a meeting with him to discuss the outbreak of shop-breaking and petty thieving in Sewingbury and Myfleet. Four hundred security guards, hired by the Highways Agency, were housed in decaying huts on the former army base at Sewingbury. Local residents put the blame on them, complained that they were responsible for pub brawls and that the buses which transported them to the bypass site caused traffic congestion, noise, and pollution.

“An irony, isn’t it?” Wexford said to Dora. “Who shall have custody of the custodian? But thanks to this meeting I won’t be able to drive you to the station.”

“I’ll get a taxi. If I wasn’t carrying all this stuff, all these presents you insist on, I’d walk it.”

“Phone me this evening. I want to hear all about this child. I want to hear her
voice
.”

“The only voice they have at that age,” said Dora, “is crying, and we’ll have as little of that as possible, I hope.”

He left the house at nine for his meeting. Before he went he meant to tell her not to phone Contemporary Cars. It wasn’t particularly important, but he didn’t care for the idea of Stanley Trotter driving his wife. Of course it might not be Stanley Trotter, it might be Peter Samuel or Leslie Cousins, and even if it was Trotter the chances were he wouldn’t mention Wexford or his arrest or Burden’s unfounded suspicions. That really depended on whether Trotter was paranoid or aggrieved or just relieved to have been released when he was. Anyway, he hadn’t warned her, but at the time he hadn’t said a word to her about Trotter so if worse came to worst she could justly plead ignorance.

His meeting ended without any firm policy being agreed on, but his presence there seemed to put ideas into Freeborn’s head. If he hadn’t anything better to do that afternoon, perhaps he would like to accompany the Deputy Chief Constable on a tour of the conservation sites. It was being undertaken prior to the environmental assessment of the Brede and Stringfield Marsh, and the bodies represented would include English Nature, Friends of the Earth, the Sussex Wildlife Trust, KABAL, and the British Society of Entomologists.

Wexford could think of a lot of better things to do. He couldn’t imagine why Freeborn’s presence was required, still less his own, and he remembered rather sadly his resolve not to go near Framhurst Great Wood again, a decision that had already once been broken.

Of course he said he would come, he hadn’t much choice. It was no good being an ostrich about these things. He must confront the prospect like everyone else.
Perhaps he could even tell the Entomologists of his sighting of the Map butterfly. He was thinking about this and about how animals and insects and even some plants dislike the moving of their habitats, even when this is no more than a mile or two, when the call came in to Kingsmarkham Police Station from Contemporary Cars.

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