Read The Thing Itself Online

Authors: Peter Guttridge

The Thing Itself

Table of Contents

A Selection of Recent Titles by Peter Guttridge

Title Page

Copyright

Dedication

Prologue

Part One: God's Lonely Man

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Part Two: Charlie Laker

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Part Three: Jimmy Tingley

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty-One

Chapter Twenty-Two

Chapter Twenty-Three

Chapter Twenty-Four

Chapter Twenty-Five

Part Four: Victor Tempest

Chapter Twenty-Six

Chapter Twenty-Seven

Chapter Twenty-Eight

Chapter Twenty-Nine

Chapter Thirty

Chapter Thirty-One

Chapter Thirty-Two

Chapter Thirty-Three

Chapter Thirty-Four

Chapter Thirty-Five

Chapter Thirty-Six

Chapter Thirty-Seven

Chapter Thirty-Eight

Chapter Thirty-Nine

Chapter Fourty

Chapter Fourty-One

Chapter Fourty-Two

Part Five: The Thing Itself

Chapter Fourty-Three

Chapter Fourty-Four

Chapter Fourty-Five

Chapter Fourty-Six

Chapter Fourty-Seven

Chapter Fourty-Eight

Chapter Fourty-Nine

Chapter Fifty

Chapter Fifty-One

Chapter Fifty-Two

Chapter Fifty-Three

Chapter Fifty-Four

Chapter Fifty-Five

Chapter Fifty-Six

Chapter Fifty-Seven

Epilogue

Author's Note

A Selection of Recent Titles by Peter Guttridge
The Brighton Mystery Series

CITY OF DREADFUL NIGHT
*

THE LAST KING OF BRIGHTON
*

THE THING ITSELF
*

The Nick Madrid Series

NO LAUGHING MATTER

A GHOST OF A CHANCE

TWO TO TANGO

THE ONCE AND FUTURE CON

FOILED AGAIN

CAST ADRIFT

*
available from Severn House

THE THING ITSELF
The Third Brighton Mystery
Peter Guttridge

This ebook is copyright material and must not be copied, reproduced, transferred, distributed, leased, licensed or publicly performed or used in any way except as specifically permitted in writing by the publishers, as allowed under the terms and conditions under which it was purchased or as strictly permitted by applicable copyright law. Any unauthorised distribution or use of this text may be a direct infringement of the author's and publisher's rights and those responsible may be liable in law accordingly.

 

First world edition published 2012

in Great Britain and in the USA by

SEVERN HOUSE PUBLISHERS LTD of

9–15 High Street, Sutton, Surrey, England, SM1 1DF.

Copyright © 2012 by Peter Guttridge.

All rights reserved.

The moral right of the author has been asserted.

British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data

Guttridge, Peter.

The thing itself.

1. Brighton (England) – Fiction. 2. Detective and mystery

stories.

I. Title

823.9'2-dc23

ISBN-13: 978-1-78010-280-1 (Epub)

ISBN-13: 978-0-7278-8081-9 (cased)

ISBN-13: 978-1-84751-437-0 (trade paper)

Except where actual historical events and characters are being described for the storyline of this novel, all situations in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to living persons is purely coincidental.

This ebook produced by

Palimpsest Book Production Limited,

Falkirk, Stirlingshire, Scotland.

To the late, great Geoff Wyatt, SGI (1951–2011)

‘If only he had been able to breathe in more air. If only the road were less steep. If only he were able to reach home.'

Ivo Andric,
The Bridge Over The Drina

‘To Brighton, to Brighton,

Where they do such things,

And they say such things,

In Brighton, in Brighton,

I'll never go there anymore.'

Music hall song, 1934

PROLOGUE

June, 1934

I
was sitting in my suit in a corner of the room when she came home.
City of Dreadful Night
lay open in my lap. My father, a sunless man, had given me the bleak Victorian poem for my twelfth birthday. The gas jets were lit and the one behind my head cast my elongated shadow across the room.

‘You startled me,' she said, her mouth somewhere between a smile and something more nervous. ‘I didn't expect to see you today.'

I was sitting, left leg crossed over right, trousers on the left leg pulled up to avoid bagging at the knees, a narrow band of lardy, hairless leg between turn-up and sock.

‘Where have you been?' I said.

‘To Hove – to that doctor we heard about. It's all set for next week.'

I knew my temper scared her. I saw she was avoiding looking at my face, her eyes fixed instead on that narrow band of bare leg. Her eyes were still focused there when I stood. She looked up and saw my face. I moved towards her.

I felt I was in a cathedral or some vast building where the silence buzzed. That strange susurrus of sound that pressed on my ears. Then I realized the dim roar was inside, not outside my ears. My blood pumping through me in sharp surges. I checked my pulse with a finger on my wrist. My heart was beating quickly but not as rapidly as I expected.

I looked around me. Everything neat and in its place. I glanced down at my suit. I saw a dark spot on my waistcoat. I took my handkerchief from my pocket and rubbed at the spot. It didn't budge, although there was a blossom of pink on the white cloth.

I needed to still my ears. I walked to the radiogram and turned it on. The bulb glowed red. I recognized the music that grew louder as the radio warmed up. Ketèlbey's
In a Monastery Garden
.

I picked up the packet of Rothmans on the table beside the sofa. I smoked two cigarettes, listening to the music, looking everywhere but at her. She lay face down on the floor, blood in a spreading halo around her head.

I should have felt regret. I knew that. But long ago, in Flanders, my emotions had been cauterized. I had returned unable to feel. Besides, the carcass lying splayed on the carpet was not the woman I had desired and, in my way, loved.

I'd explained the rules right at the start of our relationship. It was just a bit of fun. I would never leave my wife. I said things, of course. The things women liked to hear. But she knew – she must have known – that was just pillow talk.

I had been intoxicated by her. In bed there was nothing she wouldn't do. Things my wife would never contemplate. Soiling things. I was shocked by some of her suggestions – she could be coarse, using phrases I'd never heard before – but I had enjoyed what she did with me, there was no doubt about that.

I tolerated her wish to be seen out in public. In the best places, places I had never taken my wife. A part of me liked being seen with her – she was as beautiful as a movie star – whilst another part worried about being seen. Especially as she laughed in a ribald way. She was loud and vulgar. In private, I accepted it. In public, I was faintly embarrassed.

For me, the life had gone out of her weeks before I'd killed her. It had drained away the day she said: ‘There's something I have to tell you. It will come as a surprise to you – as it did to me.'

I knew she didn't know about me. How could she? And so when she told me she was pregnant, she saw the immediate change in me but misunderstood the cause.

She sensed my heart harden but thought I was worried about a scandal. She promised to get rid of it but I could see she hoped to keep it.

It wasn't the scandal. She didn't know the reason. How could she? An abortion would make no difference.

I went to the kitchen and took her apron from behind the door. I put it on. I bent and opened the cupboard beneath the sink. I took out the toolbox. Removed the short saw.

I crossed to the window. I had a coppery taste in my mouth.

All I'd asked of her in return for this flat, the money, the expensive meals was fidelity.

I knew the baby wasn't mine. It couldn't be. My inability to give my wife a child had been a heavy burden for many years. It wasn't that I couldn't do the deed. It was that nothing ever came of it.

The day outside went on, unconcerned. Nothing in the street had changed
. In a Monastery Garden
was drawing to a close. It reminded me of the beautiful ruined frescoes I'd visited some months earlier in the churches on the South Downs whilst we were staying in Brighton.

I moved from the window to stand over her, the saw in my hand. The music stopped and there was silence. For a moment.

And then a hammering on the door.

I tilted my head. Silence, then the hammering again. A voice, faint through the solid wood. I strained my ears. I thought for a moment. I put the saw down. Though my hands were clean, I wiped them on the apron and walked to the door. I lifted the latch. I opened the door wide and half-turned.

‘Excuse the mess.'

PART ONE
God's Lonely Man
ONE

Twenty years earlier

A
ugust 1914, and I was upstairs on the front seat of a London double-decker bus a few yards behind a Waring and Gillow pantechnicon. We should have been on Oxford Street but we were jostling along a cobbled road in northern France, lined by cheering peasants throwing flowers.

In the narrow seats behind me in the scarlet bus, tired soldiers dozed on each other's shoulders. I didn't have a shoulder to sleep on but I couldn't sleep anyway, despite my exhaustion.

In the past week 80,000 of us – the British Expeditionary Force – had been mobilized and shipped over to fight the Bosch. A year earlier I'd lied about my age to enlist. In a couple of years other men would be lying about their ages to get out. But for the time being everyone was gung-ho and keen to get at the Hun, who was bayoneting Belgian babies and raping nuns and Red Cross nurses.

I'd been infected by Rudyard Kipling. Until 1910 I'd been at preparatory school in Rottingdean, outside Brighton, with his son Jack. Jack got a good-natured ribbing every May when we had to memorize and recite his father's poem,
Children's Song
, about our duty to the Empire. Personally, I believed the sentiments.

I liked Jack. We'd started chatting first when he'd seen me reading
City of Dreadful Night
and thought it was his father's Indian story with the same title. We'd lost touch but I'd heard Jack had tried to get into the war in 1914 – his father had pushed him forward – but he was as blind as a bat so would be useless in battle.

Not that I'd had battle experience. I was wet behind the ears. Even so, I was a professional soldier, a Tommy Atkins. Kitchener's amateur army came the following year.

I was in the Royal Sussex. Good lads but not all from Sussex. I'd palled up a bit with three ex-weavers from somewhere up north. Cousins: Jim, Jack and Ted. A salty bunch. Ted and Jack were both married men with two young ones apiece but they'd been reservists. All three men reckoned the war would be over by Christmas and they'd be home war heroes with the chance of better jobs.

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