(Sample first chapter)
Near Midnight, London 1983
The architect was lying in bed. He had already been asleep for some while after a particularly long and tiring day. He woke because he could now hear voices directly below his bedroom window. Loud, annoying, arguing voices, a man’s and a woman’s distinctive voices. They didn’t just pass by as he hoped; they were now just standing below and outside his house. He at first tried curling his pillow around his ears in an attempt to deafen the sound, it helped a little, but he could still hear these inconsiderate people. Suddenly he had enough, he leapt out of bed in the near darkness only punctuated by a nearby street lamp and then threw up the sash window that faced the street, “PLEASE WILL YOU BE QUIET,” he shouted out loudly.
There was suddenly complete silence, like he had turned off a switch. His eyes being still quite sleepy made it hard to focus properly to see if they had gone away. He crawled back into bed, pleased at his success. He had only slumbered a few minutes when he could hear the man again. Not so loud this time, but still just below his bedroom window. Then the woman started replying. From somewhere in his sleepy subconscious he thought he could recognise this second voice, the possibility; woke him up with a sudden start. He had really had enough by now. Pulling on his nearby tracksuit in the relative darkness, he bounded down the stairs and flung the front door wide open.
The architect was about to shout something to rid himself of these people disturbing his sleep, but almost instantly he recognised a person’s voice he knew. He immediately became quite stiff, defensive and strangely speechless, his mouth fell open but nothing came out of it.
He just looked in disbelief. It finally was the woman that spoke first, “It’s you John … I didn’t know you lived here.”
Anger then welled up inside the architect, “Thanks to you Ruth, I now do. Go away, leave me alone.” He closed the front door quickly; he really didn’t want to say any more to this person. He felt ill with the shock; his legs no longer seemed to hold him. He gradually slumped down behind the closed panelled door until he was actually kneeling behind it. After a minute or two he slowly stood up; an eye instinctively found and then looked through the small spyglass inserted in the front door. The people outside were not close; all he could really see was the distinctive shadows of two people in the distance. After seemingly a few minutes they moved away down the street towards the main road.
The next morning, there was a knock on the architect’s front door. John Peck lives towards the end of a predominantly Georgian road with properties on both sides in north London. At this part of the cul de sac there were also located a few shop premises. His house frontage ran close to the narrow pavement with a high walled garden to one side, which filled the gap in the building line, shielding what was over the other side of the wall from any passing prying eyes.
He was having his breakfast in the kitchen still dressed in his tee shirt and pyjama bottoms. When he heard the front door ring, he put down his toast and walked through the hall expecting it to be the postman with a parcel, but when he opened the front door he saw instead standing there what seemed to him a very young policeman. He thought immediately to himself the old adage; apparently one sign of getting older is that policemen start to look a lot younger.
The policeman seemed very efficient when he started talking, he said he was asking all the houses in the street whether they had seen or heard anything strange happening late last night. The policeman explained that they were asking all the local residents because a person had been found nearby.
Not imagining in a million years the policeman would be interested in what had happened to him last night, or even would be remotely concerned about his disturbed sleep, the architect didn’t mention the incident at all. He thought instead about telling someone in some authority about the seemingly constant plague of noisy diners using the nearby restaurant, but then he thought better of the idea, this policeman was not the right person to complain to at all.
Perhaps detecting from the conversation that the man was not telling him everything he knew, the policeman said he was not to concern himself unduly, but if he should remember anything later then he can always contact him at the police station. He handed over a business card before walking off down the road to knock on the door of the next house.
As he closed the door, thoughts came flooding back which left him feeling churned up inside again. He still felt strangely nervous when he remembered about the unexpected encounter he had had in the street; that had unfortunately brought back painful memories which had until now almost been forgotten.
The architect had a problem where he lived; the road outside day and night was now constantly blighted by having a popular restaurant along it. When he had been forced to downsize a few years ago, the parking situation had not been too bad. But then it all changed for the worse when they hired a chef that made a name for himself. He had many good write-ups and now the road in recent years seemed constantly under siege from many generally inconsiderate clientele who as often than not cause a nuisance trying to find somewhere to park. Annoyingly most of the surrounding properties with their well-kept gardens in the residential streets leading off this road seem relatively untouched by this parking problem despite being entirely similar late Georgian houses. The properties along his particular road always had been amongst the cheapest in the immediate area, that really was one of the main reasons he was able to afford it.
These days he just worked from home, gone was the time when he had an impressive office and employed people. The dispute with Ruth who he’d accidentally met on the street last night had changed all that. He had lost a lot of money fighting it and also his reputation. He had to downsize completely, fortunately he still had a few good loyal contacts in the building industry and they now ensured he was never really short of work, but that woman had changed everything for him and in many ways he had all been his fault.
Later that day, he popped out to buy the evening newspaper, as was his normal habit he would always read it from cover to cover. Hidden in a small paragraph towards the middle, amongst the more minor news stories, his eyes only really noticed it because they mentioned his road. There was an article concerning what the policeman had talked to him about this morning; an individual had been found nearby. He was surprised that it was already being mentioned in the press. It just really said; a person had been found by the roadside, no other details. Later that day, there was also a short and more shocking story on the local television news. It gave no specific details except the revelation that a woman had been found dead in suspicious circumstances quite near to where he lived.
John Peck was now very much a loner, this had happened since he had moved into the road. He didn’t want anyone to know about his past misfortune and judge him accordingly because of it. Therefore he kept himself to himself and said as little as possible. When he met a neighbour there was always a polite greeting but he never talked about himself, not even what he did. He just listened, over time he knew pretty much everything there was to know about his neighbours as a result. People in the road as a consequence invented a romanticised lifestyle for him, which he never confirmed or denied. He lived the part of the eccentric bachelor mainly because of the unusual colourful clothes he normally wore, the modern furniture people could see through his windows and even the bright colour of his front door.
He started to prepare his supper. On checking his larder he realised that he was totally out of onions, a vital ingredient for the dish he was making. Annoyed he would now have to face the gossipy woman in the corner shop again. A few minutes later whilst patiently queuing in the shop behind another customer before being served himself, he could not help but overhear the two women’s conversation in front. They were talking about the body that had been discovered nearby. He listened intently in case they knew any more than had been on the television news.
What he learnt was that the dead woman had apparently been a customer that night in the restaurant next door. The restaurant manager had told her in the utmost confidence when he had popped in earlier to buy cigarettes that the police had called him some hours before and intended to interview all his staff that had been in the restaurant that evening as soon as they arrived for work.