At the end of Redvale Lane, Stephen pulled onto the grass verge, picked up Mick’s job sheet and entered the address details into his sat-nav.
‘After three hundred yards, turn left,’ he was advised.
A few minutes later he pulled up in front of a short row of terraced houses. Mick’s was right in the centre at number four. Stephen flipped the latch on the wrought iron gate and stepped up to the red painted front door. There was a choice of a bell push or a brass knocker. He chose the bell push, there was no reply, so he beat a rat-a-tat-tat with the door knocker.
A woman’s head popped out of the upstairs window at number three.
‘What are you after?’
‘I’m looking for Mr Morrison,’ said Stephen. ‘I’ve got a delivery for him.’
‘He’s not in.’
Stephen looked at his watch.
‘I suppose I am a bit late.’
‘It wouldn’t matter what time you turned up, he’s never in these days,’ advised the woman.
‘Any idea when he’ll be back?’
‘Could be any time, I’ve seen him sneak back in after midnight. Is it a parcel? I can take it in if you like. I’ll make sure he gets it.’
‘No, it’s not a parcel, I’m returning his computer. I need to set it up for him and show him a couple of new programs.’
‘Computers?’ she spat. ‘At his age?’
‘There’s no age limit on using them,’ said Stephen. ‘Most people have one these days.’
‘And we all know what people get up to on them too, that Intynet is full of sex.’
The woman looked up and down the street then came to a decision.
‘Hang on a minute, I’ll come down.’
Stephen moved to her front gate.
There was the sound of bolts being drawn and keys being turned. A few seconds later she stepped out of her doorway patting her steel grey hair into place. She bustled down the path towards him before coming to an abrupt halt just short of the gate.
‘Who did you say you were?’
‘I didn’t, but I’m Stephen King. I run a computer repair shop in town.’
‘You ought to be writing books with a name like that,’ she observed.
‘It has been mentioned,’ said Stephen.
‘Got any ID? You could be anyone.’
Stephen handed her a business card. She held it close to her face, then squinted at it from a distance.
‘Left my glasses on the coffee table,’ she confided. She put the card in the pocket of her cardigan. ‘I’ll read it later.’
‘Any idea where Mick will be?’
‘It’s Mick now is it? It was Mr Morrison a minute ago.’
‘I know him from the Westwich Writers Club, as well as being a customer, Mrs?’
‘Do you have a son called Oscar?’ Stephen joked.
‘Oscar’s my cat.’
Stephen tried not to laugh.
‘He’ll be at his floozies house, opposite the Post Office.’
Stephen thought for a moment. ‘Mary?’
‘That’s her, the brazen whore. You want to watch her, she’s trouble.’
‘She seemed very nice when I met her.’
‘You would think that, you’re a man. She’s a Jezebel,’ Mavis hissed.
‘I got the impression that Mary and Mick were just good friends.’
Mary scowled. ‘She tries to make out that’s all it is, but I know the truth, she’s bewitched him. I had hopes there myself until that bitch came along.’
Stephen backed away from the gate and walked to his car.
‘I know where Mary lives, I dropped her off the other night.’
‘That’s disgusting, she’s old enough to be your grandmother.’
‘Thanks for your help Mrs Wilde. I’ll see if Mick is with Mary.’
‘He’ll be there,’ she said sadly. ‘He’s never any bloody where else.’
Stephen walked through the rose bushes in Mary’s front garden and rang an old-fashioned bell push. Within thirty seconds the door was opened.
‘Hello, Stephen,’ said Mary. ‘This is a surprise.’
‘Is Mick here? Mrs Wilde said he might be.’
‘I bet that’s not all she said either.’
‘No, she did offer some local gossip.’
‘It’s not gossip, it’s her overactive imagination. Mick’s here, as are one or two other faces you might recognise.’
Mary led Stephen into her lounge and clapped to get attention.
‘Look who’s here, folks.’
There was a mumble of recognition, then Mick’s voice boomed out.
‘What the hell is he doing here?’
Stephen looked around the room, there were half a dozen writers club members and a few faces he didn’t know.
‘He’s a gate crasher,’ accused Mick.
‘Now, now, Mick,’ said Mary, ‘Stephen is very welcome, it’s you he’s come to see anyway.’
‘I’ve bought your computer back, Mick, as good as new.’
‘Just leave it here, I’ll carry it back up myself.’
‘I’ve put a few new programs on for you, to manage any future infections. I’ll need to spend a couple of minutes showing you how to update and use them.’
‘I’ll manage,’ said Mick. ‘I’ll ring that nice young woman on your counter if I get stuck, she seemed to know what she was doing.’
‘If you’re sure, Mick,’ said Stephen. ‘The invoice is taped to the side of the case.’
Stephen turned to leave but was stopped by Mary.
‘Let me introduce you to a few people,’ she said. ‘They’re all writers.’
She led him across to a dark-haired woman of around sixty. The woman pushed her glasses down her nose and looked over them.
‘Marion, this is Stephen, he’s new to the club, he has so many exciting ideas.’
Stephen held out his hand, Marion ignored it and planted a wet kiss on his cheek.
‘Pleased to meet you, it’s about time someone pulled our little club kicking and screaming into the 20th century.’
’21st,’ laughed Stephen.
‘Oh, you’re going to bring us right up to date, are you? that’s good, being dragged out of the 19th would have been a start.’
Marion turned to her elderly companion.
‘This young man is going to give us a makeover.’
‘What’s he taking over?’
‘No Gwen, MAKE OVER, He’s going to bring the writers club up to date.’
‘Oooh, good,’ trilled Gwen. ‘Is he a decorator? I need my stairs doing.’
Mary handed Stephen a glass of cordial.
‘There’s someone here I want you to meet, Stephen,’ she confided. ‘He proposed similar ideas to yours a couple of years back, but the opposition was always so fierce that he gave up. He doesn’t come to meetings very often now, which is a shame, because he’s a very good writer.’
Mary led him to the back of the room where a short, balding man was pouring himself a refill from the wine bottle.
‘Jack, this is Stephen, the subject of all the gossip you’ve been hearing. Stephen, this is Jack Collins.’
‘Call me Jacky,’ said a Geordie voice. ‘Mary is always too formal.’
Stephen shook the proffered hand.
‘Nice to meet you, I hear you’ve been accused of plotting against the hierarchy too.’
‘Silly old buggers,’ said Jacky. ‘They know change has to come but don’t want it on their watch.’
‘I think they’re coming around,’ said Stephen. ‘Slowly.’
‘So I hear, it seems you’ve got them rattled and that’s quite an achievement. In fact, I’m so impressed I might even drag my sorry hide to a few more meetings. I’ll be right alongside you if we really are going to grasp the nettle this time.’
‘I think we need to put a little more weed killer down before we get that far,’ laughed Stephen. ‘But I’ll be glad of a friendly face in the trenches.’
Mary took Stephen’s arm and led him towards the kitchen door.
‘Come with me,’ she whispered. Mary looked back and beckoned Mick and Jacky to follow.
‘What’s up?’ asked Mick, as he pushed his way between Mary and Stephen.
‘Spies,’ whispered Mary, ‘shhh.’
Mary led them through the kitchen into the conservatory. She put a finger to her lips and crept over to the door leading to the back garden. She took a key from a hook and quietly unlocked the door, then beckoned them to follow. The three men tip-toed after her as she stepped onto the patio. She waited a few seconds then pressed a switch and the whole garden was bathed in light.
‘Come on out, Mavis.’
There was a rustle in the Rhododendrons and Mavis Wilde crawled out onto the lawn. She wore green leggings, a brown jumper and a black knitted balaclava, her face was smeared with soot.
‘You’re quite welcome to come in Mavis, there’s no need to spy on me.’
Mavis glared at Mary.
‘Three of ’em,’ she trilled. ‘That has to be a record, even for you.’
Mary shook her head, her voice softened.
‘Come in Mavis, there are other guests inside.’
‘Can’t handle ’em all on your own eh?’ spat Mavis. ‘Try old Gwen from number seventy, I reckon she’d be happy to help you out.’
‘Gwen’s already here, Mavis, as is Marion Phelps and Elsie with the blue rinse.’
‘An ORGY!’ gasped Mavis. ‘In our village.’
Mary walked to the switch and turned off the lights.
‘Come along you three, my bed awaits.’
Stephen followed Jacky and Mick back into the house. Before she locked the door, Mary turned back to Mavis.
‘Last chance?’ she called.
‘Whore,’ came the reply.
Stephen carried Mick’s PC into Mary’s kitchen and sat it on the table. Mick inspected it for damage.
‘Looks to be okay,’ he muttered.
‘I’m sure it’s as good as new, Mick,’ said Mary.
‘I hope it’s better than that,’ moaned Mick, ‘I had so many problems with it, I could hardly use it for the first two months.’
‘We guarantee our work, Mick,’ said Stephen, reassuringly.
‘I should think you do,’ Mick replied. ‘You charge enough.’
Stephen stuck his head round the door to the lounge and said goodnight to the guests.
‘It was a pleasure meeting you,’ said Marion.
‘Can you give me an estimate on my stairs before you go?’ asked Gwen.
Jacky shook Stephen’s hand again.
‘I know where to come when I’m ready buy a new computer,’ he said. ‘Are you at the next meeting?’
‘I wouldn’t miss it for the world,’ said Stephen. ‘The revolution has begun.’
‘Hold it there a moment,’ called Elsie with the blue rinse. She held up a digital camera and took a snap.
‘Stephen King and Jacky Collins, together in Redvale,’ she laughed. ‘I could sell this picture to the papers.’ d