Strange Business

 

Lisa Tate

 

The door of the tiny cottage that housed the Lagornock village tourist office squeaked open and John Kretching tore his gaze away from the panoramic view of thatched-roof homes, stunningly bright red roses and fields that stretched beyond his window. Two youngish men wearing rucksacks stood in the tiny vestibule. Ten years on the job as tourist liaison gave Kretching an expert eye when it came to assessing people. The visitors’ dirty faces and rumpled shirts meant they’d probably been sleeping out of doors. Their clothing, wrinkled as it was, had a tailored look about it he recognized as quality. Kretching felt a swift pang of annoyance. Well-heeled tourists who tried to save a quid or two by camping rough while honest working folk had to scrimp just to get by.....

“How may I help you?” he said, not trying to keep the disapproval out of his voice.

“Peter, do we have to?” said the youngest of the two.

“Yes,” said the older, grabbing him by the hand and leading him in.

Kretching watched as the older of the two, a twenty-something with a flat fringe of blond bangs, gently pushed his younger friend in onto one of two chairs that stood in front of Kretching’s desk. The tourist officer took account of their flat accents. Yanks. In his experience, they were first to complain about anything. He faced the men across his desk. The younger one folded his legs primly under the chair. An astonishingly pretty face for a boy, Kretching noted. Full red lips and thick, straight, shiny brown hair complimented his creamy white skin.

The older one spoke. “We want to report a crime."

Kretching’s heart sank. Trouble. At the end of the day. And with a healthy stack of paperwork due. It never failed. He glanced in the other room to see if he could catch a glimpse of Figgis, his assistant. The boy had a bad habit of disappearing whenever there was work to be done. The front room was empty. Kretching sighed and pulled out a complaint slip, picked up a pencil from the perfectly sharpened rows laying in a box on his desk, and sniffed. “Overcharged at your hotel?” he said, enunciating the last word.

“No.” From the pretty one. “We weren’t staying anywhere. We were camping. At the old Roman ruins.”

Kretching could feel his blood pressure rise. “There’s no camping at the Roman ruins. It’s an historical site.” Typical.

The older one spoke. “Look, we know that now. But we didn’t then. And we want to file a complaint, if you don’t mind. My name is Peter Whitley and this is Bruce Cawless.”

Kretching wrote the names on the form. Illegal campers. Just as he’d thought. Then he waited. Bruce, the good-looking one, seemed to be studying a sepia-toned photograph of the village cricket team that hung on the wall of Kretching’s office. Peter had his index finger resting on his lips. Kretching spoke, not bothering to conceal his impatience. “Well, then?”

Peter touched Bruce’s shoulder. “Tell him.”

Bruce shook off his hand. “Do I have to?”

“Yes! You can’t let this happen to anyone else.”

Bruce rolled his eyes. “Okay.” He swallowed audibly. “Someone...uhm...attacked me.” He jumped up. “There. I’ve said it. Can we go now?”

Kretching said, “Did you report this to the police?”

Peter grabbed Bruce’s arm and pulled him back to his seat. “Yes, and they sent us to you.”

Kretching ground his teeth together. He was going to have to have a word with the constable. He looked from face to face. They didn’t look the sort to engage in pub punch ups. He hazarded a guess. “Gypsies, was it?” he said, pencil poised over the form.

Peter, the older one, stuck out his chin. “You mean travelers? No. This was an attack. An...” he took a deep breath “....intimate attack.”

The tourist officer sat rigid in his chair, disbelieving what he’d heard. Why did it have to happen here? In his peaceful village? He’d be finished. The village would be finished. He said with a confidence he didn’t feel, “The police can and will find this man.” He reached for the telephone.

“It wasn’t a man.”

Kretching paused, his hand frozen in midair. “What do you mean?”

“No man attacked me,” said Bruce.

Now it became clear. This was a joke by that wretched constable. Kretching tapped his pencil on the wood surface of his desk. “A woman? Someone from our female rugby team perhaps?” He leaned forward, “A middle-aged divorcee? They can be quite randy, or so I’ve heard.”

Bruce said, “I told you. Just like the police. Let’s go, Peter.”

Peter didn’t move. “Show him the clothes.”

A sigh came from Bruce. He shrugged off his rucksack and dragged out a pair of designer jeans and a pink polo shirt. He tossed them to Kretching.

Kretching held up the clothes in front of him with his fingertips. The jeans had been torn unevenly up the crotch. The back of the shirt gaped the same way. He’d hate to meet the woman capable of that. He let them drop. “Perhaps the lady....” he let his sentence trail off. It was unthinkable. It had to be a joke.

Bruce said softly, “It wasn’t a lady, either.”

Kretching took out a handkerchief and mopped at the perspiration beading his upper lip. “What do you mean?”

Peter spoke. “Last night, after we’d made camp, around midnight Bruce heard something. Flute music.” He turned to the younger boy. Bruce ignored him. Peter continued. “The next thing he knew he was face down in the dirt, being assaulted by ...” He folded his arms and pursed his lips, as if waiting for Bruce to finish his sentence.

Kretching looked at Bruce. He’d gotten interested in the photograph again. Then Kretching heard a door squeak and caught Figgis’s questioning gaze from the other room. The prodigal returned. He’d deal with it later. He had enough on his plate right now. Bruce swallowed, and Kretching knew he was about to speak. He held his breath.

Bruce said, “I was attacked by a something that was half man, half...goat.”

Kretching exhaled. Had he heard it right? “Half a what?”

Peter’s eyes flashed with anger. Then: “Half man and half goat. A satyr!”

Kretching: “Surely you don’t expect me to believe that?”

Peter: “There’s a satyr out there, you idiot! And he’s attacking innocent people, including my friend!”

Kretching felt his eyes bulge with outrage. He picked up his pencil and wagged it at Peter. “You keep a civil tongue in your head when you address me, young man.” Then he turned to Bruce. “You’re telling me that you were forced to have relations with a...creature?”

Bruce said, “He didn’t force me, I... you see.....”

Peter said to him, “Not forced?”

Bruce’s cheeks turned crimson. “I mean he didn’t hurt me.”

Peter put his hands on his hips. “So now you tell me.” Then his eyes widened. “Wait a sec. I get it now. This my punishment for that boy in Cornwall?”

“No, I didn’t mean....” he trailed off into silence.

Peter rubbed his temples. “I don’t believe this.”

Kretching said quietly, “Would you both please listen?”

Bruce stood up. “Come on, Peter. Let’s just forget it. He doesn’t believe me. No one’s ever going to believe me.”

Peter sat defiantly. “It all comes out now, doesn’t it? I bet you enjoyed it. ”

Bruce’s eyes sparked. “Well, if you want to be honest, he was a lot more...”

“Oh, shut up, shut up, shut up!” Peter put his hands over his ears.

Kretching held up his hands. “Enough!” he roared. They both turned to him, shocked into silence. “Now then. Let me get this straight. You,” he pointed at Bruce, “say that last night you were attacked by some beast. Half man, half goat. Assuming I believe you, and that’s a very big assumption, where was your friend here when all this was happening?”

Peter answered quickly. “I was taking a walk. We’d had a quarrel.”

“A quarrel?”

From Peter. “It was nothing. Over someone I met in Cornwall.” He turned to Bruce. “This is all my fault. I’m sorry. I’m sorry for Cornwall, sorry for you, sorry for everything. Can you forgive me?”

Bruce’s face softened. “Yes, of course.” Then he reached for Peter. They hugged. Kretching heard Bruce’s voice, muffled on Peter’s shoulder. “I do love you, you know.”

Kretching crossed his arms and cleared his throat. It was all coming clear now. “Excuse me for interrupting, but do you mind me asking if you were drinking last night? Our local brew can sometimes take people by surprise.” He smiled as sincerely as he could. “I won’t put it on the report, of course.” Please let them be a pair of drunks, he prayed.

They let go of each other. Bruce said, “We don’t drink. We had one joint, that’s all. But that had nothing to do with ....”

Kretching cleared his throat, picked up the complaint form and with one motion ripped it in half. From the corner of his eye, he saw Figgis in the other room shaking with suppressed laughter.

Peter smacked his own forehead with his open palm. “Bruce! How could you? Now he’ll never believe us!”

Kretching stood up behind his desk. “Out! The pair of you! And I don’t want to see the likes of you around here again.”

They stood up. With a show of defiance, Peter took Bruce’s hand. They walked through the front room of the tiny cottage, out into the darkness of early evening, heads held high, ridiculous and yet somehow dignified.

Kretching sank to his chair. Another crisis averted. And yet the boys’ report had troubled him. A strange business. He watched as Figgis walked into his office with the awkward, bowlegged gait he had

“I did like the bit about the marijuana,” Figgis said, his smile still dancing in his eyes.

“Not to mention trespassing. I really am going to have to speak to that constable. I simply cannot be responsible for every lunatic who wanders in." But Kretching knew that he would be, just as he had for the past ten years. He tidied the papers on his desk. “Figgis, you are to stay at the office when you’re on duty. Is that clear?”

Figgis grinned and ran a hand over his unruly brown curls. “Yes, sir. Sorry.”

Kretching stood up. He stared for a while at the gun cabinet along one side of his office, then opened it and took out an antique rifle. He plucked his bowler hat from its hook on the wall. “Attacked by a half man, half goat, they said. A satyr.” Perhaps it was time to do some hunting.

He tucked his rifle under his arm and placed his hat on his head. “Good evening, Figgis.”

His subordinate nodded.

Kretching stepped out into the fresh evening air. As he walked round to his Vauxhall he glanced inside his open office window.

Figgis was snacking on one of those endless supplies of Slim Jims he seemed to carry round with him, his jaw working in a circular motion. Ugly chap, thought Kretching, with those broadly spaced eyes of his. All that hair. And the bandy musculature, so goat-like. Still, his family had been here for generations. Kretching sighed and checked to see that his gun was loaded. Strange business, indeed. He’d come to love this village, and if there was something that might harm it, it was his duty to take care of it. He started his engine and turned on the hunting lights that had been mounted on the roof of his car.

Those boys wouldn’t get far.

 

 

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Author Bio

Lisa Tate has been writing for a while and has been published in the small press. Sadly, she has recently sustained an injury to her finger. She is currently at war with a vile-tempered, cheese-loving, trap-dodging mouse.

 


 

 

 

 

"Strange Business" Copyright © 2002 Lisa Tate. All rights reserved. Published by permission of the author.

 

This page last updated 4-24-02.

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