Dan always sat on the deck. Well, unless it was howling a gale or raining. Of course sometimes it was both, but today was reasonable. There was a bit of a wind, but the sea was calm enough. He had managed to find a seat, although the boat was crowded. It was all fine. So far so good and all that, but he’d rather have been at home, as planned. And if it hadn’t been for the break-in, that’s exactly where he would have been. Home with his parents, Ken and Judy and his little brother and sister. Normally it seemed dull, but just now it was very appealing. He must have fallen asleep briefly because he was suddenly woken up with a start. ‘Are you going to France too?’ He looked down and smiled. A little boy of about four stood in front of him. ‘Yes’, laughed Dan. 'We all are on this boat'. ‘Are we?’ asked the child solemnly and Dan laughed again.
But just the out of the corner of his eye he noticed something. A grey haired man stood a little way away. He was wearing a green striped jacket, just like the one the professor wore at Magda’s party. And then whoever it was quickly disappeared into the crowd. It seemed very odd. Why would he be there? Had Magda asked the prof to follow him? Had she really sent him to look for Ollie or was there more to it? And then he slowed down. What would he be wondering next? Was his name really Dan Markham? In any case he wasn’t even sure it was the same person. What was worse, he wondered, being followed or thinking you’re being followed?
He brought his mind back to the facts. Magda had explained that Ollie had been missing for a month and that no-one had seen him. ‘I’ve asked Kathleen Perkins, his father and step brothers’, she was saying. Step brothers? thought Dan. Ollie’s father had obviously moved on.
It had all begun with a house. There were some houses Dan had always loved since he was a small child. Their front doors opened onto the river beach and some of them had washing lines outside. The beach was their garden evidently. A few had front rooms that were beautifully arranged with glass tables and white sofas, while others had a small boat and tools in the same space. And that was where the new boy Ollie lived. ‘Come down on Saturday’, he had said. Dan had cycled from his home and was speeding down the hill to the sea front. There was a light breeze and the sun sparkled on the water. Twelve year old Dan felt full of life. Maybe this Ollie would turn out to be interesting. He cycled through the town and leaving his bike on the beach he knocked at the door. Ollie let him in. There was no boat in the front room of this house! Everything was neat and looked new. Dan thought briefly of his own home. Not neat and not new. And then in the doorway a beautiful blond woman appeared. ‘Darling I’m off’, she was saying to Ollie. She seemed a little distant. ‘Miss Perkins will be along later. Don’t be cheeky to her when she comes will you’. ‘Of course not,’ Ollie replied, as if he’d never been cheeky in his life. ‘Mum’s cleaner will be here in a minute,’ he explained. ‘She’ll have ideas if we don’t know what to do. She used to do stuff’. What Miss Perkins used to do during the 2nd World War was surely of very little interest, Dan thought to himself, but he kept quiet. ‘There’s money in the drawer if we need it’. ‘Does your mother just let you take it?’ Dan was astonished. ‘Oh Magda doesn’t notice’, said Ollie airily.
They had moved into the kitchen and just then the back door opened. A young woman walked in. She had scarlet hair and grey eyes and wore a short black skirt. She looked about 20. ‘She’s an anthropologist’, Ollie explained. ‘Only she got fed up with ancient civilisations so she thought she’d come and study us instead’. ‘Yes and I’ve got enough for a book already’, she laughed. Library more like, Dan was beginning to realise. 'I’m dyslexic’, Ollie was saying proudly. ‘I can’t read at all’. ‘Oh you’re honoured’. The young woman was surprised. ‘He doesn’t usually tell people’. ‘Shut up Kazzie’, said Ollie. So much for not being cheeky, thought Dan. ‘How does he manage?’, for some reason he addressed Kazzie. ‘No-one knows. He’s clever. He moves schools a lot and stays away for the exams. Things like that. Magda doesn’t know.’ Magda doesn’t know much apparently, thought Dan.
He bumped into two young men of about his own age on the car deck. ‘See you tonight at the Cheval Blanc at Lens’, one of them shouted. ‘If you like, that is’. He set off and as he passed woods, fields, orchards and farm houses his mood lifted. He found the Cheval Blanc which had been easily visible on the main road. He was sitting outside at a rickety table enjoying a beer when the two lads appeared. They both rode Peugeot bikes.
Chapter 3 will be published 28/09/2018.
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