‘They’ve all been in prison’. Ollie was always at his most relaxed when he was saying something outrageous. ‘Who have?’ Dan was intrigued. ‘Kazzie’s brothers. They’re burglars. She says they do it for the excitement really. I’m joining them when I’m older’. ‘Kazzie won’t let you’. Dan was sure of that. ‘Kazzie won’t know’. Ollie had evidently thought that one through. Dan had heard a rumour that Ollie’s father was in prison but felt it was perhaps best not to mention that.
He was sitting at the same table as the night before. The morning sunshine was watery but the sky was clear; it was going to be a beautiful day. He was enjoying a strong coffee and very fresh bread and France really did seem a good place to be. But there was a task to be completed and he needed to focus on it. He thought back to Magda’s party. Who was there and could they be involved? There was the striped jacketed man. Dan couldn’t quite remember his name but he knew it was Dutch. Van something, he thought. For some reason Dan didn’t like him. He had looked extremely shifty every time Ollie was mentioned. Shifty? What was he now, a detective from a black and white film? And there was the dark haired Penny, the aromatherapist. But surely she was ok.
Soon the boys from last night arrived, interrupting his thoughts. They’d cycled along from the camp site and sat down next to him at the table. Dan had woken up staring at the patterned wallpaper wondering where he was. Proof he’d been to sleep at least. The right combination of beer and cycling often helps, he thought. They’d been to the farm before, Tony, the taller one, was saying, but never for a whole summer. It sounded ok, but very hard work. Dan leaned back in his chair. He was glad of the company. But suddenly there was a loud clattering and he jumped violently. ‘I really think you should head East with us,’ Tony said gently. He was evidently kind and perceptive. The last thing you want when you’re struggling a bit is someone kind and perceptive, Dan thought. He shrugged. ‘Oh, I haven’t slept too well lately, that’s all’. And then he added, ‘I know it sounds dramatic, but I’m looking for someone’. He explained that he’d been told which route Ollie normally took and with a map and money had set off to find him. ‘Hence the Cheval Blanc and not the camp site,’ said Tony. Dan nodded.
‘How do you know this Ollie?’ This time it was Jim, the quiet one who spoke. ‘We were kids,’ Dan said. ‘He couldn’t read at all,’ he went on. ‘We found a few old books in the attic and Kazzie and I used to read to him. He’d lie on the bed in a sort of trance. Spellbound I suppose you’d say. And when we got to the end of “The Silver Sword”, well…..’ Dan broke off. There was a pause. They chatted for a while but soon they rode off, leaving Dan alone with his thoughts. He remembered that first day. He’d shown Dan the walk way under the railway line and pointed out the next cove, which was only accessible by boat. They then walked through the town and took the ferry across to the next village where they went through a tunnel which led to a rocky beach.
He had to get on though, and he took out the photo that Magda had given him. His wavy hair was shorter and a bit darker, and of course he looked older, but he was still recognisable to Dan. He planned to show it to anyone he could find and ask if they’d seen him. He could speak a bit of French. He just needed to plan the question and hope for a straightforward reply. He tried the owner of the Cheval Blanc who shook his head. He then walked to the town and went into a couple of shops but no luck. Then he saw an expensive looking hotel in the town centre. Ollie’s sort of place maybe. The receptionist was friendly and keen to show off his English. ‘No, no foreigners last night.’ He looked down at the register, ‘Ah, my mistake. There was a South African man here.’ Dan started. ‘Yes, Mr. Van Eeden.’ What? Dan was amazed. ‘Striped jacket?’ asked Dan. He made hand gestures to indicate stripes. The man wasn’t sure. ‘Grey hair?’ asked Dan. ‘Yes. You know him?’ Dan didn’t answer. ‘And a dark haired girl?’ he found himself asking. Was he suspecting everyone now? ‘No Monsieur, no girl’. Dan thanked him and made his way out.
What to do now? He decided to avoid Van Eeden if possible. He deemed it safer to ride North back the way he had come from for a short while and hide – there was no other word for it – in a wood. He had a small tent with him for emergencies and he pitched it. He then had nothing to do but wait for nightfall. He dined on bread and cheese. Suddenly he longed for the past. For tunnels, attics, rocks and secret coves. From now on was it just taxes, mortgages and racing thoughts? Adult life had never seemed so dull and flat. But as it happened the next few days were to turn out to be rather eventful. Not flat at all. And there would be times in the future when Dan would long to be curled up in a quiet wood eating bread and cheese. There were worse things than dullness.
Chapter 4 will be published 12/10/2018.
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