The Ghost
his hands out of sight. Now, the silence was localised vacuum – it cloaked over them, amplifying their unrest. They were alone together, marooned in a crossfire of drumming bare-feet and jagged Tannoy. Back at Bethesda, Cook and Mountford had been part of the primary palette – yellow-cardiganned, bowl-haircutted, bell-bottomed birds of paradise, strutting and fluttering against a backwash of tweed and torpor. Then, they thrived; now, they subsisted, in the negative alternative, where all was colour while they were grey. The two men had both, to different degrees, accepted impending obscurity, and now here was this – rekindled significance.
    â€œI don’t know. Go to the police, Den. I’m not sure how I can help.”
    Mountford scooped the paper and envelope into his backpack. “I’ve already spoken to them. They can’t do anything until there’s a specific threat – and even then…”
    â€œWhat are the website messages like?”
    â€œJust strange. Rambling.”
    Cook fiddled with his wedding ring, rotating it around the finger. He glanced over at Alfie and Jake – they were now both barrelling up the chute of a slide, arching their legs as other children squeezed through.
    â€œDen, it’s thirty-odd years ago.”
    â€œNo, it’s not! It’s now. Look – can’t we just swap numbers?”
    Without waiting for agreement, he took out a pen and, like a bashful bet, nudged it into the centre of the table. Cook wrote his number on the back of the food receipt, and Mountford snatched it up, packed away the uneaten sandwich and carefully climbed to his feet. He was slow and creaky again – back in character.
    â€œIt’s been really good to see you again, Dor.”
    â€œYou, too.”
    Neither men sounded convinced or convincing. They shared a brief, transactive handshake and Mountford plodded off to collect his son. Cook watched them wriggle out through the narrow exit barrier, ready with a wave – but his friend didn’t look back. He bought a coffee and browsed the film sections. Around half an hour after Mountford had left, Cook received a text-message.
    Thanks for today. Maybe CU again soon. Den.
    Cook scowled at the text-speak and fussy sign-off. He typed a reply.
    Yes. Lovely to see you. Jake is great! Maybe get together for Christmas drinks…
    The ellipsis, rather than question-mark, confirmed closure – to the text conversation, to the meeting, to the reason for the meeting and, for Cook, to the relationship. He considered adding Mountford’s number to his address book, but instead he deleted the message and slotted the phone back into his pocket, where it immediately sounded an email alert. He took it back out and opened his inbox.

    YOUR SECRET WEAPON! Penis enlargement in a patch. “My personal ability to control ejaculation is truly incredible. SizeGenetics (tm) helped my erect length increase from 6.5 to 7.8, with erect girth from 5 to 5.5.”
    Cook smiled, deleted the mail and, feeling cleansed, returned to his reading.

16. Play for Today

    July, 1974
    On Saturdays, Esther worked a part-time cleaning job at a local insurance company and Cook was usually home alone until early afternoon. This morning, at 8am, the day was already floodlit – pre-baked in mid-summer shimmer. He tumbled out of bed, ran to the landing, sat on the top stair and shuffled, step by step, down to the bottom. Rusty was curled in a tight bundle on the hearth-rug and raised his ears as Cook hurdled him, paused, and tried to do a standing jump from the back edge of Esther’s armchair to the kitchen step. He made it in three attempts (his record was two). In the kitchen, Cook dropped two Shredded Wheat into a bowl and slathered them in sterilised milk. Bowl in hand, wearing nothing but Y-fronts, he opened the back door and stepped outside.
    The yard was long and thin, with a choppy topography of fractured paving.

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