Table of Contents
-Chapter Thirteen-Chapter Fourteen-Chapter Fifteen
-Chapter Seventeen-Chapter Eighteen-Chapter Nineteen-Chapter Twenty
-Chapter Twenty-One-Chapter Twenty-Two-Chapter Twenty-Three-Chapter Twenty-Four-Chapter Twenty-Five-Chapter Twenty-SixPART TWO
-Chapter Twenty-Seven-Chapter Twenty-Eight-Chapter Twenty-Nine-Chapter Thirty
-Chapter Thirty-One-Chapter Thirty-Two-Chapter Thirty-Three-Chapter Thirty-Four-Chapter Thirty-Five-Chapter Thirty-Six-Chapter Thirty-Seven-Chapter Thirty-Eight-Chapter Thirty-Nine-Chapter Forty
-Chapter Forty-One-Chapter Forty-Two
-Chapter Forty-Three-Chapter Forty-Four-Chapter Forty-Five-Chapter Forty-SixPART THREE
-Chapter Forty-Seven-Chapter Forty-Eight-Chapter Forty-Nine-Chapter Fifty
-Chapter Fifty-One-Chapter Fifty-Two-Chapter Fifty-Three-Chapter Fifty-Four-Chapter Fifty-Five-Chapter Fifty-Six-Chapter Fifty-Seven-Chapter Fifty-Eight-Chapter Fifty-Nine-Chapter Sixty
-Chapter Sixty-One-Chapter Sixty-Two-Chapter Sixty-Three-Chapter Sixty-Four-Chapter Sixty-Five-Chapter Sixty-Six-Chapter Sixty-Seven-Chapter Sixty-Eight-Chapter Sixty-Nine-Seventy
SKIN AND BONES
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Published by Preface 2008
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Copyright ? Tom Bale 2008
Tom Bale has asserted his right to be identified as the author of this work under theCopyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988
Lyrics on p1 reproduced by kind permission James and Blue Mountain Music Ltd
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Come, dip on in
Leave your bones
Leave your skin
Leave your past
Leave your craft
Leave your suffering heart
A glance to her left was all it took. A simple glance as she pushed open the door to thevillage shop. If she had kept her eyes straight ahead, or looked to the right instead, shemight never have become involved. She might have been spared.
Her conscious mind, bruised by the experience of the past month, refused to believe what it hadseen. But her subconscious knew and understood.
There was a dead man in the street.
It was the third Saturday of January, not quite eight in the morning. She parked outside herparents' cottage on the outskirts of the village and decided to delay the day's grim task by afew minutes. The store was no more than fifty or sixty yards away, tucked around a bend at thefoot of the High Street: a ludicrous name for a place with only one shop and one pub.
Julia was thirty-one, a tall slender woman with dark shoulder-length hair. She taught at ajunior school in Newhaven, and like the best teachers she had perfected a good-naturedtoughness that equipped her to cope with the worst that any ten-year-old could throw at her. Inthe past few weeks she had needed that resilience more than ever.
Her breath rose in clouds as she walked along the edge of the narrow road. A clean shimmer offrost lay over the grass verge. Roof tiles sparkled in the late Downland sunrise. The airtasted clean and sharp, and made her wish she was out jogging. Made her wish she had the dayfree to do as she chose.
It took her less than a minute to reach the shop. In that time she didn't see or hear anothersoul. No traffic, no tradesmen, no walkers or cyclists. But it was a Saturday, she reasoned. Itwas January. It was cold.
At the point where she glanced to her left, she had a clear view along the High Street, all theway to the Green Man pub at the north end of the village. There was a Royal Mail van parked atthe kerb up by the church, facing towards her. She vaguely noticed the rear doors were open. Ifthere was a body, it was lying in the road just beyond the van, only the feet visible.
Telling herself she must be mistaken, Julia entered the shop.
A bell rang as she stepped inside. The air was deliciously warm, with an aroma that alwaysprompted a smile: a cosy blend of bread rolls, sliced ham, newsprint and mailbags. The kind ofsmell you'd like to bottle for nostalgia. Essence of village store .
The shopkeeper, Moira Beaumont, was a small twitchy woman in her fifties. She pulled her baggycardigan together in response to the draught.
'Hello, love. You're an early bird. Don't tell me you stayed overnight?'
Julia's curt shake of her head disguised a shudder. 'I've just driven here,' she said, adding,'I can't keep putting it off.'
Moira nodded sadly. 'It's Lewes where you live, isn't it?' She spoke as though the county townwas some distant exotic locale, when in fact it was less than ten miles away. But then Chiltonwas the sort of place where people still returned from Brighton, outraged by beggars in thestreet and the brazen display of homosexual love.
Julia browsed the newspapers for a minute, aware of Moira's sly scrutiny. Trying to spot acrack in the facade. A couple of weeks ago it would have bothered her, but she was used to itby now. All things considered, she felt she was coping pretty well.
So why the body in the street ? her subconscious piped up. Hallucinations were hardly a sign ofrobust mental health.
Pushing the thought aside, she picked up the Guardian , a carton of semi-skimmed milk and on
impulse a packet of chocolate biscuits. She had a long and difficult day ahead: she deserved atreat.
When she reached the counter Moira leaned over and grasped her hand. Even before she spoke,Julia knew she was going to use the gentle hushed tone that people reserve for the recently
'I just want to say, I'm dreadfully sorry for what happened. They were such a lovely couple.'
Julia swallowed and nodded tersely. She had learned just how easily such expressions ofsympathy could unlock the grief.
'Is your brother not coming to help clear the house?' Moira asked, taking Julia's five-poundnote and prodding at the till.
'He offered, but it seems ridiculous when he's up in Cheshire.'
'I suppose so. What a shame you and Peter aren't still together,' said Moira, blithely unawareof her tactlessness. 'I know your mother always thought you were made for each other.'
.Another subject she was keen to avoid'So did I,' said Julia.
'But you've a new feller now, haven't you? I can't remember his name . . .'
'That's it. Steve.' Moira gave a rather disdainful sniff. Probably remembering Mum's verdict onhim, Julia thought.
'I'm not sure it's got much future, to be honest,' she said.
Moira clicked her tongue. 'You've really been in the wars, haven't you?' There was a momentwhen Julia felt sure she was going to say something about bad news coming in threes, butperhaps thought better of it. Instead she puffed out a breath. 'I'd give you a hand myself, butLen's away to Leicester to watch the football. Time off for good behaviour,' she added wryly.
Julia grinned. 'I'll be fine. And if I don't get it finished today . . . well, there's no greathurry.'
'You'll feel better when it's done, believe me.' Moira pressed her hands together as if inprayer. 'In my experience, it's the most unexpected things that can catch you out. If they do,you know where to find me.'
'Thanks.' Julia propped the biscuits under her arm and picked up the milk. For the sake ofconversation, she said, 'Quiet round here this morning.'
Moira took a moment to consider. 'I suppose it is. I had a couple of folk in when I opened atseven, Mrs Collins and Tom Bradbury with those ruddy dogs of his. But it's freezing out there.I bet everyone's decided to stay in bed, lucky beggars.'
'I expect that's it,' Julia agreed.
When she reached the door, Moira called, 'Keep in touch, won't you? Don't be a stranger!'
Julia trapped the door with her foot and turned back, smiling. At that moment, with her ownheart weighing so heavily, she would never have believed Moira had less than twenty minutes tolive.
Leaving the shop, her attention was caught by a poster in the window of the house opposite.Another of Philip Walker's campaigns, she guessed from the headline in bold four-inch letters.Because of what was to happen next, the words would be forever imprinted on her memory.
This is OUR village! Don't let them DESTROY IT!!
She snorted. Walker was the outspoken leader of a group of local activists, waging a waragainst developers seeking to expand the village. Probably a futile endeavour, if history wasany judge, but Julia had a sneaking sympathy for them. If nothing else, her parents had beenenthusiastic supporters of the cause.
And then, unable to resist the nagging voice of her subconscious, she turned to look north onceagain. She had to know if she had imagined it.
There was still no sign of activity in the village. The Royal Mail van remained in place. Therear doors were definitely open. And the body still lay behind the van, feet angled up on thepavement.