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by abracad

December 1945, South East London

The shabbily dressed man walked hesitantly through the icy rain until he came to the door of a modest terraced house. He paused a moment before knocking. "Hello mum", he said. "Peter! you'd better come in said the astonished woman". The stern looking middle aged man looked up from his paper. "Well, well. What brings you back here?", "I've come home, dad" replied Peter.

"This is not your home any more. And you are not my son." The woman and the young boy in the corner sat in silence and disbelief. "When you ran away from the army like a coward you disgraced this family, and this country.", "We've been treated like outcasts because of what you did."

Peter looked at the floor. "Dad, I just couldn't...", but he knew he was wasting his time. "I'll give you one last chance. Get out of here now and I won't tell the police. Get out and don't try to contact any of us again. You've made your bed, now lie in it."

A broken man, Peter walked towards the door. Before he left his mother opened her purse and pressed some notes into his hand. "It isn't much... I'm sorry... Take care." He gave her a final hug before stepping outside. The rain was turning to sleet as he buttoned up his coat for a little more warmth. He shuddered at the thought of yet another night of sleeping rough.

December 2000, Brighton

Andrew Jackson and Sara, his partner of two months, were eating breakfast in the kitchen of their dingy rented bedsit. The clunk of the letterbox indicated the days post had arrived. "More bills", sighed Andy. "I'll get it", said Sara chirpily. "you never know it might be a reply from one of those hotel jobs you applied for." After six months on the dole Andy could not be so optimistic.

He pushed the brown envelope to one side. "I'll look at it later" he said unenthusiastically. "I'm working this afternoon" said Sara, "will you pick up something for tea later, and if you get the chance can you vacuum the floors." Only half listening, he agreed. "I might walk down the JobCentre later" he said. "Tim told me they were looking for postmen for a few weeks. Over the Christmas rush".

When Sara returned from her lunchtime shift at the Rose and Crown Andy's mood had changed completely. He'd obviously been drinking, but this time it was to celebrate rather than drown his sorrows. The brown envelope had contained a letter from a solicitor. It confirmed that Andy had inherited a house and some money from a long lost relative. "At last. Our troubles are over. I can't believe it. I didn't even know I had an uncle Peter."

That evening he called his father who was obviously shocked to hear of the letter. "Yes, I had a brother Peter." he said, though it was obviously painful to remember. "He was quite a bit older than me." Andy's father told him how Peter had suffered from depression. He was conscripted into the army when the war began and saw active service. But it all became too much for him and he ran away. The old man's voice trembled as he described the last time he saw his brother. "After that we never heard from him again, though someone told us he'd gone abroad. Your gran often thought about him. I knew that. But she never mentioned him out loud."

June 1960, New Zealand

"Pete, can I see you for a moment" said Ralph Newby to his business partner. The partner, Peter Jackson, sat down in Newby's office. "I've been going through the accounts. There seem to be some discrepancies. And a lot of payments to a Mr Charlton authorized by you. Who is this Charlton? Why have you been paying him all this money?"

Jackson knew he'd been rumbled. His voice trembled. "I, er... I can explain. I just borrowed it... I got into some trouble..." Newby sat expressionless, saying nothing. Jackson glanced at the wall clock, it was almost 8. He realised they were alone in the building. Instinctively he stood up, snatching the heavy metal cash box he struck Newby over the head as hard as he could. Newby slumped forwards. Jackson struck him twice more.

Jackson kicked over the paraffin heater, grabbed the contents of the cash box and ran from the building. He watched the smoke in his rear-view mirror as he drove away as quickly as he could. He figured that in such a remote location the building would be destroyed along with the evidence before any assistance arrived. And so it was.

There was of course a full investigation. Jackson was questioned by police, but it was eventually put down as an opportunistic robbery. Soon after Mr Charlton's account was closed and the proceeds withdrawn in sterling.

December 2000, Plymouth

A couple of days after receiving the letter Andy had made his way to the solicitor's office in Plymouth. "Mr Gross will see you now" said the middle-aged secretary, pointing to the black door in the corner of the waiting area.

Seated behind a large desk sat a formal looking man with tiny-lensed spectacles perched near the end of his nose. "Ah. Mr. Jackson" he said lifting his head to make eye contact. "We've had a devil of a time tracking you down. Take a seat, won't you." Andy sat on the ancient looking red leather chair. "Now, there's the house, and the sum of some 60,000 pounds. You do have some proof of ID, don't you." Andy thought for a moment before replying " err, yes, driving licence, credit card. Will they do? What can you tell me about my uncle?"

Gross hesitated for a while and then began to explain the somewhat strange and sorry tale of Peter Jackson. It seemed he had left England for New Zealand shortly after the war following some kind of disagreement with his family. He'd moved around for a time from place to place and job to job before meeting one Ralph Newby. Together the two had set up an importing business which became quite successful. It seemed Newby was the brains and Jackson had somehow been under his control. Anyway they'd done quite well together. Until, in the early 60's tragedy struck. Newby had been murdered while working late at the office. It seemed some opportunists had broken in, battered Newby to death and taken a large amount in cash.

Suspicion had even fallen upon Jackson for a time, but there was no evidence linking him to the crime. Jackson disappeared for a while but then turned up again in England. He settled in Plymouth, bought the house in which he died and lived out his life as a virtual recluse. About two years ago neighbours became concerned after not seeing him around for a while. Eventually the police were alerted and when they broke in they found his decomposed body. He'd died from a massive heart attack. Gross continued, "We were given the job of winding up his affairs and found he'd made a will in favour of his nephew Andrew, your good self. Trouble is we had no idea where you were, but tenacity paid dividends, and so, here you are."

Andy and Sara were somewhat subdued as they approached Andy's newly acquired house. He turned the key with more than a little trepidation. Sara gripped his arm in support. Inside was exactly as his uncle had left it. Dusty, sparsely furnished, with an overpowering musty smell hanging in the air.

Sara rolled up her sleeves, opened the windows and started the task of cleaning and tidying. Andy stood. Lost in thought. "I think we'd better scrap all this furniture and stuff and start again" said Sara. Andy did not answer. "Are you listening? Andy?" she tried again. "Oh, sorry. Yeah, whatever. I was just a bit overwhelmed by all this" he said.

"What's this?" asked Andy, holding up a piece of polished wood engraved with the letters of the alphabet. "It's a Ouija board." replied Sara. "It's for talking to the dead. I tried it once when I was at college. It's a laugh. Shall we have a go later?".

A fish and chip supper and countless cans of lager later the Ouija board was set up on the kitchen table. Nothing happened. Andy was just about to put the board in a black rubbish sack when he suggested they try one more time. This time they were more serious. The glass slowly began to move. S - O - R - R - Y - S - O - R - R - Y - M - A - K - E - A - M - E - N - D - S. The glass was still for a second or two before it flew across the room. Both were stunned.

Over the next few weeks the house was gradually cleared and started to take shape as their home. The Ouija board was put away, but Andy couldn't bring himself to throw it away. The events of the first night were never mentioned. Sara noticed that Andy began to change. He became serious and withdrawn. She asked him if anything was wrong, but he said he was just exhausted working on the house. She also noticed that he wasn't sleeping well. Several nights he woke covered in sweat screaming "help!". When questioned he claimed he couldn't remember anything about it.

Gradually they grew further apart. Sara inwardly wished Andy would sell the house, but he became increasingly attached to it. It was like he had finally found his real home.

One weekend they had a big argument. Sara asked Andy to go with her to visit her parents. He refused. She went one her own leaving him alone.

That evening he decided to pay a visit to the local pub. They'd been so busy he hadn't had a chance until then. He ordered a pint and took a seat at an empty table, quietly observing the world, or a small corner of it, go by. He was there no more than twenty minutes when a lively sounding young man asked, "Mind of I join you?", "Go ahead", replied Andy, inwardly welcoming the chance for some new company.

It turned out Jeff, the young man, was also new to the area. He'd recently travelled from New Zealand. By chance he was also in the catering business. He'd trained in Auckland but found the opportunities limited so he'd come to visit his father's country to broaden his horizons. He'd been working in London a while and was now looking to open a restaurant of his own. Nothing extravagant, just something that would allow him to exercise his own creative freedom.

A few years before Andy had taken a college catering course. Artistic by nature he'd been driven by the desire to create his own unique culinary delights. After graduating he'd gone through a succession of jobs in sweat shop kitchens peeling spuds and slicing carrots until he'd become disillusioned with his chosen path. Talking to Jeff reignited his original enthusiasm.

Without disclosing his inheritance he hinted to Jeff that he might have a few quid to spare if he were looking for a partner.

Jeff and Andy's friendship grew as rapidly as Sara and Andy's fell apart. Sara felt she was becoming less and less important to Andy and eventually moved back to her parent's. Before the inheritance Sara had been Andy's backbone, but now he hardly noticed she'd gone. He'd fallen in love with his uncle's house and simply couldn't imagine moving anywhere else. The bad dreams which plagued him in the early days had ceased, though he started to get very vivid dreams of places and people he didn't know. Perhaps his imagination was making up for him having no time any more for the tv soaps.

He didn't care. His new project with Jeff gave him a sense of purpose which had been missing for a long time. They found premises they both agreed on and set about transforming their plan into reality. Jeff seemed mature beyond his twenty-one years, and, as Andy discovered when they came to pay the deposit, surprisingly wealthy. Jeff explained that his grandfather had been killed in an accident and that the money had been held in trust in the family. When his mother had learned of his plans in England she agreed to let Jeff make use of it. Andy simply told Jeff he'd inherited his house and a little money from a long lost relative.

"Thank you very much, gentlemen", said the bank manager, "it only remains for me to wish you the very best of luck with AJ's". "Oh, before you go, there is just one more piece of information we need - your mother's maiden name. It's a kind of security check in case you ever need to contact us by telephone." Andy replied "Robinson". "Mine's Newby", said Jeff. It immediately rang a bell with Andy, but he just couldn't think why. Later that night he recalled the conversation with the solicitor who told him about his uncle's past in New Zealand. "Newby. Surely it couldn't be..... Just a coincidence....." He resolved to put the matter out of his mind.

July 2001, Plymouth

"Heyyyyyyyyy!, we did it!" whooped Jeff. AJ's opening night had finally arrived. A mere six months after their first chance meeting, it seemed to Andy like an eternity. He so wanted this to be a success. After a life of false starts and broken dreams this was his chance to be somebody. A more reserved character than his partner he simply smiled, inwardly praying this time things would turn out right.

Some boys had been pushing leaflets through doors and giving out flyers. They'd even managed a few lines in the local rag. How many customers would turn up for the opening? Would the two of them be able to cope?

They needn't have worried on that front. Just three customers came that evening. A respectable looking middle-aged couple and a businessman who just happened to notice them as he was passing. The new entrepreneurs reassured themselves that things would get better. They'd chosen to open on Wednesday so as not to overwhelmed. Just wait 'til the weekend, they'll be turning folk away.

But the rush never came. Days turned to weeks, weeks to months. The bills continued to arrive, and letters from the bank became more frequent and less friendly. Then disaster struck. One of their few customers got food poisoning. The environmental health department ordered them to close while it carried out a thorough investigation.

Jeff changed from being life and soul of the party. He became morose and aggressive. Often accusing Andy for the mess in which they found themselves. Though he would quickly calm down and apologise. Both men sought ways to extricate themselves.

The Sunday after the closure Andy dozed off in the armchair after finishing a whole bottle of wine. In the dream that followed he found himself in the cellar of the restaurant. He scratched at the wall and found a secret compartment. Inside was a box containing gold, jewels and money. He woke with a start. It had been so vivid, so real. He looked at his watch, half-past midnight. He knew he had to go to that cellar right then.

Jeff looked around before inserting the key gently in the lock. The street was deserted. He splashed the petrol from the can liberally around. He felt sad, but this was the only way. The insurance money would release them both from this nightmare. He could return to New Zealand, and Andy could keep the house he loved so much. He lit a match, tossed it on the floor and walked away without looking back.

Down in the cellar Andy searched everywhere for the secret compartment. When he realised it didn't exist he just lay on the floor. Unable to find the energy to get up he swigged from the bottle he had helped himself to on the way down. Drifting in and out of sleep he could feel himself coughing, choking, but unable to move or even cry for help. And then before drifting into oblivion for the final time he was aware of the sound of hysterical laughter.

It was several months before Andy's parents could bring themselves to clear his house. Bundling his clothes for the local charity shop his mother found some pieces of charred and broken wood at the back of the wardrobe. Wondering why he should have kept them she looked more closely, making out what had been letters of the alphabet.

Meanwhile, police investigations into the blaze had drawn a complete blank. Visiting the address Jeff had supplied the bank they found a derelict house. The owner was an elderly invalid who'd had the property boarded up some years before after squatters moved in. It was clear no one had been there for a long time. No claim was ever received by the insurance company. Neither was any trace of the Newby family found in New Zealand.

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