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Not Normal for Norfolk


Ursula Leveson-Gower was gardening. She was a great supporter of Prince Charles and believed firmly in his avowed practice of talking to his plants. She however spoke to hers as though they were an unruly classroom of teenage girls. Her attitude to weeds was that of a plucky teacher protecting her pupils from a deranged madman with a machine gun.
'HOW DARE YOU!' she screamed at a hedge bindweed that was pushing through a fence and threatening her precious Bridal Pink rose.
'GET BACK, GET BACK!' she yelled as she sprayed it viciously with lethal DDT from a hand-pump her grandfather had brought back from Kenya in 1920. She wasn't one for these new-fangled methods.
'There you are girls that's the way to deal with the blighters. I really don't have any idea what you would all do without me, another day or two and he'd have utterly strangled you my dear wouldn't he?'
She bent down and stroked the petals of the Bridal Pink - favourite and class swot. She pressed her nose tenderly to the flower and inhaled deeply. The rose turned into a bouquet and she was transported back to Singapore in 1938. She was coming out of the church with her darling Arthur on her arm, but the bride ahead of them had thrown the bouquet and she had caught it. Everyone was clapping and her brother Arthur was pumping her hand in congratulations, but her childhood sweetheart Peter had been killed in a training accident at Aldershot in '36 and she knew she could never love another. She choked back a tear and flung the bouquet over her shoulder - she knew not where to, but as she woke from her reverie, she found she had pulled the flower off the Bridal Pink and tossed it onto the nearby pool of DDT, where it fizzed and burned and wilted.
'Oh buggery buggery buggery BOO!'
As she stormed back to the potting shed, her poison-pump dripping its venom onto her perfect lawn, she tried to cover her mistake in front of the other plants.
'And that's what you get for being a goody-goody!'
The whole garden noticeably shrank.

When Albert arrived at King's Lynn station in the early evening of a cold Friday in March, he knew it was a bit of a drive to Ursula's house but he also knew she was nearly ninety and he had imagined a chauffeur, or at least a taxi, but Ursula met him alone, and bustled him into a 1968 Mini Cooper with rally lights, a large number 26 on the door, sponsors' adverts and a yellow Monte Carlo Rally sign on the front grille. By the sound of the engine when she gunned it into life - a sweet roar with the after-gurgle of a very wide exhaust-pipe, the car had clearly lived a life with someone who really knew how to look after it. As it turned out, that someone was Ursula.

Her driving was highly alarming, but the constant chatter was even worse. In between family gossip she'd be being her own navigator as well. As they turned off the Fakenham road and headed into a winding country B road with hardly any traffic, she floored the throttle and got into her stride.
'Of course darling Arthur was so enormously popular with the natives in Kenya as he was one of the few Englishmen who would actually lift his boot when they kissed it. Three hundred right hairpin into left four, fifty right hairpin one hundred fast two into straight. Then as you know he was almost single-handedly responsible for the carving up of Iraq by the British mandate in eighteen and look at what's happening there now. Two hundred right four tightening into left six don't cut, twoooo - whoops hundred right two over jump, late with that one. That was fun wasn't it? I mean how can you justify invading a sovereign country without any legality and not think about the aftermath? Typical Americans they should have nuked the place and be done with it as far as I can see. Whoops, sorry, forgot this one. Ha!'

As the Mini drifted sideways into a hedge, bounced off onto the opposite bank, then roared away into the halogen-lit road ahead, Albert realised his palms were bleeding where his fingernails had been digging into them. She'd obviously been a very good driver once, but it was that past tense that was so frightening; she had the confidence without the twitch-reactions and a Mini doing eighty is like 120 in anything else. Albert could not have been more relieved when he found himself still in one piece on their arrival at the Old Rectory in Burnham Thorpedale, two miles from the north Norfolk coast.

He fell in love with the house almost at once. A High Victorian classic and the only building in the village to feature in Pevsner, the Old Rectory had been built with the traditions of England to the fore. The exterior was imposing, with decorative brickwork of subtle shades highlighting each feature and the inside tried to reproduce the random extensions and re-building of a mediaeval manor house. With tiny ogee-arched coal fireplaces in one room and wide stone log-devourers in another and odd staircases leading only to galleries, this was quintessential Victorian England. The echoes of childish games and the chaos of family life shouted from the walls of the upstairs bedrooms, and the dining and billiard rooms too spoke loudly of formal and not so formal entertainments of the past. The molehill-strewn croquet lawn and rotting tennis court also missed the families that once lived and played there, and the garage sneered at the Mini and yearned for Broughams and Surreys and tack and hay.
The last time he'd been there was as a child, when he'd been messed in with four cousins in an upstairs dorm. Now Ursula lived in the house alone, and Albert was given the spacious guest room, with ensuite bath and four-poster bed.

'We still change for dinner'. She'd left him with this poser as he'd dumped his backpack on the enormous carpet. Well not 'dumped' so much as 'dhoofed'. It contained a toothbrush, a pillow, two pairs of underpants (dirty), two pairs of socks (ditto), 'War and Peace' which he was proud to have smuggled out of Belmarsh, a gift from the Prison Library via Blandford, and a Swiss Army Knife - never leave home without one.

When he came down to dinner, washed, shaved, tooth-cleaned and shampooed, but still in the same clothes he'd been arrested in two weeks earlier, Ursula took control.
'My dear boy how remiss of me, I'd quite forgotten your divorce. Did she take all your formal wear too? Poor darling no matter, Tarquin will provide.'
She bustled him upstairs, into a bedroom that looked as though someone had left in a hurry in 1976.
'I keep it like this.' She flung open a wardrobe full of wide-lapelled shoulder-padded suits, multi-coloured bell-bottom loons, wide belts, stack-heeled shoes and flower shirts and ties, and reached inside.
'Of course you know about darling Tarquin he came to live with me after dear darling Arthur and poor sweet Agnes died in that ghastly fire and he was only seven and this was his room and we had lots of lovely times he was a dear boy but then of course family and everything because he wanted to be a dancer so he went into the army and was killed. So then IRA ambush in Londonderry actually and jolly brave, apparently, so there we are and here's his dinner jacket. Bit big but have a go eh?'
She handed him a bespoke Italian-tailored beautiful wool dinner jacket, made for an athletic man of six foot two. Albert was five foot nine, fat and bald. It couldn't have fit worse. It was long in the arm and leg but incredibly tight around the torso and thigh. The trousers were circulation-stopping around his upper leg and the jacket stopped around his ribcage. Not exploding the shirt only by pulling his tummy hard in, he creaked and stumbled his way to dinner.

'And of course dear darling Gaston your father why they called him Gaston god only knows poor chap only member of the family with a Froggie name and entirely inappropriate as I've never known anyone who hated the French as much as dear darling Gaston did he was positively pathological about it do you want some more wine?'
Ursula had retained her culinary skills better than she had her driving ones and the meal had been gargantuan. She didn't have much to forget though. She'd learned cooking as a child in Africa, and it was one simple recipe that applied to any dish - boil it or burn it but lots of everything. If it actually had any taste at all it was either off, or foreign and not to be trusted. Her saving grace was that she believed in a good wine, and had a cellar full of the finest collection of claret in the county. She drank only claret, for the simple reason that it was the only class of wine without a capital letter, and therefore quintessentially English, although French. She filled his glass and re-filled her own. She was two ahead of him.
'And then of course my dear darling brother your father Gaston got God and went mad and sweet Margaret your darling mother tried desperately to stop him but he gave everything away and we brothers and sisters all got things as a result because of something or other about rich men and camels and the eyes of needles and that was practically it, I mean really if it hadn't been for your Pa hearing spooky voices one night in a church in Maidstone, this house would be yours.'
Albert was aghast.
'So whose will it be when you... I'm sorry I wasn't suggesting'
'That I'll ever die? No of course not that would be terribly rude but not actually absurd because I'm awfully old and of course we all die eventually I suppose but since you ask, technically of course it ought to go to your older sister but to be quite frank the woman's not really PLU and I've actually left it to you two.'
'You and Toby. The twins. Equally.'
'Oh my god.' A ghastly vision of Toby, Kate and the children - his children, living in half of this house flashed before him. Like an out of body experience. Watching his identical twin shagging his ex on the same bed that he was sleeping in tonight.
'Will this work? I mean we don't exactly get on. I mean thank you so much, thank you Ursula, so very much but...'
'Well dear I couldn't very well leave it to only one of you could I? I mean I suppose I could have held a competition of some kind and let the winner take all sort of thing and actually I did consider something like that at one time but I thought darling Toby would be bound to win whatever the test was so it would be unfair on you darling Albert so I said to our man at Bird and Bird, never remember his name small bald annoying laugh I said Fifty-Fifty! Loudly so he got the point d'you see?'
Albert was in shock. Even if he couldn't live in this house, Toby worked in the City and could easily afford to buy out his share. It was probably worth one and a half million He was rich!
'But then our solicitor, oh what was his name begins with an A it's the same as someone I actually like on the television set you know does wildlife programmes, he's a knight. Oh!  Attenborough! of course, but then Attenborough said that the house had got something called a mortgage on it, I never understand these things and that now somehow the house actually belongs to Barclay's Bank in Bournemouth for some reason. Isn't that just the limit? So, coffee. Do you mind if I smoke?'

Albert was reluctant to think about the number of times this had happened to him before in his life. They build you up, they knock you down. As they walked into the drawing room and sat by the fire his phone rang. Stupidly he hadn't changed the ringtone to something more Norfolk and it was still on the one he'd downloaded to give him credibility in prison. 'Motherfuckeeeeer!' yelled Toast B or someone with a crashing beat that sent Ursula's lifelong companions, two Jack Russell terriers called Gite and Farmer who had been sleeping peacefully by the roaring fire, into a defensive frenzy. Ursula moved in to quieten them.
He looked at the phone, it was Blandford.
'Blandford, my man.'
'Yeah man wassup.'
'Blandford how lovely to hear from you. Are you out of prison? Where are you?'
'I is outside'
'Outside where?'
'Outside de ouse.'
'What house?'
'Your ouse.'
'In Stroud?'
'No in Norfolk man.'
'You're outside this house?'
'Yeah man listen to de motor.'
Outside the window the roar of a BMW Six series V8 at full revs rattled the logs in the grate.
'Like, what's wid de screamin woman sayin' shit man?'

Tortured by his tight-fitting dinner jacket Albert tried to explain the situation to Ursula as they headed for the front door. '... and he's awfully nice aunt Ursie you'll see, some people really don't deserve to be in prison and my friend Blandford's one of them, that's why I asked him to stay I hope you don't mind. He has a slightly different way of speaking to us, but just think of it like Yorkshire, or Scottish.'
He was aware that his aunt had probably never seen a black face in Norfolk but he was unprepared for her instant reaction.
'Oh! Albert didn't warn me.' she exclaimed.
'He warned me.' said Blandford Leroy charmingly, in the suave, faux upper-class tones that his mother had imbued him with in Slough.
'This is heeow you speak at home!' she had insisted. Every time he'd said 'innit' he didn't eat. As a result of his linguistically chameleon-like background, Blandford's great skill lay in adapting to his surroundings.
'How do you do Mrs Loosen-Gore. My name is Beresford Leroy, I'm an old chum of your nephew and he once impetuously implied that I might beg a bed in this beautiful house of yours for a night or two?'
Ursula was thrilled. No-one said Loosen-Gore, they all said Leveson-Gower, which was how it was spelled but not how it was pronounced. Only those who knew said it properly. Despite the fact that he was an obvious darkie, she knew that these days one couldn't say things like that and had to be nice so she over-compensated and flung out her arms.
'Darling you're welcome here of course you are.'
Fortified with nearly a whole bottle of wine she hugged him passionately, Blandford let it happen. He'd Googled the name and checked the pronunciation.
'Doesn't matter what colour your skin is you could be orange with turquoise spots for all I care it's the chap underneath that counts.
If Tarquin I mean Albert says you're his friend which he just did, even though you're a coloured gentleman that's good enough for an old colonial like me to say welcome and come in we're on the brandy hope to god you smoke I'm dying for a gasper.' Beresford looked at Albert as he stooped through the threshold. It was the first time that Albert had seen him smile.
'A'right.' he said.

'Tarquin?' thought Albert.


Stalinov looked pityingly at Sugden as he tried in vain to get a grip on any of the Russian's professionally bitten nails. He had been biting them nervously for nearly fifty years and there was hardly anything left of them. What there was was anchored in skin.
'Why you not use electric shock on balls?' he suggested, 'Alvays vork, trust me.'
Reluctantly, Sugden reached for the clips attached to a vintage electric shock generator that he'd found in the old Stasi building in Berlin and bought for a song. He clipped them to Stalinov's groin.
'No not there, higher, there just tickle.'
With rising distaste Sugden clipped the wires hard onto Stalinov's scrotum. The Russian did not even wince.
'Start at 100 volt, less I can't feel.'
Sugden turned the dial to 100 and pulled the switch.
'HUNNNYE! is good. Higher.'
'HA-ZHA-ZA-LA-BRRRRAH!' nearly there, two hundred.'
Sugden turned the Bakelite dial to 200 and pulled.
Lofty was impressed.
'Mr Stalinov, have you ever considered working for a British employer?'

The Sugden family went back a long way. Lofty's great-grandfather was called 'Psycho' Sugden. Probably the first villain to be so termed as he was a contemporary of Freud, but definitive in its description as he spent the last half of his life terrorizing an ever worsening series of brutal lunatic asylums. Psycho's son, Percival, had been so traumatized by his father's behaviour as a child, that he'd gone into banking. This served him well when the Sugden gene emerged in his early forties and he'd used his high standing at Gurney's Bank in Fakenham to rob it of five hundred guineas - at first, then a thousand, then two, then more and more until he was caught and hanged. Percival's paternal abuse showed in his choice of name for his own son, Beelzebub, Lofty's dad. Probably the nastiest person who has ever lived, certainly in Cromer.

But never in this long history had a Sugden had to use bolt cutters to free electric torture clips embedded in a Russian assassin's testicles. It took the best part of an hour during which Stalinov never flinched but droned on about the inefficiencies of Lofty's torture room and how they would have done it 'byack home in Yalta.' When they'd finally got him patched up, they sat down with a bottle of vodka to discuss the situation and to identify any mutual interest. It soon became abundantly clear that that interest was in finding Terry's body, failing that his life-vest, and failing that someone with an empty life-vest and a sudden massive change in life-style.


Rufus was quickly becoming a bit of a local hero. The police had eventually believed his story, - after all it was the truth, apart from the bit about being offered the hundred grand.
'Twelve million pounds, you must be mad, he didn't offer me anything, he just stuck a gun in my throat!'
Jesus, he'd only told Alistair a thousand, just shows how the village gossip network runs.
He'd been interviewed for local TV, had a very pretty reporter from the Eastern Daily Press pop round and had even answered questions on the phone for the Daily Mail and News of the World.
Alistair rang him on the mobile.
'You told me I wasn't to tell anyone. Seems everyone knows, you were even on the telly. There's me desperate to tell someone all day and keeping a tight lid on it and there you are on 'Look East'. I mean honestly.'
'Sorry Al.' Rufus was revelling in it. Even the cheeky teenagers in the bar were looking at him with a new respect, especially the girls.
'So wossit like havin' a gun to yer 'ead eh Rufus?' purred Goth Geraldine, stroking his face with a black fishnet glove, 'bit of a turn-on is it?' He had blushed.
'Oh it was nothing really, you know, all in a day's work as they say' she had very come-to-bed eyes.
'What about a night's work though?'
He was still debating this obvious come-on at a drinks party that evening held at the Latymer's in his honour. Twice divorced but with no children, he was free to choose, but bonking the locals was never a good idea, especially since he happened to be unusually small in the todger department and was forced to rely on powerful tabs of Viagra to keep it as large as possible. These caused him to sweat profusely and go purple in the face, which can be disguised as passion the first few times, but becomes quite suspicious and extremely off-putting very quickly indeed. Hence the divorces. You don't want something like that getting out, specially not in Norfolk - they can be a cruel bunch.
Especially the press. By the morning they'd collectively decided that he wasn't such a hero after all. He hadn't been held hostage, so what had stopped him going to the police? Either it was craven cowardice, or there was something fishy going on.
They had a field day.
That, however was the least of Rufus's problems, because his description of 'Mr Smith' was very accurate indeed, and Sugden always read all the papers. It was his reading list for the University of Life. As a proud alumnus of this august institution, he had furthered even further his further education by continuing to read the Star, the Sun, the News of the World and occasionally, if he was feeling a bit highbrow, the Mirror. The following morning however, a headline at the newsstand made him look twice at the Daily Mail. Unfolding the unfamiliar pages in the car, he read the article titled,
He looked up.
'The bastard's still alive.'
He looked back down at the grinning photo of Rufus in his prime, 'and you my friend, 'Mr Rufus Borthwick', know where he is.'

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