I’m following a nineteenth century tradition and publishing some of “Leefdale” by Michael Murray in weekly instalments.
You can find the links to previous instalments on this page.
So, if you like the Dickensian idea of reading your novels in weekly instalments,
read on …..
After parting from Sharon outside her office in Luffield, Dylan Bourne set off for his immediate destination which was York. In this ancient, walled city the Station Hotel had served as his base for the past six days. It was from here that he’d ventured forth every morning to motorcycle all over North and East Yorkshire searching for potential properties; and every evening he’d returned, having left behind him several happy estate agents, each one under the impression that they’d definitely be receiving a cash offer from him for one of their overpriced pieces of real estate. Unfortunately, he’d never possessed the authority to make such a promise: the decision to purchase a property required the agreement of his colleagues. But Dylan was one of those people who wanted others to be happier than reality usually permits them to be.
He arrived at the hotel mid-afternoon and headed straight for the lounge where he settled in to a comfortable arm chair and ordered a cream tea. Whilst waiting for it to arrive he again studied the property details for The Old Rectory and indulged himself in a pleasant recollection of Sharon Makepiece’s memorable eyes and her other undeniable attributes. Later, after scones, strawberry jam and clotted cream washed down with two cups of Earl Grey, he went up to his room where he showered, changed his clothes, packed his few belongings and checked out. He then drove the Ariel Red Hunter back to London via the A1 and M11, at times approaching speeds slightly in excess of seventy miles an hour, and arrived at the outskirts of the capital just after nightfall.
His destination was a luxury riverside development in Narrow Street, Limehouse. This was the home of Charles Reynolds, who, after his elevation to the peerage by New Labour, was now known as Lord Reynolds of Sandleton-on-Sea. The popular East Yorkshire fishing resort had been chosen by Charles as the territorial designation for his title because in 1951 he’d been born there into a family of hotel keepers. His all-consuming ambition in youth, however, was not to be an hotelier but a painter. In order to realize his dream he’d deeply antagonised his parents. On his eighteenth birthday, they’d been shocked when their gift of a fourteen bedroomed hotel had been ungratefully rejected in favour of a place at The Slade. Sadly, in the years following graduation, Charles discovered that a combination of rejection and lack of material comforts was vitiating what little single-mindedness of purpose he possessed for the creation of Art. Five years and dozens of unsold pictures later, he humbly returned to Sandleton to claim his birthright, and then rapidly achieved the material success his parents had always wished for him. His first fortune had been made from property; his second from buying and selling Old Masters. These early, seminal experiences gave him an ineluctable faith in the transformative power of Art, and the unshakable conviction that in a civilised country no-one should ever be denied access to decent accommodation. Which is why, in 1995, he’d broken with decades of family tradition and joined the Labour Party. It was also at this time that he’d established The Sandleton Trust, a not-for-profit organisation dedicated to using art and art therapy to transform the lives of young people who’d been excluded from mainstream education because of their anti-social behaviour.
Charles opened the door of his penthouse apartment and greeted Dylan warmly. He then ushered him into the main reception area where a man and two women were sitting drinking white wine. Their names were Eric, Toni and Zoe. Eric was in his late twenties: his caramel skin tone, springy black hair and light blue eyes indicated a lineage rich in racial diversity. He was smartly but casually dressed in a white open necked shirt, brown leather jacket and beige chinos. His long hair would have suggested non-conformity if it hadn’t been so stylishly cut. Toni was several years older than Eric. She wore a navy blue cardigan over a pink blouse and her grey skirt was knee length. Blue tights and navy blue high heeled shoes completed her outfit which was vaguely redolent of school uniform. Her fair hair was cut short and her rimless spectacles gave her a slightly severe look which vanished on better acquaintance when you saw that her face was actually radiating kindness and integrity. By contrast, Zoe was dressed fashionably but sportily in white trainers, white joggers with a drawstring waist and a pastel blue T shirt. She wore only one piece of jewellery, a necklace in blue coral. These colours perfectly complemented her long titian hair and cobalt blue eyes that glinted with unusual lights. Her hair and skin had the wholesome glow of those who spend as much time as they can in the open air. Her face was striking and had a perfect balance of features but was prevented from being conventionally beautiful by a slight twist of pugnacity about the mouth. She’d studied drama at university and had acted professionally for a while. Like many actresses her face was unusually expressive: so sensitive an instrument for conveying mood and emotion that she appeared to feel things much more keenly than others; and often did. Charles was dressed formally in the businessman’s standard uniform of light grey suit, blue shirt and red silk tie. He was a man in his late forties, of medium height and with closely cropped greying hair. Only his stylish Italian spectacle frames prevented him from appearing completely stuffy and boring, and indicated the possibility of a slightly more intriguing hinterland. In this smart company, Dylan, who was wearing his unwashed grey T shirt and faded blue jeans, looked somewhat under-dressed. Yet, despite his recent long journey, he appeared to be the only one who was completely at his ease.
Eric waved a greeting and smiled. Toni said, ‘Hello.’ Zoe nodded coolly. Then Toni and Eric started to bombard him with questions.
‘Hang on!’ said Dylan. ‘I’m dying to go to the loo.’
When he returned he found bowls of chilli con carne and salad had appeared. Charles offered wine. Dylan declined and asked for mineral water. They started to eat and the questions began again, polite banal questions: how had he enjoyed York? What had he done in the evenings? What had the traffic been like on the motorway? Dylan’s responses were perfunctory because he was not only tired but disorientated. Outside the penthouse, dark, warm night had fallen. The Thames was winding luminously between canyons of post-modernist apartment buildings, its flat surface iridescent with the reflected light from thousands of domestic light bulbs. Downstream the aircraft warning light on the roof of Canary Wharf was pulsing with mesmeric regularity. But the built environment was competing for attention with much more compelling images in Dylan’s mind: the Yorkshire landscape and Sharon Makepiece. He was surprised to find himself yearning for both.
‘So, what have you got for us?’ asked Charles. The meal was over; coffee served; the real business of the meeting had begun.
Dylan opened his canvas duffle bag and took out the details of properties he’d identified as suitable for the establishment of the first social inclusion unit in Yorkshire. He placed them on the coffee table. ‘As I told Charles on the phone, there were an enormous number of properties in the target area which met our criteria and fell within budget. I’ve managed to reduce them to a shortlist of six.’
The estate agents’ descriptions were passed around and scrutinised while Dylan gave his personal impressions of the six properties he’d identified as potential purchases. He was then subjected to rigorous questioning about them and the advantages and disadvantages of each property were discussed in full. Disagreements were aired; positions taken up; opinions began to harden like cement.
Although he thought Cold Dale Farm probably came nearest to meeting their needs, Dylan didn’t attempt to promote the purchase of any particular property. He simply described the merits of each and was happy to answer questions and provide further information whenever it was appropriate. Otherwise, he was content to rest his aching limbs and relax as best he could on Charles’s uncomfortable minimalist furniture. He’d have given anything to have gone straight home to bed but he knew that wasn’t an option. Charles was flying out the following day to Washington. He was part of a delegation of members of the Upper House who were touring the United States researching the work of social inclusion units. He wouldn’t return for three weeks. A decision on the property had to be made that night.
Charles removed his glasses and fixed Dylan with an unnervingly myopic blue stare.
‘Well, Dylan. We seem to have reached an impasse. You’ve had the opportunity to view all of these properties. Which one do you think is the most suitable?’
Dylan smiled and was astonished to hear himself say, ‘The one that’s made the least impact on you all: Leefdale rectory.’
Read on with the free preview below.