If you’re a visitor to this blog who hasn’t started reading Breaking Faith, perhaps looking at the reviews on the 'My Books' may persuade you to give it a try.
To those continuing the journey, I say, ‘Enjoy the ride.’
I posted Chapter 1 way back on 13 January. Subsequent chapters have appeared each Friday, and will continue to be posted until all 50 have appeared here. You can find those already posted via the archive; just search by chapter number.
If you missed the start, you’ll find it here: http://stuartaken.blogspot.com/2012/01/read-free-my-novel-here.html
Read, enjoy, invite your friends to join us.
Wednesday 2nd June
‘Faith, for you.’
Zizi handed me the phone that had woken us. She sauntered onto her narrow balcony for her first fix, overlooking the crowded street below and the office block opposite. She inhaled her chosen poison in a deep, shuddering breath as I brought the handset to my ear.
‘Hi, Faith, how’s things?’
‘Heacham’s beaten Netta broken her skin badly hurt her you’ve got to come home right now she’s been crying for you Leigh I tried to get you but there was no answer and Ma said I had to wait ‘til this morning before I tried again she’s badly hurt she needs you you should be here.’
All in one breath and without a pause. It took a while to get through. Zizi, using her free hand to raise her tee shirt, took some of my attention. ‘What?’
‘Listen, Leigh! Netta’s been badly hurt. Heacham’s beaten her. Mervyn sent him some of your pictures. She needs you here, and she needs you now.’
‘I’ll be there as soon as I can. I’m on my way.’
Zizi turned back, as I replaced the handset, and crushed the fag against the wall before dropping it to the balcony floor. She peeled the tee shirt over her head and came back inside. ‘You promised me all of Thursday, Leigh.’
‘I can give you another hour or so, Zizi.’
I told her what had happened and she shelved her interest in sex with me. Without persuasion, she pack for me and made some breakfast as I showered. She accompanied me downstairs, wrapped in peach silk that left the length of her wonderful legs uncovered.
Two male students in the flat below saw her pass their open door. ‘Our balcony’s in full sun if you want to work on that all over tan, Zoë.’
‘Depends what you’re charging, boys.’
‘Just the usual.’
She left me to wonder whether she’d accept their offer when I’d gone. I hoped she would; I was sorry to disappoint her by leaving so soon. At the door, she slipped the knot in the belt to remind me what I was leaving and then embraced me with love. ‘See you soon, Leigh?’
‘I hope so, Zizi, my love.’
‘Tell Faith to hang on in there for me. And to keep her promise, no matter what.’
Another mysterious message; passed from one woman I loved and couldn’t have to another I was beginning to love and wasn’t sure whether I should have or not anymore.
Zizi stayed shaded by the doorway as she waved goodbye, a shadow promising all and reminding me of what I was missing by leaving.
Faith was in the office watching for me. She ran to the gate, fresh and lovely and bright in the sunshine as she opened the gate. A promise of things to come, provided I treated her with the circumspection and patience Paul had advised. But her expression of concern flickered only briefly to pleasure at seeing me again; at least I hoped that was the cause of the fleeting smile.
‘Leave your bags, I’ll take them. She’s in the spare room opposite mine.’
I kissed her lovely mouth and held her longer than the simple greeting required and was gratified that she relaxed and responded quite naturally. ‘And I’m please to see you, too, Faith.’
She gave a little moue of apology. ‘She’s hurt, Leigh. She needs you.’ And she dived into the car for my things as I went into the house.
Netta rose unsteadily as I entered and turned so I could examine her wounds, many of them dressed in bandages. I took her hand and kissed her ear to avoid the bruised and broken skin. It was an amplified echo of Faith’s beating and it was clear who’d done it. Why, however, was less obvious.
Matilda and Ma expounded their theory as Netta slept beneath her narcotic blanket later that evening. I was inclined to believe they had it about right but determined to discover as much of the truth as I could for myself. In the meantime, since I could do nothing for Netta that night, I made a secret call after dinner and then passed some news to Faith.
‘What’s on tomorrow, Faith?’
‘Nothing for you, since you were supposed to be travelling home. I was going to do some printing, why?’
‘Good. Sort out some glad rags. I’m taking you to see your father in the morning.’ Anyone would think I’d announced her forthcoming execution.
‘God, Leigh, for a man who knows women, you sometimes show precious little understanding of our fears. Why the hell are you taking her to see Heacham after this…?’
I frowned at Matilda. ‘Heacham? I’m taking her to see her father, her real father; David Lengdon. And, naturally, I thought she’d be pleased.’
‘I am pleased. And stop talking about me as though I wasn’t here. I had enough of that in my village idiot days. I’m just terrified, that’s all.’
‘He’s a gentleman. You’ve nothing to fear.’
‘You’ve met him?’ Her eagerness almost undid me.
I very nearly confessed the whole of it to her. But Matilda was suddenly more than just interested and she stopped me ruining the surprise for Faith. ‘How? How did you find him? When? Where is he?’
‘You never told Matilda you’d discovered his address?’
‘I didn’t want to raise her hopes. Not until I knew the situation. He might be married and have a family…’
‘Is he? Has he…?’
I told Matilda of Faith’s search and then told both of them about my meeting, barely hinting at the man’s sickness. I had no wish for Faith to spend the night worrying about his health when there was nothing she could do about it. Time enough for that in the morning. I left Faith to explain to her mother exactly how she’d discovered his whereabouts and went up to spend a short vigil at Netta’s bedside.
I kissed Netta’s sleeping forehead as Faith came to take over; Netta was still showing signs of fear in the night. Matilda had gone to the bathroom earlier and I called a soft goodnight to her through the open door of her room but received no reply. I assumed she must have gone to bed so I showered quickly and went to my own lonely bed.
‘I’ve set the alarm to wake me at three so I can relieve Faith. But I’m hoping not to get much sleep, Leigh. Can’t have you sleeping alone when there’s willing woman free, can we? In any case, you deserve a reward for what you’ve done for Faith, and for me, you lovely man.’
Matilda was absent when I woke around seven. I found her sitting beside Netta’s bed reading in the soft light from the window. For a woman who hadn’t slept, she looked remarkably fresh.
‘Amazing.’ I kissed her.
‘You certainly are.’ Her voice was a whisper to protect Netta’s sleep.
I went to shower, only to discover Faith in there, washing her hair and looking so tempting with the suds running down her skin. ‘Sorry.’
The house was becoming full of women. It was time I considered a second bathroom.
Breakfast was full of anticipation and eager speculation. I let them talk, unwilling to spoil their dreams with reality at this early stage.
Faith’s eagerness continued in the car. ‘Matilda really wanted to come with me, you know, and I said she could.’
I concentrated on the road for a few seconds, putting off the moment I’d have to impart the bad news. ‘She was wise to give you this chance to meet him on your own first. Her own meeting may be less happy than she imagines. There’s something you need to know and there’s no easy way to tell you, Faith. I won’t treat you like a baby because I know how brave you are.’
She stiffened, waiting for the shock.
‘David has cancer.’ I let that sink in.
‘He’s dying, then? How long; do you know?’
I should have expected her matter-of-fact bravery but she continued to surprise me with her ability to overcome her emotions with practical considerations.
‘Maybe a few weeks, perhaps as long as eighteen months.’
She remained silent for the rest of the journey until we reached the cottage. I stopped the car.
‘I could just say I won’t meet him, I suppose. And risk breaking his heart.’
‘Or you can meet him, knowing for certain that you’ll break your own.’
‘So. No choice at all. Are you coming in with me?’
I walked her to the cottage where Eric was already waiting. Bruce, beside him, made no sound this time, but looked up at me through soulful eyes before giving his attention to Faith who scratched behind his ears.
‘I’ve an errand after all. Be back about four, if that’s okay?’
Eric nodded and appraised Faith’s clothes rather than her body and I suddenly understood. The thought initially fed my subconscious conditioning and I was momentarily revolted. Then I saw that David wouldn’t reciprocate and I was visited by the pathos of such love unrequited for so long. Eric must be a sad and lonely man. I shook his hand in a gesture we both only partly comprehended and then left him to discover Faith and to care for the man he loved.
It was not the most fitting way to begin a journey I expected to end in violence. Too tender by half. But, driving over the fells, I recalled the stripes and cruel wheals that marked my gorgeous Netta’s skin, the damage to her beautiful face, and my anger rekindled.
The hot dry weather had continued and the track leading to the farm was no longer the usual muddy path but a narrow road littered with hard ridges and deep, dry dips. I drove carefully and parked at the edge of the filthy farmyard. There was animal muck everywhere. Rusting machinery lay abandoned where it had been left. Barbed wire tied rotting fence posts to rails, forming inefficient and dangerous barriers.
My voice carried only a short distance, deadened by the heat and the muck that seemed to overlay the whole place. The back door was ajar. Beside it, a small pile of fresh cow muck steamed and buzzed with flies and cleggs. I pushed the door and a Rhode Island Red jumped off the kitchen table and fluttered, clucking in panic, further into the house.
No reply and no sign of life.
I knew they had an ancient Land Rover but there was no sign of it. I toured the cowsheds and barns but found no one. As I turned back toward the house, my eye caught a movement through one of the upper windows; a brief glimpse of a body that could belong to only one man.
I pushed the back door fully open and walked through a kitchen fouled by farmyard birds and stinking with uncovered food and unwashed crockery. There was chicken shit on the floor of the next room and at the foot of the stairs, staining the threadbare carpet. I stopped to listen. The stairs were stone and made no sound as I ascended.
There were three single beds in the room. Merv was lying on the one in the far corner, adjacent walls plastered in pictures stolen from Longhouse, pictures I had taken. His hand stopped abruptly as I entered and he tried to cover himself with the filthy sheet under him. It suited me to have him vulnerable and I pulled the cover from him, tearing it with a satisfying ripping sound. He cowered, huddling into a foetal position and staring up at me in fear.
He pretended not to understand. I was out of patience and the room stank. ‘I asked you why, Merv? Why send pictures of Netta to Heacham? Did you hope he’d get your revenge for you?’
‘Did, didn’t he?’
‘And you told him where to find her, and when, because you’ve been spying on her ever since she got you sacked.’
‘Twat deserved a fuckin’ thrashin’ after what it did to me.’
‘Refused your advances, you mean?’
‘It said it wanted a proper shag an’ I could if I wanted. An’ when I were goin’ to screw it, it screamed its fuckin’ ‘ead off.’
‘You think she deserved to be beaten black and blue?’
‘That twat got me sacked for nuthin’. I never did nuthin’ to it! I ‘ope Heacham skinned the fuckin’ twat.’
Maybe because I suspected there was some truth in his allegations, and I was in no mood to admit it, I lost it. Before I knew what I was doing, I had the bed tipped over and Merv on the floor at my feet. He tried to scrabble away but I grabbed his throat and lashed at him with my spare fist and my feet. He’d damaged my Netta just as surely as if he were Heacham and I made the bastard pay. He was begging me to stop before I got control back again. I gave him one last kick and left him bleeding and sobbing on the floor, naked and shamed.
I cleared the walls of pictures, pausing to stare at a single shot of Faith amongst the other girls who’d willingly and trustingly posed for me. I shuffled the pictures into a pile, my turmoil turned to utter confusion by that single picture of innocence corrupted.
Downstairs, his brothers and father faced me in the yard. They knew me, of course. I was in the mood to deal with them in the same manner, in spite of their number, and it must have shown.
‘Had to have a word with Merv.’
They parted and let me through. In the yard, I turned to face them. ‘He has a little story to tell. It might amuse you.’
They stared at me with what amounted to incomprehension and I realized the rumours about Merv’s mother were probably true after all. Poor woman. Faced with that brood, there was no wonder she jumped off the crag.
Their Land Rover was badly parked, but I got past it. Flies followed me the full length of the track and I felt contaminated and fouled by my contact.
At Longhouse, I showered immediately.
‘Where’s Faith?’ Matilda stood in the doorway and watched me towelling dry, a knowing smile on her lovely face.
‘Picking her up later. Is Netta awake?’
‘Sleeping like a baby.’
I was still coming down from the height of my anger and I wanted a word with Netta. I wanted to know if Merv’s accusation was true.
‘You look as though you could do with a drink. Or something.’
I nodded. ‘Nothing to drink. I’m driving in a couple of hours.’
‘Something else, then.’
She took my hand and led me to my bedroom where she urged me onto the bed, face down. There was a brief pause as she studied me before sitting astride me, her skin in contact with mine. Her hands and fingers worked magic on my muscles as she loosened the knots of tension and anger. She worked all the rage from me, relaxed me into a mellow state and then gently urged me onto my back.
I hadn’t been aware of her removing her clothes but she brushed my chest with her breasts and used her lips to ready me. It was the perfect remedy and I surrendered to her completely, allowing her to take complete control. She repaid my trust by playing the ministering angel and left me satiated and utterly relaxed.
At half past five, I recalled I hadn’t collected Faith.
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