Exit | Entrance | Living it up | Living it down | Waking up is hard to do | Stress and distress | Spring green and mushrooms | Depressing stuff | Deliverance | Departure



©Marcus J Brierley, 1999

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1 - Exit

Damian's car bulged and swayed as it swept along wet andmoonlight streets. He headed towards the girls' dorms to enjoy a night withPatsy. In 1966, female college students were regarded as pure – protectedand pure. Corrupting boys were not allowed after ten at night, the bewitchinghour. The same was true in reverse. Anyone under the magic age of 21 wasconsidered in loco infantis. The same was true in reverse. At 22 years of age,Damian James was a danger to all such souls.

Parking in the street, his lanky frame slithered through theshrubbery. Letting himself into Lady Jane Hall with his personal key he mountedthe backstairs almost five at a time. In room 206, Patsy welcomed him with alingering kiss. They slept till ten and other things.

"Can you lend me £120 quid till my nextgrant?" said Damian his mouth filled with foam from rigorous brushing withPatsy's tooth brush.

"Jesus, " said Patsy, sitting hard on the bed withdisbelief, "you must be mad."

"C'mon man, wus just jokin'," Damian wiped thefoam on his watch strap and massaged it into his beard thoughtfully, "It'sOK, I'll get it from the bank."

Financial plan B was structured while doing the industrialstrength zip on his hand-stitched made-in-heaven red needle-cordpirate-bottomed pants. Patsy was great at sewing stuff, which was why he hadchosen her.

Cleaners were already on the landing when Damian openedPatsy's door and stepped out onto the corridor.

"Bye man, see you later," he said without turninghis head an inch in her direction.

Without flinch or fester he nodded abrupt acknowledgement inthe cleaning staff's direction and meandered down the stairs as if they werehis own. The ladies shook their raggy heads and clucked words like"disgusting" and "thinks 'e's the lord of the manor," butdid not immediately scurry off to tell ratty tales.

It was Friday, signing day – a new lease, a new life.

Damian knew that he had to do something spectacular to pulloff £120 in notes for the promised first quarter's rent. Obviously thefive room apartment was going to be far too large for his use alone. He hadalready briefed Dave and Bertie (Bertie was naturally a pseudonym) to be readyto move out of their digs at a moment's notice. They were only too pleased tobe of service and promised to come up with one third of the dollars due apiece.Dave sold his trumpet. Bertie got a loan from his Gran.

Damian was already minus £5 in his bank account. So infact he needed considerably more than the remaining £40 in order to buypetrol for the Fiat and food for the… well food didn't matter, you couldalways get food. Then there were the ciggies and other consumables.

Damian drove down the High Street and squeezed the Fiat intoa narrow parking spot only 20 yards from his bank. This was the great advantageof a Fiat 600, he considered while rolling his first smoke of the day.

He strode meaningfully through the bank's portal andadvanced himself to the oaken counter. Nobody was behind it to attend hisinstant needs, so peering through the service aperture, he rapped the counterimperiously with a thruppeny piece and called the banking hall to order.

"Service, service, could we have some serviceplease?" This was an unusual start to banking negotiations, but Damiandidn't think deeply on the matter.

A very embarrassed lady teller bustled to his aid, inparticular to prevent further disturbance to the sheltered atmosphere whichbanks in 1966 enjoyed, not pressured at that time by such commercial demands asthe selling of financial products, and knocked over an inkwell in her flurry.

"Uugho," sighed Damian characteristically.

"I'm sorry," stuttered the clerk, "how can Ihelp you?"

"I don't have an appointment alright, but I do need tosee right away…"

He glanced up at the nicely lacquered, gold lettered,personnel information board fixed to the wall and noted the name next to theinscription "Manager", "Mr. William P Maskell".

"…Bill Maskell. Right away. Please. Can you tellhim Damian James. One of his customers. It's very ur… urgent."

The authority in Damian's voice belied his appearance.Little had gone on around Damian's face or head in the way of shaving or hairdressing for some time. But his hand-made paisley shirt and loosely tied cravatunder the patchwork leather waistcoat clearly indicated distinction of somequarter, quite what, the clerk was not sure. She quavered but demurred.

"I'm sure he won't see you without anappointment," she said. Damian out-dared her with a glare over the top ofhis prescription shades. She retreated to seek help.

Damian re-ignited his rollup and picking his nose, examinedthe results disinterestedly. He scratched his balls, with vague anxiety, viahis trousers' pocket and wondered if he might've been a bit extreme. Whileengaged in these thoughts, he noticed a reasonably boring looking chap peeringat him from the far side of the banking hall. He narrowly escaped thetemptation to stick up a couple fingers. Just as well, it was the Mr. Maskell.

The clerk was hastening back towards him. His heart did askippety trip a little more loudly than he normally noticed. Surprising. Histummy lining fluttered with that same kind of flutter as when he thought,"am I going to get it?" "Hmm."

"Mr. Maskell will see you after all," said theminion evidently surprised.

He was in. Damian ground his ciggie butt into the finehardwood flooring and hastened towards the door which was being held ajar.

Mr. Maskell inspected him with the care of a professional,of course, and giving away nothing of his opinions, indicated the chair inwhich Damian should sit. Damian showered himself in confidence and launched inwith a song in his heart.

"Thank you so much for seeing me at this short notice,Mr. Maskell, I believe we haven't met before?" he sought a tone which heimagined to be of business-like conviviality.

"You are a student at the college, I understand from mynotes," dryly parried Mr. Maskell, used to almost any kind of verbalprojectile.

"Indeed, yes, yes I am," said Damian suddenly lesssure of himself. He realised now that Mr. Maskell would never dream of seeinganyone without preparation, even at this short notice and had a folder on hisdesk from which he could observe the piteous transactions on Damian's account.

Was he about to be busted?

But no, there were one or two items which stood out in thecredit column. They did not necessarily coincide with the start of every termtime. Interesting?

"How may I be of service?" said Mr. Maskellsmoothly, allowing Damian to take the initiative in digging whatever gravewould be appropriate. Mr. Maskell held the upper hand in matters management.

"I have a music publishing deal, Mr. Maskell. I'm acomposer," said Damian, confidence flowing back in his veins.

Damian didn't use the words 'Folk singer' which would havebeen nearer the mark – possibly more incomprehensible to the bankmanager's ears too. He thought 'composer' a dignified choice of description forhis line and in keeping with the oak panelling and green leather backed chairsof the manager's office.

"I signed a contract recently and got an advance."

Mr. Maskell's ball point hovered over an entry of £150on the statement in front of him and murmured, "That would have been inJuly would it not?'"

"Far out man, cool, how'd you know that," saidDamian straining forward to see what Mr Maskell could see.

"A substantial amount of money for a - composer. Andhave you - composed - much - music…" all words were spoken withfaint understatement as if the thought of Damian composing actual music wasabsolutely beyond the bounds of credibility, at least in the circles Mr.Maskell was likely to move, "…during the last quarter?" hecontinued. Mr. Maskell's voice was quiet, unruffled, unimpressed.

"Well, I've been unhappy with my accommodation, myflat, my flatmates," said Damian. He was inching towards an angle."Yes, I was disturbed by the neighbours a lot - their records playing soloud and so on. My publisher understands my situation. He's very sympathetic tomy problems. I've found a new place. Fabulous in fact. Brilliant. In factmassive. Somewhere much more suitable and secluded. You know, if you're acomposer, you need something comfortable, space, air, light, cheap – Ishall be sharing it with a couple of friends and won't be responsible for thewhole rent. But they're good friends. They understand my problems about noise,distracting noise, you know - and composing. It's going to be fantastic. I justknow it."

"I see," said Mr. Maskell precisely. There was apause, even a sustain on the last 'e'. He glanced at the clock, a head movementwhich Damian noticed, was supposed to notice, and as a consequence was knockedslightly off balance. There was another pause. Mr. Maskell thrived on pauses.It moved the ball over the net.

Damian had wanted to delay getting to the point. What if hedidn't succeed? Suddenly, the thought that maybe he mightn't, bounced into thefront of his head. Adrenalin. Action stations. Strategy. New topic. Keep up thepace.

"I'm planning to record an album next year." Thatwas a good strike. Inner composure for a few moments longer. Keep going."Look, here's my EP." Masterstroke.

Everyone was always impressed by his EP. That's why hecarried it around with him in that nonchalant sort of way, "I just happento have it with me," close to the top of his duffel bag. He pulled it outand held it up for Mr Maskell.

Maskell was taken by surprise. This was an entirely newdevelopment for him. He had met many thousands of students in his lengthycareer as manager of the bank in the High Street. He had met many shopkeepers,stallholders, barrow boys, taxi drivers, freemasons (of course he was one),small businessmen, large businessmen. He was a knower of reality on the levelof human funding requirements, debit and credit. He was not easily fooled - byanyone. But he had not come across one with his own EP before.

He took the small cardboard casing in his hand and studiedthe picture on the front. Yes it was definitely the same Damian James. There hewas standing in the grounds of the College grinning at the camera in black andwhite and above his head in yellow lettering were the words 'Damian James.'

Mr. Maskell turned it over and studied the notes on thereverse with equal intent. He read how Damian had experienced the heart rendingbreak up of young love and how this had forced him into writing songs, almostagainst his will. The songs were, according to the writer, fine examples of thegenre - a testament to the poetry of youth - works of art waiting to berecognised by a wider audience, and more besides.

Mr. Maskell glanced over his spectacles at Damian, justchecking that the illusion of an actual recording artiste seated before him wasa fact. The writer of these complimentary notices about Damian was even someonehe had heard of - a Sunday's literati reviewer of some sort. Mr. Maskell peepedinside the cardboard sleeve to see the small black vinyl disc shining there andthis was his ultimate proof that Damian James the musician - the composer - wasindeed what he claimed.

"And what at speed does this recording play? Is it a'33' or is it a '45'?" requested Mr. Maskell with new respect.

"Oh, this one's a '45'," replied Damian, beginningto realise - confident - that conquest was within his grasp. "This one'san 'EP'," he explained, "The next one's going to be the album."

Mr Maskell was hooking himself.

"The EP's got five songs on it. Well four are songs andthe other's an instrumental."

"Instrumental," mused Mr. Maskell, "No words?Just music? Guitar, is it?" He did a little frown to coincide with theword 'guitar', clearly not a personal favourite.

"Yeah, that's right, cool man," Damian relaxedalmost too far.

Mr Maskell refocused, "This - accommodation. Is -where?" The last word was said more slowly, smoothly switching to icyformal now that the cake was tasted.

"Erm, Bickersley, Mr. Maskell," responded Damian,back on the defensive. "Bickersley, Kent. Bickersley Park in fact."

Mr. Maskell's interest was aroused anew. He knew BickersleyPark. He was aware of its status. He had a customer in Bickersley Park. Acustomer and a Mason. Bickersley Park - only the super-rich or thesuper-annuated could live there.

"Whereabouts, Mr. James?" he enquiredforensically.

Damian wondered why Mr. Maskell should be so keen toestablish the exact whereabouts of his proposed new pad. Sinister or what?Perhaps he should back out now while he had a chance. But he needed the creditto sign the lease. Forwards.

"Just inside the park where there's no tarmac any more," he replied, "St. Joan's. Its a big old place with big old rooms.Belongs to someone rich."

"Well you're a very lucky young man, Mr James, to findsuch a property. I take it you do not propose to take the entire house?"asked Mr. Maskell with mock levity.

"Oh no man, " breathed Damian on the way home,"just the ground floor, and I'm sharing it like I said man. Just the threeof us, man."

"Man," muttered Mr Maskell. He couldn't believehis own ears. But now it was time to draw the meeting, which had already goneon longer than the normal allowance, to a speedy end. Nice, interesting youngman or no, business must now be done. A loan agreed, an interest ratedetermined, a repayment programme settled.

"Exactly how much were you proposing to obtain from ourmeeting, Mr James," Mr Maskell, forensic forever.

"Erm, erm, sixty?" replied Damian, negotiationskills floundering.

"Would that be in addition to the five pounds andfifteen shillings which is the level of your present borrowing - unauthorised -I might add?" said Mr, Maskell.

"Erm, well yes, erm, probably on top of that – Ithought it was only £5, Mr. Maskell, are you sure that's right? Is itactually that amount?" Damian strained forward anxiously to see if hecould spot the evidence.

"No, the balance at the close of business yesterday wasexactly 5 pounds and 15 shillings in deficit. You wrote a cheque for seven andelevenpence to the Man of Kent, Bromley on Monday. Did you not know?"However brilliant or promising, fiscal control was an essential in Mr Maskell'sbook for those who wish to incur debt.

"And how about repayment of this further overdraft youare seeking, Mr James? And your prospects of continuing to meet the rent infuture quarters? I take it you are not proposing to take a lease on a propertyfor three months only," Mr Maskell had a fine way of seeing the broadestpicture of unlikelihood and laying it out before his clients to consider infull before consenting to them hanging themselves in nooses of their ownmaking.

"Right, well, that's right, yes Mr. Maskell, of course,I'm  planning to be there for awhile and I'll be earning money from gigs as well as getting more dough from mypublisher just as soon as the new deal comes through."

"Gigs? Deal?" mused Mr. Maskell.

"Performances. Live bookings, you know, where I play toaudiences in folk clubs and so on. I do quite a few gigs. And I give lessons,guitar lessons, you know?" Damian embroidered the truth only slightly.Indeed Damian had not received any grant from his local authority for sometime, his parents income being slightly over the maximum limit, and he had notconsidered even to ask them for a penny which was to his credit.

"So, even though you are a student in full time study,you are already earning some fees from your musical activities, and believethat you will continue to do so, is that a correct summary Mr James?" Apicture had formed of an enterprising young man, different from others sure,but not an unattractive picture and one not without merit, yes, worthy ofsupport. Mr Maskell now knew everything he needed to know. "So, I shallmark your account with a facility of £66 exactly, for a period of threemonths. We shall review it again at that time. The facility will be charged attwo and a half percent above base rate, as you use it, which is the best I cando for anyone, and let's hope that you can get some money in as you say you can.Best of luck Mr. James and drop me a line with your new address when you havemoved in." He stood and extended his hand indicating that the meeting wasover.

Damian stood too, amazed that his self inflicted ordeal hadended with such suddenness. He had achieved the necessary to move to the nextposition. Decent sort of chap Maskell. Amazing. Wow. What a scene.

"That's amazing, man. Great! Far out! Thanks man.Thanks. Thanks that's really cool. That's amazing. Wow!" Damian pumped thebank manager's hand up and down enthusiastically while shaking his head in hisown disbelief, his new palace of dreams almost attained.

Mr. Maskell held the door open and patted him on theshoulder in a friendly sort of way, "Good luck with the -  composing," he said.

Damian skipped out of the bank onto the high street with airin his boots and strode purposefully to the Fiat.

He glanced at his watch. It was by now almost 11 a.m. A noondeadline pressed. He diverted abruptly and stepped into "FabricFactory", a favourite dive. Maybe, just maybe they had something fantasticat a knock down price which Patsy would knock up into something more fantastic.

Damian opened the door and plunged in.

He was a familiar face in this shop though not a familiartype. The two women who worked there thought he was a 'right banana'.

Only scraggy women normally frequented this drapery dive andthey scrawled through the bales of fabric like witches. Damian nodded a cursoryacknowledgement of the assistants' existence. They deliberately ignored him andbit their nails in unison. He raked over a few oddments in state of un-displayon a large trestle table in the centre of the small shop and pulled a few bitsof cloth out to examine.

He glanced at his watch. Time running - out. His eye caughta glint of something different from the material mass. He tugged on it till itcame to the surface. It was a purpley, mulberry colour, a genuine heavy cottonvelvet, a curtain fabric remnant. To make it really special, it was woventhrough with a fine gold threads. Too much!

"How much is there?" he held it up for the shopladies to view. One of them took it perfunctorily and began to measure it outwith a yard stick.

"Three and a quarter yards exactly," she said.

"How much for a pair of trousers, yard and ahalf?" asked Damian.

"Two at least," said the woman.

"Alright then I'll take two then," said Damian,"How much?"

"Can't split this bit," said the woman, you'llhave to take all of it or nothing."

"Well how much is it a yard, then?" snappedDamian, irritated by their total lack of respect.

"Three and eleven a yard," responded the witch.

"It's too much," said Damian, "can't affordto buy what I don't want. You're already trying to sell me more than I need. Iknow what it takes to make a pair of pants. 56 wide isn't it?"

The woman nodded, surprised by his inside knowledge.

"Well then, I'll definitely only need a yard and ahalf. Anyway, I'm running out of time. Either sell me a yard and a half ordon't bother. There's plenty of other shops you know."

"Oh all right, then, just as you please. A yard and ahalf, that's five and tenpence ha'penny then. You won't have enough youknow," she said out of spite.

Damian scowled at her and took out his cheque book.

"You writin' a cheque for that much?" the womancomplained.

Damian ignored her and wrote out the cheque, he didn't haveany cash. He rarely carried cash for anything. It was too easy to spend cash,he had learned, through many terms of studenthood. He tore out the cheque witha flourish and tossed it across the counter.

"Aren't you going to wrap it for me, then?" hedemanded.

Lethargically, the first woman finished measuring the fabricand cut it with big scissors. She folded it roughly and rolled it in a piece ofbrown paper. Damian grabbed it and ran for the door.

"Ta," he muttered, definitely regretting thedecision to make clothing purchases at a time like this. Nevertheless, it wasgoing to be a smashing pair of strides.

He shot out onto the High Street and strode purposefullyback towards the Fiat. He tore open the door and fell into the driving seat inone movement. He glanced at his watch, turned the ignition key and pulled thestarter button. The tiny engine sprang into life and he thrust the lever intogear. No syncromesh on first, second or reverse always made a graunching noisewhen he smacked it into gear so impetuously. It would do the gearbox no good,but it got him away faster.

It was already 11.15. He had to get into college, pick uptheir share of the rent from his chums and get himself over to Bickersley forthe signing ceremony.

As he roared down the High Street and in through the collegegates, he mentally computed the shortest and fastest route to Bickersley. Hescreeched to a halt in the gravelled central plaza of the fine old collegeentrance. It was definitely not for students' parking. Even lecturers whoparked there were frowned on and ticked off by Mr Porritt the deputy.

Damian powered down the engine, threw open the car door - itopened from the front backwards - straight into the path - no, full frontalelement - of the large lady who was the Principal of this training college forwould-be teachers.

"Shit!" he said, at good hearing volume.

"How dare you, Mr. James," bellowed MrsBrownsmith. "What the hell do you think you're are playing at? Stoppinghere? In front of my college? Move this damn thing at once!"

Mrs Brownsmith was unknown to swear. Mrs Brownsmith swearingwas unheard by anyone. Not even her favourite dog had heard Mrs Brownsmithswear. She was evidently beyond normal anger.

Damian's thoughts swirled around in space, outside of hisbody no doubt already, fast, fast.

"Emergency. Very serious Mrs Brownsmith. No time. Gotto be very urgent. Possibly someone dying," he gasped. What lies. Thatshould do it though. He slammed the door of the Fiat, charged past MrsBrownsmith, leaving her heaving on the forecourt and ran for the students roomat top speed.

Dave and Bertie were in the lounge, lounging with Patsy whoimmediately snuggled up to Damian.

A very gorgeous female had been sitting on Dave's lap, butwhen Damian arrived she stood and snuggled up to Damian's spare side. Dave andBertie had been rolling ciggies and drinking coffee and bragging about the newpad in Bickersley that Damian had found and they were going to be moving into.

"Oh hi, man," said Dave with no sense of urgency."Want a spliff man?" he meandered on in that happy way in which mostfolk who are stoned out of their brain before noon usually do.

"Right. Organisationsville Arizona, man. Clock'sticking. Give us your bread now!"

Verbal shorthand was something Damian specialised in whentime was at a premium. This pad was not to be lost. John E. Johns did not looklike the kind of estate agent who made appointments with folk and then welcomedthem being late. Damian was not a late person. He might leave things to thelast moment. But he was not a believer in lateness. He took Bertie by thecollar with both hands and spoke right into his face.

"Money for the first quarter's rent man! Like wediscussed last week! Get it? Got it? Bread! Dosh! Money! Forty squids.Now!"

"Oh, that," mooned Bertie, "It's at my Gran'sman. Got to get it this weekend."

"Jesus Christ!" Damian threw him away like a usedhandkerchief. "But I told you I needed it! I need it today! The estateagent guy has got to be paid today man!"

"Cool, man, stay cool," said Dave, not yetrealising that the same message applied to him too.

"No time to stay cool!" rapped Damian. "It'sme that's got to sign for this pad and pay up or else! What about you Dave?Have you got your bread together?"

Dave shook his head pathetically.

"What a couple of dopes," shrieked Damian."Am I really getting into bed with these prats? Shit!"

Damian looked at his watch. Eleven thirty.


It was his own fault. He should have checked these thingsearlier. He shouldn't have buggered about in the Fabric Factory. He should havebeen on his way by now. Thinking racing.

"Right. Can you get it for me by tomorrow then?"he said to them both simultaneously, pointing hard.

They shuffled from foot to foot.


"Well I can try man. I can go see me Gran thisafter'." Mumbled Bertie.


"Yeah. Chill out man. Stay cool." Dave nodded likea bobbing buoy on a timeless ocean.

"Get it! Got it?"

Damian started thinking aloud.

"Right so I'm going to have to write out a cheque forthe whole amount now. Do you understand? I have to write out a cheque for ahundred and twenty quid myself. OK I'll do it. But I don't have it and I've gotto get it back from you guys tomorrow morning and get it into my bank account.Is that clear?" They nodded with that chastened look of grateful dogs whohave been very naughty but let off lightly by their magnanimous master.

Patsy had remained silent throughout this exchange, butDamian now addressed her directly.

"Want to come?"

"Sorry Damian, I've got lectures all day. Maybe see youtonight?" she said.

"I could come," said the new girl smiling atDamian seductively.

Damian scowled at her for a second. "Whose she?"he asked the room in general.

"I'm Sheila," she said very sweetly.

"Hmm," said Damian separating himself from boththe girls.

"Got to go."

He turned without further comment and tore a way through thecrush for the outside world.

By the time he got to the door, he realised that MrsBrownsmith had not been satisfied by the 'desperate emergency story', notbelieving a word of it and copiously affronted by the entire incident was nowwaiting with additional forces in a commanding position next to the Fiat.Indeed it looked severely like exit was blocked entirely.

Damian glanced at his watch. Eleven thirty five. God howtime ran away when you needed it to stand still.

He examined the likely trajectory of his fleeing person. Abody to body confrontation with Mrs Brownsmith was not what he intended orcould contend - at any time.

He adjusted his flight path.

Crawling on all fours down a line of shrubs on the far sideof the pathway, Damian approached the Fiat from the passenger side. He reachedup from ground level and peering through the side windows, opened the door withsecrecy. Since Mrs Brownsmith was at that precise moment noticing that her dogwas enjoying this spare second to crap on the steps of the college mainentrance - they never usually had this much time to think on their own - shedid not observe Damian was sliding over the gear lever into the driving seatuntil it was too late.

The Fiat sprang into life with its customary roar and sinceDamian had left it in gear rather than apply the handbrake, simply slipping theclutch shot the car forward on the gravel and out of the other side of theforecourt. It was eleven-forty. Mrs Brownsmith shrieked in horror at the lossof her prey and vowed to call the police immediately.

*    *    *

Damian now chose a hybrid of his previously calculated"best possible routes" to take him to Bickersley in the shortestpossible time and his well tuned intuition played a key role as he glanced thisway and that at every junction to arrive at the minimum timing for the trip.

At one minute to twelve he arrived, car and driver panting.In time.

John E. Johns was seated behind his grand mahogany desk,making small notes on a large pad. Damian was ushered in with the minimum ofwaiting.

John E Johns raised his glance without stopping his writing.

"Everything in order, Mr. James."

Damian was unsure if this was a statement or a question sohe nodded vigorously by way of reply. Mr. Johns took this response as it wasintended and rotated a copious documentation in Damian's direction.

"Put yer cross here laddie," he said.

Damian fell into the chair on his side of the great desk andpeered closely at the dotted line on which he was about to sign. He signed itthen picked up the document handling it as if he thought there was somethingelse important that he ought have done prior to the signing, but then hecouldn't think what that should have been, so he handed the document backacross the desk to John E Johns.

Damian scrabbled around in the top of his duffel bag lookingfor his cheque book. He pulled it out and wrote out a cheque for £120.

"Would you mind awfully not paying this into youraccount until - Tuesday, say," said Damian, "I'll be absolutelyhonest with you Mr Johns. You see, the two guys who will be sharing with mehaven't got their bread together yet, but they will, and I'll get it into my account,hopefully tomorrow, so this'll be OK, OK?"

Mr Johns got the picture but didn't understand the lingo. Hewas a wise and experienced man. He had let many properties to many people onthis side of London, and he had not always understood their lingo. But what hedid know, was that Damian had signed a legal and binding document with many,many clauses in it, and if there was any hanky-panky, or failure to pay anyspecified sums by any due dates, his chum in the county court would have Damianout of that flat before you could say "John E Johns, property agent ofdistinction."

"I shall not be visiting my bank before Tuesday, hereare the keys," he said, as if it had been nothing but his intention allalong.

He stood up and by a small gesture of his right hand,indicated that Damian should be doing the same. He manoeuvred his large stomacharound his airfield of a desk and ushered Damian to the door and beyond, like aman with a meeting to get to, which he had. It was with a Miss Phipps inRectory Lane, and a very attractive little Miss Phipps she was.

"When will you be moving in?" he asked as hisparting shot.

""Erm, right away, Mr Johns, today in fact,"replied Damian.

"Jolly good," said Mr Johns and turning awayclosed the door firmly on their relationship for the present.

*    *    *

Damian stood on the landing in anticlimax.

He looked into his right hand. It held the keys. Hescratched his head, wiped his brow and stuffed the keys into his trousers. Hemade his way more slowly down the stairs than he had climbed them and into thefront office. The lady on reception was still on reception and she smiled a dimbut comforting smile at him and looked back at her work. He walked out to thestreet, stood on the corner by the traffic lights for bit, considered going intothe pub opposite for a brief celebration but thought better of it and strolledback to the Fiat. He was deep in contemplation.

Thinking many thoughts, Damian started the engine and moreslowly than he could remember, he engaged first gear and pulled forward out ofthe parking space, did a circle and headed in the direction of the new flat.

Once through the gates to the park in which it lay, hisheart began to pound with anticipation. He peered to left and to right as hedrove, at about ten miles an hour, along the surfaced road by the new'executive homes'. He forked to the right onto the unmade "private"part of the roadway and then into the driveway of the large detached earlyVictorian mansion standing in its own grounds which was St Joan's. It was an impressivehouse by daylight. God, he hadn't even seen it by daylight until this moment!He stopped the Fiat on the far side of the gravelled frontage surrounded byhigh privet and slowly clambered out. He looked upwards to the high gabled roofline. He looked down at the French windows on the ground floor. He looked tothe side of the house and at the gap between the rhododendrons and the wall atthe garden beyond. He walked towards the gardens and stood on the corner gazingout into them. He shook his head in pure amazement and rested his hand on hischin.

"Bloody hell, what a place."

Damian turned about and went to the entrance porch. Hepulled the bundle of keys from his pocket, put one into the lock of his own newfront door and turned it smoothly. He pushed the door ajar and stepped forwardinto the hall. He opened the first door on the left and peered into the room.The air was cold and damp. Leaving the door open wide, he went on down the hallto the next room. This one had double oak doors. He turned the handle on one ofthem and pushed. This was the room which had blown his mind when he had firstseen it last Monday.

"That's mine!"

He looked into the kitchen, the next two rooms, the bathroomand the fifth room. He went back into the bathroom and had a pee. He sat downon the edge of the bath and rolled a cigarette. God so much had happened thismorning, when was the last time he'd had a smoke. He wandered out and back intothe big room, the room with the double doors and the fireplace, his room. The roomwith the French windows onto the garden. The room with the solid oak flooringand the central heating vents, long disused, round by the edges of the room bythe windows. There was not a scrap of furnishing, so he lay on the floor rightin the middle, arched his back with his hands beneath his head and gazed up atthe ceiling. It was far, far away. Heaven.

Damian rolled over and over several times on the bare floorwith his ciggie in his mouth. He blew smoke-rings at the ceiling and screwed uphis eyes to make the patterns on it seem more abstract. He yawned a little -and slowly fell asleep.