Tag Archive | fiction

Opening The Hutch

White Rabbits medWorking now on the final bits and pieces ahead of the publication of Church of the White Rabbits.

The editing is complete, the cover is there… only a few details left to tweak.

The Kindle version should be out first, with a print edition to follow.

It’s a departure in style for me – no murders, mysteries or mayhem.

Just lots of eccentric folk, a few feuds and plots, a love story or two… and lots and lots of fluffy white bunnies.

Oh well, it’ll be interesting to see what readers think.

Of Worms & Cakes – Part II

Chapter Three of Church of the White Rabbits continues…

It’s misty outside and the two boys skid on the wet cobbles as they turn the corner. Nathan grabs Davey for support and they both almost fall. Laughing, they tumble through the open doorway and out of the rain.

‘Bloody hell!’ Davey brakes to a halt and grabs his nose. ‘What’s that stink?’

Nathan pulls a face. An oily smoke billows towards them. It smells like an unholy combination of bacon, old socks and herbal bath oil. ‘Is your uncle experimenting again?’

‘Smells like it, don’t it.’

‘He’s not going to make us try it, is he?’

‘Bloody hope not.’

An eruption of coughing comes from the bakery. In its wake comes a figure wearing a long white apron. Streaks of flour cover the material: some of them hiding more questionable stains.  Arthur waves the smoke away and blinks at the two friends. ‘Oh, it’s you two. I heard voices and thought it might be customers. You can come through if you want.’

Davey looks suspiciously at the cloud of smoke. It’s still hanging in the air and looks even thicker than when the pair of boys arrived. ‘Yeah but is it safe?’

‘Of course it is. I was testing a new recipe. Trying to perfect my breakfast muffins.’

‘Breakfast muffins?’

‘It was an idea I had. Put bacon, cheese, sausage and bits of egg into a muffin, add a few herbs and voila! Everything a man could want in one bite.’


‘It’s French, it means…’

‘Yeah, yeah. I know what ‘voila’ means, Uncle Arthur. They make us learn French at school you know.’

‘Well,’ interrupts Nathan, ‘that’s not quite true. They try to make us learn French. Except Davey talks Spanish to annoy the teacher.’

‘You know Spanish do you?’

‘Ah, si, senor, muchos grandes bolas.’

Arthur raises his eyebrows. ‘That’s Spanish is it?’

‘Kind of. Anyway, looks like your breakfast muffins are on fire.’

‘Oh, no!’ Arthur turns in dismay. The smoke has got denser and it’s hard to see far beyond the doorway. He rips off his apron and waves it in the air, trying to clear the smoke before he plunges back into the growing cloud.


By the time the rest of the Judds arrive, total disaster has been averted. Arthur’s breakfast muffins, however, have been consigned to the dustbin of lost causes, a large plastic barrel in the back yard that’s filling up fast. Davey and Nathan haven’t ventured any further into Arthur’s new domain; instead, they’re now sitting on stools by the front door munching boulder-sized rock cakes.

George is first to come in. He sniffs the air and gives a slight smile but says nothing. Close behind are Davey’s younger sisters, Kim and Jessica. Bringing up the rear is Sally, who bends over with a sigh of relief as she sets down the newest member of the Judd family group.

A pair of small feet hit the floor with a thud and two dark little eyes lock onto what’s in Davey’s hand. ‘Cake!’ With a determined, almost ferocious expression, Gracie Judd launches herself at her prey. ‘Daya! Cake!’

‘Uh oh.’ Davey grins as his little cousin stomps towards him. ‘Little Elephant’s on the attack!’ He breaks off a chunk of rock cake and holds it towards her in his right hand.

Gracie smiles as she closes in. She veers briefly towards what’s being offered. Then bypasses Davey’s right hand and grabs the rest of the cake from his left before he’s had time to realise his mistake.

Nathan erupts with laughter before trying to twist away as Davey lunges for his cake. Soon pieces of rock cake explode all over the boys and the floor. Gracie makes a quick withdrawal, retreating to the protection of Sally’s legs, where she starts cramming cake into her own mouth as fast as she can.

* * *

Padraig slides the large glass of sweet sherry along the bar to the perspiring churchman. Leonard Presley takes it with a grateful nod and downs half in a thirsty gulp. He shakes his head and breathes out slowly before taking out a purple handkerchief and wiping some of the sweat from his brow.

‘Well, you look as if you’ve had a long day, Reverend.’

The Bishop’s Secretary nods. ‘Yes indeed, Mr Picard, yes indeed. And not a good one either.’

‘Ah, your congregation heckling you again are they?’


‘Sorry.’ Padraig shakes his head. ‘Just my joke. I’m sure no one on this island would have a bad word to say about your sermons. But I was wondering what’s put you in such a rare fluster.’

‘Oh, it’s terrible news, terrible.’

‘It can’t be that bad, surely?’

‘It’s not good, Mr Picard, not good at all.’

Padraig looks sympathetic. It’s an ability he’s cultivated over many years and one at which he’s extremely good. He’s always had a talent for making people open up: knowing which questions to ask and when to stay quiet and let them fill the silence.

Leonard Presley takes another large swig of sherry. He looks into the glass and sighs mournfully. ‘I just hope our Christmas celebrations can go ahead, I really do. It would be a disaster if we had to close the cathedral at this time of year.’

Padraig’s eyebrows rise. ‘And why on earth would you even consider such a thing? What’s the problem with the cathedral?’

‘Oh. It’s terrible. Simply terrible.’

‘But what is it?’

‘I’m not sure I should say.’

‘Oh well, if it’s something confidential you keep it to yourself.’

‘It’s not that. It’s just such bad news and I really don’t want to upset everyone on the island.’

Padraig shakes his head. ‘Now come on, Mr Presley. You know what they say: a problem shared is a problem halved. And besides, if you’re talking about closing the cathedral I don’t really think that’s going to go unnoticed. You’ll have to tell people something.’

‘You’re right.’ The Bishop’s Secretary looks resigned. ‘Oh well. I suppose I might as well tell you: it’s our bell tower. We had a very important expert come to visit us today. He was interested in listing our cathedral in a guidebook on exceptional church architecture. But while he was examining the building he made a very unfortunate discovery. The whole bell tower is riddled with woodworm and death watch beetle.’

‘Hmm. That doesn’t sound good. But surely it can be treated with a few chemicals.’

‘No!’ Leonard Presley throws his hands up in a gesture of despair. ‘It’s too far advanced. He’s not certain but we might have to replace a large number of timbers and that’s sure to cost an enormous amount of money.’

‘But surely the cathedral has a bit salted away for occasions like this.’

The churchman looks uneasy. While Leonard Presley is an innocent in many ways he’s not too sure about discussing cathedral business with a relative stranger, particularly one who’s an Irishman to boot and could well be a Catholic. However, the Bishop’s Secretary has taken a liking to Padraig. The Irishman has come over on holiday to watch the island’s birds and seems a decent sort. He’s certainly very generous and always happy to buy a sweet sherry for a friend. The Reverend Presley sighs. ‘I’m not sure we have, Mr Picard, not sure at all.’

‘Then a bit of fundraising?’

‘I don’t know, I really don’t. We’re not a wealthy community. This is a small island and our congregation is not a rich one.’

‘Oh I suppose I can understand that but you must have some assets you could draw on, surely?’

‘Well, the cathedral owns a bit of land on the island and I believe we have a few investments but nothing that returns the kind of income to pay for major repairs.’ He sighs. ‘To be honest, we can’t even afford to employ an accountant. I try to make sense of the books but… oh, they’re such a mess and very confusing. If the truth be told, I’m not really quite sure what we do have and what we don’t have.’

‘Then let me help you.’

‘What? But how?’

Padraig smiles. ‘Well now. I’m here on holiday as you know, having a little rest from business. But over there on the mainland, dealing with finances is what I do for a living. Stocks, shares and investments: that’s my bread and butter. If you’d like, I’d be happy to come and look at the books with you. Offer some advice if I can.’

Reverend Presley looks hopeful but cautious. ‘That’s very generous, Mr Picard, very generous indeed. But I’d have to warn you: we wouldn’t be able to pay you for your time.’

Padraig laughs. ‘Please, Reverend, don’t insult me. I wouldn’t dream of asking for payment. I’m happy to help out a friend in need and seeing as it’s for the church, well, I’d count it as my own small contribution to your own good works. It would be an honour and a privilege, if I was able to help you out.’

* * *

George looks around. The others went home a few minutes ago and now it’s just him and Arthur. They’re sitting on a pair of old chairs, pulled up next to the oven so they can make the most of the heat still oozing from it. A bottle of whisky sits on the table and both have a generous measure in their tumblers.

To be continued…

Sorry – I forgot to post yesterday’s instalment. I underwent a minor medical procedure a few days ago and my mind hasn’t been as focused as normal!

I’m curious, though,what readers think. If you’ve made it this far, please click on one of the choices below to rate the story so far. Comments welcome but not obligatory.

Of Worms And Cakes – Part I

A day late, but here’s the start of Chapter Three…

3: Of Worms And Cakes

In which the island’s religious leaders get a nasty surprise regarding Great Agnes, we glimpse plans to bring a taste of the modern world to Black Island and witness a murderous kidnap plot.

It’s December 2000. The man with the clipboard wipes his brow with relief as he steps off the crude ladder. He takes a moment to get his breath back and then pulls a face, looking troubled. ‘I hate to be the bearer of bad news, Bishop, particularly at this time of year but you’ve got a problem.’

‘Oh dear. You mean you’re not going to be able to list us?’ The Bishop of Black Island looks disappointed. ‘What a shame. I thought you said our church was a unique example of, what was it again… neo-primitive Palladian sacred architecture?’

The expert shakes his head. ‘I’m afraid that’s not the issue.’ He glances around at the squat rows of tinsel-adorned columns that recede into the nave’s murky distance. ‘This is definitely a fascinating and… most unusual building. However, what I’m worried about is your bell tower.’

‘The bell tower?’ The Bishop looks confused. ‘There’s something untoward with our bell tower?’

‘You could say so, yes.’

‘Oh dear.’ The Right Reverend Mosswell Milford looks as if the news has made him unsteady. He turns for support to his Secretary, who is standing just behind and stretches out an arm. The wisp-like Bishop clutches it and sways sideways, robes billowing around his scarecrow figure.

‘Is it serious?’ The Bishop’s Secretary is the physical opposite of his master. Several chins and a set of bulldog jowls wobble in an agitated fashion as the Reverend Leonard Presley speaks.

‘I’m afraid so. Yes.’

‘Oh my. Oh no.’ The Bishop shakes his head. ‘But it’s almost Christmas, we can’t have problems now.’

Reverend Presley looks equally glum. His eyes lift accusingly, not so much to the heavens but towards the bell tower that’s more immediately above them.

The three men are standing in the area of the cathedral known as the sanctuary. Directly in front of them is the altar: a squat slab of polished granite about six feet square. Relief carvings of the disciples adorn its sides. The craftsmanship involved is not the most sophisticated and the saints around the altar appear somewhat menacing. For some, the overall effect is unfortunate: the huge stone block reminding them more of a sacrificial table used by some of the bloodier pagan cultures.

Over on the other side of the altar is a shallow apse. Its centrepiece is a multicoloured stained-glass window. At first glance, the figure it contains could be Christ stooping to offer his blessings. But the appearance is deceptive. The window depicts the cathedral’s founder, Colonel Huntley Black, and the devout pose is one that wouldn’t have been recognised by anyone who knew Black Island’s second governor in real life.

None of that registers, though, with the Bishop’s Secretary. The cathedral, for all its quirks, is the only church the Reverend Presley has ever known. He glances briefly at the patterns of coloured light below the colonel’s image. He’d been hoping to set up the Nativity scene in the apse tomorrow morning. ‘Oh, this is a bother,’ he says. ‘But do we have to worry about it now.’

Their visitor pulls a face. ‘Well, there are no guarantees. Things might stay as they are for another year. But it’s a potentially dangerous situation. I wouldn’t want to take any risks if it was me.’

The Reverend Presley frowns. ‘Can’t we… I don’t know, put a sign up. Tell people to keep out of the bell tower. It’s not as if anyone goes up there often anyway.’

‘I’m afraid it’s not that simple.’

‘Why not?’

‘It’s not people going up into the bell tower I’m worried about.’

The Bishop’s eyes widen and his florid-faced Secretary gives a gasp.  ‘What in heaven’s name do you mean?’ asks Bishop Milford. ‘Is there something nasty in the bell tower?’

The trio lift their gazes upwards. The ceiling in most of the cathedral is extremely low: the central nave only twenty feet high and the aisles barely half as tall. It’s a strange design, mostly because Colonel Black couldn’t see the point of employing an architect. Instead, he drew up the plans for the building himself, guided more by supreme confidence in his own god-given talents rather than any skill. The colonel also decided importing workers with experience of ecclesiastical architecture would be too expensive. Instead, he opted for a simpler solution: having his cathedral built using convicts from the prison of which he was also in charge.

There may still have been a chance of the cathedral looking relatively normal if the colonel had hung around to keep an eye on matters. In that case, the cathedral’s founder-cum-designer might have realised some of his measurements were written down as feet when what he’d meant was yards. Unfortunately, Colonel Black never took the time to check on his great work. He was away in Europe: busy riding horses, bedding whores and fighting Napoleon. Instead, the colonel appointed a foreman who doggedly followed the design he was given without the slightest deviation. Lacking any oversight from its benefactor, work on the cathedral continued regardless — even when it became apparent to everyone else on the island that there was a major problem with its proportions.

By the time the roof went on it was too late. The new cathedral looked as if it had been squashed by a giant foot. Not that the colonel cared. He was dead, having lost his head to a stray cannon shot during the Battle of Waterloo.
Around where the two churchmen and their visitor now stand, there’s a bit more headroom. It’s not quite the lofty, soaring space envisioned by its creator but there’s just about enough space for the window depicting Colonel Black in his uncharacteristic Christ-pose. Most of the window anyway. The piece of stained glass — also designed by the colonel — should have shown him treading on a horde of defeated and subhuman Bonapartists. In the end, though, there wasn’t room for the whole thing. Colonel Black’s feet — and the devilish Frenchmen — had to be cut off and left out of the picture. It was either that or his head.

Another striking feature of the cathedral’s sanctuary are the massive columns that stand in each corner where the nave and transept cross. Modelled on the Greek Doric style, the elephantine pillars are ten feet thick at the base and heavily fluted. Between them rises a tall, circular tower, its sides broken only by a few arrow-slit windows.
The design might have been impressive if the scale had been right. Sadly, the result looks more like the inside of a factory chimney than an elegant cathedral reaching for the heavens.

The tower’s simplicity is also spoilt by the rickety ladders climbing to the bell loft almost sixty feet above. As he looks at them now, the man with the clipboard decides he’s owed a considerable bonus for having even attempted the ascent. The good thing though is it’s highly unlikely the Bishop or his Secretary will try going up to check what he’s telling them.

He backs into the nave, making the two churchmen look at him in surprise. ‘You know, it might be best not to stand underneath the tower.’

Reverend Presley frowns. ‘Why ever not?’

‘Well, that bell you’ve got up there… The big one.’

‘What, Great Agnes?’

‘It’s a big piece of metal. It must weigh quite a lot.’

‘About seven tons.’ The Reverend Presley glances up. He and the Bishop are directly beneath the bell tower and something in their visitor’s words begins to penetrate.

The Bishop’s Secretary draws his boss down the steps into the nave and away from the tower. Turning to the man with the clipboard, the Secretary leans forward and whispers. ‘What’s wrong? Is Great Agnes safe?’

‘It’s woodworm.’


‘And deathwatch beetle.’

‘Up there?’

‘Afraid so. It’s the worst case I’ve seen in a while. You’ve got beetles in your belfry.’

* * *

It’s misty outside and the two boys skid on the wet cobbles as they turn the corner. Nathan grabs Davey for support and they both almost fall. Laughing, they tumble through the open doorway and out of the rain.

‘Bloody hell!’ Davey brakes to a halt and grabs his nose. ‘What’s that stink?’

Nathan pulls a face. An oily smoke billows towards them. It smells like an unholy combination of bacon, old socks and herbal bath oil. ‘Is your uncle experimenting again?’

To be continued…

Next: Arthur tries to develop new talents and Padraig offers his assistance with the cathedral’s problems.

Refugees – Part IV

The white rabbits make a re-appearance in the fourth – and final – section of Chapter Two…

Padraig strolls along the ridge, following it towards the summit of Beacon Hill. There’s a cairn of stones at the top and as he gets nearer he notices someone sitting in its lee.

The man by the cairn has his knees drawn almost to his chest, his elbows on his knees and his head in his hands. He’s staring out to sea and looks deep in thought. Padraig thinks about taking a detour but wants to reach the summit. He’d also like someone to talk to. He’s feeling a touch unsettled; he was always told there were some odd sorts on Black Island: and he’s now had first-hand experience.

Padraig stops half a dozen yards short of the cairn. He turns and looks at the view. It is magnificent. To the west the Atlantic Ocean stretches away to a horizon that’s only slightly hazy. Back, behind him lies the line of triple peaks known as Tryhuder or the Three Wizards. The interior of the island is to his left, with Black Mountain itself away in the distance. King’s Port is directly south but out of sight, hidden in a valley. Beyond, Padraig can see the island’s fifth mountain: the great lump of land known as the Guragh that juts out to the southwest.

Early writers dismissed Black Island as a ‘remote and barren fastness’, an ‘inconvenient parcel of land’ and ‘a forsaken lair of pirates and primitives’. Among sailors it’s also long been known as ‘the drowning giant’. That’s because the island rises from the wild waters of the open Atlantic like an enormous hand clutching at the air. The Guragh — meaning witch or hag in the old language of the island — is the thumb, a great blunt slab of a hill nearly nine hundred feet tall. Black Mountain forms the index finger, jabbing up just over a thousand feet, while the pinnacles of the Three Wizards form the other three fingers. The interior, a rolling landscape of bogs and moors is the palm; several small rivers form the lines that would allow a fortune teller flying overhead to read the island’s future.

Padraig isn’t sure what that makes Beacon Hill; it’s barely five hundred feet tall but still quite sizeable: a large callus or a mutant sixth finger?

Up here on the summit, the ground is covered with a mixture of heather, cropped grass and bracken: kept short by a combination of the wind and grazing animals. A scattering of dried out rabbit droppings lies in a shallow scrape. Padraig scuffs them with his foot and frowns.

Then, resuming his usual jaunty air, he approaches the cairn. The man sat at its foot is a good size: six foot tall and built like a wrestler, with brown curly hair. Next to him is some kind of parcel wrapped in white blankets. Apart from being lost in his own world, the man looks normal enough and some company and conversation are what Padraig is after.

‘Well, good afternoon,’ he says as he strolls up. ‘It surely is a beautiful day to be up here on the top of the world.’

The man looks sideways. ‘Huh?’ His gaze is distant: he looks as if he’s having trouble coping with both his thoughts and someone speaking to him at the same time.

‘It’s a fine beautiful day. A rare treat to be up here in the sunshine with everything laid out around us.’

‘Oh. I suppose so.’

‘You don’t sound convinced.’

The seated man gives a hollow laugh and shakes his head. ‘Can’t say I’d really noticed the view.’

Padraig’s eyebrows rise. ‘Hmm. Well there’s a funny thing. Myself, I’d have said it was hard to miss.’ He lowers himself down onto a chunk of stone next to the man and extends a hand. ‘My name’s Padraig, Padraig Le Picard.’

The man looks at the proffered hand blankly for a moment and then takes it with a firm grip. ‘Arthur. Arthur Judd.’

‘Well it’s a pleasure to meet you Arthur Judd.’ Padraig smiles. ‘In fact it’s a relief.’

‘A relief?’

‘Oh, it is. I had the strangest experience a little while ago. You see: I’d gone for a bit of a walk over to the north there. I was told there was a way over the hills to a place called the Cauldron.’

‘The Cauldron? Oh yeah. You need to go between the Wizards. It’s an easy enough walk.’

‘That’s what I was told and I think I was going the right way. But the track I was on went up past what looked like an old mine. There were old piles of stones and a few little tunnels.’

Arthur nods. ‘That’d be right. Old copper mine I think it was. Nothing there now.’

‘Ah but there is.’


‘Yes indeed. White rabbits. Dozens of them: they’re all over the place. I could hardly believe my eyes. At first I thought it was a very cute little scene. But then this most bizarre fella came out of one of the tunnels. Looked like some ancient prophet he did, all long hair and huge bushy beard. He wasn’t wearing much more than rags, either. Started ranting and raving and waving this big stick. Next thing I knew he was chasing me back down the track. I don’t rightly know if he was dangerous or not but I didn’t intend staying to find out.’

Arthur shakes his head. ‘Ah. That’ll be Ned Hawkins.’

‘Is he dangerous?’

‘Dangerous? Don’t think so. Not really… Well, not unless you bother his rabbits.’

‘Right… Well if I go that way again I’ll remember to take an offering of carrots with me. Gave me quite a fright he did. I was quite glad to put a mile or two between us. And so when I saw yourself sitting here I was mighty relieved to see you look like a relatively normal fella.’

Arthur gives a grunt in reply and the two men sit in silence for a moment until a soft cry comes from the bundle of blankets. Padraig’s eyes widen. ‘Is that a child you have there?’

‘Seems that way.’ Arthur reaches over and gently lifts the blankets. Padraig sees two small arms stretching up.

‘Come on then, little ‘un,’ says Arthur. He picks the child up and lifts it into his embrace. One small arm snakes around his neck. The other sends a thumb mouth-wards. Two eyes, the darkest Padraig has seen in a long time, stare out at him from under a mop of curly brown hair.

‘Hello there, my beautiful.’ Padraig waves a hand gently. ‘I’m Padraig. And what’s your name?’

‘Ting Song,’ says Arthur quietly.


‘Ting Song. It’s Chinese. Like her mother.’

‘Ah.’ Now that Padraig looks more carefully at the child’s face he can see the resemblance to Arthur is pretty much limited to the hair on her head. ‘So, you being the good fella and looking after her for the day are you.’

Arthur laughs dryly.

Padraig leans forward and wiggles his fingers at the child, who continues to regard him with suspicion. ‘So where’s your mummy then? She at home making your dinner?’

‘Mummy’s had to go away,’ says Arthur.

‘Oh that’s a shame. For work is it?’

Arthur turns and give Padraig a hard stare, making him wonder if he’s prying a bit too much. Trouble is, it’s in his nature. He’s never been good at keeping out of other people’s business.

‘No,’ says Arthur eventually. ‘Mummy’s gone off to get married.’


‘Yeah. Ah.’

‘I’m sorry, my friend. I shouldn’t ask so many questions. The last thing I wanted to do was to give any offence.’

‘Oh well.’ Arthur pulls a face. ‘Doesn’t matter. It’s not a secret: just a bit of a shock. Yesterday I was a single man. Today I’m a single parent… with an eighteen-month-old little girl called Ting Song to look after.’ He gives a slightly manic grin. ‘Not quite what I was expecting.’

‘No. I can see that… So, Ting Song?’

‘That’s right. Not quite what I’d have chosen but there again I didn’t even know I had a daughter until yesterday afternoon.’

‘Hmm. So does it mean anything?’

‘Graceful Pine Tree… something like that.’

‘Hmm. Graceful? Grace? Gracie?’

Arthur nods slowly. ‘Yeah. I guess Gracie might work better.’

Padraig smiles and pats him on the shoulder. ‘Well, I tell you what, Arthur. It sounds like we’ve both had some strange experiences: me with your white rabbit fella, you suddenly gaining a daughter. I reckon the pair of us could do with a drink. What do you say to that?’

‘I’ve heard worse ideas.’

* * *

Keziah picks up the pack of cards and shuffles. Her hands are a bit too stiff for this to be easy but the shuffle is an important part of the build up. Graham is sitting opposite. He watches with a slight smirk on his face. If he were really a good poker player then he’d know to keep that superior expression of his hidden. Keziah knows he expects to win and she’s not going to disappoint him straight away. Not immediately anyway.

The first hand goes according to plan. Keziah deals herself three queens but loses to Graham’s flush. He deals the second hand and wins that too after Keziah discards the ace that would have allowed her to win. Soon she’s two hundred pounds down and Graham is looking inordinately smug.

Keziah takes the pack back and gives an ostentatious shuffle. Then she sets the cards down. ‘I know what’s wrong.’

‘What’s that, Aunty Kez?’

Her hands twitch briefly but she keeps her face calm and smiles. ‘Haven’t got my lucky ring on, have I.’

‘Oh well, if you think that’ll help you, I’d better be a good sport. Give you the chance to try and win your money back.’

‘Hmm. Go and have a look on the dresser over there will you. There’s a jewellery box. Bring it over.’

‘Okay. Will do, old girl.’ Graham turns around and gets up. He strolls over to the big dressing table. He makes a pretence of not knowing what he’s after then holds up a large antique Victorian box made of walnut with brass mountings and a porcelain plaque showing four fat cherubs. ‘This the thing?’

‘That’s it. Bring it here.’

There’s a smarmy smile on Graham’s face. She wonders if he’s at all worried about her looking in the box but keeps her expression neutral as she takes it from him.

Keziah fumbles with arthritic fingers before getting the lid open. She looks at what’s inside, rummaging in a tangle of costume jewellery. Then from underneath a twist of necklaces she plucks out a silver bangle. It’s quite distinctive, a Tiffany creation set with floral designs and lapis lazuli inserts. ‘Ah, my old bracelet. Well, well. Thought I’d lost that.’

She picks it up and clicks it around her wrist. As she glances at Graham, she notes he’s gone quite pale. He stares at the bracelet as she picks up the cards and starts dealing. With his attention fixed on the bracelet, he doesn’t comment on the fact she isn’t shuffling. The distraction is intentional: this isn’t the pack they were playing with previously but one Keziah slipped from her pocket while he was at the dressing table.

She deals the next hand carefully, ignoring Graham’s slightly stunned expression. The bangle had vanished from her room about six months ago, the latest in a string of thefts. Its disappearance had left Keziah briefly heartbroken: the bracelet was one of the few items she had inherited from her mother. She never reported its disappearance to anyone else at Tower House, instead putting other inquiries in train. Luckily the bracelet’s rarity made its trail easy to follow. A month ago Padraig bought the heirloom back from the same mainland antique dealer who’d purchased the stolen item.

Now, seeing the bracelet back on Keziah’s wrist has made Graham very confused. He takes a moment to react as she pushes his cards towards him. However, the colour quickly returns to his face as he sees what he’s been dealt. He’s not really that bright and simply tells himself Keziah must have had a pair of the bracelets. The new cards consume his attention. It’s a hand that would usually be a real winner. Unfortunately, Keziah’s is better.

Twenty minutes later, Graham is nine hundred pounds down. Keziah has switched packs a second time and rescued a hidden king from her pocket along the way. The cheating wasn’t really necessary. Keziah’s mainly done it for the fun of getting away with it. She could have won most of the hands simply thanks to being a better poker player.

Now she smiles: knowing her opponent can’t really afford to lose one hundred pounds let alone nine hundred. ‘So, Graham Drake. Want to cut and run or do you fancy a chance to win your money back?’

Graham’s face is a picture. Greed and fear make his features squirm as they fight it out. ‘Uh… I’m not… oh, go on, damn it! How?’

Keziah takes a deep breath and frowns. ‘Well. Let’s see. If you win, I’ll give you back your nine hundred.’


‘But if I win… I want…’ She pauses, taking her time as if she’s thinking about it. ‘What have you got?’

‘Pah! Not much.’

‘No paintings or fast cars?’


‘No money, no valuables?’

‘I’ve got my stamp collection.’

‘Really? Got any rarities?’

‘I’ve got a Penny Black!’

Keziah shakes her head. ‘That’s not rare. Worth a few hundred if you’re lucky. Besides, I got three of my own.’

Graham looks flustered. ‘I can’t think of anything else you’d want.’

‘How about some of your company shares?’

‘My shares!’

‘One hundred Black Company shares. They’re not worth much.’

‘They’re worth more than nine hundred!’

‘Oh, I suppose they are.’ Keziah reaches into her pocket and pulls out a bundle of bank notes. ‘Okay then. How about this? That brings my stake up to five thousand.’

Graham’s eyes bulge. He swallows. ‘Five thousand?’

‘Told you I had a bit of luck on the horses.’

Keziah watches him. She knows Graham’s in debt: seriously in debt. Five thousand pounds would make a significant chunk of his problems disappear. She settles back into her chair. She’s quite enjoying this afternoon and has a feeling it’s going to be a profitable day.

Graham owns five hundred shares in the family company and Keziah wants those shares. Added to those she already owns they would bring her stake to twenty four percent: still some way off control but another step along the way.

And if she can’t win Graham’s shares at poker there’s always the ring. The one he stole from her room a couple of weeks ago. It’s in a pocket, ready to slip on her finger. She could even show him the photographs, the ones Padraig took of Graham selling the ring in the same antique shop. One way or another, Graham’s going to pay for thinking he could solve his debt problems by stealing from a dotty old relative.

To be continued…

Chapter Three starts tomorrow with a nasty shock for the island’s bishop.

Refugees – Part III

The next instalment of Church of the White Rabbits

Arthur walks slowly up the road. Four days have gone by since Sally caught him with the joint in his hand and he still hasn’t managed to speak to her. His sister-in-law isn’t having anything to do with him at the moment. It would be funny under normal circumstances. But he’d really wanted to get her advice before this moment: or at the least have someone to confide in.

It’s too late now though. He’s made the trip to the mainland as ordered. It’s the first time he’s left Black Island since coming home and he’s surprised just how busy and hectic the streets seem over here. The place is a village in relation with Vancouver but compared to King’s Port it’s a hectic metropolis.

Ignoring the surrounding shoppers, Arthur continues resolutely. Just ahead, he can see the Royal Hotel. Inside, Shuchun is waiting. It’s the day of reckoning.

As he enters the lobby, an overweight woman in a tight uniform is trying to rearrange a vase of dried flowers so it covers up a stain on a tablecloth. Arthur nods curtly in her direction but doesn’t say anything and marches through briskly. He’s a man on a mission and needs to keep focused and alert if he’s to survive whatever’s coming.

The lounge stretches along the front of the hotel. A gloomy bar runs along the left-hand side of the room and heavy drapes hang either side of the windows on the right. Two electric chandeliers dangle from the ceiling, both unlit.

He sees Shuchun straight away. She’s sitting in a bay window, facing away from him, apparently gazing out at the view. Arthur knows she probably watched him coming up the street but she’s not giving anything away. And although he’s aware it’s all a pose, the scene works nonetheless. She looks elegant and serene: sitting straight-backed and motionless, bathed in soft morning light that’s coming through the net curtains behind her. She’s wearing white and the sunshine glints on her immaculate head of glossy raven-black hair. The combination of light and pose is striking: Shuchun looks illuminated, almost ethereal, and the rest of the room dingy and dull.

Arthur feels a fluttering and a stirring down below that could be his stomach or his loins. His nails bite into his palms as he clenches his fists and walks over, trying to look calm.

As he draws closer to the table she’s still looking towards the window. He can’t see her eyes but he’s sure she knows he’s there. Arthur hesitates, uncertain. He wants to say something loud and cheery but feels unaccountably nervous.
Arthur’s debating whether to cough politely to get her attention when he suddenly sees the tiny smile on her face. That’s when he realises she’s been watching his reflection from the moment he entered the room.

‘Hello, Arthur.’  Finally she turns to face him and he feels his knees go slightly weak. Her face is calm, no emotion showing. But those dark eyes still have the same power to hypnotise. It’s been almost two years to the day since he last saw her. That day remains clear in his mind. Him running down the road in his underpants: her father chasing close behind waving a large kitchen knife.


They look at each other for a while. He’s not certain if he should shake her hand, kiss her politely or bend over and give her a big hug. It’s always been that way. For Arthur she’s the original inscrutable oriental. He’s never been able to work out what’s going on behind that perfect mask. It was the same even when they were together. One minute she’d be treating him with disdain and apparent contempt, the next she’d be pulling his clothes off. The uncertainty always made him putty in her hands, which he suspects was at least part of his attraction.

She finally puts him out of his misery by standing and gracefully offering him a cheek to kiss. He’s tempted to put his hand on the back of her head and turn it around for a full-on snog but doesn’t quite dare. Even though he can’t help wondering if that would impress her more.

Instead he merely brushes her skin with his lips and takes a seat opposite.

Arthur’s about to speak but then a waiter appears at the table. The man’s old and grey, wearing a uniform that’s been washed and pressed too many times. He rubs his hands together obsequiously. ‘May I get you anything, madam? Sir?’
Shuchun has turned away again and Arthur’s about to decline but then she lifts one hand slightly. ‘I will have tea: jasmine tea with lemon. Arthur will have black coffee.’

The waiter hesitates. ‘I’m very sorry, madam. I’m not sure if we have any jasmine tea.’

Shuchun gives the faintest sigh. ‘Earl Grey?’

‘Of course, madam.’

‘Thank you. That will be all.’

Arthur smiles to himself. He wishes he could manage to dismiss people with such ease but he’s never had the gift.

They’re silent while Arthur shuffles uneasily on his seat. Eventually he leans forward. ‘How did you find me?’

‘That’s hardly important. But it wasn’t difficult.’


Arthur studies her profile. Her skin looks as flawless as he remembers it. No make-up: or none he can spot. She’s twelve years younger than him but that’s never counted for anything. She’s the one in control and she’s obviously not intending to offer anything for free. Her gaze is steady and her mouth doesn’t move: she could be a mannequin apart from the tiny rise and fall of her chest. ‘So, are you planning on coming over to the island?’

She gives a brief, cold laugh. ‘No.’

‘You staying here?’

‘Here? No. I have to catch a flight back to Canada tomorrow morning.’

‘Okay. So, what… you want me to come with you?’

‘You think so?’

‘Well, I dunno… I thought you’d come to find me.’

‘I have found you.’

‘But… if you’re not staying, what do you want me to do?’

‘I don’t want you to do anything.’

‘Fine!’ Arthur starts to rise. ‘Well, have a good trip back.’

‘Sit down.’

He slumps back, his show of resistance over the instant she gives a command. Arthur thinks back to when they first met. He’d been working as a driver and went to a party with friends. They’d only been there minutes when the slender Chinese girl caught his eye. She was in the middle of a group of other young women: the calm focus of a whirl of exaggerated gaiety, like an elegant flower surrounded by showy butterflies. Arthur and his friends moved in on the group and he tried to edge towards its centre. But before he got close enough to say a single word his target slipped away.

Arthur was disappointed. She hadn’t been exactly beautiful but there was definitely something about her. Over the next couple of hours he kept drifting around the party hoping to spot her again. Eventually, he assumed he’d missed his chance. Nipping out into the garden for a quick smoke, he was standing by the pool when she materialised at his side. Wordlessly, she took him by the hand and led him to the cars parked outside. The first words she spoke to him were an instruction to take her home: to his house.

He shakes his head. She had made the running from then on. They were together for about six months after that. But never exactly a couple. It was not a relationship of equals. She wanted him for her own purposes and always at her convenience. The one time he tried to take charge she walked out on him and he didn’t see her again for another three, painfully long, weeks.

Now? He doesn’t know what she’s doing on Black Island or what she wants from him. ‘So… Shuchun?’

‘So, Arthur.’

‘Why are you here? Why did you want to see me?’

She smiles. ‘I didn’t want to see you.’ There’s no inflection, it’s just delivered flat: a statement of fact. Which is what makes it hurt even more.

Arthur exhales slowly. ‘Okay. So, why? Why are you here?’

‘I’m getting married.’

He blinks. Confused. ‘Who to?’

‘That’s not relevant.’


‘Not to you.’

‘It’s not relevant to me?’

‘Maybe but that doesn’t matter. You don’t need to know who I’m marrying.’



Arthur shakes his head. ‘Okay, well… congratulations and all that. But, why come here to tell me?’

‘I didn’t come here to tell you that?’

Arthur resists the temptation to lean across and throttle her. ‘All right. So, Shuchun: why are you here?’

She smiles. ‘I came to bring you your daughter.’

‘My daughter!’

‘Don’t shout, Arthur.’ Shuchun pulls the tablecloth back and reveals the carrycot lying underneath. Inside a soft white shawl lies a small child with Asian features and typical Judd curly hair. ‘You’ll wake her up if you make too much noise.’

* * *

Keziah reaches forwards and grabs the pot of mustard from the middle of the lunch table. As she does, a loud fart echoes around the room. ‘Ah, those pies. Give me chronic gas they do.’

On the other side of the table Cynthia Drake makes a sound of disgust and turns her head.

‘Don’t they make you fart?’

Cynthia ignores the old woman, wishing yet again the revolting crone would either keep to her rooms or get on and die. She’s sure Keziah gets cruder and more irritating with every year that goes by. Unfortunately, although it was her seventieth birthday this year, the last of the Blacks looks as fit as ever. If only there was a home they could send her to: somewhere she could be with people her own age. Anything that meant they wouldn’t have to eat at the same table.

Keziah grins and slathers another coating of mustard on her pie. She takes a large bite and chews vigorously, mouth open. There’s a big spot of mustard on her upper lip. She can feel it there but makes no attempt to wipe it away: knowing its presence will only aggravate Cynthia more.

A couple more minutes pass and Cynthia wipes her lips with a napkin and leaves the table. The only two left in the room now are Keziah and Graham Drake.

Graham watches as his cousin leaves the room and gives a sigh of contentment. ‘There are times when I think you dislike her as much as I do, Aunt Keziah.’

‘I like pies. Particularly the mutton ones.’

‘Yes, but your gas doesn’t agree with Cynthia.’

‘Gas is natural.’

‘Hmm. Possibly. But not at your rate of production, old girl.’

Keziah stares at him. She’s never liked Graham Drake much: and the way he addresses her doesn’t advance his cause. ‘Old girl’ might be half-accurate but she’s certainly not his aunt. Technically they’re second cousins twice removed but she’s not going to even try to explain that one.

She wipes the mustard off her lip: it’s done its job. ‘You know how to play poker, Graham?’

He looks around in surprise. ‘Poker?’

‘Card game. You bet on it. For money.’


‘Unless you prefer strip poker.’

A momentary look of horror crosses Graham’s face but he masks it quickly and smiles. ‘Er… that’s okay. You want to play poker with me?’

‘Why not? Scared I’ll beat you?’

He laughs. Being invited to play cards with Keziah threw him for a moment: she doesn’t normally have any more to do with Graham Drake than any of the others who live in Tower House. But poker is his favourite game. He thinks he’s good at it; although he’s had an unlucky streak recently. He grins patronisingly as he looks at Keziah with the overconfidence of a man who has no idea what’s in store. ‘Sure. I’ll give you a game of poker. Did you want to play now?’

Keziah shakes her head. Her phone was vibrating during lunch and she wants to go and see who was calling. ‘Not now. Got to have my afternoon sleep. Later. How about five o’clock?’

‘Okay.’ Graham still looks a bit uncertain but the lure of a game of poker is tempting. ‘Where’re we going to play?’

‘My rooms. Don’t want Cynthia or Margaret watching over us and getting all disapproving do we?’

‘No.’ Graham smiles. ‘You want me to find some coppers to play for?’

‘Coppers?’ Keziah shakes her head. ‘No. I had a bit of luck on the horses last week so I’ve got a bit of extra money to play with. Why not make it more interesting? Shall we say a minimum stake of fifty pounds?’

Graham’s eyes widen and Keziah can almost see the calculations going on in his head: working out how much he might be able to take off the old woman.

* * *

Padraig strolls along the ridge, following it towards the summit of Beacon Hill. There’s a cairn of stones at the top and as he gets nearer he notices someone sitting in its lee.

To be continued…

Tomorrow, Arthur tries to come to terms with having a daughter and Keziah takes some revenge.

Refugees – Part II

The second part of Chapter Two. Boys will be boys…

Arthur knocks cautiously. George should be down at the harbour: his boat’s in dock having its hull scraped. Still, Arthur feels nervous. There’s no reason he should be but he always feels a bit guilty where Sally’s concerned. Plus he wonders what goes through his brother’s head when he sees the two of them together.

There’s no answer and Arthur tries the door. It’s open but he can’t hear anything from inside.

He wonders for a moment about turning away but knows he’s only putting off the inevitable. He needs to talk to Sally. Normally he manages to avoid situations where the two of them are alone together: partly because of George but also because he still hasn’t worked out how things stand with Sally. He keeps thinking he should say something about it. Trouble is, he has no idea what to say. Today, though, things are different. He desperately needs advice and there’s no one else he can turn to with this present situation.

Arthur draws a deep breath and enters the house. He closes the door quietly and takes a moment. When the others are around there’s no chance to stop and take it in. He might have thought he was already a man when he walked out of the house and fled Black Island. All those years seem to dissolve, though, when he’s in the old family home on Goat Street. There’s something about the place that makes him feel he’s still a little boy.

He smiles to himself. Perhaps it’s the ghost of the old man: waiting behind the door to belt him one for not doing his homework, his chores or some job on the boat. Or it could be the cooking smells reminding him of his mum: the security of her big warm embrace, burying his face in her apron when he’s in trouble again.

Arthur pauses. He sniffs. Hmm. There’s definitely a smell in the air but it’s certainly not his mother’s cooking. He doubts it’s anything Sally’s baked either.

Moving quietly, he steps around the old sofa in the front room and approaches the door into the hall. The smell is definitely stronger and he lets his nose lead him through the house. As he gets closer to the back door he hears giggles. It sounds like two boys: almost hysterical with laughter.

Arthur slowly pushes the door until he can see out. The back yard isn’t big but for a moment he doesn’t spot the boys. Then he blinks. Young Nathan from down the road is on his hands and knees in the rabbit pen. His head is under a pile of hay and several carrots are sticking out of his mouth. Davey is sprawled in the wheelbarrow with a flowerpot on his head. In his hand is the fattest joint Arthur’s seen in a long time.

Arthur watches for a moment, grinning. He thinks about leaving them to it. Then he shakes his head. The boys are only twelve.  He opens the door and gives a stage cough.

Davey’s eyes slowly widen. He stares in blank amazement at his uncle. After some delay the message finally reaches his brain and he tries to stand up, hide the joint and take the flowerpot off his head: all at the same time. He doesn’t do well at any of the tasks. Instead, as his legs and arms flail impotently, the wheelbarrow topples over and Arthur’s nephew falls in an ungainly heap, the terracotta pot landing next to him with a loud crack and splitting in two.

His friend Nathan makes a strange noise that sounds more guinea pig than human. Crawling forwards, he sticks his head in the rabbit hutch. Arthur watches in bemusement. He’s not sure if Nathan’s trying to hide but the boy’s head is the only part of him that fits inside the hutch.

With a shake of his head, Arthur strides over. He plucks the joint out of Davey’s trembling fingers. He gives it a quick glance: it’s impressive, built with at least half a dozen cigarette papers and as fat as a big cigar. Judging by the glaze on Davey’s eyes, he guesses it’s not the first the boys have smoked either.

Davey’s still having trouble co-ordinating his limbs. Arthur bends over and picks the boy up by his collar. ‘Well then Davey. What’s this?’

Davey looks up with wide, bloodshot eyes. His bottom lip trembles and then he sniggers. ‘Huh. ’s a Cabelwell carrot, Uncle Arfur.’

‘A what?’

Davey pulls himself upright. He looks proudly at the joint in his uncle’s hand. ‘It is a Cabelwell carrot.’ The boy sways. ‘My very first Cabelwell carrot. Bloody good ‘un too. Used twelve skins like you’re s’posed to.’

‘What… why…’ Arthur shakes his head. ‘Okay, carrot: I get that. What the hell is it a ‘Cabelwell’ carrot?’

‘Whufn’ll.’ The strange squeak of response comes from the direction of the rabbit hutch.

‘Yay,’ said Davey. ‘Tha’s righ’. Amazin’ fillum.’

‘What are you two talking about?’

Davey takes a deep breath. Steadies himself. Looks his uncle in the eye. Giggles and then reaches out for Arthur’s arm. ‘You know! Withnail And I. That film where they… smoke a Cabelwell carrot.’

Arthur gave a short laugh. ‘A ‘Camberwell’ carrot.’

‘That’s what I said.’

‘You made it with twelve papers?’

‘Had to. Not a Cabelwell carrot if you don’t use twelve skins.’

Arthur blinks and looks at what’s in his hand. If Davey has used a dozen cigarette papers to make the joint then it’s little surprise how stoned the two boys are. Particularly not considering what his brother’s home-grown is like. ‘And you’ve watched Withnail And I have you?’

‘Yay-up.’ Davey nods enthusiastically. ‘Dad’s got it on thingy.’

‘Does he know you’ve watched it?’

Davey exhales noisily and looks sideways. Hesitates a moment. ‘Never said we couldn’t.’

Arthur rolls his eyes. ‘And what about this?’ He holds up the joint. ‘Does he know you smoke this?’

Davey purses his lips and tips his head from side to side, considering the question. ‘Well… not egzackerly… but he’s the one what grows it!’

There’s a rustling sound from the hutch and Nathan stands up. He’s smaller than Davey and normally still looks an innocent little boy. Today though, with his wild eyes, a pile of hay draped across his head and a carrot in each hand he looks more like a deranged pixie. Nathan gives a wide-eyed, goofy smile. ‘The rabbits like it. Doesn’t do them no harm.’

Arthur blinks. ‘You feed it to the rabbits.’

‘Nah.’ Davey shakes his head. ‘But they escapes sometimes and they’re always trying to sneak into the greenhouse and eat Dad’s weed. Don’t think they’ve tried smokin’ it though.’

The boys erupt into giggles and Arthur tries not to join them. ‘Yeah,’ he says as sternly as he can manage. ‘That’s all well and good but I don’t think you should be smoking your dad’s weed.’

‘Well you do.’

‘What!’ Arthur blinks. ‘When have you ever seen me smoking joints?’

‘In the summer: after that barbecue we all had. We’d gone up to bed and you and dad were sitting out here smoking and smoking. You was laughing and laughing.’

Arthur shakes his head, trying hard not to smile. ‘Oh that was just roll-ups. Tobacco.’

‘You liar!’

Arthur keeps shaking his head but knows he is sussed.

‘Our window was open and you was sitting right under it. All the smoke was coming in and you weren’t smokin’ roll ups!’

‘Yeah. Well maybe. But you’re way too young to be smoking anything.’

‘How old was you when you started then?’

‘Not that young.’

‘How old then? Eighteen? Sixteen? Younger?’

Arthur gives Davey a glare but his heart has gone out of it. He’s tried being the responsible adult but somehow it’s backfiring spectacularly. He’s supposed to be the one doing the telling off and now here’s his nephew giving him the third degree. Arthur sighs and is about to say something when he suddenly hears footsteps in the corridor. He turns as his sister-in-law appears in the doorway.

‘Hello, boys. Are you cleaning out those rabbits…’ Sally’s voice dies away. For a moment Arthur thinks she is just surprised to see him and then he realises her eyes are focussed on his hand. She gives a deep sniff. Her expression turns hard and angry.

‘Oh, shit.’ Arthur closes his eyes.

‘Arthur! You do not smoke that stuff in front of my boys.’ Before he can even react, Sally strides across the yard. She snatches the joint, throws it to the floor and grinds it under her foot. ‘You get out of here right now.’ She grabs his arm and starts to tow him away. ‘I’m ashamed of you, Arthur! They’re still children.’

He hears a stifled giggle from behind him and opens his mouth, trying to think of something convincing to say. But nothing coherent comes out of his mouth and, taking his inability to speak as evidence of his guilt, Sally isn’t stopping to hear any of it.

Before Arthur can do much more than splutter in disbelief he is being propelled out of the house. ‘I’ll deal with you later,’ she says as the door closes in his face.

* * *

Padraig looks around as they make their way back towards the side door. It’s the first time he’s been to the island and he’d got a shock when Keziah named the prison for their rendezvous. Black Island has an ambivalent place in his family history and the prison represents a lot of what’s bad.

Keziah gives him a glance. ‘So. Pleased to see the family home?’

He blinks. Had she been reading his mind or are his feelings that obvious? There’s definitely something witch-like about the old woman but he’d thought that was just to do with the way she looked.

‘Home?’ he asks. ‘Do you mean the island or this little place?’

They stand and look around. The walls are massive and grim. It’s foreboding enough in its current state of abandonment; it’s easy to imagine how soul-crushing it would have been for those incarcerated here.

Keziah gives an amused snort. ‘Well. I didn’t mean the prison but I suppose it’s… part of it all.’

‘Yes.’ Padraig feels cold at the thought of living within these walls. ‘A cruel-looking place is it not?’

‘Not to me.’


She shakes her head. ‘I’ve got the keys.’

Padraig laughs. ‘Ah well that is a big relief, Miss Black. A very big relief indeed.’

He chuckles again but his humour is only fleeting. The prison isn’t something his family talked about. Back home in Ireland, he’d grown up on stories of Black Island. Sat around the fire of an evening, the old ones — grandparents, uncles and aunts — would tell stories about life on the island; they talked about the quarries, the town, fights with the fishermen and about the Blacks. But not about the prison. Being a convict wasn’t really something civilised people liked to boast about.

The truth is, though, this place plays a significant role in the story of the Le Picard family. And now here he is: crossing the courtyard next to the main prison yard.  Padraig stops. It occurs to him that he’s on the wrong side. Once, his family would have been the ones on the other side of the railings. The guards would have been this side: men with sticks and clubs to beat anyone stepping out of line. His ancestors were the prisoners, the ones who worked the quarries and lived a dozen to a cell. He shivers again. ‘Would you mind terribly if I was the first of us to leave, Miss Black?’

Keziah watches Padraig leave. She’s not met him in person before, although they’ve communicated by letter for a few years now. His family may be exiles but they still maintain a link with the island and Padraig Le Picard makes an ideal agent for certain of her mainland dealings.

Once his slim figure has disappeared down the track towards Quarry Town, she pulls the door closed again. She could sense Padraig’s unease as they crossed the yard. It suited her to let him make his escape first; now she gets to enjoy the comfort of its big walls and empty spaces for a bit longer.

Keziah finds a kind of poetic irony in the fact her family spent more than two centuries imprisoning people in this building but now she uses it as a place to escape. She’s read about the prison in the family archives. Prisoners were sent to Black Island as early as the 1500s. Various monarchs found it a conveniently remote place to dispose of embarrassments: such as troublemakers they couldn’t execute outright but wanted removed from circulation.

The first convicts sent here lived a miserable and generally short existence, housed in crude huts and caves in the surrounding hills. It was the island’s first official governor, Lord Augustus Black, who put them to work building a proper prison. Not out of consideration for their well-being but because prisoners who were worked until they dropped were less likely to have the time and energy on developing inconvenient escape schemes.

Most of those sent to Black Island weren’t really expected to return and with no shortage of labour or raw materials, Augustus Black set about making sure his prison was both strong and secure. The prison walls are ten-foot thick, which is probably why it’s stayed so dry in here. Even after decades of being abandoned, the prison remains weathertight: ideal for roosting pigeons and reclusive spinsters who need a place for secret assignations.

* * *

Arthur walks slowly up the road. Four days have gone by since Sally caught him with the joint in his hand and he still hasn’t managed to speak to her. His sister-in-law isn’t having anything to do with him at the moment. It would be funny under normal circumstances. But he’d really wanted to get her advice before this moment: or at the least have someone to confide in.

To be continued…

I hope that chunk wasn’t too long. Tomorrow, Arthur gets a big surprise and Keziah shows what she’s like at poker.

Refugees – Part I

The second chapter of Church of the White Rabbits starts below…

2. Refugees

In which a man’s past catches up with him and a secret assignation takes place. We also witness some youthful debauchery and an alternative punishment for taking advantage of an innocent old lady.

It’s October 1999. Arthur Judd curses as the hail beats down. Thirty seconds ago the sky was blue. Now a solid wall of blackness towers up out of the west and frozen rain is whipping down off the hills. All of it pushed along by a vicious cold wind.

Arthur glances back. Not a tree to be seen. No shelter ahead either: just bleak moorland and an empty valley under a sky getting lower by the second. With the sun shining, Black Island’s interior can be beautiful. At moments like this, though, it can seem a god-forsaken spot.

Pulling up his collar, he tugs it tighter around his neck. It’s scant protection from the ice pinging off his head and he wishes he had a hat. The hail hurts but at least it’s not making him particularly wet.

‘Bloody place!’ Arthur thinks briefly about going back but there’s not much point. He’s a good four or five miles from town. Turning round would also mean walking into the squall’s teeth. He gives a grunt of resignation and hunches his shoulders, settling into a steady trudge as he tries to ignore the weather.

‘Ow!’ A salvo of particularly sharp hail smacks into the back of his head. He glares at a granite boulder lying next to the track. ‘What the hell am I doing here?’

It’s been over a year since he returned to Black Island. He left in 1983, never wanting to come back. For fourteen years he hardly thought of the remote community where he grew up; there were times when he had the odd longing and the occasional pang over some of the people left behind but that was as far as his regrets went.

He found a job and a new life in Vancouver. He’d thought it was home. But then things went crazy. A simple life suddenly turned complicated; all the result of a chance meeting with a girl called Liang Shuchun. He’d thought he could cope with the turmoil. But a single escapade resulted in everything spiralling out of control and Arthur being told to flee for his life. So he had jumped ship and sailed off into the sunset.

After that, he kept moving for nearly a year, ending up in all sorts of places he’d never been before. But none had felt right and he just continued travelling.  Until last summer: when he found himself back home.

He hadn’t originally even thought of coming to Black Island, let alone staying. But when he got here it seemed to make sense. He couldn’t run from life forever. He needed to stop and think and, after a few days back on Black Island, was surprised by how much being here seemed to calm his tired brain.

For the first few weeks he really had been happy to see the place again. With his father safely in the ground, it felt good to spend time with the other members of his family. There were some he’d never met previously: nephews and nieces who were just names until then. There was George too. The pair of them had been close growing up. Arthur was the big brother: two years older and always leading the way, whether with school, trouble, chasing girls or working on the boat with their father.

He frowns. Things are very different now. A lot of years have passed with little contact between them. George has grown up and no longer needs a big brother to set an example or help him make up his mind. Sally is a complication too. Not a real problem, not in public. Although when Arthur’s alone he still wonders occasionally why things turned out the way they have.

The other thing he can’t get his head around is the island itself. His father was the catalyst but the old man wasn’t the only reason, aged nineteen, he’d wanted to leave. Black Island is a strange place. It’s big enough. There are miles and miles of it. But it’s small too. And gets under his skin in ways hard to explain to people like George who’ve never known anywhere different. Arthur loves the island but it makes him twitchy.

He misses things from his old life too: a gym, cappuccinos, snow-capped mountains and being able to chat up strange women without worrying about what the gossip will be.

‘Bloody woman!’ Arthur gives a deep and heartfelt sigh. The letter from Shuchun turned up two days ago. How she’s tracked him down he doesn’t know but it looks like another part of his past is about to catch up with him. He stares at the rain-shrouded hills. ‘Why couldn’t she have let me be?’

Arthur’s not sure what’s in store but he can’t just sit in King’s Port waiting. He needs to get out and do something. And while the hills on Black Island might not be on the same scale as in Canada, at least he can get out and lose himself for a bit. Just a shame the weather’s not a bit more amenable.

* * *

Keziah moves slowly. Her right hip is giving her an increasing amount of trouble every day. There’s a bottle of heavy-duty painkillers in her pocket but even they seem to do little more than turn agony into a dull ache.

She leans on her stick as she shuts the rusting steel door behind her then limps across the courtyard. Beyond the high railings lies the main prison yard. The place is abandoned now. It belongs to the Black Company but, apart from a brief flurry of activity during the Second World War, hasn’t been used for almost a century. Not for its original purpose anyway. Now the only inhabitants are its resident colonies of seabirds and pigeons; and for them the prison’s foreboding walls are protection not confinement.

Most people assume the place is sealed up. The huge entrance gates still stand firm: nailed shut with large notices warning all and sundry to keep out on pain of prosecution. But the advantage of being a Black is that Keziah can get access to places others can’t. For years the prison keys were in her father’s rooms, lying untouched at the bottom of a cabinet. There’s probably another set in the company offices but, as far as she knows, Clarence Wherry has never even set foot up here. That’s one good thing about Clarence: he’s a creature of habit and lacks the imagination to go anywhere unless someone gives him a reason.

But while the main entrance remains sealed, there’s a side door Keziah has been using for several years. These days she knows the prison almost as well as Tower House. She likes the place. It’s solid: with lots of calm, empty spaces and just the birds for company. The prison is a world that exists in isolation of whatever’s outside.

Keziah goes through another doorway and whistles tunelessly as she limps along an echoing corridor. For many years she felt on edge and uncomfortable outside her rooms. Leaving the house seemed wrong. She’d been locked up so long that freedom, when it came, felt dangerous. Gradually though, she’s expanded her range. Now the outside world doesn’t disturb her so much. She avoids places with too many people; going down into the town is something she only does out of necessity. But up here in the prison she feels secure. Probably because she knows this is one place where she’s in control and no one is watching.

A pigeon flaps around overhead and a feather drifts down. Keziah watches as it turns lazily in the air.

As she does so, a shadow moves at the other end of the corridor. Keziah gives a nod. ‘Ah. I was wondering where you’d be.’

‘At your service, of course, Miss Black. I found the key you’d left.’

The dark shape comes forward; entering the light it becomes the figure of a slender man dressed in drab outdoor gear. He smiles and strides briskly towards Keziah. As he gets nearer, she gives him an appraising glance, taking in the waxed cotton coat, muddy galoshes and boots, binoculars, deerstalker hat and waterproof pack. ‘You look… different.’

Padraig Le Picard gives a slight bow. ‘Well now, I didn’t want to be conspicuous. I thought a birder might be appropriate.’

‘True enough.’ Keziah nods.

‘Besides.’ The slim little man shrugs. ‘You have a few of the more uncommon species of birds out here on your island. I don’t get to see such sights when I’m stuck in the big bad city. So, as I’m here I thought I’d take the opportunity to do a little birding, try to get a few more ticks on my list.’

‘So you’re one of them… bird witchers?’

‘Twitchers, they call us.’

‘Right. Got plenty of pigeons in here.’

Padraig’s face creases and his grey eyes give a lively twinkle. ‘Ah, pigeons we have at home. I was more interested in some of the pelagics you get out here.’

‘Pela… what?’

‘Pelagics: sea birds that live most of their lives out at sea. Wandering creatures like I’d love to be.’

‘Oh. Right.’ Keziah gives a dismissive wave. ‘Well we’ve got lots of gulls live on our roof if that’s what you’re after.’

‘Gulls. Hmm, I’ve seen those fellas before. Some shearwaters or petrels is what would suit me.’

‘Hmm. Well, each to their own. I like steak and kidney, myself.’

They both fall silent for a while. It’s gloomy where they are and Keziah starts walking further along the corridor. Padraig falls in behind, hands thrust into his pockets, strolling along jauntily as if historic prisons are where he conducts most of his business.

Just past where he had been waiting, the passage turns onto a wide landing. This part of the prison was only ever accessible to the warders and there’s a large window that looks out over King’s Port. Most of its glass remains but a few panes have been smashed: possibly blown out in past storms, or broken by bored young islanders with a strong arm and a good aim.

Keziah peers out. A steady drizzle is falling but she can make out much of King’s Port. The prison is perched high on a ridge, on one side lies the town and on the other the quarries where the prisoners used to work. From the window, Keziah can see the roofs of the part of King’s Port known as Higher Town, with Tower House off to the right. To the left, the brooding mass of the Old Fort is lost in the clouds, while the harbour and cathedral are just obscured shapes in the distance.

After a while she gives a sniff and turns to Padraig, who’s waiting patiently, eyes focussed on something off in the distance only he can see. ‘So?’


‘Have you got it?’

‘Have I ever disappointed you?’

‘Not yet.’

‘And I haven’t this time either, you can be sure of that.’ Padraig reaches into an inside pocket. He pulls out a fat package that he hands to Keziah. ‘There you go. Everything’s in there. There’s pictures and other things too that should do the trick with your cousin.’

* * *

Arthur knocks cautiously. George should be down at the harbour: his boat’s in dock having its hull scraped. Still, Arthur feels nervous. There’s no reason he should be but he always feels a bit guilty where Sally’s concerned. Plus he wonders what goes through his brother’s head when he sees the two of them together.

To be continued…

Hope you enjoyed this. If you missed any of the first chapter then the preceding six posts contain all the instalments.

Tomorrow, Arthur catches two young boys re-enacting a infamous scene from a film and a bit more of Keziah’s story is revealed.


White Rabbits & A Haunted Postbox – Part VI

The final part of Chapter One…

George Judd hesitates. They’ve just left his back yard. His older brother is with him, in a hurry to get to the pub. They should have been there an hour ago but got delayed trying to deal with Ned Hawkins.

The Wherrys’ clerk is still in the Judds’ yard, lying in the ruins of the hutch. He doesn’t seem injured but refuses to be moved. Instead, he keeps babbling about angels and white rabbits talking to him.

George and Arthur had wanted to carry Ned home but the suggestion sent him into floods of tears. In the end, Sally Judd told them to leave him where he was. She’d thrown a couple of blankets over Ned and promised to keep an eye on him.

Now, George glances at his brother. ‘Let’s go round the harbour way.’

‘You daft? That’s miles further.’

‘Well… we’re already late. Bit more won’t matter. I fancy a bit of a stroll. Get the smell of rabbits out my nose.’

‘Beer would do the job.’

‘It’s a nice evening though.’

‘It’s raining!’

‘Only a bit. You gone soft or something.’

‘No! I want a beer. Come on!’

George shuffles from side to side. ‘It’s just… I don’t go Ash Hill way anymore.’

Arthur’s eyes narrow. He senses there’s more to this than just his brother being awkward. ‘Why not?’

‘Got my reasons.’

‘Like what? Come on: you can tell me.’

‘Well… promise not to laugh?’

‘Get on. Out with it.’

‘There’s a ghost.’

‘What! Where?’

‘Up on the corner. You remember where the lane goes past the post box? Just below Tower House?’


‘That’s where I saw it. The ghost.’

Arthur tips his head to one side. His brother has never been one for stories. He’s a solid man, same as all the Judds. Built like an island fishing boat: stumpy and broad of beam: made for weathering anything the Atlantic throws at them. George is no nonsense and practical. He’s steady. Talk of ghosts doesn’t fit.  ‘So. What did you see?’

Arthur starts walking. George is glad he’s admitted his fear. That’s the hardest part. He hurries to fall into step with his older brother, relieved Arthur is taking him seriously. ‘A woman. A white woman.’

‘A woman in white?’

‘No. A white woman. Skin that glowed.’

‘What, naked?’

‘Not a stitch.’


‘Not at all.’

It’s raining more heavily now. The brothers dip their heads into their collars, heads tilted forward. They walk briskly up the dark street, water running down the cobbles beneath them.

‘So. Tell the story.’

‘It was a couple of years ago. I was on the way to the pub. It was a dark night. Stormy. And I was just stomping along, head down, thinking about nothing more than a pint.’

George takes a deep breath. ‘Then suddenly… there it was. This… creature standing in front of me. All shining white and naked it was. I stood there with my mouth open like a fish on the quay. Didn’t know what to do.’ He shuddered at the memory. ‘And then she screamed. Horrible it was. Turned my blood to ice it did.’

‘So where were you?’

‘Right next to the postbox.’

‘What, this postbox?’

George’s eyes pop open as he realises what Arthur has done. ‘You bastard!’

Without another look, George sets off at a run. Arthur laughs like a drain. Then looks around, realises he’s alone. He glances at the post box and then turns his head slowly, examining the shadows to either side. His smile fades. ‘Hold on!’

First in a gentle jog then a lumbering canter, Arthur follows his brother up the hill, heading for the safety of the Marlinspike Inn. And its beer.

* * *

Keziah watches the rain coursing down the window. Her rooms are in the northern wing: a part of the house added back when James II was on the throne. It’s cold and draughty but she’s lived here long enough she rarely notices any discomfort. Besides, the advantages of her isolation within Tower House more than outweigh any inconvenience as far as she’s concerned.

When first shut up in her rooms as a young woman of seventeen Keziah had ranted and raved, railing at the injustice. During those first few years she tried anything to escape her imprisonment: from throwing herself out of windows and climbing chimneys to attempting to suborn the servants with bribery, blackmail and naked threats.

But her captors were too implacable and her guardians too resolute. Besides which, on those few short occasions she did escape the family home, she realised there was nowhere on Black Island for her to go and no simple way off the island. As time passed, she began to accept her fate. Unable to look outwards, she started to look inwards. And, after the first decade, being confined to her rooms came to seem natural. She realised one day that the life of a recluse agreed with her; it freed her from all normal convention and expectation.

In the fifty years following that revelation, Keziah’s taste for isolation has grown rather than diminished. People are bearable in short bursts but she finds the incessant and inconsequential chatter that pours out of most highly irritating. Where once she plotted how to make her escape, now she schemes so as to minimise her contact with the world outside her private quarters.

It’s not that she’s cut off or disturbed. She knows most people regard her as a little deranged at best. More often the phrase is stark, staring mad. It’s a reputation she cultivates with aplomb. She’s become expert at unnerving people. It’s remarkable the effect an unblinking stare and graphic observations of a personal nature can have on someone who thinks they should come and talk to her. A little drool always helps with those who don’t immediately get the message.

But that’s just because Keziah doesn’t want to talk to anyone on Black Island. They were the ones who turned away, the ones who closed their eyes when her family locked her up. Her family! The thought sends a twitch of anger down the left side of Keziah’s face. Black Islanders in general may be beneath her contempt but her family are something else. Never mind the fact those directly responsible are all dead. Someone has to pay and, now, her revenge is finally under way.

She smiles. Clarence Wherry thinks he’s so clever. He plots and plans but can’t escape the underlying fact that he’s a natural incompetent. The Wherry family have never been anything but upstart toadies, clingers-on and parasites. Just because one of them married her aunt, they all thought they were gentry. Her father’s biggest mistake ever was leaving the family business in their care. Under the stewardship of Clarence and his oily father before him, the Black Island Company is slowly sinking into a mire of mismanagement.

There were times at today’s board meeting when Keziah found it hard to resist a smirk. Not that it would have mattered. They all think she’s crazy anyway and none of them would have had the remotest idea why she was smiling.
It was highly amusing though. She’d known Clarence was desperately worried as soon as she saw him. The letter hadn’t arrived.

As intended.

Keziah had timed it perfectly. She made sure the reply from her broker wouldn’t arrive until the morning of the meeting. It was worth it just to see the anguish on Clarence’s face, although the inane expression when his reprieve arrived did make her feel a little nauseous.

But, thanks to the injection of extra cash confirmed in the broker’s letter, Clarence was able to present a version of the accounts that made it appear the company was still solvent.

Keziah smiles as she gazes out into the night. What the other board members don’t know is that he only managed it by selling off part of the company. Something he has no right to do. Each board member has some shares but the majority, the ones for which Clarence is responsible, are all held in trust. They belong to the rightful heir to the family business. But with both her brothers dead, Joseph in the war and the little one, Luke, in childhood, there is no heir. No male one, anyway. Which is how Clarence has been able to continue in his cuckoo role, claiming control of the company as the family steward. Although that still doesn’t allow him to sell the family shares.

Not that Keziah minds. Not in the least. It has taken some careful manoeuvring and delicate negotiations. But the first part of her plan has come to fruition. The money she’s made over the years and the various identities her broker has created for her have enabled her to buy the shares. No one else on the island knows it but Keziah Black now owns a significantly larger part of the Black Island Company than she did before. Not majority control but a step along the way. And, while Clarence has got some fresh funds to play with, they won’t last. He doesn’t have the skill to manage the company properly. With the help of some judicious outside interference, Keziah will make sure that — sooner or later — he’ll need more outside money to balance the books.

Second time round it’ll be easier too. He’ll try to sell off another small parcel of shares. Discreetly. But Keziah and her agents will be watching. Ready to pounce and ready to buy.

A movement outside distracts her and Keziah looks down into the streets. Two men go by. Islanders. Fishermen by the look of them. Off to drink their profits away, no doubt.

She watches them go. At least she doesn’t have to risk chance meetings with their like any more. Things are much easier now, although it’s been a long process. To begin with communicating with the world outside Black Island was so much harder. She used to have to contact her agent by letter and that was always tricky.

Mad Keziah Black can’t be seen walking down to the post office like any normal person. Nor can she hand any mail to other members of the family or the servants: none of them is to be trusted. She has a couple of allies on the island but only a couple. For many years, getting letters in and out has necessitated considerable subterfuge.

Seeing the two fishermen go past reminds Keziah of a night a few years ago. She’d suddenly needed to send a letter to her broker. There’d been no way of getting in touch with one of her usual agents in time. The only thing for it was to use the postbox in the street below. It had been pouring with rain and she hadn’t wanted to get her clothes wet in case questions were asked about her whereabouts.

So Keziah, using an old, half-forgotten side entrance, slipped out into the street naked. It was a dark, wet night and she only needed to go about ten yards. She’d put her letter in the box and was just dashing back to safety when she came face-to-face with an islander walking up the street. It gave her the fright of her life and she’d screamed in shock.

Still. At least she doesn’t have to worry about things like that anymore. Now she’s got a brand-new Nokia 5110 phone. It arrived just a week ago, smuggled into the house inside several hanks of knitting wool. The little mobile phone is bright red and Keziah loves it. She keeps it hidden away inside her knickers where it’ll be safe. It’s also set on vibrate so no one will ever hear it ring.

Keziah turns away from the window and makes her way to her knitting chair. Mountains of brightly coloured wool and bundles of knitting patterns surround the ancient armchair. The patterns on top are mostly Keziah’s own: badly-drawn sketches for garments so ugly and shapeless no-one’s ever likely to be interested in borrowing the pattern or examining it any further. Tucked lower down are other papers: the ones that matter.

Now, lowering herself into the chair, Keziah isn’t there to see as another man goes running up the street. This one would be even more familiar to her. It’s Clarence Wherry’s slightly odd clerk, Ned Hawkins. But he’s not acting his normal servile self. This Ned Hawkins has wild, staring eyes and he’s wrapping his arms around his coat, cradling four small rabbits.

They’re white rabbits and Ned Hawkins is their guardian angel. He’s rescued them from captivity and now he’s taking them to freedom. Up into the hills: that’s where they’re going. Off to a place where man and white rabbits can live free.

To be continued…

That’s the end of the first chapter of Church of the White Rabbits.

Chapter Two explains more of what’s brought Arthur Judd back to Black Island and how Keziah takes revenge on someone who makes the mistake of thinking she’s just a batty old lady.

White Rabbits & A Haunted Postbox – Part V

The books are cooked at the family board meeting and Ned descends from the heavens…

Clarence smiles and relaxes. Mad Keziah announced a few minutes ago that she needed to go and pee. The fuss the old lady made as she rushed for the door gave him the perfect opportunity to spread out a couple of ledgers and use them as cover while he hastily opened the letter.

Now he’s happy. He’s got the answer he wanted. His plan has worked. He has cash to work with and no one any the wiser. Much relieved, he slips one set of accounts back into his bag and starts to pass the alternative version down the table. ‘Here we are, ladies and gentleman. My report to the board.’

He glances around the room. The implied insult has no impact. Graham Drake assumes he’s the gentleman referred to and the Bishop’s Secretary looks as if he’s asleep. Howard McAllister still hasn’t appeared but that’s no loss to anyone except his mother.

Clarence sits back, fingers steepled in front of him. He smiles. ‘I would, of course, be delighted to answer any questions. Alternatively, if anyone wants to propose a motion to accept the report then you can get on and sign it. After which, you’ll have performed your duties and can all resume whatever other, more important business you have to attend to.’

* * *

The snapping sounds and almighty crash that come from the back yard instantly silence the gathering of Judds.
Arthur jerks around in astonishment. Sally and one of the girls shriek, while Davey and his young friend Nathan both do impressions of drowning goldfish, their mouths opening and shutting in silent wonder.

‘What on earth?’ George is the first to move. He turns to the kitchen door and throws it open. Bursting through, he makes it several feet into the yard and then stops, confused. While he tries to make sense of what he’s seeing, other members of the Judd family pile up against him from behind.

‘Dad! What is it?’

George frowns. The back of the yard is where the rabbit pens should be. There’s no sign of them though. In their place, all he can see is a pile of broken branches. Sticking out of the top of the mess is what looks like a pair of human legs in ragged trousers.

A loud groan comes from the mound of foliage. There’s a twanging sound and the legs slide out of sight.


‘Hold on, Davey.’



‘Where the bleeding hell are my rabbits?’

George and Arthur pull some of the branches out of the way. Beneath them, they find Ned Hawkins lying prostrate.

‘Is he dead?’ Davey jumps around behind them, his friend Nathan peering over more warily.

‘Dunno.’ Arthur looks up. Above them, a hole torn through the overhanging tree shows the origin of the broken branches. What looks like a section of iron railings is hanging from one of the snapped-off limbs.

It’s hard to believe where Ned Hawkins came from. The backyards of Goat Street are dug into the side of a steep hill. The only thing directly above them is the rambling mansion the Black Family calls home. Tower House stands on a spur of higher ground and looms over the huddled terraces where common folk live. There are no ground floor windows or doors on this side of the building. So, unless Ned jumped from the roof itself, the narrow balcony on the first floor is the only other option Arthur can see.

He squints as he tries to calculate the height. The old ash tree that leans above the rabbit pens is probably thirty feet tall. The distance between the top of the tree and the balcony is at least half as far again. It must be getting on for fifty feet.

‘Jesus!’ Arthur breathes the word out with soft reverence. However Ned came to fall, it was a long way down.

Ned’s eyes open slowly. He hurts in all sorts of places but his head’s in such a whirl the pain hasn’t filtered through. He’s completely disorientated. All he’s really aware of is the little, fur-covered face beneath him. The one that’s staring up at him with wonder and what looks like love.

‘Jesus.’ The word is soft. Ned isn’t sure where it comes from. The only thing he can see is the little white rabbit.

‘He came from the sky.’


‘Did he fly?’

‘Look up there.’

‘Holy f…’



‘Is he alive?’

‘Has he come from heaven?’

‘Maybe he’s an angel.’

‘Has he come to save us?’

Ned is only vaguely aware of the conversation going on above him between the younger Judds and their friends. Some of the children’s words seep in though and rattle around the inside of his bruised and befuddled brain.
His mind is still trying to make sense of the different messages it’s receiving when the young rabbit beneath him wrinkles its nose.

As if in response to the signal, three other white rabbits appear in his vision. They hop forward from wherever they’ve been hiding. Now, all four are looking up at him and Ned realises who it is that’s talking about him. It’s the rabbits. They’re saying he’s their angel. He can’t quite remember how it happened but he must have been sent from heaven to save the white rabbits.

* * *

Margaret’s hand lifts slowly and Keziah resists the temptation to slap it down. She doesn’t want interruptions or questions, just to get the papers signed and the meeting over.

Clarence Wherry tries to pretend the raised hand isn’t there but, much as he’d like to, he can’t really ignore it. He slowly turns his head. ‘You have a question, Mrs McAllister, or one of your observations?’

‘Well… I thought… that is…’

Cynthia Drake sniffs loudly from the opposite side of the table while her cousin Graham makes a lacklustre attempt to cover a yawn. Margaret grinds to a halt for a moment then gathers herself.

‘I thought we should, you know, discuss the state of the company. I mean; there doesn’t seem to be much profit shown.’

‘But there is profit and that’s what matters.’

‘Yes… but our dividend, well, it’s tiny.’

Clarence shakes his head. ‘Oh, Mrs McAllister. You know, if there was money to be thrown around, I’d be delighted to drown you in it. But, we have to be realistic. We’ve had some ups and downs in the past year. Black Island is a wonderful place but sadly our prosperity does depend on the outside world. I try to keep the company in as healthy a financial state as possible but even I can’t do anything about financial crises in places like Japan and Russia.’

‘No, but…’

‘We are all affected, Mrs McAllister. Like it or not, the Black Island Company does get a bit of a buffeting from these economic storms. The state of world markets does affect prices and that means our profits aren’t always as high as I’d like. But, as I say, we are in profit. Not by a huge amount but we are in profit.’

‘Yes, but I don’t understand how.’

‘I’m sure you don’t, Mrs McAllister.’

Graham laughs openly and Margaret blushes a deep red. For a moment, Keziah thinks Clarence has succeeded in shutting her up and the old lady bites her lip as she silently prepares for the vote.

‘No! I don’t.’ They all turn towards Margaret in surprise. For once, she sounds almost forceful and Keziah realises her cousin’s daughter is determined to have her say.

‘I don’t understand how we’re in profit because most of the figures for the company appear quite bad.’

‘Well, they’re obviously not all bad.’

‘No. But they nearly all are. I mean: I know I’m not an accountant and I do have trouble following your report, Mr Wherry.’


‘Yes. Now, obviously I don’t mean that as a personal criticism of you or your handling of the company.’

‘Heaven forbid, Mrs McAllister.’

‘But the thing is, from the bits I can understand it appears to me the company should be making a loss. If you examine them carefully, nearly all sections of the report show things really aren’t going very well. We seem to have spent money on things that haven’t returned a profit. The costs are very high.’


‘In fact, if it wasn’t for this one payment shown at the bottom of page twelve, I don’t think we’d be in profit at all.’ Margaret sits back in her chair: apparently exhausted and overwhelmed at the effort it has taken to get her point out. ‘And what I just don’t understand is where the money has come from.’

Clarence’s smile seems very thin at this point but Keziah is impressed to see it never actually falters.

‘The payment shown there is from… an investment, Mrs McAllister. We make many over the years and sometimes it looks like we’re pouring good money after bad but then, you see, that’s what makes a prudent manager. Knowing when to invest and when to stop. I know the accounts can seem a little baffling to one not familiar with all the nitty-gritty of the company’s business but let me assure you the fundamentals are all there. And, the important thing is… the Black Company is… in the black.’

Graham Drake smacks his fist on the table. ‘Well, that’s good enough for me. I can’t see any point in prolonging things further. Basic thing is, we’re in profit. There’s a bit of a dividend coming our way and I trust Mr Wherry to look after our interests.’

‘You would.’ Cynthia raises an eyebrow. ‘Saves you getting off your backside and having to do anything to help run the company.’

‘That’s rich! You’ve never worked a day in your life.’

‘I work hard every day, Graham. You wouldn’t understand the hours that go into running all the organisations in which I’m involved.’

‘What? Oh, which one of your many important social commitments do you mean: the Ladies Cake Eating Committee? Or are you talking about your Flower Arrangers Who Do Lunch Club?’

‘Please!’ Clarence puts on his slimiest peacemaker’s smile and holds up both hands before the two cousins descend further into their usual state of acrimony. ‘Perhaps we could just deal with the report.’

‘Oh, god.’ Cynthia lifts a single finger in a world-weary fashion. ‘I move we accept the damn report, sign the thing and get out of here.’

‘Seconded.’ Keziah gets in before Margaret can speak.

‘Thank you, ladies.’ Clarence starts to relax. ‘Now… all those in favour?’

* * *

George Judd hesitates. They’ve just left his back yard. His older brother is with him, in a hurry to get to the pub.

To be continued…

I missed yesterday’s instalment because of the holiday but this one’s a bit longer. Tomorrow, George tells his brother a chilling tale.


White Rabbits & A Haunted Postbox – Part IV

Things take a nasty turn for Ned…

Margaret looks at the water coursing down the window. The unpleasant brown stain has disappeared. She can also see the first glimmer of brightness breaking through the clouds.  ‘Look, Keziah. I do believe it’s going to clear again.’


‘Yes, I have a feeling the sun will be back with us soon.’


‘I think a walk by the fort might be called for later. One does so enjoy the invigoration of the fresh air after the rain has passed. I always find it very bracing, a tonic for the lungs and the soul.’


Margaret looks around. She always finds it very hard making conversation with her second cousin. Keziah is never exactly rude but her responses are invariably abrupt.

She smiles vaguely at the others gathered around the table. The three other members of the board have now arrived: the Drake cousins and Reverend Presley, the rather plump Bishop’s Secretary. The cousins are arguing yet again over some old disagreement. The overweight churchman is staring silently into space, probably dreaming of pies.
Margaret looks at her watch. It’s now almost ten past twelve. She glances sideways. ‘Do you think we should start? Howard is on his way but he won’t mind if we start without him.’

Keziah looks blank for a moment. Then Margaret sees the old spinster’s eyes twitch towards Clarence Wherry. At the far end of the table, the family steward lifts a pile of papers. He appears more distracted than usual. He was so involved with his work earlier that he didn’t even notice when Margaret came into the room.

‘Oh…’ says Keziah. ‘There’s no rush.’

‘It’s alright. Howard won’t mind. I can speak for my son as well as myself if there are any decisions to make.’

At the other end of the table, Clarence laughs. ‘That’s not exactly a problem, Mrs McAllister. The boy doesn’t have any shares. Which means he doesn’t have a vote.’

‘Well… no. But he’s part of the family, isn’t he. Everyone in the Black Family is entitled to speak.’

‘I thought he was a McAllister.’

‘Well, yes. But… his grandmother was a Black.’

‘His great-grandmother.’

‘Well, if you must quibble.’

Clarence gives one of his humourless smiles. ‘It’s part of my job, Mrs McAllister. I have to question everything. On behalf of the company, you understand… And, since you’re not allowed to sell your own shares, I presume your son still doesn’t have any.’

Margaret feels herself going red. She is feeling flustered and hates herself for it. She knows she isn’t stupid but she does get in awkward tangles while trying to express herself. And Clarence Wherry always seems to make it worse. She could almost imagine he does it on purpose.

‘No. No, he doesn’t,’ she says, trying her best to sound decisive. ‘Either way, we don’t need to wait for Howard do we? So we can get on with the meeting.’

Clarence opens his mouth to say something but to Margaret’s surprise Keziah gets there first. ‘Are you going for your walk before or after lunch?’

‘Oh… I don’t know.’ Margaret wasn’t even sure if she was going for a walk. She’d only said it as a way of trying to find something to say to Keziah. ‘I… er… I haven’t quite decided.’

‘You should eat before going. Otherwise you might get hungry. Then… you might have to come back before you were ready. Or get faint and fall over.’

‘Well… yes, I suppose so.’

‘You could take some food with you. Get the cook to make you a sandwich. Or take a pie. Pies are good. I like mutton ones. With lots of mustard. Although they do make me fart.’

‘Oh!’ Margaret gives a little gasp. A horrible snorting laugh comes from the other side of the table but she ignores it.

‘Maybe a sandwich is better. Not so messy to eat.’

‘No… I suppose not.’

‘But what if it rains again? You could come to my room instead. Play cards or… have tea.’

‘Really?’ Margaret is astonished. She’s only seen the inside of Keziah’s rooms once before. That was years ago when her cousin had caught a particularly nasty virus and was bed-bound and delirious with fever for a week. Invitations from Keziah herself are unheard of.

She’s about to reply when Clarence’s nephew Douglas enters the room. He glides in his usual boneless walk to his uncle’s end of the table. There’s a letter in the boy’s pale hand and he passes it over. Clarence almost snatches the envelope. Then looks around when he realises he’s being watched. He bares his teeth in what’s meant to be a smile.

* * *

Ned Hawkins slowly lowers his hands and takes a deep breath. His eyes have been closed since seconds after the downpour started. Like a crucified rag and bone man, he’s spent the last twenty minutes standing stock still on the balcony. Face pressed against the solid reassurance of the granite wall as torrents of rainwater bucketed down.
Now, his clothes are clinging to him and he can feel water slopping around inside his boots. But there’s a faint bit of heat on the back of his neck. Warily, he opens his eyes a fraction.

His drenching is finally over. The rain has stopped and the glass to his side glistens as sunshine lances through a break in the clouds. The window is only a couple of feet distant. It looks like the seagull splatter has washed off. After taking a deep breath, Ned tilts his head back. He can see most of the glass but the pane is nearly eight feet across and the angle isn’t enough to be certain.

Ned bites his lip as he shuffles his feet an inch from the wall and leans away from the granite, just a little. It’s only a small movement but enough to trigger Ned’s vertigo. His head swims and his vision blurs. He gasps and his arms flail for something to hold. One hand connects with the railing behind him. Instinctively, he grabs it, seizing the rusted metal as his knees go limp.

Ned sags and his weight, though not great, comes down on the old wrought iron: metal that’s been eroded by years of exposure to salt water and Atlantic gales. It resists only a moment. Then snaps.

Gravity takes hold.

Ned continues to clutch the railing but it’s no longer attached to the building. Together, man and metal topple, spinning as they plummet into thin air.

* * *

Clarence smiles and relaxes. Mad Keziah announced a few minutes ago that she needed to go and pee. The fuss the old lady made as she rushed for the door gave him the perfect opportunity to spread out a couple of ledgers and use them as cover while he hastily opened the letter.

To be continued…

Tomorrow, Ned meets the white rabbits.