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Vast: A Novel
Ch. XXII: Vengeances

by Nicolas Travers

Jane Vast's parents reach Windsor just after nine. Sophie Wise is immediately warm and maternal, and hugs her daughter before quickly bustling Sarah into the kitchen to help her brew a good hot pot of tea, and make toast, for she is a practical woman, and knows well the healing properties of nourishment. Jack Wise inspects his daughter with a sombre look that plainly shows his certainty that his very worst fears have at last been fulfilled.

Jane feels tears starting to well up again. "I'm sorry, Dad, I'm really sorry." It is all she can say. She has been packing basic wardrobes for a move to Beaconsfield, and she is exhausted. She really does not need lecturing.

Jack Wise seems about to say something. But his face softens, and he takes both her hands instead, and Jane presses against him and starts to weep softly on his shoulder, in a way that she has not wept for many, many years.

"I tried, Dad, I really tried."

"He wasn't good enough for you, Janey." Her father uses her pet name from childhood, and it is a shield. "He was a bad 'un, and you're well shot of him."

"Do you think so? Really?" Jane's tears subside into a series of sniffles. "You don't think that somehow I got things wrong?"

She looks up at her father for reassurance. She has veered from moments of impotent fury to bouts of deep depression whilst waiting, and she has no certainties any more. She wants to believe that Colin is totally at fault, and that she consistently lived the life of a good wife and good mother, but a small hidden voice has whispered doubts from time to time, and made her wonder whether there might be some other truth.

"He's a wastrel, Janey. He's never had the guts to stay the course." Jack Wise's words are clipped, and certain. He is a solid man, who values reliability, and predictability, and dependability, above all, and he has always mistrusted journalists as nasty, inquisitive beings given to invention and distortion and general fabrication, with a rather more particular bias against his son-in-law. He also has much that he would like to add, past warnings that he would like to recall, dating to back before Jane's wedding, a quick and shabby little registry office affair, and not at all what he would have chosen for his only child, and past hopes forsworn - including a young man he had fondly hoped to see walk her up a glittering aisle, a talented young articled clerk now a partner in a leading City firm, earning telephone numbers a year, and with homes in half a dozen different capital cities. But Jane chose wrongly, and made her own life, and now he must help pick up the pieces.

Jane sniffs again, and allows her father to dry her eyes, and knows what he is thinking, and it is salt in her wounds.

Fortunately Sarah appears with the news that tea and toast are ready on the kitchen table. It is a comforting sight, for the kitchen is filled with sunshine, and she has helped her grandmother lay a clean tablecloth, and has been out in the garden to pick a bunch of flowers.

But Jane is still sunk deep in depression, and her father chews absentmindedly on a slice of toast whilst he tries to evolve a suitable strategy, and in the end the silence bears down on Sophie Wise's best attempts at brightness, and she whisks Sarah away for a walk down Peascod Street and some shopping, for - like all doting grandmothers - she knows that a little well-chosen fashion spending may often best help wean a broken-hearted teenager from misery.

Jack Wise sighs, and it is a sound that rings like a tocsin in Jane's heart.

"Well, you don't think he'll come back?"

It is a rhetorical question, and Jane shakes her head dully. They have already covered this ground, but her father has a lawyer's habit of rehearsing known positions before essaying fresh paths.

"You'll have to come to Beaconsfield."

She nods again.

"I'll help you file for a divorce, citing the girl - you shouldn't have any problem securing custody - and we'll send him a letter seeking a clean break, with you collecting the house and contents." Jack Wise starts to gather speed as he begins to evolve a plan of campaign. "You'll have to sign on for benefit, of course - you'll get something for Sarah and part of your mortgage interest. Then you'll be able to sell up."

Jane bursts into tears again.

Her father places his hand on hers - they are face to face on either side of the kitchen table. "There, there, Janey, don't cry."

His words catch in his throat with his emotion. Sobbing wives, soon to become former wives, are a staple of country solicitors' practices, and country solicitors soon learn to harden their hearts, and even take a clinically detached view. But it is a hard, hard thing for a father to find himself dismantling the life of his only child, and Jack Wise fears that Jane may start going to pieces, and end up as a sad, lost soul, ekeing out a lonely existence on the margin of her parents' retirement.

"You should come out of the cottage with a good few thousand." He burrows back into his planning, if only to try and distract her from her grief. "You can send your furniture down to auction at Ascot, or put it by for a while." Here Jack Wise glances quickly at his daughter, hoping to spark some sort of a reaction. Broken lives tend generally to rebuild best by mending, rather than by reinvention, and it is a test choice.

Jane takes a deep breath. "I'll put most of it into store."

"And sell it later?"

Jane smiles wanly. "No, Dad." She knows her father very well, and she can read his plan like a map. "I'll come up to Beaconsfield for a while, until things are sorted out. Then I'll try to find a flat of some kind."

"Will you try and find a job?"

"Of course I will."

Jack Wise looks relieved. "Maybe some of the clients could find you a niche. You can handle computers, and that sort of thing, can't you?"

Jane laughs. She has never ceased to be amazed that men should regard women as such brainless creatures. "Yes, Dad. I know how to handle a keyboard."

They smile at each other, for it is a foundation, and a base for rebirth. However there is still one last matter to cover, that Jack Wise has been turning over and over in his mind ever since leaving Beaconsfield, for a good lawyer misses no advantages, and - in the faint event of a divorce battle - Colin's character will rank large. But he knows that his questions are going to cause pain, and it is a very difficult subject to broach.

"You said on the telephone that the girl was under age, and mixed up with drug dealers."

Jane winces, and they are both silent for a moment, staring at the scattered remains of breakfast. Jack Wise starts to drum with his fingers, it is a sign of impatience, and then checks himself.

"Yes, Dad." Jane's voice is very small.

"The girl who came said she had stolen something."


"Hmmm. I don't suppose he'll go to the police." Jack Wise speaks half to himself. "But they might be interested."

Jane seems oblivious.

"I could try the chief inspector, we've played the odd round together." Jane's father nods to himself, it is a thought worth pursuing. "They might chase her up."

"Oh, Dad." Jane starts to weep again. A girl younger than her own daughter has stolen into her life and taken her husband, and it is an humiliation, and she feels rejected, and superseded, and very old. "Can't she be punished for what she has done?"

"No, Janey." Jack Wise shakes his head regretfully. "Your husband is the one who would be punished."


"The law sanctions men who have sex with underage girls, not the other way round."

Jane has a vision of Colin behind bars, in prison, and for a moment it seems a rightness, and her lips tighten with vengeance. "Go on."

"I don't think I can." Her father shakes his head again. "Times have changed. Once, maybe even a couple of years ago, we could have reported him, and the police would have taken the matter up. But now they'd probably expect her parents to take a lead, and I don't suppose they'll much want to do that if they're already shy of the law."

"But they might be interested in the drugs?"

"Oh, they'll certainly be interested in the drugs."

"And that might go hand in hand with underage sex?"

"It might well." Jack Wise can see vengeance waxing, and the sight alarms him a little, for he is basically a placid man, and revenge has no part in his emotions. But it is something that he owes his daughter, and he will pursue it. "I'll ring Windsor police station as soon as we get back to Beaconsfield."

Evelyn Weiss is also mulling over plans, and vengeance - coupled with fear - is a driving force.

"Twenty grand in cash - more than twenty grand in cash." He is hunched in his BMW, parked at the side of the main building in the Slough Co-Op superstore carpark, muttering to himself. "I'm a fucking nutter, I must be, taking in those two bloody girls."

A second BMW, a couple of years younger, and rather larger than his own, black and highly polished, and flash with darkened windows, slides smoothly into the vacant space beside him, and he smiles thinly as two young men, both close-cropped, in dark suits, with their eyes hidden behind aviator shades, get out and slide into his car.

"Good morning, Evelyn." The young man settled into the seat beside him extends a hand rich with gold rings. "I brought a friend - he specialises in finding people."

Weiss half turns to hold out his hand to the man in his back seat, but he has settled out of reach, and merely lifts a hand in languid greeting.

"You said you had a problem."

"It's a girl, the daughter of the woman living with me. She's been and took my cash and my stock."

The car is silent, and then the young man smiles a little wolfishly. "You're in trouble."

"I know." Weiss needs no lessons in the fates of welshers, distributors taking stock on commission and disappearing without honouring their commitments.

"She took it all?"

"The lot."

"You got a picture of her?"

Weiss thanks heaven for Dorothy being a goodlooking girl. He has a number of pictures, ranging from postcard-sized snaps to a colour portrait taken on her fifteenth birthday, mostly full-face, and none more than a few months old.

The two men examine them curiously.

"Nice chick." The man in the back seat speaks for the first time as he hands the pictures back.

"Rich too." His companion smiles again, and Weiss winces. "You know where she went?"

"She's with a man called Colin Vast. He's a financial journalist, somewhere in London. He's got a house just up the road."

"But she's not there?"

"He's married."

The young man frowns disapprovingly, and clicks his tongue against his teeth. "That's naughty. You got a picture of him?"

Weiss shakes his head.

"But you can give us his address and phone number?"

Weiss scribbles on a scrap of paper.

"Good." The young man tucks the paper into the breast pocket of his suit. "Does his wife go out to work?"

"She pushed off this morning, with her daughter, and an older man and woman - they looked like her parents."

"Better and better." The young man is silent for a moment, and then reaches for the door catch. "We'll take ten percent."

Weiss is doubtful. "You think you can get my stuff back?"

"No problem." The young man beams, teeth shining as white as a shark's. "We'll find them, and we'll bring it back. You'll be alright, Evelyn."

Suddenly both side doors are open, and the two men are gone, and the highly polished BMW is backing out of its space - and Evelyn Weiss shivers despite himself, for he has heard bad things about the young man, and he suspects that Dorothy's fate may prove unpleasant if the contents of his case are not recovered intact.

To Be Continued...


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