Returning to my novel after an absence wasn't easy. I had panicked at the apparent requirement of the writing class to complete up to 30 pages. No matter how verbose I tried to be it wasn't approaching 30 pages. Not even when I increased the size of the text.
In the end a bereavement meant the class was cancelled until April. This gave me another reason to slack off because I normally need a deadline. But here it is on track again, in a manner of speaking, but who knows where it's going. Not me - that's for sure.
At 7 p.m. sharp the door of Court Number 3 swung open and I was reunited with Moriarty, his Puma bag and his beige squash shorts from a bygone era. Two weeks had gone by but little had changed about him.
Once again he struck his hand forward and clasped mine: "Moriarty," he said in a measured tone.
"Yes. We have met."
Moriarty seemed just as distant as before, although there was an uncertain hesitation and an attention to detail as he weighed up the better of two squash balls.
We tossed for who would serve. He won and he was soon back into his mechanical stride, expending little energy and giving even less away. His silence started to get to me after a while and I toyed with the idea of barging into him to get a reaction. Still, my game seemed better tonight. I was getting the measure of him and while he had a lot of upper arm strength there was a certain predictability about his game, a lack of imagination behind his power.
I won the first set.
"OK," said Moriarty without any visible evidence that he was a bad loser.
I felt confident I had the measure of Moriarty's game, but whenever I felt myself surging ahead, I would play a poor shot and be punished by his powerful back hand. All the times in my life when I had struggled to find the killer instinct came back to haunt me, pushing the elusive killer instinct further from my grasp. Even so I found myself serving for the match. Just then a vision of my small room overlooking the empty park came to mind and I didn't want the game to end. I paused with the ball but realized the futility of my actions which must have wasted no more than 10 seconds.
Just then Moriarty's phone sounded from deep inside his giant bag.
He muttered an apology and pulled out a giant black brick-like object from his bag. His phone was outmoded even for the nineties.
There was a stream or barely audible and shrill words tripping over each other from the receiver.
"She's what?" said Moriarty.
More urgent sounding words, followed.
The brick went crashing into the bag with a force that approached urgency.
"Look," said Moriarty turning to me. "I'm afraid I'm going to have to leave. Family problems. That sort of thing."
"OK. No problem."
"What is it?"
"I just realized I came here by train," said Moriarty, to himself as much as me.
"I have a car nearby. I can drive you." I realized, as I said it that it was a curious notion for London; I felt I had informed him my flying saucer was parked behind the squash courts.
"I can get a cab," he snapped back.
"In Southgate, you'll probably have to wait 40 minutes. If it's an emergency..."
"Bugger," he repeated.
He hesitated and I realized it was tantamount to accepting my ride. Part of me felt a thrill to be part of somebody else's adventure.
"Well it's Hackney, I'm afraid," he said. "You can just drop me off. You don't have to hang around."
I led him out of the squash court, firm in my resolution to hang around. On the way out we caught a withering glare from Mavis who was clearly perturbed at our clear breach of protocol in leaving without pencilling up the scores on the cork board by her office.
Hackney called again. When we reached the car I felt a wave of shame come over me at the modest chicken tikka colored Ford Escort with handles to operate the window and chocolate wrappers strewn over the front seat. I imagined Moriarty had something like a Saab tucked away in a garage somewhere but if I wondered why he would take the train if that was the case.
"Ah Dagenham's finest," he remarked morosely, patting the flimsy panels on the side of the door.
We weaved in and out leafy streets, Moriarty looking distractedly out of the window all the time. Then his phone rang again. "Yes Laura. I'm on my way. She's done what?"
Soon the trees gave way to concrete and stores that had lost their right angles and seemed to be sinking into the street, flimsy cardboard signs and bars over their windows. There are parts of Tottenham and Hackney that look more like Calcutta and I had a knack of finding them. Drunks saluted us with their middle fingers and street dogs picked up their pace to slide back into the shadows. It was hard to imagine people living in parts of the city like this, but I said little as Moriarty grunted his directions in monosyllables.
Then somewhere near Hackney Wick, the baleful yellow street lights gave way to blue light and I realized we were on the edge of an incident scene.
"Thanks but really, you can drop me off here," said Moriarty.
"I should get you closer," I said.
"No really. Here will do." There was a steeliness in his voice which reinforced my impression of him as a one time Army man.
"OK," I replied, trying to hide a sharp edge of resentment.
"Yes. Thanks again old boy. Good game." And he was gone, his long legs carrying his bulky frame at a bewildering rate towards the blue lights at the end of a rundown street of high rise apartments.
I hit the accelerator, but eased off around the corner and parked. The evening had become too interesting to end just yet. I parked the Escort and crept slowly down the pavement in the direction of the blue lights. There was such a melee of police and firefighters it was easy to go unnoticed.
There was a large firefighter who seemed to be acting as a gatekeeper but I slipped past him when his back was turned. The whole scene was a ghastly pastische of flashing blues and reds, turning faces in the crowd on the street garish. All eyes were looking upwards to the 4th level where a woman in a nightgown with hair that may once have been blonde, tottered on a ledge. Even from that distance I could make out the whites of her fear filled eyes as she moved backwards and forwards.
The whole scene appeared so like a movie, down to the firefighters holding a large net below the apartment block, that I started to wonder if it was real or if I had walked into a set. But the shrill expressions and the way some people were covering their eyes gave authenticity to the Hollywood style scene in a less then glamorous part of town. To the left of the crowd and apart from them, I noticed Moriaty and a teenage girl. He was shouting something at the woman and waving his hands, albeit with little urgency. I had no doubt he was integral to the scene. I recognized the girl from the railway platform.
The woman waved her arms around, took a jerky step back and over compensated with a shriek. Suddenly there was a puff of powder from the ledge and she was falling through the air. I saw her twist in slow motion and her face contort as if this wasn't at all what she intended, before she headed fast for the ground.