Prologue – The Water Meadow Man

Welcome to Crosschester
The ancient city of Crosschester used its history like Cleopatra used asses’ milk. It luxuriated in it. Misty memory and selective history were its lifeblood. It fed off the faithless payments of tourists who had superseded but not entirely replaced the subscriptions of pilgrims from a thousand years before.

Like Cleopatra’s baths, however, the longer it lay there, the more the milk softened its body, the more time it took to shower and scrub away the sourness, and the feeling that everything was forever held under a thin layer of white scum. Modernity would occasionally mount an assault on Crosschester but it would inevitably be forced back out to the big cities, or to ‘Abroad’ where it had come from, leaving only shallow scratches behind.

The local newspaper reported cattle auctions, garden parties, cricket scores and jumble sales. Crime and dread happened somewhere else.

An outline of an dog.

Mr and Mrs Craven’s Little Sweet Shoppe in Jewry Passage had recently been sold to Mr and Mrs Aditya Kharbanda from Southall. The Kharbanda family had been keen to buy, they wanted to relocate as soon as possible. They wanted to experience the country they’d been born in.

Mr and Mrs Craven wanted to do the opposite. They liked where they were. They knew where they were. They knew their customers and suppliers, their bowling green, their places on the pew, their seats in The City Tavern, their allotment and their plots in the graveyard in Commiton where they’d been born.

Their son Darren wanted more, and he’d been the king of the family since his sister died of the measles when they were both eight. What Darren wanted from his parents, Darren received, with thanks.

What he really wanted was anything at all that would get him away from the stifling, ball-aching tedium of the “ancient and historic cathedral town of Crosschester”. He would move to London. He’d work in a bank, any bank or he’d take a sales job, any sales job. As he said of himself, he could sell sand to Arabs; snow to the Eskimos; scotch to the Scottish.

Darren had shown the Kharbandas around the shop and the nice parts of the city, highlighting the loyal customer base, making sure they were aware of just how peaceful and friendly Crosschester was. He guided them around the cathedral and its grounds, enthusing about the stability and history of the place. He avoided taking them anywhere near The Sleepers Hill or Stangate.

The money was almost his, he could feel it like the first cigarette of the day. The first thing he was going to do was to buy a Ford Capri in Maize Yellow with a black vinyl roof. A mate of his had done one up and was offering it at a knock-down price because he was leaving the country to go and live in Australia. Darren had considered Australia or maybe Canada or South Africa but not until he’d got rich quick.

What he hadn’t mentioned to the Kharbandas was the flak head chopped in The Green Man about the sale. Some of his pals had cut him out of their lives completely when he’d explained the deal.

“Fuck them anyway, small townies going nowhere”, he thought as he looked his old mate Kev up and down. He’d leave them to deal with the fall-out.

“You know what you’ve done don’t you, Daz?”, said Kev over a pint. “You’ve only gone and opened the floodgates to Paki cunts. Man, we’ve known each since school, I’m fucking staggered you let this happen and just for the fucking money. I thought you were a decent bloke. You’re more like a fucking Jew, mate, all about the money and no loyalty, no honour in sight. You really are, you really, really are.

“See, one of them Asians moves in and they all do. They start charging all sorts of prices to us but then their family moves in – and I mean extended to all fuck – and it’s different prices for us isn’t it? Higher prices? And you can’t even fucking understand them jabbering at each other, they could be talking about any fucking thing.

No booze or fucking pork out of them shops either”, said Kev over the last pint in the last pair of pints they’d ever share.

“It’s a fucking sweetshop, Kev, they never sold pork or beer. Jesus mate, move on. Get with it, pal or get left behind”.

“I’d rather be left behind than have to put up with that lot and their stink and their jibber-jabber. Crosschester is a white town, always has been, always would’ve been if it wasn’t for you Darren. If I have my way, me and some other like-minded blokes, it will be again. We fought wars for it”, said Kev, born ten years after the war. He drained his glass, got up and left with the nobility and courage of St George after defeating the dragon coursing through him.

None of this was a problem any more for Darren. As soon as the Paki money was in his pocket, and his folks were moved, he was gone. Out of Crosschester for good.