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Rated: 18+ · Novella · Adult · #799888
1972: The tragic aftermath of the Bernie Cornfield/Reggie Maudling offshore banking scam.
Black Holes in the Universe

We learned of Auntie May's death on the Wednesday. I'd just returned from signing-on when Mother told me the police had called. Oddly enough, it was also the day that Grub and I first spoke to each other.

I was sitting on the rock-hard bench in the Labour Exchange, brooding, while waiting my turn at the glass partition. I was passing the time recalling what that crackpot politician was calling people like myself on television the previous night: 'nothing more than scroungers, parasites, burdens upon all the hard-working, decent folk'. As if it were my fault that I've not worked since I was made redundant at Shaw's Wire Works.
He sat down on the bench next to me, interrupting my thoughts. I watched him out of the corner of my eye as he read the leaflet the bloke outside the main door had been distributing. He must have noticed me eyeing him; he screwed up the leaflet into a little ball and tossed it over his shoulder.
'Bleedin' students!' He declared, looking sideways at me.
I'd seen him before, he signed-on on a Wednesday the same as myself. He usually had his oppo with him, a big beefy lad with shoulder-length hair, but for the last couple of weeks he'd been there on his own. Mr Gormon, or Gordon, I recalled the woman behind the glass partition calling him on a previous occasion. I'd heard his oppo call him Grub. I thought the name appropriate, his appearance was always on the grubby side: he wore the same clothes week-in, week-out: black leather jacket, off-white sweatshirt, faded denim jeans and a pair of down-at-heel desert boots. He usually had three or four days growth of stubbly black beard, his hair looked as if it hadn't seen a comb in weeks and the dirt underneath his fingernails would have filled a matchbox: presenting himself to the dole authorities as a man permanently on his uppers.
'I don't need no bloody students to tell me that I'm a victim of soddin' capitalism,' he continued. 'Mind you, it might be a bit different if they started handin' out machine guns instead of bleedin' leaflets!'
'God bless the unemployed,' I sighed, fighting to maintain a straight face.
'Are you Scotch?' He asked, lowering his brow at me.
'No, mate, I'm just government surplus,' I replied.
He spread his outstretched legs and stared down at the wooden-block floor between them, no longer interested in continuing the conversation.

Auntie May was found on the Tuesday, lying face down on the Wilton in the lounge. The neighbours told the police they hadn't seen her since the previous Saturday. It was the milkman who raised the alarm, after finding Monday's delivery untouched on the doorstep. The police arrived an hour or so later. They knocked twice on the front door, wandered around the outside of the house, and then smashed their way in.
No medical training had been required to enable them to ascertain that she had died as a direct result of a cut neck; the Wilton was ruined, caked with clotted blood; Uncle Frederick's bone-handled open-razor was locked in her right hand. Given a short time at the scene, it would have been reasonable for a relatively astute person to deduce that the fatal cut had been self-inflicted.
At the inquest the Coroner recorded that Auntie May had taken her own life, sometime on the Sunday afternoon, while the balance of her mind was disturbed.

A couple of times a week I go around to Sam's house. I met Sam in the coffee shop at our local library just after I'd been made redundant, and we've been best of friends ever since. Sam is a lot older than me. I'm unsure of his actual age, but I think he must be at least 45. Although he is most forthcoming in other matters, including the extremely personal, Sam has never divulged his age. He is a very learned man; he often says quite profound things that I find hard to follow. For example: one day, straight out of the blue, he said to me: 'It is impossible to postulate the essence of cognitive existence. All that can be stated with certitude is that it is a mode of being occurring somewhere between the day the first creature crawled out of the primeval soup and the day the Sun finally burns out in a splendid heliumic rush.'
I've learned a lot from Sam in the two years I've known him. He has travelled widely, and delved deeply into all manner of things. He is well read of literature, well versed in poetry and well acquainted with the scientific technology of today's world; his past is nothing short of a wealth of sexual experience, and he has dabbled a little with exotic drugs. He describes himself as being 'totally amoral', and he swears he never has, nor ever will, turn his hand or head to 'swelling the bloated coffers of Mammon'.
When I told Sam of Auntie May's tragic death, his immediate reaction was to ask if I had considered the possibility of it being other than suicide. I told him the authorities had declared it and open and shut case of wilful self-destruction, and that I had no reason to doubt their verdict. At that he tapped the side of his nose and winked at me. 'In that case,' he said slowly, 'if murder has been committed, then the killer has every entitlement to claim a major victory over the cool, calculating, forensic machine of the bourgeois state.'

Mother often talked about Auntie May. She was my great-aunt from Dad's side of the family. I'd only seen her a couple of times, the last being at Dad's funeral eight years ago. I remember her as a tall, thin woman with long, greying, red hair. I could tell from her demeanour that she was a person of means, she had a certain presence of being that overshadowed the rest of the family gathering.
During the final years of her life she had lived alone in a large detached house in the Hale Barns stockbroker belt. She had lived a full life, sampling the dizzy heights of fame for a number of years; and while Uncle Frederick was alive, she had gone short of nothing.
Uncle Frederick had bowed out, with dignity, in 1959: a fatal heart attack walking home from Communion on a Sunday morning at the height of a long, hot summer. He'd made his pile in cotton after the First World War; he had amassed a fair sum prior to him meeting Auntie May in the early thirties. They met at one of Auntie May's musical escapades; she used to sing light opera on the music halls; she had an excellent soprano voice, and was well known throughout the land. Uncle Frederick was a tidy few years her senior, but a whirlwind romance culminated in marriage less than three months after their initial encounter.
Just prior to the outbreak of the Second World War, Uncle Frederick transferred all their capital to Canada, where he and Auntie May sat out the hostilities. Auntie May made an even greater name for herself in the land of the maple-leaf. It seems that light opera was tremendously popular over there during the war years; such was the demand, she was able to pick and choose where and when she performed.
As the war drew to a close, they decided to return home. They bought a detached house on the outskirts of Sheffield, where they settled down to a life of semi-retirement.
At the time of their return, Auntie May had more or less given up her professional singing career. She still enjoyed singing in public, and the adulation it brought her, but she didn't really need the money any more. She confined her appearances to private functions: Masonic gatherings, Rotary Club dinners and the likes.
Shortly after their return, Uncle Frederick invested their collective capital in a company that produced laminated wooden cabinets for television sets. During the early 1950s, the dividends alone on their shrewd investment were sufficient to enable them to pursue a somewhat more than comfortable existence.
Then came a spot of bother, some scandal or other, 'indiscretions of a delicate nature', as Mother tactfully put it. They sold their property in Sheffield, and moved to Hale Barns. Auntie May never sang again in public after their hasty departure from Sheffield; both she and Uncle Frederick completely shunned the unwelcome glare of public life.
Before departing this mortal coil, Uncle Frederick had had the nous to foresee the decline of laminated wooden television cabinets; he liquidised their assets shortly before the bottom dropped out of the market in 1956. He then reinvested the bulk of their capital in Government bonds of one sort or another. After Uncle Frederick's death, being unaccustomed as she was to dealing with matters of finance, Auntie May sought the guidance of one of his colleagues from the local Masonic lodge. Her trusty counsel, a retired judge, considered her money to be working very well where it was; so it stayed there until the Labour Party came to power in 1964, when he advised her to cash in the bonds and put her returns into coffee bean futures. Her capital was to remain in coffee, which provided a more than adequate income to meet her needs, until 1969 when the old judge got wind of an excellent little offshore banking corporation, which was being run at the time by a gentleman of American personage who had earned himself an awesome reputation in high finance, and was being enthusiastically endorsed by a prominent British politician who had been given a seat on the corporation's board. Less than twelve months later, the gentleman with the awesome reputation was languishing in a Swiss jail, and the money his banking corporation had been holding had disappeared without trace. Questions were asked in Parliament: the prominent politician pleaded ignorance. Writs were fired off, various court proceedings were threatened; but the prominent politician rode out the storm and Auntie May's money was gone forever. Forced to remortgage her house to enable her to discharge her mounting debts, she was left with hardly a penny piece to her name. She spent the remaining months of her life living as a broken woman, with - apart from the occasional handout from the local Masonic lodge - her state pension being her sole source of income.

The local newspaper announced Auntie May's death in the bottom right-hand corner of the front page; a thoughtful little potted biography, listing all her major achievements in the light opera field. They put in a couple of lines about her losing all her hard earned savings in a business venture; but the offshore banking corporation wasn't specifically mentioned - and neither were the delicate-natured indiscretions.

I gave the funeral a miss, as I had to sign-on in the morning, and the Gillette Cup semi-final was on television in the afternoon, but Mother went. She reported a good turnout. There were a number of coves from the local Masonic in attendance to pay their last respects, including the old judge who had helped her dispose of her fortune. Mother said there was a fair gathering of local dignitaries at the graveside, including a couple of Borough Councillors and a prospective parliamentary candidate. Mother and Auntie Dolly were the only relatives present, but they were made thoroughly welcome; she told me the men were fussing all over the pair of them at the ham and pickle buffet after the interment.
Auntie May's solicitor told Mother and Auntie Dolly the full story of her financial downfall, and said she had left what little that remained of her estate to the old judge. He went on to say that Auntie May had wanted Mother to have her silver cutlery and best China tea-set, and Auntie Dolly to have Uncle Fredrick's Grandfather clock. They weren't expecting anything, so it came as a pleasant surprise.

It was the night of the funeral that I had the dream. It was frighteningly clear for a dream. I can still recall every single detail.
I'd been invited to Auntie May's house for afternoon tea. When I arrived at the house I was greeted by Auntie May and the old judge. We sat down to tea and fruitcake at the dining-room table. During tea, the old judge happened to remark upon how young and vigorous I looked. Auntie May nodded in agreement as she patted my thigh beneath the table. Much to my surprise, she left her hand on my leg when the conversation turned to other things. On our second cup of tea Auntie May began to trail her hand up and down the inside of my thigh. Such familiarities inflamed my passions to such an extent that I found myself sitting there with an involuntary erection. I then experienced a desire to place my own hand on Auntie May's leg, but I suddenly froze in apprehension as I noticed the old judge looking directly at me with a hideous grin on his wizened face.
'Why not show the boy around the rest of the house,' he suggested.
Auntie May took me by the hand and led me out of the dining room. Without speaking a word, she guided me up the stairs and into the large bedroom at the front of the house. Still without a word passing between us, we shed our clothes and lay down in each other's arms on the luxurious double bed, where we set about enjoying an uninhibited bout of sensual abandon. It was when I took up a position on top of Auntie May that I was struck by an uneasy feeling that we were not alone in the room. Turning my head to the right, I noticed the old judge was standing in the open doorway. The hideous grin had gone from his face, and in its place was an expression of intense concentration. Noticing that I'd spotted him, he motioned with a nod of his head for me to carry on with the business in hand. Despite the old judge's obtrusive presence, I found myself quite capable of doing just that.
When Auntie May and I returned downstairs, the old judge was sitting in an armchair at the side of the open fireplace in the lounge. He beckoned me over to him. As I stood in front of him, he withdrew a fat wallet from his jacket pocket and carefully extracted a £5 note from the thick wad inside. He held out the note towards me, and I instinctively reached for it.
'You will come back next week, won't you?' He asked before releasing the note.

When I told Sam about the dream, he said that it had 'Freudian connotations'. He reckoned that it was sexual frustration that had brought it about. He told me the dream had occurred because I was coming up for 24 years of age and, as yet, had failed to establish a satisfactory sexual relationship.
It's all right for him to say that, but where am I going to find anyone to establish a satisfactory sexual relationship with? All the girls I used to knock about with are married off; I haven't the money to be able to frequent nightclubs and discos searching for the woman of my dreams; the only fanciable female I come in contact with nowadays is the woman behind the glass partition at the Labour Exchange, and she looks at me as if I were something that had just crawled out from beneath a rock.
Sam must have noticed that I looked more than a little concerned at his revelation: 'The best way to bring a disconcerting dream to a closure is to commit it to paper,' he continued. 'If I were you I'd sit down and write it out of my system,'
I wanted to talk further with Sam about sexual frustration and its relationship to dreams, but he started rambling on about black holes in the universe.

I went for a few pints with Grub this dinnertime. He was pushing the boat out all afternoon; he wouldn't let anyone else get a round in, due to him getting a Round Robin up on the horses yesterday - all at decent prices too, jammy sod!
I met him on my way to the Labour Exchange. His oppo was back with him. 'How's it goin', Jock?' Grub shouted across the street as he spotted me.
'Not too bad, Grub. How's yerself?' I called back as I crossed the street towards them.
Grub introduced me to his oppo: he's called Skid. Skid had been staying at his sister's in Birmingham for the last few weeks, while he was looking for work; but he said it had been a waste of time, there's nowt doing for unskilled workers down there.
The three of us walked to the Labour Exchange together. The student was outside again, handing out his leaflets.
'Roll on the revolution!' Grub said as he took a leaflet from him.
Not half, I thought.

Michael Rowe

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