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Evasion - Part Two

Setting: 2007, London, soon after part one of this story.

Justine stepped out of the taxi and looked around.   The black cab sped off – was it her imagination, or was the driver anxious to evacuate the area?  She was in an old part of the East End, a stone’s throw from the river.  Apart from the traffic, the double yellow lines, and the takeaway cartons that littered the narrow lane, this might have been half a century earlier.  The Crooked Mile, she pondered – what a strange name.  She looked up at the pub’s sign – an old man in 17th century clothing, leaning on a stile.

Inside the pub, Lana was at the bar polishing glasses.  She looked up as Justine entered.

“Are you lost, love?” she asked, perhaps considering that Justine looked a little too fragile to survive long in such a robust drinking establishment.

“Lost? No, this is the Crooked Mile, right?  I understand a woman called Anna Wright runs this pub?”

Lana paused, weighing up the woman on the other side of the bar. “Might be.  Who wants to know?”

“I’m Justine Dean. Freelance reporter.  I’m doing some research, just want to ask her some questions. If she has time, that is“

Lana shrugged.  “I’ll go ask – she’s upstairs.  She might say no – you won’t believe the amount of people that come in here wanting to speak to Anna!  Want to buy a drink first?”

“Must be a popular lady,” said Justine.  “Oh – I’ll have a Gin and Tonic.”  Justine pushed some pound coins on the bar.

Lana prepared the beverage, took the money to the till, returned with some change, and then slipped upstairs.  Justine sat down at the nearest round table.  She noted that it was pitted with scars from a thousand knives. The style of the place was not really to her liking - old fashioned prints and brass ornaments. There was only one other customer who seemed to be playing dominoes with himself.  Domino patience, she thought, wondering if such a thing existed.

Anna swept downstairs quickly.   She wore leather trousers and a white blouse, and had tied her fine golden hair neatly in a ponytail.  She sat at Justine’s table and tried to size her up.  Surely this one couldn’t have been sent by her brother?  She looked far too delicate – an innocent face – but it could be a new tactic.  Anna took in Justine's appearance - business-like, young looking but probably about thirty, a shrewdness in her eyes, determinedness in her mouth.

Justine had put a small notebook on the pub table, and was writing in it.  She had an overnight bag and an open handbag by her seat which seemed jam-packed full of items, one of which was a camera. 

“I’m Anna, welcome to the Crooked Mile.”

“Pleased to meet you – I’m Justine.  I’m doing some research into pubs.”

“Yeah?  How is it you know my name?”

“Oh – there’s a new online pub directory – it lists the pubs and the landlords and landladies.  Other directories don't list this pub though.”  Justine regarded Anna curiously, wondering why she looked so suspicious, her eyes narrowed, her hands holding tightly to the table, as if any moment she would spring up and turn it over so it would become a shield.  

Justine continued: “I am a freelance researcher and journalist – nothing to worry about – I’m doing preliminary work for a new TV programme about the pubs of old London, should it ever happen.  ”

Anna seemed to relax a bit.  “I see.  So you’re from the BBC?”

“Sort of,” Justine said.  “Well actually a company that makes programmes that the BBC buys.“  She produced  a business card that gave her name, and had a cute red and blue logo embossed on the surface, and Anna took it and glanced at it briefly.

Justine looked at Anna, and frowned.

"Something wrong?" asked Anna.

"It's just... your face looks familiar," said Justine.

Anna shrugged.  "I've worked behind many bars.  You might have been in one of them."

"I suppose.  Anyway, I came here because the Crooked Mile is mentioned in old documents and newspapers quite frequently.  Usually to do with fights and disturbances.  It’s also one of the oldest surviving in the East End.” 

“Fights and disturbances, that’s us all right, especially on a Saturday night.” said Anna.  “Sorry if I seemed a little uptight.  Family troubles, nothing for you to worry about.  Yes, it’s an old pub – built 1650, and almost completely rebuilt twice.  The first time was a fire – not the great fire though – and then it was damaged in the blitz by an incendiary.  The last guy here told me about it.  Nothing really to interest a researcher though, I think you are wasting your time here. “

Justine jotted down some notes in shorthand.  Then she said, “The Crooked Mile - that’s an odd name.  Where does that come from, do you know?”

“Don’t you remember the rhyme?

There was a crooked man and he walked a crooked mile,

 He found a crooked sixpence upon a crooked stile”

Justine smiled.  “Oh yes, now you mention it.  Must have read it when I was a little girl.  Strange these things, they don’t really make much sense, do they?”

Anna shook her head in disagreement, and her ponytail bobbed from side to side.

“It’s an allegory for Alexander what’s-his-name – Leslie, that’s it.  I’ve forgotten the details, but it’s to do with Charles the First, and the crooked mile was the border between England and Scotland.  It was a Scotsman who built the pub, so he must have felt strongly about the politics of the matter.”

“Oh I see, right.”

“You seem surprised that I know a bit of history.”

“No, not at all, it’s just that with you running a pub, I wouldn’t think you’d have time for it.”

“Between you and me,” said Anna, “I’m hoping to get out of this pub, and go back to college as a mature student one day.  My schooling was interrupted by the harsh realities of life.  In fact, what you’re doing would suit me fine.  What did you need – qualifications, like?”

Justine paused and thought for a moment.

“Well, some English at ‘A’ level, then a not-very-good degree in History, and I took a course in shorthand.  Not so many do that now – after all, you can always have a tape recorder, or one of those digital things - but do you know, every interview the shorthand comes up - it impresses people for some reason. "

Anna nodded.  “That’s cool.  Anyway, as I said there’s not really much here that would interest a film crew.  Just an old pub that’s probably past its prime, where the rowdies of London come to get legless and old timers who remember the old East End reminisce over a tatty domino set or game of darts.”

Justine shook her head in disagreement.

“There’s a link to Jack the Ripper here – did you know?”

“What, down this far South?” scorned Anna. “All the murders were done at least a mile North of here – Whitechapel, and…”

“Sure, sure.  But a newspaper of 1904 reported an incident here – a serving girl, Sarah Mulberry was killed upstairs.  She was stabbed by a man who ran off into the night.  Police said the wounds showed the knife had a serrated edge.  Has the Ripper Returned?  the headline said.”

Anna shook her head once more.  “Nah, there were all sorts of fake Ripper sightings for years afterwards.  But I didn’t know about the murder.  Still it’s not really that interesting is it?  Long time ago.”

“I would have thought you’d like the publicity – you aren’t exactly crowded in here,” observed Justine.  As if on cue, the number of customers doubled: a man in a grey raincoat entered the pub, ordered a pint from Lana, and sat next to the solitary domino player.

“I think I would prefer not to have a film crew here.  We do all right – it’s mid-week, and it’s still early yet,” said Anna.

“You don’t strike me as the shy type.”  Anna didn’t comment and Justine continued speaking.  “Anyway, the story doesn’t end with the murder.  There have been three sightings of a ghost here – and there is similarity in the stories.”

“Ah, rubbish.  I don’t believe in ghosts.  What do these stories say then?”

“Well, the first one was in 1906, and says a guest staying upstairs saw an apparition of a serving girl with a knife in her hand.  She became hysterical, ran out into the streets.  She described the girl, and the pub’s owner reckoned it matched the appearance of Sarah Mulberry.”

“Just coincidence, or someone had a nightmare.  She probably saw the original newspaper piece about the murder.”

Justine turned back the pages in her notebook.  “Another sighting in 1934, and again in 1968.  Both times the figure was holding a knife.  The 1968 one was sketchy, but the one in ’34 reported the ghost looked like she was in period costume, although by then the connection to Sarah Mulberry had been forgotten.”

“Just people making up stories.  There are better haunted places around than that, I’m sure.  Not enough here to make a TV programme about, surely?”

Justine shrugged.  “Enough to be interesting for a few minutes.  It’s easy when they are all in London, a crew can do several places in a day, say a few things about each, something like ‘the proprietor of this old East End pub, Ms Anna Wright refused to be interviewed.’ – or we can give you an interview if you want.”

“Absolutely not!  I might also refuse you permission to film inside.”  Anna’s eyes glared furiously.

“Oh relax - It won’t be down to me anyway, and from what I understand you aren’t the owner, you just run the pub, so our company could get permission anyway.”

Anna swallowed her whiskey, and tapped the table slowly with her index finger.  Justine finished her drink, then put her notepad away in her handbag.

“Do you want to see the room,” asked Anna, her voice calm again.  “The supposedly haunted one?”

“Well… yes, that would be great – and if I can take a photo?”  Anna nodded.  Justine was surprised at Anna’s change of mood.  Anna led Justine behind the bar and up some wooden stairs.   The upper storey of the pub was surprisingly clean and modern, although the ceiling was rather low and was an odd shape.  At the top of the stairs, Anna pointed out the layout of the upstairs rooms.

“We rent the bedrooms out, when I can be bothered to fix them up.  Brings in a bit of cash from time to time.  I did a run of it over summer when people will take just about anything.  Not that it’s bad up here, it’s just lacking in amenities – and we don’t do breakfast or anything.  This is a room I use as an office, the bedroom opposite has got some crates and stuff in it - the other one's at the end. The Bathroom is to its left.”


At the bedroom,  Justine took some photos using her digital camera, and looked with interest out of the window.  The scene was not spectacular – merely a view down to the street below.  As she watched, a threesome of young men entered the pub, swearing argumentatively at the tops of their voices.

“Looks like things are going to liven up,” said Anna brightly.  “Nothing I can’t handle.”

“I’m sure, “ replied Justine. “Oh well, that’s that I guess.   I’ll type up my report, once I’ve seen a half dozen other places, and in due course… well, we’ll see.”

“I was just thinking,” said Anna.


“Yes – about the idea of a documentary.  Why don’t you stay the night – I take it, from the overnight bag, that you are going to be looking for a room or hotel somewhere?”

“Well, yes sure, I get expenses, within reason.  I was going to head off to a place I use, it’s a little out of the centre, but it’s okay.  What, stay the night here?”

“Yeah, sure.  Get a chance to soak up the atmosphere – meet our friendly ghost – surely it’s time for another visit after 40 years.”

Justine gave a short laugh. “Well I know I’m blonde, but I don’t really believe in ghosts you know. “

“Sure, sure. I was just kidding.  I'm blonde too, case you didn't notice.  But you stay in the place, you get a feel for how it was all those years ago.  Catch the ambience - hmmm?”

Justine thought for a moment.  “Yeah, well it would save me the bother of getting on the tube again.  If you’re sure.  Of course I’ll pay your normal rates.”

“Great.  I’ll get the bed made up fresh.  I’ll put some coffee-making things in later, as I say, no breakfast, sorry.  And you’ll not be able to get in the bar and make yourself 3 am drinks – I lock up all the inner doors.  See the other stairs - they lead out to the back door – I’ll give you a key to that and you’re all set. ”

Justine sat on the bed, thinking for a moment.

“Yeah it’s great, it’ll do me fine for a night.  So can I say you’ll probably agree to an interview and maybe a small camera crew?”

“Sure, why not.  I’m just a little shy.”

Justine was certain that Anna was anything but shy, and wondered briefly at her change of heart.

“Anyway Justine, why don’t you go eat, come back nearer closing time, and I’ll have it all set up for you.  We don’t do grub here unless you want to make a meal of peanuts and crisps.  I recommend the Italian restaurant down Smith Street, left, left, right, and opposite the bank.”

* * *

Ten minutes before closing time, Justine returned to The Crooked Mile.  Inside was busy with a pall of smoke like the old London smog and a cacophony of talking, laughing, and the chink of glasses.  She wondered briefly if she had made a ghastly mistake, but noted that there were a mix of the sexes, and both young and old drinkers.  She was ignored and approached the bar where both Lana and Anna efficiently served drinks to the thirsty public.  Justine caught Anna’s eye, and said, “be with you in a mo.  We’re on last orders here.”

Shortly after the queues thinned out, and Anna handed over a small key-ring. 

“I’d better settle up with you,” said Justine.

“Thirty quid, then.  Okay?” said Anna.

“Sure.”  Justine took the money from her bag.

“Come through the bar.  I’ll be closing up soon,” said Anna lifting the hinged counter.  “As I said, it’ll all be locked up before I leave.  Post the keys through the letter box in the morning, I doubt I’ll see you.”

“Great, thanks.  Someone will be in touch I guess, you know, about the documentary.”

“Cool.  Nice to have met you, take care.”

Justine walked upstairs to the bedroom.  Inside she took a look out the window.  Some men were leaving the pub noisily.  She heard a bottle smashing from below, raucous cheers and drunken laughter.  Justine closed the curtains and sat on the bed, rummaging through her overnight bag for her book, knowing she couldn’t sleep before the pub had closed up.  Below, muffled shouts and jeers continued, and somewhere in the distance was a protracted session of a car horn symphony.

After Justine had read a few pages, she felt herself dropping off.  She was jerked alert by the crash of the front door slamming shut and there was peace inside the pub.  She groggily stood up, and walked out to the bathroom armed with a toiletries bag to wash and clean her teeth.  When she returned to her room, she tried to lock her door, but failed – the key seemed to be the wrong one.  She told herself it did not matter in any case, since she was alone.  Justine settled down to sleep and turned off the bedside lamp.  The mattress was not very comfortable, and the occasional shout from revellers outside kept her partly awake.

Justine awoke with a start.  Where the hell was she?  The light emitting diode display of a bedside clock told her it was two thirty in the morning.  Oh, the pub, of course, she told herself, and sat up.  She turned on the bedside lamp, but it did not light.  “Oh hell”, she said to herself, and a shiver ran up her spine.  Cursing herself for being irrational, she pulled back the curtains a little way, and the room became partially lit from the street lamp.

Then Justine became aware she was not alone.  The door was ajar and a stooping figure had entered the room.  She saw against the wall a silhouette of a women in old-fashioned dress and bonnet holding a knife.  It crept from left to right, and Justine felt a brief moment of fear.  And then her common sense asserted itself.

“Oh for God’s sake Anna,  very funny.  Did you really think you could fool me with this farcical act?  Is it part of the service for this pub – a long standing tradition for people to witness the Crooked Mile ghost?” 

The figure in the doorway paused, the knife held in the air.  Justine felt around in her overnight bag, and found a torch.  She switched it on and shone it at the doorway.

“I bet you didn’t expect me to have a torch.  Not something you normally carry about with you, except that I’ve been down in some crypts today, so I came prepared.”

She shone the torch at the figure, and there was no mistaking Anna – tall, thick blonde hair flowing freely.  Her costume was far too small for her, the top buttons unfastened - it looked slightly ridiculous.  Anna's face showed a mixture of shock and surprise.  Justine noted the knife had a long serrated blade.

“I think you’ve got the wrong idea, Justine.  I’m not here to scare you into thinking you’ve seen a ghost. ”  Anna spoke softly and slowly.

“Well that’s what it looks like to me.  I guess you’ve turned the mains off too.  Very melodramatic.”

“It would have been better if you had not woken up.  You see, I didn’t come here to scare you.  Though, if you woke up, I had hoped the outfit might do just that.  No.  I’m here to kill you.  A painless slice across your throat – it really is a shame you woke up.  Now it gets messy.”

“Why?  Why on Earth should you do that?” 

Anna came closer.   She is stronger than she might appear, thought Justine – strong arms from bar-work, lifting crates and moving barrels around - and unusually large hands for a woman.

“Oh it’s nothing personal, Justine.  I quite like you, but you see I can’t take the risk of a documentary team coming here, and then perhaps newspaper reporters showing up to talk about the ghost of The Crooked Mile pub.  And word would get around of my presence here.  I've been here almost a year and I’m quite happy here, at least for a while longer.  A certain person might find out where I am, and I can't have that.  I’ll be quite quick, I promise.  Try not to struggle, it will be easier for you."

Anna took a step forward.

“Hang on Anna.  There’s one important thing you should know.” Justine tried to stay calm, but her voice quavered.

“What?  What should I know?”

“Well you seem to have forgotten that this is the modern world we are living in, not the time of Jack the Ripper.  I have technology with me.  Before I came back this evening, I did some text messaging.  My boss.”

“Your boss?”

“Yeah, my boss, Hattie she’s called.  A daily update – I’ve told her some bare facts – that a Anna Wright works at a pub called the Crooked Mile.  She knows I am here tonight.”

“So what?  You’ve been killed by someone who broke into the pub, that’s what they’ll say when the find you.  I’ll make the front door look forced.  Who’s to know different?”

“And is that what you want?  Do you really want the police crawling all over the place?  Anyhow, there’s something more.  Something else you should know.  A message I received.“  Justine waved her mobile phone. 

“This is some kind of trick to make me drop the knife.  What does it say, you read it.”

“It says: Ghost investigation cancelled.   Flight arranged for Australia  to find Botany Bay ancestors.”

Anna wavered.  She lowered her knife.

“Can I trust you?” Anna asked. "I mean really trust you?"

“Anna.  Right now I just want to get some sleep.  Tomorrow, I’m going to be on a very long flight.  That is if you don’t kill me.  Why don’t you just tell me what this is really all about?”

Anna paused, then sheathed her knife.   “Well.  It’s my brother.  He’s a bad lot, and he’s after me.  I’ve been avoiding him for years.  He used to get me to do his dirty work when I was a teenager.  Nasty, filthy things – drugs, thieving, all sorts of things.  At first I was loyal to him, he was my brother after all.  But when he drove my mother into a women's refuge I knew that my loyalty for him horribly misplaced.  At the time, I felt no real shame for the things I had done on his behalf - later I regretted a lot of things - a kid at school almost died because he accidentally took one of the tabs I had brought to sell."

"He nearly died from an overdose?"

"No - hallucinations made him try to jump off a balcony. Some girl or other pulled him back," said Anna.

"Hang on a minute... I know that story - and I know you come to that.  It happened the year after I left, but there was a piece in the local paper.  It was at Grange Hill."

"So.. Small world.  You were at that dump too?"

"My God - so that was where the drugs came from?"

"Yeah, yours truly.  Believe me, it's not something I'm proud of now."

"And I remember - you were on the coach trip - the choir in Germany.  I've just recalled your face when the coach came back. For some reason it stuck in my mind."

"Yeah.  That trip was quite something.  Don't remember you though, but it was a long time ago - seems like a lifetime ago for me."

"I didn't go on that trip," said Justine.  "I don't have much of a singing voice.  You don't half look silly in that dress, by the way."

Anna smiled weakly.   "What you must think of me. God...  Look... My brother - when he came out of jail, he seemed to want to go straight, but that didn't last, and so I got away while I could.  He's sent thugs out to find me, and I've had to keep on the move.  I've kept myself hidden, and I’ll go to any lengths to stay like that - even dressing in period costume if needs must.  The outfit came from a chest that was in the loft here.  When you started talking about the murder here I remembered the old clothes stored away here.”

There was a silence between them for a few moments.  Justine put the torch on the bed so it could light the whole room dimly.

“So that’s why you tried to put me off at first.”

“Yes. I’m no homicidal maniac, I just want to keep my privacy.  You wouldn't take no for an answer.  Can I trust you, Justine, to not breathe a word about this?  Oh look I’m sorry about the knife and all that.  I would not have gone through with it, probably.”

“You should have explained.  I would have understood," said Justine.

“Maybe I should.  You know, you’re quite a plucky little thing!”

“You have to be when you’re a researcher.  You meet some strange people, and not all of them are friendly.  I think you need to get away from here - far away. You'll never feel safe otherwise.”

Anna nodded.  “I might go to Scotland.  I went there once, in happier times.  One more thing.  When you’re back from Australia, pop by for a drink.  I’ve got few enough friends; you know, people I can talk to.  We can talk about old times. Old teachers and stuff.  Deal?”

“Sure, look forward to it,” said Justine yawning.  “I don’t know if I can sleep after this, my heart is racing like crazy - but I’ll have to try.”

“Sorry about all this.  I’ll turn the lights back on before I leave.  See you around.”

“Bye Anna.  Mind the stairs in the dark.”

The door closed.  A short while later the front door clicked shut, and footsteps sounded on the road outside.  Tomorrow morning, I’ll think this was all a dream,  Justine said to herself.  Quick thinking though, making up that story about Australia.  Good job Anna didn’t want to read the message herself!   She wondered whether she ought to go to the police, but there would be no proof, and in any case Anna really did seem paranoid about being discovered.  Justine pulled the covers over her head and slept fitfully until London’s built-in alarm clock of traffic and people woke her.

The End


© 2008 Geffers, all rights reserved.


Continues in Part Three