The Kirrins and the Mystery
of the Sandy-haired Dwarf
by Robin Gordon
Always winter and never Christmas
© Copyright Robin Gordon, 2001
The boys were in the small cellar at Kirrin farmhouse, lying on the ground with their hands tied behind their backs. They were silent when O'Shaughnessy opened the door. They had talked when they were alone, but even then they had carefully stuck to idiomatic French in the hope that their captors might believe their story and perhaps let them go. It was not much of a hope, and, realistically they had admitted that all they could reasonably pray for was a quick and relatively painless death if one or other of the others over-ruled O'Shaughnessy.
As sons of the padre they had, of course prayed, both silently in English and aloud in French. Unlike Julian they had not heard anything to give them comfort. Now their captor appeared with another man, and, with a sudden wild surge of elation they recognised the voice of their uncle. But then they were immediately plunged into despair, for Dick laughed, congratulated the dwarf, and began to whisper with him.
Next Dick flashed a torch around the cellar.
"Don't leave them here," he said. "My people used to own this farmhouse and I know a bit about it. There's a secret tunnel from this cellar out to a cave on to the moor. I know they're tied up, but it's best not to take chances. Actually, the place to put them is the haunted bedroom. You and I, Liam, men of the world and all that, we know that the strange sighs and groans are just caused by the wind in the chimneys and the creaks are just the joists expanding and contracting. We don't really believe in the tales of ghosts, and strange happenings. We don't believe that the spirits of those who have been foully and violently murdered haunt the scenes of their deaths seeking to avenge themselves on any living human. But young people, Liam, so fresh and innocent, so lacking in experience, so recently grown out of tales of wizards and fairies, so ready to believe in vampires and werewolves, when they hear the creaks and the moans, won't their hair stand on end? If they've got anything to confess, won't they squeal to get away from the ghosts and ghouls of their imagination?
"And it's safe, Sweetheart. It's on the first floor with windows so small a monkey could scarce get out of them and doors so thick you could batter at them for hours and never have any effect."
"Is dhat so?" said O'Shaughnessy. "Haunted? And d'you know which one it is?"
"I've only been in it once," said Dick. "My saintly brother locked me in for ten minutes. I was only eleven and it scared the pants off me. I'd remember it. Let's go and look."
Andrew and Gavin were left in puzzled despair for a few minutes, then the men returned with the Irish caretaker.
"Take dhem up to dhe haunted bedroom," leered O'Shaughnessy, and the man grabbed Andrew and dragged him off upstairs, returning a moment or two later for Gavin.
The haunted bedroom was a large airy room simply furnished with a bed, a chest of drawers, an old fashioned wash-stand and a large, built-in wardrobe. The window was small and divided by stone mullions, so that they could see at a glance that there was no escape there. There were two doors, one to the landing and one to the next room, and they were stout, made of solid oak, and equipped with heavy locks.
The caretaker was dismissed and Dick and O'Shaughnessy stood looking at the boys.
"Ceci," said Dick slowly and with a much poorer accent than they remembered, "est la chambre hantée. Il y a des esprits mauvais, ... is that right Liam, esprits mauvais?"
"Oi t'ink so."
"Des gens qui ont été tués. Vous allez les entendre gémir ... is that the word for moan?"
"Ils cherchent la vengeance," said Dick. Ils veulent se revenger ... no revenger's not right."
"Revancher," suggested O'Shaughnessy.
"The very word," said Dick. "Your French is better than mine."
"Oi get boi," said the Irishman modestly.
"Well, said Dick, "I've just about reached the limit of my vocabulary. Still, I think I've put over the idea. When the wind changes and they hear the moaning and creaking they'll be out of their minds with terror in no time. Poor little chaps. You don't mind, do you Liam, if I just give them a quick once over. I just want to make sure the goods I'm buying aren't damaged. That caretaker of yours wasn't any too gentle. If there are bruises it may delay the start of filming. I need to have their dishy boyish bodies unmarked at the start. Remember that scene in Prey for us sinners where the camera ogles the boy as the mad monk strips off his shirt and runs his hand over his arms and chest."
As he spoke Dick knelt down beside Gavin, opened the two top buttons of his shirt and peered inside.
"Mmmmh" he gloated, and ran his fingers over the boy's shoulder and down his arm.
"I can hardly wait, Liam, my love. This will be my best ever. I can promise you, Sweetheart, you'll play the video over and over again."
Dick's fingers were now straying over Gavin's chest. The boy's mouth opened in protest, but Dick cut in quickly:
"Ce n'est rien, mon petit. Je ne te fais pas mal. Tu est si joli, n'est-ce pas? Is that the word, Liam, joli?"
Dick's straying hand reached Gavin's belt and wandered over his trousers, then suddenly burrowed into the boy's pocket. Gavin gave a yelp as he felt the pressure of Dick's fingers hard against his thigh.
Andrew realised the new danger. If Gavin insulted Dick in English the Irishman would know they were British not French.
"Vieux putain d'un salaud," he yelled as loud as he could. "Va te faire enculer, sale pédoque! Va te faire encaldosser! Je vais te crever, espèce de con! Je m'en fou de ta geule, sale enculé!"
"Did you understand all that, Liam?" said Dick with a sneer. "No? Neither did I, but I understand the tone well enough. Oh, he's sharp this one is," - Dick moved and knelt beside Andrew. "You're a sharp little beauty, aren't you, Sweetheart?" he murmured, and ran the knuckle of his thumb down Andrew's spine between his bound arms.
"Salaud!" the boy snarled.
"So sharp," sneered Dick, you'd best be careful not to cut yourself," and Andrew felt the man fumble with his hand then close his fingers round something hard and metallic.
His eyes widened and he twisted his head to look at Dick.
"Yes, sharp, sweetheart, the man sneered as he got to his feet.
"Kids, he said to O'Shaughnessy. "So sweet, so naïve. Childhood's just one long summer, isn't it, a long, long never-ending summer, interrupted from time to time by Christmas. Well, these little dishy ducks will find they've come to a place where it's always winter. Always winter and never Christmas, imagine that, Liam, always winter and never Christmas. Ha, they didn't like it when I began fumbling round the bottom, did they. Silly of me really. Fumbling round the bottom gives the game away. Still, after a couple of hours alone in the haunted bedroom they'll be so happy to see another human they'll be glad to co-operate. Let's leave them to it, Liam. Let's just leave them to enjoy their situation - ha, always winter and never Christmas!"
Dick seemed to hustle O'Shaughnessy out of the room. The boys heard the key turn in the lock, and beyond the heavy oak door they heard Dick's voice still talking enthusiastically.
"Now that I've seen them, Liam, now that I've actually touched their delicious young bodies, my ideas are flowing thick and fast."
The two men were standing outside the door, facing the stairs. Dick's arm was around O'Shaughnessy's shoulders as he bent towards the dwarfish little Irishman and enthusiastically outlined some of his new ideas. Behind his back, unseen by the dwarf, he pulled the key from the lock and slipped it into his pocket.
O'Shaughnessy's eyes gleamed, he licked his lips, and his flushed face glowed with excitement as Dick described some of the torments the two boys would suffer.
"You'll love it, Liam! You'll adore it, O'Shaughnessy! You'll play it again and again. And as you do, you'll have that special pleasure, my buckaroo. You'll be able to say to yourself, I, Liam O'Shaughnessy, made this brilliant work of art possible. It was I, Liam O'Shaughnessy, that made those two boys stars. - Oh, I've just thought of something else! Remember that scene in Sixth-form sodomites where ..."
Down the stairs they went. Dick said he was eager to get home and jot down his new ideas for the scenario. O'Shaughnessy offered to drive him. Dick accepted.
"But only as far as Moor Lane," he said. "I can cut down there to my brother's house and be there in ten minutes, and I can work out the order of the new scenes on the way. Besides, it's best if we're not seen together."
O'Shaughnessy agreed. Dick alighted at the corner.
"I can't wait to take delivery," he said.
"Oi'll have to clear it wid moi superior."
"Of course. I understand. I don't want to know what line of business you're in, Liam. If it's smuggling, I'll drink your health any day, especially if you can get your people to handle my sort of goods. Get hold of him quickly, and remember, leave those delightful boys completely alone for a few hours and I'll guarantee you'll find a couple of quivering wrecks with soaked trousers who'll tell you anything you want to know. I'll warrant they know nothing about your business, and even if they did, the stars of Dickie Kirrin's films never open their mouths except to scream. Farewell, sweet Liam, I'm off to get all this written out ready to start filming. You'll be quivering with excitement from start to finish, grrrh! Woof!"
Dick marched off down the lane. O'Shaughnessy sat where he was looking after him, making sure he didn't double back, but Dick didn't give him so much as a glance. He strode off down the road, eager to get home.
When he heard the sound of O'Shaughnessy's car moving off Dick slipped his hand into his pocket, brought out a small earpiece and inserted it into his ear. His hand returned to his pocket and pressed something. He did not slacken his pace or look back. O'Shaughnessy, who had moved only only a few yards, waited until he was satisfied that Dick was not coming back, then drove on.
What Dick heard through his earpiece was a teenage boy lamenting and cursing in French: Gavin denouncing his uncle as a vile and stinking paederast who should be flogged to death with ropes studded with nails.
"Calme-toi," he heard Andrew say. "J'ai quelque chose à te dire."
But Gavin wouldn't be calm. "Tu l'as vu," he complained. "Tu l'as vu qui a mis sa main dans ma poche, dans la poche de mon pantalon! Il a voulu me peloter les couilles, le salaud, il a voulu me branler ..."
"Mais tais-toi, Gauvain. Tu nous perds le temps."
"Maman avait raison. Il cachait la pourriture de son âme. Il veut nous enculer, nous torturer, nous faire crever pour en tourner un film."
"Shut up, Gavin!" snapped Andrew. "Let me speak. When he told me I was so sharp I'd best be careful not to cut myself, he gave me a knife."
"A knife. It's open. Wriggle over here to me. I'll try and hold it steady and you rub your ropes against it. Once you've got your hands free you can cut the rest of the ropes."
Dick heard the two boys grunting and panting as they rubbed knife and ropes together. Then there was a quiet "Done it," from Gavin, and a bit more rubbing and cutting.
"Well, we're free of the ropes," said Gavin, now what?"
"Well, said Andrew, "it's clear Uncle Dick is trying to help us to escape. Perhaps he gave us a clue. Can you remember what he said?"
"A lot of stuff about this being a haunted room, and the doors being solid and the windows too small even for a monkey."
"And, added Andrew, "a lot of stuff about making a film of us being tortured to death, but there must be something else."
"What about kids thinking it's always going to be summer?"
"Yes that was queer. What else? That we'd come to a place where it's always winter and never Christmas."
"He said that twice." said Gavin.
"Then it's a clue," said Andrew, "but what does it mean? Is there a place where it's always winter and never Christmas?"
"In a book?" said Gavin.
"Yes, Narnia!" cried Andrew. "The lion, the witch and ..."
"... the WARDROBE!" they chorused.
"Got it!" Dick exulted.
He heard the sound of the wardrobe door being opened, and then the sound of tapping.
"The back sounds hollow," said Andrew.
"But how do we open it?" asked Gavin.
"Feel around," said Andrew.
"The bottom!" said Gavin.
"Feel around the bottom! That's what uncle Dick said. He meant feel around the bottom of the wardrobe."
"Brilliant! There's a sort of depression here and ..."
"Where?" said Gavin miserably. "It's not a secret passage, it's just a hiding place. And there's not even enough room in it for the two of us. It's all just a cruel trick. Just to make us think we could escape. Just to soften us up for the tortures."
"Feel around the bottom," said Andrew urgently. "There must be something. Why would Uncle Dick play a trick like that?"
"He's probably filming us right now," said Gavin.
"How could he get film cameras in without Old Shitpants seeing?
"He's in league with Old Shitpants. I'm not going to bother any more. We might as well hang ourselves with these ropes. We're going to die anyway. We should get it over with before we're raped and tortured."
"Stupid! Stupid!" Dick groaned, then suddenly there was a loud click.
"Got it!" Andrew crowed. "Look, there's another false back behind the first. They must have really wanted to hide this passage. I wonder where it goes? Aaargh!"
"It's a shaft. I nearly fell down. If only Uncle Dick had given us a torch."
"My pocket!" said Gavin. "I bet he put a torch in! He did! Look! What a beauty! It's tiny but very powerful. Wherever you are, Uncle Dick, I'm sorry I doubted you. You're a brick!"
"Golly," thought Dick. "They're still using the same old slang. I thought I'd have at least been wicked."
"Hey," said Andrew. "I wonder if this is Kirrin Farmhouse. If it is, this tunnel leads to Kirrin Cottage. I'll go down first. You follow - and don't forget to close both the false backs. Dad forgot, and the villains followed the Famous Five down the tunnel and would have caught them if it hadn't been for old Timmy."
"First class," thought Dick as he strode happily down the lane listening to the boys' progress.
"The roof's fallen in," he heard Andrew say.
"Let's dig!" came Gavin's confident answer, so Dick was grinning as he turned into the Rectory gate.
A barrage of noise and questions greeted him as he opened the front door, then everything went quiet. He entered the sitting room and saw them all looking at him expectantly.
"Dick," said Julian. Where are Andrew and Gavin."
"Safe," he said, "in the underground ..."
But the renewed hubbub drowned his words, and Laurence interrupted.
Oh," she gasped. "He 'as murdered zem. Il a tué mes fils!" And she fainted.
Julian caught her as she fell and supported her. After a second or two her eyes flickered and she regained consciousness, sobbing uncontrollably.
"Mais non, Laurence!" he shouted. "Bien sûr que je ne les ai pas tués. Ils sont sains et saufs dans le passage souterrain qui mène de la ferme à la maison de Georges. Ils y arriveront dans quelques minutes. George, take Laurence up to Kirrin Cottage and pull back the study carpet. The boys will be there in a few minutes."
"C'est vrai?" gasped Laurence.
"Bien sûr que c'est vrai," answered Dick.
"How ...?" began Julian.
"Explanations when we're all safely here," said Dick. "Best mystery story tradition à la Agatha Christie, n'est-ce pas?"
"But," wailed Anne, "Where's Fran?"
"What?" snapped Dick.
"Fran's missing," said Julian.
"Didn't Stubbs catch her?"
"He's kidnapped her," wailed Anne. "He threw her into the car and drove off over the moors. He's taken her to the quarry to murder her. We'll never see her again."
"Not back?" snapped Dick. "Something must have happened."
"They're just coming into the stable yard now," said Julian.
A moment later they heard the kitchen door open.
"How do you do that?" said George. "That's the second time ..."
"He heard the car," said Jonathan. "So did I."
"Quite right," said Julian. "I can always recognise Laurence's car. She'll tell you, I always come and meet her when she gets back from shopping. Stubbs! We're in the sitting room."
The door opened and little Fran shot across the room and buried her face against Anne. Stubbs followed her in.
"What happened?" rapped Dick.
"One thing after another," groaned Stubbs. "First it was a herd of cows being moved from one field to another, then, when we got past them, a flat tyre. I must have damaged it on one of the sharp stones in Moor Lane. Then, while I was fixing that, Fran got out of the car and ran off across the moor. If she hadn't tripped I'd never have caught her. She was convinced I was kidnapping her and didn't believe I wasn't until we turned into the top of High Street."
"Well, all's well that ends well," said Dick. "George, take Laurence's car and take her up to the cottage. Don't go by Moor Lane though. Bring the boys back here, but tell them to keep down on the floor and cover them with a rug. I don't want our Irish friends to catch so much as a glimpse of them.
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