A Fragment of Fear

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Authors: John Bingham
the case had till now seemed isolated incidents, reasonably civilised, and explainable on one pretext or another.
    Tonight’s affair was different.
    Although I had not the slightest intention of abandoning my plans, I was, I admit, getting jumpy. If somebody had been in my flat once, they could come into it again.
    I record that I lay in bed in a very uneasy mood, thinking of Bardoni, Miss Brett, Mrs. Gray, that thick-set, muffin-faced old Tartar, and the sad, sad woman in the train and the message she had given me.
    I had spoken to Mrs. Gray of senseless obstruction. There was obstruction all right, no longer negative but positive, and it could not be senseless. But what was behind it was as unclear as ever, and why they had gone to the trouble of entering my flat illegally and using my typewriter and paper baffled me.
    At first I thought it was an attempt to gain their ends by melodrama, but I abandoned that line. It now seemed part of a detailed operation planned to overcome any stubbornness on my part. I noted that now, for the first time, I was thinking in terms of They and Them.
    For the first time, too, the peasant realised he had caught a clear sight of green eyes, heard the sound of feline bodies, and the cracking of twigs, and become properly conscious of jungle peril.
    It was unpleasant but it was not yet terrifying.
    At one-thirty in the morning I was still awake. I got up, warmed some milk, poured an enormous slug of whisky into it, took two aspirins, and went back to bed. In fifteen minutes I was sound asleep, which is not surprising. Anyway, peasants usually sleep well.
    I decided I would call in at the police station first thing in the morning, and fell asleep trying to think what I would say.
    I need not have worried. I had a call myself, first thing in the morning.

    A t about six-thirty in the morning I was awakened by the sound of a car changing gear noisily and accelerating. An electric trolley hummed past, bottles clinking, to start a milk round. I did not think I would fall asleep again. I was out of routine.
    It was light in the living-room but not in the kitchen. I switched the kitchen light on, made a pot of tea, carried it over to my desk and lit a cigarette.
    When the ’phone rang at six-fifty, I realised it was early morning in Washington, about one-fifty by Juliet’s time. I felt sure it was Juliet ringing on her return from some farewell party.
    The day was grey. I was eager to hear her voice. But as I moved to the telephone a depressing thought occurred to me. She would be due to leave soon. Would she be telephoning unless it was to say that her return had been delayed? I lifted the receiver.
    “Mr. James Compton?”
    I thought it was a personal call. So it was, in a way.
    “I take it you got the note last night?”
    It was a man’s voice: cultured, low pitched, rather pleasant.
    “What note?”
    I wanted time to think. I felt mentally numb.
    “A note delivered by hand to you.”
    “Oh, that,” I said.
    “Yes, that. You’re up early. I saw your light go on.”
    “Look,” I shouted, “I don’t give a bloody damn who you are, or what the idea is, but you can stop your bloody silly tricks!”
    You could say that the numbness was wearing off.
    “Listen to me.”
    “I’ve no intention of listening to you.”
    “I should, if I were you.”
    “I’m not you,” I said, and regretted the schoolboy retort. Stratford Road is narrow, and outside I could hear two lorry drivers calling to each other.
    “Hello?” I said, after some seconds.
    “Don’t worry, I’m still here,” he said.
    “I don’t give a damn if you’re there or not.”
    “Then why are you hanging on the line?”
    I slammed the receiver down, stared at it for a few seconds, and walked over to the tea tray. I swallowed some tea.
    When the ’phone rang again, I put the cup down and went over and lifted the receiver. I was quite calm now.
    “We got cut off,” he said, in his rich,

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