Jolly Jack’s Castle by Ken Dunn | Extract from Chapter One

Jolly Jack's CastlePart 1 – Michaelmas Term

Chapter One

She drove along savouring the relative peace and tranquillity of the West Country. It was mid May, brilliant sunshine and the journey from London had only taken three hours. Almost there. Going down now around a gentle bend and there was the Cathedral below and the little town of Braumston surrounding all. Entering the town she slowed down and after a couple of minutes found the entrance to her destination. Sliding through huge cast iron gates she parked carefully and stepped up the short flight of stone steps to the entrance of a building of undetermined age. Once inside she found an interior resplendent with ceramic floor tiles, regency wall decoration and the smell of recent floor polish. Passing through two massive oak double doors to a reception area, and brooding behind an old and slightly battered utilitarian desk, sat a ‘sporty’ looking woman of fifty plus, Maisie Hatter, secretary to the Headmaster, who dragged herself up, coughed painfully and fixed her with a steely eye.

Maggie Thornton introduced herself, was silently ushered into an adjacent drawing room and onto an elaborately carved corner chair. Maggie was an attractive woman in her late twenties, dressed in a sober, charcoal grey two piece, with long dark hair which she found herself fiddling with as she waited. Minutes crawled by as she surveyed the heavily panelled room containing a grotesque grand piano, two lumpy settees, a low table covered in Independent School propaganda and several rubber plants in various states of desiccation.

Her mood was shattered by the sudden reappearance of the secretary who propelled her into the inner sanctum, the Headmaster’s study, and to a very low chair in front of an imposing mahogany tree masquerading as a desk. From behind this emerged an intense figure uttering a single, ‘Hi!’ and extending an arm. This was the Headmaster, Mr H E Roales, known to more than a few on the teaching staff as ‘Jolly Jack’. In his late 50’s, with thick greying hair and bushy dark eyebrows, he gave the impression of being rather avuncular, family friend, but then everyone made that mistake at the first meeting.

She shook the slightly damp, limp hand which extended from his dark blue, grey, baggy suit and then waited until he made his way back to his perch behind the desk. The noise of flicking paper reached her ears and then, ‘Ahh! Yessss… err… Ms… ahh, good, excellent, excellent!’

A few short mumbles later and he appeared again, slightly agitated, walking sideways with a fixed and manic grin saying, ‘I’ll only be a moment,’ and was gone. Seconds later Maisie Hatter, his secretary, reappeared.

‘Sorry ‘bout that, dear,’ she leered. ‘He’s got a slight, err… problem y’know…? If y’see what I mean.’

This was followed with a knowing wink which obviously presumed an understanding of Jolly Jack’s ‘condition’ but then she grasped Maggie’s arm and marched her out to the reception area and to the care of a 6th form pupil, all spots, no chin and about seven feet tall.

‘Now we have the tour,’ Maisie said, grinning. ‘Tarquin will take you to our Admin centre first, won’t you Tarky?’ Maisie grinned darkly as ‘Tarky’ nodded silently, without a flicker of emotion.

Following this silent beanpole into the maze of the school, the ‘Admin Centre’ turned out to be a rather ancient pair of badly converted stables. Maggie caught glimpses of tiny darkened rooms with a few folk hunched over huge volumes, reminiscent of Dickensian counting houses, and then she was upstairs facing the Bursar, Group Captain Wilfred O’Rourke, RAF, retired. He was an officious little man and better known as the ‘Prick’, because he was. Standing next to him was a rather chubby, but fragile and pained, individual. The Prick introduced her to this obvious invalid, a creature with the name of Michael F Hunt, the ‘Financial (Fat) Controller’, although it appeared that he was having great difficulty controlling his bowel movements let alone anything else.

With initial introductions over Maggie wondered what was coming next. A rapid stream of questions followed from both of them…. Experience?…. Track record?…. Commitment?…., all of which she felt she answered badly but then she was all too quickly on her way again following the walking dead, Tarky, to another unknown venue.

A few staring, uniformed pupils passed them as they wound their way through the site to a huge 17th century manor house, tucked behind enormous cedar trees. She was greeted by a rotund, gaitered and balding scowl of a man, the Dean, Chairman of Governors. Another small chair and huge desk prevailed with questions which were bizarre to say the least.

Homosexuality?…. Women in the Church?…. Smoking?…. Again miserable with her answers she was taken back to Jolly Jack’s study. The Head’s secretary, Maisie Hatter, was in mid-mouthful from a messy plate of evil looking spaghetti.

‘Back already, dear?’ she spluttered. This was not a welcome or encouraging statement.

Wiping her chin with a, ‘Thank you, Tarky,’ Maisie led Maggie back onto the low chair in front of Jolly’s desk. Maggie sat there wondering why she had bothered to apply for this job in the first place. Then Jolly burst in, slightly red-faced and surreptitiously pulling up his trouser zip.

‘Sorry ’bout that,’ he panted. ‘Had a parent to see. Rather urgent.’

She didn’t dare think about misunderstanding that but then Jolly was speaking again.

‘Do you have any questions, hmm?’

She couldn’t think of one.

‘Good, good, excellent, excellent!’ was his reply and that was the interview over. Maggie drove back to London, quite bemused about the last two hours, resigned to grazing through the papers for something else. Braumstate Cathedral School had proved to be very, very bizarre…

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