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The Waiting Room
Harry Armfield

The Waiting Room

Fiction & Poetry

Voters Rating 1064 / 1000

1064

Synopsis

The Waiting Room is a dark story, part thriller, part human drama that begins in 1967 with the abandonment of baby Edmund in a train station waiting room, followed by the discovery of a dead body on nearby railway tracks years later in 1995. 

The identity of the dead man, Roddy Benson, is well known to the police. In life, he was an evil, self-seeking character, a director of high-gloss, hardcore porn films, working for grotesque porn baron ‘Sly Mac’ Macavoy. His killer could be any one of a number of characters who are subsequently introduced including DI Robert Carmichael, a detective attached to the investigation, who believes Benson was responsible for the death of his daughter.

Dips into the past are interspersed with action that primarily revolves around the dingy, bed-sit land of Clapham Junction railway station and sleazy 90s Soho in London’s West End. The story gradually fuses the events of the past - highlighted by the now grown-up Edmund’s quest to find his mother – with the events of the present, centred around the slow unravelling of the evil Benson’s secret past and death.

Other characters caught up in the events are Angela, a beautiful, cocaine-addicted model, the star of Benson’s last porn flick, and a young Irish restaurant critic, Andy Chase who comes to her rescue and subsequently, and dangerously, falls in love with her, Sandra, a Northern girl who has run away from home in search of the man who raped her and develops a bond with Edmund. And it is the damaged character of ‘Weird’ Cliff, a mentally disturbed ‘trainspotter’ scarred by an accidental drug overdose as a small child who, more than anyone, seems to be a key influence and catalyst in every plot strand.

Though Edmund began his life in a Waiting Room, all the characters in the novel are in a metaphorical ‘waiting room’ of their own, awaiting their respective redemptions.

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Extract

Prologue


The past: 1967


The young woman tucked the thin blanket deep into the sides of the wicker basket and rearranged the embossed satin edging over the baby’s chin. It was not long before the wide eyes peaked out over the rim, and little hands began to claw at the material that obstructed its view. The woman picked up a rubber toy from inside the cot and squeaked it a couple of times for encouragement. Hers, rather than the infant’s, who offered not a flicker of reaction to the playful sound. His large brown eyes followed the woman everywhere. They wouldn’t let go. She forced herself to look away. Recovering, she took the small white envelope from her pocket and placed it gently on the blanket. A solitary tear dropped from her eye and splashed onto the paper. The ink lettering on the surface ran like a watercolour, but after she had dabbed at it a couple of times with her hanky, the writing was still legible. ‘Please open’ it said.


Something made the woman look up. In the distance she noticed the thick white clouds billowing up above the trees, driving relentlessly towards the station. The eerie sight increased her anxiety and she hurried herself with her preparations. It would be all right, she told herself. The baby’s cries would draw attention to his presence. She gave him one last kiss, then straightened up and walked briskly away. Along the platform and over the footbridge she hurried, glancing nervously at the pounding smoke nearly upon her. A second later, she disappeared into the oblivion of the exploding cumulus.


Back in the basket, the baby’s eyes continued their radar scan, trying to find something to latch onto. Seconds later, without apology or conscience, the 11.04 slammed past the station. As it thundered its way through, the glass windowpanes of the waiting room quivered in fear, the thin wooden walls shuddered uncontrollably.


All the while the iron monster was wreaking its noisy havoc the length of the platform, the baby’s face remained impassive, unmoved, fearless. Anyone close enough to observe the tiny button irises might have detected small gleams of pleasure dancing within the deep brown spheres.


The station was still trembling as the 2-4-4-2 and its eight clattering charges disappeared into the parallax of the receding track. The moment it was out of range, the moment silence drifted back to the station, the baby’s face began to crease and pucker.


Seventy feet away, just as the duty ticket collector was stirring the sugar into his mid-morning tea, and his mouth was savouring the first sweet shards of a Rich Tea, a deafening cry rent the air which nearly caused the man’s heart to stop, and a piece of biscuit to take the wrong track down his windpipe.

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