He’d been feeling increasingly odd. It wasn’t anything you could put your finger on, but Something was definitely Wrong. He seemed to be turning to stone.
I haven’t got time, he thought, stepping into a taxi. And indeed, he hadn’t. As the CEO of a large clothing store, he barely stopped. Either he was on his smartphone. Talking. Texting. Or he was on the train. Commuting. Computing. Messaging. Or he was in a taxi being ferried from one meeting to the next. Texting. Worrying. Mentally rehearsing. In his business you had to stay one step ahead of the game. Couldn’t be unprepared because unprepared was when someone threw you a curved ball. Blindsided you. Some ambitious young sprog. Some stab-in-the back colleague. One step ahead, always.
This was what Sian couldn’t understand. She said she never saw him nowadays, and it was true. She said the kids hardly remembered their father’s name, still less what he looked like. It was true, but what did she expect? She liked the lifestyle his salary provided. All those visits to salons for extension weaves and false nails; all those credit-card powered excursions to Oxford Street and Paris, that walk-in wardrobe full of dresses – no, in fact two walk-in wardrobes. He lost track of all the stuff they’d amassed. Sometimes, for a moment, he wasn’t even sure where he lived.
They’d recently moved again, to West Sussex. Now they had what the agents’ website coyly described as a 4-bedroom cottage. He doubted whether any Sussex cottager would recognise it as such. Three-quarters of an acre of landscaped garden on a gentle rolling slope, culminating in a small, man-made lake, ready stocked with fish; a farmhouse kitchen with a gas Aga, a study, a sitting room, en suite shower rooms, double car garage port… It was the house of a man who had made it. But there is always a price to pay.
Alex paid in ways that he scarcely regarded as payment. In shortness of breath sometimes, in that nagging ulcer pain, in the fortnightly migraine that kept him at home, wincing in the dark. He dreaded those days. His PA was fearfully efficient. She could probably cover for him for a whole week if she had to. Probably nobody would even notice his absence. That was the trouble. She was ambitious; fearfully so.
And now this. This turning-to-stone feeling. Alex had only to text his PA and she would get him an appointment in Harley Street – that day. But then she would know he had health worries other than the migraine. Grist to her mill, that would be. She’d find out more. She’d store that information. She probably had a file on him. It’d be in that laptop of hers, or on some tablet or other device. Some memory-stick. And when the time was right she’d use it.
And once in the specialist’s consulting room, how on earth was he to describe his symptoms? ‘Turning to stone’ would be greeted with patient scepticism. Hearing those words the specialist would already be reviewing his options for referral to one or other of his mental health colleagues. Although of course, people like Alex did not experience mental health problems. They were never likely to find themselves in that wing – the one at the far end of some sprawling National Heath hospital – mild cases on the top floor, basket cases stored in the basement behind hefty iron doors and wired glass. High-powered executives such as Alex would be suffering from burn-out. They would require rest and revitalisation in some discreetly situated clinic.
And so it was that Alex continued his taxi journey, and did not text his PA. By the time he reached his destination – a meeting with a posse of potential new suppliers from China, he was really feeling quite groggy. With an effort he bent his head to look at his watch. Time to spare, for once. He needed to go somewhere quiet, he felt, somewhere he could recover his composure. But first of all he must get out of this vehicle. Feet on terra firma.
Even that seemed to be more difficult than usual. His thought processes seemed to be slowing. Was his brain solidifying along with his body? Excuse me… he tapped on the glass screen separating him from the driver. Excuse me. Could you recommend…
The driver turned. It seemed to Alex that his face bore a totally inexplicable expression – somewhere between horror and disbelief.
Excuse me… Alex tried again. I am feeling rather unwell and…
No sound came.
The taxi driver could not be charged with theft, even though the evidence was right there in the back of his taxi. He could hardly have disposed of it, since it was way too heavy to lift and too big to get out of the door. The police inspected the vehicle in forensic detail. Nobody could explain how something so big and heavy had got into the back of a taxi. At first they were inclined to suspect a hoax – some TV prank, no doubt. The thing must have been constructed within the cab – possibly some resinous substance… Except that it wasn’t. Tests proved conclusively that it was made of stone. Also, the taxi appeared to have driven all the way in to central London with this thing in the back, according to the state-of-the-art recording device only recently installed in the cab. Yet now, as it stood on the spot in a sea of rush-hour traffic, the… object… was visibly causing the cab to dip and sag. A garage man called in to advise announced that the rear axle was likely to go at any minute. Vacate the vehicle. Elf and Safety, innit? he remarked.
But they never managed to build a case against the driver, for the simple reason that no such object had been reported stolen. Cathedrals and churches for miles around were inspected for missing items of stonework; clerics of all denominations were urgently emailed. They all said the same thing. Nothing is missing here. Everything is as it was.
Finally, in desperation, the police notified the press, allowed them to crawl all over “Exhibit A”, one London Taxi Cab, cameras flashing. Doubtless some scientist would come up with an explanation, at which point they could claim to have suspected as much all along – merely required confirmation. The BBC got in on the act, despatching an attractive junior reporter. A hoax, the Business Editor thought, but an imaginative one. Art students, probably. It’d do for an ‘And Finally’.
Gargoyle In Back of Cab, went the headlines next day.
Stone The Crows, it’s a Statue!
Taxi Man Aghast…