The Bristol Arms
My decision to enter the nearby pub was prompted in the main by a simple desire to pass the remaining time before my intended meeting with Marlin as quickly as possible. It would be disingenuous of me, however, to pretend that it was not also a decision influenced by a growing apprehension regarding the situation in which I found myself. Faced with the unknown of what may be about to occur, and with the possibility, however remote, that the individual with whom I had agreed to meet may indeed prove to be a killer, I experienced something of what the men I encountered in St Matthew's Street had conveyed to me. For the first time I felt able to appreciate their fear. Under the circumstances, a drink seemed an appropriate indulgence.
The Bristol Arms was uncrowded at this time, and I was able to speak at some length to the gentleman behind the bar. I took the opportunity to mention the name Peter Marlin, and was unsurprised by the lack of recognition received in return. It seemed to me a distinct possibility that Marlin may have been a local resident, and had suggested Shotley Gate in an effort to meet on his 'home turf', at a location with which he was familiar. His use of what, in all probability, is a pseudonym however, makes this difficult to establish, and the landlord's failure to identify the name therefore meant very little.
Of greater significance, perhaps, was the opinion expressed by the gentleman in reply to one of my later questions. I asked about the situation locally regarding homelessness, and the related issues of alcoholism and drug dependency. I intended to gauge the degree to which these may be a problem in Shotley Gate, with the hope of establishing the location's significance to Marlin. I wondered if he had been drawn to the place by an apparent wealth of potential victims.
This proved to be an entirely unfounded concept. The landlord of The Bristol Arms was only too proud to inform me of the village's lack of any such problems, and indeed, considering Shotley's location, I had to admit that it seemed unlikely to be home to any form of street community. This was confirmed to me in no uncertain terms. Intriguingly however, a reference on my part to HMS Ganges prompted the gentleman to mention that the site had been proposed some three years earlier as a possible detention centre for asylum seekers. Whether this could have any bearing on Marlin's interest in the place, it is difficult to say, yet with the man's apparent contempt for the socially excluded, the possibility of a link cannot be ruled out entirely.
I remained in The Bristol Arms for a little under half an hour, consuming, I am ashamed to admit, a total of three drinks. There was an uncertainty surrounding the precise location at which Peter Marlin intended us to meet: his letter had suggested the vague notion of 'HMS Ganges', an area of some considerable size, and I could not be sure that the additional reference to a meeting at "the gate" served any greater purpose than to confirm the destination as Shotley. Despite this, I felt the most sensible course of action would be to return to the main gate and await contact. There exists on the corner of Bristol Hill and Caledonia Road, a matter of yards from the Ganges gate, a public telephone box. It seemed to me a possibility that Marlin would place a call to this phone at 7pm, trusting that I would be present to answer it. This was perhaps something of a fanciful idea, promoted by countless Hollywood films, yet not one based in reality. Needless to say, it did not occur.
Instead, I returned to my car to find, for the second time in two hours, a note placed under the windscreen wiper (Note Six). The writing was clearly Marlin's, yet this note differed in one vital respect to all his previous correspondence: it was the first letter not to have been photocopied. Though not immediately obvious, this page also provided the explanation for the shaded bar visible at the bottom of Marlin's earlier notes: the man was using paper both marginally wider and shorter than standard A4. The page, it transpired, measured eight and a half inches by eleven, standard size in North America, where it replaces our A4, yet rarely used in the UK. Photocopying a page of these dimensions onto regular A4 paper had produced the effect in question. This discovery solved one mystery, whilst simultaneously giving birth to many more. To this day I have been unable to establish Marlin's reasons for using this paper, nor the existence of any link to the US, and as such the possible significance of this finding remains unclear.
On this occasion Marlin appeared to have written the note in situ, as an unplanned response to current circumstances, thereby denying himself the opportunity to impose his previous safeguards on its production. It is curious to have previously gone to such lengths to preserve anonymity, only to abandon these methods at the last, yet as events began to unfold that evening, the man's reasoning became less puzzling.
Whether Marlin had been monitoring my movements around Shotley Gate, or had simply recognised my car outside The Bristol Arms, it is impossible to say. The note, however, had clearly been written just minutes earlier. It read:
"PLEASED YOU COULD MAKE IT.
TO THE RED BRICK HOUSE IN MARSH LANE. THE DOOR HAS BEEN OPENED.
Copyright 2004 All Rights Reserved