Number Thirteen



 Number Thirteen


"Look at the house numbers. Nine, eleven, fifteen. No number thirteen. Are people so superstitious as not to buy a house with that number? You can see a gap between eleven and fifteen, just big enough for a house."

"Yes, Craig," said Micah with an undertone of "So what?"

"The electoral register for 1960 did have a house at number 13 inhabited by a Mr Porter but the back issues of the local Worthing Herald have no indication of what happened to it. There is no trace now."

Micah looked more interested. A little bit, anyway.

She used her dark arts on the computer and she became more interested.

"There is no record of any activity by Mr Porter after 1964, not even a death certificate. He didn't use his credit card or his bank account, he didn't pay anybody for anything. Nobody employed him."

"There are a dozen websites telling you how to disappear completely and never be found," I suggested.

"Or he might just be in an unmarked grave in the Ashdown Forest?"


Micah once wrote an article for the Worthing Journal. They neither rejected nor accepted it. They simply ignored it. This makes her the most free freelance ever.

When she interviews people, she has an old Grundig tape recorder with which she records the questions and answers. It is when she turns it off that the real questions and answers begin and she duly records these on her phone.

"Mr Reece, I notice there isn't a number thirteen in this street."

Perhaps the stupidest thing anyone could say would be: "Isn't there?"

Micah followed up with: "Your house is number 11 and the next house is number 15."

"Is it? I only moved in recently."

The electoral register indicated that Mr Reece had moved in two years ago. This was long after the disappearance of number 13.

In fact, most of the neighbours of the ill-fated house were new to the area or felt they couldn't rely on their memories.

We were up against a brick wall but a lucky discovery helped us out. The local press had not reported the fire, which engulfed number 13, but the fire brigade had a record of two engines being called to an incident, elsewhere described as "a fire", at that address. God alone knew what the building was made of, but the structure was so damaged it was demolished and not replaced.

That only left the question of why.

The fire brigade report duly noted the absence of telltale accelerants like petrol and concluded that the fire was not deliberate. However, it remained agnostic on why the fire started. The electrical circuits were exonerated. Mr Porter was unavailable for comment and remained unavailable from that day to this.

Armed with this information, Micah re-interviewed the older residents. This time she focussed on the fire.

"Well, young lady," Micah hadn't been called that for a while, "I don't rightly recall the date but there was a fire. I remember there were two fire engines. Everybody was out in the street to have a look. Number Thirteen..." and here Mrs Wallis stopped.

"Well dear," she said at last, "Let's just say Number Thirteen were a bad lot. Mm a bad lot."

"In what way?" Micah asked sweetly.

"Oh you don't want to know about things like that. People said it was just as well he went away or somebody would have done him in."

"Was Mr Porter caught in the fire?"

"I don't remember his name but no he weren't. I won't say 'More's the pity' because that's not my way but other folk did."


"Well dear, they've all gone now, one way or another. Moved away or gone to a better place."

Micah looked around the street and did not voice her hidden thought that it wouldn't be hard to find a better place. A lot of the neighbours seemed to furnish their gardens with mattresses. Or they were furnished for them.

And that, for the time being, was that. We didn't know what sort of "bad lot" Mr Porter was nor why the fire had taken place.

"The accelerants are a red herring," I said. "Fires can be started maliciously without anything as dangerous or suggestive as petrol being involved."

Micah nodded.

"He didn't seem to have a good rep with the neighbours."


We were discussing the curious incident of Number Thirteen with our daughter, Dorothy over a very nice sweet and sour chicken washed down with Cabernet Sauvignon.

"Mr Reece, you say."

"According to the electoral register."

"There is no requirement for him to use his honorific."

"Oh is it Mahatma Reece then?" asked Micah.

"No. But if it is the same man then it is Doctor Reece. There is something funny about him though."

We waited.

"When he got the job in the Paediatric department (and I am sure you will not repeat this) there was something irregular about his qualifications but I don't know what."

"It would be interesting if somebody could find out," Micah suggested.

Dorothy sighed. "I do have a friend in HR and she owes me a favour. I can invoke your police status."

Our "police status" is that we are occasional and usually unpaid advisors to the local police. Our credentials have the word "Police" in large letters with a smaller explanation that we are "civilians". Legally the police are all civilians of course.

"Dr Reece?"

"I don't use that title as a rule."

"Or should I say Doctor Porter?"

"Oh for crying out loud. You'd better come in."

He ushered us into a remarkably tidy living room and provided us with tea.

"I moved back here because I was sure all the local Sun readers had moved away and the few people who remained, like Mrs Wallis, were lucky to remember their own names let alone mine. Now I will have to move again."

"Probably not," I said reassuringly. "We are confidential investigators."

"I am reassured to hear it but I don't want a repeat of the fire or of the hate campaign that led up to it. My qualifications are in the name Porter and I assume that is how you got on to me. I changed my name by deed poll when I moved to London. I love living by the sea but things became difficult. Well impossible to be exact."

"The Sun suppose their readers cannot manage long words like paedophile so their headlines are full of hatred for 'paedos'. One or two neighbours found out I was a paediatrician and started abusing me in the local shops. There was no reasoning with them. They told all their friends and neighbours and a mob attacked the house and burnt it down. I was out at a party at the time but I did lose everything I possessed.

"It was just chance that number 11 became vacant and I moved back in here. Number thirteen had been quite unlucky."

"We are sorry to have bothered you and nobody will hear anything from us."

"You know people in Liverpool burnt copies of The Sun after Hillsborough," Micah remarked.

"I don't approve of burning newspapers."

""Even The Sun?"

"Even The Sun. Let's drop in at the Park View on the way back."

"Now you're talking."


Derek McMillan

Derek McMillan is a writer in Durringon in the UK. His editor is his wife, Angela. He has written for print and online publications in the UK, USA and Canada. His latest book is the audio-book Brevity which is available on eBay. Check it out. He also publishes a blog for flash fiction with the help of over 100 contributors,


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