Read the first few pages of Findo’s Mousetrap by Graham Paskett online right here if you like to try before you buy.

Sitting on the edge of the ridiculously soft, leather sofa in reception he first saw her some distance off, walking along a corridor.  Immediately he was captivated.

Her pale, almost translucent, skin contrasted sharply against her magnificent red hair.   It was alive and bounced as she walked.  She was tall with a finely tuned figure.  To his amazement she seemed to be heading towards him.  Immediately he became very nervous.

By the time she reached him he knew that his extended hand was unpleasantly damp.  Miniscule beads of perspiration were breaking out on his forehead.

She closed her eyes momentarily at the signs.  She knew them so well.  Ever since a small child most people had thought of her as beautiful.  She had been told this from her earliest memories.    It hung around her neck, at times, like a giant millstone, weighing her down; making her suspicious.  The result was that she never really trusted people, men in particular.  She never stayed in relationships long enough to prove trust one way or the other.

As a result of being born beautiful Dympna Doyle had developed a hard, outer protective shell, like a snail or tortoise.

She offered her hand in a perfunctory way.

‘I’m sorry,’ he stuttered, ‘about my hand.  I’m a bit nervous.’

She smiled wearily.  ‘Don’t worry.  It’s perfectly understandable.  Even some of our more regular visitors – the politicians – get into a right state each time they come.’

He began to relax but could not take his eyes off her.  He was embarrassingly conscious of this and tried hard not to, but it was though she was magnetic.

‘Can I check a few facts?’ She beckoned him back to the soft sofa with an air of resigned boredom.  They sat opposite each other making Findo even more embarrassed as she wore a fairly short skirt.  She was American or Canadian with a soft, warm voice.  She opened a thin file.

‘The interview is scheduled for a maximum of three minutes.  Not long but you reach an incredibly influential audience.  John will do quite a lot of the talking, introducing you, background information and the like.  Are you familiar with the programme?’

‘I’m not just saying it because I’m here but the Today programme is required listening in my home.’

‘You and your wife?’

‘No, well I mean no, I don’t have one.  A wife I mean.  It’s me and my listening goes back to Brian Redhead and John Timpson.  I’m rather glad it’s John because Mr Naughtie being a Scot – well it all risks getting rather too Scottish.   Will Mr Humphrys give me a hard time?’

She leaned forward and gently touched his arm, ‘Don’t worry.  He only bullies politicians and he’ll know you’ll be a bit nervous.  But, of course, you are a Scot aren’t you, although you do sound so very English?’ Going back to the thin file she continued ‘Findo Gask from Strath Gask in Perthshire and you’ve invented this amazing machine that you call your Mousetrap.’

Findo nodded.  Despite his impending live interview on BBC Radio 4’s flagship Today programme he couldn’t help but notice her striking green eyes that were in perfect harmony with her brilliantly red hair. 

‘What’s your name?’ he stammered.

‘Oh I’m sorry.  I should have said.  I’m Dympna Doyle – another Celt.  But it’s all very Irish in my case – or Irish American to be accurate.  We live in Boston.  Now, let’s get back to your Mousetrap, Mr Gask.  It says here that the machine can literally turn back the pages of history.  John will say this and then ask you to explain.  He’ll inevitably play the Doubting Thomas so be ready with some quick answers.

‘Three minutes isn’t very long and it’s your opportunity to get your story over.  Don’t go into too much unnecessary detail.  Just paint a picture in words.  When he says it’s his last question you will have not more than 15 seconds to answer so make it a memorable one.’

She led him into the lift and then to the studio.  It was picture of well-rehearsed chaos.  The two players, Jim Naughtie and John Humphrys – the Scot and the Welshman – sat opposite each other over a green baize covered table with microphones suspended over them.  They had laptops and sheets of yellow paper – those in front of the Scot were neat and well ordered.  He was talking about Bosnia and moved from one sheet to another quite seamlessly.  John looked up and winked at Findo who was being seated and microphoned up by Dympna.

She put earphones on him and pointed to a glass screen with a man seated behind it.  She went behind the screen and gave him a thumbs up.  Immediately her warm tones filled his ears.

‘You’ll shortly hear the programme as it’s going out.  When Jim’s finished his piece he’ll hand over to John who will give a time check plus what’s coming up next and then talk immediately to you.  I’ll come and collect you when it’s all over.  Good luck and enjoy it Findo.’ 

‘It’s twenty one minutes past eight.  We have Gary with the sport coming up and then the weather.  But now I’m going to talk to someone who reckons he’s invented a machine that brings history back to life.  Sounds daft?  Well not if you’re Findo Gask and he’s sitting opposite me, from his estate and rolling acres in Perthshire, to tell us all about it.

‘This machine – you call the Mousetrap – can – you claim, quite literally go back through time allowing us to see historical events as they actually happened.  You’re kidding aren’t you?’

Findo was so totally familiar with the voice of John Humphrys that it seemed to him surreal to be talking directly to him.  Radio creates a wonderfully anonymous world that the listener populates with faces that match their perceptions of the voices they hear.  He thought he knew what John Humphrys looked like, having seen him on television.  But now that he was in front of him he was, in reality, very different.  He was smaller and older and his hair was totally white.

‘No, I’m not kidding at all Mr Humphrys.  Good morning.   In fact on Saturday the Mousetrap recalled an incident when Henry Fox Talbot took the world’s first permanent photograph at Laycock Abbey in Wiltshire 175 years ago.’

‘How?’

Findo went on to explain that he and his team, ‘I must remember to talk about the team’ he reminded himself, had on the previous Saturday set up at Laycock Abbey and recalled how, in August 1835, this young English aristocrat took this incredibly important photograph.  It was of a rather boring subject – an Oriel window – but it changed the world.  His camera was a giant mahogany and brass construction that he christened his Mousetrap.

He added that the essential factor with Mousetrap was to know fairly accurately when events took place.

‘Hang on a minute,’ interrupted John Humphrys ‘why is it so important to know accurate dates and times?’

‘It’s all based on meteorology’ added Findo.  ‘We knew that Fox Talbot’s photograph was taken in August and his diary notes gave us a lot more information.  A key part of our Mousetrap is a computer database that has a record of all historical weather as far as records can tell.  From this data it produces an educated average back to almost any time.  So, given any date for an event, we have a fairly good idea of all the accumulated natural daylight from that date, even well before weather forecasting was the science it is now.’

‘So, what’s that got to do with your Mousetrap and revealing history?’

‘Well, I really do have you to thank Mr Humphrys for the idea behind the Mousetrap.’

The effect was immediate and electric.  Both Jim and John put down their pens and looked at Findo.

‘Be very, very careful Findo.  You’re on dangerous ground,’ purred a warning in his ear.

‘Explain!’ instructed John.

Findo allowed himself a little wry smile.  ‘A few years ago you interviewed an American scientist who had worked out a formula for determining the age of stars.  He calculated their light values and, from these, worked out how long it took for this to reach earth.  Measuring this determined their age.’

‘If you say so, sorry I cannot remember. But I repeat my earlier question.  What’s that got to do with your Mousetrap and revealing history?’

‘Putting it very simply, I reversed that American’s theory.  I have always been fascinated by pictures in the mind.   You know how it is, if you stare on a bright day at a window and then close your eyes, immediately the window frame, spars and everything else, comes back as a sort of negative.’

He went on to explain that in Laycock Abbey they knew that the photograph had been taken at midday on 24 August 1835.  The computer’s database gave them a light value reading for the intervening years and Mousetrap bounced that total package of light, in one big hit, off the stone wall surrounding the window.’

Jim now involved himself in the interview.  ‘So your Mousetrap isn’t a camera as such. It’s a massively powerful flashlight?’

‘Yes and no’ said Findo.  ‘Have either of you heard of The Stone Tape Theory?   Both men shook their heads.  ‘Very simply it operates from the principle that a significant event, such as the Fox Talbot photograph, generates a series of strong physical emotions.  These are released by the participants at the time and captured and stored in the silica and iron oxides within the stones in front of which these events took place.  A bit like old magnetic recording tapes.

‘By blasting them with the correct amount of light it releases, and then rekindles the events stored in the fabric of the building, which are then relived.   So the flashlight part of Mousetrap frees up the events to be played out again and the other part of it actually videos them for us all to see.’

A brief silence was broken by John who simply said, ‘Wow.  And to think that I may have played a very minor part in all this.’

The remainder of the interview passed in a flash and ended with a rather flattered John Humphrys asking listeners to write in if they had any ‘historic experiences in your house that you want brought back to life’.

‘That could not have gone better for you,’ smiled Dympna as she ushered Findo to the lift.  ‘I thought for one minute, when you said about him being responsible, that it was about to go very wrong.  But you knew exactly what you were doing.  Well done.’

They reached the revolving door at the exit and stood facing each other.   Would it be ushering him out of her life?  He dared to hope not.  He was 30 years old and his looks were almost a cliché.  Findo was 6ft 2inches tall, dark haired with a tanned face, a bold jaw and piercing blue eyes.  The heir to a baronetcy, he was well-funded and free as a lark, but lonely.  He genuinely liked women but never felt completely comfortable with them and, consequently, was rarely in a relationship.

In an attempt to delay their parting he said: ‘I made one big mistake.  I completely forgot to mention my team and especially my partner, Andrew.’

She raised a quizzical auburn eyebrow and he understood immediately.

‘No Mac – his name is Andrew McCubbin – and we have been friends since childhood.  He’s my business partner behind Mousetrap, nothing like that.’  She smiled, almost in relief.   ‘Anyway he’ll be jolly cross when I get back.’

Findo and Mac grew up together.  His father was the estate manager at Strath Gask, Findo’s family estate in Perthshire.  His mother had also worked in the office and they lived in a house in the grounds.   Although they went to different schools they organised to go to the same university.  Unlike his friend, Mac was always a great success with women. 

Dympna smiled and held out a hand to say goodbye.  He noticed that she wore a ring on her wedding finger – not a band of gold but possibly an engagement ring.  They shook hands and he thanked her.   He then span immediately round in the revolving door so that he shot back into the foyer again just as she moved off.

‘You OK?’ she asked a little startled.

Findo nodded and felt the colour rise in his cheeks.  No time for planning or clever words.  ‘Would you like to meet for dinner?’ he blurted out.

She was clearly taken unawares and, unintentionally, backed away saying that she was very busy but had his mobile number and would be back in touch. 

She turned on her elegant heels and walked away without a backwards glance.

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