Page 9 of 9

A Place that was Ours.  Chapter Fourteen – A fractured Dream.

 

41uRpZ9TiBL

On the street the temperature was dropping, and clouds from the east were threatening snow.  I hurried home, mindful of my mother’s words and the conversation that was beginning in my head.  Was she right?  Was it possible a girl with whom I once spent twenty minutes of inexpert passion on a river bank could still mean more to me than the one who loved me now and shared my bed?  Could I – would I – betray Angie so callously over nothing more than a fractured dream?

Indoors, I set up a fire and then began to cook, but my heart wasn’t in it, so I turned off the stove.  Five-thirty found me sitting in our bay window, watching a snowflake corps de ballet as it danced before the glass, and the steadier trickle of people coming home from their work.  My eyes picked out Angie as she appeared at the end of the road; head down against the wind, clicking along the wet and whitening pavement on busy feet. I responded to her jazz-hands wave as she ascended the steps to our door.

“Here’s a night!”  She stood in our little lobby, brushing snow from her coat.  “Feel them!”  She reached out for my hand, squeezing my fingers as she passed, heading towards the bathroom, and casually shedding clothes as she went.  Pipes juddered as the shower turned on.   I felt that completeness of Angie wrapping itself around me as it always did when we were together in the primacy of our private lives, and I was immediately rested and content.  No, I told myself, could be no-one else.

Back at the stove, I was throwing stir-fry stuff absently into a wok when she joined me, gently resting her hand on my wrist and sliding the pan aside.  She came close to invite a kiss, then draped herself against me, letting her towelling robe fall carelessly fell open.

“Are you hungry?”  Angie giggled deliciously.  “Why yes, I do believe you are…”

Later, as we sat before the fire, Angie asked:  “Did you see your Mam?”

“Aye.”  I relayed almost everything that had passed between my mother and me.  “She says she’s quite happy with the way things are, but I don’t entirely believe her.  She’s so edgy these days.  I was a bit worried about her.”

Angie nodded sagely.  “It’ll be the ‘H’, man.  It get’s t’you like that.”

I stared.   “’H’?”

“Oh, come on!  Ah thought you’d kna’ about that at least!  Smack; heroin, Chas!  She must ‘a been on it a year or two, I’d reckon.”

“No!  Oh, god, I didn’t know.  I mean, I didn’t see it.”

“Man!  Are you a divvy or what?  I saw it first time I met her!”

“Why didn’t you say?”

“Would that ha’ been polite, like?  You’re too innocent for this world, you!  Mind, it were another little stone wor Terry managed to drop into the conversation the other night when he were tryin’ to run you down.  He reckons they’re all on it, up Bertie’s.  Brasso’ll be keepin’ ‘em hooked up, I ‘spect.”

“Brasso?”

“Brasso Moziadski.   Tall, thin bloke, sharp threads.  Looks like he’s a lawyer, or sommat, but ‘e’s not.  He’s the biggest dealer round here.  Drives a dark blue BMW?  You must ‘a seen ‘im!”

“Aye.”  I acknowledged.  “I might have.”

After administering a new shock, Angie fell silent for a while, just gazing into the fire.  My mind played around with this explanation for my mother’s behavior, which ascribed the tension that gripped every fibre of her being to a simple need for to score.  Meanwhile, Angie seemed to be steeling herself.  And, at last, she spoke.

“I been thinkin’ about it all afternoon: about us, y’kna?  Chas, be honest wi’ us now; do you seriously want me to come with you when you go to Carlton?”

“Yes.” My answer came without hesitation.  “I’ve never been more serious.”

“Only it’s a big thing for me.  I’ve lived here all my life, y’kna?  All my friends and my relations are here.  I’d be leavin’ them all behind, if I did – if I came with you.  Y’see?”

“I do see.”  I told her.  “Can I say something now?”

Her eyes were uncertain.  “I s’pose.  But Chas, I’ve worked all this out…”

“Angie, I love you.  I’m not going to let you down, am I?”

“Mebbees.  Or mebbees I’d be the one to let you down. Promises we make at nineteen aren’t meant to be kept, Chas.  They really aren’t.” She shook her head impatiently.  “I cry too easy around you, y’kna?”

“Am I going to be allowed to make a case, here, like?”  I protested, “Or are you going to walk out on me without eating that bloody stir-fry?”

“Is it still there?  I’d forgotten about that.”  She smiled through her tears.

“It’s a waste of good vegetables.” My pathetic attempt at humour was designed to cover an awkward truth – I was panicking, because a pit of absolute despair had suddenly opened up beneath me, and the reason for it seemed unaccountable unless this was love?  This – something – that was completely new to me?  Love, or need?  Had I grown to need Angie so much I couldn’t bear the thought of losing her?

”No.  No, let’s not do this now.”  I said.  “Wherever you go you’ll find friends, Ange.  I’ll be joining a proper club, you know, and the other guys will have wives and girlfriends, and besides, you’re just – just so – well, people just like you.  They’re drawn to you.  I was.”  I ended rather lamely.

“I suppose.”  Angie rested her head on my shoulder.  “Chas, I love you.  I wish…oh, you don’t know how I wish…”

“I don’t want us to part.”  I said, trying to keep the desperation out of my voice.  “And we needn’t.  Let’s see how things turn out, Ange.  Give us that chance, will you?”  Angie was quietly tearful, my own heart was aching and there seemed no solution to our pain, no chance of escape.  The welcome warmth of the fire had become an oppressive heat, such that I was finding it difficult to breathe.  I had to escape.  “Sorry; I’m sorry, really – think about us a bit more, please, because I love you, Ange, and I can’t stand this.  I’m going out.”

The bubble of anger in my heart was not for Angie.  I tore myself away from her not because I felt she had betrayed me, but because I knew I had betrayed myself.   I slammed the door behind me not because I was turning my back on the home she had made, but because there was no home for me, anywhere.  My childhood, my whole miserable life had bred a fear of relationships in me and I knew it was a reserve that showed – that try as I might I could not give her the true and selfless devotion that would let her build her world in me, let her trust me.  She believed I would let her down, and perhaps she was right.

The snow fell fast enough to hide my tears, the cold air offered an alibi for my reddened face, my interrupted breath.  Nevertheless I avoided the town and its still-busy streets, choosing instead to take the alley which led from the far end of The Avenue past the blind ends of a trio of similar culs de sac and on in the direction of the park.  I walked briskly, ignoring the slips and slides of my inadequate shoes on the snow-slick pavement, kicking back at it with furious feet, slamming against walls and fences with aggrieved fists.  So preoccupied was I with my inner noise I was deaf to the lonely darkness and oblivious to the approach of running steps.

The first I felt was a sickening blow to my head, the first I saw was a galaxy of stars.

I was stretched out on the pavement.  A knee pinned my chest.  The thrust of a boot raked into my side with such murderous precision it may have made me scream.

“Too proud fer yer fans kidder, isn’ the’!  The great friggin footy star, yeah?”

Another voice.   “Friggin’ wanker!

Another:  “Mak’ ‘im nice an’ pretty fer ‘e’s girlfriend, like!  Frigging prick!”

The boots were heavy, the kicks vicious and well-aimed, but the surprise was over.  Kicking upward as hard as I could once, twice, three times I found the groin behind the knee, making its owner groan and shrink sufficiently to release me.   I rolled to my feet, counted three of them: balaclava’d heads snapping at me like dogs.

Remember the rules, the street fighting rules: which one looks like the leader?  Pick him out.  Don’t try and counter all three; go for him and him alone.  Don’t let up.  Never let up.

The one that was tallest, noisiest.  “Yer kna wha’ us ganna do ter the’, wanker?  Wor gan ter break yer legs, man!  Tha’s nivver gan ter play footy again, frigger!  Finished, man; finished!”

I sent him the best message of defiance I could muster.  I heard his nose crush.  Then I was straight after him, not letting him draw back, not giving him a second before I got in a perfect groin kick to bend him double.  But they were three, I was one.  Almost too late I saw the iron bar clenched in the smallest one’s hands, and though somehow I rode the first scything swing it scored across my calf, opening flesh.  Hands pinned me so thoroughly I knew I would not avoid the second.  They were intent upon crippling me, these darkly clad men.

“Stand still yer little frigger!  This is a message from one o’ yer fans, like!”

The bar was swinging, my eyes closed against the certainty of pain.  Heaven would have heard my involuntary shout – it was not heaven that answered.   There was a crack like an egg, but of bone.  The iron bar clattered to the ground, the bar wielder’s knees crumpled.  My hands were suddenly free to unleash a haymaker of a punch, the hardest I could muster into the ribs of the noisy one, while behind me my third assailant was being treated with savagery.  The grey shape that had materialized out of the snow had grounded him, subjecting him to a furious sequence of kicks.  Seeing I was out of danger, though, the shape desisted quickly, grabbing my arm.

“Come away, lad.  Ah think I might ‘a killed the stupid bugger!”

Even in my disoriented state (by this time I must have had several blows to my head) I could see the iron bar wielder was not in a good state.  Lying inert in the snow, a dark red halo was growing around his head.

“Police!  We should call the police.”  I managed to drool out.

“Frig it nah!  Ah’m gannin nowhere near the chatties, lad!  Coom on, run!”

I made no argument.  Run – or stagger – I did, supported by my savior’s arm as together we retraced my steps back to the apartment.  I wondered vaguely as we went why the grey shape had a voice I found familiar.

“Footsteps!”  I pointed behind us to our trail in the snow.

“Aye.  But this snow’s going to keep up all night.  Blowin’ a bit, too.  They’re coverin’ already.”

Angie emerged from the kitchen as we burst through the front door.  I could see from her expression I was not a pretty sight.   She moved instantly into caring mode.  “Come away, man, take off those clothes, I’ll get you some towels.  Who’s your friend, like?”

I think I already knew.  Watching as he unwrapped himself, taking his flat cap from his balding head and unwrapping the scarf from his face.  “Dad.”  I said.  “He’s my Da’.”

I was treated to the broad smile of a man at war with his teeth, and for once in my life I felt genuinely glad to see him.  “Recognized me, then. Hello, son.”

“Da’, this is Angie.”

“I kna’ lad,”  My father said,  “and a canny lass she is.  Make sure yer keep yer ‘ands on this one.”

“Pleased to meet you.”  By this time, Angie’s eyes had widened into saucers. “I thought…”

“I kna, Angie, pet, ah’m supposed to be the most absent of absent fathers.  But since ah’m ‘ere, ah’m wonderin’ if you’d mind washin’ this for us?”

From beneath his donkey jacket my father produced a brutish-looking adjustable spanner, its grips encrusted with blood.  Angie stared at it.  “Shouldn’t we get rid o’ that?”  I asked him.

“Nah, lad, no way!  That’s the only one big enough to fit wor bath taps at ‘ome.  It’ll clean up canny!”

Angie took the spanner between thumb and forefinger and nearly dropped it because it was heavier than she expected.  “Do you always carry a spanner when you go out?”

“Aye, lass.  Yer never kna’ when yer gan ter meet someone wi’ a loose bath tap.”

Angie nodded.  “Of course.”  She disappeared into the kitchen.

“I’m lucky you were passing by.”  I said, not really believing it.

“Luck had nowt tae do wi’ it.  Ah’ve been followin’ yer’ for days.  I were keepin’ an eye on they, too.  I kna’d they were workin’ ‘emselves up to have a go, like.  Ah’m stayin’ ower the Black Horse, where they drink, y’na?  The skinny one was lanterin’ about how you was too big fer yer boots an’ as how ‘e wanted ter fix yer, like?  But it were more than that.  They were plannin’ ter get yer anyways, Chas.  Ah follered them tonight ‘stead o’ you – for a change.  It were less damp.”

“It’s good for me that you did,” I said.  “But how did they know I’d be on the street?  I hadn’t planned to go out.”

“Ah don’t think they intended to get yer on the street, son.  Ah think they was comin’ ‘ere”

I had scarcely time to absorb that thought before Angie returned to bandage my leg, demanding we explain.  I described events leading up to my father’s appearance, omitting the reason he was able to intervene so quickly, and hoping she would not spot the fault in the logic.  “I could place one of the voices,” I told her, “It was that troll from Pellosi’s.  I thought he was just a bad accident, but looking back on it now I think he had meant to be there.”

“It’s likely.”  My father nodded.  “They was drinkin’ wi’ a friend o’ there’n, used ter be Town’s best player ‘til you showed ‘em as how it should be done.  Reckon it were him tryin’ to get ‘e’s own back tonight, like.  Guy Harrison – y’ kna’ ‘im?”

“Guy Harrison!  Way aye!  He’s still in the team.”  The more I thought about it, the less this information surprised me.  Guy had already tried to injure me once, in training at the beginning of the season.  Guy would not know of my intention to leave, and if I stayed the club wouldn’t renew his expensive contract; not just to be my understudy.

“We should tell the police,”  Angie said.

“Nah, no police.”  My father was emphatic.  “Me and the chatties round ‘ere, we go back a long way, Angie pet.”

“Don’t leave your bicycle around him.”  I advised Angie.  “He’s canny light-fingered, like.”

“Yeah?  He saved you, that makes him alright by me.  Anyways, I haven’t gorra bike.”

“What brings you back here, Da’?”  I asked.  “I didn’t think I’d be seeing you again.”

This brought a sigh from my Da’, and I thought that I saw the effort go right through him, as though his rib cage was a rack of iron he had scarcely strength to lift.  “Ah’m not stayin’, son.  I’ve been hearin’ about yer and yer football an’ yer made me proud, y’kna?  I wanted ter see yer again, an’ tell yer, I suppose.  Then I got ‘ere an’ I’d not the courage to approach yer, like.  Not affer leavin’ yer the way I did.  An’ I’ll be awa’ again, now, likely.  I’ve a good woman waitin’ fer me, where ah’m from.  But I wanted ter warn yer, ‘cause I thought yer might be in trouble, an’ I were right.  Nor about tonight, mind, that were just Harrison, but there’s summat in the wind, ah can smell it.  Watch yerself with Mack Crabtree and Marty Berry, Chas; they’re bad people, y’kna?”

“I think I already know about Mack Crabtree,” I said,  “But Martin Berry?  He seems canny to me.”

“Aye, he’s friend enough to yer face, but keep facin’ ‘im, lad.  Don’t turn yer back, awright?”   He raised himself to his feet.  “Now I’ll be on ma way.  You’ll be awreet now, and I’ve some sleepin’ to do.”

“Stay!”  I said.  “We can make you comfortable here.  There’s so much to be said, Da’.”

“True, there is.  I’m not goin’ back fer a day or so yet, so if tha’ wants some catchin’ up, we’ll do it tomorra, because you’ll not be training wi’ that leg. But meantime this young lass doesn’t kna me, so she’ll not be com’fable wi’ me in ‘er home.  Besides,” My father nudged me knowingly;  “I’ve a feelin’ you’ve got some bridges to mend, son.”

Angie saw him to our door, helped him slip his jacket around his shoulders and watched his back as he hunched against the snow.  Then she turned to me with her face a picture of concern.  “Oh, Chas, man!  Whar’ ever am I going to do wi’ you?  I can’t even trust you to go for a walk on your own, can  I?”

“Then you’ll have to stay with me, won’t you?”  I told her brightly.  “I need looking after.”

It was no night for righteous sleep.  We lay awake together, Angie and I, listening for the wail of sirens, half-expecting a heavy knocking on the door that might announce the presence of my father’s dreaded ‘chatties’.  Neither happened.  Did I wonder if two of my earlier attackers might return?  Honestly no.  I felt that our deterrent effect upon them would be sufficient to keep them busy with the accident and emergency department of Bedeport District Hospital at least until morning, by which time I would have had a meaningful discussion with Guy Harrison.  At the stroke of eight I limped along to the Town ground with exactly such an encounter in mind and was gratified by his pale mask of surprise when he saw me come through the doorway of the home dressing room unassisted by wheels.

If you have never entered a room in which, until the moment you thrust wide the door, you have been the occupants’ sole topic of conversation: if you have never been the object of dislike, maybe even hatred, of each one of those occupants; if you have never experienced a silence in that room of such toxicity the very air seems to be reaching for your throat, then it will be difficult for me to describe it for you.  Suffice it that no-one wanted to see me walk through the door, or had believed that I could; and from that I deduced that the plot to injure me had been shared, in some form or another, with everyone there.  It was a palpable moment, if a brief one.

“Yer late for training!”  Pascoe snapped.

“Injury, Joe.”  I told him.  “Flesh wound, nothing much but I’d better keep off it for a day or so.  I’ll be sorted by Saturday.”

“Sit in, then.  We’re going over tactics for Abberton.”

And that was that; but from it I saw, with refulgent clarity, the true undercurrent of resentment I caused in the first team at Casterley Town. I had offered friendship, without ever, as I can remember, dealing underhandedly with or deliberately offending any member of it, yet they disliked me with an obdurate resolve I would never break. If ever I wanted ratification of my decision to leave, it was given to me then.

In the meantime, I needed to keep Angie from becoming entangled in this thicket of plotting and to avoid further violence.  Where originally I had intended to confront Harrison with a direct threat, now it was simpler to channel my message through Pascoe.  As the other players walked coldly past me from the dressing room, I grabbed his arm.

“Can you tell them not to worry, Joe?  Between you and me, I won’t be here next season.  It’s not official yet, mind.  Can you, sort of, pass it around?”

Pascoe glowered at me.  “Ah don’t care if yer friggin’ leave or not.”

That was a bluntness typical of the man.  I didn’t mind;  I knew the message would get through.

With my mission completed, I returned to the apartment.  Our telephone was ringing.

“Chas?  Hi!  It’s Dave Corker, County Record; I hear you’re up for transfer.  What can you tell me, mate?”

“Unfounded speculation,”  I said.

 

© Frederick Anderson 2018.  All rights reserved. Each chapter of this book is a work of fiction.  All names, characters, businesses, organisations, places and events in the story or stories are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.  Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, places or events is entirely coincidental.  Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Frederick Anderson with specific direction to the original content

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Place that was Ours. Chapter Eleven – A New Page

It was a reflex action.  The naked man standing opposite me in the corridor of my home was Mackenzie Crabtree – no stranger to me – a man I had every reason to hate.  My fury took over.   I half-pushed, half shoulder-charged him, thrusting my full weight against his chest and sending him staggering backwards, off balance, into my mother’s room in what should only have been a beginning.  I would have finished him, then.  I would have followed him, crashing over the furniture to get to him.  I would have flayed him, pounded him until no sense remained in that arrogant head, but my intended follow-up never happened because my mother’s bedroom door, rebounding from some obstruction as it was thrust wide, sprang shut with the ferocity of a man trap.   Sounds of furniture splintering and my mother wailing in distress came from within, but as I made to throw the door open once more a hand gripped my arm, pulling me back.

“Coom away, man!”  Angie’s hand it was, restraining me.  Surprisingly strong, she interposed herself between me and the door.   “Chas!  Chas, pet!  Coom away, man,  Coom on!”

She pushed me back into my room, closing the door behind us.  She stood in front of me, neither of us wearing a stitch of clothing, with her hands clamped over her mouth and her whole body shaking.  “Oh, bloody ‘ell!”  She fluffed the words through her fingers:  she gasped the words through a gale of laughter.  And my anger left me.

She was convulsing, helpless.  “Man, you’ve no idea how bloody’ hilarious that were!  It were like a French farce or something!  That’s no way to treat yer guests!”

“What’s he doing with my mother?”

“Why, does that deserve an answer?”  Angie turned to pick up her clothes.  She threw my trousers at me.  “Here, get yerself covered.  I think wor might be interrupted soon.”

“You’re best out of this,”  I told her.  “I’ll take you home”

“Are you kiddin’?  Act two’s just startin’ hon.   I wouldn’t miss this for the world!”

She was right.  I was still zipping up and Angie was at the knickers and bra stage when my mother burst into the room.  She was wearing a slip, a flimsy thing trimmed with lace which put me in mind of a garment I had seen her wear some years before; in lilac then, in green satin now.

“I can’t wake him, Chas!  Friggin’ help me, will yer?  He hit he’s head on the dressing table as he fell.  I canna wake ‘im, Chas!  Ah think ye’ve killed ‘im!”

Mackenzie lay on his back with his head still resting on the top of the ruined dressing table, which had passed through the assembled part of its history and rediscovered its status as a flat-pack.  In a transient fit of propriety my mother had draped a towel over his nether regions.  His legs were already starting to kick around, as if anxious to prove he wasn’t dead.

“He’ll be brain damaged!”

“He won’t, Mam.  He knocked hisself out, that’s all.”  I gave Mack’s face a couple of slaps that may have been harder than they needed to be.  His eyes opened, glaring at me.  “There you are.  Give him some water, then get him out of here.  I’m guessin’ you’ve finished with him for tonight?”

“There’s no need for that, Chas!”

Had my mother been a woman blessed by the hand of wisdom she would have hustled Mackenzie Crabtree from the house then, as I advised.  I wish she had.  After Angie and I had returned to my room to finish dressing I heard the pair of them arguing, although the words were indistinct, and following that the sounds of footsteps on the stairs.  When we descended, though, Mack was slumped in the easy chair by the fire.  My mother was tending his head with a cold flannel.  His face was tinted a none-too-delicate shade of vermillion and he was clearly displeased.

“I want a word with you!”  He snarled.

“Gladly,”  I said; “But not tonight.  Frig off home, Mack!”

“He can’t drive.  He’s confused!”  My mother shrilled.  “You’ve bliddy ‘urt him, yer fool. An’ ‘e’s done nothing wrong, has he, like?”

“Nothing wrong!   He tried to get me put away that was wrong.  He’s in my house, that’s wrong.  He’s banging you when he’s married to Shelley, and god knows I don’t like her any more than him, but it’s still wrong!  Now get ‘im out, before I really hurt him!”

Mack launched himself at me, half-stumbling.  “You listen ‘ere, yer little frigger.  If you… ”

I stood my ground.  “If I what, Mack?  What will you do, eh?  What could you do, that you haven’t done already?  I’m not afraid of you, not no more.  There’s the door, man!”

He pushed his face close to mine.  His breath was a gale so foul I could almost taste it.  “Afraid of me?  You should be, lad.  You should be.  You don’t say a word about this, y’hear?  If you ever do, you’ll be the one who’s hurt, understand?  And that goes for you too, young lass.  Not a word.  Just keep quiet, both of you.   Mary…”  He turned to my mother, “talk some sense into him, right?”

Mackenzie Crabtree swung on his heel and stormed out of the door.

I summoned up a shaky smile for Angie, who had been standing at the foot of the stairs all this time with her mouth agape.   “Carlo’s still open.  Fancy a pizza?”

We sat in the storeroom-come-office at the back of Emporio Da Pizza and discussed my fate in lowered tones while Carlo and his son Darren dispatched their last orders of the night.  I no longer worked for Carlo, of course, but I still counted him as a friend, and he was happy to give us somewhere warm to sit and consume the best his oven could produce.

Angie was concerned.  “I never met ‘im before.  He’s a bad man, isn’t he?”

“He’s a frightened man, and when someone like Mack is frightened, he’s dangerous,” I told her.  “He’s a Councilor, and now he wants to be a Member of Parliament.  If word gets out he’s cheating on his wife…”

“What will you do?  You shouldn’t go back there, Chas; not tonight, like.”

I agreed I could do with some space.  “It’s my home, Ange.  Where else am I to go?”

“Just for tonight, yer could come to mine.”

“Oh, aye!  I can imagine your Da’ welcoming me with open arms!”

“He won’t mind, man!  They know we’ve slept together, yeah?”

“You’ve told them!”

“Why, nor’ever’body’s as old-fashioned as Mack, yer kna’?  No, I haven’t told ‘em, but they know.  Anyways, there’s a spare room.  You can sleep in there – least, you can start in there…”  She giggled.  “We’ll sort things out once they’re asleep.  If they’re not asleep already, like.”

Angie was right.  Her parents were broad-minded and besides, I think they saw me as an ideal soulmate for their daughter.   Malcolm, her dad, was a Casterley supporter, Debbie, her mother, shared his generous spirit.  I liked them a lot.

Darren wandered through, on his way to the alley with the first of the takeaway’s waste bins.  “Glad that one’s over!”  He said cheerfully.  “T’scooter’s a bugger in this weather.  Ah reckon ye’ knackered it, Chas!”

“It were knackered already,”  I told him. Then, to Angie: “Tomorrow I’ll look for my own place.  Can’t live back home, not now.”

Early the next morning I found my mother in our kitchen, sorting laundry.  Dressing gowned and bleary-eyed, she blinked at me.   “Where’ve you been?”

“I slept over Angie’s.”  I had left home after confronting Mack with only the clothes I stood up in.  This morning I was compelled to go back to get my training gear.  “I’m getting myself a place,” I said.

“Oh man, why?  You movin’ in with Angie?”

“No.  I’m movin’ out of here.  I can’t stay here, Mam.”

My mother’s face began to crumple.  “Chas, man, don’t blame me.  You don’t have to leave me, do yer?  Wharama ganna do wi’out yer?”

“You’ll manage.  Get Mack to take care of you.  You’ll have the house all to yourselves, and I’m sure he’ll be pleased to make you a little allowance, like – especially if it’s the price for keeping me quiet.”

“He already does.”

“What?”

My mother had begun punching laundry into the washing machine as though her clothing was the cause of all her misfortunes.  “Look around yer, Chas!  D’yer remember when we was short of money last?  D’yer remember when you’s was always persterin’ wor for presents wor couldn’t afford?  Don’t us live a little better na?  Did y’think the Benefit was payin’ for all this?”

I stood justly accused.  I had been so set upon my own career, so occupied with my own concerns I hadn’t seen the little changes my mother had wrought within our home.  The kitchen with better units now, new covers on the chairs, curtains replaced, a new carpet in the front room.   Had I really believed her evening job with the taxi firm had paid for it all?  Or was it just convenient to avoid asking the difficult questions?

“You and Mack.  How long have you been…”

“When yer brought the Social down on us, an’ I thought I was goin’ ter lose me job. He came then.”

“That’s two years.  Two years!?  He’s been givin’ you money for two years?”  The full weight of revulsion struck me.  “He’s been coming here for two years!  And I’ve not known?”

“Nah, Chas, not all the time.  Jus’ now and then, when I needed the cash, y’kna’?   Not when he were takin’ yer to court – not then, Chas.   I wouldn’t do that ter yer, man!”

“Oh, sure!  But the week before, and the week after….”

“No!  It weren’t offen.  Mebbees a half dozen times, that’s all.”  She grabbed my arms.  “Chas, we was friends from way back.  You kna’ that – remember the times yer used to go visiting wi’ David and Susan?  When Mack heard yer Da’ left me, an’ ah was down on my luck?  He helped out, y’see?”

“I do see.  A true friend!  It’s so hard to put an hourly rate on generosity, isn’t it, Ma?”

“It isn’t the way you think it is, son.  Really not.”  My mother paused to sort the strong colours from the bottom of her basket of clothes.  “Looka, whatever yer think of me, stay here, man!  As long as you don’t say nothing, Mack won’t harm yer.  I made ‘im promise he wouldn’t harm yer, Chas.”

“Oh aye, like he always keeps his promises?  No, Mam, I won’t hide from him, but staying here makes me just a little too easy to find.”

There was a tangle of blues and yellows that she put to one side.  There was the green satin slip she had worn last night, there was…thin and flimsy…one garment more.  She held it up briefly to fold and then, as though she suddenly realized what she was doing, slipped it quickly from sight at the bottom of the pile.  It was too late.  I had recognized the red dress.

Speechless, I picked up my training kit bag.  I clutched it to my chest as if it were a child.  I turned away.  I walked out of the door.

You can, and do, walk away from many things in life, but you can’t walk away from the questions, the memories, the host of images from your past that need no camera to engrave their likeness on your mind, no album to keep them fresh.  They meet you at every street corner, they admit themselves unbidden in every idle moment, they find you as you lay your head to sleep.  Wherever you sleep.  If – ever – you sleep.

In wakefulness now, I can see myself on that morning, knowing.  Because I did know, even then, even as it happened, that its message would relay itself to me again and again down the years.  It was a seminal moment I would never forget, the step from that door and the closing behind me that locked away all of my childhood and all of my growing forever.

I attended training, accepting all of Joe Pascoe’s carps and snarls, barely noticing as the hours passed.  Some sort of desperation drove me, a pressure not to pause, not to think.  As soon as I was released I headed for the largest of Casterley’s two letting agents to begin the process of finding  myself an apartment – not difficult, you’d think, for Casterley Town’s new star striker, and not difficult in any town where the supply of accommodation far outstripped demand, especially on a cold day in January.   I had reckoned without the agents’ reluctance to leave a warm office, which put much of the day behind me, idly kicking at intransigence, unable to control, unable to dictate.  It was already dark when I got to view a first floor flat in a townhouse that was no more than ten minutes’ walk from the town, and I liked it well enough, for all that there is no chill like the chill of empty, unfurnished rooms in an empty house.

“The bottom flat’s available too, for a slightly higher rent – the garden goes with that one.   The owners of the house have moved to Dubai.  We’d have to get you approved, of course.”

She was a nice enough girl, just doing her job to the worst of her ability.  She was cold and showed it. “How quickly can you get me in?”  I asked her.

“Oh, within a week I should think.”

“Tomorrow?”

I was not without a roof.  Angie’s mother had already set her seal of approval on her daughter’s guest and I could manage that week if I wanted, but I was driven.  One door had closed, I wanted the portal to my new life to be opened – I wanted to step through.

“I’ll see what I can do.  When I tell them who it is…”

I took the garden apartment, on the mistaken premise that because it was a little more expensive the deal might be done more quickly.  In the event it took three days, during which the agents stripped my bank account with ruthless efficiency.

“They wanted a grand for a deposit,” I told Malcolm, Angie’s Da’, over tea.  “And then the rent on top of that.  It won’t leave me enough for furniture.   I’ll be sleeping on the floor.”

Malcolm was a tower of a man with receding hair and many chins that concertinaed when he looked down at his hands, something he often did when he was deep in thought.  He worked for the local council and his network of friends and acquaintances was endless.  Everyone liked Malc, as he was commonly known.   “A bugger ‘tis, that.”  He agreed.  “When’s’a get the keys?”

“It would be Saturday.  The team’s away to Calhampton this week though, so I won’t be back ‘til about twelve.  Is it all right to shack up here one more night?  I’ll pay you back, I promise.”

“Nay, you’ll pay me nowt, lad!  Lissen, can you set it up so our Ange collects the keys for yer?  You’ll be able to get over there on Sunday and get stuck in, then, won’t yer?”

“Thanks, Malc.  Good idea.  I’ll meet her for lunch tomorrow and we’ll drop in at the agents.”

“What’s the prospects then, wi’ Calhampton?   Are wor goin’ ter win, d’y’think?”

“Win?  We’ll have to.  I need the bonus!”

Calhampton was third in our league, and a three hundred mile tortuous journey in our team coach, which meant any vehicle the local tour company had to offer that week, after they had fulfilled their other obligations.  This particular week’s choice did at least promise a safe arrival, something that had not always been a given in the past, but I hated the long journeys.  Atmosphere between myself and the rest of the lads had thawed somewhat, so there was room for a certain amount of cut and thrust, but most of the time it was stultifying.   I read books, I listened to tapes, I slept.  Even the prospect of a match in a seaside town offered little solace.  Hours of those unwanted memories and acres of fresh regret awaited me and I was powerless to keep them at bay.  Had I wronged my mother?  Was she genuinely in love with Mack?  What if the red dress was just that and no more?  What if those legs had belonged to some other unknown woman and I had jumped to conclusions once again?

Worst of all, it seemed to me that Sue’s voice was reaching out to me in the silence, sympathizing, telling me she understood my hurting, but insistent.  “She is your mother, Chas.  If there’s one person in the whole world who deserves your forgiveness, it’s her.  She raised you.  You can’t turn your back on her.”

The Calhampton game was an exhausting affair, one from which I could claim little glory because the home side had a valiant left back who stuck to me like glue.  Patrick Boyle and I would become close friends later in our respective careers, but I was still learning how to deal with the better class of defender that afternoon, and he kept me subdued so thoroughly that I failed to score – the first time that had happened to me since Pascoe had allowed me to wear the number nine.

people-men-grass-sport“Thanks,”  I said heavily, as we left the field together.

Patrick grinned at me.  “Not at all.  I hope I get you next time!”

We still faced our return journey after playing the match to a draw, a result that seemed to please Pascoe.  Whether as a consequence of the emotional upheaval of the last few days, or of the match itself, I slept for most of the eight hours we spent on the coach.

It was nearly one-thirty before I finally arrived at the Carey household to find Angie waiting up for me, with cocoa and secret smiles, full of the news she had picked up my keys; then gone to look at the apartment herself ‘just to be sure they were the right ones’.

“It’s a fabulous place, Chas.  It’s just great!  Can I come over with you tomorrow?”

I poured myself into bed to sleep, fitfully, for another six hours.

Sunday morning was born bright and dazzling; sun on snow.  Angie and I rattled in an empty house as we ate breakfast.

“Where’re your parents?”  I asked.

“Oh, they’ve gone to church, I ‘spect.”

“They’re not religious, are they?”

“Sometimes.”  Angie was bubbling with eager energy.

“What are you going to do in the flat?”  She asked as she bounded beside me on our walk towards the town.

“I don’t know yet.  I’ll have to get a bed from somewhere, I guess.  Hey, slow down will you, antsy?”

We should accept, I suppose, that whenever we close a door, finish a chapter in our lives, those who care about us will be anxious to help us journey to the new page; so I should not have been surprised to see Malcolm’s van parked in The Avenue, outside the townhouse at number fifteen.  Nor could I find it in my heart to express anything but delight when I entered my new front door to discover Angie’s paint-spattered parents standing proudly, brushes in hand, amidst freshly painted walls.

“We’re just about finished, lad.”  Malcolm declared.  “Debbie’s still doing the little kitchen ‘cause it needs a bit o’cleaning, whiles you and me can get the furniture in, awreet?”

What furniture?  A van loaded with furniture, and another load waiting at the Council Store.  Carpets, a double bed, a table, chairs, sofa, television, washing machine – the resource, it seemed, was inexhaustible.  As I supported my end of the heavier items, Angie ran in and out of the flat with crockery, ornaments, even a couple of paintings.

“Malc, I’ll never be able to afford all this!”  I protested, from my end of a wardrobe.

“Nay, lad, there’s nowt to afford.  Awreet, some o’ it costs a bit, but yer can pay me back whenever.  See, most o’ this is stuff the Council disposes of, anyways.  There’s nowt wrong wi’ it, don’t misunderstand me, but they nivver bother to auction it off.  It’s furniture and effects from council properties that get abandoned.  It happens all the time, the tenant does a runner, or maybe gets took into hospital and doesn’t come out.  Sad to see it go to waste.  I’ve a mate in house clearances, so we’re doin’ ‘im a bit of a favour, actual, like.”

It was a full day of toil in which the whole Carey family acquitted themselves amazingly, and they could never have known just how grateful I was. At the end of it, when the sun had long since departed, I tried to insist upon buying everyone dinner, which of course they refused.  Malcolm and Debbie left, Angie did not.

“I just wanted to have a minute with you.”

She was nervous, expectant, maybe a little scared.  We looked around my new place together, already a home with furniture, not all of which might have been my choice, but I had no complaint.  She fussed, making little adjustments here and there, tidied some small things, straightened others – until at last we faced each other in the living room with nowhere else to go.

“We was lucky t’get the keys early so wor could finish most of the painting yesterday,”  She said, speaking too quickly.  “A’had to scrub mesen’ raw when I got home to clean it all off.  If I’d smelt of paint it would have spoiled the surprise!”

“It was a brilliant surprise!”  I said.

“Do you like it?”

“I do, very much.”

“I should be getting home.”

Was I corralled into it?  Was I cornered?  The significance of the double bed was not lost on me.  Throughout the day, Debbie and Malcolm had been careful to avoid saying anything about my relationship with their daughter.  Throughout the same day, Angie had been held in thrall by my new adventure.  No, I did not feel trapped, or obligated; rather, I felt glad I would not be starting my new page alone.

I found the unspoken question in Angie’s eyes.  “Can you stay?” I asked.

“Tonight?  I don’t know if I should, like.  Ma’ and Da’ll be expecting…”

“Not just tonight.”

At those times when I could make her happy, Angie had a smile that was like the breaking of a summer dawn.  “Why, ah don’t know!  That’s a very big thing to ask, Chas Haggerty!”  Then, as she tried to turn away because she felt embarrassed by her tears, I held her so she would rest her head on my shoulder instead.

And Angie stayed.

 

© Frederick Anderson 2018.  Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Frederick Anderson with specific direction to the original content.

 

 

 

 

.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

.

A Place that was Ours. Chapter Eight – Nel and the Albino

The shadow of my forthcoming court appearance loomed large on the Wednesday evening when I dutifully turned up for football practice with Casterley Town Juniors.  I was so preoccupied with the prospect (as foretold by Trevor Bull) of a certain custodial sentence that even the news I would be wearing the number seven shirt for our season’s first match two weeks thence did little to lighten my mood.  I said nothing, but privately doubted I would be able to honour that commitment.  Danny, picked to wear the number eight, tried his best to encourage me, although he was as much aware of the sitting magistrates’ fearsome reputation as Trevor.

“H’away, man, it might not be that bad, y’na?  Time soon passes, dunnit?”

The general ethos that evening was ecstatic:  Casterley Juniors had only beaten Maberley Juniors twice in twenty years, and never by a margin of three goals.   Danny and I were interlopers, though, which caused a certain amount of atmosphere despite Jack Masters’ careful avoidance of any particularly targeted praise.  My newspaper article did not help.  Throughout the session I was reminded of my new-found fame:

“Don’t just sit on’t ball, man, pass it to The Star!”

“Star!  Star!  Ah’m bloody out here, man.  Hand it off!”

We were to practice again the following week for our impending match with Hall Park.  This was to be an away game against a side with a tendency towards the physical.  Jack’s comment as we broke up betrayed his concern:

“If you haven’t got shin guards, buy some!”

Dusk was gathering as I turned the corner into our street, one of those rare, rose-red sunsets that cast a wash of pink over grey tarmac, grey slates and grey walls.   Our town, never beautiful, never sensual, clothes its native hills with a beguiling dignity at certain times and this was one.   Such was the oasis of peace I found there, the sense of tranquil waters in a day of stormy seas, that I caught myself softening my tread upon the paving, as if in reverence.  But then, suddenly, the Wednesday peace was shattered.  An ancient Audi, a road warrior, screeched around one corner at speed, blasted its discordant anger at walls that rattled back, screeched around another corner, and was gone.   In its memory it left a pungent aroma of hot catalyser, a blue haze and a deeper, more silent silence.

Sue was erased from my life unless, somehow, I could fight for her.  A disturbance, climactic and profound, that had been as brief as a warrior car in its passing, with as much nobility, as much intractable fury as a fierce act of love could muster, now over and silent ever after.  Just a blue haze of memory and a darker, deeper silence.  I would always love her, I would never forget her.  Did she, would she, remember me?

‘This is how it’s got to be, Chas.  It’s for the best.’

A slam of a front door, the door of my home, brought me to myself.  A female figure, tall and formidable, was storming away up the street in a fusillade of heels.   Shelley Crabtree, freshly outraged.

I found my mother in our living room, pacing angrily.

“What did she want?”  I asked.

“What did she want?  What did she want?”  My mother shrilled.  “You might well ask, what did she want!  T’think I used to be friends wi’ that woman!  Bloody bitch!  Bloody, friggin’ bitch!”

Not for a long while, not since her last towering row with my father, had I seen my mother so incensed.  She was wringing her hands so tightly her knuckles were white and the muscles in her neck stood as proud and taut as hawsers.  Those eyes I had thought to have cried themselves dry many years ago were red with tears.

“Chas; Chas, pet.  They’ve got it all sorted out!  Mack, he knows the magistrates.  That cow, she wants you to plead guilty to buggering her bloody windows, plead guilty to all of it, or…”

“Oh aye?”  I couldn’t keep the tremor from my voice; “Or what, Ma?”

“Or she says Mack’s going to have you charged with rape.”  My mother shook her head convulsively, as though trying to loose herself from the malevolent black crow of misfortune that had sunk its talons in her skull.  “Oh, and she’s goin’ to dob us in for workin’ on the knock, and I don’ kna’ what else, so ah’l have nae money.  Oh, Chas, man!”

Ours was not a tactile relationship.  I could not remember the last time I had put my arms around my mother in an embrace.  It felt awkward, I felt inhibited, even now when I could tell how desperately she needed – not so much to be loved, but to know she was not standing against her world alone.   I held her, feeling the strangeness of unaccustomed intimacy, for a while, until those tightened sinews in her neck and shoulders relaxed.   “Is that what I’m to do, then?”  I asked her at last.  “Do you want me to say I’m guilty, Ma?”

She plucked a grubby handkerchief from her sleeve to mop her eyes.  “I dunno.  You didn’t do nothing bad to young Susan, did you?  Tell me you didn’t Chas:  tell me the truth, pet!”

“No, Ma, I didn’t.  I wouldn’t ever hurt Sue; you must know that.”

“That’s the truth, is it then?  I suppose I do.”  My mother sniffed, drawing back from me.  “As much as I kna’ anythin’ anymore.”

“Why is she doing this?”  I wondered.  “She doesn’t think I should go out with her daughter; well, she’s fixed that.  Does Mack honestly believe I attacked his house?  What’s it about?”

“If I knew, son, I’d tell yer.  I don’t know.  You’ll have to decide what’s best to do.  I’m going to tell Bertie I can’t work for him no more, unless he puts me on his books.  We’ll have to manage on just the benefits if I can’t get nothing else.”

I carried the mystery of it all away to my bed that night, lying awake for long hours into the morning, thinking about what was to come, listening to the clock ticking down, and wondering why I did not quite believe my mother.

Thursday dawned, as all dread days inevitably must.  I dressed in my best charity shop shirt, tie, bomber and trousers, then my mother summoned me downstairs, already feeling like an errant schoolboy, to be cooked a wholesome breakfast of fried eggs with sausages, fried bread and black pudding.   As an only child who rarely ate more than cereal and toast for breakfast it was hard for me to escape the inference; perhaps this was to be my last meal at home for some time – Ma was not expecting me back for tea.

Mother and son, then, we sat side by side on the Bedeport bus, rattled and jarred like two wooden marionettes; facing forward, unspeaking, thoroughly ill at ease.  The Casterley to Bedeport route included a bus stop right outside the County Court building.   It was a request stop, so the moment either of us stood to press the bell our destination and our purpose was clear.  I could feel the eyes of the other passengers on my back as we descended to the street, and as the bus pulled away behind us, my mother and I, I am sure I heard the jury go into session.

The County Court was a modern building, light and spacious.  Perhaps its generously proportioned vestibule, or maybe the people who were already waiting there, made me feel intimidated,?    Nel Kershaw, who stood apart from them, earnestly warned us against speaking to anyone.  This for the benefit of my mother, who had already bridled at the sight of Shelley and Mackenzie Crabtree, engaged in discussion with a man of middle years whose improbably luxuriant white hair overflowed his collar.

“You look smart!”  Nel treated me to a bright smile.  “Be yourself, Charles, okay, and whatever you do, be respectful.  Don’t get cross.”

“I won’t” I assured her.  “Who’s the albino?”

She chuckled.  “He’s representing The Crown.  His name is Charles, too.  Charles Cole – and he isn’t an albino!   Try to relax, everyone here has your welfare in mind.     We want to do what’s best for you.”

“They don’t!”  My mother responded bluntly, nodding towards the Crabtrees.

An hour elapsed before we were ushered into the courtroom by a spare, sallow clerk.    Whatever my expectations, the room seemed innocuous enough, as amply lit as the waiting area and lined with light oak veneer.  There were seats laid out in three rows and a dock, but I took a chair beside Nel in  the front row of seats.  My mother sat on the row behind us, Mr. Cole on the front row to our right, the Crabtrees in the seats behind him, and the detective constable from the day of my arrest, with a burly companion (obviously there to restrain any over-exuberance on my part) to the right of my mother.  Three red leather-backed chairs faced us from behind a close-fronted desk on a dais at the front of the room, and a substantial woman with a stenotype occupied a little booth to the left.   We were asked to stand as a door beside the red chairs opened and the two magistrates entered.

“Only two?”  I whispered to Nel.   After all, there were three chairs, weren’t there?

“For a case like this, yes.”  She nodded.  “Sometimes it’s three.”

They seated themselves on two of the red chairs, the magistrates, and we sat down too.  Throughout my appearance I remained unsure which was Councillor Taylor and which was Mr Stuart March.  I improvised my own identification, naming the bloated, bucolic man in blazer and cords Councillor Taylor, because he was reasonably close to my image of how a Councillor should look.  Ruddy in appearance, almost hairless, when he sat down his eyes bulged like a frog.  His companion, he whom I entitled Stuart March, fitted my mind’s image of a magistrate:  grey suited, thin, wispy, and generously thatched.   He seemed to have a crooked back, for throughout my hearing his head remained bowed, forcing him to look at me through a pair of brambly eyebrows.

The one I have named Taylor stared down upon us.   “Who is the accused here?”  His voice was breathy, and the breath was short, so he spoke in gusts.

Nel made a gesture of rising to her feet, and nodded in my direction.  “Charles Haggerty, your worship.”

Taylor addressed the pale, slight man who had ushered us in.   “Mr Trevelyan, this is a criminal case, isn’t it?”

“Er, yes Sir.”

“Very well, then, put the accused in the dock.  We won’t have slipshod standards in our court.”

Nel muttered:  “Oh, really!”  A heavy police hand clamped on my shoulder and propelled me from my seat around the back of the room to the little pulpit enclosure that was an accusation in itself.   Mackenzie Crabtree observed my progress, his face creased in a sneer that was less than pleasant, but it was Nel’s protest that encouraged me.   “May I respectfully remind your worships that Mr Haggerty is a juvenile?”

“We need no such reminder, young woman.”  March retorted.  “Read the charges, if you please, Mr Trevelyan?”

Little Trevelyan recited the allegations against me.  Taylor stared at me:  “Mr Haggerty, I trust you are going to save us all a lot of time by entering a guilty plea to this?”

Nel’s fury wafted up to me.  I could almost hear her tongue being bitten.  “Sir, my client wishes to enter separate pleas to each charge.”  Taylor flashed daggers at her.  He sighed heavily.  “Very well.  Read each charge individually, Mr Trevelyan.”

And Mr. Trevelyan did.  I entered my guilty plea to the charge of damage to William Hill’s shop window, then pleaded innocence to the others.  The Crabtrees’ reaction to this was barely restrained:  Mackenzie twisted his neck to look back at me with such explosive anger I startled like a scared rabbit, while Shelley hissed something inaudible across the centre aisle at my mother.  My mother showed no restraint at all.

“Don’t threaten me, yer slattern!”   She got to her feet, advancing on Shelley, and forcing the Detective Constable to step quickly across her path.

March’s voice slid between them like a flow of arctic ice.   “Order in this court.  Madam, if you interrupt proceedings again we shall evict you.  Sit down.”

The chill was contagious, apparently.   My mother sat down as if she had been punched.  I caught a glimpse of Mr Trevelyan’s raised eyebrows.  In her little booth the stenographer, who had been typing every sniff, continued tapping with the confidence of one who knew how to spell ‘slattern’.

Details of damage to the shop window were read out, together with an estimate of costs.  Mackenzie gave his evidence, prompted expertly by the albino, giving him opportunity to accuse me of assaulting his daughter.  Nel rose to her feet to object – I was not being tried for attacking Ms Crabtree.

Nel was ruthlessly efficient in dissecting Mackenzie’s story.   She asked him to recognise a copy of his own statement to the police, and as he squinted and leant forward to read it she pounced.   “This is no more than six feet away in broad daylight and you have difficulty in reading it, Mr Crabtree.  How close do you claim to have been to this assailant, standing as you were in your first floor window, at night, overlooking your unlit drive?”

“I saw him clearly.  He broke our windows.  It was his voice shouting.  It was him.”  Mackenzie pointed straight at me.  “He’s a danger to me and my family.  He should be put away.”

It was my mother’s fifth shouted accusation of “liar!” at about this time that finally got her thrown out of the courtroom.  Thereafter proceedings ground on for another hour; evidence from the arresting officer and production of a file by Mr Trevelyan that was, if I recall, Hubert Powell’s report concerning my adequacy as a human being; throughout all of which their worshipss slouched in their leather-backed chairs with expressions of bored disinterest.   The clock was nudging midday when the albino produced David Crabtree’s written testimony that he had seen me in the Crabtree’s drive when the windows had been broken.

Nel was on her feet instantly.  “Is he here?  Your worships, this is a material witness.  We have a right to cross-examine.”

Taylor huffed.  “I’m afraid she’s right, Mr. Cole.  Can you produce him?”

“Not immediately, your worship.”

“Well, you had better try to find him.  Madam..erm…Kershaw, do you have anyone else you want to call?”

“I have a witness who will testify my client was at home at the time of the alleged offence, sir.”

“Is this person here?” March enquired.

“Somewhere, sir.  You evicted her.”

“Ah.  His mother then.  No doubt she will insist he was playing cards with her, or some such.  Is her testimony corroborated?  No, of course it wouldn’t be, would it?  Let’s move on, shall we,  Mr. Cole?”

The albino assented. Nel tried to object, but Taylor dismissed her with a gesture.  She said, coldly: “I’d like the opportunity for my client to take the stand?”

“Very well, we’ll adjourn for an hour.  Get some lunch.  Mr. Cole, if you can produce your witness we’ll hear his testimony, and that of Mr Haggerty, when we re-convene.  If not, we’ll make our judgement on the evidence we have.  We’ve spent enough time on this”

Outside in the corridor there was visible panic in the Crabtree camp.  Nel commented.  “They somehow have to get young David here for one o’clock if they want his evidence to be admissible.  I can only think that they believed he wouldn’t be needed.  In other words, they had reason to suppose you would plead guilty.   Could that be true?”

My mother watched Shelley Crabtree as she hastened away towards the telephone booths at the end of the foyer.  “Her.”  She said.  She told her story of the previous evening, inducing Nel’s eyebrows to rise higher and higher.

“Really?  Mr Crabtree made that accusation just this morning, didn’t he?  Look, I have to do some catching up – life goes on, back at the office.  I’ll meet you here again at One.”

“Miss Kershaw?”  I caught her as she was turning away.

“Call me Nel, please.  What is it Charles?”

“Have we got a chance?”

“I don’t know.  We’ll soon see.”

My mother was even less encouraging, if that was possible.  “I don’t know, son.  All the while I was in there, them two mag’strates just sat like they was half asleep, not payin’ attention, y’kna?  I think they’d got their minds made up before they comed out of that door, meself.”

We ate some sandwiches my mother had packed, sitting on a bench in a small park behind the court building.  The wind was rising, clouds gathering for rain.  As people rushed about us, hither and thither, I wondered what detention would be like, and how, once I was inside, I would pass the time.  It could not be for long, my incarceration, but suddenly freedom seemed extraordinarily important, somehow.

My mother nudged me.  “Leave yer crumbs for the pigeons, pet.  Time we was getting back.”

Shelley had not been able to find her son, so Nel moved that his evidence be set aside, and this was accepted, grudgingly as I thought, by Councillor Taylor.  All that was left was for me to take the stand and read off the oath that was written on the card:  “I swear by Almighty God that…”

Nel questioned me kindly.  She asked me to repeat my guilty plea to the shop window damage, then confirm my innocence of the other charges.  “Where were you when the alleged crimes were committed?”

“I was at home.”

“And you had no knowledge of offences against Mr Crabtree’s home and person until you learned about them in your interview with Detective Constable Worsley?”

“None.”

Did you break the windows of Mr Crabtree’s home?”

“No.”

“Did you threaten Mr Crabtree’s person?”

“No.”

The albino (as I had entitled him – his eyes were actually brown) stood up.  “Mr Haggerty, I’m puzzled.  Why are you so antagonistic towards Mr Crabtree?”

I shook my head.  “I’m not.  He used to be friends with my Da.”

“And yet you were heard shouting your threats of violence against him in the street, at the dead of night, and you broke a shop window.  Why?”

“His daughter was a – a close friend.  He took her away, told me I couldn’t see her anymore.  I was drunk.  I didn’t mean the things I said.”

“The exact words you used, I believe, were: ‘I’m going to slit him’.  Is that right?”

“It’s just an expression, sir.  Not something I was going to do. I know that was wrong.  I’ll never use those words again.”  I added, humbly.

“Yet you did use them again – those exact words – to his face, as he looked down on you from his bedroom window.”

“No, sir.  I wasn’t there.  I didn’t go to his house.  I never, sir.”

As soon as Cole had finished questioning me, Nel stood up.  “One further question, Charles.  Earlier, Mr. Crabtree accused you of assault against his daughter.  Is that true?”

“No, Ma’am.  I would never hurt Sue.  I love her.”

Other than the growls of Crabtree protest at my declaration, the room dropped into an expectant hush.  Their worships Taylor and March conferred.  It was a brief discussion.   Stuart March turned his eyebrows in my direction.

“Young man, you plead guilty to the charge of criminal damage.  For this offence the court sentences you to perform 40 hours of community service.

“As to damage to Mr Crabtree’s property and threats made against his person – this Court feels it should set an example.”  He fixed me with a fierce look; “So we consider a custodial sentence should be appropriate to this case.   However, prosecution asks us to rely only on Mr Crabtree’s recollection of events, and…”  March waved a sheet of paper from the desk before him;  “A respected teacher in your community who is also your football coach,  apparently feels you have a successful career beckoning.   So…”  the magistrate’s face softened into his version of a smile…”We shall sentence leniently and bind you over to keep the peace for a period of one year, during which you do not approach Mr or Mrs Crabtree or go within five hundred yards of their home.  Mr Haggerty, you are free to go.”

I’ll admit to my jubilation,  I’ll admit that in the exuberance of my gratitude I performed a small and totally ridiculous dance in that big, airy foyer as I spouted a verbal shower of thanks over Nel Kershaw’s head, and I will admit it took a full minute for me to realise she was not smiling.

“Charles, there’s something I think I would be wise to tell you.  At lunchtime I spent a lot of effort trying to find someone who, because of what your mother told me, might have assisted our case; someone I thought might have been loyal to you.   I couldn’t find her.  In fact, no-one seems to be able to find her.

“Susan Crabtree has vanished.”

 

© Frederick Anderson 2018.  Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Frederick Anderson with specific direction to the original content.