Sue Crabtree stood in the shadow of the bridge with the river at her back, pale in t-shirt and jeans, and when she saw me she brushed her ringlets of hair back from her face, so nothing should hide her solemn expression, her downcast eyes. She did not smile. “They know what we did.” She said, tearful.
“Did you tell them?”
“They just – knew. They want us to stop seeing each other.” She spoke so quietly I could barely hear her.
“Your parents.” I said. “They can’t stop us, can they?” Wanting her to say no, she wouldn’t obey them, that I was more important to her than some stupid threat from her father. “Sue, we can still keep seeing each other. You can get away, can’t you? I mean, we can get away – get away from here, you and I, Sue.”
She did not answer.
“What’s wrong?” I struggled to keep the plea from my voice, fought back the unmanly tears that were trying to make themselves known. “Are you frightened of your Da’- because I can handle him for you?”
“It’s not just my Da. Chas, Mam’s been telling me some things…”
“Oh aye, I don’t doubt that! She was telling me some things too!”
“Don’t be too hard on her. She’s right, Chas. I’ve got a lot left I want to do, and I don’t…look, if we keep seeing each other, Da’s going to make it really bad for you. I know he is! And us – it’s going to happen again, yeah? We just got too close, Chas, too close.”
I moved forward, desperate to touch her but she stepped back, almost flinching away from me. “No, don’t! Don’t!”
“All year it’s been you told me I had to be faithful to you, that you had dreams too. What happened to them?”
“I was wrong.” Sue said miserably. “I was wrong and I’m sorry. I’m so, so sorry. Chas, this is really hard for me. I’d do anything not to hurt you, but I think we should stay away from one another, at least for a while.” Her eyes met my own and I could see the tears there. “Just for a while.”
“I had to see you. I couldn’t just drop out of your life without saying anything. I couldn’t do that.”
“This is how it’s got to be, Chas. It’s for the best.”
She reached out, gave my hand a quick squeeze, then before I could return the grip she was running away from me, up the lane towards the town.
Shaken as I was, sometime would elapse before I, too, made my way up through the dereliction of The Fellings, following that gloomy, winding lane of moss-covered cobbles and dank shadows that even summer’s raw heat could not penetrate. Walking away from a place of memories I must now wipe from my mind.
If you forgive me I will not share my feelings on that friendless evening, or recount which of the many streets I walked, or how the hours passed. I will draw a veil over the secret places that I found where I might hide my face from the world. These were private things which, although I remember them all, are too personal to ever be revealed.
Somehow, the night passed and I did not go down to the bridge, although I thought of it. Perhaps, if I had known what the next morning would bring I might have succumbed to that temptation, because at eight o’clock while my mother was still in bed came the hammer on the door, and when I pulled back my curtain there were two police cars in the street.
Here I must pause to explain, for if you are not working class, or you did not live upon those tight urban streets where the houses huddled to one another in rebuttal of the storm, or upon one of those council-built estates whose noble purpose once was the housing of the poor, you would not understand. The police always adjudged themselves defenders of the middle class, saw it as their duty to seek their offenders among the working class; and class, to the police, was an address, and no more. If you were middle class, living on the hill and your son or daughter should offend, you did not need to fear; a discreet visit from a uniformed officer would serve to correct what was obviously an error of judgement, a mistake. There would be a conversation, firm but polite, and the arm of the law would depart, in most cases without charges being made.
If you lived on a street like ours, then you were by default a threat to society. The uniforms would arrive in force, overrule all argument, and decide upon your guilt according to the set model in their minds that your address dictated. It is now as it was then – little enough has changed, and the class divisions are as stark as they ever were, but years from those times I understand it now: I look back and see why four officers pushed me aside and entered my mother’s house that early morning, demanding she rise from her bed. In their eyes I was guilty of whatever accusation had been levelled; my cause was lost before I even knew there was a cause to lose.
We were bundled to the Police Station without ceremony, thrust into an interview room and seated before a table occupied by two others, a woman and a man. It was the man who did the talking.
“You’ve been a busy little lad.” He was wearing the deliberately casual clothes of CID; a tan leather jacket, summer-weight green trousers and a white t-shirt. For all I know he was wearing the Miami Vice slip-on casual shoes, too – if I noticed, I can’t remember. He had a young face, full cheeks, a narrow mouth that muttered to itself even when he wasn’t talking, and eyes; grey eyes that accused. He flapped the file he was holding up in front of me. “Says here you’ve been very naughty, Mister Haggerty. Do you want to tell me about it?”
“No,” I said. I was feigning ignorance. What did he mean?
My mother, seated beside me, was still waking up. The woman across the table from her was no more than twenty-five years old, thin as a willow twig and dressed smartly in a lilac suit No-one introduced her to us, although she also had a file with my name printed on the corner.
“All right then,” Said the Detective Constable, “let’s start with a question: Monday morning, really early, say about 12:30am, where were you?”
“I was at home in bed, I expect.”
“He was.” My mother interjected. “He was home with me, all night.”
“Really?” The DC smirked unpleasantly. “I’ve got CCTV footage says you were on Front Street, shouting some things. Good light on Front Street; helps the camera: it’s clearly you, lad. And there’s an eyewitness who lives in the flat over the shop; you woke him up with your swearing, so he saw you do it. Then we’ve been having a chat with a taxi driver says he picked you up from Front Street. He couldn’t deny it; camera evidence shows his registration plate. So, will I ask you again?”
“It wasn’t me. Must have been somebody else. Mistaken identity, see?” I hoped I was sounding convincing. I knew I wasn’t.
“You dragged us all the way down ‘ere, just ‘cause he was drunk and disorderly?” My mother’s vocal cords were finding their pitch. “You must be mental, man!”
“I didn’t say he was drunk. Irrational behaviour, not always drink. Can be drugs, too. You put out William Hills’ window, are you still going to try and deny it?”
“Aye. Wasn’t me.”
“Very well.” The Detective Constable sighed. “I’ll put that on your statement, shall I?”
“Why? Is this going to court? Just because you think I broke a window?”
“No, lad, not just because you broke a window. Next question – around about the same time last night, where were you?”
“I was at home, in bed. What are you accusing me of this time?”
“Believe it or not…” The Detective Constable produced a photograph from his folder, “…this is the sort of stuff we have to present as state’s evidence, these days.” He placed the picture on the table so I could see it. “Do you recognise this?”
I studied it as carefully as I could, which was not too carefully, because I was shaking, for some reason. “It’s a stone.”
“That’s right. A stone. Not up to much, is it? But it should give you a clue where this is going, young Haggerty. Now tell me again; where were you around midnight last night, please, and I want you to think hard about your answer.”
I was suddenly aware that the eyes of the thin woman in lilac were staring straight at me, They were green eyes, very large and somehow hypnotic. The detective was asking me another question:
“Do you know the address 32 Lampeter Drive?”
I came to myself. The reminder of that particular address was not pleasant. “Yeah. Yeah, I do.”
The DC consulted his file again. “Which is the home address of Mr and Mrs M. Crabtree. You know it then?”
“Were you there last night, around about midnight? Did you put this stone, and five others like it, through each of the ground floor windows of 32 Lampeter Drive?”
“No! No I didn’t!”
“Did you shout out threatening Mr Crabtree? ‘I’ll slit you, you bastard’ I believe were your exact words? The same words you were shouting the night before, on Front Street, when you broke the betting shop window. We have a witness for that, too.”
I was too shocked to respond. My mind was running through a labyrinth of thoughts and meeting the stern figure of Mackenzie Crabtree at every turn. Never once could I have imagined he would go so far to separate me from his daughter as to accuse me falsely. With my mother’s protestations ringing in my ears and no possible arguments to defend myself I was dumbfounded and I was helpless, more helpless than I had felt in all my life.
What happened thereafter was something of a blur. My mother’s insistent treble, the Detective Constable and his violet-suited companion conferring, the words of the charges against me being read out in the Detective Constable’s bored, dismissive monotone; strong hands hoisting me from my chair. Finally, a march along a short, bare corridor past featureless brown doors to one door, a door which slammed behind me – leaving me without laces in my shoes or a belt around my waist. And silence.
It may have been hours; after those first terrifying moments I lost all sense of time. Within that little white-painted cell I had the minimum essentials for existence, a toilet, a bench long enough to function as a bed, a thin mattress. The steel door that separated me from everything in my world was sturdy, the viewing panel within it closed. Few sounds penetrated its obdurate substance – occasional distant voices caught in snatches of conversation, instruction or laughter; thin slices of life, growing and fading. Air heavy with disinfectant caught in my lungs, making it hard to breathe.
The viewing panel in the cell door clicked open to reveal a man’s face, his eyes flicking left and right as he checked the room. Then the panel snapped shut, the door’s heavy bolt withdrew, and the tall figure of the lilac woman walked in. On her nod, the hand that had opened the door closed it again.
“Well now,” She said, in a steady, assured voice. “What are we going to do with you?”
“Who are you?” I asked. In the interview room no-one had introduced her.
“I’m Nel Kershaw, Charles, and I’ve been commissioned to act as your counsel.” She proffered the same file she had been studying in the interview room. “You don’t have to accept me, of course. You’re free to appoint your own legal representative if you have anyone in mind?”
I shook my head. “I don’t.”
“It’s me, then!” Nel Kershaw perched herself on the edge of the shelf that formed a bunk, inviting me to do the same. “How old are you, Charles – fifteen? Let’s see, what have we got here; two charges of criminal damage, one of breach of the peace, threatening behaviour – that’s quite impressive for a couple of days – oh, and previous for receiving stolen property. I think we can leave that on one side. What on earth set you off on this trail of destruction – was it drink?”
“I don’t know what you mean.” I said sullenly. “I didn’t do it.”
The violet woman gave me a crooked smile. “Charles, the Front Street window incident was witnessed, seen clearly on CCTV, and fits perfectly with a statement made by the taxi driver who took you home, so I think we can agree you did it. The second and third charges rely upon the wording of your uttered threats during the Front Street incident, and the evidence of the owner of 32 Lampeter Drive, Mr Crabtree. He says he got a clear view of you from his bedroom window with the last of the six stones in your hand just before you threw it ‘viciously’ at his downstairs bathroom window. Then there is a statement made by his son, David Crabtree, who claims to have seen you running away down the drive of the Crabtree house…”
“NO!” I shouted at her. “I didn’t go near his house. Why is he saying that? I didn’t break his bloody windows!”
“He asserts that you threatened him, that you intend him and his family harm, and he fears you. Why should he be afraid of you, Charles?” Her green eyes were boring deep into mine, soulful and searching, stripping away my ability to deny.
So I told Nel Kershaw the truth. I told her about Sue, and as much as was needed about that fateful afternoon when we made love on the riverbank. I recounted her father’s threats to me, his wife’s visit to our home, and my drunken adventure involving a brick and William Hill’s Betting Shop window. Nel wrote down the substance of my words, I think, to add to her file, and when my tale was ended she re-read what she had written.
“So, this is what happens. Because you are under eighteen your case will be heard before magistrates convening as a Youth Court, where you will enter a plea. If that is guilty you may get a sentencing decision straight away, or they could ask for further reports. I see you were assigned a care officer after your previous offence…”
“But I didn’t do it! Alright, I broke the Betting Shop window, I was drunk and I was mad, but none of that other stuff. He’s lying!”
“What are you suggesting; that he broke his own windows?”
“I don’t know! I wouldn’t put it past him!”
“Well, I did say the testimony was unreliable for the Threatening Behaviour charge. Even less so, if this Mr Crabtree is proven to hold a grudge against you. We can take that line, and we can ask for his wife to account for her visit to your home. When the alleged offence took place it was dark, he could not be certain to have identified you, and his son only saw your back. The case against you is weak, and you could defend it, but…”
“If Mr. Crabtree is called, he may raise the matter of your relationship with his daughter, and that could open a new can of worms.” She shuffled her papers together, making preparations to leave. “Look, I see the court wanting to just hustle this through. However, if we can get them to hear separate pleas for each offence they might treat you more leniently. That’s for then; now I’ll see what I can do about your bail.
“What will I get?” I asked her as she rapped on the cell door.
Nel Kershaw shrugged. “A fine for the shop window, probably, maybe a community order. For the other offences you might be in for a stretch in a Young Offenders Institution, anything up to six months.” She offered a smile. “Sorry. I believe in giving my clients the worst scenario first. The Youth Court is supposed to be sympathetic, so I imagine it may turn out a lot better than that.”
The cell door opened for her to leave. “That’s it for now. We’ll get you out of here.” She paused, turning to fix me with her green-eyed stare. “Sometimes in my job I meet people who really shouldn’t be in here. You are one such person, Charles Haggerty. You are truly worth saving, but in the end it’s up to you; there are two turnings and only you can decide which road you want to take. Do what they tell you and stay out of trouble, okay?” She treated me to a quick smile and then the door closed once more, leaving me to my silence.
“Been in the dungeons, like?” Jonna was doing his own version of sympathy. “Terrible in there, innit?”
“Nah, lovely.” I told him. “They’ve got wallpaper on the walls and tellies and the food’s just great, man! I didn’t want to come out.”
For a moment he believed me. I could read it in his face. “Yeah? Nah, man!”
“It was, I’m telling you! They’re that nice to you! I can’t wait to get back in, me!”
“Away, man, give us credit, will yer? You’re on bail – did they take yer passpoort, like?”
“I haven’t got a passport – which you very well know. I’ve got to report in every day and be indoors by 9:30.”
“Doesn’t do much for yer nightlife, then.”
“No, it doesn’t. If they see me on the streets after that I go back in detention, that’s what they told me. Oh aye, And I’m not allowed within half a mile of Lampeter Drive: not that I’d want to go near the bastard, mind.”
“Crabtree. There’s all sorts of stories about ‘im. Don’t worry, Chas, us’ll batter ‘im for yer.”
“No. No, don’t go near him, any of you. It’d be just what he wants. The cart’ll be coming round for him soon enough.”
“Why, he’s crafty enough, that’s the truth. How’re yer goin’ to get Sue away from him else, though?”
“I’m not. I’ve been thinking a lot about what’s happened, Jonna, and I won’t try to rescue somebody who doesn’t want to be rescued. I made a mistake. I’m not lying, I like Sue, you know I do; but maybe she doesn’t like me quite as much.”
Jonna shook his head, bewildered. “Ah don’t believe it, man! You two have knowed each other since you was bairns, we all did!”
“That’s what I thought, too.” I told him. “I thought we were good friends. I was wrong.”
“So your mind’s made up, like?”
“It is. It was made up for me.”
“Well then, us’d better get down McDonalds an’ exploit your fame a little. Word’s all around town how it took two copper loads o’ ‘blues and twos’ to nick yer, so there should be a free lunch in it, y’na?”
My reputation for toughness was laid upon the table before me, so that all I had to do was pick it up. In the weeks before my case was due to be heard I enjoyed a mildly legendary status that extended beyond my school friends, even as far as the mild admiration of Trevor Bull, who warmed to me enough to engage me in his version of a conversation, on the Saturday after my sixteenth birthday, as I was making my way to football practice.
“Now then, Spakker!”
“Now, Trev. You alright, man?”
“Aye.” Trevor had a way of standing within inches of me when he talked, looking down on the top of my head. “Ga’n football?”
“Aye.” I said. “It’s Saturday, mind. Season starts soon.”
“Aye, it does.”
“Yes. Will you be coming to the home games, Trev?”
“Right then, see you there.” I said cheerily, ready to move away. Trevor laid a hand on my shoulder. “Man, that’s a grip you’ve got there, Trev. You been going to weight training again?”
“Aye..” Said Trevor. “Lissen, Spakker, word is you got a score to settle wi’ Crabtree, like.”
“Nah, not really, Trev. I’m on my best behaviour, see?”
“’Way aye, good thinkin’.” Trevor tapped his sizeable nose appreciatively. “Mussen’ say nothin’ the Chatties might hear, like. Jus’ sayin’ Spak, if the’ wants a hand or two, Ah’m up for it. Ah hates that bugger, me!”
I thanked him before I hurried on, making an excuse that I was late. His offer did not entirely surprise me – it was a bad offer made with a generous heart, and one that had already been made by several others, not least of whom were Jonna, Sarah Coldbatch and John Hargreave. If I wished, I had a small army pledged to my cause, loyal servants at arms whose loyalty was rather spoken than intended. In a town like ours, many a fealty pledged beneath the disguise of twilight could be relied upon to return to clay before the dawn. Yet it was flattering that anyone should see fit to rally behind me with even the slightest degree of sincerity. I felt somehow honoured by it.
My thoughts were crowded as I entered the football ground, preoccupied with the breaking of old alliances, the making of new.
“Chas. Come here lad.” Jack Masters was coming across the pitch to meet me with his peculiar hobbled gait of leg, crippled leg and crutch; and there was an anxious expression on his face I did not recognise. “I want a word with you!”
© 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.