A Place that was Ours. Chapter Sixteen – The Lion’s Den

I had just passed my driving test, a few days after Angie had taken hers.  Astutely, I thought, her parents bought her first car, which Malcolm swore was no more or less than a present, but I knew they believed our intended marriage was precipitate and could understand why they wanted her to have some measure of independence.  It was wise, and it was convenient because it gave me more freedom to make my own choice of transport and greater means to pay for it.  The sports car I chose was, of course, the worst option I could have taken, but remember I was only just emerging from my teens and suddenly in command of more money than I ever dreamed I’d earn.   If I was to be a rising football star I had an image to maintain!

Among my friends, John Hargreave alone would be a willing companion for my early adventures behind the wheel.  I was grateful for his patience and in awe of his courage, because in frequent moments when I had not the least idea what I was doing he remained calm, confident and perfectly prepared to let me do it.  We made a number of journeys together and always managed to emerge unscathed at the end of them.   I put a lot of that down to John’s reassuring presence (the rest I attributed to a smiling God).

It was the second afternoon following our discussion about Martin Berry and his vespertine activities.  I had relayed John’s suggestion for the best means of persuading Berry to Michael Norris then waited in my half-emptied apartment for news that it had borne fruit.  The plan was to wrap up the video sequence the following Tuesday, after which I could join Angie in Carlton.   Meanwhile, with summer in full spate, the open road beckoned.

John suggested the route to Leverton.  “My dad says it’s a good driver’s road, whatever that means.”

Leverton was a village with a past; a row of crooked medieval houses with great gaping windows to make the best of the daylight, because before the miners came their occupants worked long days weaving and making lace.   Then, when mining prospered in the valley and pitheads sprang out of the land like sycamore shoots, workers came from every corner of Britain and Ireland. The population decupled, new miners’ settlements of blackened brick gathered in smoking solidarity about their respective pits, and new communities needing succour turned Leverton into a small town with shops, markets and a company bank.  Then, of course, the bubble burst:  the coal seams were exhausted, pits closed, and those workers young enough to find employment elsewhere moved away.   In their wake only a few streets of miners’ houses might remain, clustered around a small green meadow or a tiny park that was once a mine.

Leverton withdrew into its shell.  The traders departed, the bank closed, shops were shuttered for a final time.  Those stalwarts who remained did so on a knife-edge of solvency, dealing as they had always dealt with the true denizens of the valley – the farmers, the craftsmen, the elderly, and entrepreneurs glad to find cheap premises to launch their new ventures.   Start-up businesses regularly failed in Leverton – came, found credit, left small hillocks of debt behind.

Meanwhile, many of those mushroom patches of miners’ housing fell empty and many were bulldozed, leaving the roads that had connected them laid out in a meaningless map like Nasca, awaiting a visit from the stars.

Yet it would be wrong to paint a picture purely of industrial desolation.   The redemption of most land where coal is found is its scenic beauty, and if Leverton was served by two roads from Casterley where one would have been perfectly sufficient and the other absolutely meaningless it did not matter, because each road ran south-west, bordering some of the finest country in the lower valley.

The expression John’s father had used, identifying the more northerly of the two as ‘a good driver’s road’ was, I quickly learned, a petrol-head’s code for ‘lots of bends’.  I negotiated them with ease, through several miles of intermittent tree cover then, emerging into an open stretch, missed one completely and screeched to a halt in a run-off area which I had to believe was constructed specially for fools such as I.

“Lucky there was nothing coming the other way,” I said cheerfully.

“True.”  John agreed.  His pallor had drained, but he seemed otherwise unmoved.  He nodded towards the rising land on our left:  “We could have picked a smarter place to stop, though.”

A modern, architect-designed house in white stucco stood on the hill some two hundred yards from the road.  Its remotely controlled access gate and black tarmac driveway beyond sliced savagely up through finely turfed gardens towards an expressionless frontage of dark glass.  The view across the valley from those windows must have been perfect.  “Who’s the millionaire?”  I asked, unable to strain every drop of cynicism from my voice.

John frowned.  “You mean you don’t know?”  He said, trying to do the same with his incredulity.

“No.  I don’t.”

“That, my old mate, is Chateau Crabtree.  That’s his pad – had it built, hell I canna remember – three year ago?  Although, of course, you weren’t meant to be going anywhere near him then, were you?”

“Mackenzie Crabtree lives there?”

“Did I not just say that?  I seem to remember…ah, we’ve been spotted!”

A golf buggy, filled with two men of generous proportions, had appeared from beside the house and was heading down the driveway towards us.  The big gates were drawing ominously open.  My attention, though, had been distracted by two sunbathers stretched out on the grass before those big wide windows, a young man in shorts and a woman or girl of similar age wearing a green bikini.  The man could well have been Dave Crabtree; but the girl…she was auburn-haired and slim, and familiar, as I thought.  She had propped herself up on her elbows to see the source of the disturbance.

“Better go!”   John said.

“Why?  We’re doing nothing!  We aren’t trespassing, are we?”

“I don’t think that’ll make a lot of difference to those guys. Please, Chas?”

Reading the concern on my friend’s face, I reluctantly slipped the car back into gear and drove away; but my eyes kept returning to the girl’s distant figure until we had rounded another bend and she, the lawn she was stretched upon, and the house behind her, had all vanished from sight.  “It couldn’t be, could it?”

“Yeah, that was Dave, alright.  He doesn’t speak to us these days, mind.  Ah, but you weren’t looking at Dave, were you?  You were checkin’ out the woman, you dirty beast!”

“You know who I’m thinking of.”

“You’re thinking of Sue?  Still obsessed, huh?  Nah, nothing like her!  Sue had really dark hair, didn’t she?”

“Hair colour can change.”  I reminded him.

“What can I tell you, man?  It was not her.  I’d know, believe me!  Anyways, it’s time to forget about her.  You’re engaged to Angie.  Angie’s a cool lass.”

“That doesn’t stop me wondering what happened to her.”  I glanced across at John.  Although the threat of the golf-cart of goons had passed, he still seemed ill-at-ease, as if he, too, had history with Mack Crabtree, and today he had unintentionally brushed too close to the great man’s world.   But then, had I questioned myself further, I might have found an entirely different justification for John’s anxiety; one which centred much more on my skills as a driver.

Michael Norris’s message on my answering machine said ‘call me’.  I obliged.

“Chas, I’ve arranged it.  We’ve got the ground for an hour on Tuesday evening – six o’clock.   Not the best light, but it will do.  I’ll get some kit sorted out.”

“An hour?  Will that be enough?”

“It’ll have to be.  Mr Berry was less than cooperative.  What is he doing down there?  The place was buzzing like a beehive!”

“If I knew…”

“Well, we got what we want, even if I had to suffer being frog-marched off the premises by two out-of-work nightclub bouncers!  See you Tuesday!”

With the date for the shoot fixed and all our obvious problems sorted out, I would join Angie in Carlton.   The apartment in Carlton had no telephone as yet so I could not warn her, but I missed her company.  I was in the act of leaving, I had taken my jacket down from its hook in the lobby when a cannonade of banging exploded on the outside of the door.  The wood flexed visibly, rested for a second, then splintered as the same force was applied a second time.  The shouting began.

“Police!  Open up!  Police!”  The door latch snapped, flew off, hitting the wall behind my head.  A black, flack-jacketed and helmeted figure burst in, screaming.  “Lie down!  Face down, now!  Put your hands behind you!  Do it!  Do it now!” Forced to the floor, my arms were pinned behind me and handcuffed as the feet of others rushed by.   In the narrow confines of the lobby there were collisions; my left arm was trampled and I was kicked several times before hands grabbed me and wrestled me to my feet.  I had just time to see the apartment being ransacked before I was manhandled out through the front door.  My little street was filled with vehicles and flashing blue lights.   My computer was being loaded into the back of a police van as I was thrust into the rear seat of a white car.  A very large police officer forced himself in beside me.

The whole gratuitously violent episode took place in a matter of two, maybe three minutes before I was being driven away, leaving the door of the apartment into which Angie and I had devoted so much time and care sagging, broken and open.

My arm was forced into an unnatural angle by the handcuffs.

“Can you release my arms please?”

“Shut it!”

“Am I being arrested?”   There was no answer.  “What am I being charged with?”

“Shut it!”

The journey was mercifully short; Casterley Police Station disturbingly familiar.  My burly back seat companion pulled me from the car using my bruised arm.

“Get these off me, you stupid frigger!”  I shouted at him.

There was a forced march into an interrogation room, the door slamming back in my face.  Someone behind me muttered:  “Get the ‘cuffs off.”

Hands grasped my wrists so the handcuffs could be removed.  I no longer had much sensation in my hands, but my arm was on fire.  My memory of that moment is still confused after all the years that separate me from it, but I retain an image of red mist intensifying into fury.  It is a vapour that has never entirely dispersed.  Although I am disinclined to grudge, my resentment and anger about my encounter with police brutality have never left me.

“Sit him down.”  I was unceremoniously parked on a hard chair before a hard table.

I found a voice from somewhere, directed it at the male shape sitting opposite me.  “I want my solicitor.  Now.”

“If you choose to call a solicitor…”

“No ‘if’.  I demand a solicitor!  Nel Kershaw.  She’s on your list.”

My eyes were adjusting to the light, the features of my aggressor were slowly clarifying.  I had to steady my eyes to make sure he could see the anger in them.  I had to leave him in no doubt how deeply I despised him.  He was a stranger to me and he was smiling, feeding on my helplessness.  He enjoyed this!

“Charles Haggerty.  You’ve been in here before, haven’t you, son?”

“I’m not your son, thank god.  What are you charging me with?”

“Where were you this afternoon, Charles?  Let’s say about three o’clock, to start with.”

“Let’s not say anything until you’ve charged me, and I have a solicitor present.”

“You were seen loitering outside a private house, one High Cheviot Lodge.  Your vehicle’s number was observed, so don’t waste our time by denying it.”

“I won’t.  I parked there.  It’s a nice view.”

“Don’t get cheeky with me, son.  You were there for three hours…”

“I was what?”

“You were also seen spying on the property from the land to either side of it, as upon a separate occasion you were also seen on the owner’s land to the rear of the property…”

“Oh?  And no doubt you were told I threw bricks at the property’s windows?  This is another of the fabulous fantasies of Mackenzie Crabtree, isn’t it?  I was in my car at the viewpoint for no more than a couple of minutes.  I had a companion in the car…”

“The name of your companion?”

“So you can break up his home as well?  My witness, reptile, not yours.  Incidentally,”  I nodded towards the recording machine mounted on the wall to my left,  “Shouldn’t that be switched on?”

“If you were being interviewed, it would be.”

“So what is this, if it is not an interview?”

“Let’s just say it’s off the record.  You were seen sniffing around Mr Crabtree’s property, in spite of an order forbidding you to go within…”

“No you don’t!  That order elapsed years ago.  It didn’t even apply to this area.  What else have you got up your sleeve?  Did your lads happen to discover some handy little sachets of class A drugs while they were wrecking my flat?”

The detective looked as if he wished the idea had occurred to him.  “Could they have?”

“I want my solicitor.  I’m saying nothing more until she arrives.”

The detective sat back in his chair. “You like harassing decent, clean-living people, don’t you, Charles?  Like I said, you’ve been here before.”  I made no response.  He continued staring at me, drumming his fingers on the table.  “All right, we can wait.”

He rose from his chair, went to the door where my plank of a back seat companion was standing guard.   “Bang him up.”

And so I was obliged to renew my acquaintance with Casterley Police Station’s ‘Custody suite’ which, this being a night before a weekend, was doing a far brisker, noisier trade than the last time I stayed.  The standard of accommodation had worsened considerably:  I concluded they had either just liberated a previous tenant from my cell, or had selected an especially unsanitary one purely for my benefit.  I settled down to wait in a background stench of urine, and reflect.

Initially, upon being clapped in irons, I had thought of the back street attack and my father’s rescue, now some weeks ago.  We had left one of my assailants badly injured and I had spent several sleepless nights wondering about him, expecting repercussions which never came.  But no, this was Mack Mackenzie again; angry Mack fabricating lies about me, and I had to wonder what I had done to deserve such enduring hatred? As much as I missed her, still thought of her, even longed for her sometimes, his daughter Sue and I had parted company a long time ago.  Surely he had nothing to fear from me?  Suddenly, from that accidental construction in my mind, when I might have used any word other than ‘fear’, the truth came to me:  Mack Crabtree feared me.  It was fear that had turned him against me.  Why?  What could I possibly have that might make him afraid?  I fell to wondering then if it was some extension of his guilt for cuckolding my father, and if he was afraid the indiscretions of his younger years might become known to me.  Perhaps he worried I might thwart his political ambitions by using them against him.

Two hours passed.  I came to the conclusion Nel must have been detained – at some social event probably, though I was beginning to feel slighted.  Then the cell door burst open to reveal the officer who had accompanied me in the police car.   “You can go.”

“What?”  I frowned at him.  “What do you mean?”

“You can go.  Collect your kit at the desk.”

“Are you not going to charge me with anything?  After keeping me here all this time?”

“Nope, no charges.  Hurry up and get out.  We’re busy.”

“Just like that?  What about the damage to my apartment, what about my possessions?  You’ve taken my computer, haven’t you?”

“Get your compensation forms at the desk.”  He snapped.  “Now leave, understand?  Or I’ll lock the door and keep you here until we’re quieter.”

Disbelieving, I did as he wished.  As I passed him, brushing against his chest, I said – and I have no idea what made me say it – “Tell Mack I know.”

“I’m not here to take your messages.”

“You will though, won’t you?”

#

Matthew Poultney exhales, whistling through his teeth.  “Quite a story.  What did your solicitor make of it?”

“When I ‘phoned my solicitor to apologise for disturbing her evening, she told me the police had never called her!”  I tell him.  “She promised to look into it for me, and she was met by a stone wall of silence.  The police insisted there was no record of forced entry to my apartment, they denied all knowledge of that and even suggested if I had been the subject of a break-in, I should report it!  No search warrant was ever requested, there was no charge sheet and nothing to prove I had ever been at the Police Station.  The whole thing had been done completely unofficially, and they denied any knowledge of property taken from the apartment.”

Poultney laughs: “That’s absurd!  They have to keep logs, records of everything.”

“They didn’t.  When I think about it, I was never booked in.   When I checked out at the desk I was given an envelope with my stuff, but I wasn’t asked to sign for it.”

“What about witnesses?  Neighbours?”

“No-one was going to volunteer,”  I tell him,  “even in a respectable street like ours.   It’s amazing how deaf the nicest people can become when the police are involved.  Originally, when I had asked at the desk for my computer to be returned I was told it was ‘needed for evidence’ and would be ‘available for me to collect, later’.  Later, when Nel asked for it, they denied all knowledge – their answer was basically ‘What computer?’  I haven’t seen it since.”

“Dear lord!  So – they roughed you up a bit, questioned you off the record, then sweated you in a cell for a few hours.  It certainly seems somebody out there didn’t like you.  I think you are saying Mackenzie Crabtree was the instigator of this – that he was – what, trying to warn you off?”

“I know it.”  I say, seriously.

“And all this happened just because you were seen parked outside his house?  Why?  What’s he got to hide?”

“The same thing that drove him into overkill the last time I crossed him.  Matthew, I brought Mack’s daughter into the conversation because I wanted to find out what you knew about her.   You say you dig deep when you do your research for these articles, but your spade seems to have hit a rock or two.”

Poultney nods, frowns.  “Maybe I wasn’t looking at his family issues?  I know we were discussing Mack’s first wife, but that’s in the past as well, and I’m writing a piece about his philanthropic activities.  We don’t exactly award wings, but we’re rather inclined to take things like family history at face value.  This is all about the money.”

“You never spoke a truer word.”  I agree.  “I’m giving you something much more – at least, I think I am.  And if I’m right, Mackenzie Crabtree should never hold public office.   It’s worth an exclusive, at least.  Another Scotch?”

“Just a small one.  I want to keep my head clear.  Alright, you want to do this like a detective story. Why?”

“Because I shouldn’t be directly involved.  I’m off to America in three days, and I’m unlikely to be back until next season, by which time, if he’s unopposed, Mack will be on the government front bench.  So I give you the clues, you work it out.  If you come to the same conclusion I did, you have your story.”

Poultney winces:  “I’m not good at crossword puzzles, Chas, but okay, I’ll play.  Let’s see what we have so far:  your mother’s difficulty with relationships and Crabtree’s sudden rise to fortune, yes?”

“Aye.  Then there’s Mackenzie’s violent reaction to my dating his daughter, and his attempt to incriminate me.”

“…Shortly after which his daughter (Susan, is it) vanishes?”

“Right.  Off to pastures new.  Mack apparently helped me for a while after that.  He greased the wheels to get me into the Casterley Town side. It could just have been a business decision, but on the other hand…”

Poultney nods.  “Almost as though he wanted you to succeed, as long as you kept away from his daughter.  Or,”  He waves a finger,  “or he used you to get to Martin Berry.  Hew would have known Berry’s weakness was football.  What could Berry provide that he needed?”

“Money?”  I suggest.  “Or a football ground – maybe Mack was planning ahead.”

“Why, lad!”  Poultney allows his Yorkshire accent to escape.  “It seems to me you’d have to read this man’s mind!  That’s enough games for now.  Tell me, after the police had roughed you up, what did you do next?”

“I did Norris’s video as I’d agreed.   Then I went to see Mackenzie Crabtree.”

 

 

© 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

 

 

 

 

The Destructive Driver

This goes back a few years now, but I still remember it well…..

I was sitting in a queue of vehicles approaching a fairly busy roundabout, one which allowed access to the A1M, when I checked my driving mirror.  Nuzzling my rear bumper affectionately was a large BMW.  It was dark green.  That’s how well I remember it.

My attention, though, was not drawn to the car, but to its driver.   Why?  Well, possiblyImage because his face was distorted as he tried to get his mouth around a large and very uncooperative hamburger.  He wasn’t having a great deal of success, because the hand holding the food was also in use turning the leaves of a document propped against his steering wheel.  He was scrutinising the document carefully, so carefully that when I moved forward he did not notice for a while, and when he did it was with some speed.  Watching in alarm as he sped up behind me, I wondered at his lack of steering control until I saw the mobile phone in his other hand.  He was texting.

When I entered the roundabout he followed, oblivious, I’m sure, to my relief as I saw him turn down onto the motorway.  He left me wishing in some macabre fashion that I could be witness to the next act, that of joining a busy motorway while he indulged his odious form of multi-tasking.

We all remember those foolish ‘driving moments’ when love seemed a sensible thing to express at 70 miles an hour on a bendy road, or, in smoking days, the dropped cigarette that found secure accommodation beneath our genitals.  I am reliably informed they still happen, though not to me – both habits were lost long ago.

But now we can add a battalion of new ideas for those bent on either self-destruction or the destruction of others.   Pick your own favourites!

1.            The non-signaller.   At junctions or roundabouts this driver has clearly decided to economise on light-bulbs.   He (or she) has sufficient confidence in your intuition to give you no visible sign of his intention to turn left or turn right.  This includes lane selection – why use one when you can use both?

2.            The conversationalist.  These drivers are very talkative.  Their social instincts are so enhanced they can’t resist striking up a conversation with the driver opposite them.  They will usually pick the busiest possible traffic situation and conduct a lengthy discourse through their opened windows while a line of other drivers builds up.    It’s a form of arrogance destined to provoke conflict which, of course, is exactly what they want.

3.            The CLARA, or Member of the Centre Lane Resident’s Association.   A dedicated overtaker who doesn’t see why he should move back into the left-hand or driving lane if there is another prospective overtake to be made a mile further up the motorway.  He will stick resolutely to the middle lane, doing fifty mph or possibly less, from Watford to Manchester, if the motorway is busy enough.

4.            The tailgater.   My car is faster, therefore you should not be in my way.  Or, possibly, I am so short-sighted I have to be this close in order to see you at all.  Or am I curious?  Are you hopping about like that because you’ve dropped a cigarette or is something more interesting going on?  I have to be close enough to see….

5.            The Turner Prize.   Awarded each month to the most adventurous turning manoeuvre in the most inappropriate circumstances.   BTW, reversing into a main road full of traffic these days is commonplace – you have to be far more enterprising.  The flying-U-turn-into-the-mouth-of-a-side-road-that’s-not-quite-wide-enough is popular, especially when accompanied by a diligent passenger who decides to direct traffic.

6.            The Parker who Never Was.    This motorist never parks – he just stops.  Anywhere.  The essential skill of this driver type is in his selection of the perfect situation, but it is such a natural ability he does not have to think about it at all – in fact, he doesn’t think about it at all.  If the shop is on the corner and he wants to buy, he stops there.  Right there.  Not close to the kerb, oh no.  He’s not sure of his car width, so he acts on the Rolls Royce principle.  There are usually canyons of space between his wheels and the pavement:  rather less, unfortunately, for those who want to pass in the road.

7.            The Music Lover.   He loves his music – fine.  He likes to bop a bit – no problem.  He likes to have his window open, on the assumption you are going to like it as much as he does.  But I’ve got music of my own, Bro!  Okay, give and take, I see that – it’s when you park outside my house, and leave 75Db going through open windows for half an hour that I start thinking of intolerant acts.

Those are my seven selections, no doubt you can think of more; or maybe you can recognise yourself from the descriptions above:  whatever, they give you an idea of how easy it is to drive not just badly but atrociously without realising the sins you commit.