BLM and the Mob

Normally, when I watch the tide of events in America I lament quietly, keeping my feelings to myself.   On the few occasions when I do comment I am politely (or rather less than politely) told I don’t know what I’m talking about, and to ‘butt out’.

I feel entitled to comment this time because what is happening to the west of the ditch is stirring the same pot in the UK, and although mine is a very small voice if we are many we make a chorus of conscience, so maybe we will be heard.

It should be no surprise, really.   Americans with their enthusiasm and verve for all things new have embraced and shaped media communications without, perhaps, giving thought to what the consequences would be if media exceeded law at the hub of power.   They – we – failed to police it; in fact, we espoused it enthusiastically:  I did so myself, lauding the freedom it gave us, denying the inevitable; that people with greed for power would quickly shape it and twist it to suit their ambitions.

And of course that is exactly what has happened.

The gift of the internet is its appeal to the young,  It is the province of the young – it gives them expression, it keeps their secrets from their elders, it allows them to write their own language.  We all know that to be young is to be an idealist; a crusader, a white knight at the Round Table of truth.  Once I was just so, an avid existentialist, disciple of Sartre and convinced civilised life was spawned on Earth by gods who descended in Erich Von Daniken’s spaceships.

I was correct in all my beliefs.  I was right!  Oh, how right I was!  I would argue down anyone who dared suggest otherwise and whenever I was in danger of losing to reason I would walk away, denouncing my challenger as old, or deluded, or irrelevant.

There’s nothing wrong with that: learning is a lifelong experience that no formal education can suppress, and if it tries so to do, things can go tragically awry.   The fresh young mind is eager to be fed; fresh young muscles are fuelled with immense energy, and when they get together, an unsinkable belief.   

Which is why they are so easy to manipulate.

Which is why those unscrupulous power-hungry elder minds, those paedophile rapists of virtue who largely comprise the political or activist class, can succeed in inciting riot, in subverting values and banishing good sense to serve their own purposes.  Being young, I would not have recognised that;  how can I expect the young of today to be any more discerning?

I huddle the politicians and activists together beneath this same banner because they share the same greed, if for different reasons.  Both have made a study of ‘motivating’ (stirring up) large bodies of people, or opinions, or the media influences that form them.  Both rely for their usually quite comfortable incomes upon the perpetuation of dispute.  Resolution is not within their remit, revolution is, to differing degrees, the aim of both.

We should not be surprised, then.  Not surprised that these people, with this miraculous new tool for their box, have no notion when to stop – where to draw the line – how to to exercise restraint.   And so they set about their programme of destruction with their own clear idea of what should ensue; and no idea what the actual consequences must be.

CERTAIN FUNCTIONS OF THE STATE MUST BE KEPT SACRED.

Who will keep order in the streets, control drug violence and protect the innocent if the police are defunded?

What mechanism will stop genocide if religious or ethnic groups become the focus of the mob?

How can Democracy work if the will of the majority can be so easily overturned by intimidation and public unrest?

If a nation denies its history, how can it remain a nation?

Behind the challenge of these simple questions lies the greatest evil embedded in the evolution of our species:  whether you choose to entitle it Tribalism, Puritanism or Fascism, the rule of the mob always begins with a none-too-serious premise, almost a bit of fun, and it develops into a monster.    

Of course black lives matter, but so do white lives.  Of course the great figures upon whom our history was built were not without flaws, but neither were the African tribes who went on raids to generate prisoners for sale into slavery.   Churchill and FDR were probably not paragons of virtue, but without them we would all certainly be non-Arian Untouchables in a society controlled by the Third Reich. 

Democracy, and therefore freedom, depends upon the validity of the public vote being placed above suspicion.  That, I am certain, is the true target of the activist movement in the United States.  An equally superficially unconnected agenda is extant in the UK, where the fingers of the international corporations are to be discovered stirring the lumpy jam of Brexit.  Money never accepts defeat, never respects opinion.

In the form of BLM, just as once from American Irish investment in the IRA, we have imported violence to our shores.  We were a little bit racist, yes, but we were working things out in our own way, and ‘endemic’ racism is not a fair criticism of society here.  A pity, then, that so much is being destroyed by the self-interest of a few.   They have much to answer for.

One siren voice:

Nowhere Lane – Chapter Sixteen. Muffled Drums

Council offices of Karen Eversley’s generation were not known for their extravagance, and Frank Purton’s little suite was no exception: a drab treatment of brown paint and Buckingham cream walls from the County Hall’s barn-like foyer, all the way up to the second storey and a plain door with a base metal label – ‘F.R. Purton, Deputy Clerk’.  His outer office sported a desk, several filing cabinets, a typewriter and his secretary, a woman whose reputation as a dragon was currency wherever council employees met.  Short, severe and humourless, she certainly dressed for the part; in a beige cardigan over brown blouse and skirt, she almost exactly matched the walls.  She looked surprised as two women entered.  “Who shall I say…?”

“Karen Eversley and Mrs Hallcroft-Smythe.  He’s expecting us.”

“Just a moment.”  The woman glared briefly at Karen, then hurried through the inner office door, closing it behind her.

Gwendoline met Karen’s eyes, challenging her.  “Are you sure you want this?”  Karen nodded.

There were subdued murmurs from beyond the door before the secretary returned.  “Go in, please.”  She said.

Purton’s domain was marginally less Spartan.  A desk larger and better polished, a side table supporting a vase of flowers that screamed for water, and yes – Karen could not avoid her triumphal grin – that famous Purton Rotadex.  The man himself rose from a leather armchair behind the desk.  It was easy to read the displeasure in his eyes, but he managed a ghost of a smile.  “I wasn’t expecting a deputation, Miss Eversley.”  He said.  “Will you introduce me?”

“Yes of course.  This is Gwendoline Hallcroft-Smythe. ”

“How do you do, Mr Purton?”  Gwendoline’s clipped greeting scythed across the room, finding its target with steely precision.  The Deputy Clerk almost winced at the impact.

He offered chairs.  If he was cringing inwardly, he did not show it.  “Kindly enlighten me?    Mrs Hallcroft-Smythe, what exactly is your role in this meeting?”

Karen responded.  “Mrs Hallcroft–Smythe is my legal representative, Frank.”

“Legal representative?  Why do you need…?”

Gwendoline cut him off, “Perhaps because of the peremptory nature of your summons? I am here to ensure Miss Eversley’s interests are protected.”

Purton ignored Gwendoline, directly addressing Karen:  “I merely intended to monitor your progress in our little investigation, Miss Eversley.  I thought I emphasized our need for confidentiality?  I’ve had reports that some of your questioning has been, for want of a better word, aggressive.  I need your word that this will not continue.”

“As Miss Eversley’s legal representative, I can assure you there’s no need for concern over issues of confidentiality.”  Gwendoline’s tone offered little comfort.

Karen said:  “I must be free to question people.  What do you expect, Frank?  Should I go to Boulters Green and wait for your goon to find me?”  Her words surprised Purton, and shocked Gwendoline.  They dropped into a stony silence.

Purton’s mouth opened and closed soundlessly a couple of times before he could frame a reply.  “I’m afraid I don’t know what you mean, Miss Eversley.”

Again, silence.  Footsteps in a bare corridor somewhere, clipping past, fading.  The slam of a distant door and its tiny echo.

Gwendoline found her thread, “   Can we proceed?  Miss Eversley has the file you requested and it incriminates no named individuals at this stage.  In Miss Eversley’s view, the report so far is inconclusive.  She wonders why her holiday arrangements should have been disrupted for this meeting.”

Karen pulled a file of papers Pat had helped her to prepare the night before from her bag, passing them over Purton’s desk.  “You’ll find I’ve made a lot of progress,” she told him, “although several issues are raised by the disappearances – more than expected.”

Purton took the file and flicked through it absently.  “The summary forms the first two pages of the report,”  she added.  “The invoice for my time and costs is at the back.”

He raised an eyebrow.  “Invoice?”

“Final Invoice.  I no longer wish to pursue your inquiry.  I wanted to be thorough in reporting my activities so far to whomever you elect to be my successor.  Thank you for your business.”

Karen rose to leave.

“You can’t just walk out on this!”  Purton snarled.  “The Council has certain rights…”

Gwendoline raised an eyebrow:  “So my client has a contract with the Council?  I understood this was your personal inquiry?  Disappearances of the kind you asked Miss Eversley to investigate are a police matter – not one for the Council.”

Purton inclined his head. “Nevertheless…”

“In which case, my client could have no binding agreement, either with you or with the Council.”  Gwendoline insisted.

“I disagree!  Your ‘client’ undertook by verbal agreement to complete an investigation, not leave it half-way!”

“Then we must agree to disagree, Mr Purton.  My client feels your manner towards her is threatening, and in breach of your mutual ‘understanding’.  I’m sure my client would be prepared to test the nature of your agreement, if there is one, in court if necessary?”

“There was a witness to our agreement, Madam!”

“Who would be willing to see his, and your, ‘confidential’ inquiry exposed to open examination?  I’m sure the person of influence who is so interested in the disappearance of Miss Parkinson would be pleased to be called in evidence?”

Karen was already at the door.  “I’ll look forward to receiving your cheque.”  She told Purton.

“Young lady, if you want to do business in this town, you…”

Gwendoline cut him off.  “Is this going to be in the nature of a threat, Mr Purton?”

“Oh for god’s sake!”  Purton muttered.  “Just get out!”

The fiery secretary’s eyes followed them across Purton’s outer office,

“Thanks!”  Karen breathed.

Gwendoline was troubled.  “You realize what you’ve done, Karen?  If that man’s involved in your stalker’s activities, you just called him out.”

Karen nodded.  “I had to lay a few cards on the table.  I wanted to see his reaction.  What did you think?”

“Unfortunately I think he is.”

“So do I.”

“I also think,” Gwendoline added, “That you should keep your cards closer to your chest.”

In the car park, Gwendoline’s Citroen was causing consternation.  Karen had learned in her short exposure to Gwendoline’s driving that she did not park.  She merely stopped.

“These spaces are reserved for councillors.”  A red-cheeked attendant expostulated.  “Have you no idea of the disruption you’ve caused?  I was about to have you towed away!”

Gwendoline glanced meaningfully up and down acres of empty parking spaces.  “Please convey my apologies to a councillor,”  She said,  “Next time you see one.”  As she climbed into her driving seat she nodded towards the far end of the car park and murmured in an aside to Karen, “Notice the blue Jaguar?  I wonder what he’s doing here?”

“Who is ‘he’?”  Karen asked.

“Sir Clive Webster, the Lord Lieutenant of Beaconshire.   Oh, I expect he has plenty of occasions to visit the council, but it’s nevertheless unexpected – he’s in rather poor health at the moment.  His heart, I was told.”

“Would you describe him as a ‘high up’?”

“Oh, yes.  The Queen’s representative for the County?  They don’t come any higher.”

#

The evening promised rain.  As Gwendoline returned with Karen the few miles to Radley Court some first gusts of wind were rattling the treetops. The mood in the car was solemn.

“I’d better not stretch your hospitality any further;”  Karen said.  “I’ll ask Pat to drive me back to Caleybridge – tonight if that’s okay?”

Gwendolie frowned.  “For heaven’s sake why?  You’re better protected here, aren’t you?”

“I am quite good at protecting myself.  You have your family to consider.  I’d hate to be responsible for causing you harm.”

“You’re right, but you’re staying,”  Gwendoline said, in a voice that brooked no argument.

“You’re very generous,”  Karen said,  “considering how little time we’ve known each other.”

“I trust my judgment, Karen dear.  And I am not blind to your predicament.  By the way,”  Gwendoline added:  “We do have some shared history.  I knew your sister, Suzanne.  Distantly, but I knew her.”

Karen had no idea why that information should disturb her, but somehow it did.  After all, Gwendoline had once been a member of Suzanne’s profession, so it was perfectly natural they should meet socially at some time or another, even though their careers were many years apart.

“You’re not in the least alike,”  Gwendoline told her frankly.

“Then that must be a reason to mistrust me, surely?”

“Au contraire; that is why I do trust you.”  Patrick’s mother smiled.  “Striking girl!  Such hair!  Oh, I finished practising myself many years ago, as you know, but one retains one’s associations, one’s contacts, as it were.  And one’s friends – yes, I have many friends in the old way.  We meet, we have dinners, social evenings – that sort of thing.  Suzanne Eversley.  Challenging!”

“I’ve always been led to believe she was very good at her work,”  Karen said.  “Did you not think so?”

“My lord, do you really want me to answer that?  You do, don’t you?  Well, how can I respond?  She was extremely direct, she had what I can best describe as an adversarial attitude.  She could be sparked off by the most trivial things.  Can I be totally frank and say that I didn’t like her, much?  She was very angry, your sister, and it was anger that consumed her, in the end.  Had she not ridden that motorcycle so fast.  I dare say she would have discovered the key to her anger – it was obvious to me.  But, of course…”  Gwendoline spread her hands fatalistically.

“The key to her anger?  I don’t understand.”

“Don’t you?  Good lord, no, I suppose she might never have confided in you.  Well, let me put it thus: did she ever mention a junior at chambers, a girl by the name of Marsha Ellis?”

“Not that I recall…”

“Do you remember your sister in any kind of romantic association with a man?”

“Well no.”  Karen’s widening eyes were windows to the explosion inside her head.  Suzanne?  “Are you saying…”

“I am.  It’s entirely understandable she shouldn’t tell you.  We’re not supposed to admit these things, of course, but she was desperately in love with Marsha.  The trouble was, Marsha lacked the same – what shall we say – enthusiasm?  It was a rather one-sided affair that went on – and off – almost from the first week she joined Chambers.  I still meet with Marsha sometimes.  Very talented girl.”

Gwendoline juggled the little Citroen through the gates to Radley Court, observing; “Your sister was your complete opposite in every way.  I’m sorry to say it, because of course you loved her, but had I to choose, I would pick you every time.  There was a self-destructive element in Suzanne.”  She sighed apologetically.  “So now perhaps you can better forgive me for my little interrogation in the kitchen the other night.  I was about to judge you by association with your sister.  Very wrong of me.  I’m sorry.”  Then, as an afterthought, “Or censure me for being bloody rude about your sibling.  We Hallcrofts instinctively speak our minds.”  She braked to a sliding halt on the gravel before the house.  “There, dear, that’s all!  You can get away from me now!”

Karen shook her head.  “Challenging Frank was a mistake.  I was stupid.”

“It wasn’t the best way to get to the truth, but it worked.  Let’s go in and make some tea, I’m parched.”

“How did you get on?”  Patrick wanted to know; and when Karen told him.  “You see?  No-one messes with my mother.”

“You?”  she rejoined.  “How is Jacqui?”

“Better.  Better, I think.  She’s still wandering in and out of consciousness, but the consultant seems hopeful.  She’s been fitted with one of those halo things, you know?  While the bones set?  It’s all about brain damage, now.  We have to pray she’s got away with it.”

 

“Karen’s going to stay with us for a few more days,” Gwendoline told him, “until the end of the week, at least.   If there was a connection between her investigation and the stalker everything should settle down now, but just in case the two are not related, we have time to reflect on what to do next.”

Karen tried to express her joy at the thought of spending a few more days at Radley Court if nobody objected, and Pat said he certainly didn’t object and Gabby bubbled with pleasure at the idea. Karen’s affected happiness did not fool Patrick, however.  As soon as they were alone, he confronted her.

“You’re all being so nice to me…”

“We like you.  No, more than that – we love you.  But that isn’t what’s making you unhappy.  What’s wrong, Karen?”

She shook her head, powerless to explain her conviction that the time she had remaining to her was dwindling; how she was sure, now the second of her predicted three days was drawing to its close, that her fate was sealed.  Instead, she came to him and buried her face in his shoulder, comforted by his return of her embrace and sheltered by his arms.

“So you’re still afraid.”  He said.

#

 Karen changed into a pair of Gabrielle’s old jeans before helping her and Gwendoline in the stables, then, after an amiable evening meal she retired to her room early,

What she really needed was time to reflect.

Before she had come to Radley Court her vision had been clouded by her resentment of middle-class wealth and the rigid structure of the British caste system.  Whether she had formed that view from the depths of her own experience, or from the counselling of Suzanne, her fiery, brilliant sister who Pat’s mother had criticized as ‘self-destructive and angry’ she was no longer sure, but she had immediately suspected Patrick’s motives and rejected him because of that view, and she had been wrong.  In the Hallcrofts she had not only discovered a new circle of supportive friends, but also a new family.  Gabrielle was the sister Suzanne could never have been, Gwendoline as a mother figure the exact counter-point to her own.  As for Amanda, she had yet to form an opinion. Jackson?  Well, Jackson had been absent at dinner:  much later she heard his car growling up the drive and caught the brief flash of its headlights across her window.  She calculated he must have spent at least fourteen hours at work that day, something Pat had affirmed was his regular habit.

“That’s why I declined to join his firm when he asked me.  He’d have me doing the same thing.  I tried it for a week and it nearly did for me.  I was a wreck!”

So there, too, were comparisons to be made.  Karen had to concede to herself that every hour her own father spent in watching television, Jackson spent in making money.  Were all fathers so neglectful of their families, she wondered?  Was it fortuitous that they were?

Then there was Patrick.  No, most of all there was Patrick.

These two days which had shattered all her preconceptions about class differences might have convinced her that a future with Pat was more than a vain dream.  If only she was not so certain now of her impending doom – of all the outrageous slings and arrows none had power to hurt her more than knowing she had at last found the man she wanted to be with at the precise moment events were conspiring to take her from him – Karen would have declared herself that night.   Instead, there in the solitude of evening she took a sheet of writing paper from the dressing table and wrote a short note.  She folded it and slipped it into an envelope, addressed to ‘Pat’, which she placed in her bedside cabinet drawer.

For a little while, she rallied.  She told herself these negative feelings were all of her own imagining, that she had armed herself with ju-jitsu training precisely so she possessed the power and weapons to repel an attack by a larger, older opponent.  She was perfectly capable of overcoming Mr Nasty, and only his wild, leather-clad appearance deterred her.  Buoyed up by this thought, she rehearsed routines she had neglected for a few weeks now, working out on the soft carpet of her room until the blood coursed afresh through her veins and she felt revitalized and alive.  But in the wake of those few minutes of breathless elation the memory of his assault upon her and the ease with which he had overcome her defences returned.  He knew as much about those martial arts as she.  When next she faced him, unless Pat was beside her, the outcome would be the same.

At some time, she must have slept, to be wakened in the way every princess would wish, by a gentle kiss on her lips.  “Hi!”  Pat said.  “No buckets tonight!”

Dawn found Karen standing at her window, clutching a dressing gown about her against the morning chill as she gazed out over acres of lawn towards the trees, watching occasional bright lances from a distant road as early risers made their way to work.  Overnight rain had ceased, leaving grass and leaves still moist enough to glimmer with gemstones in a dim candle-glow of first sun.  She had loved these moments, had she not, and if this should be the last, she wanted its images to remain with her as long as she retained the power to remember. Behind her in her room, Pat slept.  She could hear his breathing, even and slow.  The sun was a red line athwart a far-off horizon, and the wind was a ghost, whispering among the trees.  He was out there, her nemesis.  He would be expecting to see her standing here, because she was waiting for him, and he would know.

Over breakfast, Karen only picked at food, and nothing Patrick said or did could lift her despondency.  Jackson had gone to work, Gabrielle left early to visit a friend in Baronchester.  Gwendoline departed after breakfast on her ‘school run’ with Amanda.

“The headmistress wants to see me.  I’ve a distinct feeling she wants to get rid of the little bugger.  We’ve done this before, haven’t we, young lady?”

“So that leaves us,” Patrick said.

They walked Petra, following the path they had taken on their first morning together, repeatedly baptized by trees still heavy from the residue of rain.  Petra seemed ill at ease, reluctant to run or forage as she normally should, but staying close, sniffing anxiously at the air.

“Ready for trouble,”  Patrick commented.  “I wonder what’s got her goat this morning?”

Their seat by the lake was wet, so, although Karen seemed hesitant, they slowly walked back towards the house, unspeaking, because the weight in Karen’s heart had spread to them both.   As they crossed the forecourt, Mrs Buxham loomed large at the front doors.

“Mr Patrick!  There’s a ‘phone call for you!”

While Patrick hurried to answer his call, Karen took Petra around the house to the kitchen door, ready to dry her off and clean her paws.   She was barely through the door when Patrick greeted her, his face pale:   “That was the hospital.  Jacqui’s taken a turn for the worse.  They don’t think she’s going to make it!”

“Oh, Pat!”

“I can’t understand it.  She was fine yesterday.  She was getting better.”

“It can happen.”

“I guess.  Love, she’s got no-one – her parents are god-knows-where and her brother’s in Australia.  She’s alone and…”

“You go.”

“Look, Mrs Buxham’s stays until half-nine and mother’ll be back before long, probably with Sprog.  I have to go to hold Jacqui’s hand – I don’t know what else to do.  Come with me, yes?”

Karen smiled, for she knew that this was how it would be.  “No.  You go,” she told him, fighting an urge to smother him in her arms.   “Gwen won’t be long.  I’ll be fine here.”

 

 

© 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 Six – Nel Kershaw.

 

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.”

“Sue, no!”

“I had to see you.  I couldn’t just drop out of your life without saying anything.  I couldn’t do that.”

“Sue…”

“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?”

“I said…”

“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.

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…”

“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?”

“Aye.”

“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.