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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

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

A Place that was Ours. Chapter Four – Splendour.

I never discovered the name of the friendly police officer who asked me questions at my bedside in Bedeport Hospital.  The constable who stood in our front room about a month later was certainly not cast from the same mould, in either stature or demeanour.  His voice was sour, his thin face drooped like a glob of grey mucus from his slit-peaked hat, and his eyes did nothing to disguise his distaste for my mother or me, or our house.

“Sit down, man!”  My Ma rapped at him irritably.  “You’re making the place look untidy.”

“No thank you, Mrs Haggerty.”  The constable seemed concerned that he might contract something nasty if he as much as touched our furniture.

“Well now,” He said in a peremptory tone; “what are we going to do about this?”

The conversation was already far advanced.  In essence, I had failed to appear at Casterley Police Station as I was urged to do by my nice Bedeport officer, so Casterley Police Station, in the person of Mucus-Face, had come to remind me of my obligation.

“You can’t arrest him.  He didn’t know nothing about the bike being stole.”  My mother’s voice was shrill.  The noise embarrassed me.

Mucus-Face frowned in my direction.  “You’re sticking to your story, Charles?”

I nodded.  “It isn’t a story!  Da’ gave me the bike as a birthday present.  He didn’t say anythin’ about it being stolen.  I don’t expect he knew.”  I was trying to maintain my bravado, while my insides were churning.

The constable pinned me with a disbelieving stare.  “And you don’t want to tell me where your father is, or where he works?”

“He doesn’t know!”  My Ma snapped.  “And I don’t know, neither.  He’s left us.  Last year.”

Mucus Face heaved a weighty sigh.  “Then, Madam, I think you, your son and I had better take a little ride.  We’ll continue this discussion at the Station.”

He had parked his police car outside our door; where, of itself, it would scarcely attract a second glance.  Police cars were common on our street. The sight of Ma and I being shepherded into its back seat, however, sparked the odd little island of conversation.  Mrs Bennet and Amy Forbes were head to head a few doors up, their eyes surveying and their tongues assessing.  Margaret Roberts and Mary Higgs, on their return from shopping had paused, stripy carriers laden, at the corner.   They turned to each other as if engrossed in a discussion of no relevance to us, but their surreptitious glances comically betrayed them.

Let me explain.  There was a code on those crowded Casterley Streets, a law stronger than any passed by the Parliament of London people.  You did not snitch.  Much as she claimed to hate my father, Ma would not dream of helping the police to find him.  She even felt that implicating him at all was a breach of etiquette.  Ours was a tight society,  houses of soot-blackened brick crowded up together, backyards with walls that were always high enough but never too high, so when the owner of number twenty-six returned home bearing contraband from nighttime thieving our curtains stayed drawn.  But if the police arrived with a search warrant, number twenty-six’s ill-gotten gains were handed over the walls so fast they would be safely housed up the street at number thirty before the first copper had time to knock on his door.  And there it would stay until the police, the ‘Chatties’ as they were known, had moved on.

The trouble was, of course, if I did not direct them to my father as the thief of the bike, the police would assume I had taken it. I was caught in possession of stolen property with nothing to prove my innocence or ignorance.

What happened?  I signed my name to a statement that Mucus-Face managed to pad out to three-quarters of a page, for all that it contained no more than three lines-worth of denials.   My Ma assured me that the police case would never get to Juvenile Court.

“That bike were took in a town sixty-five mile away when you was at school.  Tell ‘em that, Chas, and they won’t do no more.”

For once my Ma was right.  I was cautioned for receiving stolen property and force-marched out of the legal system, which should have been the end of the matter.  In fact, it was just the beginning.

At school the next morning I discovered word of my criminality was already running free through the corridors:

“Ah knew yer Da’ couldn’t afford to gi’ yer a bike like that, Chas, yer frigger!”

“Yer Da’, he didn’t ‘ave that much readies, ivver!  ‘E were a loser, ‘im.”

I enjoyed my notoriety, slight though it was.  I had done nothing wrong, but it drew back to me many of those less steadfast friends who had distanced themselves after my father left home.  I regained my place in the bigger group, at least for a time.  My infamy also seemed to attract attention from some girls in my class, of whom Angela Carey was the least inhibited.  Angela was attractively proportioned for her years, determinedly blonde and overtly blue-eyed.  She began joining me at table for our school dinners, brimming with toothy smiles and empty conversation.

“Y’gan to football, Sat’day, Chas?”

“Nah.  They’re playing away this week.”

“What y’doin’ then?”

“Just hanging out.”

“With me, yeah?”  Sue almost dropped her plate of Shepherd’s Pie onto the table beside mine.  She clearly felt I needed rescuing.  “Weren’t we going over to Greavesie’s, Chas?”  John Hargreave had just been given a new game for his computer, which we had agreed to share with him.

“Yeah.”  I said.   I couldn’t admit, even to myself, that I might have enjoyed testing the waters with Angela.

Angela was not so much abashed as suppressed.  I was at once happy to be rescued and reticent concerning my relationship with Sue.  Sue had told me several times that we should be faithful to each other, and I wasn’t quite sure what that meant.  Despite my sometimes quite desperate feelings for her, I believed in myself as a free spirit.  I should be able to look at other girls, shouldn’t I?

It is time to tell you a little more about Sue, and to point out that although our friendship had mushroomed in our fourteenth and fifteenth years, we had known one another since we could first toddle.  The whole of our group of friends had been together since Casterley East Gate Infants’ School had made us into a homogenous mass, prepared to be regurgitated into the education system.   However, Sue, her brother Dave and I went back even further.    Our fathers had been school friends; close friends who had gone out into the world together, so that for a while they had spent a lot of time in each other’s company.  I could just remember weekends when Sue and Dave came to visit, and days when I was taken to play or stay a few hours at the Crabtree household.

There were subtle hints, even in those early years, of our families’ divergent fortunes.  I remember my Da’ coming home drunk and late, might have recalled how it was Uncle Mack, Uncle Mackenzie Crabtree, who helped my Ma to get him to bed.  At the time I could not know how often Uncle Mack’s money had bailed Da’ out of a gambling debt, or got him through until his next payday.  There were many such details I had to wait years to learn, because by the time I was old enough to have the gift of understanding those friends had become enemies.   While Uncle Mack was building an increasingly lucrative living as an electrician my Da’ was earning a reputation for bad debt.

Through all the turmoil of their husbands’ relationship, Shelley Crabtree and my mother stayed friends of a kind.  They, too, had been close since their schooldays, and I think Shel sympathised with Ma’s plight.  I grew up accustomed to seeing the Crabtrees’ old vacuum cleaner working its way around our floors, and sometimes I suspected the clothes on my mother’s back might once have hung on Aunt Shel.

Of course, Mack Crabtree was not really my uncle, any more than Shel was my aunt.  These were just handy terms we sprinkled about in childhood, terms that would become awkward as we grew older and more aware.

As Sue’s father accumulated greater wealth his social position kept pace.  He joined a succession of local committees and trade associations, letting it be known he intended to stand for the Town Council at the Nineteen-Eighty-Seven elections.  He and Shel bought a house on the hill with more bedrooms than they needed, a double garage and a spare car.  And Mack became Mackenzie, and Shel became Shelley, and they made my skin crawl.  When I met them on the street, as in any small town you must meet more than once, they spoke no more than a few brusque words, so I felt the greeting was an obligation rather than a pleasure.

Sue seemed oblivious to the changes surrounding her, although I made my reluctance to call at her house fairly obvious, I think.   She circumvented the problem by agreeing to meet at one of our traditional trysting places, which would work well for a while, despite pressures upon her I could not help but detect.

“It’s Da.  He’s getting really strict.”

Jonna was never slow to voice an opinion.  “He’s getting right up hisself; that’s wha’ he’s getting.  He told Becca’s Da’ her ‘ouse needed a complete rewire, or sommat.  He were goin’ ter charge eight hunderd pound!  Eight hunderd!   Becca’s Da’ got  Todd Shiney down ter look at it.  Todd fixed it up for fifty quid.”

“He’s my Da’, Jonna!  I expect he just wanted to do it right.”  Sue defended.

“Nah!  He’s right up hisself, an’ I don’t care he’s yer Da’.”

Sue would blush a furious pink when she was affronted, which in past days would have been followed by delivery of a swift, stinging cuff around Jonna’s head.  Now, though, it was plain the barbs were hurting, and she was rather more inclined to turn away.  Did I see her crying sometimes?  So much I have forgotten.

As for Dave, her brother – well, older, stronger Dave commanded respect, so we were inclined to forgive him more.  We contented ourselves with just mild protest, even when he joined the Tennis Club.

“Tennis!”  Jonna expostulated.  “It’ll be bloody cricket next!”

On a hot evening of the fourteenth of May in air that had been still and humid since early morning, and beneath a sky of angry blue that denied clouds their right to appear,  I arrived home from School to find a stranger standing on the street outside my house.  A man of middle years, small in stature, rumpled in appearance and very, very sweaty, he clutched a brown briefcase to his chest like a hot water bottle.

“Are you Charles Haggerty?”  His voice had a metallic rasp.

“Who wants to know?”

“I take it you are, then.  My name’s Hubert Powell. I’m from Social Services Child Care.”

“I’m not a child.”  (Obviously, I thought.)

“In the eyes of the law you are.  Is your mother home?”

“No.”

“Where is she?”

“Out!”

Hubert Powell fixed me with a stare full of needles.  “And is she to return soon, may I ask?”

“I don’t know.  Maybe.”   I wasn’t about to inform this stranger of my Ma’s work commitments.  I knew what ‘Social Services’ meant.  But Hubert Powell had already put two and two together.

“So she’s at work, presumably.”  He hunched over his case, resting the hinge side of it above a bent knee, and withdrew a red covered book which told him he had a space the following week.  “I’ll return on Monday 21st  at 4:00pm.  Please ensure you are both present.”

Hubert Powell went away.

My Ma was incandescent.  “You see someone like that – anyone – waiting outside here, you walk straight on past, d’you hear me? Don’t come back until they’ve gone.  If you’re in and they knock don’t answer the door.”

When Hubert Powell returned he would find Ma waiting for him and me thoroughly briefed; ready to counter anything I was asked with a solid wall of ignorance.  He had been given my case, he told us.

“What case?  I asked.

“Whenever a juvenile commits an offence Social Services open a case file.  We want to be sure your circumstances don’t lead you to re-offend.”

This would all have sounded very worthwhile and convincing, were it not for the monotone of the explanation, and the clear disinterest of Mr Powell.  Today, in addition to his red book his briefcase contained a form with a list of questions to which he did his best to get answers, just as Ma and I did our best to avoid providing them.

“With you working, Mrs Haggerty…”

“Who said I was working?”

“On my last visit, your son assured me…”

Did I jump in a little too quickly?  “I assured you nothing!  I said Ma was out.”

“He’s right!”  My Ma confirmed.  “I was out – visiting a friend.  She’s not well.”   She added, feeling a need for extra detail.   “Now, if that’s all, Mr Pole?”

But no, it was not all.  ‘Mr Pole’s’ questions dragged on, and I could feel the net closing tighter with every sentence.  The man from ‘The Social’ wanted to know about all the benefits my Ma claimed, and whether she felt anything about our lifestyle had contributed to my ‘misdemeanour’.

“He didn’t do nothing wrong!  It was ‘e’s bloody father gived ‘Im a knocked-off bike.  It’s him you should be hounding!”

Did my father contribute towards the maintenance of his son?  Had my mother considered the Child Support Agency, were we sure we had no idea of his whereabouts?  No, no, no; the answers became a rhythm, with a steady undercurrent of suspicion and a certainty that, no matter the insignificance of my offence, we were in a frame without any means to extricate ourselves.  Hubert Powell left us with a small pile of helpful literature, and a strong sense of foreboding.

We spend useless hours, days or even years of our lives in fighting her, but Nature has a way, a quiet way and kind, and she always wins.  At fifteen, young as I was, I thought myself a man, just as Sue was a woman in her eyes and dangerously close to a goddess in mine.   I will not deny the thoughts I had, the nights I dreamed, the touches I longed for in the year of ’86.  Our friendship grew to more, and we took each of those tender moves to the threshold of love before the heat of summer burst upon us.

Looking back, I think Sue understood far more than I.   She was always wise, filled with a solemn wisdom far beyond our years, whereas I was young and clumsy, and far too angry to see the world as it was.  Only Sue could penetrate my inner rage.  Only Sue’s eyes could see so plainly what my mind burned upon, and only Sue, with a smile and a flick of that rebellious hair, could dampen the embers.

“Your Da’s always going to be your Da’, Chas.  You can’t do anything about it, any more than I can do anything about mine.  They’re the way they are, and it doesn’t matter.  We just have to try to love them now, because they won’t always be there.  Don’t rage at him.  It’s his life, yeah?”

“Yeah.”

I remember this, so well.  We were sitting at our secret place beside the river in the sun while the water moved lazily past us in waves and eddies, and I thought that if ever Sue’s stones were going to move it should be today – this day.

“It’s awful hot.”  Sue said, dangling her toes in the shallows. “I wish we could swim in this.”

“You know what I wish?”  I said.  “I wish I was eighteen and far away from all of it.  I dreamed about that, last night.”

She rested a hand on my shoulder.  “And was I part of your dream?”  She asked.  Then, when I didn’t answer, she laughed.  “Not that it matters, I don’t suppose, because when I’m eighteen I’ll certainly be far away.  I’ll be at Uni., studying pharmacology.”

“A pharmacist, is it now?  Not a teacher or a nurse?”

“Nah.”  Sue was serious again.  “I’m good at chemistry, Chas.  I didn’t realise before.  I was talking to Mr Carter, you know, and he thinks I should try.  They’re going to be short of pharmacists, he reckons.”

Ray Carter, our science teacher, was a favourite of Sue’s.   I might have reflected how easy it was for our teachers to influence us, in those high school years, but my mind was elsewhere.  Sue’s fingers were idly stroking my shoulder, and the threat of our future parting loomed before me.

I had to ask something, one of those questions you don’t want to begin because you already know what the answer will be, and you don’t want to hear it.  “I s’pose that’s the end of us, then.  When you go to University, I mean?”

Sue put her arm around my shoulders.  “I don’t know.” She gave me a playful squeeze.  “Will you miss me, Chas?”

“Nah!”  I sneered; then:  “Yeah.  Yes I would.  Will, I mean.”

“Still, I’m here now.”

My gaze was fixed upon the river, the way it had been when we were first together there; as if the water somehow held answers to my questions.   “Here now, yeah.  But this isn’t forever, is it?”

“Do you want it to be?”

I was careful with my words.  “Yes.  I think I do.  Thing is, though, do you?”

Sue’s voice deepened in sadness.  “I can’t answer that.  Whenever I try to see into the future everything gets hazy, so I just feel confused.  Maybe when we’re older…”   She drew herself close to me, so her head could rest against mine.  “Don’t ask, Chas.”

“I have to!”  I told her.  “I need you, Sue.  I need you so much…”  It was a plea, loaded with all the passionate urgency of my inexpert heart, dwindling on my lips as I saw the alarm growing in Sue’s eyes.

She stilled my speech with a chastening finger.  “That’s good, then, isn’t it?”  She drew away from me a little, so we were side by side, avoiding each other’s gaze.   I could not see her face. At last, when what seemed like minutes had passed, she broke the silence, saying brokenly:

“Chas, dear, you aren’t the only one who dreams.”

All, above all, I wanted to be tender.  I reached to take her cheeks between my two hands and found them wet with her tears.  Turning her to me I drew her into a kiss and she responded – hesitantly at first, then deeply enough for me to understand the richness of its meanings.   I was suddenly alive to the sensation of her body moving against mine, to her scent filling my head with all the wanting that a year of closeness had intensified.  There were other scents too, the aromas of summer and the song of the water buzzing in my brain, driving me onwards, pushing me towards those forbidden words until my lips found a will of their own.

“I love you.”   I said, and through her tears, Sue smiled at me.

“Chas.”

Lying together that summer afternoon in the warm grass it was so easy, the forgetting.  Easy to slip away from a real world of sorrow and guilt and responsibility into a world that was ours alone.

For what we did, reader, you might censure us or applaud us and your reason be the same:  we were so young.  And I would say, in our defence, that we were in love as only those so young can be.   It was not a thing of glory, inexpert as it was, yet there was something exquisite, a bright, bright jewel, found and lost in a fleeting moment there.  Yes, we were young; very, very young – and I suppose we knew what retribution must follow, although we might not have expected it so soon.

“You’re mine now.” Sue said.

Time vanished into nowhere.  It was early evening before Sue and I wandered back through the farmer’s field, to re-join the road leading over the bridge to Casterley.  We were artless, I suppose, rapt in each other as we walked, Sue’s arm entwined with mine.    We made promises of fealty to each other, and, I suppose, we must have talked of love.   When she went to University I would follow her:  I would find a job in the town where she was – any job, any town, as long as she was there.   I wanted her to succeed, to become a great pharmacist, and although I would not admit as much, I would be happy to live in her shadow.

Sue saw the car first, speeding from the roundabout at the top of The Fellings.

“Oh god, no!”

The car came roaring across the bridge towards us, a furious thing with frowning grill and flaring red paint.   I knew at once whose car it was.  It stormed past us, its driver fixing me with a cold stare.

“It’s all right.”  I told Sue.  “I won’t let him…”

“Don’t, Chas!   You’ll only make things worse!” A little further up the road, the car was slowing, setting up to turn.

“What if he hurts you?  I won’t let him do that.  I won’t, Sue!”

“Hurt me?   Chas, he’s not going to hurt me.  He’s not!”

The car had turned back so it was behind us and in no time alongside us, its window winding down.

“Get in, young lady!”  Mackenzie Crabtree snapped.  “You!  Haggerty!  Take your hands off her, understand?  You’d better not have done what I think you’ve done, you little bastard!   I frigging hope I’m wrong, ‘cause I’ll frigging kill you if I’m not.”

 

© Frederick Anderson 2017.  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