A Place that was Ours.  Chapter Eighteen – Premiership

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So my story must assume a mantle of years, rather than days; the tale of my growing up is told, and now, from a spring of frequent storms, you could say my summer days began.  In the season of 1989-90, as Hamish Merchison predicted, Carlton Park was promoted to the English First Division, and Allen Ranton’s investment in my talents paid off at last, as he negotiated my new contract at a much-inflated fee.

Through neglect as much as anything, I suppose, the shadows of my past were put aside.   I, filling one hundred percent of my life, rushing between training and travelling, match days and corporate events, had barely time to think of Mackenzie Crabtree or his daughter – my absent sister.

Even plans for a November wedding to Angie seemed as if they must be put on hold, however strenuously I sought to fulfil my promise.  In the end, Merchison found us a couple of days and we tied the knot in Carlton registry office one foggy Tuesday morning.   Our witnesses were Teri and Stevie and we snatched a brief honeymoon in a country house hotel, equally fog-bound.  We shared a few hours away from our busy lives and pledged to ‘do the job properly’ in the summer to come.

Christmas meant returning to Casterley and Angie’s family.  I left it late on Christmas morning to visit my mother.  I found a blue BMW parked outside. I found Brasso Moziadski inside.

The sharp-nosed drug dealer lay slumped in that old chair which, like the central prop in a theatre show, had at one time or another supported most of the characters in my life.  Brasso wore a dressing gown for his guest appearance that plainly said he had spent the night, and a distinct odor of stale beer wafted about him.  He smirked at me.

“Why, if it in’t the friggin footballin’ hero.  Happy Christmas, Charlie!”

“Where’s my mother?”

“She’s upstairs, lad.  She’s right out of it, mind.  Had a hard night, she has, if yer see whar I mean, Charlie.”

I saw what he meant.  I saw what he meant lying on her bed in a mess of stained bed clothing.  I did not see my mother that day; but a stranger, a thin shell of a creature unknown to me and I turned my back on her, not because of pain, but because I could feel none.  She was asleep or drugged, and I did not want her to wake and catch the scent of my disgust.

I will always berate myself for my lack of compassion.  I am never free of the memories that catalogue all the ways I failed my mother in those final years; because I simply could not feel for her.  The line between us, scored so deeply, had become too wide for me to cross, so I absolved myself of my responsibility, as I saw it, with money.  Little enough at first; for although my income seemed large there was extra expenditure too, and the greater returns of Premiership days were yet to come.   I sent cheques which were never acknowledged but always cashed.  Letters were returned with childish epithets or drawings scrawled across them.  When once I sent a letter without money inside the letter came back with £!?? emblazoned across it in red felt pen.  I would go and see her, wouldn’t I?  Definitely; next week because we were playing at home, or in the summer when I had more time.  Somehow those visits never happened; there was always another reason, another excuse.

“You’re afraid of her.”  Angie accused.   “Addiction frightens you, man.”

I disappointed Angie in this.  “She’s the only Mam you’ll ever have, an’ you mustn’t turn away from her!”  she once said.   She was right, of course.  You will see me as Angie saw me – as heartless.  I will defend myself by saying…saying what?  That I was numb, perhaps.  Yes, that was it.  Or maybe – maybe tired?

I think at that Christmas dinner I must have been quiet, which Angie, always with her gift of understanding, accepted without asking why.  In so many of life’s ways, she was the wiser one, knowing when to stop to give solace to a fellow traveller, or when to respect his space.

My Christmas break lasted no more than a day.  Angie stayed on with her parents while I had a match on Boxing Day and another just before New Year’s Eve when Angie returned to Carlton.  We spent New Year’s Eve at a party given by Matt Frierly and his wife (Matt being the Carlton Park Club Chairman) in a private suite at the Royal Hotel.  Angie hated parties – I think because any more than the minimum amount of alcohol made her ill.  She left early, I stayed on.  It was expected.

I kissed someone at the midnight hour, someone I could not remember when I woke the next day.  That was expected, too.

Angie’s stature grew.  Her employers quickly recognized her potential as a standard-bearer, and she responded by studying hard for the specialist qualifications that had never bothered her in the backwoods of Casterley.  She still garnered admiration wherever she went, and her consummate social skills steered her through the network of footballers’ wives that dominated team society, though she was never really a part of the ‘WAG’ circle, as they are known.  It surprised even me how easily she adapted to city life.  From the very first days of our move to Carlton she challenged her apprehensions and she resoundingly won.

Nel Kershaw, John Hargreave, Jack Masters and I kept in touch.  Jonna and Sarah had drifted away, no longer, seeming interested in friendship, although Greavesie did run across them occasionally.  The news that interested Jack Masters was all to do with my progress in my new team, and my continuing curiosity concerning issues at ‘Town’, where the prospects were diminishing steadily.  I know how much this upset him, for he had bound up his whole life in the team and its affairs, but there was little I could do other than offer sympathy.  I appreciated the problems, I just did not know how to resolve them.  Did he blame me for leaving?

John Hargreave had gone to university in pursuit of his electric dreams.  Telephone discussions between us conjured up images of a certain kind of future that belonged only to him and to the few enlightened, his new friends and the missionaries of his post-apocalypse world.  I should have seen the signals.  I did not.

Nel and I kept a much closer liaison.  She visited Carlton frequently in the course of her work, and if I was free we would have coffee or the occasional lunch.  Ms ‘X’ formed the spine of many of our conversations:

“She’s opened up more with her feelings about performance-enhancing drugs,”  Nel told me.  “Yes the whole idea of cheating is anathema to her, but the threat of injury terrifies her at least as much.  She had a friend she used to train alongside – in fact, this person was the reason she became interested in heptathlon.”

“And they were injured?”

“Worse, Chas.  A stroke.  She died.  Apparently, steroids can induce reactions as strong as that in some people.  One accepts it is very unusual, and tragic as it was, she might have kept it in proportion, were it not for the furore that followed.  The club closed ranks about their coach, the sponsor group descended on her head, and everyone else’s, to make it perfectly clear that anyone who squeaked a word about doping might as well say goodbye to their career.  ‘X’ said she was disgusted: ‘This is the real world, girlie.’ Is a phrase she particularly remembers.  That was a representative of her friend’s main sponsor.  Sexist guy.”

“They’re still out there…”

“Thing is, Chas…”

I looked up to meet the hypnotic gaze of her green eyes.  “Oh-oh!”  I said.

“The thing is, I’m getting nowhere.  The wheels are too big for little old small-town solicitors like me.  I can’t divulge ‘X’s identity, but just suppose I could persuade her to get in touch with you – I mean, just suppose?”

“Why?  I don’t see how I could help.”

“Oh, come on, you have status now!  Your word will carry weight.”

“Not much,”  I said.  “I think of myself as a bit of a nonentity, really.  I’m still learning.”  I raised an eyebrow.  “I’m impressed you’re following my career so closely, though.”

“Am I?”  Did Nel colour slightly?  “Anyway, I think if I can persuade you and others like you to get behind ‘X’ those faceless people who work on the darker side of the big sponsors would have to front up.  Whatever you lend your name to will be news, won’t it?”

“In a small way, maybe.”  I agreed to think about it.

That evening I discussed the story with Angie, who added her perspective.

“Ah think if they want to stifle this ‘X’ lass they’ll come after you as well.  You might be endangering yer own prospects, Chas.”  She was eating a ‘lap supper’ from a plate balanced on one knee while studying a test paper on the other.  She lapsed into silence for a while, dividing her concentration between reading and eating, then she said:  “Why, ah never thought there was so much o’ this dopin’ gannin’ on, y’na?  Mebbees I should ha’ been a chemist.  Remember your friend Susan?  She was a bit of a genius with the pills and potions, wasn’t she?  Chemical Carter, wor science teacher, he reckoned she had a special talent.  He was dead sorry when she left, like.”

I could recollect Sue mentioning her ambition to become a chemist, once.  I had dismissed it as a response to her teacher’s enthusiasm.  “She really was good at chemistry, then?”

“Aye, she could spout off all those weird names and the whatsits – the Periodic Table?  She were dead good, like.”

Although I quickly recognized the gulf separating my Angie from any form of science, that snippet of information remained in my mind.

The telephone call took me by surprise.  Sleeping in after a late return from an away fixture, the ringtone roused me, but it was Angie who picked it up and brought the receiver through to our bedroom wearing an expression of studied inscrutability.  “It’s for you.”  She retreated to the living room, shutting the door behind her.

“Hello, is that Mr Haggerty.”  The voice was silvery.  “We have a mutual friend, Nel Kershaw.  She suggested I get in touch with you.”

“You’re ‘X’.”  I said.  “Nel thinks we should meet.  Do you?”

Isita Pennell had already arrived at the coffee house and made herself comfortable at a table.  I was a little late and apologized.  I suggested her name was unusual.

“It’s Indian.  My mother’s family came from Gujarat.  I won’t tell you what it means – it’s embarrassing!”

Isita, in a simple white dress, had the definition in her hands and arms of a honed athlete.  Her shining black hair had been tied back in a no-nonsense bun, framing a face with all the fresh directness of a child.

“You can never get directly to these people; they hide behind their precious contract.  Vary it?  No.  No negotiation, no exception.  Sign, or face exclusion.  They control almost all the prestige competitions now, and certainly all of the money.  What can I do?”

“I guess you have to prove that you can hit their targets without resorting to peptides, or whatever.  There’s no argument then.”

“I can so nearly do exactly that.  If I had access to the best coaches I know I could get there.  But they’re all locked into this conspiracy and they won’t break it.  ‘Accept our dietary regimes, or we want nothing to do with you.  You are on your own’.”

Our meeting really yielded nothing new.  Isita was mortally afraid of entering into an obligation that could mean fueling her body with foreign substances over which she could exert no control.   “Have you seen what over-prescribed anabolic steroids can do to a person?  Can you imagine the long-term damage artificially increased erythropoietin  will inflict on someone’s kidneys or liver in later life?”

I pointed out that any contract which contained an illegal clause was null and void.

“The contract doesn’t actually mention drugs.  It just stipulates diet, which could be quite healthy stuff, that might just happen to contain human growth hormone or EPO the day before a big event.  Oh, and don’t forget the diuretic, to take immediately someone tips you off that you might be tested.  Get caught, it’s the end of your career, it was your decision, you take the accusations, you suffer the shame.  Maybe your coach gets investigated, but somehow there is always money to buy him out of trouble.  Not you.”

There was little I could contribute, at that time.  Nel, however, was tireless, so it wasn’t long before a lobbying group was taking shape, one which I was happy to join.   Isita, too, became a strong voice, forgoing her anonymity and with it, as I thought, any hope of a future as an athlete.

For myself?  I came away from my meeting with Isita having learned a little about an industry without a face, an unseen underworld of drug research that was always working, fighting to stay ahead of the testers.   Would I know them in the street, these people skilled enough to administer blood transfusions, calculate the correct measure of dope for the body mass of each athlete?  Where were their laboratories, and what means did they have to move the drugs around?

However, this was a year when such matters must be shelved.  I had to become accustomed to the pressure and the work-rate of my new team, while helping Angie plan for our wedding at the season’s end.   Our betrothal would be solemnized in an Anglican ceremony at Carlton Abbey, celebrated at the nearby Tithe Barn Hotel, then followed by a May honeymoon in Majorca, which had to be cheap because by that time the money, as well as most of my credit, had run out.

Angie’s guests were her family, her Casterley friends, to whom she remained steadfastly loyal, and those more recent acquaintances she had made through work and her personality in Carlton.  Although most of the team turned up for my side, together with their families, Allen Ranton and even Hamish Merchison, the crowd appeared a trifle one-sided.  I invited my mother, of course, with little confidence she would show, and my father, in whom I had greater hope, but neither appeared.  I would learn all too soon that my father was too ill to make the journey.   Malcolm, Angie’s father, walked her proudly up the aisle, as well he might, because she was the closest to a goddess I would ever see.  John Hargreave was my best man.

It was, in all ways, a good day.  It was the beginning of a good summer.

I could make a journal for you.  I could describe my days, weeks, and months of the years which followed if you wished, were I a diarist.  This, is a story, though – a mystery of a forgotten girl who only I, it seems, remember.   And so only a few mileposts remain along the journey that brings us to this time and place:  my apartment, 23rd July in the millennium year 2000.  Some of those milestones have served to close the doors upon my Casterley past, others have called me back.  All are clues to our mystery – stepping stones on the path to its solution.

Just as life can separate us, so death can bring us together.  Three deaths:  the first, tragically, that of the man I still regarded as my father.  A letter with the news awaited me at the football club one morning in April 1991 – ‘after a long illness bravely borne’ – my intention to see him again was just one more broken promise now, sacrificed on the bonfire of my career.  I went to see him that one last time as he was laid to rest, and there I met Brenda, the woman who had taken care of him and loved him as neither I nor my mother could.  Brenda was a nice person; a fine person.  I know she made him happy.

News of the second death, and the most unexpected, was broken to me by Angie.  Returning from my morning run at the beginning of the 1993 season I found her waiting for me, red-eyed from weeping.

“Come and sit down.”  She motioned me to the couch, holding my hands, “There was a ‘phone call just now, Chas.  It’s Greavesie – he’s gone.”

I must have shown my disbelief.   John Hargreave and I were the same age.  “How?  Was he ill?”

“Oh, Chas, darling, I don’t know why but he did it to hisself.  He went down The Bridge.”

Down The Bridge; the Casterley tradition.  When life in my sad old town, for one reason or another, became too much, a walk along Rob Bentley Way to the one-time viaduct that passed high above the river offered itself in invitation; a reasonable alternative to pain, or debt, or the black dog of Despond.  John had taken it:  he had looked down at the rushing waters, the green banks, at the rocks and the old quay where as children we once played together, and our ghosts had risen up to offer our embrace and he had leapt.  He had leapt to join his memories.  He had leapt to put an end to something only he could explain, but now, of course, he never would.

“John wanted you to have this.”  His father said on the day of goodbyes.   “I think it’s some sort of diary.  I didn’t intrude.”

The last of these sad endings was my mother’s.  Just last year, in the autumn of 1999, she destroyed herself by injecting something which pretended to be heroin and was not.  Her future had been written in the stars for a number of years by then, yet I still wonder if she knew when the last fix would happen.  A month earlier she had sent me a letter, the only response she ever made to one of the regular cheques I mailed.  I made sure she had a decent funeral, drumming up as many relations as I thought we had which, to be candid, ensured there was a sizeable crowd of mourners but for all the wrong reasons.  Most who attended had few favourable memories of my mother.  They were more interested in cementing their relationship to a potentially famous footballer and his money.

In my tales of the last decade, none has a more important place than Angie.  My wife in 1990, she flowered in the warm nurture of her new Carlton home and prospered in her career.  Increasingly this involved travel, spreading, as she understood it, the area of her specialization throughout the region.  Or, as her company perceived it, building their business through the power of her personality; something so natural to her she was oblivious to its existence.   Because she was so busy and so successful, because she was apt to be away from home for days at a time, and because I was away equally frequently, we were together less and less.    Our team’s summer tours proliferated once we were defending our First Division status, and these were holiday occasions for many of the WAGs (wives and girlfriends of the players) who joined the tour to soak up the sun and the social scene.  Angie was too busy.  She did not join us on tour in either 1991, or the following year, when the lid lifted clean off the football scene and the First Division became the Premiership.

My selfishness in the shower of money following the transformation was reprehensible.  The unattainable came suddenly within my grasp, allowing dreams of my childhood to become reality by the simple device of a signature on a cheque.   One dream made real was the purchase of a boat big enough to allow me time at sea.  Much of my year was spent learning to sail, making short sallies into the inhospitable waters of the North Sea.   The chill and battle with conditions quickly took hold of me.  It was an enthusiasm Angie did not share; one short but choppy voyage was enough.  Thereafter she remained at home.

We avowed our love for one another often, but the substance of our love, not unpredictably, perhaps, was diminishing as we grew.  Lives that the adversity of Casterley had so closely intertwined were drawing apart – not through any intentional lack of affection, but because they lacked the glue that had held them.  How strange the paradox, remembering that in our early days together I was the one who felt bound by chains to our relationship, and how soon it became obvious those same chains now wrapped themselves about my wife.   Nevertheless there was much that was strong in us, and we might have ridden it out, had there been children.  I know there was a stage, at least, when Angie’s desire for a child would have been all it took to check her in her stride, but it didn’t happen. In the summer of 1993 it became apparent the time for a ‘conversation’ was near, and to our credit, we did not try to put it off. Anyway, events were about to force it upon us.  The Premiership had dawned, prompting Allen Ranton to do what a good agent should.  He put me up for sale, and my price was high.

It was inevitable.  I would be moving south to join one of the bigger clubs which could showcase me for an international career.  Angie had, once again, to make her choice, but the ties that still bound her to her hometown had stretched to their limit.   A time for sad smiles, breaking hearts and reluctant acceptance:  we had tried.

 

© 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 Seventeen – Windows

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Matthew Poultney flashes a look of surprise at me.  He is standing across the living room of my apartment by the panoramic window, looking out at the river, now washed with soft pinks of evening sunglow.

“You decided to beard the lion.”  He says.

“It seemed the only sensible thing.  I mean, I could have just left everything to do with Casterley behind, moved to Carlton and started my new life – but without knowing the truth?  There was something about me that made Mack afraid.  I had to find out what that was.”

“The question is, did you?”

Did I?  Poultney has a journalist’s ear.  I have to be selective in my choice of information, for there is a limit to the amount of lurid detail from my past he will agree to keep ‘off the record’.  There is a balance to be struck: he is setting a value on everything he hears and if I give him too much he will use it to make a story about me, and not about Mack Crabtree.  Against that possibility, I hold only two cards:  the promise that the story I am giving him will be better, and my own future value.   Will he be able to use me again, if he breaches my confidence now?

So, have I given away too much?  Maybe I should have framed my next ‘clue’ more carefully.  We shall see.

#

Using the broken pieces of my door and a certain amount of dexterity with a screwdriver I managed to make The Avenue apartment reasonably secure, after which I fled to Carlton.  That was the beginning of a weekend with Angie devoted mostly to preparing our new home.  There was little I could do to soften the blow for my fiancée when I described the fate of our old apartment, but to my surprise, she took it well.  By this time we had been ensconced in our Carlton apartment for some weeks, Angie was settled into her new job, and the memories of Casterley life were fading behind us.  Angie had made ‘best friends’ with Teri, a bright early twenties brunette with a keen eye for a fashion shop and a boyfriend anxious to make my acquaintance.   Stevey was, by his own admission, a cornerstone of the Carlton Park Supporters’ Club; a difficult guy to keep at arms’ length once he had identified my car and where I parked it.

“Hi Angie, is he at home?”

“No, Stevie.  He’s popped out for this morning. He’s prob’ly down at the ground, like.  Not sure when he’ll be back.”

“His car’s parked outside.”

“Aye, I know.  He’s got legs, yeah?  He walks.”

On the Monday following the attack I returned to Casterley, having seen Angie off to work, and set about more permanent repairs to the damage of the Friday evening.  A new door was fitted, new keys copied.  Angie called in the afternoon:  “We’re getting’ our ‘phone in the apartment tonight.”

“Angie!”

“Chas?”

“Don’t give Teri the number!”

“H’away, man!”

“Ange, please?”

I don’t think I had any real expectation I would find Mackenzie at home when I drove out to his house overlooking the Leverton Road that Wednesday morning.  A part of me rather hoped he would be out because at this stage I was as frightened of Mack as he apparently was of me.  So I felt fairly comfortable believing this visit would be fruitless, that he would be at work or travelling, anywhere but home.

At the gates to High Cheviot Lodge, I pressed the intercom button.  “Who is it?”

“Chas Haggerty.  I’ve come to see Mack.”

A silence.  “He doesn’t take appointments at his home.  Contact his office.”

“No, this is a private matter…”  I was aware that two large male figures had appeared beside the house. They were unmoving. No golf buggy this time.  “If he’s at home, he should want to see me.”

White noise then: a crackling chunk of it broke up the conversation.  It generated a pause long enough to persuade me to put my car into reverse, ready to leave.   At which precise moment the gates rolled slowly open.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, the names I attached to those fine imitations of brickish outdoor facility, were waiting for me when I pulled up on soft gravel before High Cheviot Lodge’s imposing windows.

“I will need to frisk you, sir.”  Guildenstern was articulate and polite.   When it came to body-searching, he was also extremely thorough.   “Please come with us.”

‘Escorted’ is too strong a word.  My companions, clearly feeling I posed no major threat, ‘accompanied’ me through an arch of rusted wrought iron at the side of the house, then up a wide flight of steps to imposing oak doors.   These swung open to reveal a hallway, the walls of which were for the most part glass, and decorated with classical figures that seemed to have been copied from the pages of a coffee-table book on Greek mythology.   A floor paved with tiles which looked very much like marble made stealth impossible.  Only a suite of aggressively white leather furniture at the hall’s further end and a glass staircase leading to a mezzanine made any attempt to lift the pretensions of the space from appalling kitsch to chilly museum.  It was odd taste, made odder because it somehow contrived to be imposing.

Rosencrantz led the way through a door to Perseus’s left, and down three steps into the room with the mighty windows.  At once the ambience altered from cold white to greys and blues which, though lacking soul, at least generated a little sense of warmth.  Floorboards of bleached ash were softer beneath my feet, gently conditioned air felt less hostile to my skin.  A nest of modular soft furnishings in blue fabric had been positioned to make the best advantage of the view across the valley, graced, in the foreground, by my parked car.  I wished I had cleaned it.

“I thought we’d got rid of you.”   Mack was sitting with his back to me.  He did not turn around.  “You don’t seem to be good at taking advice, Chas, do you?”

“Advice?  Having my apartment turned over, getting me illegally arrested and thrown in a cell for a night – how does that qualify as advice, Mack?”

Guildenstern moved closer to my side.  Mack placated him.  “It’s alright, Tom.  Leave us, you two, will you?  I can deal with this whelp meself.”  He got to his feet, with effort, turning to face me.  The filtered light of those windows did not treat him kindly.  Although little more than a year had passed since our last meeting, I could see the changes – blotched flesh, dark hollows around his eyes, a stone or more of extra weight hanging about the waist of an undisciplined and slouched body his tartan dressing gown did nothing to disguise.   “I don’t suffer fools, boy.  You should have got that in your thick head by now.”

“And I don’t give up that easily.”  I snapped back at him.  “I don’t respond to demonstrations of what I suppose you see as power.  I just see that as sad.  You’re a sad man, Mack, for all your bloody money.  But I don’t understand; why are you so friggin’ down on me?  What did I ever do to you?”

His eyes were taking the measure of me – I could see that.  For a moment, he was wrong-footed, uncertain, struggling to find a correct response.  “You came sniffin’ round my daughter, you little bastard.  You wouldn’t leave her alone!  Did yer seriously think I’d let her pair up with rubbish like you?”

“That’d be around the time you were sniffing around my mother, then, Mack, would it?  She was frigging good enough for you, wasn’t she, you bloody hypocrite!”

“You have no understanding of my relationship with your mother.  Don’t mouth off about things you know nothing about, kid, alright?”   He was short of breath, gulping in air.  “I  must be so bloody unfit!   Looker, the best thing here – best for both of us, if you like, is you just leave.  You’ve a good future in a different town and a nice lass who’s more suited to your type.  You’re safe from me if you stay away.  I won’t touch you, I’ve no reason.  Just leave my Susan alone, understand?”

“Where is she, Mack?”

“Damn, lad!  You don’t know when to leave off, do yer?  It’s none of your business where she is!”

“She was going to finish her GCE’s in Bedeport but she didn’t.  She was going to live with her aunt but she didn’t.  Where is she?  No-one’s seen her; her friends, no-one.  Where is she?”

“Where you and your frigging chav friends can’t get to her.  Far away from here, boy.  Far away.”

“Abroad then?”  I tried to draw him, but he said nothing.  “See, Mack, I don’t go for all this stuff about the differences between Sue and me.  You and my father were equal enough, in my eyes, until you started sleeping with his wife.  You quarrelled over a girl and he came off worst, but that doesn’t make me anything less than Dave, or Sue.  It doesn’t make you any better than him.  You just found a way to get richer.”

My words seemed to change Mack’s mood.  Although his scowl stayed with him for a while, I could hear a conciliatory note creep into his voice.  “You seem to have been told a great deal more than I thought.”  He said.

“My father was in town just the other day.  Did he come to see you?”

Mack grimaced.  “No.  No, he wouldn’t have wanted to see me.  So he told you, did he?”  Shuffling towards a glossy cupboard by his shiny grey wall, he pulled out a brandy bottle and glass.  “He won’t have told you everything.  Drink, Chas?”

“No thank you.  It’s a bit early.”  This sudden civility took me by surprise.

“Have a drink, boy.  You’re going to need it.”  He poured a second glass and thrust it at me,  simultaneously waving at the chairs where he had been sitting when I entered.  “Sit down, for frig’s sake.  I suppose we have to get this over with.”

Intrigued by the prospect of an answer, I did as I was bidden.  “What’s this, Mack, confession time?”

“If you like.”  His face twitched and twisted with exasperation, “Though why you couldn’t just go away and let it all frigging lie, I don’t know.”

“Because I was in love with Sue, and you took her away from me.  You destroyed our happiness, the two of us…”

“Alright, alright!  You have to be told, I see that.  Remember, I tried to warn you, alright?  I tried to keep you out of it.  Understand this, I deal with some serious people – they like tranquillity, nice calm waters; no scandals, Chas.  No damaging rumours.  They have their own means for dealing with difficult people, means you don’t want to have to find out, because I’m mild by comparison.  You and Susan?  There was no ‘two’ of you, Chas.  There never could be.”

“Why not, Mack?  Because I didn’t match up to the future you had planned for her?  And there you go, I’m doing rather well now, aren’t I Mack, so why not?”

“Because she’s your friggin’ sister!”

“What?”  I admit my heart stopped then.  My response was no more than a reflex, an exhalation.  My mouth, I think, had dropped open.  “What are you saying…?”

“Well, your half-sister, anyway.  The same seed, lad.  My seed.  That’s plain enough, ain’t it?  I’m your bloody father!”

My spinning head was inventing answers that were mostly negative and wholly lacking in credulity.  Words like ‘No’, ‘impossible’, and ‘wrong’.  Apparently, I gave voice to all of them.

“Wrong it may have been, impossible?  Impossible for the bloke you call your Da’ to be your Da’?  That’s true.  Your ‘Da’ as you call him couldn’t raise a bun in a bakery, that’s why Mary ended up in bed with me the week after she married ‘im.  He was the biggest mistake of her life, she said.  Like I say, he didn’t tell you everything.”

I was shaking, groping for words.  “No!  I mean, what about poor Shelley!  How did she come out of this?  Did she realise?”

“What’s that got to do with anything?  Yes, she worked it out.  Look at yerself in a mirror, lad.  “You might detect a family resemblance there.  The older you get, the more obvious it becomes.”

“Jesus, Mack, what am I supposed to think now?”

“About what?  Nothing; nothing!  Don’t get the idea you’re going to join the family firm, I want nowt to do with you.  David’s my son, I brought him up.  I didn’t have any part in your upbringing – other than the money, that is.”

“Well, you don’t seem to have been short of a few bob.”  I said, glancing around me, “It’s a nice house, by the way.”  I needed a riposte, so I decided to tease him a little.  He took the barb immediately, and for a second I could have sworn I saw a spark of humour in his eyes.

“Shelley’s taste, not mine.  It’s on ex-Coal Board land she bought a lot of years ago when her parents died.  Then a few years back she got the planning permission.  I’m not a house person, meself.  I’m like you, Chas.  I don’t belong anywhere.  Don’t get any ideas – I’m not going to bequeath as much as a stamp album to you, and certainly not this house.  In fact, now you’ve learned what you came to learn, I’d like you to leave.  Oh, and preferably, for your own sake if not for mine, forget all you’ve heard and never come back!”

So, esteemed reader, I left.  What else could I do?  I had challenged my tormentor and some might say- you might say – I had found closure, for according to Mack’s story my love for Sue had been blighted from our first kiss.  Tragedy though it was, that was a matter for us, for Sue and I, better kept hidden from the outside world.  I could keep that secret, as long as it was true.  In a few minutes, I had passed through Alice’s mirror into a looking-glass world where everything I had believed was reversed.  Yet the answer to the most important question and the reason I held pebbles that might cause ripples in Mack’s Halcyon sea still eluded me,.  Where was she?  Where was Sue now? I could not turn my back on that.

As Rosencrantz and Guildenstern conducted me in chill silence to my car, I looked back at the Crabtree house and thought about the huge fortune it had taken to build it.  I could feel Mack’s eyes on me from the other side of that mass of darkened glass and I wondered what was in his mind as he watched me leave.  What devil bought your soul. Mack, in return for all this?  In whose murky waters are you compelled to swim?

And then, completely randomly, I thought:  what if Sue was never told what I had just now learned?  What if, for fear of the waves she might create, she was packed off to some foreign land without ever finding out she had me as a brother?   I tried to recall her words at our last meeting together:  ‘they want us to stop seeing each other’, meaning, as I saw it at the time, she was under pressure from both her parents.  But if she’d known the reason then, wouldn’t she have shared it with me?

Time was no longer on my side. Thanks to the local constabulary’s attentions I had repairs to make on The Avenue apartment before I finally moved to Carlton to join my new team.  I suppose I was ready once more to give myself entirely to the game I loved, and my search for Sue had no place there.   Also, I was about to experience the full wintery blast of training under an ambitious manage in Hamish Merchison, and the glorious summer of playing with professionals whose agendas were without exception the same as mine.  Only one brief episode from my Casterley years has yet to be explained, and this I shall now relate.

The day I bought Angie her engagement ring was cold.    The snows had not departed with the first days of spring that year, nor had the east wind abated in its ferocity, so the eastern coastal town of Bedeport was a hostile place to be, even as midday approached.  I had watched my father take breakfast, and having eaten only a cold stir-fry myself since the disturbances of the previous night, I was glad enough to start my ring quest with a lunchtime meal at a public house on Princes Street that called itself the Angus.

“They tell me they do good beef here.”   I was in mid-bite from my beef salad Smorgasbord.  Nel Kershaw was looking down on me, a plate of food in her hand.  “I’m a vegetarian, so I don’t know.”  She explained, “May I join you?”

My solicitor (for it pleased my sense of self-importance to call Nel that) was smartly suited in her favourite lilac, which she somehow managed to accessorize into the latest fashion.  She explained she had spent her morning in court.  “For once we got through early, so I’m bunking off really.  I don’t want to spend the afternoon in my office. It gets rather chilly in this weather.  Lunch and then home, but here you are!  It’s so nice to see you, Chas.  I follow your progress with awe.  Carlton Park next season?  My goodness!  What brings you to Bedeport on so disgusting a day?”

If it were possible, I think her big green eyes got even wider as I explained my purpose.   “Gosh, a teenage wedding!  How wonderful!”

“Well, not quite teenaged, we’ll be in our twenties when we actually…”

“…When you actually.  Yes of course.  But it’s still very romantic.  Would it be awfully cheeky of me to offer to help you – with the ring-buying thing, I mean?  Some men find it difficult, and it would be a perfect way for me to squander my stolen afternoon.”

“Thank you.”  I said honestly.  “Yes, I’d like that.”

“Super!”  Her green eyes sparkled, and I remember thinking how young she looked, just out of university, perhaps, and not the twenty-nine or thirty years of age she must really have been.  “Now, Chas, you’re a sporting sort of person, aren’t you.  I wonder if you can help me…”

As we ate, she explained.  ‘X’ – she wouldn’t use her client’s real name – was an extremely talented athlete who had returned from a sports scholarship in the United States to pursue her athletics career in Britain.    “She is very, very good, by which I mean she can turn in season’s best performances in three of her heptathlon disciplines, and good European Championship qualifying times in the 400 metres. A multi-talented all-rounder, in fact.”

“The world’s her oyster.”  I clichéd happily.

“Well no.”  Nel paused in her pursuit of a rebellious radish.  “As I’m sure you know, funding for full-time training programmes and attendance at larger events is controlled by the big sponsorship players.  Now I thought that simply implied wearing the right shoes, carrying the correct advertising logos and so on.  Apparently not.   It seems these sponsors (and one of them is the national sports council itself) want to control every part of her training, including diet.  Those diets are very specific, Chas, and include certain branded high energy supplements.  Funding is conditional upon ‘X’s agreement to use these food supplements in precisely the way directed.  It’s written into her contract.”

“And she doesn’t want to agree to that” I chimed in, “because she suspects those supplements can be made to contain performance-enhancing drugs.”

“You see, you do know something about the subject!  Is this widespread, do you know?  I mean, is there anything in your contract like that, for example?”

“No, not in football at the moment, though the practice is endemic in some sports.  What you do about it, I don’t have the first idea.”

“Well, I suppose I point out her level of excellence and press for an exemption, but when it comes down to it these multi-national sponsors have things all their own way.  There’s no legal obligation upon them to sponsor anybody – it’s entirely at their discretion.  They can accept or reject pretty much as they like.  Difficult, Chas:  how best to proceed?”

“I don’t know.”  I could only agree with Nel.  Doping, especially in athletics and individual field sports, reached epidemic proportions in those pre-millennium years.  Her client ‘X’ would have either to bite the bullet or accept more onerous contractual terms.  “If you could prove the link between those supplements and drug use you might have a case, but so much of the science that makes these drugs undetectable is in the timing of the dose and keeping ahead of the test labs.  They’re very hard to pin down.  That’s the whole idea.”

“And if I succeed I make my client a whistle-blower.  It might disrupt the system, but it doesn’t help my client.”  Nel sighed, then quickly brightened.  “Never mind, it was worth a try.  Thank you, Chas.  You know you’re an awful lot different to the scared schoolboy I met in that bloody awful police station – how many years ago?”

“Four or five.”

“Well, lot of changes; lots!  Come on, let’s go ring hunting!”

 

© 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 Sixteen – The Lion’s Den

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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 Fifteen – Clouds across a Mirror

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“Mack and Martin, they go way back.”

I had discovered my father eating breakfast in the lounge bar of ‘The Black Horse’.  He leaned over the table toward me, confidentially.  “It’s a business relationship no-one talks about, son.  Not out loud, anyways.  Best ter keep it that way.”

I didn’t pursue the subject further because I construed my father’s words to mean both men had their toes dipped in the subterranean rivers of petty corruption that dominated politics in any northern town.  As a councillor, Mackenzie Crabtree would have been party to the mutual back-slapping culture that determined how the plummiest council contracts were awarded.  Martin Berry, a substantial employer in the area might have sheltered from the financial rain under a council umbrella from time to time, too.  It was more than possible Mack was one of those holding the umbrella.

My father nodded down towards my leg.  “Did yer go ter t’ ‘ospital, son?”

“No,”  I told him.  The wound inflicted by the slashing iron bar wasn’t serious.   “It’ll take care of itself.  Did you hear any more?”

“Nah.  Likely we won’t; an alibi would do no harm, though.  So I were at your’s las’ night, and I comed straight back ‘ere.”

“Aye, you did.  And the weather were that bad we stayed in, all evening.”  I watched him making steady work of a generous slice of black pudding.  “Da’, are you going to look in on Mam before you go back?”

“Nah.”  His answer was stifled by a mouthful.  “Ah don’t hate Mary no more, but I’ve nothin’ ter say to ‘er, man. Ah’m well away.  Ah’ve no wish ter open old wounds.”

“Tell me what happened to you two, Da’?  I never understood, y, kna?”

My father glanced around him.  “Why would you?  You was just a kid, like.  There’s too many ears around ‘ere.  Lerrus finish this off and wor’ll tak’ a walk, awreet?”

And we did, but once out of doors I saw how quickly the cold got to him, so we went back to my apartment together, where I made him coffee and stirred the fire back to life.  Then he told me his story.

“Mary, she were always the showy one, y’kna, when we was at school together?  Mack and me, we both fancied her, like, but it were me who won her, an’ I thought she were a real honey, in them days.  I was so young!

“Anyways, I got a good job at Pinder’s Castings, up on the old Carrow Road Estate, and Mack, he went to college for his trades.  We was good friends, I thought.  Us used to go out drinking together, go to each other’s parents’ homes, everything.  And when I was twenty I married Mary,”  My father laughed.  “Mack were my best man.”

“Shelley, she were there all the time.  Us knew ‘er from school too, and she were a nice girl, but Mack had never seemed interested, y’kna?   Then Shelley’s Ma’ and Da’ were killed in that motor crash on the West Wood road and he got canny interested then!  They left her a hunderd thousan’ pound!  I remember ‘im sayin’:  ‘I’m havin’ that!’ and he did.  He married ‘er that Autumn.  From then on, ever’thing changed.”

“So he married Shelley just for her money…”

“I’d say so, aye.  And her family house, ‘cause that had belonged to her parents’ too.  Within a year, Mack’s got ‘e’s own business goin’ and the money’s flowin’ in, but I’m not envious ‘cause he’s Mack and he’s my friend, y’see?  And I’ve got a good job at Pinders’, wi’ promotions an’ that.  It were like that for about five-six years.  You would h’a been about five, I s’pose.  Then I went into work at Pinders’ on a Friday an’ the union rep. met us at the gate.  He told us we’d all been fired – Pinders’ was in receivership.”

“That must have been quite a blow.”

“It were.  Then there were another blow – because I had nowt to do that morning but go back ‘ome an’ when I did I found Mack in bed wi’ Mary.

“Jesus, Da’, what did you do?”

“Nowt, lad; what could I do?  I’m unemployed; we’ve got you, and Mary’s braying me telling me it’s my fault.  She won’t give up Mack, Mack won’t give up Shelley; what’s to do?  Well, in the end, like, when things calmed down, we did nowt for a couple o’ year.  It were on’y when Mack started pushin’ hisself to get on the council an’ he thought his opponents might make capital out of him for ‘e’s extra-maritals wi’ Mary  that he dropped her like a red hot brick.

“Oh, man, we was poor then!  I were workin’ ower in Maberley, but I were drinkin’ and I’d got hooked on the odd bet – the hosses, y’kna?  I know it weren’t right,but it were the strain, keepin’ up pretences with that woman.”

“Da!  Why didn’t you make Mack pay? I mean, he ruined your marriage and bloody nearly ruined you!  Don’t you think he owed us something?”

My father stared into his coffee.  “Blackmail, yer mean?  No, son, I couldn’t do that.  Ah’m not made for that.  Anyways, Mary wouldn’t have let me.   I could sting Mack for a bit o’ cash now and then, least for a while, ‘til he got fed up and reckoned he’d put enough distance between us.  Us even managed to remain friends, of a sort.  I think he felt guilty, y’kna?  Aye, I kna’ he felt that.  Mary, she had her own answers, didn’t she?  Turns out while I were away she were ‘entertaining’.  It were on’y now and again at first, then I started finding clues. Give ‘er credit, she’s very good at it, ‘pparently.  It were the last straw for me, that.

I couldn’t quite believe what I was hearing.  “So the only ones left out of the loop were Shelley and me?”

“Aye.  Shelley didn’t find out; at least not then.  She must have done, eventual, I think.”  My father nodded, half to himself.  “Aye, she must ha’ found out.  And now you know.”

I was raised in a love triangle!  It made sense, now I thought back on the scraps of evidence I had collected for myself in those growing years.  “We were quite poor.  I remember Christmases when you couldn’t afford to get me presents.  Ma got me a bike, but she had to borrow off the Provvy.”

“Nah, it weren’t the Provvy.  I don’t know where she got that money from.  I was past askin’.”  My Da’ sighed.  “I couldn’t stay in the house and off the sauce, son.  My fault, that.”

“Maybe you shouldn’t blame yourself – I was wrong to blame you.  If I’d known…”  I left the sentence incomplete.  “I don’t understand why you didn’t leave much sooner:  I think I would have!”

“Yer don’t, though.  Yer want to bring up yer kid an’ yer want a home, so yer hang in there, an’ just hope it gets better, y’kna?”

“But still, you’ve found your way, now.”  I said.

“And I must be getting’ back to it.  So, it’s been grand, like – t’see yer again.  You’ve growed.  You’ve growed a lot.”

We hugged before we said goodbye, something I never thought I would do with my father.  As I watched him out of the door, looking old and ill, I thought of the hugs I’d missed, the times apart when we could have – should have – been together.  And it hurt.   Although he is long gone now, it still hurts.

I remember I had one more important thing to do that day, and if the wind had already stirred my sails for a new adventure, the spinnaker of my father’s story drove me into it with even greater determination.  In my case, though, the quest was on land and my fated voyage involved a trip to Bedeport on the ‘bus.  It meant I was departing from my bus stop at the end of The Avenue at about the same time my Da’ would have been boarding his train at Casterley Station, and because the main road and the railway line each kept company with the river as they made their way down the valley, I was able at one point to look out from the bus window and see the train as it ran alongside me.

It was late afternoon when I returned to Casterley.  An apologetic sun was creeping down to rest behind Burdlehope Hill at the end of an ineffectual day, pursued, in a desultory fashion, by evening cloud.    On Saturday our home match with Abberton conflicted with the Aintree Grand National, that infamous steeplechase which, unless the unseasonable weather released its hold, would reduce our crowd to practically zero.  I hated playing in front of sparse, disinterested spectators who loitered on the empty terraces where their only cure for boredom was violence, and their only motive for attendance was alcohol.  This had been a decade of bad crowd problems and pitch invasions in our beautiful game.  I had little doubt there would be trouble.

On the fifteenth of this month at Sheffield’s Hillsborough Stadium ninety-six fans would be crushed to death and hundreds injured, caught between too much crowd pressure from the main gates on one side and a perimeter fence on the other.  It would lead to removal of the dangerous ‘crowd control’ fences and change a lot of thinking about traditional terraces, which ultimately I suppose was good for the game because it induced most well-supported clubs to install seating in their stands, as well as persuading the powers that be to call time on crowd hooliganism.

At times such as these in years to come I would be looking forward to a break – with maybe two or three matches left in the season I would be not so much tired as stale.  Casterley, however, approached their remaining games with affected boredom; scarcely bothering to train, arriving late for sessions, and leaving holiday brochures scattered about the dressing room.  To me this was ludicrous – we were within arms’ reach of promotion to a higher division – but I came to the conclusion I was the only one motivated towards that target.  Everyone else was predisposed to lose because to them promotion would mean their jobs – many of them were approaching retirement – were likely to be forfeit, replaced by younger blood.

After I returned from Bedeport I suggested to Angie we should eat out.  We booked a table (needlessly, the place was less than crowded) at the ‘Old Hong Kong Chinese Restaurant’.  ‘Old Hong Kong’ held a middle ranking in the local newspaper’s guide to Casterley eateries, which was a short guide.  Few people ate out in Casterley, even fewer on a Tuesday night when the sky threatened fresh snow.  I remember Angie’s elegant silver-grey dress and her black leggings, which, as she put it, stopped her knees from knocking.  I remember how she could make the waves of her long blonde hair flow over her shoulder like surf, and the slow sadness of her smile.  And I hated that love and doubt had begun to become a torture for her.  I wanted the sun to shine through the dark clouds.  I wanted to see those ice-blue eyes light up, hear the deep chuckle her throat emitted when she was knowing, and happy.

We ate plates of moderate Chinese food to a background of quarrelsome Mandarin, hissing pans and banging freezer lids.  Angie pointed out a cat making its way up the near-deserted pavement outside, remarking how it seemed to quicken its pace as it passed the restaurant.

“I reckon the standards will be better than this in Carlton.”  I said.

Angie reached across the table to place her hand on mine.  “Don’t!”  She rebuked me.  But I persisted.

“Angie, I know you don’t belong to me.  I can’t make you come to Carlton.”

“You can’t own someone.”

“I know that, darling.”

“It’s a big decision for me – oh, I don’t know – I’m scared, I s’pose.  Sad, frykened little Angie!”

“So what do I do? I love you too much to leave you behind.  It’s just tragic!  Look, this is only an idea, yeah, but if you love me and you think you might be able to stay with me…”  I reached into my pocket, produced the little box I had bought in Bedeport and slid it gently across the table to her.

Angie stared at it.  “Oh, you bastard!  That’s so unfair!”

“Angie darling, we’ll still do all the things kids should do.  I promise you won’t miss out on life.  I know we’d be starting early but there are so many good things waiting for us, and I’d love if we could do them together!  Angie, please will you marry me?”

Angie snatched at her serviette.  “Sod you, Chas, you’ve made me cry again!   Now I’m going to have to fix me face.”  She rose from her chair, hurrying away across the restaurant.

I called after her.  “Will you?”

She answered over her shoulder.  “Yes, of course I bloody will!”

Alright, judge me.  I’ll defend myself by saying I had marriage on my mind long before I heard my father’s story and I’ll tell you why; I’ll say to you I proposed because everything in my life at that time was about Angie, and making her happy. If the security of a ring could act as compensation for my reclusive nature, and assuage her fears, that was okay: if you can’t place your trust in me, trust the ring.  Then you’ll come with me, Angie; then you need not be afraid.

But you might see into my state of mind and reach a different conclusion.  You might see someone cast adrift, or at least dragging my anchors, in the wake of my father’s revelations.  You might even think of me as floundering, panicked by the threat of utter solitude, and if you do think of me that way, you will also see my proposal as more a plea for support than a declaration of love.

Yes, I admit my heart was driven by no small measure of desperation.  The reputation of my family throughout my childhood had prevented me from forming deep bonds of friendship with all but a very few of my age, and those I had befriended were either gone or distanced by my success.  I will not agree to the word ‘loneliness’ because that implies a destitution I did not feel, but Angie came to me ready to confront that success at a time when my aloneness was weighing heavily upon me, and hers quickly became the deepest friendship I had ever known.  The thought of losing Angie caused a great empty chasm of sadness to open beneath my feet.  Wasn’t that love?

Were my struggles no more or less than those of any very young man who has to confront a captivating young woman with such a profoundly serious choice?  I do not know.  I am Chas Haggerty, and I cannot see myself as you will see me.  You must decide.

I can now tell you my time in Bedeport that day was not entirely consumed by the purchase of a ring.  There is more to relate, but it must be deferred until another time.

After the unseasonably cold spring it was a peculiar summer that year, with my switch between clubs and the imperative of having to find a new place to live in a new town.  Given that little added assurance of a ring, ‘Team Angie’ instantly gelled, if you know what I mean.  We were a unit, we coordinated everything; learned to drive in the summer, the two of us; because for one reason or another we were constantly shuttling back and forth between Casterley and Carlton.  For me, that meant introduction to my new club, and all it entailed. I wasn’t played until the three last friendlies of the summer, but there were promotions, medicals, training sessions.  Angie found us a new place, an apartment near Carlton Park’s stadium, and performed her home-making miracles upon it so successfully that she was occupying it by the end of June, while I was still commuting between there and Casterley.  Her office transferred her to their branch in Carlton, where she began reaping the kudos that came with being engaged to a footballer!

For all the hoops we had to jump through, for all the dashes from one base to another, there were still times when Angie and I could relax.  We took to walking, taking ourselves away from town and away from roads, come to that.   We hiked the moors when the weather was rough, loving the rain’s lash and the scourge of raw wind on our faces.   Calmer days inspired calmer walks: to the south-west of Casterley there was a small deciduous wood that clothed a steep bank beside a stream.  A long rustic staircase cut into the bank to make climbing among the trees easier inspired its simple name: ‘The Step Wood’, and we loved it there.  Angie declared it first on her list of enchanted places, and certainly, dappled by sun on a hot June day, it was inspiring.  There were many magic moments, such as woods inhabited by faeries are almost obliged to provide, but one – just a very elemental little thing – remained with us.

Angie found it.  “Oh, Chas, look!”

In the mosaic of sunlight that filtered through leaves of birch and oak, lying atop a brown carpet of loam, was a little bouquet of woodland flowers.  They were tied together with a wild onion leaf, and quite fresh, as if they had been placed there no more than a week since.  Yet they were sort of timeless, a gift of someone who had loved the wood and left them as a memento until they returned.

While my fiancée was diving wholeheartedly into her new Carlton life, I was caught betwixt the old and the new for unexpected reasons.  A journalist, Michael Norris, who was initially commissioned by Carlton Park to do a two-page spread for their fanzine, had his eye set on higher things. I was one of six changes ‘Park’s’ new manager, Hamish Merchison was making to his side, and the least experienced: why had he picked me?

“I’m putting together a video, and for your part of it I need to tie up your connection between Casterley Town and ‘Park’.  Who are you, and what the transition means to you, and so on.”

“Fine.”  I said.

“The problem is nobody seems to have bothered filming Casterley Town’s matches.  There’s a little area TV stuff…” He gave me a conspiratorial frown, “VERY expensive; and not much else.  So, I thought, get you down to the Casterley ground, film you doing a bit of showboating, maybe bring a few of your former colleagues in – why the wry smile?”

“Good luck!”  I said.

Rather as I anticipated, Norris’s simple shopping list of tasks mired him in a turgid pool of refused permissions, contractual small print and profound reluctance on the part of any of my former team ‘mates’.  Technically, I was out of contract.  Suddenly, Casterley’s football stadium was private property which I was denied permission to enter.  I was no longer entitled to wear the Casterley shirt or display team sponsorships.  At the time I still had three weeks to run on my tenancy of The Avenue apartment, so I settled back to wait while Norris fought his battles.

Norris was a good journalist, and there is nothing a good journalist relishes more than an unexplained refusal.  He won several of my ex-teammates around by the simple argument of free publicity, and, I am told, used much the same tactics to get Mack Crabtree onside:  after all, his perimeter boards would be ‘in shot’ throughout the planned film sequences. But Martin Berry could not be shifted.  If we filmed at the ground we would be trespassing, and we could be sure legal action would follow.

I raised the issue when I visited John Hargreave one Saturday.  “Tell him to catch Berry at his warehouses,”  John advised.  “Especially in the evening.”

“Oh?”  I said, inviting further comment.  Having visited Berry myself in his domain and never caused him any anxiety, I was interested to know what might have changed.

“Yeah; put him under pressure.  Our Marty doesn’t like people hanging around his sheds these days at whatever time, but he’s definitely paranoid about evenings.  I wanted to take some pictures from the hill over there last year – just atmosphere, backcloth, that sort of thing.  I had two bloody great security bozos on my back almost afore I had time to set up the camera.  Biggest blokeys I’d ever seen.  They were like, massive!”

“What did you do?”

“What d’you think?  I left, man!  But Berry’s place was jumpin’, and it’s my guess he has some heavy stuff goin’ on!   Now a nice, persistent journalist paying an evening call might just be given whatever he asks for, because nice persistent journalists are not like me, mate.  They dig.  I don’t think our Marty would like that.  He might just be glad to come up with those permissions you want – to get rid, y’kna?”

“It’s a long shot.”  I thought.

“Aren’t they always the best?”

 

© 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 Fourteen – A fractured Dream.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I stared.   “’H’?”

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

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

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

“Why didn’t you say?”

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

“Brasso?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Another voice.   “Friggin’ wanker!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Da’, this is Angie.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“We should tell the police,”  Angie said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yer late for training!”  Pascoe snapped.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Unfounded speculation,”  I said.

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shadows. Chapter Thirteen – A Place that was Ours

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People on a street like the one I grew up in rarely used taxis.  A cab fare took a sizeable slice of the weekly benefits cake, leaving too small a margin for such family essentials as TV, potato crisps, canned sugar drinks and beer.  I’m not saying there was anything at all luxurious about a Casterley taxi cab, far from it.  They were just dearer than buses.

At the end of the 1980s Casterley barely afforded a living for the gaggle of self-employed taxi drivers and two taxi or hire car companies who ran offices.  It was not a vehicle fleet of which anyone could be proud, and a taxi ride was not to be relished, since strong regulation applying to the age or safety of cabs remained conspicuously absent until well after the Millennium.  Customers who called the offices wrestled with the unenviable position of not knowing what form or age of cab would grind to a stop outside their door, or if it was in any condition to comply if, say, they wanted to be taken to the airport some forty miles away.

You couldn’t ‘hail’ a cab – you had either to telephone the office or pick one up from a taxi rank, of which only two existed; one opposite the old Town Hall – usually quite busy – and one at the railway station which was not.  Now the through line was no longer open, Casterley Station was a terminus, supporting a diet of four trains a day that linked to the main line at Bedeport.  Three or four optimistic cabs would sidle up to the rank at arrival times.  For the rest of the day it was unattended.

There were a couple of taxi offices you could call.  Bannon’s, the larger of the two, tended to attract smarter cabs and issued roof signs, stickers and other paraphernalia publicising them.  Then there was Bertie’s.

In my defence, I must tell you that up until the age of sixteen, like most in my street, I had never ridden in a taxi.  Growing up I had been so poor even ‘bus fares were a stretch; so had I questioned when my mother took a job ‘answering the calls’ at Bertie’s?  No, because I had been glad she could be paid in cash, thus avoiding any loss of her child allowance or unemployment benefits.  I was not naïve. In my separate boyhood universe how should I have known what a substantial undercurrent of the adult male population of Casterley knew, that Bertie’s Cabs owed their survival to a unique blend of services that went a lot further than the provision of taxis?

Our late evening ‘bus stopped at the end of The Avenue.  Angie and I stood face to face on the pavement, hunched against a fresh onslaught of rain.

“But I didn’t even suspect!”  I protested.

Angie was grim.  “It’s not your fault, Chas man.  When y’think o’ it, it’s the perfect cover, y’kna?”

“So there’s others, then, answering ‘calls’?”

“Aye.  I think so.  Brenda Wallis – she’s Terry’s auntie, that’s how he knows, Harriet somebody, from Cheviot Close, I can’t remember her second name, and…and yer Mam.  Oh, Chas, I’m sorry, pet, I really am!”

“Well, it’s not your fault either.  But where do they go – to…er..to do it, like?”

“Some ‘o it’s private, like the taxis take ‘em out to the customer, go an’ collect ‘em later…”

“Or the customer drives them back,” I said, half to myself, as I recalled a BMW and a red dress.  “Some – what about the rest?”

“There’s a couple a’ rooms ower the taxi office.  Bertie takes a bigger cut of what they earn, but the women like it ‘cause it’s safer.”

“Which makes Bertie a brothel owner as well as a pimp, doesn’t it?”

Angie grinned ruefully.  “I s’pose it does.  Are you really angry, Chas?”

“No.”  I had to be honest, “I’m maybe angry with myself for not seeing it a lot sooner.  I’m glad I’m out of that house, and I’m glad I have you.”  She huddled against me unconditionally then, at least for a moment freed from doubt, and I kissed her forehead.  “Come on.”  I said, “Let’s go home.”

In not leaping to my mother’s defence you might say I was remiss  You may reproach me for my altogether placid response; or think I should have stormed into my mother’s house, delivered a diatribe of disgust into her ear, slammed doors, ranted, humiliated and disowned her; but the truth is, I did not feel the need.  My mother was a prostitute and the most direful admission I had to make was my complete lack of surprise.  In my street, whilst hooker may hardly have been the noblest of professions, it was a career choice. So beyond that, what did I feel?   To this day I do not know.  Was it love, of a kind, or pity?  Or fear?

Since the morning following my encounter with Mackenzie Crabtree, I had not returned home – and yes, there was guilt to be suffered for that, because even before I was armed with this new knowledge I could not face another meeting with my mother.  I was afraid of what I might find inside that faded blue door, scared to see the tense, hand-wringing figure she had become, fearful of that shrill, mechanical voice and the sheer misery it concealed.  And now I knew she sold sex for money it was all the excuse I needed to draw a line under my past life.  I wanted to get away.

Lying next to Angie that night, so close I matched her breathing, my fingers brushed tears on her cheek and I asked her why she was crying.  She said:   “Because I’m sorry for your pain.”  Then she was silent for a while.  I’m certain she knew, though I said not a word, that I had made up my mind to take the Carlton Park offer, for I heard her say to her pillow, in barely a whisper,  “Because I don’t want this to end, Chas.  Don’t let it end…”

The next morning before I set out on my daily run I told Angie I was expecting an envelope by special delivery in the post.  When I told her what I believed the envelope would contain she became very solemn, promising gravely that she would look after it until I returned.

Persistent rain had sluiced over the grey roofs of the town all through the night, lacing the pavements with rivulets and gathering in lakes at intersections.  Water seeped through my tracksuit, squelched inside my trainers as I ran; not enough to provide a distraction for me in normal circumstances – footballers play an outdoor sport in winter, after all – but today I felt my resistance grow with every step.  My mind was filled with brooding thoughts and unanswered questions, so even the prospect of a huge upward step on my career ladder did not raise my spirits as it should.  The way ahead seemed fraught with complications, the path behind muddied and indistinct.

our apartment was empty when I returned.   Angie had left Ranton’s buff envelope on the coffee table with a note:  ‘Signed for this.  Gone to work so you can read it in peace.  See you tonight’…and beside her signature ‘Ange’ were two words she had never used before in our relationship…’Love you xxx’.

I went through the motions.  I did all the proper things.  After I had wound down from my run, I showered and changed into day clothes; I brewed coffee, I put my feet up on the sofa, made myself relax.  Then I stared at the ceiling for a full twenty minutes before I reached down for the envelope.  I picked it up, examined both sides, put it down again, drank my coffee.  Finally prepared, I snatched at the envelope and tore it open.

The contents took a long time to read, not because their wording was particularly complicated, or because I needed to study each sentence with meticulous care – no: rather it was because I had to persuade myself to believe what they said.

At school I had hoped to be a carpenter or a bricklayer, like Jonna’s dad; not an accountant like Greavesie’s father, no, that was flying too high.  Bricklayers had excellent earnings; Jonna reckoned his Da’ made £300, or more a week whenever he had work: if I could have reached that kind of wage before I was thirty I would have been more than content.  That was good money to me.  Yes, Sue had once tempted me to consider even greater things, like studying for a Phys. Ed. Or a Sports Science Degree, but I had never entertained it.  I knew my limits.

Which was why the document I held in my hand that morning seemed so unreal – no, not just unreal – unfair.  Jonna would follow his father into the building trade, and I had no doubt he would earn enough to get a small house, raise a family, do all the normal, Casterley things; whereas I, at nineteen years old, was being offered twice as much to be a player in a game – to do something I loved.  And that felt morally wrong, somehow.  I felt I was cheating.

“I don’t see how I can turn it down,”  I admitted, when I called Allen Ranton on the telephone.

“Very wise, lad; very wise.  Believe me, Carlton Park will be a completely different experience.  If you handle it like you’ve handled Casterley, you’ll do well.  Now, we have to arrange for a medical and inform Casterley Town, that’s only courtesy, but it’s also when the story gets out.  Don’t talk to the press yourself – it’ll be local stuff, mostly – any enquiries, refer them to me.  If you get cornered ‘unfounded speculation’ is a good phrase.  I’ve got all I need for now.  I’ll be back to you soon.”

I made one more telephone call.  I asked Angie if she was free for lunch.

From the moment my feet touched the pavement of The Avenue I nearly broke into a run, the crawling sensation in the short hairs at the back of my neck felt so intense.  I had made my now customary check up and down the road and seen no-one, yet I knew my stalker was watching, and following. No paranoia this time, no doubt.   At the end of the road I turned to look behind me, in time to see a furtive figure melt back into the buildings at the far end.  The rain had stopped, the light was good.  I could not be mistaken.

Angie had agreed to meet me at Mr. Pellosi’s Ice Cream Parlour in the town centre, no more than a ten-minute walk away.  I would check several times in that ten minutes, and twice more I got a distinct view of the same figure, red bomber jacket collar raised, flat cap pulled down over his eyes as he quickly averted his head to avoid recognition, then vanished into the shadows.  Always in the distance, so other than in the moment when I first realized he was there I felt no sense of threat from him.  Who was he?  What did he want?

When I pushed aside the glazed door of the Ice Cream Parlour, Angie was already inside.  She had ordered us salads from the lunch menu Mr. Pellosi was forced to serve to ensure his survival through the long northern winters when only the bravest wanted ice cream.  His restaurant was popular and always crowded, but we found a table where I could sit with my back to the room.  Unfortunately, someone sitting by the door had spotted me on my way in.

“You going to win for us on Sat’day, then, Chas?”  He leaned over the table between us, his pinched face inches from mine, all grey-toothed smile and unhygienic breath.   “Three-one, eh?”

“We’ll try,”  I replied, with as much politeness as I could muster.

“We?  We?”  The face sniggered.  “The’ mean you, pal, doesn’t the’?  Them others, they divvent kna’ a glass from a bottle!  Shall I tell yer what I think?”

“Actually, I’m trying to have lunch…”

“That fella Jackson, man.  Yer shud ‘ave ‘im fer support on the left, see?  He were always gud down tha’ wing, were Jackson..”

“Right.  I’ll remember.”  I told him.  “Now, will you excuse us while we…?”

I heard the sound of an unseen blow and a shock ran through our intruder which brought him uncomfortably close to spitting in my salad.

“Haway, dippa!  Piss off!”  Angie’s voice was quiet but venomous.  “Like Chas says, we’re tryin’ to eat, man!”

Indignant, the pinch-faced man drew himself up to his full height.  “Why, don’t youse bray me, yer friggin bitch…”

“Hey!”  I warned him.  “Now you’re pushing it.  Just go back and eat your dinner, right?  Leave us alone.”

Outfaced, and possibly more daunted by Angie’s aggression than mine, my self-appointed advisor retreated to his seat, muttering invective at every step.  I grinned at Angie.

“Now if ever I needed an excuse to get out of this town…”

She was suddenly serious.   “You’re going then?”

“You know I am.  And I’m hoping you’ll be coming with me.”

Angie smiled ruefully. “See, I rather hoped you’d say sommat more like ‘I’ll go if you come with me’.  Ah hoped that’s what you’d say.”  Then she added,    “I can see it’s askin’ a lot, like.”

“I’ve thought long and hard about the words.”  I told her.  “I don’t want to leave you behind, hon, but this is a dream for me, you know?  To play with a good team, to have the chance to play in the big league, that’s all I can expect from life.  If I could have you too, that would be awesome.  Shall I tell you what they’re offering me?”

“Na, it’d only confuse me,”  Angie said.  “Listen, Chas; I’ll think about it, yeah?  And I’ll see you tonight.  Meantime, why don’t you go visit yer Mam?”

“I don’t know, Ange…”

“She’s your Mam, Chas!    You can’t change that.  She’s the only Mam you’ll ever have, an’ you mustn’t turn away from her, pet.  Go and see her.  She’ll be proud for you.”

So, upon Angie’s insistence, I set off for my old house, unable to disassociate her words and sentiments from those Sue had expressed concerning my father, some years before.  Sue’s words, and in my head, Sue’s face.  Somewhere, far behind, I could feel the patient tread of my shadow, still there and tracking my every step.

My mother was sitting in the front room with the television up loud.  When she saw me she tensed visibly, as though she was afraid I had come to beat her.   “Now then, Chas.  Ah’ve not seen you for a while, have ah?”

“I’ve been staying away,” I told her.  “I thought you might be busy with your clients.”

Her shoulders slumped perceptibly.  “Tha’s found out, then.  Ah thought yer would, once yer was moved out, like.  How’s Angie?”

“She’s fine.  How come I’m the only one who didn’t know, mother?  How come?”

“About us bein’ on the game?”  My mother sighed, and that plaintive, familiar note crept into her voice.  “Ah always tried to protect yer from it, son.  Ah kept it discreet, y’kna?”

“Why did you do it?  Why are you still doing it now?  I mean, you’ve got the benefits, and your job at the taxis, so it can’t be the money, surely?  Why?”

“Oh, aye, the taxis.  That is me job, man!  Did yer nivver wonder how ah kept it affer that Powell git ‘starteds ‘e’s nosin’ around?  D’y’kna what Bertie’s really like?   He were happy enough t’keep me on he’s books as he’s receptionist, as long as ah kept on wi’ ‘e’s ‘extra services’ for cash.”  She had begun twisting her fingers together, cruelly, as though her hands were abhorrent to her.  “Why do ah do it?  Well, ah like it, ah s’pose.  Ah’ve not got you no more.  Ah’m nor’about ter give it up, anyways.”

“One thing nobody’s told me,” I said, “And I’m not sure I want to know now, but I have to ask.  How long have you been doing it?  When did it start?”

“Oh, I can nae remember, Chas.  Years ago.  Years!”  She got to her feet and walked to the window, there to stand looking out at the street, her fingers drumming on the sill.  “Don’t matter now, do it?”

I said: “Even when you were with my Da?”

“That fool!  ‘E nivver found out.  Wha’, did yer think I ran this ‘ouse on fresh air, or summat?  ‘E never earned enough to kep’ a fly alive an’ what ‘e did earn he gambled away.  Or ‘e drank it away.  Ah did it t’keep youse in yer expensive presents an’ yer fancy ideas.  A little bit on the side, just here and there, eh Chas?”

A little bit on the side.  I remembered a summer back in my school days when I came home to find my mother sprawled upon her bed, all but insensible, and now, at last, I understood.  How glad she must have been to get the job at Bertie’s, so she could enjoy the sanctuary of his ‘rooms’!

“I’m going away soon, Mother.”

“Yer already away, issen’ yer?  Livin’ wi’ yer Angie now.  She’s a gud lass, that one, but you don’t love her, pet, do yer?  You’re still in love wi’ your Susan.  Divvent fret, lad, Mack’ll not let yer near ‘er ivver again.  Not ivver.”

#

“I’m telling you all this off the record.”

Poultney throws me a quizzical look.  “You’re telling me a hell of a lot.  You aren’t by any chance under the illusion I’m going to write your life story for you?”

I grin at him.  “Would you?”

“My rates are reasonable.  But, in a word, no.  And that isn’t what we’re here for, is it?  Bear in mind I’m a journalist, Chas; if I’m going to keep schtum about little gems like your mother’s failings I’m going to need something pretty impressive from you to make up for it.  It’s all good copy, remember.”

“It would be all very old copy, should you try to use it.  And yes, there is something impressive at the end of this – I think so, anyway.  I asked you to come here because I read your piece in the ‘Herald’ about sports philanthropists and you mentioned Mack Crabtree. It brought back a basket of memories.”

“Which we’re indulging.  For heaven’s sake, Chas; put up or shut up, will you?  I guess you knew Crabtree when he was sponsoring Casterley?  You know how big a wheel he is now, I suppose?”

“Member of Parliament, hotly tipped to be next Minister for Sport, fingers into every pie, inexhaustible supply of money, principal sponsor for the new National Stadium…”

“That is the basis for his place in my series – I am writing about other people as well, Chas; why so – no, I won’t use the word ‘obsessed’ – why so interested in Mack Crabtree?”

“Because of history.  Because you’ll be getting an interview with him, and because of other concerns I have, too.  For example, where has all his money come from?”

“Northern entrepreneur!  You should be proud of those, Chas!  As I understand it, he bought back the lease on Casterley Town’s football ground.  When the club went bust he sold the land for a fortune…”

“Aye, he did.  To a company called Wesfane Electronics that was desperate for a new plant in the area to make their industrial coolers.  Curious how it all linked together…”

“Business, Chas!  That’s how it works, mate.   You should know, you’ve got a couple of companies of your own, now, haven’t you?”

“Matthew, there’s something very wrong about Mack Crabtree.  I crossed him, unfortunately, and yes, you could say I harbour a bit of a grudge, even after all this time, but he has just too much money for a small-town entrepreneur.   You’re so thorough with your homework, tell me what you’ve discovered about his family.”

“I’m not sure I want to, Chas.  I dig pretty deep.  Some things are given to me in confidence – like the background of an international footballer whose mother was a prostitute?”

Just basic stuff.  It’s all right, I already know his ex-wife is an alcoholic.”

“She’s in rehab…”  Poultney qualifies.

“For the third time, before I stopped counting.  Maybe she drinks to forget.  Speaking of which, will I refill that glass of yours?”

“Well, thank you, I won’t refuse.  His new wife’s sober enough.  His setup should be pretty standard in this day and age.  Wife, who works, she’s a commodities broker, an only son who runs his own chandlery company, likes cats, favourite food Mexican, all the usual stuff.”

When you interview him,”  I say,  “ask him about Susan.”

“Why, was she some juicy ex-lover, or something?”

“No, I grew up with her.  She’s his daughter.”

“Daughter!  He hasn’t got a daughter.  Has he?”

 

© 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 Twelve – Knights In Manilla 1989

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I knew.  Oh, yes, I knew what I was doing.

My friend John Hargreave coined the phrase that perfectly described my situation.

“You’re painting yourself into a corner, Chas.”

He was right.  I was.

It all began well enough – Angie and I caught up in the novelty of living together, building a home at 15 The Avenue. In so many ways a home I never had, growing up; free of censorious neighbors, intrusive social workers, the frequent attention of the ‘chatties’ – the police.  I had moved from a street where such things were expected to a road where they would be deplored.  I had moved away from my mother and a whole web of emotional ties, into the bright sun of Angie’s unconditional love.

And that felt a lot like being free.

Angie waxed transcendent. She exulted in a circle of close friends and a large, devoted family.   Her conviviality drew aunts, uncles, parents, grandparents, and ‘just lads she knew’ like moths to a flame, all ready to sit around our living room bathing in the wash of her exuberant charm.   Among the host, I watched the ‘lads she knew’ with some amusement because they were drawn to her for ignoble reasons.  Be they visually pleasing, erudite, brash or diffident, their cause was hopeless; whoever Angie wanted Angie would choose, and for the moment, at least, that choice was me.

For myself, I trained harder and harder; spending long hours pounding pavements with my Walkman filling my ears.  My goal-scoring rate was consistent, but more importantly my message of confidence fed through to the rest of the team, and Casterley Town’s fortunes improved steadily.  As January gave way to February we were third in our league.

If you had joined me on one of my training runs, or spoken to my heart through the conversations of our socially brimming living room and suggested I was lonely, I would have laughed at you: lonely?  My life was full, I never stopped.  I was building my career, I was priming myself for success, wasn’t I?  But behind my dreams there were empty spaces; great caverns my thoughts dared not enter, for if they did they would find all of my past waiting for me there. And they would find Susan.

I was on our home pitch warming up for the first fixture of the month before I realised our perimeter boards were featuring ‘Crabtree Electrical Contractors’, and I did not play well that afternoon because wherever I turned I was faced with the Crabtree name.  Then, a week later, the club issued us with new shirts that featured a Crabtree logo, and suddenly I was wearing the totem of my most sworn enemy every time I ran onto the pitch.

Angie was philosophical.  “Well, ah thought you’d have been pleased to tak’ e’s money, like?  Divvent worry about it, Chas.  It’s not something you can change.”

Martin Berry, Casterly Town’s largest shareholder, sent for me the Monday after that.  He greeted me in his office.

“Well, now, if it isn’t Roy of the Rovers!  Sit down, lad.  D’you want a coffee or owt?”

I refused politely and we went through the motions – how was business, was Jackie (Jacqueline, his wife) well, was he pleased with his team’s progress?

“Pleased?  Aye, you could say I’m pleased.  I made a good choice when Jack Masters picked you out.  We were watching you from right before you left school, did you know that?  Jack said he had a real diamond and he wasn’t wrong, was he?  You’ve brought money into the club, Chas.”

“Money?  Are we talking about Mack Crabtree?”

“We are.”  Berry nodded.  “Sorry Chas, I know you and Mack don’t exactly get on, but you should realise he made you a condition of his investment.  He would only sign on the dotted line if you were in the side.  Does that make you think differently?”

“Not really.  If he was so interested, why wasn’t he present when you announced my signing?”

“Would you have signed if you saw him there?”  Berry chuckled.  “No, I thought not.  I asked him to stay away, and he didn’t take much persuading.  Anyway, I wanted to talk to you about that contract of yours.  You went to Ranton.  No blame!  Good move on your part, everyone needs representation.  But Ranton tied us to a one-year, one season period Chas, and that’s not enough for me.  I’m greedy, lad; I want you with us for two, three, four years.  You, me, yes, and Mack, we can do big things with Casterley Town.  For the first time since I can remember we’ve got three or four new local sponsors interested in us.  If we can get ourselves promoted this season, and it’s a real possibility, who knows where we can go from there, eh?

“Chas, there’s an envelope for you on Sandra’s desk.  Collect it on the way out.  I know you’ll have to go back to Ranton, but I want you to read the contents of that envelope first, and if there are any problems ‘phone me.  We can sort them out.   I might be wrong, y’see, but I think you’re happy here.  It’s your choice, Chas – don’t let anyone make your decision for you, alright?  Now, I’ll get one of the lads to drive you back.”

So Jack Masters, my erstwhile teacher and football coach, he who testified for me at Magistrate’s Court, had first brought me to Berry’s attention when I was in his class at school!   What was more, when it would have been easy for him to conspire with Berry and tie me into a cheap long-term deal he had provided the link to Allen Ranton, so I could be properly represented. The more I reflected on events, the more I saw how big a part Jack had played in getting me into the Casterley Town side, and how deserving he was of my thanks.

But then what should I make of Mack Crabtree’s involvement?  Surely his stipulation that I join the ‘Town’ as a condition of his sponsorship had been made on purely commercial grounds?  In his relentless drive for local recognition sponsorship of the football club could only help him if the club was successful.  No less than Martin Berry, he saw me as part of the key to that success; which would have been very flattering, if the sponsor had been anyone other than Mackenzie Crabtree.  Was it the full story, though?  My past dealings with Mackenzie were telling me he had other motives.

Angie was at work when I returned to our apartment on The Avenue.  I threw the large buff envelope Berry’s personal assistant had given me down on the coffee table and I looked at it for a half-an-hour before I tore it open.

Our telephone had been connected only two days before.

Ranton’s booming voice was on speaker.   “Chas!  Hello, lad!  So what’s he offering you?”

“How did you know there was an offer?”

“I’ve been expecting it.  Actually, he’s left it quite late.  How long does he want the contract to run?”

“Five years.”

Never!   He’s got some balls, you’ve got to give him that.  Feed me a few of the bottom lines, will you?  What does the money look like?”

I reeled off the figures that had taken my breath away just a few minutes before, and I relayed the substance of my conversation with Berry.   Ranton listened, quietly, until I was done.

“Well, aside from the five-year term, it’s not bad.  He certainly wants to keep you.  Thing is, Chas, you’ve got to consider if Casterley goes up to Third Division, how much more money this Crabtree character and Martin Berry are prepared to put in.”

“He says he’s got other sponsors interested.”

“I hope he has.  He’ll need ‘em.  That team wants renewing, lad, starting with the manager and working down.  You can’t do it all by yourself.  What if I told you Carlton Park have been watching you?”

“Carlton Park?  No!  They’re Second Division!”

“Not just Second Division – their new manager Merchison’s got a pedigree, Chas.  He’s a First Division man through and through and a good spotter; you can take my word, if he wants you he’s got a role for you, a good role in a good team.  He’s putting something really interesting together up there.

“There are some very big changes happening in football at the moment.  TV money’s feeding into the top of the game and the rich boys want a new, smaller First Division.  If it happens, the lower division clubs will get cut out of much of the action, and most of the money.  Likely you’ll know about Newport County, yes?  They won’t be the only Fourth Division or Conference side to go out of business, you mark my words.  Get on that ladder and start climbing, Chas; you’ve got the gifts.  For you it should be easy.

We wound up the conversation.  “It’s up to you.  I’ll negotiate a better Casterley contract for you if you want to stay.  I’ll get you better terms, and I’ll certainly make sure they don’t tie you up for more than two years, but it’ll be nothing like what Carlton’ll offer. If Carlton Park comes after you, you can pretty much treble those figures, and still be in the market for a sponsorship or two.

“No rush, lad.  In fact, stall.  I’ll come back to you when I’ve got something firmer from Merchison, then you can let me know what you decide.”

“Carlton Park Athletic!  Carlton’s like, an ‘undred mile away, man!”  Angie rarely protested with such vehemence.  “An’ it’s a big city!  It’s bigger than Bedeport!”

“More like sixty miles.”  I corrected her carefully,  “And it’s a town, not a city.  Look, hon, it hasn’t happened yet.  It might not happen, but if it does, we’ll find a way.”

“We?  AhI’d have to gi’ up my job, an’ everythin’.”

“I know.  I know.”  I hugged her.  “I also know you’re clever enough to recreate everything you’ve done here and more – but only if you wanted to.  It’d be up to you, love.””

She nodded solemnly.  “Ah’ll think about it.”  She said.

In the lea of that conversation I saw how presumptuous I had been.  It had never even occurred to me that if I moved on I might have to leave Angie behind!  Now, suddenly, the choices were not so clear. Angie’s strong connections with Casterley had to bear upon my decision.  The town was home to both of us, but her roots probed so much deeper than mine.  I can’t deny that her intimacy with her large family had come as a surprise to me, because when I troubled to count, I had just as many relatives in or around the place as she, yet most of mine were such strangers that if I passed them on the street I might not know them.   Was this merely because Angie was gregarious when I was not, or had my father’s reputation contributed to our household’s isolation in my growing years?

I could not doubt the soundness of Allen Ranton’s judgement.  Even I could see that Casterley Town’s football club was in a precarious state.  Petty feuding among the playing staff, a management (Martin Berry aside) either disinterested or inadequate, non-existent marketing – the list could go on and on.  Although the dressing room atmosphere had cleared somewhat from my early days, I had no sense that I was playing for a strong team.  Guy Harrison rarely got off the bench during matches now, so I could understand his reason for disliking me, but sniping from others in the side was continual, and it puzzled me sometimes.  Gary Webb, with whom I had struck up some sort of a playing relationship on the field which meant we both took a share of the goals, did not restrain his jibes:

“How’s yer Mam, Chas?  Still doin’ the taxis, like?”

“She still answers the ‘phones, yes.”

Typically, Herbie Volkes, goalkeeper, would join in.  “D’yer use them taxis then, Gary?”

“Na!  Too expensive fer what yer get, man.  Anyways, I got me own car at ‘ome, haven’t ah?”

These exchanges were liberally interspersed with sniggers from other occupants of the dressing room, and there was something definitely unpleasant about that laughter.  The truth was right in front of me, of course, if I had been wise enough to see.

A couple of teams in our league were so far away as to be unreachable in anything less than a day, so an away fixture with them, such as our first game in March, meant a hotel stay overnight.  It was Sunday afternoon before I was able to return to the apartment.   Angie was out.

A note on a scrap of paper by the telephone said:  ‘Gone to my Mums’.

With hours of claustrophobic ‘rest’ in a coach seat behind me, waiting in the apartment for my girlfriend’s return was an unattractive prospect so I decided to go out, which was how, a half-hour later, I found myself wandering with no particular destination in mind, through Casterley’s Victoria Park.  It was raining – nothing unusual because, of course, March in the north of England is necessarily a wet month.  I did not mind the rain.  Rain kept the pavements free of people, a rare blessing for someone whose work involved constant exposure to crowds.

The first buds of spring were all around me, birds anticipating summer had begun some diligent nest building, and the stately trees that lined the paths set up a solemn rhythm of drips as backbeat to a comfortable, noisy silence.

A silence stirred by a sound of distant footsteps.

I resisted turning around for quite some time. It developed into a game, one in which I turned from path to path, sometimes in circles, once even cutting across the wet grass; never looking back.  The tread was always behind me, neither closer nor further away, not menacing, not pressing, until at last my curiosity overcame me.  I swung on my heel.  My stalker was at the far end of the path I was about to leave.  He stopped as I stopped; quickly turning away as if afraid I might see his face.  Of course I couldn’t, over so great a distance.  I suppose I might have chased him down; after all, he had been following me, but he posed no threat, and I was in no mood for confrontation.  I reasoned he must have recognised me at some point, as I had become quite well-known in the town, and elected to follow me because, like me, he had nothing better to do with his Sunday afternoon.  Fans could behave oddly.  I continued my walk through the park, checking behind me a number of times, but I did not see him again.

Yet – and yet – what is the clever little knob the mind can turn that switches on a doubt, or amplifies a suspicion so indelibly that no conscious effort of will can switch it off again?  How could it happen, that every time I left our apartment after that I had to look over my shoulder to persuade myself my stalker in the park was not behind me still, tracking my every move?  Although he was nowhere to be seen I sensed his presence.  I found myself glancing back at every corner, listening for that same faint and far-off fall of foot that might betray him.

The month of March passed quickly, the busier because I expressed my gratitude to Jack Masters by helping him coach the Juniors.  Following our Carlton Park discussion Angie was more sparing of her time at home.  She became less frivolous, given less to the spontaneous laughter that endeared her to me.  There were changes in her, so subtle that only one who knew her as well as I might notice them, but notice I did, and I could feel her unhappiness.

It was on the last Friday afternoon in March.  I had just arrived home after training and Angie was still at work when the telephone rang.  Ranton sounded tired.

“There’s a nice big brown envelope in the post, Chas.  I sent it recorded delivery, lad, because if you want what Carlton are offering you have to act fast.  Windows like these don’t stay open long.  Read through it as soon as you can and get back to me.    See here, Chas, the choice is yours but frankly, lad, I think you’d be mad to turn this down.  You could be a First Division player in a couple of years!  Call me as soon as you can, right?

I said nothing to Angie, fearing the storm that was about to break and praying she wouldn’t be home when the letter came, so I could read it first, and think – think very hard about my future.  First Division!  I could be a First Division footballer!

We played at home on the Saturday, so on Sunday I took Angie to a gig in Bedeport to hear a new band she liked called the Happy Mondays.  We were on the late ‘bus home when a storm blew in from a different quarter.  There had been a tension in the air all evening, as if Angie was working herself up to say something that she knew I wouldn’t want to hear.  She picked the quiet top deck of the Casterley ‘bus to say it.

“Chas, you remember a couple o’ Sundays ago when ah went over me Mam’s?”

“Aye.  I went for a walk in the park and got soaked.”

“Well, there was something ah had to talk to somebody about, yeah?  Even though ah wasn’t sure ah should.  Ah wasn’t sure….”

“Right.”  I put an arm around her, immediately feeling her shoulders stiffen.  “What weren’t you sure about, hon?”

“See, you were away the Sat’day night, y’kna?  And Terry com’d over t’see us.  Terry – you know Terry?”

“Yes.” Terry was ‘just a lad she knew’ – one of her more determined suitors. I felt a lead weight dropping through my chest.  He would have known I had an away match and used my absence to make a move.  “I know Terry.”  I bit my lip.  “What happened, Angie?”

“He’d had a bevvy or two, ah think.  He started comin’ on to us, y’kna?  I had to slap ‘im down and ah was a bit mean, prob’ly.   Anyways, he turned nasty,   He said sommat.  He told me something ah should’ve known but ah didn’t.  He caught me out.  Oh, Chas!”

“You did right.”  I squeezed her shoulder.  “What was it he said?”

Angie turned her head away from me, staring miserably into the moving darkness beyond the window.

“You don’t have to tell me anything if you don’t want to.”  I said gently.

“No.  No, Ah want to tell you.  AhI know ah’ve gotta tell you.”  She still avoided my gaze.  “It’s jus’ so hard.  Thing is, ah told me Mam because ah had to share it wi’ someone an’ you weren’t there, y’kna?  An’ ah’m not sure ah should have told her because you might be mad; but Terry said ever’body knows, an’ it seems with me finding out you’re the only one who don’t.  Chas, love, it’s about yer Mam…

 

© 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 Eleven – A New Page

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

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

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

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

“What’s he doing with my mother?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“He’ll be brain damaged!”

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

“There’s no need for that, Chas!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You’ve told them!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“He already does.”

“What?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Oh, within a week I should think.”

“Tomorrow?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Where’re your parents?”  I asked.

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

“They’re not religious, are they?”

“Sometimes.”  Angie was bubbling with eager energy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“It was a brilliant surprise!”  I said.

“Do you like it?”

“I do, very much.”

“I should be getting home.”

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

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

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

“Not just tonight.”

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

And Angie stayed.

 

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

 

 

 

 

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A Place that was Ours.  Chapter Ten – Secrets

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Photo by Michael Aleo on Unsplash

 

I don’t really recall what my expectations were when I left Rossiter’s Hotel that July evening, coaxing Carlo’s elderly scooter back into town with a large folder protruding from under my jacket.  All at once the game I had supposed could never be more than an absorbing pastime threatened to consume my whole life.  Yes, I had dreamed of being a professional footballer, but now the dream was about to become reality, I probably felt terrified.

Nel Kershaw frowned at me over her spectacles.   She reminded me curtly that she specialized in criminal, not civil law, however…

“However this seems all right.”  She leafed through the pages of Allen Ranton’s contract a fourth time, scanning the solid-looking paragraphs.  “His credentials are certainly good.  Frankly, I doubt if you’ll do better, so the question is, do you want to be tied to one agent for five years, Charles? There is a get-out clause but you would incur a penalty if you used it.”

Other than Nel, I told no-one of my good fortune.  Ranton had suggested I say nothing until he ‘closed the deal’, as he put it.   “It’s important, Chas.  Don’t even tell your mother, all right?”

For reasons I didn’t understand then (I do now), Ranton wanted to handle any press himself.  Needing a reason for my barely contained agitation I told my mother Trevor Bull was picking on me again.  I hoped she would swallow it without pursuing our Trev and beating my lie out of him.

By the time I next met Angela I felt calm, sure that I had my emotions under control.

“What’s the matter, Chas?”

“Matter?”

“Yeah.  You’re quivering, man!”  Angela grinned.  “I’m not saying it isn’t sexy, like!”

“I’ll tell you everything soon.  In a few days.  I promise.”

She gave me a sly look.  “I think I know.”  She said.

“Oh, right!  What is it then?”

“Don’t worry, man, I’ll not tell.”  She drew close and whispered in my ear.  “Do you think you’ll get the number nine shirt?”

Once again, Angela had surprised me.  When I demanded to know how she found out, she simply said:  “You’s.  You’re on fire tonight and only your bloody football can do that to you. You give yoursen’ away, Chas Haggerty!”

Carlo voiced his suspicions.

“So, who’s this Ranton fella, then, Chas?  Why’d he want to keep the’?  He didn’t start getting fresh or owt, did he?”

Jack Masters knew, of course.  He stood outside the loop, ready to see my signature on the contract.  When I delivered it to him at our midweek practice session he simply said “Well done.” Then he told me to get on with training.

“Start doing a bit of running, lad.  A couple of miles each morning, to begin.  You need to sharpen up.”

That Wednesday, I planned to visit John Hargreave.  Carlo gave me two evenings’ release from pizza delivery duty each week to provide some part-time employment for his son, so, with Angie occupied ‘washing her hair’, and my friend desperately in need of an opponent to play his new Nintendo game I downed a sausage with batter and chips from ‘The Golden Chip’, before making my way to his house.   John lived a mile from the town, in one of those little satellite villages huddling around a blocked shaft that had been a coal mine, once.

John’s home was of a lesser vintage than the smoky red brick terraced houses, many of whose doors shielded retired miners, a silent community that harboured pneumoconiosis, industrial deafness and diminished hope.   A thin drape of smoke hung overhead and lurked in the breathing air.  I could never quite get used to walking amid the stultifying silence of that strange street; to one side the cramped hovels of two-up-two-down brick, with their belching chimneys, their expressionless windows, their urgency as they strove to break the narrow chain of pavement and be free; to the other a green acre, a benignly patronizing rank of four bedroomed detached new builds rising from immaculate grass.  Dividing them, the road might as well have been an ocean in depth, a battlefront in hostility.

Once in argument with John I had pointed out his own street as a metaphor for the implacable class war, evidenced by a complete absence of social interaction between those who lived on the left side of the street and those on the right.  He admitted it was true.

“I agree, but I don’t think of it as a line of battle.  I don’t know anyone from the other side but I do know you, and you live in a house a lot like those.  And if it’s symbolism you’re after, come up on a Sunday.  You’ll find our green and pleasant acre being used by kids from the other side, playing football.”

“Yeah, is that why every lamp post has a ‘No Ball Games’ sign on it?”

“They ignore it, much to my Dad’s annoyance.  But kids from our side of the road could join in if they wanted.”

“Nah.  They’d just want to play rugby.”

At so early an evening hour the street was quiet, which must have been the reason I noticed a midnight blue BMW purring toward me.  It was travelling fast, giving me little time to catch a view of its driver, – a man in his thirties, with a close haircut and a sharp aquiline nose. He was not alone.  A woman in a short red dress reclined in the passenger seat, one foot on the dashboard, her legs carelessly displayed.  It was no more than a split second glimpse of someone whose face was hidden, yet it froze in my mind because – because of what?  Could I know a person like that?   If so, how; when, where?

John joked about it when I told him.  “You’ve seen those legs before!  Or was it the position that’s niggling at you?  Think now, and if you remember, give me her address, man.  She sounds perfect to me!”

“I know her from somewhere.  Daft, I’m sure, but I do.  I wish I could have seen more of her…”

“Doesn’t sound like there was much more to see.”

“I mean her face, yeah?  Never mind.”  I was anxious to change the subject.  “What’s ‘Super Mario’ like?”

“Special, very special.  Man, you should try it!”

The game was addictive.  We played long into the evening, and it was dark before I made my way home.  My mother had told me she would be at work, so I used my latchkey, took a Coke from the fridge, and went straight to bed.  Hours of screen watching had taken their toll on my eyes.  I slept like a bear in winter.

Ranton’s letter confirming Casterley Town’s interest came through our door a week later.  There was to be an official signing at Rossiter’s, it told me.  ‘This time you needn’t bring a pizza’.   Our meeting was set for 3:00pm on a Thursday.  For me, that was the day the world stood still – the space between the starter’s warning cry of ‘set’ and the snap of the gun.

As such meetings go the gathering at Rossiter’s would probably have looked unimpressive to those experienced in such things; to me it was immense.  Allen Ranton greeted me in the hotel foyer, prepared me with a few brief comments, then propelled me through a heavy door into a room that proclaimed itself the ‘Dickens Lounge’.  My feet were instantly silenced by deep pile.  There were comfortable chairs upholstered in dark red leather, a huge marble fireplace in which burned a small, apologetic and completely unnecessary log fire, and a faux antique table, where rested an array of coffee pots, milk jugs and cups.  These had already been extensively pillaged.

Of the figures who gathered around me there were one or two I recognized, many more I did not.  Martin Berry cut a familiar figure in the crowd at Casterley’s home fixtures, if only because he owned the club.  A compact powerhouse of a man, his highly pitched voice lent a descant to the baritone song of male conversation which paused only briefly when I entered.  The source of his wealth was undetermined, although subject to a number of unflattering rumours among the fans.  His ear was clearly being bent by a voice I knew emanating from a face I knew; that of Joe Pascoe, Casterley team manager, a squat warthog figure with a paucity of teeth.  Of the few whose heads turned when I entered, Pascoe’s remained fixed in my direction the longest, long enough for me to detect a dark lake of hostility splashing the shores behind his grey eyes.

My encounter with these people lasted all of thirty minutes.   I floated through it on my own happy cloud, because I had daydreamed about it for so long, oblivious to a reality that was quite squalid. My participation comprised a five-minute sideshow in a quagmire of networking, the substance of which had no meaning to me.  I might as well have attended in my underpants for all the notice I attracted.  Ranton, though, he navigated our way through the process with all the skill of a practised helmsman.

“The paperwork’s done, Chas.  All you have to do is sign it.  It’s for twelve months, okay?  Don’t let anyone suggest a voluntary extension.  They’re paying you a bit more than they normally pay at £15000 plus bonuses, so don’t discuss money with anyone.  I’ll just get us through the pictures and the questions, then the rest is up to you.”

There were a couple of press reporters present.  I was photographed next to a Casterley shirt, which Pascoe, wearing his best plastic smile, held up beside me.     The cameraman asked:  “What’s the number on the shirt, Joe?” Pascoe refused to display the back of the garment.  “Is it true Chas is replacing Guy Harrison at number nine?”

“Guy’s position in the team is secure.”  Pascoe rasped, still smiling.

“What position are you playin’ then, Chas?”

Ranton cut in.  “Chas’s position hasn’t been finalized yet.”

“Can’t he answer for himself?”

The room fell silent.  All eyes turned to me.  I could feel my colour rising.

“Yeah, that’s right.”  I muttered.  “Like Allen says.”

I shook hands with Martin Berry and one or two other people I had never met before and was unlikely to meet again.  Joe Pascoe manoeuvred his way to my side.

“I hope you’re worth what they’re investing in you, you little bastard.  I want you down the ground Friday, eight o’clock.  Gottit?”

Then, suddenly, it was all over.  The contents of the ‘Dickens Lounge’ drifted out of its door like snow on a breeze, leaving Allen and me among the cups of half-finished coffee.

“I wonder if they want us to clear up,”  Allen remarked.  He took me by the shoulders.  “See here, Chas, the next season is going to be tough, d’you understand?   When a club’s in as bad a position as this one, results-wise and everything else wise, there are always reasons why.”

“Pascoe?”  I volunteered.

“Maybe.  That’s what the crowd thinks.  You’ll find out as you go along and a lot depends on how you deal with it.  I’ll only say, be positive, right?  And in your darkest moments, lad, and there will be some, just keep in mind this is the worst club you’ll ever play for, alright?”

The worst club – the club I had followed and adored since I first learned to walk!  Somewhere in the back of my head, I distinctly heard the crack of the starter’s gun.

#

“Took me a while to find this place.”  Matthew Poultney says, “Should I take my shoes off, or something?”

“We don’t advertise it.”  I tell him.  “Keep them on, it’s no problem.”

“What made you choose the rural idyll?”  The journalist’s eyes take in his surroundings, walls in warm colours, bright windows inviting the sun.  “I always had you down as a city boy, myself.”

“Our training ground’s two miles along the road.  The airport’s ten miles more, and I’ve a boat on the river.  I like it here, well enough.  Do you still drink whiskey?  I’ve a nice peat-cured malt I think you’d like.”

He nods.  “Never refuse.   I don’t think I’ve ever smelt this much leather.  You’ve come a long way, Chas.”

“Feet of clay,”  I tell him, setting his eyes instantly alight.

“Do I smell an exclusive?  Something cooking in the transfer window?”

“Nothing definite.  As I said, I like it here.”  I pass him a glass.

He holds it up to the afternoon sun, casting an amber reflection through the fluid.   “Good colour.  So why did you want to see me – I mean, it’s always nice to catch up, but…”

“You remember our first meeting?”

“Do I!  You were green as the grass then.  Just signed with Casterley of all places…”

“Accident of birth…”

“And you were all for diving in, a happy little coffee bean eager for the blender!”

I nod.  “Consider me duly blended, yeah?  I had no idea what I was up against.  Pascoe, the manager, clearly hated me for reasons I didn’t understand, and that number nine, Harrison – bloody Harrison tried to injure me in training!  They ignored me in the dressing room and they ignored me on the pitch.  I was on the bench match after match, waiting for Pascoe to bring me on in the last ten minutes if he felt like it.  By that time we’d be two, maybe three goals down and I couldn’t get a pass from anyone.  No-one would feed me – they just froze me out.  We were knocked out of The Cup in the first round, the team kept losing and the supporters started picking on me.  It was as bad as Allen predicted and worse.  Were you following us then?”

“Not match for match.  I followed the scores, of course, I always do, but apart from The Cup the nationals only want copy on superstars.  It was Ranton pushed me to do our interview.  He was a good agent, was Allen.  Retired though, last I heard.”

“He passed away last year,”  I tell him.

“I’m sorry to hear that.”  Poultney walks closer to the window.  “It’s a grand view of the river from here.  What changed it for you?”

“It was Pops – Tommy Travers, the groundsman.  He opened my eyes to it all.   I was sitting on the terraces one day, and I’ll be honest, I was already contemplating giving up football when Tommy sat down beside me, and that was major for him because his bones were that stiff he couldn’t get back up again sometimes.  He explained how neither the manager nor the team wanted me there because I threatened their little apple cart.  They were old players and part-timers with some unofficial stuff on the side, doing just enough to stay in the league.  The last thing most of them wanted was a goal-scorer who might bring more money into the club.”

“More money would mean fresh legs, stale legs being forced out.  It’s an old story.”  He nods.  “I take it this Pops character was of a different opinion?”

“He wanted his new pitch, didn’t he?  He was astute enough to see that mud baths like the Casterley ground had had their day.  It needed a new surface – better drainage, part artificial turf, and so on.   There wasn’t money in the pot to do it or any investment in the offing and he was afraid if Casterley dropped out of the League, there’d be nothing left for anyone.  He told me to go over Pascoe’s head and talk to Martin.”

“The owner?  Martin Berry?”

“What a memory!  Although you’ll have done some homework on the way over here, won’t you?  I forget these things.  Anyway, He’s a nice bloke, is Martin.  I took an instant liking to that guy.  I went to see him and I found him on the floor of his warehouse with his sleeves rolled up, shifting crates into a panel van.  I told him my problem, and he said he left the team selections to his manager, soI said maybe he shouldn’t.  I also suggested he should get the team to work with me a little.  He listened, but said that bit was up to me.  I remember the way he put it:  ‘Be Roy of the Rovers for a game.  I know you can, I’ve seen you do it’.  So I did.

“The very next fixture Pascoe came in spitting fire, and a lot less than pleased, but he started me at centre-forward against Parnington.    He gave the captain’s band to Walters at centre-half and tried to put me upfield where I’d be starved of the ball, but I kept myself close to the halfway line.  I picked out the first decent ball and ran with it.  It wasn’t copybook, it was scrappy because there was no understanding between us, but we pulled out a result for the first time in the season.  Four – one.  The fans liked me better after that.”

“I remember that first goal of yours.  It was a fantastic solo effort.”

“One of three that afternoon.  My first league hat-trick.  You were there?”

“I saw the footage.”  He cocks an eyebrow at me and tosses his whiskey down his throat.  “When are you going to tell me why I’m here?”

I pick up the whiskey bottle.  “Have another?”  I say.

#

Wait!  Let’s go back a bit.  I’ve told you the story of how my career began that afternoon in Rossiter’s Hotel.  Without disguising anything, I’ve told you how hard it was for me to survive in those first weeks as a professional footballer, but I haven’t said anything about the effect my turn of fortune had on my friends or my home life, and I shouldn’t let that slip by.

Casterley began climbing up the league table, I hit goal-scoring form, and friends and enemies gravitated to me in equal measure; not the kind of friends I could count upon to guide me through a crisis, though, nor the kind of enemies who could see any further than their last drink.  I liked pubs; I am tempted to suggest that at eighteen-nineteen years old most males of my species like pubs, yet I found it wiser to avoid them.  After a good game my back could be exposed to slaps of appreciation from the moment I entered a bar, followed inevitably by an expectation that I would buy everybody a ‘round’.  Following a bad game a week later I could enter the same booze palace under a thundercloud of muted criticism, knowing that someone would voice their disappointment out loud, complete with obscenities, before the evening ended.

Abstinence then:  not a difficult choice for me.  I was assiduous in my training and an evening beer didn’t help a morning run.  But my real friends liked to go out drinking, they liked the pubs in our little town and trouble tended to erupt when I came along, so I was not always welcome.   Jonna ceased to feel comfortable with me the day I started playing for the juniors, but we found some common ground for a season.   When he learned I had a contract with the senior team his jealousy turned from green to black.  He and Sarah very soon came to prefer each other’s company to mine.

By and large, I didn’t mind.  I lamented it a little perhaps, but I accepted.  The wedge between us was driven deeper with every match I played.  Meanwhile,  John Hargreave – Greavesie – who did not drink, had replaced Jonna as my staunchest ally, while I was spending more and more of my free time with Angela, who was not fond of drinking either.  She made a disgraceful drunk when she tried to conform, obliging me to end many a date keeping her long hair out of the way as she wretched.

Angie and I were in our own world that winter; if not truly lovers then at least close friends, living in each other’s pockets, reading each other’s minds, generally setting about biblical issues according to the best teenage traditions.

There was a night in the depths of winter in that very special year when snow was falling,  and we sought shelter as we often did in the warmth of my home.   The house was silent, as it would usually be when my mother was at work, so we undressed each other and slipped into my bed, confident in the knowledge that she would be working for hours yet.  Sex with Angie was a thing of secrets, of laughter that was muffled and filled with mystery, words whispered that could not be said aloud.   Oneness might be minutes or an hour, a reverie ruptured by a raucous joke, or protracted in warm union for a dangerous time.  Such it was that night; we were together in the bed’s embrace, and a cold wind against the window bade us stay.

At last I disentangled myself because I must, and made naked for the bathroom, leaving Angie half asleep.  I opened the door onto the landing, groping for the light.  I switched it on, at which precise moment the door to my mother’s bedroom also swung open.  Framed within it, wearing as little or as much as I, stood a large male figure.

Mackenzie Crabtree’s face froze in horror, then he emitted the nearest thing I have ever heard to a male scream.

 

© 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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Blogger Awards

Hi:  this is a quick apology.  From time to time bloggers I follow are kind enough to nominate me for various blogger awards.  I am very flattered that a fellow bloglodite should think me so worthy, and I hate to say this, but….

I no longer respond to them.  I have too many other commitments,  So once again, thank you very much, and to close with the immortal words of the great Ringo Starr

‘Peace and Love’. brothers and sisters  ‘Peace and Love’