|Warning:||adult themes, sexual abuse of minor implied, violence|
|Description:||Nigel’s father returns and wants to talk. Soon after, Nigel’s uncle dies. From then on, things go from bad to worse.|
Nigel Townsend unlocked the door to the flat he was sharing with his fiancee Sandra and walked in. It was almost nine and he’d promised he’d look in on his mother before going to bed. He was exhausted after working two shifts in a row. At least this time, it had been in front of an expensive piece of equipment, not a human body. Though he liked most aspects of his work, Nigel was childishly fascinated with the digital equipment, making the pathologist’s work so much easier, albeit perhaps a bit more complicated. All his hard work had borne fruit too. Nigel couldn’t help noticing that not only his friend Harry Cunningham, but also his older colleague Leo Dalton had been full of admiration.
Sandra called a cheerful greeting from the bedroom where his lucky girlfriend was lying, comfortably propped up by a pillow, stroking a beautiful cat. She’d been home from work for almost an hour and a half. An early night for her, considering her usual workload.
“There you are. I was beginning to wonder. Any longer and I’d have had to go in and liberate you.”
“That would have been a change. You could have brought Jess and liberated Harry as well. Of course, thanks to my brilliant work, we found the evidence. The police was extremely pleased. This guy had been slipping through their fingers for almost three years.”
“Good for you, love. Are you coming to bed?”
“I wish I could, darling, but I did promise mum to look in on her tonight.”
Sandra made a face, which made Nigel want to slip under the covers with her and – but no, he couldn’t let his mother down. She was getting on a bit and her health wasn’t good.
“Right. You’re such a sweetheart. That’s why I love you. Come here, babe.”
Nigel dutifully presented his face for kissing, before reluctantly walking out again, carrying Sandra’s car keys in his right hand. Fortunately, he could be at his mother’s house in less than ten minutes at this time of the evening, then back again, if he was lucky, within the hour.
He rang the doorbell at his mother’s house and waited. His mother had given him a key when he moved back to England, but he didn’t have it on him tonight. Being this tired made his mind function at a slightly lower level than usual. Since he was expected, it wasn’t long before his mother looked into the peephole, then removed the safety chain and opened the door.
“Hello, mum. Sorry I’m so late. My work just dragged on and on.”
“I know, darling. When you do such important work, that’s only natural.”
He followed his mother inside and waited while she put on the kettle. It was an old ritual, which actually made Nigel feel comfortable now that his uncle would no longer show up unannounced, or any other way. After being charged with possession and distribution of child pornography, he was being held by the police, awaiting trial. At least Nigel had been told so by the officer in charge of the case. He was hoping his uncle’s barrister wouldn’t manage to get the old man out on bail.
“Dear – your father rang me today. He wanted to know how he could reach you.”
“How did he know I was back?”
“He didn’t. I wasn’t sure if you wanted me to tell him you were here and not still in America -”
“I suppose he’ll find out sooner or later. There’s no reason not to tell him. Did you?”
“Yes, I felt I should. He was quite surprised. I have his number.”
“Oh. Did he want me to ring him?”
“He wanted your phone number, but I wasn’t sure if you wanted him ringing you at Sandra’s, or at work, so I felt it was best to -”
“Thanks, mum. That’s fine. I suppose I should get in touch.”
After Clive’s arrest, Nigel’s mother hadn’t said a word. It was making Nigel uneasy, trying to imagine what she was thinking about the whole thing and if she could guess what Clive had done to him. In any case, he wasn’t going to tell her and he was hoping that she wouldn’t ask.
They had their tea and biscuits and Nigel returned home, having added his father’s phone number to his phone book in the mobile. It seemed to go to another mobile phone, which led Nigel to believe his father might not have a permanent address, or – that he was in financial trouble. He knew his father had retired from the Navy some years ago, and the transition to civilian life hadn’t been a success. That was more or less all he knew. They hadn’t been in touch for years and hadn’t met face to face for even longer.
Sandra was still awake, waiting for him. The cat had joined the other one on top of the sofa, and they were grooming each other. It was such a peaceful cosy, domestic scene, Nigel couldn’t help smiling. All they needed was a dog and they’d be all set for traditional British family life. Unless you counted the fact that the lady of the house was a lovely dark chocolate brown, spoke with a lilting accent Nigel found extremely sexy and – that the man of the house had spent about five years of his youth being sexually assaulted by his uncle.
“You’re back. How was your mum?”
“She was fine.”
“Good. I talked to mine earlier today and she and everyone were just fine too.”
“Great. I’ll just be a second.”
Nigel went into the bathroom to get ready for the night. He still could hardly believe that he was back with Sandra after all those years. If he didn’t look at his wrists, where the cuts he’d made in desperation were still healing and itching once in a while, he could almost forget the nearly twelve years that had gone by since he’d fled England, to escape his uncle. For a second he stood looking down on the healing cuts, but the thought of Sandra waiting for him in bed, made it easy to tear himself away from his habitual brooding.
“I took a look at your blog. Well, Sydney’s blog now.”
“It’s still my blog, love. I just let Sydney handle the day to day work.”
“I know. It’s pretty wacky.”
“Was that American, my lovely cowgirl?”
“Answering back, are we? Hm. I’ll have to do something about your manners.”
“Please do. I suppose my years in America have rather spoiled me.”
“Never mind. I’m so glad to have you back.”
Sandra nodded meaningfully towards the empty side of the bed. Nigel hurriedly obeyed the unspoken command. For a while, their cheerful banter was abandoned in favour of more direct physical contact. Afterwards, as Sandra lay with her head on Nigel’s chest, Nigel recalled what his mother had told him.
“Mum told me my father had been in touch. Apparently, he wanted to talk to me.”
“Really? After all these years. Amazing. Are you going to see him?”
“I don’t know. Mum didn’t give him my number, but I have his, so I suppose I’ll give him a ring and ask what he wants.”
“Perhaps he wants a reconciliation?”
“I doubt it. Still, I don’t think I’ll refuse to see him, if that’s what he wants. It’s been so long since we last met I hardly remember him.”
“At least yours is still alive. If I were you, I’d be keeping my fingers crossed you’ll be able to find each other again, somehow.”
“That’s hardly likely, but I suppose anything’s possible.”
Back at work the following day, Nigel turned the matter over in his mind. He was feeling slightly uneasy over his father’s sudden reappearance. Looking back, he couldn’t recall one single time they’d had a normal, peaceful conversation between them. Every time, his father would be expecting more from him, than he seemed capable of offering and each time, he would get nervous and disappoint the old man. Even his time in the Navy had never fully satisfied his father. Nigel doubted he could ever do anything right in the old man’s eyes.
During the morning break, he confided in Harry.
“That’s good news, isn’t it?”
Harry was smiling as he was dipping the tea bag into his steaming cup of water.
“If you knew my father, you wouldn’t think so.”
“That bad, eh?”
“Even worse. I’ve never been able to do anything right, as far as he’s concerned and he treated my mum badly too.”
“I hope he wasn’t abusive.”
“Not physically. At least not to mum, fortunately. He slapped me once or twice, but nothing I couldn’t handle.”
“Oh. As you know, I hardly remember my dad, but mum’s told me about him. He was so proud of me, apparently, and I hadn’t even done anything while he was still alive. Rather embarrassing, really. Just like mum’s always going on and on about her brilliant son.”
“I know what you mean. Mum’s always talking about me too. Poor Lydia doesn’t seem to be able to compete. She wanted to be a psychologist, but – she met Travis and – well, nothing came of it. I wish she’d continued her studies, but when the children came along, she just lost interest, I think.”
“Jess is going to get her degree before – I mean, we have been discussing having children and -”
Harry blushed a little. It felt rather personal, discussing having children, when he wasn’t even married yet. Didn’t even live with his fiancee, like Nigel did.
Nigel smiled sadly. He hadn’t had the nerve to ask Sandra how she felt about having children with him. Considering his background, it wouldn’t be surprising if she felt a certain reluctance to start a family.
“I’m sure you’ll make a smashing dad and Jess will be a wonderful mum.”
“Yes, I think so too. I’ve seen her with the cats and she’s so – intuitive.”
“Just like Sandra.”
“I heard she said you and the cats get along fine.”
“Oh, we do. Cats always loved me. Dogs too. It’s brilliant to finally be able to share my home with some feline kids. I didn’t have the heart to get any type of pet while I was still in Boston. Oh, wait – not pets, furry family members. Sandra’s always telling me it’s important to be clear about that. I agree, it’s just so hard to remember. Actually, I thought about getting some goldfish, but – I was only ever in that apartment – I mean flat – for a couple of hours a night. It was hardly worth it.”
“So, are you going to ring your dad?”
“I’d better. Next he’ll be showing up here, asking Sam or Leo about me. I might as well find out what he wants.”
“Did he remarry?”
“No, he had an affair – or more than one, I think. Mum didn’t tell me or Lydia much about it. As far as I know, it didn’t work out. At least he’s on his own now, or so I’ve heard. We don’t really keep in touch.”
Harry nodded thoughtfully. He was concerned about Nigel. Those cuts on Nigel’s wrists were still making it difficult for him to perform autopsies. Not that Sam wanted him cutting up bodies when he could perform his magic on the new machinery. The external wounds might be healing, but what about the internal ones? His friend sounded cheerful enough, but Harry knew how easy Nigel could hide his true feelings. At least he was now with Sandra. Just like Jess, Sandra was good at seeing through any pretense.
They returned to work, trying to get through the day’s workload before nightfall. Whenever he could, Harry would pass by Nigel’s mysterious screens and controls and stare in wonder at the results coming in. Five years ago, they hadn’t even heard of that machinery, now they were doing work that could compete with the best forensics labs in the European Union.
Around seven, Nigel was able to tear himself away and arrived home before Sandra. He recalled that she had a special neuter and spay drive with discounts for people with low incomes. She wouldn’t be back until at least an hour later. With a sigh, he decided this was as good a time as any to get that phone call out of the way. He found his father’s number and let it ring. To his surprise, the call was answered at the second ring.
For a second, Nigel felt completely at a loss. What did he say to a father he hadn’t seen for more than ten years? They hadn’t even spoken on the phone for at least four years, probably more.
“Hello, dad. It’s me – Nigel.”
“Nigel. I wasn’t sure you’d want to get in touch.”
“So, what’s the news?”
“You’re back in England. That was news to me. I never thought I’d live to see the day when you’d be back in your own country, boy.”
“Well, here I am. Actually, I meant news about you. How are you doing?”
“Alright, thank you for asking. I – heard about your uncle.”
Again, Nigel’s mind was a blank. What could he say about Clive and his arrest which wouldn’t give his secret away?
“Your mother must be devastated.”
“Yes, I – Actually, I don’t know. She hasn’t said anything.”
The beating of Nigel’s heart became almost painful. He kept expecting his father to notice and ask him what was wrong. His hands felt clammy and his throat dry. In the end, his father didn’t even mention Clive again. His question concerned something completely different. After a while, Nigel’s labored breathing slowed down.
“Could we meet? I know you probably don’t want to, but I’d really like to see you and talk to you again.”
Nigel hesitated. What could his father want to discuss with him? On the other hand, no matter what it was, it would most likely end in their arguing violently, which made a public place unsuitable. Sandra’s place was equally unsuitable and he certainly wasn’t going to bring his father either to work, or to his mother’s house.
“Could you come and see me at my place?”
“Your place? Do you live here now?”
“I’ve taken a room for a couple of weeks at least.”
“Oh. Well, I suppose I could -”
“How about tomorrow? It’s Saturday. Do you work on Saturdays?”
“Sometimes, but not tomorrow. Alright. Could we make it early? I’ve promised Sandra I’d help her at the shelter.”
“Sandra? Is that your black girlfriend?”
Nigel felt a spark of indignation at his father’s choice of words. He recalled that his father had never taken too kindly to his connection with Sandra, even back at uni.”
“Yes, dad, she’s my fiancee and my future wife.”
“I see. Congratulations. We could meet as early as you like. Eight? Nine?”
“I’ll be there at eight.”
His father provided him with the address and terminated the call. Almost immediately, Nigel regretted his promise. Knowing he could hardly have refused didn’t make him feel any better. Although for vastly different reasons, he dreaded the meetings with his father, almost as much as those with Clive. Just like with Clive, there was no reason to hope that things would have changed over the years. The meeting would be as straining and aggravating as ever, he was certain of it.
The sound of a key in the lock broke him out of his brooding. He went to meet Sandra at the door and her kisses did something to restore his mood. They cooked dinner together – fried vegetarian bangers and chips, with a mound of green beans with margarine – all of which actually tasted great, far better than the American junk food Nigel had grown used to in Boston. Dinner helped improve his temper considerably.
Sandra’s eyes drew him in, willing him to tell her about his day and he found himself recounting his conversation with his father, but not the one with Harry. He couldn’t quite bear to draw attention to his doubts about Sandra’s trust in him.
“You poor baby. How about some massage?”
“Oh. You know me. I never say no to a little massage.”
“From me, I hope, not from – say – that Jordan person in Boston.”
“Oh, Jordan? – that would be the day. She’d never give anyone a massage.”
“Oh, doesn’t she know how?”
“I didn’t ask. Forget about Jordan, love.”
“I will if you will.”
“Mm. The massage is making me forget everything except you.”
“At least you know what I like to hear. Let’s just hope you’re telling the truth.”
She squeezed Nigel’s rather tense muscles a little too hard, causing a flash of pain to shoot through his shoulders.
“Ouch. What was that for?”
“Nothing. Just keeping you on your toes.”
“Oh, was that all?”
He stretched his back a little and found that all in all, he felt better than before Sandra’s return.
“You must be pretty exhausted too. How would you like some massage?”
“Mm. Perhaps. Actually, I was thinking more along the lines of a nice, long bath. Care to join me?”
“I thought you’d never ask.”
By the time Nigel fell asleep, he was feeling much better, and even the visit to his father’s place didn’t fill him with as much dread as earlier. After all, he did have Sandra to return to, after the meeting.
His father had rented a room in the cheapest part of the city, confirming Nigel’s guess about the old man’s financial situation. He wondered what he’d do if the sole purpose of the meeting would be for his father to borrow money. Rather than having him turn to his ex wife, Nigel would much rather give his father the money himself.
To his surprise, his father seemed less inclined to barking out orders than he had been the last time they’d met. On the contrary, he was – soft-spoken and sounded almost – friendly. Nigel’s suspicions automatically increased. He began to calculate exactly how much he could afford to give the old man, without placing the wedding and their new flat at risk. No matter what troubles his father were in, he couldn’t sacrifice his upcoming marriage, just to help him.
“Can I get you anything? Tea? Orange juice? A drink?”
“I’ve had breakfast and it’s too early for me to start drinking.”
Nigel took a long hard look at his father, trying to guess if he’d turned to drink. He knew, from his mother’s sketchy snatches of information that his father had drunk rather a lot when he was younger, in the company of his Navy friends, and Nigel himself had seen his father, if not exactly drunk, then close to it, on the few occasions they’d met after the divorce.
The old man looked – older – and smaller somehow, as if he’d shrunk. His hair was grey and he walked with a stoop Nigel hadn’t seen the last time they’d met. On the other hand, even though he seemed concerned about something, Nigel’s professional opinion was that the old man was probably in sufficiently good health.
“Right. Shall we sit down?”
Nigel took a seat at the rickety table. It seemed the room came furnished. There were damp patches here and there on the walls and on the ceiling and the wallpaper was coming loose.
“Nigel – there’s something I have to ask you. I know I’m probably the last person you’d wish to confide in, but – I am your father. If you could – I wish you would tell me – As you know, I – heard about Clive and what – he’s been arrested for.”
Nigel suddenly felt cold and he glanced wildly around the room, as if seeking an escape route. In reality, the only thing keeping him rooted to the spot, was a sort of shocked paralysis. He felt trapped. Why did the old man suddenly take it upon himself to act like the father he’d never been, especially now?
“I don’t know how to say this so I’ll just ask – did – did Clive ever – do anything to you?”
Nigel swallowed nervously. How could he tell his father about all the years he’d spent grimly trying to deny what was happening to him, and hiding inside himself? There didn’t seem to be any easy answer to his father’s question, but Nigel’s mind raced ahead anyway, hoping to find a reply which might satisfy his father, without exposing himself. He failed. All he could do was deflect the question.
“I don’t see why you should suddenly show up and act as if you’re concerned. Now, after all those years. If you’d cared about – what happened to me, you could have taken an interest twenty years ago.”
“I know. You have every right to be angry with me. I – just wasn’t prepared for the responsibility. Your mother became pregnant and naturally, I wanted to do my duty to her, but – as you know, we weren’t – we didn’t get along. In the end, I felt that the best I could do was get out, before our quarrels harmed you even more.”
“You treated mum badly and – whatever I did, it was never good enough for you. I think it’s a little late for you to show up now and pretend to care.”
His father cast Nigel a sad glance and nodded.
“You’re right. I was unfair to you. My father – but that’s only excuses. The times were different when you were growing up. I had no right to expect you to be – Besides – I know I’ve never told you this before, Nigel, but I’m very proud of what you’ve made of yourself. Oh, I know I can’t take any credit for that. It must all be your mother’s doing. I won’t make any excuses for the way our marriage turned out. When you’re married yourself, you’ll know that things aren’t always easy. I just want you to know that once – I loved your mother very much and I love you. You’re my son.”
Nigel stared at his father as if he’d never seen him before. He had an odd feeling this was a stranger wearing his father’s face, like in all those alien abduction stories which had fascinated him during his years in the United States. On the other hand, as the Americans said ‘talk is cheap’. There was no reason to believe in his father’s sudden change of heart. Except – he did sound sincere. The look in his eyes seemed filled with emotion, not anger or reproach as in the past. Nigel thought he could detect a warmth he’d never seen there before.
“Nigel, please. Tell me if Clive – hurt you. I need to know.”
Indecisively, Nigel sat, wavering between confiding in his father and running as he’d grown used to in the past. In the end, he did neither. The silence began to feel oppressive, and Nigel’s eyes began to wander around the shabby little room, in search of some relief.
His father sighed audibly, then changed the subject.
“Your mother sounded – well. Is she?”
“Yes. She had a crisis last year and that’s why I felt I had to return, to look after her, but now, she’s doing fine.”
“That was very kind of you. Have you been in touch with Lydia?”
“Yes, when mum was so ill, Lydia was here, so we had a chance to talk, at least a little. She had to return almost at once, but it was good to see her, even that briefly.
“Is she doing well?”
“I think so, though she was a little vague about her marriage. There might be something going on. I – never liked Travis.”
To his surprise, his father now smiled.
“Me neither. At least we have something in common. I always thought him too – mercenary.”
“Exactly. Not that anyone could ever dissuade Lydia from anything, once she’d made up her mind. She always had everything figured out and wouldn’t accept any changes of plan.”
“Let’s hope she’s doing alright.”
Nigel nodded. The atmosphere in the dingy room felt much easier than a few minutes ago. It was amazing that he could speak to his father like this, without their tempers flaring.
“How are you and Sandra doing?”
“Fine. I – I’ve never been happier.”
His father’s face softened and to Nigel’s astonishment, he smiled again. This man really was a stranger. He was too dizzy to try and make sense of the change, and hearing Sandra’s name had reminded him that he was running late. Time to go.
“I’m glad. Yes, I know you’ll be very happy with her. Good luck, son.”
Nigel got up, a puzzled look on his face. It seemed his father was dismissing him, but in a way diametrically different from in the past. They shook hands bemusedly, as if neither man had expected quite this outcome to their meeting.
“If – if I can, I’d like to see you and Sandra. I – might even look in on your mother, if she doesn’t mind.”
Before he knew what he was saying, Nigel found himself promising to invite his father over for tea, at Sandra’s place without even asking her first. That was something he never did, even if Sandra insisted he treat the place as his own.
To his surprise, his father seemed to hesitate. Nigel felt cheated somehow. He’d been taken in. Now his father was showing his real personality again. Naturally, he wouldn’t want to see a black girl from the slums.
“I don’t know if I’ll be able to, but I’d like to. You – don’t trust me. It’s only natural. I just want you to know that I’m truly happy for you and Sandra and I wish you both the best of luck.”
“Will you be busy while you’re here?”
“I might be. It depends -”
“I have to go. Sandra and I are due at the shelter.”
“Yes, of course. Don’t keep her waiting.”
All the way to the shelter, Nigel kept going over the meeting in his mind. It had been bewildering, painful, yet – somehow – it felt as if he and his father were finally growing closer, if that was possible. While they walked dogs and mucked out the kennels, he told Sandra about the strange visit. Sandra was inclined to view it as favorable and smile encouragingly at him. He wasn’t quite as sure, but found that he was hoping they might find some common ground after all.
On the way home, Nigel couldn’t help approaching the topic of family in a roundabout way.
“Do you think we could afford a house instead of a flat?”
“Of course, if you’re willing to commute to work. I just thought you liked living in the centre?”
“In a way, but – I was thinking about those dogs. If we lived in a house, outside of centre, we might have several dogs. You know, it breaks my heart to think of all the ones we have to turn away, because this is a no-kill shelter. Not that I think it’s any better to put them down. I just thought – you know – we could do more if we had more space.”
Sandra beamed at Nigel. She’d never fully expected him to embrace her cause quite that fully. He seemed to have become such a city person, after living all those years in a place like Boston.
“I love it. We could get a huge rambling house with a big garden and have a large family.”
Nigel felt his heart leap in his chest. A large family. Of course, it was always possible she was referring to the dogs. He wanted that too, but one or two children of their own would be – but only if Sandra wanted to. How could he expect her to take the chance, knowing that a man with his past was likely to be a danger to children?
When Nigel didn’t reply, Sandra’s face fell. Perhaps he didn’t want children after all. Many men didn’t, she knew that. In fact, she knew many women who didn’t either. Perhaps he didn’t even want the house and the garden after all, and was only trying to please her. She wouldn’t beg, no matter how much she wanted that home for them.
Her mother still lived in the same flat where Sandra and her three sisters and younger brother had grown up. All the others still lived there, except for Joshua who was at uni, just like she had. Her sisters might have, but they’d all become pregnant while still in their teens. Sandra had sworn that wouldn’t happen to her and it hadn’t, not even with Nigel, that first time around. Now she felt it was about time.
“That is if you want to.”
Nigel looked up, instantly forgetting his own brooding, when he heard Sandra’s dejected tone. Had he misunderstood her completely? Did she think he didn’t want children? Perhaps it was time they talked about it, instead of guessing and assuming.
“Of course I do. I just – didn’t think you -”
“Me? With all my twelve nieces and nephews? Why wouldn’t I want a family?”
Her surprise sounded genuine. Nigel felt a dryness in his throat. He might as well tell her what was on his mind, so he’d know once and for all, no matter how badly it would hurt if she suddenly changed her mind.
“I just thought – I was afraid you might think – you know, about me – my past -”
“I thought you might be afraid to have a family with me, after – what Clive did to me.”
“What on earth for? I’m not starting a family with that old beast. It’s you I love.”
“Haven’t you heard about men – with my background who – go on to molest other children?”
“Yes. I’ve read about that, but didn’t you know that the latest theory is that violence, not sexual abuse is the deciding factor? Did your father beat you?”
“No. He was never even there. Besides, he didn’t need to hit me. He just yelled at me.”
“There. You see. Nigel, I love you. I trust you completely. Did you think I’d let you alone with our babies if I didn’t trust you? My ex couldn’t keep the door closed and – Misty ran off. It was a miracle I found her again, after three months. She was pregnant too.”
Nigel couldn’t help smiling. He felt a sudden urge to burst out laughing. How could he have doubted Sandra? She was the most wonderful person in the entire world. He was the luckiest man on earth to have met her. Overcome with emotion, he pulled her into his arms and not only kissed her, but lifted her up and danced around with her.
“Put me down.”
“Alright, but don’t you think we need to celebrate?”
“Yeah, of course, but we’re not married yet and we haven’t found a house. Perhaps we should start there.”
“Alright. When can we go and see a real estate agent?”
“I suppose you won’t be happy unless we do it today. If they’re open. Let’s go and check.”
They found an estate agency which was still open and looked at the available houses. There were at least four which seemed to fit their requirements, but all were hideously expensive, despite the distance from the centre. All the same, they made appointments to see all of them the following week.
They were on their way home, hand in hand, when it occurred to Sandra that she needed to prepare Nigel for possible disappointment.
“You know, some sellers might not like to sell to a black woman.”
“Nonsense. Why should they mind? Our money is as good as anyone else’s.”
“Some people are still like that. When mum came here, no black person could get a house of their own. Well, almost no one. Cricket players and singers and – footballers maybe, but no one else.”
“That was ages ago. If they don’t want to sell, they can blame themselves. We’ll find a nice place and we won’t let anyone spoil it for us.”
“Ah, you’re so sweet. I just wanted to warn you that – not everyone is as open-minded as you or Jess or Harry.”
“I’d forgotten how narrow-minded some people still are here. Of course, in many ways it’s even worse in the US. Not only when it comes to African-Americans, but us. The English. You have no idea how prejudiced many people were about me. Besides, most of them seemed to think I was gay.”
“Really? They clearly hadn’t had the pleasure of sleeping with you.”
“Uh – no. Not many had.”
“That’s good, now that you decided to come back. Imagine my horror if you’d married some American woman – like that Jordan person.”
“I like that.”
“I’ll ask around at work. Someone might know of a suitable house, hopefully at a more affordable price.”
“Good idea. I’ll do the same. It’s probably better that way. And now – about that celebration – if you like, we could ask Jess and Harry over for dinner.”
“Yes, I’d like that. Oh, they’ve been discussing having children too. Harry told me.”
“Jess told me about that ages ago. They’d make fantastic parents, just like you and I. Our children must play together and – oh, Jess wants to buy a house too. If Harry likes the idea, we could try to get them in the same area. Wouldn’t that be nice?”
“Yes, that would be brilliant.”
Again, Nigel couldn’t resist kissing Sandra, causing an elderly lady to frown disapprovingly. He was hoping she wasn’t one of those racists Sandra had mentioned, but merely an old prude, who didn’t like to see a happy couple enjoying their afternoon together.
They spent most of Sunday in bed, relaxing, talking, making love. Sandra also tried out new hairdos for Nigel, which he bore stoically.
“I think this would look nicer. Wait. I’ll get a mirror. Don’t move.”
He didn’t really feel like moving, especially since Sandra’s search for the hand mirror at first didn’t take her outside their room. She presented a very nice view of her naked body as she bent over the drawers pulling out underwear, scarves and socks then putting them back again. Eventually, she vanished briefly into the bathroom, bringing a small makeup mirror, which she brandished in front of Nigel’s face.
“Hold on, love. I can’t see a thing. Do you mind?”
He took the mirror from her and studied himself thoughtfully. Why not let Sandra have her way? Women were much better at hairdos and clothes and so on. If she preferred him with a fringe, he didn’t have any objection.
“Did you want to cut my hair yourself, or should I go to a barber?”
“Hm. As long as you don’t lose your strength, it doesn’t really matter. I am rather good at grooming dogs and cats, but – go on, go to a barber. We want you looking pretty for the wedding photo.”
“Pretty? I think you got that mixed up a bit, darling. You will look pretty, I will look – distinguished.”
“Don’t be silly. My uncle Ferdy looks distinguished, you will look – hot.”
“Oh, right. Hot, of course. I’m not going to tell you that you’re the only one who thinks so. It’s far too flattering.”
“You already told me, babe.”
“Yes, I did, didn’t I? Never mind. You know me, I always talk too much.”
“You’re so cute when you’re wrong.”
“What do you mean?”
Nigel stared suspiciously at his fiancee.
“I happen to know that my cousins find you extremely sexy. They’re green with envy and now they all want English boyfriends.”
“I hope you’re talking about Lucinda, Marie, Jessie – and – what are the rest called – Jo and Mollie and Amy? Not Toby or Johnny.”
“You’re such a comedian. Toby and Johnny are envious of you. They’ve seen how you shuffle in food and never put on any weight.”
“Oh, that? I suppose it’s just a gift.”
“For you, it is. Not everyone’s that lucky. You’ll have to keep me – exercised or – I’ll become as fat as my aunt Harriet.”
“Mm. I don’t know. That might not be such a bad thing. It depends on where the extra fat sticks. If it goes there and there and -”
“Hey, keep your hands to yourself.”
“Didn’t you just tell me you wanted me to keep you – exercised? How can I do that if I’m not allowed to – exercise?”
“Mm, I did, didn’t? I prefer your body though. Fat is so – un-sexy.”
“If you say so. You wouldn’t want me to build more muscle?”
Sandra giggled as her hands explored Nigel’s upper arms and chest, as if considering his question.
“No. If you were any stronger, it wouldn’t be so easy to overpower you.”
“Oh. There’s that, of course, but you know, it’s not as if I’m going to fight back.”
“Just try it.”
“No, no, I’m happy the way things are.”
“That’s what I love about you.”
She descended on him so quickly, he didn’t have time to defend himself, but as he’d just told her, that was the last thing he wanted. By the time they finally dozed off to sleep, they both felt contented and expectant.
While Nigel was standing in the bathroom shaving, the phone rang. Sandra picked it up. He couldn’t hear her talking, but he assumed it was just the noise of the shaver. It wasn’t until he turned it off and put it away, that he realized that she was still holding the phone, still without saying a word. He was beginning to think it a little odd, when she put the phone down, and met him halfway.
“It’s for you. D I Pereira.”
The name caused a chill to run down his back. Somehow he knew it would be something to do with Clive. His unease must have shown, because Sandra touched his lower arm reassuringly before gently shoving him towards the phone. She stayed close, waiting to find out what the police officer would have to tell her fiance.
“Dr Townsend? I thought you’d like to know that your uncle Clive was killed early this morning.”
“He was shot at close range with a handgun.”
“I – thought he was still in custody.”
“So did I, but apparently, his barrister managed to get him out on bail last week. I’m sorry. If I’d known, I would have warned you.”
Nigel had an unpleasant feeling D I Pereira knew far too well why Clive’s release would bother him. He hadn’t heard that anyone had told the police. It was the main reason why Sandra and Jess had gone to such lengths to make sure his uncle remained behind bars. They had wanted to spare him the necessity of making a formal accusation against the old man. And now – Deep down, Nigel felt a growing conviction he knew who was behind the killing. Suddenly, he felt faint and without being aware of it, he put the receiver down and sank onto the nearest kitchen chair.
Sandra snatched up the phone, told Pereira Nigel would get in touch later, then hung up. She kneeled anxiously in front of her fiance, studying his face intently. It had lost all trace of color and she was afraid he was going to be sick.
“Nigel? What’s wrong?”
He didn’t seem to hear her. Even though she gently touched his face and called his name, it was a long time before finally her voice registered.
“Oh. Clive’s dead. Someone killed him early this morning.”
Sandra’s mind raced. Would they try to blame Nigel for the murder? Her next thought was that the old man must have molested other boys. A man like that must have had plenty of enemies. Even one of his paedophile friends might have felt it necessary to get him out of the way, in case he might implicate others.
She couldn’t quite understand why Nigel was so upset about losing a man who had caused him nothing but pain. Or perhaps it was merely that his uncle’s death reminded him of the past. If the incident made him relive the torment, it was hardly surprising he was in a state of shock.
“You can’t go to work today. Ring them and tell them you’re not well. If you like, I’ll do it. Come on. Let’s get you to bed.”
“No. I’ll need to see my mother. She’ll be – devastated.”
“Alright. Ring them and let them know you won’t be in and I’ll ring the clinic and have Beth cover for me. I’m not letting you out of my sight today.”
Nigel couldn’t help gazing at Sandra, to reassure himself. Whatever happened, it would be alright, because he had her by his side. As long as he remembered that, nothing would be too hard to bear.
She got up and put her arms around him, holding him for a moment. It seemed to help. After a while, he too got up and made the call to his boss. When she realized his uncle had just been murdered, Sam was very understanding. She told him not to come in at all that day and she’d rearrange his schedule to compensate for his absence.
Sandra took the phone from him and managed to get her partner Beth to take over. It wasn’t that hard to do. They both loved their work and it usually didn’t take too much persuasion to get them to come in, even on Sundays or late at night, when some animal needed their attention.
On the way to his mother’s house, Nigel refused to consider who was responsible for the murder. He’d deal with that later. Now all that mattered was to make sure his mother was alright. She had always been so attached to her brother.
As he had expected, the news had taken its toll on her. He was afraid she might take a turn for the worse. Though he preferred to let his mother’s GP treat her, he couldn’t help glancing anxiously at her for signs of a deterioration in her condition. Strangely enough, even though she was clearly in a state of shock, she seemed to be doing well physically. Mrs Digby was with her and after Nigel had reassured himself about his mother’s state of mind, he and Sandra left.
It was time he met D I Pereira and found out all the facts. Unlike in the past, in Boston, this time, his mind didn’t get to work on the various theories and hyphotheses which might solve the case. For once, he didn’t care one way or the other.
The suspicion against his father was eating at him and for the first time in his life, he didn’t automatically blame the old man. If his father was guilty, he could imagine why he’d felt it necessary to do so. Even though he hadn’t told the old man anything, it was obvious that his silence could only be interpreted one way.
Should he have lied to protect Clive? The thought felt humiliating. If he lied for Clive’s sake, didn’t it mean he was justifying what the sick bastard had done to him?
Sandra kept glancing worriedly at Nigel all the way to the police station. His colour was bad and his eyes looked enormous in his tense face. She only had to lightly touch his arm or shoulder to feel how tightly wound his muscles were.
They asked for Pereira by name and the uniformed policeman on duty placed a call to Pereira’s office. To their surprise and relief, he had returned from the crime scene. They were told to proceed to his office, where he met them at the door.
“Dr Townsend. Ms St Martin.”
“D I Pereira.”
“I understand your mother was very attached to her brother.”
“Yes, she was.”
“I hope she’s not -”
“No, she’s – I was just there. A neighbour is with her. I just wanted to know if you have any suspects.”
“Not at this point. Dr Townsend – don’t misunderstand me, but it’s customary for all the deseased’s family members and others who may have been close to him to – recount their whereabouts at the time the crime was committed. So, if you feel up to it, perhaps we could just get the formalities out of the way. If I can clear you and your mother from the investigation, we can get on with the real work.”
“Are you in charge of the investigation?”
“Well, actually, sex crimes handled his arrest, but – since this is a homicide, it ended up on my table. So, yes, my partner and I, D I Craig are handling this investigation.”
“I see. Well, I don’t think my mother will have any alibi, but – I was at home, with my fiancee all day yesterday and naturally all night.”
“I suppose you will confirm Dr Townsend’s statement, ms St Martin?”
“Yes. We were at home all day yesterday and all night.”
“Thank you. I seriously doubt your mother will need an alibi. She can just swear to having been at home alone from – around four to seven in the morning – and that will be sufficient. Unless your mother is a crack shot, I doubt if anyone will suspect her. Especially since she was so fond of her brother. As you can see, it’s just a formality. Oh, just for the record, do you own a handgun, Dr Townsend?”
“There. I think that should do it. Thanks for your cooperation.”
“I would appreciate it if you could keep me posted about the case.”
It wasn’t until they were out in the street, that it occurred to Nigel that his colleagues would be performing the post mortem on his uncle. Suddenly, he wanted to see the body. He couldn’t explain why, when until that morning, he had wished he’d never see the old man again. Now, he felt impelled to report at work, despite Professor Ryan’s specific instruction.
“Sandra, I need to go to the morgue.”
“No, Nigel. Just come home with me.”
“It’s just something I have to do. You can wait outside or go home and wait for me there, but I need to do this.”
Sandra took one look at her fiance and realized that he was serious. She didn’t want to stand in his way, so she just nodded. It wasn’t a good idea, but she’d humour him for the time being.
Everyone was staring at him when he walked in. He didn’t notice, but Sandra could see his three colleague’s following him with their eyes as he approached. She was forced to stay outside, in the reception area, and the last thing she saw of Nigel was how very straight his back was and how tense his arms. The door closed on him and hid him from her sight.
Professor Ryan nodded at Dr Dalton and Dr Cunningham to intercept Nigel. They had just received his uncle’s body and it was obvious that with Nigel present there was a conflict of interests quite apart from the personal aspect.
Leo and Harry had scrubbed down and were wearing their surgical gowns but hadn’t made the first incision. They were able to stop Nigel before he approached the autopsy table where his uncle’s body was lying.
“Nigel, this is highly inappropriate. Please leave at once.”
Leo Dalton didn’t know the full story behind Nigel’s relationship with his uncle, but he did know what their older colleague had been accused of and realized that whatever the truth was, it must be a very painful situation for his younger colleague. On the other hand, here was the deseased’s next of kin, who deserved a moment alone with his relative. It was just that the police had demanded a quick post mortem. That was a conflict of interest in itself.
“Nigel. Sam is right. If you wait until we’re finished, you’ll be able to view the body. Please. It would be best if you returned home. Someone will call you when we’re finished.”
Harry, who did know exactly what Nigel had suffered at the hands of his uncle, gazed at his friend, filled with pity.
“Come on, Nige. You know you shouldn’t be here. Sam and Leo are right. Come on. I’ll walk you out.”
“I need to see him.”
“You will. Afterwards. Come on. Let’s go.”
Nigel looked from Leo to Sam and back to Harry again. He knew they were right. If he stayed, he risked compromising the investigation. Except, if his father was guilty, perhaps that was exactly what he should be doing. Suddenly, he again felt faint. Even though he never had a negative reaction to the formaldehyde, he began to feel sick.
Harry noticed his friend’s face changing colour and grabbed Nigel’s arm, physically dragging him into the locker room. Nigel almost made it to the toilet before he threw up on the floor. Harry had time to back out of the way and fortunately, Nigel’s clothes were spared.
Alarmed by Nigel’s pallid facial tone, Harry forced his friend to sit down, careful to avoid stepping in the vomit. He went to fetch a cup of water and made Nigel drink it. The facial colour didn’t change and Harry was beginning to worry that Nigel would pass out. Harry made his friend bend over and place his head between the knees. They sat together like that for a while, Harry’s hand on Nigel’s neck, until finally, Nigel sat up again. This time, his face was beginning to look normal again.
“Hey. For a while there, you had me worried.”
“I know. Sorry. It was just a bit of a shock.”
“Of course. Will you be alright now? Shall I ring Sandra?”
“She’s outside in the reception area. I’ll just – go home. Thanks. Sorry to be such a nuisance.”
“Not at all. Perfectly understandable. I’ll drop by after work and check on you, alright?”
“Alright. I really appreciate your concern.”
“That’s what friends are for. Besides, you’ve been there for me. Take care of yourself. I think I’d better -”
“Yes, of course. Go back to work. Sorry about -”
Nigel indicated Harry’s no longer sterile gloves and gown.
“Never mind. I’ll get changed. Go on. Let Sandra look after you.”
“I will. Thanks again.”
Harry smiled encouragingly at his friend, then turned and left.
Nigel slowly got up and retraced his steps towards the reception area where he’d left Sandra. She was looking so worried, he was ashamed of himself for his outburst. His friends and loved ones didn’t deserve having their lives disrupted because of him.
Sandra took his hand and led him out of there, from time to time casting concerned glances at him as they walked out to her car.
They only made it halfway back, when Jess rang Sandra’s mobile phone. Sandra glanced uneasily at Nigel, then made the decision to pick up, even though she didn’t normally talk while driving. Jess’ first words convinced her to stop the car at the first free parking space she could find. There, she picked up the phone again and listened intently.
“Are you sure it’s him? They said so? Oh. Yes, he is. I suppose so. Bloody hell. All this too. As if we haven’t had enough – I know. Yes, I will. Thanks. Where did you say it was? Oh, right. Probably. No. Don’t. I’ll try to avoid – Yes, as soon as I know more.”
Nigel had a feeling all this had something to with him so he wasn’t surprised, when Sandra fixed him with a solemn gaze.
“Nigel, Jess told me something – Darling, it’s bad news and I don’t want to – but I suppose you’ll need to know. Nigel, it seems your father is barricaded inside a shelter for recently released prisoners. In this case – convicted paedophiles. He’s – shooting them. The police has the place surrounded.”
Nigel’s already pallid face lost every trace of color. This was exactly what he’d been afraid of.
“Let’s go. Did Jess tell you where it was?”
Sandra sighed and shook her head, not in denial, but merely because she disapproved. She knew that it wouldn’t be any use arguing with Nigel about it.
“Yes. Alright, but you stay back, you hear me? Don’t put yourself in danger or I’ll -”
“Sandra, please, How could I wait at home? I need to be there.”
She nodded resignedly.
She had already taken a left turn and doubled back in the direction they were coming from. The shelter wasn’t in the more upscale areas close to the centre, but they’d have to get past the centre first, coming from their direction.
It wasn’t an address she was familiar with, but she knew the general vicinity and could make her way there rather quickly. They didn’t get very close to the actual shelter. The neighbourhood was swarming with policemen, trying to redirect oncoming traffic and dissuade curious spectators from gathering outside the police cordon.
Nigel had his ID, and as a medical examiner, he might have been allowed to pass, but as it happened, he never had to use it. D I Pereira saw him from a distance, and seemed to have been waiting for him.
“Dr Townsend, if I let you and your fiancee through, you will have to stay well out of range.”
Nigel would have agreed to anything, so he merely nodded and followed the police officer to a spot closer to the building. A task force was gathering and a man in a flak vest was giving orders. D I Craig was standing behind a police car, talking on the phone. Pereira left Nigel and Sandra in the relative safety behind the car and began to confer with another plain clothes officer.
Since Nigel’s arrival, he hadn’t heard any shots fired and he was wondering what was going on inside the building. No one seemed to be able to give him any information.
When D I Craig closed his phone and put it away, Nigel approached him.
“Can you tell me what’s going on?”
“We don’t have a good overview of the situation yet, but about an hour ago, neighbours reported the sounds of gunfire. Two uniformed policemen arrived on the scene to investigate. When they tried to enter the building, they were warned not to come in. The doors were locked and – mr Townsend fired two more shots. We’re not sure if he aimed at one or more residents or if he was merely firing warning shots. Our men sent for backup and – this is pretty much the situation as it stands. We’ve been in touch with his former employers and it seems that your father is an explosives expert, so we can’t rule out the presence of some sort of explosive.”
“Have you made contact with him?”
“Yes. He refuses to come out and -”
“He said to come and get him.”
Sandra saw Nigel’s face tense up. His father wasn’t going to let himself be taken alive. This was intended as a suicide mission.
“When did you last hear from him? How can you be sure he’s even alive? If he intended to -”
“We have visual contact. He’s walking around in there. Looks like he’s trying to round up the last survivors.”
“You’re going to shoot him.”
D I Craig cast Nigel a glance filled with sympathy. He really pitied the doctor. Losing his father this way, had to be tough.
“Excuse me. I’ll need to -”
Craig indicated his colleague Pereira and began walking in his direction.
Nigel could see the team of snipers assembling and he wanted to shout at them to stop. Suddenly, he couldn’t bear the thought of losing his father before he’d even got to know him. They’d never been close and now – he’d never get the chance to find out if they could have a better relationship.
Sandra placed her hand on his arm and patted it reassuringly, but Nigel didn’t seem to be aware of her presence. He stared miserably towards the building, trying to catch a glimpse of his father through the windows. At the moment, from his vantage point, there wasn’t anything to be seen.
Following a signal from the man in charge, the team of snipers moved in. Nigel didn’t want to watch, but found himself impelled to keep straining his eyes, to see anything he could. He braced himself for the sound of bullets spraying into living flesh.
When the shooting started, he clenched his teeth, recalling the sound of his father’s voice only two days earlier. He’d seemed different somehow, more conciliatory than ever before. With a painful clarity, Nigel realized that he desperately wanted another chance to get to know his father – even to make friends with him. There was an emptiness inside him, waiting to be filled by a father-son relationship and now – he’d just have to learn to live without that.
Sandra took his hand and squeezed it, consolingly, and he held on grimly, knowing it would be a long time before he could think of his conversation with his father with any other feelings than sorrow. Now the other police officers moved in and seemingly seconds later, Pereira came back, making for Nigel and Sandra.
“Dr Townsend – your father is badly injured. An ambulance is on its way, but I thought you might like to -”
Nigel instantly sprang to attention. He had no medical instruments and he wasn’t even a practicing doctor, but he knew he’d do whatever he could, as long as there was the slightest chance it would make a difference.
Sandra followed, knowing that veterinarians had a far better knowledge of human medicine than they were given credit for. No one tried to stop her and they were ushered inside the dilapidated building and shown to where Nigel’s father had fallen.
His face was ashen and rigid. The way he pressed his lips together, told Nigel he had to be in serious pain.
Kneeling on the floor by his father’s head, Nigel let his eyes wander across the chest, neck and head. He tried to assess the severity of the injuries. What appeared to be most serious was a wound on the right side of the chest, from which alarming amounts of blood was pumping out. One of the police officers had been pressing a piece of fabric against it, but wasn’t having much luck stopping the bleeding.
At a hand signal from Pereira, he moved aside. D I Pereira stood over the injured man and his son, studying the scene sombrely.
“What do you need, dr Townsend?”
“Towels, sheets, anything clean, really.”
Sandra made eye contact with Nigel.
“Tell me what to do.”
“I don’t know -”
“Yes, you do. You can do it. I know you can. We can do it. First of all we need to stop the bleeding, right?”
Ian Townsend’s eyes fluttered open and for a while, they seemed to be looking at nothing. When his gaze settled on his son, he drew in breath.
“Don’t try to speak, dad, The ambulance is on its way.”
“I had to do it. It was for you. That bastard – he – didn’t even bother denying it. He -”
“I understand, dad. Please don’t -”
Pereira and Craig returned with some clean towels from the bathroom. Sandra took half of them and began to press them against the open wound. At least two smaller ones leaked blood from mr Townsend’s shoulders, but Sandra knew that they weren’t the worst threat.
“Nigel. Let’s -”
He automatically pressed his fingers to the side of his father’s neck and the uneven pulse didn’t surprise him at all.
“Son, don’t. It’s no use. Let me go.”
“No, dad. I want to – We’ve never even talked properly. Don’t give up. Please let me try and -”
Sandra decided to cut in. She knew how much having had this conversation would mean to Nigel if his father didn’t make it, but if the older man was going to stand a chance, they’d need to move fast. She couldn’t understand what was keeping the ambulance, but she wasn’t going to wait around for it.
“Sir. Mr Townsend. Can you tell me if you have any other injuries?”
“Chest. Shoulders. Nothing more, I think.”
“Nigel, would you -”
Sandra pointed at mr Townsend’s shirt. He must have removed his jacket, because he was in his shirtsleeves. Seeing Sandra’s point, Nigel tore the fabric and studied the wounds.
“Pillows, cushions, something. We have to raise his legs. If we don’t do something to stop the hemorrhaging, he’ll bleed out.”
Pereira and Craig tore the pillows off the nearest bed and helped prop up the injured man’s legs. Finally, the sounds of sirens in the background told them help was on the way.
Again, Nigel took his father’s pulse. He didn’t want to interpret the signs, but his medical training told him it was only a matter of minutes before it would be too late. Those paramedics had better come now, or they might as well not bother at all.
To his relief, he could hear the sound of running feet on the stairs and two paramedics burst into the room, carrying their equipment. Nigel and Sandra moved back and let the professionals do their work.
Rapidly, the two men got to work on Ian Townsend and within minutes they had him moved onto the stretcher and were carrying him downstairs.
Pereira placed his hand on Nigel’s shoulder.
“Come on Dr Townsend, I’ll take you in my car.”
The next hour or so was just a blur in Nigel’s memory afterwards. He knew he rang his mother and tried his best to reassure her, though he didn’t think his parents had met in the past fifteen years or more. Some time during the afternoon or evening, Jess and Harry arrived and took turns sitting with him and Sandra. Someone brought coffee, which he couldn’t drink.
In the early evening, a surgeon walked slowly through the corridor, dragging his feet as if he was on the point of exhaustion.
“Are you mr Townsend’s next of kin?”
“Yes, I’m his son, Dr Nigel Townsend.”
“Are you -”
“Yes. How is my father?”
“We stabilized him. If there are no complications, I’d say he’ll make a full recovery.”
Nigel didn’t seem to have heard his colleague. The man repeated his statement, this time going into more detail, for his colleague’s benefit.
“Someone had already worked on him at the scene. Was that you?”
“That might have been what made the difference. He can consider himself lucky you were there.”
“Can I go in and see him?”
“The police are questioning him right now, briefly, but you could have a few minutes afterwards. He’s weak, naturally and needs his rest.”
D I Pereira hesitated. He felt like a beast, sitting here, pushing a seriously injured man to confess to crimes he would have no chance denying anyway. Still, since the opportunity was there, he knew he had to take it.
“Mr Townsend, did you shoot and kill your brother-in-law?”
“I see. Could you tell me why?”
“I always hated the bastard. He never gave our marriage a chance. Never could let go of his sister. I decided to have it out with him once and for all. We ended up arguing and – I lost my temper. I never meant for that to happen, but – he provoked me and -”
“I see. Why did you bring the gun along in the first place?”
Ian hesitated. He’d brought the gun to intimidate Clive, it was no use denying that to himself. What he’d tell the police officer, was another matter.
“The room I rent is in a pretty bad neighbourhood. It would be madness to leave a gun lying around there.”
“Can I ask why you own a gun in the first place?”
“It’s a souvenir from my time in the Navy.”
“Right. Now, could you tell me why you decided to shoot the other men?”
Ian hesitated again. He knew he was on thin ice now. If he admitted he’d shot the men because they were paedophiles, wouldn’t that lead to questions that would in turn expose Nigel? His son wouldn’t be forced to explain himself to the police, that was one reason he’d chosen to confront Clive in the first place.
“I thought that – after what had happened, I might as well – rid the world of that scum. What did I have to lose?”
In a way, Pereira could agree with him. Except he knew there had to be a far more personal reason behind Townsend’s shooting spree.
Ian Townsend closed his eyes, drifting back to the meeting in Clive’s house. His brother-in-law had seemed cheerful, even upbeat, as if he was somehow secretly amused. That grin had been mocking him, and his son. When he’d confronted the bastard, he’d just smiled and shrugged.
“Why would you care what I did or didn’t do to your son? It wasn’t as if you wanted him in your life.”
“Just answer me. Did you molest my son?”
“Molest? Nigel didn’t resist me. He was always very accomodating. Did he tell you I – forced myself on him? Really. I would have thought a military man like yourself would understand. The close relations between – brothers in arms – Besides, you never know. If you try it, you might like it. They’re so – pliable at that age. So eager to please. There’s really nothing like it.”
He didn’t recall pressing the trigger. The first indication he had of what he’d done was when he saw Clive’s leering face explode, splattering blood and brains all over the desk and seeping into the carpet underneath.
The sound of a different voice tugged at his consciousness and he realized the police officer was still talking to him.
“I’ll let you get some rest now, mr Townsend.”
He hardly heard the police officer leave. It wasn’t the first time he’d killed, but in the Falklands, it had felt more distant, less real. This time – At first, he’d thought he’d feel some kind of satisfaction. After all, he’d given his son justice, even if he never set out to kill the old pervert. Now, he realized that what he’d done would never leave him. It would always be a part of him.
The door opened and closed, leaving him alone with his thoughts. When he heard it open again, he expected it to be merely another nurse, fussing over him, as if his condition really mattered. They only wanted to patch him up so they could lock him up and forget all about him.
Whoever it was sat down, beside the bed, and this made Ian finally look up.
There was a slight note of surprise in the older man’s faint voice.
“I didn’t mean to kill him. It was just – he provoked me and I lost my temper. I told the Pakistani police officer – I resented Clive for ruining our marriage. In a way, it’s true. It was all his fault.”
“I only wish you could have told me. At the time. I would have – If I’d been a better father to you -”
“Dad – stop. I never would have told you, alright? You were always disappointed in me. This – if you’d known about it -”
“I know I can’t blame you for not trusting me.”
“I was never strong enough or manly enough. You wanted me to be like you. Well, I couldn’t be and – this – don’t tell me it wouldn’t have served to confirm your opinion of me as a weakling – a pansy.”
“No. If you’d told me, I would have – Christ, I would have beaten the sodding pervert into a bloody pulp. I’m sorry, Nigel. I let you down.”
Nigel angrily brushed away some tears, which despite all his efforts were trickling down his face. He didn’t want to cry in front of his father. In the past, that had always brought on another of the impatient outbursts he’d learned to dread.
“Son, I want you to know that I’m really proud of the man you’ve become. There’s nothing I’d change even if I could.”
It certainly sounded as if his father was serious, but he just couldn’t trust his own ears. This was exactly what he’d waited for the old man to tell him all his life. He looked into his father’s eyes and saw – A sob issued from his lips and he bit down hard, to make sure it didn’t happen again.
He could see his father’s hand twitch as if he was trying to raise it, and hastily put his own over it.
“Son, I’m hoping that – even if I’m locked up, you and I could still get a chance to – get to know each other again. Give me a chance to – be a good father to you, if it isn’t too late.”
“I want that too.”
“I won’t be able to come to your wedding, but I wish you and Sandra all the best.”
A nurse looked in and catching sight of the visitor, she sternly told Nigel to leave.
“The patient needs his rest. Come back tomorrow.”
“Nigel, I love you.”
“I love you too, dad.”
D I Pereira was typing his report. He was glad the outcome hadn’t been worse. The general public usually reacted positively to shootings of paedophiles. In some circles, no doubt Ian Townsend would be hailed as a hero. That could only help his case in court.
Craig was working on his report too, but having more difficulty typing it. He looked up and grinned at his partner.
“Did you see me being interviewed by Channel 4? I’m going to be on the telly tonight.”
“No, I didn’t see that. Congratulations.”
“I’m going to call me mum and let her know. She’ll be wanting her friends to see that. Do you think I should load up the VCR too?”
“Why not? This could be your fifteen minutes of fame.”
“Yeah, exactly. You don’t think they’ll call and invite me to a talk show or -”
“I don’t know. I suppose it’s possible. Listen, about the case – Ian Townsend told me he shot his brother-in-law because of his failed marriage. Does that sound likely to you?”
“I don’t know. It’s possible. My neighbours are always shouting at each other. The wife has a mother and an aunt who are always putting their noses where they don’t belong. One of them told me I was playing my music too loudly. At eight in the evening? You’d think it was three in the morning.”
“Didn’t you hear Ian Townsend talking to his son, at the shelter?”
“No, I was too busy bringing towels and so on.”
“He said he did it for his son’s sake. And: ‘the bastard didn’t even bother denying it’ – that’s what he said. What do you think he meant by that?”
“No idea. What do you think?”
“Oh, come on. What was that old doctor charged with?”
“Oh, right. That nasty stuff on his computer.”
“Exactly. You know what I think? The old doctor molested the son. Dr Townsend. What else would make his father go berserk like that?”
“You’re right. Of course.”
“I’m just wondering. The jury might go easy on him if they knew why he did it. You know, being of unsound mind, because of what had happened to his son. Do you think I should advise him to tell the truth?”
“Why wouldn’t he tell the truth if that was the reason?”
“Use your head. If he used that defence, his son would have to testify. Would you like to tell the entire court how your uncle sexually assaulted you?”
Craig’s face clearly reflected his feelings over such an eventuality.
“I see what you mean. No. I mean, who would?”
“Exactly. No, I won’t say anything. If he wants to protect his son, why shouldn’t he?”
Pereira knew his partner wasn’t normally this thick. It must have been the pretty blonde reporter from Channel 4. Even if he hadn’t seen the interview, he’d heard it mentioned by at least four different colleagues and besides, he knew his partner was a big fan of Liz Jackson. He was even a bit partial himself, even if those blonde overenthusiastic women weren’t normally to his fancy.
There was still a trace of a doubt inside him, but he decided to ignore it. Townsend might get off lightly anyway, considering the fact that the victims were all paedophiles. It would hardly be possible to present the victims in a favorable light.
He liked the gangling doctor and would hate to see him stand up to questioning about his childhood nightmare. Dr Townsend must have suffered enough, if the appalling images on the late doctor’s computer were anything to go by.
Some people might even have gone so far as to say that mr Townsend deserved a medal, rather than a prison sentence, but as a police officer, Pereira knew he couldn’t allow himself to feel that way.