|Primary Characters:||Mike, Jackie|
|Warning:||m/m sex and rape, violence, some strong language|
|Description:||Mike’s past catches up with him, and he’s helpless to stop the revenge. When he’s finally rescued, what can be done to save his career?|
PC Mike Bradley pulled to a stop outside the solicitor’s office and got off his motorbike. He looked around to make sure that he had parked it in a safe place. It might be a little silly to be that attached to a possession, a mere object. The person who he was going to spring a surprise visit on, upstairs, was far more precious to him. But still, the bike was his pride and joy.
What he didn’t know, was that the young women of Aidensfield and Ashfordly alike thought as highly of the driver of the Triumph. Mike had no idea of how attractive he was, a trait that in itself was very appealing to a woman, had he only known it.
But no other women were on Mike’s mind. Just Jackie Lambert. She was different from the local girls. With her arrival, Yorkshire had really entered the 1960’s. She more than anyone had brought the modern world and rural Yorkshire together, in a way that Gina Ward’s mini skirts and boots hadn’t been able to.
Jackie was as tough as they came, and really pretty too. So Mike felt he had the best end of the bargain. The thought of Jackie brought a faint smile to his lips and his eyes lit up. It had been so long, and he had begun to fear that love wouldn’t be in the cards for him. And after so many false hopes and disappointments, he’d met Jackie.
Hurriedly, he locked the bike and went inside and up the stairs. He loved to surprise Jackie. One day, he planned on surprising her even more, by proposing. In the meantime, the engagement ring she wore on her finger would have to do.
Knocking on her door, he waited, expectantly, like a young boy about to see his first love. In a way she was. Since meeting Jackie, Mike had begun to realize that what he’d felt in the past had only been pale reflections of the real thing.
How he loved the sound of those footsteps. Jackie’s high heels pattered on the wooden floor, then he heard the door creaking slightly as it swung open. As always, the sight of her took his breath away. How could this fantastic lady have chosen him and not some fancy solicitor?
Her tough features were transformed and a brilliant smile spread across her face as she caught sight of her fiance.
And she reached up and kissed him, lightly at first, but the kiss deepened, and she held on harder to him. That was another thing that surprised him about her. Her strength. She looked petite and fragile. But those small hands were stronger than they looked. And not many other women were so – assertive. That was another thing Mike loved about Jackie.
At last, she regretfully pushed him away, absently rubbing off a little lipstick she’d smeared on his chin.
Suddenly, he became aware of her voice coming to him as if from far away. He had allowed himself to drift off, lulled by the intensity of their feelings.
“I said, was there anything in particular you wanted? Apart from – this.”
And to illustrate her question, she pulled him back into her arms, this time more briefly.
“No. I mean, yes. Would you like to have lunch with me?”
“Oh, I’m sorry, Mike. I have a ton of work. If I don’t get this done now, I’ll be here until midnight.”
“Alright. How about dinner?”
“Yes, I think I could make dinner. Late dinner.”
“Mm. Late dinners are my favorite.”
He waited to guage her reaction to the unspoken suggestion. This wasn’t London, after all. Her reputation might suffer if they handled themselves indiscreetly. It was like something out of a Victorian novel. Well, not quite. They were engaged. But people would talk if it became known that the proper young solicitor, miss Lambert was in the habit of spending the night at Aidensfield police station, without a chaperon.
“I thought you might say that.”
Her low laugh was the loveliest sound in the world.
“Then I’d better meet you at your place. I’ll sneak in the back, so the old gossips won’t have anything to wag their tongues about.”
“Good thinking. I was just about to suggest that myself.”
“Devious, P C Bradley. Do I detect hints of a conspiracy in your testimony?”
“Guilty, Your Honour. What will my punishment be?”
“You’ll have to cook dinner for us.”
“I shall do my best.”
“Now you really have to go, or I’ll never get this work done. See you tonight.”
This time, he was the one to pull her into his arms, kissing her, gently, trying to avoid any more lipstick smearing.
When she pushed him away, he turned regretfully and left. Still, it wasn’t all that long until the evening. Just a bit more work to do, and he’d see her again.
He decided not to have lunch, and instead chose to drive back to Aidensfield and to the outskirts of the village. There had been some reports of trespassing and vandalism on a farmer’s land. He might as well get that over with.
Most likely it was just some of the local lads with too much time on their hands and too little to do. That was what boys did, after all. Broke a few windows, stole a bit of fruit. Nothing more serious ever seemed to happen in Aidensfield, which was one of the things that made Mike enjoy life up here all the more.
It was so totally unlike London. That had seemed boring at first. Now Mike couldn’t imagine living anywhere else. This was beginning to feel like home. And with Jackie in his life, he could really begin to settle down. Start a new life. In the past, the thought of settling down had been frightening. It seemed to be too evocative of aging and dying. Now things felt very different.
The small country road he turned onto was little more than a track, and the trees grew very close, so though it was barely 1.30 in the afternoon, it was quite dark. There was never much traffic, but Mike thought he heard a car behind him. Yes. There it was again.
That was odd. A car on this small road? Maybe he should stop and give them directions. It was obvious that whoever it was, must be lost. A noise from up ahead made Mike concentrate on his driving. Another car. Meeting out here? That was even more odd. Was something wrong?
A gnawing feeling at the back of Mike’s mind was telling him something was indeed wrong. He’d had it before, and each time, he’d been about to face some danger.
Both cars closed in on him, in a way that couldn’t very well be accidental, or have any kind of natural explanation. There were times when Mike regretted not being allowed to carry a firearm. This was one of those times. Though he had always told himself that carrying a weapon led to error of judgment.
First one, then the other engine pulled to a stop and the doors of both cars opened.
Again, Mike felt a shiver go down his spine. And now he recognized one of the men. He’d never thought to see him again. Anthony Graham. This was all wrong. The man should have still been in prison. Had he escaped? Or been released due to some technicality? Either way, Mike should have been warned in advance.
He looked around for a way out, but there was none. Five men were crowding around him, with an intent. Four of them were tall, muscular, looking like boxers. Exactly the sort of men Graham would have working for him.
“Hello, Mick. Or is it Mike these days? Is that what your little girlfriend calls you? I don’t suppose you expected to see me again. Isn’t friendship a beautiful thing?”
“No, I didn’t expect to see you again. Tony – you have to understand that it was never personal.”
“Never personal? You show up, make yourself indispensable, pretend to be my friend, and it was never personal? But don’t get yourself all worked up, old friend. We have so much catching up to do. Get in.”
“He’s working. Isn’t that something? Not today, you’re not. You’re coming with me, nice and easy, or else -“
The four sturdy men closed in on Mike, grabbed him, and none too gently pushed him into Graham’s car. Mike was never prone to panic, but under the circumstances, he experienced a sinking feeling. He had seen what Graham was capable of.
When operation Gun Smoke was brought to its successful conclusion, the understanding was that he would be given a low profile job far from London. It was exactly a situation like this that had to be avoided.
Now the worst thing possible had happened, and Mike had no way of calling for backup. Even if he had, he doubted Ventress or Bellamy would be up to the challenge. Possibly Craddock, but as this was pure speculation anyway, it was no use even dwelling on the possibility.
Graham put an arm around Mike, feigning friendly attention. Mike had to force himself to remain outwardly calm, when every instinct told him to pull away, and if necessary throw himself out of the car. The risk of injury had to be weighed against what would come later. But he had no way of moving. One of the bodyguards was sitting so close to Mike, he could feel his bad breath and the smell of unwashed clothes.
“You know something, Mick, Mike, my boy? Prisons aren’t very nice places. The things that happen to you in there aren’t very pleasant. And you sent me there. I expect you’re a bit curious about my reason for showing up here, like this, unannounced. I’ll tell you. You’ve never been in prison, have you? I mean, in a cell. Locked up. I thought not. As it happens, I will show you what it’s like.
We have all night. By the time your little friend, or your colleagues at Ashfordly police station miss you, we’ll have covered all the relevant material. Don’t worry about it, Mike. We’ll drive you back into your charming little village long before anyone comes looking for you. You don’t have anything to say to me? I’m hurt. Say something, Mike.”
“I’ll be missed long before tonight.”
“Will you now? Even if that’s true, I don’t think we need to concern ourselves with that, do you? Out here, who’s going to see or hear anything?”
As Graham was speaking, the car pulled to a stop outside a large, rambling farm house. The building itself was run down, but the roof and windows were intact, and despite its dilapidated state, it looked habitable. No one was around. Mike knew that there were plenty of abandoned farm houses around Aidensfield, and some of them had extensive holdings, now lying fallow.
Graham was right. Who would think to look for him out here? Now traces of panic were beginning to shoot up inside him, but he pushed them away. For the moment. If Graham was anything like he used to be, there would be time enough for panic later. Far too much time.
Two of Graham’s men led Mike up to the house, and shoved him inside. From behind him, he could hear the others entering the bare room he was taken to. He was pushed down on a thredbare sofa by the wall, and both men sat down beside him. Graham pulled over a chair and sat down, facing Mike across the table.
There was no tablecloth, no decorations of any kind, and very little furniture in the room. No curtains shaded the windows, but Mike didn’t have much hope that he would be observed from outside. Who would venture out here?
“Now then. Mike. Let’s get reacquainted. It’s been how many years, do you remember? If you don’t, I do. It’s been three years, two months and about ten days, give or take a day or two since we last met. Do you remember that day? Oh, come on, don’t be shy. You were testifying against me. And your testimony was what sent me to jail. Why don’t you take credit for your actions?”
Mike remained silent. He knew that nothing he said or did could avert Graham’s anger once aroused. Whatever Graham had planned, he could only hope that it would be over soon, and that Graham would draw the line somewhere.
“You’re awfully quiet these days, Mike. Not like in the old days.”
Graham’s hand lashed out and grabbed Mike’s chin, tilting his face up, forcing him to look into the crime lord’s eyes.
“What do you want me to say? I had a job to do, and I did it.”
“And it was nothing personal. Yes, you told me. Not good enough, Mike.”
Graham’s reaction was bewilderingly quick. Mike had no time to prepare himself. The other hand shot out landing a stinging blow on Mike’s cheek.
“You betrayed me. No one betrays me, Mike. No one. Not even my good friend Mick.”
Mike didn’t reply. There was nothing to say. He was beginning to feel the icy touch of panic, but again he managed to fight it down. For a second, the image of Jackie appeared before him, but knowing there was no help to be had there, he determinedly pushed it aside.
If he was going to get through the hours ahead of him, he needed to forget everything but his resolve. He needed to become the man he had been more than three years ago. This time, it was so much harder. The new Mike had lost the hard edge that had kept him alive while he was working under cover.
“I think we need to go somewhere more comfortable. There’s not enough room in here. Frank, Percy. Let’s take Mike here out into the barn. Norm, Fred bring the gear. I think it’s time for Mike to learn a little lesson.”
This time, Mike couldn’t stop himself from struggling back. Though he knew it was useless, he strained to shake Frank and Percy. Kicking, and lashing out, he desperately tried to break free of their hold, but all that he achieved was to get them angry. Graham made no comment as they knocked him about a bit, to subdue him. And after all that, they just continued on their way.
Once inside the barn, Graham’s two henchmen proceeded to strip off Mike’s uniform. That done, Frank and Percy held Mike upright, while Graham rifled Mike’s pockets, and finding the handcuffs, he let go, examining his discovery.
“Very good. Saves us a bit of trouble. Set it up, will you, Percy?”
There was nothing Mike could do to stop what was happening to him. Percy cuffed his hands in front of him, then with Frank’s help chained him to a hook on the wall, forcing him to stand upright, on his toes, to avoid making his arms carry his weight. He was now securely fastened to the wall.
The loss of his uniform made him feel naked, and helpless. Which of course he was. It was no use deluding himself. At this point, Mike was beginning to wonder if he was going to get out of this alive. Graham could do whatever he wanted to him. Mike decided he wouldn’t degrade himself by begging for his life. A man like Graham wouldn’t listen anyway.
Now the other two men came through the barn door, making Mike wonder what sort of ‘gear’ they were bringing. He wasn’t kept guessing for long. Cuffs he had already provided them with, but the shackles stunned him.
What had Graham planned for him? But he was jolted out of his brooding by a few hard punches to his midriff. The blows made him lose his wind and the pain made him forget everything else. He bit his lower lip to stop himself from crying out.
The blows were followed up with a few more punches to his face. He felt his lip split open and blood splashed down his chin. His teeth felt loose, but he didn’t think any of them were broken. Not yet.
“I think I have your attention now, don’t I, Mike? That’s good. Then we can move on.”
Now Graham made a big show of lighting a cigar. After contentedly puffing on it, the man moved closer. He removed the cigar and blew a thick cloud of smoke into Mike’s face.
Coughing and retching, as much from the smoke as the blows to his abdomen, Mike twisted feebly to get away. He was tiring fast, and he feared that soon he wouldn’t be able to stay upright. His wrists already hurt from the cuffs. The next time he had to cuff a suspect, he would make sure that the cuffs were taken off as soon as possible.
“Mike? Are you paying attention? I think not. Not enough. Maybe this will help you concentrate on today’s lesson.”
And with no change of expression, Graham pressed the smouldering cigar to Mike’s chest. He left it there, just long enough for Mike to realize that there was no way he could smother the screams that came welling up through his throat.
Graham stepped back a few paces to survey his handiwork. Then he moved forward again, and three more times the same procedure was repeated.
“Good. I think you’re beginning to see what I’m trying to do. Let’s take a break. I want you to think things through, Mike. Remember our time together. Remember London. I’ll be back.”
Mike’s eyes were dimmed by tears, and he only heard the retreating footsteps. It seemed all of them were leaving. Though he had no illusions about his eventual fate, it was a relief to be left to himself. The pain made him fade in and out of consciousness. For a second he was far away from this tumble-down barn. Drifting away, Mike lost touch with his body.
“PC Bellamy, have you seen PC Bradley?”
“No, sir. He came here at around lunchtime, but he should have been back in Aidensfield by now.”
“And what was he doing here?”
Bellamy looked down at his feet, knowing that his colleague had most likely been to see his fiancee.
“I’m not sure, sir.”
“You’re not sure. I see. Very well. Someone needs to be out patrolling.”
“Then what are you waiting for, PC Bellamy?”
“Oh. Sorry, sir. Right away.”
Ventress hunched down over his desk, hoping to remain inconspicuous, but the icy glare of his superior landed on his head, and Ventress could almost feel it. It wasn’t long before the harsh voice blared out to him.
“Are you busy?”
“Yes – No, sir.”
“Excellent. I need you to go over to the butcher’s shop and inquire about certain goings-on in his backyard. Can you do that for me?”
“Uh – yes, sir.”
“Today, Ventress. If that isn’t too much to ask.”
“Yes, sir. I’m going.”
It was close to four p m, and the streets were filling up with the afternoon crowd, if that was an apt description of Ashfordly. Bellamy decided to take his time, in the hopes of finding Mike Bradley. After all, he was the one who was responsible for Aidensfield.
Trying to look as if he had a purpose, Bellamy strolled over to the solicitor’s office, glancing around for Jackie Lambert. If he could just ask when Mike had left her –
As it happened, he was in luck. Jackie was walking across the street, apparently to post a letter. Was her secretary away?
She looked up, the frown on her face vanished and she smiled in recognition.
“Look, the sarge was asking about Mike. And I was wondering did you have lunch with him or something?”
“No. I was too busy.”
“Oh. So he should be back in Aidensfield by now?”
“Yes. Isn’t he?”
“I’m sure he is. Just thought I’d ask. See you later.”
Jackie remained standing by the letter box, a thoughtful look on her face.
Bellamy decided there was nothing for it, but to hop into the police car and drive to Aidensfield. Maybe he’d catch up with Mike on the way.
But he didn’t see Mike all afternoon, and in the early evening, Bellamy had had enough. This was Mike’s responsibility, after all. On his way back home, he decided to drop by the Aidensfield Arms to have a few words with the lovely Gina.
Around 8 in the evening, Jackie was finally finished with her load of paperwork and remembered her promise to Mike. They were to have dinner that evening. For a moment she considered calling him to tell him she was too tired, but decided that she really wanted to see him that night. It had been a while since the last time they’d been on their own together. Though she was tired, the thought of Mike made her eyes lit up. He really was a fantastic man.
She got into her car and drove home, stopping briefly to change and freshen up. But within half an hour she was on her way to Aidensfield. By that time, she was sure Mike would be in, but remembering the old gossips, she parked around the back and sneaked in through the back door.
The house was quiet, no lights were on, and when she made her way into the kitchen there was no trace of her fiancee. That was a little odd, but maybe he’d come back late himself and was now trying to find groceries somewhere. The Aidensfield Arms might help him out, unofficially naturally.
She walked around the house, turning on a few lights. While she was at it, she tidied up a bit. Mike wasn’t anything like Phil Bellamy, but there was no denying that a bachelor kept house differently than a woman would.
When the clock struck 10 Jackie looked up, slightly disoriented. Where was she? Why wasn’t Mike here with her? She realized that she must have dozed off, while she was waiting for him. Something had to be wrong.
Now she recalled how Phil Bellamy had asked her about Mike’s whereabouts. If Mike had been missing since – since he’d left her, or soon after, what could have happened to him? A vision of an accident hovered in her mind.
That bike he was driving around on – it might make him look very attractive, very hip, but was it really safe? Jackie wasn’t the nervous, shy little violet type, but now her concern for the man she loved was making her more worried than ever.
The question was, what did she do now? If she called Sergeant Craddock she might have an awkward time explaining to him what it was she was doing at Mike’s house at this hour. Perhaps she should drive back home and phone from there.
On the other hand, she might simply explain how she had failed to reach her fiancee on the telephone, and having failed to get a reply, surely she’d be justified in driving out to him to make sure he was alright? This wasn’t the 19 century, it was the 1960’s for crying out loud.
Yes. She’d imply that she’d been concerned about her fiancee and driven out to check on him. If Sergeant Craddock had his doubts about her story, he’d be too much of a gentleman to let on. At least she hoped so. Either way, no policeman would shake her statement.
Again, Bellamy was sent out to look for his missing colleague, but this time everyone was a little more concerned. Bellamy felt guilty about not taking Mike’s absence more seriously earlier in the day. He agreed with Jackie. Something had to be wrong. What if Mike had been in an accident on some little used road?
This was bad. They really ought to send out more people to search. It was late, and no one was about so he couldn’t ask anyone if they’d seen his colleague. Despite that, he caught sight of someone walking a dog by the side of the road. As he got closer he spotted a woman he recognized from the village. Mrs – Dingle.
“Hello, mrs Dingle. Out walking this late?”
“Aye. Yer know ‘ow it is. Wretched dog needs walking, rain or shine.”
“Yes. I was wondering if you’d seen anything of PC Bradley today.”
“This morning. ‘e was driving by on yon machine of ‘is. Nasty, noisy things them motorcycles.”
“Eh, yes, well.”
Secretly, Bellamy envied Mike that Triumph and would have given an arm or a leg to own something as wonderful himself. But mrs Dingle might not be made to see that.
“What about this afternoon – or early evening?”
“No. ‘old on a moment. Our Les was walking over to the pub, like, and ‘e said summat about PC Bradley driving up old Creighton road.”
“Creighton road? Thank you, mrs Dingle. I’ll go up there and take a look just in case.”
“Summat wrong with young Bradley?”
“I hope not. Thanks.”
The Creighton road. Out there it was pretty much only farmland, most of it lying fallow. No one else to ask, unless – Didn’t old Amos Moffat live out there? Bellamy wasn’t even sure the old codger was still alive, and if he was, there was no telling if you could get any sense out of him. Still, it was worth a try.
When Bellamy reached the old man’s cottage, the lights were on, so it was obvious someone was at home. After some hesitation, Bellamy decided he wouldn’t learn anything by standing around outside, so he walked up to the door and knocked on it. There was a long silence, then shuffling footsteps could be heard slowly approaching the door.
“Mr Moffat, it’s PC Bellamy. May I ask you a few questions?”
Again there was a silence. The voice challenging the visitor had sounded clear and forceful enough, so Bellamy suspected a sensible answer could be had out of the old man, if he decided to cooperate.
“I know nobbut ’bout any salmon from ‘is Lordship’s estate.”
“No one’s saying you do. I’ve come to ask you about something else. Please open the door, mr Moffat.”
This time a creaking greeted Bellamy’s request. What a relief. It was a bit frustrating to stand here, talking to a closed door. A wrinkled old face looked out. The eyes were still sharp, and Bellamy concluded that no matter what was said about the old man, he was all there, in mind even if his body was failing.
“I’m looking for my colleague, PC Bradley. Do you have any idea where he might be?”
“Why? What do I know about yer coppers anyroad?”
“Please. He’s missing and we’re all a bit worried about him. What if he’s had an accident?”
“I know nobbut about yon Bradley.”
“Wait. I just talked to mrs Dingle, and she said her son had seen PC Bradley out this way earlier today. Up old Creighton road, she said.”
“Creighton, eh? Funny yer should ‘appen to mention that. Only the other day, I was saying ter meself that yon city folk ‘ave no business snoping about Yorkshire. What use could they ‘ave for decent folk’s land?”
“You’ve seen some city people out here?”
“That’s what I said, young man.”
“What kind of people?”
“‘e was up to no good, that one. I can tell yer that. Seen the likes of ‘im before. And those fellers ‘e’s got working for ‘im. Boxers, if yer ask me. One of them gangsters from London, I wouldn’t be surprised.”
“And they’re up at the old Creighton place?”
“Aye. Getting late, it is.”
“Yes, thank you, mr Moffat. I’ll take a look around the old Creighton place. Make sure those Londoners aren’t up to any mischief.”
The old man shut the door without further comment. It was as if he sensed the young policeman’s skepticism.
Bellamy didn’t put much stock in the old man’s wild tale about London gangsters prowling about old farms in Yorkshire. But if there were people up there, wasn’t that a bit of a coincidence?
Mike going missing and some suspicious newcomers showing up? What if there was a connection? It wasn’t much to go on, but at the moment, Bellamy didn’t have anything else, so he told himself he would take a look around the old farm and satisfy his curiosity. If he saw any trace of Mike’s bike on the way, he’d investigate further.
When he found Mike’s bike lying on its side by the road, Bellamy’s worries deepened. There was no trace of Mike anywhere, and judging by the position of the bike, there had been no accident either. What had made Mike abandon his beloved bike like this?
It was too dark to make out much more about the condition of the road, but Bellamy was beginning to get a very bad feeling about the whole thing. Something sinister was going on. Why anyone would wish to attack Mike was a mystery to Bellamy – unless –
Those London gangsters? Wasn’t there some connection between Mike and some London gangsters? It was all so hush-hush but Bellamy had read between the lines that Mike had helped put some crime lord away. And now old Moffat was going on about some city folks showing up in the wilds of Yorkshire.
This placed Bellamy in a bit of a dilemma. Should he continue on up to the old farm house – or return to Ashfordly and call for backup? If what he suspected was true, then the combined forces of and Ventress and Craddock and himself might not be enough to confront those men.
How many of them had there been? Moffat hadn’t specified. But they looked liked boxers – Sounded exactly like the sort of manpower a city crime lord might surround himself with.
This was very bad news indeed, and if Mike was at their mercy – Bellamy didn’t like to consider his colleague’s plight. Colleague? Mike was a bit more than that. He was a good friend and a really nice bloke.
In the end, Bellamy came to the conclusion that he wouldn’t be of much help to Mike on his own. He turned the car around and returned to Aidensfield, and there he called in his new discovery. Jackie was still there, walking back and forth.
Bellamy didn’t believe in the young solicitor’s story about how she had tried to call Mike and how he hadn’t answered the phone. She had been at the police station already. But that was none of his business. No matter what the older generation thought, he couldn’t blame Jackie or Mike for jumping the gun a bit.
It was close to an hour later when Craddock arrived, having called for backup from Whitby. With him were three other uniformed policemen. Two of them were well known to Bellamy from earlier joint operations. He nodded briefly to his colleagues, then they all set out again together. Craddock seemed to be privy to more information about Mike’s connection to the organized crime of London, but he wasn’t saying anything.
At the last moment, they encountered a small complication. Jackie insisted on being allowed to come. Bellamy braced himself for the outburst he knew was coming. Two such strong wills clashing. But the outburst never came.
There was a strange look in Craddock’s eyes, and he gave in with only a minimal amount of grumbling. He cautioned the solicitor to remain well behind the policemen and not to interfere with their work. Jackie nodded acquiescence. That was all.
With no further delay they got into the cars and drove off. Grimly they found their way into the small dirt road where Bellamy had found the Triumph.
What frightened and thrilled Bellamy equally was the fact that they were now all carrying firearms. For a British policeman to do that, it took something exceptional. This more than anything else brought home to Bellamy how serious his friend’s situation was.
Again, he wondered if they would be too late. Would they only find Mike’s dead body? This thought made him cast a worried glance in Jackie’s direction. Her face was closed and tense. Where most women would be close to panic, Jackie kept her feelings to herself.
It didn’t take them long to reach the location of the bike, but they didn’t stop there. Instead they brought the cars about a mile further up the road. Craddock had come prepared, and brought a map. When wasn’t that man prepared? This was as close as was deemed safe to go, without drawing attention to themselves.
From there on, they all walked. Bellamy noted Jackie’s shoes, but made no comment. Neither did she. There wasn’t a word of complaint from her. And she kept up with the heavily shod policemen every step of the way. Not once did she lag behind.
As they came within sight of the farm house, the men spread out. Jackie held back, as promised, but she kept a close eye on developments. The house was silently and efficiently infiltrated and searched. They found no one inside, though certain signs, including a few lamps left on, indicated that there had indeed been occupants present until recently. Once the main house had been secured, a new search was begun. It didn’t take very long to trace the suspects to the barn.
In whispers, the policemen conferred about their next move. Jackie chafed at the delay, but again, she allowed the professionals to take the lead. Remaining in the background, she impatiently waited for any new development.
At last, Craddock signed to the men to move ahead. Two of the Whitby men went around the back, Bellamy and the third Whitby PC circled around to the side, while Craddock himself opted for the direct approach.
Without much interest, Jackie witnessed the policemen’s technique, from the relative safety some paces back.
Suddenly, there was a loud, shockingly harsh sound, breaking the stillness of the night. At first Jackie thought someone had fired a shot, but on second thought, she decided that some heavy object had fallen. She guessed that one of the Whitby men had clumsily dislodged something, which had fallen to the ground with this disastrous result.
At least the deadlock was broken. Something was about to happen. And they weren’t kept waiting for long.
It appeared the suspects had been keeping watch, and were able to determine the force they were up against. Within seconds, they began firing their weapons, and though Craddock’s returned fire, confusion set in.
Jackie, still mostly unperturbed, thought it best to take cover. Heedless of her dress, she flattened herself against the ground and waited, silently praying that Mike wouldn’t be hit by any stray bullet. That he should already be dead was a possibility she refused to entertain.
Now she could hear Craddock issuing new orders, in a more confident tone of voice. From what she could hear, he was sending all three Whitby men after the fleeing suspects. But the sound of a car starting up told Jackie that pursuit was most likely useless at this stage. And she really didn’t see the point. Where would they go? Time enough to exact vengeance later. Now she needed to see to Mike.
She got to her feet and passed through the barn door, two steps behind Bellamy, who in turn was only one step behind Craddock. Both men were still wielding their weapons, alerting Jackie to the possibility that danger might still be present in the murk of the tumble-down building. That didn’t produce any reaction in her. No one and nothing would keep her from her man.
She found that Craddock had brought electric torches, and within seconds the huge room was lit up. The contrast between light and shadow rendered the new situation hard to cover at a glance. But it didn’t take them long to reach the prisoner. All eyes were drawn to the man hanging from from the ceiling, attached to chain, cuffed and shackled.
For the first time since she’d learned about Mike’s disappearance, Jackie gasped in shock. This – she had never seen anything like it. Not in real life anyway. Maybe something out of a Bond movie. But this was worse than anything she could have imagined. And it was her Mike. Not some actor wearing makeup.
All else retreated into the background. She forgot about Craddock and Bellamy, and rushed up to Mike. His head was hanging down, and for a horrible second she thought he was dead. Then she noticed the slight movement of his chest, moving in and out, in time with his shallow breathing. His chest – No. That could only be – Burn marks? And around Mike’s neck – what were those horrible dark marks on his skin? No.
This simply couldn’t be happening to them. To Mike. What had he done to deserve this? Jackie felt sick, and the acrid taste of bile rose in her throat. But she regained control of herself and let her solicitor’s mind take over.
“Can’t you get these off him?”
Craddock glanced over at her and she saw a glint of something in his eyes.
His voice sounded oddly expressionless, but there was a strange undertone that Jackie couldn’t quite read.
“Go get a blanket in the trunk of my car. And get the toolbox. We’ll need to break these -“
Without further questioning, Bellamy ran back out into the darkness. But the cars were parked so far away. It would take too long. Jackie’s keen eyes caught sight of Mike’s uniform lying on the ground.
What if – Those cuffs might be – She kneeled on the dirty, straw-covered floorboards and began to rifle through Mike’s pockets. There. The key ring.
Craddock saw what she was trying to do, and held out his hand for the key ring. After some hesitation, Jackie turned it over.
The key fit. It unlocked the cuffs, and before anyone could make a move to stop the fall, Mike’s body folded up and hit the floor with a sickening thud. Again, there was a sound of distress from Jackie, but Mike remained alarmingly mute.
Again, Jackie fell to her knees, taking in the horrific injuries all over Mike’s body. And – No. No. No. She had to be reading the signs wrong. Could someone really have –
Pleadingly, she looked up into Craddock’s eyes, but he wouldn’t face her. Hurriedly, he picked up Mike’s uniform jacket and dropped it over the unmoving form.
Jackie spread it out to help cover Mike’s naked body.
It seemed to take Bellamy forever to return, but at last he burst breathlessly into the room. He brought the toolbox and it didn’t take him long to break open the shackles.
Craddock snatched the blanket from him and hastily proceeded to cover Mike up. The action made Bellamy stare at his superior in consternation, but said nothing.
When the three Whitby men arrived, having failed to turn up even one of the suspects, Craddock gave new orders. One of the men from Whitby brought the car closer to the barn door, while Bellamy and Craddock carried Mike outside, laying him down in the back seat.
Jackie squeezed in beside him, letting his head rest on her lap. She wished that the gentle touch of her hands on his hair would filter through to him, but she knew that was only wishful thinking. He was too far gone to sense her presence. But that didn’t matter. She was here, and she would take care of him. Protect his interests, now that he was unable to do so for himself.
To her astonishment, Craddock took them back to Aidensfield. All along she had assumed that Mike would be taken to the hospital. Now it appeared he would be left in his own home. Was the man out of his mind? With injuries this bad, at the very least, he would need medical attention. For all she knew, there were internal injuries and surgery would be required.
“Mike needs medical attention. Why are you taking us back to the police station?”
Craddock gave her a veiled look, and waited a while with his reply, as if he was considering his course of action. Finally, he cleared his throat.
She knew he was going to let Mike down. The man only cared about politics and making the right career moves. Trust him to find a way to use this tragedy to his advantage, or at the very least avert any damage that might be done to his own position. Mike, the victim appeared not to matter at all.
“Naturally. We shall send Nurse Bolton to take a look at those injuries.”
Craddock pointed to the horrible marks on Mike’s neck, which were all that was visible, underneath the coarse, grey police blanket.
Jackie’s voice rose to high pitch in indignation.
“There, there. Don’t get yourself all worked up, miss Lambert. I realize what a bad shock this has been to you. Nurse Bolton will take care of everything. If anything more needs to be done, dr Bolton will -“
She knew what the intolerable man was trying to do. Making her seem like the hysterical little woman, worried out of her mind about her man. Nurse Bolton would come and pour her a nice cup of tea, shutting her up, leaving the police to deal with what they understood. And if necessary – as if there was any doubt about that – dr Bolton would be dispatched. Jackie felt as if she’d been transported back into the last century. Beam me up, Scottie. Not that she liked to watch those space series from America.
But she also knew that there was no point taking on Craddock head on. The smug bastard was in a position of power. He would have ways of reducing her to the hysterical incoherent woman he wanted her to be. She had seen it done in court. Crushing a woman’s testimony. Not only women. Anyone that might be rendered less credible. Smoothly, she brushed him off. Time enough later for this fight.
“Of course. Do forgive my outburst, sergeant Craddock.”
“That’s quite alright. Highly understandable under the circumstances.”
His unshakable views on females reestablished, Craddock was once again free to focus on containing the damage done by this disaster that had been been afflicted on the police department.
Pulling to a stop outside the Aidensfield police station, Craddock made sure they made as little noise as possible so as not to draw attention to their arrival. Five minutes later, Mike was lying on his bed, the blanket still wrapped around him. Craddock ordered his men out of the room, but Bellamy didn’t at first realize the order concerned him, Mike’s friend and colleague as well.
“Thank you. I believe we can take it from here. Take our colleagues back to Ashfordly. You know the drill. Circulate the descriptions. Contact all the other stations in the North. I shall expect your report on my desk first thing in the morning.”
The tone was unmistakable and Bellamy took his cue. An uneasy feeling accompanied him outside. Craddock was trying to cover something up. Did he know something about the perpetrators? Or was it something to do with Mike? He would be alright, wouldn’t he? Something wasn’t quite right. But he knew Craddock wouldn’t accept any challenge to his authority. So Bellamy hastened to obey his orders, hoping he was wrong in his suspicions.
“Miss Lambert, I will call Nurse Bolton and have her check up on PC Bradley. There is no need for concern.”
Biting back an angry retort, Jackie managed to produce a faint smile and gave the sought for reply.
“Thank you, sergeant.”
“Will you be alright on your own?”
Translated into modern English the question would have read: I’m leaving now, will you go into hysterics?
“Yes, thank you. Please carry on with your work.”
He should have distrusted her meek tone, but Craddock was no great psychologist, and least of all did he have a great understanding of women. In his view many of present day society’s evils could be traced to this excessive emancipation.
Before leaving, Craddock conscientiously placed the call to dr Bolton’s surgery.
Jackie was only listening with half an ear. All her attention was focused on the unconscious man on the bed. It was all she could do to keep the panic at bay. Strangely enough, her anger at sergeant Craddock helped keep her calm. But the older man couldn’t hold her thoughts for long. Her eyes kept drifting back to her fiance on the bed. She wanted to do something, to hold him, to make him well again. But she was frozen to the spot, unable to make a move.
She hardly heard Craddock leaving. Next thing she knew, Maggie was putting her hand on her shoulder. In a split second, she had no idea where she was or what she was doing. She whirled round to face whoever it was that had invaded their privacy.
“Jackie. It’s me. Why don’t you sit down? Come on. Neil and I will see to Mike.”
“Oh, yes, of course. Maggie -“
Maggie was calmly removing her coat, infuriatingly slowly. Jackie wanted to shout at her that Mike was badly injured and urgently needed help. But somehow she didn’t know what to say. The words died unsaid in her mouth. She had to be wrong in her suspicions. How could anything like that happen here? Even in London –
“You were saying -“
“Nothing. Please, see to Mike.”
Both women turned towards the bed. A faint sound alerted them to the fact that the patient had come to.
His voice was so hoarse it was hard to make out what he was saying. The women moved closer to listen to what he had to say.
“Yes, darling, I’m here. Don’t try to talk. Maggie and Neil -“
“I’ll be fine. Don’t need any help.”
Maggie slid past Jackie and bent over Mike to take a closer look.
“Just let me take a look.”
Mike shrank back on the bed, looking as if he was prepared to fight back, to avoid anyone’s touch.
“Mike, it’s alright. I won’t hurt you.”
And ignoring the distraught man’s plea, Maggie moved closer. She pulled down the blanket slightly and let her hand probe the bruised skin of the throat. Miraculously, her calm approach seemed to have lulled Mike into a feeling of security. This was no enemy. Maggie was a friend. Once she’d even been –
The nurse nodded slowly to herself, then grabbed the blanket again, to expose more of Mike’s skin. Again, the violence of his reaction startled and worried the women. He pulled as far away from Maggie as he could and held the blanket up to his chin.
“Mike. Calm down. You must let me take a look.”
And again, her voice appeared to get through to him. Unresisting, he let her pull the blanket down further, to expose his chest.
When she caught sight of his skin, Jackie had to press her lips together not to let out the scream that was about to burst forth. The slight noise of Maggie’s indrawn breath, told Jackie that the burn marks were as shocking in the nurse’s eyes as they were in the solicitor’s. But this wasn’t the solicitor, it was Jackie, Mike’s fiancee, witnessing the extent of his injuries.
Even more gently now, Maggie examined the burns, forcing down her own reaction. The patient came first. Her own feelings were of no importance. She’d never seen anything like this before. Not intentionally made burn marks. Torture. Torture? In quiet, sleepy Yorkshire?
She cleared her throat.
“I have some ointment to put on those. It might ease the pain a little. I think I’ll give you a shot of antibiotics as well, just in case. But if we keep those clean, there shouldn’t be any infection. Is that all, Mike?”
It was as if he hadn’t heard her. He was cowering pitifully, seeming on the verge of taking flight. Finally, he swallowed hard, trying to formulate a reply.
“Yes. I’ll be alright. Thanks. You don’t need to get Neil here. There’s nothing else.”
His agitation seemed to bely that statement, but Maggie knew of no way of ascertaining the veracity of his claim, without violating the trust between them. Something of her scepticism must have reached Mike. He struggled to find the words to avert her suspicions.
“They knocked me about a bit, but I’ve had worse.”
“I see. Well, I’ll get something to put on your neck, and that ointment and the antibiotics. Then I think maybe I’ll give you something for the pain. Is that alright, Mike?”
“Yes. I would like to get some sleep.”
“Alright. But I really think Neil should -“
Jackie and Maggie stared at Mike in concern. Why this vehemence? What was wrong? Maggie hesitated, torn between her misgivings and her respect for a friend’s and a patient’s privacy. In the end, she decided to humour Mike, rather than force her care on him.
She returned with the promised medical supplies, administered the bandage, the ointment and injected the antibiotics, followed by the painkiller. Perhaps if Mike was allowed to sleep. The shock of the torture he’d suffered was clouding his judgment. Later he might be more lucid. At least Maggie hoped so. She had a bad feeling about the whole thing.
“Alright. I’ll return tomorrow and check up on you. Try to get some sleep. Jackie? I suppose you will be spending the night here? Would you like me to make you some tea?”
“No. Thank you. I do not want any tea.”
Doubtfully, Maggie studied her friend. It was only natural that Jackie was upset, but there was something close to panic in her voice and the nurse was reluctant to leave. It might be better if she stayed and kept an eye on things. She opened her mouth to suggest as much, but didn’t sense any welcome from her patient or his fiancee. In the end, she decided to discuss the matter with her husband. Neil might have some insight which would be of help.
Jackie saw Maggie slowly, reluctantly walk out into the hall, her coat over her arm, the medical bag still open. The door shut behind her, leaving Jackie prey to her fears.
“Mike? If there’s anything else wrong, you have to tell me. I’ll get Maggie to come back and -“
“No. You heard me.”
“Mike, I don’t believe you. I saw what those men had done to you and I think -“
“Yes? What do you think?”
But he was nowhere near as self-assured as he was trying to sound.
“In my work I’ve represented – rape victims, and -“
“What’s that got to do with me?”
Now there was a chill in his voice, which was shaking.
“I think -“
“You don’t know anything.”
“Something is wrong. I know that. Mike, forgive me, but I’m going to ask Maggie to come back and -“
“If you do that, it’s over between us. Do you hear me? I’ll never speak to you again.”
“I’m sorry, but I have to do this. You’re badly injured. All that blood -“
“Leave me alone. Get away from here. I’ll be alright. Just don’t let anyone back in here.”
“I’m serious, Jackie. Tell anyone about your absurd suspicions and it’s over. Have you any idea of how a rumour like that would damage my career?”
“Have you thought about this: What if you die? The post mortem will show exactly what happened to you. Mike, be sensible. You could have internal injuries and you might even need surgery. They didn’t just knock you about, did they? All those bruises. They must have kicked you and -“
“You can’t talk to Maggie about this.”
“Please forgive me, Mike, but I’m going to ask Maggie to come back. And Neil.”
The anguish in his voice tore at her heart, but she knew she couldn’t risk leaving him like this. He needed more medical attention. Tomorrow it might be too late. Shutting her ears to his pleas, she ran outside, and was relieved to find that Maggie was still putting away the last of her medical supplies into the trunk of her car.
“Maggie? Please come back.”
“Come inside, so I can talk to you.”
Jackie noted that Maggie brought the medical bag with her. So she had been reluctant to leave. Maybe the nurse suspected something too? It wouldn’t be surprising if she had. As a nurse, she’d know far more about cases like this.
The door was barely shut behind them, when Jackie burst into tears. She hated herself when she was this way. The last time she could remember was when she was 17 and her boyfriend had left her for the intolerable Moira Gifford.
“Jackie, what’s the matter?”
“It’s Mike. I think – You have to get Neil over here. He’s more badly hurt than he lets on and I think they – Maggie, you don’t think they might have -“
A grim look of resolve came over Maggie’s pleasant features. She had suspected something else was troubling Mike, and Jackie too. What could it be? This time, she wouldn’t accept his unconvincing reassurances. Neil would have to come over right away.
But he was asleep. He had been up all night and late into the day, delivering a baby. A very complicated delivery, one that Maggie had seen early on was beyond her capabilities. What was worse, the mother absolutely refused to be sent in an ambulance into Whitby. So he had fought against the clock, turning the baby over inside the uterus, and finally, when he had left the isolated farm house, mother and child were doing fine.
Maggie really didn’t want to disturb him unless it proved to be absolutely necessary. She decided to perform the initial examination herself, then if Mike really was as badly injured as she feared, she would wake Neil up, but not before then.
“Right. I’ll find out one way or another. Jackie – would you mind going out into the kitchen? I’d like you to make a cup of tea for yourself and something to eat. When was the last time you had anything to eat?”
“Eat? You think I can eat while Mike might be -“
Her voice broke again, and angrily she pushed away a strand of hair that had got into her eyes.
“Jackie. Have a cup of tea. I think Mike will be more comfortable if you’re not in the room. Will you do that for me? For Mike?”
She should have known better than to argue with a trained professional.
Once she’d managed to get rid of Jackie, Maggie braced herself for the coming ordeal. If she had to fight the patient every step of the way –
But she was used to difficult patients. One or two had threatened to kill her. Quite a few men had threatened to kill themselves unless she went out with them. Many more adult patients than you thought were mortally afraid to let a nurse or doctor near them. Some absolutely refused to accept treatment, even though their refusal might cost them their lives.
Whatever objections Mike had to being examined, she would get past them. She wouldn’t let him come to any harm.
He was conscious, and despite his distraught state, he managed to glare forbiddingly at her as she walked in.
“I have nothing to say to you. Jackie should have kept her mouth shut. She’s wrong. There’s nothing wrong with me. Go away. I don’t have to let you examine me.”
“Mike. What are you hiding? You’re not fooling me or Jackie. Are you going to let me see for myself or will I have to ask Neil to help me hold you down while I perform the examination?”
That was just talk, and she suspected Mike knew it too. There was no way she and Neil would ever treat a patient that way. In fact, she hated herself for treating this stricken victim the way she did. But she had good reason. She had to scare some sense into him. If Jackie was right and he really was as badly injured as she feared, then time was of the essence.
“Please don’t do this.”
This time, there was no force behind the words, no real emphasis. Just a final desperate plea.
Though ignoring the plea tore at her heart, Maggie hardened herself and moved closer. When she reached out to pull off the blanket, she met with no resistance. Mike had closed his eyes and was now facing away from her, refusing to meet her gaze. Whatever she had to do, he would try his best to ignore it.
Jackie had had good reason for her concern. All across Mike’s abdomen were ugly, dark bruises. But there was more. And now, Maggie was beginning to see what Jackie had hinted at, what the solicitor only seemed to have guessed, but which now became clear to Maggie. Her own eyes filled with tears.
In all her years as a nurse, she had never come across a case like this. Not a grown man. Women, plenty of them. Alarmingly many little girls. A few little boys. Even an adolescent once. But never a man. And Mike wasn’t just any man. He was a police officer. She saw right away why he had feared discovery more than anything else. If anything like this ever became public knowledge, his career was over.
But her task wasn’t to worry about his career. She had to make sure he stayed alive, and didn’t suffer any permanent injury. This was a grim task and she had very little real experience with this particular type of injury.
Neil. He would have to do this. She suspected Mike would need stitches, possibly surgery. If those bruises really matched the sole of a boot as they seemed to, he might well have internal injuries. This was no job for a nurse, no matter how skilled.
But first she needed to assess the damage. She suspected that out of two evils, Mike would prefer to be touched by a woman. So she took a deep breath and thought of a way to explain what she would have to do.
“Mike. I’m terribly sorry, but I’m going to have to take a closer look. Listen, I swear to you, that Neil and I aren’t going to say anything to anyone. No one will ever know. You have my word.”
To her surprise, all the fight had gone out of Mike. He shrugged indifferently, but didn’t reply. He still refused to face her.
After a few minutes, Maggie knew the extent of the damage, and she thought she knew what had to be done. Removing the rubber gloves, she gently probed the horrific bruises on Mike’s abdomen. Judging by his colour and the way the abdominal walls felt, she thought he might not be suffering from internal injuries after all. But Neil would know for sure.
“Mike, I’m going to call Neil now. He’ll be able to treat you. Do you want me to get Jackie so she can sit with you?”
Again, an indifferent shrug greeted her question. It was as if Mike had retreated inside himself, fading out from a situation he couldn’t deal with. All this must be too much for him. Nothing could have prepared him for the reality of this trauma. Maggie knew of nothing to say or do, to make this easier on him. All she could do was make sure his body healed. The rest was for others to see to.
When she called Neil over to the police station, she was grateful for the way he had of always respecting her professional judgment. Being her husband as well as the doctor she worked for, he might easily have questioned her on the phone, challenging her decision to call him in. But he just said he’d be over right away.
She met him in the doorway and ushered him inside. The look on her face told him something serious was going on. Reassuringly, he squeezed her hand, before becoming the doctor instead of merely her husband.
“Well, nurse Bolton, what seems to be the problem?”
“It’s Mike. It appears he was abducted by some London gangsters. Neil, he was tortured and -“
In a few words, Maggie filled her husband in on her chilling discovery. He made no comment, but she could see his eyes widen in horror. This was one of the worst thing that could happen to a man. To a woman too, naturally, in this case, but the shock and humiliation would be nothing short of devastating. Especially for a policeman.
“Right. Will you assist me, nurse Bolton?”
About half an hour later, the unpleasant task was over. Dr Bolton had determined that Maggie’s evaluation was correct. Mike didn’t suffer from internal injuries. Through some miracle he had escaped that fate. No surgery would be required. Now he had been given a stronger painkiller, and Neil had tried everything in his power to make his patient more comfortable.
“Thank you, nurse. I think miss Lambert might appreciate some company in the kitchen. Besides, you look like you could use a cup of tea yourself. Would you leave me and the patient alone for a while?”
“Very well, doctor. Call me if you need me.”
Neil had felt he should offer some words of consolation, no matter how inadequate. Furthermore, he feared for the patient’s safety. Physically, Mike would heal, but dr Bolton wasn’t quite sure about his mind. Working for the Red Cross, he had treated victims of war crimes, and though he rarely came across adult male victims of this particularly loathsome crime, he had dealt with adolescents. Almost invariably, the young men had ended their own lives, rather than living with the shame. Neil didn’t want that to happen to Mike. The young man was a good friend and an excellent officer. Something like this couldn’t be allowed to end such a promising career.
Despite his decision, Neil hesitated. How in the world did you bring up such a topic, between two men? They both had the same background. Boy’s schools, the code of silence. They both knew the rules gentlemen lived by. After the war such things might not be spoken out loud, but they still existed. Everyone knew that. On the other hand, he was this man’s doctor. He couldn’t let his patient down. Awkwardly, Neil cleared his throat to make the attempt.
“Mike? Are you awake?”
There was no reply, but Neil could see the patient’s eyes flickering open. He hadn’t been asleep, merely trying to shut the world out. And who could blame him for that?
“I’m sorry to disturb you, but I thought there were a few things we needed to discuss. First, are you comfortable? If you’re still in pain, I could -“
“Don’t bother. What do I care about the pain? Besides, whatever you gave me is working fine.”
“Good. No headache? Nausea? Dizziness?”
The replies kept getting more and more terse. If Neil didn’t come to the point soon, he couldn’t blame his patient if he told him to shut up.
“Mike. I – I want you to know that if you need to talk, you can always call me. At any time of the day or night. If I’m at home, I’ll be here. What happened to you – You have to understand that it wasn’t your fault. There was nothing you could have done to prevent it. It doesn’t change who you are. Do you understand me?”
No response. Maybe it was too soon to insist on this kind of discussion. After a night’s sleep – But Neil knew that the body wouldn’t heal until the mind was on its way to recovery. So he kept insisting.
“I know it must be hard to talk about this. I understand.”
“You understand? “
The bitterness in Mike’s voice was tangible.
“You understand? How can you say that? Have you any idea of how it feels to become -“
“Yes. Helpless. Dirty. Broken up inside.”
“So you’ve had a few patients who were – What does that mean? You think you understand what it’s really like?”
“Yes. I do.”
This finally got through to Mike and for the first time during this grim conversation, he turned and faced his doctor, and friend.
“I went to boarding school.”
As if that explained it all. Which in a way it did. Mike hadn’t gone to one himself, but he’d had friends who had. Besides, the all boys’ school he’d attended, hadn’t been entirely free of the oldfashioned system of control which more or less gave the older boys carte blanche to treat the younger boys any way they wanted.
Silence fell over the room, but somehow part of the awkwardness was gone. A channel of communication had been opened, and Mike was listening more intently for Neil’s next word. At last, the doctor went on.
“I was the new boy. 11. Maybe if I’d been lucky, he wouldn’t have noticed me. He was in the final year. Later, I realized that he’d done this to dozens of boys ever since he was old and strong enough to bully anyone into submission. If I’d been tougher, I might have fought him off and gained a measure of respect. But I was afraid. He said he would kill me if I told anyone. If I refused, he would kill me. I believed him. Stupid of me. His powers weren’t quite as great as that. But that was what he wanted me to believe.”
“I had no idea.”
“No. I haven’t told anyone about this. Not even Maggie. What’s the use? It doesn’t have any bearing on who I am. Whatever he said, it didn’t change who I was. Of course, it took me years to realize that. Just remember that. As the years go by, it gets easier. You learn to forget, or close enough. At least you learn to go on. The scars might be there, but you feel less and less of the pain. Mike, promise me that if you feel as if you can’t go on, don’t do anything rash. Call me. Talk to me. Don’t keep it to yourself. You’re not alone. Mike?”
Tears filled up in Mike’s eyes, and disgusted with himself, he shook his head, once again facing the wall.
“I’ll remember what you said. Thanks for telling me this.”
“Right. Would you like me to send Jackie in? Maggie and I will stay and keep an eye on things. Try to get some sleep. Try to get Jackie to sleep a little too. And if you need me or Maggie, just call. Even if you think it’s nothing important.”
“Yes. Alright. Please ask Jackie if she wants to see me. I said some pretty terrible things to her. Threatened never to see her again if she went after Maggie and confided her fears in her.”
“She’ll understand. Jackie loves you very much.”
Mike made no reply. He didn’t think he could keep his voice under control.
“I’ll ask her.”
When Neil entered the kitchen, he found his wife sitting down by the table, but Jackie was pacing around the room just as fidgety as he himself had been only moments before.
“Will he be alright? Maggie said – But you’d know for sure, wouldn’t you?”
“Ah, yes. Physically, I’d say he’ll make a full recovery. Emotionally – Well, there you play an important part. Jackie, he just asked if you’d come and see him.”
“And it’s alright with you?”
“Yes. But you should both try to get some sleep.”
Maggie got up and walked over to the distraught solicitor.
“I’ll make up the couch in there, so you can sleep close to him. Neil and I will be out here at least until morning. If you need us, just call.”
“Alright. Thanks, Maggie, Neil. I – I really appreciate all you have done. Will you help me keep this a secret? He can’t afford to have this known.”
“Yes. We certainly won’t tell anyone, and if anyone should ask – well, I for one, will put them off. Neil?”
“Yes. Certainly. No one will learn about this from me. You can count on that. Now go. He was upset about earlier. I think he wants to apologize.”
Maggie stared at her husband. It was rare for him to be so – open. So forthcoming. Usually he was rather taciturn.
“Maggie? I appreciate the offer, but I’ll make up the couch. In fact, I’ll sleep on it without any linen. Look, why don’t the two of you take the guest room? I mean the spare room.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes, positive. Thanks for the offer.”
Despite the tension between them, Jackie was eager to see Mike again. She loved him so much, she just couldn’t bear to sense the pain he was in. As in any woman, deep down at the back of her mind, the fear of being raped lurked. It made it easier for her to relate to what her fiance must be going through.
Then again, she had never come even close to being raped, so how could she even pretend to guess what was tormenting him right now? But she knew she would be there for him. She’d go to hell and back if it eased some of his pain. In fact, tonight, she was already there. In hell, burning and aching for him.
He was still awake, staring at the doorway, as if willing her to appear. The bruises on his face made it hard to recognize him, and the anguish in his eyes ripped through Jackie like knives, but she forced herself to keep her face neutral. But the smile she had attempted wouldn’t appear when called. So she just continued inside, anxious to lend any support she could to the man she loved.
“Jackie? I’m so sorry – Forgive me for saying what I did. I didn’t mean it. I was just so -“
“Of course I understand. Mike, I’m sorry too. For everything.”
He didn’t say anything for a while. How could he even comment on what had happened to him? He had no words to describe even the incident itself, far less how it made him feel. All he wanted was to escape somewhere, but he knew there was no escape. He was trapped in this body that had become a prison. Which had to be what Graham had intended.
“Jackie, I just wanted you to know that I love you. You still mean everything to me. That hasn’t changed. I just don’t know how -“
“We’ll take one day at a time. I’m going to take some time off, and I plan to stay right here. Let the old gossips wag their tongues all they like. Who cares what they think?”
“I’d really like that.”
After that, nothing much was said that night. Jackie could tell that Mike was exhausted from his ordeal. Despite the emotional trauma, his eyelids kept falling down. He was falling asleep and that was much the best thing for him. Jackie lay down on the couch, turning on her side so she could keep her eyes on her fiance, until she too dozed off. The events of the night had drained their strength emotionally and physically. Finally, that was taking its toll on them.
When Maggie looked in a few hours later, Jackie and Mike were fast asleep. At least that was reassuring. They would need all their strength in the weeks ahead. Maggie knew far too well how easily a secret could be revealed in a small tightly knit community where everyone knew everyone. Even if they all did their utmost to kill any rumours, it might not be enough.
Maggie’s misgivings were only too justified. She and Neil firmly denied any knowledge of the ‘outrageous’ stories being spread around about PC Bradley.
It appeared Craddock did the same on his end. He stamped out every suggestion of the slanderous allegations, especially among his own men. Bellamy and Ventress faced their most strenuous weeks since they’d joined the force.
Still, there were moments when even Craddock was unable to check their talk.
“I dunno, Alf. What do you think? I heard – About Mike, I mean. Do you think -“
“I’ll tell you what I think, Phil. When it comes to those – rumours – I just don’t want to know.”
“But – No. You’re right. I don’t want to know either. It’s just that I was down at the pub, talking to Gina, like. And I heard someone saying -“
Without either Ventress or Bellamy noticing, the sergeant had walked into the room.
“Aidensfield still needs patrolling, Bellamy. What are you waiting for?”
“Nothing, sir. I’m on my way.”
“As for you, Ventress, I think it’s safe to say that Ashfordly too, needs some patrolling. And what do we do about that? Oh, yes. I’m sending you out on the streets, Ventress.”
Ventress cast a sad look at his hard-boiled egg, but he knew far too well that when the sergeant was in this mood, there was no reasoning with him. Just in case, he put the egg into the pocket of his uniform jacket. There was no telling when he might rest his feet a bit and possibly –
“Today, Ventress. Just one thing. If I ever hear you and young Bellamy gossiping on the job, you might want to consider early retirement. Is that clear?”
“As for Bellamy, he’d better consider a transfer. To Norwich – shall we say? Or why not King’s Lynn? Now go. The exercise will do you good, man. Come to think of it, the fresh air will too.”
One day, about two weeks after Mike’s abduction, Oscar Blaketon showed up at Aidensfield police station, bringing a small gift for the hostess, clearly come to visit PC Bradley.
In front of anyone else, Jackie might have put on her self assured London face. But this was Blaketon, the former sergeant of Ashfordly police station, once Mike’s superior, now the pub landlord. Humiliatingly, Jackie felt her cheeks take on colour. She was after all, living under the same roof as a man not yet her husband. On the other hand, Blaketon, unlike any other member of his generation had never said or done anything to reproach their youthful unseemly haste.
“Miss Lambert. I was wondering if PC Bradley is accepting any visitors?”
Jackie fell silent. The truth was, Mike would see no one, and talk to no one, not even her, to her distress. But this was different. When Oscar Blaketon called on you, you didn’t tell him to away.
“I’m sure he’ll make an exception in your case. Please.”
Blaketon glanced surprisingly gently at her, as he passed her on his way inside. Of course he knew his way around the old police station. This brought back memories. But he hadn’t come here to reminisce. A highly distressing rumour had reached his ears, and he had come to set his mind at ease.
Down at the pub, he frequently heard all sorts of outrageous tall tales being told. But this was different. More persistent. Besides, when something like this was being said about one of the police department’s finest young men, Blaketon had felt it necessary to investigate further.
The pain in the young solicitor’s eyes only served to confirm the old man’s suspicions. He was beginning to wish he hadn’t come. But he couldn’t let this fine young officer down. If there was anything he could do to ease his pain he would. Already, he was doing his best to discourage the slanderous stories being told down at the pub. As the landlord, he could be said to have some success.
As he walked into young Bradley’s bedroom, Blaketon felt every last one of his years. At times he felt he had lived too long. What was the world coming to? How could such an atrocity be committed? And here, not in London or America, or any such place. Sighing softly, Blaketon drew himself up. He hadn’t come to add to Bradley’s worries.
The astonishment in Bradley’s voice was hardly to be wondered at. Perhaps he ought to have rung before showing up on the young man’s doorstep.
“Don’t get up. I just thought I’d drop by and say hello. Miss Lambert must be of a great deal of help to you.”
Despite everything, Mike couldn’t help smiling at the mention of Jackie’s name. Yes. Without her he didn’t know what he would have done. And Neil. Who would have thought his quiet, low key support would mean so much to him?
And now Blaketon showed up. Mike was hoping against hope that the rumours wouldn’t have reached his old sergeant’s ears. But he knew better. Nothing escaped Blaketon’s keen senses. And knowing that, Mike also knew that there was no fooling this sharp old man.
Mike lowered his gaze. His secret shame was no secret. How could he have ever hoped to keep it that way?
“Listen. I suppose you know that I served in the army during the war. Out in Malaya. Was there when Singapore fell. Bad business.”
What could the fall of Singapore possibly have to do with the present situation? But Mike was beginning to see that Blaketon was trying to tell him something else. There was a hidden subtext and Mike thought he knew what that was. He just didn’t want to hear it. Bad business. Yes. that was it. His life was a bad business. But he owed his old sergeant the courtesy of listening to what he had to say.
“Some of our boys fell into Japanese hands. A few of them got back alive. Of course, most of them wished they hadn’t. What they had suffered at the hands of those brutes – I don’t think anyone today is capable of imagining those acts of villainy. Not many of us left today to remember. I was there to receive one of our lads. What was his name again? No matter. Eventually, I was able to send him home to his mother in one piece. Whatever he had been through, he recovered and became a man of some influence. Funny I can’t remember his name. Oh, well. Still a credit to his country.”
Mike knew what Blaketon was trying to say. If he’d been able to, he would have felt cheered by this expression of loyalty. As it was, he still appreciated the sergeant’s attempt to raise his spirits. He didn’t know what to say, but it was as if Blaketon sensed that and deftly changed the subject. Mike was treated to an account of an amusing incident at the pub. From there, Blaketon even went on to share some anecdotes about his cat.
Mike could hardly believe his ears. Was this really his stern superior? Despite himself, he had to smile. It didn’t hurt to do that quite as much as it had for the first week. Most of the bruises were fading. There would be scars left for the rest of his life, but there were times when he really could believe he would recover. Things would never be the same again, but just maybe, he was going to be able to get on with his life.
But would he ever work as a policeman again? That question had no answer. Not yet. Only time would tell. In the meantime, Mike counted his blessings. He had good friends. People who cared about him. And he had Jackie. That would have to be enough.