In My Father’s Words
03/07/1938 – 18/10/2018
I never saw the thirty miles an hour speed limit. I am not saying that there were no signs, there probably were, but as I had not seen those for forty miles an hour, I suppose it was only to be expected that I would miss the second lot. OK, let’s be honest, I really wasn’t seeing very much of anything that Christmas Day. I was just returning from Michaela’s, and I was several feet above the ground. Michaela? She’s my girlfriend, and she is beautiful. When I say beautiful, I mean just that, beautiful; black hair, green eyes, lips like cherries, and a figure to die for. We had been going out for nearly two years, and, what’s that? Oh, yes, why were my feet not planted on the ground? Well, my lovely Michaela had said ‘Yes’, she would marry me.
So, you can understand I was a happy boy, my heart’s desire would be my wife, and the E Type was purring like an overfed leopard, but was as fast as a hungry cheetah. So, I didn’t see the dammed truck, and when I did, I knew that I couldn’t stop. Yeah, the road was getting a bit icy at that time of the afternoon. No, I hadn’t had a drop, I swear to God. Well, maybe a glass of Jacob’s Creek. All right, two then, but no more. Well, the E is great in a straight line, but Bill Lyons never intended for it to have the anchors applied while in a skid. So before you know it I’m spinning like Alistair Campbell and heading for the fields faster than you could say ‘Ethical Foreign Policy’.
“Jesus, please don’t let me die. I swear to God I will be better, and the Jag is almost paid for.”
The tunnel was long and dark and there were no people, like a railway station platform when the RMT is on strike. However, there was a light at the end of the tunnel, so it had no connection with our railway system. So I walked towards the light, which got brighter as I got closer. I was in a large room. It was dazzlingly bright. There were white settees and chairs and small tables with magazines on them. Reader’s Digest May 1989, and British Dental Review for April 1993, that sort of thing. No point waiting there, I had read those. I went to the door on the other side of the room and walked out into a large white field. No it wasn’t snow, more that smoke stuff they use for the Brit. Awards. Thank Heaven the recipients were not present, the noisy bastards. Yes, I agree, there’s a clue there, Heaven, that’s where I was.
There was a large building about one hundred yards away, a bit like a Holiday Inn. I wonder if they have gone metric in heaven. Bound to have, I suppose, especially as old de Gaulle has been here for thirty years, not to mention that arrogant sod Mitterand. The gates glittered with a reflective sheen. The Pearly Gates! They really do exist. Well, God help us. I rang the bell, and then again, but there was no reply, so I banged on them with my fists.
“Yeah, what do you want?” He was a short squat bearded man, dressed in a kind of night-shirt arrangement. He had one of those circular things above his head, which was at an angle. “We’re closed. What do you want?” He fiddled with the gold thing; the halo I think it is called, till it sat more or less straight.
“Are you St Peter?”
“Well, I’m not Bob Dylan.”
“I want to come in, please.”
“Well, you can’t. I told you we’re closed. Don’t you know it’s Christmas Day, or Founder’s Day as we call it up here? It’s a heavenly holiday. So shove off.” He went to close the gates, and I stuck my foot in the gap. My double-glazing sales training was coming in handy. “You don’t understand. I’m dead. I have nowhere to go.”
He pushed at the gate again. “Why didn’t you wait in the Reception Area? There are magazines and a coffee machine in there.”
“I’ve read all the magazines, and anyway, the door was unlocked.”
St Peter reluctantly opened the gates. “If I have told Josiah Chubb once, I have told him a hundred times, get a proper access control system and stop fooling with that seven lever lock. OK, come in.”
“Thanks, St Peter.”
“Call me Pete. Everyone else here does.” He extended a large hand that smelt strongly of fish, and they shook. “Look, the computer has been down all day. Well, all right, we haven’t had it on because of the holiday.” He called out, “Gabriel, in here please.”
A very tall Archangel appeared from a side room, blinking sleepily, and folding his wings behind him. “Hi, Pete, baby, what’s up?”
“Gabby, if you are going to sleep on the job I will get Michael to come in on overtime.”
“Relax, Pete, baby, it’s cool. We are a bit short handed ever since you gave old Lucy baby the ass.”
“Gabby, I have told you before. We did not give Lucifer the ass, we let him go to pursue alternative career opportunities. Now, if you do not mind, just switch on the computer and check what’s is face here. I swear to God that if Bill Gates ever gets here, I’ll sort him out. Windows 98 is crap.”
“It’s cool, Pete.”
So what then? Well, I gave Gabby my name and address, my postcode and my mother’s maiden name, and he started thumping the keyboard.
St Peter looked at his Rolex. “You’re lucky, Colin. We have Happy Hour in thirty minutes. You must come along. I’ll sign you in until you get your personal ID card at Induction Training tomorrow.” He began humming “My Way”.
“Great song, Pete. Frankie Sinatra did that one.”
“Tell me about it. Francis is doing a special on Tuesday night, and we have Bing on Thursday, and Elvis next Saturday.”
“Oh, Elvis is here?”
“Yep. Him and me we laughed like hell every time some nut back on earth reckoned they saw old Elvis.”
“Hey Pete, old buddy. There is no record of this guy in the computer.” Gabby looked up, his finger poised over the mouse. “Do you want me to input him manually?”
“No, let’s give the kid a chance. Go on Colin, go back to earth, you have your life back.”
What’s that, was I grateful? Do cats drink milk? Is the Pope a Catholic?”
“Pete, I am just knocked out. If there is ever anything I can do for you?”
St Peter beckoned to me with his index finger. “Funny you should say that, but there is something. Just keep that Tony Blair alive as long as you can. He thinks he’s God now. If ever he came here he would just take over.”
As I left, I could here him muttering, “Ethical Heavenly Policy, Integrated Intergalactic Transport Policy.”
A bearded man was bending over me. “Are you all right, mate?”
“Yeah, I think so.”
“We thought you were dead.”
“Yes, so did I. Tell me, is Tony Blair still alive?”
The man looked at me very strangely, and touched the side of his head with his index finger, turning it slowly. “Yeah. Why?”
“Oh, St Peter will be pleased. That’s all.”
The mayor glanced around the council chamber, his glasses low on his nose, as he looked over the top of them. “Ladies and gentlemen, there being no other business, I declare this meeting closed.” He began to shuffle his papers on the desk in front of him and chat to the Clerk to the Council. An elderly man, who would have been tall had he not had a pronounced stoop, detached himself from the few members of the public in attendance, and limped towards the mayor.
“Mr Mayor,” he spoke softly, so softly that the Mayor did not hear him. “Excuse me, Mr Mayor.” This time his voice was raised, and the mayor and several councillors turned towards him.
The mayor smiled and removed his glasses. “Yes, how can I help you?”
The elderly man did not reply, but drew a firearm from under his jacket and quite deliberately shot the other man twice in the head. The mayor, his face a frozen mask, fell backwards. There was total silence and the elderly man turned to face the people remaining in horrified immobility in the Council chamber. He put the barrel of the gun in his mouth and pulled the trigger.
Joe Pellew, citizen, and Andrew Maxwell, Mayor of Millvale on Sea were both dead on arrival at the local hospital.
Detective Sergeant Mick Edwards gave evidence to the Coroner at Court some weeks later about the two men. What had occurred was obvious. DS Edwards try to supply a reason. “Mr Pellew was an eighty year old man, sir, living alone at 34 Windsor Avenue. From enquiries I have made, he was a solitary, but not unfriendly old man. He was described as keeping himself to himself. It is believed that he had once been married, but none of the neighbours actually remembers his wife. There do not appear to be any children, and Police have been unable to trace any relatives.”
He stopped for breath, and the Coroner encouraged him to continue with a reassuring smile.
“Mr Pellew had a distinguished war record, joining the Army in 1939, and serving in a number of different units before transferring to the 6th Airborne Division. With his comrades he jumped into Normandy at midnight on 5th June 1944. He was wounded several times but was in Germany in May 1945 when the war in Europe ended. He had achieved the rank of staff sergeant at that stage, and was awarded the Military Medal. After the war our enquiries showed that Mr Pellew became a train driver with British Rail, and had 41 years service on his retirement in 1987. In all respects, sir,” the sergeant looked at the Coroner again. “In all respects, he has been a model citizen.”
The coroner interupted. “Any information on the reason for this aberration on the part of a model citizen, sergeant?”
“Yes, sir. It appears that the deceased was dedicated to his garden and spent many hours working on it. In fact, it appears that it was his only pleasure. He was never seen to smoke or visit the pub. When we searched his house we did not find a television. The garden was very well tended, and a sight for sore eyes.”
“Are you a gardener yourself, sergeant?”
The big detective smiled. “Yes, sir, as a matter of fact I am, and I have won several prizes at the County Fair for my marrows.”
The Coroner smiled again. “I’m sure this court congratulates you on that, sergeant.”
Edwards coughed hastily. “Will I continue, sir?”
“I would be very much obliged if you would, sergeant, in your own time.”
The policeman handed over a dossier of photographs, pinned at the top right corner. “As you can see, a very well tended garden indeed.”
There were murmurs of approval from around the court as people looked at a garden which would have graced Hampton Court Palace.
Edwards continued. “And this we believe is where the problems started. Sainsbury’s are planning to build a supermarket in Windsor Avenue, and required a number of gardens in the area as a car park. Mr Pellew resisted, of course, as one might expect, and his correspondence went back for two and a half years on the subject, mostly to and from the Council. He was informed about a week before the fatal council meeting that a compulsory purchase order had been obtained, and his garden was to be bulldozed in July. We believe that this was what tipped this respectable old man over the edge. He had tended this garden since 1946, and it was to be turned into a car park.”
The Coroner was thoughtful. “And when do Sainsbury’s expect to start building?”
“Since this tragedy, sir, Sainsbury’s have decided that it would be insensitive to go ahead, and have dropped their plans.”
“I see, that’s very ironic. Have you any evidence to offer on the weapon used, Mr Edwards?”
“Yes, sir, it is a Luger, war time issue to German Army officers, and probably brought back to England by Mr Pellew as a souvenir at the end of the War.”
“So, the matter is closed as far as the Police are concerned?”
“Yes, as far as this matter is concerned we have finished our enquiries. However, the Luger has a magazine of ten bullets, and six remain. Three bullets were used in the fatal shootings, which leaves one not accounted for. Mr Pellew’s wife was last seen some fifteen years ago, and we can find no record of her death. We are presently involved in digging up Mr Pellew’s garden.”
She stood at the upstairs window, with the curtains pulled back slightly and watched the horseman approach on the big black stallion. Midnight, reputed to be the wildest horse in the county, was being handled quite beautifully. Horse and rider pulled up at the entrance to the house, causing a small flurry of stones in the driveway. The horse stood panting, foam flecking his chest and sides. The man dismounted, as a groom hurried up.
“Thomas. Good to see you. How are you?” The rider threw the reins to the man.
“I am well, sir, and yourself?”
“Never better. Will you see to Midnight? Water him and rub him down.”
“With pleasure, Sir Roger.” Thomas caught the silver coin tossed to him by Major the Honourable Sir Roger Fitzwarren.
Mary watched from her vantage point as Sir Roger looked around him. He was tall and well built, hatless with black curly hair. His black leather boots and white breeches were speckled with mud and his black riding jacket and red waistcoat covered a powerful frame.
She heard the senior footman, Henry, greet the visitor. “Good morning, sir.”
“And to you. Sir Roger Fitzwarren for Lord Rothermere.”
“Follow me, sir, if you please.”
Mary had estimated that it would take half an hour before she was called upon to play her part. She was mistaken by five minutes.
“Lady Mary, his Loredship requests your presence in the drawing room.”
“Thank you, Katy. Please inform his Lordship I will be there presently.”
Two or three minutes would be appropriate, she thought. Anything longer could be deemed as ill-mannered.
“Father. You wished to see me?” Her father was standing with his back to the fireplace, his hands behind him under his coat tails. It was a habit, as it was not cold, and the fire had not been lit.
“Mary, my dear. You do know Sir Roger Fitzwarren, do you not?”
“Yes, father, I have had that pleasure.” She turned and curtsied. Sir Roger bowed gravely. Mary noticed again the long scar running from beside his right eye to the corner of his mouth. It was a permanent reminder to him and everyone else that Sir Roger Fitzwarren was a hero, who had fought with the Guards at Waterloo where a French cavalryman had inflicted the wound just before Lieutenant Fitzwarren had run him through. Sir Roger was famously reticent about the affair and always dismissed attempts to talk about it. Mary thought that the scar, white beneath the tanned face lent a truly heroic aspect to his profile.
“Mary, would you show our guest the gardens.”
“Miss de Courcy.” Sir Roger offered his arm and Mary laid her hand gently on his forearm.
They waked through the grounds, Mary indicating various plants and bushes. She felt that Sir Roger was merely being polite, as she did not believe that gardens were uppermost on his mind. They came to a double swing seat in the middle of the lawn, sheltered from the sun by a canopy. They sat down.
“Lady Mary, may I be blunt. I am, after all, a simple soldier.”
“Sir Roger, you have a question about the flowers?”
“No, Mary. I was hoping to tell you how much I admired you and to ask if any of my feelings were shared.”
“Sir Roger, I am at a loss for words.”
He took her hand. “Mary, I would like you to be my wife.”
Mary withdrew her hand. “Sir, I fear that I cannot give you my promise in this matter. I am not free to marry.”
“Is there someone else?”
“No, Sir Roger, but I am the youngest of six daughters, and only two of my sisters are betrothed. I fear I could not marry until the others have made their arrangements.”
“Your father gave me to “
She stopped him. “My fattier is a fine, good man, but frequently says that having six girls has addled his brain.”
The man stood up. “My apologies Lady Mary. I hope I have not offended you.”
She remained seated. “Not at all, my dear sir. It has been a misunderstanding between you and my father.”
He was red faced now, deeply embarrassed. “May I escort you back to the house?”
“Thank you, no. I will remain here for a while.” She watched him stride away towards the large house.
Mary removed her bonnet and shook free her long fair hair. She walked slowly to the river and stared at the brown waters. It was here that her father, despairing of ever having a son, had taught his youngest girl to fish. Her mother had put a stop to such unladylike activities when she was thirteen. Mary remembered her father’s strong hands closed on her own as she struggled with her first trout. “Play him, Mary dear, play him. Don’t try to take him at first bite. Play him, he’ll come back again”
Sir Roger would be back and not the next time, but sometime she would say ‘perhaps’. Perhaps.
Written by B.M