Footsteps of the Father – Novel Serialisation – © Brian Matier
They arrived back home in a light-hearted mood, laughing as Caterine parked the car.
“All right, m’sieur, the first job is to call on Mrs Williams and see if his majesty has behaved. I will do that. You will put the kettle on.”
Steven took the suitcases out of the boot. “Have you noticed how fat he is getting, that cat? She feeds him too much and too often.” He dropped the cases by the front door, and fumbled for his keys. “Put the kettle on? Right.”
“Well, you tell him that; he won’t listen to me. Steven, where is the paté?”
“It’s on the back seat, I think, in the sac plastique. And he doesn’t listen to me either.”
She reached into the car and retrieved the bag. “I will take this next door. You don’t think we should either speak English or French? Dropping the odd French expression into your conversation doesn’t make you a linguist, you know”
He pushed the door wide and lugged the suitcases inside. “I agree, d’accord.”
“You’re as much trouble as the cat.”
“But you like both of us?”
Steven dropped the cases in the bedroom and walked round on a short inspection tour. The dining room had been newly decorated. It was clean and airy, and almost unrecognisable from when they had left. It also smelled not unpleasantly of fresh paint.
”Well, nice job! Good old Mr Williams!”
He picked up two items of mail from inside the door, and glanced idly at them as he listened to the telephone messages. There was nothing there requiring immediate action, so he went into the kitchen where Mr Williams had piled the earlier deliveries of mail on the table. Slowly he leafed through the letters. One was registered. A yellow post it note was attached to it.
“Mr McCann, the postman delivered this while you were away.
I signed for it, as he knows me. Hope this is OK
“I didn’t know he was called David,” Steven muttered to himself. “I must pop in and thank him.” He turned the letter over in his hand and stared at it, as if this would provide him with some information on what was inside. Funny, until this moment, he hadn’t known that registered letters were still being used. In these days of e mail and text messaging it seemed almost Victorian that someone would send a registered letter that needed a real live human being to sign for. What Victorian organisations did he know?
Even as he cut open the letter, Steven knew the answer to his own question. The Metropolitan Police was such an organisation. He took out the folded piece of paper and stared at it for fully a minute without unfolding it. He knew that the old world had finally arrived, the old world of death and misery, frustration and anger and it was about to push into his new world of shelter and contentment.
It was an order, from the Police Commissioner to attend at Scotland Yard in a week’s time to appear before Commander Wood.
“Why do this?” he asked out loud. “I’ve always turned up before.” This time it was different, formally demanding his presence in a way that boded no good. “The bastards, bloody 0900 hours. Where do they think I am living? Bloody Islington?” He would have to go up the previous evening and find a hotel. “Bastards,” he said again.
The pleasure of their time in France had gone, drained out of him like an open tap. He had no interest in the rest of the mail, which he placed unopened on the table. A chill had descended, closing his mind to all else. He had known that his new happiness would some day be threatened, and now it was.
He was still standing in the middle of the kitchen when Caterine returned, carrying Tigger. “Steven?” She put the cat on the floor. “Steven, what’s wrong?” She went to the kettle and touched the side. “And you didn’t put the kettle on.”
He looked up at her. “I’m sorry. Read this.” He went to the sink, filled the kettle and plugged it in.
“This isn’t too bad; they just want to speak to you. It could be anything.”
“Darling, if they just wanted to speak to me they could have phoned me, they didn’t need to get the Commissioner to order it. No, this time it will be to charge me or something like that.”
“But they can’t put you in prison, or anything. Can they?”
He put his arms around her. “No, not next week at any rate. Though it might be the first step in that direction. It’s the closing of a chapter, our chapter. I don’t know what will happen or what this can do to us. I suppose we were always living on borrowed time, until the big, bad world caught up with us. Well it has caught up with me.”
“Perhaps you will just get a warning.”
“A warning? I haven’t done anything to be warned about.” He was angry, and spoke more loudly than he intended. “ I arrested a drug dealer, a crack merchant, who has probably caused the deaths of tens, if not hundreds of kids on the streets of London, and he attacked me. That slimy, HIV positive bastard, attacked me and bit me. Here!” He raised his claw like left hand. “Here! He bit me. He drew blood and gave me months of agony, worrying about Aids. He has now been charged with murder, and I have to face charges. It’s bloody crazy.”
She pulled away from him, alarmed at his anger. “I didn’t do it.”
“I’m sorry, Caterine, I ‘m not angry at you, but at the bloody system.”
“We are in this together, Steven.”
He kissed her nose. “No, my love, we are in other things together. I’m on my own in this one.”
She took him to Hereford in the car, a solemn, silent journey, along the now familiar back roads of the Welsh Borders. Steven’s senses had been heightened in the last few months, since his father’s death, and since coming to live at Hay. But mostly it was due to Caterine that he had a reborn sense of awareness of the world around him. The car window was open and there were smells he had failed to notice before, the pine trees, the damp coats of the sheep, even the pungency of the mushroom farm and whatever it was they spread on the fields. He had forgotten in the tawdry world, in which he operated in London, that such scents existed. He noticed the different greens in the trees, from a pale, almost yellow, to the dark green of what he thought were oaks. God help me, he thought, they could be anything for all I know.
“I’ll miss this.”
She looked sideways at him. “You will miss what?”
“This.” He waved his hand vaguely. “All of this, the trees, the fields, the animals, the smells, but most of all you, I’ll miss you.”
She turned so suddenly that the car almost ran into the grass verge at the side of the road. “What do you mean? Why will you have to miss this?”
“It’s pulling me back, Caterine, the old world. I climbed out of the sewer for a few months, but it is dragging me back. It owns me, don’t you see, the sewer. It’s where I belong, with drugs and dealers and kids dying in dirty little rooms somewhere, where no one knows their names and no body gives a shit. The sewer is inside me now, and I can never escape.”
“Stop it, Steven, stop it! You don’t belong anywhere but where you want to be. If you want to be with me, you will make it happen. I want to be with you.”
She pulled up in a skidding slide, bumping up onto the grass verge and stopping short of a tree. The car stalled and she sat there crying.
“Caterine, Caterine, I’m sorry. Please don’t cry.”
She said something in French, incoherent to him between her sobs.
“Darling, in English, please. Parle en Anglais.”
She spoke wildly, her hands moving in an agitated way. “You want me to speak in English, do you? Right! You’re a selfish bastard, Steven McCann. You think only about yourself. What about me? Do you think it is easy for me? I don’t know if I will see you, or whether you will be in prison. I love you. Don’t you get it? I love you. I want you in my life, not for a few days, or a few months, but for always. For always.” She continued sobbing, her slim body heaving.
“You know I love you.” He reached out for her, but she pulled away.
“No, don’t touch me! Don’t you understand, you stupid Englishman? You are the only man I have ever loved, ever really loved. Something bad is going to happen to us, to you, Steven. I can see it, I can feel it. Something really bad, but I don’t know what”
He looked at the tear soaked face, the staring eyes and the twisted mouth, and knew that she could truly see something ahead. Her power frightened him, but not as much as it frightened her. The Rue de Rivoli came to him and the sprawled figure on the pavement. Oh my God. Can Caterine see this too?
A white Police car pulled up in front of them, blue lights flashing. A young policeman got out and tapped on the driver’s side window. Caterine rolled the window down, dabbing at her eyes with a handkerchief.
“Afternoon, sir, madame. This is a bad place to park.” He saw her red swollen eyes. “Anything wrong, miss?”
She shook her head.
“Can I see your driving licence?”
She fumbled in her handbag. “Here.”
“Miss Bertrand. A French licence. Do you live in this country?”
“A little difference of opinion, was there?”
She shook her head once more. “No.”
“And you, sir. You are?”
“I’m DCI McCann, Met.”
The policeman straightened a little. “We’re a long way from the Met here, sir. Can you prove your identify?”
Steven handed over his Police Federation card.
“Do you have your warrant card, sir?”
“No, I’m suspended.”
“I see. That’s unfortunate.” He turned back to Caterine. “You all right now, miss?”
She smiled a tiny smile. “Yes, I was just telling your Chief Inspector how much I loved him, and he was just telling me that he loved me.”
The police officer smiled, a tight little puzzled smile. He pushed back his cap with his right index finger. “I’m not married myself, but I do have a girlfriend. I’ve always felt being in love was something to celebrate, not cry about.”
“It is, it is.” She took back the proffered licence and touched his hand. “Thank you.”
“If you folks need to talk any more, there’s a parking place about a mile further on. It is dangerous to park here, there are some stupid buggers driving around these parts.” He ducked and gave Steven his Federation card. “Good luck with the suspension, sir.”
He drove away, switching off the blue light, and they followed, slowly.
“He’s right, Caterine, being in love is something to celebrate. Whatever happens, I love you now and I always will. Let’s live as long as we can. Carpe diem?”
She touched his hand. “Oui. Carpe diem.” She didn’t sound convinced.
The train journey was unremarkable, and the small hotel in Victoria even more so. He showered and walked the half mile to the Gran Paradiso in Wilton Road where the Italian owner greeted him with great warmth.
“Mr McCann, I haven’t seen you for nearly a year.”
Steven smiled wryly. “No, I am living in Wales now, and before that, well, before that I had a personal problem.”
The man nodded sympathetically. “I heard your wife had died. I am very sorry, she was a lovely lady.”
Steven agreed. “She was a lovely lady. She was part Italian, you know.”
The owner handed over the menu. “All the best ones are. Can I get you a drink?”
His dreams returned that night, a swirling mass of images, of buses and tablets, with Caterine and Maria, his father and mother, and Arthur all involved. The end was the same; the sprawled figure on the pavement in Paris.
He awoke exhausted, and shaved and showered automatically, frightened by his own haggard face in the mirror. Breakfast was a cup of coffee and he walked down Victoria Street, glad to have the morning air to cool his face.
He followed the, by now, well worn ritual, and found himself standing in front of Commander Wood. There was a uniformed Chief Superintendent sitting beside him. The man was unknown to Steven.
For once even the Commander’s ice cracked a little. “Mr McCann, you.” He stopped. “You look bloody dreadful. Do you want to sit down?”
“I had a bad night, but thank you for asking, sir. I prefer to stand.”
“Very well.” Wood indicated the uniformed officer. “This is Chief Superintendent Parker.” Steven nodded.
Wood continued. “The PCA has recommended that criminal charges in your case are unlikely to succeed. You will be aware that this decision is always taken after consultation with the Crown Prosecution Service. As a result the matter has been referred back to the Metropolitan Police.” He looked up. “Do you understand that, Mr McCann?”
A wave of relief and delight swept over Steven. He tried to keep his face straight. “I’m managing to follow you so far, sir.”
Wood stared hard, but said nothing. He carried on. “However, the Commissioner is of the view that your conduct fell well below that of what is expected of a Chief Inspector in the Metropolitan Police, and has directed that you be charged with several disciplinary offences.”
The only one Steven heard was ‘conduct likely to bring the Metropolitan Police into disrepute.’ No court case, thank God! The agony was half over. The other stuff he could take standing on his dick.
Wood was still talking. “I said ‘did you understand all that?’”
“Every word, sir.”
“Right, I will continue, then. Are you quite certain that you are not ill?”
“Well, as you mention it, sir, perhaps I should say that I was not being totally truthful with you earlier. I really have been very unwell these last few months. You understand, with all this hanging over me, and worried about whether I had Aids. I think I have been badly traumatised, and will probably need counselling. I have had the most awful dreams recently, really bad.” That part at least was true. “I will need to ask for an appointment with the PMO sometime soon to have a medical. I really wonder if I will ever be fit to return to duty again.”
Wood looked at Steven, his eyes hard. “Don’t push it, McCann, or me.”
“I am only telling you the situation, sir. I cannot see myself ever being fit for duty again.”
“You must do as you see fit, Mr McCann, as you see fit. It may be the best course in the end. I will now formally serve you with the appropriate papers, detailing the charges. You will be given time to prepare your defence, but I would expect the hearing to be sometime in September, or early October. You will, of course, be advised of the date. Is there anything you wish to say?”
“That’s it, is it, sir?”
“I would like to say how very helpful and supportive you have been throughout the whole matter, sir, and how much I appreciate all you have done for me.”
Wood looked at him, his mouth hanging open. He coloured a little.
“I would like to say all of that, Commander Wood, but I can’t, because it would be a fucking lie. Good morning, sir. No, please don’t get up.” Steven could have sworn he saw a smile on the face of the uniformed Chief Superintendent.
“Chief Inspector, wait a moment. I will show you out.” Wood got up and opened his office door for Steven and the two men travelled in the lift without saying a word. At the ground floor they walked into the Broadway.
“Steven,” Wood hesitated. “All those years ago, at Paddington, with whatever he was called. I may have said something unintentionally, to warn him off. I apologise.”
Steven looked at the other man. “Right, sir, thanks.”
Wood held out his hand. “Shake hands?”
Steven hesitated in his turn, then thrust out his right hand. He turned and walked towards Victoria Street.
He went to the Albert, but it was too early for a drink. He ordered a coffee. His mobile phone rang.
“Yes, Steven McCann.”
“Steve, it’s Mark Aldridge.”
“Mark, you old bastard. How are you?”
“Shut up, and just listen. I know that you have just been to see old Knotty Wood. I have just stepped out of the Yard. I’m using a pay phone. Get yourself up to St James Park, the little bridge over the lake. I’ll meet you there in fifteen minutes. OK? Fifteen minutes.”
He was gone and Steven was left staring at the phone. “Bugger me. I suppose I’d better do it.”
He was waiting on the bridge when Mark, wearing dark glasses, came walking towards him. “DCI Aldridge, how are you? I like the shades.” They shook hands.
“You’ve been away a long time, Steve, it’s Detective Superintendent now. Come on, keep walking. And never mind the shades. I’m taking a chance just speaking to you.”
They moved towards the Mall.
“OK. Now, firstly, you didn’t get any phone call, and this meeting never happened. Yes?”
Steven nodded. “OK, I have never met you.”
“I thought that you would like to know why your disciplinary was fixed up so quickly?”
“It did seem all of a sudden.”
“It’s because your mate Eustace is dying. We all knew he was HIV positive, but the old Aids has set in with a vengeance. The word is that he will be dead by Christmas.”
“So what, Mark? He’ll be no loss.”
“Well, that isn’t the point. I don’t suppose you put your hands up to anything, did you?”
“Do me a favour, what do you think?”
“No, I didn’t imagine that you would have. Find some reason to keep postponing the disciplinary hearing, go sick, get pregnant, anything, and it will go away. Our man will be dead, and the dead can’t testify.”
They came out on to the Mall.
Steven looked at the other man. “Yes, all right, but they will have copped a statement from him already? He doesn’t need to be there.”
“No, that isn’t how I heard it. He couldn’t talk too well for a while, what with his jaw hanging in several pieces. When he gets better, he starts playing hard to get with the boys doing the job. Wants to trade giving evidence against you for the drugs bust to be dropped. They can’t do that, so it’s stalemate for a bit. Then he goes and removes George Bentley’s head with a shotgun, and he’s got other things on his mind. Do you understand, Steve?”
“Mark, I’m not sure that I do.”
“Christ, man, think about it! They haven’t got a thing on you, unless Winston bloody Churchill puts his name on a piece of paper. The Police can’t trade away his Aids. He’s found Jesus, and couldn’t give a toss about you any more. Unless God comes down from heaven, and tells him to sign, or you put your hands up, you’re in the clear. Got it now?”
“Then why did they lay the disrepute charge on me?”
“Because they want to be very politically correct and to be seen to be doing the right thing. Justice must be seen to be done, and all that bollocks. They are also hoping you will be so relieved to in the clear on the criminal side that you will accept the disciplinary out of gratitude. The Commissioner will reprimand you, fine you ten bob, and you’re back in the job.”
“Bugger me! But he still might sign a piece of paper and I’m down the Swannee.”
“Yeah, and pigs might fly.”
“Mark, I can’t begin to say thanks. I owe you. Was this your idea, or did someone put you up to this?”
“Steve, as this discussion isn’t happening anyway, I suppose it doesn’t matter if you do know. Someone that you saw this morning might, just might, have had a word in my ear.”
Steven was astounded. “Wood?”
“I didn’t say that, Steve.”
“Thanks, Mark. I’ll name my firstborn after you.”
Aldridge laughed. “Right, old boy, I am going back to the factory. I’ll see you when you get back in the job one day.”
“No, mate, not me. I’m not coming back, whatever happens.”
Aldridge nodded. “Found something better, have you?”
“As it happens, yes, but almost anything would be better.”
The other man smiled and they shook hands. “Good luck, Steve. Don’t let the bastards grind you down.” He turned right towards Admiralty Arch.
Steven watched him go. Some of the denizens of the sewer were human after all. He winced inwardly as he recalled his sarcasm to the Commander earlier. God Almighty, the old bastard had come as close as he could to saying sorry for the Paddington screw up all those years ago.
“September or October, is it? We have a lot to do before then.” He took out his mobile and phoned Caterine.
The call was answered at once. “Darling it’s me. I’m coming home. No not too bad, I’ll tell you all about it this evening.”
He caught the first train he could to Hereford, and phoned Caterine for a lift. He was as happy as a schoolboy, no, he was as happy as when he returned to Hay the first time, knowing that Caterine would be waiting.
At the station he saw her as the train pulled in to the platform, and they clung together for nearly a minute, before going to the car park. He told all that happened, but didn’t mention Aldridge or Wood’s parts in the day’s events. You never knew, it could backfire and people could get hurt. She didn’t need to know anyone’s name.
On the road home as they drove through a pine forest a young deer ran from their right and Caterine braked hard, stopping a few feet short of the frightened animal. The deer stood motionless for a few seconds, its large ears pricked up, the alarmed intelligent eyes turned towards them. After a few seconds, it turned and trotted off on its delicate hooves.
Caterine breathed, “A biche, what a thing to see!”
“What’s a biche?”
She turned to him, her eyes shining. “That was a biche. A deer, a female deer. It’s a very lucky sign.”
He smiled back. “Two bits of good fortune for me today, then.”
She kissed him. “Wait till tonight, perhaps your good luck will come in threes.”
He returned to the house in Hay, and to Caterine and Tigger, in a very upbeat frame of mind. The threat had been removed. Even if the disciplinary went ahead, it wouldn’t really matter; the light was there at the end of the tunnel. He determined in his own mind that, before the hearing, he had to finish his self-imposed pursuit of Napoleon, and Dr John, and get all the poison out of his system. Then he and Caterine could plan the rest of their lives together, perhaps in Wales, perhaps in France. It could be on the bloody moon for all Steven cared, as long as they were together.
Caterine did not share in his optimism. She had been relieved that the prospect of the possible prison sentence she had imagined had gone, but there was more. As the days went by, he came to realise that her vision of something terrible happening had not disappeared with the possibility of prison, but had strengthened. She was unable to see what it might be. However, they had agreed on carpe diem, and the day was there to be seized.
“Do you think Mr Eustace will die before Christmas?”
“I hope not.”
She was astonished. “Why?”
“Because I want their dammed hearing to take place and I want to contest it.”
“You will go back to the Police?”
“No bloody way. I want to have the pleasure of telling them what they can do with their miserable job.”
“You’re a strange man, Steven McCann.”
He held her and kissed her hungrily. “Stranger than you know, petite sorciere.”
“No, I know that that is what was suggested to me, but it isn’t what I want. I haven’t done anything wrong. I want to have the hearing, and I want to be cleared. Maybe by then Mr Napoleon and Doctor John will be out of my system, and we can plan the rest of our lives together.”
She put her hand in his. “OK, darling, but there is something ahead of us which is very threatening. I do not know what, but it gets more frightening every day, every day.”
He kissed her nose. “We will deal with it when, if, it happens.”
“Whatever it is, Steven, it is going to happen.”
Footsteps of the Father – Novel Serialisation – © Brian Matier
I inherited all of my fathers stories, tales, manuscripts and privately self-published manuscripts and have chosen to share them with my readership.
© Rory Matier 2019