Sing Like You Know the Words, page 35
-Tim, don´t make a fool of yourself like this. I remember what you went through, but we´re talking about Saddam Hussein here: the man is a mass murderer.
-Well kill him then, by all means, just leave everyone else out of it. Oh, can’t do that can you? Never mind. He´s a mass murderer; so what kind of murderers will you and your friends be?
-I haven’t got time to talk about this now.
-That’s alright, we’re not going anywhere. We’ll see you later on.
After a day or two they somehow became accustomed to protesters living outside the gates. The others came and went, but Tim maintained a permanent vigil, accompanied by a young girl who seemed to have attached herself to him. When Patricia was working from home she invited them in for tea. Tim accepted gratefully, but the girl seemed suspicious, though she was quick enough to ask for use of the bathroom once they crossed the threshold. Tim followed Patricia into the kitchen.
-That sign of yours was a good idea, she told him. The one that says, honk if you want to stop the war. Our road´s been quite noisy for a few days. I flatter myself that I live in middle England. I´d never have thought that so many neighbours cared about anything other than work and shopping. Just goes to show. Sugar?
-Two or three please, if you can spare it.
-I think perhaps we can. But aren’t you both a bit cold out there all the time?
-Edith was sleeping rough for a month or two before we met; she’s tougher than me, but I manage. It is nice to get inside for a minute though.
-She seems like a nice girl
-Good job you’re saying that while she’s off having a pee. She wouldn’t take to being called nice.
-But very young. How old is she?
-I never asked. Why, is it important?
-I suppose not.
-Have you got any cakes?
-Of course; just here. Help yourself. Anyway, it’s good to see you looking so well. Last time I saw you, well you looked like you were at death’s door
-I’m clean now if that’s what you mean. Can’t afford not to be. There´s too much to do. Listening to David and his friends talking shit has done me some good at least. You should speak to him Pat. I know he doesn´t believe what he´s saying. Even if he has only a little bit of influence, he should use it. It could be like a snowball rolling downhill. It only needs to be started off. Everyone knows that the war is a fucked up idea: it takes a few people to admit it and then we can all stop pretending to believe.
-You know we agreed we wouldn’t talk about that.
Edith joined them.
-About what? she asked.
-It’s okay, we were talking about trying to persuade my friend David not to be a prick.
-It’s useless talking. We should be throwing bricks through the windows.
-Yeah, right on girl. I expect you deliberately didn’t flush the toilet. But we should go. It was nice to see you Pat. Remember what I said. We’re not going anywhere so come out and chat, anytime. Got any smokes?
-Just a last thought to leave you with then. You remember the first time this happened. They called it a war, but it was more like a killing spree. And it was all over the television every day: reporters getting carried away with excitement as they watched explosions from their hotels. Remember that line of tanks and trucks heading back from Kuwait, that was shot and bombed to pieces as they were trying to get home. It was a six lane highway blocked with the wreckage of two thousand vehicles. There were bodies in them, with all the flesh burned off.
-I didn’t know what I was supposed to feel. I was crying and I could remember being in the South Atlantic on the boat with the planes coming at us. I thought; the bastards have made a mistake, showing this. People won´t stand for this being done in their name. But here we are, twelve years later, and it’s kicking off again. And my friend is on television telling everyone that this will all be justified in the name of peace. And he tells me not to act like a fool.
There was no answer that Patricia could give, but there was not much that she felt she could say to David either. At first the protest had annoyed David, more than Patricia expected. Later he was interested enough to ask Patricia what they were saying, though he had no intention of speaking to them himself.
-It’s just too easy for them, he complained. All they have to say is that war is bad, as if we didn´t already know. Nothing constructive about what we might do instead. It makes me weary: a complex situation like this, and they think it makes a difference if you hold up a banner and chant.
-Do you really think that anyone who doesn´t have an alternative all worked out can´t have a valid opinion? Patricia asked him.
-I don’t think opinions are much use without knowing something about the subject.
-Protest isn’t about writing a policy document David. That´s your job; that´s why you are the government. A protest is about saying that you are going about things in the wrong way. You find another way if it needs to be done. It´s called democracy I think.
-Maybe you should be out there with them.
-Maybe I should. Lawyers have the same function you know, or at least they should have. That´s the rule of law: it doesn´t tell you what to do but you have to follow the rules. But you never had time for all that theory did you? You were always in such a hurry to go out and make money.
-It was never just about the money; you know that. And you know that in the end we have to answer to someone higher than the people. We have to do what we know is right.
-Don´t bring that into it. You think there’s a god who could care less about your view on foreign policy, or that you can know his wishes better than the people you represent?
Later, a police officer called at the house, eager to move the protesters on if David and Patricia would make a formal complaint. It turned out that the grass verge was part of their land and not attached to the public highway. Patricia met him at the gate, talking with Tim and being harangued by Edith, who was behaving as if she wanted to be arrested. Patricia thanked the officer for his concern and told him that no complaint would be made. In case he should be thinking of taking matters into his own hands, she went on to remind him that the right to peaceful protest was enshrined in law, and any trespass on her land was clearly a civil matter outside the officer´s jurisdiction. Tim and the officer looked equally confused, but both nodded agreement and the policeman left.
So far as Patricia was concerned, David would have to learn to live with the situation. And though it seemed that the protest never caused him a moment´s doubt about his own actions, eventually David seemed almost pleased to have his old friend nearby, even as an enemy, and even if he was living under a plastic sheet in the street.
One night, after dinner, Patricia asked David if he thought they should invite Tim and the girl in for drinks. David’s reply was wistful.
-I think he’s happier where he is; out there with Edith or Emma, whatever her name is. He seems ten years younger. I don’t know where he suddenly found the energy.
Patricia didn´t answer for fear of starting their argument again. It comes from having a cause that you believe in she thought. Having a purpose can give you energy you didn’t believe you had. She remembered a time when David had known that, or at least she’d thought that he did.
It was unusual for Matthew to receive a call from David in the middle of the day.
-Get yourself down to my office Matt, I need your help. I’ll see you in thirty minutes
-What about work?
-This is work.
David’s voice had been different from usual. His words were short and to the point, but the tone was tense; worried even. David was always polite when he asked you to do something, but normally he spoke with that confident ease that made you know that it had never entered his head that you might turn him down. Today he sounded almost pleading, and Matthew was intrigued. He left the office as soon as he could decently get away and drove straight
The office was what had once been David’s snug; the place where they had spent so much time drinking and talking, in a past that seemed very far away. There was still a well stocked supply of alcohol, discreetly hidden away in a long beechwood cabinet, but the old furniture had gone, with the exception of one ruined chair with scuffed wooden arms and cushions of faded green baize barely supported by the sagging springs. Everything else about the room was modern and efficient looking.
Something was very wrong with David. He could not sit or stand still. Harold was already there when Matthew arrived, frowning importantly but saying nothing. He took his lead from David, and it seemed that David could not make up his mind how to begin. He kept picking things up, and putting them down; talking about inconsequential matters. It took a while before he said anything about the reason for his call.
-I’ve had a very interesting telephone conversation with one of my constituents, he began, finally.
-It’s not like a politician to worry about constituents, between elections I mean.
-Please: I don’t need sarcasm just now. This man rang me last night: I don’t know him, and I’ve never spoken to him before. I don’t even know how he knew that I’m his member of parliament. He’s been living in Spain for a while. The name may mean something to you; Mitchell Walcott. He seems to think that his story would have been in the papers not so long ago.
-Yes, there was something; let me think. Maybe two years ago? Nothing much as I remember, just a small businessman who ran away. He had a partner, an ex-police officer, that’s why it made the news. The partner was disabled: he was one of these have-a-go heroes: took on some thugs who were burgling the office and they injured him quite badly. Walcott was the bookkeeper. A few days after the robbery he took off with all the cash in the business and left this poor chap in the lurch.
-That was the story in the paper. The way Walcott tells it is a little different, but that’s not important.
-What is important?
David threw up his hands and then shrugged
-Who knows? Nothing probably. It was a phone conversation and he was excited, not making a lot of sense. I tried to steady him down, but then he went paranoid on me. Said he couldn’t talk about it on the phone. He wants to see me in person, or someone else he knows he can trust. Said he can’t get out of Spain, and that his life is in danger. He told me that he thought that maybe if enough people know his story, then maybe it wouldn’t be worth him being killed to ensure his silence, but what the story is, I don’t know. Some kind of high level cover up.
-David, when I left the office, I was writing a story about two families that lived next door to each other for the last fifteen years and now they’ve fallen out over some bushes. An international conspiracy involving hit men sounds more exciting. On the other hand, it’s just possible that your caller is just a little crazy, or that he’s spent up and trying to blag a free ride back home. Maybe he’s just fell out with some of the local small time crooks. He sounds like the type.
-I agree, any one of those scenarios is likely, but we have to check it out.
-Tell me why?
-I’m his member of parliament.
-But tell me why you are interested. Spare me all that guff about your responsibilities. You must get as much attention from crazy people as I do, and this guy probably doesn’t even vote if he’s living in …
-Madrid, he says, but he wouldn’t give me an address or contact details. Says he’ll ring me back tonight to suggest a time and place, if I can find a way to make him feel safe.
-And where do I come in?
I can’t go myself. In any case I could tell that he finds it hard enough to trust me so far as he has. But you’re a local celebrity Matt: your name is in the paper every night. He’ll feel that he knows you already, and he’s desperate to talk to a journalist to get his story out.
Matthew considered this.
-Very flattering. Look, every month I have to waste my time with at least one conspiracy fantasist who gets past my assistant. I expect you hear from them all the time. I don’t need to get on a plane to find another one. In any case if Walcott seriously thinks I am the man to help him break his story to the world’s press, he definitely is deluded. You have to do better than that David. Tell me the real reason.
-Something about this is a lot more important to him than he is saying, Matthew thought. Harold’s looking like he wants to punch me, gripping the arms of that chair so hard he might tear them off. That gives me a good feeling at least.
-Think of it as a favour to me, David replied. There’s something about the story that concerns me, even if I don’t know what it is. Occasionally you just have to trust to instinct. You’ll be travelling at my expense of course. A paid for weekend in Madrid can’t be too terrible. You know, he may not even show up, but at least if you go we can say we tried. On the other hand you might get a good follow up story to that burglary and absconding case, who knows. Check up on the partner when you get back; it could be one of those sympathy pieces about him rebuilding his life after being crippled by thugs, while his pal is living it up in the sun. That sort of rubbish.
Matthew couldn’t see any kind of story in it, but in the end he agreed to do what David asked: didn’t he always? A flight and a hotel that was comfortable, but not embarrassingly lavish, were arranged for him. David told him that Walcott jumped at the suggestion that Matthew be the one to hear his story (I told you Matt, you’re a regional celebrity) and so the trip was settled.
David drove him to the airport personally. It was a dark, wet night that made the prospect of a weekend in Southern Europe seem like not such a bad idea. The tickets and itinerary bulked in the chest pocket of his coat, with his passport. He felt a little of what he had imagined his career might be when he’d started off in journalism, even if the reality was only that he was running an errand for David; but why David should be so concerned about Walcott was much more interesting to Matthew than Walcott himself. He told himself that was the real reason he was making the journey.
-Remember, David was telling him again. You have to find out where he’s living or at least where we can find him, otherwise there’s no way to do anything for him. Don’t push him too much though. You might reassure him that no-one cares about any money he is supposed to have run off with. The police know that was a tale made up by his partner even if nothing can be proved.
-Is that true?
-Don’t sound so surprised, Matt, you shouldn’t believe everything you read in the papers, even if you wrote it. Anyway, however you get it; address, phone number, contact details. Otherwise we can’t do anything.
A sudden thought occurred to Matthew.
-You don’t suppose at all that there’s any good reason for his paranoia, and that this trip could be dangerous do you?
-Matthew, if I believed that for a moment do you think I’d let you go in my place? Just put it down to my curiosity. But please, indulge me just this once. Call me when you get to the hotel.
It was obvious that David was not telling the whole story. He was so much on edge that he had not been able to invent plausible reasons for his concern. Maybe Walcott would shed some light on the situation, if only Matthew could find him.
Matthew wasn’t the only person looking for someone; but Patricia was more interested in Walcott’s former partner than in the missing book keeper.
Patricia hadn’t gone looking for Derek Moss again: the flame of that case had died, though the frustration of it remained always hot enough to burn. It was the case that wouldn’t leave her alone, not the other way around.
When David spoke the name, in the course of some boring conversation about his constituency work, Patricia had to sit up and take notice. Moss wasn’t a big part of what David was talking about, but to Patricia, the name on its own was enough of a sign. She didn’t say anything about it to David, but she took more notice of the conversation and resolved to visit Mr Moss as so
It turned out that Derek Moss had given up the investigation business after his accident; which was convenient because the business had given up on him before that. Somehow he’d found his way into a job at a law firm that specialised in debt recovery.
Moss operated as a kind of consultant for the firm. He was supposed to explain the practical side of debt enforcement to the kids who actually ran the business. They were on the phones all day, chasing up money that was owed to clients, and since everything they said and did was selected from a menu of options on a computer screen, there was not much for Derek to do. That was fine with him: the job didn’t pay well, but he could be sure of being left alone. Also he felt that he enjoyed a certain status. It suited him to be thought of as an expert without having to take on responsibility. His back injury was an honourable wound that he did not hesitate to rely on, if necessary.
Patricia didn’t know the law firm except by reputation, but Derek’s connection to the profession made him easy for her to trace. This time she didn’t just go to him and ask for information. She wanted to know a little more about him first. She discovered that Moss was a creature of habit. He lived alone, in a small house that he’d inherited from a relative. He wasn’t a drinker: he seemed to have no obvious vices and few interests. Most weeks he met the same acquaintances on the same night; and on Sunday he took his ancient mother to lunch, somewhere within easy driving distance.
It was an old Victorian terrace house, not so charming, but not falling apart either. It was a Saturday afternoon and Patricia was surprised to see that the front door was ajar. She knocked, but no one answered, so she passed through the tiny hall to the scullery kitchen, where noises of someone scuffling about could be heard.
A large backside, which must have formed a substantial proportion of someone she assumed to be Derek Moss, was facing her; not so covered as it ought to have been by a pair of thin black trousers that struggled to contain the white fleshy expanse. The rest of Derek was wedged into a space between the kitchen drainer and the wall, hemmed in by what looked like a new washing machine.