Sing like you know the w.., p.36

Sing Like You Know the Words, page 36

 

Sing Like You Know the Words
 



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  -Excuse me, the door was open, Patricia called. Derek’s face appeared briefly in the tiny space that was visible between himself and the wall.

  -Be with you in a minute. Just need to finish plumbing this in.

  Patricia stepped nearer to the work in progress.

  -Sure you can manage? she asked. Must be hard for you, working in that corner.

  -How do you mean?

  -In that narrow space. With your bad back.

  -Oh, yes. Quite hard. I suffer through it you know. There, it’s done.

  Improbably, it seemed that he was able to extricate himself from the working space. He pushed the washer into the area he’d vacated, using the considerable bulk of his person. Then he wiped his hand on a rag and offered to shake hands with Patricia.

  -I remember we’ve met before, but it was a while ago. What can I do for you?

  -My name is Patricia Thomas. I was one of the lawyers in the Obuswu case. I spoke to you a few years ago while you were in the hospital.

  Moss looked like he’d been slapped, but there was none of the bluster of their previous meeting. He slumped a little, like a man who finds it too much trouble to be angry.

  -You don’t let go very easily. If you want to ask whether I have anything to tell you about that case, the answer is still no.

  -I’ve come with some good news. It looks like your old partner in the investigations business may have turned up.

  -You mean Mitchell.

  -Yes, he’s been living in Spain you know, but he’s in some kind of trouble and I think he wants to come home. You could be in the news again Derek. He was quite the villain of the piece wasn’t he, at least in the reports? Of course if he turns up he may have a different story.

  -What are you getting at?

  -Maybe I’m thinking about the insurance claim you submitted after that robbery, and all the money that was supposed to have disappeared with Walcott.

  -That’s old news

  -And difficult to prove, probably. But even employers like yours, who obviously don’t bother with criminal record checks, might be concerned if I talked to them about an employee who’s suspected of insurance fraud as well as having a record.

  Patricia remembered that Moss had never been prosecuted for the thefts from the police station, but that was for him to argue. He didn’t seem to have any argument left in him.

  -I remember the last time we spoke. You were like a little girl then. You’ve changed. It sounds like you’re threatening me.

  -Maybe I am threatening you Derek. But I can also promise you something. I promise you that whatever you tell me, it’s only for my personal information. Just between us and it goes no further.

  There was something about the way that she said it which made Derek believe her. He paused.

  -Just between us I might be able to live with. You’re catholic aren’t you?

  -How do you know that? And why do you want to know?

  -You’re not the only one who remembers things. Your husband is that MP who wants to be the next prime minister. I’ve heard of you. Knew I’d seen you before.

  -But why does it matter?

  -It means you understand confession. Just let me wash my hands. I’ll make us some tea.

  Attending to the kettle and mugs helped Derek to steady himself. Once they’d settled into the tiny lounge, with its oversized armchairs, and Moss had squeezed his bulk into the most distressed of them, he seemed more himself again; almost relaxed.

  -I should tell you at the start, he said. I killed John Obuswu. I didn’t mean to do it, though I did mean to hurt him. I never meant to kill anyone, but I beat him and he died.

  -The station log said that you were only in the cells for ten minutes. That’s not enough time for the beating he had.

  -It was a bit longer than ten minutes. The desk sergeant did me a favour. And there were no prisoners in the next cells to hear anything. But poor John didn’t make much noise anyway. That’s a reason I didn’t know I’d gone too far. I’ve asked myself over the years if I was just unlucky; whether there was something wrong with him already; whether I hit him harder than I meant to. Either way it changes nothing.

  There was something unpleasant in the way he talked of being unlucky, as if he had been the injured party. Patricia ignored the self pity. For now she only needed the facts.

  -You must have had a reason.

  -I expect you heard when you were doing your snooping that I was a racist. Well it’s true, I’m white and I prefer my own people. It was more accepted in those days. You didn’t have to justify it. But it wasn’t for that. The truth is I was trying to do my job.

  -By giving a drunken tramp a beating?

  -Beatings weren’t so unusual then either. Just a way to get information, though it never was my style, whether you believe me or not. Some of the lads used to say I was soft. I’ve never been a violent man. Look at me. I’m fat, slow, and lazy. I was the same then as I am now. But it was accepted that sometimes you needed to be a bit rough to break a case. As it turned out, it was the case that broke me.

  -I looked at the records of the cases you were working. I couldn’t tell what you might have wanted to see John about.

  -Did you come across the name of Francis O’Riordan?

  -The sex abuse case?

  -That was the one. I’d been working on it for weeks. In my own time as well as at work. I had some dedication in those days. When they sacked me, you know, it was nothing to do with Obuswu. Back then, anyone who suspected I might have hit John too hard would have shrugged and been grateful it wasn’t them in my position. Anyway that’s beside the point. Like I said, no one believed I had something like that in me. They told me at the disciplinary, afterwards, that I was a disgrace as an officer, and that was true as well; but I hadn’t been dishonest; not before that night. Afterwards I admit, I didn’t care. Maybe I was looking for a way out. Being thrown out was a relief when it finally came.

  -But before John, I was trying to do what I thought was the job, and the O’Riordan case was one of those that got to me. They say everyone has one or two that get hold of them like that.

  -You remember the case. The lad was leaving church after choir practice when it happened, and by the time they found him he was unconscious. You saw the medical summary probably, so I’ll not go into it. The poor little mite was buggered to within an inch of his life. He couldn’t tell us anything afterwards. Claimed he could remember nothing.

  -I remember it was a distressing case.

  -Distressing isn’t the word. There were some memories from my own childhood that… well, there’s no need to go into that either. In any case I was going to find the guilty party in that case whatever happened, and maybe I was desperate to prove to the men and to myself that I could do the job, whatever they said about me being soft.

  -But what does any of that have to do with John?

  -I forget, you only read the reports. There’s always a lot they leave out. You know that at the time Obuswu was picked up he was sleeping in the cemetery at the Parish Church, but that wasn’t the only place he dossed out. He was a regular at Saint Pats as well. That was where the attack took place, remember.

  -And there’s other stuff about John you won’t have read. When he was out of it, he was in the habit of pulling out his plonker and waving it around. Indecent exposure as they say. Showed it to boys as well as girls. Looking back I’m not sure he would have known the difference; the state he was in most of the time.

  -So you thought that…?

  -It was more than guessing. I had a witness. Someone who put him in the right place on the night of the attack. One of his mates if you can call them that. But no one likes that kind of thing, so I wasn’t surprised he told me. Blacks hate that queer stuff more than we do.

  -In any case you can imagine how much good one of John’s drinking pals would be as a witness in court, with clever people like you working for the defence. I was sure I knew what the score was, but I had no way to prove it; n
ot without a confession. And then Johnny was pulled into the cells when I happened to be at the station. It was too good a chance to let slip.

  -What did he tell you about it?

  -I was stupid to think that he’d be able to tell me anything. He wasn’t making any sense. He was frightened of course, and who knows what state his brain was in. I thought if I could frighten him some more it would shock him to sense. And I wanted him to know that I knew. I wanted him to feel my anger.

  -He didn’t scream or plead or anything. Just whimpered a bit. At first that made me more angry. And then I realized it was useless. I left it then. I asked George to look in on him later and I went home. He didn’t look much worse than others you might see on any Friday night in those days, to be honest.

  -I went home thinking I should feel good about it. He was a black bastard. He deserved it. The lads would see that I wasn’t frightened to get my hands dirty. But I didn’t sleep. I knew it was wrong. If I could have taken it back I would have done, even not knowing how it would turn out; that he’d be dead. That’s something else you can believe or not, but it’s true. And that’s the first part of my confession finished.

  -You mean there’s more?

  -I mean there’s a reason why John Obuswu’s name was never linked to that crime. He never attacked the boy.

  Moss had seemed quite calm in the course of his narrative, but now he got up to stretch out his back. Patricia saw that he was sweating heavily into his shirt. He took a step to the window and paused to steady himself against the sill, staring for a moment at something unseen outside. His thin black hair hung in strands down his fat neck. He was trembling a little as he leaned against the glass. Patricia wondered if he had a heart murmur: or was the shaking caused by the stress of the moment. Finally he slouched back into his chair. She watched him silently, anxious not to interrupt his mood.

  -I found out not long after that John couldn’t have been the one responsible, he said.

  -Did you speak to the boy?

  -He never said anything at the time. Later I had my own problems. Now it’s too late.

  -What do you mean?

  -Francis O’Riordan swallowed a bottle of sleeping tablets when he was fourteen years old.

  -That’s terrible. But then…

  -If you had the medical report on his case. You’d see that the doctor did a very full report on his injuries. You might remember that in those years, the specialists at the city hospital were obsessed with diagnosis of child abuse. It was the fashion for a while.

  -I remember that epidemic of taking children into care. It seemed a little like hysteria; as if the doctors had persuaded themselves that most parents were abusers.

  -Yeah, it was out of control. But there wasn’t any doubt in this case, and the evidence was clear. What happened to Francis: what left him unconscious that night; had happened to him before. To spare you the details, the doctors could tell from the wounding and healing of old wounds that it had happened to him several times, over a period of months.

  -But John had only been in the city a week or two when he died.

  -Exactly.

  -So no one knows who was responsible.

  -You could say that. No one was ever prosecuted and as far as I know the investigation went no further. The evidence could still be there though. You have the medical reports and I suppose they test for DNA these days, if they have a suspect, and useable samples.

  -Do you have a suspect?

  -It’s a hard thing for me to say. The priest of St. Patricks was moved on to another parish a few months after the attack. They sent him back to the old country, somewhere out in the sticks. He was a popular priest. There’s no reason why they’d banish him to the back of beyond, no reason why he’d want to go. Or only one that I can think of.

  -You mean you think that it was him and that someone knew.

  -Or suspected. But I never followed up on it myself; call it superstition, or cowardice or bitterness. I don’t know. But that’s the second part of my confession. I’ve done nothing all these years. For all I know the old bastard is doing the same or worse somewhere in the wilds of Ireland, where no-one will ever lay a hand on him for it.

  -We’ve got to do something.

  There’s no we, it’s up to you. The burden passes to you now. You know as much as I do. What you do with it, is up to you. I feel a little better for your knowing. I’ve never even told a priest what I’ve said to you just now, so thank you.

  ***

  In a small bar outside the centre of Madrid, not far from Arturo Soria, sipping coffee under a sky of untroubled blue, Matthew met Walcott and heard his story. That night he typed up a written record from the scribbled notes he made as they spoke.

  After leaving England, for reasons that were not clarified, Mitchell had no job and little money. He went to the south, along with all the other English, and hung around Malaga, working in bars for cash when he could; picking up bits of the language and living day to day. He had no idea what he wanted except that he did not want to go back.

  In some of the bars where he worked, there were little pieces of book keeping that needed to be done. It seemed that the ex-patriots didn’t trust Spanish accountants, and couldn’t afford the English ones. Soon he was running a small business that had started without him noticing, keeping books in order for struggling bar owners who had come to the Costa in search of their dreams. He began to understand the ways of the local officials, and pick up some basic tricks in the way of dealing with them. Soon he was able to help clients avoid the more obvious difficulties with the regional authorities. What language he needed seemed to come easily to him, even though he’d learned nothing in the rudimentary French lessons he’d suffered in the secondary school.

  There came a point quite soon where he enjoyed the trust of his little English speaking community. He picked up more work through recommendations. One job was for a man who had a building project running along the coast close to Fuengirola. This man had suffered bad experiences in his dealings with local investors, but he needed a partner to move the project on. His bank facilities were fully extended, but the bank manager had given the name of a possible private investor from Madrid: a very cultured man, very anglophile; not really a businessman at all in fact, but the manager was sure that he had funds that could be made available at terms that would suit all the parties.

  The developer supposed that the Madrid gentleman would be a relative of the bank manager, but the money was the same colour. Anyway what choice did he have?

  The proposal was that Mitchell should prepare a business plan setting out the funding case; meet the man in Madrid, and explain the opportunity to him. If the investor was serious and could prove funds, he would visit Malaga a short time later, to view the site and close the deal. If it came off, there would be a bonus commission for Mitchell. It was also understood that if this transaction was successful, there could be a more permanent understanding between Mitchell and the developer on future projects.

  It was exciting for Mitchell. He sensed a glorious future within reach. He quickly drafted the business case and took the high speed train to Madrid checking into the cheapest lodgings he could find, to prepare for the big meeting the next day.

  The next day was 11 March 2004. In the morning he checked out of the room early and joined the commuters headed for the Madrid central station. His contact had requested a breakfast meeting and he wanted to allow plenty of time to find the offices. He’d been through the numbers thoroughly and he was confident they made sense, but he was on edge about the meeting and preoccupied with how he should approach the investor. He barely registered the stations as they went by.

  It was just after half past seven in the morning, as his train was pulling into Atocha Central, that the bomb exploded in the next carriage. Later, he heard about bombs that had exploded on other trains, more or less at the same time, all along the line.

  He couldn’t remember much about the explosion. Afterwards he read eye witness
accounts later from people who described horrible things that maybe he saw too; but none of it stayed in his memory. His mind held no clear image of getting off the train and stumbling away, aimlessly. Some people seemed to be heading the same way; others were hurrying in the opposite direction, towards the carnage. He had no impression of where anyone was going. Still more people appeared, some with uniforms, shouting to each other; the voices of authority.

  He could remember thinking that he didn’t want to get into trouble, even if he had no idea why he should be. He began to walk away, out of the station. He wasn’t stopped or challenged. Everyone’s attention was directed on the scene inside. He was still holding his case. Suddenly, it seemed very important to get to the meeting without being late. He looked at his watch, but the face was smashed and there was no display. He noticed what seemed to be quite a lot of blood on the cuff of his jacket, but so far as he could tell it was not his.

  Outside the station he stopped, halfway across the dual carriageway crossing. There was a man on the other side of the broad street, a little apart from the crowd of pedestrians, ignoring the general melee. He was standing quite still and looking towards the station. He had on a long, dark overcoat, though it was not cold, and he almost seemed to be standing to attention; his arm was extended in a stiff gesture. Mitchell had seen the pose before, in the old black and white photographs that still decorated some of the older bars; he recognized the Franquist salute.

  However it was not the strange gesture that held his attention across the lanes of traffic. Even at that distance his recollection of the memorable face was perfectly clear. The long, dark features, the precise military style of dress and bearing, the small chin and the proud, angry eyes: it was certainly the man who Ray Hawkins had told him, two years earlier, was a police officer; the one who’d wanted Ray to sell him something.

 
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