The summer holidays were not even halfway over but for the two boys standing by the removal van, it might have well have come to an end.
"Look, it's not the end of the world you know," the large man loading another box into the van told them. "You can see each other during the holidays." The boys did not look convinced. The man placed the box on the back of the van and returned into the house.
Returning with another box, the older man reminded the boys, "I tried for promotion here, but there weren't any going. If I want promotion, I have to move to another force.
"Remember, Tommy, any problems, call us. Doesn't matter what time of day or night, call us."
Craigh House was a large, late Victorian house, on the outskirts of Sheffield; its design was influenced by the Arts and Craft movement. It had been originally built in 1895 by Samuel Bettridge, a Sheffield steel magnate. From him it had passed to his grandson, also a Samuel Bettridge, who was not a steel magnate but the owner of a thriving specialist engineering company. That Samuel Bettridge had given it as a wedding present to his daughter Mary and her husband Mark Wainwright in the hopes that they might give him grandchildren to fill the place.
Mary and Mark raised four children—Johnny, Joan, Emma, and Phillip, all of whom had grown up and left the house, establishing homes and families of their own. Then Mary had died, leaving Mark alone in a house which had really been too big for a family of six, let alone an elderly widower living on his own.
Mark had occasionally thought about selling the place, though the place had too many memories of his life with Mary for those thoughts to be serious. He remembered the children sliding down the bannisters and running round the extensive gardens, the gardens that Mary and he had gradually redesigned over their years in the house. During the last few years before her death Mary had opened the gardens on National Garden Day to help raise money for charity. For a couple of years after her death Mark had done likewise, but more recently the effort was too much for him. He still maintained the gardens, though not to the standard Mary had kept.
Because eight years ago Mark had given up his life's vocation to give her all his attention in her final years, he now found himself at a loose end. In theory he could have gone back to take charge of Bettridge's Engineering and Electrical. He had run the company for nearly thirty years, and he was, after all, still the owner or at least the majority shareholder with sixty-five percent of the company. He was also, at least on paper, non-executive Chairman of the company, though he only turned up for the Annual General Meeting. He did not think it would be good form to walk back in after all this time and just take up where he had left off. That sort of thing was just not done. Mark was fairly certain that if he did, most of the current board of directors would leave, as he knew he would in the same situation.
Anyway, the company just did not feel the same. When he did pop in to chat with some of the old boys he had known and worked with, he found they were no longer there. There had been a lot of changes, and it no longer felt like the place he had run for so many years.
It was, he thought, a pity that Paul had left the company. Mark had fully expected his nephew to be appointed to the board when he had resigned as Managing Director; in fact, he had suggested it. He was surprised when the board had not taken up his suggestion, instead bringing in an outsider to fill the vacant place. Oh, Mark understood the arguments—new blood and a different point of view and all, but deep-down Mark thought it was a mistake. He was even more convinced of the fact when a few years later Paul had resigned and taken a job with their only real competitor in the UK.
If Paul had still been there and on the board, Mark would probably have sounded him out about finding some role that he could play in the firm. That, though, was not an option, and now Mark was unsure of what to do. He knew full well he had to do something, or he would vegetate in his house.
With nothing better to do, he picked up a lifestyle magazine off the coffee table. Mrs Wright, his housekeeper, laid them out there every week and usually replaced them unread, with the exception of New Scientist, the following week. Opening the magazine without much interest in which magazine it was, he started to skim over the pages in the hope that something would catch his eye. It was then he saw the advert.
"Where the fuck…?"
"Precisely, Sergeant, where the devil did he come from?" James Belkin, Mark's solicitor commented. The two of them were watching the replay of the video from Mark's dashcam. Mark, though in the room, was not watching it. The scene in that video was ingrained in his memory, and he knew that he would never forget it.
All right, maybe he was an idiot for driving a classic sports car at that time of night in that sort of weather along those roads. In fact, thinking about it, anybody out driving in those conditions would have to have been an idiot. But, he wanted to get back to Sheffield and show off his new toy. Mark had wanted an E-type since he had first seen one on an edition of "Top Gear" before Jeremy Clarkson had joined that programme. Now, at the age when his children or at least one of them thought he should be sitting in a retirement home, he had the free funds to get one and the time to drive one, although he knew he would be stupid to do so because they drove like a brick.
That was the problem with E-types—they were fantastic so long as you did not want to stop or go around a corner. Their brakes were totally inadequate for their power and their steering was not much better. So, to get an original E-type for today's driving conditions was stupid, and Mark was not stupid. He bought an Eagle, an E-type upgraded with modern features. He had been bloody lucky to find the advert selling one in Bolton, of all places, and had gone over to see it. Of course, he only wanted to look at it; he had no intention of buying it then. Half an hour after setting eyes on it, he was onto his bank to arrange a transfer that would have paid for a small house or in some parts of the country a large house. The transfer had taken a couple of days, but that had given him time to get home and then go back to Bolton by train to pick up the car.
Ever since an incident in Eastern Europe in which he was almost ripped off in a crash for cash scam, Mark had seen the value of dashcams. Not only had he seen their value, he had made money from them. His company had become one of the first importers of the devices into the UK. Then, they had gone on to designing and developing them. The technical lads kept him supplied with the newest prototypes, and it was one of these that he had taken up with him to Bolton—good job, too.
The storm had been one of those freaks of British weather that appear out of nowhere and quickly make travel impossible. Mark had only just left Bolton when the news flash came on the radio that his preferred route, through Holmfirth, not the shortest but in Mark's opinion the easiest, was closed. Now he was faced with A6018, which was not a road he liked, though he was pleased to see how the car handled in these conditions. On a couple of occasions when he had driven classic E-types, he had found that if road conditions were not perfect they could be a nightmare to drive. The Eagle E-type, though, was a dream to drive. The improved steering and braking really made a difference when driving on wet roads through the Pennines. He had felt safe and confident in the car but was happy to get to the outskirts of Sheffield.
Then in a flash of lightning, he saw the figure of a youth on a bike coming straight towards him. What followed was pure instinct: he slammed on the brakes and held the steering wheel firm. As the car slowed to a stop the youth appeared in the beams of his headlights, coming directly towards the car. In the final moments before the inevitable, Mark saw the youth's face—the boy could not have been more than thirteen or fourteen. The look on the boy's face terrified Mark; he had seen it before.
The Sergeant and James had finished watching the playback from the dashcam.
"Well, sir," the Sergeant stated, directing his comment at Mark, "it is quite clear you were driving well inside the limit. In fact, you were driving very responsibly. How the hell you managed to stop the car before the impact I don't know, given the E-type's reputation for braking!"
"It's not your standard E-type, it's an Eagle E-type, an original E-type upgraded with modern braking, suspension and steering," Mark informed him.
"Bloody good job as well—probably saved the lad's life. He must have come down that hill and onto the main road at full pelt."
"I think so. Any news how he is?"
"Last I heard he was still in the operating theatre but they think he will be OK, though he was pretty busted up. He made a mess of your car as well."
"The car can be repaired; the lad's important. How are his parents taking it?"
The Sergeant leaned back in his chair for a moment.
"Now that's a rum'un. Sent a PC round last night, who spoke to the father—seems there's no mother around. Father's only comment when told there had been an accident was, "'ope he's dead".
"Now, sir, I'll just have to sort out some paperwork and then we can let you go. Can't see much point in holding you till brass arrive, it is clear there will be no charges. We will have to impound the car for the RCI boys to go over it, and might be a bit before you get that back." Mark nodded.
A good hour later, Mark and James finally made it out of the Police Station, and by then the first light of a late September dawn was breaking through in the eastern sky. James took Mark to a nearby café, sat him down, and ordered full English for both of them. Mark commented that he did not think he could eat.
"You need to eat, and a good greasy fry-up will do a world of good," James responded as the waitress plonked two mugs of strong tea in front of them. "Now dump some sugar in that tea and drink up. You need it." Mark did as he was told and drank the tea. He also, again on instructions from James, ate the breakfast and had to admit that once he had managed to eat his way through the bacon, black pudding, mushrooms, sausage, fried bread, beans and an egg that constituted a full English at this establishment, he did feel somewhat better.
"James?" Mark's solicitor looked across the table at him. There was something in the way Mark had said his name which meant that what was coming was serious. "I want you to make some enquiries, see what you can find out about the lad and his family."
"Yes, I suppose we should check out if they have the resources to make it worthwhile to go after them for the damage to the car and your costs."
"Fuck no. I want to know about the boy, to see …" Mark went quiet. James looked up at him, noticing the look of concern on his client's face.
"Mark, don't concern yourself about the boy. Best to keep well out of things. Let us deal with things, and the less you are involved the better."
"James, it's not that simple; I need to know."
"Need to know what?"
"Why he wanted to kill himself." James looked across the table at Mark.
"Kill himself, what makes you think that?"
"It was the look on his face."
Terry and Mary O'Mally looked at each other across the kitchen table, trying to fully understand the import of what their son has just said.
"Now tell us again what happened on Thursday."
Connor looked between his parents, then started for what seemed like the umpteenth time to repeat what he had told them already. He had been on the phone to Tommy and the call cut off. He had tried to call back with no success and Tommy was not answering emails or coming online to chat. By the end of it Connor was crying again. Mary put her arm around him.
"We'll look into it, won't we love?" she asked, looking over at her husband.
Some five days later after the accident, Mark walked up to the bed that had been pointed out to him in the orthopaedic ward. He stopped at the foot of the bed and looked at the boy, who he now knew was fourteen, though he looked younger. Both the boy's legs were in plaster, the left one raised up in traction, his right arm stuck out from his body on what Mark recalled was known as an aeroplane splint. His face was badly bruised and, where not wrapped in bandages, his upper body showed extensive bruising, some of which looked substantially older than the rest.
"Hi, Thomas. All right if I take a seat?" Mark asked, moving alongside the bed and pulling round one of the seats set there for visitors.
"'pose so, you 'nother social worker?"
"No, I'm the bloke whose car you rode into." Thomas looked worried and glanced around the ward.
"What you 'ere for then, want me to pay for the damage?"
"Doubt you could, the total cost will be about thirty grand."
"What!" Thomas exclaimed, "that's more than most cars cost, what I hit, a bloody Ferrari?"
"No, an Eagle E-Type Roadster, bloody good job too. Most cars would have been unable to stop in time. Mine could."
"Been better if you 'adn't."
"So what happened?"
"I told them, I lost control coming down the hill. Brakes were wet and wouldn't 'old"
"And they believed that?"
"Don't know; don't care. Puts you in the clear," Thomas responded.
"Don't worry about that, I'm in the clear anyway, there was proof that I was stationary when you hit me. I suppose that they might charge you with dangerous cycling but so far as I am concerned I'm in the clear."
"Can they do that—dangerous cycling?" Thomas looked stressed.
"Don't worry, Thomas, if they do I'll get you a good lawyer.
"Why should you bother?"
"Because, Thomas, I think you need help, and from what I've learned I suspect you are not going to get it from your family."
"What fucking family. Ma walked out w'en I wus seven. Dad doesn't want me—told Social Services that I was a troublemaker and he can't cope." Mark nodded remembering the report that James had shown him a couple of hours earlier. So far as he remembered what the father had actually said was, 'Be better off if he were dead, that kid's trouble and I don't want him.' It was quite clear to both Mark and Social Services that the family situation had totally broken down.
"Look, Thomas, all they've got is the video of you coming out of nowhere straight at my car."
"The video from my dashcam, I have a fairly upmarket one that not only records the image of what is in front of the car but also the exact position of the car, its speed, acceleration, and deceleration. From that they can tell, I was doing just under thirty miles and hour, well below the speed limit, but given the weather conditions understandable. They can also see that I decelerated rapidly and was stationary by time you hit the car."
"Didn't think you would see me in time to stop, saw your headlights from the top of the hill, thought you would hit me at the junction."
"So it was deliberate," Mark commented. There was a hint of sadness in his voice.
"You bloody knew that, didn't you?" Thomas accused.
"Your face, when the lightning flashed, and I saw you coming towards me, reminded me …" Mark paused, Thomas saw a look of sadness going across his face. "Never mind, it was a long time ago and in another place. I just knew what you had in mind."
"Just my bloody luck to mess it up and choose a bloody souped up sports car that can stop on a sixpence. Can't do anything right."
Comments, questions are always welcome at Nigel Gordon