An Unhappy Man Part 2a
Back at his desk, Sam Williams put his head in his hands and concentrated on breathing slowly and deeply. He was going to have to give Morgan his answer before he talked to Whittaker, and there was clearly no real choice but to say yes. He thought about that, and decided that if Whittaker turned out to be strongly against the idea, he would just have to back out again. Morgan would be furious, he knew, but he’d have to agree it was better than Williams damaging his mental health permanently. Wouldn’t he? Williams sat up and stared at the wall, annoyed with himself for letting Morgan put him in this position.
Pete had been right all along. He had always said the man was a bully, and it had taken Williams until now to see it. He’d even argued with Pete about it the last time they met; that was two months ago now, he realised.
* * *
Saturday night, and at the end of a long day Williams walks through the swing doors out into Reception. He stops dead and shakes his head as if to clear it, but it’s real, Pete’s real. He’s here, smiling brightly at Williams as if they had parted on good terms.
“Sam, mate! Good timing! I was just going to get someone to call through, I didn’t even know if you were in today.” Pete takes a few steps towards him then stops. “Should have phoned, I suppose, but I’ve been tied up all day. Just thought I’d take a chance, and here you are, bit of luck, eh?”
Williams stares at Pete. He hasn’t taken it in yet, that he is really here. Pete hasn’t changed much - it’s only been four months since he left, after all. The clothes are smarter, the merry eyes look tired, and the riotous dark curls are slightly shorter, but in all the essentials it’s still Pete. And, as if to prove it, he’s barely taken breath before he’s rattling away cheerfully again.
“I came up on the train yesterday; my sister got married this afternoon. Julie, remember?” He adds, with an odd expression on his face. “The one who used to fancy you? Well, there was a bit of a to-do because my Mum’s Aunt Flo said she shouldn’t be wearing white, but Julie said to hell with that, it’s 1973 for God’s sake, no-one ‘keeps themselves for their wedding night’ any more. I thought old Flo was going to combust, she went so red. So, how have you been?”
Williams is still standing right where he stopped. He smiles tentatively in acknowledgement of the story, then belatedly he moves forward to shake hands awkwardly with Pete and finds himself drawn into a brief hug. Pete steps back.
“It’s great to see you mate, I’m ever so sorry I haven’t been back, I’ve been trying to get away for ages. The workload is just horrendous, I had no idea. I’m really enjoying it, but half the time I have to work weekends and then it’s late nights as well and it just seems to be never-ending sometimes.”
I wasn’t imagining it, Williams thinks wonderingly. He really does talk incessantly. It should be infuriating, but it’s not, it’s comforting.
Realising that he himself still hasn’t actually spoken at all yet, he digs deep for the words of apology he’s planned for four months. They come out wrong. “Four months,” he stutters. Four very long months. “I... didn’t expect to see you.” Ever again. He dries up momentarily, still thrown. ”So, what brings you back?” He asks it lightly, then curses himself and continues quickly. “Sorry, you said. Julie’s wedding. Sorry, I’m just a bit..., I wasn’t expecting... ” Calm down, this is Pete, for heaven’s sake, just Pete. Get a grip. He smiles again, more naturally this time. “So, um...?”
Pete glances around the empty station foyer before saying “I thought we could go out for some grub, Sam, have a good old chat like we used to.”
When Williams does not answer immediately, he adds “If you don’t, I’ll have to join my mum and her sisters for wedding cake and even more sherry, and, be honest, no-one deserves that.” He laughs awkwardly. “You wouldn’t abandon me to that, would you Sam? I thought we could grab some Italian, you used to like Italian.” He stops a moment, looks straight at Williams. “It’d be great. If you’re not busy? What do you think?”
Williams collects himself finally, motioning Pete to head out of the station into the blue-grey evening.
As they eat pizza and drink red wine, the conversation flows easily from one idea to another, just as it always did. Pete outlines some of the new computerised search methods he is developing with the new team; Williams interrupts excitedly with ideas for using those methods.
“So, if we had one of your new – databases – and If we labelled each crime (can we do that?) with the method and the suspects and anything else we thought might be relevant, we could analyse things, understand who’s doing what and why.” His many enforced contacts with psychologists have given Williams insights he would prefer not to have, but professionally he’s intrigued by the possibilities.
“Yes, that’s right.” Pete looks across the table and speaks hesitantly. “You could, um, come down one weekend, that would be good. We could, I dunno, go out for lunch somewhere, then I could show you what I’m working on. I reckon I could get you into the building OK, if you bring your badge.” He grins suddenly. “Hey, it would be great, then you could come back and show that bastard Morgan he’s not the only one looking to the future.”
Williams shifts uncomfortably and says, “Pete, DCI Morgan was my boss. Still is, sort of. I don’t like you being ...” he trails off.
“Disrespectful?” Pete laughs, then speaks seriously. “Sam, he’s a bully. I know he’s helped you, brought you along, all of that. But you’ve repaid him, more than repaid him. You don’t owe him anything, Sam. He owes you. He took all the credit on that thing you did last year, the warehouse one: to hear him talk you weren’t even there. I mean it Sam, he’s not doing you any favours, if he ever did. Have some faith in yourself; you don’t need him half as much as he needs you.”
Williams does not know what to say. Part of him can see Pete’s right, and resents the way Morgan does, indeed, take most of the credit. But then part of him understands that for his own future safety, his role in these things has to be played down. It wouldn’t do any good for the city’s criminals to know there’s a cop around who specialises in undercover work.
Pete looks at Williams searchingly. “So what about the, er, operations? No more planned, I hope? Have you finished with all that? That must feel quite good, a bit of a relief.”
“It does, yes. They haven’t asked me for a long while, so perhaps it is all over. I’ve been hearing that some people in high-up places have doubts about the effectiveness of these operations.”
Pete snorts in disgust. “Well, I’m not sure about the effectiveness, you certainly have put some big guys away, but I do have opinions about the dangers.”
“As it happens, I agree with you, but this is what I do. This is my life.” He’s used to more support from Pete than this. It’s been one of the things helping him to keep going.
Pete says with unexpected force, “I still think there must be better ways. I think in 10, 20 years, people will look back on all this and think it was all a waste of time, that this is the wrong way.” (*)
Williams is upset and offended. He knows Pete doesn’t mean it that way, but it feels like a personal attack, and it hurts. He turns away Pete’s apology with a prickly politeness which doesn’t improve over the rest of the evening.
Pete tries to win him round. “Look, what I said earlier, what do you think about coming down to have a look at the database stuff? It’s the future, Sam, it really is.”
Williams forces an air of enthusiasm, but Pete’s comments make him question everything he has spent his working life doing. He’s fidgety and tense; he just wants to go home and shut it all out.
Eventually Pete gives up; he doesn’t look happy as he calls for the bill. “Time to go, I’m afraid, Sam.” He looks for a reaction, but Williams does not speak. Pete continues, “I’m on the lunchtime train tomorrow, and I’ve got to do the rounds first, all the rellies I should have been chatting up this evening.”
He watches Williams buttoning his jacket. “Look, I’m sorry about what I said. It wasn’t meant to be against you, honestly. I just...”
“It’s OK, Pete, it doesn’t matter. Really, don’t worry about it.”
* * *
Pete had only been trying to protect him. He could see that now, but at the time he’d been too annoyed to understand.
* * *
I never did go and visit, Williams thought at home later. Yet again, he vowed to phone Pete and try to arrange a meeting before next week; it would presumably have to be the weekend, unless Pete had some time off and could come up. He checked his address book for Pete’s phone number, but there was no answer when he rang it. He tried again several times, but presumably Pete was out, along with anyone else within hearing distance of the phone. Thoroughly dispirited, he decided to go to bed.
* * *
Sammy Williams stands defiantly in the middle of the untidy circle. He’s scared half out of his mind, but he does his best not to show it. He’s been hearing whispers since before breakfast. “Have you heard about Sammy Williams? It’s ever so funny. Come round the back of the kitchens tea-time.”
The biggest boy speaks first, loudly. All other conversation stops instantly.
“You ain’t got a Dad, have you, Sammy? You a bastard then, Sammy? ’Cos you ain’t got a Dad?”
“No! You’re only a – that word – if you didn’t ever have a Dad. I had a Dad. My Dad died. In a coach crash, with my Mum.”
“And I say he didn’t.”
Sammy catches his breath in fear; he can’t stop his eyes widening as he tries to blank out what’s coming next. The biggest boy laughs.
“Your Dad buggered off.”
Sammy flinches. “No! No, he didn’t. Don’t say that word. My Dad died. I was ...I was there. And my Mum.”
The biggest boy steps forward deliberately. He is very scary.
“That’s not what my Dad says.” He looks around at the crowd, drawing them in. “My Dad says your Dad buggered off years ago. At the beginning of the War.”
“No, he didn’t do - that. He died in the crash, with my Mum. He did.”
The boy laughs. “Balls. He was a wide boy, your Dad, didn’t you know? A spiv. Born for the black market, my Dad says.”
“No, that’s not true. He was a salesman, selling ... things.” Sammy feels cold, he knows he’s showing weakness now. He does the only thing he knows how to do. He asks a question, points out the flaw in the argument.
“If your Dad knows so much, why aren’t you with him? Why are you in here with us, if you’ve got a Dad? Why isn’t he looking after you?”
The biggest boy looks at him in shock, turning swiftly to anger. After a moment’s hesitation he shouts “Don’t you ask no bloody questions about my Dad! My Dad’s - busy.” He rallies, comes back fighting. “Least I know where my Dad is,” he taunts. “Bet you don’t know where your Dad is.”
“No, I ... I do. He’s dead. Buried. He’s in a grave with my Mum. And when I’m grown up, I’m going to buy a stone for them.”
“Balls.” The boy stands back, raising his voice. “Balls. I’ve seen your admission papers, little Sammy Williams. Parky left her office open lunchtime.”
Sammy can feel the blood leaving his face; it feels as if it’s all in his throat trying to get out. He swallows hard, but does not speak. He doesn’t have any words to fight this.
The boy laughs delightedly. “You ain’t got a Dad ‘cos he buggered off. Left your Mum with nuffin’, ’cept a load of dodgy coupons,” my Dad says. There was only you and your Mum on that coach, ’cos your Dad fucked off years ago.”
“No... don’t say that word. It’s bad, you mustn’t say ... he didn’t.”
“He fucked off! You’re an orphan, orphan!”
The crowd of hangers-on, greatly entertained, circle round Sammy, who is swaying, holding his hands over his face. They chant “Orphan, orphan! Cry, baby bunting, Daddy’s gone a-hunting.”
“No, don’t ...please.”
He can’t cope with this any more. He sinks to his knees on the sharp gravel and whispers “Daddy” as his eyes roll up into his head.
Sam Williams turns over and whispers in his sleep. “Mum. Help me.”
He dreams of the graveyard and the stone.
Here lies David Williams 1917 – 1950. Also his beloved wife Brenda Williams 1919 – 1950.
* * *
(*)“I look back on it now and it was all a waste of time. Today there are more drugs and guns on the streets than ever. Everything I went through, the relationships I sacrificed, all of that, and for what? I wish I’d just walked the beat for 30 years.”
Peter Bleksley, former undercover police officer, speaking to Radio Times in 2007 about his role as adviser to Murphy’s Law starring James Nesbitt.
Continued in Part 2b