The doctor walked forward as Williams entered the calm, grey-striped room.
“Good morning, Mr. Williams. Do take a seat.” As they shook hands, Williams assessed the options and selected the visitor’s chair next to the desk. “Now, as I understand it,” the doctor went on, ”you want my advice on whether your mental health issues should be considered as having a bearing on operational requirements for an special investigation you have been asked to undertake. Furthermore, that this investigation involves going ‘under cover’ and hence a certain amount of personal risk, both mental and physical.” He stopped talking as the receptionist entered the office.
“Can I get the gentleman some coffee, Sir?”
“Er, no thank you, I’m fine.”
“Just for me then please Susan, and hold my calls for half an hour.”
Williams turned back to face the doctor but Whittaker got up and moved to the front of the desk, perching himself on the corner next to him as he continued.
“Now then, Mr Williams; I’ve taken a look through your files. I have consulted my colleague, Doctor Handley; I have also perused the notes that DCI Brant obtained from the hospital in 1963 regarding your prolonged disassociative – that is to say, fugue - state at the age of twelve. After the accident, of course. And I have to say, Mr. Williams, taking all into consideration, that I really can’t recommend this. You have a history of such problems. The pattern seems to be consistent: externally, a disassociative fugue; internally - by your own admission - some kind of confused fantasy; a past or future world where everything is both perfect and controllable. The last such episode was only six months ago, I understand.”
“Ah, thank you Susan,” he said as the door opened. He stood up and reached forward for his coffee. The receptionist smiled at Williams as she handed Whittaker his cup, “Are you sure? No?” then left, looking back once more.
Whittaker looked from Williams to the door quizzically before continuing. “Where was I? Ah yes, ‘perfect and controllable.’ Not words I’ve found go together very often in the real world, I’m afraid,” he added dryly. “And this business ...”
“I don’t have the choice” Williams interrupted, surprising himself. He backtracked, “Well, in theory I have. But if I don’t take this, my career is over. Pen-pushing for the next fifteen years.” He looked up at Whittaker and smiled wryly. “I used to think that was what I wanted; you know, organising things at the centre. Designing procedures, determining best practice. But it does wear off. And I have done this kind of job before. Many times.”
“I know you’ve done this before, Mr Williams, but there were problems on several occasions, as I’m sure you recall. Particularly the last time, I understand?” He stared penetratingly at Williams. “You were sent to see my colleague, Doctor Handley, straight from the hospital. Now, despite the immediate trigger of the operational stress you were under at the time, she has suggested in her notes that one of your problems is actually nothing to do with the work situation. For a start, she feels there’s some unresolved business about your father, although apparently you refused to discuss the matter with her. However, she suggests that in the main it’s simply self-hate, probably caused by a traumatic incident in your past. Specifically,“ Whittaker said severely, looking at him over his glasses “The episode when you were twelve.”
Williams flinched. The episode when he was twelve was something he’d buried very deep indeed.
Whittaker looked at him closely, then continued. “Well, nothing in this field is ever simple of course, but... Anyway, you indicated to Doctor Handley that you feel your behaviour at the time to be contemptible.
“Now that’s a little harsh, I feel; the coach crash, losing both parents, was clearly traumatic, even if retreating to fugue was a little ... more ... of a reaction than might have been expected. However, what’s important here is how you, yourself, feel about it now. For example, do those feelings, that bereaved twelve-year-old boy’s feelings, still bother you? Are you happy with yourself?”
Whittaker leaned towards him. “Do you still feel you let yourself down in the hospital? Or have you managed to forgive yourself?”
Williams sat back in his chair, carefully. “I ... I’ve never really thought about it,” he said, trying not to think about it now.
Few people knew that the real “incident when he was twelve” had occurred not in the hospital at all, but upon leaving it. He had never told a living soul, and as soon as he could, cut all contact with those who had witnessed his humiliation. It had quite simply been one of the worst things ever to happen to him: shootings, demotions and Pete leaving not excluded.
* * *
Twelve-year-old Sam Williams wakes up full of hope. He has looked forward to this day since... since...he’s not sure since when, but he thinks it’s a long time. He’d be excited if he was a little kid. The sun is shining, the flowers in the neat rectangular beds are bright, their rows stretching into the distance. They wave him on his way; he’s going home.
“We’re here, Sam.” He still doesn’t understand who this woman is, sitting in the back of the car with him, or why his Mum didn’t come to the hospital to fetch him herself. “Come on, now, out you get.”
He steps out of the car, looking around in alarm. This is not home. The driveway lies ahead of him, framing a big house. Not his house. He stands and stares, fear and confusion vying for control.
As he turns on the spot, searching for his mum, the strange woman reappears, but she is no longer alone. Twenty or more children appear from the house, jostling as they spill down the steps. A few adults stand casually in the doorway. And they’re all looking at Sam, watching with faint interest which grows rapidly as he starts to lose control. The children’s pinched, world-weary faces brighten at the spectacle of the boy with tears in his eyes calling to no-one, crying out desperately for help. No-one moves as the new boy breaks down completely, shrieking abuse and screaming in terror.
Then the strange woman steps forward with the other unknown adults. “Sam, it’s OK, you’re OK.” She falls back as he kicks out at her. “Sam?” Two other adults move forward and reach for his arms but he kicks out again. They stand their ground so he hits out, small, hard unpractised fists flying, then he’s running, the gravel flashing under his feet as he heads away from the crowd, desperate for the peace of the woods.
He looks back, trips, falls to his knees. As he looks up to the sky and shouts “Mum! Help me!” the adults stiffen in shock. The children still watch, moving closer like wolves to a wounded calf, blank cold faces hiding their pleasure. Someone sniggers as his tears fall and he whispers helplessly, “Daddy.” He crumples to the ground, sobbing, begging to go home. The murmurs and sniggers grow until he can hear nothing else. He doesn’t even hear his own screams.
* * *
Forcing the humiliating memories away Williams shuddered, grateful that the doctor didn’t know the half of it. Realising he had hunched forwards in his seat again he forced himself to relax, and sat back again. “I’m fine,” he said. “Absolutely fine. The past isn’t important; the future is all that matters.”
“Hmm.” Whittaker stood up and walked round the desk to his seat. He opened a folder and leafed through it, then looked up at Williams. “What we need to keep in mind, Mr Williams, is that - understandably - going undercover puts a profound strain on the personality, and tests the mental health of even the strongest individuals. The need to keep a false story at front of mind at all times; the fear of discovery; the isolation from all known and familiar support systems. All of these things are debilitating, and moreover, the effect is cumulative.” He closed the folder and looked up. “In other words, Mr Williams, the longer one stays, the worse it gets. And when one has - forgive me, as do you - incidents in one’s past which indicate ambivalence in one’s self-comfort levels, and a consequent lowered ability to cope with enforced distancing from one’s personal reality, then the risk of prolonged or even permanent disassociation becomes unacceptably high.”
“You’re saying it’s dangerous. That I might lose my grip entirely,” Williams said flatly. He had known this all along, but to hear it stated in the sort of precise and clinical terms he would normally find comforting sent a chill through every corner of his mind.
“We can never predict outcomes with exactitude, Mr. Williams, but you need to remember that it was only six months ago that you were referred to my colleague because of concerns over your extreme reaction at a time of similar stress. Not to put too fine a point on it, Mr Williams, you completely lost touch with reality from the time - Davis, was it? – drew his knife, until you came to in the hospital. Two weeks later, Mr Williams.”
There’s something wrong with that. That’s not how it was. He knew it wasn’t the knife that made him lose control, but he’d never known what had really caused it.
Whittaker took his glasses off and massaged the bridge of his nose. Sighing, he replaced the glasses and made a note on his leather-bound jotter.
“Your mental health is at serious risk, Mr. Williams. I cannot recommend you place yourself in this kind of danger at this juncture. So I am going to recommend to your superior that you not take this assignment,” he concluded, looking searchingly at Williams, who stared back in shock.
“No. That’s not possible.” Williams was frightened now. He’d come for reassurance, and was being given quite the opposite. “DCI Morgan mustn’t know I’ve come to see you. I understood this meeting would be confidential; that’s why I’m paying for this myself...”
“Mr. Williams. Sam,” interrupted Doctor Whittaker forcefully. “I urge you to consider matters most carefully. Despite the uncertainty that always surrounds assessments of this type, I think the probability of permanent crippling of the mind, if I may put it so crudely, is, as I have indicated, unacceptably high. I believe that the only way in which it would be safe for you, personally, ever to contemplate a further undercover operation would be to undergo a course of counselling, aimed at resolving for you some of those incidents in your earlier life which have led to this unfortunate situation.“
“You have unrealistically high expectations of yourself and of the world about you, Mr Williams, to which nothing, and no-one, can measure up. Those expectations need to be addressed and managed before you can begin to consider yourself ready for further operations.”
This could have been an opening for the subject of changing his whole personality, Williams realised, but in the light of the doctor’s attitude to his going undercover at all, he felt it unwise to mention it, confining himself to asking how long such a course of counselling might take.
“At least six months, Mr Williams. Two years is more common in cases of long standing such as this.”
“That’s just not possible,” Williams said agitatedly, pushing his chair aside as he got up to leave. “I’m going in a few days. Forget it. I shouldn’t have come.” He moved towards the door. Gripping the door handle to calm himself he looked back at Whittaker. “And if I find that Morgan has heard about this conversation I will be reporting you to your professional body,” he said pointedly.
That’s if I remember who you are when I get back.
... continued in Part 4a