Doug and I are exhausted after the day’s excitement on top of the week we have already had.
While we are eating our Indian take-away, I ask Doug how he came to suspect what his father was up to and decide to take copies of his files.
“It was after he had done me over one time,” Doug replies. “Although I was hurting and wanted to lie still, I was also angry and thinking about how I could get back at him. I heard the door into the garden slam shut. It was raining heavily and I couldn’t understand why he would want to be outside, so I got up to see what he was up to. He had a carrier bag with him that looked pretty full. He went to the summer house and turned it so the door faced the garden wall and went inside. When he came out again a few minutes later he was empty handed. Keeping out of his way, I waited until I heard him go out in the car, probably on his way to the casino — I knew he liked to gamble by then — and then I went out to the summer house. There was no sign of the bag and no place where it could have been hidden. It took me a while, but I finally discovered how to get to the pipes where the cash was hidden. I put everything back where I found it and went back to my room.
“I knew with that much cash about there must be something dodgy going on, so that gave me the motivation to see what else I could find that I could use against him. Then I had to wait for the opportunity to use it.”
“Happy with the result so far?” I ask as I reach for another samosa.
“He has lost his cash and his house. So yes. Anything the police and taxman can stick on him is a bonus,” Doug pauses for a while. “What I don’t understand is why he was doing it? He had a successful business that should have been paying him enough.”
“Well,” I say, “it might have been the gambling alone, if he was a heavy loser, but it was probably just greed and the buzz of thinking he was getting one over on the taxman.”
“What about the suppliers he bankrupted like your mother’s friend’s husband?”
“I’ve been trying to work that out. Some of it could have been the thrill of doing it, a bit like the gambling, but I think there might also have been something else at work. With the amount of cash he was taking out as undeclared sales, he would have to reduce his input costs so that his profit margin was not so far out of line with other companies in the same line of business. Otherwise it would attract the attention of the Revenue. One way he could try and do that would be by not posting suppliers invoices to the company ledgers and denying the debt existed when the supplier chased for payment, stretching his debt until it impacted the supplier enough that they could be brought down and the debt ignored. Does that make sense to you?”
“Yes, I think so.”
We pass each other the foil dishes for second helpings.
“What do you think should happen to Scott?” I ask, remembering George’s request.
“I suppose he will be fired.”
“No, I meant as far as you are concerned?”
“If he has given evidence against Dad, I presume he will be let off without charge.” Doug sounds resigned to the idea.
“Do you have a problem with that?”
“What if I said there was a possibility he might still work for the company.” I tell him some of what George had said. “Would that be a problem?” I ask. “Would you feel you had to leave?”
“I don’t think so.”
I grunt hoping he will say more.
“It’s a bit like Mike only worse. I don’t think Scott will give me any trouble. You’ve heard the DVD. I don’t want to go into detail but if I say he didn’t actually do anything, does that change your interpretation of what you heard?”
“I see what you mean, yes,” I reply after thinking about it.
We got carried away when we ordered the meal from the local Indian restaurant. As a result, we have eaten too much and there is plenty left over. We clear away our plates and cutlery and put the leftovers in the fridge before going through into the lounge to sit somnolently in front of the television.
A phone ringing brings me back from the edge of sleep. It’s Brenda.
“I hope your house is clean and tidy,” she says, “We’ve got Sam. He and your mother will be brought over by the social worker. She wants to see for herself if the house if suitable. She won’t take your mother’s word for it.”
“I bet that went down well,” I reply, mirroring Brenda’s amused tone.
“You’ve got about ten minutes before we arrive. Mike and I are just getting some of Sam’s things together before we lock the house up and lead them over.”
I ask Doug to give the place a quick vacuum while I go round getting rid of old magazines and newspapers. I check the bathroom and loo as well. I was going to put the front door on the latch — mother will expect to be able to walk straight in — but then I think the social worker would think we are lax about security. Mother will just have to wait until I open the door.
Doug has just put the vacuum cleaner back in the cupboard when he hears the cars arrive.
“They’re here!” he shouts, “Do you want me to let them in?”
“No,” I reply as I walk through from the kitchen where I have been making sure the kitchen looks clean and tidy. “I want the social worker see the door is locked so that people cannot just wander in and be a potential threat to Sam.”
We both stand in the lounge waiting for the doorbell. Although we are standing back so that we cannot be seen from outside, we are, of course, both looking out of the window for our first glimpse of Sam. I hear the door rattle. I smile. It must be mother trying the door. Brenda would ring the bell first and then try the door. When the bell does go, I walk towards the door and Doug heads for the kitchen.
“Probably best if they meet you alone at first,” Doug says as he goes. “You can introduce me later. It might stop Sam getting confused as to who everyone is.”
I am pleasantly surprised by his thoughtfulness.
As I reach for the latch, I hear a key in the lock and the door swings open. I had forgotten that I had given Mike a key. He leans against the door, allowing the others to pass into the house, Mother leading the way.
“I don’t know why you have to lock the door, dear,” she says as she marches past me and into the lounge.
“One has to be security conscious these days,” I reply. “One doesn’t want just any old folk wandering in off the street.”
I could have pointed out that they have entry locks to the block of flats where she lives so it is not so important that she keeps her own front door locked, but I am not in the mood for that argument — not in front of the social worker. Instead, I award myself another petty victory by putting a slight stress on the word ‘old’. Brenda and Mike pick up on it and reward me with smiles.
I close the door behind Mike and we follow the others into the lounge. Mother, being Mother, makes the introductions, indicating her priorities by starting with Sam.
“Now, dear,” she says to him as she brings him over to me. “This is my son, Patrick. You’ll be a good boy for him won’t you?” Coming from anyone else, a comment like would encourage the opposite but Mother’s tone is such that she expects, and knows she will get, compliance. She hasn’t lost her touch!
I suppose Sam is a typical five year old — assuming such a thing exists — and I can see that he looks much as I imagine Mike would have done at the same age. He does, however, have a nasty bruise on his cheek. No doubt Mother will have found out how he came by it, and I expect it also has a bearing on why Sam is with us now.
“Hello, Sam,” I say, leaning down to be more on his level, “Welcome. I hope you will be happy in this old house.” I hope I don’t sound pretentious.
Sam looks at me but doesn’t say anything. At least no negative emotion showed on his face. I straighten up and turn to face the social worker. She introduces herself, then starts to explain why she is here.
“Since the courts weren’t involved in making the arrangements for Sam’s residency when his parents split up, our interest in his case is limited to making sure he has a safe and secure environment in which to grow up…”
“Which, dear, as you can see from his bruises,” Mother interjects, “has not been the case, living with those two.”
A look of exasperation flicks across the social worker’s face. Mother must have already made her views known.
“Which is what I was going to say,” she resumes. “We have had our concerns for some time, but, obviously, things have come to a head today. I’m sure your mother will enjoy giving you all the details, but the result is that Sam’s mother is in hospital and will be there for some time, and her boyfriend is now in custody and will be charged with GBH. Fortunately your mother and her friend were nearby and arrived at the house at about the same time as Sam’s mother was taken away in the ambulance and were able to comfort Sam until I could get there.”
Very convenient, Mother and Brenda being nearby, almost as if they were expecting something to happen!
“I need to satisfy myself that Sam’s accommodation will be adequate, and that he will not be at risk from the people he will be living with. So I will need see his room and have short interview with you to confirm what your mother has told me.” There is an amused bitchiness to the social worker’s tone that tells me she understands what I have to put up with from Mother. “Mike also told me that you have a lodger. I will need to talk to him as well.”
I am about to reply when Mike says that Sam and he have not had anything to eat.
“There’s some Indian take-away in the fridge,” I say. “Probably enough for you two.” I turn to Sam. “Do you like Indian?” He nods in reply. I look back at the social worker. “Why don’t you go with Mike and Sam to see their rooms and I will sort out something for them to eat while you are talking to me and my lodger?”
After they have left the room, I ask Mother and Brenda if they want anything to eat. Brenda says she has something ready at home. Mother asks for a sandwich, adding she doesn’t want any of that foreign muck! I leave them to chat and go into the kitchen. Doug is sitting there. He looks apprehensive.
“Is Sam’s social worker going to want to talk to me?” he asks.
“Yes. She has to be satisfied that Sam is not at risk from either of us.”
“I had better leave.”
“She knows who I am and why I was on the streets. She’ll think I am a risk to Sam”
I am worried that Doug might actually leave and put himself in danger.
“Is she the one that got you the place in the shelter?”
I take that as a yes.
“If she arranged the place for you, she must have thought you were worth the effort, and you have proved it. You have a job now and found somewhere to live after the hostel closed.”
“You did that for me.”
He looks close to tears so I walk round to him and put my arm around his shoulder and give him a one arm hug.
“Not really,” I tell him, “and even if I did, she doesn’t need to know that. It will be fine.”
I give his shoulder another squeeze, then make Mother’s sandwich and get the food ready for Mike and Sam. I sit down next to Doug when I finish, just before the social worker appears. We both look up at her.
“Hi, Doug,” she says before I can make the introduction. “I wondered where you would end up living when they closed the shelter. Are you doing all right here?”
“Yes, thanks. I’ve got a job, too.” I can tell he is making an effort to sound positive.
“That’s great. I’m glad you are doing well. Can I close your file now?” Without waiting for a reply she turns to me. “Sam’s room is fine, especially if you are going to redecorate. Now I just need a quick chat with you and I can be out of your way and Sam can get settled in.”
“Don’t you need to talk to Doug?”
“Nah. I remember him from when he was on the street and I found him a place in the shelter. I am satisfied he is no risk to Sam.”
I see Doug visibly relax.
My interview with the social worker is very basic. She has no doubt had the benefit of Mother’s dissection of my character already — something she effectively admits with her closing comments.
“I just needed to be sure you weren’t a raving psychopath,” she says. “And you can’t be one of those — you would have done away with your mother years ago!”
I think a slight smile is sufficient reply.
We go into the dining room where Mike and Sam are having their meal and are talking with, or more correctly, being talked at by Brenda and Mother. Doug is with them.
“I’ll be off now,” the social worker says to Mike. “I am happy with everything here. I will write up my report for the file in the morning. Best wishes to you both,” she looks across at Sam. “Bye, Sam.”
I accompany her to the front door.
“It will be a change for you,” she says, “having so many in the house, including a five year old. Good luck!”
I am about to go back into the dining room when Brenda and Mother come out.
“I need to get home,” Brenda says. “I will drop your mother off at her flat. The others will fill you in on what has been happened and what I have been saying to Mike about his house.”
Thank goodness I will get an edited version and not a blow-by-blow account. Mother has to have the last word though.
“We will come here for lunch on Sunday. Brenda can bring me. There isn’t room to fit everyone into my flat.”
I don’t mention that there would only be six, the same number as were at her flat on Easter day. However, I will tell Doug he can invite Colin. Safety in numbers when Mother is visiting.
Sam’s eyelids are drooping. It’s past his bedtime and the excitement of the day is wearing off. Mike takes him to his room, while Doug and I clean up after their meal. Once Sam is settled, we reconvene in the lounge. I think a brandy is in order after the day we have all had.
“Yours is strictly rationed,” I tease Mike as I hand him is glass. “I don’t want a repeat performance of the last time you got near my brandy bottle.”
There is a splutter from Doug. Unwittingly, I have timed my comment just as he was taking a sip of his spirit. Trying to laugh, he has done the nose trick. Painful.
Mike gives me the rundown on what happened.
Mother had walked even slower than usual as she took Sam home and reminded him to ring her if he needed help. She met Sam’s mother again and gave her the phone number for the battered wives group. Mother had delayed taking Sam home just long enough to meet the boyfriend as she left the house.
“I see she’s got some nice new bruises,” Mother had said as they passed adding: “Not the work of a gentleman.”
He took a swing at her, but she was too wily for him and ducked away so that he hit his hand on the wall behind her. Of course Brenda was near at hand filming the whole thing on her mobile.
Hitting his hand had made him angry so the expected argument between Sam’s mother and her boyfriend inevitably turned into a one-sided fight. Although trying to keep out of sight, Sam was watching and rang Mother when he realised this was worse than the usual as his mother was on the ground being kicked. Mother rang 999 for the police and an ambulance.
Thinking it was Sam who had called 999, the boyfriend hit him a couple of times before the police could restrain him. Once it was explained — out of the boyfriend’s hearing of course — that it was Mother who rang the police and why, they let her sit with Sam until the social worker arrived to decide if he should be taken into care given that his mother was in hospital and the boyfriend in custody. While they were waiting for the social worker to arrive, Mother had rung Mike and told him to get to the house as quickly as possible.
“The police wanted statements from everyone, including Sam,” says Mike, then he grins at me. “I expect you can guess what your mother said when he asked her what he should say — ‘tell the truth, dear. If you lie you will get found out.’ ”
I have to smile. I remember that one.
Mike changes the subject. “I was talking to Brenda while your mother was making her statement. She said it would be a good time to do something about the house.”
“How do you mean?” Doug asks.
“I can’t live there with Sam. His mother and the boyfriend would know where we were and could cause trouble. I should get it on the market while neither are living there. If I sell it, I won’t have to pay the mortgage any more and I won’t have the risk that either or both of them move back in and expect me to keep paying for it.”
“And if she wants to break with him,” I say, “she would be better moving elsewhere anyway.”
“You can just chuck them out like that?” Doug looks sceptical. “Don’t you need a court order of some kind, like the bailiffs had for Dad’s place?”
“She wasn’t paying me any rent. Brenda says they were effectively squatting there and thinks as long as I don’t break in, I can retake possession, get their stuff out and change the locks. I don’t need to break in, I’ve got Sam’s key!”
“If you do have to offer her alternative accommodation,” I say, “I suppose she could take over your flat if she can afford the rent, that’s if your landlord will allow it.”
We are all tired and as I have to go in to work in the morning to supervise the caterers collecting their equipment, I lock up and we all retire to our rooms.
I am surprised to see George is there when I get to work. He calls me into his office.
“Did you manage to sound out Doug?” he asks. “Scott rang to say he is coming in later. I think he must want to stay on. If he was leaving, he would have told me over the phone.”
How could he? It must be the way I was brought up but I cannot understand how some people have no sense of shame. Perhaps that is why they become salesmen — or politicians.
“I did,” I reply. “I don’t think he would be entirely happy, but I think he would live with it. He did say he wouldn’t feel the need to leave if Scott stayed on.”
“Good. He is a sensible kid, that one. In spite of having Buchanan for a father.”
Before I can leave his office, George opens another subject.
“What was that last night about Mike? Has he moved in with you as well?”
“Er, yes,” is all I can manage in reply before George smirks and asks me why. I can feel myself blush at the innuendo implicit in his tone.
I explain about Sam and how Mike and he can’t live at the flat or the house which Mike is now intending to sell. I don’t go into too much detail as it is really Mike’s tale to tell. Besides which, the caterers arrive to collect their equipment and I have to go and supervise. When they have finished, I am summonsed to the presence again.
“Can I see your driving licence, please?” George asks.
As I dig it out of my wallet and hand it over, I wonder why he would want to see it. He looks at it carefully, before handing it back.
“I thought so,” he says. “You’re an old git like me. You passed your test before 1997 so you can drive a truck up to seven and a half tonnes without having to take the extra test.”
George picks up a bunch of keys off his desk and hands them to me.
“These are for the big van. I have spoken to Mike. Take the van for the weekend and get his and Sam’s stuff moved to your place and empty his house. He can store anything that is not his in that empty store room next to his office until his ex decides what she wants to do with it.”
Once again I am about to leave his office when George calls me back.
“Diana is going to the Magistrates Court on Monday to see what happens to Buchanan at his committal hearing. You might like to tell your mother. I am sure that friend of hers, Maggie was it, will enjoy seeing him being sent to prison, even if it is only on remand pending his trail.”
I cannot imagine Mother having been in a court before. I am not sure it is a good idea: she might enjoy the theatre too much and become a permanent fixture in the public gallery, running a book on which defendants are guilty (no matter what the evidence) and complaining the sentences aren’t long enough.
By the time I get home with the van, Mike has persuaded Doug and Colin to help with the move. Sam enjoys riding round with us in the van and doing little things to help, like wrapping up some of the crockery. He is also able to tell us what is his and what he thinks belonged to his mother or her boyfriend. With the four of us doing the lifting we get it all done by early evening. When we had stopped at my house for a lunchtime sandwich, I started the meat sauce for a lasagne in the slow-cooker. I get the rest done and the lasagne into the oven while the others are getting cleaned up. I have my shower while it is baking. Doug says he will make a salad to round out the meal.
I retrieve a bottle of red from the cellar which leads to another quip about rationing Mike. Doug finds some blackcurrant juice for Sam so that he doesn’t feel left out. I am watching Sam’s face as he tries the lasagne. It is not one of obvious dislike but there is clearly something bothering him.
“Is that all right for you? Have you had lasagne before?” I ask, half expecting a ‘no’ on both counts.
“ ’S different,” he mumbles, bashful at being put on the spot. “But okay.”
“Only okay?” Doug teases. “It’s great. If you don’t want it, I’ll have yours as seconds.” He takes the serving spoon from the dish, where there is plenty left, and waives it in the direction of Sam’s plate. Thankfully Sam catches on that Doug is only joking and huddles over his plate defensively. I think Doug is going to enjoy playing the part of older brother for Sam.
“It’s different because it is home-made,” Mike gently tells Sam. “We only ever had bought-in when I was living with you. I don’t suppose that changed after I had to leave.”
I can sense there is a conversation to be had between Sam and his father about why he left, but at the moment Sam is more interested in his food.
Mike reminds us that he has spoken with an estate agent and got an appointment on Monday for them to call and value his house, so we will all be in action again in the morning cleaning enough to make the place look cared for. We will also visit the DIY store for some new locks. After the meal, I give Brenda a ring to ask her not to bring Mother over too early tomorrow and explain why lunch will be late.
“You’re going to be late with lunch, dear,” Mother says when she arrives with Brenda. “You really must get yourself organised. It’s not good for Sam not to have meals at the proper time.”
I content myself with rolling my eyes at Brenda who smiles back. After working hard at Mike’s house all morning, I am not interested in getting into a debate with Mother. I hand her a sherry and introduce Colin as a friend of Doug’s. She can occupy herself interrogating him while I finish cooking the dinner.
During the meal it is Mike’s turn to be on the receiving end of Mother’s wisdom.
“Now, dear,” she says to him. “What are you going to do about Sam going to school?”
Mike looks flustered. He hasn’t thought about it, as we have been busy with other things.
“I suppose he will stay where he is for now.”
“Of course he will, dear. It doesn’t do for a child to have to change schools during term. But that isn’t what I meant. Have you thought about how he will get to school and who will look after him after school while you are at work?”
Mike has a blank look on his face.
“No, I didn’t think you would have,” Mother sighs. “Typical man, no thought for the practicalities of keeping a child.” She turns to Sam. “It’s a good thing I’m here for you, dear. I don’t live far from your school. I will meet you every day and you can stay with me until your father can pick you up after work. Does that sound all right?”
“Does that mean I can have an ice cream every day?” Sam asks hopefully.
“No, not every day dear. Ice creams are supposed to be a treat.” Mother turns back to Mike. “You can drop him off at school in the morning and collect him on the way home. If he has any homework, he can do it at my flat where I can keep an eye on him.”
Mike graciously thanks Mother for her offer. From the look on his face Sam must have heard the comment about homework and has decided Mother meeting him every day might be a mixed blessing. He has my sympathies. He does get a reprieve for one day when Mike says that he can pick him up from school tomorrow as he will be at his house with the estate agent in the afternoon.
At the next break in the conversation, Mother turns her attention to me.
“Now, dear. Young Douglas tells me you have some news for Maggie. Why didn’t you tell me before?”
“You were busy helping Mike with Sam,” I say in defence. I explain the man responsible for bankrupting Dennis’s company has been arrested on a number of charges and will appear before the magistrates tomorrow. “Perhaps you and Maggie might like to go and watch the proceedings. See his fall from grace.” I think it best not to mention that Diana will be there.
“I’ve never been in court before,” Mother says, “we might just go to see what it is like. I hope it is as interesting as it looks on television.”
Probably not. Before I can say anything Brenda chips in.
“We could make a day of it. The man who hit Sam and his mother should also be making an appearance. I’ll pick you and Maggie up in the morning.”
Why do I get the mental image of les tricoteuses in front of Madame Guillotine at the thought of those three and Diana attending the court?
Mother spends some time talking to Doug and Colin before Brenda decides she should take her home and gave us all the chance to recover before we have to face another Monday.
I get pulled to one side as they make their farewells.
“Now, dear,” Mother chides, “don’t forget Sam needs to see his mother occasionally if she will allow it. Perhaps Mike can take him to the hospital to see her tomorrow afternoon.” Then she chuckles and smiles at me. “I know I said I wanted you to get me some grandchildren. I didn’t expect you to get me three in the space of a fortnight. All such nice boys too — although Sam probably needs to correct some bad habits.”
I smile back. I know who will have taken it on herself to correct those bad habits.
Life moves on, as it must.
Buchanan and Sam’s attacker are both remanded to the same prison, sharing a cell. Within the month Doug gets a call that his father has been badly beaten up in prison. Although it must have been the work of more than one person, his cellmate takes the rap. With his previous conviction, the boyfriend would know he would be going down for his attack on Sam’s mother, but he could expect to get any sentence for the additional assault on Buchanan to run concurrently. It appears Doug’s father was beaten up because someone had let slip he was in for child sex abuse. Nobody knew who that someone was, although Mother wears her ‘little old lady smile’ when Doug mentions it to her. However, when I tell George, he also smiles and says his cousin had reported that Diana had been spending a lot of time at the farm, which is near the prison, and was thought to know one of the warders.
Sam’s mother recovers and is released from hospital. With the landlord’s agreement she takes over the lease of Mike’s flat. Very generously to my mind, Mike lets his deposit on the flat roll over in her favour. However, his house sells quickly and he makes a substantial gain, so I suppose he feels he should make the gesture. Sam does see his mother occasionally but not without Mike being there.
The weekend after Doug is told about his father, Colin joins us, having served his notice at his previous digs. We heave the spare double bed up to the top floor.
With Colin joining us, it means that for Mike and I our period of abstinence is also over and we too can think about enjoying something more than a drunken grope while trying to point Percy at the porcelain.
One morning, the four of us are in Mike’s office discussing the implementation of the new computer system. Mike opens one of his desk drawers to get out a new pen but brings out a foil wrapped egg. I recognise it as one of those from the tray Doug sold to me before Easter.
“I must take that home,” he says, “I’ve been saving it to give to Sam.”
“No! You mustn’t give it to Sam,” Doug and I shout in unison, much to Colin’s amusement.
“Why ever not?” Mike asks.
“Open it and you will find out.” I say.
He breaks it open and finds the motto. Reading it he blushes bright red before he passes the slip to me. It is another of those weak jokes but definitely not suitable for Sam.
‘Did you hear about the gay boy? He didn’t have a fairy godmother, but he had his godmother’s fairy.’
Mr Wen has a lot to answer for.
© Pedro June 2019 Story and Photograph
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