James Elias sighed and pushed the yellow folder to one side. His mind was abuzz with competing thoughts about his current work and the important decision he had to make later that night - A decision that could altogether change the course of his life. At twenty past five, it was obviously too late in the day to start working on a new case. But something kept him welded to his black leather trimmed manager's Chair. After all, he thought, other than sit in front of the TV, there was nothing else he was going to do at home that night - At least, not until 11 pm when he would be making that all-important phone call. So, he forced himself to open the folder in front of him Marked 'PX11706 - Patrick Butchers'.
The folder contained three statements. He pulled them out one by one, and laid them side by side on his pristine, solid, black-wood desk, wondering which of the statements to read first. Fred's statement was written in a hasty spidery scrawl which, despite its apparent sloppiness, was still quite remarkably legible. Each letter leaned forward like sprinters in a relay race. The spaces between the words were close together in some places, and far apart in other places, so that they were strung together like beads on a stretched elastic band. Bert's handwriting was like commentary notes on an elaborate laboratory report, but the words were imprinted with considerable force, so that James could feel the impression by running his fingers over the pages. Alex's statement was the neatest of the three. His letters were well formed, and his cursive handwriting was upright, bold and confident - and there were no crossed-out words throughout.
After a moment of brief hesitation in deep, furrowed brow, contemplation, James picked up Fred's statement and began to read.
I came out of the prison security checks round 11 am, looked around and savored the scenes of freedom which I had not tasted for more than six months. I was about to start off down the long footpath that led to Plumstead station when I heard Alex calling out from a blue Ford Escort parked across the road. Bert was sitting next to him in the front passenger seat wearing a pair of Nokia ear buds, listening to music on his mobile phone. He merely grunted in disgruntled acknowledgement, his expression remaining sullen as ever, as I climbed in the back seat of the car. Alex was more welcoming; he smiled and shook hands with me. If we'd been standing he'd have given be a big hug.
'Free at last, eh? I bet it feels great to be out of he nick. Once we get you home and freshened you up, we'll go out and have a little celebration.'
'Sure,' I said, and he sent the Ford escort through the gates of the prison grounds and out unto the main road leading to the heart of Woolwhich.
I was dying for a cigarette, but I knew that Alex would not permit me to smoke in his car. I like Alex. He's a good bloke and always tries to do what is right, although sometimes he can be a bit holier-than-thou.
I tapped Bert on the shoulder. 'Didn't you miss me, old boy?' Albert was a nerdy old git who had nothing going for him except his tendency to invoke pity. Fun and excitement were absent in his dictionary. He turned round and glared at me over his thick, black plastic-rimmed spectacles and then, taking a deep breath, he turned back and continued listening to his music.
We got to the flat at around 12:30. We stayed in the flat all day. I remained in the lounge all day watching TV - I don't remember what I was watching -I was just sitting there thinking what next to do with my life.
I did not leave the flat at any time. I did not go anywhere near Beth's apartment. I did not tamper with her car brakes, or do any of those nasty things the police officer was accusing me of. I've only just got out of prison after six long months, over an offence that I did not even commit. Do you think I'll be foolish enough to get myself straight back in there?
Well, I don't know, thought James as he put down Fred's statement. He sighed once again while he considered the situation. The whole statement was contradicted by subsequent police checks insisting that there was no sighing of the blue ford escort, and a man matching the Patrick's description had been seen around the Woolwich train station just about the same time.
James' professional contemplations were interspersed with thoughts of Uncle Francis' offer. He'd been constantly aware of the background process of prospect re-evaluation that churned on in the back of his mind. Uncle Francis was fond of saying that if he had the chance he'd emigrate to Australia and open a night club, and when he did, the person he'd choose to run it would be James. He'd said that, of all his many nephews, James was the one that was most like him. James had all the right qualities of a perfect organizer and a superb club manager, and James really knew how to have fun. Uncle Francis was James' favourite uncle. From James' teenage years, after Uncle James had returned from his long stint in the military, they had both had a few beers together and discussed things that James would never have dreamt of discussing with his dad.
James had forgotten all about Uncle Francis' Night club dreams until three days earlier when Uncle Francis called him right out of the blue. He hadn't even heard from the old guy for more than seven years. During that period, James had completed his Psychology course at University of Nottingham, and embarked upon a promising career with the Metropolitan police. He was considered by his colleagues, and, more importantly, by his superior officers, to be ambitious, reliable and guaranteed to get far very quickly. However, sometimes he was disturbed by a subversive feeling that challenged his impressive progress. Perhaps there was more to life than a safe, express route to a secure and settled future which he seemed to be accelerating towards. He was only 28, yet he already headed a new Post-Investigative Department, and more grown up men and women were calling him 'Boss'. But, was that what he really wanted?
Uncle Francis had called from Melbourne. He'd come into some unexpected fortune, and bought 'Glitters' which was a popular Night club on the High Street, right in the center of town. All he needed was the presence of James, his right hand man. He was aware that James was working with the Police, quite surprised, actually, as he'd imagined the lad to be suited for greater, more exciting, things. James' earnings at the Club would be more than twice his current wages; he would be a partner, and he stood to inherit the business eventually. The thing was Uncle Francis wanted an answer by he end of the week, and - by the way - James wasn't the only candidate, what he had was the privilege of being his first choice.
James had thought about it the whole week. He'd confirmed that Uncle Francis had indeed bought the Night club, and he wasn't just having him on. James' mom was no help either, all she could say was that she thought it would be a huge responsibility and serious, hard work, but was sure that James was up to the task. And then she muddied the waters by asking if he really wanted to forego his promising career in the met to run a night club in Australia. But, of course, it was entirely up to him.
James dragged his mind back to the task at hand. He put Fred's statement aside and pulled Bert's in front of him.
I didn't want to see Fred after he left prison. For all I cared, he might as well rot in jail. If Alex had not dragged me along, I wouldn't even have bothered.
Let me start from the beginning, when we decided to commercialise the project that I'd been working on for many years. That project formed the basis for my final year dissertation for my BSc in Engineering at the Cambridge University. I'd developed it further my MSc, and then in the last leg of my Phd the concept had been honed to perfection, and was ready to be unleashed upon the world. The ultimate Anti-gravity Braking System for land vehicles. It will cause a vehicle to stop without skidding, and without raising any discomfort to the passengers. It operates on the principle of Spontaneous Geomagnetic Reversal, and has the potential to decrease accidents by 70%. It will also have widespread applications in the military and in commerce.
Well, anyway, after many years laughing in my face, Alex and Fred suddenly began to take some notice. First it was Alex who came along and suggested that I might be sitting on a gold mine - as if I didn't know that all along. He'd been on a Business Admin course at the London School of Economics, and he boasted that he had the skills and connections to turn the thing into unprecedented wealth.
Fred, of course, would be an indispensable member of the team because of his legendary charm and charisma. Fred is as smooth as an eel;he'd be useful to have around for negotiations and for Marketing.
So we all got together and worked on the idea. I tweaked up the design and finalized the blueprint; Alex put it through the patent office and established some lines of contact; and Fred hobnobbed with the big wigs, and got us noticed among the top players in the Automobile circles. It was all going jolly well. Before you know it, we were talking serious money with CEOs in New York and Tokyo. Every motor manufacturer wanted a piece of the action.
Finally, I was going to get some recognition for all my hard work, after many years toiling in poverty and languishing in obscurity. Fred was full of dreams of the good life. He was going to buy himself a luxury yacht and sail the coasts of Morocco. Alex would go into politics and become powerful and influential. He would make decisions that would affect the lives of millions, and leave a lasting legacy in his name.
But the cookie began to crumble when Fred started going out with Beth, the high class chick who worked for Realtex Conglomerates. That was when we began to see less and less of him. Fred would leave the flat at eight in the morning and come back after midnight. You couldn't engage him in a conversation without Beth's name popping up. It was Beth this and Beth that...always thinking about what gifts to buy her or where to take her next. He was so utterly besotted that nothing else mattered anymore. When we discussed our plans for the next phase of the project, his eyes glazed over, and he yawned. I insisted that we should tell him to get lost, but Alex would not hear of it. Fred was our front man, and we couldn't possibly get anywhere without him.
Once, I cornered Fred in the doorway and gave him a right ear-full. He was ruining our chances all because he could not discipline himself. Why couldn't he just snap out of it and get his act together? For some time after that, it seemed he was starting to see some sense. His interest in the project was rekindled, and he started functioning again. His craze for Beth did not diminish though, and he did not stop annoying us with constant rants about her. But, strangely, at no time did we get the opportunity to meet this fantastic woman of his craze.
But, what we did not know was that most of the time when we thought Fred was in Japan or New York, he was holed up in a hotel in London with Beth. On the day he was supposed to be out there signing the final deal with Toyota, we were shocked to hear that he'd been arrested on the M40 with a ton of narcotics in the boot of his wretched old Ford Capri.
Fred gave the blueprint of the Advance Anti-Gravity Braking System to Beth, and she duly passed it on to powerful interested parties - People with the scruples of a rattle snake and the greed of a swine. In return, they sew him up good, and fixed him with a brief spell in gaol. It served him right, of course. Seeing the way he'd lost us our big chance, I think six months was far less than he truly deserved.
Anyway, as we took him back to the flat after we'd picked him up from Belmarsh he was full of regret for what he'd done to us. But I don't see how his taking a revenge on Beth could have put things right. He'd have to do more than that, wouldn't he?
James jotted down some quick comments. It didn't matter how many times he'd read criminal statements it was still difficult to maintain that professional distance always demanded by the BPS. You couldn't help feeling sorry for people vigorously defending their innocence even in the face of all overwhelming evidence to the contrary. You took sides - you even still routed for the charismatic villain. And sometimes the intrigue of their dilemma continued to live with you for days to come. Somehow you grew into their situation and came to anticipate the next event like it was your own life.
The running of a night club would present its own interesting challenges. James imagined that it would be an immensely exciting job that suited a part of him right down to the ground - that part of him that craved for fun and enjoyment. Yet, there was another part of him that sought stability and security. Saying yes to Uncle Francis would be saying yes to a life of parties, girls, drinking and unlimited fun on tap; but, with that, he foresaw a delayed - or totally nonexistent - settled, married life, that was almost certainly the guaranteed by his current trajectory.
But back to this case before him, James crossed out some remarks in his notes and replaced them with different ones. Then he made a few further notes before putting the statement away and picking up the final one - Alex's statement.
I can tell you for sure that Fred didn't do it. That night, we were all in the flat. It was his first day out of prison, and all he wanted to do was to settle down and get his act together.
Fred and Bert had an argument in the car, almost coming to blows. I had to stop the car and get Bert to calm down. But after that there was no further incident.
We were surprised when we opened the door and it was the police. I assure you that, contrary to the officer's allegations, we cooperated fully with the police and came down to the police station without a fuss. Bert did not spit at the officer, and he did not try to hit the officer's female colleague. Fred certainly did not go anywhere near the woman's house, and he did not tamper with her brakes. He was in the flat all along.
It is true that Fred can sometimes be a sneaky and irresponsible git who shouldn't always be taken seriously. He's forever chasing after women and getting himself into unnecessary trouble. But in his heart he's a good bloke all the same.
Bert can often be a bumbling, incompetent, antisocial idiot with a closed mind. But, he is not a criminal, and he has a great deal of respect for the law. He is also a very loyal person, and would work hard for the things he believes in.
I take personal responsibility for the way that things have tuned out among us. For a long time, I remained aloof, and allowed both rascals to run amok when I should have taken charge. Subsequently we have been cruising, at top speed, on the highway to nowhere. But I'm sure that everything will be fine from now on. As long as we don't keep being interfered with by the police or other authorities we will settle down and make something of our lives.
James put the last statement aside, shaking his head in disbelief. What astonished him most was that, despite the differences in handwriting, all three statements were written by a single person: A tramp named Patrick Butchers, who had previously been imprisoned for possession with intent, and then picked up on the day of his release for breaking into a woman's car. But, Patrick was later cleared as it turned out that the car thief was a different person altogether.
Patrick's file had been passed on to James' department for further assessment and recommendations. James had personally interrogated the guy and, apart from the state of his clothes, he seemed quite normal. He did not appear to have any mental disability, and his behavior was impeccable. James could not see why he should agree with the Probation officer in recommending long term mental custody, since, after all, everyone had their own coping mechanism for navigating the complexities and uncertainties of life. Even far more extreme facades than Patrick's are often widely recommended and eagerly encouraged by various main-stream doctrines, and invariably foisted upon the unsuspecting masses.
It was close to nine, and darkness had long dominated the skies by the time James completed his recommendations, closed the file and put it away. As he walked down Coleman Street, he felt a certain peace in his mind. Deep down, he knew that he'd finally made up his mind about uncle Francis' offer.
Due date: 20 Nov 2011
Working Title: The New Village Teacher
Sir Albert Oriola has had a glorious career as a Nuclear Phisysist in the UK, but under pressure from his wife Mr Julia Oriola, he decides to go back and settle in his native village, in the Republic of Malaria, after his 48 year's absence.
Things turn out to be very different from what he and his wife expect, but he remains determined to stick it out and make his contributions to a community that neither valued nor wanted what he had to give.
The story is narrated by Ayo, a young boy who attends the Misionary Secondary School, where Oriola has offered to teach on a voluntary, part-time basis.