CH TWO 7
Jim Staples hasn’t had the heart to tell his wife that the car she cherishes is a ringer. She has even given it a name: ‘The Flying Pea’ because it’s green and goes like a bomb. He hates Fat Frank for making a mug of him again and consoles himself with thoughts of the greedy git locked up in prison with the rest of society’s dregs.
‘You’re quiet this morning,’ muses Louise as she carefully irons the lace trim on their daughter Lucy’s gingham dress. ‘You normally have so much to do on your day off yet you’re sitting here with a glum look on your face and you haven’t been reading that paper, have you?’
Staples says he has a lot on his mind and rather than talk about his troubles he decides to get on with the work he started in the garden some months ago. He gives his wife a kiss on the cheek in passing and escapes to the shed with his thoughts. His fantasy of life in a seaside idyll has been seriously eroded. He used to love coming here every summer with his mum and dad, his brother Harry and his sister Joan. They spent the entire summer holidays at their caravan in Leysdown, holidays that seemed to go on forever under sunny skies. How the place has changed since those peaceful times when nobody had much but were content with their lot, when people were kind to each other and got along fine.
Memory can play tricks, but Staples cannot accept that life in those days was anything less than perfect and he intends to make it so again, for Louise, for Lucy and for himself. People are basically good at heart, he is sure of that. His boss, DS Roberts mocks him for his naivety but Jim still believes in a better world and aims to prove him wrong. So far he has failed in this ambition and it grieves him.
Moving to this brand new bungalow in Minster was supposed to be a fresh start, away from the corruption he had witnessed in the Met, away from the gangs, the squalor and endless drudgery to a quiet, peaceful patch where he would be respected in his local community and make real friends. So far he has managed to alienate half the coppers at his station with his eager, cheerful way and he feels disillusioned. It seems that there are just as many coppers on the take here on the Island as there are in South London.
Every investigation he has been involved with has had some distasteful aspect to it and he knows that there are villains getting away with all sorts of crimes for one reason or another. Already he has seen money change hands via third parties, slipped into pockets with a wink or a tap on the nose. He knows it will not be long before he himself is approached to turn a blind eye or ‘lose’ some piece of evidence for one of the local ‘Establishment.’
The turf he laid in September has knitted in nicely and needs mowing. Jim hauls his dad’s old Webb petrol machine out and checks the fuel tank. Surprisingly it is almost full so he gives the moving parts a wipe with dry cloth, pulls the cord and prays for the engine to start. It doesn’t of course and he spends the next hour tinkering with the spark plug, fuel line and controls. After almost pulling his arm out of its socket the machine finally gives in and roars into life, shoots across the path and straight into a concrete fence post, which cracks but remains upright. Fortunately there is no real damage and he forgets his troubles as he marches along behind the mower, stopping every few rows to empty the grass box onto the compost heap by the back fence.
Louise smiles as she watches from the kitchen window, Lucy in her arms sucking from a bottle of formula milk. She is glad he has cheered up. Some days he comes home and doesn’t say a word so she guesses he’s had a bad day. It’s not easy being married to a copper and she should know because her dad was in the force and his father before him. She is beginning to understand why her mother is like she is, guarded in everything she says and does. Louise has no intention of ending up like her, scared of her own shadow. She and Jim are equals not master and servant; he knows better than to disrespect her.
She has been pressing for Jim to apply for his sergeant’s exam; the extra money will come in handy with a second baby on the way. She places the sleeping Lucy in her pram and congratulates herself on her comfortable life. All the things she wrote on her list are being ticked off one by one. She has found a man she can manipulate, got him to marry her, bought a new bungalow which they are furnishing exactly as she wants and had their first child. She desperately hopes this next one will be a boy to complete the picture as she has no intention of going through this pregnancy business more than twice. She thought she would die whilst giving birth to Lucy and is dreading going through the pain of childbirth for a second time. Nobody tells you how ghastly the whole business is.
Tomorrow is ante-natal clinic, another dread, when she has to sit for hours waiting to be seen, having to turn on the charm with the other ‘victims’ waiting in line to be poked and prodded about by cold, white-coated medics. Some of the women are on their sixth or even seventh pregnancy and sit there recounting all sorts of horror stories of previous births. This scares the wits out of the first-timers, who try not to join in with the conversations, pretending to read the dog-eared magazines on offer whilst soaking up every gory detail.
Jim is whistling cheerily as he finishes the lawn mowing and steps into the kitchen. ‘Mind the clean floor,’ warns Louise, indicating that he remove his shoes. He eases them off onto the mat inside the door and treads carefully across the room to wash his hands in the sink. His happy mood dampened already he asks if Louise would like a coffee, which she declines. He makes one for himself anyway and takes a seat at the kitchen table as Louise busies herself at the sink preparing vegetables for lunch. ‘I thought we might go up and see my mum at the weekend,’ says Jim, ‘maybe bring her back for a few days.’
He doesn’t see the grimace on his wife’s face as she spouts some excuse about having other things to do and he doesn’t push the idea though it has been 3 months since he last saw his mother and with Harry living in Australia and Joan in Scotland he feels bad about leaving her on her own so soon after his father’s death. He also knows better than to argue with his wife, who can turn off the charm as quickly as switching it on. He picks up the paper and reads about another IRA bomb horror. Those poor people, minding their own business, doing nobody any harm and suddenly their lives are ripped to pieces and for what? Jim knows what he would do if he got his hands on those responsible.