It was the only time in my life I have felt true fear, yet ironically I was totally safe. I was standing in the dock at Stafford Crown Court giving evidence in a murder trial. The accused man, whom I was giving evidence against, was staring at me, his face completely expressionless, yet his eyes seemed to penetrate to my very soul. I knew that this man had pointed a sawn-off shotgun in the face of a security guard and pulled the trigger. I couldn't understand then and still can't, the callousness of his action; the guard was not threatening him; in fact, other witnesses said that the guard had done exactly what he'd been told to do. I'm sure that most people would be afraid to look into this man's eyes. Fortunately I was only one of several minor witnesses and I was only in the courtroom for about half an hour; but it was a very long thirty minutes.
As I left the court my heartbeat was probably twice its norm and my breathing equally erratic. My heart was just slowing down when I saw something that immediately started it racing again; my bride of just a few weeks, always set my pulse racing, obviously, though, for entirely different reasons. She ran to me and we hugged, no words were necessary, she more than anyone knew what I'd just gone through.
I thought back to the events that had brought us here.
Against my better judgement I'd agreed to a blind date; a pair of close friends, Pete and Michelle, had been talking about Helen for weeks, telling me how pretty she was, how clever, how she was everything I wanted in a woman. I'd heard it all before, six years divorced and some friends seem to think it's their duty to see me fixed up again; I finally agreed to see her, mainly to shut them up, rather than with any real expectation. We'd spoke briefly on the phone and agreed that a quiet meal together, one evening the following week, would be the best way for us to meet. I'd instantly liked the sound of her voice and especially that she appeared intelligent enough to hold a conversation; looks matter, but nowhere near as much as brains.
A second, equally short call, that weekend, had us agreeing Wednesday evening, early, French cuisine and me driving. I must admit to feeling very little anticipation; rather it was a commitment to friends, something to be got out of the way with little fuss.
I arrived at her house to pick her up, as planned, early in the evening. I was nicely surprised at her appearance; Pete had been right, she was pretty, very pretty. She was tall for a woman at about 5'10", slim without being skinny, with short blonde hair. Her legs looked fabulous and small breasts made up an almost ideal picture. I already knew that she was 46, three years younger than me. I could immediately see that she had aged better than me; looks wise I wasn't to bad, other than greying and thinning hair but the heavy sporting activities of my youth had come back to haunt me, leaving me with very dodgy knees and a bad back. Unable to exercise properly and a love of good food left me a bit overweight through at 6'6" tall it didn't show as much as it would on a shorter man.
Helen was wearing a shortish black dress, the elegance of which came from its simplicity, and a gold necklace. A plain white shawl completed her outfit, ideal for the warm summer's evening. Her makeup was discreet, just as I like it. She smiled a nervous smile, which I returned. Once in the car she removed the shawl to reveal just enough cleavage to be interesting without appearing vulgar. Tasty I thought, maybe the evening won't be as dull as I was expecting. During the drive into town our nerves gradually disappeared and by the time we got to the restaurant we were chatting away like old friends. I found myself more and more drawn to this enchanting woman as the evening wore on.
We discovered we had much in common; both divorced for a number of years, both of us had two children, even closer still, we both had one of each sex. Like most parents part of the evening was spent talking about our offspring. My children, although both now left home, were, and still are, a major part of my life and if any potential partner did not like it there was no potential there; I also expected my partner, if she had children to feel exactly the same, so I was not bored about tales of her children and I hoped she was not put off by mine.
Although we'd arrived at the restaurant quite early in the evening, we'd talked so much that it was still late by the time we left. We'd enjoyed the meal, Chateau Briand, and it appeared, each other's company, so we lingered over the coffee. As we walked to the car park I began to wonder, not for the first time, what the evening might bring. We were both of a generation when girls didn't do anything on a first date, but equally we were old enough not to let that bother us if we thought it was right. I did, but I didn't know about Helen. She was happy for me to hold her hand as we strolled leisurely towards my car.
As we got to the car park I looked around to where I thought I'd parked the car. It wasn't there. After a few moments hesitation, I was certain that it was missing. I turned around to my date and asked, 'It was over there that I parked?'
She nodded and agreed, 'definitely. Just next to that blue Volvo because I remember that that was there when I got out.'
'Great!' I said with massive understatement, 'it's been nicked! I'll kill the bastards if I get hold of them, ' assuming that it was young joy riders.
I took out my mobile phone and rang the police. Forty minutes later they finally turned up. It was an angry man that met them. I kept wondering when it had been taken, what if we hadn't lingered so long, would I have caught them at it. I was mad at myself, the Police and of course the thieves. The frustration of waiting for the police to turn up didn't help and my anger just kept bubbling. When the patrol car eventually arrived it held a tall, burly PC, who looked far too young for my liking, and a short, slim WPS (Woman Police Sergeant). She apologised for the delay and then remained silent as I vented my anger on her. She was obviously used to such outbursts because she simply waited for me to run out of steam, it's hard to argue with someone who doesn't talk. She'd obviously been listening to me because after I'd shut up she explained that it was most unlikely to be joy riders as they rarely, if ever, go for big luxury cars like my Jaguar; they always go for the small nippy cars. I hadn't thought of that. She said it was most likely down to professionals, who wanted it to export or strip down, as for when it had been taken, she was of the opinion that they'd probably seen me arrive and it would have been gone within minutes of me being out of sight. Somehow this last piece of information helped, probably because it absolved me of my guilt for staying at the restaurant too long. Throughout my conversation with the WPS, Helen said nothing, just stood at my side with her arm linked in mine.
I'd just got around to giving my personal details when I heard a call come over the police radio. Although only a foot away I didn't have a clue what was said, their ears must be tuned different than mine.
'I'm sorry but we have to go, there's an incident in town, ' the sergeant said and before I could comment added, 'I'll put the car's description over the air to see if it's still around, although I sincerely doubt it, and I'll give you a ring tomorrow about taking a statement.' With that they were gone.
'Not a lot of help are they.' Helen stated rather than asked.
I had to agree.
We then decided that we would each get a taxi home; we didn't live close enough for it to be worth sharing one. I was a bit disappointed but accepted that it made sense. Helen turned her cheek for a goodnight peck and then she got into the first of the two cabs that had pulled up a minute or so later. Why don't the Police react that quickly!
During the ride home I focused on the evening's more pleasant moments and decided that even with the loss of my car it had been quite a good evening, after all my car was fully insured and as I worked from home I could get around its absence.
I spent most of the following morning on the phone to my insurance company. They refused to believe me, politely so but a refusal all the same, because I could not produce a Police Incident Number (PIN); I tried to explain that the Police would be contacting me later but I might as well been talking to a tape recorder. I then rang the Police for said number only to be asked which officer had dealt with the case. I explained that I hadn't taken notes and couldn't remember her name. How many women sergeants did they have, I asked. When I was told one, I blew my top. I'd told them initially that it was a WPS but they insisted on the name and then I find that there's only one WPS anyway. I was not amused. Some thirty minutes later I finally get my PIN. Another hour on the phone to the insurance company and things were at last starting to progress. At that time if someone had granted me just one wish, it would be an end to all bureaucracy in the world; come to think of it that would still be pretty high on my wish list now.
It was gone midday when I finally started to earn my keep. I managed to cram a full day's work into the next six hours, so with that and the day's frustrations I was shattered when I left the small bedroom I called an office. I thought about a quick shower but decided instead on a long soak in a very hot bath, my favourite relaxation, at least as a solo activity.
Thirty minutes later, still lying in my bath recently topped up with more hot water, I was calm enough to plan what I would say to Helen when I rang her later. I wanted to see her again and soon but couldn't work out her feelings; she'd been friendly enough but there was something there I wasn't sure about. I was confident that she would see me again.
When I did get to call her, she seemed in a cheery mood, which I took as a good sign, and she laughed about my morning's aggravation. She agreed that we'd had an excellent time together and was quite happy to go out with me again, but, and what a but, if I was expecting more than friends then I was out of luck. When I pressed her, suggesting that we just let things run their course and see what happens, she still said no. Unfairly, I felt my anger rise again, and rather too loudly asked what the hell was wrong with me that she wouldn't even see if anything might happen between us. That's when she dropped her bombshell, she said, very quietly and calmly, that I was simply the wrong sex for her. She still liked male company, but not in the bedroom. She then repeated that she would happily go out with me, as long as I understood, she also requested that I keep the information to myself. She seemed to understand when I told her I needed some time to think about it. There's a Scouse (Liverpudlian) expression that summed up succinctly how I felt - gob smacked.
At first I considered that she was joking, then that she'd said it as a brush off before finally accepting it as the truth. The macho part of me momentarily thought that if I could get her into bed then I could change her mind. Reality then took over, she was an intelligent woman, she'd been married, she had two children so she knew what heterosexuality was about and preferred the alternative; I was not going to change her mind.
It was in this state that my body walked to the door to answer the chiming bell. It was the Police in the form of WPS Elizabeth Martin, as I'd found her name to be.
'You look as if you've seen a ghost, ' she told me as we walked into my front room.
'Not seen one, just spoken about one, ' I said automatically as we sat down opposite each other.
I noticed the raised eyebrows. I don't know why but I found myself telling her about my recent telephone conversation with Helen.
She laughed, then immediately apologised. 'Was that the woman you were with last night?'
'You aren't having a good week are you sir.' She said, trying, and failing, to keep the amusement from her voice.
It was that amusement that helped me see my predicament from the outside, if it had happened to any of my friends I too would be laughing about it.
'You're right Sergeant, I've had better times.' For the first time I noticed her as a woman rather than a Police Officer. She was pretty, especially when she smiled, which made her distinctive green eyes sparkle. She was slim, in her mid thirties with dark hair, kept in a bob so I assumed was long (she'd removed her cap). She was sitting with her knees together but I could see she had shapely legs, probably from the walking she must do.
She was aware of my appraisal and waited for my gaze to return to her face before asking, with a smile, 'do I pass inspection? I would have thought you'd had enough of us women at the moment.'
I blushed. 'My turn to apologise, I'm not used to thinking of our Police as attractive.'
Again the raised eyebrows questioned me. 'I suppose I think of them as a uniform, not what's inside it, ' I tried to explain. As I did I could see her face light up again, making me mentally review my last sentence. She'd picked up on 'attractive', 'uniform' and 'inside it' a nice innuendo if I'd meant it but I hadn't. I was just about to explain further when I remembered an excellent piece of advice I'd once been given, so instead I said, 'I'll stop digging before the hole gets too big.'
That made her laugh out loud. 'A good idea, ' she said.
We then got down to the serious business of my statement. She asked questions and guided me in the answers, writing down in longhand everything I said. Throughout I was admiring her, although not as blatantly as before; she was more attractive than I'd first thought and I could see no ring, and her smile lingered.
I offered her a drink, which was politely declined. I wanted to find an excuse to keep her here a little longer.
Eventually she stood up to leave, it was then that I noticed she was quite small for the Police, only about 5'3" tall in her shoes. I know it sounds daft at my height but I've always preferred petite women, but this was the first woman in uniform, except nurses, that I'd noticed.
At the door she thanked me, once again the hint of a smile in her eyes.
'One question I forgot to answer, ' I said.
She looked at me as if trying to remember any gap.
I continued, 'you pass inspection with ease, top marks in fact.'
Her smile now really lit her face up. 'Thank you, ' she said shyly. Whether the shyness was for real or not I do not know but it worked for me.
I blustered on, 'if you would like to call again, Elizabeth, ' it was the first time I'd called her by her name, 'off duty, I mean, I'd love to see you.'
For the only time that evening I felt that she didn't have a quick comeback. Her answer though did leave me with some hope, 'I'll think about that, ' she looked up into my eyes, 'and I do mean that.'
I shut the door and went to sit in the chair, just vacated by Elizabeth. I could detect no hint of the perfume most women would leave. I wanted to analyse what I'd just done. I'm not a man driven by passion for just any woman, I have always been monogamous yet I'd just tried to chat up Elizabeth only minutes after Helen had turned me down.
What would have happened if Helen hadn't told me she was gay, would I have still chatted Elizabeth up. I still don't know the answer to that one. I did come up with why I'd flirted with Elizabeth though. I'd been without a woman for a long time, several years in fact, and had forgotten the simple pleasures of a woman's company, and I don't mean the physical ones, I hope I never forget them. My forced evening with Helen had brought back those memories and I did not want to lose them again. You could say that she had reopened my eyes so that I could see Elizabeth.
I found myself thinking about Elizabeth a lot during the following days. I hoped that she would call but I did not seriously expect it. It must be a common occurrence for such an attractive woman in her environment, plus I didn't know whether she already had a boyfriend; still I lived in hope.
I managed to get my insurance company to provide for a hire car whilst my claim was going through, which was ok but a Ford Mondeo was not in the same league as my Jaguar.
Friday evening I was sitting in front of the television, a glass of chilled Chablis in my hand, watching the news. There had been an armed robbery and everyone was aghast that a security guard had been shot dead, apparently in cold blood. This sort of thing just didn't happen in England, much less rural Staffordshire.
Just then my doorbell chimed so I rose and headed for the door, wondering, pointlessly as we all do, who it could be at this time of the evening. I assumed it was one of my children.
As I opened the door, my heart raced as I recognised Elizabeth; she had decided to come after all, I felt really great. As I saw her stern face and clicked that she was in uniform, I came back down to earth, this was obviously an official visit; even then I could not think of a reason for the serious expression on her pretty face.
I stepped to one side and indicated for her to come in. She removed her cap and stood just inside the door. 'David! This is not a social call, ' she opened, sensing my bemusement, 'it's about your car.' I thought as much, as I could not think of any other reason for a Police visit. My immediate thought was that the thieves had crashed it, killing themselves or some poor third party.
'There's been an incident in Lichfield... '
I interrupted, 'you mean the armed robbery?'
'Yes. You've heard about it then?'
'I was just watching the news. Is it true it was cold blood?' I asked.
'From what we can tell at this stage, yes, ' she confirmed.
'I'm shocked, as I assume everybody else is, but what's that got to do with me?' I asked mystified.
'We think that it was your car that they used as the getaway vehicle.'
'Think?' I asked, now really shocked. I began to wonder what would have happened if I HAD caught them in the process of stealing my car, not young kids or even professional car thieves but armed robbers. I sat down at the thought; this was way out of my league.
Elizabeth continued, 'they changed the number plate, but we have no other blue Jaguar reported missing, and it's close enough that we're virtually certain it your car.'
'So what do you want me to do?'
'Will you come and identify it?'
I was so engrossed in my own thoughts I missed what she had said. 'Sorry!'
She seemed to understand and repeated her question.
'Yes of course, ' I agreed, 'when?'
I should have realised how urgent it would be to the Police for immediate identification, I'd read enough Police mysteries and seen enough TV Cop Shows. It still took a few moments to sink in.
'Someone will have to take me and bring me back, though, ' I said pointing to my wine glass, 'I've had a couple of drinks.'
She smiled for the first time that evening and added, 'after all we wouldn't want to pull you for drink driving would we now? I'll drive you, no problem.'
'Give me a minute or so to get ready then.'
The shock was slowly wearing off and although I felt bad about the dead guard my own self-interest took over. Almost simultaneously I realised two things; first that I was going to be spending some time alone with Elizabeth and secondly she'd called me David at the door.
As I got into the Police car, I wondered in amusement what my nosy neighbours would be thinking, seeing me escorted to the car and driven away. The first few minutes of our twenty-mile trip to Stafford Police Station, where the car had been taken, were a mixture of silences and brief question and answers about the robbery. I was very aware of her sitting close to me; her petite frame, so feminine, drew my mind. It took about five of the twenty miles for me to build up the confidence to talk personal.
'Elizabeth, if I can call you that, ' I started nervously, looking at her for acceptance.
'Beth is better, ' she said quietly, giving me the confidence to continue.
'Beth.' I said, testing the name to myself and liking it. 'Beth, ' I repeated more strongly this time, 'about the other night.' I paused to give her chance to comment but she just looked at the road, so I continued, 'I'm not usually that forward, especially to Police Sergeants, even beautiful ones, but I just... well just enjoyed being with you.'
I think she was secretly relishing my embarrassment, or maybe it was her Police interview technique but her silence was unnerving me again. 'I'm sorry, you must have a man in your life anyway and you probably get asked out all the time.' My faltering confidence failed altogether and I just shut up, not knowing whether to proceed or retreat.
She turned briefly to look at me. There was a broad smile across her face. 'You are right, I do get asked out all the time, usually by drunks lying on the floor trying to look up my skirt, ' she said laughing at the idea. 'I don't have anyone "in my life" as you put it, this job makes relationships difficult unless it's with other officers and I know them too well ever to go out with another Police Officer. I also know what you mean about you being with me. I too felt that there was a spark there, I don't know why, maybe you being jilted for a woman was enough to lower my usual barriers. I said I'd think about what you'd said and I have, long and hard.' She then shut up for a few minutes, her face, from which my eyes had never left, expressionless.
'Well?' I asked in exasperation.
'Well what?' she responded but now the smile had returned and I was sure I had a positive reply. 'Yes David, I'll go out with you but I want to place some rules right at the start.'
She ignored me and continued, 'Yes Rules. I don't think you're looking for a one-night stand and I know I'm certainly not, so let's assume something better. So rule one. You do not ring me at work, ever. I don't know where I'll be or what I'm doing, plus I don't want the rest of the station knowing my personal life. OK?'
'Two. If I break a date or can't see you for a few days, then it's because of work, and I don't want the sulks from you. I know what you men are like. Three. No other women, including lesbians! And four, if it's only a woman in uniform you want, I'll kill you!' Number three brought smiles to both of us and four had us laughing loudly.
'All conditions happily accepted.' I stated. I nearly added a joke about number four but felt I didn't know Beth well enough yet to know how she would take it. I hadn't thought about it but I was sure that to some men the uniform and its significance would have been the main attraction.
I didn't query her assumption that this was not going to be a quick fling because I believed we both knew, even then, that something special was happening. She looked at me, her eyes sparkling as her smile once more lit up her face. It was the first of the many occasions that just looking at her would bring butterflies to my stomach. It seems strange, when I look back; after all we hadn't even touched at that stage.
Before we had chance to discuss anything else we arrived at the Police Station. Before we got out of the car Elizabeth, sorry Beth, added another rule, 'if I'm with you officially, and there's someone else around, then call me Sergeant. OK!'
I would have done anyway; I know the difference between work and play. 'Of course, ' I confirmed.
We went into the station, and with virtually no delay at all I was led to a larger garage. There was no doubt it was my car. It still had a few of my things in, my sunglasses in the visor, a dog-eared A-Z of London. There was the scratch at the front where I'd caught a bollard, although I told everyone else that someone had caught me in a car park.