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.
.... There is more of this story ...