As Always first things first. I thank my LadyCibelle and Techsan for their patience, proof reading, editing skills and of course encouragement. I'd also like to add that we don't always see eye to eye, so I take full responsibility for the content and any cock-ups in this story.
Life in most ways had been kind to me up until that day. How was I to know that something as simple as my PA at the office, Joyce, leaving her book on the table of a restaurant was going to cause such turmoil in my life?
I came back from lunch to find Joyce sitting at her computer cursing loudly. I assumed the PC had hung again. Why is it that some people appear to be able to make Windows hang just by looking at a computer, Joyce was one of those; she was convinced that Bill Gates had a personal vendetta against her. But I usually found she had used up every damn bit of memory on her system by having just about every conceivable document open and program running at the same time.
I enquired as what was the cause of her obvious anger; I thought that a couple of Alt/Ctrl/Del's would solve her problem, as it usually did. But Joyce informed me that she had misplaced the book she had been reading. She had been attempting to track down another copy as she had really gotten into the story. But it appeared that it was out of print and didn't show up on any of the local library lists either.
Apparently Joyce had picked the book up in a second-hand bookshop and she was extremely frustrated about losing it. Now she had lost the damned thing and she thought she would never discover how it ended.
"It's a mystery story," she said, "to be honest the damn book isn't that good really, too damned slow for my liking; but I just want to know how it ends."
I soon forgot about the incident for a few days after that. Until on the weekend, my wife Sarah started turning the lounge upside down when I was trying to watch the football on the telly.
"Have I done something to upset you, dear?" I asked.
"It's just a little distracting, having you turn the place upside down whilst I'm trying to watch Man-U on the tellythe footy."
"Sorry, dear, but I can't find my book. I had it earlier and now I can't find it."
"Oh, Christ! Not another lost book? I've had Joyce ranting on about losing the book she was reading all bloody week." A bit of an exaggeration, I know, but then it's just one of those things you say.
"Oh, what book has Joyce lost?"
"I'm not sure, something about a Spanish doctor or something."
"Oh, god, not "A Spanish Doctor in Paris?"
"Yeah, I think she said it was called something like that, I wasn't really listening. Have you read it and can you tell her the ending?"
"I'm sorry I can't; it was a long time ago that I read it, before Christina was born. I don't remember finishing it; I think it was too slow for me and I gave up on it. But why don't you take her my copy she can see how it ends herself. It should be in one of those boxes you put up in the loft for me."
Damn it. One of those boxes she had said. Sounds like a simple task, but Sarah is an avid buyer and reader of books; none of which she ever appeared to wish to part with. Consequently there was a least one box of books in that attic for every one of the eighteen years that we have been married. I think she probably had more books up there than could be found in the average local library.
"Jesus, it'll take me a month to go through all those boxes."
"Don't be silly, Mike. I remember I was reading it about the time I became pregnant with Christina. All those boxes have got the year we put them up there on them. All you've got to do is find the right box."
So Sunday morning found me climbing the ladder into the attic and searching for the right box. Which in the end I located. Pleased with myself, I put the book in my briefcase. Joyce had been my right hand for so long at the office and she was always doing things for me. On the Monday, I was going to take great pleasure in giving it to her. (The Book I mean. Jesus, how some folks' dirty minds work.)
"What's that silly grin about?" Joyce demanded when she came in for our conference on the Monday morning. "Is my petticoat showing, or something?"
"No, I've got a little present for you."
"Oh, goody, has my rise come through."
"You'll be bloody lucky. Personnel agree who deserves the rises but then they have to get the money out of accounts. That isn't as easy as we all would like. No, here, "A Spanish Doctor in Paris". That's the book you were so upset about losing last week, isn't it?"
"Oh, thanks, Mike, that was kind of you. Where did you find it?"
"I didn't. Sarah had a copy she read years ago. I just had to spend most of yesterday searching for it."
Yes, an over-exaggeration again, but it earned me a kiss on the cheek. (On the cheek, I said.)
"Thanks, Mike. I don't know what I would do without you," Joyce said as she did so.
"No, it's the other way around, Joyce. I'd be lost without you."
Whilst Joyce flicked through the book probably looking for the place she had left off, a small card fell out.
"It looks like Sarah left her bookmark in here." She said as she retrieved it from the floor and placed it on my desk.
"I think she said it was too slow for her, so she gave up on it."
"Slow, you're not kidding. But I really want to know who the murderer is. Thank again, Mike."
Joyce left me to get on with my work and I thought no more about that little card. Until, I was clearing my desk later in the day, that is. I picked it up and after little more than a cursory glance threw it in the waste bin.
But you know how it is, you read something quickly and it's a few moments before you realise what you have just read. When I realised what I had actually just seen, I dug the card out of the bin again. It was a reminder card, the sort that they give you in some hotels. It had the hotels name, a room number and the date of the reservation on it 23/04/86, together with the name of the guest. The guest's name on this one read Mr & Mrs M J Garrett. That's me, Michael Jeffrey Garrett and my wife.
But there was the problem. The hotel was the Majestic out on the edge of town, but to my knowledge I could never remember being in or near the place. Let alone having booked a room there. So just where had this card come from and how did my name come to be on it? Mildly curious I placed it in the top pocket of my jacket and then promptly forgot about it - well, almost. I had planned to ask Sarah about it later.
Forget about it I did, until about a month later. I'd asked Sarah if she would take a couple of my suits to the cleaners for me, one of them being the one I had put the card in the pocket of. When I came home that evening, lying on my dresser was all the normal flotsam you gather in your pockets that Sarah had removed when she took the suits in to be cleaned.
As I went through all the old receipts, ticket stubs etc. I suddenly remembered the hotel card. But it wasn't there.
"Sarah, when you cleared out my pockets this morning, did you see a reception card from the Majestic hotel amongst all the junk?"
"No, Michael, just the stuff I left on your dresser."
I must admit she was quick and good but she had made the mistake! Yeah, Sarah had just made the mistake that set alarm bells ringing in my head and gave me a very uneasy feeling in my stomach. She hadn't stopped to a take that second or two to think about what she was going to say, before she spoke. She hadn't blushed or looked away before she answered, she had looked me right in the eyes and said "No, Michael!" and that told me something was wrong.
Now I'm Mike to everyone and always have been. I've never been called Michael by anyone but Sarah and then only when she was angry or upset with me. It's one of those things; the warning signs you pick up on when you've been married as long as we have. But Michael was what Sarah called me.
So who was she upset with or was she angry about? Herself, of course - she knew that she had slipped up and I had found that hotel room card. Sarah, when she had found that card in my pocket, had recognised the significance of it. Some significance that she did not want me to know about. That's why she had removed it from amongst all the other flotsam from my pocket.
"Oh, I thought there was a room card from the Majestic in amongst this lot. I was wondering if you knew where it came from, that's all?
"Where the hell would that have come from?" Sarah asked.
"Well, that's what I was wondering since we've never stayed there. The card was in that book of yours I gave to Joyce. I was only curious about it, as we've never been there."
"I suppose I must have got it off my brother. You remember he and Stephanie stayed there when they came to Christina's Christening. They got the short straw; you had to book them in there because the "George Inn" was full."
"Oh, yes, that's right. I remember everywhere was booked up because of some big conference and I paid by credit card when I booked, because they wouldn't guarantee to hold the room."
Apparently satisfied I dropped the subject. Well, that gave Sarah a nice false sense of security. I had to admit that it did sound all nice and plausible. But there was a burning question of the date. I thought that I had a lot to find out about before I brought the subject up again and letting Sarah think I accepted the explanation would possibly serve my purpose best.
You see the dates as I remembered them were one year out. Sarah had originally said she was reading that book before Christina was born. Christina was born on January the 20th 1987 and she was three months old when she was christened. Beside the date being a year out, that book would most likely have been in the attic by then.
First thing the following morning I called Joyce into my office.
"Joyce, what do you do with my old desk diaries?"
"I keep them in my desk drawer for the year, just in case we need to refer to them. Then I send them down to the archives. Why do you ask?"
"Can you get on to archives for me and find out if they can track the ones for 1986 and 1987?"
"Jesus, Mike, that's ancient history. I didn't even work for you back then. What do you need them for?"
"Personal reasons, Joyce. I need to check a few things out."
"I'll go down myself in a few minutes and see what I can find, if you want."
An hour later Joyce came in and dropped the diaries on my desk. She gave me a quizzical look but made no comment. Once she had gone, I looked up the 23rd of April 1986. It was a Wednesday and as I feared I left on a trip to Germany that morning, returning on the evening of the 24th.
Out of interest I hunted around the date of Christina's christening but could find no mention of booking a room at the Majestic; although I could remember doing so. Not that it made any difference as the christening was held on a weekend anyway. I knew that card was dated the 23rd of April. And I was pretty sure it was 1986 not 1987. As 23rd April 1987 fell on Thursday that card could not have referred to a hotel booking for the christening because that was held on a Saturday, although I couldn't quite place the date.
I was still sitting there staring at the diaries when Joyce came back into my office with a cup of coffee for me.
"What's up, boss? You look confused."
"You remember that book I gave you and that card that fell out of it. Well, it had my name on it but I've never stayed in the Majestic. I got curious that's all. Now it appears I was at a conference in Germany on that date. I can't figure out why Sarah had that bloody room card."
"What was the date on the card?" Joyce asked as she took the diary from me."
"23rd April 86," I told her.
"Are you sure?"
"Yes, I'm bloody sure and for some reason that I can't figure out the card went missing from my pocket."
"Hmmm," Sarah said as she looked through the diary. "What are all these stars you've drawn in the margin for?"
I looked at what she was referring to.
"Um, Sarah was trying to get pregnant at the time. They, um are, well, our score card."
"Bugger, you two didn't go by halves, did you? You know you can overdo things, don't you?"
"Hold on," Joyce said as she flicked backwards and forwards in the book. "From the 10th to the 17th there are no stars so I assume that was Sarah's time of the month. Then two stars a day until the 23rd when I assume you flew out. None the 24th as you were away. But you went doolally when you came back by the look of it on the night of the 24th. Assuming you wrote up your score the following day that is. It looks like the pair of you went overboard after you came back."
"Come to think of it, it was a long time ago but I remember now! I thought Sarah was trying to wear me out after I came back from that trip. She nearly bloody killed me, but it must have worked because she finally got pregnant that moonnth..." my voice must have faded at the end of my sentence as the true significance of what that card could mean, hit me.
"Now hold on, Mike. Let's not go jumping to any wrong conclusions here."
Joyce was obviously thinking along the same lines as I was.
"Have you got any other ideas as to why that bloody card has so mysteriously disappeared and why Sarah claims she hasn't seen it? But she must have taken it out my jacket pocket."
"Well, no, but you can't go assuming anything, Mike. You need to talk to Sarah very carefully about this. If you're wrong, you could destroy your marriage for nothing by accusing her of something you have no proof of."
Joyce put her head in her hands and stared at the table for a while. Then she picked up the phone and called someone.
"Martin, how far do your client records go back there?" she waited whilst this Martin replied. "Well, can you see if you've got a M. J. Garret listed." Another wait. "Yes, a local address. Am I glad you put all your old files on computer! Just the two occasions?" she said as she scribbled notes on a pad. "Have you any idea how they were booked and paid for." -- "Oh, how about a Mrs S. Garrett?" -- "Right, thanks, Martin, I owe you one. Bye." -- "Pardon? Oh, that would be lovely. Pick me up at seven tomorrow evening then. Bye."
Putting the phone down Joyce looked at me. "Martin's the manager at the Majestic, we go back a long way. We're lucky they put all their old files on computer some years ago. Your name only appears in their records twice. The 23rd April 1986 for one night. Double room booked by telephone and paid for in cash. Then again on 1st May 1987 double room for one night only again, booked by phone and paid by American Express. Your card I assume. You're not on their mailing list as you live so close to them."
"So I did have the right date on that card?"
"Looks like it. I was hoping you were wrong. What are you going to do now, Mike. It was a long time ago and you've been happily married for so many years?"
"Have I? If what I fear happened that night did, Christina could well not be my daughter. My whole life could have been a massive lie."
"No, Sarah loves you, I know she does. Surely she wouldn't do something like that to you. There must be some other explanation."
"Well, like it or not something happened that night all those years ago. Something that Sarah has kept me in the dark about ever since and still wants to keep secret from me. Somehow I've got to reassure myself that Christina is my child. I won't be able to live with the doubt. And how do I know that Sarah hasn't been, well, you know, behind my back for all these years."
When I started my relationship with Sarah, she was a pretty wild party animal. But I always found her fun to be with. I knew she had been around the block a few times and I accepted that. I suppose that's a decision a lot of people have to make when choosing their life partner. Sarah's previous wild lifestyle had never bothered me because I lived just as hard myself. Once we got together we had both quietened down. At least I thought we both had. Now I was having my doubts about Sarah.
"I think we can answer the question about whether you're Christina's father quiet easily nowadays. You just have to get a DNA test done."
"And how the hell am I going to I do that, without raising Sarah's suspicions?"
"Easier than you think, my brother's doing some research thing at Uni. They are taking DNA samples all the time; something about trying to trace the origins of people. You know where they came from in the world, like Viking's, Saxon's, Norman's and all that kind of thing. I'll give him a call and we can pretend that he has asked you to participate in his research. Then you ask Christina and Sarah to take part as well. If Sarah puts up any objections you will at least know that you've got something to worry about. Or rather Sarah is worried that you might find something out."
"Good one, Joyce. Give him a call and see if you can set it up will you?
The following evening at dinner I brought up the subject of Joyce's brother's DNA research and told Sarah and Christina he had asked us if we would take part in his project. Sarah went what I can only call stiff when I mentioned it; after some thought she said she didn't want to take part and she didn't want Christina or myself to take part in it either.
The reason she gave was that the government had too much information on us as it is. She thought it was an invasion of privacy. When I told her it was an academic study she pointed out that all academics work for the government in the long run. It was the government who ran all the universities.
I gave up on the argument and agreed with her; I had discovered what I wanted to know. But what she didn't know was that the ball was already rolling. When Joyce had explained to her brother what the problem was he had offered to do the analysis for me and had told me if I wanted he could get the DNA he needed from hair samples. It wasn't the way they normally worked but he had access to the technology required.
Three weeks later I told Sarah we were going out for a meal on the Friday evening. She was both excited and curious when I wouldn't tell her where we were going. Whether she realised that the shit was about to hit the fan or not I'm 100% sure. But she was quite subdued when we first arrived in the Majestic's restaurant.
"Why have we come here?" she asked.
"Joyce's boyfriend is the manager here and she's been telling me how nice it is. I thought it wouldn't do any harm to give it a try."
My explanation appeared to calm her fears and we had an enjoyable meal together. As we left the restaurant Sarah was again confused when I steered her towards the lifts. By the time we got to room 419, I could feel her actually shaking. She didn't say anything and only slightly resisted as I lead her into the room.
I took her over to one of the chairs and she collapsed into it.
"Okay, Sarah, the game's over. I know you've been in this room before. Are you going to tell me about it now? Or am I going to leave this room a single man?"
She looked up at me obviously confused and with a very frightened look on her face. But she didn't volunteer anything, so I took the envelope from my pocket and handed it to her.
"What's this?" she asked as she took it from me.
"DNA test results, Sarah. I had those tests done anyway. Care to take a guess at what they say?"
Sarah's face showed blind panic.
"But they can't. You are Christina's father. I made so sure that you would be..." her voice faded to nothing.
"Would you care to develop on that, Sarah."
To be fair she couldn't say anything because she was crying so hard and she had her head buried in her hands.
There was a knock at the door; that took me by surprise. I opened it to find Joyce and Martin standing there.
"Sorry, Mike. I thought you might need a referee. Martin will stay outside but if you don't object - look you're a very level headed guy, Mike, but I think I'd better stand in on this one, just In case you do lose your temper."
"Come in if you want, Joyce. But I don't think we will need you, Martin. I've had plenty of time to get used to things. Thank you anyway, my friend."
Martin nodded to me as I closed the door, but it didn't look to me as if he had any intention of leaving and I could see what I assumed was the master key in his hand. Joyce sat on the other chair beside Sarah and I sat down on the bed.
"Sarah, Mike's my boss, but I've always considered both you as my friends. I probably don't know quite as much as Mike does about all this, but I believe I know most of what Mike does. However I fully intend to stay neutral in this; I think you need someone you can both talk to. If this evening turns into a slanging match? Well!"
Joyce reached out and took Sarah's hand. Sarah looked at her and they exchanged comforting smiles. I can't say that I was over-enthused with Joyce's presence as I was actually playing a tremendous bluff. I really needed to know what had happened on that night all those years ago and why. I worried that Joyce might be a little too neutral; Sarah and her had always got on so well together.
"Are you going to tell me about it now, Sarah? Or do I leave this room a single man?"
"No, oh, please, no," was all Sarah could say before she was lost in tears again.
Damn it, after all the build up, I was beginning to get impatient. Maybe it was a good idea for Joyce to be there.
"Okay, Sarah, let me tell you what I know. Guess what? Back in 1986, they weren't all that computerised at this hotel. Everything was written on little bits of paper and believe it or not it turns out that all those bits of paper are still down in the basement somewhere. You might not think so, but Martin was very kind and looked out the booking for this room for me."
I pulled a photocopy from my pocket. "It's all a bit cryptic but I think we've worked out what it all means. On April the 21st 1986, at just after ten in the morning. Accurate, aren't they? A woman called reception and booked a room - this room - for the night of the 23rd. She gave the name Mrs S Garret. But they must have told her that they needed a credit card number to hold the room, the same as they did me a year later. They crossed out Mrs S Garret and wrote in Mr M J Garret and my American Express card number. When I was using American Express you had a duplicate card on my account, didn't you. I should imagine the number refers to that card.
"On the night of the 23rd of April a man and woman, had a meal in the restaurant and that was charged to this room. Then at eight thirty that evening an international telephone call was made from this room. Strangely, or maybe not so strangely, to the hotel that I was staying at in Germany, I remember receiving that call. You told me you had been out at a neighbour's when I had called home and you were returning my call. You had counted on me being a creature of habit.
"The following morning just one breakfast was charged to this room. Why, I have no idea. Were you not hungry? Had you had enough protein for breakfast that morning? Perhaps you can enlighten me on that one.
"At 9 AM on the 24th a Mr Forester paid for the room by cheque. It appears that he was planning paying by cash, but you pair must have spent too much money on your evening meal and room service; the word cash was crossed out and cheque was written in instead. Perhaps he didn't have enough cash left on him. By the way how much did you charge him, for the night Sarah?"
"That was uncalled for, Mike!" Joyce butted in. I ignored her comment and continued.