I thank my LadyCibelle and Techsan for their patience, proof reading, editing skills.
Quite often in the UK, when someone refers to their local pub, they aren't necessarily talking about a public house that is nearest to where they live or work. The pub they mean is the one they feel at home in; they usually drink there and are well known by the staff and regulars. It can be some way away from where actually they live or work.
Oppo = A Colleague or friend.
CSA = Child Support Agency, in theory a government agency who were charged with getting child support payments from absent biological parents. They've made a complete cock-up of most of it and as I haven't heard them mentioned by the media lately, I have to wonder whether they are still operational. Maybe they've just got their act together at last. But as they are civil servants, I somehow doubt they have done that. Any organisation in which its members are shielded by the 'Official Secrets Act' just doesn't need to worry about what gets fucked up. If no bugger can discover just who made the bloody cock-up in the first place, why should any of them care?
I was enjoying a quiet pint in what had become my local pub. I'd found the Fisherman's Arms - that was tucked away, some way off the beaten track - by chance just after I'd moved into the village, about three years previous. In the height of the summer season some holidaymakers found the pub, but not very many; so the place tended to cater more to the regular locals. On this evening, there couldn't have been ten people in the place, so it was nice and quiet, just how I liked things.
It was so quiet in fact that I was almost dozing, as I stared into the flames of the fire burning in the big grate. I was so lost in the way the flames flickered and curled that I didn't notice the two rather large strangers enter the bar and buy their drinks.
The first I was aware of their presence was when one of them slid into the seat opposite me, blocking my view of the fire.
"Mo Clarke?" the guy asked, his accent telling me he came from back home, or that general area anyway.
"Who's asking and why do you want to know?" I replied. Whoever this guy was, I didn't want to speak to him. But I was just a little curious as to why he'd come looking for me. Look, the Fisherman's Arms ain't the kind of place strangers find by chance.
"My name's John Caldwell, and I'd like to have a word with you about Sarah, if I may," the man replied.
The name Caldwell, let alone Sarah, was enough for me to begin to rise from my seat. I could remember that Sarah had mentioned a cousin called John Caldwell a few times. I think I recalled that he was supposed to be a military policeman or something.
I began to slide along the bench I was sitting on so that I could get out from behind the table. But the other large man - whose presence I was still not aware of at the time - sat himself on the end of the bench, blocking any further progress on my behalf.
"Hold on a minute please, Maurice; we just want a little chat, that's all," John Caldwell said.
"I've got nothing I wish to talk to any Caldwell about. Especially if Sarah's concerned."
"Aren't you just a little curious about the baby, at least?" John Caldwell asked.
"No. Why should I be? It's got fuck all to do with me."
"That's not what Sarah says, Mo!"
"Look, this has all been settled by the courts. No matter how much she claims otherwise, I ain't the father of Sarah's kid; so it holds no interest for me whatsoever."
"Sarah claims that there was no one else who possibly could be the father, Mo."
"Look, John or whatever your name is, we went through all this at the time. The DNA tests proved that there was no chance in hell that I was the kid's biological parent. If I had been, I would have gone through with the wedding as we had it planned. But I ain't! And there was no way I was going to marry a bitch who'd been shagging other guys behind my back. And I definitely ain't bringing up some other guy's brat as my own. So you see we've got nothing to talk about."
"Hold on a minute please, Mo. Young Maureen is very ill with leukaemia and she needs a bone marrow transplant pronto."
"So, what the fuck has that got to do with me? I can't help the kid; we're not related in the slightest," I blustered. I was sorry to hear about the child's illness, but there was fuck all I could do about it.
"Mo, Listen to me for a few minutes, will you? I know that all those tests you had done apparently proved that you aren't the father of Maureen. Oh notice the name Sarah gave her; it was the closest to Maurice that she could come up with. But leaving that aside, don't it seem just a little strange to you that with her child's life at stake, Sarah would still insist that you were the only possible man who could be Maureen's father."
"Look, the woman's probably nuts or something. We went all through this at the time, the tears, the swearing on the bible. You say it and Sarah tried to pull it on me. But those DNA tests don't lie, not once but twice the tests were done and they proved that I was not the father of that baby."
"So it would seem at first sight, Mo; but would you do me a little favour. You know I'm a policeman?"
"Yeah, MP or something."
"Yes, I was, I'm out of the service now. I work for the Home Office," John explained.
"Well, I wasn't around when all this happened, so I never did hear your side of the story. Would you mind telling me all about it? Why you suspected that something was wrong in the first place. Christ, you and Sarah had been an item and shacked up together for years. Suddenly Sarah gets pregnant and you get suspicious. What made you postpone the wedding until after the baby was born and have those DNA tests done in the first place?"
"Look, mate, this was all over and done with three years ago. It hurt me emotionally a lot at the time and I really don't think I want to go through it all again."
"Please, Maurice. Look, there's a very sick little girl whose life might depend on this. Just tell me the story from your side."
I could see that the guy was pretty concerned about the kid by the expression on his face. Whatever Sarah's motivation was in still insisting that I was the child's father, I couldn't understand. But I assumed that John Caldwell had set himself the task of finding a bone marrow donor and he was trying to track down the kid's biological father first.
Well, if I helped him put me completely out of the frame, then maybe he could talk Sarah into telling the truth. Although with the way Sarah had acted at the time, I was pretty well convinced that Sarah was one of those people with multiple personalities. Maybe the personality that I fell in love with was someone completely different to the slut who went out and got herself knocked up. In Sarah's mind, that is.
I picked up my pint and emptied the glass. "George, let's have another HSD?" I called to the barman.
I'd first laid eyes on Sarah Caldwell at college. Well, to be honest it wasn't me who spotted her first; it was my buddy and prowling partner, Ralph Bilger. At the time Ralph and I were what you might call a couple of 'Jack the Lads' when it came to the girls, that is. When we were together we were good at chatting them up. I don't know, we complemented each other I suppose when we were spouting all that bullshit to the women that would often lead to us scoring.
Anyway one day Ralph told me that there was a new girl in one of his classes, and she was something special. I'm pretty sure that Ralph tried to chat her up on his own but — reading between the lines — he got no further than sharing her table in the cafeteria.
That's where I found them together one day and quickly realised that Sarah wasn't someone I just wanted to shag a couple of times.
I'll be honest, I hadn't spoken more than a couple of words to Sarah before I knew that she was that special person my mother had told me that I'd find one day.
It took me the best part of six months to talk Sarah into going out on a date with me. Even then it was a double date with Ralph and some tart that he'd found who'd let him bang her at the drop of a hat.
I'd didn't even get as far as a kiss on that first date. Sarah let me hold her hand for a while and that was about it.
On the second date a week later - with just the two of us — I got a kiss goodnight. Hey, yeah, music, bells and a very light headed feeling. You know all the metaphors. Anyway that kiss led to another and if Sarah's father hadn't put the outside light on, I think we would have been there all night.
On our third date we went to the cinema, but didn't see the film. You know the idea.
That was it. From then on, Ralph and chasing other birds went off the curriculum. Every spare moment I had, I spent with Sarah.
We even went to the same university together. Sarah studied philosophy and I read marine engineering. We talked about marriage a lot, but for some reason, we didn't get around to naming the actual day. I think we were both too busy with our studies to plan that far ahead.
Sarah was of course wearing my engagement ring by then and we were sharing a flat — and bed - together all through UNI.
We graduated at the same time and moved into a flat in town. Sarah had been offered a good job working in the office of one of her university professor's relatives. Kind of the old boy network sort of thing; but far too lucrative for either Sarah or I to even contemplate her turning it down.
Okay, we were a long way from the sea. But I managed to find a job in the offices of a marine design company in town. It did call for me to do some travelling a couple of days a week, but once I got into it, I enjoyed it quite a lot.
So life settled down for a while. Ralph turned up after a year or so; he'd been studying chemistry or something and found himself a job in one of the big companies. Not that he stayed there long. Ralph was still a bit of a ladies' man and I do believe he shagged himself out of a couple of good jobs. I know I heard sexual harassment mentioned as the reason he got fired from at least one job. Not that I ever discussed it with Ralph personally.
Ralph would turn up at our flat quite regularly for the next year or so, nearly always with his latest bit of stuff on his arm. I'd sometimes come home from my trips and find him in the flat with Sarah, but I never had cause to worry about anything because, as I said, Ralph always had a woman with him.
There were nights when Ralph and I would go out together for the odd drink and it was on one of these evenings that my world began to fall apart. Just a day or so before, Sarah had announced that she thought that she might be pregnant. When I told Ralph about the pregnancy, a strange look came over his face.
"Oh, shit!" was his first comment. Then he said, "What are you going to do? Is Sarah getting an abortion?"
For the life of me, I couldn't understand why Ralph would say that.
"What, are you insane or something? No, Sarah and I are going to get married ASAP," I replied.
Ralph just sat there and stared at me for a few seconds. I could see that something was going around in his mind.
"Fuck, oh shit!" he eventually exclaimed.
"What's got into you, Ralph? Everyone knows that Sarah and I would get married eventually. When we got around to it."
"Oh, bugger!" Ralph said, then sat back in his seat and stared down at the table.
After another protracted wait, he spoke again.
"Mo, we've been friends since forever, haven't we?" he said.
"Yeah, since our school days," I replied.
"Look, Mo, I don't know how to say this, but..." Ralph's voice trailed away to nothing.
"Say what, Ralph?" I demanded.
"Damn, shit, look we've been friends for a long time and I don't want to break up that friendship." There was another break in Ralph's conversation. "Fuck, you're my best friend, but I gotta say something. Fuck, I should have told you the moment Claire told me."
"What the fuck are you going on about, Ralph?" I demanded.
Ralph looked me straight in the eyes. "Mo, you remember that little blond I was knocking off last month."
"Yeah, the bit that went to the gulf," I replied.
"Yeah, that's the one. Anyway she told me that ... Oh, bugger, you ain't going to be happy about this. Look, Claire told me that she saw Sarah with some guy at a party."
"The girl was obviously mistaken, Ralph."
"No, she wasn't, Mo. Claire worked for the same company as Sarah before she got that job out in Qatar or wherever it was, somewhere in the Middle East anyway. Claire told me that Sarah had been getting laid by some guy on the top floor for the last year or so."
"I don't believe a word of it!" I shouted at Ralph.
"Damn it, Mo, it's the truth. Why would Claire want to lie about something like that?"
I must have been very angry with Ralph. But then there's an old saying about shooting the purveyor of bad tidings and that came to mind as I crashed my hand down on the table so hard that both of our drinks glasses jumped into the air and crashed to the floor. Ralph took up a defensive pose.
"All right, Ralph, don't panic. I'm angry, but not at you. I have difficulty in accepting what you tell me. I love Sarah and I believe that she loves me."
"Damn it, Mo, do you think I wanted to tell you. I've been in a quandary ever since Claire told me. Christ, I'm as attached to Sarah almost as much as you are. You'll never know how many times I almost challenged her over it myself. But I just couldn't bring myself to do it; she could have done or said anything to make you believe I was lying.
"Just a minute, Maurice," John Caldwell interrupted my diatribe. "This is Ralph Bilger you're talking about here?"
"Yeah, why?" I replied.
"Have you seen him since you moved away from town?" John asked.
"No, I haven't seen anyone much from town, since I moved down here. I was in a bit of a state after all that hoo-ha. I didn't want to be reminded about any of it."
I noticed that John looked at his oppo with a strange expression on his face. Obviously something passed between the two men, but god alone knows what.
"So you don't know that Sarah got married then?"
"Yeah, I heard about that. Some guy we vaguely knew in town, brought his boat in with engine problems a year or so back. His wife recognised me and mentioned that Sarah had married, but she didn't know who to."
"And you haven't seen Ralph Bilger since you moved down here? So you don't know where we could find him."
"Haven't got the foggiest idea. I wasn't what you might call a nice person to know after I found out the truth. And, Ralph, well they said don't shoot the bearer of bad tidings. But saying and doing are two different things, aren't they? Why are you so interested in Ralph anyway?"
There was a slight but discernable pause before John Caldwell answered. "Oh, we're not really. But if we can track him down then maybe we could find this Claire woman." There was another slight pause before John Caldwell added. "Sarah still claims that you are Maureen's father. The Claire woman can point us in another direction then perhaps we can get to the bottom of this all the sooner. Time is of the essence here. Now Ralph had just told you about what Claire had told him."
"Yeah, I went home that night, determined to challenge Sarah over what Ralph had told me, but she was in bed asleep. For some reason I didn't wake her; by the morning I'd calmed down a lot. Look, I still had trouble believing it was true. Slowly over the next week or so I pushed it to the back of my mind as much as I could. But it sat there and niggled away at me.
"You know it had shaken my trust in Sarah. If I challenged her, what we had would have fallen to pieces. So instead I decided I'd spy on her somehow and find out what was going on myself, not that I had much luck.
"I discovered that she went to lunch with several different guys from her office. But from what I could see, never alone; always with a bunch of friends.
"When I was away Sarah would stay on after work with a crowd of fellow workers and go for a drink, although she only ever drank non-alcoholics drinks, because she was pregnant. She'd sometimes dance with some of her work colleagues, but no one in particular.
"Ralph suggested that having got a bun in the oven, she wasn't taking any chances of getting caught.
"Somehow whenever the subject of naming the day came up, I managed to change the subject. I know that Sarah got suspicious as to the reason why, but she never voiced those suspicions to me.
"Who's the we?" John Caldwell interrupted again.
"Ralph and me!" I replied.
"Okay, but did you discuss your suspicions with anyone else?"
"Yeah, some guy that Ralph knew. Supposed to be a detective, but he couldn't come up with anything more that I had either."
"Okay, carry on."
"Well, we thought that Sarah was in denial. Whatever she had been getting up to she was pretending that it hadn't happened. Who knows? Perhaps she convinced herself and that's why she insists that I have to be the baby's father, even with all the evidence to the contrary.
"Anyway if we were wrong and I was the father of the baby, I'd look pretty stupid, wouldn't I? Look, all I had at the time was the word of one of Ralph's tarts, who I'd never personally spoken to about Sarah's fidelity. It could have been that she'd made a mistake anyway. So Ralph came up with the idea of the DNA test. He was a chemist and had contacts in the laboratories that do that kind of thing.
"The day the baby was born Ralph came to the hospital and took a swab on the QT. Then he took a sample from me and, hey, presto! Two days later I knew that the baby wasn't mine.
"Sarah wouldn't have it though. Ah, shit, the next month or so was fucking murder. Sarah demanded to know where I got the DNA test done, but I never told her. She demanded another test and that came up with the same result as the first.
"Ralph tried to talk her into telling me the truth but she wouldn't have it, so in the end I upped sticks and came down here.
"The old CSA folks came after me and a court ordered me to have yet another DNA test, but that must have come up with the same result. And, well ... I've really heard virtually fuck all since. Until you walked in here this evening."
John Caldwell looked at his oppo. "Get the drinks in, Paul. You want a scotch, Maurice? I think you are going to need one."
"No, thanks, I'm a rum man."
"Sorry, most of you nautical types are." Then he turned back to his friend. "Make it a rum for Maurice, a big one!"
John Caldwell put his elbows on the table and clasped his hands together in front of his face, rubbing them together slowly. I got the feeling that he had something to tell me but he was waiting for the drinks to arrive first.
"Mo, can I ask you some questions?" he eventually asked, when the drinks arrived.
On second thoughts he might have been waiting until his friend arrived back at the table as a witness.
"When you and Ralph Bilger first met Sarah, did he ask her to go out with him?"
"I'm sure he did, but I gather she always turned him down."
"Did she like him?"
"Well, I think so. Ralph was one good looking fella, and he had the gift of the gab."
"Do you know why Sarah never went out with him?"