Taking the Long Shot
The bar was fairly quiet; it normally was at that time of day, just after opening time. I'd cashed my social cheque first thing that morning and I could afford a decent beer for a change, instead of the canned crap I was normally forced to drink.
Yeah, I was a drunk. Not an alkie quite yet, but probably not too far off it at the time. Folks were always telling me that the booze would kill me in the end. Not that I cared much, I didn't really have much reason to go on.
Why ... well, why do you think? Because of a woman and the way the police have victimised me since she'd been gone. If anyone wanted to buy me another decent pint I might be persuaded to tell them the story.
I suppose I'd better go back to the beginning. I'll try to keep the story as brief as possible. If I went on too long I'd be liable to get melancholy on folks and be unable to finish; the drink did tend to do that to me.
Cassandra was a quiet girl when I met her, kind-a shy; you wouldn't think she'd say boo to a goose. We met when she got a job in the office at one of the companies that I was subbing for. I had my own security business back then, installing fire and burglar alarms in homes, schools, offices and the like. Just about anywhere that needed a good security system really. The guys that I employed were good at their jobs and the gear we used was of the highest quality and state of the art. My little company had the reputation as being one of the best and was growing fast.
Cassandra had been employed as a bookkeeper or clerk or something by one of the electrical contractors that I regularly did sub-contract work for. They wired the mains and my company looked after the security installations, and latterly computer network wiring.
Anyway Cassandra caught my attention the first time that I clapped eyes on her. She did no more than glance up at me and an embarrassed smile briefly appeared on her face, before she quickly returned her attention to her computer screen.
You know, there was something about that little smile that I can't explain; but I knew that same instant that Cassandra was the one my mother had told me I'd find one day. The woman I was destined to spend the rest of my life with.
Yeah well, from that day forth I set about courting Cassandra. The odd visit I paid to that particular contractor's office became three or four visits a week. It took some time and a lot of persuasion but eventually Cassandra deigned to let me take her to lunch.
As I've already said, Cassandra was very reserved and appeared extremely shy. One would never say she dressed provocatively either, but no amount of dowdy clothing could ever hide that figure of hers.
After a couple of quiet lunches together, Cassandra seemed to relax a little when we were together. She even cracked the odd joke about me being a wolf in sheep's clothing; I never did understand what she was getting at there. Anyway from lunches we progressed to dinner dates and finally the theatre, cinema and going out dancing.
It was a bit unusual for me to date a woman for nearly two months before I got a first kiss out of her, but it was worth the wait. I was in no hurry, remember; I figured we'd have the rest of our lives for that kind of thing.
However after that first kiss, Cassandra loosened up surprisingly quickly and three months into the relationship we'd began to stopover at each other's flats for the night, a couple of times a week.
Cassandra's flat took me somewhat by surprise. It was almost brand new and exceptionally large. When I questioned how much it must have cost she mumbled something about a legacy. I enquired no further because I was already aware that her parents were both deceased. Killed in a road accident or something a few years previous and I was also aware that Cassandra preferred not to talk about them or their deaths.
The relationship progressed very quickly and within the year we were discussing getting married and how many children we both wanted. My business was growing very fast and as the wedding drew closer Cassandra quit her job and joined the staff of my company, where she was apparently a great hit with everyone.
I'd known Cassandra less than two years the day we walked down the aisle together. During those two years I'd seen a surprising amount of changes in her. Her shyness had disappeared almost completely and she'd adopted a much more modern style of dress. Nothing that could be considered over the top, but definitely more fashionable.
"Can't have everyone thinking I'm an old maid when I'm marrying a handsome and dynamic young business man," she'd replied with a smile, when I commented on how much her dress had changed, one evening as we were going out to dinner with an important client a few weeks before the wedding.
The wedding itself went off fine. It was a pretty small affair as far as relatives were concerned, because neither Cassandra nor myself had much in the way of relations still alive. Cassandra was given away by her uncle, who was — as far as I know, along with his wife — Cassandra's aunt - the only remaining members of her family.
My mother — and my only living blood relative, my father having passed away from influenza when I was very young - and my stepfather flew in from the antipodes where they'd been living for many years.
That was the first time I'd met Cassandra's uncle and aunt and I have to say that — with hindsight - I'm of the opinion that they didn't like me very much from the moment they met me. An opinion, that was reinforced by their actions over the following few years.
Of course we had all of our friends, most of our — the company was in the process of being converted into a partnership — employees, and representatives from quite a few of our clients there. On the whole I thought everything went off very well.
Cassandra and I spent our first night as a married couple in the honeymoon suite of the same hotel we'd hired for the reception. The following day we set off on a tour of the country. We'd talked about going abroad, but for some reason decided to visit some parts of the UK that Cassandra hadn't been to before. Cassandra seemed to have a fascination with ruined castles and all things medieval. It was whilst discussing our honeymoon that I discovered that Cassandra had studied history at university.
Yeah, all right, it did mean that I/we could phone into the office everyday and check that disaster hadn't struck. Not that we didn't trust the people we'd left in charge.
Anyway for the next eighteen days we travelled around middle England and most of Wales visiting said castles and a few civil war battlefields, etc. I learnt a lot more about English history than I thought I needed to know. But Cassandra was enjoying herself; so if she was happy, then I was happy. Especially at night, when we looked out the best hotels in the locality, and spent the night in their honeymoon suite.
It was a Thursday, the nineteenth night on our honeymoon, twenty days since we'd walked down the aisle together. We'd booked into a rather plush hotel in Bristol for the night; but for some reason that escapes me, we were trying to enjoy our evening meal at a restaurant in the city centre.
As far as I knew everything was fine, Cassandra had been joking about not going back home as planned that weekend, and maybe us running off to Scotland and spending some time seeing the sights up there. Of course we both knew that we needed to get back to the office the following week, but it was fun pretending that we didn't have to.
About the only thing that spoilt the evening was a large party of people, maybe twenty or thirty who were eating at the other end of the restaurant. They were foreign, rather loud and appeared to be celebrating something. Later in the evening they took it in turn to stand up and give a little speech in their own language or possibly propose a toast to some unknown person. Anyway, we tried to ignore them as much as we possibly could.
Cassandra and I finished our meal and were enjoying a couple of — what are often referred to as - liqueur coffees, mine being rum and Cassie's Tia Maria, which is a rum based drink anyway so you could say that even our tastes were compatible.
But suddenly I noticed that Cassandra was sitting there staring into space; and that her face had almost completely drained of colour.
"Are you all right, sweetheart?" I asked, concerned about her because she was seeming to sway in her seat a little. I honestly thought that she was about to faint on me.
"I feel that I might be sick," Cassandra said as she rose from her seat and headed - very quickly - towards the ladies room, that wasn't very far from where we were seated.
I went to go with her, but she insisted that I remained at the table, telling me that she'd be back in a few minutes.
So at the table I sat.
Ten minutes later Cassandra hadn't returned and I began to get worried.
After fifteen minutes - and voicing my concerns to our waiter - I threw caution to the wind and entered the vestibule that led to both ladies and gents conveniences.
Getting no reply when I called Cassandra's name at the door to the ladies room, I charged inside followed by a waitress who been obviously been sent to investigate with me.
The ladies conveniences were empty; there was no sign that Cassandra had ever been in the place.
Further panicked investigation informed us that the fire escape that led outside from the vestibule had been opened recently and the catch hadn't reengaged properly.
A quick search of the back alleyway the emergency exit led into showed no sign of Cassandra. I was in panic mode by then, because I could think of no reason - other than to get a breath of fresh air - for her to go out into the alley. And if that was the case, then she should have been right outside the door.
The police were called, but they didn't attend until nearly three quarters of an hour had past. And to start with, they didn't appear to be very interested, suggesting that Cassandra had probably decided to walk back to our hotel on her own.
But then one of the kitchen staff - who'd been asked by the restaurant's manager to take a good look around — returned with Cassandra's handbag that he'd found in a bin at the end of the alley. But he had seen no sign of Cassandra herself.
One of the officers searched Cassandra's bag — with my permission — and found her purse inside that had contained several hundred pounds after we'd visited an ATM earlier in the evening. Cassandra's credit cards were still there in her purse, but all of the cash was missing.
The police then suggested that I return to our hotel, in case Cassandra went back there. They would have every officer locally and the towns CCTV camera operators keep an eye out for her.
As you have no doubt guessed by now, Cassandra didn't return to the hotel that evening, nor the next day. It was just as if she dropped off the face of the earth; I never saw - or heard - anything from her.
Mind you, I did see a lot of the police when they eventually deigned to accept that foul play might be involved in Cassandra's disappearance. I have no idea how many newly married women do a disappearing act in the city of Bristol, but, to start with, the police appeared to treat the investigation as fairly low key.
But after a week I was a complete head-case and the coppers seemed to pull up their socks some. Only at the time, I never realised that the more I bugged them about finding Cassandra, the more they appeared to focus on me as a suspect in her disappearance. Especially after her Aunt and Uncle — who'd I'd informed of her disappearance by telephone - turned up in Bristol.
I'm not sure how to explain the next year to you. But I will say that the police both in Bristol and my hometown seemed to have decided that I'd somehow done away with Cassandra, or was at least responsible in some way for her disappearance.
My motive, they suggested, was Cassie's three million eight hundred thousand trust fund that I'd had no previous knowledge of whatsoever until the accusation was thrown at me by a Chief Superintendent Conway during a very frightening interview. During which, it was pointed out that I was deeply in debt and that my company ran a very large overdraft. Nearly four million - it was suggested - was ample motive for just about anything.
Technically I wasn't that much in debt, if in debt at all. My company was owed far more cash from clients with in progress contracts, and the overdraft was basically working capital for those jobs. We'd been growing fast in the previous year and income hadn't quite caught up with outgoings; but the company's balance sheet itself, was pretty healthy.
I was running a personal overdraft, because I hadn't wanted to take my and Cassandra's wages out of the company until some of the clients paid up. And the credit cards ... well, who pays those buggers until the last minute.
Actually I'm not one of the credit card company's favourite type of clients; usually paying off the debt at the end of every month, before they add their interest on. Whatever, the police seemed to figure that Cassandra's almost four million was enough of a motive for me to want to dispose of her.
I'd better explain that trust fund, as best I can; I've already told you that I knew nothing of its existence until after Cassandra was gone.
Anyway, apparently, it was set up by her mother's solicitor after her stroke. Apparently Cassandra's father had been killed in some kind of accident and her mother had suffered a stroke when she heard the news. Basically Cassandra's uncle and aunt were supposed to administer the trust fund until Cassandra, either reached the age of thirty, or got married; whichever came first. Cassandra was to receive a generous allowance from the trust in the mean time.
Looking back, I suppose that might have explained her aunt and uncle's animosity towards me. Hey, folks who administer trust-funds don't do it for their health; usually there's some cash incentive for their labours. But that fact never crossed my mind at the time and it was too late to point it out to the police when my solicitor eventually spelt it out to me; what the fuck did I know about trust funds? But by then the police had me firmly in the frame.
The trust fund also explained that impressive flat of Cassandra's.
Whatever, Cassandra wasn't around to sign the relevant paperwork, so as far as I knew at the time the trust money stayed sitting in a bank somewhere. That, to my mind - and my brief's - was a pretty good motive for Cassandra's uncle to arrange for her to disappear somehow. Not that we could ever get the police to think that way.
Anyway I spent the next few months dashing up and down the M4 either pushing the police to find out what had become of my wife or being interviewed by them, because they were convinced that I held the answer to Cassandra's disappearance. You would never believe all the different scenarios they accused me of organising.
Old friends that I hadn't seen since my schooldays were interviewed as possible accomplices. Even my staff and the staff of some of my clients and suppliers were interviewed along the same lines. I was soon to become a person it was better not to know in a lot of people's eyes.
Then the bloody newspapers got in on the game. They were subtle, I give you that; but every time the police questioned me, it was reported in the papers. Of course hints of my possible motive for doing away with Cassandra were bandied about in vague detail.
Even old clients who'd suffered break-ins — no security system is completely proof against a determined burglar — were interviewed by reporters, and their tales of woe published in the newspapers. Of course the stories never mentioned that often their system had not been serviced since the day they were installed, because the client wanted to save a few bob. Or that sometimes their system hadn't even been set. But that wouldn't have painted me or my company in the light the reporters were intending to do, would it?" The newspapers let the readers' minds do the rest.
Within a couple of months, my company's order book began to suffer and most of our pending contracts were quietly cancelled. Some of my clients and the companies I subbed for, stayed with me; but then some of them found their order books suffering. In less than a year I had to call in the receivers and my company was sold by them to a competitor.
With little or no cash coming, I couldn't pay the mortgage on the house Cassandra and I bought to spend our married life together in; so the bank foreclosed and repossessed it. My personal bankruptcy followed soon afterwards and I moved down to the coast where I took up the profession of a full time drunk, supported by social services.
I was by then living in a disgusting little bed-sit halfway between the social office and the one pub I frequented when I had enough cash.
So there I was that morning enjoying the first decent pint I'd had in over a week when my nemesis walked in the door like they owned the bleeding place.
I'd just about had my fill of Chief Inspector Conway and his Sergeant sidekick, so I was ready for the buggers when and if they walked over to my table.
To be precise I was already hitting the speed dial button to call my brief, possibly the only friend that I really had left in the world, but hey the bugger was being paid by the legal aid people anyway; it was in his interest to remain my friend. Anyway he was handling my continuing complaints to the PCA of police harassment against the two monkeys, which had been upheld by the way, but I had not been awarded any financial compensation so far. It appeared that even the PCA was convinced that I had something to do with Cassandra's demise.
Oh, yeah, by then, I - like just about everyone else - was convinced that Cassandra was dead. After all it had been nearly four years; if she was alive, surely she would have been in touch with me by then. Either that or someone would have spotted her somewhere; damn it Cassandra's face had been slapped all over the TV and newspapers for months after her disappearance.
"They're here again, Mark! Get on to the powers that be, before I do something I'll regret." I was shouting down my mobile phone to my brief as the two officers arrived at my table, confusingly carrying three pints of beer.
"Dan, can we speak to you for..." Was as much as Conway got out of his mouth, before I turned on him.
"No, you fucking can't, arsehole. Come one step closer and you'll get this fucking snooker cue around your bleeding ear'ole, and damn the consequences," I shouted back at them.
To be precise it was a pool cue, but who gives a monkey; I'd had just about all I could take from those two arseholes.
They sort-a stood there in what I can only describe as a stunned silence for a few seconds as I downed the rest of my beer. My intention was to get out of the pub before I did something that would lead to me spending a long period behind bars at her Majesty's pleasure.
I'm not by nature a violent person, but if I wanted to do serious injury to anyone in this world, it was those two. And Cassandra's uncle and aunt who I was fairly convinced orchestrated the newspaper campaign against me, that led to me becoming a bankrupt.
Yeah, I'd come to the Popeye point in my life, "That's all I can stands and I can't stands no-more!" were the thoughts going around in my brain.
Having finished my beer I headed towards the door, pool cue still in hand. As fast as my legs would carry me, without actually running.
"Stay away from me, Conway, or you might not live long enough to collect your pension," I was saying as I reached for the door handle.
But Conway stopped me dead in my tracks when he called out, "Cassandra's alive and well, Dan!"