Chapter 1: The First Day
Inspector Wineforth tipped me the wink just before the service was about to start, so that I could slip from of my hiding place in the back of a police van and nip into the back of the church. In a way I was hoping that I could attend the service, pay my respects, and then slip away again without anyone really knowing I'd even been there. I suspected before I went in that there was little chance of me achieving that.
My sneaking around like a criminal was all down to a mater of principle really. I didn't know a hundred percent for sure, but I hadn't been able to let slide either. And no mater what I did, right from the beginning I'd understood that I was going to finish up looking a like real bastard to everyone anyway, even the kids.
Not that I hadn't already been branded a bastard anyway. Even though I had never been charged with anything, everyone had just assumed that I was a low life wife beater anyway. So when it came to the crunch my choice hadn't been a hard one to make. I'd taken what some folks would probably think the easy way out, but I can assure you that it wasn't.
Look when your wife of fifteen years is discovered in your house with her head bashed in and apparently you were the last person who'd been with her. Yeah well, what other conclusions are folks going to come to
On top of that, there were allegations by certain unspecified parties, of wife beating. Unfounded of course, but was just my word and once those rumours start, there's no stopping the buggers.
There were many other things that weren't made public, mainly because there was no real proof; just suspicion on my, and certain police officers part. But they kinda left me in a limbo somewhere between a rock and a hard place.
Consequently, after a lot of careful thought, I'd eventually decided to cut my losses, bite the bullet, go for a divorce and then try to get on with my life.
I can remember that my legal representative had looked at me, with an expression of pity on her face that day.
"I think under the circumstances Mike that might possibly be your best move. You're the big looser here and whatever you do, it can't restore your reputation ... Unless of course..."
"No Hilary, I just can't do that. My reputation is shot anyway; what's the point in bringing it all out into the open. There's no real proof anyway. If there was, the police might have been able to at least infer a motive and arrest the bugger. Let's get the legal side of things tidied up and then I'll slip away and then disappear. She's going to need the kid's and if I start making accusations. Bugger, they won't know which way to turn."
"Mike why would you want to dis- No Mike! I hope you are not thinking of doing anything silly?"
"Hilary, are we protected by rules about client confidentiality here?"
"Yes Mike. But if you're planning on doing something extremely stupid, I'd prefer not to know about it. I would advise you not to take the law into your own hands though."
"Someone done me wrong, Hillary. Twice ... no, three times at least. I can't show my face on the street in this town anymore without some bugger pointing at me even if the police had been able to do anything. Eventually that would have deserved some payback from me, when the time was right!"
"You could always go public."
"I could, but haven't the children suffered enough as it is?"
"Yes, but for all the wrong reasons, as far as you're concerned."
"Hilary their world has been torn apart. They had to choose sides, and under the circumstances they chose what they thought was the obvious one. I was suspect number one in everyone's eyes wasn't I?"
"But nothing, Hilary. Just organise the divorce as quickly as you can!"
"On what grounds, Mike?"
"How the hell should I know, you're the ruddy legal buff; Denial of conjugal rights or something?"
"That isn't funny, Mike!"
"It wasn't supposed to be Hilary. You could say it's a statement of fact. Just find someway of extracting me from my marriage. I intend to go somewhere and start again, build myself a new life, if it isn't too late."
"So you won't, be looking for revenge on... ?"
"I never said that, Hilary. That bugger owes me the life I've lost, remember? I've a mind to make sure that he pays dearly for it, one day."
Hilary had harped on about me letting sleeping dogs lie, for the rest of our short conference. But eventually she'd agreed to do as I wished concerning the divorce. Even if she did explain that under the circumstances, it was going to take a while. And, that it was going to make me an even bigger villain in the eyes of the world. But there comes a time, when enough shit has been thrown at you ... well you just don't notice it anymore.
I followed Inspector Wineforth through the great oak door and then one of his men did his (unsuccessful) best to close it quietly. The bloody great loud clunk, the centuries old catch made, echoed around the stone building and more than a few faces turned to see whom the latecomers were.
Almost immediately a murmur ran through the congregation and even more faces turned to glower back at me.
But then, much to my -- and the three policemen with me -- relief, the minister on seeing we that were finally present, began the service. Inspector Wineforth indicated that I should take a seat in a row near the back, already occupied by several other men. Then he and his colleagues sat beside me.
I did my best to ignore the ugly expressions on the faces that glanced my way during the brief service, and I did kinda wonder how things were going to pan out, out at the graveside. I'd almost resigned myself to missing out on that part of the proceedings, until my eldest daughter stood up to read her eulogy to her mother. During which she mentioned the good times she and her siblings could remember, when her father and mother were together. Siena made no mention of the troubles within the family.
When the minister had made no mention of my wife's mother in his little speech about her life I kinda assumed that the old Witch must have passed on sometime during the intervening years.
Mind you, the minister had made no mention of her ex-husband either, and I was alive and kicking, and sitting in the rear of the bloody church. So at the time there had been a chance that that assumption was incorrect. I'll admit that I knew very little of what had been going on since I'd left. I had just sent the cheques whenever Hilary's people told me that cash was required.
I couldn't see them from where I was sitting, so I didn't notice it until the service was over and the pallbearers were carrying her coffin along the naïve. I wasn't sure why at the time but something didn't strike me as being right about the way the cortège formed up behind it. My three children were in the lead of course, but their grandfather was walking several paces behind them. I honestly can't explain why but -- considering the circumstances -- I got the impression that there was an unnatural emotional distance between the children and their grandfather.
Then, a little surprisingly, after the coffin had been carried past the pew I was standing in, followed by the minister, Siena (the lead mourner) stopped and indicated that I should join the cortège with her; but without, even a briefest smile of recognition or greeting.
I declined with a hand signal, and then for a few moments, everything came to a standstill as Siena attempted to insist that I joined her. Then her brother, Graham, quietly whispered something to her and she led the cortège on again.
"That might have been a flag of truce, Mike." Dick Wineforth whispered in my ear.
"I doubt it Dick. Maybe Siena was planning on getting me down the front, so that she could push me in grave first, and then lower the coffin in on top of me."
"They're your children Mike!"
"They were my children Dick, a very long time ago. You know that I gave up on that fight many years ago."
"Then why are you here today?"
"Closure, Dick. I needed closure."
"Wasn't one death enough for you Mike?"
"I don't know what you mean Dick?"
"Mike, I can't prove it, and I doubt I ever will be able too. But I'm damned sure I know who was responsible for William Garnet's demise.
"He was a bastard of a solicitor; a real pain in our sides most of the time. And he sure enough knew, that we knew, all right! He even revelled in the fact that we could prove nothing against him. He was due some retribution and we're all sure we know who dealt it out. We just can't prove that, either!"
"Dick, don't I remember you saying that you were sure that I was responsible for another violent crime once before?"
"Come on Mike, I've apologised enough times about that in the past. And, you know that if you'd allowed us to go public..."
"It was too late Dick, the mud had already stuck. Why make too villains when there only has to be one."
"The wrong one though Mike, that's cost you a hell of a lot. Someone could well have remembered seeing something in the past that might have suggested that they were..."
Dick suddenly stopped whispering then as he noticed that the rear of the cortège was passing our pew. It was at that instant that I realised what Dick Wineforth had just done, he'd taken my attention away the line of glowering faces as they trooped passed. He'd become a good friend even though he'd once tried to hang me.
As we walked out to the graveside, the group of men from our pew stayed close around us.
"Are all these your men Dick; did you think I'd need a bodyguard this size?"
"Hey no Mike, they aren't here as your bodyguard. They are all officers who worked on the case. Some of them are even retired now. I told you, it was a case none of us would forget in a hurry."
"Why? Because you couldn't solve it?"
"Mike you know we solved it. We just couldn't come up with enough hard evidence to make it stand up in court. And what's more, until his death, the bastard kept rubbing our noses in it. Considering who he was and how many villains he got off on technicalities, quite a few of my colleagues had a personal bone or two to pick with the bugger. So for a very long time we all kept at it, hoping somehow something would turn up."
I looked around and counted sixteen police officers in the group I was standing with, and couple more standing off to one side a little. I hadn't realised that so much of the police's resources had been assigned to the case. Yeah, there had been plenty of uniforms kicking around at the time and asking questions, but eighteen detectives took me by surprise. For a murder maybe, yeah, I could understand that.
The internment didn't take very long and the minister said a few words as her coffin was lowered into the ground. The three children stepped up to the graveside together and each threw flowers and scattered a handful of soil onto the top of the coffin. Then they melted into the crowd leaving their grandfather alone to step forward and pay his respects.
The formalities over the mourners began to drift away, firstly in twos and threes and then as a great horde; most of them throwing vindictive glares in my direction as they went by where we were standing.
All of the police officers stayed very close to me at this time. I really think that they half expected some bugger would try to throw a punch or something my way.
Eventually when the graveside was devoid of other mourners, I began moving towards it. Stopping by the row of wreaths and bouquets, to remove one red rose from a bunch that I knew contained fifteen. At the graveside I dropped the single rose, along with a handful of soil on top of the coffin, with the words.
"I'll never know for sure exactly what you did girl, or how far you went; but you certainly didn't deserve what you got!"
"How do you know that she did anything?" a voice said from behind me.
I spun around in surprise and discovered that Siena had appeared from somewhere.
"I went around behind that mausoleum and waited until they'd all gone." She informed me.
"Why?" I asked.
"Because I wanted to know why you were coming here today. Oh, I realised that those roses could only have come from you this morning, when they arrived at house. Who else would send red roses to a funeral, and fifteen of them as well? They represented fifteen years of happy marriage didn't they?"
"They did, Siena."
"I thought so. But then, when I thought about you sending them, it didn't really make any sense. Neither does you turning up here with Mr Wineforth and all those other police officers."
"They made it clear to everyone at the time Siena, that I was no longer under suspicion. I do believe that Dick Wineforth told everyone that I had been eliminated from his enquires on television when they released me. We've stayed in touch and become quite close friends over the years."
"I'm sorry dad, but the newspapers and everyone..."
"You should never take as gospel what you read in the newspapers, Siena. And by now I hope you know better than put any faith in rumours. The media have little interest in the truth, only in selling malicious scandal to all and sundry. When they arrested me, the police were only doing their job. It really didn't take them all that long to assure themselves that I could not have been the culprit. However by the time they did ... eliminate me from their enquiries, the media had me convicted in three inch headlines."
"It wasn't really that bad dad."
"Wasn't it? You know that Jenny Morris and her husband ended up getting divorced don't you?"
"Oh god, Jenny was so nice to us when we were little."
"Yes well, it was inferred by the media that I'd been having a long standing affair with a work colleague. Then they subtly mentioned that Jenny and I had been working together for many years and that we often travelled away together on a regular basis. That was our job, Jenny is every bit as good a geologist as I am, probably better in some respects. But put those two points in the same article when you are trying to invent a motive for me wishing to harm your mother, and the less sceptical, or more cynical, reader will come to their own conclusions.
"I'll add that the newspapers weren't inclined to print any retractions either; other than a brief outline of the press release and public statement Dick Wineforth had made. It's called trial by media Siena, but there's no judge to see fair play!"
"Mike, we're going to have to make a move." Dick Wineforth called. "Do you want me to leave a car to run you back to your hotel?"
"I'll be right with you Dick. Just give me a moment, will you?" I called back.
Dick nodded in reply.
"I've got to go, Siena. You'd better get to the house anyway, they'll be wondering where you've got to." I said, then, I turned away from her to follow after Wineforth.
"Dad where are you staying, can I come and talk to you?" Siena called after me.
I really couldn't see much point in meeting with her; there was nothing left for us to talk about. Or, that I really wanted to talk about anyway.
But she was my oldest child, or she had been once, and Dick had said he thought she might have raised a flag of truce. So I told her what hotel I'd checked into that morning, and that I'd be there until about eleven the following day.
Then I strode off after Dick Wineforth who was putting a hell of a pace. Mind, he was still on duty and from what he'd told me, he had a heavy caseload.
"There's a young lady asking for you in the lobby sir. Will you come down, or should I direct her up to your room?"
By some weird device, maybe the receptionist's tone of voice, or it could have been the hotels reputation, I kinda worked it out that the management didn't approve of young ladies visiting older male guests in their rooms.
"Have you got somewhere private down there, where we can hold a conference?" I asked.
"The library is closed at this time of the evening sir. If you wish, I can make it available to you."
There's a house phone; you can order from room service or from the bar. Or I can order anything you wish from here."
"Very well; ask the young lady to wait in the library for me and see if she wants anything. I'll have coffee, black please?"
I hung up the telephone and then went into my bathroom to wash my face in cold water and rinse my mouth out. I'm afraid I'd polished off a good quarter to half a bottle of scotch earlier and the alcohol had knocked me out for a couple of hours.
"You don't look too good fella!" I found myself saying to the wizened face in the mirror.
Well I'd been travelling the world for a few years by then working for the big multi-national mining companies. It appeared that once I got on the ground, so to speak, I had a nose for finding the right mineral deposits. Hey, the worlds pretty well mapped in that respect nowadays. But some idiot has to traipse around on the ground, and decide, or rather suggest, which ones are worth spending millions on developing. Kinda put the years on you, does all that travelling.
It must have been about fifteen minutes later -- possibly more, a shave had been called for and I thoroughly cleaned my teeth in a vain hope that it would cover the smell of the alcohol -- before I entered the hotel library. Siena was perched on the edge of one of the big wing back chairs sipping a cup of coffee.
Replacing her cup in its saucer and then putting them both on a tray on a nearby table, she stood to greet me.
"Hello Siena. Now, you asked for this meeting; what can I do for you?"
Siena's shoulders slumped a little -- apparently in disappointment -- at the way I'd spoken. I'll admit that I was on my guard and I was refusing to contemplate that even one of my children might possibly be looking for a reconciliation.
"I was hoping you were going to explain why?" she said quietly.
"You'll have to be a shade more precise Siena. Why is a question that man has been asking for thousands of years." I replied, as I went over and poured myself a coffee.
After adding sugar, I seated myself in the chair opposite the one my eldest had been sitting in when I'd entered the room. What I really did want to do was take Siena in my arms and cuddle her close as I'd done so many times when she'd been a young child. But many years previous and over a very short period of time, all the affection we'd once shared had been washed away.
"Why everything father? What happened that day, and why did you come here to the funeral today. Even more importantly; why with Mr Wineforth and all the other policemen?"
"Oh that's last ones easy to answer Siena. Dick Wineforth and I kept in touch for many years until ... Well, until there was little point in Dick and his buddies pursuing their investigation any longer. Dick got in touch with me again the moment he heard about your mother's ... Well you know, it was a case that always bugged him, so he kept tabs on what was happening with your mother."
The expression of Siena's face was one of complete confusion.
"So he's closing the case, now mother is dead?"
"Oh no, they all but, closed the book on that one sometime ago, Siena."
The confusion drained from her face, to be replaced by and expression of anger.
"He told us, he'd never close the case until the perpetrator had been caught and punished."
"No Siena, I somehow doubt Dick Wineforth used those exact words. Most likely he told you that the case would remain open whilst there was a chance that new evidence might lead to a conviction!"
"Isn't that the same thing?"
"No Siena, in this country you cannot convict a dead man of anything, even attempted murder. Once the perpetrator was dead, then there was little point in Dick and his boys wasting anymore of their precious time."
"But what? You still thought that I beat your mother to within an inch of her life? No, Siena I never laid a hand on your mother. I loved her; nothing in the world could have made me become violent with her, even..."
Siena was staring back at me, her mouth open and with eyes almost as large as the saucer she was holding in her hand again.
"Even what father? What did mother do? You said something at the graveside that suggested you thought she'd done something. Please tell me what?"
"Siena, that all happened a very long time ago. Your mother is no longer with us; I think it should all remain buried in the past."
"No father. The three of us have gone through the last six years believing that you were responsible for what happened to mother that day. One of us sat by her bedside almost every day, day after day, month after month whist she was in that coma for two years."
"I would have been there, but it was made very clear that I was not welcome."
"That bloody TV crew!"
"You and you're brother's words Siena. I was in a police cell and both of you were accusing me of trying to kill your mother."
"That clip was cut, and shown out of context father! Even granddad had to call the TV Company about that, and he was convinced that you were responsible for mother injuries right from the beginning. But by then it was being quoted in the newspapers. Everything was so mixed up and hurried. The words just never came out right!"
Siena looked at me with pleading eyes.
"Dad, what we were trying to say, was that we couldn't believe that you would try to kill our mother. We were all too young, they shouldn't have come at us like that outside the hospital when we were as upset as we were!"
"Whatever, you came to believe that I was responsible for your mother's injuries, eventually."
"Yes well, the evidence..."
"What, the evidence that Dick Wineforth thought proved that I hadn't attacked your mother? The evidence that proved I'd left the house before she was attacked and hadn't had time to return? Or the innuendo printed in the newspapers about me being a wife beater?"
"We didn't know what to believe."
"But you did know that within the week Inspector Wineforth had eliminated me from his enquiries."
"Concerning the attack yes but..."
"Siena, did you ever see me raise a hand to your mother? Did I ever show any form of violence to you children?"
"Siena, I have no idea who brought the social services into the ball game..."
"Ah, I might have guessed it. Your mother's parents never did like me. They of course took her side."
"Her side? Dad was there something going on that we children didn't know about?"
Shit! I'd said too much again. I scrabbled around in my brain trying to find a way out of the hole I'd dug myself into.
"Nothing that should ever concern you children, Siena." I found myself saying hoping that it might be enough.
"No Dad. You weren't talking about after the attack, were you? Something was amiss before that day. That's why we children had been farmed off to gran's for two weeks ... you and mother had something you needed to sort out between you, without us being around."
I didn't answer; it was something that I'd tried to keep from the children at all costs. Mainly because all I really had were suspicions and their mother had been in no condition to confirm or deny anything. My silence must have confused Siena, and she jumped to an incorrect conclusion.
"Oh, dad. You weren't really having an affair with Jenny... ?
"No I was not! And not with anyone else either!" I blustered in return.
"Sorry." Siena said sheepishly, a little surprised I believe by the obvious anger in my voice.
"But if you weren't..." her voice faded in shocked silence.
"Lets just leave it right there, Siena. I should have known that this meeting was a mistake."
"No dad, I can't. For years I believed ... Oh my god even mother believed that you tried to kill her. You were the villain of the piece, responsible for all of our troubles, but none of us understood why. Look how quickly I assumed that if there had been trouble between mother and you then it was you who'd ... But now I see it. It explains why you divorced mother, even though she was in a coma. You couldn't stand to see her, knowing that she had betrayed you."
"Not exactly Siena. I had your grandfather and social services on my back. I lost custody of you children almost immediately."
"Your mother's parents."
"We didn't know. They told us that you had abandoned us, so they had to apply for custody."
"Yeah well, it all happened very quickly. The family courts are a closed shop and there's sweet F.A. anyone can do about changing their decisions. And from what the doctors told me, your mother needed to hear your voices all the time. So I stepped completely away and left the visiting to you kids.
"But surely your voice was just as important to mother when she was in that coma?"
"Dr Merrydew dealt with that problem Siena; whilst your mother was unconscious at least. He arranged for recordings of me talking to your mother to be played to her during the night and when no one else was there at her bedside."
"Oh my god. That explains mother's dreams!"
"Yes, it took her a long time to regain her memory; she never did get all of it back. It was so heartbreaking when you think that once she'd been a top-notch solicitor. But eventually she remembered quite a lot, and she would tell us that she'd dreamt about when you two were courting, and when we children were young. But she said that sometimes when she dreamt, it was as if you were reminding her about all the things you'd done together."
"That's what the good doctor ordered, Siena." I commented.
"And the places that you never went together, but you always talked about taking her one-day. You told about those places when you were there yourself, didn't you?"
"Yes, you could say that I indulged my own dreams a little."
"You must have described them well. Mother said she couldn't understand how she seemed to know Niagara so well, when we went there the other year."
"Before we were married, we'd talked about a honeymooning there. Couldn't afford it at the time though. So we had always planned on taking a second honeymoon there one day. In the end I went on my own. I must have looked a real twerp walking around talking into the tape recorder. I can remember; I got some of those "mad Englishman" looks off of the Yanks. You get used to those looks after a while."
"You really did love mum, didn't you dad?"
"Yeah you could say that Siena. I tried to put it all behind me, and start over, but I just couldn't pull it off. Firstly because I had to keep sending those tapes until your mother came out of that coma and after that ... Well I just couldn't settle anywhere. You know I kept on making those travel tapes though and there's a company now who've transcribed the buggers and they've been published in a couple of countries. Keeps me just about solvent."
"Dad please tell me, what did happen that day?"
"I really don't think that it would serve much good purpose now, Siena."
"Dad, we've lost mother now. Can't you see that we are going to need our father back?"
"Do you honestly think that your siblings are going to feel the same way, Siena?"
"I'm the eldest dad. It was my responsibility to discover the truth at the beginning. I now believe that I failed in my duty to them, and I need to put that right."
"The truth can be dangerous sometimes Siena. It can destroy the world, as you know it. Believe me, that's one thing I do know for sure."
"But you said you didn't know at the graveside."
"No, I said that I didn't know how far it had gone. Only two people know that, and they are now both dead now. But it went far enough for ... No I made up my mind a long time ago not to bring you children into this. Even if she is dead, I still can't bring my self to do that!" I said rising to my feet and heading for the door.
"This meeting was a bad idea Siena. I shouldn't have agreed to meet you this evening. Good-bye girl."
I stood up and headed for the door a quickly as my legs could carry me.
"But dad..." Were the last words I heard as I closed the library door.
Life goes on
You can stop reading here, or if you wish this tale will continue in "Man In A Suitcase (another day)"