It was a fine July morning when I skipped down the steps into the quad. The manicured grass stood out green against the stone buildings and surrounding gravel paths. As a member of the staff, I was privileged to walk upon that hallowed turf. The sun was already warm and a blackbird sang his heart out as I breathed in the fresh morning air.
Most of the pupils had gone home for the summer and I had just locked up my lab. I had eight weeks to spend in this idyllic part of rural England. Still it felt to me as if I had simply exchanged one prison for another. True, I could come and go as I pleased. People, especially the parents, treated me with respect and I could even carry on an affair with Wendy, the school Matron.
However, I'd never be able to go back to my home town, and I couldn't marry Wendy. I was going to grow into a lonely old man with no more to look forward to than that blackbird. Strange, it didn't seem to bother him the way it bothered me. I was still feeling sorry for myself when a voice came from behind me.
"Well, if you've got to hide, I can think of worse places to do it."
I turned to see a young man leaning against the wall beside the arch I had just walked under. He smiled as he spoke. He looked quite pleased with himself. I'd soon put a stop to that.
"Are you talking to me? I'm not hiding from anyone."
"Come off it, Dad. To just disappear as effectively as you did, and for it to take more than two years to find you, you had to be hiding."
"I haven't a clue what you are talking about. Now unless you are a parent or an employee here, you are trespassing. I suggest you leave and don't come back."
I took up my privilege to walk across the grass and made for the arch in the opposite wall. As I walked away I heard him calling after me.
"I'm not going until you talk to me, Dad. We have things to discuss."
"Leave me alone. I have no children. Just go away." I strode quickly through the cloisters towards my flat. I could hear him behind me, his footsteps ringing out on the flagstones. I pulled out my key and let myself in closing the door behind me. He hammered on the door several times before shouting through the letterbox.
"You'll have to come out sometime. I'm not going anywhere. I just want to talk to you."
I was trembling as I started to make myself some coffee. It had been five years or more since I'd felt this way. I sat down at my kitchen table and tried to regain my self-control. I heard voices outside and then a key in the door. I turned and was relieved to see Wendy Turnbull come in closing the door behind her. I breathed a sigh of relief. She had a puzzled look on her face as she spoke.
"Derek, there is a young man sitting outside your door. He claims to be your son. Is there something you haven't told me?"
"He's not my son. He is mistaken. I have no children. I told you that."
"Yes, Derek. I know you did and I believe you, but why does that young man believe he is your son? Why are you so shaken by his presence?"
I looked into Wendy's beautiful blue eyes. She was the one ray of light in a dark five years. She was the matron at Clifton Manor College and looked after the physical and emotional well-being of the boys. Many is the homesick 11-year old who has found himself sobbing into her ample bosom as he cried for his mummy.
The older boys would give their right arms for a similar cuddle. Even in her nurses uniform she looked lovely to me. Over the last two years we had struck up a relationship and had got to the stage where we each had a key for the other's flat. In fact, the only thing stopping us from sharing a flat was the talk amongst the boys and the effect it might have on the school if the parents found out.
I sat down with my head in my hands. "I'm sorry, Wendy. There are things about me you don't know and that young man is a reminder of a time I'd rather forget. Nevertheless, he is not my son. He may think he is, but he is wrong."
"So tell me, Derek, why would he think he is your son?"
"Because I'm married to his mother."
Wendy sat down, a shocked look on her face. "Well, that certainly explains a few things."
"You mean like why I haven't asked you to marry me? Yes, that's the reason I can't marry you or anyone else because I'm still married to her."
"So divorce her. I can wait."
"I can't divorce her without revealing my whereabouts, though that might be academic now."
"Now I'm really worried, Derek. Have you done something bad? Is that why you don't want to be found?"
"I've done nothing that I haven't paid for but if they find me now, they will put me back in prison."
Wendy reached out and took my hands down from my face holding them in her hands.
"Okay, Derek Callahan, first you are going to tell me the whole story. Then we are going to get that young man in here and find out what he wants."
It all started a little over five years ago, or at least that's when I realised what was happening. Dirty Harry, they used to call me. I thought it was just because I shared a surname with the lead character in the movie. I soon found out there was another reason. Just like Harry, I always seemed to get all the shit jobs. It wasn't always so.
I had worked at Braunceston College for ten years and always did my fair share of evening and weekend classes but no more than anyone else. However, shortly after John Preston was appointed vice-principal, things began to change. At first I thought my job was under threat because I went from always exceeding my teaching hours to having to offer myself to other departments just to get close to my minimum.
The thing about being below minimum hours was you couldn't refuse any course you were offered. I soon found myself working to 9 pm four nights a week, not to mention the weekend courses I had to do. My wife, Jessica, was faculty secretary and when John Preston was promoted, he took her with him so she worked normal office hours.
We were becoming like ships that pass in the night. My sex life was in the toilet. I got home at 9:30 pm and needed at least an hour to wind down before going to bed. Jessica turned in at ten and would almost always be asleep when I went to bed. I told Jess I would quit the college rather than continue to destroy our marriage but she urged me to be patient and things would work out.
Halfway through my second year of such treatment, I finally reached the end of my tether. My subject area was electronics but I had to deliver mathematics and physics because, I was told, no demand existed for electronics. I was somewhat surprised when a colleague who ran the general engineering course approached me.
"Derek, I've got a little problem. I've got to deliver an electronics unit and I haven't got a clue about the subject. I'm a mechanical man. Give me friction, drag factors and equilibrium and I'm the man but this stuff, you can't see it and can't feel it. How do I teach that? I've got a few books on the subject but I need some advice on how to deliver it and what practical work to give them."
"Hang on, John. Are you under hours or something?"
"Good god, no. I'm into overtime for this."
"That doesn't make sense. I'm under hours and I'm available. I'll do it for you."
George Johnson, my head of department, looked up with a surprised look on his face as I strode into his office.
"Good morning, George. I've come to save you some money"
"I'm always up for that, Derek. What do we have to do?"
"John wants someone to deliver the electronics unit in his course. He is over hours. You'll have to pay him overtime. If I do it, you don't have to pay overtime and I'll be up to minimum hours and won't have to keep accepting weekend work."
"Sorry Harry, oops Derek, no can do."
"But why not? It doesn't make sense and the students will do better if I teach them. John admits he doesn't have a clue."
"I'm sorry, Derek, but just like you I have to do as I'm told."
"You mean that somebody has instructed you to keep me under hours?"
"I can't say any more, Derek."
Full of anger I stormed into the head of faculty's office. I put the same deal to him and got the same sort of response. It seemed I had enemies in high places. I moved up the chain of command. Sooner or later I must get to someone who couldn't pass the buck upwards. Jessica was somewhat surprised when I strode through the office and arrived at her boss' door.
"You can't just go in, Derek. You have no appointment. He's busy."
I walked in and found John Preston, our vice-principal, sat at his desk talking into the telephone. He motioned me to sit down. I sat fuming while he finished his call. Eventually he put down the phone, shuffled a few papers, then turned to me and smiled.
"Now, Derek, what's got you so hot under the collar that you burst in here interrupting my phone call?"
"I'm trying to find out who is deliberately keeping me below minimum hours even when it costs the college money to do so. So far everything points to you unless you are going to tell me that you are only following orders so that I have to go and talk to the principal?"
"I've no idea what you are talking about, Derek. Why don't you explain it to me?"
John Preston was a tall, slim man with grey hair and piercing blue eyes. I looked into those eyes as I told him the story hoping something would tell me that I'd got the right man. Not a flicker showed as he told me he was most concerned that the college was spending money it didn't have. When I'd finished, he got up walked around and opened the door. He looked straight at me.
.... There is more of this story ...