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.
"Well, Derek, thank you for bringing this to my attention. You can rest assured that I will get to the bottom of it as soon as I get back from the Association of Colleges conference."
"When will that be then, John?"
"Well, I leave tomorrow and I will be in Brighton for the next three days, so it will be Monday."
"So you'll be down in Brighton for three days. That's near Ditchling, isn't it?"
"Well, I would say that Ditchling was near Brighton but yes it is nearby. Why do you ask?"
"Oh, nothing really. It's just that my son lives in Ditchling."
Suddenly everything became clear. Jessica was taking the time off to visit our son in Ditchling, just a short car ride from the place her boss was staying for the next three days. It seemed absurd but it was certainly an explanation. He made sure I had to work unsocial hours so I wouldn't be home to question where my wife was.
"Are you alright, Derek?" Jessica asked as I walked out the office.
I obviously looked as stunned as I felt. I tried to pull myself together.
"What? Oh yeah, I'm fine, just got something on my mind."
"Is it something I can help with?"
"No, it's work related. Nothing for you to worry about."
That night I got home to find Jessica packing for her few days away. When I walked into the bedroom, she quickly closed her suitcase. Any other day I wouldn't have thought much of it but today, it had a new significance. It did puzzle me why she needed to take so many clothes for three days with our son and his wife. I did make a comment about the weight of the case as I lifted it off the bed.
Next morning I offered to drive Jessica to the station.
"Oh, there's no need for that, Derek. I can get a cab."
"Oh, I insist. Why pay for a taxi when I have the time and a car to drive you? What sort of husband would I be if I didn't make the most of every minute I can spend with my wife?"
"Well, okay then, but you won't be able to go onto the platform." She walked into the other room taking her phone with her.
We shared an uneventful trip to the station. Jessica told me how excited she was about visiting James and Emma.
"It's a great shame you couldn't get time off and come with me, Derek"
There was hardly a tremor in her voice. I had to admit she was good.
"These last two years we never seem to get time off together. Still all that will change soon."
"What makes you say that? What have you done?" I thought I detected real anxiety.
"Oh, nothing but John's promised to look into it when he gets back from Brighton. Hey, it's just occurred to me, you'll probably be travelling on the same train."
"I don't think so, Derek. Anyway he'll probably be in first class." She started to sound nervous.
At the station I carried her case to the barrier.
"I'll call you when I get home from work at night."
"No, don't, Derek. We may go out in the evening. I'll call you." She kissed me goodbye and told me she loved me.I left to go to work. It was going to be a busy few days.
I had no problem wiring the bedroom. Just a single web cam was all I needed. Drilling the small hole through to the spare room to accommodate the cable was the biggest part of the job. I used that room as my study so it was a piece of cake to connect the camera to my Linux box and schedule it to record every evening's activity. John Preston's office was a different matter. For a start I had to gain access and I didn't have a key.
As in most colleges, the cleaners come in early in the morning. So 6.30am saw me arriving for work. I made my way to the management offices as the cleaner finished work. She was about to lock the door as I called out to her.
"Don't bother to lock the door. I'm here now."
"Oh, are you Mr Preston? I'm pleased to meet you."
It really was that easy. In order to automatically install updates, it was college policy to leave computers running all night. That meant I didn't even have to find a host for the camera. I used a wireless unit and his own desktop to host it. Using a spare account from a student who had recently left, I hacked into the college servers. Soon I had a direct stream to my desktop which I could activate remotely. From then on, it was simply a matter of waiting for their return.
On Friday morning I rang my son at home. There was no answer. I called his work number.
"Hello, James Callahan."
"Hello, James. How are you?"
"Oh, hello, Dad. I'm fine. How about you?"
"I'm grand as usual, missing your mother, of course. I expected her to answer when I called the house. Come to think of it, why aren't you there? Surely you could get a few days off for your mother's visit."
He sounded embarrassed and didn't really want to talk to me. "Oh, I did take Wednesday and Thursday off but I had to come in this morning. My boss is delivering a sales pitch on Monday and I've got to make sure he has everything at his fingertips."
"Yes, I suppose you do. So where's Emma? Did she have to work as well?"
"Er, no. She's probably gone shopping in Brighton with mum."
"Ah yes, Brighton. I might have known she'd end up there."
"Look, Dad, I've really got to get this work done. Why don't you call mum on her mobile?"
"Yeah, maybe I will. Well, I'd better not stop you working, James. Look after yourself."
"You too, Dad. Bye."
So that was that. He knew and was prepared to give her an alibi. I was sad to think that I'd probably never see or talk to him again.
Wendy squeezed my hands. "So you disowned him. I suppose I can understand that, if he knew what she was doing and kept it from you. I don't think it's right but I can understand."
I was starting to get very tense and Wendy could see it. I sat there and she held me to her chest. I was certainly glad to have her with me. Looking down at those gorgeous breasts was some compensation for my world falling apart again. It took a few minutes for me to recover my composure.
"So you collected the evidence and got a divorce. They don't put you in prison for that, do they?"
"No, Wendy, they don't and if that's all I'd done, I would have been okay. I'm afraid I went further than that. You probably won't like me much when you find out."
"I think I'll be the judge of that, Derek. Now why don't you tell me the rest of the story before we call him in to see what he wants."
When Jessica came home on Sunday, I did my best to act normally. To be honest, it wasn't difficult. We hardly ever had sex because she was always too tired. During the week we hardly saw each other anyway. On Tuesday evening I checked the live stream from John Preston's office. Sure enough as soon as most people had left, Jessica joined him. They started hugging and kissing and his hands were on her arse by the time I went to teach my class.
During break I checked again just in time to see Jessica bent over his desk with no skirt or panties being fucked from behind. By the end of classes, they had gone and the office was dark. The following day, they left on time so there was nothing to check. However, my bedroom camera picked up significant action. It also raised questions. Why did Jessica never tell me she liked to be fucked while tied to the bed? God knows I would have done that for her. I would have been a lot more adventurous than John Preston. Hell, he didn't even use a blindfold.
Thursday they were at it in the office again. No wonder I didn't getting any sex. Even if she'd been awake, she would have been worn out. I'm ashamed to say, I let it go on another two weeks to see if there was a pattern. I didn't just want a divorce. I wanted to hurt them the way they had hurt me.
I was running on autopilot. The only thing that kept me going to work every day was my anger. People at work commented on how snappy I'd become. Students asked what had happened to my famous sense of humour. The lovers, of course, noticed nothing. By the end of the second week, I knew what I was going to do. I knew next Thursday evening would be an office fucking session so I put a plan into action.
No one was surprised to see Dirty Harry working at the weekend so no questions were asked when I turned up. I used a library computer and another redundant account to set up a website with the name of officeantics dot com. It had video streaming facilities and I set up links to various porn sites to make it look authentic. Then I produced the posters for the notice boards around college.
www.officeantics.com goes live 6pm on Thursday Don't miss it.
This week for limited time only this site goes LIVE
and yes we do mean LIVE. Be among the first to witness this amazing content.
As the notices were taken down, I replaced them. I'd even managed to get them up on library and church noticeboards around the town. Come Thursday I was ready. At five thirty I added the finishing touch to the website and dubbed over the top of the video display. It read "Tonight's content comes to LIVE from Braunceston College."
At 5:55 pm I checked the live stream. Preston had started unbuttoning Jessica's blouse. I went off to my lesson which was conveniently a computer class. After the first five minutes, it was clear we would get no work done. First the whispers started. Then as they got more excited, the level rose so that I could hear every word.
"It's coming from this college."
"Hey! I recognise him. He's the Vice Principal. He teaches one of my maths classes"
"Who is the old slapper he's fucking?"
"Dunno but she's got a great pair of tits on her"
"I know her. She's his secretary."
"Look, she's giving him a blowjob."
"I'm emailing my mates. They can't miss this."
Up to that point I had been somewhat ambivalent to the responses. On one hand I was happy to expose the pair of them for the liars they were. On the other he was fucking my wife. The woman I loved for more than twenty years. It was that love that made me forgive her so much in the past but not this time. My lesson had already fallen apart but then came the comment that pushed me over the top.
"Oh My God, he's fucking her arse. Prezzer, you dirty bastard"
Even when our sex life was good, Jessica had never allowed me to fuck her arse. She'd told me it was dirty and I was a pervert for wanting it. Now here she was pulling the cheeks apart so that her lover could thrust his cock into her rectum. The red mist descended. My rage was released. Without really thinking about what I was doing, I left my class and hurried to the admin block.
I couldn't believe they had been so complacent. They hadn't even locked the door. I charged into the office grabbing Preston by the hair. I wrenched him off my wife and slammed his forehead against the edge of the open door. He fell to the floor where I started kicking him. First in the balls and then as he rolled over, the kicks landed in the stomach and chest.
I was in a rage. My anger was with both of them but twenty years of love and an upbringing that said it was wrong to hit women meant that Preston got it all. I was conscious of Jessica screaming at me to stop. It was only when she threw herself on top of him that I did indeed stop. I stepped back, shocked at what I had done. As I walked backwards I came to a chair and fell down onto it. Jessica looked up at me and realised that it was safe to get up. Still half naked she ran into her outer office returned with her phone. I heard her talking.
"Ambulance," she said. "There has been an accident and I think a man is badly injured."
"Better call the police, Jess. Half the world knows it wasn't an accident. You might also consider getting dressed."
"What do you mean half the world knows? How could they?"
"Your antics tonight have been broadcast on the internet and so has my attack on Preston here. In fact, it's still going out so get dressed and call the police."
"Oh, Derek, you haven't?" One look at my face told her I had. She ran around the office picking up her clothes and putting them on.
As soon as she had covered herself, she called the police. She paced back and forth in the office before turning back to me. "How clear were the pictures, Derek? Could you see who we were?"
"Well, my class recognised him immediately. They didn't know who you were but I guess they do now."
She put her hands to her face. "Oh God, Derek! What are we going to do?"
"Well, I'm going to sit here and wait for the police. Perhaps you'd better go to the hospital with lover boy here."
"It wasn't love, Derek, just sex. Exciting sex because we were doing things we shouldn't but just sex all the same."
"It doesn't matter anymore, Jess. You wanted or needed someone else so now you don't have to sneak around. I'm going to be out of circulation for some time. You'll be free to fuck who you like."
She sat with her head in her hands crying. The paramedics arrived first and started to treat Preston. Jessica had to decide whether to go to hospital with him or not when the police arrived and I was led away in handcuffs.
It took the police a day to decide to charge me with grievous bodily harm. Within two days I was in court being formally charged. I'd opted for the duty solicitor and he tried to get me released on bail. I'd instructed him not to do so but he felt he had to do his best for me. The magistrate asked if I could post bail.
"Your honour, I have little money. My parents are both dead and I'm not in contact with my wife, nor do I wish to be. I can't see any way I can raise enough money to post bail."
He gave me a searching look. "You realise, Mr Callahan, without someone to post bail I will have to remand you in custody. Would you like more time so that you can speak to your wife?"
"No, sir. Custody is fine."
I was on remand for two months. I got frequent visits from my solicitor trying to convince me to plead not guilty due to temporary insanity. I had several requests from Jessica for a visiting order so she could come and see me. I refused. My solicitor told me, under British law a wife cannot be forced to give evidence against her husband and Jessica had refused. Of course, it had gone out over the internet so there would be plenty of other witnesses.
When you're in prison, it's surprising what you find funny. I got a letter from the college Human Resource department informing me that I was the subject of a disciplinary hearing and asking who I wanted to represent my interests. I found it amusing that even in the face of overwhelming evidence, they still had to go through their procedures. I wrote back saying I was offering no defence. The next communication from them told me I'd been fired and all about the appeals procedure.
Unable to get in to see me, Jessica also resorted to writing letters.
My Dearest Derek,
I have no idea how to apologise for what I've done to you. Please believe, I didn't do it to hurt you, nor did love have anything to do with it. I can't explain why I did what I did but I have to tell you that you are, and always have been, my one and only love.
I know you have been dismissed by the college. They are waiting for John to get out of hospital before they hold his disciplinary hearing. He has several broken ribs and had a collapsed lung. The doctors aren't sure whether he will be infertile. I've told him I'll tell the principal that he used his position to force me to have sex with him unless he withdraws all charges and refuses to give evidence. I will do it, my love. I'll do anything to get you out of that place so that I can start to make amends from what I have done to you.
No matter how long it takes, I will wait for you, my love and I hope that one day you may be able to forgive me
all my love,
I screwed it up and threw it away. A month later she wrote again.
My Dearest Derek,
I am so sorry, not just for what I've done to you but also because I've failed to persuade John to drop the charges. He didn't believe I would do what I said. He was wrong. I went with my union rep to see the principal. I told him John had pressured me into having sex with him and made sure you were always out of the way when we met.
I don't know if he believed me but it didn't matter. The union started a sexual harassment action. Both John and I were dismissed. Sad to say that has made John more determined to ensure you go to prison. I'm so sorry, my love. I tried my best. Your solicitor says you refuse to consider the only defence that might work. Please reconsider my love. You don't deserve to be in that place. You did what you did because we drove you to it.
I will always love you and will wait as long as it takes.
All my love,
I have to admit, I was surprised they'd fired Preston. I'd expected the management to close ranks around him but Jessica had given them no choice.
My trial was almost a non-event. My barrister tried to persuade me to use the temporary insanity plea but once again, I refused. I insisted I would plead guilty. I was happy for him to use extreme provocation in mitigation. My guilty plea meant the prosecution didn't have to offer any evidence other than the extent of John Preston's injuries.
They did this using photographs and medical reports. He was peeved that he wasn't asked to tell the court his side of the story. Jessica and James were there. She was crying most of the time and he was trying to comfort her. The judge listened to my barrister's pleas of mitigation before turning his attention to me.
"Mr Callahan, your counsel has made a very good case that you were acting while the balance of your mind was disturbed. I take it the option to use that as a defence has been mentioned to you."
"Yes, sir, it has."
"Do you wish to change your plea?"
"No, sir. I committed the crimes and I am willing to take my punishment."
"Very well. Derek Callahan, you have pleaded guilty to the charge that you assaulted Mr. John Preston causing him grievous bodily harm. This is a very serious offence and one for which I could hand down a sentence of up to twenty years in prison. However, your counsel has made a good case for extreme provocation in that Mr Preston was abusing his power to keep you out of the way so he could have sex with your wife.
"I find this to be the sort of provocation few men could resist. Even given this situation I would still be bound to sentence you to ten years in prison. However, at the point of your arrest you pleaded guilty to the charges, saving the tax payer significant expense and saving your victim the trauma of reliving the attack. Under the guidelines given to me I can, therefore, halve the sentence. Mr Callahan, I sentence you to spend five years in prison."
I looked at the public gallery. Preston was punching the air as if he had won some sort of victory. Jessica just gasped and buried her head in her hands as the warders took me down to the cells.
My Barrister came to my cell after the trial.
"Well, Mr Callahan, I still think I could've got you off but five years is a good result. If you keep your nose clean, you could be out in two and a half to three years."
"I suppose I should thank you for that, but to tell you the truth, I'm not sure I want to get out. What have I got to come out to? My family is destroyed. my career is in the toilet. I don't really care when I get out."
"Why didn't you tell me any of this before, Derek? It seems almost as if I don't know you at all."
"Would I have got this job if they'd known I had a criminal record? Of course not. Most people here wouldn't even talk to me if they knew. Would you have let me get close to you? Aren't you already wondering how you can dump me?"
"If that is what you think, perhaps I should dump you, as you put it. I'm having a great deal of difficulty believing the man I know, the man I fell in love with, could do such a thing. From what you said the violence was a split second reaction which, given the circumstances, I can understand. It's the cold blooded planning of your wife's total humiliation that I can't believe."
"The man you fell in love with wouldn't have done that. I am the man you know, at least I am now. Maybe the judge and the barrister were right. Maybe the balance of my mind was disturbed. I couldn't believe she would rip my heart out again but Preston was the guy I wanted. He'd made me a laughing stock. They even called me Dirty Harry because I got all the shit jobs. Some of the others must have known it was so he could keep fucking my wife. In my head I was hitting back at him and the college. Let's see them deny a live broadcast, I thought. It even went out through college servers so they couldn't pretend it came from elsewhere. Jessica was just collateral damage."
To my surprise she pulled my head back down to her breast and held it there as I cried reliving that fateful day. She lifted my head again and looked at me.
"Again Derek? You said you didn't think she could rip your heart out again. Had you caught Jessica cheating on you before?"
"I didn't catch her, no. She thinks I don't know, but it wasn't the first time. She's done it at least once before, shortly after we were married."
"If you didn't catch her, how can you be so sure?"
"I've seen the evidence. Believe me, I'm sure."
"Just a minute, Derek. If you've been in prison, how did you get this job? I mean you need clear Criminal records check."
I laughed. "If people knew just how easy it is to get around those things, they wouldn't value them so highly. You would be amazed at how many Derek Callahans there are with clean records. I just had to become one of them."
We both sat holding each other. I was relieved she hadn't left me. I'd lied my way into everything since I'd left prison and I hadn't been able to tell Wendy the truth. Several times I'd come close but each time, discretion got the better of my valour. I wanted to tell her and if I'd been able to marry her, I would have. As it was, it didn't seem to be worth the risk of the information getting out.
Wendy took her arm from around my shoulders and held both my hands in hers.
"Derek, you know we are going to have to speak to the young man outside. Now he has found you, the game is up. Unless, that is, we can persuade him to keep his mouth shut. Now I'm going to call him in. Then you are going to talk to him. Please, Derek, please talk to him."
She got up and walked to the door. When she came back, James followed her in.
James was a good-looking young man, standing six feet tall with broad shoulders and an athletic build. He had light brown hair which in the summer sun became almost blonde. He had a square jaw with a cleft chin and his blue eyes sparkled when he smiled. A look at Wendy's face told me she was impressed. She looked at me, looked at him and then back at me.
"Your wife must be a good looking woman, Derek. He certainly doesn't take after you. I mean, I think you're quite a hunk but James here must be every girl's dream."
James smiled at her. "I'll settle for being Emma's dream, thank you."
"Well, James, you and Derek must have a lot to talk about. I'm going to make some coffee. Would you like some?"
James accepted the offer of coffee and Wendy went off to the kitchen leaving us alone. For about a minute we sat in silence. James was fidgeting while he watched me, unsure of how to start. I had no intention of making it any easier for him. I just relaxed on the sofa and waited.
Eventually he spoke. "Why did you do it, Dad?"
"Come off it, James. You and half the world know why I did it."
"I'm not talking about that. Why did you disappear like that? You knew she was waiting for you. When you didn't reply to any of her letters, she tried to get the governor to keep her informed and tell her when you would be released. We thought you had another three months to go when the police came and told us you were out. The prison gave Mum the address of the hostel you went to. I went there but you were long gone. Why go to a hostel when you could have come home? Why risk going back to prison by just disappearing from the hostel?"
"I don't know what she's told you about what I did and why, but even from what was reported you must realise there was no way I could go back."
"What not even for a few weeks, Dad? Do you really hate Mum so much that you would rather go to a bail hostel than go home to your own bed even if it was only while you got back on your feet?"
"She and her lover spent two years manipulating me. I wasn't going to give her another chance."
"You should have read her letters. She wanted to try to make it up to you. She knows how much she hurt you. She wanted to try to put things right."
"I've had enough of this, James. You didn't search for me just to ask why I didn't go home. What is it you want from me? What happens if you don't get it? Are you going to tell the police where I am so they can put me back in prison?"
"I want you to come back and talk to her. She's ill, Dad, very ill. She was okay when she thought you would come back but when you disappeared, she hit the bottle. Now she has cirrhosis of the liver and needs a transplant. They won't do that while she is still drinking. I hate what she did to you, Dad, but she's the only mum I've got. I can't see her killing herself like this. I need you to tell her you forgive her. Tell her to stop the drinking."
"Or what, James? What happens if I don't go with you? Do I need to move on before the police come after me for breaking my parole conditions?"
"Or nothing, Dad. I don't want to see you back in that place and I don't think the police are interested. When I asked them to help me find you, they just said they would find you when you committed another crime."
Wendy came in with the coffee. "Sounds like James is talking sense here, Derek. You need closure and if that helps your wife, then so much the better. I know you don't really wish her any harm."
"How do you know?"
"Because you beat him to a pulp but never laid a finger on her."
I sat for a minute. I'd never thought about it before but she was right. I wouldn't have dreamed of hurting Jessica in spite of her betrayal.
"What harm can it do to talk to her, Derek?"
So now it was two against one and I was losing.
"Okay, I'll go and talk to her but don't expect anything to change. She'll have to accept the fact that I'm not coming back. I'll talk to her on one condition." I said turning to James. "You stop calling me Dad."
He just sat shaking his head. "One mistake two and a half years ago and he disowns me. What the hell can I do?"
"Give him time, James. I'm sure he'll come round."
"You don't know him. I let him down. I know I did and now he'll never forgive me or Mum."
We left the next morning, all three of us. James didn't want Wendy to come because he didn't want Jessica to know I had found someone else. I insisted that she should come with us. I wanted everything out in the open. He tried to make conversation on the journey but it was an uphill struggle for James. I didn't intentionally ignore him. My mind was too occupied for any talking. All the time I was reliving those days running up to the main event and my assault on Preston.
It felt strange pulling into the drive of my old house. If I didn't know better, I would have sworn it was empty. The grass needed cutting. The curtains hung loosely at the windows which were in dire need of cleaning.
James had his own key and let us in through the front door. I had never seen my house in such a mess. He led us into the living room and asked us to sit down. He went upstairs to fetch his mother. He took quite some time to come down with her. When Jessica came in, I barely recognised her. Her face was gaunt and her skin had a yellowish tinge to it. She had lost a lot of weight and the dress she wore just hung on her. When she saw me, she tried to smile and held her arms out to me.
"Derek, you've come home."
"No, Jess, I've come to talk to you. I'm not coming home, ever."
Wendy squeezed my hand and looked lovingly at me which made Jessica look uncomfortable. James helped her to a seat.
"I'd like to say you are looking well, Jess, but you must know that's not true."
"Same old Derek, can't lie to save your life. They told me that's why you ended up in prison."
"Water under the bridge, Jess. All finished with. Now James says you want to talk to me so why not just say what you have to say."
"Now you're finally here, I don't know where to start. Did you read any of my letters?"
"Only the two you sent while I was on remand. The rest I didn't even open."
"Do you hate me that much, Derek? You didn't have to reply but if I could just believe you read them, I'd have felt so much better."