This story was influenced by where I lived out in my second year at university. There was also input from what happened to a female student I knew slightly. She came home from university one vacation after just a few months studying, probably Christmas of her first year, to find that her parents and siblings had decided to emigrate to Australia leaving her alone in the UK. They saw her being a student as independent, though even in the late 1980s people were realising that their children could not afford to leave home at least until their 20s (the normal age is now about 33) though saying that I met a teacher in 1992 who did not expect her children to come back to live with her after university and I told her strongly that she was deluding herself and to ask around friends who had children who had graduated. Anyway, given such desertion (which suggested her parents had little love for this woman) I wondered how the middle class women of the kind I had been encountering, many of whom seemed incapable of dealing with life in university halls, let alone somewhere less protected, would cope. Not being post-feminist, I produced this positive response, though a morally ambivalent one. The tagging of the man was something I saw when in West Germany which means that this story was probably finished late in 1988. For many years I had plans to expand this into a novel, but there was insufficient substance and I think the bulk of what I wanted to say is covered here. WPC was the old designation for Woman Police Constable, these days they are just PCs.
I sat down in the chair opposite him and lay my raincoat on my lap.
“You’ve come a long way.” he said calmly, “it must be a couple of years now.”
“Yeah, that’s about right. The last time I saw you two must have been the meal at Sally’s a few months after graduation, I came back here after training.” I replied keen to get some conversation going to draw him out. My curiosity was more than professional. “You lived with her then?”
“Yeah, we stayed on in the house, us three. Paul was always off somewhere, though, it was really just me and Jenny. I felt sorry for her, well more than that. I must admit I did fancy her, but she was impenetrable, at that stage anyway. There was too much timidity there. She felt deserted by her family shooting off to the States like that. She had been thrust through the system, but the usual thing is they find a hubby and that is it, back to suburbia for a life of WI, the Con club and kids. She got to the penultimate stage and the end fell off. She was at a loose end. My feelings were mixed, paternal and lustful.” He fell silent and flushed, staring down at his feet.
I paused a moment. “You did alright though.”
“Oh yeah, I got a good job, that was no problem. She flirted with something in voluntary work, anything else was the usual trap too qualified for the work, and then that hard to convince the benefit people she wasn’t skiving, scrounging whatever. That was the criminal part of her parents, she was not set up for being unable to just go out and buy things, having a cold house. The bills were always a dread for her. She had never really faced that. I’m not for people being protected from life, but she just dropped from one existence to another. It made her susceptible, when it, they came along.”
I thought melodramatic thoughts, good girl led astray. The slide from decency to decay. It all sounded all tabloid. I could already detect the tinges of sympathy in Andy’s story. I was still fascinated. I knew the conclusion, or the imminent one, I should say. I waited as he sipped his coffee. I think I had coaxed him enough.
“In fact I think running below that mouse-like nature, the classic frightened front there was this side of her all the time. It should be expected, these are the sort of women who become Thatcher and Currie. I am sure the Borgias moved to Surrey.” His laugh was strained. I just smiled, I of all people was not going to become embroiled in politics at this stage. He realised and continued.
“It was that suitcase. You know as well, probably better than me what goes on around this city. Most of it never makes national headlines. It was one of those meals, we had Geoff, Steve and Helen over, they still live round the North side, see them occasionally. They found this briefcase on the way over, down that alley, the one over there with the arched footbridge over the railway.”
I nodded, I knew it clearly, I wanted him to get on with the story, there was probably only minutes before she returned and I doubted there would be time for gossip then.
He took a breath and cleared his thoughts. “This briefcase, combination lock. Well, they found it on the way over, and said it should be handed in. Jenny said she would take it the next day, course she had no job. Well she started at zero, zero, zero and flicked through the combinations until it opened. Of course we never knew all this until much later.”
Andy sat forward, getting into the flow of this story. “She kept half the money, handed the rest in like she said she would. No-one knew any better. Well they did of course. But in the beginning she was okay, I hardly noticed. Less whingeing about the cash, I suppose, but that was hardly something you notice, you become immune in the long run anyway, don’t you. She got more amenable. I wasn’t complaining, I thought my patience had paid off. It was that quilted jacket, the black one, cropped. The first sign I mean. She obviously got fed up with holding back and went on a spree. Nothing tarty, just flash, flash all over. Drove me wild, though I didn’t admit it. She was here on the floor, all the bills around her, crossed through, almost as a hold over me. Around her were the shopping bags, it was a sort of confession I suppose.”
He slumped back in his chair, in his thoughts. His hand nervously fiddled with the earring in his left ear. I had wondered how far that came into it. He looked up at me, and realised I had noticed. He thrust his hands back into his lap.
“Yes she did it. That was after we had started at it. There were a few weeks when we knew it was coming. I could feel the tension. It was when Paul was off in Grenoble, we had the new bed, and even then we were in it a few nights before anything happened. It was another step, she had to get through another layer of Home Counties restraint, but then out she came with what she wanted, what she needed. That dominance mixed with her desires. That sounds crappy.” He laughed nervously again, shifting awkwardly in his chair.
“I know the sort.” I said encouragingly, lying but putting my imagination in gear, I was sure I would before the end of this career.
“Mmm, yeah. Then she said something corny, she knelt on my arms, well, you know and said something like I pierced her flesh and she would pierce mine. It sort of became a symbol of ownership, like a cattle tag. She tended to it, bought and put in the studs, I was never to touch it, she said. When she said, I listened.” He said forcefully, then subsided back into his chair.
“I suppose you know better than me about the rest of the stuff, she was into. I was a bit preoccupied, trying to cope with her, and the job and all.”
“Well, I have followed it, it ran in with something else I was working on. She’s on the periphery, but you know they tracked her. They didn’t really need the cash, all that much goes under acceptable incidental losses. But someone they could use was worth much more. If they’d found her a few months earlier then she probably would have turned them down, run scared. By then it was a thrill, she was on the roll, she had come out of herself.”
“You can say that. You just look at the old shots. She’s sharp now, just have to look at her. That perm that looked like it came from some small town hairdresser went, now its short,sharp and mean.”
He laughed, he appeared a bit unburdened. “She just went past me, there was some time in the middle there that I could keep up, but not now. Then of course there was Helen. She settled it. Quick too, it was me who looked around for a way out. That sort of thing brings out these dormant feelings.”
“I suppose so.” I said. I could sense his feeling of awkwardness. “Well it’s helped me, us, immensely.”
“It sounds vicious, I throw her to the wolves when someone else turns up. It’s for the best, when she’s free of them she can lead her own life.” Andy reassured himself.
He was right on both accounts. I was trained and knew she had to go down, whatever the background. “We’re really grateful you know.”
“She had just got too far, I still care for her welfare, if not for her.”
I heard the door open behind me.
I got up. “Well this it, you can stay out of sight if you want.”
“No.” he just said, and rose.
We walked through into the front room. Jenny opened the door the other two stood either side of the door but she looked as if she had expected it. I pulled out my warrant card.
“I am Detective Constable Baker, I am arresting you on various charges of supplying narcotics...” I ran through the usual chat. She stood there calmly. She took Andy’s kiss, at first without response and then passionately. I pitied her then. They both smiled as the WPC and the constable took her out to the car.
“I’ll keep her in the dark on Helen, she’s got enough to face, enough when she realises I’m gone for good. She can stand up to it now, the woman she is now.” He said barely coherently.
“Keep in touch.” I said hopefully, but not expecting much.
He seemed about to speak, but held back and just nodded. I shook his hand and walked out to join the others. The front door closed behind me.