Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Swimming Against The Tide - Barry Baldwin

Swimming Against The Tide

There was only one thing on what was left of Eddie Coates' mind.

Find Bert.

Bert Shuttleworth. Eddie's old mate, his mucker, his oppo, from rampaging around their back street as nippers to first fags behind the bike shed to first fumblings under girls' jumpers also behind the bike shed - their local comprehensive school's after-hours social centre - to the day when they jumped together into the cold murk of the sea.

Eddie was never any great shakes at swimming, just a floundering dog paddle picked up at the town baths and day trips to Blackpool where he'd been more interested in female breasts than his own and its stroke. He was, though, an optimist in his way. Back when he was still capable of coming out with such things, he'd said to Bert after one of his splashing sessions, "I reckon if I'm ever on a ship and it sinks four feet from shore I won't have a thing to worry about."

Bert was a top-notch swimmer. He had more patience than Eddie, as well as the physique for it; while Eddie was glancing at the girls, they were sizing up Bert. But when they did their high-speed drop into the ocean, a good deal of Bert was on fire.

The way eye-witnesses told it, Eddie and Bert had been seen each trying to push a large plank of wood that was bobbing about between them towards the other, until they were blotted out by the billows. When everything was clear and calm, Eddie was sprawled over it, Bert was nowhere to be seen, and that's how it was when the rescuers hauled him out.

The medics patched him up on the outside, they couldn't do anything about inside, and that wasn't their job, anyway. So, when he kept insisting that Bert's last words had been "See you around, Eddie Coates," and that he must still be alive, they added a few verbal bromides to the pills they were feeding him, made a curt note in their report, and left it at that.

Because of what the others had said, both of them were heroes of a sort, which did Bert no good but Eddie got a bit of money out of some government department, or rather his mother did. She took it over, saying it would go towards "keeping him," now that she supposed she would have to.

She didn't, not one hundred percent. But she still had to put two hot meals a day into his belly and a roof over his head. Like many folk who know the price of everything and the value of very little, she was fond of saying that you can't measure everything by money, which is true enough even if the person saying it does. Eddie was out all day during the week, on Saturdays she drifted him off to football in the afternoon and the pictures at night, on Sundays "a nice long walk, it'll do you good after being cooped up in that place," or whatever else she could dream up.

There was one other good thing, at least up to a point. When he was having one of his fits, he would be out until all hours roaming around looking for Bert Shuttleworth. He only seemed to have these attacks when the weather was wet; but it rains a lot in the Northern town where they lived. The snag is, when you know somebody who's out is bound to be back in sooner or later, it's nearly as bad as having them there all the time.

Eve Coates' husband Fred had walked out soon after Eddie was born. Nobody was all that surprised, the main question being, was Eddie the last straw or a last hope soon given up on? Her version of events wasn't current in the pubs Fred drank in by himself, and he'd always taken care only to thump her where the bruises wouldn't show.

His side of the bed was hartdly cold before she started auditioning his replacements. She was a good-looking woman, was Eve, if you go for big brassy blondes, which most blokes do. Some paid in one way, some paid in another. Some stuck money in Eddie's hand and told him to get lost; some gave him a clip round the ear and also told him to get lost. Eddie preferred the money, though was happy enough to grab any chance to bunk off with Bert, who basically filled in as his father and mother, while Eddie did much the same for Bert who was an orphan being brought up by grandparents whose best didn't add up to much, not that either of the lads realised any of this.

After Eddie minus Eddie came back home, Eve started to insist on cash in hand for her favours, being forced to the understanding that money was money while meals out and weekends away only ended up as memories, which don't pay the bills. On top of everything else, the maintenance work on her face and figure was costing more and more. Eve had as few illusions about herself as about anyone else, and fully recognised the nature of her appeal to the punters. She knew exactly what that Yank singer - the one with the tits like melons and those glittery costumes, what was her name? - was getting at when she said in some magazine interview that people wouldn't believe what it cost to look that cheap.

So, every week a bit of what she made out of her fifty hours a week behind Mr Patel's counter and her "gentlemen friends" and the extra from Eddie was put by. One day, a moonlight flit was going to be on the cards. Telling Eddie was not. She'd have done more than enough for him by then, as if she hadn't already - he was eating her out of house and home for one thing. If he went off at the deep end - not the best choice of words in his case, or perhaps it was - they'd put him in some safe place. One of her regular gentlemen was a doctor who said that any time she gave the word he could arrange to have Eddie sectioned and out of her way, meaning his as well, but tempted though she was she thought she'd keep that ace up her sleeve for another day, so played the good mother to the hilt, bursting into tears - she'd once fancied amateur dramatics and pretending with Fred and most of his successors had kept her in training - and exclaiming that come what may she couldn't ever do that to her own flesh and blood, however much grief he cost her. And, if he improved, or stayed the same, there were plenty of cheap lodgings in their neck of the woods and, well, he'd got a job, hadn't he?

Not got, exactly. He'd been given it by Mr Aislabie Hardcastle, owner of the town's biggest factory. It wasn't much of a job, of course, being the kind no one else wanted, none of the locals would touch it, and there was a distinct shortage of black faces thereabouts, excepting Mr Patel whose sons and daughters had all "gone Western," which was how Eve came to have her spot behind his counter. Sweeping the floors, keeping the lavatory respectable, fetching and carrying for whoever shouted loudest, a bit like being a fag in one of those public school stories that Eddie used to devour in his reading days, though Bert would never look at them.

Officially, Aislabie Hardcastle gave Eddie the job because his own son had copped it in much the same way as Bert Shuttleworth, so he wanted to do something for this other local lad who'd got knocked about doing his bit. At least, that was the version in the evening paper and on the regional radio. His regular workers, always more inclined to cynicism than credit for good intentions, and having no other cause to associate him with charity of any kind, reckoned it was just another of those government job creation things and old man Hardcastle was getting cheap labour and tax incentives and what-not out of it.

It was obvious from the start how many planks short of a load Eddie was, so he'd have taken some stick from the others, especialy the ones around his own age, except that the foreman had put it about that anyone who tried anything on him would have the gaffer to answer to. By and large, then, apart from the dogs-bodying, they left him alone, which wasn't hard. When he was in a normal frame of mind, you wouldn't get a peep out of him, and when he was having one of his do's you couldn't shut him up about how Bert Shuttleworth was still alive and somewhere in the town and how he was going to find him one of these days. They'd just nudge each other and wink and go Yes Eddie, Right Eddie, You Go For It Eddie. Those who remembered the pair from old times led the pack in insincerity, content that it was just a delusion in an addled brain; no one who had known Bert Shuttleworth wanted him back.

One day, another new man turned up. The first reaction on the shop floor - only muttered because of his size - was, where the hell does old man Hardcastle dig them up? Some whispered that this one was as daft as Eddie, you only had to look at his eyes, others thought this was a false impression because they were the only thing about him that seemed alive. You couldn't tell what he was thinking, then or ever, since he had this odd immobile face which gave nothing away except a vague sense that it was a costume mask he was wearing, though he wasn't misshapen or ugly in any outstanding way. As one of the men complained in the canteen, they say it takes forty-three muscles to frown and only seventeen to smile, but that bugger won't even move one. He went on to compare the voice that went with it to that of a droning Dalek on Dr Who. Not that they heard much of it. The new man, silent during his mumbled two-sentence introduction by the foreman, was hardly more talkative than Eddie on a good day, using an all-purpose nod to compensate for his vocal lack and blank look.

What struck them most, though it was conveniently dismissed as two of a kind, and what a kind, was the way this bloke coped with Eddie. For a while, it wasn't too hard. The weather was unusually fine, so Eddie was dormant. He caused a flutter, though, by asking the new man more than once if he could do anything for him. With the rest, it was always a case of waiting to be told.

Then the rain came back, right on schedule for mid-summer, teeming bucketfuls, flash floods in the town centre, people sloshing into work even if they'd only had a short sprint from bus stop or car park. With it came the worst-ever tide of Bert Shuttleworthism. The new man took the full lot, which suited the shop floor well enough, although it now had the distraction of seeing how he actually sat down with Eddie as if they were old friends and let him rave on for ages, not just nodding but laying a hand on his shoulder and putting in a few drones of his own; no one could make out what, and who cared?

They would have, if they'd bothered to.

Eve thought she'd not seen Eddie quite this worked up before. His talk was the usual drivel about Bert Shuttleworth. She let that wash over her, as always. But he'd barely touched his fried bacon and baked beans, his favourite meal, which Eve would slap together for him as a Friday treat, backed up when she was in a rare good mood by a condensed milk sandwich, in exchange for his pay packet. She hoped he wasn't sickening for something; that was all she needed. Even more surprisingly, he'd got himself all poshed up, wearing his best jacket, the one with all the pockets, a tie whose style was years out of date but it was still a tie, real shoes instead of trainers, and his mousy hair stuck down with carbolic soap and water, doing it was pointless, that he'd troubled to do it at all was not. Eve hadn't realised that Eddie knew any more that he had a best jacket. It was the one Bert Shuttleworth had egged him on to buy; he'd never worn it since that last night out before they'd gone away. She was more pleased by than interested in Eddie's condition, since it suggested that he'd be late back, which suited her own plans for a discreet meal and afters with her doctor friend. Hoping it would help find room for the message in his teeming head, she gave him back a bit more than usual from his wages: "Here, if you do bump into that Bert Shuttleworth finally, buy him a pint on me. You don't want to hurry back. I'll most like be late myself. You know where to find the key."

It was still wet, the on-again-off-again stuff that is more aggravating than the real thing. Eve watched him set off from the front room window, which wasn't usual, shaking her head, which was. She hoped those bulges in his pockets were his plastic Pak-A-Mak and muffler, otherwise if the rain really set in again his jacket would get sodden and he'd catch his death of cold. She couldn't be bothered to open the door and shout after him about it, she was running a bit behind schedule and needed to get to work on her own tittivating if she wasn't going to be late.

It normally took Eddie a good hour or so to walk from their house to the town centre. He never took the bus, whatever the weather, a good policy on principle, they'd become a lot more expensive and erratic since the municipal ones had been sold off. Eddie's reason was that he was nervous of being caged up in anything after what had happened to him and Bert.

Tonight, he was quicker, not stopping to do his usual spot checks in all the pubs along the way. He kept worrying maybe he ought to, in case he should at last strike lucky off his own bat, but he didn't want to risk being late and the old watch of Fred's that his mother had once chucked at him wasn't always very good about telling the time. He did keep his eyes peeled on the Friday night crowds, though, but nothing doing, except he had a stroke of fortune without realising it when he stopped and stared too long at the gang of youths congregated outside The Roxy, the town's one glum remaining cinema, a social solecism that would have got most people a good kicking on any weekend English street, and the youths did nudge each other and turn in his direction, but something about him put them off and they slouched away with nothing more than a bit of Eff-You fist waving.

It was too early for the Dog and Bear to have got going. Just a couple of old-age pensioners at one of the back tables spinning out the halves of mild which was all they could afford, heads bent down over the delaying tactic of their game of dominoes. The landlord, new since Eddie had last been in with Bert, not that he was aware, summed him up with professional speed as another poor spender, so ignored him.

There was no sign of the man from the factory. Eddie retreated to the doorway. He didn't fancy trying to order a drirnk by himself, Bert had always done that for them and he'd never been out with anybody else since and in any case he wasn't much of a drinker and still remembered that pubs don't care much for men who only have an orange squash. But he thought he should hang around in case he was early or the man was off having a jimmy riddle in the Gents. But after only a couple of minutes a fresh customer trying to get in had to push his way around Eddie with more than a bit of swearing and the landlord called out "Did you want something, mate?" in a tone that implied he'd better not, and Eddie shook his head and backed out into the alley down which the Dog and Bear was situated, almost colliding with the woman who was stood there watching him.

For a jumbled minute, Eddie fancied it was his mother, come to fetch him home with a few clouts and no supper and straight up to bed for stopping out too long with Bert when there were chores waiting for him. This woman was a younger version, just as blonde as Eve in her prime and just as big if not bigger under her leather jacket and roll-top sweater and showing off the same amounts of leg and thigh thanks to a skirt that didn't know what a knee was. The real article, not mutton dressed up as lamb. She was smiling at him as well, something his mother never did, and other women only out of pity.

"Would you be Eddie Coates, by any chance?"

Like smiles, enquiries about who he was didn't come Eddie's way very often. Those who knew him spent very little time in his company, unless it was for a spot of light relief, and those who didn't know him didn't want to. Because of what they often had to put up with themselves, women could sympathise a bit more, in a vague not-going-any-further-than-that way. Back in the old days, Eddie had been as keen on girls as the next lad, one reason he stuck to Bert, trying not to mind too much that Bert clicked with them ten times to his one and when in pairs always went off with the bobby-dazzler, leaving him and the plain Jane or hairy Mary looking at each other in a Now What? way after last orders or last waltz. Still, he had had a few moments, especially after he'd broken down one time and begged Eve for some tips and without really knowing why, except that she was between friends and had got to thinking about Fred without the thumpings and Eddie was the only thing of Fred she had apart from the old wooden sea-chest that he had sanded and begun to varnish before leaving it in the cellar empty and unfinished like everything else he had started, she helped him in a way that very few mothers would. All the fragments of this mental kaleidoscope shook themselves into place for an isolated second: "I used to be," he said.

This answer surprised her, though she kept the smile tacked on her face. It wasn't what she'd been led to expect, a smarty-pants comeback. She paused, uncertain whether she should reply in kind or stick to her script. Eddie, already retreating into his one-man world, solved it for her with "Who are you? You're not my mother."

"Hardly. I'm a friend of him from the factory. You know, the one who said he was going to help you look for Bert Shuttleworth."

It was the right and the wrong thing to say. "Has he found Bert? Where is he?" Eddie looked desperately up and down the alley, its gloom made worse by the single street lamp long since vandalised out of action and the frosted glass of the Dog and Bear's window which kept most of its light to itself.

Along with Eddie having let on that the Dog and Bear had been one of Bert's favourites, this was the reason it had been chosen, and why she'd been hanging around in the shadows waiting for him to go in and come out. It had been dinned into her that no one should see them together long enough to remember.

"Hang on a minute. No, Bert's not here. But he knows where he is. He's told me to take you to him."

"Where are they, then, where are they?"

"Let go my arm, you're hurting. That's more like it. Only, there's one thing to be settled first. He told you it might cost a bit, his looking around and that. Did you manage to bring any money, like he said?"

Eddie dug a hand into his bulgiest pocket. Not knowing whether to be more thrilled or amazed over the mass of notes he was pushing at her, she stopped him as he was starting to fumble for more, wanting to get away before anyone else came into the alley or out of the pub. "That'll do nicely. Keep it in your pocket till we get there. Right, let's get cracking. I've been wondering what Bert and you'll make of each other after all this time."

That wasn't the only thing she was wondering, now.

Avoiding the lights of the town centre as much as possible, she led Eddie through a maze of back streets and ginnels, grateful she'd been told to do a dry run the night before to make sure she wouldn't get them lost. Eddie trotted along, sometimes beside her, sometimes behind, like a puppy anxious to keep up with its mistress but not sure how. Had this image entered her head, it wouldn't have endeared him to her one little bit; she disliked animals almost as much as men.

They finally reached a rickety swing bridge. Eddie didn't like the look of its ropes and girders, they reminded him too much of too much, so was relieved when she steered him away from it and on to a path that had been worn down to and through the wasteland that made up the bank of the old industrial canal. This bothered Eddie more than the bridge. "Why are we here? Bert won't like water since..."

"Calm down. It's all right." She squinted at her watch, a far cry from Eddie's old thing. "Almost time. We'll just have a fag, and you can hand over that money while we're about it." She rummaged in her bag for the cigarettes, leaving it unclasped, producing a battered pack. "Bugger it, only one left. Sorry. You don't mind, do you?" She lit up, not expecting an answer. Holding up the lighted Swan Vesta like a flare before tossing it, she took a deep drag, doing her calculations. "A rum spot, this, I grant you. There's one like it where I come from. They used to hold an open-air market on it every Saturday. My grandad used to buy his specs and false teeth from a stall there." It wasn't the moment to add how the old so-and-so was always groping after her though he was too decrepit to do such a good job at it as her father; it never was. Anyway, she knew she was talking to herself. "Let's be having you with that money, then." Obediently, Eddie clawed into a pocket, but she'd only had time to grab a couple of handfuls of notes before he gaped past her and started to shout, "He's there, he's there, look, he's come!"

He was pointing to underneath the bridge. The man was standing there; he'd emerged from behind one of its pylons. She cursed him silently for not giving her enough time to lay hands on all the money. "Hold hard!" But Eddie was off, puppy turned greyhound, almost tripping over a length of rusted pipe that was slumbering on the canal bank amidst all the other rubbish ancient and modern, including a number of old packing crates, in any one of which a man or woman would easily fit. She started after him, moving a good deal more slowly, despite the strength her regular profession had given her legs, partly because of her high heels, partly because the final choice was still at a crossroads in her brain.

The man didn't move. He had his back to them, giving an impression of the villain in an old black -and-white film with his heavy black coat and antique porkpie hat. He thought he'd gauged it perfectly, doing an about turn with military precision a second before Eddie would be on him.

"See you around, Eddie Coates."

Until the doorbell rang, Eve was having a good night. The dinner with her doctor friend had gone well, so had the afters, and he was starting to sound genuine about leaving his wife. She decided to treat herself to a drop of brandy and a nice long soak, even sparing a thought for Eddie and how he might have got on as she pottered about.

The two uniformed police officers, scuffers as Eve was old enough to call them, a male and a female, were propping Eddie up between them. Above his slumping body and rag-doll limbs his face was all blotchy and the intense light in his eyes from tea time was quite gone out.

"Mrs Coates?"

"For my sins. You'd best bring him in. Look at the state of his clothes. That was his best jacket, and those shoes cost me I don't know how much..." The uniforms exchanged a look.

"What have you been up to, you daft ha'porth?" Getting no change out of the question, or the good shaking with which she followed it up until the male officer stopped her, she changed tack. "He'll be no help. Best get him upstairs and into bed. I'll have a go at him in the morning."

They followed Eve upstairs, half-carrying half-dragging Eddie, into a back bedroom which looked not much more inviting than the holding cells down at the station, with its cracked ceiling, dim bulb, and faded wallpaper unrelieved by any sort of picture or poster. They flopped him down on the narrow bed and started to watch but very soon didn't want to as Eve dragged off his jacket and trousers and shoes, not bothering with the rest and tossing a thin scruffy blanket over him without any attempt to clean him up or dry him off.

The male officer said he'd stop with him for a bit, just in case, and perched at the foot of the bed, no chair being in evidence. The woman one followed Eve back down the uncarpeted stairs and into the old-fashioned kitchen, almost falling over one of the peeling brown squares of lino, where she wasn't offered any of the brandy Eve started swigging, so there was no call for the Not While We're On Duty routine.

Eve had noticed the stumble. "I had our Eddie down on that lino. All by myself, as well; my bastard husband was in the pub." That was the extent of her trip down memory lane. "What's this all about, then?"

I thought you'd never ask. Aloud, "There's been a bit of a to-do down at the canal."

"The canal? What was our Eddie doing down there?" This flurry of Our Eddies struck the police woman's ear as grafted on for effect. "He's never gone near water since..."

"We don't know yet. Eddie hasn't been able to tell us anything. The truth is, Mrs Coates, it's rather more than a to-do. There was another man there and..."

"And what did he tell you?"

"I'm afraid he was in no condition to tell us anything. He was dead by the time we were on the scene. We're wondering if he might have been a friend of your son..."

"Eddie hasn't got any friends. He only ever had one, Bert Shuttleworth, and he's been dead for ages, good riddance to bad rubbish, though nobody can get Eddie to believe that."

"Yes, I've heard bits and bobs about that in the canteen, but they mainly make a joke of it and I've not been here that long and've never heard the full story."

"They wouldn't make a joke of it if they had to live with it, I can tell you. There's not a lot to say. Eddie and this Bert Shuttleworth had always knocked around together ever since they were out of nappies, almost. Too much so, for my liking, Bert was always taking advantage of Eddie as far as I could see, but when your husband's done a bunk and you're out at work six days a week, what are you supposed to do? Anyhow, the pair of them suddenly went and signd on for the navy. They didn't have a lot of education, and there's precious little for lads around here. Six months later, they were in the thick of the Falklands, helping old Ma Thatcher keep the sheep British. Their ship was hit by one of those Exocet things. Half the crew went killed or missing. Eddie got picked up, Bert didn't, that's the long and the short of it, except Eddie's never been right since. The quacks say it's guilt transference, whatever that is when it's at home. They reckon Eddie somehow thinks he ought to have done more to try and save his pal, though Bert was always the swimmer of the two, and he won't believe he's dead because he has to find him to make up."

"Does he get violent much?"

"Violent? He's never that. A lot of the time he's all right, though slow, like. And when he gets these fits, all he does is tramp about the town looking in the pubs and asking folk if they've seen Bert. You're not telling me he had owt to do with that bloke being dead...?"

"We're not sure of anything yet, but we don't think so, and after what you've just said...Does Eddie have treatment, pills or anything?"

"They haven't come up with a pill for what ails him, love." This last word sounded as tactical as the Our Eddies. "I admit they've warned me he could suddenly go right round the twist and never come back, and I have this doctor who says he ought to be sectioned for his own good, but when all's said and done he is my lad and..."

Change the details and the police woman had heard this sort of stuff a thousand times before. "Does Eddie usually have much money on him, like when he's seeing a girl or anything?"

"Seeing a girl? Don't make me laugh. He used to be interested when he was right, he had to be, going with that Bert Shuttleworth. I could tell you a tale or two about both of them, but not since he came back. Money, well, I give him his allowance every pay day, enough for what he does and a bit more to make sure you lot can't run him in for vagrancy. What's money got to do with this business?"

"Quite a lot, though we haven't fathomed the ins and out of it yet. We only came on all this by accident. One of our Panda cars went down there for some reason, there's not usually much happening by the canal except a spot of courting and the odd suicide. Between you and me, they just wanted a quiet half hour with fish and chips and a listen to the football. Anyway, they found this fellow in the water and Eddie hunched up on the bank and this woman scrabbling around trying to pick up all these bank notes. She swears blind they're hers, and she's known to us as the sort who does her earnng at night, but it seems an awful lot for somebody at her level, which is why we're wondering if your son...?"

The sarky emphasis she put on Your Son was water off a duck's back. "Well, that's a complete mystery to me..." As Eve emptied her glass, not the first, she went vacant-looking, as though she'd gone inside herself. More likely the brandy than any of this, the police woman thought. At that moment, her colleague came lumbering down the stairs and into the kitchen, shaking his head as she looked up at him. "A bit of whimpering, otherwise dead to the world." When Eve shook herself back and managed "Is he in trouble, then?" he grabbed the chance to take the spotlight away from his opposite number. "I doubt it, especially not with him being the way he is, though it's too early to be sure, and whatever happens the police doctor will want another look at him. We reckon she somehow got Eddie down there to do, you know, the business, and this bloke was her minder and she had him waiting to jump her client. It does happen, not just in London" - he sounded almost proud of the local villains' ability to keep pace with crime in the capital. "The medic they brought to the scene says the bloke didn't drown, someone clobbered him, probably with an old bit of iron pipe we found there. It's thought when she saw how much money there was she reckoned she wasn't in a sharing mood, so she cracked Mr X over the head and pushed him into the canal for good measure, probably hoping he'd go down or float away. We'll soon know that from fingerprints, she wasn't wearing any gloves, spur of the moment thing. And she'd have got away with it, if those Panda chaps hadn't sloped off down there."

The woman was presently spilling some of the beans, egged on though not too convinced by the suggestion tha a clean breast of things would be a fair swap for a word to the judge on her behalf before sentencing. She'd met this factory bloke in a pub, not the Dog and Bear, and they'd got talking and weighing each other up, he was partly after the obvious, but had bigger fish to fry. He'd given her a down payment to meet Eddie and pretend she was a friend, and have her wangle him down to the canal so there would be no danger that he'd be seen with him in the town. When she asked him why, he'd clammed up, and although his face couldn't convey any subtle messages, he'd contrived to make it silently clear that this was something not to be asked or answered. This made her wary of enquiring how he thought a dumbo like Eddie could raise any worthwhile amount of money. But when she put the question of what should she do if Eddie turned up cashless, he replied as tersely as his Dalek tonsils allowed to bring him down anyway. She agreed that she was the one who'd felled him with the iron pipe, but sh hadn't intended to kill him, she was trying to stop him from doing harm to Eddie who'd lurched at him and was promptly knocked down and obviously in for some GBH at best.

The police doctor sent round to look at Eddie, who hadn't said a word since he'd been brought home, and never would again, found a few marks and bruises which did a bit to bolster her story, to which she stuck, and without Eddie's side of things and no other witnesses, they agreed with her not to pursue the idea that she had done Mr X in because she reckoned that after all his precautions he wouldn't be planning on leaving her around to tell the tale, in return for which she only objected inside herself to their earmarking the money for an unofficial contribution to the Police Benevolent Fund, and settled for manslaughter with extenuating circumstances that along with her cooperation left her facing only a couple of years, not counting time off for conduct.

Eddie, however, got a life sentence. The police doctor said it was a bad sign, his refusing to speak, bottling it all up could lead to a big explosion. There was no longer anything in it for Eve's doctor, who had finally decided not to leave his wife, and he was counting on enjoying not doing anything to help Eve until she pointed out that sectioning would be a suitable exchange for her not blabbing to wifey about his carryings-on. The papers were signed, and Eddie was taken away. The Long Suffering Mother act was left down the cellar where she'd gone the minute the police officers had left and seen how much of her savings were missing from the wooden sea-chest.

The optimists on the mental home staff thought that, given a long period of treatment and isolation, Eddie might just snap out of it. Not wanting to run the risk of tipping him over the edge into permanent Bertmania, it was resolved not to tell him the rest of the story, nor Eve either, not trusting her after the impresion she'd made on the police officers; and there were no relatives or friends on the Shuttleworth side. So, it was kept under the carpet how the authorities with some reluctant help from Aislabie Hardcastle traced Mr X back from the factory to the ship and the naval hospital records and the details of seaman Shuttleworth being picked up against all the odds by a helicopter that had come back on the off-chance and the plastic surgery so drastic that not even his mother would have recongised him and the artificial voice-box and the warnings in the file about his mental state, he seemed to be blaming his best friend, and when tracked down one of the eye-witnesses had admitted that they'd agreed to lie for the sake of the service's reputation, in reality both Eddie and Bert had been heard going at each other on board for signing on in the first place and landing them in this war, and the scraps of their old mateship drowned in the icy water and the smoke and the noise, and they'd actually been seen both trying to pull themselves on to that plank, all of which gave good reason why Bert, when finally discharged from the hospital because a shortage of beds, should return home like a dog to its vomit to lure Eddie to what he'd missed the first time round, not to mention, which no one did, the different light it would have shed on to Eddie's own quest.

1 comment:

Patricia J. Hale said...

Mr. Baldwin, you are the master.