“Names?” barked the policeman, glaring fiercely at the two boys in front of him.
They shifted their gaze uncomfortably away from his, examining the toes of their shoes instead.
“Don’t tell him,” whispered Paul to his terrified cousin, “they can’t do a thing if we don’t give our names and addresses.”
All Martin could think off as he stared mutely at the policeman was how angry his parents would be if they discovered what he’d been up to, especially his father. God, Martin felt sick, his father would kill him.
The police officer almost felt sorry for the boy standing there trembling, his eyes filling with tears that he was struggling not to shed. His partner in crime was also scared, but doing a better job of concealing it beneath a veneer of cockiness. He assessed them with an experienced eye. They weren’t the usual run of the mill child shoplifters that was for sure. Both boys were well dressed and well spoken. He sighed, taking off his helmet to run a hand through corn coloured hair. “Come on, lads, you’re going to have to tell me sooner or later.”
Paul and Martin remained stubbornly silent.
The policeman sighed again, turning hopefully to the manager of Woolworth’s who had caught the pair stealing and called the police. “Shall we let them off with a warning this time? I don’t think that they’re hardened criminals. From the look of them, they’re no older than eight or nine, just a bit of schoolboy mischief.”
The cousins exchanged glances. Martin had turned eleven and Paul would be eleven after Christmas. Paul shook his head warningly, as Martin, who was touchy about his lack of stature, opened his mouth to protest. It wouldn’t do any harm to be mistaken for younger than they were.
“Please sir,” Martin gave the store manager a beseeching look, “We’re really very sorry, it was just a silly lark. We won’t do it again.”
The store manager, as dour as his brown suit suggested, was unmoved by Martin’s polite manner. He shook his head firmly. “No, not this time. I’m sick and tired of kids thinking they can lift anything they like from the shelves and get away with it.” He turned back to the policeman. “Have you any idea how much stock we lose each year to little brats like this? These kids should know better from the look of them. I want their parents found and informed about what their precious sons do for a hobby.”
“Mean old bugger,” Paul stuck his tongue out at the manager, who clipped his ear sharply.
“Steady now, if there’s any clipping to be done, I’ll do it.” The policeman turned to Paul, “and you behave yourself. You’re in enough trouble without being cheeky.” He put his notebook away, “alright, have it your way, I’ll take them down the station. You’re quite right, their parents need informing.” Gripping both boys firmly by their collars he steered them out of the poky office. They soon found themselves sitting in the back of a police car.
Martin looked resentfully at Paul, the tears he’d been fighting since they were caught, finally spilling down his cheeks. “Why do I listen to you? You always land me in bother,” he sniffed noisily, “dad will kill us for this.”
“Oh shut up, you big cry-baby.” Paul was scared himself, but he didn’t see why he should take all the blame. “No one forced you to do it. You wanted to show off in front of Laura.”
This was true. Martin knew he should have walked away from this particular incident, but he was sick of being jeered at and feeling left out. Laura and Paul had been getting very chummy, and Martin wasn’t happy about it, he wanted to demonstrate that he was just as daring as Paul.
“Anyway,” whispered Paul, “I told you, don’t give them your name. Keep quiet and they’ll just let us off with a caution.” He sounded so confident that Martin felt a bit better. After all Paul was the son of a high-ranking police officer, he knew about these things.
The desk sergeant turned out to be a large man of short temper and painful corns, and he was standing no nonsense from them. He glared at them angrily. “I want your names and addresses, or I’m going to lock you both in a cell where you’ll stay until some one comes in to report you missing. So, as you can see, we’ll find out who you are soon enough. My job is hard enough without having to deal with brats on shoplifting sprees.”
Martin caved in and blurted out their names. He shook his head tearfully at the assumption they were brothers, “no sir, we’re cousins. Paul is staying at my house, so it’s no good giving his address, because no one will be there.”
“What about your parents, will they be at home?”
“Please,” Martin burst into fresh tears, “don’t tell my parents, they’ll be awfully angry. It was a stupid, stupid game of dare. We’ll never do it again. I promise.”
“Listen son, the manager of Woolies won’t be chuffed if we just let you waltz out of here, Scott free. He’s got a point. You can’t go round nicking stuff whenever you feel like it. You’ve only got yourselves to blame for the mess you’re in.”
Martin wiped his tears away with his hands, “my father will be furious. I’ll get such a row.”
“Good,” the officer was unmoved, “you deserve it. Maybe you’ll think twice about stealing again. Do your parents have a telephone?”
Another officer entered, looking curiously at the two boys huddled miserably together on the waiting room bench.
Paul blushed scarlet, averting his face from the interested scrutiny.
Sergeant Nolan put the phone down. “Your mother will be here as soon as she can.”
The newly arrived policeman nodded towards the children, “what have they been up to?”
“Stealing, from the thieves emporium. Good old Woolies.”
The man gave a low whistle, “do you know who that blonde boy is?”
The sergeant shook his head, “should I?”
“He’s the son of Chief Inspector Mitchell, that’s all.”
“Never,” Sergeant Nolan’s face lit up a touch, “not him from Durham?”
“The very same. Wait until I tell the lads about this. I wasn’t looking forward to having to cover here for a while, but this has made my day. This will knock the wind out of freezer face’s sails.”
“No wonder the poor kid didn’t want to give his name. He’s staying with his cousin, that’s the dark haired boy. It’s his mother who’s coming to collect them.”
“His name doesn’t happen to be Mitchell an’ all, does it?” There was a hopeful look in the man’s eyes, fulfilled, as the desk sergeant nodded.
“You know who his father is don’t you? The other half of the Righteous brothers.”
A look of unadulterated glee spread over the sergeant’s face as the penny dropped. “Governor Mitchell, Durham prison. Bloody hell.”
Martin felt his stomach lurch as his mother her cheeks bright with colour swept into the station. She looked absolutely livid. Both he and Paul immediately stood up, but she didn’t so much as glance at them, introducing herself to sergeant Nolan. “I have a taxi waiting, sergeant, so I would appreciate completing any necessary formalities as quickly as possible.”
They sat silently in the back of the taxi as it carried them homewards. The cold winter afternoon was already growing dark, but the atmosphere inside the cab was far darker and colder than that outside. Martin opened his mouth to say something, but his mother gave him a look of such frosty proportions that he quickly closed it again.
Evelyn was shocked to the core by her son and nephew’s behaviour and burning with angry humiliation. It was obvious that the desk sergeant and his grinning companion had been well aware of whose children they were. “How dare you,” she broke her frigid silence, as soon as the front door closed behind them, “how dare you behave like that. What do you think your fathers are going to say when they find out about this? You’re an absolute disgrace, you’ve let everybody down.”
“I’m sorry, mummy, really sorry,” Martin tried to hug her, but she thrust him angrily away. “Don’t think tears and false remorse will get you out of this one Martin Mitchell. Just you wait until your father gets home.”
“Please, please don’t tell him,” he begged, “he’ll be so angry.”
“Don’t be so silly, Martin, how can I possibly avoid telling him, he’d find out regardless. The grapevine will be positively vibrating with this little nugget of gossip. Go and get ready for bed, both of you can stay out of my sight. I’m leaving your father to deal with this.”
Martin and Paul trailed sadly up to their room, getting ready for bed in silence. As time ticked by they listened nervously for sounds of Martin’s father coming home from work. Waiting was the worst part, not knowing what he’d say to them.
“I bet we’ll get a walloping for this,” Martin looked tearfully at Paul. “I haven’t been whacked for weeks, but as soon as you turn up, I’m in line for a real whopper.”
Paul shrugged, trying to be nonchalant, “so what, it only stings for a few minutes.” He looked thoughtful, “we should have left our underpants on, under out pyjamas.”
“Two Pairs,” Martin looked a bit brighter, “then it won’t sting as much.” They quickly whipped their pyjamas off and pulled on the extra underclothing.
Martin’s tummy lurched when he finally heard the front door open and the sound of his father’s voice as he called a greeting. They tensed, listening for footsteps.
They soon came, managing to convey a sense of anger as they advanced up the stairs. The two boys moved instinctively together as the door was smartly opened.
“Downstairs, both of you.”
Martin and Paul’s hearts sank as one; a whacking was definitely imminent.
They stood up, preceding him down the stairs. Martin averted his gaze away from the steel blue coldness of his father’s eyes as he passed him. They were ushered into the dining room.
“Thief,” Thomas curled his lip in contempt, “my own son a common thief! Is that what you get up to when you’re outside?”
“It was just a game, daddy.” Martin let his eyes fill with tears.
“A dare, not like real stealing, uncle Thomas.”
“Just for a laugh, a bit of fun.”
The two boys tried desperately to justify the unjustifiable, but ended up making it worse for themselves.
Thomas almost exploded. “You were caught stealing,” he snapped. “I don’t find anything remotely amusing or playful in that. You ought to know better, in fact, you do know better, which makes what you’ve done even more appalling and inexcusable. How dare you stand there and tell me that you chose to do wrong, for AMUSEMENT!”
“It was only some rotten chocolate and sweets, we haven’t murdered anyone,” muttered Paul, looking defiantly at his uncle as he ranted on and on.
“Don’t add insolence to your list of crimes, young man,” Thomas pointed towards the door. “Wait outside, I’ll deal with Martin first.”
Closing the dining room door behind his nephew, Thomas wasted no further time. Pulling a heavy chair out into the centre of the room, he sat down, motioning Martin forward. “Save the tears Martin,” he looked grimly at his son, “you’ll need them, because believe me, I’m going to give you something to cry about.”
Martin’s eyes opened wide in horror and he let out a yell as his father hooked his fingers into the waistband of his pyjamas and pulled them down, swiftly followed by first one, then the second pair of underpants.
Thomas was not pleased at the attempted deception. He took his son’s wrist, drawing him forward across his lap. Hooking his right arm firmly around his waist he ignored the tearful pleading and promising.
Outside the door, Paul paled as he heard his cousin give a horrified squawk. “Please daddy! Please don’t spank me. I won’t do it again, I promise, I promise.”
There was a resounding crack followed by a screech as Martin’s plea fell on deaf ears and a hard hand fell on his bare backside.
Poor Paul sat on the stairs, eyes widening in fearful dismay as he counted the number of smacks and listened to his cousin’s shrieks.
Martin screamed at the top of his lungs as his father’s hand spanked every inch of his bottom again and again. He kicked wildly, trying to escape the hot sting, but succeeded only in kicking his pants and pyjama bottoms off. At last it was over, he was placed back on his feet. His hands flew back to cover his burning behind, while dancing from foot to foot.
Thomas handed him his pyjama bottoms, “put those on and return to your room.”
Paul gulped as the dining room door opened and his cousin shot out clutching his backside, his flushed face awash with tears. Thomas solicitously held the door open as his tearful nephew slunk past him.
Martin was a tight ball under his blankets when Paul, wailing like a banshee, hurled himself into his own bed. Neither boy spoke for some time, both nursing their punished backsides and wallowing in miserable self-pity. Eventually, Martin sat up, wiping away the last traces of tears from his face, “are you okay, Paul?”
Paul remained a huddled shape under his blankets, “that’s the worst walloping I’ve ever had from uncle Thomas,” he said in a shaky voice. “He’s never, never spanked me as hard as that.”
Martin rubbed his sore bottom. “ Nor me. I nearly wet myself when he took down my pants. And I thought the beast was never going to stop.”
Paul sat up, dragging the sleeve of his pyjama jacket across his eyes. “Me neither, it hurt like bloody hell.” He was silent for a moment, then gave a little giggle, “At least Laura got away, she didn’t half kick that shop assistant when he grabbed her.”
“And did you see his face when she bit his thumb,” Martin giggled too.
Then they both jumped with fright as a cold voice spoke from the doorway, “obviously I haven’t punished you enough, not if you can still find something amusing in the situation.” Thomas was still deeply angry, particularly with his son whom he would have expected to walk away from such blatant wrongdoing. He had less noble expectations of the other pair. Paul and Laura were incorrigible once they got together. He continued, “I might have known madam Laura would be involved somewhere along the line. I expect it was she who initiated the whole thing.”
“No,” Paul spoke up bravely, “it was my idea this time.”
“Don’t tell her parents, dad, she’ll think I’ve told on her and she won’t want to be my friend anymore.”
“All the more reason to inform them in that case, Martin. You and she could do with a little time apart in my opinion. I’m sick and tired of your antics when you’re with her. That business at Halloween was bad enough, then the carol singing lark, and now this. I am going to tell her parents; she deserves to be punished, just as much as you did. I’m so very disappointed in you, Martin, more than disappointed, deeply ashamed, so is your mother. You’ve broken our trust in you. Dinner is ready, you may go downstairs.”
Martin blushed to the roots of his hair; he didn’t like his parents being ashamed of him.
Dinner was a strained affair. Martin kept looking hopefully at his parents, but they met his look with cold detachment. He picked dejectedly at his meal, his appetite gone.
Paul was more resilient; the worst was over as far as he was concerned. He ate with gusto, his aunt’s cooking was good and he was hungry. “That was dreamy, aunt Evie, you’re the best cook, thank you,” he beamed at her happily, “may I have some more?”
Evie was hard pressed not to smile back, but she managed to keep her mouth from curving, “no, Paul you may not. There’s apple crumble and cream for desert, just wait until everybody else has finished.” She glanced at her son, “stop playing with that food please, Martin. Eat it up, otherwise there’s no dessert.”
Martin shook his head, “I’m not hungry, and I don’t care about dessert.”
“Off to bed then, your sullen face is quite spoiling my appetite,” Thomas looked grimly at him, “go on, out of my sight, you disgust me.” He stifled a pang of regret as Martin burst into tears and fled the room. He didn’t regret the punishment he’d meted out to the two boys, they had thoroughly deserved it. There was no excuse for their behaviour, none at all. They had both been brought up with very strong ideas of right and wrong. They couldn’t use the excuse of ignorance or poverty to explain their actions. They had deliberately broken an important rule, just for a bit of cheap excitement. He was bitterly disappointed with his son, not just for the act, but for the way he refused to accept responsibility, always offering excuses and trying to wheedle his way out of bother. He shook his head when Evie asked if he wanted dessert. “No thank you darling, I’m afraid I’m not that hungry.” He accepted a cup of strong coffee, excusing himself and taking it into the sitting room.
Paul pulled a face as his uncle left the room, glancing towards his aunt. “Uncle Thomas is pretty upset, isn’t he, aunt Evie?”
“Yes Paul, with good reason and I suspect that your father will be too.”
Paul’s appetite suddenly waned and he laid down his spoon. “Do you really have to tell him, aunt Evie?”
“Of course. We can hardly keep something of this nature from him. This may yet go to court, if the manager decides to press charges. Besides, I have no doubt that the news will already be winging its way towards him. Those police officers knew exactly who you were. Your uncle intends to telephone your father later and tell him the whole sorry story. He’ll be angry, I have no doubt of that.”
Paul sighed, and then shrugged, it was done, no good moping. He finished his apple crumble, looking hopefully for second helpings.
“Certainly not,” Evie was astounded by the cheek of the boy, “off to bed with you.”
Thomas stepped into the hall as his nephew made his way towards the stairs. Paul’s timorous smile was met with something less than warm affection. “You can give sulky Sam a message. Neither of you is allowed out tomorrow, as you’ve proven that you cannot to be trusted. I’m going round to see David and Catherine in a moment. Laura is not getting off Scott free, not if I can help it.”
“I don’t know why you’re sulking. I get a telling off and a whacking from uncle Thomas,” Paul threw the dice, they were sitting cross legged on his bed playing Monopoly, “then I’ll get another telling off from dad, it’s not fair. I bet he’ll go mad about this. He’s always shouting at me, even when I haven’t done anything. Lucy says he’s seeing some tart, did I tell you?”
Martin shook his head, “what’s a tart?”
“Don’t know really, that’s just what Lucy said. She and dad keep rowing these days, it’s horrible.”
They heard someone enter the house and the sound of voices, but they didn’t take much notice, until the bedroom door suddenly swung open.
Paul’s eyes opened wide. “Dad!” He hadn’t expected a meeting with his father quite so soon.
Edward, like his brother, was decidedly un-amused by his son’s antics. As predicted, it hadn’t taken long for the glad tidings to reach him. Two spots of livid colour in his cheeks indicated the temper boiling beneath the surface. He had driven like a madman all the way from Durham. He waded straight in. “You’ve only been here for two days and already you’re involved in trouble. Well, you’ve gone too far this time. You’ve made me a laughing stock! Have you any idea how badly your behaviour reflects on me. I hold a position of considerable responsibility,” he aimed a glare at his nephew, “so does your father, Martin. Your stupid behaviour can only undermine our authority. It will be right through the service by tomorrow that Chief Inspector Mitchell and Governor Mitchell have thieves for sons. This will cause us deep embarrassment.”
Paul glared sullenly at his father, “that’s all that matters to you, isn’t it? Well I’m glad that everyone will be laughing at you. You care more about your stinking job and that tart you’re seeing, than you do about…”
Martin gave a cry of fright as his cousin’s speech was abruptly cut short by the back of his father’s hand as it struck him hard across the mouth.
“Don’t you dare speak to me like that,” thundered Edward, beside himself with rage.
“Pig, you’re a bloody big pig,” shouted Paul, then shrieked as his father once again swung his hand back.
Martin started yelling, “leave him alone, you shouldn’t hit him like that, not in the face.” He cowered back as his uncle angrily turned towards him.
“That’s quite enough, Edward.” Evie dashed into the room, shaken by the extent of her brother in law’s fury, he seemed quite out of control. “As I told you downstairs, Thomas has already punished the boys.”
“Oh yes,” Edward’s voice was scornful, but he let his hand drop, “and I know Thomas’ idea of punishment, a few slaps on the backside.” Turning abruptly on his heel, he walked out of the room leaving Paul crouched sobbing on the bed amidst the wreckage of the monopoly board.
Evelyn hurried over, but he wouldn’t allow her to examine his face, “go away, leave me alone, I hate you all.”
“Martin, pick those game pieces up, before they get trodden on.” Evie insisted that Paul sit up while she examined his mouth. There was a small nick, where his teeth had punctured his lower lip. “I’m afraid your father is under considerable work pressure at the moment, Paul. Your little escapade was obviously the last straw, I’m sure he regrets his actions.”
“He’s a hateful pig!” said Martin.
“That’s enough, Martin, when I want your opinion I’ll ask for it,” said Evie sharply. “Go into the bathroom and wring out a flannel in cold water, then go downstairs and fetch the first aid box.”
Paul sobbed as his aunt gently pressed the flannel to his mouth; she put an arm around him, drawing him against her body.
“I hate him, auntie Evie, I do,” Paul clung tightly to her. “He never has any time for me. He didn’t even come to see me in my Christmas play, after promising he would. All he cares about is his career and his reputation. Lucy is going to university next September, she says she’s put it off long enough and it was his job to look after me, not hers. No one wants me around. They had a big argument. Dad says he’s going to send me to a strict boarding school, but I won’t go, I won’t! I’ll run away. He said you and uncle Thomas have pampered me too much.”
Thomas, having noted his brother’s car on the drive, steeled himself and opened the front door just as Martin was making his way from the kitchen with the first aid box.
“What’s going on, what’s happened?”
“Uncle Edward beat Paul up and cut his mouth,” said Martin dramatically.
Ignoring his brother who stepped into the hall to angrily refute the allegations, a startled Thomas flew up the stairs to the bedroom, “what on earth has happened, Evelyn? Martin said Edward attacked Paul.” He bent down, tilting his nephew’s chin up so he could view the damage.
Evie gave Martin an exasperated look as he followed his father into the bedroom with the first aid box. “Martin is gilding the lily. It looks worse than it is. His teeth have caught his lip. She dabbed antiseptic onto Paul’s mouth as she explained what had happened.
Thomas, inwardly cursing himself for not being at home, went to have a word with his brother.
Martin waited a moment or two and then crept out after him. He sat in the middle of the stairs, listening to the raised voices from the living room.
“What on earth possessed you, Edward? You must have known I’d have dealt with the matter, there was no need to come tearing down here. Yes, Paul was naughty, very naughty, they both were. Yes, they deserved to be punished, and they were, in a way appropriate to their age. I know you’ve got personal problems, as well as work difficulties at the moment, but you shouldn’t have taken them out on Paul, not in that manner.”
“You have no idea of the tricks that boy gets up to, and you didn’t hear the way he spoke to me,” shouted Edward furiously, “so don’t preach at me, Thomas. He’s a thorough damn nuisance. I was called to the school three times last term because of some trouble he was in. His reports are a disgrace, he’d have been expelled from a state school by now.”
“Paul behaves badly to get your attention, Edward. When was the last time you spent any real time with the boy. You hardly ever turn up to his school events. Paul has a point, you do seem more concerned with your career and reputation, than you do with him.”
“I have to be concerned with reputation, you know that.” Edward began pacing up and down. “There’s always someone waiting to see you fall flat on your face. This kind of thing undermines your authority. I’ve had enough. I can’t cope with him any longer, especially now Lucy has decided to trot off to Oxford. He’s definitely going off to a boarding school, preferably one that will keep him in line.”
“That’s your idea of a solution is it? You’re being totally selfish. I know Paul is a handful, he always has been, he’s mischievous, but he’s not bad or malicious. He’s breaking his heart up there, crying out for a sign that you love him, and all you can think of is to send him away. Lucy has shown him more love and affection than you have since Barbara died. You at least had your work to immerse yourself in, they only had each other.” Thomas paused, before saying quietly; “surely you haven’t forgotten how we felt when father packed us off to boarding school after mother died? A boarding school will only confirm Paul’s fears that he’s not wanted.”
“Right now, Thomas, I’m not actually sure that I do love him, or want him around.
“Eddie,” Thomas was shocked, “you don’t mean that.”
“I do, as we speak, and as for Lucy, I’m disappointed in her, she’s only going to university to spite me. She’ll meet some gawky boy and get married and that will be that, it’s a waste of an expensive education.”
“None of this would have arisen if you’d let Evie and I have care of them, after Barbara died, but oh no, you could manage. The thing is, you haven’t managed, Lucy has, and it’s not fair. I can understand Lucy’s decision to go to university, she needs to have some time of her own, it’s only right that she does what she wants while she’s young enough to enjoy it. She’s Paul’s sister, not a substitute mother. You got on with fulfilling your ambitions at work and ignored what was under your nose. It’s time you got your priorities right, Edward. Why can’t you employ a housekeeper, or a nanny, to look after Paul, if you won’t allow us to do it.”
“You always assume you know best, don’t you, Thomas?” Edward’s tone was bitter, “you were just the same when we were children, smug, self righteous, always trying to take charge. Well how I deal with my son is my business, not yours. I pay enough in school fees, without employing a nanny for him. I doubt that a nanny would put up with him for long. He drives the cleaning lady mad with his pranks and cheek. A boarding school won’t cost much more than the day school he goes to, and at least I’ll know he’s under twenty four hour supervision.”
“For God’s sake, Edward, he’s a little boy of ten, not a criminal.”
“Eavesdropping,” said Evie coldly, making Martin jump with fright, he hadn’t heard her approaching, “is exceedingly ill mannered.”
“Sorry, mummy,” said Martin, reddening.
“Go back to bed at once,” Evie hurried downstairs, the argument in the living room was hotting up.”
“That’s enough, the children can here you,” her voice was sharp as she entered the sitting room, closing the door behind her. “Rowing isn’t going to resolve anything. If I may say so, Edward, you’re completely over reacting to the situation.”
The living room door opened again, and Martin darted quickly upstairs before he was spotted.
“Are you awake, Paul?”
Paul, huddled under his blankets, didn’t reply, so Martin left him alone, getting a book and climbing into bed. What a horrible day it had been. He jumped as the front door slammed, moments later he heard his uncle’s car drive off.
Paul immediately jumped out of bed, charging downstairs. “Has he gone? Has dad really gone without even saying goodbye?” He broke into a fresh paroxysm of weeping. His aunt and uncle took him into the sitting room to comfort him.
Martin lay back miserably on his pillows. If only they hadn’t done it.
It had been Paul’s idea in the first place, but Laura had taken it a stage further, they were always the same when they got together, trying to outdo each other. They had been playing dares and this was Paul’s dare to them: to pinch something from the corner shop. Laura had been taken by the idea at once, she wasn’t adverse to a bit of light pilfering, anything for a bit of fun and excitement. She then suggested turning it into a competition to see who could nick the best stuff. Paul had the said the corner shop was too easy and they should go into town, to one of the big shops, because there was more choice. Martin hadn’t wanted to do it, he knew it was wrong, but they’d mocked and jeered at him. Laura said he was cowardy custard, a spoilsport and a boring stick in the mud. She had double dared him and he had given in. It was either that or go home, leaving Paul and Laura together. On reflection he wished he’d gone home. He got up, creeping silently down the stairs to see if he could hear what was going on. The sitting room door was ajar; Martin felt a stab of jealousy at seeing Paul curled up on his father’s lap. He pushed the door open and walked in. “May I come downstairs?”
“Seems to me that you are down, Martin.” Thomas viewed him with a chilly eye, “what you mean to say is, may I stay downstairs? The answer is no. Go back to bed.”
“Paul’s staying downstairs, why can’t I?”
“Paul is very upset. Your father and I are having a little talk with him. Be a good boy and go back to bed.” Evie began to steer Martin quickly towards the door, Thomas was beginning to look cross. “I’ll bring you a milky drink up.” She closed the door behind them, saying quietly, “do as you’re told, Martin, your father is in no mood for disobedience. You’re still very much in his bad books.”
“Here we are,” Evie came into the bedroom with a mug of cocoa for him; she placed it on the bedside table. “Drink that, then brush your teeth and put your light out.”
“Thank you,” Martin sat up straight, “is Paul alright?”
“He’s still upset, but he’ll get over it. He’s a bit like a rubber ball, he soon bounces back.” She sat down on the bed, “whatever possessed you to behave like that?”
“Sorry, it was a silly dare. I promise I won’t steal ever again.”
“I should hope not,” said Evie crisply, “you do realise that this could come to a juvenile court? You may well have to appear before a magistrate.”
Martin’s face crumpled, “will I be sent away, mummy? I don’t want to go to prison.”
Evelyn relented, putting her arms around him, “no one will send you away darling, you’re too young for prison. Uncle Edward and your father will do their best to sort it out.”
“Do you still love me, mummy?”
“Of course I do, darling. I’ll always love you.” She dried his eyes, “don’t forget to brush your teeth.”
Martin was still awake when his father carried a sleeping Paul upstairs and put him to bed. He propped himself up on his elbow, “Sorry, dad,” he whispered hopefully.
“Go to sleep, it’s late.” Thomas walked out, closing the door curtly behind him.
Martin lay back down; his father’s coolness and the omission of the usual goodnight kiss hurt more than the walloping whose presence he could still detect lingering on his backside.
Thomas had left for work by the time the two boys got up next morning. Paul was subdued; his mouth was sore, making eating and speaking uncomfortable. He didn’t much care about being kept in, curling up quietly on the couch in the warm sitting room, brooding.
Martin however, did care about being kept in. He also resented his father being nice to Paul and horrid to him. After all it had all been Paul’s idea. “I don’t expect Laura will want to be my friend now,” he glared at his mother, “not after dad told tales on her and got her into trouble. I hate him, he’s a big sneak.”
“Don’t be impertinent, young man,” Evie wagged a warning finger at him, “make yourself useful and help me clear the breakfast things away.”
“I don’t want to, and I don’t see why I should have to stay in all day, not as well as getting a massive whacking. It’s not fair.”
“Stop whining, Martin, you brought this on yourself. You’d better behave for the rest of these holidays. Daddy said he’d cancel Christmas if you misbehaved again.”
“He can’t cancel Christmas, he’s not God, though he thinks he is,” snapped Martin rudely.
Evie calmly drew him to his feet. “As far as you’re concerned Martin Mitchell, he is God, and I’m his second in command.” She applied the palm of her hand to the seat of his trousers, “go back to your room.”
Martin stamped furiously upstairs and slammed his bedroom door, then he opened it and slammed it again, then again, until his mother shouted that if he did it one more time he’d regret it. He flung himself down on the bed. Rotten swine’s, that’s what his parents were.
Evie got on with her housework, popping her head around the sitting room door every now and again to see if Paul was all right. His quietness disturbed her; it was most out of character. She made herself a cup of tea, “break time,” she smiled, sitting down next to him, “I’ve brought you a glass of milk. Sit up and drink it.”
Paul sipped at his drink, wincing as the action made his lip hurt. He put the glass down on the coffee table, “what will happen to me, auntie Evie?”
“What do you mean darling?”
“Well dad doesn’t want me. Lucy doesn’t want me,” he gazed up at her from tear filled blue eyes, “I don’t want to go to a boarding school. I’m scared, auntie Evie. Can I come and live with you and uncle Thomas, please,” the tears spilled over. “I won’t be any trouble, I promise. I won’t swear, or make rude noises at the table. I’ll do as I’m told straight off. I’ll even make my own bed, and I’ll be really quiet.”
Evie pulled a handkerchief from her apron pocket to mop his eyes. “Come on, have a cuddle.” She wrapped her arms around him, “let things cool down for a few days. Your father will come to see you very soon and you can apologise properly, then everything will be alright.”
“I wish mummy hadn’t died. I miss her auntie Evie. Dad doesn’t love me, but mummy did, she used to tell me all the time and he never kisses or hugs me the way she did.” His tears fell faster, “why doesn’t he love me?”
Evie hugged him tighter, “he does love you, Paul, he just finds it difficult to say so. He’s a lot like his own father, he found it difficult to express feelings, it doesn’t mean he didn’t have them, he did. Your father was very upset when your mother died; he wrapped himself up in his work so he didn’t have to think about how much he missed her. He’s sort of trapped himself in a protective shell, and all his feelings are locked inside it.”
“Lucy says he’s angry because I was with mummy when she died. I don’t remember her dying. She put her arms round me and I fell asleep. When I woke up again, I was in my own bed. It wasn’t my fault she died was it, auntie Evie, is that why daddy doesn’t love me, because I made mummy die?”
Evie was horrified, how long had he been carrying thoughts like this around in his head? She gathered him against her, “no, no, my darling. Lucy had no business saying things like that to a little boy. Your mother had cancer nothing could save her. It was in no way your fault. Just you remember this; she went to her heavenly sleep holding you in her arms, that’s very, very special. It must have brought her a great deal of comfort, having you close by, because she loved you so much, and her love will always be with you.” She kissed him, “we’ll make a special Christmas visit to her grave and take her some lovely flowers, would you like that?”
Paul nodded, feeling comforted by her words, “yes please.” He sat for a while enjoying being cuddled. “Lucy says dad is seeing some tart. She’s really angry with him. What does she mean, auntie Evie, what is a tart?”
Evie was shocked, “it’s a very naughty word,” she said primly, “really the things Lucy says to you. I’ll be having words with that young lady.” A thought suddenly struck her, “you didn’t say that to your father did you?” Evie groaned inwardly, as he confirmed he had. “Don’t use that word again, Paul, particularly not in front of your father and uncle. It’s a very objectionable way of referring to a lady,” she grimaced slightly. This was the first she’d heard about Edward seeing a lady friend. She changed the subject, patting Paul’s knee. “I’m going to start preparing lunch, do you want to help me chop some vegetables for soup?”
Martin was playing with his train layout when Paul came up to tell him lunch was ready. “Auntie Evie says you’re to come down at once, no arguments, or she’ll fetch her hairbrush.”
Martin scowled ferociously.
“Come on, Martin, you don’t want your bum brushing do you?” Paul grinned, then squeaked with pain, putting a finger to his sore lip.
Marti smiled reluctantly, “okay, I am rather hungry.”
Evie placed a bowl of soup in front of her son, and then stood with folded arms, “have you got something to say to me young man?”
“Sorry for being rude this morning,” he muttered reluctantly.
“I should jolly well think so,” Evie, ruffled his hair, before sitting down with them to eat lunch. She was looking forward to telling Tom about Martin’s response to his threat to cancel Christmas. It would make him smile.
Thomas, however, was not in a smiling mood that evening. He’d had a difficult day at work, coupled with which he’d been unable to contact his brother. All his phone calls had been blocked with the response, “I’m sorry Chief Inspector Mitchell is in a meeting and cannot be disturbed.” Thomas felt bad about Paul, blaming himself for what had happened. “I should have telephoned Edward immediately Evie. It would have been better coming from me, rather than hearing it second hand. Then he wouldn’t have come tearing down here like a madman, all guns blazing. He must think I was deliberately trying to keep him in the dark.”
After dinner, Paul approached his uncle, casually asking if he’d spoken with his father at all that day. Thomas shook his head, “I’m sorry, Paul. Your father has been very busy. I expect he’ll telephone when he gets a chance.”
“No he won’t, he hates me,” Paul dissolved into tears. Thomas slipped a comforting arm around him. “Of course he doesn’t hate you. He’ll calm down eventually, don’t fret about it.”
Martin burned with jealous resentment. His father had barely spoken to him, greeting him with a curt nod of the head instead of the usual hug and kiss. It wasn’t fair that he was still in the doghouse. He sat miserably on the floor, playing with a small meccano model he’d made, giving sidelong glances at his father and cousin, who had wormed his way onto his uncle’s lap. His mother had gone to a W.I. meeting, so he couldn’t even seek her out for solace.
Thomas picked up his newspaper, turning to the crossword.
“Can I help, uncle Thomas?”
Thomas smiled, “yes, if you like. We’ll see if we can crack it together.” He began reading out the clues.
Paul settled himself more comfortably on his uncle’s knee, listening solemnly as the clue, the first line of a poem was read out. To his delight he knew it, “Lord Byron,” he shouted excitedly, “the prisoner of Chillon, we did it in school last term. I’m right aren’t I?”
Thomas laughed, “well done, so you do listen to some things at school.” He wrote the clue in.
“What’s next?” Paul beamed with pride.
Martin scrambled to his feet flinging his model aside so violently, it broke into pieces, scattering everywhere. He ran out of the sitting room, slamming the door behind him, ignoring his startled father’s shouts to come back at once.
“What do you think you’re playing at?” Thomas flung open the playroom door, “How dare you ignore me like that.”
“I didn’t hear you,” lied Martin.
“Get downstairs and clear that mess up immediately.”
Martin thought about arguing, but wisely decided against it. He pounded back downstairs, gathering the model pieces together with an ill grace and a flash of regret; it had been a good model. He held his father and cousin responsible for its destruction.
“What’s wrong, Martin?” Paul was puzzled by his cousin’s bad temper.
“Shut your gob and mind your own business!”
“Do you want to pay another visit to the dining room, young man?” Thomas put a hand on Martin’s shoulder, giving him a little shake.
Martin resisted the urge to say, no ta, I’ve just eaten. He shook his head instead.
“I can only assume that tiredness lies behind your sulky bad temper. Go to bed, put your light straight out.”
“I hate you,” shouted Martin as he dashed upstairs, “I wish you were dead.” He flung himself onto his bed, groaning as he heard his father coming up the stairs after him. Why wouldn’t he ever let anything go?
“I don’t know what’s got into you this evening, Martin,” Thomas glared at him, “but it had better be out of you by tomorrow. Now do as you’re told and get ready for bed. I’ll give you five minutes to do the necessaries and if you’re still on terra firma after that; you’ll regret it.” He left without saying goodnight.
Martin satisfied himself by mentally machine-gunning his father in the back as he left the room.
copyright Ester Phillips / Cat 2015