The Right Thing
by Keith Wright
A short story from Keith's second anthology: Killing Mum and other crime short stories.
Detective Constable Andy Black was a popular member of the team at Bromshire CID. He was always up for a joke and a bit of fun. Always happy to keep morale up. He was a copper's copper. He was always first out of the door if there was a shout for assistance. When it came to arresting the vicious, evil, most dangerous members of society, he was knocking on the door. He never shirked away from anything, not the nutters, the psychopaths, the rapists, armed robbers, or the disavowed. He believed in the job and the need to rid society of the filth that raped, stabbed, and brutalised decent members of the public, leaving them frightened and bewildered. He had time for people. He was as honest as the day was long. Andy Black was a dyed-in-the-wool detective. Andy was a dedicated, loyal member of the CID who was quite prepared to work hard and play hard. His big mistake was that he had a default belief that everyone serving in the police was just like him. Alas, he was to learn the hard way that this was not necessarily the case.
Andy had been a detective for ten years. He was well-established and well-thought-of. He had been the youngest detective to join the CID at the time, this being his sole intention from day one of joining the police. He wasn't too fussed at going for promotion, as his priority was getting into the CID, dealing with the most serious crimes, and being in the thick of what mattered most. Promotion often meant a deviation away from that type of work, at least for a few years. In truth, he couldn't understand why anyone would choose any other department within the force other than the CID. It was why he had joined; to put away the 'proper' criminals. It didn't happen overnight, of course. He had worked hard and proved himself to be a good 'thief-taker,' as they used to call it. Still, beyond that, he also displayed the tenacity and attention to detail required to develop complex investigations and to wring out the maximum benefit from locking up a 'wrong un.'
He could never have guessed that all of this meant he was destined to suffer a terrible fate at the hands of the very institution he lived and breathed.
DC Black cut quite a dash as he bounced into the CID office in his smart suit and shiny shoes. He sat at his desk after the good mornings and handed a coffee to his workmates Ashton Billings, Dwayne Scot and Paul Leivers. He spilt each cup as he awkwardly placed the tray on the desks, which were all pushed into one another to form a nest of detectives. 'Nest of vipers' was what Andy had jokingly called it when someone else used the phrase.
'Seeing as you lot are too bloody idle.' Andy flopped down in his chair. 'Have you been waiting for me to arrive to make a coffee? Have we sunk to such depths of apathy?'
Ashton smiled weakly, and Paul shrugged out a laugh. Dwayne had a blank look on his face. He still looked half asleep, and his hair betrayed the fact illustrating his haste to get to work on time without the aid of a brush or comb. There was an unusual silence as Andy tapped his pen on the desk.
'Come on then. What's up? What's gone off, now?' Andy could sense the vibe was somewhat morose. Something wasn't right.
Ash glanced towards the large whiteboard on the wall at the end of the office. Andy could see that someone had crudely drawn a calendar on it with each day of the week and then referenced when DC Mary Harper was 'on rag.'
Monday – fine.
Tuesday – bitch.
Wednesday – bigger bitch.
Thursday – on rag.
Friday – on rag.
Saturday – on rag.
Sunday – A nightmare.
'Ouch. That's too much.' Andy said. 'That's cruel. Come on guys, that needs to come off now.'
'We know.' Paul said.
'Who's done it?' Andy asked.
'Who do you think?'
'Yep, and we have strict instructions not to wipe it off.' Ashton said. 'It's gone too far this time, even for him.'
'You're joking. We can't wipe it off?' Andy said.
'Do we look like we're joking?' Dwayne's voice was croaky. 'It's not nice.'
'Is he on today?' Andy asked.
'Is who on?' The voice boomed from the doorway as Detective Sergeant Alf Garton strode in.
'Morning, Sarge.' They all chorused in a much-practised way that resonated like a perfunctory 'hail caesar.'
Sergeant Garton sat down and shuffled his papers while Andy Black pondered the situation. He was trying to work out the best way to approach it.
'Whiteboard's funny, Alf.' Andy lied.
'Ha! Yeah, I know. Fuck her.'
'Do you mind if I rub it off in a bit? I want to brief some uniform staff, and I could do with using it to show positions when we make an arrest at Forest Town.' Andy said.
'Do it on hand-outs.' Alf didn't look up from his paperwork.
'It would be better if I could use the whiteboard, Sarge.'
'It's just that-'
Sergeant Garton looked up, and he had that look in his eye. 'It stays, Andy. I want her to see how fucking temperamental she is and how she is fucking up what used to be a hard-working, happy, CID office.'
'Who?' Andy was acting intentionally dumb.
'Mary Harper, who do you think? Fucking mardy cow. I'm sick of her mood swings and general lack of discipline or consideration for others. Everything is an effort with her.'
Andy grimaced. 'If one of the gaffers sees it, Alf, there's gonna be a load of shit. Is it worth it?'
'I don't give a shit, Andy. I'll rub it off when the time is right. The DI is on leave, anyway, so he won't see it anytime soon. If anyone else sees it, they don't know who put it there, do they? Just plead ignorance. First time I've seen it. That sort of thing.'
Andy rubbed at his eyes, and as his vision returned, he noticed the knowing glances from his colleagues. The die was cast. They could hear clip-clopping coming down the corridor. DC Mary Harper walked in, and the air thickened. She went to her desk in silence. Andy smiled. 'Morning, Mary.'
Andy gave her a hesitant smile this time and glanced at the whiteboard. Mary's gaze followed his, and she took in the humiliation. It was headed, 'Days to avoid DC Mary Harper when she's on rag.'
Tears welled up, and without saying a word, she picked up her bag and walked out of the office. Alf was grinning from ear to ear, and the other detectives were caught in an unconvincing smile. As Mary disappeared out the door, Andy got up and went after her.
'Fucking leave the bitch.' Alf shouted, but Andy kept going. He hated things like this. He liked a bit of fun, and you had to take it and give it, but this was beyond all that. It was nasty, and it was designed to hurt. It was bang out of order.
'Mary?' He ran after her down the corridor and took her arm. 'Mary, come on, let's go to the canteen and grab a cuppa.'
She was crying. 'I've had it, Andy; I'm going sick, and if anyone asks, I'm telling them why.'
'Let's try to sort it out, Mary.' Andy said.
'No, Andy, I'm not being humiliated like this. I wasn't brought up that way, and this is just – it's just too much.'
She wiped her eyes. Andy watched as she walked away, feeling sick to the stomach. This was so wrong. It was such a shame to take it this far as a Detective Sergeant, Alf should have known better. To some extent, they were both as bad as each other, and it wouldn't end well.
Andy walked wearily back to his desk. The room was in silence.
'She's gone home. She's going sick, she says.'
'Good. And good riddance, let's hope she stays there.' Alf said with a gleeful smile.
'Sarge. This is going to end badly.'
'Andy, all of us are sick to death of her fucking moody ways. You are as well, aren't you?'
'That is true. She is a pain in the arse.' Andy said, always one for the truth.
'She needs something to shock her out of it, and she needs to see herself in the mirror and how it affects everyone else. Everything was fine until she came in and started having bloody tantrums left, right, and centre.' Alf said.
Andy took a breath. 'I get it, Sarge, but I think it's a step too far. Will you let me take it down? Please?'
'I've told you, it stays.'
Paul wanted to change the subject and get out of the office. 'Andy, will you give us a hand nicking a dude for a commercial burglary this morning? Do you mind?'
Andy and Paul got back to the CID office just before midday. The burglar hadn't been in, so he would have to come another day. They had searched the place, but it was negative. Thankfully, when they returned, DS Alf Garton was out of the office, and only the detectives on the team were present—all at the cluster of desks, either on the phone or doing paperwork. The offending 'masterpiece' was still on the whiteboard.
It was much more relaxed when the Sarge was out of the office these days. He had let Mary's intransigent and temperamental ways dominate his landscape. It seemed to be a product of his frustration that he was resorting to more and more ridiculous ways to show everyone who was boss. Neither would give ground. It was all about control on both sides of the argument. They were both pig-headed. The problem with an ever-increasing escalation of tactics is that inevitably one ends up going over the edge, and then the shit really hits the fan, and the Police Complaints Department gets involved. The whole damn thing was unseemly and unnecessary. It was two adults who needed their heads banging together. The situation was such that Mary was stubborn as a mule, and Alf had an ego and a semi-fantasy reputation to keep up. Everyone wished it would all go away. At the same time, the detectives seemed shit-scared of Alf Garton; they knew he had a nasty side to him, and no one wanted to cross him.
Andy Black wanted it to go away, too, and he took the opportunity to speak to his colleagues while Alf was out.
'What are we going to do, guys?' Andy said.
'What can we do?' Dwayne said somewhat pathetically.
'Take it down.' Andy said.
'Off you go, then.'
'No. We all do it. There's safety in numbers.' Andy said.
'I'm keeping out of it.' Ashton said.
'You know complaints are going to end up being involved in this, don't you?' Andy seemed exasperated. 'She's going to report it if she hasn't already.'
And then what are we going to do?' Andy asked. 'Pretend we haven't seen it? Do you think that is going to wash?'
'What can we do, Andy?' Paul said. 'We've tried to talk to Alf, but he won't have it, and you're right; he has gone too far this time.'
Andy spoke up. 'Surely we have to do the right thing? We are cops, aren't we? Why wouldn't we have the guts to tell the truth?'
'It's a bit more complicated than that. Alf will have your balls on a plate.' Dwayne said.
'Maybe he will, but what else do we do? Join in? I mean, have I got this wrong? Do we all agree it's too much? That Alf has gone too far?'
'Yes, of course.' The others agreed.
'So surely we should have the courage of our convictions. It's not like we haven't tried every other way to resolve it.' Andy said.
'The senior officers won't support you, Andy. They won't support any of us. They won't like it. It's just another problem for them, and they'd sooner turn a blind eye.'
'Yeah, well, it's too late for that. It will come out because Mary will make sure it does, and then they will come to us. What are we going to do? We all need to be singing from the same hymn sheet.'
Everyone looked at each other. Nobody said anything.
'Do we give a statement?' Andy asked.
There was no reply.
'I guess we will have to.' Paul said.
'It is out of order what the Sarge has done.' Ash said.
'Okay, so we are all agreed we just tell the truth if asked, yes?'
The others agreed. 'Yes.'
Ashton put a caveat to it. 'If we are asked. And nobody has asked us yet, and maybe they never will.'
'Fair enough.' Andy stood up and walked to the window. 'I hate all this bollocks, I really do.'
Detective Sergeant Alf Garton wiped the grotesque 'on rag' calendar off the whiteboard two nights later. It was up for three days in total.
The lads all sat around the desks as they did every morning. There was a rumour that Mary had indeed complained, and who could blame her? She was likely to be off sick for weeks if not months.
Andy made the coffee again. He didn't mind. It was in his nature, and in fairness, most of the others took a turn, albeit perhaps not as regularly as he did.
Detective Inspector Terry Parks had returned from leave the day before. He had been locked in his office for most of the day, which seemed odd. It was thought he would be on leave for a few days more, but he had come back a little early for some reason.
'Is Alf not in today?' Andy asked. 'He's running late if he is.'
Paul gave Andy a knowing look. 'He's gone "sick", apparently. The boss had him in the office last night, apparently. There were raised voices, but nobody could hear what it was about.'
'Isn't it obvious?' Andy said.
'Mary?' Paul said.
'Obviously.' Ashton said.
'Remember what we said. We don't get dragged into it. We tell the truth if asked. If we start lying, it is a slippery slope. I still feel bad about it. We could have wiped the thing off before it went this far.' Andy reminded them.
'I know, me too, I feel terrible, but we didn't create the bloody situation, did we?' Ashton said. 'We tried to resolve it, well, Andy did, but Alf wouldn't listen. He knew best, and all it does is put all the shit on to us.'
'It's not good.' Was all Dwayne could say.
DI Parks walked into the office stern-faced and sat at the desks.
'Morning, sir.' Andy said with a smile, still hoping against hope that it had all gone away and they were wrong in their assumptions. Maybe a solution had been found without going the official route. It wasn't impossible. Maybe mutual agreement to move, something like that?
'Oh. As bad as that is it, sir?' Andy said.
'I take it you've heard what has happened with the calendar and Mary going sick?' The DI said.
'Um. We've heard about some sort of complaint. It's just a rumour.' Andy said, being none commital.
DI Parks saw straight through it. 'Don't start being cagey, Andy. I will be taking statements off all of you, I'm afraid. My advice is not to make it worse for yourselves, just put in the statement what you know and play it straight. At the moment, you guys haven't done anything wrong, don't change that. It's not worth it. Alf is quite happy making you guys complicit, so I don't think you need to worry about what the right thing to do is.'
'Aren't the Complaints Department dealing with it?' Andy asked. 'How come it's down to you, boss?'
'Sort of. They've asked me to get statements on their behalf, and if there is evidence, action will be taken from there.'
'Is that how it is usually dealt with, sir?' Paul asked.
'It's how they want it dealt with on this occasion.'
'Alf's mate is someone high up in Complaints, isn't he?' Andy said.
'Don't worry about that; he used to work with Dick Davidson on Complaints, a Chief Inspector. I think they are mates outside of work, but that won't impact this inquiry.'
'Are you sure, sir? How do we know we aren't going to get it in the neck further down the line?' Paul asked.
''I'm sure it will be fine. You'll have to pull your big-boy pants on, won't you? Are you all prepared to say what happened?'
'If we have to. We would prefer not to be involved, to be honest, boss.' Andy said.
'You do have to. He's involved you by his actions, so don't blame me. I can't believe he's been that stupid.'
They all nodded.
'You first, then, Andy.' The boss said, and the two walked off towards his office.
An hour later, Andy returned looking flushed in the face. 'Paul, he wants you next.'
'What, should I go in now?'
'Not now. The boss will give you a shout. I get the impression he is ringing Complaints first to update them.'
'Okay. So have you done the deed? As we agreed, yes?' Paul asked.
'Yes.' Andy confirmed it.
'What else do we do? If we don't, we get the blame and become complicit. It's sackable in this day and age, and we'd be fucked.' Dwayne said.
'Damned if you do, and damned if you don't.' Paul muttered, fiddling with his pen and then doodling on his pad.
There was a lot of nervous tension among those waiting for the call, and nobody spoke much. After what seemed like an age, Detective Inspector Parks reappeared, and Paul stood. 'Me next, boss?'
'No, it's fine. I've spoken to Complaints, and just one statement will do it. They are dealing with it in-house. No need to take statements off the rest of you and you've all agreed it was Alf, so that will suffice in my statement.'
'Eh?' Andy said. He suddenly felt like he had been deceived into something that was a group decision and turned it into it being all him. He was now on his own if no one else had to give statements.
'See you guys tomorrow.' The DI didn't hang around.
There was a gasp of relief around the tables. The thickened atmosphere evaporated, and grins emerged, levity was restored and a feeling of relief triumphed. Apart from poor Andy Black.
'How is that fair?' Andy muttered.
'Shall we have a beer to celebrate.' Paul said. 'See you down the bar.'
Andy was the last to leave. His legs felt leaden, and his throat was dry. He had been done up like a kipper. The others had got away Scot-free, and now he will be seen as public enemy number one by those unaware of what had happened. He had been hung out to dry. Andy shoved his paperwork into his drawer as the office emptied and the cheery voices quietened.
'Fuck.' He said to himself.
He followed the others down to the station bar for a pint, a couple of minutes behind them, but as he slowly pushed open the door, he saw that the Sarge, Alf Garton, despite being off sick, was in there, and all the lads, Ash, Dwayne, and Paul were standing around him, laughing and joking.
Ashton noticed Andy at the door. 'Here he is, Judas Escarriott!' He shouted.
'What?' Andy asked.
Alf gave Andy a sneer that showed the disdain already etched on the wrongdoer's face.
The others joined in, forming a chant. 'Judas, Judas, Judas!'
Andy backed up and went home. The chants rang in his ears.
It had begun.
The following weeks and months became pretty awkward for DC Andy Black. The 'Judas,' Andy Black as he was now known. The fact that the others had all agreed they would give statements was long since lost in the ether. DS Alf Garton never came back to the office. He was moved. To the Complaints Department, of all places, with his mucker, DCI Davidson. This made it worse for Andy as he knew the sort of arsehole Alf was, and he would pick his moment to set him up. It was only a matter of time. The only saving grace was that it would take time because Andy was as honest as the day was long. There was nothing about Andy that was corrupt. It didn't necessarily mean he could avoid what was coming to him, though. Those without values don't have to worry about the truth. Just to create the maximum damage and wrong foot the gullible senior officers when the time was right.
Andy knew that, sadly, it was the end of his career as such. Everything changed. Even on the first day back in the office, he discovered his desk taped up with police cordon tape and contents of the office bins emptied on it. Some mates, they were. A couple of old sweats, who thought they were cleverer than they were, would make juvenile comments towards Andy now and then. Sing silly songs that he was a backstabber. It was amazing that those he had made the agreement with suddenly had amnesia and had somehow conjured the situation to make the nasties believe they had refused to give a statement and it was only Andy that had broken the line. And so, while Alf had a cosy job straightening out complaints, Andy was left in a pile of shit. His DI said to ignore it, but he moved to another station within a couple of weeks, leaving Andy totally exposed. All for doing the right thing.
It didn't help that Andy was promoted shortly after, straight to Detective Sergeant. He had been waiting for a post to come up for a few months, and sod's law dictated it was Alf Garton's place that he took. It was highly unusual to be promoted straight to Detective Sergeant and stay in the same office, but somebody high up in CID wanted to keep Andy there and valued him. Who was it, though? That wouldn't help him day-to-day, of course. And whoever it was would likely stay in the shadows once whatever Alf and his cronies had planned for him dropped n his lap. Of course, the promotion all added to the conspiracy theory and that Andy was in on it. It was some big plan to depose Alf so Andy could slide right in. Quite how they figured he could second-guess Alf's sexism, or what happened to the Sarge subsequently, and his own promotion, was a mystery, but nobody gave it sufficient thought. Why spoil a good conspiracy theory? There would be some bullshit made up to paint it all on Andy, no doubt. Not everyone was hostile to DC Black; some were fine and wanted to be neutral, they'd always liked Andy, but it was all a bit tentative, especially when Alf's supporters were around. They would have nothing to do with him then. He knew it was through fear, but still, it stung that nobody had the courage of their convictions.
Despite his increasing isolation at work, Andy's wife, Emily, had supported him, but she didn't understand how all this worked. She was proud that he had stood up for somebody vulnerable, glad that he had stood up against the bullying of a woman. Andy said it wasn't like that. In truth, the woman had deserved a lot of the grief, but it was a step too far. That's all. It just happened. They had been put in an invidious position which jeopardised everyone in the office, and not everyone had a mate high-up in the Complaints Department, just Alf, who played the victim just as much as Mary had. Only he wasn't the victim; he was the offender.
Emily asked about Mary and said that surely she was supportive, bearing in mind that Andy had protected her, but he explained that she had merely used the incident to wangle a move to a station closer to home. Emily said, 'never mind, it will all go away eventually,' and most important to Andy, that she would stand by him. He should give it time.
Meanwhile, Andy noticed he was no longer invited to all the police social functions. People he knew had started giving him the cold shoulder, not realising how things had unfolded. It didn't matter. He shouldn't have given a statement; it was that simple. They should all have risked their mortgages and pensions to stick the boot into a female officer because of a petty, juvenile prank by someone who should know better. The fact that it was just plain wrong had nothing to do with it. The values of right and wrong, and who is a victim and who is not, seemed quite malleable in the police force.
Sometimes the spectre of impending revenge went away, but it was always just about visible on the horizon. Andy had gone from being a popular member of the CID to someone who brought a cloud with him. No matter how chirpy he was, he was tainted, and people didn't want to get involved by seeming partisan to one side or another. Andy didn't have a side. He didn't seek supporters; he just went about his business with dignity and the knowledge that he was the one who had done the right thing, and they could all go and fuck themselves. Andy's team of detectives covered a really busy inner-city area, and so much of the day was busy dealing with serious crimes, such as rapes, GBHs, woundings, sexual assaults, paedophilia, you name it. The irony was that Andy spotted mistakes by his former cadre many times while supervising them as their Detective Sergeant, but instead of letting them make them, he would benevolently correct their behaviour or point out the mistake. He didn't want a case to be jeopardised because of internal politics. On a one-to-one basis, the team were okay with him, so long as they were out of earshot of the others, even understanding, but they were cowards and wouldn't transfer the reality of this understanding to a crowded room.
Then it happened.
One of the weirder cases Andy was dealing with and that had been ongoing for the previous two or three years involved a woman, Veronica, who had given evidence against a criminal gang and suffered vengeance through violent sexual attacks. Andy's team had dealt with it and, with some excellent detective work, obtained admissions to initial cases of intimidation and assault. It then died down for a while, some months. It was all over, and the offenders had long since been imprisoned.
Andy saw Veronica out one night, and in a drunken state, they flirted. Had they had a bit of a grope of each other? She was trying it on; he knew that. Anyway, it was fleeting if it had occurred. Such things can happen. Indeed many officers met their spouses through the job once the issue at hand had gone away. The only thought was his guilt that he might have been tempted when he had a loving wife at home. Whatever it was, it was fleeting and not something serious. Not to Andy at least.
However, sometime later, Veronica was attacked again. Only this time, there was something odd about it. Andy couldn't put his finger on what it was, but he started having doubts about her version of events. It was different from the earlier offences. After several more reported incidents, culminating in an alleged rape, Andy reported these doubts to his senior officer and flagged up that it might make the convictions of the earlier offenders unsafe; if she was now lying. Typically his honesty would betray him. This could be the opportunity Alf Garton and his acolytes had been waiting for—a chance to stick the knife in. DC Black didn't see it as a problem.
A few months later, Andy was at home, playing with his children, when there was a knock at the door. He opened it with a smile only to be met by DCI Davidson and someone he didn't know. DCI Davidson was Alf Garton's mate from the Complaints Department.
'Can we come in, Andy?'
'Yes, of course.'
Andy led them into his living room. 'To what do I owe this honour?'
'DS Black, I am suspending you for perverting the course of justice. I will need your warrant card and police keys.'
'I am suspending you for perverting the course of justice. How does that make you feel?' The DCI said with a twinkle in his eye.
The question gave the game away. It was a question on behalf of DS Alf Garton to be enjoyed at the bar later when they would celebrate Andy's suspension. You don't ask that question. Maybe 'Are you okay?' or 'If you've done nothing wrong, you will be fine.' Not 'How does that make you feel?' That was too strange and insincere.
The blood rushed from Andy and hit the floor. 'How do you think I feel?' Was all he could come up with. 'What's going on?'
'There has been a complaint that you are involved with a female, Veronica Stanton, who has given false information in reporting several crimes.'
'You mean the same woman I flagged up myself to a senior officer. That woman? You wouldn’t even know about it if it wasn’t for me telling you.'
'Maybe. I can't comment on that, but it is a woman who claims that you and she are involved in an intimate relationship, you are setting up home, together, and she is pregnant by you.'
'What the hell? Pregnant? There has to be something wrong with her. If she is making up stuff, she obviously has some sort of mental health issue.'
The DCI grinned. It was all jolly fun to him. He raised his hands in mock surrender. 'Don't shoot the messenger.'
'I can tell you straight away, it's bollocks, and you know it. Even if I was stood at the bleeding altar to get married to her I wouldn't pervert the course of justice and everyone knows that. It was me who told the new DI about our concerns about her. How the hell can I be in cahoots with her? To what end? She turned nasty because I wouldn't accept the allegations she was making, which became increasingly bizarre. And so this is her getting revenge, I assume. And others, no doubt.'
'I can't imagine what you mean?' The DCI smiled.
'You do know she's had a hysterectomy; I take it? She told the police surgeon when she was examined months ago. This stinks and you must know that.'
Of course, the truth was nothing to do with anything, and the opportunity to twist something had presented itself, and they were on it straight away.
'I'm not able to discuss it now, DS Black. Anyway, I'm not investigating it. I happen to be the one to tell you, and it's just a coincidence and nothing more.'
'I bet it is.' Andy shook his head in disgust.
'You must not talk to any witnesses or visit any police station until further notice. You will be notified in due course when an interview is to be arranged.'
'Sir – you bastard.'
'Have a good day, Andy.' He slapped him on the back as he headed out the door. 'Alf sends his regards.'
Incredibly it took two and a half years for the inquiry to unfold. Alf and even the lads from the team bought entirely into the corrupt approach – they were fully signed-up members now, by the looks of it. They were lying about Andy's activities. Proveable lies. They had gone to the dark side, no doubt justifying it to themselves in some bizarre way or another. Teaching him a lesson. They were feeding off each other. And yet it meandered on and on. When nothing was found, another Force was brought in to deal with it. They looked at every aspect of Andy's personal life and police service from day one to the present. Naturally, they found nothing. Not one thing. He was clean.
It turned out Veronica suffered from something called Munchausen's Disease which is diagnosed when someone persistently and deliberately fakes their own physical or mental illness symptoms. Oops. They didn't tell Andy this for a long time. Was that the end of it? You would think, wouldn't you? But no, they were so far down the line , gripped by some sort of Obessessive Compulsive Disorder that they talked each other into keeping going. They were trying to force the issue to save face and so lies and coercion was the order of the day. As for Veronica, she was promised a new council house by one of Alf's mates via a recommendation to the council if she made the complaint against Andy, and the house move was arranged under the guise of witness protection from the gangs assaulting her. Yet hadn't she supposedly invented all that? So why would she need protecting if it hadn’t happened? The shiny capacious council house was a gift so long as she signed on the dotted line.
It was also discovered that the rape by gang members that Andy suspected to be false but which the police surgeon corroborated, resulted from Veronica ramming a hammer inside herself to give credence to the false claim when medically examined. When Andy queried the vailidty with the Police Surgeon he said the injuries were consistent with her claims. The pregnancy story about Andy was also discounted as fantasy when her hysterectomy was confirmed.
At the start of Andy's suspension, he got a couple of calls from friends. But they were stilted and distant. He even got a couple of visits at home from them, but they didn't last long. Probably born out of curiosity more than concern or to report back to the sinister elements pulling the strings of the Chief Constable using taxpayer's money to fund the vengeance.
Andy grew his hair long. He was on pills for depression. He was, perhaps understandably, in a bit of a state, but he knew he was innocent of perverting the course of justice. He also knew that being innocent did not necessarily mean he wouldn't be fitted up or found guilty. The more he learned of lies being told and the efforts being made to find something, anything, on him, the more concerned he got. They seemed determined to get something on Andy, if nothing else, to justify all the hours and expense it had cost the taxpayer, and not least the waste of time for years of detective's time who could have been chasing real criminals. There had to be something they could find. They brought in a team of detectives from another force; it must have cost hundreds of thousands of pounds over months and years. The Chief must have realised he had backed the wrong horse but kept ploughing money in to try to save face. There was nothing to find, however. Alf wasn't bothered he was just happy to have fucked up Andy Black's life. Mission accomplished, as far as he was concerned.
Andy spent his days focused on his children and fighting to clear his name. It was a complex and difficult minefield to traverse and took hour after hour to counter the madcap claims, but he did it. He was determined to do so and expose those lying merely to prop up their desire for revenge. Where were those who should be vouching for him? Frightened probably. Scared to put their heads above the parapet. After all, there must be something in it, mustn't there? Remember, there's no smoke without fire.
After a year or so, Andy was interviewed for three long days. It was all madness, and Andy explained everything perfectly, even the lies told by officers and how they could prove beyond doubt that they were lying using certain documentation and the timing of it. But it was all about proving he was the baddy and not those setting him up.
Everyday life continued but underneath a dark cloud. His poor elderly mother was worried sick, and dementia kicked in shortly after the shock of the news had been revealed. Was she another casualty of this?
People Andy had known for years crossed the street to avoid an awkward conversation. The bastards even put it in the newspaper so that everyone far and wide could hear the tainted news, given purposely out of context. His reputation was shot, and Andy had to come to terms with that. He couldn't explain to everyone the intricacies of what was going on, and they probably wouldn't believe him if he did. The police had the veneer of respectability and used this as a smokescreen to cover their ever-increasing desperate attempts to find something tangible about him. All the time the activities and dishonesty betrayed by those in and around the situation were ignored. It made for good gossip, and Andy soon found himself isolated, confused, and alone, contemplating ways to take his own life.
It took nearly two years for his wife, Emily, to leave him and take the kids. It had created enough doubt in her that he might have been involved in something, coupled with the stress of it all. She was struggling with her mental health. Andy understood. She did well to last that long; bless her. She didn't deserve this either. He remembered their conversation when all of this blew up, right at the start, about her saying he should do the right thing for Mary.
Andy didn't want to kill himself until he was exonerated and two and a half years almost to the day he was informed that no charges would be brought either of a criminal nature or indeed a single one as a breach of the police disciplinary code. There could never have been such an in-depth or costly investigation that brought absolutely nothing. The only sad thing was the usual manipulation of figures by the powers that be to try to save a little face. The lowest possible police disciplinary action for an officer is to be given 'informal verbal advice.' It is a get-out clause. The good thing about this from the point of view of the constabulary is that the recipient of said advice cannot refuse it, or challenge it. It enabled the police to mark the inquiry off as 'substantiated.' It was a fait-au-complait for Andy. It was a fudge and a disgrace, and Andy made it quite clear when he was given his 'verbal advice' how corrupt and hypocritical it all was. It was nothing short of a scandal, but he was just a number. He'd been a shining light and an emerging detective being fast-tracked to greater things. Now he was seen as 'damaged goods' by those who knew nothing about it. He was let down by those who should know better but didn't.
There were no repercussions however for the police liars; they were reported by Andy, seeking an investigation – it was denied by the Chief Constable, no doubt to save his blushes. Andy even took it to the High Court for Judicial Review, determined to expose the liars, but while the Judge couldn't understand why the Chief Constable had decided not to investigate the lies, it was within the Chief Constable's gift to make that decision, so the action was legal even if morally questionable. The whole thing stunk to high heaven.
Andy telephoned Emily on the day he knew it was finally all over. He paced around the kitchen, waiting for her to pick up. He wasn't excited. He was past all of that. He was just numb and, in truth, somewhat embittered. Almost but not quite defeated. Stronger but more cynical.
'Hello.' Emily sounded tense and abrupt.
'It's all over.' Andy's voice broke as he said it, surprising him, and he held the phone away so that she couldn't hear his sobs. He simply couldn't hold it in anymore.
'What do you mean by all over?' She said.
There was a slight pause as Andy gathered himself together.
'Yes, I'm here. It's done; finished, and nothing's happening. I can start back on Monday.'
'After all that. You're joking. Really?'
'After all that. Can you believe it?' Andy said.
'I'm pleased for you, Andy. You didn't deserve all of that. You really didn't. It was just crazy.'
'I know. That's what happens when egos are driving an investigation. I've seen it lots of times but never been on the end of it, until now. I'm just sorry you were dragged through the mill as well, love. Look, Emily, it's not too late for us. I miss you and the kids so much, you know that. Isn't it the perfect time to put all of this behind us and make a new start?'
'Wait, I know it's been hard for everyone. We can ease back into things, step by step.'
'Hard? It's been a nightmare, Andy. My Dad still thinks the police can't ever be wrong and there is no smoke without fire.'
Andy shrugged out a laugh. 'Of course, he does. Everyone does. I did. Anyway, look, forget all that. What do you say? Can we get back together and give it another go? Take things slowly at first, of course.'
There was a brief silence as Andy strained to hear some sign, to garner some hope. Emily sighed ahead of her reply, 'I was going to give you a call, actually.'
'Oh, yes. Great.'
'You might not think it's great, Andy when I tell you what it is.'
'I've – I've met someone.'
'Oh.' It was a hammer blow, stunning him into momentary silence as he took in the news. 'Have you?'
'Yes, I have.'
'Do I know him?'
'No, of course, you don't know him. He's a decent bloke, Andy-'
'I guess you're all loved up, then.'
'You guess right.'
'Okay, well, look, never mind. I can wait. The offer is there. Just know that I'm here for you, Em. Not everyone is like me, you know.'
'The thing is- Oh Christ, I hate doing this to you, after everything you've been through-'
'He lives in Spain.'
'Oh, no, Emily. Come on. Be fair. I need to see the kids every week. That's the only thing keeping me going. Come on. Not that. You can't take them to live in Spain; that is heartless, that's cruel. Surely you wouldn't do this to me?'
'You can still see them, Andy. We can figure something out.'
'Emily, love, I've not asked anything of you throughout all of this, but please, I am begging you, just this one time, do not do this to me. I couldn't stand it. After everything that's happened - to have this happen too. It's too much. It's-'
'It's already done. I'm sorry, Andy. We move in about six weeks.'
'Emily, I'm begging you, love, don't do this, please. Don't make me beg any more, for Christ's sake. I'll do anything. They're my flesh and blood.'
'I deserve some happiness, Andy, and so do the kids. It's an amazing opportunity, and I need to do this for my own sanity. It's not just you, you know.'
There was silence as the full impact soaked into Andy's soul. He sat down on the kitchen stool; his legs were giving way.
'I've got to go, Andy. Let's talk again soon.' The phone went dead.
'Emily?' Andy's voice echoed around the empty kitchen, and he let the phone slip from his grasp to the floor. He stared ahead. Transfixed. Vacant. After all of this. He was going to lose everything. Everything that mattered, anyway. His family was the one thing that gave him strength, that gave him a reason to keep going. It was as though his whole essence of life and meaning had been sucked from his bones. What was the point of anything? What was left?
Time passed quickly, and an hour had ticked by before he dragged himself up to the bathroom and ran the taps. His head was a seething, whirling dance of different scenarios and episodes that had happened over the preceding two and a half years. He felt hollow. Dead inside.
As Andy lay in the hot suds, he smiled to himself. It was a bitter smile. An ugly smile. A smile that shrugged away the injustice and pointlessness of it all. So the price for doing the right thing? He'd lost his career, lost his reputation, lost his friends, lost his mother's lucidity, lost his wife and now lost the one thing he clung onto; his children. He'd even lost his sanity for standing up against bullying; it had been too great to bear. For what? For doing the right thing. He was bereft. Grieving everything and everyone he'd held dear and who had been wrenched away from him in a vile, pernicious and sustained attack facilitated by those who should have been supporting him. And the more that became evident to them, the more they tried to destroy him in whatever way they could to cover their mistake. He had won against all the odds and the might of the state flexing its muscles, but it was a hollow victory. It was so hollow that the misery echoed from wall to wall in the bathroom as he closed his eyes and breathed, trying to take in the enormity of it all. It was too much. Overwhelming. Overwhelming his thoughts, his moral compass, his beliefs, everything. He didn't know who he was any more, other than alone.
It was time to relieve himself of the horror once and for all. Andy took the razor blade from the side of the bath and slit his left wrist and then, quickly, his right. He leaned back and put his wounds under the water line, and it eased the pain. He closed his eyes as the water turned red and gradually thickened.
He had finally found his release from a living hell. Finally found peace. He would take his chances in the next life. Maybe it would be kinder the next time around. He knew it was the right thing to do.