The police station smelled of Mr Sheen polish, disinfectant, sweat and urine, depending on which way the breeze from the barred but slightly open window wafted. Tom was sitting in an interrogation room. It was furnished with a table and two chairs, sparse and unfriendly. He had not been arrested but was voluntarily helping police with their enquiries. He knew that it was only a matter of time before he would be charged with something, but for now the police were treating him in a softly, softly manner. He had given them a statement. He had been driving to work, he reached down to change a CD track and he hit something. That was it. But, for some inexplicable, cowardly reason, he drove on as the frightening thought that he had hit someone dawned on him. He described it to the police as an impulsive reaction in a moment of shock. When he returned to the scene, he was horrified to see a girl’s body being lifted onto a stretcher, then into an ambulance. It was panic followed by realization followed by a rush of nauseating guilt. He threw up in an alley and decided to go to the hospital. He felt he needed to be there to find out whether the girl was alive or dead. Maxine’s two flat mates confirmed some of his fears. Somehow, he thought at first, it was far worse to injure someone you knew rather than a complete stranger. Later, he thought that through again and concluded that acquaintance or stranger, it did not matter as the end result was a human being in a hospital bed. But thoughts, opinions, pros, cons, rationality, confusion and guilt were clouding his head since he heard the thump against his car. He knew he was in serious trouble but he had always faced his problems head on.
He had been left alone to drink a cup of coffee and eat a chocolate bar. The coffee had been welcome but the Mars bar lay on the table, untroubled and unwanted. The door creaked
“You have a visitor, sir,” said a young policeman. Tom looked up like an expectant puppy.
“Is it Jennifer, my wife?” he asked more in hope than expectation.
“No sir, it’s another lady. Shall I show her in?” Tom nodded and the policeman went to fetch the visitor. When she came in, Tom stood, surprised but grateful that someone had bothered to come and see him.
“What are you doing here?” he asked.
“I was worried about you,” she said, sitting down on a chair opposite him.
“Thank you. I don’t deserve other people’s sympathy at the moment,” he murmured, burying his face in his hands.
“I’m not offering sympathy,” she said. “I just feel it’s wrong to condemn people without knowing all the facts. Anyway, I care about you and I took a chance that your wife doesn’t know about this yet and a visitor might be good for you.”
Tom looked at her and extended his handed. She shook it and held onto it for longer than he expected.
“Are the police charging you with anything?” she asked, letting go of his hand.
“They will, but they told me they wanted to collate my statement and ones from witnesses. They’ve breathalysed me and I’ve given a urine sample. I told them not to bother as I was admitting that I did it. It was an accident but they have to assemble all the information, not least the condition of the girl. Do you know anything?”
“Not really,” I overheard a few things back at Maple Court. I think she’s in intensive care. So, in a way, that’s a good thing in that she’s alive and a bad thing if her condition worsens. Tom stood up and walked to the barred window.
“As a kid, I loved westerns, especially ones where the prisoner’s gang would tie one end of a rope around the jail’s bars and the other end to a horse’s saddle and rip the grill out of the wall. I never thought I’d be inside looking out through prison bars, but then again I never thought I’d have the shortest marriage in the history of creation or the stupidity to knock down another human being. One day, my life was just about as perfect as it could get. The next day, it’s a complete shitty mess.”
“Life s certainly a bitch and bastard,” she said, “it’s not just you. That’s the way it is.” Tom was still staring out of the window. He realized that he was sweating. He remembered that an old aunt had told him once that guilty people tend to sweat because it’s God’s way of squeezing all the remorse out of them. He recalled her sweaty armpits on many occasions and wondered what dirty secrets she had to hide. The breeze was cool on his damp face.
“I’m preparing myself for a prison sentence,” he said after a few moments.
“You don’t know that for sure,” she said. “They’ll know it was an accident. You’re not a bad man. Had you been drinking?” Tom shook his head.
“I was stone cold sober. I just reached down to move Bruce Springsteen on to the next track and………….” He was interrupted by a knock on the door. The young policeman came in.
“You have another visitor, sir. Shall I ask her to wait until you two are finished?”
Tom looked perplexed. One visitor was a welcome surprise but two visitors was much more than he thought he deserved.
“Is it my wife?” The policeman shook his head. Tom looked even more perplexed.
“No sir. She’s called Sophie Montague.” Tom eyes searched the room for any kind of answers to several questions buzzing around in his head. He felt his bottom lip begin to tremble.
“Ask her to come in, please,” he said with an air of uncertainty. In a few minutes, Sophie stood in the doorway and exchanged glances and half-smiles with Tom. She wondered why Dot, the deli devil woman was visiting him too.