My name is Sid Halley. I had this friend that everyone loved, and I took him to court. I had to. The trouble with working as an investigator, as I had been doing for approaching five years, was that occasionally one turned up facts that surprised and appalled and smashed peaceful lives forever.
It had taken days of inner distress for me to decide to act on what I'd learned. Miserably, by then, I'd suffered through disbelief, through denial, through anger and at length through acceptance; all the stages of grief. I grieved for the man I'd known. For the man I thought I'd known. I grieved for the loss of a lifelong friendship, for a man who still looked the same but was different, alien … dishonourable. I could much more easily have grieved for him dead.
The turmoil I'd felt in private had on public disclosure become universal. The press, jumping instinctively and strongly to his defence, had given me, as his accuser, a harshly rough time. And even long-time acquaintances had turned their backs. Love, support and comfort poured out towards my friend. Disbelief, denial and anger prevailed: acceptance lay a long way ahead. Meanwhile I, not he, was seen as the target for hatred. It would pass, I knew. One had simply to endure it, and wait.
On the Tuesday morning set for the opening of his trial, my friend's mother took her life. The news was brought to the law courts in Reading, in Berkshire, where the presiding judge, had already heard the opening statements and where I, a witness for the prosecution, waited alone in a soulless side-room to be called. One of the court officials came to break the tragic news to me and to say that the judge had postponed the proceedings for the day, and I could go home.
'Poor woman,' I exclaimed, truly horrified.
Even though he was supposed to be impartial, the Honourable Walker’s own sympathies were still with the accused whom he addressed with words of sympathy. He eyed me without favour and said I should return the following morning, ten o'clock sharp. I left the room and walked slowly along the corridor towards the exit, fielded on the way by a senior lawyer who took me by the elbow and drew me aside.
'She left a note explaining she couldn't bear the future. What are your thoughts, Sid?' I looked at the dark, intelligent, eyes of Davis Tatum, a clumsy fat man with a lean agile brain.
'You know better than I do,' I sighed with sorrow.
'Sid!' There was a touch of exasperation. 'Tell me your thoughts.'
'Perhaps he'll change his plea.'
He relaxed and half smiled. 'You're in the wrong job.'
I wryly shook my head. 'I catch the fish. You guys gut them.'
He amiably let go of my arm and I continued to the outside world to catch a train for the thirty-minute ride to the terminus in London, flagging down a taxi for the last mile or so home. The taxi stopped outside the house in Pont Square where I currently lived on the first floor, with a balcony overlooking the leafy railed garden. As usual, the small secluded square was empty, with little passing traffic and only a few people on foot, who seemed too thoughtful or afraid to even cast a glance around. An early November wind shook the dying leaves on the lime trees, floating few of them sporadically to the ground like soft yellow snowflakes. The murky, gloomy landscape struck a chord with me, bringing on an indescribable sense of solitude and anguish.
Rather than get out, gazing out of the window, I told the driver to pull out.
'Where…,’ he asked in a shrill voice.
'Ahead’ I snapped. 'Just drive. I’ll tell you when I know.’
After a few minutes I spent buried in the vacuum of my thoughts, I took out the mobile phone and pressed the buttons to reach the man I trusted most in the world, my ex-wife's father, Rear Admiral Charles Roland, Royal Navy, retired, and to my distinct relief he answered at the second ring.
'Charles,' I said. My voice cracked a bit, which I hadn't meant.
A pause, then, 'Is that you, Sid?'
'May I… visit?'
'Certainly. Use the side-door. It's unlocked,' he said calmly and put down his receiver.
I smiled, reassured as ever by his steadiness and his brevity with words. An undemonstrative man, not paternal towards me and very far from being indulgent, he gave me nevertheless a consciousness that he cared considerably about what happened to me and would always stand by my side if I needed it. And I needed it at that moment, for several variously dire reasons.
adapted from Dick Francis, 'Come to grief’