I was nine. At the beach with my family. It was hot; the sand burnt my feet as I walked. I had been moaning for a while. So much that my mom thrust a ten-dollar bill into my hand and told me to get ice cream for everyone. As I was leaving, she told me to go with my sister, Bridget.
The seafront was busy with tourists. I hated that. We were only ten minutes from home, and we never saw them in the winter. My dad used to complain about them, saying they weren’t like us, they were from out of town. They were the ones who left litter everywhere. They were the ones who stole his pickup truck. As I walked through the crowd, I did my best to barge anyone in front of me, it was my way of getting back at them, for my dad.
“Stop it, you’ll get us into trouble,” Bridget said, and that only made me do it more.
An older lady, pushing her bag on wheels came into view, so I aimed straight for her, losing my grip on Bridget’s hand. My shoulder landed on her hip. She landed on the road with a screech. At first, I laughed, then saw everyone looking at me. I ran.
“Dad said we need to stay together,” Bridget cried, but I was already thirty yards away.
A man had hold of her arm, and she started to scream. I was scared and continued to run away. I was heading for the ice cream stand. I planned to circle round and walk back along the beach, pretending nothing had happened. As I approached the wooden cabins, I heard someone shout.
“Call an ambulance!”
I turned back to see a large group of people huddle around the old lady in the road. I heard her squeal, and felt a sense of guilt envelope me. I’d felt that feeling before, but as intense. I’d hurt someone bad, but all I could think about was the pain she was in.
“It was him,” a teenage boy said, pointing towards me.
I ran again, and in the distance, saw a police officer take notice. I ignored the calls for me to stop. I ran until I threw my arms over the officer and cried. He had a flock of blond hair and a large belly that felt squishy against my face.
“I didn’t mean to hurt her,” I said.
“Calm down, son,” he replied, putting his arms on my back, instantly I felt at ease, “I’m sure it was an accident.”
I lied and said it was.
People began to approach us, their faces stern and angry. I’d never seen that before.
“Let’s get you out of here,” he said, and I was relieved.
“Where are you going?” someone said behind us.
“He’s just a boy,” the officer said, in a voice somewhat similar to my father’s when I accidently hit my soccer ball against a car that screeched its brakes outside our house.
“What’s your name?” he asked.
“Ted,” I replied.
“Well Ted, it appears you’ve caused quite a stir. What did you do?”
I lowered my face, not wanting to tell him what happened.
“I ran into an old lady and she fell into the road.”
“Did you do it on purpose?”
I was silent.
“I’m a police officer, you have to tell me the truth.”
“That’s what I thought. I think it’s best if you stay with me for a while.”
I looked back. I couldn’t see my sister for the crowd that gathered. I wanted to scream, but I didn’t.
“I want to see my sister.”
He ignored me and led me to his patrol car parked in the lot only a few feet away. It was hot inside, and he opened the window. I heard the radio burst into action. Dirty snippets of squawk about an incident on the beachfront. Then I heard the sirens.
“Looks like you are going to be in a lot of trouble,” he said.
I began to cry. The police officer laughed.
“It’s okay, kiddo.”
I watched his face as he stared out the front of the car.
“Ooooh, shit!” he said, “I think she’s dead.”
“No, no, no!” I screamed.
“You are in deep shit!”
“Don’t tell my dad,” I pleaded.
“I don’t know.”
“I could take you away and no one will know it was you. Or, I could bring you back and tell everyone what you did.”
“Don’t take me back!”
“Alright. As long as it’s your choice. Put your head down, so no one sees you.”
So, I did.
He drove along the beachfront. With the window down, I could hear shouting and screams all mixed together in a cacophony of hatred.
“Officer, please, we need to find him,” someone said.
“I’m responding to a call,” the officer said and sped up.
“Where’s my son,” I heard my dad call, and rose my head instinctively.
“Don’t be stupid,” the officer said, plunging my head back down on to the seat.
We drove for what seemed like miles.
“I want to go home,” I pleaded.
“You’re a wanted criminal now. There’s nowhere for you to go.”
We were driving at speed. The wind vibrated the open window.
“Can I get up now?” I was sitting in the footwell.
“No!” he scolded, “stay where you are.”
I felt nauseous as the roads began to twist and turn, feeling close to being sick, then we parked up.
The officer waited, listening to the radio.
“Your dad’s a cop, right?” he said, his head turned to one side to listen intently.
I nodded. He giggled.
We have a 10-999 on Derry Avenue.
“They’ve found him, I should have put him in the trunk,” he said, “this will be a fun evening. You have a sister don’t you?”
“What’s happened to her?”
“Nothing yet, I don’t think.”
He got out of the car, walked round to my side and pulled me out.
In front of us was a small wooden cabin, and a stench of rotten food hit me. I coughed and barely stopped myself from being sick.
“Stop being a pain in the ass,” he said, dragging me to the cabin.
“I want to see my dad,” I demanded.
“You ain’t seeing anyone for a long time.”
I screamed, and his fist connected with my face, silencing me immediately. He pushed the door open and the rotten smell wafted out, sending vomit plunging from my stomach. He laughed again.
He pushed me inside and I fell onto the wooden floor, scraping my knees up something good. He flicked a switch on a police scanner and continued to listen. I stayed on the floor where he left me.
Without a worry, the officer strode past me and into another room, returning moments later with a small drink. He sat in front of the radio and listened as the chatter became more and more frantic. I recognised the voice.
The office turned to me, a big grin on his face.
“That’s your dad.”
I didn’t respond.
“I know him well. Thick Chuck they call him down at the precinct. No surprise his son is a fucking moron.”
He picked up the receiver.
“Chuck, come in.”
“Officer Johnson. I know where your son is.”
He didn’t respond, and my dad’s voice continued to bark out from the radio, until the officer switched it off.
Officer Johnson took his phone out of his pocket and showed it to me.
“Your dad is not a nice person. The things I know about him… Let’s put it this way, he won’t report you missing.”
He held the phone out in front of me, until the screen lit up.
“Hey Chuck. Yeah, he’s with me right now. The fruit didn’t fall far from the tree with this one did it? You know what I want.”
He laughed, obviously happy with himself.
“I’ll meet you on the bridge on Thompson. You know better than to bring back up, right? I thought so.”
He hung up the phone.
“Hey kid, do you want anything to eat? Gotta be leaving soon.”
I shook my head, having no appetite in a place that smelled so foul.
“Well we best get moving then.”
His towering frame arched down towards me. His hand grabbed mine and we were outside and back in the car before I had a chance to change my mind.
He let me sit up this time, almost as if he was proud of me, as if I was some sort of prize catch. He hummed to himself as he drove slowly along roads I didn’t recognise. The sun had begun to set by the time he stopped the car on the edge of an iron bridge. He put on a ski mask. I’d never been up so high before, and felt vertigo from the car. I didn’t want to get out here, so was glad when he told me to stay put.
We were there around fifteen minutes when I saw a set of headlights approach. The car stopped on the other side of the bridge and flashed the lights twice. Officer Johnson got out.
“You alone?” he shouted into the otherwise quiet night.
“Dad!” I screamed from the car.
“It’ll be okay, son. Stay where you are.”
“Do you have it?” Johnson said.
“I do. Let him out of the car.”
“Not before I see it.”
I waited anxiously, not knowing what was going on. Then I saw it. A figure in the dim light. A short girl. My sister.
“Breezy!” I shouted.
“Send her over here.”
“What guarantees do I have you’ll let my son go?”
“You know me, Chuck. I have no use for boys.”
“Come here little girl.”
“It’s okay,” I heard my dad say.
I watched as Bridget uneasily walked over the bridge, turning to steal glances at our father.
“Get out,” Johnson said to me and I did.
I ran to Bridget and hugged her.
“Get away from her!” I heard Johnson say.
“Do what he says son.”
“It’ll be alright,” Bridget said softly to me, squeezing my hand.
Hers was so soft and dry, mine cold and wet.
I ran to my father. He hugged me silently.
We watched as the car turned in the road and left.
We drove home in silence.
“Dad, why aren’t you following him?” I asked, but my father stayed silent.
He didn’t look at me on the ride home, or even tell me off for not wearing my belt.
“What happened to the old lady?”
He didn’t respond.
“It was an accident,” I said.
He continued to stare at the road ahead.
“His name was Officer Johnson,” I offered.
“He’s not a FUCKING policeman, okay?”
I didn’t say another thing until we pulled up outside the house. Mom greeted me, sending her arms around me in a tight embrace.
“Where’s Bridget?” she asked.
My father plodded past her in furious silence.
“Charles, where’s Bridget?”
“I’m handling this!” he shouted.
I didn’t sleep that evening. Dad slept on the couch, with the help of a quart of whisky.
Dad didn’t go to work. He told me to stay at home, mom didn’t argue. The morning was a tennis match of arguing between him and mom. She screamed, how could he lose my sister, and him saying he had it in hand. I wanted to tell, to say what had happened, but the glares dad gave me told me to keep quiet. He listened to his police radio all day, waiting to hear something.
“Dad,” I said quietly when mom was out of the room, “I know what his place looks like, I think we can find it.”
“I can’t,” he said, his face appeared scared and humble.
“I don’t think he will be very nice to her, the place smells like rotten food.”
Dad winced when I said that.
“When will we see her again?”
He placed his hand on my shoulder and gripped it.
“I’m going to go downstairs for a while. Do not tell your mother anything.”
“You’re a good kid,” he said.
I wanted to tell him what I’d done to the old lady, but I didn’t.
Evening came, and the radio continued to spurt chatter I didn’t understand. Every now and then hearing something that made sense, but soon replaced by coded messages that made none.
We have a 10-52 on Colorado Road, Caucasian female, bleeding heavily.
“Where’s your father?” my mom asked, as I listened to the radio.
“He went downstairs.”
Officer Reynold’s responding.
I heard a scream. I ran to the basement door to see my mother storm up the stairs.
“Ted, honey. Why don’t we go and see Mr and Mrs Philips next door?”
“I want to stay here. I’m listening to dad’s radio.”
“It wasn’t a question.”
She gripped my hand with fierce vigor. She led me out of the house, sending flashbacks to Officer Johnson marching me to his car.
“Hi, Carol. I’m really sorry, can you look after Edward for an hour or so, I have a little bit of an emergency at home,” mom’s voice was flat and staccato.
“Sure, however long you need.”
I sat in silence, the TV on some shopping channel.
“Do you want to watch some cartoons?” Mrs Philips asked.
“I want to go home.”
She smiled and looked out the curtains.
It wasn’t long before I heard the sirens. I shuddered, remembering them from the day before. I thought about the old lady and what happened to her.
Mrs Philips was still at the window, so I joined her. She didn’t notice me at first. It was only when I gasped, as the trolley with the black bag on top was marched towards the ambulance, that she turned to face me.
“You shouldn’t be watching this, Edward,” she said, placing her hand over my eyes.
“Who’s that?” I demanded.
I wriggled free, seeing the ambulance leave and my mother sobbing uncontrollably on the lawn.
“Oh honey,” Mrs Philips said, placing her arms around me. I felt her soft stomach, and a vision of Officer Johnson flashed through my mind.
“Dad gave away Bridget,” I said not thinking.
“I did something bad, and dad gave away Bridget to save me.”
“I’m not sure what you mean?” Mrs Philips said, her head cocked to one side.
Mrs Philips tried to feed me that evening, but I turned her down. I didn’t feel like eating. There was a knock on the door late at night. I was relieved, wanting to go home to see my mother.
A police officer was standing there as Mrs Philips answered. Next to him was a small girl, my sister, Bridget.
“Are you Arlene Philips?”
Mrs Philips nodded.
“We have you listened as an emergency contact for Bridget Armstrong. Are you in a position to take care of her tonight?”
“Yes,” she said confused, “we have her brother Edward here, right now.”
After a few minutes of conversation, Bridget walked into the house, wearing nothing more than a foil wrap. I could see blood stains had crusted on her skin, as if it had been wiped away in a hurry.
“Where’s Carol?” Mrs Philips asked, but I was more interested in Bridget.
I hugged her, and she shuddered.
“I did what daddy told me to do. I did what daddy told me to do,” she said, and repeated it over and over again.
My father saved my sister that night. I don’t know if it was the guilt of what he did to his daughter that made him do what he did, or if his past had finally caught up with him. It’s mom I felt for. She thought she’d lost a husband and a daughter in the same night.
It took a long time for Bridget to talk about what happened to her. I told her I was forever grateful, and could never make up for the sacrifice she gave me that evening.
When I had a daughter of my own, Sally, I asked Bridget to help me, to teach her how to survive the way she did. She was reluctant at first, saying no one should be in a position to need to do what she did. I said it was important, that a woman in this day and age needs to be able to protect themselves.
I had to stay late for work. My wife was ill. I didn’t think anything of it when I asked my boss to pick her up from school. She should have recognised him. He’d looked after her a lot when she was young. I didn’t think the beard would have been enough to make her feel uneasy.
When I returned home, I cooked chicken soup for my wife and took it up to her as she lay in bed.
“Is Sally home yet?” I asked.
“I thought you were picking her up?” she said.
I placed the tray in front of her.
“I asked Brian to, I thought he’d be home by now. I’m sure everything is fine.”
My wife didn’t seem bothered, and neither was I.
I phoned his cellphone, and waited for him to pick up. When he did, I was relieved.
“Hey, Brian, I’m home now. You have Sally around your place?”
I heard heavy breathing on the other end of the phone.
They will understand, won’t they? She didn’t mean it. She was protecting herself. That’s all she has to say. I’ll corroborate it. Then it will all be okay, right?