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Part 2

Chapter 3

Douglas drafted three separate emails to Mannion the next day – ranging from the long, detailed missive to a concise request to meet up with regards to Martin Crieff. In the end, he sent none of them. The email address given on his website was not a personal one, and would most likely be opened and read by a PA rather than Mannion himself. Douglas suspected that Martin wouldn’t have thought of that. What Douglas had to say to Mannion really needed to be said face to face, and he didn’t want the MP to find a way of weaseling out of a meeting.

A little research brought to light that Mannion’s constituency wasn’t too far away, and that he held a monthly surgery at the Town Hall. He browsed the area’s local paper’s website for an issue to pretend to be concerned about, phoned ahead and politely booked an appointment for the following Tuesday. He remained calm and collected for the next week and a half, only losing his cool slightly when Carolyn phoned on the Tuesday morning to demand he go to the MJN office there and then to complete some paperwork that wasn’t in the slightest bit urgent. He told her no – he had an important appointment that day and he had to drive over to Oxfordshire to make it, so she’d just have to wait until he was back that evening for him to do it, and slammed the phone down. He imagined he’d regret it later, but he was sure he would regret missing this meeting more. Martin had barely spoken to him since the revelation – to anybody, for that matter. He’d been withdrawn and obviously miserable. Occasionally, Douglas would catch Martin staring at him, only for the younger man to suddenly look away, shamed. Something had to be done, and soon.

His phone buzzed as he set off on his drive. Carolyn. After the third call attempt, he switched his phone off. He vaguely entertained the possibility that Carolyn could then phone Martin and demand that he do Douglas’ paperwork for him, if she was so desperate for it to be done. What he didn’t consider in his haste was the chance that Carolyn, in her put-out state, could then complain to Martin that Douglas had sailed off on a jaunt to Oxfordshire instead of doing the work, and that Martin might then manage to put two and two together and run to his van, leaving Carolyn still woefully understaffed with regards to the paperwork issue.

Mannion was holding his surgery in a small office. There was a waiting room outside, in which a series of elderly people came and went. There was a PA, but she spent most of her time at a desk in the waiting area, tapping away at a laptop. Douglas was pleased that, when he was shown in, it was just he and Mannion in the room.

‘Good Lord!’ Mannion did a double take and smiled delightedly at Douglas. Douglas managed a small smile in return. Forewarned as he was of the likeness, it was still rather offputting to be confronted with it in the flesh.

‘I’m afraid so,’ said Douglas.

‘And the voice, too!’ Mannion laughed, standing to shake his hand. ‘You know, that really is very good. Are you here from some Lookie-Likey agency or something?’

‘No, no. I really am here to talk with you about an issue I have.’

‘A happy coincidence, then.’

Douglas forced another polite smile. ‘Quite.’

Mannion sat back down behind a small desk. ‘Well then, please. Take a seat. What issue is it that you’d like to raise?’

‘I’d like to speak with you about Martin Crieff.’

All of the geniality drained from Mannion’s face. ‘What?’

‘I’m a father myself. I barely get the chance to see my daughter, but I jump at every opportunity I get, even when it means night drives up to Cumbria. This office isn’t an hour’s drive from Wokingham, but you just didn’t bother. I’d like to know how you could so callously abandon your own son.’

‘What do you want from me?’ Mannion’s voice was low and angry.

‘I believe I just said what it is that I want. I want an explanation, and I want you to at least begin to try putting things right for a young man who you have horribly hurt…’

‘”Horribly hurt”? Listen – I don’t know who you are or who’s sent you after me, but you can get your facts right for starters. As far as everybody who is actually involved in this matter is concerned, Martin Crieff is Trevor Crieff’s son. Martin has always been part of a loving, caring, traditional family unit, and it was never my place to upset that particular apple cart. It was best for the boy to leave things as they were. It was Carol’s choice to tell Martin about me. Now, I know she had her reasons…’

‘Because she was dying.’

‘A horrible loss,’ added Mannion, floundering a little, ‘which was deeply saddening for all who knew her. I did send my condolences to the family…’

‘Oh, you sent condolences over the early death of the mother of your child. How thoughtful of you.’

‘Well, what was I supposed to do?’ retorted Mannion. ‘Crash the funeral? Further distress her grieving Widower and children? I did not abandon Martin. I kept a respectable distance – I have always kept a respectable distance, because it was best for him. He has a Dad. Trevor Crieff is his Dad, and he does just fine with Trevor Crieff as a Dad, and I respect the Crieffs too much to try to muscle in on that. So go back and tell that to your editor, or whoever it is that sent you.’

‘Firstly, Mr Mannion, I am not a journalist. I’m a pilot. I’m Martin’s friend. Martin told me about you last week, but believe me, he is not “just fine” - he hasn’t been “just fine” in a very long time, which you would know if you ever bothered to contact your son, or even properly reply to his attempts to get in contact with you. And secondly – this may come as a shock to you, although it really, really shouldn’t - Trevor Crieff’s been dead for the last six years.’

Mannion blanched, shocked. ‘Dead? No, I… well, why would I…?’

Douglas balled his fists. ‘He’s been emailing you for years. During which time, he’s been orphaned, he has worked his arse off for very little in return, he’s starved and suffered, and he hasn’t asked you for a single thing except for a bit of human contact, and you’ve ignored him.’

‘He emailed me once! Sent it to my office email. It was very vague, mentioned that he’d just qualified as a pilot – which I congratulated him on.’

‘That email would have been sent just a couple of months after his Dad had died. Poor sod just wanted somebody to be genuinely proud of him.’

‘He didn’t mention anything about his Dad,’ protested Mannion. ‘Or being out of pocket, or anything. He didn’t include a phone number or address, he didn’t say he wanted to meet… there was just an email address, and that’s hardly the medium for sending any messages that are particularly…’

‘Incriminating?’ Douglas interjected.

‘I was going to say, “private”.’

‘Same thing.’

‘I’d already had a spot of bother concerning my personal life a few years back, and I just didn’t trust email as a dependable method of communication. Still don’t, as a matter of fact, but especially in the early days of the internet…’

‘2006 was hardly “the early days of the internet”.’

‘It was for me. I sent him back a polite, supportive, short email, thinking that if he wanted to get in touch again he knew how to get hold of me, and I honestly haven’t heard from him since.’

‘You’re a bloody liar, Mannion. He’s been sending you messages at Christmas, to which you’ve replied, very dismissively.’

Douglas could practically see the cogs in Mannion’s head turning. He frowned to himself. ‘Oh. Christmas. Yes, well, I go on leave every Christmas week. I rather delegate email duties during that time. Urgent ones are sent on to me, ones that look like Round Robins are to be wished Season’s Greetings. Please, do pass on my heartfelt apologies.’

‘Apologise to him yourself, you feckless piece of…’

‘How can I? He’s not here, Mr… er…’

‘Richardson.’

‘Mr Richardson. Does Martin even know about this meeting?’

‘Martin would be too polite, or too worried about blowing your rotten little secret to want to bother you,’ Douglas told him. ‘But you need to find a way to make good of this mess, somehow. Discreetly. I know you politicians are good at that.’

Mannion stared at Douglas for a second. ‘Has he told many people?’

‘Just me, that I know of.’

‘He just so happened only to tell a “friend”, who looks eerily similar to me.’ Mannion paused. ‘How is it that you know Martin, again?’

‘We work together. I’m his First Officer, as a matter of fact. Did you even know he’s a Captain now?’

Mannion blinked, and smiled faintly. ‘At his age? That is good. So you’re just… very good chums. That’s all.’

Douglas so very nearly lied. It would probably have been the wisest thing to have done, in the name of Martin’s privacy and a swifter resolution with Mannion, but there was something about the hopefulness of his tone while he was trying to be sure of the just-good-chumminess of Martin and Douglas’ relationship that made Douglas see red.

‘Well, I am sleeping with him, if that’s what you’re getting at.’

The way that Mannion paled was pure Martin. Good grief – hopeless in a crisis, horrible communicator – the apple was certainly in a tree adjacent location in this instance.

‘Oh, good God.’

‘Don’t,’ warned Douglas. ‘Don’t you dare. You have got absolutely no right to pass comment on the private lives of others – nor do you have the right to affect any sort of parental alarm over the life of a child you’ve done nothing but ignore.’

‘But look at you! You’re just like me!’

‘I’m nothing like you. I just look a bit like you.’

‘That’s not what people will see,’ argued Mannion. ‘If the press get hold of this, do you have any idea what they’ll do to him – what they’ll do to you?’

‘I have a pretty good idea of what they’d do to you, which, I suspect, is your primary concern, here.’

‘Oh, don’t start.’ Mannion was on his feet again. ‘I’m not going to stand here and be lectured by somebody who’s clearly taking advantage of whatever Freudian nightmare it is Martin’s going through for his own filthy ends.’

Douglas stood up. ‘You take that back.’

‘You’re old enough to be his father! How would you feel if it was your daughter?’

‘You’ll leave my daughter out of this. She knows I’m always there for her, whereas you… you didn’t even let his mother send baby photos!’

‘I couldn’t see him! How would you feel if you were being sent pictures of a child you couldn’t spend any time with – pictures that broke your heart, that could ruin your marriage or your career…’

‘And again, we come back to your career.’

‘Oh, you know what, Mr Richardson? This lecture is officially over. Get out.’

‘Don’t tell me to…’

‘And if I were you, I’d search my conscience over what you’re doing to that young man. Good day.’ Mannion scrubbed at his face. ‘Good Christ,’ he muttered, softly, ‘first Silicone fucking Playground, then Tickle, now this. All I fucking need…’

It wasn’t like Douglas to snap like that. To be honest, he only realised he’d thrown the punch when it came into contact with the side of Mannion’s face.

‘Ow! What the fuck?’

‘That’s all he is - another inconvenience to you, isn’t he?’

‘I’ll have you arrested for this,’ replied Mannion, clutching his cheekbone. ‘You’re a maniac!’

‘And explain what I was doing here?’ sneered Douglas. ‘You wouldn’t dare.’

Mannion picked up his chair. ‘Fine! You have three seconds to get out of my office, or I’m going to come down on you like a council estate on a suspected paedophile.’

‘You and your little chair? I’d like to see you try.’

Douglas had presumed that the commotion outside the office had been due to the parallel commotion within, and in a way he wasn’t wrong. He had expected the door to the waiting room to fly open and somebody to rush in to intervene. He just hadn’t been expecting the somebody to be Martin.

Everybody was shouting now – Martin at both of them, the PA at Martin, Mannion at Douglas…

Mannion, his defensive rage so focused on Douglas that he didn’t even see Martin at first, Martin so intent on getting between the two men that he didn’t notice the chair… two generations worth of poor luck and ill timing crashing headlong into one another.

Mannion swung the chair. Martin tried to stop, but skidded.

There was a crack, and Martin fell to the floor like a broken doll.

Part 4

November 2013

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