Back to Bristol Ch. 03byGaryAPB©
I got home just in time to watch the six thirty local news. I wanted to know what I was letting myself in for. I watched for the whole half hour, but didn't learn a lot, there was only one interview and that was with an innocent victim recorded on the Court steps having won her case.
I thought of phoning Molly about the boys, but I wasn't sure what to say, or what I would do if Peter answered. I knew I was letting my imagination get the better of me, and I felt guilty that I wasn't getting on with it for the boys' sake.
I poured myself a stiff whisky, but hardly took a sip before I picked up the phone. I had to look up their number in my diary, but I dialled it.
It rang and rang. Then an answerphone switched in, and I put my phone down. This was not the time to leave messages on answering machines. Instead I finished my whisky, and changed into some easier clothes and went out to find myself something to eat. By the time I got back I decided it was too late to make important phone calls, disturbing Molly's evening, but I knew that I was really just making excuses for myself.
As I walked in the next morning Carole greeted me with "Well, did you phone her?"
I felt guilty, "You know, yesterday I thought we were on track for a really good relationship. I'm beginning to revise my thinking...." And I smiled, I guess somewhat sheepishly.
"Well, do it today. For Jamie and Ben's sake."
I admired Carole's memory and sentiment. Their names were mentioned in passing yesterday, and they were real people to her today.
She handed me a sheaf of messages, and a couple of files. "Some things to do, and some things to read."
"Gee, thanks. I've got the BBC sometime this morning. I'll go down to PR and get myself briefed. By the way, I really ought to go down to Franks Engineering in Exeter, Stephen .... Stephen ...." I searched my memory for the General Manager's name.
"Stephen Hobbs." Carole reminded me. "When do you want to go?"
"The first free day I've got I guess, there's no reason why not. I suggest I come in here first thing, then go down there mid-morning and spend the rest of the day with them."
She looked in the diary, "You're talking about Monday. I'll give Stephen a call. But I warn you, Piers McBaine won't like it."
"What's it got to do with him?"
"You visiting Exeter before you visit the Abbey. I told you, he's a bit prickly about their status."
"Well, it's his hard luck. He could have picked Monday in my diary if he'd wanted. I don't do preferential treatment, or not yet anyway."
"He didn't want Monday because he knows that Peter Davies will be out of the office on Wednesday."
"Good for Peter Davies." I answered, and went off to PR No one controls my diary except me, and certainly not Peter Fucking Davies!
The rest of the day went quite well. After my interview, which they thought would be used that night, I went to lunch in the Cafeteria with a bunch from PR and Marketing. They were a talkative lot, and I began to really understand what I already suspected, that Henri Bauer ran a very stratified culture. He seemed to never, not even on Company social occasions, let alone in the normal course of work, have anything to do with junior staff. Whether that was just the way he worked, or whether he felt that he was superior in some way, I didn't know, but it needed putting right. I asked Carole to try and work out how I could take a random set of junior staff to lunch in the Buffet Dining Room once every couple of weeks.
I got home just in time to watch the local evening news. I wish I hadn't. Seeing oneself on television is embarrassing, even when there's no one else in the room. Afterwards, I took a shower just to relax myself. Then I realised I was likely to be late for Keith at the Golf Club. I was about to excuse myself from phoning Molly on the grounds that it would make me late, when I thought what Carole would say in the morning. I dialled the number.
Thank Goodness, it was her and not him that answered.
"Hello Molly, it's me, Chris."
I could feel a wave of coolness or at least hesitations come down the line. "I knew you were back in town. I was waiting for you to phone. But you could have done it before the boys saw you on the telly. They've just learnt that their father is back in Bristol from the television."
"Oh God! I'm sorry. Are they upset?"
Her voice became warmer, "No, they're thrilled. Their Dad was on the telly. I think they only saw the last couple of minutes, I guess one of them was flicking through the channels, probably looking for cartoons, and they caught you."
"I'd like to see you, to arrange that I can start seeing them on a regular basis."
"Well, I'm not going to try and stop you. When do you want to make it?"
"Well I'm running late now, but I want to talk to you about me seeing them quite often and quite regularly. Please."
"Chris, I've already said I won't stop you."
"Thank you. But I do think we ought to co-ordinate things. Would you like me to buy you dinner tomorrow night, if you're allowed out by yourself?"
"He's my husband."
"I'm well aware of that. But our children are ours, not his. Let's not argue. How about tomorrow evening?"
"OK. Where will you be? I'll come over after we've eaten and I've put the boys to bed. Say nine o'clock?"
"OK. My flat, or somewhere else?"
"Your flat will do."
So, I gave her my address and left it there, and set off for the Golf Club. All the way there I thought about how even talking to her made my blood boil, after four years the scars were still red raw. But I was also aware of how relieved I felt that I'd made the call, and how apprehensive I felt about tomorrow evening.
I found Keith in the bar. "Hi, Chris. What are you drinking?"
Keith looked untroubled, "So am I. But I have a rule of only one pint if I'm driving, and only two if I eat a good meal. I think that keeps me inside the law. This is a two pint night."
"I'm jealous of those people who have the discipline to keep to a strict no alcohol rule when driving." But then I smiled, "But you've convinced me, make it a pint, please."
Once we had our drinks and Keith had asked how my first three days had been, and I'd asked how his last week at Cheals was going, I looked at him, "So?"
He smiled, "Would it surprise you to know that your name got mentioned when I spoke to Anne the other night?"
"You mean you had a good gossip."
"Well what else would you expect an old married couple to talk about but other people?"
"And?" I tried moving the conversation on from sparring to something that might be vague progress.
Suddenly Keith went serious, "Anne told me that she met Molly by accident about three months after Daniel died. I guess she told me at the time, but I think things went in one ear and out the other at that time."
"That would be about the time she got remarried."
"Yes, Anne thought she was just back from honeymoon. Anne had just started work, and she'd been sent to the hospital for some reason, and she bumped into Molly in a corridor. They went for a coffee together."
I'd just took a long draught of my beer, and as I put it down, "I repeat, and?"
"Well first, Anne remembers that she was surprised at the time at how quiet Molly was. She was always a bouncy person, but she was quiet. Anne used the word 'dull' which for a girl just back from honeymoon was odd."
"There could be hundred and one explanations. She was tired; starting new married life, a new relationship, wouldn't necessarily be easy; or she was going down with a cold. In the light of the fact that they are now approaching their fourth wedding anniversary, I can't see anything significant in that."
"No. Well, I thought I'd mention it. But the more important thing that Anne remembers is that Molly was insistent, quite determined on this point, that you did nothing wrong. You did not let her down in anyway. I know you worry about it, so I thought it was important to let you know."
"That's very kind of you, and I guess it was sweet of Molly. But it's illogical, relationships don't fall apart that suddenly and that disastrously without there being some fault on both sides. I can't believe that I didn't miss something. But I guess Molly was trying to be kind, she knew you and I were friends. I guess she didn't want you to think badly of me. Molly was always kind and thoughtful to other people, she would always want people to think the best of others."
"Well, I can only tell you what Anne told me...." Keith drank some of his pint. "Oh, and the only other thing Anne remembers is that Molly said that she wasn't going to make the mistake she made in her first marriage in the new one. She was determined that this one was forever, she'd committed herself to it, and she would see it through."
"Isn't that the way marriage is meant to be? I thought it was. But, I guess it's good to hear that she's going to stick to this one. Everything tells me that they do love each other a lot."
"Well drink up, and let's go and find those steaks." He said, finishing his own pint.
We made small talk until the steaks and our second pints were delivered, when Keith asked, "So how are you finding W R Franks?"
"ITI-Franks if you please. But it's interesting, fun in parts. Some nice people. But the bit that's the most fun..... Who do you think is Deputy Head of Research?"
"I haven't the faintest .... " Keith looked up and saw my smiling, maybe smirking, face. Suddenly he smiled, "He isn't ... is he? Oh, how interesting."
"It was a complete surprise. I'm not really sure what to do about it. I honestly don't think I want to do business with him, but I can't sack him."
"Well don't do anything stupid. Maybe he's a nice guy. I guess he is really, I can't imagine Molly marrying someone who wasn't. Maybe you can build a decent relationship, you have got something in common after all."
"I'll go along with your advice that I shouldn't do anything stupid. And I won't. But I don't think we can be friends. I know him to be an immoral little shit, the sort of man who chats up married women, he had no conscience about breaking up other peoples' marriages, about making children live in broken homes. I'd rather not have that sort of guy as a friend."
"Does he realise that you are who you are."
"Yes, it was him going to his boss that brought it to light."
"So, if he's worried then he must have a guilty conscience."
I thought about that, "Possibly. Equally he may just think that I'm bearing a grudge, which I am. I might think I've good reason, but he may not, but he might still recognise the possibility."
Keith smiled, "Can't you just have him done over whilst you're sitting in a Board Meeting, with the perfect alibi? Some good, honest violence. Healthy and to the point."
I laughed, "I should have done that four years ago. Surely, waiting four years should at least lend a certain sophistication to the act."
"So, what are you going to do?"
"I guess I'll play it by ear. But I might like to have some fun, and make him suffer a little bit. Make him question his behaviour, as I play it by ear."
"Well, as I said, don't risk your career on a bit of silly revenge. That's beneath you, you're better than that."
After that we changed subject and chatted about Keith and Anne's new life in San Diego. As neither of us could drink, and Keith had plenty to do at home, once we'd finished our meal, we headed to our homes. But I did remind him that I would like to take him and Anne to dinner one evening next week.
Thursday in the office went well, but nothing surprising. The new sign went up on the building, ITI-Franks Ltd, beside a big ITI logo. Of course first thing Carole asked was "Did you phone her?" and when I said "Yes", she just smiled and said "Good."
I went shopping on my way home, I thought I ought to have a full range of drinks and juice, and some nibbles. I got some nice olives, personally I can't stand olives but I know Molly loves them. This meeting was making me nervous, I wasn't quite sure what was expected. Molly used to drink white wine in the evening, but she may have changed her tastes in drink like she did in her men.
When I got in I had a microwaved lasagne, which was all it promised to be - average! Then I went to have a shower and change - into my most elegant, expensive, casual clothes. I checked that there was plenty of ice, I put some olives and some peanuts out on the coffee table, and I looked at my watch, it was still only eight o'clock.
I tried reading some business papers. For a while I didn't do badly, my business discipline and love of my job switched in. But by quarter to nine my nerves switched back in. I couldn't sit still and I paced the room. I found myself watching the occasional car as it cruised pass, waiting to see if this was her. There were a couple of vacant parking spaces on the opposite side of the road from my flat. I was watching the roof of a silver VW Golf as it parked opposite, what made me take more interest was that no one got out. And then the driver's door opened, and it was Molly. I gulped, here we go then!
I waited until she pressed the buzzer on the entry phone. "Hello, Chris, it's Molly."
"Come on up." And I pressed the release button. I went and waited by my open front door, watching the lift. And then it was there and the doors were opening. For the first time in nearly four years I met my ex-wife.
I smiled, totally naturally, I could never help myself from smiling when I saw Molly. "Hi! Come on in. Let me take your coat."
She smiled and walked passed me into my lobby. I stood behind her and she shrugged off her coat. She turned and offered her cheek for a kiss. I looked at her face, she looked older and something else was missing from her eyes, I wasn't sure what. I kissed her cheek, and smelled her perfume. It was a smell that instantly took me back to a different, happier time. I knew it was a perfume that she wore because I loved it, but I could no longer remember what it was, the memory plays funny tricks.
"Do go in." I hung her coat on one of a set of wall hooks. "Would you like a drink?"
"Yes, please. A glass of white wine, if you have it?"
"I guessed that's what you would want. I'll join you. Do go in and sit down, I'll get us the drinks."
By the time I had poured the drinks and joined her in the living room, she was sitting on the sofa and looking around. I put her drink on the table in front of her.
She smiled as she watched me, "Your looking good, Chris, very tanned and fit."
"That's what a couple of weeks in South Africa does for you in January. I can recommend it."
"Mainly, but some good food and wine, and a few days in a game park."
"Well, we get four weeks off between assignments to sort ourselves out, to move and get organised. Well I was coming back to London, but not necessarily permanently, so I just found a furnished flat in Fulham, and then I could spend three weeks on holiday, two of them in South Africa."
"With Ellen?" She was casual and she smiled, but there was an edge to her voice.
How dare she? She's hardly through the door and she's asking me about my private life.
"Her name is Helene, and Yes, with her." I answered, I hoped curtly enough to close this bit of the conversation.
But she pressed on, "Has she come over with you?"
"She's in Apeldoorn at the moment." I answer with the minimal information.
"The boys said she is very beautiful, and they liked her a lot when you took them to Euro-Disney."
I smiled, "She is very beautiful, or I think so. But I suspect the boys affection was probably more motivated by someone taking them to Euro-Disney."
She smiled, at least with her mouth, but she seemed to get the message on a closed subject.
There was a pause, then she looked around the room, "This is very smart. Is it yours?"
"No. It's rented for me by the Company. It was this or a hotel. I chose this."
"So you're not here for long then?"
"Oh yes I am. My guess would be for five years, assuming nothing else comes up. I did two years at Jamesons, nearly two years in International Consultancy, and that was only cut short because I created merry hell, and wanted to get out. Then two years over in Holland. And normally, when you've worked your apprenticeship like that, they start lengthening your stay. My guess is that I've got about five years. But who knows, things change." I smiled half-heartedly.
"You know Peter works for Franks?"
"Yes, his boss came to see me about it."
"Piers McBaine? Piers and Jeanette are good friends to Peter and myself. Mainly it's Piers and Peter, but I have a very good relationship with Jeanette as well."
I nodded, I wasn't surprised.
She went on: "Peter is very worried about you being there....."
"He's scared that you might make life difficult for him. He is good, Piers thinks the world of him, and his work is very important. And there's nowhere else that he could really go and do it...." She looked at me pleadingly.
"I've already told Dr McBaine that he will have the full support of the ITI personnel policy. We are an equal opportunity employer, whatever your race, colour, creed, sexual orientation.... It even covers wife stealers." I smiled.
She rose to the bait, "You shouldn't think of him that way. He's a very nice person. And he's good at his job. And he loves me very much." She looked up into my eyes, I felt she was looking for something, I wondered what.
"Well, whatever..... Let's not argue."
There was a pause, a long pause, when we both sipped our wine. Then the olives caught her eye, she took one, "That was kind," she paused, and her voice was almost breaking when she added, "You were always so thoughtful....."
I determinedly changed the subject to the purpose of the meeting, "I was hoping to see the boys at the weekend."
"Of course, they'll be with Ralph and Susan." I remembered that Molly always called her parents by their Christian names, they had told her to do it on her twenty first birthday, when we got engaged, and they said she was now her own woman now and should talk to them as adults.
"You going away?"
"No," she paused to choose her words, "Maybe you can help with this: the boys, both of them, sort of gang up on Peter. They know exactly which buttons to press to put him into a terrible rage of frustration, because he has no defence against them. He usually ends up going out for a run to get over it and to put a pause on things. I've tried so hard to stop them doing it, but they just see it as sport. And, of course, he rises to it every time. He knows they're doing it, but he can't ride it and ignore it. So to keep the peace, the boys tend to stay with Ralph and Susan at the weekends. It's just a phase they're going through, so it's just until they grow out of it. They are very happy there, it's not like sending them away as a punishment or that I'm rejecting them. I'm just stuck in the middle of a war. Perhaps you will be able to influence them. Please, Chris, it isn't good for them either."
I was concerned, "It doesn't sound the loving stable family we always promised them."
She instantly became upset, tears were obviously imminent, "I'm doing my best! He tries so hard, but the boys make it impossible. It isn't easy for him, he loves me so much, but they're not his...." She sipped her wine to calm herself.
I thought for a moment, "Well, I guess it leads me to why I asked to meet. I don't know how the boys will take to me wanting to be back in their lives on a regular basis. I doubt whether I've got the sort of relationship with them at the moment where I can influence their attitude to their step-father. I certainly don't deserve to be that well thought of."
She dabbed her eyes with a handkerchief, and then she looked at me, "I know it's been difficult for you. You were so hurt by what happened, and your job...... but I've tried to make sure they think about you a lot."