WRITTEN BY CHRISTINE SUTTON
All Harvey’s old police contacts and copper’s instincts are called into play as he becomes a victim of crime…
Harvey Weston paused, one hand resting on the corner shop doorknob.
“Oh, that’s a good one, Margery,” he chuckled. “I’ll tell that one to Jim later, he likes a good laugh. See you next week.”
Still smiling, he stepped outside and went to hang his shopping on the handlebars of his bicycle.
It wasn’t there. The pavement was horribly, bewilderingly empty.
Harvey looked around, frowning at the row of market stalls as if the bike might somehow have taken it into its head to find a shadier spot to recline this sunny afternoon.
It was nowhere to be seen.
Don’t s’pose you saw the going of my bike, did you?
“Hey, Larry,” he called to a freckle-faced man weighing fat green Bramleys on metal scales. “Don’t s’pose you saw the going of my bike, did you?”
Larry shook his head.
“Sorry, Harve, barely had time to think today. The country’s gone fruit pie mad thanks to Mary Berry, gawd bless ‘er!”
Harvey crossed to the nearest stall, as vibrant as an artist’s palette with its covering of exotic woven rugs and throws.
“Excuse me, Rani, but you didn’t happen to see where my bicycle went, did you?” Again, he pointed to the vacant spot by the wall.
“Oh, was that yours, Har-vey?” she said in her polite, precise way. “I did see a man take it. He pedalled away wobbling like a child, as though he’d never ridden one before. Of course, if I’d known he was stealing it I would have shouted at him to stop.”
“What was he like?” Harvey asked urgently. “Which way did he go?”
Rani put her head on one side.
“Quite young, maybe twenty-one or – two,” she mused, with exasperating slowness. “With a thin face and long black hair tied back in a ponytail.” She pointed to the end of the marketplace. “And he disappeared down into the underpass. Beyond that I couldn’t say. Sorry, Har-vey.”
Harvey blew out his cheeks. The underpass had four exits variously leading to the railway station, the Town Hall, the hospital, and the main road. If the thief had chosen the latter exit his bike could be halfway to Brighton by now.
He was surprised to feel a sharp pang of loss. It might be an old boneshaker but it had served him well over the years. An ex-copper, he’d cycled to many a crime scene on it, often gaining access to places the patrol cars weren’t able to reach.
So devoted to it was he that when he’d retired, his colleagues had presented it to him as a gift, with a gold ribbon tied around the saddle and a shiny new bottle holder on the front.
To keep a drop of the hard stuff in, the label had suggested.
He never had, though. He much preferred a pint of mild and bitter with Jim in the Dog and Duck at the end of a ride.
Thanking Rani for her help, he strode back into the shop.
“Could you do me a favour, Margery, and hold on to my shopping for me? Some toe-rag’s made off with my bike. I’m going to see if I can spot it.”
Just don’t go doing anything silly, Harve, you’re not in the force any more
She nodded. “Just don’t go doing anything silly, Harve, you’re not in the force any more.”
He bared his large, tombstone teeth.
“Don’t I know it,” he said, with unusual vehemence, “but I can still make a citizen’s arrest. They can’t take that away from me.”
Dumping his bags, he hurried outside.
Running down the slope to the underpass he saw an old acquaintance from his police days, Jack Taylor, occupying his usual spot in the suntrap in the middle. Three benches were set in a triangle facing out, and old lag Jack simply moved around them like the gnomon on a sundial, following the sun as he worked his way through his daily bottle of supermarket cider.
His eyes, as always in the afternoon, were shut.
“Hello, Jack,” Harvey murmured. “Lovely day.”
Jack opened one eye. Starting with Harvey’s feet, he worked his way up until he reached his face. Only then did he consider it worth opening the other one.
Not often we see you on foot. Surprised your legs still work…
“Mr Weston,” he said. “Not often we see you on foot. Surprised your legs still work, the years you’ve spent on that bike.”
“Funny you should mention that, Jack, only it’s been stolen. Don’t suppose you’ve seen the going of it, have you?”
From deep in Jack’s chest came a wheezy hacking like rocks rolling down a mountainside. Taking it to be a coughing fit, Harvey waited for him to catch his breath.
“Hey,” he protested, suddenly realising Jack was laughing. “It’s no joke, Jack. I’m the victim of a crime here. Just like you were, that time Molly Simpson stole your trolley.”
“Oh, stolen now, was it?” Jack gave him a jaundiced look. “Didn’t see it as a crime then, though, did you? Said I was lucky not to have been prosecuted for nicking supermarket property.”
“Which was true, since you’d swiped it from their trolley-park. And I did get it back for you,” Harvey reminded him.
“You got it back all right, with all me worldly goods missing,” Jack grumbled.
“She’d sold them, Jack.” Harvey defended himself. “Nothing I could do.”
Jack scratched a whiskery cheek.
As it happens, I did see someone on a bike
“Well, you did have that whip-round among the stall holders to replace what she’d nicked,” he conceded. “Decent of you, that. OK, Harvey, as it happens, I did see someone on a bike. Went through here so fast, he nearly took Nurse Froggett’s legs from under her.”
Harvey brightened. “So he went that way, did he, towards the hospital?”
“Well, now, I’m not saying he did, and I’m not saying he didn’t…” Jack paused, tapping his cider bottle with a black-rimmed fingernail.
Fishing in his pocket, Harvey pulled out a two-pound coin. “Here you go, Jack, have the next one on me.”
Jack beamed, revealing a row of stubby brown stumps that had no place in a human mouth.
“Now I remember,” he said, pointing to the subway leading to St Mary’s. “He went that way, ten minutes or so ago.”
Thanking him, Harvey dashed into the tunnel. If the man had cycled through the hospital grounds thinking to take a short cut through the rear exit, he should be finding out about now that there wasn’t one. Maybe he could nab him as he came back round.
Approaching the Victorian red-brick building Harvey’s steps slowed, as memories came flooding back. For it was here that he’d met Nurse Gloria Sims, some forty years ago.
Gloria had been working in the fracture clinic the night the injured PC Weston came in following a run-in with a burglar who hadn’t much wanted to be caught. Her giggles as he described the look on the young robber’s face as he’d slithered over the window-ledge, only to feel a copper’s hand on his collar, were as glorious as her name implied and Harvey decided, there and then, that this was the girl he was going to marry.
It had taken a while to convince her of it but eighteen months later they’d wed in the pretty little church on the hill.
And there, at the rear of that same pretty little church, he’d laid her to rest thirty-six years later.
That unhappy milestone happened here, too, in the hospital’s oncology unit, where they’d spent the last bittersweet days recalling happier times and trying not to mourn those fast slipping away.
The bike had been his friend then, too. Instead of wasting precious minutes looking for a space in the woefully inadequate car park, he’d been able to leave it by the door and be at Gloria’s side within minutes of leaving work.
Yes, it had served him well over the years. If he ever caught up with whoever had taken it, he was going to throw the book at them and a lot more besides.
Stopping a few feet short of the entrance, Harvey scanned the building for the bike’s familiar outline. Nothing caught his eye. Trotting a hundred yards he peered around the corner. There was little to be seen in the alleyway save for a series of green metal fire escapes running up the wall and the usual rockery of buff-coloured burger boxes below.
He jogged back past the hospital’s main entrance to the other end of the building. His breathing was becoming ragged and he paused on the corner, hands on knees, to take stock.
Here the roadway widened out to accommodate the ambulances and rapid response vehicles forever coming and going to Maternity and A&E. At the end he could just make out a discreet sign jutting from the wall, with a single word in bold black lettering; Mortuary. An unfortunate juxtaposition of departments, but it had to go somewhere.
In contrast to the other side, this was a kaleidoscope of activity and Harvey craned to see beyond the hurrying figures. A gap appeared and he caught a glimpse of something propped against a large wheeled rubbish bin – a bicycle.
His pulse quickened as he wormed his way between the paramedics and porters. There it was; his bike, the shiny chrome holder and his water bottle still intact. Giving it an affectionate pat as he passed, he strode into A&E.
All around sat injured or unwell people, with their supporting cast of family and friends. A couple turned to look his way, grading his need for attention against their own. Satisfied that he posed no threat to the existing order, they resumed the contemplation of their feet.
Harvey skimmed the room but no one matched the description of Rani’s young man. Knowing instinctively that he was in the wrong place, he hurried back outside and on to Maternity.
An efficient-looking young woman sat at a desk tapping information into a computer. Moments passed while she continued to tap, until Harvey politely cleared his throat. She glanced up, her delicate eyebrows lifting.
“May I help?”
He nodded. “I’m looking for someone. Young man, long black hair tied in a ponytail.”
A shadow of suspicion flickered in her blue eyes – a look Harvey had seen many times in his career when speaking to the parent of a suspected felon.
“Does this young man have a name?”
“Almost certainly, but I don’t know it.”
“Then I’m afraid I can’t…”
Her refusal was interrupted by the arrival of an older woman wearing the dark blue uniform of a midwife. She was raven-haired and pleasantly plump with an interesting take on glasses, the glittery gold plastic frames giving her a quirky, eccentric look.
He’s looking for a young man, Lois…
“This gentleman is looking for a young man, Lois,” the younger woman explained.
“Aren’t we all?” The midwife sighed, mock-sorrowful.
“Early twenties, long dark hair in a ponytail,” Harvey pressed her.
“Sounds like Mr Sykes.” Lois smiled. “He got here in the nick of time. His car broke down on the bypass, so he ran all the way. His girlfriend’s neighbour had to bring her in. Not a happy puppy.”
“Bunny,” the other woman corrected quietly, calmly resuming her tapping.
“So where is he now?” Harvey asked, trying not to sound too impatient.
“With his family, naturally,” Lois said. “Are you Grandpa? Shotgun weddings went out with the Ark, you know.”
She gave his hand a friendly pat and Harvey was surprised to feel his nerve endings tingle. He hadn’t so much as looked at another woman since Gloria, felt disloyal even thinking about getting close to anyone else. Yet there was something about this Lois, a warmth and an old-fashioned niceness, that he found hugely attractive. Behind the overlarge lenses her irises were an unusual blend of hazel and green – like pistachios, he thought incongruously.
Aware that the girl at the console had stopped tapping to listen, he jerked his head sideways, indicating that they should move to the far end of the desk.
“The thing is,” he said softly, “the young man took something of mine. My bicycle. I need to speak to him about it.”
Lois inclined her head.
“I do understand, of course, but I’m not sure this is the right time. Being accused of theft when you’ve just become a daddy might tend to spoil the moment, don’t you think?”
Harvey wrinkled his nose.
He ran like the wind but he was still scared stiff he was going to miss it
“He only just made it in time, you say?” he asked, remembering his own frantic dash to get to Gloria’s side when their Sarah was born.
“Moments to spare,” Lois said. “He ran like the wind but he was still scared stiff he was going to miss it.”
“So he took my bike for the final stretch,” Harvey put in thoughtfully.
She nodded. “Seems like it. Look, let me go and tell him you’d like a quick word, at least. Then it’s up to you.”
She bustled away, leaving Harvey to consider the situation. For Sarah’s birth he hadn’t quite made it, arriving minutes too late to find the baby washed, fed, and sleeping in her mother’s arms. The disappointment of missing his darling girl’s arrival had never quite left him.
He looked up as a young man hurried towards him, looking embarrassed.
“Sorry about your bike,” he said immediately. “I didn’t know what else to do. I would’ve returned it, honestly.”
Harvey shook his head.
“Don’t give it another thought, son. I’m just glad it made the difference. These things matter in life.” In the background, the midwife smiled. “Is everything OK – with the baby, I mean?”
Joy suffused the younger man’s face.
“Oh, she’s grand, sir. Beautiful.” He held out his hand. “Thank you, Mr…”
“Weston,” Harvey supplied, shaking hands. “Harvey Weston.”
“Thank you, Mr Weston. I’d better get back to the family.” He flushed with pleasure at the novelty of the words.
As he turned away, the midwife also made to return to the delivery suite.
“Oh, nurse,” Harvey called.
She glanced back. “Yes?”
“I was wondering if you’d like to go and wet the baby’s head with me later?”
She gazed at him over the top of the golden glasses.
“I’d love to, Harvey. I finish at six. Shall I meet you outside?”
“Six it is. Have they picked a name?”
“They have. They’re going to call her Sarah Louise. Isn’t that lovely?”
“Yes,” he said in a husky voice, “it’s a grand name. I’ll see you later then, Lois.”
Outside, the sun on the bicycle’s saddle had softened the split leather, smoothing the hard-to-sit-on cracks.
So, he thought fondly, you got a father to the hospital in time for the birth of his little girl after all. Thirty years too late for me but better late than never.
Wishing Sarah a long and happy life, Harvey wheeled his boneshaker round the corner and headed for the gates.