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Going Down Slow

Going Down Slow
by John Harvey
Art by Jason C. Eckhardt

When they first began living together, himself and Lynn, Resnick would be woken by dreams of her dying; his fear of losing her transformed into violent imaginings from which he would wake slick with sweat, to find her lying there beside him, peacefully sleeping. Only then could he rest, assured that she was still breathing. And with time the dreams faded, became less frequent, less frightening, though never disappeared entirely. And never once in his dreams did he see how she would really die. 

When eventually it came, it was sudden, and if there were a blessing to be found, he supposed that was it. The suddenness. A moment of realisation, of pain, perhaps not even that, then nothing. No time for goodbyes.

He thought of this later, those long slow afternoons when he would sit by his friend Peter Waites’s bed, patiently waiting for him to die. But in the weeks, the months following Lynn’s death, no such rationalisation was possible.

At home, he prowled from room to room, the house suddenly overlarge, alien; refusing to sleep in the bed they’d shared, he spent broken nights in an armchair, blanket pulled across his knees, listening to Monk’s discordant threnodies, Billie’s anguished love songs, chippy and forlorn: familiar music he barely recognised or really heard.

At work—the Central Police Station in the city centre, divisional HQ—he blundered from floor to floor, office to office, most eyes turning away from him, awkward, uncomfortable, as soon as he came near, fellow officers embarrassed by his grief; a few older colleagues alone finding words of sympathy, reaching out to squeeze his shoulder, his hand.

Near to retirement, the task of running the robbery division pulled out from beneath him, as far as the job was concerned he was a dead man walking. “No call for you to be here at all,” the divisional commander told him, “not when you’re due compassionate leave. And counselling, Charlie, someone to talk to, a professional, that’s what you need.”

Only one person he wanted to talk to and she was dead.

Karen Shields, a detective chief inspector from the Homicide and Serious Crime Command in the Met, had been brought in to run the investigation into Lynn’s murder. The local force would be offering her all the assistance it could. She was careful to speak to Resnick early on, express her condolences, glean from him whatever she deemed useful, give assurances that she would keep him informed of whatever progress was being made.

Was it because she was a woman she’d been chosen, Resnick had wondered? Some strange politically-correct equivalence? But then had quickly realised it was because she was a good detective, good at her job. He kept out of her way as much as he could.

For a time, he found himself farmed out to B Division in the north of the county, providing cover for senior officers absent through illness and accident. His journey there taking him past a succession of neatly grassed-over slag heaps, cosmetic testimony to an industry that had once employed thousands; an uncomfortable reminder of when he had been running an intelligence-gathering team during the miners’ strike, feeding back information that had contributed to the government decimating the coal fields and bringing the union to its knees. At the time, he had been able to convince himself he was playing his part in preventing the country being rent asunder by civil disorder. Now, with each new revelation prised from previously secret Cabinet archives, he felt that, along with many others, he had been manipulated, used, taken for a ride.

One of the few good things, for Resnick, to have come out of that time had been the unlikely friendship he had formed with one of the most outspoken of the striking miners, Peter Waites: a friendship built on mutual respect that had come close to floundering when Waites’s son, Jack, had opted to join the police and, for a time, had been stationed in Nottingham under Resnick’s command. But Jack Waites had decided soon enough that police work was not for him, and decamped to Australia, a wife, kids, and a successful career in IT.

Resnick and Peter Waites had taken to meeting every month or so in Waites’s local in Bledwell Vale, and when that closed down through lack of patronage—the village itself now more or less deserted—in whatever pub they could find in Bolsover or Chesterfield that served a decent pint and didn’t have TV screens in every corner of the bar.

It was here that Resnick first heard of Waites’s nephew, Ryan, Ryan Lessings, recently sentenced to eighteen months for stealing goods from the Cash and Carry where he’d been working and selling them on eBay.

“Everything from maxi-packs of breakfast bloody cereal to digital radios. Needs his brains tested, the idiot. Not the first time, neither. Let him off with a fine he could never pay an’ community service, whatever the hell that is. His missus warned him if it happened again, she’d up sticks and leave him to it. Likely will an’ all. Mind of her own, Melanie, though when she hooked up with Ryan she must’ve had it switched into reverse.”

“Kids?” Resnick asked.

“Just the one. Lassie, four year old. Emma. Not the brightest. Learning difficulties, that what they call it nowadays?”

Resnick thought perhaps it was. Seeing Peter Waites’s glass was all but empty, he lifted it up with his own and headed for the bar. Just the one more, then time to head back down the motorway to where the cat would be waiting, patient, to be fed.

 

Time passed. For one reason or another, the two men failed to meet up for six months or more, and before they did see one another again, Lynn’s killer had been found, a youth with little more motive on his mind than to take vengeance for a perceived wrong and gain the respect of his own father in the process.

“A waste, Charlie,” Peter Waites said when they did meet. “A sad bloody waste.”

At first Resnick took him to mean Lynn, before realising he meant the lad as well. Not so very many years on, Resnick thought, the same youth would be released and still have years ahead of him to make a life; not so Lynn.

“Hard for you to see it that way,” Waites said. “For now, any road.”

Resnick nodded and supped his pint.

“That hapless nephew of mine,” Waites said. “Ryan bloody Lessings. Kicking him free end of the month. Served just over half his time. Back out on street with what he stands up in an’ not a deal more. Melanie, she and the kiddie upped sticks like she said. Place down in Nottingham. Your way, Mapperley Top. One of them houses broke down into flats.”

“She’ll have him back?”

“Like hell she will.”

“Any other family? Close?”

“Not as’d give him house room. Drove his old lady, my sister Mary, to an early grave as it is. No one else’ll speak to him but me, and if you do offer him a mote o’ kindness all he does is throw it back in your face.”

“You’ll not be inviting him back to the Vale, then?” Resnick said with a smile. “Stay with you awhile?”

Waites made a face. “Not thank me if I did. Hostel, that’s the best he can hope for. For now, at least.”

“And Melanie? She can manage on her own?”

“Benefits, she’ll just about cope. An’ once kiddie’s off to school proper, she can likely find work, part-time.”

“He’ll not go bothering her? Ryan?”

“Likely get short shrift if he does.”

v v v

Just weeks later Resnick was back at Divisional HQ, notionally baby-sitting new recruits to C.I.D., ignoring best as he could the know-it-all-already looks on their smooth-skinned faces.

Free for a while from his charges, he was whiling away the time talking soccer with Jamie Wood, the two of them standing by Wood’s Ford Estate in the parking area to the rear of the police station when the call came through: a domestic out at Mapperley called in by neighbours. Windows broken and worse. Wood switched on the in-car laptop and checked for details.

“Like company?” Resnick asked.

Wood shrugged: Why not?

Ryan Lessing was pacing up and down the broken-flag pathway, crisscrossing the square of stubbled grass, words flailing like angry birds aimless from his mouth. Behind the windows of the narrow brick-built house, curtains were closed, two of the ground-floor windows cracked across.

Wood drew the vehicle over towards the curb, Resnick exiting before it had come to a true stop. Calling Ryan Lessing’s name.

He turned sharply towards them, Skrewdriver T-shirt loose over his jeans; dark hair cut close to the scalp, tattoos on his neck, the back of one hand.

Three paces towards Resnick, fist raised, he stopped, seeing Wood approaching from the other side of the car.

“That bitch,” he said, glancing back towards the house. “She called you, didn’t she? Won’t let me see my own kid.”

“Ryan,” Resnick said, “why don’t we just calm down?”

“And why don’t you bugger off and mind your own business?”

Jamie Wood was close enough now to grab his arm and spin him round, the arm quickly levered up high behind his back, forcing him down onto his knees, head pressed to the ground.

“What d’you think?” Wood said. “Time for a little quiet rest and contemplation?”

When Resnick knocked on the front door it opened on the chain; ID checked, it closed and opened again. Melanie Lessing stood in the hallway, the ghost of prettiness hovered about her, anxiety startling her eyes.

A small girl, fair-haired—Emma—stared up at Resnick from behind her mother’s legs, one hand clinging to the fabric of her worn blue jeans.

“You both okay?” Resnick asked.

Melanie shivered involuntarily. “Why don’t you shut the door?”

They sat in a room crowded with mismatched furniture, Melanie smoking a cigarette, wafting the smoke away from her daughter’s face as the girl sat close by her, still clutching at her leg. Ryan had come round earlier, wanting see his daughter. Hammered on the door, threatening to break it down, tried to force his way in. Melanie had talked to him, stood her ground, tried to reason; told him she’d call the police if he didn’t go away and leave them alone. Ryan had lost his temper totally, called her everything under the sun. Wandered off and when he came back he’d been drinking. Thrown God-knows-what at the windows. Threatened more. Now he was sitting in the back of a police car, handcuffed, sullen.

“What will happen?” Melanie asked.

“To Ryan?”

She nodded.

“It depends.”

She took a deep drag at her cigarette, smoke in her lungs.

“Did he hit you?” Resnick asked.

“Not this time.”

“But he has before?”

A shrug of the shoulders, looking back at him with grey eyes. What did he think?

“Isn’t there some kind of—what is it?—restraining order?” she said. “Something that will mean he can’t come round and do this again.”

“You can apply for one, yes. Temporary at first, while the court decides whether or not to make it permanent.”

“Mummy,” Emma said quietly, “when’s Daddy coming back?”

 

The next few times Resnick rang Peter Waites there was no answer. He thought about driving up there to make sure he was okay, but somehow other things kept getting in the way. It was a phone call from Jack Waites in Melbourne that alerted him: His father had been taken into hospital and Jack himself had only just found out. Could Resnick maybe go and see him, call back and let him know how he was?

He could.

He found Waites standing beneath the portico at the hospital entrance, still attached to his portable IV stand, smoking a cigarette.

“Down’t pit since I were fifteen, Charlie, coal dust enough on my lungs to bank half fires in bloody Bolsover. I doubt a John Player Special or two’s gonna make a scrap of difference. Not now, any road.”

He had stage three cancer: a tumour of over seven centimetres in his right lung and busily spreading into the layers covering the heart.

“I’ll let Jack know,” Resnick said. “He’ll want to come over.”

“Best get a shift on or all he’ll be in time for’s bloody funeral.”

Waites turned his head aside and coughed up black phlegm into the palm of his hand.

But when Jack arrived, four days later, the situation seemed to have, if not radically improved, levelled out at least. The drugs seemed to be working; the spread of the cancer all but halted. His father well able to sit up in bed and talk, take himself off to the bathroom without assistance, sneak the odd cigarette or two and joke about it with the nurses afterwards.

Jack stayed the best part of a week, frequently texting home, texting work, sitting hunched over his laptop beside his father’s bed or hunkered down in a corner of the hospital canteen. The IT firm he worked for were in the midst of a possible takeover and there was only so much he could do at a distance. And he needed to stay involved.

“Don’t you fret yoursen,” Peter Waites said. “There’s life in the old sod yet.”

Neither father nor son were sure they would see one another again.

 

Melanie Lessing’s application for a restraining order against her husband was successful, the court issuing an injunction prohibiting him from coming within an agreed distance of her home address, and from attempting to contact her or their daughter without prior arrangement. After one month, if this injunction were adhered to, Ryan would be able to spend time with his daughter—once a week initially—under social-service supervision.

Out that way on routine business, Resnick called at the house: an early spring day, crocuses just showing in the scrap of garden, the sun still shallow in the sky. In the cramped living room Melanie was working her way through a pile of ironing, television playing aimlessly in the background. Some of the lines seemed to have smoothed from her face; blond highlights in her hair.

She greeted Resnick with a smile. “This is where I put kettle on, is it?”

“I’ll not say no.”

On the screen a once well-known actor was selling incontinence products for over-sixties. Resnick looked away.

“Fresh out of biscuits, I’m afraid. Emma took the last Jammy Dodger with her to nursery.”

“How is she?”

“She’s fine. Loves nursery. Never wants to come away.”

“And her dad?”

“Missed a session with Emma—when?—last week, the week before. But that aside . . .” Reaching out, she touched her fingers to the wood of the chair. “. . . okay. Not been round here, anyway, bugging me.”

“New leaf, then. Seen the error of his ways.”

“You believe that?”

“Happens.”

“Not Ryan. Should’ve seen it years ago and never did, not till it was too late. Good on promises, Ryan. Least, he used to be. Things he was going to do, we were both going to do, places we’d go. Australia, he’d say, like Jack. Why not, nothing for us here.” Setting her mug of tea on the floor, she reached for a cigarette. “He was right enough there.”

 

Peter Waites’s condition suddenly worsened. A second tumour, malignant, forming in the fluid around the heart. After consultation, a decision was taken to cease all further treatment and manage the pain. A place was found in a hospice close to Mansfield offering specialist palliative care. Visiting, Resnick realised Waites had never really looked ill before. Now he did.

No strength in his hand; little warmth.

A flicker in the eyes.

“A bugger, eh, Charlie?”

Resnick nodded agreement.

After a very few minutes more, Waites closed his eyes and slept.

Resnick waited, went out into the corridor, back to the reception area, bought tea and a caramel wafer from one of the volunteer helpers, took them back.

He found one of the nurses, black with a Mansfield accent and weave in her hair, grandparents who likely came over on the Windrush in response to the Health Service cry of need.

“What are we looking at?” Resnick asked. “Weeks or . . . ?”

“Weeks would be good. In a case like your friend’s, weeks would be unusual.”

When he went back into the room again, Waites was awake and staring at the TV set anchored to the far wall.

“Your lad . . .” Resnick began.

“No.”

“How d’you mean?”

“You’ll not tell him.”

“He’ll want to know.”

“And what? See me like this? Sit there watchin’ me croak?”

“It’s his right.”

“Is it hell! Besides, time he booked a flight, made it over . . .” He let the rest of the sentence hang. “When he was here before I wasn’t too bad. I don’t want him to see me like this.”

“Even so . . .”

“No, Charlie, no.” He gripped Resnick’s hand then with what little strength he had. “You’ve got to promise me, Charlie. Promise, right. The funeral, that’ll be time enough.”

The effort brought on a fit of coughing and Resnick levered him carefully forward, gave him water to sip through a straw, and rested him back down as gently as he could.

 

Early evening, two days later, and Resnick was pottering about the kitchen, nibbling on ends of hard cheese while trying to ignore the cat winding between his legs pretending it hadn’t already been fed. He didn’t hear the phone straightaway, over the sound of Ellington’s “Harlem Air Shaft,” playing loud in the other room.

Jamie Wood’s voice was curt and urgent. “Melanie Lessing. I’ll meet you there.”


# # #

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"Going Down Slow"  by John Harvey, Copyright © 2015 with permission of the author.

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