The Queensberry Rule – Chapter 1
Jason started to let out a deep sigh, but the searing pain radiating around his left side from his broken ribs made him catch his breath. He looked up at the policeman who sat across the desk. A little more blood oozed into the bandage around his head, or so he thought. He put his hand to the spot.
“Jason Walters.” The officer’s sausage fingers clumped across the keyboard.
And so it went on. The battered clock on the wall of the interview room ticked loudly towards midnight as Jason again recounted the events of earlier that evening.
The main part of the day had been uneventful. Not one spoilt brat from his English class ended up outside the Deputy’s office. And he was getting used to the frosty atmosphere in the staff room. While only a few colleagues had sided with his ex-wife, they still emitted a hostile odour, especially in the English department. After eighteen months it was no longer remarkable or noteworthy to Jason – it was simply his lot.
At three most students had made a run for the flotilla of large black and grey cars circling the entrance, piloted by parents, grandparents and sassy European au pairs. About a dozen had stayed behind for rehearsals of The Importance of Being Earnest – Jason’s Monday Drama Club.
By five the budding actors had run off to find their lifts in the dusk, while Jason gathered up scripts and straightened chairs. The lively discussion and performance had taken his mind off it all. Buttoning his coat against the cold, he heaved his bulging brief case and strode down the corridor and out the main entrance, nodding to the security guard who was pacing, waiting to lock up after him.
Once past the large stone posts and black wrought iron gates he picked up speed towards the bus stop. He’d just made the five-fifteen – he’d even scored a seat. Time then to read the documents for the six o’clock with his lawyer, however the feeble light and the jolting bus scuppered his plans. Even without the distractions his mind wasn’t in it. All he’d wanted was to see his son every now and again, like he thought they’d agreed in court.
An hour with his lawyer and he was none the wiser. The legal journeyman was sympathetic enough, but kept reminding Jason how powerless he was to overcome the blocking tactics of “the other side”. Jason was over being patient. He’d missed out on most of Will’s fifth year, and was desperate not to miss his sixth.
“We need to do it by the book,” his lawyer assured him, ‘It’s best in the long run.”
Best for who? wondered Jason, standing outside on the post-meeting pavement. For the lawyer? That bloke was chewing through the spare cash Jason didn’t have like a Rottweiler savaging
The routine back to his rental from the lawyer’s had a strange comfort to it. Check the timetable, stop in at the Indian takeaway on the way to the bus. Eating at home, even if it was reheated, gave him something to do within the confines of the four walls. He was on smiling terms with the staff, but avoided the trap of having the “usual”. Tonight though, he’d lost the energy to be adventurous, heading through the tinkling door into the darkness with yet another Chicken Tikka.
He edged off the bus just after eight manoeuvring his curry and his briefcase safely onto the pavement. The bus home from the lawyers left him off a ten minute walk from his flat – longer than his usual route home. He strode off past rows of blue-lit bay windows, the sound of game show laughter and clanking dishes following him along.
He was just passing a house with a high fence and hedge when he was hit. His assailant burst out of a gateway, shoulder-charged him at full speed from the side. Jason shrieked in fright, – like a girl
screaming he remembered afterwards – trying to hold onto the briefcase, the curry and his footing all at once. lnstead everything went flying and he hit the ground – hard, his head thwacked the kerb. His attacker grabbed the briefcase, taking a full swing into Jason’s back with his foot. As Jason struggled for breath he grabbed – too late – at the hand removing his wallet and his phone from his jacket.
He half raised his head, conscious enough to try and recall any significant stats; height, weight, clothing, skin colour. All he saw was a black hoodie and trackpants, as the mugger disappeared into the darkness, Jason’s briefcase banging against his leg. The reflective strips on his trainers were the last thing to fade.
“No, I didn’t see his face, but by his build, probably only a teenager.”
The policeman raised his eyebrows as he two-fingered-typed some more. “Probably anyway – it was dark.”
“Ok, Mr Walters, that’s about all I can do for now. Go home and get some rest. Come in again in the morning, maybe after you’ve had a check up with your own doctor. Need a taxi home?”
“I don’t have any money, it was all in my wallet. The keys to my flat were in the briefcase. I have no way of getting home, and I don’t know if it’s safe once I get there.” This one was no detective.
“I’ll see what I can do for you,” replied the policemen, without having to add “loser” onto the end of his reply. Two highway patrol officers just coming on duty took him home. Sitting in the back for the drive had set his pain like concrete, and Jason had to stoop almost sideways to retrieve the spare key from under the rock in the garden near the front door of the flat. Jason led the officers
through the front security door.
“We’d better go first. Which number?” “Five. First floor.”
They took the key and left Jason to edge up the stairs one at a time. They cautiously opened the door to the silent flat. It didn’t take them long to search the four rooms. No- one. They were standing in the living room when Jason walked in. The place was a mess. “Sir, has anything been disturbed?”
Jason guessed they’d seen some fairly skanky houses in their time, but it was obvious the place had been ransacked, wasn’t it?
“I’ll let station know,” said the older officer. He went out into the hall and started talking to someone.
“We need to fingerprint the place, but that won’t happen until tomorrow. Anywhere else you can stay tonight?”
Jason shook his head. He walked slowly to the bedroom – drawers were open, clothes were strewn around, but the bed was undisturbed.
“I’ll sleep here and try not to touch too much.”
“Do you feel safe?”
Jason was taken aback by their concern and his voice quivered. He slumped onto the couch.
“I can bolt the door from the inside, so it will be fine.”
The other officer returned. “Mr Walters, a team will be here between eight and ten in the morning to take fingerprints.”
“Thanks. I’ll have to stay at home until I get the lock changed anyway.” His eyelids suddenly felt like they were holding up the weight of the whole building. “Thanks for your help.”
“Good luck,” said the senior. They walked out and closing the door behind them. Jason lifted his aching body out of the couch, and bolted the door. He staggered into the bathroom, found some pain killers spread around on the floor, and took three with a large glass of water.
Taking off his shoes and jacket hurt like hell. He took off his belt, and slid into bed, socks and trousers on. He turned over a few times trying to find a position that didn’t hurt his ribs, before settling for something that hurt less. In spite of the pain he fell asleep quickly.
Jason was normally already awake when his alarm went off, reading news on the internet, but it woke him from the dead the next morning. He groaned and reached for it. He lay there working out what hurt, and how much. As he was mustering the courage to lift his bruised body upright, he had a fleeting memory of someone trying to get into the front door during the night – it must have been a dream.
He started preparing a mental list: letting the school know he wouldn’t be in for work, having the locks changed, dealing with the police, seeing a doctor, informing the banks and phone company.
He looked around the flat again. In the light of day not much seemed missing – a few bottles of alcohol from the bookshelf in the living room, a watch from the bedroom. His camera was still in the hallway cupboard, along with his chequebook and some cash. His desktop there in the bedroom. “Too big to lug away,” he said out loud. The school-supplied laptop was in his briefcase, so that was gone. Along with all the paperwork from his lawyer. That should make for some fun reading, he thought.
He showered with his head tilted awkwardly to keep the bandage dry, but at least the hot water washed away the sense of defilement. He dressed loosely and, taking his first cup from a large pot of tea and some fruit toast to the computer, he started the task of cleaning up the virtual mess.
After ten minutes lined up on the bank’s computerised holding pattern he put the speaker on and started multi-tasking; emailing the Principal, finding a local locksmith, and letting the property manager know that everyone’s key to the main entrance door would need changing.
“I guess we’d better get onto it then. There’s a fee you know.”
He could just see the look on her face. “Sorry.” he said, wondering why he had.
Eventually a real person answered at the bank.
“You should really have called us last night. You may still be liable for any transactions up until the time of this phone call.” Scolded again.
“I was either in the police station or the hospital last night,” he lied. “I’ll forward the police statement to you if you want.”
“We’ll have to review what happened over night. In any case, your accounts are now frozen and the cards blocked. New cards will be sent to you by registered mail within the next 24 hours. Then you’ll need to come into a branch to identify yourself, and we’ll be able to reactivate the accounts and cards.”
“What identification will I need?”
“Driver’s Licence is normally enough. Passport is okay as well.”
Driver’s licence. Health insurance card. School Amex card. Security pass to the school. All gone in the mugging. His passport might be out of date, he wasn’t sure.
“Thanks for your help.”
“Is there anything else I could do for you today?” came the well rehearsed reply.
The apartment buzzer went off as he hung up. In his rush to see who it was, Jason forgot about the ribs. He was still wincing when he let the officers in. More questions.
“We get a lot of muggings round here” said the young Asian officer, slurping on his mug of tea, while his colleague dusted for prints.
“Don’t see many perps follow it up with a home visit though. We nearly always find the bag within stone’s throw of the attack. Cash jobs mainly.”
“Have you searched the area where I was attacked yet?” asked Jason.
“That’s under way at the moment. Now, if we could just get your prints, we can get this on the go. Come down and see us later today, ok?”
They were on their way out as Jason buzzed in the locksmith. With the existing lock re- keyed, an extra lock and a huge bolt on the inside, Jason felt safe enough to leave the place. Still, he couldn’t shake the feeling that someone had tried to get in while he slept. His lack of ease clung to him as he walked the mile or so down to the doctor’s surgery.
Each step jolted his ribs, forcing him to take shallow breaths. His shoulder had stiffened up. As he approached the town centre, he noticed a few sympathetic stares. Why not? he thought, I’d stare. The sight of a thirty something man with a purpled eye, and bandaged head at midday in this neighbourhood still warranted a second look.
He turned the corner for the surgery. A bunch of teenagers in hoodies and trainers were jostling each other across the road, all swagger and raucous laughter. One or two on bikes deliberately too small were bunny hopping in the middle of the road. Jason felt the sense of threat rise in his throat. He went in, but stood back from the reception waiting for his heart to slow down.
The surgery was busy, a few old people waiting meekly; whiney toddlers with sniffy noses, their mums texting and wiping; an older man with Downs Syndrome with a woman who must have been his mother. The half hour wait was a welcome relief, and Jason was more relaxed by the time he was called in.
“That’s some eye,” said the young Indian GP. Her smile set him at ease.
“You should see the other guy!” he laughed, feeling safe for the first time since yesterday evening.
He left with his wounds properly dressed, some advice on how to manage his ribs and stronger pain killers. On the way out he stuffed the script for sleeping pills in his back pocket. Don’t want to start that, he thought. His medical certificate gave him the rest of the week off with an option for more.
The uneasy feeling returned, however, as he walked down to the supermarket. By the time he’d bought some lockdown supplies; milk, butter, crusty loaf, a couple of expensive cheeses from the deli counter and a home renovation mag, he was sweating. He’d jumped nervously when the woman bagging the roast chickens dropped a roasting tray with a clang.
“Anything else love?” The assistant was holding out the cheese portions wrapped in paper.
“No, no, thanks,” he said, taking them and wandering off. He’d felt a pang of anxiety at the check-out as he reached for a wallet that wasn’t there, before remembering the cash he’d stuffed in his inside jacket pocket on the way out the door.
His last stop was the chemist. “Oh, and this too,” he said, tossing the sleeping pill script on the counter like it was an afterthought.
He arrived at the flat exhausted. Despite the pain he darted through the main door, taking the stairs two at a time. The new locks took a while, and he was shaking by the time he was bolted inside. Easing onto the lounge, he stared into space, before being jolted out of his trance by the landline.
“Hi Jason, how are you? Heard you weren’t well today.” Caitlyn. She was the only person from school he could bear to talk to today.
“Hi, I’m okay, I guess.” He told her what had happened, surprising himself with how dramatic it sounded. Every now and then her gasps interrupted him.
“My God, Jason. You could have been killed.”
“He didn’t have a knife or anything.”
“Yes, but all that one-punch stuff you hear about. My God. Have you had a scan?” “My head’s fine.”
“Do you need anything? Want me to drop around some shopping?”
“No, no, I’ve got some stuff in. If I can get to my bank accounts in a day or so, I’ll be fine.”
“OK. What do you want me to tell people?”
Jason thought for a moment. “Tell them the truth, but don’t put it out as a broadcast, if you know what I mean.”
“Ok. You relax and take it easy. My God! I’ll call again tomorrow.”
“Thanks. See ya.”
Jason checked the door locks again, then rang the police station to tell them he wasn’t up to coming in today. They were either unconcerned, or uninterested, but said they’d keep him updated.
He lay down and got up six or seven times, pacing slowly around the flat straightening things. Have I put the photo frame back on the right book shelf? he wondered. The glee on Will’s face that day two summers back at Euro-Disney gave him a pang. He rang his Head of Department with outline suggestions for the relief teacher, poured a red wine, settled in for some TV, a well-cooked steak, before finishing the bottle.
When the time came, Jason plunged to sleep – the pain killers combining with the wine for a dreamless night.
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