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Roger Partridge
Pfeuferstr. 36 • 81373 München (Munich)

Grandfathering (2005, Roger Partridge ©)

Written after a visit to an adventure playground with my eldest grandson.

What had been intended as a treat almost came to a sudden end in tears. The abrupt change in direction halfway down wasn't any kind of danger as the slide was constructed like a long silver tube, but it had alarmed both the two-and-a-half-year-old and his grandfather. However, by the time they stood up in the sandpit where they'd landed and Jim had brushed the little boy down, the shock was forgotten.

'Well, we certainly didn't expect that, did we, Tommy?' But the little boy had already started running to the next attraction.

Coming to the adventure playground had been a good idea after all. Christine, as Jim's second wife only an honorary 'Grandma', had advised him to go later in the afternoon, when children from the nearby kindergarten and primary school would also be there. But somehow, what with the fine weather and the lack of toys for Tommy – after thirty years one tends to forget what small children need – the three-roomed apartment seemed to be getting smaller every minute. It was almost a half hour's walk to the playground and Tommy had had enough after five minutes and demanded to be pushed in the stroller. Twenty minutes later he was showing distinct signs of nodding off, but as soon as the playground came in sight he jumped out to run the last thirty yards.

The adventure playground really lived up to its name. There were several climbing frames, each with a varying number of levels and some covering remarkably large areas of the sandy soil. Steps and rope ladders connected the levels, and in the case of the central frame it didn't seem an exaggeration to talk about a multi-storey clamberer's paradise, with the steel roof of the integral slide crowning the whole structure and gleaming in the sun like the beacon of a lighthouse. Possibly because of the almost total lack of other children – or mothers or grandparents sitting on the benches on the perimeter – Jim found it rather surrealistic and could imagine that in cloudy weather the playground would seem even menacing. But now the sun was shining and the lack of playmates didn't seem to bother Tommy. He was an active child and Jim was much in demand to help him climb the steeper steps and to jump over various parts of the brook running through the whole area. It was a warm June day and their T-shirts were soon sticking to their skin.

After a while Jim mentioned the magic words 'apple juice' and they went back to the bench where he'd left the rucksack with all the things he might need on grandfathering duty – drinking bottle, first-aid kit, some fresh fruit and a sun hat. After the first swig from the bottle Tommy looked up with a big smile to say, 'nice playground'. This sounded so much like an official rating Jim had to chuckle. Tommy found this highly amusing and managed to copy the way Jim chuckled quite well. Perhaps it was this or just the effect of relaxing on the bench but, whatever it was, Jim suddenly saw Peter, his son and Tommy's father, at about the same age. But the scene he recalled was much less serene than today's.

It had started off badly. It was a Saturday afternoon Jim wanted desperately to finish an important report by Monday morning, and as visitors were expected for most of the day Sunday, every hour counted. Jean, his wife, was not in an understanding mood.

'You always wanted to have children. Well now you have a son and it's the weekend. A wonderful opportunity to spend some time with him.'

From experience, Jim knew that any kind of objection on his part would not only be fruitless but also spoil the whole weekend – for everybody. With a sigh, he mentally cancelled the old Graham Greene film he'd hoped to watch on television that evening. Somehow or other he would find the five or six hours he still needed for the report.

And the situation didn't improve when Jim and Peter reached the playground half an hour later. This was, of course, much less elaborate and imaginatively designed than the masterpiece of the following millennium. No sandy soil with spongy rubber mats let into the ground at strategic places, but simply asphalt everywhere. It was in the nearby recreation ground – known locally as 'the rec' – but it could almost have been a stretch of the streets with a few swings and roundabouts dotted around. And Peter wasn't much in the mood in any case.

'So, Peter, what about that roundabout – the witch's hat. That should be fun.' The little boy didn't respond in any way but instead took some kind of cards out of his pocket and started to look through them, one by one.

'Where ever did you get those? Did Mummy give you them?

The little boy shook his head. 'Barry's cards'.

'Oh, did he lend them to you when you were playing next door yesterday.'

'Barry didn't want to. I take them.'

'But didn't he try to stop you?' Jim was hoping that somehow he'd misunderstood his son.

'Barry not there.'

'He wasn't there? You mean he was in the lavatory or in another room?'


Jim was trying to keep the situation under control, but he was finding it difficult. 'Peter, did you really take Barry's cards home without telling him?'

'Nice cards. I want them.'

'But you can't just take things because you want them. They belong to Barry. Just imagine, he might be looking for them now, and when he can't find them he'll be sad.'

'Don't like Barry. I play with toys. He pushes me.'

'Well, of course that's not very kind of him. But still, you can't just take people's things because you don't like them. You wouldn't like it, Peter, if Barry or some other friend took anything of yours.'

The little boy didn't comment on this but carried on looking at the cards. Jim felt rather tense: what do you do in situations like this? Perhaps Jean would know.

'I have a pretty good idea what a child psychologist would say.' An hour later they were back at home, and Jean's belligerent tone didn't help to reduce Jim's tension.

'So tell me what a child psychologist would say.' Jim was feeling even less in control of the situation than he had at the recreation ground.

'Peter is being neglected and he's unconsciously trying to attract your attention.'

'So, not only are you an expert on politics, philosophy and ethics, but psychology too: You really do have a wonderful intellectual basis for coping with life's problems, Jean – great or small.'

'Instead of being sarcastic, you might find it worthwhile thinking about much time you have spent with Peter since your last business trip.'

Jim mentally gritted his teeth at the 'you might find it worthwhile to . . . ' – did she learn that in the personnel job she'd had before Peter was born? Unfortunately, he suspected that there was something in what she said. He often had the feeling that there was something missing in his psychological make-up. When those colleagues and friends of his who were also fathers talked with enthusiasm about all the things they had done with the children, either at home, or on various outings, he found himself wondering how they did it. Looking at a picture book with Peter or telling him a bedtime story came to him naturally but anything else seemed to be some kind of task for which he had no natural aptitude – or insufficient motivation.

'Grandpa, slide, slide!' Tommy was pulling at his trousers and, having quenched his thirst, was interested in getting back into action.

'But you didn't like it last time, Tommy. Even I was a little bit – startled.'

'Startled! Tommy not . . . startled.' And sure enough, he started running back to the big slide, arms and legs going up and down like perfectly engineered and synchronised pistons. Jim stood up and sighed. Although well into his sixties, he took pains to keep fit – going swimming and playing tennis or squash regularly – and since marrying Christine two years before had even lost most of his beer belly. But he knew he would never again in his life tap that almost inexhaustible source of energy he'd seemed to have when he was young.

At the top of the slide, Jim sat down placing Tommy securely on his lap and said, 'don't forget, Tommy, in the middle we'll get a funny feeling in the tummy, but after that we'll soon be safely on the ground again.'

'Tummy, Tommy, tummy – Tommy's tummy.' They both laughed and Jim pushed off. But the laughter soon turned to screams. The bend in the middle of the slide turned out to contain a genuine hazard, which they'd been lucky enough to miss the first time down. Some kind of sharp object – perhaps a rivet that was not quite flush with the slide's surface – ripped into the side of Tommy's thigh just below his shorts. His screams continued after they'd arrived at the bottom, partly perhaps because he was frightened to see the blood surge out of the wound. Forcing himself to remain calm, Jim picked up the little boy and ran back to where he'd left the rucksack, and laid him down carefully on the park bench. Remembering how he'd almost not bothered to pack the first aid kit just an hour ago, he broke out into a cold sweat. He opened the small canvas bag and found a swab and bandage – so far so good – but how could he make Tommy lie still?

'Can I help? I saw you running from the slide. Is it very serious?'

So the playground wasn't quite deserted after all, and a glance at the slim, fifty something woman of above average height who had come over to them satisfied Jim that she wasn't some kind of ghoul or accident groupie. He asked her, 'there's so much blood. Do you think it could be an artery?'

'I think probably yes. I was trained as a nurse. I'll soon find the nearest pressure point to staunch the flow. 'And she did just that, holding Tommy firmly at the same time so that Jim was able to apply the swab and bandage once the bleeding had become much less alarming, but of course the little boy continued to scream.

'Don't worry about his bellowing. He's not suffering from shock. That's the main thing.'

'I'm just wondering about getting him to the hospital.

I brought him here in the stroller and it's a good half an hour's walk home. I can't imagine him calming down. Have you got a mobile phone so I can call a taxi?'

'My car's just outside the park gates. I'll be happy to take you both there.'

An hour and a half later, Tommy was lying in his cot with a dummy in his mouth (and stitches in his leg), listening intently to a story being told by the rescuing angel. However, in the living room Christine was showing little enthusiasm about their unexpected visitor.

'Yes, I realise she came just at the right time, Jim, but there's something about her I find – I don't know . . . disquieting.'

'Disquieting! Well, I suppose that's better than sinister. She's an extremely pleasant woman. Nothing pushy about her – she certainly didn't force her help on us. She's sensible and the whole time in the playground she was calm and efficient. That might sound like damning her with faint praise, but it's exactly what the situation called for.'

'What was she doing at the playground? She obviously didn't have any grandchild to look after there. Doesn't she have a job to do, in the middle of the afternoon?'

'People might ask the same about you, Christine. You retired early from the civil service, and perhaps she works unusual hours or doesn't even have a job – not everybody does – or is between jobs. There are lots of possible explanations.'

Christine shrugged her shoulders. 'I've got some cake in and I'll make tea for us all, but I do hope she leaves soon after.'

While Tommy had his afternoon nap, much later than usual, Jane – as she wished herself to be called – seemed completely relaxed while she had tea with Jim and Christine. A certain exchange of personal information was unavoidable, with Jim talking about his rather uneventful life as a retiree, reading the paper from cover to cover each day and so on. Like Christine, Jane had chosen early retirement: she'd been a primary school teacher in Yorkshire but decided she'd had enough when her school closed because of dwindling numbers of pupils and she would have had to drive to another school over twenty-five miles away. Because he knew Christine was normally a good judge of character, Jim paid very close attention to everything Jane said and her mannerisms, but found nothing to make him correct his first favourable impression. After she'd gone, he said as much to Christine while she was clearing up the tea things.

'Believe me, she's a very good actress.'

'First of all, somebody as emancipated as you are should no longer be using the term "actress". Secondly, –'

'She knows very well how to make a man think he's something special, especially when he looks like an insurance advertisement for active retirement.'

'Christine! After all these years of handling parents, of course she knows how to make herself agreeable. – It's the teacher's version of a doctor's bedside manner. Still, she's no beauty.'

'Perhaps not, but your body language was giving you away, Jim. You obviously found her attractive – in spite of her eco clothes and hairstyle. Just think about it while I go and check on Tommy.'

In fact he praised Christine silently for knowing, as always, when to stop. In the same situation Jean might well have also mentioned Jane's less than perfect teeth.

Well, the episode was over now, but he decided to ring up the local council about the slide. He certainly wouldn't want the same thing to happen to another small child. Perhaps he should have rung from the hospital.

'Jim, is Tommy with you?!'

'How can he be? He's with you in the supermarket.'

'Well he was of course, but now he's vanished and as the flat is just around the corner I thought he might have taken it in his head to come home on his own. It's the kind of thing he would do.'

It was in the middle of the following morning and Jim was just enjoying the ritual of making himself an espresso when the phone had rung, with Christine sounding extremely worried on her mobile.

'Stay where you are just in case he is hiding behind one of the shelves, and I'll be there straightaway.'

Jim reached the supermarket to find Christine talking to a young man in a suit. Just as Jim arrived, the man went over to the microphone of a public address system to announce that a little boy had been lost and asked anyone who had seen him to come to the checkout.

'But he's not lost at all, a lady came to pick him up.' It was one of the staff, coming out of a small room.

'Did the lady by any chance have long grey hair?' Jim found Christine's calm more chilling than hysterics would have been.

'Yes, and they seemed to know each other very well. The little boy was holding her hand and smiling all the time.'

'Jim, we must contact the police straightaway. At least we can give them a very good description.'

At the police station the sergeant at the reception desk was sympathetic but didn't seem to be particularly concerned.

'It might all be a misunderstanding, ma'am. The little boy got separated from you and this acquaintance of yours happened to turn up at that moment, thought he was lost and is probably standing in front of your front door at this moment.'

'I don't believe it', said Christine. 'I didn't trust the woman from the start, and I'm sure she's kidnapped him – God knows why. She might well have waited outside our block of flats this morning to see if a chance like this would crop up.'

Even Jim found this rather difficult to swallow and the police sergeant at the desk obviously had difficulties keeping a straight face.

'I'll tell you what I'll do. I'll send an officer home with you and if the little boy is not there with this lady we'll put out a search message.'

'Please do it straightaway.' And now even the sergeant was infected by Christine's fears. Nodding, he went through a door behind the desk.

It was exactly as he had expected: under an unbroken layer of cloud and beset by a surprisingly cold wind for the time of year, the deserted playground seemed to be everything but a paradise for children. He shivered in spite of his pullover. He knew he was taking a dreadfully high risk by not telling anybody about the rendezvous with Jane. Neither Christine, nor Peter and certainly not the police. It was the third day after Tommy's disappearance. Peter and Julie, Tommy's mother, had come to stay with Jim and Christine and one detective or another was there 24 hours a day, ready to listen in on any telephone conversation. But no one called. Jim was the only one of the family who could sleep more than an hour at a time although he did have strange dreams.

Somehow he suspected the woman would find a way of contacting him without the police finding out. And she had. The day before, an envelope fell out of the local paper he'd just fetched from the newsagents – it had been the last in the shop – the first time he'd left the flat since the kidnapping. He was alone in the living room and he instinctively put the letter in his pocket before seeking the privacy of the lavatory to open it.

'We'll meet tomorrow at the same time and the same place. Don't tell anybody. J.' And he hadn't. He realised that if anything happened to Tommy, it would be the end of any kind relationship with Peter and Julie – or Christine. But somehow he felt the only chance was to find a solution on his own even though he suspected this was a common attitude in such cases. Whatever the woman wanted, she was obviously not only unbalanced but also determined and, he suspected, quite ruthless. An hour ago he'd left the flat, saying he just had to go for a short walk. Assuming the police would follow him, he used a trick to shake them off. It was from one of the many crime stories he'd made up in his head over the years. Well now the fantasy had become reality. It hadn't been difficult. He'd gone by bus to the town centre, where there was a department store with a seldom used exit in the basement, leading via steps to the nearby railway station. Once there he only had to wait a few minutes before the local train he needed left. At the next station he alighted and walked briskly to reach the park.

He thought back on the incessant discussions of the previous three days with the police, and especially the police psychologist, a youngish woman. Somehow the police had found out that after working as a nurse a few years Jane had decided to do teacher training. She taught at a primary school for over twenty years in Leeds before being suspended from duty for repeated and excessive favouritism of certain pupils – and victimisation of others – and also for occasional outbreaks of rage at parent evenings. She had never been married. But this type of kidnapping was new to the police and the psychologist hadn't impressed Jim with the tentative theories she'd come up with. Furthermore – the police had certainly been very thorough in their inquiries – Jane hadn't been to her own flat since the kidnapping. So he was on his own.

'Here I am. I saw you arriving from the other side. Are you sure nobody followed you?' The short sentences and the matter of fact tone reminded Jim very much of the first meeting. He got up and looked at her in the face. In spite of all that was at stake he was curious to find out whether she seemed just as normal as she had at the first meeting. She was looking into his eyes –or was she? Ah, of course. She was using the old trick of avoiding fatigue or embarrassment by gazing at a point midway between his eyes. That's probably what Christine instinctively noticed without being to say what it was. Somehow, this insight helped to calm him – the woman did not feel completely in control of the situation. He had to find out what she wanted and what she intended to do. But he had to be so careful.

'How's Tommy getting on?'

'He's well looked after.' She smiled briefly. 'Tell me, Jim, are you happy with your wife?'

He suppressed an urge to tell her to mind her own business. 'Well, we have our good days and our not so good days – properly not much different from most marriages.'

'I've met a lot of married couples and almost all of them were completely unsuited to each other.'

'And did you ever get married, Jane, or get close to it?'

Smiling at him: 'No, I've never met a man I could really

have a worthwhile lasting relationship with. Your wife is extremely glamorous, but frankly I wouldn't have thought she would keep your interest once the physical side became less important.'

By a supreme effort he managed to keep calm. Somehow he must create some kind of bond, no matter how distasteful this seemed. Certainly the attraction he had felt that time when she came back to the flat with Tommy – Christine hadn't been mistaken on that point either – was now non-existent. So much the better: no distraction. 'Well, I don't like to be disloyal, but lately we do seem to have less to say to each other. But it's no tragedy.'

She looked at him closely, and this time it was directly in his eyes. 'I shall give you the same advice I used to give my pupils.'

'What's that?' He didn't have to simulate interest.

'Don't accept second-best, Jim. Look, it's a big cold to sit around, let's go for a walk'

'Second-best?' He got up and they started walking. 'I normally don't. But who knows how a marriage will turn out, and afterwards it's usually too late.'

'You know, very few parents bring up their children properly. Tommy tells me his mother lets him watch television every afternoon. A little boy of two and a half!'

'Is he enjoying his stay with you?' He was almost proud of his casual tone.

'Oh yes, we're great friends. I have a lot of picture books and I make up a new story for him every day. I start the story after breakfast and carry on all day with just an occasional break. He loves it.'

'How do you manage to keep him quiet all day? With us he always wants to run about and start something new every five minutes?' Jim was working hard to keep his voice steady.

'Well yes, I do have to restrain him in his special seat and make sure he doesn't make too much noise. But he's got used to the routine now. And a mild sleeping draught works wonders.'

'And has he got used to your flat?'

'I think so. Of course it is a little bit bleak where we are now.'

'What a shame! The way I see you, Jane, I would have expected a cosy place well away from the traffic with a large garden.'

'Oh absolutely! And Tommy and I certainly are well outside town. But who can afford a nice country cottage nowadays?' She laughed, in an agreeable and friendly way. Jim had to remind himself of her psychopathic behaviour. 'You know, I really do think we could get along very well, Jim. We could bring up Tommy together.'

'You could be right. But we need to work out how we get from here to there.'

'What do you mean?'

'I'm married, have a mortgage on my flat, and Tommy's parents will certainly not give him up without a struggle.'

She laughed again. 'I always admire men with a practical view of life, but obviously we'll just have to leave the area – perhaps go abroad.'

'Jane, this is only the second time we've met. Are you really sure I'm somebody you want to spend the next twenty years with?'

She stopped and turned to look at him. 'Kiss me.'

He'd never touched a woman in his life without being attracted to her. He forced himself to imagine her as he'd seen her back in the flat. And yes, now she did seem slender, challenging and . . . desirable. He put his hands on her hips

and drew her towards him before kissing her slowly on the lips. 'Well, for the time being at least you do seem to be convinced.'

She touched him lightly on the cheek. 'You were convincing as well, north and south. But you're quite right: first of all we must be practical.'

'I'm listening.'

'I expect you're dying to see Tommy.'/p>

'Certainly. I expect he'll be pleased to see me too.'

'We have to be careful how we get there.' She frowned. 'Are you quite sure, Jim, that nobody followed you?'

'I would have shaken off a bloodhound.'

'When was the last time you were on a bike? That's also a test – I mean, after all, living together successfully is largely a matter of co-ordination. Don't you agree?'

They had reached a café at the edge of the park. The owner had thoughtfully provided a cycle stand for environmentally conscious customers. But today, probably because of the weather, it was empty – with the exception of a rather old-fashioned looking tandem. It took Jim a few seconds to realise she meant they should ride off together. How did this alter the situation?

He asked without thinking, 'did you ride here today on that contraption?'.

'No, but I did a few days ago, and as the café is closed this week I didn't think anybody would mind it being left here. It's well padlocked.'

She demonstrated this by releasing at least four locks – of various types – at different points of the machine. 'So, would you prefer to be at the front or the back?'

He laughed. 'You're always good for a surprise, Jane. Well, it makes life interesting. As you know the way, I'd better take the back seat.'

After almost an hour of perpetually changing direction and avoiding major roads – and sometimes even using footpaths – they had left the town well behind them. Very much an urban type, Jim did not recognise at all where they were. Fortunately it hadn't started raining by the time they arrived outside what seemed to be a barn. Once they had alighted from the tandem, Jane put it away in a small outhouse and, with yet another key, opened the large padlock of the barn door. Jim was finding it more and more difficult to remain calm. Inside it was almost completely dark, there being just one small window near the roof, but Jane found a light switch and soon the whole interior of the barn could be seen clearly. After looking everywhere and seeing very few objects lying around or fixtures except for a bed, a cupboard and a sink with a tap, Jim asked, 'and where's little Tommy?'

'He's in the stall over here. Let's see if he's awake.'

The stall was in a corner of the barn, so apart from the barn walls there were just two sides, each formed by sturdy steel slats going up to the ceiling, with just a couple of inches between each pair of slats. A door was set in one of these sides, made from even sturdier steel slats and secured with three bolts – far from flimsy and each with its own padlock. There was no sign of the keys. Jane went over to the door and beckoned to Jim to join her. Feeling his heart thump as never before in his life, he prepared himself for a shock as he went close up to look inside the stall – and then had to bite his lips to prevent himself crying out. Tommy was propped up in some kind of cot, with his arms, legs and his whole body apparently in a plaster cast. His face was free but as most of his head including his jaw was also in plaster, Jim guessed the little boy was not able to open his mouth. His eyes were open but deeply sunken in his face, and his

lips had a bluish tinge. Jim breathed deeply several times. He tried not to think of Tommy running in the playground earlier that week. How much time did he have?

'Does he manage to get anything to eat or drink?'

She smiled conspiratorially. 'He made such a fuss that I gave up trying to feed him. Anyway, as you know he's a chubby little boy. Once we get away from here he'll soon be eating and drinking again.'

'When was the last time you gave him a drink, Jane?' Using her name was a major feat.

'Well, two days ago. I had no choice. He was all right the first day but after that I just couldn't do anything with him – he kept on running about and making a terrible noise. But I gave him something to make him sleep and then I fixed him up so that he couldn't fall over or hurt himself in any other way.'

'And you've been telling him stories since then.' He was playing for time – an adult can go without water for up to three days without lasting harm, but surely it must be shorter for a child of that age.

'Yes I have. And I thought how nice it will be to have him as my own little boy – and you're being his grandfather in any case would round off our little family perfectly.'

'First things first. You managed to put him in plaster on your own. Do you have the kit somewhere for taking it off again?'

'Yes, but there's no need to hurry. Don't you think it would be rather nice to be on our own a couple of hours without being disturbed by Tommy?'

He had to look away a few seconds. 'He is rather bluish around the lips. I really think the first priority is to give him a drink, Jane.'

She looked at the child without expression. 'All right, that makes sense, but you know I still have a niggling little doubt that you might just be stringing me along.'

'What about another test?' He knew straight away that the joke was a mistake – even before he saw her eyes light up.

'Jim, I just knew the first day that you're the right man for me – practical and imaginative! The bed is wide enough for us both and I've only slept in it three nights. The linen is still pretty fresh.'

He avoided her gaze and took a few steps back towards the barn door. He tried to make his mind blank a few seconds and then thought about his options – and the right words to use. 'Jane, I shan't be able to relax – nor perform – without feeling certain that we can both help Tommy afterwards – I mean, where are the keys to the padlocks?' He opened his arms in a gesture of mock helplessness and grinned at her.

She opened the rucksack she'd been carrying over her shoulder since meeting that afternoon, and took out a ring with three keys on it. 'Here they are.' Her grin matched his. 'I do trust you, Jim – well at least ninety-five percent.' She looked around. 'And I expect you to trust me.' Just as he was making up his mind to rush her she knelt down, rolled up her right sleeve and pushed her right hand through the small space formed by the separation of two slats and the two or three inches between the slats and the stone flagged floor. With some effort she managed to push her whole arm through the gap and then placed the keys on the floor before withdrawing her arm. It all happened in not much more than ten seconds, and even from where he was standing, Jim could see he would never even get his hand through the gap. He'd already noticed that there were no bars or sticks lying around in the barn. And if he left the barn to find something or to seek help? – Who knows what she would do in the meantime.

It was like being in check in a game of chess. She stood up, pulled her sleeve down, brushed down her skirt and came over to him.

'So, Jim, do you feel in the mood?' No smile but rather a solemn expression.

Trying not to think of anything at all, he put his hands on her hips just as he had done in the park. She put her arms around his neck and . . . screamed. Terrified, Jim pushed her away and turned around to see the barn door wide open and three policemen in body armour and carrying guns already inside. Before he could react, two of them grabbed Jane. Screaming without a break, she used her arms and legs to inflict as much damage as possible on the two men before they finally overpowered her, when she lapsed into a low moaning sound. All resemblance to a sensible, rational – and attractive – woman had vanished.

It was nine o'clock that evening in the flat. Peter, Christine and Jim was sitting in the living room drinking tea after returning from hospital, where Julie was going to spend the night near to Tommy. Nobody felt like eating anything.

'The first tests are very promising. I'm certainly optimistic.' Jim silently agreed with Peter and was thankful for his taking this line. But it was obviously not Christine's.

'No physical harm perhaps, but it will take months and months before he even gets half way over it psychologically. Poor little boy, and that monster. I just won't think about what might have happened if I hadn't found her note in the toilet bowl, Jim. For once, your habit of forgetting to flush after a pee had its good side.'

Christine really had engineered the rescue. She found the note after Jim had left, and the police went directly to the playground, where they decided not to intervene when they saw Jane arrive after Jim. Unfortunately they lost track of the tandem as a result of Jane's use of the back-doubles, but by a process of elimination eventually found the barn.

'Why on earth didn't you tell us about the note? The police told us beforehand not to try to go it alone.'

'They also told us about her background, Christine. I felt she was completely unpredictable. And the only chance was to gain her trust.'

'And did you?' There was no mistaking her tone of aggression. 'Look, tell us everything what happened – from meeting her at the playground right up to the police breaking in. There's quite a lot I don't understand, believe me.'

Jim thought very quickly. What should he leave out? No, he'd always been an unconvincing liar and Christine would be bound to catch him out in any inconsistencies. So he told the story – and didn't leave anything out. It was obvious he had the complete attention of Peter and Christine, each in his or her way showing a whole range of facial expressions. But when he mentioned the embrace in the park – leaving out his physical reaction – Christine looked horrified and stood up, obviously not sure whether to leave the room or not. However, she sat down again, but after that sat absolutely still, her face expressionless.

When Jim had finished, Peter stood up and stretched himself. 'But surely, Dad, once you were in the barn and knew Tommy was alive you could have overpowered her any time and gone for help.'

'First of all, I didn't know what kind of sleeping draught or anything else she'd given Tommy – I wanted as much information as possible – and you say "overpowered her". There was no possibility of tying her up, so to prevent her doing anything while I went for help I would have had to knock her out in such a way that she wouldn't have come

around while I was gone.'

'For Christ's sake, Jim, your own grandson was lying there dying of thirst. Who cares if she'd never come around at all?'

Again it was Peter who spoke. 'Be fair, Christine. When you're in a situation like that it's difficult to see the consequences of all the options. I'm not sure anything I'd have done would have been better.' He took a few paces. 'Seeing Tommy trussed up like Tutankhamen Junior, I would probably have choked the life out of her. And where would we all be then?' A few more paces and then he turned to his father with a laugh. 'But tell me, Dad, would you really have sacrificed your virtue? – Did the police come just in time?'

Christine stood up, and this time she did leave the room.

Jim came out of the bathroom some time later to find Christine already in bed. They hadn't spoken since he'd finished his account of the day's events.

'Peter's in the spare bedroom and I don't want to make any fuss about one of us sleeping in the living room, but please stay on your side of the bed tonight. I really mean that.'

The next morning, after a surprisingly long sleep, Jim woke up in a bedroom with no sign of Christine. At breakfast all three of them were hungry but not disposed to chat. Peter left for the hospital directly afterwards, and Jim sat down to see if there was anything in the newspaper about the kidnapping. Half an hour later, Christine suddenly appeared in street clothes and carrying a medium-size case. Jim got up in surprise.

'Wherever are you going?'

'Jim, trying very hard to be objective I can just about believe you were doing what you thought would be best for Tommy. But when I think of the risks you were taking with his life – and of you touching that . . . psycho, that . . . freak. I can't help it, but it brings back the business with that woman from the choral society the summer we first met. Your long goodbye – all eight weeks of it. I'm sorry, but I have to think things over. Perhaps I'll see it differently in a week's time, but now I need space and lots of it. Give Julie and Tommy my love.' A minute later she had gone.

Several days later, Jim was just finishing the morning paper when he heard the sound of a car horn outside. He went over to the window and, sure enough, there they were getting out of the car: Peter, Julie and Tommy.

Once inside, Peter filled the room with his usual good humour. 'Well, the doctors are all very satisfied with the progress Tommy has made, and once you've made us one of your famous espressos we'll be on our way home.'

'Hallo, Tommy, so you're out of the hospital at last. You can visit me again one day. Would you like that? We could go to the playgr– I mean the zoo. That's where all the animals are. Mummy and Daddy could come too.'

'Zoo, Mummy and Daddy too. Zoo too. Zoo too.'

Sweeping Tommy up in her arms, Julie covered his face with kisses. 'Yes, Jim, that's a very good idea. We'll all go together.'