The sat nav on Sarah’s mobile phone was programmed with Millie’s address, and her overnight bag was packed and stowed in the boot together with her laptop. Out of deference to Roseanne – but not Abigail the night stalker – Sarah washed up and tidied round so that the house would be respectable enough for visitors. She managed to fit her briefcase into the trunk in the garage where the printer was stowed. She locked it and piled some old magazines and boxes on top of it, and decided that it should be enough of a deterrent should Abigail decide to root around in the garage whilst she was gone. Sarah rang Roseanne and advised her about her visit to Millie, and when she would be back. Roseanne was of the opinion that letting Abigail know when the proposed buyers were visiting would be a very bad idea, as she had spent most of the time singing Andy’s praises and running Sarah down – not things that were liable to ensure a safe sale. Sarah assured Roseanne that she would move out as soon as required; her belongings could go into storage temporarily and she could stay in a hotel if necessary. They parted on very good terms.
Millie had taken the morning off so that she could be there to welcome and soothe Sarah after her drive through the city. As it was, the journey went without too many hitches. Driving was one of those things that Sarah felt comfortable and confident about; she saw the trip to the big city as a challenge, and one that she had to overcome. Parked in one of Millie’s designated parking spaces, Sarah opened the boot of her car and turned as Millie hailed her from a third-floor balcony of a block of flats with a marvellous view over the canal.
“Come round to the front of the building and I’ll buzz you in, the lift is just in front of you. Flat 36, third floor. I’ll be waiting!”
Bag in hand, laptop over her shoulder, Sarah made her way round to the imposing entrance and pressed the door button. Millie buzzed her in and after casting a quick glance round the rather stark but elegant entrance hall, Sarah called for the lift, and was happy to see a smiling Millie waiting for her when the lift doors opened on the third floor. Millie hugged her warmly and took the overnight bag from her, almost skipping down the corridor to her flat. Once inside, Sarah took stock of her surroundings. It was a lovely flat, a bit busy compared to the environment she had lived in over the past ten years, but the wall hangings and ornaments were all to Millie’s taste and they looked perfectly in place. Millie took Sarah’s bag into one of the bedrooms and Sarah followed her. It was undoubtedly Tom’s room, three walls of light blue, and the other in a darker blue, a couple of music posters and shelves of books. The desk was bare but had obviously been the home of Tom’s PC before he left for Cambridge.
“And this is my bedroom – even more cluttered than the living room I’m afraid – this is the bathroom next door, and that’s the third bedroom, which is a junk store at the moment. Kitchen and dining room lead off the lounge, and the balcony is a wonderful place for breakfast – well lunch and dinner as well – weather permitting. what do you think?”
Sarah looked around her and smiled. “It’s wonderful. The views are incredible. I love it. As regards the clutter – just because I’ve lived in a sterile environment for so long doesn’t mean that I can’t appreciate other people’s tastes. Andy would go mad in here, but this is more like Jude and Dan’s house, and I always feel very comfortable and happy there.”
Millie hugged her again. “I have two big favours to ask though.”
“Anything.” said Sarah.
“Number one is work related. We’ve got an ex-couple on the show tomorrow afternoon. She alleges that she was a victim of domestic violence, that she fled the country (with all of his belongings) because she was in fear of her life. She has custody of her fourteen-year-old son from her marriage, and has made contact with her current ex-partner threatening to expose him to the papers as being abusive to her and son. He, on the other hand, works in children’s TV, was assessed by social workers as being the perfect father-figure to this woman’s son, and says that all he ever did was put his hand on her arm and ask her to stop screaming. She had him arrested, but the police report states that there was no evidence of injury, it was her word against his, and she had a history of making false reports against her ex-husband.
The guy says he moved out of his own house to prevent any further arguments, but whenever he arranged to go round and collect anything, the woman phoned the police and alleged that he was bashing the door down and threatening her. Finally, the police went with him and waited round the corner whilst he knocked at the door. She phoned the police and made the same allegations, but was rather stunned when the police arrived within seconds and threatened to arrest her for wasting police time. The guy went up to London for an audition, and she arranged to hand over the keys to the house when he came back. When he got there the house was left open, and most of his stuff had gone. She sent him a text from the ferry saying that she sold his stuff, and taken his daughter’s dog.”
“Bloody Hell!” said Sarah.
“Oh, there’s more!” Millie said as she wafted the papers in the air. “The woman sent a blackmail email to her ex-boyfriend and when he failed to play ball, she emailed the producer of the show he was working on, and threatened to wreck the show by exposing the star as having been arrested for domestic violence. Luckily, the producer was made of sterner stuff and told her to back off, or he would tell the police. That was enough to screw up the guy’s career for the time being though. He went back to live with his mother and spent three years keeping his head down. A friend persuaded him to request his police records, and it turned out that he had received a caution for battery – almost as minimal as ABH – and certainly nothing that marked him down as an abuser, and not fit to work with children and young people. He started to build his life up again, was getting work and enjoying life with his old friends. Then three years after she’d run off, the woman – who had told him that if he ever contacted her again, she would contact the police – emailed him asking for money towards the dog’s vet fees.”
“My thoughts exactly. She spun him a long story about her own poor health and gradually it would seem, tried to reel him back in.”
“You sound a little biased here.” said Sarah with a grin.
“I know and I mustn’t. I have to be fair. This guy’s friends warned him off – a leopard doesn’t change its spots and all that, but he seems to be extremely naive. The friends who have been supporting him state that he has a misguided tendency to forgive the people who shaft him. The woman wanted him to visit her in Holland where she now lives. His friends advised him against it, because she is still convinced that he owes her money and that he was abusive to her. It was suggested that she is so devious, that she might use the visit to allege harassment and have him arrested. He was persuaded not to go in the end. Anyhow, she has requested that he go on the show because she says he is lying about not abusing her, and she wants him to take a lie detector test. She however, cannot take a test to prove that her allegations are false because of the medication she is on.”
“Does he have to appear? It could do more harm than good surely?” asked Sarah, her mind assembling the facts and sorting them logically
“That’s what I told him. We are paying for him to take the test. We are flying her over here, and paying for the hotel. Oz thinks it will make for good TV – her English is not that good and that will give him plenty of opportunity to take the piss out of her. He thinks the guy has got all he deserves for not listening to his friend’s advice, and for encouraging contact with the woman again. What about your opinion, oh social worker friend? From a non-TV point of view?”
“Can I look at the paperwork? I got the impression last week that Oliver knew more about the cases than was actually revealed on the show. I felt he was overly harsh at times, and I wondered whether this was because he knew things that we didn’t.”
“I have to pop into work for a couple of hours this afternoon, can I leave you with the files? Loads of food in the fridge, coffee maker and pods, booze in the cupboard and I’ll make us dinner tonight unless ….”
“Unless Oz is really bloody-minded and I feel soul-destroyed.”
“In which case we either go out to dinner or we order up a takeaway.”
Millie raised her hands in salute.
“Nothing has really changed over the years, have they?”
“Only a little – we have matured Millie, and we have a bit more money nowadays. What was the other favour?”
“Oh God, yes. It’s about Tom. I suppose I knew this would happen one day and I really should have brought up the subject before but I was waiting for Tom ….”
“Let me guess, Tom wants to know more about his father.”
“I knew you were the best person to ask.”
“What DO you know about his father?”
Millie poured them both some orange juice and sat down beside Sarah on the sofa.
“I met Tom’s father on the rebound. I’d been living with an Australian guy who was running a bar. He got busted for selling dodgy booze, and I only got out of it because Ram interceded. He used to come to the bar a lot and I think he was some kind of local dignitary. Anyway, he whisked me away to his house – I had my own room I hasten to add. It was all very platonic at first but a girl can only cope with being wined, dined and spoiled by a handsome man for so long before she gives in. He was so very handsome. Educated in England and extremely intelligent. I confess. I fell.”
“But you came home.”
“Yes, I found out that he already had a wife and three children in Delhi. He said that he would be happy to have me and my child in the country, and flit between us. I wanted more than he could give me. So, I came home – if you can call it that.”
“Have you been in contact with him since? Does he know about Tom?”
“His name is on the birth certificate. I sent him a copy but he never replied. Probably gone back to Delhi. But hey, we have the Internet now and it’s a lot easier to track people down.”
“Leave me his details. With my new laptop skills, I can track anyone down. What time will you be back?”
“Subject to Oz’s mood but he likes to get home to his kids – so by five o’clock I guess.”
“No probs. I’ll go through these papers and make some notes first, then I shall turn into an Internet sleuth.”
Millie jumped to her feet and showed Sarah where she could plug in her laptop and connect through their broadband. Whilst Millie got ready, Sarah set up the laptop and got out some paper and a pen from the bag.
“Can I write on these papers or should I make separate notes?”
“That’s a spare set. I have my own as well – we can compare notes later!”
Picking up her bag, Millie gave Sarah another hug and was gone. Sarah looked around the flat and wondered if she would ever be able to afford a place like this. The view over the canal was wonderful. She loved being up this high; the old red brick mill buildings and further away, the white stone turrets of the inner-city offices.
She sat down at the table and began reading through the research reports on the warring couple. The researcher had written the woman’s story in her own words, and the Pidgin English made some of what she had to say very amusing. The whole story was full of inconsistencies however, and she could already picture Oliver listening with mock interest, just waiting to pick her up on some of the more obvious falsehoods. It was a shame that the woman couldn’t take the lie detector test – very convenient.
The man’s story was more believable, if rather pathetic. She could see that the audience would be sympathetic towards him. If he was in children’s entertainment, he was less likely to be tattooed and pierced than most of Oliver’s customers. Even if he was telling the truth though, the mere fact of being on Oliver’s show would get round very quickly, and that could be almost as damaging to his career as being branded violent and abusive.
The researcher had also contributed a report on the man’s friends. They seemed to have done their best to give him good advice, and he had done his best to ignore it, believing rather foolishly that his ex-partner wasn’t really after revenge. Sarah made notes in the margins of the reports. It could be car crash TV. The woman was so convinced that she had been a victim, despite shedloads of research that contradicted her story, that she would probably argue that the lie detector test was false, the police reports had been fabricated and that she was far too ill after her long journey from Holland to sit on the stage once Oliver started picking at her. Sarah made some suggestions for damage limitation. She doubted that Oliver would take any notice though.
Millie had left her some cheese and crackers in the fridge, and the instructions on how to use the coffee maker and its pods. With food and drink on the table, and Ram’s details to hand, Sarah set to work with a very big smile on her face.