The Flying Dutch Woman
“Hunnee!!! I’m hooooome!!!!!!!”
Sarah woke with a start and wondered where on earth she was. She sat up and stretched, remembering that she had gone into Tom’s room after an hour of searching for his father on the net. The bed looked so inviting, and though she felt rather like Goldilocks, she kicked off her shoes and lay down – just to close her eyes for half an hour ago. Looking at her watch it appeared to have been two hours ago and now Millie was home and probably wondering where she was.
“In here.” she called. “I was testing out Tom’s bed.”
Millie appeared at the door, taking off her purple duffle coat and unwinding her long red scarf. “Did you sleep well? I changed the sheets of course and Tom is so fanatically tidy anyway. How did you get on? I wasn’t overburdening you, was I?”
Sarah got up from the bed and joined Millie in the hallway.
“Come and have a look. I went through the Flying Dutchwoman’s papers, then I had a look at the other two cases. I really think Oliver should save the best one till last though.”
“You mean the park bench one?”
“Oh yes. End the show on a laugh, and send the audience away happy.”
“Exactly! The first case is a bit dull. Another DNA daddy situation. Both parents are barely out of nappies themselves, and the boy has a domineering mother who wants custody of the child if we prove that her boy is the daddy. I met her today. Foul woman and stupid son. Mind you – the girl is no better and she is adamant that if he is the father – and there are three prospective daddies – she won’t let him see the child because she doesn’t want his mother getting involved.”
“Did you meet all of them today?
“Aha! I have grabbed your interest! The Flying Dutchwoman is mad as a box of frogs and her ex-boyfriend is a very sweet man, but far too trusting for his own good. We usually put everyone up at the same hotel but we’ve kept him in a different one with a runner babysitting.”
“Why? Is he that vulnerable?”
“No. He’s a nice guy but Mrs Clog is desperate to see him, and we want to keep them apart until they meet on stage. It has more impact then.”
“And the Park Bench Pair?”
“They’ve both bought the new partners with them. Although I’m not sure they’ll all be friends after tomorrow’s revelations. The researchers are trying to keep them all sober so that they can do the lie detector tests this evening. It’s not a job I fancy.”
“Me neither. Where do you come in then?”
“After care. We’ll try and set up contact centre care for the would-be daddy if the DNA comes out in his favour, mop up the tears and arrange counselling for the Park Bench mob, make sure Mrs Clog is on a plane back to Holland before she does any more harm, and do some damage limitation with her ex.”
“I still think he’s a fool for coming on the show.”
“So do I, but he feels that the stories she is spreading around are stopping him from working, and the only way to change that is to expose her as a liar. Real shame she can’t take the lie detector test. I smell a rat on her medical status and so does Oliver. She is a big girl and looks horribly healthy to me. Before you say it – her ailments are not obvious ones, so we have to give her the benefit of the doubt.”
“Will Oliver though?”
“She’s already put his back up. She keeps on referring to him as ‘Ollie’ which everyone knows he hates. She’s been told not to, but she just pouts and tosses her hair back with a sneer – ‘Is okay. I call him whatever I wants. He will not make a fool from me.’”
“Oh, dearie dear – have they actually met yet?”
“No, we tend to keep people away from Oz until the day of filming. It has more impact that way. We wouldn’t even let him see photographs of the Body Snatchers.”
“Male and female – totally tattooed and pierced. They both had stuff all up their necks, arms and legs, but he had his face tattooed too. They looked plain silly. Oz knew something was up, but he also knew that his reaction to them would make very good TV. His face was a picture.”
“Why were they on the show?”
“She’d just had a baby, and her mother was dead set against having the baby’s ears pierced – and her nose.”
“NO! What happened?”
“We had to get social care involved – apparently ears are okay but the nose isn’t – and I’m with them on that. The last I heard, the couple had left the baby with her mum and done a bunk – before anything could get pierced.”
“Thank goodness for that. Are we eating in or out?”
“Would you mind takeaway? Oz was fairly foul to some of the younger runners this afternoon. The director had to take him out of the meeting at one point. The price of success. We need more people really. The research and aftercare that we provide are quite resource hungry and, despite what the tabloids say, we do have an extensive programme of aftercare. What kind of takeaway shall we have?”
“Any takeaway is a treat for me. Strictly limited to work or visiting Jude, unless Andy was away and even then, I used to have to take the empty cartons to work to get rid of them. He would get terribly disapproving if he found pizza boxes in the recycling!”
“Chinese? Tom is mad on curry – for obvious reasons – so the only time I get Chinese is when I’m here on my own. Talking of which, have you met Buster yet?”
“The cat? No. Is he hiding from me?”
“Probably still fast asleep on my bed. I’ll turf him out.”
Millie left the room, and was preceded on her return by a very large and fluffy black and white cat, who looked at her with some suspicion before strolling into the middle of the room and starting to wash itself.
Sarah looked from the cat to Millie. “Is that a good sign or bad?”
“Good. He hisses at anyone he doesn’t like. Oliver came here once. Buster hissed, spat and dashed from the room. He’s washing to show you that this is his flat, but that he’s cool about you being here. He’ll approach you when he’s ready.”
“I can’t wait.” said Sarah. “Do you want to know about this other stuff regarding Tom’s father? I think I’ve found him.”
“Really! Good grief! Any pictures?”
“Yes. He would appear to have aged rather well, and you were right about him being a bit important.”
“Not a Maharajah or something?”
“Not that important but as far as the caste system is concerned, and no, don’t ask me about it, that was what sent me to lie down in the first place, he is something of a dignitary.”
“I thought so. Whenever I asked him about it, he just shushed me and told me not to worry about it, and that a Western woman could never understand. I guess he was right. What else did you find out?”
“One marriage, three children and get this, they are all girls so Tom will be considered his heir. That’s if you take away the fact that his mother is a white Western woman and that he was born out of wedlock. Heavily involved in local politics. His two oldest daughters are married. The trail goes cold about eighteen months ago though. How’s that for research.
“A social worker with exceptional research skills – how on earth have you stayed unemployed?”
“I’ve only just started making an effort. Talking of which – can you put a word in for me with your friend Miles?”
“Most certainly. Let’s get some food organised first though. Rowing with Oliver always makes me hungry.”
“I thought you said he was disagreeing with the director.”
“Well, I might have stuck up for her a bit. Trying to find decent committed workers isn’t easy. Oliver thinks we can employ just anyone off the street but we’d be in a right old state if we did. He would be the first to complain if people aren’t where they should be, or the runners and researchers have let people meet up before they go on stage. Okay, food. What do you like?”
“I don’t know. Andy wouldn’t have takeaways, Jude chooses when I eat at theirs, and on the rare occasion, we had takeaway for lunch at work, I just paid my share and dived in.”
“Good. Carte blanche. I shall go and order up a storm.”
Sarah packed up her laptop and the papers, and moved it into Tom’s room. It looked rather small on his huge desk and as she set it up again, she wondered how Tom would take the news about his father and half-sisters. What worried her more was how Tom’s father would take to the revelation that his eighteen-year-old son was curious about him, and wanted to be a part of his life. Walking back into the lounge she picked up one of the more recent framed pictures of Millie and Tom. He certainly was a very handsome boy.
“Aha! Looking at my favourite pin up boy eh? He is rather gorgeous. His father’s eyes of course and hair, but I like to think that he’s inherited some part of me.”
“His face is the same shape as yours, and his skin is quite pale really. You wouldn’t look at him and immediately think he was Anglo-Indian – not that that would be a bad thing …”
“…I know Sarah, there have been times in my life that I’ve counted my blessings that Ram’s skin was so pale. Tom’s still encountered racism however, and usually from other Indians that were bothered about this caste thing. I don’t know whether to write to Ram again. It didn’t work eighteen years ago after all.”
“What’s the alternative?”
“Take some time off. Fly out there. Find him and tell him what a wonderful son he has? What would you do?”
“You are talking to a woman who has spent the past ten years playing it extremely safe. I have never been abroad, let alone anywhere as far as India. That’s what surprised me about Andy going to Thailand. The word ‘staycation’ could have been invented for him. He thought going into Scotland or Wales was daring, Ireland was totally out of the question – and no, we didn’t go to the Isle of Wight either. He was averse to boats.”
“And he’s gone to Thailand! He’ll freak! It’s all boats out there. Why has he gone again?”
“To find himself apparently. It seems that living with me for ten years has repressed him. I thought it was the other way round. After what I found out about his sister Abigail, I’m not surprised that he feels a bit out of place.”
“What! What did you find out about Abigail? You haven’t told me about this.”
They sat down together at the table and Sarah told Millie about her prowler and the box of family records and photographs. The excitement of driving up to Millie’s, looking at the case studies and hunting for Ram, had pushed it to the back of her mind.
“Do you think that Abigail knows she’s adopted?”
“No doubt about that. Looking at all the reports of the previous fostering and adoption breakdowns due to her behaviour issues, she was well aware of it. I guess that’s why she is so defensive about Andy. I’m surprised she’s actually let him sell the house and run away really. It makes me feel a little less like it was me that drove him away.”
Millie put her hand over Sarah’s and squeezed it.
“I know we’ve been apart for ten-odd years but I know that it wasn’t you that he was running from. He’s kept you like a caged bird all this time!”
“Totally over the top, you daft woman! I’ve held down a job in all that time, had my own friends, and if I was unadventurous then it was just as much my fault as Andy’s. I felt safe; protected. I saw no reason to argue with Andy about where to go and what to do – apart from the TV in the bedroom. He never approved of that. I think those were the most abiding emotions in our relationship – Andy’s disapproval and my avoidance.”
“And now? Do you still feel the need to avoid issues?”
“Nope! Bring it on. I don’t deny that all this freedom scares the hell out of me, but in a way, I feel like I’m just out of Uni again and starting over. Finding you has just reinforced that feeling, and well, I like it.”
Millie was beginning to look a bit misty eyed, and the ringing of the door buzzer came as a welcome interruption. She answered the call, and said that she would come down for the takeaway. Sarah set about finding plates and cutlery, and set the table ready for Millie’s return.
It was a proper Chinese banquet; aromatic crispy duck, sweet and sour chicken, special fried rice, and a host of other dishes that Sarah hadn’t come across but felt very adventurous for trying. Lemongrass was not a success however, and Millie advised that she might want to avoid Thai food in that case. This caused a fit of hysterics as Sarah visualised a bronzed and hugely bearded Andy returning from Thailand reeking of lemongrass. She eventually managed to explain her laughter to Millie and that set them both off.
It felt good to be laughing with an old friend.