Breaking Free – In the Spotlight

There was a level of quiet in the audience; as if they knew something was about to happen. The stage was reset with just two chairs and Oliver dashed off stage to get the shine powdered off his face. When the programme was sent out the televisual audience would see it as an advert break, but it took a good half an hour to get the stage and all the people involved, where they should be.

The lights dimmed again, and Oliver stepped into centre stage.

“My next guest alleges that her ex-partner is accusing her of lying about domestic violence, and she is determined to get her revenge on him. She admits to having lied to the police to get him arrested, and having him thrown out of the house by the police when he came round to collect his belongings. She fled the country with his belongings, including his dog, whilst he was away, and tried to blackmail him.  When that failed, she contacted his employer, and threaten to sell her story to the media. She admits to having done all these things, but says that they are all acceptable because – and get this people – when the banks crashed and this guy lost all his money, and his home, the car that he bought for her had to be repossessed. She’s on my show, her name is Marta, she’s Dutch, and she’s here for more revenge.”

Not surprisingly, the audience set up a resounding boo of disapproval to greet her.

Marta stomped on stage with the demeanour of an angry bull. She threw herself down in the chair, and glared furiously at the floor.

“Good morning, Marta. I am Oliver Standish, and this is my show. You don’t seem to be very happy to be here, despite the fact that we flew you over from Holland on a return ticket, and put you up in a very nice hotel. Would you like to have your say now?”

“I am still very angry with your researchers. What you just read out is not what I say. I am tired, I was up very late with the researcher talking at me. I was not allowed anything from my mini bar, and only given a Continental breakfast instead of a Full English, which is what I like when I am over here.”

Oliver bent his head in mock supplication.

“Please feel free then to tell us all what happened – in your own words – and please avoid using swear words and sexual terms – this show is broadcast on daytime TV, and we have to adhere to certain standards.”

“For three years Peter and I are living together. In his house, or at least the house he lived in. We had three years of happy. He help me get custody of my son from his terrible father, we go to parties and ceremonies because he is a bit famous. Then the banks crash, and the TV work dry up. Is no fun anymore.  No more staying at the Hilton when we go to London, my beautiful mini car is taken away, and we argue like the cat and the dog. He make me angry when he go out walking his dog for hours, or do DIY on the house instead of looking for work. One Sunday morning I am very angry with him – I forget why – he just annoy me. I start to shout and scream, and he taps me on my arm and tells me to be quiet. He leaves the room and I call the police. I say arrest him he has hit me, and my beautiful son, who is only twelve, he has seen it all too.”

Oliver interjected. “Your son witnessed domestic violence between the two of you? An impressionable boy?”

“No! You stupid man! He saw nothing! But he is a good boy, and he does as his mother tells him to.”

Oliver got up from the chair, his face almost incandescent with rage.

“So, you got this man, a man who you had lived with for three years, arrested for tapping you on the arm and telling you to be quiet. I’ve done far worse on this stage. And not content with that, you tell your own son to lie for you. You really are a piece of work, aren’t you?”

Applause from the audience that Marta saw as applause for her.

“What is this piece of work mean?  I am a woman with a child to look after. I get the police to take him away, and he is gone all day and all night. We have nothing, me and my son, I go through the pockets of Peter’s coats, but he has nothing there. No money, so that my son and I can go out to have a treat. Peter comes back early in the morning, but he does not stay, he takes a few things and goes somewhere else. I would have said sorry to him, but he was cold. I invite him to come back to collect things, but every time he turns up, I phone the police in case he become angry.”

“And did he ever become angry and hit you?”

“No, he is not of red blood like I am. I get really cross when he turns up the last time, and I call the police to say he is shouting at me, and threatening me again, my son is witness but when the police come, they bring Peter inside the house, and say that they were with him all time, and I am lying. They wait whilst he packs up stuff. I shout. I scream, but they tell me to shut up or they arrest me and have my son taken into care.”

Sarah could see that Oliver was getting more and more wound up. She also saw the floor manager making frantic hand gestures. Oliver regained himself, and turned to the camera.

“We’ll go to an ad break now before I explode. When we come back, we’ll hear more about this woman’s revenge, and we’ll meet the poor guy who was her target.”

As soon as he could, Oliver stalked offstage. Marta made to follow him, but two of the security guards persuaded her to sit back down again. Millie came out and very gently reminded her that she had signed a contract to appear, and that she really should stay if she wanted to put her case. She sat back down and Oliver, face freshly powdered and temper soothed, came back on stage.

“So, Marta, before we bring Peter on stage and reveal the results of his lie detector test, there’s one last thing I want you to explain. Are you okay with that?”

“Yes, but you tell these stupid people in audience to stop making the boo noise. Is not kind.”

“Neither is having an innocent man arrested, but we won’t go there just yet.  Now tell me if I’ve got this right. Peter had to go to London, and you arranged to meet him at the house when he returned? Yes?”

“I did. But his train is delayed and he take too long. I have already packed up things in house, and had them shipped to Holland while he is away. My son is bored, so we leave the front door unlocked for Peter, and we leave in a taxi.”

“Peter comes home, finds his house unlocked, and most of his and your possessions gone, and no sign of you and your son?”

“Yes, but I am nice. I send him a picture of me, my son and the dog on the ferry so that he know we are all safe. I not want to cause him worry.”

Oliver turned away again, and Sarah could see that his fists were balled and his teeth gritted.

“Right Marta. You and your son – and Peter’s dog ….”

“….dog not Peter’s. He given to Peter’s daughter, but her mother not let her keep him in the house. I good with dog, and my son love him. So we take him. He better off with us.”

Oliver continued. “Once you are back in Holland you find that Peter got the job he went for in London, and is going to Australia for five months.”

“Yes. Big bucks! Accommodation all paid for so he don’t need the money, and I do. I ask for money at first, and he say no because I take all his things, and dog. This make me angry, so I threaten to tell the little red-topped newspapers that he is a nasty man who beats his woman in front of a child. Stupid man still say ‘no money’ so I email the producer of his show and say the same. I say that show will be wrecked if public know what a wicked man Peter is.  Producer is very angry, and threatens to set the police on me. Me! A poor woman with a child to support – and the dog.”

“So, wind the clock forward another three years. After threatening to have Peter arrested if he ever contacted you again, you suddenly decide to email him to let him know how you are.”

“Well, I have 40th birthday coming up, which makes me sad. Dog has too many of pills and has to go to vet. I have insurance, but I need more money so I email Peter, and make like I want us to be friends.  A friend tell me that he has been looking after his mother for three years, but that now he is starting to get work again. He has money, and he should give me some. It is only fair.” 

Marta looked to the audience for some kind of approbation, but saw only stares and another chorus of booing.

“Let’s bring on the man at the centre of this – ladies and gentlemen – Peter!”

Sarah was surprised at Peter’s appearance. She’d imagined that he might be a small, perhaps weedy kind of man but in fact he was way over six foot and bear-like. There was something open, and almost innocent in his face as he walked shyly on stage, and sat down in the chair next to Marta, who was smiling and clapping with the audience. Peter seemed to have his eyes elsewhere; Sarah followed him and saw him looking at a couple in the audience at the end of a row. They smiled at Peter, and it seemed to give him strength.

“How do you do Peter? It’s been a couple of rough years for you really, hasn’t it?”

Peter smiled and shook his head. “My mum needed looking after, that’s kept me busy. I get an allowance as her carer; it isn’t much, but I have food, and a roof over my head at least. And friends, I’m lucky to have really good friends.”

Marta interrupted. “I am your friend, Peter. I am here for you!”

Pater turned slowly towards her, and shook his head again.

“No, we used to be friends, we had a very happy three years, but after all that has happened, we can’t be friends again. I’m sorry.”

“You -You! You say you sorry – what about the money you owe me. Money borrowed from my poor sick father. You are making money again, so you pay me back.”

Oliver stepped in front of Marta, who had risen to her feet, the two security guards were also hovering nearby.

“You borrowed the money off your father, Marta, it was spent on paying the bills and buying food for the three of us. Compared to the amounts you ran up on my credit cards, it’s just a drop in the ocean. I don’t owe you anything, and I don’t really want you in my life again.”

“Okay,” said Oliver. “My show. Peter, can you tell us your version of events when you got arrested. Marta, shut up, we’ve all listened to you.”

“Sorry Oliver.” said Peter, visibly screwing himself up to recount what was obviously a very painful memory. “After the banks crashed, cuts affected the field in which I worked. The high life had to stop, and unfortunately the car I bought for Marta was taken back. She seemed to get more and more aggressive after that; throwing things around the house, screaming at me for the slightest little things. She said it was hormones or something. On this particular morning – a Sunday – we were in bed, and she started screaming at me for no reason. I put my hand on her arm, and asked her to calm down – the woman next door was in the last stage of pregnancy, and she didn’t need to hear us rowing. I got out of bed, got dressed and went downstairs.”

“Was Marta’s son in the room?” asked Oliver.

“No. He was still in bed. I was making him some breakfast when the police called, Marta ran downstairs in her nightgown and let them in. She pulled her son to her side and pointed at me. She said ‘That’s the man. That’s him, he struck me, and shouted at me in front of my son – didn’t he?’ I was arrested and taken to the police station. They locked me up all day whilst they went to see Marta and her son. Eventually they came back and interviewed me. I went back into the cell for the rest of the evening. I spoke to a solicitor who said that rather than going to court, it would be better if I accepted a caution, because it was my word against Marta’s, and she didn’t have any marks on her arm where I was supposed to have hit her.”

“This was your house wasn’t it, Peter? Not hers?”

“My wife and I bought it for her parents. When we split up, I moved into the little house because my in-laws had died.

“Not very lucky with women are you mate?” said Oliver, not unsympathetically.

For the first time, Peter smiled. The audience laughed but they were laughing with him, not at him.

“I’m luckier with my friends.  When Marta contacted me, I thought she wanted to be friends but although that’s what she said she wanted, it wasn’t long before she started asking for money; vet’s bills, help with her rent, school fees, the money we borrowed from her father.  She said that she really wanted to see me, encouraged me to fly over to stay with her so that we could sort out what had happened. I was very naive about her motives, and didn’t stop to think about what might happen if I did go over there on my own. When Marta started writing to me, my friends were wary about Marta’s motives. She kept coming up with reasons for me to go and support her; the dog was ill, her dad was in hospital, she was ill, her son was being bullied at school, a male neighbour was pestering her, and she couldn’t say anything because his wife was a good friend, the dog was ill again and then her sister was ill. Everything was just a honey trap designed to get me to Holland, so that Marta could have me arrested on some trumped-up charge if I didn’t give her any money.”

“This friend is an interfering bitch! They have no right to be telling Peter what to do.”

“Ah yes!” said Oliver, turning back towards a seething Marta. “Then we have the police records that Peter was helped to access. What did they say Peter?”

“The records said that I was arrested for battery, because Marta alleged that I had grabbed her arm. When she was interviewed by the police, they could see no marks on her arm, her son’s story didn’t match up with hers, and they saw no point in pursuing it any further. I was given a caution and released without charge.”

“So, Marta. When you sent the email to Peter’s employer saying that he had abused you and your son, and that he had been arrested, and locked up by the police for domestic violence, you weren’t being very truthful were you?  We’ve already heard you say that you lied to the police, and told your son to lie to them too. Unfortunately, you claim to be on a considerable cocktail of medication, which means you can’t do a lie detector test. Peter has taken a test to prove that he wasn’t lying about your behaviour, and that he did not hurt you. Are you ready Peter?”

Peter nodded and the atmosphere in the studio was tense, whilst Oliver opened the envelope.

“Peter. We asked you did you at any time during your relationship with Marta, commit any acts of violence against her person. You answered no. Why did you answer no, my friend?”

“Because I was telling the truth.”

“Indeed, you were. We also asked you if at any time during your relationship with Marta, you were ever violent or aggressive to her in front of her son. You answered no. Why did you answer no my friend?”

“Because I was telling the truth.”

Oliver walked over to Peter and handed him the card.

“Full house Peter. Security, can you please escort this woman from the stage, and put her with the runners assigned to take her back to the airport, and on her flight back to Holland. This man owes you nothing Marta. You on the other hand owe him a huge amount. You had him thrown out of his own home, you took his money and belongings, and if that wasn’t enough you tried to wreck his career. Get her out.”

Marta was too stunned to make a fuss, until she was actually off the stage, but then she started to scream and accuse the guards of hurting her.

“Reasonable force sweetheart. Peter, come here.”

Peter stood up and moved to centre stage with Oliver, who turned to the camera.

“We’re going to another break now and we’ll be talking to four young people and their colourful experiences on a park bench. Before we go though, I’d like to say to everyone out there – especially those in the media. This man was not violent to anyone. He did not abuse his partner or her child. He was a victim of circumstances, and the machinations of an evil woman. Employ him, and help him get back on his feet. He is very lucky though. He has good friends.”

The applause was overwhelming and several people, including Sarah, got to their feet as Peter left the stage.. Sarah wondered if the final case study could possibly top this.

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