Sunday serialisation – Rory (ret’d) 17.2

Rory Rogerson is 67; an overweight, unfit, retired ‘protection officer’ (that’s PC for hired muscle). He is also a prolific and, by his own reckoning, successful author of crime fiction.

Penny (60) is his headmistress wife and Charlie Watkiss is the bloke next door.

Together, they make a formidable team!

Rory (ret’d). Chapter seventeen, part two.

I called Nobby at home and arranged to call around later that evening with Penny, saying only that my wife was aware of his situation and felt she might be in a position to offer some pastoral support. His voice betrayed his unease at involving another person in his family’s current situation. He ultimately consented to the meeting, but only after I’d accepted that he could cut it short if it entered areas that he considered out of bounds. I hoped it wouldn’t come to that but agreed anyway. Just when I thought the conversation had ended I heard Zosia’s voice in the background. Nobby asked me to hold on. He came back after a few seconds to say his wife had insisted that if we were coming in the evening it should be for dinner and we should arrive at half-past seven for eight. Once off the phone, I passed this information to Penny who was not at all upset at being relieved of her turn to cook.

We arrived at the Stokes’ home a minute or two before the appointed time. Joffrey answered the door and showed us through to the lounge, where Nobby and Zosia were waiting for us. I introduced Penny to the family. Nobby pointed out that he and my wife had, as he put it, crossed swords on another occasion but accepted that she had acted entirely properly and within the bounds of her remit. His words, not mine. Joffrey leaned over and whispered something to his mother. She looked up at him and nodded.

“Mr Rogerson,” he said, “Mum says it’s alright for me to show you what my room’s like now.” Turning to Nobby he added, “That’s if it’s okay with you, Dad.”

“If your Mum says it’s okay then it’s fine with me, Joff,” he replied. Zosia looked at me and smiled at what seemed like a small victory. Nobby shrugged his shoulders. I was glad to see he’d conceded on that one. That left me wondering whether he’d finally managed to get his tongue around his wife’s given name, too. Joffrey walked out of the room and I followed, leaving Penny to get better acquainted with his parents.

Once upstairs, Joffrey pushed open the door to his room and sang out a victorious “Ta-dah!” What a transformation. Gone were the piles of dirty clothes, the half-eaten food and hairy coffee cups. His bed was made and his desk, which I had no idea was light oak, would not have been out of place in the most fastidious study.

“Wow, Joff,” I said, “This must have taken you ages. Did you get any help?”

“Apart from letting Mum run the hoover around and do a bit of dusting, it’s all my own work. And guess how long it took me in the end…”

“I dread to think,” I said, “maybe you could do it in a day if you go at it non-stop, but I’d think probably more.”

“How about less than an hour and a half?”

“Really?”

“Really. Dad was away, ‘helping the police with their enquiries’ – and that must have hurt him – and Mum went out shopping. She asked me if I wanted to go with her but I said I’d rather stay and do my room. She said something about believing that when she sees it.”

“And now she’s seen it?”

“She believes it. And I’m gonna keep it like this. It’s much easier to find things if nothing else.”

“You know what you’re doing, Joff?”

“What?”

“You’re growing up, lad. It comes to all of us in the end.”

We laughed together as we descended the stairs. Returning to the lounge, we found the three adults very deep in conversation. I gave a cough to let them know we were back. Penny raised a hand. Not a ‘can I leave the room?’ hand, more a ‘not now, Rory’ one. I seated myself and quietly listened.

“That’s fine in theory, Penny, and it might work in a school setting, but I don’t know how it’ll wash with the ACC or the PCC.”

Penny turned to me. “Just to bring you up to speed, Rory, I’ve suggested to Nobby that he come clean to the Force, admit he has an emotional problem and take a leave of absence to deal with it–”

“Three months, she suggested,” Nobby interjected.

“Sounds like a good idea to me,” Zosia said, “It’ll do Nobby good to have some time to himself, not worrying about his cases or the people under him, but he’s worried that the Assistant Chief Constable and the Police and Crime Commissioner, who are his bosses, won’t go along with it.”

“Why would they not?” I asked.

“Because they won’t believe that someone like me can need emotional support,” Nobby said, “Even if I tell them why I did what I did, they’ll still want to see me made an example of.”

“I don’t know these people, so I can’t be absolute,” I said, “but it seems to me that if you tell them everything and sign up for some counselling, they’ll have to accept it; especially given your length of service and your record on the job. My guess is that they’ll see it as a temporary aberration and that you’re taking steps to fix it.”

“So do you agree with your wife about three months’ leave?”

“If that’s what it needs. Look – if you sign up with a counsellor recognised by the police, and I’m sure you have access to a list, they will tell you when they think you’re ready to go back. Your chiefs should accept their recommendation and things can get back to normal.”

“So I could end up facing three months of unpaid leave? I don’t know if I can afford that.”

“What’s the alternative?” Penny asked.

Nobby looked thoroughly crestfallen. “I’ve got myself into a bit of a mess, haven’t I?”

“Your job and mine aren’t so different, you know,” Penny said, “We spend all our time looking after other people, getting them out of their messes, deciding whether they need punishment or support, to say nothing of the responsibility we have for the people who report to us. Added to that your job sometimes involves putting yourself in dangerous situations, situations where you have to be in control, where display of fear is never an option. It all takes a toll, Nobby. Something, somewhere has to snap. In your case, it led to some very dubious decisions regarding your family. In other cases, it leads to self-harm or even suicide—”

“And sometimes to murder,” Nobby added.

“Absolutely. And if your bosses can’t recognise a mild burnout reaction when they see it, then perhaps they shouldn’t be in the job they are.”

“Okay. I’ll set up the counselling and talk to my bosses.”

“This week?”

“Or next.”

“No later than that.”

“Okay. No later.”

“I’m glad that’s settled,” Zosia said, “now there’s only one thing to be done before we can eat – dinner’s ready, by the way.”

“What’s holding us up?” Joffrey asked.

Zosia looked at her husband. “What’s my name?” she asked him.

“You know what your name is, you don’t need me to tell you.”

“I want to hear you say it.”

“Zosia,” he said, his voice betraying defeat or resignation or something, “your name is Zosia.”

“Then why Sasha and why Jeff?”

“I think I can answer that,” I offered. I looked at Nobby. “Power game?” I asked.

“Power game,” he confessed.

“Then let’s forget about all that now and eat,” Zosia said.

“Thanks, Zosia,” Nobby said then, “come on, Joff.”

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