Short story by Colin Devonshire
“Oh, mum, can’t I watch TikToc a little longer?” asked Patsy.
“You’ve got school tomorrow. After this long break, aren’t you excited to see your friends? I want you asleep before I leave for work.”
“You’re leaving me alone tonight?”
“Darling, you know I must go back to work. You are a teenager now, not a baby,” said Hathai Chantawan, Patsy’s mother. Chantawan was not her legal name. Fifteen years ago she had married a foreigner, taking his name, Peters. It was thought better in her job to use her maiden name.
“Don’t but me. I’m needed at the station, I must go. I’m sorry your dad is not here. He would always care for you when I worked nights. Well, we must get on with our lives. So, sleep. And I mean now.”
“Do I have to go to school? What time will you be home?”
“Patsy, why do you bombard me with questions you know the answers to?”
“But I don’t want to go back to school.”
“You have to return sometime. The quicker the better, and I’ll be home in time to get you off to school. Now, sleep.”
Hathai half closed the curtains, turning, as she bent to kiss her daughter goodnight, a movement outside caught her eye, returning to the window she peered long and hard into the darkness, she shook her head and returned to her motherly task of pecking Patsy’s forehead. Patsy hugged her mum like a baby koala with its mother.
“That’s enough. I going to my room to shower and change. I want you asleep when I look in.”
Hathai was pulling off her sweatshirt before deciding on her outfit. As a detective in the Royal Thai Police Force, she wore plain clothes. Tonight she expected to be catching up on a backlog of unsolved cases. Jeans and a t-shirt would suffice.
“You are supposed to be sleeping,” said Hathai. “Get back into bed this minute.”
“But mum, I saw someone.”
“You shouldn’t have been looking.”
“I had my eyes shut… But, sensed something. I had to look,” said Patsy.
“What did you see?”
“It is dark out there, so nothing clearly, but somebody, I think a man, who ducked behind the coconut trees.”
“And what did you notice about this person? What was he wearing, for example?”
Hathai’s detective skills piqued.
“As I said, it is pitch black. I could make out the shapes of vegetation. Then a grey shape moved. It looked like he was wearing a hat.”
“A hat like your father wore?”
“I didn’t want to say that, but yes. And no, I wasn’t dreaming of dad.”
“I’m going out to look, you stay here.”
Hathai strode out of the room and stamped down the stairs, grabbing a torch as she went out the back door, flicking on the bright beam as she hit the grass.
“Anyone out here?” she asked loudly.
The coconut palm rustled in the wind.
“I have a gun. Come out at once,” she lied. Her gun, forgotten in the kitchen.
She was answered by insects and leaves, all sounding louder, as if they were partying at her expense. Patsy and Hathai’s unfenced back garden reached the neighbouring farmer’s land, packed with heavily laden fruit trees. The only fears Hathai had experienced outside work, were snakes. Snakes did not wear hats. Especially like her husband’s.
The shadow she too had seen, appeared to be wearing a straw trilby. Like the ones available in tourist resorts.
Her husband did not need to dress for work. He wrote articles for the travel trade.
“Get a grip woman,” she said to herself. “There is nothing here.”
“Thank God, no one has touched my weapon.”
She was talking to herself again as she unlocked the drawer. She checked the safety, dabbed a spot of oil on the trusted friend, then holstered the weapon with a good luck tap. She called up the stairs, “Okay, babe, nothing there. I’m off now. See you in the morning.”
She didn’t wait for a list of questions. Driving the short distance to her office she started another conversation with herself.
“Am I being too hard on Patsy? Maybe she needs to toughen up? We’ll see.”
She tried to concentrate on the pile of case files, sitting there, taunting her. Trilby hats doffed to her memory.
“Returning to work is like Patsy going back to school. Tough at whatever age.” She tutted as she pulled the details from another file.
Patsy was back at the window. She prayed to see her father whistling to himself in his favourite garden seat. ‘Just cogitating,’ he would say, smiling at her. But a school prankster playing a joke was far more likely. The boys ribbed her, not just because her father was English, but also because her mum was a police officer.
“When will they grow up?” she said, staring into the blackness.
She grabbed a tissue, dabbed her sad eyes.
“Come on, girl. You’ve got to face the other kids tomorrow,” she whispered. A smokey shadow flicked past the vegetation.
“What was that?” she asked, leaning to the glass, grabbing the window sill with white knuckles.
Neighbours, teachers, pupils and fellow officers all had their theory about what happened to Patsy’s dad. A happy home, loving relationships, no shortage of money and a cheerful daughter. What went wrong? Where did he go, and why did he leave them?
He was there one day, gone the next. Hathai’s police training and all her colleagues failed to discover where he went. The British Embassy had been informed. Prodded and questioned. They had been polite, but with nothing to add, except that he had not used his passport.
“I going to chase them up again,” Hathai said to another officer. “They are hiding something, I can feel it.”
Patsy called from her bedroom doorway, “Mum, are you home?” knowing she wasn’t back, Patsy crept down the stairs. The back door was locked, the key, hanging from the door handle. Finding her flip-flops, she unlocked the door and edged her way out. The insects and the wind, breaking the silence.
Then she saw it again. A smokey shadow hid between palms. Low branches rustled, twitching against the breeze.
“Who is that?” she called.
“It’s me, darling.”
Kicking off her shoes, “I’m home, are you up?” asked Hathai from the hallway.
“Hi, mum, how was work?”
“It was fine, thanks. Busy, but had to be done. How about your sleep?”
“Really? Are you ready to go back to school?”
“Oh, yeah, can’t wait.”
There was a gentle pad, pad, pad down the stairs.
“My goodness, you are dressed already? Hair fixed, very smart, good girl.”
“Yes, mum, I’ve eaten, there’s some for you, just warm it up when you’re ready.”
If Hathai’s eyes got any bigger and rounder, they’d be Frisbees.
Patsy talked non stop on the short way to school.
“I can’t wait to see my friends. They will tell me what I missed, what they’ve been doing…”
A peck on the cheek and she ran to join the gang of girls waving wildly at her.
“That was easy,” muttered Hathai to herself. “Now to quiz the Embassy again.”
The drive was sluggish to central Bangkok. Jams and confused drivers clogging the lanes. She parked and sweatily flashed her badge, made her way into the secure building.
She was led through to a private office.
“Please take a seat. Mr Jenkins will be with you presently. Can I offer you a drink?”
She glanced at Windsor Castle in a travel brochure. “Hmm been there,” she said as a fit and an immaculately dressed man entered.
“Handsome, but with an embarrassed smile?” she said. “You’ve got bad news for me,” said Hathai.
“Yes, I’m afraid I have. I’m sorry. Your husband’s body has been found in Yangon. There is no mistake. His partner, when working for us, escaped and got back here yesterday. He is here if you want to talk…”