There once lived an old man, who was kind and humble. He was a confident man, certain of himself and his beliefs, grounded in what he stood for but never arrogant or self-indulgent. Everybody who met him would comment on how amenable, witty and welcoming he was, and often declare their surprise at such a realisation. Everyone who lived with him – and there were a lot of very tough, very shady characters in that bunch – adored him. They all considered him a friend, and on many occasions, these friends and acquaintances declared that they would happily defend him and his honour, to the very last.
Over many years, he had gained renown for his calm head, his coolness in the face of provocation and his logical, diplomatic approach to resolving conflict. Indeed, he would often be the first to step between the men he lived with when they invariably fell out – you’ll recall, he lived in quite close proximity to some seriously perilous characters – and his intervention would ordinarily result in a cessation of hostilities, at least temporarily.
He was never under any illusion that he could fix all of the world’s problems, or even those of the tiny world he had inhabited for over three decades, alongside criminals, degenerates, low-lifes and innocents of all descripts. All he could do, he had resolved some thirty odd years previous, was to continue to believe in his own sense of reason.
This sense of reason, he had told many people over the years – people he considered worthy folk, including judges, lawyers, policemen, doctors – was his shield against everything the world had thrown at him since the day (he always stressed that it was neither a fateful day, nor a pivotal one in his life; it remained to him ‘just a day’) when he had walked into an east end pub, confronted four men and with nothing but his bare hands, brought the murderers of his only two sons, to his own unique brand of justice.
He was never a violent man, not even in his younger years when he was a locally famed amateur boxer. He always had a smile, a piggy back or shoulder ride for his brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews and later his own sons and daughters. For many years following his marriage to his devoted wife, he worked as a baker. He would fight in the local competitions most evenings, after dropping off a fresh loaf to home (and when he could, a couple of unsold bakewells). After his bouts, regardless of the result, you’d find him heading down to help out on the Fleet Street lorries, all through the early hours. He would sleep for an hour or so on the homeward leg of the deliveries, before popping home for a wash and a daily breakfast of tea and toast with his sweetheart, before heading on back out to the bakery.
For twelve years he carried on like this, until his first child was born. His final fight – on the night his eldest boy came into the world – was announced to a raucous York Hall, as being the end. It gained him a smiling, standing ovation and a impromptu whip-round by the other fighters bore him several hundred pounds on top of the night’s purse. With the wind of the crowd in his sails, he laid out Frankie ‘The Feet’ Meadows, halfway through the fourth, and walked away with a black-eye, his bag slung over his shoulder, and a brand new son to meet.
Three years, almost to the day, his next boy popped out, and was followed by three girls in the next three years. Every one of them were “nailed on beauties”, he would brag, showing his family portrait to anyone who’d look. Never a prouder father had you seen.
As the boys grew into stocky replicas of their lithe and jovial dad, they, like him before them, started to become well known, around and about. Unlike him, however, they were known in circles he deemed dishonest, moving with folks he would tell them, “don’t know the meaning of hard work”. Of course, like any good teenaged son, neither heeded his advice and soon, knocks at the door would be met with the apprehension of knowing that on the other side a black and silver uniform waited to inform the parents of the latest childhood indiscretion.
“But they’re not bad boys,” his wife would tell the officers, as she got her coat and left a message for her husband to bring some money to the station upon his return from work. Every time he would come, and without fail every time his boys would walk home before him, his silence garnishing his wife’s rants of “shame”, “regret”, “respect” and “dignity”. One day, he broke his silence to ask the simple question of “why?”. The response hit harder than any punch he’d ever taken, as his youngest son turned and told him, that they “didn’t want to end up like you, working all hours, for a pittance and an ungrateful family”. His pride and joy, shattered by itself, was imploding with such vicious determination, that his wife stepped in and struck the “ungrateful little wretch”, hard across the face.
Soon after, following another such visit from another such pair of officers, he escorted his two sons home, for the last time. “You’re going to have move out,” he told them. “You were once the most important thing to me, more important than anything in the world.” His voice trembled, and his hand shook so he stuffed it into his pocket. “But now, you’ve grown too old for my advice. So, I think it’s high time you had houses of your own.” With a sneer, his youngest son turned on his heel, and began to march away, stopping only to ask his brother; “Well? You coming, or what?”. The man’s elder son, the quieter of the two, looked between his father and brother, before the gravity of his sibling’s personality drew him in. “Sorry Dad,” he said, as he walked away.
That was the last time that he saw his sons. When he told his wife, she had nodded gravely, and commented that she hoped this would force them to grow up. They never had the chance.
Two weeks later, his wife opened the door to another knock, and another pair of policemen. As she went to get her coat, they stepped inside, and asked if she wanted to have a seat. They then asked if her husband was in, or if he could come home from work, as they had some bad news. She called the oldest of the girls, and sent her running down to the bakery to bring her dad home, as she shakily reached down for the arm of her husband’s chair, and perched nervously upon it. “Both of them,” she asked, “or just the one?”. The shorter of the policemen looked at his colleague, who replied, “both, I’m afraid ma’am.” The mother of two deceased sons, and three healthy daughters, sat silently, her chin resting on her chest as her husband arrived. Slowly, she rose, and took him gently by both arms. She sat him down in his chair and crouched before him, and spoke in tones that no-one else heard. The man heaved a great sigh, and nodded. He looked up at the shorter police officer, and across to his colleague. He rose, and extended his hand, saying “thank you, and sorry for your trouble.” The policemen left their house, and together, the couple went up the stairs to the girls’ bedroom, where they proceeded to explain what had happened to their girls’ brothers, and to console the tears and sadness that exploded all about them. In the midst of the maelstrom of grief, the man and his wife remained stoic, unflinching and together.
Some months later, the couple attended court, to hear a verdict be rendered against the four small-time criminals that the police, and the community believed to be responsible for the deaths of their two oldest children. As they sat and watched, the foreman of the jury rose and swiftly delivered a verdict of “Not Guilty, on all counts”. As the four men cheered and shook hands, the man breathed a deep, shuddering breath, and squeezed his wife’s hand. She turned and looked at him through weary glazed eyes. They stood slowly, and shuffled down the line, excusing themselves as they left the pew. All the way home, they spoke softly about things. On a couple of occasions each faltered, but a consoling arm eased the hurt. They arrived home and walked through the hallway to the kitchen, to make a nice cup of tea.
Later that night, the man rose from his chair, and his wife brought him his coat. They kissed a long, slow, gentle kiss, embraced tightly, and smiled at each other. As he walked out of the door for the last time, both felt their love for the other, more keenly than at any point before. He walked the mile and a half to The Old Durham Arms, slowing as he approached. He walked past the first window and lifted himself on to tiptoe to look over the net curtaining concealing the window’s bottom half. He saw the four men he’d watched be acquitted earlier in the court room, stood with their backs to the door, toasting each other. He could hear their laughter as he pushed open the door to the pub.
He walked in and removed his jacket. He went to the bar, and folded it neatly, before placing it on a stool next to the largest of the four men. “Help you with something, mate?” asked the tall man. “You boys were in court earlier, weren’t you?” he asked. “Indeed we were old man,” replied another of the men, leaning forward on the bar. “Got away with murder, didn’t we!” bellowed the other, as they all laughed. “Yes, that’s what I thought,” said the man as he loosened the cuffs of his shirt, picked up the tall man’s glass and smashed it into his face. As the first killer fell, the second stared in amazement as the man threw a flurry of punches, knocking him to the floor. The last two of his son’s assailants flew toward him as he took a step back, flooring the first with a stiff right hand, before the last of them grabbed him, falling on top of him. The two of them rolled around in the glass and spilt beer as the other three groggily tried to get to their feet. With a sudden twist and a guttural yell of his foe, this father of murdered sons, became murderer himself, jamming a shard of glass deep into the man’s eye. Without pause, he pulled himself to his feet. The man he had floored with his right hand, was half way to his feet as a kick to the face put him back down. A stamp to the mouth broke his jaw, and another kick to the side of his head fractured his skull. The last two men tried to drag themselves from the pub, but the father of two murdered sons, and three sorrow-filled daughters, stopped them, blocking their exit. Neither man lived much longer, and soon it was all over and a very simple scene of destruction remained.
The man walked to the bar, sat down and breathing heavily asked quietly if he could have a whiskey, and the use of the pub phone. The barman obliged, and the man responded that he was “sorry for your trouble, and all the mess”. He sat on his stool as the stunned barman unwound the wire of the telephone, and handed it to the man. He called the police, and explained in calm, quiet terms what had happened, gave his name and address, and assured them that he would remain in the pub. As he ended the call, he thanked the barman, reached into his back pocket and pulled out his wallet, and put twenty four pounds on to the bar. He explained that it was all he had, and that he “hoped it would cover some of the mess”.
He finished his drink as the police arrived, treading in amazement over the mess of shattered glass, beer, blood and death. He rose, picked up his coat, was taken gently by the arms by two policemen – one of whom was shorter than the other – and escorted to the panda car waiting outside.
More than thirty three years later on his wedding anniversary, the man’s wife visited him in prison. As she waited for him to arrive for their visit, inmate after inmate passed and said hello to her, sending their “best to the family”. She just smiled and nodded these days, quite used to it by now. Ever since the first time a scarred giant had asked if she was Mrs Morrison, and proceeded to tell her what a lovely man she was married to, she knew that her Geoffrey would be just fine. She didn’t need telling though, she knew better than anyone just what kind of man she was married to.