This story is based on the following writing prompt from the Daily Post:
“You’re sitting at a café when a stranger approaches you. This person asks what your name is, and, for some reason, you reply. The stranger nods, “I’ve been looking for you.” What happens next?”
To find out how to take part, or to see other responses, click here
What if I’d been seen talking to him in the cafe? Would I be considered guilty by association? Of course I would. The tabloids would have a field day – a serious journalist from a serious newspaper having coffee with a newly-exposed paedophile.
The report on the evening news was convincing, showing photographs of children with pixelated faces while officers clad in white disposable overalls and latex gloves carried a PC from his house. All damning enough to make me question my intuition. I believed him completely when he said he was being set up. Though abusers can be good at making themselves sound believable …. but no, my radar is good. It comes from first-hand experience.
He must have known he had been seen, because before I got the chance to ask him why anyone would go to so much bother to set him up, he stood up suddenly, said a little too loudly: “Well, nice to see you. Give your sister my best wishes and I hope everything works out for her.”
Fine, only I don’t have a sister. As anyone could establish with only the simplest of checks.
So what now? As the song goes, should I stay or should I go? Every tiny noise in the house sets my heart pounding. Every time I think about how I should investigate why anyone would want to set him up, I wonder who is watching, who is listening into my phone, who could be reading my emails or noting my search topics.
I hear someone breathing and turn round sharply, but there is no-one there. Then I realise it is my own breath I hear.
I decide to write a list of questions:
Why would anyone want to set him up for such disgraceful crimes, tarnishing his reputation in a way that even being found innocent would not repair?
Revenge, cover-up, deflection. Deflection sounds right, deflection. Deflection, deflection. Who would go to that extent to deflect attention from themselves? Who would benefit from such an act?
‘How?’ is another important question, given the graphic material found in his house. It must someone close … but that would be better explored by the police. Would they consider that he might be innocent? I don’t think so, somehow. Not until it’s too late anyway.
I think back on everything I ever heard about him, or read about him. My dealings with his office were minimal and all carried out through his press secretary. He seldom gave personal interviews. In fact, if he hadn’t introduced himself in the cafe he would have been just another stranger. I mean, who expects to see a senior government minister sitting in a village cafe with no ministerial car outside, no guard?
His voice though, I would know his voice anywhere. Even with that added edge of fear to it I expected him to start talking about the importance of jobs for young people and the need for dignity for asylum seekers. Why would anyone feel threatened by that? The last time I heard him talk, I had been driving to visit my parents and had the car radio on. He was making the case for clearer legislation to be put in place to recognise hate crimes. One of the other contributors was a gay celebrity who had been attacked in the street, another was a refugee who seen his entire family slaughtered in the middle east conflict, and was regularly subjected to being call Arab murderer and worse in the neighbourhood where he was forced to stay in a hostel with other male asylum seekers, all of whom he said suffered similar abuse in the area.
Who would go to such lengths to destroy a politician who just wanted people to have some respect for each other?
I get up to close the curtains, and see a car parked nearby that I have never seen before. For a moment, I wonder if I’m being watched …
No, anyone who wanted to watch someone wouldn’t be in such a conspicuous car. They would be in something more discreet, like the silver saloon on the other side of the road, the one parked just outside the pool of light from the streetlamp. Almost as if the parking space was chosen deliberately…
I can’t stay
I can’t go
But I can’t stay
I must go, but how?
I pull myself together, decide to go to Tesco to pick up a cheap pre-pay phone and make a few inquiries. For a minute I feel pleased with my ingenuity. But then I realise if someone sees me buying the phone it will look suspicious.
This is ridiculous. I can’t stay here forever. I’ll go and get something to eat. That’s a normal thing to do, and I’ll try to see if I’m being followed.
Armed with a plan of action, my heart pounds but this time in readiness.
I put my hand on the front door handle. The bell rings. I scream.