An extract from Sam’s Song, chosen because I think it gives a good insight into Sam’s character.
Chapter Six of Thirty
That afternoon I drove west to Cyncoed in the heart of Cardiff. At 4 p.m., I arrived at Dr Storey’s office. Dr Storey ran his practice from a Victorian villa overlooking Roath Park. The villa was a splendid example of Victorian architecture, reflecting an age of pride and confidence.
I climbed a short flight of steps and entered the building. A tall, lean receptionist with a mass of greying hair, piled high on her head, asked me to wait. As I stood in the reception room, I could hear her heels clip across a parquet floor and then the creak of a hundred and fifty year old woodwork as she climbed the stairs to the first floor. A few minutes later, she was back in the reception room and I was climbing the creaky staircase; permission had been granted and I was on my way to see Dr Storey.
I knocked on his office door and a confident voice said, “Enter.” I opened the door, entered the office and stood dead in my tracks. For some reason I expected Dr Storey to be in his early sixties, maybe a little fat, definitely bald. I envisaged someone wearing rimless glasses and a stern, censorious expression. But Dr Storey was in his early-forties with dark brown, wavy hair, dark brown eyes and handsome, even features. At a guess, he was over six foot tall and his body was built in proportion – athletic, muscular, trim. His skin had a light tan and combined with his build it suggested plenty of outdoor activity – maybe walking, climbing, that sort of thing. He was wearing a smart, dark, three-piece suit with a fine pinstripe. His shirt was white and crisp while his tie was neat and matched his suit. He looked up from his desk and offered me an engaging smile. I guess I smiled back but, in all honesty, I don’t remember. Dr Storey struck me as a double for James Garner, circa The Rockford Files, albeit a James Garner with a neatly trimmed goatee beard.
Dr Storey placed his gold fountain pen on a blotter. He inclined his head slightly to the left and asked, “Can I help you?”
“Sam Smith,” I muttered. I fished in my shoulder bag for a business card and placed it on his desk. My business card was plain with my name and business details upon it. In idle and light-hearted moments, I’d thought about adding an emblem, maybe crossed revolvers at the top and crossed lipsticks at the bottom, but rejected the idea as being too crass. “I’ve got an appointment,” I explained, “Milton Vaughan-Urquhart phoned your office…”
“Oh, yes.” Dr Storey studied my card then glanced down to his notes. He smiled at me when he looked up. “I was expecting someone else.”
“It’s the shortened version of my name,” I apologised, “it can cause confusion.”
Dr Storey stood. I was right – he was just over six foot tall. He offered his hand and I shook it. His handshake was firm, assured. Ever the nosy enquiry agent, I glanced at his desk and noted a picture of a smiling, attractive woman and a nine-year-old girl. The woman and girl had similar looks. Probably mother and daughter. Probably Dr Storey’s wife and daughter. Another picture was more recent. It showed Dr Storey with his daughter. She was around sixteen now, very pretty with large eyes and dark, curly hair. There was no picture of Dr Storey and his wife together. Why was that, I wondered. Maybe they’d divorced and he’d kept her picture because he still loved her. Or maybe he loved that photograph of his daughter. Or maybe…my mind was racing now, seeking possibilities and answers. Cool it, Sam, I heard the little voice in the back of my head say, Dr Storey’s pictures have nothing to do with you. I know that, I replied, but there’s a gap there that needs an explanation, there’s a detail missing and I need to find an answer. It was the kind of obsessive thinking that wore me out, the kind of detailed thinking that made me good at my job.
“Your coat is wet,” Dr Storey noted. “Here, let me take it for you.” I unbuttoned my coat and he placed it next to his, on a coat stand. Then he waved a hand towards his client’s chair. “Take a seat.”
I smoothed my skirt and sat. I crossed my legs. Little Miss Prim. From his chair, Dr Storey peered over the edge of his desk and looked at my legs, but not in a salacious or lecherous manner, more like someone admiring a work of art. Let him admire them, loosen up, after all, he’s not Jack the Ripper. Indeed, he had a kind, gentle face, a face you could trust. And his office – tastefully decorated in pale green with a range of indoor plants – had an air of calm and serenity, a quality that emanated from the man himself.
I delved into my shoulder bag for a pen and my notepad. “Do you mind if I take notes?”
He shrugged a broad shoulder. “Go ahead.”
I sat poised, my pen hovering over my notepad. “Milton explained why I want to talk with you?”
Dr Storey nodded. “Something to do with Derwena and a stalker.” He pursed his lips while his fingers toyed with his pen. “I’ll help you, if I can, but you appreciate that I am bound by client confidentiality; I can only say so much.”
“Same in my business,” I smiled. “Admittedly, I’ve only been with Derwena for a day, but I’ve seen no sign of a stalker and my instincts tell me that she might be making him up.”
“Are your instincts normally sound?”
I paused, searching for an honest answer. With my head bowed, I replied, “I’m learning to trust them.”
Dr Storey appeared satisfied with my answer. He leaned forward and spoke in a confident, assured manner. “Obviously I can’t say ye or nay in regards to the stalker, but I can offer you my personal insight. Derwena’s had many problems in the past and they have been published in the press, so I don’t mind discussing them with you. When she’s under stress, she does have a tendency to dramatize. These dramatics are a way of reaching out for love and support and given her situation who could blame her for that. I wouldn’t dismiss her stalker story out of hand because she’s had problems with such people in the past. But she’s also going through a very stressful time at the moment in terms of relationships and her career, and other issues which I am not at liberty to discuss.”
“So the stalker could be real or he could be a figment of her imagination.”
Dr Storey shrugged. He gave me an apologetic look. “I’m sorry I can’t be of more help.”
“Thanks anyway.” I scribbled in my notebook – none the wiser, then I placed my notebook and pen in my shoulder bag and threw the latter over my shoulder.
“Before you go…,” Dr Storey hesitated, “tell me, how did you get into this line of work?”
I gave him a thin smile and glanced down to his thick, shag pile carpet. I shook my head. “You don’t want to hear my story.”
He leaned forward, placing his elbows on his desk. “I do,” he insisted. With an earnest look on his face, he brought his hands together and made a bridge with his fingers. Then he placed his chin on that bridge and gazed at me with his soft, brown eyes.
I fell under his spell, that’s the only explanation I can think of, because I allowed my shoulder bag to sink into his carpet, opened my mouth and started to ramble: I told him things that I’d never told anyone before. “Well…I was having problems with my ex.” I started to well up. Get a grip, you fool, he’s used to hearing sob stories – don’t embarrass yourself. “He used to hit me, you know.”
Maybe I imagined it, but I swear I saw pain in Dr Storey’s eyes. He nodded, slowly, “I understand.”
I swallowed. Hard. “Black eyes were a weekly occurrence. One time he broke my jaw, another time he fractured my skull.” I paused, then hurried on, “But don’t get me wrong, Dan is not a monster. In fact, if you met him you’d regard him as charming, charismatic, good-looking.”
“What’s his line of work?” Dr Storey asked.
“Journalist. Freelance. The job had many pressures and when Dan felt under pressure, he’d drink. Sometimes the alcohol would solve the problem, sometimes the tension would stay with him and then he’d erupt…”
“And hit you.”
“Yeah.” My throat felt tight, my voice sounded as if it were coming from somewhere else, from another room. I noticed a carafe of water with an upturned glass on the desk. Dr Storey reached for the carafe and poured me a glass of water. I accepted it with thanks.
“And how long did this go on for?” Dr Storey asked.
“Throughout our marriage. Four years.”
“Why didn’t you leave him?”
“I thought about it, many times. But he was always very apologetic, mortified when he’d seen what he’d done to me. He promised he’d change, and for a short time, he did. Then the pressures would build, he’d drink, he’d hit me. In the end I thought, it’s all my fault, I deserve this, so I stuck around. Also, I had my pride – I didn’t want to show the outside world what was happening. And Dan’s a nice guy, to the eyes of the outside world.”
“But you left him.”
“Yeah. But not because of the beatings. I suspected him of having an affair. So I went to a private detective. He was very busy at the time and asked me to do a bit of background work on the case, take some pictures, establish places, dates, times. To cut a long story short, I did the whole case and I used the evidence I’d gathered to get a divorce. Angus, the private eye, was very impressed and he offered me a job, a sort of secretary-assistant. It all went well for the best part of a year. Then, one day, Angus walks in with a bunch of flowers and tells me that he loves me. He’s a decent guy, good-looking, dedicated to his work, but he’s married with three kids and I’m thinking, I can’t be doing with any of this, so I quit. I went back to typing, agency work – I’d done a secretarial course at night school, but that’s another story – and gathered together some funds. But, to be honest, I missed the buzz of the detective agency work, I missed the sense of satisfaction I got from helping people straighten out their lives. So I set up as an enquiry agent. It was hard going for twelve months. I used up all my savings, I got into debt, but gradually I built a reputation for reliability and competence and I managed to make enough to survive.”
Hell, I thought, what am I doing talking to this man; I haven’t discussed this with anyone, no one at all. It was a taboo subject, something I kept to myself. Of course, at work people in the office would notice that I had bumps and bruises. It became a running joke, ‘clumsy Sam has walked into the door again’. The broken jaw and fractured skull took some explaining, but with the fractured skull I said that I’d taken a very hot bath, got out too quick, hyper-ventilated, stumbled and fell down the stairs. People seemed to believe me. Or maybe they wanted to believe me, to avoid any embarrassment and discussion of the truth. My past was a secret I kept to myself. I told no one about Dan and the violence. Yet, here I was, pouring my heart out to this man, a stranger I’d met barely a few minutes previously. I felt agitated, confused. I picked up my shoulder bag and stood. “You didn’t want to hear all that,” I mumbled, “I’ve got to go.” I reached for my coat and struggled into it.
“Thank you.” Dr Storey stood. He walked over to me and helped me with my coat.
I frowned. “What for?”
“For coming to see me today. For talking with me. For being so frank and open with me.”
I felt my face start to flush. My chest was tight and I was beginning to hyperventilate. I took a step towards the door. “I’ve got to go.”
Dr Storey opened the door. He stood calmly at my side. He was looking at me, maybe assessing me, I don’t know because I was looking the other way, avoiding eye contact.
“Stay in touch, I’d like to know if the stalker is for real, or not. And if I can be of any further assistance…” His voice trailed off. I glanced up and noticed a look of admiration – surely not – on his face. “You’re a remarkable lady. I admire your courage, I admire your determination. It can’t have been easy; I admire you for what you’ve done.”
His voice was sincere, genuine. This man was sincere, genuine, and that’s why I ran from his office. I ran out of the building and jumped into my car. In my car, I slumped on to the driver’s seat, exhausted. I felt drained, like I hadn’t slept for a week. I wound the car window down and placed my elbow on the ledge, my head resting against my open palm. The rain splashed on to my face. It cooled me – it was welcome. I looked up to Dr Storey’s office. He was standing in the window, his handsome features creased with concern. Maybe he was worried about the rain ruining his golf day. Did he play golf? Hell, how should I know? I was confused, agitated. I’ve already said that, I was repeating myself, that’s how upset I was. Calm down, I told myself, for once in your damned life be truthful and honest with yourself. Okay, I’d just told a stranger the most intimate aspects of my life, but I’d lived with them for five years, since the divorce. Those personal aspects were over-familiar to me and it was cathartic to share them with someone else. That was a truth. Another truth – it wasn’t the confession that really bothered me, the unburdening of my soul – after all, he must hear similar stories half-a-dozen times a day. No, what bothered me was that he was still looking at me through his office window; he didn’t want to break the connection. Moreover, I was looking at him and what bothered me was a part of me had no desire to put my car into gear and pull away. What really bothered me was – I felt an attraction. Love hurts, I told myself – put your foot on the pedal and get out of there. Fast. And with a sigh, I did put my car into gear and I did pull away. But I glanced over my shoulder, up to Dr Storey’s office window, before I did so.
Extract Copyright © 2014 Hannah Howe. All rights reserved.