Officer Connolly was neither young nor new to the job, but this sort of thing was never pleasant and he hunched his shoulders in his blue uniform coat as he knocked on the blue-painted door. The outside light came on and a thin young woman with a child on her hip opened the door. She saw his uniform and sighed.
‘What’s he done now?’
The girl sounded almost unbearably weary and Connolly felt the stirring of unusual pity.
The girl laughed, but it was a harsh sound like scraping fingernails down a chalkboard.
‘No. But I’m Donny Jackson’s woman and this is his daughter.’
‘Then I’m sorry to have to inform you that there was a road traffic accident on the ring road this afternoon, in which a town car was comprehensively crushed by a thirty-ton lorry. Your man was a passenger in the town car.’ He broke off, looking, had he known it, greenish-pale and sick. ‘Look. There wasn’t enough left of him to identify in the normal way, but we found CCTV footage from the town centre that shows Donny Jackson getting into the car outside Jake’s billiards hall. Also, whoever was in the passenger seat of the crushed car was wearing Donny’s watch and his Saint Christopher medallion.’
The girl’s face was by now paper white under her tan and she swayed slightly on her feet. For a moment the policeman thought she was going to faint, but instead she grasped the edge of the door.
‘Thank you for coming to tell me.’
She closed the door gently, and as the uniformed constable turned away he could hear the heartbreaking sound of her sobs. That depth of sorrow woke something in his cicatrised heart, and, as he walked away, he thought he would come back in a few days. Just to see how things were.
Three days later, and it was his day off so he wasn’t in uniform when he knocked. The girl opened the door cautiously, as she obviously didn’t recognise him. He made her understand who he was, and that he had come to assure himself of her welfare, so she let him in. To his surprise the room was filled with cardboard boxes.
‘If you’d come tomorrow you wouldn’t have found us here,’ she explained. ‘The house belongs to Donny’s mam and she’s kicking us out.’
He was shocked, if unsurprised, at such callous behaviour.
‘Where will you go?’
‘Back to my own mam. I’ve nowhere else.’
‘Hang on a minute. Let me make a phone call.’
He got the girl, whose name turned out to be Betty, and her child into a flat by the river, courtesy of the company whose lorry had effectively minced little Donna’s father.
Having somehow made himself responsible for Betty and Donna, it became second nature to call on them daily, and make sure they got whatever was due to them – as opposed to the crumbs that Donny’s family thought they might be able to spare.
With enough to eat, and no worries about illegal activities or hard men in suits with shooters, Betty put on a little weight and the prettiness that had attracted Donny began to show itself again. She started to sing as she cleaned her little home and the dimple in her left cheek danced when she smiled.
Donny died on a filthy November afternoon, and, to give him his due, it wasn’t until Easter that a certain burly red-haired policeman moved himself into Betty’s flat and her bed.
Jim Connolly wasn’t a bad sort of a man and Betty was happier and better cared for than she had ever been before. If a corner of her heart would always belong to Donny Jackson, she certainly never said anything to Jim about it.
They settled down happily enough, and Jim began to look forward to coming home to a cooked tea on the table and Donna’s innocent chatter about her day. He also, when he thought about it for long enough to admit it to himself, understood that Betty’s smiles were becoming the underpinnings of his life.
In the middle of August, Betty fainted while she was dishing up his tea. He rushed her to the doctor only to find out he was going to be a father.
‘Well, that settles that doesn’t it. I was going to wait a while, but we’ll be married as soon as the banns are read.’
Betty looked at him open mouthed. ‘You sure Jim?’
‘I am and I’ll be adopting Donna too.’
Understanding this to be as close to a declaration of love as Jim could ever come, Betty smiled and nodded.
To be concluded next week…