Search This Blog

Friday, 22 August 2014

Saturday Story - 'The Petitioner'


 
THE PETITIONER

 
Nik Morton

 
David Clement, the Transport Minister, offered his best politician's smile – a bit toothy yet still attractive. Sympathetic, but strictly provisional. He stepped out to face the protesters, staff, press and curious guests in the hotel lobby. A dark-haired bearded man in a red anorak launched into an angry tirade and David overheard Mason from The Mirror comment about ‘red rags and bull’ but he bit back a retort and kept calm this time. David’s outburst about speeding in built-up areas last week had made the front pages. His tenuous lead in the pre-election polls suggested he should be more prudent as the majority of voters drove cars and were disenchanted with the law-abiding majority being tarred with the same brush as the reckless minority. So instead he made mollifying sounds and absently took the offered bulging document wallet off the man. ‘I’ll see what I can do,’ he said. His eyes hardly lingered on the irate petitioner but peered over the man’s shoulder, drawn to the blonde woman carrying another bundle of petitions.

            She was saying something about the need to curb speeding on the road that passed her house. The road's name rang a vague bell, but he wasn't listening properly because he was mesmerised by her startling light blue eyes.

            There was an earnestness in her gentle voice, with none of the usual rude shrill of self-interest groups he normally faced. She was luminous. There was no other word to describe her. Classic oval face, high cheek-bones, an alabaster complexion, and those glorious big eyes - emphasised by her smart ivory-white jacket and long pleated skirt. She didn’t seem to be the standard bimbo some groups wheeled out to draw the attention of the television cameras to grab extra sound-bites for their cause.

            Amidst the hubbub, the shouts of "Over here, Mr. Clement!" and flash-cameras firing, he whispered, "What did you say your name was?"

            She hadn't, but now she said, "Sade Revenant," pronouncing it sh-ar-day reven-awn.

            "What, like the singer? What was the song?"

            He missed her answer as they were jostled apart but he caught her charming smile, cheeks dimpling.

            A few minutes later after fielding further questions on the sorry state of the railways, he pushed through the crowd towards Sade. "I'll talk about your petition," he whispered, "but it's too public here - meet me at the Trattoria - 4pm."

            Strangely elated at this rash decision, he offered the usual bromides to everybody else then strode off with his secretary Joan trailing behind with his bulging leather briefcases.

            David was pleased with himself. At this morning's Party Conference he roundly castigated every transport minister since the invention of the car, bemoaning the lack of political will over increased traffic pollution, fast cars and over-weight juggernauts. He condemned the easy-option money-grabbing speed-traps, arguing for sensible policing instead. The public loved it, which was more than could be said of his fellow MPs, who were probably jealous of his current popularity. Yet his rational side kept reminding himself: you'll be a ten-minute-wonder, then forgotten.

 ***

Sade sat in a corner booth. Beside her he felt positively dowdy in his cavalry twill suit.

            "Have you ordered?"

            "No."  She eyed the pile of petitions beside her on the bench seat. "I'm not hungry."

            "Oh."  He tried to hide the crestfallen look on his face. On the way he had fantasised that she might be attracted to him. Few women were, he reminded himself, so why should she be any different? He was considerably older than her and now at that vulnerable age where his paunch threatened to shorten his life if he didn’t cut down on the alcohol and fast-food.

Her glance at the petitions reminded him of her purpose. She’d make a good politician, he thought. Single-minded.

            "Do you want to arrange a photographer?" he asked.

            "Pardon?" She looked askance at him.

            "For the papers - you handing me the petition?" He smiled. "I won't mind..." he ended feebly.

            "No, thank you. Just take them when you go, if that's all right, Mr. Clement."

            "Fine.” Clearly, I was being too cynical. She just wants me to take the petitions. No ulterior motive... “I won't forget them, Miss Revenant. Is that a French name?"

            "Could be. Call me Sade. Please."

            His pulse suddenly raced. "Sade," he repeated stupidly. Then, after faltering for a second, he managed, "You can call me Dave."

            "No," she said, shaking her head.

His heart sank.

"I rather like David. It suits you." 

            He grinned from ear to ear. "Can I tempt you with a coffee, some dessert? It's awfully good, their Death by Chocolate!" So much for the paunch...

            At his words she lowered her eyes and for a fleeting second colour suffused her alabaster cheeks. "No, thank you. Adam's ale will be fine."

            "Adam's-? Oh, yes - water." He ordered a Perrier and a glass of orange and tonic, reluctantly forgoing the gin.  Must lose weight, he chided himself and tried not to pull a face when he tasted the non-alcoholic drink. No gain without pain.

            No Ordinary Love,” she said out of the blue.

            “Pardon?”

            “The song. By Sade.”

            “Oh, yes, of course. I didn’t know if you’d heard.”

            “I listen, David. Do you, though?”

            He felt himself flushing under her direct scrutiny. “I try, but sometimes... well, you know how it is...”

            “I can sympathise, David. Truly.”

            “Truly?”

            “Yes, truly. Otherwise I wouldn’t be here.”

            David warmed to her. She got a divorce five years ago when her daughter Rachel was two. She really seemed to enjoy his few anecdotes about the Corridors of Power. She'd read many of the books he'd enjoyed – including C P Snow’s monumental series - and disliked the same violent, foul-mouthed films he detested.

            Her petition was to reduce the speeding throughout the county, she explained, not just her road.

Guiltily he recalled Sade's first letter - some six months back. He'd asked Joan to spike it with the others, all doubtless well-intentioned but too demanding on his precious time. He’d wanted to steer clear of controversy – until today’s Party Conference, when it seemed as though he was inspired, perhaps subconsciously recalling those spiked pleas.

She talked about her daughter – a friend was watching over her tonight, she explained.

The place was closing when he said he wanted to see her again.

Only too aware how intrusive the press could be, he suggested meeting Sade in a quiet restaurant but she turned him down. “Oh,” he said.

            “No, let’s go to the park.”

            A bit public, he thought, but shook hands on it – hers was cool and light.

            As he waved her off in the taxi, David suddenly realised that for the first time in his life he was in love. The fact that at fifty-two he was at least fifteen years her senior didn't matter. Amazingly, the attraction seemed mutual.

 ***

She was waiting for him by the lake, kneeling beside a girl of about seven with the same hair and complexion. He hailed Sade.

            “Hello, David!” she stood, hand on the girl’s shoulder. “This is Rachel.”

            He knelt on one knee and shook the girl’s cool gentle hand. “Pleased to meet you,” he said.

            “Likewise, Mr. Clement. Would you like to feed the ducks with me?” she asked, offering him a paper bag filled with pieces of bread.

            “Yes, I’d love to!”

            They spent an idyllic hour strolling by the lake, watching the ducks, geese and pelicans. They were walking along Birdcage Walk when Rachel surprised him by saying, “I’m glad they let all the birds go.”

            Seeing his confusion, Sade laughed.  “Rachel’s talking about Charles II putting an aviary along the edge here.”

            “Of course. Hence the street’s name. Silly of me,” he allowed. “I agree, Rachel, it’s much better to see the birds flying free...”

            “Free to fly into the sky!” Rachel giggled.

            “And what would you like to do when you grow up, then? Be an airline pilot, flying like the birds?”

            “Academic,” she mumbled, turning serious.

            “Good for you. An honourable profession, teaching.” He ignored the little girl’s puzzled look and left them in the park to get back to work.

***

David discovered how empty his life seemed before he met Sade and her daughter.  Although he was attracted to Sade, it wasn’t merely sexual chemistry. He’d had plenty of dalliances – discreet but short-lived, but this was something quite different.

            His secretary Joan found him at his desk one morning, pleased with himself. "I think this'll make a perfectly smooth and hopefully speedy journey through the House." He handed her the scribbled Private Member's Bill.

            "You've done the poor lady proud, sir." Sitting at her computer desk, Joan smiled sadly. "A fitting memorial to them."

            His heart lurched. "What are you talking about?"

            The truth came tumbling out. About six months ago, a week after writing her plea to him, Sade and her daughter Rachel were hit by a speeding car and killed in her road.

            "But - but that's not possible!"  He clutched at a straw. “What did you say her name was?”

            “Reveley. Sade Reveley.”

            He breathed a sigh of relief and felt his heart start again. “That’s not her, then. Same first name, I grant you, but my Sade is called Revenant.”

            “Your Sade?”

            “A petitioner I met.”  Who also happened to have a daughter called Rachel.

            “Revenant is a strange name, isn’t it?  It sounds French to me,” Joan observed while accessing an Internet search engine.

            “Yes, I said that too.”

            “Most odd,” she said.

            “What?”

            “Revenant isn’t French...”

            “Oh?” A chilly sensation skittered down his spine. He glanced over her shoulder. The definition was quite clear: A person who has returned, esp. supposedly from the dead.

            Somehow he joked his way out of the discussion. Must be a mistake.

            Days passed but Sade never kept any of their usual appointments.

            At night, by himself in the lonely apartment, in his heart he knew the truth of it. The cool touch of her hand. Always dressed in white. Her open-eyed innocence, her tinkling laugh, her loving smile... And Rachel’s behaviour made weird sense too. She hadn’t wanted to teach. She meant her future was academic now, because she didn’t have one...

            By some eerie force of will Sade had shown him, ever so eloquently, what she and her daughter had missed through being killed by a thoughtless driver - love, laughter, tenderness, the enriching of other people's lives by their very presence. All swept away. But, he vowed, not forgotten.

            Because he loved her and would strive to his dying day to make the roads safer.

            His mouth curved in the ghost of a smile. Like the song said, this was no ordinary love.

 
***

 Previously published in The New Coastal Press, 2010.

Copyright Nik Morton, 2014

 If you liked this story, you might like my collection of crime tales, Spanish Eye, published by Crooked Cat, which features 22 cases from Leon Cazador, private eye, ‘in his own words’.  He is also featured in the story ‘Processionary Penitents’ in the Crooked Cat Collection of twenty tales, Crooked Cats’ Tales.

No comments: