“Tea!” shouted the man opposite, his voice rising and becoming increasingly frantic.
“Tea? You offer me tea when my whole life is unravelling? Everything I’ve ever done is being erased and the best you can do is make tea? I was told you might have some idea what was happening to me!”
Frank Thomson paused for a moment, caught the man’s gaze, and then spoke. As he did he kept his voice level and spaced out his words in the way he’d been trained all those years ago.
“Mr Craig. I realise you find yourself in a difficult situation. I am trying to help but I do need you to stay calm. Would you like a cup of tea while we talk? I know I want one and I’m sure Inspector Weston would like one as well.”
With that Frank nodded towards the other man in the room – smartly dressed, mid-forties, face showing the signs of too many years in the police, too many years of late nights, arguments with the wife and dealing with the dark realities of society. Having calmed the situation down Frank stood up and went to a table at the side of his small office on which were a few clean-ish cups and a kettle that most people would have replaced years ago.
Frank caught sight of himself in a small mirror above a tap. As he filled the kettle he couldn’t help but think that he didn’t look any younger than Weston. He’d left the police some years ago, he still had plenty of late nights pursuing errant husbands or missing persons. Approaching fifty, remaining hair thinning, cheap suit, with a tired face surrounding grey-green eyes all suggested that life outside the police held little more than life inside. He’d traded a pension and a career for some freedom and money worries.
As he sorted out teabags and mugs Frank used the mirror to look across to his desk and to watch Sam Craig discretely. Sam appeared to be a perfectly ordinary white male in his late twenties. Frank filed away a mental description (police training never went away) and watched as Sam sat unable to keep still, fiddling with a pencil then looking around the room as though making sure it was still there. Although he knew that Sam had been given a mild sedative he was still cautious not to excite him.
“Why do I get all the oddballs in the whole of East Anglia popping through my office?” he thought to himself. Still, it did break up the monotony of divorce cases he mostly worked on.
Frank returned to his desk with a battered tea tray bearing a design of a large bunch of flowers on which he had placed three mugs of strong tea, one spoon and a packet of sugar with the opening part-folded.
“Help yourselves to sugar,” he said as he sat.
While Sam took two sugars, Frank picked up a biro and started to summarise his notes.
“So; twelve days ago you, your wife Angela, three year old son Daniel and one-month old son Timothy were on a family outing to Hunstanton?”
“That’s right,” agreed Sam. “Angela’s parents live near and we thought we’d have lunch on the beach. Everything was fine.”
Frank continued, “You set off for home around 3:15 pm and drove on no particular route towards Ely where you and Angela live.”
Frank paused and looked straight at Sam.
After a short pause Sam answered, “We lived there two weeks ago, with Dan and Timmy. Now I don’t know. The kids have gone, Angela doesn’t know me and she’s married to an accountant in Huntingdon. It doesn’t make any sense.”
With that Sam shook his head, then put his hands to his temples and rubbed his face as though trying to massage away a migraine.
Frank supped his tea waiting for Sam to continue. After counting to twenty with no further input, Frank returned to his summarising.
“You stopped in a layby near an old church, now out of use, near the village of Hilgay. There you stopped to change Timothy’s soiled nappy and you went in search of a bin to dispose of said nappy. You wandered around the church until you found somewhere suitable then returned to the location where you had parked your vehicle. Finding it gone you called Angela on your mobile phone to find she was at home in Ely where she said she had been all day. Eventually she drove to collect you and it was shortly afterwards that you discovered that you had only one son and the baby you mentioned did not, in fact, exist.”
Sam shook his head then spoke.
“That’s what seemed to have happened. Yet I remember Angela being pregnant, the hospital, Timothy’s birth. Everything. Only it hadn’t happened.”
Frank made some more notes then continued with his summary.
“You went to A&E then were referred to several specialists. You took time off work, were scanned and no cause was found. Diagnosed with stress you were signed off work and prescribed various medicines. By this time though your son Daniel also ceased to exist?”
Sam sobbed his reply.
“And Angela had no memory of either child, there were no child’s toys, photos or any other signs they had existed? No relatives had any memory?”
“No. Only me. Only I remembered any of them.”
“You went back to the church looking for any explanation and by this time you found you didn’t live in Ely and nor were you married to Angela. Her number was no longer in your phone and your driving license gave an address in Royston.”
As Frank made each statement Sam nodded and slumped deeper into his seat. Frank looked across at Inspector Weston and raised his eyebrows as if to ask why Sam had been brought in. The Inspector in return shrugged then moved his seat nearer to the desk before joining the conversation.
“I know this isn’t a normal case but I thought you might have some ideas given some of the other things you get involved in.”
Frank made a mental checklist – UFOs, alien abductions, fairies, ghosts and other strange stories were not unknown. He blamed the University and something in the air but he did get more than his fair share of what his ex-colleagues in the force used to call nutters. Most of them were deluded or attention seeking (or drunk) but just occasionally there was more to it. Frank was baffled though as to how he could help Sam who was almost certainly suffering a breakdown.
Frank turned his attention to the Inspector who had, over the years, been himself involved in several strange events that he had been called in to help resolve.
“Why was that?” Frank asked.
“We took Mr Craig into custody last evening for assault,” answered Weston. “He claimed that the gentleman he assaulted, a Mr Rogers, had stolen his wife. When questioned, Mrs Angela Rogers had no recollection of ever knowing Mr Craig. The duty Doctor had already prescribed sedatives and suggested Mr Craig should be referred to a specialist.”
He took another sip of tea then carried on.
“During this time Mr Craig made many claims that couldn’t be validated including that he had been arrested two other times in the past week. We have no records of Mr Craig until this alleged assault yet he has knowledge he could only get from being inside our station – names of officers, locations of toilets, colour of the carpet in the interview room and so forth. Not being able to calm Mr Craig down I suggested we visit you.”
Frank considered the facts and sat back in his seat. Clearly this was a strange story but a breakdown made the most sense. Maybe Sam had been in the station for some wholly legitimate reason recently and added details into his clearly fabricated memories. Frank didn’t think Sam was lying, just badly deluded.
“Sam,” he said. “You think your life is being erased fact by fact? Your children, wife, job, school records in fact everything. You seem physically fit if overwrought. No signs of injury or other trauma. Do you think someone or something is doing this to you? Do you have any enemies?”
Frank didn’t expect anything to come from his question and Sam obliged by shaking his head.
“It just makes no sense. I want my life back. I know the doctors think it’s a rare form of amnesia but it’s real.”
Frank sensed that Sam wanted to get angry again driven by his frustrations. A thought occurred to him.
“Sam, when were you born and where?”
“August 12th 1985 in Colchester. Why?”
Frank didn’t answer at once but logged into the computed on his desk and typed briefly before turning the screen to face across the desk.
“There you are, one S Craig born in Colchester in August 1985 in the public birth records!”
Frank turned his attention away from the screen and looked across his desk to an empty chair. He had a strange sense of déjà vu and looked all round his empty office searching for something forgotten.
“Old age I expect!” he said to the empty room. He turned his attention to his desk and noticed his computer screen was on. One of his staff must have been looking something up in the public birth records. Frank read the details out loud to himself.
“S Craig, Colchester, 1985. No records found.”
He turned his attention to the newspaper on his desk and waited for his next case.
Illustration: Rylan Cavell