"No, we're going to go to somewhere REALLY special".
In a way, Simon was getting tired of all the questions Julia was asking him, but she was his daughter, and that's what fathers have to do, isn't it. Answer questions. Well, that's what he was doing now, but no thanks to her mother. Sandra had re-married, and the new husband was a big bloke. Seriously big, & violent. Simon always felt intimidated asking her anything when that huge gorilla was in the house, so when Sandra told him she wanted sole custody it was hell trying to talk her out of it. She'd said that she wanted Jules to grow up in "stable family environment". That MUST be something she got off Oprah, he'd decided. But Sandra had him in check-mate: he hadn't any money, and without any money he was no sort of help in bringing up a small child. But he LOVED Julia. No-one could get in the way of that, could they? Even if they were that big.
The guy hated blacks, as well, which intimidated Simon even more. He'd apparently been arrested more than once for racial abuse, but never charged. That didn't really make Simon feel any more comfortable around him though.
Suddenly brought back to the present, Simon noticed a police car behind him. It wasn't directly behind or anything, and this was a busy street after all, but all the same it put his nerves on edge. Whenever he looked in his mirror, the guy seemed to be looking at him. But that was probably just paranoia. Hell, I've only ever gone 10 miles an hour over the speed limit before, and now all of a sudden I'm looking at kidnapping, he thought. How life moves on.
He soon managed to put the police car to the back of his mind, as Jules was again trying to guess where they were going. She'd already tried the park, the swimming baths, the shops, and all the other usual places.
"The Zoo! Are we going to the Zoo, Daddy?"
"We might go to the Zoo sometime soon, but we're not going there right now."
He tried not to get her worried, while at the same time not lying. He couldn't lie to her: she had the most innocent face he had ever seen in his life.
"Well where are we going NOW then, Daddy?"
Simon noticed the police car turn off.
"You'll see. Just close your eyes and try to get a bit of sleep."
He knew as soon as he'd said it that it was a feeble attempt. Julia found it difficult to sleep in cars at the best of times, and as she was very excited and didn't know where she was going it was already a lost cause.
He smiled, as out of the corner of his eye he could see her with her eyes scrunched up supposedly trying to get to sleep. Every so often she'd fold or unfold her arms, swing her legs out, or some other impatient gesture. Two minutes later she opened her eyes again.
"Was I asleep?"
But Simon was quite impressed. He'd never known her even keep her eyes shut that long before.
"I can't sleep."
"Never mind. See how many red cars you can count."
He mentally slapped himself again. This was a busy road. It wouldn't take her long to get to thirteen, or wherever she usually stopped. Well, all credit to her, she didn't stop, she just, sort of, ran out of numbers. Bless her, after she'd got there she went straight on to twenty, and pretty soon after she was on a hundred. You'd be amazed how many journeys she'd seen a million red cars on.
Examining the area for a while, she found a good place to start.
"One," she started, looking directly behind.
Simon was glancing around. The road had quietened down a bit. Maybe he'd be lucky. Looking at the car Jules had just indicated, he shivered. It had two rear view mirrors.
One of the first things his driving instructor had taught him was how to recognise under-cover police cars. He was a funny little man. Always scratching his neck. He'd often wondered whether he did this when he was driving as well, but never got round to checking. He'd taught Simon where the local speed traps were, how to avoid being stopped if the police are behind you, and lots of very useful things. Not like the boring road signs most people get taught. He'd said that police cars ALWAYS had two rear view mirrors, and when they were on duty they ALWAYS had two people in them. This car had both.
"Three, four. Daddy, do lorries count?"
Simon decided that it was time for action. He signalled very late, and turned sharply left at the next junction. The car behind, as he had suspected, carried straight on. Maybe it wasn't a police car at all.
It might just have been a couple with a nosy wife. Anyway, it was sorted now. Sandra had probably only just realised that Jules was missing. She was only supposed to collect her from school half an hour ago.
Dodging around the back streets, he wondered where to go next. He'd not really thought through the whole thing, but he suspected that they'd have to leave the country. Or maybe not. That would, after all, be what they were expected to do. He kicked himself. That way of thinking never worked in real life. If an idea looks stupid, it doesn't make it that much better if people aren't expecting you to do it. Just do what they're expecting. But a little differently. He headed towards the motorway. Well, he thought, one thing they won't be expecting is for me to drive to Manchester and get the plane from there.
The adrenaline was flowing through his veins now. It didn't matter whether or not that had been a police car, it had got him worried, and everything he did now seemed to be incriminating. When he turned into a side road, he did it too quickly: it must have been obvious he was a criminal. Just driving along, he seemed to be weaving all over the place.
"Six," said Jules, pointing over at a car showroom.
Simon took a breath. He'd completely forgotten about her for a moment. His mind had been on avoiding the police, but just stopping for that one moment brought it all flooding back in a surge of total immersion. The planning, which had involved two or three days of painful moral dilemma as to whether or not he should do it, and a couple of minutes consideration on exactly how he should do it. The outset, where he had phoned Jules' school and made up some half hearted story about his mother being very ill. He was amazed that they took it all in, but then school secretaries were easy to fool even in his day: he used to phone his school up saying how 'his son' was ill quite frequently. And then the bit walking into the school and bringing her out. That had been one of the worst feelings of his life. Obviously, she'd loved him for it, but that didn't seem to be significant for once. It was the whole thought of what he was doing, it just ... gave him the creeps. Anyway, that was water under the bridge.
She never had been very good with seven. Simon thought about correcting her, but his mind was occupied elsewhere. He turned onto the slip-road. Behind him on the roundabout he noticed a police car on one of the approach roads. He disregarded it.
As he pulled onto the motorway, he felt as though he had been lowered back down into his seat. He had relaxed tremendously, and simply let the motorway take him north.
"Nine," she said. She looked much more excited now, there were more cars. Wouldn't take her long to get to a squillion. She was looking behind the car.
"Ten." Simon's heart froze. Number ten was the same as number one. The car that he'd been worried was an under-cover police car was coming up the slip road after them. Simon sped up. This is it, he thought. This is where they find out that I am the man they're after. He reached seventy very quickly, and had no intention of stopping there. The red car was definitely following him. He put his foot to the floor and started to overtake another car on the inside. As he moved away, the passenger in the car behind put a blue light on the dashboard, and he noticed two other police cars further back in the traffic start their blue lights and overtake cars to get to him. This was it. Simon thought things over. If he went in for a high speed car chase, he'd most likely end up killing himself, but that didn't particularly bother him. The car was fast enough to outrun the police, but he probably wasn't up to driving it that quickly. He'd die, but so long as he was with the only person he loved he didn't care ...
He paused. Not physically, just mentally. He'd forgotten about Jules. His head was thrown into the biggest dilemma he'd ever faced. If he carried on going, and died, he'd be killing her too. She's got her whole life ahead of her. If he stopped, he would certainly go to jail, and would most likely not see Jules for ten years. His mind tore these thoughts apart, trying to get at the simple solution inside. But there just wasn't one. With every other car he overtook, he was putting both their lives in greater jeopardy. It was no use.
He indicated left, slowed down, and pulled on to the hard shoulder. He looked over at her as the police cars all drew up behind him.
"Is this where we're going Daddy? Where are we?".
"No, this isn't where we were going. The police men want to talk to Daddy for a little while. They'll take you home to Mummy."
Her little face, all round and red. He couldn't have done it. For all the love he felt for her, he couldn't have done that. He sat and watched as they opened the passenger door and pulled her out of the car. For a few seconds he was floating down from his adrenaline high. Then all of a sudden reality hit him. The next few years would be hell. But when he got out, he could tell her that he'd saved her life this day. He'd saved the life of the only person he'd ever truly loved.
She'd never believe him.
© Henry Bush, 2013
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