The thread veins in the nose were coloured every shade from both ends of the red-blue spectrum. Tiny, fine things, they were, thousands of them, along with short, tufty hairs at the very tip of the nose, which was rounded at the end, like a knob. It was a fascinating nose.
I realised that the owner of the nose was speaking to me. I still felt a bit dozy from the punch that had landed on the side of my head so I was having trouble concentrating. The owner of the nose was a policeman and he was asking me a question.
“What?” I said.
The word echoed around the bare painted walls of the room. I could hear voices coming from a corridor to my left. I could smell cleaning fluids, along with that distillation of sweat and piss and vomit that is the essence of humanity. I felt sick. The desk sergeant looked at me or, rather, he looked at the side of my face where the punch had landed. I had a feeling that it didn’t look pretty.
“Name,” he said.
“Mac,” I said. “John Macintosh.”
The policeman smiled. I sensed pity. He drew in a breath and exhaled slowly as he spoke.
“The name of the lady, sir,” he said.
“Oh. Right. Sorry. Tuppence. No, sorry, that’s her pet name. I made it up when we met at Uni. Tuppence Farthing. I thought it was funny, although she didn’t at first. Her family comes from Derbyshire, and out there tuppence is another name for… Well, anyway, her name’s Penny. Penelope Harding.”
As soon as I said it out loud I knew it was wrong. I saw the desk sergeant begin writing and I stopped him.
“No, hang on,” I said. “That isn’t her name.”
“Sir?” said the policeman. I think he had something of That Look on his face.
“She said she was married,” I said. “Harding was her maiden name but she said she was married now. She’ll have a different surname now.”
The policeman nodded. “Of course,” he said. “So what’s her married surname, sir?” he asked, scribbling out the name he’d started to write.
And then I realised how difficult this was going to be.
“I don’t know,” I said.
The policeman pursed his lips. He waited for me to say something.
“I don’t know what her married surname is.”
“Okay, sir,” he said. “Not to worry. How about her address?”
I stood there, a lemon of a man. I shook my head.
“Nope. I don’t know where she lives now, either.”
We looked at each other for a little while. He began to tap the end of his pen on the counter.
“How about the vehicle?” he said. “What kind of car was it? Did you get the registration number?”
I shook my head again.
“I was on the floor, bit out of it. The bast- the man had belted me and I was laid out on the pavement. I couldn’t focus properly. Don’t think I’m quite right even now.”
“Sir,” said the policeman, putting his pen down and leaning on the counter with both hands. “We need something to go on if we’re going to be able to help you here.”
I nodded. “Yes,” I said, “I can see that this isn’t going to be easy. But we’ve got to find her, we can’t just give up. He was breaking her head, for god’s sake!” I had a flashback, I saw the look on her face through the window of the car, just before she turned away, just before that first punch. I shuddered. I actually shuddered.
The desk sergeant folded his arms, the body language of the disengaged. “So what do you suggest we should do, sir? How exactly should we go about finding somebody that we have no name or address for, who was taken away by her own husband, in a car that you can’t describe?”
“Her husband?” I said. “Do you think he’s her husband?”
“I don’t know, sir,” he replied. “I just presumed he was from the description you gave me of the incident. Sounded to me like it was a bit of a domestic. That doesn’t make it acceptable, of course. What you described was still an assault, on you as well as on the lady.”
I think about what he’s just said and replay the scene in my mind, and I realise he is right. The dark-eyed man probably is her husband. For some reason it hadn’t occurred to me before because he was so different to me. He was a good six inches taller than I am and at least a couple of stones heavier. He was dark and I’m blond, and swarthy where I’m edging towards the pink side of pale. I began to wonder why Penny went for someone so different to me. Was he, this tall dark man, was he her real type, perhaps? Or did she go for him as a rejection of me? Maybe even hatred for me? Surely not. Surely not hatred.
“Perhaps you should go and get your injuries attended to sir,” said the policeman. “Your face seems to be swelling up.” He was looking over my head at the next person in the queue for his attention. It was like the moments after a ruck outside a pub. It’s all over now, he was saying. Nothing to see here. Move along, move along.
I put a hand to my face. It did hurt but I knew that he was just trying to get rid of me. I knew that he didn’t want to make a record of the incident. I knew why, too. He wanted me to go because he knew that there was a high probability that, if it went on the books, it’d probably just go down as yet another unsolved crime. The headline numbers for that kind of thing always looks bad for any police force, and, what with the miners strike and Hillsborough and the child exploitation rings, South Yorkshire Police looked bad enough these days. Criminal, some would say. I debated for a moment and then I realised that making him fill out a report right now would be a waste of my time as much as his.
“Yes, perhaps you’re right,” I said. “Thanks for your help.” I made a genuine effort to say it without any sarcasm. I failed.
I knew that the purple-nosed policeman was probably right, that I should go to the hospital and get myself looked at. I had a feeling that my cheekbone had been broken and my wrist was burning and swollen. But I couldn’t get what happened to Penny out of my mind and I knew that if I didn’t find her soon something bad was going to happen to her, and I couldn’t stand that. She’d already been hurt enough. I had to find her.
I wandered out of the building and sat on a low wall beside the entrance. The storm hadn’t quite gone but it wasn’t raining. It was around lunchtime and people were wandering in and out of the police station. A couple of people stopped to ask me if I needed any help but I just shook my head and said I was okay, that I was just waiting for someone. Which I suppose I was. I was waiting for me to sort myself out.
I hadn’t had a plan beyond reporting the incident to the police so that they could help me to find Penny and rescue her. As I sat there and thought about this plan I realised how stupid it was. Not only did I not know how to find her but I also didn’t know Penny herself now. Maybe this was how they were, her and her husband (I hated that word). Maybe she wouldn’t want to be rescued. I couldn’t believe that, though. She wouldn’t take that, not the Penny I knew. I remembered once how some poor bloke pinched her bum when she was in a pub. She’s only small, around five-four and maybe fifty kilos, but she turned round and slapped him so hard that he fell flat on his arse, and then, at the top of her voice so that the whole pub could hear, she warned him never to touch her again, or else.
I couldn’t imagine how she’d got into a relationship like this, or perhaps more importantly, why she’d stay in such a relationship. It was hard to believe that she’d endure something like that without good reason but it was difficult to imagine a reason good enough to keep her there. I’m not an expert on relationships though. Penny was the only girl I’d ever had what you’d call a serious relationship with. The only other relationship I’d seen close up was my mum and dad but I’d been too young to really understand what theirs was like before it all ended. I was sure they’d loved each other though. I was certain of that.
I was stuck. I didn’t know what to do and I felt like shit. So I hooked a taxi outside the police station and headed home.