Empire Day

James Philip

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EMPIRE DAY

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The New England Series – Book 1

ACT I – THE DAY BEFORE

Saturday 3rd July 1976

Chapter 1

Gravesend, King’s County, Long Island

It is a fact generally acknowledged that when a squad of heavily armed policeman and soldiers breaks down one’s front door, drags one out of bed – ignoring the screams of one’s wife; incidentally, I had no idea she could scream so loudly – and pins one to the floor with the muzzle of a gun to one’s head that, all things considered, it is not wholly unreasonable to conclude that one is probably in a lot of trouble.

Things calmed down a little after the initial excitement.

‘Isaac Putnam Fielding,’ a plain clothes police officer had informed me, a little breathlessly, ‘you are under arrest for suspicion of fomenting sedition.’

That had not happened lately.

What was it they said about variety being the spice of life?

I was hauled to my feet.

Sarah, my wife, had stopped screaming; we had only been married a year or so – well, in the common law sense of the term – but none of that ought to have come as much of a surprise. Our very common law ‘marriage’, I mean. She was twenty-eight years my junior, had been one of my graduate students and in the beginning at least, seemingly infatuated by my reputation for being one of, well, most of the time, the University’s only surviving dissident from the old days. That had been the attraction: Sarah was bright, ambitious, angry – and as cute as Hell – a redhead with Irish green eyes who ought to have shacked up with somebody her own age and started a family by now. Instead, she had moved in with my much-diminished brood; or as my unwanted guests would say: former ‘nest of seditious vipers’.

My father always used to say that the thing which really got his goat about the English was that they were always so ‘goddammed polite’.

My midnight guests – actually, they had come through the front door at around one o’clock that morning – had apologised to Sarah once she stopped screaming, whom a female officer had quickly guided out of the bedroom of our big old white boarded house on the rising ground on Howe Street overlooking Gravesend Bay. Then they suggested to me that I should get dressed.

‘Do I need my courtroom rig?’ I had inquired, without irony. This shit had not happened to me for a while but I remembered ‘the form’. If I got hauled up in front of a magistrate there would be photographers outside and sketch artists inside the chamber; one wanted to look one’s best for one’s public on TV and in the papers.

‘Casual is good,’ the senior cop grunted.

Everything had settled down now although I could hear methodical movement all over the house. These people were from Manhattan, the locals would have crashed about like a herd of stampeding Bison.

Two men stayed with me as I got dressed.

Slacks, a chequered shirt – twenty years ago I would have said ‘to hide the blood’ – but that was then and this was now; the rough stuff was over for the minute and the Governor of the twin-colony, formerly a High Court Judge back in the old country, took a dim view of his officials beating up on suspects. I pulled on open-toed sandals – this was going to be a long day and I might as well be comfortable – and nodded to the wardrobe before picking out an old jacket with leather elbow pads.

The cops patted down my pockets.

We all knew the drill.

These raids had been much more traumatic while Rachel had still been alive and the kids had been younger. I had got older, complacent, and Abe apart the kids had completely cut the parental umbilical cord and moved out for good.

Not that my youngest boy spent much time at home these days. He was up at college in Albany, a fourth and final-year medical student. Abe did not get on with Sarah, and basically, he only came home to catch up with his boyhood friends on high days and holidays.

I pulled on my jacket and held out my wrists.

The handcuffs clicked.

“That okay,” the younger of the two cops asked solicitously.

I flexed my hands.

“Yeah, that’s a good fit, son.”

The older of my visitors showed me his warrant card.

Detective Inspector M.R.D. Danson.

He was my age, greying at the temples with watchful grey eyes and he had kept well out of the way while his people had jumped on me.

Special Branch…

“Do you know where your son is, sir?”

“Which one, Inspector?”

Danson indicated for his sidekick to leave the bedroom, pointed for me to sit on the bed while he pulled up the chair by Sarah’s dresser and planted his obviously weary bones on it about a yard away from me.

“You know how this works, Professor,” he sighed. “We’ve never met but I’ve seen your file. You and me, we’re old school. We play the game, that way nobody really gets hurt. But what’s going to happen when I take you to Hempstead is that my boys are going to tear this place apart looking for firearms and explosives…”

“Seriously?”

“I need to know where Abe is?” Danson asked quietly, his grey eyes suddenly boring into my face.

“Abe?” I felt as dumbfounded as I must have looked. We had got of lightly with Victoria, our eldest kid, but Alexander and his brother William had both gone through phases when Rachel and I had got so fed up having the local constabulary calling we had, very nearly, thought better of our vow never to lay an angry hand upon any of our offspring.

Victoria had married a widower and lived in fashionable Clintonville on the north shore of Long Island. I did not get to see my two grandchildren very often; Vicky was probably afraid I would corrupt their innocent young minds. Her husband, John Watson, was a big man at the Brooklyn Admiralty Dockyard at Wallabout Bay, he was more or less my age but we had always got along civilly.

Alexander had gone into the twin-colonies militia straight out of school, learned to fly and led a harem-scarum life ever since. I had tried to get him to talk about his time flying scouts down in the South West; but like most veterans of the Border War he rarely spoke about what it was really like down there.

William, my middle boy, had become a real teenager after Alex went into the militia, moody, introspective and argumentative at the drop of a hat he had bummed out of school without matriculating, learned to be a mechanic doing his militia service ‘in state’ and these days worked for the Long Island Speedboat Company. So far as I knew he spent most of his free time at church – he had turned Puritan in recent years – because I had not seen him since the Christmas before last. We had had words and the sanctimonious little runt had not shown his face in Gravesend since. I ought to have felt worse about that but actually it was a relief.

But Abe…

Abe was our accidental fourth child, by six-and-a-half years the youngest, the baby of the family who had grown up to be the tallest, and by far and away the brightest addition to the Fielding brood.

Abe was the gentlest boy in the neighbourhood, bookish, shy as a kid behind his spectacles – he was a little short-sighted as a child, a thing he had grown out of – the sort of kid the girls tried to protect in the playground. Heck, the colonial militia had turned him down for service on account of his ‘eye history’ when he was eighteen, and that alleged brush he had had with rheumatic fever – which Rachel had had conveniently documented in advance – as a kid. Heck, Rachel was never going to let her third son get drafted without a fight…

“Abe?” I repeated, wondering if I had misheard. “Abe’s up at Albany studying…”

“At medical school, I know,” the detective said, completing my sentence.

There was a knock at the open bedroom door.

“It’s just the Professor and his wife in the house, guv,” a uniformed constable reported.

“Knock up all the neighbours and check out their garages, their out houses and their gardens.”

Some of this was new to me.

“Whatever this is, my wife has nothing to do with it,” I protested mildly. Detective Inspector Danson did not seem to be the kind of cop who was going to be swayed – either way – by voluble pleas or expressions of innocence.

“What do you think this is?” The other man asked.

“If you’d asked me that twenty years ago I’d have been in a much better position to assist you in your inquiries, Inspector,” I confessed ruefully. I shrugged, aware that the cuffs on my wrists were already feeling heavy. I was getting too old for this nonsense. “Nowadays, I keep my head down. What you see is pretty much what you get.”

“Tell me about Abe?”

This was getting a little surreal.

Twenty minutes ago, I had been tucked up in bed with a woman half my age doing what dirty old men like me do in a situation like that; and now…

What was I doing?

Honestly and truly, I had no idea what was going on.

I was an eccentric has-been academic who owed his tenure at Long Island College, University of New York, to the fact that every old, respected, well-endowed faculty of higher learning traditionally had at least one or two oddballs among its Fellows. At LIC I was it, a sometime Professor of Colonial Histo ...

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