Written by Leah Nichols
He heard the creak of the door opening behind him and footsteps on the wooden, polished floor, William turned and set eyes on a very familiar face.
'John, very good to see you again.'
John Swarbeck Gregory had been the Bankes’ family solicitor for as long as William could remember and he had come to regard him as a loyal, dedicated friend. John was older than the middle aged William but had every single sense expertly trained, grey hair that was thinning at the top and eyes that never stood still, always looking, observing.
'Mr. Bankes, always a delight to be of service,'
'Come now, John, do call me William, I think we have been through enough together to dispense with regular formalities,' William said smiling.
He took William’s hand and shook it without, William noticed, a sympathetic smile.
'As you wish, William,' replied the genteel gentleman. He took a seat at the large, varnished oak table that stood proudly in the centre of the room, placed his leather briefcase on the table, opened it and took out a file and began to sort through its contents.
The room around them, that once gave out so much light, was now seemingly darker than William remembered from his youth. The weather outside reflected how William felt. Rain fell from the grey sky and hit the full-length windows with unrelenting rage. This was a far cry from the days when he would play in the greenest of grass with his brother and sister. The sun was shining, it always seemed to shine back then. The birds were singing to him and his siblings as they ran around the grounds chasing each other. Young William was so full of life, a well liked boy and, although she never said it, his mothers favourite. Back then, the only thing he was worried about was getting grass stains on his clothes.
William paced around the room. He had his hand to his mouth, resisting the temptation to bite his nails.
'Mr. Bankes,' said John weakly.
'William,' William insisted.
'William, I’m so sorry but reading the charges against you and the statements given, I’m afraid there won’t be much we can do this time.'
'is massively different this time?' asked William skeptically. John nodded his head and looked at the floor.
'Yes of course, but there are reasons why I decided to take the case, William.'
William’s heart dropped to his stomach, he gave way to temptation and started chewing his fingernails. He knew he had taken the case last time because his father had paid him a substantial amount but he was glad to have a familiar, friendly face on his side.
'What can be done?' asked William. His voice was shaking with complete fear.
John Gregory sorted through the mountain of papers in front of him with a solemn expression on his face.
After a cruel silence, John broke it with a massive sigh.
'Mr... William, now is the time you are honest with me.'
William looked at his friend. His eyes were gentle and William knew he wanted to help. He had to be honest; this was the one person he knew would be on his side.
'Are the charges against you true?' asked John.
William stood there, looking his friend dead in the eyes and slowly nodded his head. He felt the shame rise in him. The knot in his stomach grew tighter. His eyes left the kind man’s face and sank to the floor
'Okay, you understand that this puts us in a massively difficult position, an MP being charged with something such as this.'
William nodded again.
'So everything this report says,' John said, waving a sheet of paper, 'is completely true?'
William went to the table and took the sheet of paper and began to read the statement. He sat down. His eyes were filling with tears as he read. Everything the sheet of cursed paper said was true. When he had finished reading, he pushed the paper back towards John and put his head in his hands.
'So the best case scenario is possibly 10 years.'
'Worst case?' William asked. He leaned back in his chair and ran his hand through his once fiery red hair.
'I don’t really want to focus on what could happen, lets just deal with what we have,' said John but the look they shared said they both knew that if he got the full force of the law, William John Bankes would only be a memory that would be soon forgotten.
'I was acquitted of all charges,' said William. Last time this happened they dropped all charges against me.'
'Only because there wasn’t enough evidence,' reminded John. 'This time you were arrested, you even gave a false name at the station.'
'I was terrified! I was so scared,' declared William, 'I was only too aware of the trouble I would be in.' William stood up and moved to the other side of the room to give himself distance between himself and this sordid situation.
John put his pen down, pushed his papers aside.
'How did Mr. Bankes react?' he asked, 'He is a very reasonable man.'
'My father came to see me at the station,' explained William.
William sat in that cold police station, hair unkempt, clothes unclean and a reputation potentially in ruins. Again. William’s hands were shaking, his breathing was heavy. The heavy door of the room creaked open to reveal a young man in a uniform.
'Your father is here,' said the blonde police officer. William nodded slowly.
'I’ll show him in,' the officer left the room without another word.
This is what scared him the most. His powerful father. William didn’t know how he was going to react and that terrified him. He never wanted this to happen but he never had a chance to express himself. He knew he was different but he never understood why until recently.
The old door creaked a second time and an elderly gentleman entered, the walking stick hitting the floor. Henry Bankes was an elderly man with silver hair that was still as thick as a horse’s mane. He was as tall as William, the same strong jaw-line but his eyes were deeper, Henry was a strong, hearty man but nothing would have prepared him for his own son’s arrest.
'William,' he said.
'Papa, thank you.'
'What for?' he asked. he sat opposite William but not once did he look at him
'For coming to see me. I’m so scared,' said William
'With good reason,' said Henry 'Oh god William, what happened?'
William sighed and shook his head. He hadn’t planned on telling anyone what he was doing in Green Park last night.
'I didn’t mean for it to happen,' explained William 'I wasn’t expecting to…'
'I know you didn’t,' said his father, 'But you were apprehended and arrested, they don’t arrest people without a cause, William,' his father would look at everything but him and yet he spoke so gently.
'And what happens now?' asked William.
'Oh, my boy,' said Henry. 'The unknown is always scary,' William nodded, he had to agree, there was nothing worse than not knowing what the future held. When William travelled to Egypt in his younger days, he made sure he knew every movement of every day so he could plan ahead of time.
'You told me when I was younger that you could only win a game of chess if you planned moves ahead of time,' said William
'The same applies in life,' said Henry, 'I remember.'
'I’m so sorry Papa, I can’t win this.'
The dreary, golden room snapped back into focus. The calling of his name wrenched him back from the past like a fish being reeled in on a hook.
'Is everything okay, William?' asked John.
'Yes, sorry, I was miles away,' he shook his head and made his way back to the table.
'I assume your father was supportive even though he doesn’t fully understand?'
William snorted, in response.
'The only person who hasn’t completely disowned me or treated me like I have the black death has been Ann,' said William.
William’s sister was the best support anyone could need. She didn’t shy away from him after the news came out. The family had made sure that if there was any risk of this being in the press that it was quickly accosted as to avoid further damage. His father and brother had been scouring the papers endlessly on a daily basis.
'We try to keep the details away from her of course but she’s a smart girl.'
John walked to the metal drinks trolley and poured two large cognacs.
'You have a wonderful family here, Billy,' he said, passing the larger measure to William.
'Do you know something? It tears me up inside that this house, my family and my reputation will be ripped away from me,' said William.
'I cannot imagine how you are feeling right now, after everything you’ve done,' said john as he shook his head, 'but you need to be positive.' William took a large gulp of his drink.
'You know, when I was younger, I never dreamed my life would turn out like this,' said William, 'My mother was so good to me when I was growing up, I remember once she had a party and she sent Ann and Henry to bed and I was so defiant, I refused,' he remembered, 'I stayed up late into the night, dancing with mother’s friends. Mother told me I was the life of the party,' The two friends sat there in the comfortable silence, drinking their drinks as William smiled at the past.
'Your family have been a big part of my life, and never have I met another woman like your dear mother, William,' said John, 'She has loved you more than anyone.'
'She has, I know it,' William conceded.
'And she will continue to love you, through all of this, she hasn’t deserted you yet and she never will.'
'As for Ann, never have I seen a sister more devoted to her brother,' said John fondly.
'It cannot be this bad!' shouted William. He had been patient long enough. This unknown was unbearable, and in all this he was losing sight of the severity of the issue.
'William, look, what happened wasn’t technically legal.'
'It should be!' declared William.
John set down his papers, looked at William with a look that he didn’t recognise. William could feel heat rising within him. He was way beyond the realms of feeling sorry for himself. The anger at the injustice of it all was sickening to him. But it didn’t seem sickening, William noticed, to his ‘dear friend’ at the table who was meant to be defending him.
'It shouldn’t! Why is it that men can commit their perfectly sane wives to an asylum from hell, treat them appallingly, beat them, emotionally slaughter them and nothing is ever said against them! But yet a gentleman takes his chance in the dark…'
'And face possible incarceration, when I didn’t hurt anybody!' he finished. He looked out of the window at the sodden grass below. John stood up and walked over to William.
'I am so sorry you are going through this, truly.'
William looked at the aging man that stood beside him and placed his hand on his shoulder and gave him a small, tired smile. He meant well.
'I will do my best to help you, I swear I will.'
'What do you know?' William snapped 'Have you ever dealt with a case like this before?'
'I’m trying to…'
William didn’t want anyone telling him it would be okay, he didn’t want sympathy. He wanted justice and acceptance. The thought of other men feeling this agonising, deep -rooted fear repulsed him.
'How many men like me will be in the same position?' William demanded 'How many more men will suffer at this? How many great minds will perish because of how they naturally feel?'
William went to sit down in one of the matching oak chairs. He sat there in silent contemplation while John looked on at his friend with a heavy heart.
'It doesn’t look good,' said William finally.
'Tell me what happened that night William and we can see, there may be something we can do.'
'You said yourself! I gave a false name, I panicked, I begged them to keep my name out of it if I ran away.'
John was looking down at the table in front of him with his hands placed firmly on the top. As he listened to William, he knew John felt out of his depth with this case but John was the only one he could think of who would even consider helping him.
'The charges against you will be crimes for a long time to come,' explained John. 'Now, what happened? From your point of view, tell me your side.'
The moon was shining high above London in the early hours of the morning when William was strolling through Green Park at ease and taking in the crisp, morning air. The grass was damp and people were talking as they passed him by. As it grew darker, William began to see men in uniform wandering around the park. He was smiling at each of them to gauge their reactions. Then he found him. When William smiled, he returned it. He looked at the young man. He was taller than William, had lovely blonde hair and opal blue eyes. His smile made Williams heart beat faster.
'Evening, sir,' said the young man.
'And to you,' said William, smiling his dashing smile.
'What brings you to this area at such a late hour?' enquired the soldier.
William started to walk towards a clump of nearby trees and the solider obligingly walked in step with him.
'Oh nothing particular, but I thought something I like may happen by me,' said William.
'And has it, Sir?' the young man was walking so close next to William and he didn’t try to protest. Why would he? He was getting older, so if a younger, attractive man wanted to make him happy for a while, William didn’t see anything wrong with that, he was willing to indulge again if the opportunity arose.
'I should say so yes,' he replied.
As they neared the trees, they went behind them but after what seemed like no time at all, they were interrupted.
'And what is going on?' came a strong voice. The soldier ran before he could be accosted or even look to see who asked the question, William tried to run, his clothes a mess, his shirt untucked and his trousers loose. This was a factor added with his age that stopped him from achieving a speedy escape. He suddenly felt a hand on his shoulder. He was horrified to see it was an officer of the law, his heart fell to the floor.
'You’ll have to come with me sir,' he said, 'I am arresting you on suspicion of indecent exposure.' William started to panic, the fear was setting in but this was the real, gut wrenching fear he had never felt before.
'William,' said John 'Let’s think about the best way to come to this.'
William snapped out of his daze and was suddenly listening intently.
'Yes?' he said eagerly.
'There is only one thing I can think of that has pros and cons on both sides,' John stood up and walked to the window and looked down onto the grounds.
'What is it? At this point I’ll do anything to make this go away,' William joined his friend at the window and looked at him with expectant eyes.
'Run,' he said solemnly.
William’s heart skipped a beat at the sound of the word. Every reason to not do this flashed through his mind: the family home, the amount of work that he had spent so many years developing, his artifacts but most importantly, his beloved sister. How could he just leave her?
'If you run, Billy, you will be beyond British law,' explained John, speaking with such a calming, almost paternal tone.
'But, if you run, everything you own will be forfeited.' he said.
William stood still, the room around him swirled. It seemed to fade, John’s face in front of him became blurred and unfocused. He felt his body grow heavier, his knees buckled, he could hear the blood rush to his ears with an ear splitting buzzing. He could feel the weight of his body falling when suddenly, hands wrapped around his waist and allowed him to fall carefully to the floor.
William opened his eyes and sat up. He was still on the floor and his body felt cold. He looked around and saw John was sat at the large table scouring through different papers, reading sections, casting them aside and reading another with such aggravation.
'John,' said William weakly. John looked up, saw William and instantly took to his side.
'Billy,' he said calmly 'Thank god you’re okay,' William observed John and saw he was smiling at him with relief. It reminded him of the way his father used to when he was growing up. William resisted the urge to hug the man beside him for a moment of comfort.
'There is something we can do, Will,' said John, helping William to his feet and both men took a seat at the table.
'If we sign everything over to your brothers, the courts cannot touch it if you run.'
'Yes,' replied John.
'All of my artefacts?'
'Everything, William.' William had so much work he still wanted to carry out on the house, the grounds. He knew all too well his brothers wouldn’t take as much are of the place has much as he did. His younger brother would send things back and keep the money, he was sure of that. Every negative scenario was going through his head.
William thought for a second, ran a tired hand through the greying hair. He knew there wasn’t much choice.