Chapter 1: Nov 1973 - Bedsit Highgate
The Police lady, woman, detective, whoever she was, finally seemed to be getting to the point. She opened her brown leather bag and pulled out a photograph which she positioned on the crumby little ‘coffee’ table that was between us.
She leaned back in the only chair in the room and I sat on the edge of my bed trying not to burst into tears. Where the hell did she get a picture of me and Joseph? Of all the pictures there were of us, why on earth was she showing me one where we are both naked!? What was the point she was getting to? I couldn’t speak for fear of embarrassing myself. There were was just too much anger and sadness welling up in me. I blinked, I looked around the room, I just wanted to get outside and walk in the woods.
“Take your time Samuel.” She leaned back looking all sorrowful.
“What is this all about?” I managed to mutter.
“I know you and Joseph were really good friends”
“Do you think I’m a Homo or something? We were only, like 11 in that picture, on the beach for Christ sake!”
Better to get angry than start crying in front of her.
“No. Calm down. You are not in trouble. I just need information and this photo is all I’ve got to get me started”
“Well its me and Joseph on the bloody beach having a skinny dip aged 11, the sun is shining and the sea is warm and alls right with the world. What the hell else do you want to know?”
I couldn’t help it then. Tears started to flow down my cheeks. I grabbed some tissues and stamped over to the window and just looked out. The attic bedsit had a great view over the back to back gardens and the houses beyond, to the tops of the trees in Highgate woods. One place I loved to go in this dirty noisy city where everyone lives on top of each other. I wished I was back in Cornwall and could just get up and walk out onto sand or cliffs and hear the sound of the sea at night as I went to sleep and not this awful racket of cars and sirens and drunks.
I took a breath and went back to sit on the bed.
I looked at the photograph. ‘Two beautiful boys on the beach 1965’ was written neatly on the margin and the signature Tate James. A bit pervy writing that on it, I thought.
We looked very happy. Arms draped around each other, chatting on about something. Me tall and skinny with short brown curly hair and Joseph a little shorter with his straight blond hair and blue eyes that you could see flashing even in a photograph.
I had no idea Tate had taken this photograph but then he always had his camera around his neck and you sort of forgot about it. Probably one of the reasons he was so famous for his photographs. They were natural, un-posed. Sometimes he set up scenes for fashion shoots and such like, but then he just told us to be normal and ignore him and everyone did just that. We were so used to him clicking away, when we sat down to eat, played a game of French cricket, mucked about in the water, we just didn’t take any notice anymore.
“Is it about Joseph? He just did one dive off the rocks too many didn’t he?”
“Its not about Joseph. As far as everyone can see that was accidental death.”
Stupid idiot. For years we had jumped off those rocks without an accident. We knew the tides, we knew all the rocks under the water, and we knew how to gauge the height of the waves for when it was safe to dive in. Then one morning the lunatic goes and dives in and cracks his head open and that’s the end, fini, finito, good night and thank you for listening.
“Its about Tate the photographer. He has been arrested entering America. He was in possession of some illegal items and I need to carry out an investigation to find out some background.”
Oh now I get it! He tried to get through customs with some of that lovely Ghanaian marijuana he was always on about. So she was after drugs. My mind started to focus up fast. My eyes flicked to the table by the window where my tobacco tin sat with a lighter balanced on top of it. Nothing illegal in there though. I couldn’t afford to buy anything for myself and found that a few drags on someone else’s joint at the weekend was all I really ever desired. I relaxed a little.
“Well I haven’t seen him for about 2 years so whats it all got to do with me?”
“I need to trace some of the people that lived at his farm. It was like some sort of commune wasn’t it? Well the local police could only identify you and Joseph. They had some other photographs that they showed the local people but all the others were people from outside that had come and stayed for a short time so there is no record of who they were. The locals knew their faces but no one knew any names.”
“Oh great so everyone in Poltowan has been goggling at mine and Joseph’s skinny bums. Weren’t there some photos with clothes on you could have used?”
“Oh sorry, no we didn’t need to show anyone else this photo. The Inspector in Poltowan knew you anyway from when Joseph died. He has been there since about 63. So the information he has given us is that Tate bought the farm in 65 and each summer groups of people would come and stay in caravans or put up tents and that went on till about three years ago.”
“Yeah he turned it into a proper campsite then and got a manager in and everything.”
“So your grandfather gave the inspector your address and that is why I am here now. I need to fill in some gaps and you are the only lead we have got.”
“So I don’t know anything about anything illegal. What are these illegal things he was found with anyway?”
“Sorry but I can’t tell you that … and look, you are not under suspicion. In fact we are not looking for other criminals. We just need to contact as many people as we can. All I can say is that his criminal activity may have effected some of the people that lived at the farm. There may be some compensation due, you won’t be getting anyone into trouble.”
We sat quietly for a moment. I realized it was quite nice having someone in my room. Since coming to London I hadn’t really had any visitors. I’d been to visit one or two people at weekends but during the week I was quite lonely really. Of course it was a ridiculous little room to live in. I chose it as soon as I saw the view. It was an attic room just like I had been used to in Poltowan but half the size and I had to do everything in it. The cooker was a little gas ring on the fire grate. Bed, chair, table by the window and telly balanced on the chest of drawers. The top drawer had food and cutlery in it and the other drawers had my clothes. Somehow I managed to squeeze in my electric guitar and amplifier and my acoustic guitar slid on top of the tiny ancient wardrobe. Not much to go in the wardrobe really apart from my precious afghan fur coat which was going out of fashion fast and a couple of pairs of colourful trousers that made a change from the jeans I wore to work.
I still had no real idea of what this whole thing was all about. Tate and his farm had been part of my summer holidays for five years. Tate was a pretty nice guy. He wasn’t a drug dealer as far as I knew. He travelled a lot though. Doing photography for newspapers and stuff. And he had something to do with an orphanage in Ghana. Maybe it was as simple as a bag of that Grass from Ghana.
She was being really friendly and I knew absolutely nothing about any criminal stuff to do with the farm so what harm would it do to tell her everything.
“So what do you want to know?”
Here follows the story of those summers. I didn’t tell the police everything but I told them enough for them to do their job.