He is proud to have been an old-fashioned copper, having a feeling for the beat even after he was promoted away from it. Good policing was keeping an eye out for the vulnerable and knowing who was a jack-the-lad, who was a slimy toad and who was a real hard bastard. Retirement has its easy rewards, advising pubs and clubs on the kinds of security that will satisfy the licensing authorities and keep the punters happy. But retirement is retirement. Today, as he waits to talk to a pub manager about her entertainment license, he feels his white shirt a touch too big in the collar, his dark blazer hanging looser than it did six months ago. Bacon once a fortnight now, and hardly ever a pie. ‘Cut out the smoking too, Arthur,’ his doctor had said, ‘or the diet will be a waste of time.’ He switched to a pipe and never lights it.
‘You’re always smart, Dad,’ says his daughter, ‘in your own way. Retro is in, you know. Look at you, clean shoes, tie, hanky in your pocket, what would Mum have thought?’ He wonders if his being organised gives her the excuse to come round less often. She often talks about Sylvia, and that’s a good thing he supposes. For him, the year spent wondering what might have been seems to have passed in a flash. Some people spend their whole lives imagining what would have happened if they had taken another path. He’s met them across the table in interview rooms, sad cases mostly, unable to follow their own best instincts. He’s met them across the table in the station canteen, bitter men passed over for promotion, overtaken by the force’s modern taste for smoothness and diplomacy and women.
There had been karaoke on the beach that night. Most of their fellow passengers were there, the cruise ship keeping station half a mile offshore, boats on standby to ferry them to their air-conditioned floating hotel. Sylvia had complained of being under the weather, and had announced that a cruise meant they saw too much of each other; he took the boat to the beach bar alone.
Even now he does not know whether she took to the sea or whether she followed him to land and headed off. Since that night, no sign of any kind. Either way, a voluntary exit.
Now a young woman jogs past him, past the pub, headphoned and tracksuited, in another world - except for a moment as he catches her eye and she smiles, open and friendly. ‘Only another five miles,’ he says, and she laughs.
The laugh warms him the rest of the day.