The Disgraced Prince
A story by Guy Martyr
A solitary figure walks up an access alley to the shed doors entrance of a groundworks and drainage-maintenance depot. The doors are open, the day is cold. Three men inside, gathering for the day’s work, are standing round a gas heater.
The arrival knocks; the men have looked up already.
“Yes?” said one of them.
“Are you with a scheme?” said a second.
“Community Service?” said the third. “We’ve nothing down on the list today.”
This may have sounded presumptuous, if not for the dejected appearance of the person at the door. His clothes were not old, or dirty, or worn, but he presented a figure lost to the self, a human in hibernating function, animated only by guilt, or shame.
“I just want to work here?” . . . said the figure, looking at the floor.
“We’ve got no paid positions - it’s volunteers only” replied one.
“The work isn’t always very nice” said another, acknowledging something refined in the arrival’s demeanour.
“Not very nice at all in winter” completed the third, retrieving some recognition-information from a recess of his memory.
“I don’t mind” said the new person.
“How many days do you want to work?”
“We don’t work weekends.”
“You can start by loading the van - the boys’ll show you what goes in” said the apparent foreman. “Do we know you? . . .” he added. The air of familiarity was beginning to clear.
The applicant mumbled incoherently.
“You’re . . .”
“Prince David . . .”
“The Disgraced Prince . . .”
“Yes . . .”
“Put the picks and shovels in, two barrows, rakes, a couple of forks, saws, shovels, grappling chains with drag hooks. You’ll need wellies, and gauntlets. You might want a mask. Have you got your lunch?” One of the gang directed the prince.
“Don’t you want to know where we’re going? What we’re doing today?” he said, in the cab of the van-pick-up.
“No . . .” And out of the yard they drove, past the sign that read: ‘Municipal Department of Public Amenity Maintenance’ and underneath in jaunty script: ‘We tackle anything’.
There was some low chat among the three in the front seats: normally it was more animated; but with ‘him’ on the seat behind the atmosphere felt stilted.
It was a very cold day. The men stamped up and down when they got out of the cab. Pete, the foreman, split them up: “You and the prince start at the bottom, I’ll start up there with Dave.”
“Two Dave’s - that’ll never do” said Lorro. “You’ll be Prince Dave, then” he went on.
“Er . . . yes, all right . . . David . . .” said the prince.
“Come on King Dave” said Pete.
Lorro took the prince to their end of the ditch. It was marked by a substantial metal grille, where the stream entered a culvert.
“You have to get down there and pull all the vegetation and everything away from the grille. Then we’ll work our way back up the stream.”
Without a murmur the newcomer clambered down into the gully, avoiding the stream in the bed as far as possible.
He worked hard all morning. When the gang stopped for a tea break he was slow to come up. The same at lunch.
“What’ve you two been talking about?” asked a curious Pete.
“Nothing much,” said Lorro “but he’s good at identifying trees from the branches he pulls out of the brook.”
Then, when Prince David came out of the gully, he said “We usually swap over after lunch.”
“I don’t mind carrying on in the ditch” the prince replied.
“Suits me, if it suits you.”
When they piled back into the yard later in the afternoon, and had cleaned and stacked the tools, Pete approached their new member.
“You’ll be back tomorrow?”
“Yes” he said. “Every day.”
He was. Next morning, quarter to eight, at the yard. By Wednesday he was walking across to the job sheet on the wall, and starting to pick out the appropriate tools without being told.
Pete and the gang began to admire their new friend. He took things, and people, as he found them; worked hard; made no demands. He didn’t complain at the dirtiest work. They’d all done a bit of research by now; it had been all over the news for ages at the time, but the details had faded. What was he supposed to have done? Was it something to do with tax, bribes, sex, drugs, cruelty? Was the past coming to accuse? Had he ever admitted? Not admitted?
Better appraised of the facts, as available online, the gang nevertheless warmed to their new friend, especially when photographers started to hang around the depot, once word had got out that the Disgraced Prince was working there.
During his first few days he had strolled to the yard, having asked his driver to let him out on the other side of the park. He didn’t feel a grand arrival in a chauffeur-driven car was fitting for his new estate. He also found the long, empty, slow walk somehow cleansing; and he needed to wash some corners. They are perhaps the same corners as we all have, but for being a prince, so writ large, very large. He acknowledged the pain he had caused to many, who had believed in him, including of course his family: his near family, and, for being a prince, his extensive wider family.
His wife had been forgiving, understanding; and when he left saying he should be alone she was tearful, but quiet and thinking of the children.
But when he had to start to push his way through a gaggle of persistent photographers and reporters, Pete suggested they arrange to pick him up on the way to their job in the morning.
Prince David worked really hard. True to his word, he turned up every day, five days a week, and gave his all to any task allotted to him and the team that day. He didn’t shy away from any nasty job: he would be down in the ditch, cleaning out the fouled drains, digging away the agglomerations of detritus and silt.
After a few weeks the press attention largely faded away. Prince David had now found a way to walk to the depot from the far side of the railway lines, across a service bridge and onto the old shunting track, which took him out round the back of the depot. Pete took to leaving the back door un-locked so David could quietly enter and start the day’s preparations.
Prince David spoke little; he was polite enough, but didn’t engage in any chat or banter. Pete, Dave and Lorro accepted this, unusual though it was. They began to ‘share’ the prince around: “You need a quite morning, Lorro; you’re with the prince. Me and Dave’ll be talking about last night’s footie, if you need us.”
“What do you think he’s on about?” Dave spoke to Pete and Lorro one day.
“He doesn’t look happy.”
“I think he’s trying to make up for it.”
“He’s been here a few weeks now. I wonder how long it’ll take . . .”
“I shouldn’t think he’ll be here that long. Probably till it all blows over” said Pete.
“My wife thinks they should’ve locked him up” said Lorro.
“We don’t really know what he did” said Pete. “It was settled out of court. We just got what was put out in the news. Look, guys, you’ve been great since this all started. Really helpful, understanding, and everything. Just keep it up a little bit longer, OK? He’s not a bad sort of bloke . . .”
“Yeah, no worries” said Dave.
“Fine” said Lorro.
One morning the team was called to clear out a culvert grille in a brook running alongside a large playing field. It had been raining heavily for days, and the ground was sodden already. Here and there across the expanse of playing fields a game of football was being attempted by teams from local schools. Youngsters were engaged in a cross country run, in a straggling line around the expanse.
“Right, two up, two down” said Pete.
The prince took himself straight down into the brook without being asked. Dave went down too. They started pulling branches and vegetation from the grille, and passing the stuff up for Pete and Lorro to carry aside.
The rain got heavier. Soon Dave and the prince were finding it hard to pull all the arriving debris out of the ditch and keep the brook flowing.
“If it floods, it’ll get into the houses across the road” called Pete to his lads.
“We need more help” shouted Dave. “It’s coming up really quickly!”
Indeed it was: the stream was swelling now almost visibly, and the volume of branches being washed down was building faster than they could remove them. “Pete, it’s no
good . . .” yelled Dave shortly.
“He’s gone the van to phone!” shouted back Lorro. “You better get out of there . . .”
Seemingly oblivious to all this, the prince was up to his thighs in the rushing water, still pulling matter off the grille.
“Come on David,” said Dave, pulling at the prince’s arm, “this is no good. We’ve got to go back up.” Dave started to trudge up the bank. He turned at the top, surprised to see the prince not following, but static, and peering away, his attention fixed up the stream. He was being pummelled by fierce water and sticks and branches, but did not flinch. The water was nearly up to his waist.
“What’s the matter?” called Dave.
The prince pointed up stream, and shouted something; but Dave could not hear him.
“Lorro, come here. There’s something going on!”
The prince was starting to stride up the current: a bow wave was forming at his chest; his strength and determination to keep upright must have been huge.
Dave and Lorro, and now a running back Pete looked up stream, along the brook: approaching in the swell, seventy five yards off, was the flailing form of one of the young runners, helpless in the current.
“Quick” said Pete, starting to run along the bank, leading the way. “Lorro, get the rake!”
Lorro broke off and ran back to the van. Pete and Dave ran down to the stream edge, twenty yards ahead of the prince.
The child was being tossed about, powerless in the water, an arm or a leg cast upwards in the tumbling rush. They would be drowned, or dashed by a branch, or pinned to the pile on the grille until the end. As the child, now evidently a girl, came closer to Pete and Dave they waded in to the edge of the torrent and stretched out their arms. Pete caught her, but she slipped from his grasp; then Dave made a grab and held her arm, until she was wrenched away again. Dave momentarily saw the fear in her eyes, as he looked helplessly after her rag doll form being taken by the charging brook.
Now she approached the prince. He stood like a bear; he was endowed with mighty strength. The water drove into him, urging him to fall, chasing round him in volcanic eddies; but he held firm. The girl approached at the speed of the rushing stream: the prince put out his arms and grabbed, and held any limb of the tumbling body, and did not let go and lifted her above the water. Pete and Dave were now at his side and Lorro appeared with the rake to make a safe hand-hold to shore. They carried the girl to the bank between all their arms, then helped each other out of the brook. Wordless, they picked her up and climbed to the top of the ditch.
People were arriving, running over, the girl’s classmates, teachers, football players following the commotion. Dave, Lorro and Pete laid the girl down on the grass, and bent over her. She was lifeless. Some classmates called her name. Some cried. Other bystanders stared, unbelieving or uncomprehending. Pete looked at Lorro and Dave: “Have you called an ambulance?” “Yes” someone said. “What do we do?” he asked, gently shaking the girl’s shoulders.
A teacher knelt down, crying, and gasped “Oh Sophie! . . .”
Her colleague stepped forward, saying hesitantly “I have done a first aid course . . .”
Then the prince was there, kneeling down and gently talking to the girl, pinching her ear lobes to see if she responded, opening her mouth to check her airway, putting the side of his face close to her mouth to see if she were breathing. “Not breathing” he said, quite quietly, and began compressing her chest repeatedly at a fast rate. He stopped, tilted her head back, opened her mouth and brought his mouth to hers giving her some breaths. The crowd was silent. A sob was heard. The teacher kneeling pleaded softly “Come on Sophie . . .” The prince started more chest compressions. Then more breaths. Pete looked at Dave and Lorro. Dave shook his head slowly. Lorro knelt down on the other side of the girl to the prince. A siren sounded. “Can I help?” asked Lorro. The prince looked exhausted. “Do compressions” he said. “Like this, quickly, about thirty.” Lorro placed his hands together on the girl’s chest and started the work. The prince stopped him, and tried a few more breaths. “Nothing!” called someone. More people cried. The teacher wailed “Sophie! . . .”
And Sophie spluttered, and coughed up water, and gasped for breath. The teachers came and grasped her. The prince urged them back and began to place Sophie in the recovery position. The ambulance crew entered the throng with a stretcher and much business.
The prince stood up to give them space to work.
Pete, as shell-shocked as the other onlookers, managed a brief conversation with the paramedics: “They’ve done CPR and mouth-to-mouth . . .”
The more detached teacher started guiding the children away, with other teachers from the football: “Come on now, give her some air. No need to crowd in . . .”
The prince was by now backing away slowly through the crowd. One or two onlookers stared as he went past. Someone said “Isn’t that Prince David?” A few more heads turned. A ripple of applause gathered pace. Then the prince was gone, back sitting in the van. The rest of the gang were behind.
“No one leave when we get back” said Pete, “I’ll have to fill in an incident report.”
As they drove out of the parking area a few people held their mobile phones up to film the occupants of the cab.
There was a little splash on the local TV news, among wider reports of flooding brought on by heavy rain and sodden ground. But by next morning national press had picked it up, with some angling the story as ‘Disgraced Prince Turns Hero’, and showing some hasty and indistinct photos of the prince doing CPR, then sitting in the van as it left the site. But interest really started growing later in the day, when distant and shaky video footage appeared, culled from social media, of a person, recognisably the prince, plucking the girl from the water. TV news crews descended on the playing fields, the local area, and the depot, looking for evidence, speaking to local residents, trying to find eye witnesses. The team had been far out during the day, on the edge of the patch, clearing a brook that ran beside a sheltered housing complex, and had not picked up the news until Lorro, scrolling through some social media in the van on the way back said “You better look at this” and held up his phone to show the clip of the prince in the torrent, and the girl being given CPR, and then reporters swarming all over, outside the depot.
So they were ready for the throng when they pulled up at the yard. But no-one could be ready for that huge crowd: reporters, TV crews, onlookers. For ages they couldn’t get into the yard because people were in front of the gate.
“Dave, Lorro, get out and clear the way will you?” said Pete from the driver’s seat. “I’d keep low” he said to the prince.
Cameras and microphones were being held up to the cab; flashes going off.
Pete turned to the prince in the back, as they were edging forward, and said “I don’t expect you want to get out and talk to them?”
Dave and Lorro did their best to clear a path, and the van eventually made it into the yard.
“What’re we going to do, Pete?” asked Lorro. The reporters were clamouring at the gate, peering and photographing through the bars.
“Just carry on as normal. You two wash the van out here. David, you can put the tools away inside. I might have to check some stuff with you all for the Incident Report.”
After a while Dave and Lorro looked round the corner. “Are we OK to go now, Pete?”
“Will you be all right?”
“Yeah. See you tomorrow.”
But after a minute they came back in.
“It’s no good, Pete” said Lorro. We can’t get out. They’re asking all these questions.” “Because you’re heroes” said Pete, then “I’m going to ring the office. This is ridiculous.”
“Me?” said the prince.
“No; you’re OK. All that lot camped out there . . . How are you going to get away?”
“I’ll have to phone for a car . . .”
Pete’s bosses decided the best way to defuse the situation was to hold a press conference. Then they’d all hopefully go away. Next morning Pete, Dave and Lorro were inside the depot being briefed by the press officer. “Just keep your answers short and factual. They’ll probably concentrate on the prince anyway.”
There was the same bedlam outside; and now the press and TV crews were being allowed in by Police and security to take up post in front of the table, which had been set up outside for the conference.
“All right” said the press officer, and led the team out. Immediately flashes erupted. The lads recoiled for an instant, then sat down: Pete in the middle, beside an empty chair, with Dave and Lorro either side, and the press officer sitting at the end. The team looked at each other, uncomfortable before the phalanx of cameras and people.
“We’re just waiting for the car . . .” said the press officer, at which a big car proceeded slowly into the yard. One of the front doors opened, and a man got out and opened a rear door. The prince got out, looking unnaturally hesitant, considering he was used to this kind of attention of old. Camera flashes went off at every footstep the prince took on his way to the table. When he was seated, the press officer began: “Thank you all for coming. Prince David and his colleagues are available to answer questions on the rescue of the girl on Flattering Fields two days ago. Questions on any other matters will not be considered. Please state your name and organisation before your question.
Yes? . . .”
“Julia Sampson, ITV News. This is to Prince David . . . Your Royal . . . er, Prince David, how does it feel to be a hero again?”
The question was put with a smile; but he wondered what was coming next.
“I just did what anyone would have done, I’m sure.”
“I don’t think just anyone would have had that strength, in that torrential water. Did you feel you had to prove something?”
“My only thoughts were for the girl.” Cameras whirred, and flashes lit in a dazzling array.
“But after your disgrace, you must have felt . . .”
“We have to keep to the rescue only. Thank you Julia. Now, the next? . . . Yes, John?” interjected the press officer.
“John Burrows, BBC news. I’d also like to address the prince. Sir, does your stature as a hero fit in with your fall from grace? How do you think victims will feel, if their tormentors are held in high regard?”
“We need to keep to the rescue, John” interjected the press officer.
“How was it you decided on this line of work?” the reporter tried.
“I’m sorry John. Just the rescue.”
The press conference went on in this vein. All questions were being directed to the prince. The press officer tried: “Do we have any questions for the rest of the team?”
Pete, Dave and Lorro shifted a bit uncomfortably.
“Sally Bower, Woldestone Advertiser. Pete” she said, introduced by the sign on the table “what did your wife think when you told her you had a famous workmate?”
“My wife?” said Pete.
The press conference proceeded through the choppy waters. When the questions threatened to go back to the prince’s background, or his reasons for being there, the press officer steered it back to the matter in hand. At a certain point the press officer looked at her watch, then interjected after an answer: “There will be a short pause in the proceedings now, while . . .” She stopped, and looked towards the gate to the yard. A black people carrier with tinted windows drove in at a measured pace, and stopped. All heads turned. Cameras turned. Pete, Dave and Lorro looked at each other, puzzled. The prince maintained his unwavering forward gaze.
The doors slid open and some adults got out, and after them a teenage girl. They made their way to the table, guided by the minders of the conference. The girl was ushered to sit in the chair next to the prince, with her parents and a teacher standing behind.
The press officer took up the proceedings again: “We have been joined by the young lady who was rescued from the brook that day. Her name is Sophie . . .” Cameras exploded into life “and she asked to meet the prince, and the rest of the team, to thank them in person.” More camera action. Sophie smiled diffidently. Pete, Dave and Lorro looked embarrassed. The prince turned and smiled briefly at Sophie.
“Would you like to say anything, Sophie?” asked the press officer.
She looked at her mother, who smiled. Shyly she spoke: “I wanted to thank the men who saved me.” She looked across at Pete and the team, and at the prince. “Thank you” she said, and laughed a little. Pete, Dave and Lorro all smiled, if a little awkwardly. “And especially the prince, who caught me in the stream.” The prince smiled, diffident now himself. And spontaneously she turned and hugged him. The cameras exploded. The teacher clapped. I swear Lorro cried. The prince gave a faint return hug, and smiled as diffidently as before, and said something quietly to the girl.
“Sophie!” “Sophie!” was being shouted out by the reporters, trying to get her to address their own question. Momentarily she looked confused. The prince grew protectively in stature in his chair. The press officer intervened. “Sophie will answer a few questions - yes, Mark?”
“Mark Cross, Sky news. Sophie, did you ever dream you would be plucked from danger by the arms of a prince?”
The press conference proceeded on a much kinder, and indeed more jovial manner than before Sophie’s arrival. Towards the end Pete, Dave and Lorro started to look quite relaxed.
“Yes, it was unusual, but we’re a good team, and always ready to deal with unexpected things that come along” answered Pete to a question at the end, quite nonchalantly.
The press conference ended, the yard emptied, the dust settled. The lads and the prince had all said farewell to Sophie, who said she’d love to volunteer there one day. The press officer looked pleased, speaking at the end to them all, with the chief executive in attendance.
“Well, I hope that will tidy up proceedings. I think it went very well. Thank you all.
You should be able to get on with your work without these interruptions from now on.”
The team members looked at each other, and smiled, and nodded their affirmation. “And thank you, Sir” she continued to the prince “Oh, David, please” “for agreeing to this press conference.”
“And, of course, for your brave actions” added the CEO. “To all of you.”
But of course it wasn’t over. The team began to be followed on all their jobs. It was mostly by self-appointed, social media ‘reporters’: they interacted little with the team members, merely filming relentlessly, in the hope perhaps of a revelation, another newsworthy event, a pratfall, an error, an indiscretion, anything to capitalise on the prince’s ironic heroism. And some protest groups joined in too, whose causes included support of various groups, abolition of the monarchy, support for the monarchy, libertarians, anarchists.
Volunteering for the team became quite a sought-after occupation. Some who had volunteered were sent down to the depot by head office over the ensuing days and weeks, but their motivation was questionable, likewise their dedication to work. They didn’t last long.
The prince remained steadfast: steadfast and reliable. He was not steered left or right by any of the kerfuffle. He just carried on, day-in day-out, arriving on time, working hard, taking on the dirtiest jobs unstinting. He really seemed to be knuckling down and making amends. But amends for what? Had he really done wrong, or merely brought shame on his family? Had he done both? And which might demand more recondition of a tainted soul? And the exposition of which might redeem him more fully, if ever, in the eyes of the public? And what of his standing in the sight of God? For all his ills, acknowledged, disputed or perceived, he knew he would have to settle his account with the Almighty. He had severed ties with his family to protect them from embarrassment and was living alone, with a small staff, in an apartment at a far end of the palace, near a side entrance. Here he could come and go relatively un-noticed: ironically there was no media clamour here, unlike the daily mêlée at the depot. He had even taken to cycling to his volunteering work, valuing the anonymity and freedom it afforded, the dangers from careless traffic notwithstanding. But there would be no avoiding the Ultimate interview . . .
One morning, when he entered the depot, Pete and the team were all there waiting for him, with a cake!
“You’ve been here six months” said Pete.
“We never thought you’d last so long” said Dave.
“Happy anniversary” said Lorro.
A year later Dave retired. “At last,” said Lorro “only one Dave!”
With funding cuts and everything, Pete wasn’t sure if they’d get a replacement. But they did. Melissa turned up the next Monday.
“Hallo, and welcome!” said Pete, introducing himself.
“A great improvement on the old Dave” said Lorro, and “I’m Lorro. Pleased to meet you.”
“How do you do” said the prince. He had the impression that she didn’t recognise him, and that suited him fine.
“David is one of our volunteers” said Pete.
“Have I seen you before?” said Melissa.
“Come on” said Pete. “Let’s get loaded up. I’ll show you round later.” And as they readied the day’s tools he asked “What brought you here?” She looked a bit sheepish: “I’m on a young offender’s rehabilitation scheme . . . I hope you don’t mind . . .”
“Oh no, not at all. All are welcome in our friendly depot” said a reassuring Pete.
Lorro nodded. “I was a bit of a lad in my day, too” he said.
“Very welcome!” said the prince, from whom any speaking amounted to an unusual effusiveness. Pete and Lorro looked at each other with slightly wide eyes.
The depot was a plain affair, but not so totally plain that it excluded all comforts. Amongst the racks of tools and equipment, was an old sofa and a few chairs round a table. An ad hoc array of framed photographs and press cuttings on the wall told of occasional past glories, team members and events. Melissa wandered along, looking at the odd collection. “Oh, I remember this” she said, indicating a fading press cutting about Sophie’s rescue pinned up but hardly noticed. She looked a bit closer: “Is that all of
you? . . . Wow, you’re all heroes! And you’re the prince . . .” as the penny dropped.
“So, not just a job; I’m working among superheroes!”
“Pretty grubby ones, by the time we usually finish” said Lorro.
“Come on superheroes,” said Pete “let’s get going.”
A week later, when they were leaving for the day, the prince walked out of the yard to see a car driving along slowly, beside Melissa, who was walking a little way ahead of him. A passenger window was open, and someone was talking to her. Whatever the subject matter, Melissa expressed reluctance to engage. The prince quickened his pace slightly. The passenger door opened. Melissa’s tone grew more urgent: she started to affect physical rebuttals towards would-be pulling hands emanating from the vehicle. She quickened her pace to a fast walk, then a run.
The prince looked around him for any other signs of comprehension or assistance, but saw none, and rushed forward to help his new colleague. He didn’t really know what he would meet . . . all he could think of was to place himself between Melissa and the open car door.
“Are you all right, Melissa?” he said, while the man in the car objected: “Oi, mate, I’m talking to her . . .”
“Not really” said Melissa, looking worried.
“I’m telling you mate, get out of it . . .” continued the voice from the car.
“I’ll walk with you, if you like.”
And so the prince took position beside Melissa, between her and the car. The car stopped. The man in the car got out.
“What’re you doing Mel? I’ve told you to get in the car!”
The prince hurried her along. The man made a grab for Melissa’s arm; the prince pushed his arm away.
“Do you want trouble mate?” said the man, pulling aside his jacket to reveal a large knife in his waistband. Then the driver got out. The two young men directly confronted the prince. He put his arm protectively around Melissa. At that point another car pulled up quickly: two occupants got out. There was a brief confrontation between the two would-be assailants and the new arrivals: the former, not yet mature, brotherly, ill-founded, shaded intentions matched by the shaded windows of their car sitting low on its low-profile tyres; the latter more mature, male and female, quick, active, firm of intention, expressive of resolve, in control. Nothing needed to be said. One of the youngsters mumbled “Fuckin’ coppers” as he retreated to his carriage; the other sneered at Melissa “See you later” and at the prince “and you” he threatened.
“Are you all right, sir?” asked one of the interlopers, Police indeed albeit in plain clothes, confirmed at the flash of her warrant card when the car had driven off.
“Yes, er, thank you . . . Where did you come from?”
“We still keep an eye on you, sir . . .”
“I thought all that was finished . . . I was all alone? . . .”
“It’s an occasional thing, sort of spot checks . . . we were lucky this time” said the other. Then “Are you all right, miss?”
“Yes . . .”
As they walked on, after the prince had persuaded the Police officers he did not require a lift, Melissa said:
“Thank you for helping me back there.”
“Oh, not at all . . .”
“And then your body guards arrived . . .”
“No . . . well, I don’t have bodyguards any more. I’m not really sure how it was they came to be there.”
“So you didn’t even know about them when you came to rescue me! . . .”
“Oh, you know . . .”
“Well, I think you’re very kind . . . and brave.”
“Do you know those men? . . .”
“Unfortunately yes . . . they’re the reason I got into trouble in the first place . . . I was delivering drugs for them . . . Now they want me back, saying I owe them money, that I’ve got to pay it off . . . I used to be a student . . . How stupid can you be?”
“Could you pick up your studies again?”
“I don’t know . . . I’ve got to finish this scheme; it’s part of my sentence; and I’ve got no money . . . I don’t know if the university would have me back . . .”
“Can your parents help you?”
“They’re foster parents; they’re all right, but they can’t really deal with me . . . I’d better go now . . . Bye” and she turned and kissed him on the cheek, and skipped off.
“Good bye” said the prince.
Melissa stayed a year, and grew in the experience. She stayed longer than her offender’s programmed decreed, and left to pick up her university studies again. She had been helped by the leaders of her scheme, but the prince had also had a quiet word or two, and had directed some of his stipend quietly into her account. The men in the car did not put in another appearance, at least as far as the prince was aware; and he had an idea that the hovering Police may have had something to do with it.
On the day she left, Melissa went round hugging and embarrassing them all. Her biggest hug was for the prince. “Thank you” she said. He smiled a little, and said “Goodbye.”
Management currents dictated a change in working set-up. Melissa’s role wasn’t replaced on a permanent basis, but with a succession of temporary workers. This seemed to reflect an unwillingness on the part of higher management to commit to the long-term future of the department. There was always talk of privatisation, or amalgamation.
Pete didn’t take very well to the diminution of his beloved service, so clung on a little longer for his thirty years, then retired. Lorro, if slightly reluctantly, took on the foreman’s role. But foreman of what? His team comprised only the prince, the sole permanent member, and a constant stream of short-term volunteers and occasional paid staff.
“Right, David” said Lorro “let’s see where we’re going today, and who we’re going to get.”
There was a knock on the depot door: they turned to see a young woman silhouetted in the doorway. She walked in: “Hallo, I’m volunteering today” and smiled. It was Sophie! “Prince David, Lorro, how lovely to see you! How are you? And how are Pete and Dave?” “They’ve both retired” said Lorro. “But you look well.” “I’m at university now. I’m studying Public Service Management. This is part of my course. You inspired me!”
She laughed and smiled, and they all did, and Lorro felt flattered at being elevated to university level.
The prince saw the inherent good in Sophie, and knew that he had done some good all that time ago when he plucked her from the stream. And a little tear welled in his eye; and that day a scale fell from his heart, to allow a little more warmth back in, and he felt a little peace at last.
Two more years rolled by. The prince’s notoriety, even his person, were gradually fading from general awareness. He went back to live with his wife and family. Lorro retired. The prince, by dint of being last one there, became foreman. All who went there saw him as the stalwart, solid, durable presence in the now fleeting and temporary atmosphere of the service.
Sophie had maintained her volunteering on-and-off, and now having graduated was starting work in the management of the service. She was sorry to leave the depot, and the prince was sorry to see her go. At the end of her final shift Pete, Dave and Lorro all came back. Quite a reunion! The prince even smiled. The lads were all glad to have retired. Pete had put on a bit of weight, and was nurturing his dahlias. Dave had taken up judo, and he and his wife were going touring round Scotland in a camper van. Lorro was going into politics, standing as an independent councillor.
“It’ll be Prime Minister next” said Pete.
And the prince carried on: nurturing the volunteers, tackling all jobs, taking folk as they come. He had a chance to see Melissa again, when she came to do a story on him some years later, now working as a TV documentary reporter. By then, his reputation had begun to rise again, from having been almost forgotten, in the doldrums, to one of burgeoning esteem at his dedication to humble service, in keeping the community area clean and clear of debris, and of keeping the people he worked with, many of them volunteers of vulnerable fabric, safe and engaged and growing while they were in his charge.
He did have a gun carriage when he died, but it was the simple tokens left by his many charges that paid the grandest tribute: the small posies, the cards, the scrawl on the gravestone, the photos of new families with young children, the scattering of spades, rakes and wellies, the flasks and the scarfs left in a permanent, ever-changing memorial that defined his memory.