Fee Fi Fo Fum
When a nightmare is actually a reality
It was Easter Monday morning in 2010.
I had plans to drive from my home in Upper Hutt to my friend Patricia’s farm on the outskirts of Carterton in the Wairarapa.
As well as being my boss and an astute businesswoman, Patricia was a red-headed free spirit that lived as though rules were for everyone else but not for her. She lived her life for herself and didn’t care what others made of that or of her.
She was also the epitome of cool.
Patricia was having a ‘pot-luck lunch’ but there was nothing ‘pot-luck’ about it. She had told each one of her guests what to bring and I was one of the desserts.
I was particularly happy because the day before I had made an apple Tarte Tatin, risky enough in itself but for a first-timer and using my new gas oven, well, let’s just say it could have ended with me bringing a Sara Lee pie.
I was happy because the Tarte Tatin was extraordinary, all golden on top and sides with perfectly layered apples and perfectly caramelized on the bottom when I turned it over. More importantly, I knew there would be all manner of interesting people there today and I was so looking forward to it.
I turned over in bed, caught in that wonderful lethargy of being half awake/half asleep when I heard what I thought was the giant from Jack and the Beanstalk. You know the one ‘Fee, fi, fo, fum. I smell the blood of an Englishman”.
I turned over again, but the voice was louder now.
‘I’ll count to ten and then you know what will happen!!’
’1. 2. 3…’ and interrupted by the high-pitched tone of a child, a boy of no more than 8 or 9 years old I thought.
‘No, please. No. No. Nooooo’.
I heard laughter coming from further down the road.
I leapt out of bed in my pyjamas and ran down the hallway.
I reached the backdoor and turned the key in the deadlock.
I ran to the garage and turned the bolt.
Pushed the electric garage door button.
As the garage door went up, I heard a sound I’ll never forget, a sound so full of pain and terror that my heart just about dropped out of my body and onto the cold concrete garage floor.
I was too late. A child was dying on the road outside my house because I didn’t move quickly enough.
I got to the top of my driveway and looked across the road and saw, not a boy of 8 or 9, but a young woman, possibly a teenager, with long, dark hair.
She was lying on the road with her back to me, curled up against the concrete curb as if she was asleep. But she wasn’t. She was whimpering.
And then I saw him.
He was about 5 feet 10 inches tall and relatively well-dressed; dark blue jeans and boots and a short, black leather jacket. He had short dark hair with a relatively good cut and a baseball cap worn with the peak right-way around.
He was on my side of the footpath, looking across the road to her and stood about ten feet from me.
When I saw what he carried, I almost felt physically sick with fear.
It was a full-sized, aluminum softball bat that he was rhythmically hitting against the side of his leg as he watched her.
She tried to get up and fell over and cried out, not loudly but like she was in pain but knew better than to show it.
He made to step into the road hefting the bat and changing his grip to a double hander like he was preparing to take a swing to hit the ball out of the diamond.
‘Hey, you’ I called out.
I knew he heard me as his stance had changed and once again the bat was at his side. He relaxed his grip a little but took no notice of me. He was fixated on her as she got up, successfully this time and took a couple of steps but holding her side where he had obviously hit her.
He took a step into the road.
Suddenly I knew what I had to do.
‘Hey, you’ I called again, louder this time. ‘You, f******d!’.
It was the biggest insult I had.
Laughter erupted from down the road and slowly he turned in my direction.
I saw the girl get up and stumble off around the corner opposite and out of sight.
He took a step in my direction still pinging the bat off his right leg.
He looked older than I expected, maybe 50, with heavy crow’s feet and a silver-shot stubble. Blue eyes. Eyes that looked straight through me. Dead eyes.
I suddenly realised that I was in big trouble. I figured though that I could run whereas she couldn’t so she needed more time. Time for a change of approach.
‘What are you doing?’ I asked in a slightly less aggressive tone. ‘Did you see the guy?’
‘Are you the new neighbour from around the corner?’
I could actually see him processing this and his face changing as he made his decision. He stopped pinging the bat against his leg.
‘Yes, I’m a neighbour’ he answered.
‘And you came out here with your bat and chased him off? Thank goodness. Sorry about swearing at you. I thought you were the guy for a moment.’
He nodded and looked back at where the girl had been lying.
‘I guess you can go home now’ I said.
And with that, he walked slowly off around the corner and in the opposite direction to the girl.
When I got inside, I started to shake but managed to pick up the phone and dial 111.
I suddenly found that I couldn’t talk.
The operator asked if I wanted police, fire or ambulance but I just made some funny noises. She then told me where I was calling from and asked me to confirm. More funny noises from me. ‘I’m sending police’ she said. ‘Just stay on the phone with me until they come’.
‘I thought he’d killed a child’ I said.
‘I know honey’ she said. ‘We’ve had about 13 phone calls, but you were the only one that went out there’.
Police Officer John arrived about 5 minutes later. I saw his police blue through the glass pane in the door and he identified himself and called me by name however I said he couldn’t come in as I was in my pyjamas.
Shock is a funny thing.
I learned later that the guy on the street was a 30-year old P dealer and the girl was 15 and an addict.
They had been to a party down the road and had stayed the night but were on their way to catch the train back to Trentham where they lived.
The girl thought they should go left down the road rather than right, to get to the train station and started off in that direction despite the yells from her boyfriend to come back. And so he dealt to her with the softball bat outside my house to prove whatever he thought hitting a skinny 15-year old girl with an aluminum bat would prove.
He caught up with the girl eventually in the grounds of the local school and took to her again with the bat. This time the police got there in time and when they tried to arrest him, she attacked them, so they decided not to arrest either of them.
Police Officer John sat in my lounge and asked me if I had seen the guy hit the girl. He told me that if I had seen it, they would arrest him and it would take him off the streets. He had apparently gotten her hooked on P after meeting her at a party when she was 14.
If he was arrested and jailed, she might even make it off P and go back to her family. She had a good chance if they could arrest him for assaulting her. She had nothing right now, not even hope.
As much as I wanted her to have a future, I couldn’t lie about it.
John asked me then if the voice of the man I heard shouting was the same as the voice of the man who spoke to me on the street. The right judge might convict on that basis he said as I was a good witness.
I couldn’t attest to that. I couldn’t be certain. Definitely not enough to swear to it in Court.
I never made it to Patricia’s that day and the beautiful Tarte Tatin ended up in the bin.
Sometimes life is like that.