The following scene appeared near the end of the book, as Ray tries to make amends for his less-than-hands-on parenting. It didn’t make the final cut for several reasons: firstly, it distracted from the main story, which becomes particularly tense at that stage of the book. Secondly, it was too neat; a loose end tied up too quickly, in a way that simply doesn’t happen in reality. Finally, it just wasn’t necessary. Every chapter, every scene of a book should add something to the story – more character depth, a red herring, a plot twist, an insight into a theme or a piece of action leading to the book’s denouement. If it doesn’t, it needs to go.
Stumpy scribbled down actions as Ray listed them, occasionally interjecting to ask questions or add more information. Ray pulled into a residential street and drove slowly along it, peering at the numbers.
‘Where are we going?’ Stumpy asked. Ray parked the car outside a semi-detached red brick house. There was a car on the driveway and a scooter leaning against the porch.
‘Stay here and get cracking on those calls,’ Ray said. ‘There’s something I have to do.’ He left Stumpy in the car and walked up the driveway. There were nets at the window, but Ray could see movement inside, and barely a second or two after ringing the bell, the door was opened by a man about Ray’s age. He wore a grey suit and Ray had the impression he had not long returned from work: his tie was loosened, and he wore no shoes. He gave a polite, but weary, smile.
‘Can I help you?’
‘I’m looking for Stuart Nevis’s parents,’ Ray said. ‘I’m Tom Steven’s father.’
A red patch crept across the man’s neck, and his lips tightened. He took a step forward, putting one hand on the open door and the other on the frame, as though Ray might try to force his way in. He glanced over Ray’s shoulder, perhaps wondering if he had brought Tom with him.
‘You’re the copper,’ he said.
Ray nodded. ‘But I’m off-duty,’ he said. It wasn’t technically correct, but the Chief was hardly likely to approve of him fighting his son’s battles on job time.
‘You’ve got some nerve, showing up here,’ said the man Ray assumed must be Mr Nevis, although he made no move to introduce himself. ‘Your son might be able to bully Stu but if you think you can come to my house and throw your weight around, you’ve got another think coming.’ Anger made the words spill over each other.
Ray felt his pulse quicken and forced himself to slow down his breathing and remain calm. ‘I came to apologise,’ he said.
There was a pause. The man’s face didn’t change, but he dropped his arm from the door, pushing it open. ‘You’d better come in.’
Ray didn’t stay long. Just long enough to tell Stuart’s parents that he was sorry for what Tom had done; that he hadn’t been involved enough in his son’s life to see what was happening; that he was ashamed of himself, and of Tom. He asked to see Stuart, and intercepted the anxious look that passed between Mr Nevis and his wife.
‘I don’t think that’s a good idea,’ Mr Nevis said.
‘Just for a minute,’ Ray said. ‘Please.’
Mrs Nevis went to fetch him, and Ray heard her light footsteps coming back downstairs, followed by the reluctant tread of an adolescent boy.
Stuart was overweight, a roll of stomach spilling over his waistband and pulling apart the buttons on his shirt. Despite his glasses, he had a squint which made it hard to tell if he was looking at Ray, or just staring into space.
Ray put his hand into his pocket and pulled out an MP3 player. It wasn’t expensive, and the battery housing was kept on with sellotape, but Stuart’s bottom lip dropped open in delight, and he stepped forward to take it.
‘Tom will say sorry to you in person, Stuart,’ Ray said, ‘but I wanted to bring this back to you as soon as I could, and tell you how sorry I am that my son treated you this way. You didn’t deserve it, and Tom knows that. I can assure you, he’s in a lot of trouble.’
‘What’s going to happen to him?’ Stuart said, wide-eyed with a mixture of curiosity and fear.
Ray sighed. ‘I don’t know yet. But it’ll be a good deal more than stopping his pocket money.’
Mrs Nevis came closer to her son, and put a hand on the back of his head. ‘I think you should be going now,’ she said to Ray.
He nodded. He wanted to apologise again, but he knew he had said all he could possibly say about what had happened. The rest was down to Tom.