Today is Shrove Tuesday. Pancake Day. And I can never think of Pancake Day without thinking of poor Julie Thomas. And Martin Sommers.
It was on Shrove Tuesday all those years ago that Julie was presented to us for the first time. A petite, pretty girl just out of school, Julie was led into our office at Easington Print by the personnel manageress, Margie.
“This is Julie” Margie announced “the new trainee I told you about. Julie, this is the planning department where you will be spending your first couple of months’ training. Say hello to your new workmates.” Margie smiled encouragingly.
I remember clearly Julie’s downcast eyes as she stood there uncertainly, surrounded by so many strange people.
“Hello” she whispered almost inaudibly. I remember thinking that she might just burst into tears.
A couple of the senior women (Ethel and Margaret probably) quickly took her under their wing and led her away to settle her in.
When we all gathered in the dining room later that morning to share pancakes (an Easington Print tradition), Martin was straight across to the new recruit: “Hi Julie, I’m Mister Sommers. I’m the manager here. Anything you need, you tell me.”
“Thank you” Julie replied quietly, blushing scarlet to the roots of her hair. I remember Martin standing there, a hand gripping her arm as he gave her the once over. And that salacious grin of his told me that he liked what he saw.
“A pretty girl, Mr. Sommers” I commented quietly to Martin when he came back to our section. I was sounding him out.
“Out of your league, Tiny Tim” he said unkindly, glancing meaningfully at my walking aid. That was Martin Sommers for you. Never missed an opportunity.
Julie settled quickly into the team. The eager little fair headed girl with big blue innocent eyes was popular with us all. But it was Martin Sommers who monopolised her time, taking her into his private office for extra training, kidnapping her for lunches, keeping her late.
“Be careful Julie” I warned her once “it might be better not to spend too much time alone with Mr. Sommers”. But I think she was a little starstruck. What with the manager himself giving her so much personal attention.
“Oh I’ll be okay, John” she assured me “Martin is really helping me to get a good start in the company”. Apparently they were on first name terms already. I seem to remember that she looked sideways at me, possibly thinking I was jealous of Martin’s position, or of her.
Martin Sommer’s pursuit of Julie was relentless. I saw them arriving together when I was at the office early one morning.
“Oh didn’t you know? He’s been picking her up and taking her home lately” Ethel said to me conspiratorily. “In his Jaguar” she added pointedly.
“Can’t you have a word with her, Ethel?” I asked.
“We have tried taking her to one side, John” Ethel told me “but Julie’s head has been turned and she can’t see it.”
Then, as soon as it began, it was over. Julie was back outside with the office team and there were no more lunches with the boss, no more lifts to or from home in the Jaguar.
Worse, Martin ignored Julie when he was in her vicinity. Projects that she was involved with were ditched or heavily criticised. Eventually, Margie from personnel was summoned and instructed to move the confused young trainee to another department.
The reason why soon became clear, as Martin was regularly seen escorting a twenty-something redhead from accounts to the local inn at lunchtime.
A month or so after Julie was removed from our team, I caught Margaret chatting to Ethel in the kitchen and Julie’s name was mentioned in the conversation. I asked what they had heard.
“Well, John, Julie hasn’t been seen at the company for a few weeks now” Margaret told me. “Rumour has it that she may be – in trouble, you know?”
My heart sank at that. And my hatred of Martin Sommers rose another notch. If this rumour were true, well, that despicable man should be made to pay. And I swore that I would make sure he was.
When Julie continued to be absent from the Easington Print offices, I decided to take matters into my own hands. A quiet word with Margie earned me the basic information that I needed: Julie’s home address.
If my life were an American crime novel, you could say that I staked out Julie’s home. It wasn’t quite like that, but I did park up near there a few times, hoping to see her coming or going.
It was during one of these episodes that a burly, angry-looking man burst from Julie’s front door and marched straight over to my car. He rapped loudly on my drivers’ side window.
“It’s John, isn’t it? What are you doing here?” he demanded fiercely, dragging the car door open. “What do you want?”
“I – I’m from Easington..” I began.
“I know where you’re from matey!” the man spluttered. “My daughter knows your car well enough. Now you’ve got ten seconds to tell me why you’re hanging around outside our house!”
“I wanted to check if Julie’s okay. That’s all. We haven’t seen her..”
“She’s bloody well not okay! She’s ruined. And if I find out who..” Julie’s father stopped, fists clenched. No need to spell it out.
So, I thought, he doesn’t know who is responsible for damaging his daughter. She hasn’t dare tell him. For fear of what he might do.
So I told him.
The police, when they heard the full story, were less inclined to uphold Martin Sommers’ complaint about the assault on his person. You could say they turned a blind eye and Julie’s father was let off with a caution and a warning about his future behaviour.
For my part, I accepted the promotion to the vacant position as head of the planning department and under my managership, all female staff were free from worry of ever being harassed. Except for Margie from personnel, of course. But that was a mutual arrangement.