Your dad is a policeman. A hero. You know that he has been shot four times in the line of duty, you have seen his medals. Your mum has videos of the interviews he has given to the press as they tell him well done for catching this or that robber or killer, you see the tears of the mothers whose children he rescued, the tears of the wives whose husbands he got revenge for. You watch these videos, watch them, learn the names of the men he caught, the men he killed, and you know that he was stronger than all of them. When you watch the interviews he smiles, scratches his head and leaves the room.
He doesn’t like to talk about his work, but other than that he’ll talk with you about anything. The thing you like to talk about most is Aladdin. Your mother usually leaves the room after you’ve talked about Aladdin for a bit, but he’s watched Aladdin almost as many times as you and his favourite character is Iago the parrot and yours is the Genie.
At school Miss Granger asks everyone what their parents’ jobs are. Some don’t know what their parents’ jobs are. Some know, but they don’t really care because their parents don’t do anything important, they are only shopkeepers or accountants or teachers like Miss Granger. But one boy’s mum is a nurse, and one boy’s dad is a fireman. Their parents save lives, they say grinning. Then Miss Granger turns to you. She says that she already knows what your dad does, that your dad has made this neighbourhood a safer place to live and that your dad is a hero.
At playtime you tell everyone stories about your dad. How he caught Harry Jenkins and James Gilt and killed Archie Noble and Terry Allen and Simon French. Some are scared of him because he killed people, but you tell them they were bad guys like Jafar or the Sherriff of Nottingham. Everyone knows you are telling the truth because Miss Granger said your father was a hero.
You are a little older. Your dad starts teaching you how to play chess. Sometimes he beats you and shows you how he did it, and sometimes he lets you win. He never makes fun of you when you make a mistake.
It is playtime, and you are telling people again about your dad, how he staked out a bank for five solid days to catch Archie Noble trying to rob it, when a boy says that he’s had enough of your bragging. He says that everybody knows that your dad is a dirty cop who murdered Archie Noble. But you know that he is just jealous. And anyway, your dad couldn’t be a dirty cop because he’s always telling you how important it is to wash your hair.
You are old enough to start reading the newspaper for yourself. One day you are looking through the newspaper and you see your dad’s name. Another story to learn, another victory for justice! You wonder why your mum hasn’t told you already. But it isn’t a new story. It’s an old story. The story of a killer, Joseph Gutzman. Joseph Gutzman, who killed three young smackheads who had failed to pay him, who your dad had tracked to his hideout and killed resisting arrest. That’s his story. But that’s not what the paper says. The paper says that one of the smackheads, Jimmy Noakes, couldn’t have been killed by Joseph Gutzman. It shows a photograph of Joseph Gutzman, a photo taken on the day he killed Jimmy Noakes in London. Except the photo isn’t of London. It is of Las Vegas. Joseph Gutzman is standing in front of Caesar’s Palace holding an ice cream. And he is smiling.
In school you see the boy who said that your dad murdered Archie Noble. That was five years ago, and you haven’t really spoken since. You want to ask him what he meant, but you don’t.
On the TV, there is a man being interviewed in prison. He is the man who sold the gun Joseph Gutzman tried to kill your dad with. But, he tells the reporter, he never sold that gun to Joseph Gutzman. He sold that gun to your dad. Your mother sees what you are watching, and turns it off.
In the evening your dad comes to you. He says your mother told him what you were watching on TV. He says he is not angry, and he tells you that you might see a lot more stuff like that in the news. He says he hopes you know that none of it is true. You say of course you know.
You cannot sleep that night. You open up your laptop and google images of Joseph Gutzman. The first image is of Joseph Gutzman with his ice cream and his smile.
Every day, you look through the newspaper for news about your father. Two years pass, and in those two years, these things are printed. Your dad is a racist, and he beat Muslim suspects into giving him confessions. Your dad may have accepted bribes from local gangsters. The men Joseph Gutzman killed had had ties to a gang, a gang they had tried to steal from, the same gang who had allegedly bribed your dad.
At school you wonder how many other students know, how long they have known, how long they have humoured the kid who bragged about his hero dad. You talk less with your friends, and during lunchtimes you sit and think of Joseph Gutzman. He smiles at you. He smiles because he knows he did not do it, and he knows you know too.
You talk less with your family too. When asked, schooldays are only ever fine. When offered second helpings of dinner you always used to say yes, but now you give a polite no thank you. The food is dirty, bought with dirty money, and you want as little of it to enter you as you can get away with. You always leave table as soon as possible, and your dad looks after you as you go, or keeps his eyes down on his plate.
After dinner one day, the look your father gives his plate is so sad, so lost, that, instead of leaving, you ask if he wants to play chess. He says yes almost instantly and gets the chessboard from the games cupboard, blows the dust from it, and you both settle down to play. You lose your rook and your knight quickly, but then he leaves his queen wide open. You move your bishop to take it, but then you realise he is letting you win. You tell him so. He denies it. You tell him he doesn’t need to let you win anymore. He says that he doesn’t like being talked to like that. You say you know him well enough to tell when he’s letting you win. He says he doesn’t appreciate being called a liar, and asks if he can just get on and make his move. But you are a liar, you say. You’ve always been a liar. He starts shaking. He tells you to get out. As you head up the stairs to your room, you hear him crying.