Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Day 16

It's a cliche but that's cos it's true, but it's so much easier to write about what you know. Flew through today's target and am now over halfway and ahead of schedule for the first time in five days. Get in!

I came bouncing down to breakfast the next morning full of the joys to catch Shuggsy polishing off the rump end of his breakfast, quite literally, it looked as if he’d consumed half a pig with his ration of Branston pickle.
“Alright George, good drink last night?” he said, through a mouthful of bread.
“Not bad, Shuggs, just the six pints.”
“Average, I stopped a few going bad an’all. No sign of Tony at the Primrose though.”
“What do you reckon you’d do if you saw him again though?” I ventured, trying to form an impression of what to do with the information Churchill was going to give me.
“Apart from pound the living keek out of him you mean?” Shuggsy said, “Dunno really, probably report him to the cops or summat.”
“Aye, but it could make things worse if he grasses you up and says you had more to do with it than you actually did. He sounds like a right snake who’d shaft his own mother if it’d save his skin.”
“Yeah, s’pose you’re right, Mr Pardew is coming up with the defence and he must know best, I’ll find out tomorrow when I go and see him.”
“Do you want me to come with you?” I asked.
“Nah, you’re alright, you’ve done enough, I’ll have to take some notes, I’m shittin’ meself about being in court as it is.”
“Yeah, but he’s going to coach you isn’t he, just make sure you stick to whatever he tells you, I reckon you’ll be fine.”
“Aye cheers, it’ll pure set my mind at rest when I’m back out on the street anyway, we’ll deffo go for a few bevs that night.” Shuggsy hoisted his daysack over his shoulder, “anyway I’d better shoot, we’re working over near Sheffield today and tomorrow, be back about seven anyway.”
“Have a good one,” I said, as he shambled out through the door. I stuck the radio on and whistled some inane tune, even though the radio was programmed to Radio 4 for some reason. Today was just finishing and I half-listened to the news while I pulled some breakfast together. I was just stirring my brew when a programme started that made me listen with renewed interest. Initially it seemed like it was another of those documentaries where they follow a psychologist as he deals with some pressurised situation but it was more about the work of a counselling service that offered it’s services to members of the uniformed services and their families. The presenter talked to the teenage son of a policeman who had been having trouble at school and at home, and who said he’d been having disturbing dreams. Eventually he’d sought the help of the organisation, who were called ‘Initial Care’, through his dad and they’d arranged for him to have professional counselling which was provided by the same people who looked after victims of accidents, shootings, murders and such like. The parallels between my situation and the boy featured in the programme were striking and I made a note of the contact details given out at the end of the feature. Whether I would qualify with da not being around, even supposing he was still alive and a serving fireman was another question, but there was no harm in making an enquiry. I went back up the stairs to collect my coat and say goodbye to Marlene but after I shouted up to the attic from outside the bathroom I realised she must have already left for work. It wasn’t like her to either leave so early or not say goodbye to me but I just reasoned that she had left even before Shuggsy had surfaced and didn’t want to disturb me. I made a mental note to ring her later in the day or else I wouldn’t see her until the next morning as I was at Sub Stop that night and Marlene had her Creative Writing evening class. It wasn’t much of a sign but maybe I should have taken more notice at the time, the thought of going more than two days without seeing or at least speaking to her was unthinkable. Unthinkable, but as it turned out, a presage of what was to come.
As it turned out, I didn’t get a chance to ring Marlene that day, the Book Exchange was inexplicably busy and Grant sent me off to collect a consignment of proofs from ‘his publishing connection’, another first, normally he wouldn’t have trusted such a high-level task to a minion, but he was busy with some other deal and even paid for me to collect the books by taxi. I suspected he was drunk. Anyway, the result was that I didn’t get back to the Exchange until nearly closing time and then I had to rush to get round to the Sub Stop in time for my shift, all of which had the consequence that I didn’t contact Marlene. To be fair, she didn’t ring me either, but two wrongs and all that. When I reached home around ten thirty, Shuggsy was up watching a repeat of X-Files on BBC and Marlene wasn’t back from evening class. I made a brew for us and slumped in front of the box as Scully went to investigate another weird episode by herself, the daft mare.
“Heard from Marlene tonight Shuggs?” I asked.
“Yeah, she rang about nine to say she was going for a drink with some of the lot from her class.”
“Right. She seem OK?”
“Yeah, same as ever, you know?” Shuggsy was a fair barometer of people’s moods, if something had been wrong I’m sure he’d have said something. As it was he groaned as Scully crumpled to the floor after being attacked by something which slithered out of the wall. We watched the rest of the episode together, then Shuggsy called it a night. I stayed up until after midnight, but she didn’t return home. I even texted her a couple of times to no avail. I didn’t want to seem like my mum then by sitting in the near dark until she fell in, so I took myself off to bed.

I tapped on Marlene’s room door in the morning, not long after I got up, then, when there was no reply, I carefully opened the door. The room was open, and her bed obviously hadn’t been slept in. What the hell, I thought, she’s a grown woman, not my little sis, but I couldn’t help a feeling of unease creeping across my mind. I wound up leaving for work early as I couldn’t be doing with the house being so quiet, Shuggsy having left for south Yorkshire at the crack of dawn, in order to be back in time for his appointment with Pardew. I’d even put Todd’s Hermit of Mink Hollow on the stereo for a quick blast, our second favourite Rundgren album after Something/Anything, as if the sound of Can We Still Be Friends would summon her. I rang her mobile but it skipped to voicemail. Now I was seriously getting freaked out, Marlene was never out of contact for so long and all sorts of scenarios were running through my head. The morning dragged at the Exchange, we actually had no customers at all for the first three hours. Normally, I don’t mind, I just kick back with a book and something tasty on the shop CD player, but I was restless and worried about Marlene and couldn’t concentrate. Even Grant noticed and he wouldn’t normally comment on my behaviour unless I was dancing naked round the Sports section, torching the display as I went. Even so, he just made a glib comment about ‘getting larruped at the pub tonight’. I simply grunted and went back to fretting behind the counter. Then at thirteen minutes and twenty two seconds past twelve, she rang my mobile.
“Hi George,” she said calmly. Don’t ask her where she’s been, don’t ask her where she’s been.
“God, Marlene, I’ve been worrying here, where’ve you been?” Shit.
“Erm, out, I stayed with a friend.” Right.
“Oh, alright, didn’t you get my texts?”
“Yeah, but not till this morning, it was a bad reception area, and I switched it off when I went to bed.” Alone?
“OK, doesn’t matter, just wondered if you were alright that’s all.” I said, trying not to sound judgmental.
“I know, you’re so sweet,” Marlene said. She sounded different somehow, but I couldn't put my finger on exactly why. I told her about my plans for the night, expressly leaving out my meet with Ted Churchill and told her I’d be home about eleven-ish, hopefully earlier. She sounded a bit distracted, and before I rang off, I could have sworn I heard laughter, male laughter, in the background. Oh, bollocks.

Ted Churchill seemed even more fat and sweaty out of his natural environment, although whether this was more like his accustomed surroundings was open to debate. Anyway, he accepted my offer of a fresh pint with a grunt. After I’d presented him with the beer, and he’d taken a hefty draught out of it, he reached into the inner pocket of his battered leather jacket and took out a rolled up manila envelope, then slid out his readers from a shirt pocket. He jerked out a sheath of papers from within the envelope and peered over his glasses, before sorting them into an order he was happy with.
“First off,” he said, taking a fresh pull on his pint, “your man’s full name is Anthony O’Neill, alias Irish Tony, or Tony O’No according to whose company he’s in at the time. Born third of May nineteen sixty two, in Willesden Green, North London to an Irish mother and English father. Various dead-end jobs since school, mostly labouring, the odd bit of building work, most of it undeclared. Got married young, in eighty one, couple of kiddies then did a runner to the continent. Turns up in Manchester about six years after, bit of trouble with the law, minor stuff mainly, then one biggy for aggravated burglary and carrying an offensive weapon. Did four years at Her Majesty’s pleasure for that one. No fixed abode since release, but info puts him at various addresses round here. No convictions until last year when it gets a bit more interesting.” He polished off the rest of the pint with relish, replacing it with a motion that I understood to mean he required a replacement. I took the empty pot to the bar with impatience, I’d barely touched my own bitter. I brought a full pint back, which Churchill took another slurp out of before finally revealing his tasty tidbit.
“Right, when he was allegedly out and about meeting your mate, O’Neill was supposedly serving a six year stretch for Possession of Class B drugs with Intent to Supply same.” Bugger me.
“But, how’s that?” I asked.
“Search me, my source is pretty good, but these records sometimes get cocked up. Could be that it’s not the same bloke out and about who’s down on record as convicted, or he was out on licence.” I must have looked quizzical, as he explained, “means he’d been released with conditions, should have had a parole officer who he’s supposed to report to and other restrictions. Or it could mean something else.” His enigmatic act was getting on my tits by now, I was damned if I was buying him another pint with what I’d already laid out to get this far.
“Like?” I prompted.
“Like, he’s got someone else to do his bird for him.” I raised an eyebrow. “Happens. Or he’s done a runner from the nick.”
“What do you reckon then?”
“My money would be on the runner, if he’s more than halfway through his sentence he could have been downgraded to a lower category prison, it’s easier to do one from there.”
“How easy is it to find out if he has done a runner?” I asked.
“Not that hard,” Churchill mused, obviously totting up the tarrif in his head, “a few phone calls, bit of legwork. Dunno if it’s worth it though.”
“How do you mean?”
“He were found dead a week last Tuesday, face down in t’river at t’back of Jackson’s Reach.”

Word Count: 2,075
Total Word Count: 26,822
Words to go: 23,178
% over target: 0.56%
Word of the Day: rump


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