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Reflections of a working writer and reader



Extract from 3 – King of the Streets

Extract from King of the Streets

SAM AND GEORDIE LEFT home shortly after nine-thirty. The rain was still holding off, and St Helen’s square was bright and busy. The smell of coffee coming from Betty’s got Sam by the throat and almost pulled him inside. But he followed Geordie, who was carrying his dog, up the stairs to the office. The vet had said there was nothing he could do about Barney’s nose. It was badly damaged, and was going to be sensitive for a time. Perhaps his sense of smell would be impaired, a major disadvantage for a dog. If that happened Geordie might think of having him put to sleep? Geordie shook his head, picked up his dog and walked out of the Vet’s surgery. Sam followed. It wasn’t the Vet’s fault.

Sam was preoccupied with the image of his own wife and daughter, taken from him by a mad driver who didn’t stop. A hit-and-run driver. Probably a drunk.

Celia met them as soon as they entered the office. ‘Sorry, Sam,’ she said. ‘There’s a lady to see you.’ She motioned behind her, to her own office. ‘Mrs Bridge, she doesn’t have an appointment, but I think you should see her.’

Sam made a face of resignation. ‘Give me a couple of minutes,’ he said, taking his coat off and hanging it on a peg behind the door. Geordie got Barney into his basket and sat at the desk with Sam. Celia brought Mrs Bridge over to them and sat her down in the clients’ chair. She was a small woman, black, with large doleful eyes. Early thirties, Sam guessed. She wore soft flat shoes, and her tights had gone into holes. She had a round smiling face. She wasn’t smiling, but her face seemed to give that impression. There was something else about her bearing which undermined the effect of the smile. A great earnestness which travelled over the distance between her and Sam, and kept Sam from smiling himself, even superficially.

‘You’ll have to tell me what the problem is, Mrs Bridge. I don’t know if I can help until I’ve heard your story.’

‘It’s my boy, Mr Turner,’ she said. ‘Somebody’s killed him.’ Her voice was surprising. There was a high-pitched quality to it that Sam guessed was not usually there. The woman was in a state of shock. She continued. ‘Andrew was thirteen last month.’ She looked over at Geordie momentarily, then back to Sam. ‘He was supposed to have a friend over here, in York. We live in Leeds, you see, in Chapeltown. Some boy from school, but I think it was a lie. Anyway, he was coming over here twice, three times a week at first. Then he disappeared altogether.

‘We went to the police in Leeds, but they didn’t seem as if they wanted to help. He was only a child, but still they didn’t take it seriously. After he’d been gone for six weeks, yesterday. . .’ She faltered, brought her right hand up to her hairline and rubbed it lightly. ‘No, it was the day before yesterday, although it seems a long time ago. Such a long time. Tuesday. I got a telephone call from him, four o’clock in the afternoon. “Mother,” he said. Just like that, “Mother, come and get me.” He told me he was in Micklegate, just near the Bar, and he’d wait there for me. He didn’t have enough money for the phone, and we were cut off.

‘I got a taxi and came over to York. The driver knew where Micklegate was, and we went straight there. He let me out at the Bar, and I stood there for an hour. I walked round the area for another two hours after that. But there was no sign of Andrew. I went to the police in York, but they were even less helpful than Leeds. They discriminate against the colour of our skin. I’m sorry if you don’t agree with that, Mr Turner, but it is the truth, nevertheless. In the end I went back home on the train.’ Mrs Bridge stopped speaking. She covered her face with her hands and hung her head for perhaps a minute. Then she felt in the pocket of her coat and brought out a handkerchief to wipe the tears away from her face.

Geordie got up from the desk and walked quietly over to Celia’s room. He returned a moment later with Celia in tow. Celia put her arms round the woman and offered to make her a cup of tea. Mrs Bridge said she would love a cup of tea. ‘You’ll have to bear with me,’ she said to them all. ‘I’ve been up all night. And I’ve seen the body of my boy.’ Then she hung her head again and let her arms dangle loosely by her sides. Celia disappeared to make the tea, and after another minute or two Mrs Bridge had composed herself enough to continue with her story.

‘A policeman came to the house last night,’ she said. ‘A policeman and a woman, and they told me they’d found a body in York and they thought it might be Andrew. They brought me over to York and showed me my boy.

‘They’d found him in the river, in some kind of lock in the middle of the town. What the water had done to him, I could hardly recognize him myself. But it is him.

‘I’ve been in the police station all night long. Now they want to know everything about him. If they’d wanted to know half of that before, maybe Andrew would still be alive.’

Sam leant forward on his desk and took advantage of the woman’s pause. ‘Were the police sure he was murdered?’ he asked. ‘Was there anything to indicate that?’

The woman looked at him silently for some time, before she said, ‘Mr Turner, when they fished my boy out of the river he didn’t have his penis.’

‘I’ll do what I can,’ Sam told her. ‘I can’t promise anything. The police are the ones best placed in a case like this.’

‘I don’t trust them,’ she said. ‘If they’d listened to me in the first place, Andrew would still be alive.’

‘Still,’ Sam said, ‘they have the resources.’ He held eye contact with Mrs Bridge, and she showed him a brave face. ‘What we can do is ask around. Try to find out where he’s been during the last weeks. What he’s been doing. If we can get that far, there’s at least a chance we’ll discover what happened to him. But don’t hold your breath. We might get nowhere.’

He walked down the stairs with her, to the door on to St Helen’s square. The weather had stopped being bloody, and turned bloody vicious. Sam opened the door and they stepped back while a torrent of rain poured into the building.

‘You can wait a while if you like,’ he said. ‘Celia’ll make another drink.’

She shook her head and reached for his hand. ‘I’ll wait to hear from you,’ she said. And she stepped out into the downpour. Sam stood and watched for a moment until she turned the corner. Then there was just the rain. It was as if God was throwing builders skips of water directly at the building.