As the train gathered speed, Patrick Skerry suddenly remembered he’d forgotten to buy a car park ticket. He felt his face flushing. What to do? He looked across to an old lady with a wrinkled face, chewing her lip whilst staring blankly out at the blackened, graffiti-strewn buildings flashing past. She wouldn’t know what to do, probably start on an endless yarn about some wretched grandchild.
Then another thought hit him. Had he locked the car? He felt sick in the pit of his stomach. Surely he had? But, after all, he’d been in such a rush for the train he’d forgotten to buy a car park ticket!
He couldn’t remember if the car would automatically lock after a while. But then, what if he left the key inside the car? Would it know not to lock it then?
He glanced at his watch. 9.45 a.m. The trip was only an hour and his appointment wasn’t till 12.00. He decided not to take any chances, he’d get out at the next station, Bradley Hill, and go back to Trusthorpe. With luck he’d just have to buy a ticket for the one stop back, and then he could re-use his original ticket. Failing that, he’d just have to hope for a sympathetic ticket inspector.
Bradley Hill was a small stop. A kiosk with a woman ungraciously serving coffee and tea and greasy sausage rolls, practically throwing them across the counter. She looked like an inmate from Belsen. Presumably she didn’t often partake of her sausage rolls.
A small crowd was milling around on the platform. A bunch of schoolgirls with short skirts, long white mottled legs and mouths full of braces. A handful of businessmen carrying briefcases, wearing smart suits and with beady-eyed, clean-shaven anonymous faces. With dismay he saw that the next train had been cancelled. Damn! That meant a thirty-minute wait. He went to the small ticket office to find it closed. Well, there was a machine; he supposed they didn’t want to pay staff. Tough luck on anyone who needed help with their luggage or advice on their route.
Outside, he saw a red double-decker bus, and getting onto it, to his total disbelief, was his father. But he’d died almost ten years earlier! He could see the back of the man as he paid for his ticket. The same tweed jacket with brown leather patches on the elbows, the same tweed trousers, the same beige cap, the same grey hair just peeking out from under the cap.
He ran out, “Dad! Dad!” just as the bus pulled off. Then a black cab drew up. Thank God! He waited for the passengers to disembark – a woman, with a beige coat and a silk headscarf, with two young children in tow. They were both engrossed with hand-held devices, oblivious to the outside world. The woman counted out the fare in ten and twenty pieces. Hurry up, damn you!
He dived onto the back seat and opened the little window. “Follow that bus!”
The driver grunted and began to edge out. The bus was receding into the distance.
The driver made an unpleasant noise and stamped on the accelerator.
The bus halted at last and the taxi pulled up in front. Patrick looked back to see his father – or someone identical to him – getting out and going into a bookmakers, Fred Noble. Well, his dad had liked a bet and often went to Nobles. It must be him, surely?
He pushed the door open and went inside. Half a dozen old men sat chewing pencils and staring at their betting slips, whilst a commentary came over the loudspeakers. “Runners going down to the start now.” A girl with bright blonde hair, acne, and thin brown arms sat behind the glass, looking bored, filing her crimson nails. But there was no sign of his father.
“Excuse me, did a man just come in. Tweed jacket and trousers, beige cap?”
She looked up. “What?”
Patrick repeated the question, watching as the girl tried to compute what he was asking. Finally, the penny dropped.
“I don’t remember. If he did, he might be in the toilet.” She gestured down a dingy corridor.
Patrick went past faded pictures of racehorses in thin, cheap frames that lined the peeling walls. He opened the door and went in. One cubicle was occupied. He hesitated. But he’d seen his dad come into the shop. He must be in there.
He knocked. “Dad, are you in there?”
The door opened and there stood two young black men. One held a plastic bag with some lumps in it. The other held a wad of cash. “Who the fuck are you?” said plastic-bag man, his eyes wide and hostile, the pupils dilated.
“Oh, sorry, I thought my father had come in here.”
“Let’s waste this fucker, man, he’s seen us,” said wad-of-cash-man, reaching into his coat.
The last thing Patrick knew was white-hot pain as a black hand thrust a long, serrated knife into his chest.
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