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https://www.wattpad.com/1001073141-the-buses-come-as-they-please-part-1

The sun shone annoyingly in his eyes as it rose behind the neat row of brick houses, backing onto a small woods, one of the few remaining green spots in the little grubby town of Eastford. As the sun rose, more and more cars began to race at breakneck speed round the sharp bend, over the hill, and then down the road that passed the house. People would never learn it seemed; many untimely deaths had been due to those stupid drivers. It wasn’t as if this was really that important though. It certainly wasn’t as if it could be prevented.

    The mornings always progressed in the same way. They worked on a strict schedule, and it was at 6:50, like always, that Anita Redders, dressed smartly in a pencil skirt and a pale blue blouse, blonde hair billowing around her shoulders along with a thin transparent scarf-type thing opened her door and lightly sprung down the front garden. That garden with it’s overgrown grass was a relic of her mother’s attempts at a flower garden. Like always, she doubled back to relock the door, just to be sure, before speed walking towards the bus stop at the crest of the hill. It was only a few paces to get there, but leaving a ten minute buffer was always wise, as the 7 ‘o’ clock bus was a fluid concept and could not be counted on to be on time, or even late. It quite often would arrive, and then leave earlier than you expected it. Far too many things were fluid concepts these days. A man could not rely on anyone or anything. Anita perched on that useless, sloping, slippery bench that one finds at bus stops and fished for a book from her bag and waited. She looked like a woman in a picture, under the yellowing and cracking plastic shade of the bus stop, except no-one would want to paint that picture, given the sad state of the bus stop. She was the only one there, and her gaze never rested on her book, but was diverted, searching, watching.

    Jim, the fellow looking from his window watching all of this, sighed. He knew exactly who young Anita was waiting for because Gary Jones came to chat to her at the bus stop every morning. Each of the young people would pretend that they were surprised to bump into one another, but Jim knew what was really going on. Young people developed these unspoken agreements. It was nauseating really. It was obvious that Gary came to see her because he never caught the bus.

    As expected, Gary’s lanky form emerged from his mother’s house and it seemed to Jim as if each of his slimy limbs were each moving independently from the others. Gary, of course, did not move quite as oddly as this, but Jim did not really like Gary, so imagined him so. To Jim, Gary looked like a bug, and he most ardently desired to squash him.

    Gary sauntered over to the bus stop and engaged Anita in what Jim assumed was the same sickening flattery and flirtations that guys like Gary had used for decades to try and attract girls, and that silly girls like Anita had spent just as long putting up with and apparently, falling for and enjoying. Jim had seen it all before, especially with some of the pompous fools that had been recruited at the police station. Flirting with the secretaries, even with some of the officers. The most surprising thing to Jim was that some of these very clever women would flirt back and giggle like young Anita was just then. This little airhead of a girl was nothing on her older sister, who had been a young woman of character.

    Jim’s eyes wandered across the street. A beautiful BMW was parked on the curb at the opening of the cul de sac that descended down the hill that was perpendicular to the main road. This was the cul de sac where Jim lived and it had a large patch of green grass where the local kids ran around playing tag and football amongst the three small trees that were planted there. He frowned. No-one who lived in that area could own a car like that. It was a beautiful car, and it was out of place in the quaint and concrete street that Jim called home. Perhaps it belonged to the parents of that new youngster who had been coming over for playdates a lot recently. Perhaps she had slept over at one of the girl’s houses and that was why the car was here so early.

    The frantic woman with the megaphone worthy voice, who lived a few doors further down the decline to Jim, burst out of her front door like a bullet from a gun, but far less satisfying. Jim lived on the corner where the main road turned into the cul de sac and so he watched her waddling like a duck, with her brood in tow, up the small curve of the hill towards the main road. From here they would walk down, in the opposite direction to the bus stop, towards the local school. The party bustled and rustled, drawing Jim’s attention for a long while. Janice, he thought the mother’s name was, was wiping the smallest child’s nose, scolding an older one for talking too loudly (whilst of course booming herself) and wiping chocolate off of another’s face with her thumb. He supposed she was dropping them off at the breakfast club that the school ran, before going to work. As the bustle disappeared from view, silence settled back onto the waking street.

    Jim’s attention refocused on Anita as she stepped onto the bus (it was only six minutes late, which was not bad, considering.) It snorted as it pulled away from the stop and as Gary waved at Anita from the curb. Even the buses though he should be snorted at, Jim concluded, smirking as he watched Gary return to his house and the smirk remained with him as he stood up from his big, leather armchair in his bedroom. This armchair stood, turned at an angle towards the large window that faced the main road, and a small coffee table stood next to it, usually topped with a large mug of steaming tea, a plate piled with biscuits and several half-read books. Behind this set up was a large bed that Jim had laid neatly that morning, but the pride of the room was to the left of this, where bookshelves stood floor to ceiling, and wall to wall. Jim had bought and read all of these books in the last few years, although a few he had rescued from the school when they had been trying to throw out a pile of the battered ones. The bookcase was Jim’s prize possession. It made his room a place of significance.

He was about to leave the window and make a cup of tea, when a movement caught his eye. A youngster with a briefcase hanging open stumbled as he moved from the wall he had presumably been sitting on. He was on the wall of the other corner house, the other guardian of this small cul de sac of houses, his friend Margaret. Jim shook his head: the disrespect of sitting on someone else’s garden wall was outrageous. It wasn’t even like he was one of the local blokes – the usual suspects. Jim knew everyone, and this boy was a new face. Jim frowned and jotted down the incident in his worn leather notebook and turned from the window. He was losing some of his edge. How had he missed that guy?

    As Jim changed out of his pajamas (which really meant changing from one pair of black jogging bottoms and a grey t-shirt, into a different pair of black jogging bottoms, and a grey polo shirt and his maroon fleece) he wondered whether the lad had been the lover of some young girl and this was his walk of shame back home. This explanation didn’t settle in Jim’s mind however and the thought of his own inadequacy continued to swim around his head, resting heavily on his brow as he walked down his narrow staircase. Out of long years of habit, he ducked to avoid hitting his head at the bottom, and he went into his kitchen and began, also from habit, to stir the ingredients for pancakes together. He cooked himself seven and coated them generously in peanut butter and sat at the small round table with the sunlight shining through the large window to eat them. He would never have dreamt of eating such an unhealthy breakfast when he was young, but since his injury, it wasn’t like he had much to keep fit for. You had to find your joy in the small things. Eating seven peanut butter pancakes most mornings made Jim happy. Happier.

    After eating his pancakes and drinking his tea Jim swung his satchel over his shoulder and left his house and began walking. He could have waited for the bus, but his own two legs were more reliable, but then what wasn’t more reliable than those blasted buses? He had only just turned onto the main road when a girl with messy reddish hair (although it wasn’t always red, sometimes it was other colours,) a backpack that looked as if it might burst at the seams at any second and wearing a hideous fishnet tights and combat boot combination with a black layered skirt, emerged from Anita’s house. Fashion, like most things, had lost most of its class. Tracy was a very familiar person to Jim. She was Anita’s best friend. Jim had forgotten she had been staying over that last night, or perhaps she had arrived after he went to bed. Which was it? He was definitely losing his edge.

Jim checked his watch. Someone was going to be late for university. Very late indeed. This woman was an art student at the local university and she lived in some questionable housing down near the town centre. It was since meeting Tracy that Anita had begun going clubbing and taking an interest in that Gary character. Tracy wasn’t a good influence.

Jim vented this frustration by murmuring to himself: “Children these days.”

There was a nice coffee shop on the edge of town, that overlooked the GP where Anita worked as a secretary. There were comfortable leather sofas, clustered around old wooden tables. The floors were carpeted in interesting patterns in shades of brown and dark reds and blues that Jim enjoyed looking at and tracing with his eyes. The air was always warm as was the smile of the old couple who ran the place. Jim had known them for a while. The coffee was always strong, and the smell of it mingled with the freshly baked goods and filled the small shop front with lovely aromas. There were pictures in black and white hung on the walls, with illegible handwritten inscriptions scrawled, and framed alongside them. Alas, this shop, which had been simply called ‘Smith’s Coffee’ had been closed for refurbishment for several weeks now, and Jim had been forced to sit further up the road in the new fangled place called ‘The Blend.’

The floors were white laminate which reflected the white light from the exposed lightbulbs hanging from the ceiling in a way that was almost clinical. The glass tables had sharp, unfriendly corners and the colourful plastic chairs were not comfortable in any sense of the word. The place smelled clean, not of cake, not of coffee, just clean, and the coffee itself was never strong enough. So went Jim’s list of complaints.

Jim sat down in his new ‘normal’ chair, which was lime green. He could just about see the GP clinic from there. He fished his notebook from his satchel and began to flick through the pages, reviewing the week’s activities. The silence of the shop used to be off-putting, compared to the jovial hum of the machines and the chatter of people at Smith’s, but Jim had gotten used to it now, and he was distressed when a shrill voice interrupted his silence.

“Hi sir, can I get you anything?”

Jim blinked. The woman looking down at him was Tracy, painted lips stretched into a ‘customer service’ smile. How had she gotten here before him? He wondered.

“Am I not supposed to get up to order?” he asked, a bit lost for anything else to say. Tracy gestured to the quiet, empty cafe.

“We aren’t exactly busy.” she said, and then, seeing his notebook, “Ooh, what are you writing? Is it a novel?”

Jim closed the notebook. “Yes.” He replied. Ordinarily he would have responded that it was none of her business, but he found himself flustered. Besides, he didn’t want anyone to know that he was tracking everyone’s lives, he had arrested guys for that very thing. “Based on my life.” He added, trying to satisfy her frankly impertinent curiosity. To his dismay, Tracy sat down on the window ledge. Jim frowned as she began to recount some dull tale about a writer friend she had whose grandad wrote memoirs, but after he wrote the last line, dropped down dead, and wasn’t that poetic? She began to trail off as it began to dawn on her that that wasn’t a wholly sensitive anecdote.

“Just a black filter coffee please miss. Strong.” Jim said in reply. Tracy got up to leave. She scribbled in her waitress notebook.

“Absolutely mister.”

The morning eked drudgingly on. Jim listened to Tracy noisily telling another waitress how she had applied to get a job at the cafe only last week.

“And it is so great! So close to home and uni and my bestie works in that clinic. And the shifts work perfectly with my lectures!”

Jim made a note. Even nonsense was occasionally useful. He knew this from experience. Eventually Tracy left and the absence of her droning voice left the Blend feeling almost peaceful.

His thoughts wandered, as they often did, to the days before his injury. He didn’t consider himself to be nostalgic, but there was something so tempting about reliving those days. He had loved working at the police station and once he had gotten used to having a young woman as a partner, Grace had been a great companion. A quality woman she had been. A young woman partner, it turned out, was far more respectful than a young male partner. Young men were so arrogant.

Checking his watch, Jim decided to buy some supplies from the little supermarket on the corner. He carried his basket down the isles, piling things into it. In little moments like this he realised that he wasn’t as strong as he used to be. Carrying the basket had become a chore. After paying and leaving, his gaze lingered on the bus stop. Would it come soon? The walk there had left his knees a little shaky, and his back moaned at him from the effort. That uncomfortable chair hadn’t exactly helped.

Across the road Anita came out of the clinic and held the door for a boy and his mum going in. She smiled. Sometimes Jim thought she looked exactly like Grace. Grace had always had a smile for everyone. She was the kindest person he had known. Naive in how she viewed people, but kind.

The buses heading in each direction pulled up at the same moment in a rare moment of symmetry. Anita ran to get on board on her side of the road, that meant she was going to Green Way to where Tracy lived. Jim got on the one on his side of the road. The buses pulled away.

As Jim sat at his window sipping his tea and eating the cheese scone he had bought at the bakery section in the supermarket, he watched the neighbourhood children playing. The kid who lived on Russel street, in one of those mansions, had been dropped off by a driver in the time Jim had been out. The children were kicking a ball around bare foot, their shoes marking the goals. The slope of the green caused the game to be rather uneven, and the ball to keep rolling down the hill. The simplicity of childhood was nice. These children from these vastly different backgrounds could play together without a thought.

Loud sniggering snatched Jim’s attention away from his reverie. Behind a thin veil of cigarette smoke stood Gary and a couple of the other local oiks. They leant against the wall that neatly surrounded Margaret’s well-kept garden on the other corner of the cul de sac. smoking and sniggering and drinking from a bottle wrapped in brown paper, but also talking rather more intently than usual and staring at the children. Jim frowned. He picked up the house phone from its spot on the window sill. He dialled a number.

“Hey Mark…Yeah…Are you in the area?…Excellent.” He replaced the phone and sat back comfortably in the chair, letting the cushioning support his aging back whilst his humour nursed his fraying patience.

Jim’s tea hadn’t yet cooled to slurping temperature before a police car crawled down the road. It slowed by the huddle of oiks. The policeman exchanged what Jim assumed was menacingly friendly pleasantries with Gary and his gang. The young men shuffled awkwardly and then dispersed. The policeman flashed his lights at Jim’s window as he pulled away. Jim chuckled to himself and sipped his tea.

All of the familiar landmarks blurred past the window as the bus drove down Glenwick Way. It wasn’t ideal to take the bus this late at night, but she had been having such a nice time at Tracy’s and hadn’t wanted to leave any earlier. She kept her hood up and her headphones in her ears. One could never know who you would meet on public buses at this hour.

The bus screeched to a halt and she got off, thanking the driver as she did. It was only a few paces home, but each one was an effort in her tiredness. Thank goodness for Saturdays. A lie-in was an extremely welcome thought after such a difficult day at work. All the idiots in one day, it had seemed. One woman in particular had caused problems over her prescription and it had taken all of Anita’s patience not to raise her voice.

A hand on her shoulder made Anita’s stomach lurch. The air caught in her throat and she couldn’t scream. She span round to meet her attacker to find in relief that it was only Gary. She sighed and laughed nervously.

“It’s just you.”

“Who else would it be?” Asked Gary, who looked a bit perplexed that she was so scared. “I saw you get off the bus and thought I’d come and say hi.”

“Hi.” replied Anita shortly. She wanted her bed. Gary frowned.

“Well I was wondering if you wanted to grab a drink. Or I could come in for coffee.” He suggested, sticking one hand into the back pocket of his white washed jeans, and running the other through his long, styled hair. Anita bit her lip. Should she let him come in? Maybe it would be okay.

Anita had felt slightly uncomfortable around Gary lately. She had been telling Tracy, just a few hours before about how at the pub Gary had come over and grabbed her by the waist. Tracy had laughed this off as flirting, even romantic. It had started to seem like Gary was interested in something more than a friendship. She supposed that they had been flirting for a while now, but Anita didn’t really know whether she wanted to date Gary.

“Do you know what is romantic?” Anita had confessed to Tracy in her small apartment. “Someone has been sending me love letters.” Tracy had squealed and demanded information and Anita had laughed and recounted bashfully how she had found a letter amongst her post. That had been two weeks ago and there had been two letters since that first one that had said:

Maybe it is impertinent to write to you, and I hope I don’t cause offence, but I don’t know what else I can do. I can’t tell you how I feel when I see you, tell you that my eyes search for you in crowds. Yet, though I cannot tell you in person, I will tell you in this note because I need to express this admiration somehow. Maybe you will like to know that you have been the source of so much happiness to someone else.

Yours truly, G

The letter had arrived in an envelope with no address. “So it had been hand delivered.” Anita pointed out.

“Do you really think ‘G’ is Gary?” Tracy had asked, sounding skeptical. Anita had just assumed it was him, but she had been wondering about it on the bus ride home. She did not know what to think about it all. Perhaps Gary was the one, her prince charming. Maybe this was happily ever after.

“Goodnight Gary.” Anita said decisively and went inside. She didn’t have to decide tonight. He didn’t try to force his way in, which she had been a little bit worried about. She watched him walk away through the spyhole and frowned as he kicked her neighbour’s wall. She sighed and dumped her keys in the bowl in the hall and hung her coat on the wooden stair rail.

Anita lived in a large brick house that belonged to her parents. They had moved further north last year for her dad’s work and had left her to look after the house. She was supposed to be finding some other young singles to rent out the other rooms, but work had been busy lately and she hadn’t gotten round to it. She dumped her handbag in the kitchen and came back to pick up the letters. She wandered back to the stylish, beige, tiled kitchen and clicked the kettle on as she flicked through various bills and junk mail, setting aside a few things to be forwarded to her parents. One letter addressed to Grace Redders made her twist her lips. It appeared to be from a quarterly legal magazine. She sighed and added it to the pile for her parents. They had said that they would deal with unsubscribing to anything Grace had been subscribed to. There had been a surprising amount of things – Grace read a lot! Anita had three huge piles of books in her room that she had been left in Grace’s will. Her sister had been trying to get her to read more until her very last. The rest of the books had been donated to the local secondary school. Anita wasn’t a big reader, but she had picked up Pride and Prejudice because it looked well-worn, so was presumably a good read. She had enjoyed the little notes pencilled in the margins in Grace’s scrawl. She guessed it had been a favourite.

Flicking through the rest of the mail, Anita found what she had been hoping for: a blank envelope, save for a funny looking smiley face drawn in the centre. She smiled and opened it.

Dear girl who I watch catching the bus most mornings,

I don’t know why I keep watching you – I know it is creepy, and I truly am sorry. I should stop really. I don’t know why I haven’t. I also don’t know why I have kept writing. I’m such an idiot. What I’m really trying to say is that I hope you had a nice day and that I hope one day I will know more about you than what bus you take in the morning. It would be nice to know your name. I love your smile, but I hope one day to know what makes you smile. Maybe one day I’ll get to make you smile.

Sincerely, the fool, who cannot bring himself to stop writing you these notes.

Anita smiled. It was nice to be admired. She folded the note up and as she got ready for bed she pondered the words. She looked at her own face in the mirror whilst she brushed her teeth. How strange for Gary to say he didn’t know her name. Maybe the notes weren’t from him. She felt a faint disappointment as she climbed into her bed and turned off the light.

Jim woke with the bird song at 6:30 and bounded out of bed like a man half his age might. Saturdays were probably his favourite day of the week. The first four or so hours he whittled away with several cups of tea and a John Grisham novel. He never used to be a big reader, but his partner, Grace, had bought him a novel for Christmas one year, telling him it was her dad’s favourite. He hadn’t intended to read it, but she had badgered him so much that he eventually caved, and much to his dismay he had been hooked. The obsession had begun and he had read scores of books since, in a wide variety of genres. Crime dramas were still his favourite though.

When he had become so hungry that his stomach had begun to growl, he grabbed his coat and walked to the end of the road where there was a line of shops: a newsagents, barbers, a pizza takeout that was never open and the greasy spoon. Jim loved this place. It had been open since before he moved to the area and he had become good friends with the owner. Since he had left work it had been his tradition to go every Saturday for a gossip with Ernie, and a good breakfast.

“Morning Ernie.” He said as the bell on the door announced his entrance.

“Morning Jim. The usual?” Ernie asked. Jim assented. The ‘normal’ consisted of two fried eggs, two strips of back bacon, three sausages, two pieces of toast, black pudding and tomatoes. Jim didn’t eat mushrooms or hash browns. He wasn’t sure why anyone did.

Jim sat down. Ernie would join him after a while for a cup of coffee. Looking around the small room of five or so metal tables, Jim was surprised to see the lanky fellow from the previous morning sitting in the corner typing furiously on a laptop. The entire table shaking, and seemingly swamped by papers. Who was this kid? Jim made it a matter of principle to know who lived in his little area of Eastford, so how had he missed this? If Mr Floppyhair didn’t live here, there was no reason for him to be in this cafe, for there were greasy spoons on most estates, and although Jim liked Ernie, there was nothing special about his one in particular. There would be an equally good one wherever it was that Mr Floppyhair lived.

Ernie brought out two plates of food and black coffees, painfully sweet, and sat down. Jim asked after Ernie’s family as usual, and like usual Ernie replied that they were alright and told a story about one of his small grandchildren who lived up in Manchester.

“So who is the floppy-haired fellow?” Jim asked, gesturing to the young man in the corner. The aforementioned young man was so engrossed that he seemed not to notice this question, asked rather too loudly. Ernie shrugged.

“He’s been in here most mornings this week. Always orders coffee, never drinks more than a few sips. Usually at about eleven he checks his watch and hurries off.”

“So we don’t know where he lives?” Jim asked after pausing to chew. Ernie didn’t know. He had though Jim would have known.

The two men became distracted momentarily by a shuffling of papers as the kid got up to leave. He stopped by their table.

“Thank you very much Ernie. I hope you have a good day.” He said, shaking Ernie’s hand. He looked at Him. “You too, sir.” He said and nodded at him. He then left. Jim raised his eyebrows. “Well-mannered kid.” He remarked. The little cafe was now empty except for the two men, and silent except for the clinking of their forks against their plates.

“Do you know what I do know about him though…” began Ernie as he went behind the counter to fetch the coffee pot and sugar “Is that he works for them prosecutors.”

This interested Jim. The kid was CPS. That explained the manners and papers, but it didn’t explain his presence here. All the lawyers Jim knew lived in the posh part of town. Jim liked most of the crown prosecutors he had met and had even gone over for dinner with a few back in the day. They did good work. Intelligent chaps.

After another coffee and finishing his breakfast Jim bid Ernie farewell and popped into the newsagents for a paper and some milk. Maybe he would even treat himself to some wine gums.

He said good morning to Gary who was evidently covering one of his uncle’s shifts. Gary’s uncle owned the newsagents. Gary just grunted from where he sat, feet up on the counter. He turned up the volume on the radio. Oh! How Jim disliked this odious young man. He embodied everything Jim didn’t like about young men. To avoid saying something rude, he walked into the furthest isle. It was a rather large newsagents and sold a variety of canned goods and even had some chest freezers at the back. Jim meandered, looking at what they had in stock. The bell clanged as someone else came in. Suddenly the radio stopped pumping out techno pop music and Jim heard voices.

“I just thought I’d pop in and ask whether you had the money I lent you.” He heard a young girl’s voice ask. He was pretty sure it was Anita’s. “There’s no rush exactly, but I saw some shoes I want to buy whilst they’re on sale.”

Gary made some sort of mumbled promise to get it to her soon. Jim hadn’t known he owed her money. Jim rolled his eyes as the two young people went on to flirt. He stood by the limited selection of milk, scanning the bottles for real milk amongst the long life alternatives that the store held.

“Oh, and I got your note.” He heard Anita say in a coy voice. He raised an eyebrow, thinking snarkily to himself that it was impressive that Gary knew how to write.

“What note?” Demanded Gary. “I didn’t write no note.”

“Oh.” said Anita. She hadn’t known what she was expecting, but had wanted to know. “It must have been someone else.

“I don’t think you’re telling the truth.” Said Gary after a small silence.

“Of course I am telling the truth. Why would I lie?” Asked Anita indignantly.

“I think you’re trying to make me jealous. I won’t have it.” Said Gary. He got up from behind the counter and continued a sarcastic monologue about how there must be many other guys and how Anita must be stringing them all along and how he was finished being one of them and Anita kept protesting. Her eyes had begun to water and the shelves of the shop began to blur into the form of Gary and the form of Gary began to blur into the shelves and suddenly Gary’s hand emerged from the blur and her eyes widened. His arm jerked like a faulty machine and he seethed with the effort of keeping his arm from completing its action. Steam billowed from his ears.

“Go.” He foamed through gritted teeth. “Buy something and go.”

Anita stared him straight in the eye and dropped her armful of flavoured gums, canned drinks and magazines. They tumbled pitifully to the floor and the bell chimed mockingly behind the slight figure flouncing out onto the street.

Jim walked out from where he had been listening in the dairy isle and Gary watched him warily. The sweets still laid scattered on the floor, a remnant to the chaos that was fading into the sunny silence of the day. Jim paid for his milk in silence and left.

He didn’t really notice the walk home as his mind was turning over everything he had just learnt. He didn’t even bother to put the milk in the fridge but hurried straight to his armchair and wrote down what had happened. As he came to the end he noticed that the children were playing on the grass and their laughter rang through the opened window. The day wanted on as Jim sat in his armchair watching the children play and the buses coming and going in their sporadic fashion and trying to swat a particularly bothersome fly.

Ordinarily Margaret would have visited Jim on a Saturday, but he hadn’t actually seen her or heard from her for a week or two. He probably ought to check on her. Perhaps he would tomorrow, once she got back from church. Margaret lived across the green where the children were currently playing tag under the watchful eye of the rich kid’s chauffeur and the far less watchful eyes of a group of mums sitting on folding chairs at the bottom of the lawn.

Margaret had been a secretary at the police station when Jim had been on the force. A top notch one too. She had retired a month or two before Jim’s accident. She was fortunate really, to have gotten to work up until retirement age. He would have had three more years ahead of him, but after you’ve been shot in the knee at his age, you cannot really go back to field work, no matter how well you recover. Although he didn’t mind the idea of a desk job, he knew he wouldn’t have been able to handle the awkward stares and pity from the other guys. The reminder of man’s frailty wouldn’t have done much for morale either.

These were the reasons that Jim gave himself for why he had not returned to work, and they were probably partly true. However, what he did not talk about, or often think about, or perhaps hadn’t even realised, was that losing Grace had had a lot to do with it. The same chase that had left him shot, had left her dead. In some strange way, living in the light of her death had had to look different.

    “It’s not a life Jim.” Margaret commented, when Jim mentioned her death, whilst sitting drinking tea with her the next day. It had turned out that Margaret had stumbled down the stairs and been couch bound for the last week. “I know her dying words to you were to protect her sister, but she wasn’t asking you to give up your life.” Margaret continued.

    Jim chose a biscuit from the plate. “I have a life.” He said. “I’m indignant that you’re laughing,” he added, but he laughed along with her. “I have my books, and Saturday’s at Ernie’s and you.”

    “And notebooks full of notes on the neighbours.”

“Old habits die hard.” He said and shrugged whilst dipping his biscuit in his tea.

    A key turned in the door and Jim practically leapt to his feet, abandoning his biscuit as a shipwreck in the steaming cup of tea. Margaret raised an eyebrow.

    “That will be my grandson. I wasn’t quite stupid enough to give a key to a burglar.”

    “You have a grandson?” Jim asked as he went to let in the grandson who was still fumbling with the key. Jim’s surprise that Margaret had a grandson that he didn’t know about was compounded when the now opened door revealed the CPS lawyer from Ernie’s, heavily laden with shopping bags. Jim looked at Margaret, mouth open, but without words to say. Margaret smiled.

    “George, love, this is my friend Jim. Would you put those bags in the kitchen. There’s tea on the table so grab yourself a mug.”

    “Okay nan. I’ll have a cup, but I don’t want to interrupt you two.” He called, whilst he put some frozen items into the freezer.

    Jim had sat himself down, and had been staring at his shoes, hoping they would help him make sense of the day.

    “I was married Jim.” Said Margaret, her eyes laughing at his expense.

    “Well that figures.” Jim replied. “Did he die?”

    “Yes, soon after my twins were born.”

    “Sorry.”

    George came in from the kitchen and poured a tea from the pot and perched on the arm of the sofa Margaret was lying on. “It’s good to see you again sir. I didn’t realise you and my nan were friends.” He said, leaning over to shake hands. He ruined to his nan, “Jim and I saw each other at Ernie’s yesterday.” He explained.

    Jim nodded. “Well I’ll leave you two to your family time.” He went to get up.

    “Sit.” said Margaret. Jim sat. “Don’t be an idiot Jim. You aren’t in the way and you know that. It will be good for you two to get to know each other. I’ll make more tea.”

    “No.” Both men said in unison, each appalled at the suggestion of injured Margaret moving a muscle. They both went to the kitchen and Jim made the tea whilst George unpacked the rst of the shopping.

    “Ernie told me you are CPS.” Jim said, in order to break the silence.

    “Yeah. I was lucky and got a placement straight after my training. Do you work?”

    “I’m retired.” The two men continued their jobs in silence for a few minutes until Jim said, “I was a policeman, but I got shot.”

    “Oh, I see. That can’t have been any fun.” George replied. “Do you enjoy retirement?”

    “Not really. I get to read a lot though, which is nice.”

    They chatted politely until the tea was made and returned to the sitting room. Jim’s opinion that the child was a polite, intelligent lad had been cemented. George had decided that he liked Jim. He seemed less surely than he had the previous morning, and his nan seemed to enjoy his company.

    Across the road Anita was awaking, bleary-eyed from her night out. After her fight with Gary she had half run, half stumbled to the bus stop and gotten on the next bus. People seemed faceless and the regular landmarks blurred before her eyes. The grubby pub on the corner that always had birthday announcements, adverts for school fairs or declarations of love spray painted on bits of fabric and tied to the gate; the pavilion of shops opposite the train station and the supermarket with the petrol station where traffic got jammed; the taxi cab were the black cars stood like sentinels outside the bank, florist and the shop that almost exclusively sold ballet shoes. She wasn’t lost in thought because thoughts were lost to her. There were no tears to hide from random bus riders because she was struggling to feel anything. She was faintly aware of people in her personal space and she tried to push her body as strongly as she could into the window next to her seat to separate herself from the rest of the world.

    She hadn’t been intentionally heading to Tracy’s, so she was almost as surprised as Tracy when she ended up outside her apartment.

    “Hi honey, are you okay?”

    “I want to go to Rays.” Rays was the local university student clubbing venue.

    “It’s noon Anita.”

    Anita frowned. “Yes. Yes it is.”

    Tracy raised an eyebrow. Her friend was obviously out of sorts. “Look, I have to go to work for a few hours, but there are DVDs in the drawer and ice cream in the freezer. I’ll be back at four. We can talk about it then. Will you be okay?”

    Anita nodded. Eyes wide and startled.

    In the hours that Tracy was out Anita began to breathe and calm down. Thoughts flew through her mind like fireflies in a jar. Her eyes didn’t leave the soppy movie on the telly, but she wasn’t really watching. A woman with tightly curled hair slapped a man with a chisled jaw and pranced away. Anita didn’t know why the woman was cross. Gary had tried to slap her. She should know what she thought about him now. Anita, silly though she was, knew that men who slapped girls were not to be pursued.

    Until this day she hadn’t really known how she felt about Gary’s advances, but now she knew. She felt betrayed that the notes weren’t from him. A clear thought kept cutting through the chaos. “I’m in love with him.” How had she not known before. He had felt jealous. He cared for her. The couple on the tv fell into one another’s embrace. Anita smiled and ate another spoonful of chocolate ice cream.

    She began to doze on the sofa, and the ice cream tub was slipping from her hand when a horrifying thought jerked her awake, like when you dream that you are falling and you wake with terror. Gary hated her. It didn’t matter that she had forgiven Gary, because he hated her.

    When Tracy returned she found Anita hidden under a blanket. Whether she was sobbing or sleeping would have remained a mystery, except she was shivering. Tracy dumped a greasy brown paper bag on the coffee table and prodded the blanket with her boot. Anita stuck her head out of her burrow. Her hair flew wildly from one part of her head, but also stuck to her face where it was wet from tears.

    “Chinese?” She asked

    “You bet.”

    Tracy turned of the nonsense on the telly and got some plates from the draining board in the kitchen. Tracy wasn’t big on putting her crockery away, so much of it ended up living on the draining board. Anita spent the time blowing her nose a few times. Tracy caught her eye as they dished up noodles and sweet and sour sauce onto the plates.

    “Do you want to talk about it?”

    “No.”

    The girls ate in silence for all of 20 seconds.

    “I just want us to be okay. We fought, and now he hates me, and all my hopes are ruined. I never do anything right.” Said Anita with a sigh.

    Tracy raised her eyebrow. “And by ‘he’ I’m assuming we mean Gary?”

    Anita sighed again and put her plate of food on the table. The tears that had been welling in her eyes began to slip down her nose.

    “What do you guys even have to fight about? You barely talk other than to flirt.” Tracy asked rather unsympathetically before stuffing a forkful of noodles into her mouth.

    “I was asking for the money he borrowed and I think that made him cross. And then he said I was trying to make him jealous. I sent him some texts to try and explain, but he never replied.” Anita dissolved into a heap of sobs. Tracy shook her head and smiled, the way one does at toddlers who cry when they can’t reach a toy from the shelf. What this girl needed was distraction. This time next week Anita would either be over Gary, or they would be back to flirting constantly like giggling 14 year olds. It was probably healthy that she was acknowledging that she liked him, so that she could move forward.

“I can’t imagine that he hates you. Disagreements aren’t the end of the world. Do you still feel like going to Ray’s?” Tracy said as she began to tidy up the plates and plastic bags. She glanced up at the tacky clock with green butterflies on it, that hung on her wall. Ray’s would be opening about now. Anita nodded, looking comically pathetic with her red nose, pillow-crumpled hair and noodles hanging out of her mouth.

The young, clean-shaven bartender slid two cocktails across the fake laminate wood to where Tracy and Anita were perched on swivelling wooden barstools. The dark floor of the restaurant, that doubled as a night club, was splattered with dappled pools of light from the ceiling disco light that failed to properly show up in the unsuccessfully dimmed room. Warm, grey light flooded in from the pale summer evening through the floor length windows that opened into the high street. The bar targeted uni students on the weekend, and was sometimes rather successful, but on this particular evening it was populated by only a handful of people, clustered in their bejewelled sparkling mini dresses and four-inch heels. Even one of the men.

Anita frowned. She had imagined the place full and throbbing like the ache in her head. At least then the music and chatter would have drowned out the pain. She had wanted to get lost in a crowd, but it seemed the crowd had somewhere better to be. The music that was playing was dreary pop music from last decade and everyone seemed to be miserable. Anita rested her forehead on her hand and tried to think of something other that the music, than her headache and the artificial smell of the orange syrup in her drink. She sipped it gingerly and the acrid sweetness lingered as a bad taste in the back of her mouth.  

“I think I need some air.” She murmured before heading for the door. Tracy watched her leave, but continued to chat and flirt with the bartender, who happened to go to school with her.

    Anita took a deep breath of the cold evening air as the noise of the music faded behind her with the closing of the big wooden door. She walked over to a metal bench, lonesome on the empty high street. A shiver ran up her spine as her bare legs touched the cold metal. It really was rather chilly outside now that the sun had gone down. The sound of cars could be heard from behind the row of shops. No-one was around these pedestrian walkways though and the shop fronts had all been locked and tidied away. A murmur of music from behind her seeped through the cracks in the brick walls and the faint smell of cigarette smoke wafted and lingered in the mild breeze.

    Anita’s gaze drifted and zoned in on a group of men in an alleyway made by a break in the shops in front of her. She couldn’t hear their voices, but she fancied that she recognised one of them by their movements. All she had wanted all day was talk to Gary and make things okay, and here he was with his friends. This was her chance.

    She couldn’t help but smile in relief as she walked across the abandoned, cobbled street to where the side road was.

    “Gary.” She called, cautiously and questioningly. Her voice sounded more timid in the big, dark void of the night than she had expected. Nothing stirred. Maybe she had been mistaken. A few more silent seconds passed and she turned away and started walking back towards the club. She wondered if she was going crazy. Then she started, as two large hands on her back propelled her forward, heels struggling to find a grip between smooth stone and frequent ridges. Gary put a hairy finger under her chin menacingly. She felt his warm sweaty breath on her face and the unpleasant smell of cheap liquor.

    “I will get your money for you, you spoiled brat, but then I don’t ever want to see you again.” Then he left to re-join his mates leaving the lingering smell of liquor and armpits.

    Tracy had caught the end of this interaction when she had come out to check on Anita. She rushed over as quickly as her awkward shoes would carry her.

    “Are you okay?” she asked, but Anita didn’t answer and failed to the whole ride home and didn’t mention the incident even when she left Tracy’s the next morning. She arrived home and fallen back to sleep on the sofa.

    Jim opened the door, letting in the warm afternoon air. The sun shone down on the street making all the passers by smile. It had been three days since his visit to Margaret’s.

    “And how are you today child?” Asked Jim to the small boy who slipped past his legs, into the kitchen, with his maths textbook tucked under his arm.

    “I’m okay.” He said. Jim leaned out the door and waved to the boy’s mum. Little Thomas came over once a week for maths help. He was one of the local kids. The tutoring sessions had started a few months ago when Jim had found Thomas crying, sitting on the metal bike racks outside the cul de sac of houses.

    “All my friends know long division, and now I have to stay in class all alone finishing my work during lunch.” He had spluttered between sobs, when Jim asked him why.

`    “Long division, eh? That’s not too hard. I’m sure a smart lad like you could learn it. I can teach you if you like. Which one of those women is your mum?” Jim had replied before marching over to the group of mothers, squawking like exotic parrots in the tall trees of a rainforest. He interrupted their evidently fascinating conversation about so-and-so’s mother’s old dog’s pet salon’s owner’s taste in men and shoes. Apparently the taste in shoes was far better than the taste in men. Jim worked out which of the women was little Thomas’ mother and invited him over after school. He had been coming every Wednesday since. His long division was coming along well.

    “So what mark did you get on last week’s homework?” Jim asked, joining little Thomas at the table with two glasses of milk and some cookies. They always ate cookies whilst they worked.

    Thomas didn’t reply and just stared blankly out of the window. Jim tapped his pencil on Thomas’ paper.

    “What are you thinking about child?” He asked.

    Thomas sighed. “Gladys.”

    “Who’s Gladys?”

    “The new girl at school. She’s so fun.”

    “Is she the girl who comes to play with you all in the fancy car?”

    “Yeah.”

    “Is she any good at maths?”

    Thomas looked up at Jim’s kind face and smiled sheepishly. Taking the point he opened up his books and the pair worked through a few pages of arithmetic.

    This small boy had often been a good source of local information to Jim. Any excuse to avoid the maths!

    Thomas was in fact, a very smart boy and it didn’t take Jim long to explain today’s lesson, multiplying fractions, to him. After they had finished a few pages Jim suggested they took a break. Thomas nodded eagerly.

    “Can we go and look at the books?” He asked, his eyes shining up at Jim’s tiring grey ones.

    “If we must.” Jim replied, by which Thomas knew he meant “I’d love to small child.” This was confirmed by Jim’s smile as he got up from his chair. Thomas raced up the stairs ahead of him. By the time Jim had reached his bedroom, Thomas was already perched on the edge of the bed flicking through one of Jim’s history books full of photographs. Jim went to sit in his old leather chair that looked out at the street. He picked up the novel on the window sill. He and Thomas would happily sit there for hours reading, with only the odd remark from Thomas breaking the silence.

    “Were you alive during the war Mr Jim?”

    Jim chuckled silently. “No. My old man was a pilot though.”

    More silence.

    “Why do these men wear dresses?”

    “Show me that…” Jim responded, grabbing the book that was open at a picture of some Scots in their kilts.

    Jim was part way through describing what bagpipes sounded like in response to Thomas’ next question, when he was interrupted by siren-like screaming from the open window. Boy and man both leant to get a view of what was going on.

    Several of the women in their brightly coloured plumage flocked to where a woman with bleached hair and wearing a beige outfit stood screaming.

    “That’s Gladys’ mum.” Thomas supplied. That figured: she was a woman that Jim didn’t recognise, but the mums seemed to know her well. The car parked at the curb was familiar.

    “What do you think is happening?” Asked Thomas, looking up at Jim, alarm written all over his face. Jim frowned to himself. Something was up, but Thomas didn’t need to hear about it first hand.

    “I’m sure it will turn out to be fine. Why don’t you run on home and I’ll see if I can do something to help. You can take those extra cookies for your sister.”

    Thomas nodded and quickly gathered his things including the cookies and walked two doors down to where he lived.

    Jim walked shortly behind him over to the flock of crying, fussing women.

    “Can I do anything to help, miss?” He asked, addressing his question to the beige woman, but searching for the least hysterical of the group to offer him some sort of intelligible explanation. His gaze settled on the small woman with her arm around Gladys’ mum. She gave him a grateful look and said “It seems that little Gladys is missing.”

    “And is she in any of the houses?” Jim asked.

    “I think that would be a sensible place to look first.” Agreed this sensible woman, who Jim found out was called Sophie. She sent the white-faced mothers away to go and check their houses.

    “Jim was very grateful for their absence. Crying women didn’t help anything.

    “Will you be able to look after…”

    “Cheryl.” finished Sophie. “Yes I can. Why don’t you come with me Cheryl and have a cup of tea whilst Jim handles the next bit.” Local people knew that Jim used to be a policeman, so Sophie knew he would be able to take care of whatever was supposed to happen next.

    “I suppose it was odd being back at the station. All the guys were there, but there were some new kids too. I didn’t get a chance to chat to anyone. They were letting Sheila sit at the front desk.” Jim recounted to Margaret as he brought the pot of tea to the kitchen table. She had wanted company so George had helped her to walk across the green to come and sit with Jim.

    “Well Sheila wasn’t bad at her job.” Margaret said graciously, but she caught Jim’s eye and they both laughed. Calling Sheila good at her job was like saying cows were predators. They just weren’t. “Did you get someone on the kidnapping case then?” Margaret asked.

    “I did. Mark is going to take it.” Jim said, gazing out the window and chewing his thumb nail.

    “Mark will handle it well.” Margaret said, taking a sip of her tea. “I suppose you have a theory?”

    Jim nodded slowly. He wasn’t sure, he had no proof, just a hunch. He stood up to wash the plates that had cookie crumbs on from the maths class. They didn’t really need more than a rinse, but he filled up the sink as if he was planning to scrub pans. Whilst his back was to Margaret he told her that he suspected that Gary might have had something to do with the kidnapping.

    “The Jones’ boy?” Margaret asked. She raised an eyebrow.

    “He and his friends have been scouting the place and he’s in need of cash. He’s unstable.” Jim said, turning to put the plates back where they belonged. Margaret caught his eye.

    “Are you sure that this isn’t just because you don’t like him? You don’t really have any proof.”

    Jim frowned, “I’m pretty sure.” He sat back down. He used to be able to easily tell a hunch from his own feelings. He was out of practice, but he was pretty sure.

    “Why don’t you like him?” Margaret asked. She had never known Jim to take one young man’s insolence so personally as with Gary. They both knew that there were plenty of them out there.

    “He’s bad news.”

    “You don’t want him hanging around Anita.” Margaret asserted. “You aren’t her father Jim.”

    “But her father isn’t here.”

    Margaret lowered her eyes and sipped her tea. She knew what Jim was like when it came to Anita. He thought it was his duty to look after Grace’s little sister after she died on his watch. She never asked him what happened on that day beyond what he told her, but she knew that he had lost everything that day. Grace had become like a daughter to him and her final request to him to look after Anita had been blown out of proportion into a dramatic life mission. So Margaret just sat and sipped her tea.

    “Well all I’ll say is that that girl has far more admirers than she warrants. I can see like everyone else that she has a pretty face, but there doesn’t seem to be a lot else about her.”

    “Who else other than Gary?” Jim asked and then remembered as he was speaking, about how he had seen George watching the bus stop last Friday. “George?” he postulated incredulously. Margaret nodded and chuckled.

    “You would think that a boy that smart would have more common sense.” She commented. “He has written her some love letters. He’s painfully shy. He’s always been better with written words than spoken ones. I don’t imagine she knows he exists.”

    Jim raised an eyebrow and pondered this new information. Perhaps Gary had reason to be jealous after all. The two sat and chatted a while longer, and then Jim helped Margaret walk home.

    “It will all work out Jim.” She told him. Jim wasn’t so sure.

    He spent a long time lying in bed awake that night. Was his hunch correct? If Gary had borrowed cash from Anita, it stood to reason that he might have borrowed from other sources too, and maybe some of them were more serious. This, however, was all postulation. Maybe he had read one too many crime thrillers, and now he was conjuring up loan sharks and kidnapping ransoms. Maybe he had lost his edge and his opinion should be dismissed. He rolled over to face away from the door. Margaret was probably right: it would all work out.

    Jim woke up the next morning with a faint headache and a mind made up. He didn’t believe in trusting things to providence when one’s own two hands could make a difference. The sun shone down on him, matching his determination. It seemed to disregard the fact that it was before nine and rather too early to be so warm. Jim’s bus ride and walk to the police station were so warm they were uncomfortable. He had found a seat near the back where he could sit alone and he had stared blankly at the grey pavement, the blurring buildings, the occasional tree. The ideas were still turning over in his mind. He had sat down with his notebook that morning, and poured over every detail that may have given him proof, given him certainty. There hadn’t been anything. A mocking suggestion that his meticulous observations were no more than a record of local gossip had attached itself stubbornly in his mind; perhaps what he thought was a habit that remained from his youth, was actually the sign of his own senility and descent into frivolity. The bus shuddered to a stop by the familiar stop outside the post office, and Jim stepped off the bus, suddenly walking once again in the well-worn grooves off his old daily commute.

    He came through the sliding doors of the police station just as Sheila was sitting down at her desk.

    “Please, take a seat sir. Someone will be with you directly.” She spouted in a monotone drawl. Jim was just about to correct her on procedure, when the emergence of a youngish man with a grim smile, saved Sheila from a slating. The man spoke Jim’s name warmly and shook his hand.

    “This is your second visit in two days Jim. If I didn’t know better I’d think you were pining for us.” Said Mark, his grim smile easing into a natural chuckle for a moment. He lead Jim down to the small cafeteria.

    “You don’t know the half of it.” Jim sighed, his eyes darting longingly around the dingy cafeteria. The coffee machine in the corner was an upgrade from the tea and bad quality instant coffee in his day, but not much else had changed. The blinds on the window still kinked in the same place, the hysterical barking of someone’s dog a few houses away still created an incessant white noise. The smell of cheap disinfectant filled the air and as the two men sat at one of the uncomfortable tables that had those bench seats that don’t move, that you have to slide into. The smears from the cheap disinfectant on the table was the bizarrest thing to feel nostalgic over, but nostalgic, Jim felt. “But that isn’t why I am here. I was hoping you would look into Gary Jones as part of your ongoing investigation.”

    Mark raised an eyebrow, but nodded. He had a lot of respect for Jim’s infamous instincts. They chatted a little longer about local news and the station. Mark got up to leave. “Right. I’ll look into that for you Jim. I’d like to stay and chat, but I have quite a bit to be getting on with. It hasn’t been the same here without you. Can you see yourself out?”

    Various other officers filtered out of their offices to say hi to Jim as he walked toward the exit. They hadn’t managed to speak to him when he had been there the day before about Gladys. There was Old Tom who had graduated police training with Jim and he had had a friendly rivalry with ever since they had known one another. A child called Harriet had joined as he left. She had been there the day of the shooting. He had remembered admiring her stamina. It was a hard day for experienced officers like himself, nevermind young things like her, but she had kept going all day, following orders, taking initiative. Rachel and Roger, a married couple he had been friends with were also there, although this was their last week.

    It was almost an hour before Jim managed to leave and by the time he did, he had received several dinner invitations from people who he hadn’t seen for years. Before he left he took one last longing at the cafeteria where he and Grace used to sit between rounds and talk the world to rights. Usually with newspapers in hand, discussing the daily onslaught of corrupt politicians, scandalous celebrities, interesting feature articles and the issues written in the agony aunt. Jim let his eyes and imagination satisfy his longing until the pain began to ache in his chest. Losing his job and his health had been bad, but nothing hurt like the knowledge that Grace was gone and it was all his fault.

    He wasn’t ready to go home, to the quietness of his own home, to the bareness of his own four walls, besides, there he wanted to go to the CPS offices that afternoon and there was little point in going all the way home in between. Instead he went to the small bookstore at the end of the street. The shop was almost empty, it being mid-morning on a weekday, and it had been rearranged since he was last there. It took him a minute to find the crime dramas right at the back where the children’s books were supposed to live. He soon got himself happily absorbed in reading the blurbs of different novels. He enjoyed this passtime greatly, he flirted gently with the books to know whether he wanted to buy them. He let his imagination take fancy between blurbs to imagine what the story might be like. The headache that had been creeping in at his temples began to surrender to the sweet smell of paperbacks. The thick silence of the bookstore rested heavily like a blanket over Jim and he was surprised when stifled sobs from behind the isle to his left broke through it.

    He quietly rounded the bookcase that divided him and the sobbing. He saw Anita sitting with her back to the teen fiction, crying into her knees with her straggly golden hair falling over her like a pitiful waterfall and masking her from the world. A fashion magazine lay limply in her hand. Jim wasn’t sure whether to disturb her and he was about to tiptoe back to the refuge of ‘crime dramas’ when she became aware of his presence at the end of the isle, from under the blanket of tangles.

    “Oh.” she murmured and pushed her hair off of her face and wiped her face on her sleeve. Jim fumbled in his pocket for a packet of issues and fished one out for her. She wanly smiled her gratitude.

    “I hope you are okay miss.” Said Jim, feeling unsure whether he should leave her alone.

    “I’m okay.” She said whilst nodding, to herself as much as Jim.

    “I’m glad.” Jim replied and turned away.

    “Would you help me find a book?” Anita blurted after him. Jim retraced the few steps. It seemed the poor child didn’t want to be alone. “I come here sometimes because my sister used to bring me here.” Anita continued, “I wanted to find something to read, but all I have are these.” She said sadly and gestured to the copies of ‘Love It!’ in her hand.

    “Maybe you’d like a comedy.” Jim suggested, smiling kindly. The pair wove through the bookshelves reading aloud the blurbs of the books. Jim suggested that she read ‘Miss Marple.’ He remembered Grace had liked it, so maybe the sister would like it too. As the minutes ticked on, Jim felt as if time was reversing and he had gotten back his old friend. As Anita’s tears faded she seemed to get more and more life about her and she reminded him more and more of Grace.

    “I know you.” Said Anita and Jim turned round sharply from where he had been examining a collection of romantic comedies. “I mean, I know of you.” She corrected, and then continued, “My friend Gwen said she had talked to you at the blend. She said you were writing a book.”

    “Ah yes, the memoirs.” Jim recalled. Those memoirs seemed to be following him.

    “So you’ve had an interesting life?”

    “I suppose so.” They continued to peruse books in silence. “Although,” Jim added, “Not so much now, since my partner died.” He wasn’t entirely sure why he had added that. Perhaps seeing Grace behind Anita’s eyes had made him feel nostalgic, perhaps sorrow simply compels sorrow. “I used to be a police officer.” He commented in way of explanation. Anita looked at him with a fresh curiosity.

    “You used to be?” Anita asked, although, more as if she was pondering the question herself than asking it to Jim. “But not any more? You don’t look old enough to be retired.”

    “I was shot. Couldn’t face a desk job.”

    Anita nodded absent-mindedly. She had that dazed look people have when their thoughts are spinning. “And your partner died in the shoot out?”

    “Yes.”

    Jim wondered if she had worked out who he was. Did it matter?

    “Anyhow,” he concluded, “The memoirs are about my partner. Now, tell me what you were so upset about child.” The change of subject was abrupt, but effective. Anita smiled a little.

    “I had a fight with a guy. I thought he was interested in me, but if he was, he certainly isn’t now.”

    “Young men who lose their tempers with nice young girls who have done nothing but be kind and generous to them shouldn’t be given the time of day. I’m sure you’ll soon find a nice, kind guy with brains and a good job.” Jim said stiffly. He fained looking at his watch. “I’m going to have to take my leave of you, miss. It was nice to meet you.” Jim shook her hand and left. Anita smiled as he walked away.

    “Have a nice day, Jim.” She called after him. He didn’t look back. He hadn’t told her his name, so she must have realised who he was.

    Although the watch had been a mere excuse to leave before he said too much, he did need to be getting to the CPS office now that the morning flurry would be over.  The day had been waning on quicker than he expected, so quickly in fact, that it was certainly time for a coffee. Perhaps he would stop off at ‘The Blend’ first. It was on his way. To his left a bus snorted and puffed as it came to a halt.

    Jim alighted from the bus, back on his side of town. The long walk to the police station earlier that morning had left his legs a little shaky and he was glad to sit down on the green plastic chair by the window. If anyone was ever to be truly glad to sit on such an uncomfortable chair, it was Jim at that moment. Before he could put down his leather satchel and get up to order, Tracy had skipped over to take his order.

    “I’m not an invalid you know.” Jim commented which made Tracy laugh lightly.

    “Oh I know sir, I don’t take your order to save your legs.”

    “Then why?”

    “You’re my favourite customer.” Tracy replied matter-of-factly. It was Jim’s turn to chuckle.

    “Well just the usual please miss. Strong, mind you.” Favourite customer indeed. He shook his head as she walked away. Flighty though she be, the child was getting under his skin. Tracy was soon back with the cup of black coffee. Jim glanced around. As usual, the cafe had barely anyone in it. Did it ever get any business?

    Tracy noticed him surveying the room. “You don’t come at the busy times.” She told him. He raised an eyebrow. She tucked her notebook into her pocket. “How are the memoirs going by the way?” She asked. Jim frowned. He was getting tired of these memoirs. If this went on much longer, he’d have to actually write some.

    “They are coming along fine thank you.”

    “It must be interesting to recall your younger days.” Said Tracy dreamily. “What were you like when you were young? I bet you were one of those deadly serious, studious types.”

    “Well I certainly wasn’t one of those lazy, flippant, good-for-nothing blokes who spend their time drinking on street corners.”

    Tracy laughed hollowly. “Oh yes! I know a few of those. My friend is hung up over one, but I think she dodged a bullet. No-one needs to be tied to a man with a lot of temper and no ambition. This friend could have her pick of guys, but she is caught up on the bozo.”

    Jim nodded as innocently and sympathetically as he knew how. Why people seemed to be so chatty around him these days he couldn’t quite fathom, but at least he was finding out a lot of interesting information. The nagging thought that he was becoming a gossip resurfaced in his mind.

    “There have been a few guys who have been interested in her.” Tracy babbled on. “Some are idiots, others super extravagant and overly dramatic. She used to like the simple ones, you know? Flowers, simple affection. My favourite so far is the mysterious love letter writing one.”

    “Well at least that one can write.” Jim supplied. Tracy laughed.

    “See, you’re funny. That’s why you’re I like you.” She said pointing at him with her pen. “Anyway, I have to put some things in the oven. Enjoy your coffee.”

    Jim sipped his hot, averagely strong coffee and watched the people mill around the small strip of shops. A boy in a red t-shirt ran across the wall of the GP clinic and jumped off the edge, landing on hands and knees, much to his mother’s dismay who wiped his gravel imprinted hands on a tissue and lead him down the road tightly gripped by the hand. The hedges swayed beside them in the breeze. A girl swerved suddenly on her bicycle to miss a boy and his dog. She reached down to stroke the dog and chained up her bike. Further away, a man wrestled with a trolley and eventually managed to free it from all the others and push it into the supermarket.

Jim swigged the last dregs of his coffee and signalled for the bill. Tracy came over and cleared up the cup and Jim stepped into the sunshine. He walked over to the CPS office. A few people recogniced him. There was Liam who prosecuted the oik who had been breaking into all the florists; Clarice who had helped with the trial of one of his first cases, a small shoplifting case, greeted him warmly; Trevor, a lawyer who had just qualified as Jim had retired still recognised him and wanted to know how he had been doing. Jim asked him how he had been finding the job now he had been at it a while.

“Can’t complain. Certainly not what I was expecting though.” They were chuckling together when a young man with floppy hair emerged from the corner.

“Mr Jim” Said George, coming over to shake his hand. Jim noticed that he seemed worried to see him. “Is something wrong with nan?” George asked hurriedly.

“Oh no child, nothing of the sort.” Jim assured him. “I just wanted to talk to you.” Confusion wiped the worry off of George’s face. He lead Jim to his cubicle, giving him his chair, perching on the desk himself. He waited for Jim to start. Jim shifted in his desk chair. He had honestly thought that he would have avoided conversations by not having children. One of the few advantages really.

“George, I know that you are interested in dating Anita.”

George looked at his shoes and blushed slightly “And how would you know that? No-one knows that.”

“Your nan told me.”

George went to protest that his nan had never been told any such thing, but then caught Jim’s eye which seemed to say ‘Really George, have you met your nan?’

“Okay, so that’s true.” George said, shrugging resignedly. He didn’t altogether mind this odd friend of his nan’s knowing that he was desperately in love with Anita, but this was certainly not a topic of conversation he had been expecting to share with him. Especially not a week into knowing him. “Why do you care.”

“Well I think it’s a good idea.”

“Why?”

“Well you love her don’t you?”

George’s mouth turned up at the sides in a self-derisive smile. “Too much.”

“And you’re a decent, smart guy, aren’t you? I want her to be with a guy like you.”

“Jim, as kind and slightly weird, that is of you to say, she isn’t interested in me. I’m not her type. She likes that other bloke.”

“Gary.”

“Yes.”

“He’s going to be out of the way by this time tomorrow.”Jim said confidently. Mark was a pretty decent cop in his opinion and it wouldn’t take him long to link Gary to the kidnapping.

George looked at the man sitting in front of him with the greying hair and clean shaven face set like stone in a grim, but not unkind expression. It occurred to him briefly that this was the last person he would have imagined to be setting him up with some girl. It wasn’t exactly the face of a matchmaker. Jim was also thinking of the unexpectedness of what seemed to be his new passtime. He was becoming like one of the meddling old women who knitted with his mother and had tried to set him up with Gertrude Smith from the next street when he was 19. He shuddered.

George had no idea how Jim could possibly know that Gary would be out of the way by this time tomorrow, but he dismissed the amusing image of Jim as an evil matchmaking criminal mastermind that got rid of people in vague and ominous ways and shrugged. He was not one to refuse help or to be put off by people’s peculiarities.

“So how do you suggest I ask her out then? I haven’t done this before.” He asked.

Jim looked at the skinny child sitting in front of him and reflected that this was not altogether surprising. George wasn’t particularly convinced that Jim had much experience either.

“What do you mean how should you do it? With words, child.”

    “I’m not good with words.”

    “You’re training to be a prosecutor.”

    “That’s different.” George protested. “Surely you know that that’s different!”

    Jim sighed. “Get her flowers and tell her what you’re about, straight up.” Jim told him. He knew that girl Tracy would prove useful.

    “Okay.” Agreed George quietly. “I can do that.”

`    Jim sat comfortably in his old leather armchair at the food of his bed and gazed out at the morning scene outside his window. Today promised to be a good day. He had his usual brunch at Speedy’s and he was going to see Margaret that afternoon, but first, he wanted to just sit and watch the unfolding of all he had been planning and conspiring. He sat in his armchair by the window.

    First there was the welcome sound of the smooth running of a police car cresting the hill. Mark hopped out of the driver’s seat, his partner joining him from the passenger’s side. The thumping of his fist on the Jones’ door couldn’t be heard by Jim, but he could imagine it. A flustered Gary was fetched by his father and then spun round and cuffed by the strong Mark. Jim imagined the familiar words being repeated to Gary.

    “You are being arrested on the suspicion of kidnapping a minor. You have the right to remain silent, anything you do say can and will be used against you in the court of law.”

    Jim didn’t relish the worried face of Mrs Jones, or the stern one of Mr Jones, but their son needed to be taught a lesson. If they wouldn’t, maybe this would. It was later to be discovered that Gary owed half the scum of the neighbourhood in gambling debts and a couple of the upstanding citizens for friendly loans. The ransom money was going to give him a clean slate. Jim had been right in thinking that, in light of the borrowed money from Anita, which Gary had been so touchy about, the young guys loitering on street corners had begun to look suspiciously like surveying. Gladys was found and returned to her parents an hour or so later.

    Jim was able to bask in his satisfaction for an hour before the second scene occurred and Jim had started to assume that George had chickened out, but the third bus after the arrest brought a nervous, tall young man, with a scrawny bunch of supermarket flowers to the street. He stood like a statue at the gate. His hands refused to undo the latch and his feet refused to walk those fatal steps up to the door. Jim buried his brow in his hand. That child! Fortunately for George (and Jim’s nerves) Anita saw him from her living room and, in curiosity, came to her door to ask why he was there. Again, Jim couldn’t hear what they were saying, but he could infer a lot from watching. George fumbled with the latch, and obviously not being able to overcome his shaking fingers, gave up and stepped over the gate with his long legs. He said a few things and Anita looked surprised and pleased. She took the hand he had extended to shake. They held each other’s hands for a few seconds too long and Jim rolled his eyes. She gestured inside the house, but he shook his head, and instead handed her a scrap of paper. She nodded. After a minute more of talking, George turned to leave, flowers still in hand. Jim sighed in exasperation. As George reached the gate he suddenly remembered and rushed back to hand them to her. Anita laughed.

    As George meandered back to the bus stop, Jim thought he could make out his face broken into a grin. Jim shook his head. What an idiot, he thought affectionately. Jim got up to get ready to go to Margaret’s, shaking his head and chuckling. Meanwhile, the next bus was pulling away from the stop and carrying a happy young man away.