Terry holds up his bus pass for inspection, doing his best to replicate the broad grin on its photo. Unimpressed the driver waves him on, his dead eyes already on the old lady behind.
“Aren’t you gonna check it?” Terry asks.
The driver glances back at him, “you getting on or what?”
“I’m just saying, you didn’t check it, is all.”
“On or off mate, s’all the same to me.”
Nothing’s gonna ruin today for me, Terry thinks, not even this mutton-chopped ‘50s throwback. The old woman behind him jabs at his back with the business end of her brolly. “Come on, make your mind up sunshine. Some of us ain’t got all day you know.” Terry turns to confront her, wanting to spit something clever back at her, something cruel, but he can’t think of anything off the top of his head. “Look matey, you’re holding up the whole bus,” the driver informs him.
“Alright, alright,” Terry says as he swings his way up the stairs of the bus, “don’t get all shook up.”
Today is a big day for Terry, as he rounds the top of the stairs he sees that not only is his favourite seat empty but that he has the whole of the top deck to himself. “Get in there,” he says to himself as he slides into position at the front of the bus. Can’t beat the top deck, you can see the whole world from up here. Why people bother driving is beyond me, you don’t see nothing except other cars down there. Up here though, you see it all.
Terry presses his head against the cool window absorbing the vibrations of the idling bus. Gazing up at his elongated reflection he marvels, it don’t look like me, but it is me. Smiling he turns his head, making his teeth stretch into enormous fangs.
Settling back into his seat and with feet up in place on the railing in front of him, Terry watches the familiar buildings on Kiln Road roll past. Timetable Terry knows this route well. He knows all the bus routes well. Sandwich place is still shut then, they’re never gonna find anything to open there, he thinks before pulling out his phone to see if Wendy has written to him. She hasn’t, so he fires off a message to her instead.
on me way cant wait to se u
He stares at the screen, his foot tapping impatiently on the railing, eager to see the exact moment she reads his message, anxious for her reply. Nothing. Come on. Come on. Still nothing. Nervously he tugs at his left earlobe, a feeling of dread creeping over him. What if she’s forgotten, what if she ain’t home? All those weeks texting, no way she’s forgotten. Today’s the day. Felt like it’d never come, but today’s the day all right. She ain’t forgotten, she’s as up for it as I am.
He glances out of the dirt-smeared window in time to see a group of bus drivers waving at the bus as it passes the Hadleigh depot. He looks back at the screen, still nothing. Terry decides to make a deal with himself. I won’t check me phone until we’re well past the Salvation Army fields, if I can go that long then she’ll read it, text back, and everything’ll be fine. If I look before then I’ll jinx the whole thing.
The bus stops on Hadleigh High Street and a gaggle of people spill out from inside it. Looking down Terry momentarily forgets about Wendy when he spots the old lady who jabbed him in the back alight the bus and waddle up towards Morrisons. Terry stares at her, an eagle circling a lamb. He wants to shout something out of the window after her, something about the cemetery opposite, he knows there’s something in there, something malicious, but his brain refuses to make the connection. He watches as she slowly moves out of sight before switching his gaze to the grimy beige top of the bus shelter. The trainer that has been there since before Easter has been joined by a bundle of newspapers wrapped in clear plastic. No one cares, Terry thinks, they only care about what they can see, all the other stuff, the stuff that’s out of sight, hidden, that don’t matter, no one gives two shits about all that.
After what feels like forever the bus edges its way out into the slow moving traffic. S’always murder on Saturdays, especially during summer, Terry reasons. The urge to look at his phone is overwhelming and he has to focus on the early morning shoppers streaming along the pavement outside to take his mind off of it. Angry mums with too many kids, already stuck in the groove that will guide them to their graves strut alongside prematurely-old teens huddled together in groups, protection in numbers. Timetable Terry knows their game, it’s all drugs and knives with this lot nowadays. Same thing everywhere, seen it on the telly. It’s no different here to Vange, houses are more expensive up this way is all.
Terry’s phone beeps and without thinking he checks it.
cant wait 2 c u 2
Excitedly he swipes his finger across the message, greedy to see if Wendy has written more. She hasn’t.
yr mum at wrk, he types, all memories of his pact long forgotten. Eagerly he watches as the blue circle next to his message morphs into Wendy’s profile picture, his stomach filling with that champagne feeling that only those precious first few weeks of new relationships can bring.
yeah home after 7 what time you here
round 11, then as an afterthought he adds, i got that film with me
Terry watches as the three dots under his message wave up and down indicating that Wendy is typing her reply. After thirty seconds or so he begins to grow impatient, come on, come on, I don’t want your life story, he thinks, idly picking at a scab of dried chewing gum on the seat next to him. They say anticipation is half the fun, they’re wrong, he thinks, well wrong.
u got drink, she eventually replies after what feels like hours.
yeh vodca, he types, visualising the bottle of vodka in the plastic bag beside him.
gr8 c u soon
Terry allows himself a smile. The weekend is here, the sun is shining, off to hook up with a new girl and I’ve got the top deck to meself. Life don’t get much better, he thinks. From his wrinkled carrier bag he pulls out the three-quarters-full bottle of Tesco own-brand vodka, unscrews the red cap and takes a swig, enjoying the burning sensation as it corrodes down his pipes.
In a half-daze, Terry looks out of the window, awed by the fields that separate Hadleigh from Leigh-on-Sea. It’s mental there’s farmland here, he thinks, right smack on the London Road, fucking mental. It’s a bit like the marshes round our way, he muses.
Beyond the wheat fields a huge oil tanker is carefully making its way up the glistening River Thames from Shell Haven, pricking at Terry’s happiness. Never left Essex, unless you count London. Don’t even got a passport. Never have. What’s the point? 32 and still living at home with me mum, same crappy bedroom, same pokey little flat. How am I supposed to move out? No one buys houses round our way, can’t even afford to rent, not on the dole, s’alright if you get married or something. Cheaper to just stay put though. Vange ain’t all that bad anyway, bit shit now The Barge has shut down, gotta troop all the way up The Winged Horse or Five Bells if I wanna pint. Can’t be arsed with all that.
Terry allows himself another bang on the vodka before carefully placing it back inside his carrier bag. King of all he surveys, he turns to see if he can spot Hadleigh Castle. He can’t. Rubbish anyway, he thinks, can’t call it a castle, not a proper one, it’s just some stones. Should be done under the trades description act.
Nothing’s gonna ruin today for me.
Terry’s mood worsens as Hadleigh gives way to Leigh-on-Sea. Timetable Terry’s not a fan of the area, too posh, he’d tell anyone who asked and quite a few that didn’t. Full of shops and places that no normal bloke’d be seen dead in, poncey cafés with silly little cakes, posh pubs, s’not for me, give me a proper pub in a proper town any day of the week.
The bus pulls into the stop opposite The Elms pub, and the couple that boarded the bus before Terry alight. Terry makes a mental note of this, convincing himself that he knew they’d get off around here, it’s what they’re wearing that gives ‘em away, he concludes, jackets and that. His train of thought is broken by the sound of a trio of girls stomping and giggling their way up the stairs. Ignoring Terry they slip into the empty seats across from him. Terry gives them the once over, slowly looking them up and down. Best thing with summer, plenty of skin on show. Not really my type, but I’d still do the bottle blonde, the other two could watch.
“Alright,” Terry nods across at them. The girls stop talking and glance over at him, before turning to each other, laughing and picking up their conversation. “Where youse off to then?”
“You what?” the bottle blonde replies.
“What youse three up to today?”
“Er, none of your business, that’s what.”
Terry puts on his best offended face, “no need for that, jus’ asking is all.” He’s used to people being rude, it’s just the way of the world, he concedes, people don’t talk to each other no more. The girls return to their conversation, forcing Terry to try a different tactic. “Top deck’s great innit. You can see the whole world from up here. Could’ve done the journey without changing buses, number 28 from the Barge straight through to Southend bus station. Didn’t though did I. Changed at the top of Bread & Cheese hill, only couple of minutes wait for the number 1. That way you get a double decker. Well worth it.”
The girls have fallen silent and are looking at Terry like he has face tattoos. Wordlessly they nod to each other, rise up from their seats and make their way back down to the lower deck.
Prick teasers, Terry concludes, world’s full of ‘em. His mood lightens as the bus passes Halfords, triggering memories of evenings spent at the cinema that used to stand there. Horror all-nighters, the audience vocally keeping a tally of the on-screen killings as the evening progressed. Great times, the best, he thinks. That the cinema was demolished to make way for a car-parts warehouse doesn’t bother Terry. Progress innit, can’t stop it, so there’s no point in worrying ‘bout it.
Ten minutes and I’ll be there, Terry thinks, his heart feeling like it’s going to beat out of his chest. He checks his phone, no new messages from Wendy. He opens up her Facebook page and scrolls through her profile pictures until he finds the one he’s looking for. The photograph that first caught his eye a few weeks back, the photograph that made him contact her in the first place; Wendy in a red bathing suit, caught off guard, laying by the edge of a swimming pool. She is so perfect, Terry thinks, gorgeous, absolutely fucking gorgeous.
He stares at the photograph, taking in all the details for the umpteenth time. No way is that England, he thinks, it’s somewhere warm, Spain or something. His eyes follow the curves of her body, up along her legs, across her flat stomach and chest to her face. There’s something about the way her lips are ever so slightly parted revealing perfect white teeth combined with the way her arm casts a shadow over her eyes that excites Terry more than normal. Facebook, Terry thinks, dunno what people’s problem is with it, best way to meet girls. Right dirty sorts an all. Got three on the go, wouldn’t know any of ‘em if it weren’t for the internet.
Still staring at Wendy’s old profile picture Terry suddenly becomes aware that while lost in thought he’s been playing with himself. After a quick scan around to make sure he is still alone he tugs at the waistband of his tracksuit bottoms, pulling them down just enough to free his erection. He quickly snaps a couple of photographs with his phone before pulling them up again. Comparing the two photographs he tries to work out which one makes him look bigger. Eventually opting for the second, the one without his hand in frame, he sends it over to Wendy.
thinking of u
The bus bullies its way onto the Sainsbury’s roundabout before thundering up Queensway, by which time Terry’s finger is hovering over the bell. An old man in a dressing gown and slippers walks straight out into the traffic by Warrior Square, causing the bus to momentarily swerve into the oncoming lane. From upstairs Terry hears the bus driver scream abuse at him. The old man either doesn’t hear him or chooses not to and carries on with his journey towards the promised land of Southend High Street. In all the commotion Terry sees that someone has pressed the bell before him, robbing him of one of his few pleasures in life. Undeterred he decides to press it anyway, enjoying the sound so much that just before the bus pulls into the bus station he presses it again.
Lock up your daughters Southend ‘cos Terry Greenwood’s in town, Terry thinks as he half jogs, half walks across York Road Car Park, a journey he’s made dozens of times from the comfort of his bedroom thanks to Google Earth. Stopping just short of Wendy’s home, Terry realises for the first time just how nervous he is, that his hands are shaking. It’s always like this he thinks, just get this first bit out of the way and the rest is easy. He runs through what to say in his head, play it by ear, start out funny, don’t come on too heavy.
Terry hesitates for a second, takes a deep breath, before pushing open the flakey-white iron gate and striding briskly up the short garden path. To say that the front garden had seen better days would be an understatement; the unkempt lawn was nowadays more of a dumping ground than anything horticultural. Disappointed by the lack of a door bell Terry goes to knock and is taken aback when the door opens before he can. A stocky man dressed in combat fatigues marches out of the house, causing Terry to momentarily freeze in shock. “Terry Greenwood?”
“Uh…” Terry replies stepping backwards, his mind all over the place. Where’s Wendy? Wrong address? When he takes another step back, checking the house number, the man moves with him as if attached by an invisible thread.
“Terry Greenwood, yeah?”
“I’m…” Terry’s confused. All the energy has drained from his body, leaving a shaking husk. It is the right house, he knows it is. Who…? Wendy’s brother? Dad?
“I know it’s you alright Terry, recognise you from your profile picture. You was expecting someone else weren’t cha.”
Terry nods weakly, “yes officer.” He thinks about running, but his legs aren’t obeying his brain. I’m going to be sick, he thinks. He dry heaves, but nothing comes up.
“Look Terry, I just wanna have a word with you mate. First, let me make it clear, I’m not police. Me name’s Sean I’m from an organisation called The Essex Hunting League,” he says, proudly pointing to the group’s logo emblazoned in yellow across his black T-shirt. “This is my colleague,” he indicates towards a woman who up until then Terry hadn’t noticed, “Colleen”. Colleen fans out from beside Sean, her dark hair tied up tightly, her face obscured by the phone she’s holding up. “Now she’s filming this for your own protection. Right, so you were expecting to meet a young girl called Wendy Bowen today, were you not?”
Terry shakes his head, he just wants to be home now. “No,” he whispers. Make all this stop and let me go home. Please.
“Yeah you was, no point denying it,” Sean spits, his voice growing more volatile with each word. “Twelve years old, and thing is mate, there is no Wendy, it’s me you’ve been writing to. So all your dirty pictures you’ve been sending, right, and all your filthy text messages, I’ve been getting ‘em. Yeah.”
With this realisation Terry turns and using the garden wall as support slowly begins to make his way towards the gate where a small crowd of teens have gathered, eager to see what all the commotion is about.
“Nah, don’t run away, see I know where you live mate, so we can either do this now, or I’ll be round your house and we’ll do it in front of your mum.”
Terry turns and looks Sean square in the face, tears already falling from his eyes, “don’t do this. Please, don’t do this.”
“You’ve done it to yourself mate. Twelve… Don’t start bawling, that ain’t gonna do you no good. That stuff don’t wash with me. Stay put, the police are on their way and I’m giving them everything I’ve got on you. You’ll go down for this.”
Terry isn’t listening any more, his attention is on the kids at the end of the path whose faces he’s scanning, desperately trying to locate the one that might understand, might help him out of this mess. Locking eyes with a pale ginger boy in a West Ham top, a football tucked under a freckly arm, Terry chances a smile.
“E’s a nonce,” the pale ginger kid shouts, his finger aggressively jabbing in Terry’s direction. Within seconds the whole gang is chanting “NONCE, NONCE, NONCE.”
Terry shuffles towards them, shaking his head, “I’m not, sixteen she told us. Swear I’m not,” he feebly tries to explain. They can’t hear him over all the shouting though and even if they could it wouldn’t make any difference.
Halfway down the garden path it hits Terry just how much trouble he’s in, looking up he sees not just kids blocking his way, but adults now too. The street that just a few minutes ago was suburban calm is now filling with people. The neighbouring houses have emptied and are noisily waiting for him on the pavement. No one wanting to miss out on the opportunity to release some aggression. With each passing minute more and more people arrive, eager to see what’s going on. The dark mood of the crowd threatens to tip over into violence. Their anger intensifying like a mirror reflecting a mirror.
“NONCE, NONCE, NONCE, NONCE, NONCE, NONCE, NONCE, NONCE, NONCE, NONCE.”
Alison Mays, from two doors down attempts to spit at Terry and fails miserably. Wiping spittle from her chin she screams “cunting paedo,” instead. A bottle flies over the crowd, hitting Terry in the chest without breaking. He stops dead, unable to move forwards or retrace his steps. Pleadingly he looks back at Sean, who is standing, smug-faced, arms crossed watching the whole thing unfold. The volume of the crowd is now so loud that Terry can’t hear what is being screamed, overlapping words devolving back to guttural sounds, white noise. He puts his hands over his ears and screws his eyes up tight, get me out of here, just get me out of here, please just get me out of here now.
Alan Swanson opens his eyes and stares at his bedside clock in disbelief. Not even fucking twelve o’clock, he thinks, is it asking too much to have a lie in after a week of nights. He storms out of bed and over to the window to see what all the fuss is about, half-expecting to see that old-man Malcolm opposite has reversed into someone’s car again. Cunt needs his licence taking off him. Flinging open his window Alan scans the crowd, trying to piece together what’s going on. It doesn’t take him long.
Pulling on yesterday’s clothes he takes the stairs two at a time. “A fucking kiddie fiddler, on my fucking street, no fucking way, no fucking way,” he hisses as he flies out of his front door.
Alan pushes his way through the crowd with ease. He’s a big man, big enough to have a reputation, big enough for people to recoil when they see him coming. “Put that fucking camera down love,” he orders Colleen as he vaults the low garden wall.
Terry doesn’t see the punch coming, but he feels it, hears bones breaking somewhere inside his head. He opens his eyes to find that he is now horizontal on the garden path. It takes him a few seconds to figure out what has happened. Seeing Alan towering above him, he tries to explain, but instead of words he receives a jolt of electricity to his brain, which causes him to clench his jaw, another searing jolt of electricity to his brain, which causes him to clench his jaw, another searing jolt…
The loop is broken when Alan stamps down on Terry’s arm, breaking it just above the elbow. Blacking out Terry is distraught when he comes round to find that his situation hasn’t changed. Where are the fucking police? I’m sorry. Come and get me. Please come and get me. He can hear screams, horrible garbled screams and is mortified when he realises they’re his own. He feels Alan kicking him but can’t discern where. I can’t feel me hands he thinks, before slipping under again.
Looking up through watery eyes Terry sees that others have taken Alan’s place. Someone kneels down and screams in his face, he wants to turn his head, to look away, but nothing is functioning. His pain is so great now, so constant that he hardly feels it. Numbness with bursts of intense pain. He slips in and out of consciousness, unsure which is which. Nothing is real, everything is real. I’m not here. I am here.
The sun shining, the cherry tree in his granddad’s garden, his tongue running over broken teeth, his mother knitting, another kick to the face, the taste of metallic blood, his father standing above him, finger pressed to his lips, “our little secret”, climbing the cherry tree in granddad’s garden, I can’t feel me feet, make it stop, make it stop.
Terry feels himself being lifted up and tries to open his eyes but they’ve long stopped working, it’s ending he thinks and tries to speak but no words come. It’s over, I’m saved, he thinks, finally I’m saved.