Authors note thingie:
This is a fictional story written without any research. As such, a large amount of things are going to be inaccurate or just plain wrong. Please just ignore the massive plot holes, and take things with a proverbial pinch of salt. Oh, and skip the next 20 or so pages if you are only after the sex bits, that only happens at the end.
The rain was hammering down. If Alec had been a religious man, he would have said it was biblical. Large drops hit the broken concrete slabs in front of him, bouncing back up, such was force of the deluge.
It wasn’t supposed to be like this, it was supposed to be glorious sunshine, birds cavorting in the light cooling breeze, the sound of happy kids playing in the distance...
But this wasn’t a fairy-tale, this was reality. And it was raining. And his feet were getting wet with the rain splash.
A palm landed on his back, smack bang between his shoulder blades, propelling him forward into mother nature’s wrath. Alec staggered a step into the deluge. There was no choice now but to hastily run towards the bus shelter. His light summer coat had no hood and it’s waterproof credentials were being put to the test, and failing. Failing miserably and quickly. Water ran down his neck, down his back, his chest. It wasn’t particularly cold, but it wasn’t particularly pleasant either.
He had hardly taken two steps when the door behind slammed shut, the sound of the key being turned just audible over the thunder of rain hitting ground. Further up the cul-de-sac, a car sat idling at the kerbside. It’s lights dim in the rain, it’s wipers at a speed that didn’t bode well for future longevity.
Alec shivered as he leapt into the dubious shelter of the bus stop. It was only enclosed three sides and the roof. The splash of rain continuing to soak his feet no matter where he stood. A timetable was affixed to one of the gable ends, a rolling digital screen above it telling the current time and the estimated arrival time for busses to destinations he had never heard of. He looked at the printed timetable on the wall, running a forefinger down the names, seeing if anything looked familiar. The next bus was in 15 minutes. He had no watch, but waiting wasn’t a problem, he had become good at waiting over the last 15 years.
The sodden paper bag he was holding, was in danger of tearing and dropping its meagre contents across the floor of the bus stop. He placed it on a seat and removed his coat. His plain white t-shirt was sodden and clung to him like a second skin, his coat having failed in its one task in life. He looked for a dry spot in the liner and wrapped the coat round the paper bag. Currently the only possessions he had in life, a paper bag containing some paper work, a toothbrush and a tattered Lee Child novel. He looked up at the scrolling screen, sardonically amused that there wasn’t too much difference between his current circumstances of ownership and that of the books main character, Reacher.
The car that had been idling further up the cul-de-sac, slowly started moving towards the bus shelter. Alec didn’t notice till it was almost alongside, and when he did, he ignored it at first, he wasn’t expecting anyone. The engine sounded rough, and something squealed, it wasn’t the fan belt. He looked round. The passenger window was slowly being wound down. He could see an arm jerkily moving in sync with the window. He glanced at his meagre possessions on the seat. He shrugged, he couldn’t get any wetter. He stepped out of the shelter over to the car.
Close up, the rust was obvious, as were the dents. There was a lot of both. He stooped to look inside. The car had only one passenger, who looked familiar. It took a minute. A cold shiver ran down his spine that had nothing to do with the weather.
Ah, now this is awkward.
“Hi” He said as he looked into those eyes. 15 years is a long time, but sometimes not long enough. He couldn’t think of anything to else to say.
She looked back. She was nervous, he could tell. If there was one thing he had learnt over the last few years, it was reading people.
“Hi” She replied, her voice quivered, she was close to flight. The silence drew out, the rain pounding on the roof. He watched her slowly master herself, watched her white knuckles slowly release their death like grip. He had to admit, he was impressed. It’s not easy mastering your fear. “Do you need a lift?”
Alec didn’t know how to reply, or even if he should. He leaned back and looked around. There was no one in sight, no other cars, no bus. He closed his eyes and slowly took a deep breath, held it, then opened them again as he exhaled. He looked around again, then nodded.
He stepped back away from the car, expecting it to speed of. It didn’t. He went back into the shelter and grabbed his coat wrapped possessions. The passenger door didn’t open easily and he slid into the dry air of the car. The springs of the seat were past their prime, the seat itself not endearing to comfort. It took him three tries to successfully shut the door.
The car windows immediately fogged up.
She reached over to the centre console and adjusted the heater settings. Something under the dashboard sounded like it was about to explode.
He waved a hand towards the windscreen “Sorry.”
“It’s okay.” She turned to look at him straight on. He watched as she gathered herself. Silence, then “You’ve bulked up...”
A sardonic smile touched the corner of his mouth as he looked down at his chest. He sighed and placed his coat and its contents down at his feet. “People...” he paused, there had been a lot of counselling sessions over the years, “like me...” He shrugged “Aren’t well liked...” He shrugged, he didn’t know what else to say.
She nodded. “You look good.”
His gaze dropped briefly, taking her in, before he forced himself to return his gaze to her face. “You’re as beautiful as you ever were, more so.” He groaned inwardly. “Amy, I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have said that. I’m sorry.” He paused “I’m sorry for everything.”
She turned from him and looked at the windscreen. Her cheeks were red.
A bus drove past, not slowing. It turned at the end of the cul-de-sac, the road incorporating a concrete island to enable their turn. It didn’t stop. Alec didn’t blame the driver, he wouldn’t have wanted to stop either.
He bent down to pick up his coat. “It’s okay Amy, I’ll get the next bus.” He reached for the door handle.
“It’s Isobell now.”
He paused hand on the handle. She turned to look at him.
“They gave me a new identity.”
He didn’t know what to say.
The windscreen was slowly clearing. The fortified Victorian splendour of one Her Majesties Prisons looming out of the murk.
“Where will you go?” She asked.
“I don’t know.” He didn’t.
She nodded. He watched as she came to an internal decision and put the car into gear. It lurched into motion, following the route of the bus round the traffic island. Alec watched his bus stop pass on the other side of the road. A light reflected on the dashboard.
“At the first opportunity, turn round...” The disembodied voice emanated from a black box stuck to the windscreen. Amy/ Isobell reached over and pressed some boxes on the screen. Alec took his hand off the door handle, and settled back against the seat. He watched houses and shops pass in the rain. The silence was awkward, the noise of the windscreen wipers sounding so alien to his ears.
He looked sideways at her. “How did you know where I was and that I was out today?”
She didn’t answer at first, he didn’t think she would answer at all. “They sent me a letter. It was just the date. I already knew where you were. I Googled the time.”
She didn’t glance at him, so he turned his gaze back to look out the passenger window. Something was lightly grinding somewhere at the back of the car. It sounded like a wheel bearing.
He took another deep breath and sighed. It wasn’t how he expected things to happen, but they had. ‘Deal with it’ as his dad used to always tell him. He leant forward to pick up his coat, untangling it from the paper bag containing his worldly goods. He turned to look into the back of the car, trying not to stare at her as he turned. Failing. He studied her profile, she hadn’t changed that much. Older obviously, slim, her nose pert and pointed, lips thin, cheekbones high. Very little makeup, eye shadow, but that was about it. Maybe some lip balm. Her hair still plaited into a single pony tail. She looked good. She glanced at him, he looked away.
There was an overnight bag on the back seat, that was it. He put the paper bag on the seat next to it, he spread the coat out over the floor, a half-hearted attempt to dry it out.
As he turned back to the front, he sneaked another look. A blue fleece, what looked like a white t-shirt on underneath. Simple grey jeans, and as she changed gear, he caught a glimpse of what appeared to be black work boots. Functional. Practical. Alec settled back into his seat, reaching over his shoulder to grab the seatbelt.
She pulled up at a set of lights. Out the corner of his eye, he saw her turn to look at him, he stared straight ahead, letting her. The lights turned green, she pulled away.
The silence was uncomfortable, he looked down to turn on the radio. It was missing.
Nothing for it, but to take the bull by the horns. “How is your mother?” He turned to look at her, she glanced at him, again he wondered if he was going to get an answer.
“No Idea, I have not seen or heard from her for over ten years.”
The voice from the little black box spoke.
She indicated, changed gear, turned the car into the new direction.
Alec watched her hands work, movement economical. Her fingers were long, slender, and devoid of rings. Her fingernails cut short and colourless.
She turned onto a motorway, the car picking up speed grudgingly to match that of the cars already on. Various rattles started as the speed increased and the gearbox whined as the four speed hit its limit.
She indicated, glanced into the mirrors and pulled out into the middle lane to pass an artic, the car weaving a little in the turbulence. He tried to read her mood, failed, decided discretion was the better part of valour. The car was heating up and most of the condensation was gone from the windows. The engine noise was high but steady, strangely soothing. He closed his eyes and nodded off.
He slowly surfaced. The engine was winding down, the speed decreasing. Something was ticking rhythmically. He opened his eyes, licked his lips, stretched his shoulder blades, listened to his vertebrae crack.
Amy/ Isobell guided the car between two HGV’s and onto an off ramp. Glancing in his direction as she changed down a gear. “Awake then are you? I could hardly hear the engine over your snoring...” Her lips crinkled with the hint of a smile.
Alec smiled ruefully, “Sorry.” He rubbed his eyes then stretched his arms out in front, enjoying the pull on his muscles.
“Food, fuel and toilet,” She guided the car into the car park, “Not necessarily in that order.” She spotted a space and slipped into it, one hand pulling on the handbrake, the other cancelling the wipers and lights. The engine stuttered to a halt and plinked angrily away.
Now that it was mentioned, his bladder did feel full. He unclipped the seatbelt, pulled on the door handle, then finally resorted to using his shoulder to get it open. It was still raining but he didn’t bother with his coat. He shut the door, failed to do so, and tried again with a bit more force. Isobell reached over and locked it from the inside. She reached into the back footwell and after a brief rummage, pulled out her handbag. She locked her door and looked at him, “You like getting wet don’t you?” She turned before he could formulate an answer and ran towards the entrance to the services. He belatedly ran after her, soon catching her up with his longer stride. He opened the door for her and she smiled her thanks as she passed in front, running a hand over her wet hair, sweeping her pony tail back over her shoulder, so that the water didn’t drip from the end onto the front of her white t-shirt. He watched her purposeful stride, trying not to let his gaze linger on the way her buttocks danced in her tight jeans, her boots clumping along the floors tiles.
She disappeared into a doorway, and he walked into the matching one opposite. He made his way to the urinal and enjoyed the relief of his bladder emptying. The toilet was busy, a mixture of truckers, salesmen and tourists. He washed his hands in the sink and splashed water over his face. The hand drier was novel, at least for him it was. He slowed his step and watched a few others first who dipped their hands in, then departed. He stepped up and dipped his hands in, feeling the air slide across his hands like an invisible squeegee. It was fast and effective.
He was first back into the foyer, which he had expected. He watched the pass of humanity as they entered and left the services. Many were speaking to apparently invisible listeners and many more were walking, head down, stabbing and swiping at the phones in their grasp.
So much had progressed in his absence.
“Come on then, let’s get some food, I don’t know about you, but I’m starving.” Alec turned from his watching and followed Isobell to the food court.
She grabbed two trays, handing him one.
He took the tray, glancing up at the menu and accompanying prices, “Sorry, I would pay, I should pay, but I’m a bit short in the money department at the moment.” All too aware of the £3.70 in his pocket. She laughed.
“Well just this time then...”
He returned her laugh.
Isobell reached into a pot and ladled some lentil into a bowl. Alec went for the broth, the smell firing up his appetite. They moved past the sandwiches towards the till and the drink dispenser. “Seriously?” Isobell stopped, gave him a look, then went back to the sandwiches, she pulled out a BLT, paused, looked him up and down and pulled out another. She dumped both on his tray. He laughed, and she laughed with him, it felt good.
She asked for a medium coffee, he went for a large, the cashier rang up the total. He cringed at the £20 bill. Isobell reached out and typed four digits into a keypad, took the receipt and tray and walked off. He paused unsure what had just transpired. Aware that he was not behind her, Isobell stopped, and glanced back. “Contactless payment, get with the program old man...” The cashier laughed and Alec felt his cheeks redden. He followed Isobell to the cutlery stand and then to the seat she chose.
She sat, tray in front, elbows on the table, held her mug of coffee in both hands, put the mug to her lips and inhaled deeply “Mmmmmm”
Alec slipped in across from her, and started straight away with his soup. He was ravenous.
She stared at him over the top of her coffee as he spooned soup into his mouth. He knew he wasn’t being very dignified about it, but he was too hungry to care. His gaze dropped to her fingers again as he paused in his soup eating to open one of the sandwiches.
“What?” She asked. Isobell looked down at her coffee cup and wiggled her fingers. “Not seen fingers before?”
Alec had so many questions, but was too ensure of their relationship status to ask most of them. He had 15 years to catch up on. He took a big bite of sandwich and she sipped coffee. He tried to think of a neutral subject.
“You look stunning.” It was lame, even to his own ears.
She raised an eyebrow at him. “I’m not sure the opinion of a man who has been away from women for over a decade is worth much.”
“Ouch! Low blow, low blow!”
She placed her coffee mug down and started on her soup. Alec had finished his, and was on the second sandwich.
“What are you going to do? Any plans? Do you, have to register your whereabouts and stuff?”
“I don’t know, the parole officer never said. I don’t think he was that interested to be honest. I was given a few numbers, for support groups and the like. As for work, I don’t think many accountancy firms would want to employ someone with my ... history. I think I might have to look elsewhere- change my employment expectations somewhat.”
She nodded “You are more than welcome to crash at mine till you get sorted. It’s not much.”
A lump formed in his throat, and stuck. “That means a lot to me Amy, it really does.”
He wiped his hands on his t-shirt and finished his coffee, “Who the hell came up with that name anyway? Don’t tell me it was your idea?”
She laughed, loudly “Oh god no! I did ask them for something else at the time, but they said the paperwork was already done and they couldn’t change it. My friends just call me Izzy.”
Alec pushed his tray to the side and leaned back in the seat. Two mid thirty something girls passing slowed down and blatantly ogled his well-defined torso poorly concealed by his t-shirt. Isobells eyes narrowed. They giggled and moved on.
Alec chanced his luck, “Is there a Mr Izzy?”
Isobell looked away from the two women, who had sat nearby. She wiggled her bare fingers. He made to comment then decided not to at the last moment. An uncomfortable silence descended.
“Come on, let’s go, I want to beat rush hour traffic at Birmingham.” They picked up their trays, placing them in the cleaners trolley. They threaded their way through the lingering bodies- who mostly looked like business types- obstructing the exit.
“So what do you do, I mean, for a job?”
“I’m a surveyor.”
Alec stopped dead and looked at her “Really? I mean, seriously?”
She laughed at his expression “Seriously. I work for a major civils contractor. I have a degree and everything.”
“You have a degree?!”
“Yip, go me go!”
“That’s awesome!” Alec forgot himself, reached down and swept her into a hug. She laughed and wrapped her arms around him and hugged him back. He realised what he had done, and guiltily let his arms drop, people were staring at them. She was slower to let the embrace go. She stepped back and looked up at him.
“If you ever use the word ‘awesome’ in my presence again, I’m going to kick you in the balls. Hard.” They both burst out laughing. She slipped a hand into his and he lead the way out, using his imposing bulk to intimidate and push his way through.
The car defied all his expectations and started. He offered to drive, but she declined. “You have just got out of prison. I don’t want you going straight back in, for driving without insurance.” She had a point.
He watched her type 30 into the petrol pump and inserted her card, typing in what he presumed was her pin. Unconsciously he used the movements with those at the restaurant to memorise the pin. He had always been good with numbers. He hummed to himself as he waited. The numbers on the pump rapidly climbed to £30 then the pump automatically shut down. Izzy replaced the nozzle and climbed back in.
The car defied Alec again by starting. Traffic was busy on the motorway and Izzy needed to use the full length of the slip-road to get her car up to a fast enough speed to join safely. The gearbox whine and engine revs were loud enough to dissuade conversation, Alec watched the scenery go past, a lot had changed in the time he was in.
The change in pitch woke him up, the car was slowing down. He yawned loudly, she glanced his way, “You know, you sleep a lot for someone that hasn’t done much...”
He stretched “I am discovering that freedom is very tiring.”
“You should try working.” He turned to look at her and she stuck her tongue out. They had left the motorway and were driving through a cityscape that was becoming more urban at every junction. “Not long now.” She said. With the reduction in speed, came a reduction in noise.
“When are you back at work?” Asked Alec.
“Tomorrow, I took a day off my holiday today entitlement today. I drove down last night after work, stayed in a Travelodge.”
“You have gone to a lot of trouble on my part. I’m not sure that I deserve it.”
The car stopped at a red light, she looked over. “I needed to see you, regardless. For my own reasons.”
He nodded. “You hadn’t planned on actually meeting me, face to face, had you?”
She paused, shook her head. “No.”
Alec pondered the reply. “Thank you.”
“For being honest.”
She turned off the main road into a side street, then turned again into a large car park surrounded on three sides by flats. Even in the poor sodium lighting, the flats didn’t look in any better condition than the car. A group of young lads on bikes spotted the car as it entered, following it first with their heads and then on their bikes as Izzy pulled into a vacant spot. Alec watched them cycle lazily in their direction.
There was a pop as she removed the Sat-Nav from the dash board, placing it in her overnight bag, she glanced at him “Grab your stuff, I want my bed.” He grabbed his coat and possessions, shouldered open his door, and stepped out into the cool night. The young lads suddenly stopped as one. Alec could hear swearing. He turned to stare at them and they split in all directions bar the one that would take them closer to him. He slammed the passenger door shut, wincing as the echo reverberated off the three sides of flats. She dumped her bag on the roof, then dipped back in to stretch across and lock the passenger door. As soon as she had locked the driver’s door, she set off towards one of the blocks of flats. He followed, looking back for the young lads. They were there, watching him from behind various parked cars.
Izzy entered the flats and walked past the lift towards the stairs. Alec glanced at the two lifts, they appeared to be in working order, but he stayed silent as he followed her into the stairwell. She was a few steps in front, which put her rear smack bang in his face as she climbed. Her cheeks moved in a most interesting way, just a few feet from his nose.
“Stop being a perv.”
Chastised, Alec moved his gaze to the walls.
On the third landing she exited the stairwell onto a landing that ran along the front of the flats. A four foot high concrete wall divided the passageway from the world and a nasty plummet to the concrete below. She stopped in front of a door and inserted a key into the lock, kicking the bottom of the door as she pushed.
Alec followed in her in, shutting the door behind, the lock engaging as the door shut. A short corridor led on, two doors on the right, two doors on the left. Izzy pointed to the first door on the left, “Toilet/bathroom. Next door is my room, the door on the right is the kitchen, the second door is the living room. In the event of a fire make your way to the emergency exit, “She gestured at the door they had just entered through, “don’t use the elevators, yada, yada...” She took herself, and her overnight bag, into her bedroom.
Just inside the front door, on the left was a row of coat hooks, holding some serious looking winter weather coats and a bright yellow high-vis jacket that also held, on the same hook, a clean white safety helmet that had the same logo as the jacket. He draped his vastly inferior jacket on an empty hook and headed into the kitchen.
Although the room was in darkness, the light switch was easy to find. A strip light illuminated a room that could, at best, be described as utilitarian. There was an electric cooker at the end wall, opposite the door. A sink was under the window that gave a good view to the landing outside and also allowed everyone walking past to look in. To the right of the door was a fridge/freezer, between the fridge-freezer and the sink was a washing machine and a tumble drier.
Izzy called out from her room, “Can you put the kettle on? It’s the white jug on the kitchen top with the plug attached.”
He put the kettle under the tap and filled it up “Ha-ha, very funny, we had them inside you know...” The switch on the kettle illuminated when he pressed it.
He wandered through another door into the living room. The floor space was dominated by a four-seater settee up against one wall. There was a bookcase in one corner, filled with a variety of books- he glanced over the titles, most seemed to be work related. Next to the bookcase was a comfy looking swivel chair and a desk that contained a multitude of pens, pencils, notebooks and a laptop. In another corner, what looked like a palm tree resided, and upon closer inspection, turned out to be made of plastic.
There were various pictures on the walls, one, obviously of great pride, was of her graduation. One with what looked to be friends or classmates all dressed up for the ceremony, big smiles all round, another, a close up shot of her holding her diploma. There were other pics, most seemingly work related. Standing in various muddy looking fields, holding goodness knows what she was holding, or standing in muddy fields, holding goodness what, in front some seriously expensive looking heavy machinery.
There were no family pictures.
He heard the toilet flush and footsteps pad into the kitchen. The clink of crockery. “Want a coffee?” she called from the Kitchen.
“No, it’s fine, it’s a bit late for me.”
There was a simple sound system but no TV he noticed. The settee was covered in maps and bits of paper with numbers. He turned back to her graduation photo. It was a good photo. He sensed her approach and she stepped to his side. She surprised him by slipping a hand into his as they looked at the photo. She took a sip of her coffee. “I wish you had been there.” Her voice was quiet, she sounded tired. He nodded. The fault had been his. It had always been his. Her hand slipped from his as she put her coffee down on the desk and started clearing the settee. “Sorry, but it’s not the most comfortable of settee’s to sleep on.”
“It’s okay, It’s more than I was expecting to be sleeping on tonight. I was expecting a doorway tonight, to be honest.” He smiled to take the sting out of it.
She left the room and he heard some bangs and thuds before she re-appeared with some blankets and a pillow. She dumped them on the settee and took possession of her coffee cup again. They stared at each other, the silence awkward. “I’ll see you in the morning” Izzy turned and strode to her bedroom. Alec raised his hand and went to call her name, but no sound escaped, and then she was out of the room. The moment lost.
Alec stared at the door, then eventually moved over and gently pushed it shut.
He sorted out the blankets and pillow into a rough bed, then retrieved his toothbrush and headed to the bathroom via the kitchen. Like the rest of the house the bathroom was utilitarian, functional. He brushed his teeth and washed his face. He gently shut the bathroom door upon exit and looked to the left. Her bedroom door was open. He looked at it for a moment then turned off the hallway light, heading back to the living room, again via the kitchen.
He turned off lights as he went, undressing in the living room in darkness. In just his boxers he slipped under the blankets. After a few minutes he gave up and sat up, rubbing the heels of his hands into his eyes and sighing. The flat was quiet, disturbingly so. No shouting or banging on cell doors. No screaming, no crying.
He slid from the couch and started to do some pushups, then sit ups when his arms tired, then squats when his stomach muscles burned then back to push ups. Comfortingly sore he went back to bed and sleep took him.
Sometime in the night he awoke to a full bladder and made his way to the bathroom. Her door was closed.
He woke to an alarm, It was strange, the noise. He looked around the room, there was no clock. He heard her moving about in her room. The alarm was silenced. He heard her move again and he followed her in his mind as she went about her ablutions, the turning on of the kettle, the preparation of her first brew...
He heard the living room kitchen door quietly open, but no footsteps. He just knew she was watching him. “Good morning” he said. There was an intake of breath, a pause...
“Morning.” And then as an afterthought. “Do you want a coffee?”
He sat up and turned to her. He watched her eyes travel across his upper body before coming to rest on his face. He nodded and stretched. She watched for a minute before turning away. As soon as she was out of sight he reached for his trousers and slipped them on, followed by his t-shirt. Barefoot he walked into the kitchen. Izzy was dressed the same as she was yesterday. She seemed strong on functionality and simplicity in her life. He wondered if it was a coping mechanism. She handed him a steaming mug.
“What time is it?” He asked.
She looked at her watch “Quarter past six. Did you sleep okay last night?”
“No not really.”
“I’ll see if I can get a better couch...”
“No, no, it’s not that, it’s” He waved a hand around “The lack of steel doors, barred windows, the lack of atmosphere, the lack of screaming in the showers as the new lad is jumped by six hairy tattooed lifers and...”
“Stop that!!!” she laughed as she threw a dish towel at his head.
He smiled back and made no move to dodge the towel, which hit him in the face. He caught it before it landed on the floor and put it back on the counter top.
She reached into her bag and pulled out her purse. She laid it on the counter as she fished her keys out of her pocket. She split one from the bundle and handed it to him. “I leave for work in a few minutes, I’ll be back about six thirty, sevenish if the traffics bad. The number 17 takes you into town. “ She opened her purse and he noticed that she fished out the only note inside, a tenner, and handed it to him. “there’s a key place on the high street, get a copy made, and some lunch.” She packed her purse away again.
She turned back.
“How badly in debt are you?” He asked quietly.
He watched her façade crack, her lip tremble. He stepped forward and hugged her, she didn’t resist.
“A lot. “ She grudgingly replied into his shoulder.
He stepped back, but still held her. “How much is a lot?” he asked looking into her eyes.
“Thirty thousand in student debt.”
He winced, and pulled her close again. “How much for the flat?” Her hair tickled his nose and smelled faintly of some type of herbal shampoo.
Her head was against his breast, she could hear his heartbeat. “The flat is free, sort of. A friend owns it, but she can’t get rid of it, no one with any money wants to live here. So I pay the bills and maintain it.”
They stood for a minute, hugging each other.
“I have to go, I need to miss the rush hour.” She pulled away, “I’ll see you tonight.”
She collected her stuff in the hallway. Alec stayed in the kitchen to allow her some room to regain her composure. The front door opened, there was a pause and a sigh. “It’s Izzy, remember...” the door was shut before he could reply.
Alec looked at the mug in his hand and fought hard against the urge to smash it against the wall...
The bus stop was just outside the car park and busses, according to the timetable, were every eight minutes. He had been there a minute- just enough time to scan the t/table- when the next N17 arrived. A return to the city centre was only one pound thirty. The bus, a double decker was almost full downstairs, the one seat free had a young male sprawled across it. The passengers in front of Alec headed up the stairs, he smiled and headed for the youth. The acne plagued youth was deliberately not looking at him as he approached, the only seated passenger downstairs who wasn’t staring at Alec, his imposing bulk and prison haircut enough to catch everyone’s attention. Well almost everyone’s. He stopped at the double seat, but still the teenager was refusing to take his legs off the seat. Alec considered asking him to remove his feet but decided the little shit was being obnoxious enough not to warrant a warning, so he just sat down.
The boy screamed, and screamed loudly. Not an unexpected result to having eighteen stone of bodyweight dropped suddenly onto ones spindly knees.
Alec stuck his palm out in front of the youths face, adopted his best prison ‘Leave me alone’ scowl and interrupted him. “Stop! I would think VERY carefully about your next few words.”
The youths beetroot red face went white instantly. Alec stared at him till he saw the tears start, then stood, allowing the kid to, slowly and painfully, remove his legs from the seat. Alec looked away from the kid to see that, bizarrely, a lot of the other passengers were holding their phones up in front of their faces- only to hastily drop them down when they saw him looking at them. The driver had opened his security door and was leaning out, looking up the aisle. Alec met his gaze and lifted a hand.
“It’s okay, I accidently bumped his funny bone, he’s fine.” There was a laugh from behind. The driver nodded, shut his security door and pulled away into the morning traffic. Alec noted that for the rest of the journey, the driver kept looking up at the security mirror fixed to the roof.
The bus terminated at the station and the passengers disembarked in a rush. Alec went with the flow. He looked up at the clock above the ticket office. Still too early for the places he wanted. He made his way onto the high street, pausing to look around and get his bearings. He saw his new best friend in the distance, heading in the opposite direction. The lad looked back, saw Alec watching him and raised two fingers. Alec made as if he was about to break into a run and the boy quickly hobbled off. Alec laughed and shook his head “What a dick.” he muttered.
Most shops hadn’t yet opened, many with staff stood outside waiting for managers or key-holders to let them in, the doors swiftly locked again after. A key shop was open, and Alec made his way inside, got a second flat key cut, asked for, and received, directions to the job centre. A building which also turned out to conveniently house the benefits office. Alec slow walked a circuitous route to waste time, but still arrived early, sharing the steps outside with a motley collection of individuals. Most of whom seemed to be drinking out of wine bottles or cheap beer cans and smoking what smelt like dried dog shit rather than tobacco.
When the doors were unlocked, he followed the allotted coloured arrows to the Benefits Office. Inside, he followed the direction of the repeated large signs, took a number from the machine and sat in the supplied chairs waiting for his number to be called. A few of the motley crew from outside filtered in- some barely able to keep their feet- going straight to the counter, regardless of whether there was an advisor at the station. Alec looked down at his ticket and wondered why he had even bothered.
A buzzer sounded and a number appeared above one of the tellers. Alec, holding the matching number, stood and made to cross over from the designated waiting area as one the individuals at an empty counter slide sideways to take his place. He paused half way across the floor, catching the tellers eye. She nodded for him to continue. But the other chap was having none of it. Alec couldn’t make out half of what the man-whose age appeared to be on par with his-was saying. The teller didn’t bat an eye as she did something at the side of her desk and a red light appeared on the desk. Seconds later two security staff appeared and dragged the man off, shouting and struggling as he was taken away. The smell of rank BO, stale booze and most probably some dubious sanitary practices, unfortunately didn’t go with him.
“Good morning, my name is Sue, how can I help you?”
“Hi Sue, “Alec handed over an introduction letter stating in writing that the recipient had just been released from her Majesties pleasure. “I was released yesterday, and I have nowhere to stay. I’m hoping that you can help me with some temporary accommodation for a few days till I get myself sorted. Get added to the housing list, that sort of thing, job seekers allowance, or whatever it is these days?”
“Have you got a copy of your National Insurance number? Any dependents with you? Children? Wife/partner?”
Alec rattled off his NI number from memory, which appeared to surprise Sue. “No kids, wife or partner, no family, just myself.”
Sue looked at the address on the headed notepaper he had given her as she typed his NI into the computer “You covered a lot of miles since yesterday?” She raised an eyebrow.
“Yeah, I kind of sneaked on to a train last night for somewhere dry to sleep last night. And, well, this is where I found myself this morning. Ummm, maybe I shouldn’t have said anything about sneaking onto a train...”
She laughed, “It’s okay, under the circumstances I think I can overlook the non-payment of a train fare ... Right, let’s see what the computer says ... Mmmm...” She typed a bit more. “Right you qualify for basic Job seekers allowance, “ She looked up, deliberately looked him over “Do you qualify as disabled?” Her tone implied implicitly that given his current physique she didn’t think he did. He shook his head. She reached over to collect some forms “I’ll be honest with you Alec, the waiting list for a council house here is over two years, with the priority given to single mothers with young children, the disabled and those deemed at risk. You could still be waiting in ten years’ time. You would be better seeking other means of accommodation. I can give you the phone numbers and addresses for some local charities that might be able to help. Do you have a bank account?”
“No, not yet.”
“Well, you will need to sort one out as soon as. We pay the money directly into your account these days.”
“Is it possible for you to, you know, give a part cash advance? I only got out yesterday, I literally have nothing but the clothes I am wearing. I have no money, not a penny. I’ve not eaten since yesterday morning.”