Authors: Chris Collett
t was still early when Mariner had finished his packing so he made another mug of tea in the hope that it might settle his stomach, then forced himself under the shower. Glancing down he saw a crimson spot drip on to the pristine white floor of the shower cubicle, a pinkish rim spreading out from it and making it look like a small fiery planet. It was joined by another, then another to form a whole miniature solar system. In reality it was a nose bleed. He'd been plagued with them lately, though luckily so far they were mostly first thing in the morning. Stress-related, the doctor told him when he'd casually mentioned it at his last medical. Stress from what? Mariner had almost asked, before realizing what a stupid question that was. Stepping out of the shower, it took him several minutes to stem the flow enough to be able to shave properly, and he left his white shirt on its hanger a while longer.
He was knotting his tie when he heard the sound of a car engine and glanced outside to see Millie Khatoon and Tony Knox, arriving exactly on time. So this was it. The discomfort grumbling away in his belly suddenly bubbled up into his throat in a bitter surge, and with the repeated and insistent chiming of his doorbell ringing in his ears, he ran for the bathroom and consigned the mug of tea to the toilet bowl. When the retching subsided he swilled his mouth out and splashed cold water on his face. It was a white, gaunt visage that stared back at him from the mirror. He'd never had much colour but the strain of the last few weeks was showing in the pallor of his skin. The white flecks in his hair were on the increase too and even the blue seemed to have drained from his eyes, leaving them hollowed, with dark shadows underneath. Not for the first time he considered feigning an illness, thinking that perhaps if he refused to acknowledge today it might seem less real, less final. But common sense told him that in time it would be something he'd live to regret. The doorbell rang again, more insistently. Resolute, Mariner dried his face, jogged down the stairs and, grabbing his overcoat from the hook he strode out of the house, slamming the door shut behind him. âCome on then,' he said, tossing his car keys at Millie. âLet's get this over with.'
âAnd good morning to you,' said Knox, throwing his colleague a glance. âI'll see you down there.'
McGinley had driven carefully out of Liverpool via the Mersey Tunnel and on to the Wirral under cover of the breaking dawn, acutely aware that once he got beyond the large conurbations he would be increasingly conspicuous. He was making excellent time through the Cheshire country lanes, and what he thought might be a tricky piece of navigation was turning out to be surprisingly easy. Although he'd ceased to believe in âthe big man' many years ago, suddenly McGinley had the sense that some greater power really was on his side, helping him along.
He'd learned about computers while he was crashing at Froggie's place in between stays at Her Majesty's Pleasure. Apart from the porn on tap (Froggie's mouse was always suspiciously sticky) his mate had banged on about Friends Reunited. McGinley didn't have the faintest desire to be reunited with anyone he'd been at school with, not to begin with, anyway, and within a few short minutes he'd decided that the whole concept was total bullshit. Just an excuse for the successful wankers of the world to show off to everyone else about how wonderfully their lives had turned out, while, at the same time, rubbing the noses of people like McGinley into the shit that was their wretched lot. But when McGinley stumbled across the name âLindsey Appleby' he couldn't resist a peek.
He hadn't thought about her for years, but once he did, it became obvious to him that, like his mother, Lindsey Appleby (or Daker as she was now called) had also let him down. Badly. She'd done all right for herself of course, he could see that from the profile â
married to Tim, a property developer
with an address on the footballer territory of the Wirral. It was all so disappointingly conventional.
Would love to hear from anyone who knows me!
screamed the blurb. McGinley took that as a challenge and got Froggie to show him how to send an email, typing it out painstakingly with his two index fingers. He was fully prepared for it to be ignored, but Lindsey had confounded his expectation and responded almost straight away as if they really were old friends. He was immediately sceptical. Doubtless she just replied in the same vein to everyone who contacted her, which simply confirmed for McGinley what total bollocks it all was. So he emailed a question to try and catch her out: remember the sparrow? He never got the response because days later he was arrested for breaking and entering (well if people would leave their bathroom windows open when they went out) and social networking isn't exactly encouraged in Strangeways. But that encounter across the interweb had stayed with him and it was when he was planning his escape route that McGinley had happened to notice how close he would be passing to where Lindsey Daker and her perfect life existed.
It made complete sense that he was going to cross this area, of course, and time was on his side. There was going to be a lengthy wait at his destination anyway, so why not make a short detour? What did he have to lose? He quite literally had time to kill. That had made him chuckle, and it was disappointing that he couldn't share his wit with anyone. It was altogether possible of course that Lindsey no longer lived at the address posted on the website, but on balance McGinley thought it more likely that she would, and he saw it as an opportunity; some might even see it as an intervention of fate. He had no idea about the minutiae of Lindsey's life, though he could take an educated guess. He'd assess the situation, and if it looked as if it would be too complicated then he would just drive on. Lindsey was only a bit-player; an optional extra. There were bigger fish to fry.
The detour had brought McGinley, as expected, into a very affluent neighbourhood. These were the homes every tart on Merseyside aspired to. The houses, if that was what you could call these palatial structures, were built with privacy in mind, and often could barely be glimpsed behind the tall trees, thick shrubs and long driveways. But privacy cut both ways, with a handy flip side called concealment, and the further he drove into these privileged country lanes the more McGinley warmed to this part of his adventure. Finally he came to the address scrawled on the torn-out notebook page. Jesus it was a big bugger; modern and angular from what he could see behind the screen of conifers. Must be six or seven bedrooms. What the fuck did they do with them all? It was a little after five in the morning now and McGinley was banking on Tim the property developer being a workaholic. A couple of hundred yards back he'd passed the entrance to a water processing plant. He drove back there and parked up behind cover of some dense bushes to wait until a more civilized hour.
By secondary school McGinley had already been marked out as a weirdo. Everybody seemed to know about what had happened to his dad, but far from being sympathetic they treated him with suspicion. Probably the old git's fault in the first place. Had to be some truth in it. That family's trouble. Stay away from them. Then, soon after they moved to Kirkby, Ma got religion. Not any old religion but the sort that comes with maximum potential for humiliation, so there were suddenly plenty more reasons to ostracize him. It spread like wild fire that he was in âthe army' and taking the piss out of a McGinley became a new curriculum subject, especially if they were seen up at the shopping centre in uniform at the weekend. It was something else to add to the growing catalogue of shame, from his old-fashioned clothes and hair cut, to his crap school bag, to his family history. When he wasn't being taunted, mostly he was ignored â until Lindsey Appleby came along. Lindsey was on the outside too and went her own way. She was well-off and lived in a big house that wasn't technically even in Kirkby, but her mum and dad were social workers or something and thought it was character building for her to go to school with council estate scum. They were opposite ends of the spectrum. While McGinley was really desperate to blend in, Lindsey went out of her way to be different. It was the start of punk and she dyed her hair and put safety pins through her ears. She chose not to hang out with the cool kids, which in itself made her cool. But because of her mum and dad, she also had to be nice to everyone.
McGinley rode to school every day on an old second-hand pushbike with a torn saddle and no mud guards. One day, as frequently happened, the chain came off. Usually he could put it back on, but on this day it was so tangled it got jammed and he was forced to walk. He saw Lindsey up ahead some distance away, crouching over something. As he got up close he saw it was a sparrow flopping around on the pavement unable to fly. She enlisted him to help carry it the rest of the way to school. For the remaining time that his broken bike forced him to walk to school, he found her waiting for him by the same garden. The first time he nearly pissed himself with fear.
âWhere's your bike?' she asked.
âI couldn't fix it.'
âAll right, I'll walk with you.'
Terrified, McGinley wondered what the hell he would say to her. He didn't have to worry. Lindsey did all the talking, questions mostly, along with comments on their classmates and teachers that were savagely funny and observations of the world in general.
McGinley didn't know why she was interested in him. It would have been different had he been anything like his kid brother, Spencer. Spence was beautiful. People had been saying that since the day he was born. He didn't have McGinley's frizzy hair or bucked teeth (back in the days before braces were the norm). Spence had a sweet disposition too, and that, ironically, had been his undoing.
Lindsey's attention had lasted for one wonderful term, when finally it seemed that McGinley might emerge from his lonely, friendless existence. Desperate to keep Lindsey's friendship, he started to bring her things â mostly sweets stolen from the local corner shop. He was deft and he was fast and it was one thing that he could do well. To start with Lindsey encouraged him. Payback for your dad, she called it. Two fingers up to the filth. And by the time she started to go all self-righteous on him, McGinley was in too deep. He'd come to the attention of a talent scout. Not for Liverpool or Everton, but for Lee Brodie and his gang of about-to-turn-professional thieves, who recognized a housebreaking asset when they saw one. The late Seventies were a boom time for portable electronic equipment and McGinley became an expert in acquiring it. Lindsey, though, had long ceased to be impressed and when two boys in school uniform were seen leaving the scene of a newsagent burglary, she shopped him. It was for his own good, she said, and it didn't seem to matter to her that it wasn't even him. The escapade got McGinley expelled from school; he never really went back and he never saw Lindsey again. In fairness, he couldn't blame Lindsey entirely; his life would probably have turned out crap anyway, but she hadn't exactly helped things along. And now he had a chance to redress the balance.
At seven-forty a top of the range Mercedes slid smoothly past McGinley, the only occupant a male driver, and as it disappeared around the leafy corner McGinley caught sight of the rear personalized plate: DAK 4. Perfect. Taking what he needed from his rucksack, McGinley proceeded back to the house on foot. He was ready to scale the walls if necessary, but there was no need. Hubby had obligingly left the electronic gates open. Tosser. The âhers' Merc, a little SUV crossover, was on the drive in preparation for the school run.
McGinley strolled past it and around to the back of the big, modern house. He sank back as the kitchen door suddenly opened and an exuberant spaniel ran out. Game over, McGinley thought, but the stupid mutt bounded right past him and on to the end of the garden, racing around the shrubs and sniffing after animal trails. McGinley sidled along to the kitchen window and, peering in, his eyes fell on the kind of domestic scene that was being replicated the length of the country. McGinley had seen the photos online, so was prepared for how much Lindsey had changed, but even so it was hard to reconcile the girl he'd known with the woman before him now. Gone were the panda eye make-up, pale skin and plum lipstick. She looked good for forty-six; sleek and gym-toned in tight-fitting jeans and some kind of flowery shirt, her hair was lightened to a fake blonde, and fell to her shoulders. The hair, black and glossy as it was back then, was what McGinley remembered most: that and her tits. They all used to queue up to watch her playing netball in her slightly too tight aertex shirt to see if they could get a glimpse of her nipples.
Lindsey was talking to a boy of about ten or eleven â
one son, Jon â
who sat at the breakfast bar, one hand lethargically taking a spoon from a cereal bowl to his mouth, the other cupped around some kind of hand-held gaming toy. In response to her words, but without taking his eyes off the game, the boy got up from the table and slouched out of the room. McGinley chose that moment to make his entrance. Lindsey looked up in astonishment: strike two. McGinley liked the symmetry of repetition. âHello Lindsey,' he said.
But then she floored him. âMy God, Glenn McGinley,' she replied, without missing a beat. Confused, she screwed up her face. âWhat the hell are you doing here?'
Fuck. She really had remembered him. For a moment it nearly threw him off course, until he thought back to the humiliation of her casual abandonment. And now of course he'd put her in a position to spoil his plans. Having come this far there was no alternative but to finish it. He raised the gun and watched her eyes widen. âSorry, Lindsey,' he said, actually meaning it, and he fired twice.
Lowering the weapon, McGinley caught a movement on the edge of his field of vision. The boy had reappeared in the doorway and stood silently terror-struck, staring at him, with eyes spookily similar to his mother's. McGinley stared back. It was tempting to leave the boy be. The kid would suffer, but he still had his dad; he'd get over it. No matter that he could describe McGinley in detail to the police. Then McGinley noticed the dark stain spreading down the boy's trouser leg. He'd pissed himself, a coward after all. Suddenly McGinley saw Spencer standing there, shame written across his features, and anger rose up in him. This kid didn't know he was born. McGinley pressed the trigger twice more.