Read January Online

Authors: Kerry Wilkinson

Tags: #Mystery

January

BOOK: January
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The clock on the dashboard flipped over to 11.52 as the battered Volkswagen engine continued to idle, sputtering exhaust fumes into the freezing night air and causing that hole
in the ozone layer to expand even further. If it was still there, of course. Whatever happened to that hole? A few years previously, it was all scientists banged on about, now they were on to
rising sea levels and who knew what else.

Kitkat drummed his fingers on the steering wheel, nodding and umming as the occupant of the passenger seat wittered on, barely pausing for breath.

‘So, Clarkey, right, he knows this bloke in Sefton who reckons he can get these knock-off Nikes. We’re going into business doing car-booters . . .’

Kitkat gazed at the gap on his left hand where his ring finger had once been. The rest of his fingers were wrapped around the steering wheel, leaving the small stump poking upwards. It was
aching because of the cold, though the mild pain was marginally more agreeable than listening to Chris Green’s latest ploy to get rich quick. The bloke was a moron, a disaster waiting to
happen – still he was the only person who’d volunteered to spend New Year’s Eve with Kitkat, making him, by default, Kitkat’s best mate. At nineteen years old, that was a
terrifying thought. Was this really his life?

‘Right . . . yeah . . .’ Kitkat replied, not really listening.

He needed some better friends.

The red tail lights of the car in front blinked off as they moved forward an entire car length before the crimson burned through the windscreen again. When Chris had suggested going to Tennessee
Fried Chicken, Kitkat had laughed, thinking it was a joke. Who went to a fast-food drive-thru on the night of 31 December?

As it turned out, lots of people.

They’d been queuing for fifteen minutes and there was still another car between them and the speaker box that signalled the promised land.

‘Whatcha gonna get?’ Chris asked.

Kitkat just about zoned into the conversation in time to realise he’d been asked a question. Chris was fidgeting in the passenger seat, phone in one hand, crotch in the other. He was
scratching incessantly as if he had crabs, which, in all honesty, he probably did.

‘Chicken,’ Kitkat replied, hoping for a snigger that didn’t come. Instead, Chris was off again.

‘I might get a bargain bucket.’

‘To share?’

‘Nah, it’ll get me through to breakfast tomorrow.’ Chris cleared his throat and then added: ‘Don’t s’pose you’ve got a spare tenner, have ya?’

Kitkat could feel his passenger peering sideways, wanting to make eye contact. If there was one rule about being friends with Chris Green, it was to never lend him cash – not if you wanted
it back. Chris had less idea what to do with money than Kitkat had when it came to girls – and that was saying something.

‘Sorry, mate,’ Kitkat replied, hoping he had something other than a twenty in his wallet.

Chris exhaled loudly. ‘No matter – I copped twenty quid off Jase early doors. He’s staying in for the night – can you believe that?’

He sounded incredulous but Kitkat didn’t know who was the saddest: Chris’s brother, Jason, for staying in for the night on New Year’s Eve, probably watching Jools Holland
playing honky-tonk piano over the top of some current pop tune; or the pair of them going through the TFC drive-thru.

Actually, he
did
know who was more pathetic: them. Definitely them.

Kitkat had never known what to make of Chris’s older brother. He was unquestionably the smartest of the Green siblings and also the most aloof. They were so different that it was sometimes
difficult to believe Jason and Chris were brothers. Chris was the family idiot, blowing any money he did have down the bookies or the pub; Jason barely spoke, hardly ever going out and keeping
himself to himself. There was something about him, though, an intelligence behind his eyes that always made Kitkat think he had something going on that none of them knew about.

The car in front inched forward again, Kitkat following until they were level with the speaker booth. A grainy male voice crackled from the box: ‘Hello, welcome to Tennessee Fried Chicken,
how can I help you?’

Kitkat opened his mouth but Chris jumped in first. ‘Bargain bucket, please, mate. Two gravies. Bottle of Pepsi.’

There was a pause and then: ‘Anything else?’

‘I’ll have one of those spicy burger things,’ Kitkat mumbled, ‘with fries and whatever.’

It was particularly vague but there was a beep and then the voice replied: ‘Second window.’

Kitkat edged forward, tantalisingly close to the food as the clock moved on to 11.55. It was going to be touch and go, but there was every chance they’d ring in the new year while waiting
in a queue for fried chicken. There was perhaps only one thing worse than that – being one of the poor sods having to work at this place on New Year’s Eve.

‘Bloody good place, this,’ Chris said, absent-mindedly picking something from between his teeth. ‘I come here all the time. It’s open twenty-four hours.’

It didn’t show – he had a rake-like frame, with angled cheekbones, short fair hair and fake designer clothes.

11.56.

Kitkat pushed himself up, peering past the pair of cars in front and making a silent and utterly irrational pledge that if they were out of this place by midnight, then the next year would
definitely be successful and productive. He’d get a job
and
a girlfriend. The next three hundred and sixty-five days rested on the outcome of the next four minutes.

Chris was back to rubbing his crotch. ‘Clarkey’s been scouting this church out Walkden way. He reckons there’s a load of lead on the roof. You can make a fortune off that at
the moment. He’s getting a ladder off his mate and we’re gonna go have a look.’

‘Is that before or after you go into business selling those knock-off Nikes?’

Chris didn’t catch the scepticism in Kitkat’s tone. ‘Prob’ly before. If we can get the lead down and sell it on, Clarkey reckons we can buy more gear. Gotta spend money
to make money, aintcha?’

He clapped Kitkat on the back as if he’d shared a master business plan and then leant back in the passenger seat and put his feet on the dashboard.

Kitkat
definitely
needed some better friends. He con-cluded that if they were out of the drive-thru by midnight, the next year would bring a job, a girlfriend
and
better
friends.

11.57.

An arm snaked out from the driver’s window of the car at the front of the queue, retrieving a brown paper bag from the serving hatch, but the vehicle didn’t pull away. Kitkat counted
the seconds in his head. Ten. Twenty. Thirty – and then the arm appeared again, grabbing a second bag of food before the car finally zoomed off. Chris was still prattling on about his
ridiculous scheme to steal lead but Kitkat ignored him, edging forward. They were second in line, tantalisingly close to the food and, more importantly, the promise of a good year.

The driver in front snatched a bag of food and bottle of Apple Tango and then screeched away, sending a noxious cloud of diesel into the air. Kitkat didn’t hesitate, pulling up to the
serving hatch and winding his window down. A spiky-haired lad was peering at them. Chris fumbled in his pockets and gave up a ten-pound note. Kitkat added his own money and handed it across but
instead of passing forward a bag or two of food, the server offered a small smile, mumbled something that might’ve been ‘one minute’ and closed the glass sliders.

The bastard.

11.58.

There was now slightly less than two minutes to go until the new year and, with the rule Kitkat had made for himself, that meant time was ticking on whether it was going to be a productive
one.

‘Prob’ly putting together my bucket,’ Chris said, staring at his phone.

Yes
, Kitkat thought,
your bargain bloody bucket is going to cost me the chance of a good year. Typical.

‘Come on, come on,’ he mumbled, eyeing the closed hatch. There was a flicker of movement inside the kitchen beyond but no sign of the server returning.

‘He might’ve gone for a piss,’ Chris added, as unhelpful as ever.

He’d better not have done. Doesn’t he know how much I have riding on getting out of here before midnight?

11.59.

‘How long does it take to put some chicken in a bag?’

Kitkat neither expected nor wanted an answer but got one anyway. ‘Dunno, mate.’

He wondered if Chris understood the concept of a rhetorical question.

With a flash, the hatch doors opened, bringing Kitkat back to the present as a bucket – an actual small-scale trough – of chicken was thrust towards him. The spiky-haired server was
staring at him with widened brown eyes, drawing Kitkat’s gaze. Kitkat couldn’t manage to peer away, passing the bucket across his lap to Chris, who was smacking his lips annoyingly.
Still the server stared. He was in his late teens or early twenties and his head was tilted, eyebrows raised ever so slightly as if he was trying to say something telepathically. The thought
flickered through Kitkat’s mind that he was getting the eye. Was the server gay? Was this what it felt like to have someone flirt disastrously? He should know – he could put girls off
with the merest hint of a smile. Either way, it felt strange.

‘Er . . .’ Kitkat mumbled.

Without looking away, the server reached underneath the hatch and stretched across to give him a brown paper bag. As Kitkat took it, the spiky-haired young man nodded gently, knowingly.

Did Kitkat know him? Was he the brother of a mate? Had they been at school together? He didn’t seem familiar.

Kitkat finally escaped the stare, placing the bag underneath his legs and resting it against the seat so that Chris couldn’t go through his food. He glanced up in time to see a bottle of
Pepsi being thrust across as the server offered another nod alongside a handful of change.

The weirdo.

Kitkat wound the window up, gaze flickering to the dashboard, where the clock read 00.00.

Damn. It was New Year and it was going to be a dreadful one – all because of Chris with his bargain bucket and the stupid server.

Kitkat pulled away as the smell of grease filled the vehicle. Chris delved deep into the cardboard container and bit into a chunk of chicken. ‘Happy New Year,’ he said with his mouth
full.

‘Yeah,’ Kitkat replied, slipping away from the drive-thru towards the main road and taking the turn for home. He wondered if he should tell Chris not to touch anything with his oily
fingers but the green rust heap he drove was on its last legs in any case. He’d never be able to sell it on.

The short journey was punctuated by various noises emitted from the passenger seat that wouldn’t have gone amiss in a farmyard. Chris snorted his way through his food like a rabid pig high
on ecstasy, the only respite being that he wasn’t talking.

It wasn’t long before Kitkat pulled into one of the shadowed parking bays that flanked the Hulme flats in which they both lived. The spaces were on the edge of the main road, surrounded by
poverty and desperation on both sides. The row was largely empty – nobody who had a car worth anything left their vehicle here – but Kitkat had no such worries. If someone wanted to
break in or nick it, they were welcome. He didn’t know if he should be annoyed that no one had tried.

Ahead, the three-sided housing block was bathed in an orangey glow from the square of dim street lights that ringed the rows of grubby concrete. The long lines of two-storey flats ran along the
edge of a muddy green in which a sagging Christmas tree sat in the centre. The lights had been predictably nicked on the first day but the shrub itself remained – just – its spindly
branches almost free of pine needles. The outer walls of the flats were peppered with graffiti, largely listing local girls who were ‘slags’, or blokes who ‘like bum’. There
was also a brand-new bloodstain in the stairwell closest to Kitkat’s flat.

Home sweet home.

Over the top of the block, a firework fizzed into the air and exploded in a blaze of green sparks. It was always like that at this time of year. From the final week of October all the way
through to New Year, the local moron brigade would be setting off fireworks. Once in a while, some clown would launch one into his or her own face, reducing the brigade’s membership by
one.

BOOK: January
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