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Authors: Hanna Jameson

Something You Are

BOOK: Something You Are
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So I have no real culture. I am a monster. There are others whom I could be with, but I don't want to be.

Kirsten Bakis,
Lives of the Monster Dogs

There were three of them, standing on the corner between the main road and my house. I knew they were going to stop me. Around here, you just knew these things. My estate lurked in your peripheral vision like an abusive partner, silent until it lurched into spates of motiveless violence.

‘Hey!'

I avoided eye contact.

‘Oi! Oi, Nic!'

It would have been unwise to carry on walking so I stopped a few feet short of the tallest boy in the grey hoodie.

‘All right.' I nodded, not too familiar but not abrupt.

Night was falling, casting long shadows across the pavement and making the boys' already dark skin appear almost black. They looked about thirteen, even the one who was taller than me, though they might have been younger.

‘Got any money? My brother needs some fags.' The tallest jerked his head at one of the smaller kids.

‘No, just on my way home.'

They made no indication of moving so neither did I. Four pairs of hands drifted into pockets. I had nothing. I had the sense to glare, but felt closer to vomiting or passing out.

‘You've got a funny surname, in't ya?'

Silence.

‘Cariana? Bit gay.'

‘Caruana,' I corrected him.

‘
Caruana
…' he drew out the syllables. ‘Like
marijuana
?'

‘Yep.'

A red Honda passed by. I felt eyes scan the scene from behind a pane of glass and then they were gone.

‘I'm going home, lads,' I said, dropping my gaze and taking a step forwards.

‘Na na na, mate.' The tall kid stopped me with a hand to the chest. ‘Na na na, I asked you whether you had fag money, mate. Nic, mate. Nic, that's you, right?'

‘Fuck's sake, I don't have any money on me!' I took my hands out of my pockets to gesture and he punched me in the face.

The street became sky as two of them tackled me around the waist. The back of my head smacked against tarmac and hands went into pockets. I kicked out and connected with shins but I could hear them shouting.

‘Stay down! Stay down or I'll shank you, I'll fucking shank you!'

I froze, flat against the pavement with rainwater soaking into my back. It could have been an empty threat but I wasn't going to take the chance. They searched my pockets, relieving me of my mobile while I looked up over their heads at the darkening cloud.

‘Take that off,' the tall one said, pointing at my watch, my dad's watch, black leather and silver numbers.

I hesitated and one of the smaller kids kicked me in the ribs.

‘Do as he says, bitch!'

‘Or we'll fuck you up!'

‘Just take the phone,' I said, wondering if I would ever reach my house.

This time the kick was in the face. I spat out blood and rolled on to my side to let it fall to the pavement. They would kill me over the watch; these kids would kill over a postcode.

‘All right, fuck,
all right
!'

I tried to undo the buckle with a trembling hand, praying that it was enough.

‘Hurry the fuck up!'

The tall kid grabbed my wrist and I saw the knife, an evil fucker of a stiletto blade. I panicked and lunged for the handle. An arm crushed my neck but I couldn't let go. If I let go I was dead; another statistic, a face in a newspaper next to an embarrassingly optimistic list of my aspirations.

At first I thought I was just punching him, slamming my fist against his chest so that I could breathe again, but when he let me go and I was still holding the handle I realized what had happened.

He looked at me with dead eyes. Huge flowers of blood blossomed and spread across the front of the hoodie, bleeding into each other.

The other two kids started to run.

‘I'm… fuck…' He turned and tried to limp towards the main road.

‘Wait! No, wait!'

I dropped the knife and followed him as he dropped to his knees by the kerb. I crouched beside him and searched his pockets for my mobile.

‘Wait, just wait…' I didn't know what I was saying. Words kept tumbling out without coherence.

‘I want my mum…' He started crying, holding his stomach. ‘Please, you have to get my mum!'

There was blood on the handset as I tried to dial 999.

‘Please…'

‘Wait! Wait, just wait!'

The line was ringing and ringing and the tarmac I was kneeling on was slick with blood and rainwater.

‘Emergency services—'

‘Hello? Hello! I need… I need a—'

The kid wasn't speaking any more.

‘Hello? Sir, hello?'

I thought I was just punching him.

‘Oh God…' A hand went to my mouth to hold back the bile and the tears came instead. ‘Fuck.'

‘Hello? Can you hear me?'

I ended the call and struggled to my feet. The street was empty but that was to be expected. People would have turned their backs or disappeared into houses. No one wanted to go to court. No one was worth that.

I wiped the blood off my hands on to my shirt, and zipped up my jacket as if it would hide the stains.

I thought I was just punching him.

I went to take him by the shoulders to get him out of the road, but he was too heavy. I could only manage a few steps before having to drop him. He looked his age now, despite his size. His face was that of a child's.

For a few moments, I was torn between trying to lift him again and running back to the knife.

I ran.

The blade was red all the way up to the handle.

It was surprisingly light when I picked it up. It had gone into him so easily that I hadn't even noticed, like sliding it into butter. I retched, threw it away from me and heard it clatter against a drain.

I started walking, faster and faster, towards my house. The buckle on my watch was loose and I slid it back into place. I
couldn't believe how close I had been to getting home; five minutes later or earlier and this wouldn't be happening.

I made it to my front door without seeing anyone else and wondered how long it would take for someone in the surrounding houses to phone the police or an ambulance. I couldn't steady my hands enough to get my key in the lock so I knocked instead. For a second I worried what Mum would say about getting blood on the carpets.

I was only seventeen. That kid had been younger.

By the time my brother answered the door I found it too difficult to speak.

‘Tony…' I choked.

‘Jesus, fuck, Nic!' He grabbed at me, searching for the wound so that he could stem the blood, and paled as he realized it wasn't mine.

‘Tony, we need—'

‘Oh, Jesus Christ…' He leant out and scanned the street.

‘His mum!' It was all I could get out through the tears as he dragged me inside by the front of my jacket. ‘Please, we have to get his mum!'

1

2010

The first time I killed someone I wasn't paid for it. Like many other kids I drifted into my career by accident, because it was the first industry to offer me money, because, with my record, nowhere else would have offered me any.

I turned right off Marylebone High Street and into a road of detached houses. Like the stockbrokers and accountants still in their offices I didn't have to be working, but I had dragged myself out of a shallow sleep on my sofa and into my car when Pat Dyer had called and offered me a job.

I pulled into a lay-by, got out into the excruciating cold and squinted at each front door. His daughter had gone missing, apparently. I didn't know much about Pat, having only been introduced once in passing. I knew more about him by reputation, but they were all the same, these types: clever, self-important, predictably psychotic.

A gust of wind went through my coat and I gritted my teeth as I walked up to Pat's house. I noticed, as I knocked, that any space where grass or flowers were meant to be had been covered with concrete.

A blonde woman opened the door and I faltered.

‘I'm… Hi, I'm Nic, Nic Caruana.'

She looked at my hand with her arms folded, before shaking it. Her wrists showed traces of white scars and she had the most desolate eyes I had ever seen. Pat sounded like
the type to have a model wife, and she stood at least two inches taller than me.

‘Um, Pat called me over,' I said.

‘Oh.' She stood to one side, mimicking a smile. ‘Great.'

I'd almost rather have stayed outside.

‘Look, I know this is awkward but Pat left about five minutes ago,' she said as I walked in. ‘I'm Clare, I'm his wife. He said… Well, he said to tell you anything you wanted to know.'

There was a slight accent to her voice; definitely Scottish.

I felt wrong-footed by the change in plans. It wasn't that she was a woman, but their tendency towards overt displays of emotion made me tense.

‘When was the last time you saw her?' I asked, driving past the possibility of small talk.

‘This morning, when she left. She was meant to be back by four.'

‘You know, she's probably just at a party. Most of the time when I get called out to things like this I end up driving a sorry kid back from a rave somewhere.' I smiled. ‘You know, begging them not to throw up in my car.'

‘Maybe, but I don't think so.' She returned my smile, but with the expression of someone who knew I didn't have kids myself. ‘What do you do again?'

‘Private detective of sorts.'

‘Oh really? I heard you track people down?'

‘Yeah, I do that.'

‘And make them pay for things?' Not once did her eyes leave my face. ‘Pat's words.'

‘I…'

‘I see.'

‘That's quite a… general description of my job.'

‘Well, PR has never been Pat's strong point.'

‘Yeah, well, most people quite like their kneecaps.' I regretted the low shot and looked back at the front door, willing Pat to return. ‘Sorry.'

‘Don't be sorry.' Contrary to my reaction she didn't look bothered. I had misjudged her in assuming she didn't know a lot. ‘I don't like you. I didn't like you as soon as I heard Pat call you.'

I wasn't sure whether to be bewildered or amused. ‘That's OK.'

‘Do you want to sit down?'

All of their furniture was a little too big for the house. The gold-rimmed mirror hanging in the hallway gave the impression you were sharing the space with too many extra people. In the living room the sofas were leather and the TV and computer were unnecessarily large. In a few years I could see us watching screens projecting life-sized images; no distinction between fiction and ourselves.

I sat on the edge of a sofa and Clare leant on the arm of another. She had tried to dress down the grey cocktail dress with a cardigan, and she wasn't wearing any shoes. Maybe it was just her height, but she had quite a daunting presence for a woman.

‘We called her friend, the one she was meant to be meeting, and according to her she never even arrived,' Clare said.

‘Where were they meeting?' I asked, glad to be back on solid ground.

‘Tottenham Court Road tube station, I think. They might have been catching the tube from there, I don't know.'

‘Did you try calling her?'

‘We both tried but she never picked up.'

‘What's her friend's name?'

‘I don't think you should know.'

I found it hard to meet the suspicion in her face. ‘I won't hurt her.'

‘You're not with the law.'

‘What difference does that make?'

‘You don't have anyone to tell you when you're going too far.'

‘Why do you think I need someone to tell me?' I asked.

‘Everyone does. And if you didn't you'd probably be working with the law rather than outside it.'

I smiled. I couldn't help it even though it would seem patronizing.

‘You don't have a very high opinion of people, do you?'

‘No, just you.'

‘OK.' I inclined my head. ‘So I'm not allowed to know her friend's name?'

‘No.'

‘Did she have a boyfriend?'

‘No, they broke up a while ago.' She sat down and pulled her legs up on to the sofa.

‘Am I allowed to know his name?'

‘No.'

‘You ever give people a chance?'

‘Do you?'

‘Fair enough.' I shrugged. ‘Can I see a picture of her?'

She looked at me as if I had asked for pornography.

I spread my hands. ‘I can't find her if I don't know what she looks like.'

After a small hesitation she stood up, walked over to one of the bookcases in the corner and took down a framed photo. The girl in the picture looked like a dark-haired version of her mother, I thought, with harder features that reminded me
more of her father. There were the same high cheekbones and dancer's posture that Clare had, but she was nowhere near as interesting without the scars.

‘What was she wearing this morning?'

‘She was wearing her black and white striped top. Um… jeans, black boots, high heels.'

I decided against asking to keep the photo and handed it back. Clare replaced it on the bookcase and next to it I noticed a sculpture of a woman's body, legs twisted up behind the head, the face featureless apart from an open soundless scream where the mouth was meant to be. It didn't sit comfortably with the rest of the room.

I caught her eyes, tensed and looked away. ‘Look, do you mind if I go and speak to some people? I'll call Pat on his mobile but it's probably best I start trying to get some leads.'

‘It's what he's paying you for.'

‘Try not to worry too much. You know, I'm sure she's fine.'

She nodded. ‘She'd call if she was.'

I was about to leave when I caught myself in the doorway, turning back. ‘Sorry… What's her name?'

‘Emma.' Her face was all shadows and grief, as if she already knew her daughter wasn't coming back. ‘Her name's Emma.'

My breath froze in the air on the way back to my car. I could have gone home, but it was a job and sleep was overrated.

I wanted a closer look at her hands.

The level of cold on this night was oppressive and vaguely threatening. I let myself into DC Geoff Brinks's house through the back door. Due to his late-night cigarettes it was never locked.

You would never guess that he had two children, I thought as I sat down at his dining table in the dark. Usually you could see the telltale signs, like drawings stuck to the fridge or family photos, but his house was as void and grey as the man himself.

It was later than usual, a little while after midnight, when I heard him coming down the stairs. I could have given him some warning but where was the fun in that?

Brinks switched on the light and let out a high-pitched cry as he fell against the wall.

I swear this never stopped being funny.

‘Evening, sunshine.'

‘Fuck! Fuck…
Fuck
, Nic!'

‘If you don't lock your door one day you'll get unlucky and it won't be me you find down here.'

‘Lucky, pfft…' Brinks, his T-shirt and boxers hanging off the bones jutting out of his hips, crossed the room to the fridge and got out a bottle of Carlsberg. He was slight to the point of emaciated, with small rat-like teeth and slick hair. ‘You're lucky I don't sleep in the buff, mate.'

‘There would be
nothing
buff about that, mate.'

Brinks sat down heavily across the table, making me want to stand up.

‘This has to stop,' he said, rubbing his finger across a stain in the plastic tablecloth.

‘Well, when you start locking your door I might start knocking.' I winked, not able to resist fucking with his head. ‘Meet the missus, eh?'

‘No, not just that, I mean this.' He gestured at nothing. ‘I mean this whole thing.'

I snorted. ‘And you think I have nothing better to do with my time than cultivate new contacts?'

‘Come on, Nic—'

‘I need to be kept up to date on this case.'

‘Nic—'

‘
Stop
bleating my name like some fucking woman!' I reached into my khaki bag and dropped a wad of notes on to the table. It was more likely to shut him up than words.

He looked up from the money, as pale as the notes. ‘What case?'

The token pretence at integrity was disgusting. I wanted to smash his head into the fridge and leave him choking in a pool of his own blood but it wouldn't be fair on the family upstairs. Brinks would do anything for money. I doubted it would take much for him to let me do that.

He coughed and fear flickered across his features. Sometimes I wondered whether he could see my thoughts betrayed on my face.

‘What case?'

‘It's not a case yet, but it will be soon. Do you know who Pat Dyer is?'

He took a gulp of beer. ‘I want to say arms dealer…'

‘Yeah, he lives in Marylebone. His daughter went missing today.'

‘Yeah, I know of him. Daughter is about sixteen now, right?'

I hesitated, surprised at myself for having not asked. ‘Um, yeah.'

‘How long has she been gone?'

‘Since this morning. She went to meet a friend and never arrived. Parents only found out a while ago.'

‘Don't want her gone another twelve hours, do we?' he said, looking at me over the huge shadows under his eyes. ‘You know I'll only be brought in if we find a body?'

‘I know.'

‘Ever the optimist.'

I shrugged. It seemed pointless, hoping she would be found. The only alternative I could think of was that her friend had lied. It didn't fit though. Her friend would have covered for her otherwise.

‘I'm gonna need things like CCTV footage, case notes, photographs, the usual.'

‘Do you have a description?' he asked, counting the money left on the table.

‘She's got long dark hair, blue eyes, mole on her neck along her collarbone.' My mind was full of bin liners and mottled skin, blood under broken nails. I wondered how much money it would take to make Brinks do that to someone. ‘She was wearing jeans, black high-heel boots and a black and white striped top.'

‘Getting ahead of ourselves a bit, aren't we?' he said, rubbing his eyes.

‘If she turns up alive it'll be a nice hundred pounds to lose.'

‘Point.' He pinched the bridge of his nose as I stood up and wandered towards the door. ‘Seriously, this has to be the last time.'

‘Heh, whatever.' I smiled back from the doorway. ‘Like you have a choice.'

‘I'm serious…'

‘Thanks, Geoff!' I called back, already outside.

‘Go to hell, Nic.'

I dialled Pat Dyer from a petrol station while downing an energy drink in my car, not expecting an answer. It was well into the early hours of the morning and stress was weighing on my eyelids.

After a few seconds Pat answered. There was a dim rumble,
as if he was driving. It was the third time I'd spoken to him, but the picture that was starting to form in my mind was of a man who didn't tolerate contradiction or competition. He spoke like someone who was not only unaccustomed to interruption, but on constant lookout for anyone who seemed as though they might try.

‘Yeah?'

‘This is Nic, Nic Caruana.'

‘Oh yeah? Clare said you were following some leads?'

‘Well, it's hard to tell at the moment but what was the name of Emma's ex-boyfriend?'

‘Danny Maclaine. Don't worry about him though, I've just seen him. Got a few leads of my own, you know.'

‘Do you mind if I talk to him anyway?'

Pat went quiet for a while.

‘He doesn't know anything,' he said, sounding competitive.

‘I'd still like to talk to him.'

‘Believe me, if he knew anything he would have told me.'

‘Sure thing, but I like to check these things out myself.'

He waited for me to relent, but I was more at ease with silence than him.

‘Fine,' he said. ‘But he doesn't know anything.'

He gave me an address in Edmonton and hung up.

I turned the car around, thinking that she was already dead. I tried switching on the radio and grimaced at the onslaught of drum 'n' bass before switching it off again. When I stopped at some traffic lights I shut my eyes for a moment, jerked myself awake and drew a star in the condensation on the window.

She's already dead.

The upper windows of the house in Edmonton were blocked with mattresses. Danny Maclaine answered the door with one
eye swollen shut. His jeans were too baggy and his hair was on the verge of dreadlocks. A ginger cut-price Kurt Cobain.

‘Are you Danny Maclaine?'

BOOK: Something You Are
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