New Year's Eve
I’m not looking forward to the conversation later with Constable Smith. I have a bad feeling that it will make things worse. Amy scares me and I don’t think anything like a restraining order will stop her. I wonder how many other poor souls she’s done this to. I can’t be the first. I don’t think she has a criminal record either or she couldn’t work as a meals driver. Oh I don’t know.
For now I’ll concentrate on speaking to Mr Blacksmith about the office job.
He isn’t there yet when I arrive so I’ll come back afterwards.
There’s a certain buzz between the drivers. They’re murmuring between themselves.
‘What’s going on?’ I ask them.
Seems that Amy was let go. Her criminal record check came back with discrepancies.
‘They’re just finding out about that now?’ I ask. ‘What about before she started?’
‘Who knows, maybe she slept with the boss,’ one of them jokes.
They need to change their procedures. I remember when I started, the check was done while I was training and came back two weeks later. I could have been anyone walking into the clients’ homes. Stupid system.
And it’s a system that has no doubt made Amy even madder. She must have known when she applied for the job that her criminal record check would come back like that. Just like all the others in the past who have come and gone. I just wonder what goes through their mind when they apply.
I’m still on my guard as I head to Walmer Bridge. Any white car catches my eye. If she’s driving her car that is. She could be in someone else’s. I wonder if it was she who murdered Jason, or Emma, if she was murdered. Amy does have ties to the area.
I sigh. My mind is running away with me.
Come to think of it, I don’t know if there’s any new information on what happened to Emma.
After an event free round I head back to Leyland. Back to the depot. Robert Blacksmith should be there. On the way I feel my phone vibrate in my pocket and any happiness I had left in me washed away almost immediately. I can feel my face going white. I ignore it.
Blacksmith’s Mercedes is parked outside the shutter doors. I park next to it. He’s inside the depot.
I walk in with my empty box and see a row of chocolates and red and white wines on the counter bench. Not much of a wine drinker myself but everyone gets one so I’ll grab one before I leave. I always tell myself I’ll use it for cooking but I never do.
Robert is in the office with Agatha. The door is open and they hear me come in. Robert comes out right away. He looks the same as he did last year apart from he’s a little greyer. He’s still slim and tall and holds his age of sixty well. He’s dressed down like he’s out on the town. He looks nothing like a business man and he never has.
‘Lee,’ he says with a smile.
We shake hands. ‘Hi Mr Blacksmith.’
Agatha stands in her doorway.
Blacksmith and I have a quick catch up. I don’t mention Amy, nor do I mention Mei being pregnant. Agatha continues to stare at us. I think she’s worried I might say something she won’t like.
I ask him, ‘Can we talk in private?’
Blacksmith looks at her and looks back at me. ‘Sure.’
We go outside into the cold.
‘Let’s talk in my car.’
I agree and get inside. The car is still warm. He presses a button for heated seats. Wow. I look at my eight years old Clio. It’s served me well but I’d drop it in a blink for one of these.
He speaks first. ‘I’ve been meaning to speak to you about something. But you go first.’
The blinds in Agatha’s office twitch.
‘I want to speak to you about the vacant office job.’
He stays quiet but nods like he understands.
‘I want to apply for it. Agatha is here every single day.’
‘That’s true. People have come for interviews but they haven’t pursued it.’
‘So can I apply for it?’
‘Look.’ He turns in his seat to face me. ‘It’s no secret you and Agatha don’t get on well. Do you think you can manage it?’
‘This is what I wanted to speak to you about. You care. I heard about Mrs Mellor and I don’t think Agatha particularly supported you well on that. We have a duty of care. I’m yet to speak to her about it, but I will.’ He smiles. ‘Tell you what, I’ll sort it out so that you can start training on Monday. See what you think, OK?’
‘Thank you, Mr Blacksmith.’
‘I’ve told you before to call me Bob.’
I leave the depot with red wine and a box of chocolates and a sense of satisfaction that I’m thought highly enough of to warrant taking on the office co-ordinator job. I cannot wait.
I check my phone. That message I received on the way to the depot wasn’t from Amy, it was from my service provider telling me my phone bill is ready. I wish I knew what she was planning to do next.
Being New Year’s Eve, Mei is finishing work early again at four. The clock tells me it’s not even quarter to three. I don’t really fancy going home so I might waste an hour in town. Our trip to Edinburgh is next weekend so I might go and see if there’s anything we need to take with us.
It’s just after three when I park up. Plenty of time before the hour and twenty minutes run out. I might even grab a pasty and a cuppa while I wait for her. The sun is shining and the air is cold. The sun won’t be shining much longer on these early dark evenings.
You never realise how much you don’t need until you go looking for it. That’s what I realise anyway. I don’t need any clothes, toothpaste, or toothbrush. I have everything I need for the trip. Mei and her mum might see things differently. There will need to be day clothes and evening clothes and sleeping clothes, all with matching shoes and make up. I’m glad I’m a man. Life is much simpler.
I go and wait for Mei outside her work instead of in the car.
The shop she works in is on Church Street, up by Waterstones. Its name is Fashion Inc. I’ve only been inside once and that was when she first started. It’s not my kind of thing. Not just because they only sell women’s clothes, but because it’s just too colourfully loud. I want to tell the manager it’s not an art gallery, it’s a clothes shop. The shop we first met in was much better. If she was working here back then I doubt we’d have met.
Mei walks out at five past four and sees me. She smiles.
‘Hello, stranger,’ she says.
‘All right?’ I tell her I had some time to spare so here I am.
We need to hurry before the time runs out in the carpark. Although she finished work early today, everyone will have done so as well, so the rush hour has just been moved a couple of hours and will be as bad as usual. Just like it was on Christmas Eve.
When we get out of the carpark I head along Fylde Road. Mei is beside me stroking her belly.
‘I like it when you meet me at work,’ she says. ‘You should do it more often.’
I’ve started something now.
‘Did you phone the police about Amy?’ she asks.
Shit. I forgot. ‘I’ll do it later.’
I go on to tell her about the job I’ll be training for on Monday.
‘That’s great,’ she says.
‘There are chocolates on the back seat.’
She grabs them and opens them.
‘You can open them if you like,’ I say sarcastically.
She looks at me with her cheeks stretched like a squirrel’s might when full of nuts. She looks funny.
I was hoping for a New Year’s Eve pizza or something tonight but when we get home I can smell the garlic and ginger combination wafting through the house. I guess it’ll be pizza tomorrow instead. I’m a little disappointed but it’s food I suppose and her mum cooked it for us all.
All through the meal her mum is giving me the one eye treatment. I guess the other night at the restaurant is still on her mind. Or maybe Mei told her what Amy has been up to. I don’t know. But she is making me uncomfortable.
‘Did you tell your mum about Amy?’ I ask Mei at the dining table. Her mum doesn’t understand me anyway.
That explains it.
On the coffee table is a piece of paper. It’s an invite to a New Year’s Eve party tonight at Bret and Alan’s. Shit. I don’t want to go to that. I can see on Mei’s face that she doesn’t either. So we decide not to. I can think of nothing worse.
When it gets to eight o’clock, the music starts from their house. It’s loud and repetitive. And annoying. I expected this. If it wasn’t their house it would be someone else’s. Pity it wasn’t someone else’s. At least their neighbours would be suffering instead.
At nine o’clock with the TV turned up loud, I hear kids out in the street. I fear the worst every time I do. They’re loud and usually doing something negative. Why can’t they just do something positive? I was no angel but I knew when enough was enough.
The film we’ve been watching is the original Chinese version of The Departed. It’s called Infernal Affairs. I think it’s great. It’s just being marred a little by the noise.
Yes, I realise that I sound like a grumpy old man.
At eleven we decide we’ve had enough and head to bed. I can usually sleep through any noise so it shouldn’t be a problem for me tonight. Yet I find myself wanting to see midnight this time.
We settle down in bed and flick through our phones. I can tell Mei is fighting the urge to sleep. But she’s soon wide awake when, at two minutes to midnight, my phone vibrates. It’s a text. This time it is from Amy. Mei looks at me. The last thing I want to see is another naked picture. Luckily it isn’t. It’s something worse.