This is one I wrote and previously submitted under the title Amy. I deleted it from Lit because someone wanted to buy it, but since it also appears on other sites -- having been 'stolen' from Lit -- the deal fell through. So here it is again. If you haven't already read it I hope you enjoy it.
As usual I'd appreciate feedback.
GA -- Chiang Rai, Thailand -- 20th of February 2013.
From a letter dated 13th January1979:
... although I'm not evil I have committed evil, I have killed three people.
The first was out of love, the second an accident, and the third out of necessity -- or at least I considered it necessary at the time.
I just wanted to explain ...
THE GIRL WITH A SECRET looked intently at Billy. The expression on his face told her he'd asked on impulse, in one of those moments without logic. Despite her worries Amy felt a laugh bubble in her chest at his face, a comedy mask of disbelief. He obviously hadn't meant to offer, but once he'd asked, blurted it out really, the question hung there, floating amid the baking air of the overheated station buffet. Awkwardness ballooned between them while, in the frigid night outside, a seemingly endless goods train clack-clanked on a ponderous and lonely mission to some northern colliery.
Eventually the metronomic clangour faded, and Billy was sure the next sound would be a refusal from the girl's mouth. Who in their right mind would accept the invitation? From a stranger; an old duffer like him, and at this time of night ...
Finally the girl sniffed, cuffed impatiently at her nose and then looked around the room as though considering her options. There weren't a lot of them available. A squaddie, with a soldier's trick of snatching rest, head on his forearms and with a scuffed and battered suitcase secure between his feet and the wall slept a few tables away. A surly attendant on duty behind the counter slopped a desultory grey dish-cloth around the formica, irascible and impatient to close up shop and be away home.
And there was the man.
Behind the raisin-faced indolent steward a clock showed the time approaching one o'clock, while the calendar beside told the date -- 2nd December 1978. A day in its infancy, with dawn's light still over six hours away. For Amy the day offered guilt, worry and uncertainty. The sudden and surprising surge of euphoria when she'd first run had dissipated somewhere between Edinburgh and the Tyne, now she was alone and hunted, with eighty-five pence in her pocket and a mug of British Rail coffee on the table in front of her.
And his offer.
She studied the man opposite, the one who'd asked if she needed somewhere to stay. He sat there, rumpled and worn in his thin blue jacket, but he looked OK, didn't strike her as a weirdo; she liked the look of his face, a road-map of experiences, interesting and interested, with kindly brown eyes, while his hair could do with a trim as it curled at the collar of his shirt. Nobody you'd look at twice, ordinary and mildly unkempt, a lonely old bachelor.
She could handle him.
"Will there be owt else?" the steward interrupted from behind his waist-high counter. He wondered at their business, the grey-haired man and the girl. It was an odd to-do. The girl had been sitting there for an hour or more, a pretty one, probably trouble. It was usually the way; the pretty ones caused the grief. The older fellah had been a more recent arrival. "We shuts at one," his arm swept to encompass his nocturnal mercantile kingdom. "But if tha wants goodies or another brew after ah've gone," he continued in his laconic Yorkshire way, "there's the vending machines ovver there. An' if you've a yen for music there's yon jukebox." He thrust his bristled jaw belligerently at the pair, briefly wondered at their business again before finally deciding he didn't really care and turned to his end-of-day duties.
The girl ignored the attendant, instead she nodded. "OK," she said and then shrugged with apparent unconcern. "It's past midnight and ahm alone and ahm a wee lassie. And you, you're a complete stranger. Och, yuh could be a raving barmpot, but yuh dinae look like a nutter ..." She lifted the mug and, confronting Billy over the rim, sipped at the now tepid coffee. Grimacing at the lukewarm, muddy residue she put the mug back on the table in front of her. "How auld are you?" she asked abruptly.
Despite his years in Aberdeen Billy didn't have an ear for dialect; the girl was Scots, he recognised that, but that was about as geographically accurate as he could manage, that she was from somewhere north of Berwick-Upon-Tweed.
"Fifty-five," he answered truthfully.
"You don't look like a barmpot," the girl repeated as the attendant finally lowered the corrugated roller-shutter, clamped a robust-looking padlock through the hasp, shrugged on a thick donkey jacket and, dismissing them from his life, went out onto the deserted platform beyond the glass. His head still on his arms, the soldier stirred and muttered in his sleep. "And I'm a pretty good judge of character," the girl finished.
Minutes later, decision made, with smoking breath and toting a canvas hold-all nearly as big as herself, Amy quietly hummed as she followed Billy along the station concourse. If yuh want muh body, an' yuh think I'm sexy ... she sang quietly to herself as Billy unlocked the car.
The heater fan in the old Allegro battled against the chill air while Billy, one hand in constant circles on the windscreen, peered through the persistently fogging glass and steered the car through the girder ribcage of Holgate Bridge towards Acomb.
The streets and roads were mostly deserted, with only two cars passing in the opposite direction. A scrawny fox crossed the road in front of them, eyes glowing eerily when the animal turned its face towards the approaching car before slinking into the green periphery of the city's edge.
A short time later the car's tyres crunched against gravel as Billy manoeuvred the vehicle between a set of ornate gateposts at the end of a long lane. He brought the Allegro to a halt and killed the engine. Amy was surprised to see the size of the place, Billy didn't look like he had much money but, as she blinked through the porthole she'd cuffed on the misted window beside her, she saw a large, imposing two-storey silhouette of Edwardian splendour palisaded by a high hedge, with sentinels of Oak and Elm guarding the gate. Her first impression was of sumptuous grandeur but, Amy noticed after stepping through the front door and the lights went on, the house wasn't as impressive as she'd first thought. It was, she compared, like its owner, threadbare and in need of care and attention. Not that Billy's domestic arrangements or the state of his home were issues high on Amy's priority list, this was temporary, one night only, in the morning ... or mid-afternoon at the latest, she'd be on her way.
Or so she thought.
Amy stood scrunched inside her parka, hands in pockets against the cold as her eyes flicked over the frayed man, while he, nervous and unsure grinned, shyly back at her.
"Could I have a bath?" she asked.
Surprised by the request, Billy paused before saying: "I'll have to turn the immersion on. It might take a bit to warm up, but you can have a bath, yes." He edged past Amy with a look of contrition on his face. "Sorry about the state of the place. I wasn't expecting ... well ..." He shrugged and grinned. "Well, you know ... a guest."
Amy followed him through the long hall of faded wallpaper. An old-fashioned Bakelite telephone with a cumbersome dial sat mute atop a long-legged stand at the foot of the stairs. Old fashioned furniture and ornaments dominated, the house appeared stuck in the nineteen forties, a relic of post-war austerity. She glimpsed the kitchen through an open door at the end of the corridor before Billy led her through a doorway to the left.
"There's a fire mended," Billy said. "I'll just get it lit and then turn on the immersion heater. We could have a cuppa while you wait if you like?"
Amy nodded. "Aye, that'd be great," she replied.
In the untidy kitchen, still huddled inside her coat, Amy blew over the meniscus of her tea to cool it down.
"Shouldn't be long," Billy said after taking a tentative sip. "While you're in the bath I'll make up a bed for you."
"Thanks, the girl responded, and then asked, "Live here alone?"
Billy nodded. Hesitating momentarily, he then said, "My mum left the place to me. I never married, spent most of my life away ... Royal Navy -- a diver," he added, "then I did some time on the oil rigs -- North Sea. Then Mum got ill, I looked after her ... She died, I retired early on a decent enough pension ... And here I am."
They moved to the living room where a fire struggled to life in the grate. The scent of acrid, waxy firelighters reminded Amy of home. A pang of guilt, anxiety and homesickness flared.
Home ... She couldn't go home.
To take her mind off her woes, Amy asked: "So why were you on the station at this time of night?"
Billy, on hands and knees, blew on the infant fire, cajoling it to glow brighter. He turned his head to regard the girl. "I get lonely in here. All my working life I've been used to be being around people, and this time of year ... Christmas coming ... It gets dark at half-four ... I get miserable with my own company. Sometimes I just have to get out, go anywhere, just to have some contact." He stood and wiped his hands carelessly on the back of his jeans. "Anyway," he said, "what brought you there -- in the station buffet? Ran out of money you said."
"Aye, somethin' like," the girl replied.
Billy noticed her evasiveness, her awkwardness at being questioned. He veered away from that subject. "Any plans for Christmas?" he asked.
The girl shrugged inside the cocoon of her parka while she stared into the fire. After a pause she lied into the flames, "No really. I'll be in London by then. Muh wee pal has a flat down there. That's where I'm headin' soon as I can."
Billy didn't question any further, instead he suggested that perhaps the water would by now be hot enough for a bath.
While Amy splashed in the warm suds in the bathroom on the second storey, Billy sat in front of the fire nursing a whisky. He thought about the girl and wondered at the real reason that led to her being on the station concourse that night, at the mercy of perverts and predators. A pretty one despite the lank, unwashed hair and dishevelled traveller look; she had the bright blue eyes to go with the blonde hair and delicate elfin features. Amy had that spark of cheekiness, a glint in the eyes and quick grin that would catch the attention of any man who cared to look. He thought about her body under the parka and swathes of clothing, a body which would now warm and pink and glowing with the heat of the bath. He imagined her naked, saw her smooth-skinned and shiny, her pubic bush a matted and dripping beard between her thighs ...
Billy's cock thickened. "Perverts and predators," he muttered, surprised at his body's sudden tumescence. He swigged the harsh spirit in one go.
Beyond the curtained window, under sparkling winter stars which skimmed low overhead in a fragile and glacial panoply, frost thickened over the sleeping city.
AMY WOKE IN SUDDEN, urgent panic. There was something in the room with her. She struggled to sit upright in a strange bed, in a room she didn't recognise, with the gluey residue of sleep fogging her brain and strands of a nightmare tugging her into despair.
Where the hell was she? Who was in the room with her?
Then she recalled the man, Billy, and remembered where she was, remembered bathing and recalled the whisky he'd offered at half-past two in the morning following her bath. A spare room in Billy's house, that's where she was.
Tendrils of the dream, the horrible dream wisped into her thoughts. He was dead, she was sure he was dead.
"Mam," she sobbed into the dark.
Daylight framed the edge of the blind but the room remained deeply shadowed and vague. Amy yelped when a shadow moved and a sudden weight pressed against her legs. She kicked and whimpered as fingers of terror gripped her guts, real fear this time, this was no dream. She struggled futilely against the bedclothes as the linen tangled around her legs in a conspiratorial embrace, which left her helpless and entirely at the mercy of the intruder.
The weight crept along Amy's body, stealthy yet insistent like fingers feeling along her torso, reaching for her neck ...
Supine with fear, she lay panting, unable to even croak for help -- and what would be the use in shouting? The house was in its own grounds behind the high hedge, neighbours would never hear.
Then, with a chagrined blurt of relieved laughter she heard the sound of a cat's purr and realised what was in the room with her.
Next she smelt the faint aroma of bacon cooking, the lure was irresistible. "Get lost," she muttered and turned in the cocoon of tangled bedclothes to shift the cat onto the floor. After finally struggling free and flinging the covers aside she squealed when her bare feet touched cold wooden boards. "Fucker," she hissed, dancing on tip-toes towards where she'd left her clothes piled on a wooden-backed chair. She dressed hurriedly, noticing the door was slightly ajar. That explained the feline intruder.
A quick, necessary toilette later, with residual emotions suppressed, she moved along the upstairs corridor and saw again the threadbare carpet and worn décor, even shabbier in the light of day. Oddly the banister rail looked to be new, sturdy and firmly rooted, with a recent jacket of gloss paint. Shrugging the anomaly aside Amy descended the stairs down to the lower storey. The ground floor told the same sorry story as the rest of the house but the kitchen welcomed her with a warm embrace of delicious aromas and the distinctive, familiar bass tone of DJ Simon Bates on Radio 1.
Billy turned from the sizzling pan and smiled cheerily.
"What time is it? Amy asked.
"Just gone twelve," said Billy. "You OK for the full fry-up? I didn't know if you'd want all this." He turned back to the stove to work magic with lard and sausage and eggs. Amy's stomach rumbled noisily, betraying her hunger. The man continued: "But I went out early and got the things in. Shop down the road does a good range of the staples." Billy moved around the deal table and scraped a chair across the lino to offer the girl a seat. "Sit yourself down. You want a cuppa? And what about breakfast? You're not one of those skinny Minnies that hates food, are you?"
A stale waft of trains, waiting rooms and fear floated upwards from her lap as Amy sat down. What had she packed in the carry-all? She'd have to change after breakfast. She thought of the rushed emptying of drawers and panicked stuffing of clothing into the bag while she'd fought against shock at the enormity of what she'd done. No time to think about what clothing she'd need, her departure had been a fraught, frazzled whirl of confused thoughts, Amy had taken whatever had come to hand in her haste to be out of the flat and away.
Away from him. Away from her crime.
"... I thought a good breakfast before you got your train would be just the ticket ... no pun," Billy continued, as he scooped two fried eggs on top of toast.
"Uh ... Yeah ... great," Amy replied, dragging her concentration back to Billy and his inane jabber about breakfast.
"It'll be dark in a few hours," Billy rattled on. "What time train do you want? I can run you to the station, but I thought you might have a particular service in mind. You probably don't want to leave it too late, might get stuck in a station buffet at midnight." He grinned over his shoulder at the girl while sliding sausage and bacon onto the plate next to the toast and egg. "Beans ...? Tomatoes ...?" he asked.
"Yes, please," Amy responded, taken aback by Billy's apparent rush to have her gone. "That'd be great. Ta."
"Nice cuppa tea to wash it down." Billy plonked a mug of steaming brew alongside the plate. He settled into a chair opposite the girl and smiled and winked. "Nothing like a proper breakfast on a cold day, eh? Brown sauce or red?" He proffered the bottle labelled with the iconic Houses of Parliament.
Amy signalled with a fork for the red bottle instead.
They ate in silence for a few moments. The cat, lured by warmth and the prospect of food, wound sinuously around Amy's ankles while the girl ate.
"So, what time do you want to make a move?"
Amy shrugged. "I don't know. I'm not sure when the train leaves for London." She absently dropped a piece of bacon rind to the floor for the cat.
"Oh they're pretty regular. Every half hour or thereabouts I think."
Miffed by Billy's continued, cheery insistence towards her departure, Amy munched in disgruntled silence. So the respite was truly only temporary. All she had to do was clean her teeth, change into whatever clothes she could find in the jumble of the hold-all and then take the short drive back to the station.
From there she hadn't a clue.
Billy left it until the last moment before he challenged the girl. Outside the station a taxi driver tooted an annoyed horn and gesticulated rudely to indicate that the Allegro was causing an obstruction. Ignoring the irate driver and his forked fingers, Billy regarded Amy with a serious face. "There isn't a friend with a flat waiting for you, is there?"
"Uh-uh," she responded, her long hair swishing against the rolled hood of her parka.
"And how much money do you have ... exactly?"
"And no ticket?"
The head went from side to side again.
Billy sighed heavily. He swivelled slightly in his seat to confront Amy. "So what's your plan? Where will you go? What about tonight?" The girl's forlorn expression told him all he needed to know. "You want to come back to the house?" he asked softly.
Billy smiled as the car passed between the stark and skeletal frame of Holgate Bridge towards home. The girl, Amy, if that was her real name, would probably end up a disappointment; she might rob him blind and slide into the night, but he was willing to take the risk. The moods were on him again and she'd be bright company for however long she stayed.
He had no inkling of what lay ahead.
THEY SAT in the King's Arms pub on the bank of the River Ouse. Seasonal decorations adorned most of the available surfaces, with a discrete sprig of mistletoe hanging above the bar. Bright streamers garlanded the fireplace while fairy lights winked in the mullioned windows frosted with false snow. In a corner alcove away from the door, Amy sipped at her wine while Billy held a pint of Samuel Smith's.
Three days on and Billy still hadn't winkled much information from Amy. "What's up, girl? You seem distracted," he said.
Amy flinched at the question, swigged the glass empty and slid it towards Billy's three-quarter full pint pot. "Can I have another, please?"
He stared at her for a long moment, opened his mouth on the verge of pressing the question and then shook his head, dismissing the issue for now. "Sure," he said, easing his knees from beneath the table.
"I'm sorry," the girl said when Billy returned with her wine. "I'm just a wee bit nervous. A strange city an' all that. And I'm missin' me mam."
"Are you going to tell me about where you come from, Amy? Why you turned up here with just some change in your pocket and nowhere to go?"
The girl sipped at her drink before placing the glass purposefully on the table. She tilted her head to one side and smiled shyly at Billy. "Och ... It were nothin'," she began. "A bit of a spat with my father. He threw me out an' I just went; I was blind angry, see; I didnae have a clue what I was about, so I took some money from his wallet and buggered off to the station. I got from Motherwell to Edinburgh and there in the station was a train for London. I just got on. When the conductor came around I only had cash enough for York ..." Taking another sip of wine, she smiled around the glass. "An' that's it," she finished. "That's where you come in." Billy had his doubts about the tale but left his misgivings unvoiced. After swigging at his beer he nodded toward the bar. "I'll just get a pint, you ready for another?"