Stephen Hardcastle had gone to work on the buses straight from school and was now part of the furniture. He trailed to work from the tiny terraced house where he had lived with his mother until her death. Back home at the end of each shift he spent his evenings slumped in front of the television or had an occasional night at the pub when his shifts allowed it. He had been simple to find and it took no time to work out his narrow, wasted life. Simon remembered the working schedules from way back. They had used the knowledge to blag free rides and ‘Stevo’ had swelled with pride and feeble power, waving his hand at them as the gang climbed off the bus with mumbled thanks. Puffed up at the opportunity to dispense his favours never imagining that he was being used.
Of course the chances were that shift timings had changed in the intervening years and so Simon watched. From the street in the early morning, from the little café in time for the three o clock start and from the pub in the evening. The waitress in the café began to smile at him when he came in, he had become a regular but it didn’t matter. She would probably only ever remember the heavy framed glasses, bought from the local chemist, the mildest reading glasses they had. She may remember the fact that he always wore a yellow scarf and spoke with a stammer. Anything to muddy the waters, in case they looked for him before it was all over. A shy sort of chap she would say when asked, but no she hadn’t noticed a scar, well he always had his head down didn’t he, wouldn’t look you in the eye. The subterfuge wouldn’t need to last very long, just long enough.
The rota was simple and now he was ready. Stephen was on afternoons and so would finish after the last bus. The eleven thirty to the railway station was back in the garage by twelve.
Simon rang Gloria, “I’m stuck at the shop waiting for a delivery and he’s held up on the motorway. I think I’ll just hang about and then have something to eat at the pub. It could be late, I don’t want to disturb you, I’ll sleep in my own room.”
“I don’t mind, just come in when you get back.”
“It could be very late.”
“It’s okay, really it won’t matter.” He recognised the closeness now for the mistake it was but there was no choice at the stage but to accommodate it. He clenched his fist and tried to put a smile in his voice.
“Okay then. See you later. Don’t wait up though eh.”
It was cold and there was a fine drizzle falling. Orange mist swirled around the street lamps and dark pools gleamed in the gutters, a filthy night.
Simon slid into the narrow alley between the second hand car showroom and the church hall and waited for the bulky figure of Stephen to waddle up the hill. In the years since he had last seen him, hours sitting in the driving seat, too many burgers and a love of beer had spread Stephens backside and belly and wasted the muscles of his arms and legs. He was starting with the softest target but it didn’t matter where it began.
Cars hissed past throwing up the standing water and now and again someone would hustle along the road, head lowered and shoulders hunched but it was quiet enough.
When the dark shape appeared round the corner Simon slid his hand into the inside pocket of his new puffa jacket. The handle on the hammer was smooth and warmed by the heat of his body. Dark steel gleamed in the subdued light. His hand was steady.
The sound surprised him, he had thought it would be louder, sharper. There was just a quiet thunk, and then the slither of bulk falling to the wet pavement, the crack of his skull as it hit the floor was the loudest sound. Simon had intended to catch him as he fell but actually his reaction had been to step back as the body had fallen. It was over quickly. The quick emergence from the alley, the hammer’s arc, connection and a hardly audible gasp. He dragged the dead weight along the grimy pavement and into the dark mouth of the ginnel. He stopped and crouched in the wet, lowered his head towards the gaping mouth and listened. The hiss of rain and the gurgle of water in the downspouts and gutters obliterate any sound of breathing. Lack of light and the bulk of Hardcastle’s jacket made it impossible to tell whether the chest still rose and fell.
He pushed fingers under the dark collar, felt the sticky warmth of blood as it pooled in the fat creases. It had been guesswork, if he had struck too hard then this pig would be dead already. He didn’t want him dead.
He felt the faint flutter of life and allowed himself a smile. It took longer than he had imagined to wrap the tape round and round the unconscious, ungainly hulk and by the time he had finished Stephen was groaning quietly. He pressed a wad of rag into his mouth and secured it with a piece of tape.
He was heavy and awkward and Simon had to stop twice and rest with his back against the sopping wall before he eventually dragged Stephen through the alley.
The old van had been nicked the night before from a second hand car place, out beyond the down at heel area where his shop was. It had spent the intervening time hidden in the yard, tucked up against the walls of the workshop. An old door thrown inside just before he left was essential now to enable him to drag the still unresponsive body up and into the dirty interior. He had imagined it was going to be difficult but hadn’t realised just how cumbersome the unconscious hulk would be and by the time he dropped onto the torn plastic of the driver seat he was clammy with sweat and gasping for breath. It was only half over and he needed to move fast now before ‘Stevo’ regained his senses.
The route round the back roads and alleys to avoid the ubiquitous CCTV cameras took longer than planned and by the time they were nearly there he could hear the other man shuffling and thumping in the back of the van. He didn’t want to hit him again, didn’t want to risk him dying but nevertheless as he parked back in the yard he pulled the hammer out of his jacket and held it ready as he unfastened the rusty back doors. Hardcastle was still lying in the middle of the van floor but his eyes were open now. As the light level increased he tried to raise himself up, thrusting with his legs, pushing and squirming, furious and confused.
“Hello Stevo – it’s me.” Simon clambered into the back of the van and watched as the fury and confusion were obliterated by fear.