A Shoeshine in August
He had been waiting on the corner for exactly twenty four minutes. He knew that, the clock on the High Street tower said so. Ten o’clock precisely had been his arrival time. The bottom left hand pocket of his dark blue Mackinaw was feeling bulky and catching against his hip. The pocket flap loose. Standing there trying to look innocent but feeling conspicuous, just waiting and wondering if she would turn up. There was that car again. The same one, third time. The black Audi R4 with red wheels, the two men both not looking but still seeing. At least that was the impression or was it simply his imagination deciphering innocence as something sinister. Tapped quick dial. Straight to voicemail.
Time ticked past the thirty. That was his target so he turned around and strolled slowly down the High Street in the opposite direction to the traffic studying the cars looking for clues, wondering about the no show. “Hi mate want your shoes cleaned?” That was the out of work trying to scratch a living with the shoe shine box in the entrance to the Shopping Mall. He pointed to his red canvas baseball boots, shrugged but gave the man a ten pound note. “Breakfast is on me” he said and continued, trying to avoid walking on the cracks of the paving slabs. A habit from his young days, the competition with his sister.
“Hey Frank. Not seen you in a while.” This is Mick the Flick one of his many acquaintances standing outside the coffee shop smoking, holding a brown takeaway paper cup with a white plastic lid and “coffee” stencilled on the side.
“Been around, just not down this way. Had some lucrative work up West that’s now finished. You?”
“On my way to work. Still at the bookies. Nothing changes.” Shrugging and flicking the cigarette butt into the street, taking another from the packet of Camels in his top pocket, stocking up on nicotine before enduring eight hours in a smoke free environment.
“Seen Jenna? Supposed to meet her at ten but she didn’t turn up.”
“Not for a couple of days. Last time was Saturday but she didn't stop and talk.”
“Thanks Mick maybe see you around. The weekend? In the pub?”
“Sure, I’m usually there by eight.”
Frank feels a bit happier but he still remembers the phone call on Friday evening. “Frank, it’s Jenna. Can I meet you early next week. Monday, ten o’clock on the corner of South Street and can you bring it with you?” She had sounded stressed so he agreed and asked no questions. He knew she would not say anymore anyway. Not on the phone. He was away, up West of course not back until Sunday when he fell into bed in his two bedroom ultra modern living space at nine in the evening. On the way up Mrs Paterson on the floor below and on the stairs going down had said “You look tired Frank.” and he had replied “worn out Mrs P just done forty eight hours without a break.” Frank is an IT expert, hardware and software and works for himself. A troubleshooter. Had been fixing a downed mainframe in the headquarters of a multinational. Extremely lucrative as you would expect.
Mick wandered off flicking his last cigarette for the duration at the sitting plastic money box dog outside the charity shop. A retriever something with long golden hair. Frank crosses the road and brushes his long blond hair away from his face as he passes “Snippets” then turns around and walks inside.
“Hello Frank, what’s it to be?”
“Want it tidied up Charlie. It’s too lumpy on top and the fringe drives me bonkers.”
He sits in the chair facing the street and sees Mick near the kerb on the other side of the road remonstrating with a tall man wearing a black bomber jacket in front of the open door of the Audi R4. The man has a hold of Flick’s shoulder but he shrugs him off, takes a couple of steps back, clearly tells him what he thinks, turns and goes into the bookies shop behind him.
Frank thinks “so they are looking for Jenna. How did they know I was meeting her? Followed me. They had followed me. They are checking her friends.”
Charlie snips away for maybe ten minutes then “how’s that Frank?” sticking the hand held mirror behind his head .
“Great job Charlie. Don’t suppose you’ve seen Jenna, you know, Paul’s wife?”
“Sorry Frank. ”
“Not to worry. Thanks for the haircut. Until next time.”
Back on the street Frank leans against the wall and texts “where are you? All alright? Get back to me when you can.” Then crosses back over the road and goes into the bookies.
“Hey Mick what’s with those two in the Audi?”
“Looking for Jenna. I told them I didn't know.”
“I know, I saw, I was in Charlie’s.”
“Yeah, the guy was a bit mad. Short of patience so watch out. You know what they want?”
“No but it might have something to do with this.” he pats the packet in his pocket.
“Know what it is?”
“Nope, it’s wrapped up but it’s quite heavy. Call me if there’s anything. If you see Jenna.”
Jenna had given him the package a week before. “Look after this for me will you Frank. Keep it safe.”
Walking down the pavement a bit and it’s getting busy. He brushes by a few people, stalls behind the row of slow walkers then crosses back over the road, goes to the right and turns left down the narrow side street that heads towards the station. On the left is his regular lunchtime haunt. A sort of bistro cafe place with light wooden benches, assorted cushions, trestle tables and plastic multi-coloured table cloths. A great place with character and old time charm. Annie owns it and is standing behind the counter looking her usual eclectic mix of bohemian and sixties fashion superbly blending into the overall ambience. Spencer Davis softly leaking from the high up speakers.
“Frankie glad you’re here, Jenna was in about half an hour ago looking for you. She didn’t stay and wouldn’t say where she was going. Seemed in a rush. All very mysterious. Said her phone was down but she would find you later. At one of your regular places.”
“Thanks Annie. That’s a relief I can tell you. How're your pies today?”
“What a question. They’re always the best.”
“I know that. Chicken and bacon please with a salad. One of your specials with all the bits.”
“Just fizzy water.” and sits at the table with the red polka dot cushions and striped blue table cloth. Spencer Davis has made way for Baby Love.
Outside and the August day is bright and sunny. The lady with the pushchair and little girl in tow scurries by. The girl drops her small yellow bear and Frank picks it up. Her Mum sends a thank you look and pushes on at a pace that makes Lucy run. “Lucy, come on, get a move on. We will miss the train. No dawdling.” Frank decides to go home until the evening in case Jenna turns up there so he heads towards the station where his apartment is located. Just a short brisk walk. Past the demolished worn out office building with its high plywood wall and “no poster sticking” signs looking at the advertising bills and graffiti scrawl mostly in red paint. Notes the Ed loves Ed that was not there yesterday. Approaching his place and the Audi is pulled up against the kerb by the front entrance. The passenger door opens and a tall dark haired, red Polo shirt gets out looking serious.
“Hello Frank where’s Jenna?”
“Don’t think I’ve had the pleasure. Are we acquainted?”
“Being smart is not a good idea. Just tell me where Jenna is.”
“Can’t help you. Went to meet her at ten and she didn’t turn up.”
“We know that. We saw. You want to tell us?”
“Or exactly what will happen? I can’t tell what I don’t know.”
He moves towards the entrance but the Polo shirt moves with him making him turn at the same time the silver blue Mercedes pulls up.
“Hi Frank what’s up?” It is Danny from across the hall being dropped off after his lunch date before heading back to working in the next building.
“Nothing much how’s Jane?” And they chit chat up the stairs leaving the serious man to get into the Audi and leave.
There’s a knock on the door. Swinging it open the man with the shoe shine box hanging from his shoulder says “Frank, it’s Frank isn’t it? She said her name was Jenna and asked me to come here. She’s at my crash in the old building on West Street. Do you know the place?”
“Sure, halfway down on the left opposite the cinema.”
“That’s it. She’s out the back and will wait for you. She was in the Mall hiding from a black Audi so I took her there. She said she was your friend and you’re always kind to me.”
“What’s your name?”
“Charles, late of the Finance Industry and now unemployed, a casualty of the crash.”
“Thanks Charles. You coming?”
“No I have shoes to shine.”
“In that case dinner later. Will let you know when.”
Outside and the Audi has gone. Frank picks up his feet and sets a good pace heading back to the High Street. The dog on the lead almost out of control does its best to trip him. A big black dog tugging its owner along with choking noises from the ineffectual chain crushing its neck. Down the Mall and out the other end is West Street. He stops at the junction and checks all directions and waits a few minutes out of sight. Satisfied he is not being followed he quickly covers the few hundred yards to Charles’ place and nips around the back. In the back door and “Jenna where are you it’s Frank?”
The place is dark and a complete mess. A building about to be destroyed by the big wrecking ball and clearly everyone’s squat. There is a couple in the kitchen or what used to be the kitchen, now just a jury rigged sink and an old beaten up table. “Where’s Jenna?” But they have no clue who he’s talking about so into the sitting room and again “Jenna it’s Frank.”
“Hi Frank. Sorry wanted to be sure you were alone” as she comes into the room from a door leading somewhere else.
He gives her his best hug. The one reserved for special people “You all right? What’s all this about?”
“Yeah, I’m ok but I’ve been having a bit of a time. Paul and I had a fight. He’s been seeing Fiona you know his long legged, blond secretary. They have been involved for a time. I told him I was leaving and wanted half of everything. I knew he would be wild so the day before I took the hard drive out of his computer. Remember you showed me how that time when I was changing mine and you said “never leave a hard drive when you scrap a computer.” That’s what I gave to you. You still got it?”
“Sure” and he pulls the packet that is still in his Mackinaw. “What’s on this?”
“I’ll get to that. So we had a fight and he kicked me hard on the leg and pushed me against the kitchen table. I picked up a large jar of Marmite and threw it in his face caught him above his right eye. Bit of blood and pain.
He was yelling “I’ll never give you a bean you bitch.”
So I said “I think you will. I have your hard drive.” “It has all the details of the underhand cash dealings in his business going back years. There’s hundreds of thousands of pounds all cash, all with tax owing and where it’s located. He went berserk chucking things everywhere. The house is really smashed up. I got out the door and have not gone back. You were away so I’ve been friend hopping. He’s set two of his debt collecting dogs on me. The sort that break arms not twist them.”
“I know I have met them.”
“I’m lost Frank and don’t know what to do.”
“Don’t worry, we’ll sort it. First we’ll go to my place, you will be safe there. I’ll copy the hard drive and then we’ll work out how to deal with Paul.”
“What about the Audi men?”
“I’ll give them the hard drive, after all it’s that they really want not you. Then we’ll get a solicitor and start divorce proceedings. If Paul kicks up dust we can use the copy to persuade him. Once he has settled down I’m sure he will be amicable.”
“Frank you’re just the best and I’ll love you for it. Forever.”