An English Boy in New York (6 page)

BOOK: An English Boy in New York
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I'd got over my initial terror after an hour or so and was now bored out of my skull.

‘Why have you come to the US?' Roberto asked, for the fifth time.

‘For KnitFair USA,' I explained. ‘I won a knitting competition. I wrote it all on the card.'

Honestly, why do they give you the card to fill in if they're not going to read it?

He sat back in his chair, his eyes narrow.

‘You expect me to believe that?'

‘Do you really think I'd make that up?' I replied.

Roberto made as if to speak but Jack interrupted. ‘OK,' he said. ‘I can't see as anyone would admit that unless it were true.' I could have sworn he smirked at Roberto then.

‘Look, phone Ms Gunter,' I said. ‘She'll tell you I'm not a terrorist.'

‘This is the probation lady?'


‘But you don't have her number?'

‘It's in my phone, in my suitcase,' I explained. ‘If you get me my suitcase, I'll find you the number. Or just call 192 192.'

After a pause Jack spoke again. ‘We gotta go make some calls. Come on, Robbie.'

Robbie looked annoyed to be called away, but he stood and walked to the door.

‘You want anything?' Jack asked. ‘Cigarettes? A burger?'

‘No thanks,' I said tiredly. ‘I don't smoke.'

I wish I'd said yes to the burger, though. It had been a long time since the cheese roll.


Roberto came back alone after a while carrying my landing card. He sat opposite me and stared at me coolly.

‘Um. Did you phone Ms Gunter?' I asked after a long silence.

‘Oh, we phoned her all right,' he said.

There was another pause.

Another silence. This time I waited.

‘Hey, sonny,' he said, leaning forward. ‘I don't give a rat's ass about your goddam shoplifting.'

‘OK,' I said cautiously. That was something.

‘Do you know why I don't care about it?'

I shook my head dumbly.

‘It's because you wrote it on the card,' he said, stabbing his finger down on the document. He held it up and pointed to some text at the bottom. ‘What does it say here?'

I leaned forward and peered at the card. ‘It says it is a federal offence to provide incorrect information on this document.'

‘Yeah, goddam right it says that.'

I waited.

‘And you signed it,' he said.

‘Yes?' I wasn't bored any more. My heart was pounding, I felt sick and hot.

‘So you say that everything on this document is the God's truth?' he said, leaning back.

‘Erm, I think so?' I said, now not at all sure, but wondering what I could have got wrong.

He glared at me, then looked down at the card. ‘Question seven. Are you, or have you ever been a member of a group or organisation engaging in political agitation, terrorism or other unpatriotic activities?'


‘And you ticked  …  ?'


He smiled; a look of triumph flooded his face.

‘So why is it, Mr Fletcher, that when I look at your security profile, I see, in bright green letters, that you are a member of a proscribed organisation?'

I sat, frozen in horror. What on earth?

‘It must be a mistake,' I said. ‘Joz tried to get me to join the young Lib Dems but it was fifteen pounds and I told him to stick it.'

‘Are you saying the British security agency made a mistake?' he snorted. ‘GCHQ got it

‘Well, yeah, I think that's very likely.'

He sniffed.

‘So I guess you're going to tell me you're not a member of KAW?'

‘What? A member of what?'

‘K – A – W,' he repeated. He pulled another piece of paper from his pocket and slammed it on the table before me. I looked down at it.

It was a printout of an online application form, completed with my details. An application for  … 

I laughed. ‘Knitters Against Weapons!' I said. ‘KAW! I'd forgotten I'd even joined up. It was free. I get emails from them sometimes asking me to knit flowers for peace.'

‘So you admit you are a member?'

‘Well yes, but seriously  …  it's a group of knitters.'

‘Campaigning for disarmament,' he finished.

‘That's not illegal, is it?'

‘It's unpatriotic,' he snapped. ‘It's goddam unpatriotic.'

‘Why?' I asked, genuinely mystified.

‘Why? What happens when we disarm?' he spat. ‘Do you think Omar the Terrorist is going to disarm too?'

‘I hadn't really thought it through, I suppose,' I said.

Jack appeared then, carrying a Styrofoam cup of coffee. He set the coffee down on the floor, then crouched down and took the lid off.

‘Do you think you can knit a flak jacket out of  …  wool?' Roberto continued.

‘No, probably not,' I admitted.

‘Can you crochet a tank?'

‘You can't,' I admitted.

He shook his head. ‘You socialists make me sick.'

‘Jesus Christ, Robbie,' Jack said, tearing open a sachet of sugar. ‘Let the kid go already.'

Robbie held up the landing card. ‘He lied, Jack. He's a member of a proscribed  … '

Jack reached up and took the card from Roberto, tearing it into shreds.

‘What the hell? Roberto cried, looking like he might punch Jack. ‘Do you know how many federal regulations you just broke, Jack? You've gone too far this time!'

I glanced over at the armed officer standing against the wall. He looked bored, like this happened all the time.

‘Sorry about this,' Jack said to me. ‘You're free to leave, sir.'

I didn't need to be told twice. I stood, leaving the incandescent Roberto picking up shreds of landing card as I legged it.

‘Hey, kid,' Jack called as I reached the door. I turned.

‘Welcome to America,' he said.

Then he winked.


I've been allowed to enter mainland United States after a few hours of cross-Atlantic extradition treaty discussions between the Deputy Director of the Department of Homeland Security and Livvie Hutton, Ms Gunter's junior assistant at West Meon Probation Services.

For all Claudia Gunter's efforts to clear this trip with the Home Office, you'd think she could have called the Americans and let them know I was coming. The really galling thing is that Gex just sailed right through without a problem while I was sat in Gitmo on the Hudson for four hours.

My problems didn't end there, either. I got through to find Mum sitting in the arrivals lounge, on the phone, laughing. She saw me and quickly ended her conversation.

‘Oh, Diablo. Ben's here. Got to go,' she said. ‘See you on Wednesday.'

‘Ben, are you OK?' she asked, putting her phone away.

‘I've been better,' I replied, feeling like Cool-Hand Luke. I really wished Megan could have been there to see how icy I was, rather than Mum. Still, she gave me a hug and I felt better.

‘Where's Dad?' I asked.

‘He and Gex have gone to the hotel.'


‘They're both very, very excited about being here and frankly, they were doing my head in, so I told them just to go. There didn't seem any point in us all waiting.'

‘Have they taken my suitcase?' I asked, looking around for it. Mum's suitcase was there, but not mine.

‘Ah,' she said. ‘That's the other thing. No one can find your suitcase.'

‘You're kidding.'

I knew it. I knew it, I thought. I knew that worrying wasn't for nothing.

Mum shook her head. ‘Sorry. Brandi's over there now trying to sort it out.'

Brandi! I'd forgotten about Brandi.

‘The airline people said they think your bag was left at Heathrow,' Mum went on. ‘They'll send it to the hotel when it turns up.'

‘Oh great, when will that be?'

She shrugged. ‘Tomorrow maybe?'

‘But my knitting's in that suitcase!'

‘Look, here's Brandi.'

I looked up and did a perfect double take. Walking towards us in heels came a girl, who looked a few years older than me. She was pretty. And she had a lot of hair. Layer upon layer of it. All swoops and waves and fringes. I'd like to be able to describe her hair better but I really don't think words could do it justice. Just take it from me. There was a lot going on.

‘You must be Ben!' she cried, noticing me. ‘I'm so sorry you were held up for so long.'

‘No problem,' I said casually. ‘Just doing their job..'

‘The thing is,' she said. ‘We had a very big terrorist attack here a few years ago. And everyone's been
careful ever since.'

‘You mean the attacks on the World Trade Center?'

‘You heard about that? We call it 9/11.'

‘Yes. It was a fairly significant global event.'

‘Even in England?'

‘Yes. Even in England.'

She smiled at me and I had to fight not to do another double take. Her teeth! They were amazing! So white, so straight. I found myself pursing my lips so as not to horrify her by the state of mine. Just as well Miss Swallow hadn't come as my chaperone. Her teeth aren't exactly her best feature, as I think I might have mentioned before. Personally I don't mind her crooked canines but I fear they might be a bridge too far for some Americans. I immediately felt guilty for the unfair comparison. Teeth aren't everything, I reminded myself. Jessica Swallow is the most beautiful woman in the world, even with her dental deformities. But then Brandi smiled again and I'm afraid to say I went into a bit of a daze.

‘Any luck with the case?' Mum asked her.

‘What? Oh no,' she said, face back to sad mode again. ‘They say it will probably be here tomorrow. They'll send it to the hotel in a cab.'

I sighed.

‘Did it have important things in?' Brandi asked.

‘Just my clothes,' I said. ‘Oh, and my phone. And my knitting!'

‘Just relax,' Mum said. ‘You can survive twenty-four hours without your knitting.'

‘I'm not sure I can.'

‘Let's just get to the hotel,' Mum said. ‘You can have a shower and some food.'

‘What am I going to change into?'

‘You can borrow some of your father's clothes.'

‘No way.'

‘Or Gex's?'

‘OK, I'll borrow some from Dad.'

I felt a bit better once we were in a cab and racing through the weekend traffic towards the Big Apple. I snuck a few covert glances at Brandi. In addition to having extraordinary hair and spectacular teeth, Brandi smells amazing. She talked a lot as we drove, telling me things I already knew. ‘Many people think that
York is the capital of the United States, but it isn't. That's a city called Washington.'

‘Oh yes?'

‘That river there is called the East River,' Brandi said. ‘On the other
of Manhattan is the Hudson. Manhattan has water pretty much all the way around. It's a bit like an island.'

‘Manhattan is an island, isn't it?' Mum whispered to me. I nodded.

‘That pointy building over there?' Brandi went on. ‘That's the Chrysler building. It was built a long
ago. It's very famous  …  These are traffic lights here.'

‘Uh huh,' I nodded. ‘Traffic lights, OK.'

* * *

The hotel is on West 38
Street, close to the Hudson and just a few blocks from Penn Station and Madison Square Garden, which is where KnitFair is happening in just a few days. Brandi didn't come into the hotel. She said she was already seriously late for her date that night, but before she headed off in the cab, she gave me a folder with media engagements in it. She promised to come and collect me in the morning.

When we arrived, there was no sign of Gex. Dad came down to the lobby as I was checking in and told me Gex had dropped off his bag in the room we were sharing, and then immediately gone out.

I sighed. ‘Where did he go?'

Dad shrugged. ‘He turned left.'

‘This is not good,' I said. ‘Why didn't you stop him. You know he's got the wits of a toddler?'

‘Nah. He's a big boy,' Dad said. ‘He can look after himself.'

‘Have you met Gex?' I asked.

Dad seemed distracted though. A bit agitated, too. He was grinning and sweating a bit.

‘Are you OK?' I asked as we walked to the lift.

‘Jet lag, I suppose,' he said. ‘And I took some codeine for my knee. And I drank a bottle of your sister's car-sickness medication for the flight. Feel a bit funny, actually.'

‘Maybe you should go and lie down.'

‘Yeah, maybe just for a bit,' he said, and we headed for the lifts. Or elevators, as they're called here.

‘Don't think much of this hotel,' Dad said, as we waited for the next elevator to arrive.

‘It's three star,' I pointed out defensively.

‘Out of how many?' he asked. ‘Twenty?'

We got into the elevator.

‘Fourteen,' I said, but Dad had already pressed 11 for some reason. Then he hit 15 by mistake, and then, in trying to correct his error, he lurched against the wall and accidentally pressed 3, 4 and 5 with his good knee.

‘Sorry,' he said, blinking furiously. Mum watched him calmly as the doors closed, then reached across and pressed 14.

‘Thanks, Mum.'

The room I'm sharing with Gex is quite nice. Tidy and clean. This is probably because Gex hasn't been in it much.

There's a small bathroom, two single beds and a little kitchen area with a sink and a minibar. The prices of the items in the minibar are eye-wateringly expensive. Apple juice for $8. Small cans of beer for $13. A Hershey's chocolate bar for $6.50. I'll have to watch Gex to make sure he doesn't get stuck in. I had a shower, and watched a bit of CNN, and I felt a bit better. Brandi had given me a fold-out map of Manhattan and I checked where all the important places were. KnitFair USA at Madison Square Garden. The Priapia offices on 5
Avenue. Bloomingdales on 59
and Lexington. I was so excited. I wished Megan was here.

BOOK: An English Boy in New York
8.24Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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