Read One Good Turn Online

Authors: Kate Atkinson

Tags: #Mystery, #Contemporary

One Good Turn (6 page)

At the moment, of course, all he had was a Day Saver ticket in his pocket. He didn’t understand how people managed without cars. “They walk,” Julia said. Julia didn’t walk much, she took the tube or rode her bike. Jackson couldn’t think of anything more dangerous than riding a bike in London. (
“Have you always worried this much,”
Julia asked him,
“or is it just since you met me?”
) Julia had a reckless streak a mile wide, Jackson wondered if it was because she didn’t think she could die or because she didn’t care if she died. Apart from one remaining sister, all of Julia’s family members were dead, a fact which seemed to make her treat existence with an odd nonchalance. (
“We all have to die sometime.”
Yes, but not yet.)

“Let’s face it, Jackson, you feel
unmanned
without a car,” Julia said to him on the train journey up from London. “Unmanned” was such a Julia word—archaic and theatrical.

“No, I don’t,” Jackson said. “I feel as if I can’t
get
anywhere.”

“You’re getting somewhere now,” she pointed out as they passed through Morpeth Station. “Here we go, up to Scotland,” Jackson had said at the beginning of the journey, and now, hours later, in a typically Julia-esque nonsequitur, she turned to him and said, “And you don’t say ‘up’from London. You say ‘down’because it’s the capital.”

“I know that,” Jackson said. “I’m not a hick. I just think it’s stupid—Edinburgh’s a capital city as well, and the whole of the north of England is blatantly geographically
up
.”

“Golly,” Julia said mildly, “I didn’t know you felt so strongly about it.”

Julia was wrong, it wasn’t not having a car that had
unmanned
him. It was the money. Real men had to earn a hard crust. They had to labor at the coal face, both real and metaphorical. They didn’t spend their days filling up their iPods with sad country songs and feeding apples to French donkeys.

H
e exited Julia’s venue just in time to witness a silver Peugeot get shunted by a Honda Civic (a car for losers if ever there was one). The guy who got out of the Honda was spitting mad, quite unnecessarily so, as his bumper didn’t even look dented. He caught the accent—English, like himself. Strangers in a strange land. Honda Man was wearing driving gloves. Jackson had never understood driving gloves. The Peugeot guy wasn’t big, but he was wiry and tough-looking, the type who appeared as if he could take care of himself but whose body language was all about conciliation, which made Jackson think he was used to being in hairy situations—army or police. He felt a little tug of empathy with the Peugeot driver.

Honda Man, on the other hand, was a nutter up for a rammy, and when he suddenly produced a baseball bat Jackson realized he must have had it with him when he got out of the car.
Premeditated GBH
, the ex-policeman in him was thinking. They had different terms for it up here, they probably had different terms for everything up here. There was a dog in the back of the Honda, he could hear the big bass rumble of its bark, could see its snouty face attacking the car window as if it could push its way out and finish off the Peugeot guy. It was true what they said about people resembling their dogs. Julia still lamented the loss of her childhood pet, Rascal, an enthusiastic terrier. That was Julia, an enthusiastic terrier.

At the sight of the baseball bat, Jackson was suddenly all instinct. He started weaving his way through the crowd quickly, on the balls of his feet, all ready for whatever, but before he got close enough to the scene to do anything, someone in the queue had thrown what looked like a briefcase and knocked the Honda driver for six. Jackson held back and watched. He didn’t want to get involved if there was no need. Honda Man picked himself up and took off, and within minutes a police car was on the scene. The sound of the approaching siren made Jackson’s heart beat faster. You didn’t hear police sirens in rural France. Two policewomen, both young, one prettier than the other, climbed out of the car, authoritative in their yellow fluorescent jackets and bulky belts.

The guy who had thrown the briefcase was sitting on the curb, looking as if he were going to pass out. Jackson said, “Are you okay?”to him. “Try putting your head between your legs.”An acrobatic, rather sexually charged-sounding suggestion, but the guy tried to do as he was told.

“Can I help you?” Jackson said, crouching down next to him. “What’s your name?”

The guy shook his head as if he didn’t know. He was as white as milk.

“My name’s Jackson Brodie,” Jackson said. “I used to be a policeman.” He experienced a sudden, unexpected shiver. That was it, that was his whole life summed up in two sentences:
My name’s Jackson Brodie. I used to be a policeman
. “Can I help you?”

“I’ll be all right,” the guy said with an effort. “Sorry. Martin Canning,” he added.

“No need to apologize to me,” Jackson said. “I’m not the guy you floored.”That was a mistake.The guy looked horrified.

“I didn’t attack him. I was trying to help
him
,” he said, pointing at the Peugeot driver, who was still in the middle of the street and now being tended to by paramedics.

“I know, I know,” Jackson said. “I saw it. Look, I’ll give you my mobile number. Give me a call if you need your story backed up, if the police or the Honda Man driver gives you any trouble. But I’m sure they won’t. Don’t worry.” Jackson wrote down his number on the back of a Fringe-show flyer that he had stuffed in his pocket and handed it over. He stood up, registering a creak in his knees as he did so. He wanted away from here. He didn’t like being at crime scenes and seeing them being run by policewomen only a few years older than his daughter, it made him feel ancient. Surplus to requirements. He felt an unexpected pang of desire for his warrant card.

Jackson had made a mental note of the Honda’s license plate, but he walked away without giving a statement to the policewomen.
Someone else would have caught the registration. There were enough people around to be witnesses
, Jackson said to himself, but the truth was he didn’t want to get caught up in all that bureaucratic rigmarole. If he wasn’t in charge, then he didn’t want to be part of it. He was just an innocent bystander, after all.

5

A
rchie and Hamish had devised a plan. It was acting, really. It was like being in a film. They would enter a shop separately, several minutes apart because more than one teenage boy coming into a shop at any one time made assistants
insane
with paranoia (which was ridiculous—how many thousands of times had Archie gone into a shop with Hamish and
not
committed a crime?). They would browse at different ends of the shop for a while, and then, out of sight of the shop assistant, Archie would phone Hamish, and Hamish would take the call and then go mental, right in front of the assistant—sometimes it would be just rage at the “caller” on the phone—
“What the fucking fuck, you fucking bastard, don’t you fucking dare”
—that kind of thing, or sometimes he would introduce a note of tragedy—the “caller” apparently telling him about some terrible accident that had befallen a member of his family. Anything, really—it didn’t matter, as long as it engaged the full attention of the shop assistant.
“Oh, my God, not my little sister! Oh, please, Jesus, no.”
Sometimes Hamish could be a
little
over the top.

All this time Archie still would be pretending to look at things in the shop. The goods. But really he was
stealing
them. Ha-ha! To make this work it had to be a small shop—not too many assistants and no alarm on the door that detected security tags and crap like that. He’d learned from his past mistakes. Of course, if places didn’t have alarms, that usually meant they didn’t have anything worth taking (they didn’t steal for the sake of it, that was shite, you stole because you
wanted
something). Sometimes Archie took the phone call and Hamish nicked the stuff, but though he didn’t like to admit it, Archie was rubbish at acting.

It was the first day of the new term, their school lunch hour, and Archie hadn’t worked out whether their school uniform made them look more or less of a threat. It was the uniform of a “good school,” his mother had lied about where she lived, using a friend’s address to get him into the catchment area for Gillespie’s. And then she said lying was wrong! She lied all the time. All it meant for Archie was that he had two long bus rides every day.

It was the middle of the Festival, the middle of the summer almost, and there were all these wanker foreigners and visitors wandering around town, having a good time, still on holiday, and here they were back at school. “It’s enough to make a boy turn to crime, eh, Archie?” Hamish said. He had a funny way of talking. Archie had worried at first that it was effeminate, but now he realized it was probably just posh. Hamish had been expelled from Fettes and had joined Archie’s class only last year. He was weird, but Archie put that down to his being rich.

This place was a find, a little shop in the Grassmarket that sold snowboarding gear. Really nice. Tastee. There was only one assistant, a stuck-up bitch, all makeup and attitude. He’d like to “do it” to her, that would show her. He hadn’t managed to “do it” with any girl yet, but he thought about it 90 percent of his waking life and 100 percent of his dreaming life.

He phoned Hamish’s number and then rang off, and Hamish went into his whole drama-queen thing—
“What do you mean, Mum? Which hospital? But Dad was fine this morning,”
and so on— while Archie stuffed a Quiksilver T-shirt into his bag. Maybe Hamish was too obvious, maybe the stuck-up bitch was more on the ball than she looked, whatever, all of a sudden the pair of them were legging out the door, running like fucking
athletes
. Archie thought he was going to have a heart attack. He came to a halt and bent over double, fighting for breath. Hamish skidded to a halt and bumped into him from behind. Hamish was pissing himself with laughter. “The dozy cow didn’t even leave the shop,” he said, and then, looking around, “What’s going on here?”

“Dunno, something.”

“A fight,” Hamish said, sticking his arm up in the air in triumph.
“Yes!”

Archie saw the baseball bat come out, saw the guy cowering on the road. He turned to Hamish and said, “Cool.”

6

O
ne of the policewomen said, “Are you going to ride with him in the ambulance?” She seemed to think he was a friend of the injured man, and as the injured man was at that moment friendless, Martin dutifully climbed aboard the ambulance.
Do unto others as you would have them do unto you
.

It was only when they eventually arrived at the new Royal Infirmary on the outskirts of town that he realized he no longer had his bag. He remembered it clattering and skidding on the wet cobblestones, but he didn’t know what happened to it after that. It wasn’t a disaster, everything was backed up safely on disk—the tiny lilac flake of a Sony Memory Stick in his wallet—and that disk was itself replicated, the backup copy in a drawer in the “office.” He imagined whoever found his laptop turning it on, going into “My Documents,” and reading his work, thinking what a lot of crap it was, reading passages out loud to friends and them all pissing themselves with laughter—because he imagined the kind of person who found his laptop being the kind of person who would “piss himself ”with laughter rather than simply laugh. And they certainly wouldn’t giggle. A less bourgeois, less pathetic person than Martin (
“You’re such an old woman,”
his father had said to him on more than one occasion), a person who would think Martin’s life and work were worthy of derision.
“ ‘Something’s up
,
Bertie,’ Nina whispered as she balanced on Bertie’s shoulders to get a good view of Lord Carstairs in the palm-filled conservatory of Dunwrath Castle.”
Bertie was Nina Riley’s seventeen-year-old sidekick whom she had rescued from a life of poaching.

There was correspondence in Martin’s files as well
(“Thank you so much for your letter. I’m so glad you like the Nina Riley books. Best wishes,Alex Blake”)
. Perhaps the strangers pissing themselves with laughter would find his address and return the laptop to him. Or perhaps they would come to his house and steal everything else he had. Or perhaps a car would run over the laptop, crush its mysterious motherboard, warp its plasma screen.

The Peugeot driver was conscious and quite lucid now. He had a fierce-looking lump on his temple, as if an egg were buried beneath the skin. “My Good Samaritan,” he said to the female paramedic, nodding in Martin’s direction. “Saved my life.”

“Really?” the paramedic said, unsure whether to believe such hyperbole. The Peugeot driver was wrapped in a large white cotton cellular blanket like a baby. He struggled to remove his arm from the swaddling and extended it toward Martin. “Paul Bradley,” he said, and Martin shook his hand and said, “Martin Canning.” He was careful not to squeeze the Peugeot driver’s hand too hard in case it would cause him more pain but then worried that his handshake might seem wimpish. Martin’s father, Harry, was firm on the matter of manly introductions
(“You’re not a fucking limp-wristed Mary-Ellen—shake hands like a man”)
. He needn’t have worried. Paul Bradley’s surprisingly small, smooth hand gripped with the vicelike efficiency of an automaton’s.

Martin hadn’t touched another human being for months, except accidentally, taking change from a cashier in the supermarket, holding Richard Mott over the toilet bowl one night while he vomited up an evening’s worth of alcohol. He had helped an old woman onto a bus a week ago and had been surprised by how he’d been moved by the touch of her weightless, papery hand.

“You look like you should be lying here, not me,” Paul Bradley said. “You’re white as a sheet.”

“Am I?” He did feel distinctly weak.

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