LONDON SHARK: CHAPTER ONE
Young shark detects his first blood
C H A P T E R O N E
F I R S T L O V E. 1991
L E I A
Before Holborn, there was the University of East Anglia, Norwich. And before Norwich, there was a Cambridgeshire market town, set aside from the A1, laid among the patchwork of water meadows that run from the Fenlands to St Ives (the Cambs chapter, not its upstart namesake way out west).
The Ouse keeps the surrounding water meadows in business as it dissects the town—which is ideally placed to be flooded at least annually— flowing from its southern tip through a river mill, where it splits in two. The wider side of this branching is checked by a weir, which sluices and tops the river with a temporary brownish froth; while its (thinner) sister channel flows into a lock, carrying weekend sailors in their narrowboats and river cruisers, at least one in four of which is named Kingfisher. Once disembarked and gripping a heavy metal key, which they wield and twirl en route to unwinding the lock's gates, they then heave the white-tipped lock paddles back and forth, temporarily empowered by the control they have over the river. Gives these sailors a fleeting grasp of godlike glory, before it re-joins its frothy and vivid brother downstream.
Those who disembarked at the station took in contrasting opening views of the town. Incomers sliding in on the Ouse would see cattle fields, water meadows, tree-lined footpaths and pub gardens that encroach its banks; would wave at anglers as they attempted to tempt pike and bream and roach from the dark water, surrounded by this bucolic end of town that felt and acted like a village. While those who had stepped from the grey grille of a train headed for London would’ve, if not already familiar, found themselves stranded on an endlessly long and grey platform, one of several. Those disoriented by the greyness of their environs may have paused for a moment, waiting for those fellow travellers armed with local knowledge to pour past them; to have someone to tail out away from the drear of the monochrome. They may, in the next moment, have glanced skyward to see that even on a blue and sunny day there were thousands of cables hung and sagging everywhere, from platform to platform, junction box to junction box, like Christmas decorated with offcuts from an industrial metal foundry. Of which there were several in the area.
Those who made good their escape from the station would need to plod up, over, and down a grey, metal bridge, one likely formed in the nearby foundries, its floor decorated with homogenised, diagonal rows of embossed capsules. Some may find themselves skipping down the stairs with what could pass for energy, an attempt to add vim to the grey. And for those willing to ignore the short line of taxis in the station's rank—cabs filled with men nestled in their saloons, their backs comforted by beaded car chair covers and their paunches maintained with sandwiches and crisps; packed lunch staples that haven’t evolved since their school days—believing that a small-to-medium-sized town in Cambridgeshire would have at least the decency, foresight, and cunning to find space for its railway station less than a mile from the town centre. But it’s a mile’s walk past large, busy, colourless factories, a vaguely prisonesque-looking secondary school and sprawling housing estates on either side of a gently sloping road that curves for a quarter of the way, before straightening out into an approach to the first shops and B&Bs of the town.
They would maybe even find themselves in the sights of Adam Andrews as he leant from his bedroom window, drew imaginary (aged 6-10) and then actual (11-14) beads on passing strangers such as these as they walked on past 175 Great North Road. The imaginary beads were pointed at with real, fake toy guns (cowboy rifle, army bazooka, Terminator Uzi); the real ones started off with spud guns, pea-shooters. Which evolved to industrial-strength rubber bands that Adam Andrews would hold with a stock-still left hand, before drawing back with a quivering right that had a U nail pincered between its thumb and forefinger.
Occasionally, one of the passers-by would look up at the window of 175 Great North Road, feeling as if an ocular beam was boring into their side as they hurried past the bedroom window of an (aged 6-10) Adam Andrews, and smile, wave or chuckle at this kid, this would-be assassin. Some would cock an imaginary gun of their own. Some would wave. Many would not go so far, simply continue.
Those who fell into the sights of the (aged 11-14) Adam Andrews would likely feel a similar magnetism coveting their attention, alerting their senses. But those who looked up, to see only a window, ajar, and not the figure stood a foot back, in a light that matched the conditions outside, would feel a second evolutionary pang of danger as Adam Andrews drew back his rubber band and aimed the curve of the U nail in their direction. The great many would feel a shudder pass through them, and an internal plea to pick up the pace, as Adam Andrews allowed them to pass, content to let his imagination play out a minor injury scenario.
Adam Andrews was rather less gracious to fourteen passers-by. Half of these were startled by shots that sailed above the crawl of Peugeots, Escorts and Sierras seeping in and out of the town before punching, hard, into their torso; those hit in their core during summer months came off way worse than those dressed for autumn and winter. The others received U nails hard against their limbs; one poor woman unfortunate enough to receive a pirouetting nail that at the end of its flight passed through a thick, woollen glove and lodged squarely into the meat of her left hand.
This was Christmas; the pain and shock had her looking for errant schoolboys hurling icy snowballs while she withdrew her glove, its bloody sickness a quick hint that something-someone-more hostile than a schoolkid had held her in his sights. On feeling and seeing his projectile spin and stick into his target Adam retreated a foot further back into his bedroom; sufficiently febrile with the electricity of his action to feel his blood catch fire; easily cold enough to douse and control this fire until the woman had sought help well away from his windowpane, behind which he lurked and smiled, thinking ahead to the future and its pedestrians.
The woman’s sliced, bloody hand was a huge success to Adam Andrews as he grew and swam in the margins of the town. But despite a general disinterest in his general wellbeing from those with whom he shared 175 Great North Road, he understood that inattention was preferable to his life and its needs than the accusations and punishment that would be engorged and inflicted tenfold in his direction by his parents.
But Adam felt, when wielding his weapon, rather like he did when at home with his parents, or as he knocked around school, neither bullied nor bully: invisible. Of all those he struck, none seemed to look up and pick him out. His door was not knocked down, his parents were not informed. The police did not launch any investigations, word was not rife that pedestrians were being fired upon.
No one seemed to be aware of Adam Andrews’s existence, his ongoing sniper’s game.
Until the day he fired a U nail into the woman’s hand.
Adam Andrews may have been cool enough to back away from his window in the aftermath of impaling the hand, wise enough to chill the fever of his glorious shot away from his porthole. Happy to peer and watch her realisation that blood was pouring from her; see her fellow pedestrians gather round, offer comfort, proffer handkerchiefs and disposable tissues. Because from Adam’s perspective, he did not see the lone schoolboy, blazer and white-shirted, a pair of black gloves his only concession to the December cold, who had been following the woman – Leia Clarke – draw to a halt upon realising his unrequited love had been injured, some twenty feet behind the concerned gaggle that surrounded her.
Of all those who passed Adam by, this schoolboy, who attended the same school albeit in the year below, was taught by many of the same teachers. Was as solitary as Adam, but not as lonely.
Because he had a heart that unlike Adam’s, longed to love. Had promised it to Leia Clarke, a woman twenty years his senior, after she looked and smiled at him a few weeks before. And because he’d promised it to her, and her smile and her eyes were up on the wall of his mind, were always holding his gaze, he had recognised that as love. He knew the age gap was binary but needed time to become normal, he was happy to wait ten, fifteen years until their bodies were appropriate for one another, until he had matured into the lover that she deserved. But he would keep her if not in his sight (though he had found where she lived; had a decent hold of her schedule), then in his heart until this point. The day Adam’s U nail burst her hand, he had been tailing Leia as she walked to town, Christmas shopping once again, he had guessed. It was a Thursday, the town’s late-night shopping night; though with Christmas Day just three weeks away, every evening is now busy with shoppers traipsing the sleet and slush into the gutter. The council has hung cheap, corded electrical lighting along the high street, illuminations which do not flicker or change colour, but no matter, bulbs all the colours of the rainbow are alternating like Billy-O on a huge spruce installed a week ago at the centre of the market square. This tree has cut down on the number of stalls available to traders by two, the council inform Mark Oates, a fruit and veg seller; and Sally Proudfoot, a vendor of imperfect tools and gardening miscellany. You two, the shortest-serving traders at the market. So sorry.
The two complain to the council about Christmas spirit and loss of earnings; are told they will have to make do with finding another town that hasn’t decorated them out of work. Fuck’s sake; that simply isn’t fair; this is my fucking living; they mutter, before Sally finds a spot in Cambridge. Mark settles for Ely (although really, and only because of a bout of pneumonia meaning one of their florists is laid up in Addenbrooke’s, Ely settles for him.)
But this is a way down the road. Twenty foot behind Leia and the attending, amateur medics, he hovers, still shocked at hearing his Leia cry out, watching her remove her glove, stare at the bloody mess her hand so quickly became.
Shocked and rocked but calm enough to soak in more than the injury; attentive enough to look around and spot an ajar window, from which a shadow was receding.
This schoolboy, this young shark, filed away the details of Adam Andrew’s house. Its number was unnecessary; he burned the filthy lower window onto his memory. Its lank and dirty net curtains. The trio of concrete steps led to an orange front door, one of the few on the street appointed with a brass letterbox only inches from its base. A ring-knocker, also brass, was set between a small square of cracked arctic glass and a doorbell that most callers ignored, guessing the batteries were dead or hedging their bets that their reason for rousing these occupants would best be announced by metal striking metal, hard.
The window above (one of two but the other is a bathroom window, closed in permanence, lest fresh air distils the staleness within) from which Adam Andrews fired the U nail remained ajar. Adam was savage enough to have purposefully hurt Leia, yet wily and secretive enough to not want his deed taken notice of by the law or his parents. He would be careful to whom he bragged of his assault; maybe a boy or two at a similar standing at school, junior low-key baddies. Sometimes, Adam and like-minded motley juniors would spend their Saturdays and summer evenings in one of the abandoned warehouses and factories about the town, aiming U nails at each other’s flesh, playing bloody-knuckled card games, timidly inhaling cheap weed. Their favoured abandonment, a car exhaust factory rendered obsolete by the rolling out of the catalytic converter industry, was set back a few roads’ behind Adam’s terrace in their more wholesome moments throwing a basketball near, and occasionally through, an improvised, netless hoop made from a strip of discarded aluminium and held in place between wet-rotted plasterboards on a thin mezzanine level some fifteen feet above the factory floor.
Boys the young shark knew to ignore. Boys whose ignorance of the young shark was so imbued into their DNA they didn’t have to even try.
Thus the young shark filed away Adam Andrew’s details and followed the procession that was escorting Leia towards medical assistance. Of her Samaritans, two concerned older women remained, having assured the rest of the small crowd that they would see her right. Strangely, the source of the U nail seems to be a moot point for those in the thick of things. No one is looking for a culprit. Familiar with stories about Adam Andrews’s propensity for firing U-nails at friend and strangers alike, he has an educated inkling as to what has torn through Leia’s glove and skin. He wonders if they believe a car has gone over something sharp and terrible enough to fire up and strike his lover.
But the Samaritans had moved on, were leading a teary Leia towards the town centre. Despite her hand being trussed up with a wad of tissues, a trail of blood spots continued to drip in their wake, drops he thinks he can smell. The three branch off up a road that heads north, on which the town’s small hospital is situated. He turns, following at a distance; three across, walking slowly, the trio are easy to tail. They pass pubs and a Blockbuster video, the town fire station. Then turn into the hospital campus.
The blood spots have decreased in size and occurrence as he arrives at the campus entrance, stopping by a sign naming the hospital—St Leonard—also its departments, its visitor and parking arrangements. The trio are moving towards Accident and Emergency, which is beside the main entrance. They pass smokers; patients staff visitors. He has been many times to the hospital, wonders if they will have the surgical ability to mend Leia’s wound. Maybe, they will have to send her to Addenbrooke’s, the giant campus that lurks on the southside of Cambridge. After a moment’s bother trying to pass an elderly woman seemingly abandoned at the A and E entrance, the threesome disappears inside the hospital. He reaches up to the sign, taps it. Thinking. He kneels down to (ostensibly) tend to his shoelace. His laces are tied up just fine but it feels good to rub his hands vigorously through his school shoes, which are a little wet and not real leather. His socks are thin and have holes and his feet are cold. He rubs until his hands are clammy, then takes off his Thinsulate gloves and lets his hands breathe. There is a bin near the sign into which he saw one of the threesome deposit a clump of claret-stained tissues. He steps to the bin, withdraws the bloody mess, turns on his heels and heads back toward 175 Great North Road.
Which he passes, noting the window is still ajar. That, above the wooshes of the traffic, music is drifting from it now; Fairytale of New York is playing once again, tiresome already even this early in the season. Adam Andrews’s own choice? It doesn’t seem a fitting choice for a thug like Andrews. Radio, surely. He keeps moving, knowing Andrews is likely on alert, despite the music—which is perhaps also a denial of his violent behaviour. He pictures the police hammering down the orange front door, being pointed upstairs by Andrews’ parents (whom he imagines are either moribund and disinterested, or febrile and foul-mouthed) to find Andrews’ supine on his bed, sick smile on his lips, the radio playing the next festive staple . . . I was just in me room, listening to the radio, mate. Fuck I know about some cow being . . . what, shot at? . . .
But, there are no police around, no teams looking for evidence in the failing light. No one is photographing the stepping stones of blood that stretch along the pavement.
He keeps calm, makes his own assessment of the situation. Leia’s hand will heal, and Adam Andrews will keep. He turns, walks through the town, past the market square. Kicks slush up the back leg of a slow, elderly man who, devoid of any discernible reason, pauses in front of him. Walks on to his empty home, makes and eats toast. Waits in the darkness of his own unheated bedroom for his parents to return and argue downstairs.
Only now does he cry for Leia.
Chapter Two will be out in the next few days . . .
About the author
Novelist (writing as LJ Denholm) - Under Rand Farm - available in paperback via Amazon and *FREE* via Kindle Unlimited!
Short story writer - Mr. Threadbare, Farmer Young et al
Humour writer - NewsThump, BBC Comedy.
Kids' writer - TBC!
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