Bones in the Nest
To Z, the girl on the train, and her dad
About the Author
By Helen Cadbury
O, Allah, help me through the hardship and agony of death
Glass crunches on the road. Pavement hammers up through ankles, knees. On to the grass. Too slippery to get a grip. Jump over a low fence. Playground. Feet whack down and it gives something back, speed, pace. Can hardly breathe. They’re not far behind. Need to get under cover. There’s someone there, by the community centre, moving my way. Don’t go down there. Double back, past the swings. Now there’s another one, crossing Darwin Road. Thick-necked fucker. Need to get to the flats, lose myself.
I’m not even tooled up, nothing, because I promised her I’d stop carrying. She’s the best thing that ever happened to me and I told her, I’m in it for the long haul, girl, I’m going to change up for you. And I meant it. I mean it. Right now the last thing I need is some white boys on my tail. She wasn’t at the library. The text said to come and pick her up. But there was nobody there. Door locked. Where did you go, princess? Saw the flicker of a reflection. Got out of there before a baseball bat whacked on my skull. Heard it crack on the glass. Been running since. There were three of them. The big one with the bat and two others. White boys, bad skin. Maybe smackheads, maybe not. Now there’s two more. My chest’s burning. Need to stop. Door open, corner of the block. Head for it. Head down. Don’t know who they’re with or what their beef is, except my face don’t fit.
Cooler inside. Dark. Bleach on concrete hurts my throat. Grab the handrail and haul myself up the stairs. Something moves. A shape. Two shapes. Turn round and the door shuts below me.
This is it.
One Week Earlier
The marked police car slowed as it turned the corner behind the railway station. A row of terraced houses led away from the fenced-in track. From the passenger seat PC Sean Denton could see two hooded figures, silhouetted beneath a street light. It was hard to tell, but male and under twenty would be his best guess. There was a glimmer of skin as one hand reached out from a pocket into another hand; a split second as the two figures froze and one hooded face peered up at the approaching headlights of the car. Then they were gone.
‘Down there,’ PC Gavin Wentworth put his foot on the accelerator, without changing out of second gear, then slammed the brakes on at the opening of a narrow alleyway.
‘I’m on it,’ Sean said.
He jumped out and ran into the dark. Ahead of him a security light came on and the shadows flooded with colour. He clocked one red and one blue hooded top, one pair of grey tracksuit bottoms and one pair black. A car door slammed behind him, followed by Gav’s footsteps. Sean was gaining on the suspects, but he had to make a choice. One was faster than the other, so he left the slow one for Gav. There was a risk the slower lad would make a swing for him and, for a split second, it was like running through the pages of the training manuaclass="underline" torch in his left hand to shield himself, while he grabbed the back of the red hoodie, twisted the fabric hard round and tucked his leg in front of the runner. The suspect fell sideways, folded under Sean’s arm and went down. Out of the corner of his eye, Sean sensed the other lad look back, see Gavin and sprint off down the alley.
He felt like he’d backed the wrong horse, but he didn’t have time to dwell on it. His prisoner squirmed face down on the ground, kicking and swearing, as Sean reached for the cuffs.
‘Oi! Calm down, son!’
He tried to grip the boy’s wrists. They were bony and thin. Sean wondered how old he was. The boy turned his head and the hood fell back to reveal sharp cheekbones and dark eyes, which narrowed as they met Sean’s. Then the boy lifted up his head and smacked it face down on the ground.
‘What the hell?’
Sean had the cuffs on him now, but again the boy cracked his forehead against the stone sets of the alleyway.
‘Oh, Jesus! Stop him doing that!’ Gav shouted.
Sean tried to get the suspect up on his feet, but the boy pulled back, twisting and slippery like a fish. His forehead met the ground again and when he lifted it this time, there was blood above one eyebrow. The security light went out and the blood dimmed to a shiny purple in the gloom. Then Gav was there, grabbing the boy’s shoulders, spinning him round. Sean pulled him up from behind, both hands on the cuffed wrists. It was like trying to control a puppet with a life of its own, but together they managed to propel him towards the car.
‘What about the other one?’ Sean said.
‘You shouldn’t have done that,’ the young lad was saying. ‘You’re not allowed to batter the suspects.’
Sean felt sick.
‘Take no notice,’ Gav said. ‘He’s well known, this little shit. He tries it every time. Don’t you Saleem? Well I think you’ve pushed your luck now. Let’s see if we can have you for resisting arrest.’
At Doncaster Central Police Station, they handed Saleem Asaf over to the custody sergeant and went back to the car. It smelt of overripe apples, sweet and dying in trapped air.
‘Mucky buggers,’ Sean said. His foot found an apple core under the empty chocolate wrappers and it gave way under his heel. ‘How come the day shift never clean the cars out? I’ve got a good mind to dump this lot in someone’s boots.’
Gav belted up and put the car into reverse. Except it wasn’t reverse, it was third. The car leapt forward and juddered as it stalled, inches away from the concrete wall of the police yard.
‘Bollocks,’ Gav said. ‘Why does every car have reverse in a different place?’
‘One of life’s mysteries, Gav.’
‘You’re not wrong there.’
Sean loosened the seat belt that had tightened across his neck.
‘Count to three and start again,’ Gav muttered under his breath and reversed the car, smoothly this time, out of the tight space, avoiding the dented end of a van. He wiped something sticky off the steering wheel with his sleeve and indicated to pull onto the road.