Running from the government
(c) Chris Johnson 2019
Running from the government
(c) Chris Johnson 2019
Rain rattles against dark window panes.
Commuters curse as buses splash legs.
Late workers empty city centre car parks
and complain to themselves that traffic’s still bad.
The city empties for a moment, awaiting the time
when the action starts again,
at night when all is dark…
In corners, secret meets and dangerous buys;
drugs, sex, weapons – all available for a price
if you know where to go, if you know who to ask
anything is available in this night time town.
A different economy, a different world,
The nocturnal, the lost, those working by choice
at night, when all is dark…
A bell splits the night, synthetic sounds.
Scalding coffee gulped down with under-done toast,
bleary eyed bus passengers on mobile phones
take back control of the city. These streets
fill with the ambitious, the busy, the well dressed and keen.
For the next ten hours or so, the nocturnal sleep
until night, when all is dark…
(c) Chris Johnson 2016
Thanks so much to Michelle for the prompt and title for this poem.
“Angie! Angie, wake up!”
Towelling his wet hair, Grant walked into his bedroom.
Grant reached down to shake her. He really wanted her to leave before his house mates woke. He told himself it was to protect her reputation, in truth it was probably more about his. Like a number of newly qualified doctors he was older than the student nurses he often drank with and was well aware that a reputation could badly impact on his future employment prospects.
He touched Angie’s shoulder. It was cold. He pulled his had away, she rolled on to her back. That’s when he saw the blood on the pillow, dribble from the corner of her mouth.
Grant stood stock still for what seemed, to him, to be hours. Then he grabbed a bag, filled it with some clothes, found his passport, phone and wallet and headed out of the house.
An hour later blue lights strobed across the front of the house. Grant’s housemates stood around waiting for the police to tell them what to do. Grant was at the ticket desk at St Pancras praying that he could get on a Eurotunnel train before the police got his name and address on some watch list. He succeeded. He travelled fast, Paris, Mediterranean coast, North Africa, on and on further South into sub Saharan Africa. Days later, tired, hungry, dirty and unshaven he washed up at a refugee camp. Giving a false surname, he volunteered to help in the field hospital.
He used the internet terminal in the hospital office once a day to check for any news. By the time he’d arrived at the camp the main story, the death of one student in another’s bed had already been archived. The only news story that appeared to be updated daily was the search for him. He swore to himself not to go back.
Six months passed.
Grant stepped out of the operating theatre and into the shower tent. Wet, refreshed, he looked in the only mirror on the camp. A tanned, bearded and haggard man he barely recognised looked back.
Soon afterwards Grant’s boss offered him the chance to work even further into the interior of the desert. After six months there he moved on again, then again, then again. He carried on running from his own past, concentrating on his work. Forever moving to the next trouble spot, never taking any payment except for food and board.
Time passed. The man in the mirror’s beard bleached blonde in the sun, his hair grew first long, then bleached the same colour as his beard. He still occasionally checked the internet. It was clear that the police had stopped actively searching for him, but he was on a number of missing persons databases. He’d never seen anything indicating that Angie’s murder had been solved. He was sure he was still a suspect. He wasn’t sure that in some, unspecified way, he was guilty.
Grant’s boss found him one day, taking a nap in an otherwise empty dormitory tent.
“Grant, I need you to go to the UK on a fundraising lecture tour.”
“I need you to go. You’re intelligent, erudite and most important you could earn a good living in the UK but you’ve chosen to be here. It’s a story we want to cash in on, it’s a great recruiting tool.”
“Grant, I’ve been suspicious for a while that you’re running from something. But please, reconsider.”
“I have no passport.”
“We’ll get you one. Any name you want.”
“You can’t do that.”
“We do it all the time. We get passports for loads of refugees. What’s one more?”
Grant realised he had been cornered. “Ok.”
“Yes, PC Hains?”
“Sir, we’ve got a hit on an old case. Facial recognition on CCTV at Heathrow.”
“Let me see.” He looked over the PC’s shoulder. “That is an old case. Ok, track him and bring him in to a local nick.”
The hotel manager opened the door to Grant’s hotel room at dawn, the PC with him was obviously wary as he entered the room. Grant was awake, reading his presentation for that day at the small desk in his room.
“Sir, please stand and turn to face me.” The PC said.
Grant’s shoulders drooped. His head too. “Ok” he said, and did as he was told. “Am I being arrested?”
“No sir, I’ve just been asked to take you to the station. Someone wants to talk to you.”
The interview room was something from Grant’s worse nightmare. After years of desert life and refugee camp hospitals, the damp, dark room felt like a tomb. An overweight balding man in plain clothes, escorted by the PC who had brought Grant in, came in to the room. Sitting, the detective checked Grant’s name and confirmed his address at the time of Angie’s death.
“Where have you been Grant?”
Grant told the short version of his story.
“You’ve been on the run?”
“The girl in my bed was dead. I am a murder suspect. You’ve never caught anyone as far as I can tell. I’m fairly certain I didn’t do it, but I was very drunk. Anyway you probably think I did?”
“She was murdered?” the detective asked.
“Yes…wait”, Grant frowned, “ I never checked. The internet news stories never actually said murder. I just assumed.”
“Some doctor you are. Didn’t even check. For God’s sake never work on me. Off you go.”
“Wait? What? I can go?”
“Natural causes. She died of natural causes. You would have been back at college that afternoon with a story that you could have dined out on for life. Goodbye Grant, good luck with your lecture tour.”
As he walked back to his hotel the early commuters gave Grant a wide berth as his laughter turned to massive, loud, sobbing tears.
(C) Chris Johnson 2013
Adam was feeling good. He’d just done a deal, a big one, one that could make his career. He’d sold the farmhouse that had been on his company’s books since before anyone could remember. His mind, as ever on the money, was working out his commission and what he might spend it on; boat, holiday, replacement Range Rover, redecorate his apartment.
The traffic slowed, Adam cursed. He felt a headache coming on, reached for a cigarette.
Inching forward for a few minutes, he finally saw the cause of the hold up. A farmer, trailer full of sheep on the back of an ancient pick-up, two flat tyres. The farmer flagged him down.
“Give me a hand mate?”
“I’m in a rush, meeting.”
“You’ll not get far unless I can move this trailer”
Adam grunted, “Ok, hitch her up, I’ll get her out of the road.”
The old farmer introduced himself as Seb. Within ten minutes the trailer was hitched up and Seb was in the passenger seat.
“It’s only a couple of miles, and it’s in your direction.”
Adam was about to argue, he’d only agreed to move the trailer out of the way, but something made him think that an argument was not something Seb would want to listen to.
Ten minutes down the road Seb indicated a left turn. Adam was concentrating so hard on getting the long trailer turned without risking any damage to his car, that he nearly rammed the tractor and trailer blocking the road.
“Rigwelter!” Seb exclaimed, and was out of the car and away across the fields like a shot. Before Adam could react a couple of huge looking lads were standing on either side of the car, an old man by his door, shotgun held at just the angle that wasn’t quite a threat, but made the threat an option.
“Sheep thief. Does thou know what we do with sheep thieves round here?”
Adam started to argue; “No, I was just helping Seb. He’d got two flat tyres.”
“He’d got two flats’ cause he got them shot out, trying to steal my sheep,” he nodded towards the trailer, “them sheep what you’re stealing now.”
Adam tried again to protest his innocence. The old man smiled.
“Well, that’s fine. Marlon here,” he nodded to one of the hulking lads, “will just drive your car and my sheep back to my farm. Me and you’ll go in the tractor, nice and friendly like.”
Adam thought, very briefly about arguing, but the shotgun and the sheer size of Marlon made mind up.
“Eric.” Said the man once he was in the tractor and heading back up the main road. He held out a hand the size of a shovel, and as course as sandpaper. “And you?”
“Adam.” They shook hands. Adam felt his bones grinding together.
“Good bible name that. Religious man Adam?”
“No, my mother was. Not me.”
“Ahh. You might want to learn quick.”
“Don’t be. You’ll get the same chance all sheep thieves get.”
Adam protested his innocence again, but Eric didn’t appear to be listening.
Twenty minutes up the road Eric pulled the tractor in to a farm lane and stopped at a farm house. Adam immediately launched into a sales patter.
“I could sell this for you when you decide to retire. It’s got to be worth a fortune. Land for a campsite, golf course, 4x4s, that sort of thing. The house itself could be a great holiday let, maybe converted to flats and apartments. You got brick barns too?”
Adam didn’t notice until too late that Eric had turned first red, then purple with rage.
“This is my land, farm land. When I’m gone Marlon and James will farm the land just like I do and my father and his father. You city scum ain’t turning this into a playground. Just where do you think all your food’s coming from when you’ve bought and sold all these farms. Now out, over there, bottom of the quarry.”
“This is country justice. You stole my sheep, I caught you. You climb the quarry,” Adam loked up at sixty feet of limestone walls, loose rocks and sparse vegetation. “You get to the top, you can walk away.”
“If I fall?”
“Brother keeps pigs. Family joke. Eat anything will a pig.”
Adam started to argue. Seb cut him off.
“Or I could just have an accident with this here shot gun, I’m an old man and my fingers sometimes shake.”
Adam started to climb. He carefully picked his way up the unstable wall. What seemed like days, and was probably hours later he started to think he could make it. His hands and knees were bleeding, his suit in shreds and he was covered in sweat, but he finally got a hand over the top.
As soon as he did a boot landed on it. Adam looked up. Marlon.
“Dad says no-one ever makes the climb.”
Adam looked down, Eric was waving his hands in the air and shouting. He looked up again. Marlon was distracted. Adam took the chance to free his hand. As he reached over the edge someone grabbed his arm. Looking up again he saw the uniform and face of a policeman.
“Let me help you up.”
As soon as he was safely over the top Adam started to tell his story.
“So you’re telling me that Eric made you climb the quarry because you’re a sheep thief?”
“I’m not, but he thinks I am!”
“I’ll need to investigate.”
He cuffed Adam, then walked him down to the bottom of the quarry.
“Eric,” he said as he uncuffed Adam, “You know I’ve told you before about country justice. You know our Mum would never have approved.”
Adam looked from man to man, noticed the family resemblance.
“Once is far too easy. You gotta give him at least the best of three.” He smiled at Adam. “Off you go again, young man.”
Big thanks to Ant for the inspiration. C
(C) Chris Johnson 2013
The University hadn’t changed considerably since Freddy had last been there, fifteen years earlier. After a couple of wrong turns he found the office he had been looking for
“Freddy, I didn’t know you were coming out today! Come in, come in!”
“You wouldn’t know, would you, Professor. When was the last time you visited me? Five years, more?”
“I wrote. It just got harder and harder to get away, you know how it is.”
“No, I don’t know how it is.”
“Anyway, you’re here now. Have you seen your probation officer? Got somewhere to live?”
“I want to talk, Noel. Do you have any students coming or anything?”
“No, I’m done for the day. You want to go eat or get a pint?”
“No, we’ll talk here.”
Freddy punched his half brother. Noel stumbled backwards, collapsing into his office chair.
Another couple of punches soon saw him semi conscious. Freddy tied his feet together and his hands to the arms of the chair.
Noel knew that it was later, but he didn’t know how long he’d been semi conscious.
“All this because I didn’t visit you in prison?”
“No, it’s not for not visiting.”
“You killed my father, your stepfather. Frankly you should be pleased I bothered to visit you or write to you at all.”
“This is not about whether or not you visited.”
“Well if it’s about money, there’s some for you in my top desk drawer. Mum left it for you when she died, along with a letter that I’ve never opened.”
“It’s not about money.”
“So what it is about? For God’s sake Freddy, I’m your only family and you treat me like this. You’re out on licence, you’d go straight back if I so much as breathed a word of this to your parole officer or the police. What if campus security come by?”
“They won’t, these rooms are shag pads for you lecherous professors. They’ll leave you alone in case you’ve got a hot little under grad in here.”
“Freddy, what is this about, come on man, let me out and let’s get some food or a drink?”
“No. This is important.”
“What, Freddy, what’s important?”
“Innocence and guilt.”
Freddy repeated himself, this time punctuating each word with a slap to Noel’s face; “Innocence,” slap, “and,” slap, “guilt!” slap.
Blood began to trickle from the corner of Noel’s mouth.
For a few minutes Freddy looked out over the university park. When he spoke his voice was calm, measured.
“So this is your life, Noel. The office, the undergrad girls, a view of the park, a nice home somewhere? You got a car? I bet you drive some smart sports car don’t you? Money in the bank, maybe a girlfriend?”
“It’s not my fault. What happened to you, what you did with your life, it’s not my fault.”
“Oh but it is, baby brother, it most definitely is.”
“Why? I never asked you to murder my father!”
Freddy walked back around the office to stand in front of Noel. He leant down, their faces only millimetres apart. He spoke, slowly.
“I didn’t murder your father. I didn’t murder anyone. But you know that.”
“Freddy, not this again. I couldn’t give you an alibi, it would have been a lie!”
“You didn’t have to give me an alibi, you had to tell the truth. And now you will.”
“I don’t have a clue what you are getting at!”
“Noel, you killed your father. You did it. I didn’t want you to give me an alibi, I wanted to set one up for you. But then Mum turned on me, protecting little Noel as always, and that was it. I did the time because even my own mother turned on me.”
“Freddy, I have no idea what you’re talking about. I didn’t kill my father. The police proved their case against you. For God’s sake let’s have that drink. There’s a bottle in the desk drawer.”
“So, what now? You going to torture me until I admit to something I didn’t do…”
Freddy punched him, hard. Noel spat out fragments of broken tooth and a mouthful of blood. Then continued;
“Then what? turn me in to the police and claim some sort of pardon and compensation?”
“No. It’s too late for that. You’ve had your good life, I went away to give you that. I’m institutionalised. I’ll be back inside within months anyway, so I’m just going to collect my debt from you first.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean this.”
Freddy put his hands around Tony’s throat and strangled Noel. Afterwards he found the bottle in the desk drawer, opened it and took a long drink. Then he saw the envelope with his name on, an unopened letter addressed to him in his mother’s handwriting, just as Noel had said. He opened the letter.
I am so sorry. I could never bring myself to say this while I was alive, so I’ll say it now. Thank you. Thank you for taking the blame. Thank you for doing my time. I had to kill him before he killed me. I’m glad that you saw that. I’m glad that you saw that your brother needed at least one parent. I’m forever grateful to you for the second chance you gave to Noel and me. I hope you can now make the most of your second chance. Give this letter to the police, get your name cleared. There’s thousands in the bank for you, and the house is yours.
Clear your name, claim your inheritance and live well my dear, beautiful, dutiful, innocent son
Freddy looked at the corpse of his last relative. He opened the office window, tore up the letter and threw the pieces to the wind, took a long pull on the bottle and picked up the phone.
“Which service do you require?”
“Police please,” he replied, between sobs “There’s been a murder.”
(C) Chris Johnson 2013