Absconder

When I got up naked from bed, I heard my name called but there was no one at the door or kitchen window or outside on the balcony; John was in the bathroom. “How did you get in?” By duplicate key from balcony box. I was annoyed. He’d got as far as Bromley before being put off the train. A man had given him £7.50. I went for The Observer to have the £7.50 change to give him. I said I wouldn’t be going with him tomorrow to the probation office to hand himself in to Adrian because that’d be taken as supportive of what he’d done when I wasn’t. I said he’d won, he’d defeated me; I’d failed and if I couldn’t succeed nobody could: this was his thing, he must want to stay in prison, otherwise why ensure he would shortly before release when, he said himself, he hadn’t bitten back but this time had. He said I was a cold-hearted bastard, and selfish. I said it was he who was selfish. We stood for a long time at the door together in silence while he worked up tears and asked for a tissue. “They should’ve come before. Wipe your eyes.” He asked why he always fucked up. I put it down to his unconscious, like Diana’s, or Quentin’s I hadn’t tried tackling because, like his, Quentin’s would defeat me and he continue depressed. He said he hadn’t phoned last night because he didn’t think I wanted him to. “I was angry.” He said he’d phone at three and did, to say he’d phone at four after watching a football match in a pub, and didn’t. I was angry.

John phoned about seven from Hammersmith. He met up with me there and explained his previous abscondings at length. I was less than interested, anticipating from the specifics would come no explanation of the pattern overall that’d justify spending twenty-nine years in prison when the one who’d actually killed was free after the ten. He denied he’d decided to bite back; he just had. I walked with him but, “This is depressing. I’m going home.” He came after, wanting an hour with me, and for me to buy him a travel card. “Oh so that’s why I’m here.” He didn’t want me thinking he was abusing me. “You’re not. I’m undeceived. I accept I’ve failed – draw a line under and go on.” On the train to Piccadilly I said he didn’t want what he thought he wanted; his actions went with the opposite words. He said I was wrong. “How?”

In all his years of imprisonment he’d never disobeyed a direct order before or told a guard to fuck off. He wanted me to take him to a gay bar. I wasn’t interested. He complained I never took him anywhere but if Adrian, my friend, asked I went. I said he had again and I’d said no. I’d wanted to dance and he’d taken me to a gay nightclub. John said he hadn’t eaten all day and spent £2 phoning me. He hints manipulatively, like Diana. He’d a £5 note. “You had money earlier,” he said he’d spent £6 of on jeans he hadn’t stolen. “I may no longer be in a bad mood but that doesn’t mean I’m going to indulge you. You got your travel card. Make do with that.” His Parthian shot as I descended the steps to the underground was, “Say hello to Adrian for me,” as if I should care he won’t be handing himself in. He’s given me (or through him my man has) a way out and I’m taking it.

Three cars drew up outside. A policeman, seeing me look, gestured to let him in. I was going to when another policeman, coming through the back hedge, asked if I was John Murch, and told me to stop where I was. I said a man had asked me to let him in. Did he want me to let him in or not? He did. The policeman had already been let in and was on the stairs with others. I told them to go in my flat which they searched, opening cupboards, looking under the bed and at the mattress. I was asked if there was a bedroom. No, that was it. Did they want me to open the shed? “Is he in the shed?” No. I was advised not to let John in and to phone them.

Policemen came during the day, one of them coming in and unable to resist a lookaround to see if John weren’t there. He gave me his number.

John was in Towers Place and I went out to him. He’d taken heroin and wasn’t with it. I gave him what change I had and went in and came out again with orange socks. I told him I was phoning the police. He asked me to do it in the morning. I texted after twelve to say not to come round then, I wanted to go to bed, and pressed the phone off. Of course they came, not buzzing me but being let in by a neighbour or neighbour’s daughter. I was irritated. There were about four of them. To the one that came in I said, “I feel treacherous.” “Sometimes we have to decide for somebody else what’s for their good,” the policeman said. It was police-speak but true enough. I would phone him.

When I didn’t, they came round anyway. I not only thought John melodramatic but them too and was getting bored by the whole thing.

I was in the library printing out my letter to the local paper which proved the council tree-haters when a man threw his paper down on mine. That annoyed. On his coming out of the study room I realised it was John. The police were right, as I told him, to stake me out as a tethered goat for here he was, the tiger taking a bite. We went out to sit in the Terrace Gardens where I gave him my change to buy tobacco. He hadn’t eaten. I offered food. I could ask him in the policeman had said provided I phoned them. I didn’t want them arresting him from my home a second time. Since this was the second time he’d absconded when about to be released, I wasn’t going through all that again just for him to do the same thing again at the last minute. “Can I write to you?” he accepted. He wanted to give himself up with dignity. Why didn’t he do it through me then? He wanted a travel card. On the way to the bank I likened myself to Judas to his Christ but if Judas was doing god’s will, should he have killed himself? since it was god was using his fault. I wouldn’t. I’d spend the thirty pieces of silver. The police were Caiphas’ guards, one of whom got his ear lopped off, if you can believe what’s taken for gospel. “How can people still believe that crap after two thousand years?” I withdrew £20 to give him, “More milk from your milch cow.” I drew the line at buying him a travel card over and above. He knew I would phone the police and wasn’t letting me out of his sight. He bought the card and I saw him off, not knowing which train he’d be taking. Outside I sat down to practise texting the policeman. “Squealer!” John accused. His train wasn’t for ten minutes. We sat down at a cafe’s table. He gave me his phone number to give the police.

I was texting the policeman when a friend buzzed to take me for coffee. En route we came upon a policewoman who’d been one of those checking up a day or so before. I gave John’s number and described what he was wearing. She took my name and number which I’d given long since.

They’re not very well coordinated; I had to give another policewoman his no by phone and, because her calls were going to voicemail, she asked me to text him.

This time the paper was placed more gently. He was limping and wearing the same clothes down to the orange socks. Some Russians had mugged him of £7, his phone, plunged a screwdriver in his leg and pissed on his face. He was dossing with others behind Oxford St where there was hot air from a building. He was given heroin which sedated various pains away that he could sleep. They had a kitty. We were sitting in the Terrace Gardens. He’d phoned a former solicitor who said he’d get five more years. “I’d be eighty.” He asked if I’d have somebody else. “I wasn’t having sex before you; I’m unlikely to have sex after you.” I proposed not subsidising him, not seeing him, not being visited by him till he was released and set up in flat and job. He wasn’t having that. “But it hasn’t worked!” He wanted me to put him up for the night. I refused. I wasn’t having police take him from my place handcuffed again – and me with him this time. He was hungry. I could feed him at home but would have to phone the police if I did. If the police came for him now he’d throw himself in the river. “They’d fish you out again and not be pleased they had to.”

We returned to the library for me to email another solicitor. As we were leaving John went up to explain to a computing man why we’d stood over him; I wasn’t sure I’d logged off from that computer. “Why did you do that! I wouldn’t.” After I’d extracted £20 for him we went to the Cricketers for a wine. The barman was tattooed above the waist. “Is there a little arrow on your back?” John said he was bought drinks on Old Compton Street by men trying to pick him up. I told John my dream: of being flown over Stockholm, telling the pilot I’d never been to Stockholm before, thinking I wasn’t really there then either. He said Stockholm has another meaning if you press that button on the flight panel twice. Right enough it could be a map I was looking at. I had wondered how I was able to see panoramatically land and sea through the cockpit window without any impediment to my view. The pilot leant over to kiss me and I woke up missing being loved, “But he looked nothing like you. He had dark, curly hair and was young,” not much younger than myself, in the dream that is. John asked loudly if there was a cricketing team to go with the pub.

Wending home, I warned him of two policemen coming toward. He went into a shop. “John! They’ve turned into the alley.” In front was a neighbour, who might phone the police if she saw him. He waited for me in the library, for me to find out if there was a reply to the email. There wasn’t. He accused me of setting him up. He said I’d said the policemen went into an alley when they were in Tesco’s. “Yes,” they were, as I’d observed in passing. “I might be paranoiac,” he said, but…. He stood in the doorway of the All-Bar-One, insisting I’d set him up. I walked away and, annoyed, phoned the police.

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About johnbrucecairns

I'm a retired history teacher who's written for most of his life with a book readied for publication.
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