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NO STAMP FOR KIRSTIE


Warning: This novel is being written online daily. It will be raw and unedited and the subject matter is not ‘palatable’ to some. It will not be published anywhere unless someone steals it, and then I’ll sue the Sh** out of them!  COMMENTS WELCOME!

 

NO STAMP FOR KIRSTY.

 

“Kirstie’s missing again.” Margie said.
Kirstie was going to turn up one way or another. Small town. Nowhere much for an eight year old to hide. No one was going to worry too much. They might after 24 hours, or in Kirstie’s case, 48. She was a recidivist. It was a big word for an eight year old to hang a tongue around but she had said it aloud to herself so many times, breaking the syllables down. “Rec id iv ist.” She was not quite sure of the meaning, but it sounded pretty tough. Kirstie could say it just like that bible snake on her Sunday School stamps. A big fat, naughty looking snake coiled around a tree laden with golden apples. “Resssssss id iv issssssttttt!” Just before the pretty naked lady reached up and plucked an apple the snake might have smiled a big snaky smile and hissed comfortingly ‘Resssss iv id issstttt!”

“Come on young lass.” Margie had not been too bothered when she mentioned to Larry that Kirstie was missing again. Uncle John on his red Post Office bicycle knew all the places where kids hung out or chose to hide. It was not as if the town was thriving anymore. It had been going down hill since the railways to seaside towns had been closed down by an unimaginative and thoughtless Minister of Transport in the sixties. Then in the 70’s the last monument to a once beautiful and busy little town had been blinded. The lighthouse once a beacon of hope to hundreds of children whose bedrooms lit up with kindly light every five seconds had outlived it’s usefullness to mariners and the light suddenly ceased to shine one night. That night there were a hundred nightmares. No one complained or protested. It was not a time of protest. The older folk who had seen a war to end all wars, said nothing. It was a time of acceptance. No one protested when the railway closed down. No one protested when the lighthouse was deemed to be obsolete by the faceless people at Trinity House, the guardians of all mariner’s lights. Some have argued that cheap fares to the Continent finished off the tradition of the seaside holidays but cheap holidays on the Continent had not begun when the trains stopped and the town was choked of life.
“Come on lass. You can have a ride on my crossbar.”
Kirstie swiped a sooty hand across her nose, emerging from under the stack of trestle tables that would become market stalls at the weekend. Her skinny arms were bruised where careless hands had gripped. Wrists to upper arms. Blue, orange, yellow. She was only little. Both wrists easily clamped together by a single big hand, leaving one hand free for other things.

Uncle John. He was not really her uncle (but neither was he that other kind of uncle,) no longer questioned her about the marks on her body and clothes. Kirstie was a compliant girl, easily groomed by the men, and easily frightened by her ten year old sister Carol. Carol, plump pretty with a cascade of curly red hair. Kirstie would never know that this kindly old man, brother to her fabulous granny whom she loved in spite of the fact that Jill was not her real granny, cried quiet tears, impotent tears, when he arrived home at his spartan little house which he had never shared with any lover or girlfriend or wife.
“Take good care of your sister.” Frankie entreated each time the girls went out. Always together, always hand in hand. Carol was careful to ensure that Kirstie wore clean pants. The men liked her little kilt and white blouse. And white cotton pants.
A few days ago Carol had cut her sister’s hair. In the absence of a pudding bowl she had used a soup dish, and cut a fringe that just nicely covered Kirstie’s forehead. Frankie was furious but what was done was done. A huge but handy pair of dressmakers scissors had scalloped out the resulting mess, and, covered by a hand-knitted woollen bobble hat it was just about OK.
Carol instructed Kirstie to explain away the stains on her kilt as blobs of mayonaisse exuded from salad rolls bought for her by her always attentive sister. One might be forgiven for believing that Kirstie was a well fed little girl who loved mayo on her salad rolls. There were no salad rolls. Only sweeties doled out by stinky old men who always smelled of bleach and something sweet and awful. Like rotting mushrooms.
Kirstie opened her arms and let uncle John balance her on the crossbar of his bicycle, before kicking his leg over the saddle and pushing off.

CHAPTER TWO.

The twice weekly markets were a treat for the townsfolk. Popular too with the traders who came every week from as far away as Bradford and Sheffield the stalls sprawling over half a dozen acres. Mainly decent honest people, Indian, Pakistani, plenty of old-fashioned spruikers selling their wares with good humour and great dollops of showmanship. Crowds would gather just for the entertainment of watching an expert balancing fifty piece dinner services, faking potential catastrophes whilst their wives, daughters, sons and assistants tossed fresh boxes of product at punters eager to be relieved of their cash. Everything a bargain, always something new from whiteware to impossibly cheap silk-filled doonas for those cold Yorkshire nights. Even in the grip of winter the market traders came. Market stall fish and chips reeking of salt and vinegar. Food of the Gods. Market days, treats for adults and children alike. Some treats – adult treats, were enjoyed and spoken about only by those with special shared interests. Carol quickly learned that her little sister could be the source of a substantial income stream.
Not that any one of the men ever laid a hand on Carol. No way. Carol was a good girl. Her teachers were free and easy with the Blue Elephant stamps that attested to the quality of her school work, and her politeness. Kirstie on the other hand only took notes home asking that the parent might make themself available. Requests became exhortations, exhortations turned to demands, and demands to threats. Kirstie, too afraid to simply throw away the notes, dutifully delivered them to Frankie. Then Frankie would throw a tantrum that gave Carol a sly grin of satisfaction.

CHAPTER THREE

Frankie never did attend a parent-teacher meeting. She was dancing on tables in her local, with roses between her teeth, flashing her bright red knickers and black stockings. No one at the pub thought of her as a violent drunk. In fact, the life of the party. The party could go on long after closing time. Nobody gave thought to the two girls, both under eleven. Carol could cook up a bacon and egg roll. Kirstie ate cold oats with cold milk while Carol slobbered deliberately over her food.
And so it went. Kirstie being a recidivist, living on sweeties doled out to her by men. Small and skinny with arms and legs like matchsticks. Carol, with the long red hair, all wavy and her plump round face and puppy fat.

CHAPTER FOUR
Larry had to eat and run. ‘I’ll have a look around town before I get back to work.’ He said, giving Margie a huggy kiss. Working fifteen hour days in summer at Patrick’s Amusement Parlour paid good money but the good money only came if he could fill up each round of bingo. Spruiking in the customers. ‘Just one or two more and we’ll begin. Come on now, one or two more and we’ll start right away.’ Salting the seats by giving the local youths free games usually got the punters to sit down. He sat high on a comfortable seat, the circular stall could easily seat a hundred punters. Surrounding him, a glittering array of prizes. For each win the punter got a ticket. The more tickets they could collect, the better the prize. An expensive way to buy Christmas presents, but punters are punters and Larry could fill almost every seat with his flirting and the speil as every number popped out of the blower. Old ladies backchatted, and Larry laughed and flirted.
The seats filled up quickly. ‘Just before we begin, I see a few regular faces here. Oh! You pretty ladies!’ No matter that Larry was only 23, and those “pretty faces” were mosly pushing seventy. ‘We seem to have lost one of our little girls. Again!’ He tried to make it sound of no great concern. ‘So if anyone sees her, tell her she should be home now.’
There were some who bent their heads and paid heed to the round tiles that would soon cover the called numbers. Mrs. Silver, who was married to a retired town doctor who had no understanding of retirement, called out. ‘Our Kirstie again?’
‘Give that lady a free game’ Larry laughed, though his laugh was that of a very good actor. The girl who took the money and checked the winning boards handed Mrs Silver an extra board. Swings and roundabouts. You give a little to get a lot. Mrs. Silver would put the word out if Kirstie was not home by the time she left. Mostly, the lifetime residents looked out for each other.
Summer visitors were not as numerous as before the seaside towns had become isolated, but there were still regulars who came year after year. They stayed in the same bed and breakfast homes, and they still brought good money to the town. The markets had been good for business, and the shops all took part in market days. Summer still bustled.

CHAPTER FIVE

Being Friday, most of the market traders had arrived in their vans and caravans. Parked up for the night in the back of the old railway station. They would set up before dawn ready for an early onslaught of customers. Friday was a big bingo day too. A hot July and plenty of visitors. Smart little Carol perfectly well knew where Kirstie had been. Four five pound notes tucked into the hem of Carol’s skirt. Not in her purse, which was empty of all but a few pence.
John, who lived at the “south” end of town sat with his sister, who lived “up north end” munched on a ham and mustard sandwich. He came every day after his delivery round with some acceptable gift. A pound of sausage, or some steak and kidney.
Always a tightly knit family with over two hundred years of occupation in the town. There were brothers and sisters, cousins, and their respective boyfriends and girlfriends. Even when her two boys had ended their summer romances their ex’s still turned up as family year after year.
‘Poor little bugger!’ Jill said, ignoring the quiet tears that John slyly wiped away. He was an emotional man who still kept a picture of his French fiance in his wallet all these years later. She had died in a bombing blitz in Paris while John was serving as a Captain in the army, in Burma. Now, everyone’s child was his child. Everyone knew that he was the one who left a small food parcel in the letterbox when food was scarce and money scarcer.

CHAPTER SIX
When the ‘sweetie man’ was arrested and given eight years for child molesting Margie shuddered. Twice, when “that monster” had been late driving home Larry had invited him to stay over. The thought made Larry cringe, and Margie, smug about her ability to read people. Yes, he was a pale, limp-fish of a man, but Larry tended to be over compassionate in the main. That is why Margie loved him in the first place, but only if her own strict manners were forgiven instantly.
Carol experienced a slight bump in her profits, but they soon bounced back. School had given up on Kirstie.
Two hard winters passed. Kirstie found some boys to hang with on the promenade, and on the bowling green. There, they smoked, fought, did a few drugs, and fiercly protected their own. Those boys and two girls were “known to the police”. The police station was still in operation, but hardly. The two beat police would not be thanked for arresting a ten year old. And would be criticized for not doing. At least Kirstie was safe from her bullying sister who had taken to being physical for non compliance. Carol took to telling on Kirstie for shoplifting. Frankie gave Kirstie a minor talking to and a slap around the legs. She confiscated the cigarettes or canned ham, or cheese slices. There was no question of returning them to the shop and saying sorry.
If the group, (they were never a gang) needed money to play the pinball machines, or buy ciggies or drugs, Kirstie always knew how to get it. Even in mid-winter, in a small seaside town, there are ‘uncles’. She was still small, and thin with a sweet, pretty face, but now she could look them in the eye and silently threaten them with full disclosure. She knew who was rough, and who was kind. In the main she avoided the rough ones unless she needed a larger sum of cash. But now she carried a flick-knife. Only a small one she could conceal under her shoe. One of the boys had offered it up. With a press of a button the blade would pop out. Sharp as a razor but easier to use.
And that is how it started.

CHAPTER SEVEN

Jill rubbed her floured hands into the pockets of her smock. Brother John was lamenting. ‘It’s not the same delivering by van.’ He said, pushing another piece of steak and kidney pie into his mouth.
The kitchen, where they, all the brothers and sisters gathered often to share the labour, was warm. The odour of fresh bread dough, new pies taken directly from the old iron stove, lovingly polished with Oven Black, and piles of jam tarts, still too hot to handle created a warmth through the entire house. ‘And the new regulations. None of us like them.’
Jill laughed. She was used to the grumpy postman. ‘You’ve been riding that old bike through rain, shine and snow for thirty years Jack. You should be happy.’ All the siblings called him Jack.
The new van was Royal Mail red. Far from new. They had started using the little Morris Minor way back in 1953 in the larger towns. Meresea, it’s standing population just over five thousand had never warranted such luxury. ‘It’s not that Jill. You can’t push the van from house to house on the pavement. Now they’ve made us do big parcels as well. It’s not the extra work it’s the regulations too.’ He reached for a jam tart, burning his mouth on the hot jam and grimacing. ‘Strictly no passengers.’
“Uncle” Jack had a reputation for giving any child a ride to their doorstep, or to the corner shop where they would wait expectantly for a Polo Mint. “The mint with hole.” Had it not been for the war John would have fathered an entire brood, like most of his siblings. Instead he lived a solitary life in the big Victorian house their father had built when the farm was sold.
‘Anyway,’ Jill said, ‘The kids will all be back at school next week.’ It was coming on late September, but still idyllically warm.
The doorbell jangled. Jill wiped her hands again on her smock, and went to see. Even before she reached the frosted glass front door she knew who.
‘Can I stay with you for a bit gran’ma?’
Jill, never one to turn a child away from her door, waved Kirstie into the hallway Dishevelled and shivering in spite of the warm evening, Kirstie stood with her back to the wall. Jill had a policy of never asking why. All that inspired, from experience, was dumb insolence. Kirstie would talk when she was good and ready. ‘You’re freezing dear!’
Kirstie’s teeth clattered. ‘ Uncle John is in the kitchen. Are you hungry?’
Kirstie shook her head. No.
‘Go and jump into my bed. I’ll throw your clothes in the wash. You can’t go home like that.’ Kirstie knew where Jill’s bedroom was. Upstairs facing the streetlamp. A huge old fashioned thing with a duck’s down mattress that felt better than any bed ever. It had no springs and made a hollow to snuggle down into. Topped by a light, feather-filled duvet. ‘I’ll bring you a mug of cocoa in half an hour dear.’
‘I better be going.’ Jack emerged from the kitchen. He knew when to make himself scarce. Family sensibilites. ‘I put a pound of bacon on the top of the fridge.’ Tomorrow he would be eating bacon and egg pies. That was the way it always was. Give to get. ‘Should I pop in and let Frankie know?’
‘No!’ A moment of terror flashed across Kirstie’s face, before morphing quickly into defiance.
‘Your mum will worry.’ Jill countered.
‘She’s chucked me out.’ For the first time the little girl hung her head. Unable to look into Jill’s face.
‘What?…Oh, never mind. Let’s get you sorted eh?’
‘Promise you won’t tell me mam? Please?’
Jill had been about to ask what kind of mother would throw an eleven year old… almost eleven year old, out of home. But she knew what kind of mother would do that. ‘Stay as long as you like dear. I need the company anyway since gran’dad died. We can watch Coronation Street together.’ Waving a hand at the staircase. ‘Off you go and jump into bed and get warm. Have a little sleep eh?’
Jack, already at the door, quietly let himself out.

CHAPTER EIGHT.

Kirstie was asleep, snuggled warmly into the hollow Jill had left in the mattress this morning. Jill shook her gently, hot cocoa in hand. Lord! She was so little! Kirstie did not stir and that was good because she would not see the tears brimming in Jill’s eyes, and then the two big tears that exploded and washed her face. Beside the bed, Kirstie’s clothes. Her white vest, and underwear blood-soaked. The right arm of her red blouse as well. They’d have to be soaked in cold water before the wash. Poor mite!

CHAPTER NINE
Kirstie had never known “gran’pa”. He had died when she was very little. But his old leather armchair was the best! Wrapped in a warm blanket in front of a blazing fire with hot cocoa. She’d slept and the first one had got cold on the bedside table. But she knew the time because “Coro” was about to start. So it must be seven o’clock. Gran’ma had not asked, but she had assumed that the little one had started her period. Warm and cosy though, Kirstie wanted to tell. There was no good way to start.
‘I stabbed him. In the foot. He hurt me. I think it’s bad. I got your flannel what you wash with between me legs.’
The most old-fashioned word she knew entered Jill’s head. Flummoxed. Perplexed would not be strong enough. Instead of asking, she did what her own mother used to do. Waited.
‘I stabbed him right through his foot. An’ then I twisted it.’ Kirstie never cried in front of people, but now with the kindest gran’ma in the world, the tears began to flow. ‘It was Mr. Blakey.’ She sobbed, taking great breaths, trying hard to hold it in.
Jill waited. ‘He…was killin’ me!’
‘Councillor Blakey? The teacher?’
‘Yeah. An’ I got so scared I got me knife out and just jammed it onto his foot, an’ twisted an’ twisted ’til ‘e let off me.’
Stupidly Jill said, ‘ Drink your cocoa dear. Tell me when you’re ready.’
‘I done me arm though. Me and Elaine. We was cuttin’.’ I went down the bowlin’ green an’ the lads an’ Elaine shown me how.’
Coronation Street, just a noise in the background Jill had to ask. ‘Is that what happened to your arm dear? You cut your own arm?’
‘Yeah.’ Kirstie wiped her nose and eyes with the back of her hand and sniffed. ‘It makes the pain go away. Like being so angry it hurts inside so bad.’
‘Is it bad between your legs too Kirstie?’
‘Yeah. I’m all ripped up inside me. I’m bleeding real bad.’
Jill rarely felt anger. Placidity was a hallmark of her nature. Of course she had chased her boys around the house with a broom a few times, but they had laughed at her and skittered away leaving Jill shouting ‘Come back you little sods!’ They always did, and Jill agreed that her attempts at discipline were not prize winners.
Now though, she felt the rising anger. ‘I suppose you don’t want me to call a doctor? Did you tell Frankie?’
‘I tried. She said I was a slut and chucked me out. So I went down the bowling green.’

CHAPTER TEN
Jill spent a sleepless night. That poor soul! At five in the morning she made the difficult decision. Of course the police had to be involved. Young Stuart Middlecliff had been a rough lad when he was at school but he was a good policeman. He knew the town, and he knew almost all the families. Now that he was the desk sergeant he would take the call if she ‘phoned direct rather than calling the ‘hotline’.
Always up early, she crept from her bed, leaving Kirstie to sleep. The girl had not moved when Jill gently removed the arm from her shoulder and rolled out from the wrong side. She pulled the duvet over, and waited a few seconds to ensure that Kirstie would not wake.
Downstairs, she raked out the white ash from the big old stove and emptied the tray underneath into a bucket. Topping the glowing fire up with cinders. The kitchen was warm still. Always. Soon the old red kettle was whistling and Jill pulled the whistle from the spout, replacing it loosely so that the whistle was just a quiet hiss. On Saturdays she would normally rake the whole lot out and polish the stove with Oven Black. It could wait for a day or two. The range quickly heated up. Sufficient to make toast and poach two eggs in a shallow pan of water. In a couple of hours she would make Kirstie some breakfast. Meanwhile the poor thing could sleep. Jill was of a generation who believed that sleep can cure most things. She ate listlessly at the kitchen table, deciding to call after nine to be sure the station was open. Stuart was not a bad lad. He’d been a problem as a youth, but nothing notable. He would do something, Jill was sure.
‘Hi gran’ma.’ Kirstie stood on the warm tiles, barefoot. Jill’s old-fashioned, and just old winceyette nightie enveloped the child. It had to be sixty years or more ago that Jill bought it at a long-gone Girl’s Wear shop in town. The little brown teddy bears, still bright on the faded material.
‘Good morning dear. I was just making breakfast.’ She wasn’t, but Jill was known to be ever ready with tea, sandwiches, scones or cake for any visitor. ‘Bacon and eggs with some toast?’
‘Can I have baked beans as well?’
Jill giggled casting eyes over the thin youngster. ‘Hollow legs eh?’
‘I’m really hungry.’
The kitchen clock showed ten to eight. Jill’s tummy bred more butteflies as it ticked on to the time she had promised herself she would call the police station. To quell them she busied herself at the stove. ‘You pop on upstairs and have your bath. I’ve warmed your clothes in the airing cupboard.’
How could anyone think this little girl was the wayward urchin they said she was?
‘Can I still stay with you gran’ma? I’ll be good I promise.’
Jill’s heart melted. ‘How is your arm dear? And your..’
‘You’re gonna report me aren’t you?’
‘Of course not dear.’ No. Jill was going to report a sexual assault, and she was going to tell Stuart exactly who, and the state Kirstie had turned up in. ‘We do need to have you looked at though dear.’
‘NO!’ Such pleading in a single exclamation.
Jill fussed with the bacon for a moment.
‘I stole twenty quid out his wallet.’ Kirstie was trembling though the kitchen was warm as toast.
Jill could not help herself. She set aside the frying pan and brought the little girl into her arms. There was nothing of her. As light as a feather. What choice was there? She had to make that call. ‘The water’s hot, use as much as you like. Once you’re dressed we can chat eh?’ It was the best Jill could do off the top of her head. Hopefully Kirstie would wallow for an hour at least. Another thing Jill swore by was the healing power of a hot bath and plenty of perfumed suds.
At nine, Kirstie was still wallowing. Jill called the station. Stuart was out walking the beat, but Jim McKenzie was at the desk. Known to be rough on the “hooligans” in town, Jill swallowed the complaint, just saying, ‘I’ve got Kirstie Hardisty here if anyone reports her missing. She’s, ummm…’ But the words would not come. It felt like a betrayal.
Fortunately McKenzie showed little interest. He knew the name well enough. ‘I’ll make a note of it Mrs. Whitfield.’ Obviously too busy to ask any further questions, he disconnected leaving the familiar beep beep beep. Slowly Jill replaced the receiver. Well, at least someone knew Kirstie was safe.

CHAPTER ELEVEN

The weekend fluttered by. “Uncle” Jack popped in with his regular gift. Sausages and a pound of liver. Still complaining about the compulsory delivery van. He had been the local postie since 1949 and had never considered retirement. Seventy years old and still looking fifty-five he lamented the broad sweep of technology taking over. Now they had a thing called a computer at the main desk. ‘Mark me Jill, ten years and they won’t even need anyone to drive the vans.’
‘You should be retired already Jack!’ She said, delivering another batch of fluffy scones with jam and butter to his plate.
Being a bachelor and living a shy, hermetically sealed life in his little house, Jack had accumulated a substantial sum. Some of which he had put into a villa with a swimming pool, in Spain. It was occupied by the brothers and sisters more than it had ever been occupied by the grumpy, but kind old postie. ‘Go and get some sunshine!’
Jack chewed slowly, mulling over the idea. Probably not a bad one. The town had taken up much of his life, and before that Burma had not been terrific place. He’d given good service, and his pension plus savings would see him out.
The doorbell jangled, an irritating sound but delberately so. It had been installed when Jill’s airforce husband had renovated the house, installed undefloor heating, retired at fifty-five, and spent his remaining years endlessly recording his thousands of bakelite and vinyl records onto the new-fangled cassette tapes. When he died he had willed the whole lot to the hospital radio station.
Two indistinct shadows framed the frosted glass. Two women, one, obviously in the blue of a police officer. The other, a short, fat lump.
‘Mrs Whitfield?’ The young policewoman. She knew full-well who Jill was. The other, with a clipboard under her fat arm, and a briefcase in hand was a stranger. A social worker. She smelled like a social worker.
‘May we come in?’ The officer asked, with a grim smile. It was not a request.
Jill stood aside and the two women entered the hallway.
‘We’ve had a complaint.’ Again the officer.
Jill, not one to put up with blatant officious manners, least of all from social workers. Though the woman had not spoken, her stance seemed somehow offensive. ‘I called the police station on Saturday. Today is Monday. It’s all sorted. Kirstie is still with me. She’s upstairs.’
‘Call her down.’ The social worker was gruff and abrupt.
Jill, ever one to remain patient said, ‘Let’s go upstairs. She’s watching television poor thing.’
‘That poor thing as you call her, broke into a house, assaulted a councillor with a deadly weapon, and stole money with threats.’ Again, the social worker, who with some arrogance had not bothered to introduce herself. She pushed past Jill, elbows out, and stomped up the carpeted stairs shouting. ‘Kirsten Hardisty! We know you’re up there!’
Jill had no choice, and no opportunity to give any defense or explanation.
Kirstie squealed in pain when the fat woman gripped her arm with excessive force. ‘Gran’ma!’ She cried as she was bundled into the back of the black van.
That was the first time Kirstie was “taken into care.”

CHAPTER TWELVE

Carol, smug and scrubbed sat quietly with her hands in her lap. An angel. Frankie, sober for the time being had promised not to use vulgar language with the authorities. Kirsties case worker had asked few questions. She ticked some boxes, cast an eye around the living room, and asked to see the girl’s bedroom.
Carol enjoyed having a room all to herself. It was acceptably tidy and clean. The truth was that Carol knew the rules. No way was she going into care. She had warned Frankie of the possibility, and Frankie needed someone to clean and cook and do the general housework. Things that cut into drinking time.
Nor was Carol going to rat on Mr. Blakey for the times when he hunkered down in class with his hand conveniently on her thigh. She was getting a little old for Blakey’s taste anyway. There had been some concern when he taught primary school, but Mrs. Avery had taken him aside. The paperwork might have elicited an investigation so she was relieved when he transferred to the nearby High School without argument. Not only was Blakey a Councillor, he was the Chair of the board for the Local Safeguarding of Children.
Because she was over ten years old, Kirstie was found criminally responsible.
Jill telephoned the police station. Out of their hands. She called into the police station and begged. It was out of their hands. She wandered the corridors of the Municipal Buildings beseeching a meeting with a social worker. All too busy to talk to the old lady. A Councillor? Not available at present.
‘How can they do this?’ She lamented to brother Jack. ‘Nobody wants to know me! I’ve known half these people all their lives and no one will tell me anything!’
Jack said, ‘I’ll find something out Jill. I’ll ask around.’
‘The poor dear has to have someone to speak for her!’ Jill rarely felt angry, but now she did. Frustrated too. ‘Who’s going to stand up for the poor mite? Frankie wouldn’t care. That little minx Carol is walking around like she’s a princess. It isn’t fair Jack!’

CHAPTER THIRTEEN

Kirstie was given a diagnosis. Before sentencing, the social worker attending was permitted to speak to Kirstie alone and offer up an assessment. It was the “fat bitch” and already Kirstie knew she was screwed. The woman smiled a lot. She seemed to exude empathy. Even so, no one would believe that Mr. Blakey had committed a sexual assault. Mr. Blakey had provided a written statement, and he was a man of “Good Standing”. It was bullshit. So, in the face of his extraordinary fiction, Kirstie simply lowered her head, and tried to be as small as a mouse. Just like she had done when she was seven and eight. If you make yourself really really small, they don’t hurt you as much. They just do their business and push some sweeties into your pocket. There was no one she could call a “responsible adult” to sit in on the interview. Why had gran’ma not come? Everything was so secret. Did gran’ma even know that Kirstie had spent three whole days in a police cell? The cops had said twenty-four hours, but because of her silence they got another twenty-four, and then the “fat bitch” had applied to the court for more time to investigate. So it had been ninety-six hours in a police cell. The lady cop had been nice, and the police guys had been nice, but they did a strip search, and even took fingerprints. The lady cop and another social worker did the strip search, and allowed Kirstie to keep her panties on. ‘No need to humiliate the poor girl.’ The social worker said. Kirstie liked her. She was much younger than the fat bitch and seemed kind. But you never could tell.
And then she was standing in front of the magistrate again. A severe looking woman with blue hair. She took the fat bitch’s formal notes, spending a long time over them. She seemed undecided, sucking on her bottom lip. She turned her face to the social worker and raised her chin without speaking. The fat bitch stood, ready for combat.
‘Explain to the court “Oppositional defiant disorder, which you say is “Borderline severe conduct disorder”. I have to say that some of these terms are quite new to me.’
‘Kirstie is quite young, but it is my assessment that unlike many children of her age, and according to the NHS Guidelines on Child Antisocial behaviour, which you have on your file ma’am, my personal judgement is that she has gone well beyond ODD and, perhaps even beyond SCD.’
The magistrate put on an exasperated face. ‘I asked you to explain, not to beaurocratize, if there is such a word. Just tell us all exactly what you mean by this, because it is all gobbledygook to me.’ She smiled, bleak and frosty. Kirstie hoped it was a good sign that she did not think much of social workers. Trouble was, social workers were all-powerful. They could do what they liked regardless.
The fat bitch had more than two faces though. This one was professorial. ‘The NHS Guidelines are very specific ma’am. Oppositional Defiant Disorder is usually in younger children such as Kirstie. It involves opposing or defying parents or other adults. A severe Conduct Disorder is usually but not always a condition teenagers exhibit. I believe strongly that Kirstie has progressed to the latter.’
‘Which means?’
Now it was time for the fat bitch to turn on her exasperated face. But she was well-equipped. ‘ Aggression towards people or animals, destruction of property, persistent lying and theft, serious violation of rules.’
‘You mean these things are actually real disorders?’ There was genuine astonishment.
‘I have interviewed the parent, and the other daughter ma’am. There are several potential triggers here.’
‘Yes. Continue.’
The fat bitch took some moments to consult her own notes. ‘A harsh parenting style. The mother appears to be somewhat careless in her parenting skills. Parental mental health problems such as depression and substance misuse. I believe the mother has a reputation for excessive drinking. Parental history, such as the breakup of a marriage. The mother is a single parent, never married. She has another child with a different partner, who seems to me to be quite well-balanced.’
A snort came from the back of Kirstie’s throat, fortunately either unheard, or ignored.
‘Poverty. The family lives on benefits. There are also other individual factors which Kirstie exhibits, such as low achievement, and while I would suggest that she is independently assessed while in care, I believe that Kirstie may have other mental health problems. She regularly runs away. She associates with a gang of youths who congregate around the public toilets in Meresea. And now it seems that she has progressed to break, enter and steal, and serious assault with a deadly weapon.’
Kirstie shifted from foot to foot. She so wanted to tell, but nobody would believe her. To her immediate detriment she did break her silence briefly. ‘I don’t run away! You can’t run away in Meresea! That’s bollocks! I stay with my gran’ma!’
The fat bitch gave a cold, satisfied smile. Case won! Just to be sure, she shuffled her papers, knowing full well that there was no notation of what she was about to say.
‘This “grandmother” Kirstie describes, is an old lady in her late sixties, and unrelated. She is frail and most likely a potential victim of Kirstie’s mind-set. I would be concerned should Kirstie be allowed to continue that relationship.’

CHAPTER FOURTEEN.
The magistrate was not a mean woman. ‘We are seeing far too many cases in this court. I cannot in all honesty believe that the amount of child abuse or neglect is increasing at such a prodigious rate. An increase of twenty percent a year is, to my mind, beyond belief. It could be that local authorities and their social workers have become more adept at identifying abuse. It is more likely that local authorities have lowered the threshold for intervention.’ She glowered over her spectacles at the fat bitch, who sat smug and unyielding. The fat bitch returned the stare with satisfaction.
‘This child appears today with only the bare minimum of representation. The required responsible adult is a fellow social worker. Her solicitor is one whom I have seen in this room all too often. However, in spite of my misgivings I think that the requirements have been met according to the guidelines.’
The panel had retired to discuss Kirstie’s case. Alan Blakey, his hand heavily bandaged, nodded. Sympathy etched into every line on his face. There were many. As a member of the Youth Offending Team it was apparent that he took his role seriously. His standing in the community, and his commitment to young offenders was unquestioned. The immediate role of the Young Offenders Team was to work with young people that get into trouble with the law.
They might look into the background of a young person and try to help them stay away from crime.They also ran local crime prevention programmes, helped young people at the police station if they had been arrested, helped young people and their families at court, supervised young people serving a community sentence, and stayed in touch with a young person if they were sentenced to custody. Aside from being a member of the local council, in his role on the panel he would also work with the police, probation officers, health, housing and children’s services, schools and education authorities and charities as well as the local community.
Pausing to sip on a glass of water, she adjusted her spectacles and turned a page. ‘For one moment I am going to digress. Anything I say will remain in this room. I must ask you all to respect.
The fat bitch glared.
‘I am a divorcee with four children and a full time occupation. My children were rude, ill-mannered, and disobedient. My daughter was angry. Her schoolwork suffered as a consequence. On rare occasions one or another other of them was shouted at out of sheer frustration at their behaviour. All left school at the first opportunity. They tried out their wings. They all returned home, and eventually attended university. They are decent adults, not because of my parenting, though in part. It was the strength of my small community. Social workers were not, nor should be police officers. Social workers are servants of the community, not beaurocratic officials. Under the current guidelines, I would not be sitting here making any kind of judgement. My children would be “in care” ‘ She wiggled her fingers to accent the quote. ‘However,’ she returned to her notes. ‘Other than a single outburst this child has refused to speak up for herself. I am not completely satisfied with the situation. I am quite sure that there is more to this case than meets the eye. It is unfortunate that she chose councillor Blakey to rob and assault.’ Looking directly at Alan Blakey.
‘She’s just a little girl.’ Blakey offered. ‘We should all do what we can.’
‘Shall we?’ The magistate said, collecting her papers together. They had made their conferance as short as practicable. After all, “The Court” was much more like a small private gathering ostensibly populated by sincere people who cared a great deal for the difficulties experienced by children.

CHAPTER FIFTEEN
Kirstie made herself very small.
‘Kirstie?’ The magistrate said. ‘Can you look at me please?’
Surprisingly Kirstie unhunched her shoulders and fixed her gaze at the strict old lady. Old to Kirstie, but in fact only just into her fifties. ‘Will you do something for me?’ To the surprise of everyone Kirstie nodded yes. ‘I know you’re scared. But I want you to look around you. This is not a criminal court. Everyone here has your welfare at heart. Sometimes they might appear to be harsh or unsympathetic, but that would be far from the truth.’
One thing Kirstie knew as she looked around, was that there would be no escape from her plight. Mr. Blakey smiled kindly. Everyone looked concerned.
‘You can talk to us in here Kirstie.’ Mr. Blakey said quietly. Not a hint of threat in his voice.
Silence. Kirstie made herself small again. ‘Look at me Kirstie. You managed once. Just once more and you won’t have to do it again. I have to tell you what we have decided. Please?’ She sounded a lot like gran’ma. Otherwise she would not have lifted her head and have that man in her vision.
It was not that easy. Alan Blakey waved his hugely bandaged hand as if to dismiss the magistrate. ‘Kirstie?’ He he said, in a soft baritone. He even sounded sincere. Kirstie tried to bore a large hole through his head, staring at the fake sincerity in his eyes with such force that he broke eye contact and looked down. He recovered quickly. ‘We are going to help you. I promise. ‘Kirstie? Are you listening?’
Kirstie made a decision. She would lift her head proudly and look Mr. Blakey right in the eye.
He smiled. His demeanor contrary to her experience. ‘We’re going to allocate a local authority secure children’s home. You won’t be far from Meresea, but we call it secure because we don’t want you to run away. I know you run away don’t you?’
She wasn’t going to give him the pleasure receiving an answer. She continued to stare.
‘ I won’t be far away, and it is my responsibility to ensure your care is a benefit to you. So I will be a regular visitor to help you with your schooling.’
Kirstie knew exactly what Mr. Blakey was saying and she could not help herself. As she was escorted from the private room to begin a new life, she knew from then on there was nothing to lose.
‘You bastard!’ She screamed. ‘You rotten bastard!’

CHAPTER SIXTEEN
At least it was not a police van. Nor was she in handcuffs. Kirstie had no idea where she was being taken. Nor why it took three blokes, one to drive and two in the back seat with her. ‘Fancy a burger?’ Bloke left asked.
‘I could use one.’ Bloke right said.
Kirstie said nothing. Unsure if either of them were speaking to her or to each other. They had kept up a steady stream of chatter, involving her in all their conversation.
‘Better make your mind up quickly.’ Bloke left looked at Kirstie. So he was talking to her. ‘It’s just around the corner. Quick, make up your mind young lass!’
Kirstie nodded. She had never had a proper hamburger. Meresea only had a Chinese takeaway and some eateries and restaurants. And they were too expensive.
‘Does that mean yes?’ Bloke left asked with a grin. ‘The food’s all right where we’re going, but it’s not fabulous greasy, drippy junk food.’
‘Yes. Please.’ She could tell these two were not that kind of people. They had kept their hands to themselves. She could not tell if they were cops. They didn’t act like cops and they were dressed in neat casual wear. Kirstie had not eaten since yesterday. There seemed to have been some trouble getting her into a secure home.
‘What kind of burger? Do you want fries with that?’ Bloke right chuckled. ‘But we call them chips here. I don’t like those American terms coming into our good old-fashioned English.’
Kirstie shrugged.
‘So, a huge triple stacked greasy burger for Kirstie. With chips, and a coke.’
Kirstie wondered if they were going to charge her for it. She had no money, so saying nothing was the best bet. She was starving. Bloke left, ordered from the drive through. He did not leave the car. The order was passed through the car window. Kirstie had considered diving through the car door, but there would be no chance. The men were nice, but they were careful. ‘My Lord!’ Bloke right exclaimed. ‘You’ll need hollow legs to get that lot down you!’
Bloke left chuckled. ‘How tall are you Kirstie?’ Kirstie was busy trying to get her mouth around the monster burger. ‘Never mind,’ bloke left said, opening a thin file. ‘You’re, umm, four foot and a half and you weigh umm, about five stone. They measure and weigh you in centimetres and pounds these days.’ He looked at Kirstie, munching with gusto on her meal. ‘That makes you about two thirds the size of my German Shepherd!’
Kirstie swallowed hard and took a gulp of her large coke. Surprising even herself she retorted. ‘I’m only little, but I have a big heart. That’s what gran’ma says.’
‘Well Kirstie,’ bloke right grinned a genuine happy grin. ‘When we get there you get to make a phone call. Just one mind, but is it your gran’ma you want to call? Not your mum?’
‘Gran’ma.’ Kirstie puffed. She was going to finish this meal or be damned! ‘Mam doesn’t want me. She’s got that bitch Carol.’
Neither man commented on the word “bitch”. ‘But I can’t call gran’ma ‘cos I don’t know the number.’
‘Worry not young lady. I’ve got her number in this.’ He patted the file. ‘But just in case, let’s bend the rules a little. Seeing as you’ve decided we’re not so bad.’ Amazing how a little food can encourage a child to talk. ‘I’ve got a pen. Give me your arm.’ He pulled up her sleeve before there was any chance to snatch it away. Had Kirstie looked into his face instead of trying to hold on to her meal she would have seen the pity. He was too much a gentleman to make any comment on the mass of cut scars on her upper arm. Instead, he gently twisted so he could write on the underside close to the elbow. ‘They’re not too careful when they search you and make you change clothes so just find a way to bend your arm briefly, after that just put your arms behind your back like a soldier. When we escort they don’t do much of a search. We’re tough guys!’
‘Bet you’re not so tough. Not if I’ve got a knife or something.’
‘You haven’t got a knife have you Kirstie?’
‘Nah!’ Bravado had a nip at her. ‘But I could knee you in the knackers!’
‘Alright, that’s enough. From both of you!’ Bloke left chuckled, pleased that Kirstie had bonded at least a little on the long drive to wherever. They were used to these kids. A bit safer than Iraq and Afghanistan, and they had been picked for certain qualities. Those of not being psychopaths.
By the time the car arrived at the boom gates where security checked their credentials, Kirstie felt for the first time that she was with friends. At least, adults who were not going to hurt her. There was a big sign outside the long driveway. G4S, whatever that meant. She tried to work it out in her head, but nothing came.
It was a big old house made of stone, a turret with windows high up.
The driver exited the car and pushed a button on side jam of the door. It was a long time before anyone came. The door looked like old wood, but much too heavy to be just wood. Most likely like a prison door but in disguise, Kirstie thought without even realising that she was thinking.
Bloke left exited the car first. Then Kirstie shuffled her way across the seat. Bloke right got out then, and flanked by two huge men, who had looked a lot smaller sitting down, they escorted her to the open door where a large woman with a pretty face waited.
‘Hello! You must be Kirstie. You’ve been expected.’ She said. Kirstie turned before crossing the doorway. The two men waved, both with a casual flick of the wrist.
‘We’ll get you sorted and then you can meet everyone in the dining room.’

CHAPTER SEVENTEEN
Thor was thirteen and Fleur was twelve and three quarters. ‘Pull up a seat titch’ Fleur waved at an empty seat at the table. It was lunch time and Fleur was head of the table. Her job to say grace, and pass the tureens of mashed potatoes and boiled pumpkin. There was fried chicken, and gravy. And then treacle pudding and custard.
Kirstie still felt heavy from the huge meal she had wolfed down in the car. She twisted her head this way and that, taking in the big sunny dining room. There were six tables, each with six seats. The only empty seat was the one she now occupied. Full house.
‘You and me are bunking in together.’ Fleur said, passing the tureen of potato mash. Kirstie made an attempt at refusal but the already very curvy blonde girl explained, ‘You have to put some on your plate. If you don’t you’ll get an interview.’
Fleur did not seem like a bully girl. Kirstie knew the tells that bully boys and girls gave. Their faces were full of threat, and their shoulders hunched. They were fist clenchers too. ‘I had a burger and chips already.’
‘OK, put some on your plate anyway, and when I say “now” swap with Thor. ‘I’m Fleur by the way, and the lad sitting next to you is Thor. Thor was without doubt the biggest youth Kirstie had ever seen. Fleur laughed, her pretty face lighting up with genuine mirth. ‘If you haven’t noticed, he’s black too.’
Thor grinned, raising both of his huge hands and wiggling them. ‘Yo mama! But I got white palms!’
‘We’re going to call you Titch.’ Fleur announced.
Thor comically turned his massive frame around and looked down at Kirstie. ‘Whatever Fleur says. Titch it is.’ The fake “black American” accent disappeared. In it’s place a refined English. ‘It’s not too bad here.’ Thor said. ‘Just don’t learn the hard way. They use spit hoods and restraint chairs.’
When Kirstie looked confused Thor explained. ‘They fasten you into a chair and stick a hood over your head.’
Fleur butted in. ‘I haven’t had it. But Thor has, and he was a mess for ages after.’
‘Aw! Leave it out Fleur. Shit happens.’
Fleur was not going to “leave it out”. ‘Thing is, Titch, Thor might be bloody huge, but he’s epileptic. When he fits he’s all over the place.’
Thor sighed, exasperated. Fleur was in one of her protective moods. ‘Alright,’ he said, thumping an extra large serving of pumpkin onto his plate and smothering it in salt. ‘I was not there, so get it off your ample chest!’
‘You wasn’t there because you was having a brain splurge! And they even know you was having one when you pushed your dad out the window!’
‘I did not push him! I would never have done that!’
‘Well, you did, and that’s why you’re an open-ender like me. And I bet Titch is one too!’
Kirstie had no idea what an open-ender was.
‘Did they tell you how long you was going to be here Titch?’ Fleur asked, deviating from the subject. Kirstie shook her head. She still had not said much, except to nod and shake her head. Telling that she had a burger and chips did not count for much.
‘If you’re an open-ender it means they can keep you here until they decide you can go. It’s like this. This place is sort of nice if you behave, but it’s pretty shitty if you don’t. They do all kinds of shit to you. They call this an SCH, that means it’s a secure children’s home. If you play up or don’t do your lessons or if… well or if just about anything, when you’re fifteen they send you to an STC. That’s a secure training centre, or worse still you could even end up in a YOI, a young offenders institution. In the end it all depends on your social worker, or your case manager. Us girls have to be seventeen before we get sent to a YOI, but the lads can be sent when they’re fifteen.
Thor was smirking. He nudged Kirstie with his elbow. Just in amusement, and it was not a hard nudge. ‘Fleur’s a swot. She bones up on all this kind of shit. Like, she’s got an IQ of like a hundred and sixty or something.’
‘A hundred and thirty and it’s not my fault. It’s my “extreme curiosity about the world” is what the social worker says. But she’s a twat anyway. She’s never once given me a good report. Even if I pussied the old leso she’d still complain. But that’s because she’s batshit stupid.’
‘Now you see what she’s like Titch! You can set her off like a match dead easy!’
Kirstie could not help herself. She giggled.
‘You wait ’til I’m a barrister one day!’
‘That’s all you’ll be. Making coffee all day for Gen X’ers in suits.’
‘That’s a barista you loonie!’ But Fleur was laughing.
There were three other kids at the table, all quiet and listening to the conversation. Nothing was said, but there was some kind of silent implication that if you chirped up, you’d be told to shut your gob. The other possibility was that they were so busy shovelling food into their mouths that the banter between Fleur and Thor was just background noise. A way to make the little stranger comfortable.
‘Now!’ Fleur whispered. It was a second or two before Kirstie registered that she should push her plate over and swap it with Thor’s empty. None of the supervisors were looking. Too busy gabbing. Thor quickly did the switch. Clearly he’d done this before.
‘Anyway, Thor thinks he’s diverted me, but I’m still going to tell you about the restraint chairs and the spit hoods.’
‘Shithead!’
‘Blackhead!’ One thing Fleur was not, was politically correct. Not that Thor seemed to take any offense. Robust as she was, Thor could easily have wrapped his huge hand around Fleur’s throat and still be able to touch the heel of his hand with his fingers.
‘Thor was having this fit. He didn’t start having them ’til he came here, except just the one before he came. That one didn’t count. But he was having one anyway. Upended the scrabble table, and starts swatting all the kids. Not on purpose like, but two big old goonies suddenly come in. Like they were just waiting for some shit to go down. He was foaming and moaning, and one of them just pushed a black bag over his head, and he was choking I swear!’
‘Gilding the lily.’ Thor backchatted.
Kirstie had no idea what gilding lillies had to do with anything, but she stayed quiet, not wanting to appear as stupid as she felt.
‘He doesn’t remember much about it. But I do. The word went ’round that he caused an affray.’
“Causing an affray” sounded bad to Kirstie, but she was getting the gist of things.
‘We didn’t see him at dinner for two days. And he was all la la too. It’s like he was talking in double dutch. Then the supervisors were all over him, stroking his back and whispering sweet nothings in his ears like he was some kind of special dude or something.’
‘They said I had to be good and not make waves.’ Thor said with a mouthful. ‘Then they just took me to the infirmary. The whisper was that I’d gone too far and no one better even think about. Or else. One minute it was Monday, and the next it was Friday. I missed fish and chips on Friday dinner.’
Fleur lowered her voice. ‘There’s kids here that shouldn’t even be here. They got taken into care because their parents or one of them slapped them. But they can torture us here. Not fair eh?’
Now she waited. Kirstie understood that she was expected to reply. Until now she had only answered when asked. ‘That sucks lemons.’ She said quietly, hoping that the comment would be taken with humour. It was, and even the other three kids laughed. They were not laughing at Kirstie. They were laughing because the first words out of the little girls’ mouth that meant she was opening up to her new mates were “That sucks lemons.”
Encouraged, Kirstie looked up at the enormous black lad. ‘Do you still? Like, are you still elpilectic?’
‘Ep-il-ep-tic. Epileptic. Yeah. I am. But I had these brain scans, called ECG’s. They fit you up with what’s called electrodes. Damn! I thought they were going to electrocute me! I was so scared! Man I was scared! Then this woman doctor, a psychiatrist came along and told me what was going on. She said I was having an electrocardiogram that measured my brain waves. It was actually quite cool. You get to watch your brain waves wobbling about on a TV screen. It’s like a TV but not. And when you think they go all spikey, but if you get all calm you can force the lines to go dead straight. It’s so cool!’
‘So they don’t torture you any more?’ Kirstie seemed genuinely afraid.
‘Nah! But they still have it on my report that I caused an affray, and that went to my social worker, and to the local authority. Mum and dad don’t want me back. They can’t find a foster home for me because I’m too big to handle.
‘Did you kill your dad then?’ Kirstie had suddenly found her voice with these two chalk and cheesers.
‘No. He’s in a special flat with wheelchair access, and a lift that goes upstairs. They get a nurse to visit twice a week. But there’s no room for me. It’s just one bedroom and a sitting room.’
‘Do they come and see you?’
‘Used to, but it’s too far from Ipswich. Anyway, I reckon they’ll just let me out when I’m seventeen.’
‘That’s four more years Thor!’ Fleur admonished. She was always well pissed off when Thor took things so calmly. He had been treated like shite, and still he accepted it all. ‘They just want to be sure I’ll grow out of it. Anyway where would I go? It’s bloody paradise in here compared to what’s out there.’
‘Rapists and kiddy fiddlers don’t get that much time!’ Fleur was mad, but she whispered in a practiced way that made her easily heard from a short distance. ‘You were eleven for Christ’s sake! You’ve already been in for two years, and then at least another three! And what for? Having an effing fit!’
‘Aw! Stand down Fleur. Except for the overcrowding it’s not that bad.’
‘Well Titch is bunking in my room. I could use the company so long as she stays quiet while I’m studying.’
‘She thinks studying will get her out of here before too long.’ Thor huffed. ‘She’s on a mission.’
Fleur chuckled, and looked at Thor with an invitation. They had seen an old movie “The Blues Brothers” One of them was that dead guy John Belushi. Both of them had watched the movie twenty or more times on the old VCR in the rec room. And both loved the same bits. The church and chubby Belushi doing flick-flacks down the aisle. Then in unison they both spoke ‘We’re on a mission from God!’
Thor continued. ‘The Oldsmobiles are in early this year! That’s the bit when they’re getting chased and drive into the big shopping centre!’
Kirstie felt the tension drifting out of her. She had expected prison, and guards with batons and stun guns.
A bell rankled, stopped, rankled again, stopped, and rankled once more.
Before the bell, everyone had ensured that their plates were clean, and that their cutlery was put neatly together. Then everyone sat back on their chairs, arms straight down by their sides. At each table a supervisor collected the sharpware, counting each piece. Ironically, plastic knives and forks had been more of a problem than metal. It was just too easy to break small pieces off and fashion an effective weapon from the bits.
‘I’ll show you ’round after clean-up.’ Fleur reached out and tousled Kirstie’s lank, dishevelled hair. It had grown out since Carol’s attempt at mutilation. But it was still lank, it was still dark, though wisps blown in the air looked dark red, most of all, it was still dishevelled. ‘And we’ve got to do something about that haircut.’ Fleur added.

CHAPTER EIGHTEEN.

The children were wandering off in twos and threes in different directions. Supervisors were everywhere, keys jangling from their hips. They wore smart casual wear with logos on their right breast pockets. ‘The rec room is down there.’ Fleur pointed over her shoulder. ‘But you must be knackered. We’re overcrowded like always. There’s only supposed to be twenty eight kids, but a couple of places have been shut down for investigations. Don’t mention that though. We’re not supposed to know. Right now there’s thirty six of us. It goes up and down. Most of us here are a bit off our heads. Like, we’re uncontrollable, or we got smacked out or messed with. Just pretend you don’t see shit. It’s not our business.’
Kirstie realised suddenly how tired she was.
‘Here we are.’ Fleur walked through the open door. The room was sparse but clean and tidy. Bunk beds with three inch white mattresses, and blankets and sheets folded military style at the head of each bunk. From the corridor the room door looked like plain old white-painted wood, but when Fleur pushed it shut, it closed with a heavy clunk. The room sported a proper flush toilet, and a wash basin. ‘It’s only supposed to be for one so you’ll have to piss and shit in public. They said they’ll bring us a curtain when they get a spare one. There’s no seat by the way. They don’t want us taking any screws and bolts out or using a seat to brain someone with. They’re more careful when there’s two in a room ‘cos we could collude or something. I mean, they tell us we’re in care and not in prison, but whatever they want to call it, it’s still a prison. It’s a business so they make a profit from us being here. I expect they’ll give you the talk tomorrow morning. We have to be up at six, then brekky and school. After that I’ll show you ’round the whole place. Mostly there’s CCTV, but not in the rooms, and there’s some places around where there’s no cameras. Come on Titch. I’ll help you to make up your bed. Then you can help me make mine up and get into your PJ’s.’
‘I haven’t got any.’ Kirstie whispered. ‘I only got these clothes.’
‘I’ve got a shirt you can wear. I reckon they’ll give you some stuff tomorrow.’
‘They said I can call my gran’ma when I got here.’
Fleur gave that same huff she had given Thor. ‘That was just bullshit to stop you freaking out. They do that.’
Kirstie, overwhelmed, burst into racking sobs.
‘Good job I got my tits early.’ Fleur tried to make light of the little girls’ upset. ‘Come here doll. I reckon someone’s got to give you a proper cuddle. Don’t worry, I’m not a leso.’
Fleur engulfed the little girl in her arms. She held Kirstie’s head against her breast and let her cry, and cry, and cry, until there was nothing left to cry.

CHAPTER NINETEEN
Thor was considered to be too violent and uncontrollable to be held in the SCH area, and besides, there was simply no room for any of the boys. But they had Social Time together either in the dining room or in the rec room. Sometimes Thor was quiet and intropective. He might look tired. Other times he slurred his speech, but Kirstie put that down to his ep-il-ep-sy. Those times, Fleur was extra protective, and worried her bottom lip a lot. Everything considered though, the three were left to their own devices on their own time, which was not a great deal. Kirstie was introduced to the secret spots outside in the grounds where most of the kids knew there was no CCTV. They could sit around in the little rock garden, depending on who was rostered on. Some of The Mothers were cool. They were probably bone idle, but to the girls and Thor they were actually pretty cool. Just out of sight of the cameras they could smoke “bumpers”, cigarettes not fully smoked by kids who had managed to get some smokes smuggled in. Whoever those kids were they never knew, and never asked. It was the polite thing to do not to say anything. In case someone, one of The Mothers, found the loose rock where “bumpers” were stuffed to stop them getting wet. The Mothers probably knew anyway. They did their own sneaky smoking around there sometimes. The kids, always vigilant, wandered away whenever one appeared around the corner.
The small building where Kirstie and Fleur lived was attached to the larger building by a short ‘bridge’. The larger building housed the boys who were considered to be a danger to society. Or to themselves. The smaller building was home to just half a dozen girls.
The two stuffed out their smokes, and wandered back into the main courtyard. It was almost dinner time.
“You have a visitor Kirstie.” This woman, a supervisor was always nice. She treated everyone the same, and always with a smile.
‘It’s my gran’ma!’ Kirstie almost squealed. She had been able to telephone her gran’ma, but though she could tell the old lady that she was OK and that the place was nice, she had no idea exactly where it was. Gran’ma said she would find out, and try to get permission to visit.
‘It’s not your granny’ The supervisor said quietly. She touched Kirstie gently on the shoulder in an attempt at friendly comforting. ‘It’s a gentleman.’
Kirstie’s face fell. ‘Oh, OK. Where do I go?’
Fleur tipped her friend on the elbow. ‘It’ll be an interview or something. Don’t get your hoped up. They do this shit.’

CHAPTER TWENTY
Kirstie was led to the interview room. With a mix of trepidation and excitement, she stood before the door to have it opened for her. The second she stepped inside, her heart wanted to push itself through the roof of her mouth. The door closed with a quiet clunk behind her.
‘Sit down Kirstie.’
Alan Blakey waved at a wooden chair. His own was placed a foot or so away. There was a table, but the chairs had been pulled away so there was no barrier between them. Kirstie sat. ‘I understand they call you Titch.’ Blakey’s manner was smooth and quiet.
She glanced quickly around. The room was bare, painted cream. There did not appear to be any cameras here either.
‘No camera’s Kirstie.’ Blakey grinned. One side of his mouth curled, but it was hard to tell unless you knew that smile, that it was predatory. ‘This is not my area. I’m just a visitor with a little more authority than most other visitors. We couldn’t find a place for you near home, and besides, the council did not have any budget for you. So we found this nice place for you. It’s a long way home.’ He inched his chair until their knees touched. Kirstie hoped the shudder that rippled through her was not noticeable. No way was she going to show Blakey any fear. A few weeks ago she would have hung her head and made herself small. But she had met Fleur, and she had met Thor and a few other kids. She had learned very quickly that justice is not for kids.
Blakey leaned forward, putting his face close enough to touch hers with his mouth. His hands grasped her thighs. Not hard. She could feel the rotteness in him as his hands smoothed up and down her thin dress. Scared though she was, she looked directly into his face. ‘You’re a lying liar!’ She spat, her voice no more than an angry hiss. The anger rising until it hurt.
Alan Blakey smiled a little more. Kirstie was so easy to wind up. He enjoyed it. ‘Now why would I lie Kirstie? We’re here to help you. To put you on the right track and make you into a decent human being.’
Now the anger was swelling in her like a boil that needed to be lanced. The feel of his hands stroking through her dress, the smell of his sweet aftershave in her nostrils. ‘I never touched your hands! You had them round my neck you bastard!’
‘Oh that!’ Blakey laughed. It was without humour and full of sarcasm. Designed to elevate Kirstie’s anger. Successfully. It was humming through her veins now. ‘A few weeks ago you were such a little thing. You’re still little but I can see you’ve changed. A crutch and a few extra bandages, that was all it required. It’s such a shame that I could not get you into a local home. I would have visited sooner. And more often.’
‘In five seconds I’m going to scream.’
Blakey pushed up her dress.
‘Four, three, two.’
Blakey stood and pulled away his chair. He walked to the door and knocked with his fist. Obviously it was locked from the outside. It opened immediately. He turned to Kirstie, kindness and benevolence turning his face avuncular. ‘I don’t want you to worry Kirstie. We’re all working very hard for you to be closer to home.’
There were no tears, just raging anger boiling in her brain, through her veins. Trying to burst from her eyeballs. She had made friends, gone to school and started to enjoy learning stuff. The staff were nice to her. She had a routine. Food. She had been given nice clothes, and she had Fleur. And Thor when he was not sick or looking sad. The other girls in her section were pretty nice overall, though she had not yet had much to do with them. If they had just let her stay with gran’ma everything would be all right. She could help gran’ma. They could watch Coronation Street together. Gran’ma looked after everyone.

CHAPTER TWENTY ONE
Dinner was over. Blakey was a slimeball. He had probably made sure that his “interview” had been perfectly timed. Kirstie had four hours of school this afternoon with Helen Brecht. Helen was nice. She let the kids call her Helen because Ms Brecht was too difficult for the others to get their mouths around. But it had to be “Ms” Helen. Kirstie put up her hand. She could not concentrate on geography, though it was the subject she enjoyed the most. ‘Can I sharpen my pencil please Ms Helen?’
Helen beckoned. With only seven children in the class Helen was happy to give up some of her free time to problem children. Classes were mixed, boys and girls together. No one ever played up with Helen. She had endless patience with her flock. Kirstie was the youngest, soon to be twelve. Everyone else was twelve to thirteen. Helen knew them all by name, what their weaknesses were, and their strengths. They were schooled according to their abilities. Kirstie enjoyed classes. Last time they did geography they had traced a map of Australia and Kirstie had carefully gone over the lines into her neat notebook. She liked that no one had ‘phones to cheat with, or brag about. She loved to write words onto the lines and keep them neat. “Proper” school was full of bullies and braggers. Kirstie got flustered when teachers just rushed ahead, not noticing or caring about the little kids put at the back because they were too dumb or too noisy, or just disruptive. Not that she went to proper school much. If she did, Carol and her friends laughed and ragged her on the school grounds, and other kids smacked her around because she was little and a slut. Carol had said Kirstie was a slut, and though half the kids did not know what a slut was, they knew it was a bad name to call someone. Even though Carol had found money to buy her own phone, she had never once called. Nor had Frankie. Maybe they didn’t know where Kirstie was. Maybe they did not even care.
‘Kirstie. Now don’t spend all day sharpening that pencil. We need to get along.’
Ms Helen had beautiful long dark hair that broke into waves down her back. She never tied it back. Kirstie liked when Ms Helen bent over to help her with something or other. Her hair always smelled so good. ‘I broke my pencil Ms Helen. Sorry.’
It was the anger. Still roiling around and bumping in Kirstie’s head. She quickly sharpened both ends of the broken pencil, and one end of the other half. One day she would grow her hair just like Ms Helen’s. It was just the same colour too. When the light shone through wisps, it was a deep red and not just dark hair at all.
Kirstie took her seat.
‘All right. Quickly, let’s see how much you managed to learn about Australia last time. Open your notebooks. This is my tried and tested memory test. There are no points for getting everything right. And no punishments for getting everything wrong. All we have is a stamp. Get one hundred percent and you’ll get a stamp.’
‘A blue elephant?’ Kirstie could not help herself. She had not put up her hand. Blurting was not supposed to be allowed.
One of the boys, a trouble maker and a thug by all accounts, grumbled loudly. ‘No. It’s a fat cow!’
‘Well that’s not me then!’ Kirstie’s temper moved her mouth.
‘That’s enough!’ None of the kids had ever retorted, and Ms Helen had never had to resort to raising her own voice. ‘I’m sorry.’ She said, dropping her head and looking at her shoes. ‘We don’t fight in my classes. I’m so sorry.’
The ruse, if that was what it was, worked. The boy mumbled ‘Sorry Ms Helen.’ That was probably a first, but there was no triumph on Ms Helen’s face.
‘Kirstie?’
‘I’m sorry too Ms Helen. I’m a bit upset today.’ How easy it was to just say things to this teacher.
‘I’ve got some time after class if you want to tell me about it.’
Kirstie, caught with her guard down just for a moment almost said yes. ‘No Ms Helen. It’s just… nothing really.’ Spragging might make things worse.
Helen turned to the blackboard. No whiteboards or computers in this classroom. It was quite literally “old school”. She chalked up the names of all the Australian State Capitals. ‘Remember, one of these is a bit tricky.’ The chalk plunked and clunked against the surface of the board. Adelaide. Brisbane. Canberra. Darwin. Hobart. Melbourne. Perth. Sydney. ‘When you’ve filled them all in in the right places you can hand in your notebooks. There are no points for being first, and no punishments for being last, so just think carefully.’
Kirstie bent to the task at hand, pushing the anger away until later. First she wrote in the “tricky” one. Canberra, and underneath she wrote ACT. She remembered Ms Helen telling them that the Australian Capital Territory was the seat of government. The rest was easy, although she had to think hard about Perth, and Adelaide. Even so, she was the second to hand in her notebook. Mr Blakey still inhabited her mind like a parasite. Something bad and awful crawling through her veins.
Impatiently Kirstie waited for the slowpokes to finish. Two boys from the training centre. They would be walked back to their unit by a pair of male staff. Even they, in a surly kind of way behaved well for Ms. Helen. Their slow efforts were not because they were dumb, but because they always wanted to drag out the time in the classroom to the limit.
At last they were done, and Kirstie scooted from her chair, hellbent on getting outside to some fresh air. The anger made her breathless. As if her chest were about to explode.
‘Don’t run in the hallways!’ Ms. Helen called after her. Kirstie had no idea that she was running. She stopped, took a deep breath, and doggedly put one foot in front of the other until she reached the automatic doors to the courtyard.
At the rock garden she sat, and moved away the rock. There were half a dozen bumpers, and a matchbook. A quick glance around, and she lit up the largest, inhaling until her chest hurt. When it was gone, she replaced the matchbook, buried the filter and sat for a moment.
Then Kirstie stood, lifted her skirt and pulled down the regulation blue cotton knickers. She pulled hard at the wide elastic waistband until it broke. Now she was able to pull out the long piece of elastic.
For a long moment she stared at the pencil stub, sharply pointed at both ends. She closed her eyes. Soon the anger that hurt so much would seep out. Placing the point high on her thigh Kirstie pushed and dragged as hard as the pain would allow. When the point broke off she turned it around, and repeated the act with the same result. As the blood flowed she dabbed, anxious not to leave any traces on the rock garden. Soon she felt better. Wrapping the wounds with her knickers, and tying it in place with the elastic she dropped her skirt, scrabbled around for another bumper and sat smoking for awhile.

CHAPTER TWENTY TWO.

‘Hiya Mr. Dunn.’ Yvonne greeted Larry. She was coming home just as Larry was leaving. Yvonne and her dad occupied the lower floor of the big Victorian house. Being the owner, Frank Marshall kept the first two storeys of the old house for himself. Margie and Larry rented the top floor which had once been the servant’s quarters. Nicely modernised it was plenty for them. Just a single bedroom, kitchen and living room. On the second floor, now unused but kept scrupulously were three more bedrooms and a living room facing the street.
Born and brought up in the same house Frank had bought the place from the family when his grandmother died. They had had plans for it. A brood of children. Frank had also inherited the old farm just out of town. The ancient farm labourers cottage was rented to a woman who’s husband had been less than loving. She had made a nice home out of it and the peppercorn rent, subsidised by her daily work in the chicken sheds ensured her welfare, and consequently her happiness. Frank was easy going, and not “short of a bob or two”.
Even those with fortunate lives endure tragedies. The rest of the family had their own lives, spread across England and Wales and, other than sometime visits Yorkshire was not on their regular itinerary. The last time he had seen any of them was at Gails funeral four years ago. Yvonne had been eight. Now, a serious-minded and very grown up twelve year old she was in a particularly talkative frame of mind.
‘You’re a bit chipper today.’ Larry said. He had plenty of time to walk to work, and it was a nice day.
‘Dad’s singing in the kitchen. At least, he was when I went shopping two hours ago. And he’s baking bread.’
‘Ah! So that’s the delightful smell that has been wafting up the stairs all morning!’ Larry laughed. ‘I hope there’s some for us. Margie was never good at bread and cakes.’
‘He’s probably baked for the whole street! Last time he baked it was before mum got killed.’
Larry did some quick math in his head. Over three years. ‘So what’s the celebration? And when do we get our buns, or cakes or whatever?’
‘Is Margie upstairs? You guys are always so quiet we don’t know if you’re out or in. Except when you come in the front door.’ The front door was the only entryway, and for reasons known only to history the original bell jangled whenever it was opened. Like so many of these old Victorian houses the front door opened directly onto the hallway, and a staircase which dog-legged at the first landing and continued again after a few steps along the second storey hallway.
‘She’s writing. I expect she’ll be at it until dark. And then some.’ Larry said without rancour. Margie wrote textbooks. While she would have preferred to write romantic novels, her BA in literature gave her a qualification that kept her not only occupied, but very well paid. Unlike romantic novels.
‘I’ll tell dad to send me up with some then.’
‘You didn’t answer my question.’
‘Oh! Yeah. I mean, yes. Dad just got the news that he can be a foster parent.’
Larry knew that Frank had been fussing and fretting over the applications and interviews for the past year. They had heard nothing more for several months so considered that the whole idea had been shelved.
‘I’m so excited!’ Yvonne babbled. She was not normally a babbler. She liked books, and 60’s psychedelic music with names like Tangerine Dream, and Cream, and Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band. ‘I had to be interviewed as well. They wanted to know all sorts of stuff about me, and about dad. Well, he got a phone call this morning early to say that we’re being granted. He’s waiting for some paperwork and some other stuff- I don’t know what.’
‘So I bet that means you’re going to finally open up the second floor.’
‘Yeah! Yes,’ Yvonne corrected. Her dad insisted on speaking properly. ‘I get to be able to use grandad and grandma’s old things. There’s still all their things in the rooms. There’s furniture and, oh all sorts of stuff! It will be like making my own home. But I bet it’s really dusty and horrid right now. Dad has never been in there since I can remember!’
It probably was not dusty and horrible. Larry had seen Frank surreptitiously entering and exiting each of the rooms with feather dusters and buckets of hot water and sponges. Not that Yvonne ever noticed. She was either at school or huddled down in her room reading terribly interesting volumes of encyclopedias and dictionaries with publication dates going back to the mid nineteenth century.

CHAPTER TWENTY THREE

Kirstie was looking glum at dinner. Thor was uncommunicative. Being the mother hen, Fleur worried about both of them. Afternoon yesterday Kirstie had been called in for an interview. She returned grumpy. Prising out any information was even worse than pulling hen’s teeth. The best Fleur could get was that Frankie had slammed her door on a social worker and when the social worker returned with a lady police officer she slammed it again.
Truth was, Kirstie had no idea about what had happened at her “interview”. At first she had been spoken to kindly, and was told that she could speak up for herself. There were two social workers. One of them was no better than the fat bitch, except that she was stick-thin and thin-lipped. The other was quite pretty, but deferred to the thin one. Then there was an “advocate” from the local authority for Meresea and lots of papers being passed hand to hand from a thin file. Every time Kirstie was asked if she had any questions or anything to say, she wagged her head from side to side. It was all just big words from big people. One thing she did understand was the constant commentary about the “cost of keeping this little girl in this facility far from her home.”
At the end, the local authority had shown that the court had decided that a special guardianship order was the most appropriate order to make in the best interests of the child. To Kirstie’s mind the whole thing was already a done deal. Frankie was not going to be involved in any way. Another truth was that Frankie preferred to stay drunk and do the pub crawl every night. One thing that Kirstie did gleen from the conversation was that Carol, obviously pissed off with being mother, daughter and housekeeper, had taken off to who knew where? When asked what steps had been taken to locate the missing daughter, thin-lips replied that with over one hundred thousand children under sixteen years of age running away each year, the task could be impossible. Kirstie hung her head and smiled a little to herself. That was something to remember. If she knew how to run away properly no one would ever find her!
‘It’s some kind of foster care.’ Kirstie told Fleur before resorting to monosyllabic answers.
‘Wow! You’re going home!’ Fleur, not feeling the love, put her brave smile on. Titch had become a good loyal mate these past months.
‘Yeah. S’pose.’
‘You must be excited!’
‘Yeah. S’pose.’
‘When are you going?’
‘Dunno.’
Eventually Fleur, understanding that this conversation was going nowhere, put in her earbuds and blasted her head full of rap while reading a textbook on tort law.
Now, she was worried about both of her friends. Word had come back on the whisper line that Thor had backchatted a “Screw” in his unit. The screw, always one to entice Thor into insubordination had forced Thor’s head into a bucket of ice and held him there. Thor had finally fitted, and instead of calling the infirmary, the screw had a colleague help him to fit Thor with restraints.
Only the intervention of a female supervisor with a threat of a written report, had Thor released to the infirmary where he had slept right through until eleven in the morning.
‘You have to eat something Thor.’ Fleur cajoled. But he was not really with them. Fleur tried again, putting her average sized hand over his huge one. ‘Come on mate. You can’t let them get you! Listen! Kirstie’s going home. I’m going to need you more.’
‘You know what Titch?’ Fleur announced. ‘It’s never going to change unless we change it. If you’re too little, like you, or if you are too big, like Thor, or too..umm, well, too pretty and curvy like me, the bullies will always get at you.’
Kirstie reached over and put her hand over Fleur’s which remained on top of Thor’s. ‘Yeah.’ She said. ‘I s’pose.’

CHAPTER TWENTY FOUR.
‘Will you write to me? Or phone?’ Fleur asked the question to break the several hours of terrible silence from Kirstie.
‘You want me to?’
Fleur had kept silent about the self inflicted wound that had swollen and bruised. She had gently washed it in warm salt water for the past three days. The graphite point was still lodged in Kirstie’s flesh. It must have hurt like hell. Fleur had once done it with a box cutter but it was just the once. Cutting herself had not been the answer for her.
‘Of course I do Titch! It won’t be the same without your miserable little mug staring at me. Anyway,’ She continued in case Kirstie had taken the comment seriously, ‘you’re not a slut, and you’re not a slag. One day, when I’m a barrister I’m going to make them all listen! No one listens to us until it’s all too late!’
‘You really going to be a barrister? I mean really really?’
Fleur, her serious face firmly in place said, ‘Damn right I am! They have to let me out when I’m eighteen. I’m a danger to others, and maybe myself. That’s what they say. They have ways to keep me in the system until then. Look!’ She stood up and sashayed around the room, trying to make Kirstie laugh. ‘I’ve got the tits of a glamour model. I’m all currrrrvy,’ running her hands down her body and over her bottom, ‘and I’m a genuiine blondie. By the time I’m fourteen I’ll pass for twenty. No one’s going to foster me! I’m a freak!’
‘You’re not a freak. You’re,’ Kirstie hesitated before saying it. ‘beautiful.’
‘Why thank you ma’am.’ Fleur bowed and grinned. ‘I’m serious Titch. Will you phone or write?’
‘Course I will. I never had a friend before. Not really.’
‘You going to stop cutting?’
‘Dunno. I get so mad. It’s like, it’s, the worst pain ever!’
Fleur beckoned Kirstie from her mattress. ‘C’mere. I need a huggsy.’
Kirstie loved Fleur’s hugs. There was nothing meant in it except the warm feeling of being enveloped. She put her thin arms around Fleur’s ample body and being so small, rested her head on Fleur’s bust. ‘What’s going to happen to Thor?’
‘Well.’ Fleur thought for a moment, still hugging Kirstie and talking over the top of her head. ‘He’s big. And he’s black. That makes him a freak’s freak. They’ll wind him up and get him all stressed. They’ll make him have fits and probably thump him around. Probably end up in jail I suppose. ‘
‘Really?’
‘Probably.’
‘That really sucks lemons!’
‘Maybe he’ll just grow out of the epilepsy. Some people do. It just goes away. I swotted up on it.’ Fleur went silent for a moment, thinking. ‘He’s such a gentle kid. I really love him.’
‘Like in LOVE him?’
Fleur chuckled. ‘Well. Maybe. He makes my tummy squirm. I hate that they do shit to him. I bet he’d be a great dad if he ever got chance.’
Kirstie broke her hold. ‘Will you look after him? I mean, like, he’s my mate too. He never rags on me nor anything.’
Fleur stepped away, looking sad. ‘Not much I can do. I’m just a kid like you. He’s just a kid too. We don’t get justice, that’s just for grown-ups with lawyers. But I’m going to try anyway.’
‘If I have to just go. Like when they just make you go. Will you tell him I’m still his mate?’
‘Silly bitch! You know I will!’
They both knew that soon, maybe in a month, or a week, or tomorrow, Kirstie would suddenly be gone from here. Then she would have to go back to school in Meresea. At least Carol wouldn’t be there with her gang. School was good here. Teachers were cool. The routine was pretty neat. She knew where she had to be at what time. Dinner time and rec time, and time in the library with newly discovered books and nobody ragging on you. Nobody touching you up and smarming with stinky breath over you. She could read pretty well now, and the big atlases with pictures of people in different countries were really really very cool.
‘Can I ask you something Fleur?’
‘Depends what you want to ask. Ask it and I’ll tell you if I want to answer it.’
Kirstie’s face lit up into her widest grin. When she smiled like that, rarely, she was no longer the shy little titch. She still looked more like ten than twelve, but that smile could disarm a mongol horde. ‘You’ve never said what you’re in for. Will you tell?’
Fleur sat on her bed and leaned back on her arms. That was a good sign. When she was being defensive she folded her arms over her chest and jutted her chin.
‘My dad. He started coming into my room when I was nine. Getting under the covers with me. Telling me about my nice new titties and such like that. Then he. You know.’
‘Not your real dad!’
‘Yes. He’s my real dad.’
‘Aw! Fleur! Shit! Honest you don’t need to tell me. It’s OK.’
Fleur did not flinch. ‘I got this box cutter and thought I’d make it go away. Cut myself once and then I knew it was never going to be for me. It didn’t take it away. You know?’
Kirstie nodded. She knew all right. It goes away for a bit, but then it all comes back.
‘I’m not sorry.’ Fleur said. ‘I’m not even a little bit sorry for what I did. After a year I felt so dirty. Horrible. Honestly Titch, I got online and read about how to do myself in.’
‘I’m glad you didn’t. I can’t imagine not having you as a mate.’
‘So that means you’ll phone. Or write me a note? Let me know how you’re going?’
‘Course I will. Absofrickinglutely!’ One of Thor’s words. Kirstie liked the sound of it. Just like she had liked rec-id-iv-issssst! ‘What happened with your dad then?’
Fleur repeated. ‘I’m not sorry. I’ll never be sorry. I wish I could do it twice!’
‘You gonna tell me then?’
Fleur bit down on her bottom lip. She did not like to really talk about it. Not what she did, but what had been done to her before she did what she did. ‘I didn’t kill him. Thought about it, but didn’t.’
‘So? You gonna tell me? You don’t have to, honest. Just forget it. Forget I asked. It’s OK. Honest.’
‘OK. But I’m not going to do details Just what it was. OK?’
Kirstie dropped her head and stared at the floor. She did not want to put her best friend on the spot like this. Best that she hadn’t said anything at all.
‘I used the box cutter and castrated him. I threw his balls to the dog. That’s what I did. And I’m not sorry. I am NOT sorry!’
Kirstie shivered. Suddenly realisation hit her. She was going home to Meresea on some kind of foster thing. Then she would have to see Alan Blakey, and there was nothing she could do about it. Nothing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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