Danny always arrived early. By now everyone accepted that he did and they’d stopped ragging him about it. He wasn’t really supposed to but George let him. “You can do it lad. Them at the council, they don’t know you like we do. No problem, you just carry on. You just listen to us.” Danny liked George.
The other lads were prone now and again to take advantage. If the weather was bad or they’d had a heavy night, if they had the doctor to see, well it was okay wasn’t it because Danny was there. Danny would cover for ‘em. He knew you always covered for your mates.
He told them it was the ‘bloody bus times’ that forced him in early. The bus after his was too late and he’d have his cards for bad timekeeping. Stan gave him a funny look, and George told him to buy an effin bike but that was as far as it went.
What it was really, though, was the silence. Living where he did, high rise block, just on the edge of the by-pass, it was never quiet. But here, almost in the country, truth be told, the mornings were quiet.
Winter mornings, white with frost, brittle with chill, and sometimes quilted with overnight snow. They were his favourites, the quietest. Autumn, yes, autumn was second best, brown and gold and rustling gently. Squirrels now and then and, once in a while, a fox. Only in the morning, when he arrived before the others. His time.
He loved his job, got on okay with the blokes. Kept them a bit at arm’s length though, they could be brutal, and he didn’t have the capacity to deal with them. Mostly they left him alone, except for a joke now and again, a bit of a trick on him, and he laughed along, even when what he really wanted to do was scream and fly at them. He didn’t. Wendy, his social worker, had taught him that. Showed him how to control himself. Don’t hit out and don’t say the ‘F’ word. If you want to swear say Fluckin, nobody will mind that. But the lads, they were hard. They laughed at him and in the end, he just said it under his breath, it wasn’t as good but nobody mocked him.
Look what happened to Jimmy. It had been his own fault. Nobody likes a grass, and Tony had been selling the scrap metal to his brother in law for years. Nobody had ever bothered before, and old Tone, he’d a sick wife and four kiddies. Who would begrudge him a bit on the side?
In the end Tony had just been given a reprimand, but Jimmy. Well, maybe one day he’d be over it. The sound of his body hitting the bottom of the skip, the idea of him clawing and pawing at the sides, all night. All night and all Sunday stuck there, screaming for help, his legs broken. The thought of it still haunted Danny, he shuddered. A fox cub had fallen in once and Danny had heard it, scrabbling and panicked. He’d pulled it out and it ran off. Nobody pulled Jimmy out, not in time anyway.
The aftermath had been worse, the bobbies, the cars, the noise, and disruption. In the end, when he’d come round from that coma they put him in at the hospital, Jimmy told them he’d fallen, been careless. No need for any bother.
For a while it had driven Danny almost over the edge. Brought all that other stuff back. The uniforms alone brought him out in a cold sweat. The interviews, well, nobody knew what that had done to him. Puking his guts up with nerves round the back of the fridge and freezer storage area, and walking all the way home because he couldn’t get on a bus in stinking pants. They told him they might all lose their jobs. The other lads started to make plans. He knew though, there was nowhere else for him to go. Nobody else would take him, not with his history. He had been scared and sad, and the nightmares had come back.
He stopped in the middle of unlocking the big iron gates, glanced around. It was a lovely morning, beautiful, sparkling. Wherever he was now, he hoped Jimmy was getting stronger.
He shook off the maudlin thoughts. The sun was painting the sky with lemon and pink streaks. The fresh leaves shone in the early light and there was a new jar of Nescafe in the hut. What more could a bloke ask for.
He didn’t push the gates wide, didn’t want Joe bloody public ignoring the opening times notice and thinking they could come clattering in. He slid through the small gap and wrapped the chain loosely back around the bars. In the office, he switched on the kettle.
He’d seen signs of hedgehogs over in the far corner for the last couple of mornings. While he waited for the kettle, he’d walk round that way, see if the cat food had been taken.
At first the hole in the fence wasn’t obvious. Branches had been piled around it, big branches, covered with newly sprouted green/gold leaves and with sore looking broken bits at the ends. They’d been torn from some poor tree and then piled around the cut in the wire.
Danny’s stomach jumped. He tasted bile in his mouth.
He walked over slowly, glancing back and forth, listening. All that he could hear was the twitter of birds, the low drone of an aircraft far away, he looked up and saw the vapour trail, grey against the rising sun. He looked back, hoping that he’d been wrong, but of course he wasn’t – there was a hole in the fence and the grass was torn and flattened around it.
He followed the trail, it was easy enough. The grass was squashed and then, where it met the gravel, there was a groove. Someone had tried to cover it, smooth it back into place, but it was a different colour. There’d been no rain and the top had been dusty and now there was a clear line through it. That wouldn’t have shown in the dark. It must have been done in the dark, because there was no hole in the fence when Danny had left the food for the hedgehog the night before.
He ran back and picked up the plastic bowl; the cat food had dried so the little guy hadn’t been. They were supposed to put out traps for the rats, and he hated doing that. He’d moved them, put them out of the way so nothing would go in them. A hedgehog wasn’t a rat was it. He wasn’t sure if the horrible little boxes would catch a hedgehog, but it might. He took the bowl and tossed it into the ‘general waste’ skip.
He climbed up the metal steps. The trail led straight here, the biggest skip, the one for, bulky stuff. Deep it was, the little platform a long way off the ground. They didn’t let the punters up here. They could, the boss said they should, but it wasn’t worth the risk. If one of those bleeders fell on the steps there’d be hell to pay. Anyway, if they made a bit of a show about how hard it was to drag the stuff up, they’d get a back hander most times.
He stepped up to the edge. It came up almost to his waist. Safety. Couldn’t have it too low in case somebody toppled in. Danny grabbed the rough, dented edge and leaned over.
It had been emptied just the week before and it stretched away beneath him. There was a coffee table, its legs broken and sharp looking, a couple of kitchen stools and a black bin bag.
There shouldn’t be bags in here, never. You can’t put furniture in bin bags. He’d have to go down and take it out. He’d need the big ladder and some ropes and he’d have to hook up the pulley. Maybe he should just wait for the others and then they could do it between them.
If he did that though, they’d see the hole in the fence. They’d see that the traps had gone, they’d make him put them back and then he wouldn’t be able to tempt the hedgehog back. He’d have the job of collecting the stiff, wet rat bodies, he hated that.
His throat was tight, and he could feel the flutter in his belly. He’d have the shits later.
He went to the hut and looked at the clock on the radio. There was at least another three quarters of an hour before anyone else arrived. He could pull that bag out and maybe get the fence tidied, he could bend the wire back into shape and fasten it with ties. That’d do for now and nobody would look at it, nobody would ask about rat traps.
He brought the big access ladder and lowered it in. He tied it off at the top and put on the safety belt. No way was he falling in a sodding skip and laying there broken and screaming. He clambered down easily.
He grabbed the top of the black bag. It’d been tied off tightly. He kicked at it, it was soft. Not rubble then, which was the worst fly tipping they had. But the blokes that left the rubble, they just dumped it all, beside the gate so him and the lads had to shift it by hand. Sods.
Could be bedding or clothes. It shouldn’t be here, this was furniture, but it would only take a minute to stick it in the right one.
He didn’t want to tear the bag, if he did that and it was mucky bedding it’d be horrible and it was only the start of the day. He didn’t want to walk around stinking of piss all day. They’d never let him forget it.
He twisted and pulled at the knots on the big old nylon rope, and he was going to give up and go for the knife, when it began to give.
He pulled the top of the bag open. It looked like fancy dress, he could see there was a wig in there, some coloured clothes. But there was more than that, something pale, something soft. He pushed his hand in. It was cold, ice cold, cold and yielding with an underlay of something like clay, Plasticine, that’s what it was like. Cold plasticine. He was spooked, it was wrong. The whole thing was wrong and then they looked at him. The dead, empty eyes looked at him from under the hair.
He squealed, scuttled back on his arse, back, away, as far as the big metal sides.He rubbed at his hands, wrung his fingers together. He couldn’t breathe and suddenly he was sick, down his jumper and in a pool at the side of him where he cowered in the muck at the bottom of a skip.
He crawled back across the filthy metal bottom. He was muttering, low and quiet, just a mumble really, “It’s not, it’s not, it’s not.”
He took a big breath, he reached out again and pulled the top open. The hair was long, and dark and tangled, the plasticine limbs were bent and twisted and the dead, filmy eyes stared straight at him.
Now that the first shock was over he forced himself to laugh. It was a joke wasn’t it, just a joke, some bloody shop dummy that’s all. Well, he’d show em, he’d pull it out. Prop it up. He’d put the brush in its hand. He chuckled wetly.
He pulled on his gloves, should have had them on already. Mind like a sieve that’s what George said. Well he was right.
He wouldn’t pull it by the hair, even though it wasn’t a proper lady, that felt wrong. He reached in with both hands, he wouldn’t touch her titties. Even touching fake titties was wrong. It might start something he couldn’t stop and this was work, and this was in public and he mustn’t do that in public. He reached under the arms and started to pull it out. His hands slipped, he fell backwards, down onto the grime. He rolled over, knelt and put his hands on the skip bottom to push himself up. That was when he saw that his gloves were wet, wet and red and ghastly.
He held his arms out in front of him, hovering just above the black bag, just above the thing that held the blood and the body and the dead staring eyes.
He mustn’t start blubbering. His granny said that grown men didn’t blubber. She said that was how folks knew you were a man. Well, he was a man, he wouldn’t cry.
He could hear the phone ringing. It was too early for the phone. Why was the bloody phone ringing? He didn’t know what to do. He had to shift this. He had to cover for his mates. They’d done it again but this time it wasn’t Jimmy, it was a lady, a lady with blood on her clothes and a scary screaming mouth.
Why. Why would they do this to a lady? He didn’t know, but if he didn’t shift it the police would come again, they would question him again. They’d find out about the rat traps.
He pushed it back in, his eyes were streaming now and snot came out of his nose but he didn’t make a noise so it wasn’t crying, was it? He tied the top and made a handle out of the rope the way George had showed him.
He was strong, but the bag was really heavy. He dragged it, bumping across the skip bottom but when he got to the ladder he didn’t know how he was going to get it up. There wasn’t time to set up the pulley, the phone was ringing again. He wasn’t supposed to answer the phone but it was ringing and ringing and his head was starting to hurt and the top was a long way up and the lady in the bag was dead, dead, dead.
He untied the rope again and re-fastened it so that he could get his head and one shoulder through.
As he climbed the long ladder she tried to pull him back into the skip, he had fastened the safety belt but the lady in the bag tried to drag him off and make him fall down into the skip with her. He couldn’t help it now, he was making crying noises and he was ashamed, his granny would say he was a wimp, a poofter – that’s what she’d call him.
He moved upwards, step by step one small rung at a time. When he was at the top he was stuck again. He didn’t know how to climb out. The bag was behind him and when he let go with one hand she tried to make him fall. She wanted to kill him because she was dead. He stood with one foot on the top rung and threw the other leg over. He sat almost astride the curled edge and then he reached behind him with one hand and pulled at the bag, he shrugged his shoulders forward and bent and twisted and pulled it round and then it was half hanging down in front of him and she was trying to choke him now, the rope was tight around his throat and he was gulping and gasping and crying and the phone was ringing again.
He pushed his fingers under the rope and dragged it over his head, it hurt, it caught on his hair, burned the skin on his neck but he pulled it over and then with a final heave he let it go and it flopped onto the metal landing.
It was easy after that. He brought the big barrow. He pushed the bag down the steps. He told her he was sorry when he bumped and banged her. He knew she couldn’t hear him but he was sorry, he really was.
Once she was in the barrow he ran to the front gate, out into the lane, down to the little lake where the heron came to fish and the ducks made him laugh trying to walk on the ice.
He tipped the barrow and the bag slithered out, it caught for a minute on the battered rim and started to tear so he had to pick it up, hold it in his arms and then drop it from the stone boat dock and into the water.
It floated for a while, he didn’t think it would matter though because nobody came here but him. Anyway, after a while it filled with water and started to sink. He pushed it with a big branch away from the bank a bit but under some weeds. He’d come back tomorrow and if it was still there he’d throw rocks at it until it went under. Yeah.
When he got back the phone was ringing again. He’d have to answer it. It was the boss, Frank from the council.
“Danny, what are you doing answering the phone. Get one of the others. Quick lad.”
“I’m sorry Mr Frank, I can’t.”
“Bloody hell lad. Alright, look. What I need you to do is lock the gates up. Don’t let anybody in and whatever you do lad, don’t touch the bloody CCTV. The police are coming. You just sit in the hut lad. Don’t go walking about and don’t touch anything. Just wait there until the bobbies get there. Do you understand.”
“Why, George, why?”
“They haven’t told me, lad, but just do what they’ve asked.”
The phone swung and dangled, the words crackling in the empty air.
He ran to the end of the road, round the corner towards the row of shops. He ran past the schoolkids, past the mums and past the doddering pensioners. They were laughing at him, calling out to him. “Bloody nutter, watch what you’re doing.”
His side hurt, his head hurt. He had a pain in his chest and he couldn’t breathe, but he was nearly home, nearly there.
He’s sitting in the corner, he’s holding a picture of his granny. He’s banging his head on the wall, bang, bang, bang. The curtains are closed but he can see the blue flashing lights, flash, flash, flash. If he bangs and bangs and bangs he can’t hear them knocking, can’t hear them shouting at him to let them in. He can’t hear them, can’t hear them, can’t hear them…