I wandered back into the hall, trying to look as inconspicuous as possible. Elvis grabbed me as soon as I came through the door.
“Everything okay?” he asked.
“Yeah, it’s all over with just as I promised.”
It hadn’t quite gone as I had expected but I didn’t want to worry him. A relieved look spread across his face.
“Now that it’s finished with I need to ask you something, Pete.”
“That money in my account, it’s not a mistake by the bank is it?”
“Look, I didn’t want to tell you this until it was all over. I wanted you to be doing this for the right reasons. When I sold the company I made a fortune, more money than I could ever hope to spend in one lifetime. I have made arrangements so that you, Bumper and Gilbert all get a share. You’ll never need to work again.”
“You don’t need to do this. I don’t need the money; I’ll get by. You could have been killed.”
“The money was yours whether I decided to go through with it or not. I’ve turned you all into criminals. You didn’t have to get involved; after all you hadn’t seen me for fifteen years. The only reason you agreed to it was because I asked you to. That shows great loyalty and it shouldn’t go unrewarded.”
“Aren’t you forgetting something?” said Elvis.
“You turned us into criminals a long time ago?”
“When?” I was stumped.
“Southwick library 1986.”
“The pass books. I’d forgotten about that.”
“There’s something I’ve been bugging me for years about that, ” said Elvis.
“Why didn’t you just borrow the books? It was a fucking library.”
The next day I waited until nine when I knew everybody would be in assembly. They had long since stopped using the hall and now congregated in the gym.
I took my pen knife from my inside pocket and unscrewed the vent. Switching on my torch I climbed inside. The heating duct, now partially illuminated by the torch light, extended for about ten yards then gave me the option of going left or right. I shuffled along on my hands and knees careful not to bump my head and decided to go left. There was a flicker of light up ahead and I wanted to see where it came from. I crawled along the tunnel, the metal giving slightly beneath my weight. The light came from the courtyard outside. I decided to continue along the shaft and see where it led. It didn’t take long for me to get disorientated. My breathing got faster and I could swear that the sound of my heart beating echoed from the aluminium walls.
I had been crawling for what seemed like hours before I found anything. There were voices and laughter somewhere in the distance so I continued along my path hoping for a clue. As I reached the metal grate and glanced through, I recognised Elvis and the rest of my old class. A quick scan of the classroom identified it as Mr Burns’ Religious class. He wasn’t there but there were a number of bibles lying unopened on the desks. Tomma was at the black board.
I edged along, careful not to make too much noise, so that I got a better view of what he was doing. Much to the amusement of the whole class, he wrote ‘Burns is a puff’ in big letters across the board. He then rolled the board upward so only a plain black surface was showing. He went back to his desk and I was tempted to wait and see Burns’ reaction when he moved the board.
I glanced at my watch. It was already 10.15. I had been crawling through the vent for more than an hour and I wasn’t sure how to get back. I pictured where Burns’ class was in relation to the chapel and headed a few yards up the tunnel to another cross section so that I could turn around. I got back in just over twenty minutes and carefully replaced the grill. I spent the rest of the afternoon drawing a map.
That night I found it hard to sleep.
I was at the entrance hall by 8.20 the next morning and was eager to start exploring again.
The vent took me to a whole new world. I could see into every classroom on the ground floor. The real bonus had been when I discovered the staff room on Wednesday. I got a full view and got to listen to conversations that dispelled the notion that teachers were the adults in the school. They were just as bad as the pupils for skiving and petty squabbles.
Over the next few days I had drawn up a detailed map and timetable of teachers’ whereabouts. I spent each day investigating, learning when certain classrooms were full and when they were empty. I had learnt that on Monday mornings, for example, for about two hours after first break, the staff room was completely empty. I’m not sure where the teachers who didn’t have lessons went but I was quite happy to take advantage. I listened to boring lessons that now, somehow had a strange fascination. I sometimes just sat and watched Claire for a whole lesson. My map and timetable had now become a diary. Comments made by teachers in the staff room were recorded, timed and dated. Maybe I could use everything I heard to my advantage.
Then I had an idea.
I waited until Claire left the school in a taxi then headed into the car park.
“Hello again.” Karen was just leaving the hall. “Didn’t make the last dance I see. Claire seemed disappointed.”
“Don’t tell me that you still hold a torch for her. I thought you were over that.”
“I am, promise.” I smiled.
“Do you fancy a walk? You can show me that lighthouse you were telling me about.”
“Come on then.” I opened the passenger door for her. I looked for Elvis but he’d already left. It would have been nice to say goodbye.
I parked the car and we walked along the seafront without speaking. Karen had her arm round me. The waves crashed up over the promenade and the rain had just started coming down again.
“How come your jacket’s wet? It wasn’t raining earlier was it?” Karen felt my side. “What have you spilt? Can’t hold your drink eh?”
“Yes,” I answered distantly.
“Yes what? Yes you can’t hold your drink? Yes it was raining? Which was it?”
“Mmm…..” The answer was non-committal, I was finding it hard to concentrate. I could just about make out the blue lights up ahead.
“Don’t go Mr Silent on me. I thought we’d got over that. Come on let’s have a look at your jacket.” Karen pulled me towards the streetlamp. “Damn orange lights I can’t see a thing.”
I stumbled as she pulled at my jacket, reaching out desperately for the lamppost. Sweat had now started to gather on my brow as I doubled up against the steel pole.
“What’s wrong? You can’t be drunk you’ve hardly drunk anything. Don’t tell me it’s drugs. I’m walking away now if it is.” She looked closer. “It’s blood!” Karen screamed.
I was growing tired. If only I could sit down against the lamppost and go to sleep. I knew that she wouldn’t let me.
“What happened?” Karen was becoming hysterical. “Is it yours? Where has it come from?”
A couple hurried past on the other side of the road As far as they were concerned it was just another drunken couple arguing and they knew better than to intervene.
“I’ll phone for an ambulance.” She took her mobile from her bag. “Shit, no signal.”
She looked frantically for a phone box but there were none. Karen supported me, thankful that I was still quite small.
“Claire’s,” Karen shouted. “Her and Kev only live up the road. We can get them to phone an ambulance, come on it’s only five minutes away.”
We could see the flashing lights in the distance.
Another installment of Leg It by Alan Parkinson to follow same time next week.
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