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August 14 2012 18:04:29.
Today Monday 20 May 2013 01:28:34
"She means the Tower of London," I said.
"There's a place called the Bloody Tower; it's where the Crown Jewels
are kept, I think. Something like that." History had never been my strong
Kelly's face lit up at the thought of seeing all those jewels. As a
child, I'd never known that sort of joy. My mother and stepfather never took
me anywhere; all they ever gave me was promises. When I was about eight, HMS
Belfast docked by Tower Bridge and became a museum. All the kids on the
estate went, but not me all I got for weeks was lOUs. At last I was told I
was going with my Auntie Pauline. I spent hours trailing around the local
shops behind her, asking when we were going.
"In a minute, son, not long now." The bitch was lying, just like my
parents. The whole thing had been a ploy to get me off their hands while
they went out on the piss. After that I didn't even bother to ask. Fuck 'em.
I had another eight years before I could leave home; I'd treat it like a
"... then we're going to have a sleepover at the place where all the
mummies are. There's a museum where you can spend the ..."
She was interrupted by the bosun, who'd maybe guessed that the tall
sailors needed a rest.
"It's time for some seafaring tales while ye have your feed. So listen
in, all ye crew, small and tall!"
It was while we were sitting there listening to the sea tales, and I
was digging a chicken nugget into my red sauce, that I felt my pager go off.
I liked the fact that people needed me to do things they couldn't do
themselves, but I always kept it on vibrate because I hated the noise it
made; it always spelled trouble, like an alarm clock that wakes you on a
morning you're dreading.
I took it out of its little carrying case, which was attached to the
draw cord of my trousers, and checked the screen. It was displaying only a
phone number. I was aware that Josh was looking at me. He knew exactly what
it was. The other kids were too busy listening to stories of doom and gloom
on the high seas to notice, but Kelly never missed a trick. She shot me a
concerned glance, which I ignored.
Pager networks cover a larger area than mobile phones, which was why
the Intelligence Service used them. I preferred them anyway, because it gave
me time to adjust mentally before someone bollocked me or even worse, gave
me the job from hell. I'd had the pager for only about six months. I wasn't
too sure if it was a promotion to be given one, or if it meant I was
considered a sad fuck and always available, locked away like a guard dog
until needed, then once done, given a bone and sent back into the kennel.
Josh raised an eyebrow.
"Dunno, I'm gonna have to phone. Can you hold the fort?"
"See you in a few."
The stories were still going on and the rest of the crew were producing
tubs of ice cream for the spellbound kids. I slipped away and went down the
stairs to one of the lower decks, where we were going to be sleeping that
night. Mattresses were spread out on the floor, and we'd had to bring our
own fluffy sleeping bags, just like sixteenth-century sailors did, ho ho.
I rummaged in my holdall for some small change, and went upstairs and
tried to sneak off the boat without Kelly seeing me.
I should have known better. She must have been watching me like a hawk;
as I looked around and saw her, I put my hand up and mouthed, "Be back in a
minute," pointing at the pub. She looked puzzled, and more than a bit
anxious. Josh was still with them, nodding and grimacing and generally
joining in with the tales of seafaring derring-do. The cathedral bell rang
out to tell me it was now eleven o'clock.
I found a pay phone in the pub hallway. The Olde Thameside Inn had its
first customers of the day: traders from the fruit market drinking pints,
rubbing shoulders with the City dealers and their bottled beer. As I stood
with my finger in my ear trying to listen for the dialing code, I found
myself looking at racks of tourist flyers, rows and rows of the things
telling me how great the Tower of London was, all of them seeming to point
the finger at the scurvy mutineer who might be jumping ship.
I pushed a couple of coins into the slot and dialed the number, putting
my finger back into my other ear to cut out Oasis on the juke box.