MILES TO CROSS
Harry's foot splashed the rainbow streaked puddle. Water drenched his jeans and seeped through the worn down rubber sole of his trainer. With one hand he gripped the cold metal crash barrier and made a clean vault over. He'd suddenly acquired all the athletic grace of a cat but then what choice did he have, with the other guy so close behind.
There was the angry yell of a car horn and squealing of brakes. Harry gave one quick glance over his shoulder. No such luck, he thought. His pursuer, although momentarily stalled, was still on his heels.
"Youz trying to get yourselves killed?"
The voices receded as Harry made his way though the parking lot. His thigh caught the edge of a shopping trolley, with enough force to send it careering down a slope. Plastic bags and contents cascaded onto concrete. From the corner of his eye he saw a frazzled woman in a green coat shouting, "Jeeesuuus Chriiiist", amidst burst boxes and smashed jars of sauce.
Shit, thought Harry. His thigh stung. He considered pushing the chain of trolleys stacked to his left into his pursuer's path. In less than a second, decided against it. The bastard things would probably be locked together and weigh a ton. It only works in the movies that stuff.
Narrowly avoiding a reversing car, he pounded his way out of the car park and into a parallel street. The thumping of his heart and rushing of blood in his ears kept him moving on. Just keep breathing, he told himself.
Harry hadn't run this fast since the time he shoplifted the Levis from Jeans & Co. He'd gotten away with a hundred pound fine. This time he might not be so lucky.
"As daft as yer nae good faither" his mother had said to him.
Beads of sweat poured down his cheeks into his mouth. He could hear the other guy's feet close behind. That bastard willnae gie up, thought Harry, an' he looks at least twice ma age.
Not that Harry'd had much of a chance to clock the guy. As soon as he'd heard the voice shout "Harry Begg, ah've been lookin' fur you", he'd bolted straight out that bookies without a backwards glance. He'd been waiting for this day to come, knew it was only a matter of time.
Big Sandy didn't tolerate wasters. A debt was a debt and as far as Sandy was concerned, he's doing these arsewipes round here a favour.
"They'd never survive waeoot me," he'd say. And Big Sandy always gets paid, one way or another.
"Tell Sandy ah'll see him the morra", he'd told Billy the Messenger when he cornered Harry in the pub.
"Aye, ye'd better or yer gonnae end up wae a nice face like yer cousin, Eddie. Might even be an improvement wae your looks."
That was Harry's last warning. The visit to the bookies this morning had been a last desperate attempt to get the five hundred pounds that had begun its life four weeks ago as an innocent one hundred. He'd scanned the shop well but someone must have grassed him up. Fucking Eddie probably.
Harry saw an opening in a close doorway. He ducked down the blue and cream tiled entrance and out the back. Rogue patches of grass poked through broken slabs like tiny islands in a choppy concrete sea. A tangle of overgrown bushes and trees separated the back courts, spindly branches snapped his face and thorns tore his arms as he leapt the brick rubble of low walls from midden to midden. He heard the crack of a wooden back door slam against concrete and knew his pursuer was once again behind him.
This isn'y a good idea, thought Harry. He was getting closer to Jeanie's house. Black iron drainpipes snaked up the backs of the buildings like oily creepers. He used to climb one just like these on his night-time visits when Jeanie's man, Joe, was at the pub. Then last week she'd told Harry never to come round again. She had one bruised eye and said Joe was gone but wouldn't tell Harry what happened, just "be careful". There were rumours she was pregnant. Maybe that's what this was about. It had nothing to do with Sandy at all.
"You're gonnae be just like him" Harry's mum had said when she found out about Jeanie. "Weans everywhere and causin' nothin' but trouble. Ah've no' heard a peep fae your da' since you were two years old. Nae birthday presents, cairds, letters, no' a word. He broke ma hairt, the bastard."
Harry'd never known his dad. Being a toddler didn't count. He had one half-bleached photo of the three of them all together: his dad with a thick beard and tartan jacket, his mum wearing some hideous purple and orange blouse and Harry holding a stick of rock. It looked like Blackpool or somewhere. Then Eddie'd told him a story about how some guy was hassling Eddie's mum years back. She'd come home with cuts and bruises and Harry's dad had leapt to the defence of his sister and went down the pub with a baseball bat to get the prick. The guy took a leathering but managed to crawl outside to his car, so Harry's dad stole some wheels from the street and chased after the guy into the night. Only one of them came back, and shortly afterwards, Harry's dad disappeared.
Harry used to imagine that his dad was some kind of SAS renegade mercenary, like the kind on TV, a will tough as metal, rescuing hostages and blowing up bad guys for a living. Sometimes he'd tell this story to impress girls. It worked on Jeanie.
"Fucking waste of space" thought Harry, but tears welled up in his eyes. Through the blur he could barely make out the shape of a child's toy before it caught his foot and he went sprawling in a desperate dive, hands and knees scraping the concrete. His face hit a damp pile of cardboard boxes. He looked round and saw a red and blue plastic car with yellow back and green helicopter blades like petals lying on its side. The black jeans and green bomber jacket of his pursuer were coming closer. Harry attempted to lever himself up. There was blood on his palms and a sharp pain in his ankle as it gave way. The bomber jacket had slowed down to a jog about twelve feet away.
"Ah'm sorry," shouted Harry, hands flailing up around his face. "Ah'll get yer money." His pursuer advanced. Harry pleaded, "ah'll dae favours fur ye, anything, just say the wurd. Don't cut me man, please."
The green jacket had stopped right in front of him. This is it, Harry thought and braced himself for pain.
"Listen, dae me a favour."
"Aye, aye, anythin', whit is it?" said Harry.
"Look at me".
Harry swallowed hard, wiping a mixture of snot and salty tears from his nose. He looked up at the guy who'd been hunting him down like a hungry cheetah for the last half mile. He was well built and unshaven, a neat scar running from eyebrow to jaw, a full head of greying hair and blue eyes that stared right into Harry's skull.
"Your name Harry Begg?"
"Aye, aye ye know it is" Harry sniffed.
"You don't know me", the guy was crouched down now and Harry flinched when he felt a hand lightly touch his shoulder, "you don't know me but ah've been lookin' fur you a long time."
"You anything tae dae wi' Joe Wilson?"
"Naw, naw son, listen. It's me, ah'm yer Da'."
Harry gulped. He suddenly started to doubt what was happening to him. "Fuck off man, you takin' the piss ya prick?"
"Hiy, don't speak tae me like that. Ah've been back fur ages, wantin' tae talk tae ye. Eddie gied the game away, told me it wis you in the bookies."
"Naw man, ah don't believe ye", Harry was shaking his head.
"It's true son. Ah didnae think ye'd take me oan a fuckin' cross country jog," his pursuer's face was almost smiling. "Whit ur ye runnin' fur?"
Harry felt a surge of indignation, "Whit's it goat tae dae wi you?"
The expression changed to a frown "Look at the fuckin' state o ye, runnin' like a wee lassie."
Harry stood up, all his weight on his good ankle, and took one skelly wipe at his dad. The green jacket stepped aside and Harry toppled forward. His breaths were short and rapid and he looked like he was trying to do a front crawl through the cardboard pile.
"Waste o' space," he hissed.
"Ah'm embarrassed fur ye son." The green bomber jacked stood back and tutted then a huge smile split the face in two, "Oh, ho, whit huv we here?" The figure suddenly bent forward and plucked a starch twenty-pound note that poked from Harry's jeans pocket like a handkerchief,
"Naw, fuckin' lea' that, it's mine! Ah need it!"
"An' there's mare. Get a bit o' luck in the bookies did ye?" His dad laughed gleefully, picking the notes from Harry's jeans like feathers from a dead bird.
Harry grimaced and clenched his teeth. He grabbed desperately at his dad's hand, trying to stop stubby fingers from delving into his pocket. He caught the corner of a note but his grip slipped and it wrenched in two.
"Ah need that money to pay off Big Sandy," wailed Harry. "He's gonnae fuckin' kill me."
"Big Sandy's a wanker. Ah used tae gie him a tankin' every day in the school playground. Ah'll sort it. Jist gie's a lane a' this the noo, fur a flat. Ah need a deposit. Ah canny exactly stay wi' you an' yer maw can ah?"
"Ah don't fuckin' believe this" Harry sat with his head in his hands.
"Stoap yer whingein'. Ah'll gie ye it back the night. Meet me at eight in the Bird and Feathers". He leaned forward and placed his hands on Harry's shoulders, "You've gote tae trust me, ah'm yer da'."
Harry wasn't big on trusting people, especially those he'd just met.
"Cheers son, yer a lifesaver. Remember noo, eight o'clock the night."
The green bomber jacket was already retreating through the debris of the middens. Harry looked down at his trainers, covered in soggy leaves and wondered how the hell he was going to get up, let alone walk home. Sighing, he turned his head and saw one half of the torn twenty-pound note flutter at his side. Harry picked it up. A muddy footprint covered the edge. He raised his head and saw the stocky shape weaving its way through clumps of overgrown weeds. Harry summoned all his breath,
"My ma's gonnae kill you," he shouted after the figure as it disappeared from view.