by Andrew Foote
Over the weeks, I'd called the hospital but with much the same response. 'Sorry but we're unable to give out details of someone's condition unless you're a close family member.'
I decided to break cover and use my own phone, but first I needed to get away for a couple of hours, somewhere away from here where my signal wouldn't be traced back.
I decided to tell Callum.
"Can you come with me?"
"I can but I'm not going to Ed. You need Pip on this jaunt, not me.
Do you want me to talk to him for you?"
"Thanks but why not you?"
"I only know this locality whereas Pip has been all over, knows the bus routes and so on, so no, you stick with him and his local knowledge."
I really liked Pip.
He was younger than me by around seven months, nice looking, articulate and funny, but what set him apart was that he seemed to have eyes up his arse.
He steered me through side streets and back alleyways, all the time telling me what to avoid and why, and alright, I could see why Callum trusted his judgement.
"You know the city pretty well Pip."
"Yeah. My Dad was a taxi driver, and before you had all the Pakki's chasing around in their private hire cars, you had to take a test like they do in London."
"I never knew that. Carry on?"
"Well in London they call it the Knowledge but it was much the same in Brum, like you had to understand the shortest routes from A to B and not just in one area of town, it was like all over.
Anyway, when he was learning it, he'd take me with him and keep up like a running commentary…… most of it sort of stuck with me I suppose."
"You loved your Dad, right?"
"Yeah I adored him!"
"So…… what happened to him?"
"A truck, a fuck-off massive truck sandwiched him into a wall…… killed him outright."
"That's terrible mate.
What about you're Mum?"
"She had died giving birth to my brother some years earlier…… he didn't survive either so I was fostered out. I was a problem child I suppose, so I got shoved from pillar to post. I got pissed off big time so I did a runner and well, here I am."
Stuff happens and you learn to deal with it, but just a word of caution, don't be in any rush to go quizzing the others as to why they're on the streets okay? Some of their stories would make your toes curl. They'll tell you if they feel comfortable around you but…… you get my point yeah?"
"Yes, I hear you.
Can I tell you something Pip?"
"Sure…… just so long as it's not too personal!"
"Before I ran away, I always got the impression that life on the streets was a lonely existence, you know the sort of thing, constantly on the move, never meeting anyone or forming close friendships, but I got it all wrong.
At school I had friends, not what you might call close, but sort of casual, but now? Having been on the streets for only around two months, I know so many people, people such as yourself, Callum, Malc, Tiny, Tigger and Paulie all of which I feel much closer to than any of those kids at school. The other thing is, it's been a long time since I've felt this happy. It's really hard to explain 'cos I don't have all the luxuries I used to, almost sod-all money, living each day as it comes and all without the stability and security of a home life, yet I feel alive!"
"I know what you mean! Maybe this lifestyle agrees with you. There are plenty of kids that just can't hack it and end up turning themselves in, but in your case, you did have one big break in as much as you came across Callum.
Callum's not all sweetness and light, I mean fucking-hell, that is so far from the truth as he lives by his own standards, which I have to say, aren't as high as they might be, but one thing he does have going for him is that if he likes you, and trust me Ed, he really likes you…… what I'm trying to say is, he would never, not ever crap on a friend. He has, what's the word, integrity, his word is his bond.
Now what might've happened had you not met him? You'll never know, but things might've been completely different and you might have been one of those kids turning themselves in."
"Yes, I know you're right, but what I still find fascinating is, I've gone from having a few decent enough friends to having a lot of what I look upon as close mates, and all in the space of two months. It's as if I live with an enormous family."
"This winter is the first time that's happened. Sure we used to shelter together when the weather was shit, but then everyone would go their separate ways. You'd see them around from time to time then maybe get together again the following winter, but that's about it.
You've got your story-telling to thank for that!"
We walked on a bit further then suddenly Pip took hold of my hand and pulled me into an alleyway.
"No but it's as well to get a move on. Don't worry, we're almost there."
A few minutes later and Pip took us through into a sort of courtyard.
"We'll be okay here, but before you make your call, I'll be keeping a watchful eye on things and if I whistle you, drop what you're doing and follow me, stick to me like a magnet, okay?"
I fired up my phone. Six missed calls and on checking the numbers, two were from school friends, two were withheld numbers and the other two I didn't recognise, but there was no voicemail so I called the hospital.
"Good morning. My name is Edward Anderson. Could you put me through to Ward Twenty please?"
This time I did get answers.
My mother had been transferred to the Good Hope Hospital in Aston.
She had recovered sufficiently to enable her to go into detox but not before being sectioned under the Mental Health Act.
A further call to Good Hope revealed that once the doctors were satisfied that she was sufficiently clean, she'd be transferred to a secure psychiatric unit for appraisal and depending on the outcome, they'd make their decision.
At no time did they mention her man friend and I wasn't about to go asking, however the Ward Sister at Good Hope told me that mother had written me a letter and either I could go there and collect it or they would post it to me.
Risky I know, but I elected to take the post option telling them to send it to our Solihull address.
"I'm done here Pip. Thanks for the guided tour!"
"No worries but just make sure you turn that phone off!"
Rather than taking the same torturous route of earlier, this time involved a straight forward bus trip to within half a mile of our hideaway where we once again took to the side streets and alleyways.
On the bus Pip asked me how things were with my mother.
"Well enough I guess.
She's been sectioned and once she's done with detox they'll evaluate her, but what happens after that is anyone's guess."
"So where is she right now?"
"Good Hope Hospital in Aston."
"Ha! My dad used to call it the No Hope Hospital!"
"'Cos that's where my Mum died.
For Christ's sake Ed? It's a hospital specifically set up for women and they can't even get to deliver a fucking baby without bolloxing it up!"
"Don't be. All water under the bridge. Let the dead bury their own dead blah-di-blah."
"Uh-uh. Very Bible!"
"Me? Religious? Get out of town Ed!
If, and I say IF there was a God up there, why is it we got ourselves such a crap life?
Suffer little children to come unto me? Suffer little children more like!"
"Yeah well, you've got to laugh at life or you'd go nuts."
"Talking of favours which we weren't, I might be asking you for another one."
"The nurse at Good Hope told me my mother had written me a letter. She told me I could go and collect it, not an option, either that or she'd put it in the post."
"I need to get back to Solihull and I'd like you with me, simply put, I need your eyes and ears on this one."
"Yeah okay, I'm in. When do you want to go?"
"Day after tomorrow. That should give enough time for that letter to arrive even if they sent it second class."
"Day after tomorrow. Shit Ed? That's Monday! Well risky!"
"Yeah but I've got me a cunning plan!
Have you got a decent pair of trousers?"
"Yep. I nicked a pair only last week. Really posh like charcoal grey."
If you were to borrow one of my school shirts and my school tie, I could wear my grey slacks and school blazer, so just two lads out of school!"
"Yeah but what if we're seen? If one of your teacher's saw you, there'd be hell to pay."
"Not necessarily? We go there out of school hours like early evening. There's a short cut over the recreation ground that leads to the back of my house and bingo!"
"And getting back afterwards?"
"That's the clever part.
We stay there overnight, it'll be warm and the chance to get cleaned up, then we disappear at first light back the way we came."
"Okay but what if we get stopped?"
"In the morning? Simple. We tell whoever that we're on our way to Birmingham International to meet an exchange student off a flight from France then take him back to our school."
"Alright, it seems like you've got all bases covered. Solihull, here we come."
Monday evening found us on the train. Bad timing meant we had to stand for the entire journey but with each of us carrying backpacks full of books, we looked for all the world like two very average schoolboys and we were never approached.
Inside the house it became obvious that no one had set foot over the threshold as there was a massive amount of post on the mat by the front door, the central heating was still running and everything was how I'd left it two months ago.
I rifled through the assortment of letters and bills, probably all final demands but then found what we'd come for. A letter with my name written in my mother's handwriting then our address in a different hand.
"Pip? If you fancy taking a bath then go help yourself.
I think I wanna be on my own when I read this 'cos if she gets all mushy, the waterworks will take me over!"
"Ooo yeah! The luxury of a warm bath!
I tore open the envelope and studied the contents.
'Edward. I have no idea where you are or what you might be doing but I can only assume you are short of money.
Rolling Stones Emotional Rescue 5131.
Short and to the point but what the fuck is she on about?
I waited until Pip reappeared.
"So? Good new or bad?"
"Dunno. I'll read it to you."
"Look Ed? If it's, like personal? I mean it's none of my business."
"Personal? It's business-like plus I don't understand it!"
"Okay then, let's hear it."
I read it out loud then turning to Pip I begged the obvious.
"Well then? Any idea what she's banging on about?"
"Rolling Stones. A rock band yeah?"
"Emotional Rescue was one of their albums, pretty good actually."
"Thanks for the tutorial in contemporary music, but what about it?"
"Did your Mum have a music collection?"
"Yes but it's scattered all over the lounge floor. It'd be like looking for a needle in a haystack."
"So we'd better get started then. Shake a leg Ed?"
Two hours on and nothing, but then I found the CD sleeve but no CD.
"Anything in the sleeve?"
"No it's empty. This a fucking waste of time Pip."
"Wait up a minute.
She went to all the bother of writing to you and then kind of coded something. Why would she do that if there was no rhyme or reason behind it?"
"God only knows."
"Let's start from scratch.
She writes to you.
She mentions a particular rock band.
Not only that, she mentions one Rolling Stones album out of the dozen or so we've found.
We find said album or more specifically, the sleeve for said album, so what does that tell us?"
" I don't fucking know!!"
"If you find an empty album cover, where might you find the album?
Open up the CD player and see if there's anything inside."
I plugged the machine into a wall socket and opened up the player.
Inside was the CD but that looked to be it and feeling as if I'd been betrayed, I went to lift it out so I could throw it across the room, but as I did so, I noticed that it hadn't been clipped into position.
Now why I felt the need to clip it into place is something I'll never fully understand, but as hard as I tried, the pissing thing just wouldn't sit in so I lifted it out, and the reason behind it became clear.
On the underside of the disc, a debit card had been taped in place, but no ordinary debit card this, it was a Lloyds Bank Premier card.
"Well I'll be damned!
Take a gander at this Pip?"
"So it's a bank card. Not much use without the…… 5131!! That has to be the PIN!!"
"Yes but what?"
"Yes but the name on the card is Vincent Conner."
"So? I take it that's your Mum's boyfriend."
"Yes, and therein lies the problem."
"Please will you stop talking in riddles Ed?
What's the issue here?"
"There's not going to be any money on it. That fucker stole my bank book, presumably to back his various habits so it stands to reason, he'd run out of his own."
"Then why would your Mum go hiding it?"
"Search me. All this way, two bloody train tickets and all the risks involved, and for what?"
"I dunno, but something inside me says different. Did this Vincent bloke have a mobile phone?"
"Yes. It's most likely upstairs in the main bedroom. What do we want it for?"
"Check it for messages."
"I'll go and see if I can find it. Do you want to go and make us some coffee?"
"Okay. Also it might be an idea to open the rest of the post while we're here."
I found the phone but the battery was as flat as a pancake, so over coffee I set it on charge and between us we went through the post.
This mostly comprised of junk mail and final demands. There were a couple of hospital appointment reminders, but otherwise nothing of significance.
"No bank statements Ed. Wouldn't you have expected to see at least one after two months?"
"Probably not. Mother did her banking electronically, maybe he did as well."
"I haven't noticed a computer anywhere though."
"They used my laptop but then they kicked the crap out of it."
"How's that phone looking?"
"Three parts charged. Good enough for what we need it for.
I'll check for messages."
To begin with there was nothing of interest. Most of the callers had just hung up but then, with only six messages remaining, we hit the jackpot.
"Fucking-hell Pip! Talk about heavyweight.
Listen to this. I'll put it on speaker."
'Who's a bad boy then Vince. A very, very bad boy!
You had the stuff and I know you've offloaded it, so where's my money?
This is very much last chance saloon for you my son, and so if you don't come up with the full amount by tomorrow night, then quicker than you can say crack cocaine, you'll find yourself propping up a fucking motorway bridge.
Don't mess with me Vincent. This is no idle threat!"
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