Some years ago now, Jake Rivers invited The Wanderer to take part in one of his writing challenges. Basically to write a story based (however loosely) on the title of a Country Music song. At the time The Wanderer only got 15,000 words of the yarn written, before something else grabbed his attention. However as some people might have realised, I've been in a black hole as far as writing goes for a while now and I've been hunting through my incomplete yarn files looking for inspiration. Another story appears to have done the trick, but that lead on to Denham Forrest completing this one as well.
As always I thank my proofreaders (some of whom, I'm sure were convinced I'd died, it had been so long since they'd heard from me) for their assistance in preparing this yarn for posting. I'd also like to thank my good friend Papatoad for giving me his observations on an early draft. Mind you, those observations did lead to me having to add about another 1,000 words. But when I'm on roll what's the odd 1,000 words or so, between friends.
"Reg, 'andy you dropped by mate, I need a little favour!" my cousin Pete said, as I killed Bonnie's engine. Pete hadn't even given me time to kick the prop-stand down, let alone climb off the bike.
Bonnie by the way is my 1962 vintage Thriumph Bonneville. She's probably a little old-fashioned when compared to modern bikes, but she's the real deal, something I'd dreamed of owning since I'd first clapped eyes on one as a young man. By then I had enough money to indulge my whims; I'd picked her up at an auction some years before, just after my divorce. Almost a derelict, I'd had Pete and his boys completely rebuild her.
I'd been out on the bike theoretically blowing the cobwebs out of my mind, after spending most of the night sat in front of the computer screen. I'd hoped the ride out might give me some time to think before I got down to work, yet again. Well, the ride would have blown the cobwebs away, if it weren't for the bloody skidlid law.
As I recall, I hadn't really been in the mood for writing anymore that morning, but I was running tight on the publishing date for my latest masterpiece, so I needed to push myself. To be honest I doubted spending the night forcing myself to write had done much good for my demeanour that day. And it could probably go some way to explaining some of the things I said and did.
"Was-up, Pete?" I asked him.
"Got this bird stuck-out on the London Road somewhere with a flat. I wondered ... well you see, Reg, Gary's out on a job that's going to take him bloody hours. I can't get out to the woman myself, the young lad's out with Gary and other fitter's skiving-off sick today, so I've not got anyone to watch the shop for me. Any chance you might nip out there and change her wheel for me? Otherwise she'll be waiting all bleedin' day!"
"I'm no fitter, Pete!" I replied. I wasn't really trying to talk my way out of the task. My cousin Pete was always doing me favours, so it was an unspoken rule that I'd help him out and he knew it. But experience had taught me not to show too much enthusiasm when it came to handing out such favours.
"Oh come on Reg, you can change a wheel on a Disco as a favour for your favourite cousin, can't you? Besides that, you never know, you might even get lucky!"
"Pete, I very much suspect that, if she were a tasty piece of stuff," I replied grinning at him, "That you'd be asking me to watch the shop and be on your way out there yourself!"
"Yeah well, I probably would, but her old man's a bit more than I could handle. And besides, Emma would have my guts. Yours too, if she thought you'd covered for me! But, what with you being single and all, you're not in the same boat are you? She is a fair looker mate and to be honest, I can't exactly see her husband calling you out."
"Look Pete, for your information, I don't go around chasing other people's wives. If they're separated or divorced, well then, maybe I figure they're up for grabs. Otherwise, I steer well clear of the married ones; I ain't no hypocrite, you know!"
"Yeah sorry, I forget about Geena sometimes. Anyway what about this woman's wheel?"
"Okay, what's her name and vehicle's registration number?"
"Good-on-ya, mate. Mrs Bonham-Smyth. I haven't got the vehicles registration number off-hand, but it's a blue Discovery. I doubt there's more than one Disco on the London Road with a flat tyre anyway."
"I assume she's got a jack and wheel brace." I asked.
"Yeah there's a jack in there, that I doubt has ever seen the light of day before, and there should be one of those extending wheel braces as well. Put that bugger in there myself, when I sold her old-man the motor."
I kicked Bonnie over to get the old girl started again, and she roared into life. "You owe me, you bugger." I shouted at Pete, as I circled the garage forecourt and took off towards the edge of town.
I'd been conned, yeah I know I had. But as I said, Pete and the boys at the garage had done me enough favours over the years. To be honest, had I just happened across the woman I would probably of stopped and offered my assistance anyway; unfortunately that was the kind of clown I was! I just preferred to give folks the impression that I was a bad-boy - it kind of helped to keep most people at arms length.
After cruising down the High Street - Bonnie's exhaust bumbling away loud enough to let the world know that I was passing - I headed out towards the bypass that would lead me down to the London Road. Winding the old girl-up, once I was out of the built up area, I enjoyed the exhilaration I always felt when riding her at speed.
About five miles along the London road I spotted the Disco pulled into a lay-by, it's off side front tyre totally flat. Swinging into the lay-by, I passed the Disco and slipped Bonnie on her prop stand in front of the car. Then walked back to the driver's door, unconsciously unzipping my leather jacket as I went. I almost flipped my helmet visor up as well, but for some inexplicable reason, I didn't.
"Mrs Bonham-Smyth, Pete Cornell from the garage sent me out to change your wheel for you." I said, inspecting the wheel, without really looking at the woman.
"Where's your breakdown lorry?" she demanded, through the half open window.
Actually I was damned sure that window was down further when I road past on the bike. By then it was more like three quarters closed. "So Mrs Bonham-Smyth, is nervous around bikers is she?" was the thought that crossed my mind. Yeah well, I did like to play the part of the ton up kid, even if I was pushing thirty-six.
All right thirty-seven, but who's counting, it was part of the camouflage really.
"No need for the tow truck lady, you've got everything I need in the back of your car. Besides it's out on another job at the moment and it could be well after lunch before it returns. Pete thought you'd been hanging around here long enough as it was, so he asked me to pop out and change your wheel for you." I replied.
I took a closer look at the woman through my visor and was surprised to find that her face appeared somewhat familiar to me. Something else that I noted, was that quite definitely very recently, she had been crying. It struck me that, if having to hang around and wait for her flat tyre to be changed upset her that much, she should learn how to change the bloody thing herself
A bit of a pity actually, her doing the old crying bit, that is. She was pretty attractive, except that her make-up was what can only be described as a disaster area. Not the way the elegantly dressed woman normally presented herself in public, I figured.
"Hand brake on?" I asked.
"Yes!" she replied curtly, turning to give me one of those looks. You know, like I'd just questioned her intelligence or something.
For some reason, I found it humorous that she couldn't see my face. And wondered whether that could be the reason for the expression of disdain that she had on her own face.
"Yep!" my mind said to me, "you definitely know that face from somewhere!" Then the old brain went into deep retrieval mode trying to place where I seen the woman before.
Retrieving the jack and wheel brace from the back of the car, I began to undo the spare wheel from its carrier on the rear door. As I did so, I caught sight of the woman in the rear view mirror. Yeah damn it, she was crying again; I could see her dabbing her eyes in the mirror.
Positioning the jack under the car, I raised it a little, until I was sure it was going to have the desired effect; then set about breaking the wheel nuts loose. I think I was on the last but one nut, when I suddenly realised why the woman had looked so familiar and that I could put a name to it that face. Mind you, I'd had to cast my memory back twenty-odd years and the name that I knew her by, wasn't Bonham-Smyth.
I'd remembered that there were a bunch of so called "it girls" that went to the same school as I. Most of them were real lookers who - I'd always thought - had a rather inflated opinion of them-selves. I figured I'd have some fun, whilst I changed her wheel.
"Right Anne, can you get out of the bloody car now, before I take it up on the jack please?" I shouted at the now closed window.
I heard the whine as the window slid down again and Anne's head appeared. "What did you say?"
"Would you get out of the vehicle whilst I jack it up, please? The ground here ain't too clever, and I don't want the jack slipping, if you move about at all."
"No, I heard you say that. What did you call me?" She demanded in a somewhat sharp tone of voice.
"Anne, Anne. What did you think I'd call you?" I replied.
"Who told you, that could address me as such?" she demanded.
"Look, you were Anne Magee the last time I ran into you." I did a quick bit of rethinking "Okay sorry, you're Anne Bonham-Smyth now, aren't you! But you didn't change your Christian name did you, Anne." I grinned at her.
To be honest, she gave me a look that I believe I was supposed to wither upon receiving. But I gave that no-never-mind; winding-up posers is one of my favourite pass-times in life. I just grinned back up at her.
"Who are you?" she demanded.
Slowly I reached up, released the strap on my crash helmet and removed it. For a few seconds Anne stared at me, then an expression of understanding came over her face. But not a very joyous one!
"You're not Kicker Poulson, are you?" she asked, still in a demeaning tone of voice.
"Well yeah, but most folks call me Reg Poulson nowadays, Anne."
"Well Mr Reg Poulson, people call me Carrie-Anne Bonham-Smyth, or rather Mrs Bonham-Smyth if they are only acquaintances." she retorted.
I told you I wasn't really in the best of moods that day, so I figured if Anne Bonham-Smythe was looking for some agro, I was just the guy to give it to her. I wasn't sure what Pete was going to say about me upsetting one of his customers, but I really didn't give a shit. After all I was doing the bitch a favour, wasn't I?
"Yeah well, at the best of times, you always were a stuck-up bitch, Anne. But I never let it bother me at school; so it ain't gonna bother me none now, is it? Now get out of the bleeding motor, please, so's I can change this sodding wheel, will you? Or we're going to be here all bloody night."
"I can see that you're just as arrogant as you were at school, Reg Poulson." Anne said, finally opening the door and getting out of the vehicle. Then she stood there, arm's crossed looking at me with disdain. I had to admit to myself that she still had one killer figure on her, but thought "Shame about the personality!"
But then again, I had her as captive audience, so I could safely speak my mind
"Get it right, Anne. As I remember things, you and your little clique were stuck-up ignorant bitches. I never looked down on, or bullied any bugger, unlike some folks I know. That includes someone who I could reach with a very short stick, right now."
"How dare you? I've never bullied anyone in my life!" She retorted.
I noted that she didn't deny that she considered few her equal.
"Oh no, what about little Sheila Gill, the girl with the funny leg? You and your friends didn't make life too pleasant for her, did you? And then there was Sally Fareview! I seem to recall that you were never too pleasant to her either, just because she carried a bit more weight that most. Mind you, Sally developed quite a figure later on, after she'd lost a few pounds of puppy fat. Put you and all your buddies to shame did our Sal."
"What are you talking about? We never bullied anyone!"
"Yeah well, maybe not in so many words, but you and your friends ostracised them, and never let them into your little clique, did you. Just think how much happier their childhoods would have been, had you'd just been pleasant to them once in a while."
"Nice to them!" Anne retorted, "Hark whose talking? As I remember it, you were forever getting into fights and beating people up!" Anne had developed - what I can only call - a triumphant tone to her voice when she made that statement.
"Sorry to disappoint you girl, but I never smacked any bugger around who didn't deserve a good hiding in the first place, or picked a fight with me. I can look the world in the eye with a completely clear conscience."
"What do you mean, that they deserved a good hiding?"
"The bullies in that school, girl. The shits who knocked the little kids about and stole their dinner money and the like."
"Oh, a real Robin Hood were you? Looking after the smaller children." She replied sarcastically. "I suppose I'm expected to believe that butter wouldn't melt in your mouth.
"Yeah, that just about sums it up!" I replied with a chuckle.
"Don't talk rubbish! I can remember you beating-up Karla Hunter's brother."
"Damned bloody right I did! Broke the little shits nose and knocked a few teeth out in the process." I grinned back at her, as I began fitting the spare wheel onto the hub. I've got to admit, I was enjoying the exchange.
"Well John Hunter was a nice boy and that was way after we all left school anyway; so he couldn't have been stealing the smaller childrens' dinner money at that age. You just beat him up for the fun of it."
"What would YOU know of Johnny Hunter?" I asked
"Not much, but Karla was a friend of mine, so I know he's a nice person." She replied.
"You think?" Then it was my turn to sound sarcastic. "Well you tell me something. Everyone in town knew that I gave the little shit a spanking. But what good reason can you come up with for me never being prosecuted for duffing the little shit up? Christ, it was right outside the cinema and there must have been a couple of dozen witnesses at least."
"How the hell would I know?" She retorted.
I grinned at her. "Well I'd suggest that you find out then, Anne. Especially, before you go shouting around about how nice a bloke, Johnny Hunter is or was. That's if you can find him! I'm willing to bet he's out of the country by now, what with these DNA tests they're doing nowadays. Quite few of the old cases are suddenly turning up back in court again."
"I haven't got the faintest idea what you are talking about." Anne said, with a kind of "I give up!" tone to her voice.
"Let's put it this way Anne: John Hunter, with the help of your darling friend Karla and their parents, thought he'd got clean away with it. I just handed out a bit of rough justice and I'd do it again, should the occasion require. Of course at the time, I didn't know they were going to develop these DNA tests, and I doubt Karla and her parents did either. I wonder whether they'll be done for perverting the course of justice now. They lied to the police, you know; I think you can serve time for doing that nowadays. It'd be funny seeing the much respected Councillor Hunter doing a stretch in Pentonville."
"I think you've gone soft in the head, probably from all that fighting. May I get back into my car now."
"Yeah, go for it, girl; the wheels on, so nothing drastic is going to happen."
I finished winding the jack down and put it and the punctured wheel in the back of the car.
"All done, drop the wheel in at the garage and Pete will sort it for you." I told her.
Anne gave me one more dismissive look, slapped the Disco into reverse so that she could back away from Bonnie, then took off out of the lay-by at speed heading back the way she had come.
"Thanks!" I said to myself on her behalf. Then I got back on the bike and made off towards the Alma pub, for a pint and some lunch.
"Jesus Reg, what did you say to that woman the other day?" Pete asked, when I called into the garage again, a couple of days later. "She was well upset with you, when she turned up here."
"I didn't have to say much, Pete. We went to the same school in back in London and, well, she was a right stuck-up little bitch at the best of times. I just reminded her of who I was."
"Well she weren't too happy when she turned-up here. Looked to me like she'd been crying."
"Ah, don't blame that one on me, Pete; she looked like she'd thrown a wobbly before I even got there. Actually I think she had to pull herself together, to have a go at me." I grinned back at him. "Probably threw a tantrum because she'd had the puncher, that's the kind of woman she is."
"Well she's always been very nice around here, until the other day that is. She nigh-on tore me a new arsehole for sending you out there, I can tell you. Anyway, the strange thing is, she came in again this morning, all apologies and left this for you." Pete waved a twenty in my direction.
"Give it back to her Pete, I don't charge women for getting them out of a tight spot, you know that; even old bats like Carrie-Anne Bonham-Smythe."
"That's what I told her you'd say. I'll give it back to her the next time she comes in."
Well, I thought that was going to be the end of the matter. I never expected Pete to mention Mrs Bonham-Smyth to me again and I had no intention mentioning her to anyone. But about three weeks later.
"Here Reg, you remember the bird with the flat tyre?" Pete asked as I was sat on one of the benches in his workshop drinking coffee with the boys.
"Yeah, why, what have I done to upset her now?" I ginned back at him.
"Well, she came in when I wasn't here the other day and was asking the boys all about you."
"Just being nosy I suspect. Did she ask them where I lived?"
"Yeah she did." Gary, Pete's chief mechanic joined in the conversation. "But we didn't tell her. I told her, you enjoy your privacy. We just thought you'd like to know that she was asking about you; that's one tasty little number."
"Tasty she might be Gary; but I remember the bitch from my school days. A right little cow, I can assure you!"
"Folks can change you know, Reg." Gary replied, "Maybe she's got the hots for you Reggie."
"Somehow I doubt that Gary. From my knowledge of the bitch, I suspect that she's after suing me for something. Besides, even if she were in need of a real man, I don't play with the married ones; you know that."
"Pull the other one!" Gary retorted, with a grin on his face.
I believe that Pete thought Gary might be trespassing onto delicate ground by then; he butted in and changed the subject.
It must have been about another month or so after that. I'd been away up country for a few days, visiting my sister and her husband. Shellie did all my proof reading and editing for me, kind of kept it in the family sort of thing, and she and her husband Dan could always use the money. Since my sister's first husband ran-off with her share of our father's ill-gotten gains, I'd done my best to help Shellie financially, as much as I could. However my philanthropy only goes so far; my sister's second husband has to work for his living.
To be honest, the master plan had always been, that should anyone ever come near to working it all out, Shellie was going to pretend that she was the author instead of me. Yeah, you'll probably understand why later, but lets not go into all that, just yet.
Where was I? Oh yeah, I'd just come back home after spending a few days at Shellie and Dan's.
Well, I'd stopped off at the Supermarket to buy some essentials: you know eggs, milk and the like. It was still quite early, because I'd left Shellie's at first light and I hadn't had any breakfast that morning, so -- as the place wasn't too crowded -- I thought I'd grab a bite in the shops cafeteria.
There I was, tucking into my eggs and somewhat questionable looking bacon, when a voice asked, "May I join you, please, Reg?"
I looked up and there stood Carrie-Anne Bonham-Smyth.
"It's a free country, you can sit where you like, your ladyship. But there are plenty of other empty tables." I replied, I would rather the bitch sat elsewhere else; but I'm not usually rude to folks, even if I can't stand the sight of them. It was just that the morning I changed Anne's wheel, I'd had a bad night.
In fact I really didn't want anyones company while I ate, Anne's even less than most. In fact, all the leather gear that I usually to wore was designed to keep most folks of my own age, at arms length.
"Yes, I know there are other seats available, but I need to apologise to you, Reg." Anne said, taking the chair opposite me and placing her cup of coffee on the table in front of her.
"What for?" I asked.
"I'm sorry, but I had some rather unpleasant news the morning that I had that puncture. I was upset and I think I took it out on you."
"Nothing unusual!" I mumbled under my breath. Anne either never heard my remark, or chose to ignore it, because she went on.
"It was very kind of you to come out and change that wheel for me. I really had no idea that you did not work for the garage and were just doing Pete ... and myself, a favour."
"You're welcome." I replied curtly. "I'd do the same for anyone."
"So I gather now, and that makes me feel very embarrassed, considering how I went off at you..."
"Look Anne, I wasn't feeling too bright myself that day, and I know I wound you up a bit, on purpose. I really should be apologising to you..."
"No no, Reg you were speaking the truth. I was a complete bitch at school and so were most of my friends. We ... I was never too kind to Sheila or Sally and most of the other girls if it comes down to it. I was an unbelievably arrogant teenager! I really don't know how I came to be that way."
I think I was supposed to say something at this point, but I chose not to. The only reply I could have given her was, "Because you were one beautiful young woman and you bloody-well knew it! And your daddy had plenty of dough, so you had it figured that the world should swoon at your feet: you stuck-up bitch!" But for some reason one of my father's old sayings came to mind, "If you can't think of anything nice to say, then say nothing!" Well my dad was a little more colloquial in his choice of words. Didn't mince his words and never stood on ceremony, did my father.
"After the day I had that puncture," Anne continued, "I did some thinking and I asked a few friends about the Hunters. You were quite right about John Hunter and his family as well. How did they manage to keep it all so quiet?" she asked.
"Simple, Anne. Hunter's old man was something big on the council and he was on the police committee as well. So when the girl pointed her finger at Johnny boy, daddy had the clout to keep her allegations hushed up. What with mummy, daddy and blue eyed girl Karla all supplying him with a nice alibi, there was no chance of John Hunter ever being charged with anything.
"That's why they daren't have me arrested or charged with duffing the little shit up. I planned to stand in the witness box and tell the world exactly why I broke his bleeding nose, and they knew it. I've gathered since, that wasn't the first nor last time that John Hunter has been accused of abusing a woman. I think he's out of the country now though."
"Yes, that's what I heard. A friend of mine, whose husband works for the Met police in London, said they'd asked the Hunter family to provide DNA samples for comparison, but the Hunters refused. The only reason that I could come up with of for them doing that, is that John Hunter did attack that girl and they know it."
"Don't worry, I know he did. He was heard bragging about scoring that night and I saw the girl a couple of days later, two black eyes and a slit lip. Yeah he scored all right; the bugger raped her. But unfortunately she had a little bit of a reputation, so next to the Hunter family, she was classed as an unreliable witness. Consequently the police dropped it before the little shit was even charged. I figured that I'd explain exactly why I gave the little prat a pasting from the witness box; the papers would have to report it then." I explained.
"And I suppose, what you said about those fights that you had in school was true as well. You were playing Robin Hood."
"Yeah well, some of the time. Look Anne, boys will be boys and fight each other; that's all part of growing up. So most of the fights I got into were just us boys sorting out the pecking order. But I sorted out a few of the bullies at school while I was at it. I think that's why I was never expelled or anything; the teachers knew who the bullies were, don't you worry."
"Well Reg, I apologise for being such a bitch when we were children and for being so bitchy with you the other day. God, I should have been grateful you were changing my wheel. I'm sorry, I'd had a bad day."
"Don't let it worry you Anne, and I told you I wasn't in the best of moods myself. I could have defused the situation, if I'd thought about it. How long had you been sat there waiting anyway."
"Only about an hour. Oh god Reg, that wasn't what I was upset about, I'd had some bad news that morning, and it had shaken me up quite a bit. You were first person I ran into that I could take it out on. Talk about the kettle calling pot black! I was on my way to scratch some bitch's eyes out, if I could have got up the nerve, when I got that puncture."
Quite suddenly, Anne burst into tears. To be honest I had no idea what to make of it. I had no clue what are you supposed to do in those kind of circumstances,. I looked around and noted that Anne and I had become the centre of attention in the sparsely populated cafeteria. I glared at anyone who caught my eye and pretty soon they were all trying to pretend that they hadn't noticed that Anne was crying.
"I'm sorry, things get on top of me and I get emotional all the time lately. My marriage is going wrong, Reg, and I don't know what to do about it." Anne said, finally getting her emotions back under some control after about five minutes sobbing.
I had handed her my clean handkerchief and she mopped her eyes with it - annihilating her make-up, once again. I got the feeling that was becoming a habit for the woman.
"I've had the same problem myself, Anne. It'll pass, I can assure you. It just takes a little time. Believe me I know."
Anne looked into my eyes and I was surprised to see a concerned expression come over her face. Although she had no idea why my marriage had gone down the pan, I'm sure the woman felt sympathy for me, even with her own troubles: whatever they were.
"I really do think that you need to undertake some running repairs, Anne." I suggested, with a gentle smile on my face.
Anne pulled a little hand mirror out of her bag. "Oh god!" she exclaimed. "Don't go away Reg, I'll be back in a minute." she said as she jumped out of her seat and headed off towards the ladies toilets.
I pushed the rest of my breakfast around the plate; what was left wasn't very appetising and was pretty well cold. I think I was debating leaving before Anne returned. I really didn't need to hear about her troubles, and was suspecting that I soon would.
Come on, I didn't really like the woman; I was just being polite by talking to her.
And there was another thing, that look of concern that came on her face when I'd hinted that my own marriage had gone down the tubes. I was pretty sure that she intended enquiring about that, and Geena was one subject that I preferred to avoid.
Quite suddenly Anne was back.
"I'm sorry, I get emotional so easily nowadays, Reg. You see, I'm not the ice maiden you seem to believe that I am." She smiled at me. "Now tell me what happened between you and ... Geena, it was Geena Crow you married wasn't it?"
Yeah, and how did I know that Anne was going to ask that? Mind you I was wondering how Anne had known that I had married Geena, as I'd lost track of most of our school peers by the time Geena Crow and I had got together.
"Geena Cow you mean." I replied. "She insisted that we got married whilst we were still at university. I should have known better really."
"You went to university?" Anne repeated, with a questioning tone to her voice. I figured, like most folks, Anne hadn't envisaged that I'd be university material. I ignored her statement and continued.