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The Story of X
Chapter One

I left home for the last time the day after my fifteenth birthday.

I’d worked everything out very carefully with the idea of going on my actual birthday but they told me that my gran was coming and, as she always gave me a cash birthday present, I decided to hang on for twenty-four hours. It was good that I did as the old biddy gave my fifty quid and you never know when dosh like that will come in useful. I’d been hoarding cash for several months and Gran’s present meant that I had nearly three hundred quid in my pocket when I left.

I’m not going to tell you my name. I hope that isn’t a problem for you. If it is, you can make up a name. I don’t care. Most people call me Jack because that’s the name they gave me in the Millers. You’ll find out about the Millers if you read on for long enough.

Someone once told me that a story has to start with a bang if you want anyone to get beyond the first page. I think that’s rubbish. Some of the most famous books of all time start off with no bang at all and then wander on for pages with nothing very much happening. Jane Austen? Tolstoy? Dickens? You’ll have been forced to read beyond the first page of some of them at school and, unless you’re a dickhead, you’ll have found some that you enjoyed. Anyway, it’s up to you. I believe in people doing what they want to do providing you don’t harm other folk. Come to think of it, the Millers think that as well.

I’m sixteen now and this is the story of me from my fifteenth birthday until my sixteenth birthday. Twelve months of my life. It didn’t start there, of course. Nothing ever does start at the beginning. I suppose for me it started the day I decided to clear out. Or perhaps it was when my dad walked out on my mother when I was thirteen. Or perhaps it started when I was eleven and my Mum started going out with this dipstick of a guy.

At that age I didn’t think much about it. In those days, I didn’t know which end of a dog had teeth and when the dipstick started giving me money not to say anything, I thought I was on to a good thing (I wasn’t all that green!). Anyway, one thing led to another and before you could say “Mum’s a slut” the dipstick was history and a whole gaggle of other dipsticks came sliding through my life.

Not that I blamed Mum exactly. Dad was a real loser. He was never in work. Of course, lots of guys can’t get work but my dad didn’t try – in fact, the only place he was ever ‘in’ regularly was the local pub, a grotty, cess-pit of a place called the Grosvenor, if you can believe it. I didn’t know how he managed to come home half to three-quarters drunk so often when he only had his benefit until one time when he got done for burglary and went off to do a stint in the nick. He surprised us all by having thirty other offences taken into consideration. How the retard managed to keep the fuzz at arms length while he clocked up thirty TICs I’ll never know.

Anyway, he went off on this ‘business trip’ and one of the dipsticks came to live with us for a while. Things were actually better for a bit. He must have been giving my Mum some regular housekeeping, so we ate better and even went on holiday – to Marbella, no less. But he soon learned from the neighbours just what sort of a family he had logged onto and that was the last we saw of him.

It was as well he cleared off when he did because, a few days later, my Dad turned up again and when he heard about the dipstick he went ballistic and my Mum ended up in A&E. She said she’d walked into a lamp post or something and although the fuzz knew what had happened, she wouldn’t change her story.

The fuzz came on to me as well but, hey, you don’t kick the family, do you? Especially when you’ve been guaranteed fifty quid if you don’t say anything and when your dad’s learned some dirty tricks in the nick. Perhaps I thought that things might get better after the dust up – if so, perhaps I was still as green as a granny smith. In fairness, things were better for a bit but my mum picked up with more dipsticks and for ages dad never knew. Or if he did, he didn’t care any more. I don’t know how he couldn’t have known because everyone else knew and it was a source of aggro for me at school.

I should say something about school. I had three problems at school. First off, I’ve always looked younger than my age. I got the nickname ‘Pretty’ for this reason and when you are twelve that hurts. (It wasn’t actually ‘Pretty’. I’m not telling you what it was – but you’ll get the idea.) Second, I was never any good at games and at my school that counted. Third, I was about the only kid in my class who could read anything harder than Beano. I didn’t actually enjoy Jane Austen, Tolstoy and Dickens but I did once read A Tale of Two Cities right the way through and I used to enjoy reading things by Chris Ryan, Andy McNab and Dick Francis – serious literature in my school. You may notice that the grammar in this story of my life isn’t half bad. You can put that down to Todge Billingham, my English teacher. I mention Todge (that wasn’t his real name) because it was he (not him, you’ll notice) who taught me the importance of planning and whose guidance led to me giving the fuzz and the social services the slip for a year.

Not that Todge knew what he was doing, he’d have had a fit if he had, but he recommended me to read a few books about the second world war and these always emphasised the importance of carefully planning every operation so that the Germans didn’t capture you. There was one book in particular that impressed me and that was an account of the Long Range Desert Group that operated in North Africa under the command of David Stirling who later started the SAS. Now the SAS are experts at planning. Read Chris Ryan and Andy McNab and you’ll see what I mean.

As I say, my dad walked out on us when I was thirteen and that was the last I heard of him. My mum said she didn’t know what had become of him either. A few months later, the dipstick who had lived with us for a while turned up again. That lasted nearly a year and then there was a tremendous bust up and he cleared off again. I never knew what the bust up was about but, even by the standards of my family, it was what Saddam Hussein would have called the mother of all bust ups. My mum ended up in A&E again, furniture got smashed up, and a neighbour called the fuzz.

I think it must have scared my mum for a bit because things were quiet for a couple of months – no new dipsticks and my mum even got a job as bar maid in the Grosvenor. I guess it was there that she met Duncan (not again, his real name and the Grosvenor wasn’t the name of the pub so if you didn’t believe it when I said ‘the Grosvenor if you can believe it’, you were right.) Anyway Duncan moved in and we hit it off straight away. In other words, I kneed him in the crotch the very first night and he took a swipe back at me. He must have thought he could get away with it but my baby face didn’t mean that I couldn’t look after myself. I’d had to learn to look after myself at school for all three reasons, and Duncan got a bit of a surprise when I gave him a hefty one back.

It was my baby face that did it. Mum had gone off to her job and I was having a bath. The bathroom didn’t have a lock and Duncan just walked in and stood there. He knew I was in the bath before he had the door properly opened because it opens back against the side of the bath and I yelled out that there was ‘someone in’. Stupid thing to say because who else could it have been but me. Anyway, he just stood there, stark naked, looking at me. I tried to cover myself up and yelled to him to get out. He stood there a moment longer and then he said ‘sorry’ and sort of dawdled out of the bathroom just about as slow as he could.

Later, when I was washing the dishes he came up behind me and said, “Sorry about that. I didn’t know you were in there.”

“Right,” I said. “I suppose you didn’t hear me yell there was someone in.”

“I wasn’t really thinking. You’re a good looking lad, though.”

“Get stuffed.”

“We could be friends.”

I suppose I wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt and I’d never met a perve before so I didn’t know what to expect. The loo was in the bathroom so perhaps that was where he was heading. Kids at school fooled about in the bogs but that was just other kids and, of course, you couldn’t watch the telly without knowing what goes on in the world but that doesn’t really prepare you for it in real life.

I said, “You reckon?”

He said, “Look, I know you’re missing your dad. Who wouldn’t? But your mum’s invited me to live with her and I’m sure you’re old enough to understand things like that. Aren’t you?”

I said, “Yeah. Like it’s not been like it for years. My mum and her boyfriends. And my dad can get lost. He doesn’t mean anything.”

“I can understand if you feel bitter.”

For a while I thought he was trying. I didn’t feel bitter but I guess he was entitled to think I was. Lots of guys would be bitter but I’d been living with it too long to feel anything like that.

I said, “I’m not bitter. My dad’s been gone for yonks and he wasn’t much good before that.”

My hands were deep in the sink and he said, “We could be friends, you know?”

I felt his hands going round me and groping me. So the doubt was gone and I turned round, my hands still covered in lather and kneed him as hard as I could, straight in the crotch. He doubled up with the sort of ‘oomph’ noise like you read about in comics but he was a biggish git and he came back at me with a belt to my jaw. Well, as I say, I’d learned to look after myself and perhaps I wasn’t as young as he thought either so I didn’t mess about. While he was still grabbing himself and prancing about, I stepped back and let him have it in the belly. I think he realised that I meant it and he backed off.

“Hey! Calm down. I didn’t mean any harm. It’s just that you’re a good looking lad and I thought we could have some fun. You’re mum doesn’t have to know.”

I glared at him. I wasn’t really ready to take him on in a fist fight yet. As I said, he was a big git.

“Sod, you,” I said. “I’m not into that sort of fun. With you or anyone else.”

“Well, my mistake but there’s no need to go off the deep end. You’ve half crippled me.”

“Try anything like that again and I’ll finish the job off.”

“Yeah? You and who else?”

He was right. There was no way I could take him on. He was easily in his thirties and I was only just fourteen and hadn’t had any combat training in those days. I’d got into fights at school but no-one had taken those seriously enough to want to injure anyone – they’d just been enough to show who was boss of the yard, if you know what I mean. Like stags having a go at each other and the one who lost out would keep out of the way or eat dirt for a day or two.

Nevertheless, I pulled myself up as tall as I could and said, “I’ve got a knife.” It sounded pathetic even to me.

“You do anything like that, sonny, and you’ll regret it.”

“There’s a place for gits like you.”

“Oh, yeah?”

“Gaol. And I’ve got friends who don’t like perves. You try anything again and we’ll sort you out, quick time.”

It was an empty threat. I didn’t have the sort of friends that I could call on for that sort of thing. Most of us thought that gays could please themselves providing they didn’t go at young kids and my friends would laugh if I asked for help in sorting him out. Even those who took it seriously wouldn’t risk that kind of action. I could anticipate the response. “Just keep out of the sod’s way.” And I wasn’t going to tell my mum – we didn’t have that kind of relationship even if she’d have believed that her boyfriend was a pervert. And in my family, such as it was, we didn’t involve the fuzz. No way.

Perhaps Duncan knew it was an empty threat because he didn’t come back at me. But he often used to touch me accidentally-on-purpose and he’d make sure my mum’s bedroom door wasn’t closed so I could see him doing his thing when I went past. If only he could have known what a git he looked. I told him so and several times we came to blows. Even if I sometimes gave him something to remember me by, he always won in the end and I got sick of telling my mum that my black eyes were from fights at school. She said she’d come and see the teachers about ‘bullying’ but I knew she wouldn’t even if I asked her to. And, of course, I didn’t.

It was shortly after he’d half killed me one time that I decided to leave home. As I say, I planned it carefully.

I knew I needed money. Dosh isn’t hard to get if you aren’t too particular where it comes from. Mum and Duncan weren’t going to miss the odd few quid lifted from their pockets provided I didn’t go for big money. Some parents would know immediately if they were fifty pence short. My family was too slapdash to notice if ten times that went missing. There was a bit of a hoo-hah when I lifted a twenty pound note but I don’t think either of them trusted the other that much and they didn’t accuse me. Even so, after that, I kept it to cash – never all of it, but say, seventy pence from a handful. And if you go around the supermarkets you can often lift a purse while shoppers can’t decide between two bottles of plonk. I always went to the booze aisle because I decided that anyone who can afford to buy wine can afford to lose a bit of cash in a good cause – me being the good cause. I know that’s rubbish but what the hell?

It’s amazing what you can find in a woman’s purse. You’d think they’d keep condoms and love letters in their handbags but I once found sixteen condoms and love letters from four different guys in one woman’s purse. And she was a woman I knew bloody well was married to another guy altogether. She must have had a fit when she realised what had been lifted. For a while, I was tempted to try for a bit of serious money but in every book you ever read, the blackmailer gets caught and getting caught wasn’t part of my plan. I grabbed quite a few credit cards, too, but with chip and pin coming in that’s a mug’s game unless you’re a professional and, in those days, I wasn’t.

Part of my plan was to have a clear run of twenty-four hours before the police were after me so I started to go missing for short periods. I’d clear off after tea and miss the ten o’clock curfew. The first time it was just after midnight when I got home. My mum had just phoned the police and she had to ring them back to say I’d turned up. The fuzz came round the next day and gave me a ticking off but there was sod all they could do and they knew it.

The second time, I left it until nearly two o’clock. This time, the fuzz were at ours when I got back. A very kind policeman told me that I was causing my ‘parents’ a lot of worry. They wanted to know where I’d been but, of course, I didn’t tell them. The third time, I stayed out all night. I kipped in an equipment store at the local cricket club and it was quite comfortable. I could even see the telly playing in the bar – couldn’t hear the words though!

Gradually, my mum and Duncan started to take less interest in my absences. When I got back on one occasion, they said they were just going to ring the police. I’d been gone for nearly twenty-four hours and I reckoned that I’d got them to the point of believing I’d come back eventually and that they wouldn’t report me missing too quickly. The fuzz were getting used to my disappearances, as well, and I thought they wouldn’t look too hard if I was reported missing yet again. Sure, they’d put out a routine call but they wouldn’t mark it ‘Urgent – Decent kid at risk’.

It took me three months to collect two hundred and fifty quid and I’d planned to go on my birthday. I reckoned it would add a bit of irony to my departure (thanks for that word, Todge). Then, as I say, I got to hear that my gran was coming for my birthday and I decided to leave it another day and grab the birthday dosh to add to what I already had.

I walked out of the house with £300 in my pocket at exactly five past ten on Tuesday 14th May. I caught the ten fifteen bus from down the road. For once it was on time. I reckoned I had twenty-four hours to get myself to London and sort out a squat before they thought it worth telling the police I was missing.

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