A Big Favour
By Sam Jordison.
I didn’t pay the dog that much attention, at first. There were always dogs wandering round our estate in those days. And if there wasn’t a dog in view, there was always a poo to let you know one had been passing through. Always poo. A stray dog was only worth a look if it was trying to attack you. Or, I guess, if there were two of them and they were getting their monkey on.
Shagging dogs are funny as hell.
But that’s a different thing. This dog I’m talking about wasn’t funny. It wasn’t anything. It was just some harmless mongrel. Kind of a cross between a labrador and a setter. Big and fluffy with one of those smiling mouths. I was too wrapped up with trying to set fire to Jonathan Morgan’s Spiderman t-shirt to worry about it much and wouldn’t have remembered it at all, except that it was standing in the middle of the road when Geoffrey Lambert’s dad came tearing round the corner in his old Saab.
I couldn’t tell you much about what happened next. There was this scream from the Saab’s breaks. And that was punctuated by a thump. And then… I think I probably looked away.
When the world came back into focus. Everything had stopped. There was the car. Motionless. With a big dent in its bonnet. There was Mr Lambert, in the car, mouth open. There was the dog on the floor, lying so still that we all thought it was dead.
But then it started kind of writhing and trying to get up. But its back legs wouldn’t work properly. When it did manage to get up, those legs dragged along behind him, all stretched out and useless. It had to pull itself along on its front paws. It was kind of whimpering and coughing and its eyes were going everywhere.
Then it howled. This huge yammering of loss and confusion and pain. It tore me to pieces. It was all the fear in the world. I thought I’d never hear anything like it again. I certainly didn’t want to.
But Kelly Phillipart made nearly the exact same sound when Jonesy pushed her off the wall in George Steet car park. It started the same way. There was this moment of stillness and hush. I’d been saying something, but it dried in my throat. I was just sat with my mouth open. And Jonesy wasn’t moving. He was just staring down beneath him — where Kelly was pancaked on the ground.
Then we saw this red blood on her white top. She must have seen it too, because she ripped the silence with that scream. Just like the dog. I thought she would wake up the whole city. It made me shudder from top to bottom. It did something even worse to Jonesy. You could see it flash in his eyes; like something had been lit up in his head. He told me afterwards that it just felt like a roaring in there. Like all the blood in his body had rushed to his brain. Like it was all going to explode out of his ears if he didn’t act quickly.
So, right away, he was down there beside her, and he had his hands around her throat. He was squeezing so hard that the veins in his own neck were popping. And he kept at it long after Kelly had stopped struggling and was dead.
I hadn’t done anything. I’d love to be able to tell you why. I’d like to say that it had all happened so fast that I hadn’t had time to move; or that I was so scared of Jonesy that I’d frozen all over; or that I thought Kelly had it coming. But really there was no reason to any of it. Maybe I just wanted to see how it would turn out? I don’t know. I do know that I just sat there and watched her Kelly’s legs kicking and then not kicking. That’s all.
“No,” I said eventually. “No.”
“Shut it,” said Jonesy. “Shut it.” He was looking at me. All calm and businesslike. As if he had things under control. As if he were nothing if not reasonable. “Chances are she’s already landed us in it with that screeching…”
In spite of his calm tone, I knew he was crackers. And I knew that this was nothing to do with me. I started to walk off, but Jonesy didn’t like that. He got his hand on my arm and I knew from the way he gripped me that there was no point trying to get away. He was a hard bastard. All those steroids. Even if I did break and run, he’d find me. More than find. He’d hunt me down.
“You’re as much a part of this as I am,” he said.
“Fuck,” I said. ”Fuck.”
“You’re here, aren’t you? At the very least you’re a witness. Or an accomplice. I didn’t see you trying to stop anything. In fact, who’s to say I didn’t see you do it? Who’s to say that you didn’t push her? Who’s to say it wasn’t you that…”
“But it’s your DNA that’s all over her.”
“You’ve touched her too. Passed her a spliff that’s got your spit all over it too. How are you going to explain that?”
“They’ll still know.”
“Who’s to say you didn’t push her? In fact I saw it. You lined her up, just so she fell on the bottle. The bottle you’d been drinking from and smashed not two minutes before, you fucking psycho.”
He sounded angry now. LIke he’d half convinced himself. Like he’d been the unwilling witness, not me. Like it was someone else’s tragedy. He was looking at Kelly all pitiful. At her white legs all splayed out under her and her bare midriff and her breasts sticking out under her thin top. I could see now that one side of that top was red with blood and that Jonesy had blood on his hands and blood all over his clothes. He’d smeared blood all over me too when he grabbed me. He saw me seeing it and that calmed him right down.
“See? If you don’t stay here and help me, they’re going to find her and then we’re both for it. We’ve both got her sauce on us. No way I’m going to jail because you ran out on me. You’ve got to help me.”
“Fuck. Jonesy. Fuck.”
“Why did she have to fall on that bottle?”
I didn’t say anything.
“I thought she’d never stop screaming. I thought she’d wake the whole town up. I wish to God you hadn’t dropped it.”
There was a good bit of shadow under the wall, but the rest of the car park was exposed and lit up. We were going to be damn lucky to get her out of there without being seen. And then where would we go? Two of us carrying a dead body? It wasn’t happening.
“We’ll take a car,” said Jonesy.
“Just stay here.”
So I waited. This latest silence was deadly. Or rather, the few sounds that rose above it were deadly. Sirens. Dogs barking. They were all after us. My own breathing seemed so loud that I thought it would surely lead them our way. They’d heard the scream. They were coming.
He was as subtle as sheep-rape, that lad. He really was. For a while there was nothing. Then came this great smash of glass. He’d been telling me the other day that he could jimmy the right car in seconds and in complete silence. So why he threw a brick through the window of the first one he saw I will never know. Especially one he didn’t know how to start.
If I could have ended it all then, I would have. I would have loved to have been swallowed into the shadow beneath the wall. Or even for the police to have come and taken me away from all that… tension. A life sentence would have come as light relief after the way I was feeling back then.
But instead, Jonesy smashed his way into another car. He managed to start it too. First time. He turned the lights on full beam. The engine howled as he tried to accelerate away in neutral. Eventually, he hit a gear and roared over to the wall. He popped the boot, and we crammed her in. Poor Kelly. It was the most intimate I ever got with her, pushing her down into that metal coffin and wrapping her around the spare wheel. Poor beautiful Kelly. Her hands still felt warm when I squashed them into place.
I didn’t realise I was crying until we were on our way out the car park and lurching up the Gurney Road. Jonesy was concentrating so hard on keeping the car moving I thought he wouldn’t notice either. But he clocked me.
“Don’t be a puff,” he shouted above the protesting engine, before finally crunching it into fourth and letting the revs drop. “Crying over a dead bird. Did you want to get your gay way with her?”
Before I could grapple with the logic of that one, a traffic bollard hove into view. Too close. Jonesy yanked the wheel and skidded round the wrong side of it.
“Slow down,” I shouted. So much for making a quiet getaway. Jonesy didn’t take a blind bit of notice. I could swear he was almost enjoying himself. “You still can, if you like,” was all he said.
“Do Kelly. You’ve got a better chance now than you ever could when she could fight back. You can have her on the back seat before we burn her. I won’t tell anyone.”
What would you have said?
I just gave up. There was no getting on a level with that kind of thinking. But then he changed tack again. Started on the regret. How he didn’t know what had come over him and how he hadn’t even meant to knock her off the wall. Saying all that stuff about seeing red and roaring in his head.
“If it hadn’t been for the screaming,” he kept repeating. “If it hadn’t been so loud. I didn’t mean it. I’m sorry.”
To be honest, he wasn’t making me feel any better. Kelly. She’d known we weren’t going to help her with her homework when she came out with us that night. But she sure as hell hadn’t known she was going to end it in the boot of a stolen Mondeo. I felt like my insides had been scooped out.
Jonesy was a hell of a bad driver. But that was the least of my worries. I just held on. Gripped the arm rest with all my strength, in spite of all the crystals of broken glass on it, from where Jonesy had bricked the window. I just wanted it to be over.
That’s why, when we got there, I helped him gather all those leaves and twigs and bits of dry grass and pile them up in the car. It wasn’t much of a plan, but it was all we could think of. We’d seen someone on The Wire throwing a burning rag into the place where you put petrol in and a car exploding, just like that. But you can’t do that here, because all the petrol caps have locks. And besides, we didn’t have a burning rag. We just had some rizzlas, a bit of tobacco and some lighters. Oh and some weed, but we weren’t going to waste that. Jonesy thought maybe we could use the bottle of windscreen wash we’d found in the glove compartment as fuel. But we weren’t sure, so we left it off and started gathering wood.
All the time, I was waiting for the helicopters to come, for blue lights in the sky and sirens. But there was nothing. It was just quiet, give or take a few small woodland noises. Rustles and snuffles and twigs snapping. At times it almost felt like a camping trip. Out there in nature, gathering wood for a fire.
I’ve always fucking hated camping.
Moving Kelly was the hell of a job too. Getting her out the boot was harder than getting her in. She’d started to stiffen by now and we’d both had to do a lot of pulling and yanking. It might have been funny if I was watching it, and it was in a film, instead of actually in my life.
Eventually we got her on the passenger seat, and piled the wood and rubbish around her.
“I didn’t mean it Kells,” Jonesy said when everything was ready. “I didn’t even mean for you to fall off the wall. You know that don’t you? It was just an accident.”
Jonesy always had to think that people were on his side. That they saw the reason behind his actions. Even if those actions were insane. And those people were dead.
He even started making out to her like it was her fault not his.
“If you hadn’t said that about my cannon, it wouldn’t have happened. You shouldn’t have said that. I wouldn’t have pushed so hard. And then all that fucking noise.Why all the screaming Kells? I had to do what I did then. You were dead, anyway. And they would have come for us. I’m already on their books. I’ve got a future to protect.”
That was as close as we got to praying for her.
Jonesy held a lighter to a few of the cigarette papers and we watched them flame and curl and glow red and then go out. He tried again. And again. Sometimes blowing furiously, sometimes cupping hands around them to protect them from the wind. Eventually the papers burned right, the leaves began to catch and the twigs started crackling. It wasn’t enough though. We had to keep piling stuff on, and blowing at it, and it was just getting really smoky in there and starting to smell like a very wrong barbecue.
“How do you get to the fuel tank on these fucking things?”
I didn’t know.
Jonesy started kicking the car then and swinging at it with one of the branches we’d gathered. It was noise all over again. That’s how I explain what I did next. It wasn’t brave. It’s more that I was so terrified of the alternative.
I stepped into the open front door and started looking for the bonnet lever, in case we could find some oil in there. But I couldn’t see it. There was just smoke. I thought if I got in and out quickly it wouldn’t matter so much, but right away my eyes started stinging like wasps had got them. Even if the smoke hadn’t stopped me seeing anything, I wouldn’t have been able to see anything, if you know what I mean. My eyes were watering so much. It was hopeless. I’d been trying to hold my breath, but I slipped on the seat and took in this big gulp of death.
That would have been it for me too, if Jonesy hadn’t grabbed me by the belt, pulled me out and dragged me away. I was coughing and retching for a long time and everything was spinning. I had to really hold on to stop myself passing out.
So I don’t know how Jonesy got to the fuel tank. All I know is that the fucker exploded. It didn’t go all at once. There was this small sort of whooshing first. That’s what got me up and got me running. Then a louder whoosh and I was ripping through undergrowth and breaking sticks under my feet, but none of it registered, there was just this buzzing in my ears and screaming in my head.
It’s funny how instinct takes over in these situations. I wasn’t thinking at all. Just moving. I must have run for a long time. Longer than I ever normally could. I was pretty messed up, but the adrenalin pushed me on. I could have won the Olympics in that state of mind. I didn’t even fall over. It was only when the wood started thinning that I became aware of the knives in my lungs and the rocks in my stomach. That time I really did pass out.
I don’t know what happened to Jonesy. I don’t know how he got home and got cleaned up or any of that stuff. But if his experience was anything like mine, he probably found it easy enough. It wasn’t exactly fun stumbling through all those fields, skulking down by the hedges in case a car went past. But at least I was walking downhill. I even made pretty good time.
It was still dark when I got to town. I gave up on hiding at that point and walked right along the street. What was left of the blood just blended in with all the other mud and filth. In truth, I didn’t look too different to the average Lesscombe drunk. Besides, people always avoided kids like Jonesy and me. Unless they really had to arrest us.
On that subject, I kept thinking they’d come for us for months afterwards. But they never did. I don’t know when — if — Kelly was reported missing. She was the kind of girl that disappeared from her hostel so often they gave up looking for her. And she hadn’t been to school for months. I guess the body must have disappeared when the car blew, like Jonesy said it would. And a burned out car in Cabus wood was hardly newsworthy in those days. Probably no one paid it any attention or went near it. Who knows? I sure as hell didn’t go up that hill again.
I didn’t see much of Jonesy either. I guess you could say it was the end of an ugly friendship. But he did collar me once, at a house party. Took me out into the garden and started telling me about how I owed him my life. He reeked of booze and didn’t look half so buff as he did in his gym days, but I still wouldn’t have wanted to take him on. I knew what he was capable of.
“I didn’t mean it,” he was saying. “I didn’t. I’m not a murderer. Saved you didn’t I? It was an accident. She would have bled to death.”
I was scared that someone would come out and hear us talking, but no one did. After a while, I almost wished they would. If only to stop Jonesy’s ranting.
“I had to keep her quiet. That was all. I saved us both a lot of bother.”
I didn’t say anything about the fact that the blood had only been coming out of Kelly’s arm. He knew that as well as I did. I just kept thinking of that dog on our estate all those years ago; the noise it made and what happened to it afterwards. You see, once it got over the shock, it was fine. Stopped yelping and even started walking okay. It was the car that came off worse. Mr Lambert had to strap up the bonnet with rope.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Sam Jordison is a regular contributor to The Guardian. He is the author and editor of several books including Sod That: 103 Things Not to Do Before You Die and Crap Towns. He still hasn’t written a novel.
First published in 3:AM Magazine: Saturday, June 23rd, 2012.