Jill was right, it was the police. Two officers were ringing the lobby buzzer when Jack exited his first floor flat by nipping out the back way and hit the street, the fresh sunny side up glow of the day stinging his eyes. He had forgotten his sunglasses and had to squint to see which way his ethereal ex was heading.
“Don’t look at them,” said Jill. “You’re meant to be sneaking away.”
“You are,” said Jack.
“They can’t see me doofus, only you can.”
Okay, play along with it. Follow the girl, and find out which one of them was mad. She was marching down the street, a barefoot waif in white. She waved him to keep up. He stumbled as they picked up the pace crossing the main road opposite the Pavilion. A car zinged past and Jack felt a new wave of nausea rising. He took a dram from his hip flask as they cut across the Level.
“What the… you took your hip flask with you?” said Jill, stopped in her tracks, disgust playing across her face. “That was your emergency grab making a getaway? Jesus, I’d have been better off asking Lassie for help.”
Jack pushed the flask back into his jacket pocket. The bourbon didn’t taste that great and he did feel a little embarrassed. “Figured it’d help the mission if I didn’t have the shakes.” She still looked disgusted. “Well, look on the bright side, if I fail at least I won’t end up dead like you.”
She turned and soldiered on. He followed, a sheepish mutt on her leash. “Hey, what did happen to Brutus?”
Jill stopped and turned again. Anger and disgust were rinsed from her face, replaced by something worse. She was close to tears. “I… don’t know,” she said.
Jack wanted to hug her, tell her it was okay, stop this charade, they could get a new pup if she came back. She flinched away. “Don’t touch me, if you do I won’t be able to stay here.”
He held his palms up. “Okay, don’t worry, I won’t do anything you don’t want me to.” He paused, looked around, noticing a couple staring at him as they passed. “Uh, you said no-one can see you but me, right? That does mean everyone thinks I’m talking to myself… doesn’t it?”
She sighed and wiped her nose, default to stop any tears flowing. “Yeah, same as usual.”
As they headed up Ditchling, Jack found himself noticing the other streetwalkers, their clothes, foibles, pairings, each personality desperately vying for attention amid the noise of their fellows. So often such noise would have spun his head to the pavement, but now he looked up and around with fresh eyes. He wondered how many of them had imaginary friends too.
Remarkably Jill’s feet were still clean when they reached the grey block of the Sixties build church, less a paean to God’s light than a community centre for the desperate.
“Well, we made it,” said Jack. “What’s the plan?”
“My phone,” said Jill. “I think it’s here. Find my phone, track my messages, find my killer. You can use yours to ring it inside.”
Jack paused. They had left in a rush and there was always something he forgot. Jill stared at him. “Really? You brought your hip flask but not your phone?” she said.
Jack could only shrug in reply. She shook her head. “Oh, f*** my arse, how did we ever last as long as we did?”
TO BE CONTINUED