She rubbed her head with her hand and it soothed her. She smiled at the thought of how mad her mum was going to be when she found out what she’d done.
“What’s your mum gonna say?” Robin asked.
“Oh she’s probably gonna be really pleased I’ve saved her money for the hairdresser…” Ash said.
Robin turned to look at her in shock. “Really?” he asked.
“No not ‘really’ you daft twat. She’s going to do her nut in. And then mine.” Then Ash laughed out loud. A genuinely amused laugh that made Robin and Justin smile at the sound of it.
“What’s funny?” Justin said.
“Oh nothing much, just that some of Dad’s friends won’t like the looks of this new ‘do’. I do look like a lad, don’t I?”
“No, you look like a… Skin-‘ead!” Robin said in a sing-song voice and he dodged to the side as Ash threw a punch.
Justin’s smile slipped a little at he revelation. She may be laughing now, but he knew that if one of her dad’s friends got a little too comfortable, she’d be in real danger, both physical and mental.
“Sit down, you pair,” Justin said at last.
They sat on the sofa and calmed themselves down.
“I have to talk to you,” Justin said. “This is way too important and it has to be done right. I doubt I’ll be around long enough to pay for any consequences if it all turns to shit, but you will, so we’ve got to make damned-sure it doesn’t turn to shit. OK?”
“Ash, you’ve got to make friends with that Junkie,” Justin said. He waited for her protests, but when she sat looking at him from the sofa, head pale and shaven, eyes still swollen and battered, he knew she was ready and she meant business.
“It’ll be easier for me now, he’s hardly going to recognise me, is he?” she said and rubbed her bald head again.
“True. You have to gain his confidence and tell him you can find him some places to shoot up where he’s not gonna get caught and shopped.” Justin said. “Not here at first, can you manage that?”
“Yep, I know a few places I can get to that are sheltered and out of the way, don’t worry.”
“For the time-being, I want you to use the front door again, make Mike think we’re being cautious. If I know him, he’ll have another key cut and then let us ‘find’ the key we’d lost so we can get back to normal and he’ll be able to use the back door as he pleases.”
“Clever,” Robin said.
“Crafty…” Ash said.
Robin went off to the school bus and Ash stuck around for the rest of the day. She cleaned up, made sure Justin didn’t need anything and then she went up to the bedroom for a nap.
She woke with a lurch as someone tried the door handle. She kept quiet and as still as possible.
“Ash, come on, you lazy bugger. Justin said you’ve been in bed all day, it’s time to do some work.”
“Yeah, who did you think it was?”
“What bloody time is it?”
“Time you got up, lazy bugger! Justin was almost ready to eat his own arm, he’s starving!”
She laughed at the imagery and opened the door. She slipped into her trainers and followed Robin down the stairs.
“Ready to chew your own arm off?” she said to Justin. “So what about the sandwiches I left for you that you’ve not eaten?”
“I ate some of them,” Justin said, grinning at her.
“Anyway, which arm would you choose to eat? Neither have any meat on them, you’d be just as starving, but you’d be armless at least!”
“Oh bloody hell, that was a bad joke,” Robin said and groaned.
Ash was still laughing.
“You’re in a good mood,” she said when she stopped laughing.
“I’ve had some good news. I’m playing detective,” Justin said.
Both kids raised their eyebrows in curiosity.
“I’ve been in touch with one of my dodgy friends and told him a bit of information he was looking for.”
He waited for a reaction but didn’t get one, so he carried on.
“Someone has a price on his head, because someone else wants him found.”
“That someone wouldn’t be Mike, would it?” Robin said.
Justin shook his head and gave a wide, smug grin.
Justin’s smug grin slipped but within moments, a wider grin replaced it on his face. “Clever bleeder,” he said.
“Looks like your brain works best when it doesn’t have all that hair to suffocate it. Your brain-box needs a bit of cooling, hair conditioning you might say!”
“Oh bloody hell, don’t you start with the bad jokes,” Justin said. “Shut up and listen…”
The unlikely trio plotted into the evening and Ash made her way home in the dark.
She turned around at one point and thought someone was following her and because she knew they knew where she lived, her best option was to run like the clappers and get home before they caught her.
Feet pounded the pavement, every stride jarred her aching face, but it was worth it to get home to relative safety. She put her hand on the front door handle and heard, “G’night, Ash!” and grinned in relief because Robin had followed her home to check she got there safely.
She went into the kitchen and made herself a bit of supper. The bread was starting to go green again but she pulled the mouldy bits off, slapped a load of jam on the bread and wolfed it, washing it all down with a glass of milk.
She put her head around the living room door, her hoodie pulled up over her head.
“I’m going to bed, g’night,” she said and then, as though it was an after-thought, she popped back and asked, “Can I stop over at a friend’s house tomorrow night? Please?”
One parent asked, “What friend?” the other said, “Yeah…”
“Thanks!” she called as she closed the door and ran up the stairs.
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