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by Jason Beech

I exit the prison with a pogo stick in my step. Five years in that cold, green-tiled Victorian relic has dulled something inside. I scratch my cauliflower ears and shake some recognition of the outside into my concussed brain.

I bend my head into the wind which wants to push me back inside, but stop at the bloke down the road on the opposite path. He has a step which suggests he’s missing a bone or two. Reminds me of Chapstick Green — one of Carl’s men. Carl’s one of the names I let slide down the officer’s ear. Triggered the copper’s first smile in years, I’m sure.

I examine him through letterbox eyes. He won’t touch me. I’m cool. I’m big. I have influence.

But nobody greeted my release. My eyes water. At the wind. It’s cold out here.

I attack my old joint and order eggs, bacon, sausages, crushed plum tomatoes, mushrooms and baked beans. The waitress doesn’t recognise me. Why would she, I don’t recognise her either. I might need a beach towel to wipe saliva from my chin at the grub. Groups of men sit together at various tables and chat about the news. Brexit. Trump. Some saucy minx who had a threesome. They offer me the side-eye. I’ll take the recognition. I’m chilled.

Except for the fella in the back, the one who shimmers behind a curtain of baked bean steam. Looks a lot like Bran, one of Billy’s men. Same hook nose, same bird’s nest goatee. Should have seen the officer’s face when I let Billy’s name escape.

Nobody thought to meet me on my big day, so I hail a taxi to the beach. Driver blinks like old Razir, as if his eyeballs are about to drop out. Razir, by all accounts, disappeared when I dropped his name. He’s either a worm banquet or here he is.

I mention I don’t have the fare and the driver bangs the glass partition and splatters it with cuss spittle. He dumps me a mile or so short of the beach — I can hear the seagulls — on an isolated lane in the middle of the calm, Great British countryside. I plunge my hands into my pockets and whistle a tune my old fella taught me as a kid. The waves make that shush sound in the distance and I regret the years I spent in the clink.

Except I might not make it. Might never see the sea’s grey depths again. There’s a man, herding his sheep, suspicious I’m the wolf who’ll devour his nan. He looks like Micky. Oh, didn’t the fuzz enjoy that one. The man nods as I skirt his sheep. I make it to the cliffs and throw rocks the empty strip of beach far below. I sit on the edge and dangle my feet. The waves wash foam ashore. It sparkles for a moment, before it dissipates into the sand, as momentary as my memories.

I’m alone. I expected someone at the prison gate. My kids, my ex-wife, maybe. I don’t know why. Nobody visited me for sentimental reasons while I degraded behind those walls. Not that I remember. I don’t remember much these days. I have a vague, unsettling feeling the men I grassed on never existed, and formed in my head to fill in for a crime I’m too ashamed to grasp.

I let myself slide and gasp at the first tumble, the grey sky the last thing I see before the rocks break my bones.

Jason Beech — Sheffield native, New Jersey resident — writes crime fiction. His coming-of-age crime drama City of Forts was described as “tense, atmospheric, and haunting” by UK crime writer Paul D. Brazill. You can buy Jason’s work from Amazon and read his work at Spelk Fiction, Shotgun Honey, Close to the Bone, The Flash Fiction Offensive, and Pulp Metal Magazine. Website: jdbeech.wordpress.com.