Weekend Fiction: Picking Up a Script (Part 1)
Jim stood in the alley, listening hard for signs of movement, using the side of his head to press his ear against the door. The cold of the metal seemed to ease the pounding within his skull. It was two hours since the chemist shop had closed and the shop front was shuttered and locked safely. This back door seemed to be a fire exit. There were scraps of newspaper and other litter collected on the low step. It would have been swept away if the door was in regular use. He was sure that everyone had gone home and that they would have left from the main entrance onto the bright busy street, not into this dark and cluttered home to shadows and soft scratchings amongst the bins and the piled up boxes. Still, it didn’t hurt to be careful. He smiled to himself: raging paranoia had its uses sometimes. Not tonight though. Tonight Jim carried a need, a hunger that had more than enough power to push back the fear and tie it up into the little knot where it usually festered in the pit of his stomach.
In the dim yellow light that filtered from the main road fifty yards away, Jim searched for a way to get higher, right up on to the flat roof to find the skylight. He’d noticed it that afternoon when he’d been in to pick up his prescription. Actually it wasn’t technically his prescription, but the doctor’s pad he’d scribbled on himself was completely authentic. It was a useful little accessory, just a bit of stolen stationary really, but it was like a blank cheque book. Especially useful for dealing with withdrawals. Jim knew the value of the pad, so he didn’t want to arouse suspicion by going for the hard stuff. Instead he had scratched the generic name for a prescription of ordinary sleeping pills. The kind that old ladies need to get them through the long cold nights.
The bottle of downers rattled in the pocket of his tan leather jacket as he tugged on it just to make sure. He hated the shiny little pills and the crap plastic container that held them. They tasted synthetic; saccharin not sugar coated like doctors medicine used to be. He wanted the real thing. It was after all a natural plant extract - taken from the heart of such an achingly beautiful flower. It always made him smile, every November, to see the old boys selling Poppies on every street corner. Wasn’t that exactly what he did? Not that he ever worked a street corner. Not his style at all.
Jim realised his rambling thoughts were just a way of putting off what he needed to do.
‘Just biding my time.’ Jim said under his breath.
He took hold of the drain pipe but let go immediately – as if his hand had been burned.
‘Plastic,’ he muttered.
He carried on his search. Nothing was obvious. Certainly no fire escape to act as a handy climbing frame. He leaned against the opposite wall of the alley, trying to get a better view. But the space was so narrow it didn’t really help. Then an idea struck and he smiled. The two walls were close enough that he could wedge a hand and foot against each and push himself up that way. His two boys had perfected the technique in the narrow corridor of the flat they still lived at. They used to call him to watch as they inched their way up until their head bumped the ceiling and they would slide back down in a fit of giggles. He tried it, the rough brick made it easy. More of a Crabman than Spiderman, but it worked, until he ran out of wall. He found himself stuck: one hand on the wall that backed on to a row of houses, one on the wall of the chemist, still a few feet from the flat roof.
‘Shit.’ The ground seemed further away than it should have. He started to sweat. He shivered as a drip inched its way down his spine. He wanted to get a hand under his jacket and wipe it away but that was out of the question. So was getting to the pill bottle in his jacket. Just to take the edge off.
After a few seconds Jim’s shoulders started to ache, this became a burning sensation. He had to do something, and quickly. He took a deep breath, then without thinking too hard about what he was trying to do he grabbed for the top of the alley wall with both hands then managed to swing his right boot over. Then without pausing pushed himself up, pirouetted to face the building he was really after, and leaped.
The edge of the roof was level with his hips as he crash-landed. Ignoring the pain Jim scrabbled for something to grab hold of and easily found enough purchase on the soft surface to haul the rest of himself over. He lay flat on his back for moment, gasping for air as quietly as he could. Then he rolled over, pushed up to a crouching position and tried to stand. His legs were shaking but he managed. He knew that time was running out on his ability to do anything remotely strenuous. He was still sweating and the pain from his impact with the edge of the wall now seemed to be spreading as if angry little beasties were crawling along his veins in tired of waiting to be fed.
The little plastic bottle had a childproof cap. Jim’s hands were shaking now and it took longer than it should have to line up the two arrows. Frustrated, he was just about to crush the bottle under his boot, when the cap lifted with a small click. He poured the entire contents into left palm, then grabbed a small handful, which he swallowed expertly without a thought for a glass of water. He sank back onto his haunches waiting for the nasty little pills to do their job and carefully poured the rest of them back into the bottle. He knew that if tonight didn’t go well, these were all he had. In a few minutes he felt the pain recede and his heart began to calm. Soon it had slowed to something like normal, give or take the odd panicked flutter but he was used to that. It was time to move.
The flat roof was at first floor level as the row of shops extended back further than the rest of the building which was a typical Victorian high street block of shop fronts with four floors above. Some of these were storerooms but most were flats. He noted with satisfaction and quiet relief, the open windows. It was a warm night even though he had spent most of it shivering.
Jim found the skylight he was after quickly, there was a whole line of them on the roof but the chemists was nine doors from the end so this had to be the one. From below he had guessed that the glass was held in place with lead and a touch confirmed this. With a swift hand, gained from twenty years’ experience he pulled away the soft metal from one of the angled panes that covered a frame wide enough for a man to fit through. When the edges of the glass were exposed he grabbed them with his finger tips and pulled gently. The putty that sealed the inside held firm. Jim increased the pressure, hooking under the glass with his fingernails. With a quiet slurp the putty gave up the fight and the pane lifted giving of a strong smell of linseed as it did so. He placed it down gently on the asphalt and paused to take stock.
‘Time to get the police involved.’
Jim reached down as far as his shoulder into the gap he had made. He rested his head against one of the remaining windows and started swinging his arm around, as if he was searching for something to grab hold of. He wasn’t, and he smiled slightly as the shrill bell of a burglar alarm started to ring from the front of the shop. He had been right about the motion sensor. He retrieved his arm and deftly replaced the glass, the lead strips bending easily to fit back into place. He knew he had plenty of time before anyone turned up to investigate. It was early on a Saturday night and they would already be busy. Jim doubted whether anyone would bother checking the roof – especially after the trouble he had getting up here, but he didn’t want to take that chance.
His feet fell softly out of habit as Jim made his way over to the nearest open window. The rattling of the alarm faded slightly as he moved away from the skylight. The sill was level with his chest and he was able to take a good look without having to scramble up any more walls. There was no light as he peered inside, no tell-tale strips of brightness leaking from under a door. There was a good chance then that the lights were off in the other rooms, and at this time of night, he could be pretty confident that nobody was home. He took a deep breath and swung his legs up to scramble though the window then crouched on the ledge like a misshapen ragged owl peering into to darkness. Even without light he could tell he was at the window to a bathroom by the way his slight shufflings echoed and from the smell of cleaning products. He felt his way down from the ledge, anxious to avoid knocking over bottles, toothbrushes and such. The Police would be arriving soon and if he was disturbed, they would make his getaway difficult. It crossed his mind to have a bit of a look around. He wanted to make sure he was on his own in the flat, but what if he wasn’t? No, he decided to stay put. He might be a thief but he wasn’t a burglar. The idea of going through someone’s home, their safe space, repulsed him. Maybe it was a warped sense of morality playing up but he told himself he didn’t want the hassle of selling on stolen goods.
The alarm in the chemists stopped. Sooner than he expected, the sudden silence made him jump. He leaned towards the open window careful to remain in shadow. Jim wished he could have stayed by the skylight listening out for what was going on, but when he saw the bright beams of two torches flashing intermittently from the alleyway, he knew he had made the right decision. He heard the clattering scrape of metal on brick and then one of the torch beams was scanning the roof, like a search light in a war film. Jim drew back from the window as an automatic response. He couldn’t tell if it was the shop owner or the cops who had found a ladder but he was surprised that they were being so thorough. The beam of light rested for a few seconds on the skylight but there was no sign of damage. Not unless the investigator could actually be bothered to climb across and take a closer look.
Soon the torchlight bobbed its way back down towards the high street.
Jim looked at his watch. He couldn’t make out its face in the darkness but it must have been at least ten minutes since they had checked the roof. He eased down from the window ledge back on to the flat roof. The pills he had guzzled were awash in his blood and he felt distant from what he was doing. The dull ache was still there but it was easier to ignore it now. He was half tempted to get down from here and find somewhere warm to lie down. Sleep was out of the question though. Jim knew that if he didn’t get this done then it would be days, maybe weeks before he could get any decent rest. For years now he had lived for the moment without making plans. Something always turned up anyway. But tonight he had a plan, and he needed to stick to it. He looked at the skylight and his focus was sharp. He had business in the room beneath his feet. Treasure to seek.
Crouching down he peeled again at the edges of the window frame and the glass came away easily this time. Jim contemplated the dark hole he had created and wondered if the alarm had been properly reset.
‘Only one way to find out.’
He swung his arm into the blackness again. If the bell went off he would retreat to his hidey-hole and repeat the process until they got fed up and shut the system down. He was in no rush. Not yet. Jim smiled at the continuing silence.
‘Easy.’ He withdrew his arm and swung his feet into the gap. This was the bit Jim hadn’t really planned for – not that he had any rope anyway. He thought about using his belt but couldn’t see anywhere obvious to secure it. Besides if he tied it somewhere up here then he would have to leave it behind. A getaway with his jeans around his ankles was out of the question.
‘Fuck it. ’can’t be that high.’ He said as he held on to the edge of the empty window and eased the rest of his stringy frame into the hole. He swung from the frame like a kid hanging from playground monkey bars. The difference was that he couldn’t see the floor and how far he had to drop. This was disconcerting. So much so that his brain seemed to resist his conscious will to let go.
Just let go.
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