At 7pm on Tuesday, the weather is still warm enough for Billy to be outside in a t-shirt and shorts. He sucks a carton of Um Bongo through a straw and listens to Michael Jackson on his Walkman. Across the street, Dirty Grimshaw sits on his front step, swigging supermarket-brand lager from the can and throwing his dog-ends onto an ever-growing pile. The neighbourhood kids piss him off, squealing, as they race each other across sticky tarmac on BMX bikes. At 7pm, no-one is overly worried that eleven-year old Tania Parry has not yet returned from the swimming pool.
At 7.10pm, Mrs Parry comes round to speak to Billy’s mother, Dawn.
‘She knows tea’s at six.’
‘She’ll be fine. Summer holidays. She’ll have lost track of time.’
‘You’ll let me know if you see her?’
‘Course I will, love.’
By 8pm, Mrs Parry’s annoyance has turned to worry. Cherry and Lindsey haven’t seen Tania since they left the swimming pool at five-thirty. Dawn rallies the neighbours to start a search of the estate. Dirty Grimshaw cackles:
‘Shouldn’t go out wearing them skimpy shorts.’
At 9pm, the police are called. The search is widened. Dawn locks Billy in the house.
‘But I’m thirteen. I want to help.’
‘You’re staying here ‘til I know what’s happening.’
At 10.50pm, Tania’s body is found, in undergrowth between the swimming pool and the supermarket. She has sustained a blow to the head and her shorts and pants are missing.
An angry crowd gathers outside Dirty Grimshaw’s garden gate. A window has been smashed, and graffiti scrawled across the garden fence. They always knew he was a paedo.
Mrs Parry sobs into the arms of her friend, Dawn.
‘For god’s sake, keep your Billy safe.’
A blanket covers Dirty Grimshaw’s head as he is led away by two police officers, which seems strange to Billy, as everyone knows who’s under there.
Two nights later, outside the local Co-Op, Mrs Parry’s sister holds a vigil for her dead niece. Candles are lit and Tania’s favourite Bros tracks are played. Billy stands with the crowd, and feels sick. He won’t be seeing Tania again. The girl he grew up with. She would have been joining him at secondary school in a few weeks’ time. But she’s gone.
Tania’s best friend, Cherry, buries her face into Billy’s shoulder and sobs. He puts a hesitant arm around her large frame and reluctantly pats her fleshy shoulder. He doesn’t want to be close to anyone right now. He stares at the framed photo of Tania’s face, surrounded by burning candles. The flames reflect in the tears that finally begin to flow.
Dirty Grimshaw has been released from police custody. Insufficient evidence. A baying crowd set up camp outside his house. From his bedroom across the street, Billy can hear the roar. He pulls the covers over his head and tries to remember happier times. Drinking lemonade in Grandma’s back garden last summer. Tania’s eighth birthday party with the magician. Taking their bikes to the very top of the street and flying down, screaming, as if they could take off at any second. Crunching through the snow, with Tania’s mittened fingers tightly grasped in his. Sharing ice-pops in the paddling pool, stripped down to their underwear.
Billy hadn’t seen Tania naked quite as often recently. Things change. People grow and become more private. When he’d seen her in her pink bikini at the swimming pool last Tuesday, she’d looked familiar, yet different. He remembered the smell of chlorine in her wet hair. The taste of strawberry lip balm on his tongue. The touch of her still-damp skin as he slid his hand inside the waistband of her shorts. The weight of the brick in his hand as he tried to silence her screams. He hadn’t meant to hurt her.
Billy beats himself hard, and sobs.