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Authors: Josephine Cox

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Girl on the Platform

BOOK: Girl on the Platform
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Girl on the Platform
JOSEPHINE COX

This book is for my Ken, as always

PART ONE

Friday August 2007

Woburn Sands

Boys’ Night Out Chapter One

Chapter One

‘A night in London?’ Mark had never been to the city. ‘That sounds good to me.’

‘Great!’ Pete slapped him on the shoulder. ‘I promise you, we’ll have a cracking time, but you’d better be ready and waiting, or I’ll go on my own.’

‘You
won’t
!’

‘Just watch me!’

‘All right, keep your shirt on. I’ll be ready.’

At first, Mark wasn’t sure if he wanted to go to London and see a show. His idea of a good night out was down the pub, enjoying a pint of beer and a game of pool. If he pulled that was a bonus, but Pete had convinced him and now he was really looking forward to it.

Pete explained the plan. ‘Remember, you’ll need to be here by six-thirty or we’ll miss the train.’

Pete was fed up with the same old routine—go to work, come home, have your tea. Then down the pub. And now that Cathy had finished with him
again,
he was feeling miserable. So
when his dad won two tickets to the hit show
Joseph
, he gave them to Pete. ‘Take Mark with you,’ he said, ‘it’ll make a change for you both.’

Pete thought it was a great idea. This was the last day of his holiday, and he really needed to do something different before he went back to work on Monday.

As agreed, Mark drove up in his old Ford at exactly six-thirty. Pete told him to park it on the street: ‘So Dad can get in and out of the drive.’

Mark looked Pete up and down. ‘Get you!’ He noted Pete’s new jeans and black leather jacket. ‘Hope you didn’t go to all that trouble for me!’

‘Not likely?’ Surprisingly though, Mark had made an effort. His fair hair was newly cropped, and he was wearing a black jacket and a pair of really skinny jeans that made his size ten feet stick out like barges.

‘Come on then!’ Mark was already walking out the door. ‘Let’s see if London night-life is all it’s cracked up to be.’

‘Don’t go wandering down dark alleys!’ Pete’s dad called after them. ‘You never know who’s about.’

‘Aw, Dad! I’m not a kid anymore,’ Pete told
him. ‘In case you’ve forgotten, I was twenty five last birthday. I can look after myself.’

Mark squared his shoulders. ‘If anybody tries to pick
my
wallet, they’ll be sorry!’ Punching the air with a clenched fist he quipped, ‘One look at me and they’ll run a mile.’

Pete told him not to be so cocky. ‘You’ll only be asking for trouble. Just remember, we’re not out to pick a fight. We’re out to enjoy ourselves and to check out the sights and pleasures.’

‘What “
sights and pleasures
”?’

Pete had to think hard about that. ‘Well,
I
don’t know, do I? All I’m saying is lots of people think London is the place to be, so now’s our chance to find out.’

‘What time is the last train back?’ Mark asked.

‘Why do you want to know that?’ Pete groaned.

‘I don’t want to be stranded in London, that’s all.’

‘We won’t be,’ Pete promised. ‘So stop asking what time we’ll get back, when we haven’t even
got
there yet.’

At the top of Russell Street, they came onto the High Street, and then it was a five minute walk down to the train station.

Pete checked his watch. ‘We change at Milton Keynes and get the seven-thirty to Euston.
Then we can get a taxi to the theatre. After the show, we’ll suss out the area…find a night club. Get a taste of London. Then it’s back in a taxi to the station, and make our way home.’

Mark had another idea. ‘Let’s make a night of it. We could always find a hotel.’

Pete thought about that for a minute. ‘How much money have you got?’

Mark peered into his wallet. ‘Well, I paid Mum her board, and I owed Dad a tenner from last week; and I’ve got the train and taxi fare.’ Closing his wallet, he grumbled, ‘You’re right. Maybe we can’t afford a hotel, but I’m sure we could find a cheap bed and breakfast.’

Pete was not sure. ‘How much have you got altogether?’

Mark didn’t hear. He was too busy counting his coins.


MARK
!’ Pete asked again. ‘Come on, mate. Exactly how much have you got to spend?’

‘Well, if you take out a fiver for a drink in the interval…I’ll have about twenty quid.’


How
much?’ Pete could hardly believe his ears.

‘You heard.’


Twenty quid
!’ Pete groaned. ‘So, after the train and the taxi, and a drink during the interval,
you’re left with just twenty quid?’ He gave Mark a curious glance. ‘Did you get your wages today?’

‘Of course!’

Pete’s heart sank. ‘Don’t tell me…you’ve been backing the horses again, haven’t you?’

‘So what if I have?’ Mark had a weakness for gambling, which he was trying to control. ‘It’s
my
money isn’t it?’

‘I thought you said you would never back another horse. Especially after last week, when you lost loads on that old nag. What was it called, oh yes…
Highway to Heaven
!’

‘I suppose you think I’m on the highway to hell, don’t you?’

Pete shook his head, ‘Course not. It’s just that you’ll never have any money if you keep gambling.’

‘I know that.’ Mark also knew he had a real problem. ‘I can’t help it. Some people are addicted to drink and cigarettes or women.
I’m
addicted to betting on the horses. I
will
stop though. I
have
to.’ He knew he had to give it up, or he would find himself in real trouble.

Pete understood. ‘All right, I know you’ve been trying, and I guess it won’t be easy. You’re bound to slip up now and then. Look…if I can help in any way, you’ve only to ask. I’ll keep your wages for you if you like. Or maybe
when you get paid, we can go out…somewhere where you can’t back the horses.

‘Every time you feel the urge to throw your money away at the bookies, call me, or come round, and we’ll go somewhere to take your mind off it. Wherever I am, I’ll be there for you.’

His voice hardened. ‘Just remember though…I will
not
help you, if you don’t help yourself. And I won’t lend you
my
hard-earned money to waste. Okay?’

‘Okay.’

‘Right then. So get a move on, because the gates are closed and the train’s coming in!’

The two of them set off at a run, and managed to scramble on board the train just as it was about to leave.

Mark threw himself into the seat. ‘Another minute and we would never have made it!’

Pete wasn’t listening. Instead, his attention was taken by a girl on the opposite platform, ‘I wouldn’t mind getting to know
her
.’ Seated on a bench was a young woman in her early twenties. ‘She looks a bit sad though, don’t you think?’

Mark laughed. ‘She’s probably broke…like me. Maybe she’s addicted to backing horses as well.’

As the train moved away, Mark tapped on the window, trying to catch her attention. ‘Hey! I’ll cheer you up if you want!’ he called out. ‘You and me could go to the races…what do you say to that?’

When the man opposite glared at him, Mark slunk in his seat. ‘Miserable old git!’ he grumbled. ‘I bet he’s never enjoyed himself in his life!’

Leaning forward, Pete warned him to keep his voice down. ‘What makes you think he’s never enjoyed himself?’

‘You only have to
look
at the poor old sod!’

The man was small and shrunk, with a balding head and a hangdog face. He scowled at Mark, then he opened his satchel and, taking out a small laptop computer, he began tapping away.

‘Oh look, here we go!’ Mark rolled his eyes to heaven. ‘Boring old geezers, head-bent to their laptops…tap-tap-tapping away. Then mobile phones will start ringing. Everybody knows everybody else’s business…what they had for breakfast, or if they’ve had an argument with their other half. After that, they’ll be bragging about how they’ve just cut a deal worth millions, when all the time they’re just ordinary grafters, like you and me!

‘Eric Peters from the warehouse says he learned more about life and sex from listening to people chatting on their mobiles than he ever learned from experience.’

Pete wasn’t listening. He had been stretching his neck to catch sight of the girl on the bench. ‘What did you say?’

‘What’s up with you?’ Mark gave him a kick. ‘You’re not even listening, are you?’

Pete didn’t answer. He was still looking at the girl, and though every minute took him further away, he had managed to get a good look at her. Even though her long, dark hair hid part of her face, he had still seen enough to suspect that she was unhappy.

He had known prettier girls, and this one was not beautiful by any means. But she wasn’t plain, and she had a kind of endearing quality, which had drawn him to her. From what he could see, she had a small, shapely figure, a lovely full mouth, and pretty eyes, which looked up only once, to check the monitor for train arrivals. The rest of the time she had been looking down at the ground, head bent and deep in thought.

She had not seen him, and he was glad about that, because she might have been upset to see him staring at her. In that split second
when she
did
look up, his heart turned somersaults. No other girl had ever affected him like that.

‘PETE!’ Mark shook him by the shoulder. ‘Get a grip! You’ve done nothing but stare at that girl. What’s so special about her anyway?’

Pete shrugged. ‘Nothing in particular,suppose.’ He didn’t want to tell Mark how he felt. ‘She just caught my eye, that’s all.’

‘Forget
her!
There’ll be so many girls in London, we won’t know which way to turn. Anyway…that girl back there, well, she looked a bit too miserable for my liking. I prefer women with a bit more life to them. A bit of fun, that’s what we want.’

He gave Pete another kick. ‘Am I right, or am I right?’

Pete nodded. ‘You’re right!’

The train had swung away and he could not see the girl any more. ‘I see what you mean…I don’t suppose I should be wasting time over one lonely girl. This is
our
night out.’ He tried to push her out of his mind. ‘What’s
one
girl compared to what London might have to offer?’

Mark laughed out loud. ‘
Now
you’re talking!’

Excited and full of plans for the evening, Mark chatted on.

Pete nodded, saying yes and no where needed, but try as he might, he could not ignore the image in his mind. Truth was, the girl on the platform had really got to him.

Chapter Two

For the next hour Pete and Mark were busy making plans for the evening. ‘I reckon we should go to Soho,’ Mark suggested. ‘Eric Peters says it’s where all the best night clubs are.’

‘How does he know?’

‘He got to know London pretty well when he was on a course there, plus his mates took him to London for his stag-night last year. They stayed at some place near Soho, and they partied all night! Apparently, the clubs were well lively, and all the girls were out for a good time.’

Pete liked the idea of that. ‘All right then. Like I said, after the theatre, we’ll head for the clubs. Okay?’ After seeing the girl on the platform he needed to clear his mind.

‘Great!’ Then Mark had another idea. ‘Why don’t we give the theatre a miss, and go straight to the clubs?’

‘No. We’ll go and see the show like we planned. There’ll be time enough for the clubs,’ Pete told him.

‘Yes, but we’ve got to find somewhere to stay the night. By the time we’ve done that and then gone to the show, there won’t be much time left for clubbing, will there?’ Mark was disappointed. ‘Why do you want to see
Joseph
anyway?’

Pete explained, ‘Because my dad gave us the tickets so we could see the show. Anyway, I thought
you
wanted to see it? If I remember rightly, it was
you
who watched the talent competition on TV from start to finish.
You
were the one who voted for that Lee bloke to win, and now you’ve got the chance to see him on stage. So what’s the problem?’

‘I’ve never been to a musical before.’

‘Yes, and now you can…thanks to my dad.’

‘But what if I don’t like it? What if I want to come out halfway through?’

‘You won’t.’

‘Okay, so what if I make it to the end, and it’s really late when we get to the clubs? All the best looking girls will be taken.’

‘That won’t happen.’

‘How can you be so sure?’


Think
about it,’ Pete urged. ‘When we get off the train, we’ll get the taxi driver to drive us to a B&B. Then after we’ve checked in, we’ll grab a bite to eat and make our way to the
theatre. We’ll be out of the theatre well before midnight, so by the time we get to the clubs, they’ll be hotting up.’

Mark grinned. ‘D’you reckon?’

‘Too right!’ Pete assured him. ‘You’ll have the girls swooning all over you.’

Mark laughed out loud. ‘Sounds good to me!’

For a time they sat quietly. Mark closed his eyes and thought about the wonderful night he was in for, and all the good looking girls he was going to meet.

Pete gazed out of the window. Like Mark, he was really looking forward to checking out London night-life. But he felt strangely uneasy. His thoughts were still back there, with the girl on the platform. She had stirred memories in him, painful memories that he would much rather have forgotten. Memories of another girl, younger, cruel and cold; his first real love.

Mark saw Pete lost in thought, and he was intrigued. ‘Hey, you!’

Pete looked up. ‘What?’

‘You look awful. Anybody would think you were going to the gallows, instead of heading for the best time of your life. What’s wrong with you?’

‘Just thinking, that’s all,’ he gestured out of the window. ‘Why don’t you carry on looking at the scenery,’ he suggested, ‘…and leave me alone?’

‘Suit yourself!’

Mark returned his attention to the landscape, but it was only a moment before Pete started to apologise. ‘Sorry, mate. It’s just that, well, the girl back there on the platform…’ He looked away.

‘What about her?’ Mark sensed Pete was about to confide in him. ‘I saw how taken you were with her…fancy her don’t you?’ He grinned, not expecting for a moment what Pete was about to confide in him.

‘I know it sounds mad but…she sort of reminds me of myself,’ Pete began quietly. ‘That’s what drew me to her.’ He smiled. ‘There’s something about her…’

Intrigued, Mark leaned forward in his seat. ‘What did you mean just then?’

‘When?’

‘Just now…when you said she reminded you of yourself?’

‘Nothing!’ Pete was wishing he had kept his thoughts to himself. ‘Just forget it!’

‘No!’ Mark urged him on. ‘C’mon…what did you mean?’

Pete took a long, noisy breath and paused for a second or two. Then he began to voice his thoughts. ‘She looked wounded…like she’d been hurt by somebody…’

Mark joked, ‘What…like she’s had a row with her parents…or something? Sorry, mate, it’s tough but we all have to deal with life’s little crises.’

Pete gave him a shrivelling glance. ‘You’ve no idea, have you?’ There was a touch of envy in his voice.

Mark had never seen Pete like this. ‘She’s really got to you, hasn’t she? What’s on your mind—what’s all this about? Is there something you’re not telling me?’

Pete looked him in the eye. ‘I reckon she’s been hurt like I was seven years ago,’ he confided. ‘It seems like yesterday, I remember it so clearly. It took me a long time to get over it.’

‘Get over
what
for pity’s sake?’

Pete told him. ‘I was working at Jason’s carparts warehouse. There was me and three other blokes in the warehouse, and two girls working the phones.’

He gave a slow, wry little smile. ‘Then Claire was taken on to man the office. She was bright, funny and genuine. To cut a long story short,
I invited everyone to my eighteenth birthday party, including her. We got on really well and we started going out. She was the first girl I fell in love with.’

‘Wow.’ Mark was impressed. You don’t waste time. So, what happened?’

Pete continued, ‘Claire was my first real sweetheart, and to be honest, I worshipped the ground she walked on…bought her things, and did everything she wanted. Anyway, it was a month or so later, when I took her to Barney’s Club in town. She got a bit drunk and when it was time to take her home she laughed in my face and then I couldn’t find her…she just disappeared.’

Remembering how it had been was still painful after all this time. ‘I searched everywhere for her…asked everybody if they’d seen her but nobody had. Then one of the girls told me she’d seen Claire about an hour before, making her way to the cloakrooms.’ He shrugged his shoulders, ‘I heard a noise at the back of the cloakrooms and there she was, with Jack from the warehouse. I thought he was a mate, but it turned out that was the second biggest mistake I’d made. The two of them had been together even before she started at the warehouse, and between the two of them they had milked me
for every penny I’d got. They were laughing at me behind my back.’ He looked out the window. ‘It was all a big joke to them.’

Mark was shocked. ‘So what did you do?’

Pete smiled. ‘The only thing I
could
do! I just walked away, from her, from my work.’ He shrugged his shoulders, but Mark could see the shame on his face. ‘A clean sheet, and a lesson learned.’

‘Right!’ Mark had never been let down like that, but he realised how it might damage somebody, especially at eighteen. ‘So, you think that girl on the platform had something like that happen to her?’

Pete shrugged again. ‘Dunno, but I recognise that look,’ he admitted. ‘Kind of faraway, not really caring.’ He grinned suddenly. ‘I might be totally wrong, and she’s just wondering what to have for tea. But, I do know this much…’

‘What?’

‘I’m going to see her again.’

Mark warned him. ‘Beware strange girls. If you’re not careful, they’ll eat you for breakfast!’

Pete laughed aloud. ‘Shut up, lunatic!’

‘Hey!’ Mark jolted him out of his moodiness. ‘So, you really think we’ll score tonight then?’ Rubbing his hands together, he gave Pete a cheeky smile.

‘I’ve already said, haven’t I?’ He had already forgotten about the girl who cheated on him with a mate—though the image of the girl on the platform lingered. ‘Hey! Tonight might be the night when you meet your future wife. Have you thought of that?’

Mark was horrified. ‘I’m not looking for a future wife. I haven’t got time to settle down, not when I can pick and choose.’

Pete wagged a finger. ‘One of these days, some girl will come along, and sweep you off your feet.’

‘No way!’ Mark had no wish to be tied to one woman. ‘I’m a free spirit…born to play the field.’

When Pete lapsed into silence again, Mark gave him a curious glance. ‘What’s up?’

‘What do you mean?’

‘Well, you seem miles away…
again
!’

‘Just thinking.’

‘About what?’

‘Not about…what happened,’ Pete assured him. ‘That’s all in the past.’

‘You’re not worried about me and the gambling are you, because if you are…’

‘I’m not,’ Pete assured him. ‘You’re doing all right.’

Mark felt proud. ‘Really?’

‘Yes, really. Okay, you’ve had a few slip-ups, but that’s bound to happen, before you get the better of it.’

‘You reckon I’ll beat it then?’ Mark valued Pete’s support.

‘I do, yes.’

‘So, you don’t think I’m a loser?’

‘No! When have I ever said that?’

‘Well, you haven’t,’ Mark admitted. ‘You’ve always helped me. Even when I was at my lowest, owing money everywhere and lying to you so you’d help me out, you never asked questions. You never judged me, and you never lectured me.’

He looked at Pete, and he was grateful he had this long-time friend. ‘You know what?’

‘What?’

‘I think I’d have sunk without trace, if you hadn’t bailed me out.’

‘You’d do the same for me, wouldn’t you?’

Mark smiled knowingly. ‘I would never have to,’ he answered. ‘You wouldn’t get yourself into such a mess in the first place.’

‘Oh, I’ve had my moments, don’t think I haven’t.’

‘What…
gambling
, you mean?’ Mark was astonished.

‘No, not exactly gambling, but near enough I suppose.’

‘So, if it wasn’t gambling, what was it then?’

‘Going on Ebay. I was at the computer every minute, buying this and that, bidding for stuff I didn’t even need.’

‘You never told me.’

‘It was soon after you moved into the street. We didn’t know each other too well back then.’

‘So, what did you do?’

‘I sold my computer.’

‘So, how come you’ve got one
now?

‘My plan was to be without a computer for a while, and it worked. During those few months when I was without one, the addiction went away.’

‘That’s what I mean. You’re different from me, you make a plan and stick to it.’

‘So will you…once you’ve made up your mind.’

Changing the subject, Mark began to chat excitedly. ‘I feel like this could be my lucky night,’ he bragged. ‘They say if you feel lucky, you’ll
be
lucky.’ He gave a stifled cry. ‘Yes! Mark’s in town! Come on you babes!’

He would have gone on talking, but Pete threw him a newspaper that he’d found lying
on the opposite seat. ‘Here. Calm down and read the paper.’

While Mark buried his head in the newspaper, Pete leaned back in his seat and gave himself up to the rhythm of the train as it rumbled along, making a tune as it clattered over the rails—‘Who’s the girl—Who’s the girl’—it sang as it went; try as he might, he could not get her out of his mind.

‘Come on, Pete,’ he muttered to himself, ‘stop dreaming! You’ll probably never see her again.’

Mark raised his face from the newspaper. ‘Are you talking to
me?

Pete shook his head. ‘No.’

Mark returned to the racing pages.

After a time, Pete was relieved to see that Mark had turned the page, and was now absorbed in an article on coloured hair-gel.

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