Sid says, “Here, Luci, you’ve killed things before, haven’t you?”
I don’t know about you, but I’m not overly keen on sentences that implicate me in deaths of any kind. Such statements can be easily misconstrued by the casual listener, inaccurate conclusions can be leapt to, custodial sentences can be dropped in front of you like a bar of HMP soap.
I say, “Not me, squire. You’ve got the wrong bloke.”
I’m eating beans and sausage but I don’t fancy them anymore. I scrape off my plate under the sullen eye of the canteen lady, who is methodically rubbing her greasy hands on the arse of her filthy blue catering smock. She turns to go. The grease has turned her dress semi-transparent and I can see her tatty knickers through the knackered material.
I feel a bit sick.
I leave the canteen, go down the stairs and set off down the long corridor.
Sid has followed me.
I stop and say, “Look, Sid, I don’t know what you mean about killing. You must realise how that sounds. It sounds like I strangle puppies for fun or something, you know? It sounds… weird.”
Sid stands there, blinking. Then I see the light of realisation in his eyes. “Oh, yeah. I see what you mean! I didn’t mean you were a murderer or nothing. No, what I meant to say is that you shot some things with that air rifle, didn’t you?”
I sigh. “In a manner of speaking, yes. I did.”
A couple of years back I had a rat problem in the garden. The little bastards moved into a log pile at the end of my garden and yes, I bought an air rifle and I shot them. I figured it was more humane than poison and it wouldn’t harm any other wildlife. This doesn’t make me a killer though, does it? I mean, a few rats doesn’t put me in the same league as that American Sniper bloke or Lee Harvey fucking Oswald. They were rats.
I say, “They were rats, Sid. I shot some rats.”
He nods. “Yeah, that were it! Rats! Well, I got a problem similar to that. In me garden.”
I say, “What kind of problem?”
Sid’s eyes narrow. They glitter with a strange, dull hate. “A squirrel kind of problem.”
Whenever they are mentioned I steer well clear. Squirrel incidents rarely end well, for either party. People tend to hate squirrels with a peculiar intensity and squirrels have the propensity to be vicious little cunts when they want. It’s not a good mix.
I say, “What have the squirrels done to offend you, Sid?”
It’s like the sort of thing you’d say to someone who’s threatening to jump off a tall building. It’s a sentence that feels all wrong in the mouth.
Sid says, “The bastards are always coming into me garden from the woods and nicking me birdseed. I spent twenty quid on birdseed two week back and all I seen for it is half a dozen spuggies and about fifty fucking squirrels. You should see the size of the fat fuckers, Luci! Cheeks like fucking spacehoppers, filled with half a pound of mixed seed! No, it’s not on. I’m reckoning a few less squirrels will mean a few more birds in me garden.”
I consider offering Sid the use of my air rifle, but I think better of it. I don’t want to be the one responsible for putting a firearm in his hands. I can imagine the bloke who gave Mark David Chapman a gun watching the telly on December 8th 1980 and bleating, ‘He said he wanted to shoot squirrels, not Beatles!’
No. If Sid wants to shoot something he can find his own fucking gun.
He says, “You reckon I might borrow…”
I say, “No. Get you’re own.”
He pouts. “Spoilsport.”
A week later I see Sid in the canteen again and I try to avoid him but it’s no use. He’s looking for me.
His face lights up. “Luci! I got a gun like you said!”
Faces filled with bread and bacon look up from their glistening plates with expressions of mild alarm. I hustle Sid quickly out of the canteen before an Armed Response Unit is called.
I say, “Fucking Hell, Sid! Are you trying to get us both sacked? Think before you just flap your gob off, will you?”
Sid is too excited to calm down. “Yeah, I got a gun! I went down that place you got yours, and I saw the bloke and told him what I wanted and he showed me a gun and he said eighty quid and I said eighty fucking quid? and he showed me another and another and then I said how about that one? and he said that one? and I said that one! and he showed me this old gun that someone had part exchanged and he said fifteen and I said ten and he said done!”
I say, “Sounds like you have been done. Bet you can’t hit a fucking barn door with the thing.”
Sid looks triumphant. “Like fuck! I got it home and got hiddy in me shed with the window open. Waited with the gun until one of the fuzzy little cunts turns up at the bird table and BANG!”
Sid grins. “Got him right through the middle.”
I say, “Good for you. What did you do with it?”
“Well, that’s the down side. Thing is, it didn’t die.”
“Didn’t die. It fell off the bird table and kind of looked at me, sort of accusing like. Then it dragged itself across the garden, glancing back, while I’m fucking about trying to reload.”
I say, “Oh Jesus.”
“Yeah,” says Sid. “It pulled itself up the fence, and just as I got my sights on it, it flops over the other side. I reckon it went off to die.”
I say, “That’s a shitty way to die, Sid. I mean, for fuck’s sake, for a few extra quid you could have saved the little sod a lot of suffering.”
Sid smiles a mean smile. “I don’t mind ‘em suffering. I like ‘em suffering. Nicking my fucking birdseed…”
I say, “Well you’re a cunt then. I don’t like any suffering. How long do you reckon it took to die? Hours? Days? Nah, that’s a shitty thing to do, Sid. Shitty.”
Sid sniffs. “Whatever. Anyway, that were at the start of the week. I’ve shot a few more since then.”
“Dunno. Twenty or so.”
I say, “Twenty or so?? Fucking Hell, please tell me they died.”
Sid shrugs. “Wish I could. Truth is, the same thing happened in every case. I popped ‘em, they crawled off, flopped over the fence. Saves me having a bin full of squirrels, I suppose.”
“Aw, that’s horrible! The other side of your fence must look like the fucking Somme! The woods will be full of dying squirrels!”
Sid looks a bit uncomfortable. “They didn’t go back into the woods, Luci.”
I’m confused. “Not back into the woods? Then… where are all these shot squirrels going?”
“The neighbour’s. I got an old lady lives next door. They’re going into her garden.”
“Fuck me. Has she said anything to you?”
Sid shrugs. “Nah, she’s not mentioned it. I reckon the squirrels are just laying under the shrubs and dying. She might not have seen any. Still, there’s less of the little fuckers coming into the garden now! On Thursday we got a woodpecker on the feeder! We wouldn’t have got that if Tufty and his mates had been there, stuffing their toothy gobs full of my sunflower seeds!”
Sid naffs off. All I can think of is twenty or so squirrels dragging themselves through the undergrowth, coughing up blood.
Poor little sods.
A week or so later I see Sid in the canteen again.
I say, “Shoot any squirrels recently?”
He looks alarmed. “Shh! Fucking Hell, Luci! Keep your voice down!”
He ushers me away.
I say to him, “What’s wrong? You were chuffed to fuck about shooting squirrels the other day. You got a woodpecker on the feeder, you said. What’s changed?”
Sid looks around, eyes shifty. “It’s the neighbour.”
I shake my head. “I see. Dobbed you in, has she? Seen legions of wounded squirrels coming over the fence and called the RSPCA? What did you expect? You should have bought the better rifle, Sid. Saved yourself some trouble.”
Sid looks troubled. “No, it’s not like that. The old lady, she’s been taken into hospital. She got hurt.”
I feel light headed. It’s a strange feeling, like deja vu. I realise I might be listening to a confession. He’s done something stupid with that gun. Maybe an accident, maybe on purpose. Am I the only other person who knows he’s got a gun? I mean, I know it’s only an air rifle, but still. I suddenly imagine pulling myself through the bushes, bleeding, while Sid feverishly tries to reload…
I step slowly away from Sid.
He grabs my arm.
I say to him, “Look, Sid, mate, I won’t say a thing. If you shot her. Well, it was an accident, yeah? I’m happy to stick to that story. Anyone asks and I’ll tell ‘em you’re not the sort to go around shooting folk willy nilly. Have you got a lawyer?”
Sid looks confused. “What? I haven’t shot her! A few days back I heard her screaming and went round and knocked but she didn’t answer. I called the police and they turned up with an ambulance. Kicked her door in. I saw her being wheeled out and she looked in a sorry state. Bleeding, all bandaged up. The cops came round my house and took a statement, what with me making the call and everything. Turns out she were finding all these injured squirrels in her garden and taking ‘em in, bandaging ‘em up. She had a spare bedroom full of the little fuckers, all in these little slings and bandages. Bowls of peanuts all over the floor, little piles of straw for squirrel nests or something. Anyway, she’d gone in that morning and they must have been feeling better because they turned on her. Attacked her. Could of killed her, the coppers reckon. When they kicked in the door, dozens of squirrels came flying out and legged it into the woods. They’ve never seen owt like it. They said they’re investigating, to find out what was hurting the squirrels in the first place and why they ended up in her garden.” Sid leans close, whispering. “I took the gun into the woods and wiped it down, then I buried it. If the coppers ask, you don’t know nothing.” Sid winks at me.
I say, “If you’d bought the better gun, none of this would have happened, you daft cunt.”
Sid taps his nose. “Yeah, but with that crap gun I never killed a thing. Got a clear conscience, I have. Not like you. You’re the killer.”
I don’t know what to say.
Sid sniffs. “Besides, the squirrels are back in me garden. I quite like them now, strangely enough.”
I say, “Learned to love them, have you?”
Sid says, “Not really, but they look fucking funny on the feeder wearing little squirrel slings and little squirrel eyepatches. It’s like squirrel ER out there! “
I say, “I might be the killer, Sid, but at least I’m not a fucking psycho.”