‘He’s seen you,’ William said. He spoke flatly, without alarm, staring at a point over the other side of the road. They stood side by side, not speaking as they waited for the policeman to come to them. DB wanted to run away– there was nothing really stopping him from running away– but he stayed in place. The sense of hopeless obedience struck him as funny, despite everything.
Finally, the policeman stepped out of the car, and walked over, pulling on his cap. He was short and square in the tight material of his uniform, his wide face seamed with red.
‘Hello lads,’ he said.
‘Hello,’ DB said.
‘Been fishing, then?’
‘Yes,’ William said, and lifted the rod slightly, as though the policeman might not have seen it before.
‘That’s good.’ The policeman had stepped up onto the kerb and glanced at the bus timetable. ‘So. What did I just see you doing?’
‘I don’t know,’ William said.
‘You don’t know?’ He looked shocked. ‘But I thought I saw you throwing something at the timetable. Did I see that right?’
‘Yes,’ DB said.
The policeman nodded and glanced back at the timetable. The wooden frame was a deep red that seemed suddenly prohibitive. ‘So. What were you throwing?’
DB had been going to speak, but his voice failed when he opened his mouth. It felt like a small bauble of dry wood had been placed precisely at the back of his throat. It was William who spoke, his voice tremulous and halting as though he’d been running. ‘A stone.’
The policeman looked shocked, troubled. ‘A stone? But you could have broken the glass. Couldn’t you?’
‘Yes,’ DB said.
‘So, where is this stone?’
DB finally spoke. ‘It went over here.’
He pointed towards the patch of ground where he’d seen the nut fall, but the policeman ignored him. He wondered why William had called it a stone. It seemed stupid, and he felt a hot feeling of anger. The policeman unfolded a notebook from his top pocket and asked for their names.
He said nothing when DB spoke, only nodding to himself when he reached his address. But when William gave his name, he paused and glanced up. ‘I think I know your father, don’t I?’
‘And what do you think he’d say if he knew how you were spending your afternoon.’
‘I don’t know.’
The policeman glanced at DB. ‘I think that he’d very disappointed.’
Blotched patches of pink had risen upon William’s cheeks and it seemed to DB that their pattern grew larger, a crazy fastforward of blood. ‘Yes,’ he said.
‘He’s probably got more plans for you than to have you waste your life doing things like vandalising timetables.’
‘Probably? Certainly, I think. We’ve all been young…’ Here the policeman stepped in front of DB, focussing entirely on William. ‘We’ve all been young, but it’s important to know when to put certain things behind us. Certain people, too. We need to understand when others are holding us back. The people we think of as friends, well, they need to be watched. Because they can hurt us the most. And we might not even realise it.’ He was silent for a moment, studying William closely, to see if his words had been understood. Finally, he glanced back at DB. ‘So then. I think both of you had better hurry off back home.’