The summer he left school, Nick worked Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays at his uncle’s pet food shop in Middleton, the main thrust of which was chopping and bagging frozen blocks of tripe. Of an evening he walked the woods behind his parents’ house for an hour with a German Shepherd who answered to the name of Birdy. His fingers smelled of thawing bovine stomach lining and pilfered rub-outs of his uncle’s Senior Service. The old dog, smiling, snuffled unusual scents, familiar and unfamiliar urines. She sensed hedgerow movements and unseen wisdoms in the pined, cool air. She favoured a particular tennis ball.
Nick hung about with a youth called Zac, who, since leaving school the year before, had dropped the c from his name and replaced it with a k. Nick was inspired enough by this small act of sedition to do something likewise with his own name, dropping, for awhile, the c, but keeping the k. He kept the cut-out consonant in a matchbox beneath his bed, labelled the teenage years.
They called themselves Thee Dropped Cees, and their reputation extended as far as they imagined. Zak, black marker in his jacket pocket, thoughtfully penned these words on many public surfaces between Marshwick roundabout and Fennett’s Lane. The additional vowels looked ace and their imagined outlaw lifestyle attained some gravitas.
One night, Thee Dropped Cees, through an open window, climbed into the library. They walked behind a shaded torchlight, illuminating the spined aisles, the reception desk. He shook an empty metal box. Zak took it from him, shook it. They opened and shut drawers, saying, “Nothing, nothing. Nothing.” Zak bagged the Orwell fiction in a carrier and he found and pocketed the copy of Jaws. He collected them.
He stood in darkness, back from the window, watching the street because it was there. Zak, somewhere behind him in another part of the library – brushing magazines from a table, a chair leg scraping on the floor – took his marker to the toilet doors and then, hidden behind their hush, the mirror within.
The cars passed, quiet and infrequent. A kitchen scene unfolded in a window opposite; a couple danced a tango. A police car passed and then a man with a small dog on a lead came down the street. When he reached the library, he walked from the pavement to the door and stood reading the notices there. They stood on either side of the glass, one squinting and one barely daring to breathe. The man was wearing a short sleeved shirt with green parrots on it. The man removed a battered trilby from his head to reveal half a head of grey hair. The little dog sat on the step, looking up. Nik closed his eyes. He listened to the man cough. He did not move.
When he opened his eyes again the man and the dog were walking away. Zak’s footsteps approached. The police car came round again, this time stopping. The torchlight played off of everything. They left by the way that they came in, went separate ways.