Finally, it was closing time and the urges to kill myself with ebbing. I brought down the shutters, turned on the alarm and clicked off the lights. Opening the door, a waft of raw sewage and beer burps hit me and instinctively I tried to hold my breath. I locked the charity shop and waited till the door and window shutters had stopped.
I eyed up the teenagers gathering around some benches. There was a good mix of boys and girls, most were eating fast food. The girls were loud and boisterous, wearing tight clothes that surely provoked the boys. Some of which, were acting like they didn’t care, but others were eager to ‘get in there.’ Thank God I’d never have one of them.
Shaking my head, I turned back and locked the bottom of the shutters to the ground bar. Straightening, I saw a woman hurrying over and my heart sink. I’d had enough of arguing and rude customers today. It had also seemed like my staff had behaved no better.
‘Connie? Connie?’ the woman called.
I looked across at her. She had dyed brown hair tied into a bun and a heavy tan. She was dressed in a tight blouse and black skirt, which clearly seemed to label her as a bank teller or a secretary. Her sensible high heels were making it sound like she was tap dancing on the pavement and a red leather handbag was swinging off her arm.
‘Connie? Is it really you?’ she gushed.
I frowned and as she came to a stop in front of me, I give her a hard look over. Her face was very round with hardly any cheek bone definition, she had baby brown eyes and had coated herself in makeup. My eyes slide from her to the teenagers and I spotted some of the boys gawking at her.
‘I’m sorry. The shop’s closed,’ I said numbly and made to turn away.
‘It’s me, Maddie. Don’t you recognise me? We want to high school together,’ she said.
I looked again, ‘I don’t…’
‘It’s been twenty years. We’ve both changed,’ she laughed, ‘is it still Connie Burns?’
‘Yes,’ I said slowly, I was really trying to dig her up from my memories.
‘I was Maddie Cross, but I’m Mrs Raymond now,’ she added with a flash of a gold ring on her finger.
‘I really don’t remember you…’
‘You must do! We were in the same English class for five years and we had the same tutor for the last two. Mr Dickson? Remember him? We always use to call him Dick and giggle.’
‘I do recall that,’ I pondered, ‘Are you sure? Maybe we were in different years? Or you’ve got me mixed up with someone else.’
‘Don’t be silly!’ she twittered and waved her hands around, ‘I’d know you’re bum long blonde hair and huge glasses anywhere. I can’t believe you’ve still got them both. You know, you make it look like twenty years hasn’t passed at all.’
I paused, unsure if she had just insulted or complimented me. I rubbed the set of keys in my hand and willed myself to remember her. The shouting voices of the teenagers bombarded us, it seemed someone had kissed someone else’s girlfriend. I glanced over and saw a bit of rough play fighting, which was quickly broken up by two other boys.
‘I’m sorry, I’ve got to go,’ I said.
‘Are you parked in the supermarket? You know, I just hate leaving my car there, but there’s nowhere else to really park,’ she stated, ‘I’ve to leave my desk every three hours to come and move it, least I get a ticket.’
I shook my head and started away, ‘I’m walking. I don’t live far.’
‘Let me give you lift,’ she purred and followed me.
‘No. I’m good, thanks.’
‘Just let me find my keys,’ she responded.
I glanced over my shoulder to see her digging in her handbag.
‘Please. I’m fine, thanks. It was nice to see you again. Bye,’ I called back and hurried away.
She shot me a pained look, but I picked up my pace and headed behind the shopping centre. As I walked, my memory was still searching for her, but I couldn’t recall any Maddie or Cross at my school. Arriving back home, out of breath and slightly panicked, I hurried into the attic and dug out my old high school things.
Sitting on the hard wooden beams with the single naked light bulb above my head, I looked through the plastic box. There were my old school books, reports and photographs. I pulled one of the large and paper framed photos out. Looking at the small dots of faces before me, I studied my last year’s class photo. I spotted myself and best friends’ quickly, then people who’d been in my tutor room.
Oddly, nearly all of them came back to me, but not Maddie. I looked through some of my other stuff, but couldn’t find anything else. Keeping the photo out, I went back downstairs and got myself sorted.
I took the photo with me to work next day and kept it in my handbag. Luckily, it was a Saturday and they always seemed to go by fast. I felt less like I wanted to kill my staff or myself, as we finished up for the day. I restocked the book shelf as they all left and regretted declining to go to the pub. I went through the same routine as last night, before I realised that Maddie might not be working today.
Pulling a face and feeling disgruntled, I wondered if I still had time to catch up with everyone else. I bent and locked the shutters down. Straightening, I saw Maddie making her way over to me. She looked the same as did yesterday.
‘Hello, again!’ she called cheerfully, ‘how are you? I hate working Saturday’s don’t you?’
‘I’m fine,’ I lied, ‘I’m glad you came, I wanted to show you something.’
I pulled out the photo and handed it to her, ‘what one are you?’
‘Oh my! Blast from the past or what! How could you? Where did you find this?’ she gushed.
‘It’s mine,’ I stated, ‘I dug it out last night. I really can’t remember you at all, you know.’
‘I’m there,’ she said and pointed at what seemed to me to be a random girl.
I looked closer, ‘sorry, which one?’
‘That one,’ she said again.
I looked harder and saw a boy with long hair.
‘Do you want to go for a drink? Have a chat? Recall old times and everything?’
‘I’ve to get home, sorry.’
‘Oh come on!’ she snapped and gripped my arm.
‘Look, I don’t think I actually know you,’ I growled and yanked her arm away, ‘I’ve no memory at all of you and I’m not even sure you are in this photo.’
‘Don’t be like that, Connie,’ she fluttered, ‘I told you it’s been such a long time and we both have changed.’
‘I know that,’ I responded looking at the floor, ‘but something doesn’t feel right here…’
‘Fine, be like that,’ she squealed and stormed off.
I watched her go. A strange notion suddenly came to me and quickly, though carefully, I followed her. She went into the supermarket car pack and up to a large white van. I tailed her and stopped a few cars away.
The door of the van opened and I thought I saw two men sitting in the front, smoking. I crept closer and heard the end of their conversation.
‘She wouldn’t believe me,’ Maddie was saying.
‘What happened?’ one of the men asked.
‘She had this photo. This old school one. She said she couldn’t remember me,’ Maddie explained.
‘And what did you do?’
‘I tried to convince her. But I fluffed it. She wasn’t having any of it!’
‘You should have tried harder!’
‘Go back and see if you can find her,’ the second man cut in with a voice like gravel.
‘No, no,’ Maddie replied, shaking her head, ‘it’s too late. She’s gone.’
‘We should just leave. She’s not good anymore,’ Maddie carried on, even though the men were muttering to each other, ‘she’s too suspicious now.’
I watched Maddie scramble into the van and it drive off. I wasn’t sure what had happened, but I knew I’d escaped something. I headed home and when I got there, I phoned the police. I wasn’t sure if I was wasting their time or not, but someone had to be informed.
‘Yes, Miss Burns,’ the distance voice the officer I was speaking with came back to me, ‘it seems we’ve had a spate of these reports.’
‘What do you mean, officer?’
‘Well, for the last four months we’ve had someone phoning in…maybe once a week? Stating to have been approached by a woman claiming to be an old high school friend. However, it seems she’s been baiting these women and trying to take them back to some men in a white van.’
‘Oh God,’ I breathed and shut my eyes.
‘Are you alright? Look I’m going to send out an officer to your house. We need to take a full statement off you,’ the policeman said.
‘Yes. Of course. I’d be happy to help.’
‘You didn’t give this woman any personal details did you? Like your home address?’
‘No. No. She just knew my name…Well, my new name.’
‘Well, officer. She called me Connie Burns and yes, I know that’s the name I give you too. But you see I was given a new identity after I was put into witness protection. Connie Burns died in a car accident some eighteen years ago. She was my best friend, but her family agreed to let me have her identity.’
‘I see. Right. Well, I’ll send that officer over right now.’
‘Thank you,’ I said and double checked he had my address before I hung up.