We all met at the park the next morning, as we always do on a Saturday. You would barely know us from the scruffy adolescents of 2006. Alex has shot up from about 5ft 3” to about 5ft 11”. Freddie still looks more or less the same but he’s grown a bit too and is more on a par with me than he was three years ago. Steph cut her hair short and looked unbelievably grown up. And me – I’m more or less still the same red-headed Robyn. 5ft 9” and untameable curly hair which on a bad day makes me look like I’m on fire, the only difference being that it’s much longer.
“This wasn’t one of your lot, was it?” Alex asked, showing Steph, then Freddie the mysterious note we had received last night.
Freddie read it through with a critical eye.
“It’s a prank. It must be,” he said, handing it back to Alex. “I got one exactly the same.”
“That’s what I said, but Robs here seems to think its Rabman, escaped out of jail and back for revenge.” He tried to grab me. I dodged and swatted him away.
“Oh stop it, the pair of you. Give us a look.” said Steph, holding her hand out for the note. She scanned it, and then looked up.
“People don’t prank about stuff like this,” she said, seriously.
“Oh yeah? This bunch of Year 6s at my old school decided to go on a bullying spree once, picked out several targets in the infants and posted each of them notes which said, ‘You’ve annoyed us and now you’re going to pay,’” said Freddie scathingly.
“And?” I asked.
“And nothing. They went to school the next day, practically cacking themselves and nothing happened. They were in about Year 2, you see.”
“Well, all the Year 6s at your old school were druggies and pervs, so I wouldn’t expect anything less,” I replied hotly.
“I still don’t think it’s anything to worry about.” Alex sounded maddeningly sure and again I desperately wanted to believe him, but somehow I couldn’t.
“Well, who else is gonna send something like this?” asked Steph. “He’s gonna be a pretty sick jerk, whoever he is.”
“And we know Rabman’s out and about,” I added.
“Which is another reason he won’t be going around sending death threats to people,” said Freddie sensibly. “People in hiding don’t send notes, except to accomplices through trusted lines.”
“You sound like a crime novel,” said Steph, making an effort to cheer us up, which didn’t really work. Although she had a point.
“Well, say Robs and Steph are right-’’ Alex began.
“Heaven forbid,” muttered Freddie. Steph kicked him.
“Say Robs and Steph are right,” Alex repeated, “What do we do now?”
“I think we wait and see whether anything happens,” said Steph. “If nothing does, then we’ll admit it was a prank.”
I was convinced it wasn’t, but nobody had any better ideas.
It seemed at first as though Alex and Freddie were right. Bonfire Night, Christmas and New Year passed without serious incident, except for an errant firework landing in our garden. As January, then February, then March passed and Alex and Freddie each turned 16, Steph and I began to think that maybe it wasn’t anything to worry about.
We had bigger fish to fry by then. Our GCSE exams were fast approaching, and suddenly our teachers were piling on the work. I found myself so busy I virtually forgot the people on out tail.
Until one day in mid – April, when I was cycling down the towpath on the way home from my music lesson in town, I noticed a man sitting shiftily on a bench at the side of the towpath.
He looked up. My heart almost stopped.
It was Rabman. Or at least, someone who looked scarily like him. The hair was gone – he was virtually bald – but there was still that dangerous look in his eyes.
A frightened, “Watch out!” from behind me jerked me out of my reverie. I was concentrating on not fainting, so I didn’t notice that I was veering dangerously towards the canal.
I braked sharply, almost falling off my bike. When I looked up again, Rabman had vanished as though he’d never been.
“Are you OK?” asked the man who’d warned me. “You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
“For a moment I thought I did,” I replied quietly.
When I eventually got in, everything seemed to be normal. Mum and my older sister, Cherise, were having a fight over something trivial in an upstairs room (as usual) and Dad was watching the reruns of EastEnders in the front room with Chas, my elder brother. I retreated to the peace of the kitchen, where the local news sat face down and forgotten on the table. Absentmindedly I turned it over.
And almost had my second heart attack of the afternoon.
The headline said, ‘POLICEMEN FOUND MURDERED – LINKS WITH ESCAPED RAPISTS FEARED.’
It was precisely what I’d dreaded. The article was about the two local policemen who’d been directly involved in the capture and imprisonment of Charlie Rabman and his two accomplices. They’d been found murdered, dumped in the ditch by the roadside the rapists were caught on. One was the Chief Inspector we’d spoken to. The meaning was Swavroski-crystal clear.
Fighting down a rising feeling of panic, I ripped the page off and put the rest in the recycling. I tucked it into my pocket and phoned Alex.
He knew immediately that something was up. “What’s the matter Robs?”
“I need to see all of you. If not now then soon.”
“Tomorrow,” he promised. “I’ll pass the message on to the others.”
“Thanks,” I said, and really meant it. It was getting harder to fight the panic down. But hopefully, all I had to do was hang on until tomorrow.
The next day we convened at Freddie’s house. I got straight to the point.
“Look,” I said, flattening the paper down on his bed. The headline stared up at us, black and bold. Unchanging.
“Now do you believe me?” I asked Alex and Freddie, who were reading through it. After what seemed like an eternity, they looked up.
“I hate to say it, but yes. This is too big a co-incidence,” said Alex grimly, meeting my eyes over the sheet of paper. For some reason it made me feel good. Him meeting my eyes like that, I mean.
“And that’s not all. I was cycling back from my guitar lesson yesterday evening, and he was there. On the towpath. He’d shaved his head, but it was definitely him.”
Steph went pale. Freddie stared at me. “You’re certain it was him?” he asked urgently.
“Pretty much. He’s got that look in his eyes, you know? Nearly gave me a heart attack.”
“What happened?” Alex looked like he couldn’t take much more.
I told them about the encounter on the towpath. “And when I looked again, he’d vanished. It was creepy.”
“Why has he waited all this time?” asked Freddie.
“Isn’t it obvious?” said Alex, his voice muffled by the bedclothes he now had his face in. “To lull us into a false sense of security.”
“Why don’t we just go to the police again?” Steph asked.
The phone rang four times before whoever it was on the other end picked up. “Grangeford Police station.”
“Hi,” I said, trying to sound confident. “We’ve seen that paedophile that’s on the run, Rabman. Yesterday, on the towpath. Do you think...?”
At this point I was rudely interrupted.
“That’s probably the fourth sighting of him I’ve had today. People think every skinhead they see walking towards them is this Rabman chap.”
“But this was the real Rabman. Honestly sir…”
“Look, sweetheart, if you’ve got nothing better to do than making pointless calls and waste my time, go and find something productive to be getting along with. Put paedophiles out of your mind.”
“But…” I gave up. It was hopeless. They weren’t going to listen to us.
“Alright. Bye.” I hung up. “Fuck them, then.”
“I don’t think we can expect any help from the police,” Alex said. “Which means that we’ve got to shake him off ourselves.”
“As if I didn’t already have enough to do,” I grumbled.
“So what can we do? He sends us death threats and now he’s stalking teenagers around towpaths, what’s next?” Freddie asked the question that had been running through all our minds. I knew the answer though.
“Nothing. We can only wait.”
“I’ve had enough of waiting,” grumbled Freddie. “It makes me feel like I’m standing on a cliff waiting for the shove.”
“While we wait,” said Steph, shooting Freddie an odd look, “We can keep our eyes open for any fresh developments.”
I looked at Alex. He shrugged.
“It’s better than waiting around doing nothing,” he said.
“I’d hate being idle while we’re all in danger,” added Fred. Steph nodded.
Up until now, all this had been very unreal. With that one word, it stopped being a game.