A.J. Walker


The Vicarious Nicky Redbourne

The Vicarious Nicky Redbourne

Everyone in town knew Nicky, he had an engaging way about him; his smile, his laugh and… those eyes. He’d talk to anyone when he was out and about in the cafes and pubs, the parks, or on the bus. And his smile, his laugh: and those eyes. People invariably got pulled in by the whole package of Nicky Redbourne. If he’d designed his persona and practiced it then he was a unadulterated genius. If it was just what he was born with then he’d won the “everybody’s friend” lottery at birth.

Speaking to his “regulars”, and strangers alike he just seemed to pull out interesting story after story from them. Information was never delivered back the other way. He was a data black hole. Bar staff who knew him from many central pubs said he lived vicariously off the life that others had lived. He’d never been seen eating. Never been seen with a partner. It was assumed that Nicky lived alone, loved no one, ate nothing, did nothing. He simply lived and breathed the stories of strangers.

He was seen time and again coming out of the bus station by many people who recognised him. They’d say he was friendly, that he enjoyed their company, that they loved talking to him. But no-one could be sure they could truly call him a friend. They knew his face. But not one jot about him. When caught leaving the bus station he always said he’d caught one of the buses from a not very salubrious area of town. The kind of place that when it wasn’t being quiet it meant there had been serious trouble. Not retelling stories from the area he’d come from seemed a reasonable response to what he must live with. Who wants to bathe in the negativity of daily life when there’s no light to go with the dark? To live vicariously was a reasonable answer to the problems of living a life that no-one should accept.

That’s what people thought.

When the proverbial hit the fast spinning thing in June 2023 though the press and the rumour mill had some meaty morsels to get stuck into. The town was abuzz with all things Nicky. Posters went up from the police: “Do you know this man? Any information at all please call Crime Stoppers at the number below. All information treated in strictest confidence.” There were two pictures on the poster. Once was the Nicky everyone knew. One was a photo-fit of what Nicky looked like apparently in his other non-town centre life. He looked completely different. It was amazing what people don’t see in front of them sometimes. And then there was the name which the police indicated was “the suspect’s” real one: Colin Fellowes.

Looking at the two pictures everyone struggled to see Nicky as a Colin, but the photo-fit definitely looked like a Colin. Initially everyone in ttown were adamant that Nicky and Colin were not one and the same. It was could only be a cock-up by the police.

But then time did its magical thing. Nicky had almost daily been out and about after his bus into town. Yet since the initial police enquiries and request for information about the vicarious one he wasn’t seen on the buses, in the park, in the cafes. At first people thought that maybe he’d gone to ground after the enquiries through embarrassment. Or maybe he’d just gone away for a week. But as the days were ticked off it became clear that something was up. He’d never been away from town that long.

Neal Aston, the landlord at the Farmer’s Arms, one of Nicky’s regular haunts, was quoted in the local rag about being worried how Nicky must be coping without his daily intake of stories. “That’s his daily bread. I can’t see him sat at home without that sustenance.” Meanwhile journalists, police and the keyboard Sherlock’s alike were struggling with the question of where in fact his home was. The police had been led via everyone’s knowledge that he got one of two buses from the north east side of town to look at video after video of bus footage from these buses. There was not one sighting of Nicky on any of them - or of Colin if he travelled in one appearance and changed into the other at the bus station. In any case there was nowhere to change there in the years since the toilets were dismantled. Police Detective Don McDermott who was leading the investigation eventually announced to the general public that there were no records of a Nicky Redbourne living in the town and also that the commonly held view that the man with those eyes and that smile did not fact use buses at all. “It was all a ruse. Part of his disguise.” Privately McDermott said that he couldn’t fail to be impressed by the man - whoever he was.

Everyone knew Nicky, but no-one
knew Nicky. As for Colin everyone struggled to get to grips with the information available on him. There was some data on credit cards and a Driving Licence. But these were no longer in use and hadn’t been for years. It had been a paper licence too, so there wasn’t even a photo available to assist the story. The story; Nicky would have loved its telling. After a couple of months with the trail cold they stopped requesting information on Colin. It was evidently part of a smokescreen that Nicky - or whoever he was - had concocted.

But where had he gone? And what had he done? No one in the town knew what the police were looking into. They were playing their cards close to their chest. Bryan Deakes from the Times started penning scathing pieces on the investigations asking how much money had been spent on the investigations, and asked what the purpose was. McDermott was not telling the public why they were looking for the man. It could have been an unpaid parking ticket, or perhaps he’d flashed himself on a bus, or maybe he’d killed a cat. Deakes suggested the cards were being hidden as all those involved were clueless and indeed playing different card games.

The council leader poured McDermott another whisky. “I think we have to leave it now. The man’s gone. The money’s gone for good. The state have written off the debt for us as they don’t want to be brought into all this. We’ve been told some specialist PR guys that help out Whitehall from time to time - which I suspect means regularly - will concoct the cover story for us. The council will be kept out of it and you guys will have a plausible story to tell.’

‘Perhaps Nicky would like to hear it? I’d certainly like to tell him myself.’

‘Aye. You and me both. But I think drawing a line under all of this is the best thing for everybody.’

The nodded into their glasses. Conscious that it was best in particular for Simon England the former council accountant. His name had never been released to the general public for it would be too easy to pull on that thread and find out some highly embarrassing information for a lot of influential people. McDermott could hardly believe that it was the same man. He was evidently a master of disguise, as sly as hell and yet so quiet and unassuming at work - as he squirrelled away his millions.

In Costa Rica Bernie Willis lay by the pool at his apartment wondering what to do next. He’d heard that El Niño was potentially going to spoil his summer and wondered whether he should get on a plane to Malaysia to go to his house in Penang, or maybe to his place in Sri Lanka. Decisions, decisions. At 34 he was enjoying his early retirement. He didn’t miss his accountancy job or council officials, but he was thankful for their ineptitude. He wasn’t missing Colin’s apartment in the docks either. But he did miss the Nicky persona. His decision to hide in plain sight by apparently living vicariously from the efforts of others was his best decision ever. Listening to stories from everybody’s lives was compelling entertainment and the focus was on the teller not the listener. Who needs to binge watch TV series when you can binge real life without a license fee? Bernie decided that before travelling to Asia he’d have a few days in San Jose to trawl the bars for new storytellers. He just needed to pick a new name and a different wardrobe. Nicky Redbourne was no more, but that didn’t mean he couldn’t continue to live vicariously.

McDermott sat in his office staring considering the millions that someone had stolen from the council. The man had got away with it and the council and State had shrugged it off and said nothing. His team’s efforts in finding the man or the money had not got off the ground; they hadn’t even got the real name of the perpetrator. He knocked back another whisky and looked out the window considering his career choices. He was definitely in the wrong job. Still, he'd have a good story to tell one day.