Start at the top, work your way down. A logical way forward. The playing field is set, laid out before him, all the pieces clearly visible, stretching off into the distance, most of them already moving. Interacting.

It is no mere co-incidence that the station is on the top of the hill. It gives a sense of control over the town, looking down the street at everyone. It seemed somehow wrong that this high point was the south end of town, and that the view down was north. It should be the other way, with their castle, so to speak, on the hill here as the northern most end. Ironically, the other end of the street ended at a place that had 'hill' in its name, a mere bump though, to be sneered at from here.

Steve adjusted how his jacket was sitting, and checked his equipment. He could imagine what it must have been like to be the sheriff of a frontier town, one of a very small team responsible for keeping law and order, up at first light, surveying his town, wondering what lay in store.

No frontier town this though, out from all directions from the street lay miles of tightly packed suburbs, even other small towns sheltering under the parent name of this one.

It was time to start his patrol.

The sign that we stop next to says "Patrol". Somehow, I'm supposed to know that it means that children may be crossing nearby. The sign next to it "No stopping at any time", the most important one, "Lower High street, towards Sutton, Cheam and Carshalton" below the symbol of red circle with horizontal bar, my bus stop.

I can feel the stares boring hotly into my back as I get off the bus. I wish I knew why people felt the way they did towards me. Not the obvious reason of my appearance - that's far too easy to understand. In this modern day and age, surely people could see past the surface and understand people by talking to them. Or at least initially giving them some kind of benefit of the doubt. On second thoughts, what with the sound bite culture, fast food, MTV and the like, perhaps people really are just getting more and more shallow.

I slowly begin to make my way up the slight incline that marks the beginning of the High Street. On my right is quite possibly the grottiest pub in the whole area. There is some kind of tattooed animal staring me out as he lazes at the grimy wooden bench and table outside, drinking and smoking. He looks like his idea of a good time is to have a dirty fight. Appearances can be deceptive though, as he is first to give up the staring contest. I get that a lot.

Right next door is a shop called Planet Kebab. How perfect is that? The smell that emanates from it is far from perfect though, making me somewhat nauseous. I'm sure you have to be drunk to appreciate their cuisine.

Steve paused, noting the difference in shops around him. One moment ago, cuisine, fast food, pubs. The section ahead, shops for clothes, computer games, music, household goods. The feel of the street had changed so much over the years, more and more, shops were selling consumables, coffee shops, endless mobile phone stores, fruit machine arcades, places where you walked in, spent money, yet came out with nothing.

He felt odd, out of his normal environment, alone on foot in this sea of people, excited at what lay ahead. The slow, easy steps resounded, the paving slab he had paused on was loose, rocking on its shifting bed of sand. Firmer ground lay ahead, ornamental bricking, tarmac of the road sealed off from the prowlings of cars during pedestrian hours.

Wilkinson's. A bright scarlet sign on cream background, beneath, the typical large glass front, windows only distinguishable from doors by the selection of wares and colourful signs cluttered behind. "Save". "Must go". "Now even cheaper". Each sign clammered to be read before the others, desperate for our attention.

The clammering continued. It took a moment to realise that the clammering was real, a suppressed but squealing alarm. It took another fraction of a second to move his view from the windows to the doors, to see the man, a worried look already gnawing at his face, instinctively clutching his bag closer to him as the automatic door started to slide open. The squeal, now released via the opening door hurried out into the street, passers-by starting to turn, looking for the source of noise with displeasure, frowns, tutting noises.

He started to turn, to move forward, thinking to intercept this man, who was trying to pass his illicitly gained goods past the faithful and ever alert scanners at the doors. And yet he could see now the man himself was turning back, looking confused, and a girl, shapeless red jumper, yellow writing was waving him through, her hand-flicking gesture already dismissing him, no doubt ignoring the alarm instinctively as a hundred times before.

Why do we have alarms if we only ignore them?

The squealing stopped. Perhaps the plastic towers that comprised the alarm scanners now felt embarrassed, unable to express why they had barked at the man who had done nothing wrong. Perhaps even now, they feared being reprimanded by the store owner when the shop shut for the night. Might it not miss a genuine theft now, for fear of being wrong once more? Miss some young opportunist taking a set of Nikes?

He corrected himself, Wilkinson's could not, would not sell Nikes... more likely Pikeys...

Now I move up into what I derisively call Pikeyland. All the shops in this particular part of the High Street are bargain discount stores or catalogue outlets. There are a very particular breed of humans that frequent this area. Perhaps they really can't help it but don't they realise how absurd and stereotypical they look in their cheap pink jogging suits? As soon as I see one with her dyed blonde hair tied back I instinctively know, without really looking very hard, that she'll be pushing a pram. An ear-splitting walk confirms that I'm right. That pink tracksuit would probably look good on Britney but in this case it looks as though a few too many calories have entered into the equation. Why leave the mid-riff bare when it bulges out like that? Surely nobody can conceive of that being attractive? The language these creatures use grates instantly on my nerves and is pure gutter. It's absolutely the 'Saahff Laarndan' accent I expect. Hardly any consonants but plenty of 'innits' punctuating their speech. Their stares are without exception, one of two types: Hard and challenging, almost demanding of confrontation, or just utterly vacant. Not even a hint of friendliness or even the affected sympathetic looks that I sometimes get. They all seem to smoke like chimneys.

I roll on further up the street, leaving these people with their drab, predictable, programmed and meaningless existence behind me. Now I'm entering the teenage wonderland that is made up of the fast food establishments. Once again I'm into hard-stare territory but this time their gazes are less weary and might even carry a hint of curiosity. There is still the ever-present unspoken challenge though, and this disappoints me in a way that somehow affects my gut. At such an early age these people are already biased and unaccepting. I wonder what kind of world we live in where young people can find nothing better, or at least constructive to do, than hang about in packs near burger shops. It's curious to note the differences in attitudes between the boys and the girls. The boys stare openly with that challenging look that I'm used to. Some sit, hands in pockets, chewing gum and looking gormless, cows in a field of grey, masticating on their cud. Others stand and strut, reminding me of birds mechanically preening themselves in cages in a zoo. The girls huddle together whispering and giggling, occasionally looking up at me but mostly looking over at the boys who seem oblivious. Their nonchalance is clearly faked though, as every so often the boys will glance back, making sure their female audience is still present, appreciating their colours, their advertising. Peacocks, feathers on show.

Steve stared a moment longer at the colourful adverts, at the undefined point where the alarms had sounded, before turning, looking down the street's length once more. The angle of incline seemed less from here, the view reducing, the street consuming you in its crush, unable to see out. Peoples heads seemed merged into a sea of moving hair colours between islands of market stalls, telephone kiosks, and open air displays that attracted gawping crowds.

To the left, Waterstones, seller of books and also of coffee, by dint of a franchise taking part of the top floor. That's what had started this off, those weeks ago, a conversation over coffee, that had become an idea, one that had lodged within him and blossomed until there was The Plan.

And now here he was, enacting it, each casual step taking him nearer to The Plan's finale, down there, down the street.

He longed to turn around, look at each building, each person surrounding him, look at the sculpture behind the florist's stall, a metal globe all in outlines, shining silver. To look at the road behind, the bricked pedestrian walkway in front. Absorb all the sights and sounds. No time.

The Plan required him to move, continue, to meet half way down the street. Unobliging, the street loomed ahead, long, and obstructed by the faceless mass of the population crowding between the shop fronts.

I'm glad when I am past the crowd. There is something unnerving about so many teenagers being in one area. A hidden potential threat that I cannot quite explain. I am of course being prejudiced, but then so are they. At last I reach something that resembles civilisation. Now I get to the entrance to the indoor precinct with its up-market shops and cafés. I'm tempted to go inside so that I can cool off in the air conditioned interior. It's a hot and humid day and the hill, though only a mild incline, is starting to take its toll on my system. I resist my urge though and instead enjoy the powerful, rich aroma of roasting coffee beans coming from the many cafés. Some of them have outside seating which, naturally on a day like today, is fully occupied. I've never quite understood why all the competing coffee shops tend to clump together in the same space. It almost seems as if they are afraid to venture further afield. As if, despite their competitiveness, they actually need each other for some kind of moral support. It's probably some so-called strategy by middle management suits who have no creative bone in their body, except when it comes to their expense accounts. Perhaps the reason for the clustering is simply to overpower shoppers with the smell and entice them to buy. It seems to be working because I wish I had time to stop and have a cup. I must meet my friend though, and I'm already late.

Late already. There was no time to stop and stare, appreciate the sights, so he continued walking, shaking his head. He could not afford to stand out, be different, noticed. Not today.

One foot in front of the other. Clockwork, merely a wound up toy.

He remembered then what the two buildings behind used to be - Allders, a department store, furniture on the right hand side of the street, almost everything else you could want on the left. Shinners. He wondered how many people would recognise that older name. In fact he couldn't remember now if that was a real name or just slang. Allders was now merely a segment of the mall further down the street on the left. Of course, it wasn't even that, bought out by Debenhams.

Another sign of the change. the high street giving a small reflection on the larger world of commerce. Companies buying and selling each other. Again, the product on the street was not important, it was the act of purchase that was important far above what was actually on sale, whether goods, property, or even in the shadier alleys, services.

The kind of commission he was undertaking today was not available on the high street, nor in the phone book, although it made an enticing story for a book.

I can see the bookshop up ahead, our prearranged spot where I am to meet Steve, but there is one more hurdle I have to tackle before there. The small collection of charity collectors, market surveyors and other do-gooders are in their usual area, lurking and waiting to pounce on shoppers who are not in the know. I've seen it all before though, and I have a number of tactics for avoiding their predatory behaviour. I consider and reject options: move to the other side of the street; pass next to one who is already busy with another customer; Look fierce and unapproachable; or put on a personal stereo and nod your head in time to music, even if the unit is switched off and there is no music.

I decide that today's option will be to use my look, my shell, as defence, as a suit of armour. I put on a scowl and try to mimic Mr Tattoo who I encountered earlier at the bottom of the High Street. It almost works but at the last moment, a grey haired woman of approximately one hundred years old leans over and asks me:

"Excuse me sir, have you got time for a survey?"

I completely ignore her. I know this is rude but experience has taught me that once you engage them in conversation it is very difficult to pull away. I just hope she thinks I'm deaf as well as menacing. Thankfully she shrugs and moves away. At least I didn't get the insincere sympathy effect this time.

Now I'm at our meeting place: the new bookshop where we met last week for coffee. Steve does not seem to be there yet. I'm sure we agreed to meet outside rather than in the coffee bar again, so I decide to hang around for a while. I stop just outside the shop entrance and have a quick scan of the area. I still don't see him, so I start to think that his train is late.

He could see the bluey green glass of the 'sail' jutting out from one of the mall's entrances. White tubes, glittering glass, a lovely monstrosity of modern architecture, shadowing the two mall shops which have entrances onto the street as well as in the mall.

Somewhere off behind the complex in the back streets is a similar glass monstrosity, built by the council, merely a glorified bus stop, yet at a price tag that could pay off his flat twice over and more.

Steve could see his target approaching from further down the street. Time to put The Plan into action. He quickly ducked under the sail and inside the enclosed precinct. Lurking in the doorway, he remained obscured by a group of shoppers as he watched the target go past along the street outside. With an elevated heartbeat, he waited for thirty seconds before following discreetly behind. The timing was perfect. The Plan was going to work.

All that training and practice in the woods was paying off. Now it was an urban environment that was to test his skills. Steve followed his target back up the street at just the right distance. Not too close so that he would be spotted, but not too far behind so that he would lose him. To lose the target now would be the ultimate embarrassment. Always keeping shoppers between himself and the target, he prepared himself for the kill. It was difficult to stalk his prey at such a slow speed without drawing attention to himself, but he seemed to be pulling it off.

All of a sudden I get an odd feeling. Someone is behind me. I turn around.

There he is, standing strangely with his feet wide apart. He's looking at me in a very spooky way and he's carrying what seems to be a comic at chest level. Slowly he lowers the comic with one hand, revealing a pistol in the other. It's pointed straight at me and my heart rate instantly doubles.

"Hey! What are you...?"

Finally, the moment of truth arrived. The target slowed and stopped at the pre-arranged place, the bookshop, just as Steve predicted. The target was looking around but not seeing the person he was supposed to meet. At last, with Steve standing only eight paces behind him, the target turned to face him. Recognition dawned on his face then, as Steve revealed his weapon, the look turned into puzzlement and then fear. Before he could speak, Steve fired. His aim was good - it was a direct hit to the chest.

Mission accomplished. The Plan completed. Perfect execution.

Before I can finish the question, he fires. The sound is surprisingly quiet. I feel the round hit my chest - not as hard as I might have expected - and I wonder what I have done to make him want to shoot me.

Now he's pointing at me and laughing. I can't feel any pain, which surprises me again. He's now collapsed onto his knees and laughing hysterically. I really don't understand what is going on. I should be dead, or at least bleeding, and why does Steve think it's so funny. Then, finally, the light dawns on me.

"You bastard! You shot me with an Airsoft gun!" I complain.

"Yeah, I got you good, didn't I?"

"I nearly had a bloody heart attack!"

"Ah well, no harm done. You seem to be moving a bit slow today though."

"Yeah," I reply, "I think my batteries are running down."

Steve laughs again, enjoying the joke.

Thus far unnoticed, a figure is standing, waiting silently, watching them, his stillness and grey uniform out of place in the rush of colour on the high street.

Noticing him Steve starts, his laughter dying at the approach of the uniform. His confidence from the moment before evaporating, he tries to hide the Airsoft pistol, begins to shake. The comic flutters, then stills, as the hand clutching it looses grip. It starts to fall, but is stopped half way to the ground.

The figure holds it out towards him.

"You don't want to drop litter, you might get fined for that." The voice is calm, low, menacing. Steve gingerly reaches out and takes the comic and starts to back away. "This is not going to happen again, is it?"

" No it won't."


Steve turns, looks briefly at his friend, whose expression is turning from amused outrage to resignation, then runs in through the mall's doors, and is swallowed effortlessly by the crowd within.

I don't want to go back, but it is not like I can turn and run, so I wait for the inevitable judgement.

"Have you enjoyed your little escape?" I shrug, unable to think of a suitable response. "Did I hear correctly, your batteries are getting low?"

"Seems that way."

"Then shall I push?"

"If you don't mind." I realise that, surprisingly, I am not resentful, I'm hungry. "Can we go for lunch in 'All Bar One'?" He pauses, considering, before replying.

"I think this once, yes."

The nurse moves behind me and takes the handles as I disengage the electric motor of my wheelchair. I let the brake go as he takes the weight and then pushes me off in the direction of the pub. He's talking slowly, condescendingly to me as we go, telling me how disappointed he is that I left the clinic on my own without informing him. How I should not be mixing with the wrong sort of people, that they will take advantage of me. How I could have been hurt. How I should fit in with their ordered, scheduled routine.

I'm not really listening though, my mind is drifting and reflecting on how different the High Street and its culture is from one end to the other. I also consider how my thoughts have reacted to this today. I consider how easy it is to have a prejudiced view of people.

Which is worse, their view or mine?