This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
A collection of short stories. Published by: Bullet Media Ltd 7 Roker Park Road Sunderland SR6 9PF UK www.rocknrollnoir.com www.bulletmagazine.co.uk 2005 Copyright © Retained by individual authors. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the permission of the copyright owner. ISBN-10 0-9551497-0-3 ISBN-13 978-0-9551497-0-2
WELCOME To the new Bullet – the ONLY place for rock’n’roll noir. Upgraded and expanded but still full of hard, fast, gritty short stories, every one laced with rock’n’roll attitude. People often ask “Just what the hell is rock’n’roll noir?” I say “You tell me,” which is no answer at all. Thing is though, you know it when you see it. It’s tough, aggressive, energetic and cool, all at the same time. Read on and find out for yourself. This issue, number 5, has some of the best stories from earlier issues plus a host of brand new stories, combining some of the best of the old with the brand spanking new. We hope you like it. The stories may be longer but the spirit of Lester still moves through these pages. Remember we’re always on the lookout for hot new writers, so if you got the chops contact us at our website bulletmagazine.co.uk. Read on and remember…keep on rockin’…. Keith Jeffrey Editor
Brian Richmond (Northern Ireland) Learning to Cry Allan Guthrie (Scotland) Wild to Possess Dirty Work Dave Balfe (England) The Unpleasantness Ray Banks (England) Saturday Night Special Real Gone Delphine LeCompte (Belgium) and that’s why i’m limping today once upon a time in a dreary flemish town called bugger Milky Wilberforce (England) Small Business Steamroller TK Dan (England) Home Deliveries Funtime Taxing Time Peter McAdam (England) Burning Car Blues Ten Letters Laird Long (Canada) Flesh and Blood Ghosts of the Past Take Out Neil Campbell (En gland) Dangerbirds 21st Century Beatitude Elle Ludkin (England) Down Vermin Clint Gaige (USA) Tiebreaker The Riff 4 11
Brian grew up on a Belfast housing estate during the worst of the 'Troubles.' He now lives in the much more peaceful surroundings of Inishowen, County Donegal, the most northerly part of Ireland. His fiction has previously appeared in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine and he was a finalist in this year's inaugural Albedo 1 awards. This is the first time he has been published in Bullet. 6
LEARNING TO CRY
Charlie Grant came home from work and walked into his living room to find his wife with a shotgun jammed into her ear. There were two guys there, both wearing rubber Shrek masks, one holding the aforementioned shotgun, the other with a handgun pointed at Charlie. “You know how this goes,” Handgun said. ”You and me drive to the bank, my mate stays here with the missus. You withdraw the money, I phone back here when I’ve got it, my mate and me disappear, nobody gets hurt.” Charlie looked at the man for a moment then, as he did every night, went over to the liquor cabinet and poured himself a Jamesons. “What the fuck you think you’re doin’?” said Handgun. “It’s pretty obvious,” said Charlie, taking his drink with him to sit on the sofa opposite where his wife was perched on a wooden dining chair. Handgun and Shotgun looked at each other. Handgun spoke. “Look, you don’t get off your arse, we’re goin’ to blow her head off.” Charlie sat back in the chair, looked off toward the window, then turned back to the two hoods. “So, do it.” Charlie took a sip of his drink. “I’ll look away. Okay, the two of us aren’t getting on but, even so, I’m not sure I’d like to see that. Yuekkk.” “Bastard!” Sheila, his wife, hissed. Handgun strode across the room, shoved the gun muzzle in Charlie’s face. “How about I shoot you? Huh? How about that, tough guy?” “Yeah, shoot me, shoot everybody. Get yourself a murder hunt and no money. Brilliant idea.” Handgun hesitated. Behind him, his accomplice asked: “What do we do?” “You shut up, that’s what you do. Let me think.” He stepped back, looked out through the window. It was a big house, set in its own grounds, far back from the road. Traffic was a distant hiss. It wasn’t supposed to work this way. Okay, things could always go wrong but, hey, they had the guns, this prick was supposed to do what they said. Handgun nodded, more to himself than anyone else. “It’s a bluff.” “Shoot her and see.” Charlie took another sip of his drink. “You think you’re so smart…” Handgun walked across to stand in front of Sheila, then swung his pistol, 7
catching her heavy alongside the head and tipping her over on to the floor. She lay still for a moment, moaning. A vivid white line the length of her cheek parted as they watched. Blood oozed. Shotgun said “Holy shit…” Standing back in front of Charlie now, Handgun asked, “So, how’d you like that, then, Mr Hard Man?” “You slapped her around. You think I haven’t? Christ, you don’t know her. Hit her again, all the good it’ll do you.” His eyes were fixed on Handguns, his body was slouched in the seat, relaxed. “Jesus,” Handgun thought, “is he really this cold?” Gingerly, Sheila was getting back up on her feet. Shotgun reached across to guide her back to the chair by her elbow but she shrugged him away. Taking out her handkerchief, she dabbed at the blood glaring – not at her attacker – but at her husband. “Mebbe I need to slap you around, bet you aren’t so tough, then.” Charlie gestured with his glass towards a row of photos on top of a table. There were photographs of Charlie and Sheila at their wedding. Photos of holidays. Snaps showing the progress of Charlie’s career, from a backstreet garage to the opening by a Coronation Street star of his fourth new dealership. In among the mix was a picture of a young Charlie in boxing shorts and gloves, crouching and glowering at the camera. “I was a shit boxer,” said Charlie. “Eleven wins out of forty two fights. But, you know what, I was never knocked out. Soak it up, I could. So, fire away, son, you’re still not getting my money. You have any idea, how hard I worked for all this?” He gestured with his head at the room. “Now I’m going to hand a wad of it over to two little pricks like you?” He meant it, too. Christ, kids today, they had no idea. Unless you’d had to get up at 3 in the morning to piss in an outside toilet, you really didn’t know what money meant. “This is fucked,” Shotgun was bouncing back and forth on the balls of his feet, his body language screamed anxiety. He looked ready to bolt for the door. “Let me think…” Handgun was clearly in charge but, because of that, he felt the pressure of coming up with a way to regain control. “Think think think!” he kept saying over and over to himself but his mind was a mess. He walked over to the liquor cabinet, slugged Charlie’s whisky straight from the decanter. “Oh, great, that’ll help…” 8
“Will you keep the fucken gun on her and shut the fuck up?” He paced up and down the room. ”This is bullshit. Bullshit! You’re bluffing. If you don’t care about her, how come you’re still married?” “Same reason I’m not driving you to the bank. Money. You think I’m going to divorce her? Hand over half of all I made? Hey, I can get girls. She watches her soaps. It’s less hassle this way.” Sheila shook her head. “You always were a tight bastard, but this…” Charlie shrugged. “So, you see, your little ransom plan is history.” However…” he sat his glass down on the coffee table; “First off, let’s review the situation here…” Shotgun was shaking his head. “This is so, so fucked…” Putting his glass on the table, Charlie stood up and stretched. “You know, things don’t have to be a complete loss…” At that moment, Handgun was tempted to just put away the gun and walk out of there. His head was spinning. Nothing was working out the way it was supposed to. What should they do now? If only he could think straight. “There is a way one of you could find yourself quite a few bob richer. No cops after him. Nothing.” Shotgun said ”What you mean? One of us?” Handgun laughed, but even he was unconvinced by the sound he made. ”Bullshit. This is just so much bullshit.” “Well, I’ve explained my little marital problem here. Let’s face it, Sheila’s seen better days. But whether I divorce her or keep her I’m still paying for her. That, to be honest with you, gets on my tits.” “Bastard!” “Tut, tut, darling. Not in front of the children. Now, there is one way I could get some money out of her…” He paused. “Insurance.” Handgun said. “That’s right, insurance. You are the smart one.” “I don’t like the way this is going…” “You just keep your mouth shut and your shotgun on her…” “You said it was only a threat, nobody’d get hurt…” Sheila said ”You’re not a bad boy, son, I can tell. Don’t be doing anything you’re gonna regret…” “Behind that picture there…” Charlie nodded towards a sentimental portrait of happy agricultural workers and stout horses working in an autumn field “…there’s a safe. I’m going to open it. There’s something in it you should see.” He stood up and started to walk across the room. “Stop him!” said Shotgun but his friend was shaking his head now, as if that would clarify events. He made a decision. “Okay, open it, but don’t try 9
anything.” The pistol was pointed firmly at Charlie who lifted the painting down to reveal a small wall safe. He worked the combination lock, opened the door and turned round with a pistol in his hand. “Drop it!” Handgun fell into a firing crouch, his whole body vibrating with tension. “Don’t worry. I’m not trying nothing…” Charlie let the weapon dangle loosely in his hand. “But, see, we need this for the script to work. I come home from work to find one guy – ONE GUY – holding my wife to ransom. He asks if we have a safe and tells me to open it. Soon as I open the safe I hear a shot behind me…My poor wife. Fearing for my life, I take out my legally held weapon, turn and shoot him dead.” “You are a clever bastard…” Handgun said. “I don’t understand…” Shotgun’s voice was high with fear, his eyes flickering in the holes of the mask, moving back and forth between his friend and Charlie. “We need – what would they call it in the gangster movies? A fall guy? At the minute, I can’t shoot one of you without the other one taking me out. Either of you could shoot me, but all that gets you is a murder hunt. However, if one of you lets me kill the other, then pops the missus and splits, I tell the police there was only one robber and the survivor gets a slice of the not too shabby insurance money.” “How does the…the survivor…know you’ll pay?” Handgun was coming out of his crouch now. “I have to pay. He’s got the best blackmail hold in the world on me.” Sheila looked up at Shotgun. “They’re setting you up…” He took the gun away from her head, swung it towards Charlie then, back towards his friend. “Glenn…Glenn, this isn’t good…” “You better make up your mind soon. I should’ve mentioned. The safe triggers a silent alarm unless I phone ahead to the monitoring station and say I’m opening it. The police are on their way…So, that’s the choice, either the two of you go down…or one gets dead and one gets rich…” Handgun looked across at his friend. “Don’t point that at me…” “Glenn…I’m scared…” “Don’t be, okay? We’re mates, aren’t we? You think I’d hurt you? Jesus just don’t point that at me, okay? Okay?” “Don’t trust him, they’re going to kill the two of us…” “Sheila, shut up!” “Glenn, let’s just go…All right? All right?”. The shotgun kept wavering between Handgun – Glenn – and Charlie. “Soon as you put the gun down, absolutely…Swear to God…” “Don’t do it…” Sheila was looking at her husband with a fixed and terrible stare. “You put that down, we’re both dead…” “Sheila! I fucken told you…” Charlie returned his wife’s look. There was something in his eyes, not anger, more a look of pleading. “Glenn…” Shotgun sounded as if he was actually crying. 10
“It’s okay. Just take it easy. Easy.” Everything went still and quiet. For a moment, all they could hear was the singing of the birds in the trees outside. The sound of the gun was deafening. Glenn’s arms opened wide and he was lifted into the air by the shotgun blast. For a moment he seemed to hang in the air, crucified, until he crashed down to the ground. One foot beat spasmodically against the floor for a moment. Then he was still. The shotgun was lowered. “I had to…He was going to do it. When the police come, you’ll tell them I, you know, saved you…” When he took the mask off, you could see the tears running down his face. He looked about seventeen. “I’ll tell them.” Sheila turned to her husband. ”Jesus, you were good, even I believed you.” “Ummmm.” Charlie pointed the gun and fired at Shotgun, hitting him in the head. The boy went straight down with all the drama of a coat sliding from a hanger. Sheila’s face blazed. “What you do that for? He wasn’t going to hurt me. He was giving himself up…” “Exactly, that was the problem. I need a new script.” Charlie went over to where Glenn lay and picked up the dead man’s right hand, still holding the pistol. “Let’s try another angle. In this one, Glenn here is your protector. When he tries to save you, shotgun guy lets him have it and I take the chance to shoot Mr Sawnoff. So – boom - Glenn goes down…Pow! Your guy gets it from me…” “This doesn’t make sense…Charlie, for Christ’s sake…” Charlie wrapped his own hand tightly around the still-warm fingers of the robber, raised the gun. His index finger pressed on Glenn’s and Glenn’s, in turn, began to push the trigger back. The hammer lifted. Charlie sighted down the gun at his wife. “Unfortunately, when Glenn here is shot trying to protect you, his gun goes off, killing the very person he was hoping to save. Now that’s ironic.” “Charlie…” Sheila was looking around the room, wondering if she could risk running. “ Come on…you don’t want to do this…I’ll go away. Honest. The money doesn’t matter to me…” “Bye bye, baby…” The room was quiet now, except for the buzzing in Charlie’s ears. Police cars drove onto the driveway, lights flashing but sirens off. Charlie surveyed the sprawled bodies, the abstract blast patterns of the blood. What was he supposed to be feeling? Charlie noticed that his legs were shaking. Imagine that, he thought. 11
He sat in his chair. The phone rang. That’ll be the police, checking on the set-up. See if they’re dealing with a hostage situation. Charlie paused. Here I go, he thought and took a deep breath. Before he picked up the receiver, he stared out the window at the early evening sunshine and tried to make himself cry.
Allan Guthrie was born in Orkney but has lived in Edinburgh for most of his adult life. He has published several short stories in a variety of magazines and anthologies, and is the author of two novels. “Two-Way Split” (short listed for the CWA Debut Dagger) was published in the USA by PointBlank Press in July 2004 and by Polygon in the UK in September, 2005. His second novel, “Kiss Her Goodbye”, was published in the USA by Hard Case Crime in March, 2005, with Polygon’s UK edition to follow in April 2006. “Wild to Possess” first appeared in Bullet 3. “Dirty Work” is published for the first time. 13
They wouldn’t let him do it twice. Not even in Amsterdam. Ben hung up, slipped his phone into his pocket. Ah, well. He’d tried. Now he could focus on the job in hand. He’d done the hard bit. It had taken the best part of two hours and he was sweating like tomorrow was execution day and he’d forgotten to place the order for his last meal. Who’d have thought digging a couple of holes would have been so exhausting? Found some babywipes in the car. Gave his face a lick with one of them. Then he’d called Amsterdam while he was getting his breath back. So, back to work. He put his gloves on, grabbed hold of the tongue and tugged. You wouldn’t have any idea how hard it was to get the slippery fucker through the gap. Tight fit, and the damn thing wriggled in his hand like it was alive. This was the sort of job Ben really didn’t like. He was supposed to be selling guns, not doing this kind of shite. Could have farmed the job out, maybe. But he hadn’t. Too risky. This was something he had to do himself. He let go of the tongue and dug his fingers through the hole in the corpse’s throat. Prised the skin apart. Fumbled for the tongue again and this time forced it through. There. Ya wee beauty. He yanked on it, made sure there was a good few inches poking through. Ought to be enough. Sat back for a minute and took a breather. Dirty work. Still, nothing new there. *** Much as Ben would have loved to have gone home, showered, sank a couple of beers, watched TV with his cat on his lap and Janice by his side, he wasn’t quite finished yet. The body weighed a ton. He tried lifting it, but the muscles in his arms burned and his spine felt like it was about to snap. He stooped behind the body, stuck his hands under the armpits and dragged it a couple of inches before slumping. Took a deep breath and tried again. Landed on his arse hard enough to make him cry out. “Jesus,” he said, “why did you have to be such a fat fuck?” 14
It was true. The fat fuck didn’t contradict him. “Cat got your tongue?” Well, Ben could see clearly that that wasn’t the case. He patted the corpse’s plump knee. “Sorry.” Truth was, he felt pretty bad. Wouldn’t have been so bad if it had been a bloke, but doing this to a woman was tough. Really fucking tough. All joking aside. He had cut her throat post-mortem so there wasn’t an awful lot of blood. Same reason he’d used a .22. Double-tap. Back of the head. Very little spatter. Still, enough blood to attract a couple of flies. He brushed them away. He needed the money, you see. He wasn’t doing this for fun. This was to make an impression. If the big lass was a cake, the Columbian necktie was the icing. But would her husband bite? Ben hoped to Christ he had a sweet tooth. For Ben, this was the last resort. He’d already let some quack cut his big toe off for twenty grand. That’s what he’d been phoning Amsterdam about. See if they’d let him do it again. Well, why not? Lots of medical students out there in Holland needed the practice. What they did, see, was cut it off at the knuckle, then sewed it back on again straight away. And since it was now a couple of months later, and the toe was working okay — balance was a little off, right enough; and there was a bit of pain occasionally; and he’d never play football; and the scar was fairly unsightly — but all that aside, it had healed well enough for a second operation. Which meant another payment. But a repeat performance was out of the question, apparently. It only occurred to him now that he needn’t have mentioned he’d already had the operation. That way, they could have done the other foot and no one need have been any the wiser. Bollocks. Records, though. They’d have had records. They’d have found out. Cancelled the op at the last minute. And then where would he be? And if they’d found out about the first op, they’d have called off the second one. Having both big toes cut off and sewn back on screws up your balance too much, they’d told him. It’s illegal. Even in Amsterdam. Maybe he could try Brussels. 15
God, it was the hope that killed you. Shit, it was better this way. Do this little number. Earn enough to keep the bastard off his back. For a while, at least. The next payment was due next Thursday. Today was Friday. He had to get a move on. *** Four months and counting. That’s how long it had been. The first call had come at three fifteen. He knew that because he’d looked at his watch. Once he’d put the light on. Three fifteen. A fucking M. “I know,” the caller had said. At first Ben hadn’t had an inkling what the caller meant. Ben’s mouth tasted like a hamster had died in it, yet he’d been having a very pleasant dream about an old girlfriend. A strange combination of sensations guaranteed to disorientate the most focussed of individuals, which Ben, even when alert, wasn’t. He said, “Huh?” “I know about Freddie.” The tosser had sniggered. Ben snapped awake, shook like hell, felt acid in his stomach and thought he was going to spew. He hung up. He was still shaking when the phone rang again a couple of minutes later. He heard the same voice say, “I know all about it.” The man chuckled. Scumbag jizzwad was laughing at him now. Ben’s initial thought was, how could this anonymous caller know about it? Wasn’t possible. Nobody knew. It had to be a bluff. Okay, so this guy knew about Freddie. But what else did he know? Ben asked him. The caller told him and Ben went cold from his stomach to his scrotum. Fuck. Not only did he know, but the bastard claimed he also had photos. *** Ben managed to drag the body over to a tree. Took an age, but he made it. All this exercise, he ought to sleep well tonight. Fetched some rope out of the car boot. Sat the body upright, back against the tree, wrapped the rope around her stomach and used a second piece to hold her head erect. Showed off her new tie to best effect. 16
Back to the car. Took the camera out of the glove compartment. “Smile,” he said. She didn’t. Just stuck her tongue out at him. *** Thing about blackmail, you knew the payments were going to escalate. Started with a manageable amount, which of course Ben objected to paying, but considering the alternative, he didn’t make too much of a song and dance about it. Pay the man, be done with it. And hope that was the end of it. If those photos got out, Ben was fucked. The blackmailer was back within a couple of weeks and he was asking for a hell of a lot more. So Ben decided to shoot him. Okay, it wasn’t decided quite so matter-of-factly. Ben rarely killed anybody. In his whole life, he’d only killed four people. But the blackmailer had evidence that could destroy everything Ben held dear. Even if the fucker never demanded another penny, Ben couldn’t live with the possibility that his life could be ruined at any second. So, yeah, he was a little hesitant, sure. But once he’d made the decision it was pretty straightforward. All he needed was a name. And a gun. Given that he sold guns for a living, the latter was no trouble. But fingering the blackmailer had been a little harder. By the third payment, he was ready. Only five grand. Didn’t seem like so much now. But at the time it had seemed outrageous. And Ben was getting angry. He hated being controlled. The whole thing was getting out of hand and Ben decided to put an end to it. Regain control. He called Joe-Bob. Yeah, a guy from Haddington with a daft American name. Not that Joe-Bob liked it. In fact, he hated it. All stemmed from the fact that he abhorred Country and Western music, so some wit at university had . . . but that wasn’t the point. Rip the piss out of his name at your peril. Joe-Bob was a fat bastard with a flat Mohican hair-cut, usually dyed red, but he was nobody’s fool. Ben asked him to watch the drop, see who picked up the money bag and follow the fucker. Well, Joe-Bob had done just that. Tailed the blackmailer all the way to a 17
bar in the Grassmarket. Went inside, saw him disappear into a private back room. Provided Ben with a detailed description. Not somebody Ben recognised. Ben persuaded Joe-Bob to hang around outside the pub every evening for a week or so in case the blackmailer returned. It drizzled permanently, only letting up during the daytime when he wasn’t there. Come to think of it, one night it didn’t rain. But it was so cold, Joe-Bob told him, it felt like somebody had wrapped cold cloths around his knees and tied them so tight they’d cut off his circulation. Had a talent for melodrama, that boy. Ben had been a little concerned Joe-Bob might get noticed. After all, he was distinctive looking. He’d bought Joe-Bob a hat as a disguise. A fedora. It suited him. Got a call one night. “He’s here,” Joe-Bob said. It was around midnight by the time Ben joined Joe-Bob on the pavement opposite the pub, and the blackmailer was still inside. One o’clock, he still hadn’t left and Joe-Bob had been threatening to go home for the last fifteen minutes. He was soaked. Ben persuaded him to stay with the promise of a bottle of whisky of his choice. On top of what he was paying him already. The blackmailer finally appeared around one thirty. Joe-Bob pointed him out, and said, “Laphroaig, please.” Ben borrowed Joe-Bob’s hat and followed the blackmailer. The rain was great cover. Nobody pays anybody else any attention during a downpour and in any case the streets were almost deserted. Anybody who hadn’t already left for home yet was probably going to wait a while longer, see if the weather let up. There was no one at the bus stop. So Ben double-tapped him. Back of the head, just behind the ear. Quick tip of the fedora and Ben carried on walking with a spring in his step. Five minutes later, he jumped in a taxi. He gave Joe-Bob the bottle of Laphroaig next day. Kept the hat, though. The spring in Ben’s step was short-lived. Couple of days on, his mobile rang. “Very naughty,” the caller said. “Going to have to get myself another messenger boy now. You’ll pay for that. Twenty-five grand and a little lesson.” Jesus fuck. The blackmailer was still alive. 18
When Ben told Joe-Bob, Joe-Bob suggested going to the police. Ben told him not to be a dickhead. Which is just about the last thing Ben said to his friend before Joe-Bob was discovered eviscerated in Warriston Park cemetery. Major hassle. The police detained Ben for six hours, which was the maximum they were allowed to hold anybody these days. Any longer, they had to make an arrest. Fortunately, on the evening of Joe-Bob’s murder, Ben had been at the cinema with some associates from Manchester. And they’d all gone to a club afterwards. The police checked out his alibi and it held; they released him, but told him to watch his step. Anyway, that’s when he decided to get his toe cut off. One of the Manc lads had had the operation a couple of months back; said it was money for nowt. If nothing else, the toe op would force Ben to tread carefully. *** Ben placed the last shovelful of dirt on the grave and patted it down. He stamped across it, jumped up and down. Yeah, you could tell the earth had been recently dug up. But who was going to be looking? He strolled back to his car. He had a long drive back home, which gave him plenty of time to think. He wished he could speak to Janice, but she was the last person he could talk to. *** Janice’s hair was still damp from her shower. Towel wrapped round her waist and tucked between her breasts. “Good day?” she asked him. He planted a kiss on her cheek. “Tiring,” he said. “’Bout you?” “So-so.” She untied the towel, dabbed at her chest and neck. Ran it over her shoulders. “How tiring?” Ben said, “Not really that tiring at all,” and started unbuttoning his trousers. *** First thing Saturday, he sent off the photo of the dead woman and a note that read: “fifty grand and no police or the boy gets the same”. Yeah, he only needed twenty-five but it wasn’t going to stop, was it? Might as well take what he could. *** On Tuesday, he called. Told Mr Paul Gardner when and where to deliver the money if he wanted to see his son alive again. Got the expected crap: “I don’t have that kind of money.” “Don’t fuck with me.” 19
“But, honestly — “ “You live in a million-pound home.” “Mortgaged to the hilt. My money’s all — “ “Be there. With the money. On your own. Or it’s bye, bye, little Paul. Your call.” Thought he handled that rather well. Couldn’t raise fifty grand? Who was the rich fuck trying to kid? *** Wednesday night and he was trying to relax. Course he was thinking about tomorrow, hoping everything was going to go to plan. He’d get the money. Use it to pay off the blackmailer. That would be it. Not a penny more. He’d stand firm, make sure the fucker understood. But how could he do that? He’d get laughed at again. Janice had fallen asleep. She was lying on her back, a tiny snore catching in her throat. Sex was perfunctory these days. Ben wondered if that was a sign they should get married. She’d like that. She was always hassling him about it. Three years since he’d bought her that engagement ring. Worth a couple of grand, that. If he got desperate . . . No, he couldn’t. There were limits. He’d have liked to cuddle up to her and doze off. But there was too much on his mind. How could he tell her? “Janice, something I’ve got to say.” The information the blackmailer was threatening to disclose was nothing like you’d imagine. No, Ben didn’t paedo up some boy or shag his own brother or anything like that. He wasn’t a fucking pervert. “It’s about Freddie.” Damn it, he couldn’t tell her. She’d leave him, go to the police. Even without the photos, the police would nail him. Somehow. Janice’s word against his. They’d find something. The blackmailer would tell them. No reason not to. “It wasn’t an accident.” The bedroom door burst open and Ben was hauled back to the present. The lights went on, Janice screamed and a masked gunman walked over to her and told her to shut up. Ben thought he recognised the voice. The gunman swung his sawn-off shotgun at her. 20
“I killed Freddie, Janice.” She kept screaming. The gunman fired and Janice’s head exploded. Bits of her splashed all over Ben. He wiped his face. Dabbed at his bare shoulder. He looked at the gunman. The gunman shrugged. “She was making a racket.” “It is you.” The fucking blackmailer. “You know about the boy?” The blackmailer jabbed him in the chin with the point of the barrel. Jesus. Felt like the fucker had broken his jaw. He knew about the boy, all right. Must have been following Ben. Shit, Ben should have expected that. Ben was drooling, or was it blood that was dribbling onto his chest? Was it his own or Janice’s? The pain in his chin was excruciating. He wondered if Janice had felt anything. Happened so quickly, he doubted it. He stole another glance at her. Could feel his stomach bubbling. “Freddie was in the way, Janice. I couldn’t get close to you whilst he was alive. You understand that?” He tried to speak. Wasn’t so much the pain in his jaw stopping him as the fucking ridiculous sobbing that was making his shoulders wildly jerk up and down. Got the words out somehow. Punctuated each word with a sharp breath. “I’ll get you your money.” “Gardner made me a much better offer.” The gunman levelled the shotgun at Ben’s face. Ben tried to picture the face behind the mask. This, after all, was the man who’d been blackmailing him. But it was hard to concentrate with a shotgun barrel in your face. The blackmailer continued, “After I told him I’d seen you in the woods burying a couple of members of his family.” Ben was fucked. If Gardner knew the boy was dead, that was game over. Ben didn’t know what to do, but he knew he had to do something. And quickly. He grabbed a pillow, flung it towards the gun and dived for the floor. Landed in a bruised heap, having achieved nothing. The blackmailer stared at him, shook his head. After a minute, he turned, started to walk away. “Where are you going?” Ben asked. The blackmailer stopped. “Got to go home. Catch up on my beauty sleep.” “You’re not … you’re leaving?” 21
“You still owe me twenty-five grand.” “And what’s Gardner going to say?” “Gardner’s an arsehole. Gave me half the money up front. Asking to be ripped off. Anyway, if he wants you dead, he’s going to have to cough up a lot more.” “You didn’t tell him my name?” “Information is valuable, Ben. You think I’m the type who’d give it away? Now listen, at the moment, you’re worth more to me alive than dead. But that could easily change. All it takes is for you to decide not to pay me. Or for Gardner to offer me more money than I can realistically get out of you. So don’t let me down. Okay?” He turned, headed towards the door. No, it wasn’t okay. It was very fucking far from okay. The fucker had shot Janice. And for no reason. And because of that, Ben’s main reason for handing over any more money to the scumfuck had disappeared. Thought he was a right clever cunt, but he’d miscalculated. There were worse things than the threat of death. And now that Janice could never find out Ben had killed her husband, Ben felt liberated. He scrambled to his feet and charged. The blackmailer turned, smacked him on the side of the head with his gun. A box of fireworks exploded in Ben’s skull. He swayed, stumbled, and collapsed. When he woke up in the morning, his head throbbed with a horrific intensity. He looked across at Janice and instantly threw up. He stopped, eventually. Sat there for a while, not having a clue what he should do. Didn’t seem any way out of this hell. Well, there was one way. He fetched his gun. Flopped back onto the floor. Cocked the hammer. Pointed the muzzle at his head. Didn’t seem right. Put the barrel in his mouth. Better. Come on, then. Squeeze. No joy. Nah, he couldn’t kill himself. He dropped the gun onto the floor. A shot rang out and something punched through his ribcage. The gun rattled to a standstill. He looked down. A red stain blossomed under his right nipple. And it was hard to breathe. If only he could make it to his feet. Stagger to the phone. Call an ambulance. Then he’d give himself a chance. But did he want a chance? Was 22
there any point? The way it had all worked out was pretty funny when you thought about it. But, fuck it, there was nothing worth surviving for. He took a last look at Janice and closed his eyes.
WILD TO POSSESS
Thunk. Mother of fucking Christ. It hurt. Thunk. She dropped to her knees. Hi, Carol. Words don’t mean anything. Not now. Not when I’m . . . At least she was alone. Oh, God, her guts tightened. Here it comes . . . Never got used to it. What have you been up to? ********** “Girl said she’d been exorcised.” “Ah, keep fit fanatic. Can’t trust them.” “Exorcised, arsehole. You know. Priest came, splashed her with water, spouted some religion at her. All that shit.” “Couldn’t drag her sorry arse to church, huh? I hate invalids.” “She was locked in her fucking bedroom.” “She didn’t have a key?” “You winding me up?” “So, okay. This girl, locked in her room, never exercises, lazy cow. Fuck’s her name?” “Carol.” “This Carol was what you’d call possessed, right? By an evil spirit, kind of thing?” “A six-year-old girl. Margaret Ann.” “And Margaret Ann, she make Carol’s head spin three sixty and stuff like that?” “I heard you were good. Seems to me you’re a first rate arsehole.” “Aha. You were saying. Margaret Ann. Heads turning.” “Fuck you, you ain’t going to take this seriously. I’ll find somebody else.” “We’re hard to find. Anyway, I need the money. Carry on.” After a minute. “She made Carol sick. Literally. Felt a pressure in her head, weight in her stomach like a bag of stones. Then, whoosh. Projectile vomit. Man, what a mess.” “You witnessed this?” “Heard it described. Pretty graphic. Guy who told me about it, covered in the stuff. Not like proper sick, he said. White slimy stringy stuff, he said. Couldn’t get it out of his hair.” “Fuck! Did it get in his hair?” Pause. “He was going down on her at the time.” “Yeah? Weird shit. Who was this perv likes getting it on with the possessed? 24
I’d like to speak to him. See if he can’t line something up for me.” Silence. “Sorry. I’ll try to be serious. Who is he?” “My brother. Don’t fucking laugh.” “The girl, Carol? Can I speak to her?” “Well, that’s the problem. She’s dead.” “How’d that happen?” “I killed her. Think you can be serious now?” “Tell me about it, Mr Harris. Nice and slow. From the start.” ********** Not much threat really from a little girl, you’d have thought. Even if the little girl was an evil spirit. Not that Harris held any store by that. His brother might believe it, but it wasn’t the sort of thing a sane person believed, now was it? So the threat came from Carol. The words had come out of her mouth. “I’m going to kill you, cocksucker.” See, how would a six-year-old know words like that? Life experience, his brother said. Well, John could be right. Wasn’t beyond the realms of possibility that some sick fuck would have messed about with the poor wee soul. Sort of thing that happened despite everybody’s best attempts to sweep it under the carpet. But if it happened, it had happened to Carol, who was twenty-three, not a little girl. He’d already told his brother what he thought. John said, “It really isn’t like that. There’s no connection. Margaret Ann isn’t Carol as a little girl. She’s a different person. You gotta speak to her. You’ll see.” Well, he had spoken to her and he didn’t see. Not really. It was too fucking weird to decide for sure. Her voice sounded really young, just like a kid’s. That was convincing. Could have been some really good acting. See, he’d never seen the projectile vomiting, and that would have convinced him. He didn’t see how anybody could do that on cue. But he believed John. Why would he lie? Anyway, he was alone the second time when she flipped. Came at him spitting, all fucking fingernails and rage, calling him a cocksucker once again. She really didn’t like him much. Well, he didn’t mean to hurt her, but when he turned, saw this slavering thing hurtling towards him, he sidestepped, didn’t think, just slammed his fist into the top of her head. 25
Thunk. Down on her knees. Dribble sliding down her chin. Again. Thunk. Fucking crazy bitch. Fell forward, smacked her head off the floor. Could hear the crack when her skull bounced. Bent over, checked her pulse. Nothing. A kid’s voice said, “What have you been up to?” He turned, legged it. *********** “So you don’t know if she’s really dead, Mr Harris?” “She was dead. No pulse. Man, if you’d heard that crack.” “You haven’t been back to check?” “Nah.” “What about the kid speaking to you?” “Must have imagined it.” “You think?” “Must have. No other explanation, is there?” “Let’s go take a look.” “No way. I’m not going back there. Here. Take the fucking key. Go yourself.” *********** Sure enough, just as Harris had described. Body on the floor. Face down. Blood matting her hair. Looking pretty fucking dead. Shuffled over, asked, “Anybody home? Little girl?” No reply. “How about you, Carol?” Half expected the corpse to roll over, sit up, say, “What the fuck are you doing in my house, mister?” Nothing, of course. Dragged her by the heels. Slid nicely across the bare floorboards. Into the bathroom. Hoisted her into the bath. Sat on the toilet seat, thinking. Jumped when her body slumped forward. Heart hammered. Normally, he didn’t get nervous. Jumped again when the front door opened. Oh, shit. Sweating already. Fuck, fuck, fuck. Fuck. This, he did not need. Footsteps. Man’s voice. “Carol?” Fuck. Don’t come in here. “Carol? You in the bathroom?” Oh, fucking hell. Take the gun out, point it at the fucker. 26
Enjoyed the look of surprise on the poor fuck’s face. Bang. Deaf for a while after that. Neighbours must have heard. Heaved the new body onto his shoulder, dropped him into the bath. Landed on top of Carol. They looked cosy together. Sweet. Right. Fuck the job. Impossible to get rid of two bodies. Just get outta here. ************* “You fucked up.” “Didn’t know your brother was going to pay a visit, Mr Harris.” “Fuck, man. You didn’t have to shoot him.” “Had to make a split-second decision. Shot him.” “Yeah? Here’s my split-second decision.” BANG.
In the late-70's formed the Zoo record label with Bill Drummond. Signed, produced, managed and published The Teardrop Explodes and Echo & The Bunnymen. Joined the Teardrops for 4 years on and off. After Teardrops managed Strawberry Switchblade, Zodiac Mindwarp & Voice of the Beehive. Formed Food Records and hit the big time with Blur & Jesus Jones. Sold label to EMI in '94 and retired to the "very big house in the country". After 2 years 'retirement' he worked for Sony from '96 to 2000. Since has done a degree in Creative Writing and is plotting to alter the nature of reality. “The Unpleasantness” first appeared in Bullet 2. 28
“It’s my cab!” “Lady, just cos, fifteen minutes after I started waiting, you walk ten yards up the road, stick your hand out and take my cab, don’t make it yours.” “I’m afraid it does young man.” “Like hell!” The young man pushed past and into the cab “Clapham mate, and don’t piss about.” he instructed the driver. His adversary was not to be so easily denied. She joined him. “Barnes please driver, and there’s a very large tip in it if you will do me the kindness of removing this rude youth.” Dick Sydney, London taxi driver of twenty-seven years standing, or more accurately, twenty-seven years sitting, looked in his mirror with growing unhappiness. He turned around to face the pair competing for his custom. Usually a self-employed man would be flattered and pleased, counting it a mark of his success that he had customers fighting for his services. Dick did not. It was 1.27 a.m. He had been working since 9.53 that morning. He could just about bring himself to drive, but he had no reserves of energy or emotion with which to mediate between his passengers and certainly not to counsel them in the error of their ways. “Y’got fifteen seconds to sort it out for yourself or you’re both out of here!” He turned back round and theatrically picked up his paper to demonstrate more fully his complete indifference to the actual rights and wrongs of the situation. They looked at the driver, they looked at each other, they considered their options. “Clapham then Barnes driver” proposed the young man, displaying an illadvised propensity for compromise this early in the negotiation. “Barnes then Clapham!” retorted the lady, firmly, “and if you insist on sharing my cab I shall only pay half the fare to Barnes.” They looked at each other for a good few seconds. Dick conspicuously checked his watch. “Yeah, alright, Barnes then Clapham… please,” he surrendered. Dick moved off, quietly pleased at the profound depths of his customer relations skills. The first bullet entered the cab from behind, passing through the metalwork just below the rear window. It travelled in between the two passengers slightly ripping the material in the shoulder of the young man’s jacket. It speeded on, shattering the glass partition and terminating in the destruction 29
of the taxi’s meter. Freezing the fare at seven pounds and eighty pence. Dick would not receive his fare, or a tip. His female passenger wondered why, even when being shot at, her mind should register the benefit of this small possible saving, but it did. She then considered how equally peculiar it was, considering the circumstances, that she should waste time in reflecting upon the strangeness or otherwise of such a thought. Such is the nature of the mind in moments of extreme danger, was her final reflection in that mentally hectic fraction of a second before her muscles finally took action and she found herself cowering on the floor of the cab as a second bullet shattered the back window and showered her in crunchy glass splinters. “Why are they shooting at us?!” She screamed to the young man now sharing the floor with her. He was just about to answer that he had no idea when a third powerful bullet passed through the metal boot of the taxi, grazing the rubber tread of the spare wheel within, entered the rear seat’s thin horsehair padding, exited it’s worn old leather cover and inconsiderately slammed straight into one of his vertebrae, just below the neck. The bullet had lost a lot of speed as it passed through these various mediums, causing it to spin wildly in flight and, by one of those nasty physical ironies of ballistics, vastly increasing the damage made when it eventually connected with the young man’s spinal cord. He felt no physical pain but there was a rapidly mounting level of anguish as he realised that he had no capability whatsoever to remove his face from it’s extremely uncomfortable position jammed into the corner between the gritty floor on one cheek and the cold scuffed metal at the bottom of the left-hand door on the other. This lack of comfort quickly paled in importance when, a moment later, he became aware that he had also lost the ability to breathe. He lay motionless, sensing the oxygen within his system quickly deplete itself. He felt the chemical alarm bells ringing within his brain, but his body’s automatic responses, upon which he had happily relied for all his twenty-two years, did not occur. His body would not, could not, take another breath. Without any physical movement beyond his frantically fluttering eyelids, without the usual awareness of fear in his stomach, it did not feel like panic. It was too quiet and peaceful to be panic. It was merely an enormously intense awareness that something was very wrong. He really wanted to take another breath. He thought that if he could really want it just a little bit more his body might obey. But before he had the opportunity to test this theory he lost all interest as he faded out of consciousness. Precisely three minutes thirty-seven seconds later he was irreversibly brain-dead. One hour and six minutes after that, a tired and unmoved junior doctor at Charing Cross hospital would confirm this sorry fact.
Dick Sydney had had enough of taxi driving. As he saw it, it was entirely the driving’s fault that he was now old, fat, divorced, distant from his two equally plump children, and suffering from several minor health problems. These problems happily bided their time. They felt confident that, with the careful nurturing Dick so dedicatedly gave them, they would soon mature nicely into fully-fledged life-threateners. Poor old Dick, there’s not much you can do while driving a cab, he reasoned (if you can call the vague mental process he employed ‘reasoning’), other than smoke fags. So he smoked fags. It wasn’t exercise, he’d grant you that, but it was a hobby. He read the Star when he was on a wait for a fare, or eating one of his three daily fry-up meals with all the trimmings; four when working late. It is a reliable indicator of his minimal reading and comprehension skills, rather than his dedication to work, that he rarely had the need to move on to the Evening Standard even by the early hours. On special occasions, when he felt that the enormity of world events dictated a more considered commentary, he’d purchase, with much ceremony, the Times. But it was always to be an unsatisfactory experience. Sometimes fares would notice his up-market read and try to engage him in an appropriately stimulating discussion upon the government’s inadequacies, Europe’s stupidities or some other middlebrow item of news. But his tabloid brain would quickly reveal its limitations and his moment of pride at being so flatteringly regarded would be replaced by his everyday feeling of mild inadequacy. The Star would always be happily returned to the next day and thereafter, until a few months later, by which time he’d have forgotten his lesson once more and the cycle would repeat. It was during this period of more than usual unhappiness and boredom that he unwisely decided to take up a mate’s offer of a well remunerated if slightly moody piece of delivery. It wasn’t precisely mere boredom, for like any taxi driver he’d grown well used to being bored. This was more of an uber-boredom - bored even with being constantly bored. He knew the delivery was moody because of the fee - two hundred quid to pick up a package out East and drop it off an hour later in Kensington. You might wonder why certain parties should pay over the odds, especially if it also served to further signal the dodginess of the exercise. Well, Dick was well known in various bars and public houses out in Romford, where he’d lived from birth. Paradoxically his lack of track record in the moody delivery world made him all the more trustworthy by those shady figures to whom he’d occasionally been introduced in late-night mate-of-a-mate-of-amate drinking situations. He knew they were iffy, they knew he wasn’t. He knew he mustn’t mess with them, they knew he knew that. It was a solid, mutually amicable arrangement.
The two ton translated as don’t mess about, and certainly don’t take the piss. As well as leaving a little bit for goodwill at the end; always a good practice for professionals, which they were. Dick had no intention of messing about nor in any way taking the piss. Oh yeah, the two ton also fully legitimised the use of certain measures, “unpleasantness”, should a less than perfect service be provided. Dick also knew this well, which is why he had not before taken on work of this nature. But, like I said, he was very bored indeed. Dick had collected the package at the designated time. The journey was long but without event. The delivery pretty much the same. He had rung a bell for a flat at the specified address, but rather than taking it up to the flat as he expected - as he had been told - the voice on the intercom told Dick he would come down to collect; this he speedily did. Dick handed him the package and the collector was about to close the door when Dick reminded him he expected to be paid. The collector expressed ignorance as to the exact fee, so Dick reminded him. The payment was made and Dick returned to his traditional trade, foolishly relieved that all had gone smoothly.
Ray Banks was born in the kingdom of Fife, but now lives in a quaint coastal town that doubles as a playground to Newcastle's charvas on the weekends. His first novel, “The Big Blind”, was published by PointBlank Press last year and he has recently signed a contract with Polygon for his next two books featuring his Manchester-based PI Cal Innes. He thinks he's a cult, but he's a consonant out. “Saturday Night Special” first appeared in Bullet 2. “Real Gone” is a new work. 33
Afternoon slurs into evening. Tony is standing on the balcony, a tab in his hand, staring at the rolling Tyne, the figures in the distance crossing the Millenium Bridge, similar figures on the roof of the Baltic. Inside the flat, Cleo has her legs curled under her, watching a repeat of “Trisha” on the big-screen television. All humanity is there, from the pinch-minded biddies to the shrill and ignorant flabby families airing their grievances at prime time. Cleo was a Bollywood beauty at seventeen. Eight months later now and her eyes are hollow and black. Her works are sitting out on the coffee table, tin foil moving slightly in the breeze. Tony feels a stab in his lungs, ditches the cigarette over the rail and walks into the living room. "I'm gonna see Grundy," he says. Cleo doesn't say anything. He doesn't expect her to. "I'm gonna sort this out, Cleo." The buzzer sounds and Tony tells Jacko he'll be right down. He grabs his Adidas bag from the bedroom, stops in the doorway before he goes and takes one last look at Cleo. Somebody'll take care of her. **** The sounds of war are loud in Goose's lounge. He's a guy with a pot belly and one leg, sitting in a wheelchair and talking like he's kept the best eight ball for himself. He calls himself Goose because he says he lost the leg at Goose Green in '82. Anyone who's known him longer than a minute knows he lost the leg because he tried to mainline an artery. Nobody mentions it, though. Goose provides gear that's second-to-none. There are too few decent wholesalers in Tyne and Wear, and having a one-legged dealer means he doesn't step on the merchandise so much. That's the way Goose tells it, anyway. So whoever spends their time with Goose, they have to sit there and hear the crazy bastard's stories from a war that didn't last three months. In the background, Goose keeps a tape of “Tumbledown” playing on the video, and he'll tell you all about the time he put his cock in a dead Argie's mouth. "Hang on a sec, I got a picture of it somewhere..." "Goose," says Tony. "I seen it already." "I didn't come or nowt. I'm not sick." "Leave it. You know I wouldn't push if time weren't a factor." "Nah, I appreciate that, Tone. I appreciate that. You always been up front." "Good, 'cause I got a favour to ask off of yez, Goose. Only one I'm gonna ask you, but it's a big one." Goose nods to himself, his bottom lip sticking out. "I heard you had some 34
trouble, like." "I ain't bringing the busies to your door, man." "I never said that." "It's what you're thinking. I got an old score to settle." "And this is the favour?" "This is the favour." "Wey," says Goose. "You know me, son. You can ask us to do owt you want, long as the cash shouts loud enough to drown out me conscience." Tony smiles. "I'm pretty sure you'll hear nowt but the folding of notes, marra." **** Raw Earth is blasting their 1970 cut of "Get Ready" as Tony slips into the Mazda. He puts Goose's package on his lap as he gets settled. "Y'alright?" says Jacko. "Aye." "It's sorted." "Aye." Tony listens to the music as they pull away from the kerb. It soothes, just like all good soul does. Tony's tried to get Jacko into this, but Jacko's thick as fuck, too hopped up on shite dance to appreciate a good horn section. He doesn't get the dirty-sweet soul of Solomon Burke or Lou Pride. Tony remembers the time he took Cleo to see Pride at The Cluny, up close and sweaty. A tiny stage, it was amazing that his band all managed to fit on it. Especially Pride himself. He wasn't in the Burke league of flabby bastards, but he was heaving around a lot of man that night. Tony digs out a wrap, dips his thumb and raises it to his nostril. The ache in the back of his neck spikes to a full stab. He wipes his nose, offers the wrap to Jacko. Jacko shakes his head. "You still sure about this, man?" say Jacko. Tony looks at his driver, blinks. Jacko's got that face on, the same expression Jacko had the night they burned down Phillie's place on St James Boulevard. He's scared out of his mind. Tony wants to laugh. What the fuck does Jacko have to be scared about? "Aye," says Tony. "I'm still sure about this." "Where you gonna go?" "I can't tell you, you know that." Tony fiddles with the seat, leans back. "I don't tell you nowt, you can't tell any other fucker nowt." "I'm not gonna grass you up, Tone. Jesus fuckin' Christ, you don't trust us or something?" "Trust's got nowt to do with it, marra. And I'm not saying you're a fuckin' grass. I'm saving you from yourself is all. You know nowt, you got nowt to 35
grass if things get a bit fuckin' hairy. You know as well as I do, man, morality's circumstantial. You're not playing the martyr for me, no fuckin' way. It's nowt personal." "Sounds fuckin' personal." "Then get over it, Jack." **** Baby Huey and The Babysitters’ "Listen To Me", cross-fading into "Change Your Ways" by Willie Kendrick. Jacko throttles Kendrick as he pulls the Mazda into the NCP. They park up, get out, Tony lighting a Regal. It's a short walk to Grundy's club. It's called Grundys. Kevin Grundy has no imagination. The crowd outside the club couldn't give a fuck what the place is called, though. Saturday night, and the check-shirt brigade is out in force. Tony reckons it looks like they're holding the World Ugly Contest right outside the club, but then this place isn't known for its beautiful people. Studio 54, it ain't. Inside, they're playing a thumping bassline instead of music, making Tony's heart shake in his chest. Makes him think he's walking on loose stones as he crosses the dance floor, Jacko at his back. He wishes he'd thought to bring Errol. Big fucking Errol, the prize-fighter looking bastard, deep nasty eyes and shoulders as broad as his accent. But Errol was seen in bad company and Tony can't take the chance. Jacko's a streak of piss, he's a runner, but he's arrow-straight and has a talent for survival. Jacko can smell a bad situation like a Sikh's fart, and Tony's glad to have him as an early warning. Muscle would be a bonus, though. Right now the only muscle Tony trusts is the one twitching in the back of his neck. He can't be relaxed in Grundy's club. The word is, Kevin Grundy's losing his mind one snort at a time. And one thing Tony's learned, you don't fuck around with a cokehead. Those fuckers know no mercy. Right now, it's pure Martha Reeves and The Vandellas, "(Love Is Like A) Heatwave". Sweat glistens on Tony's forehead, runs down and stings his eyes. The DJ mixes in that ubiquitous shite which brings the fat girls out to throw their arses around like the bird in the sweaty-crotch video. One fat girl makes a play for Jacko; he smiles and ducks out of the way, gets slapped by arm fat that'll be a bingo wing in about twenty years' time. The fat girl has an L plate on her lifted-and-separated chest. One glance at the gaggle of women following her onto the dance floor and the smell of a hen night suddenly fills the air like knock-off Estee Lauder. Over at the fluorescent glow of the bar, a gang of short-haired men swig bottled beer. "This fuckin' place," says Jacko. "It's like Butlins on fuckin' mescaline." 36
"Aye." "Grundy about tonight, you reckon?" "I know a man who'll know," says Tony, leading the way to the chill-out room. Colin's the last lad who should be in a chill-out room. He breathes electricity, his hands flying about like a couple of methed-up doves when he talks. Which he does. A lot. His fingers brush at what little hair he has left on his head, wearing it away, making him look a good thirty years older than he is. He throws numbers in one of the glass and sandstone buildings down by the Quayside. Way he sees it, it's a slow death, but it lets him live at night. Jacko taps his hands on his knees. Tony waits it out. Colin's been at the wraps since he finished work Friday night, it looks like. He's chewing Extra. The lad needs gum or else he'll chew the inside of his cheek to ribbons. "Last week, right, last week, we had these gadgies in the office. And they were laying cables for the new network, right, these blokes, these electricians, and I was going to take a piss, right, I was going to the bogs, and I realise that one of these workmen blokes is gonna take a piss, too. And what happens? I hang back, know what I mean? I make out I'm going to the water cooler to get me a cup of water, make out like I'm dead fuckin' thirsty and that. And then I think to myself, what's the fuckin' point in losing me bottle like that? This cunt, he's no fuckin' hardcase, he's no tough lad, why'm I getting my bollocks all shrivelled 'cause of this cunt? So I go in the bathroom and he's in one of the cubicles and y'know, I can hear him pissing. Like he's one of them, you know them, the fuckers with the tiny cocks and he's not comfortable pissing at one of the pissers, like he has to sit down and take a piss like a fuckin' bird, right? So I get all boiling and that. And I kick the fuckin' cubicle door. Hard, so it slams right open and there's this gadgie and he's sitting with his trousers round his ankles and it's a good fuckin' job he's sitting down because I think he just shat himself. And I tell him - get this - I tell him, 'Nobody's gonna fuckin' believe you...' and I leave him. Can you believe that, man? Can you fuckin' believe that? I am dangerous. I am a fuckin' time bomb." You're a twat, thinks Tony. You're a twat and I haven't got time for this shite. "Did you take your piss?" asks Jacko. "Fuck's this?" says Colin. "Fuck's the cheeky cunt?" "Where's Kev the night, Colin?" says Tony. "He's not in, man. It's Wednesday." "It's Saturday," says Jacko. "Fuckin' funny cunt, eh? I'd fuckin' batter you, son, I weren't so fuckin' dry." yells Colin. "It's Saturday." 37
"Fuck do you know? If it's Saturday, he's about. If it's Wednesday, he's at home. Fuck you asking me for? I look like I know what's going on? Now you selling or what?" "Not tonight, Col." "Fuck's the matter with you?" "I got some business with Grundy." "That's Mister Grundy, fuckhead, alright? You ain't selling? Really? Fuck's the matter with you, you're not selling? You're always selling." Tony gets up. "I'll have another scout around." **** The gents toilet stinks like a Drew Barrymore movie. Jacko's at the bar. One brush with Colin and he said he needed a drink. Tony splashes cold water on his face, notices the heavy shake in his hands when he lowers them. He can't remember the last time he slept. Above the mirror, someone's scrawled TOON ARMY. The floor throbs under his feet; his head starts to thump in time. The chemicals in his blood start to thicken in his veins like slowfreezing water. Tony reaches into his pocket, does the rest of the wrap. Blinks. Closes his eyes for a second. Fuck this. Fuck this noise. Baby Huey: "There's a thousand people out here, watching me..." “Can you say Mighty, Mighty?” He looks at his reflection in the mirror, feels for the package in his jacket. If this works out, he tells himself, he'll be cool. He'll be fine. Just one step at a time. Cleo watches Living TV. Movie of the week. Battered wives and alcoholic husbands. Tony wishes life was that simple. Wishes there was a twelve step programme for what he has to do tonight. Christ, he wishes there were ad breaks every fifteen minutes so he could grab a breather, a chance to think straight. Tony swallows back acid phlegm, screws up the wrap and tosses it into the sink. The reason he stopped doing this shite in the first place, his mind caught in a runaway train of thought, turned in on itself, colliding. The bang of the toilet door makes him turn. He's ready to deck Colin, the fucker. But it's Jacko. "Grundy's here," he says. "Says he'll talk to you out back when you're ready." **** Cleo and Grundy, that's how it used to be. Grundy with his ponytail and flapping lips sheened with perpetual spit. Grundy with his tacky club and delusions of grandeur, thinking that a fistful of cash and a couple of bent 38
coppers would make him anything other than the pig-nosed prick he was. Cleo singing, “Mr Big Stuff, you never gonna get my love…” Kevin Grundy doesn't have an office anymore. He used to have one above the club decked out with a Carlito's Way vibe. Back then, he fancied himself a kingpin, a drug lord, Tony Montana with a ponytail. Tony remembers the first time they met, he said, "You know why it's called a ponytail, Kev?" "Cause it looks like a pony's tail." "Nah, it's because when you lift it up, there's always a horse's arse underneath." Grundy's lips thinned. No imagination, no sense of humour. Now Grundy's a silhouette down the end of the alley that runs behind the club. He's smoking a tab by a skip, flicking ash onto the ground. Doing business in an alley like he's ghetto. Tony recognises the big bastard next to him: Errol. "Y'alright, Tone?" says Grundy. "I been better, Kev." "Aye, looks like it. Who's your muscle?" Jacko works his mouth. "You buying, Kev?" Grundy ignores him, says, "How's that bird of yours?" "Cleo's fine." "I heard things is all." "You got ears, you're gonna hear things. If you're not buying, I'll go, man. I just heard you was in the market." Grundy smiles; it looks like someone's taken a Stanley knife to his face. He dumps his tab. "Aye, Tone, I'm buying. I'm just wondering why you're selling wholesale." "This is a one off. Call it a favour for an old mate." "You think?" "Aye, I think. You're not interested, I'll find someone who is." "Way I hear it, you're not doing much business these days." Tony can feel Jacko staring at him. Wondering how he's going to play this. Tony wonders if Jacko ever really knew what was going on. "I'm doing fine, Kev. Business never been better." Errol shifts his feet; Tony glares at him. Any information Grundy's got, he's got it from Errol. But fuck it, this deal and Tony's out of here. Tony hears movement behind him. He hefts Goose's package in his right hand. "It's a solid weight, Kev. You got the cash?" Grundy rubs at his nose. "You know what, Tone? I don't think so. That's from Goose, right?" Tony 39
doesn't say anything. "Well, thing is, Goose gave us a call. Telt us what was transpiring here. He's not happy about a bunch of fuckin' things. Mostly he's pissed off 'cause he's losing a valuable customer, but then there's the shite you got in your hand there. It's one thing to lose a customer, right? It's another thing when that customer tries to poison future trade." "I don't know what the fuck you're --" More movement behind him, the scrape of a foot on concrete. And then there's the smell of burnt hair in Tony's nostrils, the crackle of a stun gun, the flare against his cheek. And Tony's world flashes red, white and blue (how very fuckin' patriotic) before he loses his legs, hits the ground in a shaking heap. "Man plans, and God laughs his balls off, Tony-son." **** Somewhere in the fog, Tony swears he can hear "One Toke Over The Line", someone singing loud and off-key. That, and the growl of an engine. **** The night before, Tony finds Cleo on the couch, her legs curled under her. The big-screen television is on, but it's just Teletext. Tony knows something's rotten. When he tries to get Cleo's attention, he knows what it is. And he spends the rest of the night with her in his arms. He weeps until his throat is dry. He talks to her, tells her what he's going to do. Tells her he's giving up the life, tells her he's going to see Goose tomorrow, get him to cut a brick through with arsenic, bleach, fucking strychnine. Punt that brick onto the cunt that got her in the habit in the first place. At worst, let him stamp on it, sell it on and fuck his reputation by killing his customers. At best, and what Tony prays for, Grundy takes a shot himself, feels his veins burn up, his heart explode. Then, pull a Keyser Soze, ride off into the sunset. Live the happy ending. **** "Antony David Hills..." They used his Sunday name, his court name. And right then, he knew he was fucked. These were the busies Grundy liked to use. Grundy once said to him, "I like using coppers, man. They always know where the really good fuckin' spots are, know what I mean?" 40
They've laid the foundation on the student and key worker accommodation, but there's a development down by City Road that's just started. Tony remembers watching the builders with Jacko, telling him that the students of Northumbria University would be gagging for a decent dealer. "The world is ours," he said. Now Tony can't see anything but grey and black, his eyes swollen shut. The smell of fear and blood in the air, the ammonia stench of his own urine, burning his thigh. I didn't cry. Least I didn't fuckin' cry. Underneath him, a wooden pallet's holding him upright, his legs splayed out and twisted in front of him. He whistles when he breathes, air squeaking through the blood crusted around his nose and mouth. He thinks about how he tried not to scream, not to cry, playing the hardcase. The thought makes his face tighten, bringing a wave of pain from freshly opened cuts, a high screeching horn section to the bassline ache of his battered body. He calls out for Jacko, but the name comes out cracked and low: "Aggo?" It kills him to speak, and he knows Jacko's not going to respond. Tony was conscious when the big bastard copper, the one with the stun gun and the girl's laugh, stamped his boot down hard on the back of Jacko's neck, heard that dull crack, a soft thump and smelled Jacko's bowels loosen. But Tony's not dead. That's where they fucked up. Not so long ago, back when Tony Hills was king of the world, he wouldn't have allowed that to go by. Someone tries to kill you, someone tries to fuck up your business, you show no mercy. You put him in the ground. But these coppers didn't have the nous to finish the job. Which means he's in the clear, out of the city just as long as he heals. I fuckin' tried, love. I fuckin' tried. At least I did that. Get them back for you. Jack it in, fuckin' throw the life to the wind, get the fuck out of Dodge. Tony tries to pull himself off the pallet. The ringing in his ears stops, the sound of an engine outside. "Fuckin' hell," says a voice, punctuated with a high-pitched giggle. "Would you look at that?" The sound of a shovel scraped across concrete, coming closer. Tony digs his fingers into the ground; it's cold to the touch. His cheeks warm and stinging. Pulling himself away from the voice. A fingernail snaps. 41
"What d'you want me to do?" says the voice. I'm sorry, love. I'm so fuckin' sorry. "Fuck d'you think? Drop the bastard.." A breeze brushes Tony's face. Then a white flash and the world falls. Man plans, and God laughs. Aye, that'd be right.
SATURDAY NIGHT SPECIAL
I saw his nostrils flare once, wrinkles appearing between his eyes. Then Gyppa’s hand emerged from his jacket pocket with that shiny Spanish pistola, the one he found under his brother’s bed, hidden amongst the porn. I would’ve reached out to stop him, but the gun was already wedged in the kid’s face. Freeze it there. Pause it like a video, get everyone in the cast quivering a bit as I explain this. This kid, this low-slung wannabe fuckin’ charva, he was the epitome of everything bad in the world. Just ‘cause he was thirteen, that don’t mean anything. Day he was born, his mam booked him a nice cell in Durham nick. It’s nothing against the lad, but he’ll end up behind bars. He’s fuckin’ scum. And this lad, he’d been messing with Gyppa a little too long and a little too hard. And Gyppa being Gyppa, there’s only so much you can push him. Like the time he took a bite out of a kid at school who’d been riding him all fuckin’ term. He had blood on his teeth, took a chunk out the lad’s leg. He was weak for so long, but once they snap, they stay snapped. Like now. That cheap gun with the taped up grip and trigger. The one his brother bought off this Spanish pedro in Aya Napa last year. You never know when you need protection. And to Gyppa, this was like fuckin’ gold dust. The kid started it. He had no-one to blame but himself. He thought he was safe in the middle of his mates. Thought he was cool with one hand round the handlebars of his knocked-off mountain bike, the other with a bottle. Mouthing off, proper being a complete twat, soon as he sees Gyppa. Gyppa, gyppo, gypsy, carny fuckin pikey cunt. The usual shit from the Byker lads, getting spat at in the street. Gyppa never fit in. Gyppa with olive skin, black eyes and black hair so greasy, long, pulled back all the time. Long body, legs built for being chased. Gyppa was a runner, but he looked like Nick Cave with bad gums. He wasn’t running now. Cut to the whap whap whap of cheap fireworks, point blank in the kid’s face. And watch him drop like a stone to the pavement, what’s left of his head bouncing once off the concrete, then settling in an expanding pool of 43
red. His mates peeled back slowly, like those dreams where something’s chasing you and you’re running as hard as you can, but it doesn’t matter. That kind of slow. Frustrated, wanting to be faster, wanting to be out of there, but your eyes are bugging out of your head at the horror behind you. It took them a while to figure out what just happened. Then when they saw the blood, the gun, smelled the smoke in the air, the penny dropped. But we were already gone. And now, the dusk’s turned to dark. If it wasn’t for the lights they were shining at the top of Tom Collins Building, us here on the ground wouldn’t be able to see Gyppa at all. He’s nine storeys up, the highest point you can get to on the Wall, and we’re all knacking our spines staring up at him. There’s even a gadgie from the paper, got a camera with him, but he won’t get a decent shot in this light. “How’d he get up there?” He climbed, I want to say, but I’m keeping out of it. Staying away, in the shadows as far as I can. Aye, he climbed. Like a fuckin’ monkey he can climb, bolted out a window when the polis came a-knocking at his door. Swung out onto the roof, then hammered up the red brick and blue trim like Spiderman. The copper squeaks on his radio and soon it’s a three-ring down here. “Eeh, it’s a disgrace the way they grow up,” says this one wifie with a lump on her neck. “You’re tellin’ me, Alice.” Now Gyppa’s standing on the peak, he’s gone mental. Jumping, dancing, twitching up there. Waving at the Metro bridge in the distance. Arms wide open like he’s trying to hug God. Screaming at the top of his lungs, crowing until his throat cracks. Happy in his madness. The coppers can’t get to him; they’re scared out their wits. His social worker’s on the ground, and she’s banging back prescription pills from a little brown bottle. “Fuckin’ hell…” “Lad’s tapped.” Aye, he’s tapped. But he’s realised there’s no way out now. This time it’s not gonna be the institute, it’s gonna be prison. Proper prison. He hit eighteen last month. Gyppa’s an adult killed a kid, he’s one step away from a fuckin’ 44
beast if he goes inside. And we all heard stories about Durham, nasty yarns that’d freeze your blood. So he’s scared, just like he used to be when he was run ragged round the playground, brought down and beat senseless. Or when he was cornered and brayed and they left him in that skip. Or when Beast Frank grabbed his cock and forced him up against a wall down Chilly Road. Beaten, bruised, fucked and torn. He’s had it all. And I’ve seen it all happen, heard it happen. I’ve been with him all the time, and I’ve been just as scared. Not of the situation. Of him. Like now, when he’s cornered and there’s nothing he can do. He’s gritted his teeth too long and now there’s blood on his hands, in his mouth, spattered across his clothes and face. Something’s snapped. That copper taste shorted out something in his head. That’s why he’s dancing so long and hard, hands shooting out from his body like they’re on strings, head thrown back, jigging like some fucked-up puppet. One of the coppers has crawled out onto the roof, PC Hero, and he’s saying something to Gyppa that none of us down here can make out. Gyppa’s not listening, lost in a world of his own. His hair’s come loose of the gel and it’s whipped across his face. He’s standing proud, but shivering against the cold. The copper says something else. Gyppa takes a step back. He’s not going to prison. He’s not going anywhere. A gust wraps Gyppa’s shirt tight to him, then opens it like wings. The copper makes a move, but he’s too far away. His hand comes away empty. Gyppa stumbles, pitches forward, shirt flapping, that faint ripple sound the only thing to be heard as he drops. We watch. We all watch. Gyppa’s last moment of attention. And we all hear the impact as he hits the concrete courtyard. There’s a long silence, punctuated by the wind in our ears. Then a kid starts crying. Loud. I melt into the crowd, then exit through the back. As I’m walking towards Shields Road, an ambulance screams by. I can’t feel anything. I haven’t felt anything in a long fuckin’ time. It was just inevitable, what happened. I’m not gonna end up that way myself, because I’m not nuts. I haven’t given up yet. The polis’ll ask questions. My dad’ll be watching me like a fuckin’ hawk all 45
the way. Not ‘cause he’ll bray us if I did it or if I was there. He’ll bray us if I say anything to them. They’ll have fuck all on me, but they’ll ask questions. And I’ll give ‘em answers. I don’t know a thing. I never knew the lad. And I never knew Gyppa.
i am 24 years old,i play poker for a living,i can shoot an apple off your head with a crossbow,when i grow up i'd like to be a hermit. “and that’s why I’m limping today” was first published in Bullet 4. “once upon a time in a dreary flemish town called bugger” is a new story and the longest thing we’ve ever published. 47
AND THAT’S WHY I’M LIMPING TODAY
there's a screwdriver stuck up my arse,that's why i'm standing in the bus,rather than sitting,if i sit down,guts will be pierced and perforated,and i'll die a ludicrous death,i'm on my way to wee andy,he's gonna pull the screwdriver out of my arse,he's used to pulling sharp implements and gigantic eggplants out of my arse,it was my neighbour who shoved a screwdriver up my arse,who shoved it too deeply,it's not his screwdriver though,i don't know whose screwdriver it is,but it feels very much mine at this moment,last night i visited my dodgy neighbour,cos i needed someone to break my nose for me,i was too drunk to do it myself,and i also needed shots of flemish gin,and i'd run out of rum and port,i'd even run out of detergent and turpentine;my dodgy neighbour was thrilled to see me,he put on cliff richard,broke my nose and a few ribs,bit off my clit and thumb and then he got bored of me,but i managed to convince him to take me to a derelict warehouse and fuck me between the used syringes and shit-stained sleeping bags,so he drove me to the derelict warehouse,in the car i rambled about my sheffielder angel and how i miss licking those wee black balls and how i hope he chokes on his yolk-soaked asparagus tips and his cognacdrenched baby oysters or whatever it is the unimaginative overprivileged stingy middle class cunt is stuffing his face with tonight until my dodgy neighbour smashed my collar bone against the dashboard and said he'd crush my windpipe and rip out all my hair and eat my toenails,but not necessarily in that order,if i didn't stop moaning about other men,i asked him if i could moan about liam gallagher,cos it's not like i know him personally,but my neighbour stopped the car,started slapping my chest,bit off my nipples and fed them to the cows who were so gracefully grazing in their wee pasture by the motorway,and he shouted in my ear: "NO,YOU CANNOT MOAN ABOUT LIAM GALLAGHER,STUPID WHORE",but i already knew that the minute he started slapping my chest,i was quiet after that,we got out of the car and entered the derelict warehouse,it was there that we found the screwdriver with the yellow handle that was gnawed at,by a crack-crazed doberman presumably,my neighbour's eyes twinkled when he studied the screwdriver,he said: "it's a piece of beauty,bitch,and beauty lies in the eye of the beholder,slut",i nodded,he ripped of my clothes,kissed my broken collar bone and shoved the screwdriver up my arse,but with all his middle-aged fervour he shoved it too deeply,he said: "it's stuck!!" and ran out of the warehouse,i tried to pull it out,but there were so many parts of my body broken that i had to give up and take a nap against a piss-soaked pillar,when i woke up there were a crack-crazed alsatian and a skinny junkie with wild rolling eyes licking my cunt,i said: "good morning,there's a screwdriver stuck up my arse,could you please help me pull it out?",but the dog and the junkie just hissed at me and crawled away,i left the derelict warehouse and took the bus,that's the short version,there's a longer,more tedious one that i won't bore you with;i get off the bus,there are french kids 48
laughing behind my back cos i walk so awkwardly,i turn around and tell them that i'm only just learning how to use this artificial left leg,i was in rwanda you see,i was there to vaccinate sturdy black geezers against clap and smallpox,then one unfortunate day as i was on my way to church to say my novenas and rub myself against the candelabra i trod on a landmine,and WOOSH POW SPLATTER BAM my left leg and right buttock were gone,the french kids apologise and accompany me to wee andy's place,we exchange telephone numbers and handshakes,and then i knock on wee andy's window,he opens the door,"good morning,delphine" he says,"there's a screwdriver stuck up my arse" i say,"i see" wee andy says,he lets me in,pulls the screwdriver out of my arse and afterwards we down two bottles of brazilian whisky and watch apocalypse now to overcome the embarrassment and my sore arse respectively.
ONCE UPON A TIME IN A DREARY FLEMISH TOWN CALLED “BUGGER”
the anti-heroes are: moses: black,male,pyromaniac delphine: white,female,kleptomaniac Part 1: we escaped from the nuthouse,didn't we?! it's a small hospital and it's hard to tell the nurses from the nutters,the only reliable nutter is moses ointment,that's his real name;all the nurses are fickle and twisted,but some are more dangerous than others,the kinky nightnurse is the one everyone fears,bar the odd senile lady who's beyond fear,there's nothing nursing about the heavy leather suitcase that he carries around from room to room a quarter past every hour of our sordid eleven hour nights,the suitcase contains: a cosh,brass knuckles,a fishing net,an oilcloth knife,a ring spanner,an arrow with his initials carved in it (RVH),and a scalpel; every age,every gender,every pulse,every rash,every whim,every weakness turns him on,he's thorough and insatiable. moses and i have been planning to slay the kinky nightnurse for fourteen months,two weeks and three days now,tonight we're going to hit,hard and ruthlessly,probably even gleefully. i am playing chess against a fair suspicious swedish ex-whore,moses is colouring a huge picture of cinderella (the disney one) running down the stairs on one glass slipper. "POLLY IS CHEATING!" the swedish ex-whore screeches and then wolfs down my remaining chessmen,three sturdy guards enter the hall and the ruddy moustached one plunges a syringe into her left buttock,they drag her away by her feet,"let's call it a day" one of the nurses croaks,we all leave the hall and the nurses usher us into the television room. moses and i sit ourselves on two chairs by the barred window. "were you cheating?" "were you colouring in cinderella's rags?" "alright,alright.. don't let's bicker,there's too much at stake" moses goes through the plan again,it's a fantastic plan,i can't wait to smack the kinky bastard up,i'm aching to avenge moses,i'm aching to avenge all my fellow nutters. we get up,queue for sleeping pills,stuff them under our tongues,and linger in the corridor,moses spits his sleeping pills in the dirty laundry basket,he scowls at me, 50
"you swallowed them,didn't you?" "it was an accident" i whimper "i would be better off on my own" "no you wouldn't,bitch" i snap and go into my ward,i go over to amelia's bed. amelia is mute and underage,"i'm going to hide under your bed,moses will join me in fifteen minutes,we're going to creep up on the kinky nightnurse and slaughter him,maybe we'll torture him first",i slip under the bed and doze off,moses slaps me in the face,he puts his hand over my mouth. the kinky nightnurse enters the ward with his tray of tranquilizers and his ominously bulging suitcase,he puts the tray on amelia's night table and the suitcase on the wobbly table in the middle of the ward,he complacently pats his crotch,"good evening,my demented darlings,my cock-eyed sweethearts,my cracked martyrs,my manic torturees,my..",he notices that my bed is empty,"WHERE'S THAT BLOODY SL..",i hit him on the head with the wheelchair that they gave me for my faked sprain,"here's the bloody slut" i snarl and spit on him,moses stuffs a diaper into his mouth. we drag the kinky nightnurse to the therapeutic games hall,we tie the nightnurse to the therapeutic spinning wheel,i unbutton his immaculate pants, pull down his guilty drawers and scowl at his scrotum for three cathartic minutes,we spin the thread around him,pour red paint over him and guffaw for a long time,cos he's the ugliest mummy we've ever seen,even the ugliest victim. Moses picks up the spinning wheel and throws it at the blank opposite wall,but it boomerangs on us,the spindle hits me and bores into my belly,this is worse than rape,i clench my right fist and bite it,the treadle kicks moses's left eyeball out of its socket,it bounces against a cupboard and shatters,but moses isn't too devastated,cos it was a glass eye and the colour was a vile unforgiving emerald green,his unhurt right eye (reassuring chestnut with a hint of gloomy but sage grey) winks at me,i'm in too much pain to wink back,i'm gagging and pulling at the whorl,but it breaks off and the spindle digs itself deeper into my flesh. an easel falls to the floor with a sad hollow thud,amelia is watching us,she starts to clap,"make the deaf bitch stop" moses hisses. "she's not deaf,you one-eyed mongrel,she's mute" i hiss back,amelia comes over to me and frantically tugs at my sleeve,"what's wrong,love?" i ask,she points at the mummified nightnurse,he's flapping and writhing. i comb the floor for three lethal tools,i find three thick knitting needles under the huge yellow radiator,i give one to moses and keep the other two for myself,amelia starts to tug at my sleeve again,"now what,mute tart?!",she snatches one of the knitting needles away from me and merrily pierces the 51
nightnurse,she pierces him for two hours,i lose count of the holes,but there are more than 5698 when she's finished with the wicked mummy,that much i know. moses and i scornfully laugh at the lanced nurse,"you deserve a much more painful death,but this one will have to do for now" i yelp,we leave the therapeutic games hall,we drag the nightnurse into the dispensary and chuck him in the toxic waste bin,so much for clean-cut murder. we tuck in amelia and open the nightnurse's suitcase,moses pockets the brass knuckles and the ring spanner,i take the scalpel and the fishing net,moses goes over to the barred window and tries to bend the bars with the brass knuckles,i wolf down the tray of tranquilizers and pass out. the morning is hazy but loud,there are fifteen guards crowding round the broken spinning wheel,and ten other guards are hunched over moses's scattered glass eye. moses yanks my arm and drags me into the musty but spacious canteen,"we're gonna have to wait till they're gone" "have they found him yet?" "no" "we're heroes" "you didn't stick to the plan,fucking junkie" moses gruffly mutters. the other nutters enter the canteen,a stocky bucktoothed nurse wheels in the creaking dinner trolley,moses and i are the only nutters who are allowed to eat with stainless steel cutlery,the other 28 sods are either fed by tubes or eat with plastic cutlery,"after the carrots we scarper" moses whispers in my ear,the mute nutter is sitting opposite me,she's mimicking all my moves and twitches,i stuff my face with the overcooked carrot cubes,she stuffs her face with overcooked carrot cubes,i stuff my cutlery into my knickers,she stuffs her cutlery into her knickers,moses and i get up and leave the drab canteen,amelia is following us,i turn around,the nurses are suspiciously whispering and looking daggers at us,the mute nutter is looking at me like a 25year old obese flatulent epileptic cancerous muzzled mutt in an overpopulated dog pound. "OH MY GOD! SHE CAN SPEAK! AMELIA IS SPEAKING!?!!" i shriek,the nurses pounce upon amelia and drag her inside their sinister dispensary. "you did the right thing,polly" moses soothingly lies. we steal past 29 drowsy guards and past two twisted guards who let us through in exchange for a quick peep at our genitals,and then past a thickset mongolian guard who lets us through in exchange for a long nerveracking handjob,jim lets us through cos he likes us,nigel lets us through cos 52
he's gonna be retired before long; we run down the stairs,i take out my knife and fork and cut a big chunk out of the wooden banister. "don't be so fucking sentimental" moses snaps. "piss off,bloody cyclops" an alert moustached guard is blocking the exit with two daunting shoulders,a walkie talkie,and a thick uncompromising syringe. "we can't bargain with that self-righteous cunt,we'll have to kill him" i belch. "i'll pretend i'm having a fit,when he kneels beside me all disconcerted and excited, you hit him on the head with the banister" "he won't kneel beside.." moses leaps and collapses and retches and jerks and heaves in front of the stoic unimpressed guard,moses starts to leap and collapse and retch and jerk and heave more violently,the guard brings the walkie talkie to his mouth,i jump out of the shadow,throw the fishing net over the guard and try to bash his head in with the banister,he drops the walkie talkie but snatches the banister,my legs get tangled up in the net and i fall flat on my face,the guard pounces upon me and starts hitting me in the shoulderblades with his big fierce fists,but then he turns around with a start,punches the air above moses's head and passes out,the syringe is stuck in his nape,blood is slowly filling the tube,i kick him in his smug meaty face,so much for sentimentality. i'm not crazy,but if i am then my madness must be incurable,i'm still the same,fifteen months of spinning sordid yarns and cheap wool haven't changed me at all,moses has changed,he used to be fat and gregarious,he used to be a zealous pyromaniac,and now he's one-eyed and secretive,and he isn't burning anything down,he hasn't even got an appetite for rough sex anymore,i should know cos we're sitting here inside a secluded bike shelter of a disused swimming pool,yet he isn't brutally fucking me up my orifices with his crooked black paws and his crooked false teeth,and i'm bored already,i never got bored at the nuthouse,there were so many gullible little therapists to fuck and to fend off,so many files to read and to burn,so many personality disorders to study and to mimic,so many lies to tell and to remember,so many junkies to loathe and to set on fire. "what are we going to do with all this freedom?? there's too much of it,i think i prefer the trays and the padded gym to this. what is this anyway??" "this is a disused bike shelter,this is two pm,this is a new.." "shut up,hippy twat,shut up and rape me" "no" "can i treat you to an intricate form of fellatio?" "no" "can i play with myself?" "no" 53
i take off my blouse and start to pull at the spindle,when that spindle hit me i finally woke up and realised that i should no longer restrain my mania,i had to indulge it again,no more reins and no more sedatives,viva jumpiness and viva gloom,apathy killed the cat etc etc,like sleeping beauty I was woken by a brutal penetration,not a day too soon i should add. "help me,i look ridiculous" "you look like you have a hard-on" "and it hurts" moses pulls at the spindle,"it's coming! don't forget to breathe,don't move,polly,breathe evenly.." "hurry up for fuck's sake,i'm bloody well suffering here" i gasp out. "think about something nice,think about flames" "that's your mania,not mine,mine's the klepto kind" "then think about unattended handbags" i snigger,i screech. "here it is,a healthy spindle,do you have a name for it?" "it already has a name,spazwit" i snatch the spindle and throw it on the street,but the sloping street rolls it back at me,i get up and plant the spindle into an old glum maple that's standing just outside the bike shelter,'I LOVE GOLDEN RETRIEVERS' is carved into the tree,moses takes off his red short-sleeved shirt that's adorned with carrier pigeons (they all look crushed by the bad news they're carrying) and covers up the hole in my belly. "i'm gonna name my firstborn son after you" i squeal and crawl back into the bike shelter,so much for giving birth to a spindle. "why did your parents name you moses anyway?" "cos i'm a basket case" "it's bedtime at the nuthouse" "i know",we gloat over the 28 spineless sods who stayed behind,we gloat over their tight jackets,over their funny scars,over their bitter features,over their therapeutic origami hares,over their graceless neuroses,over their faked fits,over their concocted sorrows,over their dreadful taste in music. i put my blouse back on,we fall silent,moses watches the sun set,i watch ants labouring up a branch with a half-eaten goat cheese sandwich. a loudly tattooed asian geezer steps into our bike shelter,he asks us for the way to the nuthouse,"i'm merely visiting a cousin" he adds. "piss off,we don't like tourists" moses snarls,the asian geezer shrugs and walks away. "i've always wanted a tattoo" moses mumbles. "you'd better hurry,your skin is about to sag" "shut up",we leave the bike shelter and comb the coastal streets for a derelict tattoo parlour. 54
"you don't have money for a tattoo" "i'll cross that bridge when i have my tattoo" moses wants my name tattooed on his left buttock,maybe i should tell him that polly's not my real name,maybe i should tell him that it's delphine, "there's something you should know,my name's delphine,not polly" "but everyone at the nuthouse called you polly….delphine, delphine,delphin.. it doesn't roll,i don't like it" moses sulkily belches. "you can always abbreviate it.." "you lied to me" "oh get over yourself,mo" "don't abbreviate my name..DELPHINE",my name fills him with disgust,i shouldn't have told him the truth,he didn't ask for it,i shouldn't have conveyed my bloody disappointing french name,but it's too late now,i can never go back to being polly. we enter a seedy tattoo parlour that's called 'tatty tattoo ta-ta',how clever,the owner is bald and north french,he hasn't got any tattoos,so far as i can see,and i can see a whole lot of skin cos he's wearing red trunks and a faded nirvana t-shirt. "never trust a tattooist who isn't covered from top to toe in ink,moses" i yelp. the bald north frenchman chuckles,"i'm not a tattooist,my dad owned this parlour,i'm a maths teacher,i'm good at my job,by the way,my father's dead" "can we stay here?" "yeah,sure" "i'm polly and this is moses,he's a recovering pyromaniac",moses rolls his eye. the maths teacher shrugs,"i'll show you your rooms" "what did your father die of?" "old age" "no tattooist dies of old age" "shut up,delphine" "i thought your name was polly?!" "i thought your father died of old age?" "SHUT UP,DELPHINE" both men roar. i sulkily follow them upstairs,my room is lovely,i've got white curtains that are embroidered with friendly livestock and good-natured peasants,the pillows and blankets are crisp and comely. the view is depressing: five orange containers filled with expired mackerel cans,desperate hobos,rabid badgers and half-eaten hamburgers. i draw the curtains and go downstairs,moses is gregariously chatting away,the north french maths teacher is 55
downing shots of his father's expensive calvados, "and what's your name?" i ask him in an overly flirtatious way. "georges" moses snaps and resumes his inane rambling,so much for getting a tattoo. "i'm off to bed,goodnight" "goodnight" georges takes my right hand and kisses the palm,i go upstairs,i check the four other rooms: a little bathroom with a leaking boiler the size of an overfed heifer,another comely guestroom,georges's bedroom,and then the tattooist's bedroom,i switch on the light,there's a thin spongy mattress on the floor,the peacocks on the curtains are discoloured,the cloth on the night table is stained with ink,that's why i'm presuming that this is the tattooist's bedroom,this doesn't look like the bedroom of a dead man,i steal into the room,there's an unfinished james hadley chase novel on the floor,there's a leather bookmarker between pages 189 and 190,the room reeks of ether and of gutted gulls,there are three topless slavonic vixens spraypainted on the wall,the blonde one's got a bad squint,i open the drawer of the night table,there are three flemish coins,four matchboxes,a biro,a bar of lavender soap,a tinsel wristwatch and a little stuffed reindeer in it,i pocket the loot,bar the bar of lavender soap,switch off the light,and go to my bedroom,i sit myself on the bed,i put on the wristwatch and then listlessly stroke the peevish-looking reindeer,so much for being free. it's one am,moses is stealing into georges's bedroom,they excitedly whisper for fifteen minutes,"AND SO FUCKING PRIM!" georges exclaims. "shhhh,be quiet,she's a jealous one" moses belches,they both chuckle,they fall silent for three minutes and then I can hear them take off each other's clothes,i don't want to hear the thuds and pops of rough gay sex,so i sit myself on the windowsill and listen to the squawks and clanks of desperate russian hobohood. when i wake up the bleak coastal sun is reluctantly coming up,i'm lying on top of a stark naked hobo in one of the containers,i pull moses's red shirt out of my belly and cover the hobo's spotted stump. I jump out of the container and take the cracked rainpipe to my bedroom. I go downstairs and sit myself at the white wooden kitchen table,i sweep the empty bottles and marked cards off the table,there's nothing i hate more than the remains of a party i wasn't invited to. i turn the radio on,but somehow i always get stuck between two stations,so i turn it off,i get up and go outside,i gloomily stroll around the glum desolate park that's named after rudyard kipling. I climb a young lumpy oak,'I HATE REFUGEES' is carved into the tree,there's an unattended nest perched on a solid branch,there are four brittle bluish eggs in it,and one big ugly cuckoo 56
egg,i snatch the cuckoo egg and climb down. i anxiously run back to my temporary home and carefully place the egg under my hot comely pillow,i sit myself on the pillow and broodily hatch. there's a whole lot of conspiratorial chortling and playful slapping going on in the corridor. moses enters my bedroom,he's got scratches on his chest and his right earlobe is torn,he curls his upper lip to sneer at me. "don't come near me with that thing",i point at his bloody morning boner. "breakfast is ready" mutters he. "had a good night? stuck your black jack into anything interesting?" "don't be so vulgar",the sanctimonious twat slams the door and goes downstairs. georges enters my bedroom,he hasn't got a morning boner (thank god),just a few bruises on his throat, "did you sleep well?" he guiltily asks. "yes" he sits himself on the bed and strokes the crisp blankets, "he died of lung cancer" "that's hardly spectacular" "don't be so insensitive",the oversensitive twat slams the door,he opens it again,"breakfast is ready" snaps he. "i'm not hungry" i hoot and angrily shift away from the pillow,i clench my fists and punch it,the egg cracks,the liquid cuckoo spills all over the immaculate sheets,so much for being a mother. we rip off the sheets and go downstairs. moses is stuffing his complacent face with gingerbread starfish,i turn my back on the poofs and make some coffee. "i'm sorry about your father" i yelp. "don't be sorry,he was a twisted cunt,he bet my left pinkie and right index finger",georges holds up his deformed paws. "was he a talented tattooist?" "he was mediocre" "parents always are." i can't stop staring at his maimed hands. "stop staring at my hands" "yeah,stop staring at his hands" that treacherous one-eyed bastard sneers. "i'm going to the beach" "lie low!" moses belches,georges politely guffaws at the bad pun. i leave the house and start walking to the beach,but i hate the beach,it's infested with skinny sunburnt paedophiles and chubby stark white toddlers,i turn around and pick the pouches of three lairy german tourists. i steal into the waiting room of a disused station,there are lots of faded posters on the wall: two smug parents and their two sulky kids on their way to london,two 57
smug parents and their two sulky kids on their way to a sea life centre somewhere in the north of france,two smug parents and their two sulky kids coming back from eurodisney,two smug parents and their two sulky kids coming back from Auschwitz….. i empty my pockets: a tinsel frog-shaped pendant,two mints,three birthday candles,a map of belfast,a turquoise bathing cap,earphones,a cruet,five canadian notes,and a rabbit foot. I keep the candles and the rabbit foot,i throw the rest of the stuff on the tracks. i cross the street and go into the cool tranquil serpentarium,there's a ginger dwarf sitting at a little red table right next to a filthy fake swamp that looks empty but probably isn't,i go over to the dwarf and read the little placard that's stuck to his table,his name is jon mantella and he's here to sign his book,it's titled 'low country venom',i leaf through the book,i'm all wrapped up in the chapter about the idiosyncratic mating of the mandarin rat snake when the vicious dwarf snarls: "either you buy it or put it down." i chuck the book in the fake swamp,something stirs and snaps at the air,it's an old depressed crocodile,its gums are swollen,its molars are dull,its webbed feet are covered with brown warts,and there's a pink cross painted on his stark white belly. "you'll pay for that book" the dwarf screeches and furiously stamps his feet. "no way,it's insipid,and i bet you made most of it up" "i'm a renowned reptilian biologist" the ginger dwarf squeals all beside himself with rage. i'm getting a little scared,i run away and hide myself behind a dingy terrarium that's filled to the brim with geckos and horned frogs,i rap on the glass,none of the vile cold-blooded creatures looks up,i pick my nose for ten minutes,and then run past the arachnids,and past the monitor lizards,and past two tall pallid guards who are moaning about the heavy taxes on tobacco,and past a skinny balding mother who's hostilely scanning the guards whilst her undernourished toddler is licking crushed grasshoppers off the floor,and past a surly father who's vainly threatening to feed his two sons to the false water cobras,and past a dead mangrove snake,and then i steal into the cafeteria. moses is sitting at the bar,he's wearing a serpentarium t-shirt,mating emperor scorpions on the back,fighting emperor scorpions on the front,or maybe it's the other way round,i can never tell a fight from a fuck,he's blubbering into his martini and trimming his cuticles with a toothpick,i order a glass of red wine, "what's wrong?" 58
"he's furious,he's kicked me out of the house,except there is no house,cos i burned it down" "oh moses,why can't you indulge in a less devastating mania?!",i down my glass of wine,"stay here,i'll fix that unforgiving monster,but stay away from the dwarf biologist who's signing 'low country venom' right next to the artificial swamp,he's in a foul mood!" i run out of the cafeteria,i plunge my hand into the back pocket of my jeans,there are maggots coiling around the rabbit foot,so much for good luck. georges is sitting on the bench that overlooks his father's smouldering tattoo parlour,he's sobbing and plucking at the hairs on his left thumb,i take out the three birthday candles and press them against the smouldering cash register,"don't cry on my birthday,nancy" i indignantly bellow. "it's not your birthday" "but i'm clutching birthday candles?!" "your friend burned my house down" "i warned you" "i thought you were joking" "oh georges,i never joke about arson",i blow the candles and throw them away,"our pyromaniacal friend is as devastated as this house" "i don't care" "i never was very good at maths" "i don't care" i take his hand and drag him away from the fumes and the ashes,"you know what would cheer you up? apathetic rattlesnakes and obese pythons.. hey,i've got an idea,let's go to the serpentarium!",i drag him into the serpentarium,"let's see how many snakes we can rattle.." "i don't wanna rattle snakes",georges pushes me away and runs out of the serpentarium,i run after him,i pick up a brick and fling it at the back of his head,it hits the windscreen of a black taxi,i trip over a traffic cone and fall flat on my face,i wail and then lie dead still,as still as a cunning chameleon that's preying on a praying mantis,georges is stroking my mousy hair with his ungainly paws. i open my eyes,"i've got something for you",i give georges the rabbit foot,"never mind the maggots" i whimper,georges angrily throws it away and bawls me out again for having introduced him to moses. "i never asked you to go all gay and chummy on him,all i wanted was an anchor tattooed on my right calf,and a ground squirrel on my left buttock,never mind the symbolism" i yelp. we get up,straighten each other's clothes,and then start combing the coastal 59
streets for a cheap hotel,so much for cheering up a maths teacher. the cheapest hotel in town is called 'eden',but the first 'e' of the neonlit sign outside is broken,our room is on the second floor,it's sticky and pink.I can't help feeling sorry for moses,he's probably burning down the serpentarium as we speak,i hope that ginger dwarf gets trapped inside and burns. i take off my clothes and straddle the sink,i shove my hand up my minge and feverishly thrust. "what are you doing??" "i'm ripping out my uterus,i'm so sick of being hysterical and pregnant all the time" "you'll kill yourself" "i don't mind if i do" georges yanks my arm and pushes me down onto the spoilt bed,"get a few hours sleep" he barks. "i don't mind if i do",i close my eyes and brood over the past twelve hours. when the cuckoo egg cracked everything went from bad to arson,i cup his scrotum,it's tight and lively,he cups my right tit,it's hard and eager,but the bloody uptight faggot falls asleep,i grab his hand and prod my cunt with it,"oh yes,it's there,it's so goddamn close,coax it,there it is,don't lose it,don't fucking delay it,aaahhhaaahhooooo..", the fire alarm goes off. we hurriedly get dressed and run down the stairs,don't panic,eden isn't on fire,someone cried wolf. we go back to our room and sleep a guilty sleep with our clothes on,so much for fucking the tattooist's heir. Part 2: between dunkerque rock and a hard place it's five am,georges is still sleeping,just as well,i'll write him a note: 'dear georges,did you really think i was gonna spurn a black one-eyed pyromaniac for your shifty green eyes?!',short and sweet,i unzip his pants and stuff the note in his drawers,i take his wallet and leave the hotel. i sniff the coastal morning air,it reeks of yolk and turpentine,moses is leaning against a closed waffle stall,"how did you find me?" "i saw you trying to drag the poor sod into the serpentarium,i was a bit green when i saw him stroke your hair,so i followed you all the way to eden. did you fuck him?" "pffffffff,you needn't be green,he doesn't care for trigonometry,he fell asleep with his clothes on,i had to lash my cunt with plastic tulips" "there's something you should know,i burned down the library" "and the methadone clinic?" "and the methadone clinic" "and the arcade that's named after thomas jefferson's dentist?" 60
"and the arcade that's named after thomas jefferson's dentist" "and the serpentarium?" "and the serpentarium" "did anyone see you?" "no" "georges will grass you up" "no,he won't,he loves me. i wanted to burn down eden too,but i settled for crying wolf,cos i was afraid you'd get trapped inside" "you're awfully considerate,you know that?!" "i know" "there are bits of reptile smeared on your chest" "i know" i spit on the viciously struggling emperor scorpions and try to wipe away the bits of reptile with my sleeve,but they won't come off,"take off your atrocious t-shirt" "i can't,i'm attached to it,i got it from that doe-eyed reptilian author.." "the ugly ginger dwarf??" "you shouldn't have baited him,it broke his heart and determination" "good. did he burn?" "noone burned,bar a few hideous cross-grained spiders,and a fat python who wouldn't budge" i give georges's wallet to moses,"you open it,i daren't look",moses sniggers, "what is it?",he shows me a photograph of a much younger georges who's painting a fence,he's lovingly smiling at it,i snatch the wallet and comb it for money: one note and two credit cards. we decide to leave grim flanders and take the first bus to dunkerque,we're the only passengers,the driver is a gruff moustached wino,he's angrily gulping down a blue flask that's filled with cheap geneva,the bus swerves to the right,revs up,and then swerves back to the left,'JANEY GIVES EXELLENT HEAD' is spraypainted on the rear window,i add a 'c' to 'exellent',i'm fussy like that,moses is pacing the bus. "we should go to italy!" he mirthfully exclaims. "i'm too pale for italy" "sweden?" "i'm too lecherous for sweden" "germany?" "i'm too frivolous for germany" "greece?" "i'm too straight for greece." i go over to the driver and rap on the plastic partition. "don't talk to the drunken driver" the drunken driver croaks. "do you have a few coins to spare?" 61
"earn them" i unbutton my blouse and press my tits against the sticky partition,the driver pushes two buttons,a brass slot throws up 15 coins,he pushes another button,the partition belches and slides aside,i button up my blouse and pick up the coins,"cheers",i go back to moses,i take his hand and squeeze it. the bus violently brakes and spits us out at the dunkerque pier,we buy a few sticks of dunkerque rock and sit ourselves on the bench that overlooks the stern cistercian monastery,"i wish i had their discipline" moses mournfully belches. every ten minutes the intercoms wail: 'watch out fer pickpockets',every twenty minutes they roar: 'topless sunbathing is strictly prohibited,if you want to flash your stark white tits then go to bloody flanders!' "let's move on,that pantomime horse gets on my nerves" we topple the pantomime horse and leave the pier,we roam the coastal wasteland,all the pretty shops are shuttered,two rambunctious village pageants pass us by,moses's eye is oozing pinkish pus and chips of wood,the socket is spitting fire,he yanks my arm and drags me into an alley,"he's here!" "who?" "georges" "i don't see him" "he's on the pier,he's looking lean and vindictive" "that's quite a gift you've got" "you don't believe me" "i'm going to the pier,you stay here" "you'll need these",moses gives me the ring spanner and the brass knuckles. "i can't bludgeon him to death on a crowded pier!" "you don't have to bludgeon him to death,just climb one of the flagpoles and drop the spanner on his head" "i thought you fancied him?!" "not enough to let him slaughter us.. don't punch him in the throat with the brass knuckles unless you have to.. don't mug anyone,don't snort anything,don't linger,don't busk,don't bet,don't flirt,don't flash.." i run to the pier,the tattooist's heir is sitting on the bench that overlooks the naval history museum,he's pretending to be wrapped up in 'the heart of the matter',the intercoms are hissing: 'if you see a one-eyed nigger with a white skinny tart who's got a dolphin-shaped birthmark on her left foot turn them in,the reward's a donkey ride',a free donkey ride in exchange for two maniacs?!’ "THAT'S OUTRAGEOUS!!" georges looks up,i duck behind a shooting booth,he pounces upon me. 62
"where's mo,you little thievish slag?!" "he doesn't like it when you abbreviate his name" "WHERE IS HE??" he hoots and rudely pulls down my jeans,he furiously rubs my knickers. "maybe you'll change your little mind about him when you know the full extent of his pyromania.." "TATTOO PARLOUR LIBRARY METHADONE CLINIC ARCADE NAMED AFTER THOMAS JEFFERSON'S DENTIST SERPENTARIUM" i squeal and punch him in the nose with the ring spanner,i pull up my jeans and scurry away,i take off the brass knuckles and chuck them in a wishing well,i wish i'd punched him harder,i run back to the alley,"i killed him,mo!" "no you didn't,don't abbreviate my name,darling" "what's he doing?" "i can't see" "i thought you had a gift" "it goes away at dusk" "i knew you were a charlatan. i'm gonna loathe you till dawn" "where are the brass knuckles?" "i don't know,they must have slipped off" we steal into a glum spraypainted chapel,i nestle myself in the holy water font and suck my stump of dunkerque rock,moses is pretending to be wrapped up in his prayer,so much for good faith. moses is fake snoring,he's up to something,i can't sleep,i haven't stolen enough today,i feel so bloody restless,i wish i was a monk. at two am an effigy of jesus catches fire,but it isn't moses,it's a miracle,at two fifteen an effigy of joseph catches fire,but it isn't a miracle,it's moses,at ten to three an effigy of the virgin mary starts to hurl north french abuse at us,her voice is both shrill and hoarse,and she's badly slurring her words,i decapitate the effigy,the head falls on my left foot and viciously bites my shin,moses drags it off me,but then the head spins five times and goes for his throat,i notice that the body is trying to escape,i break her spine with the ring spanner and perforate her chest with a candelabrum,the head shrieks and drops on the floor,moses kicks out her teeth,and i stab her in the left eye with a crucifix. we are busy digging a hole for the head in a nearby fir plantation when suddenly a stout white creature pounces upon moses,it's the owner of the fir plantation,we tell him what has happened,he tells us his name,brutus cornetto,he helps us to bury the head,"maybe it'll make my firs grow faster" he says,he accompanies us back to the chapel,the body is gone! but we are all too tired to panic,i crawl back into my holy water font,moses sleeps on the altar,and brutus curls himself up under the altar. i can't sleep,what with 63
someone named brutus so close by. at four am the headless virgin mary enters the chapel,she struts towards me,i'm mute with fear,she tweaks me by the ear and drags me out of the chapel. outside the sun is coming up and i am slightly relieved to find out that it isn't the headless mary who's beating me up,it's the tattooist's heir! I kick him in the crotch and we both wail,he plunges his fist into my wounded belly,i screech and throw up chunks of dunkerque rock,at long last moses and brutus come to my rescue,they put their boots and knives in georges whilst i dig a hole. "my father isn't dead,petty killers" is the last thing he says. we gloomily bury him,moses mumbles a half-hearted prayer,i throw up a few more chunks of dunkerque rock and then spit on the fresh grave,brutus is writing something down in a small burgundy notebook. we go back into the chapel,i take two pews and finally fall asleep. it's almost noon when moses and i wake up,brutus is dusting the remaining effigies (two shepherds and saint john the evangelist),he suggests that we leave the chapel and go to his cottage for pancakes and bourbon. we walk to brutus's cottage,the rural lanes are deserted,"this is it" brutus says and proudly points at a cute thatched cottage that's called “victoria.” "who's victoria?" i ask. "my bedridden mother" we go inside. "make yourselves at home" "oh we will",moses sits himself in a rocking chair,i pace the living room. "i need to change her bandages" brutus mutters and leaves the living room. i pry the liquor cabinet open with a chisel,a white cat is suckling her four blind kittens in the fireplace,i down three shots of cheap spanish rum,"i'm going upstairs." i leave the living room and stealthily climb the stairs,the corridor is murky and long,the first three rooms are locked,the door of the fourth room is ajar,i take a peek,brutus is tucking up the headless virgin mary,he's singing a sinister nursery rhyme to her,i run back to the living room. "what did you find out?" "i found out that the headless virgin mary is his bedridden mother!" "so he's a little eccentric.." "he's a nutter,we can't stay here" "but i like it here",he's got that complacent pyromaniacal tone in his voice,something in the fireplace's burning! "YOU BURNT THE CATS!?!!" "no i didn't" "where are they?" 64
moses yanks my arm and drags me into the kitchen,the white cat is dozing in a yellow tub,"i didn’t burn the kittens, I accidentally trampled them",he stifles a yawn,i look out the window,the fir plantation is blazing. "we can't stay here,moses" "i know" we quietly steal out of the cottage,we walk for two hours, twenty three minutes and forty two seconds,when the sun sets we enter a huge friendly forest,we climb a maple and perch ourselves on a smooth reassuring branch, an old spiteful owl tries to shoo us away,he digs his claws into my forehead,moses grabs him and snaps his beak. six angry white men enter the forest,they're carrying torches and rifles,"they're not after us,they're after game." moses guts the inhospitable owl and puts it on his head,he nods off,i unzip my jeans and pull down my knickers,i take the owl’s big black claw and press it against my cunt,i slide it,to and fro,up and down,i cum so violently,i can't suppress it,i'm hooting and wailing,moses starts at the noise,"they..",he drops down from the tree. "THEY WHAT,MOSES??" i bellow. "i thought it was a pheasant" someone snarls,the six poachers run out of the forest. i climb down,moses's right thigh is heavily bleeding,i cautiously peel off his trousers and scan the wound,"you're gonna be ok,mo." "don't abbreviate my..",another shot,this one intentional,this one through the head. brutus emerges from the undergrowth and presses the hot barrel against my forehead,"life without moses is worse than death" i lie,he lowers the gun, he rests it on my left shoulder,his murderous determination is beginning to evaporate,he scratches his right temple with the gun,"piss off,pathetic brute" i roar and snatch the gun,brutus swiftly scurries away,i throw away the gun and loudly mourn for moses till dawn. "SNAP OUT OF IT,SELF-INDULGENT HARLOT" i holler and slap myself in the face,i kiss my sweet maniac on the nose,i take off his bloodstained gutted owl-hat,i get up,take off my clothes,wring them out,and put them back on,i put the gutted owl-hat on and decide to take over moses's mania,i'm going back to the dreary flemish town called 'bugger'. the forest is bone-dry,i only need one match to start a loud merciless fire, two matches to burn down a solitary bookstall,three matches to burn down a victorian merry-go-round,four matches to burn down a disused bus shel65
ter,five matches to burn down a closed tanning salon,six matches to burn down a grim off-licence,seven matches to burn down the belgian frontier post,eight matches to burn down a coastal kite shop,nine matches to burn down a dodgy discotheque,ten matches to burn down a kosher restaurant,and eleven matches to burn down 'eden'. i switch back to my very own mania and steal a bulging wallet from a fat black bricklayer,i check in at a seedy nameless motel,i barricade myself in my room,i sit myself on a chair by the window and watch an impressive parade of fire engines and ambulances rush past.
Milky lives in a grotty bedsit in Sunderland surrounded by rockabilly records and a broken record player. It went wrong somewhere, he just hasn't worked out who, what, when, where or why. “Steamroller” was first published in Bullet 2. “Small Business” is his last throw of the dice.
I was in the beamer driving to Stockills and my nerves were fizzing like a buzz saw guitar. I could barely sit still; it was an electric intensity, crackling, bone deep. It was the first time I’d done this and fuck was it exciting. Everything was simple, clear, black and white. I knew exactly what to do, how to do it and best of all I knew it was going to work. It had all started a couple of hours ago, quietly, with the gentle vibration of the mobile against my thigh. Lovely feeling. I was in the car park just coming back from a meeting with a client when it went off. I pulled it from my baggy trouser pocket, checked the name that flashed up and flicked it open. I said nothing, just let the line fizz uncertainly, let him talk first. “Chris? That you?” “Yes Bob, it’s me.” I’d been waiting a long time for this phone call but it wasn’t a good line. His voice boomed in and out on waves of static. “Talk to me and quick, you’re breaking up.” “I’m down at Stockills. I’ve got a meeting with Ted in ten minutes. After that it’s all going to kick off.” “What’s happening?” “He can’t pay the wages.” “Sweet. I’m on my way but I’ve got to get a few things lined up first.” “Ok but get a move on. You need to be there to make it work.” “Don’t you worry about that, I’m right on it.” I snapped the Nokia shut, a big, sweaty, cheesy grin on my face. Good news and getting better. I made the first call. A couple of buzzes then an answer: “Steve Carter.” “Steve, Chris Jones here. How’s it going?” “Not bad, could be worse.” “Hey listen. Ted Stockill owes you a few quid doesn’t he?” “Yes, why do you ask?” He was suspicious, he drawled out that “yes” just long enough to give a little thinking time. “Well I thought you should know, he’s started shifting stock out of his warehouse.” “What do you mean?” “He owes me a few quid as well and from what I hear, that warehouse will be empty in a few days and there’ll be nowt left for us creditors.” ”He’s going bust?” “Haven’t you heard? Few days max.” “Jesus ! Right, I’ll get on to it.” “What you gonna do?” 68
”Send in the bailiffs, take walking possession of what’s there and let the receiver sort the rest.” “Tell you what I’ll do. I’ll buy that debt off you.” “Why do you want to do that?” “Goodness of my heart, what do you care? How much does he owe you?” “Twenty.” “I’ll give you ten for it right now. Say yes and you’ll have a cheque within the hour.” Silence. Steve was calculating the odds, wondering what I was up to. I wasn’t worried, there was only one decision he could make but he needed pushing. “Well? You interested?” “I don’t know.” “Ten grand guaranteed now. Who knows what the receiver might get for the assets and he always takes his cut first. You might end up with nowt.” More silence, I knew what was coming. “Okay, you’re on. Ten grand by three o’clock or the deal’s off.” Even bigger cheesy smile. “I’ll send someone across with a cheque straight away.” Deal done and the leverage I needed to apply to Ted Stockill. I got out of the car, bleeped it shut and walked at an anxious pace across the broken concrete car park, legs a blur and my Pierre Cardin suit flicking in the light summer breeze. I was heading towards my empire. Mayflower Tableware, suppliers of cutlery and cruets to schools, hospitals and hotels across the UK and the continent. If you wanted decent, solid, long lasting cutlery, then you came to Mayflower. Our designs weren’t exactly cutting edge but fuck it they’re only spoons. Anyway you can’t argue with three million turnover. Six times what it was doing when I took over from old man Walkenshaw. We had our own building, a two storey concrete faced abomination on the Mount Talbot Trading Estate, like a couple of kid’s blocks chucked haphazardly on the floor. It was the sort of place an architect flicks off the wrist when he’s got a deadline or budget to meet. It didn’t bother me though, it did the job. Don’t want to be wasting money on flashy offices just to sell a few forks. I walked in and saw the drones beavering away at their computers, chatting away on phones, doing filing, all that boring stuff. There was an air of unnecessary urgency about them. They always got visibly busy when I walked 69
in, twenty seconds earlier they’d probably been feet up on the desks drinking cups of tea. Fuckers. I knew what they were up to but I had them taped. When I took over Mayflower I made a few changes. I’d had glass fronted cubicles put in for all the staff. Told them they were offices but really they were about keeping them apart as much as possible so they couldn’t waste time chatting on about football or what they’d done at the weekend. Piece of piss to keep an eye on them as well. Right then though, I had bigger things on my mind. Let them get on with their little business, their insignificant photocopying, their unimportant phone calls to stationers. Fuck ‘em. I had bigger fish to fry. I moved quickly into my office and swept the papers from my desk, catapulting them to the floor in a violent flurry. The desk phone, was inviting, beckoning me on, glamorously black with glowing green bulbs of light. I punched in the number, an electric tone, a voice and then me, staccato, spitting out terse, clear instructions. “Carole? I need a cheque written to Forden Wood Supplies.” “Ok Chris. I’ll just finish this mail shot and…” “Now.” “Oh right.” Whacked out on adrenaline I paced the room as I talked. Motion was necessary; it relieved the tension gnawing at my joints. I needed to keep my head clear, be sure I was doing the right things. I picked up the phone again, found the number in the phone book and dialled. “Her Majesty’s Customs and Excise.” “VAT collection please.” A new voice, cold, efficient. “Hello?” “Hi, I thought you should know that something strange is going on at Stockills the packaging company.” “I’m sorry?” ”They owe you a packet from their last few VAT returns and you’re not the only one. They owe at least a hundred k to their trade creditors alone.” “Who is this speaking?” “That doesn’t matter. What matters is that the boss has been shifting the 70
company’s assets out of the warehouse. If you don’t move soon, that place will be cleaned out completely.” “How do you know all this? Do you work for Stockills?” “I’m sorry, I’ve got to go.” I dropped the receiver in its cradle, paused, composed myself then made the next phone call. “Inland Revenue.” “Hi, I thought you should know something strange is going on at Stockills the packaging company. Half an hour later I’d spoken to everyone I needed to, things were in motion, all I had to do now was sit back and wait for the storm to burst. My heart was pounding through my rib cage and I thought I was going to explode; the adrenalin must have been on hyper drive. I took five deep breaths, slowly expelling the air in a low blow that chilled my shirt front then sat down. The fake leather executive armchair framed me like a cheap IKEA print. I closed my eyes, let things settle; I calmed the raging sea of my mind with positive thoughts and let a big smile cut my face in half. I was feeling good, successful, I knew what I was doing was big and important; I was fulfilling my destiny. I looked round my office and laughed. What a fucking shit hole to be doing stuff like this in! Everything was second hand and nasty, magnolia wallpaper, marbled polystyrene suspended tiles, grey carpet and a Viking Direct desk that cost less than fifty quid in an end of line sale. Nothing had changed since I’d taken over from Walkenshaw and it was going to stay like that. Fucking waste of money tarting up your offices just so’s you look prestigious; whatever the fuck that means. We sell fucking spoons for fucks sake. No we’re a business with our priorities right, money out there working, not tied up in fancy décor and expensive furniture. The message it sends out is that I’m focused on the bottom line, nothing else matters. I was a good risk. Solid. I checked my watch. The time was now. I was ready to go. The phone rang with that querulous tone I’d always meant to change, banging through my idyll with a jarring intensity. It was Bob. “Where the fuck are you?” “I’m in the office, why?” “You’ve got to get down here, now. Things are getting out of hand.” “I’m on my way.” 71
I rushed out of the office, door banging on the frame; face full of grim intent, Carole looked up startled as I spat the words at her like tracer bullets: “Where’s that cheque?” “Well I couldn’t find the cheque book.” “Look in the filing cabinet.” “I have, I mean it’s not that, it’s just that Mike’s got it.” “Well tell him to write the cheque.” “He’s just popped out.” “Where to?” “I dunno, his dinner I think.” Christ this woman was fucking useless, a fat middle aged podgy lump of lard, I should have got rid of her years ago. Trouble is with employment law the way it is these days, you can’t fire anybody no matter how bloody useless they are. She pushed her square glasses up her nose as her face began to crimson. Carole placed her hands protectively on her lap and waited for me to tell her what to do next. No fucking initiative. And that Mike’s no fucking better. In his fifties, always wearing brown suits and those comfortable plastic shoes that look like fig rolls. Typical bleeding accountant. “When he gets back tell him to get that cheque sorted. And sharp.” “Right o.” “And sort this letter out will you?” She saw nothing in my hands “What letter?” “The one I’m about to dictate to you.” “Oh. Okay. I’ll just open up word then. She fiddled with her computer and then looked up, silently expectant. “To Steve Carter, MD of Forden’s Wood supplies. The address is somewhere in the main office. Please find enclosed £10 000 for which you will agree to assign any debts owing to you from Stockills Packaging Ltd to Mayflower Tableware. Yours sincerely etc. Get Mike to sign it as Company secretary.” “No problem Chris.” There’d better not be. “I’m off out now. The press might be on the phone. Fob them off best you can.” Carole’s face frowned like a puzzled baby: “The Press?” “I’ll tell you later - I’ll be back in an hour.” 72
I strode through the offices, loving the glances that swept my way but there was no time for that sort of nonsense. I had to get to Stockills and sharp. Outside the beamer was baking in the late morning sun. I loved that car, classy, cool, gorgeous, black as a cloud threatening to burst. I found the key and bleeped it open from twenty yards. I got in, settled luxuriantly into the black leather seats and set off for Stockills. As the ignition kicked in so did Meat Loaf from the CD player. I whacked up the volume as high as I could, “Bat out of Hell” nearly making my ears bleed and pressed my foot hard on the accelerator. Fucking ace, got me right in the mood for sorting Ted Stockill. One phone call had set all this in motion and there I was, nerves buzzing, speeding towards success. I’d been planning this a long time. Stockills were a local packaging firm. They made wooden packing cases, not glamorous I know but this was a killer growth business or at least it should be. Many moons ago they’d been a big employer, one of the first on to the Mount Talbot Trading estate but that was then and this was now, Ted Stockill had lost it. They’d been a big success story for a small town like ours. At their peak they’d employed 120 men in yards throughout the region but Ted had fucked it all up and now he was down to this one yard. They’d been on the skids for as long as anyone could remember. Ted had gotten soft, he couldn’t plan for a future he was scared of and he couldn’t deal with a present that was killing him. He’d forgotten how to make the tough choices. If you ain’t growing you’re dying. I’d had my eye on the place for years. Now it was overmanned with crap product and a client list that was getting smaller all the time. Today it was all coming to a head. Ted would be desperate and ready to sell but I had to get in quick. I wanted that yard, for the clients, for the men but most of all the goodwill. He had a brand and the twat didn't know what it was worth. It was only a five minute ride across the estate and Meat Loaf was ringing away into the void just as I pulled up. Things were starting to happen, that much was obvious. A knot of men surrounded the flapping grey hair of Ted Stockill. The lads wanted their pay and were getting mightily pissed off judging by the numbers of pointing fingers and red enraged faces. I got out and headed towards them, the knight in shining armour. “Ted. Can I have a word?” The men parted like the Red Sea and there ex73
posed, was old man Ted. Face scarlet, beads of perspiration, panic setting in. Ted smelled and looked like his yard, dishevelled and ill kempt with an aroma of fresh pine wood. “You! I might have known scum like you would be sniffing around. Mind your own business Chris, I’ll look after mine.” A voice came from the back of the gang of labourers. “So are we gonna get paid or what?” Ted spread his hands helplessly. “I’m sorry lads; I thought I would have had the money today. I did have the money but the VAT man’s just come and I’ve had to pay him instead. The Inland Revenue are in there as well and they’ve taken walking possession of all our stock. I’ve been on to the Bank Manager but he won’t increase our overdraft. I’m sorry lads I’m really sorry but I thought I’d have the money, I did have the money but those bastards in there have taken it all.” “You fucking lying bastard, this is two weeks without pay.” A middle aged man, grey hair greased back in a dying quiff grabbed Ted by the tie and pulled him up close to his face so that Ted could taste the Brown Ale on his breath. “If you don't pay us now, we’ll take our pay out of what’s left of this shit hole and you can fuck your business.” “Lads do anything rash and I’ll have the police on you.” Ted was no Kissinger. Time to step in. “I can help if you like Ted. I can pay these lads their wages if you want.” This startled everyone and they all turned to look at me, the brand new star of the show. Ted looked at me with the disgust he reserved for war criminals: “Keep out of it.” It was at times like this that my look of injured innocence came in handy. I put my hands up in mock surrender. “Ted, Ted, I’m only trying to help, make sure these lads get the money they’re owed and keep the business going.” The lads saw a glimmer of hope. “So who are you mate? Are you gonna buy him out or what like?” “Hang on, hang on. Ted knows that I have offered to put money into the business, I would like to buy but Ted won’t sell.” The quiff: "Is this true?" "Look it’s not as simple as that, he'd make half of you redundant in a month or two, with me we've all got a chance." "Aye but he's got the money hasn't he?" I got the cheque book out and waved it. It wasn’t the company cheque book, it was for my own personal account but they didn’t need to know that. 74
It made the point. "Anytime Ted, I could do it now if you want." The men surged tightly around him. Ted saw past the grim, tight faces and saw the Tax man totting up the list of assets that now belonged to the Government. He crumpled like a child being told off. “Alright then Chris. Take it, take the fucking lot.” He turned and walked back to the office. The men gathered round, faces desperate to hear what I had to say. “Look lads, I need to sort out a few things with Ted, you lot go back to work. I’ll find out what you’re owed and make sure there’s cheques for you first thing tomorrow morning.” “Cash, we always get cash” said the dying quiff. “Well that’ll take a little longer. You’d better give it till dinner time. Is that okay?” “Aye marra, that’ll do us.” The quiff was looking happier now, looking at me like I was important, which of course I was. I had the wedge, and he wanted it. “Well come on then get back to work.” I tried to say it with a smile and I just about got away with it. They melted away but I knew I wasn’t going to get much out of them till they’d been paid properly. I flicked the Nokia and called the office. It was Carole with her sing-song telephone voice. “Hello Mayflower Tableware.” “It's me, put Mike on will you?” She switched me through. Mike’s slow witted but crystal clear diction oozed out of the phone. “Yes” He said it like a question that was going to give him an answer he didn’t want to hear. “Get yourself to Stockills will you? There’s work for you to do here.” “I’m right in the middle of the VAT return.” “Forget that.” “I don’t know if I can, it’s due in a week’s time.” “Mike, get yourself down here will you.” That wasn’t a question but an exasperated command. “If that’s what you want then I’ll come immediately.” “That is precisely what I want.” What a fucking wanker. I knew what he was doing. Covering his back. 75
Accountants get tested all the time, that’s the thing with figures, no covering up. So things like the VAT Return have to be right otherwise you get nasty fines and time consuming investigations. So if he fucked this one up, he’d feel justified in turning round to me and saying it was all my fault for having pulled him off the job right at the last minute. Fuck me no wonder this country’s in the state it’s in. I hung up and went to see Ted. As I swept through the doors of the factory, swinging them wide and banging them open I was stopped by a couple of people at reception. A man and a woman, both mid twenties, both dressed in gear that was obviously of this century. Warmed my heart to see it. “Excuse me, are you Chris Jones?” said the woman. “That’s me.” Nervously they cast side long glances at each other then the bloke spoke. “We hear you’re taking over the company.” “I hope so, that’s just what I’m going in to discuss with Ted now.” “My name’s Dave Collins, I’m the accountant here.” Dave was a short squat bloke who looked exactly like Henry VIII would have done if he’d been clean shaven, wore dark brown suits and worked for a packing company. His hair was cropped short, almost shaven, maybe a number two and he moved as if he was wary of doing the wrong thing. The woman on the other hand was a right looker. Tall with cat green eyes, blonde hair with black roots and a square open face. Her body was perfect at least it looked like it under her cream blouse and tight black trouser suit. Long legs accentuated by high heels and tight pert tits that pressed against her blouse like they were aching to burst out and be fondled. She held her out hand for a limp handshake. “Hi, I’m Rachel Brown. I’m the Sales Manager.” I took it and she smiled shyly. Fucking bonus! If I’d known she was working here I might have tried to close down Ted months ago! Might have cost a few quid more but for a chance to stare at her every day it would have been worth it. I checked for a wedding ring. Nothing, third finger left hand was conspicuously free from rings of any sort though there were plenty on the others. She was available no doubt about that. “Excellent! Pleased to meet you both.” “What’s going to happen?” Rachel was worried and I wanted to tell her right there and then that she of all of people had absolutely no worries. But I couldn’t say nowt, unprofessional. 76
“Well I’m going in to have a chat with Ted, finalise a few details and with a bit of luck it’ll all be sorted out in a couple of hours.” “What are your plans for the company?” I managed to tear my eyes away from Rachel long enough to answer Dave’s question. “Give us a chance. I haven’t even bought the thing yet.” I wanted to sound upbeat and confident without creating any hostages to fortune. “Where’s Ted’s office?” Rachel pointed me at a cheap unpainted wooden door. “He’s through there.” “Tell you what, we’ll talk tomorrow.” They smiled timidly and I left them to it. As I walked to the door I cast a quick glance backwards, they shrugged their shoulders uncertainly at each other. Marvellous, they were shitting themselves. Nowt like uncertainty to keep people on their toes. I didn’t bother knocking on Ted’s door, I just barged straight through. I figured the time for niceties were long gone. Ted’s office was a nasty dishevelled place. Papers piled up everywhere, like he hated being in the office and preferred to be out there with the lads making up packages for his customers. Maybe if he’d put more time in here he wouldn’t be in this mess . His high backed chair was turned away from me but I could smell the gentle aroma of pipe tobacco and I knew he was contemplating how it had all gone so horribly wrong. Maybe I should have felt sorry for him, but I didn’t. This was all his fault and I hoped he knew it. He span round. “How did you know?” “Know what?” “That we were on the edge.” “You’re way off the edge now mate. You’re right over it and heading towards the rocks.” “And you’re the saviour, coming to save the company, purely out of the goodness of your heart. Come on Chris, who told you?” “Told me what? Come on Ted. Mount Talbot’s a small place. You owe money all over; you even owe me a few quid.” “I suppose it doesn’t matter, not any more.” “You’re right there. Come on then, how much in the hole are you?” “Thirty, forty.” 77
”And the rest. I know how much you owe Forden’s for a start.” “A hundred would get the place back on an even keel. Fifty would keep the creditors off our backs and get the wages up to date.” “Ok then, I’ll give you ten for the business.” “Piss off sonny, I may be desperate but I’d rather close the place down than sell it for ten grand.” “Ted, what about the staff? You wouldn’t want to leave them short would you?” This stung; his emotional attachment to his staff was legendary. Nobody could remember the last time he’d sacked anyone. That was part of the problem. Too fucking soft. The occasional sacking keeps everyone on their toes, any boss should know that. “I may be desperate but I’m not that desperate.” “Look Ted, you are that desperate, everyone’s on your back now. It’s just a question of time before it all comes tumbling down. You either sell to me or hand everything over to the Tax man. You might even be investigated for illegal trading. Who knows?” “What?” “You have carried on trading knowing that you are not in a position to pay your debts as they fall due. Could go to prison for that.” He blanched. I carried on. “Now look, you owe me twenty five kay.” ”No I don’t.” ”Yes you do, I’ve just bought the debt off Forden’s.” “Why are you doing this?” “I’ve seen your last few years accounts. Got them from Companies House. You used to be a very profitable company, I think I can get it back into profit, but I’m not willing to risk more than ten kay of my own cash. I’ve already bought off one major creditor, a few quid more can get everything flowing again and the company can be saved. I’m backing myself to get that capital back, that’s my risk. You on the other hand are facing bankruptcy. Everyone’s crawling all over you. This place will shut tomorrow unless you find some cash. And if the lads don’t get paid, they’ll take it out of the company or they’ll take it out of you. Look Ted, Stockill’s worth fuck all at the moment. Less. Think about it, seriously, have you got a choice?” He span round in the chair and puffed away at his pipe. There was an empty sucking noise as the smoke died on him. I heard him flick the lighter to start up the pipe again and I waited. I had him and he knew it, he just needed a few minutes to let the realisation sink in. He span round again, face flushed. “Ten grand for a business.” 78
“Best you’ll get.” “Life’s work down the drain.” “Come on Ted, I haven’t got all day.” “Don’t suppose I’ve got any choice have I?” “Excellent.” “I’d better talk to my accountant.” He picked up the phone, an old fashioned one of the type you now only see in seventies sit coms. “Bob? Ted Stockill. Listen I’ve got Chris Jones here. He’s made me an offer for the company…...Ten grand…...You sure?” He hung up, smoked a couple more puffs. “Okay then Chris. It’s yours.” I held out my hand. “If you don’t mind, I won’t shake your hand. There’s something about this I don’t like. I wouldn’t trust you further than I could kick you.” ”Hey there’s no need to get personal.” “Personal? Personal? Forty years I’ve ran this company, built it up from nowt and now some little shite is taking it off me for a poxy ten grand?” “Not my fault you can’t run a business any more.” “That’s the worst of it sonny, that’s the worst of it.” “I’ve got my finance guy coming down; he can sort you out a cheque and the share transfer. Is there anybody you want to get involved?” “Bob’ll be here in half an hour.” “Who’s Bob?” “My accountant.” “Well I’ll leave you to it then.” I got up and left. Nothing more to be said. Outside in the car I sat and let the realisation that I’d done it flow over me. At first it was a curiously hollow experience, dissatisfying, maybe it was the adrenalin settling down, maybe the sense of achievement was not all it’s cracked up to be but I’d done it, I’d finally done it. I’d fucked them all and got what I wanted. I was expanding, I was growing, I was becoming a real business man at last. That realisation brought the adrenaline rush back so I turned the ignition and headed to the motor way. Out there I put Meat Loaf back on the CD and pushed the pedal to the metal till I was touching a ton. It wasn’t the only thing that was going a hundred miles an hour.
STEAMROLLER I steamrollered the meeting. Fuckers. If they thought they were going to do this without me…. The four of them were sat there in the conference room. Tina from Sales, Charlie from Marketing, Colin the Factory Manager and Martin the accountant. Small fish in a big pool. Fucking lightweights. Those that didn’t blanch with fear flushed with embarrassment. Naughty kids with their hands in the sweet jar. “Chris! We weren’t expecting you.” Charlie the new guy. Fat and middle aged, tie always undone, always with a five o’clock shadow. More hair than me, the bastard. “Too fucking right you weren’t. What the fuck’s going on?” “Just, you know, a staff meeting.” Someone take that spade out of Charlie’s hands. The hole’s deep enough already. “Who the fuck decided you could have a staff meeting? Without telling me, without inviting me.” “Well we thought we needn’t bother you. Fairly trivial things really.” “Like what?” “Well er.” Fucker, something going on here. They know about the accounts, want to cover their backs. Martin’s grassed me up. Charlie tried to change tack, it wasn’t going to work. “Employment law says we can have meetings, if we so desire, to discuss matters that are important to us.” Jeeze this guy is writing the longest P45 in history. Colin piped up, flustered, panicking: “Chris please let us have this meeting. There’s one or two things we’re concerned about and we’d like to have a chance to discuss them in private before we bring them to you.” “Do it down the pub.” Charlie began gathering up his papers like newsreaders at the end of a bulletin. “Okay Chris. If that’s how you want to play it.” “Yeah it fucking well is and may I remind you, matey boy, you’ve been here less than a year. You can be gone. Month’s notice. Quick as a flash.” I snapped my fingers. “Like that.” Charlie went white. Watching his Adam’s apple bobbing up and down as he gasped for air, cheered me up no end.
The four of them got up and began to leave. Silent, the atmosphere heavy. Fucking shitting themselves. Fucking lovely. “Tina. You stay behind. I want a word with you.” She flushed red, she looked nervous, her hand flew to the top of her blouse. Creamy, transparent material. The lacy white pattern of her bra showed through revealing the brown tinge of nipple. Fucking love women in smart work gear. Couldn’t believe a looker like her was mixed up with this lot. “Sit down. I’d like a chat.” Tina sat down. I sat down beside her. Close. She moved away a couple of inches. I stared hard and took in every inch of her. Tina smelled like roses and looked like a Russian doll, big eyes, round face, jet black hair. She took off her glasses. “So what’s going on here then? I couldn’t believe you were involved with that bunch of losers.” “It was just a meeting, we’ve got a few things to talk about.” She crossed her legs, her skirt was green, tight, made it hard for her to walk. Made her arse wiggle. Lovely. Was she wearing stockings or tights? Hard to tell. “Tina you know the real reason I took over Stockill’s?” This’d impress her. I looked hard into her eyes, non-descript greeny brown things, banal, but everything else made up for it. Milky white skin and hair tied up tight in a bun. Things like that can swing a deal. “It was a good opportunity for expansion?” "You must be fucking joking mustn’t you? Shite business like this? No Tina it was you. I wanted you on my books.” Wasn’t the only thing I wanted her on. I smiled, she flushed deeper. “Mr Jones..” “Chris, what’s happened to Chris?” “Chris, that’s very flattering but ….” “I know about your fiancée. Three years you been engaged?” “Four.” “Hardly buzzing with passion is it?” “We have our moments.” “Where did you go for your holidays last year?” “We rented a cottage with his parents in Scotland.” I looked at her, she laughed. “Look Tina, how about you and me?” “What do you mean?” 81
I put my hand on her thigh. She didn’t resist. “I need somebody I can trust, rely upon completely. I need a Deputy MD. How does that sound?” I skimmed my hand up her thigh, then squeezed. Fuck me suspenders! Jackpot! Her legs parted slightly. She smiled. “You’re starting to interest me.” Knew it, I fucking knew it. I slid my hand in her blouse, caressed her right breast. Tina moaned, closed her eyes. I kissed her, she kissed me back. “Salary. How much salary do I get?” “Thirty.” “Make it forty.” “Okay but Charlie goes. You tell him.” “Don’t worry about him.” “I want you at weekends too.” “I presume we’ll have lots of conferences to go to, clients to meet?” “You’re a natural.” She leaned over and kissed me, lips lightly brushed mine. Her hand rested on my crotch. She began to fiddle with the fly. Then she stopped. “I want this in writing first.” “Fair enough but how about something to be going on with?” Tina smiled, her eyes hardened. “A sneak preview?” She stood up and pulled her blouse quickly over her head. Tina dropped her skirt and stood there in white bra, panties and suspenders that cut into pure white, cellulite puckered flesh. She slid her hand in her panties and began to rub, began to moan. Fuck that. I’d had enough. I dropped my pants and got it out. I started to pull in time to her moans, I felt myself coming. I came. “Help! Help!” she started to scream. She fell on the floor, crying. Door burst open. In came Charlie and the others. Caught with me dick in me hands. Got the letter the next day. Sexual harassment. Cost me thirty grand. Paid Charlie off though. He didn’t seem bothered. A couple of months later I found out why. Saw him with Tina rolling about town in a brand new beamer. Fuckers. 82
Now living in his native Newcastle, TK Dan has spent time working in record shops, on building sites, as an actor, musician, teacher and tumble buggy salesman. He has written for theatre and more recently has been involved in developing screenplays for short films with a European production company. He is currently working on a novel provisionally entitled "At home he's a tourist". “Home Deliveries” was first published in Bullet 3. “Funtime” was first published in Bullet 4. “Taxing Time” is published here for the first time. 83
I wake up about midday and Pasty is already in overdrive. He‘s ranting about last night, about the bastard in the pub who he’d had to pull the knife on. Vague memories filter through. Karaoke, a ripped pool table, a landlady with a face that looked like she was sucking on a lemon while someone farted beneath her nose. An argument with the pub’s “unofficial bouncer” and finally a hunting knife driven into the bar by Pasty and left there, quivering and glinting in the cheesy disco lights. I spark up and switch on the Play Station. Pasty, still wired to the national grid, gets on the phone and starts ordering every fucking thing he can; pizzas, Chinese, Indians (“cos I can’t make up me mind”) whizz, blow, coke, Viagra. “Fuck me,” I moan “you’ve ordered everything except a bunch of roses from Interflora.” He shoots me a look and stalks out of the room still punching numbers into the phone. I hear him stomping about, barking out orders. When he comes back in he’s talking to some escort agency in Wallsend. She arrives with her boyfriend/pimp in a fucking charged up XR3 full vroom, vroom exhaust the lot. The neighbours twitch their curtains but, in view of recent events, have the sense to stay indoors. She comes in wearing a beige raincoat belted at the waist, which she promptly undoes to reveal a white lacy basque, g-string and suspenders. She’s a bottle blonde, the wrong side of thirty and carrying a couple of extra pounds but when she leans forwards, laughs and jiggles her tits saying “All right lads?” it gives me the horn. The bloke just says “Hundred quid up front for the two of yer.” Pasty counts out the money, looks at me and says, “Me first. He who pays the piper” and leads her off upstairs. I’m just settling down to a game of Doom 3 with the pimp when there’s a god almighty high pitched scream from upstairs. The pimp’s up and out the room, there’s the sound of thundering feet on the stairs. She’s screaming and crying and the pimp’s shouting “Yer fucking mental! Yer fucking cards marked yer mental bastard!” I go to the living room window and look out to see her in her underwear hysterical, she trips on her high heels and scrabbles towards the car on her hands and knees, her arse high in the air. I can’t see Pasty, but the pimp’s backing away shouting and jabbing with his finger towards the door about what he’s going to do to him. He gets in the car, there’s the roar of the exhaust, the scream of the tyres, a handbrake turn and he’s gone. Every house in the street, a face at the window. I turn round and see Pasty stood in the living room doorway. “Fuck me!” I 84
exclaim. He’s stood in his Y fronts and socks, combat paint on his face holding an AK 47. “What’s all the fucking fuss about?” he shouts “It’s only a fucking replica!” There’s a knock at the door. “What the fuck now?” he bellows. I pull back the curtains, “It’s some twat with a bunch of flowers.”
Pasty has his forehead against mine. His Neanderthal brow rocking from side to side as he stares into my eyes. I think of Doug McClure in “The Land that Time Forgot” and a programme on the making of it I saw when I was a kid. The cavemen had their brows built up by gluing potato peelings just above their eyes, but Pasty’s brow is hard, solid bone waiting and wanting to crunch into my face. “You were fucking seen man, yer think I’m fucking daft? You were fucking seen!” he hisses, chemical fumes from the poppers he’s been sniffing washing over my face. He draws back slowly, his pupils, tiny pin pricks in the steely blue of his eyes. I take a breath, grit my teeth, exhale slowly. “Yer’ve seen Reservoir Dogs haven’t yer,” he chortles as if we were in the pub discussing favourite movie moments. I nod. “What’s that fucking song he sings?” I shrug as best I can. “Haway college boy, divven’t play it dumb with me, ah knaa yer knaa.” I clear my throat, “Stuck in the middle with you,” I mumble. A slow easy grin comes across his face, “That’s it,” he says, “Stuck in the middle with ye.” He begins to hum to himself, doing a grotesque little jig, imitating Mad Michael Madsen. I shift uncomfortably in the chair; the parcel tape binding me, rustling, twisting and turning as I do. Pasty goes behind me. I hear a drawer open and close. His hand appears from behind holding a Stanley knife. “Haway, man Pasty, this is fucking daft,” I hear the quiver and terror in my own voice. “’Haway man Pasty’” he mimics coming round in front of me. He slides the blade out of the knife and examines it. “Blunt. Rusty.” He shrugs, “Could put a new one in ah suppose. But yer wouldn’t feel a fucking thing then.” “Pasty, man!” “Did ah ever tell yer, aboot the time at St.James’s. Been to see the toon. Came oot the match and ah felt something sticky running doon me back. Thought some fucker had spilt their Bovril ower us. Then ah felt and me fingers were covered in blood. Now that was a sharp Stanley knife, through me trackie top and shirt and ah never felt a thing.” He seems to drift off, almost nostalgic. “Took them a fuckin’ age to stitch us up mind.” I try to reason with him, “Pasty man, why the fuck would I rip you off…” “Shut the fuck up!” he snarls coming back into my face, holding the tip of the knife below my left eye, “Aye, yer a sharp shite ye. Coming down to live with us common people. Yer sit there fucking smirking the whole time, like nae fucker’s got the joke but ye. All one big fucking laugh. Well ah’m warning yer college boy yer better start fucking talking or mammy and daddy 86
are going to start getting pieces of yer in the fucking post! What were yer talking to Dogger aboot?” “Nowt man, Pasty, nowt!” “You were fucking seen man! You were fucking seen! Outside the Cluny, you were fucking seen!” “Like I said man Pasty, he was just there and then the fucking cops turned up and I had to dump the stuff.” “Dogger’s got it hasn’t he!” “No man Pasty! No! The coppers saw Dogger and stopped, I knew they’d want a word with him, so I walked. Then one of them shouted of me back. I pretended not to hear, got up Stepney Bank a bit, made out like I was doing up me shoe laces and pushed the stuff under one of the garage doors before the copper saw.” “Yer lying!” he roars and pushes the chair backwards, my head hits a radiator and there’s a comedy clanging noise, and then just pain, pure and undiluted, shooting through my head. He jolts the chair back up and draws back his arm. “Pasty man! Just give us a chance, wait till Billy gets back at least.” “That useless cunt!” he growls, but backs off and skulks into the kitchen. There’s the curiously incongruous domestic sound of the kettle being filled and put on to boil, the chinking of cups and teaspoons. He reappears in the doorway two mugs of steaming tea in his hands. “Yer divven’t take sugar dee yer?” he says, almost politely, as if I’m the vicar calling in for a chat. Then he hurls the tea, mug and all, across the room, I manage to swing the chair to one side and go crashing to the floor as the mug explodes against the wall behind me. “Aww, look what yer’ve done now yer messy cunt,” he strides across the room and pulls the chair back upright “yer worse than a fucking bairn.” He stands hands on his hips surveying the damage. Despite myself I feel a traitor tear begin to course down my face. Pasty notices, “Aww, there, there ….” he mocks ruffling my hair before going back into the kitchen. When he re-emerges, he has the knife. “Tell yer what, being as yer upset, ah’ll sing yer a lullaby, help yer gan to sleep.” He slides the blade out of the knife and advances across the room, gently singing, “Baa, baa, black sheep have yer any wool? Yes sir, yes sir three bags full” He straddles me on the chair. “One for the master,” A cut above the left eye. “And one for the maid,” 87
Above the right eye. “And one for the little boy….” I feel the tension in his arm, see the pure venom in his eyes as he places the blade inside my left nostril. There’s a sound. The living room door scrapes open. The blade stays where it is but Pasty looks up. “Well?” Billy appears; he puts a Morrisons carrier down on the table, lights up a cigarette and nods. Pasty laughs, just once “Ha!” Slowly, he takes the blade away from my nostril and stands up. He retracts the blade and crosses his arms. Billy, still dragging on his fag, comes to stand beside him. They both look at me, smirking. “Whaddya reckon?” says Pasty. Billy shrugs. Pasty leans towards me. I swallow hard, feeling the blood trickle down either side of my face. He stares me out for a couple of seconds that feel like hours, then he lunges forward and shouts “Boo!” I recoil and tip the chair over again. Him and Billy laugh fit to bust a gut. He picks me up, sets me straight and starts cutting at the parcel tape. “Haway man! Nowt to worry about,” he says chuckling and wiping some of the blood away. “Couple of nicks. That’s all. Get cleaned up, we’ll gan for a pint. Ah was only funning.”
TAXING TIME I’m on my fourth shit in under an hour and the sweat is pissing out of me like a fountain. I put my head between my knees and stare at the tiles on the floor. I vaguely wonder if there’s a window, or a sly way out of the back of the pub. But that would only be delaying the inevitable. I straighten up, flush the chain and stumble out of the stall. I go to the sink and splash cold water onto my face. “Y’all right there mate?” A guy having a slash at the other end of the bog. “Never fucking better,” I mumble as I dry my face on my sleeve. “Bad pint was it?” I snort, “Yeah something like that.” “Have yer ever noticed it’s always the last one that’s the bad one. Must be because they’re getting to the bottom of the barrel eh?” he laughs. I can’t handle the inane babble anymore so nod curtly, try to put a bit of steel into my spine and step out into the pub. The bar is packed with Friday night drinkers, but the manic cackle of his laughter still cuts through. I carefully thread my way through the crowd back to the bar where Pasty and Billy are waiting for me. His face falls when he sees me, “What the fuck is up with ye?” he growls, “Hev yer got a fucking boyfriend in there or what?” Billy smirks and lights another Embassy Regal, enjoying my discomfort “Dodgy curry,” I grunt. We both know I’m lying, but Pasty chooses to believe me. “Aye why, if yer will go eating that foreign shite.” Political correctness is not really Pasty’s thing. “Here,” he says pushing a whisky towards me, “house double, get the fucker down yer.” “Cheers.” I take the drink and look down into the greasy, amber liquid and see a thin film lazily circling the surface. The blended fumes insinuate themselves upwards and I feel my guts start to heave. Cheap whisky was the first drink I ever got really pissed on as a kid and I ended up in casualty. Stomach pumped, psychiatrists and social workers wanting to “help me through this difficult time” the whole fucking lot. Never been able to drink it since, but all eyes are on me, so I do the right thing. Down in one. Glass banged back down on the bar. “Blaaargh!” roars Pasty “That’s more fucking like it!” Billy smiles to himself and shakes his head as if he knows I can’t keep this up. “Are yer excited?” he demands gleefully, “Are yer? Are yer excited?” He’s right in my face, his blue eyes glittering maniacally. 89
“Why the fuck should he be excited like?” A rake thin blonde with a skeletal face and tombstone teeth is battling her way through to the bar next to Pasty’s stool. Pasty turns to her smiles, snakes his arm round her waist and then returns his gaze to me. “Because tonight” he leers, “he’s losing his cherry.” The blonde lets out a high pitched whinny, “Haddaway and shite man! Good looking lad like him! He’ll have lost his cherry years ago! Now an ugly twat like you….” Pasty shakes his head, his eyes never leaving mine. “Naw pet yer wrong. Ah lost mine years ago but tonight …. it’s his turn!” We bowl out of the pub just before closing time, Billy and Pasty pissed, reeling and rolling across the street. We reach Billy’s fucked up, barely charged Nova and he tosses the keys at me. “There yer go Bamber, yer the least pissed of the three of weh…. And that makes you the chauffeur.” “Home James,” slurs Pasty. Except we’re not going home. Not yet. We have business to attend to and I have been chosen to close the deal. Pasty climbs into the back and stretches out, Billy rides up front with me and no sooner have I started the engine than he’s managed to get some crappy cassette into the player. 180 b.p.m solid gold charver rave. The car fairly bounces along the road with the beats from the stereo alone. Billy juts his head back and forth in time like a coked up chicken. I look in the mirror, Pasty’s head lolls around, as his arm, stretched out along the back seat, tries to keep some sort of time. “Yer knaa the way?” enquires Pasty languidly. “Yeah,” I nod as I head off New Bridge Street and on to Byker Bridge. When I turn down Union Road, Billy snaps off the music and the atmosphere changes. Pasty coughs and leans forwards between the two front seats. “Easy fucking does it now,” he warns, “we divven’t want to attract attention.” I pull up outside the flats. Billy and Pasty lean forward, craning their necks upwards. “Light’s on,” observes Billy. Pasty has a quick look out of the windows on all sides of the car and once he’s happy that we’re not being watched, he ferrets around under my seat and brings out what appears to be a bundle of oily rags. He carefully unwraps them and, having checked over his shoulder again, proffers them forwards as if he were offering round a post pub bag of chips. I look down. “Fucking hell, Pasty!” My voice is uncharacteristically high pitched. 90
“What?” he says levelly. “It’s a fucking world war two Luger.” “Ah knaa,” says Pasty “Me grandda’s. Took it as a souvenir from a Nazi he killed at Eindhoven.” “Jesus,” I hiss through my teeth. “What’s the matter?” “I just thought it’d be….” “What?” “Well …a bit more…. up to date…I suppose.” “Oh, I’m fucking sorry it’s not up to yer high standards, but Morrisons had sold clean out of the new ones. They must have had a fucking offer on or summat.” Billy sniggers. “And you can fucking shut up an’ all,” Pasty snarls, “It’ll do the job. Put it in yer pocket, and be fucking careful. The safety’s knackered. The slightest knock and it’ll have yer knackers off. Not that I’m bothered about them, but the bullets for this thing are as rare as rockin’ horse shit.” I look down at the gun, waves of fear washing over me. “Look..” I begin. “Fucking take it,” growls Pasty. Carefully I lift the gun from the rags, surprised by it’s weight, and even more carefully I put it in my coat pocket. We get to the second floor stairwell pretty much unobserved, there’s the usual gang of kids haring about the estate on bikes, but it’s Friday, almost midnight, and they’re more concerned with drinking, scoring and shagging than with us. Pasty pops his head around the corner of the walkway, then turns to us “Right?” We nod. Billy hands one sledgehammer to Pasty and tightens his grip around the other. “Bamber?” whispers Pasty and nods towards my pocket. Warily, I take the gun out of my coat pocket, my head swimming. For a moment I think I’m going to faint, then the next thing I know Pasty is running full pelt along the walkway. Billy hustles me forward and I’m following, a man with a purpose. The adrenalin kicks in and my focus becomes razor sharp. I stand back as they go either side of the door and with four hefty smacks they leave it a splintered, twisted wreck. It’s as if I’m watching myself as I step forward, both hands on the Luger, arms outstretched and march into the flat. At the far end of the corridor I see a tall, skinny figure dressed in the obligatory tracksuit silhouetted against the door frame. I move forward, no backing out now, my head buzzing. The figure stumbles backwards, falls and in seconds I’m standing above 91
him the gun trained between his eyes, my jaws clamped shut, every nerve ending and sinew in my body singing, twitching, alive. Then Pasty is in the room right in his face screaming. “Think yer’d fucking move in on my patch did yer, yer fucking cunt! Well it’s fucking pay back time! Ah’m the fucking taxman!” He picks the kid up by the front of his tracksuit and launches him across the room. The kid careers across the top of a table and just about somersaults into a heap on the floor, his head up against the sofa. Without thinking my aim follows him. Billy’s already started pulling out drawers and throwing things about, shoving anything that takes his fancy into his pocket, while Pasty drags the kid up and begins his interrogation. “Ah want the fucking stash and the fucking money as well. Now don’t fuck about cos we won’t. Where is it?” The kid gestures to a door to my right, “The kitchen, under the sink,” he whimpers. Pasty turns and barks at me “If the fucker moves, do him!” I nod emphatically as Billy and Pasty move off into the kitchen. I can hear them banging about and I look down at the kid who is staring back at me terrified. A bumfluff moustache, hair shaved at the sides and a fringe plastered down with gel on his forehead. His acned skin is pallid and doughy in the way that only bad diet and weather can provide. A thought crosses my mind …this is someone’s son. All of a sudden there’s a new voice in the room “Lee… what’s happening?” I reel around, “Fucking hell!” I shout. Stood in the doorway is a girl in a baby doll nighty. If she’s seen her sixteenth birthday I’d be amazed. I back away, trying to cover both of them. Pasty storms back in “Right you! Over there with yer fucking boyfriend.” She moves across the room quickly, obediently like a scolded child and cuddles into the kid burying her face into his chest. He puts his arm around her, cooing, trying to tell her in a quivering voice that it’ll be all right. But it’s not. Someone’s daughter to worry about now. Billy reappears. “Owt else?” Pasty asks. Billy shakes his head. “Right! Our work here is almost done. This is what you get for messing with the big boys. Understand?” The kid nods, the girl buries her head deeper. “Just one more thing,” says Pasty and turns to me, “Do him.” The whole world closes in on me, my head caving in under the pressure. “Pasty..” I begin. “Fucking do him!” he screams. 92
The kid begs “Naw mate, please mate..” The girl bawls and wails. “Fucking do him!” “Naw mate, please mate..” “Go on yer useless cunt!” (Billy putting his two pence in) “Mate Ah’m sorry..” “What the fuck’s the matter with yer!” “Divven’t man mate, divven’t…” “Spineless twat….” Broken sobs from the girl now. “Do yer fucking job!” “Ah fucking telt yer…he’s a fucking knacker!” Billy. Pasty. Either side of me, goading, screaming, incessant. The girl hysterical clawing at her face. The kid pleading. The whole fucking insane world revolving round me. Me and a gun. I squeeze the trigger. There’s a click. A moment of silence. Then madness. Billy and Pasty are pissing themselves laughing. The kid has thrown up down himself but is otherwise unharmed and the girl is curled in a foetal ball, rocking, weeping. “Did yer really think we’d have the coppers crawling all over weh for some poxy little twat like this?” says Billy. “And where the fuck did yer think Ah’d get bullets for this antique?” guffaws Pasty taking the Luger off me. “Ah knaa, yer’ve been to university Bamber,” snorts Billy, “but fucking hell, yer a numb cunt.” Back in the car Billy drives and Pasty sits in the back. I sit in the front leaning against the door, my face pressed up against the cool glass. Billy reaches down and puts the tape back in the player. It barely plays a beat before I rip it out, unwind the window and throw it out. Billy smiles and looks in the mirror at Pasty, who leans forward and ruffles my hair. “Aye, yer a hard bastard Bamber,” he says approvingly, “there’s not many’d tell Billy his taste in music is shite.” Despite myself, I feel a strange sense of pride.
Pete has worked in all aspects of the creative field including Sound Installation, Text based work, Video and Digital Imaging. After completing his MA in 2003 Peter has concentrated in Creative Writing and New Media, integrating his contextual practice with investigating his ongoing concerns of the metaphysical. He is self employed and runs a successful Art Rental Business in the North East of England. Peter says he’s a dadaist but he’s just taking the piss. We’re publishing two stories about the art loving hitman Eddie Temple. “Burning Car Blues” was first published in Bullet 4. “Ten Letters” is a new work.
BURNING CAR BLUES
I part the dirty net curtains and wipe the condensation off the window. Looking down through the drips of water I see the kids emptying a skip all over the street jumping up and down on a busted settee, dogs snapping at their heels. Looking to my right I see the sunset between the tower blocks then I catch sight of a burning car sailing down the grassy bank - red and orange flames lapping in the air like an infernal cavalcade followed by a bunch of 7-10 year olds screaming their fucking heads off. Welcome to Benwell, Newcastle, a Class A Utopia full of dead end kids and cars that go nowhere. I’m in a flat above a Takeaway, it’s a little bland but he has it nice. Benjamin Smith aka Benny Benzedrine, a top pill pusher... them kids playing trampoline down there are probably his next customers being groomed for Prison or the Afterlife. Benny is a first class scumbag, a big, bearded, broad guy, a tuft of ginger hair hinting at a residue of a quiff and one of those clumsy Indian ink swallow tattoo’s on his lower thumb. Hangover from his teddy boy days. “Yeah I can just see you in your rock n roll drag, flick knife fights, Benny and the Jets eh?” I’ve got Old Benny gaffa taped to a red velvet armchair, and his dirty mouth taped up, he looks like a Tracy Emin installation. I should get a fucking Arts Council grant for this, this is real art. His face looks like he’s going to explode, a big red ball puffing and panting, he signals me to scratch something. I sit back on the settee sip from a “Happy Birthday Benny” mug. He mumbles and struggles to lift his arms. I lean over nonchalantly and scratch his forehead, his eyeballs move to the extreme right; I scratch it and look at my fingernails.. “You’re fucking flaking, you old bastard”. I lean back and observe his living room. This looks like he’s only here temporary, the girl, Samantha, is probably one of his many customers doing a freebie for an ounce. She’s a kappa slappa, two failed marriages, four kids in care, blonde snake hair and a white tracksuit that’s seen better days. If the soap powder guy from the TV advert knocked on her door she would chin him. This Samantha has been gone 20 minutes; I’ve sent her to a hole-in-thewall to get me some money. Well it’s a perk of the job, after all he’s not going to be using it, besides I’ve a temporary cash flow problem. Mind you, if she brings anyone back with her I’ll fucking gut her.
He’s struggling to talk so I whip off the tape from his mouth to give him some talk-space; “AHHH” he screams. I’ve just taken half his fucking beard off. After a barrage of expletives he calms down and asks for his inhaler, “Nahhh!! It’s all in the mind, you should try meditation not medication”. “Fuck off” he replies with venom. “Ever see Father Ted? You remind me...” “I’m not religious” “Forget it” I finish my tea stand up and stretch. I look out the window again and then turn to face him. “Know what I’ve just seen? A bloody burning car, waltzing down the hill, some kids must have torched it and pushed it on its way”. “They should be at school” he quips nervously and looks at his lo-fi bondage of gaffa tape and electrical flex. “They’re your future customers.” “I don’t do kids” says Mr Beelzebub. Fucking liar. The reason why I’m here is my client wants some vindication for his dead and gone heirs. “You pushed some amphetamines on two little kids. You know who their father was? I can’t figure out if you’re fucking dumb or you did it for revenge?” He grunts and looks to his left; a photo of Samantha’s absent kids, pauses and turns to look me in the eyes. “I didn’t know, honest.” “Ahh! Shit happens.” Fucking academic to me. He sighs and drops his head. “You know it’s sticking in my mind...the burning car, it’s kind of majestic but at the same time destructive - bit like me.” “Fucking big head.” I lean over and speak menacingly into his ear. “Another fucking word from you and I’ll spoon your fucking eyes out”. Now he looks pissed. I saunter around the room, it’s kind of a mix of taste and tat; 70’s wallpaper, Ikea furniture half assembled, a quaint collection of charity shop knick fucking knacks, a well worn floral Axminster with carefully positioned tab burn holes, a DVD system and an old gram from the 50’s. Bit of a mix but it works. I give him a nod of approval but he thinks I’m taking the piss. I crouch down and flip through his record collection, vinyl oldies a few Robbie Williams CD’s, I look at him in disgust. “It’s Samantha’s” he explains “Kinda ironic...Escapology.” I put on one of his, the Mona Lisa of vinyl...Gene Vincent’s “Be Bop A Lula”. “I’ll give you this old Benny boy, you’ve got some good taste, but you can 96
tell the generation gap... Eddie Cochran vs. Beyonce.” “WEEEELLLLL! BE BOP A LULA SHE’S MY BABY” The chug a chug groove rings in my ears and it’s got my toes a tapping. Now I feel good, I take out a few bullets, if you look closely they have on the words “Don’t Take It Personally” inscribed in Times italics. I do it for all my victims and they make nice ornaments when not in use. I’m a sucker for detail. A Swiss guy did it for me via the internet. I turn down the record slightly, don’t want to get carried away. I hear the metallic grind of the key turning. I move to the living room door, ready for unexpected visitors. There’s a pause then she bangs the door like someone has come in with her, I know that delay in time, when someone follows you in before you close the door, she’s fucking brought someone else. Benny looks up, his eyes are like saucers, he’s speechless, he’s shaking his head as though he knows about my deduction. Clunk-clunk up the stairs like really heavy, she’s a slim lass, unless she’s gained weight at Barclays.. The door parts open, she comes in and says a nervous “hiya”. She moves over to Benny’s side like she’s choreographed her position, she points at me holding the money. I drop to the floor seconds before a fucking gun peeks around the corner. He fires where I should have been standing, quickly he lowers his gun as he sees me lying on the floor, then I shoot, ripping his fucking ankle off. He falls holding his busted leg. Then I give him one in the head. Samantha starts screaming and coming for me, I shoot her between the tits and she falls like a bundle of laundry. I turn the record up. Benny is shouting over the “She’s my Baby” line with all kinds of curses. I put my little special bullet in the chamber twirl it around and do a Russian Roulette on the ginger fucker. “You’re dead lumber coz life’s inherently unfair” I say with gusto, from some B Movie gangster flick I heard at the corner of my ear, somewhere, someday. I hope it was Edward G. my favourite, he always looks like he’s been eating tomato ketchup. I shoot him right in the flaky bit on his forehead I scratched earlier, the blood sprays up like a geyser from the back of his head. “Wooh!! That was cool” the record sticks sounding like a STCH, I take in this cool montage...Samantha lying like a crumpled handkerchief...STCH…The uninvited guest and his tomato head… STCH... Benny looking up to a dead man’s 97
lampshade...STCH... A spray of blood on the back wall like a Jackson Pollock... STCH... LP cover showing Gene Vincent throwing his leg over a Microphone stand...STCH The Humour Bullet laughing all the way to his brains... STCH and that BEAUTIFUL BURNING CAR... STCH I bend down beside Samantha, grab the £200, well £180, bitch spent £20 on fags and chocolate. I nick them an’all. I go for the door and turn to see my hosts scattered and inert, like the furniture outside. “Well it’s been a nice party, some good music and a bit of excitement, but if I could speak truthfully, the company’s been shite..Adios”.
BAA! BAA! BAA! BAA! “Shit stop moving will yer!” BAA! BAA! BANG! “Gotcha! Yer little bastard!” Eddie Temple is dressed in a white string vest, his black trousers are held up by tartan braces and he’s wearing ill fitting wellies as he stands in the mud loading his shotgun. Eddie’s playing the country gent, in his own inimitable way. He slicks back his tight black hair, uses the accumulated Vaseline to groom his goatee, pulls the gun up to his shoulder and seeks out another target. Eddie’s got his ipod on. White earplugs blasting out “Motorhead” by Motorhead. Eddie’s lost in his own perfect world: good loud music and a little bit of death. BAA! BAA! BANG! Another sheep explodes and falls to the ground with wool and guts flying all over. He found a computer and a printer in the old farmhouse, printed off some targets and decided to have some fun. He aims the shotgun at another target on the fleece of a sheep, it struts around from left to right. “Arrogant bastard, get ready…” BANG!! “Get down ya bastard” his voice booms like a bouncing basketball in an empty gym all over the valley. Two twitchy gun muzzles peep around the corner of the farmhouse and aim at Eddie’s back. Two men in black suits, white sneakers and matching tshirts, stand looking on as Eddie systematically slaughters a field full of sheep. “Eddie!” shouts Hedley, the elder one. “Eddie” shouts Dervil, the younger one. “Daft bastard,” says Hedley “Got his ipod on.” “Best wait till he’s finished” says Dervil. Eddie’s ipod randomly shuffles to Robbie Williams’ “Angels”. “How the fuck did that get on?” He whips out the earphones in disgust.
Dervil and Hedley see this and take the opportunity. “EDDIE!!!!” Eddie instinctively turns around and shoots, taking a lump out of the corner of the farmhouse showering mortar onto Hedley’s immaculate suit. Dervil, dives onto the grass and lands in some horseshit. “Jesus Eddie, it’s me, Hedley” ”Hedley?” “Hedley.” he echoes holding out his arms for a brotherhood hug. “Whatever,” snaps Eddie as he throws the shotgun away and walks over to the farm house. Hedley looks around and sees dead sheep freckling the field with a few scared ones huddled in the far corner shaking their arses off. Hedley beckons Dervil over as he wipes the shit off his gun. Inside the farmhouse Eddie stands in front of a mahogany mirror and puts on a white shirt. He fiddles with a gold cufflink. Hedley and Dervil are watching, bored, distracted. ”You should have told me you were coming. Surprising me like that. Could have blown your fucking heads off.” “If you hadn’t had your headphones on…” said Hedley and regretted it immediately as he saw Eddie turn and eye him with that cold grey stare. “So why you here and why the hell am I babysitting two pensioners?” Hedley tilts his head towards Dervil, who is examining the intricacies of a ceramic figurine of a French Aristocrat. ”Then later,” Eddie puts on the other cufflink. ”Do you know they used to chop their heads off… that was the revolution that was.” Dervil carefully replaces the figurine in a chalk outline drawn round its base; he notices everything static in the room has been chalk marked like this. Like a big murder scene. “Mario’s cousin” whispers Hedley. Eddie shakes his head. Nepotism never works. “I’ll get my bags” Eddie squeezes through the stiff door, walks along a narrow corridor and pops his head into the master bedroom. Mr and Mrs Chillingham are tied back-to-back, bound and gagged, seated on the floor – he’s slumped forward, she’s pissed herself. “You’re going to have to wait until I get back Marge, you move anything or try to get away you’ll end up as one of those baa, baa fucking red sheep, understood?” Her cheeks puff up as she tries to tell him something, but she gives up and throws her head back. 100
The car rocks it’s way from the Chillingham Farm and snakes its way through Yorkshire lanes. The midday sun seeps through heavy, dank clouds like salmon blood pouring from a wound. Hedley’s driving, Dervil is in the front trying to fill in a crossword puzzle. Hedley eyes an agitated Eddie through the rear view mirror. ”To brighten… ten letters,” says Dervil. “Little Chef,” says Eddie ”No that’s only 1-2-3-4-…” “For fucks sake put your foot down, I’m starving, those two back there are fucking veggies, I want some fucking meat.” The Little Chef is half full of pensioners and cosy little families. Eddie screws up his face. “Fuck me boys, now I have a real concept of what purgatory is, Ferries and Little Chefs, fucking in between worlds, where the fucking half dead eat over priced crap”. They grab a pew with Eddie facing the sliding doors, Hedley and Dervil sit opposite. “Changed my mind, I don’t want anything, the bacon’s like cardboard in here.” “Eddie you’ll have to eat something. Dervil, get Eddie a sausage sandwich and three cups of tea.” “I don’t want three sups of tea,” says Eddie. Dervil sighs and does as he is told. “He better remove his fucking attitude,” snaps Eddie. “What’s this about anyway?” Hedley leans forward “Someone’s put a contract on Mario.” Eddie looks up surprised. “A guy called Massima, a Greek hard nosed bastard. Nobody knows much about him but he’s fucking powerful. He only wants to take over Mario’s operations and his ex-girlfriend is the only person who can finger him. You’ve been babysitting her parents as blackmail. You meet her, she points out Massima, you blow him off this little blue marble and we are all happy again. Simple as that.” “I haven’t fucking heard of him.” “Me neither.” “Consequences, there’s always consequences” Eddie drops his head, gathering spilt sugar into a heap. “He has more enemies than friends, they’ll step in to take over, they’ll be all happy to do that.” Eddie looks contemplative. “Like a kaleidoscope, one shuffle and it’s a new pattern”. “Here’s your sandwich,” Dervil says interrupting Eddies thought process. Eddie glares at him. Eddie looks at his sandwich “I’m not eating this shit, it’s like burnt cock!” Eddie scowls. Dervil quickly grabs the sandwich and bites into it, “I’ll have 101
it,” he splutters with his mouth full and tomato ketchup spewing all over. Eddie is disgusted and gets up, scraping his chair like chalk on a blackboard. “Oh! Eddie, I nearly forgot, I got you this” Hedley fishes out a Tate Modern pamphlet from his pocket. “Seurat!” Eddie looks ecstatic. “Nice one Hedley.” As Hedley tells Dervil off about his table manners, Eddie interjects “Just going to take a leak” As Eddie walks towards the toilets he can feel the rush like he’s in a wind tunnel, adrenalin tingling his forehead like he’s on a 500 cc Harley doing a million miles per hour, everything in his peripheral vision blurs and the sounds of the restaurant become muffled. He feels like he’s going to do someone in, maybe it’s the hit he has to do tomorrow, but something is coming. He punches open the toilet door and sees a guy in the corner wearing a Middlesbrough shirt. He’s typing a number on his mobile with his free hand as he zips up. “Is he going to the match?” says a voice from the cubicle. “Must have it turned off” the guy looks at Eddie, “What you fucking looking at?” Eddie can’t believe his luck, he looks behind him and finds a mop, he grabs it and as the guy turns, Eddie rushes him and plunges the mop into his throat, “What the fu…” BANG! His head hits the tiles like a cement bag; Eddie pushes him to the wall. “What am I fucking looking at? What am I fucking look at? A dumb fuck, that’s what, a fucking dumb fuck. Well reach for the stars you dumb fuck!” Eddie pushes him up the wall, the shank bends from his weight, legs kick out pathetically. Eddie elbows him in the face, nose turns to squashed tomato, then he whips away the mop and the guy slides down on his arse. The mobile rings Mr Blue Sky. “No fucking class, fucking train spotter,” Eddie sees it by his side and picks it up, he looks at the caller’s name: “Interesting,” he throws it into the bog and flushes it into bog heaven. The guy in the cubicle walks out, takes one look and goes back in again. Eddie kicks the door open, snatches the scarf draped around his neck and slams the door shut. Eddie smiles as he hears the lock being slipped shut. He bundles the scarf into a ball, places it on the smoggie’s leg, takes his gun out and gives him one in the leg. 102
No one says a word all the way to London. Dervil is still trying to complete the crossword, ”To brighten… ten letters,” Eddie is benignly calm but Hedley is keeping an eye on him through the rear view mirror anyway. They pull up outside Mario’s home, a large chalk white house in Chelsea, just off Belgrave Road, around the corner from Victoria station. It’s late afternoon and the Sun is high. As they walk up the steps, their long shadows ripple up the side of the building, menacingly like three uninvited guests. A small thick set man, bald head, black crombie opens the door, recognises Hedley and Dervil and invites them in. Eddie is frisked and his gun taken from him. Under the circumstances he causes no fuss. They’re led into a large living room. Fawn coloured walls, with a brown dado rail running hip height around the room, white fluffy floor mats, queen bee chandelier and a snakeskin curtain with French aristocrat figurines dotted all over the place. “Classy,” thinks Eddie. Enter Mario, bronzed, small, nervous. “Bonaparte” thinks Eddie. “Siddown Mr Temple.” “Of course. Thank you.” Dervil and Hedley disappear. They’re replaced by two bouncers who position themselves behind Mario. In walks Miranda, pink see through, no bra and a leather thong, she hands Eddie his favourite tipple: Jimmie Bean with a dash of cream soda. Eddie’s index finger strokes her hand as she passes the glass, she suppresses a smile and sits on the other side of the chesterfield, cooing over the rim of her wine glass. Eddie is not impressed by Mario’s taste in Art; Oxfam kitsch, a painting of a crying boy. “You want to get rid of that Mario,” Eddie says pointing to the picture. “That’s a jinx of a picture, I read about it in a Sunday supplement, houses being burnt down, people having weird freaky accidents, it’s cursed.” “Listen I don’t give a fuck about that, I want this Massima character fucking blown away, you understand?” He twitches his arm nervously, nearly spilling his drink. “I don’t know who this fucking Massima is, this is totally out of the blue, I mean who the hell is he? He’s got me all worked up, but he’s in town and 103
the only person who can point him out is his old flame, Magdelan X.” “Who the fuck is Magdelan X?” says Eddie drinking his Beam Soda slowly. “Margaret Chillingham aka Magdelan X, daughter of the pensioners you been babysitting. She’s a cult movie director, record producer in with all those fucking gangsta’s, she’s here from LA, you’re meeting her at the Claremont at one”. “Good,” says Eddie, “Looking forward to wrapping this up.” Mario turns to pour himself another stiff one. Eddie gets up from the sofa and squeezes the big toe of Miss Tease; “You want to see a chiropodist pet I can feel a corn coming on.” She giggles. Eddie slaps Mario on the back “I’m telling you, you want to get rid of that painting, the kid crying, it’s a jinx.” “It belonged to my sister, it’s precious.” ”So where is she now?” “Dead. About three years ago a car went out of control and ploughed through her sitting room while she was on the ladders wallpapering.” “Goodnight” says Eddie and leaves. * Eddie is surveying the intricate dots of a Seurat - “Bathers at Asnieres”. The colours merge as he steps back and sees the firework of paint, scatter and fuse into the synergy of a recognised image. He gets up close again, his nose nearly touching the canvas. “Perfectionist, an ultimate perfectionist, carefully building up the colour, he knew the art of perception”. Eddie stands back in amazement. “The delicacy of tone, the vibrancy and soft lustre… Illumination, fucking class.” Eddie smiles, checks his watch and leaves. * The midday sun makes everything golden like a Dali painting. The windows reflect the light, illuminating the streets like a theatre. Eddie walks along like an undertaker, slick back hair, long black coat, black drainpipes and winkle pickers. On his ipod; “Alabama Train” by Louisiana Red. “Alabama Trainnn!!! Going down the line.” Eddie enters the Claremont’s Art Nouveau doorway and sinks into the oceanic red carpet. Making his way to the West Bar, he pauses before he enters, plucking out his earphones, staring intently on a woman sitting on a high stool at the bar. “Well if it ain’t Lily Munster.” She’s a slim Gothic 30 something sporting a Louise Brooks black helmet 104
haircut. Sinuous legs covered in red wine fishnet stockings. She’s wearing the same clothes as Theda Bara, like she’s dug her up and stole her wardrobe. Pale skin coloured by purple lipstick, dark panda eyes and a white pearl necklace sliding down her neckline. Eddie’s mesmerised. He holds out his hand, they shake, her hand limp, soft and dry as paper. She manages a thin pencil smile like a crack across a plate. “Magdelan X?” “Eddie Temple? The Eddie Temple?” “You’ve heard of me?” Eddie sits next to her surprised. “You have a reputation,” she sips her vodka keeping her eyes on Eddie. Magdelan is a producer of snuff porn movies, attracting suicide cases and terminally ill people to act out their final fantasies on video to the soundtrack of crap hip hop artists. “I run a public service,” she explains, Eddie shrugs. “Great, as long as you’re happy, by the way your parents are fine, don’t worry,” Eddie tries to put her mind at rest. “Big deal, you should have shot them.” She takes another sip and blows smoke into Eddies face. “And you should have filmed them, I would have handled the distribution.” Eddie is just about to tell her about her parents dwindling livestock when she raises her eyebrows and gestures for Eddie to look behind him. A Greek guy in a brown tweed coat is standing waiting for the lift. Massima. Eddie is just about to get up when a slap on the back takes him by suprise. “Hey Eddie!!” says Dervil with big smile on his face. “What the fuck!” “Mario says I can tag along, to see if you need any help” He gives Magdelan’s body a complete inspection, Eddie heads for the lift, Dervil follows but leaves his eyes on Magdelan’s legs. Massima doesn’t look much, Eddie could take him now, snap his head like a twig, but the lift attendant is an old man nearing retirement. He didn’t want any surplus and besides he gave Eddie a nice smile. Massima gets off, third floor and stands in front of a door looking for his keys. Eddie counts down the doors from the lift. They both stay in the lift, Dervil was expecting to get off and do him in the corridor. Eddie shakes his head and looks at his apprentice with disdain. They get off the floor above and take to the stairs. Eddie screws on his silencer, Dervil is like a little kid watching his every move. “What the fuck are you looking at?” 105
“How do you keep so cool? I’m shaking and I ain’t going to do nothing.” “Watch and learn you little fuck.” They walk down the corridor. Eddie counts the doors and pulls out a small screwdriver. He jimmies the lock, rushes in with his arm extended, sees Mario sitting on the bed typing a number on his mobile. Eddie puts a bullet in his head sending his toupe spinning like a flying rat. Mario slumps to the bed. Blood stains the quilt. Eddie lowers the gun and breathes in then WHACK! Dervil hits Eddie with the butt of his gun. * Eddie comes around, his vision is blurred but he sees Massima’s body still on the bed. He’s sitting up with his arms bound with a dead man’s tie. Magdelan is sitting in a chair opposite Eddie near the bed, she laughs as she’s looking through Massima’s wallet. “Get this, he’s called Costos Kaopolos and he’s here to attend a Sanitary Towel Sales Convention.” “Talk about losing your rag!” Dervil quips, they both laugh. Dervil speaks into his mobile “Jimmy? Is this your new number? Yeah…Yeah… Come on up.” To make matters worse in walks the fat guy from the Little Chef toilets, he’s wearing a neck brace. “Eddie fucking Temple? He done me in the bogs in the Little Chef.” He gives Eddie a kung fu kick to the side of the head. Eddie takes it but creases his face in pain. “Fucking shit head, nearly killed me.” He turns to Magdelan. “Mags.” “Jimmy,” says Magdelan. They kiss and grope like sixth formers. Dervil looks away all fucking shy. Eddie contemplates his situation, it’s like that Seurat painting. When you’re up close you can’t see the picture, the motives, the consequences that lead you to a place, one step back and you can see everything, the whole caboodle. This is his one step back and he’s pissed off. Magdelan and Jimmy go into the toilet for a quickie, leaving Dervil having a power trip. He’s fiddling with the standing lamp in the corner, turning it on and off. "Ten letters" scowls Eddie, Dervil looks at the lightbulb, turning it on and off, "Still can't get it?" “I might as well tell you, you’re fucking fish bait!” says Dervil. He waves the gun in Eddie’s face wearing a Joker smile. “The big Eddie Temple eh? Well you’re going to get fucking hunted down 106
because we’re going to fucking blow Mario to kingdom come and while they’re chasing your sorry arse, Jimmy’s operation is coming South and, it’s going to be spectacular.” “Good, it sounds like a great turnaround of events, I wish you luck but I wouldn’t trust those dick heads even if you made me king Dalek.” “YESSS!! YESSS!!” Dervil creeps up to the door and presses his ear to the wood. He leers towards Eddie. “Wouldn’t mind a go myself. Eddie you’re as good as dead and I’m taking over from you. I’m the new Eddie Temple.” “You’re fucking what?” Eddie half laughs and gestures to Dervil to come nearer. “To brighten… ten letters, still ain’t got it?” Dervil, incensed, flips the gun to pistol whip Eddie but a dishevelled Magdelan grabs his arm. “We don’t want damaged goods, take it out of him later.” Jimmy, sweating profusely, zips up and sits on the side of the bed near the corpse. “Right. Here’s what we do.” Magdelan places a cloth over Eddie’s mouth, he struggles moving his head from side to side but falls unconscious, the blurred figures of Jimmy and Dervil looming over him. Eddie wakes, his vision returns and finds himself in a field. It’s pitch black, Dervil is muttering to himself near the barbed wire fence, Magdelan lights a cigarette and pollutes the full moon. Jimmy is sitting in the car. Eddie struggles but his strength is still a long way away, he gives up and watches. Curious. In the distance, on the far side of the field, three cars trundle into a warehouse yard, their headlights piercing the aluminium fence. They get out, a little guy hovers then enters the warehouse, Mario and his cronies. A figure exits the warehouse gets into the car and drives away. Dervil gets on his hunkers, wipes his brow and presses down on something. Suddenly, BANG!! An orange flower explosion lights up the whole place. Dervil looks over to Eddie and smiles inanely. “I told him to get rid of that fucking painting,” says Eddie. Magdelan takes a small knife and stands behind Eddie, he thinks he’s going to be cut free but she cuts into his finger, Eddie winces. Magdelan balances the blood drop on the blade and wipes it on the barbed wire. “Job done, now get in the boot!” Dervil lifts Eddie to his feet and marches him to the car. He’s bundled inside and sees Dervil silhouetted by the 107
Moon, “Hey Dervil! To brighten, ten letters.” “Fuck you,” and the black door crashes down with a dull thud. Eddie hears them getting into the car and Magdelan giving Jimmy directions. Eddie curls up like he’s in a womb only he knows he’s not going to be reborn. He sighs and thinks not of his oncoming execution but all his greatest hits: pushers in seedy bedsits, red corpse ridden swimming pools, burnt out cars, asshole druggies with heads wide open like busted oranges, bath time strangulations and dead sheep. He thinks back to his school days. How he stabbed the art teacher with a pencil because he called the Mona Lisa a transvestite, “Fucking supply teachers, he taught Maths anyway.” He sees his brother just turned 21, being fished out of the River Wear, his grey face coloured by indigo lips with a single gun shot hole on his forehead like a birth mark, born to die, now there’s an irony. The seaweed on his head made him look like he’d won something, a laurel for getting into deep shit. And the sister he never had, she died 3 months after his Mother gave birth, her feet never touched the earth. He was in a class at junior school, his dad finished early came to pick him up. Only the family attended, a little white coffin with golden handles was lowered into a hole underneath willow tree. It was a foggy day and it meant being off school. All Eddie wanted to do was get back home and rip the limbs off his Action Man. The car stops then the boot opens and the full moon halos Dervil, “Fucking get out.” He pulls Eddie’s shoulder and hauls him out. Magdelan cuts Eddie free and steps back immediately. Dervil has his gun pointing at Eddie and with his other arm, throws a spade at Eddies feet. “Dig.” Eddie reluctantly picks it up. “Over there, near them rocks,” Eddie stumbles over and plunges the spade into the soil. “Don’t I get a last request?” “Fuck off!” Eddie searches his inside pocket. “What the fuck!!! Don’t move!” wails Dervil pointing his gun at Eddie’s head. Eddie plucks out some white headphones and fiddles with the toggle “Number 22… Time takes a cigarette, puts it in his mouth.” Eddie carries on digging, Dervil leans back on the car. “I’ll have that when I’ve blown your fucking head off”. Eddie looks over, he sees Jimmy lean into the car and turn the headlights on. Magdelan, leaning on the bonnet hands Dervil some weed, he smokes it like he knows how to then coughs violently. He stumbles back to Eddie. 108
“Fucking nugget,” Eddie whispers watching Dervil approach. Then, in slow motion, Jimmy’s head explodes on one side, his legs swirl and he hits the ground with a groan and a smack. Magdelan takes a draw, turns her head to see Jimmy when a bullet rips in one side of her neck and out the other. She slumps onto the bumper, slides down into a sitting position and falls forward her nose bobbing inches from the ground. Dervil with his mind on plugging Eddie gets a bullet in the shoulder, he falls into some horse shit. Eddie is frozen to the spot, he grips the spade as an inadequate weapon then a figure emerges from the trees and stands in front of the glaring headlights. The silhouette faces Eddie. “Eddie?” “Who the fuck is that?” “It’s me. Hedley.” “Hedley?” “Bit of a situation you’ve found yourself in eh?” “You could say that” Hedley moves closer, his breath clouds, engulfing Eddie’s bemused face. “There’s only me and you left Eddie, let’s get out of here, buy you a drink?” “A drink?” Eddie lifts the spade to the bottom of his chin “Yeah, chin, chin” and plunges the spade down hard into Hedley’s feet. Hedley lets out one hell of a scream, howling like a werewolf. He falls back onto the ground crying like a baby. “Jesus Eddie, what the fuck… Why? Why?” Eddie is just about to cut his head off, “Why?” “Never did like you, you fucking judas,” Eddie stabs the spade into his neck and brings his foot down onto it for extra depth, Hedley gurgles, his eyes wide open and his tongue sticking out like a piece of rolled up ham and jets of blood spurts freckling Eddie’s white shirt. “I’ll tell you why, it was your name on Jimmy’s mobile in the Little Chef, fucking Judas.” “Keys” Eddie hunts them out in Jimmy’s pocket, he also finds the hotel keys. Dervil is moaning, squirming around in the mud and shit. Eddie has an idea, to even things out so to speak. “You’re not that bright son are you? Just mixed with the wrong crowd, come with me and I’ll patch you up.” Eddie helps Dervil to his feet and puts his arm around him, helps him into the back of the car. “I didn’t mean it Eddie.” “Shh! It’s just me and you now Dervil. Listen, I’ve got this really bright idea that’s been buzzing around in my head.” They drive off. Dervil examines his wound, “I don’t think it’s that bad.” 109
Eddie eyes Dervil in the rear view mirror and manages a wry smile at the irony of the switched positions. “We’re going back to the hotel to fix you up, behave as normal as possible, you hear?” “Yeah.” Dervil’s head slumps back. They pass the half empty reception without suspicion, enter the lift and get off at the salesman’s floor. His body is still on the bed and starting to smell. Dervil collapses onto the bed. “You know Eddie, it’s been on my mind all day, it’s about the chalk lines in the farm house, around all the ornaments… what’s all that about?” Eddie looks at Dervil. “I just don’t like people to move anything, ever heard of the Butterfly Effect?” “No.” “A butterfly wing can cause an earthquake on the other side of the world, it’s all about consequences.” “Bullshit.” “You move things to one side, another takes it’s place, bit like today, those chalk lines… call it a premonition.” Eddie hauls Costos’ body to the floor. “Now here’s that bright idea.” He walks over to the standing lamp in the corner, whips off the lampshade, and grabs the long thin wooden stand like a lance, throws Dervil back onto the bed and sticks the red hot bulb into Dervil’s mouth… “You’re not that fucking bright are you… Ten fucking letters… To brighten… Illumin-fuckingate.” The light bulb burns the inside of his mouth he tries to scream, his cheeks puffing up and down like asthmatic balloons. Eddie takes his fists and hits him on either side of his swelling cheeks, the light bulb bursts in his mouth and out comes a mangle of broken glass and thick darkened blood. Eddie stands up “Aye you’re not that fucking bright are you?” and throws down the lamp. Straightens himself up and leaves the room, puts in his phones, toggles Number 12, "Sweet Jesus irony.... Great Balls of Fire."
Long pounds out fiction in all genres. Big guy, sense of humor. Writing credits include: Blue Murder Magazine, Handheldcrime, Orchard Press Mysteries, Futures Mysterious Anthology Magazine, Plots With Guns, Hardboiled, Thriller UK, Shred of Evidence, Bullet, Eternal Night, Another Realm, Albedo One, Here & Now, and stories in the anthologies Amazing Heroes, Darkways of the Wizard, F/SF, and Crossings. His story, 'Sioux City Express', was listed as one of the top 50 mystery stories of 2002 in the anthology The Best American Mystery Stories - 2003. Laird is the only writer to have been featured in every issue of Bullet. “Ghosts of the Past” appeared in Bullet 3. “Flesh and Blood appeared in Bullet 4. “Take Out” is a new story. 111
The punk spun around on the sun-baked sidewalk and blasted two shots from his .38 special lead-dispenser at the car tailing him. The windshield of the Monte Carlo SS exploded, bathing the large man at the wheel in a wave of glass. The big guy slammed on the brakes and piled out of the car. The punk turned the corner at top-speed and ran down an alley. The temperature in Vegas was one hundred and fifteen degrees. “Dammit,” the big guy in the white, open-necked shirt, blue dress pants, and black brogues, grumbled. When you’re six foot six and three hundred and twenty pounds, a foot chase ain’t your gig, especially in the baker’s oven that was mid-summer Las Vegas. The big man rumbled around the corner after the punk, sweat streaming off his face. A hot wind stuck grit to his wet face. The punk was caged at the end of the shaded lane, trapped by a twenty-foot high fence. The punk turned around to face his tormentor, now a giant silhouette bearing down on him. The punk was juiced on crack and booze. He tried to level the rod in his shaking mitts. The big man drew a Glock 9mm from his shoulder harness and blasted a hole in the punk’s leg. The punk hit the cement yelping like a dog just run over. The big man applied the brakes and walked up to the punk squealing on the ground. He kicked the punk’s gun away from where it slumbered. He then kicked the punk in the ribs with one of his size fourteens. The sound of three ribs fracturing sounded good to the big man, sounded like retribution for the busted windshield. “Hey, man! Whatcha’ doin’?” the punk screamed in agony, his red, bleary eyes bugging out of his haggard, drug-addled face. “I don’t like running,” the big man calmly replied. With his left hand, he picked the bloody punk up by the front of his Raiders T-shirt. “And I just had my car fixed last week,” he added. With his right fist, he smashed the punk’s face, busting a couple of teeth, and putting an end to the whining, the best way he knew how. ****** The big guy finished up the paperwork at the cop shop. “Hey, Deck, you tracing skips now?” the cop in the too-tight uniform asked him. “The P.I. business isn’t as hot as your weather, right now,” Deck Winters replied glumly. “Maybe you should think about becoming a policeman?” the cop cracked. “Naw, I can’t afford the cut in pay. Besides, I got a thing about clip-on ties 112
and polyester suits.” The cop laughed. “You know, I still remember that game against St. Louis, when you tangled with Dave ‘The Animal’ Ewing, ...” Deck waved good-bye before the cop could finish his skate down memory lane. Deck wasn’t in the mood for old hockey war stories. He just wanted to get home. Where the heat didn’t pin your clothes to your body in a wet, sticky embrace. ****** Deck drove his windshield-less car over to a convenience store, to pick up some gum. The hot air stung his face like a whip. How the hell can anyone live in this heat, he wondered, as he walked into the chill of the airconditioned store. He picked up his sugar-free chew sticks and ambled over to the counter. Since he had forsaken booze and the rolled leaves, his maw was never without a big wad of gum. Blowing bubbles kept him occupied when he was bouncing at the Waddling Duck in the Twin Cities, or when he was out on an actual stake-out on an actual job. He spilled the requisite silverware on the counter. The pimply runt of a clerk wasn’t interested. “Hey, Mister, could you maybe talk to that guy over there?” He pointed a wavering digit at the back of the store. “He’s been roughing up his girlfriend ever since they came in. I don’t want no trouble.” Deck sighed. His size came in handy in his vocation, but it also meant that every citizen with a bully viewed him as his or her own personal saviour or as an off-duty cop. He rubbed a big paw over his crew-cut head, and turned around for a look. Sure enough, a tall, skinny black guy, probably a pimp, was pushing around a petite blonde of dubious repute. They were arguing about something. Deck steamed their way. “Bitch, you been stiffin’ me,” the black guy in the hundred dollar white suit said. His gold teeth glinted in the lenses of the security cameras. He pushed the blonde into a display of potato chips, knocking the bags and the blonde to the floor. “Buddy, why don’t you take it easy on the junk food?” Deck inquired, a grin on his face. Skinny did a one eighty, something nasty to say on his lips. His jaws clamped shut like the legs of a virgin when he gazed at the immensity of 113
Deck. “S-sure man, I’m cool,” he stuttered. The blonde picked herself up off the floor and seized the moment to suckerpunch her business associate in the jaw. He hit the floor out cold. “Thanks, anyway,” she said to Deck. “But I can handle myself.” She tugged at her short-shorts, and adjusted the stretched-to-the-limit tank top she was barely wearing. “Maybe I can handle you too?” she asked, a smile on her pouty, red lips. “I only came for the gum,” Deck replied. He exited the store shaking his head. ****** He drove his open-air vehicle just past the city limits, then pulled into Hookers for a bite to eat. He also needed a few gallons of water to replace the stuff leaking out every pore on his body. As he walked to the heavy, wooden door of the coffee shop/gambling casino/strip joint/gas station/car wash, he cased the parking lot. Deck made it a habit to never let his eyes stop moving. Hookers was owned by Johnny Hooker, local low-life made good. Vegas was the city of second chances, after all. Deck had heard that there was always a lot of cash at Hookers, but Johnny had an aversion to robbery, so he kept an arsenal of weapons behind every counter. There had been a couple of shoot-outs since the joint opened up, and all had ended with Johnny holding onto his dough. Deck made a wrong turn at the entrance to the amusement park, and found himself in the cool, smoky, darkened confines of the strip club. A silicon-enhanced brunette was caressing her tanned body on the big stage, while her naked colleagues danced on stools in front of tables of men, and some women, scattered throughout the club. Deck reversed his field and hit the right door. He walked into the spacious, bright, fifties-style coffee shop and plunked his tired body down into a vinyl covered booth. He eye-balled Johnny, before the entrepreneur disappeared into an office off to the side of the long counter. Deck cracked open the plastic-covered menu and surveyed his options. “What can I get you?” a pretty redhead in a tight, pink uniform asked him before long. “You are one big fella,” she added. “If you don't mind me saying so.” “I’m big all over,” he grinned. She blushed and took his order. 114
Deck was thinking about where he could get his car repaired, when a man with a black balaclava pulled over his head stormed in. Odd attire for this time of year. “Okay, everyone grab some tile!” the guy yelled. He held a laundry bag in his left hand, while his right clutched an ugly, black .357 Magnum. Nobody moved in the big eatery. “Hit the floor, morons!” the man yelled. This time the customers and the serving staff got the message, and they dived to the floor, covering their heads. A woman screamed in the back. Deck calmly gazed at the dude in the ski mask, pulled off his thick glasses, and rubbed his eyes. What a day. “That means you too, big boy!” Jean-Claude Killy screamed in Deck’s direction. Just then Johnny burst out of his office, anger painted on his face. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?” he yelled at the man with the gun. “I want the cash you have in your office, Johnny,” the man replied. “I got a policy, punk,” Johnny said, as he took in the situation. “No refunds.” Johnny edged towards the counter, to try to reach one of the weapons he kept in the building as a deterrent to inventory shrinkage. “You give me the cash or I start blowing away your customers, pal.” Johnny shoved his hairy arms in the air. “Hey, take it easy, brother. Like I said, you ain’t gettin’ any of my money. I let you have it, then everyone wants it. You see how that would be bad for business?” Deck didn’t cotton to the way this game was unfolding. It was the irresistible force meeting the immovable object, with innocent patrons maybe getting crushed in the collision. “I figured you’d be a hard-ass, Johnny.” The guy with the big gun calmly walked over to a young woman cowering on the floor. She was rolled up into the fetal position, whimpering with fright. “Johnny just signed your death certificate, sister,” the tough in the toque said purposefully. The woman knew he was serious, she let out a scream and made a break for the door. The .357 exploded in protest. The woman hit the floor three yards from Deck, blood rapidly staining her pretty, white summer dress. 115
The other customers screamed. The stick-up man meant business, even Johnny could see that now. “Okay, okay,” he said, his voice cracking just a bit. He had realized that dead customers don’t pay their lunch bills, and word-of-mouth was murder. “I’ll get the money.” “Hold it, Johnny,” Deck ordered. All eyes turned towards the big man in the corner booth, who was waiting patiently for his double cheeseburger. Deck squeezed out of the booth and stood up. “You wanna die, hero?” the killer yelled at him. The big gun looked directly at Deck with its one good eye. “I want to eat,” Deck replied. “Besides, no one’s going to die, sonny-boy. Unless Johnny’s not grilling the burgers long enough.” Johnny jumped in: “Friend, I appreciate your help and all, but I think you’d better park it. This bum is the real deal.” “This bum has a diaper rash that five years in the pen might cure,” Deck said. He strode over to the bloody hostage stretched out on the cold floor. He crushed the heel of his shoe down onto her limp right hand. Bones snapped. The corpse moaned in agony. “Get away from her!” the guy with a stocking for a hat yelled protectively. He advanced on Deck with the peacemaker. Deck roughly scooped up the woman’s purse, almost tearing her arm off, searched through it, and pulled out a gun. “I think this works a bit better than yours, pal,” he said. He pointed a tiny, silver .22 at the robber. They faced each other, fifty feet between them, guns pointed at each other’s heads. Deck’s gun looked puny compared to the monster the crook was holding. Judgement day had come to Hookers. The woman on the floor rolled over and screamed an obscenity at Deck. She cradled her wrecked gun hand like a baby. “What the hell’s going on?” Johnny asked, as confused as anyone. “I saw these two parked outside before I came in, Johnny,” Deck answered. “Our friend here with the woollen head-condom wanted to convince you he was serious, so he got his girlfriend to perform an acting job straight out of Bonny & Clyde. Complete with exploding cherry juice. It’s the only way he could convince you to go unleaded on a robbery for a change. I’m betting that the big shot with the big gun has nothing but blanks.”
“You’re in the wrong town if you bet like that, Mister,” the crook replied. He squeezed the trigger on his big iron and the window behind Deck fragmented into a million pieces. It could have been Deck’s head. Deck was about to counter with the pop-gun, when Johnny pulled a sawnoff from behind the counter and blasted away. The crook was thrown to the ground like a ragdoll by the force of the explosions. His dead body skidded to a halt in front of the doors marked ‘Exit’. “Thanks for your help, Tiny,” Johnny said to Deck. “I guess he only had the one blank in the gun.” “Yeah,” Deck replied shakily. He suddenly remembered the cool peace of his home in the Land of 10,000 Lakes, far removed from the Wild West show they were running out here. “Can I get my order ‘to go’?” he asked.
GHOSTS OF THE PAST
Charlie scooped up the giant pumpkin and gently tossed it into the back of the open trailer. He banged his massive arms with his huge hands, more from reflex than for warmth, like he used to do before a big boxing match. That much he remembered. Ten years ago, a savage beating had parked him in a state hospital for eleven months. The beating had left his heavilyconcussed brain with little memory of the past. But at six foot six, twoseventy, he had quickly regained all of his former strength. ‘Not much for brains, but goddamn for strong!’, is how baba from the old country put it. Charlie brushed dead leaves from his thick wool coat and let his eyes roam over the hushed, snow-crusted countryside. It was the middle of October, and thin blue smoke hung in the air. The air was crisp and chill, and the gentle breeze carried a veiled, but friendly, threat of winter. In the brilliance of the afternoon sun he could clearly make out his neighbor over a mile away in his own field. Orrie was working on his broken-down tractor, trying to pull one more year from the rusting hulk. Orrie still owed him a hundred bucks from the Super Bowl - Charlie had gone Bears, while Orrie had crapped out on the Pats. Charlie was no homer when it came to money. Charlie grunted contentedly, horked out a sticky yellow gob, and bent down for another pumpkin. His mind held the thought of a hot cup of coffee and a cool wedge of pie - his wife always had something good waiting for him when he took his afternoon break. A rogue gust of cold air suddenly shoved him backwards, but he shrugged it off. One hour later, a long black Cadillac with out-of-state license plates steamed down the dirt road alongside Charlie’s property. It was moving fast. It stirred up a whirlwind of dust, and, in Charlie’s dented skull, a cloud of cobwebbed memories. He watched it thunder by like an unstoppable doomsday machine, and then, not fully knowing why, he ran for the freshlypainted, white frame house he called home. He anchored his huge body in the middle of the long driveway and his grim face signalled ‘Stop!’ The Caddie surged to a halt, its front bumper bouncing softly off Charlie’s knees. Four city men in funeral suits piled out of the car and fanned out in a skirmish line in front of Charlie. Three of the men gripped shotguns. The fourth spoke. “Long time, Paulie. Ten long years,” he said. He was short, fat, and oily. His stumpy, brown teeth clenched a stumpy cigar, and his hands were buried deep in his coat pockets. “Don’t know what you’re talkin’ about,” Charlie said, truthfully. The pissed-on fireplug of a man coughed out a laugh and spat it into the 118
dirt. “Yeah, yeah, I heard about the amnesia act.” The dead cigar dropped from his mouth. The other men casually raised their weapons on cue. “We heard you didn’t squawk. Couldn’t. But the old man don’t take no chances. So, after ten years of witness protection bullshit, here we are - you know, to finish the job.” The fat man gulped down some fresh air and broke into a coughing spasm; he was used to swallowing his air in chunks. He looked back at the scarecrow guarding the pumpkin patch, at the gently rolling hills beyond. “Quite a life you’ve carved out for yourself,” he smirked. “Life is where you find it,” Charlie replied calmly. The fat man nodded slowly, solemnly. “And death,” he whispered. “Drop your guns now!” The voice seemed to thunder from the heavens. The men spun around as a group at the sound, but they didn’t drop their guns. The animatronic scarecrow, with cameras for eyes and a speaker for a mouth, stared down at them. It flailed its arms wildly. Charlie and Orrie had put in ten months building the thing, but the kids and the customers loved it. It was operated by remote from Charlie’s workshop in the house. As the men gaped in astonishment at the cavorting scarecrow, Charlie’s memory dredged up a few more things from his murky past. He went into action. He grabbed the man closest to him - a little guy with a scared, pimply face. He crushed the punk in his thick arms and fired the kid’s shotgun using a sausage-sized finger stuffed into the trigger guard over the little guy’s broken digit. The gun boomed and one of the goons split open at the back. Shards of cloth and flesh flew into the air in a red mist. Charlie fired another blast. The gob in the longshoreman coat did a jig, folded up, and plowed the ground with the side of his head. The fat man ripped his hands out of his pockets and blazed away with a pair of .45’s. The little guy caught in Charlie’s love embrace jerked around a couple of times as the bullets tore up his insides and then noodled. Charlie shoved the body aside. The fat man ran for the field. Charlie opened up with the shotgun again. Fatso flew through the air and smashed to rest at the base of the scarecrow. The scarecrow went limp as Charlie’s wife raced out of the house and down the driveway towards him. Her arms were outstretched and her face was soaked with tears of terror. Charlie turned to meet her. The scarecrow looked on blindly as the fat man rolled over, squeezed off one more shot, and then went cold. The heavy bullet tore through Charlie’s thick neck. The only other witness to a certain prominent Teamster’s disappearance toppled over and died in his wife’s arms. He had forgotten one of the rules he used to live by: when your man is down, plant him; one more bullet - the final nail in the coffin. So the ghosts of the past stay buried. 119
FLESH AND BLOOD
The old man was slumming, and he and I both knew it. His thin frame was swaddled in a pinstriped, tailor-made suit, and a chauffer waited patiently for him on the curb outside. My rates were rock-bottom, my office a dusty cubbyhole in a semi-abandoned building. So the question was: what the hell was he doing here? “You’re going to find my daughter, Mr. Dirk,” he stated, then covered his thin, blue lips with a monogrammed handkerchief and hacked up a lung. I glanced at the gold-framed photo of the little girl with the blonde curls that occupied a prominent place on my battered desk, then asked at the end of his coughing fit, “Tried the cops?” “No cops!” he gasped. “Are you for hire, or aren’t you?” He had me there. His name was Chalmers Carrington, and he looked every bit of it. He pulled a leather billfold out of his jacket pocket, then a picture out of the billfold. “Michelle went missing just over a week ago,” he said, tossing the picture on my desk, gazing at me through watery, brown eyes. “She associates with the wrong crowd; I’ll provide you with some names.” I picked up the photo and looked at the pretty, young girl looking back at me. She couldn’t have been more than eighteen. Her face was a perfect oval, with a cute, little nose in the center, her eyes cornflower blue, her strawberry-blonde hair long and wavy. I glanced from the photo to bald, long-jawed, hook-nosed Chalmers Carrington. “Not much of a family resemblance,” I commented. “You’re wasting time, Mr. Dirk – my time!” he shot back. He gave me a list of the girl’s known associates, descriptions, and the names of the places where Michelle was known to hang out. Then he handed me five one-hundred dollar bills and a vow of silence, and I was on the case. The first name on old man Carrington’s list was Flash Escobar, a hippy poet/photog with no fixed address. Apparently, he hung around the seedy coffee bars and hash houses that were popping up all over the Haight Ashbury District like blackheads. ‘Frisco was being flooded with refugees from the ‘60’s, turning whole sections of the City by the Bay into sordid havens for dopers and doggy-stylers. The year might be 1972, but my attitude, and haircut, were strictly ‘50’s.
I had to ask around at five different tearooms before I got a line on Flash, so by the time I finally found him toking up with another bum-boy in an alley off Broderick Street, my head was buzzing with a contact high. I scared the bud-buddy off with a boot to the ass, then showed Flash the missing girl’s picture. “Know where she is?” “Hey, man, I haven’t seen that chick in days,” he exhaled, running a twitching set of yellow-stained digits through a greasy, black beard. His Black Panther shades and olive-colored beret with red star were the first things I slapped off his head – the beard’d be next. “Either you got the heebie-jeebies, asswipe, or you know where she is!” I snarled, slamming him up against the brick wall, shaking him like my dick after pissing. “Start talking!” “Peace, man, peace!” he wailed. “Last time I saw the lady she was crashing with the Horowitz brothers,” Flash gabbed. “Who and where are the Horowitz brothers!?” I thundered. “The H brothers, man – they make blue movies …” “Where!?” I bellowed. “At their pad on Ashbury, man! 794 Ashbury!” I loosened my grip on the bum’s chest hairs. Flash straightened his tie-dye and grinned. “You wanna score some blues, man? Or maybe-” I banged my left sledge against his jaw and his head bounced off the brick. He looked right at home sleeping in that trash-strewn alleyway. I splintered the weathered green door at 794 Ashbury Street with a sizetwelve steel-toed and barreled inside, my .45 in the upright and cocked position. A fat slob with stringy, blonde hair dropped a dirty comic book, slid off a ratty couch, and shouted, “What the fuck!?” “Horowitz!?” I hissed. He half-nodded, his glazed eyes and brain struggling to comprehend the viciousness on my face. But his senses failed him miserably, because he made the mistake of a lifetime by lowering his head, letting out a bellow, and charging. I cracked the butt of the .45 down over top of his greasy head. My gun was hard and heavy, his head soft and empty. Fatso took a nosedive into the dirty carpet and lay motionless. A door flew open on my right and a shaggy head peeked out. Frightened, filmed eyes found me, and the door slammed shut again. I took it full121
speed, knocking the flimsy portal clean off its hinges with a cinder-block shoulder. “Fuck you, asshole!” Shaggy yelled, blazing away with a pint-sized .22. A bullet seared my left shoulder, another dug into the wall behind me. I opened up with my cannon, blasting off three rounds in split-second succession. The room shook with the concussions, and Shaggy did a jig like a puppet with some of its strings cut. Then he flopped over backwards onto a bed already packed with human flesh. Gunsmoke and girlish screams filled the air, and I stared at the blonde, brunette and redheaded dolls entwined on the bed with Shaggy’s bulletridden corpse. The three girls were as naked and damning as the truth, arranged in a daisy-chain, camera-ready for blue movie action. A 16-millimeter sat on a tripod, wedged against the foot of the fuck platform, and on a table next to the recording device was enough heroin, hashish, and hallucinogens to keep the ‘Frisco hippy movement airborne for weeks. I carefully surveyed the blonde-in-the-raw. It was my blonde, all right – Michelle Carrington. Her eyes were as dull as jukebox slugs, but her body was the stuff that jack-off dreams are made from. I reached into the pile of used flesh and pulled the girl free. “You’re goin’ home,” I gritted. I found a towel in a festering bathroom and wrapped Michelle in it. She thanked me by passing out. Then I slapped some sense back into sleeping ugly on the floor. Fatso wasn’t dead, but he was sure as hell headed there. And he used his last few minutes on earth to confess to his sins. He told me that he and his brother had made it their business to dope up pretty, young, wayward girls and then star them in porn flics. And when more fresh, white meat appeared on the scene, the two joy-boys would sell the stale-dated female flesh on the foreign markets, where a busty, blueeyed, All-American blonde could garner as much fifty G’s. I ended Larry Horowitz’s tale of forced, filmed sex and white slavery with a crushing right hand to the pimply face, speeding him on his downward spiral. Then I carried Michelle down to my heap, drove the poor little girl home to her mansion in the hills. Chalmers Carrington was putting pen to paperwork in his book-lined study, signing the foreclosure notice on an orphanage, or the eviction order for a nunnery, no doubt. “So, you found her,” he stated dryly, looking up at me 122
and my bundle from behind his massive, mahogany desk. “Don’t shoot off any fireworks,” I grunted, placing Michelle’s limp body into a leather chair. Carrington stood up, walked around his desk, and stared down his nose at Michelle. Then he grabbed the girl’s hair at the back and jerked her head up. Her eyes fluttered open. “D-don’t be mad at me, daddy!” she gasped, fumbling for the old man’s belt. “I’ll suck you, daddy, I’ll-” “Quiet, you little slut!” Carrington barked, smacking Michelle across the face. “She isn’t your daughter, is she?” I growled at the old man. “She’s your lover.” “Both, mister!” Michelle shrieked, giggling hysterically. “He’s both!” Carrington licked his quivering, blue lips with a grey tongue, eyes spilling from me to the girl, and back again. He pulled out his billfold, flung five more one-hundred dollar bills in my direction. “Your job is done, Dirk,” he rasped. “Get out!” I watched the rectangular, green pieces of paper flutter to the floor, then balled my huge hands into fists. I advanced on Carrington like a storm, memories of my own long-lost little girl filling my head, feeding my hate.
Neil Campbell lives in Manchester, and has recently completed his first novel. “Dangerbirds” was first published in Bullet 1. “21st Century Beatitude” is a new work. 124
I've got twenty pence in the bank that I am saving for a rainy day, but this is Manchester, where it never rains, except in the minds of those who don't live here. Politics, schmolitics, gap years that band-aid problems and remain as a standby for conscience. Coffee shops, endless coffee shops selling burnt coffee in paper cups and bookshops that sell the same books, bookshops where you go in with a shopping trolley and pay at the checkout and nobody reads books there because would you if you had to work there as well? Everybody is crying on T.V. Everyone who wins an award is jumping up and down and awards are given for the best trophies and winners are just pale forgotten shadows of the dignity of real winners, real talents, depth of ability, sustainability. It's a one-note joke getting narrower and narrower and nobody shows their heart without the agenda of engendered sympathy, no one tells it how it is except unknowns, the increasingly marginalized cosmopolitan, the colonial dishrags. We are all riding glass elevators waiting to shatter looking at and buying things that we don't need so that time will pass. * On a Friday night in the shadow world of the local scene I saw a band called “Ivan and Otto”. They took to the stage and rampaged through a set that left me sweating and shaking. I'd come in the back door with a rucksack full of Red Stripe and drunk six cans in the half hour they were on stage. When they finished I stopped jumping around and rushed out the back door to vomit into the street. I was on my haunches in the dirt of the gutter blinking into neon when Ivan and Otto came out carrying amps. 'You alright there mate?' said Otto. 'Yeah no worries.. Hey I fuckin' loved that gig!' 'Nice one. We haven't really played before.' said Ivan. 'You're joking. That was fuckin' fantastic man...you wanna' lift with the amps?' 'Yeah okay' they said. I picked up the heaviest amp I could find and shoved it into the back of their beaten up Golf, splintering bodywork for fun. I dug a couple of cans out of my bag and offered them to Ivan and Otto. We stood around and chatted shit for a while then Ivan mentioned another gig they were going to that night. We got in the Golf and flew through the night before jumping out and into this seedy little place where the stage collided with the bar and the punters squashed between. The air was thick with sweat and smoke and sex and this band called the “Solar Panels” took the fucking roof off the place. It was pissing down and lightning crackled off the amps and the guitars smoked and I thought I was gonna die I was so exhausted and I couldn't 125
take any more excitement and the road of excess seemed to be leading to the road of excess and now I'm not wishing to labour the analogy but that led to the motorway of speed and pulled into terminal two of hedonism and the next flight departing was Palace Airways flying to the city of wisdom. Give me a Mark E. Blake break. I woke up to a horizontal world of ashen pizzas and righted myself with mozzarella dripping from my face. In a pile of cds on the floor I saw “Zuma” by Neil Young and played “Dangerbird” over and over fifteen times until I felt like I felt like I felt like I was flying across the city like a shadow on the sky. Ivan walked in and kicked a beer can into my face. ‘Fuck! I think I've broken my fucking foot!' he inferred as I flexed my jaw and ran my hands through my beer sodden mane. 'You are a cunt, and you're coming to New York with us. What's your name anyway?' 'Ur..Alias.' 'Alias, what kind of fucking name is that!' 'What the fuck kind of name is Ivan!' 'Hey what's this shit!' shouted Otto. 'WHAT THE FUCK KIND OF NAME IS OTTO!' Ivan and I shouted. 'He's coming to New York with us Otto. That's it. No discussion. Hunter S. Ratso Alias Fucking Ti Jean Ballbag is coming with us! And I'll tell you something else-if we are going there we don't need this or this or this!' And with that he took the coffee table and t.v. out onto his balcony and threw them into the morning air seven floors high. Then after a moment of conjecture he also tossed a video into the abyss. * Brushing through white cloud into blue I looked from my window as the plane blew a right angle curve past the leaping buildings of the Manhattan Skyline and down into Newark airport. We got on the bus and drove into the fucking huge apple and craned our necks out through the windows. We parked up at the hostel and went walking around the city for hours and hours and hours tripping over pavements getting run over by cars and bouncing off bonnets into bars and galleries and clubs and into dives and hives. We came back to the hostel with our burgers and beers and dragged the bus kicking and screaming to the gig. We piled out of the bus and smashed the amps through the narrow doorways and rattled them up onto the stage. I watched as they fucked around through a sound check, played covers by “Destination Angels” and “the Tsuji Blades” and got into a sweat over getting into a sweat and the yank said 'No sweat!' as if from the movies. We 126
left the gig to walk around Greenwich Village in the dark. Standing on the corner of McDougall and Bleeker gulping espressos outside Cafe Figaro before going in the Bitter End and downing White Russians and Remy’s and falling out with the owners and fighting for the fuck of it and bouncing off the walls. We go to the gig and I leave them to it hoping they don't fluff their lines down their fronts. I schmooze with the blues and the three kings Freddie, Albert and Riley until the lights go down further and “Ivan and Otto” come flying out and explode in the U.S. faces crashing off the walls, bouncing amps like balls and sweating all across the front row. I'm jumping up and down like a madman bummer Indian in the summer and bumping and grinding into me is a black haired brown-eyed girl with freckles up and down her arms. She's going crazy and we head bang together until I can feel my ears bleeding and my head expanding and my trousers tightening. Ivan and Otto play our speed junkie overture and finish the gig by smashing their axes together, turning over the amps and frisbeeing cymbals into the gig where poetic justice decreed that the heads of negative voices came off and rolled into the apple core night. I leave with the freckle girl and get the subway to Central Park, and, remembering I hadn't kissed a girl for two years, we get down on the Imagine circle and got down to it and lay back afterwards cloud busting and giving peace every chance we could ever give it and we knew then that we had all that we ever needed.
21st CENTURY BEATITUDE
Rising to a pink-arse dawn I ripped the curtains open and rushed into my clothes and raced out of the door and started the car and sped off down the motorway to pick up band member number one, crazy, stick-thin, pillpopping, buzz man Stan the guitar riff man, the now orange morning bathing my car in a glow of orange snow, I’m in the inside lane ramming a caravan before moving into the outside lane with my foot through the floor of my vintage, beaten-up, souped-up, last legs dying, Del Boy Capri Ghia and the chevrons whiz past in one long line and there are trees and tunnels and hills and greenery and scenery and Neil Young is on the stereo and pumping out Scenery with a pearl jam going on behind him but there’s no jam here just speed and need and soon I should be in downtown Glencoe but I still have a long way to go and the sky is whitening and my bonnet is crashing into rain and spray is flying everywhere and I can’t really see, speeding in and out between the fountains of high-siders and shooting sharp glances down at my tatty A-Z and speeding ahead and blurring the service stations and the four doors and streaking up towards odd-sock land scratching my beard and rubbing my crew cut head like the old guy in The Seven Samurai and in a twist of light the white changes to bright blue and the sun once more is coming through and I’m off the main drag and onto the A82 and I’m speeding round the twisting turning curves around Loch Lomond and at the same time throwing a chewed up tape out of the player and sticking some early Neil in and he’s singing that we’re Down By the River, then it’s Cowgirl in the Sand and it’s guitars all the way as the reflections of mountains make black diamonds in the loch where white boats look like they’re sitting in mid air, and I’m trying to race a speedboat flying across the water and I leave the loch behind and pass Ben Lomond and I can see the scenic railway with a dawdling train and idling walkers and its trees, trees, trees - red, green, yellow, orange, ochre, cinnamon - shading the undulating concrete that slips between the nature and shades the road in criss-crossing splendour and soon I can see the white wendy house of the Kingshouse sat alone in the Glencoe valley of the massacre where the giant herdsman of the glen stands benevolent and snow decorated and dominating the sky and I’m waiting for Stan the stick man, the Fender brother, the riff man, the mother, so I booze in the boozer and look at the pictures of the long dead climbers and run out through the car park and throw myself into the fast flowing icy water and rub the diamond droplets all over my shivering body and get out and run up the mountain and look out across Glen Etive at the silver rivulets streaming all across the damp moors and a crow sits at my shoulder and he’s so big he hangs out his wings and I grab on and we’re sailing over the moor and over the white dot of the Kingshouse, swerving in spinning motion down towards the car park where Stan is sat on the bonnet of my resting car and giving me that knowing coolness, that coolness that he turns to fire on our stage, and he gets in and we speed off 128
from Glencoe and I’m cranking up the Capri again and following the flight of the crow and we’re driving south and next we’ve got to pick up our bonny bass man, the beard face bandana boy Barry, the sullen faced prep school boy with the IQ and the moves, and Stan’s brought some Hendrix and he blows on the tape and makes a wish and puts it in the player and we’re in a purple haze on an afternoon of shifting auroras in the scotch sunset of spring chasing the light to fight the black then succumbing to black and lighting up and chasing up the road and over the border where they used to marry and we whiz into the station for petrol and bomb out again away from the opened mouthed idlers waiting around to die and we’ve got to get to the lakes where she’ll be rising and we get back to Manchester and pull up in a car park and get the beers in and fall asleep to the sound of trains and just around the corner it’s the light of day and we crank the Capri to life with some other geezers’ jump leads and then we’re off down the motorway again, waking to the sounds of the Wind Cries Mary and Hey Joe and Red House and Foxy Lady and the blue filled morning is spattered with yellow pools of sun and we pull the shades down and on, and open the windows to wake us and all the shit on the back seat of the motor is swirling around and around and some of it goes out of the window, bouncing on my head on the way out but it’s nothing it’s just beer cans and books, but old Fyodor holds on for dear life and old drunken Jack is still with us because he invented it and so we’re on the road to the lakes, the land of cream teas and scones but also the magnificent mountains and I realize why all my band mates live in the lands of magic, the lands we only otherwise reach on the stage, and we speed through the Drive Carefully villages and knock over the matching fleece and spotless boots crew and pick up mad Barry working in his café and tell him to leave his kit and he sticks his gear on and hell shit we’re off again but not before a quick look up at the majestic mountains and the lyrical skies and we speed away past the old folks quicker than the speed of the sound of my valiant engine that bounces under the bonnet and all we need now to complete the four piece is Dave the rave from the east coast beach at Redcar, and we get to ‘Boro and it’s dark and it’s the space age sight of all the factories lit up and glowing like Mir and the smoke that disappears into black, and the lights, all the lights in artistic configurations and when we get to the coast we hear he’s out in the sea, the crazy loon and we look out through the darkness and he’s there, a tiny dot surfing on the black waves and it’s cold, so cold and the wind is battering us and we all shout Dave the rave, Dave the rave, Dave the rave, and Dave the rave waves above the waves and falls in the fool and disappears and as we maybe worry he pops up at the water’s edge, the pale, white, bluish, wild-eyed, crazy mop-haired, flop-haired, wethaired looooonatic, and he throws his board into the darkness and somersaults over and over towards the Capri and then jumps up on the bonnet and does a tribal dance that dents, and then slips on his arse off the side but he’s okay so we’re ready to go and we pile in and Barry roots around 129
on the floor for tapes and we put in a new copied tape that we got off our Manchester mates and it’s an unsigned crew called the Sonar Yen, the loudest mothers this side of paradise who’ve still to win their shot in the dark, but they’re the future and they blow us all away and the usually jabbering boys are quiet beneath the joy and the shock of the new and there’s smoke coming from either the tape player or the engine and the guitars take us down the motorway again past the same sights we ignore and the windows are rattling so we open them again to the black night and along the coast there’s smoke on the water and white faces turn as we blur and my hands are ice on the wheel and there’s ice beneath the wheel but we slip-slide towards the dawn where a white bird waits to fly to take us to a warm land to play for money and though we aren’t the top name, the biggest print, we’re there and we’ll see and we swerve on two wheels round the corner into the airport and we’ve no luggage and no gear and I dig out the scrunched up tickets and we board with seconds to spare and order a shed load of booze and laugh at Woody Allen on the headphones as he talks about a moose attached to a fender and I can see us all laughing as the rest of the plane frowns and the beautiful stewardesses look uneasy and I fall into an exhausted sleep to wake only when we bounce on the tarmac and land in Spain and the heat hits us and by some miracle there’s a van waiting and it’s full of our gear and we pile in the back rolling around between the shifting amps and the sliding cymbals and the precious guitars and Stan the man has unzipped his Fender and he’s playing to himself the tinny sounds of the gig that waits for us in Barcelona and my belly sloshes around on the winding roads but I drink from my beer can and then throw it at Stan and we start fighting and there’s no room and I bang my head on the van roof and our promoter man, driver man, manager man, what have you man, is shouting at us and he sticks the Yen on and we subside, Manchester’s finest unsigned unknowns lost in the marketing slipstream but masters of war, and we desist beneath then subsist to listening and lie back in the van and it’s so hot we all take our tops off and when we get to the gig we get scared because I don’t think we quite realize how big it is and crowds and crowds move towards the big stadium, the Palau Sant Jordi stadium shimmering under the sun, and it’s all colours merging together beneath the bursting rays and I’m thinking of Lorca and Neruda as we stumble out and bump into the faces backstage and ahead of us and I know that these arrogant mothers won’t know what’s hit them and we peek out at the crowd from the side of the stage and there are undulating mountains of people and Spanish tricks of kids stood one on top of each other four heads high into the sky and the girl at the top is topless and my trousers tighten and I look at the mountains and my arse tightens and we scramble onto the floor backstage and rip open a warm crate of beer but glug it down anyway and I’m jumping up and down on the spot and Stan the man is priming his Fender and mad Barry is ready and Dave the rave is surfing on top of a massive Marshall and a nervous guy with a big badge 130
and a luminous wristband tells us to get ready and boy are we ready and we steam on and with no introduction wade into our no-brainers, our ravers and we hit the shit like a ton of bricks and initially the mountains backtrack and then they see how crazy we are and how much we love it and they join in though I think they can’t understand but they do understand and I’m looking all across the front row and it’s full of dark-skinned, brown-eyed, black-haired beauties with life in their eyes and juice between their thighs and I feel like I can fly and I give it everything and one senorita is eyeballing me and I can tell you I’m eyeballing her and that’s what this is all about, the acquisition of buzz, the sweating flesh, the mad parade of the alive, the young, the sex-full - and the music subsumes, intoxicates, crazies and I look sidelong in my wildness at the band and boy do I love them they’re all going ape-shit and bananas and we weld together in a transcendental, joyous, fantastic, incandescent, life-loving, balls-deep, bellowing, skygrabbing, mountain-toppling, sun-stealing, myriad, magnificent, insanity, that’s the greatest sanity, and the gig is a flyer, it’s a bastard, it’s a cold hearted beast of a back-burning beauty, it’s the dogs, and the mountains are bouncing and my eardrums are killing me as though Barry were pounding them not his kit and I jump up onto an amp and survey the scene and I feel like a smiling master of the universe, a skinny arsed troubadour, a shouting poet, and I race across the stage and slide on my knees while Stan is all closed eyes and making love to the crowd with his chords and his riffs and Dave is topless, sweating, wild-haired, pounding his drum and Barry bass is cool and resplendent, the backbeat master and I start jumping up and down and shouting and screaming and giving it everything and the Spanish appreciate it and though our time is up we carry on playing and the headline bands side stage are shouting at us to get off, that our time is up, but we ignore them and wade on regardless, playing one long song, an endless jam, a Dylanesque stream of consciousness Benzedrine speed dream and we twist in and out like shining snakes in the sky and continue to fly and I sink to my knees amid the screaming and the sky turns red and is dotted with floodlit stars, square and white, and I’m being tugged off stage and Stan is fist fighting with luminous-jacketed stewards and Dave is throwing cymbals at them and Barry has done a runner and stage dived into the Spanish who pass him back over their heads, and he goes off out the front, running from the luminous chasers, and I’m bouncing head first down the steps off the side of the stage and watch the headline band get ready, all their precision, all their gear and all their money and all their glamour and all their exposure but I care nothing for that, and as they make their melodious entry, playing their familiar chart bound tunes that sing out from every little radio back home, I scream into the air and grab a beer and pour it all over my head and get another and pour it over my body and get another and glug it down, and I look at my scattered band mates like soldiers slumped on a battlefield and see blood dripping from my busted head and feel happy with my badge of courage and the knowledge that we gave of 131
our best and gave it our all and we bundle into the back of the van and we’re away, senoritas in tow, to the manager’s gaff in Andalucia, and he sticks the Stones on and we taste some Goats Head Soup and we’re off over the parched brown hills gulping red wine and sailing into the Spanish sunset, smelling the black hair of our senoritas, and we get to the hideaway and dive naked into the pool and I look up at the dazzling rays of the sun and submerge beneath the water and into a world of double blue and swim from one end to another and back again and come up gasping for air and drag myself out of the water and slump onto the hot paving stones looking up at the vastness of the skies and the flying planes and the skywriting that says joy and love and life and the mountains wait beneath the sun and I leave the villa and I’m off alone searching for the ghost of Sancho Panza and when I reach the summit I look around at the world and think what an amazing, what an incredible place and go running down the mountainside picking up speed all the time and flying and the dust is spiralling behind me like I’m a cartoon road runner and I’m spinning through vineyards and grabbing berries with flailing hands and stuffing them in my mouth and though I should be tired I’m not and I vow never again to yawn, and shout a prayer to the rock and roll gods and sing of freedom to the skies and race through the vineyards screaming of joy and love and life in all its forms and all its guises and know that it ain’t no sin to be glad I’m alive and hear the shouts and know it’s time to go and so we go and we’re in the van heading for the airport and we’re going to be late and we’re too late to board so we drive off around the side and get near the runway and jump over the fence and we can see our plane taxiing and it’s beginning to pick up speed but we all run, the band is together as we run, faster and faster and we’re catching the plane and the world is flapping by and we’re under the wings now and like me and the crow we jump up and grab onto the wings of the bird, fingertips straining as we tilt back for take off and I look along the wing at Stan and Barry and Dave and they’re an all grinning barmy army and we’re hanging on as we rise up to the sublime blue skies above the clouds and we all cling on until we tilt forward and start going down and I can see we’re approaching land and so I give the boys the nod and we drop off in choreographed motion and sail down through the sky, increasing speed before crashing down into a silver sea, and after successive splashes and resurfaces begin racing each other to the coast, then start climbing up the cliffs towards the next gig, the next buzz, the next transcendent moment that waits for us and all of us, if it’s what we want, if it’s what we chase, on this glorious planet of beatitude.
Brought up on a diet of gothic horror and vampire novels, I love blood, gore and general terror. My work is inspired by the everyday taken to the extreme. I believe the most frightening horrors are those on our doorsteps. I have lived in London now for three years, a wonderful, scary city. By day I lead a 'normal' life as a full time mum to two boys, a six year old and a wee new baby! But by night I write, hoping to increase the body count and get more of my work published. “Down” was published in Bullet 3. “Vermin” is a new work. 133
VERMIN “I like being fucked up the ass,” he whispers into her right ear. She is looking out of the bus window. It is sunny and the bus is hot. Her hair sticks to the back of her neck. “All these fuckin’ people.” “What?” He leans around her. “All these fuckin’ defects. Look at them.” She raises her right hand and points. “There, there and there and looka him, fuckin’ derelict!” He pulls her arm down to her lap. “Honey, did you hear what I said?” He turns her face to his, “Did you?” “Mmmm,” she answers and strokes his penis through his jeans. It is hard. The room is dark. Heavy curtains stop the light. She moves her head up and down. Her lips tight around his cock. Her right hand thrusts his length onto the roof of her mouth. Her left hand clenches his scrotum. She swallows then wipes her mouth. She lifts herself over him and walks away from the bed. “Aww darlin’, come here, it’s your turn now.” “Doesn’t matter,” she whispers. “Why is it so fuckin’ dark?” She reaches up and pulls at the curtains, rips them away from the rail. “What the fuck you doin’?” He leaps from the bed. “I can’t bear it so dark, can’t see a thing!” “That’s the whole point.” Sunlight floods in, a busy street is visible through the smeared glass. “Look at them Chris.” She turns to him. Her eyes are bloodshot. “Where? Looka who? Come on Honey, let’s lie down. Don’t wanna stand here givin’ everyone a free show.” He glances down at his flaccid penis, remnants of cum trailing from the end. “No looka,” her eyes scan the street below, “Where’s the beauty, Chris?” “Right here darlin’,” as he grabs her breasts from behind and squeezes them. She winces. “You wanna give them a show eh, Honey? Some kinky shit?” His cock is hard again and he rubs it against her buttocks. “Yeah, why not?” She loads saliva on her right palm and wipes it onto her vagina. She bends over, guides his cock into her. Her eyes focus on two children sitting on the 134
kerb. They are eating ice cream. “Do you ever look at the pigeons Chris?” “What? What kinda question’s that? Here,” he hands her a lighted cigarette, “just shut up and smoke this.” “Naw, Chris. Just listen will ya!” She takes a draw on the cigarette, holds her breath then lets the smoke escape. “Pigeons. They’re just so fuckin’ ugly, don’t ya think?” “Errr..” He tries to answer but she passes the cigarette back to him so he takes it, smokes it. “My Granda said they were ‘rats with wings’. Had me shittin’ myself every time a bastard pigeon came near.” She sits herself up on the bed, pulls on her t-shirt vest. “He was fuckin’ mad, used to try and shoot the fuckers with a catapult. Hit the next-door neighbour once, in the eye. Blamed me and my big brother. Gave us a beating in front of the man, to prove a point.” “Did he kill any?” “What?” She reaches and takes back the cigarette. “Did he kill any pigeons?” “Nah, not with the catapult so he poisoned the shits. Got about twenty of the fuckers. He cut off their heads, each and every one. Fed their guts to the cat.” “Nice.” Chris whispers. “But that’s just it. Lately I’ve being lookin’ at the pigeons and what he said is true. Seen tons. Their fuckin’ feet all deformed, claws missin’, tangled in wire. Their feathers matted man, fuckin’ covered in shit and dirt. Don’t know how they even fly. They’re just fuckin’ vermin.” The cigarette has burned down to the filter and ash falls onto the bedcovers. “Er...yeah. Looka, you hungry Honey? Forget fuckin’ birds man. Let’s go and eat ‘em. KFC eh?” He pulls her off the bed and they dress. **** “This is it! This is the one.” He pulls her by the arm into the doorway. “Aww Honey, ain’t we gonna have some fun!” She follows him in. The shop is busy. No one turns to look at them. “Won’t these people wonder what we’re doin’ here?” “Nah, dead popular place man. The tourists love it.” “All of these people wantin’ the same thing.” “Yeah, a good fuck and plenty of toys to help them get it! The dildos are upstairs. Come on”
He drags her by the hand. She glances around. There are young men, old men, couples and single women. One of the older men catches her eye. She sticks out her tongue. He laughs. “Here we go. ‘Paula’s Power Tool’. That’ll do the job. What do ya think Honey?” “Ehh mmm ‘suppose.” She doesn’t look at the merchandise. She is watching a young man looking at the DVDs. She wanders over. Cover after cover of women, arses open to the audience, young boys licking cocks and heads thrown back in orgasm. Her nipples stand out under her white t-shirt, she crosses her arms. “Oooh ya want a dirty film as well eh? Get ya in the mood. OK let’s get this one.” He grabs a DVD titled ‘Slide Bi Me’. “Something to please both parties eh?” He laughs out loud. “It’s too hot in here. Let’s go.” She walks away. Chris pinches her arse. **** She has been in the shower for over half an hour. The small bathroom is steamy and the window and the mirrors are clouded over. “What the fuck ya doin’ in there?’ Chris shouts from the bedroom. “I won’t be long okay. Just feel really shit. Covered in sweat. That shop was too fuckin’ hot.” “Tell me about it. Hot to trot. Got me horny! Hey, you not wankin’ in there are ya? Only reason I take long showers!” “Chris, fuckin’ hell man, I just wanna be clean. Didn’t that place make your skin creep?” “Nah, Honey. Spendin’ our money in there doesn’t make us perverts.” “No it’s just like I was sayin’ ‘bout the pigeons, ya know, all dirty and shit.” “Aww man I can’t hear ya. Just fuckin’ get out the shower!” He loads the DVD into the player, presses play. He already has an erection. The straps cut into the flesh on her thighs. She stands in front of him, her hand moving up and down the synthetic penis attached to the front of the harness. “God you look so fuckin’ sexy.” “Just for you baby.” She squeezes lube onto the penis. He turns around and offers her his backside. The lube helps the dildo slide in. There is a little resistance. He relaxes himself, lowers his upper body to the floor. She moves the dildo further in, up to the harness. He moans and she slaps his arse. She slaps him over and over while ramming the dildo harder into him.
He cums within minutes, spraying his sperm and semen onto the carpet. She holds him as he shakes and shivers. “God Honey, that was fuckin’ amazing. You....God...I’m so fucked.........” He collapses onto the floor. She lets him fall, pulling the dildo from him. The end is covered in his shit. She rives at the straps and removes the harness. She throws it to the floor. “God....... give me a few minutes Honey. Then I’ll do you. Take a bit longer this time eh?” “Mmmm...yeah.” she replies as she lays herself down stroking her vagina. “Hey Honey, looka you! Thought that was my job.” He rolls over to her and tries to move her hands away. “Fuck off!” She kicks him in the legs, pushing him away. “Leave me alone.” “Fuckin’ bitch!” She resumes her position and does not stop until she reaches orgasm. Her body convulses and her moans become screams. Chris watches her and masturbates. **** “You got carried away earlier Honey.” He fastens his shirt and runs his fingers through his hair. “Will I do Honey? Smart enough for ya?” “Yeah. Lush.” She closes her mouth and applies red to her dry lips. She stands in front of the mirror and straightens her dress. The lace around the neckline is creased and torn. She pulls at it and sighs. “Just say it’s vintage.” “Eh?” “The dress. Just say it’s antique. Dead trendy that you know.” “No it’s not that. I like this dress. Don’t care what anyone says. Just was thinking about Granda.” She looks down at her feet. “Not the fuckin’ pigeons again! You’re obsessed girl.” “No, not that, well not exactly. Y’think he had a point? Like he knew if it wasn’t stopped, it just would slither onto us.” “Eh? What the fuck ya talkin’ about? C’mon, the party starts at eight. I wanna get all the free booze.” “But do ya think it could? Do ya think that’s why there’s nothing, nothing beautiful, just fucked up dirty pigeons and derelicts.” “Yeah, with fucked up feet too! C’mon lets rock and roll.” He pulls her from the mirror and drags her to the door. She stumbles forwards, watching her toes move in her sandals as she walks. “So whose party is it then?” She moves her hand away as he tries to hold it. “Johnny Boy’s’. Don’t think you know him.” He lights a cigarette. “I do.” 137
“What?” “I know Johnny.” She takes the cigarette from him. “How?” “How what?” “How do you know Johnny Boy?” “I just do.” “Fucked him eh?” “Yes.” “Oh....” He lights himself a replacement. “Up the ass.” Chris looks at his watch then quickens the pace. She follows behind, catching her sandals on the pavement. He turns left; she follows, smoking the cigarette. On the right-hand side of the pavement there is a lay by. A black object is lying near the kerb. She stops to look, stoops her body closer. A pigeon lies on its belly. Its left wing stretched outward and crushed into the tarmac. “It’s a dead pigeon.” She raises her head, looks to Chris. “A pigeon!” “What?” He stops and turns slightly. “Here, come here. Looka this.” She motions with her left hand. “Aw for fucksakes Honey.” He mumbles, moves back to her. “Fuckin’ you n’ pigeons.” He stops at the lay by, looks down. “Right fine, so fuckin’ what? N’ anyway it’s not fuckin’ dead.” He points to the pigeon’s head. “See! It’s eyes.” The pigeon raises his head. Orange eyes stare upward, blinking rapidly. “Fuck, you’re right Chris.” She lowers herself down, kneels beside the pigeon. “Shit that must hurt. Fuckin’ well mangled. Anyway c’mon, let’s go.” Chris reaches down to grab her arm, pulls her upward. “Party time!” She stands, throws her cigarette down next to the bird. She steps on the smoldering end, puts it out. Then she lifts her right foot over the pigeon, stamps on its head, crushes the skull, grinding it into the road. “Yea c’mon. I need a fuckin’ drink.” She links his arm and pulls him forward. Johnny Boy opens the door. “Hiya Chris! How the fuck are ya?” He stretches out his hand. Chris shakes it, “Ace man! Fuckin’ ace! Apparently you know Honey?” He pulls her into the doorway. “Err yeah......hi how ya doin’?” 138
“Fine”. She walks past him. She heads for the kitchen. She looks at the bottles of red. Chilean, French and South African . She pours a full glass of the Chilean, drinks half before Chris enters. “Yeah, thanks babe. Just fancied red.” He reaches over her and removes the glass from her hand. Three men enter the kitchen. “Heh Chris, hiya man!” “Dan, good to see ya mate. How’s life treatin’ ya?” “Okay, better now I’ve found the stash of Stella!” The men laugh and move to the fridge. Dan removes three bottles of Stella from the fridge, hands them out. “C’mon Honey, let’s mingle. See ya later.” Chris gestures to Dan, grabs an open bottle of red and walks out into the hallway. She follows him. “You haven’t fucked Dan have ya?” Chris hands her the bottle of red. She takes a long swig, lowers the bottle, wipes her lips. “Why, do you want me to, so you can watch?” “Fuck off. Not into that kinda stuff...are you?” “Into anything.” She drinks some more wine. “Goin’ to the loo.” “Don’t be too long, may treat you to a dance... a slow one.” He laughs and moves to grab her arse. She jumps sideways, avoiding him, runs up the stairs taking the bottle of red with her. “Hey! Wine thank you...bitch!” Chris returns to the kitchen. She sits on the toilet and pisses into the bowl. She turns to grab the toilet roll. There are porn magazines pushed behind the u-bend. She wipes herself, adjusts her dress, kneels down and drags the magazines out. There are five magazines in all. She slowly looks through each one. Once finished she places them into the toilet bowl, grabs a bottle of bleach near the sink and empties it into the toilet then around the wooden seat. The bleach lies thick on the wood and begins to trickle over the edge and down onto the lino. She washes her hands and dries them on her dress. She picks up the wine, opens the door and leaves. She enters the kitchen, hands Chris the wine bottle and kisses him on the cheek. “Sorry. Here, have it back. Don’t even like French wine.” “Oooo... a wine connoisseur now are we? Anyway, where the fuck you been? You’ve been ages.” “Needed a shit in the end.” “Mmm... too much information there thank you. Think I need a piss now.” “Nah I wouldn’t, stinks of shit. C’mon lets have that slow dance eh?” “OK.” 139
The room is full of people. Music is blasting. “Well ain’t exactly slow, but let’s dance!” Chris shouts in her ear. “I don’t know this.” “Don’t matter, feel the music. Or better still, feel this.” he forces her hand on his crotch. She squeezes it. Chris jumps backwards, letting out a cry. “Fuck, that hurt!” She moves to the centre of the room without Chris, pushes through men and women. Drinks spill on her, cigarette ash clings to her dress. She lifts her long hair upwards and wipes her neck with her hand. It is wet. She wipes her palm down the back of a man in front of her. He turns around. “Dan, hi.” She leans to him, takes his hand. “Err... you are...?” “I’m with Chris, was in the kitchen. Drinking red wine. You came in for Stella.” “Right, yeah...” “Wanna dance?” “Emm...yeah. Ok” She wraps her arms around his waist and pushes her pelvis into him. “Let’s slow dance eh?” The music becomes louder. “Where’s Chris then?” “What? Can’t hear ya.” She strains her head closer to his mouth. He kisses her. She kisses him back. They dance. “I was telling Chris ‘bout the pigeons.” “What? It’s too loud, can’t really...” “You know the dirt. Do you think it’s really dirty here? I do.” “Err what...I...yeah me too.” He nods his head in agreement. “Yeah, yeah, I do.” “Chris is such a wanker! Thinks I talk a load of shite!” “Chris...yeah always was a bit of a tosser.” “It’s like sometimes I think we’re all gonna turn into them.” “Turn? What?” She reaches down and removes the bottle of Stella from Dan’s hand. Finishes it. “Would love another drink ta.” “Drink... Oh, ok.” Dan heads off to the kitchen. “Red wine though.” She shouts after him. She moves her body in time to the music. Deep bass pounds into the space and she places her hands on her chest. She spins around and sweat runs down her face. She opens her eyes. The room is heaving. People against walls, blocking doorways, crushing into and enclosing her. She gasps for 140
breath, flings her arms out in front of her. She glances left then right. Eyes wide. Her hair is wet with sweat. She shakes her head, covers her ears, closes her eyes. “Here ya are madam, bottle of Stella.” Dan tries to hand her the bottle. “Alcohol as you requested.” “Can’t breathe, they’re all around me,” She opens her eyes, looks at Dan. “All of them, I can feel their feathers...” “What...here drink this, you’re just hot. It’ll cool ya down.” He raises the bottle to her mouth; she takes a drink then spits it out. “I wanted wine!” She drops the bottle on the floor, glances wildly around the room. “Okay,okay!” He wipes lager from his cheek. “C’mon... lets go upstairs, get some air.” “But I can see them. All got fuckin’ pigeon’s heads, squawking beaks for mouths! Fuckin’ horrible noise! Hear them?” She covers her ears. “Can’t ya fuckin’ hear them?” Dan leads her out the doorway. “C’mon, upstairs...let’s calm down.” He holds her around the waist and leads her up the stairs. Dan lays her down on top of the coats flung across the double bed. He moves over her, kisses her, his saliva wetting her lips. She kisses him back, pulls at his shirt, rips it open. “Whoa...slow down, just thought you’d want to lie still, catch ya breath. She pulls him close, kisses him again. “God, I... wait, I don’t even know your name...” “Honey.” “What?” She moves her lips rapidly over his face then neck and onto his chest. She massages her hands into his chest hair. Her fingers catch in the layer of black and pull hairs tight as she makes her hand into a fist. “Oi... that hurts!” Her kisses become frantic and smother his chest, saliva dribbles from her open mouth and pools on his skin. His chest hair becomes trapped in her teeth and is pulled free from him as she draws backward. He raises his upper body from the bed and she pushes him back down. “Fuck! What ya doin?” Her teeth clamp down around his nipple and she bites into the erect flesh. “Bitch!” Dan pushes her off him and she falls backwards onto the floor. 141
“Feathers!” She spits out blood and saliva. “I’ve got a mouth full of fuckin’ feathers!” “What!” He stands up. A trickle of blood heads towards his navel. “You’re fuckin’ crazy!” “You!” She shuffles away from him on her bottom. “What are ya talkin’ about?” “You! You’re covered in feathers!” “What? What are you on?” “You wanna get out of here before you become one!” She jumps up and grabs at his arms. “Nah, get off me! I am gettin’ out all right. Fuckin’ out of the way of you!” He turns towards the door. “No! Listen! All this vermin...” she pulls him around to face her, “you said you understood.” He faces her. She stares at him, her pupils dilate and her mouth opens, her breath stops short. She lets go, opens the door and runs out onto the landing without looking back. “Where the fuck is she now then?” “Err...I got no idea...she just freaked...I was gonna...” “Fuckin what?” Chris moves closer to Dan. “Give her one?” “Nah man! She just had too much booze, got her on the bed and she just freaked, only tried to kiss her.” “Bastard! She’s with me ya know.” “Yeah, well, not now is she?” Chris’ fist smashes into Dan’s face. Dan falls backwards onto the wall. “Fuck man. No need for dat!” Dan spits blood from his mouth and holds his nose. “She dust rantid on, ‘bout fuckin’ pigins. Vermin...fuckin’ crazy.” “So where the fuck did she go?” Dan raises his other hand, shakes his head, blood drips onto his forearm, travels to his elbow then down on to the floor. “Fuck it!” Chris runs upstairs shouting her name. She runs into the bathroom, staggers to the toilet and begins to retch over the bowl. Vomit splatters onto the sodden magazines and the floor. She breathes deeply and wretches again, rubbing and clawing at her mouth. “Honey? What the hell?” Chris appears at the door. “Look at the fuckin’ state of ya.” He moves forward to her, stops short as she turns to him. “It’s happenin’ Chris.” She wipes vomit from her chin onto her dress. “What? What the fuck is wrong with ya?” “The pigeons...” 142
“Right enough, ya hear!” Chris grabs her arm and lifts her up. He glances at the pile of magazines in the toilet. She pulls away, moves to the sink. She turns on the tap, holds her hand under the water. “Chris, there’s no use now...” She looks up to the mirror above the sink. Her eyes widen and she lifts her wet hands to her face. Her fingers begin to claw at her skin. “Looka me! It’s what I am.” Her nails dig deep into her flesh, red appears. “Vermin, just like them.” Her movements become frantic, pulling at her hair, skin and eyes. “Honey!” Chris roughly grabs both her arms, pulls her hands away, “Calm the fuck down! There's nothing wrong with ya! Ya just pissed!” She wrenches her body from him and runs outside. She is still running as the car hits her. Her body crumples and falls onto the tarmac. The car continues, moves over her and crushes her into the road. Her broken limbs flail wildly and her head thrashes sideways, smearing red onto the white line. Chris reaches her and gently lifts her head. “Jesus Honey, just lie still, you’ll be ok.” Her body begins to convulse. Her mouth opens and a squawking noise escapes with a gush of blood. Chris cradles her head and pulls her closer to him “What Honey? What ya trying to say? Don’t, just stay still.” She turns her head slightly, brain matter leaks onto Chris’ jeans. She struggles, opens her eyes. She looks up at him and he sees orange blinking. Chris releases her and lets her crushed skull fall heavily back onto the road.
I hold her head against my chest. Tight. My right arm wraps around her neck, pushing her face sideways onto my skin. She is silent. She is still. My left arm holds her waist. I can reach round and press my hand into her belly. Her ear, flat against my left pectoral muscle is close to my heart. I am not aware of it beating. I am out of breath. I listen to her breathing, in and out. I need to concentrate, to hear her. There is noise from the street. A police car, a man shouts, women's heels click on concrete and a dog yelps. My back aches and I look at blood on my forearm. Smears downward. Bile comes upwards from my stomach and I cough, spit onto the floor and then lick my lips. I taste salt and her. This makes me retch and I move forward, bend my head to the floor to vomit. I let her go. She falls onto the floorboards. There is a thud and she is still, her face sideways on the wood. Vomit stings my throat and coats my teeth. I run my tongue around the inside of my mouth, feel cuts, ulcers and plaque. Pieces of food lift from my molars and evacuate themselves along with the contents of my stomach. A plateful of pasta, pesto sauce and garlic bread, a white mass of undigested food. I am empty and stand erect, move away from the cooling vomit and her. I turn around and reach for my shoes. They are blue and I notice one of the laces has snapped. It is shorter than the other one but still long enough so I can fasten up my shoe. I tie a tight knot in the left shoelace and move towards the door. I have no t-shirt on but find a hooded sweat shirt hanging on the back of the door. I put it on and fold the cuffs over, twice. The zip sticks half way up. I pull hard and it moves, up to my neck and digs into the bottom of my chin. I turn the latch on the door and it opens. The light in the hallway is not on and it is dark. I reach the outside door and feel in my jeans pocket for my keys. They are not there. I again turn the latch and the door opens. I move out into the street. The door closes behind me. It is cold and raindrops wet my skin. I am walking, one foot keeps going in front of the other and I move. The pavement is covered with rubbish. I see packets, drink cans, a dead pigeon and crumpled newspaper. The pigeon is on its back exposing its belly. Street lights are on and shine ahead of me. I follow the curb. It is straight. Cars pass me and I start to count them, one, two, three. I stop at twenty five, her age. A woman and child are passing me on my left. The child is in a buggy, 144
crying and mucus is streaming from its nostril. I feel sick again and stop to vomit, aiming for a drain by the roadside. The woman and child stop. "Bloody drunk!" the woman shouts. She moves away. She tells the child to 'shut the fuck up' and I hear a slap. Nothing leaves my stomach and I try to spit. My mouth is dry. I stand upright, smooth down my hair, which is wet, push up my sleeves and continue walking. He grabs at my right arm. I blink and his face comes into focus. He is in front of me. He breathes into my face. I feel heat and begin to shake. His mouth is opening and closing. He moves my arm backwards and forwards. He points directly at me then I hear his voice. It is loud. "Got a quid, 'as hungry? Got a quid? You 'ear me? Eh? Eh? 'ear me?" He squeezes my arm, it is painful. I stagger backwards and my feet hit each other. I grab for him to steady me. He stops talking. I reach to my back pocket. I pull out my wallet and hand it to him. I push him away. I move one foot in front of the other and start to walk. He is saying something but I do not hear him. The digital readout on my watch shows twelve ten. I glance at the clock on the station wall, it shows past two. The station is empty. I walk through an open turnstile. The shutters are down at the ticket office and the information screen is black. I stand at the top of the stairs, I move to walk, down to Platform 1. The steps blur and my eyes water. The liquid trickles down onto my cheeks. I close my eyes. My head is painful, full of noise. I open my eyes, only to see black then flashes of colour. My stomach contracts and my knees give way. I fall onto concrete. A voluntary movement pushes my hands outward and they break my fall. Breath is forced from my lungs. On all fours, I crawl away from the stairs, slowly. My muscles ache. My eyes are still watering so I keep them closed. Mucus is coming from my nostrils. I lick at it then wipe it onto the back of my hand. I crawl and crawl, kneecaps onto concrete, moving forwards until my head hits something. It stops the noises for a moment. I open my eyes, in front of me is metal. The metal is the lift door. A way down. Inside my mouth a collection of saliva has built up. I open my mouth and allow it to empty. The contents wet my chin and soak into my clothes. I keep my mouth open. I raise my head slowly, the noise and nausea are strong. The square 'call' button is alight and a shaky hand reaches for it. I hit it, then fall onto all 145
fours. I lie prostrate on my belly, hold my hand against the door and wait. The door opens taking my hand with it. My palm sticks then slides against the friction. I grasp my fingers around the edge of the door and heave myself inward. My sweat shirt drags downward, trapped between my body and the floor. The zip scrapes into my flesh and pulls at chest hair. I manage to manoeuvre myself in. My breath comes in heavy gasps, not quite filling my lungs. I hear the lift doors start to close. My right foot is still in the doorway. The doors close onto it, squashing the flesh. I try to bring my foot in toward me. I can not. The lift opens then shuts again. My foot is in the same position. I sigh. Open, shut, open, shut. It becomes painful. Last time, open, shut. I breathe deeply and grab my right thigh with both palms. I yank my whole leg upwards. It brings my foot in, away from the closing door. I collapse. The exertion causes my stomach to contract and bile escapes from my mouth. I turn my head sideways, lay my cheek onto the lift floor and allow bile, saliva and mucus to run downward over my face. The lift smells strongly. My nostrils react. I feel wetness soaking into me from the floor. My skin is cooling. My sense of smell detects urine and faeces. I turn onto my back and my bladder empties, it warms me. The lights above are housed in a stainless steel canopy. Small circles cut out, bulbs behind. One half of the lighting system is not working. Dimmed bulbs flicker on and off. Inconsistent light is reflected downwards, outwards onto metal walls. My eyes hurt. They sting from the ammonia. I close them, then open. Just above my head I see another square shaped call button. This has the yellow outline of a bell. 'Alarm'. As my bowels empty this time, I raise my left hand and thrash at the button. I close my eyes and her face is there. I listen to the sound of my hand slapping the wall again and again and again and... it has a rhythm.
Clint Gaige is a two-time Pushcart Prize Nominee. He is also the author of four highly praised novels. His latest novel, Road Dawgs, was released in March of 2005. Midwest Book Review called it, "a masterpiece." He has published dozens of trade articles and short stories in a number of magazines. He has sold over 25 short stories. Currently he is in the studio completing work on the audio book version of Road Dawgs and is finishing up a new novel. “Tiebreaker” first appeared in Bullet 2 and “Riff” is a new story. 147
“Fuck you and goodnight!” I stepped off the stage and made my way to the bar as fast as I could. I figured out a long time ago, if you do it quickly enough fans can’t stand up fast enough to get between me and the alcohol. There were, of course, a few assholes who hadn’t been drinking enough during the performance to actually react fast enough to get in the way. I usually bullied my way past those shits with a disgruntled, “thank you.” Slam poetry fans were a weird lot. Most were damn near homeless, the others were the cultural elite. Ironically, you could always get a free beer from the homeless but the cultural elite just wanted to hire you for some event they were hosting. Somehow, they could forgive the language as long as it was couched in some sort of bullshit art. They were how I paid my rent but the homeless bastards were always my favorite audience. It was a clear difference, the rich assholes could afford hiring me out as an art whore. The poor bastard was giving up more of his net worth. I lived for these little differences in people. Some folks would argue that rich people create more for society and had made something of themselves, but that was bullshit. Rich motherfuckers made money because either they stole it or it was given to them. Poor shits were self-made men and for that, I respected them. Not to mention I have always been, and most likely always will be, one of them. I grew up in the United States of America, land of the free and ignorant. The land where you can do anything and become anything as long as you have the right amount of money to start with. Other than that, you have to give success another name; job, status, power. So I followed my own road. I started to participate in open mic poetry nights at local coffee shops where the top slam artist would walk away with a free coffee and a muffin. After enough shitty jobs and enough competitions I made it to the bigger shows where they paid winners nearly five hundred dollars. Since, I didn’t need much to live, five hundred bucks was enough to eat and buy gas to get to the next show a few states away. I had no lease and no car payments. It is amazing what you can live on when you don’t buy into the system. This particular night I was in a fairly good mood. I was paid as the guest poet of the night. The gig had been good for another cool grand, I was proud of myself for getting to the point where I could charge $1,000 per event. I had three of these checks in my wallet already and this would be one more. I was going to enjoy stopping at the bank on the way to my next gig. 148
“What can I get you?” the bartender leaned forward. “Cheapest beer you got.” I mumbled. “You know, it’s an open bar.” The bartender added. “Oh,” I smiled, “most expensive scotch you have.” “That’s what I thought.” He started pouring and then reached for the bucket. We poor bastards stick together. “No, no, no…no ice.” I corrected him. “Right.” The bartender just handed me the drink. “Thanks.” I turned away and nursed my drink, savouring the alcohol. “You must be Cole Betts.” The voice belonged to a rich man. A poor man never says, ‘you must be’. “That I would.” I turned around and discovered that I was wrong. The man was wearing a shirt and a suede jacket. I thought he was wearing jeans, but I make it a point to avoid looking at a man’s pants. In the poetry world looking down there could get you labelled and hurt your chances of getting in the pants of a young female English student. He leaned closer, “I need your help.” “I’m not gay.” I answered. “Neither am I. Get up there on stage and rant some more.” he whispered. “There is a man in the back, with enough money to buy and sell us both. If you create a diversion long enough, I can grab his bag and get the hell out of here with the money. I’ll give you half.” “If you’re stealing the bag how the hell are you going to give me half?” “I’ll meet you after the show at the twenty four hour diner on Sycamore.” “I’m not from around here, I have no idea where Sycamore is.” “You’ll have until four to find it. I’ll wait until four, not a minute later.” “How much we talking?” I asked. “He’s got a bag with twenty-five grand in it.” “How the fuck would you know that?” I wasn’t buying what this guy was selling. “I gave it to him.” He answered straight. “He’s my source.” “I’m not goin’ in with no drug dealer, no disrespect intended, I respect your profession, but unfortunately your kind doesn’t exactly have a reputation for fair and honest dealings, if you catch me.” “I catch you, but I need the help. I need to get out of this shit and this is my only chance to get out of this fuckin’ town.” “I don’t even know what fuckin’ town I’m in.” “Buffalo.” “That would explain the smell.” I smirked. “The two of us can do this.” “Half?” “Half.” 149
I finished the drink and slammed it down on the counter. “Why the fuck not?” “Good. All I need is a few seconds.” “So, you want me to just riff?” “That would be great.” He nodded and disappeared into the background. I made my way to the open microphone, before I made it onto the stage, the show’s producer smiled and clapped his hands together. He rushed onto the stage and turned on the microphone sending the whine of feedback throughout the room. “Sorry…Ladies and Gentleman, we’re about to be blessed with an encore from Cole Betts.” I heard a few shocked gasps in the audience, I wasn’t known for encores. In fact, I was known to utterly hate the thought of them. Essentially, it told an audience to beg and I always felt they were above that…of course, any visit to any concert by a mass-produced pop band will tell you otherwise. “What do you have to say that you haven’t already?” some member of the audience piped in. “Fuck you. The open bar made me chatty.” I growled. The audience appeared to accept that explanation. “So, we fuckin’ did it again. We went and proved why our educational system is in the toilet. We went and hired him, him…by him, you all know who I’m talkin’ about, by him, I mean the him that went looking for weapons that weren’t there. I mean, Christ, when did this country change on me? One minute we were the land of the free, but when the cost of tuition went up, we pulled our kids out of the goddamn school. We’re the most powerful nation in the world and we’re more afraid of gays getting married than terrorists. When did this happen? I think I have an answer. Christians are fucking like rabbits and it’s spreading like an STD.” The uptight Christian audience began to boo me, but the faithful heathens that were my core audience shouted them down. It was nice to have a heathen following. I accepted a long time ago that if God was real, I was headed for hell already, trying to change direction now was just too much damn work. Suddenly, like a reprieve, there was a gunshot. At first, I naturally thought they were shooting at me, so I dived for any type of cover I could find; the microphone stand was about all there was. I saw the man in black run out of the building with a bag in his hand and realized that I was about to get a payday. “Holy shit!” A guy in the audience jumped up. “Shit! Jamie, come on partner, snap out of it.” 150
I stood up and without paying attention I mumbled into the microphone, “What the hell happened?” “An officer was shot! Call 9-1-1, someone call them and tell them, officer down!” The shouting man ripped off his jacket and tried to administer first aid to his fellow officer. I suddenly realized that I wasn’t in the kind of story I thought I was in. “Holy shit! Well, someone call the fuckin’ police!” I barked into the mic. “No one, leave this building, we’re going to want to question all of you.” He barked out an order. “I can’t, I have to get on the road.” I argued. “Sit the fuck down.” I noticed that he was covered in blood. This was very real and I was stuck right here in the middle of it. The moments that passed waiting for an ambulance and other officers seemed like they were stuck in molasses. Nothing moved. It felt like everyone was watching me, as if they knew I had something to do with all of this. “Okay, listen up” an older officer in a suit addressed the entire room. “We’re going to be talking with each one of you over here in the corner. If anyone leaves, we will arrest you and talk to you down at the station. Otherwise, just hang out until one of the detectives clears you.” They started with a handful of guests, I guess, to find out if anyone saw anything. I saw the detectives pressing and the customers just shaking their heads no. Then, they turned their attention to the bartender. All he could tell them was that the shooter had been talking to me just moments before I went back on stage, something I never did. I was starting to think I had been the killer, but what had I really done? I stood up and did a second part of my act; material I was working on. I wasn’t guilty of anything. A few minutes later an old pudgy detective waived me over. “Have a seat, Mr. Betts.” “Thank you, can we get this show on the road? I’ve got to be in Toledo tomorrow evening.” “We’ll see what we can do.” The Detective was blowing me off. “Thanks.” I wanted to get the hell out of this place; I wasn’t a huge fan of cops. “So, you’re a performance artist?” He sounded disgusted. “I prefer spoken word artist.” “What’s the difference?” He was accusing me of something, but I wasn’t sure what. “Well, I don’t throw my shit on the wall and call it art.” I didn’t like the attack on my work. “I work with words.” “Okay, I’m not sure what the difference is. A well placed word can do as much damage as faeces on the wall.” The Detective looked like the last thing he needed was a donut, but he grabbed one anyway. 151
“Well, I don’t do a lot of bullshit and call it art. For example, I don’t fuckin’ shoot people while I’m on the fuckin’ stage.” I rolled my eyes. “Have you figured out how I was supposed to accomplish that?” “I know you didn’t shoot him. We saw who shot him. What we want to know is what everyone else saw in the goddamn club, and everyone saw you talking to the shooter just moments before he unloaded his gun into an officer.” He leaned in to intimidate me, he reminded me at that moment of my father. “What did you two talk about?” “Open bars and their value in a free market society that needs to lighten the fuck up.” I leaned in, matching his body language, “Maybe if he had smoked some pot this afternoon, he wouldn’t have so much pent up anger, but that shit is illegal because cigarette companies have lobbyists and drug dealers are too damn dumb to hire any.” “Is that so?” “I think so. What’s your opinion on the subject?” “What the fuck did you talk to the shooter about?” “Whoa, language…language.” I pretended to be offended. “Fuck you, what did you talk about? If you don’t fuckin’ answer me, I’ll haul your ass into the station tonight.” The Detective lost his temper. He cooled down and stared at me. “We got a warning on you before you even arrived in this town. We were told you were trouble. You and your questionable words.” “A fan, its nice to meet new fans.” I smirked and then relented, “we talked about my act. It was bullshit. Do you remember every conversation you have with people?” “I tend to remember a conversation that happens moments before a shooting especially if it happened less than an hour ago.” “Well, I’m sorry to disappoint you. The guy came up to me blabbering about something or another while I was trying to get a drink. He said he liked my act. I tuned him out.” I hoped that I was lying effectively. “I had some ideas for some material I was kicking around and thought, what the hell, I’d give it a shot. The audience was receptive and it seemed like the right time to try.” “I understand that it was Anti-American.” “You could say that. I’m still trying to figure out how we failed to fire the president. And, roughly 50 million people are behind me on that one.” “Did you threaten the President of the United States?” the Detective asked. “Are you fuckin’ kidding me? No, I did no such thing. I may have insulted him and the rest of his rabid fan base, but I meant no disrespect by it.” I smirked. 152
“Why did you go on that stage for an encore?” “I already answered that question.” “And that’s what you want us to believe?” “I don’t care what you believe, I know what I did and why I did it.” I sat back in my chair and crossed my arms. “Okay, I need you to sit tight for a minute.” “But, you let those rich motherfuckers leave!” “They had nothing to do with it.” The Detective walked over to converse with another one. I watched the other asshole’s head bob up and down in agreement. Great, I thought, they’re on to me. I sat in the chair feeling guilty but, I wondered, what the hell could I have done differently? It was free money. “We want to keep talking to you, are you going to be a problem, or can we talk here?” He was itching for me to cause problems. “Can I smoke?” “Sure.” “Then, right here is fine.” I pulled out a pack of clove cigarettes and my trusty Zippo lighter. “What did he want from you?” “I told you already,” I rolled my eyes. “I thought he was a fan, I wasn’t paying much attention.” “You don’t pay attention to your fans?” he pressed. “Have you ever seen my show? My fans are bigger assholes than I am. They actually buy into this bullshit I’m spreading. Why in the world would I want to buddy up with them?” I leaned back in the chair and inhaled deeply. “I wonder how many of your fans would still buy into it if they heard how you describe them?” “Are you fucking kidding me? What do you think half my act is about?” I chuckled and took another drag on the cigarette. “Where are you supposed to meet him?” “Meet who? Like I said, I’ve got a gig in Toledo tomorrow.” “I don’t think so.” He sat back in his chair looking rather glib. He then launched into a prepared speech. “Have you now or ever been associated with any terrorist organizations?” “I’m agnostic, thanks for asking.” “What does that have to do with anything?” “Well, since all this shit is the crusades replayed, I figured I’d answer you. No, I don’t give a shit who wins, both sides are full of shit. Bin Laden talks imperialism and Bush talks about beating back the Huns. It’s the same bullshit from the Middle Ages, only this time the white people have the power of Fox news.” “What are you playing at? I’m talking about a dead officer with children 153
and you’re talking about the Crusades?” “You’re one of those ‘life is sacred’ assholes aren’t you? As far as I’m concerned there is only one sacred life on this planet and that’s mine. The rest of you are just players in my own little reality show.” “You’re a real cocksucker, do you know that?” “Yes, do you?” I figured that if I made him feel uncomfortable enough, he’d back off. It wasn’t working. The Detective stared at me for several minutes. After he was tired of the silence he jumped to his feet and stormed over to another officer. They talked amongst themselves for a moment then the older detective slumped. He walked back to me, defeated. He didn’t make eye contact as he spoke. “My apologies Mr. Betts, we have no real reason to hold you. My commanding officer believes that it is my personal distaste for your work that is clouding my judgment. A conversation at a bar between strangers is not illegal, nor is it a reason to hold you.” “That’s what I’ve been saying.” I agreed and lit another cigarette. “You’re free to go.” He stepped aside giving me free access to the door. I stood slowly, careful to avoid suspicion, and decided against saying anything else. I just walked out the door waiting for someone to stop me, but no one did. I climbed into my beat up van and started it up. I forgot how cold it was outside. There was a gentle snow falling, ironic, I thought. The van started up easily enough. Now, all I needed to do was find a gas station that could give me directions to a twenty-four hour diner on Sycamore. I never looked back. A few blocks away I found a beat up grungy gas station. I pulled in, filled the tank and made my way inside to get directions. “Out late?” The sad looking man behind the counter looked up from behind his girlie magazine. “Yeah, you could say that.” I sighed and grabbed the nearest cold drink full of caffeine. “Listen, I’m kinda hungry. I hear there’s a great diner that’s open all night on Sycamore.” “Sycamore?” He looked puzzled. “There’s no Sycamore around here that I know of.” “I was told anyone could give me directions to Sycamore. I thought it was a main road.” I pressed. “I’ve lived here all my life and I don’t know a main street named Sycamore.” “Are you fucking with me?” I was starting to get a bad feeling. “Why would I?” 154
“Okay, you’re right, why would you? How much for the gas and drink?” I reached for my wallet. It wasn’t there. “Shit!” “It’s thirty-five dollars.” He wasn’t smiling. “You’ve got to be kidding me?” I was shocked by my nation’s changing economy. I was lucky to have a few bucks in my pocket. I made my way back to the van and looked on the floorboard for my wallet. It wasn’t there either. I figured it had to be back at the bar, so I drove back there. The police cars were all gone, that seemed odd. They still had quite a few people to talk to when I had been allowed to leave. I looked in the window, the place was empty. My wallet was sitting on the table inside. I debated with myself about what I should do. I had seen my share of crime shows where a fingerprint does some lonely bastard in. So I slid my shirt over my hand and used it as an awkward glove. I broke the window with my elbow and slid my arm in carefully. The door opened easily. This definitely wasn’t right, I decided to grab my wallet and get the hell out of this town. “Freeze!” A voice barked from the other side of the glass. Suddenly, lights assaulted the room, the police had their weapons pointed right at me. “I had nothing to do with the shooting, I was just getting my wallet.” “What shooting?” “The one that occurred earlier tonight.” I was confused. “There wasn’t a shooting here tonight,” a cop stepped forward. “I was just here for my wallet.” I lifted it up. Several officers got jumpy, they must have thought it was a gun. “Calm down,” the officer tried a soothing tone. “I am calm.” I opened my wallet, empty. I suddenly remembered an old saying of my Grandfather’s, “if you walk into a room and can’t spot the idiot within five minutes, it’s you.” They had my wallet with all my traveling money. They had my check for the evening’s event. More important, they had all the checks I hadn’t cashed this month. They had well over five grand in cash and checks. I hoped briefly that they wouldn’t be able to cash my checks but realized that they even had my license. “Shit,” I mumbled when I realized that they also had access to my life savings, not much by most standards but for a night’s work, not bad. “You have the right to remain silent,” the officer began his speech. 155
“Yeah, yeah, yeah, can we get to the station so that I can make my phone call?” I realized that they had gotten away with everything of mine and all I had was one lousy phone call. But the last laugh was on them, I didn’t have a lawyer but I knew the number to my bank.
Michael Mickey was sitting behind the console waiting for the song to die down. He punched the microphone button and slid the volume up to be heard over the dying song. He turned on his ‘radio’ voice and wowed the audience with his pipes. “That was Pearl Jam and “Jeremy” on 107.7, all rock, all the time. Don't forget, lock those doors tonight with this string of highway murders going on throughout the state. Another body was found, apparently a hitchhiker. That brings the body count to six. Three were found in their cars and the other three were found hitching their way across our lovely state. We’ll be right back to keep you company.” Across town a driver changed the channel. “That's the weather here on 89.3. Don't forget the police have not caught the person responsible for the murders on Route 66,” the announcer paused. “Let’s get back to our celebration of Beethoven.” The driver hoped classical music would keep him awake, but it wasn’t doing the trick. The rosary that hung on his rear view mirror mesmerized him and made him sleepier. The driver turned the radio down; he needed company, no matter the risk. He saw a hitchhiker. The driver thought, he’s as good as any, and pulled over. “You need a lift?” “Sure!” The hitchhiker smiled. “Where you headed?” “Anywhere.” “Hop in.” The driver nodded, his wife hated when he took risks, she always said that you just couldn’t trust anyone these days. The hitchhiker got into the car. They drove away listening to Beethoven. “So where you headed?” “Out there.” The hitchhiker pointed forward. “Where'd you come from?” “Back there.” The hitchhiker pointed behind him. “I see. Running away or searching?” The driver asked. “I'm sorry?” “You running away from something or trying to find something?” The driver understood the call of the road. “Aren't we all?” The hitchhiker caught just a glimpse of the driver’s gold cross. “Aren't we all what?” The driver asked. “Aren't we all searching and running?” 157
“I suppose.” The driver shuffled uncomfortably. They sat for several moments in silence, with Beethoven crashing occasionally to the forefront. “You a family man?” The hitchhiker had surmised as much. “Yes.” The hitchhiker glanced at the backseat, full of living stuff, suitcases, a bible and suits. He smiled, “Spend much time on the road?” “Twelve days a month.” “Love your family?” The hitchhiker asked. “Of course. Why do you think I do this?” The driver was offended. “I think you do THIS because you want to get away.” “It pays the bills.” He answered. “I bet.” The hitchhiker stared with knowing eyes. He turned towards the backseat and brandished a butcher knife. “Wow!” “I sell steak knives. Best knives in the west.” The driver laughed. “How much you make?” “Enough.” The driver answered. “Relax, I'm not a thief...I'm many things but, not a thief.” “Sorry, you just can't trust people these days.” “You’re telling me.” The hitchhiker sat back, “Christ knows I’ve got my problems.” The driver shot a dirty look at his companion and then spoke in a low controlled voice, “Could you watch your language?” “You want me to watch my language?” The hitchhiker smirked. “Yes.” “Jesus Christ!” he moaned. “The Lord's name! Please?” The driver was upset. “Sacrilegious? Sorry.” The hitchhiker smirked. “Murders got you spooked?” “No.” The driver was annoyed. “No? You’re not frightened that some lunatic is out there willing to cut your life short just for the hell of it, but Jesus Christ’s name bothers you?” The hitchhiker was amazed at all forms of fanaticism; he majored in religious studies in school. “Why must you push me? I'm giving you a lift and you just sit there...pushing buttons...” “I haven't started to push your buttons,” the hitchhiker mumbled. “I don't want to do this.” The driver said. “But, we're going to.” “You don't have any clue who you’re dealing with,” the driver returned the stare. “Neither do you,” the hitchhiker said. “Just another lost soul, you need to be saved.” “Wow, so you’re the profile that they keep talking about,” the hitchhiker laughed. “WHAT?” The driver pulled out a large bladed weapon. 158
“I always wondered what a fanatic looked like.” “You don't understand, but you will.” The driver pulled the car off to the side. “No, I got it,” the hitchhiker pulled out a knife of his own. “Nice knife.” “Thanks, I brought my own.” “Wow, so no need to give you the show.” “I've seen it.” “The state's just not big enough for both of us?” The driver asked. “Afraid not.” “You appear to do good work.” The driver offered some praise for his competition. “As do you.” The two men exhaled, and prepared for battle. “You got three...” “And, you got three...” the hitchhiker added. “So, this would be the tiebreaker?” The driver asked. “Good luck.” “You too.” “So, let’s do it,” the hitchhiker and driver immediately engaged each other, desperately trying to kill the other. After several moments of intense wrestling, neither man had more than a scratch on him. “I'm not used to them fighting back,” the driver exhaled. “Me either.” Both men sat back and struggled to breathe. “Wanna drink?” The hitchhiker pulled out a flask. “I thought you’d never ask. Playing the ‘bible thumper’ makes it tough to drink.” “Is it worth the trade-off?” The hitchhiker couldn’t imagine giving up drinking. “Well, victims let you get closer to them. It works for me. Did you really like my fanatic?” The driver hoped for validation. “Absolutely...I was sure you were going to kill me for swearing. You do good work, I mean that.” “Thanks,” the driver smiled. The two men sat in silence passing the flask back and forth. The alcohol coursed through their bodies. For both men it was nice to be able to talk shop. Neither had many opportunities to discuss their hobby. “Maybe, we could form a union or guild, if you will.” “Serial killers of the world unite?” The driver asked. “The club for the extreme loner,” the hitchhiker opened his hands as if showcasing the slogan in lights. “Benefits?” 159
“Even dental,” the hitchhiker smiled. “Nice concept, but applying the theory would just be too much,” the driver was being practical. “Probably right,” the hitchhiker admitted. “Need a partner?” “No offense, but that kinda defeats the whole crazed fanatic thing.” “Right,” the hitchhiker could see the problems there. “Rocks, paper, scissors,” the driver said. “What?” “Whoever wins gets this state,” it was a friendly solution. “Fair.” “Ready?” “Yes.” The two men put their knives away and lifted their fists. “One, two, three,” they both offered up their best weapon. The driver was mortified that he was holding out paper. “Oh man. Scissors beats paper.” “What were you thinking? Of course, I would have gone for the sharp weapon,” the hitchhiker laughed. “Ready?” “Yeah.” “One, two, three...” the driver smiled, “Vindication!” “Oh, man...I shouldn't have shown you scissors twice,” the hitchhiker lowered his head. “I knew it was coming,” the driver gloated. “One more time...” the hitchhiker said. “One, two…” The next morning in another car a third man was driving along. The radio was blaring rock music and he was smiling, it was going to be a great day.. “Good Morning! Alternative 107 on the air! All Rock, all the time! Two more bodies were found killed on route 66. As you all know, the coroner is a long time listener, he says the radio was tuned right here. I guess, you could say that they died happy. All Rock….” The third man smiled and turned off the radio. Last night he had listened to their conversation. He considered introducing himself and joining their party, but they were listening to the competition. Something he couldn’t forgive. As he drove, he thought of the two competitors. He remembered sneaking up on them and cutting them down in the middle of their game. The third man, Michael Mickey, smiled and ran his hand across the pistol that lay beside him. “All rock, all the time.”
All T-shirts are available in M/L/XL and cost £11 inc p&p (UK). Cheques to Bullet Media Ltd, 7 Roker Park Road, Sunderland, SR6 9PF, UK specifying size.
15 fast and brutal stories Laird Long, Delphine Lecompte, Al Guthrie and many many more. Plus features on Iceberg Slim, the Ramones and Ray Banks. £3 inc p&p
20 hot rockin’ stories from the likes of Dave Balfe, Milky Wilberforce, Laird Long amongst many others £3 inc p&p
The one that started it all. 10 stories exploring the notion of rock’n’roll noir from an international array of writers. £2 inc p&p
BULLET 4—SOLD OUT
This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
We've moved you to where you read on your other device.
Get the full title to continue reading from where you left off, or restart the preview.