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BULLET 6
A collection of short stories. Published by: Bullet Media Ltd 7 Roker Park Road Sunderland SR6 9PF UK www.rocknrollnoir.com 2006 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 0-9551497-1-1 ISBN-13 978-0-9551497-1-9

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WELCOME……
To yet another Bullet, we just keep on a comin’ and we just keep on getting better. This our sixth issue we welcome back many old faces plus plenty new ones. We’re especially delighted to have Charlie Williams.

Read on, enjoy and remember…keep on rockin’…. Keith Jeffrey Editor

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Contents
Charlie Williams (England) King Shit Dave Balfe (England) Guys & Guns Ray Banks (England) The King is Dead Allan Guthrie (Scotland) Happy Slapping Breanda Cross (Australia) Death by Fermentation The Valentine’s Day Massager Too Many Cooks Spoil the Plot Jason Golaup (Scotland) Getting Rid of Old Junk TK Dan (England) Pasty in Love Christopher Morrow (England) Poker-ing Julie Wright (England) It Could be You Let’s Dance Milky Wilberforce (England) Frankie’s on a Job Laird Long (Canada) Bridegoon Tony Lagosh (England) Being Dead Job Done Kev Martin (England) Swinging Like Tiger Lauren Frenz (England) Sadie 4 18 25 41 53

75 81 95 100

116 124 139

149 154

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Charlie Williams

Charlie Williams is the author of the "Mangel" trilogy of novels (Deadfolk, Fags and Lager, and King of the Road), published by Serpent's Tail and due in various foreign editions. He lives near Worcester. 6

‘Nah, I ain’t shittin’ you. It’s just over there in the House. Honest.’ Tony blew smoke out. The wind had stopped and the smoke hung around his head. He squinted at Bunt and said: ‘The House?’ ‘Yeah, the House.’ ‘What was you doin’ in the House?’ ‘I dunno. Just lookin’.’ ‘You’re fuckin’ mad, you are,’ said Tony, picking his nose. ‘It ain’t safe in there.’ ‘It is. I goes in there all the time and I ain’t got hurt.’ Bunt’s words were deeper and more nasal than usual, as if his voice and nose had both recently broken. ‘Yeah, but... It’s fallin’ apart, ennit? Boards is all rotted, and the...’ ‘It ain’t that bad. Don’t be a fuckin’ poof, Tone.’ ‘I ain’t a poof. I ain’t scared. I just... I don’t do that shit no more, muckin’ about in derelict houses and that. For kids, it is.’ Bunt frowned, then bent over slightly, put a finger on one nostril, and blew out a stream of mucus through the other. A passing bluebottle landed on it and began feeding. ‘You wanna come an’ see it, or what? Cos I thinks that what it is, right, is that you’re scared.’ ‘Fuck off, Bunt.’ Tony looked up and down the street. It was early evening and no one was around. ‘Alright, I’ll come. But I don’t fuckin’ believe it. I’m only going to prove I ain’t scared, and that you been seeing things.’ ‘Yeah, I have. It’s the strangest fuckin’ thing I ever seen, and you’ll see it an’ all. Come on.’ With Andy blathering about the usual themes behind him, Gav slipped the package down the front of his trousers. A feeling had suddenly taken possession of him, probably inspired by Andy’s incessant droning on about vengeance and demanding respect. He turned around and drove the knife into Andy’s stomach, angling it up into his rib cage. Andy stopped mid-sentence, halfway through the word “fabric”. There was a brief flicker of surprise on his face, then he raised his eyes heavenward and tutted, shaking his head, as if to say ‘Kids these days, eh. What can you do with em?’ Then he collapsed and died. Gav kicked the dead body until the feelings inside him gave way a little. When he had regained possession of his senses, he dragged the 7

KING SHIT

body towards the hole and shoved it in, along with the other corpse and the bags of dismembered body parts, and filled in the hole. When he finished that, the mound was at least two feet off the ground, even after he’d jumped around on it for a while in his Doc Marten boots. He spent a couple of minutes walking around the clearing, picking up branches and bulky pieces of vegetation, then went back and arranged them atop the mound. He finished it off with a few armfuls of dead leaves, and then stood back and tried to imagine how a passing dog-walker might see it. He found that hard to do, with his brain so full of other feelings just then. Also it was dark, so he couldn’t see much anyway. He tidied up and dumped the gear in the red Beemer’s boot. Just as his buttocks touched down in the driver seat, Gav realised that the keys were still with Andy, probably in his jacket pocket. He thumped the steering wheel several times, then stopped. No time for rage. He had to think fast and act fast. The time for rage was past. He popped the boot open and got the spade. ‘I dunno about this.’ ‘Shhh.’ ‘This is fuckin’ bollocks, this is. There ain’t no monster in--’ ‘I said shhh. Someone might hear us.’ ‘Who?’ ‘Or what?’ ‘Bollocks.’ ‘Watch the stair, there. Somone’s put a big nail in the plank.’ ‘Why’d they do that?’ ‘Dunno. Shhh.’ ‘Who’d put a nail there? Perhaps they don’t want us up here.’ ‘You a poof?’ ‘Fuck off with that.’ ‘Calm down. Ain’t me who’s shittin’ himself.’ ‘I ain’t shittin’, you cunt.’ ‘Look, just shush it, right?’ They picked their way up the stairs, Bunt peering up at the gloomy landing, Tony following about a foot behind, shaking his head. A huge, thick-legged spider scrambled halfway down the hall beside him, then fell the rest of the way and disappeared somewhere near his feet. ‘Aaagghh!’ 8

‘What?’ ‘There was... There was a fuckin’...’ ‘What?’ Tony and Bunt glared at each other. The light was fading fast and they could only see dark sockets where their eyes should be. ‘Come on,’ said Tony, shoving past. Gav had been driving for about an hour before he gave some thought to where he was going. As long as it was out of town, that was all that mattered. And town was far behind him now, so at least he had achieved that aim. His breathing was returning to normal and his thoughts were coming clear. Now that the rage had passed, he could see that things weren’t so bad. Sure, he had killed a few people back there, but they were cunts anyway. Plus he had never really been able to get going in Tuber, so this was his chance to make a new life for himself. A good life, a life where it was he who spoke of demanding respect, and ordered cunts around all day while he sat on his arse. A life where he was King Shit. It was possible. Everything was possible. You just had to get down low and push. He put his foot down and headed for Barkettle. About five miles West of the town, he found a nice quiet spot on the river. Dawn had broken and you could see pretty much everything on all sides. No buildings, fishermen, or even livestock. No one to see what he was up to. He got the package out of his trousers and looked at it for a while, unsure why he was doing this. Several minutes later he noticed a large plastic carrier bag shoved into the passenger door pocket, and used it to wrap up the precious package. For another few minutes he just looked at the watertight parcel and shook his head in wonder, marvelling at the sheer genius his brain was capable of when under pressure. He turned the Beemer around and drove about a hundred yards into the field, then pointed it back at the river, opened the passenger door slightly, and floored the pedal. With only five yards to go he bailed out, hitting the ground hard with his right shoulder and rolling down the bank into the muddy shallows. He tried to get up but landed on his arse again. The Beemer was tail-up in the riverbed, with most of the back end above the water. Gav waded towards it, cracking his fingers and swinging his arms. Nothing was going right today, but he was 9

fucked if he was giving in. Get down low and push. He put his broad back to the underside of the chassis and heaved, roaring, and within a couple of minutes the Beemer was upside down in the middle of the river, totally submerged. Gav reached for his fags, finding them to be soaking wet. This was a major blow and he could feel his blood beginning to boil again, but he calmed down a bit (and even smiled slightly) when he thought about the package wrapped up safe and dry down his trousers. A branch floated towards him and poked him in the throat, ending the smile. It was then that he saw the rowing boat floating around the bend upstream. Instead of scrambling to the bank and making off, he ducked behind the branch and waited. ‘I still reckon this is bollocks.’ ‘Why’s you here, then?’ ‘Just to prove you a cunt. I’ll fuckin’ tell everyone as well.’ ‘Tell em what?’ ‘That you’re a cunt. That you talks shit, about monsters and that.’ ‘Got you in here though, didn’t it?’ ‘Eh?’ ‘I mean, whether you believes us or not, I got you in here, didn’t I?’ ‘Woss you sayin’?’ said Tony, stopping on the top step and looking back at his companion. ‘You a fuckin’ arse bandit or summat?’ ‘Course I ain’t.’ ‘Woss you sayin’, then?’ Bunt reached into his ancient harrington jacket and pulled out a knife. It was quite a nice one, with a half serrated blade and camouflage handle. He pulled the blade out and pointed it at Tony’s stomach. The man took about thirty minutes to drown. That’s what it seemed like, anyway. Probably it was only about thirty seconds, but each one of those seconds dragged through Gav’s brain, taunting him and calling him a loser. When the man stopped twitching, Gav looked around for a place to dump the body. It was a quiet spot but wide open, with paths lining each bank. In the end he hauled the body into the boat and let the current pull him downstream, keeping an eye open for a 10

nice dumping spot. It was good to have some respite after being on the go all day and night. He stretched out in the wooden boat (kicking the corpse into the far corner to make more room), clasped his hands behind his head, and closed his eyes. The sun was bright now and felt good on his face. After a while he got the drenched fags and laid them out on the side of the boat. The sun would dry them out in no time. The thought of having a cigarette gave him a little boost of energy, and he started rowing towards Barkettle. A little over ten minutes later he saw a demolished building only a few feet from the river’s edge. Still no one was about, so he tied up the boat and scuttled up the bank. It didn’t take long to find what he was after, but he had a bit more trouble getting the huge piece of rubble back to the boat. It was a couple of feet square of solid red brick and mortar, with part of an arrow chalked on one side. Halfway down the bank he lost his grip and the concrete rolled into the mud. Another five minutes and the concrete was balanced on the edge of the boat, tipping it dangerously low on that side. He pushed it inside before the thing capsized, only for the rubble to knock a hole in the wooden floor. He looked down at the pool of water that was already rising, and roared. The roar made him feel a bit better, despite the little Catherine wheels it left spinning around inside his head, but it also got the attention of a passing cyclist, who stopped and stared at Gav as he struggled to plug the hole with the dead man’s face. ‘Hey,’ shouted Gav, smiling grotesquely. ‘Wait there.’ As Gav swam towards him, the cyclist (a young boy of about ten) stood motionless, regarding the scene as if from the back of a classroom, midway through the last lesson of the day (maths). But the lower half of his body betrayed his true feelings: legs trembling, dark urine patches spreading from crotch outwards. As Gav stopped swimming and began wading through ever shallower waters, the boy found his composure. He tried to ride off, but his feet couldn’t seem to work the pedals properly and he fell sideways, hitting the hard dirt path and getting a small stone embedded in the palm of his hand. He left the bike and ran through a gap in a hawthorn hedge, losing himself in a field of maize. Gav reached the path and spent a few seconds looking at the maize, then kicked at the hedge and went to pick the bike up. It was a kid’s bike - a bmx - but it was possible to ride, if a bit difficult with his sod11

den jeans and the extent to which he had to bend his knees. Soon he forgot about that, and the miles between himself and Barkettle were quickly eaten up. As he pedalled away, the wind and sun worked on the black mud that covered his skin and clothes, and baked it hard. Tony looked at the knife, then over Bunt’s shoulder at the wrecked hall. ‘Put the fuckin’ blade away,’ he said casually. Bunt didn’t move, other than to tighten his grip on the camouflage handle, and smile. ‘Woss you playin’ at? Put him away.’ ‘Make us.’ ‘Eh? Fuck off. Don’t fuck about.’ ‘I ain’t fuckin’ about. You wish I was fuckin’ about, but I ain’t.’ ‘You’d better be fuckin’ about.’ ‘Or what?’ ‘Or I’ll fuckin’ kill yer. You reckon... You honestly reckon you’ll get away with this, you twat?’ He was warming to his theme now, cheeks red, blue eyes blazing. ‘You reckon you can play at bein’ hard with me. You ain’t hard, Bunt. You’re fuckin’ nuthin’. And people leaves you alone cos... cos yer thick, and you don’t cause no trouble. But now... You’re fuckin’ dead, mate. Dead.’ Tony started laughing. It was quite funny really, this situation, and he didn’t have to pretend. But soon it became not funny at all. He stopped laughing and looked at the knife. ‘Bunt, look...’ ‘I been watchin’ you,’ said Bunt, smiling now, moving up a step. ‘The way you been actin’. You been trying to make summat of yerself, ain’t yer? Gettin’ in with the hard lads, sniffin’ around the nice birds. You know what I reckon? I reckon you been gettin’ above yerself. I reckon you reckons you’re better’n me.’ Tony, without realising it, had been slowly backing up the stairs, and now he was on the landing. It smelled strongly of recent shit and piss. He could hear cars going by outside, and distant shouts, and a metallic crash like a cage of goods falling off the back of a lorry. All of these sounds seemed so far away. ‘I won’t have it, Tone. Cunts like you starts gettin’ above emselves, where’s that leave me, eh? Makes me the cunt on the bottom, dunnit. Well, Tone, I’m here to tell you that I ain’t that. I ain’t no cunt and I ain’t on the bottom.’ 12

He slashed at Tony’s face, missing by half an inch. Tony scrambled upstairs to the next floor. Gav had only been in Barkettle for a couple of minutes before a copper saw him. The copper was coming out of a public lavatory on a traffic island near the edge of town, doing his flies up, and when he saw the large, mud-covered man go past on a bmx he paused mid-zip and stared. Gav stared back, and thought about stopping and giving him a beating, but just then a teenage boy came out of the lavatory behind the copper, spat a few times into the gutter, then also stared. So Gav let it. It was always hard dealing with two people out in the open, because one of them always tried to run away. He rode on, slowly realising that things were not going to work out in Barkettle. He roared again, pedalling hard down a quiet street in the industrial district, then noticed the sign up ahead, pointing to the train station. ‘Where’s this goin’?’ he said a few minutes later, sitting down at a table. The carriage was half full. Outside the window the guard blew his whistle, and the train pulled slowly away. The man across the table looked up from his paper, then down again. ‘Oi!’ Gav shouted, bringing a fist down on the table, which sent a polystyrene cup half full of coffee onto the floor. ‘I asked you a fuckin’ question, you cunt.’ ‘Well...’ said the man, small eyes behind thick lenses going everywhere but Gav’s face. ‘Ultimately it, erm...’ ‘Tickets, please.’ The man with the paper stopped spinning his eyes around and fished for his ticket, taking the opportunity to get up and leave the carriage. ‘Ahem. Sir?’ Gav stared out of the window and watched row upon row of terraced houses turn into fields of rape and fallow. ‘Sir?’ ‘What?’ ‘Can I see yer ticket, please?’ ‘No.’ ‘But sir, I--’ ‘Just fuck off. Leave us alone.’ ‘If you don’t have a ticket, you’ll have to pay for...’ 13

Gav looked at him for the first time. ‘Didn’t you hear us? I said fuck off.’ ‘Look,’ said the guard, placing a hand on the back of Gav’s seat and leaning over him slightly, ‘I ain’t got time for this. I don’t care if you are a tramp, if all these other customers can pay up, then so can--’ Gav grabbed him by the tie and yanked his face down onto the table, then got a handful of grey hair and slammed him until the blood was pooling. By the time he stopped, the guard rolling limp onto the floor (crushing the coffee cup), the carriage was empty. Gav tried to think. Thinking was becoming so hard, what with all the fireworks going off in his head. He banged his forehead again and again on the window, but that didn’t help. He got up and lurched along the aisle, staggering side to side, clutching his head. Passing between carriages he noticed the door. DO NOT OPEN WHILE TRAIN MOVING, it read, though Gav could make no sense of it. He opened the door and jumped out. When he came to, about twenty minutes later, he had an idea that he was in bed, and that the duvet had bunched up beside him. He reached out for warmth and grabbed a handful of bramble, then swore and pushed himself upright on his hard bed of stones. His jacket was torn and his shoulder was grazed and bleeding beneath it, but when he stood up he found that he was otherwise OK. And the package was still rammed firmly down his damp jeans. He walked away from the tracks, hopping over a low stone wall into a field of ragged looking sheep. They scattered away from him, then resumed grazing at a safe distance. Far away, beyond all of those trees, he saw the spires and rooftops of a town. The smell was different up here. Still shit and piss, but of an older vintage. And another smell, something sweet and rotten. Tony remembered why they were there, in the House. Bunt claiming that he had seen something strange up here. Maybe he had been right after all. Maybe it was here, in this room, just feet away from where Tony was now standing. Maybe that’s what the stink was. Bunt’s footsteps on the stairs. Tony saw another doorway and went for it. It was pitch black now and he had to feel his way. ‘Here piggy piggy...’ Bunt was saying, stepping into the room Tony had 14

just left. ‘Come on, you bastard. Where are yer?’ Tony’s hand landed on some sort of wall-mounted wooden structure. He started climbing the ladder, praying that each worm-eaten rung would hold. At last the trees were starting to thin out a bit. Gav felt like he had been trapped in an immense network of tunnels for hours on end, so dense and sprawling was the roof of foliage behind him. Rays were breaking through up ahead, but the sun was heading for the horizon and not far off it. Gav looked at his watch, and found that he didn’t have one. All he had were the clothes on his back, his waterproofed package, his freedom, and his burning desire to make something of himself. These things were all that he required. He pressed on, making light of the dry, leathery interior of his mouth. If the cunts in Tuber couldn’t stop him, thirst couldn’t either. Nothing could. Gav marched, swinging fisted arms, gritting scummy teeth. Up ahead you could see the first couple of houses. An engine hummed behind him and he turned around, seeing a small bus come into view. He stood in the road and flagged it down. ‘Town.’ ‘That’ll be fifty pence.’ ‘I ain’t got no money.’ ‘Then why tell us where yer goin’?’ ‘I dunno, I--’ ‘A bit redundant, ennit?’ Gav gave him a scowl and sat down at the back. No cunts were going to stop him today. Not even clever-clogs ones like this driver here. He’d proven that. Today they were falling like dominoes, and Gav was the big fat finger knocking them down. He looked out of the window and saw a road sign: MANGEL POP. 21280 ‘Tone? Where are yer? I was only joshin’, with the knife an’ that. I won’t hurt yer, honest. Here, I’m puttin’ me knife away.’ 15

Tony watched him through the hole in the floor of the attic. Bunt flicked the lock knife noisily shut, then opened it again. ‘What I was sayin’ about you bein’ a cunt, I’m only sayin’, like. I don’t mean it. I just... I just been feeling like everyone wants to get on, leaving poor old Bunt behind. No one wants to know us no more. Not even Fat San down the arkie. D’you know what she says to us the other day? “If you don’t start having baths,” she says, “I’ll ban yer.” Ban me, all the time I spends in that arkie? The fuckin’ cheek of her. I has a bath every couple of weeks, at least. Fuckin’ cheeky...’ Tony shifted his leg a bit, which was stretched out behind him and going a bit dead. The boards creaked beneath him. Bunt looked up. At Mangel Central Bus Station the driver pulled up and shouted: ‘All off here.’ But Gav found that he couldn’t move. It was dark outside and his eyelids hung heavy, and he just wanted to sleep. It felt safe on the bus, especially being in a strange town. Not that Gav was afraid. If Mangel was where he had washed up, Mangel was where he would make that new life for himself. People were the same everywhere. They were all cunts, and Gav intended to treat them as such. With his package of goods, and the fists on the ends of his arms, it wouldn’t take much to show them all who was King Shit. ‘Come on,’ said the driver, now out of his seat and pulling his coat on. ‘Shift, you at the back there. You never even paid, so you ain’t getting no favours off me.’ ‘I can’t move.’ ‘You bloody can move. And you will.’ ‘No, fuck off,’ he said sleepily. ‘I just wanna rest me eyes a bit.’ The driver leaned back towards the steering wheel and honked the horn three times, then said: ‘I suggest you opens em and looks out that window there. See that pub, the one painted black and with the blinds drawn?’ Gav turned his head lazily. The pub was only a few yards away. One of the blinds flew up to reveal a fat, bald-headed man in a short-sleeved 16

shirt. Several other heads (either bald or severely shorn) gathered behind him. ‘Landlord there is my brother, and he’s got a shotgun behind the bar. He’s also got a lot of lads in, seeing as it’s darts night. They like a bit of sport, the lads. What they don’t like, though, is strangers. And nor do I. Specially filthy strangers who leaves a mess all over the seats. Now get off my fuckin’ bus, before I honks the horn again.’ Gav found himself on his feet, shuffling down the aisle. He didn’t even make eye contact as he went past the driver. There was a time for all that, and it wasn’t now. Right now it was time for food, drink, and sleep. He drifted down one road and up another. No one was about, which was a good thing. His whole body was numb, and it hurt his eyes to keep them open. The smell of food hit his nose and he drifted towards it. A sign seemed to say BUGGER OFF (though in reality it read BURGER CITY). Gav shrugged and went inside. The aroma of deep fried objects gave him just enough energy to read some of the words up on the wall behind the counter. ‘Burger,’ he said to the young woman. ‘What sort of burger would you--’ ‘Just giz a fuckin’ burger. An’ chips.’ ‘Yes but--’ ‘Go on, fuck sake. And some pop.’ He looked around while he waited. There was a middle-aged woman sat on her own at a table nearby. Gav stared at her, without realising it, until she got up and ran to the toilets, leaving her tea and hot apple pie. ‘Sir,’ said the girl. She handed over a paper bag of food and asked for some money, but Gav ignored her and walked away, picking up the apple pie as he went past. He walked down the road, eating and drinking, bloodshot eyes darting all over the place. He kept seeing things in his peripheral vision, people darting around in the shadows, tracking him. But when he looked there was no one there. He felt a bit drunk, wandering off the pavement and tripping as he remounted the kerb, dropping a handful of chips, and he knew it was the fatigue. He had work to do in this town, a new kingdom to conquer, but he couldn’t do it unless he was in the right shape. As he thought about all of this, it started to rain. 17

He opened his mouth to roar one more time, then remembered that it was all about pushing and keeping on going. It was then that he looked up and saw the abandoned house, set back high from the road. ‘For fuck sake, Tone... I never meant it, right?’ Bunt was sat down, picking his nose with the blade of his lock knife. He’d being doing this for about a minute, and Tony had been praying for him to slip and slice through a nostril. Anaemic yellow light filtered through the dirty window from the street outside, turning Bunt’s brown hair a nasty shade of green. Tony was starting to wonder if he’d ever get out. People had said things about Bunt. No one ever believed them, but people said them. Tony believed them now. ‘I knows yer up there, Tone. I fuckin’ heard you. I’m waitin’ here on you comin’ down, and I ain’t movin’, right? All I wants is us to have a chat and set things straight. No blades, no aggro whatsoever. But don’t make us come up there. If I comes up there, I’ll slit yer. I knows how to do it and all. Ears first, then yer tongue. Then I’ll pop yer eyes out an’--’ The monster walked into the room. His eyes were on Bunt and his arms were half-raised, like a zombie. He looked very much like a zombie, actually, with his rotten skin flaking off and the way he lurched. Strangely, he brought the aroma of chips with him. Tony thought about shouting a warning to Bunt, who was still going on about something and had his back was turned. The monster was almost upon him, directly beneath Tony’s spy-hole. But he didn’t shout a warning to Bunt. Fuck him. Let his monster get him. The monster roared. Tony flinched. It was a pretty scary sound. The boards creaked under him and then gave way completely. He fell, landing on top of the monster, stopping dead its roar. ‘See,’ said Bunt, standing in the corner now, knife out. ‘I fuckin’ telled yer.’ He walked slowly over and looked down at the slain monster. ‘I telled you there was a... a...’ 18

Tony was still on top of the thing, and couldn’t get off. He pushed down on something but his shoulder was in agony. Chunks of dried skin and flesh came off in his hand. ‘Bunt...’ he shouted, ‘I can’t...’ Bunt leaned over and picked something out of the tangled mess. It looked like a plastic bag, dripping and covered in grime. Then he reached down to Tony’s face and cut it deep, ear to mouth, and ran. Tony held his breath for a few moments, tears welling in his eyes, holding in a scream. Footfalls clattered down the stairs. A siren went past outside, then faded. When he was ready to scream, the monster put a hand over his mouth.

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Dave Balfe

Dave Balfe had a long and illustrious career in the music biz ranging from the legendary Teardrop Explodes to Blur, but now he says he's just another bloody writer fantasising about killing people, nastily. 20

GUYS & GUNS
I don’t believe in hate, but I hate. I don’t believe in violence, but I was angry. I don’t believe in kidnapping, torture and murder, but... Even the bastard psychos amongst us want to be nice. They do. And most genuinely think they are nice. Cos it’s easy to be nice to nice people, to people we like. The real test is when you’re feeling righteous, when you feel angry, when the person you’re really angry and righteous about is in front of you, when that person’s in front of you and nobody else knows where they are. Nobody. When you can do what you want, and they can’t stop you, and nobody will ever know. Now that’s a test for your principles, a test for your soul. What are you really, deep down, just you alone, without all that keeps you in line keeping you in line? I took the test, and I found out things. I found out I’m the same as him. Almost. That’s what we all like to say - almost. We pretend that that little difference matters. You don’t need to know what he did. It was bad enough, okay? Fucking vile. Sickened me. Really, it did. I felt… There’s no words for what I felt. I felt…….I felt like I had to do something about it. I had to do something about it. Okay? I couldn’t not. It was worse than what I’ve done to him. Far, far worse. I don’t care if you don’t believe me, it was. No, I’m not saying what. I don’t even want to think about it, I don’t want those pictures back in my head. Don’t ask again. No, I couldn’t have gone the police. It’d be just my word against his, plus anyone he wanted to get in to lie for him, which he would, with ease. Then there’s the lawyers he’d buy. They’d persuade you black was white. Cos there was no other witnesses, no evidence, nothing. Just me. Look I’m all for courts, and judges, rule of law, all that stuff. I understand, society’d be a mess without them. If you break the odd rule, if they catch you, even if you have to pay a price, we all know it’s for the best. Even the worst of us don’t want our mum’s raped with impunity, 21

our kids fucked over. You don’t have to be Einstein to work that one out. But…….And it’s a big BUT. But what do you do when only you know something. I mean really know something - never mind what can be proved with evidence and all that - something that nobody else knows. Something that you’ll never, ever, be able to prove objectively, in a court of law. What do you do? What would you do? Think about it. Nothing, that’s what you’d do. Fuck all. And you’d think yourself better than me for not doing it. What did I do? Well, I got him as he came out this girl’s house. Lap-dancer. I knew he went back there most Fridays. I’d been there once with him. Knew he’d probably be on his own. He was. Waited a couple of hours. Never stays the night, has to get home to the missus. Sweating, I was, standing behind the fence, shaking. But, Crack! Smack him on the head with a hammer and he’s on the floor like anybody. Searched him, took his keys, took his gun, took his knives, pulled him, lifted him, hard, into the boot of his own Lexus. Down the A40 - you drive very carefully with a body in the boot - till I got here. Pulled him out, still unconscious, careful though, tied his hands, he’s a tough fucker. Thought he might be dead, but no. Wish he had been, looking back. Would’ve saved some nastiness. I dragged him down the steps, into the old cold-storage. The refrigeration doesn’t work any more, but it’s still fucking cold down there this time of year. Stripped him. Cuffed him. Chained the cuffs to a pipe fat, solid one. Pissed on him. Don’t know why. Something psychological I suppose. Look, I told you, I was fucked off he’d put me in the position to have to do this. He started coming round, just moans and groans, no sense. I looked hard at him. I’d been mainly worried that half way through my feelings might change. My commitment, my emotion, might dribble away. I wouldn’t have enough hate left to finish it off. He’s not the kind of guy you can leave half-finished, not like this, not without con22

siderable personal fucking danger. But now I felt that wasn’t going to be a problem. I was ready to take this to its conclusion. Which was certainly a fucking relief. I left him there. Locked the storage door. They wouldn’t hear him upstairs even if there was anyone working there anymore. They certainly couldn’t hear him in any of the buildings nearby, even if it was daytime on a weekday and they were occupied. I took his car, drove it half an hour away, up a country lane, set it on fire, along with his clothes. Walked a mile to the minicab place I’d marked out, baggy parka, hood up. Got a cab to Uxbridge, then a completely separate one back to the shops, then walked the last half mile back here. So, like I said, my arse was completely covered. His wasn’t. It was pink, goosebumped and as unhappy as the rest of him. “Fucking hell, Pete, thank God. How’d you find me?” Pause for effect. “I put you here.” “YOU WHAT!?!?!?!?!?” “I put you here.” He couldn’t say anything then. He couldn’t compute it. You don’t know me, y’ see. He does. This isn’t the kind of thing I do. By a long chalk. But he eventually got it. “They were fucking Slovakian!!!” “Thank you. There was still the slim possibility that I’d hallucinated the whole business, that I’d gone bonkers, but you’ve eliminated that. That’s important to me.” “You fucking ponce. I. Will. Kill. You.” “You make it easier for me, Mr Richardson. Sir. My problem isn’t courage, my problem’s conscience.” “I can’t fucking believe this. Fucking Slovakian sluts, there’s thousands more where they came from!” “Oh, well that’s okay then. Long as we’re not going to run out of ‘em, you can do what you want. Hadn’t thought about that. Sorry.” “I knew it fucking bothered you. I could see. Thought, if anything, you’d go the cops. But I wasn’t really worried about that. Never fucking dreamt you’d try…...” He laughed. Yes, laughed. Some people! You knock ‘em unconscious, kidnap ‘em, strip ‘em, piss on ‘em, lock ‘em up and leave ‘em in the 23

cold. They still laugh at you. What’s a guy got to do? I tell you what a guy’s got to do. I pulled out the gun and shot him. Aimed for his leg, for his ankle, but it jerked in my hand. I’d never shot someone before. Never shot a gun at all. It him in the groin. He stopped laughing, stuck his finger down below his tangle of pubic hair, pulled it out, looked at the blood all over it. He sat down, carefully, delicately. Seems I’d done the right thing. He looked at me differently. I don’t believe in guns either. Hate them, in fact. But, at that moment, I knew well why they existed. Why they were so loved, by so many. Why men say, ‘Out of my dead hands’, with tears of conviction. Not many of us were the toughest in school. No more than, say, one in a hundred. Were you? I remember Tony Worsley, toughest in my year. A bastard. But even he must have had bigger bastards he feared. Older, nastier, more skilled ones. Who can forget that fear? And far worse than the fear, the shame. A deep masculine shame, something that stays with you for years afterwards, for the rest of your life. Sucking something important out of you. You stop worrying about it somewhere in your twenties, but that doesn’t mean it’s gone away. It’s just become who you are. Don’t ask me about women. But men. No matter how hard we repress, pretend, deny, wipe, re-write our own personal history. There’s a weak, vulnerable, pathetic, inferior feeling, somewhere dark in the back of you, still pulling important strings. So ever-present you don’t even realise it’s still there. But when you’ve a gun in your hand, it goes away. IT GOES AWAY!!! Like a constant sound clicking off, that you only noticed was loud and irritating when it went. That’s what it felt like to hold that gun and shoot him. Except it wasn’t just an irritating sound went away, it was something far greater, large as my whole life. Better than a big cock, better than big money, better than presidential power, holding a loaded gun, pointing it at a man, and nobody ever knowing. Let somebody from back at school try again, now. Let all those, who once did, try again. Please. 24

But they’re not here. Only he is. He’ll do. I’m not stupid. I’m an intelligent, well-educated, self-aware, thoughtful, reflective person. I am! But I can see that, though his crime was great, he is not paying the penalty merely for it alone. Inside me floodgates have burst open, something pent up is being released. Now that I have a deserving recipient. Believe me, he deserves anything I could do to him. Anything I will do to him. Many times over. Honest. I’m lucky in a way. Lucky to have found him. If only all of us could find that target. And the right set of circumstances. The man who allows you to really express yourself - anger, punishment, pain, injury, death, and then washes your conscience clean with their enormous guilt. Not only with what he’s done, but with what he would go on to do. Cos he would. “You’d do it again.” I told him, hoping for confirmation. He didn’t deny it. He looked up from his groin to me. He was no longer stunned. I could see his eyes were bright, alive, betraying the myriad cold calculations going on behind them. There was no pool of blood spreading below. The injury must be minor. He hadn’t cried out when he’d been hit, which had impressed me. I didn’t like to be impressed. Should I shoot him again? That’s the problem with guns. A casual thought, a little question, passes through your head and the next thing there’s another hole in another human. But to call it a hole is a gross simplification. There’s a mashing up of flesh and bone below his left knee, a gory splintering, a shattering, a bloody mess. There’s no hole. He certainly cried out this time. I felt good again. I’m starting to understand this alternative universe I’ve entered – You hurt someone, you feel good. Maybe I was wrong all this time, all my life. Abiding by a wimp’s morality, only because I was a wimp. A gun in your hand let’s you see the world as it really is, not like you’d like it to 25

be, as you pretend it is. With a gun in your hand you can step up to the plate and play the real game, like the soldiers, the cowboys, the gangsters – like heroes. The boys that play the big-boys’ game - life & death. That’s why we watch the films, why we read the books, cos underneath we know the truth of it. Even as we deny it. I liked the look in his eyes now. The pain had removed the calculation. The pain had removed the confidence, the superiority. The pain had taken his essence, that bully power, his superior masculinity, and given it to me. A transaction had occurred. He recovered enough to look into my eyes. He saw that I was not worried, not scared, not unhappy. He saw that I was stronger now than when I’d brought him here. He saw that his life would end here, very soon. “You fuckin’ cunt. You fuckin’ slimey little ponce. You’re fucked. You’re so fuckin’ fucked, you’re…….fucked!” I shot him in the chest. It didn’t kill him. So I shot him in the stomach. That didn’t either. “Cunt!” His last word echoing his first sight. How fucking poetic can you get. Better kill him now before he spoils it. In the head, like in the films, worked. Five shots. I really enjoyed every one. A lot. I think I might try that again.

26

Ray Banks

Ray Banks' first novel The Big Blind was published by PointBlank in 2004. The first novel in the Cal Innes series, Saturday's Child, is out in May 2006 with the sequel in September. He also enjoys an all-star line up in the Ken Bruen edited Dublin Noir and his Bullet story "Real Gone" has been picked for Maxim Jakubowki's annual Best Of collection. But, y'know, he really doesn't like talking about himself in the third person, so pop over to www.thesaturdayboy.com for more.

27

THE KING IS DEAD
“Point of nine, centre field nine, mark the nine, pay the field. Nineninenine, just like mine, German birth control. That’s a Jesse James, a forty-five, waaaaaarming for the shooter...” The stickman acts like he’s auditioning for his own sitcom, but he doesn’t have a laugh track and he’s not going to get one from me. Save it for the rednecks, kidda, because this lad’s heard it all before. With the warmth of a double Jim Beam no ice, a climate-controlled gaming floor and the cold-sweat desperation that comes with a hardcore wager, I let the dice skitter across the layout. Five-six. “Yo, Adriaaaaaaan. Yo-eleven, good field, good come, pay the come, baby, yooooo.” Fuckin’ get in. Got the box man staring at me now, the pile of chips in my rack growing larger. Pick and play, up the front line bet and get the dice back to me, keep the fuckers running. No room in this pit for cold bones. And nobody thinks anything of a ’68 Comeback Elvis rolling ‘em like they burn his hand. This is Vegas, baby. Elvis fucking city. Supposed to be, anyway. The Imperial Palace, home of Legends In Concert. Also the home of a karaoke contest that gets you an audition for that very same gig. Third Thursday of the month, every three months. And I scoped out the competition: a tone-deaf and balding Paul Simon, a tassel-era Nutbush Tina Turner giving the floor a proper kicking. I thought I’d nail it. Had everything I needed, the best man should’ve won. Except this isn’t the King’s city. Vegas belongs to Sinatra. “Fuckin’ Blue Eyes,” I yell, and let the dice go. A fat, grey-haired mook in a fuckin’ dime-store suit, churning out a phlegm-thickened version of “My Way”. Couldn’t have picked a more ridiculous song. But this Sinatra must’ve had that old Frank magic or the fuckin’ mob on his side, because I’d burned, trembled, killed the audience, and he walked out the winner. He got the audition. I got five hundred dollars and six months before I could re-enter. “OJ roll, folks! Two die outside!” The stickman retrieves the dice, pushes them my way. Big grin on his 28

face and patter that’ll get him sporting that stick up his arse in a minute. “Keep ‘em out of the pit if you don’t mind...” I shook and threw. Keep ‘em warm. “Doesn’t matter, doesn’t matter, doesn’t matter... seven out!” “Fuck’s sake.” I stop myself lunging for the stickman, use the energy to gather up the rest of my chips and push away from the table. A fat woman in a patterned dress smiles at me as I squeeze past her. “Okay, folks, coming out, new selection, new direction... new erection, use protection, yukkie lung yadie shootin’...” I glance at the new shooter, a blonde with cleavage a man could quite happily die in. “I love Elvis,” says the fat woman. “Get fucked,” I say. Her face crumples. She starts to say something else, but I’m already on my way to the bar. **** I’d studied them, all the greats. If you want to be an Elvis tribute artist, you have to do your homework. Because there’s no impersonation involved. Those daft twats who call themselves impersonators are fucking jokes on the circuit. They have no respect for the King, and no respect for themselves. They’re the first-timers, the ones with the strut, the lip, insisting that people call them Mr Presley when they’re in costume. And then they can’t understand why they’ve never managed to get out the karaoke bars. If there’s one thing that turns a judge off, it’s a tribute artist who thinks he’s the real deal. In competition, there’s no point in imitating the King. You do that, you’re bound to fall hard and fast. Besides, in competition, you’re not up against Presley, you’re up against other tribute artists. So I studied those guys. Jimmy Ellis had the pipes. There was no doubt about that. Good Morn29

ing America did a scientific scan of his voice (unidentified at the time) and the computer pronounced it an exact match of the King. That was science in action right there. Ellis wasn’t a threat anymore – him and his wife were killed by robbers in 1998 – so I had to scour his back catalogue, listened to that voice with my eyes closed, felt the tone and vibration in the back of my throat. Then there was Rick Saucedo. The man sounded great and he was a dead spit. But he was Late King. You looked around the best tribute artists, most of them were. Sun or Vegas, some with a touch of the GI Blues, but very few with my expertise. So I had to be careful with my studies. Check out the difference between Sun and Vegas Elvis and tell me there’s not a major tonal shift. I was somewhere in the middle, the ’68 Comeback Special. If I was honest about it, I should’ve taken Travis LeDoyt’s lead and paid tribute to an Elvis who was a little more in my age bracket. But the Sun years bored the shit out of me. That wasn’t rock ‘n’ roll – it was hillbilly bullshit, dressed-up country. And I wasn’t old enough or fat enough to fill the white jumpsuit. No, my body was primed for the black leather. And I had the looks. My mam loved Elvis so much it stood to reason she’d marry a man who looked like him. So it would stand to reason that I’d inherit some of those looks. But his hair went from black to grey, the sideburns retreated and his gut distended with the drink. When he died he had yellow skin. So I could check it off on the list. Voice was a given. Looks, body. I had the moves too. But all that still wasn’t enough to be a winner. The main guys, blokes like Roy LeBlanc and Fred Wolfe, they weren’t just about the superficial shite. They possessed something most Elvis tribute artists had wet dreams about: the package. And I’m not talking size here. I wasn’t bothered what fucking rumours there’d been, you stick a pair of socks down your jumpsuit, you’re a fucking impersonator. No, I’m talking about the aura. There’s a reason he’s the fucking King, know what I mean? Not because of the hip swivel or the music. It was down to the aura. And that was something you can’t quite explain. Your impersonators’ll deal with the ephemera, the token gestures like the scarf routine, the “thankyaverramoosh”, the chito ryu and kenpo 30

moves. But you want the aura, you have to love Elvis. It’s that fucking simple. LeBlanc and Wolfe loved Elvis. And so did my mam. I learned all about loving the King from my mam. My mates came round after school, she’d be pottering around the house with Return To Sender playing in the background. And they’d be thinking, Christ, what a fuckin’ lunatic. But she was single-minded. Everything she could have, she had. Elvis T-shirts, mugs, posters, those nasty commemorative plates you saw advertised in the back of the Sunday magazines, an Elvis lamp, an Elvis tea cosy, badges, buttons, coasters, ashtrays and shot glasses. At Christmas, it was the Presley festive album on repeat, a gyrating Santa on top of the telly. My dad would be piss-drunk, sparked out in front of Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise, a half-empty Elvis decanter by the side of his recliner. What they say about crack babies, the mother’s an addict and so’s the kid? Bang on accurate. I didn’t stand a chance. Love of the King was in my blood at birth. But nobody could’ve beaten my mam. She had all the love in the world. That’s what the vicar said at her funeral, anyway. **** A few more double Jim Beams no ice and I’m mellow enough not to think about the cash I just dropped. When I first got to this country, I had to drink the spirits because the beer was so piss-weak. The taste stuck with me. Anywhere else, it’d be expensive. Not in Las Vegas, where alcohol’s nothing more than a gambling lubricant. I finish my drink, order another one. Look up the bar and there’s the blonde from the craps table. The pit light had been flattering to her. Now she looks like a job lot of plastic surgery half-melted. “Not as ‘yukkie’ as they made you out to be, huh?” I say. Or as “lung”, I think. “Excuse me?” I shake my head. “Ah, forget it.” She smiles to herself, orders a blue drink that comes with enough accessories to furnish Barbie’s Malibu pad. “You’re British.” “Sometimes.” “Only sometimes?” She cocks her head. 31

Jim Beam brings the King out: “Other times I’m honest-to-goodness Tupelo, missy.” “Tupelo,” she says, her accent lilting all southern, like. “You know Mississippi?” “I know Elvis.” “You’re a tribute artist, am I right?” I sip my drink. “Thought you were going to say impersonator.” “I know the difference, honey.” “Sure you do.” “What’s your name?” she says. “Brian.” “You’re a good-looking guy, Brian.” “Cheers.” Her lips make a red bow over the straw. She looks at me with wide blue eyes. Then she says, “You want to make some money?” **** This office looks like it belongs to a lawyer. Wood panelling on the walls, a well-stocked bookcase. The only difference is the scattering of framed photos behind the desk, each one of them showing off the kind of escorts the place has to offer. She filled me in on the way over. The blonde’s name is Francesca Coyle (“Call me Frankie – everyone else does...”) and she used to be Dolly Parton, which explains the surgery and the tits. Worked as a celebrity escort before she thought she’d set up her own business. “I couldn’t do it anymore, Brian. The moment Dolly went back to her roots, won all those Grammys, I couldn’t carry on playing the nine-tofive. It didn’t seem right to abuse her like that.” “I can see that,” I say. “You’re a tribute artist, you know about respect. Got to love the person you’re being, am I right?” “Yeah.” “You don’t love that person, you can’t love yourself. And who’s going to love someone who doesn’t love themselves?” I can’t think of anything to say, so I shrug and smile. “Women love Elvis,” says Frankie. “That’s right.” “Men love Elvis, too.” “I’m sure they do.” “You got anything against homosexuals, Brian?” 32

I smile. She doesn’t match it. It’s a serious question. “No. I’ve got nothing against them. Where’s this going?” “You know what we do here.” “Escort service.” “That’s right.” She taps a pad in front of her with one long red fingernail. “And what I’m asking you is, do you want to limit yourself and the money you’re likely to make?” “You want to set me up on a fuckin’ date with a gay bloke?” “You’re ’68, Brian. You’re black leather. That’s a niche market.” “What you trying to say, Frankie?” She raises her hand and gives me a too-white smile, a perfect Parton. “I’m not going to make you do anything you’re uncomfortable with. You don’t want to be seen out on the town with a gay guy, that’s cool. You’re straight, got yourself some little ole macho principles.” “Wait a second, Frankie, I’m...” I have to take a moment. “I need the money. And you set me up on a date with a bloke, that’s fine. But nothing more than that.” “Believe me, Brian, most of these guys are older’n Moses. They won’t expect anything.” I nod. Thinking, this is only going to be for six months, anyway. Get myself some cash together, hone my act, re-enter the comp in six months and that’s it, I’m sorted. Hasta la vista Elvis the Escort, buenas dias Elvis the Entertainer. “Okay,” I say. “I’ll do it.” “You won’t be sorry,” she says. “Treat ‘em right, and we won’t have a problem.” **** My mam’s funeral, me decked out in my only suit. My dad wasn’t there. He was drunk at home, said he couldn’t face it. Left it up to my Uncle Rob to take care of business. This was the same Uncle Rob who’d sang “Can’t Help Falling In Love” to my mam as she lay dying in a hospital bed, soothing her into the next world. Rob made the choir sing “Are You Lonesome Tonight?” after the eulogy. They’d sung it with all the heart and soul of people who could read music but didn’t understand it. The noise was enough to make the pews bleed. When they reached the spoken word section, Rob turned around in his seat and looked at me. Like he shared my pain. 33

Like, what fucking pain? The thing about cancer was that when it finally ate up the vital organs, when it finally reached the brain and turned the lights out, it was a relief to the family. My dad didn’t notice it, but I did. Wig boxes under the bed. That terrible smell on her. And that promise. After the funeral, I trudged through the slush to the pub. Took four pints before Rob staggered over to me. He was fat around his gut, the rest of him spindly. “We’re getting a karaoke together,” he said. “Uh-huh.” “Gonna do some Elvis songs.” “That’s very fuckin’ sensitive, Rob.” “It’s what your mam would’ve wanted.” “Probably.” “You gonna come up and sing one?” “No.” He put his pint of Guinness on the table, leaned against the back of a chair. “C’mon, your mam would’ve wanted it. You got that voice and everything, it’s the least you could do.” I promised her, right enough. She always said I sounded just like Elvis. Looked like him. I had the potential to be the son she always wanted. “You need money to get over,” said Rob. “Get yourself kitted out. You want to come up and do a song, I can see that happening for you.” “You bribing me, Rob?” “We’ll talk about it after you give us a song.” I finished my pint, got up and pushed past him to the karaoke. Picked the shortest song I could find. “Ladies and gentlemen, Brian here’s gonna give us a song,” said Rob into the mike. “I want you to put your hands together for the King.” Some forced applause. Fuck ‘em. I launched into “Surrender”. Barely scratched two minutes, and a full Presley range. When I finished, I dropped the microphone and went 34

straight to the bar. **** Nothing I’m uncomfortable with, that’s the deal. But it’s amazing how you can change. At Frankie’s house, she’s throwing a party for all her employees. Over by the aquarium, Audrey Hepburn’s locked lips with Marilyn Monroe. James Dean and Marlon Brando are swigging margaritas and talking about their shared clients. Liberace’s in the kitchen with Whitney Houston, trying to talk his way into her knickers. “You know I’m leaving once I get that audition,” I say. Frankie stirs her drink with a straw. “You’re making good money, Brian.” Good money’s one way of putting it. My conversation and looks were the start. Then the hand. Then the hand and the mouth, Listerine burning my gums to take the taste of rubber away. Mr Ross with the hair plugs and the stroke-victim smile. Mr Sutton, the writer who drank Advocat and propositioned me with a creamy scum on his thin lips. Mr Forelli, the man who invited me to see Jim LeBoeuf with him at the Riviera. I turned him down, even though he promised to pay me. There were some things I wouldn’t do: seeing an impersonator trash the King was top of the list. “This was always temporary,” I say. “I know.” She sips her drink. “I thought you’d change your mind, maybe stay on a little longer.” “And why’s that?” “Frankie, you got any more ice?” says James Dean. “In the back, Harry.” “Cool.” He slouches off. Never out of character, that one. I shake my head. “I’m not staying on, Frankie.” “So what’re you gonna do, Brian? Become a Dealertainer?” “Christ, no. I’d rather keep jacking off old blokes.” “Better money,” she says. I drink. “Uh-huh.” She crosses her legs, her skirt riding up. She doesn’t pull it down. “I’ll be sorry to see you go, Brian. Anything I can do to persuade you otherwise?” “Nope. It’s why I came over.” “For your mother.” “I told you?” “Only when you’re drunk.” She smiles. “And only about a million 35

times.” I watch Lauren Bacall try to feed the fish with Jack Daniels. “Yeah, well, it meant something to her.” “I’m sure it did. You’d do anything for your mother?”“What kind of Elvis would I be if I didn’t?” I say. “Very true, Brian. When’s the competition?” “Next month.” She raises her glass, clinks it against mine. “Well, good luck.” “Ta.” **** Mr Forelli’s drunk again. Sitting naked in an armchair, watching me get dressed. His grey chest hair matted with sweat. One hand bringing a cigarette to his lips, the wedding band glinting. “That your first time?” he says. I don’t say anything. “Sure it was.” He laughs. “I know a cherry when I see one.” “Yeah,” I say. He’d sung while he was pushing into me. That fucking song again, becoming a standard joke: “Are You Lonesome Tonight?” “You like it?” he says. I nodded. “Course you did.” He shifts position, reaches for his tumbler of single malt. “I knew it. You were fuckin’ tight.” I jerked my chin at him. “Costs extra.” “You think you’re something special?” “You said yourself, you know a cherry when you see one.” “I know a closet fag when I see one, yeah.” “You what?” He waves his hand at me. “Don’t worry about it, Brian. I just opened a new door for you.” “You opened my arse for me. And it costs extra.” There’s a silence. Forelli stares at me, the playful spark disappearing from his eyes. As if he’s suddenly realised he’s naked. But it passes, Forelli placing his hands on the arms of the chair. “You think I’m gonna pay you extra?” “I’m saying it’s owed, Mr Forelli.” “Get the fuck out of my room.” “Cash.” 36

“No. No fuckin’ cash. Get out, you little fag. Come in here pretending you’re fuckin’ new to this, get me worked up and let me fuck you and then what? You try to scam me?” He gets to his feet, the glass in his hand. “You know who you’re dealing with? I am known, you little cocksucker.” As a drunk. You’re known as a violent fucking drunk. But I’m the one who’s dressed. And wearing boots. “Give it up or I take it.” He throws the glass at me. His aim is off; the tumbler smashes against the wall over the bed. Rains glass onto the pillow. He stands there, folds his arms. “I ain’t paying you for nothing, how about that?” “Then I beat the shit out of you,” I say. Thinking, this is my last job. Fuck Frankie, fuck giving any notice. I’ve got enough. All or nothing with the next competition, then if that goes tits-up, I’m gone. I’m out of this fucking city and back to England. “You got the moves, Elvis? You think so?” I stand there. “That’s what I thought, you fuckin’ fag.” Two steps is all it takes. Two steps and my hand connecting with Forelli’s mouth. It started as a slap, but tension curled the fingers on the way up to his teeth, and then Forelli’s thumping backwards on his heels. He drops into the chair and I put a boot in his naked crotch, grind it. He screams. But the rooms here are all sound-proofed, and Forelli knows it. I move towards Forelli’s clothes, grab his jacket and rifle through the inside pockets. He makes a pained move to stop me and I point at him. “Don’t be an arsehole.” “You got the moves alright.” He smiles, but it’s not pretty, blood spilled from a hole where a tooth used to be. “You’re not gonna get away with this.” I pull out his wallet, take out the folding cash and stick it in my back pocket. More than enough to keep me in the style to which I’ll become accustomed. I wish I’d done it sooner. Then throw the wallet at him. Give Forelli credit; he doesn’t fumble for it. “Thank ya, baby,” I say. He’s quiet as I close the door. 37

**** So I’m doing this for my mam. My wonderful cancer-ridden mam, sucked the life out of my dad with an obsession. Shot me up with enough mythology about a fat, drug-addled singer to beat my brain to a fucking pulp. Made me listen to that crooning fucker until I dreamt in Technicolor, hip-shaking girls in bikinis leaving the sheets sticky and me wide awake. Convinced that it wasn’t the girls who’d made me come, but that bastard, that pelvis, that lip-curl and that soft vibrato. After the pub, after the funeral, I fucked my girlfriend on the stairs. She was dry. She sobbed through it, but I had to keep going, forced myself to finish. Had to prove I could. And after the tears stopped, I dumped her. Fag that. I’d been dreaming of Frankie, and I wasn’t partial to blondes. **** Check into three hotels in four weeks, got to keep moving. Lose the scent and keep practising my routine. Now I’m camped out in a motel out of the city. The desk clerk was happy to tell me – once he clocked the English accent – that it wasn’t so far away they tested the atomic bombs in the fifties. “Really,” I said. “Which room?” “You got Cabin 3. Yeah, it was Operation Ranger. Man, that shit they left in the desert, you touch that and you’ll glow. Even now.” Right enough, the guy had a yellow tint to him. I’d put it down to the pint of Wild Turkey sitting on the table behind him. As I was leaving, he said, “You’re an Elvis impersonator, right?” “Tribute artist,” I said. “Las Vegas loves Elvis.” “I know.” “You working?” “Not yet.” “You auditioning?” “I will be.” “Which Elvis?” 38

I hefted the cabin key in the palm of my hand, looked at him. “I’m Vegas Elvis.” Because things had to change. Right now I’m staring out the window, a cab coming for me in an hour to take me to the Imperial Palace. These past four weeks, I’ve been drinking more, eating what I could from free buffets. It means that I’ve grown a gut. Look in the mirror and a man older than I am looks back, the seeds of my dad already sown. Justify it to myself in that, well, Forelli or whoever, they’ll be looking for a ’68 Comeback. If Frankie wants to pursue, she’ll be looking for the same. I wish I’d said something to Frankie. But she wouldn’t understand. Thinks I’ll keep working for her, make Elvis someone who gets fucked up the arse for a bit of extra cash. Read into that what you want. Bottom line, this is an Elvis who isn’t going to compromise that much. I came here for a reason. And just like the King, I’m rattled and torn by the time I make it to a Vegas stage. Throwing moves for money. A fat, sweaty dancing bear. Outside, the cabbie hits the horn. I shake a crick out of my neck, grab the white jumpsuit and head out the door. **** “Ladies and gentlemen, Tequila Joe is proud to welcome back to Las Vegas, the one and only... Elvis Presley!” Out on the stage as the band whip up a barnstorming version of “Viva Las Vegas”, match them beat for beat, white suit, whiter light, harsh in my eyes. Blind to the audience, but I don’t need them to make this work. I move like him, sing low and masculine like him, curl my lip and think I am him. The aura, that one I’ve worked on all these fucking years, it’s kicking in, energising, forcing sweat. This is it. Finally. Bright light city, that fucker’s set my soul on fire… A thousand pretty women… Shadows moving beyond the spotlight, they’re loving it. And I have a swinging time… And Viva, Viva, Viva Las Vegas. No room to pause, not while the blood’s up. The band segue into 39

“Bossa Nova Baby”. An underscore of chairs against wooden floors, people up out of their seats. The clink of glasses, a steady clap along to the beat. Got ‘em, fucking got ‘em. And Christ, but that’s the point, isn’t it? I can’t see them, but I know there are ladies out there slipping off their seats. Get ‘em juiced up and ready to go. I’m the fucking King. The King doesn’t wank off strangers for cash, he doesn’t put strange cocks in his mouth to suck dry, he doesn’t take it up the fucking arse because he’s THE KING. He makes the sexual rules and they’re all hetero. He has bobby-soxers and blonde hookers in the Jungle Room, he hangs out with Hefner and if he doesn’t like what’s on the telly he takes a big fucking gun and blows it to smithereens. He fucks and fucks and fucks and when he’s done, he has a banana and peanut butter sarnie, deep fucking fried, pops some hardcore prescription pills and then he goes back to fucking. He is God. And so am I. Straight into “Suspicious Minds”, a full burning band and a river of sweat coursing from me. Just like in That’s The Way It Is. The audience on their feet, swept away with the raw emotion, my voice cracking a little here and there, but perfect for the song. Caught in a trap, can’t get out. That’s the way it fucking is, mate. They’ve been waiting for the Late Elvis, anticipating that rat-ta-ta-ta drum and freak-out. A blaring horn section from nowhere, and it looks like I’ve been dragged into this world. When it comes, it’s pure magic. The past six months flare like the stage lights, make me disappear into white. I’m back, King for a night. King for the rest of my fucking life. The band hits its crescendo and crashes the song into concrete. After that, you can’t hear anything but applause, cheering, whooping. “God bless you all,” I say, squinting through the light. **** 40

We both died on the same night, the King and I. His heart fluttered out in a Graceland bathroom, mine just as soon as I spilled from the womb. Doctors fought to save the both of us, but I was a survivor. Talk about your sob stories, I always had the feeling my mam would’ve preferred it the other way round. Keep Elvis in business and have me as a stillborn. I’m thinking that as one of Forelli’s boys bundles me into the back of a car. There’s two of them, blending into one smell of hired muscle. “You did good tonight,” Forelli says from up front. I don’t say anything. “You won, huh?” I nod. He scratches his nostril, looks at me in the rear view mirror. “You know how many bad fuckin’ Elvises I’ve had to sit through? You have any idea what that fuckin’ fruit means to this city? It’s insane. Like he’s God or something.” “You like to fuck God?” I say. Forelli smiles. There’s a glint of gold where his tooth used to be. “I liked to fuck Elvis.” “I was always partial to Sinatra,” says one of Forelli’s boys. “You like to fuck Sinatra?” says the other. “Fuck you.” “Same here,” says Forelli. “Sinatra had class. Wouldn’t whore himself like Presley did. But Elvis was pretty, I’ll give him that. In the day, he was. Not when he came to Vegas. All used up by then. Someone should’ve put the fat fuck out of his misery.” And he looks at me. I look at the desert, flying by. Hear the click of the glove compartment. Another click, the unmistakeable sound of a gun being cocked. “You know they used to test atomic bombs out here?” I say. “Then you’ll be glowing if they ever find you,” says Forelli. “They ain’t never gonna find him, Mr Forelli.” Doesn’t matter how many Presleys there are, Las Vegas is always going to be Sinatra’s town, a mob town. 41

I look down at the sequined scarf hanging from my neck, then out at the desert. The lights of the city are long gone; all I’ve got to look forward to now is the dirt. The King is dead. Long live the King.

42

Allan Guthrie

Allan Guthrie lives in Edinburgh. As well as writing crime fiction, he's a literary agent with Jenny Brown Associates and a commissioning editor for cult US publisher, PointBlank Press. His debut novel, "Two-Way Split" was shortlisted for the CWA Debut Dagger award. His second novel, "Kiss Her Goodbye", has been nominated for an Edgar award (best paperback original) and a Gumshoe award (best European crime novel). His third novel, "Hard Man" will be published in spring 2007.

43

HAPPY SLAPPING
You’re awake? Excellent. Sit up straight. I know it’s uncomfortable but the folks at home want to see you. That’s it. Smile. Okay, don’t. How do I know? It’s all in the eyes. I can tell, even with your mouth taped up. Whoa, don’t get too excited now. Your friend had a little accident. Let’s move him out of the way a bit. There. Okay? Okay. We’ve got a few minutes. Nine minutes to be precise. Oh, yeah. That’s a timer. And that’s an electronic detonator sticking out of enough Semtex to blow us both into tiny pieces. Look at the webcam. The folks at home are watching this, so don’t disappoint them. Stop shaking. Come on, now. Thought you were a big tough man. Right. I’ll go back to the girls. Set the scene. Shhh. If you don’t shut up, your audience won’t be able to hear our story. That’s better. Thank you. As I was saying, not a gang, just a group of young girls on a night out. They stagger past the bus stop, heels and glitter and beer and McDonald’s and fags and backslaps and skirts so short you can see what you don’t want to if you’re not careful. And they’re screaming with laughter, grinding like a herd of orphaned baby elephants. The rest of us, us sober people, sober on a Friday night, mind you, us model citizens at the bus stop, we turn our heads away. Don’t want to see the pissed-up weekend slappers. Don’t want to make eye contact. Don’t want to know they exist. Better to watch raindrops trickle down the bus shelter’s scarred Perspex instead. I smell Denise’s apple shampoo as I hug her closer. Her damp hair tickles my chin. It’s nice. “You know what I wish?” she whispers. I stroke the back of her neck, feel the tiny hairs stiffen beneath my fingertips. “What?” “I wish I had a button I could press that would detonate bombs in their heads.” 44

She’d have done it, too. Some balls on her, Denise. Look, don’t give me that. You’d have done the same, you cunt. Din they were making, you’d be doing everybody a favour. Anyway, she pulls away a fraction and I feel a blast of cold air like I’ve lost a layer of clothing. “The state of that,” she says, looking over my shoulder. One of the girls is leaning against a closed shop doorway, a bookstore, three posters – bright and eye-catching – dangling behind a pyramid of books in the display window to her right. She’s well practised. Doesn’t make much noise as her Happy Meal flows out of her mouth, splatters on the ground. One of her mates puts her arm round her friend, sticks a beer bottle under her nose. She says, “Another drink, Bren, you’ll be fine. Go on.” Bren raises her head, swipes at the bottle, stumbles backwards, teeters on her heels, lands on her arse in a puddle. Her skirt rides up, exposing a plump cheek. Yeah, I’m looking. Don’t want to, but it can’t be denied that there’s a certain attraction in seeing people make a fool of themselves. Apart from old comedians. Norman Wisdom, that kind of dickhead. No attraction in that, is there? You don’t know? Before your time, I suppose. How old are you? Twenty-three, twenty-four? What about your friend over there? Nineteen, huh? Well, that’s pretty young to die. A real shame. Where was I? Oh, yeah. Watching Bren being sick. Not just me. Everybody at the bus stop is riveted, apart from Denise. Her head’s tucked back into my chest. I’m warm again and I smell apples. More yells. Not from Bren but from one of the other girls who’s just noticed her friend’s collapsed. She’s shouting “Oh my God oh my God oh my God.” One of the shouting girl’s friends shouts at her to shut up. She does. Another one says, “You okay, Bren?” “Aye,” Bren says. She grins. “Lucky I’m wearing fucking knickers, eh?” She spews down her front. No pause, as if the vomiting is the question mark at the end of her sentence. Don’t look at me like that. It’s how I was thinking at the time. You’ve got no poetry, that’s your problem. One of your problems, at least. Neither had Bren. Best she can 45

say is, “Aw, fucksake.” Our bus pulls up. I’m tempted to rush over to Bren, help her to her feet, thank her for the show, but Denise is tugging my sleeve. Denise has the money ready, keen to get moving. She’s onto the bus, feeding the coin slot, looking over her shoulder and calling for me to hurry up. I climb aboard, the girls’ voices fading behind me. I wonder how Bren feels, stinking and wet. Downstairs is full. I follow Denise upstairs, watching those wriggles under her thin black dress. Denise isn’t wearing any knickers. She never does. Don’t know why I’m telling you. You know she didn’t like wearing knickers. Saw the evidence for yourself. Not saying anything now, are you? No, that’s right. Where was I? The bus. Up top’s nearly empty. Just five young guys near the back. Two of them kneeling in the aisle sniffing something off the seats, a tall streak of a youth filming the whole thing with his mobile phone, another couple laughing. I can understand why the bus is full downstairs. Ring any bells? Huh? You may well stare into your hands, my friend. How long now? Just over six minutes. Well. Better get a move on with the story, then, I suppose. Top of the stairs, Denise sees this mass of youthful testosterone, figures out what they’re doing. She hesitates. “You want to go back down?” I ask. “Fuck it,” she says. “I want a seat.” We sit at the front, me in the aisle seat just in case there’s any aggro, pretending to ignore the jeers from the back, and taking sly glances in the overhead display panel where the security camera cuts from one location to another. We hold hands. And wait. And wait. And then it comes. “Hoy,” a voice cries. “Arsehole.” 46

Denise squeeze’s my hand. “Talking to you,” the voice says. “You deaf or are you just being a cunt?” Laughter. I can do without this. My shoulder muscles are tensing. Slight twitch in my jaw. Maybe if I close my eyes it will all go away. Nope. “Hoy.” Something hits the back of my head. Not hard. It doesn’t hurt. I don’t know what it is. Could be anything. I’m stoical. Tense, yes, but I leave it be. “Wanker.” And again. This time it hits me a little higher, towards the crown. The laughter from the back is verging on hysterical. I am the source of much amusement. That’s nice. I’m ever so pleased. The security camera cuts to the rear and there’s the culprit on the overhead screen, hand in a bag of peanuts, selecting another salty missile to launch my way. The thin prick with the phone has it pointed my way, wiping tears from his eyes with his free hand. The pair who were in the aisle before are in their seats now, wiping their noses and sniffing. The grip on my hand tightens. “Don’t,” Denise says. Okay. I stay seated. The camera shifts. An outside view of the bus trundling along the shopping drag no faster than if it was being pushed by a bunch of old ladies. I wait once again, knowing it’s coming. This time it stings. And it’s followed by a clatter. I turn. Hand goes to the back of my head. I look at the floor. A tenpence piece. Take my hand away and my fingertips are red and tacky. I’m cut. Denise bends my head down, takes a look. “You’ll live,” she says. 47

“Let’s go downstairs.” “Fuck it,” I say. “Those cunts can go downstairs. I’ll help them.” She tugs at my sleeve but yank my arm away. I get out of my seat, pick up the coin. They’re quiet now. Didn’t expect this. Somebody about to stand up for himself. Well, did you? Tell the ladies and gentlemen at home. Huh? Nah. I toss the coin in the air. Catch it. The tall prick is filming me. I walk towards them. They bunch together. I grab the one who likes to throw things. Haul him out of his seat. Nobody tries to stop me. Apart from him. “Fuck off, man,” he says and tries to nut me. He’s useless. I lean back, well out of the way, as his head comes towards me. He tries again. And again I avoid him. I laugh. Can’t help myself. He tries to prise my fingers off his shirt but I won’t let go. He attacks again, thinking he’s caught me off guard. But, no. His head swings aimlessly. Then he pogos where he’s standing in a frenzied bid to butt me. He’s like a drunk goat. I shake my head. I’ll show him how. Size him up. Then: crunch. Makes my forehead sting, then burn. His knees give way. I’m holding him up and he’s swaying. His eyes water, blood leaks from his left nostril. His jaw’s nice and slack, so there’s little resistance when I open his mouth and shove his tenpence piece down his throat. “I think you dropped this,” I say for his mates’ benefit. I wipe my fingers dry on his jacket, then let him go. He slumps to the side. 48

I grab the thin guy’s phone out of his hand and turn it towards his mate. Catch a nice shot of him choking. ‘Spose that’s the money shot. Cheeks red, and not just from the blood from his nose. He’s twitching. Aw, petal. Denise is behind me. “You should do something,” she says. “He might die.” Bloody drama queen. Don’t rightly know if she’s talking to me or to them, in fact. None of the fuckers know what to do. I do. But I’m fucked if I’ll help them. Not yet, anyway. Give him a minute. His mates are bent over him now, finally, pawing at him, sitting him up. The youngest one – can’t be more than nineteen – is asking inane questions like, “You okay, Dave?” and “What’s the matter?” And eventually Dave’s had enough. He coughs, splutters, and the coin shoots out of his mouth. He looks at me, eyes glazed, drool and blood hanging from his chin. He’s crying. “Hold it,” I say, moving the phone closer. “Lovely little close-up. Waaaaaaait. And cut.” I stick the phone in my pocket. “I’m calling the police,” one of his mates says. Now that’s funny. I have to laugh at that. Denise is right behind me, but she’s not laughing. No sense of humour sometimes. “I’m fucking calling them,” the comedian says. “It’s all on camera, you fucking idiots,” I tell them. The little bastard eyes me. “You can’t get away with what you’ve just done. I’m calling the cops.” I shake my head. “Go on.” So he does. He’s even more stupid than I thought. Hang on a minute. Just want to check the time. Okay. We’re fine. Will you stop shaking? You’re making me nervous. And quit that bubbling. It won’t look so good on the website. Go on, smile for the camera. No? Be like that. See if I care. Well, I better cut to the chase. 49

Everybody gets off the bus apart from the thugs and us and within a couple of minutes the cops arrive, an ambulance right behind them. They split us up, us warring groups. Take me and Denise downstairs. Don’t know what they do to the peanut and money guy upstairs. Don’t really care. We tell the cops what happened. Point out that it’s on CCTV, which I’m sure they already know but they don’t let on. And then I hand over the phone. It’s definitely on there. So we all spend a minute figuring out how to work it. Then play it back. It’s all there. Clear as day. Right from the two guys snorting coke off the seats. The ambulance isn’t needed for the money guy, so the medics trot downstairs and bugger off into the rain. One of our cops goes to talk to one of the upstairs cops. Comes back down. “Reckon they’ve learnt their lesson?” I ask him. “Knowing that lot,” the policeman says, “I doubt it.” “What’ll happen to them?” Denise says. “We’ll take them all back to the station, give them a kicking.” He grins. “Only joking.” He pauses, looks a bit more serious. “Well, we’ve got at least one of them on throwing peanuts. And a coin. He’ll get ten years for that.” Fuck’s sake. He’s got a real twinkle in his eye, this one. I think he’s chatting up Denise. Pervert. “You forgetting he tried to headbutt me?” I say, playing along. “Shaky ground,” he says. “By that point, it could be argued that you were the aggressor.” I shrug. “Nothing else on them?” I say. “Well, we did find what appears to be cocaine. Just on one of the fuckers, though.” “Got two of the hoor-bags using it,” Denise says. His eyes widen at her language. I catch him checking out her tits. “Yeah. Probably get them on that.” He nods. “You two go on home 50

and take it easy. We’ll be in touch.” We didn’t say much, Denise and me. Living at the end of the bus route meant we had a choice. Either we could wait for an hour for another one or get a taxi. I flagged one down, fuck the cost. Sometimes you had to pay for living in a house instead of a flat. Got home in twenty-five minutes at a cost of thirty quid. Straight in the door, Denise went to the bathroom, started running a bath. She was pretty shaky. Me, too. We can be honest, can’t we? I poured myself a drink. Poured Denise one. Took it to her in the bathroom. She was on her knees throwing up. Couldn’t help but think of Bren in the shop doorway. So, anyway, the police were in touch, as promised. Three months later. Court case. Witnesses. All that crap. You remember it? Oh, I see. Still hurts, eh? Good. Your brother, wasn’t it? Five years is a long time. But at least he’s going to live. Not like the rest of you. You should have left well alone. Three down, one to go. What’s the squirming for? Oh, only two minutes. And we haven’t got to the best bit yet. Hmmm. Well, I don’t know about you, but I remember it clear as day. Just finished dinner, about seven o’clock, the doorbell rings. I go to answer it, not suspecting anything. Open the door, catch a glimpse of something hurtling towards me. Just a flash, an impression. Next I know I’m on my back on the floor, my face is stinging, you’re standing over me with a baseball bat in your hand. My balance is fucked. Everything’s spinning like I’m drunk, but I only had a single glass of wine. I’m going to fall over but I’m already on the ground. My eyes are watering, but I can see you, the peanut guy. I see the bat. And I see your friends. All cocky now they’re tooled up. I get to my feet, but I’m still dizzy, and I fall back down. Think of Bren, her exposed cheek. I don’t spew, but I do say, “Aw, fuck.” Cause I 51

know this means trouble. I try to shout, warn Denise. The back of my head explodes. “Jesus,” somebody says. “That was a thump and a half.” How long? One minute thirty. Nice. So I’m on the ground again, my head pounding, and somebody stamps on my face. It’s a stamp and grind, in fact. Repeated half a dozen times. Nice scar, don’t you think? I’m screaming now. Hurts my head but I can’t stop. No question Denise has heard. There’s a noise in my head, a different noise, not the screaming. Blood in my mouth. My cheekbone, my jaw, my lips, my nose – they’re made of fire. Stamp and grind. I don’t know how long she’s been there, but Denise is in the doorway, staring, wide-eyed. Then she shouts and runs. Right at you. Not that it does any good. Cause you stop her easily enough and then you fuckers do that really wicked thing. You may well fucking cry. I thought I’d pass out. You smashed the bone, you know. Took forever to get it working again, and even now, it’s nowhere near right. Want to see? I can’t straighten my arm out. Won’t go any further than that, see? So, there you were. You and your coke-sniffing friend and the young guy over there—he looks so peaceful, doesn’t he?—and of course the tall, skinny prick with his nice new camera. Recording everything. I recorded him, too, a few days ago. He was a real squealer. Anyway, he was recording everything. You know what I saw? Cause it’s stuck in a little camera of my own in my head where it plays on an endless loop. The coke guy says, “Let’s fuck the bitch.” 52

Denise punches him. Closed fist. The way a man would. He says, “She punched me.” Finding it funny, but it’s hurt him. He knows he can’t let it go. I try to get up. I know I’m no use, but I can’t lie here and watch this. You whack me on the knee with the bat. That was a different kind of pain. The coke guy grabs Denise. You hand the bat to your young friend and step up to Denise. Everything’s quiet. Even me. You slap her. Not once or twice but for a long time till she’s sagging in your friend’s arms, her head slumped, nose bleeding. Then you and the coke guy rip her clothes off. You should have seen the look on your faces when you managed to rip her bra off. Wondering what the fuck’s going on. Wondering if you can believe the evidence of your own eyes. And you couldn’t, you thick cunts. You have to tear off her skirt before you believe. No panties, remember? You say, “That’s fucking disgusting.” Denise’s beautiful cock is too much for your little mind to handle. I’m on the floor clawing my way towards you with my good hand, that dead nineteen-year-old kid beside you pounding the backs of my legs with the baseball bat. He’s laughing. Keeps saying, “She’s a bloke.” Telling me I’m a dirty bastard. How long? Thirty seconds? But not you. It’s a personal insult that you could have wanted to fuck a man. But that’s the truth of it, isn’t it, my friend? You found Denise attractive. Not surprising. Nothing to be ashamed of. She was. 53

Twenty seconds. But Mr Macho can’t be seen to find another man attractive, so he has to prove how manly he is to all his little mates. You say, “Give me the baseball bat.” That’s your line. Oh, you’re angry. Mmmm. I know the blow that killed her. The fifth one. Her head’s a mess by then but you keep on going anyway. Swearing at her. Pounding away at her. The bat dripping. The walls streaked with red. You should have killed me too. I was going to ask you why you didn’t. But we’ve only got ten seconds here. Not long enough to explain, is it? Nine. And I think I know why, anyway. So’s I could suffer. Right? Eight. You’re the last. Seven. Didn’t you ever wonder why I didn’t tell the police who had done it? Six. “They were all wearing balaclavas, officer.” You think it was because I was scared? Five. Fuck you. Four. Three. Two. Smile for the camera. There’s going to be a big flash in a second. One. See you in Hell.

54

Breanda Cross

Breanda has just released a faction novel “Shark Arm Unhooked?” A famous unsolved murder of Sydney in the 1930's, when a man's arm was disgorged by a shark in captivity, in front of dozens of schoolkids. Breanda is currently giving seminars to retired police associations re unsolved murders of the 1930's. “Death by Fermentation” was first published in Bullet 1. “The Valentine Day Massager” was first published in Bullet 3. “Too Many Crooks Spoil the Plot” is published here for the first time. 55

DEATH BY FERMENTATION
It was early morning. I rolled over on my office couch, yawned, and choked on the cigarette butt still on my lips from the night before. Padding over to the bar, I opened my top desk drawer, poured myself a scotch on the rocks, and drank breakfast in a single gulp. suddenly the door swung open and a blonde walked in. She was big, she was blonde and she was beautiful. Before I could speak she came up to me and grabbed my lapels. “You gotta help me, I’m in trouble,” she said. “Then you’ve come to the right place” I told her. I looked her up and down. Her dress was so short you could plan a trip to the promised land and be back before the meter had run out. I whipped out my calling card, and with hardly a glance at my credentials she nodded. “I’m a dancer down at The Gentleman’s Relish,” she whispered. “I go by the name of Tutti la Fruit. My brother works at the bar there. He’s in deep trouble with the owner. Please, we need your help.” I knew the club. It was a bit too spicy for my taste. Even so I said, “Well, lady, if you’ve got the money, I’ve got the time. I usually check out at 100 bucks a day, but for you, I’ll do it for two fifties.” My little joke went over her head. Instead, she said, “Thanks, I appreciate it.” I watched her sway on her high heels, each curve going in a different direction. Outside, her white Mercedes was parked in a no parking zone. It was the only car there. We got in and by jumping a few red lights it took us five minutes to cover a twenty- minute ride. We finally cruised into an alley behind the club. Smoke and the sultry sound of a torch singer wafted up the stairs of The Gentleman’s Relish, and I found my nostrils flaring. When we got inside I could see why. A dame was singing, ‘Come on baby light my fire”. She was igniting every man in the room.

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Tutti sashayed her way to the dance floor and began to gyrate in time to the music. She pulled me towards her and held me close. Her hands were all over me and my knees went stiff at the joints. Suddenly she stopped dancing and made her way to the bar. She turned, and disappeared into a back room. Before I could follow she came out again, followed by a heavyweight who looked as if he was on sick leave. He appeared to have more tattoos than i.q. “This is my brother, Duane,” Tutti said. “Duane, meet Wannabe Bond.” Duane’s toothless grin was like a Halloween lantern. “I’ve heard of you, Wannabe. I’ve heard you’re often shaken but rarely stirred.” I ignored his jibe. “I understand you’ve got yourself into a spot of bother with Big Eddy,” I said. “Not a bright move, buster. Adjusting her dress so that all the packaging was in the right place, Tutti said, “I’m just going in the back room, I’ll whistle if I need you.” I was going to say that she could pucker up for me any time but changed my mind. Instead I turned to the human canvas and asked, “So what’s the trouble?” His face crumbled like an apple. “I owe Big Eddy a lot of dough,” he said. I was about to tell him I thought owing dough to Big Eddy might be a bit sticky, but could see he was in no mood for humour. Instead I asked, “Where does he hang out?” Duane nodded behind him, “He’s having dinner in the back room. He’s a gold-card player. Only goes for top stakes.” “Stay here,” I told him. I turned towards the back room. Suddenly a shot rang out. I ran into the darkened room and immediately tensed as I heard the sounds of a scuffle over in the corner, behind a large room-divider. A dame’s muffled voice was crying out, “No, no, let me go. Let me go.” Only a single bulb dangled from the ceiling, and I could see the shadows of a great big dude, throttling Tutti. In a single bound I threw the 57

screen across the floor, grabbed him by his shoulder pads, and pulled him off her. With a much practiced Bruce Lee move, I gave him a left and a right. His body landed on the floor - and his brains in the waste paper basket. “What the hell is going on?” came from my lips as I rolled him over. From the hole in his head I could see he was dead. And would be the same tomorrow. Hearing a sound behind me I reached for my piece, but it wasn’t in my pocket. I turned and saw Duane come into the room from another door carrying a small box. I reached for my sock gun, but before I could get to it, I heard Tutti call out: “Cool it. I’ve got you covered.” Not the way I’d planned lady, I thought as I straightened up. I turned to look at her. Duane had opened the box, and there was my gun carefully stashed on a clean white lace handkerchief. He had a grin on his face - like the cat that had left the bad cream to the dog. For a moment I was confused, then remembered the erotic dance sequence Tutti and I had consummated when we arrived. Now I realised what her hands had been after. I heard a siren as the police car made its way along the main street. Tutti gave a brittle laugh. She hadn’t been in any danger at all. There wasn’t a mark on her. I had been wrestling with a dead guy. She had staged the little charade just for my benefit, knowing I would go to her rescue. Big Eddy had obviously been slugged with my gun just before I came into the room “Bad luck, sucker,” she sniggered. “Duane needed someone to get rid of Big Eddy for him. See, Eddy had a funny old-fashioned notion he could expect a few debts would be paid.” I thought in four letter asterisks when I realised they’d set me up.. “I suppose you’ve got an alibi?” I shouted to Duane, who was still hanging around like a bad smell. His mouth opened in a grin as big as the San Andreas fault. “Sure I have. I’ve bin with my date all evening,” he said, nodding over towards Tutti. “I thought she was your sister,” I said. 58

“Yeah well she would have been if my mother had married her father. But as it was, they never had the pleasure of being introduced. I looked at the dame. She shrugged apologetically. “Sorry, hunk. I’m just the girl who can’t say no. Especially to ten grand,” she confessed. Just then two burly policemen bounded in. “O.K. who called the pigs?” one of them asked, brandishing his .38. “I did, officer” Tutti said demurely. “This broad was hassling me, and Big Eddy kindly came to my rescue.” She looked at me as if I was a social disease. “Then, she took out her gun and shot him.” I decided to play it cool. “O.K. officer, it’s a fair cop” I said quietly, and could see the look of triumph that passed between Tutti and Duane. “But not for me, for them.” I said as I sprang over to the side of the room. “I’ve got something to show you.” With that I began to tear off my shirt and was just going for my pants when one of the cops grabbed me. “O.K. ma’am. This ain’t no Show and Tell school. Don’t add exhibitionism to the rap,” he said. “Far from it,” I said. Then I unclasped the miniature cameras I had secured in my ornate gold tie pin and belt buckle, and the miniature tape recorder attached to my shades. “I’m not called Wannabe Bond for nothing,” I shouted. “I think you’ll find all the evidence you need, officer. Ever since I walked into this dive, I bin recording this set-up on my techno digitally-mastered frequency detective kit.” “I’ll get you, Bond. I’ll glue this rap on you if it’s the last thing I do.” shouted Duane as the cops trussed him up like a turkey. Tutti’s face up to now as smooth as vintage wine was contorted with fermented rage. “Yes, Bond, consider yourself on borrowed time. You’ll never age,” was her final threat. “Sure baby, I’ll drink to that,” I said. I gave my own triumphant grin to the two crooks as they were marched out of the room, out of the bar and out of the story. 59

THE VALENTINE DAY’S MASSAGER
It was Friday night in the down part of town and the drunks hadn’t sobered up from the night before. It was the 1st day of February and I was on my way to a Valentine’s Dance. Hey, I like to be early. My name’s Bond, Wannabe Bond. I’m 5’10, weigh in at too many lbs. and I’m dynamite in tricky situations – it’s a hereditary medical condition that may be terminal. As I walked through the door of the Spicey and Hot Nite Club I could hear the sounds of The Reluctant Virgins all female rock band playing. They were famous for their brass section. The oral sax player was unbelievable. A full size Barbie doll was standing at the door, but when I looked more closely I recognised most of her accessories had once belonged to Pamela Anderson. Her dress was out of place, and so was my imagination. I said, “Hi there, dollface, Is this the place for sex, drugs and rock’n’roll? She looked me up and down, noting where I placed my I.D. and said, “Well, the sex is D.I.Y., the drugs are B.Y.O., and the music is Rhythm and Blues.” “That’s O.K.” I said, “I’m Catholic, and whenever I forget the rhythm method it makes me blue anyhow.” She laughed and it set my xy chromosomes looking for partners. I began to walk in but she said, “Hey we’re pretty fussy who we let in here – and you look like a gal I’d like to forget.” Now I’d heard this kind of talk before. It sounded cheap and nasty, just how I like it. I could see we were going to get on great. It was a square sort of dive, even the female impersonators were women, everyone was in disguise. And in the dark it was hard to tell de guys from de gals, unless you used braille. And I know from experience that gets you into trouble. It turned out the dame’s name was Trixie, and boy, did she live up to it. I asked her to dance, and as we sashayed our bodies meshed to 60

the cadenza of poker machines. She clung to me like poison ivy, and there were parts of me getting a rash. I asked her if she wanted a drink. “Sure she said, an Elvis Presley special”. This was new to me until she added, “I wanna be All Shook Up.” Now this is an invitation you don’t get too often, so I began to manoeuvre her towards the bar. We kept bumping into other couples who had got stuck playing leap frog, when she suddenly gasped and ran from the dance floor. “Hey, what’s the big idea, ditching me in front of strangers”, I asked her, pulling her towards me so that we looked like Siamese twins. “I’m sorry Wannabe” she crooned, “But my boyfriend has just walked in. I turned and saw a big dude with most of his DNA missing. He strutted over and stood in front of me like a towering inferno. His belly was so big his trousers hung on hope, barely covered his faith, and had little to do with charity. It was difficult to realise he was the product of a million years of civilisation. I could see the glint of a knife in the top of his sox and knew it wasn’t there as part of a designer label. “Let me introduce myself, Tacky” he said. “My name’s Razor Sharp, and if you don’t leave my girl friend alone you’ll find yourself with more slices than a cut loaf” “Sure Razor” I said, “but you won’t mind if I call you Rusty”. He growled like a centipede with new shoes and came at me like a kamikaze pilot with attitude. I knew I was in trouble when my goosebumps went a.w.o.l.. I went for my gun in its usual hiding place, but it was a bad time to find I had a hole in my knickers. “You can’t hit me”, I sneered. “Don’t you know I’m a woman.” He stopped in his tracks thinking it over. I made my move. “BIFF, BAM, BABOOM”, Batman would have been proud of me. 61

“KERPLONK, KAPOW”, I shouted again in full voice - but still he kept coming. He used his Jackie Chan moves and I counteracted with Charlie’s Angels. It was a close call. He had me in a half-Nelson, bent over double and began moving things I didn’t know I had. And then it happened. Dynamite. He backed away gagging. “That’s below the belt” he spluttered, holding his hand over his nose. And I was happy to agree. My medical condition had struck in the nick of time. I looked around the room, it was empty. All but for Trixie. She was looking at me with stars in her eyes. “Wow, you’re some mover, shaker” she said with admiration a few minutes later as we propped up the bar. “So Wannabe, how do you make your crust?” “I’m a P.E.” I told her. “A Pest Exterminator” she said, “Hey that accounts for the strange smell.” “Well, that’s one way of describing it” I agreed, “but I prefer to think of myself as a Private Eye.” “A Peeping Tom” she said with a shiver of anticipation that made all her body parts move in different direction. “Why, what a turn on.” I could feel the electricity between us fusing. I made my pitch. “Fancy coming back to my place for a game of tiddley winks” I asked. ‘I’ll get you tiddly”, wink, wink. “Why I can think of better ways to use the time” she said salaciously. “You know, my hands are my weapons of mass instruction.” I could only think that with a woman like this I’d be a willing pupil but asked her what she meant. “Well, I put ads out in all the telephone booths and newsagent windows, that I do Swedish massages – satisfaction guaranteed.” she said with a secret smile, and suddenly, everything she had hidden was up for grabs. 62

We walked out of the club, and out of the story - the moral of which is – women are clever bitches. And no man should mess with them.

63

TOO MANY COOKS SPOIL THE PLOT
Sunlight hitting the trail of dust on the windows suggested it was midmorning. I’d been sleeping on the couch in my office in the down part of town. My apartment had been unavailable since a ‘Final Rent Notice’ had been pushed under my door the week before. The other alternative, to bed down with Attila the Mum, was yet to be investigated. My name is Bond, Wannabe Bond, and thanks to my grandmother I come from a long line of Wannabe’s. She was a Pankhurst Wannabe, my mother a Monroe, and me, well I guess once I got a liking for martini milk stouts, round about my tenth birthday, I was hooked. My mother and I shared little outside the Wannabe name. Home had been a war zone for most of my life. And now it’s only advantage was being in the cheap zone. When I was ready to explore a near-death experience I would try it again. I had been playing solo for well over a month, and the sexual tension was building up. Sex is like air. It isn’t important, unless you aren’t getting any. I’d tried sex with a man once. It was all right, but not as good as the real thing. Don’t get me wrong, there are some men I don’t mind at all, although most of them are dead. In fact the ones I meet usually finish up that way. But for the live ones, well, the way I see it is that men have two emotions, Hungry and Horny. So girls, if you see one without an erection, make him a sandwich. However, right then, the office was as unfriendly and empty as a morgue on Halloween and I was ready for a bit of company. Which is why I was very receptive when the door suddenly swung open and a dame walked in. She was big, she was blond, and no doubt thanks to an accomplished cosmetic surgeon - she was beautiful. She wore nothing but cleavage and high heels, and her perfume smelt like Invitation. “Hi ma’am, what’s a dive like this doing near a girl like you?” I asked. O.K., it was corny, but I’ve never claimed to be an intellect. She laughed and it was like dollar coins spurting out of a poker machine. In a sultry voice that encouraged me to become a born-again pervert, she said, “Hi yourself, girl-friend.”

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I found myself replying an octave higher than soprano. “What seems to be the problem, honey?” Her face drooped and a small frown tried to force itself through the botox. “I’ve got troubles,” she said. From where I was sitting I could see she was advertising both of them, “So how can I help you, sugar?” “My name isn’t Sugar,” the blond demurred. “ Or Honey,” “Hey then, Candy,” I tried, “Sweetie?” The blonde shook her head. “Close, but not quite. It’s Gloria Stits, but everyone calls me Nellie.” “You look nervous, Nellie,” I said foregoing the obvious repartee. “I’m always nervous. I need a man... fast,” she whispered. “Sorry, you’ve come to the wrong place, ma’am,” I said, then moving aside the large sign on my desk that says, ‘Grow dope. Plant a man,’ I pushed the smaller one before her which cranks up my name and credentials. “But if you need a Private Investigator, I’m the best.” I decided not to use the old joke that I investigated privates. After all, I was keen on getting the job: it meant the difference between living and gastronomic suicide. She perched on the edge of my desk, and swung her legs over the side showing off the edge of her Brazilian wax. Then, taking a dainty handkerchief out of her purse, she lodged it carefully under her mascara and began to cry. “I have a half-brother who owes a lot of money to DoughBoy Donovan.” “So he’s outta bread,” I quipped. “That must cut him up.” I knew DoughBoy on a personal basis. Only he was the one owing me. His wallet was in a permanent state of constipation but then, so was his face, and had been since the heel of my stiletto had accidentally found itself on his forehead. He hadn’t liked me much then, and I was probably off his Christmas list. “Do I get a slice of the action?” I asked. She was cute, but hey, it had been a long time between rent payments and I was eyeing her more as business than pleasure. “Come with me,” She beckoned like a black widow spider enticing a mate, and I was ready to lose my head. 65

She led me outside to the Tradesmen’s Entrance where a Porsche was pretending to be a bread van. I got in beside her. She revved the car up until it sounded as if it was being neutered and we drove to the wet side of the city where all the drunks were anonymous. We pulled up outside a nightclub called, ‘Bums’n’Tits’, a beer-swilling, smokeridden haven against unemployment where you could always find sex, drugs and hit men. I knew it well – a real home from home. Ric the barman, disguised as a responsible adult, stood polishing glasses. I could see he had put up a new sign, ‘Guys No Shirt, no Service. Gals, No shirt, No charge.’ “Good one, Ric,” I said, nodding to the sign. On one of my more eventful visits a chair had come in contact with his nose and ever since then he had looked like a humpback whale sniffing coke whenever he grinned, which was often. “Yeah, well Wannabe, there are exceptions, you know,” he smirked. I looked around the room and noticed we had a few new punters. There was a dame over by the bar singing, I can’t get started, which from the sound of her voice left me thankful for small mercies. She certainly had an hourglass figure, but in her case the sand had landed in all the wrong places and was now drifting out with the tide. “Who’s the broad?” I asked Ric. He followed my gaze. “That’s Dinah,” he said, “Dinah Mite. She’s the new torch singer. “Well, she’s not lighting my fire,” I said. “So maybe you need a wick, Wannabe,” he said. “Believe me, she fires on all cylinders once she gets hot. She’s an old flame of Splinter Woods.” He nodded towards the bar. I knew Splinter from the old days, along with his pipe-puffing sidekick Smokey Embers. They were arsonists, but lately had branched out into Occupational Hazards. “They’re both here to get away from the heat,” Ric whispered. They turned my way and their faces lit up when they saw me. “Hey, Wannabe,” Splinter said, “Ain’t seen you in a whiles. As I re66

member you owe me, and now’s a good time to pay me back.” I could tell he had a chip on his shoulder, and as I didn’t want to get into a fight in front of my new client, I said flippantly, “Don’t be a sap, Splinter, you know money doesn’t grow on trees. My bank roll is dead wood right now. I’ll pay you back once I get the lucre DoughBoy Donovan owes me.” Dinah began singing There’s a fire down below and was looking all loving at Splinter. I decided she was a good match for him. Anyway, Nellie was getting restless beside me. “Don’t bother with her,” she said, jealously. “She’s been going down the ladder of success wrong by wrong.” She pointed to the other corner of the room. “My brother is over there,” I peered over to where she was looking and was disappointed. I recognised him from mug shots on recent election posters. Now I don’t like politicians. The way I see it, all politicians are like diapers. Both need changing frequently, and for the same reasons. Apparently the electorate felt the same way. He had bombed at the polls. “So, you’re related to The Honourable Tim Larden,” I said to Nellie, “I can see the family resemblance.” He was dressed in a baggy white suit. Blonde, blue eyed and buttonnosed, looking every bit like the after ad for cosmetic surgery. There were two minders sitting beside him scoffing on Turkish Delight, trying to be invisible. One was short and slim, with a thin, peaky face like a rodent. The kind of fellow whose mind and body go in different directions. The other was just as ugly. Even his mother would have had a problem letting the stork leave the package. He could have passed as twins with a hippopotamus, with the hippo coming in prettiest. He was fat and maybe back in the good old days he had worn his hair in a crew cut. But the crew had long since deserted, and so had his hair. From the look of them all I was in tough company. Even so, if Tim Larden was her brother he was a potential client, and as eating is an old fashioned habit I like to cling on to, I thought I’d best introduce myself. I wandered over towards him. “The name is Bond, Wannabe Bond,” I said, holding out my hand. 67

“My, you have a good memory,” he sneered. Now I refuse to have a battle of wits with an unarmed person, so I just ignored the remark and decided to kill him instead. Then I thought better of it. After all, as my client, my goal was to keep this one alive. He looked down at the whisky he was drinking. “Sorry,” he said, “Abuse is just an old habit of mine,” He looked lovingly into his glass before taking a hearty gulp. “I guess I’d best give up the booze, eh,” he said reluctantly. “My physician reckons I’m a candidate for a heart attack.” I eyed up the triple scotch he was gulping down and thought if it was a heart attack he was after, he was on the wrong kick. My view is that heart attacks are God’s revenge for eating his animal friends, and I like to think that whisky is strictly vegetarian. “Well, my motto is “Eat, Drink, and Die anyway.” I murmured trying to be friendly. “What’s that about dying?” he said looking around nervously. “It was a joke,” I said as I sat down beside him. “So how can I help?” “A hood by the name of DoughBoy Donovan is trying to blow me up,” he said. “Well, you could always beat him at his own game and commit suicide first.” I was on the joke wagon again, a habit of mine when under stress. “Just double up on the pizzas, fries and pork chops, and you can be a D.I.Y merchant.” Mr. Larden gave a wimpy smile. “Enough with the smart-arse, Wannabe, let’s get down to business,” He leant towards me, “How are you placed with the cops around here?” I shrugged. “I can take ‘em or leave ‘em. Most of the time I like to ignore ‘em. Unfortunately they seem to feel differently about me. I’m often invited to join them behind bars, and not ones that serve alcohol.” “Hmmm. Interesting” said the pollie. “You’ve had a few run-ins with them, eh?” I nodded. It was true. There had been a number of occasions when my clients had finished up dead, and so had the cops who had been trying to protect them. Sometimes it got very depressing. There was 68

no doubt I was simply a victim of bad timing. After all, everyone was going to die, sooner or later. I just gave them something more interesting to have written on their death certificate for the mourning after. The blonde babyface looked me up and down, as if I was a bad smell. “Hmmm,” he repeated, “Well I gotta be careful. I’m hoping to be Prime Minister one day.” Yeah, and one day will be quite enough, I thought. He was probably a bastard by birth as well as vocation. As if he had suddenly made up his mind, he hauled himself off his chair, “Follow me,” he said. “There’s someone I’d like you to meet.” He strode towards the far end of the room, veering off through a door set in a recess. His two minders waddled close behind him. “C’mon Wannabe,” Nellie gave a suggestive pout and went after them, swaying like an S bend. Then, making a U-turn, she looked back to make sure I was following, before disappearing into the same room. I was about to tag along when I saw Ric making eye-movements behind him. They were “I wanna talk to you” signals. He came towards me and as he got close he whispered, “The drinks your friends ordered are over by the bar.” I was just about to say, “They’re not my friends and they didn’t order anything,” when I picked up on Ric’s cryptic message. Looking back into the gloom I saw what he was referring to, and my missing breakfast threatened to meet the missing lunch. There were two goons at the bar. One was an empty space of a man who fancied himself quite the dapper blade called Razor Sharp. He was a big-time crook with a low i.q. He sold his services to the highest bidder, and what he did with his time usually got highlighted on the front pages of the daily press. One of his pastimes was cutting people’s throats. “Razor has just come in with Rusty Chaine,” said Ric, nodding to his companion. “They were in here yesterday talking to your girl friend and her brother.” Rusty gave the impression he was depriving some village of its idiot, but what he lacked in brains, he made up with brawn. 69

“Thanks Ric, I owe you one.” I didn’t like the odds. Too many people who didn’t like me were under the same roof, and the dame I’d got the hots for – Nellie – was the common denominator. I was about to make a quick exit out of the door when Razor saw me and sauntered over. “Well, now, if it isn’t Wannabe Bond? How come you’re sticking your nose back in this joint? It isn’t as if it’s Fright Night.” “How are you, Razor?” I smiled. “You’re looking a little dull, or maybe it’s your batteries need changing.” The quip was electrifying. “I think we’ve got some unfinished business, bumrag,” he edged in sharply. “The last time we met I gave you a close shave. This time, I’ll finish it.” I saw Nellie coming back towards me. She ignored Razor and Rusty completely and took my arm roughly. “Come on Wannabe. The sooner we get the business over the sooner I can see how to repay you with the pleasure,” She was purring like a cat as she added, “I can’t wait to get out of these tight clothes and relax.” I grinned sheepishly. “Way to go, babe,” was my only reply. I’m just not good at banter when I’m about to get fried. “Catch up with me later, Razor,” I said, “unless you have to cut and bleedin’ run.” Nellie took my hand, wedged it firmly between her arm and ample bosom, and led me through the door into a small corridor, then up some steep stairs, our bodies melding into the darkness. I wasn’t complaining. I could hear the voices of the politician and his minders in a room at the top of the stairs. She opened the door. It was so dark I could hardly see a thing. Then, before my eyes became accustomed to the gloom, I felt someone come up behind me and push me inside. From the size and bulk it had to be the happy hippo, BaldyBonce. He put his arm around my neck, pulling me back whilst his rat-faced colleague began to frisk me. His hand went into personal places usually only frequented by girl friends. I brought my knee up to his crotch and came into contact with something small and soft. He gave a yelp of pain and staggered back, so I swivelled around and tried the same move with the other leg on the bald hippo. But he was ready for me and grabbed my foot, flinging me across the room like a piece of fluff. 70

I landed in a heap, and lay there for a moment catching my breath. I was shaken but beginning to stir when I could see BaldyBonce making his way towards me again. I put my hand in my pocket, but found only knuckles. Damn, I thought progressing to a naughtier word. I mentally flicked through my karate ‘Black Belt for Beginners,’ and decided on number seven. It involves doing a double high kick from a crouch position, and spinning back into a jackknife dive. Impossible you may think. And you would be right. I landed on the floor with both of the thugs pinning me down. They yanked me up by my hair, and pulled me across the room to another door. Ratface opened it and the hippo threw me inside. It was large, but even darker than the first. I staggered across towards the far wall, and from the sound of the voices and clatter of glasses it was probably situated right above the bar. I could hear a few of the punters ordering their beer, and Dinah singing, We’re having a heatwave. It was obviously true because outside the doorway I could just see The Honourable Tim and Nellie in a hot embrace. If they were related, it was news to their parents. Suddenly a shot rang out and a slug whizzed past. Thinking it probably had my name on it I fell to the floor. In the darkness I could see another figure flat on his back. He was big, and was lying very still. It was DoughBoy Donovan and he was dead to the world. Even if the entire Bay Watch Babes gave him the kiss of life – he would still be dead tomorrow. There was a clatter of a gun falling on the floor and from what I could see of it I realised it was mine. It was a set up. It had been my gun Hippo and Rat-Face had been after when they frisked me, not my virtue. My gun would be covered with my prints, and all of them originals. I made a move towards it, but before I could grab it, Baldy crunched a hob nailed boot over my hand. He leered down at me and the rodent joined him grinning. “Don’t bover to retrieve your gun, Wannabe, I’m sure the cops’ll find it for you,” he said. A clatter of high heels suggested Nellie had come up beside him. Her skirt was so short I could see the San Andreas Fault quite clearly now. She was wrapped around The Honourable Tim and both were smiling. “So good of you to call in, Ms.Bond,” the politician said politely. “I understand that I’m not the only one to run foul of DoughBoy. He’s 71

got a contract out on you, too.” “Yeah, we’re gonner make it look like you and DoughBoy were playing colanders and sieves,” the bald minder said. “Sorry we gotta kill and run.” “But you won’t be lonely,” Tim Larden said smoothly, “We’ve already called the cops. Such upright defenders of the law.” As if to prove the point, I could hear the police sirens in the distance. Nellie leant over and blew me a kiss. “Sorry, Wannabbe. We only needed your body, but not necessarily you in it.” “Why, you two-faced bitch,” I snarled. I wanted to thump her just as I did my Barbie doll. I knew I’d been framed, and was about to be hung. The cops had got so many raps to pin on me I was a candidate for acupuncture. “You say I’m a bitch like it’s a bad thing,” Nellie whined as she began to walk out of the room. “But I’ll take it as a compliment. After all, dogs don’t worry if you call them by another name.” She changed her voice to mimic mine. “Goodbye, Sugar, or do you prefer, Honey, or Sweetie?” She spat the endearments out as if they were a bitter taste in her mouth, finishing up with “Dyke!” Well, had I ever rung the wrong number? Although she was right, of course, and at any other time I would have joined the debate. But I felt a bit inhibited with the egg timer on my life running on merely a few grains. I watched as Hippo knelt towards Doughboy and carefully put a .45 into the fat fingers. He then swiveled them around so that the gun was now aimed at me. Yes, I could see how it would look. The pair of us caught out in a fatal shoot-out. And me caught on the very day I wasn’t wearing clean underwear. Well, mother had always said, it’s always a good idea to plan ahead. But then, the damnedest thing happened. Light suddenly cascaded into the darkened room as the door opened and two figures came in. From the outlines I recognised Razor Sharp and Rusty Chaine. “All right, Bond,” Razor was snarling. “You’re in a sticky situation, your number is up.” “Yeah.” Rusty was almost giggling. He began to count on his fingers in great concentration, “Seven, eight, ten, you’re it.” 72

“What happened to nine?” I shouted, “I’m planning on at least nine lives.” There were two, short, sharp explosions coming from the doorway as more shots echoed around the room. There was a scream and I felt Hippo slump down beside me. “Oh shit, I’ve been hit,” he said in unexpected poetry. “Bloody hell, me as well,” said Rodent as he fell beside him. There was a moment’s silence, then, “Jeez,” we’ve creamed the wrong ones.” I saw Razor turn back towards the door and Rusty was right behind him, the clatter of their boots echoing down the stairs outside. The two extra bodies lay still. The floor was getting crowded. I staggered to my feet just as Ric came in. “Say, what’s going on in here?” He switched on the light, staring at the three bodies lying inert in pools of blood. “Christ, Wannabe, not again,” he said. “There are other ways of getting rid of non-paying customers, you know.” “Sure,” I said, “Doughboy comes dead, care of these two.” I nodded to the two minders, “And they come dead, courtesy of Razor and Rusty.” I went over and picked up my gun from the floor. “Larden tried to set me up for killing Doughboy. His thugs were about to kill me too when Razor and friend had the same idea.” “My, aren’t you the popular one,” Ric said with his familiar grin. “And Splinter and Smokey are downstairs, still waiting in line.” Just then we were both aware of the sirens right outside the front door and brakes screeching to a halt. Doors slammed and I could hear the cops giving each other directions. “Is this the back way?” I nodded to the window on the far side of the room. Looking down I could see a narrow back alley. Ric nodded, and I flung the window open wide, saying, “Thanks Ric, I owe you one.” I made a sudden dive through the window, hoping I would think what to do before I landed outside - although the really nice thing about not planning is that failure isn’t too big a disappointment. But this time I was in luck. I landed on Rusty as he was leaving the back door. It was a soft landing as I trampolined right onto his 73

belly. Razor was right behind, and I fell onto him on my second surface for air. “Christ, Wannabe. You’ve got more lives than a Siamese cat. Don’t you ever lay down and die?” Razor said. “No, and with the cops this close to three corpses I suggest you don’t either,” I said. We could hear the cops making their way through the bar, before going upstairs. Then from the sudden yell of excitement, it was apparent they had found our three parting presents. Crouching low into the shadows, we made our way from one garbage dump to another, before gaining the main road. It was fairly quiet with only one car coming down the Highway. As it got close, Rusty threw Razor in front of it. The driver screeched to a halt yelling, “What the bloody hell do you think you’re doing?” as he got out of the car. “Stealing your fucking car, creep,” Rusty said as he thumped him across the head. He jumped into the car and Razor was quick to follow. “Wanna lift Wannabe?” he called out as the car began to speed away. I gave him the finger and was about to make my way back to my car when I heard an echo. “Yeah, wanna lift, Wannabe? We’ve got a nice comfy car waiting.” I turned and saw two Bananas in Pyjamas closing in on me. B1 and B2 came in the guise of the two cops who I had last seen going into Ric’s. Not only were they banana shaped, and over weight they were oversexed with Russian hands and Roman fingers. “You look like shit, Wannabe. Is that the style now?” jeered B1 who was a clone of his partner, without the courtesy. A closed mouth gathers no foot I told myself then ruined it by saying, “Ever thought of joining the human race? It must get real lonely on your planet.” B1 grinned at his companion who scowled and walked menacingly towards me. I put my hands up. I know when I’m beat. “O.K. So what’s on your 74

mind, officers, if you’ll forgive the tautology,”. “We’ve just found three corpses, and each one had a grudge against you,” B.1 continued. “I hope you’ve got a good alibi?” I sighed. The way my life was going, if everyone with a grudge against me finished up dead, I would finish up with a tally larger than Capone. Resigned to the fact it was a bad night for the telly, and prison grub was four-star for me these days, I said “I’ll tell you all I know, but you probably won’t believe me.” “O.K. Pinnochio”. B1 said as he cuffed me and pushed me into the car. “We’ll keep our eyes on your nose.” It took five hours to convince everyone at the station that I was simply a victim of circumstance, and that my nose wasn’t planted on my chest. So it was the early hours of morning when I finally left the station and hailed a cab. I gave the cabbie the address to my apartment. I figured it was worthwhile taking the chance of a re-entry. After all, my landlord had only threatened to do what half the hoods in the country had failed to do, and I needed a shower and clean clothes. Somebody’s blood was all over me, and I didn’t need the donation. Depressed, I got into the elevator, and just to make things worse, my favourite tune came through the Musak channel. Mick Jagger’s ‘I Can’t Get No Satisfaction’ just doesn’t cut it with a Mantovani backing. Hell, was I that old? I felt I was going around on a turntable and couldn’t get off. In the 60’s people took acid to make the world weird. Now they were taking Prozac to make it normal. I walked into my pad and looked around with dissatisfaction. Since RentaRoom had reclaimed their furniture it was just too damned clean and functional. Even the houseplants were still alive – although none were remotely smokeable. In a state of gloom I walked over to my answering machine and pressed the buzzer. Three messages spoke out at me one after another. “Wannabe, this is your mother: the woman who carried you in her womb for eleven months in absolute agony. Call me.” “Wannabe, this is your mother: the woman who scrimped and saved and wore her fingers to the bone so that you could go to college and 75

freak around and waste your life. Call me.” “Wannabe, this is....” The line went dead as I yanked the plug from its socket. It was like cutting an umbilical chord, but without the pain. I poured myself a scotch. It was going to be the last from the bottle. I sat down in the one comfortable chair and thought about Nellie. It was not the first time I had got taken in by a chick. She was right. I should get myself a dog. I had thought about it from time to time. After all, there were so many compensations. Dogs will forgive you for playing with other dogs, and what’s more, a dog will let you put a collar on it without calling you a pervert. Then again, a dog couldn’t ask you how your day was and congratulate you when you didn’t get killed. I gulped at the last few drops of the liquor morosely. Maybe I was in the wrong business. I had certainly misread all the clues. I thought about life, and counted how many people wanted me dead. Flicking though some opened bills I saw the Final Rent Notice again, and a few others To Be Paid. The count doubled. Suddenly, in the quiet of the night, there was a knock at the door. Three raps. I got up to answer it. There was a dame standing there that would have made Helen of Troy look like a has-been. Her dress was short and tight and her perfume smelt like Invitation. “Is this the right address for Wannabe Bond?” she asked, “My name is Sarse, Gloria Sarse,” It seemed that Glorias were coming thick and fast into my life. Her voice was dripping with so much honey I was convinced at least a dozen hives must be B-empty. I couldn’t fly into the web fast enough. After all, she was big, she was blonde, and she was beautiful...

76

Jason Golaup
Currently studying a correspondence course in Creative Writing, Jason writes short stories and has won prizes in poetry competitions. He is currently focusing on writing short stories and this is his first published work.
77

GETTING RID OF OLD JUNK
“It’ll be a laugh,” Hammy had offered, like Figo was signing for Falkirk. MADchester Revival Night. Aye right. I’d been in The Shed for a full hour yet the set had revolved around The Soup Dragons, Flowered Up n The Farm, n was currently knocking out Primal Scream…...though there’s nothing wrong with a bit a Boaby. Mani should’ve been on the decks but they’d fucked that up as well. So 30 quid a head had lumbered us with DJ Shug - a peroxide blond tosser whose only association with Manchester was that he was a dead ringer for Gary Barlow. But even flabbier. “Jack n coke,” I spat at the bar staff. If I’d had a blade I’d have ripped it across my wrists. “Manchester, la, la, la…….Manchester, la, la, la,” chanted some guys sporting retro ‘Happy Stoned Carpets’ tops. I cringed as I recalled an original top that I’d owned around 15 years before. 15 years, I thought. Fuckin hell. Back then I’d been popping pills n wigging out to Hallelujah n Fools Gold; most of the folk in The Shed would’ve been sampling their first hit a the Farleys rusks. “CALL THE FUCKIN COPS!” yelled a Bez clone. His arms flailed wildly towards me like Superman on fire. I dodged out of his way as one of his luminous maracas swooped where my face had been. Suddenly he froze. Like his entire E-friendly world was collapsing whilst he watched a factory full of disco biscuits going up in flames. A stretch limo could’ve driven through the span of his eyeballs which burned into my crotch area. “Sorry man,” he smirked with the conviction of a serial liar. I traced his feral stare n discovered an embarrassing damp patch… n my glass had emptied. Cheers Hammy. Altogether now. Altogether now...The Farm’s peacekeeping anthem 78

spun on the wheels of steel n it felt like 1990 again. Neds, scallies n casuals loved up on E, trading swords n Stanley blades for hugs n kisses. Everyone their bestest mate…...I even managed to force a smile. But it didn’t last long. Another memory from 1990 became reality in front of my eyes. Skinny Tam. Black teeth. Yellow skin. Parting the sea of flapping denim like he was The Fuckin Man. I hadn’t seen him in years but he hadn’t changed a bit. His coupon was still a bag a spanners. I tossed a JD n coke down my throat. N another. The steady stream of booze triggered thoughts that had lain dormant, but not forgotten, in the recesses of my mind. * * * ..My dad’s mugging...his heart attack n death... ..Tam’s guilty confession to his mates...Wan less nigger tae worry aboot... ...Tam’s trial...none of his mates sticking him in... not guilty verdict... * * * “Manchester vibes in the area!” cried MC Mental, fishing for life amongst the baggy throng. He was fighting a losing battle cos most of them were pre-occupied with nasal sports or stoned n gouching out on couches. Apart from a posse of wannabe Ian Browns, grooving like the soles of their Gazelles were locked to a treadmill on super slow mo. “Whit kin a eccies huv yae goat?” I sneaked a glance behind me to find Tam holding court with a bunch of drug-thirsty teenagers. “Abramovich’s,” replied Tam, “thur fuckin champion,” he laughed. Peter Kay watch out, I thought. Should’ve been a fuckin comedian. “Ten Es, four tabs n two grams a Billy,” recited Tam like he was waiting tables at Casa Trance Dance. 79

He made for the exit doors. An aroma seduced my nose and lungs. A soothing, blissed-out smell. Dope. I felt like loitering to get a buzz off the mellow fumes but followed Tam outside, passively inhaling the thick clouds of marijuana smoke en route. The freezing December chill had me exhaling breath rings like I was back with the hash heads toking on a big Jay. Tam was bent down amongst some trees, shiftily looking up now n again to see if anyone was watching him. He continued with his eagle-eyed manoeuvres momentarily before making his way out towards me. “Any whiz?” I asked him. “Two ticks mucker,” he whined, ambling back across the road n into Queens Park. He didn’t clock me following him into the trees. “Whit the fu -” He’d been caught off guard by the electrical flex that I’d thrown around his neck. I pulled it tightly. Tight as fuck. But the cable cut into my hands. Felt like my fingers would be severed off. Despite the surprise, his reflexes were quicker than I’d thought that they’d be. He grabbed hold of the flex n spun around. His eyes formed to slits n he strained as if trying to recall something. “Ah fuckin know you,” he wheezed. I almost gagged as I inhaled a lethal hit of his foul breath. The stench distracted me, fuckin with my mind. Everything was distorted n fuzzy like a shoegazer’s guitar effect. I panicked. What the fuck was I doing? Was I mental? Off my head? Could I actually go through with what I was planning to do? I’d been there before. Tam had bragged about how he’d got away with killing a coon. So I’d attempted to attack him with a butcher knife. But my bottle had crashed. Shat myself. The embarrassment of my shortcomings had been too much for me to handle, so I upped sticks n flitted away from the area. But I wasn’t gonna let that happen to me again. NO…..FUCKIN…..WAY…..I regained my focus with a renewed sense of verve n determination. 80

Tam’s long leather jacket made a squelching sound as he struggled with the flex. The flex was slipping from my grasp, but I deliberately let it go n decked him with a hook that John Prescott would’ve been proud of….. I grabbed the flex, pulling it around his neck again. “Ah know yae fuckin know me. D’yae think ah’ve furgoat whit yae did tae ma da, ya junkie bastard?” I yanked the flex. Urgently. Choking him. He gasped like he was on the bog wrestling with his bowels. Within a few moments his breathing faltered in staccato bursts, until his skeletal body sacked his shitty life. I rifled through his pockets n found his wallet. Stuffed mine with all of his cash, n discarded his empty one. * * * HE’S JUST KILLED A MAN! I imagined that neon arrows n huge lettering were hovering above me, grassing me up to the bouncers as they checked my pass to regain access to The Shed. I felt like a drug smuggler going through customs. Sweating like a rapist. Sirens, bells n buzzers going mental in my head. But it was kosher. I got in. I surveyed the scene n found Hammy dominating the dance floor. He was a carbon copy of Tim Burgess circa The Only One I Know; his mushroom do bobbing up n down n flickering in the strobe lighting as he cut the rug to Indian Rope. Conflicting emotions raged through me. Attacking like a tsunami: Fear. The cops breaking down my door. Joy. Having the bottle to cancel that junkie cunt. Paranoia. I’m gonna get caught. I’m gonna get caught. Fuck it, I thought, n got my rocks off to The Charlatans. It was like sex. The wah-wah guitar chugged away as the Hammond organ ground in unison. Both going at it hammer n tong, until the track ended abruptly in its familiar orgasmic climax. 81

A machete-wound grin sliced across my face. Everything that had seemed cheesy was now on it. The Reni sunhats exhibiting DIY Jackson Pollock artwork. The Inspiral Carpets ‘cool as fuck’ T-shirts. The floral tie-dye hooded tops. I was fuckin loaded…..n I was gonna have a good time.

82

TK Dan

TK Dan lives in Newcastle and has an unhealthy interest in old punk rock singles. 83

PASTY IN LOVE
It’s when the guy’s kecks are round his ankles, the welding torch is lit and the bolt cutters appear that I realise things are maybe getting out of hand. By this point the women are braying, cackling, rabid. A fucked up energy crackles around the room, as they goad each other on, grinning, baring teeth, almost dancing in anticipation. Pointing, laughing. They haven’t had such a good night out in years, in fucking years. Billy is so excited by it all I swear he’s about to cream his jeans. He looks around, eyes glittering, dumb grin on his face. The kid at the party who has eaten too much ice cream and is in danger of being sick unless he calms down. But Pasty, Pasty is ice cool, their hero the main man, the man with the plan. They cheer and whoop as slowly, for effect, he pulls the welding goggles onto his head then lowers them to his eyes. Billy opens and closes the bolt cutters snapping the jaws together like castanets, Pasty holds the torch mixing the gas and air until the flame intensifies into a concentrated violet bud of searing heat. He turns his attentions to the poor unfortunate hanging now in chains from the ceiling, naked from the waist down. Who, though bound and gagged, kicks out, twisting this way and that way trying to avoid the retribution which is surely coming his way. I step forward, put out a hand grabbing Pasty by the bicep. He turns to me, his eyes blacked out and mirrored by the welding goggles. “Pasty, enough man,” I reason “You’ve made your fucking point.” He shrugs me off with a grin, “Haddaway and shite man! We’ve only just begun.” The women cheer. Pasty and Billy shout into each other’s ears above the women’s din, briefly conferring as to their strategy. There are a couple of nods and Pasty gestures to me. He points to the guy, points to me and then points to the pulley which has strung him up. He winds his finger in a circular motion indicating that I should lower the guy down. With a sinking feeling in my stomach, I make my way across the workshop 84

Play

and, to my eternal shame, do so. The women cheer ever more loudly. I look around. Trying to find her. The object of Pasty’s affections. No luck.

Rewind

We’d seen her around. She popped in the pub now and again. Never spoke and Pasty went strangely quiet whenever she appeared. None of the usual grunting and gurning and “look at the tits on that” type of comment that signalled his usual interest in a woman. Even lost his temper with Billy, told him he needed to grow up when he’d remarked, “canny arse.” She started the whole thing. Stopped us one day on the Shields Road, asked us if we’d heard. I could tell Pasty was smitten then, and to be fair she was a cut above the bottle blonde, Jordan look-alikes he usually went for, all tan and tack. She’d heard a rumour. Someone new on the Estate. Thought Pasty might have heard something and if he hadn’t would probably be able to find out. And if he did find out would he be able to do something about it? After all we didn’t want scum like that living round here did we? Pasty was flattered, I could tell, here was this smart lass, pristine in her white beautician’s uniform asking for his help. “Ah’ll find out, divven’t worry about that. Ah’ll dae something nae bother.” I wasn’t sure about it from the start. I’d asked him, why do it? What’s in it for us? At first he’d taken the moral high ground, something of a first for Pasty, saying we should help “our community.” “Or one particular member of our community,” I’d sniped. I’m not sure he’d got the reference, but he’d known I was taking the piss and grabbed me by the throat, smashed me into a wall. “Never had yer doon as a Gary Glitter fan,” he’d hissed and then grabbed my bollocks, “or are yer getting hard doon here? Eh Bamber?” I’d shook my head, agreed to go along with the programme. Pasty in love. Fucking hell. He had an idea about who might be able to help. Just didn’t know where he lived. We popped into the pub to make enquiries. Pasty banged his fist on the bar to get the barman’s attention. 85

“Davey! Davey! That specky cunt who comes in here with the big newspapers where does he live?” “Ah divven’t knaa’ who yer mean Pasty,” the barman replied as he poured a pint of Carling for another customer. “Aye yer dae, the clever cunt who thinks he’s everybody’s mate.” “Aw John Lennon yer mean,” laughed the barman, “Molineux Ah think.” “Whereabouts? “Er…..same floor as Macca Ah think, but Ah divven’t knaa the number.” “That’ll dae,” said Pasty banging the bar again. “Why do yer want to know?” asked the barman puzzled. “He’s going to be helping me with me enquiries,” said Pasty with a sly grin before turning to me, “Howay.” He strode purposefully to the pub door pausing only to drag Billy away from the bandit which had exercised it’s usual magnetic pull when we’d walked in. “Had on man, Ah’ve got two melons on hold here!” “Ah’ll get hold of your melons if yer don’t shift yer arse,” growled Pasty pushing him towards the door. Ten minutes later and Pasty was hammering on a door in Molineux. It opened a fraction - the only thing I could see was a pair of rimless glasses cautiously peering around the frame. “Evening!” barked Pasty as he shoulder barged the door sending the body behind it flying down the corridor. He stepped over the threshold and dragged the prone body upwards making great play out of brushing him down. “Sorry,” he said mock smarmy, “Ah divven’t knaa’ me own strength sometimes. Ah don’t think we’ve ever been properly introduced but we’ve seen each other around. Ah’m Pasty.” Pasty stuck out his hand and the guy, who I vaguely recognised from the pub, very gingerly put out his. Pasty grasped it and slowly began to crush it grinning all the while, “And what’s your name?” he asked. “Simon,” the guy managed to say weakly through gritted teeth, his face contorted in pain as Pasty mangled his hand. “Nice to meet yer, Simon,” said Pasty, “we need to talk.” And with that he released the hand and pushed Simon down the corridor and through the living room door. Me and Billy dutifully followed and stepped into a room set up for dinner. Candles were lit, soft acoustic 86

music wafted out of the stereo, glasses of red wine were on the table. A bearded bloke in a chunky knit sweater sat at one side of the table next to a willowy blonde. A woman, vaguely hippyish, with red corkscrew hair and a pale complexion, entered from a door to the left wiping her hands on a tea towel. “Simon, what’s going on?” she asked. The fear was already there in her voice. “Aw,” said Pasty affectionately looking at the scene before him, “Yer shouldn’t have gone to all this trouble for us Simon.” I leant against the door frame stonefacing it; I was in it now. Billy began to move slowly around the room, paying no attention to the people, but poking about on bookshelves and in drawers. “Sit down pet,” Pasty said to the woman, an edge of steel in his voice, “You and all Simon.” The woman slowly lowered herself and Simon pulled up a chair. The other couple sat transfixed. Pasty sat down too, reached out and picked up the bottle of wine and looked at the label. “Mer-lot,” he announced finishing with a hard ‘t’ on lot, “Is that a good ‘un Bamber?” he shouted across to me. “It’s okay,” I muttered. “He knaas all sorts Bamber,” Pasty announced to the dinner party “Been to university and everything.” Pasty lifted the bottle to his lips and took a swig. “Hmm not bad...” Billy was momentarily distracted from his noseying, “Aww gis a guzzle, Pasty,” he said nodding towards the bottle. Pasty passed it over and Billy took a huge mouthful, promptly screwed up his face and spat it out, spraying the people sat at the table, “That’s fucking shite!” he shouted outraged. “Whereas yer can see, Billy’s a right ignorant cunt,” said Pasty jerking his head towards Billy who was looking at the label in disgust. “Mer-lot? Shit-lot!” pronounced Billy before hurling the bottle with great force at the opposite wall. The bottle smashed into smithereens showering the dinner party with red wine and splinters of glass. Simon sat stock still. The woman with corkscrew hair recoiled. The willowy blonde began to sob. “Bad tempered twat and all,” observed Pasty. “Look what the fuck do you want?” shouted the guy with the beard. “Pleased you asked, beardie,” said Pasty, “All Ah want is a little bit of information from Simon, to help his local community. Now that’s not 87

so bad is it?” “Fucking hell!” shouted Billy with glee, who’d gone back to poking around and had pulled a book out of the bookshelf, “Look at this! Dirty fucking pictures!” Pasty ignored him, “Ah believe yer a probation officer Simon?” “What the fucking hell is he trying to do to her?” pondered Billy as he twisted the expensively printed copy of the Kama Sutra one way then the other. “So?” asked Simon suspiciously. “He’ll put his fucking back out if he’s not careful,” noted Billy turning on to the next page. “Well the word is there’s a fucking beast living on the Estate, and Ah want to know who the fucker is.” “I’m sorry?” said Simon looking genuinely puzzled. Pasty began to speak in a crescendo, “A beast…a nonce, a paedo, a kiddie fiddler, a fucking BEAST! And Ah want to know who the fucker is!” Billy snapped the book shut. There was silence in the room. Simon dropped his head, “I’m sorry, I don’t have access to that kind of information.” “Well you’re going to fucking get it,” snarled Pasty, “and quickly.” “You can’t do this,” protested the bearded guy. “Y’knaa you’re starting to get right on my tits,” said Pasty turning his attention to him, “Is he getting on your tits Billy?” “Aye, and Ah wouldn’t mind getting on his lasses tits and all,” observed Billy enthusiastically, nodding towards the willowy blonde. “Oh Billy, there’s nae call for that,” admonished Pasty not taking his eyes off the bearded guy “Nae call at all.” “You can’t do this, we’ll get the police,” gushed the woman with corkscrew hair. “And tell them what?” I asked, “that we came around your gaffe and spilt a bottle of red wine? Aye…they’ll scramble the police helicopter for that.” “ Eee…..Yer’ve even managed to piss Bamber off now,” mused Pasty. Simon looked up, pure hatred and venom in his eyes, “So what are you going to do if I don’t play ball?” he asked petulantly. Pasty shrugged, “Mebbes nowt….But once the mothers on this estate find out you knaa where a beast is but won’t tell anyone…..Why, they’ll have yer balls on the barbecue before yer even knaa yer’ve lost them.” 88

His head drooped again. Pasty stood up. “Monday. No later.” He walked past me and down the hall. Billy took one last look at the book in his hand then flung it across the table scattering bread rolls and wine everywhere. The assembled company sprang back. “That’s shite,” he said accusingly pointing at the book, “if yer ganna have porn at least have something decent. Proper photos, come shots, minge, something yer can get yer teeth into.” He shook his head in despair and stalked off into the hallway. I waited a moment, nodded my goodnight, gently closed the door and followed him The name duly arrived. We got it via Davey in the pub. “John Lennon’s been in said to give youse a message,” he announced picking up an envelope from by the till. “His name’s Simon, actually,” announced Pasty in his best mock posh voice, as he ripped the envelope open. “Aye, why whatever,” laughed Davey pouring a pint. Pasty looked at the note in the envelope and gave a satisfied nod. “That’ll dae for me!” he announced shoving the note into his pocket. After that it was child’s play finding him. We’d waited for him outside the entrance of his block of flats. Threw a blanket over him, wrapped duck tape around him. Had him in the back of the Transit in under two minutes. He’d begged, pleaded, offered us money, anything. Pasty landed him a punch square in the face, taped his mouth and left him in the back to roll around. When we’d pulled up in front of the workshop, there was a reception committee. Women from the Estate. “What the fuck?” I exclaimed. Billy grinned as he brought the van to a halt, “Thought the ladies might appreciate the show.” Which is how we came to be here. Happy girls and boys.

Play

Pasty has momentarily laid down the welding torch and now has the victim’s right hand in his grasp. He has splayed the fingers so that the little finger is separate to the rest. Billy carefully positions the bolt cutters just above the knuckle. A woman, eighteen stone if she’s an ounce, hair scraped back, huge hooped gold ear rings pulling on her lobes and a T-shirt, bearing the motto, ‘If you think I’m a fucking bitch, 89

you should meet my mother’ bustles her way through the gaggle of women to the front to see what is going on. It is she who turns to the rest of them and starts the chant. “Off! Off! Off! Off! Off! Off! Off! ” They follow her lead and work up to fever pitch. “OFF! OFF! OFF!” Billy grins at his audience and then with one sharp, deft jerk snaps shut the bolt cutters. The finger shoots off across the workshop, looking for all the world like a cocktail sausage carelessly flung off someone’s plate at a wedding reception. The women cheer, hands punching the air. The gagged victim’s eyebrows shoot up cartoon style as his body bucks and buckles. Pasty smiles, a job going well. He picks up the welding torch and signals to me to wind the victim back up and, grimly, I begin to haul on the pulley’s chains. As I do so a hand shoots out and grips my forearm. The beautician has arrived. She surveys the scene dumbstruck, stunned. The women are cavorting beneath the suspended figure, while Billy nods and grins inanely in the middle of them, lapping up the attention. “Is this what you fucking wanted?” I shout to her above the din. “What’s going on?” she asks wide eyed, innocent. “We’ve got your man,” I sneer sarcastically nodding to the winched and swinging figure now drenched in the blood which is pissing out of the joint of his little finger. She looks back at me fear and horror paralysing her face. “That’s not him,” she says blankly. “What?” I ask barely able to comprehend what she’s saying. “That’s not him,” she repeats. I look back to the figure on the chains, twisting and turning, racked with pain. Some of the women are jumping up now, trying to grab hold of him, to bring him back to earth, to tear him limb from limb. “How the fuck do you know?” “One of my customers…..lass who works at police HQ..…did her nails for her this morning…..said they lifted him, moved him last night. Fears over his safety…..people had found out..…” 90

There is cheering, whooping and whistling from the women. I look around. Pasty has picked up the welding torch and is pushing his way through the crowd towards the figure. I scream. “Pasty! No!” He turns his head towards me, his eyes still blacked out by the welding goggles. The women begin to chant, “Burn! Burn! Burn! Burn! Burn! Burn! Burn!” I point manically at the beautician, shaking my head, hoping that somehow this gesture will be enough to halt the proceedings. But it’s way beyond that now, blood has been scented. Pasty is distracted, trying to work out what the fuck I’m on about, and the women impatient for their vengeance, begin jostling, shoving. At first he swats them aside like flies as he looks over to me and the beautician again. The fat woman with gold hoop ear rings barges towards him and shouts out, “ Ah’ll finish the job if you haven’t got the balls for it!” She makes a grab for the torch but Pasty snatches it away above his head out of her reach. That’s when it happens. The torch catches the guy’s trousers hanging around his ankles. That’s all it takes. Flames begin to creep up his legs. “Pasty!” I shout, and point up at the guy. Pasty looks up just as the victim realises what is happening to him and begins to flail around in panic. He swings back towards Pasty and the blazing trousers catch Pasty full in the face causing him to reel back and fall. There is a collective sharp intake of breath from the women as they realise what is happening and I swear I hear one of them cackle in the silence before the full horror of the situation becomes apparent. The beautician and I stand frozen in terror watching as the flames begin to engulf the man hanging from the ceiling. The women begin to back away. Pasty, who the flames have just licked, quickly picks himself up off the floor and attempts to take control of the situation. “Get the fucker down! Get the fucker down!” he screams at me. Big 91

mistake. I quickly lower him on to the floor, where he rolls around in a frenzied attempt to extinguish the flames. I can only assume that he rolls into a pool of petrol, oil, something flammable, because all of a sudden there is a big bass whoosh and the flames reach the rafters. There is bedlam. Women begin to shriek, scream, cry. Some claw their faces, tear at their hair and screw up their eyes unable to watch. Others stand transfixed, their mouths open. It only takes one or two to make for the door and then there is a stampede. At first I think Billy is going with them as he scrambles and elbows through them towards the exit. Then he disappears from view as he ducks down at the side of the door. He returns battling against them, his usually blank and slack face for once taut, animated and alive. He has a hose in his hand. As he fights his way through the last of them he fiddles with the nozzle and at last the hose wriggles into life spewing forth a satisfying stream of water. He douses down the man and the flames subside as quickly as they appeared. “Good lad Billy!” I find myself saying as if encouraging a child in a game of junior school football. The women, including the beautician, are gone and after all the chaos, the jeering, the shrieking, the shouts, the screams, the only sound is the hiss from the hose and the sizzle of steam rising from the charred carcass in front of us. Pasty paces backwards and forwards rubbing his chin, “Fuck. Fuck. Fuck,” he mutters looking down at the body. “Is he still alive?” I ask more in hope than expectation. “Why how the fuck do Ah know?” snaps Pasty focusing his anger on me. The last of the flames out, Billy turns off the hose and gingerly I kneel down by the body. The stench is almost indescribable, sickly sweet, char grilled, barbecued but also chemical from the petrol. I begin to heave and desperately try to keep it under control. I remember basic first aid from somewhere about using the back of the hand, which is more sensitive, to try to ascertain whether someone is still breathing. I look at his head, the hair is burnt off but there is still a wisp or two, here and there, sticking up singed. The skin on the face and cranium is blackened, even crispy in places, but there are patches which are red raw where it has all been burnt off. I cau92

tiously reach down and gently begin to peel back what remains of the tape across his mouth. I stop to retch as I realise skin is coming off with the tape, but realising there is no alternative I carry on. The tape off, I’m about to lower my hand when he belches out a cloud of black smoke. I reel backwards in shock, “What the fuck…..” And then he sputters, chokes and lets forth a howl the like of which I have never heard before. Deep, guttural, primal, blood curdling, the sound of an animal in it’s death throes unable to comprehend what is happening. “He’s still alive…..” I stammer in amazement. “Fucking never!” Pasty snaps sarcastically. “What we ganna dae?” panics Billy. “An ambulance,” I declare, “we’ve got to get a fucking ambulance.” “Nae fucking ambulance,” orders Pasty. “Pasty!” I shout in desperation. “Nae fucking ambulance! We cannet afford to have the polis here!” He’s pumped, wired and I dare not argue with him. He paces backwards and forwards, muttering, cursing under his breath. The animal cries are more intermittent now, he passes in and out of consciousness, whimpering and wailing. I watch as the blackened skin begins to bubble and blister in front of me. “Did you want to kill him?” I ask puzzled. It’s a genuine question; I’m not sure about anything in this fucking mess anymore. “Of course Ah didn’t want to kill him. Think Ah’d have that fucking pack of hyenas here if Ah was going to kill him,” he gestures to the door. “Ah was just going to braise his balls a bit, give him a warning to fucking behave.” “He was the wrong guy, Pasty. That’s what I was trying to tell you.” He looks at me blankly, and at first I think he hasn’t heard or hasn’t understood, then he goes ballistic, “BASTARD! FUCKING BASTARD!” He storms across to an oil drum, and starts kicking it repeatedly. “BASTARD! BASTARD! BASTARD!” I look down at the figure on the floor. He’s out now. Unconscious. We’re losing him. “Pasty,” I reason “we’ve got to get him to a hospital and quick before we’re looking at a murder charge. Half the fucking estate witnessed it and the other half will know about it within the next half hour.” 93

He pauses for a moment grabbing a workbench with both hands, thinking, then finally a decision is made. “Get the fucking van, we’ll have to take him,” he barks at Billy before turning to me, “You get a fucking blanket round him.” As Pasty opens the workshop doors and Billy reverses the van I look around for a blanket, eventually finding a tatty, tartan travel rug that has definitely seen better days, but it will have to do. I drape it over him as gently as I can, but the pain of it on him must be unbearable as his eyes blink wide open, stark, staring and with what little life he has left he begins to scream incessantly. I shake my head and swallow, feeling tears of frustration welling up. How the fuck did I end up here? The van reversed and its doors open Pasty comes round and gets hold of his feet. I try to lift him from beneath his shoulders, but as I do so I feel his skin shift and begin to slough off. I finally lose it and stagger off across the workshop vomiting prodigiously as I go. “Oh for fuck’s sake!” shouts Pasty, “Billy! Get round here and get hold of this fucker! Bamber’s gone fucking nancy on us!” Billy drives. “Where am Ah ganning?” asks Billy as we pull onto City Road. “The RVI has a burns unit,” I volunteer from the back. “Not the fucking RVI !” orders Pasty, “It’s the centre of bloody toon. Every fucker’ll see us.” “The General then,” I blurt out “it’s got an A & E.” “Not the fucking General either,” warns Pasty, “there’s nae where to dump him.” “Dump him?” I ask incredulous. “Why yer didn’t think we’d end up sitting holding his hand in fucking casualty did yer?” rages Pasty, “CCTV man! We cannet afford to be seen. We’ll dump the fucker as close as we can to the Freeman. There’s a few quiet streets around there. Some fucker’ll find him.” We eventually pull over onto the side of a road next to Jesmond Dene. We pick our moment and quickly unload him onto a grassy verge. He manages the slightest of moans as we do so. Still alive then. Just. As we drive away I look back out of the Transit’s window and see his prone figure lying on the grass verge still covered in the tartan travel rug. 94

“Poor bastard,” I murmur. Pasty explodes. “Divven’t waste yer fucking pity on him. It’s our arses we’re going to have to watch now!”

Fast forward

For a couple of weeks the police, the newspapers and telly were all over it like a rash. Gangland justice, drugs, those were the popular theories. Tense times. We kept our heads low, following developments in the Chronicle and on North East tonight. I expected the knock on the door, the hand on the shoulder at any minute. So many witnesses. Pasty was more cavalier in his attitude, “Think any fucker’ll mess with us after that! They’re scared they’ll get the same. Fucking cushty man!” And he was right. People gave us an even wider berth than usual. As it happened the guy survived, but even he was saying nothing. Post traumatic stress the papers called it. Pasty clapped his hands with glee when he read that. “Is that a posh way of saying he’s scared shitless?” he asked. Exasperated I lost it, “Jesus, Pasty, is that all you can say? We’ve maimed a fucking civilian.” But he wasn’t having any of it. “Aye, and whose fucking fault’s that? We acted on information received. It’s that Simon twat who should feel guilty.” “How the fuck do you work that out?” “Why do the fucking sums,” he sneered, “who’ll have tipped the coppers off that we were on to a beast?” I shook my head; there was no reasoning with him. He went on, “Not my fucking fault some twat’s unlucky enough to have the same name as a beast. And besides, we’ve done the Estate a favour.” He took a sip from his pint savouring his self righteousness. “It’s a fucking message to the rest of the fuckers to behave. If that’s what happens when we suspect somebody..…imagine what we’ll do if somebody’s really fucking about. Now finish yer pint and stop fucking whining. We’re fucking invincible man.” About a month later we were ambling down Shields Road and he saw her. There coming up the street, pristine as ever in her white work uniform was the beautician. The object of Pasty’s affections. He stepped out into her path.

95

“Aal reet?” he asked. She put her head down and weaved her way past him. “Ah said, aal reet?” he called after her, but there was no reply. Just the sight of her pert arse disappearing up the street. “Fucking slag,” Pasty muttered as he pushed his way into the Butcher’s Arms. Guess the path of true love never runs smooth.

96

Christopher Morrow
Christopher Morrow is a London based writer. He has various things published in various places and none of them are nice. He writes about crime, from the view of the dark men, and it’s as real as he can make it.

97

POKER-ING
I’m sweating like a rapist. Dripping. The cigarette is clammy between my trotters. "Your fucking call mate" says Weasel Boy. Fucking coke head twat. Can hardly keep his head together to deal the fucking cards. I mean, who employs a fucking beak sniffer as a fucking card dealer? What sort of bollocks is that? Looking at the club foot of a hand in front of me I know I should fold, I got rags and there is a definite flush on the other side of this excuse for a card table. 8, 9, jack and queen of hearts are on the table. I aint got a heart, the other three folded on the first round. And as the 8, 9, jack came up as the flop that tells me (coz I aint silly) that the other three had no high hearts neither. Mickey was cautious in his betting, layed low, rather than laid low if you know what I mean. I can spot a fucking punter who thinks he’s got the nuts. But, to be fair, he has. He’s beat me all over the shop here, I’ve got bollocks, fuck all. Not the point. "I’ll go a monkey." I say. Five jemmy o goblins as me granddad used to say. "Five hundred pound to you mate." Mickey the pimp smiles at this, perleeease, it’s like shooting puppies in a barrel. "Yeah, yeah. I’ll fucking see that and raise you a bag my son." A full Rio. The thousand pound of crack befuddled tom earnings, still greasy with travelling salesman and bored hubbies spunk, sloshes into the middle of the table. Mickey licks his fingers, ooooooohhh, icky. Not that I’m gonna win, but I’m fucked if I’m touching that money with bare hands. 98

I wanna sneak a look at me watch but resist the impulse. "Your bag and a fucking double carpet more. Now, that is only a six hundred pound raise from me and I aint got much more in front of me and I can see this prick looking at my small stash thinking he can fucking buy this. Softly, softly, catchee monkey. "Yeah, I’ll have some of that. Five fucking grand on top." He sploshs a big brick of 50s down. Stares. Weasel Boy grins. They think they got me. The other bent nose table sitters and lurkers snuffle at another prat bought out. Mugs. "OK, five grand. Fuck me, we got a game at last." I go into me jacket pocket, pull out fucking untold wedges of folding. All red and shiny, fifties. Bent as arseholes mind, only just removed from Monopoly money. It’ll do in this heated atmosphere, they are just seeing cash, not snide cash. Fucking got to check the watch, got to get this right. I got four minutes to play. If this goes wrong then my life aint going to change and then I am really, genuinely, double fucked. He’s looking at the river. All the high hearts and he’s holding at least one of the others. He’s got me donald ducked and he knows it. The fucking best possible I’m holding is three aces, which he’s got beat. I’m a little pissed off, ergo the rapist sweat, that it’s this obvious I’ve got nothing but I aint working to cards, just time, no choice. He fucking umms and arrs a bit and then nods to a lumpy lurker. Lumpy, all shoulders and cropped head goes to the desk. We should have fucking realised, the bloody desk. Lumpy pushes a panel on the side. Safe is revealed, fucking tinpot, we could have easily popped it. He twiddles away, opens it up. Bundles, absolute bundles, inside. The fucking desk. Job done, I just got to keep my head till the cavalry arrive. This is it. The one shot deal. No more cards. No more London. No more of this nonsense. Life changing stuff, gone, fucking gone. 99

Lumpy brings over the breeze block of cash. "Your bet mate" he says to me, all fucking shiny in the glow of his stash which is now nestling in front of him. I pick up the funny money and lump down twenty five. "I’ll have that." "Big bet." "Yeah. Money or fucking mouth now Mickey." "I’ll take money son. Your twenty five and a hundred grand more." Bosh, down he lays it. I just push all my printed stuff into the middle. "It’s little bit more than that mate, I aint fucking counting it, get one of these muppets to do it. You’ve fucking lost mate." Mickey goes a little bit goggle eyed at this, a lot strong coming from the likes of me. Proper insults that is. I don’t give a fuck. Sneaked another look at me kettle, the door is going in right now. The chaps are going to pile through it, tooled up to the fucking eyeballs and all these sleazy ponces and lump heads are going to get fucked and we are robbing them of fucking everything that aint nailed down. Three, two, one. Bang! I’m looking at the door. It’s still just a closed door. Come on you cunts, now. Now. Fucking now. "I’ll see your fucking hundred grand and raise you another hundred…..which you aint got. Unless you got another pocket son." He’s right. I aint got another pocket. What I have got is something vibrating in my pocket. It’s called a mobile phone. It aint ringing because I turned that bit off earlier, just left it on vibrate. I don’t think it’s going to be good news. 100

In fact I think it’s not worth answering. Is it me or is Weasel Boy looking at my Monopoly money with the light of monkeys discovering fire in his eyes? Mickey is noticing that I’ve gone a bit wonky and am staring at the door whilst my jacket is vibrating. Fuck. Double fuck. Well, life changing after all then. Who needs fucking legs?

101

Julie Wright

Julie Wright lives by the seaside in Sunderland. She works for some nice people who let her write about business. They either publish what she writes traditionally or put it on their website. Her greatest achievement is having been sacked from the Guides for being a bad influence. Her greatest shame is having joined a para-military uniform wearing organisation in the first place. This is her first published fiction. 102

IT COULD BE YOU
‘Give us the fucken money.’ Beggsy was on his knees, a gun barrel rammed into the back of his neck. Uncomfortable. But at least he was still alive, unlike the bird who’d been swallowing his cock when the Irishman burst in. Before he’d won the money, she wouldn’t have swallowed his chat up lines. Now she was stone cold, blood and semen congealing on her sweet, young face. What a waste. ‘Give us the fucken money.’ The Irishman rammed home his point with the gun. Beggsy toppled forward. ‘Let me up. I can’t do anything down here.’ The Irishman considered. ‘All right, then. But no fucken funny business.’ Beggsy nodded and the Irishman took a step back. Beggsy clambered awkwardly to his feet, pulled up his jeans and fastened them. Difficult to muster any dignity with your knob swinging in the breeze. He turned to look at the Irishman. Ugly fucker. Face like a spud. Looked as thick as his accent. Beggsy nodded at the girl. ‘What d’you have to kill her for?’ Irish shrugged. ‘Easier that way. Now it’s one on one.’ ‘Bastard.’ Irish pistol whipped him. Beggsy hit the floor again. He sat up slowly, woozy, a bloody rose blossoming on his cheek. Beggsy was scared out of his wits. He wasn’t a hard man. Just a bloke who’d come into some money. Irish watched while he got it together, climbed to his feet again, jelly legs making him wobble like a newly birthed colt. ‘Give us the fucken money.’ But he wasn’t about to hand anything over to this potato-faced cunt. ‘What, you think I’ve got it in the house? All seventeen million?’ ‘You’ll have enough. Scum like you, you want cash. You like the feel of it, the smell. You probably wank over it every night.’ Long speech for a 103

fucking idiot. ‘Give us the fucken money.’ Back to the tape loop. ‘I haven’t got any here.’ ‘Then we’ll go and get some.’ ‘There’s a limit on what I can get out of the machine. Three hundred tops. Same as for every other fucker.’ ‘You’re a liar.’ Said with calm detachment. ‘Now give us the fucken money.’ ‘For fuck’s sake!’ Irish threatened with the pistol. Beggsy flinched. Irish smiled. ‘You know what I’m gonna say.’ *** Six months earlier. Beggsy’s round at his gran’s flat, a regular Wednesday night visit. His mam did Saturdays. Gran was desperate to win the Lotto, get out of the cold, damp, council flat, buy a bungalow. Somewhere small and cosy, all mod cons. Buy a house for her daughter. An apartment for her grandson. Something posh on the coast, set him up nice. Gran wanted to win big so she could share it out amongst the family. Get that nice warm feeling you get when you can give somebody what they want. Play God awhile. Gran pitched a regular two quid stake per draw. A scratch card and a lucky dip. She struggled to afford it out of her pension, but reckoned it was worth it. After all, it was her only pleasure. That and the Superkings. The wall behind her chair was tarry with nicotine, her hair at the front discoloured by the smoke. Beggsy’s sitting on the settee, no give in the cushions, plywood holding them up now. He’s got his ticket and his gran’s in his hand. He’s taken to getting one on a Wednesday as well, keep the old girl company. Puts his lucky numbers on, same ones every week. Once you start with that, you can’t stop. Gran’s eyes aren’t so good, she can’t check the tickets for herself. Tonight it’s a rollover, seventeen million up for grabs. It could be you, he thought, peering at his gran through the perpetual fog she inhabited. It looked like the fucking tide had come in. The draw starts, Wednesday night more straightforward. None of that palaver they have at the weekend. Get the numbers out, smarmy voice announces them, bird grins, job done. Here we go. First ball: miss for him, hit for Gran. Second ball: miss for him, hit for 104

Gran. Third ball: same story. On and on until all six numbers are out. Beggsy feels sick. He knows he shouldn’t, she’s his gran, for Christ’s sake. She’ll buy him an apartment, see him right for spends. But it’s a waste, isn’t it? All that money going to such an old woman? He could just as easy buy the cosy bungalow for her, buy his mam the house, give them both some cash. Get a little of the warm fuzzies for himself. He’s a young man, young enough to enjoy the win. It’s only right that he should have the money. ‘Hey Gran,’ he hears himself saying. ‘I’ve won!’ ‘What’s that, son?’ ‘The seventeen million. I’ve only f…..flippin’ well won it!’ ‘Eeeh, are you sure, pet?’ He nods. ‘Dead sure. It’s all mine, Gran.’ *** Irish had him face down on the carpet. It was deep and soft. It even smelt expensive. Good fucking shit. Everything in here was good fucking shit and Beggsy loved it all. Loved the lifestyle. Fucking loved being rich. He was calculating. How much would it take to get Paddy O’Muppet off his case? If he could just get out of this, he could call the police, claim on the insurance. Send somebody after the spud muncher, get him wasted. The whole thing about giving his money away to this dickhead was burning him. Even if it was only temporary. But he didn’t want to die. Fucked if he did. He was having far too much fun. ‘Give us the fucken money.’ ‘Okay, okay!’ ‘No fucken funny business. Just makes you hurt and bleed.’ He backed off. Beggsy breathed a sigh of relief. Stood up, slowly and carefully. Stretched. Irish raised an eyebrow. ‘This way,’ Beggsy said, pointing to the stairs. Resigned to coughing up. ‘After you.’ Naturally. 105

Beggsy headed up to his bedroom. Swung back the full length mirror on the wall and only hesitated a moment before tapping in the combination and opening the safe. The Irishman smiled. Motioned Beggsy into the corner and loaded money into a sports bag. ‘Just out of interest, who inherits if you die? Your mam or your gran?’ ‘What makes you think it’d be my mam or my gran?’ ‘You’re famous, son.’ The papers. They’d been full of stories about Beggsy and his generosity. He’d wanted the publicity, wanted the world to know he was rich. Irish packed the cash into the bag, then turned and grinned at Beggsy. ‘Proper little saint, you are.’ Beggsy sighed, hung his head. ‘Gran. Gran gets the lot.’ ‘Was it really your ticket that won?’ ‘What?’ ‘Well, if it had been me, I’d have said it was mine whichever it was.’ ‘Thief.’ ‘All that money. Wasted on an old woman. It’s not like you didn’t buy her a bungalow, now, is it? And that was all she wanted, wasn’t it?’ Irish put the gun in his pocket, zipped up the sports bag. Beggsy nodded, relieved now that the gun was out of sight. ‘So. Was it really you that won?’ Beggsy shrugged. ‘I signed the back of the ticket. I got the money. Course it was me.’ Irish shook his head. ‘She said you’d lie.’ ‘What?’ ‘Your gran. She said you were a no good, thieving, lying little guttersnipe.’ He took the gun back out. ‘You shouldn’t have left her the losing ticket. It wasn’t a lucky dip.’ He raised the gun, took aim. Beggsy went cold. He fell to his knees. ‘She can have it all! Or you can…..Please, don’t do this.’ He was sweating, gibbering. Irish lowered the gun. Beggsy dared to hope. Then Irish strode over to Beggsy, put the barrel under his chin. ‘Your Gran says “tara, son”.’ He pulled the trigger. The top of Beggsy’s head exploded. Irish wrapped Beggsy’s fingers round the grip and left with the sports bag. Payment for the job. The client would get what was coming to her in due course. 106

LET’S DANCE
‘Jasmine. JASMINE! What you doing?’ What am I doing? You might well ask. I take a last look at the cynical young woman in the bathroom mirror, give my nose a quick rub and plaster a smile on my face. Tonight I’m Jasmine, and Jasmine is compliant and smiles a lot. ‘Come on back to bed.’ Petulant. Impatient. The bottom lip would be out. ‘Coming.’ Still smiling I walk into the bedroom and there he is, laying back against the pillows, looking like the handywork of a psychotic Picasso. I keep the smile in place and slide in beside him, all psyched up to give another Oscar winning performance. It’s an inescapable fact that when you live the life I do, you get to fuck some really ugly men. Take Matthew, the dickless wonder huffing and puffing his way to ecstasy on top of me right now. He’s short and skinny, pot bellied, growing a forehead, and his face is…..just not quite right. Things are kind of misshapen and out of line. The worst thing about him is his hands, small and soft in exactly the way a man’s hands shouldn’t be. He insisted on doing that creepy dancing thing earlier. Again. Christ, I hate that. I decide it’s payback time, sink my teeth into his neck and bite down hard. ‘Fuck’s sake!’ he grunts, pain cutting him, stopping him mid-stroke. ‘Sorry,’ I whisper. ‘It’s just….’ But he’s off again, so I don’t need to finish. Just as well, I’ve no idea what I would have said. Matthew’s soft as shite, easy to hurt because he can’t take pain. Teeth, claws, all come in useful when I want to even things up a bit. He thinks it’s passion that makes me tear him up. He’s buggered by it. On the one hand, he loves having scars to show off to the lads with, proof of his ability to drive Jasmine wild. On the other, he bubbles like a girlie when it gets too real. Soft get. Matthew knows me as Jasmine. Other men have known me variously as Cherry, Lily, Daisy and Heather. And Krystal. Let’s not forget Krystal, the first in this long, sorry line of names, none of which my mother would recognise. Mind you, after this many years, I doubt she’d recog107

nise my face, either. She was fourteen when she had me. I was eight when she left. I caught her sneaking out of her parents’ house in the dead of night, clutching a bin bag full of clothes and slap. ‘Shhhh!’ she urged, putting a finger to her lips. ‘Don’t wake them up. They wouldn’t understand.’ ‘I don’t understand.’ ‘I know.’ ‘Where are you going?’ ‘Away.’ ‘Who with?’ ‘A friend.’ ‘How long for?’ Something that might have been guilt flickered uncertainly across her face. Embarrassed to be found in such unfamiliar territory, it skulked off into a dark corner and hid. She dropped the bin bag and knelt down to my level. ‘For good. You’ll be okay. Your nana and your granddad will look after you.’ I shrugged. ‘I suppose.’ I looked down at my grubby, eyeless bunny slippers then back at her. ‘What should I do?’ She checked her watch. ‘Don’t frown so much, you’ll get lines. Men don’t like girls who look serious. Look after yourself when you turn thirteen. Start using moisturiser. And always be sure you get this bit.’ She put her finger between her eyes, at the top of her nose. ‘Otherwise you get kind of a cornflake there, especially in the winter.’ Then she stood up, picked up her makeshift suitcase, turned away from me and crept out of the house. I watched from the window and saw her climb into a silver car parked further up the street. She didn’t look back. She was right about the cornflake, though. I had some things to remember her by. A strip of photographs taken in the booth in the railway station one day when she’d taken me to town. We went to Wilkinson’s and she bought me a colouring book and a big pack of felt tipped pens, then to McDonald’s, where we ate 108

burgers and fries, chased them down with cola, more ice than pop in the cartons, then into the station, where we piled into the booth and had our pictures taken. I was on her knee clutching the Wilkinson’s bag, both of us grinning like idiots, pulling faces, sticking our tongues out. You’d have thought we hadn’t a care in the world. Mind you, back then I didn’t. She left a couple of books behind, trite Danielle Steele romances, contrived adversity and fake happy-ever-after endings. Also a big pile of magazines, a small one of records and an old hi-fi on a stand. It had seen better days. The plastic lid was broken and one of the speaker cones was bust in, but it worked. Crucially, the turntable ran at the right speed. It meant I could listen to her records. There was a much better set up downstairs, mind, but Mum hadn’t been allowed to touch it and I didn’t reckon I’d ever be allowed to either. It was Granddad’s. He didn’t share. I played all her records at first, over and over, just because she’d left them. The Human League, Prince, the Police…..After a while, I tended to play just three that I don’t think were hers at all. I think one of her old boyfriends had left them, probably Scotty. He was nice. He bought me comics and he played the guitar. I was sad when they broke up. The big three were the Stooges, the MC5, and the Ramones. I’ve still got all those albums, every one, even the Human League. Whatever’s happened, wherever I’ve been, I’ve managed to hang on to them. And I still play them. Back then, I wore her headphones to listen so I didn’t disturb Nana and Granddad. I could smell her on them at first, hairspray and chewing gum, Charlie perfume and menthol fags, but after a while that wore off. Her folks were mightily pissed off that she’d done a runner and saddled them with me. I did my best to be no trouble. They let me live with them until I was sixteen then they put me on the street, duty done. In some ways it was a relief. I’d spent the previous three years fighting Granddad off. Dirty old fucker. It started on my thirteenth birthday when he put his record on, the one he thought made him trendy and with it, and asked me to dance with him. Nothing unusual there, we’d danced before. The last time had been Christmas day after the Queen’s speech, both of us larking about, me showing off, Nana laughing at me. This time Nana was 109

making the tea, putting a candle on my birthday cake, so there was just me and him in the room. Jesus, it was disgusting. He was all over me, fat fingers and skinny lips, cheap aftershave and stale tobacco, muttering about me being ‘all grown up now’ while he tried to get his hands in my clothes. My breath caught in my throat and I felt sick. No wonder my mum had warned me about being thirteen, no wonder she’d got out when she could. I counted myself lucky I didn’t have six toes or two heads. I learned the danger signs early on. Phil Collins. Phil Collins generally heralded an unwelcome advance. To this day, I can’t hear ‘Sussudio’ without getting up and walking out of the room. Mind you, I think that’s a completely normal reaction for anybody. I put a bolt on my bedroom door soon after that first time. Made a right mess doing it, but it did the trick. Whenever I could I stayed with a friend or I had a friend stay over with me. In my room on my own, I had to stop playing Mum’s records. I needed to be able to keep tabs on him, listen out for him creeping around the place trying to catch me unawares. Sometimes I’d hear him breathing on the other side of the door. Or he’d try the handle and I’d jump out of my skin and pray that I hadn’t forgotten to fasten the bolt. Despite everything, there were times when that fucking song would start up and he’d appear out of nowhere, staring and grinning. ‘Let’s dance.’ ‘Oh, go on, pet,’ Nana would say if she was around. ‘Have a dance with your granddad.’ But she wasn’t watching where he put his hands. She didn’t have to feel him rubbing his cock up against her and sticking his tongue in her ear. He did far worse if she wasn’t home. I was quick on my feet, so if I got enough warning I could get away. But he was bigger and stronger, so if I was slow off the mark, I’d had it. I always fought him. I always thought one day Nana would want to know where he got all the bruises from. Cast adrift at sweet sixteen, I found that I couldn’t get a job because I didn’t have a home. But I couldn’t get a home because I didn’t have a job. It’s a headfuck. I very nearly wore out the few friendships I had, kipping on people’s floors and couches, scrounging meals, bumming handouts. I desperately needed a roof over my head. Then I met a guy. Hutch. Twenty-four and streetwise, said he’d look after me. After 110

a couple of weeks of treating me like a princess he changed my name to ‘Krystal’ and put me out to work. It’s the nearest thing I’ve ever had to a regular job. I hated it. Before long, I hated him, too. Hutch was the first man I ever killed. It happened because he pushed me too far. Goaded me, went on and on, the Ariston treatment. Tore up my precious strip of photographs, just to piss me off. Not thinking, I picked up a knife. Hutch scattered the ruined photographs over me like confetti, laughed in my face. ‘What you gonna do with that? Fuck you think you are?’ I waved the knife in his general direction, scared to put it down; scared he’d take it off me and use it himself. ‘Look at you!’ he sneered. ‘Too much make-up and not enough clothes.’ He leaned in close. I could smell his breath, fags and beer. ‘You’re just another teenage prossie, darlin’, older than most, short future ahead of you.’ I don’t know who was most shocked when I stuck the knife in him. He still looked surprised when he was bled out, bone white and stone dead. I froze when I did it and that was good because it meant I didn’t do anything rash or stupid. The other good thing was that the blade slipped in between his ribs, got in deep, the wound fatal. Lucky really. Anything less and it would have been my unblinking eyeball flies strolled around on. Eventually. Under those circumstances, mine wouldn’t have been a quick end. Once I’d got my head together, I stuck a fork through his tongue to make sure he was really dead. Then I cleaned up, cleared out his stash, loaded whatever stuff I wanted into a suitcase and got the fuck out of Dodge. Hutch had so many enemies, anyone could have done it. The fucking Pope probably wanted Hutch dead. Hell, God probably had a hard on for him. The busies pretended to look for the guilty party, but their hearts weren’t in it. They didn’t want to bang someone up for providing a public service. The nicest thing about it was I got enough cash together for a place of 111

my own. And while it didn’t exactly get me off my back, it did get me off the streets. That was six years ago and I’ve done pretty well since then. I’ve got my own place. Not too flash. Benefits, you know how it is. I’ve got a decent car. Good clothes. Lots of stuff. A couple of close girlfriends I’d trust with my life. And a growing nest egg that one day soon I’m going to use to get out of this shithole for good. I won’t be doing this by the time I hit twenty-five, you can count on it. I’m not on the game any more. I’m more a professional girlfriend these days. Strictly short to medium term. But just because I don’t charge up front for a blow job doesn’t mean I do it for free. Only mugs fuck for free. Everything has a price. I think of myself as a businesswoman. I’m really quite entrepreneurial. I look for a good opportunity, something that will give me a decent return on my investment. I look for men who are wealthy, wealthy and lonely. Frequently old, usually ugly. In Matthew’s case, unusually ugly. What I offer is…..well, me. Whoever I take on gets to strut about with me on his arm, get blown and get laid whenever he wants, brag to whoever will listen if he’s so inclined and buy me stuff. Which is kind of the point. Clothing, preferably designer, jewellery, holidays, I Iike them all. And cars. Cars are always a welcome gift, they’re easy to sell. I think of it as realising my assets when a project comes to an end. Certain things, things I’m confident will appreciate in value, I keep in a safety deposit box. I have some nice pieces of jewellery tucked away. Some share certificates. Some hard cash, too. Can’t put too much in the bank or else it arouses suspicion. In addition, if there’s something I want that a man won’t either buy for me or give to me, I generally take it. I’m a good thief. Efficient. I have the knack of taking things they won’t want to report stolen. All I need to do afterwards is disappear. Take the coke I did just now. It used to belong to Ian. He had an almighty habit. He’d have got through it in a week. It’s lasted me ages. I just use now and then when I need a bit of a lift. Something to see me through. Like when I fuck a freak like Matthew. If I was a bloke, I’d probably take viagra. Let me tell you about my current client. You know what he looks like: 112

ugly as sin, kind of scary, just plain wrong. But he’s rich. Very rich. Something in computers. Own business. Technical geek. Matthew only employs men. He can’t cope with the idea that a woman might be able to think for herself. He can’t even look women in the eye. Judging by how he does look at them, I think his mother breastfed him until his age was in double figures and he misses the tit. Hence Jasmine and her lisping giggle, biddable nature and perpetual smile. I think she’s the first fuck he didn’t book in advance. It took her ages to chat him up. He couldn’t believe she was serious and she was supposed to be shy. Matthew drives a top of the range BMW. His place is fucking incredible, a big, flashy pile on millionaires’ row. Or debtors’ retreat, as Nana used to call it. You could make all the noise in the world in there and no-one would hear. Not like the cardboard-walled shack I grew up in. It’s filled with art and antiques that would make a Sotheby’s dealer weep with joy. Not that he’s blessed with taste. He bought them wholesale from some gallery place. He’s got the biggest flat screen TV I’ve seen outside of a run down council estate, and a home cinema. All that’s fine, it just means he can afford me. Matthew’s also got a state of the art, custom-built sound system worth ten grand that sounds better than anything I’ve heard in my life. I’ve been to gigs with rigs that couldn’t match that sucker. Fuck the wall of sound, this was the temple of; just stand in the middle and worship. I want that system so much, I get a pain in my chest when I think about it. I remember the first time I heard it in action. It very nearly knocked me out of character. Dangerous in my game. Picture this. We’d been out on our second or third date. Matthew took me into his house, his lounge this time, not just his bedroom. He indicated his sound system with a flourish, then grinned and waved a CD case at me. ‘What do you think of “X & Y”?’ he asked. I thought it was a hell of a way to spell ‘shit’, but that wasn’t what he wanted to hear. It certainly wasn’t the kind of thing Jasmine would say. I smiled like it would be the treat of my life to experience it. And it was. Not the album, give me some credit. The system. You could hear everything so clearly. I could practically hear them breathe. Move. Fuckers could have been in the room. What a waste. I was aching to hear something good on it. 113

‘Shit, that’s fucking awesome!’ I gushed in a totally un-Jasmine-like manner. ‘Hey, why don’t I bring something over? See how it sounds. Something classical.’ I pretended to think. ‘Early Stones, maybe.’ Ease him in gently, I reasoned. Play him something familiar. Then whack him with the Holy Trinity: Stooges, Ramones and the MC5. He grinned. ‘What do you want to listen to that old shite for? Look…...’ He brandished another CD case. ‘I’ve got James Blunt as well as Coldplay. Bang up to date, me.’ He changed the disc and sleazed closer. ‘You need to get with it, Jasmine. Stop being such an old fashioned girl.’ He put his clammy little hands on my waist. ‘Come on, let’s dance.’ ‘I don’t d…...’ He stuck his tongue in my ear. Felt me up while he pretended to dance with me, his stupid little cock sticking into my leg. I couldn’t breathe. I felt sick. Then he put his hands on my shoulders and pushed. I remembered myself. I was Jasmine, this was work. No fun, my babe, no fun. I smiled like a good girl and my knees hit the shagpile. But I swear if he’d done that screechy ‘you’re beautiful’ thing he was so fond of, I’d have chibbed him there and then and bollocks to the consequences. My mind was buzzing as I blew him. All that gear. All that amazing, awesome kit. A home cinema, and a DVD rack that would hold thirty if it was full. It holds about a dozen. Seven channels of sound and a CD unit that would hold fifty if it was full. It holds two dozen, tops. ‘How come you’ve not got many discs?’ I asked him. My set up wasn’t this good and I had loads more than he did. ‘No point,’ he said. ‘You can only play one at a time.’ I was stunned into silence. He continued. ‘I like to be trendy, me. Soon as something’s out of date, I get rid. I couldn’t have a load of old stuff lying around.’ He nodded at his collection. ‘Six months time, most of that lot’ll be gone.’ I hoped that was a promise. His biggest crime was to have a deck wired in and no vinyl. Not any more; he’d binned the lot. Check out his artistes of choice: Coldplay and James Blunt you’re aware of; they nestled up against the Pussy114

cat Dolls, Gwen Stefani and Girls Afuckingloud. ‘Local lass in the band,’ he told me. ‘You’ve got to support your own.’ I did. There are some great local bands, but for crying out loud, not that shite. All that power. Not just the volume, but the depth and breadth of sound, the richness, the resonance. Aural velvet. It sounded like I reckoned heaven should. Rock ‘n’ roll heaven, volume without distortion, zips, leather and ripped denim, somewhere Fred ‘Sonic’ Smith could hang with Johnny Ramone. I have recently, as they say, been on the horns of a dilemma. It’s Matthew’s job to provide, but he’s not coming up with the goods. Oh, he’s tipped up clothes and jewellery, a couple of long weekends away, a week in the sun, stuff like that. But nothing major. And one of the weekends was a golfing trip. I don’t golf. I shop. I’m not getting a good return on my investment. He flatly refuses to buy me a system like his. It’s a one-off, he reckons, and if he gets me one it won’t be unique anymore. Selfish pig. Another one that won’t share. And of course, if his system should be stolen, he wouldn’t hesitate to report the theft. He’d want to claim on the insurance. Then no doubt he’d tip off the police about the vampiric, lisping girlfriend with the hungry eyes, the one he can’t seem to get in touch with any more. The whole thing has been keeping me awake nights. Should I cut my losses and walk away with what I’ve got? Can I somehow force the issue? Is there another way to deal with this? I’ve tossed and turned into the wee, small hours for weeks trying to work out what I should do. But not that night. By then, it had all become clear. That night I slept like a log. Next morning I made him breakfast. Wore his shirt and looked cute, just how he liked it, bare feet numb from the cold, slate floor in the kitchen. ‘Sorry, love, I can’t see you tonight,’ I told him. ‘Girls’ night out.’ I smiled. His fingers fluttered unconsciously to his neck, brushed the bruise that had blossomed there overnight, then reached out to me. ‘Tomorrow, though. We’ll go round the town then come back here.’ He grinned and stared. ‘We can have a little dance to James Blunt.’ That had turned into one of his favourite pastimes. But not one of mine. In 115

fact, it was during one of those little dances, while I was feeling lightheaded and nauseous, that I realised what I had to do to resolve the situation. I nodded. ‘I can’t wait.’ He looked back as he got in his car and I blew him a kiss. ‘Missing you already,’ I simpered. Or rather, Jasmine did. I don’t do shit like that. I could just hear him telling the geeks at work how he was knackered after last night. Showing off his new scar and bragging about how carried away his lass gets. He’s such a stud. Not for much longer, though. It was time to move on. I cleared up the breakfast things and made the bed before I left. I like a tidy house. Late next morning my mobile rang. Eddie, one of Matthew’s people. Got my number out of the boss’s phone, apparently. I remembered meeting him at some do or other. He’d seemed like a canny lad for a techie. ‘Jasmine? Hello pet. Look, are you sitting down?’ ‘Why? What’s up?’ ‘It’s Matthew. He’s…..look, I’m sorry, there’s no easy way to say this. Matthew’s dead, love. It seems there was somebody in his house last night. He must have walked in on them and…..well….’ I heard him sniff and cough. ‘Me and Tim went round this morning when he didn’t come in to work. The door was open. We walked straight in. Christ, Jasmine, the place was trashed.’ ‘Did they take anything?’ ‘The police asked that. I don’t think so. It doesn’t look like it. Just…..’ I heard him sob. ‘Matthew,’ I said. My voice broke, then I cried and howled for my poor dead boyfriend, taken far too soon by a cruel, hurtful world. Eddie made all the right noises, but I could tell he just wanted to get off the phone. He’d drawn the short straw. I calmed down and he took my address. For the police. They’d be in touch. And they were, later that afternoon. I confirmed that I’d spent the night before last with Matthew. ‘If only I’d been there last night,’ I choked, tears clouding my vision. ‘If I hadn’t been out with the girls, he might still be alive now.’ I broke down. 116

The nice policewoman passed me a handkerchief and put her arm around me. My mates confirmed that we’d all been out together, his staff that Matthew had gone to the pub with them because he wasn’t seeing me. Greedy fuckers, happy to spend time with the boss just so long as he’s buying. The next few weeks passed in a whirl of black clothing, tissues and cups of tea. His mother liked me. We cried together. I helped her with the funeral arrangements. Matthew went through the curtains at the Crem to that God-awful James Blunt number. I assured her it was her son’s favourite song. Hid my smile in my hankie and turned a giggle into a sob as he exited my life for good. Then, finally, I got to take that beautiful system out of my loft, where I’d stashed it the day I took it from Matthew, the day I dumped a whole load of look-alike second hand gear from Hylton Road into his trashed lounge before stoving his head in with one of his beloved golf clubs. I took my time setting it up, relished every second, every connection. Balanced the speakers. Levelled the deck. Checked the speed with the strobe. Anticipation made my spine tingle. Set up complete, I took the album I’d placed ready on the coffee table and slipped it out of its sleeve, placed it reverently on the turntable. Put a light to the three skin joint I’d made up earlier. Hit ‘play’ on the remote and sat back, eyes closed. The room exploded into vibrant sound. The MC5 invited me to kick out the jams. I couldn’t get the smile off my face.

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Milky Wilberforce
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Milky is a rockabilly addict who writes stuff nobody reads. He lives in Sunderland which is mint.

FRANKIE’S ON A JOB
God Islington was spooky that night. Dark clouds scudded across a deep blue sky and the moon was halved but still shining bright so that shadows stalked and moved all around me. The street was wide and tree-lined, white stoned buildings rose three and four storeys above the road. Above it all was the silence of the street and the permanent background buzz of London. I parked the Mondeo opposite the apartment block and waited. It was chilly so I hunkered down into my Puffa and let my breath steam things up. I checked the address again, yes this was definitely it, number twelve, top floor. Mandy’s light was still on, shining luminous through condensation and curtains. The building was set back from the road with what would have been a pleasant family garden for the Victorians who’d built the place. The windows were PVC double glazed, bit horror-show but no doubt they kept the bills down. It was difficult to see the roof in this light but it was a red-slated affair, continental, completely at odds with the grey slate around it. The flat must cost thousands a month to rent. This girl had class but how she could afford to live around here was quite another matter. Billy was right; Mandy must have something going on the side, maybe even a piece of him. Given the layout, this was not going to be as straightforward as I’d thought and I had to be careful. Getting done for this would be a joke, especially for the shit wages Billy’d conned me into. It would be a piece of piss once I’d got in but of course, that was the hard part. I’d done a recce that morning. Access was the usual method, you buzzed and somebody answered from their flat and let you in. Breaking in through the front door would be difficult and noisy and out of the question. The only way in was to hope that one of the residents would be late so I could sneak in behind. This was risky, this was not so good. The place was dead except for Mandy, she was definitely a night bird, and it was gone three by the time she put the lights out. I was getting pissed off, cold and bored and still no fucker had even thought about entering. I was feeling more and more conspicuous with each passing minute. I slouched down in the seat and tried to wait. Billy Fraser would pay for this one of these days, I’d fucking make sure of it. 119

It was about an hour later when I got my break. I was dozing slightly, having decided the thing was a dead loss and that I might as well get some kip while I could. There was a clatter of a bottle being kicked along the road, I sat up and wiped the steam from the windscreen. About twenty yards away was a young bloke wearing a dark grey suit, tie loosened at the neck playing football with a coke can. He was royally pissed and looked like he’d been on the go since leaving work. Stylishly he volleyed the bottle into a wall where it smashed in a million pieces. He pulled his shirt over his face and began running in circles, arms out-stretched in a mock goal scoring celebration. His childish cavorting must have made him dizzy because he soon stopped only to stagger on spastically. When he reached the entrance to the block he stopped and then fell over the gate. He retched loudly and gutturally and his extended belched turned into a torrent of puke. When the vomit had stopped coming and he’d spat his mouth clean, he tried to stand up. His body swayed into an ellipse, his hips thrust outwards to regain his balance like a weeble. Again he belched loudly and the wet splashings told me that even more puke was coming out. At last he did something constructive, he began to walk up the gravel path to the apartment block’s front door, feet grinding into pebbles. Action stations, I slipped off the Puffa and opened the car door. I skipped across the damp tarmac to the gate, jumped across the path on to the bedding that lined the gravel and ran across the lawn to crouch in the bushes beside the front door. An aeon later, the pisshead rolled up, his staggering gait making him cover twice the distance. Hand cocked like a gun he slowly took aim with his right index finger, circled above the entrance pad then pressed a button, long and hard; the jarring electronic buzz went on for a minute or so. The noise seemed to fill the world and I was sure it’d wake Mandy. Eventually the buzzing was broken off by a bleary female voice answering the call. Was it her? I looked up, Mandy’s light was still off but on the floor beneath her, a light was now on. “Yes? Who is it?” She was sounding tired and pissed off. “Katie, it’s me Guy.” He was sounding hopeful. “What?” She was sounding angry. “Can I come in? It’s freezing out here.” He was sounding pathetic. “What time is it? Bloody hell Guy, it’s gone four.” “Is it? Oh. Were you asleep?” 120

“Yes I bloody well was asleep! What do you want? “ “I thought we could you know, have a chat. About us.” “Guy, there is no us, there hasn’t been an us for two months now. Are you pissed?” “No, no, I haven’t touched a drop all night” “Liar, look we’re finished, leave me alone will you, just go home.” The button clicked with an ominous finality but Guy held his finger out again, cocked in mid air, contemplating pressing. His courage gave out and he dropped his arm to his side obviously thinking better of annoying Katie even more. He turned and slumped to the ground, his back pressed hard against the front door. Within thirty seconds he was snoring. I sat back on my haunches and considered my options, there weren’t any. The only thing to do was leave it and try another night. The sound of crunching gravel banged into my head like a jailer’s keys and I instinctively crouched into a foetal ball. Timidly I parted the bushes and saw a woman’s foot in flimsy black leather stilettos poke tentatively at the comatose Guy. The foot disappeared and I moved to get a better view but all I could see now was her other foot. From above came the sound of jangling metal on metal as she searched in her bag for the door key. She found it and slid it in smoothly and silently. Glory of glories a resident coming home. Trouble was I couldn’t see how I could creep in behind her given my current position in the undergrowth and certainly not with arsehole lying there. She entered but after a few seconds I realised I hadn’t heard the door lock home so I risked another peek. At last Guy was of some use, his head was stuck in the door, wedging it open. The woman had obviously realised she couldn’t move him so she’d just walked over Guy’s prone body. I could have kissed him. I rested a moment, caught my breath and then took thin leather gloves from my black jean pockets and slipped them on. By now my nipples were sticking hard and proud through my black T-shirt, I was freezing but at least things were underway. I burst from the bushes in a rustle of dry twigs and wet leaves, scrunched lightly into gravel, pushed the door open and entered. With my right foot, I kicked Guy away and gently closed the door behind me. The lobby was tall and made of marble with a swooping staircase that 121

spiralled round the thirties style wire fronted lift like a snake round a stick. I chose the stairs and began ascending quickly, two stairs at a time. I made hardly a sound and the building seemed dead as a morgue. On the third flight, I heard the lift begin to operate, doors clanged shut and it began to descend sounding as if it was bouncing down the walls from side to side. I stopped, waiting, listening for movement of people. The lift reached the bottom and stopped, metal ringing in the air like a tuning fork. But nobody got out. The lift just sat there, doors closed. Then I realised, the woman who’d crawled over Guy must have used the lift to get to her flat. The lift’s default position must be ground floor, so after a few minutes of inactivity, it had descended back to where it was most likely to be used. I smiled with relief and resumed my ascent of the slippery, shiny, marble staircase. The top floor was the eighth and Mandy was in 804, second door on the left. I paused outside to regain my breath. At the end of the corridor, the moon was casting a blue-white glow on the maroon carpet, which was a thick and luxurious Axminster, my feet sank lusciously into the material and I realised just how much she was taking the piss out of Billy. What’s more she was stupid. I pushed gently at the door and it just swung open, no lock, no nothing; the thick bitch hadn’t even locked her front door, not even put it on the snick. Then I had second thoughts, was this a trap? Was Billy setting me up? It wouldn’t surprise me; those questions about Ronnie Carter came back hard and sharp now, was this Billy’s way of testing me or sorting me out once and for all? I paused; I listened, there was nothing. I pushed the door and it swung open with a heavy authority. I paused, I listened. There was still nothing so I moved in, quickly. I needed to get to the kitchen; I needed to get tooled up before I did anything else. The flat had a small lobby of wooden parquet floor which fed into five doors cut into wooden panelling of dark mahogany. This was getting stranger; surely this was no bird’s house? It was too dark and Victorian, like a gentleman’s hunting lodge. The second door on my right was slightly ajar and I could see the kitchen behind it. I leaped for it and closed the door behind me. I heard a movement, a door opening, bare feet on the floor, heavy, 122

another door opening and closing, then the sound of pissing. A man pissing. The alarm bells were clanging big time now. What the fuck was going on? What the fuck was a bloke doing here? Quit while you’re ahead, I decided; get out before something uncontrollable kicks off. I headed for the door. The kitchen light switched on blinding me but I adjusted quicker than Mandy. There she was, just as Billy’d described, great pair of tits, gorgeous rust coloured hair cascading round her shoulders, eyes blinking painfully in the glare. I could have kissed her. Then she saw me. “Shit!” Mandy spat the word out, harsh and pointed, containing within, the knowledge that she’d been found out by Billy and that I was there to do something about it. She froze, eyes fixed on mine, time stopped. Hanging from a magnetic metallic band on the wall close to the stove were a row of carving knives, I snatched one, took two large steps towards her and rammed it up beneath her rib cage, through her lungs and into her heart. Our faces came up close so I could feel her breath on my chin. We stared deeply into each other’s eyes till hers clouded over. I withdrew the knife and she fell to the ground with a look of utter astonishment on her face. Behind her there was the sound of flushing and a man came out of the mahogany door directly opposite me. He was in his fifties, short and completely covered in a fuzz of grey hair. He had the look of someone I knew. “Fuck me” – he saw the girl at my feet, blood oozing out in a crimson pool towards him. He froze, transfixed by Mandy dead on the floor at my feet. Billy was right, she had been fucking someone on the side and now he’d seen me, which was a pity. Without thinking, without even pausing, I took three steps towards him and repeated what I’d just done to Mandy. The look of astonishment that covered his face as I stepped back to admire my handiwork was even greater than hers. The life emptied from his watery grey eyes and he too collapsed at my feet, his right hand reaching out towards Mandy. I returned to the kitchen, taking great care to avoid the growing pools 123

of blood that were spreading towards each other. I washed the knife in the sink and hung it on its metallic band and then left the flat, closing the door gently behind me. Moving quickly, I took each stair one at a time, skipping down to the ground floor in a couple of minutes. Guy was still there, out for the count, obstructing the front door. I leaped over his prone body and scampered up the gravel path, across the road to the Mondeo. I bleeped the door open and got in, revved the engine and pulled away, as quickly as I dared. I drove south, heading towards Brighton; it was as good a place as any. It was hard driving though, my mind kept going back to the bloke in the flat, who was he? What was he doing there? It was a necessary kill, no doubt about it, but not what I’d planned. Everywhere I looked I saw his face, heard his breathing, smelled his blood. All around me I imagined blue lights and sirens and my foot surged gently down on the accelerator till I found myself doing sixty in a thirty mile an hour zone. Grabbing hold of myself before I completely lost it, I eased off the accelerator, got down to a legal speed and drove on allowing a lunatic emptiness to settle over me. The journey to Brighton was a strange cocooned affair; the rolling downs outside emerged imperceptibly from the southern suburbs of London, but they were easily ignored. I tried to stop thinking so I shoved in a tape but the noise was inappropriate, hard metallic clanging of thumping house music was no good. I tried the radio but the mindless burble of late night chat shows was even worse. Only silence felt right, sound-tracked by the flat, rushing of the car eating up the road in an endless cable. Brighton was quiet and empty as I pulled up on the sea front some ninety minutes later. I let the car idle down, the air conditioning turn itself off and bathed in the silence. This was a strange lonely feeling I’d never encountered before, what was going on? It couldn’t be that bloke surely? Okay he was a bystander, he’d been in the way but that had happened many times before. What was the difference this time? Maybe it was the game itself, it was getting me down, the loneliness, the suspicion, always the Fear coming on me in the early hours. All this was getting to me, had done for a while. All I’d ever wanted was to have the money to go to a few clubs, drop a few E’s, live the life. Be a face. Now look at me, gun for hire, topping people just because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Shite when I’d 124

first heard “Strings for Life” that was meant to be a gateway to a better world, not this, not this. This isn’t what I am, what I believe in. All I want is to be in control, do what I want, when I want, not have some bastard telling me to be in at work nine to five and still not have enough money for Alone or the Ministry. I looked out across the sea, the half moon hung in a cloudless sky, casting a glittering trail across the sea. Far off the blast of a ship’s horn disturbed the gentle white noise of the waves rolling up and down the stony beach. I got out and began walking up and down the concrete car park, allowing the bitter salt air to penetrate every pore, every thought, trying to seek comfort in nature but it never came. I bent over and for the first time in ten years, I threw up. A huge yawning blankness enveloped me. My hands, my whole body began to shake and I keeled over to the tarmac, head hitting the ground knocking me out stone cold. I lay there till the cold sea breeze finally woke me to the rising dawn sun. I tried to stand up but my legs were like jelly and I collapsed into the car’s bonnet. I slid to the ground, eyes closed, filled with fear, panic and dread. Something had to change. Something had to change.

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Laird Long

Long pounds out fiction in all genres. Big guy, sense of humor. Writing credits include: Blue Murder Magazine, Futures Mysterious Anthology Magazine, Hardboiled, Thriller UK, Shred of Evidence, Bullet, Robot, Eternal Night, Another Realm, The Dark Krypt, Albedo One, and stories in the anthologies Amazing Heroes, The Mammoth Book of New Comic Fantasy, The Mammoth Book of Jacobean Whodunits, and The Mammoth Book of Perfect Crimes and Impossible Mysteries.

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BRIDEGOON
The bell over the door jingled, advertising the fact that someone had entered the building. “Right with you!” Conrad yelled from his back office, cursing Debbie under his breath. Debbie was the receptionist, and she was sick again – pushing fifty and coming apart like a lemon-toned Dodge Aspen. Conrad slammed the filing cabinet shut, stubbed out his cigarette, and walked heavily down the short, linoleum-tiled hall. He halted briefly at Ovide’s open door. “Doin’ anything besides trolling for porn?” he asked. He didn’t wait for an answer. Ovide snapped his laptop shut and followed after Conrad. There was a man standing at the front counter. He was dressed in a white polo shirt, tan Dockers, and white running shoes. He had a pair of sunglasses clinging to the open neck of his shirt. He looked like a lab-bound chemistry teacher playing it cool for the teen creme crowd. He was small for his age, which looked to be early-forties. Blonde fuzz covered his head. He had a pale, round face, with long, red, almostscabbed-over scratches running parallel to each other on his right cheek. His eyes were blue, watery, and rimmed with red. “Hi,” Conrad said. He stuck out a huge, freckled hand and the little guy pulled a damp mitt out of his pocket and shook. “Hi,” he said back. “How’re you doing?” Conrad studied him a moment. He looked familiar. The little guy piled on another layer of sweat during the tight silence. “Dwight Timchuk,” Conrad finally stated, satisfied. Timchuk bobbed his head up and down like a bench seat hooker. “You remember.” Ovide crowded in behind Conrad. The tiny reception area was packed. “Sure,” Conrad replied. He was a man of few words, but plenty of memories. He turned around, partially exposing Ovide standing in the shadow of his bulk. “This is my associate, Ovide Lambert.” Conrad pointed a nicotine-stained digit at Timchuk. “Dwight Timchuk. I posted a surety bond on him about six months ago.”

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“Hello,” Ovide said, reaching past Conrad’s enormous stomach and grabbing Timchuk’s hand for a brief arm pump. He normally liked to do it two-handed, to inspire trust, but there wasn’t room. Timchuk’s face jiggled slightly. “Hello,” he said back. “How’d things work out?” Conrad asked. “The charge?”Timchuk giggled. “Aw, no problem. The judge gave me thirty days in jail. I was out in fifteen. No big deal.” He grinned nervously at the two men. His breath was like stale beer and his eyes were sharp with panic. “Domestic disturbance,” Conrad rumbled, filling in the details for his associate. He frowned significantly. “Oh, yes?” Ovide remarked casually. “Tough.” Timchuk rubbed his pudgy, little hands together – they were covered with red blotches; some kind of rash. “Zero tolerance. You know.” “Sure, I-” “You here on business?” Conrad interrupted. “Or just filing a progress report?” He coughed harshly into his hand, wiped the remainders on his pants. He didn’t like bailees hanging around the office, thinking they had a friend. Timchuk giggled again. “Yes, business. That’s what you guys call it, I guess.” He looked down suddenly. The sunny disposition was gone, and a tear shower was on the way. Conrad hastily pointed down the hall, almost taking out Ovide’s eye. “Let’s talk in my office,” he barked. The floor creaked as they walked single-file down the narrow hallway. The small, stand-alone, corrugated metal building was located in the middle of a warehouse district, three blocks down from the Law Courts building. The traffic in the area was mainly tractor-trailers, loading and unloading. At night, the area was as dead as an actuary’s personality - guard dogs and night watchmen eyed each other suspiciously. Conrad fell back into his black, leather chair, air whistling out the sides. Ovide grabbed a couple of padded folding chairs for himself and Timchuk. File folders, letters, bills, forms, and other sundry paperwork was scattered all over the top of Conrad’s massive maple desk, some of it in piles, some of it loose. Cigarette butts boiled out of an upside-down GI’s helmet. The faux-wood-paneled walls of the office were sparsely furnished – a couple of framed pictures of Conrad’s 128

Vietnam gunship unit, and his various licenses. Sun drifted through a dirty window, torn into stripes by the dusty, wooden blinds. “You mind?” Conrad asked rhetorically. He chuckled and lit a cigarette. “Coffee, Mr. Timchuk?” Ovide asked, a courteous smile on his face. He liked to keep things professional. A two-year diploma in criminology from the local community college had taught him that much. He was a smooth-faced, handsome kid of twenty-two. He was medium height, with a medium build. He had slick, black hair, combed straight back. He wore a black, silk, short-sleeved shirt, a pair of sharplycreased, black slacks, and polished, black shoes with no socks. He had pushed around a tow-truck for six months after graduating from high school, then worked a year for a parking lot company – handing out tickets to unimpressed cars with tardy owners. He had read Conrad’s ad in the paper, Conrad had been desperate, and Ovide had been hired. Ovide handed Timchuk a cup with the logo ‘California Bail Agents Association’ on it, and filled it with coffee. Conrad picked up his mug, blew in it, and shoved it at Ovide. Ovide filled it to the rim, and smiled pleasantly at Conrad. Conrad’s hand got shaky, and he spilled some of the hot brew as he brought the mug up to his lips. Ovide filled a paper cup with water for himself. Conrad used a bail application to mop up the spilled beverage, and asked: “What’s up?” Timchuk grinned sheepishly. His teeth were small and stubby like his fingers, only cleaner. “Well, uh, you guys do private investigations, don’t you?” He looked from one man to the other. “I mean, you’re P.I.’s as well as bail bondsmen, aren’t you?” Conrad blew a blue stream of smoke into the air. “We offer many services, Mr. Timchuk,” Ovide replied. “My associate and I,” he gestured absently at Conrad, who frowned, “are both licensed private investigators in the state of California, as well as licensed bail agents. So, how can we be of assistance?” Conrad chugged his coffee and slammed the mug down on his desk. “This about your wife again, Timchuk?” Timchuk nodded, and shunted to the edge of his chair. “Yes, it is. 129

She’s been missing for ten and a half days now, and the police can’t seem to find her. I’m sure they’re trying,” he pointed out democratically, “but I don’t know how hard.” He clenched his hands together and stared down at the floor. “She took our daughter with her,” he added, in a broken voice. A fly buzzed against the window, trapped in the smoke-heavy air. It wasn’t going to find much better outside. “I don’t do domestics,” Conrad stated brusquely. “I handle most of the bonding business and insurance investigations. You better talk to Mr. Lambert – he’s our domestic man.” He grinned at Ovide. “Yes,” Ovide said, rising smoothly. “Come into my office, Mr. Timchuk and we’ll discuss your situation.” The two men filed out of Conrad’s office. Timchuk threw a disappointed look back over his shoulder. Conrad stared at him with unblinking, frog-like eyes, grunted, then spat into a waste paper basket labeled ‘suggestions’ next to his desk. He ground out his cigarette in the helmet, pulled out another, and lit it. The screen saver on his computer shoved against the back wall blinked ‘Uzi does it’. He opened a thick file, hit the hands free button on the phone, and punched in a number. “Mrs. Johnston?” he asked gruffly. “Where the hell is your boy?” He listened to the plaintive wailings for a moment, then said: “He’s got a court appearance in half an hour. He said he was coming to see me fifteen minutes ago.” He listened again. “Yeah, well, get his ass down here – you hear!?” * Conrad shoved his way out of the Law Courts building and trudged back to his office. The sun beat down on his blistered neck. The sun was too damn close to the Earth at this latitude, he thought. Made everyone just a little nuts; fried people’s brains – like in the Middle East. He was used to cooler climes. Like St. Paul, Minnesota, where he had banked fifteen years as a police officer before a paedophile with matching black eyes and a split nose had forced him to resign. Johnston had been neatly squared away for two years less a day, but Conrad wasn’t wasting anymore time thinking about him. He was thinking about Dwight Timchuk and his pale, sweaty face and his pudgy, nervous hands. He pushed open the office door and the bell tinkled its welcome and warning. He waited for fifteen seconds, but Ovide didn’t make an appearance. He banged his knuckles against 130

Ovide’s closed door. Ovide shouted: “Come in!” Conrad pushed the door open. It got stuck halfway on a strategicallyplaced wooden doorstop lying on the floor. Conrad shoved the door so hard it almost broke free of its hinges. “Debbie’s away, you know, recovering from some imaginary illness. So when I’m gone, you gotta answer the bell.” Ovide mumbled something into the phone like, “See you tonight”, and hung up. “Huh? Yeah, sure, won’t happen again.” He smiled, and all was forgiven. Conrad sank into a chair. There wasn’t enough room to even cross his legs in the tiny office. “You file your license renewal education form?” “Just about to do that,” Ovide replied. “What’s the deadline again?” “Beginning of this month.” Conrad lit up a smoke. “What did Timchuk tell you? Something that should be accompanied by violins, no doubt.” Ovide gave Conrad an oral summary of the information Timchuk had provided. Roxanne Timchuk, wife, disappeared 10.5 days previous with a thousand dollars and change from the Timchuk joint bank account and the fruit of their loins – one year old Lydia Timchuk. Dwight had no idea where the pair had gone, and such an occurrence had never occurred before in the couple’s one and a half year old marriage; a marriage, according to Dwight, that was choc full of the kind of bliss you only read about in human ecology textbooks from the 1950s. Roxanne had originally met Dwight through an international marriage broker, and had emigrated from the worker’s paradise of Kazakhstan to tie the knot. Dwight had phoned the broker as soon as Roxanne had gone missing, thinking that the guy might know where she could have gone, but, like any good after-sale salesman, the line was disconnected and the internet site only listed a post office box. Roxanne didn’t know a lot of English, but she had worked at a coffee shop on Laurel Canyon Boulevard until her sudden and unexplained departure. She was twenty-five years old and Dwight was forty-two. Dwight worked at the Department of Motor Vehicles, Long Beach office. He had a clean record except for the domestic assault incident 131

six months previous, in which his wife had alleged that he had used her face as a toilet brush - then subsequently dropped the charges. The benevolent, dead hand of the State, nevertheless, guided Dwight to a prison cell despite his wife’s retraction. He was currently on fullpay family leave from the DMV, and had a couple of unrelated grievances pending. “A real servant of the taxpayer, huh?” Conrad remarked. He was impressed with Ovide’s presentation. “Does he have any idea where his Kazakhstani wife with the pigeon-English and the bawling spitball could possibly go?” “He thinks another man,” Ovide replied, smoothing his hair back with both hands. Conrad grunted. “Good looking?” “You make the call.” Ovide held up a photo. It was a wedding picture. The wedding party consisted of Dwight, Roxanne, and a heavily-sideburned minister ensconced in a rhinestone frock and a six-string. Viva Las Vegas! Roxanne was wearing a simple, green, sleeveless dress. She had long, blonde hair, big, brown eyes, slightly crooked teeth, a slim waist, and heavy-caliber breasts. “Not bad, eh?” Conrad took a long pull on his cigarette and exhaled through his nose. “Cops got any leads?” “Just the Dear Dwight letter that Roxanne left behind.” He held up a photocopy. The writing on the page was sloppy, and there wasn’t much of it. “She says that she and her daughter can’t take anymore of his ‘abute’, so they’re leaving.” He paused. “Dwight claims it’s synthetic hogwash, the kind of stuff Pravda used to print, but admits that it is her writing. Cops aren’t so sure it’s hogwash.” “You talk to Quigley?” “That I did. The ancient veteran cracked open the file for me – after I promised to introduce him to Debbie. He says that his flat-footed comrades aren’t looking too hard. They think that the evidence points to a mail-order marriage gone past due – return to sender.” Conrad nodded. He squinted. “Don’t blame ‘em.” He pointed meaningfully at Ovide. “You never know who the hell is telling the truth in a domestic.” 132

Ovide revealed his gleaming teeth in a smile, then waved his hand in front of his face to dissipate some of the blue haze. “You never know, you’re right. However, all I have to do is find Mrs. T and the little T..” Conrad stood up. He dug around in his left ear with a sausage-like finger. “You find them and bring them back, or you tell Dwight where they are, and he’ll probably buy a gun, draft a woe-is-me confessional, murder the pair, and then kill himself - so they can all be together forever in the Promised Land outside Waco, Texas.” “Not much of a romantic are you?” “I could be the last of the red-hot lovers for all you know, but I’m first and foremost a realist.” “Well, they’re going to have to meet eventually,” Ovide responded, picking up the phone. “Like Gorbachev and Reagan. I’m just helping things along – at two hundred and fifty a day, plus expenses. Remember?” * “Excuse me, please, but you’re from the what again?” Ovide smiled. He adjusted his tie with his long, smooth fingers. “I work for the California Payroll Association. I just started there a month ago, actually. Fresh out of the auditing program at Redondo College, you know.” He grinned sheepishly. “And Hava Java was my first assignment.” “And a Mrs. Roxanne Timchuk is owed five hundred dollars? I just want to make sure that I understand you. You said it all so quickly.” Ovide nodded. “Sorry. I’m a little bit nervous.” The man smiled warmly, seeking a connection. “That’s quite all right,” he said. “But why have you come here – this I do not understand?” “Well, we know that Mrs. Timchuk is a landed immigrant from Kazakhstan, awaiting U.S. citizenship, and since there is no KazakhstanAmerican Association that we know of, we thought we’d try the Russian-American Association. And you, Mr. Krutov, are the California branch President. So here I am!” Krutov nodded. “You are indeed. But, please, call me Sergei.” Sergei Krutov was a thick, middle-aged man, short, with a pencil-thin, black moustache. He was dressed in a yellow jacket, green pants, and a white shirt. A mocha-colored puff cascaded out of the breast pocket 133

of his jacket. “Let’s reconvene on the couch, shall we?” he said. “It’s far more comfortable.” Ovide smiled his agreement and they sat down together on the small, cream-colored couch. It was more love-seat than couch. “Why don’t you try to relax, Mr. Lambert, and we shall discuss your request,” Krutov said soothingly, drawing Ovide closer towards him. The office door suddenly banged opened and the receptionist briskly waddled in. She was carrying a gun-metal teapot and two bone-china cups upon a silver tray. Krutov looked up, annoyed. “Set it down on the desk, please, Mrs. Garenko. Thank you.” Mrs. Garenko was a heavy-set woman, with a slight hunchback and the trace of a Stalinist mustache on her flabby upper lip. She looked sourly at the two men sitting side by side on the couch. “Ah, a couch meeting,” she snorted indignantly through a thick Ukrainian brogue. “You will be in good hands, Mr. Lambert,” she added, looking at Krutov and grinning harshly. Her teeth were green and spaced far apart, like the Russian pickets at the Battle of Tannenberg. Krutov stamped his foot impatiently on the thick shag carpet, making a sound akin to someone’s bottom being whacked with a velvet banana. “That will be all, Mrs. Garenko!” Mrs. Garenko sniffed grimly and exited the room. She left the door slightly ajar. Krutov quickly jumped to his feet, shut the door, and returned to the couch in one flowing motion. It left him a little breathless. “A good woman, Mrs. Garenko,” he remarked bitterly. His eyes rapidly filled with Ovide again, who was looking young and fresh in his off-the-rack blue business suit. “So you deduced that I might have some information regarding Mrs. Timchuk,” Krutov stated. “Very clever. The California Payroll-” “The CPA,” Ovide said. Krutov smiled, and patted Ovide’s leg, up around the quadriceps. “Yes, the CPA. They seem to go to great lengths in their work.” 134

Ovide nodded. He moistened his lips with his thick, pink tongue. “Money owed is money due.” Krutov frowned. “How’s that?” “That’s our motto. And, like I said, I was assigned to do the payroll audit of the Hava Java chain. They have three stores in Orange County, you know.” “Do they?” “Oh yes. And I found out that they owed a number of employees retroactive pay as a result of the change in minimum wage rates on January 1. A lot of companies, especially smaller ones, weren’t even aware of the change. Or chose to ignore it.” He concluded: “It was an error, either way, and a correctable one.” Krutov solemnly nodded his head. “Yes, now I see. It comes clear. You did a very good job of explaining it, Ovide.” He clapped his hands together, then put them down flat on the couch, his right hand sliding gracefully under Ovide’s left buttock. “Ovide Lambert,” he murmured, looking deep into Ovide’s shallow eyes. “What a lovely name. Tell me, have you ever been to Europe, Ovide?” Ovide shook his head, and a sad frown blossomed on his crimson lips. “No, I haven’t. But I do love all things European.” Krutov smiled. “What a coincidence! I love all European things.” His laugh tinkled. Krutov’s enveloping aftershave, applied by the gallon drum, apparently doubled as a muscle relaxant, because Ovide found that his eyelids were drooping. “Roxanne Timchuk,” he said finally, breaking the spell. Krutov shuddered. “Oh yes, of course. I only met Mrs. Timchuk once, you understand, and I have no idea where she is living presently, but I do know of a Russian gentleman who, uh, helps women such as Mrs. Timchuk emigrate from foreign lands and achieve U.S. citizenship. I believe that he performed such a service for Mrs. Timchuk.” Ovide grinned. “That’s great! I can mail the cheque to him, if you think that’d be all right, and get it off our books. The other employees at Hava Java told me that Mrs. Timchuk has been having some, uh, marital troubles, so we don’t want the cheque to fall into the wrong hands.” “Very wise,” Krutov agreed. “Domestic problems can be very unpleas135

ant for the well-intentioned outsider.” Silence fell across the room like a chenille bed curtain. Krutov studied Ovide’s mouth. “Uh, could you give me the address of this Russian gentleman you mentioned, Mr. Krutov?” Krutov considered the request. “Well, Ovide, that really is confidential information, you know.” He crossed his legs and his left foot touched Ovide’s knee. “I normally only give that type of information to people with whom I am on a more intimate basis. Do you understand?” Ovide pretended to look confused, yet eager to learn. * Conrad pounded the brake pedal and the van stopped with a jolt - two houses short of 1046 Shasta Street. He turned off the engine, pocketed the keys, and glanced over at Ovide. The rented van’s heavilytinted windows kept the sun’s hot glare out and the interior impenetrable. “You’re sure Roxanne and the kid are in there?” “Almost positive,” Ovide responded immediately. He took a sip from his bottle of water. “I’ve been here on and off for three days and the only person to come or go has been Teldov.” “The marriage broker?” “Right.” “So?” “Well, yesterday it was garbage day.” Conrad waited, then grunted angrily. “What day was it on the school cycle?” Ovide smiled. “So, when Teldov went out, I casually dug through the garbage bins in the back lane and found an empty box of tampons and a bag full of used diapers.” Conrad snorted. “Maybe there’s an old broad in there with retarded menopause and a weak bladder.” “Or, maybe your girlfriend isn’t staying there, and in fact there is a woman and a baby inside - being the ones we are looking for.” Conrad frowned. He stared out the windshield at the faded, yellow 136

bungalow. The blinds were drawn tightly shut in every window, including the basement ones. Most people didn’t even have blinds on their basement windows. A dog barked lazily somewhere down the street. “How’s the pucker, by the way?” Ovide smiled sarcastically. “Very funny. You could do stand-up – if they let you sit down. For your information, my session with Krutov didn’t go any further than some hand-slapping and an exchange of home phone numbers. Yours, by the by.” Conrad set fire to a cigarette, took a sip from a styrofoam cup filled with cold coffee. “Teldov not around right now?” “His car’s not in the driveway or the back lane.” “Where does he usually park?” “Driveway.” “What does he drive?” “Volkswagon Jetta.” Conrad squinted. “Okay, Mom P.I., enough babysitting. We can sit here on our frightfully sore asses until we get a visit from the welcome wagon, or we can do something?” Ovide nodded grimly. “Let’s roll.” The two men climbed out of the van and walked normal-speed to the back of the house. Ovide was about to knock on the door, when Conrad grabbed his arm. “Why don’t you blow reveille on my skinbugle while you’re at it,” he whispered fiercely. “Don’t tarnish your knuckles and let her know you’re coming.” Conrad pulled a leather pouch out of his jacket pocket and went to work on the door. Ovide groaned. “Oh, great,” he said. “Now we can get busted for b&e.” “No one who’s got something to hide is going to complain about a little thing like forcible entry. They’re going to expect it.” Conrad had the back door open in an L.A. minute. The two men cautiously stepped across the threshold. 137

It was hot as a furnace inside the starter house. They walked softly through the tiny kitchen and into the living room. The house was spotlessly clean for a Russian bachelor pad. The furniture was nondescript, but new. A half-empty baby bottle was partially buried under a cushion on the couch. Ovide stealthily opened a couple of closet doors, peered inside, then jiggled the knob of a door that was locked. He motioned to Conrad. Conrad nodded. He padded over, like an elephant tiptoeing through the Mouseketeer family cemetery, pulled his leather pouch out again, and popped the door open. They heard a woman’s voice coming from down below, speaking softly in a foreign language. The way she exaggerated certain words made it sound like she was reading something to a baby, or a smoke-engorged member of the Marijuana Party. “Mrs. Timchuk!” Conrad called down the stairs. The woman’s voice stopped instantly. The only sound was the ticking of a clock in the kitchen, and a car driving down the back lane. Then a baby began to cry. It sounded hungry. Conrad shoved Ovide down the stairs first. He held the baby bottle out in front of him like a live grenade. * “We’ll have to tell your husband where you are, Roxanne,” Ovide stated matter-of-factly. The baby grabbed his finger, squeezed it, and giggled. Roxanne and Lydia were sitting on the couch. Ovide was sitting in a chair next to the couch. Conrad was standing by the front window, cracking the blinds every now and then to check the street. “Why you have to tell Dwight?” Roxanne asked, her eyes brimming with liquid sadness. “I no want him involved!” Conrad chuckled. Ovide ignored him and said: “He has to be involved, Roxanne. Lydia is as much his daughter as yours.” Lydia giggled again and smiled at Ovide, saliva bubbles popping out of her little mouth. “If you’re worried that he’s going to hurt you or the baby, then you should talk to the police. You should have done that in the first-” “Dwight will no hurt me! He never hurt me!” she yelled indignantly. “Dwight is good husband and father!” 138

Conrad grunted. He turned around and looked at Roxanne. “How about that domestic abuse beef six-twelfths ago? Dwight served fifteen days in the county rest home for the privilege of flushing your head down the crapper.” Roxanne angrily met Conrad’s eyes. “He did nothing! I make up complaint because I am mad at him. I take back complaint when I calm down, but your justice system put him in jail anyway! Remind me of days of Andropov!” “Vaht a country!” Ovide remarked, tickling the baby. Conrad frowned and lit a cigarette. “No smoking in front of baby!” Roxanne objected. “I do it all the time – he doesn’t mind,” Conrad replied. “Oh, your baby.” He ground the coffin nail out on the hardwood floor. “So what are you doing here, Mrs. Timchuk?” She sighed. “Yuri Teldov make me come here. He want to sell me as foreign bride again.” “Again?” “Yes. Dwight is third husband for me. Yuri sets things up, collects money, I marry, then I leave, go back to Kazakhstan, and Yuri re-sell me all over again. Different name, different hair color, different eye color – it good scam. Make me and Yuri lots of money. Good money – American dollars. Former husbands too embarrassed to do anything. They think I just get fed up with them and return home. No moneyback guarantee, you know?” “But this time you didn’t want to leave, did you, Roxanne?” Ovide asked sympathetically. Conrad made a face at him. Roxanne nodded, squeezed Ovide’s hand. “You are very nice man,” she said. “Your friend have personality of constipated Brezhnev, but you are nice man. Yes, you are right. I am happy with Dwight and baby.” She kissed the back of Lydia’s head. “Yuri very upset I have baby. Lowers property value, he say.” She thrust out her chest. “Frontage still good, but-” “So what are you doing here, Mrs. Timchuk?” Conrad reiterated. She looked up at him. “Yuri threaten to hurt baby unless I go with him! He take me and lock me inside this house! What can I do? My English is not so good and-” 139

“You stupid, loud-mouthed bitch!” A man had snuck in the back door. He had a Glock 9 mm. hanging loose in his right hand, and anger and frustration boiled out all over his fat, greasy face. “You stupid, loud-mouthed bitch slut!” he screamed. “Yuri!” Roxanne cried. “No!” Teldov brought the gun up and three explosions rocked the small house. Stuffing was blasted out of the couch and into the air. Right away, another gun ferociously answered back. Teldov’s body jerked around a couple of times, slammed back against the wall, then slowly sunk to the floor like the Soviet empire. His chest was thick with blood. Conrad advanced, the .38 rigid in front of him. He kicked the smoking gun out of Teldov’s pasty, limp hand. Ovide cradled the stunned baby in his arms. The silence was thunderous after the gun play. Roxanne lay sprawled backwards on the couch, a ragged, red hole leaking blood on the left side of her forehead. “Domestics,” Conrad muttered to himself disgustedly.

140

Tony Lagosh

Tony is in his mid-forties and lives in the pleasant idyll of Cambridge just off Jesus’ Piece. He leads a dull existence as a small time accountant which he livens up every now and then with petty acts of shop lifting and by sleeping with his boss’ wife. “Being Dead” first appeared in Bullet 1. “Job Done” first appeared in Bullet 4. 141

BEING DEAD
Being Dead. Much like being alive. Maybe that’s why I did it. Three o’clock. Wednesday afternoon. Middle of April. Easter egg wrappers covered the floor, covered her, covered everything. Shards of chocolate creamed into the carpet, melting into the twill. An unholy mess. I stood up, levering on the ancient wooden dining table. The linen tablecloth slipped and the curling sandwiches twitched like they were alive. I was going to get caught, I knew it. This time was the last time. I staggered to the TV clutching at the plastic top, steadying my legs, desperate not to collapse again. Then the vomit roared out of me like Concorde. Splattering and squelching the yellowing sixties floral wall paper with a mottled, lumpy pattern. Gravity dragged it down the wall like cheap curry. Blackness came over me again and I fell, giving in to the blank weakness that rose within. I woke. Pain was throbbing in my left cheek. It was easier to stand this time; I hauled myself upwards and touched her leg. I kicked it hard, out of the way so that I could get to the mirror. There I saw a blackening bruise, the size of a grape. Must have caught the table as I fell. Pain and tiredness and being fucking sick of it all. And of course her. That’s what was doing it I told myself. That was what was making me puke. I shook myself straight and made for the door. She was in the way so I trod on her yielding stomach, making her rise like a zombie then fall back with a rustle in her coffin of red and pink foil. Outside it was easier. That door behind me, solid, cutting off everything. I started to forget. Time to get out of this shithole. Time to run. Time to go before they came.

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I clipped on my headphones and pressed play. “Is she really going out with him?” I smiled. Drums, fast and urgent, guitars sidling into their riff. The Damned stupid, thick idiots but who’d had a brief glimpse into the meaning of life and captured it in a three-minute punk song. Bastards. It was there, right there in that second when Vanian went AH! Before the guitars hiked up the riff into overdrive. That was it, the moment only the great bands have. That was what I wanted, that little glimpse of Nirvana, that was all that I wanted. And I could get it, boy could I get it. The shit afterwards though, I was beginning to wonder if it was worth it. “New Rose” thrashed on, and something stirred. It brought her back, the music brought her back and then thank god it stopped, cut brutally in its prime. I looked down and saw it was my finger that had stopped it, the stop button was down hard in its slot. There was something moving, flickering inside. I pressed forward and found the fan that could turn it into a flame. “Lust for Life.” I began to run, run like the bloke in Trainspotting, fat laughter rising up to the grey skies above me. Sirens. Blue lights behind me. Police cars and feds getting out. Noone saw me. I kept on running. 314 seconds I ran, then I stopped, the music stopped and my lungs were ballooning out of my rib cage, ready to burst. Fit, I wasn’t. That night. Late. Very fucking late. I sit in a park. The night is cold, the moon is full. I press play but nothing happens. Batteries gone. Flat. Dead. I need something. I feel in my pockets. No money, no keys, nothing. Where to go and what to do. Got to have a direction. The park has a bench. I go there and sit on it. It is rusty red metal. My 143

arse cheeks turn blue cold. It doesn’t matter. There is the railway track. I can see it in the blue moon light, cold and grey and metallic like Cabaret Voltaire. It rises maybe fifty feet in the air on a rubble embankment hidden by the trees of the park growing in front of it. When I was young, when we had bottles of cider, we pretended that the trains ran along the treetops. Fuck, the things we did for entertainment. There’s something about it. Standing there defiant like it’s expecting me to do something. I take the bait and walk towards it, thinking of trains, thinking of Elvis, thinking of Leslie Thompson playing there. Leslie Thompson who’d been cut in half, when he was four and I was five. Trains, trains, trains. Fuck ‘em. Let ‘em all come. Up the rubble embankment I scramble, hands scrabbling in the dirt. There is sticky black mud underneath and my feet keep slipping and sliding away behind me. I slide backwards, face dropping into the mud. Failing even at this. I fall on my back and stare up at the stars, two thousand light years they’ve travelled just to take the piss. I laugh. Nothing else but to. Let ‘em have their fun. I’d had mine. There is nothing left now, nothing. Today was the last time I could get at that magic moment. There’s only music now and that, quite frankly, is nowhere near enough. I pull the Walkman out of my anorak pocket and chuck it as far as I can into the trees around me. Some lucky fucker would find that in a hundred years time and have ninety minutes of the best-goddamned music that had ever been made. I walk back through the park, through the silence eerie in its completeness, clamber over the metal railings and fell on to the road. Middle of the road, knew I’d always end up here. I wait. An hour. Two. Nothing came. Far too late for traffic. Everyone in this town tucked up nicely in bed, dead to the world, dreaming of fluffy bunnies and pensions. Fuck ‘em. A car blasts past my eardrum. It swerves then bangs into the kerb in a 144

screeching heavy black tyre stop. A bloke gets out. I refuse to look at him. I close my eyes. “My God! I nearly killed you! Are you all right?” I mouth the word. A hoarse whisper. “Fuck.” I pause. I take a breath. “Off.” Twat kicks me in the ribs. Feel nothing. I laugh again. An angel could dance on this pinhead. He fucks off. I find the answer. I get the explanation. If the only taste of life you can get is by listening to a crappy cassette full of thirty-year-old punk songs then you really are underneath the barrel licking at slime that grows in wet darkness. That was it. Answers everything. Makes the next step clear. Wish I’d known before I started making this unholy mess. But I had to find out, I had to do something. You can see that can’t you. And there was something there, but fuck, the price I had to pay. So I stand here, the water beneath me. The sky above me, bridge girder beneath my feet. Last chance to feel something. The water hit me. Coldness enveloped me. Wetness subsumed me. It washed nothing away. I sank down. Down, down, deeper and down. 145

I tried to think of Mum. Thinking yeah maybe it was her fault, maybe she deserved it. But I knew I was faking it. Like Elvis, I was faking it. She didn’t deserve that. What I did. Nobody deserved that. I’m sorry Mum. Really, really sorry.

146

JOB DONE
Cambridge, 6.13am Work starts early I thumped the knife into Schroeder and carried on running, leaving it, proud, protruding from his rib cage. Behind me I heard his breathless, middle aged running, slow, then stop as blood filled his heart. I span round and saw him slump to the ground, his back sinking into the mud of Parker’s Piece, hands waving in the air like a mad raver. There was surprise on his face, surprise at the kitchen knife in his chest and at the way the crimson spread across his grey tracksuit. Weakening, his head lolled and he stared straight at me, green eyes in a sun tanned face, tough leather skin, framed by a mess of grey white hair. I watched a vigorous life ebb away. Job done. I kept on running. Shades bounced irritatingly on my nose, and the sweat top hood was tied tightly, contorting my face into a mess of rubbery wrinkles. I was hot and sweaty, bulked out with six sweat tops and three tracksuit bottoms. It made me look overweight, unrecognisable, but boy was it uncomfortable and it put me on edge. It was touching seven by the time I got back to the car. The sun was fully risen in a watery glowing white that was burning off the early morning chill. In the homes that lined the avenue, lights were being switched on as families woke to a new day. Street lamps were clicking off like metronomes, loud sharp and echoing in the morning silence. It was spooky, nerve jangling and it re-ignited the Fear. I got in the car and began to get changed. Then I saw him. An old man walking a black and tan collie. He was reading a paper, idly flicking the pages over whilst his dog strained energetically at the leash. I dropped on to the passenger seat, the gear stick pushing sharply into my ribs. I shifted myself off the stick and lay motionless. Time slowed down, waiting, waiting, expecting the polite tap on the window; my mind was racing, preparing an answer, an explanation. I stuck my hand into the glove compartment. I heard the scattering of the dog’s claws and the faint rustle of the man’s newspaper fade away. I sat up and sneaked a look. He was heading towards the River, he gave no glance backwards but I let him 147

turn the corner before I twisted the key to start the engine. I pulled away. I’d have to get changed somewhere else. Fifteen miles out of Cambridge I found it. A Little Chef set into a clump of trees. Keeping my head down to avoid the CCTV I pulled in and headed for the restaurant. I pushed open the fake wooden door and was hit by the smell of frying bacon. The sheer normality was shocking, it woke me up quicker than a cold shower. In the grimly functional, white light toilets, I found an empty sit down, filled with the smell of stale piss and ineffective bleach. Shutting the door behind me I got changed, peeling the layers off like an onion. Pulling the suit out of the bin bag, I hung it up on the door and smoothed out the creases. I dropped the tracksuits into the bag and re-tied the knot in its neck. Unhooking the suit from its hanger I squeezed into it and a cheap blue shirt and matching tie set. Then I slipped on plastic black shoes and opened the cubicle door, checked there was no one around and left. Two hours later, I was walking into Mertz Rental and being irritated by the ringing of a bell. It brought out a young man, smart in a red uniform, beaming a disturbingly happy smile, full of teeth and vivacity. He had to be a fake, a student of all those self help courses that tell you it takes 300 muscles to frown but only three to smile. All technique and no honesty. It oozed from his shiny red skin, the bright green eyes and the fashionably tousled, dyed blonde hair that crowned a short, slim frame. He reeked of cloying, disinfectant after-shave. “Good morning sir, my name is Colin, how can I help you.?” His voice was sharp and Estuary singsong. “The name’s Fletcher, just returning the car” “If you’d like to take a seat I’ll get your file.” With a theatrical flourish he twirled like Anthea and returned to the back office. I sat in one of the red plastic seats and idly flicked through an old car magazine. A couple of minutes later he was back. “Renault Clio was it sir?” endlessly polite and efficient too, there was no hope for the man. “Yes, it’s parked out front.” I stood and tossed the keys on to the chest high counter and leaned on it, my left arm supporting my chin. “I’ll need to pay for some extra valeting, I’m afraid I’ve made a bit of a mess of the car. Stood in some mud and it got everywhere. It’ll need a thorough cleaning, will that be extra?” “Oh don’t worry about that sir, I’m sure it’s not too bad.” 148

“No really, I would like it to be cleaned thoroughly. Before anybody else uses it.” “It’s all part of the service sir. No bumps or anything?” “No, as I say, just a bit dirty.” Colin whisked round the counter, file in hand and went out to check the car. I could see him through the window, creeping and dancing round the Clio, meticulously examining for damage, circling it in an effeminate war dance. With a balletic leap he jumped up and returned, slightly flushed from the cold air, full of brisk efficiency. “Oh there’s nothing to worry about there sir, could hardly see a thing, quick hoover with the hand vac and it’ll be as good as new.” I didn’t push it. Colin shoved a form at me and I signed it. He let me call a cab and twenty minutes later I was outside Fitness Forever, the only club I ever felt comfortable joining, clutching the incriminating bin bag. It was late morning but there were already fifty or sixty sweating middle aged women pounding away on running and rowing machines. Their faces were bright pink and dark patches of sweat were collecting round their arse crack and arm pits. It was not a pretty sight. If anybody tells you that gyms are a good place to pull, don’t believe ‘em, there is nothing attractive about over weight bodies sweating in stretch fabric leotards, built up into mountains and valleys by piles of unwanted flesh. I shuddered as I weaved my fully dressed way through them, avoiding the occasional flirtatious smile that was flicked my way. As I entered the men’s dressing room I fished out the locker key from my pocket and opened number 672. A pound coin dropped as I swivelled the key. I quickly undressed, and roughly shoved the Burton’s suit into the binbag. I tied a knot in the neck and chucked it in the locker and changed into my Adidas kit. This is never a good time, this is when the Fear hits in a second tsunami. This is when the nerves come on, the regret, the panic, the cold blind terror of being caught. But I have my routine and that helps me cope, it stops the panic, helps me think. Activity is the only cure so I always end up here, at the gym, pounding away on the running machine, burning off the hormones, trying to bring me back down to a 149

level where I can think straight and rationally. Inactivity would mean thought and that would drive me insane. The only way is to lose myself in mindless distraction. Repetitive exercise, loud blaring dance music and cable TV to keep my eyes occupied. Fitness Forever, it’s the only way. An hour later, I was walking out of the gym towards my car I’d left overnight in the gym’s car park. I was calmer, more relaxed, thinking straight again. Amazing what a good work out can do for you. I bleeped the car open and cocooned myself in the black leather upholstery. I turned the key and imperceptibly the engine started, I released the hand brake as the Cream CD kicked in and revved away. On the Fulham Road I noticed a slim black alley. I pulled over, parked across the double yellows and put my lights on hazard. I hauled out the bin bag and nervously entered. It turned sharply to the left behind a kebab shop. There was a bin there, half full of rotting food and discarded packaging. It stank like a rotting body. I hurled the bag into the open top and left its metallic crash echoing behind me. I returned to the car, slipped in and pulled away into traffic. Now I could really relax, now I could go home, now it was over. At least till next time.

150

Kev Martin

Kev is a cabbie in Carlisle. “Swinging Like Tiger” was first published in Bullet 4 and is his only published work. 151

SWINGING LIKE TIGER
Nothing like a nine iron. The rubber grip felt good in my hand, the club felt heavy, satisfying. I swung it, the swoop in the air was deep and booming, the connection with Stevie’s head solid and clean. He fell into the water, moans mixed with bubbles, it was too dark to see the blood. I turned away from him and walked back up the beach. I heard Stevie claw his way up through shallow surf, coughing and spluttering at water and blood and seaweed getting where it shouldn’t. “Jeeze! Bry! What the fuck was that for?” Over his head, just to the right, the moon was rising from the North Sea. It was a Daz blue white, its broken reflections rippled in the eager horse heads rolling up the beach, it was beautiful, calming, atmospheric. Stevie was ruining it though, swaying like an idiot, nonplussed, feeling his head with surprise like he couldn’t quite believe what was going. This was going to take a bit more work. I looked at the iron’s head and made out a bit of bone and hair, I fussily removed it like an over-proud house wife. I let the head drop into the water swilling it till it was clean, then I swung it in a baseball curve and connected with Stevie again. The ribs this time, got him in the ribs, wanted to see what that was like. Stevie gasped, he didn’t cry or scream he gasped, every atom of air expelled from his lungs. I imagined them deflating like balloons. “Bry man! what the fuck are you doing?” “What the fuck does it look like?” “Why man Bry? Why? What the fuck have I done?” “Fuck all, absolutely fuck all.” “So why you doing it then?” “Lovely night innit?” “Bry?” “Good spot for it an’ all.” “Stop it man, Bry, stop it.” “Can’t Stevie. You know that. Started so I finish.”

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“Don’t man, please god don’t. I don’t deserve this, not from you at least.” “What’s going on in there Stevie? In that thick skull of yours, what you thinking?” “I’m thinking what the fuck are you doing? Anyway, it ain’t so thick now, you must have taken an inch out.” We laughed, like only good mates can in times of trouble. “Can you see the tunnel yet?” “The tunnel? What the fuck you mean? The Tyne Tunnel?” “Naw you twat, the tunnel of death, the one with the white light shining at the other end and St Peter welcoming you on. The one you see when you’re going to die.” “I’m going to die?” “Yeah, course you fucking are.” I thumped the iron into his head again like I was Phil Mickelson. Left handed, I know my golfers. I wondered what Tiger would make of my swing. Stevie slumped to his knees, hands clutched to his head. I wondered if he’d have a go at me, I reckoned not, this was all too much for him; the surprise would have done for him. “See it now?” “No, I can’t fucking see anything.” “Gone blind have you?” “No! What? Yes, I mean I don’t know. Fuck! The pain!” Stevie tried to stand up like a man but he swayed like a dumb clown, legs flashed upwards and he collapsed backwards into the water. He was like a cow with an advanced case of BSE, unco-ordinated, legs everywhere. The sand shifting beneath his feet, the disintegrating nervous system, nothing was helping his limbs get him erect again. He splashed in the water, arms flailing eddies of foam into the bleak night air, very atmospheric. I let him calm down, let the splashing cease then I went in. I pulled out a maglite and shone a beam right into his face. It was fixed, still and pale, a facsimile of Stevie, him but not him if you know what I mean. The outside was still there but the spirit, the life force, had gone somewhere else. The blood had gone from his face leaving his skin a deep chalk white but it was now outside, streaming in watery rivulets down his forehead and cheeks. 153

I pulled the camera out, one of them tiny digital things that hangs from a key ring. Comes in handy now and then. I took a couple of quick snaps for later. I wasn’t sure if they’d come out but hey, if they did then they’d be worth looking at. Last few seconds of a man’s life, might be able to learn something, see his spirit leave, see if there is peace right at the end, see if inevitability can be met with rich acceptance, might help me when it’s my turn. A small guttural groan bubbled up; poor fucker was still hanging on. I decided to try it another way, might help him along, I was starting to feel sorry for the poor fucker. I drove the top of the club into his head, thin edge down. It caved into his skull and stuck there, I levered it free with a squelching tug that snapped like a cork. Stevie stopped moving, the hands twitched, the ribs heaved, only the blood kept on moving outwards and downwards and out there towards continental Europe. Then a few bubbles of the last bit of oxygen escaping from his lungs and that was it. Stevie was gone. I stood there a few minutes and wondered what to do next. I looked up the beach and saw a discarded shopping trolley. I heaved Stevie up and on to my shoulders, a dead weight soaking with water and staggered though sinking sand and slippery seaweed to the trolley. I dropped him on the sand and pushed the trolley up on to the causeway. I went back and picked Stevie up, staggered to the trolley and dropped him in the basket with a metallic shivering. I began pushing him up the concrete road and along the pier, it took half an hour and I was fucked when I got to the lighthouse, its blinking eye balefully disapproving. I flashed it the fingers, the cheeky fucker. I took one last heave and pushed them into the inky black void. There was a second of silence then a splash. I dusted off my hands and checked my watch. Gone midnight, just gone. I wondered what that mean, would that mean he’d be stuck in limbo forever not sure if he’d died one day or the next? I laughed, like god or the devil or even Stevie would care about a couple of fucking minutes here and there. I turned and headed back to the hotel. As I did so I slipped in my iPod earphones. The shuffle was on loop and I got “Folsom Prison Blues” over and over and over again.

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Lauren Frenz

Lauren works hard for a living doing things she’d rather not talk about. Nothing exciting or illegal, just boring. Manchester is a fine place to live for now and she kills time by writing. Maybe one day something good will happen. “Sadie” first appeared in Bullet 4. 155

SADIE
Big Dave Malheureuse walked into the café wearing a huge black Paul Smith overcoat and an exasperated expression. He found Sadie’s table, sat down and spread fat banana hands on the Formica. Dave sighed. It couldn’t carry on like this. “Sadie doll, what the fuck you playing at?” Sympathetic was not what he did well. “What’s the matter? Not got the balls to kill a woman?” Sadie bored cold angry eyes hard at Dave. “A woman yes, you no.” “I’ve paid you.” “Here.” Dave handed back his fee wrapped up in a Tesco carrier bag. She pushed it right back at him. “You doing refunds now?” “Just for you. Only for you.” He smiled sheepishly and the conversation stopped. Neither had a clue what to say or do. Dave got up and walked. Sadie sat staring at the bag. FLASH Sadie’s walking down the street. She’s out shopping, spending that fee, the cold hard cash she’s blowing on herself, trying to make herself feel that somehow she’s worth it; but it isn’t working. There still lurks that dread, that wondering why she bothers and if living is nothing more than just wading through treacle then what is the point? It’s a quiet day at the shopping mall, but people still bustle, carrier bags in hand, oblivious to everything but themselves. Shopping malls aren’t healthy places for Sadie right now so she heads to the railway station, a vague notion of travel in her mind. Down the street she walks, takes a short cut down an alley. She stops, there’s a guy there and he ain’t looking good. The blood has gone from his flesh, black encircles his eyes, and crack twitches his bones. He sees the bag and somehow senses what’s in there. In an extravagant arc, he pulls out a knife, and waves it like a hypnotist. 156

It looks right for him, broken down, no handle, serrated edge, rusty. It barely works, but it does, just enough. “Money, fucking money.” It’s like he’s had a jolt of electricity whacked through him and he staggers forward. Sadie spots her opportunity, smiles and falls forward. FLASH Big Dave Malheureuse walks into the ward, still wearing his black Paul Smith overcoat and carrying a big bunch of yellow carnations in his hand. His fat face, red with panic and burst capillaries is twitching nervously. He’s terrified of what he’s about to see. He lets out a deep wheezing sigh as he sees Sadie, seemingly okay. There’s a drip attached to her arm and she’s drugged to the eye balls. Still she’s breathing and functional despite that bandage on her shoulder. Dave sits in the chair beside her bed, clutching the garage bought flowers like a nervous date. He waits for her to notice he’s there. Minutes turn to hours but he stays there, motionless focused on her, mind blank, meditating on Sadie and what he can do for her. Given his line of work there is only one thing he can do but he ain’t going to do it. Eventually she begins to surface. She moves and then realises someone’s there. She rolls towards him and Dave puts his arms out to catch her. Sadie smiles blearily at him. Embarrassed, Dave gets up and begins to arrange the flowers as delicately as fat, clumsy, killing hands will allow. “This is your fault Dave. Leave it to an amateur and look what happens.” Dave sits down and takes her hand. “Like I said Sadie, I don’t do friends.” “Friends help out, do things for people. I need help Dave, you can help me. Only you can help me.” Exhausted by the effort she falls back in her bed and stares glumly at the ceiling. 157

Dave shifts uncomfortably, he feels the need to justify himself. “If I was an accountant, I’d do your books. If I was a solicitor, I’d write your will. If I was a priest I’d take your confession. If I was anything else I’d do anything else for you. But I am what I am and I cannot do this Sadie. Sadie, this is too much.” “Mr. Soft guy huh?” He squeezes her hand. “Don’t tell anybody.” FLASH Sadie’s finally made it to the railway station. Felt the need to move, go somewhere, do something, take control. There’s a train coming and the platform is packed. She’s wearing Dave’s overcoat on top of her hospital bed clothes. Dave went for a coffee and she took his precious Paul Smith overcoat while he was away. Her ribs are burning from the knife wound and she feels a dampness begin to grow as the blood seeps through the bandage. Her bare feet are stinging from the inadvertent tramplings she’s getting in the crush. The train comes banging into the station, she closes her eyes and falls forward and then…… A hand grabs the belt and pulls her back. She turns and sees Dave. Her heart sinks, quickly replaced by a rising anger. “Dave please, let me go.” “Nope Sadie. You can’t just give it away like that.” “My God what are you doing this for? Are you in love with me?” “In general yes, romantically no.” “What’s the matter? Don’t you fancy me?” “Nah. You’re not my type.” “You got a type?” “We all got types.” “What’s your type?” “Women who ain’t nuts.” “Guess I’m all out on that one.” “You got other things going on. But I don’t wanna marry you or shit like that.” “Then what you doing all this for?” ”Friends do what they think is right for their friends.” "Rich coming from you." “I ain’t done right in my life except for this, Sadie. Except for this. 158

Come on gimme a break.” FLASH Sadie’s back home now standing at a Formica work surface in her kitchen. Brown glass bottles are open and spread in front of her. At least Dave didn’t take her back to the hospital but now she’s angry, she’ll show him. “Fat bastard telling me what to do.” She opens a bottle of whisky and pours half into a glass. Then she takes one of those pestle and mortars she got one year when she fancied herself a serious cook. Into it she pours all the pills she can find. Hangover cures, paracetamol, those pink and yellow things she got on prescription for her depression. She grinds them all up into a lumpy grey powder and pours it into the whisky. She gulps it down in five or six coughing, gasping drafts. The doorbell rings, there’s a banging on the door. A smile spreads across her face. “Too late fat boy.” FLASH

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