A Story For Sunday: The Bucket List

The inky-black night had melted into a grubby-grey autumn morning. A pair of screeching, emaciated seagulls cut through the granite sky and landed on the rusty metal railings that lined the wet promenade. They stared at Quigley for a moment before they took off and swooped down on the Rorschach test of blood and gunk that had splatted the statue of Colonel William Wainwright when Quigley had blasted Butler’s brains to smithereens.

Colonel Wainwright, Quigley vaguely remembered from his childhood, had been a local hero once upon a time. He had fought in the Crimean War or maybe the Boer War.  Whatever, a hero, from an era when the world had heroes.

Now, his statue was covered in graffiti. Stained with piss and vomit. Discarded kebabs at its feet. A jagged crack running through its torso. A pink jester’s hat on the head. Wainwright’s statue was a soiled relic of a glorious past. Like the rest of Quigley’s home town.

Quigley looked away in disgust as the birds tucked in. His stomach still hadn’t settled. Maybe a Gin and Tonic back at the hotel would sort him out. It’d certainly work better than that last batch of tablets that the doctor had given him. They helped with the pain, for sure, but the vertigo they induced was almost as bad.

Some of his former colleagues had thought it amusing that someone in Quigley’s line of work could be so squeamish, not that it had ever hindered his efficiency.  Quigley was just relived that he wasn’t completely numbed by the job, as so many of his compatriots were. He still had a degree of empathy for his targets, no matter how loathsome they were. And Wacko Jacko Butler was as loathsome as they came.

A drug dealer, pimp, white slaver, murderer. Other atrocities that Quigley couldn’t bare thinking about. Jacko Butler was the epitome of scum and there were plenty of people that would have paid to have him executed. Although this particular job was on the house. Free. Gratis. Quigley had his own, longstanding, reasons for killing Butler. It had been a pleasure, not a chore.

He grabbed the remainder of Butler’s corpse by the legs and dragged it along to a gap in the railings, leaving a snaking trail of blood. He checked once again to see that no one was watching. It was just after dawn and everywhere was deserted. Out at sea, a lone fishing boat, adorned with fairy lights, rocked on the waves.

Quigley picked up Butler’s body and effortlessly hauled it onto the rocks below. A moment of vertigo and he steadied himself by holding onto the wet railings. Closed his eyes. Waited a moment. Shivered and yawned. Fumbled with the unopened packet of Marlboro  in his coat pocket, opened it and then decided to wait.

Soaked by the early morning sea spray, he fastened his black overcoat tightly. The cold autumn wind blew harder still and he pulled a flat cap from his pocket, put it on his shaved head and set off along the promenade, slouched with Sisyphean resignation. His meeting with Marta wasn’t until noon and he still had plenty of time to head back to The Seaview Hotel and catch a short nap, if he could. Another yawn crept out of him.

 Quigley decided to take a short cut across the muddy town moor, the rain now attacking him from all sides. He jolted alert, a hand immediately on the pistol in his coat pocket, as he noticed an old woman wearing a bright headscarf and yellow anorak heading towards him, gauchely propelled by a pair of Nordic walking sticks. Her head was down and she was listening to an old pink Sony Walkman. Without looking up, she barged straight into him, jabbing him in the foot with one of the walking sticks.

‘Sorry, luvvie,’ she said in strong local accent.

‘No problems,’ growled Quigley. He hadn’t spoken to a soul for the last three days and his throat was like sandpaper. His foot began to burn.

Their eyes locked for a moment and there was a flicker of recognition there but the woman seemed to dismiss whatever thought passed through her mind as ridiculous and continued on her way. Quigley watched as she disappeared down the cobblestoned alleyway that led up to St Hilda’s church. She stopped at the church gate and turned back to look at him. He took a moment of cruel satisfaction in the fact that Lydia Mulcahy had aged so much – and so badly – but realised that it was only a matter of time now before word of his return would spread across the town like cancer. He would have to expedite his plans. He limped toward the hotel feeling ever older with each step but also with a sense of resignation, like before the break of a particularly fearsome storm.

***

It had been a long time since Quigley had flushed with embarrassment but being around Marta seemed to turn him into a fumbling, mumbling teenager.

‘Oh, I never remember names or faces but I always remember shoes,’ said Marta.

She smiled, winked and took a sip of her green tea. Pulled his laptop across the glass table towards her. Opened it and grimaced at the screensaver.

As she started tapping away on the laptop, Quigley took the opportunity to glance down at his muddy and battered brown brogues. His heart sank. He sneakily glanced at Marta’s shiny black shoes. Probably some impressive fancy designer brand that he’d never heard of, he was sure

 Marta always looked stylish these days and today was no exception. She had long black hair, a slash of red lipstick. Black, sweater, black jeans. Very simple but very … well, stylish. Next to her, Quigley felt more than somewhat drab. He’d never realised how dreary brown corduroy trousers looked until then.  He shuffled in his chair, crossed his legs, felt self-conscious and uncrossed them. Checked the cigarettes were still in his coat pocket. Studied the arm of the fraying lime-green armchair that he sat in. Like the rest of The Seaview Hotel it had seen better days. Like the rest of the people in the bar, too. Ageing, ruddy-face salesmen. Bored office workers. The occasional shop-soiled housewife.  Back-to back Duran Duran only added to the gloom.

Marta seemed to glow in these dreary surroundings. She glowed in general, though. She had such a dominating personality.  Quigley was well aware that his role in life had always been that of a back room boy. A perpetual drudge. Cannon fodder. It was shocking to believe that he and Marta were related at all, let alone father and daughter. But then, she did take after her mother in many ways. And not always the good ways, he thought, seeing the track marks on her arms as she rolled her sleeves up.

‘I’m surprised you don’t have one of those tablet things. One of those iPads or whatever they’re called,’ he said. He’d almost finished his Gin and Tonic and resisted the temptation to have another.

‘I’m surprised you actually know what they are,’ said Marta, looking more like her mother had at her age.

‘I’m not a complete relic,’ he said. He finished his Gin and Tonic and crunched the ice cubes.

And then there was another uneasy silence. A weight that was becoming impossible to shift.

Marta turned the laptop toward Quigley.

‘Here,’ she said. ‘What about this?’

He looked at the image of a deserted pub car park that she’d found on Google Maps.

‘Seems like a good enough place,’ he said.

Marta nodded.

‘After closing time for sure. When do you fancy doing it?’ she said.

He could see she was agitated. Ready to pop. She had no patience at all. Again like her mother.

‘I’ve one more item to cross off the bucket list here, later this afternoon, and then we can get out of this shithole.’

He could feel his blood boil as he thought of the ‘item’ in question.

‘You’re a fast worker.’

‘Well, like it or not, time is of the essence,’ he said.

Marta frowned. Took a sugar cube from the bowl and started sucking on it. A habit from her childhood.

Quigley patted her hand and silence enfolded them.

***

Steven Mulcahy had always had an irritating laugh. Even when they were kids it had grated on Quigley. The high pitched whine. The red face. The bubbles and spittle flying from his flabby mouth. The crying. 

Quigley slammed a hammer into Mulcahy’s right kneecap and he started crying in a different way. Quigley hit him again, and he was screaming as he fell to the floor of his cramped office.

‘Yes,’ said Quigley. ‘The dog. I’m here because of the dog. My friggin’ dog. Nipper.’

‘You have got to be joking,’ said Mulcahy.

Quigley slammed the hammer into Mulcahy’s other kneecap and turned away as his old school friend vomited over the thick fitted carpet. Sat down in a sticky leather armchair and tried to control his rage.

Quigley had been an only child and found it hard to fit in with other kids at school. His best friend was his dog. A boisterous mongrel called Nipper. Mulcahy had lived across the street from him. Quigley never really liked him. He was policeman’s son and his parents were a bit stuck up. But occasionally they’d play together in the back yard of Quigley’s terraced house although Quigley was never allowed across the threshold of Mulcahy’s pristine home.

One day, when Quigley was seven, and during a long, hot summer holiday, Mulcahy had come back from a trip to the beach, typically overexcited and giggling.  He rushed into Quigley’s back yard and Nipper immediately ran up to him, barking. The dog had never liked Mulcahy.

So, Mulcahy took it upon himself to whack Nipper on the head with a metal spade.  The dog retaliated, of course, and bit Mulcahy, drawing blood. The boy ran back home to his mother, screaming like a girl, Quigley had thought at the time. Mulcahy’s parents went crazy, complaining to Quigley’s parents about their devil dog and Quigley’s parents eventually Kow-towed to their more prosperous neighbours and had the dog put down. Quigley never forgave Mulcahy and sometimes, on the long quiet evenings, wondered if that was the reason why he had become a gangster.

Mulcahy’s screams were even more girl-like now. Worse, even. Like a wounded animal. Though they evoked no sympathy from Quigley. He had let his thoughts of taking revenge on Mulcahy bubble and brew for years. Had regularly fantasized about the long drawn out tortures he would inflict but now he just wanted to get it over with. He rose from the chair and stood over Mulcahy. Panting. Stepped on one of his knees and steadily pressed. Took his foot away. Waited for the screams and sobs to subside and then took out his Nokia. Found a picture in the gallery and held it front of Mulcahy.

‘Look at this,’ he said.

Mulcahy did nothing. Just stared at Quigley’s feet.

Quigley grabbed him by the face and shoved the phone in front of him. Clicked. A series of photographs showed a pack of dogs ripping apart a man in a police commissioner’s uniform.

Eyes like saucers, Mulcahy started to vomit again.

‘Those poor little dogs were starving, you know? Not too surprising, mind you. Since those kennels that your dad and Butler had really didn’t meet RSPCA standards. But then, it all helped prepare the poor bastards for the dogfights, eh?’

And then he slammed the hammer in Mulcahy’s head before he could scream again.

***

The road trip, which had started with such a burst of enthusiasm, was driving Quigley crazy now. And not just the music. The stiff movements of the rusty old Audi A3’s windscreen wipers. The intermittent rain. The dark, deserted country roads. England. This sceptic isle. Shithole.

 ‘But how did brushes ever get the reputation of being daft, then?’ said Marta, in between hiccoughs. ‘It’s actually a pretty daft expression in itself, if you ask me, actually.’

With a her big Marie Osmond grin, hair in pig-tails, polka-dot shirt tied up at the front and cut-off Wranglers, Marta now looked like something straight from the Dukes Of Hazzard but in fact she was Yorkshire born and bred, just like her mother. She started drumming her fingers on the steering wheel to some horrible tuneless racket that seemed to be about starting fires. This was the ‘oldies’ station, apparently, although to Quigley it sounded more like the music from another planet. Or from hell.

Still, there wasn’t a lot he could do but grin and bear it. He and Marta were in it for the whole journey. And not just this particular late night trip down some typically depressing, rain soaked North Yorkshire road.

Quigley had only been back in his home country for a few days and before he knew it he was wishing he was back in Spain. Some early retirement that had turned out to be. He’d tried three doctors- one in Spain and two in London – but their findings had been the same. Six months and he’d be worm food. A year tops.

It was the Spanish quack that had a suggested a bucket list. Apparently, he’d seen it in a Jack Nicholson film. A list of things that you want to do before you die. And that had set Quigley’s cogs whirring. Whirring so much they were almost screeching inside his brain. Screeching one word. Revenge.

‘Maybe it’s to do with Basil Brush?’ he said, fiddling with an unlit Marlborough.

She took a narrow side road and headed toward a large darkened building with a small car park in front of it.

‘Who’s that? Never heard of him,’ said Marta.

Quigley sighed. Another sign of the fact that he never shared her childhood. Not after what happened to her mother.

‘He was a very popular kids’ entertainer back in the olden days,’ he said.

‘Was he one of those kiddie fiddlers that used to work at the BBC?’ she said.

‘Well, you never can tell,’ said Quigley.

Marta pulled the car into The Latham Arms’ deserted car park. The pub was closed, of course. This being the aptly named Blighty, the idea of even a cup of luke-warm tea after midnight on a Sunday was considered the height of decadence. It was what they were hoping for, though.

‘What do we do now then?’ said Marta.

‘Not a lot we can do,’ said Quigley. He was looking at himself in the mirror. Noticing the flecks of grey in his stubble. The creases in his face. How his ear lobes seemed to be getting even bigger. 

‘Best switch off the light,’ he said. ‘Better safe than sorry.’

They sat in darkness and listened to an overheated radio talk show about gay priests.

‘A man who wears a dress and doesn’t get married is bound to be gay,’ said Marta. ‘Stands to reason’

‘You could be onto something there,’ said Quigley, who was nodding off. He wrenched open his eyes when a massive black limousine  with blacked-out windows rolled up.

‘Ready for it?’ said Quigley. He yawned.

‘Ready when you are,’ said Marta

She kissed him on the cheek.

‘Time for the night shift to start work, dad,’ she said.

They both shuffled into long, black-leather trench-coats, leaned over into the cramped back seat and picked up their sawn-off shotguns.

‘I’ve been looking forward to this all day,’ said Marta.

‘Well, you only live once,’ said Quigley.

Marta held his hand for a moment. Gave a weak smile.

They slammed the car doors behind them as they stepped out into the cold autumn night.  Quigley began to cough.

‘Slowly, slowly catchy monkey,’ said Marta.

The limo driver wound down his window as the approached it, keeping their shotguns hidden under their coats. The driver was all suntan, dyed hair and bleached teeth. Manic eyes. Like a psychotic game-show host.

‘Well, well,’ said Tonto. ‘It’s really you. A blast from the past. We all thought you were dead.’

‘Hoped it, I’m sure,’ rasped Quigley.

‘Not at all, at all. The past is dead and gone, as far as I’m concerned. Things change. I’m the gaffer now, you know?’

‘So, I heard, Tonto.’

Tonto cringed. For over a couple of decades or more, Tonto had been Wacko Jacko Butler’s chief enforcer and with Butler being ‘the lone arranger’ Barry Greenwood had been nicknamed Tonto. Everyone found it hilarious. Except for Tonto, that is.

‘I did contact Wacko Jacko,’ said Quigley. ‘But he seemed to be unavoidably detained.’

‘Yeah? Well, we don’t have that much contact now. Not since he retired.’

Tonto looked over at Marta. She had Quigley’s cap pulled over her head and the coat collars pulled up. The rain poured down in sheets.

‘Who’s the kid?’ said Tonto. ‘Never realised you had a sidekick. Always thought you worked alone.’

‘Things change, like you said, Tonto. Time’s change. Due to circumstances beyond my control, it behoves me to employ an apprentice.’

‘You and them ten bob words. Mind you, I can’t blame you. Better to be safe than sorry, eh?’

The passenger door opened and a behemoth in an orange anorak got out.

‘You remember my nephew Darren, don’t you?’

Darren Greenwood smirked but then he’d always smirked, ever since he’d run in front of an ice cream van when he was a kid.

‘Once seen never forgotten,’ said Quigley.

‘Are we ready to get down to business, then?’ said Tonto. ‘This weather’s not good for my rheumatism.’

‘How much you got?’

Tonto nodded toward the boot of the car.

‘What you asked for. You got the dosh?’

‘Got the lot.’

Quigley and Tonto locked eyes for a moment and then Tonto made a whistling sound.

Darren walked to the back of the car and opened up the boot.

‘Your turn,’ said Tonto.

‘Pay the man,’ said Quigley, to Marta.

Marta stepped forward, pulled out her gun and blasted Tonto in the face at the same time as Quigley blew Darren’s head off.

The gun’s recoil started Quigley’s coughing fit and he leaned forward and spat blood onto the wet concrete. Marta put an arm around him until he stopped shaking.

‘Seems a shame to torch it,’ said Marta, looking down at the bags of cocaine that were stuffed in the limo’s boot. She licked her lips.

‘Best thing for all concerned,’ said Quigley, as he saw the lights in the pub go on.

He headed back to the car and pulled out two cans of petrol.

‘Get moving,’ he said to Marta. The front door of the pub opened and sirens wailed in the distance.

‘Oh, fuck,’ she said. ‘It’s now, dad.’

‘It’s now or never, kid.’

They hugged and Quigley pushed her toward the car. Waited until she took a side road away from the motorway. Driving slowly, without any lights, so as not to attract attention.

It’s now, for sure, he thought.

Quigley covered the car, the bodies and the drugs in petrol and then soaked himself. Pushed a cigarette into his mouth. Though about a Duran Duran song, of all things. Clicked the Zippo lighter that he’d last used when he gave up smoking in the ‘90s and let the flames enfold him.

The end.

THE BUCKET LIST IS INCLUDED IN THE LAST LAUGH, IF YOU’RE THAT WAY INCLINED.