They say that you can tell a lot about someone by the way that he looks and that you can always judge a man by his shoes. I thought about this as I looked down on my ancient, scuffed, brown brogues and immediately felt even more out of place in the trendy Soho bar than I had when I first came in. The bar was stiflingly hot and cluttered with a collection of hipsters and arseholes. I sat at a small table by the window watching the streamers of steam rise from my overpriced coffee. Beside me, a fading French film star with a sandblasted face slurped his espresso with all the enthusiasm of an ex-con in a bordello.
Coldplay were droning on over and over again and it took me all of my resolve not to run out of the place and keep on running. Fight or flight, I think they call it. Outside, the cloak of darkness had draped itself over the city and swallowed the moon. A tall, redhead woman in a screaming blue dress oozed into the bar like mercury and stood before me. She nodded and I stood and nervously held out a hand.
‘Patience,’ I said, shaking hands weakly. ‘Long time no see.’
‘Georgy Porgy,’ she said. She looked me up and down and grinned smugly. She clicked her fingers toward a waiter and sat down. I sipped at my coffee as she fiddled with a cigarette.
‘Were there many at the screening?’ I asked.
Mr Wu’s screening room was just up the street and I could see a murder of critics swooping past the window, crawing and cackling. Patience broke into a grin.
‘Oh, yes,’ she purred.
‘And?’ I said.
‘I’ll be back in a tick,’ said Patience, standing abruptly.
As she got up, she clicked on a zippo before walking outside into a bustling Dean Street. The flustered looking waiter, who only minutes before had looked at me like I was something a stray cat had dragged in, beamed at me as he placed a bottle of overpriced mineral water on the table. My stomach was churning. I knew Patience was loving every second of this. Patience had always had a sadistic side- which she’d regularly shown during our marriage – that had probably helped her media career enormously.
‘Fuck it,’ I said, as I saw her yammering away into her mobile phone and holding court with a bunch of obsequious wannabe media stars. I went up to the bar and ordered a large scotch. Three years of sobriety down the Swannee river.
‘George Boy,’ slurred a voice behind me, as I gulped down my drink.
I turned to see a heavy-jowled, hangdog man in a well-worn tweed jacket and faded green combat trousers.
‘Blake,’ I said and nodded. ‘Were you at the screening?
‘Free food and drink, George Boy, of course I was there!’
In the past, it had grated on me when Blake called me George Boy but now it was welcome as a pair of old slippers.
‘G & T?’ I said.
‘Gin makes you sin, George Boy, so, why not?’ he replied.
I finished my drink and ordered another one before we sat down. Patience swept in from outside in hail of laughter before sitting down and eyeing my drink and Blake disapprovingly.
‘So, what’s the SP?’ I said. They say that directing your first film is more painful than giving birth but I think waiting for the first reviews is as excruciating as possible.
‘Puerile adolescent drivel,’ said George. ‘Mindless flash-trash worthy of Eighties Hollywood at its most vacuous. I absolutely adored it!’
He downed his drink in one and waved over to the barman. I felt relieved alright. Blake was a bit of a cult figure and had his acolytes who would go to see anything he recommended. However, a good review from Blake didn’t automatically go hand in hand with box office success, unfortunately, and I’d invested so much money in the film I really needed a smash. I had a handful of banks and a couple of dangerous loan sharks looming over me like vampires waiting to strike.
‘Patience? What did you think?’ I said, expecting the worst.
Patience’s opinion was much more important than Blake’s. She had a hugely influential weekly film show that she’d taken over after the long time host had been murdered by an embittered fading film star. It was said that she could make or break a film in twenty-five words or less. She downed her drink and patted my hand as she got up.
‘Don’t give up the day job, Porgy,’ she said and walked toward the door. ‘Oh, and remember that the school fees are due next week. Ta ta,’ she sang before blowing me a kiss.
That was it. I knew she’d scupper me. I ordered more booze and drowned in the well of misery.
‘They say an artist should diversify,’ I said, my voice echoing around the empty cosmetics factory. ‘Never get stuck ploughing the same furrow, they say, eh?’
I wiped my bleeding nose on the sleeve of my Concorde Security Services uniform and swigged from my bottle of Grant’s.
‘You need to be in touch with the Zeitgeist, they say.’
I pulled back the blinds. The factory car park was deserted as it always was late at night. That’s why I preferred working the night shift. It gave you time to think. To plan.
‘And the Internet has changed so much. They say that there are so many niche markets that have opened up in the last few years.’ I switched on the halogen light and checked the camera’s tripod. ‘But I’m sure that this is just like teaching your granny to suck eggs. You’ll know all about this, eh, Patience?’
Patience said nothing. I’d gagged her and strapped her to a metal chair in the middle of the room. The floor was covered in black bin liners that ripped as I paced up and down.
‘Take snuff films, for example,’ I said, before taking another swig. ‘I’d always assumed that they were urban legends and perhaps they were but not now. Not in this day and age. There isn’t a big market, I’ll admit, but there are those who are willing to pay a lot. And celebrity snuff? Well … even a B-list celebrity like you can attract an interested buyer.’
I paced, swigged. Paced. Swigged.
‘They say it’s a cut-throat game, the film business. It really is, too. Oh, sorry. I know how you hate puns. So, let’s go to work…’
I switched on the camera, pulled on the rubber Mel Gibson mask and walked towards Patience, knife in hand.