A Story For Sunday: In the Devil’s Name

Isabelle told the man with the porkpie hat that she had only stopped off at the bar for a couple of drinks to drown her sorrows and that it really wasn’t the sort of establishment that she usually frequented.

‘My father’s funeral, you know?’ she croaked, eyes down, as if she were playing bingo.

Since Spencer was a stranger in town, he was unaware that James Gowdie’s apparent burial was, in fact, pretty much a monthly occurrence. A fabricated sob story – stained with wishful thinking – that regularly coincided with Isabelle having boozed away most of her salary, teetering on the precipice of sobriety and the horrors that entailed. So, he took off his hat, placed it against his chest and offered her his condolences and, most importantly, a drink.

A Martini or ten later, the night corroded and he awoke in the wan light of an unfamiliar hotel room listening to the rumble of trucks from outside the window and the ghost of a blues song leak in from the next room. He expected to find Isabelle and his wallet gone, his bank account cleared out but the toilet flushed loudly and she walked out of the bathroom looking more than somewhat frayed around the edges but – he was relieved to find- not that bad looking at all.

‘Ready for another round, Trigger?’ she said.

She picked up a bottle of wine from a bedside table and finished it as she unsteadily plonked herself on the edge of the bed.

‘A little early for me,’ said Spencer, his voice like broken glass. ‘And I have a meeting in …’

‘Fair enough,’ she said, waving a hand dismissively.

Isabelle pulled on her long, black dress and pushed her swollen feet into her red, high-heeled shoes.

‘See you around,’ she said. She picked up her handbag and tottered through the door, leaving it open and letting in a cold, autumn breeze.

***

Rivulets of rain ponderously trailed down the windscreen as James Gowdie watched his daughter stagger out of the taxi and tumble toward The Swampsnake’s blinking neon sign. James lit a Marlborough with his Zippo as Isabelle headed down the steps and opened the metal door, a blast of hard rock bursting free for a moment. He slowly smoked his cigarette, his heart pounding.

A truck pulled into the car park and a skinhead in a tartan shirt got out of the truck and rushed into the bar.

James felt frozen. Trapped like one of the wasps he used to catch in jam jars when he was a kid. He eventually got out of his car and opened up the boot. He pulled out a long black leather coat and draped it over his paint splattered overalls. Put on a denim cap and took out a sawn-off shotgun.

***

Vambo could feel last night’s Vindaloo slicing through his guts. He rushed into The Swampsnake , through the crowded bar and straight into the graffiti splattered toilets. An old, wire-haired man leaned unsteadily against the urinals, smoking a pin-size roll up.

‘It’s a good life if you don’t weaken,’ he said.

Vambo growled.

There were two cubicles and Vambo slammed hard against the first one. Locked.

‘Get a move on will you. I’m touching cloth here,’ he shouted.

Two male voices giggled and Vambo squirmed. He smashed a massive paw against the second door and it flew wide open. A woman was on her hands and knees, her face in the toilet bowl. Vambo dragged her by the hair and pulled her backwards, letting her slide on her back across the toilet’s sticky floor. Then he saw she wasn’t breathing.

As he leaned over and gave the woman CPR, his jeans filled with toxic smelling shit,

‘That is fucking foul,’ said the old man. He rushed out of the toilets, gagging.

The sound of Isabelle’s gasps melded with the sound of her father’s gunshot as he blasted Vambo’s brains like a Rorschach test across the toilet floor. She dragged herself into consciousness in time to see her father turn the gun on himself and then she closed her eyes and slept the sleep of the just.

A Story For Sunday: IN THE (RESERVOIR)DOG HOUSE

Bonny is volcanic. She’s so angry that she can hardly speak but, unfortunately for me, hardly is the operative word. As she tries to scrub the blood stains from my best white shirt, she goes on and on about the meal she’d cooked the night before and how long it had taken her to cook it. She keeps asking me over and over again if I want to live on burgers all my life and why, if I’m going to spend all of my time hanging around a dirty warehouse with a bunch of psychos that look like Blues Brothers rejects, I can’t at least pick up the phone and call to say I’ll be home late.

My head is hurting, my stomach is rumbling and I’m tired. Bonny is starting to sound like a duck quack quack quacking, so I turn on the radio hoping it isn’t more ‘Sounds of the Seventies’, as I’ve really had my fill of that shit the last few days. The DJ’s monotone drone introduces some LA band destroying a Neil Diamond classic so I switch it off again.

Noticing that the heat from Bonny’s eruption has started to cool down, I present her with a bag containing the proceeds of my recent job. When she sees the rare coins in the bag, Bonny’s jaw drops so much you could scrape carpet fluff from it and she lets rip with a string of expletives, so strong that they would even make the young Eddie Murphy blush. Almost tearing off her nurse’s uniform, she runs toward me screaming like a banshee.

Afterwards, when I know that it’s safe, I suggest that maybe we could go out for something to eat. We could even try that Hawaiian burger joint that’s just opened up nearby. Hands on hips, Bonny laughs and says, okay, as long as I promise not to wear that dumb Speed Racer t-shirt that makes me look like a nerd.

Anything you say, I reply and start to walk into the bathroom before stopping and saying that, shit, if the service in that restaurant is any good today, I might even leave a tip.

The Man Whose Head Expanded And Eventually Popped

I’m back over at Six Sentences with The Man Whose Head Expanded And Eventually Popped:

‘Lenny Cray had always thought that the quest for experience was a vital part of a man’s learning curve and so, throughout his life, whenever a window of opportunity opened up, he jumped straight through, headfirst if necessary.’

Read the rest here, if you fancy.

A Story For Sunday: Chelsea Girls

Chloe left the money and took the guns. She couldn’t carry everything and she knew that cash would be a hell of a lot easier to come by than a couple of AK47s that was for sure.

‘Fuck you very much,’ she said to Charlie Grimhaven’s unconscious form.

Grimhaven was naked, bloodied and handcuffed to a radiator. She’d forced him to take few sleeping tablets along with half a bottle of Mortlach, so he’d probably be out for the count for a few more hours.

She strapped a gun over each shoulder and paused to catch her breath. She was beginning to feel her turbulent, outlaw life catching up with her.

She closed her eyes and could hear the familiar thump of a Massive Attack song from the park opposite Grimhaven’s office block. She switched off the strip light, peeled back the blinds and looked out of the window. A constellation of streetlamps lined the deserted street below. She closed the blinds and eased the front door open. She peered into the darkened corridor to make sure there was no one around.

Chloe gave Grimhaven the finger and stepped out into the corridor.  She ignored the lift and took the stairs down to the underground car park. She kept in the shadows as she looked for her 2CV, banging a knee against a concrete pillar.

‘Oh, for shit …’

She limped over to her car, opened the car boot and put the guns in.

‘Shit,’ she said, feeling pain in her shoulders and knee.

Then she heard the footsteps.

High-heels clicked over concrete and stopped just behind her.

‘Is that you?’ said Adele.

Adele stood in the shadows. Apart from the footwear, she was dressed identically to her twin sister – black jeans and roll neck sweater. Chloe wore Dr Martin shoes. Adele’s hair was pulled back into a ponytail and Chloe’s was short cropped but both women wore black lipstick and nail varnish.

‘You know, the answer to that question is always going to be yes, no matter who I am?’ said Chloe. ‘You need to be more specific in your questioning technique. You’d never work in HR.’

‘Thank god for that. I’m filled with inertia as it is. Are we good to go?’ She tapped a foot impatiently and lit up an e-cigarette. Its tip glowed in the darkness.

‘Yep. Meet you at Bar Italia? I’ve had enough of Starfucks lately.’

‘No. I need something stronger. Vino vidi vici.’

‘The French House then?’

‘Oui! Oui!’

‘Yes, I need one of those too so let’s get moving.’

Chloe opened the door to the driver’s seat.

‘Are you going to drop off the machine guns first?’ said Adele.

‘They’re not machine guns, sweetie. They’re selective fire assault rifles,’ said Chloe.

She got into the car and started up the engine.

‘And yes, I will.  I’ll take the guns to Crispin first and then head back to Chelsea get changed. I’ll meet you at The French House in a couple of hours, OK?’

‘Oui! Oui!’ said Adele.

‘Stop bloody saying that! I’m bursting!’

Adele slammed the door, grinning.  She waved as her sister drove away and went into the building.

*

It was a stiflingly hot Friday evening and The French House was stuffed and stuffy.  Chloe and Adele were leaning against an open window drinking prosecco. They had exchanged their black clothing for identical white linen blouses and trousers, with matching accessories though the lipstick and nail varnish remained black.

‘The things that I like about the French House are,’ said Adele. She counted off on her long fingers. ‘The wine, the food, the location, the lack of music. Oh, and the fact that people can’t use mobile bloody phones. The things I don’t like are; it’s always full on a Friday night and full of media tossers at that.’

She took a swig of her drink.

‘But you still come here,’ said Chloe. ‘Week after, week, after week …’

‘Oh, I love it. You know that. It’s part of Soho history. Frances Bacon, Derek Raymond.  Real London. Well, the London we fled the sticks to escape to, anyway,’ said Adele.

She scraped away at her black nail varnish. It flaked off easily.

‘London’s changing, though,’ said Chloe. ‘Like everywhere else.’

‘And not for the better, I fear,’ said Adele.

She sighed.

‘Vive le difference!’ said Chloe.

‘Oui! Oui!’

‘Oh don’t start that again! I’ve just been for a slash and the queue for the toilets was bloody torture.’

‘Speaking of torture, how easy was it to persuade Grimhaven to turn grass?’

‘Not desperately difficult, to be honest. One snapped little finger and a razor blade under one of his thumbs was pretty much all it took. It’s a pity about leaving the money, though. Still, you can’t have everything. ’

‘How much dosh did you leave behind?’

‘In cash? Just over twenty grand!’

Adele took out an e-cigarette.

‘Well, if that’s how much  he had in his desk drawer, can you imagine how much he could have in the office safe?’ she said.

‘Well, I really didn’t have a chance to look. I was more interested in finding out who ripped us off and getting out without getting caught.’

‘You know, I knew it’d be Sammy Lee. I wouldn’t trust him as far as I could throw him,’ said Chloe.

‘You wouldn’t be able to throw him that far or you might damage your nails. And, by the way, sweetie, that cheap nail polish you get from Poundland won’t be doing your nails any good, either.’

Adele looked at her watch.

‘You know, Grimhaven’s probably still there tied to that radiator. I bet no one has discovered him yet,’ she said. ‘His boys are all off on that booze cruise to Gdansk until Sunday night, you know? Why don’t we pop back there and get the money? You could have crack at his safe, too. ’

‘You mean, go back to the scene of the crime? You know what mum always said about that. Like going back to relight fireworks.’

‘Yeah, but she married dad three times, didn’t she? Anyway, if there’s enough money in the safe we could piss off for a bit until all this other shit has cooled down. Go somewhere more bohemian, like Barcelona or Prague. Even New York. You always wanted to go to CBGS.’

‘I very much doubt it’s still there. It’s probably a Starbucks now.’

‘You know what I mean!’

Chloe though for a moment, biting her bottom lip. She stared out of the window. A group of city boys staggered down Dean Street singing a Coldplay song.

‘Okay,’ she said. ‘Drink up. We’ve got to get back in black.’

*

‘Well, you were right. He’s still here. Well, his body is. His spirit has clearly departed this mortal coil,’ said Chloe.

Grimhaven’s office was exactly the same as it had been when Chloe had left it except for the fact that someone had cut Grimhaven’s throat and he was an even bloodier mess than he had been before.

Chloe closed the door behind her while Adele went over to the desk and checked out the cash.

‘It’s all still here,’ said Adele.

Chloe kneeled in front of the safe.

‘I wonder who killed him,’ she said.

‘Now, you’re not going to ask if he had any enemies are you?’ said Adele.

Chloe started twisting the dial on the front of the safe.

‘Yes, that would be too long a list, I expect.  And you’d be on there too since you’ve been married to him for the last ten years,’ she said.

‘An error of impetuous youth,’ said Adele.  ‘My own fault for mixing my drinks.’

She sat on the corner of the desk

‘Any ideas, though?’ said Chloe.

‘You know Charlie Grimhaven.  He was probably caught with his tail between someone else’s wife’s legs and was croaked by some disgruntled cuckold,’ said Adele.

‘Well, they’re very rarely gruntled, are they? Now praise silence, please,’ said Chloe.

With one twist she opened the safe door. She peered inside.

‘Oh bugger,’ said Chloe.

‘What’s he got in there?’ said Adele. ‘The crown jewels?’

‘Not far off, if it’s what I think it is,’ said Chloe.

She took a small wooden box from the safe and put it on the desk.

‘After you,’ she said.

Adele clicked the box open.

‘Oh bugger indeed,’ she said.

Chloe slipped the box in her pocket.

‘Let’s vamoose,’ she said. ‘As soon as we get in the car, phone Crispin and tell him what we’ve got. We want to offload this as quickly as we can and then …’

‘Leave the capital! Exit this Roman shell!’

‘Yes, something like that.’

*

Chloe slouched in the leather armchair. Checked her plane ticket and took a sip from her half-pint of London Pride.

Adele sat at in the chair opposite.  She put her coffee and Nick Hornby paperback on the table in front of her.

‘Start spreading the news,’ she sang.

Chloe smiled.

‘Here’s some news. So, you know, when I opened Grimhaven safe there was black nail varnish on it and on the white rug that was in front of it,’ she said.

‘That cheap stuff that flakes off so easily?’ said Adele.

‘Yes. The very same. It’s almost as if someone was trying to crack the safe earlier and their nail polish flaked off.’

‘That nail polish is very popular.’

‘More common than popular, I’d say,’ said Chloe.

She looked at the tickets and checked the time of their flight to New York again. She was always stressed before flying.

‘Any ideas as to how that happened?’ said Chloe.

Adele shrugged.

‘Well, maybe …’

Chloe leaned forward and looked Adele in the eye.

‘Continue,’ she said.

‘Well, it was cheaper and easier than a divorce,’ said Adele.

Chloe rubbed her eyes.

‘You know Grimhaven’s boys will come after us?

‘Of course. But wouldn’t they anyway? We weren’t exactly going to be on his Christmas card list once he regained consciousness. This is a clean break. Or cleaner.’

‘Have you got the new passports and ID?’

‘Of course.’

Chloe took a sip of beer.

‘Plus ça change,’ she said.

‘Oui! Oui! Oui!’ said Adele.

‘Yes, good idea,’ said Chloe. ‘I’ll go before we get on the plane. Better safe than sorry.’

CHELSEA GIRLS IS INCLUDED IN MY FLASH FICTION COLLECTION SMALL TIME CRIMES, WHICH YOU CAN PICK UP HERE, IF YOU FANCY.

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence’s Mate is at 6S

I’m back over at the Six Sentences site with a little yarn entitled The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence’s Mate.

‘Oliver Peacock had often thought that there was an art to being in the right place at the right time and that life was more than simply a matter of chance, of luck.’

Read the rest here, if you fancy, and check out te rest of 6S, if you have the time.

A Story For Sunday: The Friend Catcher

The morning after Sarah killed her father, the air tasted like lead and the sky was gun metal grey. She stared out of the window of her East London flat, barely focusing on the rows of concrete blocks being smudged by the Autumn rain.

The ensuing days of gloom collided with weeks and the weeks crashed into months.

And then it was Spring.

***

Sarah put on her make-up, rubbed talcum powder on her thighs and pulled on her XL pink shell suit before heading off to cash her mother’s pension at the post office. As per usual, she slammed the door of the flat behind her and, as loud as possible, shouted:

‘Won’t be long, mum!’

Then, she took a deep breath and headed down the emergency staircase.

Sarah had always been blessed – or maybe cursed – with an over ripe imagination and, as she rushed down the stairs, she imagined all sorts of spectres, smack-heads and psychos lurking in the stairwell’s darkened nooks and crannies. Still, it was preferable to using the rickety lift which broke down more often than not.

Sweating and wheezing, she reached the bottom floor and realised that she’d left her medication– her security blanket – at home. Not feeling able to climb the stairs to the twelfth floor, she reluctantly stepped into the lift. Just as the doors rattled to a close, The Friend Catcher pushed his way in.
***

Sarah was finding it almost impossible to tear her eyes away from the pulsating boil on the side of The Friend Catcher’s neck since, despite its size and repulsive condition, it was a far preferable sight to the one dangling like a gigantic dewdrop from the end of the old man’s crooked nose.

Given the choice, of course, she would more than happily have looked at something more edifying but, unfortunately for her, there wasn’t much else to gaze upon in the piss smelling, graffiti stained, syringe strewn lift where she and The Friend Catcher had found themselves trapped between floors.

The Friend Catcher didn’t seem perturbed at all . He just sighed and scrutinised the lewd and lurid graffiti that littered the wall.

***

The Friend Catcher had moved in to a flat on the same floor as Sarah’s parents in the 1980’s, at the time when all sorts of waifs and strays and odds and ends of society were being scattered across the capital as part of Mrs Thatcher’s misbegotten Care In The Community campaign.

The strange looking new neighbour – with his stoop, hawked nose, black fedora and greatcoat, looking like a long black shadow – quickly fed the imagination of the local children -Sarah in particular – a situation that was heightened by the fact that, in archetypal serial killer fashion, the man kept himself to himself.

According to some of the kids he was a vampire – although the fact that he was regularly seen in daylight pretty much scuppered that idea – while others speculated that he was, in fact, Jack The Ripper, although even if his advanced age wasn’t quite advanced enough to support that theory.

However, it was his resemblance to a scary character in the film ‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’ that earned him the nickname The Friend Catcher which, like most nicknames, stuck for years to come.

***

Eventually, he spoke.
‘Like flies in a web,’ he said, in what sounded like an Eastern European accent.

‘What?’ said, Sarah whose legs were starting to ache.
‘We’re trapped like flies in a spiderweb,’ said The Friend Catcher as he rooted in one of his Iceland shopping bags.

Sarah nodded. She was starting to sweat now and really wished she had the diazepam with her. She tried the deep breathing that the psychiatric nurse at the Maudsley Hospital had taught her.

‘Here,’ said The Friend Catcher and he held out a bottle of some clear liquid with a label that Sarah didn’t recognise.

Sarah quickly remembered the stories that had circulated of how he was actually a psychotic taxidermist who would snatch children from the street, drag them back to his flat and stuff them. She had visions of being drugged, filled with formaldehyde and being stuffed.
‘Relax,’ said the old man. ‘Polish vodka.’

Sarah looked at the label and almost laughed with relief. She twisted off the cap and took a long gulp.

‘Your father used to drink it in the The Aversham Arms. I used to see your father in that pub a lot. Before his accident.’

***

Sarah had a flashback to the night that Walter Hill had come home drunk from The Aversham Arms and, as usual, had started an argument. An argument that had once again erupted into violence. Walter was an oak of a man who had no problems overpowering his sick, stumpy wife and indeed this would have been the case had Sarah not been there. She ran at her father, sobbing, and, with all of her weight, she slammed him against the wall. Falling on top of him she held him down until he stopped breathing. The police accepted that he’d had a heart attack while drunk and left her to take care of her mother.

***

‘Yes, I was a pilot in the 303 Squadron. I flew in your Battle of Britain.’ said The Friend Catcher pointing to a fading photograph on the wall of his musty smelling flat.
‘Amazing,’ said Sarah who was admiring a picture of the then handsome and young Tadeusz Koc as he stood beside a Spitfire Mk.Vb with Misia, the squadrons mascot. She was more than a little tipsy. Her mother had always said that she could get drunk on the sniff of a barmaid’s apron but she was so relieved to get out of the lift that she couldn’t resist the offer of a sit down and a drink in Tadeusz’s flat.
‘My wife and I lived near Borough market, on the High Street, for almost forty years until your government decided to gentrify the area and sell it off to yuppies.’ Said Tadeusz.

‘When they sent us the official letter the ….’

‘Compulsory Purchase Order?’ said Sarah.

‘Exactly! Well, my wife soon became depressed. She died on the night before we were to move out.’ Tadeusz swayed a little.

Sarah could feel herself becoming tearful and small red dots started to appear before her eyes and her head ached.

‘But ….that is the past and we have to be strong, eh? We Poles are strong people. And you are a strong woman taking care of your mother for so long.’

And then Sarah started to sob.

***

The words tumbled out of Sarah’s mouth like a gang of drunks staggering out of a pub at closing time; disorderly and unruly. She told of how her mother’s cancer had spread and she had become more and more ill. Again and again she had begged for Sarah to stop the pain and so, one cold dawn, as she saw the red splashes spreading in front of her eyes and the dull headache become a sharper pain in her forehead, she smothered her mother to death between her breast.
Tadeusz sighed and nodded.

‘An unhappy life is a vice with a powerful grip,’ he said.’ I am alone now. And each day I feel more and more pain .. emptiness. Just…just waiting for … release ‘

And then, breathing heavily, Sarah saw the red splashes spreading like a Rorschach test and she felt the sharp pain in her forehead, as if a stiletto heel had been slammed between her eyes and so she rose to her feet and hugged The Friend Catcher with all her strength. She hugged him until his life faded away, just like hot breath on a cold windowpane.

The Man Who Could Afford to Orgy But Didn’t is at 6S!

The Six Sentences ezine was set up by Robert McEvily is 2006. It was super popular and it even spawned a few anthologies. Contributors have included Cormac Brown, Jeanette, Cheezum, and Etan Hawk!

And it’s BACK!

And I have a new once up there called The Man Who Could Afford to Orgy But Didn’t.

A Story For Sunday: The Final Cut

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.

Cut.

A Story For Sunday: The Man From Esperanto

So, you’re in Warsaw’s Esperanto district hiding from an obscenely large, bullet-headed man wielding a baseball bat. In a pizza oven.

And, to paraphrase the singer David Byrne, you might ask yourself –how the fuck did I get here?

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle once described London as being a ‘great cesspool into which the flotsam and jetsam of life are inevitably drawn’ and the same might reasonably be said of the world of TEFL teaching. A Teacher Of English as a Foreign Language can usually be described as either flotsam – perhaps a fresh faced young thing taking a break from University – or jetsam – the middle aged man with the inevitable drinking problem and enough skeletons in his closet to keep a paleontologist happy for months.

And, I’ll make no bones about it, I fit rather snugly into the latter category.

Hence, me, three months earlier, hungover, in the back of a deodorant soaked taxi as it hurtled – like the Starship Enterprise on Warp Factor nine- down Warsaw’s John Paul 2nd Avenue, through the constellation of neon signs that marked out the sex shops, 24 hour pubs and kebab shops.

‘When the Pope died the whole street was lined with candles in tribute ,’ said the taxi driver, looking almost tearful.

‘Uh huh,’ I replied, as I fought back the acrid bile that burned my throat.

Before I’d come to Warsaw, I’d heard stories about ‘The Night Drivers’-amphetamine pumped young men who, each midnight, tied fishing wire around their necks, and the cars brakes, and then raced from one end of the city to the next. When I saw the cut marks on the taxi driver’s neck and his red, red eyes. I didn’t exactly have the Colgate ring of confidence.

I was relieved, then, when, minutes later, we pulled up outside The Palace of Culture and Science, Joe Stalin’s unwanted Neoclassical gift to the people of Warsaw.

fished a handful of notes from my pocket and stuffed them into the driver’s hand before running to the toilets to puke.

‘Out with the old, in with the new,’ said a well-spoken, sandblasted voice from the next cubicle. ‘We are all in the gutter but some of us a looking at it through the bottom of a rather nice glass of gin and tonic, eh?’

‘The thing is, some people absolutely loath the place,’ said Sean Bradley, gesturing around The Palace’s Kafe Kulturalna. ‘The locals call it the Russian Wedding Cake. And, indeed, that’s what it looks like; a wedding cake plonked in the middle of the road.’ Sean was a drunk, dapper, nicotine stained example of jetsam who supplemented his teaching by chess hustling. He was one of the few expats who actually liked his chosen country of exile since most just complained about everything being so – foreign. Me? It was as good a place as any.

‘It’s an old song isn’t it?’ said Konrad AKA flotsam, a shiny, happy Canadian of Polish extraction, in Warsaw to find his roots. Aided and abetted by his family’s money, of course.

‘Maybe…’

‘I’m sure it is. Someone left a cake out in the road,’ he sang.

I really wasn’t too sure if he was joking or not. Konrad was either as bright as a two watt bulb or a major piss taker. I just ignored him and took in the Kafe’s interior before we invariably passed the pint of no return.

I met her on a Monday and although my heart didn’t exactly stand still it certainly skipped a beat or two. Tall and with long black hair she flew into the bar like a murder of crows, swathed in scarves and wearing a long black raincoat which flapped in the breeze behind her.

‘Ding dong,’ I said a la Leslie Phillips.

‘Oh.That’s Daria. Better watch out for her,’ said Sean. ‘She’s married to Bronek Malinowski. You know him?’

I shook my head.

‘The second-hand clothes Baron,’ said Konrad.

‘Who and what?’ I said.

‘He’s a low level gangster who has Poles collect donated clothes left outside charity shops overnight in, say, London or Dublin and ship them back to Poland to sell. You can get some damn good schmutter, actually,’ said Sean, pointing to the Hugo Boss label in his jacket.

‘The only crime is getting caught,’ I said, shrugging.

‘Yes, but if a butterfly beats it’s wings in the forest a one handed man claps and a tree falls down.’ said Konrad.

I ignored him and tried to catch Daria’s eye. ‘No, really, she’s trouble,’ said Sean.

I walked over. ‘Would you like a drink?’ I said.

She turned and tried to focus on me, as if she were looking at a magic eye painting. She shook her head. ‘Best not,’ she said, with a fake sounding transatlantic accent. ‘I should hit the sack. I’ve hit the bottle enough for one night.’ Standing close, she looked me up and down, like was deciding on whether or not to buy a second-hand car.‘You’ll do,’ she said dragging me out of the bar by my tie.

Someone or other once remarked that the reason that something became a cliche was because it was true. Certainly, getting caught in bed with a married woman by her musclebound husband was a cliche straight out of ‘Confessions Of A Plummer’s Mate.’ Unfortunately for me, however, it was also true.

The brainwave of escaping into to the kitchens of a nearby pizza restaurant and hiding in one of the ovens was, I would imagine, a one off. But in retrospect, originality, it probably wasn’t one of my better ideas.

So, the oven door slams and you’re sure you can smell gas and now you might reasonably ask yourself – how the fuck do I get out of here? And the probable answer is – you don’t.

A Story For Sunday: The Weather Prophet

The Weather Prophet

It had been another one of those seemingly endless days when, like King Midas in reverse, everything I touched turned to shit. True, cold calling was a thankless and futile task at the best of times. In fact, most people in the company hated it but me, well, I just seemed to have a knack for it. A silver tongue. An innate ability to worm my way into people’s affections. To get them to fork out their hard earned cash for something they neither needed nor desired. To sell ice cream to Eskimos, as Foley, my boss, said. But recently, knockback had followed knockback and I’d started to feel as if I was losing my touch. I could see the predatory looks in the eyes of the young Turks who were so eager to take my position as top dog in Premier Properties. Something I was not going to allow happen, for sure.

The working day eventually ground painfully to a halt and I inevitably ended up sitting by myself, drowning my sorrows in a dreary hotel bar, staring out of the window as the autumn rain lashed the deserted car park. Letting my resentment bubble and boil. As was my wont.

“Think there’s a storm on the way?” said Shelley, the pasty-faced barmaid, as she collected the half-empty glasses from the table next to mine. An uproarious group of young women had sat there for a while, knocking back tequila slammers and spewing out dirty jokes. A tiddly hen-party that had called in to shelter from the rain. I’d attempted to start a conversation with the dowdiest but the women had quickly made a hasty exit, of course.

“Do I look like a weatherman?” I said to Shelley, and glared at her. I didn’t need her pity-induced small talk today, that was for sure. The Half-Moon Hotel was a charmless place, catering to travelling salesmen for the most part but it was situated halfway between my office and my apartment and I called in after work most evenings for a drink or two. I occasionally chatted with Shelley, coming on all empathetic as she prattled on about her tedious family. Her monotonous life. On days like this, however, I preferred to get drunk in the company of my own self-loathing, thank you very much.

Shelley flushed and went behind the bar, noisily restocking the fridge with overpriced bottles of beer. Muttering under her breath. Her angelic exterior quickly crumbling. Predictably showing her true colours.

But then, most people were predictable, truth be told. They just couldn’t see outside the limits of their own experience. Couldn’t think outside the box, as Foley, would have said. They had a paucity of imagination.

When most people first clapped eyes on me, for example, their initial reaction was usually one of revulsion, followed quickly, perhaps, by pity. Sometimes hilarity. And maybe I would have been the same as them if I hadn’t been born a hunchback. Maybe I’d have been just as blinkered in my worldview but my disability gave me a unique perspective on life. Gave me an edge, really. A liberating cruelty.

There were many worse things than being a freak, after all. Being ordinary, mediocre, drab were much, much worse. Like Shelley. She was a mousey blonde with a mousey personality. One of life’s perpetual drudges. She did, of occasion, have her uses though and so I thought it best to make my peace with her. I limped over to the bar and gave her a weak smile? The limp? Oh, that was a fake, apart from the hump I was in the best of health but better to be hung for a sheep than a lamb.

“Sorry about being so grumpy, Shelley,” I said, drooling a little. Yeah, that was fake, too. I wiped my mouth with a napkin and put on a sigh.

Shelley beamed a 100 watt grin.

“No problem, Ed, we all have our off-days.”

If the time was right, I would, perhaps, have gone into a long moan-ologue about how every day was an off-day for someone with my… problems but I wasn’t in the mood for a pity party so I just ordered another gin and tonic and then hobbled back to my seat, quickly followed by Shelley, who placed the drink on my table with an exaggerated flourish before heading back behind the bar.

A storm had indeed picked up, the sound of the rainfall mercifully drowning out the Joni Mitchell songs that were leaking out of the sound system. The front door noisily burst open and a group of shiny-happy-people loudly rushed in, eager to get out of the downpour. Two men and two women. Mid-thirties. All nice enough looking and well turned out in clothes that were fashionable but not overtly so. One of them spotted me looking over and turned to his friends. Whispered. They glanced over furtively and smiled uncomfortably. Ordered their drinks and retreated to a table as far away from me as possible.

Any other night, I would have had some sport with them. Maybe shuffled over and tripped so that I fell into their laps, accidently grabbing one of the women’s breasts. But today I had little energy for anything. I picked up my briefcase and took out a paperback book that I’d bought from a second-hand book shop during my lunch break. Sniffed it. Stroked the cover, which depicted some sort of elaborate machine that had been invented purely for the purpose of inflicting pain. I began reading and was submerged in a world of glorious suffering when someone stood over me, coughed and spoke.

“Gorra love that Kafka,” she said in a strong Liverpool accent.

I looked up as she took off her rain hat and let her long black hair fall loose.

“A greatly misunderstood humourist,” I said, straining a smile.

She took the book from my hands, frowned and almost threw it across the table.

“When I was a kid I thought a penal colony was a country full of dicks,” she said. Took off her raincoat and hung it over the back of a chair. “Maybe I was right.”

She pulled out another chair and sat next to me. Straightened her short black dress. Picked up my drink and sipped it.

“Gin makes you sin,” she said. She spat an ice cube back into my glass.

“Do I know you?” I said.

“Well, you do now.”

She held out a perfectly manicured hand. I took it. It was ice cold.

“I’m Roma. Shelley’s sister. She’s told me a lot about you. A lot. “

She winked. I flushed and glared at Shelley who was behind the bar cleaning glasses. She looked uncomfortable and averted her gaze.

“The resemblance is … is …”

“Not biological,” said Roma.

“Ha!”

“We’re both adopted.”

Roma clicked a finger and Shelley rushed over from behind the bar.

“What can I get you?” she said with voice like shattered glass.

“Double Glenfiddich for me and another gin for the Elephant Man,” said Roma.

I flushed with embarrassment, rage and… desire. Roma held my gaze and I felt myself becoming aroused. She slipped a hand under the table and patted my hard penis. Dug her nails in.

“Patience… you repulsive troll… patience.”

I was uncharacteristically at a loss for words. Roma fiddled with an unlit Gitanes Brunes and we sat in silence until Shelley brought the drinks over.

Roma put the cigarette back into its blue packet and sipped her drink.

“Shelley tells me you’re a man of very special needs,” she said.

“I am.”

“Well, I’m certain I can help you satisfy those needs, with the right financial motivation.”

“That’s good to know,” I said, burning up. Skin prickly. Throat arid.

“Sure you can afford it, Quasimodo.”

I gulped.

“I can, I can.”

And I could.

My affliction had been due to some dubious pharmaceuticals my mother had taken during her pregnancy. She had subsequently been awarded a massive compensation payment from the manufacturer which she’d kept in a trust fund for me that I couldn’t access until I reached the age of 24. Now, well into my thirties, despite living quite frugally, I used it from time to time for holidays, and yes, occasional trips to see call girls. I had many special needs after all.

“More booze?” said Roma.

“Oh yes.”

She raised her arm like a flamenco dancer and loudly clicked her fingers three times. Shelley brought another round of drinks over, we drank quickly and then the night dissolved into oblivion.

***

A thunderstorm ripped the night open and dragged me from my sleep. My swampy brain slowly focused on the silhouette of Roma’s naked body as she stood in front of my bedroom window, the tip of her cigarette glowing and disappearing as she sucked on it. A neon sign flickered and flashed outside, lightning flashed and then everything turned pitch black.

“Power cut again,’ I said. ‘I’ll find a candle.”

“Don’t bother,” said Roma.

She leaned over and put out her cigarette on my shoulder. The pain was… delicious.

***

The cold morning air tasted like lead as I wandered from my apartment to my office. It was a short walk but I felt exhausted as I sat at my desk. The morning was like wading through treacle, sipping muddy coffee and trying to concentrate on my work. When lunchtime came around, I walked up to Foley’s office. Knocked.

Foley looked up from his lap top. He was bleary eyed and unshaven but he still kept the good looks that had earned him a highly successful modelling career when he was younger.

“Shit, Ed you look worse than I feel. You been burning the candle at both ends again?”

“Something like that,” I said. “Look, I need to go home and catch up on some sleep. I’m no use to anyone today.”

Foley looked as if he was about to say something about me being useless every day at the moment but he bit his tongue. I know I filled the company’s quota of disabled staff and was pretty much unsackable.

“Do what you need to,” he said and went back to Facebook.

I left the office and headed for The Half-Moon Hotel. I was relieved to see that Shelley wasn’t working and walked up to the bar, forgetting about putting on the fake limp.

“G& T, Ed?” said Alec, the barman, a fading playboy with slicked back hair and the smile of a vampiric shark.

“A bit early for the hard stuff. Just a half of Guinness.”

I was tempted to add ‘and that’s Mr Ross to you’. I hated the way people immediately assumed they were on first name terms with the disabled.

As I sat at the bar and sipped my drink, I stumbled through my foggy memory of the previous night. I certainly didn’t remember drinking a great deal but I really couldn’t remember leaving the hotel bar. Apart one moment of wakefulness the night was a blank.

I started to feel a little better and invariably ordered another drink.

“Is Shelley working later?” I said.

“I doubt it,” said Alec. “She was supposed to be working today but she phoned in sick. First time for everything, I suppose.”

“Yeah?”

“Oh yes. She’s never sick. You know how bubbly she is. Sweet enough to give you diabetes. Still, since The Vamp appeared on the scene …”

“The Vamp? Oh, Roma, her sister?”

I started to get excited just saying Roma’s name.

Alec laughed. Licked his teeth.

“Sister? Well, they certainly didn’t kiss like sisters when I saw them in Le Madame last week.”

Le Madame was an infamous gay nightclub on the edges of the city. Images and words scattershot the sludge that passed as my thoughts. My throat went very dry. I slugged the Guinness but felt like choking.

“You look like you’ve just seen a ghost,” said Alec.

“I’m the fucking ghost,” I said.

I rushed back to my apartment, sweat oozing through my pores. Ignored the lift and ran upstairs. A click and I opened the door into the darkened room. The heat and the smell of sex smothered me.

I switched on the light. The place had been trashed, of course. My Laptop was gone along with a couple of watches and some other pieces of jewellery that could be described as being valuable. They’d even taken my phones. I knew that my credit cards had been taken before I opened the drawer to my desk but I looked anyway.

I was shaking as I went to the kitchen, opened the refrigerator and took a bottle of Finlandia vodka from the freezer. Poured a more liberal amount into a dirty glass, drank it down in one but couldn’t wash away the thought that Roma- and presumably Shelley- had somehow got my bank account’s pin number from me. Wondered how much cash they could withdraw in one day. Could they take it all?

I knew that I should get in touch with the bank and the police and try to sort out the mess but knowing wasn’t the same as doing. As the song said, ‘between thought and expression lies a lifetime’. Or something like that.

I poured myself another drink. Sipped it slowly as I walked out onto the balcony and waited for the storm to break.

The end.

The Weather Prophet is included in The Last Laugh.

A Story For Sunday: Sleeping It Off

The sound is a thump, thump, thump that goes on and on and on, over and over again and drags me by my lapels into consciousness.

I open my eyes and shards of sunlight slice through the blinds. Squinting, I focus on the worn Francoise Hardy poster on the wall and the familiar red flock wallpaper. Once again I’ve fallen asleep fully clothed on my sofa, tangled up in a tartan blanket which has seen better days, and nights. The coffee table and the floor near the sofa are littered with the usual debris of beer cans and whisky and gin bottles.

I pick up a half full can of Stella, lay back and steadily sip.

Memories of the previous night trample over my thoughts with dirty feet and eventually, I turn on my side and look around the room.

As well as the usual alcohol, the table is covered in a fair amount of Colombian marching powder and in the corner of the room, next to the CD player, holding a glass of what looks like gin and tonic, face down in a pool of puke, is a man.
And he’s dead.


*

The evening was melting into night and dark, malignant clouds were spreading themselves across the sky. I pulled down the metal shutters and locked up Las Vegas Amusements as a battered yellow taxi cab spluttered to a halt in front of the arcade.

I shuffled into the back seat of the cab as the driver struck a match on the NO SMOKING sign and lit his cigar.

’Astros?’ said the driver.

‘Aye’, I replied, nodding, ‘Same shit, different day.’

‘Didn’t you say that yesterday?’ he smirked.

The taxi snaked its way along the sea front, past pubs, greasy spoons, gift shops and amusement arcades, as the rain fell down in sheets. We pulled up outside Astros as a leathery bottle blond struggled to control a black umbrella which fluttered and flapped like a big black bat trying to escape from her grip.

‘Eyes down,’ said the taxi driver when he gave me my change. Being a bingo caller, I got that sort of thing all the time and it never failed to amuse the person who said it
*

I was trying to catch the pasty faced barmaid’s eye when, dressed in a white linen suit and a gaudy Hawaiian shirt, a blast from the past that was positively seismic burst into the bar. Jim Lawson, a man with a face like a blackcurrant crumble, a liver like the Great Barrier Reef and the smell of a soggy mongrel, sidled up to me, shuffling and sniffling, moving in close and conspiratorially like a double-agent in a Harry Palmer film.

’Jesus Christ,’ I said.

‘Close but no cigar,’ said Jim, wiping the happy-talc from his nose. ‘Thought, I’d find you here.’

‘Long time no see,’ I said.

’Sounds like a Chinese take-away,’ smirked Jim.

‘Aye, you could make that into a joke. Albeit not a particularly funny one,’ I said, slowly tearing up a beer mat.

‘It’s been donkey’s years,’ I said. ‘Still doing the sleazy hack thing in Bucharest?’

‘Oh, aye,’ said Jim. ‘Still dishing out the spare change and bingo calling for pensioners at Las Vegas, eh? Clickety–click, two fat ladies and that?’

I nodded, suddenly draped in a drab cloak of gloom.

‘I imagine you’ve a few tawdry tales to tell, eh?’ I said. ‘Louche bars and lithium dens, that sort of thing?’

‘More than a few,’ said Jim.

We sat at a rickety table in the corner, with two pints of Stella and whisky chasers, near what must have been the Xmas tree version of mutton done up as lamb – emaciated and overdressed in as much yuletide tat as possible.

‘How’s the great unfinished novel?’ said Jim.

‘Not so great. Still unfinished,’ I said.

‘Well, have a butcher’s at this. Eyes down,’ he said, grinning as he dumped a massive manuscript on the table. On the front was the title: ‘Destination Lurid’ by James G. Lawson.’ I was uncharacteristically speechless.

‘It won’t bite,’ said Jim, wiping a bead of sweat from his top lip. ’Get stuck in there. ’

And so, I looked. And, of course, as luck would have it, it was good. Very good. A potboiler, for sure, but what a potboiler! I was hooked from the first page. Line and friggin’ sinker!

‘I’m off down the smoke to see an agent on Monday,’ said Jim, looking more than a little pleased with himself. ‘I sent a sample chapter off to a few friends of friends and Bob’s your Uncle and Fanny’s your Aunt.’

And me? I just started pulling so hard on the threads of my life that the whole thing was starting to unravel. I took another gulp of whisky and headed toward oblivion, like dirty dishwater down a plughole.
*

In the early hours of the morning, when I awoke back at my flat, The Walker Brother’s ‘The Electrician’ was playing at a low volume and Jim was laying on the floor foaming at the mouth like a rabid dog. And then he went into convulsions.

I drained a glass of gin, turned over and went back to sleep.
*

I take the drink from Jim’s hand, and slowly sip it until I start to feel warm and glowing, like one of the kids in the old Ready Brek advert. Then, I drag the body into the kitchen and, struggling, dump it into the freezer, covering it with packets of frozen peas and fish fingers.

James G. Lawson is as good a pen name as any, I think, as I switch on the computer to check the Monday train times to London, before polishing off the gin. I look around, see that I’m out of booze and take a wad of cash from Jim’s wallet. No worries, it’s nearly opening time.

THE END.

A Story For Sunday: Everyday People

Brendan Burke was a creature of narrow habit and come rain or come shine, come hell or high water, he always ate meat on Fridays, even though, around the time of his seventieth birthday, it had begun to play havoc with his digestion.

‘Rebellion,’ said Brendan to Tony Naylor. ‘Rebellion against the shackles of my Catholic upbringing.’

‘Power to the people,’ said Tony, raising a clenched fist.

Tony had been a butcher since leaving school, as were his father and grandfather, but business hadn’t been so good since the influx of supermarkets selling cut price cuts of meat. Curmudgeons like Brendan were a godsend for Tony.

Brendan put the meat in his checked shopping bag and headed off.

‘Post office, next?’ said Tony.

‘As per usual,’ said Brendan. The social kept trying to convince him to have his pension paid into the bank but Brendan dug his heels in, stuck to his guns. He hated banks and enjoyed his trips to the post office, the centre of the local tittle tattle. ‘And then I’m off to the naval club, though I still don’t know if I’m an inny or an outty.’

He chuckled to himself and was still chuckling when a lime-coloured scooter jumped a light and knocked him arse over tit.
*

‘Jeezus, don’t send for her!’ said Brendan.

Skye, the featherlight social worker that hovered over him – looking like a delicate flower next to the oak of a man – had suggested phoning his daughter, Sue, in London and getting her to come and take care of him for a while. He’d barely been in the hospital a week, discharging himself after complaining about missing two drinking sessions at the club.

‘She’s worse than her bloody mother was for fussin’ and fannying around,’ said Brendan.

‘Well, you do need a carer, Mr B.,’ said Skye.

Brendan shook his head as he looked at her. She was sparkling and fresh, from somewhere down south – home counties, maybe. How could she possibly have a clue about anything?

‘Do you know anyone?’ she asked.

Brendan just stared at her nose stud with disgust.

*

Oliver Sweet had ducked into his flat as soon as he saw the social worker enter the building. He’d seen her before in the record shop where he hung around. She’d bought a Janis Ian CD and he had tried to make conversation about it but it wasn’t exactly his cup of cocoa. Neither was small talk.

Oliver was a bit off a mouse, who kept himself to himself, although it would have surprised most people to know that he loved to listen Sly Stone, Bootsy Collins and Funkadelic. These were what blew his skirt up. Along with taxidermy – his flat was cluttered with pigeons, rats, even a leathery black bat – collecting funk on vinyl was the centre of his life.

When Brendan moved into the flat opposite, Oliver was a bit worried that the old man would complain about the noise but after talking to him a couple of times, he relaxed. Brendan was as deaf as a post.

He was listing to Sly Stone and changing into his ASDA uniform when he heard the scream and the bang. He stuck his head out of the door and saw that Brendan’s door was open. And then he heard coughing, choking.

‘Are you alright, Mr Burke?’ he said. No reply.

He went to Burke’s door and knocked.

‘Mr Burke?’ said Oliver, louder this time. He went into the flat and saw Brendan doubled over and red-faced. Oliver ran towards him.

Are you alright?’

Brendan looked up with tears in his eyes. Tears of laughter.

‘Sorry…Sorry, Sweety,’ said Brendan. Oliver blushed. He hated that nickname.

‘I couldn’t resist.’ He wheezed. ‘I just wanted her to piss off, so…’ he coughed. ‘So, I asked her to check the boil on my bum. The stuck up little cow soon scarpered then.’

‘So, you’re okay,’ said a blushing Oliver.

‘Aye,’ said Brendan. ‘Do us a favour and pass us that bottle of vodka from the mantelpiece and get two glasses from the kitchenette.’

Oliver wasn’t much of a drinker but he thought he needed to calm down before heading off to work.

He poured the drinks.

‘A toast,’ said Brendan.

‘Na zdrowia, as Polish Tom used to say. To your health.’

Brendan downed the vodka in one and Oliver did the same but it burned like molten lava.
*

After a week or two it was decided that Oliver would be Brendan’s carer. He’d do the shopping, cash his pension and pop in now and again to keep an eye on him.

Oliver started to like drinking with Brendan and the carer’s allowance that he received meant that he could give up his job at ASDA. In fact all was tickety boo until November.
*

Tony Naylor’s voice was like a dripping tap to Oliver and the woman at the Post office was even worse. Still, he endured and managed to pop into the record shop before lunchtime to buy Parliament’s ‘Up For The Down Stroke.’

‘Pricey stuff, this,’ said John, the owner of the shop. ‘Been saving up your pennies, Sweety?’

Oliver ignored him and headed back home.
*

‘The Post Office was packed again,’ said Oliver to Brendan, as he put the shopping bags on the orange, plastic, Formica table.

Brendan said nothing, of course. He’d said nothing since he’d broken his neck falling out of the bath on Bonfire Night. Oliver still liked these evenings, though. Steak, vodka and a bit of Bootsy Collins playing in the background. He glanced over at Brendan’s massive frame as he unpacked the rest of the shopping and thought that he really should have bought some more formaldehyde.

A Story For Sunday: Silver Lady

There was a storm building inside Ray’s skull. Waiting to break. And it was all because Ray hadn’t seen her for over a week now. Twenty-seven days and seventeen hours, to be precise. And he was starting to wonder if he’d imagined her. Created some kind of wish fulfilment figure. His stomach cramped.

It wouldn’t have been the first time that his imagination had set him off on a wild goose chase, after all. Sent him racing and stumbling headfirst into a collision with cold, cruel reality. Made him look a fool.

But just after midnight, at the exact moment he turned on the car’s ignition, the night sky was gutted with crack of thunder, a flash of lighting and a cleansing rain.

He looked up and there she was. Shimmering in the silver glow of the street light that was in front of the sex shop on the corner of Langdon Street and Spender Grove.

And she was … resplendent. Yes. That was the word. That really was what she was.

As she had been the first time he’d gazed upon her.

*

It was late October when Ray had decided to stop going to his night class. It was the dark evenings that had put him off at first, there were too many animals crawling the streets at night these days. Filth everywhere.

Although he knew deep down that wasn’t the only reason he’d stopped attending the course. He hadn’t been making a great deal of progress – French never felt as natural to him as German or Latin -and he knew that he’d never actually go to France, anyway, so there was no real point continuing.

At the end of the month he’d called into the College of Further Education and paid for the rest of the course, it was the decent thing to do after all, and money wasn’t a problem for him. He shook hands with the tutor and headed off home, once again feeling that something was missing in his life.

The winter night bit like a beast as he headed off to the bus stop, avoiding the begging trick-or-treaters in their identical Halloween costumes. Ray loathed this time of year.

His doctor had once said that he suffered from SAD: Seasonal Adjustment Disorder and that he should go away to somewhere sunny, since he had lots of free time these days. But even the thought of travel was an abomination to Ray, who had only left Seatown once in all of his thirty- five years. That was a trip to London to visit St Paul’s Cathedral. And that was an unpleasant experience that he certainly didn’t want to repeat.

They say bad luck comes in threes and Ray certainly had his share that night, and he really couldn’t count how many things went wrong. The 94 bus at Warden Green left early and, despite racing after it, it didn’t stop. But it did splash through a puddle as it drove past him, soaking his brown corduroy trousers . And then it started to rain. Pour. He leaned against a kebab shop doorway catching his breath. His chest burning. The smell of sizzling animal flesh making him heave.

He decided to take a short cut through a nearby alleyway and was soaked through by the time he got to the end, which came out directly on Barclay Common. A couple of cars, their headlamps dipped, cruised past, the drivers examining the girls –and boys- that worked there. Ray kept his head down, ignoring their beckoning calls. Whenever he walked past the common it produced the usual cocktail of feelings -disgust, guilt, shame, embarrassment, resentment. And desire.

He gave a cursive glance at the prostitutes, seeing the usual shaking anorexics or overweight grannies. But then there was a sort of fizzing, popping sound, and a lamp post came to life. And there, underneath that flickering streetlamp was a vision.

Tall, blonde. Wearing a shining silver dress and boots. Looking completely alien to her grimy surroundings. More than human. An angel. And she smiled at him.

*

After that, his days, and nights were haunted by the Silver Lady. His dreams more so. And even during his waking hours, little pin pricks at the back of his mind made him turn sharply, expecting to see her.

At times he did see her, too. Just out of reach, At the edge of his vision. If he squinted, she was at the end of the street. Or a mannequin in a shop window. Sometimes, when he blinked, he saw her in the darkness.

Her voice, though he had never heard it, called to him. Sang along with the sound his alarm made as it dragged him by his greasy hair from his fitful sleep.

So, tonight he’d plucked up his courage and borrowed his Uncle Ricky’s car and headed off to cruise Barclay Common.

The night hadn’t started well. Uncle Ricky’s car had been specially adapted to suit his disabilities- Ray wasn’t completely sure what they were – and it was a pain to manoeuvre. And Ray wasn’t exactly the most experienced driver, although he’d passed his test some fifteen years before.

So, he’d stalled about a hundred times and panicked that he might be spotted in Barclay Common by someone he knew. He drove around until darkness fell.

And he waited. He waited all night, and, as he was about to head off home at last, she appeared. There she was. As clear as day. He squinted to see her more clearly. She was mouthing something. The red lips so clear against her alabaster skin. It was hard to work out exactly what she’d said at first but later he was he was sure it was: save me. Of course it was. And Ray knew he would.

*

That night he’d had the thickest, most vivid dream of all. She’d crept into his bed and she’d begged him to save her. To set her free. She’d called him My Ray Of Hope. My Ray Of Light.

And he had made love to her. But this time was nothing like that horrible night in London. This time had been something so special that he had awoken with tears. Tears of bliss.

He knew then that he was a caterpillar waiting for the right moment to transform into a butterfly for his Silver Lady.

*

And then she was gone again. As winter bled into spring. there was no sign of her. He drove to Barclay Common so many times that the prostitutes had started to recognise him. A couple of the pimps had even approached him one night, to say or do Lord knows what, but seeing his dog collar they had stepped back.

After that, some of them called out ‘Hello Preacher,’ when they saw him, though most of them ignored him. And he them. But there was still no sign of the Silver Lady. They had taken her. These animals. And he knew, as the storm clouds gathered, that he must take their lives in revenge.

*

The glow from the burning car was warm. Comforting. The screams of the burning prostitutes and pimps calming. The storm had broken. Was over. He felt sated, wet at his crotch.

Ray had filled the car with as much flammable material as possible and sent it into the pack of vermin that lined Barclay Common. He’d thrown a Molotov cocktail and the blast had ripped the sky open.

With an aching heart, he walked toward the streetlight where his Silver Lady had stood. As he got closer, he felt a stomach cramp as saw the sex shop’s demolished facade. He rushed forward and burnt his hands as he gripped the metal shutters that had been ripped open by the blast. He smashed at the glass that was already shattered to reveal the twisted, torn form of an alabaster mannequin, its silver mini skirt ripped to reveal her burning flesh. The blood red lips. The blank, dead eyes.

And Ray laughed. He laughed so much that it melded into the sound of the police cars and ambulances that drew close. And the storm that had returned.

A Story For Sunday: Dead Pimp In A Trunk

I WAS GOING to tell you about why I killed Lewis Quad and how he’d had it coming to him. How he’d asked for it and deserved everything he got. Tell you what an evil bastard he was and how many lives he’d destroyed over the years. All the shitty little things he’d done just because he could. Justify my actions, and the like. But then I realised that, well, if you knew Lewis Quad you’d know all of that anyway and if you didn’t know Lewis there was no way in heaven, hell or purgatory that I was ever  going to be able to explain the whole thing to you. So I thought I’d just tell you what happened next.

***

I wasn’t even close to Cyrus White’s farm when I realised I was running low on fuel. The last few hours had been a blur. I’d been so wrapped up in replaying the events of the last few days I’d been smothered by them, truth be told.

As I drove through the night, the streetlamps were yellow streaks across the pallet of darkness. I’d been listening to a phone-in talk show about ghosts, hauntings and such, and though I’d never been superstitious, I sure was glad when the dawn eventually broke on through.

I saw a sign for a gas station off of a side road and turned off the radio so that I could concentrate. I followed the directions until I reached a small disused general store with a dusty, rusted gas pump in front and a battered old station wagon parked beside it. I parked my Dodge, lay my head on the steering wheel and groaned.

After a moment or so, I switched on the radio to wake myself up but it was as dead as the corpse in my trunk. I lay back in the seat and pulled out a quarter bottle of Wild Turkey. Sipped. As I watched the sun rise like a gold doubloon, I started to relax.

Then I heard the bang.

***

She was old, in her eighties or something like that, carrying a sawn-off shotgun and wearing a ragged green-velvet ball gown. She staggered out of the store, tripping over her high heeled shoes and pulling a red beehive wig from her head as she raced toward the station wagon. I guessed she didn’t notice me at first because she threw the gun into the car and crawled in after it. She started up the station wagon with a struggle and reversed. Right into my car.

***

The sunny morning had hardened into a granite gray day and the non-stop drizzle failed to wash away the pain in my head. It wasn’t the impact of the cars so much or even the hangover that was kicking in. It was Mathilda and the way she talked. And how much she talked.

I pulled up outside White’s farmhouse just as Mathilda was telling some long and winding anecdote about unpaid alimony, jailbait whores and a pawn shop.

‘And, you know, what would you do, if you were unlucky enough to have found yourself in my situation?’ she said. She scratched her bald head. Glared at me.

‘I know what you mean,’ I said. ‘I know exactly what you mean.’

Although I most certainly did not.

Cyrus came out of the door cradling a crossbow that I knew he had made himself. He was tall and gaunt, with a long white beard and a bald head. He was wearing a frayed black suit. He swayed a little as he walked toward the car.

‘You took your time,’ he said. ‘My babies are getting hungry.’

I heard the pigs scream and a chill skewered my soul.

‘Don’t worry,’ I said, as I got out of the Dodge. ‘I have a little extra snack for them.’

‘Then come on in, ladies,’ said Cyrus. He opened up the passenger door and winked at Mathilda. ‘You’re just in time for tiffin.’

I picked up my purse and slammed the car door. Straightened my skirt.

Mathilda was already hobbling alongside Cyrus, arm in arm with him.

It was going to be a long day.

fin