Recommended Read: TRANSFERENCE by JOHN BOWIE

John Bowie’s Transference is the follow up to his dark and moody debut novel, Untethered. Similarly soaked in booze and bad decisions, Transference follows its ex- SAS protagonist John B to Manchester where he investigates a young man’s apparent suicide, as well is digging up the dirt that most of the city would prefer to keep buried.

Transference is atmospheric and violent, a supernaturally tinged noir tale that casts a bloodshot and bleary eye over Manchester and its criminal fraternity. Brit Grit meets magic-realism.

You can pre-order Transference from Red Dog Press, and you really should.

Out NOW! Pax Victoria by Liz Davinci

Pax Victoria is a concept album about a fictive character named Victoria whose mundane Californian life was interrupted by an all-consuming love affair that led her into the world of underground crime and having to choose between right and wrong.

The songs describe Victoria’s struggles as she faces realities she doesn’t want to believe possible and finds a strength she never knew she had.

All tracks composed by Liz Davinci except “10:23”, “The Club” and “Deserted”, which were composed by Underhatchet. All tracks recorded at Liz Davinci’s house. All tracks mixed and produced by Liz Davinci and Underhatchet except for “Oh God”, which was mixed and co-produced by Simon Bartz and “10:”3”, which was mixed by Liz Davinci and Simon Bartz.

Thank you to Underhatchet, K.A. Laity, James Shaffer, Mark McConville and Paul D. Brazill for providing beautiful and inspiring texts for the five album trailers. Thank you Underhatchet , K.A. Laity and James Shaffer for your additional contributions to the mini-chapters (which can be read here and comprise the whole story of Victoria: www.lizdavinci.com/blog).

Recommended Read: Layer Cake by JJ Connolly

You’re born, you take shit. You get out in the world, you take more shit. You climb a little higher, you take less shit. Till one day you’re up in the rarefied atmosphere and you’ve forgotten what shit even looks like. Welcome to the layer cake, son.” – Eddie Temple, Layer Cake.

The 1980s was the loadsamoney decade. The era of greed is good and going for it. By the time the 90s dawdled along, London’s young guns had already grasped the bull by its horns and crashed into any number of china shops, flashing their cash, getting their way by hook and, with regard to Layer Cake’s protagonist, very much by crook. 

“Everyone wants to walk through a door marked ‘private.’ Therefore, have a good reason to be affluent.

JJ Connolly’s Layer Cake was first published in 2000 by Duckworth Press but it is set in London in the 1990s. And it is very much a 90s London novel. As of its time as Moloko, Portishead, Brit Pop, Cool Britannia, celebrity chefs, This Life or YBAs. 

Layer Cake’s unnamed narrator is a successful young drug dealer who has plans to ditch his life of crime once he reaches the ripe old age of 30 and live the life of a gentleman of leisure. Of course, things don’t go to plan. Once a shipment of ecstasy is hijacked, everything turns pear-shaped for our anti-hero as quickly as spit disappears on hot pavement. Violence, double-cross and triple-cross invariably ensue. 

The plot is tight and twisty, but one of its main strengths is its rich and varied cast of lowlife characters, such as the short-fused Mr Mortimer; The Duke – the cokehead leader of a criminal gang known as the Yahoos; The Duke’s psychotic and equally as coke addled girlfriend Slasher; a smooth and smart conman known as either Billy Bogus or Cody Garrett; Klaus, the leader of a group of German neo-Nazis; ‘Crazy’ Larry Flynn – a gangster with a penchant for strangling rent boys; and a Doberman called Mike Tyson.

JJ Connolly’s debut novel could well have been received a cult classic for crime fiction connoisseurs, for fans of Derek Raymond’s Factory novels or Ted Lewis perhaps. Or it could have been seen as a well-regarded but obscure London noir like Gerald Kersh’s Night and the City, or James Curtis’ The Gilt Kid. But it burst into the mainstream with rave reviews from all sorts of respectable square joints such as The Times, The Guardian and The Literary Review.

The novel has a lot in common with the all-mouth and well-cut trousers stylings of the mockney gangster capers popularised by film director Guy Ritchie in the 90s. So it’s no great surprise that the 2004 film version of Layer Cake was the directorial debut of Guy Ritchie’s erstwhile producer Matthew Vaughn. Starring future Mr Bond, Daniel Craig, the film did pretty damned well on its own terms, too, focusing on some of the supporting cast of characters and giving us a fistful of great performances – particularly from Colm Meaney, George Harris and Michael Gambon.

Enjoyable as the film version of Layer Cake was, it didn’t quite capture the voice of the novel – a John Lydon/Peter Cook sneer mixed with a fatalistic sigh of resignation. Layer Cake is brash, vivid and blackly-comic but it is at least as much about the argot as it as about the aggro, peppered as much with laddish badinage – ladinage – as it is with bullets and birds. The language is also quite arch, telling the tale in an off-kiler, askew way. Now, 20 years on from its publication, the book still seems breathlessly fresh.

We waited a full ten years until Connolly followed up Layer Cake with the splendid Viva La Madness, which saw Layer Cake’s protagonist attempting to lay low in Jamaica until Mr Mortimer arrived to drag him back into a life of crime. 

In October 2011, I interviewed JJ Connolly for my blog, and I asked about the long wait for the sequel to his debut novel.

PDB: We’ve been waiting for Viva La Madness for ten years, why so long? 

JJC: I was working on films, traveling, messing around, getting in and out of trouble, having fun. Two years ago I decided I better stop messing around and sat down and finished Viva. I’d been working on it – on and off, more off than on, for almost ten years, since I finished Layer Cake, in fact. I got distracted, but distracted in a nicest possible way, in some nice places, with some nice people.

Then Connolly seemed to go underground again for another decade…

Well, it’s now the 20th anniversary of Layer Cake’s publication and this special edition has a very tasty new cover along with a revealing and intriguing afterword from Mister Connolly himself. A republished version of Viva la Madness is on its way too, as is a Viva la Madness television series from Sky TV, starring no less than Jason Statham.

So what next for JJ Connolly? Maybe the hat-trick? When I interviewed him in 2011 he said:

“I want to write another book with the narrator from Layer Cake and Viva la Madness, to complete a trilogy. I like the voice.

So, in the words of Moloko, the time is now …

(THIS FIRST APPEARED OVER AT CRIME FICTION LOVER)

New Year Noir: Gumshoe Blues

Gumshoe Blues


In the beginning was the sound. The light came later. The sound was a horrifying wail that skewered its way deep into my unconscious brain, until I awoke swiftly, sharply , drowning in sweat, my heart smashing through my ribcage; my head about to burst. Some twat, somewhere, was playing a U2 song, over and over again, and all was far from friggin’ quiet on New Year’s Day.

I forced my eyes open and squinted until I saw the familiar sight of a fraying Seatown United poster peeling from fuzzy, red-flock wallpaper. I was lying on a brown tweed sofa and tangled up in a tartan blanket that had seen better days and nights. I was home.

The air in the room was warm and soupy, and I felt a wave of nausea pass over me. I closed my eyes, took a deep breath and counted to ten. The dry heaves kicked in around six. A beat. I peeled my eyes open again. The aquarium bubbled and gurgled, bathing the room in a sickly green light. Sickly and yet soothing. I reminded myself that I really had to put some tropical fish in there one day.

I edged onto my side and awkwardly kicked the blanket to the floor. I was fully clothed. My armpits were soaking. My fake Armani shirt was soggy. A sickly smell permeated my pores and the least said about my trousers the better. Beside me was a sticky coffee table that was cluttered with the remnants of the previous night’s drinking session. I picked up an open can of Stella Artois and shook it. It was more than half full. A result, then. I slowly sipped the beer can’s warm, flat contents until I started to get a glow on, like one of the kids in the old Ready-Brek adverts. Booze: central heating for pissheads.

Bonzo, The Ledge, and their musically illiterate pals continued to strangle a cat in the flat next door, and I knew that I was going to have to make a move soon, before my head went all Scanners. I finished the lager, edged myself up to a sitting position, and picked up my glasses from the coffee table. One of the lenses was scratched, but at least they weren’t broken. Another result. The blinking, digital clock-radio that was plonked on top of the television set, said that it was 3.15am. It was always 3.15am, ever since I’d thrown it against the wall during a particularly grating late night phone-in show. In the real dark night of the soul, there was always some twat talking bollocks at three o’clock in the morning.

I grabbed my knock-off Armani jacket from the floor and fumbled in the pockets for my mobile phone. It was just after ten. That gave me enough time to get ready and make myself presentable before my midday meeting with Jack Martin. My stiff joints ached as I shuffled towards the kitchen, and I noticed that my shoes were stained with something that looked a lot like blood, but was much more likely to be chilli sauce from the doner kebab I vaguely remembered stuffing down my gob the night before. I put on the kettle and crushed a couple of diazepam and codeine into an Xmas turkey-flavour Pot Noodle: most important meal of the day.

My headache was starting to settle into a steady throb, but my throat was like a nun’s knickers. I foolishly opened the buzzing fridge to look for a cold beer, but the smell made my stomach lurch and the waves of nausea quickly built to a tsunami. I staggered toward the toilet bowl and evacuated my New Year’s Eve overindulgence. After a minute or two of retching, I kneeled on the linoleum, whimpering and panting like a stray dog. Wiping my mouth on the back of my hand, I went back to the living room and poured myself a large vodka and orange.

Happy New Year. Out with the old and in with the new.

GRAB GUMSHOE BLUES HERE!

A Story For Sunday: A Bit Of A Pickle

The ghost of a Petula Clark song drifted into The Bag O’ Nails through a partly open window. A shard of sunlight sliced through the blinds, picking out specks of dust that floated in the air. An old electric kettle boiled in another room. A refrigerator hummed.  A dishwasher chugged dully. A mangy black and white cat strolled across the newly polished bar before curling up on a wooden bar stool and going to sleep. Bertie Peaslee took another sip of warm beer and drowned in a haze of Proustian nostalgia.

***

A grubby-grey December morning had melted into an inky-black night. And then it all turned white. Ingrid Faith, tall blonde and unerringly magnificent, wore black sunglasses and black fur coat as she strode across a snow smothered Hyde Park, indifferent to the blizzard attacking her from all sides. She looked as if she owned the place, thought Peaslee, but then, she always did, wherever she went. Shivering, and slightly hung-over, he stumbled beside her, a gloved hand on his leather trilby, the other tugging at her elbow. 

‘Ingrid,’ he yelled. ‘Slow down, sweetie. We need to talk about this. Jagger is getting too big for his boots and you know it. Jumped up little oik. ’

She stopped and gave Peaslee a withering smile. He wrapped his black overcoat tight.

‘Now, now, Bertie,’ she purred. ‘Now, now.’

‘Well, it’s true. I never thought I’d meet anyone less talented than Epstein’s ragged-trousered ruffians but …’

Ingrid put a finger to his lips and nodded over his shoulder. He turned.

A chubby policeman ran up to them, slipping and sliding.

‘Miss Faith,’ he gasped. ‘Miss Faith.’

Peaslee shuddered and not with the cold. The policeman took off his tall helmet. Snowflakes covered his Brylcreem clogged black hair like old confetti.

‘Could I have your autograph please, Miss Faith?’ he mumbled. ‘I’m a big fan of yours.’

‘Of course, darling!’ She beamed at him. ‘What’s your name?’

‘Edward Carr,’ he said. ‘My mates call me Ed Cars!’

He chuckled and Ingrid laughed loudly, clasping his arm.

‘I’m sure they do, darling. I’m sure they do.’

Ingrid scrawled something in his notebook, kissed it and then kissed him on the cheek. He flushed.

‘Th … thanks. I thought you magnificent in Carry On Croaking. Is it true you’re going to be in one of them Hammer films with that Christopher Lee?’

He licked his lips.

‘Oh, don’t believe everything you read in the papers, Eddie,’ said Ingrid. ‘Things aren’t always as they appear to be. ’

Ingrid took the policeman by the shoulders and turned him towards the park gates.

 ‘Ciao, dahling!’ she said, using her catchphrase from her latest hit film – a strained romantic comedy called ‘Latino Palaver.’

She waved and blew a kiss as the giddy policeman wandered off toward the park gates. Turned to Peaslee. Scowled.

‘Let’s get back to the hotel, darling. I need my medicine.’

 Peaslee frowned. Another white night beckoned.

***

Peaslee’s reverie was shattered by Nathaniel Wingate’s echoing, cacophonous laughter.

‘Good one, eh?’ wheezed Wingate, whipping tears from his eyes.

‘Yes, very good,’ said Peaslee, with a raspy chuckle. ‘Very droll.’

Not that he’d been listening to a word that Wingate had said but, since Wingate always laughed uproariously at his own jokes, the resounding guffaw that had burst free from his flabby chops had presumably signalled the delivery of another laborious punch line. Wingate gulped his gin and tonic and tapped is massive red nose in that smug, annoying way he always did. He tapped his smartphone and began wheezing with laughter looking more than somewhat like Mr Punch.

Peaslee’s stomach began to make loud gurgling noises.

‘The liquid brunch not doing the trick?’ said Wingate.

‘Not really. Perhaps I should have stopped off for a Cornish pasty on the way, there’s a lovely little stall around the corner.’

Wingate lowered his half-moon glasses and squinted over at the Grandfather clock in the corner.

‘It’s almost midday,’ he said. ‘They’ll be serving the pub grub in a moment.’

Peaslee absently tapped his inside jacket pocket. He wasn’t sure he had enough for lunch in a West End pub and pension day was a week away. The heydays of the Rank Charm School were in the dim and distant past now.

‘Oh, I think I’ll stick with the booze,’ said Peaslee. ‘Lighter on the waistline, you know? Anyway, pub grub is yet another abomination of this modern age. It used to be that you could pop into the pub at lunch time for a swift half or a snifter if need be and the place was half empty. A sanctuary. Now, look. You can’t get served because the place is full of pasty faced, salad munching secretaries ordering coffee,’

Wingate snorted.

‘Yes, I’ll give it a miss myself. I’m off the The Ivy with Adrian Gill later.’

Peaslee trapped the sigh inside himself and his stomach gurgled even louder.

***

Ingrid’s naked body – arms stretched wide, as if she had been crucified – spread across the four poster bed’s white silk sheets, her skin as white as snow exept for a slash of crimson lipstick.

Slumped in a leather armchair, Peaslee had at last stopped crying. Screaming.  Only whimpers now. Rain splashed the window and outside the King’s Road’s street lamps seemed to twinkle like stars.  He stood, crushing an empty syringe beneath his feet, and went over to the bedside table. A beat. He picked up the phone and dialled.

‘Hello,’ Ronnie. Is Reggie there? It’s Bertie Peaslee and I’m afraid I appear to be in a bit of a pickle.’

***

Peaslee hadn’t noticed the pub start to fill up. When he’d first wandered in, Wingate had been the only customer. Now there was a hairy busker nursing a half of lager, a white haired old woman with a wicker-basket talking to herself in between loud slurps of Guinness and a large group of noisy tourists hovering around near the bar. Italians by the look of them. Loud, brash and spending an age just to order coffees which they would only complain about and never finish.

Marek, the massive barman, stopped stocking the fridge with Kopparberg cider and unhurriedly wandered over to the loudest Italian, an overdressed matriarch wearing gaudy Armani sunglasses. Only a couple of years in London and already the Pole was jaded, intolerant. A typical Londoner, then.

The old grandfather clock had just struck thirteen and Peaslee carefully sipped his pint of London Pride – luckily there was enough beer left to last until the braying Latinos had finished faffing around. He hoped.

It was his own fault for drinking in a Covent Garden pub, of course. Should have known better, even on a Monday. But as Peaslee’s retirement had trundled on he’d often found himself wandering the streets of London in the early hours, eventually stopping off at the first pub he saw open. He’d been tempted to get a Tube train to Knightsbridge and pop in to The Tea Clipper, though it had lost a lot of its charm since Charlie Gray and his old cronies had … expired.

Wingate was messing around with his smartphone again. Chuckling to himself. Tapping the screen. This was another one of Wingate’s many annoying habits. Like Peaslee, he was in his early seventies but unlike Peaslee he felt the need to keep up with the latest trends, fads. He even had a Facebook account, whatever that was. Occasionally Wingate would flash his phone in front of Peaslee, chuckling away at some ‘post’ or other. Peaslee’s eyes were buggered though and he could rarely see what was on the screen. Still, he laughed.

He’d actually thought about purchasing a pair of specs lately, perhaps some half-moon ones like Wingate’s, to give him the Oxford don look- but he was too vain, he knew. Once a leading man, always a leading man.

The noisy tourists had collected together a few tables in the corner of the room and were seemingly yammering away about the over-priced clothes that they’d bought. Peaslee couldn’t help a twinge of resentment.  He had always been a bit of a dandy, an appreciator of the finer things but a retired actor certainly couldn’t afford to buy the stuff that was on sale in west end shops these days, even if he’d wanted to. Thank god for charity shops. His late wife would spin in her grave if she saw him entering Oxfam. A comforting thought.

Wingate, of course, liked to dress years below his age – another annoying habit – and since he was still getting royalties for the cheesy pop songs he’d co-written in the sixties and seventies, he could afford it. One of the songs – ‘The Company Of Youth’- had even been used in the most recent Austin Powers film generating a tidy bit of income, Peaslee was sure.

Peaslee felt his joints creak as he stood up to go to the bar.

‘I shall need more lubricant, I think,’ he said. ‘To oil the joints.’

He caught the weary barman’s attention and yawned inwardly as he waited to collect his drink.

‘Life is brutal,’ said Marek, stone faced.

‘Oh, indeed,’ said Peaslee.

As he unsteadily sat back down, he noticed a woman step into the pub doorway. Tall, blonde and beautiful. Dressed in black. He turned pale and grasped his chest, dropping his pint glass which shattered on the pub’s wooden floor.

‘One too many old boy,’ said Wingate, with a wink.

‘No, no …I …’

Peaslee looked down at the broken glass and then back at the pub doorway. The woman was gone.

***

 The dark alley was illuminated by the light from a nearby church’s stained glass window. Ingrid’s body had been wrapped in tarpaulin and unceremoniously dumped into the back of a BMW. The two thugs had driven her away, presumably disposing of her body as part of the local motorway construction. A form of immortality, Peaslee supposed. He stood chain smoking until the night threatened to enfold him.

‘Ciao, darling!’ he whispered to the stars and the void between them.

***

Peaslee’s sigh came deep from inside him. The rented flat was like a Hieronymus Bosch painting. A hodgepodge and mish-mash of second-hand furniture. Every style and era had been paid lip service to with no thought of cohesion or style. He shuddered every time he looked around the room. He’d only been staying there for a couple of months and he was always desperate to get out of the place.

 He was also becoming impatient waiting for the taxi and carefully edged through the obstacle course of junk and out onto the balcony, to see if she could spot it.

On the opposite balcony, a tall man with long black hair took breadcrumbs from a plastic bag and threw them in the air. Black birds darted down from telephone lines where they had been lined up like notes on sheet music. The birds flew towards the tall man, landing on his balcony and sometimes on him. His raucous, joyous laughter brought an unfamiliar smile to Peaslee’s face.

On the street below, he could see a branch of a small general dealers with a bright green logo above the door as well as a bicycle factory that had been converted into a nightclub, and a stretch of trendy bars, including one with a large black tarantula perched above its dark oak doors – The Spider Bar.

The street bustled with young people wearing strange clothes and even stranger hairstyles. A tall blond in a black fur hat and coat walked up to The Spider Bar and pressed a door bell. The door opened, emitting a screech of escaping metal music. She slipped inside. A sense of longing enveloped Peaslee. And then guilt.

The taxi really was late and Peaslee took that as a sign to have another gin and tonic while he waited. The television was showing another bloody cookery programme. The fat lipped boy with the counterfeit cockney accent again. Peaslee wasn’t sure when it was that domestic drudgery like cooking and gardening had become elevated to the level of the works of  Beethoven and Chaucer but it was another sign of what was wrong with the modern world. The pursuit of excellence had been replaced by the aspiration toward mediocrity.

A car horn sounded outside and Peaslee downed his drink. Once upon a time taxi drivers came to your door to tell you that they were there. Once upon a time.

The trip to the church passed in a fugue of bittersweet memories and Peaslee was both relived and delighted to arrive at his destination.

‘We’re  here, pal,’ said the square-headed taxi driver, pulling up at the cemetery gates.

Peaslee shuffled out of the taxi and fished in his pocket for a handful of change. He counted out every coin, leaving a 50p tip before stepping out into a gust of wind that almost blew him over. The taxi driver laughed loudly and drove off.

The small church was draughty and had clearly seen better days. As had most of the people that were walking through its doors. Has-been actors, singers, game-show hosts and minor television stars cluttered the seats. Even in death, Peaslee concluded, Wingate was an irritating man. The weather was rotten, the funeral was a farce and not one of the Whitehall ones Peaslee used to be so good in. either. It was all crocodile tears.  Wingate had been a decidedly unpopular man for all of his pampered life.

Peaslee sat uncomfortably as a suntanned Welsh crooner with leather skin performed a heartfelt version ‘Last September,’ one of Wingate’s biggest hits and one of the songs that kick started the Welshman’s  career.  But, apart from the singer, real celebrities were thin on the ground. There were even less members of Wingate’s family in attendance. A batty older sister and one of his ex-wives- and her Moroccan toy boy – who was clearly there to gloat.

He wondered if any of Howard Phillips’ family had turned up. Phillips had been Wingate’s writing partner for many years, some said the more talented of the two. One windswept winter evening Phillips, always a troubled soul and thrown his body off a cliff somewhere in the north of England. Fortuitous for Wingate, of course.

They left the church and walked over to small cemetery outside. Peaslee noticed a tall and familiar looking blonde. She wore black sunglasses and a long black fur coat and stood beneath a weeping willow tree, sheltering from the storm, smoking a cigarette. Peaslee’s soul ached for something just out of reach.

Reverend Abbott was one of Wingate’s old university drinking cronies. Until recently he had been in exile in the frozen wastelands of the north of England. With a dramatic flourish worth of Liberace, he began his graveside eulogy, his long hair flowing in the wind

‘There comes a time in every young man’s life,’ he said, his long arms stretched wide, ‘when he knows that he will never be The Fonz. Shortly after that realisation it becomes clear that he won’t even be Richie Cunningham. And so, then, he has to make a choice. Will he be Ralph Malph or Potsie Weber? But there are some men…’

Peaslee groaned. He really had no idea what the fool was babbling on about. He noticed the blonde step from beneath the tree, put up a black umbrella and walk off toward the cemetery’s wrought iron gates. He wished he was going with her. Wished for so many things. He sighed as he painted his fake look of sympathy back on, felt his rheumatism bite and thought about all the free booze at the wake.

***

 An autumn storm ripped the sky open and Peaslee was glad to be indoors. He was down to his last bottle of gin and had a couple of days to go before pension day so he drank slowly and started to nod off when the doorbell rang. It was almost midnight and the television was showing the American programme about the serial killer.

He sleepily went to the door of his flat, peered through the spyhole and saw a tall blonde dressed in black carrying a doctor’s bag. His heart almost burst free of his ribcage and he froze for a moment until a banging on the door broke him out of his trance. He clumsily opened the door.

‘I’m friggin cream crackered,’ said Brandy Alexander, in a husky, ragged Liverpool accent. ‘Have you got a can of beer? I’ve got a throat like a nun’s knickers.’

She put the doctor’s bag onto a lime green sofa that was still in its plastic covering and pulled off her blonde wig, throwing it onto the sofa. She scratched her bald, tattooed head.

Peaslee went into the kitchen and took his last can of Carling from his smelly refrigerator.  He went back to the living room and handed Brandy the beer and a chipped Justin Bieber mug. Brandy took the can from him, opened it and gulped down the beer.

‘Very … lived in,’ said Brandy, looking around the flat and clearly not impressed.

Brandy crushed the beer can and threw it into a waste paper bin that was overflowing with Lotto tickets.

‘Not had much luck there, then, Mr P?’

‘Not a lot …’

‘Let’s get down to business then, eh?’

‘Indeed,’ said Peaslee.

He took out his wallet. Picked out his last few notes and handed them to Brandy.

‘Shall we get at it then,’ said Brandy.

Peaslee nodded and rose painfully as they headed into the bedroom. Brandy followed behind him carrying the doctor’s bag.

‘Time for you to take your medicine Mr P,’ said Brandy.

She opened the doctor’s bag as Peaslee unsteadily took down his trousers and sat on the edge of the bed. Brandy filled the syringe and knelt between Peaslee’s legs.

‘Ciao dahling!’ muttered Peaslee as he looked through the smudged bedroom window at the twinkling stars and streetlamps outside.

The end.

A BIT OF A PICKLE IS INCLUDED IN THE LAST LAUGH

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.

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: The Luck Of The Devil

The Luck Of The Devil


Toby Richards was sobbing like a scalded child. Begging forgiveness. Whimpering and whining, as usual. He was blindfolded, and naked, face down on Ania Nowak’s four-poster bed. The whip marks on his flabby back and chubby buttocks were still red. Ania had been venomously insulting him for the last hour or so and was getting hoarse. Getting bored.
She stood over him, dressed in black leather, her lipstick blood-red, her blonde hair short-cropped. High-heels accentuating her long muscular legs. She wished the asshole would hurry up and spill his seed so that she could get rid of him and have a drink. She really needed a jolt but Toby was one of those twelve step losers and he’d freak if he smelt a trace of booze on her breath. Especially so early in the morning. As she finished whipping his ass, Ania wondered if she were the higher force that they talked about at his AA meetings, but doubted it.
Still, he was a successful film director and he certainly paid well enough. He was visiting her more and more regularly these days, too and her little nest egg wasn’t so little any more. She turned the whip around, coated the handle in KY jelly and slowly inserted it into Toby’s anus. She blanked out his screams and looked out of her window as a firework exploded and filled the night sky with a cascade of colours. At the same moment, Toby made a familiar, pathetic whining sound. She slowly eased the whip out of his backside and placed it in a black bin liner.
‘Okey dokey?’ she whispered.
Toby grunted.
She went over to the television and switched it on. Sat in front of it watching ‘Lovejoy’ as Toby shuffled off, shame-faced, to the bathroom.
She heard the shower run and Toby scream with pain. Grinned for a moment and then got tired of his whinging. Tried to concentrate on Ian McShane’s latest scam. A few minutes later, Toby came out of the bathroom, dressed quickly in jeans and a hoodie and left, closing the door carefully and as quietly as possible.
Ania went over to the bedside table and saw her money and a packet of white powder. Toby was one of the increasing few of her regular clients who paid in cash these days, which suited her. Her last tax bill had been massive and she typically wondered who actually was screwing her. She walked over to the drinks cabinet and poured a large Jack Daniels. Filled the rest of the glass with Pepsi. Drank it down. Looked at the money. Felt good very quickly. Looked at the money again. Poured another drink. Breakfast of champions.


Trevor’s hot breath appeared and disappeared on the cold windowpane like a spectre. He couldn’t help smiling as he watched his kids make a snowman in the park outside. Sindy, their dog barked at them while his wife Sarah drank coffee from a tartan thermos flask. They waved and headed off across the park.
Trevor Malone felt calm for a moment. Contented. It didn’t last long, though. He looked at his Rolex and his agitation returned. He turned and glared at Bernie.
‘Where is fuck he, then? Answer me that. Where is the tosser? You know, some of us have better things to do, eh?’ said Trevor.
Trevor had been doing his best to keep calm, he really had. But is it was particularly hard there in Bernie’s office, what with the heating being switched off as usual. He had turned up the collar on his Crombie and put his flat cap and leather gloves back on but he was still freezing his nads off.
Big Bernie Carr, on the other hand, had taken off his jacket, loosened his tie and rolled up his sleeves. He was knocking back the Evian and dabbing his forehead with a paper towel. Semi circles of sweat around each armpit. Looking like a reject from Miami Vice in his powder blue linen suit and salmon pink shirt.
‘I have no idea where he is, Trev, I’m not my brother’s keeper,’ said Bernie.
‘He needs a keeper, your Wurzel does,’ said Trevor. ‘One with a very big stick and a bigger cage.’
He stamped his feet on the concrete floor.
‘True enough. Monkey Boy’s been a liability for as long as I can remember but family’s family,’ said Bernie. ‘Blood’s thicker than water.’
‘Yeah, but money’s thicker than blood,’ said Trevor. ‘Especially the sort of money we’re talking about.’
Bernie snorted. He walked over to a globe shaped drinks cabinet in the corner of the half-decorated office and opened it up.
‘Too late for a snifter? Or too early?’ he said.
‘Why not,’ said Trevor, ‘it might warm me up.’
Bernie grinned and made himself a gin and tonic. He poured Trevor a double Makers Mark.
‘I take it you won’t be wanting ice,’ he said. Guffawed as he passed the drink to Trevor.
‘You’re a droll fucker, Bernie,’ said Trevor. ‘Always have been. Even at school you were a lippy twat.’
‘Best years of our lives, those, eh?’
He took a long, slow drink.
‘Naw, it was shite,’ said Trevor.
‘Aye, you’re right. Torture. If I had my time over again I’d …’
There was a loud bang against the office door and it slowly creaked open, scraping against the concrete floor.


The doorbell rang and Ania roused herself from her morning nap. She looked through the spyhole. Opened the door.
‘Early as always, kochanie,’ said Ania.
‘Bad habits are hard to break,’ said Tina. She walked into the room with two clinking Waitrose bags filled with wine and plonked them on the table as Ania switched off the television.
‘Tracey Chapman okay for you?’ said Ania, flicking through her CD collection.
‘Fine by me. I’m feeling a little mellow. Just had a snifter in The Tea Clipper.’
Ania looked at her watch. Saw that it was almost noon.
‘Anyone interesting in there?’ said Ania. She took off her leather garb and pulled on a red kimono.
Tina opened a bottle of wine and filled two large glasses.
‘Just the usual boring old farts. Expect for Pablo, of course.’ She licked her lips.
‘I’m surprised he’s still here in London,’ said Ania, frowning. ‘He’s playing with fire hanging around so long. If Boris finds out …’
She ran a finger across her throat.
‘He likes risk, as you know,’ said Tina. ‘That’s part of his appeal. And you know what they say: if you don’t risk you don’t drink champagne.’
‘I’ll stick with the wine, thanks,’ said Ania.
They both collapsed onto her sofa.
‘So, what’s the story? What’s this great news you’re desperate to share with me?’
‘I’ll tell you later,’ said Tina. ‘I need to wind down.’
She leaned over and kissed Ania.
‘Come on, luv,’ she said. ‘Not in the mood?’
‘I’m getting there,’ said Ania with a smirk.
She stood and led Tina over to the bed.
‘I haven’t changed the sheets,’ said Ania. ‘Are you okay with that?’
Tina pushed her down onto the bed.
‘I’ll take that as a yes,’ said Ania.


‘Speak of the devil,’ said Bernie.
Wurzel Carr shuffled into the room. His eyes and nose were red. He was tall, wiry. Had a dishevelled beard and wore a crumpled charity shop tweed suit. Scuffed brogues. He looked like a living Scarecrow. Always had. Hence the nickname.
‘Jesus, Wurzel, you look like shite. Even by your particularly low standards,’ said Trevor.
Wurzel plucked a pin sized roll up from his bottom lip. Smirked.
‘Seen better days, aye,’ he rasped. ‘But haven’t had better nights, I can tell you.’
He winked and collapsed into a leather armchair that was still covered in cellophane. Held out a hand, clicked his fingers.
Bernie frowned and went to the mini-bar and filled a half pint glass with vodka. Handed it to Wurzel, who took a swig. Licked his lips.
‘Breakfast of champions,’ said Trevor.
Wurzel looked him up and down.
‘Pots and kettles, Trev?’ he said.
Trevor looked at the half empty glass of whisky in his hand.
‘When in Rome,’ he said.
Bernie topped up Trevor’s glass.
‘Here’s a bit more spaghetti.’
Trevor sighed as he sat down on the edge of Bernie’s desk.
‘You got the clobber, then?’ he said to Wurzel.
‘Trevor, Trevor. Clever Trevor. Ye of little faith. I’m hurt that you even need to ask me that,’ said Wurzel.
Trevor stood up. Loomed over Wurzel.
‘Well?’
‘Patience is a virtue, Trevor. You should try to be a bit more Zen. It’ll help your blood pressure.’
‘I’ll stick your Zen up your arse and your Ying and Tang after it if you don’t …’
‘It’s Yin and Yang actually. A common …’
‘Wurzel!’ barked Bernie. ‘He got to his feet. ‘Stop pissing about.’
Wurzel licked his ragged moustache.
‘Alright, alright. Hold your arses.’
He carefully put his glass on the floor and unsteadily stood up. Made a show of stretching his muscles.
Trevor started to chew the inside of his cheek.
Wurzel pushed a hand into his jacket inside pocket. Plucked out a small oval shaped package and held it aloft.
‘Ta dah! Viola, cello, banjo, whatever tickles your fancy,’ he said.
‘You sure that’s the real Totenkopfring?’ said Trevor.
‘For sure, Trev. The real deal, the real I am, bona fide …’
He put it on Bernie’s desk. Bernie opened the box to reveal a ring with a skull and crossbones design
‘You know, Himmler gave SS honour rings to lots of members of the Old Guard. How do we know it’s actually his personal skull ring?’ said Trevor.
‘I’ve had it checked out, authenticated,’ said Wurzel.
He handed an envelope to Trevor.
‘All the info’s in there, like.’
‘So, that’s our side of the bargain, Trevor,’ said Bernie. ‘Now it’s your turn’
Trevor picked up his briefcase from the corner of the room and put it on the desk, keeping an eye on the package as he did. He clicked it up and took out two large bundles.
‘There you go,’ he said. He handed on to Bernie and one to Wurzel. ‘Fifty-fifty. Same as usual?’
‘Share and share alike, that’s us,’ said Wurzel.
Trevor picked up the package. Peeled back the gaudy wrapping paper. A grin crawled across his face like a caterpillar. He put it in his briefcase and clicked it shut.
‘Right, I’m off to meet the wife in some twee café over Chiswick. Got to spend the afternoon traipsing around Horrids with her and the kids,’ he said.
‘Going to practice your Russian, eh?’ said Wurzel. He polished off his drink, started flicking though the cash.
‘And don’t I know it,’ said Trevor. ‘No peace for the wicked.’
He put his hands in his coat pockets and pulled out two guns.
‘Still, we all have our own double-cross to bear,’ he said as he blasted Wurzel and Bernie in the face.


Tina wiped the cappuccino froth from her top lip, carefully avoiding smudging her lipstick. She looked longingly out of the crowded café’s window at the glowing womb like pub on the opposite side of the road. Night was quickly melting into day and the street’s flickering Christmas lights were reflected in the wet pavement. Chiswick High Road was bustling. Stressed out shoppers rushed by babbling into smartphones. A drunken Santa pissed against a clamped BMW, a kebab held aloft to the evening drizzle. A black cab skidded onto the pavement and a drunken fat woman with a plastic Christmas tree staggered out of the passenger seat and fell into the gutter.
Tina caught her reflection in the window.
‘God, I look knackered, I really do. Old. Ancient. I wonder if old age is catching?’ she said.
Ania laughed.
Tina looked at Ania Nowak. Tall, blonde, late-twenties and full of herself. She was smirking. A Told you so on the tip of her dainty but sharp tongue.
‘You’re becoming paranoid. Too much of the marching powder up your nose, kochania,’ said Ania.
‘Pots and kettles!’
‘I don’t own a kettle and certainly not a pot,’ said Ania.
‘I’m serious. I even found a grey hair in my comb the other morning and attacked the hair dye so much it took me all day to clean my hands. Made sure I didn’t miss a bit. I really hate that salt and pepper thing, reminds me of my bloody mother. I blame Sebastian, I do. It’s all his fault. He’s put years on me since I married him.’
‘He’s really so bad?’ said Ania.
‘He is! I’ve pretty much reached the end of my tether. I’ve just about had enough of Sebastian ’s obsessions. His rants. His moaning. His petty gripes. The whole grumpy old man act. It was funny once upon a time, when we were sat in La Salsa a few sheets to the wind. Coked up. But since I moved in with him, I realised that he’s actually like that all the time. And the joke isn’t funny anymore, like that bloody awful song he keeps playing. If it’s not his bloody depressing music taste, it’s the crap old comedy DVDs that he plays over and over again, ad infinitum. The look of disapproval on his face when I don’t laugh at the same tired catchphrase that has been repeated over and over again like a stuck record. I never thought I’d crack so quickly,’ she said. ‘Six bloody months and I’m ready to slash my wrists and his throat.’
‘He’s more than twenty years older than you. You can’t expect to like the same things,’ said Ania, her cut-glass accent actually sharp enough to slit Sebastian’s throat. ‘Differences are to be expected. And, you know, kochanie, domestic drudgery isn’t for everyone. It really isn’t you is it? And now you know there are good reasons why it’s not advisable to fraternise with the punters outside the club. What you see isn’t always what you get. Both ways.’
‘Yes, well, I know that now,’ said Tina. ‘Honestly, if I could turn back the clock …’
A big man in a black crombie barged past her and ran out of the café. Started yelling at the drunken Santa Clause.
‘Excuse me would be nice,’ said Tina. She looked down and saw that she’d spilled her coffee over the table cloth. Picked up a couple of napkins to wipe it up.
‘Still, you could have had worse,’ said Ania. ‘Him, for example.’ She sipped her green tea as she watched the fat man start jabbing Santa in the chest, causing father Christmas to puke.
Tina chuckled to herself. Eyes twinkling.
‘Yeah, at least Sebastian is in decent nick for his age. Hung like a donkey, too. But I thought being a rock star’s totty would be a tad more exciting than this.’
‘Former rock star, kochanie,’ purred Ania. ‘Former. That is the operative word. It’s been years since his band had a hit. Though someone told me they could be due for a revival.’
‘Like Dracula,’ said Tina. She winced as Santa Clause head-butted the man in the Crombie, causing him to stagger.
Ania patted Tina’s hand.
‘Let’s be honest. It’s better than working in the club or going back to pickpocketing tourists, eh? Take it step by step. It’ll get easier,’ said Ania.
Tina knew that she was right. Ania was only a few years older than her, in her early thirties but she had been working as a high class escort for over a decade. Acted as if she’d seen it all and probably had. She was, Tina realised, the closest thing to a friend that she had though she really wouldn’t trust Ania as far as she could throw her. She was sure the feeling was mutual.
‘I couldn’t go back to the club, though,’ said Tina.
‘I doubt Boris would let you, darling. He was very hurt when you left. Sebastian was one of his best cash-cows.’
Tina finished her coffee.
‘I need something stronger. Up for a bit of a boozing session?’
‘I really would, darling,’ said Ania. ‘But I’ve a full night of flogging ahead of me.’
Outside, Santa pushed the fat businessman against the window, which shattered, showering the café with broken glass. Ania got to her feet quickly, knocking over the contents of the table behind her. The café was a cacophony of screams and wails. The barista rushed toward the fat man.
‘Are you okay, kochania,’ said Ania. She plucked a tiny shard of glass from her cheek.
‘Yes, I’m fine. In a better state than him anyway,’ she nodded toward the fat businessman. He was flat on his back, red faced. Someone was giving him CPR.
‘Let’s get out of here,’ said Ania. ‘I can’t be bothered with a long drawn out police interview.’
They both collected their belongings. As she picked up her chair, Tina noticed a small, oval shaped parcel on the floor. Pink wrapping paper and a polka-dot bow. She looked around but no one was watching her. Quick as a flash, she slipped it in her jacket pocket. As they stepped out onto the high street, snow fell like confetti.
‘Want to share a cab?’ said Tina. She put up a black umbrella.
‘You don’t live near my way,’ said Ania. Turned up the collar of her overcoat.
‘I’m not going home, am I? Home’s where you go when you’ve nowhere better to go to.’
An ambulance pulled up as they crossed to road to the taxi rank.
‘The Black Jack?’ said Ania.
‘Why not?’ said Tina. ‘It’ll kill time as much as anything.’
‘Why kill time when …’
‘When I can kill Sebastian?’ said Tina. They both burst out laughing.


‘I’m so pissed off,’ said Sarah Malone. ‘I really am. I’m super pissed off.’
She marched up and down in the hospital carpark puffing on a menthol cigarette, her long blonde hair glowing in the wind.
‘I thought you wanted the fat twat dead? Out of the way?’ said Catherine, dumpy and dowdy, nothing like her older sister.
‘Yeah, of course I did, sis. He’s well past his sell-by- date, you know that. But I wanted it done my way. Without questions. If he croaks now, someone might have a nosy into the insurance contracts. And then I’m fucked.’
‘What do the quacks say?’
‘Exhaustion, would you believe. That and boozing and pill popping in the morning.’
‘So, he’s going to be alright?’
‘Yeah, that’s not the point, though. The daft bastard has lost the ring.’
‘The Himmler ring? Didn’t know he’d found it,’ said Catherine. She popped a Trebor mint into her mouth.
‘Yeah, took him long enough but he got it. Even told Wally. And now, as luck would have it, he’s lost it again.’
‘Wally will not be pleased,’ said Catherine.
An ambulance skidded into the car park, narrowly missing Sarah and Catherine.


The band in The Black Jack really were bloody torture. A bunch of saggy BOFs. Some painful, horrible hybrid of blues rock and folk rock. Even the few songs that Tina recognised were mangled into some sort of plodding anonymity. Whisky In The Jar. Born To Run. Brass In Pocket. They all sounded the bloody same. The singer wasn’t bad but he seemed to fancy himself as Jim Morrison and he really was far too old for those leather trousers.
And there was no talent in the place at all. Just a bunch of sweaty middle aged men in supermarket jeans. The singer started moaning about how, if it wasn’t for bad luck he’d have no luck at all. Tell me about it.
She sighed and opened up the box she found in the cafe. Took out the ring. Held it up to the light. Grimaced
‘A very tasty Totenkopfring, that. I used to have one of them,’ said a fat biker who with a pin-size roll up stuck to his bottom lip.’
‘Yeah,’ said Tina ‘What’s one of them when it’s at home?’
‘An honour ring. Sometimes known as a death’s head ring. Himmler dished them out to the SS, back in the day. Bloke over Camden used to knock them out.’
‘Worth much?’ said Tina. She wondered if it was antique. Maybe she could sell it to a collector. Get the fuck out of dodge.
‘Naw, they’re ten a penny. If it was an original, yes but no chance of that.’
Tina finished her drink. Slid the ring over to the biker.
‘There you go mate,’ she said.
She got up and put on her coat, collected her bag.
‘Ta much!’ said the biker. ‘Here, darlin’, any chance of a shag as well?’
He winked.
‘You should be so lucky,’ said Tina.
As she stepped outside, it started to rain, as luck would have it.