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.