I jolted awake, coated in cold, dank sweat. Daylight sliced through the gaps between the broken blinds. A tight band gripped my forehead and my pounding heartbeat seemed to echo through the sparse, familiar looking room.
I adjusted to the wan light. I was tied to a vhair and I was naked.
Maurice Palmer was staring at his reflection in the smudged mirror that hung above his dressing table, and really he didn’t seem particularly pleased with what he saw. It was fair to say that Maurice really hadn’t taken his tumble over the precipice into middle-age particularly well. He’d recently taken to wearing a blonde toupee which was annoyingly ill fitting, and far from convincing. His penchant for wearing red leather had become more than a tad overbearing, too. I could see that he was also getting a little thicker around the thighs. His red-leather jeans were stretching at the seams and his arse was like a double decker bus. He’d really piled the meat on of late. It was probably all the pints of London Pride that he poured down his neck every night. I’d previously thought that getting free beer would be one of the perks of living above a pub, but Looking at Maurice I wasn’t so sure. The phrase don’t get high on your own supply came to mind.
I could hear a particularity horrendous karaoke version of Adele’s ‘Hello’ emanating from the pub below, and cracked a smile. Even on a rainy Sunday night, The Severed Arms was still pretty much full. Mainly because it was the only boozer locally that could be relied upon to be open come rain or come shine these days but the reular fancy dress karaoke events were participially popular, too. Well, apart from the night when a coach load of Star Wars fans and another coach choc-full of Star Trek fans turned up. Now that was a particular messy scrap and it certainly opened my eyes to the things you could do with a lightsaber, it really did. Still, knowing that the karaoke had begun gave me hope that our Lulu was downstairs and he’d twigged that something had gone pear shaped by my non-appearance to belt out my usual -and admittedly far from magnifico – rendition of Bohemian Rhapsody.
‘You know, I was thinking about our Ringo the other day,’ said Maurice, without turning around. ‘You won’t have known our Ringo, would you Tommy? He was a tad before your time, he was. Now, the last time I saw our Ringo, we were stood in the bus shelter outside the old public swimming pool in Dockland Road. It was lashing down with rain and the plastic seats i were wet due to a hole in the shelter roof, which was why we had to stand. So, our Ringo turned to me with that grating smirk of his and said ‘Most men live lives of quiet desperation, eh?’ I said nothing, of course. It was probably just a phrase or a quote or something or other that he’d picked up from one of the old codgers that hung around the reference library. Our Ringo was partial to a visit to the central library of a Wednesday morning because it was usually quieter – less smelly, he said. He like to read them books about existentialism and the occult and the like, and have a natter with the daft old duffers that hung around there- a right rum bunch they were, and all. Anyway, I was about to comment on what Ringo had said and tell him that men don’t even know the half of it and that plenty of women could tell him a thing or two about quiet desperation when the daft bugger suddenly stepped into the middle of the road, just as the number 12 bus skidded round the corner, going ten to the dozen. It smashed right into him, it did, and he was out for the count. The ambulance came sharpish and there wasn’t a bloody scratch on him. He was right as rain after a couple of days in the hospital but it did give me pause for thought, I’ll tell you that. You know, chance, mortality and the like.
He undid the top button on his trousers and his beer belly popped out. Maurice sighed with relief.
‘Anyway’, he said ‘our Ringo did like to drop them fancy words into the conversation and usually at the most inappropriate times. And one of his favourites was Zeitgeist. He was always going on and on about the bloody Zeitgeist this and the bloody Zeitgeist that. It really did your head in sometimes.
Do you know what Zeitgeist is, Tommy? I suspect not, you don’t really look the bookish type, so I’ll tell you something for nothing.’
Maurice picked up a packet of Polos from the dressing table and took out a mint. He pushed it into his mouth and crunched it.
‘You see, the Zeitgeist, Tommy,’ he said. ‘Is what’s known as the spirit of the age. Now, once upon a time it referred to the work of great artists and poets. Scientist and architects and the like. But now it’s all about the latest iPhone application or a daft trend on social media. And, no, I do not know what the bloody Fortnight dance is and nor do I wish to, thank you very much.’
He shook his head and adjusted his wig, which had slipped a tad.
‘You see, our Ringo was in a band. A post-punk band called Camus’ Jumper, which was why he went all pretentious like. And he’d come out with cobblers like ‘I’m not in touch with the bloody Zeitgeist, I am the bloody Zeitgeist!’ You know, stuff like that. Now the thing is, this band Ringo was in were actually quite good. Quite – but not very. And there’s the ruba dub dub. That was our Ringo down to the ground. He’s always had ideas way above his station … Which brings me to you …’
Maurice turned and pointed a podgy finger at me. I said nothing. Not that I had a lot of choice. I was strapped to an office chair, completely naked with a sweaty rugby sock stuffed in my mouth and another over my tadger. Maurice had also plonked a pink day-glo Santa Clause hat on my head for no reason other than to humiliate me. But then again, you didn’t exactly get to be the head of the South-East London’s most notorious criminal family by playing nice.
‘Anyway, I digress, Tommy, as usual. Back to business,’ said Maurice, twirling a golf club in his hand like a majorettes baton.
‘Who’s been a naughty boy, then?’ he said glaring at me.
I looked into his bloodshot eyes, unsuccessfully struggled to escape and sighed.
‘Oh, it’s a bit late for all that, sunshine,’ said Maurice. ‘About thirty bloody years too late. And then some, you daft old bugger.’
He crunched another Polo mint and swung the golf club at my head. He stopped just before he hit my forehead.
‘Okay,’ said Maurice. ‘Since it’s almost Christmas, and I’m in a forgiving mood, I’ll give you one last chance.’
He dropped the golf club and took a stainless – steel letter opener from his desk.
‘Now for the very last time Tommy darling,’ he said. He pushed the letter-opener against my Adam’s apple and pulled the sock out of my mouth.
‘Where the bloody hell is the diamond?’ said Maurice, as I spat all down down my naked chest.
I tried to speak but my throat was arid.
Maurice picked up a bottle of vodka and filed a shot glass. He put it to my lips. I eagerly slurped back its contents.
‘Same again?’ I said.
Maurice shook his head.
‘You effin addicts are so bloody easy to twist and bend – it’s all punishment, reward, punishment, reward, ad infinitum. Brittle buggers, the lot of you.’
‘What can I say?’ I croaked, in a voice like sandpaper.
‘Quite a lot, usually. Well?’ said Maurice. ‘Cough it up, pardon the pun.’
‘You’re not not going to like this …’
‘I wasn’t really expecting to.’
‘Well, it … I have got it … but … it’s up my arse …’
Maurice pulled a disgusted face.
‘Oh, you dirty bloody …’
And then it all turned topsy-turvy, as quickly as spit disappeared on on a hot pavement. Lady Ga Ga burst into the room brandishing a sawn off shotgun and dragging along the barely conscious form of Baxter, Maurice’s behemoth of a minder, behind her. Lady Ga Ga slammed the butt of the shotgun into Maurice’s face, bursting hIS nose.
‘Oh, you twat, Lulu,’ he said.
‘Lulu,’ I said. ‘Sometimes words speak louder than actions, you know?’
Lulu looked me up and down.
‘Well that approach has hardly served you particularly well, has it, lad?’ he said.
‘Life’s not just a bowl of cherries,’ I said. ‘Especially if you’ve got piles.’
Lulu dropped Baxter onto the chequerboard tiled floor and Maurice sat on the corduroy sofa, trying to catch his breath.
‘Well, this is a bit of a to do, isn’t it?’ said Lulu.
Lulu handed a box of tissues to Maurice who grabbed it from him and wiped his face with a fistful of tissues.
‘So, I don’t suppose anyone feels like setting me free, like?’ I said.’This is really not good for my circulation or my varicose veins. I’m not a well man, you know …’
Lulu and Maurice just glared at each other in silence. It was like stand-off in a spaghetti western although neither of them could be considered ‘the good’. Baxter, at least, was suitably ugly. Scarily so, although he wasn’t as tough as he looked. He was certainly no match for Lulu, that was for sure.
Lulu came up behind me and used a pair of scissors to loosen my bonds.
I stretched my arms and stood up. I took off the Santa hat and the sock from my knob end. I unsteadily dressed in my fake Armani suit. As I was putting on my socks and shoes, Lulu took his handbag and pulled out a big, red diamond. He put it on the desk in front of Maurice.
‘You only had to ask, you daft old sod,’ said Lulu. ‘ We could have sorted something out. Patience is next to godliness, you know?’
‘I was in a hurry, wasn’t I?’ he said. ‘There some serious sword of Damocles shit hanging above me at the moment and time really is of the bloody essence.’
‘You’re not in with that bloody Armenian again, are you?’ said Lulu.
‘Yeah, I’m afraid so.’
Lulu shook his head.
‘You daft twat,’ he said.
‘Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time,’ said Maurice.
I stretched my arms and legs.
‘So does this make us quits then?’ I said.
‘No it bloody well doesn’t,’ said Baxter, wiping the blood from his shaven head with the sleeve of his Superman costume.
‘Shut your effin cake-hole,’ said Maurice.
‘But I’ve come down with a migraine,’ said Baxter.
‘You know, I’ve heard that decapitation is a good cure for migraines,’ said Lulu.
‘Don’t bloody temp me,’ said Maurice, glaring at Baxter. ‘He’s about as much bloody use as a condom in a convent that daft twat.’
‘Where’s Sweeny Todd when you need him, eh?’ I said.
‘Oh, leave it out,’ said Baxter, sounding like a scolded child.
‘Are we all popping downstairs to the pub for a bit of a gargle and a singalong, then?’ said Lulu rubbing his hands together.
‘Great minds drink alike,’ I said, scratching my head. ‘Off we jolly well go, then.’
And everything seemed to have turned out well enough. Seemed being the operative word, of course.
Catch up with https://www.fantasticfiction.com/b/paul-d-brazill/tommy-bennett/Tommy Bennet’s antics here, if you fancy.