Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Copycat, copycat...

Following Ian Ayris's lead and putting up the first few pages of a work in progress. You never know - it might just give me the kick up the wotsit I need to get this one rewritten and out there! (Incidentally, I wholeheartedly recommend that you nip on over to Ian's place and have a read - his stuff is pure gold!)

Chapter 1
Alex was awake but had her eyes tightly closed. A bright light was searing her eyelids, showing her amoeba that swam through the red sea of her vision. She felt shaky, dry-mouthed and disorientated, and an evil incarnation of Keith Moon was rampaging around in her skull with a bass drum and a mallet.

She cracked one eye open just a fraction to identify the source of the light torture: curtains, that was all. Curtains that hadn’t been fully closed. Curtains, in fact, that had been carelessly yanked together in the early hours by someone not fully in control of her movements. Someone very drunk. Someone who by now would be feeling pretty damn miserable.

The effort that would be required to stand up, walk to the window and fully close the curtains was currently beyond her. Instead, she grabbed a spare pillow and hugged it to her face.

Next time she woke up, things weren’t quite so bad. She discovered that she was capable of sitting up and, having done so, reached out towards the large glass of what appeared to be water that sat on the bedside table. Her hand stopped short as she remembered and she slumped back against the headboard with a groan.

It had been one hell of an interview, the first and undoubtedly only time when her ability to play pool, skin up and hold her drink might prove useful in winning her a job. If she hadn’t dumped so much vodka into the fake foliage, God knows what state she’d be in. When she’d been presented with a pint of vodka, light on the tonic, she’d just had enough wit left to announce she was taking it to bed.

Getting up, she tipped the drink down the bathroom sink, rinsed the glass, then filled it up with water from the tap. She was about to drink it when she spotted the mini bar. Remembering that the room was all expenses paid, she ambled over to it and broke the seal.

Ten minutes later she had downed the two bottles of mineral water and the Toblerone she had found in there, and was feeling much better. She rang room service after she’d showered and felt better still after two cups of coffee and a bacon sandwich.

On her way out of the hotel she bumped into Mark Wilson, a fellow ghost, one of that band of writers who see other people’s names on the front of the books that they write.

‘Hey, Mark, how’s things?’

‘Alex! You in for this one as well?’

She nodded. ‘Interview yesterday. Just heading home.’

‘Took the chance for a lie-in, eh?’ It was past noon.

Alex grinned. ‘Found I needed one. Brace yourself, Mark, you’re in for a hell of a ride.’

A couple of weeks later, Alex took a much-loved and often watched DVD out of its case. She slipped the disc into the machine and settled back in her chair with a beer. She pressed ‘play’ on the remote; the image on the screen showed a field full of people in the evening, mostly long-haired, some in jeans, others in long, printed skirts, some in t-shirts, others in cheesecloth or cotton tops. Many were barefoot; grubby toes sinking into soft earth as they waited expectantly, chants and shouts rippling through the crowd. At the fringes, fires burned and small groups gathered around the flames in an attempt to stave off the darkness, the threat of cold playing around bare flesh, for just a while longer. The camera framed what was little more than a raised platform, the focus of attention. As dusk settled, the road crew set up gear quickly and efficiently, the practised choreography of the men in black conjuring a wall of sound out of the gloomy depths.

With the lighting rig yet to be turned on, the activity on stage was shadowplay. Alex made out the band moving quietly and without fuss to their spots. The crowd saw them too and thundered encouragement, eager for the show to start. Paul Scott got behind his drum kit and bashed around a bit, getting settled. Colin Carson plugged in his guitar and took up his position near the drum riser. Three tall figures, two wearing guitars that they plugged in when they were in position, strode out further towards the front of the stage. Tom Watson, the bass player, was stage left; Andy Airey, the singer, in the middle; and Johnny Burns, lead guitarist, on the right.

They looked at each other and despite the poor light Alex could have sworn she saw them grin. Then Paul Scott rapped his sticks together as he counted them in: ‘One, two, three, four!’ The lights flashed on and the crowd roared as the band crashed in, bass, rhythm guitar and drums pounding out a hermetic pile-driving riff. Johnny Burns’ guitar screamed into life, notes of angelic, crystalline purity soaring effortlessly into the night sky, spurring bodies into motion as the crowd began to dance. Right on cue, one of the best blues wailers in the business opened his throat and let out a primeval scream that pierced the heavens as Andy Airey, spurred on by the ecstatic greeting they’d received, launched heart and soul into the first number.

Alex put her beer down; she had chills, the hairs on the back of her neck were standing on end. This was the earliest available footage of Heartbreaker, showing the band just as they were breaking big. There were live albums available and they were powerful, raw, but seeing them play, even on screen, was something else. It took little effort for her to imagine herself there, dancing in the moonlight, head filled with rhythm and riff, the heady scent of a summer’s night in her nostrils: patchouli oil, woodsmoke and the sweet smell of grass. No wonder they’d grown to be so successful. It was getting on for thirty years since this gig had been filmed, despite which she reckoned they could give a number of today’s so-called supergroups a run for their money. It was hard to believe so much noise and excitement could be generated by just five men.

They ran through their set, throwing in blues and rock ‘n’ roll standards alongside their own material, then played a series of encores. They seemed reluctant to leave the stage; the crowd was certainly reluctant to let them go. As the final number came to an end, credits rolled over images of a band that had played its heart out, musicians slick with sweat and wreathed in smiles. It ended with a shot of Johnny Burns, one hand on the neck of his guitar, the other punching the air in a salute to the crowd, eyes shining, a big smile on his face.

Alex punched the button on the remote, then sat back in her chair and stared at the blank screen. She had been a fan of this band for as long as she could remember, but felt like she was discovering them all over again every time she watched the footage of the Robson’s Farm gig. She felt a familiar pang of regret that she never had seen them play live. And with only three of the band members left alive, there would be no reunion.

Heartbreaker was a phenomenon, a rollercoaster, the ultimate trip. Enough of the story had emerged to establish it as one of the most intriguing in rock. Alex was sure that there was treasure still waiting to be unearthed: with the search in the right hands, who knew what might come to light.

She stood and stretched then headed for bed. Her misspent youth had paid off; she had landed the job she’d been interviewed for and in the morning she would load her bags into her car and head south to start a new job, working with Johnny Burns on a book about his life, his music and Heartbreaker.

Sunday, 19 September 2010

Watching

Watching was up at Darkest Before the Dawn, a great site and this time for slightly longer fiction. This link takes you to the archive version of the site: the link in the sidebar will take you to the current version. Well worth a look!

Incidentally, this story was actually 'longlisted' for a Spinetingler award, which I only know about because Paul Brazill told me. Who'd a thunk! :)

Oh - and I added some pics, right down at the bottom of the page... seemed appropriate!

Friday, 17 September 2010

Easy Money

‘It’s sweet, Tommy. Easy money.’

Mickey’s words have a hollow ring to them now. Tommy pulls his knees in tighter to his chest, wraps his arms around his legs. It’s pitch black in the small space, warm, airless, and claustrophobic. He’s having trouble breathing, panic causing him to take shallow sips of air. Tommy wonders if he’ll suffocate, wonders what would happen then. Would the old fella get done?

He hears movement: a drawer opens and closes, then another.

‘Where are you, you little bastard! I know you’re up there. You’d better come down, now.’ The old man’s voice is high and frail, but shows no trace of fear. ‘I’ve got your mate.’

The plan had been simple enough: there’s an old fella in March Avenue, lives alone. Bound to have money in the house, the oldies always do. Mickey was going to hide round the corner while Tommy knocked, drew the old bloke out. While he was diverted, Mickey could nip in and go through the place, lift whatever he could find. Sweet. Easy money. Even if he twigged, what could the man do? There’d be two of them, young and fit, against one old coffin-dodger.

Tommy hears Mickey thudding down the stairs, his footsteps amplified in the dark place. The only thing louder than Mickey’s feet is Tommy’s heartbeat drumming in his ears. Mickey crashes into the front room, full of bluff and bravado, no idea what’s gone down.

‘Fuck do you think you are, shouting the odds,’ he starts, bold and loud. Then Tommy hears him say: ‘Fucking hell, man! What you doing with that?’ Less confident. Surprised and scared is Tommy’s guess.

It had started out fine. Tommy knocked and spun a line about an injured cat in the bushes at the front. The old bloke went with him to see, and lo and behold, the cat was nowhere to be seen, so they began looking for it. Meanwhile Mickey nipped in through the open door and straight up the stairs, started turning the place over. Then the old bloke asked a favour: would Tommy please come in and read his leccy meter for him? Even with the torch and his glasses, he can’t make out the numbers any more.

‘Stay where you are or I’ll shoot you, you little bastard. You wouldn’t be the first. I was in the war, you know. I shot a lot of little bastards in the war.’

‘Okay, gramps, what do you want to do?’ Mickey has recovered well and is trying to take control. ‘I haven’t got nothing. Didn’t find owt. Look.’ Tommy imagines Mickey turning out his pockets.

‘Thieving little bastard.’

‘Where’s Tommy?’

‘Your mate? He’s where I want him. Now you get over there. Move.’

Tommy and the old man went inside, into the sitting room. The old bloke got Tommy to move the armchair away from the wall. There was a little door behind, just half-height, that led into the cupboard under the stairs where the meter lived. Tommy opened the door and got down on his hands and knees, crawled part way in. Next thing he knew there was a boot up his arse, he pitched forward into the small space and the door was locked behind him. He heard the old bloke grunting as he pushed the chair back in front of the door.

Tommy hears what he presumes is Mickey doing as he’s been told, followed by a series of electronic beeps and the old man’s voice.

‘Hello? Police? I’m being burgled.’

Tommy feels sick. Bad enough to be caught, but to be caught robbing a war veteran…. They’ll get the shit kicked out of them for this, and not just by the coppers.

‘Stay where you are! Stay where you are!’ There’s panic in the old man’s voice. Mickey has evidently decided he isn’t hanging around waiting to be arrested so he’s taken matters into his own hands. Tommy hears the clatter of the phone hitting the floor, then a noise like an explosion rips through the house. Fear blooms in his chest. He fights for breath, then finds his voice.

‘Mickey!’ he shouts, banging on the small door. ‘Mickey, what the fuck…?’

‘Where are you?’

‘Cupboard under the stairs. Move the armchair, there’s a door.’

Tommy hears furniture scraping, then the door opens, light blinding him temporarily. He crawls out of his prison, tries to get the circulation going in his legs.

The old man is sprawled on the floor, a big, raw, bloody mess where his chest used to be.

‘Gun backfired,’ says Mickey. ‘Otherwise that would have been me.’ He gives Tommy a shaky smile.

A siren blares in the distance. The two boys head for the door as one, sprint round the corner and fling themselves into the Ford. As Tommy drives off, he swears to himself he will never do that, or anything like that, ever again. Nearly caught, nearly killed in Mickey’s case, and not a penny to show for it. That’s it, he’s finished with thieving.

Mickey sticks his hand down his jeans and rummages about. ‘Look!’ he exclaims when he pulls his fist out. Tommy looks. Mickey’s clutching several bundles of notes, all banded up by the bank. ‘Four grand,’ he says. ‘Told you: easy money!’ He flips through the fifties. ‘There’s an old wife lives down Southwick, goes to the bingo with me nan. Won a bundle the other week. You in?’

Tommy grins. If there is anything as sweet as the allure of easy money, he sure as hell doesn't know what it is.

‘Aye,’ he says, his decision to go straight melting like frost in the sun. ‘I’m in.’

***

This is a heavily-edited version of the story of the same name that first appeared in Powder Burn Flash in 2007.

Monday, 13 September 2010

God's Chorister

Ah, another tale about the fallen godly - 'religious noir' indeed! God's Chorister is over at Powder Burn Flash, a site full of bite-sized treats if you like fun-size crime fiction. And I do. It's a great site - check it out and see for yourself. You'll thank me in the end!

Friday, 10 September 2010

Chocolate Button Eyes

An oldie, but still up at Thrillers, Killers and Chillers. Not just my old tripe there, either - it's a great site with some terrific reads. Well worth a visit!

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Keeping It Real

Read the papers, listen to the news, you’d think it was really easy to kill a person. They die all the time. A knock on the head, a shock, a moment’s carelessness... dead, dead, dead. Thin skulls, weak hearts, inattention on the roads... people are dying, day after day, all the fucking time.

So why is it I can’t introduce this one to his maker? God damn! I looked immaculate when I came in here, now I’m out of breath, sweating, dishevelled... what the hell will people think? I’ll have to get sorted out before my lunch date, that’s for sure, or else I’ll turn heads for all the wrong reasons.

‘Help me... please...’

A weak hand grabs at my ankle. I look down and his face is turned to look at me, all pleading eyes and bleeding nose. Why does he think I’d help him? Has he forgotten who did that to him? Annoyed, I finish what I’m typing into my laptop, close it and twat him with it. It shuts him up, thank Christ, and I start looking around for something to make a hole in him with. That seems to work a treat. Loads of people die from gunshot and stab wounds. I don’t have a gun and I’m not likely to find one, but could I use something else? Surely, surely... ah, yes! I find a metal file with a pointy bit at one end. Looks like it used to fit into a handle. I try it against my thumb and feel a sharp scratch, see a drop of blood spring into being. Reaching into my laptop bag, I take out a plaster and cover the cut immediately. Can’t be too careful. DNA’s a bugger.

He’s awake again. He’s thinking twice about appealing to my better nature this time. I think he’s finally realised I don’t have one. He sees the file and his eyes go wide, his mouth works but no sound comes out. Great detail! I have a good look, taking it all in, wondering where to stick him. In the neck, I think, but I hope I don’t get that big artery thing. I look bad enough as it is without getting showered in blood.

He grunts when I stick it in and he bleeds but doesn’t gout. I get a picture on my mobile to check the spot later. I note that there was a slight resistance before his skin split, a bit like putting a skewer through a chicken leg. Interesting. I skip back, not wanting to get blood on my good shoes. It’s running out of his neck and pooling around him where he lies on the oily floor of the old warehouse. I check my watch, time him out. His hands are grasping air, I look in his eyes and see panic and fear turn to acceptance, and then he’s gone and they change, somehow. They go dull. It’s not just a cliche, eyes really do go lifeless.

I make notes on my laptop, getting it all down while it’s fresh in my mind, then turn to the business of getting tidied up ready for my meeting. It’s crucial that I make the right impression.

‘Hello, pleased to meet you,’ I say as I stride across the hotel lobby towards the man whose face I recognise from his website. ‘Evelyn Crane.’ We shake hands.

‘Pleased to meet you, too, Evelyn.’

‘I hope you haven’t been waiting long. I’m afraid I got tied up with something.’

‘What kept you?’

‘An opportunity to conduct some research presented itself. I couldn’t pass it up.’ I patted my laptop bag. ‘Got to keep it real!’

‘I was impressed with how well researched your writing was when I read your submission,’ he told me. ‘Your hard work certainly pays off.’

I smiled. He understood. I hoped the rest of the meeting went as well as the start. Crime was a tough genre to break into. If I was going to get anywhere in this game I really needed a good literary agent, and I was about to have lunch with one of the best.

***

This story first appeared in Flashing in the Gutters in 2006.

Monday, 6 September 2010

It Could Be You!

‘Give us the fucken money.’

Beggsy was on his knees, a gun barrel rammed into the back of his neck. Uncomfortable. But at least he was still alive, unlike the bird who’d been swallowing his cock when the Irishman burst in. Before he’d won the money, she wouldn’t have swallowed his chat up lines. Now she was stone cold, blood and semen congealing on her sweet, young face. What a waste.

‘Give us the fucken money.’ The Irishman rammed home his point with the gun. Beggsy toppled forward.

‘Let me up. I can’t do anything down here.’

The Irishman considered. ‘All right, then. But no fucken funny business.’

Beggsy nodded and the Irishman took a step back. Beggsy clambered awkwardly to his feet, pulled up his jeans and fastened them. Difficult to muster any dignity with your knob swinging in the breeze. He turned to look at the Irishman. Ugly fucker. Face like a spud. Looked as thick as his accent. Beggsy nodded at the girl. ‘What d’you have to kill her for?’

Irish shrugged. ‘Easier that way. Now it’s one on one.’

‘Bastard.’

Irish pistol whipped him. Beggsy hit the floor again. He sat up slowly, woozy, a bloody rose blossoming on his cheek.

Beggsy was scared out of his wits. He wasn’t a hard man. Just a bloke who’d come into some money. Irish watched while he got it together, climbed to his feet again, jelly legs making him wobble like a newly birthed colt.

‘Give us the fucken money.’

But he wasn’t about to hand anything over to this potato-faced Mick.

‘What, you think I’ve got it in the house? All seventeen million?’

‘You’ll have enough. Scum like you, you want cash. You like the feel of it, the smell. You probably wank over it every night.’ Long speech for a fucking idiot. ‘Give us the fucken money.’ Back to the loop tape.

‘I haven’t got any here.’

‘Then we’ll go and get some.’

‘There’s a limit on what I can get out of the machine. Three hundred tops. Same as for every other fucker.’

‘You’re a liar.’ Said with calm detachment. ‘Now give us the fucken money.’

‘For fuck’s sake!’

Irish threatened with the pistol. Beggsy flinched. Irish smiled. ‘You know what I’m gonna say.’

***

Six months earlier. Beggsy’s round at his gran’s flat, a regular Wednesday night visit. His mam did Saturdays. Gran was desperate to win the Lotto, get out of the cold, damp, council flat, buy a bungalow. Somewhere small and cosy, all mod cons. Buy a house for her daughter. An apartment for her grandson. Something posh on the coast, set him up nice. Gran wanted to win big so she could share it out amongst the family. Get that nice warm feeling you get when you can give somebody what they want. Play God awhile.

Gran pitched a regular two quid stake per draw. A scratch card and a lucky dip. She struggled to afford it out of her pension, but reckoned it was worth it. After all, it was her only pleasure. That and the Superkings. The wall behind her chair was tarry with nicotine, her hair at the front discoloured by the smoke.

Beggsy’s sitting on the settee, no give in the cushions, plywood holding them up now. He’s got his ticket and his gran’s in his hand. He’s taken to getting one on a Wednesday as well, keep the old girl company. Puts his lucky numbers on, same ones every week. Once you start with that, you can’t stop. Gran’s eyes aren’t so good, she can’t check the tickets for herself. Tonight it’s a rollover, seventeen million up for grabs. It could be you, he thought, peering at his gran through the perpetual fog she inhabited. It looked like the fucking tide had come in.

The draw starts, Wednesday night more straightforward. None of that palaver they have at the weekend. Get the numbers out, smarmy voice announces them, bird grins, job done. Here we go.

First ball: miss for him, hit for Gran. Second ball: miss for him, hit for Gran. Third ball: same story. On and on until all six numbers are out.

Beggsy feels sick. He knows he shouldn’t, she’s his gran, for Christ’s sake. She’ll buy him an apartment, see him right for spends. But it’s a waste, isn’t it? All that money going to such an old woman? He could just as easy buy the cosy bungalow for her, buy his mam the house, give them both some cash. Get a little of the warm fuzzies for himself. He’s a young man, young enough to enjoy the win. It’s only right that he should have the money.

‘Hey Gran,’ he hears himself saying. ‘I’ve won!’

‘What’s that, son?’

‘The seventeen million. I’ve only f… flippin’ well won it!’

‘Eeeh, are you sure, pet?’

He nods. ‘Dead sure. It’s all mine, Gran.’

***

Irish had him face down on the carpet. It was deep and soft. It even smelt expensive. Good fucking shit. Everything in here was good fucking shit and Beggsy loved it all. Loved the lifestyle. Loved being rich.
He was calculating. How much would it take to get Paddy O’Muppet off his case? If he could just get out of this, he could call the police, claim on the insurance. Send somebody after the spud muncher, get him wasted.

The whole thing about giving his money away to this dickhead was burning him. Even if it was only temporary.

But he didn’t want to die. Fucked if he did. He was having far too much fun.

‘Give us the fucken money.’

‘Okay, okay!’

‘No fucken funny business. Just makes you hurt and bleed.’

He backed off. Beggsy breathed a sigh of relief. Stood up, slowly and carefully. Stretched. Irish raised an eyebrow.

‘This way,’ Beggsy said, pointing to the stairs. Resigned to coughing up.

‘After you.’

Naturally.

Beggsy headed up to his bedroom. Swung back the full length mirror on the wall and only hesitated a moment before tapping in the combination and opening the safe. The Irishman smiled. Motioned Beggsy into the corner and loaded money into a sports bag.

‘Just out of interest, who inherits if you die? Your mam or your gran?’

‘What makes you think it’d be my mam or my gran?’

‘You’re famous, son.’

The papers. They’d been full of stories about Beggsy and his generosity. He’d wanted the publicity, wanted the world to know he was rich. Irish packed the cash into the bag, then turned and grinned at Beggsy.
‘Proper little saint, you are.’

Beggsy sighed, hung his head. ‘Gran. Gran gets the lot.’

‘Was it really your ticket that won?’

‘What?’

‘Well, if it had been me, I’d have said it was mine whichever it was.’

‘Thief.’

‘All that money. Wasted on an old woman. It’s not like you didn’t buy her a bungalow, now, is it? And that was all she wanted, wasn’t it?’ Irish put the gun in his pocket, zipped up the sports bag.

Beggsy nodded, relieved now that the gun was out of sight.

‘So. Was it really you that won?’

Beggsy shrugged. ‘I signed the back of the ticket. I got the money. Course it was me.’

Irish shook his head. ‘She said you’d lie.’

‘What?’

‘Your gran. She said you were a no good, thieving, lying little guttersnipe.’ He took the gun back out. ‘You shouldn’t have left her the losing ticket. It wasn’t a lucky dip.’ He raised the gun, took aim.
Beggsy went cold. He fell to his knees. ‘She can have it all! Or you can…. Please, don’t do this.’ He was sweating, gibbering.

Irish lowered the gun. Beggsy dared to hope. Then Irish strode over to Beggsy, put the barrel under his chin. ‘Your Gran says “tara, son”.’ He pulled the trigger. The top of Beggsy’s head exploded. Irish wrapped Beggsy’s fingers round the grip and left with the sports bag. Payment for the job. The client would get what was coming to her in due course.

***

This story first appeared in Bullet 6 in 2006.

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Closing Time

Half-eleven on a Friday night and I’m at the window watching out for him. Twenty-four hour opening hasn’t hit the pubs round here, they’re old men’s pubs mostly, still stop serving at eleven. He’ll have been tossed out of the Duke at about quarter past. Billy reckons that gives folk long enough to drink up; if they can’t drink a pint between last orders and closing time, they should have got a half, and if they can’t drink a half, they should have gone home. Time it takes him to stagger to Kebab Korner and back for his supper, he should be coming up the street any minute now.

He’ll be in a right state, he’s been out all day. Leastways, there was no sign of him when I was home at dinner. I ate me pastie then picked up after him, put his empties and the crisp packets and that in the bin. After that, I hoovered round then grabbed me PE kit and legged it back to school. He’s a lazy bastard, he never does nowt. That’s why me mam went off with that bloke from Cash Converters.

It looks cold out. Coming up to the May bank holiday and lovely through the day with that global warming they keep moaning about. I think it’s a good thing, me, if it lifts the temperature. Trust the folk who can afford to go somewhere sunny to begrudge the rest of us a few rays. Cold at night, though, especially if there’s no cloud, and it’s clear as anything tonight. Big, fat moon like a spotlight in the sky. I’ll clock him no bother under that.

I check me watch. Here he comes, the old fucker! I can see him turning into the street, doing that pissed bloke walk. Getting round the corner he looks like a pony doing sums, counting the answer out with his hoof. One, two, three, stagger and turn, then he’s on the home straight, looking like a lardy carthorse attempting dressage. He’s in an even worse state than usual. I finger the bruise on my cheek then clench my fists. I hope he’s not in a fighting mood.

     I nip down to the kitchen when I hear him fumbling with his key, trying to get it into the keyhole. If Dosser was with him, he’d do his shit joke about how they should put a bit of fur round it, get it in first time every time then, ha bloody ha. The door swings open and he crashes into the house, bounces off the wall, gets his feet in a knot and lands on the floor in a heap, whump, the breath knocked out of him.

I run upstairs. He’s still on the deck, kind of gurgling in his throat, when I get back. I stare down at him. He looks pathetic. Lank hair, stubbly chin, trousers peppered with fag burns, shirt collar frayed and gray. He’s on his back, his parcel of chips, fried rice and curry sauce just out of reach, but it hasn’t burst, thank Christ. I stand next to him, over him, clutching the pillow with both hands, marvelling at the contrast between the clean white linen and the grubby old man. He breathes noisily, sucking air in through his mouth, spit bubble in the corner ballooning every time he exhales. His teeth are brown and pitted and his breath would shame a camel. He’s a fucking health hazard. I stoop, take a handful of his hair and raise his head high enough to slip the pillow underneath. I roll him onto his side so he doesn’t choke then, as he starts snoring, chuck a blanket over him. He looks so sad and old, worn out and fucked up. Packs a canny punch, mind. But not tonight. I kiss him on the cheek then go on up to bed. Whatever else he is, he’s still me dad.

***

This story first appeared in Flash Pan Alley in 2007.

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Pick a Pig Night

Ethan woke up with a start, tried to work out where the fuck he was. His head was banging and his mouth tasted of fags and stale lager. He was in bed, alone, in a strange room. When he tried to stand, the room pirouetted and his stomach lurched dangerously. Fuck it. He lay back down.

Things started coming back to him. The Blue Bell with Mark and Jimmy, down the road to Kebab Korner, then on to Mirabelle, stuffing their faces with pitas packed full of elephant’s leg meat and chili sauce, trying not to get grease on their clothes as they went.

Mirabelle: north east England’s premier night spot. Back in the 1950s. Maybe. Christ, it was a hole! But that was all part of its attraction. The clientele made it the perfect place for the first Friday after pay day: pick a pig night.

He’d copped off with a beauty this time. Even with his beer goggles on, this lass had a snout and trotters. Should be a law against birds that plug. Fucking ugly bitch. Speaking of which, where was she?

He took it slow this time, managed to get onto his feet. The landing light was on and he moved slowly toward the door. It stood ajar and, as he got close, he could hear her talking quietly. Sounded like she was on the phone to one of her mates.

‘No, man, he’s still here! He’s upstairs.’ She giggled. ‘Aye, we did it, like.’

Bragging about him! If only she knew. Mind, he was probably the best thing to happen to her in a long while.

‘What about yours? Mark, was it?’

Ethan had Mark beat. The bird he’d pulled looked like a bulldog chewing a wasp, but she was pretty compared to the pig he’d just porked.

‘Couldn’t get it up? Typical!’

Ethan was surprised; the lass wasn’t all that bad, not for pick a pig night. Must have been the beer.

‘Tracey’s one managed it. Jimmy, they call him.’ She paused. ‘I know, he’s not that ugly. Mebbe she just fancied him, eh?’

Ethan didn’t understand that one. He scratched his balls while he tried to puzzle it out.

‘Well, it was a toss up between my one and your one, but if yours couldn’t manage it…. You know the rules!’

Ethan took pride in the fact that he could always manage it, no matter how pissed he was or how ugly a bird was. Christ, he’d boned some hounds, but you didn’t look at the fireplace while you were poking the fire.

She laughed. ‘That’s one to me, then. About time an’ all. It’s ages since I won a pick a pig night!’

How the hell did she know?

‘Ta-ra, Shaz. See you later.’

She came back upstairs. Fuck was her name? Ethan racked his brains but came up empty.

‘Oh, you’re up!’

Christ, she was rough looking! But still, a shag was a shag.

‘Aye,’ Ethan told her. ‘Every time for you, pet.’ He reached out towards her and she ducked away.

‘Cup of tea? I’ll go and put the kettle on.’

He ferreted about on the floor for his skiddies and his t-shirt. Must want a cup of tea first. Oh, well, he could wait. Cup of tea wouldn’t hurt. He padded down to the kitchen and heard her mobile ring.

‘Oh, hiya, Tracey. Aye, I’m just making him a cup of tea.’ She laughed. ‘Oh, he’s keen, like, but once is more than enough with a lad like him.’

Ethan preened.

‘And I won pick a pig! See you later.’

Ethan lounged in the doorway. ‘How did you know?’ he asked.

‘Know what?’

‘Pick a pig….’

She shook her head, picked up a mug. ‘Milk and sugar?’

‘Aye, thanks, pet.’ He sat down at the table and drank his tea. One of his mates must have coughed to one of her mates. How else would she know about pick a pig night?

***

This story first appeared in Flash Pan Alley in 2007.