September 21, 2009 § Leave a comment
I blinked. The scene before me was frozen on my eyelids, etched in sharp relief, providing the backdrop to the capitulation of my world. She walked away from me, into the foggy area at the edge of my vision where tears were beginning to escape from my eyes. My heart seemed to thud slowly, drained of blood, but my pulse raced. I could see some bitch watching me as I stood there dumbstruck, staring stupidly after my girlfriend as she made her way to the exit, not stopping once to turn back and observe the shattered man she had left in her wake.
As my life came crashing down around me, it was obvious to me that hers would have to too. I reached into the back of my jeans and drew the gun. I had raised it before I’d even thought about the consequences. A deafening crack was the indisputable evidence that I had fired it. I watched her fly forward; as if her delicate body had been struck by a thundering steam-roller. Her head smashed against the bar at the far end. Her blood, red as a thousand poppies, splashed against the wall like a macabre Pollock masterpiece, as a dozen ear-piercing screams erupted from every table of the packed burger bar.
It seemed so natural to me. I had no intention of living any more. I turned to my left and fired again. It thudded into the chest of the bitch who had stared so brazenly at me. Her eyes now stared incredulously at me as her life ebbed away. She crashed down back in her seat, which toppled over with a metallic crash. Her foot caught the table, upending it, and plates and glasses sailed through the air before smashing down onto the floor. Her date could only half turn towards the door before I sent a third shot. This one ripped through his bicep, eliciting a high-pitched animal shriek – pain mixed with terror. To the right, I saw two guys rush towards me. One was carrying his knife. It was raised above his head, flashing in the gaudy lamplight. I dropped him too, this time with an unerring shot that bore clean through his forehead. The other guy, suddenly drenched in his friends life-blood, stopped and fell to his knees, his arms coming up automatically to his face to prevent the same fate befalling him. I watched as the rest of the customers fled out into the New York night, the air charged with the pregnant threat of a savage storm.
I stood and surveyed the carnage around me, the chaos from my hand. The floor was slick with blood, punctuated by fragments of coloured glass and slumped corpses. Finally my eyes came to rest on the twisted body of my love; a body I had known for so long, had held tightly in the small hours of the morning when a man doubts his courage and needs the strength of a good woman by his side. Her final words echoed one last time through my head. Then I raised the barrel to my temple and pulled the trigger. The world went black.
She looked fantastic. Her hair was curled the way I liked it, playing around her shoulders with every minute turn of her head. But her face betrayed her. She looked full of remorse, as if wrenching with some internal demon that she no longer had the strength to restrain. Time seemed to slow to a crawl as I watched her ruby red lips part. Somehow, I knew what she was about to say, even though the signs had never been there.
“I’ve been seeing someone else. It’s been going on for four months now. I love him. I’m so sorry.”
The words hung in the air between us over the table. For a moment, my breath wouldn’t come. It had halted somewhere in my throat as the words finally began to seep into my unconsciousness, unbidden and unwanted. For a moment, it looked as though her heart was breaking, like mine; that the enormity of what she’d just said actually registered with her too. But then it was gone. A look of defiance stole across her face as her eyes flashed with the conviction of her decision, cold and unfriendly as steel. She rose from the table, her burger untouched before her.
“I’m so sorry,” she repeated again. This time her voice was even. With a last look, she turned away from me and headed for the door.
It seemed so right. The timing was perfect. With the Wagstaffs finally locked up, my life was about to become easier. No more living in fear, no more running from responsibilty. No more fucking around with guns. I’m out, I said to myself. I looked around at the burger bar. It had been the place of our first date – I had never been very good with romance. She hadn’t cared. She had dug me. She accepted me for what I was, a young punk with a shit-tonne of trouble on his shoulders who needed a girl by his side. She had laid in my arms in my bed at the end of that first date, and had whispered that everything would be alright.
I owed it all to her. She had kept me sane, stopped me from consuming myself with the fear and paranoia of being hunted by the people across town who wanted me dead. She had implored me to ditch my life of crime and trust in us, in what we had. She was right. I took the jeweller’s box out of the pocket of my jacket. I laid it carefully on the table. She would be here any minute. I wanted to get this right. I opened the box. The diamond set in the engagement ring sparkled brightly.
She had made an honest man of me, surely it was time I made an honest woman out of her?
May 26, 2009 § 1 Comment
Detective Frank Starkey wearily climbed the stairs. It had been a brutal morning already and an impromptu lunch with his wife, which was supposed to alleviate his mood, had quickly turned sour. Eliza Starkey had accused her husband of long nights, excessive drinking, and neglect of her needs. He had risen silently and then turned and left her sitting on her own at the table, a half-finished plate of food in front her, staring incredulously after him as he left the restaurant.
Sighing, he opened the top envelope of the stack of mail from his mailbox in the foyer. As he ripped open the first couple of inches with his calloused thumb, something dropped out and landed on the stair. With a concerted grunt and a slight squint, Frank bent down and studied it.
It was a fragment of a photograph, which seemed to have been torn into quarters; a shot of a dark-haired man against a white background. Frank reached down and picked it up. He noticed that the bottom edge was actually straight, as if the photo had been cut horizontally and then torn vertically. A frown furrowed his brow. He flipped it over. On the reverse, scrawled in black ball point pen, was part of a crude drawing of a loft. He made out several beams, and even the head of a rocking horse. After flipping it over once more and studying the portion of face the photo afforded him, a sense of unease began to creep over him. The face was familiar, but specifics were not coming to him.
He ascended the rest of the staircase quickly now, pushing through the double doors and into the bustling clamour of the Criminal Investigation Department. He crossed quickly to his own desk, buried in foot-high stacks of paper; evidence collected from a dozen cases that had passed through his hands recently. He sat down heavily in the beaten-up desk chair, the stuffing spilling out from a deep gash in the upholstery. An ashtray in front of him was overflowing with half-finished cigarette butts.
With trepidation, Frank tore open the rest of the envelope. He upended it over the desk – the three remaining pieces of the torn photograph tumbled out. Sweat broke out on his temple.
The top-left corner of the photograph showed the right-hand side of the man’s face. Daubed in red paint over the eye was a thick cross. Was it paint? Could it be blood? The bottom quarters of the photo were more disturbing. Around the neck of the man in the photo was a rope, bound tightly.
Frank assembled the fragments on his desk. A face, clearly recognisable now, stared up at him. He knew why it had seemed familiar – the man was a detective, a rookie who had started not more than a month ago. The name escaped him, but Frank Starkey was convinced that this was a colleague of his. The man in the photo was smiling, despite the rope, but Frank detected the fear in his eyes.
He turned the pieces over, hoping for further clues as to what the hell this was all about. And then, his heart stopped. On the back of the photo, beneath the crude drawing of the loft, were the words: ‘For the crime of treason against Detective Frank Starkey.’
In an instant, he had picked up the phone and punched in an extension.
“Get me Chief Inspector Daley. Now.’
Frank tore down Busby’s Way towards Charlton, behind the wheel of his unmarked Lexus. Behind him, another three unmarked police cars struggled to keep up with him; such was his manic sense of urgency. Daley had recognised the man instantly – a brand new rookie within the department, not even four weeks into the job, by the name of Andrew Noble. A search of the records had thrown up an address, along with the realisation that Noble hadn’t been at work all week. No reason had been given.
Frank screeched to a halt outside a terraced house, a large hedge shadowing the front courtyard. The facade was covered with peeling white paint. The windows were getting grimy, and the house was dark, despite the midday sunshine trying to penetrate the gloom. Frank stepped out of his car as the back-up officers pulled up to the kerbside behind him. He motioned to them with his hand to hurry. Together they walked up the path to the front door. It was open. Frank glanced back at his supporting officers; once again his aging memory fumbled over their names. He gingerly pushed the door further open. Thick silence rolled out from the hallway beyond.
“Mr Noble?” he called out uncertainly into the gloom. “Detective?” No answer.
He stepped into the house. He motioned to the two men behind him to search the lower ground. Frank knew already that they would find nothing there though – he was being inexorably drawn to a particular part of the flat. He started climbing the stairs. At the top, he could make out the square in the ceiling that marked the entrance to the loft. A rubber ball on a rope dangled down from it’s edge. Frank pulled on it. The loft hatch opened downwards and a ladder tumbled down. Then, a stench hit him like a punch in the gut. Frank recognised it instantly. It was death.
He climbed the ladder. His head was only a foot above the loft floorboards when the scene hit him. The first thing he noticed was the rope, fashioned into a noose hanging from a thick beam overhead. Beyond the rope, a large white sheet was tucked over another beam. Beneath the noose, centered in a pool of dark, dried blood, were four hacked pieces of a man’s body, roughly hewn into quarters. Placed inbetween the quarters was a mobile phone, plugged into a power socket by a long cord. Frank approached slowly. On the phone screen was a text message.
It was from his wife, Mrs. Eliza Starkey.
April 30, 2009 § 3 Comments
I always thought I hated London. It was the mornings – a feeling of being nothing more than cattle, smashed up against at least four or five of God’s other children, iPods blaring, babies screaming, windows closed; my temper flaring into a silent, white-hot rage as my girlfriend watched on in disbelief at how I could let it affect me so badly. The sheer numbers of people ghosting through the streets of London frightened me. Each one of them oblivious to everyone around them, wandering along in their own sheltered world, making minimal eye contact, not even contemplating the thought of a smile.
I paused once to sit on the smooth stone steps of some theatre near Charing Cross station. It was early spring – a wan sun was radiating its final rays of the evening. A steady stream of humanity poured forth past me, a ragtag bunch. I watched in curiosity as a small group of women in pink feather boas floated past; I caught the staccato snorts of high-pitched laughter and the clickety-clack of high-heeled shoes punctuating their movements. As I watched, bits of feather would peel away from their necks and float away on the wind; the flotsam and jetsam of their passing hanging around until the road sweeper would come and brush it all away.
It was only in these quiet moments, usually borne out in solitude, in which I learned that London could perhaps offer me something else entirely. Perhaps we didn’t have to make uncomfortable bedfellows after all. Maybe I could use the Big Smoke to reignite my sense of wonder – a long-forgotten emotion buried under the detritus of several years’ worth of identikit workdays and the slow decline into an endless sea of monotony.
I reached into my satchel and pulled out a baguette I had bought at Pret. It was a pretty fancy one, as baguette’s go – Italian prosciutto on a bed of rocket and sun-ripened tomatos. I unwrapped it slowly as two burly guys strode past. I bit into the end, tomato exploding into my mouth, as they swore at someone down the street; full-stopping their string of expletives with a long chug at the beer cans they were holding. One of the hen party girls (as I assumed they must be) looked back at the commotion. The shorter of the two men winked at her salaciously, prompting her to turn back to her friends just as quickly.
I was detached from the throng. I sat there on that step for maybe fifteen full minutes, taking slow deliberate mouthfuls as I watched the blood of London flow past me. From this vantage point, the city was tamed, it couldn’t bother me. My mood was almost tranquil, serene; like I was watching a movie unfold before me, a film that I knew no plot details about. I thought about the unbroken string of workdays behind me. They blurred and coalesced into one indistinguishable period in my mind, all computers, home-made lunches and unbearable train journeys.
A young girl was heading towards the steps, her head bent over her mobile phone. I noticed her belt, bright white and chequered, just below her waist length jacket. She climbed the steps to my left and disappeared out of my vision, lost in her digital conversation. I felt an instant of keen sadness, one of those dreadful moments where your stomach drops out from where it sits and descends all the way down to your toes.
‘My life is slipping away.’
Five little words, intonated in a voice of utter clarity in my mind. I couldn’t refute it either. The years were ticking inexorably forward, the grey hairs on my head were multiplying, and what did I have to show for it? Other than a daily dull rage at things that were beyond my control. I finished the last of my baguette, the taste of which had turned to ash as this realisation dawned on me. I rose slowly, uncertain. I hitched my satchel higher up my shoulder. A bright pink feather blew past my feet. A little pool of them had gathered in a puddle away to my right; the remnants of a cleansing storm that had swept through the city the night before.
I made my way to the railway station. The dread was beginning to subside. In it’s place, a new feeling was beginning to replace it. A steely, almost stoic resolve was starting to form; a silent, almost desperate promise – no, not a promise, a plea – to not let any more of my time pass in this grey, murky twilight. I took my seat next to the window and reached up to unclasp the latch and let in some air. Around me, the train began to fill, inevitably. A hundred other people, maybe some purging the same demons, poured into the carriages from the platform. They were going home to wives and husbands, daughters, sons and dogs, debts and dreams, to happiness, or to misery.
The train began to pull out of the station. The flutter of a dozen newspapers filled the carriage. A stale wisp of air wafted through the crack in the window. I looked out. An expanse of brick and lattices of steel expanded out to the horizon. I began to drift. My mind began to disconnect, synapses that were firing only seconds before were being snuffed out. Below me, on an expanse of green, a black dog and a white dog stood facing away from each other. A cyclist, helmeted and masked. A man in tan brogues coughing violently on the dying embers of a cigarette. A church steeple rising hopefully from the horizon. Further down the track I noticed, somewhat startingly, another black dog and another white dog, this time embroiled in fierce play. Finally, my senses began to overwhelm me.
I glanced at the woman in the red coat opposite me. She was staring out of the window too. But what she was seeing, I couldn’t tell you.