Archive for the ‘Adult imagery’ Category

The Complete Works, (so far!)

Hey there, and many thanks for stopping by. On this site you’ll find a collection of my short stories and screenplays for your enjoyment. Please feel free to leave feedback both good and bad – as Plato once said –  the worst thing is to just be ignored!

Even better however, would be if you could find your way to actually purchasing one of my published books using the links below, that way I may continue to dodge bullets and bailiffs with your help. All books are available online, in all reputable books stores, E-books… and no doubt soon, all local Charity Shops.

Hope you find something here to enjoy….

Best Wishes,

Mike   x

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“SPRINGBOARDS”         – A further collection of original short stories, short scripts and feature screenplays.

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http://www.amazon.co.uk/Springboards-Michael-G-Zealey/dp/1291060103/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1369732955&sr=8-2&keywords=michael+zealey

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“BUM NOTES”          – A collection of eighteen original and diverse short stories:

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http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/1447839889/ref=pd_lpo_k2_dp_sr_1?pf_rd_p=103612307&pf_rd_s=lpo-top-stripe&pf_rd_t=201&pf_rd_i=1447823931&pf_rd_m=A3P5ROKL5A1OLE&pf_rd_r=0G9A7XND7E5NS8XMQ3Z1

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“DIFFERENT STATES”           – One Man, One Credit Card, One Continent… No Plan. A travelogue from East to West Coast USA.

diffst

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Different-States-Michael-G-Zealey/dp/1447824245/ref=sr_1_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1366284192&sr=1-3

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“MOLEHOLE”            – Essays on the Human Condition. The story of one man’s dark and lonely three year journey so far up his own ass that he arrived out his mouth to recount the tale to a deaf world.  (Not suitable for minors or miners.)

miol

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Molehole-Michael-G-Zealey/dp/1447824113/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1332168305&sr=1-1

Thanks awfully x

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Thicker than Water

Ross had expected to feel something before he’d heard the news. Some sort of psychic warning that his brother was in trouble. He’d read about identical twins sharing the knowing of each other across thousands of miles distance but here in Berlin his brother was only six hours away by train, and yet he had felt nothing before the phone call that morning from a mutual friend.

Ross had one shot to make things right again. Make his peace and bury the decade of poison that flowed like an ever growing river between them both. Even though most of this ill tide was on his brother’s part, he still hadn’t been able to reach out to him on the other river bank such was the strength of feeling. Days had become months, months became years, neither picked up the phone. And now he’d only heard his brother had terminal cancer of the throat by chance. How ironic had been his first thought that someone who’d spent the majority of his life spouting so much shit should finally be killed by his mouth.

As children they had got along fine, but his brother had always reached for the stars whereas he’d always been of the opinion that you should never lose the ground, it was always there to be hit, and so he’d pretty much stayed at sea level. Even their parents had found it hard to tell them apart physically, but mentally they were chalk and cheese, and as they matured into young men only a mole on his brother Ivan’s top lip could distinguish them, and sometimes just for fun, his brother would cover it up with his mother’s concealer and they’d pretend to be each other. Ross smiled despite the heavy rain as he remembered the sunnier memories. Damn it he had to at least try to get the money to visit and bury the hatchet, he had to try, even if Ivan buried the hatchet in his back.

And so that is how Ross found himself hovering outside the doorway of Berlin’s premier Texas steakhouse on one of the rainiest and industrially depressing nights of the short year. The restaurant looked so inviting looking in from outside in the bitter cold of this winter’s evening, the condensation steaming up the inside of the window. Mixed with the raucous sound of laughter and bass line thumping against the glass Ross knew that the usual house bet must be on. Ross checked the menu one last time to make sure he hadn’t misunderstood. ‘The 75 once steak challenge. Free if you eat it in twenty-five minutes and 75 Euros too. I50 Euros bill for the meal if you fail. Ten winners only in five years. Dare you?’

Ross steeled his resolve. He knew that he dared but whether his digestive system and gut agreed he wasn’t so sure. Having quite a skinny frame he had a strong appetite and fast metabolism but his very size meant he couldn’t rack and stack the food anywhere. Still, needs must, he told himself, and if he didn’t get that 75 Euros he couldn’t get his train fare back home. And home was where he desperately needed to be and quickly. His brother’s success in life had been in direct proportion to Ross’s failure, and his brother was very successful if a little shady. The hatred that existed between them had certainly not been built of competition between twins, his brother had always won everything hands down, and since his work involved something to do with property, possibly gun-running and definitely money-laundering, Ross had never dug too deeply into his brother’s affairs: except for the one affair that had caused all the trouble. He remembered all those Sunday morning’s in church as well as his brother: ‘Thou shalt not covert thy brother’s wife’.

No one noticed Ross enter the restaurant, all humble and dishevelled, but when he sat himself down in the empty steak challenge chair, the bell above the kitchen galley rang out and a whoop went out from the chef. The regular diners, of which there were many turned round as one to see who had been foolhardy enough to take up the challenge. Their goodwill was immediately extinguished by the pitiful figure that greeted them, all bent out of shape and looking like an unmade bed.

But a challenge is a challenge and the manager came over, explaining rules into Ross’ face, breath full of coffee and garlic. Ross heard the important points and reached inside his soaking wet jacket to pull out an equally battered wallet from which he fished out a credit card that he knew would never work.

The manager accepted it as deposit and started cooking up the mountain of meat. A steak so large it looked like a cow had been shot whilst conveniently standing over a large plate.

‘How you want your steak cooked?’ leered in the manager.

Ross thought about the reality of what would soon be in front of him. Real juicy and raw, using the blood as a kind of soup to lubricate it all down his throat; or char-grilled and denser, smaller yet tougher.

As with so many things in his life he went for the middle-ground.

‘Medium, please…’

The first few mouthfuls tasted like heaven. The hot succulent flesh all crisp and charred on the outside yet soft and melting within. Ross involuntarily closed his eyes to savour the moment as the thick meat juices ran down the back of his throat. Behind him the manager shouted out the clock and Ross remembered the seriousness of his undertaking, with less than fifty cent in his pocket and despite only eating bread and beans for the past week, he wasn’t here to enjoy himself, and failure would mean not making the money, not making peace with his brother, and probably getting a royal kicking to boot when the manager realised his credit card was declined.

By the twentieth minute he had a good meat sweat on.  The taste sensation had now become rancid in his mouth, too much blood. By the final two he knew he was dead. Countdown down to the wire, meat hanging out of his mouth, each chew like a horse’s saddle on a hot day by the sea, salt-stained and dry. The crowd counted down with him, sensing up to this point a man of purpose. He’d chewed through the first fifty ounces like a combine harvester through buttered corn. Even being allowed to cut of the grissle and excess fat had probably saved him about nine ounces in weight. But this final twenty ounces was proving to be a bit sticky.

Eight, the crowd clapped out the final ten seconds behind him. With each piece of now cold and grey steak he swallowed it clicked down his throat louder than the claps behind him.

Seven, a tail of yellow fat, caught on one of the sinews of the final chunks made him gag, it felt like he’d just swallowed a rat and its tail was still sticking up over the back of his tongue. He fell forward on the table, literally using the table-edge to ease the hunk of flesh further down his oesophagus into his stomach. He felt like a bloated anaconda, eyes bigger than his tummy.

Three, two… he wasn’t going to do it, he was knew he was going to miss by a New York mile. He spat out the final chunk on the whistle, grateful more than anything that he didn’t need to swallow it. That was it then, he thought to himself, putting down the fork and seeing the manager approaching, credit card machine in hand. Not for the first time this year he was fucked. Failed by his own hand yet again.

Ross could tell by the manager’s face he’d already tried to run the card through the machine and come up with a blank. Bad blood left on the plate, bad blood in the restaurant. The manager shoved the hand-held credit card machine into Ross’ face. The crowd turned back to their business trying to forget losers. But intercepting the credit card machine on which he thought he’d vomit was a hand. Ross looked up the sleeve to see a clean pressed cuffs and gold cufflinks. The hand held two hundred dollar bills.

The hand spoke through Ross’ meat haze.

‘Forget the card. Here’s the cash ok.’

Ross looked up at his good Samaritan and into kind eyes.

‘If you’re sure, sir?’

‘Sure I’m sure. Just have a drink with me, I’ve got something to discuss with you.’

‘Me?’

‘You.’ The eyes briefly lost their kindliness and Ross could see dark hard flint in the pupils.

He took the money and placed it in the juiciest part of the plate, watching the bills absorb the blood. The manager fished them out and offered him back the declined card, but Ross shook his head.

‘Keep it Herr, no use to me.’ He turned to his well-dressed saviour. ‘Better not to drink here, hey?’

The man nodded agreement, ‘I know a place close-by.’ He held out his hand to Ross.

‘I’m Christof, Chris.’

Two hours and ten rounds of drinks later, both men found themselves loose and comfortable in the now empty bar Chris had found. Ross found it easy to talk to him, he felt there was no artifice, no mask to the man. He seemed open and honest, if a little tired looking and odd.

‘Fuck it,’ laughed Chris, ‘I’ve just been on a six-day bender and I came up with this…’ He pulled a wad of folded and crumpled paper from the back of his jeans pocket, almost bowing slightly to Ross as he lifted his buttocks off the chair to allow access. Ross noted his accent now he was drunk and slurring his words, definitely from the Austrian border region, possibly even Austrian. He hadn’t even asked him where he was from, such had been the intensity of their drinking, so he made a mental note to ask, then instantly forgot. Chris spread the paper out on the table trying to smooth out some of the creases with his open palm. Ross tried to focus his eyes in the dim light of the bar. Handwritten with sketchy ink diagrams. The palm continued to try to smooth out the ruffles but it wasn’t helping, it still looked like the ramblings of a disordered mind.

‘What am I looking at here…?’

Chris immediately whipped the paper away with a self-conscious flourish. ‘Ah, fuck it, it ain’t nothing. Forget it’.

Ross shrugged his shoulders and looked round to attract the waitress’ attention. Being the last two left in the bar she immediately picked up on his hand signals, and let out a sigh as she realised he didn’t want to settle the cheque but was in fact ordering up another round. She grimaced a pained smile to him, no words spoken between them but meaning carried across.

Ross turned back to Chris feeling fuelled by the break in the intensity of their conversation. ‘So tell me Ross, where would you like to live if money were no object. I’m talking totally in terms of women here. Women being the top consideration, then things like weather, landscape, vibe, you know…. but women being pinnacle?’

Ross leaned back on the chair, but being old hardened wood it didn’t have as much give to his back as he’d like. Trying to push the rickety poles back he creaked out his thinking:

‘Thailand.’

‘For real you would?’

‘Yeah, I think so.’

‘No, Thai women don’t do it for me. New Orleans. I’m a jazz man, I want to be in a hot bayou stink. Wiping the sweat from my brow as I take another line. In fact…’ He got up from his chair and moved to the jukebox against the pool table. Ross hadn’t even noticed it in the gloom, but he drained his drink watching his new found benefactor punch in numbers to the machine. Almost instantly some Jazz sound erupted up from crusty speakers buried out of sight in the roof. Chris began to shimmy back to the table, make believing he was dancing with someone solely for Ross’ benefit. Ross laughed to himself, part in the comedy of the moment and part in sympathy for this strange fool who’d paid for his steak and watered him with great whiskey all night. Chris sat back down and as if on cue the waitress brought over the drinks. Chris picked up his crumpled paper left on the table to make way for them.

Ross acknowledged the music with his finger pointing it skyward before swinging it down to the drinks, pointing at them, then bringing his whole palm back up to his temple, snapping out an army-style salute to Chris and the waitress.

‘Thanks.’ He grabbed his scotch and water and drained a good half before slamming it back down on the table. He suddenly felt selfish.

‘Tell me then if you won’t show me. What had you written there? No really, I’d like to see it.’ Ross pointed as Chris folded it once more, hurrying it away into his jacket .

Chris shook his head and leaned forward again in a similar bowing motion, this time he reached into the other jean pocket.

‘Nope. That was your only chance to see it, I feel foolish showing you it now. Anyhow, no matter. This speaks better than my writing…’

The gun hit the table as a brute fact. He let the revolver speak for itself, no words necessary to supplement. Ross’s eyes went from swimming to pin-sharp panic. He looked up at Chris and then back down to the firearm, desperately trying to deny the reality. Chris spoke, his voice now as cold as the gun metal.

‘Firearms really are so sexy aren’t they? God you just feel so powerful pulling it out.’

Ross froze, the delightful warm fuzzy sensation in his brain instantly drained, chased out by sharp icicles. Chris placed his index finger in the trigger and spun the gun faster and faster.

‘Sorry, old boy…’ he said, ‘but I need you to shoot me, and neither of us can leave till you have…’ And then, with an inflection as if he’d just ordered up two drinks from the bar and was checking the order… ‘OK?’

When Ross’ voice came it was thin and high, ‘What is this? You gone all Deer Hunter on me…? What the fuck is this?’

Ross made an instinctive reach for the gun with the reflexes of an animal in danger, but Chris, sensing this as predator got their first, beating him to the draw.

‘Afraid so. I require… no I NEED you to kill me… and quick’.

‘Quit kidding around. OK you’re actually starting to freak me out here…’

The eyes remained unchanged, steel purpose, no humour. The gun looked the same.

‘It’s simple. I need you to go to prison for my murder. I’m sorry but that’s just the way it is.’

Ross stood up, kicking his chair back, all in. ‘You’re odd mate. Fuck this’.

‘Show me your palm.’

‘What?’

‘Your palm, give it to me, I come from a long line of palmists, my grandmother was Romany gypsy. I can prove to you it’s written in your palm that you must be out of sight for ten years.’

Without fully knowing why, Ross sat down and offered up his palm. Ridiculous as it felt, Chris’ southpaw comment had thrown him. Chris took the open palm and studied the contours for a few seconds before gently placing the revolver in it. Chris curled the fingers of Ross’ hand around the butt and laughed.

‘Do it.’

Ross snorted. Chris repeated.

‘Do it pussy..’

Ross dropped the gun back as if it were molten hot, it skidded across towards the beer coasters and pistachio nut shells narrowly avoiding knocking the pitcher of water off the table edge. Chris steadied it with his free hand.

‘Everything’s already in place. It’d make no sense if you left now, Mr. Ross. Mr. Ross Zimmer, date of birth twenty-fifth June nineteen seventy-seven, National Insurance number KA 55 33 E5, address 6 Palo Alto, Berlin…’

Ross sat down with a thud. ‘How you know that, how the fuck you know all that, i just met you.’

Chris touched the gun with his index finger.

‘Just pull the trigger mate, it’ll save a lot of time. You’ll do it in the end anyway.’

Ross drained his glass, thought about looking round to the waitress but felt a pang of sudden paranoia.

‘No.’

‘Look, I’ll make it simple, I need you to spend ten years in prison. Quickest way I can guarantee that is for you to shoot me in cold blood. I’ve left a paper trail that’ll back up our story. Payments, bank accounts, deals gone sour… your wife. You’ll be looking at a ten stretch, no more.’

Ross leaned forward on his elbows across the table trying to moderate the noise.

‘My wife..? What you know about my wife?’

‘Hell, they said you’d be tough. Come on mate, be a good boy, just do it, hey?’

Ross knocked his empty glass over causing it shatter on the concrete floor. The waitress jumped off her stool and headed towards the last table. Ross sensing her perfume in his heightened state stuck up his hand and warned her back. She shuffled on the spot unsure what to do next. Chris reached down to a bag he’d been cradling between his ankles. He flipped it up onto the table, covering the gun.

‘I’ve been told I can go to three hundred thou maximum, just so you know. That’s all that’s in the bag, that’s all you can have.’ He threw open the bag to display wads of fifty Euro bills in elastic bands, encased in bubble-wrap. Ross found himself staring at the brown rubber bands holding what he judged to be small tight and urgent wads of two thousand Euros.

‘That’s mine? For shooting you, let me get this straight yeah, you fucking nutter.’

‘No. That’s three hundred k for you killing me AND doing ten years inside. That’s the important part.’

Ross rubbed his eyes with the backs of his hands, his voice incredulous and dripping with sarcasm.

‘Fine. Sorry if it’s an obvious question but why do you want me in prison for ten years?’

‘Ah that I can’t tell you. Let’s just say we need you off the scene for a while.’

‘We..? Who’s We?’

‘We…’ Chris let the sound hang in the air and now he himself caught the waitress’ gaze as she hovered halfway between the bar and the table. With a voice that sounded to Ross a whole too powerful and relaxed Chris ordered up another round of drinks.

‘I promise it’ll be the last round, honey. Hey bring the cheque too if you like.’ Chris looked down to see his drinking partner’s hand reach under the navy blue sack trying to locate the gun. Chris leaned up on elbows and slammed them down onto the bag either side of Ross’ hand, trapping it.

‘Only go for it if you’re going to use it. OK?’

Ross tried to hold his gaze but blinked in the steel certainty he saw, and withdrew his hand, pulling with it some bubble-wrap that had snagged on one of the studs.

Chris looked at his watch and began tutting, ‘ You’ve got just under ten minutes to shoot me, otherwise the bet’s off. They’ll be coming through that door and there’s nothing I can do to stop it.’

Ross shook his head as if trying to rattle a dream from his brain. The fight had gone out of him. He collapsed back into the chair, methodically popping the little round air-pockets in the bubble-wrap. Each pop felt like another synapse in his brain frying.

‘Look, you’ve got to help me out here. You can’t just tell me to kill you and, hey, here have half a million…’

‘…three hundred thousand…’ Chris interjected.

‘… Jesus… OK three hundred. Why not five fucking trillion. I’m not gonna shoot you am I? That money could be counterfeit for all I know.’

‘What you mean if I could prove the money was real, you might do it?’

‘Yes, No… I mean. Ok this is some sort of tv show yeah? The bullets are blanks, yeah? This is all some mindfuck tv thing?’ Ross threw out his arms as if ready to accept the joke. When no camera appeared he suddenly felt his arms flung wild more as a crucifixion. Exposed and frightened he leant over the bag pleading with Chris.

‘What the fuck’s going on here?’

‘Eight minutes fucker.’

‘Why me?’ Ross’ voice had a pitiful tone to it now. The question asked by the small child in him. Chris responded by kissing his teeth.

‘My mistake… Seven minutes…’

The waitress slammed the drinks down on the bag, making as much of a critisicm as she dared. She looked across at Chris.

‘Here let me get that’, he said, reaching for the bag with his left hand, carefully sliding his right under to move the gun with it.

She placed the drinks left and right, pulling up her low-cut top when she saw Chris ogling her. The time for flirting was done, she wanted them out of here. She looked across at Ross, sweaty and nervous in the dim light, his face had taken on an almost blue shade. She felt it worth noting.

‘You alright hunny?’

Ross managed to choke out an unconvincing affirmative. The waitress felt back in control and regained her composure. ‘Good, well drink up folks this is the last one. I got off half an hour ago.’

Chris raised a glass in agreement and she, satisfied order had once more been restored, returned to her comfort zone behind the bar to cash up the night’s takings. Once he was sure she was safely ensconced in her task, Chris brought the revolver out again and, holding it by the barrel, he offered the handle to Ross.

‘Quit fucking around hey Ross and just do it? Do it quick. Do it fast and take the caaasshhh…’ There was that Austrian twang again, Ross noted.

‘…Then just staaasshhh it somewhere, somewhere safe so that the police never find it, so you can spend it when you get out. Listen, listen carefully. Pull the trigger, head immediately to Zoo Station and rent a locker. Stash the bag in the locker then get a tram to the other side of town. Then, just do what you want. They’ll find you eventually, so hang out, take a movie, get drunk. Actually hell yes, get royally drunk, as you won’t be able to for ten years.’

Ross took the gun and felt its weight.

‘What if I shoot you, take the money and then fly out the country to south America, start a new life?’

‘Nope, sorry, we need to guarantee you’re not around for ten years. But try it if you like… knock yourself out. Ha. This is real life Ross not a movie. How far do you think you’d get creating a new identity and slipping through international borders?  Ha, you’re a superspy yeah?’

Ross pointed the gun at Chris, peaked by his humiliation, but this only made him smile more.

‘That’s the spirit, jolly good show. Come on, less than four minutes now…. time to shit or get off the pot as they say…’

‘This is insane…’

Ross rested the gun on top of the hold-all and pulled back the zipper to look for himself. Beneath the wads of cash he saw the dark brown corner of  something. He reached in and pulled out a European passport. Opening up the fly-leaf he recognised the holder instantly. ‘Ivan Zimmer’. Digging deeper into the bag he pulled out a whole clump of documents all revealing the same name, a name he knew well even after a decade of bad blood.

‘My brother? I knew it. I knew he had to be involved somehow…’

Chris nodded. He seemed almost glad that the secret was now out, and smiled at Ross with a genuine warmth he hadn’t hitherto seen.

‘I’m glad the cat’s out the bag, pardon the pun. Don’t ask me any more details as I really can’t.’

Ross scratched his head trying to piece it all together.

‘So he’s in some kind of trouble… other than dying?’

Chris seemed surprised by this but answered flatly ‘He’s not dying, I can tell you that much, maybe he wants certain interested parties to think he is? I genuinely don’t know, I only get told so much, Ross.’

Ross nodded. ‘Ah, now it makes sense. He’s done something and needs me to take the rap for it? This money is my incentive to pretend to be him and do his time for him. Meanwhile he runs about free as me? Am I close?’

Chris shrugged his shoulders. ‘It’s no use I can’t tell you.’ Ross tried again.

‘There’s one thing I don’t get though, why do I have to kill you? What’s in it for you? You love my brother so much you’re willing to die for him? You’d be the first who did, I can tell you that for truth.’

Chris’ eyes narrowed. ‘All I can tell you is it involves family and money. Sometimes a life only makes sense with what you can leave behind for others. You’re not the only one with family, hey.’

Ross picked up the gun and pointed it at him as he zipped up the bag. Chris was once more getting impatient.

‘Less than a minute, Pal. Fucking do it. Pull it’. Chris tightened his stomach muscles and scrunched his eyes shut. His top lip began to quiver even though he bit down hard on it. Ross studied his face, in the dark light of the bar he looked like he’d seen some hard battles, scars and pitted skin, and up top by the hairline were heavy burn marks, almost as if his face was melting in the heat of the candle light.

‘No’, replied Ross. ‘I can’t kill you in cold blood, I can’t kill you without knowing why, oh hell, I can’t kill you anyway’.

‘You must. You simply must. Pull that cunting trigger. Do it now. Pull it now…’

Ross still had the barrel pointed at his drinking partner’s chest, it wavered in his hand, trembling more than Chris’ lip.

‘I…’

‘NOW…’ Chris threw his arms wide and slammed his knees into the table, lifting the legs off the ground. He screamed at the top of his voice, startling Ross who flinched and squeezed. Something in the timbre of the voice now shouting he recognised and the realisation struck him harder than the bullet he’d just shot into Chris’ chest. The waitress dropped the tray of glasses fresh from the dishwasher, the lingering sound of the smashing glass on the hard concrete floor seemed to form a counterpoint to the brisk ear-splitting crack of the gunshot. Ross had only applied the slightest pressure to the hair-trigger but the shock had been enough to set the gun off. Chris looked down at his chest to see the reddening mess of his rib-cage opened up and as bloody as the seventy ounce steak. With the last of his life force he reached up to his face which now seemed to be melting in his death throws. He grabbed a loose piece of latex by his hair line and pulled it off in a long downward motion revealing a different, more angular and tanned face underneath.

‘You always were a jumpy pussy, Ross, mum was right.’

Chris tore another latex strip off the mask then grabbed under the remainder and just pulled. Enough of the real face was now visible under the mask for Ross to realise the truth. He saw himself staring back at him. Identical in everyway except for the mole on the top lip. Twins.

‘Ivan.’

‘I got you, I finally got you, you little bastard. Now suffer like I did. I was dying, that’s no lie, now I really am dying. But I’m glad YOU rather than cancer caused my death. Cancer can’t go to jail, cancer has no feelings, there’s no point trying to get revenge on it. Cancer can’t be made to suffer..’

Ivan revealed, his hand full of latex and blood pointed now pointed to Ross.

‘But YOU can, my brother.’

Ross’ eyes went wide as oyster shells, he stumbled from the chair spluttering pure petrified emotion, ‘I was coming, coming to see you, I…I loved you… I…meant…to…find…you…’

Ivan laughed a mucus sticky laugh, his lungs filling with blood, bad blood. As he spoke, his lips stuck to his teeth,  ‘I didn’t have much time left, so  I found you…’ He exhaled a final death rattle, the last cobra twisting lost as the bar doors flew open and a squadron of riot police stormed into the bar, spotlights and pepper spray. Ross, his brother’s passport in one hand and still smoking revolver in the other raised his arms towards the speakers in the ceiling still pumping out jazz heavenward, waiting for what must inevitably come next…

Deck Hands – Guns & Flip-Flops

Holding Cell, Marbella Police Station, Spain. Right now.

Statement of Mr. Wendall Strickland:

‘ My name is Wendall Strickland and I’m in a lot of trouble right now. The first question they ask me is where did I get the gun, when I tell them I lifted it out of an empty police car they get even madder as I guess it makes them look even more stupid than I know them to be. The next question is where did I get the gold fob watch that I’m holding tightly in my hand. I explain to them it’s my fathers and they seem to accept it. Any more questions must wait, as I want to tell this story MY way, in MY own time. So best I start at the beginning.

This paper they’ve given me to write my confession on is thin like the pages of those bibles you find in hotel rooms, the pen keeps popping through so I hope you can still read it ok? I’m a month shy of my thirtieth birthday and if what these pigs have told me is true it looks like I’ll be spending it and the next few birthdays behind bars. You want to know the sickest part? Because I stuck-up a yacht rather than a car they’re actually thinking of charging me with Piracy. PIRACY? What the fuck? What a prick I am, what was I thinking?

I don’t want your pity, I don’t even expect your understanding, but all I’ll say for truth is that desperation leads a man to do crazy things he wouldn’t normally do. That and being in love and being greedy and so full of how you THINK you deserve to be living. Ah hell, as you can probably tell already, I’m no good with words, so I’m just gonna tell it how it was, no fancy bumfluffery just the cold hard facts. It’s roasting hot here in the cells, my tongue feels like a slug that’s had salt put on it and my stomach thinks my throats been cut. But there’s fuck all I can do about it, so guess I better just get on telling my story. OK, here goes…

I’d been living here on Spain’s Costa del Sol for about the last three years: great life, killer apartment up in the mountains, beach parties and cheap booze. But all on the never never. The credit crunch hit around the same time I hit a losing streak at the casino, a run of bad luck you wouldn’t believe. By June this year I’d run out of money and was looking down the barrel of having to return to London with nothing but chewing gum in my pocket. For reasons I don’t really want to go into now London was not a good place for me.

Anyway. So I’m hanging with my mate Paul who works as projectionist at the cinema down near La Canada, he’s a good guy, I met him when I first moved out at a local poker game and we pretty much met up most Saturdays in that small smoky projection room to smoke weed and watch whatever film he was showing.  I can finally admit that he is a much better poker player than me. It’s taken me a lot of hard thinking to be able to say that. But in the early days we had a typical sort of male dick-swinging rivalry with our poker and casino, now I can see he’s simply a better player. I got into the online gambling whereas he always stuck to live cash games along the coast. I was losing badly. I’d think nothing of doing six hundred Euros a night yet go to the Supermercado the next day and buy their Value vegetables’ and cheap cuts of meat.

I always loved gangster films, you know? Casinos and even online gambling made me feel part of it all, that feeling of walking into a casino and being comp’t drinks, the atmosphere and promise of riches, dazzling glitz and glamour in the neon lights yet under the surface I could feel the shady deals and kickings in the back-alleys. I fucking loved it. I got sucked right in. Stupid huh? Guess I’ve always had a problem separating fact from fiction. I totally blame my dad. Compulsive gambler and all round shady character but to a young kid he seemed like the coolest guy on earth. You could say I had risk-taking in my blood – even my unusual name Wendall, chosen by my dad after winning a fortune at an Indian Reservation casino with the same name. That’s about all he left me though before fucking off and leaving me and mum to struggle on. That’s when I decided I wanted to be a gangster. To have the good things in life. Dad had always taken us out on holiday to Marbella, he had some business contacts out here, and when I say ‘business’ I mean gangster. He always looked so cool, sharp suits and sunglasses, always seeming to be mentally flipping a silver dollar in his hand when he entered a room. My mum said he looked dangerous in a sexy way- like he was always secretly carrying a gun even though he wasn’t. I’d tried to emulate him I guess as best I could. Gambling and a little hash running up and down the coast, no great shakes, sometimes I’d bring my digital camera to Paul’s projection room and video the new release, uploading it Online for a few bucks. VERY minor league stuff you understand, but just enough to keep me in wine, women and song… if you get me?

Paul had never met dad but the stories I told him made him laugh. He was always warning me to get my head in the game, that I was hero-worshipping and painting a child’s view of an adult, a two-dimensional character. He was right of course, looking back I realise now I was trying to live up to a two-dimensional character, like a film. Real life is always in glorious 3D, huh?

I guess what really swung it for me, what really stuck a bug up my arse to go through with this ridiculous two-dimensional plan was sitting on my balcony last Saturday, I remember it must’ve been about nine in the evening because I could hear the shit karaoke from the bar down the road, I sat on my balcony with my air pistol shooting the tails off lizards when I saw her appear on the balcony of the apartment block opposite separated by the swimming pool and a line of palm trees. Man she looked perfect. The sort of woman I’d honestly give my little-finger to get with.

Hang on, I can hear a guard opening the outer door, I want to try and bum a smoke – I’ve got a little rolling tobacco left but it’s so sweaty in here that my hands are dripping probably as much with nervousness as heat and my cigarette papers are all damp and stuck together. Useless.

Update: The guard was alright. He gave me his packet which had three left in it. I think I’m getting a kind of warped respect from them for what I attempted, ha, I’m a gangster at last. But how empty and stupid it feels now locked up.

Where was I? Right, oh yeah, so this girl in the apartment opposite is just killer. I see her pick up her swimming costume from where it’s hanging over her balcony. I figure she’s going for a swim. What must it be like to sleep with a girl like that, have her on my arm as I enter the casino? Anyway what I’m trying to get across to you is how desperately I wanted to stay in Spain and how crazy much I needed to make some fast cash.

That Saturday night in the projection room me and Paul are smoking and watching ‘Goodfellas’ of all films – a special midnight showing for the heads. One of my favourite films – even with De Niro speaking in dubbed Spanish. Our conversation went something like this:

Me: ‘Paul I gots to find a way to stay. Some sort of crime or fraud is all I can come up with.’

Paul reminds me last time I tried crime was stealing cables and metal to sell as scrap back in London. I told him the story myself when we first met. Me and a few lads busted into a large park and stole this big sundial sculpture thing. We got four-hundred pounds for it, then on the news later feeling pretty clever we saw it was by some guy called Henry Moore and was actually worth about half a million. This amongst other things facilitated my quick exit from England.

‘How about Football gambling? asks Paul, ‘Some big games this weekend, easy money’.

Fuck soccer.’ I tell him. ‘If I wanted to watch somebody struggle to score for 90 mins I’d take my friends to the bar. I’ve come to the conclusion I’m not very good at poker, least ways not as good as I think I am. Either that or I have the luck of a cursed Gypsy. Had a rare spare tenner so am playing a few two dollar cash games. The beats I’m getting you would not believe and couldn’t write in a story as it wouldn’t be deemed believable or true to life. I swear to ya. Also, when the stakes are so small I would argue that you can’t even HAVE a proper game of psychological poker because dickheads will call you all the way down to the river with rags on the hope of catching something exactly BECAUSE the money is so small. They’d never do that if it was a nifty. I despair.’

I stand up all stressed, knocking away the flies that were circling round my beer. ‘How long am I expected to go on living like this?’

Paul shrugged his shoulders. ‘Don’t ask me, how in the hell would I know.’

I  began clapping at the flies missing them all but looking like a nutter.

‘How’s your game anyway?’ I ask, ‘ You’ve got that big game coming up Saturday, hey?’

Paul had strained his head towards the air-conditioning trying to catch some of the icy-wind.

‘Say again?’ He moved his head back away from the whirring motor.

‘I said, you got that big game coming up Saturday?’

‘Yeah’, he put his face back to the air-conditioning.

I stopped clapping and sought solace in another cold beer from the fridge he had under the projector. That’s when I hit him with it.

‘Look, I got an idea. It’s a bit out-there, so hear me out before you respond, ok?’

Paul pulled his head back once again, ‘hey man, I can’t hear ya. What’s up now’.

I tried a different approach. ‘You know I’m desperate yeah… financially, I mean, you know I’m really up against it?’

Paul nodded.

‘The poker games a fat one isn’t it?’

‘Yeah, it’s on Pat Coons yacht down in Cabopino. Rich flounders, better angling for fat fish than the harbour. The buy-in alone is a thousand Euros so you can easily times that by fifty once they’ve had a skin-full.’

‘Exactly, there’s gonna be a lot of cash on that boat, hey?’

‘Yep and it all going to be mine all mine’. Paul laughed and knocked back the cold suds.

‘No, it’s gonna be mine.’ I say.

‘But you ain’t playing. Not with your luck…’

‘I know, but I’m gonna make my own luck…’ Bam, I lay it on him:  ‘I’m gonna hijack the boat…’

I expected Paul to fall about laughing, but full respect to him he took me seriously. Perhaps it was Goodfellas showing through the projectionist hole, perhaps it was the smoke, but he went along with it, hoping I guess to let me work out myself in the nitty-gritty detail that it wasn’t such a swell idea.

Still we talked it through. Even though these big games are only Paul’s bag not mine, there’s still a chance someone might recognise me – it’s quite a small community of ex-pats here on the coast, everyone sticking their burned noses into each others business. So we decide I should use a fake accent and some sort of mask. The only accent I can do half-convincingly is American or Scottish. The American sounded so camp that even with a gun pointed at them these six dudes would still probably just laugh. I try the Scots, not much better, the Sean Connery sounds too stupid even for my tentative grasp on reality and so I settle for a sort of Billy Connelly drawl. Paul falls about laughing as I test it out:

‘Alreet, give me the fooking money’.

I waved my fingers around the room aping a gun, pointing at the projection console and saw a blister pack of blue diamond shaped pills. He told me he’d been staying at his uncle’s and found them in the medicine cabinet in the bathroom. Viagra, full strength, not the shit you buy online but the real deal prescription only. I’m always up for a new buzz so necked one washed down with a fresh cold can of Cruzcampo lager. Twenty minutes later, nothing. But my mind was racing with the plan. Paul could see my mind was made up and had to admit the plan was totally risk-free for him. We’d split the loot fifty-fifty.

Being a good friend he tried to put me off one last time. Did I listen? Did I fuck. I’d set my mind to the wheel. It was going to happen. But where to get a gun? I knew a couple of places along the coast, a few ex-pat bars who would know some people who knew some people. So off I went on my scooter. Any thoughts of how stupid I was being were pushed and stamped down under the boot of my excitement at finally living the life. How cool am I trying to get a gun to stick up a poker game on a yacht? Fucking idiot looking back.

First bar there’s no joy. Second bar fares better but the guy won’t be around for a week and the game was less than three days away. I took the back roads back towards my apartment feeling bummed-out. I remember there was a beautiful sunset that night, the orange light was streaking through all the half-built and empty complexes never to be finished now that the arse had fallen out of the Spanish economy. It looked like a post nuclear holocaust world with nothing left but empty husks of concrete with little oil drum fires competing with the sunset started by the Spanish kids with no jobs or money sat around getting stoned. Spurred on by the thought that pretty soon I’d be joining them if I didn’t get paid in full I tried the last bar that was rough enough to help. I hit my first bit of good luck, or as I should’ve seen it if I hadn’t been so whacked-out, major bad luck. Big fight breaks out in the bar over a pool game. Guardia Civil the local police rock up and launch out of their car as bottles are flying out the window, one cracking the bonnet. In the hurly-burly I walk past their cop car and what do I see through the open passenger window? Yep, unbelievably a gun in its holster sticking out the glove compartment. You couldn’t make this shit up, but there it was. I’m thinking this whole heist must now be sanctioned by the gods, so without having to be asked twice, in my hand goes and out comes the gun. Looking behind me, the two cops are totally engrossed in sorting out the punch-up, I quickly stuff the gun down the front of my pants where the barrel lays hanging to the right. Somehow it felt so right. Back on the scooter I skedaddle out of there faster than a shit-house rat.

Back at my apartment I cracked open a good bottle of Hennessey brandy, one I’d been saving for a special occasion like a big win at the tables, drank about a fifth immediately, then laid out the gun on the outside table overlooking the bright lights of Fuengirola. I know how shit it sounds but damn that gun felt sexy and powerful. Holding it and pointing it I felt anything was possible. Next I needed to get a boat. I figured that would be the easiest part of the plan. ‘Barry Armpit’ as he was known along the strip of Marbella had a small motor boat which he used to rip off tourists on dolphin watching trips. He owed me a few favours and wouldn’t miss the boat for a few hours I was sure. There’s the sound of banging music coming from that girl’s apartment and I can see figures dancing through the light mosquito screen. Again, she comes out onto the balcony and picks up her bikini. I swear she looks at me as she leans over the railing almost falling out of her tight top. This time I decide a moonlight swim would work for me too and leaving the gun on the table I strip down to my boxers and come down in the lift.

By the time I reach the edge of the pool she’s already doing lengths. The under floor lighting gives off a magical yellow and blue light through the water and the outline of her body moves as lithe and fluid as a dolphin. I jump in and stretch my arms out on the edge trying desperately to look nonchalant waiting for her to see me on her return pass. She does, she smiles, she pauses and then it hits me. An ancient and permanent wood. An erection so profound and final it’s like a Maypole with a hundred fertile goblins dancing round it. So brutal is the hard on it rips through my tight boxers like the Incredible Hulk tearing his shirt. Fucking Viagra. No warning, no stirring in the loins, just a nought-to-sixty length in under ten seconds. I look down at her pretty feet distorting in the rippling water. A girl’s feet are really important to me. I figure if a girl can’t keep her nails clean then imagine what her pussy must be like. But this girls feet were cute, no hammer-time. I imagine sucking her toes must be like tasting peaches and cream. Christ these thoughts don’t help the conviction of my length to remain undiminished. It is now so hard that you could hang a garden basket from it, or bang in a rusty nail. I’m silhouetted by the light and she looks down seeing the news. I figure I’m going to have to stay in the pool till dawn, but no. She smiles and winks at me.

‘We’re having a party Saturday night, I’ve seen you watching me from your apartment’ She looks down again at the broadsword, ‘And it sure looks like you know how to party. Wanna come? She drags out the word ‘come’ and brushes past me, softly caressing my tent-pole with her foot as she kicks off and begins swimming again.

There and then all doubt in my mind vanished. God damn I was going to get that money. Saturday it was to be. Take the gun, take the boat, get the money, get the girl.

Only things didn’t work out like that.

I’m breaking off again. The slat in my cell door has just been opened and I’m being watched. Keys turning, door opens. Ah food. At fucking last. The only good thing about a Spanish jail-house is the food. Fantastic chorizo and tortilla and even a small glass of watered down red tinto de verano. You sure wouldn’t get fed like this in a London nick. Now with a full stomach and a couple of smokes left things suddenly seem a little brighter and I’ve got enough focus to get this confession finished. So…

Borrowing the boat off Barry Armpit was no trouble at all. I found him stuffing his face down at a beach bar and I had the keys in my hand within the time it took him to order the bill. Stand-up guy. A real goodfella. I hopped on the scooter down to Cabopino and checked out the boat. Small but fast. I checked the fuel lines, the gas gauge and took it out for a quick spin around the bay just to quieten myself down, burn off some of the adrenaline that was starting to build up in my system. A dry run if you like. The boat handled like a dream and as I pulled back into the harbour I felt a surge of excitement that this was going to work. Carefully stowing the gun, a rucksack and a fancy-dress mask of a werewolf head that I’d picked up from a kids store, I literally danced back along the harbour wall waiting on tomorrow afternoon.

The stick up. Cometh the hour; cometh the cunt.

It went down like this.

Saturday morning I wake up and the sky is overcast, first day in about two months that it hasn’t been sunny. This gives me a slight uneasy feeling made worse when I scoot down to the harbour and see how choppy the water is beyond the break-wall. Quick phone call to Paul to check the game is still happening and all is fine. He’s already on board and using the shoreline as a compass he tells me where they’ve dropped anchor. The game is about to start and the bundles of Euro bank notes are sat on the table for all to see. I’m licking my lips already.

Pushing out beyond the harbour wall the boat starts bouncing around, it’s altogether so much rougher than yesterday’s test run. I instinctively feel for my dad’s gold pocket watch and take it out of my shirt pocket, resting it above the wheel to keep me focused. This is all I have to remember him by, and despite all the years and hardships I’ve never once considered pawning it, no matter how tough things got. It’s my only connection to him and I wouldn’t gamble or take any sort of risk without it. It’s a complicated one, the relationship with my dad. Part of me resents him for walking out on us, but part of me still wants to impress him and show him that I can be a cool gambler come gangster too. It’s a boiling mess of emotions, anger, love, jealousy, respect, fear inside me as the cold spray hits my face over the boat’s windshield.

All this bullshitty introspection goes clean out of my mind as I see the white fleck on the horizon of what I’m guessing must be the poker yacht. As I barrel towards it I can almost make out the six men sat at the table on the top deck. A couple of girls are wandering around too. I hadn’t planned for more than six people, more people to watch meant more chances of someone getting to a radio or phone to raise the alarm. I look at my mobile phone to check for any last messages from Paul. No bars, no signal. Too far out from shore. Fuck it. In for a penny in for a pound, I’m committed now, and if I can see them, they sure as hell can see me, so on with the werewolf mask, pocket watch back in shirt and shooter stuffed in the front of my shorts.

Let’s fucking have it!

I cut the motor before it can be heard and drift like a silent surfboard towards the yacht. I see Paul on his mobile as I pull round the side. He sees me and makes a cutting motion with his finger along his throat. He repeats it as I throw a rope round the yacht’s access ladder out of sight of all but Paul and one guy engrossed in looking at his cards. Desperately trying to keep the element of surprise I leap up the slippery white plastic steps wishing I’d worn shoes with grip rather than flip-flops. I take a quick mental photo of the layout. Paul and four other guys, mostly fat perma-tanned with silver back hair and gold-watches. I make a mental note to remember to take their jewellery too. Two girls are sunbathing to the stern, headphones on, eyes closed. This is good. Another lucky break.

Leaping the gunwale I take the card-players unawares, the first they know about it is literally this werewolf storming the deck brandishing a Heckler & Koch 9mm. In the mayhem that ensues I totally forget about the Scottish accent and just scream in natural broad Essex.

‘Put the fucking money in the fucking bag..! Do it..! Do it now…!’

The men literally freeze and just sit there not sure if this is some sort of joke. I squeeze the trigger aiming for the centre of the green baize where it shoots a stack of chips into the air. This has the desired effect on them and they realise I’m not fucking around here.

‘Don’t nothing move but the money…’ I’d always wanted to say that. ‘…and stick your fucking watches and pocket-books in too’. I throw the rucksack centre-table where the bullet has made a neat hole. Still nothing, no movement, just confused looks. It’s then I see why nothing is happening. Paul has all the chips and money on his side of the table like a gambling squirrel. What are the fucking chances, eh? He’d totally smashed the game. Why should he settle for fifty percent from me when he’d already nearly the whole hundred? Fuck, fuck, fuck!

My heart is beating out of my chest and the plastic mask is causing the sweat to blind my eyes. The eye holes are so small that I can only pretty much see straight ahead, no periphery vision at all. Something else I should have factored in before starting off. Fucking amateur night. I don’t even clock that there are only five men sitting down at a six seat game.

The sixth man must’ve come up from the galley having fixed himself a drink, got some ice or maybe even just gone for a massive great shit – I don’t know and guess I never will. But what I will always remember is him coming at me from my blind side and the smash of a high-ball glass on the back of my head. Stars and fucking stripes just like in the cartoons. The force of the impact causes my gold pocket watch to leap out of my shirt and skid along the smooth wet deck. Now with blood as well as sweat in my eyes I stumble dazed trying to grab the watch before it’s lost overboard. I can feel shards of glass wriggling through my skull towards my soft brain, but looking back I’m kind of proud that even in that moment of high anxiety I still put family connections over greed and went for the watch not the Euros. For all it was fucking worth though.

I catch the watch with my left hand just before it skids over the edge, my right hand still feebly trying to point the gun over my shoulder. Again, coming from the side I feel a well-judged flip-flop connect with my arse and hoof me over the side of the boat. A perfect shot delivered with animal force. As I somersault over the rope railings I have just enough time to see the foot that launched me before the water swallows me up. I recognise the foot. Definitely male, I pray it isn’t Paul’s having changed his mind now he’d got all the money and was fixing to improvise. But no, with the cold splash of the water on my sunburned face I realised the foot looked a lot like mine. I think of the girl’s foot in the shimmering blue pool as I swim up through the much darker seawater. As hard as I can I try to pretend I’ll break the surface next to her back in the pool but it all feels wrong, and this time my dick is as soft and small as a prawn.

Fighting for breath I surface, immediately pointing my left hand back up to the deck. The pocket-watch points at the owner of the foot, the gun descending beneath me into the slimy depths. The years may have added a few pounds and wrinkles to the body but the face is unmistakable.

‘Dad!’

He looks as shocked as me leaning over the rail, cigarette hanging from his tight-lips.

‘Wendall? Wendall is that you? It IS you! What the fuck?’

From this position we have the family reunion. Such is my confused state that the little hurt child I’d been repressing in me all these years comes out.

‘Dad. Why did you leave? I only did this to be like you.’ Salt water tears mixing with salt water ocean.

‘Bloody puff. Man up.’

His next words will stay with me forever, cutting deeper than these handcuffs ever could:

‘I left because you were growing up to be a right little cunt…. Seems I wasn’t wrong either…’

The cell lights have just gone out so I can’t even see what I’m writing anymore. Probably for the best, hey?

Wendall Strickland

‘Phishing in the River of Hate’

(Ode to Anger)

Ripped-off and Spat-out. Anger like a physical black shard of ice I’m carrying around with me, waiting to stick into the first person who pisses me off. A big black ball of fury bouncing in my hand, kinetic, ready to be hurled with the vicious speed of a cobra strike.

No delicate thoughts here, no poetry, no light and frothy cappuccino words to soothe the middle-class self-absorbed. No poignant phrases soft as butterfly wings flapping on your eyelids, dreamy vanilla swirls. No, no, no, none of that today. Today is a dream demon, a night terror stalking the blood-stained ceramic tiles of a Victorian asylum. Today is a dirty sodden jackboot stamping through your bed-linen and smashing your glass ornaments while you cower in the corner saying your prayers.

I feel the incredible strength of dark purpose that comes with anger. A hot salty poison stinging its way up from my bile gland spreading like a rotting cancer through each vein and capillary, shooting through the arteries as sewer water through a storm drain, making me impossibly powerful and heavy. Such is my rage that the ground cracks beneath my feet under the weight of this dark energy, my own centre of gravity drawing me to the magnetic and molten centre of the earth, the heat of my anger greater than the core and boiling magma.

I stride over a city desert of whining skulls splintering them to dust with each crashing footstep. I could uproot trees with my bare fists, chew through the metal suspension cables of London Bridge with my razor teeth and roar with an awesome rage as they crash into the grey water, smashing the car windscreens and shipping below.

Why this black pus oozing up like oil through my every fucking pore?

Ripped off, Phished, empty bank account, cleaned out, robbed. From shining path to warpath with one click of the mouse, whilst somewhere out in cyberspace there is mocking laughter maintaining the maelstrom, the fire-storm feeding itself inside me.

Thieving cunts. I will post my anger to them, sealing it in an envelope with pretty pink bow. I will stuff in some broken glass dipped in AIDS for you to slice up your greedy fingers on, and the bubonic head of a dead rat to spread disease just as you have caused me my dis-ease. I will curse their children with leprosy and wish failure and misfortune upon all their hopeful dreams, from today until the end of time. First Class postage: the sooner it arrives the better. I will spit my hate into their eyes and laugh as their eyeballs melt like candle-wax in the unstoppable fire of my anger.

Going Down in the Drinks Elevator

 

21:43. A Thursday two weeks after Mardi Gras. Decatur Street. French Quarter, New Orleans. Present Day.

With the job gone everything else had followed with a certain inevitability, like a Louisiana mudslide gathering speed and swallowing everything in its shit-coloured path. To Saul Barstow it had seemed more like a car crash in slow motion only he’d long ago taken his hands off the steering wheel and petulantly folded his arms in defiance to the gods. When the impact of how he’d been living finally crashed home, Saul found himself without an airbag or insurance.

In the days that had followed him walking out on his job he’d initially felt a certain rush of freedom, but this was soon replaced by a lethargy. He told people who asked him, less and less now, that his get-up-and-go had got-up-and-left and he couldn’t be bothered to go look for it. Despite the absolute freedom that came from being answerable to no one he found he still needed a routine. But after the first year even maintaining that came to feel like a job. It was so boring buying the same old things each day, milk, bread, something for dinner, it became like a treadmill. Do the washing up, just more to do tomorrow, have a shave, the stubble always grew back. The absolute futility of it all! Why did it always end in lost these days, never found?

So he just stopped. He stopped looking, he stopped it all.

Only there was one thing he couldn’t quite bring himself to stop…

‘Hit me up again, barman, the booze is flowing like molasses round here…’

It was round this time he discovered The Drinks Elevator. It was usually to be found in the Apple Barrel, a bar half way down Decatur street, but these days he could mostly find it anywhere. He didn’t have long tonight, he had something to deliver. He picked up the massive rucksack and slung it on his back. He hated it, stuffed full as it was with unpaid bills, unfulfilled dreams and the general detritus of life washing round in a stagnant harbor like so much fetid flotsam. How much heavier the backpack felt when he thought of it in those terms. He became Bunyan’s Christian in Pilgrim’s Progress, but his only progress recently had been paying off his outstanding tab at the local liquor store. The nylon straps on the rucksack had become twisted and now cut into his shoulders as he prepared to leave the apartment. Hang it all he needed a drink! Now the weight was on his back again, he knew it’d be a miracle if he could remove it without one.

‘Fuck it. I’ll treat myself to the elevator. It’s a smoother ride and I deserve it today.’

Miracles are to be found in the little things he told himself as he tied the laces on his pumps. They don’t have to be thunderbolts or old men parting the sea with heavy stone tablets. Miracles happened everyday if we could only stop to look, but most of us were too busy or self-absorbed to ever notice. This thought always made him feel glad he was without gainful employ. He had the time to stop and look and catch a glimpse of the divine plan in the overlooked cracks. He recalled an incident from his childhood growing up on his parents homestead in the Ozark mountains, a frog was being eaten by a snake. He’d been darkly fascinated, unable to look away like the urge to rubberneck a car-crash, not really wanting to see the smashed bodies but transfixed all the same. It hadn’t been a fair contest, the snake had the frog bang to rights clamped between its reticulated jaws, and was slowly digesting it. The frog was reversing down the snake’s throat and each time it squeezed on the frog’s belly the amphibian let out a squeak much like a dog’s chew toy, getting more desperate with each life-draining squeeze. It wouldn’t be long now. The meal was taking place in the long grass at the back of the homestead, no-one else on earth was supposed to see this. Then for no reason the snake seemed to sneeze and let the frog go. The frog kissed its teeth to the snake and hopped off towards the mangrove swamp. A miracle for the frog, but of no real importance in the scheme of things, but a miracle nontheless. This was how he viewed the Drinks Elevator, it was his own little miraculous secret, his second chance away from the serpent’s jaw.

He walked towards the Art Deco elevator admiring as he always did the ornate doors. His phone began to ring, he didn’t need to look at the screen: whoever it was he didn’t want to speak to them, not now he had set his mind to the wheel. He pressed the button to call the lift, there was only a down button, there only ever had been a down button. With a groan of cables and badly oiled cogs the lift gently rose to meet him.

Inside, the attendant reached eye-level with him, touching his cap in respect and resplendent in his neatly pressed shirt and collar with jacket buttons so polished that Saul paused to check he hadn’t left any turkey sandwich between his teeth in their reflection.

‘Good afternoon, sir. A little early today aren’t we?’

Saul swung the backpack as he got in, intentionally hitting the man for not minding his own business.

Going down I assume sir?’ said the attendant, pulling shut the grayling. The interior was spotlessly clean, with paintings of great historic battles on each side surrounding a central relief of Botticelli’s Birth of Venus.

The elevator descended to the next floor and came to rest with an almost imperceivable bump. Through the grail Saul could see his ex-work colleagues busying themselves in what looked like a hotel banqueting suite. He could hear the chink of crystal glass and the deep murmur of convivial bullshittery. He didn’t usually bother getting off at this floor anymore, finding it far too formal, but he managed to swipe a large glass of white wine from a passing waiter without even having to step fully out of the elevator. The lounge speakers droned out a Burt Bacharach beat and the whole thing just screamed flakiness at him from his vantage point safe inside the cage. Those that were dancing did so in nervous jittery movements like the spasms of shot deer, all the while trying to hold on to their drinks and the next conversation, never really listening, using the time the other person was speaking to think about what they were going to say next. Saul didn’t feel up to mingling with any of them and instructed the elevator attendant to speed on down to the next level, resisting the urge to go straight to the basement, knowing that may well come in time.

As they rattled down to the next level the light became softer and the music more relaxed. Saul visibly exhaled with relief as he saw three of his acquaintances leaning against the bar. He exited the elevator and headed over to the polished wooden counter. He hadn’t seen any of them in a while and quickly fell into an easy conversation once the ice had been broken with a few swift shooters of Jameson’s. At the appointed time he returned to the elevator with a spring in his step, bouncing into the carriage so that the floor yawned on the metal cables.

The attendant was leaning against the picture of Venus, collar undone and buttons seeming a little less reflective.

‘Feeling a little better sir?’

‘Jack, I’m feeling a million dollars. Take me down to the third floor immediately.’

Saul took his phone from his inside pocket and rested it on the horizontal metal bar of the lift. He reached his left hand out to the room in front of the lens as if trying to grab all his friends and everything else in that moment, freezing time.

‘Good luck to you, sir’.

‘Luck’s just the door, you got to come in through the window.’

‘Well said, sir’, the attendant seemed to hiccup as the last syllable trailed off into a burp.

Saul felt like he was flipping a silver dollar whilst having his spats cleaned on the corner of Chartres Street as he’d seen his father do when they used to go to the races on a Saturday morning. Saul’s phone started ringing again, only this time faint from inside his pocket like an embarrassed cough, inconsequential, the signal fading as the lift descended.

Saul had become talkative and barrel-chested. ‘I’m like a stereo see? And the booze and the drugs are like my graphic equalizers, I adjust them up and down, trying to find the perfect alchemy of buzz with which to get stuck in to the action.’

The attendant moved Saul’s jacket out of the way of the closing doors. He flipped down the pulley lever and the elevator once more began its descent.

Saul heard the musical baseline before he could see his friends dancing in the dimly lit club. Green and blue strobes shone through the elevator door to cast strange shadows over his face. The air was thick with weed and tobacco.  Fairground music and gunshots.

Saul ordered up another round of shots and tried to dance. He almost convinced himself he was having a good time, but something felt missing. The more he tried to hoof it, the emptier he felt. Instead of feeling loose he began to feel a pitching queasiness in the pit of his stomach. He looked up at his friends who were gurning up at the strobe lights. How could he be feeling so separate right now? He could feel the hot salty lava building in his osophegus burning its way up, hellbent on an eruption. No, what was this bullshit? It was far too early! He hadn’t even drunk that much as far as he could remember. He tried to tell his friends that he was feeling a little off colour but they just seemed to look straight through him lost in their private dancing, only wanting to know about the next round of drinks and happy stories. Saul knocked back a large one for the road then on the excuse of finding the rest room he instead found the elevator. The attendant seemed surprised to see him back so soon.

‘Everything alright sir?’

‘Take me down Jack, life should be lived on the knife’s edge but I’m feeling as soft as rancid butter all of a sudden.’

‘Perhaps you should slow down a little sir? Take some water on board perhaps?’

Saul waved him away with his hand.

‘Fuck it. Don’t tell me my business. You’ve been doing it all evening. What are you, my wife now?’

The attendant didn’t answer. He simply closed the sliding door and yanked on the down lever. With his back turned to him, Saul couldn’t see the sly smile on the increasingly aging face of the elevator attendant. Saul was looking into the reflective glass of the elevator doors. Not for the first time he didn’t recognise his own reflection. He stared into the bloodshot eyes and didn’t get any flash of self. How he imagined himself to look in his mind’s eye was at total odds with the reality now presenting itself. When did he get so old? Some haggard version of his father looked back through the frosted glass as the outside neon lamps streaked past as the elevator fell further.

His heart always skipped a beat as he approached the fourth floor and saw the orange sunset strike him in the ankles like a welcoming searchlight through the slats of the elevator door, gradually ascending to his thighs, then his chest and face as it reached level. He saw her silhouetted against the sun coming through the roof-terrace, vines thick with succulent grapes and her looking like the most succulent of all fruits. Saul’s feet left behind the sticky metal floor and touched pampas grass. The Mexican evening felt hot on his bald patch as he walked towards her. He was suddenly overcome by nerves, he hadn’t planned on stepping off at level four tonight, he’d felt too self-conscious and worthless to delve into this memory, and yet, here he was, walking towards her, the sound of the ciccadas mixing in his ears with his own pumping heart, but as he got closer he fancied it was actually the croaking of frogs.

She was pouring some of the new season olive oil onto an end crust of the morning’s bread now hardened in the dusk. Her usually jet black hair had found the heart to melt to a russet in the strong sunset. He walked across the veranda and pulled back a metal chair making it grate on the dirt floor.  He sat down, facing her, feeling the bougainvillea wrap itself around him as he lent against the fence.

He stared straight into those blue whirlpool eyes, he knew she saw him even though she continued to stare off across the valley munching on the oil-soaked bread. Feeling keenly the inadequacy of words Saul tried pure telepathy. He looked at her and tried to find the honesty of himself to connect with the honesty of her.

‘We couldn’t even be in the same room to begin with, do you remember? It was so strong, the electricity between us, it was like bringing two lightning bolts to a magnet, the whole room would get so electrified people’s hair would stand on end when we kissed.’

He studied those eyes trying to see a flame get started, but all he saw was his own memory of the two of them intertwined like a medicine snake in those black pupils, from that black past. Nothing more. Fuck it, now he had a new medicine and a new snakebite he didn’t need her. Time to get back to the thing he could always rely on. Memories were lies anyways, like old movies he could re-edit again and again in his mind choosing with each viewing what scenes to leave out until they played perfectly, according to his iron will.

He walked quickly back to the elevator unhappy with this surge of unwanted emotion. The attendant was there as usual with a kind word:

‘I wouldn’t dally here if I were you, sir. Time is a-wasting’.

Saul tried the same telepathic look into his eyes, but they were opaque and emotionless, like a snake about to slough it’s skin. He suddenly felt like a frog unable to escape the jaws of the elevator. He allowed his gaze to lose its intensity and fall down the attendants uniform. It was looking bedraggled, what buttons hadn’t fallen off were now sullied, none of their proud sheen remained. They were unpolished and unloved; yet so was he. Damn if he didn’t need another drink already. The sweat had broken out on his forehead and he tried to rally the woozy attendant.

‘I like your style Jack, respectful. You know what, I’m gonna tip ya right now, just send me down quick, uh?’

Saul rooted around in the pockets of his slacks. Feeling nothing folding he moved to his jacket inside pocket and pulled out a cheque book. The cover had been torn into neat rectangles from the rolling of numerous joints. He flicked open what remained to find nothing but stubs.

‘I seem to be a little light tonight, I’ll get you on the way back up.’

The attendant continued to stare blankly at him.

‘Ok then, good… I always say…’ Saul’s voice had been battered down by the booze to a mumble and he gripped the handrail to steady himself. Caught in the sickly glow of the elevators strip lighting he cut a broken figure, cowed by every bottle he’d ever drunk being smashed over his head in the morning.

‘…Just take me down the drain, Jack…’

The eyes of the attendant flickered open like a TV screen being switched on. He reached his hand up to the lever, now carved in the shape of a snake’s head and let it hang over the snout.

‘Are you sure sir? It’s still early. I was told you had business to attend to?’

‘No, the basement is best ways tonight, Jack, the game’s not worth the candle.’  .

The attendant’s legs buckled as he raised himself up on his haunches to depress the lever.  He still looked a little queasy round the gills but a good belch seemed to correct it enough for normal service to be resumed.

‘Mind the doors please. Going down.’

He reached for a rope cord hanging  from the wooden slats and yanked. The meat-packing service lift closed horizontally. And as it slammed shut, Saul saw that the attendant was now just wearing an off-white vest. the hairs on his sunburned back turned silver in places.

The elevator felt like it was free-falling snapped loose from controlling cables. It shot down to the basement with such force that it knocked Saul off his feet and into the air where he and the attendant hung for an instant as if strange Cosmonauts engaged on a sling shot round the Sun. When the metal cage slowed to a bumpy halt just before the smash, Saul found himself on his hands and knees. There was a silence. He could hear the burb rising in his throat before swallowing it back down, feeling the need to remain straight, in front of the attendant.

Until it had stopped he hadn’t even been aware of the tinned music in the elevator, but now it was gone it was almost like there had been another person in the room. On his knees Saul heard the tinkle of soft harpsichord notes, as if plucked on a metal wheel.

The elevator doors remained closed and he looked over to the attendant slumped on his corner stool, sound asleep. Saul called out to him to open the doors, no response. He got up and shook him by the lapels, still no response. Feeling justified in the circumstances he slapped the attendant round the face, softly at first, then harder. He remained stone unconscious.

Saul smelt he’d reached the basement before his eyes caught up. A heavy scent of rich myrrh, cigar tobacco, opiates and just enough astringent disinfectant to add an undeniable piquancy. He felt he was home again. As if loaded with explosive charges, his backpack jettisoned off his back and shot against the door control lever. Like a troll’s sickly yawn the elevator doors creaked upon horizontally. Saul rubbed his sore shoulders.  It sure felt a lot easier without that weight on his back. As he left the elevator he hoped that whatever had been in the sack wasn’t important or urgent, he couldn’t remember now, but no matter, he comforted himself with the knowledge it was usually there neatly stacked by the elevator in the morning.

The attendant was slumped in the corner without the strength to lift the elevator shutters. Saul yanked on the cord and stepped through like a child in a sweet shop.

He gave a last look over his shoulder to see the elevator’s shutters transforming into the metal jaws of a bear trap. They snapped shut like a robotic mouth on a breeze of necrossing halitosis. He moved through the wooden cellar, the smoke so thick it was as if everyone inside were fish being slowly smoked. To left and right the kippers were kipping, stretched out on their opium-den stained mattresses, stained with the life force of all who’d rested there as it had been sucked out of them, never to be returned. Saul sucked in the thick chocolaty air. He was back amongst his people.

He found his personal corner, decorated with the posters of all his ego’s past triumphs. A small crystal screen was embedded in the ceiling of the four-poster bed, surrounded by plush Bedouin drapes peeling out from the centre  like petals from a rose. The screen intermittently showed flight departures to places he wanted to visit, interspersed with pornographic movies of people he dreamt of laying. He lay back on the cool silken pillow and reached for the tube containing the dark juice. It hung from one of the posts of the bed at eye level like an emergency oxygen mask on a doomed flight, Saul pulled down on the plastic tubing to start the flow of the thick molasses liquid, bringing the suction cup end to his lips he began to gulp down the yoghurty silt directly into his brain stem. He lay back on the soft mattress and released a belch into the sunken world lit by candlelight, as the medicine took its effect, the room felt almost religious but instead of the cold stone draft of his childhood religion this was some priestess cult and her temple was warm and womb-like, pulsating with living tissue. This was the place he really wanted to get to each time he took a sip or gulped a slug. This was always his end game and ultimate destination with everything stripped from him, pared away like the layers of an onion. Here he was at the most basic level, uncluttered, not responsible, just being, uninterrupted by the external demands of a world he couldn’t quite figure out. His right hand slipped off the bed and trailed on the floor. His knuckles felt cold rock there at the bottom.

The plasma screen sparked into life and She appeared on the screen, but not as before, now she seemed perfect to him, like a memory remade as he wanted her to be.

‘There is a silence at the heart of all great things’ he said to himself.   Through the membrane walls that separated each cubicle thin veins containing the juice crisscrossed pumping it into individual areas. From the next chamber a voice could be heard. Saul came back into focus to realise it was addressing him.

What brings you here then, you’ve still got a bit of fight left in you haven’t you?’

Saul answered as if from a warm dream, ‘’I’m like a Faberge egg, see? I spent years making my outside as intricate and shiny as possible, but I neglected my inside and when the hammer blow came the shell shattered and there was fuck all in there.’

A mellow laugh that seemed to contain all the understanding in the world came through the leathery membrane back at him.

‘You and everyone else here I’d guess’, the voice said in mellifluous tones, ‘Don’t sweat it. We all paid the entrance fee one way or another. How long you in for?’

Saul took another long pull on the juice before answering.

‘The night only, my bag will be packed somewhere, ready for the morning.’

Saul turned his head to look through the membrane on his other side, the walls seemed more yellow and stained, the face was a blur but he could still register a spastic movement from within. He felt it was his turn to do the asking,

‘And what brings you here..?’

The voice came back shrill and with an uncomfortable edge that immediately bristled the hairs on the back of Saul’s neck.

‘Hard to remember now, this junksuck kinda blue-rinses the brain after a while, don’t it? I recall it was something to do with not being able to be myself. I was so soft inside like last harvest’s cotton, but I could always hide that and put up a killer front, boy could I sell it to ‘em. Mr. Humpty-Dump, but it was all painted shell, inside there was an empty cold wind blowing round a small, scared kid. The real me, huh? Someone took a sledgehammer to the shell one day and the kid inside wasn’t ready for it. The shell didn’t count for shit.’

Saul sucked on the tube starting to feel absent-minded. The story sounded familiar somehow but he couldn’t place it. The pages of colourful comic books from childhood flapped through his brain. Perhaps that was where he’d heard the story? The rice-paper pages flew from the comic and flapped away like tropical butterflies. Saul reached out with his hand and tried to catch one.

‘I’m sorry for you mister. That sounds a real bummer in the summer.’ Saul caught an escaping butterfly and squeezed its stamen between thumb and forefinger releasing a yellow viscous liquid. He tasted it, all sugar and spice.

‘Bah, it’s just another tale of the bottle. We’ve all got one here.’

Saul brushed the dead butterfly from his fingers, ‘How long you here for?’ he asked.

‘Same as you… according to your medical notes… for all time!

Saul was unsettled by this.

‘I can leave anytime I want, pal. I choose to come down here.’

‘Sure you do. How many drinks has it been today so far? You’ve got to commit to get this deep in my friend, they don’t just give a key to anyone.’

‘Bullshit! I’m the fucking landlord of this place! Look at the walls, this is all my stuff, look what I’ve been over the years, you can’t talk to me like this..!’

The laughter from the next cell was so vile that the membrane itself reverberated like the albumen of a rotten egg, releasing a foul stench into the room. He felt like he was inside the stomach of some unspeakable creature being slowly digested.

Saul ripped the tube from his mouth causing it to hiss and spit the remaining globules of juice from his mouth where it landed at the foot of the bed like congealed pork fat. He got up and attempted to shake the dream from his unresponsive body, moving tortuously as if suspended in glue. He stumbled back to where he knew the elevator to be. But all he found was a smooth keyhole. He reached for his cell phone to see no signal, both he and the phone were out of range tonight, not possible to be connected at this time.

He banged on the smooth metal teeth until a small slit opened horizontally in the mouth of the shut bear trap. He recognised the sneaky eyes of the elevator attendant.

‘Hey Jack, thank the lord it’s you! Let me in won’t ya? It’s time to go.’

But the bloodshot eyes of the attendant just stared back at him.

‘You can only visit here so many times, sir, before you can’t return.’

Saul shoved his fingers into the slot and tried to open the door himself.  The attendant pushed the metal slit against the chubby reaching fingers like a guillotine.

‘I must insist sir. There’s nothing I can do… it’s the rules.’

Saul retracted his fingers sensing the futility of this tactic. The attendant relaxed a little and stopped his finger execution.

‘Of course sir, you can always buy your way out, but it takes time… forms have to be approved and signed off, payment’s made, you understand? It’s a long old crawl back up otherwise I’m afraid.’

Saul gave himself a near fatal headrush as he leapt in the air,  ‘I have money!’’

He began jumping up and down on the spot, the sound of jangling coming from his trouser pockets. With a new found confidence he reached in and grabbed a rich handful from both left and right, thrusting them proudly into the slit for the attendant to inspect. But again that awful mocking laugh that he’d heard before came from the cubicle way back where he’d come from. The membranes rattled like the glottal of a fat businessman.

Saul looked down at his hands to see nothing but old beer caps, corks and damp cigarette papers falling to the ground in a jumbled incoherent mess.

The attendant slammed shut the slit and Saul could hear the elevator ascending, the un-oiled cage squeaking above the sound of croaking frogs.