|Publisher:||Thames River Press|
|Product dimensions:||4.90(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.60(d)|
About the Author
David Barry is a writer and actor currently living in the UK. www.davidbarryauthor.co.uk
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By David Barry
Wimbledon Publishing CompanyCopyright © 2013 David Barry
All rights reserved.
I'm not addicted to coke and sometimes go weeks without a hit. But occasionally, when it feels like it's going to be a long night, I like to liven up the old grey cells a bit.
I leant over the porcelain top of the cistern and sniffed the line through a twenty. First an acid sting in the eyes followed by a sudden awakening as I raised my head and stared at my reflection in the mirror of the bathroom cabinet. I don't know what I expected to see but the face that stared back at me had worn reasonably well. Not bad, in spite of my lifestyle. I'm reasonably pleased with the way I look, which is not to say that I have a huge ego, but I'm satisfied with my good head of hair, even though the brown has turned to grey and the face might be just a little bloated. It's a face I like to think of as one with loads of expression and humour. Not bad for fifty-five. And the hit had given my lustreless grey eyes a blue sparkle, like precious stones twinkling in the mirror. But it would be a long night and the sparkle would plummet long before dawn. I might do a bit more around 3:00 a.m., just to keep me fresh until the cold early hours, when I often shoot off home behind the wheel of my XJ6 and crawl into bed.
A sudden single hard knock on the toilet door, and my breath rose in my chest.
Then I heard the muffled voice of Olivia.
'Dad! Is that you in there?'
I tried to reply, throat constricted with cocaine guilt. I cleared it loudly before answering, 'Shan't be a tick, sweetheart.'
'Oh, Dad! I'm bursting. Why can't you use your own loo?'
There was no way I could use our en-suite bathroom because Michelle and I never lock the door and I don't want her to know about my occasional cocaine hits.
I tore off a piece of loo roll, wiped the porcelain, screwed it into a ball and flushed it down the toilet bowl. Then I unlocked the door and came out to find Olivia scowling up at me. Although she was thirteen-going-on-fourteen, she still had an angelic face and showed no advance towards the stroppy teens. I gave her a lovably wide grin.
'It's all yours.'
'You and Mum have got your own. Why d'you have to use ours?'
This is territorial. My daughters think of the upstairs bathroom as exclusively theirs and, even when we have guests stay the night, I get the impression they would prefer them to use the downstairs loo.
'You were great tonight, Olivia. Brilliant dancing, sweetheart. You've improved in leaps and bounds,' I laughed. 'No pun intended.'
She frowned. 'You weren't bored?'
I placed a hand over my heart. 'I promise you, sweetheart, I loved every minute of it.'
Which was true. Although it was only a teenagers' part-time dancing school show, I genuinely enjoyed most of the evening – occasionally stifling a laugh when an overweight fourteen-year-old attempted energetic and acrobatic steps – but it was Olivia her proud parents were there to see and, although she was only in two dances out of twelve, I could see she was outstandingly good. And I don't think that's just a father's bias. I know she has talent, which is not so surprising seeing as her mother was a professional dancer before she met yours truly.
Olivia accepted the compliment with a serious nod before disappearing into the bathroom. I stood for a moment staring at the closed door, grinning like an idiot, swollen with pride and love. It lasted a microsecond before the drug kicked in an alert sensation, so that my brain could enjoy the sharp spark of decision.
Time to get the show on the road!
I hurried downstairs to one of my other pride and joys – the kitchen of my dreams from the pages of a glossy coffee-table book – super gleaming, comfortable yet functional, where the man of the house indulges in creating mouth-watering recipes. More than just a hobby, my passion is cooking. It keeps me sane and helps to keep the family well fed, even though I suspect that most of the time they're just humouring their old man with his gourmet indulgences.
Michelle sat at the enormous refectory table, a copy of Heat magazine in front of her, sipping a glass of her favourite pinot grigio as she watched the television that was perched on the far corner of the work surface. As I entered, I noticed her eyes darting in my direction before refocusing on the reality TV programme, a load of bollocks with some moron preening himself about converting an old shed into an elegant gazebo.
Although Michelle's glance had been split second, I could see it was enough to assess my appearance.
'You're wearing your extra-smart suit,' she observed without taking her eyes off the telly.
I grinned at her, and indulged for a moment in her appearance. Her short blonde hair with those delicate wisps that trailed invitingly along the back of her neck and her cute nose and those high, almost Eurasian, cheekbones and full lips and those baby-blue eyes. She was thirteen years younger than me, but she was still stunning and could have passed for late thirties. Easily. But then I'm biased, because I love my family. Including Jackie, my older daughter, who, at seventeen, is still in the terrible teens and often does impressions of Kevin and Perry.
I walked over to Michelle and kissed her neck, smelling her beautiful natural aroma of skin and sunshine. She was still suntanned from our recent family holiday in Cuba and I always marvel at how evenly and effortlessly she tans. Unlike me, who tends to go red and blotchy, which means I have to top the phizog up with a spray of aerosol amber.
As I moved away from Michelle, she picked up the remote and killed the trash on the telly. Her eyes were now trained on me, and it was a look I recognised as a search for truth. Her husband was about to go out all night and she wanted reassurance that it was all work and no play.
'Why your best lounge suit?' she asked. 'Shouldn't you be in your DJ?'
I sighed deliberately, showing her the frustration of having to explain yet again. 'Sweetheart, I supply the doormen. I employ the doormen. I'm in charge of the doormen. I only wear a dinner jacket when I have to deputise because of illness.'
'So what are you doing tonight?'
'I've got two new clubs to visit to drum up more business.'
A half-truth. Only one new club to visit, but I like to give the impression that my nights mooching around the clubs is not all play and no work. 'Plus,' I added for emphasis, 'I've got to go to the Liquid Velvet to give a pep talk to the boys after we had that fracas with the Yanks last week.'
'And that's going to take all night, is it?'
I jerked a thumb at the kitchen clock. 'Come on, Michelle. It's a quarter-to-ten now. By the time I drive to the West End and park, it'll be half-past. So don't wait up for me.'
She pouted and it was curiously attractive. I placed a hand over hers. 'I love you, Michelle. You're the only girl for me, sweetheart. You must know that.'
She shrugged. 'I do. It's just ...'
'I get lonely without you. You work such unsocial hours, and always on Friday and Saturday nights. I just wish we could spend more time together on the weekend.'
'They're the club's busiest nights, you know that.'
I felt the mobile in my pocket vibrate and heard its faint bleep. I fumbled in my jacket pocket and scanned the display. It was from Mal MacIntyre at the Kismet Club.
Shit! What did he want?
The message read: 'Ring me asap.'
'Fuck!' I complained, mainly for Michelle's benefit, so she could see I was a working guy with problems to sort out. 'What the hell does MacIntyre want?' I clicked to call back and told Michelle, 'Got an urgent call to make.'
It rang just twice before Mal picked up. 'Freddie Weston here. What's up?'
Mal's cracked and ageing voice had a whine to it that was irritating. 'Freddie, I'm up shit creek. It's Saturday night —'
'Yeah, I do know that, Mal,' I interrupted.
'— and I've only got one doorman out front. And I need two – minimum!'
'Fuck! Who's missing?'
'Fingers. He called me to say he had an urgent job come up.'
I raised my voice. 'Fuck him! Useless wanker!'
I caught Michelle's look of disapproval and turned away slightly. Mal MacIntyre went on to tell me that John Jolly, otherwise known as 'Fingers,' might be along later, depending on how his job went. I offered to pop down right away and deputise until he got there, and then hung up.
'Problems?' Michelle asked.
I stood up. 'Yeah. The Kismet Club's only got one doorman on tonight, so I'm going to have to fill in for John Jolly.'
She nodded at my suit. 'Shame, with you all done up for the West End.'
I detected slight triumph in her tone, as if she was pleased my night of PR enjoyment had been curtailed. Still, I couldn't blame her. She likes the reassurance that I do work, instead of gallivanting, and perhaps playing, away from home. Not that I do. Well, seldom do. It has been known on odd occasions, but that's purely a bloke thing, something men have done throughout the ages, since they were living in caves probably. But I'd never let it ruin our marriage.
'I'll try not to wake you when I get in,' I said, for the umpteenth time. 'I must dash.'
'You're not going to change into your DJ?'
'No time,' I said. 'I've got a black bow tie in the glove compartment. I'll stick that on.' I leant over and kissed her on the lips. 'I'll see you tomorrow.'
While I backed the Jag out of the garage, I thought about Fingers, wondering if he would show up later. It was fucking inconvenient, and there was always a chance the job could go wrong. Apart from being a club doorman, Fingers is a bone-breaker. For reasons of infidelity, gambling debts, or just mean-spiritedness, someone will hire Fingers to break someone's bones. The going rate is twenty-five notes per finger with a minimum of five fingers. And he'll do special rates, like all ten fingers and both arms for half a monkey.
John Jolly, aka Fingers, is a big geezer and well able to take care of himself, but he has to live with the knowledge that there is a law of averages and someone will eventually identify who was responsible for the excruciating pain of their snapped digits and go after him. I'd hate to be in his shoes when that day of reckoning happens.
I only hoped it wasn't on this particular night in May. As I drove round Wanstead Common, my mind became a clutter of violent thoughts, and I winced as I imagined the snapping back of fingers and thumbs and the agonising pain. I also knew that Fingers was like most men going off to a rewarding job, happy in his work. I could picture the scene.
* * *
The Last Dance pub was in a back street just off Mile End Road and Fingers stood squashed at the crowded bar sipping a large Bushmills. He would have preferred a pint but he didn't want to compromise the job by having to go for a piss. Although it was only ten o'clock and the pub would have an extension until one, he couldn't risk taking his eyes off his target, in case the bloke was on a crawl and decided to move to another pub. In fact, Fingers hoped he would, because then he could get the job done and get to the Kismet to earn a few more readies.
He could see the target at the end of the bar, a scumbag in a cheap denim jacket, greasy, lanky hair that looked as if he'd trimmed it himself when he was on a binge night out, and pock marks and acne glowing on his rodent-like features, which should have disappeared long before his fortieth birthday.
If Fingers ever felt sorry for his victims, it was a brief indulgence he flirted with until he thought about the money. He usually managed to justify the work by telling himself if he didn't do it there was always someone else who would. And when the victim looked like this arsehole – as useful as a fart in a spacesuit – then he obviously deserved what he had coming to him.
The arsehole glanced furtively over his shoulder, as if he had good reason to be nervous, and his eyes swept the bar for predators. Fingers stared at him with fascination, wondering what his crime was. He looked like a grass. On the other hand, Fingers was intelligent enough not to judge on appearances. The client hadn't told him how the scumbag had flouted the unwritten law – sometimes it was best not to know – but as the client had paid for only the one hand, Fingers guessed it was probably a minor warning, otherwise this dickhead would be in traction for weeks.
Staring thoughtfully at his victim, Fingers suddenly became aware of their eyes meeting. He looked away casually and then dropped his head and stared into his whiskey, swirling it in the glass before he took a sip. He glanced casually at his watch, hoping that when he looked up and focused on his victim again the man would have thought nothing of it and would be scanning the rest of the pub for another source to fear.
But when he looked across to the other side of the bar, the scumbag was gone.
Fingers knew he couldn't have gone to the bog because the Gents was on his side of the bar, so he must have slipped out into the night faster than greased lightning.
Fingers downed what was left of his Bushmills, slammed the glass on to the counter, squeezed his way through the crowd in the bar and exited hurriedly. He almost collided with three men standing in a cloud of tobacco smoke, mumbled an apology and a 'goodnight, gents,' and stepped forwards, looking both ways and wondering which way the arsehole had legged it. He couldn't see anyone in the dark street going away from Mile End Road towards a small estate of four-storey flats, so he guessed that his target would head for the sanctuary of the busy street where he would feel safe. Fingers hurried towards Mile End Road, glancing left and right when he got there. Apart from the heavy traffic zooming by, the pedestrian part of the road to his left was almost deserted; there was just one person he could see – a minicab driver getting out of his car and heading for a Chinese takeaway. From the right a gang of girls approached, giggling, shouting and swearing as they staggered and swayed in a line. But over the tops of their heads, he could just make out a scrawny figure, shoulders hunched, walking in the direction of Whitechapel. The bloke was less than fifty yards away, walking normally, feeling safe now he was on the main road.
Avoiding the inebriated gang of girls, Fingers set off after his quarry. He knew this area quite well, and he knew there would soon be a stretch of road where there were very few shops – and what shops there were would be long shut for the night. And, apart from the one he'd just come from, there wasn't another pub for a good quarter of a mile – maybe further. Fingers knew his target was heading for a stretch of road that was deserted and he remembered there was a bookie's about two hundred yards ahead, and right next to it was an alleyway.
He remembered the betting shop all right. He'd spent many hours in there, staring desperately at the TV screens along with all the other losers. Mug's game. Thank Christ he'd overcome the addiction and rarely placed a bet anymore. Now he spent more time pursuing the losers who'd done their shirt and owed the wrong person.
He put on a spurt, lessening the gap between him and his victim. He could see the man's lanky hair clearly now, and the grubby denim jacket. And, as certain animals can smell the fear of their prey, he could smell it on the retreating man as his intimidating footsteps increased their pace.
They were almost at the betting shop now. Fingers whipped a thin cigar from his inside pocket, held it close to his face and called out, "Scuse me, mate!'
The man's fearful hesitation was fleeting before he pretended he hadn't heard and carried on, walking hurriedly.
Fingers ran after him and grabbed his shoulder.
'Hold up!' They were right by the alley now.
Nearly cringing with terror, the loser's head jerked 'round, staring into his tormenter's face, his fearful expression similar to a man in a horror film who has seen the monster from hell. But, disconcertingly, his tormentor smiled reassuringly.
'You got a light?'
Hands shaking, the man fumbled in his jacket pocket and took out a Zippo lighter.
Fingers grabbed the man's wrist to steady his shaking hand, leant forwards and accepted the light, drawing on his cigar. He kept hold of the scumbag's wrist, took the cigar out of his mouth with his other hand, and stared closely and intimidatingly into the man's eyes.
'Left handed, are you?'
'I asked if you was left handed.'
There was confusion and fear in the man's watery eyes. Fingers noticed a bus going by, followed by a taxi. Not that it mattered. It just looked like two blokes stopping to light up. And even if any of the bus or taxi passengers saw one man dragging another into an alleyway, what did it matter? It would be over in less than a minute.
Excerpted from Muscle by David Barry. Copyright © 2013 David Barry. Excerpted by permission of Wimbledon Publishing Company.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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