Category Archives: Paul Heatley

Poolside

Someone knocked on the door. Shane looked at it. He looked at it for a long time, until there was another knock. He got up, answered it.
+++++Shane had moved to the apartment block a month before, hadn’t spoken to anyone else in the building save for one guy that lived a few doors down. They’d say hello when they passed each other in the hallway. He was at the door now, and he’d brought a friend.
+++++“Hey,” he said. He wore a wide smile that showed off crooked and yellowed teeth. The friend said nothing. He didn’t smile. Looked like the strong silent type, with hooded eyes, severe features, a shaved head and hunched shoulders.
+++++Shane nodded. “Hey.”
+++++“How you doin today?”
+++++“I’m fine.”
+++++“You busy?” The guy looked beyond Shane, into his apartment. The television was on, it played an old black and white, but it was turned down low.
+++++“No.”
+++++The guy leaned into the doorframe, made himself comfortable. “Name’s Wilson, by the way.” He offered a hand and Shane took it, gave his own name. They shook. The other guy, the big guy, his hands were balled into fists. He didn’t offer a handshake and Shane wasn’t sure he’d blinked since the door had opened. “Hot out there.”
+++++“That so?”
+++++“That’s so. Hot in there?”
+++++“It’s all right.”
+++++“This side of the building, it’s west-facing. Give it a couple more hours, you’ll start burning up. How long you lived here now?”
+++++“Month. Give or take.”
+++++“Keep to yourself, don’t you?”
+++++“Guess so.”
+++++“You gonna invite us in?” Wilson brushed a greasy lock of hair back out of his face, slicked it to his scalp.
+++++Shane stepped aside. “Sure.” He led them to the sitting area, turned the television off. The movie was ending. He hadn’t really been watching it. He sat on the chair and Wilson relaxed into the sofa. The big guy stayed standing, looked the room over with a curled lip like he disapproved of the décor.
+++++“In case you was curious,” Wilson said, “my buddy here, the quiet guy, you may not have noticed him, his name’s Joe.”
+++++Joe grunted acknowledgment.
+++++“So tell me, Shane – young guy like yourself, on your own, what brought you here?”
+++++“What d’you mean?”
+++++“C’mon, man, this place is a dump. This building, it’s the kind of dump that fills its walls with lonely losers – present company excluded of course. But you don’t strike me as a lonely loser, you’ve still got some vitality about you. Let me guess, let me guess – you just had a break-up, right?”
+++++“It that obvious?”
+++++“It’s an educated guess. Cos the other kind of people that live here, they love drugs. And you don’t strike me as a user, either.”
+++++“I don’t make a habit of it.”
+++++“No, sir. Only fools do. So, the rent’s cheap and there’re always rooms available, I reckoned you had to get out of somewhere in a hurry – boom, it’s lady troubles. It’s always lady troubles.”
+++++“That why you live here?”
+++++“No, sir. Lady troubles have never been trouble for me. How long since you split?”
+++++“Been a month. Right before I came here.”
+++++“Why’d you split? She cheat?”
+++++“No, nothing like that. Just guess when something’s over, it’s over, right?”
+++++“Sure, that’s the way, just move on and don’t look back. But let me warn you, you stay here too long, you’re gonna end up like the losers. You hear me? You don’t want that, man. Don’t lose that spark you got, we all got it, but they, those guys, they just sit round with nothing but the walls for company and it just ebbs out of them. Get yourself back on that wagon, that pussy wagon, quick as you can, because nothing gets you over old pussy like new pussy. You got a car, right?”
+++++Shane blinked. “Yeah.”
+++++“Red Ford, right?”
+++++“Yeah.”
+++++“It’s a sweet-lookin car, man.”
+++++“Paint’s fading.”
+++++“Paint don’t drive the car. Speakin of, Joe and I, we need a ride.”
+++++“Well, like we said, I’m new here. I don’t have no bus timetable.”
+++++Wilson laughed. “It’s barely gonna eat into your day, man. We just need a ride out to the motel by the interstate.”
+++++“Why?”
+++++“We gotta see a friend.”
+++++“How much he owe you?”
+++++“He owes us. Let’s leave it at that. Look, we’ll pay your fuel and give you fifty bucks for your time.”
+++++Shane whistled through his teeth. “Jesus. He must owe a lot.”
+++++“It ain’t always about money. You gonna drive?”
+++++“Just to be clear, you ain’t offering me a job?”
+++++“No, I ain’t offering you a job.”
+++++“Cos I’d be flattered, but, it’s, I mean that kinda job, it ain’t for me.”
+++++“We just need a ride, man.”
+++++Shane looked at Joe. Joe was looking out the window. The sun shone there. Shane couldn’t remember when last he’d left the block for anything over than a trip to the grocery store. Then Joe turned, looked straight at him. Waited for him to answer the question. “Sure,” he said.

 

***

 

The air was hot. They drove with the windows down. Joe sat in the back, never spoke a word. Wilson rode up front. “Appreciate this, man.”
+++++Shane felt the sun shining down on his arm where it hung over the side of the door, prickling the skin. Wilson gave directions. They drove for twenty minutes then, in the distance at the end of the road, Shane could see the motel sign.
+++++“Pull in there,” Wilson said.
+++++Shane parked the car. To their left there was a pool enclosed by a rusted chain fence. There was much detritus caught in its links. The pool itself wasn’t particularly big. It hadn’t been built to swim lengths, or even widths. Judging by the scummy surface, by the dead leaves, the used condoms and the swimming frog, the residents weren’t using it for much of anything.
+++++Someone was next to the pool. A blonde in a one-piece bathing costume decorated with horizontal red and white stripes. A wide straw hat shaded her face and shoulders, and red-rimmed sunglasses covered her eyes so Shane couldn’t tell if she was looking back at him. She started to smile, and he guessed she was.
+++++Wilson and Joe hadn’t noticed her. “Just wait here,” Wilson said, getting out the car. Joe followed him. “We won’t be long. Ten minutes, tops.”
+++++“Sure,” Shane said. He watched them go up the steps to the walkway. They went halfway along then knocked on a door. A moment later it opened, and they went inside. Shane didn’t see the room’s occupant.
+++++“Hey.”
+++++He looked. It was the girl by the pool.
+++++“Looks hot in there,” she said.
+++++“Looks hotter out there,” he said.
+++++Her legs were long, the left bent at the knee, her pink-painted toenails pointed in his direction. “I’m cool.”
+++++“You’re half-naked.”
+++++“Maybe that’s where you’re going wrong.”
+++++Shane looked her over. She looked good. She looked out of place amongst all the trash, the dead bushes, and the filthy pool. She looked like she’d taken a wrong turn on her way to a photo-shoot.
+++++Shane got out the car, went to the space in the fence where its gate should have been. “You planning on taking a dip in that thing?”
+++++“God, no,” she said. “But this here’s the best place to catch the sun, and it’s such a beautiful day, ain’t it?”
+++++“It’s certainly looking up.”
+++++“And this is the only lounger in the place that ain’t been trashed or cut up.” She lay back, stretched her arms above her head then laced her fingers behind her neck. A smirk played at the corners of her mouth.
+++++“You live here?”
+++++“Yeah.”
+++++“Which one?”
+++++“Your buddies there went up to see my boyfriend.”
+++++“Oh. They friends of his?”
+++++“Not really.”
+++++“You know why they’re here to see him?”
+++++“You don’t?”
+++++“I barely know them. They just asked for a ride.”
+++++“What d’you think they came out here for?”
+++++“Money.”
+++++She took one hand from behind her head, made her fingers into a gun and cocked them at him. “It’s money,” she said. “It’s always about money.”
+++++Shane nodded, looked round, back to the room they had gone into. The door was closed. The curtains were drawn. He watched, like he expected them to step back out any moment. They didn’t. He turned back to the girl. “How long you think they’re gonna be?”
+++++She shrugged. “Long as it takes them to finish measuring each other’s dicks. You know how it is. Y’all have gotta have a pissing contest first before you can just get down to business, right?”
+++++“I wouldn’t know.”
+++++“Sure you do. And that Wilson, he’s a big talker especially, ain’t he?”
+++++“He sure talked more than Joe did.”
+++++“He the big guy?”
+++++“Yeah.”
+++++“Never met him before. I’m guessing he’s supposed to be the muscle, supposed to scare my man.”
+++++“Will he?”
+++++“Hell no.”
+++++“You see Wilson much?”
+++++“Coupla times. He’s an asshole.”
+++++“Seemed all right to me.”
+++++“Then you really don’t know him.”
+++++He looked the girl up and down, tried not to make it obvious but couldn’t help himself. He wished he was wearing shades. Her legs were long and toned, her arms likewise, and her blonde hair hung down over her shoulders. He framed her in his mind, Venus on a lounger next to a dirty motel pool.
+++++She smiled. “What you thinking?”
+++++“I think you got an idea.”
+++++“I think maybe I do.”
+++++She was flirting. He looked back up to the motel room, the door still closed and the curtains still drawn. He bit his lip. She seemed bored, and grateful for his company. Figured if he invited her to go for a ride, she was gonna say yes.
+++++“Hey, you wanna –”
+++++There was an explosion behind him like a crash of thunder, and the sound of glass breaking, the shards falling like rain. Shane flinched, ducked and turned, saw Joe thrown through the window. He stared as the door was flung open and Wilson leapt out, stumbled, fell out of view. He raised his head, tried to run, but a man had appeared in the doorway behind him, a big man with long hair round the side of his bald head, a handlebar moustache around his sneering mouth. He wore a wifebeater with sweat stains at the armpits, and he carried something in his hand.
+++++Wilson tried to flee, but the man grabbed him by his hair, threw him into the railing. He wrenched his head back, pressed a knife to his neck. Wilson screamed. The man slit his throat and the scream got cut off, turned into a choking noise. Blood sprayed. Wilson slumped, hung over the railing.
+++++Shane shook. His feet wouldn’t move. Behind him, the girl laughed. Her boyfriend, up on the railing, looked down, saw Shane. Shane’s legs came to life. He ran for his car, jumped behind the wheel. He gunned the engine, spun the wheels reversing and burned rubbed out of the parking lot. Behind him, through the open windows, he heard the girl’s laughter still.

The Straightener

Listen instead!
Listen instead!

Graeme Taylor stood on the banks of Gateshead. He leaned on the railing and looked across the River Tyne, to Newcastle. He was between the bridges. On his right was the blinking half-eye of the Millennium Bridge. He could see people walking upon it, could see the flash of tourist cameras. To his left was the Tyne Bridge, the headlights of cars and buses blurring as they sped over it. Behind him was Tracksuit Tony, leaning against his car. He smoked, the cigarette hardly leaving his lips between exhalations. He was nervous, but he was trying not to let it show.
+++++“Graeme, mate,” said Tony. “Howay.”
+++++Graeme checked the time. “There’s no rush.”
+++++“I just wanna get there.”
+++++“Relax. A dead man can’t be late to his own funeral.”
+++++Tony didn’t like that. “Cheers mate – really, thanks a lot.” He flicked what was left of the cigarette, folded his arms. “You really know how to inspire a fella.”
+++++“It’s not my job to inspire you, Tony. I’ve just gotta get you there.”
+++++“Well right now you’re doing a pretty shitty job, I’d say.”
+++++Graeme smiled. Above them, like a pulsing, mirrored slug cut in half, was the Sage. Streetlights reflected off its carapace. Graeme pointed at it. “You ever been in there?”
+++++Tony looked. “Nah, I don’t think it’s for me. They divvint play my kind of music. They got something on you fancy, like?” Though he tried to look and sound casual, there was a tremor in Tony’s voice, and his hands shook when they weren’t tucked into his armpits.
+++++“Nah.” Graeme turned away. “I don’t reckon they do. Come on down here a second. Look at this.”
+++++“Graeme, howay!”
+++++“Come on now, get yourself down here.”
+++++Tony pushed himself off the car, made his way to the railing. Everyone called him Tracksuit Tony because of the tracksuits he always wore, usually navy blue in colour and with two white stripes down each arm and leg. Tony worked out a lot. The outline of the muscles in his chest and shoulders were visible through the jacket.
+++++Graeme had had muscles like that, but a very long time ago. He was older now, and softer, and when he’d studied his reflection earlier that day and thought about having a shave he’d been alarmed at how many of his beard hairs seemed to have suddenly turned white.
+++++Tony looked at Newcastle. “What?”
+++++“Not there, man. Look down, at the water.”
+++++Tony looked down, at the very still surface of the black water. “What, man?”
+++++“There – y’see all the streetlights reflected in it? The way they look kind of blurry? Doesn’t it look just like that painting?”
+++++“What painting?”
+++++“That really famous one – Van Gogh did it.”
+++++“The sunflowers?”
+++++Graeme shot him an incredulous look, one eyebrow raised. “Nah, man, not the fucking sunflowers. The lights above the town.”
+++++Tony’s face was blank.
+++++“Lookit, it doesn’t matter. How do you feel?”
+++++“I’m fine.”
+++++“No, you’re not. You’re bricking it.”
+++++“He’s gonna kick me fucking head in.”
+++++Graeme squeezed his shoulder. “Just take it like a man. They’ll respect you more for it.”
+++++“Fantastic.” Tony spat into the water. “And I suppose that respect is gonna make me heal quicker, eh?”
+++++“Never know. And if it’s not too difficult, you might as well try and smack him a couple of times an’all.”
+++++“I’ve seen bigger blokes than me have a go. They couldn’t knock him down.”
+++++“Don’t try to knock him down. Just try and hit him.”
+++++Tony sighed through his nose. “This is bullshit, man. I was just doing me job.”
+++++“Well, you made a mistake son, whether you knew it or not. It’s better you just get this over with. It’s not worth the hassle if you don’t.”
+++++Tony sighed again, harder this time. He shook his head and ran his hands back through his hair.
+++++“Right, that’s enough dawdling,” Graeme said. “Let’s get a move on, eh? Get this over with for ya.”
+++++They went to Tony’s car. Graeme got in the passenger seat. The car stunk of cigarette smoke and the ashtray was overflowing with stubbed butts. They made their way to the Tyne Bridge and crossed over into Newcastle. Tony drove one-handed, chewed the thumbnail on the other. He didn’t put the radio on. They sat in silence.
+++++Graeme looked down as they reached the other side of the bridge, to the shapes of people below, young couples strolling hand-in-hand to the next bar or club, and tourists angling their cameras for the best shots of the iconic bridges. He saw a lot of cameras flash. He cleared his throat. “I remember what the Quayside used to be like, before they did it all up.”
+++++Tony grunted.
+++++“Before it was all fancy hotels and expensive cocktail bars. Do you remember?”
+++++“No. I don’t know. I don’t think about it.”
+++++“You know what it makes me think of now? It’s like when you put a plaster on a cut. It might cover up what’s wrong, but if you peel it back you can still see all the rot underneath. Some cuts just run too deep.”
+++++Tony pulled down a back alley, drove slowly down the cobbled street. He stopped outside the gym. The neon sign above the door was off. He killed the engine but didn’t move. Graeme let him take his time. He looked at the door of the gym. It looked closed, but he knew they’d already be inside.
+++++“How bad’s it gonna be?” Tony said.
+++++“It’s gonna be bad,” Graeme said. “I’m not gonna lie to you, son.”
+++++Tony took a deep breath, held it in. “You ever had one of these?”
+++++“A straightener? Why aye. Had a few in my time, lad.”
+++++Tony looked at Graeme. He looked at him for a long time, then nodded once and got out the car.
+++++Graeme followed. They went to the door. Graeme knocked. It opened promptly. A shaved head poked out, looked them over. It settled on Graeme. “All right, mate?”
+++++Graeme recognised the face, but he didn’t know the name. Most of the younger lads all looked alike to him. “All right. We’re here.”
+++++The shaved head retreated, opened the door wider to admit them. Graeme led the way. Tony followed close behind.
+++++The gym was uncharacteristically quiet. There was no music playing, no scrape of machines, no meatheads grunting.
+++++Neil Doyle leaned against a mirrored wall, hands in his pockets. He took them out as they entered and pushed himself from the wall, crossed the room and shook Graeme’s hand. “How are you?”
+++++Neil’s grip was crushing, but Graeme squeezed back and didn’t let the pinch show. “Not bad, mate. How are you?”
+++++Neil smiled. His teeth were chipped. His knuckles were like almonds. His bald head was criss-crossed with scars. He let go of Graeme’s hand and looked at Tony and his smile faded. “How you doin, son?”
+++++Tony nodded but he didn’t say anything. Scared his voice would break, more than likely.
+++++Neil’s daughter sat on a rack of dumbbells. Her name was Jasmine. She was young, maybe eighteen, wearing black jeans and a black vest and round her neck hung an assortment of necklaces of different sizes and decoration. She gave Tony the stink-eye. She was the source of the trouble. Tony was a bouncer. She’d gotten rowdy in his club and he’d kicked her out. Tony didn’t know who she was. He only vaguely knew who Neil Doyle was.
+++++Neil Doyle owned the gym they were in. He also owned a couple of nightclubs, none of which Tony covered the doors for. Before he’d moved into legitimate business, Neil had been a renowned hard man. He still was, but these days when someone needed sorted he left it to his son.
+++++Michael Doyle stood to one side. He popped his knuckles and he waited. He was tall, over six foot, and broad like the back-end of a bus. It was clear that he spent most of his time in the gym. His biceps bulged against his t-shirt sleeves like they were ready to rip the fabric. His neck was wider than his head. He looked Tony up and down, his face blank. Tony looked back. He tried to keep his face blank, too. He failed.
+++++Jasmine sneered. She chewed on her tongue like she was chewing on gum. “Fuckin told ya, didn’t I? Fuckin told ya you needed to watch yerself. You kna who I am now, divvint ya?”
+++++Neil shot her a glance and she fell silent, then he popped his knuckles like he was about to fight. “Should we get on with it, then?”
+++++Tony cleared his throat. He took off his tracksuit jacket and gave it to Graeme. He wore a white vest underneath. Michael took off his t-shirt. His torso was a writhing mass of thickly knotted muscle. He looked like something from a comic book. Graeme slapped Tony on the back. “Go for it, son.”
+++++Neil clapped his hands. “Howay.”
+++++They stood on mats. The fight started slow. They circled each other. Michael’s face never changed. He waited patiently for Tony to come forward. Tony wasn’t in any rush. Graeme tried to catch his eye, to encourage him to make a move. Tony wouldn’t look. They circled.
+++++“Howay, son,” Graeme said. “Get it over with.”
+++++Tony looked like he’d been slapped. Michael’s face finally broke. He grinned. He stepped forward and swung a heavy arm. Tony ducked it, lunged forward, peppered Michael’s rock-hard mid-section with ineffectual jabs. He jumped free of Michael’s reaching arms and swung hard at his face, caught him on the jaw. Michael reeled, stepped back. He spat blood. A thin red line trickled down from the corner of his mouth. Tony stayed on him, struck him in the face and head.
+++++Michael pushed him off. Tony lost his footing, went down, scrambled back up in time to catch Michael’s fist square in his face. Tony crumpled. Blood spilled from his nose and his mouth. He forced himself onto his stomach, tried to push himself back up. His blood splashed to the mat. His arms gave way. Graeme looked at Jasmine. She was leaning forward, she was smiling. She bit excitedly into her bottom lip.
+++++Michael circled Tony, took his time. He waited until Tony was up on his hands and his knees and then kicked him in the ribs. Tony flipped onto his back. Michael reached down and grabbed him by the front of his vest, hauled him up to his feet and hurled him onto another rack of weights, where his sister was not sitting. He kept hold of him with one hand and punched him repeatedly in the face with the other. Tony’s cheeks split, his lips split, his eyebrows split. His face was red. His vest was red. He’d gone limp. Michael moved his fist down. He worked the body. Tony vomited over his shoulder. Some of it ran down Michael’s back. It didn’t stop him.
+++++Graeme looked at Neil, caught his eye. He raised an eyebrow. Neil nodded. “That’ll do, Micky.”
+++++Michael stopped punching. He let go of Tony. Tony hit the floor. He lay very still.
+++++Neil looked at Jasmine. “Happy?”
+++++She smiled.
+++++“So,” Graeme said. “That sorted then?”
+++++“Aye,” Neil said. “Sorted.” He went to Tony and crouched next to him on the ground. He slapped him on the back. “Nice effort, son.” He rubbed Tony between the shoulders then stood up. He turned to Graeme. “You manage?”
+++++“Aye, I’ll manage.”
+++++Michael wiped the vomit from his shoulder and the blood from his knuckles with a towel. He pulled his t-shirt back on. The Doyle’s stood to one side while Graeme scooped Tony from the floor, slung an arm over his shoulder and dragged him to the door. The skinhead that had let them in held it open for them to leave. Neil and Michael applauded briefly. Graeme gave them a thumbs-up without turning. “I’ll see yous later, lads.”
+++++He got Tony outside, put him in the passenger seat of his car then got behind the wheel. He didn’t start the engine, not right away. “How do you feel?”
+++++Tony’s nose was twisted and flattened. It made a whistling sound when he breathed. “Fantastic,” he said. When he opened his mouth Graeme saw his chipped teeth coated red. The front of his vest was soaked through.
+++++“Well, you got your licks in, that’s the important thing.”
+++++“Aye.” He coughed. “I feel like the real winner.”
+++++“You’re a champ.”
+++++“Fuck off, man.”
+++++Graeme laughed. “It’s over now, mate. You just close your eyes. I’ll get you home.”

Something In The Woods

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Listen instead!

Somethin’s bangin in my dreams, then there’s a smash and I wake up. It comes from next door, daddy’s room, then somethin’s outside. I hear it scrape against the side of the cabin.
+++++I jump outta bed, go to daddy’s room. I can hear the wind howlin like there’s a window open, and I can feel the cold against my bare legs, then all over my body, dressed as I am in my nightdress. His room’s empty, and I can see that the window’s smashed, bits of glass scattered on the wood floor. The bed is all torn up like an animal’s been at it, and there’re what look like claw marks on the walls. Daddy didn’t even get a chance to pull down his rifle from where it hangs above his bed.
+++++To my right, his closet is open but it’s empty of clothes, just some broken shackles hangin from the top of it and loose at the bottom, ankle height. I call for daddy, though he ain’t here, and I can hear myself gettin louder, can feel myself gettin frantic, almost screamin now, headin for the window cos if he ain’t replyin he ain’t inside, must be outside. The bushes are rustlin out there, might be the wind, might be somethin in the woods. “Daddy?”
+++++That somethin growls.
+++++It’s out there, amongst the bushes and the trees, and it’s got my daddy, so I grab his rifle and jump out the shattered window, no time to get my boots on. Bits of glass and broken twigs dig into my soles but I ignore them, hurry into the foliage and keep the gun raised in case the thing shows up. I’m wonderin what it could be – a bear, a wolf, I don’t know. Daddy’s always told me, if I hear somethin outside I’m to leave it be.
+++++He sat me down on my bed right after we moved up here, away from school and all my friends. “You hear anythin in the woods, you just ignore it, okay? Leave it alone and it’ll leave you alone, y’understand?”
+++++I nodded.
+++++This was after momma had disappeared. He told me she wasn’t comin back. “Why not?”
+++++“She just ain’t.”
+++++“How do you know?”
+++++“She ain’t comin back, Goddamnit! Y’understand?” Daddy was shoutin. Daddy never normally shouts. He scared me and I started cryin, and he took me up in his arms, squeezed me tight and kept sayin I’m sorry, and he started cryin, but his tears were hot and didn’t seem like they were ever gonna stop and it didn’t feel like he was apologisin for shoutin.
+++++But he never said anything about if an animal came inside and pulled him right outta his bed. I know what he would do if it was me, though, out in the cold and maybe hurt.
+++++I come to a clearing and stop. It’s well lit, the moon shining down through the openin in the treetops. My feet are achin. I look down and there’s blood between my toes, round my ankles. My shins are all cut up from thorns.
+++++There’s a noise, somethin’s in the trees, runnin circles round the clearing. I shoulder the rifle and I hear its growl again. Daddy taught me how to shoot, though nothin bigger’n a rabbit. I remember everythin he taught me now, to stay cool, keep breathin. The bushes stop rustlin, the thing stops runnin, and everythin goes quiet.
+++++Then I feel its breath on my neck. I turn and it straightens, about seven foot tall on two legs, just a broad mass of sleek black fur over ripplin, flexin muscle. Its eyes are bloodshot yellow, lookin right into mine, and there’s foam frothin at its gums, some spit hangs down, splashes on my cheek. I’m frozen, can’t scream. Then it’s on me. The gun goes off when it hits the ground, fires into the bushes. I’m cryin out for my daddy, but he doesn’t come, and the thing on top is rippin me apart, teeth and claws sharper than the thorns.
+++++I black out, fade in, I can’t feel anythin anymore. Then it’s almost mornin, the sun comin up, I’m fadin out for maybe the last time, but daddy’s here now, he’s got me in his arms and he’s screamin, and there’s blood on his bare chest and round his mouth, on his teeth, but it’s okay now cos daddy’s here, he’s got me, everythin’s gonna be all right.

Lou’s Cowboy Blues

A cowboy sits in the shade outside the restroom, smoking what’s left of a cigarette all the way down to the butt. He looks up as we approach and his gaze lingers on Shirley. He gives a low whistle when she gets alongside him, and tips the brim of his hat. “My, my,” he says, his voice a drawl. “Ain’t you a big one?”
+++++Shirley doesn’t look at him, but she’s trying not to smile. His tone is complimentary, not mocking. She’s over six foot, taller than me, broader in the shoulders, too. Her hair’s brown and today she’s got it tied back with a blue flower-print scarf wrapped round her head and she wears a red blouse with only the three middle buttons done, and a pair of denim shorts that almost cover all of her ass. She wears cream shoes with a thick heel and frilly ankle socks coming out the top, and those heels give her an added four inches or so, not that she needs it, but they make her tanned legs look real firm too, and when she walks you can see the muscles in her thighs and calves tensing up real nice.
+++++The cowboy turns, realises I’ve stopped and I’m staring at him. He doesn’t care. He smiles at me, flicks ash and sucks on the butt though there’s next to nothing left. “You got a smoke?” he says. Looking at him now, up close, I can see that he’s not as old as I first thought he was. His eyes are brown and narrowed, even in the shade, and his skin’s taut and leathery from being out in the sun, and he hasn’t shaved in a few days, but at the most I’d reckon he’s in his early thirties.
+++++I tell him, “I don’t smoke.”
+++++He keeps right on smiling at me. “Shame,” he says.
+++++The bathroom stinks of piss, but I’d expected it to smell worse. There’re crude pornographic drawings on the tiles and the broken mirror hanging over the cracked porcelain sinks. The mirror’s smashed in the middle, looks like a gunshot. There’re phone numbers too, accompanied by the names of men and women, each of them promising a good time. I piss quick and go to wash my hands but the tap spits out brown water so I just leave it, head back outside and Shirley’s already there and now she’s talking with the sitting cowboy. He’s got another cigarette, and he’s smoking it.
+++++I join them. Shirley looks like she’s been laughing. The cowboy turns, and he’s still smiling. “I didn’t catch your name before, friend,” he says.
+++++“Llewelyn.”
+++++He tips his hat. “Pleasure to make your acquaintance, Llewelyn. Name’s Bob. I was just talkin with your lady here, turns out we’re all headin in the same direction.”
+++++“That so? And where might you be going?”
+++++“Oh, just down the road a little ways.”
+++++“I told him we could give him a ride,” Shirley says. She smiles at me. She’s wearing the bright red lipstick that I like, that I bought her for her last birthday because she’d been telling me she could never find the right shade. Red’s classic, I said. Go with red. She was doubtful until she tried it on. She wouldn’t admit I was right, because that’s not her way, but she wears it nearly all the time.
+++++“You ain’t got a car of your own, Bob?”
+++++He nods at the gas station. “It’s in the shop round back. Broke down about a mile from this place, I had to walk here and get a pickup. Until you people came along it looked like I was gonna have to spend the night sleepin on the backseat.”
+++++“How you gonna get back here when it’s fixed?”
+++++“Bus, I reckon.”
+++++“You can’t get a bus now?”
+++++“Llewelyn,” Shirley says, shooting me this stern look like I ought to play nice.
+++++“I’m short on change, man. Reason I’m headin on down the road, I got a buddy owes me a few bucks.”
+++++I look at Shirley and she looks back at me. The decision’s already been made. I head to the car and they soon follow. Bob sits in the back. As we pull out from the station, he leans into the front, right next to me, and he talks into my ear, a whisper, says, “Hey, Llewelyn buddy, where’s she hidin her cock?” Then he turns to Shirley, looks her up and down, puts his tongue between his teeth and makes a sucking sound, then says, “Darlin, you are magnificent.”

*

Shirley’s got eyes for the cowboy, for his looks, his charm, his fucking hat – I don’t know what it is, but I’m playing chauffeur as the two of them laugh at one another, ignoring me, Shirley twisted round in her seat so her knee’s almost in my lap.
+++++She’s asking him, “You need this money bad?”
+++++“Well, I know I said it was just a few bucks, but darlin it’s a little more than that. Ought to be enough to get me back on my feet, anyway.”
+++++“You want, we could take you straight to see this friend of yours.”
+++++“Sweetheart, if it’s no inconvenience to you good folks then that would just about make my day.” I don’t need to look in the rear-view to see his smile. Those teeth, tobacco-stained but otherwise as straight as tombstones, have burned themselves into my mind’s eye.
+++++“It’s no inconvenience, honey,” Shirley says. “You just let Llewelyn know where you need to go.”
+++++Bob leans forward, squeezes my shoulder. “You know, I can’t tell you how lucky I am the two of you came along. You been real good to me, y’hear? I ain’t gonna forget it.” He’s got his hand on Shirley’s shoulder too, and she’s got her fingers on top of his.
+++++She turns to me then, finally acknowledging I’m still here, still travelling with her, still driving her. “Llewelyn, honey?” she says. “You might wanna slow down. This ain’t a race.”

*

Bob directs us to his friend’s house, and when we get outside I ask him, “What’s this fella owe you money for, Bob?”
+++++Llewelyn,” Shirley says, like I’m talking out of turn again.
+++++Bob manages to tear his eyes and his smile away from Shirley long enough to look at me. “Loaned it to him a while back, but he ain’t seen fit to repay me yet. Now our positions have flipped and he’s the one in good fortune while I’m trying my damnedest not to end up on skid row. I need that money back. I’m sure he’ll recall I was charitable to him in his time of need, and he’ll return the favour.”
+++++“Do you want us to come inside with you?” Shirley says.
+++++“No ma’am, but thank you for the offer. He and I go way back, I just need to talk to him. I don’t want him to feel like I’ve turned up in force now, do I? What kind of message would that send?”
+++++We wait in the car while Bob strolls up the pathway, taking his time, stopping to kick a stone into the dried grass. The front lawn is patchy and the house is in a state of disrepair. Whatever Bob’s friend used that loan for, it wasn’t to fix the joint up, or to move out of this shitty neighbourhood.
+++++We watch while Bob knocks on the door, then when he’s ushered inside by a body hidden in the shadows Shirley turns to me, jabs me in the arm. “You’re bein mighty rude today, Llewelyn,” she says.
+++++Mighty rude.” I raise an eyebrow. “That so?”
+++++“You’re askin questions out of turn. You know fine well you don’t ask a man about his finances.”
+++++“Why not? He seems like he’s willing to talk about anything – I mean, he ain’t shut up so far, huh?”
+++++Shirley looks at me with those green eyes of hers. “That supposed to mean somethin’?”
+++++“You and he seem to be getting along mighty fine. I mean, the two of you are already awful friendly.”
+++++Her eyes narrow. “You got somethin you wanna say to me, you better come right out and say it.”
+++++“I don’t like him. I don’t trust him. What’s he want from us anyway, other than a free ride cross-country. And there’s you, fluttering your eyelashes and offering him any damn thing he asks for.”
+++++“Why you always gotta be so cynical any time I try and make us a new friend?”
+++++“People out here, the kinda people we meet, on roads and in bars and wherever else, they ain’t lookin to be friends, you understand? They’re all out for somethin.”
+++++“When’d you get so cynical?”
+++++“Around the second time we were ripped off – remember that? Another trampy-lookin motherfucker you offered a ride to cos you wanna be everyone’s shinin saviour, and what happens? We’re left stranded in the middle of Buttfuck, Nowhere with no money and no car until my mama wires us some through, you forget about that?”
+++++“Of course I ain’t forgotten.”
+++++“Then why’re you actin’ like you have?”
+++++“Cos not everyone’s gotta be bad, Llewelyn. Besides, does he look like either one of those fellas to you?”
+++++“No,” I say. “He looks worse.”
+++++Shirley’s biting her lip, looks like she’s gonna blow. “You’re no saint either, Llewelyn. You forgotten the little incidents you’ve had on the road? Shit, you’re probably the baddest man out here.”
+++++“You tryin to say somethin now? You don’t wanna ride with me anymore?”
+++++She rolls her eyes, throws her head back against the rest and won’t look at me. “You hear what you wanna hear, Llewelyn. You always do.”
+++++Down the road a little ways I see a kid walking barefoot, dragging a toy cart. He stops and steps off the pavement, drops his pants round his ankles and takes a piss into the gutter, then pulls his pants back up and continues on his way.
+++++We don’t speak to each other for a while. I look at the house. I take a stab at conversation, “What’s takin him so long?” Shirley doesn’t answer. She looks bored but I know she’s mad as hell.
+++++Finally Bob leaves the house, comes strolling down to the car with a big fucking grin on his face and a bag on his back, and he slides into the backseat.
+++++“You get what you came for, honey?” Shirley says.
+++++“Oh, you betcha,” Bob says. Before he went in the house he smelled of cigarettes and sweat, but now there’s a little weed on him too, like they were getting high in there. “Hey, how about I treat the two of you for your kindness – I take the both of you out for dinner, how’s that sound?”
+++++Shirley answers quick, before I can open my mouth. “That sounds real nice of you, Bob. We’d love to join you, wouldn’t we Llewelyn?”
+++++I say nothing until she jabs me in the knee. “Sure.”
+++++“Swell,” Bob says. “I know this great place just a coupla blocks over. How about you crank the engine and I’ll give you directions, Lou buddy?”
+++++I start the car. Shirley laughs, guess she finally turns my way and sees the look on my face. “He hates bein called Lou,” she says.
+++++“Sorry, friend,” he says. He clamps a hand on my shoulder. His knuckles are bruised and bloodied. They didn’t look like that when he went inside. “Llewelyn just gets to be a bit of a mouthful sometimes. Let’s go get us some food, huh, Llewelyn?”

*

Bob takes us to some diner not far from his friend’s house, and the place is a dive. It’s one of those joints done up to look like a rail carriage, but all the metal on it is rusting and some of the windows have been smashed and covered up from the inside with cardboard. Hobo’s congregate at one end, taking shelter in the shadows, while at the other are a couple of kids that look like they’re selling drugs. We go inside, take a booth, and Bob orders burgers for each of us, doesn’t give us a chance to look at the menu, though I doubt they do much else.
+++++“It ain’t exactly the Ritz, but I’ve had some damn good eats here over the years,” Bob says. He leaves his hat on, even though we’re indoors. Left it on in the car too, probably left it on while he was visiting with his friend. I wonder if he kept it on when he was hitting him, because I’m staring at his knuckles now and they’re all bust up on both hands and I’m sure it’s from punching. This guy ain’t just a charming conman, he’s fucking dangerous, too. He sits in the corner of the booth, leaning back like he owns the place, and Shirley is next to him and I can see she’s impressed by every damn thing he does and says. Since he joined up with us she’s barely looked at me, her eyes glued to his hat-shadowed face.
+++++The burgers are burnt black and the fries are cooked solid. The buns are stale and what little salad is on the plate is limp and looks as if it’s been run under a tap like this is supposed to make it look fresh. I barely touch the food, and even if I forced some down I doubt it’d stay there. Bob eats like it’s the finest meal he’s ever had placed before him and Shirley picks at hers, not wanting to be rude. She empties half a bottle of ketchup onto the side of her plate, tries to soften her food with it before she puts it in her mouth.
+++++Bob looks at me. “You ain’t hungry?”
+++++Shirley shoots me a look like I ought to bite my tongue.
+++++“No,” I say. “I’m not.”
+++++Mouth open while he chews, Bob drags my plate towards him. “You don’t mind?”
+++++“No.”
+++++I look round the diner. Some of the patrons are glancing over at us, but they avoid making eye contact. Not every day they get a cowboy and a beautiful woman enter the establishment, and what am I? Hell, I’m the chauffeur. A cowboy, a strikingly beautiful woman, and their driver. Shit.
+++++Our waitress is a young thing, earnest and eager to please, but she’s pale and the skin under her eyes is dark and puffy, her arms are real thin and she keeps scratching at her wrists, and I can see scars there from when she’s scratched too hard. Her uniform is creased and I can smell weeks-old grease on it, and I reckon most of her paycheck is being handed straight over to the two boys on the corner outside. She’s all smiles and she tries to talk to all of us when she’s offering refills or asking if we want anything else or if we’d just like the check, but she’s not looking at anyone other than Shirley. Everywhere Shirley goes, she’s turning heads. She’s a stunner. When my hand’s in hers, I’m a proud feeling man, but sometimes she attracts the wrong kind of attention, like the bikers that time, or the hunters in their caps and orange jackets. In each case they got mouthy, whistling and calling over, like they thought they could lure her from my arm by being crude.
+++++“Just the check, darlin,” Bob says. The little waitress runs off to get it and Bob squeezes Shirley’s muscle bound thigh. “So what d’you think? Good, huh?”
+++++“Yeah,” Shirley says. “Real good.”
+++++“Man, know what I like after a good meal like that? A good drink.” He looks out the window, next to us is one of the lucky few still intact, though it’s filthy with dust and dirt and spatters of bird shit. “Looks like it’s gettin dark out.”
+++++“Where you plan on staying tonight?” Shirley says.
+++++Bob shrugs like he hasn’t thought about it but it’s no big deal.
+++++“What about your friend?” I say.
+++++Shirley shoots me another one of her looks. Before Bob can answer, she says, “Llewelyn and I are just gonna check into a motel, how about you join us?”
+++++“Oh, now really, I couldn’t impose anymore than I already have –” but this motherfucker knows exactly what he’s saying, every word and meaning measured and played against Shirley and what she’s going to say in response.
+++++“Don’t be ridiculous.” They’re smiling at each other like they’ve already planned this out, and this whole little charade is for my benefit. “You ain’t imposin. We’ll get a double room and you can sleep on the couch or somethin.”
+++++“Well hell, if you’re sure now.” Bob’s smiling, showing all his teeth.
+++++“We’re sure,” Shirley says. “Aren’t we, Llewelyn?”
+++++Bob looks at me, smiles at me. I don’t say anything. I don’t need to. It’s already been decided, and they both know that.
+++++The waitress brings the check. Bob pays, like he said he would, but he makes sure to remind us of this fact before he puts the cash down.

*

The motel looks as old as the diner, and as rundown as everything else in this shitty little backwater. We check in and Bob joins us as we make our way up a flight of stairs and along a walkway littered with empty bottles and syringes. When we open the door and hit the switch I swear to God the carpet gets up and moves, a thousand fucking cockroaches fleeing from the light.
+++++“Looks like they haven’t cleaned it since the last guy killed himself,” Bob says, crossing the room to the TV, flicking it on and taking a look through the channels. The quality is poor, the picture grainy.
+++++“I need to use the bathroom,” Shirley says. “Be right back.”
+++++Bob takes a seat on the end of the bed, in front of the TV. I perch on the sofa where he’s supposed to sleep, directly under the room’s only window, the slatted blinds covering it currently blocking out all light. Bob leans back on the bed, turns to face me, that damn smile still plastered across his face. “Well, this sure is cosy, ain’t it?”
+++++The sofa makes me feel itchy. “When Shirley ain’t here, I don’t need to talk to you.”
+++++His smile turns into a smirk. “Why don’t you lighten up, Lou?”
+++++“What do you want?”
+++++“Shit, friend, I want what any red-blooded man wants. I wanna get laid. What the fuck you think I want? You ain’t got anythin else worth takin.”
+++++“That ain’t gonna happen.”
+++++“That so? I guess that’s what you think, huh, cos it feels to me like I’m gonna get exactly that.”
+++++We hear the toilet flush, the taps run, then Shirley comes back and Bob is watching the TV like we never even spoke. She looks at me like she’s wondering at the silence, why I haven’t made an effort to start a conversation, but I’m getting sick of her angry glares so I look away. “So what we gonna do with ourselves?” Shirley says. “Anything good on the box?”
+++++Bob turns it off. “It’s all crap. But hey, it’s still early, I think we need to start thinkin about havin ourselves a little party.”
+++++“That doesn’t sound like a bad idea.”
+++++“Of course it don’t. How about we get a few beers in and have a good time?”
+++++“Shit, that might even put a smile on Llewelyn’s face.” She says it to me, and I’m watching the two of them, but I ignore her. “Where we gonna get somethin to drink?”
+++++“There’s a liquor store in town. It ain’t hard to find.” I can see him looking at Shirley, right into her eyes, communicating without words, and he’s tilting his head ever so slightly in my direction.
+++++Shirley understands. She turns to me, says, “Llewelyn, how about you take the car and see what you can find.”
+++++“You don’t wanna come with?”
+++++“Truth be told, I’m exhausted from riding round all day.”
+++++“You think I’m not?”
+++++Her smiles fades. I can see now that while she was in the bathroom she’s taken the time to redo her make-up. Her lips are incredibly red, and she’s taken the scarf from round her head and shook her hair loose. She’s looking at me hard, her head lowered, and it’s a while before she says anything. When she finally does, her voice is low and real deep. “Llewelyn, how about you just go and find us something to fucking drink, huh?”
+++++We stare at each other for a long time.
+++++Finally, I look at Bob. He’s not smiling anymore. They want me to leave, the both of them. I get up and I go, leave the room, close the door, go down the stairs to the car, get in and pull out the lot, drive round the corner so if they’re peering out the blinds they see me leave. I pull off the road, kill the engine, sit for a while with both hands on the wheel. I don’t hold it tight. I’m not angry. If anything, I’m very calm. I just sit for a moment and take deep breaths, then I get out the car and go round to the trunk, fish around in the spare wheel well until I find the tyre iron, then I walk back to the motel. It doesn’t take long, I hadn’t driven far.
+++++I take my time up the steps, so they don’t hear my approach. I’m not worried if the door’s locked because I took the key. Outside, I pause and listen in, but there’s nothing to hear. I reach over and try the handle and find it’s still open. I step inside.
+++++Shirley’s naked on the bed, flat on her back, one arm thrown across her face, covering her eyes. Her garish red mouth is open while she gasps and groans, and the nipples are hard on her curved, muscular chest. Bob is halfway down the bed, mouth full of her cock, his head bobbing up and down. His shirt is off, even his hat, his hair flat against his skull, but his jeans and boots are still on.
+++++I cross the room and I hit Bob across the back of the head with the tyre iron. Shirley sits up, screams some inarticulate noise, but she can’t move, her legs pinned down by Bob. He’s out cold, his mouth still full.
+++++I go back to the door, close it.
+++++“Llewelyn!” Shirley cries. “Get him off me, he’s gonna fucking choke!”
+++++Bob’s body is beginning to convulse, and there’s a gagging sound coming from his throat. “Let him,” I say.
+++++“Jesus Christ,” Shirley says. She manages to lift him enough so she’s able to slide out from under him. He topples from the bed, hits the ground with a thud. She turns to me, to speak, but before she can I go to Bob, get on top of him, and I keep hitting him with the tyre iron until I’ve caved in his skull. His blood sprays up the wall and up my chest, some of it gets into my mouth.
+++++I sit back, dump the iron, catch my breath. Shirley is pissed. “What the fuck have you done?”
+++++I don’t say anything. I look at the mess of Bob’s head. He ain’t smiling no more.
+++++“You need to rein it in, Llewelyn. You need to control yourself.”
+++++“I didn’t like him.”
+++++“You didn’t like him?”
+++++“He was trying to take you away from me.”
+++++She shakes her head, then crosses her legs and folds her arms and looks away from me. “You better get rid of him,” she says, and that’s all she says, and I know she’s still mine.

Tenderly

On his first night in prison Gary Devlin woke to find his cellmate having sex with him. “Shh, shh,” hushed the man who hadn’t said two words to him since he’d arrived. He was stroking the side of his face as he eased his penis in. Gary closed his eyes tight and clenched his teeth. “Shh.”
+++++But it was nothing Gary hadn’t tasted before. He lay very still: it didn’t hurt so much and was kind of enjoyable the less he moved. He’d found that out a long time before. The man finished and returned to his top bunk. Gentle snoring promptly filled the air.

“What’s your name?” Gary asked him the next morning, peering over the bed railing.
+++++“Mark,” his new lover replied. He was reading and looked at Gary casually.
+++++“Do you have diseases?”
+++++“Not so far as I know.”
+++++“I didn’t mind. Last night, I mean.”
+++++Mark grunted. “Good for you.”
+++++Mark returned to him again that night, but Gary was waiting. He took Mark in his hand and kissed him on the mouth. Mark pushed him away. “What the fuck are you doing?”
+++++“Let me please you. I don’t need to be on my stomach.”
+++++“I don’t need your fucking kisses. You think I’m some kind of fag?”
+++++“I just thought -”
+++++Mark slapped him in the side of the head. “Well don’t fucking think, right? Keep your mouth shut and stay on your fucking stomach.”
+++++Gary did as he was told. Gary had always done as he was told. It made life easier. And it was handy, being a bitch. It meant protection. Mark was a big guy and people didn’t fuck with him. By proxy, Gary found that he was safe too. All he had to do each night was wait, and stay very still until Mark was finished. And after a while, to stop Mark from getting bored with him, he let him start using his mouth. Gary knew how to cater to specific tastes. Knew how to keep his man interested. It wasn’t like he’d never gotten down on his knees in a back alley before, or wasted a few hours on a grotty mattress in some rundown slum. Whatever it took just to get by. The comfort of another didn’t hurt much either. To be close to someone else, to feel their warmth and companionship, and for a short while feel as though someone actually cared for you.

“What are you in for?” Gary asked Mark one day. The two were sat on Gary’s bunk, Mark with his legs across Gary’s lap.
+++++“Assault. Attempted murder.”
+++++“Yeah? How bad did you beat him?”
+++++“She’s in a wheelchair now.”
+++++“Oh. Who was she?”
+++++“Ex-wife.”
+++++“She have it coming?”
+++++“They always do. What’d you do?”
+++++Gary hesitated. He shrugged. “Drugs.”
+++++It wasn’t a total lie: drugs had been involved. Kind of. They would have been if the motherfucker had paid like he said he would. You can’t just walk away from a blowjob with a casual chuckle like that, wave it off like a promise didn’t mean anything. Shit, what did he expect walking away when there was all that junk lying around; he thought Gary wouldn’t grab one of those lead pipes and come after him? More fool him.
+++++Gary moved the legs from his lap and stretched himself out across Mark’s stomach, the side of his face pressed to his chest. He could hear his heart beating. “What are you thinking about?” Gary asked.
+++++“Pussy,” Mark replied.
+++++Mark was a stoic man. He never smiled, never showed any kind of emotion in his face. It was always so very still. He kept his dark hair shaved short, in the style of a man who doesn’t care for style as opposed to one stating any kind of gang affiliation. There was an economy in his words and usually he rarely spoke unless spoken to. Gary sometimes wished, in the moments they were lying together as they were then, that Mark would raise a hand and stroke the side of his face, the way he had done that first night they’d been together.

In his head, while he worked in the kitchen, Gary thought of things he could say to Mark, to let him know how he felt without seeming overly sentimental. He imagined that Mark wouldn’t care for too much emotion. His response would more than likely consist of a grunt.
+++++I can’t believe I had to come all the way to prison just to meet someone like you. That was his favourite, but he never did say it.

“I’m gonna get my hair cut,” Gary said one day. Mark was on his bunk, reading. He raised one eyebrow and moved his eyes in Gary’s direction to show that he was paying attention, but the book remained hovering where it was a few inches from his face to show that once he’d said all he’d have to say then he would promptly return to reading. “Short, I think,” Gary went on. “Like yours.”
+++++“Suit yourself,” Mark said. His eyes returned to the book.
+++++They’d been together a few months when the sex suddenly stopped. There’d been a few nights here and there when, after the lights went off, nothing happened, but it was rare and usually just a one time thing. The next night Mark would step down like he always did and they’d get to it. Gary was never allowed to instigate the act; the look Mark had shot him the one time he’d tried had been murderous.
+++++But this time it stopped completely. Nothing one night, then nothing the next, either. Or the one after. Gary lay there, waiting, sometimes for hours on end, staring up at the underside of Mark’s mattress, freezing up with an expectant gasp whenever there was movement, but it would just be a turn while Mark slept, followed up by a low snore.
+++++“What’s wrong?” Gary asked. “How come we’re not having sex anymore?”
+++++Mark shrugged. He was reading again. All he ever fucking did was read. Prying a conversation from him was like trying to open a tin without any tools.
+++++“Will you talk to me?” Gary prompted, feeling his temper rising at the way he felt mistreated and ignored. “Put that fucking book down and talk to me -” He snatched the book out of Mark’s hands and that murderous look was in those brown eyes again. Mark lashed out, grabbing Gary by the throat and dragging him in close, banging his ribs against the railing.
+++++“I don’t fucking feel like it,” he hissed, eyes aflame, spittle flying from his lips and landing on Gary’s face and in his eyes. He shoved him away and Gary fell. “Now give me my fucking book back.”
+++++There was someone else. Had to be. Gary followed Mark from afar, watched his every action. He didn’t speak to anyone or associate with groups. He went to work in the library, he took the books round. He sat alone when he ate, now that he had banished Gary. Sometimes he went to the chapel and Gary watched the door, but he never stayed in there for very long. Nothing had really changed for him, but still Gary could not shake the feeling that he had found someone else. Someone younger, perhaps? He chastised himself, knowing the haircut had been a mistake.
+++++“You don’t love me, do you?” Gary asked one night, the lights off.
+++++Mark was on his side, his back turned. He rolled over and raised an eyebrow. He snorted. “Love you? When did I ever say I loved you?”

So Gary stopped expecting a visit after the lights went out, but he wasn’t done. He wasn’t going to be jilted so easily. Mark was a heavy sleeper and never felt the bed sheets being tied tightly round his wrists and ankles, pinning him to the bed frame. He didn’t wake up until Gary was forcing the gag into his mouth. He struggled and made muffled cries. Thrashed on the bed but didn’t so much as loosen the binds. Those struggles increased when Gary revealed the razor blade. Those brown eyes popped in that skull just a little wider.
+++++Gary stuck the blade into the flesh, into Mark’s wrists, first the right then the left. He cut a jagged, hesitant line, from the base of the palm to the inside of the elbow. Hesitant, like a real suicide. The blood arced upwards and Gary was careful not to get any on himself.
+++++“Shh,” he hushed, stroking Mark’s head like a mother caring for an ailing child. “Shh…”
+++++Gary watched until those eyes had closed, until that body he knew so intimately had stopped struggling. He undid the binds and the gag, hid them to one side, washed the light spattering of blood from his hands. Then, stepping up to the wall, he gripped the back of his head in both hands and butted so hard the world went spinning, hard enough to drop him to his knees, the tickling feel of blood descending down his nose. He curled up on the floor and went to sleep.

The report stated that Mark had attacked Gary, knocked him unconscious so that no one would be able to prevent him from his suicide. Gary had done his best to look confused through the questioning. “I don’t know why he did it. We hardly spoke, but he never struck me as the type to kill himself. He always seemed, I dunno…hard, if you understand me.”

Gary didn’t have the cell to himself for long. A new boy joined him a couple of days later, some real fresh meat, the kid’s first time. Gary smiled down at him from the top bunk as he entered, cat-calls following him in, all doe-eyed and wet behind the ears.
+++++“Hello,” Gary said, smiling.