Category Archives: Graham Wynd

Somewhere in Slovenia

Go to Slovenia, the man said. It’s a green wonderland with cheap beer, Razzo had promised when he sold him on the trip to the away game. Euro games! You’ll have fun, see the footie, drink your fill. It’ll be aces.
+++++He had to admit it was postcard pretty, all mountains and vineyards like Switzerland was supposed to be (he’d never been there) and if they had just stuck to the match and the pub full of other supporters from both teams it might have stayed grand.
+++++Fuck Tommy, it was all his fault. ‘Go on then, let’s do it,’ he’d said, jabbering in his always too hopped way. ‘You could get ‘em cheap here. If the beer is this cheap, just think of the drugs!’
+++++He didn’t even do drugs any more. That was kid stuff. Far better to kill yourself the nice and slow way with booze. Cheaper, easier and far less palaver. He had kids, for chrissakes. How embarrassing it would be to have their dad in the nick? And Edie? She’d skelp him alive for sure.
+++++Goddamn Tommy. They should have never left the pub. Never should have left the others. That lot were probably still singing club songs with the locals, feeling up the barmaids and hoping to get lucky, making new Slovenian pals they were inviting back to their homes, if they were ever fool enough to travel across the Brexit lines to visit the fast-sinking island.
+++++The one thing they weren’t was slumped in an alley somewhere in Slovenia while a tough-looking skinhead straight out of a Britain First recruitment video beat you senseless. That’s where Tommy was right now. Two other thugs held Danny and made him watch. Of course the guy wasn’t actually a UKipper. He was Slovenian.
+++++Presumably: he could be Croatian for all they knew. Or what was that other place? Montenegro. The other match going on tonight, wasn’t it? Didn’t matter, did it? Maybe the bald guy got mad because they called him Slovenian but he was from somewhere else all together, some place that hated Slovenia like everyone hated Chelsea. Danny found he had to laugh. Was this what hysterical meant?
+++++The guy was shouting something as he aimed a few more kicks around the body, though Tommy wasn’t even crying at him anymore, just kind of lying there. What the hell? You don’t have drugs, fine. You don’t want to sell to us, fine. Why the hell you got to beat us up?
+++++The skinhead wiped his sweaty face and turned. Danny cringed. The two pals that held him by the arms took a tighter grip. The guy walked up scowling. He was a wee bit shorter but every bit of his body seemed to have been moulded from iron. There were a few flecks of blood sprayed across his cheek. Was it Tommy’s blood?
+++++The guy let loose a torrent of abuse. Meaningless words that whooshed past his face with the guy’s spittle and venom. Danny closed his eyes. What was the point anyway? It wasn’t like he knew any language but English. If only they’d stayed in the pub. If only Tommy hadn’t got the bright idea to look for drugs down some dark alley. They should call the police.
+++++Maybe they were the police. Was this how they treated druggies? Some countries did, he’d heard. He hadn’t even wanted drugs. If only he hadn’t been so loaded. They were awash with that funny named beer. Maybe it was stronger than their usual lager. What idiots they were. They wouldn’t have been this stupid at home. He’d never have followed Tommy on such a fool’s errand.
+++++He should have at least got a guidebook, some useful phrases. Like ‘help!’ for instance.
+++++He doubled over when the first blow hit his stomach. It was all he could do not to spew up on the guy but he fought back the sickness at least until another blow landed and then another and up it all came: the beer, the bile, the fear, the crisps and the kebab thing they’d all eaten at the grounds. Like a tsunami it washed out of him and onto the pavement, splashing their feet as well as his own, until the howls of disgust encircled him and he fell.
+++++Like slow motion it was. Danny could almost see it happening and thought he was completely numb until he hit the concrete and every bit of it hurt. Every bit. But the darkness rose up to meet him and he was free.

Masquerade

Listen instead!
Listen instead!

‘Are you going?’
+++++The words were on everyone’s lips. ‘Will you be there? Everyone who’s anyone will be there!’ A week ago no one had heard of Leonorini, yet somehow the avant-garde artist had garnered such instant fame that even Talk of the Town breathlessly gossiped about her every move. The photogs snapped her in Chinatown and atop the Chrysler. Even Weegee caught her as she stood outside the Cotton Club, staring at a heartbroken fan of the Dandridge Sisters who shot himself. Of course Julian Levy looked smug as could be when he broke the news that his gallery would host her debut.
+++++But first would be the ‘event’—or as the artist called it, The Conjuring. It seemed to be a sort of masquerade party. At least that’s what the word on the street had pieced together. Everyone in the Village advanced theories, most of them based on other artsy bacchanals or on the enigmatic photos of the artist herself. The New School exiles who hung around the Whitney, desperate for any kind of attention, claimed it was just a publicity stunt, because the artist invited ‘all the world’ to her party. New York art had always lived on exclusivity and jealously barred doors.
+++++An open party? Where would the mystery be in that!
+++++‘Wear your dreams,’ the leonine woman purred on the radio, her exotic accent nearly as thrilling as her outlandish attire. The sumptuous wardrobe had been trotted out in a huge photo spread in the Sunday Times. From the Automat to Wall Street, all the city buzzed about Leonorini, which made a nice change from the depressing talk of the economy and the war in Europe.
+++++Mind you, it put a few noses out of joint. Abbey Rockefeller had gone off in a snit when the artist failed to show any interest in having a rich patron call the shots. Brooke Astor did no better, but rumour had it that Peggy Guggenheim was more successful, using her pal Cocteau’s name as ticket to the artist’s sanctuary, begging a few pieces for her collection.
+++++But no one knew what to expect that night as they made their way to the south Village flat to climb the stairs to the coldwater flat. The tiniest sliver of a moon hung in the crystalline night sky. ‘Don’t bother to knock’ read the sign on the door. The loft proved to be enormous. The walls had been painted a midnight blue and the velvety night that gleamed through the skylights matched it well, right down to the twinkle of the stars painted in silver.
+++++In the hubbub of voices, conversations varied. Over here someone was in raptures about Billie Holiday’s latest, over there an editor fresh from London raving about a new Irish book, something about birds swimming. ‘The funniest book ever written!’ he promised. But most of the murmurs were about the hostess: where was she? When would she reveal herself? Would she be worth all this anticipation?
+++++Then the door at the back opened and Leonorini made her entrance. Poe could not have rendered Red Death with more breathtaking awe. She wore a mask like a raptor’s or an owl’s, resplendent with enormous feathers, all dyed crimson to match the face. Her eyes shone white behind it. Blood-red silk enrobed her form like flayed skin newly torn from a victim and wrapped hastily around her limbs. Many swooned at the sight of her, so tall, imperious and magnificent. Murmurs multiplied: shock, envy and aroused desire. A few people fled.
+++++Those who remained squeezed closer, as if afraid they might miss something. Her voice boomed across the room, like a diva commanding her audience. ‘My friends, I draw you here to this place for a ritual—a conjuring—a summoning! We call out to Astaroth, she who has been called a demon, but will be the mother of new inspiration in this new world. The hallowed one will join us tonight!’
+++++Leonorini raised her arms and loosed a call impossible to describe: somewhere between a scream and an aria’s top note. It sent shivers down your spine. The sound was at once so utterly feral and yet magic, as all great art must be. The room felt silent. ‘Let us cast the circle!’ She snapped her fingers: one, two, three, four, five. At each snap an explosion and fire as a flame appeared in a bowl. Some said it was only stage magic, but others swore they caught a whiff of sulfur. ‘Enter the circle with perfect love and perfect trust, if you do not wish to perish.’
+++++A few nervous chuckles did not dissuade the artist. ‘You think I jest? Imagine being enclosed for millennia. Astaroth will explode onto this plane in a ball of fire, filling our world with new energies, sweeping away the dead past.’ She threw back her head and loosed a true banshee howl. More than a few voices joined her. ‘Come to us, oh great one, come to us, come to us!’
+++++The chant was picked up by much of the crowd. Though a few hung back most of the audience surged together, many taking advantage of the press of flesh to steal furtive hands into unexpected warmth. The room seemed to writhe.
+++++‘She is come!’
+++++There was indeed an explosion of fire and light. Leonorini screamed again, in pain this time. Her limbs contorted. From her lips a guttural sound emerged that only gradually changed to words. ‘I am Astaroth, the fiend of fire. Let us burn together, let us bleed.’
+++++The party became a mêlée.
+++++Some ripped off their clothes and began to fornicate right there, sometimes in pairs, sometimes in larger groups. Others bit and clawed at one another, growling like animals. Shrieks, screams and grunts filled the room with a sound that was almost palpable. The building shuddered as if it might fall away completely.
+++++No one was certain where that painter found the Gurkha blade. Leonorini later disavowed all knowledge of it when the police muscled her down to their headquarters, until her rather impressive lawyer arrived to threaten suits. Four people died, five more eventually recovered. They dined out on those scars for years. Leonorini flounced off back to Paris, unimpressed with the Big Apple. The murderous painter landed in Bellevue, where for the remainder of her blighted life she painted over and over the grim visage of the same fiery muse: Astaroth.

Don’t Call Me Darling

Luke was breaking fingers for the boss when we got the call. I was mostly watching him because that was his job and talking was my job and the talk had already been done.
+++++‘I’ll get you the money,’ Mr Irving screamed.
+++++‘When?’
+++++‘Thursday!’
+++++I looked over at Luke, a bullet-headed son of a gun that had seen too many Statham films and fancied himself an action star. Never mind Hollywood was a long way off, his shaved head was not sexy and he had the body of an indolent potato. He figured someone would discover his masculine pulchritude sooner or later. ‘Thursday good for you?’
+++++Luke grunted. That was poetry from him.
+++++‘I think the boss might find that acceptable.’ I dug the vibrating phone out of my pocket and answered. ‘Hey boss, he says—’
+++++The boss cut me off. ‘Fiona’s on her way.’
+++++‘The hell you say?’ I wasn’t one to doubt the boss, but I couldn’t quite take in the truth of the words all at once. You might as well have said Elvis was in town. If Elvis were back and gunning for the boss and anyone who stood in the way.
+++++‘Yeah, it’s her—hell on wheels. I want a welcoming committee, chop chop.’
+++++To say the boss was stingy with words would not have been an understatement, but few words were needed at a time like this. I put the phone back in my pocket. ‘Let’s go.’
+++++Luke looked all disappointed like a kid who’d been promised a puppy for Christmas, then got a bunch of underwear and socks. That and he just liked breaking things. I think it was the sound. He was a bit of a connoisseur. Whether he preferred the snap of the bones or the shrieks of the business associates, it would be hard to say. He gave me the big cartoon sad eyes and opened his mouth to complain.
+++++I knew what would stop him. ‘Fiona’s coming.’
+++++He was all business after that, dropping Mr Irving to the floor where the man moaned and cried, then slipping his discarded jacket back onto his own gorilla shoulders. For the umpteenth time I wondered where they hell Luke bought his suits, but as usual it wasn’t the time to ask. ‘Let’s go.’
+++++But turns out we were too late.
+++++‘You’re too late,’ Milo said as we pulled up at the garage. He had managed to spread motor oil across his puss today in stripes so he looked like he was joining up with Adam and the Ants. I suspected this was not the case.
+++++‘Too late as in the boss has left or—’
+++++He shook his head. ‘Boss has hunkered down. The committee left.’
+++++I could see Luke was inconsolable. But we could join in the shenanigans at least. ‘Which way did they go?’
+++++‘The industrial park out on Riverside.’
+++++‘Ah, yes, I remember it well,’ I sang and we hopped it on out there. It was as good a place as any to head off the incoming storm and between the boss and her. If I knew Fiona—and alas, I knew her well—that’s the first place she would look for him. If she couldn’t find him, she would be sure to lay waste to all the good stuff that was there.
+++++The boss hated losing his stuff almost as much as he hated the idea of getting killed. He was a reasonable man.
+++++Luke took the time to arm himself well from the compartment under the seat while I raced us across the roads. It was a good thing no one took a mind to wander around these parts on their days off, but then again there wasn’t much to interest a casual viewer. Just a lot of warehouses waiting to be filled.
+++++‘Save me the Beretta.’ I didn’t want to end up with one of his cannons. Like so many big fellas, Luke thought he needed some gigantic gun like it was a kind of matching tie and handkerchief. So much for his fashion sense.
+++++We could hear the shots before we got there. It sounded like a battle, which I suppose it was. Doubtless there would be someone within range to complain about the noise soon enough, though the filth were well-paid to drag their feet getting to investigate goings on at this—what did the city rag call it?—’hotbed of nefarious criminal activity’.
+++++The boss had that clipping stuck up on the wall.
+++++We left the car behind warehouse 3 which seemed safe enough and made our way toward where we could hear the racket. I tried to keep my head down and gauge which way the shots were coming from. Luke was in his best this-gun-for-hire mode, slipping around corners with his two cannons at the ready, just itching to shoot at something.
+++++‘We best figure out the lay of the land before we shoot anybody,’ I reminded him, following up the rear. If someone was going to shoot at us, I didn’t want to be the one in front.
+++++‘Fiona got a crew, we ain’t asking questions.’ Luke gave me that patented Statham dead-eye look. Didn’t half look silly, if you ask me. Of course nobody did.
+++++‘We might want to ask where they are relative to our guys so we don’t shoot the wrong people,’ I pointed out all reasonable like.
+++++Luke ignored me and we made our way toward the noise. I saw Chino first, so I knew we was heading in the right direction, which was just as well because Fiona must have had a big crew judging by the noise.
+++++I threw myself down next to Chino. He was a cool one. Didn’t talk much, which always threw me, but when he did it was always sensible. In this crew that was a rarity. I nudged him. ‘What riled all this up?’
+++++He gave me the hairy eyeball. ‘I didn’t ask.’
+++++‘How many we got out here?’
+++++‘Just about everyone now.’ Chino shook his head. ‘We didn’t have much warning. Who knew Fiona would make a big push like this?’ He gave me a look that suggested I might be that who.
+++++‘I heard nothing! I would have told the boss if I had.’
+++++‘Just be sure you know which side your bread’s buttered on, my friend.’
+++++‘I do, I surely do.’ Someone was getting impatient. I watched Luke scoot up around the big green rubbish tip, angling for a shot at something, anything. ‘Just seems like something must have—’
+++++A hail of bullets came and Luke went down, screaming and holding his leg. Chino swore. I hopped over crouching which I suppose sort of made me look like a big crab, but dragged Luke back out of the firing range. ‘You idiot!’
+++++‘It hurts.’
+++++‘Well, yeah, you been shot.’ The blood was gushing out of the wound but it didn’t look immediately deadly, I thought with all my many years of medical experience. ‘I think you’ll survive, Luke.’
+++++‘They’re coming this way. Time for a tactical withdrawal,’ Chino said and suiting action to word, departed. His look as he ran off suggested I consider the same.
+++++I hesitated. ‘Can you walk, Luke?’
+++++The big man looked up at me, half angry, half blubbing. The bigger they are, the harder they fall—I suppose there’s a reason folks say that. It was certainly true of Luke. ‘C’mon, mate. What would Statham do? He would man up and crawl if he had to do it.’
+++++Luke shot me a look blacker than the heart of coal at midnight. ‘Get ta fuck.’
+++++I had a moment of discomfort that had nothing to do with Luke’s anger. ‘It seem awful quiet to you?’ I couldn’t hear any shots. Maybe it was over. Maybe we won. Or maybe things were about to get a lot worse.
+++++And then she was there. Fiona was looking good for her age, hardly a hair out of place despite the splash of blood across her cheek. Damn it.
+++++‘Hi, mum.’
+++++The back of her hand hit my cheek with quite a wallop. She was always aces at that, her signature move. ‘Don’t you speak to me like that.’
+++++‘What?!’
+++++‘Where’s your father gone?’ Fiona wiped the blood from her cheek as if she could feel it dripping down, but only managed to smear it wider across the arching cheekbones. In a moment Frank and Jesse sauntered up beside her and looked at me and Luke like we were bugs under their heel.
+++++‘I have no idea.’ I’d be damned if I was going to spill the beans on the boss.
+++++‘You were always a worthless runt,’ Jesse said with a sneer. The twins looked so much like masculine versions of Fiona that it was a mite uncanny. At the moment it seemed downright dangerous, too. Too much us-and-them right now.
+++++Families: can’t live with ‘em, can’t live without ‘em—or so the theory goes. I had begun to wish that I had run away and joined the circus like I threatened when I was six.
+++++‘You must know where he’s gone,’ Fiona insisted. ‘I need to talk to him.’
+++++‘If all you wanted to do was talk, why’d you start shooting all creation?’
+++++A kind of cloud crossed Fiona’s face. I had seen that weather many times but somehow it seemed this time the dark would last longer than the light. ‘I was in a mood. Seems your father doesn’t want to speak to me.’
+++++‘Don’t take this the wrong way, mum, but can you blame him?’
+++++Frank smacked me hard, same cheek as mum. At least he could have varied the cheek to make me feel a little more balanced. ‘Where is he holed up?’
+++++‘I have no idea.’ Now James hit the other cheek. I felt a sense of vindication along with the pain.
+++++Fiona stared at me. Annoyance was getting the better of her. ‘Does he know?’ She pointed at Luke.
+++++‘I couldn’t really say—’
+++++Without warning she shot Luke in his other leg. He screamed and clutched the fresh wound as more blood dripped on the ground, pooling around him. ‘The next one goes in your eye,’ she told him, shouting to be heard over his shrieks.
+++++‘He’s at the carousel,’ Luke said, then flinched when she raised the gun again. ‘I swear!’
+++++‘Let’s go.’ Fiona wasted no time.
+++++‘What about him?’ Jesse said staring at Luke with evident distaste.
+++++‘Who cares?’
+++++I’d have thought she meant forget about him, but Frank decided it meant ‘shoot him in the hand’ which he did and left Luke screaming even more. I was a mite worried that he wouldn’t survive this ordeal after all. Seemed a shame. I didn’t really like the big lug, but it wasn’t a good way to go.
+++++Not that I had a say in the matter as I got dragged along with the rest of the family for an unexpected reunion. We were outside the pub in minutes thanks to Jesse’s lead boot. We got out of the car and they shoved me toward the door as a kind of target to draw fire.
+++++I poked my head around the door. ‘Hey boss, it’s me. And before you say anything, it was Luke what told them where you were.’
+++++‘Goddamnit, you are no child of mine.’ They were all barricaded behind tables at the end of the room. The fruit machines made their jingly noises as if uncomfortable with the silence.
+++++‘Can you at least hear her out? Preferably without shooting me.’ I blinked and tried not to cringe. I really had been a cuckoo’s egg in this family.
+++++‘Hello, Fiona.’
+++++‘Hello darling.’ There was no sweetness in the words. ‘I hear you want a divorce.’
+++++‘It’s not like we’re married really, Fiona, now is it?’ His tone started out reasonable enough, but a bit of a whine crept into it by the end. Mistake. She hated whiners.
+++++I’d like to report it was something nigh on Shakespearean, full of fire and music, catching some bit of truth about the state of the world in general and the failings of us all. I’ve told people that her last words were a film-worthy quip of ‘Til death us do part!’
+++++Makes for a better story, don’t you think?
+++++The truth is simpler. They catcalled back and forth. The guns came out. I hit the floor and covered my ears and that’s how I’m still here to tell the story. But I’m really looking for a circus. I could use a quiet life.