Help

I was chasing an escaped, psychotic, naked midget with a thick black beard across the car park. Sprinting, breath burning in my lungs. He was always a foot in front and I just couldn’t quite reach him.

Me, in my light blue NHS issue tunic and navy pants. Black boots. Him, in his birthday suit, head down, arms swinging like an Olympian.

This is psychiatry. Forget your Freud, your analysis, your pills and your potions. This is psychiatry.

I was gaining on him and just as I could feel my fingertips getting nearer I wondered just what I was doing for a living. Thinking, if I trip him he’s going to get skinned on the concrete. If he resists, I’m going to end up in some kind of Greco-roman wrestling match I haven’t been trained for. This is psychiatry on the front line.

It was 13:20 and the late staff were pulling up in the car park for their shift starting at half past. I was whispering silent prayers to the psychiatric Gods as I spied the back up.

They soon turned to curses as I clocked the laughter and the horns blowing from the cars. The wolf whistles and the swit swoos. I laughed despite myself. Fucking cunts.

I debated what to do and by the time I decided to do a rugby tackle onto the small patch of grass it was too late and he’d escaped off the grounds and my jurisdiction ended.

“Nevermind, there’s plenty more fish in the sea,” the uniforms shouted as the wolf whistles reached a crescendo.

I was panting away trying to get my breath back, lit a smoke, and gave the fuckers the finger, laughing again.

This is psychiatry. I smoked and wondered what I was doing with my life, chasing naked, psychotic midgets with thick black beards, getting cat calls, alarm bells, control and restraint, slashings, hangings, rooftop negotiations, and I debated whether or not just to jack in, give my notice and get back into the real world, the cosy world, the safe world, the world of hidden aberrations to the stale norm.

I concluded fuck that, I’d carry on. Why? Because I was institutionalized and I might as well embrace it.

• • •

It was only a couple of hours before the police brought the midget back. I was in his dormitory making up the beds with sweat dripping down my face as he scurried in.

There was old Walter, deaf and blind, sat in a chair by the window.

The midget laughed in my face.

He saw my expression switch as my eyes changed and he watched, feet stuck to the floor, as I walked over to old Walter and walloped the old man’s chin with a right hook, skewing his jaw and sending dribble splattering onto the window.

I said, “Why, you no good little cunt. What in the hell possessed you to do that to such a vulnerable human being?”

The midget shook his head and his mouth had dropped open. He stammered out, “You, you, what did you do?”

“No. What did you do, dickhead. Who are they going to believe?” I gave him a grin and hit the alarm. Then I ran over and put the fucker in a headlock as the rest of the staff came charging in. Said, “He attacked old Walter. I walked in on him. Get his arms.”

They put him in full restraint and practically carried him to the seclusion room as he was screaming my name.

He wanted to play games, then hell fire, I could play with the best of them. A record of assaulting staff and patients would keep him in the system longer than he could ever have imagined. He’d be sent to a forensic place and out of my hair.

Wolf whistle that.

Who’s laughing now? Me.


A Smile on a Hot Afternoon

Samuel Dorner was eight years old when he witnessed his first public hanging from the withering execution oak tree on a dry, dusty afternoon. The hanging man swung like retribution’s pendulum and the youngster, having scrapped hard with the other children for a front row view, took a good long look into his lifeless bloodshot eyes, buried deep into the sockets of a face with a serene smile. Samuel surmised that the last thing the dead man saw was a cheerful crowd with all their attention fixed on him and he took a minute to imagine this experience for himself. A smile grew across his lips and he turned to scan the crowd for his daddy, at the back of the rabble, laughing with the grinning Sheriff Peterson, who stood ogling women and winking at other fellas who’d come and pat him on the back from time to time.

The preacher, a wiry elderly gentleman dressed in black cloth, shepherded the children away from the creaking corpse as soon as its bowels emptied. They followed him to a small patchy mound and sat scattered about his feet. The preacher, in a stern, solemn tone asked, ‘Now children, what have we learned from what we witnessed here today?’ He inspected the youngster’s faces; some drying their eyes and others with blank expressions etched into drained complexions. Apart from Samuel Dorner who was smiling and shuffling grit between his fingers. ‘Why are you smiling, Samuel?’

‘The man. The man was smiling. And he was dead. It’s funny’. The preacher’s brow furrowed and he flicked off beads of sweat with the tip of his thumb. ‘You think he was happy, Samuel? To die like that for being a thief? His last moments on God’s beautiful land, his brothers and sisters applauding his demise, you think he found it enjoyable?’

‘I’m sure he did. Why else would he be smiling?’

‘The muscles in the face please themselves when you cannot control them no more young man, and whatever your face says when your heart stops beating means absolutely nothing to nobody. Now, again, what have you learned, boy?’

Samuel’s smile faltered and he narrowed his eyes; flicking them toward the preacher he said, ‘I learned that if you’re gonna steal some, you’d best be smart enough to not get caught. And when you want it to be your time to go you might as well go on the tree. Did you see how many people came to wave him away? A thief, too. When my momma died, but three people was there besides me and my aunt. Daddy was away at the saloon and you wasn’t there neither. I heard you say that time to daddy that you couldn’t do nothing but pray and for him to find you when he had the money to do the funeral’. The preacher considered the boy and chewed on the inside of his cheek. He shook his head and dragged his stare away from Samuel to address the other children, none of whom were listening. ‘The lesson is, don’t steal. Hello? Are any of you paying attention?’ he croaked. He looked at their blank faces again and then turned towards the saloon. He shouted, ‘Oh fuck it’, and wandered off muttering under his breath.

 

Samuel found his father swaying drunk and cackling hysterically at something the Sheriff, also staggering, had whispered in his ear. They set off walking to the newspaper office and he trailed them, kicking up dust clouds in the searing heat.

The gruff beard of the newsman covered his lips and beady blue eyes stared over top and he said to the sheriff, ‘What am I publishing about the dead man?’ The Sheriff nudged Samuel’s father’s ribs and said,

‘He’s definitely dead. The Doc says he’s pretty sure it weren’t no hunting accident’. They burst out laughing and the newsman looked back and forth at them wearily, ignoring the boy lingering at the doorway.

‘Seriously, Peterson’.

‘Sorry, Tim. Just couldn’t resist. Okay, that dumb motherfucker –‘

‘Dumb? You mean mentally challenged. The fella wasn’t all alright was he, Peterson?’

‘Well, no. Anyway, that…the fella was caught in the act of stealing old man Steinlen’s cattle. The old man caught him good right in the middle of his misdoings and the…fella shoots old man Steinlen. We hear the gunshot and surprise him, take his gun off of him and haul him into jail. He don’t admit to nothing, just sitting there with a goofy grin on his face all the time. Finally me and the deputy is in with him and we says did you do it and the boy says yes. End of story.’ The newsman looked up from his writing and said,

‘And it’s right isn’t it that old man Steinlen was shot in the back?’ Sheriff Peterson stared at him, itched his chin and said,

‘Well, yes that’s right. He must have turned for some reason, maybe to fetch his gun to scare the thief away or whatever and he took one in the back.’

‘So, he was shot in the back, then you showed up and grabbed the thief.’

‘Problem here Tim? It’s the way it occurred from my memory, should it serve me so well’.

‘No, no problem here Sheriff. One final question though. Old man Steinlen, not having any offspring and all, got all that land and cattle and that big old house. Now, with nobody to look out for it, who’s it gonna fall on for upkeep?’ the newsman asked.

‘Well it’d be a dereliction of my duty to let that go to waste and ruin wouldn’t it. I’ll burden myself with that responsibility from this very day. You go on and announce that in your story, Tim.’

The newsman considered the Sheriff, smoothed his beard and said, ‘It’s much roomier than that tin can you’ve got now ain’t it just Sheriff? And I suppose you’ll be consoling the dead man’s grieving mother.’ Samuel watched as his father snickered and nudged Peterson in the ribs. Peterson struggled to contain his dirty grin, coughed and said,

‘Of course. My burdens are many but I’ve still got the back to bear it’. The newsman put down his pen, stood and said,

‘After all, he was only seventeen. And mental wise, barely a boy. I’ve everything I need. Thanks for your time Sheriff Peterson. Deputy Dorner’. He opened the door and stared at the floor as they left the room. Samuel could sense something wasn’t right and looked at the newsman as he followed the men out. The newsman took a deep breath and forced a wisped smile at the boy before closing the door.

Samuel thought back to the smile splayed across the dead man’s face and hard as he tried he couldn’t stop tears from rolling down his cheeks. He dabbed at his eyes with his sleeve, following his father and the Sheriff back into town. They arrived at the wooden platform of the saloon entrance and let the door swing without turning back. Samuel watched them disappear, trudged around back and lay atop the hay wagon, drifting into restless sleep.

*

Shouting and scuffling followed a barked, ‘You have troubles, take them elsewhere now, you hear? This joint’s a peaceful un, nevermind you’re the law. Should know damn better you pair of no good sum’ bitches’, from the proprietor. The deputy and the Sheriff stumbled out and growled at each other, waking Samuel. He climbed down, brushing hay off his clothes and through bleary eyes watched the two men wrestle. The Sheriff shoved his father to the dusty ground and turned back to the proprietor to tell him to watch his mouth however he’d already gone back in, tiring of their antics.

Samuel’s father scrambled back to his feet and hissed, ‘You got to give me something. I stood with you every step of the way God dammit. Shit, if I wasn’t there, you’d never have got the retard anywhere near Steinlen’s.’

‘Shut up boy, I owe you shit. You almost fucked the thing up anyway, not even man enough to shoot the old man proper like. In the back? I mean, that’s stupid. You’re almost as dumb as that retard. I owe you shit, fact is you nearly blown it. Now calm down. Tell you what, you can sweeten up the retard’s mother, I’ll leave that to you? How’s that?’ The Sheriff offered with his dirty grin. The deputy thought for a moment and returned the smile.

‘Throw in a few Longhorn Steer and I’ll shake your hand on it’.

‘Hard bargainer. Slick boy, I’ll give you that. Done deal partner’ he slurred. They shook hands and walked through the town with their arms draped over each other’s shoulders.

Samuel thought about following until the image of his mother came to mind. He fought off nausea and ran to the news office.

*

The dead man’s mother peered out of the window of her timber shack and trembled as she watched the two lawmen stagger up to her door. They walked into the house and sprawled out adjacent chairs. Deputy Dorner slipped immediately into a drunken sleep. The Sheriff grinned at her. She folded hers arms and shakily said, ‘Just what the hell do you want’.

The Sheriff straightened out his clothes and said, ‘I’m awfully sorry for your loss Ma’am. Must be hard losing the boy. I mean, he weren’t goin’ be up to much being simple and all, but..still. I mean you got to see it from my viewpoint, Ma’am. He was bad. And this is my patch and I gotta keep everybody safe, you know?’ She listened intently as her rage built,

‘How dare you. My boy was innocent as the night is dark. He was innocent, innocent by God in ways you’d never be able to comprehend you drunken fool’, she cried, pointing. The Sheriff held up his hands, smiled and said, ‘Well, whoa now Ma’am. I was just trying to explain my position. And I gotta tell you I thought the same to be completely honest. See I figured he’d not even know what to do with Steer if he even had stolen ‘em. But it was my deputy here’, he said, nodding his head to the snoring form, ‘that dealt with it. Dealt with everything. I mean he told me he’d had to go hard on the boy for the confession to flow, you know. Busted his hand real bad on your boy’s thick skull’, the Sheriff let out a laugh, ‘but I had my doubts. And in my eyes, and indeed in the eyes of Our Lord I’ve come to offer you a tooth for a tooth.’

lasykesL.A. Sykes is a writer from Greater Manchester who’s works include his debut short story collection Through A Shattered Lens, I Saw and the novella The Hard Cold Shoulder out now in all formats through Thunderune Publishing’s crime noir arm. He’s been up at Shotgun Honey, Powder Burn Flash and others and has an episode coming up at Mark Slade and Frank Larnerd’s Blackout City Podcast while he works on his first novel.

The Sheriff reached to his hip and handed over his Derringer to the weeping woman. ‘I tried to figure a way to let the law deal with this bastard but they won’t believe the only way I know your boy is innocent is because I can see the truth in your eyes when you say so Ma’am. That won’t move no judge in this great country though, not a one. So, I offer you the chance to even the score and we’ll concoct a little tale between ourselves as to why you ended up shooting him’. The Sheriff smiled.

The woman stared at the smile, sobbed and shot the sleeping Deputy three times in the chest as the door burst open. She dropped to her knees crying, the gun skittering into the corner under the dead man’s chair. The newsman pointed his revolver at the Sheriff and said, ‘Move. I’m begging you to go for that there gun. Reach for it, go on. I want the satisfaction of blowing your head to bits instead of waiting on the Marshals’. The Sheriff twisted his face, looking back and forth between the gun on the floor and the gun pointed at him. He spat and put his hands on his head. The door creaked open and Samuel peeked inside. The newsman shouted, ‘Out, boy!’ and kicked shut the door.

*

A week later Samuel fought the other children to get the best view on the front row, yards from the withering oak tree. The crowd roared and cheered. Samuel looked into the swinging Sheriff’s dead eyes, down to the smile fixed on his mouth. The badge on his lapel glistened in the noon sun. The preacher rested his hand on his shoulder and asked, ‘What have you learned from this here event, boy?’ Samuel said,

‘I learnt a smile don’t mean a damn thing’.


Ascension

He stared up at the moon in the crimson sky. He lowered his head and squinted at the syringe as his fingers drew back the plunger. Golden liquid rushed into the barrel from the steel tin.

He slowed his breathing and took off the wrist watch the Department had given him for his twenty years service, throwing it over the edge of the roof. He smiled as the ticking faded forty floors.

Flicking out air bubbles he walked to the edge, considering the moving masses below. His gaze led him to the still parts. He shook his head and fought off tears.

Low pops of gun fire melodied with siren howls on the rising wind. Screams spattered the ether.

Eyes of corpses stared at him through fixed lids. Eyes of their killers winked at him. After two decades in Homicide he didn’t know which looked more dead.

He pictured his desk in the station. Dusting manila cardboard and fresh pulp piled five feet high. Stacks of unsolved filling the office floor space. He saw the shelf holding his commendations, counting nine captures and felt a lopsided weighing scale inside his chest grow heavy.

He heard a multitude of whispers. Begs and pleads. He closed his eyes and refused to engage. Blocking them out with trickles of piano keys playing in his mind of tunes long forgotten.

He felt his hand tingle as the belt dug into the bicep.

He dropped to his knees and pierced the bulging vein, watching the bevel sneak between pores.

He grimaced as the needle slid deeper.

The discarded badge glimmered in the moonlight in his peripheral awareness.

He depressed the plunger.

His nerves tingled electric and swam through his body like a deep kiss.

He sighed with an open mouth and a warm hiss.

He rose his head and took in the moon. He felt himself ascending.

He knew. Here, he was never going to see no sunrise.


Writing on the Wall

When the sky cried tears and washed away the blood he thanked it knowing it had heard him.

He’d kissed them goodbye with bullets of love.

Up close and personal.

They never even saw it coming.

It was done before they could have even envisaged it in a nightmare.

Their faces were a picture, their choices a collage of indulgence.

Their friends had painted rest in peace slogans on the red brick alley walls in white spray.

Locals had paid their respects with bouquets of flowers in a multicolour of homage at the killing site.

Most of them did so to revel in goodbye.

Relief not tears.

Checking they were really gone.

The drug pushers and the thieves. The pimps and the gunmen. Corpses piling up in the back streets of Canal City. A monster hunting the monsters. On the loose. Waiting in the shadows.

He zipped up his fluorescent jacket as the wind picked up, slanting the torrential rain westward. Dragging his metropolitan borough council issue brush beside the curb to sweep the cigarette butts, litter and brittling leaves, his gaze drifted from  the ‘march on street soldier’ and ‘heroes never die’ slogans to the pack of three denim and hood attired young men lining the latest death spot. They made signs of the cross and muttered between themselves. The taller of the three turned and stared at the street cleaner, jabbered at his companions, then walked towards him as the silver stripes of his coat dazzled sporadically as car headlights sped by.

“Cleaner man, me and my boys want to hire your services. You’re doing a good job and we want it to continue around this street. Keep the memorial nice and tidy. Fit for the legend that fell here.”

The street cleaner considered the man. He guessed late teens by the light patchy stubble on the jaw. Innocence lost long before manhood indicated by the two tears roughly tattooed on his left cheekbone. He replied, “I never heard anything about a legend, lad. Nothing about a hero or soldier either. A killer alright, not a soldier though. Never a hero.’’

“That right? What have you heard then?”

“I’ve heard the bastard who died here had shot four people dead. In the back aswell, according to the papers. Fancy solicitor gets him off because the cops messed up the handling of evidence. Guilty as sin and free to walk. Shocking. A killer. No hero’’. His eyes narrowed on the young man’s frowning expression.

“So fucking what? The game we’re in, they have to go down if they want to try and take our territory.”

“One of the lads shot was nowt to do with your game though was he. Just a young lad on the way home from college. Cross fire, collateral damage I think it’s called. I call it senselessness. Your man is no legend, no hero, just another selfish braindead bastard off the streets”. He said with a swift smirk.

The other hoods shouted over to say they were leaving. Tattoo cheek told them to go with a swing of an arm and turned back to the road sweeper. “You watch your fucking mouth. You keep talking like that and you’ll end up collateral damage too. The man deserves respect, you’d best remember that. Else you’ll be in an alley, won’t be flowers though, just piss”, he shouted.

“Doctors, nurses, police, armed forces, lollipop ladies, cleaners, bin men, ambulance crew, prison officers. They’re your heroes lad. They’re your fucking heroes. Not a drug pushing bastard who pollutes the streets for layabouts like you to worship because you want a few quid without putting honest graft in for it”, he boomed back, throwing the broom onto the cobbles.

Tattoo cheek screwed up his face, “Who do you think you’re badmouthing? Dead men can’t defend themselves so I’ll have to do it on his behalf won’t I”, he spat as he shot out a straight right.

The road sweeper blocked the punch with his left, slid out the knife from his right sleeve and plunged it below the ribcage with the serrated edge downward, ripping sinew. Tattoo cheek  weakened, drooled blood and collapsed, was dragged by his hood to the wall and sat up beneath the spray paint. The road sweeper looked around the deserted alley way, snapped a red Carnation from its stem and stuck it in the open mouth of the stiffening corpse, leaving the eye lids open. He wiped the knife on the side of his jacket and looked at the heavens.

The black clouds made a blanket of the horizon, showing no sign of passing.

Bullets of love.

A blade of revenge.

Rivulets of diluting crimson streamed down his coat as the downpour pattered heavily.

As the sky cried tears and washed away the blood he thanked it knowing it had heard him.


What the Heat Brings

“You’ve got an ugly pair of coconuts!” I sing with a wolf’s grin dripping indignation. I watch his micro facial expressions. Light flush to the surface of the cheeks, a flicker of the eyes as they dig into my stare, scanning for what I know.

“You feeling alright Doctor?” He says through a fragile smile.

“Not really, no. Maybe it’s the heat. Maybe it’s because Argentina have just knocked us out of the world cup. With a fucking hand-ball goal. Maybe, just maybe, it’s four years of work down the shitter.”

“I’m not following Doc”, he replies with a face that says otherwise.

“Let’s finish this conversation in the seclusion room shall we? You going to walk or do you need assistance?”

The smile is replaced with a cold stare and his sharp jaw strains at the cheeks as his teeth begin to grind. I grab the collar of his jumper, pat around the waistband of the jogging pants until I locate the crude shiv. I let it clatter to the floor before kicking it across the room for the staff to bag up for the police. Lead him through the sweltering lime green lounge into the cool serenity of the seclusion room. Leaving the door ajar he follows me in, refusing to face me. I light a Benson and Hedges without offering. Exhaling loudly I grip his blue hospital issue top by the shoulder and spin him around, hunting his eyes.

“Is it me? Am I just shit at my job? That it, is it? Four fucking years working through all your issues? Were you just bullshitting me all along? Telling me what I wanted to hear? Playing the game?”

“It’s not like that. You’ve been good to me”.

“Yes, too fucking good. Maybe that’s the problem. Look at me when I’m talking to you. That’s better. And you can knock that hard face off ‘cos it doesn’t scare me”.

“I wasn’t thinking. It just happened. It’s not your fault Doc”, he says as I watch him reliving the experience in his mind’s eye and struggling to keep from smiling.

“Well it was me who made the decision to give you leave. And don’t try and bullshit me anymore. It can’t have just happened can it? Because you took a knife. A fucking knife! I know you were thinking aswell. I know you were thinking about the fear in her eyes. She’s described you to a tee, the curls, that crook in the bridge of your nose, that grin. Our clothes you’re in, minus the bottoms obviously. But she particularly remembered your eyes staring into hers. Thank Christ that bloke and his Alsatian came along”.

“I was going to go anyway, just before he turned up. Exposing myself was enough. It’s an improvement, down to you mostly”. The smile twists my insides as his gaze burns my face.

“Don’t you fucking lie to me anymore!” I shout, jabbing my finger in his face. He focuses on the tip unflinching.

“I like you Doc, so I am giving you fair warning that I am twenty seconds away from killing you.”

“I’m done anyway. Done. Finished. I’ll let the coppers deal with you, should be here in a minute. I hope you fucking rot in here.”

“Walking away? That it? What about treatment?” He sing-songs mockingly with that smile.

“If you want my honest, professional opinion, the only treatment left is castration”.

The smile is replaced with a grimace as he lunges for my neck. I slip his reach and slam shut the door, fastening the bolts. His face appears at the small window, burning crimson as his pulse jumps an inch out of either carotid artery. Stare right through him and head out of the lounge, his banging on the door giving a beat to march to. Straight to the office as the last Benson is toked mercilessly. Take the Grouse and glug hard. Fist through each glass frame holding certificates on the wall. Screw them up and drop them in the waste bin. Throw in the dying cigarette, igniting it. Rip the empty cigarette packet open and scrawl

MANAGEMENT / GOVERNER / WHOEVER / WHATEVER – I RESIGN – FUCK HOPE


It’s Over Now In Saturday’s Asylum

Saturday night, quarter to twelve, last stop The Rat’s Haven at the top of Market Street opposite the sandstone obelisk. That’s what it’s known as locally. Not it’s real name, obviously. Not rat as in James Cagney either. Rat as in filthy sewer dweller with a tail. A proper dive. The kind of place you bang condoms on your fingers just to pick up your jar. The kind of place you aren’t ashamed to be carried out of so you don’t need to touch the floor. Love it.

Nod to the doorman, Hairband, who isn’t bald, he’s just more evolved than the rest of us. I’ll take his word for it. Swing open the pea green chipped wooden doors and float through the blue grey plume of tobacco and ganja smoke that’s providing the interior’s incense.

Squeeze through the swaying leather and linen to the bar, the frost glass of Black Label tingles my fingers. The Amaretto hits my stomach with a sweet burn. The melody strokes my ears tenderly, a haunting lullaby from the stage. Ford and the Shouts. Manchester blues. She swirls serene euphony even the walls can’t resist moving to. He strums the acoustic’s wires as deft as a pervert on a nympho’s g-string, reverberating nerve endings.

The staring eyeball scorches my awareness, slashing through the honeyed ambience like a vindictive switchblade. Benny Big Bollock. That’s right, Bollock. Singular. Sat in the corner with a peroxide blonde perched on each knee like they’re guarding the crown jewel. Bold as brass right there in the boozer, the swollen extremity bulging over the unzipped flies makes a certainty of his sobriquet as they take turns stroking his cock in time with the music. On the wrinkly scrotum is the tattoo of a wide eye, squinting like a smoking gypsy fortune teller in the dim lighting. Hoping I’m imagining it following me I head to Dom by the fruit machine.

“Took your time. Where’s Finkell ended up then?” He mumbles with the lit Embassy bobbing between his lips.

“The Valley Lodge. Straight from court.”

“The Valley? What the mental hospital?”

“Yes. Not just a mental hospital. A medium secure mental hospital. Fences like a Redwood forest with razor wire as sharp as your shirt collar.”

“For attempted robbery and unlawful imprisonment? Bit strange ain’t it?”

“Not the only thing that was a bit strange. Just as the judge sentences him to a year in Strangeways, Ronnie shrugs off his suit jacket and rips his shirt wide open up to the collar, fashioning a cape. Jumps out the dock and starts screaming about being Captain Council Estate, ridding the working classes of criminals and con men. Orders the judge to lash himself in shame with his wig for daring to criminalize a modern day super hero. Takes about ten bailiffs to pin him to the deck and drag him out as he’s hollering righteous indignations. The judge reconsiders jail and orders a full psychiatric assesssment at the Valley. By the time I get there to see him, he’s been chemically coshed and staring at me like a zombie through safety glass in a paper gown. Blinked a bit and dribbled a lot.”

“Thought it was odd him trying to rob the gas man. Lost the plot then I take it?”

“Well this is where it gets even more strange. His version wasn’t robbery. Apparently there’s a dodgy scammer on the prowl who’s turned up at an old dear’s just down the road from his gaff. Claiming to be from British Gas, goes in and cleans her out. Frightens her to death. Was in the paper. So Ronnie, still wired from clubbing the night before, spies a van pull up outside and out jumps a gas man. Very convincing uniform he’s thinking. No wonder the old mare let him in. Ronnie answers the door wearing nothing but a smile and boxer shorts with his balls hanging out.”

“His balls out?”

“Yes, to disorientate the conman apparently.”

“He has lost the plot. Thought he was off the marching powder?”

“I’ll get to that in a minute. According to the gas man he’s twigged that the guy’s unstable but figuring it’s only a quick boiler clean he’ll just get it over with and against his better judgment goes in. As he’s doing the mending, Ronnie jumps him from behind, hog ties him and drags him in the living room. The gas man, fearing he’s going to get sodomized or worse, is pleading for Ronnie to check his identification and phone British Gas to confirm his identity, but he’s having none of it. Apparently, because the gas man hasn’t checked in with his dispatcher after such a small job, they give it twenty and alert the cops as a precaution. Meanwhile Ronnie’s on the phone to one of the tabloids jabbering a hundred miles an hour with this Captain Council Estate malarkey and claiming he’s nabbed the fake. As he’s negotiating an exclusive with a photo shoot, the police kick the door in and survey the scene. Ronnie’s babbling that fast they can’t tell a word he’s saying as they’re struggling to cuff him. In walks his mother with some shopping and Ronnie can’t grasp why she goes ballistic on him, even when she’s waving the note she left on the mantelpiece asking him to stay in because the gas man’s due. No one’s buying his story, taking him as gone loopy on the sniff.”

“What a scene. Shouldn’t laugh but it is funny. So why’s he back on the drugs?”

“He wasn’t. Been clean for a while and holding down a job. He was however still in debt for them. A minor disagreement about accrued interest, and a certain exhibitionist and his pals pin him down and mainline this new super powder fresh from Columbia in his arm, completely uncut. To teach him a lesson. They were probably expecting it to kill him but this boy has handled more chemicals than Pfizer. Rides it well at first, but as it’s played out it was clearly too much for his pickle.”

“Bastards.”

“Exactly. Speaking of bastards, that’s my cue. Thanks for tracking him Dom. I owe you one.”

“Not at all. My pleasure. Give Ronnie my best.”

“Will do. Least he’ll be off the drugs. Well, the street drugs anyway.”

I finish my pint with a long swallow as Benny walks across the dance floor with his shameless appendage bobbing around in front of him, leading the way like a divining rod heading to the toilets. Count to ten and follow him in, Ford and the Shouts cruise to a mellifluent whisper as the door closes slowly behind me. He’s at the middle urinal with his trousers round his ankles, grunting with strain to force piss through the erection. I wade up behind him as my boots slosh atop the sodden floor. Jab the gun to the base of his bald skull gleaming with the fluorescent light.

“If that’s what I think it is I suggest you remove it from the back of my head before I take it off you and make you eat it.”

“You haven’t got the bollocks.”

“Very original. Faggot are you?”

I take the hypodermic needle out of my pocket and push off the cap with the tip of my thumb.  Lower the plunger shooting a small spurt of cloudy liquid.

“Let me put it this way. Brace yourself, you’re about to feel a sharp hard prick. Uncut.”