LOOSE ENDS - GARY DOBBS
What a way to spend a Saturday afternoon.
Well, it wasn’t actually that bad, stumbling from pub to pub. It was just that I was skint. Well, that wasn’t strictly true – I had some money but it had been a toss up between paying the rent and spending the afternoon on the piss. I, consummate piss-head that I was, chose to spend my time knocking back the warm beer in a pub-crawl around Pontypridd.
I knew it was my penchant for the drink that had led my life on this merry dance and left me a pathetic figure but, like all sloshers, I figured I’d quit after this one last bender.
Trouble is there’s always one more last bender and then another and…
The place is quiet. I’m sitting over in a corner, minding my own business, drinking what may be my fifth or sixth pint. I can’t really remember, I seem to have lost count. There’s a man in a muscle vest seated on a stool with his elbows leaning on the bar. He doesn’t look across at me, keeps his head down, staring at the bar and I decide to do likewise.
No doubt he has a story just as I have a story but no one gives a fuck.
So I don’t either.
I sink further into my seat and take another large gulp of the beer. I feel bloated now and know I’m not going to be able to hold much more of the warm Welsh beer that has the consistency of treacle and sits heavy on both head and stomach.
Doesn’t matter, I’ll move onto the top shelf then, the vodka, the whiskey and if I’m still standing after that I’d grab a kebab and stumble home. Only to start the whole thing over again tomorrow, jumping headlong into the self-destructive loop my life had become.
I’d just finished my drink and was about to stumble up to the bar when the doors opened and two large men came in. They were dressed identically, expensive suits and silk shirts, and would have been a mirror image of each other but for the fact that one was slightly taller than the other. They looked around for a moment, stared at the guy drinking at the bar, and then they both pulled shooters from beneath their long coats.
‘Tanner!’ one of them shouted.
The man at the bar turned around just in time to have his face blown off when both men shot as one, the roar of the weapons were like twin thunder claps that shook the glasses behind the bar. Blood and gore splattered onto the air. The barmaid ran out from the back room, saw the two shooters and then the dead guy who had slid from his stool and landed on his back. The car accident that had been his face looked back at her.
She screamed and continued screaming.
Then the two men coolly placed their weapons back beneath their coats and turned on their feet to leave. But as they turned I saw the shorter of the two clearly and immediately realised I was looking back into my own history. He locked eyes with me and, for one awful moment, I thought he recognised me but then he smiled and ran out of the door in pursuit of his companion.
I heard the sound of sirens as the police raced through the valley roads and I quickly left the pub.
I didn’t want to get involved.
I had too much shit going on in my own life.
I think it was midnight when I got home and I didn’t notice anything strange as I unlocked the door. In fact it was only when I went through to my pit of a living room that things went tits up. The shooters from the pub earlier were seated on what passed for a sofa, their weapons rested across their laps. This time I had a closer look at their weapons – both had twelve bore sawn-offs.
‘Hello, Frankie,’ my old mate, Keri Smith, better known as Smithy, said.
‘Smithy.’ I nodded in greeting. I didn’t bother asking how they had gotten in but the question would have been redundant in any case. I knew Smithy of old and there wasn’t a lock on the market that he couldn’t pick.
‘Not seen you in that pub before,’ Smithy said. His friend, the bigger man, remained silent and just sat there, a hand caressing the sawn-off in his lap as if it was the sexiest thing he’d ever held.
‘I don’t usually drink up that end of town,’ I said.
‘Then why the fuck did you decide to go there today?’
I shrugged my shoulders and grinned at Smithy. ‘So what now?’ I asked.
Smithy shook his head.
‘See,’ he said, ‘I say you’re safe. That you won’t say anything to the filth. I say we walk away and leave you be. Agree none of this happened.’
‘I won’t say anything,’ I said. ‘And you know I won’t.’
Smith nodded. He pointed to his companion. ‘Thing is, Max here don’t like loose ends.’
The other man remained silent.
‘Is that what I am?’ I asked. ‘A loose end?’
‘Fraid so,’ Smithy said.
‘So what now?’ I asked again.
Smithy and I went back a few years. We’d been part of the same gang when we were kids. We’d shoplifted, experimented with a few of the softer drugs and moved on to a little housebreaking.
Our last job had resulted in Smithy being caught trying to fence a DVD player. The DVD had screwed him over. The police were able to tie him into a couple of other jobs and he did time. Three years, I think it was and, during all that stir, he’d never grassed on me.
When he eventually came out, I’d moved on. The first time I’d seen him since we were kids was this afternoon when he, together with his mute mate, had blasted that poor fuck’s head off.
‘I’ll make it quick,’ Smithy said. ‘For old times sake.’
‘Thanks,’ I said, feebly.
‘Not here, though,’ Smithy said. ‘Come on. We’ll go for a little ride.’
I walked downstairs between them. Smithy in the lead and his mute mate bringing up the rear. I was all snug in the middle. I thought about suddenly making a run for it but I knew I’d have no chance. Either one of them would cut me in half before I covered more than a few yards.
I was a loose end and they weren’t about to let me get away.
They pushed me into the back of a gleaming BMW and Smithy got in beside me. The talkative guy took the wheel and pretty soon we had pulled off and were heading towards the valleys.
‘Our old stomping ground,’ I said to Smithy, hoping to elicit some positive response, get him thinking of the old days and all our scrapes. Maybe then he’d change his mind and convince his friend that I was okay. That they would be safe in letting me go my own way and forget any of this ever happened.
Smithy nodded but said nothing.
I looked out of the window as we passed the Esso garage on Hopkinstown Road and proceeded towards Porth.
‘Where we going?’ I asked.
Smithy looked at me.
‘It’s a shame this,’ he said.
‘Tell me about it,’ I said and then added, ‘What did that guy do anyway?’
‘The guy we shot?’
‘He was behind on his repayments,’ Smithy said. ‘Just enough so it was starting to feel like he was taking the piss. We can’t have people doing that. We’ve got a reputation to keep.’
‘Otherwise everyone would be chancing their arm,’ I said as if it were the most logical thing in the world.
‘Right,’ Smithy said. ‘They guy asked for it. Only we didn’t expect to see you in the pub. We’re not known in that part of town. We didn’t expect any loose ends.’
‘But you know I’m not a loose end. We were thick as thieves in the old days.’
‘That was then,’ Smithy said. ‘This is now. People change and maybe one day the filth will have you on some other matter. Maybe you’ll need to strike a deal and use this little knowledge to get you off.’
‘I wouldn’t do that.’
‘You might,’ the man at the wheel said. It was the first time he’d spoken and it shook me up. He had a voice like cancer - dark, nasty and twisted. I realised then that I was truly fucked.
‘Come on then, you cunts!’ I screamed, losing the plot. ‘What you waiting for? Come on, do it! Now! Blow my head off here in your nice new car!’
I lunged for Smithy but he brought the butt of the shooter heard against my head and I slipped into a void of pure black silence.
One of them grabbed the back of my head and I felt myself being pulled out of the car and falling onto the ground. I struggled with the mist within my head, which was pounding fit to burst.
I felt bile in the back of my throat and vomited.
I tried to get up but fell back on my face.
I lay there for a moment.
‘Come on, twinkle toes,’ Smithy said and lifted me to my feet.
I felt terrible and was unsteady on my legs.
There was a category five hurricane raging within my skull, sending a tsunami of agony throughout my entire body. I looked around and waited for my vision to clear. When it did, I recognised where we were – the old railway sidings in Trehafod. There was an old mine shaft here and I figured they were going to shoot me and dump my poor battered body down there.
I felt the mute guy, who, we’d discovered, could actually talk, prodding his sawn-off into my ribs and pushing me forward. This time, he didn’t speak and merely grunted several times.
I stumbled forward into the ruins of the old wheelhouse and Smithy bent down to remove the grating that would expose the mineshaft. My head was still pounding – so badly that I thought getting shot would actually be a good thing.
Smithy groaned as he tried to slide the heavy metal grating across and he had to put his shotgun down to get both hands beneath the grating.
‘It weighs a fucking ton,’ he grumbled.
‘Help him,’ the now not-so-mute man said and pushed me forward but I was still unsteady on my feet and I fell face down onto the grating, landing with my hand only inches away from Smithy’s shotgun and trapping Smithy’s fingers beneath the grating, which provoked a deafening scream.
I figured I had nothing to lose and I grabbed for the gun, only to recoil when a roar of thunder filled the room and set my headache pounding even worse. Everything went black for a moment and I forced myself to roll over and get to my feet. A thick cloud of black smoke surrounded me and the thunder was still echoing both within my head and around the old ruins. The stench of cordite was so intense that I could taste its bitterness within my mouth.
‘Fuck,’ I said as I noticed Smithy.
He’d been shot, the blast of his mate’s shotgun having taken him in the guts, tearing flesh to shreds, chewing up innards and leaving a gaping hole. I’d been hit too but only winged; there was a wound in my left arm where a few pellets had struck and it dribbled blood. But, to be honest, with the agony in my head, this wound was the least of my worries.
I looked for the other man but I was alone. Well, apart from Smithy, that is. Or rather apart from Smithy’s corpse, that is. Where had the other guy gone? I located Smithy’s shotgun and picked it up and peered into the semi darkness for the other man.
There was still no sign of him. I figured he must have shot when I’d went for Smithy’s gun but shotguns ain’t that discerning and it had been Smithy who had taken the brunt of the blast. But where the shooter had gotten to was beyond me.
From outside, I heard the approach of police sirens and I took one final look at Smithy. I made to move but froze when I saw what had happened to the other shooter. He was on a ledge below us, laying on his back, dead. When he’d shot, he must have lost his footing on the debris-strewn floor and had fallen backwards to be speared on a jagged metal spike.
It protruded from his chest and was dripping blood onto his expensive shirt.
I laughed at the absurdity of it all.
Only moments ago, I’d been a sitting duck, death a certainty.
Now I was the last man standing.
The approaching sirens grew louder.
I turned on my feet and quickly left the old ruins and made my way unseen over the old tips and to the river road below. I knew this area like the back of my hand and I had no trouble getting clean away before the police had even reached the sidings.
Hey, I didn’t want to get involved.
I had too much shit going on in my own life.
BIO: Gary Dobbs writes under both his own name and that of Jack Martin. His first novel, a western under the Jack Martin name, will be published in June by Robert Hale LTD. You can find Gary and more of his writings at The Tainted Archive.
Friday's Forgotten Books, May 25, 2018
13 hours ago