SMALL PRINT - IAN AYRIS
‘Drinngg, drinngg. Drinngg, drinngg.’
That’s me phone. Always let it ring three times before I pick it up. It’s like not steppin on the cracks in the pavement or walkin under ladders. Black cats and all that shit.
There we go. And then I count to three. Don’t say nothing. Gives me the upper hand, see, if it’s a punter. Gets ’em right on edge from the start. If it’s me mum, just pisses her off and she gives me a right ear-bashin, but more often than not, it’s a punter.
‘Er... Mr. Splinters? Charlie Splinters?’
One. Two. Three. It’s a geezer’s voice. And he sounds just like when you’re up in front of the school gettin caned by the headmaster or when you’re doin a tonne down the motorway. Or when you’ve just beat a man to death with your bare hands. Fear and panic all runnin round inside but all you wanna do is laugh your fuckin head off.
‘Yes,’ I says.
Geezer breathes hard, like he’s blowin all the fear back out.
‘Mr. Splinters. I need a favour.’
Cos that’s the business I'm in. 'Favours’. I do anyone a good turn, me. For the right price. And me rates is pretty reasonable. Ain’t got much in the way of letters and education, but I got a head for business, you might say. Undercut every other fucker on the manor, do the job clean and quick, take the money, and see you later. Everyone’s a winner. Other than the poor sod in question, of course, but that’s sort of the point of it, really.
‘Come round to the office,’ I says.
‘You've got an office?’ he says, sort of surprised, which I’ve got a bit of the arse about straight off to tell you the truth, him thinkin I wouldn’t have a place of business, and all that.
‘Yes, I’ve got an office,’ I says to him, a bit fuckin narked. I can tell by how his breathing’s gone he knows he’s done a wrong’un. Won’t be no more of that I can fuckin tell you.
‘The Three Rabbits, half eight, in the snug,’ I says.
All right, it ain’t strictly an office as such, but like I says, it’s me place of business and it does very nicely thank you.
Geezer says he’ll be there, and puts the phone down.
One. Two. Three.
Time for business.
The Rabbits is a shit-hole. I’ll give you that. But that’s part of the beauty of the place. Always quiet. Never no disturbances, or nothing. And in the snug, there’s normally just me and No-Arms Maurice, if his old girl’s let him out. Lost both his arms in a run-in with Harry the Hatchet. Harry’s sister done a bit of waitin tables in a Greasy Spoon on the Old Kent Road, and Maurice took a bit of a fancy to her. Used to slap her arse as she went by his table. No harm meant. Just Harry never see it like that. Called Maurice over to his butchers one night. It was a Friday. I think. Took both his arms off at the shoulder with a fire axe.
Seemed a bit harsh at the time.
But Maurice ain’t here tonight. It’s just me. And this weedy lookin geezer at the bar what’s looked round soon as I’ve come in.
‘Mr. Splinters?’ he says, desperate look on his face.
I mean, I pretty much look the part, but I suppose he’s gotta be sure.
I stare him down. One. Two. Three.
‘Yes,’ I says. And I say, ‘Take a seat, Mr...’
‘Briscoe. Tommy Briscoe.’ And he holds out his sweaty palm for me to shake. Which I do. Business is business, as they say.
We sit in the corner, opposite the door. Standard procedure. And I go through the particulars with him.
Turns out it’s his boss needs doin. Some row about money, or something. Same old shit. I get one of me contracts out me pocket, flatten it out a bit, and hand it over to him. He’s a bit confused, at first. Asks me what it is. I says it’s a contract, you know, between me and him. So things is done proper. He nods, and feels in his pocket for a pen. Pulls out a pencil. See, that’s no good, a pencil. Gotta be black ink, for legal purposes and all that. My mate Terry told me. He went to college and everything. Woodwork, I think, but he knows his stuff with fillin forms and stuff.
I go up to the bar and call round for Eddie.
‘Eddie?’ I says. 'You gotta pen?’
I can see through the other bar Eddie’s servin a punter.
‘Be a minute, Charlie,’ he shouts back.
‘All right, Eddie,’ I says. ‘No problem, mate.’
When Eddie’s sorted me out with a pen, I goes back and gets down to the matter at hand. His name’s Mr Hammond. Not the geezer in front of me, he’s Briscoe, like I said. The geezer what needs sortin, that’s Hammond. Won’t say his first name, just says him as Mr Hammond.
Computers or something, something to do with the buildin trade, that’s what he says he works in, this Bricoe geezer. Says this Hammond’s been stitchin him up with overtime money and stuff. There’s other things, but I start losin the will to fuckin live when punters start goin into their personal shit and that, their reasons, you know. Long and short of it, they want a job done. That’s all it comes down to at the end of the day.
‘So what do you want me to do?’ I says to the geezer.
‘What do you mean?’ he says.
‘Well, you know, it’s all about degrees, ain’t it, mate.’
He nods, like he understands what I’m getting at.
‘I got a price list here, if you wanna gander.’
I get me ‘menu’, as I like to call it, out me other pocket. It’s a bit screwed up and the writing’s a bit smudged where I’ve had me hand in me pocket, but it’ll do.
I hand it over to him. It’s me basic list, but I can get as creative as they want, for the right money, if you know what I mean.
He puts down the contract what he’s been holdin and has a close look at me list. Up and down. Got a face on him like a kid in a sweet shop.
‘What’s this?’ he says, showin me the list, his face all screwed up. ‘Andycappin?’
‘Andycappin. You know, break their legs, feet, toes, whatever you want. Andycappin.’
‘Oh,’ he says. ‘Handycapping.’
‘That’s right,’ I says. ‘Andycappin’. I take me list off him and start reading it out. ‘Andycappin, neecappin, kidnappin.’
I tell him the kidnappin thing ain’t their kids and that. I don’t do none of that shit. I got me morals. I’m dead serious when I say that to him. I ain’t no perv or nothing.
‘They’re me Level Ones,’ I says. ‘Then it’s up a level to your basic shootin and your stabbin.’
I look dead in his eyes. Hold him there.
‘So, what’ll it be?’ I says.
He’s gone all quiet. He’s thinkin hard on whether he really wants what he thinks he wants. They all go like this when I show em the list. I ain’t got no truck with timewasters, see, so I lay it on pretty thick at this stage.
But, to his credit, he comes up smilin.
‘I want him gone, Mr. Splinters. Taken out. I’m prepared to pay whatever it takes.’
That’s what I like to hear.
I nudge the contract across the table towards him.
‘Have a read of that, and sign at the bottom, please, mate.’
He gives it a quick once-over and asks me for the pen.
‘Don’t you wanna read the small print, you know, acquaint yourself with all the particulars?’ I says.
And he don’t. He takes the pen and he signs and he shakes me hand and he’s off.
Never even read the small print.
Briscoe tipped me off this Hammond geezer worked late at the office on a Thursday. In the industrial park on the outside of town. So here I am. Behind a stack of pallets. Waitin. All blacked up, I am. Not like Al Jolson or nothing, I mean, just me clothes. The only light’s from the office, so when that goes out it’ll be dark as fuck out here.
I got me shooter down the front of me trousers. Don’t even know what it is, you know, the make or nothing. Never been interested. Got it second-hand off Twinkles MacKenzie from the bookies. I never give him nothing for it, but I slice him off a wedge whenever it comes into play, like. Got a silencer and everything. Never let me down yet, it hasn’t.
The light in the office goes out. Pitch black. Door opens. Door shuts. Locks up. Here he comes. I wait till he’s just passed before I make me move. Then I jump him. Before he knows it, he’s got his face in the dust and me knee in his back. I pull the shooter out the front of me trousers. Touch it to where the back of his head meets his neck, pointin up a bit.
Phht. Phht. Job done.
I’m just gettin up when I see something move from behind another load of pallets to me left. A shadow in the dark. Comes straight for me, holdin out his hand. That Briscoe bloke. The fuckin idiot. Wanted to see his boss go down in a right load of bullets like off the Westerns. Right made up, he is.
‘Mr. Splinters, this is the happiest day of my life. You’ve no idea how - ’
He’s stopped. Cos I'm pointin the gun in his face. He’s proper shittin it. To be expected, I suppose. Given his situation.
One. Two. Three.
‘Did you not read the small print, Mr Briscoe?’ I says, knowin he knows I know he never.
He shakes his head. Slow and scared. I move the shooter to the middle of his forehead.
I know this one off by heart. Thought it up meself when I was talkin the whole deal over with Ronnie one night in The Rabbits.
‘In the event of the punter - that’s you - turnin up to have a gander at the contracted party - that’s me - doin the business, the contracted party - that’s me again - is beholden unto himself to do the punter in by any means necessary. That’s you again, I’m afraid, Mr Briscoe.’
I stuck this one in the small print as a safeguard, if you like. Happens more often than you think. Matrimonial cases, normally. Want to see their cheatin other half get what’s comin to em. But I can’t have no witnesses, see. Gotta look after meself. No other cunt’s goin to.
That’s the thing with the small print. The thing this Briscoe bloke ain’t counted on. All them words at the bottom that are too little to see, if you don’t keep your eyes peeled, it’s them little words what's gonna fuck you up. Cos they’re too easy to overlook. That’s what it is. We don’t pay enough attention. We just wanna go on our merry little way, thinkin everything’s gonna be all right. But it ain’t.
It’s like when you’re born. You come bouncin out, eyes full of wonder. You’ve chose your mum and you’ve chose your dad. You’ve read the contract: go to school - get a job - get married - two kids, one boy, one girl. And you live happily ever after.
Piece of piss.
But you never bothered to read the small print. The dad that beat the crap out of you if you ever dared open your fuckin mouth. Small print. Gettin beat to shit every day at school for bein a fuckin moron and watchin your old man beatin the shit out of your mum and you not bein able to do a fuckin thing about it. Small print. The sound of her cryin and screamin through your bedroom wall breakin your heart as you lay awake at night. Small print.
Your nan, your dear old nan, the only person you loved in the whole world, peggin it on your thirteenth birthday. Small print. The tears you shed that day. Small print. The gettin laid off at the factory and never gettin a proper job ever again. Small print. The wife that left you for the plumber downstairs. Small print. The kids. The kids you never had. Fuckin small print.
One. Two. Three. Deep breath.
Briscoe crumbles to the ground, blood spillin out a hole between his eyes.
BIO: Ian has a dozen published short stories to his name, both online and in print. He lives in London, England with his wife and three children and has just completed his first novel.
OPEN SECRET (1948)
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