Nine

I’m not going to tell you another story about a murderer, dressed with revelations of an unbetterable serial killer-maverick cop combo. I’m not going to tell you how I seduced the most beautiful woman in the world. How I rose from the ashes to make millions; how I found myself in the nether regions of Outer-Cambodia; how I killed that dragon with frostbolts when my mana was out… I’m not going to write about superheroes, anti-heroes, antagonists, vendettas, yadda… I might not circumvent the laws of Shakespeare’s seven basic plots, and I might even draw close to some of Guy Ritchie’s earlier directorial works, but I would claim this still something a little different. Something a little to the left of the increasingly monotonous modern day plot. And I would argue that if I stroked Ritchie’s sleeve in the process that it be an achievement.

Let me give you something that is raw, something that is cold, deep, dark, and really-fucking Scottish – cold as the blood in our veins… First, I’ll give you a name: Andrew Marsdon. Next, I’ll give you a time: 15:44. Though I can’t give you much more than that, or else you won’t read the rest of this drool…

I was in a pub (where all great stories begin), and I’m not talking about some soppy city-bar labelled as much because they snuck it into the business title, but a real pub… But I’m getting ahead of myself already. Because of where the village containing the pub – the Tankard – was situated, just getting there was a hard-enough task. The taxi pulled up before a tee in the road, its headlights stretching just far enough to see a battered sign that barely read Congrenn. The driver took one look at the mud-lain track that lead down into the village and said something like, “’Ere yare, then, mate.”

I don’t think that I said anything, but as he glanced up and saw my face flash in the rear-view he said, “Ah, it’s just dun there, you’ll be alright, lad.” I didn’t manage as much as a sigh. I stepped out of the car and took to buttoning my coat. The bloke was probably pushing 6’4”, Scottish, and obviously overprotective of his car; and because I’d paid upfront I knew I had little choice but to leave it at that.

As I watched those headlights dim into the distance, a sharp breeze stiffening my back, I set to bettering the winding decline of that track, parting a terrain of grey swamp. A marshland above a valley in which I could only guess that one would have a good thing if they saw the sun. The sun barely shone in Kilgrass, let alone Congrenn.

Had I been before? Yes. What was the purpose of my visit? Why, a holiday, of course.

It was 14:22 when I made it to the sole road that contained the village, though my hand was so cold that I had barely managed to turn my wrist to see. Despite the afternoon having just begun it was dark. I got into the pub and it was pretty much empty. There were a couple of guys sat in a booth, and I’d passed a couple others having a smoke out the front, but that was just about it. The only other presence was one at the bar, a figure sat turned and hunched on a stool. There was no one behind the bar. I wandered over regardless, standing for a short while before deciding to sit.

I did my best to peer past the pumps, to see if anyone was in, even asked, “Hello?” but I got no reply. As I had opened my mouth to speak, however, the guy on the stool to my left jolted suddenly up.

He flicked the hair draping over his eyes and studied me quickly, before asking, “Hey, yous wanna earn twenny quid?”

I took my time in looking this man over, inspecting a tallish, skinny frame sporting a mess of long, black hair, a bit like that of a typical Rockstar, alas without any real sense of style. He began to stare at me with a hung, pale face, in anticipation of my response. I smiled. He slurred his words some, but I had gotten the message. This was the reason that I visited the likes of Congrenn. Never a dull night. I felt that lost feeling come bursting back, like a flurry of butterflies had suddenly escaped their cage. The mere sight of the man had done that.

I’ll make it clear now that I do live in Scotland, but that I am English of birth, even southern-English at that, so I can’t much relate from origin, though I have now been living in Newburgh for nearly twenty years.

My accent still needs some work. “What I gotta do?” I asked.

The man’s facial features seemed to drop, like his face had been nullified by some laxative drug, or if he were a zombie from some apocalyptic film. I didn’t know if he was looking at me funnily, or if that was just how he looked. He pointed over the bar to what appeared to be the handle of a suitcase tucked behind some boxes and half-covered by a coat. “I got kicked out, dint I?” he said.

“What’re yous doin’ back in ‘ere, then?” That was about where the accent peaked. I hated to have to point out that he was still there, but that’s the thing about real pubs, especially those situated about much of the Scottish countryside, you’re only kicked out if the man who kicked you out can keep you out. If you get into a scuffle, then that’s just that – people accept that that’s just the way things are. You gotta all but murder someone before the police’ll come.

The bloke was pretty fucked up, but I could believe what I was told. “I came back in,” the man confirmed, slurred.

“Uh huh, uh huh.” I nodded. “OK, well I only just got ‘ere, an’ I don’t really wanna get kicked out…”

“OWWW!” the man groaned, almost laughed, long, loud, bringing his hands to his face. I wasn’t quite expecting such a reaction. I tell ya, I haven’t heard many like it. If the barman hadn’t heard that then I was never getting a drink.

I looked about, but the rest of the bar – those two other guys – didn’t seem to be too bothered by the noise. “What’s wrong, what’s wrong?” I asked, my accent slipping some more.

“OWW, no, no, no,” the man whined, slipping from his stool, clumsily hitting the bar-top with his back before sliding gradually down the panels, progressing a little further with each ‘no’, until he was sat on the floor, long legs bent at the knees with arms wrapped around them.

“What is it?” I asked, lowering myself to his level.

“I wan’ that suitcase…”

“Why d’you want that suitcase?”

“I wan’ it, aye,” he slurred, bringing a hand to his face.

“Is it yours?” I asked.

The man didn’t say anything at first, he just looked blankly forward. Then he began to nod his head, initially slowly, but by the time he looked back up at me that look of confusion was gone and he was smiling. “It’s mine,” he said. “It’s mine, ent it? It’s mine!” I couldn’t help but smile. “Can yous get me ma suitcase?”

I stood up to look over the bar, and as luck would have it a man came out of the door at its end. I didn’t look back down to the man on the floor (I had experience enough not to do that), but he was being silent enough that I couldn’t hear him there at my side. I don’t think that the barman, presumably, by the look of him, the one who had thrown him out, had noticed that he was back. The man was tall, bald, rough, though he would have looked perhaps even quite smart if the polo that he wore hadn’t have had beer stains on it. The man offered a quick nod. “Hiya,” I said, deepening my voice some.

“Alright, mate?”

I bobbed my head. “Can I get somethin’ dark but no black, please,” I said, trying to raise my game once more. The bald man sighed regardless. He didn’t look at me again until there was a drink on the mat in front of me and five pounds less in my wallet. As he turned to head back out of the door, I asked, “Is that your suitcase there?”, nodding to the concealment behind. I didn’t think that it was a difficult thing in identifying what it was attempted to be hidden, but a question of why one would be looking there, and, indeed, if one were to look, what it mattered. It wasn’t intended to be seen, I knew that much. I only asked as much because of the man still crouched next to my ankles as anything else.

“What fuckin’ business is that o’ yours?” the barman almost barked.

I didn’t have much of an excuse, to be honest, but from the response I was taken aback some. I hadn’t really thought of the repercussions of asking such a question, but presumed it innocent enough. I guess that I was just happy to finally get a drink. I’d just noticed the handle again in the corner of my eye and it had sparked some curiosity. But what a response… What was this bloke’s problem? I should have been the one pissed off, not him. It had taken so long to get my drink that the mud on my shoes had pretty much dried. But, then, it wasn’t any of my business… I’d gotten a bit carried away, I suppose. “Err, none, I suppose,” I managed after a time, trying to waft with my mind if not my hands the tension that hung about the air.

He looked me over. “You ent from around ‘ere, now, are ya?” I shook my head. “That Sid been at you?” I said nothing. “Tall, Rockstar, stoner.” I nodded. “Full-a shite and no much else, that one. Ignore him.”

I bit my tongue, nodded again. “Alright.”

The coldest stare you’ve ever seen. “You enjoy that drink now.” I nodded firmly. He eyed me once more then left again out the back.

I made sure that I took a long breath before I knelt back down to Sid. He was in the exact position as I had last seen him, only now with both of his hands over his mouth. I sighed and went back to my drink, figuring that perhaps it wasn’t worth it. It wasn’t my business, was it? The problem is that I just find such things too amusing, watching events unfold around me, observing the hapless, often helpless subjects in peril. For example, I would have loved to have seen that barkeep wrestling an uncooperative Sid out of the door – that’s the reason that I turn up. Holidaying as it should be, I say, always lots going on. You’ll never be bored on good holiday… Ha.

I wouldn’t say that I go searching for trouble, at least not anymore, but sometimes you just happen across it, don’t you? One can’t help that fact. I won’t say that I don’t choose my destinations carefully, but I will say that I don’t go with such intentions. I certainly wouldn’t call myself a trouble seeker. It’s a funny thing, though, trouble, isn’t it? Sometimes you find it, sometimes you don’t, and what does that depend on? Temperament, women, tensions, niggly comments, perhaps as petty as a pass about a certain shirt that someone decided to wear; or does it simply depend on how many we’ve had? Is it that fundamental? Sometimes everything is just alright. OK. Sound. Grand. Sometimes two men decide to kiss and even the Glaswegians let slide the opportunity to remark…

I’ve had many a boring night drinking myself slowly to sleep after being unable to have any effect on those around me, unable to provoke some tot-head into a battle stance. These days I have my points mapped, though. I know where to go and when… I know when it’s going to be worth making the effort. It’s sad, I suppose, but isn’t everything in someone’s eyes? I’ve tried to pull myself away, but escaping the mundane in such a way just has too much of a reward.

I’m not proud to admit as much – it’s a weakness, I know – but that’s just that. I don’t know quite what it is, but I would have loved nothing more than to see a scuffle out the front or at the bar, someone bent over a stool, a bottle smashed over their head and glass at their neck. It’s exciting in a perverse kind of sense, that kick, that buzz, I can’t quite explain it. It’s absorbing, enthralling, even exhilarating… Believe me when I say that I’m not proud to admit it, but it really leaves me with a head on. Ah, but when I experience even small portions of the countless shit that I have witnessed I get hit with a reality check, like a swift punch in the gut. Is this what I get off on? I always ask myself, not sure whether to laugh or cry. Ha. That’s when I realise that what I do for recreation, at its roots, is pretty dark.

And I’ve had worse than being chucked out of a pub before, but that won’t stop me. For a start, there have been a lot more people to witness such a thing, such a scene, with some of those times it even being family. Those were in my younger days, though, when the heart of the trouble was where it was at – where we were at. Bruises were trophies, and we’d wear ‘em proud before they’d heal – though they’d heal a lot quicker back in those days… But now I’m in the background, but still the ever-present, not settled, not married, no mortgage half-paid and kids on the way but still persistent. I’m still that guy, and I get away with it because I’m just that average…

I mean that, if I were a bruiser with a mean look on his face then I’d have found more trouble than even the considerable amount that I’ve found. If that barman had looked at me any deeper, he’d have kicked me out too, I bet. Because Sid was after that suitcase and he’d been shown the door; but what had he done to warrant such action, I wondered, jumped over the bar, wrestled his way in, or only asked the same question as I? There just wasn’t the evidence to suggest that he’d done anything more… I get by being average, it’s not the worst thing in the world, I tell ya. Average in pretty much every sense… Make no trouble, you get into no trouble, right? Pah. I laughed to myself.

“Psst. Psst.”

I felt quite jolly by this point, lost in my thoughts, like fish swimming about the bowl of my mind. It had been a long travel, and on top of that I had realised with my nerves in confronting the barman I now had less than a third of my pint left already. I was well on my way.

“Psst.”

“Hrm?” I turned back around, looking down and being almost shocked to see Sid there on the floor. His hands were now in the shape of an announcer and he was miming the letters ‘S’, ‘U’, ‘I’, ‘T’.

“He’s gone,” I said.

“Suitcase,” Sid said before giggling.

“I can’t get it,” I said, “but he’s gone.” I checked around me just to be sure. Sid frowned then laughed. “Why do you need it?” I asked.

He held the crown of his head with both hands, before rotating his neck with his elbows. “Oh no. Oh no, oh no, oh no…”

“What is it?” I asked.

“Sid and Jeff,” he slurred – the names sounding more like ‘Wid’ and ‘Weff’. “I’ve lost Wid and Weff…”

“You’ve lost who?” I had another quick look around the bar at this point.

Sid shook his head whilst covering his ears, this time like something that a dog would do. “Larry and Jeff,” he squeezed out, mumbled, correcting himself.

“Larry and Jeff?” I questioned. Sid nodded quickly. “You’ve not lost Sid?” He shook his head.

It was about then that the barkeep came back. By this point, a full pint down, I was feeling a little more confident. I could see that he had a name tag on that grubby polo that he had either recently put on or that I hadn’t noticed before. “Gordan,” I said. Gordan stopped and turned to me, putting his fists flat on the bar and leaning over, knuckles down like a territorial gorilla. “Something darker, please,” I said, shaking my empty glass.

I got a long stare before Gordan poured my pint, with him then disappearing again out of the back.

I let the tension dissipate into the air as I began to sip my drink, thinking little of it. That Gordan was obviously pissed off about something, but I had lost all care in what. I’d have even said that it perked me up a bit – however pissed off I felt, it didn’t appear to be as bad as that man.

Sid was still groaning on the floor beside me, seemingly having forgotten now about his goal in retrieving the suitcase. “Oww, we need to find them.” He was clutching his stomach as a child would if they were sick, whilst at the same time rocking slightly from side to side. “We need to find—” He had stopped finishing full sentences, occasionally hiccupping, though he had just about managed to stand himself back up by using the bar as support. I half-smiled whilst I continued to sip at my pint. Watching Sid was like watching the guy in town on a Saturday who is already completely backhanded before the clock’s struck midday, with passer byers invariably desperate in circumventing the hunching, imbalanced figure, trying their utmost to ignore the man, pretending as if he was not truly there. But Sid was my entertainment for that evening; I felt somehow attached to him. Past that taxi driver and Gordan, he was the only other communication that I had had.

I was watching him there, whining away, wondering just how mad he was, just how mad the world had left him, or what substance in the world he had taken to leave him conscious but otherwise completely and utterly transparent. I would have been surprised if no others had heard him. I guessed that they were just choosing to ignore him, as any man not willing trouble would… Just as my thoughts began to wonder what Gordan kept doing out the back, the bald man came back through to the bar, this time immediately noticing Sid and proceeding in pushing his way around the surface to confront him, whilst barking, “Oi! Oi! Out! Out, ya wee pesky twat!”

The next two minutes were filled with Gordan wrestling with the jelly-like figure of a Sid unwilling the leave, until the barkeep finally had him out the door. The pair had appeared to be stuck together up until that point, their tangled forms creating what looked like some monster descending into the valley’s shadows behind. Once they were outside, however, they separated and Gordan proceeded to drag Sid as far away from his pub as possible, presumably in the hope that he wouldn’t be able to find his way back.

By this point I had turned back to the bar, and there looking back at me rather understandably shocked was a woman, petit, blonde. I studied her for a moment, in the process reading her tag as ‘Steph’. “Hi,” I said.

“Hi,” she replied, at first hesitantly. “Everything alright out ‘ere?”

I smiled, picking up my drink and raising it, “Just fine.”

I was pretty pleased with myself by this point, and really getting into the swing of things. Not that I could take much credit for Sid’s actions, with him being more than fucked enough before I had even arrived, with it being barely the middle of the afternoon at that, but I felt that I had somehow contributed. I exchanged a few more smiles with Steph behind the bar before Gordan returned.

As the barkeep strode back in, practically seething with rage, I asked, “Who are Larry and Jeff?” Now, I asked this question will full intention of instigating something that I like to call the Final Word. I was just about brimming with confidence by this point, and so had taken my moment to strike. The ‘Final Word’ is a little number that though is often not literally correct – that it is not literally the final word – rarely lands far from the desired effect. An example of an ‘FW’ would be telling someone to calm down as blatantly offhandedly as possible when they are clearly rather pissed off, usually provoking an even louder, more pissed off reaction than they had given to warrant you telling them to calm down in the first place.

The secret to executing an effective FW is all in the timing. The barman did not break a stride, but pointed a hard finger at me as he turned back to the far side of the bar, “Yous need to fuck off. I ent in no mood fir this.”

“It was just a question…” I muttered.

That was when Gordan stopped dead. He turned to me slowly, sardonically, said, “Oh, aye? A question, ey? Well then, in that case yous’ll want a fuckin’ answer, then…” mocking my accent some, before bellowing, “They’re code names fir Skunk, ya dick.” He spat on the floor then returned round the bar. I looked on at the petit blonde, staring back wide-eyed but without expression.

“The fuck are yous lookin’ at?” Gordan barked, head down as he passed her.

I gave him a long, empty look as he headed for the door. I didn’t much care where the man’s thoughts lay, but I now had a predicament of my own, because it had been in my plans to rent a room for the night within the Tankard, as I had previously, all be it to different ownership. I still wanted a room, but did I want to stay with this man under that same roof? There was nowhere else in town, of that I knew, and there in lay the problem. I could have gotten a taxi back, it wasn’t late, but did I really want to do that? I flicked the watch on my wrist. 15:45.

I was giving this some thought when my decision was made for me. Just like in a game of Super Mario Bros, things suddenly moved a level up. Shit really kicked off… A piercing light filled the bar as the roaring sound of an engine started. Gordan burst back into the room like a man on fire, grunting his disgust as the light lengthened.

“Shit!” he roared as he pushed his way around the bar.

“What is it?” Steph asked.

“Shit. Fuck. Shit,” he roared as his form broke the remaining light.

“What?”

“He’s got me fuckin’ car…”

 

 

To be continued.

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