A small apartment in Grimsby, England, 1995.
“I swear to God, I can get the money! I just need a few more days.”
“You agreed to have the money last Friday.”
“I know, I know. But I can get it.”
“Terry already gave you another week to pay him back. And now you’re saying you haven’t got his eight grand. That’s poor manners, Benny.”
The wallpaper was tattered, and a horrid brown.
“I’m sorry—really. Look, if you untied me I could—”
“No, you can stay in your chair. Is it comfortable?”
“Uh, yeah… it’s all right.”
His ankles wrestled against the rope knots binding them to the chair legs.
“Good. Relax, take a deep breath. That’s it. Now pay attention. Normally, an overdue loan like yours would incur a late fee of two broken arms, but Terry didn’t ask me to break your arms today.”
“Oh, thank God. I can—”
“Hold on. You’re not out of the woods yet. Instead of asking me to break your arms, Terry said I should do whatever I think is best.”
“Oh shit, no… I just… I can…”
A bead of perspiration rolled down his leathery neck.
“Sit up straight, Benny, don’t slouch. That’s better… You look pale, take a breath. You thought you could do the wrong thing and then just walk away. Yes, you did. Everyone does. People do the wrong thing, and everyone else just looks the other way. It’s not right, Benny. There need to be consequences.”
“Please… I can get it. I swear to God I’ll get the money. This week. Please…”
“You’re not paying attention. It’s not just about the money—it’s about the principle. Where are your biscuits?”
The bare metal feet of the chair scraped the linoleum as the young man stood up. He looked to the tiny kitchen.
“I’m hungry. Where do you keep your biscuits?”
“Uh… up… up in the cupboard. Above the sink.”
“Do you mind if I help myself to a couple?”
“No, go ahead.”
“Thanks… Ah, here we go—shortbread… Mmm, I love shortbread.”
“Take the whole tin if you like.”
The tin was pale blue and shiny, with a simple crest pressed into the lid and painted silver.
“No, Benny, I wouldn’t be so rude as to finish all your biscuits… Mmm… These are good. Now, where were we? Ah, yes—the principle… and the money. Let’s see…”
He reached into his pocket.
“Oh shit… no, wait, I’ll get it. You don’t need to—wait! No, please… you don’t need the gun. I’ve learned my lesson, okay? Principles. I’ll get the money. Hey, come on! Listen! Oh God, no. What is that—a blowtorch? No, please! I swear to God I’ll get it!”
“What the hell is that thumping? Benny, you’re slouching again. I said what is that thumping?”
“It’s the… the neighbour. He doesn’t like noise.”
“For someone who doesn’t like noise he’s yelling awful loud. Now, listen up, Benny—this is important. I’m going to—good lord, he’s still going. He’ll punch a hole in the wall if he hits it any harder. Anyway, Benny, in a moment I’m going to ask you for the eight thousand you owe Terry, so I want you to think. Think very hard, because now is the time to tell me if you’ve got the money hidden away here somewhere—a safe, a shoebox, under your mattress—and I’m going to collect it.”
“P… please… give me a chance. You don’t have to do this.”
Benny’s face contorted in panic, and his breathing hastened.
“Are you ready, Benny?”
“No, I can get the money. I’ll get it! Please!”
“Benny, do you have the money you owe Terry? …Benny, I asked you a question.”
“I can… I can get it. P…please.”
“F**king hell, Benny. Have you no shame? Pissing yourself in front of a guest.”
There was a long pause, coloured only with sniffs and whimpers.
“Tomorrow, Benny. I’ll be back here tomorrow. And I will be collecting eight grand.”
“Oh God, oh God. Yes, I’ll have it! I’ll have the money, I swear. Oh God! Thank you!”
“And if you try—Benny, are you listening? If you try to skip town, there will be consequences. I’ll take my mini blowtorch here, and I’ll go visit your sister… and then your niece. And then I’ll find you. And when I do, I’ll nail you to the floor, take a scalpel and slice you to f**king ribbons. Do you understand me? Good. Tomorrow, Benny.”
Benny’s face beamed with sweet reprieve; his tears gushed.
“Yes, yes. Oh thank you. Thank you Deenis.”
“…What did you call me?”
Benny’s tears dried up, scorched by the fear of God. The colour drained from his face; his mouth hung open.
“I don’t go by that name anymore. I haven’t gone by that name for a long time. How do you know that name?”
“I heard… some of the guys mention… I didn’t know—I’m sorry. I just thought—”
A deafening crack shook the room, and Benny’s head nodded forward, a desperate wheeze escaping his trembling lips. His eyes looked down in astonishment at the small hole in his shirt, and the dark red stain expanding from it like a blooming rose. Rage consumed the face of the young man once known as Deenis, as he held his revolver outstretched toward the dying man. In a moment the rage evaporated, leaving a disengaged, almost bored stare. The young man took the last fragment of shortbread from the table and put it in his mouth. He chewed slowly; the wounded man raised his head to look at him. Another crack rang out; a jet of blood shot from the back of Benny’s head, and he stared with lifeless eyes and gaping mouth at the ceiling. Thumps rumbled against the wall from the neighbour’s side, accompanied by muffled cursing. The young man wiped the biscuit crumbs from the corners of his mouth. A bright red stain crawled down the wall behind Benny; some of it had splattered the daisies in the cheap vase on the shelf; red droplets formed at the tips of white petals.
The doorknob clicked, the door creaked open, and the young man entered the hall with his gun still in hand. He turned and headed along the thin carpet, whose collection of stains blotted its original hideous pattern. The next door flung open, its doorknob cracking into a pre-existing hole in the wall.
“I’ve told you about that f**king noise!” yelled a thin, stubble-faced man as he stormed into the hall.
He wore shorts and an old robe, and gripped a short crowbar in his tattooed hand. He looked set on destruction, but started when he saw the young man leaving Benny’s apartment. The young man stopped and looked the thin man up and down. The thin man sneered.
“Who the f**k are you?” he growled.
“Jimmy O’Shea,” said the young man, as he levelled his weapon and squeezed the trigger.
The shot cracked and the crowbar clunked to the floor. The thin man teetered. The bullet had entered his mouth and passed clean through the back of his neck; a black, leaking hole marked the place where the shot had removed his lower front teeth and lip. The man crumpled forward and landed face-down on the ugly floor. As Jimmy stood over the body, a fat, dishevelled woman rushed out from the thin man’s apartment. She gave Jimmy a venomous glare, and then noticed the man on the floor.
“Mickey?” she shrieked, collapsing on the body. “Mickey? Oh no! Mickey, what’s he done?”
She heaved herself to her feet and spat hysterical curses at Jimmy.
“You f**king bastard! I’ll kill you!”
She raised her fist, but Before she could strike, Jimmy rammed his forehead into her nose. The woman fell back limp, her head hitting the wall with a heavy thud. She lay sprawled on her back, as lifeless and shapeless as a sandbag. Her head leaned hard up against the wall, pushing her plump chin down onto her bosom. Jimmy watched her for a minute, and then a shuffle of feet sounded from inside the open door. A short figure approached in the shadow, and Jimmy turned to face it. The figure stepped forward into the light; it was a boy, maybe four years old, wearing pyjamas and dragging a teddy bear that had lost most of its stuffing. Jimmy cocked and aimed his gun. He paused when he noticed the greenish bruise swelling beside the boy’s left eye, a souvenir of his most recent beating. Jimmy lowered his weapon.
“Yeah, it’s all f**ked up, kid,” he said, tucking the handgun into his pocket. “And don’t expect it to get any better.”
He turned, stepped over the thin man, and left down the hall.
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