Monday, 30 May 2011

Exit Music by Ray Banks

Moses can’t take this anymore.

Sitting here now, Fat Ben across from him watching Spongebob on the telly, and Moses can’t concentrate, his high pure mangled by worry. He’s looking at the freckles on his arms, tugged at a strand of ginger hair at his temple. Ben’s just sparked a spliff and Marshall the cat has dropped and stretched on his lap. Marshall’s been eyeing the chocolate digestives on the table, and Ben’s the easiest bridge to them. Moses looks like he’s watching the cat, but his eyes aren’t focussed.

He’s too busy thinking about Goose.

Moses was in town, doing his bit at TK, got himself a new pair of trainers, right, when he came out the Monument Mall, saw Goose across the square. Just beyond the blokey with the fuckin’ megaphone preaching the Good Word, Moses could see Goose in one of those electric wheelchair things. He had it decked out like a Maccum’s worst nightmare – black and white all over it, magpie decal on the back. And Moses reckoned Goose maybe knew him to look at, but not enough to talk to, thank fuck, so he was heading in the opposite direction when he heard Goose yell at him: “How, Moses!”

So Moses stopped walking. Turned around and there was Goose pointing at him, his other hand on the handlebars of his chair. The preacher was going on about Heaven and Hell and it was boiling Goose’s piss, Moses could tell. Just that wrong side of loud, and Goose had never been one for the Bible.

Goose crooked one tattooed index finger, beckoned Moses over, and said, “I know you.”

Moses jerked his chin at the cripple.

“The fuck’s the matter with you, you a mute?” said Goose.

“Naw.”

“You talk, like, aye?”

“Aye.”

“Good. See if you fuckin’ listen an’ all, son.” Goose came closer to Moses, the whir of the chair’s motor too high to be menacing. “I know you what you’re doing -”

“Not doing nowt, Goose –“

A spark in Goose’s eyes. Real rage. “Fuckin’ shut it. Daft lad.”

Moses clamped his lips together. Pressed the tip of his tongue against his teeth. Wanted to lay a fast smack on the one-legged cunt, but it would be the last thing he ever did.

That finger again. Pointing at him. A blue star on the knuckle.

“You want to punt your shite south of the Tyne, Moses-son, I’ve got news for you. I’m moving down. And if I see you down there, I’ll put you in the fuckin’ river.”

Moses didn’t say anything. Tried not to be scared. Failed. “I don’t know –“

“You do.” The finger curled into Goose’s fist. “You got a week. I like you. Which is why I’m giving you warning. Now fuck off.”

Moses didn’t move.

“You let that crippled cunt tell you what to do, you might as well fuck off somewhere else,” says Ben.

Moses snaps his head to the fat bastard. “What?”

“I’m serious.” Ben keeps watching Spongebob. “I’ve been thinking about it. This is put up or fuck off time. Goose is a twat, but I don’t think he’s a killing twat, do you?”

Moses blinks. Ben brushes a dropped hot rock from the cat. Marshall doesn’t move.

“Nah, it’s a cunt’s yarn, you ask me,” says Ben.

“I didn’t.”

“Giving you my opinion anyway.”

“I know.”

“’Cause it looks to me like you don’t fuckin’ have one.”

Moses squints through the smoke. “Something you want to make me aware of, Benjamin?”

Fat Ben tears his gaze from the telly to see Marshall licking his digestive. The chocolate’s melted and half gone. He looks at the biscuit and the cat with the same amount of disgust, then drops the digestive on the floor. Marshall looks at it, then follows suit, starts licking at ground level.

“I heard nowt,” says Ben, smiling. “You want to be a fuckin’ headcase about a mouthy cripple, that’s your business. Me, I’m gonna watch the end of Spongebob.”

Fat Ben returns to the telly. Moses sits back in the sofa, stares at the ceiling.

And wonders how a week managed to disappear on him.


****

Julie can’t take this anymore.

Waiting outside the place, she’s stamping the cold out of the day and going steadily mental at the same time. Her lips tight around the filter of a Berkeley Mild, her skinny white arms out at painful angles from her bodywarmer. She has her hands clamped together; they look like a knot in a bone.

Smoke drifts into her eyes. She takes the tab from her mouth, sucks hard and looks across at the place.

This is the last time. He promised.

She doesn’t know what they do to Darren in there, but he comes out pale as a ghost. Julie’s guessing they take blood, maybe piss. His hair doesn’t look like it gets touched.

But how long’s it been now? An hour?

Julie won’t go in. She can’t stand the place. Smells like a cross between hospital and prison, and she’ll be fucked if she puts herself in there willingly.

She’ll wait. Smoke a few tabs. Try not to think it out too much.

But there’s last week. That one night gnawing at her. Four days ago, three days, maybe. Time’s turned into a haze.

They were in the flat. Darren brought out the brown and she was straight on it – didn’t think to ask him about his promise until she’d already cooked. Then it was only when Darren made a move to tie off that she remembered the test today. By that time, she was nodding. She said something about Darren being a fuckin’ liar, but that was it.

He promised her.

And Darren just put a finger to his lips. He pulled on the hose, brought up the one good vein, said: “Forty-eight, hinny.”

Darren had done the long weekend bang-up before. Tapped out on a Friday with a test on the Monday. Whatever shit was in his system was gone by the time they bled him.

But still. A stupid fuckin’ chance. He fails this test, that’s him off licence and back in a cell. He won’t take that. Last time he came out, he was walking Skeletor. Skin and bone, developed a limp that he hasn’t shook off even now.

Julie pulls the tab from her mouth, exhales a long stream of smoke and dumps the filter. Turns back to the fuckin’ place.

He promised her. No more. They’d get away, start something new, right?

Maybe.

She looks down at the Lidl bag by her feet. That’s his promise to her right there, laying in that bag. Except he’s got to be here to follow through.

When she looks up, she sees the double doors to the fuckin’ place moving. A figure behind them, but she can’t see him properly because of the sunlight glare. Julie picks up the bag, shifts to one side. Raises one hand to shield her eyes.

It’s him. The way he’s walking gives him away.

Darren approaches, puts her arms around her waist. She falls into his chest, buries her face in his big coat. He smells like sweat and aftershave. The bag swings from her wrist, knocks him in the hip.

“We ready?” he says.

She nods. Shaking in his arms.

“Then let’s get it over with.”


****


See now, the more Moses thinks about it, the more paranoid he gets. And Fat Ben’s telling him it’s just the fuckin’ tack, man, but Moses has been on some hardcore highs before, it’s never affected him like this. It gets bad, then he normally feels like he’s about to whitey, not tear the place apart.

In his bedroom now, got a banana box on the bed, and he’s throwing his stuff into it. Fat Ben in the doorway, Marshall nudging his shins. “You’re fuckin’ mental now, right? I mean, you just decided to go all the way spaz on us.”

“It’s not you, Ben.”

“Aye, he said he’d put you in the fuckin’ river,” says Fat Ben. “And I told you, he’s put the shits up you for the fuckin’ fun of it.”

Moses turns, a stack of CDs in his hand. “You don’t know Goose like I know him, man.”

“I know him.”

“You know of him.”

Ben’s face creases. “Fuck off.”

“I’m telling you, I hear shit. It’s not just fuckin’ fun for him, right? It’s full-on. He’s living the dream. He’s got lads do his shitework for him. Filth don’t bother ‘cause it’s just dealers he’s doing. And what harm is he? He’s in a wheelchair.”

“Fuck him. And you’re mashed, mate.”

Moses might be, at that. But that doesn’t stop him from being right. Thinking, he’s lost that week. Running out of time. He should be out of here by now.

No word that he’s going to be fucked up. But that’s not the way Goose works. Moses has had his warning.

After that, people are just found. And Moses should’ve thought this through better. He looks around his bedroom.

Fat Ben shakes his head, says, “You are fucked in the brain.”

“Ah, cheers, man,” says Moses.

He looks around his room, trying to see beyond the distractions for the stuff he really can’t live without.



****

They’ve talked about what they’re supposed to do. How it should pan out if they just keep their wits about them.

Now Darren and Julie are running it through once more. Fractured sentences, almost code, on the bus into Gateshead.

When I –

Then you –

And we –

They get off at the Interchange, catch another to the estate where Moses lives. They’ll get off three stops early, just to be on the safe side. And they’ll have a walk, but they’ll run it through again and again, until the plan becomes just another ritual, sure as tock follows tick.

It’s nowt to worry about.

Darren knows Moses from way back. Never knew why they called him Moses, either. Skinny ginger bastard like that, not exactly the first name that comes to mind. Julie said maybe he’s got a burning bush, and that’s where Darren thinks it might come from, except it’s probably a bad dose of the clap at an age when names like Moses stick.

Whatever. Moses is a lad with a stash. He’s been dealing down round the estate for ten year or so. Never too big that he’d get anyone’s attention.
Until now.

This is what Darren hears down the testing clinic, this is what he told Julie: Moses dealt to one of Goose’s lads because this lad didn’t want to pay Goose’s prices. Goose finds out, Goose wants this fuckin’ lad taken care of, also his dealer.
Goose isn’t stupid.

And neither’s Darren. He hears this, him and Julie tie off and get to thinking as they coast. Darren makes a promise with drool spilling over his bottom lip. Julie remembers that promise. She stores it away to bring out later.

When she does, Julie’s smiling and talking about exit music. The sweet, lilting kind they have at the end of a romantic movie.

It’s what she wants. A little romance. A little music.

All that leads them here, to Moses’ door. The carrier bag Julie had with her is empty now, its contents in the deep pocket of Darren’s army surplus coat. He takes a deep breath in through his nose. The air whistles as he breathes out. The carrier bag rustles on the pavement behind them, the wind catching and dragging it towards the road.

“You ready?” he asks Julie.

She nods.

He presses the doorbell.


****


It’s Fat Ben who shouts to Moses. “Someone at the door.”


“You answer it,” says Moses.

“Fuck off, Sabrina’s on.”

“Ben-man, get the fuckin’ door. Tell ‘em I’m not in.””

Moses cranes to hear, and there’s the sound of Fat Ben pulling himself from the chair and heading out of the front room. Moses backs off across the bedroom. He opens the wardrobe, sees the brick of tack in there. A lot of money in that shit-brown, more if he fluffs it, and minimum jail time if he’s caught. It’s resin, not weed. That makes a difference. It makes him small fry. Next to the brick is a shoebox full of real money. Squirreled away. Moses has simple tastes, and he’s clever enough to save for the future.

Those things, they’re all he really needs.

Moses hears voices. He closes the wardrobe door.

“He’s shitting it about something,” says Fat Ben to someone in the hall.

“Oh, aye?”

Moses recognises the voice. That’s Darren. Smackhead. Makes him wonder what Darren’s doing round here when Moses hasn’t sold smack in three month. Got that paranoia kick again and Moses looks around his room for something that looks like a weapon. Kicking himself because he doesn’t have protection.


Hold on.

Moses shakes his head.

Breathes out. Smiles.

Got to kick himself harder, because this is Darren, man. The fuck’s gotten into Moses, he’s thinking Darren poses a threat? Moses needs to have a fuckin’ word with himself, man. He needs to get out there, see what Darren wants, get him out and continue with the plan.

No need to make this a drama, eh?
Moses puts one hand on the door, realises there’s sweat running down his face. He wipes it away and steps out into the hall.

“Y’alright, Darren?”

Darren turns like he’s been slapped. That long bastard coat, looks like Darren stepped out the trenches with that coat on. His missus standing next to him. Nice-looking lass if you can see beyond the tracks.

Darren says, “Aye, I’m good.”

“You looking to buy?” says Moses.

Darren rubs at the side of his mouth. “Aye.”

“Tack?”

“Nah, the other.”

Moses blinks. “I don’t do that no more, man.”

“Nah,” says Fat Ben from the front room, “he fuckin’ pussied out on it.”

“Too much time inside if I get caught,” says Moses.

“Right.” Darren looks at Julie, says: “What about tack then? You got owt?”

“I got something, aye.”

Moses knows something’s up, but he can’t put his finger on it. He turns back to the bedroom, gesturing for the pair of them to get in the front room, watch some cartoons. His head’s turned away, his arm outstretched.

Then he hears movement. He feels his wrist snap and flare into white pain. Turns back, sees the blood, the metal in Darren’s fist.

Squints at Darren, can’t make out what he’s got there.

Wait. A hammer.

Then he sees it flash once more before Darren puts him down.


****


Fat Ben never stood a chance. Once Moses was on the floor, Darren turned, saw the fat boy make his move. Except he had a fuckin’ cat on him that scratched the shit out of his cock before it jumped to the floor. Gave Darren plenty of time to plant the claw hammer in the side of Fat Ben’s head.

Ben took a moment to himself before he slumped back onto the chair, his arse bouncing once against the cushion. Then he slid to the floor, propped up with blood scooshing hard out his temple, his eyes rolled back in his skull.

Julie’s not feeling good. She went pale at the look on Fat Ben’s face. Now the blood’s slowed, she looks like she’s going to spew. And Darren’s fucked off because he didn’t mean to hit him so hard, but he didn’t have a fuckin’ choice. This hammer he’s got in his hand, it’s too lethal to wound.

Look at Moses right now. He’s pulled himself out of the dark, spluttering bloodied teeth and ripped up gum tissue onto the carpet.

“Moses,” says Darren.

Moses is on his belly, trying to pull himself up the hall.

“Julie, get in the kitchen.”

“Eh?”

“In the fuckin’ kitchen. Now.”
Away from the blood, he’s thinking. Because he doesn’t need her seeing all this shite. It was supposed to be a lot easier than this, except he went and shot his fuckin’ load too quick. His heart racing. Doesn’t know if it’s panic or excitement.
“For me, love,” he says, but that last word sticks in a dry throat.

Julie sniffs behind him and Darren knows she’s crying.

It’s too much for her. Beyond thinking for herself, she’s spattered with someone’s blood, she’ll do what she’s told until Darren can find them a way out of this.

He follows Moses as the ginger lad crawls slowly up the hall. Watching the back of the dealer’s head, Darren’s shaking.

Anger?

They say it’s a choice at the start. Doesn’t stay a choice for very long. But he’s daft if he thinks it’s all been bad. He met Julie through the smack. And they had good times, not just on that but on the methadone too. They mixed and matched and aye, there was the odd walkabout they had to do because one of them dropped too far into the dark, but that was just life. That was the shit you had to deal with when you had a serious habit.

As much as it’s tempting, he can’t blame the dealer for the drug. Not when Darren’s really after the cash and whatever else Moses is holding.

So it’s not anger causing the shakes.

“Moses,” he says.

There’s a shower of blood and spittle from the open wound that used to be Moses’ mouth.

“Moses, you tell us where the fuckin’ money is, I’ll let you out of this.”

Moses says, “Uggingoof.”

“You what?”

Moses rolls over onto his back, his face all scrunched up and he says it again: “Uggingoof.”

Darren leans over with the hammer, grabs Moses by the shirt. Realises he’s getting blood all over himself – fuckin’ evidence, man – and drops Moses back to the floor. Moses lands with a grunt and a thick gurgling sob shakes out of his throat.
Darren wipes his mouth. Tastes metal.

Still that fuckin’ sound. Like a huck-huck-huck coming from Moses.

Darren blinks.

Reckons he’ll find what he wants easy enough without this noise doing his head in.


****


Julie won’t look at him as they’re walking back to the bus stop.

“It was a bad idea,” says Darren.

She doesn’t answer. She’s looking at the ground.

Darren says it’s a bad idea, but he doesn’t believe it. A bag full of cash and resin is a decent haul. It won’t come back to them, either. Only one gadgie out there likely to get the nod on this one, and that’s Goose.

Goose was out in town, he saw Moses, he put the shits up him. That was Moses taken care of, right? Scared out of his mind, it doesn’t cost you any fuckin’ prison time if you’re just scaring people. Goose isn’t daft.

And neither’s Darren. Like he said before.

Moses saying, “Fuckin’ Goose.”

Aye, Goose is just as bad as anyone else. The word goes round that he’s killed Moses and Fat Ben, that’ll just add to his fuckin’ myth. Any evidence ties to Goose, the police might have something to say about it.

But that’s all wishful thinking. Darren doesn’t really know what’s going to happen.

And Julie. She’s not handled this as well as she promised.

Course, braying Moses into a pulp wasn’t part of the deal. But at least Darren moved the twitching bastard into the bedroom after he did it.
He looks at Julie now and she’s pinch-faced. He wants to tell her what an ungrateful bitch she’s being, that he kept his promise, that this is it, they’re on their way out of the life.

But that’s bullshit, and he knows it. He’s not on his way out of anything.
She might be, though.

Darren stops walking when they reach the bus stop. The Lidl bag skates towards them as the bus rounds the corner. Darren bends over and grabs the bag, fills it with the money he took from Moses’ wardrobe stash. He hands the carrier to Julie. She doesn’t say anything. The bus comes to a halt. The doors hiss.

Darren nods at the open doors. Julie gets on. He watches her find a seat towards the front.

She doesn’t look back at him as the bus pulls away.
Fuck it, there’s still a part of him that thought she would.

Darren feels the weight of the resin brick as he pulls his coat shut, buttoning it up against the wind. Then he watches the bus turn at the top of the road, humming to himself.

Giving Julie some exit music.