So charley’s walking headlong up the broadway in them pointy shoes, fast as his long pins can, arse out, hands in the thin pockets of his charity jacket, butt in his mouth where his tooth was, all slit-eyed from smoke, and his bullet head is sort of always a step ahead of him like an out of work pimp. Swings in the arthur, he does, straight up the jump for a short and a pint of jizz for chaser. He’s standing on the spot, the very spot where the bitch stood not three nights before, the bitch, that word going through him like a big idea, the bitch this, the fucking bitch that, you can even see his mouth move as he’s muttering to himself. Right on the money, charley’s thinking inside his brain, that word is, for what she done. Cos it seems she, the lat or the lith or the rom what charley is muttering about, has disappeared.
Mags the reg, or one of, is in her usual all blousey and blathery and double-chinned and charley flops down next.
Tell us a story mags, he goes. Make us happy.
Mags grabs his head and slugs him with her mouth, all grease and gob and her tongue poking through his missing front one. Elbow in her face is all charley can do before he retches.
Fuck was that? he goes, wiping her off of him.
Butter me up, goes mags.
Butter who where?
Well what story you after? she goes. Least I bring cheer. All the mis in the world…
No time for this, charley’s thinking, not this, not mags, not her mis.
Fucking bitch, he goes knocking back. Three nights and two days she’s gone. You seen her?
You seen her?
Two nights and a day ago, goes mags.
Where? In here?
By the jump where you just was.
Yeah? goes charley. Is that right?
Yeah, goes mags. With the two of them.
What two? goes charley.
You know what two.
Mags sharp as, sober as, when there’s truncheon in the air, and charley course he knows the trunch, swinging dicks out for wedge, running them jailbait lats and liths out of a council prop not two turns and a weave off the broadway. Easy pickings in the arthur. Except for mags. The regs talking fool’s gold. Except for mags. Now them two pop up like fright night working the arthur and working the broadway.
The bigger one, goes mags with her fleshy hands out wide, was chirpin her.
Yeah? goes charley scratching his elbow.
Was she what?
I don’t know, do I? goes mags. I ain’t Bill Oddie.
Charley down to the suds in a gulp and out the door not getting mags’s crack and not waiting to try. Up the broadway to oyzer’s kebabs he goes. The bitch this, the fucking two-timing bitch that. Kebabs her dinner, like a ritual, not charley’s type of dinner, no way, just the thought’s enough, but her, after the beers and that, and the beers coming after a full day on her back and that, you could see why she and kebabs got on, charley’s thinking, even though it was still on her breath and in her mug round his. When she was flat out, last of the day, with him on top and her eyes was closed, charley could normally see the bits of beast still trapped in her teeth, and sometimes a bit of shredded lettuce but mostly she chucked that on the broadway. Fucking lettuce. So charley’s headlong up the broadway following a trail of the green stuff. Swings in oyzer’s.
Charr-lee, goes oyzer coming up from below with a rag and a stainless made in Sheffield. Then comes the bag of shredded lettuce. He’s wiping the counter and grinning like kebabs was the food of love. Charr-lee, he goes, good to see you my f-
Yeah, goes charley. You seen my woman?
Oyzer shrugs, says: she come she go.
Yeah, goes charley looking out at traffic, the whole of it flashing past, the times they had, the good ones and the others ones, the one slap he had to put on her, the one knock, to straighten her out which she done like a pro and even said sorry for making him. The times they had. He was there when she DIY pierced her nose, done it to be special, like she done the pain just for him. She wasn’t even high or nothing. She come she go. Yeah, maybe, charley’s thinking, but course he can’t give this relationship up as easy as a picking in the arthur. It was more than that.
It was a good relationship. Maybe the best he done with a woman.
You remember when she come? goes charley.
Yesterday maybe, goes oyzer.
Maybe yesterday, charley’s thinking. Was she alone?
Man with her. I thinking new boyfriend maybe.
He’s grinning and wiping and grinning cos he’s only joking but it cuts charley like oyzer’s stainless made in sheffield.
He ain’t no boyfriend, goes charley.
And he’s out the stinking slaughterhouse before oyzer can say chilli sauce.
Fucking bitch, charley’s thinking. She cut and run and now she’s with the new king of the swingers. Was what mags meant, not just a big one but a bigger one than charley. But don’t matter to charley how big cos charley’s headlong again, butt where his tooth should be, arse out, pins working the pavement, a bit drunk and a bit mad and a bit armed. He always says he’s low-key, that he don’t do famous, that he don’t do hero. But course all the regs know charley won’t be done till he is done. He live the life, it is said. And course he’s only heading one place, to the prop he knows. He’s spied it once, twice, looking for an angle. Went there, once, twice, as a punter, in among the fumey rooms and lats and liths, just to check the talent. And now he’s heading back with a thin stainless made in sheff concealed in the sleeve of his charity jacket. Cut a piece of lamb, charley’s thinking, or mutton, like they say in the arthur. Whichever, he’s out to kebab someone.
Next thing he’s busting in the crime-scene-to-be, bold as, his stainless still sleeved. Only it’s not the way he planned. First, it’s dark as a reg’s arse. Second, there’s too many doors to them fumey rooms. He bust in and out, does charley, slamming and slashing. The soft furnishings take the punishment but in the dark he only cut the wrong lat. Mistake her, he does, for a lith or a rom. Stumbles out. Chucks the stainless in a bush.
Some citizen call the ambo. They take her away, the corpse. Local rag carries a pic the next week, unknown victim, unknown assailant, motive not robbery. Only the pic is of charley’s lat, the one he was after. Turn out someone done her same time as charley done someone else. One corpse missing wrong name. One in the papers wrong name. Crazy world.
Thing is, Charley’s made his move and messed it. So charley do what charley must: he disappear a bit to avoid losing face or losing his face. A bit meaning a night and two days. That’s when he head back up the arthur cos where else?
Mags is in, as per, except she’s dressed in black.
All the mis in the world, she goes. We thought you done it, charley. We thought it was you.
You sayin I didn’t?
They found a stainless, goes one of the regs.
Who’s stainless? goes charley.
We thought it was yours, goes mags.
No, goes charley, what I ask you was, who is stainless?
Nobody says nothing to that. Course they don’t.
What name she go by? goes one of the regs to ease the prickle.
Says nothing does charley.
She was known as, goes mags, if you know what I mean.
Known as ‘known as’, goes the reg.
And everyone would have had a bit of a laugh about this ‘known as’ on account of having been personal with a ‘known as’ or two. But course nobody laugh in front of the known-as’s ex-bloke.
So everyone goes quiet.
Yeah, maybe she was known as ‘known as’, goes charley necking another short, but I loved her.
The statement sort of blindsides everyone. Then charley adds:
I fuckin loved the bitch.
Well, whatever, cos the love of charley’s life, or someone who look like her, will be smoke tomorrow. There’s one or two taking the bus up the crem for three. Mags will. She likes a trip up the crem. She goes nostalgic. But don’t count on charley being there. He won’t be in the arthur neither. He’ll be up over the broadway walking headlong, butt where his tooth was, arse out, pins working, on the hunt for love.