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South London Press

by Phil Gaston


    Over on the western edge of the park the afternoon sun clipped the crescent moon above the golden dome of the mosque. At Lords the shadows lengthened on the last, falling wickets. He tugged the peak of his black baseball cap further down his brow. Low as it was the sun still had plenty of heat left in it and the power to dazzle.
   
Around him neat old ladies and gentlemen were struggling out of deck-chairs and gathering their belongings, buttoning up their cardies and making ready for home. He overheard them chatting, talking of a nice cup of tea and the early evening soaps.
   
The afternoon’s brass band was packing gleaming instruments into their cases. The musicians milled around the bandstand, uniform collars now undone, mopping sweaty necks and faces with large handkerchiefs, their last selection from ‘The Sound of Music’ softly echoed by a solitary whistler.
   
On the lake lovers rocked their boats and kissed and made up.
   
Spring was more than in the air.
   
God that sun was bright. A hungover and sore-headed five o’clock ... not a good sign.
   
... not at all like this ... he did not at all like this. This was not a good place for him ... too open ... people on all sides walking around ... people in every direction ... not a good place. He might be attracting attention. He could do nothing here. He couldn’t even look properly. There were too many damn people. Somebody might even be watching him. It wasn’t safe ... not here. It was dangerous. It was stupid. He’d been here nearly two hours. He’d seen everything he needed to see ... but ... had he been seen? Nosey bastards ... couldn’t be too bloody careful ... too many nosey bastards. He should have gone an hour ago. He should leave now. Right now. Nothing for him to do but leave ... and ... wait.
   
Going for that lunchtime drink had been the first mistake. He really should know better by now. But the heat had got to him. He’d been walking a long time; the South Bank, Covent Garden, Leicester Square, Soho. He’d felt sticky and sick in his stomach from the smell of traffic and bad drains. The heat shimmering off the shining car bodies and the reflected sunlight flashing off passing windshields forced him to screw up his eyes in a permanent squint and gave him pins and needles in the brain.
   
Well O.K. he’d needed a beer. But did it have to be that bloody super-lager piss? It had all started then.
   
That girl ... that girl pressing past him in the crush by the bar; the drinks for herself and her friend held high in the air; her arms upraised above the crowd. That girl in her little blouse for the first of the hot days. That girl and the smell of fresh sweat and sweet perfume from the wet black curls of her armpit and her soft, smooth, raised arms as she squeezed by, not six inches from his face, in the steamy bar room, laughing in the press and yelling, “Scuse me!” and, to her friend, “Hey Carol, give us a hand. I’m not a bloody juggler y’know!” Bitch! She started it!
   
He had sat till they left. Drinking and watching her. It was safe in the pub. Mixed in the crowd he knew exactly how to behave. He watched as he sat; glancing over the shoulders of others, or in between heads. Someone asked if the seat beside him was free and he moved round into the corner giving himself just as good a view but at a little different angle. And, if she’d caught his eye once or twice before as he watched, it would take her a little time to notice him again.
   
After a while he went up to order another beer at a place where he knew he would plainly see her reflection in the barglass and...she gave his ratchet another twitch, tightened him up one more notch. It was so quick that he’d have missed it if he’d taken his eyes off her mirrored image for one second. It was so quick that not another sinner in the entire packed bar saw a thing. He’d take a bet on that. Her cigarette pack fell from the table to the floor and, as she bent forward in her seat to pick it up, a beautiful, fat, little, pink-nippled tit glanced into focus in the frame of the wide arm-hole of her blouse ... just one look!
   
A seat beside her became vacant and he moved to it quickly. He squeezed in with his back to her back, leaning against her ever so casually, only a little, breathing her in ... every sip she sipped, every crisp she cracked, every tobacco, blue smoke breath she sucked ... was him ... blowing in ... and ... blowing out. Gone with the wind.
   
He’d listened to her chat with her friend: fashion and boys and holidays and work -- problems with her manager. He knew the shop she worked at; trendy, full of weird clothes. It wasn’t far, just up on Oxford Street. He could go there. He wouldn’t go there. He was not trendy. Anyway that wasn’t the point. It didn’t have to be .... It had never needed to be that ... specific.
   
She didn’t even know he existed ... but somebody would ... not now ... later ... somebody would know he existed. She’d started it. She’d started it with her body, with her presence, with her smell, with all the promises she didn’t even know she’d made and wouldn’t keep. Just by being there she’d started it. It was all her bloody fault.
   
She left. He didn’t follow. That would have been stupid. A couple of affluent-looking blue-suiters with gelled hair and mobile phones watched her and her friend pass and made some remark. Both girls laughed and shook their heads. It really didn’t need to be that specific. Anyway that way was a damn good way to get seen and get caught. In the city, on the busy streets, people noticed a lot more than you would think. People were, sort of, constantly on edge all the time. You’d be surprised. That’s when he’d gone to the park. It gave him a bit of space, let him escape the constant hard-sell that the city streets had become. Wandering, watching, drifting, watching, the couple of pints of loony-juice getting into his overheated bloodstream. He could feel himself getting more and more wound up, as full of energy as a pumped air-gun. But not quite ready to shoot his shot. Not just yet anyway. Not just yet.
   
Hot coffee steamed in a cracked mug, his third or fourth, as he sat and waited. The late light lingered into darkness outside his kitchen window, gradually fading to the careless, butterfly-flicker of nextdoor T.V. on his backyard wall. A station I.D. blared time for the News as his neighbour turned the sound up to watch exotic disasters from a safe distance. Time to be moving.
   
Now he was on tracks. He knew all of the signs. There had always been checkpoints; places where decisions had to be made; times when he still had to think consciously of certain, shall we say, arrangements ... how to, why to, whether to, if, when, where, but ...? Most of that was ancient history these days. These days ... once the switch was thrown ... it was automatic pilot ... cranked ... wicked ... juiced-up! ... hot-wired! ... runnin’ wild! ... boop boop a doop! Once those connections were made the whole fiasco was in the bag! Not one concession of not one part of not one inch would be made to no sucker. Direct injection tingling all the way from his assbone to his ballbone, right on up through his gutbone to his heartbone and on to that nasty little burning, fuzzy spot smack dab in the middle of his eyebones.
   
So, let’s run a little of this. Strip. Shower. Check over every inch, every crevice of the dark old clothes for tags or any other kind of giveaways. No labels, no tickets, no nothing ... thin leather belt ... no tie. Ready?
   
Nuh uh. One question. New question. Unanswered up to this point in time anyhow. The knife? A lock-blade hunting knife he’d bought and been keeping in the kitchen drawer for a while. Now, why had he done that? Yeeees, why that? The knife was small, solid, vicious, full of power: sharp as fear itself.
   
Up to here it had all been run before and sheer momentum had taken him to this point without even a shiver of second thought. Now he paused.
   
There had been other times like this. Many stages along the way. A new trick having been added there followed a period of habituation, of desensitization, followed in turn by a build-up of desire for a fresh improvement; an additional novelty, further elaboration. For long periods of time he might concern himself only with refinement of his methods. But, sooner or later, at the far edges of these plateau, he always arrived at the next step up.
   
In the bathroom mirror he rechecked his clothes and made certain his pockets were empty. From the workbox he took a roll of thick, brown packing tape and put this in his pocket. He slipped a ten pound note in his trouser back-pocket and left out his house-keys to be hidden safely under the pot-plant by the door. All this was done precisely; it had been done before; it was all part of the act. But, this time ... tonight ... was it enough?
   
The last one must have been a couple or three weeks ago. A to B and back again. No problem. It had been a black night and bloody freezing. Nobody hanging about. He’d waited by the main road a good bit up from the tube station, hidden in a dark, shop doorway. Most of the street lights there were on the blink or not working at all. Down the side street beside the shop, there was a vacant lot he knew with a corrugated iron fence pulled apart by the local kids in a not too obvious way. There couple of light-industrial warehouses on either side of the lot, empty at night ... no residentials ... no traffic.
   
Half past midnight had glinted from the clock in the church tower up the street. He’d stood quite still in the shadows ... listening. It became quiet ... some cars, not many ... a late bus. Far along the road a figure pulled the tube station gates three-quarters closed, letting out last train passengers, then full over. A couple passed, jolly from a nightclub, walking quickly home, laughing, arm-in-arm.
   
At last ... here was something ... nothing to see ... a shadow among the shadows ... a dark shape in the night ... a series of signals ... long hair, walk, hips, skirt, heels ... tik tak. She was alongside him ... such a good boy ... he could reach out and ... now so lonely ... no one in sight ... Mamma said ... he could ... reach ... .
   
She passed close by and he was out behind her instantly ... his arms over her head ... his belt wrapped around his hands and round her neck. He ripped his arms back with vicious force ... hauling her into the black doorway ... smashing her poor head against the brickwork. She made hardly a sound. Surprise, shock, fear, semi-strangulation and a smashed face all kept her silent.
   
He held her slumped and whimpering in the angle of the door while he wrapped tape around and around her mouth and hair. He wrapped and wrapped till her mouth was completely covered and she was unable to make a sound. Her long dark hair had fallen over her tearwet eyes and was held there by the way he’d wound the tape. She had come round a bit and was shuddering, trembling in a spasm against him, her legs giving way. She stared up at him wide-eyed through her tears, her run mascara, her blood and the black veil of her hair. He nutted her hard in the face and put his arm around her shoulders, supporting her off round the corner to the empty ground -- a couple with a few too many drinks.
   
Big fat bitch. Still it had made a change from the run of skinny bitches he’d had a couple of months before.
   
He thought again about the girl in the bar that afternoon. He slammed his fist into the kitchen wall, screaming the silent mantra to himself, “Bitches! Bitches! Bitches! Bitches! ...” He took the knife from the kitchen drawer and slid it into his trouser pocket. He felt its weight and the warmth of the wood handle against his thigh.
   
“She fucking started it.”

 

________

Nothing is Ever What it Seems (1994), pages 44-51.



Phil Gaston
 

Joe gets Dixi-fried