In front of my face a hand hovered. Wrinkled and lined with
cracked and split fingernails, it was also dirty with the kind of filth that
can only be described as ‘caked-on’.
How long I’d been crumpled behind the ‘China Kitchen’ bins,
in a mess of boxes and overflowing black bin bags, was hard to tell, especially
as I didn’t even know who I was anymore.
The hand brought its own problems with it. It brought the
danger of others. People like this man. People who might have known me, and who
might have wanted to cause me harm. Though, of course, the person may have also
wanted to help me. He may have been reaching out to me with love in his heart
and nothing but empathy in his reach. Still, my heart hammered in my chest.
This was real fear, because I knew that when that hand neared my hair it wasn’t
for reasons of empathy that his fingers were approaching me. Perhaps I knew it
because of the pincer movement of those grasping digits, but I think it was
more the expression on the man’s face which emerged out of the darkness,
unattached from its accompanying limbs. The expression plus the noise that
emerged from that weasel-like toothless visage. It was the noise of grunting,
choking swine, emerging from a stinking, pointy-nosed specimen of feeble
masculinity. I was sweating with fear and could barely see straight.
‘Give us your ring,’ he croaked, between wheezes.
‘And give us your necklace.’
My hand immediately rose to my neck. I couldn’t lose the
gold sovereign, though I wasn’t sure precisely why. There was no reason in the
whole of the world that I would just hand it over to that repulsive man.
‘No,’ I croaked, my voice low and deep.
‘Yes,’ he insisted, and his blackened finger reached down to
stroke my stubbled chin. I cringed and pulled back as much as I was able. The
man cackled breathily, and his gasps brought about a long, deep coughing spell.
The force of his body’s spasms pushed the revolting man backwards towards the
other side of the alleyway. I took my chance and stumbled to my feet, while he
was still wiping his eyes of moisture and calming his overactive lungs.
I seemed to be physically unharmed, and fully dressed. I
wasn’t in pain, and didn’t feel as if I’d been attacked, but I just didn’t know
why I was there, what was my name, and how to get home. Judging by my clothing
which was smart and brightly coloured, though somewhat stained and creased from
my time behind the bins, I wasn’t a person of the streets. Unlike that wizened
old man who glared at my newly upright form, who took in my clothing and scanned
my height and build, and who clearly realised his own attack was pointless. I
was twice his height, almost, and more than twice his breadth.
He growled a mouthful of obscenities in my direction and
trudged towards the warm spot I’d just vacated, and as he mouthed his final
‘Arrogant ponce’ at me, a sliver of a memory began to return. Yes, that was it.
I knew how I’d ended up in the alley behind the ‘China Kitchen’ bins, but I
almost wished I’d forgotten forever.
It was the word ‘ponce’ that did it for me. Yes, I was a man
who benefitted from the on-the-back work of street girls, and gradually the
gaudily made-up faces of Crystal, Ellie and Jools wafted into my consciousness.
My girls. Crystal, blonde and cute, with a drug habit that hasn’t yet spoiled
her looks, and the tiniest feet I’ve ever seen on a grown adult. I’ve seen a
fair few too, being in my line of business. I remembered Ellie and Jools, twin
sisters who’d gone on the game owing to both parents abdicating all
responsibility for their upkeep as soon as they turned 13. I did enjoy the
company of those two. Such sweet girls, and Jools had pretty much the best
sense of humour of any person in my employ. God, she should have been a
stand-up comic. And Ellie, darling Ellie, could drink like a fish and hold it.
She was a laugh and a half too.
With pounding head, I walked to the restaurant’s kitchen
door. I didn’t knock as I knew I didn’t need to. It was my place. They were my
girls, and here – the cook with the machete knife, he was mine too. Sam, the
head chef, noticed my arrival and stared at me with an expression I couldn’t quite
‘Mr Filey. Don. What’s happened?’ He began to walk towards
me then realised he was still holding his knife. He replaced it on the counter
top and grabbed my hand. As the knife clattered and glinted on the counter top,
the other kitchen staff froze and stared in my direction, vacant-faced, like
sheep on a windy night.
‘Good God, Don, you look terrible,’ said Sam.
‘I don’t know where I am.’
Sam dug around in the pocket of my overcoat and drew out an
empty bottle. Vodka. I knew I’d bought it earlier that day, and suddenly I
realised that the stinky man in the alley behind MY restaurant who wanted to
steal MY jewellery, was nothing but a figment of MY soused imagination.
‘You’ve gotta stop drinking, Don. You’ve gotta stop
drinking. Now, mate, now.’
I nodded with effort and patted Sam on the upper arm. The
noise within the kitchen seemed to return, and the previously staring staff
reanimated themselves. A path was cleared for me, as I trudged to the
stairwell, then up towards my office. Never again, I thought. Never again.
I virtually fell onto my chair and rested my head on my
mahogany desk. I looked towards my hands, and knew. Just knew that the hands
I’d seen reaching for me in the alley had been my own.
Sam was right. I needed to stop drinking. I also needed to
liberate my girls. Let them have their own lives. Manage my proper business
again. Get organised. Take back control.
I fished in my zippered jacket pocket, found my secret key,
and unlocked my largest desk drawer. The contents were as I expected. As they
always were. A bottle of White Star vodka; a densely filled note book, a canvas
bag that I knew contained £85,000 in £50 notes, my new passport purchased from
Sly Larry only last month… And, of course, my untraceable revolver. It was down
to me, and me alone, what happened next.
I unscrewed the vodka cap.