Archive for May 2011
‘The Room and the Briefcase’ is the concluding part of an extract from Kristian Johns’s forthcoming book ’11:47′, available next year. Parts 1&2 of the story will be available for download directly to Amazon Kindle devices soon. Read part 1 here.
Kyle’s ‘work’ phone had woken him from dozing on the sofa, but he never ignored a call. Not when there was money to be made.
There was no background noise on the line, which meant the caller was indoors, but then again, Kyle never got the kind of calls people made out in the street or on a train. The caller sounded like they had a chest infection or something.
“Hello?” Kyle repeated
“How much for you to visit?” The voice on the other end belonged to an older guy. Kyle could tell these things.
Sounds like the only visit you need is from a doctor.
“Three hundred. I’ll negotiate on overnights but I’m generally not an overnight kind of guy, y’know? You got a name?”
“We have a deal.”
“OK, dude, what are you looking fo—“
Kyle looked at the phone and arched his eyebrows. “Well, you’re rude,” he muttered while trying to tame his curly brown hair and wondering if he could get away without showering. A sniff of his t-shirt told him not.
His phone beeped with a text telling him the address, and instructions to arrive in an hour.
He texted his best friend Ian: Got a job. U gonna still be up in a couple of hours?
Almost immediately the reply came back: Sure. Come ova if u want. Have half a cold pizza n beer J
Fifteen minutes later, still damp from his shower, he took one last look in the mirror at the boyish face and slim body that drove so many older guys wild, and satisfied, grabbed his jacket and keys. It was Wednesday night, and midweekers were few and far between lately, so it was a good thing.
Might even go regular? He thought, swiping his wallet over the reader at Pimlico tube station and heading down to the cool, painted concrete of the tunnels below.
He arrived ten minutes early at the address in Kensington. A pretty fucking nice address at that. Kensington’s one of those places where you’re walking down a street lined with townhouses and you suddenly twig that none of them have been converted into flats yet. This was where money lived.
He’s loaded. Should have said five hundred. Dammit.
The door opened almost as soon as he pressed the bell, which startled him slightly — like the guy had been waiting there. The guy was a well-dressed man in his mid-fifties, wearing a double breasted grey suit with a blue shirt and tie. For some reason he was carrying a briefcase, and Kyle wondered if he’d only just arrived home. He offered his hand
“Hi, there. I’m Kyle, we spoke about an hour ago?”
— and you’re minted and ugly so I’m being polite and hoping this goes regular. Sad fuck.
The man looked momentarily down at Kyle’s hand, and then jerked his head in an ‘in-you-come’ gesture.
Minted, ugly, rude. But minted.
Kyle stepped inside and followed the silent, shuffling man down and immaculately tiled hallway and into a plush living room. They sat on the couch. The man kept hold of his briefcase.
“I usually get the money thing out the way first. Makes it less awkward at the end. That cool?”
The man nodded and produced an envelope from his blazer pocket. Kyle didn’t feel the need to check. The guy had a townhouse in Kensington for fuck’s sake.
For some reason, the guy gave Kyle the creeps, and not just because he didn’t talk. It wasn’t out of the ordinary for a first-timer to clam up. No, this guy was a different kind of creepy. To anyone else, he would have appeared nervous, sitting there, breathing like a phone pest, clutching his briefcase like it was welded to him. But not to Kyle, whose years of experience as an escort —
— had given him an uncanny ability to read people. Kyle always felt a sense of power when he was with clients, but this guy exuded a powerful aura of control. It made him feel…dislocated…vulnerable.
“So. What do you like to do?” Kyle asked, dismayed to hear an edge to his voice; a slight tremor that turned his vowels to ridges.
The man’s eyes fixed on Kyle’s and his face cracked into a humourless grin and Kyle’s skin prickled with unease as he realised he’d forgotten to text Ian the guy’s address like they always agreed.
“Uhm…you like coke? I have some on me. It’s good for relaxing. Makes you feel like the king of the world.” said Kyle, cursing inwardly as he fumbled his wallet and dropped it on the floor.
The man continued to smile at him, like he found Kyle amusing.
Have a line and focus. He isn’t the one in control here. You are. Always remember that.
“Is it OK to do it on the table? It looks —
— just chop the fucking line and stop babbling!
“—expensive. I wouldn’t want to—“
The man’s voice was husky, but still went through Kyle like a gunshot. He tried to hide his juddering hands as he knelt over the spotless glass table and shook out more coke than he should have. He chopped two fat lines, pulled out a well-rolled note and snorted. He handed the note to the man, feeling the burn and gagging slightly as the coke hit the back of his throat. The rush was almost immediate — he always bought top-drawer stuff.
The client barked a deep, phlegmy cough as he finished his own line and returned to the sofa, still holding the briefcase.
Fortified by the coke, Kyle knelt up behind the man and began kneading his shoulders. The man inhaled a deep, wheezy lungful as he slumped under Kyle’s expert fingers.
“That feel good, mister?”
The guy nodded.
Course it does, you limp-dicked old fart. You’ve probably come in your y-fronts already. Easy money.
Kyle reached for the hand holding the briefcase, “Why don’t you put that down so you can relax with me on the —?”
“NO!” shouted the man, jumping up, his suit jacket half-off his shoulders. His eyes flashed, and Kyle felt his fear crack open again.
“Okay! Okay!” Kyle held his hand out in an ‘easy there’ gesture but the man stepped back again, his eyes flashing.
“Don’t you dare touch it! Don’t you DARE touch this case!” He hugged it in a pose that might have looked absurd if it hadn’t been for his vicious expression. His face was turning a deep shade of purple and his eyes bulged. He tugged at his collar with his free hand.
“Dude, calm down, I wasn’t going to…are you O—“
The man thudded violently to the floor before Kyle could finish his sentence. Gooey blobs of phlegm splattered from his mouth as he fought desperately to catch a breath. The hand holding the briefcase let go and grabbed at his shoulder. The noise was awful, a rasping, desperate sound like nails down a blackboard
He’s having a heart attack. He’s having a goddamn motherfucking heart attack.
Kyle knew he should do something —
— you’re a rent boy who’s given him drugs.
— call an ambulance, anything, but he was glued to the spot, mesmerised by the horror of watching another human being dying, knowing he should do something, pick up the phone, call out, anything, but torn by the fear of the consequences.
— call a fucking ambulance. Flush the coke and call an ambulance
The man gaped at Kyle with eyes shot through with fear, confusion and blood. He pawed feebly at it the briefcase before his body was wracked with a final, violent spasm, and then he lay still.
Kyle stood rooted to the spot. A wild jumble of thoughts clattered round in his mind: I should check if he’s dead I should call an ambulance I should flush the coke and then call an ambulance I should try and give him the kiss of life I should grab my shit and get the fuck out of here I should see what’s in that briefcase.
The briefcase the man had been so ferocious about protecting.
I should see what’s in that briefcase.
He knelt over the man, heart pounding so hard he swore he could see his t-shirt rippling. He gingerly put his ear close to the man’s mouth. No breath. Not even a whisper.
He slid over to where the briefcase lay upside down on the smooth, varnished wooden floor and flipped it over. It was nothing special: just your bog standard department store job, black leather, with a cheap, gold combination lock on each side of the handle.
“What’s so important that you couldn’t let this out of your sight, eh?” Kyle asked the dead man, searching in his own bag for the screwdriver he always carried around with him on jobs. Police didn’t take kindly to knives. At least if he got stopped and searched he could say he was borrowing it.
A few well-placed jabs, a couple of turns of the wrist and the locks sprang open. It was then, Kyle understood.
He’d often wondered what a million pounds looked like. And now he reckoned he had a fair idea.
He pulled out his phone and dialled Ian.
**EXCERPT FROM TRANSCRIPT OF USB RECORDER FOUND ON THE BODY OF MATTHEW WRIGHT. DATE: June 26th 2011**
(Shuffling noises, metallic sound, probably from chains. Sound of a man crying)
(Male voice): He didn’t come today, or yesterday, or the day before that. But my today and yesterday might just be someone else’s today. I don’t know. I’ve tried to count the seconds and get some sense of time but I can’t concentrate. I don’t know if he’s coming back. I keep blacking out. I’m so hungry. So goddam FUCKING HUNGRY!
(Screams, shouting, chains rattling)
WHERE THE FUCK ARE YOU! COME BACK YOU FUCKING CUNT!
(Sound of crying lasting approximately two minutes.)
Every time I wake up it’s from the same nightmare. I hear the sound of the door in my dreams. It scares the shit out of me, but scarier still is the sick way in which I want to hear it. I just want to hear the door open again. I keep…
…I just keep waking up and seeing it open, but I know it’s not really open because he’s not there. I miss him. It sounds so fucking stupid but I miss him. He’s a monster. He’s a FUCKING FUCKED UP MONSTER
(Chains rattle on each word, as if speaker is pulling at them for emphasis)
…but he’s the only human being I think I’ll ever see again. Oh God, how long till I go? How fucking long till I just black out and don’t wake up. PLEASE. Oh, God, please.
(Crying for approximately thirty seconds. The next two minutes of the audio is also muffled and could not be understood)
…of my fucking life. Oh God, I’m so sorry, I’m so, so fucking sorry. Tell John I’m so sorry. And tell him I love him.
**END OF RECORDING**
BBC NEWS WEBSITE: DATE: 7TH JULY 2011: TIME: 11:47am
KENSINGTON ‘HOUSE OF HORRORS’ REVEALS MORE VICTIMS
It has today been confirmed that the remains of a further five victims have been excavated from the basement of the Kensington address where 53-year-old Geoffrey Hamilton was found dead from a heart attack last week. A postmortem on Hamilton’s body has since established the presence of cocaine in his body at time of death.
In a dramatic twist, the corpse of a young male chained to the floor in the basement of the property. Although official cause of death has not yet been made available, it is suspected that the victim, named as 27-year-old sales executive Matthew Wright, died from multiple fractures to the back of his skull. Speculation that Wright may have taken his own life by repeatedly striking his head against the floor has neither been confirmed nor denied.
In a statement issued by the Metropolitan Police today, Detective Chief Inspector Chris Reynolds said:
“We can confirm that we are still in the process of excavating the basement at 45, Barrington Gardens, SW7 and have so far recovered five bodies in addition to those of Geoffrey Hamilton and Matthew Wright. All are believed to be male and we are awaiting the results of DNA testing to determine their identities.”
The funeral of Matthew Wright is expected to take place next week, when the body is released by coroners.
‘The Room and the Briefcase’ is an extract from the forthcoming collection ’11:47′, available next year. Parts 1&2 of the story will be available for download directly to Amazon Kindle devices soon.
The room is about ten feet by six, and the ceiling is low — only about eight feet separate it from the floor. There are no windows, which gives the room a damp, humid smell, underpinned by another odour, like meat that’s been left in the fridge too long. I haven’t heard any sounds from the outside world, so I’m assuming the room is underground, but I don’t know how far.
The room was white once, but it hasn’t seen a decent coat of paint in years — possibly decades — and the walls and floor are concrete. There are dark, mottled patches everywhere, each roughly the size of a person. He’s had a go at painting over them, but you can see the stains coming back through the peeling paint like mould.
The room is empty apart from me, and I’m chained to the floor opposite the heavy steel door that serves as his entrance and exit. He’s positioned me so I have no choice but to look at him when he comes in. He likes that, you see. He’s always dressed smartly, like he’s just come from the office, and he’s always carrying a briefcase. He never talks.
There are two thick metal rings buried either side of me and I’m shackled to them, crucifix-style by heavy chains. There’s enough play in them for me to sit up, scratch my face and stuff like that, but the cuffs are inlaid with rows of sharp spikes which have pierced my skin and will rip my wrists to ribbons if I try to pull them out. I black out occasionally, and when I wake up, I always find there’s fresh blood seeping from the wounds — like I’ve been struggling in my sleep.
The cuts are infected now, and there’s a faint rotten smell coming from them. My contacts fell out long ago and my mouth feels hot and putrid. I smell sour with sweat. My clothes are hanging off me and when I wake up from my blackouts, the floor is hard against my now jutting bones. My face is a scratchy mass of beard and my hair is lank and greasy. The days of haircuts, perfectly trimmed stubble and hard effort at the gym just to fill out my t-shirts seem so far away now – and so pointless.
I don’t know how long I’ve been here. It must have been a while, because the faces of the people I love are becoming fuzzy in my mind. I try to recall John’s face, but as soon as I get a clear picture, it melts away. I try to remember if I told him I loved him that morning, or if I texted him something soppy and alcohol-fuelled later when I was out drinking after work, but I can’t check, because my phone’s been taken. I hope I told him I love him. I miss him. I wonder if he’s trying to find me.
Panic is supposed to subside over time, isn’t it? It’s not true. The fear is relentless. I’m full of adrenaline every waking second, waiting for the sound of the door. My whole life now revolves around waiting for the sound of that door come and to rip apart the constant silence. That’s probably why I keep blacking out. I guess your body is only designed to cope with so much stress before it shuts down. Unconsciousness is a relief to be honest. I mean, I have dreams, but they’re all about being in this room anyway. Sometimes I wake up and don’t realise I’m still dreaming, and sometimes when I’m awake, I question whether I’m conscious. I wonder if I’m going insane.
There’s a screeching sound from the door as he pulls back the heavy bolt on the other side, and despite the fact I’ve been waiting for it, a thunderbolt of fear slashes through me. My bones jump beneath my sagging skin, bile rises in my throat — although there’s nothing in my stomach to throw up — and my pulse hammers in my veins.
And then he’s there in the doorway — an unattractive guy of about fifty, with greying temples and a paunch. He’s wearing the grey suit today, with a cornflower blue shirt and a patterned tie. He’s got two suits — one grey and one navy — and about four ties. He sticks to white and blue shirts. And of course he’s got the briefcase. Always with that fucking briefcase.
He shuffles, slightly hunched over, into the middle of the room, sets the briefcase down and walks back out. He’s disappeared from view, but I hear a faint clanking, whizzing sound, like a rope against a pulley. I suspect he has some sort of dumbwaiter system, because he always returns with a tray.
He checks to make sure his briefcase is still there, and shuts the door. Although it’s already silent in here, the sound still feels like it’s been sucked out of the room; like the air’s tighter somehow. He walks towards me.
I often wondered what it would be like to stare into the eyes of a madman, and now I know. They say the eyes are the windows to the soul. If that’s true, this man has no soul. There’s nothing there behind his eyes. Absolutely nothing.
At first, when I still had the strength to get angry, I used to scream abuse at him. Brutal, primal things I never even imagined myself saying in my head, let alone out loud. I’d vow to get free and tear him limb from limb. I’d spit, kick and bite, scream at him like nothing human until my throat was in shreds, but he never reacted. He just stood there, observing me with this kind of… muted curiosity until I wore myself out.
Later on, I switched to begging with him, asking why I was there, what he wanted from me. I’d describe where I lived, what I did, the kind of person I was, hoping to connect with whatever last scrap of humanity he may have had. But he just watched silently as I slowly wore down and broke; until there was nothing more of the ‘me’ I used to be. Until I was just a whimpering slab of meat, sobbing and flinching whenever he came near me.
Now I stay silent the entire time he’s here. My trembling gives me away, but I’m damned if I ever let him see me cry again. I’m not in a position to make resolutions — I’m going to die here, I know that now — but I’ve promised myself one thing: I will never cry again in front of that monster.
He carries on now like he’s tending to a mannequin and not a human, pulling down my trousers so I can defecate into a bedpan. Once I’m done, he pulls them back up and begins spooning stone-cold porridge from the tray into my mouth. His breath stinks like cold chips, and every time he inhales, I hear a rattling, wheezing sound. The spoon clatters like a tuning fork against my teeth.
When he’s finished feeding me, he goes and sits on top of the briefcase and just watches, head tilted slightly to the side as if he’s pondering something. At first — back when I had a spirit — I tried to stare him out, but I never won. I refuse to look directly at him now, but I won’t turn my head away. Instead I fix on the spot on the wall just beyond his left ear, and wait till he’s done. Sometimes he’ll sit there for a few minutes, sometimes much longer. The only sounds are the thundering of my heart and his rattling breaths.
He gets up after a few minutes, and immediately I’m a mannequin again to him. I’m invisible as he picks up the briefcase and heads to the door.
I don’t know why, but for the first time in what must be weeks, I speak to him. My voice is alien, dry and unfamiliar, yet resolute, echoing off the bare walls.
“I’m not afraid of dying.”
He stops in the doorway and turns his head slowly to the left, but he doesn’t look at me. And for the first time ever, I hear him speak:
After the door shuts, after the bolt shrieks into place, and after counting to a thousand to make sure he’s gone. I break down.
I cry for me. I cry for the memory of sun on my face, the feel of a hot shower on my skin. I cry for the smell of John’s aftershave, for sex, eating chicken salad, and the loss of my dignity. I cry for the little things, like fresh sheets and the cold side of the pillow on Sunday mornings when John goes out for a run. I cry for my life and my meaningless achievements. I cry for an end to all this.
He was wrong. I’m not afraid of dying — I’m afraid it won’t come soon enough.
Another blackout. I’ve fallen onto my left wrist and the barbs inside the shackles have bitten deep. My forearm is hot, swollen and bloody. I stretch my good hand into my jeans pocket. After all this time, I still can’t believe he missed it when he took my stuff, but there it is, small and metallic in the palm of my hand:
A USB recorder.
I press the button and begin to speak…