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To kick off my stable of offerings, I’m posting the opening excerpt from the title story of the collection e-published this week. Don’t read if you are of a nervous disposition.
Contribution To Mankind (excerpt)
© Linda Acaster
Spaz passed across the wrap and I gave him the money.
‘Sure you only want one?’
‘No,’ I said. ‘I want six. Hell, let’s not quibble about numbers. I’ll have ten.’
I hadn’t even given him The Look, and already his elbows were leaving the small bar table as he backed into his chair.
‘Okay, okay,’ he said. ‘Am I supposed to guess your finances?’
I picked up my glass and dribbled the contents into my mouth. There wasn’t even enough to coat my tongue.
He leaned back in a little. ‘If you’re looking for a source... Well, I might know of an off-licence, y’know, with an unguarded window.’
‘And what use would that be to me?’ I snapped. ‘Think I’m an alckie?’
The little prat moved closer, sure of himself now.
‘That’s the beaut, isn’t it? Could be there’s an anxious buyer.’
I slid my empty glass across the table towards him. He looked disconcerted, and it made me smile. ‘Buy me another and we’ll talk about it.’
He didn’t even try to argue, but dragged back his chair and limped towards the bar. I eyed his roll and sneered. He believed he had a charmed life, did Spaz, believed the sharks ignored the little fish. Silly bastard. Twice in plaster and still he thought he could fish the waters.
‘Here he is! A round of applause for our hero!’
I looked to the clamour near the doorway. It was Tony mouthing off as usual, this time to a group from the old days. Tony was another one who’d never recognise his own name being called. And then I saw who our hero was and felt the tendons stand rigid in my neck. This wasn’t his local any more; I’d driven the bastard out.
‘Very funny,’ Willans was saying. ‘If you want to show some appreciation of our contribution to mankind, get us in a beer.’
‘Shouldn’t it be weak tea?’
‘Been there, done that, let the nurse hold my hand.’
Lascivious laughter rolled round the group and I knew there was no letting it pass.
‘Listen to the pillock,’ I called across. ‘Contribution to mankind. Be organising a fucking aid run to the Balkans next.’
That killed it. Willans peered over shoulders to see who had spoken and I gave him The Look in return. He soon shifted his gaze.
‘It’s your ten up, isn’t it, Mike? Deserves one on the house, that.’
I turned my beadies on Don behind the bar, but he was already looking my way with a very flat expression. I marked it for future reference.
‘Ten’s nothing,’ Willans said. ‘It’s the first that counts, and Jerry here has just passed the needle test.’
It was like listening to dogs puke. Jerry Davidson had all the hallmarks of a good wheelman: seconds into a Gti, and nerves the Iceman would prize when a blue light was tailgating him. He’d only been caught once, too, and now Willans had sunk his claws in. How many more of the bleating sheep would follow? All of them, probably, just as they had into that poxy soccer team he’d started. All the makings of a regular crusade, it had, with Jesus Bloody Christ at its head, shining example to the world.
When Spaz put a full glass in front of me I ignored him and took it to lean on the bar. Don gave me the warning eye, but I ignored him, too.
‘Well, Jerry, congratulations. You’ve taken the first step to ensure your place in heaven. Has he got you to sign the red pledge, too, eh? Are you going to have some money-grubbing surgeon ripping out your heart before it’s stopped beating? An eye here. A liver there. Sausage, mash and kidneys.’
‘Leave it out, Sinclair.’
I turned my gaze on Willans, careful with The Look. I didn’t want to spook him too soon.
‘So, you’ve given ten, have you?’ I said. ‘Thought a body only carried eight. Shouldn’t you be dead? Like Rob.’
‘Give it up, Sinclair. That’s six years behind us. I’m not rising to the bait any more.’
‘Not rising?’ I said. ‘But you rose that night, didn’t you, rose from the fucking dead. What was it? Twenty-five pints they pumped into you? Sounds about right. Still paying off the mortgage, I see.’
The others were behind him, not at his shoulder; leaderless, as ever. I bared my teeth and sneered to see what he’d do. He just stood there, the gutless wimp.
‘Enough of that,’ called Don.
I never even glanced Don’s way. Don was all bluster. What was he going to do, call the Filth? The amount of gear they’d find carried in that place, they’d shut him down.
‘It should have been Rob they dragged from the wreck, not you,’ I said. ‘Rob they pumped all those gallons of blood into, not you. You were supposed to be the fucking driver, not Rob. You were supposed to be looking out for him.’
I hadn’t realised how quiet it had become until Don slammed the baseball bat down onto the bar.
‘I said enough. If you put as much effort into raising money for charity as you do into your hate, your brother would have some sort of decent memorial. But no, you’d rather the likes of Jerry here follow him into an early grave. And doing what? Joy-riding. I don’t see how it’s brought much joy around here.’
Don didn’t even recognise The Look when I shot it across, he was in such a flood. He’d remember it when it topped out, though, I’d see to that.
But what was the point? The exchange was going nowhere. Willans wasn’t going to bite, not like in the old days when he’d sooner knock your teeth down your throat than look at you. Getting old, that was the problem, getting old and got his own personal brand of religion.
I prodded a finger just the once in his chest. Every rib seemed to show through his T-shirt. The flab had deserted him, just like his balls.
‘You should take more care of yourself, Mikey. All this running’s wearing you out. What is it this time? Equipment for the Infirmary, or research into crippling diseases? Here...’ I tossed a coin across at him. It bounced off his bony chest and fell onto the floor between us. ‘Put me down for a slice. We can’t have Don, here, thinking I don’t support lost causes.’
I downed the rest of the pint in one and smacked the glass on the bar. I’d hoped Willans might have given me reason to smash it into his face, but there was always tomorrow. I’d waited six years. I wasn’t in any hurry.
About a week later Spaz came across with the info on the off-licence deal. I did some quiet digging and it seemed clean enough. I wasn’t too worried about Spaz, anyway. Despite his lack between the ears he knew full well that his time in plaster would be nothing compared to what’d happen if he crossed me.
The place was a small set-up in one of the closer villages. Working out of the city had its compensations. The Filth took longer to arrive, for one, and iron window grilles and concrete bollards set beyond the shop’s front were almost unheard of.
I’d picked up a van – not to do the job, that was set for the following night – just to drive the route we were going to use. These things always look fine on paper, but it’s amazing how many times you can come across roadworks on these narrow lanes, or a pile of straw bales sticking out from the verge.
Dusk was falling, not enough to hit the lights, but close enough so that I’d be travelling back with them on, as I’d intended. Anyway, I saw him – Willans – loping along what passed for the gutter in a skinny pair of tracksuit bottoms and a reflective yellow vest. I didn’t realise it was him until I was passing, and even then I was a good half mile ahead before it registered.
Willans. Running on his ownsome in the middle of bloody nowhere. Willans. Running on the road in the dusk.
I turned the van and headed back.
I came upon him almost at once, and slowed the engine to a crawl, hanging back to watch his rhythmic action. Left foot, right foot. Left foot, right foot. Left foot, right foot. Almost like a heartbeat. My heartbeat as it rose in anticipation.
Why didn’t he hear the engine? Then I realised: there was something attached to a belt around his waist. An iPod. I smiled. I couldn’t help it.
‘For you, Rob.’ And I gunned the engine.
He heard me at the last moment. I saw the beginning of a turn of his head, but the edge of the bumper caught him, or the wing, and he disappeared from my view.
I pulled up gently and looked through the mirrors. He was prone, for certain, but in the failing light I couldn’t see more. And I wanted to see more. I wanted to see what I’d seen on the slab in the morgue when I’d identified Rob.
I reversed the van and opened the driver’s door.
He was laid partly on the verge in the shadow of the hedge, his arms angled as if he were still running. The iPod was kicking out its tune as if nothing had happened. I could hear it as I approached. It threw me for a moment, made me think that I hadn’t hit him after all.
There didn’t seem to be any blood. I didn’t believe that and got down on my haunches to peer closer. There wasn’t any blood, not even a graze that I could see. That wasn’t right, wasn’t fair on Rob.
The music was getting on my nerves. There should have been blood and there wasn’t and the damned noise from that thing was driving me crazy. I put out a hand to switch it off and saw that there was a polythene cover over it. Inside the cover was a tenner and a credit card. Willans was running round the countryside with a note and a credit card strapped to his iPod. Had he been expecting some farmer to draw up and offer him a neat deal on hamburger?
I realised my mistake as soon as I pulled them free. The card was the bastard’s red pledge, his organ donor card. Rob didn’t get any organs. Rob didn’t even get any blood.
I was holding it, staring at it, when I heard the faint wisps of a groan. The bastard wasn’t dead. Then his eyes flickered open and he looked at me. I looked straight back at him.
‘Yeah, it’s Sinclair. How you feeling, Willans?’
He blinked, and gave a faint stab at a frown. I’d dislodged something, that was certain.
‘Can you get up?’
There was a second or two while his mouth tried to work.
‘You just lay there and listen to your music.’ I replaced the earphones and his limbs seemed to twitch at the sudden injection of sound. ‘Won’t be long,’ I said, but I don’t think he heard me.
Once in the driving seat I fired the engine, slipped it into gear and reversed over him. Like hitting a kerb, it was, with the nearside rear. The front jumped, too. For good measure I slid into first and pulled forward slowly. There wasn’t as much resistance the second time. Willans could donate all he owned, but who’d want a bucket of sludge?
The red pledge was still in my fingers as I pulled away. I smiled at it and slipped it into my jacket with the tenner. It would make an interesting souvenir, a decent lever, too, I shouldn’t wonder, shown to someone who knew him and was getting out of line.
Thanks for reading this excerpt. Contribution To Mankind and other stories of the Dark is a collection of five short Horror/Supernatural stories launched this week in all formats for 99c/72p.
Drop by next Sunday for something completely different.