Sunday, 24 July 2016

The Beggar Man (part 2)

"Are you hungry, Bill?"
He opened his eyes yet there was still darkness. Blinking a few times, his eyelashes graced against material and he realised that he was blindfolded. His nose wrinkled as he pulled in the smell of the room around him. It stunk of incense and disinfectant, alongside history and silence, the smell of a National Trust Property. Much to Bill's confusion, there also seemed to be a background scent of drugs. Heavy drugs. He shrugged, trying to get himself free, but instead discovered a sharp tug on his right arm. He appeared to be handcuffed. There was a numb pain in his left arm, which seemed rather weak compared to the sharp stabbing pain in his shoulder. He suddenly remembered he'd been shot in the shoulder by the same man who'd said, "We'll send him to Morricone too."
"I'll repeat my question, Bill. Are you hungry?" The voice was old, croaky, as if someone had taken a bottle of whiskey and given it an accent. Although it was weathered with years of Northern English conversations, there was no denying its Italian origins. Bill gulped. The speaker was, presumably, Sergio Morricone himself.
"Slightly." Bill said.
"That's an interesting answer, my son. That says a lot about you as a person. It suggests to me that you are uncertain about what to do with your life, that you are just wandering from one opportunity to another, never stable, never sure." Morricone let out a laugh. "Either that or you aren't entirely hungry. Now, my boy, I'm going to have your blind fold taken off. Try not to do anything ridiculous otherwise I'll have you shot. Do we understand each other?"
Bill nodded.
"You'll have to talk. My eyesight isn't quite what it was."
"Yes. We understand each other."
"Good. Miss, take his blind fold off."
A pair of cold, soft hands removed the material covering Bill's face. He blinked a few times and then let his eyes adjust to the light of the room around him. It was large, wood panelled and old, decorated with antique furniture and auctioned paintings. The chair he was chained to was positioned at one end of a huge banquet table. Morricone was sat at the far end, on the other side of countless platters of food. The King of the Underworld, as he was sometimes known, was a small, fat, Italian born man. He wore a navy blue suit and a pair of wire rimmed spectacles, with his hair short, greying and tightly curled. He didn't look capable of having more blood on his hands than an abattoir worker but he almost certainly did. He made Bill sick.
"Welcome to my humble abode, Bill." Morricone smiled. "Forty bedrooms, a private swimming pool that my nieces love. We even have a light aircraft hangar. My favourite rooms are the ones like this, that and my four studies. I have one on each side of the house so I can move around to wherever the best view is. You, on the other hand, have a modest bedsit with damp in the kitchen. I had a couple of my men go down. The sofas are damp now, the worktops and the carpets. All damp. With lighter fluid. I'm telling you this, my son, because I want you to understand where you find yourself now."
"I find myself in your private mansion, Mr Morricone." Bill said. "In your inner sanctum as some might say."
"Yes, you do. But you are here because I allow you to be. I control you right now, Bill. I own you. You are my plaything. So, eat. I don't want you getting hungry."
"My hand is cuffed to this chair. I can't eat."
"Bill, I spent a month as a child in Italy with my uncle. He was a member of the Cosa Nostra. One of their members, one of my uncle's dearest friends, is my clearest memory from that month. They called him Moncone, that is to say 'Stump.' Why did they call him this? Well, once upon a time Moncone was locked up. He'd murdered his wife because she'd cheated on him. The prison they'd put him in was on a island, just off the coast of the nearest port. A group of sailors from the port were rather loyal to one of the prison's inmates and so had sailed in some explosives. One of the prison walls exploded, opening up a hole big enough for most of the prisoners to escape through. Picture it, Bill. All of those prisoners escaping. Unfortunately, my uncle's good friend Moncone, had been caught in the blast. The fall of debris had crushed his arm and pinned him to the ground. There was no realistic way he could escape except for one. He had to amputate his arm. The thing was, Moncone didn't have any weapons. He didn't have any tools. The only sharp thing he owned was his teeth. So, he dislocated his shoulder, folded himself over the way he needed to and bit through his arm. Bone and all. Once he'd gotten free, he carried himself to the water and swam back to the port. He went to a hospital to have his stump covered up, only to discover that the rest of his arm had to be amputated too due to an infection from the water. The point is this, my son. If a man can do all that and live to tell the tale, you can eat a meal with your hands cuffed to your chair."
Bill stared at Morricone and said nothing for a second. The old man smiled, but his eyes were tired, worn, like he'd lived this life for longer than he cared to admit and experienced this same situation so many times he had grown bored already. After a few moments of thoughtful contemplation, Bill said, "Where are the girls?"
"The girls? From the back of the van? The youngest is sleeping off the chloroform I had her gagged with. The other is on duty. If you're worried about them, you needn't be. My maids estimate the oldest is just sixteen and the youngest merely eleven. They'll join my house staff, I have decided, and when they reach eighteen I'll reconsider their occupations. Children should not be exposed to business. I abhor anyone who disagrees. The world of business is not a place for innocents; they will get no where without the capacity for guilt. You don't need me to tell you this, however, do you? You know full well the guilt and crime of business. Hence why you are a police man. You believe yourself a saint, high above the rest of us."
"How do you know I'm a policeman?"
"Firstly because of the radio in your pocket, Bill. It wasn't hard to put two and two together when we observed the sticker declaring it property of the local Nick. Secondly because I ordered for you to be placed there. The Commissioner and I play golf sometimes. He thought it was a good idea, better than placing an actual spy in my company." Morricone smiled. "You see, that's how you get ahead in business, my son. You own the competition. Not that you bumbling bobbies are much competition."
Bill stared at him, incredulous.
"Here's the thing, Bill. I was perfectly happy for you to just sit there, outside, making notes, disrupting minor operations. Now, however, you have experience. You have knowledge of more. I don't want to make your head swell but you're dangerous to me. The question is, what do I do to you? Do I cut your tongue out? Do I shoot you? Do I make you disappear?"
Bill said nothing.
Morricone smiled. "Today is your lucky day, my son. I'm going to do none of those things. I'm just going to have you released. Simple as that. No twists, no conditions. You can simply walk out of here and all the way home, go back to your quiet life, to your fake beard and your scratty clothes. Nobody will hinder you. Nobody will be mean as you. We'll all just live on as adults. Think you can do that?"
"And what happens if I tell my Inspector what I've seen?"
Morricone laughed. "I'll have you fed to rats."
"That seems fair enough to me." Bill said. "Do you mind if I go now? I haven't really got much of an appetite."
"Of course you can, my son." Morricone smiled. "I'll have one of my maids show you the door. It's been a pleasure to meet you."
The old man stood, smiled at Bill for a second, and then made a couple of quick gestures to a woman behind Bill's chair. As Morricone turned and walked away, the atmosphere of the room left with him. It was still unpleasant but no longer was it horrific.
Bill remained sat there for a second, waiting, and then there was a soft pad of feet behind him. The same pair of light, cold hands that had removed his blindfold undid his handcuffs and allowed him to stand up. He turned to see the older of the two women from the van. She smiled at him, but it was sad smile, the type one might wear when greeting a hated sibling at a grand parent's funeral. "This way." She said.
Bill followed her out of the dining room and down a long corridor, again lined with paintings and vintage units. Neither of them said a word, the woman didn't even glance over her shoulder to make sure he was following. Her footsteps were furtive, so quick that Bill had to hurry to keep up. He wondered what would happen when she opened the door for him. Would she attempt to run? Would she attempt to escape? If not, should he suggest she did? It would be irresponsible to leave a child here, but maybe it would be more irresponsible to put her into certain danger escaping.
They approached the door. It was huge, made of wood thick enough to withstand a police attack. Somehow, Bill suspected that was the point. There were various locks, huge cast iron things that wouldn't look out of place in a medieval fortress, and the woman struggled to get them open quickly. Bill noticed she had all the keys hanging from a silver ring. He imagined she could escape easily, but then again, Morricone would know that. Why was he giving her such power then?
His smile died. She had a sister somewhere else in the building. Sleeping off the chloroform, a likely tale. 
The older sister unlocked the door fully at last and pulled it open, just enough for Bill to be able to sneak through. "Thanks." He said, breathing in and heading over to the door. Even having sucked himself in, he struggled to fit through the gap. Once he'd got his body through, he set about trying to move his head. It was at that moment the woman said, in a rich foreign accent, "I'm nineteen."
She pushed the door closed, causing Bill to jump back in order to avoid being crushed. He stumbled back across the marble platform outside the house, almost tripping over. If she was nineteen, she didn't even the smallest safety net. Bill sighed. He had no choice. The police had to know.

It took him three hours to get back to the Cop Shop. Morricone's estate was bigger than most towns, or so it seemed. By the time Bill reached the main road on the other side of the estate, an hour had passed, then there was just the small matter of a two hour hike back to town.
He spent the time going over what he was going to tell his Inspector, about how he'd been kidnapped, shot and then let go again. By the time he reached town, the drugs Morricone had pumped him full of had begun to wear off and the pain in his shoulder had begun to intensify. He just hoped he could reach the station before it was entirely gone, otherwise he would have to go to hospital first and that was the last thing he needed. He'd be safe in the station, he told himself, Morricone's tendrils couldn't reach that far.
Finally, he reached the station. Tears and sweat ran down his face alike, getting stuck in the remains of glue on his chin and cheeks. He knew that Kelly was going to kill him for losing the fake beard but he didn't care. Somehow, he suspected other things would kill him first.
Bill couldn't be bothered taking the back entrance, instead hobbling up to the steps and through a pair of automatic glass doors plastered with posters about Mental Health services and benefits. The doors opened for him, permitting him into a large room taken up by a selection of seats and a glass panelled reception. The door for criminals was around the corner; when the building had been designed, the architect had suspected the general public would prefer to be kept out of the way of policemen and their cargos.
The man on the desk was reading a battered John Le Carré which he didn't look up from for a good page and a half. This gave Bill enough time to struggle towards the counter. The drugs had almost entirely worn off now, to such an extent that it almost felt like an iron rail was being driven through him over and over again. "You alright, mat-" The officer stopped. "Oh, bloody hell. It's you."
There was the tiniest of electrical whines, which signalled to Bill that the officer had pressed the panic button. "What's wrong?" Bill said. "It's only me."
"Don't play innocent like that. I don't get how you can be like that. It's bloody disgusting."
Bill searched his memory, most of which was disguised beneath a curtain of pain. The officer's name suddenly appeared. "Paul, look, I don't have a clue what you're on about."
At that exact moment, a door opened and half a dozen police officers raced out, grabbing Bill and heaving him up. "We'll slap him in the cells, Paul, don't you worry. The Inspector can have a word with him."
"I haven't done anything." Bill said. "I don't understand."
"Don't try playing innocent with us, Bill. You're not the man you used to be."
Bill decided it wasn't worth arguing with six angry policemen. No, he'd wait for the Inspector. That would clear everything up.
Five hours passed before he saw the DI. They put him in the cell but within seconds of them walking away, he'd begun screaming from the pain in his arm. Some paramedics turned up and whisked him away to hospital, giving him drugs and patching up the wound. He was lying in his bed, hooked up to morphine, as the Inspector pushed his way through a pair of blue curtains and over towards Bill.
"I knew that this assignment was a bad idea. The constant cold, the isolation, it gets to a man. Breaks him." The Inspector took a seat on the edge of Bill's bed, pulling out a cigarette and lighting it. "I thought better of you, lad."
"Johnny, I don't understand what's going on. Why am I under arrest?"
"You lost the right to call me Johnny the moment you killed that poor love."
"The moment I did what now? I didn't kill anyone."
"Oh really? How come we found three corpses in your bedsit then?"
"Yes. Two kids and a woman. Bloody disgusting. I don't know what you were thinking."
"I didn't kill anyone, gov. I promise. I'm not a murderer."
"Save it for the interview, Bill. Your lawyer is here by any accounts, I just wanted to see if you were the same guy I sent out onto the streets before I let him in."
"Johnny, I don't understand what's-"
It was too late. The Inspector had stood and walked out. Another man walked in, this one wearing a much more formal suit. He didn't take a seat, instead standing and staring down at Bill. "Hello there. I assume the Inspector explained that I'm your lawyer."
"I don't understand why I need a lawyer. He said I'm a murderer but I'm not."
"That's what they all say, my friend. The truth of the matter is, three corpses were found in your bedsit. We need to work out a way to explain this, and your previous twenty four hours absence. Want to suggest anything?"
"I was with Sergio Morricone. He has two girls in his house being held hostage. I think they're in danger. Also, he's using a Tearoom downtown to sell drugs which he's smuggling onto a construction site next door. One of the dealers shot me. You've got to get me out of this mess."
"Okay. That's interesting. Let me make a call." The lawyer pulled out his phone and dialled a number. Pressing the mobile to his ear, he listened to the dialling tone and then began speaking. "Hello there. Mr Morricone? Yes. He sung like a canary. Do you want to me kill him or let them process him? Process? You're sounding lenient. You're welcome. Well, thanks anyway, Mr Morricone. See you soon."
The lawyer hung up his phone and smiled at Bill. "You look confused. Would you like me to explain what has happened?"
"Yes." Bill said. "Please."
"Mr Morricone had your makeup technician and her two children shot before being placed in your flat. It was a test, you see, to see if you would give him up. Unfortunately, you have. Poor, poor man. I suppose this means you'll spend the rest of your life behind bars. Unless..."
"Unless what?" Bill said, probably too quick.
"Unless you beg for mercy."
"Please." Bill begged, not even pausing for thought. "Please, you've got to let me go. I'm just doing my job, trying to be a good guy. I'm just trying to be a good ma- why are you laughing? I'm begging for my future here!"
The lawyer shook his head. "Once a Beggar Man, my friend, always a beggar man..."

Friday, 8 July 2016

The Beggar Man

"Chance is an incredible thing." Said Brian Cox in that annoying voice of his, like you're standing on one side of an event horizon watching a voice enthused with passion slowly turning to monotony as it struggles to reach beyond the pull of the Black Hole. "The human concept of luck is immensely fascinating. I'd go so far as to say it's amaz-"
Bill sighed and clicked the television off. It had seemed like a good idea to put some interesting documentary on iPlayer whilst he ate his hurried breakfast, milk dripping from his spoon and onto his thin white vest, but he couldn't be doing with Brian Cox at this time of the morning. He took the last spoonful then climbed up, clambering over the side table and to the bathroom door. He had one last razor in a small, yellow plastic bag atop the white unit where he kept his shaving equipment. He wrestled it out of the bag, flipped off the plastic cover, and then rested it on the side whilst he prepared some lather. He'd only shaved the previous morning but already a light freckling of stubble had begun to creep out of his face. It disappeared beneath a healthy helping of white foam and then went missing complete as he slit it away, dragging the razor down his flesh. About three minutes later, he was clean shaven. He smiled in the mirror and made sure that his teeth looked plentifully orange. He wound up the blind and stared out. The opaque glass pane was absent of rain droplets, thus he wasn't allowed to wash his hair. Those were the rules.
Sighing, he walked out of the bathroom and pulled on the same clothes he'd been wearing all week. A pair of tatty black trousers, a grey t-shirt, a pale blue hoodie, a checkered red and black fleece collaged with bird poo and dust from the road side. He pulled on a red beanie, grabbed his bag of rubbish and set off towards the door, unlocking it and walking down a paint flecked fire escape onto the street outside. 
It took Bill ten minutes to reach the Cop Shop on Sandringham Road. He entered via the back, spending another ten minutes negotiating various corridors until he reached the makeup room. Kelly was sitting on the sofa, struggling to keep herself awake. "The twins acting up?" Bill asked.
"I just can't get them off. Ben said he'd stay up with them, the love that he is. I can't wait for this operation to be over though; getting back to him will be glorious."
"And I imagine the caretakers will be glad to get their office back." Bill smiled, looking at the mops crudely hidden by the black gown he wore whilst she was making him up. 
"Well, there is that." Kelly said. "What do you want then, sir? The usual?"
"Sounds good to me." He smiled.
It took two hours to do everything, exaggerating the bags beneath his eyes and reddening up the nose. She shook her head when she saw a nick on the underside of his chin. "You don't need to shave, y'know."
"I do." Bill said. "I really do."
Once she was done, she said what she did at five thirty every morning. "Ta dah! What do you think?"
Bill grinned. He'd been doing this job eight months but he still insisted on the fake beard. The feeling of the itchy glue setting against his recently shaved flesh was reassuring. It was his last link to normality, to his time as a bobby on a beat. Now he was just a man, on a street, waiting for something to happen.
"See you tonight." He smiled. 

The wonderful thing about the Morricone drug scene was that they did their business in the daylight. The story went that old Sergio himself detested the dark, that he saw the night as the cover of villains and crooks. Sergio saw himself as an honest business man, of course he did, and thus he could only deal during the day. For Bill, that wasn't too bad. It meant he could sleep at home rather than on the street. It did, however, mean he had to be up earlier in the summer when the day began a lot earlier.
He was plonked in his spot, watching the cafe, as it opened up. The spot was nicely secluded, a jutting grey triangle above protecting him from the majority of bird poo and rain, but provided a perfect view as a young man with a leather jacket and a bald head pulled up a metal shutter.
Cath's Tearoom was the definition of greasy spoon, with grimed up windows and low quality plastic tables. Its clientele was composed purely of builders, from the Morricone run construction site to its side, and a plethora of low lives and scumbags who were looking for work that didn't comply to the rules.
Bill’s job was simple. He sat outside the cafe, watching. If he saw any blatant law breaking, he used a radio hidden in his front pocket to signal the Cop Shop. Response time, he estimated, was three minutes. The rest of the time, he just watched and made mental notes. He memorised the faces of regular visitors so that he could then draw up some rough sketches to be handed out to regular bobbies. They could then watch out for those regular visitors on their rounds. 
Today was a relatively routine day. A man Bill recognised  from previous mornings had turned up, paid for a cup of tea with several bundles of greasy twenty pound notes and then had left with a huge duffel bag instead of the polystyrene cup. Bill logged the man’s face and decided that when he got back, he’d ensure he urged the Inspector to put out a warrant. The contents of the bag, probably drugs of some form, would no doubt go on to endanger many lives. Sure, the man may have never picked up a gun or knife- although he probably had- but he was as much a murderer as those who had.
The day stretched on. More men and builders came into the cafe, some staying for a drink, others departing almost regularly. One of them made eye contact with Bill as he stood outside the cafe, smoking, but it only lasted a few seconds. He’s probably just wondering why I don’t go work for Morricone like everyone else in the Homeless shelter.
Around lunch time, when a bigger flock of builders came to the Tearoom for chip barms and gravy, Bill’s stomach began to rumble. He’d gotten everything under control, even the itching of his fake beard, but not the hunger. That seemed uncontrollable. Jealousy and further hunger crept in from every angle; be it the laughing men in the tearoom or even the seagulls pecking at crumples of rubbish discarded on the pavement around him. He looked at the seagull and wondered if it would seem odd if he were to strike out and eat it. Yes, maybe a little bit. 
“Shoo.” He commanded, throwing out one of his hands and sending it flapping away.
Time stretched on. One of the builders brought him a cup of tea, smiling kindly as he did. Bill sniffed it suspiciously and then took a sip. If there were any drugs in it, they were yet to take control. Whilst it lasted, the steaming pool of brown liquid was an oasis he was delighted to submerge himself in.
A few hours later, once the liquid had settled at the bottom of his stomach, as freezing cold as the rain striking through the air and hitting him, his eyes migrated towards the clock tower. He could only just see it on the other side of the dirtied canvas of the construction site’s facade. Every minute or so, time didn’t ever seem to run properly when you wanted it to, the large metal hand would crank on. Two more minutes, he thought as the sky began to darken and the rainclouds from the East continued to spit on him. Just two more minutes.
One of the cafe staff walked out, pulling down the metal shutters and closing the Tearoom up. Bill clambered to his feet, collecting up his rubbish. He wondered if the rain would die off anytime soon or not. As he began walking up the street, ready to go home, a large lorry pulled around the corner and begun down the road. It was far too narrow for a Heavy Goods Vehicle to converse down, surely?
The man from Cath’s Tearoom threw out his hands in alarm, shouting something in a language that Bill couldn’t speak. The lorry driver pulled up to him and lowered the window, replying in the same language. They argued for a moment and then the man from the Tearoom called over some builders. They nodded and listened and then ran over to the facade of the construction site, pulling back the white tarp and creating a hole big enough for the lorry to drive through. It did just that, disappearing into the site on the other side. Bill’s eyes glimpsed towards the clock tower. One minute after his home time. Kelly would be getting to the Cop Shop about now, sitting down to read her magazine whilst she waited for him. He didn’t want to keep her longer than she needed, keep her away from those wonderful twins of hers, but he didn’t have a choice. This was the type of thing that would get him off the streets and into a safe, warm office. He just needed to work out a way to not be spotted.
Leaving his bag by his spot, he hurried across the road and snook towards the tarpaulin covering the facade of the Construction Site. There was a narrow alleyway that ran alongside the site, between it and Cath’s Tearoom, so he ran down there and continued until he got to a point where the site’s facade didn’t reach. Crouching down, he stared through the gap. There didn’t seem to be much building going on; instead most of the workers seemed to be cutting open huge oil drums. Except, the drums didn’t have oil in them. Bloody hell! That’s how they do it. 
The drums were full of tightly wrapped packages, stuffed with illegal powder. Bill wondered how much the contents of the construction site- the true facade here- was worth. More than my life, that’s for sure.
The lorry had pulled to a stop and the man from Cath’s Tearoom was furiously arguing with the driver whilst a couple of builders pulled the back of the lorry open. It swung out to reveal several barrels. 
“Uh, boss?” One of the builders said. “I think we’ve got a problem.”
“There is no problem.” The driver said. “I deliver eighty barrels, like you say.”
“There ain’t eighty barrels in here, boss.” The builder said. “There’s like five.”
“No, you must miscount.” The driver said. He and the man from the Tearoom, the apparent boss, hurried around to the back of the bus and stared in.  The driver swore in the foreign language of his.
Bill moved for a better view but accidentally knocked a piece of metal off the frame that held up the facade. It clanged as loud as a gunshot, so he momentarily ducked the view of bemused builders. Once he was sure they’d turned back, he popped his head back up and watched.
“Look what we have here!” The man from the Tearoom said. He stepped up into the back of the lorry and jumped back out a couple of seconds later, dragging with him a couple of girls. They looked tired and disorientated but, most importantly, terrified. “Who would have thought it? A couple of stowaways! I bet these little runts pushed the rest of the barrels over board. You think that’s funny, ladies? Think that’s a clever thing to do?”
“Hey, mister, see, it was not me who made mistake. It was these ladies.” The driver said.
The man from the Tearoom drew a gun and shot the driver through the head. “You should have checked.” He turned back to the builders “I reckon Mr Morricone is going to want to deal with these girls himself but what say we warm them up for him, huh?”
Bill sighed. He had training for an eventuality like this but, like anything official and proper, it wasn’t going to come in handy. Jumping through the gap in the facade, he ran into the clearing, kicking over a barrel of drugs to grab everyone’s attention. “Stop!” He screamed. “Ladies! Run!”
“Who the hell are you?” The man from Cath’s Tearoom demanded.
“It’s the Beggar Man!” A builder shouted. “I bought a cup of tea for him.”
“He’s been spying on us.” The boss said. “Have you been bloody spying on us?”
Bill’s hand went to his pocket, ready to press his radio to call the police but the man from Cath’s raised the gun and shot him straight through the shoulder. Bill fell backwards, blood pooling out of his shoulder. His head bounced once against the floor.
“We’ll send him to Morricone too.” Someone said, and then Bill closed his eyes and went to sleep.