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Authors: Rupert Thomson

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BOOK: Dreams of Leaving
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Moses poked a crushed Coke can with the toe of his shoe. ‘Funny you should say that. I worked as a DJ one summer. Up in Leicester. I'd be glad to help you out. And I could use the money.' He kicked the can into the gutter.

‘You sure about that?'

Moses nodded. They shook on it.

Elliot turned to go into the club. ‘You coming in or what?'

‘In a minute. Got to find my money.'

‘It's on me,' Elliot said.

Jackson tugged on Moses's shirt as they walked in. Teeth chattering, he whispered, ‘You never worked in a disco.'

‘What do you know standing there in a short-sleeved shirt on a night like this?'

‘It's going to warm up later on,' Jackson said. ‘A ridge of high pressure moving in from the west.' But his lips had already turned blue, and his conviction was beginning to fade.

‘Later on?' Moses said. ‘July or August, maybe.'

‘Anyway, what's that got to do with whether you've worked in a disco before or not?'

‘You're always wrong,' Moses said. ‘That's what.'

*

When Moses arrived at The Bunker on Wednesday night, Django pulled him to one side. Django had bushy orange sideburns and a boxer's nose that turned left halfway down. He looked Scottish but claimed to be Italian, hundred per cent. But then he also claimed he didn't beat his wife.

‘Listen, Mose,' Django said, ‘how about doing us a favour?'

‘What favour?'

Django shifted from one foot to the other. ‘Just a couple of requests, that's all.'

‘Yeah?'

‘Yeah, and if you play them for me, maybe I'll send a few double whiskies your way, you follow me?'

Moses studied the barman with new interest. ‘What requests?'

Django mentioned two Beatles songs.

‘What d'you want to hear
them
for?'

Django grinned. He looked very sly when he grinned. ‘Like I said, Mose. Double whiskies.'

‘How many?'

‘One for each request.'

Moses nodded. ‘See what I can do, Django.'

He walked over to the DJ's booth and installed himself in front of the two turntables. He put on the headphones. Jackson had been wrong the other night, but not that wrong. Moses had only been a DJ once in his life, five years ago now, and he had already drunk a bottle of red wine that evening because he had only been a DJ once in his life. Nerves.

The buckles on Elliot's shoes glinted gold as he moved across the dance-floor and into the corner of Moses's eye.

‘How's it going?'

Moses was casual, even though Elliot had surprised him. ‘It's coming back to me,' he said.

Elliot lifted and dropped his shoulders as if to adjust the fit of his jacket. ‘If you need me, I'll be upstairs. All right, Isaac?' He grinned and walked away.

‘Isaac,' Moses muttered, ‘I'll give him Isaac.'

Once he had mastered all the knobs and dials he began to enjoy himself. He played all his favourite music – The Sex Pistols, T. Rex, The Temptations, Iggy Pop, Françoise Hardy, Killing Joke, The Anti-Nowhere League, Aretha Franklin. He didn't talk between tracks except for once when he said, ‘And here's something you might remember from when you were very young,' and put on ‘Practising for Childbirth', an educational EP on the CBF label. One girl, who reminded Moses of a famous German actress – she wore a simple black dress and no shoes – actually danced to the syncopated gasps and sighs, her eyes closed, her hair a dark blonde waterfall, and yes, Moses had to agree, the record did have a certain obscure rhythm of its own. After that hypnotic solitary dance, Moses couldn't stop looking at her. He tried to steer a smile towards her, but her eyes slid away and his smile sailed on into a sea of faces that weren't hers. There was a man with her, of course. There always is.

At first, and out of longing, he had played Dusty Springfield's ‘I Only Want To Be With You'. Then, with savage irony, he thought, he put on ‘Stand By Your Man' by Tammy Wynette. He swayed miserably behind his Perspex shield.

Eddie came over. ‘What's this shit you're playing?'

‘Go away, Eddie.'

‘Jesus, you look strange, Moses.'

‘Leave me alone.'

‘You look like a dinosaur in a museum.'

‘Fuck off, Eddie. I'm working.'

‘Been a while, hasn't it?'

‘Eddie,' Moses said patiently, ‘fuck off before I kill you, all right?'

Eddie sauntered away, grinning. Django appeared.

‘You haven't played any of my records yet,' he complained.

Moses sighed. ‘Hey, Django,' he said, ‘you see that girl over there in the black dress?'

Django had already noticed her.

‘She's a German actress,' Moses said. ‘Famous German actress.'

‘Yeah?' Django looked impressed. Then suspicious. And, finally, sceptical. ‘You're rat-arsed, you are.'

‘She's beautiful, Django. I'm in love.'

‘I can understand that, Mose. So what's the problem?'

‘She's ignoring me.'

‘Want me to have a word with her?'

Moses examined Django for a moment, then shook his head. ‘No, it's all right,' he said. ‘Is there something wrong with me, do you think?'

Django looked Moses up and down. ‘Not that I can see. Apart from you being out of it, that is.'

‘I mean, I'm the
DJ,
Django.'

‘So?'

‘Well, I thought girls always fell for the DJ.'

‘Apparently not, Mose.'

Moses sighed again. He tried to forget about the German actress. The lights coloured his face an appropriate blue. ‘All right, Django. I'll play your records now.

‘Cheers, Mose.'

During the next hour Moses played both the records twice and the drinks kept coming. He saw Django dancing with a girl, and the girl Django was dancing with wasn't Django's wife. Moses began to understand. The requests. The whisky-bribes. Crafty bugger. A Scotsman definitely. A Scotsman and a wife-beater. He wished the German actress would go. Her beauty was ruining his evening. His smiles reached out to where she stood. She didn't notice. His smiles were like love-letters that get lost in the post.

Eddie came over again. ‘You're making a fool of yourself.'

‘What do you mean?' Moses said.

‘Staring at that girl in the black dress.'

Suddenly Eddie's grinning face irritated Moses intensely. ‘If you don't like it, Eddie, why don't you fuck off home?'

Eddie fucked off home ten minutes later – with the German actress. Moses felt that something had gone badly wrong somewhere. He needed a drink.

‘Anything else you want to hear?' he asked a passing Django.

‘“Knock on Wood”. Ami Stewart.'

Moses played that twice too and drank himself into a vast indifference to everything.

The Bunker closed at two that night. While Moses was clearing away, Elliot strolled up and laid three £10 notes in a fan on the mixing-desk.

‘I thought you said twenty,' Moses said.

‘You did a good job.' A smile tugged lightly at the corner of Elliot's mouth. ‘I thought maybe you could take over on Wednesdays. Permanent, like.'

‘Not a chance.'

‘How come?'

‘Too painful.'

Elliot looked puzzled. He scratched his head at the point where his hair was receding. Maybe that was why it was receding, Moses thought. Maybe Elliot got puzzled a lot.

‘I can't go into it,' Moses said, ‘not now. I'd just rather be a normal person. You know, one of the crowd. Inconspicuous.'

Inconspicuous made Elliot laugh. ‘You seem a bit down. Fancy a game of pool?'

Moses, slow tonight, said, ‘Where?'

‘In the office. Got my own table.'

Now Moses remembered. ‘Sure,' he said.

He followed Elliot up the carpeted stairs to the second floor. Outside the last few people were stumbling home. Standing by the office window, Moses saw Belsen fold the gaunt scaffolding of his body into a battered white Cortina and drive away.

Elliot selected two glasses with heavy bases and poured them both a large Remy. The green baize, lit from above, lived up to its reputation. So did Elliot. There was something carnal about the way he chalked his cue, the way his eyes feasted on the position of balls on the table. He won two games on stripes. Then he was on spots, and the spots disappeared as if he had some kind of miracle cream on the end of his cue. He crept towards the black on soft predatory feet and killed it in the top right-hand pocket. Moses had lost again. Three games in a row.

Elliot slapped him on the back. ‘You need to sharpen up, Moses.'

Moses stood his cue against the wall. ‘It's been a long night.'

Elliot went and sprawled in his executive leather chair. Moses took the dralon sofa under the window. He surrendered to the deep soothing reds and charcoal greys of the office. Wall-lamps built nests of warm light in the corners. Two glasses of brandy glowed in the shadows.

The traffic had slackened on the street below. The occasional truck. The still more occasional bus. Moses was sober now – the soberness that comes from hours of drinking. Elliot must think I'm all right, he thought. He only invites people up here if he thinks they're all right. He reached for his brandy, and smiled as he swallowed.

Elliot propped his feet on the desk and talked about the club. He offered Moses cigarettes. They smoked until the corners of the office disappeared. Then the conversation touched on the break-in last September, and Elliot, without any prompting from Moses, began to tell the story.

There had been two men, apparently. They had climbed in the back way – over the wall and into the yard where the dustbins were kept – and forced a ground-floor window.

‘Professional job,' Elliot said. ‘Very professional.'

One of the men had been carrying a plastic bag of shit. He had scooped it up in handfuls, and plastered it over the walls, the tables, the bar. Afterwards he had wiped his hands on the curtains in the foyer. The second man had brought along one of those plastic tubs you buy paint in. Instead of being full of paint, it had been full of blood. Ten litres of the stuff. That too had been smeared over everything in sight.

‘Right fucking mess,' Elliot said. ‘You can imagine, right?'

Moses shuddered.

Elliot went on with the story. The next day, a Sunday, he had pulled up outside The Bunker in his motor. Two flicks of his wrist and the double-doors were open. The stench had flung him back into the street, an arm over his nose, gagging. It was as if everything that was bad in his life had caught up with him at once.

He had rushed up the stairs to his office. It had been left untouched. He had grabbed the phone and almost called the police. Almost. Instead he had picked up the Yellow Pages and dialled a firm of industrial cleaners. After hanging up, he had noticed some shit on his shoes. He must have trodden in it on his way upstairs. At that moment, he said, he had wanted to kill.

Later in the day he called a couple of friends of his, forensic experts. The only clues that had been left behind were the plastic bag and the paint-tub. The plastic bag had come from Safeway's. The tub had once held Crown White Matt. No fingerprints on either of them. According to Elliot's forensic friends, the shit in the plastic bag had been human, possibly belonging to the man who had done the job, and collected over a period of several days during which time he had eaten, among other things, a McDonald's, two Indian take-aways and a Chinese. More than that, they couldn't say. The chances of tracing the man, they told Elliot, were slim. Very slim indeed.

‘You know, it's funny,' Moses said, ‘but the first time I came here I smelt shit. I thought I was imagining it.'

‘You weren't imagining it.' Elliot smiled grimly. ‘This place was so full of shit I could've opened a sewage farm. I had to close for three weeks.' He sighed, leaned back, massaged his neck. ‘Three weeks is a fuck of a lot of money.'

Moses wanted to ask why it had happened; he chose not to.

‘Yeah,' Elliot went on, ‘that's why I laid into you that afternoon. You know, when you were out there taking pictures.'

‘What? You mean that was the same afternoon?'

Elliot nodded.

‘No wonder you were in such a foul mood,' Moses grinned. ‘I suppose you could say it was shit that brought us together.'

Elliot winced. ‘Hey Moses, I don't want to think about it, OK?'

Moses apologised, but his grin lingered.

He stayed at The Bunker until four in the morning. Partly because he liked Elliot's company, and partly because he didn't want to risk running into the German actress who hadn't noticed him smiling at her. Especially as she was with Eddie, who had.

*

Then it happened again.

One evening at the end of February Moses turned up outside The Bunker to find Elliot prowling up and down the pavement as if held by an invisible cage. His face twitched with rage. His lips were forced back over his gums.

‘What's wrong, Elliot?'

‘
Fuck
,' Elliot snarled. ‘Fuck Jesus fucking
fuck.'
He pointed at the pavement just to the left of where Moses was standing. Somebody had painted a big white arrow on the ground. It was aimed at the entrance of the club.

Elliot jerked his head, and disappeared through the double-doors. Moses followed him inside. A trail of similar arrows led across the foyer, up the stairs, along the corridor, leading, inevitably, to Elliot's office. Elliot pushed the door open, then stepped aside to let Moses in first.

It was a scene of such violence that Moses found the stillness unnerving. As he gazed into the room, he kept expecting something to spring out at him from a hiding-place in the debris. It was the kind of stillness that had recently been havoc and had only just returned to being stillness again. Moses took a deep breath, and let the air out slowly through his mouth. The entire office had been systematically and viciously destroyed. Torn paper, broken glass and long splinters of wood buried the carpet ankle-deep. The red drapes lay on top, cut into sinister neat pieces. The red lamps had been ripped loose and smashed. Wires trailed from the empty sockets like torn ligaments. The two black holes in the wall made the room look blinded somehow. The desk, the sofa and the executive chair, dismembered, hacked almost beyond recognition, reared up from the chaos as if trying to break free. Blood inched down the window-panes. The bitter smell of urine trickled into Moses's nostrils. But worst of all – and Moses groaned when he noticed it – was what they had done to the pool-table, Elliot's pride and joy. They had sawn the legs off, all four of them, and
slashed the green baize into strips, with a razor-blade by the look of it, and then peeled it back to reveal the slab of grey slate, showing like bone through flesh, beneath.

BOOK: Dreams of Leaving
13.18Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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