Saturday, 22 May 2010

Milwaukee’s Finest

This week's sentence was taken from line 532 of Beowulf ("beore druncen ymb spræce …"), using Seamus Heaney's translation:

The sentence was: "But it was mostly beer doing the talking."

Milwaukee’s Finest

Bass River Motel. Route 542. Jersey.
Piney country.
Kent insisted on these "night out for the boys" sessions after work; he felt the need to go over all the details of the day and look for ways to improve things. You got the feeling he would have liked to bring a flip-chart into the bar if he could. But it was mostly beer doing the talking. As the evening went on Kent would get progressively more maudlin until Mackinson would have to half-carry him back to the motel room and leave him to puke out his remorse.
On nights like these, Mackinson slept in the car.

Kent called for another round, sluicing down the remains of his fifth bottle, whining and pining after some trailer trash waitress who’d served them breakfast that morning. Mackinson just nodded and ignored him. He was a scotch man, beer made him bilious. After two shots he’d stick to water and let Kent ramble on and get it out of his system, bottle by bottle. It usually took about an hour for Kent to wander off topic and start hitting on the barmaid. He never got lucky. Drunk, miserable and boring is not generally what a barmaid looks for in a man, though it’s pretty much all she gets to see.

Kent bored the shit out of Mackinson. He also worried him.
Take today, for instance. The hit had gone smoothly, but as always Mackinson felt Kent enjoyed his work a little too much. A single shot to the back of the head would have sufficed, yet Kent insisted on shoving his gun in the guy's face, feeding off the terror in his eyes before blasting away like Clint fucking Eastwood.
And then the drunken remorse afterwards.
Distasteful. Inelegant. Amateurish.

He had made his feelings clear in debriefings: Kent was a liability. Mackinson preferred to work alone, but now here he was again, holed up in some backwoods motel room with a drunk and weepy psychopath. It was getting like a broken record.
Mackinson fetched a glass of water from the basin. Kent was hunched over the toilet bowl, puking up a gallon of Milwaukee's finest.
'Jesus, thanks, Mac. I'm sorry. I don't know why the fuck I always do this.' Kent took a sip, rinsed his mouth out and spat it into the pan while Mackinson wrapped a towel around his pistol and shot him once in the back of the head. The towel muffled the gunshot and caught the blood spray; the rest went down the toilet. Mackinson threw the body in the bath and let it bleed out while he fetched the cleaning products from the trunk of the car. He hummed while he worked: Roy Orbison's 'Only The Lonely'.
Bartleby had an arrangement with a meat packing plant outside of Hammonton. By morning, Kent would be shipped out in the latest batch of gourmet pork sausages. Maybe he’d get inside that barmaid after all.

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

The Envelope

This week's sentence is taken from volume II of "The History Of England From The Accession Of James II" by the incomparably entertaining and insightful Thomas Babington Macauley (read his histories and essays together with any written work of a modern-day politician and weep at the decline and fall of intelligence and wit over the past 150 years or so. We are truly Neanderthal in comparison).

The sentence was: "The measure of a man's real character is what he would do if he knew he would never be found out."

The Envelope

The heavy clank of the outer door lock was always louder than he expected, echoing round the cool brown semi-darkness of the lobby. The post boxes here were still mahogany; he liked that. He felt somehow safer or at least more at home in older buildings. As expected the envelope was waiting for him. A4 manila, nothing written on the outside. Incongruous flashback: Mackinson recalled his mother would carefully save old envelopes for re-use, the same way she used to keep and iron flat any salvageable scraps of wrapping paper at Christmas. She would have loved this envelope: unmarked, crisp and pristine, sealed only with red cotton wound around a brass stud on the back.

The elevator was as old as the building but still fairly reliable, yet Mackinson always walked up to his fifth floor apartment. Like his office it was a deliberate throwback to the nineteen-thirties, a look that had cost him most of the considerable sum of money he had earned in his first year working for Bartleby. Art deco was now 'chic' though that was not the reason he chose it; he would be happier when it fell out of fashion again. He pulled down the blinds, preferring the half-light to the harsh morning sun that now cast crisp shadows of window frames onto cream canvas.
The leather chair creaked as he sat. His collar loosened, a large crystal tumbler holding a small amount of good scotch on the desk by his side, he savoured the silence for a moment. It was time.

Unwinding the envelope's cotton fastening, Mackinson opened the flap and extracted a single sheet of cream-laid paper, noting the airline tickets and money still inside. Typewritten. Double-spaced. No signature. He knew there would be no fingerprints, either. At the top the quotation from Macauley:
"The measure of a man's real character is what he would do if he knew he would never be found out."
Allegedly this was engraved in a plaque on the wall behind Bartleby's desk, not so much as a measure of the man's character, but rather the opposite: a reminder that everything - and everybody - in the organisation was deniable. Targeted assassination, extortion, smuggling drugs, arms and people, espionage (sometimes against your own country), and so much more; with Bartleby you could - and would - get away with murder.
For the thousandth time Mackinson measured his own character and for the thousandth time was reassured by the knowledge that he was bound straight for hell. A man of real character would refrain from any and all temptation. Mackinson fell way short. Every time.
He re-read his instructions, then picked up the tumbler and breathed in the malt fumes for a while, not drinking. Starting again from the top, this time he read between the lines.
He selected his 'Berlin' suitcase, checked the guns then burned the sheet of paper in the grate, crumbling the ashes. Retrieving his passport from the desk Mackinson placed the empty envelope carefully in the drawer and left.

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

The Gentleness Of Bees

This week's sentence was taken from The Inaugural Address of Franklin D. Roosevelt.

It was: 'We must act, and act quickly.'

The Gentleness Of Bees

'Janine?' Ted leaned across the counter, waved and hollered, 'Keep 'em comin' sweetie.'
'You got it, hon.'
Truth be told, nobody needed to yell in here, but some of Janine's older regulars tended toward deafness and a surfeit of caffeine with the excitement of the sports pages didn’t help. Ted and his gang spent most mornings here, putting the world to rights and reminiscing about their imaginary pasts, the stories growing taller with the telling.
Janine poured Ted’s refill without interrupting the flow of debate down at the ladies' end of the room which currently concerned itself with the advisability - or otherwise - of orange plaid slacks on a woman of Beulah's build. 'Otherwise' seemed to be the way the wind was blowing, but then Beulah was currently across the street at Krystal's Kurlz having her roots done and so not privy to the conversation.

Janine smiled. She loved the chatter of her regulars, the drone of conversation as it rose and fell like the reassuring song of her other 'children' going about their busy lives around the neat row of hives in the orchard out back.
Their honey flew off the shop’s shelf quicker than her beloved bees taking flight in the early morning sunlight.

Everett had never understood the gentleness of bees. Anxious, impulsive, rarely satisfied with anything for long, it had been his idea that they use Janine's mother's inheritance to buy the coffee shop.
'We must act, and act quickly' he'd said. Everett, as ever, had wanted a change and thought that this would be it, and so a few hectic weeks later Janine was proudly serving her first customer at The Hive ("Come on in and get your buzz on").
Not long after that of course, Everett realised the change he really wanted and took off for Florida with a girl fresh out of high school. Janine, after a period of adjustment, found she had never been happier.

"Mornin' ladies!'
A chorus of 'Beulah, your hair looks beautiful, honey. Love your slacks'.

Janine checked her watch. Carole would be in soon to help with the lunchtime rush. Carole, whose wild hair was dyed a shade of red not usually seen outside a circus; Carole, who had that kinda Stevie Nicks gypsy thing going on with her clothes that kept the men ordering top-ups they didn't really want just so they could watch her willowy hips sway across the room or peek down her top as she leaned teasingly over their table.
Carole, whose fingers had brushed across the back of Janine's hand one evening with a touch as soft as the flutter of a bee's wing and sent a thrill through her the like of which she had never known. Janine remembered that moment of pure terror, the sudden realisation, the overwhelming 'yes' from her heart; Carole’s nervous smile widening as their eyes met and stayed locked together; that first, hesitant, devastating kiss.
And after that it had all been good. Boy, howdy, it was good!

Thursday, 6 May 2010

What We Did On Vacation

This week's sentence was taken from Bram Stoker's 'Dracula.'

It was: 'I am alone in the castle with those awful women.'

What We Did On Vacation

Jesus, Maggie pick up the goddamned phone. I know you can hear me. Where the fuck are you? I spent the past half an hour searching high and low and now I find the car's gone. I mean storming off is one thing, but taking the car and leaving me here like this? I'm alone in the castle with those awful women. Your mother and her shrill fucking harridan sister and poor bloody Arlene. Jesus! What do you expect me to do? This is the middle of fucking nowhere. How the hell do I find a taxi in the arse end of the English countryside? And you've got my wallet in your bag. I'm stuck here with the three of them. Thanks a bunch. Some fucking vacation this is turning out to be. Your mom and your aunt both hate me and they know we've had a row and now they're hunting me down. There's only so many of Henry the Eighth's goddamned bedrooms I can hide in. I mean what the hell am I going to tell your mother? Eh? Answer me that. Sorry, mom, but your daughter's run off with the car and she's got my wallet so we've got a fifty mile fucking walk back to the hotel?
Shit, Maggie, pick up the damned phone, will ya'? Look, I'm sorry, okay? I'm sorry, but talk about getting the wrong end of the stick. I mean, what the hell do you think was going on? Me and Arlene? Jeeesus! You got it all wrong. I mean would I make out with your cousin? Would I? And more to the point, would she make out with me? For crying out loud, Maggie, I was only trying to comfort her after the thing with Ted and that bitch secretary. You just walked in at the wrong fucking moment, that's all.
For Christ's sake, Maggie. Pick up! I know you're listening. Just bring the fucking car back here and fetch your mother and your goddamned aunt. You can leave me and Arlene to walk if you want but just get back here. Jesus, I know what it looked like but it wasn't, okay? It just wasn't. Nothing happened. I mean my hand slipped but that was just the shock of you walking in on us. I was just comforting her. You know how upset she is with that cocksucker of a husband of hers. That's all the kissing was. It meant nothing. It was just comfort. Honest to God, Maggie. Come on. Please pick up your fucking phone. You know it's you I love. Not her. D'you really think I wanna spend the rest of my life with Arlene? For fuck's sake. That woman’s as dumb as she is ugly.

Oh, crap.

Arlene? I didn't mean it. You know I was just trying to calm Maggie down. Arlene! Come back!
Oh, Jesus. Maggie? Arlene's run off in tears now. I hope you're fucking happy.
Pick up the fucking phone!