Anthony Self: The Hook

The all-beeping rendition of Los Del Rio’s ‘Macarena’ cut through the darkness like a schizoid Spanish Morse code.

John peeled his eyes open. He knew he’d have to answer it before it got to the main chorus; otherwise he’d never be able to get the damn song out of his head.

 

A la tuhelpa legria Macarena

Be-ba-beepbeep-ba-ba-beepbeep…

 

John’s hand shot out from underneath the quilt and fumbled about on his nightstand, probing for the phone. He managed to knock over a glass of water, a figurine of Katee Sackhoff from Battlestar Gallactica and his glasses – it was as if the phone had become sentient; taking malevolent glee as it seemed to dodge each grasp he made in the darkness.

 

Que tuhuelce paralla legria cosabuena

…beep-beepbeep-ba-beep-beep-ba-beepbeep…

 

His curses were muffled by the pillow as he realised with listless resignation that he would have to leave the warmth and sanctuary from underneath his duvet. He sat bolt upright and swung his arm to switch on the nightstand lamp, misjudging where it was and propelling it to the floor.

 

A la tuhlepha legria Macarena EEEEH, MACARENA!

ba-be-beepbeep-BEEP-BEEEEEEEEP-BA-BEEP-BEEP!

 

The light from the lamp in its current position cast dark shadows on his ceiling. He could see the phone now. It lay innocently on the bedside table.  He grabbed it.

‘What?’ John asked, gruffly.

‘John?’

John squinted at the bedside clock that was now lying on its side on the floor.

‘For fuck’s sake, Frank…it’s five in the morning. What do you want?’

‘Oh…sorry…didn’t realise it was that late,’ Frank said, without sounding apologetic at all, ‘just wanted to make sure you were still on for tomorrow?’

‘What?’

‘You. Me. The Cantina. 6pm?’

John surveyed the destruction around him. He felt like he had become a frenzied killer of inanimate objects.

‘I have work in two hours. And now I have the Macarena song in my head.’

‘Don’t be late,’ he said. There was a nervous tremble in his voice that John had never heard before. ‘Just promise me you’ll be there.’

John was about to say that a text tomorrow during the day would of sufficed, but Frank had already said bye and the phone clicked off. He put the phone back on his nightstand, and was asleep again several moments after his head hit the pillow.

 

***

 

The Cantina was a Mexican themed bar run by two polish brothers. The irony of that wasn’t lost on John, but the burritos were actually quite delicious. Even if they did have Sauerkraut instead of minced beef in them. It was bowl shaped, with the main circular bar situated in the middle of the room. It looked like a perfect rendition of the Mos Eisley cantina on the planet Tatooine. Frank was a Star Wars nerd and didn’t actually care about the food or service (which was sub-par at best) he just liked ordering some blue-dyed beer and listening to the muzak that spluttered out of the speakers. Frank had once explained the whole backstory of the dome-shaped headed aliens with large, round, black eyes that played the music from the scene of A New Hope at length to John, and he was listening to this particular piece of music when he saw Frank lumbering into the bar, dressed as Batman.

At first John thought he was drunk, witnessing Frank stumble into a nearby table, knocking some ketchup onto the floor. A few patrons looked up in mild surprise and a waitress cocked an eyebrow at the shambling Dark Knight as he nonchalantly squatted and patted around the floor to pick up the plastic bottle.

‘Frank?’ John asked.

Frank straightened up, cocking his head like an inquisitive dog hearing an ultrasonic command and started lumbering towards the sound of John’s voice. Frank felt his way to the booth and slowly lowered himself into a seating position. John noted a grimaced expression from Frank as he let the seat take his weight.

‘Umm…Frank are you…’

Batman shot a gloved finger to his lips. John realised then that he wasn’t drunk at all, but had been walking around with his eyes closed. Without saying a word, he fished out a pen from his utility belt and groped around the table for a napkin. John watched with pensive bewilderment as Frank scrawled something on it, turned it to face John and slid it towards him.

John peered at the spidery, unintelligible words on the napkin. Letters clashed into one another and half of what had been scribbled down flounced off the thin sheet. ‘Frank,’ John said finally, ‘I can’t make a word of this out.’

‘You try writing with your eyes closed!’ he hissed, before realising he had spoken and clamped his hands to his mouth.

A waitress appeared at the table, shooting cautious and perplexed glances at the caped crusader sitting in front of her. When John looked up, her demeanor instantly changed from unsettled to irritatingly perky.

‘What can I get you guys?’ she said, smiling at Frank and John in the way you might smile at a freak-show animal that had been released from its cage, not sure if it would claw you to death or defecate over the floor. Behind those eyes John could tell that she wasn’t being paid enough to deal with this.

‘I’ll have a pint of lager, please.’ John said, in his most ‘this is a perfectly natural scenario’ voice.

Frank suddenly leaned forward and bent his head down, cupping his hand to his ear.

‘And…your friend?’ The waitress said, with a frozen smile.

‘Uhhhhhhh….’ Frank sighed, nodding at no one in particular. He stood up suddenly, pulling the utility belt off his waist, with a single sharp snap of leather. His black costumed trousers slid down to his ankles, exposing some rather dirty looking boxers for the whole bar to see.

‘I’M BATMAN.’ He shrieked.

There was a moment of silence as every head in the Cantina turned and gazed at the half dressed crime fighter.

‘He’ll have a pint too.’ John said.

The waitress quickly left with their order. Frank sighed.

‘Fuck it,’ he said, opening his eyes. He took in his surroundings with his hands on his hips, as if he were surveying a crime scene.

‘You want to sit down?’ John asked.

Frank nodded, but craned his arm round and wrenched something out from the back of his boxers. It was a brown, rusty looking hook – the kind that latched doors closed, with a curved tip that made it look like a question mark, or, seeing as Frank was dressed up as Batman, like the apex of The Riddler’s cane.

John didn’t want to know how he had secured it to his backside. Frank fingered the napkin and shrugged his shoulders.

‘I thought it was pretty clear what I was writing,’ he said, as if this was an explanation.

‘Frank. What the hell is going on?’

‘I’m on a game show,’ Frank said, furtively glancing around him, ‘I have to complete requests that are sent to me for cash prizes. Each time I complete a request, the prize money goes up. So far I’m up to £7,000.’

‘What?’

‘The first task was to steal this costume from a party shop. Since then I’ve had to French kiss a granny at the bus stop, eat a whole jar of mustard and try to organise an illegal cockfight.’

John looked at his friend with a mix of sympathy and pity. Mostly pity.

‘With actual cocks. Not the bird variety.’

John looked down at the hook on the table.

‘You don’t want to know about that,’ Frank muttered, physically recoiling from the sight of it. ‘It’s been…up there for a few hours now.’ He shifted his weight on the chair. ‘They’ve given me contact lenses that act as micro cameras, so they can always see where I am. The audience can get a first person perspective of the whole thing. Viewers text or call in their requests and the best ones get presented to me as tasks.’

John felt a minute, burning sensation starting to creep up from the base of his spine.

‘Frank…why did you call me here?’

Frank sighed again. He tapped a finger to his ear and nodded as if he had just received instructions.

‘It’s double or quits, buddy.’ He said. ‘Every Batman needs a Robin.’

‘What’s the next task?’ John asked, a tremble in his voice.

Frank slid the hook towards John.

‘They want you to lick it.’

‘Lick it?’

‘Lick it.’

‘No way. I know where that’s been.’

Frank rolled his eyes. ‘You’ll get £3,000.’

John looked down at the hook on the table and tried to block out the very real and very smelly tuft of hair wrapped round the tip.

‘I’ll get £3,000 just for licking it?’

‘Uh-huh.’

‘What’s the name of this show?’

‘It’s a YouTube channel. Prank’d or something like that.’

‘That’s all I have to do?’

‘That’s all you have to do.’

John shifted uncomfortably in his chair. A cascade of thoughts barraged through his mind. £3,000 would help a lot. He wouldn’t have to worry about rent for the next month. He could even take a holiday. But this would be seen live on YouTube. What if his friends saw this? What if his family saw this? One little lick. One small, upward slide of the tongue. Damn Frank for putting him in this situation!

He picked up the hook.

If he closed his eyes and did it quickly, he wouldn’t even notice, maybe. He would just hold his breath. Everyone had a price, right? In this day and age, anyone would do probably almost anything for a few seconds of fame…but that wasn’t him…he didn’t want to be remembered for this type of thing. God damn, in about a week no one would care anymore. Unless it went viral. Then everyone would know. £3,000 though…No, he couldn’t so this. He wouldn’t do this. He had principles.

‘I lose it all if you don’t…’ Frank said.

‘That’s your problem, mate.’ John said, lowering the peg to the table.

‘I’ll give you £6,000 if you do it!’ Frank cried.

With a fluid motion, John brought his mouth forward and licked the peg. He felt hairs bristle against his mouth, but he blocked it out. He tasted a metallic sharpness, a few flecks of what he hoped was rust followed closely by a unpleasant globular of…something. He slammed the hook down and promptly retched.

Frank clapped him on the back. ‘That’s my boy!’ he cried.

The waitress brought over two pints and left them on the table. As she turned to go, Frank mumbled something to himself as he pressed his hand to his ear.

‘Sorry?’ she asked.

‘Uhhhh…how would you like to make yourself some extra money?’ Frank said, with a sheepish grin on his face.

John grabbed the beer and drank almost the entirety of it in one gulp. The waitress looked at Frank with confusion, but at the mention of money there was a different expression on her face now. A ‘go on, I’m listening…’ look.

Frank glanced down at the hook on the table.

‘Have you ever seen ‘The Exorcist?’

John felt any respect or dignity for himself leave his body in that instant. Everyone has a price, right?

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