He didn’t hate the prime minister. He lifted the unloaded gun and followed the groove above the barrel to nothing and pulled the trigger. It was a little loose and fell under his finger. It would make death a little easier.
He was late for work at the bar. He stowed the gun in a sock and then a shoe case and slammed the door and ran to the bus.
There was no point in going to work. It was his last night of freedom. He looked at the rain as it gathered and dribbled on the window. It held him a moment, the joining of minute droplets, the jolt before the fall and the rush as the water fell. He might not go through with it, detach himself, and sit aside the world and its troubles and watch beautiful things.
But he went to work, so that after people would say he even put in a shift the night before, so that he could be thought of as a hard-worker.
The bar was quiet. He went through to the back and hung up his coat and the manager stopped him in the hall and told him not to be late again, and there was an urge to go back and get the gun and kill the man he knew, the man he did hate.
Luke stood closer so the manager had to look at his squint and said, ‘it won’t happen again,’ and walked through to the bar. He served a man and wiped the tables and collected glasses.
The girl came in about three hours into the shift. He knew who she was, or more, why she was here. It was a rumour, but then some rumours were true, that the night before they always sent you a girl.
She wore thick, high heels and stepped awkwardly to a stool between the sausage rolls and the till. She was big, and with soft, ripe cleavage. She had a skirt that started around where her navel must be and above was a shiny, green shirt with buttons undone. She had red lipstick and blonde hair.
She ordered a Tia Maria and Coke and he made it and she drank it through a straw. She was pretty around the eyes like an old movie starlet. He’d never been with a big girl, maybe they knew. The last night of freedom.
They didn’t talk, other than the repeat order of Tia Maria and Coke. Maybe she wasn’t there for him, maybe it was a rumour. But he knew what would happen because she never looked at him. With a squint, you knew when people weren’t looking at you.
Maybe she was a messenger. The ostentation would be a good disguise. The freedom fighters were thorough; hand-written notes; burn the paper; never meet the one above you.
He called for last orders and she hesitated over another and then ordered one. A handful of patrons finished their drinks and left and the bar was just the two of them.
‘I’m Luke,’ he said.
She looked up and smiled and her eyes moved to his squint and back to the other one and then moved between the good one and the bridge of his nose.
‘Do you live near here?’ she said.
‘Not too far.’
She looked into her glass and sipped the drink until it slurped around the ice.
‘I’ll understand,’ she said, ‘if you don’t want me to come back.’
‘Why wouldn’t I?’
She sucked air through the straw and looked up at him. ‘Well, I know I’m not what people think of when they think of this sort of thing.’
‘I think you look beautiful.’
She pursed her lips as though she might smile and twirled the ice with her straw.
‘I know how I look,’ she said. ‘I know guys don’t mind that for a night or two. I know they like a slim girl for a girlfriend.’
‘I was happy when you came in.’
‘Yes. Really happy.’
‘You like big girls then?’
‘I like pretty girls,’ he said. ‘When you came in I thought you were pretty.’
She shrugged her shoulders. ‘I don’t know if you mean that,’ she said. ‘I can’t tell when people mean things.’
‘I mean it.’
‘But how can I know?’
‘I don’t know,’ he said. ‘I guess you can’t. But I mean it.’
‘So you want me to come back?’
‘Yes,’ he said, ‘let’s go.’
They left the bar and it was raining well. Luke hailed a cab and sat close and touched her knee. She opened her legs a little and he felt along her tights and looked down at the flesh of her breasts.
One last night. He looked at her with the reckless lust of a doomed man. It would be one night and could only be one night and nothing and anything could matter.
And tomorrow he would kill the Prime Minister. And they would be happy, the dogmatic rebels with their devout hatred of the establishment. He wasn’t devout. He had the girl and the money in the account and when change came he would be safe and revered and well off.
‘It’s here,’ he said.
They stood on the pavement a moment like lovers.
He kissed her and she wrapped her arms on his neck and the desperation was like love or the numbing of despair.
‘I love you,’ he said, and could tell she didn’t believe it but liked the word anyway and smiled.
Upstairs, he poured some whisky and brought it to the bedroom. She was under the covers.
‘Come out,’ he said.
She moved like a shy animal, peeling the cover slowly to show her bare breasts, abdomen and then legs and more. She walked over to him with her hands across her and took the whisky and sipped.
‘I only got this job because no one else wanted it,’ she said.
‘Oh,’ he said and turned the lazy eye away.
‘No,’ she said and kissed him. ‘Not that. I like it. It’s just one man paying for another customer. Girls are careful about it.’
‘How do I know you like it?’ he said.
She smiled and took the whisky and put the empty glass on the side. She led him to the bed and he saw the shoebox and there was an urge to the check the vital weapon but he followed her onto the bed.
‘Do you see out of it?’, she said.
She lay on his chest and he heard an internal movement rise from her stomach. She tried to conceal a belch but he saw her and smelt the chalky acidity of the cocktails on her breath.
‘Not as well,’ he said.
It was dark and there was noise beyond the window. A sound of things happening. A hum of motors and electricity. A siren came and died. A man shouted and was answered.
‘I know what you’re going to do,’ she said and pressed his ribs with her thumb.
They might use the same girls. Each agent might get this. He wanted her to leave. He wanted to shoot the man now and be done with it. The clandestine veil of caution fell and left a big girl on his chest and a fear that he might not complete his mission. That he might be discovered and imprisoned without the money.
‘You don’t know anything,’ he said.
Someone had talked. Or maybe she was high up. Still. No one should talk.
There was a greater fear, that they might fail, that change might never come. But it had to. Change always came. ‘It’s not new,’ his father had said, ‘establishments have been despised. Populism has brought revolutions soft and bloody.’
And now his father would have some of the money. All he had to do was kill a man. A man who wasn’t good and wasn’t bad but represented what they wanted to change. ‘Faith is a thing.’ Yes. That’s what father said. ‘Faith in institutions, in order, brings stability. And faith has been lost before and built again. Because we’re devout after suffering and complacent after security.’ And tomorrow he would kill the Prime Minister.
The decision was whether to kill the girl. It didn’t matter how she knew. She might be stronger than him and it was too quiet to shoot her. He could wait until she was asleep and slit her throat.
‘Won’t it affect your aim,’ she said, ‘with a lazy eye?’
‘I aim with the good one,’ he said.
He should have kept quiet. Nobody should talk and he couldn’t let her ruin everything. The plan was fixed and simple. How hard was it. He had the gun and would fire and they didn’t kill a man for killing in this country and he’d be released in the new regime. It’s easy to commit a crime if you don’t want to get away with it.
‘I’m glad you’re doing it,’ she said.
His eyes blinked and it was good to have her on top of him. Sleep was coming and the question was there. She couldn’t ruin everything.
Luke put on his coat and felt for the revolver in his pocket. He looked at her on the bed. Her fat legs squashed together and her broad, strong back hunched up. And alive.
The dawn twilight was frost and fog. The pavement crunched under foot and the air bit inside. Police were putting out fences to keep the public from their leaders and traders erected stalls of flags and hats and gloves and scarves and things less worthwhile or durable. Luke bought a scarf and flag and wrapped himself in patriotism.
People looked at him. At the park he took a drink of whisky and walked to the palace. That would be the best spot – as he exited the car.
But it was a long time to wait to be caught.
Run and kill him now.
The crowd built around him. A day of remembrance, of the poor that died and the rich too. Those that fought for a thing called country.
An old woman stood too close and shuffled forward and he was packed in. He felt the gun. It would be a slower draw. He had better not miss.
Bells chimed and the morning passed and excitement gathered. The cars of men and women of lesser importance came and people stood on taped crosses and waited. Then he spied the car in the distance. Blood pumped hard and fast and wonderful. It was time now. He should have killed the girl. It didn’t matter. They couldn’t stop him now.
He felt for the gun. It was squashed behind the old woman’s backside. Raw panic numbed and winded him. He knelt to tie his shoe and put his hand in his pocket and found the cold, redeeming touch of the weapon.
The car stopped. A man exited and opened the back door. Two legs emerged onto the concrete.
He lifted the gun to his good eye and poked the barrel through the gap in the metal fencing. He aimed up at the man he didn’t hate and heard a scream.
He shot and the Prime Minister fell. He stood to run and there was another shot and a hollow whip of pain and Luke fell. The ground was cold and heat washed over his chest. The girl had screamed. She had come to stop him. To save him. Maybe she loved him.
Then the cold returned sharp. They didn’t kill a man for killing in this country. But the guard had faith. He believed one man should defend another. He would shoot for a thing called country.
Luke felt for the gun.
Patrick Tuck lives in Catford and works at a brewery in Bermondsey.
He writes short stories and
is seeking representation for his first novel, Ordinary Love.
His twitter handle is @PatrickTuckAH
Twenty-four short stories, exclusive afterwords, interviews, artwork, and more.
From Trumpocalypse to Brexit Britain, brick by brick the walls are closing in. But don’t despair. Bulldoze the borders. Conquer freedom, not fear. EXIT EARTH explores all life – past, present, or future – on, or off – this beautiful, yet fragile, world of ours. Final embraces beneath a sky of flames. Tears of joy aboard a sinking ship. Laughter in a lonely land. Dystopian or utopian, realist or fantasy, horror or sci-fi, EXIT EARTH is yours to conquer.
EXIT EARTH includes the short stories of all fourteen finalists of the STORGY EXIT EARTH Short Story Competition, as judged by critically acclaimed author Diane Cook (Man vs. Nature) and additional stories by award winning authors M R Cary (The Girl With All The Gifts), Toby Litt (Corpsing), James Miller (Lost Boys), Courttia Newland (A Book of Blues), and David James Poissant (The Heaven of Animals), and exclusive artwork by Amie Dearlove, HarlotVonCharlotte, CrapPanther, and cover design by Rob Pearce.
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