The Short Story

Entry by: Deedee

21st May 2015
“How did it happen?” Harris asks, tugging on his tie – a gesture which means, for sure, that he’s vexed.
“Well, it’s kind of a long story,” I say. “If I’m going to start at the beginning, then I’ll have to take you back to Thursday night, which was when Rob and me bumped into Brian in the Dog & Whistle . . .”

Harris holds up a well-manicured hand, cutting me off. “Précis it, lad,” he say – tug, tug, tugging as though his life depends on it.
“Pray see, what?” I ask, looking around. “I can’t see anything.”
“Not pray see, you dimwit. Précis. Précis. It’s mid eighteenth century French. It means summarise it, you idiot – give me the short story. I just want to know how we’ve ended up here. In as few words as possible.”

I glance down at the corpse by my feet. By now, it’s turning a worrying shade of blue. Well, it would be a worrying colour if Charles Bucks – or Chuck Bucks, as he was more commonly known – was still alive, but since he’s quite clearly dead, his unhealthy pallor probably isn’t concerning him too much.

“I asked you and Rob to keep an eye on him,” Harris says, “Not kill him. A missing arm or a broken leg I could work with – but this.” Here, Harris gestures dismissively towards the ex-human, undearly-departed Chuck. “It has most definitely gone past the point of no return,”
“Er, yes, I can see that,” I rally, poking Chuck gently with the point of my trainer. Unsurprisingly, he fails to respond.
“So the big question is, what are you going to do about it?”
“Yes, you. You were, after all, the one who killed him.”

I grimace inwardly. This isn’t exactly true, but since Harris is declining to let me elaborate, I have to concede that, to all intents and purposes, it does indeed look as though I was solely responsible for Chuck’s demise.

You see, Thursday night was actually quite important. It was, for Chuck, Day 1 of his incarceration in my basement. I was ‘putting him up’, shall we say, on behalf of Harris who has a wife and three kids – any one of whom might have noticed Chuck being bundled, blindfolded and gagged, into their home. I could see it now – Harris, fag dangling partway out of his mouth as he and Rob struggled to manoeuvre the weighty lumpiness of Chuck past the TV room. “Don’t mind me kids, you carry on with Spongebob Squarepants. I’m just going to pop Uncle Chuck into the basement, alongside my 1961 Chateau Palmer Margaux.” No, it was never going to happen. So it fell to muggings here to contain him.

It had started off brilliantly. Well, as brilliantly as any case of kidnapping can. Chuck was a perfect houseguest – at least for the first six hours of his incarceration, during which time he chose to remain comatose, while chained to an upright strut.

When he finally came to, at around 6.34pm, I’d ripped off the gag and left him alone to consume a Marmite sandwich and a glass of water. He’d complained bitterly that he hated Marmite – it was a 50/50 chance I’d taken, I told him – given that half the population seemed to love it. But, beggars can’t be choosers, and Chuck was most certainly in the begging rather than choosing camp at that point in his life.

I’d then hot-footed it down to my local, where I’d hooked up with Rob. We spent a pleasant few hours downing pints and discussing the finer points of Harris’s kidnapping plan. Actually, ‘kidnapping’ isn’t entirely accurate – Harris wasn’t holding Chuck for money, since he was as loaded as a man could hope to be during these times of austerity. No, he was holding Chuck for info. It was to be a simple case of gently breaking Chuck’s will – which Harris estimated would take no more than a week, given that Charles Bucks didn’t much care for discomfort.

Except we hadn’t planned on Brian’s involvement. By the time he stepped through the tavern doors on that first night, Rob and I were sufficiently booze-addled and loose-tongued to divulge the location of my new sleepover buddy within the first ten minutes of conversation. A glint entered Brian’s eye then – and, had I been more with-it and less marinated, I would have heeded the warning signs. But I was, to put it bluntly, pissed as a fart. So when Brian suggested we go back and have a bit of fun with Chuck, I simply smiled and agreed.

As soon as Brian saw Chuck cuffed to the upright, his eyes took on a gleam that I most certainly didn't care for. Perhaps now's a good time to mention that Brian had never liked Chuck – and had Rob and I been less sozzled and more sentient, we'd have thought ahead a bit before we opened our mouths and told him that we had Chuck held captive.

But before I had a chance to press the metaphorical rewind button on the night and encourage Brian back up the basement stairs, he'd set upon Chuck – first with his fists, pummelling his face in a worryingly unrestrained manner, then with his DM-clad feet. "Stop," I'd screamed, afraid he was about to knock out all 32 of Chuck’s teeth. "Harris needs him to be able to talk, for fuck's sake".
"Yeah, but I don't," grinned Brian.
The gravity of the situation suddenly hit me full-on. You see, here's the thing – Harris and Chuck weren't exactly fine and upstanding members of society. It's probably fair to say that they were the dregs; although both were dressed up to look respectable enough. Fortunately, up until that point, I had managed to avoid being made dead by Harris – but as I watch Brian systematically dismantling the source of Harris’s much-needed information, I had a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach.

Finally, Rob managed to pull Brian off, and we contrived to wrangle him back up the stairs and out of the house. As soon as he was gone, I went back down to Chuck.
“Sorry about that mate,” I said. “How are you doing?”
“Hoo ooo fuffing fink?” Chuck said, blood dribbling down his chin.
“I shhed hoo ooo fuffing fink?”
“Oh, how do you fucking think! Not good I expect.”
“Noooo. Whaddda ooo let thhaaa cunnn in foo?”
“What did I let that cun– Uh right. I didn’t let him in. He sort of followed us home. At least you can still speak. Sort of.”
And I left it at that, happy-ish that Chuck’s means of communication hadn’t been totally destroyed. Because he was going to need his power of speech if he was to tell Harris where he’d hidden the funds he’d embezzled off him. Oh how the mighty had fallen – once Harris’s right hand man, now a visitor in my basement. All because he’d chosen to bite the hand that fed him.

The next morning, when I went to give Chuck his breakfast (Marmite again – I was experimenting with whether you could turn a hater into a lover, given enough time) I found him comatose. “Oopsie,” I muttered as it became clear that Brian’s kicking might have had more impact than I’d first assumed. I slapped his face a couple of times, but his breathing was shallow and he failed to respond, even when I waved the Marmite-slavered toast under his nose as a sort of makeshift smelling salt. “Shit,” I muttered, grappling for my mobile.
Punching in Rob’s number, I shoved Chuck with my foot, but he remained uninterested in his Marmite-y breakfast.

Half an hour later, Rob was throwing glass after glass of cold water onto Chuck who remained stubbornly inert. “What are we going to tell Harris?” I asked.
“Not ‘we’, ‘you’,” Rob replied. “This has fuck all to do with me.”
“I won’t say anything then. I’ll wait and see. He’s probably just sleeping off Brian’s kicking. After all, it takes it out of you a doing-over like that.”
Rob gave me an up and under. “He’s not sleeping it off you twat. He looks like he needs a hospital. Look, he’s turned really pale, even since I’ve got here.”

It was true, Chuck was looking less human and more corpse-like the longer we were down there. But a hospital was out of the question. Finally, we decided to cover Chuck with a blanket to keep him warm, and come back a few hours later to see what the score was.

That was at 10.30am – and when I returned at 1pm, the score was Chuck 0 – Death 1. He was most certainly, absolutely not breathing anymore. He was post-living. Deceased. Departed. Moribund. Past his sell-by. Gone. And I was right in the middle of shit creek with no steering implement to hand. Eventually, after much rumination, I conceded that I would have to call Harris in and come clean.

So, here we find ourselves – Harris, myself and Chuck at an impasse of sorts. Chuck is no longer in a fit state to tell Harris where he’s hidden his half mil, and I’m being put under pressure to explain this away. “I didn’t kill him,” I say. “If you’ll just let me explain.”

Harris sneers. “I already told you. I want the short version – not some long cock-and-bull story.”
“It’s not. It was Brian. There – if you’re not going to listen to what happened, at least know that it wasn’t me who did this.”
“Oh, but it was, son. It was on your watch. So the fact that you’ve got some little tale about Brian doesn’t matter much to me. What matters now is how I deal with this.” Harris waves his hand dismissively at Chuck’s body. The Marmite toast is still next to him, and I realise that there’s no chance now of him ever becoming a convert.

Harris takes a step towards me. “You know what bothers me most about all this?”
I shake my head, sensing less is more now when it comes to speech.
“It’s not the money. No, it’s the fact that I’ve lost one of the best mates I ever had.”
I blanch. “But you hated him! He nicked money off you. That’s why he was here. So you could get the money back.”
Harris shakes his head sagely. “Well that’s as maybe, but now that he’s gone, I realise that I miss him. Years we spent together, we did. Now let me tell you a little story. It’s something you don’t know about Chuck – but we came to a deal years ago, when we still had each other’s backs, so to speak. We swore that if anyone did for us, then whichever one of us was left alive would do for the fucker that offed our mate.” Harris’s eyes darken, and I gulp down the fear that’s bubbling in my stomach.
“But it wasn’t me,” I say again.
“Blah, blah, blah,” says Harris and lunges at me.

Before I can react, he’s grabbed me and cuffed me to the upright. My wrist brushes against Chuck’s who still secured to the strut.

Harris steps back and regards me silently for a moment.
“The End,” he whispers as he turns and walks towards the door.

“You can’t just leave me here,” I scream, but he’s already bounding up the basement steps and slamming the door behind him.

I glance over at the Marmite toast and wonder how long I can make it last before Harris comes back.

Then I sneak a look at Chuck and wonder how decomposed he’s going to get before I have to accept that Harris is never coming back.