Marty Cook got out of his Mini Cooper, locked up the car and, with Sisyphean resignation, slowly trudged up the hill. He shivered and pulled his long black overcoat close to him. His short breaths appeared in front of him like spectres. The moonlight oozed across the city’s dank cobblestones like quicksilver; creeping between the cracks, crawling into the gutters. As he got closer to Marjorie’s Bar he took off his black woollen hat. The cold night hair bit at his shaven head. He carefully pushed open the bar’s large oak door. The room was suffocating in red velvet and leather. Chandeliers hung from a mirrored ceiling but there were no other customers. Just the way he liked it, these days.
His brother Tim had texted him to say that he was going to be late but Marty didn’t mind at all. It was early evening and he was in Marjorie’s Bar, quickly nestled on his usual bar stool, calmly contemplating the two fingers of Johnny Walker Blue that Marjorie Razorblades had immediately placed in front of him. The ice cubes seemed to shimmer, glimmer and glow in the wan light.
‘Long time no see,’ said Marty.
‘Yeah, you’re a shite . . . for shore eyes,’ said Marjorie.
She had her hair cut into a bob as black as a raven, black lipstick and nail varnish, and a black PVC dress. She looked pretty much the same as she had twenty years before when Mart had first met her working behind the bar in one of his Uncle Tony’s strip clubs.
‘I’ve missed your charm offensive,’ said Marty. ‘And decent music.’
He took a sip of his drink and closed his eyes.
Marjorie shuffled through the door to the snug and switched on the lights. She pressed a button and the dusty Wurlitzer jukebox burst to life. Jane Morgan belted out ‘The Day The Rains Came.’ In French.
Marty smirked as he looked outside where the rain now fell down in sheets and the fading street lights shimmered, reflected in the parked cars’ windscreens. The wet pavement reflected Marjorie’s Bar’s flickering neon sign. Headlights cut through the heavy rain. One drink melded into another until a gangling scarecrow rushed past the window and burst through the door.
Tall, and with long black hair, Father Tim Cook flew in out of the storm like a murder of crows, bringing rain and a waft of golden leaves behind him. He wore a long black raincoat which flapped in the breeze. He took a seat next to his brother and took off his raincoat.
‘Rum and coke, Father?’ said Marjorie.
‘Naw. Rum makes you glum,’ said Father Tim Cook.
He took off his coat and took a grubby clerical collar out of his jacket pocket. He put it on over his black shirt.
‘I’ll just have a pint of Guinness for now, ta,’ he said. ‘I’ve been gasping for one.’
‘Can’t get a decent pint of the black stuff in Spain, then?’ said Marjorie.
‘Not easily,’ said Father Tim.
‘I never expected to see either of you back in The Smoke so soon,’ she said. ‘What is it for? Love or money?’
Marty and Tim looked at each other.
‘A bit of both,’ said Marty.
‘Same again?’ said Marjorie.
‘I thought you were on the wagon?’ said Tim. ‘Have the wheels come off?’
‘It was a bit of a wobbly wagon anyway,’ said Marty. ‘I heard you’d given up the gargle, too.’
‘When in Rome,’ said Tim.
He smirked at Marjorie.
‘Give us a Jack Daniels chaser,’ he said.
Marjorie poured the drinks and they slipped toward oblivion like dirty dishwater down a plughole.
Father Tim Cook looked dead on his feet and no amount of coffee could help, even the strong stuff that he usually drank. He switched off the espresso machine and took his cup over to the kitchen table. Marty sat with his head in his hands and he didn’t look much better than his brother. He looked up as Tim sat down opposite him.
‘You look like death cooled down,’ said Marty.
‘Out of practise, ain’t I? All that poncy Spanish beer and wine’s made me soft,’ he said.
Tim drained his coffee.
‘Not too soft to do this job?’ said Marty.
‘I’d rather not, too be honest. Been getting used to the quite life but . . .’
‘The city’s changed, since we’ve been away, eh?’ said Marty.
‘Too true. There certainly is some weird shit going down these days,’ said Tim.
‘Agreed. London is turning into Disneyland on acid.’
Tim got up and stretched. Walked around the room.
‘You sure dad was serious?’
‘Oh yes. And he was deadly serious,’ said Marty, shuffling in his pocket for his hip flask. He added a dash of whisky to his coffee. He closed his eyes and whistled a Jim Morrison song. When he opened them, Tim was gone.
The evening was melting into night as Marty and Tim walked down Druid Street, once one of the most sought after streets in London. Now, like everywhere else in the area, it was almost a no-go-zone. Smack-heads roamed the streets like characters from The Walking Dead and the sight of the occasional wino gave the area a touch of class. Every terraced house on the street was bordered up but one. Number 13.
Marty knocked on the door. Nothing. Knocked again. After a few moments, the letter box opened.
‘Is that you, Father Tim?’ said a frail and reedy, voice.
‘It is, Barbara,’ Father Tim said.
‘Is it a Sunday?’ said Barbara Rogan.
‘Naw, I’ve been sent to give you a message. Can you let me in?’
She opened the door.
‘Quick,’ she wheezed.
She trundled away pulling an oxygen tank behind her. The brothers stepped into the house. Marty closed the door behind him. The place stank of death and disappointment. And kippers.
The Cook brothers followed Barbara into the living room as she plonked herself down on a worn sofa.
‘Help yourself to a snifter of vodka, if you fancy,’ she said. ‘It’s only that Ukrainian stuff but it does the job.’
‘Naw thanks,’ Father Tim said, looming over her.
‘This is more business than pleasure,’ said Marty. ‘My dad sent me.’
Barbara nodded slowly and pulled the oxygen mask over her face for a few minutes. Marty looked around the room. It was a museum to past glories. Faded photographs cluttered the wall. He sighed.
The deal was that Terry Cook wanted to buy 13 Druid Street from Barbara because the council were going to make a Compulsory Purchase Order of the street very soon, before they sold it off to some supermarket or other. Terry Cook already had the rest of the houses in the street and only Barbara was holding out. She was dying of lung cancer caused by asbestosis and wanted to die in the place where she was born.
Barbara took off the oxygen mask.
‘The answer is still no,’ she rasped.
She fiddled with a packet of Benson and Hedges cigarettes.
‘Is it alright if I smoke?’ she said.
Father Tim looked at the oxygen tank and had an idea. He caught Marty’s eye and winked.
‘Can you wait till I’ve gone, Barbara?’ I’ve got that asthma,’ said Tim.
‘Not a bad gaff in its day this, eh?’ said Marty
Tim wandered into the kitchen. It was filthy. He turned on gas.
‘I was born here. Married here. Had my kids here. I just want to die here. That’s not unreasonable, is it?’ she said.
‘It isn’t,’ said Tim, as he stepped back into the living room.
‘Will you tell that to your dad, Marty?’
‘I will,’ said Marty.
‘And we’ll let ourselves out,’ said Tim. ‘Now.’
He nodded toward Marty who headed to the door.
‘Tara, lads,’ she said.
As soon as they closed the door, they started to jog down the street but they were already a couple of streets away by the time they heard the bang.
© Paul D. Brazill 2016.
Paul D. Brazill ‘s books include The Last Laugh, Guns Of Brixton, Cold London Blues, Kill Me Quick!, Big City Blues, and, most recently, Last Year’s Man. He was born in England and lives in Poland. He is an International Thriller Writers Inc member whose writing has been translated into Italian, German and Slovene. He has had writing published in various magazines and anthologies, including The Mammoth Books of Best British Crime. He has also edited a few anthologies, including the best-selling True Brit Grit with Luca Veste. His blog is here.
Image courtesy of Pixabay, altered by Cartoonize.