30. Aug, 2020

'Collateral Damage'

“Why don’t you just go?”

It wasn’t the first time anybody had said that to me and the circumstances varied.  That was the trouble with wraparound nightlife.  You were always likely to find yourself unwanted somewhere.  And if you hung about long enough, there was always daylight just around the corner to show you up, dishevelled rather than simply dissolute.  I’d arrived looking for Bianca and a place to crash while I decided whether or not to turn in for work but B wasn’t there and I’d woken one of the housemates, who wasn’t up for letting me use B’s bedroom, nor on this occasion, hers either, so that I guessed she was annoyed with me for not being in touch after the not so distant event between us after a party there.  Bianca was more broadminded.

With nothing else for it, I just went into the office.  The early birds were already there, chirping out their virtues as usual, each one, according to them, having arrived half an hour earlier than the last person.  Those who had already been beaten to it, said they’d been working from home before they set out.  The dawn chorus never seemed to tire of singing their own praises.  It was as if they had been born chanting, ‘If I don’t say it, then who else will?’

“Hey, Artie!”” somebody shouted across to me.  “What happened?  Did you miss last orders again?”

“Yeah, yeah,” I said tiredly.

My clubbing activities were legendary and admired, since I could still present with zing when required.  I took a shower in the cycle cubicles and checked the designer stubble hadn’t got so long it just looked scruffy.  It didn’t.  I had no need to worry about being disciplined, since I was shagging the boss, amongst other people, but she didn’t know about them and anyway, she was married.  It was that kind of world.  I wasn’t really called Artie, but my surname was Arthur and it had more novelty about it than down home Dave.  There were enough Daves knocking around the place, anyway.  You had to stand out somehow, and I always made sure that I did.

If I’d known how much trouble I was going to get that day, maybe I wouldn’t have stayed out all night after all.  Willett told me I was wanted in the boardroom when I came back in.

“What for?” I asked.

“I don’t know.  But now.”

Willett was an open book but all the pages were blank, so there was no point in asking him anyway.  He never had a clue, the same as most of them didn’t.  Joy, my boss, was already waiting for me in there, looking less than usual like she suited her name but then, being a killer instinct business woman, smiles were never her forte.

“Where were you last night?” she demanded.


Joy didn’t ask me those kinds of questions.

“I said, where were you?”


“There was trouble at ‘Zipwire’.  You get to float about everywhere to stop that happening.  I didn’t get any heads up.”

“Trouble?  Not while I was there.”

“I know that you were there!” she pounced.

“Yes, but…”

“But nothing.  We got the local chuckleheads in kicking off.  That place is for the beautiful people.”

“Yeah.  It’s always full of them,” I said sarcastically.  “Just like home.”

“You’re on thin ice, Artie.  We sell our places on the area’s rep.  Eyes and ears are what I give you leeway for.”

“I know.  I’m sorry if I missed anything, Joy.  There was nothing going down, trust me!”

Joy threw a copy of the local newspaper at me, where a headline story told of bruising encounters between the new incomers enjoying themselves and those around who didn’t like it, since they couldn’t partake.  It segued into a further piece about flat dwellers feeling under threat.

“You get your privileges with me because you mix with both sides of the coin,” said Joy.

“Nar, you just like a bit of rough,” I grinned but Joy was having none of it.

“Watch your mouth, Artie.”

I held up both hands in mock defence.

“Just foreplay,” I offered.

Joy still didn’t smile back.

“You’ll have to clean up.”

“Clean up?  I just had a shower,” I objected, still trying for humour.

“Not like that.  One of your local rubes took a tumble last night.” (My local rubes, I noted).  “Down a lift shaft in the high rise over Zipwire when the doors were open.  I don’t want him found there.”

“What?  You want me to move a body?” I exclaimed, shocked by her ask, which went way beyond anything that had gone before.

“Yes.  This is a multi-million pound property zone, Artie.  Not to be compromised.  That’s what I keep you for.  Move him.”

“Where to?”

“Anywhere he could have fallen off.  Find a building site.  There are plenty about.”

“Jesus, Joy!  Nobody reported it?”

“That’s right, Artie.  Nobody reported it and you were right there on the spot last night, weren’t you?  Everybody knows your connections here, Artie and who you knock about with.”

I realised that my lover was threatening me with being put in line for taking the blame for this unfortunate accident, if accident it was.  I certainly had a fairly high profile and bespoke reputation around the clubs, restaurants and apartment dwellers thanks to Joy and the business, almost like a glamorous bouncer who dealt not in fists but in whispers when it came to letting people in or keeping them out.

“You owe me, Artie,” she pursued.

It was about here that I realised as well that Joy knew about the bit of dealing I had tucked away in my side pocket when I was going about at night and I certainly couldn’t afford to have any police searching my own flat.

“All right,” I caved to her.  “I’ll sort it.  Just give me five to get my head together.”

“You’re not supposed to need time to come round, Artie.  That’s your skills set.  I hope fixing this is in it, too.”

That was how I found myself back in Zipwire during daylight hours, going round to the privileged private doorway of the high rise above it and to the service area where the deceased was waiting for me to recycle him into some kind of landfill.  I wished I hadn’t stayed out all night.  I wished Bianca had been in this morning and I’d laid low for the day.  I wished, when I saw this guy, shaven headed and with old scars from fighting or accidents showing on his scalp - the part that wasn’t caved in from falling down the lift shaft, that was - that I didn’t have to do this.

I didn’t have to, of course, but I decided that I did.   He was probably drunk, the porter told me, most likely on the rob after the brawl and had managed to find a wrong doorway. It was the porter who had found him, or so he said.  As a story, it was fine by me.  We loaded the victim into the firm’s van with some camouflaging bin bags and I drove it, in its elegant dark green livery with gold lettering on it, like a mobile Regency front door with brass fittings, all the way out to where a sports stadium build had come to a halt on the city fringes, pending funding probably.  I left him, bare of bin bags, at the bottom of a huge crane, looking like he’d climbed it and fallen off.  I had brought some strong lager bottles from the Zipwire bar stock, which I smashed and littered around him, even pouring some over his broken head. 

He didn’t look like much but then he probably never had.  A lot of people didn’t get the chance to.  I made my own opportunities, or so I believed.  I drove the van back to the Zipwire penthouse, where I took advantage of another courtesy shower and an empty apartment there.  I rang Joy to say the problem was solved and that I was going to get my head down for a bit.

“Good boy, Artie,” she said.  “I knew you’d see sense.”

I wasn’t at all sure that I had done that but I had another night out ahead of me, for which I’d need to keep my strength up and make sure I kept my eyes open this time.  It seemed as if not only my reputation with Joy would depend on it but also my future, if I still had one, that was.

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