HORLA FICTION (April 2019)

 

THE POOL BENEATH THE PAGODA

by Andrew Kolarik

‘PHILIP Prior, writing for The Spectre. Any comment on the recent rioting that broke out in your constituency?’

George Fletcher collected his thoughts before replying. It was hard to come up with an answer with all the people along the street crowding him. Actually I’ve got a question for you Phil. How does it feel to write a column for a paper that used to support Adolf Hitler?

‘Such uncivilised behaviour is inexcusable. Our young people need to learn respect for the law and that their actions will have consequences. I have faith that our criminal justice system will bring those responsible to account and punish them accordingly.’ ‘Wouldn’t you attribute the rioting to a failure of the police? Would you not in fact say that it was their fault and their responsibility?’

‘Well Philip, you are kind of making me say that…’

Fletcher felt a finger wiping something into his Ede and Ravenscroft suit. He turned around to see a prize village idiot grinning moronically at him, some kid who looked barely seventeen. People were whooping and a few were clapping. He took off his jacket and saw greenish snot wiped across the left shoulder. And they were laughing.

You bastards.

‘Any comment sir?’ asked a smug looking Prior.

Hypocrites.

 I work day and night for you.

‘I would suggest to the young man that, while I respect his novel use of the right to free speech, snot is not the answer.’  

Prior muttered ‘good comeback,’ then huffed and hawed like an ass as he wrote in his notebook. Looking around, Fletcher saw nothing but hostility. They all hated him. As he moved away he was jostled by a small girl, probably about ten years old. She solemnly handed him a handkerchief.

‘I’m sorry my brother was so mean to you Mr. Fletcher. Please don’t be sad.’ Fletcher was surprised to feel his eyes tearing up.

‘I grew up just a few streets away you know, just around the corner…’ He said to her. Abruptly he fled and jumped into the car before anyone could see him blubber.

                                                                  ***

Fletcher collapsed onto the sofa. His wife Sharon came over and pecked him on the cheek, then poured him a large brandy. Sharon had been having it off with a lawyer called Ben Greene for the last year, a fact that never failed to humiliate him. The only reason he hadn’t had it out with Sharon was that Ben was such a complete nonentity, although thinking about that just made him feel even more demeaned. Couldn’t she even find someone credible to fuck?

When he wasn’t humping Sharon, Ben spent all day beavering away to put gangsters behind bars, and rumour had it that he had started carrying a gun for personal protection, borrowed from one of the Johnnies he had acquitted in court. Even that wasn’t enough to make Ben interesting.

Fletcher sipped the brandy. ‘You know, I spoke to a councillor today who told me I can’t spend money on new facilities for the homeless as it will just attract more homeless people from outside of town. “We need to look after our own,” she said…How do you fight logic like that?’ And most of the time I feel nothing, thought Fletcher. Nothing at all. Sharon nodded, murmured something sympathetic and patted his head.

The radio was replaying highlights from his interview. He listened bitterly, snorting as the DJ summoned a special guest, the horrible little toad who had ruined his jacket earlier in the day.

‘Here we are folks! Mr Colin Leeson, the public defender who today summed up the feelings of a nation. This must be a new kind of smear for MP George Fletcher. What made you do it?’

‘Is that his name? He don’t speak for me, Mr. Trousers Done Up to Eleven. I’m thinking of writing a song about the snot…’

‘Well I’ve got a lot of time for George Fletcher. This one’s for you George.’ As the chords to Sympathy For the Devil kicked in, Fletcher cursed. Maybe he would be the first MP to go into the office on a killing spree, he mused. He even knew where he could get a Kalashnikov. How do you like them apples Mr. Speaker? Or maybe he would gas the lot of them, blame it on that Russian work experience girl.

If he could only get his hands on that kid Leeson, squeeze his gurning face into his wife’s George Foreman grill. That would be sweet.

‘Why do they hate me so much, Sharon? All day long I spend my time working to make their lives better and fairer and all I get is misery.’ Fletcher could hear himself whining and hated it.

‘They don’t hate you George. They just find you utterly inconsequential,’ replied his wife, looking bored.

***

Fletcher bustled out of his door, kissed his wife goodbye and made his way to the train station, past the street corner where a week ago he had been propositioned by a nervous, hard-bitten looking prostitute called Lucille. The houses around the corner were boarded up all along the way. He strolled past a door with a sign hung on it reading “Please go away. This property has been burgled six times. There’s nothing left to steal.” By the bus stop past the traffic lights a big sign left by the police appealed for witnesses to a murder a week back. Fletcher remembered the bus stop. He had waited there every morning before school for three years.

He kept going, walking past the buildings that burned down in the riot, then got on the train to distant Knightsbridge where the buildings looked fine and healthy. He was okay walking out of the station, but as he walked past the arcade and the antique shops his heart started to beat quicker, his breathing felt thick and fast and by the time he reached the crescent where the steps led down to the anonymous address that was his destination, his pulse was out of control.

The excitement of it, the ecstasy of daring… he sometimes thought it was better than the erotic thrill that waited behind the locked doors at the bottom of the stairwell. A furtive look around, and Fletcher stumbled down the stairs into a different world.

The place was called The Pool beneath the Pagoda, and styled itself as a place of forgetfulness and dreams. A few minutes later, feeling the stiletto point of high heels grinding against the back of his head, and turning to kiss the ankles of his paramour, the giddy thrill of it almost overwhelmed him. He heard his voice whispering the same thing over and over. ‘What can I give you? Tell me what you want. Please, I just want to serve.’

***

When he walked into the parlour Tony Marcel was already there, a white towel covering his backside while the masseuse worked the muscles of his back. Tony liked to boast that he was part of the last pack of wolves left in Congress, when in fact he had left America when the new administration moved in and set about tearing down all his good works. Fletcher was quite fond of the old boy.  

‘Hey Georgie-boy. I saw you on TV. Man, did I feel for you, hung out to dry like that.’

‘That child, honestly. If I had my way that young man would spend his gap year on a sardine trawler out in the North Sea. Best thing for him, I reckon. Make a man of him.’

Tony gave a little barking laugh, and Fletcher lay down on the pallet next to him. Another masseuse arrived and started to work on his back while Tony gave small grunts of satisfied pleasure.

Afterwards Fletcher went to the bar and sat down to brood. He left Knightsbridge at around two o’clock, slipping through the back streets and pulling his coat and gloves close to keep out the drizzle. He was nearing Kings Cross, slinking along an empty road, when a kid stepped out of the dark in front of him and stared at him with sullen hatred.

 ‘Wallet, motherfucker,’ the apparition said, and held up a blade. Fletcher goggled at it, fascinated.

 ‘That’s a butterfly knife. I saw one on TV.’ The left side of his face slammed sideways and pain blossomed. The kid had slapped him.

 ‘Come on, fat man. Hurry it up.’

 Fletcher was having difficulty listening, still reeling from being smacked. I’ve never really been hit before, he thought. And you’re gonna let this brat do you?

 ‘You don’t have to do this, you know. Things are hard, God knows I know, but…Jesus!’ Reflexes he never knew he possessed made him step sideways. If he hadn’t moved fast, the kid’s quick, angry slash with the knife would have taken his eye out. The kid moved forwards, fit and lean and young, aiming to jam his ugly knife into Fletcher’s guts.

‘Cocksucker!’ shouted Fletcher, stepping towards and to the side of the kid’s thrust, grabbing his skinny wrist. Muscles flexed beneath Fletcher’s podgy exterior, using his weight and the kid’s momentum to spin his attacker into a sharp turn. The kid slammed against the wall and fell to the floor, the knife buried in his neck.

‘Fucking yeah,’ spat Fletcher. He was shaking, and surprised at himself. Surprised at winning the fight, at the blood, at the language coming out of him and the note of blind triumph in his voice. He started to cackle. ‘Not quite so utterly inconsequential now, am I, you little shit?’

There was a scraping noise behind him. Caught! I’ve been rumbled, thought Fletcher. He whirled, thinking he saw a shape in the shadows, but there was no-one there. Turning back, something had replaced the bland dislike in the kid’s eyes. Now he looked terrified. Oh blessed day, the little fucker actually looked terrified of him. Fletcher didn’t realize until later, but he actually started to caper as the kid lost consciousness, drowning in his own blood. Fletcher dipped two fingers into the redness pumping from the wound, holding them up to glisten in the streetlight. He considered calling the police. After all, he had acted in self-defence. But there were no witnesses. And who would miss this bastard? Legal proceedings would drag on for years, and he could kiss his career goodbye.

The kid was dead. Instead of calling the cops, he took the kid’s wallet. He found some ID and tried to memorise the name of his attacker, then realized he didn’t give a toss. He took the cash and tossed the wallet into a drain. On his way to Kings Cross, he passed an all-night takeaway and spent the money on a large fish and chips.

***

He was sitting in his sofa in the dark drinking gin when Sharon opened the door. She closed it carefully, quietly, and nearly jumped out of her skin when he rose up in front of her like a phantom.

 ‘Good night?’ he asked her, kissing her on the shoulder.

 ‘Not bad,’ she said, pushing at him playfully. She was drunk.

 ‘Me too.’ He pushed her against the door, the kiss on her shoulder hardening as his teeth pressed into the bare flesh. She stiffened against him, then kissed him hard back, her breath hiking.

‘Unusual behaviour for you, George. What have you been getting your nose into?’

‘Sharon?’

‘Yeah?’

‘Does it get you off when Ben rogers you from behind?’ Sharon moaned, and Fletcher slipped his hand inside her blouse, squeezing her breast.

‘Yeah,’ breathed Sharon, as he kissed her roughly against her throat. ‘Why do you ask?’

‘Because it turns me on. I think I’d like to watch you do the business with another man.’

Sharon nuzzled against him, squeezing him through his trousers. ‘I think I’d like to watch you with another girl. And I know I’m not the only one who’s been playing around.’

‘Tell me what Ben does to you.’ Fletcher moved his hand down between her legs.

Sharon clawed his back and said, ‘What do you want to know?’

***

Hannah Buchanan was Fletcher’s assistant, an administrator in her early thirties. George had arrived early, and had not stopped talking or smoking for the last hour. After yesterday’s interview Hannah had geared herself up for dealing with a dejected, slumped George Fletcher and having to boost him up. But George was actually standing a bit straighter, fighting back, asking her for her opinions on what he was saying and seeing how far he could push things. He was aggressive, kept talking about wiping out vagrancy (the first time that she had heard him use the word). About making people fear the police again. Abruptly he was finished.

 ‘Anything else, sir?’

 ‘Yes. I would like you to get me a gram of cocaine.’

 Hannah swallowed. ‘Funny. Yeah, I wouldn’t know about that.’

 ‘Don’t give me that shit Hannah. I think I even saw your dealer hanging around here a few times. The big fat fucker, right? Well, if he can lay off the pies for long enough then tell him to get you some extra this time.’

‘Look who’s talking, you lardy bastard,’ she said, but Fletcher was sure that there was something like respect in her tone.

‘So you going to sort me out or what.’

‘Oh, for sure. Sir.’

***

The next nine months were like a waking dream for Fletcher. Most of the time he felt like he was outside of himself, sitting back and eating a sandwich while watching himself handing out bribes, raking in money and expensive gifts for mutual backscratching, doing illicit favours for positive press coverage. How long could the good times last? But he was finally getting some results. At last he was doing some damage out there…

***

Fletcher arrived home and found Ben and Sharon hard at it on the sofa. Sharon started squirming, but Ben didn’t notice anything amiss until he heard the clink as Fletcher dropped his keys into the glass bowl and said, ‘Hi Ben. How’s it going?’

Ben turned his head and looked at Sharon’s husband. ‘Hello George, won’t be a minute. Fix us a gin and soda, will you?’ Instead of jumping Ben and trying to cave his head in, Fletcher surprised him by vanishing into the kitchen, preparing Ben’s drink, and handing it to him while Ben was still inside Sharon. Too much of a weed to even have a go, thought Ben.

‘Tough day at the office, George? Won’t you join me?’ said Ben, slurping at his drink and wincing at the gin’s sharp flavour.

‘Yes, I think I will.’ Fletcher had already made one for himself and sipped at it thoughtfully. ‘You know, Ben, the thing about you, even when you’re balls deep in my wife, is that it’s still kind of hard to notice you.’

‘Now you’re just being nasty,’ said Ben, levering himself off Sharon who promptly scarpered, gathered her clothes and disappeared out of the house. Ben necked his drink as the door slammed, irritated that she hadn’t hung around to bask in George’s humiliation. It really tasted weird.

‘I’ve made quite a few new friends, Ben,’ said Fletcher, fumbling in a drawer. ‘This was a present from some of them. You like it?’ He raised what looked like a small and worn axe. It looked like a child’s toy. ‘It’s from the Andes. A gift from the Association for the Repatriation of South American Indian Heritage, for the favours I have done them lately. You like it? It’s still sharp. Look.’

What’s he wittering about, thought Ben, feeling the first tingles of unease. He made to get up and found he couldn’t. He tried to speak but his jaw locked tight. Fletcher approached him, swinging the axe in one hand. He held up a little bottle in the other.

‘This is something I commissioned from my dear friends. Ayahuasca, used by their shamans to induce visions. Goddamn, it’s great stuff, almost too good to waste on you. You won’t start hallucinating yet, not for an hour or two, but a decent dose prepared with certain chemicals is enough to cause immediate temporary paralysis. I had despaired of finding a way to get this into your system, I was all set to just clobber you over the head and tie you up, then you saved me the effort.’

The little axe gleamed in the light. ‘I was thinking of starting a collection, Ben.’ Fletcher had taken out a roll of plastic and was laying it out on the floor, unwrapping it across the sofa underneath Ben’s naked backside. ‘A collection to commemorate my vanquished enemies. Perhaps I should start with a scalp?’ Sweat beaded across Ben’s body, dripping into his eyes. ‘No. Let’s start with a pair of testicles.’

His gaze fixed forwards, Ben couldn’t see what George was doing, but he could feel it.  

‘They would look good pickled in a jar on my desk, hmmm? Might get the trade unions to pay attention when they visit.’ Ben tried to wriggle, to lift a finger, anything, but no.

‘‘Only joking. Your balls are far too small and inoffensive. I think I’ll just flush them down the toilet. Hold still now.’

***

Hannah leaned back in her office chair with a contented little sigh and hummed a tune to herself, suffused with the contented glow of someone thoroughly enjoying her work. George Fletcher had to be the only person she had ever met who she could honestly say, he’s really blossomed as a person since he got on the drugs, really come into himself. Now, other politicians, pressure groups and lobbyists, all these jerks they’d had to deal with for years saw podgy old affable George coming, and found themselves flattened by a ferocious onslaught of righteous rhetoric, bad language and occasional actual violence. Only yesterday George had seized that government minister and booted the guy hard in the rear end, screaming at him as he threw him out of the office. George now had associations with individuals who had clout and money, and his latest achievements had made people pay attention. Initiatives that lowered crime and empowered the police, drives to secure funds to build a new hospital, and an utter crackdown on anyone under the age of thirty-five, all justified in the wake of the recent riots.  

The sound of someone clearing their throat behind her snapped Hannah out of her reverie. A uniformed policeman and a plain clothes inspector stood over her. The inspector flashed his badge and said ‘Pardon me, miss, is George Fletcher in? We need to speak to him about an incident on the twenty-fourth of May. Well, that, and a few others.’

***

Once again Fletcher found himself jostled by a crowd as microphones were shoved into his face, but he wasn’t scared this time. He was on the steps of the courthouse, and the case had attracted quite a crowd, as well as the national news. Ben, who had brought charges against Fletcher and had healed just enough to stand upright, was off to one side, surrounded by his legal team. Ben had changed since Fletcher had last seen him. Now he was always about five seconds from hysteria, sweating and twitching. His legal team all seemed shifty, as if they couldn’t quite bring themselves to believe all the things Ben had said about Fletcher (many no doubt squeezed out of Sharon by Ben in between their copious shagging sessions, others gleaned from sniffing around officials that Fletcher had intimidated or harassed).

But their trump card was this witness that Ben had managed to bully into coming forward. So, thought Fletcher, it had turned out there was someone spying on that road near Kings Cross, they just hadn’t had the guts to come out into the open and help their buddy when he got it in the neck. Lucky for them, he thought. The little git had only raised his head above the parapet when he saw Fletcher on TV and realised who he was.

Despite the fact that the charges were pretty much all true, Fletcher was confident. The police loved him just now because of all the good deeds he had done for them, and Ben had been so taken by his rank hatred of Fletcher that he had made the mistake of rushing things, not giving himself enough time to properly assemble the evidence he needed. Fletcher had provided a very fat bribe to the people who had supplied him with the Ayahuasca to keep their mouths shut, and the drug was Class A and illegal anyway. Between that and the hush money he felt sure that he could count on their discretion. If he could push Ben over the edge, destroy his credibility, the case would collapse. 

There was a line of armed police on the steps, alert for any nutter with an axe to grind. Fletcher stepped up to the microphones, and the reporters went quiet as he made his statement.

‘I object to this public lynching of a public servant. These charges are the worst kind of trumped up shite (you heard me). To reiterate: I stand accused of, in no particular order,’ Fletcher ticked them off on his fingers, ‘fraud, breach of trust, adultery, sodomy, wounding with intent, murder, and drugs violations. I am a practising coke-addled sex fiend. And while all this was going on, I still had time to apply myself to racketeering, coercion and solicitation. These criminal acts explain my recent modest successes, not anything mundane like, I don’t know, hard work or anything like that.’  

He stabbed a finger in Ben’s direction. ‘Now, my accuser, this joke of a man, this… utter wanker, what can I say about him? Anyone else, I would have sympathy for them, found robbed and castrated one morning in a ditch, but come on. This man slept with my wife. She rejects him. Soon after he is a victim of a brutal assault and he lashes out against me, because my wife wouldn’t leave me for him and he is too scared to prosecute the real criminals.

‘Not content with that, he cooks up slanderous accusations designed to undermine my civic works and ruin my career and the trust of my constituents. Does anyone honestly believe I was the culprit in his attack, when the man has a worksheet full of gang members and thugs with links to organised crime he’s put away? Any of which would no doubt love to neuter the bastard.

‘And it’s a bit rich to accuse me of being drugged up, when he himself was found vomiting his guts out with enough psychedelics in his system to supply Jim Morrison.

‘As for the murder charge, as I understand it this so-called witness he has dredged up was a lookout for the unfortunate young man who died while apparently committing a criminal act. This witness is himself a very shady character and something of a worm, with a crime sheet as long as my arm. Are you going to take his word over mine?’

Ben looked like he was about to go critical. Despite his cronies trying to keep him quiet, he piped up.

‘You should be locked up, George!’ he shouted. He turned to the crowd. ‘You’re not swallowing his tripe, are you? Can’t you see he’s dangerous? You cannot allow this bastard to stay in a position of respect and power!’

He was met with a chorus of boos.

‘Oh, I quite agree,’ said Fletcher to his audience, ‘I wouldn’t believe this man either. I did what you asked, didn’t I, Ben? The police flushed the plumbing of my house. They found not one ball…’

‘You, smug, fat bastard…’

‘Oh shut up, No Bollocks,’ said Fletcher.

Ben’s face went white with hate. The rumours about Ben carrying for self-protection must have been true, because he now yanked a pistol from his coat and started shooting. The first two shots went wide and hit a reporter, who went down with a squelching sound, the bullets rupturing the hack’s windpipe. The next shots slammed into Fletcher’s shoulder and flank, spinning him.

There was a rush as the crowd panicked. Fletcher was dimly aware that the police had opened fire, but he made sure to get a good look at Ben being satisfyingly trampled, before he allowed himself to pass out.  

***

When Tony came to visit Fletcher in hospital, he lay a meaty paw on his unbandaged shoulder and squeezed. Sharon, who had cautiously returned to Fletcher’s side, was already there, holding his hand and feeding him grapes.

‘Rest easy, George. Don’t take it personally. It’s become quite fashionable to try to assassinate politicians in public. They got some cracking snaps of you, by the way. Some photographer’s going to win all sorts of awards, I bet.

 ‘You’re quite the flavour of the month, old boy. On all the news channels. That weasel of a witness has very sensibly decided to change his story and say that the late Ben Greene talked him into it and dangled money in front of him. Now all everyone is talking about is the good things you’ve done just lately, and no-one wants to believe all those nasty things that were said about you in the case. That might change in the future, so you’ll need to be careful. But for now, you’re on the up and up.’

Something about hearing the words in Tony’s thick American accent made them seem more real. Fletcher looked at Sharon. She kissed him, and the kiss was long, lingering, and hungry.

Fletcher’s thoughts though turned to that kid Colin Leeson, who had ruined his jacket all those months ago… and what he would do once he got his hands on the scrawny blighter.   

Andrew Kolarik lives and works in Cambridge, England. He is a research psychologist. His fiction has appeared in Pulp Metal Magazine, Supernatural TalesCarillon and Eunoia Review. For a number of years he wrote post-punk lyrics for live performances in London – he hails from South London – and Cardiff. He is currently working on several poems and short stories and is seeking representation for a novel.

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