Monday, January 28

The Road

At least I know what needs to be done.

I rise with sun and head to the office, intending to track down the bastard Scotsman. Today, I will be the hand of justice, and I will make amends. Killing him won't undo the evil he's caused, and it won't get me paid. Will my soul be angry? Maybe. But maybe my hands will stop trembling.

Something is wrong at the office. The door is ajar. I grip Faith silently and prepare myself for whatever is inside.

If it was The Scotsman, I would have been ready. If it was a thief, Faith would have been ready. But the small office was silent, dark, and cluttered as ever. I put Faith on the table and reach for the bottle of Whiskey, my guardian of liquid fire by the phone, and see the note on the table. I'm not prepared for the note.

It's from Charlie. It shows the Insurance Company's head office address, and a time. Underlined at the bottom, it says The Scotsman will be there. And, the big surprise, an apology scribbled across the back. It's a daisy through concrete. She came back for me.

But what does it mean? Ahead of me is a road with two yellow lines that goes for years. I can turn off, or I can keep driving. Charlie's eyes didn't lie to me. She's getting played every bit as much as I am. Times are fierce, times are fine.

Yeah, it goes that way.

I sit in the gloom and let the Whiskey ask all the hard questions.

Saturday, January 26


Anger and hate. That's all I have.

All day I try to starship myself to an island paradise guided by stars. Fuelled by anger and guided by whiskey, I tally up the scores on the insurance case.

The Scotsman practically owns the insurance company, it's his rabid dog. The medical papers I found finally made sense: the company provides life insurance, the names on the reports are potential claimants. Everyone is a grey line on a page, existing in coma, or dementia, or sickness. The company finds the people who are due to die, and it cheats them of mercy. It keeps them hanging on to the world, digging in its claws, so that the Scotsman can keep his money. After a year, sometimes two, of existence, the company can justify taking their names off the books. And as soon as the threat of a claim is gone, the company lets the poor bastards die.

The house always wins.

I figure, somewhere down the line, someone got wise to the Scotsman's game. He panicked, and tried to set me up. He set me on the case to find a red herring, using Charlie to lead me along to all the right clues. I think back to the warehouse, with its TV light and piles of paper. It wasn't chance that had me see Charlie there. She was planting evidence for me to find, not removing it. I had trusted in that serene spirit, and I had almost got caught.

The Scotsman played his hand at the hawaiian bar, out of town. The police should have found me with the bodies, and that bastard would have planted everything on me and escaped his sins.

Somehow, I escaped. I got lucky, although sitting here in the dark with only regret and anger, luck doesn't feel like a lady.

Friday, January 25


Another meaningless day. I know what I ain't - slack. I've pored over the medical documents, tried to figure out The Scotsman's game, asked around for any dirt on the insurance company.

But nothing is its own road, and I find myself leaving the office for a Hawaiian bar out of town. A peice of paper promised me answers here.

I find the bar closed and quiet - unusual for a Friday night. I make my way into the gloom, alone. Children are scared of the dark beacuse they don't know what's there. I'm scared of the dark because I know exactly what is there. I unholster Providence, flick off the safety, and trust in her light.

Around the scattered tables and chairs I find... nothing. The empty road leads me downstairs into an empty cellar. And here is a different kind of nothing. Bodies, lining the room on cold desks. Nothing pours out of them. Waves of emptiness and hollowness wash over me. They lie still, and it's always a surprise. No matter how hard you stare at them, they never stare back. They never flinch, or stir, or move, or draw breath. But every second you spend with a body, you grow more certain that that second will be the one that it goes for your throat.

And then the nothing explodes into sirens. Red and blue light flickers through the cracks in the floorboard, and megaphones cry out. Come out with your hands up, the voices implore me. We know you're in there, they whisper to me.

There is a saying among honest men. It goes something like this: innocent people don't run away. I never much believed in honesty. And nothing says "guilty" quite like an armed man standing in a cellar full of bodies, alone, in the middle of nowhere.

Only one thing remains: I run.

I tear up the stairs like the basement is on fire. I run to the bar, past the bottles of wine. I'm not proud, I stole a bottle for myself. I burst through to the kitchen, coldly silver and clean, and hear voices of alarm behind me. I kick open the back door, find an alley, and bless the cloudy sky for its darkness. The sounds of honest men follow my echoing footsteps as I run.

Questions race through my mind: why were the police there? How long were they waiting? Why are there bodies in the basement? What is the Company up to?

No-one is more suprised than myself when I run into the answers. I tear around a corner onto a dark street. A car stands parked by the road, lights dimmed, with two figures leaning against it, smoking and laughing. Across the road, I stare into the dark eyes of the Scotsman and the laughing eyes of Charlie.

A set up. It's always a set up. I run again, their lying eyes on my back, and run into the night until I can't run anymore.

Later, I sit alone under a streetlight, the cold wait of Faith resting in my hand. A stray cat purrs up against my leg, and all I want to do is kill it dead for liking me.

I wait for the new light of dawn, and put all the little peices together.

Thursday, January 24

By TV Light

I spend the next hours poking around the warehouse building, trying to see what I can find.

The building is dark, and looks to be mostly deserted. I figure that, save for a couple of offices above the warehouse floor, the place has been used simply for cold storage. Square boxes line the warehouse spac, eerie in their silence. I wander the floor, but find nothing in the gloom. Except for dust and old ink.

Seeing Charlie has confused me. She's a magnet to my compass, and I struggle to tell down from up. I follow her subtle scent to the office I found her in. A bank of TV monitors flashes idly in one corner, pictures undiscernable in the snowy haze. By TV light I examine the stack of papers she was leafing through. Most of it is medical papers and jargon: well beyond me, but top of the pile contains a likely starting point. It outlines a meeting at the other end of town, tomorrow night. I don't recognise the names, but finding something that isn't two years out of date suddenly feels like good news. I take a few otehr papers from the pile for good measure - something about coma patients, perscripted drugs, and insurance histories. Bedtime reading.

Outside, the rain is tapping against my window. Why are my eyes so grey? Purple lead me here, it was a solid bet. But I've found nothing but confusion.

I'm just about to leave when I find Pandora's box. A suitcase lies discarded in the corner, hidden by loneliness. I crack it open and leaf through the paperwork inside.

My only surprise at the peice of paper I find in my hands is the fact that it surprises me. It's a list of senior staff for the insurance company. On it, I recgnoise names from the meeting details I picked up earlier. But the big suprise is that, right at the top of the list, up with the wolves in the pack, is The Scotsman.

I take my leave with a shiver running up my spine. Why does the Scotsman want to bring down his own money spinning machine? I suspect I'll find the answers in the lonely hours, tomorrow night, and I know that I won't like them.

Wednesday, January 23

State of Things

Night shift, and Purple's advice rings in my head all day.

Her tip leads me to a warehouse in an industrial estate, way out of town. I park the car around the corner. The stars are my only witness as I approach the warehouse, climb the fire escape to the second floor, and sneak in the office window.

There are things in this world I trust. I trust The Twins, cool and collected at my side. I trust the rain to fall from angry skies. I trust in the colour Purple. But I don't trust dark buildings with no sign of life, I don't trust littered alleyways, and I don't trust insurance companies.

Providence settles in my hand, the weight of the pistol keeping one foot in reality. But even the Twins can't prepare me for the sight of Charlie leafing through a pile of paperwork in the back office.

She turns at the sound my approach, eyes lit with wildfire, and a wildcat smile flickers across her face. For a time, silence does all the talking we need. Her eyes light every corner of my soul, and I'd swear then that she knew everything about me.

"Take off your shackles," she purred, tucking a pile of papers into a bag. "You won't need them where we're going. You see what happens, happens, and there ain't no straight lines in the state of things."

I take every word and put it somewhere safe inside me. I wrestle every moment to the ground and leave it inside myself, with Future Boy, to come to terms with later. I want to ask her a thousand questions. I want to take her by the hand and forget the world keeps on turning round. I want to make myself worthy.

She takes her bag and moves for the door with a shimmy that makes cats look graceless. I step across her path, seize her arm. I feel her tense up, feel the breath she draws in, and wait for her to let it out. She doesn't: I take the moment. My heart takes control, and all the wrong things come out.

"Listen to me, but don't die laughing."

The wildcat smile pounces back. Her eyes meet mine and I feel alive like I've never felt alive before. Then she shrugs away from me and heads out of the door, a dozen unfulfilled promises floating in the gloom behind her.

Tuesday, January 22

The Door

Tuesday nights at the Dorset.

I walk through the door and see that I'm in luck tonight, Purple is there. Anything I need, Purple gets. She's my lucky six, the ace up my sleeve.

The jazz band plays in the corner. They tie the room together with their rythm. Everywhere I look, feet tap and heads bob to the double bass. People close their eyes and smile at the sax solo. People nod wisely, pupils flared, and discuss the guitarist's technique. It's all horse crap, except for the music. The music calls me every week, and every week I answer.

I sit down and Purple tells me everything I need to know. She tells me where I can find Charlie. She tells me where the company does its dirtiest work. She stares me in the eye until I forget why I'm staring back, and tells me not to trust the Scotsman.

I lean back and let the music fill me. I panic at the quiet times, with decisions at the door. But now the music is everywhere and things are looking up, and Purple is still my favourite colour.

Monday, January 21

Future Boy

My friends have all gone and left me. So I decided to come here and see myself as a baby.

I keep a place hidden. It's inside myself, deep inside the fortress. It it I keep all the old versions of myself, all the old layers of innocence. It's here, in the dark, where I keep everything I've had to lose to survive.

It's not often I come here. Only when the whiskey bottle empties, and I have little other place to go.

Fate plays its cruel games. I find myself wrapped up in the swirling currents of the job and the neverending chasm of lust. A day in the office running background checks on insurance companies. Long stares out of the window. Longer shots of whiskey.

I look at myself in the past, and myself now. I speak to myself, I say to myself, "I'm still the future, boy". I know that I will always be what I've become now. But I wonder if it's what I'm supposed to be.

And somehow, out of nothing, I see it. I see what The Scotsman wants me to do. I see a way into the case, into the job. I cast Charlie out of my mind and try to see through the whiskey fog.

The insurance company provides insurance for lives. It values people. It reduces the worth of a life, of a soul, to a number. And when the candleflame goes it, it pays out.

But something doesn't add up. People die all the time, but there's never a payout. The company always has a get out clause. It's always something minor, something no-one would cause a fuss about. But somehow, the dice always roll in the company's favour. The house always wins. The dead don't get their worth, and the suits get to keep their cigars.

The Scotsman was right - something is wrong here.

Sunday, January 20

Emergency '72

Candlelight flickers around me. Somehow the faint and flickering glow is comforting. The light is warm, but the flame weak. Everytime the flame wilts and dims, some part of me wonders if it'll come back, or die out entirely. Some part of myself plays this cruel game with the light, daring it to fail so that I can be stronger.

On the other side of the pub, a man plays a guitar. The melody is picked out softly, teasing the notes into the air, easing the tune into my mind. All my colours bleed, I can hear them running. The voices nearby are hushed in respect of the gentle sound.

There is honesty here. Peace, of a kind.

Before me is a file. I tried to bribe it cleanly, but a crook's a crook. A contact tried to screw me out of the deal at the last second - I broke his wrist like I was opening a beer. There's no honour amongst theives, and everyone is a thief in the presence of money.

The file holds answers. By the flickering light, I read about the girl whose calm spirit has set mine aflame. I read about Charlie, born in Crawley, Sussex. I read about her birth in 1972, her employment histiry since 1988, her criminal record since 1989. I tease secrets and truths about this character, and wonder how she can come to be mine.

I close the file and drain the whiskey glass. I leave a tip for the guitarist, and set the file alight in a candle. I leave the pub, contemplating my slow-burning emergency which started in 1972, and has finally kicked into red alert.

All my lust comes down to dust. Can't you hear it crumbling?

Saturday, January 19

Underdog (Save Me)

It hung over me all day.

Like cigarette smoke clinging to a shirt, her gaze haunted me every time I let my guard down.

The job had sidetracked me already. I resolved to find out more about this woman, to get another moment of peace, to find that serenity once more.

Once again, I was the underdog. Serenity like that couldn't stay pure with the likes of me. I'd set myself an impossible task.

One night of regret. One day in a dark room. Night comes and I crawl to the Whiskey bottle. But it's a different kind of peace now. It's second best.

Please save me. Save me from myself.

Friday, January 18

Feeling Oblivion

The case came from The Scotsman. Like all of them, he was built like a bomb shelter and looked like he'd been through a war or two. Honest as a rifle and every bit as loud, he told me exactly what he wanted, and vanished.

Of course, what he told me was worthless.

He wanted dirt on some American insurance company. That much, at least, was in my favour. The only business with more dirt than the American kind is the insurance industry. The night rose in mist and rain, and I left the office to search for answers.

I knew a place to be tonight, a place where the right kinds of scum could be found. The Scotsman hadn't given me much, but I figured I'd follow my nose.

The bar was croweded with familiar faces I'd never met. Sometimes, it seemed there were only a dozen people in the world, copied somehow into a million different bodies. I heard familiar laughs from fat men, raucus cries from fat women, saw lies seeping out of every pore like sweat. I used every disguise I have to melt into the crowd, and my investigations began.

Looking back, I'm not sure why I went. I had hoped for clues and answers. But as soon as I saw her, I knew all I'd get was questions and regrets.

She moved around the bar like a raincloud bursting across the Sahara. She left a wake of smiles and lingering eyes as she passed, waving and winking. Everyone wanted to be her best friend. Everyone wanted to be her best lover.

My eyes lead a private life of their own as they followed her movements. She moved with more than just physicality - her spirit was serenity itself. She was a cool cloth against the fevered brow of the bar. Her eyes met mine, and her spirit was a balm. She was grace. She was peace.

I was defenceless.

The Twins rested under my coat, cool and heavy, but they were small comfort. My many masks were broken under her gaze, and my gut faught my mind at every decision.

I made my way around the room, speaking to anyone sober enough to speak back, but drunk enough not to think too quickly. I made enquiries, I heard names. But she was always there, or never there. She was like the brightest light in the world - I shrivelled and withered under her brilliance. The world was reduced to sillhouettes in her brilliance. Even with my eyes closed she burned red against my eyelids.

I was lucky enough to find her eyes a second time. The gaze lingered for a second, and I felt peace inside myself. For a second, the world lifted, my rage subsided, she promised to take me somewhere else.

But when her eyes left me, I was more alone than I had ever been. The world came back with a crash, fear took me over, anger seized my heart once more. That single second of peace was destined to cast a shadow which would last a lifetime.

Divided, confused, and feeling oblivion, I left.

Thursday, January 17

The Optimist

The Job changes, all the time. I never know what's coming from one day to the next. The extraordinary is just a man under a blanket; the ordinary hides under a black cloak of lies.

Cases end up on my desk all the time, and the only constant is that nothing is what it seems.

It's almost refreshing to see a job and know what the final word will be. It's a rare thing, but sometimes inevitability decides to take a walk in your shoes. Sometimes fate leaves a calling card.

I pick up a paper file headed "JC". My gut tightens, icy claws grip my heart and my lungs fill with burning oil. And, for an everlasting second, I see the future.

This one is going to leave a scar.