195. Liver ‘n’ Let Die.

I am stood in the office kitchenette, staring at a slowly boiling kettle.
I am hung over again.
I’ve tried cutting back on my drinking lately, but the overwhelming horror of the mundane has sent me hurrying back to the mid-priced Pinot Grigio with an insatiable gusto.
The kitchenette is always a grim place, even the name is grim.
It sounds like an instrument of torture.
A kitchenette is a half arsed kitchen, the runt of the culinary litter. Nobody aspires to a new kitchenette. Nobody has a dream kitchenette.
Kitchenettes are shit.
Shitette, even.
Something catches my eye.
It is a bag of meat.
A bag of meat, defrosting on a plate on top of the battered microwave oven. The bag of meat slowly leaks watery blood onto a cracked, white plate and it makes me feel very queasy.
It has finally happened.
Someone has brought raw meat in to work.
This is a new low.
“Animals,” I whisper, pressing myself back against the sink as the kettle bubbles and clicks. “Fucking animals.”
I turn away but suddenly Dimples is there, grinning up at me. She is very short and very fat. She is holding two Tupperware boxes. She giggles at me.
I flinch.
She says, “Were you just looking at my liver?”
With a feeling of horrible panic, my eyes are involuntarily dragged down to her groin. I say, “I… I can’t see your liver.”
Dimples looks mildly bewildered, then she giggles again. She squeezes her rotund form past me, her immense, sagging breasts squashing against my cock which shrivels away like a salted slug.
She says, “No, dafty pants, my liver. I got some liver but I forgot to get it out the freezer at home last night coz I’m having dinner at me mam’s tonight coz she’s been badly so I’m defrosting it now to have with onions an’ a bit of mash tonight. I’m on Slimming World.”
She picks up the dripping bag. She frowns, squeezing the contents, checking if it is defrosted yet. There are gold rings on all of her fat fingers and her nails are painted a monstrous red. They probe and squash the chunks of glistening raw liver inside the bag, the meat slithering as if it is attempting to evade her cruel grasp. Gripping and fondling, squeezing and squashing, bright red nails chasing dark red offal through bloody plastic.
My scrotum tightens, puckers.
Watery blood dribbles down her fingers and trickles amongst the shiny gold links of the watch that digs into the fat of her wrist. Absent mindedly she sucks some blood off her finger.
My mouth waters horribly. Acid rises in my throat.
I mumble, “Slimming World.”
She says, “Yeah, I got Slimming World tonight so I got to be good, just a bit o’ liver an’ onions an’ a bit o’ mash. We got a weigh-in tonight so I’ve to be good.”
I look at the Tupperware and I say, “What’s that lot?”
Dimples giggles coquettishly, her lower lip glistening with liver blood. “It’s what they got on at the canteen. Chinese chicken curry, half rice, half chips. Lovely. For afters it’s sticky toffee pudding an’ custard.”
I say, “I thought you were having liver?”
“That’s for before the weigh in, to set me on. This is for after. A treat. For being good.”
“So you’re having liver and onions and mash to set you on, before having Chinese chicken curry with chips and rice, followed by sticky toffee pudding and custard?”
She blinks. “Yeah, but I’m having that AFTER my weigh in, as a treat, so that’s ok.”
I say, “Right. How long you been doing Slimming World then?”
“Three years.”
I say, “Lost much weight?”
She says, “Cheeky bastard! I lost four pounds!”
“In three years?”
“Yeah, it comes and goes. It’s not easy, y’know.”
I reckon that she can easily lose four pounds in a single bowel movement. I don’t say that though.
I say, “ Four pounds. Well done. You can really tell.”
Dimples bats her eyelashes at me. “Ta Luci!”
She drops the liver back onto the plate with a wet splat. She bends over to put her Tupperware in the fridge, pointing her gigantic arse towards me. She is literally twice as wide as I am. I think she gives her arse a little wiggle, but I can’t be sure.
And suddenly, reluctantly, I imagine fucking her in a giant plate of raw liver. Slithering around, heaving her immense bulk into a more accessible position, hands slipping off her vast contours as the blood smears and the dark red meat squelches under my knees, slapping against that gigantic rump, the smell of meat and the smell of her, then sliding beneath her, sinking into liver as she lowers herself onto me, pressing down on me in a super heavyweight soixante-neuf, obliterating me with her gut and the guts…
As whisper, “Fucking animals…”
She says, “What’s that?”
And I say, “I didn’t used to like liver. When I was a kid my mum cooked liver and it turned into leather. It felt like clay in my mouth. There were tubes in it that my brother said were worms, worms burrowing into the cows liver, worms that were cooked alive, but later I learned they were great fat veins where the blood would go, dirty blood for the liver to clean. I only like liver when I cook it now, lambs liver patted in flour and salt and pepper, lightly fried, left to rest, then red wine splashed in the pan, stirred into the flour and the dark burned bits, cooking off the alcohol, making a sauce…”
! stumble away from the kitchenette, away from the immense woman with an open shocked mouth and her bag of raw meat. I stagger along the corridor, onto the fire escape.
The air is cooler here. I can see grass and sky through the large window pane.
I’m relieved to notice that I have no trace of an erection.
I decide to cook pasta for tea.
And drink a lot of mid-priced Pinot Grigio.

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Sound Guys & Sticky Carpets

The podcast is here!

Follow the link below to download and listen to our first podcast, and find out what the Hell this picture is about.

Hope you like it.


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We can’t all get down the pub, can we?

There’s always something that gets in the way – work, family, an inconvenient criminal conviction for dog-bothering.

So what’s the alternative?

Well, this weekend I’m starting a podcast with my mates, Sam and Andrew. We’re drinking beers in a Northern pub and discussing the kind of bollocks that blokes down the pub usually talk about. It’s only vaguely planned, but those plans go out of the window as we meander off the path to wherever the conversation goes. I’m happy to say that I’ve found a rare alchemy with these lads so it’s not just a rambling load of old bollocks – I listened back to the recordings and I’m pretty damned pleased with them. Let’s see what you think.

We will definitely be discussing books, music, creative influences and compromising sexual situations. We will be using words like fuck, cunt, bollocks and wank.

We will be getting fairly drunk, but don’t let that put you off – we have chip butties at half time to soak up the worst of it.

We’ll be on iTunes and Soundcloud, and we’ll try to have a feed on our upcoming website.

So look out on here and on Twitter – @generallucifer, @andomain, @cyclingtiger – and if you’re buying, mines a pint and a packet of pig nuts.


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194. The Gear Hunter

It is midday and I want a cigarette.
I don’t smoke cigarettes.
I might have mentioned it before, how I sometimes crave things I’ve not had in a long time, things like Walker’s Spicy Tomato flavour Snaps, Ice Pops, anal sex, good hair, a hot August, gratitude, cigarettes.
It’s probably just nostalgia.
I love and loathe nostalgia in equal measure.
I loathe shiny faced ‘B’ list comedians blithering inanely about Raleigh Choppers and The Bay City Rollers and Space Hoppers and other such vapid consumerist bullshit on BBC4 shows titled ‘We *heart* the 70’s’, but at the same time the smell of melting tarmac makes my chest ache for childhood days spent wandering alone in the merciless sun through empty streets, or petrol fumes, or the sound of the sea through an open caravan window.
Simple things.
Like cigarettes.
On a whim I decide to get hidden somewhere, tap a fag off someone and get tucked away behind a skip or a compactor unit and just smoke. I don’t tap smokes off people as a rule, but desperate times and all that…
I look around, between machines and sound for a bloke with a cough or a wheeze, someone chewing gum and checking their watch. Typically it looks like the factory is running itself again, presses and finishing lines and mystery machines clattering away in busy conversation with one another without the input of the semi-humans who turn them off.
I see human movement.
I squeeze between two units, under whirring miles of printed paper on it’s way to being spliced.
I see the figure walking hurriedly, carrying a bin over one shoulder.
I recognise the jittery walk, head meerkating around for signs of management.
He speeds up, taking a left into the warehouse to duck amongst the towering labyrinth of gloomy racking.
I follow him, listen to his footsteps skitter across gritty concrete that has never been swept, looking from aisle to aisle of paper pallets until I see him, two aisles up, hurrying, hurrying.
He pauses, sees me.
Then moves on.
“Cheeky fucker…” I mutter, running now.
I don’t want to hound Fucking Amazing Dave but I really want a smoke and, as usual, he owes me twenty quid. I’m not fussed for the money but I don’t like lending if the borrower blanks me. That’s just rude. Besides, Dave rolls a great roll up so the least he can do is send one of those my way.
I catch him by a side door of the warehouse, looking rattled. He’s fumbling with his baccy and has a filter gripped between his lips. He raises his eyebrows in greeting and says, “Hmmnnm.”
I say, “Now then Dave. You avoiding me?”
He shakes his head, loads a paper with Amber Leaf and snuggles the filter from his mouth in next to it. He rolls.
“Nah, man! I’d never dodge you! Yer like a bruvva, yeah? I just had to get clear, y’know. Get out of sight. Had a bit of a scare a bit back, truth be told. I’m feelin’ rather out o’ sorts.”
He passes me the first roll up without asking if I want one then he makes his own.
I say, “Are we off behind the skips?”
He says, “No way. I’m staying in here, out o’ the way.”
I frown. “Out of the way of what?”
Fucking Amazing Dave looks furtive. He opens the fire escape a crack and looks out, then lights his fag. He blows his smoke at the open gap but the cold breeze just blows it back in his face.
He says, “I just nipped out earlier, to Frank’s Hardware. We needed a couple of bins and some dust sheets.”
I look around. The factory is unusual in that we have a huge amount of bins all over the place and dust sheets can be found stacked in many random locations. Until recently I was convinced the fucking things were breeding, that bins were male and dust sheets were female and that litters of tiny bins and dust sheets were nesting out of sight in the dark shadows of the warehouse.
It turns out that all that was really happening was that people were buying a lot of bins and dust sheets.
You wouldn’t think that a print works would need an unusual amount of bins and dust sheets, but there’s method in the madness.
I say, “What did you get then?”
Dave grins. He pulls the bin over, lifts the dust sheet crammed inside. Underneath there are screwdrivers, jigsaw blades, boxes of screws, sandpaper and some dust masks.
He says, “I’m doing a bit of work at home. Needed a few bits.”
This is how it always goes. If you can’t nick it from the factory, you go to Frank’s Hardware and buy a couple of dust sheets and a bin. You pay for the dust sheets and bin on the company account, about fifteen quid, then you shoplift the stuff you really want by hiding it in the bin, under the dust sheet, roughly fifty quids worth of gear. The factory gets bins and dust sheets, you get some shiny stuff for nowt.
I say, “I don’t know how Frank’s Hardware stays open with you lot.”
Dave takes a drag on his fag. “They’re closing down next month. Shame really.”
I shake my head. “Yeah, shame.”
Dave says, “So anyways, I got my stuff and was riding Dorothy back to work, but it were a nice day and…”
“Dorothy?” I say.
“Yeah, Dorothy. My Nissan Micra. It’s a Micra Dot, Dot is short for Dorothy, so thats’ it’s name.”
I say, “Is it the one painted with flowers, got bit of plastic instead of a passenger window?”
Dave grins. “Yeah, that’s her. Great little motor, when I get to drive her.”
I say, “Does your lass get first dibs usually?”
Dave takes a pull on his roll up. “Nah. She can’t drive. It’s the local kids keep nicking her. That’s why the plastic on the window. Sick of paying for new glass. We come to an arrangement. They can borrow her if they promise not to burn her out or shit on the seats. I leave the keys under the sun visor so’s they don’t smash up the steering column. I left ‘em a note, setting out the rules. So they nicked her, but brought her back in the condition I left her in. Even left me half a tank of petrol, bless ‘em! So sometimes I come out the house an’ Dorothy is there, sometimes she’s not. That’s just how it is.”
I shake my head. “Fucking amazing.”
Dave shrugs. “It’s a system. Everyone’s happy! So It were a nice day, I had Dorothy, an’ it seemed a shame not to nip over to Spliffy Pete’s for a bit o’ the good stuff, y’ know? So I scores, takes the gear back to work.”
I say, “You intend to smoke it now? Bit risky, no? I mean, on a night, sure, but it’s what… just past twelve!”
“Nah, man!” says Dave. “This industrial estate is bigger than you think! You get tucked away, down amongst the weird little units off the main drag. That’s the trick. Out o’ the way. Park up, roll up, get a bit fucked up! Ha ha! It were cushty, until…”
“I say, “Until what?”
“Until today, man! So I do the usual. Get myself parked, put a bit o’ The Doors on Dorothy’s cassette deck, roll meself a chubby blunt. Fire it up, all good. Now, I reckoned it were a good spot ‘cause I smelled a bit o’ ganj on the air round that place, y’know? If one brother be smokin’ then it’s cool if I do. Kinda the rules, as I see it. So I’m kickin’ back, chillin’ when all shit breaks loose!”
I say, “Shit? What kind of shit?”
“ALL THE SHIT!” says Dave, wide eyed. “I was all alone one minute, then suddenly I got a fuckin’ SWAT Team climbin’ all over me!! There’s ninja coppers all in black wi’ fuckin’ machine guns, there’s coppers wi’ dogs, coppers in riot clobber. Vans, cars, Flyin’ Squad, the lot. There were even a fuckin’ helicopter! COPPERS IN A CHOPPER!! It were the Heinz fuckin’ Beans o’ coppers, dude! Fifty seven varieties o’ the fuckers! But I’d had a few decent pulls by then an’ I were gettin’ a decent buzz on, but this really ruined the mood, y’ know? I’m IMMEDIATELY paranoid as fuck, thinkin’ ‘I’m dead I’m dead I’m dead’. I reckoned they’d been stakin’ out Spliffy Pete’s gaff an’ tailed me to catch me red handed, then I thought that Frank’s Hardware had fingered me for nickin’ stuff, then I thought it were for both an’ that I were gonna spend the next two years gettin’ bummed in Armley nick by a load of fuckin’ lifers. But THEN I realised the fuckin’ rozzers were streamin’ right past me an’ Dorothy, an’ they were smashin’ in the doors o’ one o’ those units!! An’ fuck me, if dozens o’ fuckin’ Vietnamese dudes don’t come streamin’ out, screamin’ their ruddy heads off!! Runnin’ all over the place, climbing’ chain link fences, leapin’ over hedges, wavin’ there hands in the air screamin’ “NO SHOOTEE!! NO SHOOTEE!!”
I say, “Bit racist.”
Dave says, “Fair point, but they were! No lie! It were fuckin’ amazin! I’m sat in the middle o’ this shit goin’ down wi’ Jim fuckin’ Morrison singin’ ‘This is The End’ on the Blaupunkt an’ this fucking great helicopter thwoppin’ about over ‘ead and all these Vietnamese dudes scrabblin’ about an there’s guns an’ vans an’ I’d wound up the windows to keep the rozzers from smellin’ the weed so Dorothy were like a fuckin’ bong at this point so I’m off me tits, an’ I suddenly had a flash back. A full on flash back.”
I say, “A flash back? When did you flash back to??”
Fucking Amazing Dave narrows his eyes, smokes his cigarette, stares into the distance.
He says, “Nam.”
I try not to snort.
I say, “What, Cheltenham?”
Dave blinks at me. “What?”
I say, “Nothing. You weren’t in Nam, Dave. You weren’t even born then.”
He says, “Course not! What you reckon I am, some kind of fuckin’ fantasist? Buys a Land Rover and a khaki jumper, reckons he were in t’SAS? Not me! Nah, I mean the movies! It were just like Apocalypse Now! Deer Hunter! Full Metal Jacket! All of ‘em! I seen ‘em all so many times it feels like I were there, so when all these Vitenamese guys start leapin’ around an’ the chopper starts circlin’ I totally shat meself! Felt like I was ‘In Country’, y’know!!”
I say, “What did you do? Return fire?”
Dave ignores me. “I knocked Dorthy into first an’ rolled out o’ there, real slow. Went past the open shutters o’ that warehouse. Coppers were raggin’ down all this foil an’ shit an’ I saw these bright lights, an’ a fuckin’ field…”
“A field? In a warehouse?”
“Yeah, man. A weed field. Those Vietnamese dudes, they were growing a fuckin’ field o’ weed right there, in a warehouse, not fifty yards from our own back door. I were gutted. All that bush, goin’ to waste. If only I’d known…”
Fucking Amazing Dave stares, unblinking, seeing things I can’t imagine, horrors I’ll never see.
I finished my roll up, stubbed it out on the floor.
I say, “At least you got out of there alive Dave.”
He turns and stares at me. “No-one gets out alive, dude.”
I say, “Yeah. Whatever. Remember to give me back that twenty before you die.”
I go back to work.

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193. Could be Worse.

Past a machine and another machine, one spitting letters into a hopper, the other choked with chewed up paper and hissing like a feral beast.
Past the gaping lockers filled with tea bags and stained mugs and coffee rings, socks full of holes, tired underwear in L, XL, XXL, talcum powder and Lynx Africa, drawings from children pinned to the inside door alongside clippings of tits and arses, a calendar from 1998 with a girl from September holding open her hairy snatch on a beach, smiling, colours fading.
Past rows of filthy windows looking into forgotten workshops illuminated by flickering fluorescent tubes, machines gathering dust like defeated robots from a half forgotten invasion.
A human face.
Dead white skin, lank black hair falling over empty eyes. He sits at a battle scarred work bench littered with the detritus of a thousand makeshift repairs, his chin resting in his hand,  elbow propped amongst swarf and solder, screwdrivers and spanners. He reminds me The Thinker, a bronze sculpture by Auguste Rodin.
I sometimes wonder what The Thinker was thinking.
I wonder what Stu is thinking.
Stu is just sitting there, staring into nothing, utterly blank, not moving.
I feel a weird ache in my chest. Stu shouldn’t be here, in this factory I mean. He’s a bright lad with a lot of potential but he took a wrong turn, said yes when he should have said no and suddenly found himself trapped amongst the idiots of this world who drag you down, hold you back, convince you there is only defeat and that victory is a myth.
In the right place, amongst the right people, Stu would have thrived.
In the wrong place, amongst the wrong people, he has withered.
Now he sits with his head in his hand, thinking… what? Maybe thinking about how things might have been, had he only said no to a job that wasn’t right for him, right for anyone.
I push open the door into the workshop.
Stu doesn’t move.
I walk over to a filthy kettle, empty it. I turn a tap and let the water run clear and fill the kettle. I find two of the least cracked mugs and rinse them as best I can, drop a corner shop tea bag into each mug and scratch a couple of scoops of sugar from the bottom of a tattered bag of Silver Spoon.
A shuddering fridge holds various science projects studying stages of decay and a half bottle of full fat milk. I slop some into one cup, not mine. I learned long ago to skip milk as it was always sour, always curdled. Always.
I bring the cups over to Stu.
Stu blinks. He glances at me, glances at the mugs.
He sighs, says, “I’d love one.”
He looks down, reads the instructions on the back of a bottle he’s holding on one hand.
I shuffle the mugs in amongst the crap on the workbench. We sit in silence for a bit, silence apart from the thundering of the machines behind the grimy glass.
I try think of something to say. I remember the last time I saw Stu he mentioned that his girlfriend was pregnant.
I say, “How’s your lass doing? She’s pregnant, isn’t she?”
Stu sighs again. “Well, yeah, but no.”
“What… What do you mean?” I’m worried I might have said the wrong thing.
“We thought she was pregnant, you know? But then she went for a load of tests and it turns out she wasn’t pregnant.”
I say, “Oh.”
Stu says, “She had cancer.”
I say, “Oh fuck.”
“She was still living in Nottingham, you know? We met online and some weekends I went down there and other weekends she came up here, yeah? So she couldn’t travel so much, because of being ill, so I was finishing my shift and driving down there but she’s only got a small flat, so I’d help her out but she needed her rest so when I got her sorted out I’d drive back up here.”
“Jesus, Stu,” I said. “That’s brutal. I mean, you were really excited about the baby and then, well, this happens. Shit, it must have been really hard. I mean, really hard. How are you coping?”
Stu just shrugs. He hasn’t touched his brew. He holds the bottle down by his side now. I can tell that something isn’t right. I tread carefully.
I say, “Look, Stu, if you need to talk to anyone, you know, I’m here…”
“I was driving to Nottingham and back most nights,” he continues, like he didn’t hear me. He stares out the window but he looks like he’s staring out of a car windscreen. “Sometimes I was driving five, six hours a night. She’d lost her hair at this point and was wearing this cheap wig or a turban thing. It made her look weird. She was always tired. I did my best, did whatever I could. The thing was, the treatment wasn’t working. The cancer was spreading. There was this treatment in America that the doctors reckoned might work but it  wasn’t cheap – tens of thousands. Well… I mean, what do you do? So I remortgaged my house.”
I see the fingers of Stu’s hand whiten a little where he holds his chin, like his suddenly tightened his grip. They relax again, he sighs again.
“I gave her the money, twenty thousand. We both cried, it was pretty special. I mean, you don’t often get the chance to save someone’s life, do you? I didn’t care about the money, I only cared about her. It made me feel good, giving her the money. I wanted to. I couldn’t go with her though, to America. The treatment would take a month and I couldn’t get the time off. Besides, I couldn’t afford it. She flew out two weeks later. I didn’t hear from her much, but I expected that. The treatment made her really sick. I wrote to her every day and I did get a letter back, but that wasn’t a problem. I just wanted her to get well.”
I really don’t know what to say. It all sounds so… dark. A horrible place to be in. I’m not always on the same shift as Stu, and I know he’s had some time off lately, with stress, I heard, but fuck me, this is a stressful situation.
I ask him, “The treatment… did it work? How is she doing?”
He taps the bottle on the desk absent mindedly. “She said it worked. She was cancer free. When she came home I took her out for a meal to the best place in Nottingham. She looked so well! She caught the sun, gained a little weight. She still wore the wig but she told me her hair was growing back again. It was like, it was like coming out of a tunnel, you know? We could finally start getting on with our plans, on with our lives. Not long after that she went to the doctors, and they told her she was pregnant, really pregnant. I was amazing news.”
Amazing news, but Stu didn’t look happy.
I cautiously said, “And how did that go…”
He shook his head. “That’s when the cancer came back. She had to take more medicine and she lost the baby. We were devastated, of course, but I just wanted her to be well. I went to the bank again but couldn’t remortgage, so I put the house on the market. I sent her the money and she went back to the states. Another month.”
I’m shaking my head, flabbergasted. “Fucking hell, mate,” I pat his shoulder. He gives a small, sad smile.
“The police contacted me a week later. They had bad news.”
My stomach lurched. Oh God.
Stu glances at me. “The police had been aware of her for a while. They’d been monitoring her bank accounts, things like that. She wasn’t pregnant, never had been. She’d never had cancer. She was a confidence trickster. A crook. I wasn’t the only bloke she’d fooled. She lived with her long term boyfriend in that flat in Nottingham. Whenever I drove back to Leeds she’d give him a ring to let him know the coast is clear. She was just cutting her hair short and sticking a wig on top.”
I feel a bit sick. You hear about these stories on telly, but him telling me like this, it was just grim.
I say, “What about… what about America?”
Stu shakes his head. “She went to Disneyland with her boyfriend for a month. Twice. No wonder she looked tanned and healthy. She’d been swanning around Magic Mountain with her fella while I was worrying myself sick here in this shit hole. Honestly, Luci, shit just happens to me. I’m a jinx. A Jonah. Bad news.”
I shake my head. “No, mate. Don’t think that. Things look shit, I know, but it’ll get better. Maybe they’ll recover some money from that rotten bitch – she might have some of your money in the bank…”
“No. She’s disappeared. Did a flit, no-one has a clue. They reckon she might be in Spain but they aren’t really looking too hard. I lost everything.”
I try not to look to hard at the bottle in his hand but I’m starting to worry. He hasn’t touched his tea. I start to think I should say something, tell someone, but the door opens and Bear walks in. Bear is the maintenance manager, he’s Stu’s boss. Bear is carrying a Black & Decker jigsaw. He walks over to us, looks at the mugs of tea.
I whisper to Bear, “Stu hasn’t touched his brew.”
Bear looks at Stu. “Have you told him?”
Stu shakes his head. Bear sighs. He picks up the mug and gently lifts it to Stu’s mouth. He drinks, some tea dribbling down his chin and across his fingers. He doesn’t move his hand.
Bear puts down the mug, plugs in the jigsaw and fires it up. He then proceeds to cut through the workbench. A few lads from the shop floor hustle in, pissing themselves laughing.
Bear carefully cuts the workbench around Stu’s arm until the piece of wood falls away… firmly attached to Stu.
Stu sighs. The lads are crying laughing now.
Stu holds up the hand holding the bottle. I can now see that it once contained Superglue.
Stu’s hand is firmly glued to his chin, his arm firmly glued to the bench, his hand firmly glued to the empty bottle.
Bear slaps him on the back and pulls him to his feet. “Come on, lad. Let’s have you down A&E and get this shit off you.”
I splutter, “How the fuck did you manage that, Stu??”
He sighs one more time. “Like I say, Luci – shit just happens to me. I’m a jinx. I’m bad luck.”
Bear laughs. “It could be a fuck of a lot worse!”
I say, “How??”
Bear lumbers out of the door, pushing the incapacitated Stu ahead of him.
Bear shouts over his shoulder, “He could have tried to take a piss before the glue set!”


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192. Squiggles.

I’m staring out of the window, looking at the trees.
Whoever designed the factory all those years ago decided that trees would soften the impact of this great, rumbling, shuddering blot on the landscape, so we have trees.
I’ll admit that they are nice trees. Mature silver birch, hornbeam, whitebeam, and rowan.
I know my trees. I know them because I’ve spent so long looking out of windows from places where I don’t want to be. I’ve looked out of these dark boxes onto trees and fields and rain and sun and I’ve wondered, ‘What are those clouds? What’s that bird? What are those trees called?’
I suppose it’s better than being sat in a tree staring into a box full of miserable cunts, but not by much.
Most of the people I work with couldn’t tell an oak tree from a fucking telegraph pole. Intense Ginger Bloke once told me he’d seen a blackbird crash into the window. I looked down at the ground and saw a crow flailing around before flapping clumsily away to it’s roost.
“It’s a crow,” I said.
“No,” he replied. “It was definitely black.”
I’ve no idea what he meant by that, but I didn’t reply.
I’ve stopped replying.
I’m staring out of the window, looking at the trees, when I can suddenly smell jam. Sugar. Sweet tea.
Dimples is here.
She stands next to me, looking out of the window. She has a doughnut in one hand, a china mug in the other.
On the mug it says, “Worlds Best Nana’. I wonder what she’s done to deserve this lofty accolade. I’m guessing it is mainly cake-and-treat related. Both of my grandmothers were pretty shit, if I’m honest. I don’t think you can get a “Mediocre Grandparent’ mug, but if you could, mine would both get one for Christmas, if they weren’t dead.
If people were truthful then they’d sell like hot cakes, so to speak, but how many nanas will want to advertise on their grandkids fat guts that they’re responsible for their terrible health and prodigious waistlines? Not many.
Dimples says, “Ooh, it’s bloody grim out there, isn’t it?”
I say, “It’s not much better in here.”
She giggles. “Y’bloody misery!”
I don’t reply.
I can hear her slurping tea and nibbling daintily but efficiently at her doughnut.
She sucks her fingers loudly.
With another woman I might find this sucking noise faintly erotic, but not with Dimples.
I look down at her.
She grins at me.
She’s got doughnut stuck between her teeth.
I suddenly imagine her naked.
She looks like a space hopper with tits.
I feel strangely faint and my bollocks shrivel and try to hide inside me.
I look outside again.
Does Mister Dimples still fuck her? I don’t reckon so, but if he ever wants sucking off all he’d have to do is stick a Mr Kipling’s on the end of his cock and ring a dinner gong.
Maybe that’s how she got so fat.
Everybody’s happy.
A redwing takes off from a whitebeam tree with a beak full of berries. The tree is heavy with fruit but totally without leaves. They lie on the ground like strips of wet leather.
I look up at movement in the tree.
Dimples says, “Ooh, look! Squiggles!”
I say, “What?”
She points a fat finger at the glass. “Squiggles! There’s three or four of them in that tree there!”
I ask her, “What sort of tree is it?”
I’m hoping she’ll surprise me, I’m hoping she’ll know what type of tree has been growing right outside her window for the last twenty five years, not ten feet from where she sits.
Dimples looks triumphant. “It’s a berry tree!”
I feel disappointed. “Yes,” I say. “It’s a berry tree.”
She’s watching the tree, her cherubic face animated “Them squiggles love berries, don’t they? Look at ‘em! Aw, they’re so cute!”
I look at the tree, look back at Dimples, look at the tree again. “Yes,” I say. “So cute.”
She leans towards me, in full Bun Whisperer mode. “I’ve got squiggles at home too, y’know. I feed ‘em stale buns that no-one wants.”
I say, “I bet they’re fucking starving then.”
Dimples looks puzzled. “Huh? Anyway, I put stuff out for the squiggles an’ sometimes we get fifteen or even twenty! You want to see ‘em, running around and that, having little fights over bits of cake! Oh, they’re funny! My hubby, he says I’m soft, but I don’t listen. No, I love hanimals me. Any sort of hanimal. They’re very clever, aren’t they? Just look at that one holding a berry in his ickle hands when he’s two more in his mouth! Ha ha! fancy! Yes, they’re clever ickle things.”
I rub my eyes then continue to watch the activity in the trees.
Dimples seems pretty content. Yeah, she’s eating herself to death but she doesn’t seem pissed off about it. She’s content with her lot, tapping on a keyboard all day, feeding herself and her children and grandchildren of an evening, giving the leftovers to the squiggles…
I say, “By squiggles, you do mean squirrels, yes?”
She giggles and wrinkles her nose. “Yeah, but we call them squiggles in our house. It’s cuter.”
…giving the leftovers to the squirrels in the morning. She doesn’t see a whitebeam, she sees a berry tree, every tree with berries is just a berry tree. Things are so much less complicated for Dimples – she doesn’t over think things.
I don’t envy her though.
I’d rather be dead than live my life in blissful ignorance. I don’t claim to know everything, but I do question everything I know.
I try. God knows, I try.
Dimples wanders away and I stare out of the window, looking at the trees. I watch the rats climbing in the branches, great, fat grey rats scurrying from limb to limb, gripping twigs with their pink, scaly tails, keeping balance while they gorge themselves on bright red whitebeam berries. There are no squiggles, squirrels, round here – there never has been. The rats have scared them all away.
We have rats, huge rats that build nests in the rotting drifts of waste paper round the back of the factory and swarm in the drains and the roof spaces. We have great, sleek rats that can climb trees and eat berries and shuffle around boldly in broad daylight.
I wonder about Dimples’ garden.
What is she feeding?
Are her squiggles the same as these squiggles?
Does her family sit and ooh and ahh out of the back window as rats swarm and fight and snarl in a seething mass in her back garden?
Maybe they are squirrels. Maybe I can only see rats where actually squirrels cavort.
Intense Ginger Bloke is lumbering past, on his way to the bogs.
I say, “Here, look at this.”
“What?” he says.
“There. In the trees.”
He scratches his arse. “What trees?”
I sigh. “The berry trees.”
He nods. “Oh, them. What about them?”
I say, “There’s something in the trees. Eating the berries. What are they?”
Intense Ginger Bloke presses his fat beak against the glass. “They’re squiggles, aren’t they?”
I stare out of the window, looking at the trees, looking at the rats.
“Yes,” I say. “They are squiggles.”


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191. The Wortley Poisoner

They sit shoulder to shoulder in the Ford Fiesta police car, sipping cold coffee, staring through a windscreen that is slowly turning opaque from the settling dust that blows across the fence from the adjacent quarry.
The sergeant grunts, “Turn your squirters on, Geoff.”
The younger officer presses a button and soapy water shoots over the windscreen. The wipers smear it around, eventually revealing the huge blank wall of a factory. A deep, ominous rumbling sound can be heard within.
“What is this place?” mutters the constable, checking notes on his clipboard.
“Print works,” replies the sergeant. “It’s the report about a poisoning. Could be a mistake, could be attempted murder. You’ll want to go careful in there, Geoff. Trust me. I’ve been here before.”
The constable looks up. “What job was that?”
“Remember that bloke who was cycling home when a workmate decided to run him over with his Mitsubishi Shogun, then try to beat him to death with a crook lock?”
The constable shudders. “Yeah. Horrible. Is this the place?”
The sergeant nods, unbuckling his seat belt and checking his pepper spray and tazer. “Yep. He only got a suspended sentence. Fuck knows how. Had to pay the lad thousands though.”
“At least we won’t have to face that horrible bastard then.”
The sergeant opens the car door. Quarry dust blows in, settling on their black uniforms, turning them grey. “Don’t be too sure, Geoff. They both still work here.”
The constable looks incredulous. “You mean… you mean one bloke tried to murder another bloke but he kept his job?? How does that work?”
“I’ve no idea. Apparently that’s how it works here. You never leave. Don’t matter what you do, you don’t get sacked. They call it ‘Care In The Community’ round these parts. They reckon it’s an easy way of keeping all the wrong ‘uns in one place.”
The constable looks worried. “So what are we going to find in there then, Sarge?”
The sergeant sighs. “Cunts, Geoff. Lots and lots of cunts. Ignore them, if you can. Let’s just sort the job, find out what the fuck has gone on, then get the fuck out.”

They walk through the factory, Cardboard Supervisor nervously leading the way. All around them, hidden behind deafeningly chattering machines, men are screaming. Animal noises, random gibbering, howls and bellows.
The constable mutters, “If any cunt makes a fucking pig noise I’ll break their fucking…”
“Easy now, Geoff,” says the sergeant. “Remember, these people are cunts. All of them. Twatting one of them would get you nowhere. They’re not worth it.”
Cardboard Supervisor leads them to an office with a hand drawn sign on the door that says, ‘KNOBHED’. He grins sheepishly at the police officers and rips the sign off the door.
They go inside.
Close the door, shut out the worst of the screaming.
“Sorry about the… the noise,” says Cardboard Supervisor, fussing around with a kettle and some chipped mugs. “These men are basically…”
“Cunts?” offers the constable. The sergeant shoots him a warning glance.
Cardboard Supervisor smiles brightly. “Exactly! Tea?”
The two police officers look at the grimy, chipped mugs and remember why they’re here.
“About this alleged poisoning,” says the sergeant.
Cardboard Supervisor’s smile evaporates. He blushes, put the mugs away. “Yes, well, this is all a bit embarrassing. It seems that some… chemical… has found it’s way into a milk bottle in the communal fridge. It was discovered when one of the lads poured it onto his cereal.”
The constable is taking notes. He asks, “What was it?”
“Sugar Puffs, I think,” replies Cardboard Supervisor.
The constable stops writing, looks up. “I meant, what chemical was it.”
Cardboard Supervisor blinks stupidly. “Oh. Right. Well, we think the chemical was Varn. A roller wash. Commonly used in the factory but it’s a bit… aggressive.”
He nudges a bottle on the desk towards the two officers. They snap on rubber gloves, open the bottle.
The constable takes a sniff and recoils, eyes watering. “Fucking Hell…”
The sergeant says, “And how much of this chemical was consumed by the victim?”
“Hard to say,” shrugs Cardboard Supervisor. “He’d necked half the bowl before it started to… burn… but we can’t say how much was put into his milk.”
The sergeant nodded. “Do you know how the victim is doing? Which hospital did he go to? is he stable?”
Cardboard supervisor laughs. “Stable? Christ, he’s not stable! Never has been. He’s a fucking head case! I’ll find out how he’s doing though.”
He gets up, walks to the door and opens it. “Mickey! Oi, Mickey? How are you doing?”
Someone shouts something. Cardboard nods, gives him a thumbs up, closes the door.
“He says he’s fine.”
The two officers look at each other, mouths open.
The sergeant finally speaks. “You mean… you mean he hasn’t gone to hospital?? He’s not under observation?”
Cardboard Supervisor says, “He didn’t want to go to hospital. Says he’s scared of them.  Besides, he didn’t want to lose any pay. We’ve got him under observation though. Scorcher is keeping a close eye on him.”
“Is this Scorcher bloke in any way qualified? Is he a first aider?”
“No,” admits Cardboard supervisor. “He’s just got nothing to do at the moment, so I told him to watch Mickey and to let me know if he collapses or anything.”
“Wait a minute,” interrupts the constable. “The victim didn’t want to lose pay? How would he have lost pay when he’s been poisoned at work?”
Cardboard Supervisor shrugs. “He’d have had to clock out. It’s the rules. You’re not here, you have to clock out. If you’re clocked out you don’t get paid. It’s the rules.”
Again, the police officers look at each other.
The sergeant says, “Well, as the victim is here, we’d better have a word.”
Cardboard Supervisor calls Mickey into the office.
He comes in, grinning inanely, red blisters all around his mouth, wheezing.
The police officers check him over.
The sergeant shakes his head. “You’re going to hospital, Mickey, wether you want to or not. Constable, call an ambulance.”
The sergeant talks to Mickey while the younger officer makes the call. He tries to find out if Mickey has any enemies at work who might do such a thing – he comes up with a dozen names.
The ambulance arrives and carts Mickey off to A&E.
The sergeant asks Cardboard Supervisor if he has any idea who might be capable of doing something like this.
Cardboard Supervisor takes off his glasses and rubs his eyes. “Honestly? All of ‘em. Everybody hates someone else here. Proper hates them. Dance-on-their-grave hate. It’s for petty shit too, like over-time allocations or which shift they’re on. Fuck me, we’ve almost had stabbings over nicked yoghurts and mental breakdowns over too many spoons. I’ll tell you something – I’m worried that one day we will have a murder, a proper killing. Know why? Because you’d never find the culprit ‘cause every fucker is a suspect! It’s like an Agatha bastard Christie book here, but instead of a posh house on the French fucking Riviera it’s this shit hole, a knackered factory in the arse end of Leeds, and no fucker wants to read about that. If they did, they wouldn’t believe it.”
“What about CCTV?”
The sergeant and Cardboard Supervisor look at the constable, who is scribbling notes diligently onto his clipboard.
The sergeant says, “What was that, Geoff, I mean, constable?”
The police officer looks up, points at a camera with his pen. “CCTV. There’s cameras everywhere in this place, I notice. Maybe they picked up the culprit going about his dastardly business?”
The sergeant glowers at Cardboard Supervisor. “Did you think to check the CCTV? Didn’t it occur to you to point them out to us?”
Cardboard Supervisor grins weakly. “Sorry. I forgot.”

The three of them crowd around a little black and white monitor whilst Speccy Malc from I.T. spools through hours of grainy VHS tapes. Jerky factory workers hurtle across the screen under a fog of fuzzy static. A digital clock in the corner turns minutes into seconds.
“Stop there!” says the sergeant, gripping Speccy Malc’s shoulder. Speccy Malc screams and has a small nosebleed. He stumbles to the toilets and Cardboard Supervisor takes over the controls.
He rewinds the tape, hits the PLAY button.
The time says 5.07am. The camera is focused on an area in front of the store rooms. Nothing moves.
They watch, hardly blinking.
“There!” The constable points at a figure slowly lurching into view.
“Oh Christ…” says the sergeant.
“F..f…fucking Hell!!” says the constable.
A long shadow slides across the wall, followed by a hunched, shuffling figure that creeps twitchily across the screen. It’s bald head gleams in the darkness. Huge, bulging eyes blink owlishly in a wizened, gaunt skull and it’s mouth hangs open in a monstrous, idiot gape.
“What the fuck is that thing??” whispers the constable. He has gone white and sweat springs out across his brow.
“It’s… hideous,” says the sergeant.
Cardboard Supervisor leans closer. “It’s… Pete Crippen. He works nights as a machine setter. He’s been here for thirty years or so. He’s fairly normal, for a night shift.”
The police officers exchange yet another glance.
They watch as the figure unlocks the stores and slides inside. He emerges a moment later with a bottle.
They switch tapes to the one from the camera in the locker room where the fridge is stored.
They whizz through to 5.10am.
Crippen appears, glancing nervously about. He creeps into the room, opens the fridge, pours something into one of the milk cartons. He appears to laugh crazily, rubbing his hands and hunching his shoulders, before leaving the room and switching off the lights.
They stop the tape.
They exchange yet another glance.
“You’d better give this here Pete Crippen a bell, Mr Cardboard Supervisor,” says the sergeant gravely. “Tell him to hop out of his coffin and return to work – we’d like a word with him.”
Cardboard Supervisor picks up the phone, then pauses. “Pete doesn’t really like to be disturbed during the day. He says that waking during daylight hours fucks up his sleep pattern.”
“Probably turns him to dust too,” mutters the constable.
The sergeant pretends not to hear. “Pass on my apologies to Mr Crippen for interrupting his beauty sleep, but we are investigating what might be an attempted murder here.”
Cardboard Supervisor blinks furiously. “Yes. Yes, of course.”
He makes the call.

An hour later Pete Crippen sits at the desk, blinking painfully under the fluorescent lights. Cardboard supervisor fidgets by the door. The sergeant is seated on the other side of the desk, staring hard at the suspect. The constable waits, pen poised, glancing uneasily at the hunched man in front of them.
“I didn’t do nowt,” hisses Pete Crippen defensively.
“Who says you did?” asks the sergeant.
The suspect licks his thin, blue lips. The constable stares with grim curiosity at his grey, papery complexion.
“Fuckers, ‘ere always try say you done summat when you’ve not done nowt!” Pete snaps in reply.
The sergeant sighs. “What do you know about someone putting Varn in Mickey’s milk, Pete? You have anything to do with it?”
Pete Crippen’s long nails scratch nervously at the desk. “AS I say, I didn’t do nowt. I’ve never done nuffink an’ you got no proof that says otherwise!!”
The sergeant reaches across to the tape machine they’ve set up on the desk and hits PLAY. Pete Crippen appears on the monitor, takes the Varn, pours it into the milk, cackles maniacally…
The sergeant presses pause.
Pete Crippen grins guiltily, showing little teeth like a child’s teeth, only deeply stained.
“I were only messin’, ‘onest! I didn’t mean no ‘arm!”
The sergeant smiles humorlessly. “Let’s start from the beginning, Mr Crippen…”

The factory door bangs open and the sergeant storms out, face like thunder, with the constable on his heels. He pulls open the door of the Fiesta and crams himself inside, slamming the door hard. The constable climbs behind the wheel and they sit in silence for a moment.
Dust settles on the windscreen. The rumble of heavy machinery permeates the little car.
The constable says, “You can’t win ‘em all, sarge.”
The sergeant says nothing.
The constable says, “I suppose it saves paperwork, Mickey deciding not to press charges and all that. I mean, attempted murder is a lot of paperwork. An awful lot.”
The constable says, “Funny thing though, what Cardboard Supervisor said. ‘You can’t blame ‘em for being a bit strange’, he said. ‘The job is them and they are the job. The job gets strange, they get stranger’ he said. What you reckon he meant by that?”
The sergeant sighs and finally speaks. “It means they’re fucked up. All of ‘em. Institutionalized. I mean, why would Mickey come back to work like that? He never went to A&E, he just climbed out of that ambulance and got straight on a bus back to work. And that soft headed cunt Cardboard Supervisor – as soon as Mickey dropped the charges he’s offering him over time! The daft sod should have been in a hospital bed but instead he’s doing a twelve hour shift bagging up junk mail at the end of a machine!! And did you hear Cardboard Supervisor talking to that creepy bastard Crippen? He says that they got a rush job on, can he put a few hours in to help out while he’s there! The fucker tried to murder a workmate and they put him on time and a half with call-in pay!!”
The sergeant punches the steering wheel.
They sit in silence for a while.
Then the constable slowly says, “It’s funny though… Cardboard Supervisor talking about murder. It got me thinking.”
The sergeant looks at him. “In what way, Geoff?”
“Well, remember that bloke in the Shogun twatting the other bloke on the bike? It seems like they’d prefer to settle scores themselves, in house, so to speak.”
The sergeant frowns. “What are you getting at?”
The constable presses a button. Soapy water squirts across the glass.
“What I mean is, if there ever was a murder in this place, a proper murder, would we hear about it? Would they involve us, the law, or would they sort shit out themselves? I mean, there’s a couple of hundred blokes here, together they’d be able to hide something like that, dispose of a body, that kind of thing. They got a big incinerator out back. It wouldn’t be too difficult…”
The sergeant says, “Someone would talk. You can’t keep that sort of thing quiet.”
“Care in the Community,” says the constable. “That’s what they call it. It’s a community in there, albeit a fucked up, inbred sort of community. They keep to themselves, they have their own ways and methods of dealing with things. That Crippen, he’ll end up getting done over in one way or another. He’ll be punished, just like prison. They don’t grass, they sort it out… internally.”
They sit in silence, listen to the deep rumblings.
Eventually the sergeant says, “You reckon they’ve done it then? Actually… you know?”
The constable shrugs. “If they have, well, there’s no way of finding out, is there?”
Through the grimy windscreen they see the factory door open. A huge man steps out. He is around six feet ten, nearly thirty stone. He is holding a pint mug that says SEX MACHINE on the side. He stares at the policemen. He takes a big drink from the SEX MACHINE mug. He leaves a wide ring of bright red around his mouth that drips onto his shirt.
The sergeant says, “Reckon that’s a tomato Cuppa Soup?”
The constable starts the car. “That’s my theory and I’m sticking to it. Let’s get the fuck out of here.”
They drive away, fast.
The huge man finishes empties his SEX MACHINE mug.
Goes back inside.
Slams the door.
The rumbling gets louder.


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