Don’t worry, it’s on me, said the middle-aged man in the blue suit as the waiter came with the bill. I haven’t been out for a long lunch in ages. I’m breaking no rules and I should take advantage of my privileges: after all, they’re there to be made use of. My boss says that this year one of his big worries is that if we don’t spend the money they’ll think we don’t need it – and take it away. So keep your wallet in your pocket. Should we get down to business? Or would you like some more Champagne?
She was sat two seats to his left and he could tell she was doing that self-satisfied smile. She wouldn’t say anything more now; everything had already been said. First had come the sly criticisms, tempered with a few jokey remarks. A day later she said that nothing was meant, that they were still a team: he had her support as always. It was supposed to put an end to the matter but there was no way it could be forgotten. He wanted to tell her to leave but it was impossible. Either way, they both knew it was over.
The hangover was killing. He couldn’t imagine it would ever be over. He needed to join a gym, eat more healthily and never get too drunk again. These were the consequences: his actions, his fault. What he needed now though was a packet of crisps and a can of coke. The checkout girl was yawning and it made him yawn too. He needed to get out of the shop, there was no air in there. The woman in front was taking an age. He put his hand in his jeans pocket and felt for the last tenner. It wasn’t there.
The street lights had just come on and the breeze had turned cool but he didn’t know what time it was. He looked up. Some of the trees along the road had leaves while some were bare. It was March, April or May. Pete was at the bar getting a round in; probably a stout and an ale of some sort. He wondered how late they’d stay out and how he’d be feeling tomorrow morning. The results of the second autopsy had contradicted the first. Now there were calls for a third. Some things were uncertain; others were being obscured.
The host of the radio show said:
The author has tried to invent a language to describe the underclass – people experiencing social alienation. He has used a hollow and degraded form of our language – a vernacular of degradation that offends our middle-class sensibilities. It degrades his subject, describing people as less than human. I would prefer novels with more tragedy and murder – stories that are rich and delicious. Too many novelists only look at a sliver of life. I would prefer a tapestry; something involving, something real.
The listener sat up in bed and nearly fucking choked on his coffee.
The kid was in the water, gasping for help. The brother jumped in. It was freezing. He reached the kid and put an arm round him. He looked and saw a channel where the ice had broken. The kid was lifeless. He had to be quick. The cold was forcing his lungs shut. He surged for the bank and rolled the kid onto the grass where the friends wrapped him in their jackets. The kid let out a moan and started to cry. He was looking at the water and shaking his head. The brother’s body slipped beneath the surface.
The man in the costume hire shop frowned at her.
It’s got to be the right one, she said.
But witches are all similar.
I’m sorry. I can’t guarantee it.
* * *
There were thousands of people along the road.
Have a can, said Matty.
Yeah we can. It’s a special occasion.
I’m dressed as a lion; how can I be serious?
Riot shields, guns, armoured cars and horses. If it wasn’t the Wicked Witch Of the West then there was no point dressing up. A man punched the sky. She felt like she might cry.