Pest Control by Jason Beech

Pest Control by Jason Beech

 

It took Jeff ten-or-so steps out of his van to loosen his sore back. The old lady who opened the door released him from the mood that grabbed him up the long solitary road to her house. That sweet smile, a waft of home cooking, and a phrase all colored his memory in sepia tones. This job would rectify the previous disaster that had led to a week’s “recuperation.”

“Szia, szia.”

He put a hand over his heart where the rat, trapped in a red circle and terminated by a zig-zag strike of lightning sat on his uniform. “Szia to you, too.”

“Ah, pest control. Come in, come in.”

The step up to her door plucked the sore muscle, but his nose sent massaging signals across his body and eased the pain. Jeff sniffed and let out a friendly “Aaahhh.”

The lady had that strong accent like she’d only just stepped on these great United States shores. “I’m cooking. You do a good job, maybe I’ll feed you. How about that?”

Jeff didn’t think she’d look down on him if he licked his lips. She reminded him of his grandma and she’d squeeze his cheeks as a boy if he showed appreciation of her cooking. He replicated that boyhood joy and though she didn’t pinch his flesh, her beam said the same thing.

He sniffed again. “Pörkölt?”

“You cheeky little Magyar.”

Jeff guffawed and rocked forward on his toes at the jolt of pain up his back. “What’s the job …” He looked down at his clipboard. “… Mrs Barna?”

She held him by the elbow, looked up at him with a sly smile, and led him to the back door. Pointed to a little concrete shed in the back yard, about thirty yards down a thorn-strewn path. “It’s starting to stink. It needs sorting out.”

Jeff caught a subtle whiff emanating from the bunker-like structure. Added a bit of spice to the pörkölt. He glanced down at her and back through the untidy rooms strewn with piles of books with titles like 1957, to where the meat pulled at him.

“Veal?”

She pahed, and questioned his Hungarian credentials. “Chicken liver.”

“Smells good whatever it is.”

She nodded to the shed. “Well it’s all yours when you’ve done.”

“Okay. I’m on it. Mice? Rats? Raccoons?”

“That’s what I’m feeding you to find out.” She spun back to the dish he hadn’t tasted since his old anya had passed on. He watched her, suspicious she didn’t have money to pay his fee. Still, the company would pay him and take her to court for the fee. He didn’t like that idea, but out of mind he’d get over it.

He rubbed at his back as he picked his way over weeds and thorns, scared it would give out. That’s what happened at the last job. He’d failed to do the job properly because to bend down and lay traps in every nook would have had him in bed for a month. His boss would let him go with a Walmart watch as a memento, if that. He had five years to retirement and his wife wanted her end days in Florida.

Jeff reached the shed. The smell had got stronger with every step until the sick-sweet stench monkey-swung from his long gray nostril hairs.

The afternoon sun didn’t much penetrate the clouds never mind the blackness of the shed, but if the nice lady expected him to haul out a deer that had trapped itself, or a horse she couldn’t look after, then that pörkölt better sit on his taste-buds nice all the way through the day back to his wife’s plate. He hoped the lady’s husband still walked the Earth. You couldn’t get a more barren place, isolated under a canopy of trees with meadows beyond the edge that hadn’t seen a farmer or mower in decades, if ever. A place, primeval, where the mind fosters legends and monsters.

He could call in for back-up, but again, his boss would wonder why he had him on the books at all. Jeff couldn’t face the glue factory just now and he’d not yet made out the smell’s origin. Could be a mouse. A big one, though.

A shape formed in the murk. Some big animal, fetid – a miserable death had caught it in this godforsaken middle of nowhere. Jeff took a moment to acknowledge the loss of life. He dealt with rodents, cockroaches, bees, wasps, those goddamn hornets. Lives so small they didn’t have a hundredth the meaning of this poor beast.

The old lady called from her back door. “Any luck, yet?”

“I don’t think this is a pest problem, Mrs Barna.” He looked back and that sweet smile mixed with his boss’ possible sanction pushed him to the low entrance. She meandered halfway towards him in her apron, holding the recipe, the chopping knife, and a porcelain bowl. “It’s okay. I’ve got it it, Mrs Barna, I’ve got it.”

He would drag the beast out the best he could, maybe burn it. He didn’t know – he killed the small things. Its when he bent beneath the doorframe that he saw the leg. The human leg. Shaped at an angle that said the man hadn’t rested like this in acceptance of a peaceful death. Jeff reached into his tool belt for the flashlight and that’s what took out his back. He grunted and that grunt expanded into a pig’s squeal which blasted back at him through the shed’s gaping mouth. A streak of white hot lightning paralyzed him from the small of his back to the nape of his neck. All he could do was stand there stooped as if he’d never evolved past the first stage of man. His voice came out in little staggers until he managed to stutter Mrs Barna’s name.

“What is it?”

Stress Balkanized and competed – A dead man. How would Jeff get home? Would he keep his job? That Florida home, modest and hardly luxurious, backed away and looked for an owner who could afford the upkeep. His wife. Her face. She’s strong and she’d understand, but that initial look of a long-held dream vanquished dissolved his innards.

Mrs Barna crunched the twigs, the weeds, the gravel underneath.

“Mrs Barna.” Hard to breathe. His heart had filled his chest, crushed his lungs. The leg inside the shed slanted over a mound that he recognized, now his eyes had adjusted to the dark and the wet in his eyes had cleared them of late summer dust, as a bloated belly, and disconnected from that leg. A different body, the faded insignia of the USPS on its breast.

Oh, God, what had happened here?

“Lady, you got to get outta here? Somebody … someone is …”

He tensed against the coming shock of her scream, but she only shuffled her feet as she hovered left and right behind him in search of a gap to see beyond his immovable body to the carnage inside. A third man developed from the negative, his wan face crooked, unseeing eyes wide open, jaw a bear trap.

Mrs Barna touched him. Cold. “I like my pörkölt fresh, Mr …” she slid round him, slight as a wraith, but so very real. She stood on her tiptoes and reached his chin, the bowl against his belly. She thrust the knife into his chest. Jeff shuddered. His damn back slipped to the bottom of his problem pile and he shifted his attention from the bodies to Mrs Barna. He knew she’d stuck the knife deep, just below his heart, it’s just the benign smile she gave him made him question the reality.

“I like a little human heart with my chicken liver … shhh, shhh.”

She pushed the knife, so sharp, upwards to his heart, and the Florida palms, the hand of his wife, his whole life grayed and faded to black as the blood spilled and his heart slipped into the waiting bowl for the hungry Mrs Barna.

Sheffield native, New Jersey resident — writes crime fiction. You can buy Jason’s work from Amazon and read his work at Spelk Fiction, Shotgun Honey, Close to the Bone, The Flash Fiction Offensive, and Pulp Metal Magazine. His latest novel is Never Go Back.

never go back

John Wisnieski interviews Jason Beech

When did you begin writing, Jason? Did you begin by writing short stories? 

I started writing in the late 1990s, but only to see if I could. I didn’t write anything that a
publisher would touch but the two books did teach me to finish something and to recognise what did and didn’t work.

I’d never thought of writing short stories until I became serious about writing in the early 2010s when I discovered the classic sites of Flash Fiction Offensive, who were the first to publish something I wrote, Shotgun Honey, Pulp Metal Magazine, and more.

Any favorite crime authors?

My favourite crime author is James Ellroy, and that’s just for The Black Dahlia and American Tabloid. I’m into Walter Mosley, Paul D. Brazill, Keith Nixon, Tom Leins, Kate Laity, Ian Rankin, Ray Banks, and lately, Matt Phillips, Paul Heatley, Jake Hinkson, Tess Makovesky, and Thomas Pluck.

I need to read more Aidan Thorn and get involved in Nikki Dolson, Beau Johnson, and Angel Luis Colón.

Could you tell us about writing your novel City of Forts? It is a coming-of-age story as well as a crime novel?

City of Forts is both coming of age story and crime novel. Four kids discover a body in the basement of an abandoned house in an uninhabited development on the edge of a disused, decaying factory. This place is their escape from the town they live in and they don’t want anybody finding out about a body that will bring the outside world into their oasis.

They all have their problems. Ricky’s mum works two jobs to make ends meet because his dad has gone west and seemingly disappeared from the face of the earth. So Ricky has to look after his younger brother, and he hates it – does his best to hide the kid in their home while his mom works so he can go out and live his life.

Bixby is homeless. He’s escaped foster care and has no intention of going back, but it means living in the abandoned houses as social services narrow their search for him 

Lizzie has to contend with a useless dad in mourning for a dead son, with a vicious girlfriend and a drug habit. Lizzie’s looking beyond the town and her teenage years to a life with broader horizons. Tanais just wants friends after being dragged round the country by her parents. She makes a friend in Bixby, but he turns on her when he finds out what Tanais’ dad does. The body they found is not some nobody. A gangster Ricky calls Tarantula Man searches for him, and he’ll kill whoever’s in his way to find his whereabouts. The kids need an ally. Maybe rich man, Mr Vale, will help them out. Maybe Floyd, the greasy wanderer who seems to know everything they’re doing. It all barrels along to a bloody end.

So yes, it’s coming of age, but there’s violence, death, betrayal, and sweaty palms that go along with it.  

Are there any crime films that you like? Any film noir?

I’m behind on a lot of films. I want to see the old Cagney gangster films. I need to see The Kill List. Tons to catch up on. There’s the obvious I like: The Godfather parts 1 and 2, Goodfellas, Casino, Mean Streets, Heat, and so on. My favourite film noir is The Last Seduction, starring Linda Fiorentino. What a twisted bit of work that is. Fiorentino should have been huge on the back of this. Where did she go? I enjoyed Blue Ruin.
And, I know Ellroy dropped some abuse on it recently, but LA Confidential is a great piece of film noir, and Russel Crowe’s best performance in any movie

What makes a good crime novel?

  A great crime novel induces a feeling of dread. The best ones are those which, when you’ve got your head on a pillow and you’re half-knackered, make you sit right up and lose your breath for a second or ten. It doesn’t always need a mystery. Matt Phillips’ Know Me from Smoke and Countdown both let you sense what’s going to happen, but he builds a fear for the characters he’s drawn so well that your palms become clammy and you want to look away – but you can’t.

Same with Jake Hinkson’s The Posthumous Man. Starts off innocuous, but by the end you’re in full-on “Noooooooo” mode.

What will your next book be about, Jason?

Barlow Vine just killed a man – his lover’s lover. Now he’s heading from Spain back to his
hometown to escape his actions in the vain hope they won’t catch up with him. Never Go Back is a wild ride featuring nurses, strange kids in Edwardian garb, one blinding headache, and dead-eyed killers who want to use him for their own ends. It’s a cold, murderous homecoming – and he’ll need the luck of every bastard to survive it all.
The book is out in November, published by Close to the Bone

Could you tell us about the short story collection, Bullets, Teeth, & Fists. How is writing a short crime story different than writing a full length novel?

The first Bullets, Teeth, & Fists is where I really learned to write. I published all the stories as a way to get my newly minted blog on the road and showcase what I could do. The first one is a mix of crime, thriller, paranormal, and slice of life. My favourite story in there is Bring it on Down, about a shy kid who finds his personality but goes off the rails along with his new-found confidence. A short story is a sugar rush. I often write them when a spark hits. I get it down there and then, if I can. If I’m in the middle of something I’ll take a note so I don’t forget. But it can take a day, sometimes more, and you’re done. You leave it alone for a week, come back, iron out the typos and plot/character missteps, and you can move on. They scratch an itch and explode a
satisfying “Aaaagghh.”

However, there’s nothing more satisfying than writing a full-length novel, knowing you can do it, getting into the weeds and coming out the other side with a full length beard, shattered, and in need of a wild act to celebrate the achievement.

Then I go back to writing a few short stories to make sure I can still write – because I wonder, after I’ve done longer work, if I still have it in me.  Bullets, Teeth, & Fists 2 is a little darker and bigger, and includes a couple of novelettes. Bullets, Teeth, & Fists 3 is out in early 2020, with one of my favourite shorts I’ve ever done.

http://author.to/JasonBeech

jason beech

 

The Kid with the Sad Face by Jason Beech

Molly

Molly sat hunched opposite him, her face hidden behind long blonde hair, the smell of cheap bacon a nasty tenant in her nostrils. He rested on his elbows, raisin eyes fierce in a doughy face, a giant above her – angry being with her, angry she couldn’t stem the tears, angry she couldn’t open the top off the brown sauce. She glanced at the doorway to the way out of this greasy spoon, just a quick look, in case he read her thoughts and ripped out her spinal cord. She fiddled with the little teddy bear pendant on her necklace.

Steph

Steph mopped the same bit of yellowed tile for the third time. She’d ridded it of grease ten minutes ago but this pair, a big man and his daughter, had come in just as she’d buried the work day in a concrete pit. Phil, alone at another table, didn’t have much left on his plate, though by the look of his sad soppy eyes he had something on his mental dish. Did it really take him this long to finish?

She’d had to reach into the bin for the sad bacon which she’d thrown out because it wouldn’t last the night. Ah well, she’d have to wait a little longer to hit the town for the start of the weekend’s manhunt.

Still, look at that poor little poppet. I bet her pet has died or something.

Phil

Steph is so lovely Phil could have hung her on the wall and stared at her all night. Brunette hair high in a palm tree that swayed every time the door opened to a gust of wind. But she danced with the stupid mop and made eyes at the only other occupied table. She must be daft. Phil comes in here more times than is healthy for his ticker and she still doesn’t have a clue why. Well, she should.

Maybe she does. She wants a man. A man must seize the moment and ask her straight out. She’d like that. But … what if she says no? For God’s sake, Phil wished this dad and daughter would bugger off so he didn’t have an audience to his humiliation.

Molly

Why couldn’t she just escape from him? He’s not that fast. His jaw wobbles with every slow step he makes and his breath rasps and wheezes enough to scare a doctor. He’d never catch her and she’d be in London by the time he made it to the door. Molly blew her nose on a serviette and tried to open the bottle top again. Not that she wanted to eat. He snatched it from her, his nostrils flared, his pupils became tiny dots.

“Don’t get snot all over it, for God’s sake.” He slammed it on the table and hunched into his shoulders, the devil in his examination of her.

Molly’s eyes wandered to see who took note of her predicament. The waitress’s lips puckered in sympathy, and the man over there had put the same woman on some kind of pedestal.

Steph

Steph held the mop over the same tile but the swish had gone clean out of her. The poor poppet cried over more than a dead pet. Steph had a fish that died once. She never cried like this. Big, silent, heaving sobs and sniffles? Never.

The girl was such a delicate thing and her dad was a giant. A brute. Eyes so cold, grey, and tight they must have seen the inside of a prison wall. He looked nothing like the girl. Steph’s grip on the mop loosened and it whopped against the hard floor. She ran a dozen pictures of missing girls she’d seen on Facebook through her mind.

Phil

God, Steph looked an angel with worry on her face. Phil followed where her attention led once he’d recovered from the flinch caused by the whop of the mop against the tiles. The dad and daughter didn’t like the food? Ingrates. The girl had never stopped crying. Her big beast of an old man had frozen. Embarrassed? Caught out by something?

Phil gripped the table at some realization. Steph eyed the man with suspicion. That’s why she’d dropped the mop. Phil had had some romantic notion Steph realised his love for her, but no – the man’s so big and the girl’s so small, they cannot possibly be related. Which means … If Phil could rescue the girl, then what a man he’d be for a woman like Steph to fall into his arms.

Molly

Molly locked the burgeoning smile tight behind her hair. The two adults had seen her plight and they moved as cheetahs on the prairie. They only needed to pounce. This would teach the big man.

Steph

Steph wondered why Phil came over like that. He’d already paid. His face had a sheen, red as the ketchup by his plate she’d have to bloody well clean. Hang on … he had the same suspicion. His eyebrows arched, his lips had turned into a cold thin line, his head nodded to the man they stood beside. Steph wished he wouldn’t make it all so obvious, but her lip twitched. She had an ally in Phil.

Phil

Steph’s lips moved up. Up, up and away. For him. She saw in him an ally and she’s grateful. Phil would get this kid away from the ape, see her off to social services, and Steph would invite him into her knickers for the weekend. He wouldn’t need fancy words of courtship or any of that nonsense – action is the ticket. Thank you, ape, for coming in here today.

Molly

Molly’s hands shook so much the bottle of brown sauce almost flew out of her hand and smashed on the floor. The two adults had taken their place. The big man sat opposite had set his eyes so hard on her he couldn’t swivel them to her rescuers. Molly parted her hair, blue eyes magnified by the tears, and whispered to the strangers, “Help me?”

The big man heard her, couldn’t quite believe his ears, and slapped his hands on the table. Molly thrust the bottle to-and-fro towards him so brown sauce splattered his face, made big brown buttons of his eyes, and had him growling at the vinegary sting.

“You little …”

Molly scraped the chair backwards and tilted away from the man’s swipe.

Steph

Oooh, the poor little dear. Steph jumped back at the man’s climb into the thick, violent air. She squinted up, sure she could see the crackle of lightning by his head. Phil stood half-a-foot shorter, she doubted he could manage a beast like this. She snatched the mop from the floor and hit the big man’s knees hard while the brown sauce distracted him.

His yell shook the pans in the back, she was sure of it. She hit him again while Phil slammed a fist into the man’s ribs. He fell and Phil jumped on his big, whale-like torso. Steph pulled the kid into her bosom and hid her face there. She’d been through enough.

Phil

Every punch took Phil closer to Steph’s lips. He could feel them on his, already – soft, wet, eager. The man waved his arms about a bit, but Phil got through the gaps until the man’s arms flopped by his side. Phil stopped, a hard-on bulging his jeans. Shifted to hide it from Steph. Caught his breath. He checked his shoulder, proud at the admiration which beamed right off the woman he loved.

Molly

The woman’s big boobs provided a bit of comfort but Molly pushed away to prevent suffocation. Molly leaned over the big man, satisfied at the swirls of red mixed in with the brown. She barked a “ha” and pointed at him.

Phil

Phil wiped his red hands on the man’s jacket, relieved his ardour had retreated into its shell. Steph had called the police and now rubbed a hand up and down his back when he stood up. She leaned in. So warm. So soft. All those months of fattening his body and jamming his veins with cholesterol had been worth it. All he’d need to do now is ask her out to dinner.

He opened his mouth, thrilled at the words which sat on his tongue ready to leap off and sweep her off her feet. The kid filled the air before him.

“Good. Good. I’m glad you’re hurting. You’re the worst dad, ever. Just because I stole a lousy fiver. Who cares about a fiver? I needed it. You can’t take my phone away for a lousy rotten fiver you big lump of useless lard.”

Phil tracked between the girl and the man. The little red bubbles which came out his nose ballooned and popped, ballooned and popped. Phil turned to Steph. She let him go, backed away, and Phil saw his chance pop the same way.

Bio Jason Beech is a Sheffield native, New Jersey resident — writes crime fiction. His coming-of-age crime drama City of Forts was described as “tense, atmospheric, and haunting” by UK crime writer Paul D. Brazill. You can buy Jason’s work from Amazon and read his work at Spelk Fiction, Shotgun Honey, Close to the Bone, The Flash Fiction Offensive, Punk Noir Magazine, and Pulp Metal Magazine.His next novel, Never Go Back, is out in late 2019.

city of forts

Fiction: Drumsticks by Jason Beech

city of forts

We fidgeted on chairs with torn upholstery beneath fluorescent lights. The lights flickered in sympathy with our nerves. Moist clung to the changing room walls as if sweat poured from their pores. The sickly yellow paint reflected on my skin. Maybe the other way round. It’s not what made my stomach turn, though. Mark did that. He sat on his haunches in front of me. His eyes beamed all superior as if he still disapproved of me across that cheap Formica desk in the benefits office.

He shook his shiny just-come-from-a-shampoo-advert fringe away from his eyes and laid a hand over my drumsticks. Stopped me practicing the night’s beats on the empty crate at my feet.

“There’s a scout here tonight.” He should have smiled. Why didn’t he smile?

“Wha …? You’re kidding me.” My mouth curved up for the both of us.

“Nah, I’m not kidding you.” He shook his locks with every word to reinforce how his gorgeousness glued the band together.

Steve and Connor didn’t flinch. Kept their eyes on their mobiles, swished their fingers in studied avoidance of our conversation. They already knew. I tightened my belly to hold its rolls and sways in check. The light above jerked and made me blink.

“We have to stay tight tonight. This could make us. You don’t get too many chances anymore, mate, not with the music industry as it is right now.” He placed a hand on my thigh, gave me a little squeeze. It took effort to restrain a donkey kick into his smug face. “If you miss a beat again, like you did last night, we’ll fire you. Get a new drummer.” He sniffed. “Keep the beat … okay, fella?”

 

***

 

I bang war drums. Keep my eyes on the skins and away from the crowd. Away from that woman cupping her boobs for Mark to leer over. We sound tight. Steve’s hitting the chords just right on bass. Connor’s fingers are all over lead guitar like he wants to take it home and give it some serious loving. I try not to look at Mark, but he draws me in. His locks shimmer in the spotlights. Look how he holds that mic-stand – strokes it like his dick.

He swings it, leans back, points the stand’s bottom at the venue’s ceiling like its 1970-something. I risk a quick crowd-scan. One dipstick surfs the crowd wearing a pair of Doc Martins. I shake my head at the impending black eyes. The walls are drenched. The into-it kids mosh at the front. The cool mob nod their heads further back, above weak beer.

I hold the beat, smash the cymbals sweet, shift my arse in anticipation of the drum solo – the one Mark said I screwed up last night. Fuck him – I never miss a beat. I scan the crowd to see where the scout is stood. Probably at the bar chatting up some woman. He won’t catch any mistakes. But what if he does?

Mark – I can’t call him his artist name: Lou – thrusts his hips at the woman who likes to touch herself a lot. A right pair of wankers.

 

***

 

Mark let go of my sticks. I tapped the crate to my words. “I set this band up. You can’t sack me.”

Steve and Connor swished away on the phones. They’d wear away their fingerprints if they carried on.

Mark stood, kicked away the crate. “And I made the band. Without me, you’d still be looking at someone across a desk with those puppy dog eyes, begging to avoid a job.”

This band is my identity. Mark had sucked away all my power.

“I can do whatever I want.” He messiah-ed his arms, turned, and left the changing room.

***

I bang hard. A lull. I tap-tap the cymbal, build a crescendo, slam the pedal for a boom, visualise Mark’s head opening like a macheted melon. The third verse is about to kick in, where he screams for Van-essssa and the orgasms she conducts from him.

***

“Mother … fucker.” I had my hand beneath a sweaty armpit. The machine tool had put a divot where it should have banged a rivet into the umbrella. The floor manager charged across the factory. Wanted to know if his machine still worked.

“Fuck your machine,” I said. “My hand is going to inflate and take off.”

He continued to fiddle with levers and screws to test its efficiency.

I must have turned purple. “Bloody hell. Hello?”

“Hmmm?”

I lost it. Hit him with my good left hand and headed for the dole queue.

***

Shit, did I miss a beat?

I panic, but I’m sure I kept rhythm. Mark stands before me. Rocks his mane. My sticks blur. My drum solo kicks in. He stares lizard eyes at me, his lids heavy but unblinking. The sticks become heavy – hammers I want to throw at his head. I glare so hard at him that his face begins to melt into that of the dole man, the one who screwed his lips in disapproval at my handout request. Sweat cascades over sweat. Mark’s lips move, but he taps his thigh with the mic.

“You’re going to fuck up … You’re going to fuck up … Miss a beat … Miss a beat … Miss a miss a fucking beat.”

I’ve got nothing else but my band. I’m too old to start anew and get a respectable job like all those dying from boredom in clinic-white offices. If Mark screws this up for me …

I hit a dud. I don’t know if anybody sensed it, but it deadens my heart. Connor’s lead guitar begins to sound like a forty-five on thirty-three. I see dole man tut and pull on his tie like he’s showing how he’d use it to hang me from the rafters. Mark’s reptile-eyes widen with his mouth. I read his lips: “Bye, fella, bye, bye, bye.”

A man in the audience writes on a paper pad. His Elvis Costello specs slip to the end of his nose a few times and he pushes them back into place with his pen hand every other word. He slips the pad into the back of his jeans, turns to the woman he’s with and whispers whatever into her ear. He’s expended few words on us. Maybe I did miss a beat and that put a full stop to his report.

***

I craned my neck to see what he had on my file. I’ve gone from job to job in my life, never settled on anything. He hunched over the keyboard, a finger pressed on his lips. He made the odd cluck, and it made my skin crawl that this fussy hen had power over whether or not I can subsist in the next few weeks until I find another job. I begin to imagine his purple tie a perfect noose, for both of us.

He should have introduced himself. The polite thing to do after all. I gathered his name only from the Jobcentre tag pinned over his cold heart. He’d written his name, Mark, in straight, almost runic lines.

Good hair though. Would look good in my band.

“Can you wash glasses?” Mark tapped the pen on his desk, his eyes holes of boredom.

“What?”

“In a bar. A pub. Can you collect and wash glasses?”

“Are you kidding me?”

He rapped his finger on the desk with each word. “You don’t have any marketable skills. Can you wash glasses in a pub?”

I could have grabbed that finger of his and shoved it in his eye – but his hair, all rock star, had me mesmerised. “I can bang the drums.”

“You’re a drummer?”

“In a band in need of a front-man. You’d fit perfectly.”

I left the place with full benefits and a new singer.

***

I kick the drums over. The crowd surges, as if we’re doing a Nirvana tribute. I smash the right stick across Mark’s left cheek and streak a red line. His head snaps into the left stick as I keep rhythm. He stumbles back, arms out to protect his front-man looks. He’s on his back. I’m on his belly. Lock his arms down with my knees. I drum his temple, dig my knees into his side. The mic reverberates, sends grunge feedback through a thousand pairs of ears. Steve and Connor play on, in the groove, eyes closed. I have the mic in my hand. The crowd becomes still. They follow the mic’s arc as it descends dagger-like towards Mark’s forehead. He bucks like an abused donkey and I miss. He thrusts his hips and topples me from my advantage. The microphone squeals across the stage. Mark grabs the wire and swings the mic like a lasso, before thrusting it at my head. He jerks as I lift my right hand and the wire wraps round my wrist. He snaps the wire and pulls me towards him, right into his waiting fist. My nose cracks and I see red pitter-patter on the stage.

We’ve silenced the crowd. I know Steve and Connor have cottoned-on when their guitars choke and screech like a train piling from its rails. The audience’s eyes are little neon lights, all shining on us. Hands cover mouths. My hot sweat turns icy as my t-shirt shifts over Gremlin goosebumps.

A murmur builds from the left.

“Are they for real?” I hear.

I belly-flop the stage on the run and slide to my drumsticks. I turn and roll before I tumble off the edge into the moshpit, and slash a stick across Mark’s arm as he advances on me with the mic. I slash again, but miss. The first strike must have been lucky because my sight is blurred by tears from my mashed nose. He catches my funny bone and I howl like Mike Patton on Angel Dust. He grabs me in a headlock just as I kick at his legs. We both tumble and he ends up on me. My blood mingles with his in our aggressive embrace.

“You’re going back to the dole queue, my friend.”

I bare my teeth and growl. “Fuck you. You’ll go back behind that desk.”

I crane my neck to the crowd. The scout stares at us. He’s enjoying the spectacle, but he knows we’ve recognized him. The Roman Emperor lifts his hand and drops a thumb.

“Bastard,” I say.

“Twat,” Mark says.

I push Mark from me, thrust to my feet and throw a drumstick into the crowd. My aim is all Robin Hood’ because I knock the scout’s glasses from his face.

The “whoas” Mexican wave to the right, and as I stumble off the stage, I trigger the night’s final crowd surge. Angry men and women storm my space, grab me, and lift me above their heads. I spot the scout scramble around the floor for his glasses as they crowd-surf me to a beating from which my drum career might not recover. I thrash at the crowd with feet and stick, see Mark charge through the crowd like a Viking warrior. He strikes through the hordes with his microphone sword. Steve and Connor strike up Iron Maiden’s Run to the Hills. I hear laughter and screams of fury at the blasé guitar riffs.

I smash down and hear a hollow crack, as if somebody’s skull has just opened like a coconut. I’m dropped. Right on my tail-bone. Hurts worse than my nose, but I manage to stand. The crowd parts and I find myself in a gladiator circle. Part of the crowd bays, part eggs us on. Security guards stand with the crowd, nervous that if they interfere they might get eaten alive. Mark swings his mic. I tap my thigh with my only stick. I don’t miss any fucking beat.

Through my burnt eyes I see the dole queue. I fear standing for what seems like hours for someone to interrogate me and click buttons on my profile in their zoned-out state. I see Mark recognize the same. I’m sure he imagines that purple tie cut at his throat as he interviews the likes of me.

“Thank God for that.”

Our heads swivel from each other to the man on his hands and knees just inside the crowd’s first line. He stands, breathes condensation on his glasses, and rubs. His squinty eyes become owl-like when he wears them. I’m sure I’ve ground my teeth to the gum line. His smile beams awkward. His eyebrows form crow wings in high-flap.

“You’re going to get a solid report, I promise. That was … awesome.”

Neither of us believe him. I didn’t even see the Indiana Jones whip from Mark, but that snap cracked the scout’s left lens. He staggers back but doesn’t fall. Maybe the air from all the gasps behind keep him on his feet. The second crack from Mark sets me off. I wind-mill my arms and bring those sticks down down down on his head. Red spills from the cracks and rolls over burgeoning purple skin.

Hands are all over me. They pull, they push, they punch. Somebody holds me in a headlock and pulls me away. I watch in horror how Mark finishes the job with a hard slam on the man’s head. The mic swings from the wire he still holds, in search of a bell to toll.

***

I bang the drums with my eyes shut. Mark is loud and energetic, but he’s lost his soul. There’s no woman for him to leer at. The crowd doesn’t know how to mosh, or if it did, it wouldn’t. His voice, ah, he’s just shifting through the gears. I keep my eyes shut to keep a bit of magic alive. I don’t want to see shaved heads on packed bodies sat on plastic chairs screwed to the floor.

“Fuck it. I don’t feel it. I’m getting nothing from any of you fuckers.”

I open my eyes. Mark has thrown the mic to the floor. His shoulders have slumped. He walks from the stage under a barrage of spit and the prison governor’s disapproval.

Time for a drum solo. I hit In the Air Tonight to his miserable slouch back to the cell.

 

Drumsticks is taken from Bullets, Teeth, & Fists 2, available FREE on all digital formats except Amazon, where it’s 99p/cents.

Find out more about JASON BEECH here.