Raucous music and uproarious conversationalists resound from the eye-catching, wood slatted roadhouse; its green and gold wrought iron sign board intermittently glows and illuminates the pubs dark, hunkered ambience.
Tearing off my clothes, I stuffed them into a holdall in exchange for the suit Rex purchased.
Buttoning up my shirt, I fixed silver cufflinks to white silk selves, stomped into leather shoes and sprayed myself with pine-scented cologne.
Respiring a choppy breath, I zipped and left both holdalls inside the communal skip, opting for the embolised Gucci faux-leather backpack I bought this afternoon.
Armed and stacked with cash, I gait along the pebbled pathway, embracing the whispering wind and rustling leaves issuing from over-matured trees.
Social drinkers occupy the spacious, imposing stone beer garden, chain-smoking and consuming an exotic range of cocktails.
I waded between unvarnished wooden tables and pretentious conversing and hesitated near the back door.
Shit, I need to regroup, consider impending actions and possible outcomes.
“You look lost.” Putting us shoulder-to-shoulder, a mature-looking Junoesque blonde, curled her fingers around my bicep, giving it an investigating squeeze. “Nice.”
I scowled at her. “Can I fucking help you?”
“I think you need this more than me,” she slurred, pushing a half-consumed ale in my hand. “Loosen up a bit.” Opening the door, defeating us with music, she stormed indoors. “Jackass.”
Tossing her drink into the shrubbery, I raked a hand over my hair, inhaled a deep, inducement breath and joined the commotion.
Slithering through sweltering throngs of rowdy socialisers, I searched for an empty seat amongst hastiness and parading bodies.
Since the bustling place offers scarce accommodation, I settled for a barstool and waited for the mixologist to finish colourful concoctions.
“Howdy.” Palming residue from his palms with a tea towel, the barman assisted, offering a tattered drinks menu. “I recommend the Bloody Mary.” He whips the towel over one shoulder. “It’s a personal favourite.”
“No,” I quipped, declining mixed-classics. “Whiskey. Neat.”
“Ah,” he chimes, snatching a bottle of Johnnie Walker. “You like the strong stuff, huh? I am a self-proclaimed whiskey-tasting professional and aficionado, so let me offer one of our finest collections.” Unscrewing the cap, he splashed amber liquid into a crystal glass. “Go ahead.”
Cocking an eyebrow, I reached for the glass and knocked back a shot. “Fuck,” I sighed, swallowing its distilled taste. “Do you drink that often? It burns like a motherfucker.”
“I wouldn’t know.” He flashed me a toothy grin. “My prior speech was complete and utter bullshit.”
I couldn’t understand his logic. “So, you’re not a whiskey fan?”
“Oh, sure,” he said, and I wasn’t sure if I believed him. “I can’t afford the Blue Label, though. I’ll stick to Jack Daniels and Jameson.” He set an unopened bottle of Macallan onto the glass bar top. “Now, I hear this is the dog’s bollocks.”
“You work here,” I pointed out with a puzzled grimace. “Doesn’t your boss allow his employees to sample the goods?”
His amber-coloured eyes broadened. “Fuck. No.” He refills my glass with a different blend. “Are you familiarised with barbaric discipline? Ever heard of thieving punishments in Sharia-controlled areas?” I shook my head. “In such countries, law enforcement uses a sharp knife, not a sword,” he adds, resting his elbows onto the glass, lowering his voice. “If you’re caught stealing, they sever your hand—at the wrist.”
“Sounds inhumane,” I agreed, nursing the glass. “What does drinking whiskey have to do with amputated body parts and petty pilfering?”
“It means,” he said, handing two beers to another customer, “sampling fine-tasting spirits isn’t worth decapitation or vasectomy. I happen to like my face.” His lips puckered. “And my cock, actually.”
I downed a Macallan shot, appreciating the warm, vibrant flavour. “It’s certainly one to boast about.” Sliding off the stool, I opened my wallet and set three fifty pound notes onto the beermat. “Buy yourself a bottle.”
Before he could protest, I disappeared through dancing crowds, invested on the end goal. I located a male bathroom, locked the door behind me and studied my reflection in the mirror. I hardly recognise the young man staring back at me. He’s tall now, broad-shouldered, tailored with ice-diamonds that most never luxuriate or model.
When did I get taller?
Where did these muscular arms spawn from?
Since when did shaving become a daily routine?
Will I ever become accustomed to such superfluously expensive jewellery and designer attire?
After tonight, if I defeat or outlive premeditated extortion, what’s in store for me?
I turned on the tap, cupped cold water and doused my face.
With a commanding appearance yet no sense of direction, I exited the bathroom and summoned inner demons. I needed those dark, twisted voices more than ever to beguile and incentivise perseverance.
I passed two women fondling and almost missed the locked door they’re dry humping against. “Move,” I barked, and they regarded me with swollen lips and heavy-lidded eyes.
“Do you want to join?” one purred, caressing my chest with pink-varnished fingernails.
“No.” Not even two bodacious lesbians with thick thighs can steer me from tunnel-vision. “Where does that door lead?”
The woman huddled against the wall studied the red-painted door. “Jerry’s lair.”
Fucking beautiful. “Leave.”
Giggling under direct command, they stumbled down the hallway, readjusting their hiked leather skirts and bralette tops.
Flattening two palms across my head, I tidy my appearance, open the private door and descend the dangerously precipitous drop underground.
Cigar smoke and marijuana fumes cloaked the dingy room, irritating my eyes. I gravitated toward a round table, stationed in the middle of the room—encircled by numerous males participating in a poker game—self-assured and impenitent, justifying imminent callousness.
Positioned on a high back leather chair, Jerry, I assume, tossed bankrolls onto the table, raising stakes. “What can I do for you?” he asked without looking up from his cards.
He’s an older male, wearing a pristine black three-piece. Solid-gold curb necklaces and bracelets adorn his neck and wrists; a cigar balanced between his pinched lips. His friends also bear fashionable suits, real leather footwear and gold St Christopher chains. It’s a nice touch, I thought, eyeing those medallions, lounged upon their grey-haired chests.
Eagle-eyed, I furtively enumerate possible threats: seven men at the table, two meat-heads, harping on from the uncomfortable-looking sofa and one man reading a newspaper beside the old-fashioned television. I had not, however, foreseen or considered female company. Each seated gambler has a stunning woman mounted on their thighs. As if sensing my unspoken predicament, a brunette peered up at me beneath fluttering eyelashes, lips stretching into an approving smile.
“I want to play,” I spoke with husked unease.
Jerry glared at me over the rim of his gold-framed glasses. “You?” He mocked, easing back in his chair. “You got the stakes, lad?”
Lowering my backpack, I unzipped, partly, fished out enough sterling to allure his interest. “Here.” I dropped stacks onto the mounted money pile, dragged a chair across the room and rudely joined their game. “That should cut it, right?”
Toking his cigar, cloaking himself in thick smog, Jerry fingered the cash, considering counterfeit bills. “Check this.” He holds up a fifty-pound note, and a burly minion heads to his request. “Well?”
“Authentic,” the guy confirmed, returning the money.
“Splendid,” exclaims Jerry, setting his cigar onto an ashtray. “Beretta, come over here and keep my friend company.”
Fuck. I didn’t need a hindering distraction. “That’s not necessary.”
To my left, the chubby, overheating man coughed into a tight fist. “You prefer some cock, huh?”
“No,” I said, sangfroid and composed. “I got a girl at home.” It’s a lie. “I don’t need your leftover merchandise.”
“Nonsense,” Jerry insists, and a woman collapsed onto my lap. “Beretta doesn’t kiss and tell. Right, darlin’?”
Beretta drapes an arm across my shoulders and teases my ear with whispering kisses.
I glance at Jerry’s hand. He’s married. “Fair enough.”
“Do you want me to go down?” she breathed against my cheek, cupping my trouser-clad manhood. “I swallow.”
Jerry supervised our exchange through sliced, sceptical eyes. He hadn’t requested a name, and he’s yet to deal out cards. I knew he didn’t trust me, sensed his uneasiness coming off him in waves.
He scratched the scruff of his jaw. “Are you going to take her up on that kind offer?”
He thought I was mince-meat. “No,” I said, schooling my features. “Her hand will suffice.”
“So, what’s your name?” asked the blond gentleman. “I recognise your face from somewhere.”
“Likewise,” Jerry intercedes, tapping his companion’s thigh. “Why don’t you and the ladies go upstairs and warm up a bed for me?”
Kissing his cheek, she slipped off his thigh, gesturing for the women to follow orders.
Beneath the table, I extracted two Glocks from the bag with unnoticeable finesse.
Vacating through the door, the females giggled when a friendly, rough voice complimented them with flirtatious undertones.
“What took you so long?” Jerry snapped, and the blond barman from earlier advanced with three unopened Macallan bottles. “I demanded them over an hour ago.”
“It’s busy,” he replied, tucking many-hued blond tendrils behind his ears. “It’s only just calmed down.”
“I don’t know why I tolerate you.” Jerry jerked his chin, and the lad set the bottles onto the table. “You’re damn lazy—fucking worthless.”
I’ll kill anyone who stands in my way, so that lad needs to leave—now. “If it were my joint? I’d have him on cleaning duties for the next twenty-four hours to make up for tardiness.”
“Indeed.” Jerry seemingly liked my suggestion. “Well, off you go. Clean those damn bogs while you’re at it.”
He steeled his jaw, briefly pinning me with baffled, disappointed eyes. “Sure, boss.”
I only breathe when the door slams behind him—and then I hear a click before the dickhead to my right presses the barrel of a gun to my temple. “Warren,” he croaked, shoving my shoulder. “I used to be a fan. You’re quite the boxer.”
Jerry drummed his fingers on the table. “Explain.”
“He’s one of Rex O’Sullivan’s fighters,” he enlightens, leaning closer in an attempt to provoke or intimidate me. “Ain’t that right?”
“So?” I faced him, hoping he didn’t notice the sweat trickling down my neck. “What the fuck does my old trainer have to do with poker games?”
I had two options: shoot Jerry first or disarm this tool.
I chose the latter.
Releasing one Glock, I abruptly sucker-punched him with an upper-cut, aimed a gun at his head and pulled the trigger.
“Motherfucker!” Jerry roared, jumping from his chair while reaching for a firearm.
I booted the table, shattering whiskey bottles and tumblers, scattering poker chips and money across the floor.
Taking aim again, I diverted the gun to Jerry, knowing he’s the fundamental problem and released an ear-piercing shot to his chest.
His body slumps on the floor, but he’s still breathing. “Don’t kill him,” he croaked an order, rolling onto his side. “I want the son of a bitch in my chambers!”
Foolish, I thought, shoving my elbow into someone’s face, wrestling with my opponents.
Lean arms wrapped around my neck, hurling my back against my attackers chest. I wrestled in his inflexible hold and sank my teeth into his bicep, digging for blood.
“Fuck,” he growled, loosening his restraint.
Jerry’s men aimed to capture my legs. I kicked, threw my head back and crushed my handler’s nose. He dropped me in a state of painful shock and collided into the wall on impact.
Turning onto my back, I snatched the other gun from the floor and blindly aimed fire until shrieks, groans and thumps repeated inside my humming ears.
Untamed pleasure steadied heavy breathing. I staggered to my feet, stepped over strewn, semi-unconscious bodies and frisked them for weapons.
“I’m disappointed,” I said, alternatively putting a bullet between their eyes. “Such tyrannical men who put irresolute fear into the streets, yet I outsmarted—outmanoeuvred all of you in less than five minutes.”
I stood over a dead guy, ripped the chain from his neck. “It’s unfathomable,” I continued, saving the best for last. “I think your notoriety is questionable.”
Sprawled across the floor, Jerry wheezes for breath, outstretching his arm, fingers shaking as he strives to claim a discarded firearm.
“Enough of that.” I kicked the gun out of his reach, crouched before him. “You came after someone that I love,” I tell him, and blood and saliva dribbled from the corner of his mouth. “I’m not okay with that.”
Except for Jerry, everyone’s dead; their puddle gore ruins these splendid-looking floor tiles. “I thought long and hard this morning.” Unzipping my bag, I gathered their money, jewellery and weaponry. “I mean, I kinda like the idea of owning cities, and killing people became second-nature after I killed my father.”
Opening a switchblade, I wielded the sharpest point and caught his hand. “I am no saint. I doubt people will ever identify me as a patriotic benefactor or an honourable person with superlative tendencies and noble characteristics. Much like yourself, I love women.” I slammed the blade across his finger, amputating his gold wedding band from his hand. His torn flesh oozes with crimson delight. “And I don’t plan to settle—ever.” Snapping his brittle bones, I unheeded his stomach-wrenching shrieks and begging howls, repossessing the jewellery. “But, if I were idiotic enough to let another take ownership of my heart, I’d show her some fucking respect.”
Rising to my full height, I located a fire alarm on the masonry wall, punched my knuckles through the glass and instigated deafening sirens.
Gripping Jerry’s ankles, I drag his bloodied body to the fragmented whiskey bottles, light a cigarette and drop the smouldering flame onto the floor. I heard a whooshing sound as the fire licked across flammable moisture, but didn’t hand around to watch his melting flesh or agonising screams.
Returning to the main room, I dodged frantic, dispersing customers, feeling misted showers from aloft sprinkler systems.
Lifting the bar latch, I round the narrow space, unlock the tills and empty loose change and notes into my bag.
Out of the corner of my eye, I see the barman cowering on the floor, hiding behind his hands.
Why the fuck is he still here?
“You,” I yelled, and he withered. “Don’t fucking ignore me. Get the hell out of here. Now.”
Overcome with immobilising astonishment, he hiked his knees and ignored escalating commotion.
“Fuck’s sake.” Shutting the till drawer, I marched toward him, gripped his T-shirt and hauled him onto his feet. “Look at me!” Flinching and trembling, he peered at me through sweat-slicked strands, sweat dews greased across his furrowed forehead. “It’s gonna blow.” Cajoling him toward the exit, I hold his elbow in a firm grip, dragging his protesting body through the beer garden.
“Oh, fuck,” he complains, staggering beside the communal skip, watching black smoke and burning hues claim the building. “What have you done?”
“Mind your fucking business.” Grabbing the other holdall, I fasted the straps across my chest, urging him to keep walking. “We need...” The pub wailed in anguish as the wooden beams arched, exploding windows and saturating the air with chemical scented haze. “Fuck!”
Ebbing into overgrowth and dense trees, I staggered across miry grounds and muddied slopes, eager to avoid the fulmination, reverberating into the starless night.
“What the fuck was that?” He spun around at the sound of tumultuous bangs, walking backwards in evident outrage. “Did it explode? Why did you do that?”
I don’t answer; I see the fires orange, red and amber reflection dancing in his wide eyes though.
Shoes impaling brittle branches and wet leaves, I fumble with a bag and chuck stolen chains and money on the floor. “Take that,” I ordered, shouldering past him. “Pawn it for all I care.”
He entrenched on the spot. “Where are you going?” He shouts, chucking up his arms. “I didn’t even get a name.”
My short peregrination is one I’d never forget. I followed the soaring sunrise with a strong-minded plan.
Today, I shower, eat and sleep.
Tomorrow, I slap a full-payment down on a grandiloquent home just because I can.
“Hey,” I called, turning back to face him. “If I were to reside permanently in London? Where would I go?”
His brows met. “You’d live in the sky.” The nameless lad tucked money and chains into his pockets. “Penthouse.”
“Where can I get one of those?”
“Opposite the Tower Bridge,” he confirmed, grinning like a madman. “They don’t come cheap, though.”
I smirked and chased my future.
Let somebody stop me from setting the pace.
My naked body sticking to the leather sofa, I repositioned onto my side with a murmured, throaty groan. Beneath my palm, warmth radiated from off another body. I opened my eyes and adjusted to the gloomy room, outlining a feminine figure, sleeping peacefully beside me.
I recognised her. Kellie, she’d said. Kellie with an E.
Carefully unravelling myself from her body, I climbed off the sofa, plucked a Jameson bottle from the mini-car and fell onto the chair behind my desk.
Swigging straight from the bottle to quench thirst, I licked my dry lips and toyed with my phone, selecting an old voicemail. “Liam,” Alexa breathed, and I closed my eyes to listen. “I am drunk. Very drunk, actually. You were mad at me tonight.” I crushed the phone in my hand. “I hate it when you’re mad at me.”
Leaning back in my chair, I kicked my feet onto the desk and downed Jameson as though my life depended on it.
“Anyways, I wasn’t going to call because you hung up on me earlier and stubbornness seemed reasonable, but I had to hear your voice—”
Hating and torturing myself, I ended her pained words. Opening the browser, I typed Alexa’s name into the search bar, thumbing through old police reports and articles and a social media account gained my interest. I clicked onto the Instagram logo to load her page.
Lowering my legs to the floor, I swivelled in the chair and put my elbows onto the desk.
When did Alexa create an account?
Why am I only just seeing this?
I paid great attention to each portrait, friendship shots with Chloe and her former manager, Grayson, and read quirky captions alongside beverages and half-consumed pastries.
Her selfies were my favourite. Happiness dominated her beautiful face. Each image, she smiled with genuineness, and there’s an adoring glint in her warm gaze.
Narrowing my eyes, I clicked onto another. In the background, the River Thames brightened the dark atmosphere. Alexa stands beside the balustrade on my balcony, the chain I purchased hangs proudly around her neck.
With My Love, she captioned the selfie with two red hearts. Always.
Tears threatened my eyes. I tossed the phone onto my desk, hunched my shoulders forward and buried my head in my hands.
A soft hand touched my shoulder. “Hey,” Kellie whispered, stroking the back of my neck. “What’s wrong?”
“Don’t,” I growled, snatching her wrist in a vice-like grip. “You shouldn’t be here.”
Her brown eyes slivered in puzzlement. “You weren’t saying that earlier, Warren.”
Flinging her arm away, easing back in my seat, I gulped numbing courage, liquid trickling down my chin. “What else did I have to say?”
Snuggling between my parted thighs, she gives me a kittenish grin. “I am not sure if you can handle candour,” she answered honestly, stroking my flaccid cock. “Let’s just say that you’re not over your ex.”
Removing an irritating itch from my nose, I looked away.
Of course, I am not over my ex-girlfriend.
I love her.
My eyes landed on the coffee table where spilt cocaine and cluttered alcohol bottles ruin its high-gloss finish.
Kellie sucked me into her warm mouth.
Fingers tousling in her hair, I dropped my head back, eyes trained on the ceiling.
I struggled to get hard.
After enough alcohol and two lines, though, I relinquished and surrendered to temptation.
Tearing a condom wrapper with my teeth, I sheathed my cock and mumbled for her to ride me. And she does. Her head nestling in the groove of my neck. Tight cunt engulfing my length, her ass cheeks slapping against my thighs.
She’s beautiful, I thought, cupping her cheeks and biting the tender flesh of her neck.
“I’m not Her,” she panted in my ear, and I silently agreed. “I can keep pretending, though.”
Fuck. Is that what I requested?
“Get off me,” I scolded, pushing her off my lap to dislodge us. “Take your shit and leave.”
Tumbling off my lap, Kellie blew out an aggravated breath, rounded the desk and began to collect her clothes. “How many times are we going to do this?”
I shrugged a noncommittal shoulder.
“You texted me,” she pointed out angrily, tugging on a black dress. “You keep demanding my services, Warren. You know it’s probably unwise to snort that shit all the time.” In the dark, she searched for her shoes. “You freak out every time you come down from a high or drunken stupor.”
Kellie’s not an escort. She’s a woman who parties at Club 11 with friends and her provocative dancing enticed me. It’s become a regular occurrence—us fucking. Fortunately for me, I seldom remember our encounters. Intoxication has its perks.
“What do you want from me?” Fingers tightening around the bottleneck, I took a long pull of burning alcohol. “I told you that I was in love with someone else. You accepted a no-strings-attached agreement just as long as I didn’t touch anyone else.”
“Are you?” she thought aloud, stomping her feet into black high-heeled shoes. “Sleeping with other women, I mean.”
Yes. I sleep with whoever, wherever, just as long as it helps me forget. “No,” I lied, and she believed me. “Are you still available when I need you?”
Trying to be cute, Kellie tapped her chin, pretending to determine a response. “Will you stop throwing me out whenever you freak out?”
No, I will continue to toss them aside because I can’t deal with the guilt subsequent to orgasmic release. “Yes,” I lied once more, scratching my bare chest. “Get one of my men to escort you outside, Kellie.”
Pulling on her leather jacket, she stepped forward to approach me but decided against it when discerning the distaste in my dark, hooded eyes. “Goodnight, Warren.”
I turned in my seat and stared at the empty dance room through the window. Grief and guilt iced my hot veins. Lunging the bottle at the wall, fragmenting the glass and showering the floor with fine shards, I lift the phone to my ear and further tormented myself to the sound of Her voice.