Four doors down
The letter-box slammed shut, the sound reverberating throughout the road, and inside the houses in the vicinity. Geoff Howell turned and stalked back along the path to the gate, not bothering to close it behind him. He walked to the next house, angrily posting their mail, and rummaging in his bag for more. He was 46 years old, lived alone in a third floor flat, was five feet six inches tall, and sported jet black wavy hair that styled itself no matter how many times he would comb it. He constantly sported a stubble which was not of the designer style, but the reluctance to use a razor approach, because he could shave in the morning, but by the night-time have visible hair, so he hardly bothered, and especially lately, because his job was under serious threat. As an ordinary postman, sent to the governmental company by an agency, which was merging with another organisation, his work was virtually over. His superiors had requested that he and several other postal workers go to a meeting organised for 3pm in the afternoon. He knew it was to let him go. His bosses at the agency would be there, as would those from the mail company.
He had been in the job for four months, and was settling into the routine, and found that the job was fairly decent. It was part-time, and minimum wage, but he was almost enjoying it. Now they were casting him aside.
He was not alone in his concern. The merger had been on the cards for a while, and the staff new about it, perhaps hoping it wouldn’t happen, but not really voicing any concerns about it, except for a select few, of which Geoff was one who was all for strike action. What union the workers had, had slowly been eroded over the years. Workers came and went, had other ideas, formed separate factions of three or four that lasted barely a week, and generally accepted the way things were. Geoff wondered if he could take this to court, because his employers had not consulted his trade union. His union of four which was two weeks old. He knew they did not recognise it as genuine, so did not consider it worthy of notice, but I’ll make them sit up and notice us, he thought. Think they can just sweep us aside as though we are nothing. No chance. I’m not putting up with this. Who’s going to post the mail? he asked himself. No doubt they’ll get someone on the cheap like some spotty little student or community service convicts. That’d be just typical, he thought. Anything to save money. Anything.
With a collection of letters in one hand, he stuffed and crushed them though a letter-box, and turned and stalked again around to the next house. Once again, there was another pointless circular addressed to this house. This house which had long been abandoned, whose windows were thick with grime and dirt, the front door of which was ajar with him previously posting. He walked along the weed-strewn path and looked in at the hallway, where his other letters lay. Then it dawned on him. This impending court battle he was facing with his other trade union workers, whom he knew, weren’t all that committed, could cost him dearly. Offered a big enough incentive or pay-off, then they would leave in a heartbeat. Yet, if he lost his case, he was facing costs that he was unsure he could pay, and he would be left alone, while his co-workers probably found other agencies and got similar work. What will I do? he asked himself, then smiled. I’ll not give them the opportunity to make me redundant. I’ll resign. I’ll resign, right here, right now. He looked down at his large red bag, a large selection of mail left to deliver, then at the flaking front door of the house. A large, overgrown privet hedge shielded him from nosy eyes, and he entered the house, closing the door behind him. Walking into the empty front room, he threw the letter intended for this house to the side and saw that despite the filth on the windows, daylight easily penetrated, but the privet hedge meant that nobody except several crawling insects could see him. Against the window was a cheap dining table with four chairs. He was surprised they hadn’t long since been looted. He tipped the contents of the bag onto the table, dislodging plumes of dust, some of the letters falling to the floor. Sitting down, he sifted through the obvious ones, the circulars, the bills, the junk mail, and threw them all on the floor. He tore open one envelope and found it was simply a ‘Get well soon’ card which he threw to the side. Opening another one he found a cheque for £84 from the ‘Country valley parks association’. He put that in his pocket. A package, he found to contain a DVD of a costume drama. ‘Beloved Cavaliers’, which he threw to the side. Another envelope he tore open to reveal a set of photographs and a long letter in barely legible handwriting, so he didn’t bother with that, and screwed it up and threw it aside. The photographs were of people in what looked to be an office party, all in ridiculous poses, with drinks in hand, grinning at the camera. He got halfway through before tossing them aside. Another letter he saw was for Ian Clayton, the man who lived across the road. Opposite this house and four doors down to the right. Geoff shook his head at the letter. Ian Clayton, he thought. Obvious and well known gangster. Thinks he’s some sort of big player in the criminal underworld, and to all intents and purposes, he was. He was in his late thirties, and had that gangster-like facade that simply said: ‘Do not trust me’. Some people by their very appearance look untrustworthy and sly. Sporting a shaven head and random tattoos, standing 6feet 3inches tall, Ian was a nasty individual who was sure to end up in prison one day. As a dealer of heroin, cocaine, cannabis, and ecstasy, Ian kept bad company. His friends were all similar, and displayed the rewards of wealth, with over-the-top jewellery, and sports cars. Ian though, as unofficial kingpin, flaunted the most wealth, with his white Porsche 928 S4 auto outside, his gold and diamond rings, his five gold teeth, and his lavish interiors of his home. He unconsciously defied anyone to challenge him, his appearance and manner saying: ‘Don’t you ever dare cross me. Else I’ll put a bullet in your head’. Geoff hated delivering there. The front door was always open, so he had to reach in and leave the mail on top of the small gas cupboard. Sometimes there were friends of friends outside in the garden, mending or toying with bikes and scooters, teenage boys with their tops off, showing off their physiques which said: ‘Look at me, I go the gym’, smoking and laughing and creating an air of unease. They had never said anything to Geoff, but he was always glad once he was past that house. Ian Clayton, he thought. Not so much a plastic gangster, more a glass, or quartz gangster, not quite gold or diamond. Not someone to get on the wrong side of, though, and he guessed that that was easily done. Let’s see what someone’s posted to him, he thought, tearing open the letter. It was a hand written note, torn hastily out of a pad.
‘Ian’ it said. ‘I know you said that the next time you saw me you’d stab me if I didn’t have your money, well I’ve only got three-quarters of it, and I know you’re a man of your word, and will understand why I’m not delivering it personally. I’ve left it under the back room floorboards of 38 Tungsten road. The empty house. I hope you’ll give me enough time to get the rest. Gerard’.
Tungsten road, Geoff thought, that’s just around the corner. How much is under there, he wondered. He realised that if he was get the money, he would have to be quick. Gerard may change his mind, or some squatters may come across it. He stood up, and was soon out of the house, heading for Tungsten road, a five minute walk away from the other abandoned house.
By the time he reached it, he was nearly out of breath. He’d forgotten the road sloped, and put his hand on the fence to rest for a few moments. The front door of this semi-detached looked closed, but he was soon trying it, and found it to be open. It creaked loudly as though it hadn’t been open in years, and he stepped in, closing it behind him. There was no privet hedge here to shield him from ‘neighbourhood watch’. He trod the carpet of dust on the floorboards, which, he noticed, had many footprints along it. The backroom door was open and he found it be gloomy, the back curtains closed. He saw that the room was completely empty, and crossed to the curtains, pulling them back in a cloud of choking dust. He waved it away in a futile attempt not to breathe it in, but was soon turning around and looking at the floor. It was immediately obvious where a floorboard had been removed then replaced. One end jutted out about a centimetre. He crossed to it and crouched, removing it easily and finding himself looking at a wrapped up supermarket carrier-bag. It was impossible to see inside. He took it out. It was essentially a package, and he unwrapped it and looked inside. He did not understand what he was seeing at first, but it wasn’t money. It was the innards of an animal. A face had been split open and he saw it was a cat. A cat that had been torn apart and placed in the bag. Suddenly, two men marched into the room. Geoff looked up to see a baseball bat heading rapidly his way. It struck his mouth and shattered his teeth. He collapsed back, and saw that the two men were wearing black balaclavas, one wielding the bat which had sharpened nails jutting from it. He gripped it tightly in both black leather-gloved hands, so striking with high strength. The other man was dressed similarly, but held only a mobile phone which he was holding forth to record the other man, who struck Geoff repeatedly in the face, shattering his cheekbones, splitting his forehead, caving in his eye sockets, the nails puncturing his eyes and tongue. A garbled yell issued forth from what was left of his mouth, and his hands feebly tried to protect him, but the bat smashed through them, breaking bones instantly. The man then stopped and stepped back, breathing heavily. He proffered the dripping bat to his friend.
"Have a go, I’m knackered".
"You’re knackered after a few hits. You seriously need to get down the gym". They swapped, the other man taking up position, looking down at Geoff, whose twitched and trembled, his face split and cracked, blood spilling onto the floorboards, a distorted attempt at crying aloud coming from the back of his mouth. He struck his throat to stop the noise, then proceeded to carry on where the other man left off, and slam the bat into his face, which he did until it became a bloodied mess consisting of tendons, splinters of bone, and pulverised eyeballs. His hair, cranium, brain and jaw, where the only things still in position, but soon they split, the nails stabbing into his brain. Geoff ceased to shudder, and the two men saw that he was dead. The wielder of the bat threw it down to the side.
"You’re right," he said, "It is knackering". He turned and stepped across to the other man who focused the mobile on him.
"There you go" he said into the small lens. "We smashed his face in as you asked. There’s your proof. Now it’s time to pay up". He rubbed his fingers and thumb together in a money gesture, then walked out of shot. The other man stopped filming, and fiddled with it for a few seconds while he sent it to Gerard. They both walked out into the hall, taking off their balaclavas and putting them in a sports bag that was at the bottom of the stairs. They removed fluorescent jackets, like that a builder would wear, one of them taking out a clipboard and pen.
"So that was Ian Clayton," one said. "I thought he was supposed to be some big local hard-knock gangster. Didn’t look much like a gangster to me". The other man nodded.
"Yes. Well, it doesn’t matter if it’s the wrong bloke, we’re now owed two grand, and we’d better get it". They both left the house, closing the door behind them and walked along to the gate, one of them turning and pointing to the roof, then pointing at the other man’s clipboard. He nodded emphatically, making a show for any nosy neighbours. They then crossed over to a Citroen dispatch van with
‘Conroy’s commercial and domestic roofing specialists’ written on its side. They said nothing as they drove away.