dogs our ticket out of this mess," Sam said, turning
the keys in the ignition.
The unfortunate events that unfolded that weekend were mainly due to my
belief in a popular misconception beaten into me by my folks (and they
in their turn, probably, by their folks), that when things seem as bad
as they can get, they can only start to pick up. That when you return
home on a Friday, to find your car missing, your house robbed and your
fiancée gone, you can rest assured, safe in the knowledge that
things will only get better.
It was at that moment when I collapsed in a broken heap on my sofa
and lent over to roll a cigarette I found that the following two
days were going to be a bit more than a trip to the police station. I
mean, it was not rare to be robbed in that neighbourhood, and my fiancé
could have been out shopping for jewellery, or something equally small
and uncomplicated - especially if she had taken my car. A nice car it
was, though. A limited edition BMW M3. 1984. The stereo had been nicked
a few days back and I hadnt got round to replacing the window.
But that small yellow post-it note there, on the coffee table, next to
the tobacco pouch, alerted my attention
I WNT 2 C 5 GRND SATRDAY AT JAVA WHARF WAREHOUSE OR BITCH DIES.
It was going to need something stronger than a simple cigarette to make
sense of that one, I thought, shaking out the contents of my cigarette
onto a king-skin. I didnt owe anyone money
well, apart from
Sam across the road, but that was only twenty pounds for a Henry of Thai
weed, and he knew I was good for it I mean hes my best mate,
so I imagined he wasnt eager to kidnap my fiancé. I would
have put some music on but the hi-fi was gone, so I sat in silence, looking
for answers in the wallpaper.
I woke up the next morning on my back, on the floor next to the coffee
table, with a half-empty mug of water balanced on my chest. I finished
the water (a difficult thing to do when horizontal), stood up clumsily,
the contents of my head sloshing about with praise to the people of Thailand,
and headed down the road to Nicos Café for breakfast.
I had the fortune to bump into Sam in the café.
"Five fucking grand! Youre joking, aint ya?" He
spat the grease of his bacon as he spoke. Sam seemed like a bloke to confide
in. Well, he was the only bloke I knew to confide in, and plus he was
used to handling large sums of money, or at least I thought he was.
"Keep your voice down," I said, wiping the bacon fat off my
vest. "- I need to get hold of it before this nutter kills Kelly."
"Well youre in shit, mate," he said.
"Sam, mate, this is not a fucking joke. It says FIVE GRAND
"Well thats ok, at least they gave you some notice. You could
sell your house." Sam suggested, trying to soak up the sauce from
his baked beans with a piece of cold toast.
"Sam, man, it IS Saturday
TODAY. Now whos gonna buy a
fucking house like mine in a day? And even if I did, by some miracle,
get a buyer, the cheque wouldnt clear for a good 2 days."
"Yeah, youd have a tough time selling your house for five thousand!"
"Thanks for being so helpful" I said, and pushed my knife and
"Well what about your stuff, like TV, laptop, hi-fi, that sort of
"Shit. Dyou reckon it was the same people?"
"Nah." I said. "I thought this over last night. They mustve
left the door open when they left, and some fucking pikey kids probably
spotted it. That sort of shit picks up a nice amount on the market. I
should know, I bought it from there!"
I began to laugh, but I couldnt. I had this image of Kelly strapped
to a chair at gunpoint, with some twat playing God in a balaclava. I stood
to leave, but Sam tugged my sleeve, beckoning with his grime-encrusted
"Ive got a plan
" He whispered.
My heart sank. Sam had plans that were so flawed that a blind man could
see through them. But I had to listen. After all, he had a plan and I
didnt. And I had to face the fact that I wasnt going to come
up with one any time soon, thanks largely to Sams Thailand connection.
"Do you like dogs, Mr
"Finch. Mr Finch."
I sat in the chair, quietly, not sure that I was ready for first-name
terms with Sams apparently wealthy acquaintance, "I dont
have one of my own they dont seem to like me, generally."
I looked about as I said this, admiring his poor taste in expensive interior
decor. He didnt notice - he looked tragically downcast, strangely
saddened by my incompatibility with canines. He seemed a little eccentric;
an emotional stew garnished with a smart dressing of an intensely blue
suit and tie.
"Oh dear. That is a shame. Oh
well, I suppose it must be the
way you smell."
I smell with my nose like everyone else does, including dogs. But this
was not a time for jokes. This was an insult - and I barely knew the guy.
Fucking rich cunt.
"What do you mean, I smell?" I said, leaning forward.
"Scent!" Sam interrupted, diffusing the atmosphere. "Dogs
are attracted by different smells, right? Well that means they can be
revulsed by smells they dont like. It doesnt mean you smell
bad - I mean, they eat dog food dont they? Ever smelt dog food?"
He smiled nervously, and then shot me a glance, that I took fairly to
mean that I was making things difficult. Mr. Grieves relaxed a little,
and leant over to offer me a cigarette from a small silver case on his
desk. Without a word, I placed it in my mouth slowly cigarettes
like these should be savoured, I thought.
"Im terribly sorry, Mr Finch. I do believe you got the wrong
end of the stick just then. I didnt mean to offend you."
I looked at him, dropping my head to one side to acknowledge his apology.
I had come to this guys house by Sams request, and we had
barely been there five minutes and I already hated him. Offering posh
fags to a guy like me is like letting me sit in an Aston Martin convertible,
but not letting me drive it. I pulled the cigarette from my lip and looked
at it. White filter. Awkward. As I listened to Sams conversation,
I tried to figure out whether you would be able to know which end to light
in the dark.
"So anyway Chris - hows Valerie?"
"Oh shes fine she hasnt seen you in a while though,
Sam. Shes been busy lately."
"So hows it going?"
"The shows? Oh well you know you cant beat a bitch like
her. Best in show has become her nickname!"
He laughed, blowing tufts of smoke out of his mouth and nostrils like
an inverted steam engine. Sam smiled and nodded, as if to completely understand.
I didnt have a clue what they were talking about, but I was happily
distracted by Chris novelty lighter. A silver dog, that, when you
pushed its tail down, it opened its mouth and a flame came out.
What an interesting bit of expensive junk. The flame didnt light
my cigarette though - I just looked at it. It made me think of a documentary
Id seen on Vietnam. Then Kelly. Napalm? Burning dogs. Kellys
no dog, I thought, and anyway, I didnt think that stuff existed
anymore. At least it shouldnt do. And why would these guys want
to kill her with Napalm anyway? They didnt. Obviously.
Gaz?" Sam tapped me on the shoulder. I must have
stopped listening for a while. "Chris wants to know about this Thai
"Chris? Oh Chris. Well Mr. Grieves, what can I say? Its the
best stuff yet. At least for the price."
At that moment, a white poodle padded past.
"Oh hello," Chris said, "so you decided to join us then?
Weve got some visitors today; your old friend Sam and his friend
This was a dog. Not a person, despite how it seemed. And the fact that
Chris knew my first name made me even more confused. Sam glanced at me
without turning his head. It was clear he hadnt introduced me as
Gary. I felt a bit stupid when I realised that not many other names are
abbreviated to Gaz, but there still seemed something weird
about this guy and his poodle.
"Do you have a girlfriend, Mr Finch?"
"A fiancé," I replied.
"Oh congratulations. Does she like dogs?"
"Shes become allergic to them recently. But Ive never
wanted one, so I suppose it doesnt
"Well thats convenient," Chris said, leaning back on his
Sam placed a large joint on the table. Chris lent forward again.
"Smoke this when you get back from Catford. Let me know what you
think later, and Ill get you more if you want it." Sam stood
up. "Its been nice talking, but we have to get going now."
"Yeah, um, thanks for the fag," I said, rising to my feet. "Goodbye
I waved at the poodle, which showed no interest in polite etiquette; instead
turning to walk away. Chris got up and showed us to the door.
"Well its been a pleasure. Im sure Ill see you
soon. Especially if this gear is as good as you say it is. Goodbye gentlemen."
The front door closed behind us and we walked across the road to where
Sams car was parked.
"That dogs our ticket out of this mess," Sam said, turning
the keys in the ignition. "Chrisd blatantly sell his soul to
get that dog back. All we have to do is leave the same ransom note for
"Nick that poodle? Youre sick," I said, smiling. "I
thought Valerie was his wife, you know."
"Yeah it might as well be. He treats her like a fuckin princess."
"Hes a bit of an arrogant cunt."
The passenger door pulled open noisily. My car never had that problem,
I thought, as I got in.
"I should coco. Hes got more money than sense. Hes off
to Catford Dogs in a bit. Goes every Saturday, but never wins a penny.
Always bets on the one that looks pretty, apparently."
"So were going to nick Valerie while hes away? How do
you suppose we do that then?" I said, winding down the window for
"Leave it to me. You need some rest. Its not every day youre
fiancé winds up in a hostage situation."
Sam dropped me at home and I sat on the couch to mull over the situation.
I came to the conclusion that through some of her acquaintances at the
local pawnbrokers, Kelly had somehow found herself mixed up with some
loan sharks. She had developed a taste for expensive jewellery, and my
job at the carpet store wasnt going to fund that, even if I was
floor manager. Id previously assumed that a rich relative had died
or something that was about as much thought as I gave it.
Id never been an emotional person either, so when a situation like
this came along I found myself quite confused. If I was bored, or stopped
to look at anything for a long time, I started to think about Kelly, but
while I had an objective, I was fine. So I didnt rest. I cooked.
After my lunch I phoned to check up on Sam.
"Sam mate, Im not sure this is such a good idea. I mean, we
could be in some really fucking messy business."
"Relax," he said, "Im sortin it."
"Man, I think I know what were dealing with. You know all Kellys
jewellery? Well those shifty bastards at the brokers probably stitched
her up with some sharks."
"Those dirty little shits have really sunk low. They must be getting
desperate for cash. I cant believe they would do that. Do you know
"No." I said, but I did know of them. We had never met, but
I had heard things. My throat closed up.
"Well then weve got nothing to worry about. Ill be round
in ten minutes."
"Shit," I tried to say, but it didnt come out.
I put the phone down and sat on the coffee table. The house was unbearably
silent. The only sound was coming from down the road a few kids
playing football in the street. I realised that the coffee table was not
the most comfortable seat on offer, but I felt too weak to move. My eyes
felt like they were being sucked out of their sockets, and my nose began
to tingle. I couldnt believe this was happening. One minute Im
coming back from work, the next Im being bent backwards, buggered
by some heartless kidnappers.
Later, the doorbell rang. I wiped my eyes and forced myself up. I couldnt
fail her now. I needed to be alert. Sam had returned to the car and was
waiting for me as I came out.
"So where is she?" I asked, as he started the car.
"In the bag." He said, pointing behind him with his thumb.
"What the hell are you doing putting a prize-winning poodle in a
fucking sports bag?" I said, lifting the bag from the back seat.
"Its not like Chriss going to care if it looks a bit
"Sam, mate, this dog is a bloody work of art. You cant just
stick it in a bag
and anyway, why is it so calm about being stuffed
in a Jesus! What did you do to it? Its not moving."
I gave it a poke to check.
"Well I had to entice it out somehow, so the only thing I had in
my bag was a load of cakes that I baked this morning. In fact, I was going
to see if you wanted to buy them."
"This dog is as stoned as a heathen, mate. Youre lucky it hasnt
given up on life altogether."
Sam went red in the face, not in an angry way, but kind of embarrassed.
"Gaz. Im doing you a fucking favour here. Your birds
got herself into this mess with these sharks so just be grateful, ok?"
I guessed he wasnt used to taking friendly criticism.
"Youre right mate. Sorry. I guess well just have to improvise."
Something in the bag caught my eye. "Whats this?" I said,
pulling a pair of stockings from the bag.
" He handed me a pair of scissors. "I dont
want Chris to see that were involved hell never do
business with me again. And I need to shift this weed."
I cut a leg from the stocking and pulled it over my head. It felt like
I had a thousand ants crawling over my face. I pulled down the sun-block/flap
thing and looked in the mirror.
"Very fetching. Kellyll love it," Sam said. I took it
off and put it on the floor.
We got to Java Wharf eventually, and I immediately started to feel dizzy.
A drop of sweat ran slowly down past my ear and my head began to throb.
I waited in the car, across the road from the warehouse, while Sam went
around the back with the dog. The street was empty. Not surprising, really,
as it was a dead end and not many people did business in an empty warehouse
(apart from us, it would seem). There was not a lot I could do about the
situation until it started to get better, so I pulled yesterdays
Sun off the floor. The evening began to draw in and soon I had to turn
the passenger light on to see even the headlines. But they all spoke of
rapes, kidnappings and affairs. Not exactly what I want to be reading
in my circumstances. I folded the paper back up and threw it gently onto
the back seat. My hands shaking, I lit a cigarette to calm my nerves.
It reminded me of waiting outside the headmasters office at school.
There was nothing I could do about the situation I had got myself into
and it completely wasnt my fault, but there was no way out of it
and I was still sweating like a pig in summer.
A fat knuckle softly hit the window, making me drop cigarette ash all
over my lap. Swearing under my breath, I brushed off my trousers and wound
down the window. Sam bent his head into the car.
"Has Chris turned up yet?"
"No" I said, shaking the ash off the stocking.
"You know, I can hear Kelly in there, so she must be okay."
"Yeah?" I said, thinking all the while that they could be scolding
her with hot irons or all types of sick retarded shit. I tried not to
let it show.
"Yeah. Shes not screaming or nothing, just sort of like a muffled
chrrmfghs!" Sam said, putting the empty bag in front
of his mouth.
"Chris mate, wheres the dog?"
"Oh - well I thought about what you said and I thought it was a bit
cruel so I took it out of the bag." Sam said, with a triumphant grin.
"Dont worry, its not going anywhere."
I got out of Sams car quickly, putting the stockings in my pocket,
and went round firstly to check that the dog was still there and secondly
to make sure that the voice of my fair female was not being distorted
by screams of agony or torture. These thoughts go through your mind when
you end up in such a situation.
Sure enough, the poodle was there, lying on the rotting planks of the
fire escape, still dreaming of waging war on Londons population
of squirrels and cats. I pressed my ear to the door.
"Whats she saying, Gaz?" Sam asked, hopping from foot
to foot like a schoolboy watching a playground fight. I turned to him.
"What would you be saying if you were a fucking hostage?" I
whispered, violently. "Something along the lines of let me
go, I should think, now shut up and stand still or these boards
At that point a white Mercedes appeared around the corner. Chris had finally
turned up. Our only hope was that he had the money. Any funny business
and we would be toast, I thought. That, and Sam would definitely lose
"Hes here. Dont let him see y-." I turned, and found
that Sam had already vanished somewhere already. I ducked down as the
headlights scoped our hiding position. I saw between the slats that Sam
hadnt listened to my warning about the rotting planks. He lay there
underneath me in a contorted heap of rubble and green-brown timber.
I returned my ear to the door.
"Sounds like shes shouting for Chris but I cant
hear it that clearly."
I looked down to him.
"Yeah. Shit. How does she know him?"
"Beats me, mate." He said, shifting his weight.
"You silly bastard I cant take you anywhere. Get up and
let the dog in."
I threw his stocking-leg down to him.
"I- I cant." He groaned.
"Bloody hell." I mumbled, and pulled my stocking out of my pocket.
As I was about to pull it over my head, I saw my old Beemer being driven
away down the street. Strange. I looked at the dog. It looked back at
me with those eyes that only a dog or a small child can make. "Sorry
about this, girl." I said, pulling the disguise down over my face.
I picked up the dog and kicked the already collapsing door inwards. As
I stood there, at the back of the warehouse, I found myself watching my
fiancée in a clinch with a guy in a crisp white suit. Chris.
I stood there, watching them kiss as if I had never existed in Kellys
life. Everything fell into place. Those bastards didnt want to leave
me the ransom at all. They probably saw her earlier with Cash-Money over
there, and thought it was an easy earner. All they had to do was follow
her to what they thought was their home.
Kelly saw me first, and took a step back.
"Valerie? Whats she doing here?" She quivered.
Chris turned to face me. They were both standing there, hand in hand,
staring at a prick in a vest with a stupefied poodle in his arms and some
womens lingerie on his head.
"Valerie? Oh thank god youre ok," he said. "Unhand
her, you beast."
This was too much to cope with. I took off my disguise.
"Oh fuck Gary?" Kelly whispered.
"I thought you were allergic to dogs."
It was not the most appropriate thing to say, but I had to clear things
up. I probably didnt need to ask. I knew the answer anyway
she had been lying to me all this time. Trying to throw me off the scent.
"You know him?" Chris asked her.
"She was my fiancée." I retorted. "Oh, and this
was your dog."
With that I returned down the fire escape to Sams battered Nissan.
I left the dog on the back seat, lit a cigarette and went to haul Sam
out of his position in the broken timber. He had seen me come out without
my stocking on, and he looked about to say something, but fell silent
when he looked at me again. I took the keys and drove Sam and his new
dog home. Silently. As I drove, I thought of Dad. I would ring them later,
I thought, when I got back. My folks always had something helpful to say.
H. (1st Year Student Leeds University)
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