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The International Writers Magazine: Love Ties Bind

The Councillor
Mark Robinson

‘Then why’re you here?’
Shit. He didn’t know. Looking down at the business card twisting in his hand, then up to the Councillor’s smug face; leaning back in that leather chair; feet crossed upon an oaken desk.
‘I need your help.’ Quiet, evaporated.

‘Excuse me?’ Another flicker of wanton venom.
‘I need your help.’ Louder, through staring eyes glaring. ‘My wife; she’s cheating on me.’ There, it was out. Open.

The Councillor, like a sprung bolt, dropped his raised feet and stood in one jagged motion. Leaning over the large desk, close so that some pungent odour, expensive enough to be scent, seeped into the other man’s lungs.
‘Then, Sir, you’ve come to the right place.’

He sat in the bar, wishing he’d never done this. Never called in to book the appointment. Never agreed a time with the pretty blonde receptionist. And never, ever miss-trusted his wife. She’d be here any minute. He checked his watch again then drowned his second whiskey and coke. Back away from the bar, behind the pool tables, dim in their shaded shadows.

Shit, he needed another drink. But if he went now... It was too late, she would be here. Laughter, so unpopular in his head, shook him, drew his stare from the doors to the bar again. And there he was; the Councillor. Over by the bar, laughing it up with the barmaid, on his third pint. Turning so that his back was to her, turning so they were now face to face. One smile. One glare. A spark igniting. Until she walked in.

Just like auto-reverse; the Councillor’s demeanour and posture adjusted, such as it did back in the town office. She was here, where he no longer was. If he didn’t leave soon, he was going to kill him. Right here in the bar. Right after he threw-up.

Watching his wife with him; The Councillor. A man he’d met twice but still couldn’t completely recognise and didn’t know. Watching her relax back against him, laughing and touching him. Viewed all through some slurred, detracted fun-house mirror. He, now a strange voyeur on himself; seeing his wife with someone else that should’ve been him. Something he couldn’t watch anymore. He really couldn’t do this. Not here tonight. But, then, he couldn’t move. Not now they were coming over.

The man slunk down low in the shadows. The Councillor, eyeing the table he was hiding beneath, pulled her over, whispering quiet through tilted teeth. Across to the pool table directly in front of her husband she couldn’t, or didn’t, care to see. Only that man did. Quite purposely. Guiding her to stand there, in the radiance of the orange pool table lamp. Half lit and anxious. While her new acquaintance slid around the outer wooden grooves to the opposite side. Just to watch and be watched from.

His back ached at the base. And his knees bruised the wood ingrained underneath. If he didn’t move soon, the bar of numb bone would scratch itself alive with knives. But he couldn’t. Set up and now broken, the coloured pool balls smacked and rolled upon the blue felt. And back here, away from the tinged light, his teeth stamped down hard on his jaw bone. Masking the ache of his spine. Seeing that wondering hand grope his wife. On her shot. And on his.
Now she was bent over in his unwavering eye line, caught on a silken rouge hint below her rising dress. A recent gift. Now betrayed and forgotten before him. His hands clutching and supporting his burning weight, slouched awkwardly on this seat. Wanting to kill or be killed. Angry and close to tears as that hand, with those fingers, slimed slowly along and down underneath. While she took aim, potting nothing but not moving.

The table slams his knees on impact. Those hands, and her grace, stall. They look back, distracted. But he’s no longer there.
The toilet door thumps shut behind him. His eyes sting and he misses the hard footsteps, hollow on the sleek floor tiles, lost behind the surge of splashing tap water. Until a grip, from those hands, threatens him from the row of sinks back against the stall walls.
‘Nothing has to happen.’ Calm, but shaking and itching through his dripping water skin. He tried backhanding it away. But that hand slapped him, hard on his already soaked skin. Caught in a second after a breath and a beat, lost there. Staring. Smelling her on that hand that hit him. Wondering whether to cry or hit back. But doing neither. Just standing there doing nothing.
‘Just walk away and I’ll take her home.’ It sounded like a question but he knew it wasn’t.
‘Okay.’ Broken, dripping with water in the gents. He left quietly, while the Councillor stayed behind to urinate.

‘It’s up to you, Sir, how this goes.’ He couldn’t believe this. Sitting here in the Councillor’s small town office, high above the traffic on a hot Wednesday lunchtime. He hadn’t shaved for several days. Hadn’t even been to work. And, although those eyes kept looking at his face, his stubble growth wasn’t an attempt to hide that sore red slap mark below the surface.

A brown package sat between them on that giant oaken desk top. Polished to a gleaming shine, sleek and strong, mixed with the heavy aftershave together in the room. He wanted to take it and destroy the contents. And the Councillor knew that. Just like he knew that he’d been fucked. Well and truly proper fucked. And he thought of the Buzzcocks. Remembering Pete Shelley and understanding him completely. Feeling like dirt. Feeling trapped and hurt. Unable to get those pictures away from his head. Waking up the next day and realising that they’d lied; both of them. She wasn’t there and the Councillor hadn’t brought her home.

‘Now we can end this all here.’ End it? How could he end something that’d barely even started? A smile. Across a tilted head. Raptor like. And he wanted to. He really did. Dropping his leg and rising from the visitor’s seat, low and artificial. And, he watched that head jerk away with sound. Of a side door opening. Those dark pupils flinching still on two men, entering the room. Then easing closed the door behind them.
‘So, how’s it gonna be? Cheque or cash?’ Double or nothing. He, actually, almost liked it.

He looked down at it in his hands. The package. Unopened. And took it through into the kitchen. Coldly addressed to himself, but baring no postmark. That bastard. Brought it right to the house. Pushing it right through the post box himself. So he dropped it down on the cluttered counter top. And stared down at it while he made himself a drink.

Standing there practising what he’s going to say, and how he’ll say it. In the mirror above the sink. Like he did that night, two weeks ago. Like he does every time. To the police. To her face. To her over the phone. To the Councillor. And his body guards, who stand there waiting for him, weeping, to sign across all his money to them. Redundant. Asexual. Impotent. Broke and alone. In the snooker club gents. In the small town office. In his own home.

And after the dreams he stays slumped on the sofa with the video he got in the post. She’s gone. Long gone now. He’s alone. Looking down at it, the company name on the label. Her name on the box. With compliments. But he can’t bring himself to destroy or watch it. And he can’t even sleep properly anymore. And can’t feel anything other than pain and raw frustrated, belittling, insoluble anger. So he just collapses in a bundle. Sobbing.

Trust and jealousy; opposite poles of the same magnetic field. One inextricably attacking and attracting the other. Trusting himself not to let his jealously attract some other betrayal. Another force of warped logic. But he couldn’t see it, not then. Not there in the Councillor’s office. Stepping in from the over heated waiting room of trade magazines, low blue lighting certifications and water coolers. Dipped Muzak and intriguing lip stuck smiles. Deployed into the arms of another defeat.

‘Mister Smith, how can we help you?’ An unbelieving, under-the-breath smirk at the obvious pseudonym. Even oblivious to why a solitary figure would refer to himself in the wider plural. Calculated.
Unsure. ‘What do you do, here?’ An open question. A chance to back out and go home to wait for his wife to come home.
‘Whatever is required, Mister Smith.’ He hadn’t even got up to introduce himself. Didn’t even stop to remove his crossed feet, and crawling socks, from the desk top. He didn’t even know the man’s name, apart from the receptionist’s referral to the man in the office as the Councillor. And that he was ready to see him now. The Councillor. Of what?
‘It’s my wife; she’s...’ And then he’d said it. That word. What he knew he was and what he hated in himself. Addressing him as Mister Smith, the first name that had entered his troubled head. And when he heard it, he hated it. And the Councillor knew this.

In the bar again. Waiting for his wife to appear, as he knew she would sooner or later. Not really a plan. More of an uncommon realisation. Seeing the bar after the first and second drinks, but not the Councillor. Only the door. Exasperated. Untidy and polluted. Untired. And unimportant. Wanting to leave and take it all back. Back to the office. To stop it there and break it off. But he didn’t, couldn’t. Weak-willed and hazy. Not a party to himself. Separated apart from it all now. Trapped, stuck to continue with this.

‘ the right place.’ He didn’t think so, not anymore. Mister Smith was gone now, replaced by Sir. On the lavish oversized desk, he noticed a manila folder. And the Councillor caught him, noticing this.
‘Your file, Sir.’ He was still standing over him, bearing down unbearably. The Councillor, with his mordant parfum. Expunging even the recent scent of sudor within. ‘Your wife, we surmised. At your booking session, outside.’ He reached out, eyes staying fixed, unmoving. Picking it up. But holding it just out of reach.
‘A few photographs. Nothing you wouldn’t already have seen.’ That tilted mouth. Mr Smith wanted to break it wide open.

Crashing into the toilets. Sweating alcohol and rage. But tasting only strong cowardice. All three stalls empty, he bent into the mirror and just watched his reflection. Wishing he didn’t have it. Wishing he could just smash this picture if only to show himself that he could do even that. Vent it; bring himself to release a valve. But instead he ran the tap and splashed his face once and looked on, dripping, saying to himself what he couldn’t say out there to that man, the Councillor. Or even to his own estranged wife. Cause that’s what she was now. Well, was she anything else? He couldn’t even face that fact even now. Filling his own twitching hands with tap water again. For the second time.

‘...or cash?’ He didn’t need to sit down because he fell. Back down. He watched them. They waited. Knowing how this would end. Just as the man opposite did; the Councillor. That anger and rage again gone. Replaced now, instead, with something else; a lesser.

Feeling safe, never anything else, the Councillor spilled the envelope’s contents. Not quite covering the monstrous wooden desk. Not even close. The pictures, undoubtedly from his file, paperwork, forms and a plain, boxed videotape.
‘Now, Mister Smith. You wanted my help. Now we’re asking for yours. Or, should I say, your wife’s.’ He’d not thought of her through all this. Not even since stepping inside here again. After the weekend. Following the answer phone message. Long since giving up on his wife’s return from the snooker club.
‘She - us. We need your money. Your wife, she promised my two colleagues here that you’d help us, help yourself. If you understand me, Mister Smith.’
‘You can cut the Mister Smith bollocks, alright.’ A tilted smile back at the two men bouldered in the far corner. They stared back unflinched. Maybe this happened a lot.
‘Fair enough. I take it you hold at least one credit card still on your person.’
His hand, unselfishly, reaching to his back pocket.
‘In his back pocket, gentlemen.’
With not even a glance backwards. He relented, they forcible took it from him.
‘Where is she?’
‘What d’you care? She didn’t.’ The Councillor found the papers he needed signatures for. Unclipped the expensive pen from his jacket pocket and pushed them across the table. One man was still behind the card holder.
‘How much do you want?’ A stifle.
‘All of it.’ And so he signed it all over as requested. Blinking warm peppered tears from his eyes.

Remembering all of this and knowing that she was gone. That he’d killed her. That, what was on this tape was her final pleas to him. For trust, not jealously. Finally.

He let his foot crash down onto the brittle black plastic casing. Kicking away the splinters and reaching for the spools. Not wanting for anything other than it all to go away. Ripping and pulling the reels of tape clear, over and over. Until he sees nothing in his eyes except film. And his wife.

Mark Robinson Jan 2008

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