Short Story: Either/Or

(from Get Out As Early As You Can)

All I had to do was cut his face.

I was doing the Evening Times crossword when Duncy rang. Clare was watching TV. It was about eight in the evening.

When I realised it was Duncy, I took the phone through to the bedroom. He told me what he wanted and I asked if I could think about it and call him back.

He said I could.

I thought about it and called him back two minutes later. I asked if I could sub-let the job to somebody else and take a third of the money myself.

He said no.

He said he was only asking me because he knew me.

I said I’d phone and let him know. I hung up and went back through to the living room.

“That was Duncy,” I told Clare.

“How’s he doing?” Clare was forty, a year younger than me, and liked to know how everybody was doing.

“He wants me to do a turn,” I said.

She laughed, then saw I wasn’t joking. “Who for?”

“He didn’t say. He’s paying a thousand. It’s a lot of money. It wouldn’t go amiss.”

She nodded, but didn’t say anything.

“What d’you think?” I asked her.

“It is a lot of money,” she said. She thought about it, then said, “It’s up to you.”

“We could be doing with a thousand,” I said. We didn’t actually need it, but it’d come in handy. The off-license we owned was only getting by, and our boy Stewart had just started at Glasgow University, which was costing us.

“It’s up to you,” Clare said again.

I took the dog for a walk, then phoned Duncy and said I’d do it. He said I’d get five hundred up front and the other five after I’d done my turn. But I’d have to do it soon.

I said I’d do it the day after tomorrow.

Next day, I went to the fishing tackle shop.

I wasn’t sure when to do it. I’d never heard of the guy, and Duncy wouldn’t tell me anything other than that he lived alone and usually worked from home. Sometimes it’s best to do it first thing in the morning, when they’re likely to think it’s the postman at the door. But that depends on who it is. If he knows the score and expects somebody to visit, early in the morning’s when he’ll be most wary.

Since I didn’t know one way or the other, I decided around lunchtime was as good a time as any.

Clare kissed me and said good luck before I left the house. I felt a bit nervous, but not very. It was ten years since I’d done a turn and I couldn’t remember if I used to feel like that.

The guy lived in Knightswood. I drove over there, along Great Western Road. I listened to Radio Snide, knowing that Clare would be listening to it as well.

It was blowing a gale.

The door to the foyer had an entry system. I thought of pressing the buzzer and saying it was the second post, but I was scared it might’ve already been. I waited to see if anybody’d go in or come out so I could grab the door, but nobody did. I pissed about with the lock, but I couldn’t do anything with it.

So I kicked it in.

One kick did it, but it made a hell of a noise. I went into the foyer and closed the door after me. I stood and waited, hoping nobody’d come out of their flat to see what the crash was. Nobody did.

My customer lived on the second floor. I climbed the stairs and found the flat. I got out the knife I’d bought in the fishing tackle shop and opened it. Then I rang the doorbell.

When I heard him coming, I stepped to one side of the door, just in case he was tooled up. But he’d no idea. He opened the door in his bare feet, wearing brown cord trousers and a jumper. He was about fifty, going bald, with a moustache. He’d a cigarette in his hand. I could hear the sound of Radio Snide coming from somewhere behind him.

I said his name, and when he said yes I drew the blade across his face. He just stood there and put his hand against his left cheek. A line of blood came from under the hand and ran down his neck.

“Oh, no. Oh,” he said. I saw he still had the cigarette in his hand.

Then I remembered what I was meant to be doing. I cut his other cheek, but he moved and the blade cut through his lip as well. He started to whine and at the same time I thought I heard somebody else coming to the door, though I probably imagined it. I kicked him in the balls and he staggered back into the flat and I pulled the door shut and ran down the stairs.

“Did it go all right?” Clare asked me.

“Fine,” I said. We were sitting in the kitchen. She’d just made some coffee. “I’ll see Duncy tonight and get the rest of the money. It went fine.”

“That’s good,” she said.

The next day, she left me and never came back. It was up to me, she’d said.

#ScottishFiction #CrimeFiction #TartanNoir #GlasgowFiction #BarryGrahamAuthor

—Barry Graham


Profile at Scottish Book Trust

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