The Border Part Eight (2 page)

BOOK: The Border Part Eight
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“We’ve been having a natter,” Caitlin continued, “and we think you’re the only person who can possibly succeed in getting rid of that place.”

“Me?” He turned to her, shocked. “In case you didn’t notice, I’m just some drifting idiot. I’m weird, remember?”

“But we love you,” she added, leaning closer and putting an arm around his shoulder. “Can you feel me touching you?”

A shiver passed through his body. “You’re cold, but… Yeah, I can feel you.”

“Good. I wasn’t sure if you’d be able to. What with me being dead and all.”

They sat in silence for a moment, Ben and the dead girl, both of them staring up at the vast night sky.

“It’s not so bad being dead,” she said finally. “Just, you know… I thought I’d throw that out there in case it helps with the easing of your concerns.”

A faint smile crossed his lips. “Thanks.”

“And do you want to know another secret?” She stared up at the heavens, her eyes filled with wonder. “The stars look so much brighter from the other side.”

II

 

“Hey buddy!”

“Hey… uh…
buddy
. What are you doing here?”

Setting his suitcase down on Tom Lanegan’s doorstep, Bob tried to work out how to explain.

“It’s a long story,” he said finally. “I can tell you the whole thing, but it’s the kinda story that needs a few beers first, you know? So how about it?”

Tom stared at him, clearly shocked.

“Plus,” Bob added, “I think I just left my wife, so I was hoping I could crash here. Maybe on your sofa, or in a spare room or something? You know, one guy doing another guy a favor, that kinda thing…”

He waited for a reply.

“So would that be cool?” he asked.

Tom paused, before shaking his head.

Bob stared at him. “It… wouldn’t?”

“No, Bob,” Tom replied, “you can’t stay here.”

“Well -”

They stood in silence for a moment.

“So,” Bob continued, “I mean, it’d only be for… I don’t know, a couple of weeks at most.”

More silence.

“Or less,” Bob added. “Maybe less.”

Silence again.

Bob cleared his throat.

Tom stared at him.

Bob opened his mouth to say something, but no words came out.

A car door slammed further along the street.

In the distance, a wolf howled.

“What made you think you could come to my house,” Tom said finally, “and ask for such a huge favor?”

“Well…” Feeling a little lost and hopeless, Bob was starting to realize that he’d misjudged the situation. “I just though, you know, we -”

“I’m your boss,” Tom replied, interrupting him. “I make an effort to get along with you, just like I make an effort to get along with all the people who work under me, but I’m sorry if you’ve mistakenly come to the conclusion that we’re friends, because we’re not. It was never my intention to make you think that I considered you a friend.”

“But…” Bob paused. “You invited me to that club…”

“What club?”

“The Border.”

“Never heard of it,” Tom said firmly, even though it was clear from the look in his eyes that he was lying. “I have no idea what you’re talking about, Bob, and if I
had
invited you to a club, and if you’d subsequently failed to get in because of some deep-seated personal inadequacies that fester in your soul, then I certainly hope you’d be smart enough and professional enough to keep your mouth shut, because hypothetically speaking, if any of this stuff had happened at all, it would have been on the basis that you’re not a complete moron. Do you
understand
, Bob?”

Silence.

“Do you understand?” Tom asked again. “Is that concept simple enough for you?”

“Well… Yeah, I guess, but…” Bob paused again. “I really, actually, could use a place to stay, even if it’s just for
one
night.”

“There’s a perfectly good motel at the edge of town.”

“Sure, but -”

“What’s it called again? The name’s on the tip of my tongue. I believe you used to take Candy there sometimes, for your little not-so-secret trysts.”

Bob opened his mouth to reply, but no words came out.

“Candy?” Tom called out, turning and looking over toward the stairs in his house. “What was the name of that motel Bob used to take you to when the pair of you were going at it?”

Silence.

“Candy?”

“The Sun Palace, I think,” Candy’s voice replied suddenly, sounding a little hesitant.

“The Sun Palace,” Tom continued with a smile, turning back to Bob. “That’s the one.”

“You’re…” Bob frowned. “You’re wearing a bath-robe.”

“I am,” Tom replied.

“And Candy’s…” He stared up toward the door to Tom’s bedroom. “Oh.”

“And I have to go out very soon,” Tom continued. “I’m going to the… Well, I’m going to have a few hours with some friends in town, and before that I need to entertain Candy, so I’m sure you’ll understand that I really don’t have time to stand around here talking to you.”

“Right.” Reaching down, Bob picked up his suitcase. “Sure. Of course not.” He paused. “Goodnight then, Tom.”

“Goodnight, Bob.”

Bob looked up toward the bedroom door again. “Goodnight, Candy,” he called out.

Silence.

“Goodnight, Bob,” her voice replied awkwardly.

Turning, Bob took a couple of steps toward the sidewalk, at which point he heard Tom’s front door slamming shut. Glancing back, he realized he could also hear Tom running up the stairs, no doubt to rejoin Candy in the bedroom. A moment later, he heard Candy laughing. No, not laughing…

Giggling.

“What about me?” Bob asked plaintively. “Jesus Christ, you pair of…” Sighing, he turned and walked back to his car.

***

“Come to bed,” Ruth said, standing in the doorway. “Alex, it’s late.”

Not turning to her, Alex continued to look out at the dark town.

“Another of those nights, huh?” Ruth asked, making her way over to him. “Can’t sleep?”

“Sometimes I think I hear music,” he whispered. “Sometimes I think I feel the ground vibrating under my feet. Is that weird?”

She frowned, and for a moment they stood in silence. “Well,
I
don’t hear music,” she told him finally, “and I certainly don’t feel the ground vibrating. I think maybe you just have a very vivid imagination, and you can’t accept that sometimes everything is okay. You nee to learn to switch off.”

“But what if I missed something?” he asked, his eyes fixed on the dark scene. “What if there’s something out there and in all these years, I never noticed? Like a bear that’s been so busy protecting her cubs, she hasn’t noticed that the cubs themselves are turning into…” He paused again. “What if I’m that Momma Bear? What if I’ve been a blind fool and -”

“Alex, please, you’re not a Momma Bear…”

“I can hear it,” he continued, swallowing hard. “Finally, I can hear a kind of dark pulse beating beneath the town. It’s real, Ruth. It’s real and it’s out there and…”

His voice trailed off.

She waited for him to finish, before finally putting her arms around him from behind and holding him tight. She clasped her fingers together, settling them on Alex’s belly.

“Alex,” she said calmly, despite a hint of irritation in her voice, “it’s getting late, you’re not any kind of bear. Well, maybe you’re one kind, but the good kind, the kind I want to join me in bed. So if you -”

Stopping suddenly, she realized she could feel something warm dripping onto her hands as they rested on her husband’s ample belly. When a second drip fell, she began to peer around him to take a look, just in time to see another drip of blood falling. Gasping, she let go of her husband and stepped to one side just as he fell back, his whole body trembling violently as blood poured from his nose.

“Alex?” she stammered, dropping to her knees and trying to take hold of him, even as the shaking intensified. “Alex, what’s wrong? Alex!”

***

Shoving her bag into the locker, Katie paused for a moment. All day, she’d been feeling distinctly uneasy, to the extent that she’d almost canceled her shift and stayed at home. Now, however, she knew there was no turning back. Simon would already have seen her on the CCTV monitors, and she figured she might as well earn another night’s pay. Besides, she’d been thinking about her plans and she’d come to realize that she could just about afford to leave Bowley already.

With a sense of relief, she told herself that tonight would be her last night at the Border.

Her last night in Bowley.

She frowned. Bowley, the Border… In her mind, they were starting to seem like the same thing. Sometimes she felt as if one day she’d go so far down into the depths of the Border, she’d open the final door and find herself in the town square. That, she felt, would be the kind of irony she enjoyed, even though she knew it was impossible. The Border was just a club, albeit one that took itself a little too seriously.

Closing her locker, she walked naked along the corridor until she reached the door to the office. She paused for a moment, feeling a knot of anticipation in her chest, and then finally she stepped inside. Sure enough, Simon was at the desk, and sure enough he glanced at her briefly and then looked back down at his paperwork as if he wanted to pretend everything was normal.

“Hey,” she said finally.

“Hey,” he replied, turning to another page in his notebook. “You’re late. The other girls started their shifts half an hour ago.”

“Sorry, I -”

“No excuses.”

“Sorry.” She paused, before making her way over to the desk. “I just wanted to say that -”

“You should get down there,” he continued, turning to yet another page. “Time is money and money is time. Remember?”

“Sure, I just…” She felt she had to say something, to somehow make the situation right, but she didn’t know where to start. She also felt that if she told Simon she was planning to quit the Border, he might make some big show of affection to get her to stay, and that was the last thing she wanted. She just wanted to slip away at the end of her shift and disappear with a hint of mystery. “So I’ll get down there, then,” she said after a moment, heading to the door in the corner.

“I was joking, you know.”

She opened the door and glanced back at him. “When?”

“All that stuff I said the other day, after the funeral. You
do
realize I was joking, right?” He paused, still not looking at her. “It was a test.”

“It was?”

“I wanted to make sure that you’re loyal. I do it to all the girls. Don’t ask them about it, though, because I make them pretend it never happened. You should do that too. It’s part of the test.”

“Oh.” She paused, painfully aware that he was lying but not wanting to cause a scene. “Sure. I mean, I figured it was a joke or something like that. It had to be, otherwise it’d have been completely ridiculous.”

“Completely.”

“That’s good, then.”

She waited for him to say something else, before realizing that he was studiously ignoring her. Turning, she made her way through the door and then pulled it shut, before taking a moment to gather her composure and then heading down the steps. Loud music was blaring from nearby speakers, and when she got to the bottom of the steps she saw that several customers were already in place, while naked girls served drinks and sat with a few of the visitors. Making her way across the red-walled room, Katie smiled at a few of the customers and exchanged some pleasantries, but she didn’t stop. After all, as a girl who worked down on the seventh level now, she had no time to waste up on the first.

The first level seemed so tame now. Almost pitiful.

“It really sounds crazy down there tonight,” Olivia said a few minutes later, down on the sixth level, as Katie made her way to the next door. “I think you’re going to be busy.”

Katie smiled, but Olivia’s comment only made her feel more nervous. She’d quickly become used to the things that occurred on the first level, and the second had been pretty easy too; it was with the third level that she’d begun to struggle, and the sixth had almost killed her. The pay was good, though, and she’d been able to take regular nights off to recover from any injuries she sustained. Stopping at the next door, she took a deep breath and tried to brace herself for one final night of action.

“Dear God,” she whispered, repeating the ritual that she’d begun to use in an attempt to stay calm at the start of each shift, “please let me get through this. Please -”

She paused, before thinking of the money. That was all that really mattered. With the money, she’d be able to escape, to get out of Bowley and never look back.

With a trembling hand, she opened the door and stepped through. The music was even louder now, and before she even knew what was happening, several figures lunged out of the pulsing red haze and grabbed her by her arms, pulling her down the steps.

***

“I feel so bad about Bob,” Candy whispered, staring down at her hands in the stark bathroom light. She was halfway through getting dressed, with only her shirt and socks left to go, but suddenly a wave of sadness had settled in her soul and, with no other obvious sources, she figured the problem had to be Bob. “Maybe I should talk to him…”

She paused, before looking over her shoulder, toward the door that led through into Tom’s dark bedroom. “Do you think I should do that?” she called out.

“Do what?”

“Talk to Bob.”

“Why?” From his tone of voice, he seemed to find the idea highly amusing. “Forget him. He’s human garbage. He’s a complete waste of time. Why would anyone talk to a man like Bob unless they had no choice?”

“But he’s
sad
,” she continued. “I dunno, I spent a lot of time with him, I feel like I don’t want him to get too down.”

“You’ll be telling me next that you love the idiot.”

BOOK: The Border Part Eight
4.2Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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