Dead Right Hand
He sits at the bar and stares at the glass in his hand. He’s been nursing this pint for nearly an hour, but he can’t afford another. He keeps hoping one of his old mates will turn up and stand him one. Only his old mates don’t want to know anymore…
It’s been three months since Bobby got out of Risley and he’s starting to get desperate. He owes a lot of people a lot of money. Most of them will wait, but not Julian. Julian’s gonna want paying, and soon. And Bobby doesn’t need any kind of reminder what happens to people who don’t pay Julian.
Foie gras. What the French do to geese, Julian and his lads do to bad debtors. There’s a long tube involved, and hot fat from the fryers at The Captain’s Table, The Salt & Battery, or The Codfather. Julian made his fortune with a chain of chippies long before branching out into… other activities. The lads keep the fat hot so it goes down nice and smooth. Some smartarse in Risley told Bobby your stomach swells up to twelve times its normal size before it goes pop. That’s a hell of a lot of chip fat.
It’s not as though Bobby hasn’t had the chance of work. His parole officer got him jobs in the warehouse at MFI, driving for a courier, and mucking out the pigs at a farm in Pontefract. Bobby’s temper lost him all three. The prison shrink kept telling him he had anger management issues. Bobby told the prison shrink to go fuck himself. Besides, none of those jobs were going to earn him the kind of money he needed to pay Julian back, even if Bobby was a prudent saver.
He stares up at the TV set in the corner of the bar. Ted Reed, the MP for Harrogate and Knaresborough, is giving a speech. Thank fuck the sound is down.
“Not a fan of our future Prime Minister?” says the bloke to Bobby’s right. Big fucker with a Ben Affleck goatee and those glasses that look like a windscreen with the wipers stuck halfway. Bifocals. Bobby considers for a second telling the guy where to stick it (after Risley, big doesn’t mean anything to Bobby), but then he figures this might be worth at least a drink. After all, he dined out on these stories well enough in prison.
“Went to school with that knob-jockey. Harrogate and Knaresborough, my arse – he’s a Keighley lad, just like me.”
“Well, he is always bragging about his working class roots.”
“Yeah – well, I guess you’re looking at those, mate. You’re looking at the bloke what twatted our future PM on a regular basis when he was a lad. Stories I could tell…”
Bobby sighs. Some people you really have to spell it out for.
“But there he is, swanning round Harrods on his lunch hour – and here’s me, can’t even afford a second pint.”
Much later in the evening, the bloke – whose name is George – asks Bobby if he’s looking to earn some serious money.
“How serious we talking?” asks Bobby, clinking the ice in his third Jack and Coke.
“How serious does a hundred thousand pounds sound?” asks the bloke.
Bobby snorts the booze back down his nose. It’s the best laugh he’s had since he got out. The bloke isn’t smiling.
“You’re pissing me!” says Bobby. “You know what I’d give for that kinda dough?”
“Your right arm?” asks the bloke, and Bobby starts laughing again.
“Mate, you can have me right nut!”
“That’s OK,” says the bloke, lifting his own right arm up onto the bar so Bobby can get a good look. It thuds when he lets it go. “The arm will do.”
Six weeks later, Bobby is flirting with Ange, the little blonde dayshift nurse they’ve got looking after him at the hospital. Of all the nurses, he likes Ange best. She’s mucky.
“So, you reckon you’ll be able to use this new arm of yours for… the important stuff in life?” asks Ange, leaning over to fluff Bobby’s pillows; making sure to give him a good view of her own.
“Give me something to try it out on,” he says, pinching his new rubber fingers after Ange’s boob.
He tells her a story about this bloke he used to bunk with in Risley, Gerry Southall. Gerry was going with this lass from Shepley. Weird looking girl, but she was good with her hands, if you know what I mean. Anyway, this one night, Gerry and his bird are in the backseat of Gerry’s Cortina, somewhere up Emley Moor, and the lass is giving Gerry a hand like, when suddenly Gerry screams, “Eurrrghhh!” and rips his dick away from her sharpish. Turns out she only had two fingers… and Gerry had only just noticed.
Ange laughs and Bobby thinks again how this has been the easiest hundred grand he’s ever earned. (Like he’s ever earned anything near that before.) Although strictly speaking he’s only had half so far; he gets the rest once he’s out. He wonders how long that’ll be, because even with Ange and the other girls to keep him company, he’s starting to feel like a prisoner again. Still, this was all part of the deal, so he doesn’t want to kick up too much of a fuss. They don’t want him leaving until they’re sure the transplant has taken (though he’s not seen George since he arrived, so he’s no idea how that’s going), and that Bobby himself is fully proficient with his new prosthesis.
Other caveats included a non-disclosure agreement and complete anonymity clause – basically they don’t want him telling nobody about the operation, the money, the agreement, nothing. Fair enough. When people ask, he’ll tell ‘em he lost it to a shark. Come over all hard, like Robert Shaw in Jaws. Won’t do his rep any harm for people to think Bobby’s taken on a great white and lived to tell the tale. He’ll dine out on that one very nicely, thank you. After all, no point squandering his new fortune. That money has to last him a long time.
Bobby scratches at nothing and decides to sleep again.
A couple of days later Bobby’s taking his constitutional round the gardens when he hears the voices. This is odd, because apart from Ange and the other nurses, and the physio who pops in twice a day to help him adjust to living with the prosthesis, Bobby hasn’t seen or heard anyone else in all his time at the hospital. He’s worked out by now that he’s the only patient here (Ange told him George was transferred elsewhere, though maybe that was just to stop Bobby trying to see him), but he also knows he’s being paid not to ask any questions. Still, a hundred k’s a lot of cash, even for your right arm, and there wasn’t anything in Bobby’s contract about curiosity. Or eavesdropping…
“What I’m telling you is, the immunosuppressants have done everything they can to slow the inevitable rejection process. Meanwhile, they’re leaving you open to all kinds of other dangerous infections…”
Big words, thinks Bobby. Must be the surgeon. Weird how in all this time he’s never even met the bloke that removed his grip, his fist, his point, his throw, his catch, his flex, his wank. The knuckles that broke Roger Hardy’s nose when he was thirteen, the fingers that slipped up Lena Lidney’s snatch when they were twelve, the thumb that cocked the safety off the gun that shot Barney Lawers when Bobby was nineteen. Your first time is always best. Not to mention the palm that pushed Ted Reed’s face into dogshit, and down a hundred piss-stained lavvies. Ha – no wonder the fucker was so gung-ho for that anti-bullying campaign when they made him Education Secretary.
The doc keeps talking, and Bobby has to concentrate to keep focussed. Why they need to keep him so doped up all the time, so long after the op… just another of those questions nobody seemed to have a straight answer for.
“You’ve gained limited motor functions in the arm, but that’s as good as it’s going to get.” Bobby tries to get a proper look at the sawbones through the rhododendrons, but worries they’ll clam up if they see him and he’ll never find out anything.
“So it has to be today,” says the other voice, the one Bobby recognises immediately. It’s George. The new owner.
“If you’re still going through with this…”
“You know I’m going through with this, Patrick. I didn’t come all this way to give up now. Today fits the plan anyway. I know where he’ll be. I know where I’ll do it. I’ll be back here tomorrow morning.”
Something in George’s voice then. Something Bobby has heard before, though he can’t place where. Something Bobby doesn’t like the sound of one bit.
“Just have our patient ready for the second operation. Once it’s done, I don’t want to keep this arm a moment longer than I have to.”
That night, in the changeover between Ange and Sharon, the slightly-less-mucky-but-he-still-would-given-half-the-chance nightshift nurse, Bobby runs. He’s off the dope – whatever they had him on, he slid the tablets under his tongue when Ange gave him has last dose, and coughed them up while she was getting him more Lucozade. He still feels woozy, but the murk’s starting to clear. Besides, he can’t wait any longer.
Second operation? No thanks. He knew this gig was too good to be true. Losing the arm was one thing… fuck knew what they’d want from him next. The fifty k they’d already given him would set him up fine, he wasn’t waiting round to collect the balance.
Getting over the wall at the end of the gardens with only one useful arm isn’t as easy as it might have been (stupid prosthetic lump getting all tangled up in the ivy), but no way he risks going out the front now. Outside the hospital, which turns out to be an old Victorian townhouse on a long, tree-lined road of the same, Bobby finds himself in a moneyed suburb that really could be anywhere. It was dark when George drove him down here, and Bobby had slept most of the way, having spent a few days prior to the op running up his new benefactor’s tab. Drank enough free alcohol to almost make up for those long sober years in Risley.
He curses; shaking his head to clear the fog and trying to find a car he can rob without drawing attention. Headlights prowl the street and Bobby ducks into the shadows. They might be out looking for him already. Finally he finds a Mini Metro, parked up a little side lane past the bus stop. Hazel Grove, the bus route locates him. Where is that, Manchester way? He reckons he’s got an hour, hour and a half’s drive back to his flat, and he doesn’t want to waste any more time looking for something faster. He’s got to get home, get his cash, get out of Dodge before they send someone after him. 50 grand, the hospital, doctor, nurses, physio – this is one big deal. George – or whoever’s behind all this – has very deep pockets. If they catch him now… shit, he’d rather take his chances with Julian and the Foie Gras.
Half an hour later he’s pushing the Mini up to ninety on the 62, cursing the rubber hand that rests on the steering wheel like a loose floorboard on a rickety joist. He should have known. He should have known! All the way home, his mind ticks faster. Should he even be risking going back for the money? No, he has to take that chance – otherwise, this was all for nothing. His arm – they took his fucking arm, man! He wasn’t losing out on the money too.
His whole street’s cordoned off. The cops are everywhere. This is a bigger deal than Bobby could ever have imagined. Bile in his throat, that fucking itch on an elbow he no longer has, the thump like someone’s pounding a gong in his chest. He wants to turn the car around and keep on driving. Smart thing to do. Keep on driving till he’s in Scotland. Far as he can go. Somewhere no-one’ll ever find him. Get on a plane. (What if they’re watching the airports?) But even more than that, he needs to know. He needs to know just how bad this gets. He still has no idea.
Even at 3am, the streets are rammed. Neighbours, gawkers, press, the filth. Pressing up against the cordons, buzzing speculation, some of them still in their fucking dressing gowns! He keeps well away from anyone who might recognise him, but gets as close as he can. There’s an old man resting on a bollard, his hands crossed on top of a walking stick. Bobby asks him what’s going on.
“Nobody knows, lad. Best guess – it’s something to do with the assassination.”
At first the word doesn’t register. “Assassination”? That’s not a real world word, even for someone like Bobby. Even for someone who’s killed people, and worse. Even for someone who’s been inside. It’s a history word, a Hollywood word. JFK, the IRA, Martin Luther fucking King… the gong booms louder than ever.
He stares at the old man, but can’t bring himself to ask the question. He doesn’t need to.
“Bloody hell, lad – which rock have you just crawled out from under? Somebody shot that Ted Reed this afternoon, right outside his house in Bayswater. Broad daylight! They reckon he was gonna walk that election an’ all… not anymore. Poor bugger.”
Bobby isn’t sure how he gets back to the car, but somewhere along the way he throws up. He can still taste the sick in his mouth now. He leans on the roof of the Metro with his good arm and spits chunks into the gutter. His head is gone. He’s been in trouble before, but nothing like this. You can’t think your way out of something like this. You can’t even start to make sense of it. How bad does this get?
When the headlights slide over his face, he knows the answer is: worse. He doesn’t move, doesn’t turn, doesn’t look; not even when the car doors slam and he hears their footsteps in the street.
Finally, he has to turn.
It’s George. George, who’s one big fucker to start with, let’s not forget – George with three other guys who make George look like a bantam surrounded by heavyweights. George, with a gun in his hand. In Bobby’s hand. How bad does this get? We’re off the scale.
“Bobby, we need you to come back with us now. There are still things we need to do. You can’t run out on us now, Bobby. I’m sure you don’t need me to explain why…”
“You,” Bobby says, weighing up his chances with the four of them. Yeah, right. “You shot Ted Reed.”
“Well, I’m afraid we were well past forcing his head down the lavvy, Bobby.”
Bobby stares at the gun. “You shot him with my hand?”
“I had to be the one who pulled the trigger.”
The heavies close in. Instinctively, Bobby raises the prosthesis, curling the fingers into a hopeless fist. He laughs at himself. Pathetic.
“You think you know Ted Reed, Bobby? You went to school with him? You’re the bloke what twatted our future PM on a regular basis when you were a lad? You don’t know shit…”
Two of the heavies grab Bobby, hard. One takes tight hold of his left arm, the other twists that sham appendage way up Bobby’s back, shooting pain up into his shoulder where it’s still really him. He doesn’t struggle. What’s the point?
“Stories I could tell you about Ted Reed, Bobby,” George says, stepping closer, handing the gun off to the spare thug. “Did you know he used to be a Samaritan? He used to volunteer nights, helping the lost and lonely. Ha!”
George splays Bobby’s former hand in front of his face, flexing the fingers that slipped up Lena Lidney’s snatch when Bobby was twelve, then makes a fist just like the one that broke Roger Hardy’s nose.
“First time I spoke to him, I’d just lost my wife and my son. Pile-up on the M25. Later that night, I lost my arm… almost my life. I was the only one who ever got away from him. But Ted had an alibi – can you believe that, somebody prepared to lie for that bastard, even back then? And me? I was severely depressed… maybe even suicidal. Nobody was ever going to believe my word against his.”
George lifts Bobby’s former fist and coils it back over his shoulder.
“That was a long time ago, Bobby. Every waking hour since then, I’ve been planning this day. The good news is, this time tomorrow morning… you’re getting your arm back. Unfortunately, that’s as far as the good news goes.”
Bobby’s right fist slams hard into Bobby’s face, and after that there’s nothing else to tell.
Except… three months later, they find his body, in a disused quarry just outside Stockport. The inquest rules suicide, though questions remain regarding the injuries to Bobby’s right arm. The coroner speculates maybe Bobby tried to hack it off following the assassination, though the scarring’s like nothing he’s ever seen before. Still, when taken with the evidence they found following the anonymous tip-off on the night of Ted Reed’s murder, coupled with the childhood history between the two men, the verdict is pretty much conclusive.
The night they raided Bobby’s flat, the police found the murder weapon – with Bobby’s prints all over it – the scrapbooks tracing Ted Reed’s entire career – and an entire wall of telephoto stalker snaps…
No money though. But then, they had no reason to look for that.