Soho Set-up

A short story in 7 episodes by A.W. Rock

Episode 1:

I stumbled and jumped down, two steps at a time seemed safer than three, I had to reach the ground.
The cobbled yard was visible at the end of the final staircase when I fell.

I had felt good when I caught the underground to Oxford Circus and walked through Soho to Chinatown. I’d worked out in the gym and the sun was still warm enough to penetrate my leather jacket even though it was October.
After a dim sum lunch I had an espresso at a pavement café in Frith Street.

Later I emerged from the cinema having seen a thriller about an extortionist; it had rattled my conscience. I believed I’d moved on and the money had allowed me to forget.
I needed a diversion, it was easier than confronting my guilt.
The first bar was well known amongst Soho’s locals. I was welcomed by the barman, who without asking pushed a jug of water and a tumbler of whisky across the bar.
“Want a heart-starter?”, he asked, tapping his nose.
“This’ll do for now”, I said, diluting the whisky and taking a long drink.
It was in the third bar that I met the man. He was dressed in a drab raincoat, had dishevelled hair and was sitting on a stool hunched over an empty glass. He looked at me and looked away.

Episode 2:

When he eventually raised his head again his eyes were red.
“Strange life”, he said.
I didn’t know if he was talking to me.
“Depends on your perspective”, I said.
“Perspective converges into the distance but sometimes.. just sometimes it can kick you up the arse”, he said, looking straight at me.
“Want another?” I asked him.
He looked away, “Let’s go somewhere else.”
“Why not?” I said.
We walked in silence – the corrupter leading the corruptible.
We turned into an alley running east out of Soho Square. The entrance to the bar was a blank metal door – I thought I knew all the bars in Soho but this one was new to me.
The man pushed through to the counter. The other drinkers didn’t object – he was known here. He ordered three whiskies and pushed one along the bar to a lithe looking woman. He muttered to her then came over with the drinks.
Whenever I asked him a question he avoided it with another question. I couldn’t tell if he was drunk or if he was affecting his lazy drawl, but he was interesting enough to keep my attention.
I noticed that the girl he had bought the drink for had moved behind me so when it became my turn to buy I offered her a drink too.
She hardly looked at me when she refused but I couldn’t help noticing the look in her eyes. I stepped back to allow her to join the conversation.

Episode 3:

I’d had time to check her out without being obvious. She had an athletic rather than curvaceous figure. She was not beautiful but she exuded an air of confidence and it was that and the way she moved that made her attractive.
I had another whisky and my new friend asked if I wanted a toot.
I didn’t want to get out of it but I’d had enough to drink and I knew a little sherbet would help – I still wanted to succeed with this elusive woman, even if success was only measured in her accepting my offer of a drink and some conversation. I decided a small line could only help and when I accepted he tapped a small bottle on the bar and passed it to me.
“Snuff dispenser”, he said.
The man turned his back leaving me to boost my endorphins and wondering what to say to this attractive woman.
“Are you on your own?” I asked.
“That’s original”, she said.
“Okay, will you take me home with you?”
“You sound like a take-away meal.”
“What would you prefer, Indian, Chinese or me?”
She was gracious enough to smile, “I’m not hungry at the moment.”
“Perhaps we could work up an appetite together.”
She seemed unconcerned by my interest in her, “Just buy me a glass of champagne.”
We had a few more glasses and emptied my wallet before I assured her that if she had to go home to wash her hair I would dry it, and if she had a headache I had the Aspirin.

We walked through Soho to a single room above a hairdresser’s in Noel Street.

Episode 4:

I followed her up a narrow, creaking staircase that went on forever; she had a great arse. She unlocked a panelled door that looked as though it was last varnished when Queen Victoria reigned. The grey room was on the top floor and didn’t fit her; she did not belong here.
“Nice place.. did you design it?”
She ignored my question, “My turn to offer you a drink.”
“I’m not going to play hard to get.. have you got any whisky?”, I asked.
She knew where it was kept and poured two generous measures into cloudy glass tumblers.
I wandered back towards the front door checking if I could drop the latch and avoid any embarrassing intrusions, “Do you live here alone?”
I was feeling uneasy; was this a set-up or did she have a bloke who was away at the moment? As if to answer my question and before I could do anything about it I heard a key in the door.

Episode 5:

I glanced round looking for another way out but before I could do much about it my enigmatic friend from the bar slid into the room and stood with his back to the door; he was pointing a small revolver at me. He was still wearing the tatty raincoat but until now I hadn’t noticed the worn brogue shoes – the image of a country gentleman didn’t fit with the gun he had in his hand.
I started to calculate the odds. He was a wiry man but not allowing for the gun I reckoned I could take him. His eyes told me that he didn’t really want to do this and I wondered what was happening. Why me?
“You don’t know us, but we’re two of your victims”, he said.
“You’ve got the wrong man”, I said.
“You ruined our lives”, he was shouting.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about”, I said.
“I’ve been waiting for months for you to turn up.. they said you would”, his hand was shaking and the revolver was waving around.
“Just shoot him, Dad”, the woman said.
“Sit there”, he said to me pointing at a tatty, plastic chair.

Episode 6:

I sat. I could see that the four visible chambers in the revolver were empty so the chances were that the gun wasn’t loaded and at most there was only one usable bullet.
“I’m not who you think I am..”, I said, trying to sound calm, “.. before you do anything to make things worse just check me out.” I wasn’t confident enough to jump him just in case there was that one bullet left in the top chamber.
He turned to his daughter, “Look for some tape or string.”
She went into the kitchen and came back with a packet of cling film and a large knife. The odds were stacking against me and I had to do something before I was completely immobilized.
He moved towards me, “You’re going to suffer like you made us suffer.”
“I’ve never seen you before.”
“You might not have seen us but we’ve seen you”, the daughter said.
“You told my mother that you would save her.. you gave her false hope and we sold everything we could to keep her alive.. she gave you the whole lot. We’ve been looking for you since the day she died.. in agony”, she said.

Episode 7:

The man had tears in his eyes, “You stopped us living and now we are going to do the same to you.”
I knew who they were talking about. She had been a tall handsome woman and she’d asked me to help her, she needed me to help her to find a way out. I refused but she pleaded with me; so when I told her that I would solve her problem and how much it would cost she thanked me.
She told me that she didn’t want her family to know what was happening and not to mention the money; she begged me to keep it to myself. She told me she would give me all that she had if I helped her and repeated that she did not want her family involved.
When I betrayed her trust by asking them for more money they had to sell their house.
I had known she would never survive.
Now I had to find a way out. My mind was racing but I knew that whatever I said was not going to change their minds.
I leaped forward and punched the man hard in the face. He fell back but didn’t pull the trigger. I turned and kicked the girl; she staggered back and fell through the glass coffee table.
I ran out of the flat. I went through a door marked Fire Escape. I was outside on a metal staircase.
I stumbled and jumped down, two steps at a time seemed safer than three, I had to reach the ground.
The cobbled yard was visible at the end of the final staircase when I fell. I don’t remember hitting the bottom.

They say you never hear the shot that kills you.


More A.W. Rock – stories


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