Red Bicycle 17-18
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The garden centre was locked but Alexander had his own key. He parked the van outside the main entrance, pointing in the direction of the road, ready for him to make a quick getaway.
The small wooden building where the old woman operated the till was also locked. But Alexander had no desire to enter this area of Molloch’s tawdry business. He walked in darkness past the plant tables and the small garden statues – gnomes, birds, animals – left out overnight, towards a shed marked Employees Only. He entered a code, unhooked the padlock and went inside. It was here that the garden tools were kept, as well as four large cans filled with petrol – an emergency supply for the lawn mowers that were occasionally hired out to customers. Alexander unscrewed the cap of the nearest can and took it outside. He began pouring petrol around the base of the small wooden building, over the plants and empty tables that were used for the daytime displays. He went back and unscrewed a second canister, before carrying it towards the nursery building, situated beyond the storage shed. It was in here that Molloch kept his main stock – a rectangular high roofed metal barn housing several aisles of plants and shrubs. As he approached, he could hear movement from inside, as well as the soft hiss of a water hose. Molloch was inside, feeding the plants his mixture – the secret mixture that doubled their size, increased the intensity of their colour, and heightened the sweetness of their scent. Alexander took a deep breath, opened the door.
Molloch was standing at the rear. He was holding a plastic spray gun. The gun was attached to a hosepipe which, snaking over Molloch’s shoulder, was in turn connected to a plastic barrel filled with dark liquid. He didn’t acknowledge his employee’s presence, and this confused Alexander. Molloch was usually observant, well attuned. Eager to complete the task he’d set himself, Alexander began tipping petrol over the nearest aisles. Surely now, Molloch would take notice.
‘Don’t pretend you can’t see me, Molloch’ Alexander shouted. ‘I know what happened. I know what you did to Katya.’
The elderly man continued spraying. Alexander shouted again, the toxic stench of benzene invading the air. Why, Alexander wondered, was Molloch ignoring him ?
The canister was three quarters empty now. Alexander edged closer and closer towards where his employer stood. The elderly man had shuffled to the right-hand side of the nursery, still oblivious to Alexander’s presence. And yet the vapour was overwhelming – surely Molloch could smell it ? Alexander tipped the remainder of the petrol over the aisles, threw the empty canister in Molloch’s direction. ‘I know what you did, damn you!’ The canister hit one of the tables, sweeping several potted flowers onto the ground, before landing on the ground with an empty, metallic thud.
Still nothing. Alexander walked forwards. When he was close to the elderly man – no more than three feet away – he was struck by Molloch’s eyes. They seemed devoid of life, as if the spirit had been sucked out. And Molloch’s actions were robotic, seemingly programmed to spray plants and nothing more. ‘Molloch’ said Alexander. ‘Answer me, damn you!’
Alexander went up to him and snatched the plastic spray gun from his hand. Sure enough, this strange impression of Molloch – this automaton - continued to function as though the spray gun remained in its grasp, pulling an imaginary trigger. Alexander realised that he was looking at a shell – a husk – fashioned in the image of his employer. The nursery building fell silent.
Alexander peered into the plastic barrel. The liquid was the colour of rose wine, and the vile smell of it caused him to wretch. Whatever Molloch was, and whatever foul properties the liquid induced, Alexander was certain of one thing: all of it had to be destroyed.
As he turned to walk across the petrol sodden ground towards the door, he felt the air begin to churn. A sudden icy coldness descended that gnawed Alexander to the bone. He looked up: an incredible ferment was underway, the atmosphere swirling as if generated by deep, invisible currents. Alexander ran but the intensity of pressure made him stop, forced him to his knees. A howling wind now twisted the air. Molloch, he saw, had moved. He was standing in the middle of the aisle. No longer was he imitating his actions with the spray gun - he was facing Alexander. A whirling darkness, like the disparate parts of a typhoon, began to play out above him. And Molloch’s eyes had regained a semblance of life, a life force that seemed to inhabit the deepest recesses of evil. Molloch’s eyes were no longer blue but bright, burning red.
Alexander crawled towards the door. The intensity of the atmosphere was such that he felt as though he was trying to push against a brick wall. A dark shadow had now risen behind Molloch, a shadow that resembled the creature in the oil painting hanging in Molloch’s house. Alexander crawled some more. His plan had been to set the buildings alight from the outside. But his plan wasn’t going to work. He was still several feet away from the door. The bottles, matches, and tapers were in his bag. The stifling pressure of the whirlwind had left him at the mercy of whatever it was that now inhabited Molloch.
Alexander closed his eyes. He had failed. He had come to avenge Katya’s death only to be defeated by the forces that had killed her. His body was being crushed by the sheer weight of air. The howl of the swirling winds was distorting his mind. He began to pray, silently at first, then in a shuddering, grimacing whisper – praying for Natalya and Lukas; that they would remember him and cherish his love; that they would live in happiness far away from Molloch and the evil spirit that inhabited him. Using the last of his strength, Alexander then prayed aloud to the one true God of all things, and that Molloch’s crimes would one day be uncovered for all to see.
Suddenly the crushing weight he felt began to ease; the swirling winds fell calm. The giant shadow that had risen behind Molloch seemed to fragment into wisps of cloud. Molloch’s eyes were still red, but not the same piercing red as before. The pressure on Alexander was relieved. He pushed himself up from the ground.
Alexander ran to the door, opened it, slammed it shut. He began to breathe – heavy panting gulps of oxygen – before running to the shed where he’d left his bag. He took out the bottles and filled them with petrol. His hands shook; petrol streamed onto the floor. He could hear the sound of the whirlwind returning. The force that inhabited the nursery building was gathering its strength once more. When two of the bottles were half filled Alexander stuffed the nozzles with rags and tied them fast. He made his way again to the nursery building and lit the tapers with his lighter. Then he opened the door and launched the flaming bottles inside, praying as he did so that the fire would do its worst.
He woke in an unfamiliar bed. Light strained his eyes. Voices chattered, whispered. Blurred figures stood over him.
Alexander mouthed a few indecipherable words. His throat was agonisingly dry and his skin throbbed. His wrist and ankles felt unusually constrained.
A face came into view – female - along with the outline of a light blue uniform. He was lifted gently into a sitting position. Pillows were re-positioned behind his back; a cup of water set against his lips. For a moment Alexander drank greedily, then fell back exhausted. He attempted to raise his right arm and realised that he was manacled to the bed.
He remained in the prison hospital for several days. Each day a nurse came and rubbed cream onto his wounds. ‘What happened ?’ he asked. ‘It was the explosion’ she said. ‘You’ve suffered burns - superficial but burns all the same. It could have been a lot worse.’
He closed his eyes. Patterns of memory began to unfold: throwing the bottle filled with petrol into the nursery building; the combustible air igniting; the immolation of everything inside. Of course, he didn’t see what happened inside. A giant ball of fire and air tore through the nursery, the force of it hurling him onto the empty tables upon which the plants were displayed during the day. But Alexander knew what had happened. Nothing could have survived.
‘Molloch’ he said, almost to himself. ‘Mr Molloch is dead, I’m afraid’ said the nurse, answering Alexander’s unasked question. He jerked his arm and legs. ‘Is that why I’m chained ?’ he said. ‘Because Molloch is dead ?’ The nurse said: ‘Please, try and sleep’ and left him alone.
When he was strong enough a detective wearing a long grey mac pulled up a chair and sat beside his bed. He took a notebook and pen from his inside pocket and asked Alexander to make a statement ‘about the night in question.’ Alexander told the detective that he couldn’t remember very much. He remembered the spray gun; the shadow of the horned creature; Molloch’s red eyes. ‘Why did you set fire to the garden centre ?’ said the detective. ‘Because Molloch killed my sister’ Alexander replied. The detective listened patiently to the story of Katya, the hit and run driver, and how the person who killed her had escaped justice. ‘And what makes you think that Mr Molloch was the driver ?’ ‘Her bike told me’ Alexander said. ‘It was infused with her spirit. It kept leaving me clues – clues that led to Molloch.’ The detective nodded; a long silence ensued. Eventually he closed his notebook and said that would be all for today.
When Alexander was able to walk – his hands and ankles still chained - by himself, he was transferred to a prison cell where, he was told, he would remain until his trial. He said: ‘And what am I accused of ?’ ‘Murder’ said the chief prison officer. ‘And what about Katya, my sister ? Who will be held responsible for her murder ?’ The chief officer unclipped a large bunch of keys from his belt and opened Alexander’s cell door. ‘I don’t know anything about your sister’ he said. ‘All I know is that you’re accused of murdering a prominent businessman. That’s all I can tell you. I’m just here to do my job.’
Because of the charges against him, Alexander was kept apart from the other prisoners. He was allowed thirty minutes exercise each day in the empty prison yard. Otherwise, he spent his time alone in his cell with only a bible for company.
At the beginning of his second week a lawyer came to visit – a rather thin, pale faced young man, prematurely bald, wearing a scruffy second-hand pinstripe suit. He showed little sympathy for Alexander or the predicament he found himself in. His advice was to plead guilty in the hope that the judge would exercise clemency. ‘Your trial is scheduled for next week. There’s a national saint’s day later in the month, which is useful’ he said. ‘The judge who is going to hear your case has a track record of showing leniency if a saint’s day is close to a trial. Of course, things would be a lot easier all round if you’d murdered someone less prominent. Mr Molloch was well respected. He contributed much to public life. I’ll probably follow the line that you’re mentally unstable. After all, from what I understand, Molloch gave you a new house to live in and a well-paid job. So, mental instability is definitely your best defence. After all, why would anyone want to kill a person who’d been so generous towards them ?’
The lawyer scribbled some notes on a coffee-stained pad. Alexander said: ‘Molloch killed my sister.’
The lawyer sighed. ‘That’s another thing’ he said. ‘Don’t go shouting out stuff like that in the courtroom. It’s not relevant to your case and the judge will only take a dim view of it.’
‘But surely it is relevant to my case. I wanted revenge. Justice hasn’t been done.’
‘What evidence is there to put forward ?’ said the lawyer ‘other than the rather far-fetched story you’ve come up with about a bicycle that speaks.’
‘It doesn’t speak. It led me to Molloch. Because of the spirit of my sister. The least you can do is put my side of the story!’
The young lawyer snapped shut his black briefcase. ‘Believe me, you’ll be a laughing-stock if you pursue that kind of nonsense. Worse, I’ll be a laughing-stock. Do yourself a favour: if you want to avoid the hangman let me do the talking. Otherwise, I won’t be able to help.’
The lawyer stood and indicated to the waiting officer that his meeting with Alexander had ended. ‘I’ll see you next week in court’ he said. ‘You’ll be shackled throughout. Just keep your mouth shut and don’t make a scene. If we can avoid the death penalty, we’ll have something to celebrate. No other lawyer in the city wanted to represent you. I’m doing you a favour, remember that. I’m the only chance you’ve got.’
Next instalment: Red Bicycle 19-20 | ABCtales
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Oh dear! Poor Alexander, can
Oh dear! Poor Alexander, can circumstances get any worse for him?
I know I've said it before, but I'm loving your storytelling.
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I wonder how things will be
I wonder how things will be now the officials no longer get their 'special' floral arrangements?
Another riveting part, thank you Kilb
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A bit like insert, I was
A bit like insert, I was thinking about the judges who had previously taken Molloch's floral arrangements, and whether that will make a difference? As absorbing as ever!
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He could be flinging red
He could be flinging red herrings at us though couldn't he airyfairy?
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