4 X 4 (Part One)
Avowed enemy of ostentation that he was, Killin’s reflexes had always been triggered by the smallest things and the return to Bristol lowered his threshold to an intolerable level. Although the relocation took place at short notice, he had enough time to secure himself living quarters far enough away from his previous haunt in the city to be reasonably sure that he would not be found. by associates who would assuredly delight in doing him harm.
He found a functional flat in a block in Redcliffe. The only open danger he could see was the area’s proximity to the city centre. But he knew from previously that this was not a major difficulty. In his mind the city was like an overgrown organism, a serious of villages that had unexpectedly ballooned and been forced to morph into a single urban organism over the course of the last forty odd years. But the local demarcations remained. Even some people just south of the river in Bedminster took a fierce, perverse pride in staying away from the city centre, just several miles away.
From his balcony, when he scanned the cityscape at night, he could see a distorted compass of the whole area, at least in his mind’s eye with the shades of his own memories filling in what could definitely not be discerned in the darkness. Straight in front, down below, was the old hospital and the harbour water beyond. To the left and south was the deep scar of the diverted river running in its deepening channel. On one side of the estate, south beside the water was an old pub which he designated a ‘gutter shop’, meaning a rough place for locals of the lower order. It had perturbed him to discover it was vacant now (for it meant its disreputable denizens were elsewhere). The same was true of another pub near the estate, though on the other side of Redcliffe there were several establishments tainted with hipster bohemian knowingness. Above all else was the brooding, eternal landlocked spiritual ship of St Mary’s Redcliffe, calm and knowing in the night.
What worried - or irritated him - was the bloody car. On his necessary forays around Redcliffe the vehicle insinuated itself in his consciousness insidiously, partly by virtue of its distinct presence in incongruous places. The first time he saw it was when he wheezed out of the satisfyingly low pub on Redcliffe Way and went, for karma’s sake, to sit in the Quakers’ Graveyard down below. He stayed long enough to sober up slightly and marvelled at the imprisoned headstones which had been placed in a little barred cave at one end. Although it was a cosmetic prettification to leave the winder space available for profane visitors, he half constructed a scenario in which the non-conformists had been locked away for arcane and unfathomable purposes.
He was towards the end of enjoying this scenario when an unaccountable sixty year old Chinese woman came in and sat at a neighbouring bench for no good reason. Worse than that, she seemed to take undue interest in his passive presence. He had to leave quickly to escape her attention and stood for a while, taking his bearings, as the care thundered up and down the dual carriageway. It was five o clock and chock a block with traffic. There was a herd of human traffic down the hill, heading towards the city centre, and he was heavenly glad to be out of that workaday nonsense.
The bypass was busy and, as he walked out of the graveyard gated, he saw the four by four for the first time. It was a sickeningly white Range Rover, with an unnecessary array of additional lights and bull bars on the front and blackened rear windows. The vehicle was going even more slowly than the flow of traffic merited, as if to either draw attention to itself or to irritate the low line of cars crawling down the hill behind. As it trundled it emitted an exaggeratedly loud engine growl which would have been more permissible in a sports car.
Killin supposed that he gave a disdainful, sour glance as he was confronted by the vehicle at the exit to the redundant graveyard. Even before the look had fully formed on his face however the passenger window slid down and framed a face so startling that he nearly took a step back. A male head, bigger than nature would rightfully require, leered directly at him. His own derision withered in comparison to the enormous disdain displayed by this opponent. It was over before he knew it. He was so faint that he wished the Chinese woman was there to comfort him.
It was no trick of the imagination, was it? He registered sickly that the now (thankfully) vanished deformed face only had one isolated eyebrow above it. The outrage he felt at this fact was immense somehow. It froze him there while the car groaned away. One eyebrow. It felt like a malicious, obscurely aimed, but quite definite malignant attack. Furthermore there had been a barrage and babble of foreign insults aimed at him as the window closed. There was no similarity to any language he had ever heard, thank god: it was the sound of a mischievous sprite high on helium. Just before
Just before it vanished in a cloak of exhaust fumes he noticed, with contempt, part of its personalised number plate: SOD. Nothing could be more appropriate.
He forgot about the encounter in the following days as he was busy planning his own extrication from the terrible chaos he had engineered himself into in the first place. It was a week later when the vehicle reappeared. He had risked going in at midday to one of the sallow watering holes by the docks when he saw, among the glistening cobbles in the courtyard, a small scurrying human figure apparently scrambling for unseen items among a winged flurry of pigeons and other birds. The creature - hardly human? - was on hands and knees, apparent rummaging among the bread crusts in competition with the birds. It was so outrageously inappropriate that he involuntarily stood up and made a cry of protest which would be unlikely to be heard through the closed window.
But it was evidently heard, for when he was in the act of sitting back down (to escaped the amused attention of the few other customers in the bar), an object crashed against the window pane. After a befuddled moment both he and the landlord rushed outside to catch the perpetrator. There was no person present. There was, however, the remains of a pigeon (headless) on the ground. A smear trail of blood on the window and wall below showed its recent presence.
Across the water of the dock, outside a parade of upmarket flats, was a white Range Rover, engine running. They were just in time to see an undefined figure disappear into the back door. The window wound down and a distinctly aimed middle digit signalled across the water to them. Then it was gone and so was the vehicle.
‘Mates of yours?’ the landlord asked flatly.
‘Hardly,’ Killin said.
‘Don’t think you ought to drink here again, eh?’
‘Fair enough,’ Killin answered, then went home.
If he devoted any time to pondering on the significance of otherwise of the car and his occupants, it was not at this stage a prolonged concern. He merely ruled out the possibility (after some mental cross matching) that the car and its crew could possibly be any of his given enemies who were most certainly active in the city. It was a new and novel threat, but too obscure at the moment to engender more than minor irritation. But that nonchalance was due to shift quite shortly.
Killin did his food shopping at various small and obscure general store first thing in the mornings, always before 8 AM. Two weeks after the pub incident he had ventured, out of whimsy or caution, to a new location, further than he had ventured before. His two bags of groceries were piled on the counter, paid for, and the satisfyingly blank shopkeeper had vanished into a store room to look for an item that Killin belatedly requested. No one else was in the establishment. It was dark outside.
The satisfying, early morning city silence was suddenly shattered by a screech and bang. The Range Rover had mounted the pavement, in fact barring the exit. The back window - as per usual - slid down and what could only be described as a horribly pitted and mishshapen human rear end hove into view and pressed itself against the outside of the shop door. There it remained, leering at Kirrin.
As he could find no adequately standard response for such on occasion, Kirrin stood still for a minute to consider alternatives. The arse was unwavering. Then it seemed to swell and take over the whole frame width of the doorway. This dimensional shift triggered a flood of nauseous outrage in him. He flew behind the counter and tried to gain access to the stock room, not to flee, but to see if the shopkeeper had an appropriate weapon to counter the outrage. The door was locked.
Then he panicked. A banging happened, whether from him, inside the store, or on the door, outside the shop, he didn’t know. Killin keeled over and blanked out. When he came to, the shop owner was regarding him blankly and advising that he did not have the particular brand of disinfectant that he had requested. He had, thoughtfully, placed an equivalent brand in Killin’s hand. Killin told him what to do with it. He craned his head and saw there was nothing outside the shop now.
When he struggled to his feet he noted a degree of ice in the owner’s blank expression, with perhaps an edge of sardonic pity.
‘Maybe not shop here again,’ the man said.
Killin agreed and left.
It was almost inevitable that the car would come for him personally and this realisation made him flagrantly disregard his own safety on occasions when he was anywhere in conjunction with road traffic. Though he went about his necessary, private business (which had necessitated his return to the city) with the same aplomb as always, he rearranged his schedule so that he had more elastic free time. During this leisure he began using drink beyond the bounds of common sense and began to prowl the streets recklessly. He could not even have begun to tell himself what he was doing; only that he was looking for something. That was the first though, which lasted a week. Then it dawned on him horrifically, but with the crawling magnitude of a moving glacier, that he was actually hoping that something would find him. It would either be his traditional, tangible enemies, who hated him for a verifiable reason, or it would be the undefined occupants of the monstrous vehicle which seemed determined to do him wrong on a grand scale for no very good reason whatever.
Killin thought as he constantly walked, half drunk, through the twilight - Redcliffe, Totterdown, St Philips, Old Market - that he was goading the agents of darkness to come out at find him. But it only dawned on him later that he was actually exploring a third option. The realisation came when he was stationed, swaying, opposite Temple Meads railway station. He was dismayed to find himself less drunk than his habit had been in recent days. But the tempered sobriety at least gave him the opportunity to wonder exactly what he was doing there. He might have been contemplating flight by train to parts unknown, or he might have been waiting to see who might be coming off the incoming trains. There might be a third force of enemies arriving in Bristol at any minute to compete with the others.
‘Sentimental,’ he said to himself as he waited at the traffic lights, not crossing, though he knew it wasn’t the correct word. The traffic, in both directions, roared derision directly at him.
His eyes were fixed on the broad incline, where the road and the pathways headed up to the station entrance. The usual hapless assortment of commuters were squeaking their way up the slope, oblivious to the metaphorical hopelessness of their ascent, but Killin’s eye was drawn to a commotion heading down hill, against the human tide. Two transport policemen were trying to frogmarch a very inebriated third person down the hill, though his condition dissipated the vigour and dignity of their efforts. Finally they brought him to the small wall at the termination of their jurisdiction, adjoining the main road.
[To Be Continued]