Grubby little fingers brushed the little wings of dickybirds nailed to the plank which was fixed to the whitewashed wall, tickling their still fluttering wings as if attempting to elicit some desperate tune from their still quivering beaks.
“Still beating,” muttered Tomkin under his eggy breath.
The general shifted in his corner.
“Not for long,” he retorted, with an air of get-on-with-it as he waddled out of the shadows. It was nigh on for dawn; chinks of grey light were squeezing through the grime–smeared old sash window and illuminating little squares of fag-ends and tissues on the bare basement floor.
The general brought his big arse down on one of two buckling crates placed either side of a beaten up old coffee table, its fake-wood plastic surface peeling and curling, giving up its chipboard guts. On the table stood five jam jars containing a viscous black liquid, from which feathers and beaks protruded, and sticky rings bore evidence of their having been picked up and stirred, slammed down, added to, stirred again and jolted throughout the previous night’s dark ceremonies.
“Come, to the Altar of Magicking Wordiness and Creationing of the Nasty!” barked the general, banging a fat hand down on the table so the jars jumped and slopped.
Tomkin snatched a bird from its nail and slipped it inside his parka as he scuttled and loped like a chimp round the floor, swinging his arms and dragging his hands, scooping up handfuls of old magazines and spine-broke books that lay strewn across his path to the table.
“Quick! Quick!” urged the general, “the dawn is upon us and we have words and names to make and bring down.”
Tomkin banged his shins into the table, flung his tomes and editions up in the air, and the general smacked one hand down again at random, trapping a loose-leaved hardback under his palm. Tomkin bent down so his nose touched the cover, and flipped it open, took a piece of string from his pocket, tied the bird on and squeezed the little thing over the exposed page.
He let it swing. Blood dripped.
Where it fell, Tomkin looked, saw the words, and squealed them out, giggling, drooling, squirming on his haunches like he was busting for a piss.
The general repeated the words in more sober fashion: an intonation if you like. He dipped a fat finger into one of the jars and described them across the surface of the table. He was done quick, for time was of the essence, but they needed more power, more life, something of themselves, before it could be transcribed and taken out.
The general heaved himself up and waddled his way behind Tomkin, flipped open his dressing gown and pushed himself onto the little man.
“Quick now. More for the mixture.”
And so it came to be that Tomkin poked his misshapen little head out of the alley and peered up the still empty high street, streaked by long early morning shadows stretching out from bus stops and buildings and zebra-cross beacons.
“Ready for the off?” barked the general from behind, fingering his dressing gown cord, tapping one tasselled end against his rotund belly.
Tomkin held up a grubby little hand, its fingernails all black and broken from digging into things best left undisturbed. The fingers closed and twisted before the general’s bleary eyes to form a thumbs up.
“Now’s the time!” squeaked Tomkin.
For now he saw - the street was no longer empty: the bus stop had gained one sole occupant. He was a tallish man, smart shirt and trousers, a small bag clasped in front of his knees. He stared absent-mindedly at the floor, still not awake to the new day.
“On with the show then,” ordered the general.
Tonkin shoved one hand down the stained front of his trousers, rummaged for a while, wincing, yanking his baggy strides up beyond his plastic sandals revealing dirty white shins ringed with sores.
More winces and half-smothered yelps heralded his producing of a screwed up ball of paper from his nether regions.
“On with it! On with it!” urged the general, and his untidy yellowish walrus moustache tickled the top of Tomkin's head.
Tomkin peeked out once more up the high street, then began to prise open the ball of paper. He tugged on two opposite corners, pulling it out to its foolscap entirety, then set to flattening it out on the bricked alley wall. He soon lost himself in his work, beating at the creases, squeaking like a woodland creature, catching his breath, quick and shallow, until the general cuffed him briskly round the back of the head, bringing Tomkin back to the game.
One more peek; a final check. Then, apparently satisfied with both lay of land and weather conditions, and clipping the paper tightly between thumb and forefinger, he held it out, arm stretched.
And let it go.
The lightest of breezes brushed his mean little face. But it was just enough to catch the scrawled on paper and it fluttered up the high street.
It flittered along with the early morning litter, the fish and chip wrappings and yesterday’s news, and the leaves blown from near-bare fume-blackened street trees.
Right up to the bus stop.
And despite this traffic of detritus it was this one piece of paper set loose by Tomkin that flapped round the feet of the would-be commuter like a frenetic paper puppy dog eager for attention. Inevitably, it caught his eye, and he bent down to pick it up.
From their alleyway vantage point Tomkin and the general clutched at each other and held their breath.
Their man held the paper out in front of him, frowning. For one long second, maybe two, he stood like that; something thereupon held him, drew him in. The general gripped Tomkin’s shoulder in anticipation.
The man dropped his briefcase; it slipped from his fingers and fell at his side, disowned and forgotten. He shuffled uncertainly further into the bus stop, the paper held loosely in one limp hand.
He dropped to the bench, his head now bent so he stared blankly at the ground, still incredulous, still confounded, but something finally working its way up, coming through. He put his free hand to his head, frowned again as he took one last look at the piece of paper as if for confirmation... and howled.
It was a howl that ripped the morning silence, flushing pigeons out of their gutter roosts and into the sky, and tearing past Tomkin and the general, who screwed up their eyes against its onslaught, pulling their lips back to bare their teeth in victory grimace.
As the terrible sound’s last echoes rebounded down the alley Tomkin and the general watched, gleeful, as their man sat all screamed–out and spent, a husk. he dropped his head down between his knee, and then slid towards the cold morning pavement as moans and blubbering, half-formed incoherent words were whipped from his lips by the fresh morning breeze. The paper he still held lightly between thumb and finger was finally freed to flitter an inch above the pavement before blowing up and away, leaving its victim lying crumpled and still like a doll in the corner of the bus stop, a heap of broken man.
Tomkin piped up: “Today Lavender Hill. Tomorrow… the world?” He rounded this off with a woof, a squeak, and jerk of his neck. Chicken-.like.
“Tomorrow the Kings Road,” muttered the general, “We have to get up early. Home to bed and spells and spunk, and put the cat out Tomkin.” The general revolved his bulk back in the direction of the alley, but something stopped him mid-waddle.
“Before we do the off, have a last shufti at him will you?”
Tomkin looked questioningly up through the general’s moustache.
“See if he shat himself,” the general clarified.
Tomkin duly shuffled off up the street. He stopped before he got to the bus stop.
“What you doing man? You can’t see anything from there.”
“No. But I can smell it.”
“Ah. Bob’s your uncle. Home we go.”