Out of Control - Prologue
The man climbed the final few steps to the sixth floor of the tenement, surprised to find his breathing elevated. Puzzled; he shouldn’t have felt tired after climbing a few flights of stairs. - Must be coming down with a cold.
He paused at the top of the concrete stairway to catch his breath.
The stairwell corners were stained dark. The harsh ammonia smell of dry stale urine was so overpowering he moved quickly out onto the landing. He looked back into the stairwell and studied the graffiti-daubed walls, their rough concrete surface no barrier to aerosol paint. Shaking his head at the semi-literate scribbles, he sighed. -That’s not how to spell ‘bollocks’.
He shook his head slowly at the poverty and decay and continued his journey. -What a way to live.
A partially eroded sign in the stairwell pointed him left. He followed its direction with some reluctance and moved slowly down the poorly lit balcony. The flats, front doors and windows, one brightly painted and well tended, the others peeling paint, panes cracked or boarded-up completely, were to his left. To his right the balcony was open to the air. The gap between floor and ceiling was interspersed with regularly spaced, part-crumbling concrete columns that ran vertically up through the building from the ground to the top floor. The rusted metal railings that spanned the gaps between the columns offered dubious protection against a headlong plummet to the sparsely grassed, rubbish-strewn courtyard below.
A cold gust of wind blew rubbish in eddies around his feet. He shivered against the cold and turned his collar up.
Typically, the flat he wanted proved to be the final one.
He gave the railing a wide berth. A washing line straddled the gap between the columns opposite the well-maintained door. Clean washing drying in the dirty surroundings seemed a little bizarre.
He finally reached the door he was looking for, the number 67 painted irregularly on one of its wooden rails. As expected, it was one of the ill-kempt, paint-peeling doors that presaged a mess within.
Grabbing the stained letterbox handle he tapped it against its pitted metal frame. The harsh metallic noise echoed around the landing.
The man waited. He pulled his collar up again and stifled a cough. -Definitely a cold coming, could be ‘flu. Great, just what I need!
After a few seconds of silence he rattled the handle again, louder this time. Still nothing. He was about to give up and return in daylight but something made him pause.
This was his first mistake of the evening.
Muffled sounds of movement came from behind the tatty door. A voice, muted by the barrier and slurred buy some intoxicant, called out coarsely,
“Who the fuck’s that?”
He introduced himself.
A cough, more shuffling, then a pitted chrome handle turned and the door cracked open a few centimetres. The top part of a greasy hairless head, a reddened eye with pinprick pupil, part of a ruddy veined nose, and part of a stubble strewn chin appeared in the crack between door edge and jam. The eye inspected the visitor carefully, up and down, suspicious before recognition.
“Forgot you were coming,” croaked the insider.
The man sniffed and a hand came up to wipe a running nostril. The door closed sharply, the sound of a sliding chain, and the door opened again, a little wider this time.
Taking a deep breath against the expected stench within, Guest followed his host into a dingy, ill-lit hallway. This was his second mistake.
Newspapers teetered in uneven piles and black plastic bags, filled to bursting were piled unevenly against one wall.
Host’s sleep-encrusted eyes studied the newcomer suspiciously. Clad only in a sweat-stained, once-white T-shirt, and grubby boxers and a pair of new tartan slippers, he was not an attractive sight. His sparse, grease-dirty hair hung limply down an unwashed neck.
Host smelled like his dwelling; of vomit, BO and decay. Guest hung back a little to distance himself from the appalling smell.
Three flat panelled doors, one slightly ajar, punctuated the hallway.
Host shuffled through the open door. Guest followed, maintaining the odour-safe distance between them.
They went in and Guest's eyes immediately appraised the room. It was poorly furnished with undecorated walls, stained with patches of damp, and a threadbare mottled carpet which was partially obscured by more black plastic rubbish bags and yet more newspaper stacks.
In the far right corner of the room below a dirty window was a cheap, threadbare sofa in front of which stood a stained and badly scratched coffee table. Next to the sofa stood an expensive-looking wide-screen TV and beside that a top-of-the-range stereo system stood on its own chrome and smoked glass stand. CDs littered the area and cables trailed in tangled knots between the system and a pair of huge speakers. The electronics equipment stood out sharply against the dirt and clutter. The lack of dust on their surfaces showed that they were recent additions to the room.
In the opposite corner a cheap wooden dining table had been pushed against the side wall. It was heavily laden with rubbish; plates stained with the rotting remains of long-forgotten meals, empty whiskey bottles and used glasses.
In the middle of the table a space had been roughly cleared. An ashtray, full to overflowing with cigarette ash and the ends of roll-ups had been pushed to one side and in the middle of the space were the drug paraphernalia.
Guest watched as Host collapsed into the sofa with a spluttering, hacking cough. Bits of rubbish on the sofa, dislodged by the sudden movement, rustled, then fell back into the stained and creased upholstery.
He asked a question but Host was unresponsive, he just lay on the sofa; passed out and evidently in no fit state to answer questions. Guest made the decision; he’d give this up as a lost cause and return another time.
Guest made his apologies and headed towards the door. To avoid passing close to Host, Guest passed by the other side of the coffee table, one of the dining chairs barred his way. He leant down to reach for the back of the chair. This was third and final mistake of the evening; the fatal one.
A sudden flicker of movement in the corner of his eye but had no time to react, no time at all.
Mercifully it was over in an instant.
The baseball bat connected with the back of Guest’s head with a sickening wet crack. It was the last thing he ever heard. His body fell heavily to the floor, dead.
But the bat arced down again, accompanied by a howl of rage from Host, “Get away from my stash! Fucking bastard, cunt, BASTARD!”
Breathing deeply, sweating even more profusely than before, the drug addled Host stood over the inert body. Guest laid face down, his head to one side, legs and arms splayed; the rubbish from an exploded bin liner lay around and under his body. Only his right eye was visible, open but glazed, pupil dilated. Host stood over him for a moment longer, calmer now that his stash was safe; the stash was all that mattered.
Then slowly he raised the baseball bat club and brought it down five more times in pulverising blows. Down, down again, the bat struck the top of Guest’s head, smashing it into a misshapen, blood-red pineapple.