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©Ian Gosling 2011

TUESDAY

 – 1 – 

The door isn’t locked, but he kicks it in anyway. He finds it an effective and satisfying way of announcing his presence and one that adds a touch of theatre to the otherwise mundane task of taking people’s money.

The room is in semi-darkness and he sees only a collage of grey shapes. The pale shadow of a startled man leaps from the bed. He laughs as the shadow darts across the floor and ducks down behind the armchair. Narrow rays of yellow light from the street lamps outside are straying thorough the chinks in the window blind and dancing on the pale quivering flesh.

The uninvited visitor stands in the open doorway; filling the aperture. The startled man, peering from behind the chair, sees only a dark shape defined by a pale halo of thin yellow light borrowed from a bare 40 watt bulb down the hallway.

The visitor’s voice booms, and echoes around the small room, ‘I can see you, Janek. Come here. You really don’t want me come over there and drag you out.’ As the visitor steps over the threshold, more light from the hallway invades the room revealing Janek Lekowski’s nakedness as he crawls out from his hiding place.

The door closes, restoring the darkness for a moment. The visitor stands with his back against the door and flicks the light switch. The fluorescent tube flickers into life and then Janek screws up his eyes against the harsh white light. When he opens them again he sees the man he knows only as the Taxman.

 The Taxman towers over the naked man. Heavy boots and a full face helmet add a few more inches to his already significant stature, and the long black drover’s coat, worn over his vintage leather jacket and jeans, completes the picture; drawn to make scumbags like this shit themselves, and show proper respect. He raises the visor and gets straight to the point. ‘It’s Tuesday, Janek and your tax is long overdue. Where’s my money?’ The thick padding inside the helmet muffles and distorts his voice.

Janek mumbles, ‘I don’t have it,’ as the Taxman advances.

‘Where’s your wallet?’ he demands.

Janek retreating, bends down by the foot of the bed, picks up his trousers and takes a black leather wallet from the hip pocket. He opens it and holds it out towards the man.

The Taxman takes the wallet and looks inside. ‘Only ninety quid, that doesn’t even cover a day’s interest. Where’s the rest?’

‘I told you I don’t have any money.’

Janek is lying – big mistake – his face is revealing the truth.

The Taxman chooses to ignore the lie. He puts Janek’s wallet into his own pocket and laughs, ‘I see you’ve got company.’

‘No… only me.’

The Taxman laughs again. ‘Put your dick away Janek, it’s dripping on the carpet. Now where’s the girl? Or have you been playing with yourself?

‘There’s no one here,’ says Janek; another lie.

 The Taxman says nothing. He just laughs again, amused at the sight of the scrawny Pole – so used to playing the hard man – scrabbling to pull on a pair of boxers and putting both feet through the same leg opening. Leaving Janek to perform his ridiculous pirouette, he walks across the shabby hotel room to the bed and pulls back the crumpled duvet.

A young girl is cowering in the centre of the mattress.

‘So who’s this, then?’ he demands.

‘Leave her out of it,’ Janek shouts. ‘It has nothing to do with her.’

‘It’s got everything to do with her, and the others. How many girls have you got now? Seven… a eight… more… am I getting close?’

‘No. You have it wrong. I deal some drugs sometimes, yes. But…’ Janek postures, open handed, shaking his head. ‘But, I tell you last week, no girls, not me… someone else maybe with name like Janek.’

‘That’s not the word on the street. They tell me out there that if you want a young girl you just have to call Janek Lekowski.’ The Taxman isn’t laughing any more; he uses his voice like a weapon and lashes Janek with his words. ‘And that’s you, unless you have an identical piece of low life shit for a bastard twin brother, and a whore of a mother who was too stupid to think of different names for you. So… no more lies. How many are there, Janek?’

The Taxman grabs the girl by the arm and drags her to her feet. She can barely understand a word, but she is getting enough from the man’s tone to know she should be scared. She doesn’t make a sound. She knows better than to risk a beating; the penalty for not keeping quiet is something she has learnt from Janek.

‘Not much of her is there?’ She looks no more than sixteen – maybe younger. ‘Are they all like this one? Personally I like a bit more meat on mine.’ He lets go of her arm and she falls to the floor like a rag doll.

‘What’s her name, Janek?’

‘Kazia,’ Janek mutters.

The Taxman speaks to the girl, ‘Kazia. Don’t be scared. I’m sorry if I hurt you. Now go clean yourself up and get dressed.’ He motions towards the bathroom door.

She gets up onto her hands and knees and gathers her clothes from the floor. Then she stands and looks towards Janek, as if for permission.

He snaps at her, ‘Do as he says. Go!’

‘Right, back to business,’ the Taxman says nonchalantly, when the girl has gone.

‘You’re a businessman Janek so you’ll understand the laws of supply and demand. You know how it works. I demand and you supply. I need more money Janek, so as of now I’m afraid your tax demand has just gone up. I want to be fair to you, so let’s work it out together. Just nod if you agree with the numbers; shake your head if you don’t.’

He reaches forward and gives Janek a little slap on the cheek, and behind the mask he’s smiling to himself as he says, ‘But, if you know what’s good for you, you won’t shake you head. Understand?’

‘Ok.’ Janek murmurs uncertainly. The Taxman’s voice has taken on a tone of indifference, with a subtle and sinister edge; a combination he finds very unsettling. At least you know where you are with out and out anger and aggression.

The Taxman continues, ‘So we’ll assume you’ve got eight girls, shall we?’

Janek nods his head, slowly in agreement; the real number is eleven. 

‘Fine, now we’re getting somewhere. And after expenses you make… oh, let’s call it five hundred a week from each one.’

Janek nods again, agreeing perhaps a little too eagerly, with the Taxman’s underestimate.

‘Yes I know, it’s a lot more, and then there’s the money from the drugs. But you’ve got a big habit to support so I’ll be generous. But not as generous as I’ve been so far, I’ve reassessed you and a grand a week isn’t nearly enough.’

‘What do you mean, generous. I’m not making money like that… So why don’t you… AAGH!’

Janek didn’t see the punch coming. He doubles up and falls to his knees. Before he can get up a black-leather, steel-capped, biker-boot kicks him over onto his back and then stamps on his chest, pinioning him to the carpet.

‘When I want to hear you voice, I’ll tell you. Smart talk me again and this boot will be inside your fucking skull. Like I said I’ll be generous. I don’t want you going out of business, but a little incentive might make you work a bit harder. I won’t even take half.  So let’s call it fifteen hundred a week, for now, and see how it goes.’

‘Fifteen hundred pounds… you’re fucking joking, I don’t have… AAAGH!’ Janek doesn’t get chance to complete the lie. The toe of the boot finds a soft spot, just below his ribs.

‘No joke, Janek and you already owe me for last week…with interest.’

‘Interest? AAAGH!’ The heel of the boot leaves its mark on the back of Janek’s outstretched hand.

‘Three hundred quid, twenty percent, a day; so that’s fifteen hundred, plus nine… I make that twenty-four. But you haven’t got it, so I’ll be back tomorrow. That’ll be another three. And I want this week’s in advance. So how much is that?’

‘What, I don’t...’ Janek mumbles. ‘What do you mean?’

‘How much do you owe me? And speak up I can’t hear you.’

Janek mumbles again, ‘I don’t know,’ then shrieks in pain, ‘AAAGH!’ The boot has found his right kidney again.

 ‘Come on, you might be a stupid little cunt, but they must have taught you to add up at school. Fifteen, plus nine, plus three and another fifteen, easy isn’t it.’

‘Ok, ok,’ Janek splutters, ‘four thousand, and two hundred.’

‘Very good, but I don’t like odd numbers, so let’s round it up to four a half, and then something for all my trouble… shall we say another fifteen hundred?’

‘What? AAAGH!’ The boot makes contact with the side of Janek’s head.

‘Don’t interrupt when I’m talking. That just cost you a bit more, so now it’s seven grand.  Tomorrow night at nine o’clock, I’ll be at the dog track. Bring the money in a plain envelope. Be there Janek. Book your usual table in the restaurant. Nine o’clock sharp. If you’re late it goes up another grand.’

As the Taxman turns away, Janek starts to gets up. ‘AAAGH!’ He falls back as the boot finds his groin.

‘Stay there!’ snarls the Taxman. ‘You get up when I say.’

 The Taxman calls out to the girl. ‘Kazia, come here,’ his voice is commanding, but not threatening.

The girl appears at the bathroom door, she is trembling.

‘It’s ok, Kazia,’ his voice softens. ‘You’re coming with me.’

‘What? You take the girl too … AAAGH!’

This time the cry is accompanied by the crack of breaking bones, as the boot stamps on Janek’s ribcage.

‘Christ Janek,’ the Taxman exclaims in exasperation. ‘You really are more stupid than you look. Why don’t you just learn to keep your fucking mouth shut?’

‘AAAAGH!’ The boot is on target again; this time tearing into flesh.

‘She’s collateral. You want her back … you know where I’ll be.’

‘AAAGH!’ Janek acknowledges the receipt of another kick in the face.

 

The Taxman takes Kazia by the hand and leads her towards the door.

She pulls back. The man on the floor has hurt her, many times, but she senses this man could kill her without a second thought.

He senses her fear and says, ‘Don’t worry; I’m not going to hurt you.’ He strokes her cheek to reassure her.

She nods and says, ‘Ok.’ She knows he isn’t lying. She can’t see his face but he has just let her see into his eyes.

He opens the door, and pushes her out into the corridor. ‘Wait here, don’t move.’

She does as she’s told; as if she needs telling.

He goes back into the room and bends down over Janek’s battered body. She can’t hear what he is saying; only Janek groaning, ‘Ok, ok.’

 She doesn’t try to run away; doesn’t dare. Without a word, she follows him to the end of the landing, and out onto the fire escape.

The metal toe and heel caps of his boots spark as they clatter down the steel staircase.

The bike is waiting at the bottom of the stairs, where he left it ten minutes ago. He hands her the spare helmet, and closes the visor of his.

She still hasn’t seen his face.

Without being told, she climbs on behind him and, as he presses the starter button, she wraps her arms around his waist.

The big v-twin engine rumbles into life. The exhausts burble lazily as the taxman weaves through the side streets, taking a route that he knows has no cameras. He avoids places where the police are likely to be patrolling, but keeps his speed below the limit, just in case.

He opens it up as soon as he reaches the Parkway and the bike roars as it accelerates down the slip road. By the time they join the dual carriageway the bike is doing ninety and still accelerating. Kazia is hanging on for her life; she’s more scared of this than of Janek.

Mercifully he slows down as the rain starts to fall.

©Ian Gosling 2011

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