This is the opening section of Another Man’s World.
Sweat freezing on the skin. Sitting bolt upright.
No dream. No memory of the dream, just the now familiar sensation of the heart pounding, blood racing, the traces of fear. No, of panic.
Still dark and the mattress on the floor is both refuge and jail.
Cold now, too cold to get up and pace the room, but sleep is gone. The dream is always unreachable, but the aftermath has become a known quantity. And the reason is known as well. By day it’s controllable, but at night, the subconscious rebels and brings home the full implications of the road chosen.
Lie down once more, for there is nowhere else to go. Curl up. The body chooses the foetal position. For protection.
Protect yourselves at all times. A half and bitter curl of the mouth remembering another time. Referees’ voices, trainers’ voices. ‘Protect yourselves at all times.’
Not from the mind itself.
I should have brought the gun.
I should have brought the bloody gun.
Instead, I was caught cold like everyone else in the room, caught cold by these two punks in the Donald Duck masks. The masks could have been funny, but the shotguns weren’t. Nor was the old man they’d thrown into the room to announce their entrance. He was doubled over behind them now, blood seeping from inside his mouth.
Everyone had stopped moving and it was a second or two before there was any response. Not surprisingly, when it came, it was from my American and directed at me.
“Well,” he said, “aren’t you going to do something, boy?”
The two masks turned to look at me.
The ‘boy’ bit grated. If I’d have been black I would have taken offence. And the last time I took offence, I hit someone with it. Okay, bad joke, but this whole thing had turned into a bad joke. A supposedly secret place for a high stakes card game. Five players, four minders, including myself, the organiser and the old man who let the place out and was here to make the tea.
And, of course, the two gatecrashers with the sack and the shotguns. One of them threw the sack on to the table.
“Well, do something!” The American was shouting now. “Shoot them or something!”
One of the two turned his sawn-off towards me.
“I don’t have a gun,” I said evenly, talking to the American, but looking at the shotgun. “And I’m too far away to do anything without one. And,” I said pointedly, as he started in again, “I am now the centre of attention.”
He shut up.
“Money. In the sack, now.”
This was the one pointing the gun at me. A flat voice, but young. Didn’t sound nervous though. The other was more jittery, couldn’t keep still. He would be the one to pull a trigger because he lost control.
I didn’t know if anyone else in the room was carrying, but I hoped not. If there was an enthusiastic amateur somewhere and he pulled a gun, there would be a bloodbath. The room wasn’t that big that we’d all get out of the way.
Allingway, the American, spoke to me again.
“You can’t let them take my money. You gotta stop them.”
“You’re paying me to mind you and to look after things,” I replied, still looking at the man holding the gun. “You’re not paying me enough to jump in front of a bullet for you and if I try to stop them, that’s what will happen. If I were in your position, I’d give them the money.”
“You bastard,” he said, “you lousy bastard.” But he started dropping his money into the sack.
So did two of the other men round the table and a fourth dropped his head into his hands and I thought it was going to be all right, when somebody had to get heroic. One of the minders suddenly jammed his hand behind his back under his jacket and grabbed at a small handgun. No diversion, no lateral movement, I don’t think he even waited until a point when Donald Duck wasn’t looking at him. He actually got halfway clear with the gun, before the shot hit him and his hero’s chest exploded into little pieces. A shotgun blast at five paces doesn’t leave much of its target left.
Another Man’s World was originally published as a paperback in 2007 and was re-released as a Kindle by Ward Wood Publishing.