Once more I’m handing my homework in late for Linda G Hill’s Stream of Consciousness Saturday post, so I’m writing this in detention.
This week’s prompt is as follows:
““fly/flies/flew/flu/flue.” Choose one, use ’em all, it’s up to you.”
Ok then, let’s go…
Blake looked blearily at the glowing readout of his clock radio, groaning in displeasure when he eventually deciphered the fuzzy red numerals and “03.14” swam into focus.
The pounding in his head from the second, ill-advised, bedtime brandy (a medicinal dose, to help combat the flu that had kept him in bed, alternately shivering and sweating, for the last two days) hadn’t retreated from its position behind his eyes and it wasn’t helped by the loud, monotonous thud-thud-thud of bass-heavy dance music, coming from the apartment above.
He stared malevolently at the ceiling, hoping the party animals upstairs would call it a night and let him get some sleep, wishing for the fiftieth time that his imbecile of a landlord hadn’t chosen to uncover the one and only “original period feature”, namely the old Victorian fireplace in the corner of his small bedroom.
As far as Blake could see, the pointless little grate, with its surround of ugly ceramic tiles and ridiculously narrow mantlepiece, served only two functions; as a conduit for icy draughts in winter and as a year-round acoustic tube, providing a constant, echoing reproduction of every thudding bassline, every movie soundtrack and every outburst of raucous laughter from the room above.
Which would have been bad enough if he’d been allowed to use it, but it was for “decorative purposes only” apparently and he’d had to smuggle in a portable (and equally prohibited) gas heater, to counter the arctic blasts that issued from the open chimney in windy weather.
It was the second of its key properties that the fireplace was now demonstrating, at – Blake glared again at the clock, as if daring it to give him the wrong answer – 3.37 in the morning, and it occurred to him more than once (much, much later) that this was the time that his life began to change.
Angrily flinging the covers aside, Blake swung his legs off the bed and stood cautiously upright, expecting the shakiness of the last couple of days to return, but discovering to his relief that he was actually starting to feel better.
“Maybe that second brandy did the trick after all,” he said to himself with a grimace, his throbbing head smugly insisting that this wasn’t the case, “kill or cure, it’s the only way.”
He was hauling on a pair of jeans he’d found, after stirring the soup of clothes next to the bed for a while, when he heard the promising noise of an upstairs door opening. He listened, only now realising that the music level had in fact dropped several notches in the last minute or two and was rewarded with the sound of loud footsteps on the creaking stairs, drunken shouting, then the slam of the street door closing.
“Well thank Christ for tha…,” he stopped abruptly as the music upstairs resumed, this time at an even more ear-splitting volume, “oh for fuck’s sake! Right that’s it.”
He grabbed the first top he saw, a faded Rush t-shirt with the Fly By Night owl logo just visible on the front, pulling it over his head as he opened the front door and marched purposefully up the reverberating stairwell, rehearsing what he was going to say to his inconsiderate dickhead of a neighbour under his breath.
He stopped outside the door, the music so loud here that it was hard to discern anything but the sledgehammer bass beat, and was lifting his arm to knock when he realised nobody would hear him if he did.
Hesitating briefly to weigh up the potential risks involved, (after all, he and an ex-girlfriend had once, half-jokingly speculated that the partying neighbour upstairs may in fact be a major drug dealer, hence all the comings and goings from his flat) Blake reached for the handle and to his surprise, the door swung open.
The music hit him like a wall as he stepped into the hallway, making his ribcage vibrate and ratcheting up the pain behind his eyes to an almost unbearable intensity. He clamped his hands over his ears and strode down the hall towards the room at the end, obviously the source of the cacophonous racket, took two steps into the room and stopped dead.
Laying face down on the sofa at the far end of the room was his anti-social neighbour, clearly unconscious. Although this was unsurprising, given that the table was covered in syringes, traces of white powder, rolled up bank notes and a huge pile of cannabis – which also accounted for the pungent fog of smoke in the room – and the fact the floor was littered with beer cans and vodka bottles.
But it was what lay on the floor next to the table that held Blake’s attention.
He didn’t know what made him notice it, it was just a sports bag, some designer emblem on the side, but it was open and he took a step closer, wincing as the music assaulted his eardrums, looking down onto…
“Fuck me!” he exclaimed, loudly and without thinking, slapping one hand over his mouth and whirling to look at the prostrate figure, checking for signs of life, simultaneously cowering under the renewed assault the music made on his unprotected ear and clapping his hand back onto the side of his head.
The unconscious dealer hadn’t stirred since Blake had arrived and, after locating the sound system and reducing the volume to a still high, but manageable level, he carefully checked for a pulse, finding a strong, steady beat almost straight away and feeling immediately guilty that he was disappointed.
“I mean,” he thought to himself, “if he was dead then who would be any the wiser?”
But he was still perfectly healthy as far as Blake could tell and he didn’t fancy living downstairs, not knowing if the bloke was going to come knocking on his door, demanding Blake give back the bulging bag of cash he had stolen from him.
Now he did take a closer look, spreading open the zippered top of the bag and emitting a low whistle between his teeth as he did a quick, very rough estimate of how much was in there.
Probably two hundred and fifty thousand, he thought, give or take ten grand.
He stood up, catching his reflection in the mirror above the equally unattractive twin to his fireplace downstairs, looking himself in the eye.
Could he get away with it?
The owl on his t-shirt gazed enigmatically back at him from the mirror, as the words from the song came back to him;
“Fly by night, away from here,
Change my life again.
Fly by night, goodbye my dear,
My ship isn’t coming and I just can’t pretend.”
Which was true wasn’t it?
He had no prospects, living in his crappy apartment, working his crappy job, putting up with his shitty neighbours, there was no point in pretending otherwise.
He looked down at the money.
He looked over at the silent drug dealer.
He looked back at the money and came to a decision.
He gently shook the man by the shoulder, making certain he wasn’t going to suddenly awaken, then, when he was satisfied, he lifted the limp figure carefully off the sofa and half-carried, half-dragged him to the hated fireplace, letting him down none too gently so that his head came to rest with a loud bump, face down, snugly in the small oval hearth, a faint light from Blake’s own room, just visible through the grating, at the bottom of the disused flue, one floor below.
Blake stood back and viewed the staged scene, bending to make minor adjustments to the unresisting arms and legs until he was happy that it looked a natural enough “accidental drunken fall” pose.
Then he took one last look around the apartment, closed the one open window, zipped up the bag and left, closing the door and leaving the thumping bass of the music still playing behind him.
He hurried into his bedroom, opening the small wardrobe and removing the gas cylinder he used to power his heater, then rummaged around in the box of junk under the bed until he found a roll of gaffer tape.
He emptied the plastic laundry sack onto the already cluttered floor and got to work.
The sack was just large enough to cover the opening that housed the fireplace, the gaffer tape making a perfect seal when stuck onto those lovely smooth tiles, meaning that Blake got it sealed up without losing any of the gas, which by that point was hissing out of its pressurised cylinder on the grate and drifting up the flue to the floor above, which was sadly blocked by a snoring drug dealer.
Exhausted, Blake fell into bed twenty minutes later, once he was sure the cylinder was empty, the flue was sufficiently plugged and there was no noise from upstairs, (the music having now mercifully come to an end) setting his alarm for just a few hours later, when he intended to go into the nearest travel agent and buy a ticket on the next plane to somewhere hot.
Two weeks later.
“Mr Peters? Phone call for Mr Peters?”, the waiter looked around the pool area until he saw a cheerful wave from the Englishman at the far end of the bar, “Telephone call for you sir, from England.”
“Thank you Carlos,” said Blake Peters, “I’ll bring it back in when I’m done.”
He handed Carlos a large tip, the waiter grinned, said, “Thank you Mr Peters!” and trotted back to the shaded veranda of the hotel.
“Hello, who is this?”
“Oh it’s nothing to worry about sir, I’m with the property agent with whom you dealt whilst renting the apartment in Madden Street…” When Blake said nothing, he continued, “..as I say, it’s nothing really, we were just wondering, during your tenancy, did you have any problems with…pests, at all…?”
“Pests, what do you mean, pests?” asked Blake, not sure if he liked where this was going.
Were they talking about nuisance neighbours?
Should he say something?
Then the agent solved his predicament for him.
“It’s just that the new tenants say they are getting infested with flies, hundreds of them apparently, they’re coming down the chimney, if you can believe that. Did you ever have any problems like that at all?”
“I’m sure I would have reported something like that.”
“Yes, well, that’s what we thought, sorry to trouble you sir. Don’t hesitate to call us if you ever need assistance in finding accommodation again.”
“Oh, I don’t see myself needing your services anytime soon, but thanks anyway. Good bye.”
Blake finished his drink and strolled over to return the phone, stopping once and shading his eyes as a small plane took off from the island’s only airstrip and banked gently across the azure blue water.
Blake watched it as it flew around the headland and disappeared out of sight, then he turned and headed back to the hotel.