I first wrote ‘To Become a Warrior’ in 2002. It was published in Interzone, and subequently in one of Gardner Dozois’s Year’s Best anthologies. It’s about Carl, a poorly educated, not particularly bright young man who’s been left outside of the prosperous, liberal society of which he is nominally a citizen, and his recruitment by a murderous gang of ‘shifters’ who want to take the world back to the world of the Vikings.
It was one of a number of stories set in this world, the first being ‘The Welfare Man’ written in 1993. Judging by reprints in anthologies and reader’s polls, they have been among my most popular stories. However, I didn’t include them in either of my story collections, choosing instead to incorporate them into my second novel, Marcher.
My work as a social worker – when I wrote the story I was only a couple of years on from working as the manager of a social work team- had given me a powerful sense that even a prosperous, economically booming, middle class town like Cambridge (where I lived then and still live now), has another side to it, people who share no part of the prosperity. There was the famous Cambridge, with its beautiful old buildings, its ancient University, its IT and biotech industries, its bright, educated, liberal-minded citizens, and there was this alternate Cambridge which no one comes to visit, where I would go as part of my job.
When I incorporated ‘To Become a Warrior’ into the novel Marcher, I shifted from first to third person, added and changed details to make it fit in with the rest of the book, swapped around some characters, and gave the story two additional endings, in keeping with the novel’s theme of branching time lines and alternate presents. Below, I have restored the original first person short story, except that this time I have opted for one of the other endings.
I’m putting it out here now to mark the inauguration of Donald Trump. A clamour of rage and fear is going up today from the members of, so to speak, my own tribe, the liberal middle class. We see everything we value under threat, and we look around for people to blame. But I have a strong sense, which I’ve tried rather clumsily to explore in previous posts (for instance this), that we ourselves must take a share of that blame. If you leave people outside, they turn to others who offer to take them in.
Anyway, here it is in full, ‘To Become a Warrior ‘ to mark this historic day:
© Chris Beckett, 2002, 2017. Not to be reproduced without permission
To Become a Warrior
Where I live it’s the Thurston Fields estate only we just call it the Fields. Which it’s what they call a Special Category Estate which is crap for a start because everyone knows it’s a dreg estate and we’re the dreggies. Which is we’re the ones they haven’t got any use for, yeah? I mean fair enough, I can’t hardly read and write as such. Which I’ve never had a job or nothing only once I had a job in this tyre and exhaust place. Like a job creation scheme? Only I was late the second day – right? – and the manager, he only told me to do something about my attitude, so I fucking smacked him one, didn’t I?
And I’ll tell you what mate, not being funny or nothing, but if you never lived on a dreg estate you’ve got no idea what it’s like. You might think you have but you haven’t. I’ll tell you one thing about it, the Department runs your life. The DeSCA, yeah? The deskies we call them. Which you get different kinds, like housing deskies which if you’re some girl who gets pregnant, they’re the ones who get you a flat. (Mind you, if you’re a bloke and you want a flat you’ve got to find some slag and say you love her and that, know what I mean?) And you get teacher deskies, and benefits deskies. You even get deskie police. But I tell you what, mate, the ones we really hate are the fucking social worker deskies. Like they try to be so nice and understanding and that, all concerned about you – know what I mean? – but next thing they’re taking your fucking kid away.
Like my girlfriend Kylie, well my ex-girlfriend because I dumped her, didn’t I? She had her kid Sam taken off her and she went fucking mental, know what I mean? I mean, fair play, he is a whinging little git and at first I thought, great, all day in bed and no distractions. But it did her head in and she was crying and that, and she was down the Child Welfare every day and she didn’t want fucking sex no more or nothing so I thought to myself, I can’t hack this, I’ll go fucking mental, know what I mean?
(Which then she tried to top herself which her mum said was down to me but it never. It was the fucking deskies.)
Anyway, one day I was down the Locomotive with my mates when this geezer comes in – yeah? – and he only had a skull tattooed all over his face! I mean like so his face looked like a skull, yeah? Which my mate Shane goes, “Shit, look at that!” This bloke he looked well hard, but – yeah? – we must have had twelve pints each minimum, so I thought to myself, fuck it. And I go up to this skull geezer – right? – and go like, “Who the fuck are you?” (Shane was pissing himself, the prat. He thought it was hysterical. He thought old skull face there was going to beat the shit out of me.)
But the skull guy just laughs.
And he was like, “I’m Laf, who the fuck are you?”
So I go, “I’m Carl. What kind of name is Laf for fuck’s sake?”
And he was like, “Watch it mate,” only he was laughing, know what I mean? And he goes, “It’s short for Olaf. It’s a warrior’s name, alright? I’m a warrior of Dunner I am.”
I didn’t know what the fuck he meant but I didn’t want to look like a prat or nothing so I just go, “Warrior of Dunner, huh?” (You know, American and that).
And he laughs and goes, “You don’t know what I’m talking about, do you mate?”
So I go, “No I don’t, mate, but I reckon you’re talking out of your arse.”
But he just kind of looks round the pub at the blokes slagging each other off by the pool table and at the kids arsing about on the machines and at that old slag Dora with her wrecked fucking face who comes in every night and drinks till they chuck her out.
So he looks all round – right? – and then he looks back at me and he’s like, “This place is shit isn’t it?”
And I’m like, “Yeah?” Because, like, I can see what he means in a way but I drink there every bloody night.
And he goes, “Want to come and meet some of my mates?”
And I’m, “Yeah okay.”
And he’s, “Only I’ve taken a liking to you Carl. I liked the way you came over like that. More bottle than your mates there.”
Well then we walk straight out past Shane and Derek and they’re like trying to make out it’s hysterical – yeah? – but really they’re fucking gobsmacked, aren’t they?
And Derek goes, “Where the fuck are you going Carl?”
But I don’t know, do I?
Laf’s got his car out there – it’s like a really old Mondeo – and, it was well good, we ton across the estate at 90, with the windows down and the music on full blast. (Well the police don’t bother with the Fields at night, only if there’s a riot or something.)
And we go up Thurston Road, right up near the wire where there is them three big old tower blocks – yeah? – which are all sealed off and that because they’ve been like condemned. (I mean: they’ve always been condemned and sealed off like that since I was a kid, because of asbestos or something, I think.)
Me and my mates, we’ve tried to get into those places but they’re like not just boarded up they’re steeled up – yeah? – with metal plates and that. Only it turns out that Laf and his mates have managed to get into one of them called Progress House. Like there’s a kind of service door or something round the back which it still looks like it’s locked up but they can get in and out, yeah?
Inside it was really dark and echoey and it smelt of piss. You couldn’t see nothing but Laf goes charging off up the stairs: one floor, two floors, three floors…
“Wait for me,” I go.
But Laf just laughs and he’s like, “You’ll have to get fitter than that, mate, if you want to be a warrior of Dunner.”
Those places are like twelve stories high, yeah? Which right at the top they’d opened up a flat. You could smell the puff smoke from a floor below. Which there’s this room in there, like a cave – yeah? – with candles and that, and weird pictures on the wall, and there are Laf’s mates, three of them: one fat bloke in one corner, one really evil-looking bloke with greasy black hair in the other corner and then this boffy-looking fucker in the middle. And he’s got glasses on and he’s rolling up a spliff.
“Good evening,” he goes, really posh. And he’s like, “Welcome to Progress House. This is Gunnar” (that was the fat one), “this is Rogg and my name is Erik. Delighted to make your acquaintance.”
I look at Laf and I’m like, “Who the fuck is this?”
And Laf don’t say nothing in words but he’s kind of frowning at me – right? – like he’s going, “Respect, man! This geezer is well hard, know what I mean?”
(But, like, he’s got a skull all over his face!)
Erik laughs, “A word of advice, Carl. Laf has chosen to let you into our little secret. We do that from time to time, because we are, well, we’re missionaries in a way.” (I didn’t know what he was talking about at first. I thought missionary meant, like, sex with the geezer on top, know what I mean?)
“But if you were to reveal our secret to anyone else without our permission,” goes boffy Erik, “I personally will kill you. I mean that quite literally. And I assure you that what I have just said is not a threat but a promise.”
And Laf is like, “He means it, mate, he’s well evil. He’d kill a bloke, no sweat at all.”
And Erik laughed, really pleasant – yeah? – like some posh bloke on the telly.
You would not believe all the gear they had up there, yeah? We did E’s and A’s and M’s and C’s and fuck knows what else until the walls were wobbling like jelly – yeah? – and it was like Erik was talking into this blob of jelly from outside somewhere, down some tube or something.
“Have you heard of Dunner, Carl?” he goes. “Or Thor, some call him?”
And I’m like, “…er, no, don’t think so, mate…” – right? – like I’m talking up this tube?
“Well, he used to be big around here,” goes Erik. “Thurston means Thor’s town for one thing. Did you know that? Come to that he’s got a whole day of the week named after him. Thursday means Thor’s day.”
“Yeah,” goes Laf, “and Wednesday’s named after his dad, right, Erik?”
“That’s right,” goes Erik. “Woden’s day.”
And I’m like, “Yeah?” (Which if anyone else had come up with this shit I would just have laughed, know what I mean?)
“Dunner or Thor,” goes Erik, “is the god of thunder. And he’s a warrior god. His weapon is a big hammer which crushes anything it strikes. As I say, he used to be big around here. Your ancestors would have worshipped him. They would have sacrificed to him too, animals and even human beings. So you can see they took him very seriously indeed.”
And I’m like “So?” but I don’t say nothing.
“And now,” goes Erik, “here is another secret. But this one I am happy for you to tell who you like. Because it’s the government who wants it kept as a secret. It’s the politicians and the do-gooders. It’s them who don’t want anyone to know.”
Well the room was as big as a fucking football pitch now – right? – with that Erik talking over the p.a. in a big echoey voice like God or something.
“Do you think about the universe at all, Carl?”
“As in, like, the sun goes round the earth?” I go. “Stars and that?”
Erik does his nice TV laugh.
“That’s it, Carl, you’ve got it in one. Stars and that. But listen and I’ll tell you something. The whole of this universe of stars and space is just one tiny twig in an enormous tree and every second, every fraction of a second, it’s branching and dividing, making new worlds.”
I laughed. But – it was weird, yeah? – I could fucking see it. Only it didn’t look like a tree. More like millions of black worms in the dark that kept on splitting in two and splitting in two and splitting in two – yeah? – like viruses or something.
“There are millions of other earths, millions of other Englands, millions of other Thurston Fields estates,” he goes – and like I said, he’s like God or something, I couldn’t even see him with all the E’s and A’s and shit going round me, just hear his big echoey voice all round me.
“And we don’t come from this one,” he goes, “Laf and Gunnar and Rogg and I, we’re shifters, we come from another world. Anytime we want to we can go to another world too. So we can do what we want here. We can do whatever we want. No one is ever going to catch us.”
I heard him moving about somewhere out there, know what I mean, like he’s on a different planet?
“Look at these!” he goes.
Well I’m lying on the floor with my eyes shut and when I open my eyes, even though it’s only candles in there, it still feels, like, too bright, know what I mean? So it’s a job to see anything at all as such – yeah? – but I see he’s holding out a bag with pills in it, hundreds of dark little pills.
“These are seeds, these are Lok seeds. Every one of these will take us to another world. Think of that. We can travel between the branches of the tree like Dunner does, with his hammer in his hand.”
And then that Rogg speaks, that evil bastard with the greasy black hair, and he’s a Scotchman or a Geordie or something.
“Yeah,” he goes, “and you know what we’s looking for, mate? We’s looking for one of Dunner’s worlds. Know what I mean?”
I go, “Yeah?”
“He means a world where Dunner is still worshipped today,” goes Erik. “We know they exist because the seeds come from there and because of shifter stories. There are thousands like us, you see, Carl, thousands of warriors of Dunner moving between the worlds. And we tell each other stories. We swap news.”
Then that fat bloke talks: Gunnar. You know how some big fat blokes have these, like, really high little mild little voices? Gunnar was one of them, right? He had this gentle little voice – yeah? – really polite and high. I’ll tell you what, though, I reckon he could beat you to a fucking pulp. But he’d still talk to you like really kind and gentle while he was doing it – yeah? – in that small little gentle high voice.
And he’s like, “Do you want to know what it’s like in Dunner’s worlds, Carl?”
And I’m “Yeah” and he goes, “Why don’t you tell him, Erik?!”
(I’ve got my eyes closed again – right? – and those black worms are splitting and wriggling and splitting all the time all round me. But those shifter geezers’ voices are far away, coming down like from like ten miles above me or something.)
“Of course,” goes Erik, “of course” and he’s drawing breath, like this is the good part coming up.
“Does civilisation mean anything to you Carl?” he asks, “Or democracy? Or human rights?”
“You what?” I go, not being funny or nothing, but I don’t know what the fuck he’s talking about.
But they all laugh like I’ve made a really good joke! So I feel well chuffed, don’t I?
“They don’t mean shit to me!” I go, like doing the joke again.
“Of course they don’t Carl,” goes Erik kindly, “and do you know why?”
“Because I don’t give a monkey’s,” I go, but they’re tired of the joke now and they don’t laugh no more.
“The reason civilisation doesn’t mean anything to you, Carl,” Erik goes, “is that civilisation isn’t there for your benefit. You’re not part of civilisation. Civilisation is for the others out there across the wire. They don’t care what you think. They don’t care about what you can and can’t do. They give you a dreg estate to live in and a DeSCA department to look after you. All they ask in return is that you leave them alone with their civilisation. Just keep out of the way, is all they ask, and let them get on with their civilisation in peace.”
“Yeah?” I go.
“Carl don’t want to know all that, Erik mate,” goes fat Gunnar in his little kind voice. “He wants to know about Dunner’s worlds.”
“I was coming to that,” goes Erik and he, like, growls. He does not like being interrupted.
“You see Carl, in Dunner’s worlds there is no civilisation, no democracy, no human rights. And there’s no DeSCA either, no Special Category estates, no wire. A young chap like you doesn’t have to go to the deskies for money or a place to live. No. What you’d do in one of Dunner’s worlds is find yourself a lord. A warlord, I mean, a great warrior, not some toffee-nosed do-gooder who sits on committees about social exclusion and goes to the opera. You’d go to a lord and, if you promised to fight his enemies for him, he’d look after you, he’d make sure you got everything you needed.”
“Yeah?” I go.
“And Carl, mate,” goes fat Gunnar, “that wouldn’t be like a deskie flat or nothing he’d give you. Don’t think that, mate. He’d have a big hall, with a big fire in the middle, and you’d live there with all your mates. And you’d drink all you wanted, mate, and eat all you wanted and get as pissed as you wanted and when it was time to sleep, well you’d just sleep there in the hall, with all your mates around you. So you wouldn’t never have to think about money or nothing, and you wouldn’t never have to be alone. How does that sound, my old mate?”
I laughed. “That sounds like fucking heaven mate.”
“Yeah, and you don’t need to work or nothing,’ goes old skull-face Laf, ‘All you got to do is fight! It’s your job, like. You even get to kill people and that and there’s no police or nothing to stop you.”
Which I’m like “Great!”
“Fair enough it’s dangerous,” goes Laf. “You could get killed too, know what I mean?”
“So?” I go, laughing. “Who gives a shit? When you’re dead you’re fucking dead, right?”
“Well said!” goes Erik. “Spoken like a warrior! But actually it’s better than that, Carl my friend, it’s better than that. If you die fighting, Dunner will take you home to Valour-Hall, where all the brave warriors go, and then you’d live again. And then it’s feasting and fighting for ever and ever, until the Last Battle at the end of time.”
And Gunnar’s like, “So what do you say, then, Carl my old mate? Do you want to be a warrior?”
Well, of course I do, don’t I?
“Yeah!” I laugh.
“Well there’s a test you have to pass,” goes Erik, “ a little test…”
But one of them is putting this spliff into my hand – yeah? – and I don’t know what they put in it but next thing I’m down on my knees half-way through my mum’s front door, chucking up all over the fucking lino.
Well, the next few days – right? – I’m like, “Did I dream that or what?”
I even went down there to Progress House – yeah? – and no way could anyone have got in there, know what I mean? Steel plates and massive bloody locks.
So I go, “Well, I must have dreamed it,” know what I mean?
But down the Locomotive when Shane and Derek and that go, “Where the fuck d’you go with that skull bloke?” I didn’t say nothing, know what I mean? Because – yeah? – I remembered that boffy geezer Erik go, like, “That’s not a threat it’s a promise.”
I didn’t feel like taking a chance.
But, like, a couple of weeks later I was just going down to the pub in the morning – right? – when this car pulls up. Which it’s only that dodgy old Mondeo and that fat geezer Gunnar driving it.
“Hop in, my old mate!” he goes, leaning back to open the back door.
So I get in the back and that evil Scotch bastard Rogg – yeah? – he’s there in the front with Gunnar and he passes me back a spliff and, like, we’re off.
Next thing we’re at the line and Gunnar is showing his ID to the cop.
And he’s like, “Alright mate? How you doing?” in his kind little voice.
“Not so bad,” the cop goes. Which he’s a bit surprised – yeah? – like he’s not used to people being nice to him and that. And he’s like, “Have a nice day!” as he lets us through the wire.
And Rogg laughs and goes, “Anyone tell you you can’t fake deskie ID cards, Carl? Well you can.”
And Gunnar’s like, “There isn’t nothing our Erik can’t figure out, Carl mate. He’s one in a million that geezer. He’s diamond, mate, he’s pure diamond.”
We go right across town – right? – to this posh area where I never been before. And Gunnar parks the car – yeah? – and we get out and it’s like there’s shops that don’t sell nothing but coloured fucking candles right? And shops that sell little toys made out of painted wood which any normal kid would smash in two seconds flat and they cost like a week’s money each. And all these rich bastards in fancy clothes and posh voices – yeah? – like la di da, this and la di da that and “Oh really Jonathan, that’s ever so sweet of you!” and beautiful bitches in posh sexy clothes like TV stars. And you look at them and think, “Shit I fancy you, ” but you know if you tried anything they’d just laugh at you like you was an alien from space or something with tentacles and that, or eyes on fucking stalks.
And Gunnar goes, “Do you know this place, Carl mate?”
And I go, “No.”
And he goes, “It’s Clifton Village mate, where the rich people hang out.”
“The beautiful people,” goes Rogg with, like, an evil sneer.
Then Gunnar puts his arm across my shoulders – yeah? – like he’s my dad or something.
And he’s like, “How’s this place make you feel, my old mate?”
And I’m like “How would I fucking know?”
“Angry maybe?” goes Gunnar kindly. “Does it make you feel angry at all mate?”
And I’m, “Nah, I don’t give a shit,” like with a shrug and that.
And then I go, “Yeah, alright, angry then.”
“That’s the way, my old mate,” goes Gunnar, “That’s the way.”
He’s still got his arm round me like he’s my dad or my kind uncle.
“Now listen, Carl mate,” he goes, “how would you like it if you could do whatever you wanted here?”
And I’m like, “Eh? What d’you mean?”
“How would you like it, Carl,” goes Rogg, “if you could smash these shops and burn these cars and fuck these women and blow away any of these smug bastards you wanted?”
“Yes, how would you like that my old mate?” goes Gunnar.
“Well of course I’d like it,” I go, “but you’re having a laugh with me, aren’t you? You’re just winding me up.”
“No,” goes Rogg, “no wind-up, Carl. It’s what we’re planning to really do. And I’ll tell you the beauty of it. The beauty of it is we’ll have swallowed seeds, so when the police come along we can just laugh and let them lock us up, because we’ll know that in an hour or two we’ll be in a different world and they won’t ever be able to get us.”
And it’s like it finally dawns on me, yeah? It dawns on me for the first time. If you’re a shifter you can really do shit like that. That’s what it would mean to be a warrior of Dunner.
So a big smile spreads over my face – yeah? – and I’m like, “Sweet, man! Fucking sweet!”
“And you can be there,” goes Rogg. “You can be there with us if you want to, if you’re willing to take the test, like.”
And I’m going, “Yeah, no problem, mate, no sweat at all”, when this old geezer comes walking past and suddenly stops, like, and looks at me.
“Well, well,” he goes. “Carl Pendant isn’t it? What a nice surprise! Do you remember me? Cyril Burkitt? How are you doing Carl? It must be all of fifteen years.”
And he, like, smiles at Rogg and Gunnar – yeah? – like any friend of Carl’s is a friend of his. (Which Rogg don’t say nothing, and Gunnar’s like “Alright, mate. How you doing?”)
And I’m like, “Oh alright, you know, mate” and that.
Well he’s only my old social worker I used to have when I was in care and that. Which they’re all tossers but I sort of liked the bloke. He didn’t never get funny with me or nothing – yeah? – like I remember one time when I’d fucked up as per bloody usual and he says to me “You just don’t get it do you Carl?” and I go “No I fucking don’t” and he laughs and he’s like “Well that makes two of us I’m afraid Carl.”
Anyway, old Cyril Burkitt looks at Rogg and Gunnar again and he’s like, “Well, I won’t keep you from your friends Carl. But I’ll tell you what, I’m retired now. If you fancy calling by for a chat sometime you’d be very welcome. I don’t see such a lot of people these days, you see, so I’m always glad of company. And I’ve often thought about you over the years and wondered how you were getting on.”
And he gives me this little card – yeah? – with his address and that.
Well then I notice Rogg and Gunnar looking at each other with, like, a funny secret sort of look.
So I’m like, “What?”
“A deskie, right?” goes Rogg.
And I’m like, “Yeah.”
Which they look at each other again – yeah? – and sort of nod.
“Well that’s your test then, Carl mate,” goes Gunnar.
And I’m like, “What is?”
And Rogg goes, “Go to his house, Carl, and kill him.”
Well I thought, “This is a joke, yeah?” So I’m laughing and I’m like, “Oh, he’s not that bad, not for a deskie, know what I mean?”
And Gunnar goes, “No Carl mate, you don’t understand. That’s your test! See what I mean, mate? It’s what you’ve got to do to become a warrior. Are you with me, my old mate?”
“You’s got to make a sacrifice for Dunner,” goes Rogg.
Which, like, they’re just looking at me – yeah? – and waiting.
And I go, “Shit!”
And Gunnar goes, “Fair enough if you don’t want to do it, Carl mate. No hard feelings or nothing. But if you do want to be a warrior, well, that’s the test you’ve got to pass. Know what I mean?”
So I like swallow – yeah? – and I’m thinking, like, well, all deskies are the same really. Alright some of them act nice and that but it don’t mean nothing. Which anyway the stupid git, if he goes round giving out his address and that, some fucker’s going to get him – yeah? – and if it’s not me it’s going to be some bugger else. So it don’t make no difference really anyway.
So I laugh – yeah? – and I go, “Yeah, alright. I’ll do it.”
So Laf – right? – he takes me over in the car the next day to the place where Cyril Burkitt lives. (Which it’s like another part of town which I never heard of. Only I never really been nowhere much outside of the Fields as such, except down the Centre – yeah? – to clubs and that and once we went over to Weston on a school trip and Shane had six pints of lager and threw up all over the teacher.)
And he stops like a couple of streets away and he’s like, “Now it’s along there and then turn right and it’s number twenty-three, right? So don’t get lost will you, Carl?”
Well I’m like, “Fuck off,” know what I mean? Laughing and that to show I’m not worried or nothing.
So I start to open the door but he’s like, “Hang on a minute, Carl mate. You’ll need this, you prat!”
Then he gives me a gun as such and it’s like, “This is the trigger, mate, and this is the safety catch, and this is a silencer so there won’t be any loud bangs or nothing. And listen, mate, there’s ten bullets in there, so when he’s down, empty the lot into the bastard, know what I mean? Into his head and that, yeah?”
So I’m like, “No worries mate.”
He laughs and lights up a spliff for me.
“I don’t need no wacky baccy to give me the bottle for this job mate,” I go. “It’s no problem mate. It’s no sweat.”
And he’s like, “No Carl, I’m not being funny or nothing, mate. It’s just, like, to make it more of a laugh, yeah? Know what I mean?”
Then I’m outside Cyril Burkitt’s house – yeah? – and it’s doing my head in because I never really thought he had a home or nothing, know what I mean? He was just a deskie, yeah? And, like there’s a car outside and flowers and that, and a milk bottle, and there’s, like, a little path from the gate made of bricks, and coloured glass in the front door: red and blue and green. And through the front window – right? – there’s this big room with loads of books and that. Which I can see him in there – yeah? – reading the paper by himself. And there’s music playing, yeah? Violins and that.
So I ring the bell, and he looks up and sees me through the window. Which he, like, smiles and gets up and comes to the door.
“Hello, Carl! This is a nice surprise! I didn’t think you’d come. I didn’t think you’d have the time for an old deskie like me!”
He’s got like a cardigan on, and brown slippers and, like, old-man jeans, and he hasn’t shaved yet or nothing. He don’t look like a deskie, really. Just some old geezer, know what I mean?
“Come on in, Carl, come on in. Can I get you a cup of tea or something?”
And I’m like, “Yeah, thanks, tea” so we go through into this big kitchen like on telly or something with like wood everywhere and a stone floor and that.
Which he gets the kettle and goes over to the sink to fill it up.
“Let me see now, Carl, is that milk and four sugars? Have I remembered that right?”
Then he turns round smiling and sees the gun in my hand.
And he’s like, “Oh.”
It’s weird, he don’t look scared or nothing, just like, tired.
“I see,” he goes.
And then he laughs! Not like really laughs, but like, a little sad sort of laugh. Know what I mean?
“All this hatred!” he goes, “I should be honoured really I suppose. It’s almost like being loved.”
“You what?” I go.
“Never mind, Carl,” he goes. “Don’t worry about it.”
He puts the kettle down slowly and then he goes, “Someone put you up to this, I suppose, Carl? You were never much of a one for thinking things up for yourself.”
And I’m like, “Mind your own business.”
Which he nods and sort of sighs.
“Listen Carl,” he goes, and he’s really slow, like he’s thinking out loud. “Listen Carl. My wife died a while back and she was the only person in the world I really loved. And then my career sort of petered out, as you may have heard, not that it was ever much of a career and not that I was ever much cop at my job – as you probably know better than most, I’m afraid. So I really don’t have a huge amount to live for. Oh, I get by alright. I potter around. I weed my garden. I do the crossword. I watch TV. But really it doesn’t make much difference to me if my life ends now or whether it goes on for another twenty years. Do you see what I mean? I mean: if you really need to shoot me, well, be my guest!”
Well I’m like, “What the fuck?” but I don’t say nothing. I’m pointing the gun at him, and my finger’s on the trigger.
“But listen Carl,” he goes, “I don’t know who put you up to this but, you know, you are very easily led. I do suggest you think very carefully about whether it’s actually in your interest to shoot me. You really do need to think about that.”
And I’m like, “Fuck off, don’t give me that deskie shit now, alright. Just fucking leave me alone.”
It’s doing my fucking head in, know what I mean? My hand is shaking so much I can’t hardly point the gun.
“I’m worried for you, Carl,” he goes, “It probably sounds strange, but I really am.”
Which then – yeah? – I can’t stand it no more and I pull the fucking trigger just to make him stop.
© Chris Beckett, 2002, 2017. Not to be reproduced without permission