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"The Mutt" by James Jenkins

Ronnie hung over a sea of green. The pain in his lower back non-existent. A combination of deep concentration and self-medication. The high-intensity discharge lights glowed inches from his face, but Ronnie remained unfazed. Every now and then, he squinted through the jeweller’s loupe. Pausing to prune leaves he deemed redundant along the way and banging his head to music playing throughout the grow room – The Action is Go – Fu Manchu. He believed plants benefitted from great music. His colleague was less convinced. But despite his disapproval for Stoner Rock, he did appreciate Ronnie’s growing results. And even modest Ronnie had to agree, his shit was good. He couldn’t take all the credit. No. Stephen “Boxer” Cook was as much a part of this as Ronnie. For better or worse, the underground air raid shelter they’d refurbed on Boxer’s land was a joint venture. Now, a name like Boxer may indicate a fighting man, but a fighting man Boxer was not. His moniker a harsh combination of his height leading to ‘small man’s syndrome’ and an underbite that mimicked the dog he always had in tow.

Ronnie checked the time – 21:29 – Boxer was late. Not like him at all. Ronnie didn’t mind, he spent most of his time down here now. Ever since the ‘intruder’ it felt the right thing to do. That had been a violation, he didn’t care what Boxer said. Just because they dealt with that one doesn’t mean there won’t be othersthey had been lucky. If Boxer hadn’t forgotten his keys, then who knows what the uninvited guest would have done. Instead, Boxer had come through the hatch startling the stranger. It gave Ronnie the narrowest opportunity to swing his baseball bat at the back of the intruder’s head. Perhaps a tad too heavy. The man’s skull exploding just as easily as a pumpkin after Halloween. Ronnie was instantly overwhelmed with hysterics. Were there more of them? What if the police found out? What if Bobby Cavendish found out? That would be the end of their arrangement and subsequently business. Boxer had taken control. If Ronnie wasn’t so relieved, he might have been worried about his friend’s ease at handling the situation. Comfortably – Boxer guided his friend in wrapping the body and cleaning up the mess. Without hesitation – Boxer provided the solution of disposing the body. A seemingly ingenious plan involving the help of the local gravedigger, a weed fiend eager to win himself a free bag. Boxer had met the man when arranging his nan’s funeral. The freshly dug grave the perfect place to hide another body and with the gravedigger’s help nobody would suspect a thing. Ronnie had worried about the man’s ability to keep his gob shut. But they were all culpable now. All three men had dirt under their fingernails – the ‘thunk’ of the body as it fell onto the coffin stayed with them. Ronnie would have forgiven his friend for showing some emotion at the scene. Nothing. That had been three weeks ago. Was it too early to think it was behind them?

He removes the latex gloves and drops the loupe into his hand. Maybe Boxer isn’t coming tonight. I bet he finally got that bint from the bookies to fuck him, fair play boyo. Ronnie starts to think about his own raw hormones. He turns off the music and opens the laptop. The bootup sequence takes an agonisingly long time and Ronnie’s fly is already threatening to burst when the unthinkable happens – the hatch opens.

It’ll be okay – it’s just Boxer. Ronnie moves rapidly to close the laptop and in one fluid motion, arranges his raging boner under the belt buckle. He looks over to the stairs connecting the weed farm to the outside world – it’s not Boxer. The man who eases his way down the stairs with practiced balance is someone demanding instant respect. The well put together gentleman sweeps through the rows of plants in rehearsed delight – he’s dangerous. Ronnie no longer needs to worry about his modesty. He knows who it is even before the notorious face comes into view.

“Can I help you?” Ronnie’s shit attempt at formalities. No baseball bats this time. Not for this visitor.

Without looking at Ronnie, the man continues to look adoringly at the plants. “Beautiful. You clearly know what you’re doing.” Satisfied, he finally makes eye contact. “Sit down Ronnie. We need to have a little chat.” He pulls up a chair by a small table covered in tobacco and weed, clearing it with one swing of an arm. Ronnie promptly sticks his arse to the vacant seat.

“Sorry for barging in like this Ronnie. It goes beyond my usual exceedingly good manners. Here I am, acting like I own this place when I’m just a guest! Very rude. I haven’t even introduced myself.” He rearranges himself, softening his body language and extending a hand to Ronnie who accepts it with trembling anxiety. “Bobby Cavendish. I’m hoping you’ve heard of me?” Of course, he had. The man was Bristol-crime-royalty. Where was Boxer? Ronnie couldn’t do this on his own. He dealt with the plants – Boxer the finances. It wasn’t Ronnie’s job to meet with people like Cavendish.

“Mr Ca… Cav… Cavendish sir, it’s a pleasure,” Ronnie stuttered. “What can I do for you? Is the yield okay?” It didn’t occur the visit would involve anything else.

“Your weed is not in question Ronnie. I can honestly say that you are a true master of your craft. I mean, the streets of Bristol can thank the fragrance to you and you alone! Ha-ha!” Bobby Cavendish was known for his manic dramatics.

“Thank you, Mr Cavendish. I pride myself on my product… well, myself and my colleague Boxer.”

“Oh yes. I met your friend Boxer earlier tonight. Ever such an informative fellow. Lovely dog he has.”

Ronnie wondered what significance that had. Instead he succumbed to Bobby’s charm.

“He had a great deal of good words to say about you. But let’s not blow smoke up each other’s chuff here Ron. Do you mind me calling you Ron?” Cavendish didn’t wait for a response. “Ron, I want to tell you a story. About somebody I know. It’s not pleasant I’m afraid. But tell I must.”

Ronnie hated being called ‘Ron’, but Bobby Cavendish could call him whatever he fucking liked.

“I like to think I run my business well Ron. Do you think I run my business well Ron?”

“Oh yes, Mr Cavendish,” spluttered Ronnie.

“Please. Call me Bobby. We’re all friends Ron, I see all employees as family. Do you feel like you’re a part of my family Ron?” Ronnie could tell that Bobby Cavendish was playing with him. Like a well-fed cat toying with a baby bird, slowly breaking down its resolve until becoming bored – or hungry again. Why was he here? The last harvest had been perfect. The price more than fair. After it left the shelter Boxer was responsible for the rest. Boxer – what had he done?

“Yes Mr Cavendish. I’m honoured to be a part of it.”

“Bobby. Please,” Cavendish continued. “I’m glad you think so Ron. I really am. But it’s come to my attention that one of my flock doesn’t feel the same way. And after listening I can’t say I blame him. Let me tell you why.” Cavendish dragged air into his chest before letting it out with a well-rehearsed sigh. “In my line of work, you never know who might become useful. I have cannabis farmers like yourself, police in a whole range of ranks, bookies, lawyers, plumbers, doctors… a lot of different fuckers Ron! Too many to divulge you with except of course, the vicar. Now you may ask yourself, what does Bobby Cavendish want with a holy man? And that’s a fair question Ron. I couldn’t give a fuck about God and all his mumbo-jumbo bullshit. I am the true giver of redemption, not some poorly imagined deity. This man though, he’s helped me out in the past and in return I turn a blind eye to his… interests. Therefore, he is now in my family. Are you following Ron?”

He wasn’t sure. There was something in what Cavendish was saying but Ronnie was too preoccupied with controlling his trembling body to connect the logic. Instead he said the only thing he could, “Yes… Bobby.”

“Good. Very good Ron. You really seem to get it. I was so worried after seeing Boxer. He didn’t follow at all. You’ve got something about you though, I can tell.”

What had Boxer done? Ronnie wasn’t so distracted not to suspect the worse about his friend’s fate. But what?

“I can’t pretend, it’s been hard to tolerate the vicar’s extra-curricular activities. A man who preaches about love, kindness and forgiveness yet has no moral dilemma over fucking the cold limp bodies of the recently deceased. But who am I to judge Ron? We all have our quirks – our raison d’étra. I have tried to understand but the answers only demand more questions. Like, his preference for the embalmed. I tried offering him a selection of deceased I’d recently acquired. I was open to watching him in action, for morbid curiosity alone you understand. You don’t think I actually want to fuck a dead body do you Ron?”

Ronnie tried to mouth a response, but his jaw was welded in open awe.

“Relax Ron! I know you don’t actually think that,” Cavendish laughed. “Anyway, it wasn’t to be. Apparently, my dead bodies were no good. The sick pervert has a fucking type! Elderly women Ron. Now I know what you’re thinking,”

Ronnie seriously doubted that Cavendish knew what he was thinking.

“…geriatric women must be in abundance for a twisted child of the lord. I thought the same thing, but I have since learned, it’s not necessarily the case. Cremation is very much the popular choice of the nation when disposing of our loved ones. Finding a good, solid former member of the blue-rinse brigade is somewhat of a rare find. Imagine if you will, the pent-up sexual adrenaline. Days of meeting with grieving family members, the unstoppable purge, sneaking home a picture of the deceased. An attempt to satisfy his primal desires. Digging up the freshly made grave under moonlight, the vicar no spring-chicken himself, all on his own. Then, once he finally feels the solid mahogany lid of the coffin, he knows the wait is over. At long last! They are alone together… except… they’re not. As the vicar clears the last foot or so of earth, the long wait ruined by the scent of rotting flesh. A lifeless grey arm caught around his shovel. It doesn’t belong to the ancient body he intends on penetrating. No. it’s the body of a much younger male. As he clears more damp soil, he can clearly see the broken skull of the body. He knows it shouldn’t be there”

Ronnie doesn’t know what to do or how he should react. A part of him is pulling toward staying silent but Cavendish has stopped talking – The silence is torture – He stares at Ronnie with those beautiful and deceiving blue eyes. A slight smirk as one corner of his mouth moved upwards – a snake raising its head before the kill. Ronnie decides that a confession would be best but before he can fill the void, Cavendish takes the choice from him.

“You’re a lucky boy Ron. Your weed is the best… the fucking best! You don’t need Boxer. I’ll send one of my guys to help with that side of the business.” Cavendish stands up from the chair leaving the quivering form of Ronnie. As he reaches the stairs he turns back. “I take it you know this furry mutt.” He opens the hatch and Boxer’s dog comes bounding down towards Ronnie – blood stains the muzzle. The dog instinctively rubs its head into Ronnie’s lap. Cavendish heads up the stairs and pauses one last time.

“Oh, I almost forgot. You owe the vicar a body… an old one.”

James Jenkins is a Suffolk based writer of gritty realism. He has work published or forthcoming in Bristol Noir, Punch-Riot Mag, Bullshit Lit, A Thin Slice of Anxiety and Punk Noir Magazine. One of his short stories appears in Grinning Skull Press Anthology – Deathlehem. His debut novel Parochial Pigs is available on Amazon and published by Alien Buddha Press.

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