I wrote my first short story yesterday. It was an interesting exercise and I think it turned out quite well.
Constructive comments will be welcomed
I don't seem to be able do anything about the formatting below - if you want to see it properly fomatted please got to my website
A short story by
In his boots, the taxman towers a good six inches above the naked man. He gets straight to the point. ‘Where’s my money?’ he demands.
‘I don’t have it, yet. I’ll get it tonight.’ Janek is lying – big mistake – it shows on his face.
The taxman laughs, ‘I see you’ve got company.’
‘No … only me.’
The taxman laughs again. ‘Put your dick away Janek, its dripping on the carpet. Now where’s the girl? Or have you been playing with yourself?
‘No one here,’ says Janek, scrabbling to pull on a pair of shorts.
The taxman says nothing. He walks across the shabby hotel room to the bed, and pulls back the crumpled duvet. A young girl cowers in the centre of the mattress. ‘So what’s this?’
‘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 have you got now? Ten, a dozen … more?’
‘No. You have it wrong. I deal some drugs sometimes, yes,’ 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. So…how many more like this one, 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?’ He reckons that she is sixteen at most – 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?’
‘Ok Kazia, go clean your self up and get dressed,’ he motions towards the bathroom door.
The girl gets up onto her hands and knees and starts to gather her clothes from the floor. She stands and looks towards Janek.
The Pole snaps at her. ‘Do as he says. Go!’
Kazia clutches the bundle to her chest and runs into the bathroom.
‘Right, back to business,’ the taxman says nonchalantly, when the girl has gone. ‘So let’s call it a dozen, shall we. And what? You make a couple of hundred a week from each one. Probably more, and then there’s the money from the drugs. But you’ve got a big habit to support so I’ll be generous.’
‘What do you mean, generous. I’m not making money like that … So why don’t you… AAAGH!’
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, 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. Let’s call it twelve hundred a week, for now.’
‘Twelve hundred pounds … you fucking joking, I …’
The toe of the boot finds a soft spot, just below the ribs. ‘AAAGH!’
‘No joke, Janek and you already owe me for last week …with interest.’
‘Two hundred quid a day. So that’s twelve hundred, plus four … sixteen. But you haven’t got it, so I’ll be back tomorrow. That’ll be another two. And I’ll take this week's as well. So how much is that you owe me?’
‘What, I don’t ...’ Janek mumbles. ‘What do you mean?’
‘Speak up I can’t hear you. I said … how much do you owe me.’
The boot finds the spot again. ‘Come on, you might be a stupid little cunt, but they must have taught you to add up in Poland. Twelve, plus four, plus two and another twelve, easy isn’t it.’
‘Ok, ok … three thousand.’ splutters Janek.
‘And something for all my trouble …’
‘… let’s make it five grand, ok. Tomorrow night nine o’clock at the dog track. Be there Janek. If you’re late it goes up another five hundred.’
As the taxman turns away, Janek foolishly starts to get up. The boot lands in 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 heel of the boot stamps on Janek’s ribcage.
‘Christ Janek,’ the taxman exclaims in exasperation. ‘You really are a stupid little bastard. Why don’t you just learn to keep your fucking mouth shut?’
‘AAAGH!’ The boot finds its target again, this time tearing flesh.
‘She’s insurance. You want her back … you know where to come.’
‘AAAGH!’ Another kick in the head.
The taxman takes the girl 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 that this man could kill her, without a second thought.
‘Don’t worry; I’m not going to hurt you.’
She nods, ‘Ok.’ She knows he isn’t lying; he has let her see into his eyes.
The taxman opens the door, and pushes the girl out into the corridor. ‘Wait here.’
He goes back into the room and bends down over Janek’s battered body. She can’t hear what he is saying; only Janek saying ‘Ok, ok.’
She doesn’t try to run away; doesn’t dare. Without a word, she follows him to the end of the corridor, and 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.
Kazia is alone in the room. There is a busy road outside and some big illuminated signs – Travelodge and Little Chef, but she has no idea where she is.
Kazia could run away, but she wouldn’t know how to get home. Home – that’s a joke. A bed shared with another girl, in a small room with two beds, in a scruffy three-bedroom terrace house – twelve girls and Janek took five hundred pounds a week in rent, from each of them. The house stinks of piss, stale smoke, spilt beer, burnt toast, and the ejaculations of dirty old men.
The room in the Travelodge is comfortable and clean. He hasn’t harmed her, hasn’t tried anything, and hasn’t touched her since they left Janek’s room – on balance she decides that it is better to stay put.
Kazia takes a shower and then picks up the money that he left on the bed. Twenty pounds – ‘get something to eat’ – it is the first time that anyone in this country has given her money without wanting something in return.
She sits in the Little Chef until it closes; making two cups of coffee and a couple of donuts last nearly two hours. It is very quiet and nobody bothers her.
Back in the room she watches the TV for a while. She falls asleep during the movie. It has been a long time since Kazia has slept between clean sheets, and it is quiet – the house is always full of noise, comings and goings, shouting and swearing, grunts and moans.
Too quiet and she wakes up several times during the night and wonders where she is. She doesn’t care – the room doesn’t smell of men.
In the morning she gets up early and has a long soak in the bath, leaving the door open so that she can watch TV. Breakfast in the Little Chef consists of waffles, bacon, toast, orange juice and lots of coffee, and a long conversation with Ruta, the waitress. Their languages are similar and they have little difficulty in understanding.
Ruta is Polish, from a small town called Przemsyl, near the border with Ukraine. Kazia is from Lviv a city in Ukraine and she has passed through Przemsyl; it is near to where she crossed the border last year.
They talk for a while about their homes, why they left and how they came to England. Ruta is much older than Kazia; twenty-three when she left Poland. She has been in England for nearly two years now. She has a steady, if dull, job and a room in a nice house; she goes to college in the evenings to improve her English.
Ruta is a graduate; she has a degree in history and trained as a teacher. She hopes that when her English has improved she might get a job in a school. But for now, she spends ten hours a day on her feet and with tips she make fifty pounds a day after tax; more than she could earn teaching in Poland.
Ruta doesn’t ask Kazia what she does for a living, she doesn’t need to. She just knows – it is in the eyes – and she knows why Kazia needs the money; she can see the needle tracks. Ruta has met a lot of girls like Kazia, although she tries to avoid them. Some get favours from their pimps for introducing new girls. It is easy money – that’s what they always tell her. Their faces tell a different story.
Surviving on the minimum wage is tough and Ruta would like a better paid job; she struggles to pay the rent each month. But, she is glad that she isn’t like Kazia. She is free to do as she chooses, and one day she will return to her home in Poland.
Kazia is seventeen; she can make fifty pounds in an hour; lying on her back. She doesn’t pay tax, she can’t attend college, she can’t rent a room in a nice house, and she can’t get a job. She is here illegally, as far as the authorities are concerned she does not exist. Kazia would love the opportunity to be like Ruta. Waiting on tables doesn’t pay much, but Ruta’s customers don’t hurt her, and it is clean. But she has no choice, she is trapped; and she cannot go home.
Today is a break and she will make the most of it, but she knows that she will soon be back with Janek. He won’t need to come after her; there are four wraps in her bag but she will soon need to score again.
He returns at six, just as he said he would. He is wearing black leathers and crash helmet, as he did the night before. He keeps the helmet on. The visor is open and Kazia can see his eyes. She is would like to see his face, but is glad that she cannot; it is safer this way.
She has heard of this man and she knows he hurts people. No one knows where he came from, but men like Janek – men who sell drugs and girls – are afraid of him. Janek pretends not to be afraid, he says he is a big man and it is true that many people fear him – mostly girls and junkies – and he pretends not to be afraid of anyone. But Kazia knows different; you cannot hide fear from one who lives in fear. Janek has owned her for a year and he is afraid; of the men he bought her from, of the men he buys drugs from, and of the men who want to steal his girls and his business.
But now, more than anything, Janek is afraid of this man – the one they call the taxman –why else would he keep moving around? Why else would he be hiding in hotel rooms?
She will never forget Janek’s face last night, as he cowered on the floor like a dog; watching them leave. He was afraid, but he was also angry. And she is very scared. She knows he will find out that it was she who told the taxman where to find him, and then he will kill her.
The taxman throws a couple of carrier bags onto the bed, ‘Put these on,’ he orders.
She opens the bags and takes out the clothes. The first one is from M&S. The skirt and top are not entirely to her taste, but quite nice and to her surprise, the right size; there is also a triple pack of knickers and a pair of tights. The second bag contains a red leather jacket.
She is glad of the jacket as the bike scythes its way through the rain. Although the journey to the stadium takes only fifteen ten minutes, her tights and shoes are soaking wet when the arrive. He parks the bike near to the turnstiles and they join the short queue for tickets.
‘Keep your head down, look at the floor. Don’t look at me.’ The orders are given in a tone that without threatening, demands obedience. She understands and does as she is told.
Once inside he stands in the shadows. ‘Take this,’ he says, giving her a mobile phone. ‘Go to the bar and wait for me to call you.’ He speaks slowly, and without the muffle of the helmet she is able to understand him. He hands her a ten-pound note, ‘and get your self a drink and something to eat. When I call you will do exactly as I say. Don’t try to run away or I will come after you – and I will kill you. Do you understand?’
‘Yes, I understand.’ She nods her head, taking care not to look at him.
‘Ok, now go.’
The taxman waits. From his vantage point, he can see everyone who comes and goes through the main entrance. The cold rain is still falling, starting to turn to sleet as the temperature falls, but he is warm and dry. Shifting his gaze towards another monitor he sees a group of stewards anxiously looking up to the heavens and wondering if they will be able to continue with the racing.
Moving his eyes again, he finds Janek. It is difficult to recognise him at first, as his face is carrying the reminders of their meeting last night. The Pole is sitting in the restaurant, with two other men. The taxman has seen them before, although he doesn’t know their names. They work for Janek and they both carry guns. He is pleased that Janek is taking him seriously; next week he will increase the price.
Outside, the stewards have made a decision. The traps open and six dogs run hell for leather after a motorised fur-ball. Two laps of the track later and the number three dog romps home by five lengths; cheered on by a handful of hardy punters leaning on the rail.
The taxman’s eyes fix on Janek again. The Pole is tearing up a betting slip; the pieces join a growing pile in the centre of the table. The waitress brings their main course, and says something to Janek as she puts his plate on the table. She is gone before he reads the note.
The taxman’s phone rings, he lets it ring several times. He watches the Pole as he slams his mobile down on the table. He wishes he could lip read.
He waits until after the seventh race before making his call. Janek answers immediately, ‘What the fuck are you playing? Where are you?’
‘Not playing anything Janek. And you don’t need to know where I am – just listen.’
‘Okay, I’m listening, but wait I will move to get a better signal.’
The taxman watches in amusement as Janek covers the phone mike with his hand and starts to issue orders to the other men, gesticulating wildly. The two men get up and leave; Janek remains seated.
‘Very clever, Janek, but I don’t think your dogs are going to have any more luck than the ones you’ve been betting on. Now here’s a tip for the next race. Number five to win – the odds look quite good, so you might win some of your money back. Put a bet on with Charlie March. And give him my money. I’m watching so don’t fuck me about Janek.’
He watches as Janek gets up. Watches him leave the restaurant and make his way to the bookies’ room. He watches him as he talks to Charlie March. Five banknotes are exchanged for a ticket. Janek pockets the betting slip and turns away, eyes darting around the room; looking for something or someone. He hears a voice in his ear.
‘Is there something else I can do for you, Mr Lekowski?’ Charlie March always asks politely. Well, the first question anyway. The second is carried by a growl, ‘Haven’t you forgotten something?’
Janek turns with a start, ‘What?’
‘You haven’t paid the tax,’ the growl becomes a snarl as Charlie March holds out his hand.
Janek takes an envelope from his pocket, and places it in March’s palm.
‘Do I need to count it?’ asks March, his voice indicating that only one answer is expected.
‘No!’ spits Janek.
‘Temper, temper,’ says March, laughing. ‘Oh look the race is about to start. They’re off – look, that number five looks good.”
The five dog stays out in front and wins comfortably. The taxman can see the smile as Janek wrings his hands with delight – two hundred and fifty pounds at eleven to one – he’s made his money back.
‘Sorry sir. This ticket is for number six,’ Charlie says solemnly, trying to keep a straight face.
‘But I put my bet on number five. You took it.’
‘Sorry sir. The boy must have made a mistake. But you should have checked the ticket before the race. Too late now.’
‘Too late! I’ll show you too late. I want my money.’
‘Sorry, nothing I can do. Now be a good boy and move along or I’ll call security.’
There is no more to see and the taxman makes two more calls; one giving Kazia her instructions, the other to the friend who has let him sit here for the past two hours.
The door of the booth opens and the taxman gets up to leave, ‘Thanks for your help mate, I’ll be going now.’
‘No problem, any time,’ says the security man, as he sits down in front of the monitors. He has just made a fifty quid for doing nothing, and his girlfriend another twenty just for delivering a message to a customer. ‘Are you still riding that bike? Rather you than me mate. It’s snowing out there now.’
The taxman is waiting by the bike when Kazia comes out. She runs over to him and hands him an envelope. ‘Your friend Mr March said thank you,’ she sounds bemused; she doesn’t know about Janek’s bet.
The red leather jacket offers some protection against the icy wind that is bringing the snow from the east, but the thin tights are no use at keeping out the cold. She is freezing when they get back to the Travelodge and he tells her to take a shower.
She comes back into the room, wrapped in a white towel. He is lying on the bed, a scarf covers the lower part of his face; he still has his boots on. She lies beside him. The towel falls away, exposing her small breasts, and the harsh light reveals old bruises. She doesn’t say anything. She waits, whatever he wants she will do. She doesn’t want him to hurt her.
To her surprise he gets up. ‘I don’t want that Kazia. You don’t have to don’t anything. And you don’t have to go back to Janek.’
‘What do you mean? I owe him money. He paid the men for me.’
‘But he doesn’t own you, and he can’t hurt you if he can’t find you.’
The taxman opens the envelope that she gave him earlier. ‘Here this is for you. Wait here and some people will come for you. Don’t be afraid.’
He counts out three hundred pounds, and puts the money in her hand, ‘Take it. It will help you get home. And you will need this too.’
‘Where did you get this? How?’ she clutches at her passport and starts turning the pages in disbelief. ‘Janek said it was lost.’ She throws her arms around him and kisses his face. ‘Thank you, thank you.’
The scarf slips from his face as he pulls her away. She looks away and closes her eyes. ‘Sorry, sorry, I …’
She wants desperately to see his face, to have a reminder to keep with her, but her fear of what his reaction will be is greater than her curiosity.
‘Ok, don’t worry,’ he pulls the scarf back up over his nose. He is not worried; this one won’t give him away.
She watches him leave, then goes to the window. She watches as he mounts the bike. The engine roars into life and a moment later he is gone.
She sits on the edged of the bed. Now there is nothing to do but wait.
She waits for – What? Who? – she doesn’t know, but for some reason, she trusts him. And she has nowhere else to go.
The snow has all gone; as suddenly as it arrived. The wind has dropped and the sun is shining. The skies towering over the Fens to the east of the city are almost cloudless and seem to go on forever. It is a beautiful February morning.
He parks the bike in its regular space and makes his way to the locker room, greeting colleagues along the way, catching up on the news. It is the same at the start of every shift.
He closes his office door, not something he usually does, but he wants some privacy. He turns on the computer and looks in the official directory for the number he needs, but he makes the call from his mobile. It is a direct number, bypassing the usual recorded options that the general public get. It is answered on the third ring.
‘Hello, is that Des Chandler – Immigration? … No don’t worry about who I am … Yes I’m sure you would, but I’m just a public spirited person who would prefer to remain anonymous. I’d like to report an illegal immigrant … Ukrainian …’
The call lasts no more than a couple of minutes.
He opens his office door and makes his way to the front desk. He passes a couple of uniforms in the corridor, and greets them with a smile, ‘Morning Jerry, morning Angie.
They reply in unison, ‘Morning Sarge, you look happy.'
'Yeah ... I had a good night at the dogs.'