Pugnus – a short story by James Jenkins

James Jenkins, Short Stories

“Don’t play the fucking victim here Ronnie,” Micky Boswell bellowed over the pounding rain. “You asked me remember? I’m ready for more responsibility Mr Boswell,” he mimicked Ronnie’s nasally voice.

The rain shat down in violent and relentless sheets. The wind howled in all directions as Ronnie did his best to separate it from the oxygen he desperately needed. Suspended by his ankles from the impossibly strong grip of his boss’s henchman, he made the mistake of looking down the twenty-four-story tower block. The ground barely distinguishable.

“Please Mr Boswell! Give me more time,” Ronnie squealed as Boswell’s thug released his bear like grip for the briefest of moments.

“Not yet Charles. I want to make sure that Ronnie here truly understands the gravity of his actions.”

The joke was lost on Ronnie. Between the henchmen’s tight hands clinging onto his ankles and the blood that had long drained to his upturned head he struggled for air. The continuous downpour funnelled down his body into each nostril. A crude side effect of the unintentional water boarding.

“I… I can find it Mr Boswell! It’s gone. Please, please just let me back up.” Charles eased his grip again, the lactic acid easing for a welcome second.

It. Did you just say it Ronnie?” Micky Boswell had run out of patience. Ronnie sensed his time was up and struggled in his inverted position for something to grab. A ledge, drainpipe, something, anything! There was nothing except the questionable flat surface of the cladding.

“Drop him Charlie, I’ve had enough of this fucking weather.”

The henchman released Ronnie without hesitation. His commitment to the sadistic crime lord ever unquestioned. Neither man gave their falling victim another glance and headed straight for the roof door. Safe and dry at last.

Floor 19

Ronnie had already descended five floors before the reality of the situation dawned – he was going to die. He’d always wondered if it was true what they said about your life flashing before your eyes right before death. It seemed unlikely. The entire events of twenty-seven years playing out before he smashed into the concrete some two-hundred feet below. Such a short amount of time for such a long distance. His mind seemed to sense the perilous situation amplifying the images that flashed through his mind.

Floor 17

Ronnie passed the window in slow motion. He had time to look in and witness the deprived décor. The wallpaper long faded and peeling. Outdated kitchen units lacking doors and draw fronts. The layout the same as his own but without the same amount of pride or delusions of grandeur. Ronnie hated the fucking building. A grey colossal prick that stuck up into the polluted clouds. Thatcher’s legacy – a raging erection for any hardnosed Tory. A symbolism of the us and them. It was inevitable that he would find himself in the infamous tower block. If not this exact one, then an identical sibling with equal powers to paralyze residents into typecast rejects. Society’s unemployables, the uneducated and most certainly law breakers. The sharp sucking of breath through teeth when telling anyone from the outside your address. Ronnie had never accepted life had to be this way. He knew he had been meant for bigger things. After his mum died, he and his younger sister were kicked out of the family home. The council relocated them both to the tower block. The spice heads sketched out in corridors and the crackheads slumped outside the doors of well-known cuckoo nests. The only role models were the rare glimpse of someone like Mickey Boswell and his entourage. The pied piper to his army of prepubescent teenage boys playing gangster. Ronnie was intoxicated by the man’s wield of power. He enforced respect from all of those around him. A few weeks after Ronnie and his sister Tina had moved in, Mickey pulled up in his fancy black car and Ronnie watched with astonishment as the bodyguard hurried to open the door for the crime lord. Rumour had it he was here on official business. The buzz was going around that someone owed tick, and everyone knew that if Micky Boswell came personally – you were getting fucked up. Mickey’s very own unit of bulging muscles and steroids heading as one into the tenement. Micky watched on leaning on his car wearing those cool as fuck sunglasses and puffing on a Marlborough. Ronnie had watched as the powerful man stroked his panting dog through the open car window. Only Micky Boswell could own a pug and still look as hard as cement in a place like this. There wouldn’t be many takers to tell him otherwise. Ronnie had known then that he must prove himself to this leader of men. His fantasies had been interrupted when the henchmen dragged out a screaming lad in a grey tracksuit. The colour did nothing to disguise the wet trouser leg. They dropped him in front of Micky who’d already taken his cock out and proceeded to piss on the blubbering mess. The crowd had been waiting for this moment as the onlooking community gave their approval with cheers and diminishing laughter. The stage set, Micky played up to the crowd. He made a big play of shaking the drops of urine from his abnormally huge prick and finally put it away. Keeping his captive audience on side, Micky produced an array of offensive weapons to the approving shouts of the bystanders. Saving the best for last – a battery powered chainsaw which was quickly deemed the winner. In a stroke of genius, he stopped before bringing the tool down on his pleading victim.

“How rude of me,” said Micky acting as if he had just remembered something important. “Who wants a go? A grand to the lucky candidate!” He offered the chainsaw up to the baying crowd. Ronnie wanted to run down there and then to show his worth. To throw himself in front of the face of opportunity. But before he could even consider the seven flights of stairs he was beaten to the chance. He wouldn’t have made it even if the lift worked – if the lift had ever worked. Instead a well-known spice head stumbled desperately forward and made a grab for the chainsaw. The piss-soaked point of fixation tried to get away but one of the heavies punted him in the rib cage. He slumped back to the gravel without further protest. Micky laughed at the spice head’s enthusiasm and teased him with the tool.

“You sure you know how to handle one of these?” he laughed.

“Let me do it Micky!” someone shouted from the impatient crowd.

“Now, now. First come, first served and all that,” he said passing the chainsaw over to the filthy shaking hands of the spicer. He showed him how to work it and made a dramatic leap back much to the amusement of the crowd.

Ronnie turned away from his window as the desperate man fell upon the boy on the ground. The sounds of helpless agony mixed with gurgled blood and the chainsaw was too much to bear. The fantasy had been so much more poetic than the reality. He’d promised Tina he would get them out after that. That was seven years ago.

Floor 14

The blinds were closed but Ronnie caught a glimpse of the elderly couple watching TV on an old rear projector. The odd slat was missing, he could see the grime and dust stuck with nicotine on each one. A pigeon took off in fright from the unexpected visitor to its perch. Ronnie considered reaching out to grab it but realised that it was a fruitless effort and would only be cruel to the animal. Fuck animals! Wasn’t that the reason he was here now? Pelting towards the ground on a one-way trip to a combustion of shattered bone and splattered innards. Yes. It made him regret not punching the bird. The winged rat might have posed his last chance of fury at the animal kingdom. But could he really blame the dog, less the pigeon for his current predicament? He wasn’t so sure. Micky Boswell hadn’t been wrong – Ronnie had asked for it. After the public massacre with the spice head, Ronnie reconsidered his career path. The drug fiend had failed to deliver any instant relief to the victim of Micky’s discipline. Even the blood thirsty crowd had grown sickened by the prolonged agony that his lack of co-ordination entailed. Micky read the room – forecourt – and allowed his entourage to guide him back into the car and away from the distant but approaching sirens. The tinted windows lowering just enough for him to jettison the promised reward – he was a man of his word. The spice head grabbed the cash and left the unfinished job to bleed and moan as his life slowly ebbed away. Ronnie had tried all the usual haunts after that. The jobseekers did the best they could. Unfortunately, their best wasn’t very good. Despite his average school grades, Ronnie’s address and more likely colour of his skin was overlooked for any potential apprenticeship. He understood it wasn’t always strictly about race. He had white friends who had been treated the same, but when fifty percent of the interviewers asked What country are you from? He realised it wasn’t just because his surname was Aluko. Reluctantly and with great sadness he accepted his fate and worked through chicken factories, handballing and the occasional labouring job. Zero-hour contracts and companies that didn’t deliver redundancies when they utilised their government friend’s liquidation rights. Dumping Ronnie’s potential deposit funds into offshore bank accounts – at least there were food banks!

Ronnie passed down over the red glow of the thirteenth floor. Maybe he’d wanted it too much. Some crooked part of his sub-conscious pining for the realities within. A blurred chance of red lace and naked flesh were his only reward. It could have been titty, but then it could have just as easily been a shoulder, elbow or even a punters bald head. Ronnie knew he didn’t have much time left so chose to believe it wasn’t the latter. He knew some of the girls who worked there from his schooldays. The queens of their generation, unattainable to the likes of Ronnie for years as he watched their inevitable journey. The same who had ridiculed him with rejections now begged for the change in his pockets and offered their sex for much more. Gone were their flawless looks and perked bodies, now replaced with decaying teeth and needle marks. A little look still wouldn’t hurt though.

Floor 12

Ronnie appeared as a flashing blur to the occupant of the twelfth-floor flat, but to Ronnie it felt like an eternity. For the briefest of moments, he locked eyes with the man inside. He recognised him from the estate. Another discarded soul long forgotten by the government who had failed him, left to the mercy of a hardened way of life. Vulnerable due to his learning disability and abused by anyone who chanced upon him. He’d witnessed the public humiliation himself and reflected on the damage he’d caused others weaker than himself. And for what? To climb Micky Boswell’s ladder of vanity and violence. He used to think he was different from the rest of the community. Purer somehow and righteous but as he continued to cascade past floor eleven and ten, he realised that he’d been no different.

Time had eroded the memory of the chainsaw massacre. It was aided by the twelve hour shifts and unsociable working hours to earn a pittance that barely covered the rent. The rare but unforgettable occasions that Boswell visited the estate distorted Ronnie’s impression of the man even more. The public displays of gore and retribution to the unlucky few who dared to challenge his authority were more discreet since the cameras were fitted. The jovial man’s demeanour as he walked proudly through the building’s corridors. Pausing to make small talk with the natives, handing a young single mother a wad of notes and helping an old couple carry their shopping bags. It was on one of these visits that Ronnie seized his opportunity, kidding himself that it could be different for him.

“Hello lad,” Micky said walking past Ronnie in the building’s foyer.

“Hello Mr Boswell. How are you Mr Boswell?” he’d eagerly replied.

“See Terry. Some of these kids do have manners,” Boswell said to one of his muscle men. Ronnie had beamed with pride. The Micky Boswell had paid him a compliment!

“What’s you name lad?”

“Ron, eh, Ronnie Mr Boswell,” he’d stuttered.

“Hello Ronnie, please to meet you. Call me Micky. You don’t work for me do ya?”

“No Micky Sir. I work at the chicken factory.” Terry the heavy snickered at him and Boswell spun on his own man.

“What you laughing at Terry? The lads working ain’t he?”

“Sorry Micky,” the sight of the clearly physically stronger man cowering to his boss pleased Ronnie.

“But seriously kid, why you want to work there for? Manners like yours are wasted in a fucking poultry packaging plant. Why don’t you come work for me?”

Ronnie couldn’t believe what was happening it was moving so fast. Two minutes before and he’d never even locked eyes with the infamous governor of the underworld. Now he was being offered a job? He’d dreamed of this moment but now it was here he could barely control his stomach. Liquid shit churned inside of him threatening to burst the thin barrier of his sphincter.

“I’d be honoured Mickey. What… what do you want me to do?”

“You don’t worry about that now lad. You know where my boozer is? The Ivy Tavern. Come see me tomorrow. See you later Ronnie,” Micky took Ronnie’s hand giving it a firm shake before leaving. Ronnie babbled his thanks and goodbyes to the back of the most dangerous man the city knew.

Floor 8

Ronnie stared at the closed blinds of his own flat and cursed himself for leaving the light to blead out from around the edges of the window. Not that any of that mattered anymore. The utility company could fight over the pitiful amount of savings that sat frozen in his bank account. None would be satisfied. His legacy – £128. After he’d met with Micky, Ronnie accepted a job collecting glasses and the occasional bit of bar work, he was left a little disappointed. It didn’t carry the same weight and potential as dealer or enforcer. Having the shame of telling his sister and her new prick of a boyfriend the reality of his previous brag was hard on him. Tina had already grown distant from him since she met Jordan. He was younger, stronger and more gobby than Ronnie. His reputation for unpredictable and unnecessary violence often resulted in a stabbing at the least. Ronnie had tried to warn Tina about him, but this had only pushed her further away. The argument resulting with her moving out to Jordan’s. It was still in the same building, but the distance wasn’t only physical. Despite this Ronnie found that he enjoyed his new job and even he could tell he was good at it. The manager asked him to fill in on the bar duty more as her trust went up in him. The pay and hours were even better than his last job too. Unfortunately, the constant mocking from his sister and Jordan was something he couldn’t shake. He obsessed about it, even considered having a fight with Jordan but that was likely to only end one way. Eventually it got the better of him and so he waited for the next time he saw Micky Boswell.

Floor 7

Ronnie had to bide his time before he saw Micky again. The occasions had been few and far between. You had to pick your moment carefully with people like this. It’s not advisable to ask your boss for a promotion while he’s crushing the skull of his victim into the bar counter. A lot had gone well for Ronnie in the meantime. He’d been promoted to assistant manager over another colleague who had worked there for much longer. The man hadn’t taken it well and spouted off about equal opportunities and ticking boxes before being kicked out. Ronnie knew the man had been skimming the till for as long as he’d been there, but it felt good to have the backing of his manager. He’d even met a girl and it was going surprisingly well until he’d introduced her to Tina and Jordan. The ridiculing had started right away. The girl Rita had been kind about it, but Ronnie knew that he needed that promotion and the respect that came with it more than ever. Finally, Micky came into the bar. Alone and happy. The moment couldn’t be better as Ronnie was the only one working the bar that day.

“Mr Boswell. How are you today? Can I get you a drink?”

“Manners!” Micky boomed holding his hands up in celebration. “That’s why I employed you lad. Looks like you’re doing alright. What was it? Robbie?”

“Ronnie, Sir.”

“There he goes again,” laughed Micky. “Bloody sir. You’re a good lad Ronnie, now get me a Yamazaki and whatever you’re having.”

“Thank you, Mr Boswell. I’m glad you came in actually, there was something I wanted to ask you.”

“Get us a drink Ron and then we can talk about it. And for fucks sake, call me Micky.”

Ronnie did as he was bid and headed to the cellar where they kept the good stuff. He retrieved the Japanese whiskey that they only stocked for Micky. He used the time to psych himself up to the moment. He couldn’t let this chance slip through his fingers. He went back to the bar and saw a couple of Micky’s goons had joined him. Ronnie felt his moment begin to evaporate.

“There he is!” shouted Micky to his company. “Two pints of Stella for these two please Ron.” He hated being called Ron, but Micky Boswell could call him what the fuck he wanted. Ronnie started to pull the pints wondering if it really was his forte after all.

“What did you want to ask me Ron?” Micky said with interest.

“Oh, yeah. Sorry Mr Boswell, it can wait if you have company.”

“Nonsense Ron. We’re all family here, aren’t we lads?” said Micky to a chorus of –Yes Boss. Ronnie suppressed the overriding wave of fear and cleared his throat.

“Mr B… Micky. I really am grateful for everything you’ve done for me and I really do love working at the Ivy, I really do. The thing is though, I was sort of hoping that I might be able to do something else for you. Like, you know, take on more responsibility for you.” Micky had remained quiet throughout and looked at Ronnie with genuine interest.

“Look lad, different people are meant for different things. Take Terry here, he could run this bar but just look at him. Would you come in here if that mug greeted you? Would you fuck. You’re a good kid Ron, this is a good fit for you. Why do you want to get involved with all my other bollocks? Karen won’t be here forever. Bide your time and you could be manager. There’s a tidy little flat above here, could be yours Ron. Get yourself out of the towers.” Micky really was affording Ronnie a rare kindness that contradicted his usual character. Ronnie wasn’t giving up yet though.

“Please Mr Boswell. I just feel like if I could prove it to you. I could handle more responsibility then you’d see what I’m really all about,” he pleaded. Boswell shook his head in disbelief. Even his thugs were too stunned to add any jibes.

“Alright,” Micky said after a few seconds thought. “I’ve got a little job for you Ron. Little but really fucking important. You do this for me and then will see.”

“Yes Micky, anything. I’ll do it,” Ronnie said with excitement.

Floor 5

Ronnie feathered towards the ground and his impending death. The street was so close now that he wondered if maybe he would be okay. If he’d jumped from this height then maybe he would escape with a broken leg maybe even a fractured skull, but he could still survive yet. Inside the flat on floor five, Ronnie stared intently on the lush form of Rita Edwards bent over on all fours taking it from behind by Jordan. This was a bit of a shit show. Rita was the girl Ronnie had found himself falling for. His last living moments – the mental image of his sister’s boyfriend fucking her was quite depressing. He didn’t feel sorry for himself, only his sister who he wouldn’t be able to look out for anymore. Not even be able to tell her he told her so. At least she had the upper hand on their sibling rivalry. A departing gift. He’d promised himself he wouldn’t tell Tina and Jordan about Micky’s special job, but it wasn’t easy to hide a pug from everyone in the area. Tongues had started flapping and it didn’t take long for Tina to text him asking why he had been seen with the pug. He later found out that it was in fact Rita who had blabbed it to her. He was forced to divulge that Micky had assigned him the responsibility of his beloved pug. Micky was going away for the weekend and needed Ronnie to dog sit. The rules had been clear – The dog goes with you every-fucking-where! Ronnie tried to explain that he was still on shift at the bar, but Micky insisted that he take the dog with him. After the ridicule he’d endured just taking it out for a walk, Ronnie made his decision. He left the pug at his flat ensuring there was newspaper to relieve itself, fresh water and food. He’d take cleaning up shit over the embarrassment of walking the dog through the estate again. That street cred’ stood for nothing now. Instead, Ronnie was going to become one with the street in a matter of nanoseconds. Ronnie had been smug with himself once he’d finished his shift and walked home. It was late so he wasn’t even worried about taking the dog out for a quick walk with so few people about. He opened his door and was immediately hit with the smell of dog shit and urine. Ronnie flicked on the light switch to illuminate his pitch-black open plan apartment. He waited for the lively little fucker to scurry over to him, but he couldn’t even see the thing. Fear dawned on him rising like the bile in his throat. Ronnie ripped through his home in a painfully pointless search for the pug. Every unlikely cupboard he searched put off the inevitable realisation – the dog was gone.

Floor 4

He knew the flat would be empty. The tenants had been evicted a few days before and the way the council operated it would take an age before they turned it back over for those on the waiting list. It was one of the first places he checked for the dog. There was no rationale to his theory, just somewhere else to try. Ronnie walked with expanding panic fighting back the tears of his terrifying reality searching the tenement. His search had taken him to every floor and neighbouring block. There wasn’t a piece of open space in a country mile that he didn’t search. It wasn’t like you could put an advert out or start knocking on doors. If he found the dog or not, when Micky discovered he’d lost his dog he was a dead man. He risked asking his sister and Jordan but when he’d knocked on their flat door, he’d been told by a dangerously wired Jordan to fuck off and sort his own shit out. No one wanted to be dragged into the firing line for his mistake. Monday came and Ronnie knew his time was up. He didn’t hide from Micky. He had nowhere else to go and waited for the knock at the door. Patiently holding out for his impending execution.

Floor 3

Jordan’s flat. Ronnie knew he wasn’t going to see him there but was grateful to catch sight of his sister sitting on the couch. Tina was watching tv, a phone pushed to one ear. Blissfully unaware of her cheating boyfriend only a few feet above her and her brother hurtling to his death outside. She had her back to him, but Ronnie’s attention was stolen by a pair of prominent, globular, soft and solicitous eyes staring at him through the window. The pug even had time to tip its head, a trademark for the breed. The pug slipped out of view and with that Ronnie was released. For a split second he experienced the true velocity with which he was moving before he exploded across the ground. The heavy rain did its best to purge the streets of his entrails. Diluted blood rain funnelled into the gutters and disappeared under the sewer grates. Ronnie’s essence recycling back into the city’s water supply to be filtered into the water table and reused.

***

Tina held her breath over the dialling tone. She’d never even met Micky Boswell before, but Jordan assured her it was best he wasn’t associated with it. Boswell would recognise his voice he’d argued. This was their big chance. The bit of luck that they were owed. Jordan promised her that Micky Boswell would pay anything to get that fucking overly energetic creature back. Tina couldn’t wait. It wasn’t just the money; she hated the sight of the dog too. It hadn’t been easy to steal from Ronnie’s flat. Not emotionally at least, after all she still had a key. Jordan had been so convincing though. He’d chucked potential sums of money about and made her wet with the life he promised they could have. When she’d questioned her brother’s wellbeing he’d resorted to violence and manipulation. Threatening to do it without her. Besides, he assured her that Micky didn’t waste his time on people like Ronnie. No one was getting hurt he reassured her in his calculated way. The ringing stopped. Tina could hear the rain through the speaker and a man’s voice.

“Micky Boswell.”

“Hi Mr Boswell. We’ve got your dog. Here’s what you need to do if you want to see him again.”