From horizon to horizon, clouds, dark and heavy, like recently inflicted bruises, rolled in tortured pain across a heavy night sky. Their swollen membranes no longer able to contain their burden, cascaded a myriad of cool crystal droplets down onto the cold hard concrete of the city streets below.
On the curb of one of these streets, curled up like a ball, his clothes soaked through, his body shivering, is Paul Arnold. Tears, as hot as acid, run down his face, only to be extinguished by the ever falling, ever cooling, rain. Despite the tears Paul is happy, happier that he has ever been in his whole life, for he is about to get the recognition he has so long sought, so long deserved. What’s more is that at the end of it all, it was Mark who had made it possible. Mark Whitely, the best friend a man could ever hope to have.
Hearing the sound of sirens in the distance Paul shifted around a bit to look in their direction. They would be here soon. Even now the ear piercing sound was growing sharper and sharper as they closed in on his position. Flashing blue lights, magnified a thousand times by a thousand glass windows, suddenly enveloped the street. Each pulsar casting a ghoulish reflection of Paul’s image back up at him from the water covered street at his feet. There were only two vehicles at the moment but at this range it looked and sounded as if a hundred of them were closing in on him. And as the cacophony of light and sound screeched to a halt beside him, Paul found himself cringing away from them. He hated himself for this moment of weakness. Considering all he had just gone through he would have thought himself stronger than this. But now it appeared that his moment of bravery had been nothing more than that, a single solitary moment, frozen forever in that small primal part of his brain that dealt with all his masculine urges and ego. Still, what did bravery matter in this world anyway. Hero’s were many and cheap; they filled the graveyards of every town, village and city. They spanned the vast epochs of time; their dead lifeless bodies piled one upon the other. Their decayed matter and dried and shattered bones, supplying solid foundations for the weak and pathetic to build their cities upon. No, there were enough dead saps in the world already. Paul had evolved beyond mere bravery. He had moved into the realm of self-realisation, of international success and recognition. He had moved into that place in the world where all things became possible, and not by luck or bravery but by planning and foresight. By just a few simple acts he had assured his place in the minds of the masses. Of course he would need to nourish and nurture his new-found notoriety. Guide it, forge it, turn it, like an ancient sword builder, each word would be like a hammer on the soft, hot, malleable metal. Until, from the rough pig iron of its inception, something of beauty would emerge. Something to last far beyond the lifetime of its creator, something that would become legend.
As two men took him into the back of the van Paul could see the blood soaked pavement where he had awaited their arrival. The rain had helped to dilute a lot of the hot, red fluid but this just helped to spread it about a bit. Paul was still impressed by just how much of it there was. The long bladed knife was also still there, wet and sticky with the spill of red. As one of the doors to the van suddenly closed Paul thought he caught a glimpse of some small clots on the handle of the blade; these would really add to the pictures on the front page of tomorrow’s papers. As the second door to the van closed Paul caught a glimpse of more flashing lights arriving at the scene and- yes- there they where, a TV crew. He could relax now. Soon the TV reporters and newspaper photographers would out number the police. His fate was in their shallow hands now. He was confident they would not let him down.
Everything was working out fine, just as he had planned it. His world for once seemingly in order, he could relax a bit. But as the adrenaline began to ebb, he suddenly became nauseous. His mind began to swim. He felt hot and feverish. His eyelids began to flutter in an uncontrolled manner. Something wasn’t right. Suddenly pain pulled him back into reality. His body was wrenched as one of the men in the back of the van tightened the restraints, which bound him. But the aversion was only temporary and once again he felt his body de-robe the binding force of gravity which should have kept him still. All of a sudden his whole body felt as if it were at sea, with nothing but a small raft between him and the watery debts of forever. For a few moments he felt himself stabilise there, just bobbing up and down on the edge of reality and then quite suddenly but with sickening inevitability he felt himself slip below the surface of his conscious mind. And so he drifted deeper and deeper into the infinity that was himself. In desperation he lashed out in an attempt to halt his decent but there was nothing there for him to grab hold of. Then an image flashed before him, it was the face of Mark Whitely and reaching out Paul lashed himself to it.
They had been friends since Mark had first moved to their little town… well that was not entirely true but it was soon after, very soon. It had been in English class and Paul had been seventeen, when he had first clapped eyes on Mark. His teacher had stood at the top of the class reading a poem from one of the great Irish writers; Paul couldn’t remember which one. There was a knock at the door and in walked Mark Whitely. At the time Paul had paid little attention to the tall, blonde haired boy; he didn’t need to. Paul was several inches taller than everyone else in his year and about twelve pounds heavier. He was captain of the school soccer team and was the counties under eighteen’s, one hundred-meter, free style swimming champion. Paul didn’t have to pay attention to anyone; they paid attention to him; that’s the way it worked. In fact the only thing Paul did that might have been looked down upon by his peers, was play the piano but no one dared jibe him about it. He was far to powerful for something as small as that to upset his reign. He was good too. By the age of twelve he had reached level thirteen and now he could play Mozart and Beethoven to a pedigree few could match. His parents of course wanted him to play at the school and in state music competitions, just so they could glory in yet another of their son’s success’s but Paul would hear none of it. Playing the piano in the privacy of his own home was one thing but playing for an audience… even his credibility might not be able to stand up to that. But then something happened which was to change everything and it happened during recess on the day he met Mark Whitely.
Paul had just been hanging around, drinking a coke, when his friend Philip came up to him. “So Paul, what do you make of the new guy, Mark?” Phillip asked.
Paul shrugged his shoulders. “I hear he is a bit of a player. He is due to try out for the team later today and god knows we could do with a few new players.”
Philip nudged Paul’s shoulder. “It seems that’s not all he’s good at playing,” he said, motioning to a small group standing by the school fence. Paul looked over and saw Mark talking to two girls, Paul’s girlfriend Linda and her, ever present friend, Suzan. Paul watched them for a moment. They were both giggling a lot and nether seemed to be able to keep still. He watched as they bobbed from foot to foot, laughing both to Mark and to each other. Everyone in town knew Paul and no one would ever have dared to approach his girl in such a manner and certainly not in public. Even now Paul could see a thousand hungry eyes watching the trio, judging them, waiting to see Paul’s reaction to this usurper. He had to act now, his reputation demanded it.
He began to move; his eyes focused only on Mark as he crossed the yard. With every step he took he could feel his body tighten. His arms were becoming heavy, his shoulders stiff. With every beat of his feet on the tarmac, he could feel his quad’s surge with blood, as with every step they picked up more and more speed. By the time he had reached Mark he was in a blind rage. No longer even aware of Linda or Suzan, he homed in straight on Mark and lashed out, with both palms hitting his opponent in the chest. Mark was sent flying to the ground. Linda and Suzan started to scream but it was to no effect, Paul heard nothing, his ears rang only with the sound of his own blood, as it coursed through his veins and he saw only Mark.
Paul looked down on his quarry where he lay. “What the fuck do you think you are playing at,” he said, spittle flying from his mouth as he spoke. He was in such a rage that words just kept coming. “Who the fuck do you think you are messing with. And you can forget about the soccer team as well you fuck. I’m captain of the team and I’m telling you right now that I’ll see both your legs broken before you ever join my team!”
His foe felled and duly dealt with, Paul’s anger ebbed some and he was about to turn to Linda and drag her away, when Mark began to get up, and what’s more he looked as if he was smiling. It would seem that Paul was going to have to really give him a good one, show the smarmy bugger just who it was that he was dealing with.
As mark finally got to his feet Paul took a swing at him but the blond haired boy ducked it easily. Paul took another swing at him, but, dancing on his toes Mark again dodged his attack. Anger and humiliation raged in Paul and without regard he charged straight as Mark but this time the new boy did not retreat but rather stepped forward and rammed his fist straight into Paul’s oncoming face.
It is amazing how a single instant can change the course of a persons life and in the instant when Mark Whitley’s fist met Paul’s face, the course of Paul’s life changed forever. As he sailed through the air his world collapsed. No one had ever hit him before, he had always been the one to do the hitting and the pain and humiliation of the attack bit deep. By the time his back had made contact with grass beneath him, he had given up and not just the fight, he had given up everything. In that one moment he surrendered his position as top dog in the school, his position as captain of the football team and his place on the swim team. Mark had won and as he reigned down further kicks and punches to Paul’s beaten body, Paul just surrendered to them all. If you could not be the best what was the point in fighting back. Paul had decided right there even as blow after blow rocked his body that he would devote himself to this new leader. He would become Marks friend and forever live in his shadow but wow, what a shadow.
As the days past and Paul’s body recovered, he watched as Mark took on the role of leader of the pack. Within two days of the fight, he had taken the football captaincy and within the week was on the swim team too. The final handing over of power had came one night when Paul climbed the balustrade to Linda’s bedroom window. He had been calling to end their relationship. Like Paul before, Linda was a leader. She was the most beautiful and popular girl in school and Paul knew he would no longer be able to hold on to her, so he had decided to free her of her obligation to him. But as he reached the window and peered through the thin net curtain, he could see the job had already been done. He could see her naked body on all fours, her full breasts swinging backwards and forwards, as Mark penetrated her from behind. He stared, mesmerised by the rhythm of their bodies; each of their movements, perfectly balanced by another, both of them in absolute symmetry. They were like machines, there perfectly matched gears, oiled, and pumping to a beat he had only ever dreamed of.
Turning away from the window he sat for a moment upon the slate roof tiles in silence. He smiled. Things were as they should be. Rising to his feet he moved on. He would seek out Susan, as a lower raking female she would be only to glad of the attention of a second hand hero.
For a few moments Paul resurfaced again. One of the two men was trying to put something over his face; they were trying to cover his mouth with something. Paul tried to struggle but it was useless, he was strapped down and even if he had been free, he doubted he would have had the strength to fight them off.
Slipping beneath the surface of his mind once more, Paul returned to his past. He was in collage; Mark was there. Paul had followed him to New York and had taken up a position in a music degree, while Mark had studied law. Everyone loved Mark, he was top of his class. The Lecturers loved him, the students loved him, even the members of the board loved him. It was as it should be. And everywhere that Mark went, Paul followed, insuring that his better was always one step ahead of the game. In order to help Mark, Paul had studied law too, not in class like Mark but at home, in the flat the two young men shared. He would go over Marks work with a fine tooth-comb before it had to be handed in, making sure Mark had not missed anything; he so frequently would. But it was never Marks fault; he was as perfect as could be. No it was the collage’s fault; they all expected so much from him. The young women on campus needed to be serviced, the dean and others, would expect him to appear at parties and address the assembly with witty speeches and repartee. The soccer them expected him lively and alert and ready to score goals. How could he ever be expected to cope! So Paul managed everything, and if he was good, Mark would occasionally through him a woman or two, someone drunk perhaps or out of it on drugs, someone who probably wouldn’t remember too much the following morning. And Paul had been good, often.
When he wasn’t looking after Mark, Paul had been busy with his own degree. He did very well but always made sure never to do better than Mark; it would have not been right to over shadow his friend like that.
Later, after collage, Paul had used money his parents had given him, to help set Paul up in business. It had been difficult at first, it was important that Mark looked well so there hadn’t always been food for Paul but that was okay. Later, when the business finally did take off, arranging meetings, while Mark had been entertaining clients hadn’t always left time for Paul to make it to rehearsals for his own carrier but again that was okay, his time would come and when it did Mark would be there for him.
And of course, when the time had finally come, Mark had been there. Paul had not asked if he would help, there’d been no need – a friend in need, and all that – besides, he had not wanted to bother him with the details. Mark could get very upset at some of Paul’s ideas.
Paul had waited five more years, until he had become a rising name before finally deciding it was time, not just to make himself a famous piano player, but to become an infamous one.
A pounding on his chest suddenly brought Paul around again.
“We’ve got him,” one of the men said. Paul wondered who they were talking about. Then the other man produced a long syringe and jabbed into Paul’s arm. There was no pain, in fact Paul could not feel anything anymore. He looked up onto the face of the man administering the drug, he looked worried for some reason.
Then Paul slipped away again.
His plan had been surprisingly easy to carry out. He’d left his downtown apartment and made his way uptown, carrying a small bag of Coke and a long, sharp butcher’s knife. He had been supplying Mark with his Coke since their collage days and he had been purposely holding back this particular delivery for several weeks now, knowing his friend would never risk going out onto the streets and getting some for himself.
He arrived at Marks penthouse apartment just as the rain was starting to fall from the skies. Mark had been entertaining a young woman at the time but he was willing to allow an interruption, because he knew what Paul was bringing.
Paul watched as his friend rolled up a hundred dollar bill and started to snuff the delicate white powder up into his mind. What Mark did not know, was that Paul had been cutting his Coke for over a year now, diluting it ever down further and further but tonight he had let him have it, el-natural, full strength. And it was good gear. The girl, a pretty brunette, was already doing cartwheels across the floor, giggling like a fool, with eyes so wide that the eyeballs looked in fear of falling out.
Mark was getting excited too. He was laughing uncontrollably and between breaths he was sucking up ever more of the white powder. Controlling his laughter at last, he stood up and unzipping his trousers exposed a rigid erection. “Get over hear babe,” he called to the brunette.
The woman looked over and whooping for joy, she ran to Mark but as she got close, Paul produced the butchers knife and rammed it to the hilt, into the woman’s stomach. Her eyes rolling in her head the woman’s mouth made an almost comical, O, shape as Paul pulled the knife free and she fell to the floor.
Mark just stared at the woman for a few moments and then stared at Paul. He had a stupid look on his face, like a dog staring at something it was trying very hard to understand but was failing in its attempts. Paul hated that look on Mark’s face. It was the way he had always looked when his brain was fried and Paul had always felt it was very unbecoming. Then Mark burst out laughing, “What the fuck did you do that for,” he asked.
Paul smiled, “Oh don’t worry about her. We can tidy up later. I want you to do something for me.”
Mark put his penis away. “Hey man I told you before I don’t’ blow that way,” he said, and then started to laugh again.
Paul reached out his, leather gloved hand, with the knife in it, “Take it,” he said.
Mark took the knife, “Now what,” he asked.
Paul knelt down at the coffee table Mark had been snorting the Coke off of and placed his arms out, onto the table in front of him. He looked up at Mark. “I want you to cut my hands off,” he said.
Mark looked at him and burst out laughing. “Fuck off Paul,” he said. “What are you playing at.”
But Paul did not return his laugh, he just stared up at his friend “I said I want you to cut my hands off.”
Under normal circumstances Mark never would have done it. It wasn’t that he didn’t like a little sadism now ant then, it was just that his own, very keen, sense of self preservation would normally have kicked in by now. But these were not normal circumstances.
Mark scratched his head and shrugged his shoulders, “Fair enough,” he said. Taking the knife he stood over Paul, then reaching down he grabbed Paul’s left arm, trapping the hand onto the table surface. He began cutting.
Paul tried very hard not to scream out but he was unable to contain himself, so great was the pain. But then, this was after all, what he had wanted. The recordings he’d made in recent weeks would be the last he would ever make and when the TV and papers got hold of the story, of how Mark - one of the cities most admired lawyers - out of his head on Coke, had killed the girl he had been with and then cut the hands off of one of the worlds rising music stars, Paul would become more famous than all the great and very dead composers the would had ever seen. He would become a new Beethoven, or Mozart.
As Mark finished of the first arm, he shook his head. “You really are the craziest fucker I have ever met,” he said, and then grabbing the second hand he started cutting once more.
Paul was close to passing out. All of a sudden he vomited, the burning hot contents of his stomach erupting onto his mutilated arms. Mark just laughed, as if it were all a big joke.
When the final cut had been made Mark flopped down onto the sofa and rolling another hundred dollar bill he looked up at Paul. “Anything else,” he asked.
Paul was shaking violently but he managed to stand up, taking the knife between his bloody stumps. “Perhaps you could open the door,” he said.
Mark obliged him and then slammed the door after him.
Paul made his way down the corridor and using his elbow called a lift. On his way down he called for the emergency services using the voice activate phone he carried in his top, shirt pocket and which was hooked up to a hands free microphone attached to the top of his shirt. He briefly explained what Mark had done and where he could be found and then hung up.
Stumbling out of the building, he staggered to the edge of the street where he dropped the knife as he finally collapsed onto the kerb. All he had to do now was wait.
Paul could hear the men talking about him again, but this time he was unable to open his eyes. It felt very strange to be hearing those voices, they seemed to be coming from everywhere and yet Paul felt they were coming from a place he no longer belonged to. They were becoming more distant too. He was drifting away from them.
“We’re loosing him,” he heard one of them say but the voice was so far away now that he could barley make out the words, besides he didn’t care what they had to say, he had a future to plan, a bright and beautiful future.