Unlucky Dip, page 1
A short story by
M T McGuire
Published by Hamgee University Press www.hamgee.co.uk
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© M T McGuire, January 2011
Latest edition, October 2014
The right of M T McGuire to be identified as the author of this Work has been asserted in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
This book is a work of fiction and, except in the case of historical fact, any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
Unlucky Dip is written in British English and is the prequel to the humorous science fiction fantasy novel
Few Are Chosen, K’Barthan Series: Part 1
I would say the UK film rating of this book is: U (universal) or G (general)
ISBN numbers for this short are as follows...
978-1-907809-07-1 mobi (Kindle users, that’s you)
This book is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. It may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each reader. If you're reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to wherever you bought it from and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.
Unlucky Dip, Prequel to Few Are Chosen
The Pan of Hamgee, a starving outlaw, bumps into Big Merv; the meanest, scariest gangster in the city and without thinking what he is doing, steals his wallet. When Big Merv realises what has happened The Pan's future looks short. Unless he can persuade Big Merv to let him go he will be going for a short swim in concrete boots or recycled into one of the bridges of the Outer Ring Road, currently being constructed round the city.
Few Are Chosen, K’Barthan Series Part 1: An Excerpt
Who is M T McGuire?
It was neither night nor morning but the twilight zone between the two when things tend to go bump. Bits of the city, the wrong bits, were wide awake.
Breathless and dizzy, The Pan of Hamgee rounded a corner. His black suede, elastic-sided, pointy boots skidded on the cobbles. There wasn’t much running left in him. He had to find a place to hide soon. He vaulted over a fallen dustbin and there was a thump as the nearest of his pursuers failed to clear it and landed face down on the ground. The man, a butcher carrying a meat cleaver, staggered to his feet, bringing down the other two – a pair of carpenters armed with chisels. The time they took to disentangle themselves gave The Pan a few precious moments. He slipped into a side street, only to discover he’d made a rare mistake. It was a blind alley. He’d thrown off the pursuit for a few moments but not long enough to retrace his steps. Now what? He cast desperately about him for somewhere to hide.
Nowhere. He ran up the first flight of stairs of a fire escape, his movements accompanied by a cacophony of loud metallic boinging. No, not this way. Too conspicuous. He vaulted over the rail and back to the ground.
A few seconds later, the carpenters and the butcher arrived. The alley was empty.
“I heard someone going up there,” said the butcher.
“Yeh, he must be on the roof. Come on.”
If they’d looked more carefully at the pile of bin bags lying by the back door of a pub, they might have noticed that it appeared to be breathing. Underneath it, The Pan of Hamgee listened as the sound of their footsteps faded away. That had been a close shave. He felt dizzy and he was unutterably tired. He needed a minute to get his breath back. Yeh, there was time to rest his eyes, just for a moment, before he moved on. Immediately he fell into a deep sleep.
The sun came up slowly, as if it were having trouble getting out of bed. As it rose it turned the pale stone of the buildings pink and the windows to fire. If you watched it from a distance, it was very pretty. Close up where you could hear and smell the city, perhaps less so.
In the same blind alley, under the same pile of bin bags, The Pan of Hamgee stirred. Everything felt odd and strangely pleasant. He usually slept in his wheels. It was probably the reason he was still around – many of the homeless had frozen to death on the streets over the cold snap – but the crick-necked, bent-kneed, back-breakingness of passing a night in a very small vehicle was beginning to get him down. Sleepily he stretched out, enjoying the sensation of being blissfully flat and warm and ... stinky? His sense of smell kicked in.
“Aaaargh!” he shouted and leapt up. Oooh, shouldn’t have done that. He leaned against the wall and took a few deep breaths until the world stopped spinning. The dizziness was only hunger – an occupational hazard, nothing a good meal couldn’t fix. Arnold, The Prophet! No. Don’t think about food, drooling was a bad look. The Pan had never been so hungry, or, he sniffed, so smelly. Something had seeped out of the bags in the night and into his clothes. He gingerly examined the rubbish around him, searching for scraps. There was a finite amount of edible refuse to be scavenged in Ning Dang Po and it usually ended up in the hands of people who were bigger and fiercer than The Pan – not to mention unwilling to share. If no-one had got here first there was something wrong. Yes. Someone in the building owned a parrot and cleaned out its cage with meticulous regularity. Food poisoning was a sure – or at least, surer – bet for anyone eating this refuse.
“Arse,” said The Pan. With the current government purge (when wasn’t there a government purge?) food was even scarcer than usual. The streets were full of recently blacklisted people who, like him, were slowly starving to death. No, he reminded himself, he’d survived three years so far, he would NOT be dying with them.
A new smell wafted into the alley: breakfast. A fry-up. It was tantalising.
He consulted his watch. Seven am. A rat scurried out from a nearby drain, paused to look at him and ran back.
“Good morning, fellow vermin. Welcome to another day in Paradise,” said The Pan. He paused to savour the aroma of frying bacon. Ah ... sweet torture. He double checked the bags of refuse. Definitely nothing edible. “Mmm, pity about the parrot. Somebody in there’s a good cook.”
He left the alley and joined the human traffic on the street.
As he jostled and shoved his way through the crowds in the market, his mood darkened; not that it ever lightened much. If life was a gift, then The Pan felt his was a pair of shoddily wrapped, hand-knitted gloves for someone twice his size, probably with six fingers and wonky pink hearts on. His default state was grumpy. When the state declares your existence treason, it can do that to a man. And the smell caused by a night among bin bags wasn’t helping. Being a Government Blacklisted Individual was a hard life and usually a short one. On the up side, The Pan had to concede it involved plenty of fresh air and lots of running. Away, mostly. If he could sort out the regular meals it would be a very healthy lifestyle. No, healthy was the wrong word, he could be shot on sight if he was recognised – but being blacklisted was certainly exciting. Unfortunately, it was the wrong kind of excitement, like Russian roulette, only less relaxing and without the generous safety margins.
He pressed himself back against a doorway on the corner of the street.
As he surveyed the scene he adjusted his hat and pulled his cloak around him. Even here, among the press of the crowd it was cold. Clouds of steam rose as he exhaled and the winter weather w
He crossed to the other side of the road, bumping into a little old lady on the way – a nice soft target. He was good at picking pockets, but he didn’t like it, and he hated himself for not having more backbone than this. The cash in his own wallet came at a high price and he always assumed that the cost was equally high for others.
“Oh dear, oh dear!” said the little old woman as he knocked her handbag to the ground.
“I’m sorry. Here, let me ...” The Pan retrieved the bag and pretended to drop it a second time. As he fumbled with it, he deftly removed her purse and slipped it under his cloak. It felt thick and heavy. Good.
“Why, thank you.” Something in her tone of voice ... The Pan did a double take. Was she onto him? No. He was imagining it – his hunger was interfering with his judgement.
“My pleasure.” He bowed. Did she realise what a cynical, loathsome sleazeball she was dealing with? Not sure. He waited – the most difficult bit – counting to ten before pretending to see the errant purse on the ground and removing it from under his cloak as he mimed picking it up. “Wait! Please, ... excuse me.” He barged through the throng after the old lady’s retreating figure. “You dropped this.”
The Pan’s victim turned round.
“Did I, dear?” She fixed him with a direct stare and his eyes slid downwards to his feet, away from her gaze. She was certainly old, her face wrinkled but she was fully made-up, with a bouffant hairstyle and wearing a lot of maroon chiffon. A faded debutante, for sure, but not nearly as fey or as vulnerable as The Pan had first thought. She regarded him with an I-know-your-game expression. The Pan cleared his throat and felt his face colouring a little.
“Um ... yes,” he said.
“Very good of you I’m sure. Let me give you some cash for your trouble.” Her tone dripped with sarcasm and she dropped a selection of coppers into The Pan’s hand. They came to an amount so insultingly small it was slightly worse than nothing. Yep, this one definitely realised she was being scammed. The Pan glanced down at the money in his hand and raised one eyebrow.
“Perhaps I should have kept it,” said his mouth while his brain was concentrating on other things. No! What was he doing? Now she’d call the police.
“Much good it may have done you, young man, I keep my cash about my person,” she told him tartly, opening the purse to demonstrate. The Pan took in its contents, a few more coppers and a sheaf of till receipts. He thanked The Prophet she hadn’t shown him the money, because it was probably down her bra. “I wasn’t born yesterday,” she added, not unkindly.
The Pan looked her up and down. Yes, well, that was an understatement but there was no diplomatic way to agree so he changed tack.
“I’m sorry,” he shrugged. “I’m not a talented thief.”
“Yes, I can see that, dear.” Oh the humiliation. “Although, this is the first time somebody has stolen my purse and tried to give it back.” She looked at him thoughtfully. “Perhaps these will help.” She tipped the rest of the coppers into his hand. “I’m afraid I have no more change and I can’t afford to give you a note – I would suggest a pie ...” she wrinkled her nose, “or a visit to the public baths?”
The Pan tried to smile suavely while he cringed inside, “Thank you,” he said. He bowed and walked away, his face burning with the kind of heat you could probably roast marshmallows over.
Mmm, that had gone well, so much for compassionate thieving. There wasn’t enough for a pie, either – or a bath – but it was a start.
Right then, one more go at proper, badman stealing and then he’d nick something from one of the stalls and take his chances with the pursuit. Uniquely, The Pan had eyes in the back of his head and – when it came to running away – being able to see forwards and backwards at once was a useful attribute for the outlaw in the street. He was confident he could outrun anyone on a good day, but he was ravenous and light-headed and even 360 degree vision isn’t much use to a man if he can only run a few paces before passing out.
The Pan began to make his way back to the doorway on the corner of the street. It would be a good place to pick out another victim. As he walked, preoccupied with his own thoughts, a gap opened up in the crowd in front of him. He noticed the absence of people too late and bumped into someone. Someone wearing a leather coat, under which The Pan caught glimpses of an immaculate, bespoke-tailored, pinstripe suit. It was an orange Swamp Thing, which is notable, in itself, because they are usually green. Apart from his colour, this one was the same as the rest of his genus: tall, possibly clammy to the touch and with antennae. The Pan was not directly involved in Ning Dang Po’s underworld, but well-versed enough to know who to avoid, and orange Swamp Things were top of his list. This was Big Merv, one of the city’s premier businessmen. ‘Businessman’ in this instance being a distinctly euphemistic description.
Big Merv was The Boss. He ran much of the city and he was famed for his ruthlessness, his short temper, and the fact that many of the people who had crossed him were rumoured to be at the bottom of the river Dang with weights tied to their feet, or incorporated into the bridges and stanchions of the soon-to-be-completed Outer Ring Road.
The world stopped, except for The Pan’s cold sweating which started in copious quantities. His eyes met Big Merv’s which were a vivid felt-tip green, and angry. Right now, it felt as if they were glaring into The Pan’s very soul. To make things worse, Big Merv’s antennae were sticking straight up, as if they were statically charged, a sure sign of rage. The Pan made a small noise, like a mouse being strangled, but managed to follow it up with a reasonably coherent, “I’m sorry, sir.”
Big Merv didn’t deign to speak. Instead, he let the two heavies who habitually accompanied him do the talking.
“You’d better be,” said the one on Big Merv’s left, whom The Pan recognised at once. Blimey, Smasher Harry. Could this get any worse? The Pan glanced at the large gentleman on Big Merv’s right, Frank the Knife. Arnold, yes it could.
“Please forgive me. I am, an idiot, I wasn’t looking where I was going and I am really, honestly, extremely, sorry.” The Pan realised he was bending lower and lower with each word he uttered. Should he go the whole hog and actually grovel? He risked a quick glance up at Big Merv. No.
He waited for what seemed an eternity while Big Merv stood still and silent, glaring down at him with an expression of complete disdain. Then almost imperceptibly, he nodded at Smasher Harry who said, “Get outta here, you toerag.”
“Thank you, sir,” said The Pan, who didn’t need to be invited twice. Phew! Big Merv stood his ground. Flanked by Frank the Knife and Smasher Harry, he waited for The Pan to go away.
It was time for a sharp exit but The Pan had a sizeable problem. In his hand, underneath his cloak, he was holding a wallet. It was stuffed full of money, which was a good thing, but it belonged to Big Merv which was very, very bad. He hesitated. The cold sweat ran faster and his stomach turned over. He’d only gone and dipped the most ruthless, dangerous being in the city, outside the security forces. He’d stolen Big Merv’s wallet and now he was about to walk off with it. If Big Merv had noticed, that would be suicide.Then again, even if he hadn’t noticed, it would merely be suicide later, when he realised what had happened. The Pan could always tell the truth of course, confess that he was tired and hungry and acting on auto-pilot, but if he did that, the likely outcome was still integration into the Outer Ring Road.
He sighed. There was only one thing for it, he was going to have to pull his pathetic scam, pretend to ‘find’ Big Merv’s wallet and hand it back to him. For the scam to have any credibility Big Merv needed to turn his back and walk away – but he hadn’t and he wasn’t going to. He was waiting for The Pan to clear his path, standing where he would have seen the wallet for himself, if it had really fall
Unsurprisingly, The Pan’s nerve broke first. He turned his back, took two shaky steps and pretended to notice something on the ground by his feet. He got as far as a squeaky, “Oh look," before Big Merv’s hand was gripping his shoulder and Frank and Harry were suddenly close beside him. He was shivering with fright and wondered if Big Merv could feel it.
“You nervous, son?” said Big Merv, quietly, into The Pan’s ear.
“Yes, sir.” The Pan swallowed, he wondered if he was going to be sick. No, with a stomach as empty as his, that was highly unlikely. Well, well, well, even ten days of starvation had an up-side.
“Why would you be nervous of me?” asked Big Merv as he walked slowly round and stood in front of The Pan. Big was an understatement. He blocked out a fair bit of light, and it was all muscle. Punch that and it’d be like hitting a wall. Nothing achieved but a sore hand. Not that The Pan had ever successfully punched anyone or anything before, or was in any position to do so now. Arnold – he looked up at Big Merv – did he have to be quite so tall and scary?
“Um ...” began The Pan. How to play this? When it came to his chances, The Pan put the likelihood of his becoming part of the Outer Ring Road at 100%, pretty much down the line. Excepting the honesty option, where the chance might be down to about 99.9%. Here went nothing, then. “The truth is ...”
“Yeh ..?” said Big Merv. “The truth is ..?”
Did he have to do that? It was difficult enough to keep fear out of the way of rational thought.
“The truth is, you’re The Boss and amazing as this might sound it seems I’ve got ... I think you’ve dropped this.” The Pan held up Big Merv’s wallet. He couldn’t help noticing the way it was shaking, along with his arm.
“I didn’t drop nothing, sonny.”
The Pan shut his eyes and waited to be punched. Nothing happened so he opened them again. Big Merv’s antennae were moving. That was good, in that it meant he was no longer angry but it also meant he was thinking which might be bad.
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