As it was Tuesday, that is Giro day, Betteridge was slumped against the bar on his own in the dilapidated Duke’s Head. Half propped up by one of the antiquated threadbare bar stools he looked as if he may fall at any second, but this was his habitual posture when intoxicated and always stayed near upright somehow. He stared with his dim and slow moving eyes at the reflection of his own leathery face in his greasy fingerprinted glass. No-one paid any attention as he swilled the last of his drink down his gullet and face, slid off the stool, and staggered precariously in the general direction of the door. After calling in at the fluorescent lit off-license for some super strength cider he arrived back at his flat, situated on the seventeenth floor of a twenty two storey building. Of course the flat wasn’t his in the sense that he owned it, or even paid his own rent, that was paid for by the state. It was his in the sense that it was occupied by him and his filth. His plan was to look at some indecent images on his computer, probably masturbate, and drink until he passed out; but tonight he would have an unpleasant interruption.
After the usual struggle to align the key with the lock Betteridge slung the cider onto his kitchen table under the cold light, then threw his coat at a chair which flew off onto the floor where it stayed. Cracking open a can he staggered toward the living room, with each step he took his head and shoulders moved forward first, then the appropriate leg moved to catch up, as if to stop himself falling face first. The hallway was in darkness except for a strip of light escaping from the kitchen as he lazily fumbled for the living room light switch.
When the light illuminated the room he jumped in the air as if the switch had electrocuted him, his drink went spinning off to his right spraying its contents liberally over the brown polyester suite. He stood rooted to the spot, frozen by fear both physically and mentally. Two men were sitting on his sofa in front of him, sitting forward with their elbows on their knees, chins lowered, looking at him from under their brows, with unblinking wolfish blue eyes. Something told him they weren’t burglars; they looked more like police but they wouldn’t just let themselves in. The elder man stood up slowly holding his eye contact.
‘Good evening Mr. Betteridge, we’ve been expecting you, though I’m guessing from your face that you weren’t expecting us.’ He chuckled and paced slowly as he spoke. ‘We’re not cops, how we got in isn’t important, and you haven’t got anything worth taking anyway. Sit down.’ Betteridge stood motionless, mouth open, eyes wide, showing off the nasty whitish residue that collected in the corners of each. From the inside of his three-quarter length black leather jacket the man produced a silenced Beretta, as the younger man also stood up. He motioned with the gun for Betteridge to sit down. This time he did so, in a cider soaked chair. ‘Now, here’s what’s going to happen: we’re going to take a little walk up to the roof so we can have a chat in private. I’m not convinced we can do that here, and frankly the smell’s making me feel fucking sick. Lead the way you sack of shit.’ Richards motioned gun still in hand to the door and raised his eyebrows slightly. Betteridge stood up and moved into the darkened hall. Betteridge was drunk and a bit stupid at the best of times, but he had enough sense realise that compliance was his only option; the shock had also sobered him up somewhat. Following him whilst putting the gun away he added nonchalantly: ‘Just in case you hadn’t guessed, if you don’t follow my instructions to the letter I will kill you.’ Richards was going to kill him either way.
As the three left the flat the younger man, Cramer shut the door behind him. Betteridge was in a state of severe agitation. His palms and face were sweating profusely, his mouth was so dry his tongue was sticking to the roof of his mouth, his breaths were shallow and rapid, and his heart beat so violently that he could feel the arteries in his neck pulsate, conveying the surging blood to his brain at high pressure. His knees were so weak he had to think carefully about every step as he made the tenuous journey up the stairs to the roof, Richards and Cramer on his heel at either side, so close their presence was palpable. On the final flight of stairs leading to the roof-door Cramer grabbed Betteridge’s left arm just above the elbow with a firm grip when they were half way up, pulling him to the side. Richards moved forward to unlock the door using the building’s master key that he’d acquired earlier that day. Betteridge had been wracking his terrified brain to try and work out who these men were and what they might want, they certainly wanted something but he had little to offer and no choice but to obey. Richards waited on the far side of the door while Cramer gently pushed him through it, the door closed behind him and he heard the lock turn.
It was an unusually cold November night, the rain icy and the northerly wind much stronger than it had been on the ground. Betteridge had neglected to put his jacket back on when leaving his flat but that was the least of his worries now. He turned apprehensively to face the two men who were now standing side by side a few feet away, between him and the door which was locked now anyway. The long piece of hair that Betteridge normally combed over his completely bald head was blown around in all directions by the blustery wind, in much the same fashion that the branches of trees and sheets of rain danced and lashed under the orange glow of the street lamps below. Lips and complexion grey and pallid, eyes wide, pupils indistinguishable from iris and jaw now locked with tension, his gaze moved nervously from one face to the other and back again, watching the water trickle from their faces as if they were made of granite.
‘So, you’ve been wracking your brains to try and work out who we are and what we might want from you’ stated Richards. The way this guy anticipated Betteridge’s every question and answered it before he could utter a word was scaring him, as was being held at gun point with no escape; it just made no sense, he was beginning to think these two must have the wrong person. ‘Simon says: Undo your trousers and bend over!’ Richards barked. ‘That’s what you said to her isn’t it?’ Betteridge understood instantly as he looked at the previously expressionless, now distinctly predatory faces opposite, his knees shook uncontrollably, this must be her father and brother, but how could they possibly know...
‘No we’re not her family, and they’re not paying us either. We’ve never met any of them. We’re not doing this for revenge, we’re doing it because you deserve it.’ Richards’ speech was now rapid and rhythmic like a military drum beat. ‘As for how I anticipate your every question before you say a word, and know exactly what you said to the nine year old girl you raped and murdered, well, if you haven’t figured it out yet then too fucking bad. It’ll make no difference by the time you’ve finished playing my little party game.’ The roof of the block of flats was square, the kind of block with four flats on each floor, and had a wall just under four feet high all the way around, except for the point where the roof-door emerged in its breeze-block enclosure with the drainpipe down the side, in front of which Betteridge now stood with Richards and Cramer opposite. Some sort of potted plant sat in each corner, neglected and on the brink of death themselves.
‘Simon says: climb up on that wall.’ Richards nodded to the wall behind Betteridge, who still hadn’t said a word the whole time, obediently shuffled back like a man on the gallows. He grasped the drainpipe as hard as he could, straining and shaking as he pulled himself up far too slowly for Richards’ liking; he fired a shot below Betteridge’s feet sending gravel spitting everywhere. A stone ricocheted off the side off Betteridge’s head, it stung and began to bleed, his face contorted and he began to weep as he struggled to hold on in the strong wind. Richards let out a deep guttural laugh that made the drainpipe he was holding on to and Betteridge’s own diaphragm resonate. ‘Now, Simon says: Do us all a favour and jump!’ Betteridge wept harder still as his bladder let go. ‘Simon says: Jump or I’ll fucking shoot you!’ Betteridge no longer understood anything and refused to accept reality, he was entirely gripped by his fear, he just stood and shook and wept, holding on for dear life. Richards could see that he had pushed the man beyond his limit and unloaded four rounds into his guts as fast as the recoil would allow. With each shot there was the thud and hiss of the silenced bullet, followed by the sound of ripping flesh and spattering blood that amalgamated with the falling rain. Betteridge’s hand let go of the drainpipe on the second shot, reaching for the pain in his middle; he realised his mistake as the next two unbalanced him. Performing a slow motion backwards summersault as he fell in silence most of the way, then his head bounced off the edge of a balcony making him spin like a tangled kite before hitting the ground with a crunch an instant later. As Betteridge fell Cramer dropped the façade of cruel impassiveness that had been killing him to maintain, and ran to the wall just in time to see Betteridge’s body make one revolution and hit the ground.