Extract: London Boulevard by Ken Bruen

I LEARNT THIS in prison. Compulsive is when you do something repetitively. Obsessive is when you think about something repetitively.
Course, I learnt some other stuff too. Not as clear cut.
Not as defined.
The day of my release, the Governor had me up for a talk.
Bent over his desk, he kept me waiting. His head over papers, a model of industry. He had a bald patch, like Prince Charles. That made me feel good. I concentrated on it. Finally, he looks up, says:
‘Mitchell?’
‘Yes, Sir?’
I could play the game. I was but a cigarette away from freedom. I wasn’t going to get reckless. His accent was from up north somewhere. Polished now but still leaking Yorkshire pud and all that decent shit. Asked,
‘You’ve been with us now for?’
Like he didn’t know. I said,
‘Three years, Sir.’
He hmmp’d as if he didn’t quite believe me. Riffled through my papers, said,
‘You turned down early parole.’
‘I wanted to pay me debt in full, Sir.’
The screw standing behind me gave a snort. For the first time, the Governor looked directly at me. Locked eyes. Then,
‘Are you familiar with recidivism?’
‘Sir?’
‘Repeat offenders, it’s like they’re obsessed with jail.’
I gave a tiny smile, said,
‘I think you’re confusing obsession with compulsion,’ and then I explained the difference.
He stamped my papers said,
‘You’ll be back.’
I was going to say,
‘Only in the repeats,’
but felt Arnie in Total Recall would be lost on him. At the gate, the screw said,
‘Not a bright idea to give him lip.’
I held up my right hand, said,
‘What else did I have to offer?’
Missed my ride.
What the Yanks say. I stood outside the prison, waiting on my lift. I didn’t look back. If that’s superstition, then so be it. As I stood on the Caledonian Road, I wondered if I looked like a con, ex-con.
Shifty.
Yeah, and furtive. That too.
I was forty-five-years old. Near 5’11” in height, weighed in at 180 pounds. In shape, though. I’d hammered in at the gym and could press-bench my share. Broken through the barrier to free up those endorphins. Natural high. Shit, do you ever need that inside. Sweat till you peak and beyond. My hair was white but still plentiful. I had dark eyes, and not just on the outside. A badly broken nose near redeemed by a generous mouth.
Generous!
I love that description. A woman told me so in my
twenties. I’d lost her but hung on to the adjective. Salvage what you can.
A transit van pulled up, sounded the horn. The door opened and Norton got out. We stood for a moment. Is he my friend?
I dunno, but he was there. He showed up, friend enough. I said,
‘Hey.’
He grinned, walked over, gave me a hug. Just two guys hugging outside Her Majesty’s jail. I hoped the Governor was watching.
Norton is Irish and unreadable. Aren’t they all? Behind all the talk is a whole other agenda. He had red hair, pasty complexion, the build of a sly greyhound. He said,
‘Jaysus Mitch, how are you?’
‘Out.’
He took that on board, then slapped my arm, said,
‘Out… that’s a good one. I like that… Let’s go. Prison makes me nervous.’
We got in the van and he handed me a bottle of Black Bush. It had a green bow. I said,
‘Thanks, Billy.’
He looked almost shy, said, ‘Aw, it’s nuttin… for your release… the big celebration is tonight… and here…’ He
produced a pack of Dunhill. The lush red luxury blend. Said,
‘I thought you’d be gasping for a tailor-made.’
I had the brown paper parcel they give you on release. As Norton started the engine, I said,
‘Hold on a sec.’ And I slung the parcel.
‘What was that?’
‘My past.’ I opened the Bush, took a long holy swallow. It burned. Wow, did it ever. Offered the bottle to him. He shook his head.
‘Naw, not when I’m driving.’
Which was rich, him being half in the bag already. He was always this side of special brews. As we headed south he was rabbiting on about the party. I switched off.
Truth is, I was tired of him already.
Norton said, ‘I’ll give you the scenic tour.’
‘Whatever.’
I could feel the whiskey kicking in. It does all sorts of weird shit to me but mainly it makes me unpredictable. Even I can’t forecast how it will break.
We were turning from Marble Arch and, of course, got caught at the lights. A guy appeared at the windscreen and began to wipe it with a dirty cloth. Norton yelled,
‘These fuckin’ squeegees, they’re everywhere!’
This guy didn’t even make an effort. Two fast wipes that left skid marks on the screen. Then he appeared at my window, said,
‘Four quid matey.’
I laughed, rolled the window down and said,
‘You need another line of work, pal.’
He had long greasy hair down to his shoulders. His face was thin, and he had the eyes I’d seen a hundred times on the yards. The eyes of the bottom rung predator. He leant his head back and spat. Norton went,
‘Aw Jaysus.’
I didn’t move, asked,
‘You got a tyre iron?’
Norton shook his head,
‘Mitch, Jesus no.’
I said, ‘Okay.’
And got out.
The guy was surprised but didn’t back off. I grabbed his arm and broke it over my knee. Got back in the van and the lights changed. Norton revved fast, crying,
‘Oh God Mitch, you crazy bastard. You’re out… what? Ten minutes… and you’re at it already. You can’t be losing it.’
‘I didn’t lose it, Billy.’
‘What, you smash the guy’s arm, that’s not losing it?’
‘If I’d lost it, I’d have broken his neck.’
Norton gave me an anxious look, said,
‘You’re kidding… right?’
‘What do you think?’

Click to visit the London Boulevard page

Also by Ken Bruen (published by The Do-Not Press):
The Hackman Blues
A White Arrest
Taming The Alien
The McDead
Blitz

About Ken Bruen