Redcap by Daniel Brown is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at https://waffleandwrite.wordpress.com/2009/08/30/administrative-notes-about-the-license-my-work-is-attributed-under/.
By Daniel Brown
Cold rain misted down over the barren Northumberland landscape, turning the country footpath Alun walked along into a treacherous quagmire which tried to wrong-foot him after every step. He glanced across the field he was cutting through, an unevenly furrowed marsh like expanse, dotted with the stubble of last season’s crop. Over in the distance, perhaps three fields away from where he walked he could see a solitary light shining in the window of a farmhouse, the only patch of brightness in the rapidly descending gloom of the late afternoon. He had no clue how far away the building was, the idea of measuring wide open spaces being as alien to him as he imagined writing HTML or coding a login page would be to a fifty-something farmer, all he knew was that the sign of human presence cheered him a little. He had wanted to be alone when he left the house but had never realised quite how isolating the edges of the moors could be.
He had stormed out of the house in a fit of rage, the like of which he hadn’t felt since his early teens, when outraged fury and a sense of being -and needing to be- in solitude was almost a default state of being. The argument was still festering in the back of his mind, stopping him retracing the route he had taken along public footpaths and bridleways to get back home. Rationally, he was aware that he was rapidly approaching the point at which he would become lost and unable to find his way home unaided, but the fury still rose to the surface and overwhelmed his thought processes, driving him relentlessly onwards like a train on the wrong track, beyond the control of its driver. So on he went, one foot in front of the other with metronomic regularity, as if to outdistance the corrosive thoughts and feelings which would float into his conciousness unbidden and unwanted.
Ahead, maybe one more field distant, Alun could see the landscape begin to dip into a small valley. Blanketed with woods and hidden by the shadows cast from low dark clouds and the October gloaming the vale seemed to loom menacingly, in spite of the fact that he was currently level with the tops of all but the tallest trees. Alun gave brief consideration to turning back and finding another path to take, if not the way home then at least somewhere less foreign to his urban upbringing, less likely to leave him feeling so thoroughly out of place, but his feet kept him marching forward, seemingly connected directly to his hind brain and unwilling to let him take even one step back towards the reasons he was so far from home in the first place; he pushed thoughts of discomfort from his mind and let his angry feet take him where they would.
As the woods grew closer he tried to figure out what had made him take such extreme offence at his girlfriend Louise’s words in the first place. Each time he did his stomach would turn and his jaw clench in fury and he would try to centre himself and calmly go over events in detail, but everything was too mixed up, too many small injustices and petty resentments all jumbled together, a rancid stew of bile and rancour that stole all reason from him and left nothing but bitterness behind it. He reached into the pocket of his coat and pulled out his cigarette case, hoping some nicotine would settle his nerves a little and allow him to focus on something other than the welter of emotions that were preventing him from thinking clearly. He flicked his lighter once, twice, three times but each time the fumes of the fluid ignited the breeze would snuff out the flame before he could light the hand made cigarette dangling from his lips. He swore violently and at great volume, pausing his forward march and turning away from the breeze in order to light the smoke he now realized that his body craved with an urgency bordering on insistence. He couldn’t help but smile slightly when he realized that this was the first time he had been able able to bring himself to stop walking since his fiery exit from home nearly two hours ago.
With his cigarette lit he inhaled deeply and let the drug infuse his system, soothing the physical agitation he now knew was affecting his concentration and leaned on the wire fence that ran parallel to the muddy footpath he had found himself on. He continued to draw heavily on his smoke and stared over the fence into the small, triangular area of land that marked where three fields met each other. The patch of spare ground was empty save for a stunted and gnarled hawthorn bush growing beside a stagnant pool of ground water, he could just about make out a faint patina of green foam in the fading light and wondered to himself why the farmer left the pool there rather than draining it, but reckoned that the farmer would know better than he ever could and let his mind go blank as he stared at the foul water. For the first time his mind was able to revisit the day’s events in something like a calm and rational manner and he allowed himself to slip into reverie.
* * *
Things had started just as they always do, he had woken up alone Louise having already gone out to work before he had even stirred from his sleep. Once he was up, he had breakfast, jumped in the shower and headed to work, arriving at the office for about nine thirty. After signing his time sheet and logging into his terminal to begin that days assignment, he had seen the email alert. He opened his in box and was staggered to find a message from the senior manager telling him that a piece of malicious code had been detected in the company mainframe and traced back to his workstation as the point of ingress and he was to report to the bosses office for a “Security review and disciplinary hearing”. The hearing had gone as these things always do, there was no real opportunity to defend himself or put across his point of view, just a whitewash orchestrated by his supervisor Gavin; a sanctimonious prick who couldn’t get used to the fact that Alun was in a relationship with his ex girlfriend, so he used his seniority to inflict countless minor indignities on Alun at every opportunity. The “hearing” was just another pointless power game from a sad cretin with an over inflated sense of bitterness against a perceived wrong, but after months of snide comments, poor performance reports and having credit for his good work assigned wrongly to Gavin or one of his office cronies Alun had snapped.
He had pinned the smarmy tosspot against a wall by his throat and threatened to knock him into the middle of the next century if he didn’t admit to fitting Alun up by placing the offending piece of code into the system himself. He was a code monkey by nature, but he had learned to write code while he was a teen-aged prize fighter, boxing to pay his way through college and he still knew how to look after himself. Gavin had looked like he was ready to confess everything, but his boss had buzzed for security as soon as Alun had moved in his supervisor’s direction and the guards had burst into the room, wrestling him away from Gavin, away from his chance to redeem his stuttering career and put himself into a position to stop merely lurching from one job related crisis to another. Instead he found himself suspended indefinitely without pay and sent home in ignominy. That should have been an end to it really, but Gavin had managed to make his way down to the cubicle farm where Alun was clearing his workstation and provoked him once again with some sarcastic remark about ex boxers being too thick to argue without resorting to violence. Alun hadn’t so much lost his temper then, as focused it like a laser beam on Gavin and his weasely face. The shithead didn’t even have time to flinch as Alun threw the punch that had sent him sprawling onto the desk unconscious, blood from his broken nose tracing a delicate, almost artistic, arc on the upholstered panels of the cubicle. He hadn’t said a word to Gavin before punching him, and there hadn’t seemed much point afterwards so he had simply finished clearing his stuff and left.
At home he found himself at a loose end, waiting for a knock on the door from the police that never came. The morning passed quickly in a haze of alternating depression at the mess he had left himself in and elation at the feeling of seeing Gavin fly backwards, the sensation of his nose crunching beneath his fist and his enemy’s blood exploding onto his knuckles. He knew that he had proved Gavin’s point about boxers in emphatic style, but he cared less about that than he did about the intense satisfaction that taking action against the little shit-weasel had given him. His only concern was at the possible legal ramifications of his assault. It was hard enough to find programming jobs as a former prize fighter, without adding convicted criminal to the list of strikes against him.
The afternoon was a different proposition altogether. After work had tried to contact him three times, he had set his mobile to divert all incoming calls to voice mail and that was when he had received the text message telling him to check his email. The email from the senior manager was like a hammer blow, driving all of the sense of elation from him instantly. He had been fired with immediate effect, which was only to be expected, the part that had sent his already conflicted emotions spiralling downwards was the small line at the end, almost a post script, that said Gavin wasn’t sure whether or not to press charges and would make a decision in the next few days. After all that had transpired at work, his self destructive attempt at putting things to rights, Gavin still had control, still had power over Alun’s future and Alun knew that he was beaten.
He spent the afternoon sitting on the couch, listless and apathetic. He wanted to talk to someone, but the only people he knew in the village were his neighbours, who he didn’t like, and one or two people from work. He wished he hadn’t moved out of Newcastle, where all of his friends and acquaintances lived and everywhere he looked he could see shops, houses, take-aways, pubs, Metro trains and all of the other signs of civilization, but Louise wanted to buy a bigger house and they couldn’t afford one in an area of the city worth living in, so they had moved out to a flea pit former mining village a couple of miles away from the edge of the moors, leaving him stranded and alone except for Louise and his, now former, work colleagues. He stayed on the couch, letting his resentment and anger build up to the point at which he thought he would explode if he wasn’t able to tell someone how he felt, waiting anxiously for Louise to come home so that he could let out everything that was churning away inside of him, her practical and no nonsense attitude to misfortune always a balm to his overly emotional way of seeing things.
Just after three o’clock the door had opened and he heard Louise shouting his name from the kitchen. He rose to his feet for the first time in what seemed like hours ready to pour his heart out, to spill out everything that had transpired over the past year; the disaster area that his job had become, the sense of loneliness he felt at being so far from home, his fears that he had completely destroyed his fledgling career before it had even begun properly, but he never got the chance.
“What the hell were you playing at?” Louise blazed at him, before even taking off her coat. “Do you have any idea what you’ve done? Do you even care? Are you trying to ruin everything we’ve been working for? How could you hit him, for God’s sake?” Alun stood stunned for a second, trying to figure out how Louise could already know.
“You haven’t been working with him for the last year,” he told her, “he’s been making my life hell, assigning me the crappiest jobs, giving credit for my work to other people, submitting complaints about my timekeeping in my progress reports, my timekeeping for Hell’s sake! I work flexi-hours! It doesn’t matter if I turn up at eight thirty or eleven o’clock so long as I work my contracted hours every month, but that tosser had to make it an issue with the management. Endless sarcastic comments about the fact that I used to box for a living, always implying that I’m too thick to work a computer. I complete a job, he passes it on to someone else to check my code, then assigns them the credit for what I’ve just done! Today he planted a virus into the mainframe from my terminal, then had me dragged in front of the big boss to get chewed out for it. It was the last straw, I snapped.” He looked at Louise’s face then and saw no softening of her expression, no flicker of sympathy in her eyes. “How do you know what happened anyway?” Her expression hardened further.
“Because I’ve spent the last hour on the phone with Gavin, trying to convince him not to press charges against you! Do you think I don’t know how hard you’ve been struggling? He’s kept me in touch with everything that’s been happening at your work, God knows you don’t, and I know how much trouble you’ve been having adjusting to office work, but there is no justification for hitting someone who does nothing but try to help you, none!” She pointed to the collection of trophies and belts on the wall, more than twenty of them, ranging from his first tournament victories as a junior through to the replica belt from his brief stint as British Middle Weight Champion. “Do you see those? Those are why you can’t hit people! You could have killed the poor man for crying out loud! You need to make your mind up whether you’re a real person like Gavin or some stupid council estate brawler, who can’t leave his past behind him!”
Alun froze, pole-axed by everything he had just heard. His stomach hurt as if he had been punched, driving all the air from his lungs. Everything Louise had just said was raging through his head, too many pieces of information all vying for his attention at once and he struggled to focus on any individual sentence. He remembered the part about her keeping in touch with Gavin in secret, but his mind wouldn’t stay on the subject, all he could hear was her last statement over and over again. Cold shivers ran down his spine as realization dawned about how his girlfriend really saw him. He wasn’t accepted for who he was, he was a project, a work in progress; a working class thug to be whittled into the image she wanted, little more than a taller, more muscular version of her ex boyfriend. Fury began to build inside him as he thought about the course their time together had taken, gradually drawing him away from his old friends and haunts. Her insistence that he take the job he had so recently lost, in spite of the fact that her ex would be his immediate superior. Her determination to move out of the city, the way she managed to arrange things so that they saw her family at least once a week, yet they hadn’t spent any time with his parents for close to six months.
Anger growing with every passing second, he saw his life mapped out ahead of him, lived at somebody else’s pace, always by someone else’s standards and attitudes. He looked at Louise’s face, her thick blonde hair, framing her hypnotic green eyes and saw nothing but disgust and disappointment in her features. She wasn’t upset or worried about him, or by what might happen to him as a result of what he’d done, merely furious at the fact that her plans might be derailed. For the second time that day he snapped. Grabbing his coat, wallet and cigarettes from the couch where he had left them he made to walk out of the house but Louise stepped in front of him, stopping him in his tracks.
“You’re not walking away now,” she told him “there’s too much to talk about.”
“Get out of my way.” his voice was flat, monotone.
“What will you do? Thump me as well?” She tensed up as she said it, as if expecting him to actually do it. He felt his rage build to a crescendo as she stuck this new dagger into him.
“Never!” he hissed “Not even if you came at me with a knife. I love you you stupid cow, but get out of my way, because I can’t even look at you right now.” With those words he pushed her gently but firmly to one side and left, his head spinning and his feelings more confused than he could ever remember them being. He had let his feet had take charge then, trying to walk him further than his churning emotions could reach, he needed to clear his head and only distance would let him do it.
* * *
His cigarette finished, he pinched the lit end between his fingertips, to ensure it was extinguished before putting the butt in his pocket. Staring into the water, he tried hard to sort out the mess he knew his head was in but was unable to make any progress. A few short sentences and his certainty had been stripped from him and he was unsure whether he could go back to how things were with Louise, whatever happened with Gavin and his decision about pressing charges or not. Too many things were out of his hands and had been for too long for him to know what to think about anything any more. He stood paralysed with indecision, unable to go back but uncomfortable with continuing to walk forwards, unsettled as he was by the thought of travelling through the nearby woods in the darkness that would have fallen by the time he reached them.
As he looked into the pond, the gentle breeze that rustled the nearby hawthorn played across the surface of the water, stirring the green foam that lay on it. Shapes and patterns coalesced and broke up as he watched, hypnotized by the ever changing forms. Alun remained utterly still, unaware of the passage of time and paying no heed as the sky changed from purple to black, intent only on the kaleidoscopic picture he saw by the light of the early moon. Slowly the foam drifted into something he recognized, a shape reminiscent of a woman’s face topped by a mane of tangled green hair. Before his eyes the foam split slightly leaving an opening where a mouth would be, which moved faintly with the motion of the water so that it seemed to whisper silently at him.
Enchanted, Alun leaned forward to better see the face in the water, mesmerised by the sight of something so unusual. The rustling of the hawthorn branches was synchronous with the movement of the lips and he fancied he could almost make out words carrying to him on the breeze. A vigorous movement of the water and the face split again, forming a pair of eyes that flashed silver in the moonlight. Alun stared into the eyes and imagined himself lying down beside the water to hear the words the woman strived to tell him, listening all through the night as she whispered secrets and tales of a life beyond his own experience. He began to climb the fence, thinking of nothing except what the lady in the water could tell him, desperate to hear the gentle voice breathe it’s soft words into his ears.
Halfway across the fence the face began to take on a different aspect, more urgent, more demanding and Alun slipped on the unsteady wires in his haste to reach the woman he was now sure waited just below the surface. Her face continued to dominate his vision and as he heard the faint sussurous he thought he saw her expression change even further, to one of lustfulness and hunger. He imagined long sinewy arms bursting from beneath the surface and locking themselves around his neck, feeling the wet coldness of dead flesh pressed against his skin as they dragged him inexorably closer to the water, seeing an ancient face, withered and green break through the foam and staring into emotionless silver eyes as a mouth filled with sharp teeth turned black with age and corruption leaned forward to cover his own. He could feel the clammy sensation as fishlike lips pressed against his, sucking hard at the air inside his lungs as he was dragged to the bottom of the pond, locked in the last kiss he would ever know.
Alun fell backwards in fright, his left leg caught on the top of the fence causing him to land heavily on his back, winding him thoroughly. He scrambled backwards, desperate to put distance between him and the pond. Small stones scratched his hands and he pulled himself away from the fence, his trailing leg falling heel first on his right shin. He felt the heel of his heavy boots break the skin underneath his jeans, but the pain was secondary to his desire to be completely out of reach of any thing that might be lurking below the water. He leaped to his feet, looking wildly around him as he noticed for the first time that full darkness had fallen and other than the shadows cast by the faint moonlight he couldn’t see a thing clearly. The breeze grew stiffer, rattling the bare branches of the hawthorn and Alun jumped half out of his skin at the sound.
He thought fast about his options and quickly ruled out travelling through the woods and still refused to contemplate going home. That left one option, he looked behind him quickly, loathe to take his eyes away from the enclosure that held the pond for even a few seconds. He fixed the light from the farmhouse in his sights and turned towards it, stepping quickly away from the source of his fear. As he went, glancing behind him every few seconds, the breeze picked up further making the hawthorn rattle and shake, like the sound of sarcastic applause in his ears as he retreated from what he had imagined.
The ground beneath his feet seemed to shift and turn as Alun made his way across the field in a straight line towards the light from the window, shining like a beacon in the night. Every few yards he would stumble and land hard in the mud, bruising his knees and hands on the myriad stones and roots that littered the ground. He could feel the breeze blowing through holes newly torn into the knee of both legs of his jeans and he was pretty certain that both of them were bleeding, thanks to their repeated sudden contacts with the ground. The farmhouse still seemed impossibly distant, but he had closed in enough that he could make out a faint patch of shadow that he assumed was a wall running around the edge of the yard. He only hoped that it wasn’t too high for him to scale it and ask for directions to the nearest village, that wasn’t the one he lived in, from the inhabitants.
As he travelled ever further from the pond he tried hard to convince himself he was an idiot for taking fright so easily, after all he hadn’t actually seen anything other than foam on the surface of the water, but he couldn’t shake the feeling that he had only just escaped with his life. He would think hard about the events that had pushed him out here but the anger, while still present, was no longer dominating his every thought, it simply lurked at the back of his mind, informing his decisions and stopping him from making his way home, however badly he wanted to be there. He knew he would have to go home and face things eventually, and soon, but tonight no matter what the circumstances he had to be away from everything that had happened and everyone connected with it.
After what seemed an inordinately long time Alun reached the wall surrounding the farmyard. It was taller than he had hoped for, being almost as high as he was, and he thought he was going have to take a run up to lift himself over it. He touched the top of the wall to get a feel for how thick it was and found himself falling backwards in fright for a second time that night. No sooner had his hand touched the rough stone, than an almighty barking and growling sound began behind the wall.
Sitting on the ground with his heart racing in his chest, Alun felt anger surge through him once again, infusing his tired and sore limbs with new strength. He climbed to his feet, brushing the back of his jeans free of soil and mud, and started walking along the length of the wall towards where it turned away from him leading, he supposed, towards the driveway the farmer would use to get to and from the main road. He could hear the dog following him on the other side of the stone barrier, growling and snarling all the way, but he had enough of being scared for one night and had no intention of letting an animal put him off his intended course of action.
Rounding the corner of the wall he saw the stone stretching on for another fifty yards or so before giving way to a wire fence that ran down what appeared to be a long driveway. He broke into a run, longing for the feel of concrete or tarmac beneath his feet again. The dog on the other side began running as well, barking and howling all the way as it kept pace with him. Somehow he managed to keep his footing as he went, reaching the fence in good order and climbing over it with a speed he never would have believed himself capable of before. Hitting the tarmac road on the other side, he immediately felt better about things. He looked to his left and saw the dog, an Alsation of some description, on it’s hind legs and gripping the chest high gate with it’s front paws, growling at him in the low, steady tone that large dogs have which says “Keep away. I mean business.” Alun stuck two fingers up at the animal and looked to his right, towards the end of the driveway and felt his heart lift. Not too far distant he could see the lights of a small village, just a little way downhill from where the farmyard stood. He set off at a fast walk, pleased to be walking on a surface that didn’t crumble beneath his feet or shift suddenly, sending him sprawling to his knees.
He didn’t know how long or how far he had walked, just that lights in the dark have a terrible habit of appearing to be much closer than they really are. He arrived at the edge of the village, feeling bedraggled and worn out from his exertions and the emotional turmoil he had gone through. He cast his eyes around the small village looking for somewhere, anywhere, that he could go to for some kind of assistance, be it renting a room for the night or phoning for a taxi that could take him to somewhere that could. At the far end of the very small village, more of a hamlet really, he saw a large building with all of it’s windows lit and a sign hanging from the wall. A pub! He all but broke into a sprint in order to get there. Even if they didn’t have rooms for rent, they would have a payphone so he could have a pint while he waited for his taxi.
On reaching the pub he paused at the doorway to make sure he didn’t look like a tramp or a vagrant, but decided that the cash in his wallet would dispel any of those suspicions. He looked up at the sign, to see if the name of the pub would tip him off as to which village he was in, but the place wasn’t named for the village. The sign hanging above the door labelled the pub as “The Redcap Inn” and beneath the name was a painted image of what looked like a red bandanna with blood dripping from the bottom. Alun shrugged at the unique name and imagery, briefly wondering if the place was a biker pub as he stepped inside.
If the pub was a biker place, there weren’t any in on that night. He looked around the small room that served as the bar taking in the half a dozen customers, all men, decked out in plaid shirts or waxed jackets clustering around the paraffin heater standing on the hearth of an empty fireplace. The Redcap, was about as country as a pub could get without the theme tune for Emmerdale Farm playing in the background. The men around the heater all stopped their muffled conversation to stare at him as he made his way to the bar, their eyes following his every step to the counter. He could feel their stares boring into the back of his neck as the barman walked slowly over from the stool he was perched on at the far end of the counter, before stopping in front of him and staring hard at him. He didn’t offer a greeting, or even raise his eyebrows in acknowledgement, just stared at Alun as if he was part of the furniture or a painting hung on the wall. Alun decided to go first.
“What’s good?” he asked, gesturing to the row of taps. The barman just continued staring at him.
“What about the Guinness? Pint of Guinness please.” The barman remained impassive. Alun was about to speak again when he heard a voice behind him.
“We can’t serve you in here, not yet.” he turned around to see who was talking to him and found himself surprised to see an extra person there.
A short bloke, maybe five-foot six, was talking to him. The new fellow was wearing a green coat, the pullover type favoured by fishermen and gamekeepers, with a large rectangular pocket on the chest and bright blue jeans. His boots looked like safety boots, a scuffed and faded black with the steel toecaps clearly visible. The man was hideously ugly, that much was obvious. His nose was bulbous and misshapen, in the manner of men who’d drank too much whisky for too many years and his bright red beard was straggly and had bald patches scattered at random around his cheeks and neck. His face was wrinkled, but Alun couldn’t put an age to him, the man could be anywhere from an old looking thirty five to a spry sixty. None of that was what made him stand out though, the thing Alun couldn’t stop looking at was his head gear. The man wore a bandanna; a rich, dark red piece of fabric that glistened wetly in the fluorescent strip lights of the pub. The cloth was faintly mottled, with patches of colour that were almost dark brown or black. The man reached up and stroked his head covering.
“My name’s Robin,” he said “and I’m the only one of my kind ever to have a name of his own.”
“I’m Alun, look I just want a pint and to make a phone call-”
“I’ll bet you do.” Robin interrupted. “But you can’t do that, you see. My hat is getting really dry bonny lad, and I had to get old Peg to startle you at the pond, then I had to get Finn to stop you heading into Bobby’s farm ’cause the rules say the only place I can wet my hat is in here, Michael -flaming- Scot saw to that a long time ago, so after going to all of that trouble to get you in here you’ll understand my impatience.” Robin reached into the pocket on the front of his coat and pulled out a folding knife. He opened the weapon and Alun could hear the click of a locking mechanism to hold the blade in place. The steel blade was easily seven inches in length and looked wickedly sharp. The half a dozen other men spread out, three covering the door Alun had came in and the rest moving to cover the door that he presumed led to the toilets. Alun looked at the men in disbelief.
“Are you lot seriously going to let him do this?” The men stayed silent, none of them even looking at Alun when he spoke.
“’Course they are, Redcaps always pay their debts in gold you see.” Robin told him, reaching into his pocket again and pulling out a large pile of yellow coins, which he tossed carelessly onto a table.
“Now, enough talking. I’ve been working all day to make sure you came in and I’ve got a raging thirst.” Alun thought back to the day that he’d had since leaving the house, the thing that happened at the pond, the dog that had leaned on the gate stopping him going into the farm, the way it had just held on to the top of the gate and growled at him- held on to the gate- Alun thought, and his blood ran cold. -what sort of dog can grab hold of anything?- He asked himself. Before he could think of an answer Robin lunged for him.
He swatted the knife away with his left hand and lashed out with a right cross that caught Robin on the chin lifting the smaller man clean off his feet. As his attacker lay stunned at his feet, Alun turned and looked at the men blocking the door. There was no help to be had there, their eyes were empty of anything that might be pity or shame. He could imagine the same look when they sent animals to slaughter. He turned back towards Robin, who was climbing to his feet again. He recalled Robin’s words about working to get him into the pub, manipulating events, controlling him and Alun felt the pent up fury at the back of his mind beginning to spread out through his body. Black rage filled his mind and he looked at Robin, shaking his head and blinking owlishly as he tried to shake off the punch that Alun had landed on him.
The small man lashed out with the knife again, this time catching Alun on the forearm, the razor sharp blade slicing straight through the thin fabric of his coat and opening up a deep cut. As soon as the blood began to flow, a splash of vivid red appeared on Robin’s bandanna. Alun reeled back, clutching his arm and staring in amazement at Robin’s headgear.
“Aye, that’s right bonny lad. Now stand still and I promise to bleed you quickly, you’ll barely feel it.” Robin laughed and came forward again, this time more cautiously.
Alun moved sideways, away from the bar and into the middle of the room, trying to manoeuvre his attacker so that he was backed against the bar, but Robin stepped smartly to his right, flicking out with the knife to put Alun onto his back foot. Alun fell for it and recoiled from the feint, Robin changing the angle of his swing immediately and stepping forward while stabbing high and across Alun’s neck trying to open his throat and end the fight quickly. Alun swayed to his left, ducking slightly, feeling the blade whistle past his ear and the sleeve of his attacker’s coat brush his head.
While Robin was still over extended he threw his right fist into his opponent’s ribs stepping forward as he did so and turning inwards so that he was behind the hunched over Robin. He struck forward with his left elbow, catching the smaller man in the kidney and was rewarded with a yelp of pain. He brought up his right arm and slammed the elbow into Robin’s ear. When Robin stumbled forward he grabbed him by both shoulders and pulled him backwards and flung his own head forwards smashing his forehead down viciously onto the crown of Robin’s head. The small man collapsed to his knees, before falling forward to lie face down on the floor, his right leg twitching spasmodically, a trail of urine spreading out on the floor from beneath him.
Alun looked down at the corpse of Robin Redcap, the bandanna on his head rapidly fading from red to white, even as he watched. He thought of everything that had happened in his life for the past eighteen months or so. The manipulations, the humiliations, the petty indignities inflicted on him by his boss and the lies told to him by his girlfriend. He thought of his previous life as professional boxer and the simplicity it afforded him and compared it to today, with all the complications that had ensued and the way he had so effortlessly fallen into the traps and machinations of others. Only twice today had he known exactly what to do, both of them being moments of instinctive action and violence. He remembered again the feeling of Gavin lying unconscious and the sensation of his nose breaking under his knuckles, the feeling of Robin’s skull fracturing as he brought his forehead down to fatal effect. Earlier Louise had asked him if he was a real person, he thought about that for a moment and then he knew what to do.
He reached down and pulled the bandanna from Robin’s head, seeing the massive dent in the top of his head, matted with blood and fragments of white skull poking through. He pried the knife from dead fingers and quickly drew the razor sharp edge across the corpse’s neck. Blood oozed slowly from the wound and he held the cloth to it soaking it thoroughly, before raising it to his own head and pulling it down over his hair, tucking his ears beneath the damp, scarlet fabric.
He turned the corpse over, looking at the clean shaven and handsome young face, marred only by a slight crook in the nose where it had probably been broken at sometime in the past. The shallow rounded cheek bones and narrow jawline. It was a fighters face if ever he had seen one. He ran his fingers through his straggly red beard before reaching into his pocket, feeling for the shape of gold coinage. He pulled a few out and looked at the barman.
“Don’t just stand there gawping Jed, get the drinks poured bonny lad.” Jed looked at him.
“Whatever you say Robin.”