BONES FOR BRUNO
By David Busby
His name was carved into the ivory handle of the lock knife. The handle was heavy and ridged. It felt good in his hand. The blade, when locked into place, was thick and the knife, with the blade extended, was impressive. Oz felt good with his blade. It felt like an extension of him. Hands in his hoodie pockets, he ran his fingers across the groves in the handle. This blade had created for Oz certain notoriety, they were inseparable.
Early afternoon and Oz had his hood up, despite the July sunshine, pacing back and forth on the street corner. He was with Duane and they looked every inch of trouble. “Bell her man,” said Duane, “and stop fretting.”
Oz frowned and chewed his bottom lip. He did this when he was angry and by now he was irate. Tish had sent him the text that morning. He read it again. “You forgot your daughter’s birthday. You useless piece of shit.”
Oz had read the message to Duane. “That’s proper daddy stuff man,” Duane had laughed. Oz, not appreciating being laughed at, felt a pain in his chest and anger in his throat. Duane didn’t even laugh properly; he seemed to giggle. Not for the first time Oz was gripped by a compulsion to stab Duane in the neck and watch him bleed out.
He rang Tish. “What is this shit?” He shouted into his mobile. She screamed back a torrent of abuse peppered with the words “twat,” “your daughter,” “too late,” and “motherfucker.”
“Tish, wait listen” He pleaded, his tone changed. “Alright, alright, but I’m strapped at the moment… A present? What do you mean? Yeah, I got her something. Yeah, yeah.” The line went dead.
Oz seethed and turned to Duane, his anger returning. “What do you even get a 1 year old?”
“Look up,” Duane nudged Oz in the chest. Oz sucked air between his teeth and shoved his hands back in his pockets. He felt the knife. Calm. A man walked towards them. He was taller, fuller and, in his late twenties, a good ten years older than the two boys on the corner. He wore a pin striped suit jacket over loose tracksuit bottom and brilliant white training shoes. Very expensive.
“All right Maurice?” said Duane, his voice an octave higher, cracking. When he said his own name, Maurice stressed the final syllable with an elongated “ee,” “Mauri~s.” Duane had said Maurice like “Doris.”
Maurice cocked an eyebrow and ignored Duane, walking straight to Oz. “Little man, got a job for you, and now you is a father an everything you want to be earning, right? Some good money is gonna come your way, right?” Maurice spat the words like a machine gun, his gold tooth catching the afternoon sunshine. He smiled. His eyes were empty. Maurice turned to Duane.
“Shouldn’t you be doing something blud?” It wasn’t a question. Maurice’s voice was full of disdain. And though Duane would never have used that word for it, he understood the feeling.
Duane shrugged. He stood there for a few moments and no one spoke. He pulled his hood up saying, “Gotta take off, Oz. Laters, Maurice.” Duane gave Oz a brief knuckle touch and then spun around, quickly moving down the street. Watching him walk away Maurice was reminded of a cartoon duck.
“Boy vex me,” said Maurice under his breath. He looked at Oz and smiled again. Maurice knew Oz well, years ago on the estates the younger boy had made an impression. Even as a child Oz had been big and tough. Over the years, Maurice had put Oz and his blade to good use.
Maurice knew Oz had no fear in him and this perplexed him. Was he fearless or just dumb? Such a boy was dangerous to keep around but that gutsy nature was what made Oz useful. For small change Oz could be relied upon to cut some one up and think nothing of it. And he was loyal. He was Maurice’s boy now.
Maurice took a packet of cigarettes from his pocket, took one out and offered the pack to Oz. “Keep it, keep it,” said Maurice. Oz mumbled “Thanks,” took a cigarette and put the pack in his pocket. Maurice waited for Oz to offer a light. Oz reached out and lit Maurice, then himself.
“Nice.” He took a long drag and smiled. Oz stared at Maurice’s teeth. Maurice caught his eye. “Got a little job for ya. There’s a ton in it.”
Oz licked his lips. A hundred pounds. “Yeah?”
Machine gun mouth started, “This fella I know, he’s been taking the proverbial with a few of the lads and mouthing off left, right, and centre...a right cunt. Anyway, the lads and me wanted to sort him out but turns out he’s in with the front line crew and Clive don’t want a ruck with them, so he tells me to leave off. But this guys a right mouthy cunt, pushing his luck.” Pause for breath. Deep drag.
“So, me and the lads, we’re thinking of how to teach him a lesson, you know what I mean? Anyway, it turns out he’s got this dog, don’t know what kind, this dog, anyway, he loves this dog. He’s always banging on about it. So we’re gonna teach him to respect others, innit. In a nutshell bruv, teach him a lesson. I want you to go to his house and top it.” And breathe.
“The dog? You want me to kill a dog?” Oz frowned.
Oz instinctively put his hand on the handle of his knife and ran his thumb over his name in the handle. It was well known that Oz would cut anything for cash. That January, due to being skint after Christmas, he had willingly stabbed a boy from Walthamstow for thirty quid. He had cut his first at fourteen for mere pennies and less than a year later had murdered a grass as part of his initiation. Toby. Maurice had bought him the knife as a way of saying thank you little man.
“Wassap? Never topped a dog before?” Maurice laughed.
Oz hadn’t. He took a long drag on his cigarette. “What kind of dog is it?” he asked.
Maurice spat on the floor “I said I dunno, didn’t I?” He pulled a piece of paper from his pocket. “It’s a poodle or something. Dunno. I know for a fact the fuckers in Tottenham today so his place should be empty.” He shoved the paper into Oz’s chest. “But no one knows nothing, okay? If Clive finds out…” Maurice didn’t finish the sentence. He didn’t need to.
Oz looked at the crumpled paper with an address scrawled on it. He looked up. “A ton?” Easy money.
* * *
Late afternoon. The sky burned blue-orange and the air was cooling. Insects fluttered and buzzed around the garden as Oz dropped from the brick wall onto the earth below. A small lawn led up to a door at the back of the house. Oz took a step forward onto the lawn and felt his right foot suddenly slip from under him. He slid forward, his right leg stretched out, leaving a long streak of soft dog shit behind his heel. As he slipped forward he managed to put out his left hand and catch his balance. He slapped his hand straight down into a second pile of dog excrement. “Oh, fuck me,” he sighed.
Oz stood up and looked at his trainer covered in soft dog turd. He swore, chewed his lip and bent down to wipe his hand on the grass. His phone vibrated. He ignored it and brazenly walked across the small lawn, dragging his foot behind him trying to clear the mess from his right trainer. He peered through the window but the glare of the late afternoon sun made it difficult to see anything. His phone vibrated again. Oz took his mobile from his pocket.
“What?” he said.
“Is you in or what?” crackled Duane’s voice.
“What do you think? Just keep your eyes open.” Oz cut the line dead and put the phone in his pocket. He spotted some rags near the garden door and tried to wipe the crap from his left hand. “Stinks,” he thought. Reaching into his pocket he brought out his ivory handled knife and slowly pulled out the blade. Seeing his own name in the handle was a boost to his confidence. The familiar snap of the blade felt reassuring.
He pushed the blade into the crack of the door. The lock was old and came away easily. Oz peered around the doorframe looking for movement in the house. He waited. The door creaked open and Oz stepped inside, listening carefully. Maurice had been right; there was no one at home. He stepped into the kitchen. It stank of old food and dog shit. Oz wrinkled his nose and looked down at his soiled trainer. “Fuck that,” he thought. He kicked the trainer off, carried it by the laces to the sink. Moving dirty dishes to one side he ran the cold water over it. There was a sudden breathing and a clatter-clatter across the kitchen tiles. Oz spun around, dropping his trainer into the sink.
He looked down into the light brown eyes of a dog. This was no poodle. This was a 15-kilogram Staffordshire bull terrier. Thick head and pure muscle. Oz felt the electric buzz of tension rise in his stomach. He had heard that when these dogs bite their minds go blank and they lose control entirely. “Alright dog?” Oz bit his lip hard.
The dog sniffed Oz’s leg, gave a short whine and wagged its tail lazily before sitting in a corner, panting. It seemed to Oz, with its mouth open and tongue lolling out, that the dog was smiling at him. “Better get this over done with,” Oz thought. He relaxed and casually took the knife from his pocket. He patted the dog then bent down. He put his left arm around the dog’s neck as he slowly raised his right arm up, the knife pointing downwards. He pulled the dog’s head to one side to allow access to its throat. Oz tensed up and paused. He breathed out and his shoulders sagged. He slowly brought his arm down and laid the knife on the tile next to his shoeless right foot.
“You ain’t no fucking poodle,” he muttered. He rubbed the dog’s head and it looked up at him licking his chin. Oz pulled the dog tag from its collar “Bruno,” he read aloud. He looked at the dog again. “You ain’t no Bruno more like a ‘Dumbo,’ hungry?” With that word the dog licked its muzzle loudly and cocked its head.
“Yeah, hungry.” Oz muttered as he looked around the sideboard. Dry old bread, empty packets, dirty cups. The geezer who lived here was a right pig. Opening a cupboard Oz found some bone shaped biscuits. He took a handful and dropped them on the floor. Bruno greedily wolfed them down, grunting and slobbering. Oz smiled.
When Oz was very young his mum had a dog. A small, yappy thing. “What was it?” He couldn’t remember, just that it was small and brown. Tiny thing. His mum called it Romeo. Stupid name. Oz would run in the park with Romeo. He’d enjoyed that. At night Romeo would whine and whine until Oz pulled him up onto his bed. If Oz remembered his mum smiling it was when Romeo was there. Sometimes though, when he was bored, Oz would tease and torment Romeo. Tying Romeo’s legs together, or trying to see how long the dog could breathe under water. But he always felt bad afterwards. The dog would always come to him and lick his face. Stupid dog. Later though Oz’s mum took up with Terry and everything changed. He didn’t remember his mum smiling much after Terry, just a blank look on her face as she scratched her arms in between sleeping and watching TV. When he wasn’t throwing things at his mum and punching Oz, Terry would kick the dog. One day Oz woke up and Romeo was not there. He found his mum sat in an armchair crying while Terry stood over her shouting and swearing. Oz never asked where the Romeo was. He knew better.
Oz sank to his knees next to Bruno and emptied the packet of biscuits on the floor. “Last meal,” he said aloud and ran his hand along the dog’s back gently as it wagged its tail. “Shame,” he said aloud.
“What the fuck are you doing?” came a loud voice behind him. Oz turned and stood in one movement. In the hall doorway stood a barrel-chested man, early twenties. He was naked except for a pair of boxer shorts with a cartoon superhero on them. He was tattooed to fuck and big. Oz looked at his eyes. No fear in those eyes, just surprise that was ebbing away slowly. Dumb. Dangerous. Oz reached into his pocket. Empty. He realised his knife was still on the tiles at his feet.
Oz reached down to grab the ivory handle. As he did a heavy blow caught him under his chin sending him flying backwards. Oz landed on his back and he felt the wind leave his chest. As he gasped for air he saw a foot come down on his face. Instinctively he raised his arm but far too late. He felt a heel come down hard. Something broke. Oz tasted blood in his throat. He couldn’t see. Someone had turned the volume down and the lights off. The man dragged Oz by both feet along the tiles. Bruno bolted for the garden door barking. The kicking started.
“You cheeky fucking cunt. Come in here? My house? Try to nick my fucking dog?” Oz’s vision and hearing were hazy. The words sounded as they were coming through a thick wall. His ears felt full of cotton wool. But Oz knew better. This wasn’t the first beating he had taken. He sensed the rough outline of the man standing over him. Oz lashed up with his right foot. His toes cracked against bone.
“Fucker!” said the faint voice. Oz had forgotten he wasn’t wearing his trainer. Still in the sink. Must have cracked his toes. Two strong hands grabbed the sides of his face and roughly pulled him up. He could see an outline of the man’s face shouting abuse at him. The man’s fingers dug deep into the sides of Oz’s face and he felt as though his skin would be ripped away. He tried to push away and realised that his right hand was still gripped around the ivory bone handled knife. Oz breathed in. Focus. In one motion he stepped towards the man with this right foot and, placing all his weight on his right hip, swung his torso in, plunging the knife deep into the man’s chest. He felt the metal hit the chest plate then sink deep into his flesh. He pushed in hard with his shoulder. The man released his grip and looked down in surprise at the knife sticking out of his chest.
Oz wiped the blood from his eyes. The man’s face was a picture of shock. He stared ahead, mouth gaping open but he could only gurgle sounds. He tried to grab the ivory handle but he had no strength. His fingers sliding off as blood began to pool around the hilt of the knife. The man stood there, rocking back and forth.
Oz grabbed a tea towel and held it to his face. His nose was broken for sure. Blood streamed down his chin. He rubbed the back of his sleeve across his face. The man looked straight at him, his eyes blank and his mouth opening and closing like a fish in a tank. Dark blood spluttered from his mouth, drooling over his lips on to his chin. He fell backwards.
For what seemed like a very long time Oz looked down at him. The man twitched, short jerks like an electric shock. He made a gurgling sound and then he stopped moving. Blood streamed down Oz’s smashed nose. “Fug be,” he said aloud. He ran the tea towel under the tap and placed it gently to his face. It hurt.
He looked around. The floor was awash with blood and crushed dog biscuits. Where was the dog? Oz tried to whistle but he couldn’t. He ran his tongue up to his teeth and touched gum. “Fucker knocked my teeth out,” he thought.
“Yub mubberfugger,” he swore loudly and kicked the dead man’s leg. Oz reached over the body, grabbed his knife and pulled hard. It would not budge. He tried again without success. He threw the tea towel aside and pushed down on the man’s chest with his left hand while pulling hard on the knife with his right. It still would not move. Oz frowned. Bruno had come back into the kitchen, sniffing around the dead man’s feet.
Oz stood up and sighed loudly. He bent down and tried to pull the knife out again. It was wedged firmly in the man’s sternum. He tried twisting the knife from side to side but all he managed to do was shred the flesh causing more blood to pool up. His phone buzzed again. Ignoring it he looked through the kitchen drawers until he found a rolling pin. Oz began to bash the knife handle from the side to see if it would loosen. Nothing. He sat back exhausted and touched his nose. The bleeding seemed to have stopped. Oz lit a cigarette and thought for a moment. He stared at the knife wedged in the man’s chest. The words ‘OZ’ engraved on the handle, slick with blood. His name, his knife. He had to get that knife out.
On the counter he spotted an electric carving knife. Rummaging through the cutlery drawer he found a blade and slotted it into place. It worked. He drew hard on his cigarette and threw it into an old cup, the butt fizzing as it hit the stale liquid. Oz took a deep breath and switched on the carving knife. It gave a low hum. He put the moving blade to the man’s chest and began to cut away the skin around the hilt of his knife. Soon he had started to make a trench around the blade. As he cut deeper the electric blade hit bone, shaking and shuddering, causing his arm to ache. Small chips of flesh flew over the kitchen floor.
“Fugging hell,” he said aloud. He switched the electric carving knife off and tossed it to one side. Bruno began to lick the blood, now pooling around the man’s body. Oz pulled some of the bloody mess away from the knife and he could see the dull metal of the blade. “Sweet,” he thought. Standing above the knife, Oz placed his foot on the man’s chest and grabbed the ivory hilt with both hands. He exhaled and pulled as hard as he could. His knife came free and Oz fell backwards onto the kitchen floor. He lay there for a while laughing. Bruno came over to him, muzzle red with blood, and started licking his face.
It was getting dark. The sky was turning dark blue. Oz wiped his knife clean and took a plastic bag. “Bones for Bruno,” he thought grabbing as much of the dog food as he could find and shoving it in the bag. He ran to the bedroom and went through the man’s pockets, taking some loose change, a watch and wallet. He spotted a partially drunk bottle of some alcohol or other by the bed and grabbed that for good measure.
Oz attached a lead to Bruno and very quietly opened the front door. No movement in the street. He stepped out, half bent down, dragging Bruno, and closed the door behind him. He straightened up and took his phone from his pocket. “Duane. I’m outside. Come quick” he said. Further down the road he heard a car engine start. Oz looked down at Bruno, those light brown eyes looking back. “What now?” Bruno appeared to be saying. Oz put his hand in his pocket. He felt the ivory handle against his skin. Calm. Duane pulled up.
Oz walked calmly to the car, jumped in the back and pulled Bruno in with him. Duane stared at him.
“What the fuck happened to your face man? Dog do that?”
Oz smiled. He lit a cigarette, took his phone from his pocket and dialled. “Tish? Tish, darlin’?” He patted Bruno’s head, the dog’s tongue lolling from his mouth as he stared blankly ahead “Yeah, I got my little girl a present, innit? I’m coming over.” The car pulled away.
“What’s with that dog anyway?” asked Duane looking in the rear view mirror. “And where’s your fucking shoe, man?”
Dave Busby grew up in London’s rough and tumble East end. After dabbling in acting and comedy he travelled across the world teaching English and training teachers. “The art of writing is like the art of crime” he says, “it’s all about getting away with it.”
Copyright © 2015 David Busby. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of the author is prohibited. OMDB! and OMDB! logos are trademarks of Over My Dead Body!
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