The Midnight Fight by Mark Gordon Palmer

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Thrillers  |  House: Booksie Classic
Third story written for my 'From Now On I'll Be Sure To Close The Curtains' short story project; to write a story in one session with minimal rewrites, to reflect: an item I'd read in the news; the time of year, or something I'd heard or been told that same day. The Midnight Fight was based on a neighbour telling me I had a hidden room in my house. I still wonder how he knew! I decided it would be best to write this one up that same night, and hide the evidence too!

Submitted: January 14, 2012

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Submitted: January 14, 2012



THE MIDNIGHT FIGHT by Mark Gordon Palmer

I don’t get on with my new neighbour.
Not at all.
Luke Bastore is a high-flying advertising something or other, for a London firm that he once told me he couldn’t reveal the name of. It was all very hush hush. He was just a something or other for a someplace or other.
We were clearly never going to get on.
I work in the local superstore, stocking up the shelves with sacks of potatoes and arranging the frozen peas in the freezer aisle. I didn’t tell Luke Bastore that. Instead: “I’m a hairdresser, for a top London salon. Along The King’s Road,” I lied to him while standing around in our quiet, suburban street last year, as another neighbour obsessively mowed his lawn in perfect lines and a nearby chainsaw came to life in the back garden of number 32.
“Oh yeah. Lots. Actors and some pop stars too; Russell Brand and Katy Perry, they come in every other month.” I had a thing about Katy Perry back when I had this conversation with Luke in the summer. This was before the news today that the couple had split– maybe due to the bad haircut I gave them, I wondered, before remembering I made the whole hairdressing thing up. Twice in the past few months, Luke had asked me in the street whether I could trim his hair for him. The bastard – he knows. He knows I know he knows, too. I’d love to chop off those long golden locks and feed them to the local three-legged fox, that eats anything.
“No, you misunderstand me…,” said Luke back in the street that day as the sun burnt my balding head, and he gave me a pitying look, before grinning, head tilting to one side. I remember his lips smacking together, separating, and making a plopping sound like a barely concealed breakage of wind that made me want to rip his head off there and then - in the nicest way possible so as not to offend the neighbours I do like. “I meant the hair salon called Celebrities,” he drawled after some measured time had passed. “You know – next to Pizza Express, along The King’s Road. You don’t work in there do you?”
(‘Course not you idiot)
“No, not there. I know where you mean. But – no, just nearby. Down a back street, sort of. You probably wouldn’t know it,” I lied. Although maybe that’s not such a lie – he couldn’t possibly know somewhere that isn’t there in the first place.
Luke shook his head, the point at which he knew I was the local idiot, looking for the local village to go and be stupid in. “See you later big guy,” he said, with a wave of his hand, and walked back to his house a couple of doors down; the house in the street that happens to have the biggest garden attached to it.
Oh yes, Luke Mastore is everything I hate in the world: way too young for his own good; lots of hair; always bouncing up and down with new ideas to make our street better - like a tortured Tigger, and he smells of sweet aftershave, the kind that makes me feel sick and lightheaded.
I was also convinced he didn’t work anywhere at all important either - except maybe a local abandoned factory where he took all his freshly-sliced victims for a bubbly acid bath.
“Don’t be so stupid,” my new girlfriend, Anna, says to me as she puts out some snacks on the living room table, all ready for New Year’s Eve. “He’s perfectly lovely.”
My eyes feel like they are burning a bright green. Not their usual brown. I also don’t mean green-eyed with envy, although I was that too. But my eyes change colour depending on mood, like an emotional traffic light. So you get: green for anger; brown for calm, and a mixture of the two meaning I’m undecided.
“He’s not nice,” I tell her. “He’s weird.”
“You’re weird.”
I shuffle up to her and stroke my hand across the curve of her warm back; a bit boring, but a good excuse to let the stroking drift down lower towards her sky blue panties, all that she’s wearing right now - her pre-party dress attire. I’d be happy if the dress about to be worn by Anna and currently being worn by a nearby chair, stayed where it was all night.
She ignored my fingers as they pushed further, like an Arctic explorer, desperate to climb to the top of something.
“You know what he said?”
I pull my hand away. “What Anna?”
No climbing the mountain here, not yet. Maybe after the clock strikes Midnight. New Year’s Eve makes strangers hug and kiss. Maybe there’s hope for those wanting to screw.
Why are we still together? We don’t even like each other much these days. Now and again we do, but not often. It’s not enough.
We only got together nine months back after meeting in the local Boots store, taking turns on the weighing machine: me sixteen stone, she just barely eight. We don’t stay over at her place – she lives with her mother, and her mother thinks I’m a loser. She’s right, but telling me to my face seems a bit wrong – luckily I’m not a sore kind of loser. Earlier I suggested to Anna that she stay over at my place, for the first time. Usually we just do it in the car at a local wood, where the occasional dog walker throws stones at the windows or a gang of local kids sees familiar faces banging on the windows while others rock the car. Whoever says romance ain’t dead? A few hours ago, I even let Anna use my kitchen to cook her stupid vegetarian snacks while I ordered a pepperoni pizza - for one. Sometimes I even let her offer to pay my bills too, because she loves me and earns more than me, which seems like a fair deal. OK, kidding about that last one. But this was my house – my home. I like my privacy; I’m a quiet sort of guy. And here she is – talking, not about me, but about our boring neighbour from a few doors down. Again. Doesn’t she realise I don’t really care?
She unhooks the silk dress from the chair now, the bitch. Boring! I like her as she is. Anna, - you know that by this time next New Year’s Eve, you and me are going to be more split up than one of those home-dyed hairs on your tiny little head. “He says there’s extra storage space behind the utility room downstairs,” she tells me, continuing where she left off –speaking excitedly like she’s just discovered fire and is about to test it on my flammable jumper to see what it does. “Behind the wall, behind that gap - where there’s no join, just a few wires showing through. You know?”
I tell her I thought the gap was there because the builders got bored and went home early.
She doesn’t laugh, she’s on a roll – she’s Nancy Drew grown up and armed with a brand new improvement plan for my home: “So, Luke tells me he put his mobile phone through the gap a few weeks back and took a picture and behind the wall there’s a small, furnished storage area, apparently all the houses have them – like a ghost room, ready to be used but nobody goes there. Luke also says that - .”
I yawn. She glares at me. “Sorry, carry on,” I tell her, pouring myself a third glass of wine. I don’t pour her one. Result!
“OK, if you don’t want to know…”
But actually, I remember I do - secretly, so I pour her a glass of wine. “Go on,” I say, handing her the glass.
“Well,” she says, like she’s summing up the crime in a Scooby Doo story, “Luke told me that when the houses were close to being finished, there was talk about the rooms being left open to be used for storage, but they needed an extra wall put in through the utility room to make space for a spare bedroom, so closed the gap up. Well, nearly closed – there’s a design fault in all the houses that left a small gap in the wall to be able to look through. I don’t know why you never have.” I just shrug my shoulders. I have.
I watch now as she removes her panties, and pulls the silk dress down over her head and over her short little body, smoothing it down as she goes. The dress reveals parts of her that I would never want the likes of Luke to ever see - parts that are now secretly showing up through the light brown, barely able to stretch any further, fabric.
“Like it?”
I nod my head like an obedient dog, ready to do something rude that an owner would frown at, or ready to walk on the beckoning of a finger. “Yeah,” I say, acting now like I’m no longer me, but a zombie who has just strolled in from outside.
“Put your tongue in.”
I wonder what she means. Then realise my mouth is hanging open, so I shut it. Damn it.
Time to change the subject: “Fancy some of those mini quiches you cooked earlier?” I don’t really think I do, but it’s good to be friendly in a situation like this. “They look amazing,” I lie.
Anna shakes her head. “It’s another few hours until Midnight. Save them for after. You can pour me some champagne now though – there’s another bottle for when the clock strikes.”
It was actually sparkling white wine from Spar, but I was hoping she wouldn’t notice. “OK,” I tell her, and walk through into the kitchen. When I get back, Anna has gone. Placing the two glasses of sparkling whatever it was I had bought on the table, I call her name. She’s downstairs. In the utility room. Aiming for the gap in the wall no doubt. With her camera in hand, flash warmed up and ready to see if Luke is right.
(And he will be)
I run down the stairs as fast as I can, and yes - Anna is standing down there as I thought she would be. By the crack in the wall, the one that all the neighbours in the road used to think just had pipes behind it, before Luke – bless him - told us all otherwise. “What are you doing?” I ask her.
“Nothing”, she says, grinning, then turns back to the gap, and I notice her hand is sticking through the dust-bleeding gash in the wall. Taking the picture now: and a white flash illuminates the hidden room like a sudden storm has broken out in my mind. She takes out the camera and looks at the picture that she has taken. Her face falls. Just sort of drops. Like her chin has melted towards her chest. I think she is a little bit sick on the carpet. “Oh my god,” she whimpers.
“What is it?” I ask. She walks towards me, shows me the picture. “I think I know why the builders didn’t open this room up.”
I look at the two twisted, fully clothed, small skeletons in the picture - contorted together with a blade sticking through the skull of one of them.
Anna looks at me: “It’s real. Not a joke. Isn’t it? Someone killed them. Oh my, god – who lived here before you?”
“Nobody,” I tell her. “I was the first to move in, seventeen years ago.”
(The blade stuck in the skull of the girl and wouldn’t come out, like the sword in the stone, as her friend grabbed my arm screaming at me to stop)
Anna looked worried. “It must be someone, like a builder or someone, who built the houses back then. Do you think – do you think we should tell the police?”
I shake my head.
She knows.
“We don’t have to,” I say.
“No we don’t,” she lies.
I’m blocking her escape now. It’s a small room. She can’t get past. But she has a go - lunging towards me and punching me hard between the legs. It doesn’t really hurt. I grab her neck as she kicks and screams a bit more. She’s stronger than I realise. We both fall to the floor. Upstairs, on the television, cheers and laughter from all those gathered together in Hyde Park, waiting for the clocks to strike.
She’s dead - exactly one hour before Midnight.
Before the clocks strike the hour, I hurry round to Luke’s house. He never goes out. Or has anyone visit - ever. I invite him over for a few drinks, tell him that Anna’s still changing into her best dress, that she’s having trouble with as it’s a little too small for her, which makes his eyes light up.
“Right,” he tells me. “Give me a second or two to get myself ready.”
“Take as long as you need,” I tell him. “We’ve still got eight minutes ‘til midnight.”

Copyright: Mark Gordon Palmer/ 2011

© Copyright 2018 Mark Gordon Palmer. All rights reserved.

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