This story has been adapted from my original, which appeared in the compilation Radgepacket 6: Tales from the Inner Cities. The brief was for tales that featured some or all of the following: violence, sex, sleaze, crime, drugs and alcohol.
This was my submission, which obviously takes its title from the 1995 film Things to Do in Denver When You’re Dead, in which five robbers await their impending deaths after botching a job. In my story, the protagonist faces a similar fate, hence the title.
Denton, more particularly, West Denton, which is where Kirsty in the story lives, is in the west part of Newcastle upon Tyne. Obviously, given the brief, the story contains profanity and sexual scenes.
Things to Do in Denton When You’re Dead
The opening chimes of No Surprises by Radiohead burst from my phone at a sufficiently high volume level to turn the heads of customers in the café, where I was enjoying a solitary coffee. I picked up the phone and, on seeing the name Kirsty on the screen, placed it back on the table, letting the ringtone play. It had been four weeks since we broke up, and she had been pressing me to return the hair straighteners she’d left at my flat, but I kept forgetting to do it. I didn’t much fancy having to conjure up yet more excuses, so I ignored the call and finally, on the word landfill, the music stopped.
“I was enjoying that,” a woman at an adjacent table said, looking up from the celebrity gossip magazine she was reading. “It’s a nice tune.” She was a pretty thing, about my age, early thirties, with short dark hair, darker eyes and full lips. I hadn’t seen much action with the opposite sex since Kirsty and I split, so I decided to try a corny approach to breaking the ice.
“Well”, I said, “if you had my number you could call me and hear it again.” I put a half-hearted laugh on the end of this statement that covered me in case I was rejected.
“Fresh,” she said, and we laughed. But instead of going back to her magazine, she pulled her own phone from her bag. “Come on then,” she said. I nearly spat my coffee, but I calmly dabbed my mouth on a napkin and, with the cautious approach of someone who thinks he’s possibly being taken for a ride, told her my number. She entered it, and the café customers were treated to an encore of Radiohead.
And that is how Jane and I became acquainted, at half past three on a Friday afternoon. By seven o’ clock that evening, we were crawling city centre bars together, getting drunk like a couple who had known each other for years. In one bar, the Lion, she seemed to know quite a few of the clientele, including some men, but I didn’t mind. I was new on the scene.
It was here that she dragged me up during karaoke, something I would usually steer well clear of. I happily tagged along though, partly because I was tipsy, and partly because I wanted everyone in the bar to know she was with me. I was pleased to discover that she hadn’t opted for a duet like I Got You, Babe, but she sang Doris Day’s old hit, Move Over Darling. As the intro played, she stood facing me.
“Our lips shouldn’t touch,” she sang, coming up close and looking deep into my eyes. She didn’t sing the song too well, but she gyrated in front of me in a way I found extremely erotic, and I was mesmerised. The pub regulars watched her performance in what I assumed to be silent jealousy. If that were the case, then their envy would have increased tenfold when Jane put her own line to the song. “And now that I’m no longer free,” she sang, “fuck the arse off me.”
And I did. Back at her flat we got straight down to it. She was as hot as I’d expected her to be, and her beautiful mouth showed its darker side, as a stream of filth poured from it, in a demonstration of that particular brand of horniness that only comes from having sex with a stranger. After I finally roared to orgasm, we both collapsed on the bed.
“You are fucking amazing,” I said, between a combination of gasps and involuntary laughs. She smiled, and as we recovered she turned and stroked my chest. I noticed a faint lustre of perspiration on her shoulder that shone in the soft glow of the bedside lamp behind her. It had been a very physical session.
“You’re a tiger, Tiger,” she said. This massaging of my chest and my ego, all combined with an intense afterglow, had me wanting the moment to last forever. How soon things were to change.
“Are you doing anything tomorrow afternoon?” I said. “Maybe we could go somewhere nice for lunch. That is, if you want to.”
“I can’t,” she said quite casually, “Frankie’s coming home tomorrow.” It took a moment for this statement to register, but when it did I sat up immediately.
“Frankie?” I said.
“Is this a male or female Frankie?” I said. She laughed.
“Male of course; Frankie’s my fella,” she said, still in that casual tone. I stood up, holding the corner of the duvet to hide what I had been proudly showing off only moments earlier.
“Your fucking fella?”
“That’s right, my fella Frankie. We’re practically engaged”
“What’s your game?” I said, unable to comprehend.
“Well, he had a bit of a fling with some slapper barmaid from the club, and so I thought, you know, sauce for the goose and all that.”
“You mean you used me?”
“I suppose I did,” she said, “because to be honest, I’m not that keen on Radiohead.” These words stunned me, but I retained enough mental clarity to decide that I had to leave immediately.
“Yeah, well whatever he did, this Frankie of yours, I don’t want to be any part of your game to wreak revenge on — ”
“Frankie Fisher,” she said. On hearing this name, my legs almost buckled, and I was stricken with sudden violent butterflies in the stomach.
“You’re kidding me,” I said. “You mean Frankie Fisher the biggest gangster in the area, who did time for manslaughter but everyone knows he was lucky to escape a murder charge?” She nodded.
“That’s my Frankie.”
I picked up my boxers and set about getting dressed, but in my nervousness my foot twanged the waistband as I hopped about and they flew across the room. I was a mess. “For fuck’s sake, don’t tell him about this,” I said.
“Well there’s not much point in getting even with someone if that person doesn’t know you got even, is there? I dare say his mates from the Lion karaoke will be falling over themselves to tell him anyway though.”
“Oh, sweet Jesus, he’ll fucking kill me.”
“Well he’s not actually here, is he? He won’t be home until tomorrow morning. Come back to bed.”
“You’re — you’re crazy,” I said, taking my clothes and leaving the bedroom. I got dressed in the living room and left the flat without another word.
Outside I walked quickly, but then slowed down as I became oddly conscious that the echoing of my rapid footsteps in the deserted street sounded exactly like the footsteps of someone with something to hide. I didn’t dare call a taxi until I was well away from the house, and safely hidden in a shop doorway. During the five minute wait for the taxi, which felt like five hours, such was my desire to escape the area, I reflected on my situation and was almost sick. Frankie fucking Fisher. When the taxi finally did arrive, I climbed into the back seat with great haste.
I had given the driver my own address as his destination, but in the back of the cab I became increasingly paranoid about the possible dangers of going home. I rang Kirsty, and asked if I could come over to see her, as I was in a spot of trouble, and I needed some thinking space. She said it was all right, and so I gave the driver new instructions to take me to Kirsty’s flat over in West Denton. Such was my dread of the power held by this hoodlum Frankie and his associates, even when we pulled up I had the terrible feeling that the driver would be straight on the phone to give away my location as soon as I was in Kirsty’s flat.
“Thirteen pounds eighty, Bud,” the driver said. I reached into my jeans pocket for my wallet but it wasn’t there. I desperately patted my clothing but I felt no bulge, and I knew why. I remembered that in our eagerness to get undressed at Jane’s, my wallet had fallen from my jeans onto the bedroom floor, and she had picked it up and placed it on some drawers. Clearly I had forgotten to grab it on the way out. I mouthed an expletive. “You ok, Bud?” the driver said, “I take it you do have the fare.”
“Give me two minutes,” I said, pulling out my phone. I called Kirsty, who, with head shaking in bemusement, came outside and paid the driver for me a few moments later.
Kirsty hadn’t long been home from a night out with friends. They had gone for a meal but Kirsty is on a permanent diet and so she had taken her usual sparrow-sized portions and come home hungry. She put the kettle on and took a packet of crisp-breads from the cupboard. As she spread dollops of cottage cheese onto the crisp-breads, I told her how I came to lose my wallet.
“Well Clive,” she said, “it doesn’t surprise me that that penis of yours has landed you in trouble. It’s a menace to society and it should be muzzled.”
“But she came on to me.”
“You couldn’t say no though, could you?” she said. She took some sweet chilli sauce and squirted a strip along each of the three cottage cheese topped crisp-breads. I shrugged and she continued her chastisement. “You banged me on the second date, and that was the first time I ever allowed that to happen.
“My charm is a curse,” I said. She shook her head in mock dismay.
“So what’s your next move then?” she said, biting a corner off one of the crisp-breads and delicately pushing an overhanging piece into her mouth with her little finger as she chewed.
“Sleep for now,” I said, “I’m worn out. See how things look in the morning.”
“Come on then,” she said. I followed her up the stairs, hoping to be allowed into the king-size bed I hadn’t seen for a few weeks, but we only got as far as the airing cupboard on the landing, where she issued me with blankets and a pillow.
“I thought we might have shared — ” I said, indicating with a nod towards the bedroom door.
“After you’ve just had sex with someone you only met this afternoon? I think not.” She had a point I suppose, and I was grateful that she had agreed to harbour me until I could get my head straight, so we went back downstairs with my bedding. We sat until the early hours, chatting, drinking tea and watching a re-run of Pulp Fiction on TV.
In the morning, Kirsty brought me a cup of tea and then returned to the kitchen to prepare scrambled eggs on toast for two. I had slept well enough on the settee, and I woke refreshed and quite happy, until the reason for my being where I was returned to my mind. I picked up my jeans from the floor and checked my phone, relieved to see I had no new messages or missed calls.
I pictured Frankie Fisher going through my wallet, tossing aside the worthless things but hanging onto the cash, credit cards and driving licence, and, of course, making a note of my address. Yet, no matter how afraid I was, I had to face up to the fact that the retrieval of my wallet was essential. I went into the kitchen.
“Am I still on your insurance, Kirst?” I said.
“Could I borrow the car for an hour or two today? I need to get some clean clothes from home.”
“And some hair straighteners,” she said, rummaging in her handbag for the car keys.
After breakfast, I drove the Fiesta into a filling station and put some petrol in with money Kirsty had given me. I also bought a pair of cheap sunglasses, as I had a lousy headache. I felt nauseous as I drove to my flat in the east end of the city.
I parked in the street just outside my flat and watched for any signs of Frankie or his mob. After a few minutes I decided it was safe and so I hurried up the path. With my heart pounding in my chest, I turned the key and let myself in. The flat was empty.
I’d never felt so uncomfortable inside my own home. I drew the curtains, and quickly set about filling a holdall with clothes. My bowels were in such turmoil, I had to go to the toilet for relief. When I flushed, I feared the noise would be heard streets away and, harking back to the previous night’s film, I half-expected to open the door to Frankie in my kitchen, holding a semi-automatic and toasting Pop Tarts. I put Kirsty’s hair straighteners into the holdall and left the flat feeling greatly relieved.
Watching for movement at Jane’s flat called for a far more cautious approach. I parked at the top of her street, some fifty yards from her front gate, and settled down for what I knew might be a long wait. In preparation, I had brought along the traditional stakeout fare of Styrofoam coffee and a doughnut. I listened to two of Kirsty’s CDs without seeing any signs of activity.
Finally, my wait bore fruit. I spotted Jane in the rear-view mirror, stepping off a bus on the main street. She approached from behind, carrying a bag of shopping in each hand, and she walked past the car but didn’t notice me. I started the engine and drove alongside her at walking pace. I buzzed down the electric window on the passenger side and leaned across, darting my gaze between Jane and the road ahead. “Hey, it’s me,” I said. She seemed to have been woken from a trance, but she recognised me.
“Hello Clive,” she said, in that casual tone I had last heard when she dropped the Frankie Fisher bombshell, “I thought you might be back.”
“Is it safe for me to be here?” I said. She shrugged, and transferred one bag from her left hand into her right and then fished a bunch of keys from the pocket of her jeans. “My wallet,” I said, “I think I left it behind.” She nodded.
“It’s in the bedroom drawer.”
“What about Frankie?” She paused right at her gate and turned to me. I stopped the car, but kept the engine running.
“Frankie’s gone, Clive, you’re quite safe,” she said, almost tearful.
“What do you mean, gone?”
“He didn’t come back this morning. He’s dumped me and shacked up with that bloody barmaid.” I felt the relief of a condemned man getting a last minute reprieve. “Come in, I’ll give you your wallet.”
Despite my elation, I was still wary enough to remember how this siren had lured me into her clutches the previous night. What if she slammed the door behind me and I came face-to-face with Frankie?
“No dice, Jane,” I said, “I’d appreciate it if you’d bring the wallet out to me.”
“Whatever,” she said, clearly irritated. I watched her disappear into the flat, leaving the front door open, and she emerged a few minutes later, carrying my wallet. She leaned inside the open passenger window and tossed it to me. “You’re perfectly safe, you know,” she said. I took the wallet and glanced at the contents.
“I can’t take that chance, can I?”
“Frankie’s gone, Clive. He won’t be coming back here.”
“Well, I’m not going to break my heart over that.”
“What I mean is, he’s gone,” she said. “Maybe we could pick up where we left off.” I looked at her in jeans and greying t-shirt.
“I think not,” I said, and I put the car into gear.
Now that I was reunited with my cash, I went into a supermarket and bought a load of stuff, including a bunch of flowers as a token of my appreciation to Kirsty. We had agreed to some sort of reconciliation, and had a cosy night in planned. I had passed the first test of our rekindled relationship by turning down the offer of sex with Jane. I felt a different sense of loyalty towards Kirsty, and I puzzled over why this was as I drove back to her flat, but I couldn’t put my finger on it.
Fresh out of the bath, Kirsty joined me on the settee. Her face was still flushed from the heat of the water and her nipples were clearly visible beneath the outsize t-shirt she wore as a nightdress. She took a sip of wine, and then lay back in my arms. Her eyes turned upwards to look at me. “You seem a lot more relaxed tonight,” she said.
“Getting my wallet back took a lot of pressure off,” I said.
“But what about this Frankie character, isn’t he still on the warpath?”
I looked towards the window and said, rather melodramatically, “Somewhere out there, Frankie Fisher is scouring the streets searching for me with murder in his heart. But I’m not afraid, because he doesn’t know about you, and I feel safe here. I think it would be best if I stayed a few more days, as long as that’s all right with you.” I kissed her forehead.
“Mi casa su casa,” she said. I slid my hands up the front of her t-shirt, and began stroking her nipples with my middle fingertips. Again her eyes turned up to look at me. She smiled and I realised what this strange new feeling was: I loved her. “You’re a scamp, Clive, you know that?” she said. I returned her smile.
“Oh, I know it,” I said.
And I did, but she didn’t know the half of it.