An extract from “Mannequin Man and the Plastic Bitch”
A clock struck one o’clock somewhere unseen, and he realised suddenly that he had somewhere else to be.
He walked around the shaded park twice before he saw the sign for Ashley Street. It was a lane rather than a street, and an alley more than a lane, home to a few squat fast-food shops, a couple of porn palaces and a chop shop that stank of blood and desperation. A couple of its regular clients hung around outside, bad advertising if ever Tom had seen it: the woman had no nose or eyelids, but bled profusely out of open veins above her eye sockets; the man displayed his mutilated genitalia, balls the size of footballs and a dick like a joint of uncooked pork.
“Need something doing?” the man asked.
“Leave him, he’s a fake,” the woman said, dismissing Tom with a bloody glare.
“Doesn’t look like one.”
Tom walked by, feeling their pained eyes on his back. They were wondering what he had, he knew. Secretly craving a look beneath his skin and flesh. Well … they’d be surprised. In a way he too was chopped. The Baker had seen to that.
He passed Hell’s Bookshop and found the alley Honey had mentioned. Its walls were so close together that Tom’s arms brushed them as he made his way along, stepping over a vagrant who may have been dead. Before him — the shadow at the end of the alley, a great wall of black concrete pointing at the pink sun — stood the whorehouse.
Tom was amazed to find the back door open. It wasn’t as if such a salubrious establishment needed a rear entrance for shady patrons.
As he opened the door and a flush of smells came out at him — the tang of sex, old greasy cooking, smoke, drugs, the sparkle of ozone from an illegal charger somewhere — he realised that he had not yet seen Hot Chocolate Bob.
Not out on the street, working his patch.
Not down in the dead park watching the incredible puppeteer.
Which meant, very likely, that he was inside.
Tom closed the door behind him, but he made sure he knew where the handle was.
He thought he could remember where to find Honey’s room. It was on the third floor, facing out onto the street. He hurried along the dark corridor, stepping on things that cracked or snapped and, in one case, squealed. He tried not to look down because he didn’t want to see, didn’t want anything to mar this moment, this occasion when he would do the most valiant thing of his life: rescue his love from the purgatory she had been created for, and which she endured still. Why she endured it he did not know. It was something he may ask her … one day.
He reached the stairs and quickly moved up towards the third floor. At each landing he sensed doors opening around him; just a crack, wide enough for the inhabitants to see out. A couple of times he heard a relieved sigh when they saw him walk past.
There were many sounds permeating the air, turning the dank stairwell into an echo-chamber for the whole building. A blasting television here, a whining drill there, the screams of a child from far along one refuse-strewn corridor, the grunting of sex, a soft mumble somewhere else, as if someone was trying to talk themselves out of this hellhole. And smells as well, even worse than those that had hit him upon opening the door. Shit, piss, cabbage, saliva, rotten food, death, spunk, cordite, smoke, drugs … very little good, hardly any sweet. Neither belonged here.
Honey was both, and her time in this place was now numbered in minutes.
Tom had found her door. He ran up the last flight of steps and stood before it, surprised at how nervous he felt, how terrified that she’d only mock him when he opened the door. She’d be sitting there with her legs open and her hand held out, ready to scan his card and take her ten measly percent.
“No,” he said, shaking his head. “No. No. She’s better than that. She meant it. No.”
Someone pushed him from behind. He spun around to look into the wizened face of an old man, tall and angular where he had been chopped in an attempt to avert aging. “Yes,” the old man said. “Yes. Don’t torture yourself son, do it. She’s sweeeetttttttt!” His voice rose into a bird-like cackle. Tom leaned back against the door as the old man stumbled away along the corridor, laughing to himself and shrilling “Sweeetttt, sweeettttt!”
The door opened behind him and Tom stumbled into the room.
“Tom! You came!” And there was so much relief and joy in Honey’s voice that Tom knew, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that the love was not his and his alone.
Here was hope. Here was trust. Here was the rest of his life.
Honey had caught him in her arms and he twisted around to kiss her.
“No time for that!” Honey said, kicking the door shut. “I thought you’d be here half an hour ago. Hot Chocolate Bob will be back anytime, he knew I wasn’t going out, he’ll be here to have me. We have to go. We have to go now!”
“Come on then!” Tom said. Honey had a rucksack over her shoulder, and today she wore no make-up. He didn’t know how he could ever have forgotten her face. He saw her for what she really was and loved her more. Years of abuse with her face pressed into pillows and against walls had given her skin a pale sheen, but he had enough money to sort that out. He’d give her new skin. He’d give her anything.
“You’re going to have to do something for me, Tom,” Honey said. “It’s the only way we’ll get out.” She swung the backpack his way and quickly stripped.
Tom went cold.
“You want me to… ”
“If anyone sees me out of this room with you — anyone — they’ll tell Bob. He’ll be on us in seconds, and… I’ve seen him kill before, Tom. He wouldn’t hesitate today.”
“But it’s so dangerous.”
“I know. Tom… let me down. Turn me off, let me down and get me out of here.”
Tom knew that this was a drastic step. Reinvigorating Honey would take hours, and he’d heard that half of the plastic artificials this was done to never came back. They weren’t designed for this. It was like killing a human in the hope that they could be resuscitated.
She put her fingers into a fold beneath her left breast. Tom saw the muscles on her wrist tense. “I’ll do it myself if you don’t. But I want you to do it.”
Honey removed her hand. Tom reached out and slipped his fingers inside the fleshy slit, felt her Christ valve — so named for its artificial powers of death and resurrection — and twisted it sharply to the right.
Honey gasped and slumped into Tom’s arms. “I won’t watch,” he said. He closed his eyes and felt her wrinkling lips pass across his mouth, heard a hissing exhalation of love as her weight lessened. Folds of flesh hung over his arms, a warm rush ran down his legs as she voided herself, steam rose around him and stung his nostrils as he breathed in sharply …
And it was over so quickly.
He tried not to see Honey’s flattened, lifeless face as he rolled her up and stuffed her and her clothes into the rucksack.