Short Story
                                                  Grifters
                                                                    By Ruairi MacInnes


      Sometimes I got fed up of being plain Sharon Clement.  I liked to imagine I was a character from film
noir land, hanging out in dubious venues late at night.  That gave my evenings a certain frisson.  In reality it
may have been two thousand and nineteen in London.  In my head it was another era, another place.  After
I’d dropped out of my law degree, due to a nervous disposition, I’d been seeing a head doctor.  However I
had quit that habit fast and instead I self-medicated with fantasy.  Maybe I shouldn’t have mentioned the
shrink?  When you read this yarn, you might think my account is unreliable, but I was there and I know what
happened.

      NIGHT ONE:

      I first met Kenneth Cawley at The Elite, a sordid nightclub full of wealthy customers, trying to fill a void.

      Kenneth had rapidly become my other half.  He’d made a stack of dosh many moons ago by writing a
bestseller.  Now he lived off the interest.  And I found his interest fascinating.

      One Tuesday we revisited The Elite to celebrate the occasion when we first met, three months ago.

      That evening a vintage Cadillac was parked outside.  Kenneth did not share my interest in the vehicle
and wanted to discuss a stone carving on a nearby building.  He thought the masonry looked like a cat.  
He seemed to prefer cats to people and had told me that he used to take in many strays.

      Inside the club, we shot the breeze.  But sometimes the conversation with old Kenneth was so slow
that I may as well have been in bing, I mean locked up in solitary.  Kenneth was chinning on about his
career as a horror writer and I kept zoning out.  Then I noticed the barman.  He reminded me of a bundle
punk, a rootless criminal who carried all their belongings in one bag.  There was something dangerous
about him.  I asked Kenneth for some cabbage so we could dip our bills then I headed for the bar.

      Later on, I said to Kenneth, let’s go and nibble one more or two in some late night joint.

      We trudged along the silent street, its potholes full of recent rain. I told Kenneth that I wished we didn’t
have to go by foot. From behind an engine purred then growled as the Cadillac accelerated past us.

      We arrived at a late night bar, a glorified shebeen called Marginal.  Someone was getting out the
Cadillac.  It was the barman from The Elite.

      The vast bouncer at the door shouted, ‘Hey Mark, man, what’s new?’

      The barman locked his car, grinned and said, ‘Same old, same old.’

      The bouncer frisked us both and Kenneth clucked and tutted at such ignominy.

      About four in the morning, Kenneth walked me to a taxi rank.  I liked to have my space at night.  He
was warbling on about the psychology of cats, medieval architecture, baloney like that.  I suddenly realized
Kenneth and I were no longer drinking out of the same bottle.  We had grown apart.  Instead of traipsing
along on foot, I wished I could have had a ride in Mark’s flash boiler.

      As if someone had read my mind, the Cadillac passed us once again, splashing us with water out a
pothole.  I didn’t mind but Kenneth shook his fist and shouted out there’d be a price to pay.  That made me
lose my temper and I told Kenneth to close his head, calling him a daft old egg.  He shut up.

      NIGHT TWO:

      The second night The Elite was full of boozehounds.  Mark was behind the bar, polishing a wine glass
with a cloth.  He looked solemn and said, ‘How’s the old bird tonight?’

      I tensed.

      ‘Are you trying to ridicule me?’

      He shook his head, nodded over my shoulder and I turned and saw Kenneth hunched over his
paperback, looking like a vulture.  I tried to remain serious but couldn’t stop myself smirking.  There was
something about Mark that was just so funny and perhaps a bit mysterious.

      Back at Kenneth’s table, I gave him my full attention.  My significant other was something of a snow-
bird, so he made an easy mark to filch some night salt from.  After all the booze, Kenneth was looking
jingle-brained. He said ‘I’ll have to head on home soon.  The cats will be getting ravenous.’

      I watched the book slide out his hand as he drifted off to sleep.  I headed past the bar and threw a
wide-eyed smile in Mark’s direction.

      In the marble-lined unisex toilet, I laid out two thick lines of nose candy and checked my makeup in the
mirror.  Behind me someone opened the door.

      Fifteen minutes later, outside in the warm dusk, Mark and I were sharing a gasper when Kenneth
trundled up to join us.  Mark said he had to breeze.

      NIGHT THREE:

      I lay in my little rented room planning for tomorrow evening.  Finally I had accepted an invitation from
Kenneth to have dinner at his place.  I’d said no for ages. My decision was easier after Mark gave me the
combination for old Cawley’s home safe.  My new friend had said we should help ourselves otherwise the
money would go to a cat home.  How Mark got the number sequence I wasn’t sure, but he was a man
about town, he had contacts, knew how to make things happen.  He had explained how I should throw the
loot out the window then tell Kenneth I felt sick.  Then he said I should run down to his car and he’d drive us
both away.

      I was really looking forward to Friday night.  I knew a wonderful chapter of our lives was about to open
for Mark and me.

      NIGHT FOUR:

      Inside Kenneth’s place, elegant and well upholstered I had to say, I sat in a room with about a hundred
cat paintings on the walls and endless rows of books on the shelves below.  Kenneth was fixing me a drink
in the kitchen but where were all the cats he always talked about? I said, ‘Hey hon, how’s that drink coming
along?  And where are all your feline buddies?’

      In response a mewling sound came from the kitchen.  I tensed.  That wasn’t a cat.  That was a man’s
voice.

      ‘Hey hon, stop messing around, I know that’s you.’

      There was a silence.  I was getting irritated.  I took the opportunity to look at the books.  Some of them
had the name Kenneth Cawley on their spines.  I picked up one ancient leather bound volume written by
my ageing host.  The title was ‘The Deception.’  I opened it and the first few pages were blank. I thumbed
through more pages.  The same.  I opened the book halfway through.  The remaining pages were all
empty.  What the hell was going on?

      I went through to the kitchen.  I felt uneasy.  The kitchen was unoccupied.  No drinks.  No Kenneth.  I
fished in my pocket for the combination for the safe.  I unfolded the sheet of paper it was unwritten on.  
Was I going mad?  My blood drained to my feet.  I stumbled to the window to check that Mark was still
waiting outside in the Cadillac.  It was time to bail out from this nuthouse.  The car was there and Mark was
in it.  I prised open the window and shouted ‘Mark!’

      His head was bowed as if he was dozing.  He straightened up, groping at the window of his car like
some trapped animal.  Something had happened to his head.  His mouth and nose weren’t there.  Neither
were his eyes.  His face was now a blank lump of flesh.

      Kenneth’s voice reverberated from somewhere deep within the house.

      ‘Now we’ll have some real fun.’

      Once again I heard that mewling sound.


                                                                              THE END
About Ruairi MacInnes

Ruairi MacInnes has been
published in The Horror
Zine, The Sirens Call,
Schlock! Webzine, Theme
of Absence, Murky
Depths, Planet Prozak,
Eunoia Review, The Rusty
Nail, The Cynic Online,
MicroHorror and
Bewildering Stories.  He
plays electric guitar in the
duo Johnny Mode and is
learning Spanish via
horror movies.
To read other short stories,
click one of the titles below.