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Bad Man
 Standing

 Jon Chandler




Known primarily for his work in the comics medium, 2016 saw the release of Jon’s first novel, crime thriller Bad Man Standing (Landfill Editions). The book is now back in print in a new edition from Bone House Books; see below for an exclusive excerpt from the novel.


ARTHUR NORBERT ALLISONs big frame leaned against the concrete fence pole. A white kerchief fat with blood covered his right eye now gone. Thick globs dripped from the rude bandaging onto American army fatigues, darkening the heavy vest through holes ripped across the chest of the shirt. He looked along the fence, at the seven poles that lay between himself and the gate to the abandoned airfield. Outside the gatehouse a black estate car sat empty. It was not far. It was all the distance in the world.

He imagined Blake stood inside the gatehouse, binoculars set on the hangars and far away from seeing the man who’d clawed himself along the fence. If Blake was still yelling into the two-way radio, Allison couldn’t hear it, and nor could any other. His breath was coming quick and shallow, the sound of his life force hypnotising him immobile until the engine of the small plane lifting itself into the blue of the summer sky chipped into the ebbing of his ken. He turned to watch the plane with his one good eye and closed it as the aircraft eclipsed the afternoon sun. When he looked again the plane was faltering in the air on an unsteady but persistent climb away from the airfield, and all the money was going with it.

He afforded himself a grin across his drained face. “Got you too, you son-of-a-bitch.” The good eye drooped and the grin fell. His knees slipped down and he caught himself against the fence, dropping the spent shotgun around his feet, and gripping hard into the chain-link with work gloves bloodied red. The wire mesh pushed on his brow, forcing his eye open to look out on the moors that rolled out over those English midlands, and at the few desolate buildings gathered out there next to the dead airfield, long abandoned to adder and fern.

His thoughts spiralled and dragged into memories of these lands he had known as his from birth, and they might have kept him had the car at the gatehouse not been screeching black into the concrete. He found his last spurt and thrust himself away from the fence and to the path of the car on its streak to get across to the hangars. Tyres burned a halt and the driver’s door opened. Richard Blake came out from behind the wheel, blue overalls and white kerchief tied around his neck and wearing gloves, the sun shining off his pate through dark wisps of thinning hair. He ran to Allison and caught him from falling.

“Jesus hell, Al.”

“We blew it.”

“And you had to go and fuck up the easy part.”

“Never is.” He bunched the shoulder of Blake’s overalls and let him take up his weight as he was hobbled towards the car. “Took your time. Fireworks got you scared up.”

“If the state of you now isn’t on account of it being you the one that’s getting rusty, then I don’t know what else.” In the shamble to the car Allison’s head started to loll. Blake grunted and shifted Allison into a higher grip. “Come on, Al, help me out, will you?” With Allison in the passenger seat Blake slammed the door on him and rubbed blood smears from the top of the door with his sleeve and took a glance at the bloody paw print Allison had left on his shoulder. He half jumped the bonnet in his scarper to get back around the car and inside it and then he was gassing it towards the hangars.

Allison opened his good eye. “Forget it, Blake.”

“Where’s the money?”

“Caper’s blown. Get me out.”

Blake ignored him and continued gunning away from the gates. Allison reached over and grabbed the steering wheel with his left hand and pulled on it hard and with his right hand he pulled on the handbrake. Blake touched on the brake and then stepped on the fuel when the tail started to slide. The car span. Allison let go of the wheel and kept his thumb on the safety button of the handbrake until Blake straightened the wheel and then Allison released the handbrake and Blake took over. They came to a stop. Blake looked over to one of the old hangars where shaded vehicles sat parked inside. “What about the thing? Did they get the thing?” Allison was passing out. Blake grabbed his collar and shook him. “Did you see it go?”

Allison’s eye came half-opened. “Can’t you hear it?”

“Hey, the loot. Did it go?”

“Can’t you hear them fiery gates opening?”

Blake let go of Allison’s collar, left him to slip into his delirium. He took another look at the hangar and then at Allison.

“You stupid fucking hooligan.” He took the car into an arc away from the hangars and punished the engine towards the exit. “Don’t expect me to sit here talking you awake neither.” He switched on the radio and twisted the volume up to try and keep Allison in the car with him, switched it from music to news of NASA’s loss of contact with their Mars Observer craft three days before it was due to hit the red planet. Blake got out at the gate and opened the barrier and got back in and switched the radio again, would do so every few minutes until they got back to the city.


        *


WESLEY SHAUN WONG stood on a ladder with a pot of black paint rested on the step at his chest. He wiped the sweat off his brow and smeared a streak of dark across it. He looked behind himself and along the river to the toll bridge that led north up to the city proper as the sun was sitting itself down on top of its highest girders. He twisted further around and looked to the taller of the buildings huddled at the centre of Granford, and to that one dark skyscraper of forty nine stories that towered over all of it, and at how the matte black of its windowless veneer sucked the daylight dead.  

“Huh?” He turned back to look down at Nelda Rojas stood with the sun tracing at the large hoops she wore for earrings.

“Where’s your mind at? I said are you nearly done yet?”

“Just about.”

It was only the two of them by the front of the riverside bar, closed for renovations, Wesley’s car the only vehicle, an aging soup-job with mismatched doors.

“You’ve done the colours nice.”

Wesley dumped his head against the ladder. “What’s wrong with it?”

“Did I say there was anything wrong with it?”

“Come on, I can take it, give it.”

“You’ve painted the walls really nice and everything.”

“Look, if you want a pro sign-writer you need to pay for one.”

Frieda Nora came out of the bar drinking on a bottled beer. Her mother turned to her. “Can you go a bit slower on those?”

“I’m not my sister.”

“What’s wrong with it?”

“I don’t know. It’s a bit . . . heavy metal.”

“Heavy metal. You know what a pentacle is, don’t you?”

Frieda Nora choked a laugh back down into the bottle. “Hey Wesley, tell me how to spell pentacle.”

Wesley looked over his handiwork, reading the sign through from the P to the L at the end and couldn’t see a problem. “What?” A collusive smirk crept over Nelda’s face. “What?” He looked it over again and then pulled out his brush from the tin and slapped a swathe of black through the EL. He took a look at Frieda Nora to see her stick out her tongue at him from behind her mother’s back, and with a whisk of her hair she span and went back inside.

Nelda laughed. “It’s fine. Wesley, you’re doing a nice job.”

“Oh if you say nice just one more time I quit.” He looked around to see a long black car bombing along past the empty riverside warehouses and toward The Pentacle. Nelda saw the car and ran inside. The car swung in to the lot skidding up dust and Richard Blake sprang out of it in double time and went around to the passenger door.

“Boy, help me get him in.”

Wesley let the brush fall and stepped down two rungs and then jumped off the ladder, a thick blob of black popping from the tin and hitting his tennis shoe. Frieda Nora came to the door and went straight back in. Her mother took her place there and held the door open. When Blake and Wesley pulled Allison from the car he was muttering, barely in consciousness. Nelda shouted in at the doorway, “Get them dust sheets on the floor.”

“Jesus, Nel,” said Blake, “Just get the doc for crying out loud.”

“He’s not here.”

“Then where the fuck is he?”

“He went walkabout. You think I’m in control of that old prick?”

Wesley and Blake heaved the big man through the doorway. When Blake passed close to Nelda he shot her hard eyes. “That’s your end, Nelda.” They pulled Allison through the forested chair legs upturned on the tables. Frieda Nora appeared through the door from behind the bar holding a bundle of old sheets. “Forget it,” said Blake, “Get the room fixed up.”

Frieda Nora dumped the sheets in a pile and turned and went back out. Nelda let the door swing in behind her and watched the ball of men follow after her daughter. “Wesley, you’re getting paint everywhere. And blood.”

Into the back storeroom they took him. Frieda Nora had popped out a camp bed and then ran up some stairs and now she came down again. She dropped Doc Hanson’s bag and then sat herself at a desk where a radio unit was set up. When Allison had been dumped on the bed Blake turned on her. “You’re supposed to be sitting on this.” He jabbed a finger up and down on the desktop. “All the time.”

Frieda Nora slipped the headset on her ears and played at the dials. Nelda crouched down next to Allison and held his head up. “He’s passed out. Wesley, go look for the doc.”

He stayed put. “Did he get shot in the head? Or something?”

“The kid’s coming with me.” Blake reached over and pulled the jack on Frieda Nora’s headset. Police radio filled the room. Frieda Nora took off the headphones and adjusted the volume on the scanner. Blake leant over the desk listening for a moment. “Fred, get out and go look for the doc. Anything on the airfield coming in?”

“No, just the hotspot. I thought it went right from what they said.”

“Well now we’ve got ourselves more than one hotspot,” said Blake. Frieda Nora went back out again and he looked to Wesley stood over Allison. “You got your clean clothes in your car?”

“Yeah.”

“Right, you’re with me.”

Nelda put her hands on Wesley’s elbow as if to stop him. “Dick, can’t you get Brain or one of them to come out and meet you?”

“No time for it. You go get Al’s blood out and ready.”

“Do I change now?” said Wesley.

“Just get in your car. You ready for this?”

“Yes sir, I’m ready.”

“Alright then, you’re up.” Blake left back through the bar.

Wesley looked back to Allison, stooped and touched a fist on the top of his hand. “Al, I’ll see you later.”

“Get going.” Nelda grabbed a hold of his shoulders and twisted him toward the door. Wesley went back out through the bar, grabbing a dust sheet from the pile where Frieda Nora had dropped them, and then went out to the car park where Blake was already into his own vehicle and was turning it back towards the road. Wesley threw the sheet over his seat and got in his car. He started out after Blake, who had slowed up to throw some words at the discredited Doctor Lynwood Hanson. Frieda Nora was dragging him along past Blake’s open window, the old man craning his neck to take his earful, with his free hand held defensively over a pocket of purloined booze.


        *


THEY DROVE BOTH their cars out to the open hangar and parked just inside the entrance. A passing copter had forced them to ditch their first approach to the airfield, and despite the detour dusk was still a good while off in the long hours of the summer day. They stood by their cars looking in. A small back door was open in the direction of the lowering sun, illuminating three vehicles and several bodies. Blake tossed a pair of balled-up gloves to Wesley and they walked into the gloom towards the low hiss and crackle of a two-way radio.

One car was tucked in over to the right, halfway in and covered in tarp. Further along and to the left the bodies of three of their own people and a van were bullet shred. The front of the van was angled inwards, and across from the front of it was a car pulled over to the right, side on and with most of the glass shot away. Three of the other group lay scattered in front of it, one made dead when he’d pulled a machine pistol, two ruined before they could draw.

“You think you’ll ever see a sorrier mess than this one right here? That’s what happens when you keep old school hooligans like Arthur Allison in your crew.”

“This is because of Al?”

“Someone got spooked. Maybe us or maybe them or maybe both. They were only supposed to be two of them, two plus the fly-boy. And four men came. Al always was first to fidget when something wasn’t right. And I never did a job with him or anyone where there wasn’t something worth fidgeting over.”

One of their own group was propped sitting and dead against the front of the van. The other that lay near him wore army fatigues just the same, and work gloves, and both had their bandanas over their faces. Shelby Cartwright was hanging half out of the door of the van. His overalls matched Blake’s.

“We shouldn’t have been masked up like this. I’ll bet you Al insisted on it and these two copied him because it put the wind up them. Stupid.” Blake walked over to a metal case lying open where it had been flung down in the eye of the carnage. There was an empty rectangle in the foam lining, the size of a large calculator. He looked at the blood trail that led from the case toward the open door at the rear of the hangar. He crouched down next to the case and picked up the two-way and turned it off. Staying crouched he picked up the case and held it for Wesley to see inside. “We’re looking for something that big. Might be here or the people who came for it might have taken it. But that’s what we’re looking for here.”

“What is it?”

“Doesn’t look big enough to be much of a score. But these people wanted it enough to pay heavy for it, so we went and took it for them. That’s all I should need to know, but now I also know if we don’t find it then I’m not getting paid. No-one is.” Blake threw down the case and stayed crouched there staring into the cavity in the foam. “I couldn’t even tell you if this was a one-shot deal or not. Tell me, if I put some of your men down, would you still want to be in business with me?” Blake looked up at Wesley as if he was expecting an answer.

“I guess that would depend on how much I want what you’ve got.”

“If you’ve still got it.” Blake stood up and levelled himself with Wesley. “I knew this one was going to be bullshit. Every time you do a big job for someone else it always ends up bullshit. You know how many times you end up doing a big job for someone else? Every time. You hear Logan and Carmichael and all that lot talk about the big one like it’s the fucking Holy Grail. Well this was it. You’re standing in it. This was the one our dear boss had it all riding on.” He turned away and stood there looking from one dead man to another. “We need to check these boys over, even the muscle. It’s not here, I can bet you that. I’ll tell you that for sure, but if someone told you there was no sun come up tomorrow you’d go looking for that too, wouldn’t you.” He went to the other party’s car and opened the door. He looked across through the driver’s door on the other side already open, to where the fourth of the men was spread out dead on the other side. He leant in and started to turn the car over.

Wesley put on the gloves and walked along the blood smear dragged by Frederick Salt to where he sat upright against the grille of the van with his shotgun at rest across his thighs.  There was a rent torn into Salt’s neck, and a puddle of blood pooled into his groin. Al had come wearing a vest but these others hadn’t. Wesley tugged the bandana away and put his fingers out to touch the flesh of the man’s face. When he leant forward the sunlight glittered in the blood trail that led to the rear door and it drew on him. He stood and followed it over to the door and peered his head around the frame. Another body in army fatigues had crawled away thirty feet, off the concrete and through the grass towards the fence. Wesley looked back at the bodies of Salt and Benton Wolf and Shelby Cartwright the driver and knew it was the American who was missing. He walked out over to the body, crouched to pick up a pistol it had dropped on the way, and then pulled the body over onto its front. Eyes looked back at him not dead. The jaw was shot away. A throat sputtered for oxygen. Wesley dropped to his knees and stared back.

Blake had finished ripping through the rental car and started going down the man on the far side who had come with the assault rifle. Leather jackets, crew cuts, and dark glasses. All new clothes and done up like people who thought that was how you were supposed to dress for a meet like this. The man’s pockets were empty apart from a poker chip, pastel blue with the black shape of a salamander on one side, the black silhouette of a dancing man on the other, up on one foot with the other tucked behind his knee and with both arms behind his back. “Some kind of calling card.” He tossed the disc onto the dead man’s chest and pulled up one of the sleeves to check for markings and found a Commando dagger inked into the forearm. He nodded and let the arm drop. He listened to the silence in the hangar. “How you doing over there?” Blake got up and saw Wesley had quit the scene. “Where’s your stomach, boy?” He went out of the back door and found Wesley there kneeling over the man in the grass. “It’s French.”

“I know.”

Blake came over and saw the wounded man was drowning and toed him over back onto his side. Then he gently pulled Wesley up by the arm and walked him back a few steps towards the hangar. Wesley looked over his shoulder at French. “I guess that’s one the doc can’t fix.”

“Finish up inside.”

“It’s not here, is it?”

“Keep looking.” He took the pistol from Wesley and guided with a pushing hand to keep him walking and then he went back over to French. Wesley lingered at the door a moment. Blake was talking to French in a low voice that he couldn’t make out and then he watched Blake rifling through French’s clothes and then Blake looked over at Wesley. Wesley turned away, went inside and sat in the van. He opened the empty glove box and stared inside. He heard the double pop from the pistol and he stayed sat there for the minute before Blake came back in. Blake whistled for Wesley and Wesley got out of the van and followed him back to the rear of the van and they opened the doors up. Sat between the two benches were a duffelbag, a toolbox, Blake’s own kit box, cans of petrol, and some other unmarked cartons of clear liquids.

Blake lifted out his own equipment and went and put it over by the car with the tarp on it. He came back and they both climbed into the back of the van and took a seat on opposite benches. Blake reached and slid the duffelbag to his feet and unzipped it and took out one set of kneepads and tossed them to Wesley and then took out a set for himself, and then two pairs of goggles and a small bottle of acid. He turned the bottle in his hand, thinking. He set it aside on the bench and then pulled a hand-axe out of the bag. He handed one pair of goggles to Wesley and then he opened the toolbox and pulled out a pair of pliers. “What’s it to be?” He paused for a count. “Two hundred fifty six teeth, or eight heads?”

“I don’t like it out here, Mister Blake. Sooner we’re done the better.”

“Good. I reckon it’s easier that way anyway.” He tossed the pliers back into the box.

“Have you done this before?”

“No.” Blake put on the protective goggles. “And then we’ll need to comb it, clean out everything we can get our hands on. Shells, everything.” Blake started to put on the kneepads.

Wesley copied him. “Are they coming back again, them other ones?”

“No, I don’t reckon. Mercs I’m guessing. Just guessing. In truth, boy, I don’t even have a damned idea who they are. Do you?”

“I don’t.”

“Right. Do you want to?”

“I can’t say I’m not curious.”

“Well I just want to get done and get out and today never happened. Come on.” They hopped down out of the van. Blake pulled a small torch from a pocket, turned it on and swooped it around to the darker spots. “French lost some teeth so we need to make sure we get all of them too. Used to be a time we wouldn’t have to worry about the blood. Them days are passed us by, but there’s no way we’re scrubbing this place down. We’ll just burn it all up best we can. There’s eight men, so we’ll do half each.” Blake saw the dribble of sweat come down Wesley’s forehead over the black paint smear. “You got any preference? I mean are you squeamish about doing people you know?”

“I guess not.”

“Good. I go back a way with some of these boys, but it’s just meat now, Wesley. Just meat.”


        *


WESLEY DITCHED THE HEAVY DUFFELBAG next to Blakes kit box while Blake was pulling shut the back door of the hangar, closing out the long dusk. Lit by the headlights of their two cars they went to the back of the van. They’d taken the tarp from the clean car and laid it under the men when they’d took the heads and Blake now had it carefully bundled. He stepped up into the van and placed it on top of the bodies. Then he got down and stripped off his overalls, and Wesley his own paint and blood spattered garbs and shoes, and they threw them in after the bodies and their gloves went in too. They washed their hands off with turps and rags.

Wesley went to his car to put on his other clothes but he had no spare shoes or socks. Blake went to the clean car and took out a bag from the boot of the car and then took his spare clothes from the bag and put them on. He was putting his jacket on when Wesley came back to him and then he lifted another bag from the pile of five still in the boot. “Let’s get rid of these too.”

Wesley leant in and grabbed two of the bags. Blake got the other two.

“Which one’s Al’s?” said Wesley. Blake put one of the bags back in the boot and shut it. Then they went to the van and tossed the bags inside. “I should have looked for some shoes.”

Blake looked at Wesley’s naked feet. “You’re alright. It’s bad luck wearing a dead man’s shoes.” He picked up a can of petrol. “I’ll start the burn, you can go.”

“Don’t I need a new ride too?”

“Ah, you’re fine. Just don’t look at anyone.”

“What?”

“When you stop at lights or a turning or whatever, don’t look at anyone. Don’t fidget, or fumble with your radio. Not until you’re a good distance out of it. Just sit there. Everyone’s got a head so full of their own shit that a man sitting in a car is nothing to remember. You look at them and they think about themselves being looked at and then they think about who might be looking at them and what they’re thinking about them, and that’s when they remember you.” Wesley stared back expressionless and Blake cracked a smirk and patted Wesley on the arm. “Look, just don’t worry about it.”

“Wouldn’t it be better if we went out and rolled the vehicles in the bogs or something? Won’t a fire this big have people out here pretty quick?”

“Maybe. We’re far out enough maybe no-one cares for a while. Better than driving around the fucking moors all night that’s for sure. Reminds me of this time we dumped a vehicle over in the lakes. It went in a few feet then got stuck on a rock. Took a long time to fix that mess. We got lucky then, but then there’s the wait you see. If we do a burn now and no-one comes looking for us then we done our jobs right and we’ll know that a lot sooner than a month, or six months, or even a year or two down the line when a van full of bodies gets dredged up. All that time you’re wondering about it. Did you forget something? It’s the wait. It just kills you.”

“So do I go back to The Pentacle now?”

“Your bit’s done. Best you stay well out of it a few days.” He fixed his flat cap and reached into a jacket pocket and pulled out a money bill. He took a few notes and pressed them into Wesley’s hand. “You’ve done good, Wes. Who knew you had it in you?”

Wesley stuffed the notes in his back pocket and went and got in his car barefooted and drove backwards out of the hangar.

When he got back out to the exit to the airfield he waited until he saw the orange glow lighting up inside the hangar and then he was driving away through the night by himself. He rode back up to the city. From the toll bridge he looked back down along the river while he waited in line. The outside lights were off down at The Pentacle and he couldn’t see who if anyone was parked up there. A legion of sirens came blaring their way over from the other side of the bridge for not the first time that day. And then he was over the bridge himself and back in the city and driving around aimlessly, watching the people move between the bars and pubs or knocking off for their homes, until his bare feet started aching against the pedals, and he was heading for his own.








Born in coastal Suffolk in 1977, Jonathan Chandler studied film under Tony Hill. After film school he fell in with the Famicon Collective. After a decade and a half of working in the comics mediumship he earned himself the moniker of ‘Britain’s most isolated cartoonist.’ His works have been described as “scorched-earth sex nightmares,” often playing out as Darwinian struggles in bleak undefined landscapes. 

His forthcoming comedy-comics-collection
Wet Shape In The Dark (see here) will be published this Autumn by Breakdown Press alongside episode four of his ongoing crime and body-horror comic,  John’s Worth (see here). 


Two of the stories to be published in Wet Shape In The Dark previously made their debut online here at Hotel;The Hitcher&The Racer(see here and here). A recent interview with Chandler can be found at pencilboy.co.uk; follow him @newmancruise






2018


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Hotel is a magazine for new approaches to fiction, non fiction & poetry & features work from established & emerging talent. Hotel provides the space for experimental reflection on literature’s status as art & cultural mediator. The magazine is bi-annual, the online archive is updated periodically.

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