Well blow me!
Verner ended his visit and took the slow walk away. It struck him for the very first time in his mundane and miserable life that he did the self-same thing at communion when he was a boy. Head down and quiet. Strange thing to do when you were supposed to be communing with people, but that was how it was done back then, or if it wasn’t then no one batted an eyelid when he acted like that and he knew he’d gotten it from someone. So there it was.
This time though he found a spot at what he considered a safe distance and watched the proceedings from whence he had trudged. He’d never done such a thing before, he knew it wasn’t the done thing, but this time was different.
He did his best to watch the man who had been behind him in the queue, without seeming to watch him. The man seemed normal, but Verner wasn’t going to be fooled by that. Now he was watching with the absolute expectation that the man would do exactly what Verner had done. His mind presented him with an awkward, but somehow amusing variation on this; the guy looping around to a spot next to Verner to watch the very next person in the queue. And repeat.
This would have made Verner smile, but he wasn’t in a smiling mood. More oft than not, Verner was not in a smiling mood, but right now it was because he was on high alert. He was filled with a sense of purpose and a listless urgency. He needed to act and act right away, but before he would allow himself to do so, he needed to know.
The man walked to a car, got in and drove away. He did this without a backward glance. That maybe told Verner all he needed to know, but he waited anyway. This extended wait was largely due to necessity. He wanted to go back when there was no one else there.
Three false starts.
He looked about him, started to retrace his steps and then there was someone ahead of him, so he aborted his run, but never taking his eyes from the objective.
The third was a faffer. They spent so much time there, they looked like they were staying put. Verner expected them to retrieve provisions from their voluminous bag and make a day of it. How anyone could make a two minute task stretch out to what felt like at least twenty was one of life’s frustrating mysteries. These people were one of the many forms of vampires out there in the big, bad world. People who didn’t care, not about anything or anyone, including themselves, and all they did was take.
Eventually the time vampire moved on to work their brand of evil elsewhere, and Verner moved in for the kill. He tried to act casually and as though this was like any other visit he paid to this place.
He stood at the wall, reached into his pocket for his wallet and scrabbled at the card he needed to work his magic and if this was right, if what he had seen was real, there was magic here alright.
The aperture that was supposed to accept his card was having a bad day and it was doing nothing of the sort. Verner tried once and then he tried again, on the third time he whispered the magic words, open sesame, and the card rolled on in. Then he was asked for his pin and his chest experienced sensations that were a departure from anything Verner had experienced before. Now he was thinking about his pin, he had no idea what it was. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. He placed his finger down on the key pad and made a concerted effort to stare blankly at the screen as he allowed his motor memory to do its thing. Don’t over think it, Verner! His finger moved over the keypad and pressed down four times.
He was given options and selected the ones he wanted. There seemed to be more options and the delays between screens were longer. He took another deep breath as he awaited the screen that he had seen only a short while ago.
“Oh my days!” he said under his breath as he saw it for a second time.
That was well over one and a half million smackeroonies more than Verner had ever been worth on paper and he was being generous on the account of his previous all time high there.
Still he did not believe it.
Why would he?
Things like this didn’t happen to people like Verner.
He cautioned himself to take it easy. To approach this slow and easy. Show some class, he told himself. He opted for another of the screens, typed in 200, and selected another option. 200 was more than he’d taken out of one of these things in many a long year. 200 was a lot of spending money for a man like Verner.
He tried not to look at his shaking hand as he retrieved his card and put it in his wallet. Suddenly, that simple scrap of plastic meant a lot more to Verner. He pulled out the cash and stowed it in his wallet and then he awaited the square piece of paper upon which he would see printed the remaining balance of his bank account.
Or not, as the case may be.
He glanced at it, not wanting to be here a moment longer than he had to be.
His vision blurred for a moment and he wanted to burst into tears. The things was that he wasn’t sure what kind of tears those were. They felt like they may be the tears of a lifetime and that frightened Verner. Frightened him so much that he slammed the paper into his pocket and marched away doing everything he could to hold those tears back.
By the time he’d won his battle with the tears of his undoing, and his sight was back to some semblance of normality, Verner found that he was almost at the door of the Regent. The Regent was the fanciest bar in town and not a place Verner had frequented often at all. The price of the drinks helped weed out the less desirable members of the public. A person could get pretty merry for the price of one Regent drink in the pubs nearby.
Verner could afford it now. He could swan on in there and he could buy himself any one of the drinks behind that bar. Hell, he could buy a round for everyone else at that bar right now! All the same, he stood where he was and deliberated. A life time of frugal living was a hard habit to break.
He eyed the pub four doors down. That was Verner’s place, not here in a fancy hotel bar. Those thoughts geed him on and he was through the door of the Regent before he knew what he was doing, something guiding him. Something deep within him that wanted this and knew that he deserved it. At the very least he deserved this moment.
“I’ll have a Glentootle,” he told the barman, “and make it a double.”
“Right you are, sir.”
That was easier than Verner would have thought, but the trick was that he hadn’t thought. He’d walked into the bar and approached it just the same as he’d approached any other bar and he’d focused on the only thing that counted. He had purpose. There was also the matter of that large chunk of dosh sitting in his bank account. That tiny slither he’d taken from the ATM just now was only the start, but already he felt bigger and better, and he’d not even taken a sip of the fine single malt.
He handed a note over for his drink and tried not to wince at the coin drought that was presented before him on a tray. The insult to this injury was that the remaining shrapnel was an insult of a tip, but Verner wasn’t going to reach into his pocket for more coins, let alone a note.
He took another sip of his whisky, but found that it took two more before the matter of the cost of the drink could be dismissed. Verner had always sweated the small things because he had nothing of significance to focus on instead. The small things were Verner’s big things.
Except for one thing that was.
Moss was Verner’s millstone. He could see that now. He could see it more clearly than he ever had. He wanted to see it even more clearly, so when the first whisky ran dry, he ordered another double, resolving to move on to the cheap seats after this one. He figured he’d not appreciate a fine single malt after that, so he may as well drink blended at a fraction of the price.
As he took delivery of the second tumbler, he paused a moment to bear it aloft and stare through the amber liquid. The sight of it was remarkable. The lighting in this fancy bar helped that of course. They’d invested heavily to showcase the drinks and that was why they cost so much. An immersive experience with your favourite tipple. Fancy that!
There was only so long that Verner could delay his thoughts on Moss. Moss was a large part of Verner’s life, he’d been tied to the man for so long he couldn’t remember a time that he wasn’t with him. He also couldn’t recall any good reason for him ever being with Moss in the first place. He’d tried, gods knew he’d tried, but there were no memories of heady days of lust, let alone love. Theirs had been a coupling of convenience. They had drifted together due to circumstance and Verner had not had the courage or the energy to carry on drifting on by.
“Vampire,” Verner said to himself.
“What was that?” asked the barman.
Verner shook his head, “sorry, nothing.” He hadn’t meant to say the word out loud let alone for it to be heard by anyone.
“Another?” asked the barman.
“No thanks,” replied Verner as he inspected his tumbler and found it to be inexplicably dry, “places to go, people to see.”
The barman nodded, he knew how that was.
Verner took his leave of the Regent and walked the short number of yards to the Bell. He pushed the boat out and ordered another double single malt, and smiled a welcome at the change he received, there were notes as well as coins.
Retreating to a corner of the Bell, it was quiet at this time of day, he returned to thoughts of Moss. Moss was Verner’s vampire. He had sunk his teeth into him and never let go. Verner could have been something, he could have been someone, but Moss had taken him bit by bit until he didn’t know who he was anymore, let alone who he could have been.
And for what?
Verner took a drink and felt tears of a different kind threatening to break down the doors of his eyes and spill forth.
That was all he could come up with. Verner didn’t want to be alone. He’d been popular on the scene. He’d been one of the darlings. But for all the attention and adoration he had been alone in a sea of people who were supposed to be just like him, but somehow weren’t.
Moss had dialled into that and Verner had allowed it all to happen in the vain hope that he would find some meaning in his life and perhaps a little happiness. Well enough was enough and Verner was going to make a change.
What was he saying!? The change had already happened. He’d received his golden ticket and he was getting the hell out of Moss’s Dodge. But first, there was time for another whisky.
Verner practiced his liberty speech on the short walk home. There was something to be said about where they lived and it was that it was an inconvenient walk to the convenient town centre. That was all that could be said for the soulless, beige seventies semi that Moss had chosen as the place for Verner’s demise.
He thought the speech started well. Verner was eloquent when he was of a mind to be and the whisky fuelled his lyrics. Somewhere, possibly only a few minutes in, it all unravelled.
The problem was Moss’s reaction. He had started out calm, and he had listened, and Verner fancied that there was a stage of shock or something like it, but then against the run of play, he smiled.
Moss had smiled and that smile was all wrong.
Verner had given Moss a piece of his mind. Told Moss how desperately unhappy he was. He’d told Moss that he wasn’t a nice person.
“Not nice, how?” asked Moss dispassionately. This cold and calculating aspect of Moss was one of the things Verner loathed about the man.
“You’re a vampire!” Verner had blurted out.
This was a self-evident statement and Moss knew what Verner meant because he was a vampire. Instead the brute of a man asked Verner what he meant by that, so Verner had told him and this broke a dam that Verner had kept maintained for oh, so long. A litany of Moss’s faults issued forth and despite Verner feeling guilt and unease at his tirade, he couldn’t have stopped it if he had tried.
He had ended once the flow had tapered away. He’d ended with the simple and inevitable conclusion, “I’m leaving you.”
And that was when Moss had clapped his hands together and laughed an awful laugh made of deadly shards of glass.
That laugh had sobered Verner up. Suddenly, he was more sober than he had ever been. Something was afoot here and whatever it was, it was Moss’s doing and Verner was in a bad place that could only get worse.
“What have you done?” Verner asked Moss, he was frightened now and there was something underlying his fear. The pain he was supposed to have been freed from by speaking out and freeing himself from Moss’s tyranny was still there, only it hurt in a different way now, worse somehow. Different and worse.
“What have you done?!” said Moss triumphantly.
“I…” Verner couldn’t answer, but he knew he was in a tight spot.
“I knew it!” crowed Moss, “I knew this was the real you. You’ve changed into this sad and bitter little man. Well, I deserve better. I’ve always deserved better. I just needed to know. I needed to hear it from you!”
“What do you mean?” whined Verner, and he hated himself for that pathetic sounding voice of his.
“You’re leaving,” Moss repeated Verner’s words, “good. Only, I don’t know how you’re going to survive without me.” Moss shrugged, “oh well, it’s done now, isn’t it?”
“Moss,” Verner was attempting to rally and already felt a little better, if only for that pain that if anything kept getting worse, “I don’t understand.”
“I know,” said Moss and he picked up Verner’s mobile phone, “check your bank app.”
Verner’s mouth fell open, his lower jaw dropping impossibly low. Why hadn’t he thought of his banking app before? Why had he not checked his balance on his phone after he’d seen if at the ATM?
The shock he supposed.
That shock was nothing compared to what he experienced as his banking app came up.
“No!” gasped Verner.
“Now, check the notifications on your banking app,” said Moss.
Dumbly, Verner did as he was told. He’d gotten so used to being told what to do by Moss he had yet to register that Moss knew. Somehow, Moss knew.
Verner read the notification.
There has been a mistake.
Funds transferred into your account incorrectly.
“Nononononononono!” Verner muttered to himself.
For the second time that day, Verner’s vision blurred, and the tears that had previously threatened to undo him returned, only this time there was no stopping them and they fell freely. The fat salty dollops went unnoticed by Verner as the pain in his chest was manifesting itself in an all too real way now.
His heart was breaking as he understood the way of things and the reality that he now faced.
“You…” he whispered before his legs gave way.
He was dead before he hit the floor.
Moss did not stir, he merely lifted his own mobile and checked the life insurance policy document he had saved there. It was a tidy sum and more than sufficient for his needs. Thanks to Verner he was about to enjoy a luxurious retirement.
Thanks to Verner and his young beau. The man of his dreams. A man who just happened to work for the same bank that Verner banked with. A man who was destined for better things. Perhaps the pending disciplinary for the slip up he’d made with today’s transfer would give him the gentle push that he needed.
Moss was certain that it would.
He looked down at his long-time partner, “and you with your dodgy ticker. What were you thinking? Going out on a bender like that?”
Now Moss got up and stepping over Verner he headed to the kitchen. He would call the ambulance in a few minutes, but first he was going to break open the special bottle of single malt that he had treated himself to that morning. He poured himself a large measure and lifted the glass of amber liquid to the light. The Glentootle sparkled.
Moss turned to the open doorway, raising his glass to the prone body, “here’s to the rest of my life, dearest!”