A short story by Tina Konstant
Clyde Cruse pressed his face against the wet cracked tiles. Water from eight shower heads splashed about him filling the base and lapped over the step into the changing room. He didn’t care that it was called Windale Minimum Security Prison. A prison was a prison and showering with seven other guys he’d apparently pissed off in the week since he’d arrived wasn’t what nature intended.
Clyde pulled his knees to his chest and closed his eyes. How the hell did he get here? A month ago he had a business that paid for four holidays a year, a London penthouse, a fully stocked eight car garage, a cocaine habit he could afford, a wife who didn’t care about the mistress and a mistress who didn’t bother the wife. Everything! He had everything! And it didn’t come cheap. He’d made a lot of deals with a lot of devils. They all took their lump. Except one. There was one who hadn’t cashed his chips yet.
Or had he? Clyde wrapped his arms around the back of his head. Is that what this is about? Is Elias Strange cashing in?
Clyde had never met the man. In fact, they’d only ever spoken once. All he knew was that the guy had called him on the worst day of his life. No money, no prospect of any kind of job, all his friends had screwed him over in a deal that should have set him up for life and he’d just had a personal one-to-one with Stubo ‘Knuckles’ Grant who’d used a tyre iron to break his nose, collar bone, six ribs and left ankle. Half conscious in a puddle of piss and blood he’d fumbled to answer his phone in the insane hope that it was his girlfriend who’d changed her mind and wanted him back. It wasn’t the money grabbing bitch. It was Elias Strange. That was a year ago.
“Your day isn’t going so well, is it, Clyde?” Strange had said.
“Who the hell is this?”
“Name’s Strange. Elias Strange. Your name has come up on my big old rolodex and it turns out I can help you.”
“What kind of stupid damn joke is this? I’ve paid up, okay? Knuckles just took interest. Don’t play me. I’m not in the fucking mood.”
Elias Strange had chuckled. It was a warm, dry laugh and despite the pain and cold crawling over Clyde’s skin, he imagined the guy sitting in front of a roaring fire in some old castle somewhere with wolf hounds at his feet and a deer antler chandelier above his head.
“No one’s playing you, Clyde,” Strange had said. “You ever made a wish before?”
By then Clyde had crawled to his knees and was hauling himself onto the foot he could put weight on.
“I wish Stubo ‘Knuckles’ Grant would drop dead.”
Another chuckle. “You want your life, Clyde? The one you dreamed about? The one all the books say you can have if you just believe? The life you imagined when you were a child? The one you have a right to?”
Clyde hadn’t said anything. There was something in the man’s voice that had made him want to listen.
“Do you Clyde? Do you want to make a wish?”
Clyde finally sniggered. “What’s this? Jim’ll fix it? We know what that sort of fixing gets you. What are you on about, a wish?”
“Do one thing for me, Clyde. Go home tonight, on a fresh piece of paper write your wish list.”
“What, like, I wish I had a fricking pony?”
“If that’s what you want.”
“Jesus, this is insane.”
“I can only help you when you know what you want. Why is it so many people live their lives without living their dreams?” Strange had kept talking and answered his own question. “Because they don’t ask for it. They don’t ask, because they can’t, because they don’t know what it is they really want. You, Clyde, you know. You just haven’t asked yet.”
Clyde needed time to think. “So I write this list of everything I want and then what?”
“Send it to me.”
“Send it how?”
“Just like you would to Santa? Put my name on the envelope and drop it in the post box.”
“Any post box?”
“Any post box.”
“You’re kidding me right?”
“No, Clyde, I’m not kidding. But you don’t have to do it. Of course you don’t have to do it.”
That was it. The phone went dead. Clyde checked the call log. Number Withheld. The call had lasted two minutes and twenty two seconds.
“Crazy bastard.” Clyde had stumbled to his feet and turned one of the sink taps on in the public men’s toilet. He rinsed his face before daring to look at his reflection in the steel mirror in front of him. “Goddamned mess,” he’d muttered, glanced at his phone again, stuck it in his pocket and hobbled home.
There was another joke.
Clyde winced as he pulled his key from his pocket and stuck it into the lock.
He had tried it the other way round then jangled the set in front of him. He had two keys on the key ring. One for his 15-year-old, half-dead, piece of crap car, and the other for this flat.
A door opened behind him. “No rent, no flat.” Clyde turned around to face Arnie Pilowski, the 6″7′ Pole who’d moved to London, got hooked into the council house scam and bought a bunch of flats that he rented to local Londoners who couldn’t get hooked into the council house scam.
“You have to be..”
Arnie Pilowki pulled out the 1873 Peacemaker he always carried because he loved John Wayne. “Questions?” Gun in one hand, he held up a bright and shiny key in the other. “You pay two months you owe me plus six months in advance and you get this key.” Arnie Pilowki slammed the door shut leaving Clyde in the piss-stench stairwell.
“All my stuff’s in there!” he’d yelled at his landlord’s door. No answer. Clyde had been sort of grateful for that. He didn’t have many more bones to break.
He dropped his head. He had options. He always had options. He could go to A&E, get bandaged up and either blag a bed for the night or steal enough to sell to cover a B&B. He could break a cop’s tail light and get a night in lock up. He could go to the bridges and hide out in a cardboard box, or he could take his last £8.24, go to Alphies all night tea shack and get a brew and a steak pie, twice.
“You look like an ox gang-banged you.” Alphie laughed when he took Clyde’s order that night.
Clyde just smiled. “You got a piece of paper and pen, Alphie?”
“Yeah. Normal printer paper. Like you print these crappy menus on. Blank. And a pen.”
Alphie thought for a moment then shrugged. “You going to write your life story?”
Clyde shook his head. “No, got something else in mind.”
As the sun came up on Alphie’s 24-hour tea shack, Clyde re-read what he’d written. He stared at the top of the page. “Wish List”. He smiled. Damn stupid. He knew that. But it felt good.
First on the list was the death of Stubo Knuckles. He didn’t care how. Just as long as the bastard stopped breathing. From there, writing as small as he could, he’d written down everything he’d ever dreamed of having. Cars, houses, businesses, contacts, boats, money, looks. By the time he was done he had less than an inch of empty space left at the bottom of the page.
“Got an envelope, Alphie?” he asked.
Alphie smiled again. “Envelope? Sure, I’ve got one. Who’s it going to?”
“It’s my letter to Santa,” Clyde grinned.
Alphie laughed. “In June?”
Clyde tapped the side of his head. “I’m a planner. A forward thinker.”
Alphie handed Clyde a clean white envelope along with a first class stamp. “Just in case,” he’d said.
At 9.32 a.m. Clyde put his wish list to Elias Strange into a post box on Piccadilly Circus. At 2.31 p.m. he got a call from his best friend, Darren (everyone loves Darren) saying Stubo ‘Knuckles’ Grant was dead.
No! No way. You serious? Clyde had almost squealed.
Serious as… Darren had said. He always left Clyde to fill in the blanks about how serious something really was.
Clyde did. Serious as being hit by a frigging bus.
Was Elias Strange for real? So he tested it. One of his wishes was first class flying no matter where he flew. So he borrowed £100 from Darren and booked the cheapest ticket he could find to Turkey. The trip was two days away. He packed. He went to the airport. He checked in. Shit. Still cattle class. Maybe Knuckles was a coincidence. Then, ten minutes before boarding, some guy collapsed. Hit the deck. Sweating and gasping. His wife started screaming. Help him! Who knows first aid?
Clyde wasn’t really thinking about his wish list anymore. He did know first aid. Crap. No one else was stepping up. No choice. So he dropped to his knees and swapped spit with an old guy until the paramedics arrived.
In the queue twenty minutes later, ready to board, a hostess came up to Clyde. “Mr. Cruse?”
“Yes?” Clyde was tired now. He actually didn’t care where he sat. He wanted to sleep. This was all a dumb idea anyway. And what the hell was he going to do in Turkey for a week? He only bought the ticket to test Strange. Shit. He was £98 down on money he didn’t have.
“Please come with me,” the hostess said. “To thank you for stepping up and helping another passenger, we’d like to upgrade your ticket to first class.”
Clyde stopped walking. “Excuse me?”
The hostess smiled. “We’re upgrading you, Sir. First class.”
So that’s how it worked. Clyde had smiled. Never a miracle, never just out of the blue, but the right circumstances at the right time and ka-ching, wish list comes true.
A year later, Clyde had ticked off all but one of his wishes. His retirement wish was all that was left. Where he got to sit pretty and peaceful on his own little plot of land looking over rat-infested London, without a care in the world.
Then his whole life had gone tits up and he got arrested on some trumped-up drugs charge.
“Crap!” Clyde stood up from the tiled floor of Windale Minimum Security Prison, hauled a towel with the prison logo stitched all over it out of the shower drain and watched to water swill his blood away.
He’d been in lock-up a week. When anyone else got banged up, like he had, they asked for a lawyer and family and friends who might do whatever it took to get him out. Clyde had tried them all but his lawyer was always unavailable, he had no family, his friends were “out of town” and Darren (everyone loves Darren) was out of the country. So he had written a second letter to Elias Strange. He’d gone straight from admissions to the library where he’d picked up a clean piece of paper, an envelope and a pen.
“Dear Mr. Strange,” the letter had said. “Seems you’ve fallen down on our deal. Prison wasn’t on the list. In case that’s an issue. There is a space at the bottom of my original wish list. Please add it. I wish I was out of prison and never return. Yours hopeful and sincerely. Clyde Cruse.”
Clyde knew it was only a matter of time. All he had to do was wait and, like all his other wishes – the cars, the women, the money – things would happen. This wasn’t some kind of magic. It was like things had to move into the right place. Like the guy at the airport. Clyde would be in the right place at the right time to spot an opportunity that would lead to him getting what he wanted.
It was just a matter of time before his lawyer would appear with a loophole. A witness would disappear. A judge would die and his paperwork would get mixed up. Something would happen that would lead to Clyde getting out.
So Clyde waited.
Day one was nothing. No freedom, but no trouble. Elias Strange was working his stuff. Give the man time.
Day two, nothing again, but it was then that Clyde realised he’d been noticed by one of the gangs.
Day three. The first kicking. Not a bad one. Enough to break a tooth and crack a rib.
Day four, five and six. More of the same. Personal now. Strange had better hurry his ass up.
Day seven. A request for a visit from Darren (everyone loves Darren).
So Clyde took the beating in the showers that morning. So what? He smiled and checked his teeth. Strange was at it. He was getting busy. Darren was going to be the one to get him out.
At 3 p.m. Clyde took his place in the line that would lead to the visitor room. The bruises on his face had blossomed to a magnificent purple, but he didn’t care. Nothing a month in the sun on an island somewhere wouldn’t fix.
Darren (everyone loves Darren) was already at a table when Clyde came in. “Buddy!” Clyde waved and grinned.
Darren waved back and smiled. Clyde didn’t even hear the instructions from the wardens. No hugging, kissing, touching, passing of goods, yada, yada, whatever, yada. He had to talk to Darren. Darren was his ticket out!
The instant the shatter proof door opened, Clyde practically tripped over the four men in front of him to get to his friend. Darren didn’t stand up. Perhaps, Clyde thought, he’d been given the same lecture about hugging and touching. Didn’t matter. When he got out he’d give Darren the biggest damn kiss he’d ever given a man.
“Hey, Darren, damn, I’m glad you’re here. When am I getting out? What’s the plan?”
Darren smiled. “Out? Just here to talk and give you an update on the world.”
Clyde blinked, then nodded. “Okay.” He frowned. “An update?”
“Mindy says hello.” Darren kept smiling.
“Mindy?” Clyde shook his head. “She can go to hell. Bitch is trying to gut me.”
“She has.” Darren’s face fell serious. “All those businesses you put in her name? She says thanks very much.”
“I didn’t put them in her name.”
“Yeah, well, your lawyer thinks otherwise.”
Clyde gripped Darren’s arm just above the Rolex on his wrist. “That’s… That’s mine. I left it in my bathroom. My bathroom.”
Darren wiped imaginary dust from the Rolex and nodded. “You really don’t know how this works, do you?”
Clyde shook his head then stopped when Darren pulled out a piece of paper with tight writing on both sides filled with all the things Clyde had ever dreamed of. “Where did you get that?”
“You’re not the only one to meet Elias Strange.”
“That’s my wish list.”
Darren nodded. “You know, most people, when Elias Strange asks what they want, beaver away and get all busy on their list. Me? I did it the easy way. I have a very short list. My first wish was your wish list. I just said I wanted everything you had. That’s it. I said I wanted exactly what you had and I wanted it for the extent of my natural.”
“Your natural? Natural what?”
Darren leaned forward. “You think everything is infinite?” he whispered. “What if everyone on the planet said they wanted a chunk of the Amazon Rain Forest? No Clyde. There just isn’t enough. No matter what the book says.” Darren rested his hands on the table but stopped short of touching Clyde. “Remember the guy who had the heart attack at the airport?” Darren waited until Clyde nodded. “I checked. He died. Your upgrade didn’t come free, Clyde. Some guy had to die for you to get it. Imagine who had to lose their lives for you to own those eight cars you can’t drive?”
“Jesus, Darren. What are you on about?”
“Balance, Clyde. I’m just balancing things out and making my first wish come true. Your life. Exactly your life. Now I’m working on my second wish.”
Clyde ripped his list from Daren’s hands. His final wish. His addition. It was there. I wish I was out of prison and never return. Strange had got his letter. Freedom.
“When am I getting out?”
Daren smiled. “Soon. Strange is on it like he always is.”
Three days and a dozen beatings later, an ambulance left Windale Minimum Security Prison with Clyde Cruse’s body in the back. There were no friends or family at his funeral, but his instructions were followed to the finest detail. He was buried in a private, pretty and peaceful little plot of land looking over rat-infested London, without a care in the world.