Chairman of the Bored
By Iain Rowan
Iain Rowan lives in the north-east of England, near the sea but not near enough. He's had short stories published in a number of magazines and anthologies including Ellery Queen's, Alfred Hitchcock's, Postscripts, and Crimespree. You can read where else, or contact Iain, at his website: www.iainrowan.com
Close your eyes for a moment. Go on, close them. Listen.
Boo! Ha ha ha.
Jumped, didn't you. You shouldn't, I can't touch you now. I'm dead. This is just a tape, can't harm you at all. Not at all.
Go on, close your eyes - no more games, I promise. Now, think about a boy. A boy like me. A very bad boy. Starting to get a picture in your mind, I bet. You're thinking born in a deprived home. You're thinking yeah, his dad walked out before he was born, his mam slapped him around when was drunk, which was most of the time, his uncle molested him, kicked out of every school before he was even fourteen. You're thinking social workers and probation officers and long police records and some rat-faced little charver in a tracksuit, the kind you get nervous about when you're waiting at the bus station.
Shows what you know. Your prejudices. We aren't rich, but we've never been poor. Dad works in the tax office, always has. Closest me mam has ever come to hitting me was putting on a concerned look and whining "Oh William, do you really have to". I passed ten GCSEs, and the only time I've been molested is when a fat lass called Wendy put the moves on me at Dan Parker's birthday party when his mam and dad were away for the weekend. So, I've got none of the usual excuses you lot trot out. But I am still a bad lad. I've done bad things to good people. And I didn't do them because I was damaged, mad, poor, a victim. Generally, I just did them because I was fucking bored.
Take the first time I killed someone.
I was messing about in a factory unit on the industrial estate. I'd been piss bored, gone out for a stroll, ended up there, and thought that looks like a challenge. There was nothing there that I really wanted, but that wasn't the point. I got two storeys up a fire escape and onto the flat roof, and then in through a skylight that didn't fit properly. I wandered the factory a bit, looking at the machines. They made doors there, the white plastic ones that people put in when they get double glazing. Imagine, spending your whole life making the same door, day after day. Can you imagine that? Well that's how life feels to me. Day after fucking day,
Thinking that it wouldn't be a proper burglary if I didn't nick something, I went to the office and found a few quid in the petty cash. I considered taking a laptop but I couldn't be bothered, I don't get on with computers, they go wrong and tell you that it's your fault, and I hate that. In the end I had a brilliant idea. Mam was always complaining about our microwave at home not working properly, and it was her birthday coming up. I found a little kitchen and they had a good one in there, 800 watts, and not minging dirty either. I thought I'd clean it up a bit, stick it in a box and she'd be happy as larry. It weighed a fucking ton but I was so pleased with my good idea, I didn't let that put me off.
I was about to climb down the fire escape again when I saw movement. I flattened myself against the roof and peered down. Some fat bloke poured into a turd-brown security guard's outfit was peering in windows and trying door handles. Must have been an alarm. He didn't seem to have thought of the fire escape, though. He was losing his hair, a big bald patch expanding out from the crown of his head, just to add to his other problems, and for a minute, hanging my head over the edge there looking down on him, I was really tempted to gob on it. Instead, I tracked him around the building, lugging the microwave with me, waiting to see if he would go away. He was a few yards from the bottom of the fire escape, and although he was bound to be stupid, what with doing the job he did, even a rentacop like him might put two and two together once he'd seen that all the doors and windows were secure.
In physics, we'd learnt about the scientific method. You know, you form a hypothesis, based on observations of the world around you. And then you carry out an experiment designed to test whether your hypothesis is true. That's what's led to progress and the advance of the human race through history, we were told. So I thought to myself, hypothesis: if I drop this microwave off this roof now, it'll kill the fucker. Force of gravity, inertia, momentum, metres per second, blah blah blah. So I did, and so it did. QED. I bought me mam some slippers instead.
I thought about it, later. I expected to feel different, upset, maybe guilty. I worried away at it like you push at a loose tooth with your tongue, but nothing. I didn't know him, wouldn't miss him. If he'd been run over by a car, and I'd read about it in the local paper, would I have done anything other than pass on to the next article about someone who's swimming to the moon for charity or some such shite? I decided not, so I just shrugged my shoulders and got on with my life, which is the only one that matters to me, and I'm not even too sure about that. Main feeling I was left with, after a few days had passed, was just disappointment. It was a laugh at the time, made me feel alive for a day or two, but then the buzz passed and I felt just the same as I had before. Bored.
It's not like I set out to be bad. I didn't go on a killing spree after that first one, because what was the point? It would have been as boring as anything else, doing it for the sake of it. I just went on with life, because I couldn't think of anything better to do, and sometimes things came up and when they did I took what seemed to be the least boring option, and sometimes that involved being bad. I wasn't ever bad for the sake of it, though. I mean, that's the sort of thing some sad bastard who's seen the Matrix a few too many times and read a bit of dodgy philosophy would do, poncing about in a leather coat, sacrificing kittens and quoting Nietzsche. You know what I'm on about don't you, the sort of job you do, you'll have seen them. Dealt with them. Wankers. It's all a pose - look at me, woooo, I'm evil. Wankers.
For me it was all about the moment, nothing more. Like the time that I missed my bus home after I'd been to a gig (it was shit). I'd been jumping about at the front, bouncing round the mosh pit trying to lose myself in the moment, and I must have shaken all the coins out of my jacket. Wanker of a bus driver wouldn't let me on, and I had no money to get a cab, no money to do anything. I could have phoned me dad on my mobile, got him to come out grumbling to pick me up but I'd have rather fucking walked than sat there listening to him going on and on. So I wandered the streets, seeing if anything interesting was going to happen. And something interesting did.
I was walking down a street that was all shops, thinking about what it would be like if I got a hammer and just walked down the street smashing every single last big window, crash, crash, crash, one after the other. This bloke was weaving up the other side, middle-aged but reckoned he was young, if you know what I mean, wearing a shit suit but with his tie all pulled down as a sign that he was cool really. Probably on his way home after failing to score at some stupid office party. He had a bottle of beer in each hand, and stopped every few yards to take a swig from the one that was open. When he saw me he shouted.
"Simon! Fucking hell, man, fucking Simon!"
I just gave him the blank, you know. Pisshead. But he came weaving over, waving his bottle about and mumbling stuff about Simon. When he got up to me he peered at me as if he wasn't wearing the glasses that he should have been.
"Not Simon," he said. "Sorry."
"All right," I said, just thankful that I wasn't Simon, didn't have the shame of having something like this knowing me, calling after me in the street.
"Thought you were Simon," he said. "My nephew. Good lad, Simon. Sound. Sound." He repeated the last word as if he'd heard it was what the kids were saying these days. "You're about his age. Out on the town? Good on you, mate. Should do, your age. Have a bit of fun. Doesn't last, believe me."
Looking at him, I did. "I will," I said.
"Good lad," he said. "Sound. Sow your oats before some cow gets you under the thumb mate, that's my advice."
"Have a beer on me, mate," he slurred, giving me the bottle that he hadn't been drinking from. "And you enjoy yourself."
"I will," I said again, and I hit him in the face with the bottle, as hard as I could. Saves having to do it more than once, doesn't it. The bottle didn't break, but something in his face did, and he went down in a big heap as if something had bitten his legs off. I took the cash from his wallet and it paid for a taxi home that night, and two new CDs, three pairs of pants, and a book about history.
So that's how things went, nothing planned, no great crusade of evil, just doing whatever took my fancy when the opportunity presented itself. I stole things, I set a few cars on fire to see if their petrol tanks would explode, like they do on films. Oh, and I killed someone else too, but he was old and pointless, and I doubt anybody noticed. Even I forget about I did it most of the time. I only did that one because I was really bored, as bad as it gets, and sometimes I'll just do anything to get away from that. But I never do, for long. I'm the chairman of the bored.
Then all this happened, that's got me where I am now. And you where you are now, sitting listening to this because someone's told you about how important that it is that society understands me. Or because the coroner says you have to. Or maybe just because you're some sick perv who gets off on it. Whatever, I don't care. Funny thing is, when you hear about it you'll probably think what a waste, that it's all about nothing. But that's where we're different, see. You'll listen to this and think God, all this waste of life over something so insignificant, so pointless.
I don't see it like that though. For me, it's _all_ insignificant. All pointless. And how this chain of events started is no more important, no more meaningful than how it ended. It's all just the same old shit.
I'd bought a radio, from this electrical shop in the town. Crappy little shop, not part of a chain or anything, just one bloke and a bunch of shavers and radios and stuff. But I saw this radio in the window, one of the kind that can pick up stations from all over the world, shortwave, that sort of stuff. Radio live from the heart of Nowheristan. I've always wanted one of them, never had one, and I saw it and it was cheap enough that I could buy it with the last of my birthday money and a tenner I nicked from me mam's purse. The owner of the shop was this freaky old man, all bent in the middle as if his top and bottom bits were on the wrong way round. It was the sort of shop where you'd think they never had a customer, but he was happy enough to sell me the radio.
Not so happy though, when I took it back.
"What have you done to it?" was the first thing that he said.
"What have I done to it? I haven't done anything to it. That's the whole point. The tuning knob's knackered. It doesn't work properly. It never worked properly in the first place. It's shit. And it was shit when you sold it to me."
"Hey lad, don't you use that kind of language with me, I won't have that."
I stood there, and thought about just smashing him in the face with the radio, letting him know what broken really means. There was someone else in the shop though, some grey-faced ghost of a man floating around in front of the ham radio stuff and giving me baleful looks. I gave him one back and he looked away, but I thought it best to be diplomatic.
"I want my money back," I said.
"Hear that Dennis?" the shop-keeper said. "Lad only wants his money back. He's broken this beautiful radio, and he wants me to pick up the tab." The ghost murmured something but I wasn't listening to him.
"Yeah, I want you to pick up the tab," I said. "Easier for you to pick anything up than me. What with you being a fucking hunchback gimp who's four feet closer to the floor to start with."
He nearly choked on his tongue. I was going to go on, but the ghost shouted up the stairs at the back of the shop and I heard thumping footsteps coming down, probably some mutant idiot son with arms bigger than my body. Anyway, I was bored of it all, so I just tossed the radio into a display case and walked out of the shop to the sound of Quasimodo shouting, and the beautiful music of breaking glass.
It's not right, people like that, trying to rip kids off, I won't stand for being treated like that. So I went back today with a bag full of goodies. It was early, Sunday morning, so the streets were deserted. I looked through the dirty glass and into the shop, but there wasn't a sign of life. When I stepped back and looked up, the tasteless floral curtains on the first floor were drawn closed. Quasimodo and his boy Frankenstein probably slept above the shop. Ah well, their lookout.
First off, I stood and squeezed a tin of lighter fuel through the shop letterbox, as if I were a robot having a piss. When the tin was nearly empty I pulled a bunch of rags from my bag, stuffed them in the letterbox, and then squirted some more lighter fuel on them. I fished a cheap plastic fag lighter from my pocket and span the wheel to test it. Lit first time. Then a voice said "Hey, son, drop that _now_."
Just my luck. There was a God, after all, and he felt bad that he had ballsed up part of creation as badly as he had the gimp, and so was trying to make amends. There was probably only one copper on the streets in town that early on a Sunday morning, and it was my bad luck that he'd walked up this one.
He had a head like a potato, and he was coming straight for me.
"Don't be stupid," he said. "Drop it. Now!" He said it all in a special voice that he'd probably learnt at police college to intimidate people. He sounded like someone shouting "Sit!" at their dog in an obedience class. I laughed at him and waved the lighter nearer to the rags.
"Fuck off, Mr Potatohead," I said. "Or I will."
He stopped a few yards away, went into a sort of crouch. Nearly split his trousers.
"Too many burgers," I said. "Bad for you."
You won't believe what he did next. He only got his truncheon out. Don't snigger, you know what I mean. It was one of those posh new telescopic ones, and he'd obviously been practicing in front of the mirror. He flicked his wrist, and it all came out snickety-snick.
"Put the lighter down son," he said. "Or you're going to be sorry. You're in enough trouble as it is, so don't be stupid, just put it down."
I fucking hate people calling me stupid. Especially when I know I'm smarter than they are. So I just did an ooh I'm frightened face and flicked the lighter again. The copper took a quick step forward, much quicker than I thought that he would be able to, and he brought his truncheon down on my wrist, swish-smack. It hurt. Really hurt. Police brutality for you, there in action. I dropped the lighter, and he moved in, hand closing around my wrist which made it hurt even more, twisting it round behind me.
I swung the tin of lighter fluid right up with my other hand and squeezed it as hard as I could, right into his eyes. He bellowed and let go of me, brought the truncheon whirring around again, but I could see what he was doing, and he couldn't, and he missed me. I ducked sideways, squirted him again with the lighter fluid, and then I dropped to avoid another blow. Too late I realised that he had sold me a dummy.
He came crashing down on top of me, grabbing me with one hand, reaching for his radio with the other.
"Right," he said, "you little bastard."
My knee hurt where it had hit the pavement and my side hurt because something small hard on the ground was pressing into it. Then I realised what it was, and everything just followed on from there, like dominos falling once one was given just a little nudge. I brought the lighter up from underneath my leg, shoved it at him, spun the wheel, and hit the button at the same time. It was his uniform that caught first, maybe his shirt, I dunno, I was too busy getting out from underneath him while he screamed and beat at his face. It wasn't that bad, to be honest, I hadn't had that much fuel left in the tin and I think he was more freaked out than anything. But my wrist hurt, and I was angry, and when I'd set fire to him he had dropped his truncheon and so I picked it up and hit him with it, and hit him again, and kept hitting until that wrist was sore too, and then I stopped.
I was annoyed, because I realised that I had done a bit more than I had intended to and I don't like losing my self control. Fucking over a copper is not a good idea because it's one of their own, isn't it, and they'll not let that rest. Still, I thought, if he's not dead he's probably going to be staring into space and learning to make baskets, given the way the back of his head looked, like a boiled egg after you've smacked the top of it with a teaspoon, so he's not going to identify me in a hurry. There was still no-one else about, I could wipe my fingerprints off his truncheon, take the tin with me, who would think it could have anything to do with me, just another good kid from a decent home.
I bent down to pick up the tin, and it I was when I straightened up that I saw it.
I looked down the street, then up the street, and counted two more.
Black robot eyes, looking down from a height, looking down on me. CCTV cameras. Nothing I could do, no way I could reach them. It was a lovely sunny morning and I had been standing around for ages. They'd have no trouble getting a decent print of me. And they had the reason to go the extra mile didn't they, one of their own and all that. I could have run for it, gone to a new town, slept on the street, reinvented myself but, you know, I couldn't be bothered with that. Way too much effort. So I went home instead. Mum and dad are out, gone to see my Auntie Clarrie in her stinky old people's home. They'll be gone all day.
I realised, there's no getting away with this one. Doesn't mean I'm not smart, I've just had a bit of bad luck. Can happen to the best of us. Doesn't mean I'm not smart. I've spent a lot of the morning thinking about the consequences, the interviews and the weeping parents, the psychologists and the lawyers, the judges in stupid fucking wigs droning on and on and on and then being locked up for years with a bunch of dead loss criminals, tattooed fuckwits with the IQ of stones who got caught breaking into a car, or selling a bit of dope. Do-gooders trying to understand me, rehabilitate me.
Frankly, the prospect bores the shite out of me. Endless tedium with no hope for anything to brighten it up, and if I think I'm the chairman now, Christ, what would all that be like. So I thought no way, I'd rather die, so that's exactly what I am going to do. And you can listen to it all, because there's plenty of time left on the tape, and whoever you are, it's your job to listen to this and I'm telling you now, it's going to haunt you for the rest of your life, you'll hear me in your dreams. I've set a noose up out of some tow rope that me dad had in the garage, and it's going to do the business too, because I'm not stupid, not like those morons who tried to blow their own heads off with shotguns and missed. It's all going to be right.
There, I've put it on now, and in a second or two I'm going to climb up on the chair - one of me mam's best dining chairs it is, if you listen to this mum - and I doubt they'll let you - sorry if I piss all over it, but that'll be kind of outside my control. And dad, sorry I've had to nick one of your Beatles tapes to record over with this, but I didn't have anything else, and it's got to be said, I've always fucking hated them.
Anyway, I'm bored of this. Listen now. You've got to. You'll hear everything. And you'll remember it forever. My parting gift to you. You got kids? I'd watch 'em, mate. Imagine if it was your own doing this. Maybe one day it might be. They hate you, you know. Even if you think they don't, they do, I'm telling you. If you're lucky - _really_ lucky - they don't hate you, they just despise you. But you love them all the same. So think, one day, they might be just like me, doing something just like this. Ha ha. Bet you wished you'd called in sick today, don't you?
Whoa. Nearly fell off the chair before I was fucking ready. That would be funny, wouldn't it. There. Now.
Iain Rowan ©2005
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