Turning the key in the garage door, there was a satisfying click as it locked. His left hand held a claw hammer which was swung at it. It took three swipes to break the key. He nodded in satisfaction.
“There, now we’re locked in,” he said, dropping the tool, then turning and walking across to a full-length Hanoi mirror, leaning against a drawer chest.
In its reflection he could see the object of his disgust, Kenneth May, sitting on a rickety wooden chair, smoking a cigarette.
“I’m beginning to wonder about your enthusiasm for this,” said George Howell, turning around to look at him. “It’s too late now to back out, and you said you’d go through with it, remember?”
“I know,” said Kenneth, “You can’t blame me for being a little hesitant.” George turned back to the mirror and straightened his bow-tie. He wore a cream-coloured pinstripe suit with silver cufflinks.
“Yes, I suppose so,” he said, admiring himself. George was fifty-six, overweight, balding, and had rather too many premature wrinkles, making him look as though he was approaching seventy.
He and Kenneth were now locked inside George’s fairly spacious garage. Spacious enough for two cars to park side-by-side. There were two counters and three cupboards, and tools all over the place, with pieces of wood and metallic innards from various contraptions scattered around as well.
His hobby was D.I.Y and had been for the past thirty years. While there were no cars parked parallel, there were, however, two constructions that George had built.
“Is it nearly time for us to die?” said Kenneth, crushing the cigarette stub out under his white trainer.
George nodded. “Yes, it is,” he said, looking at the contraptions in the mirror. He turned to look at them, admiring his handy work.
Using the internet, and illustrated history books, George had made two eleven-foot tall guillotines, fully functional. He was, however, concerned that the weight of the steel blade would not be enough to cut off his head. He feared that more than dying, but was fairly certain that it would be fine because if it didn’t cut his head clean off, his experiment would fail.
Kenneth stood up and looked at the guillotines with trepidation.
George walked across to him and held out his hand.
“We made a pact remember? We’d die together.”
“I know,” said Kenneth, shaking his hand.
“Why I am shaking your hand I do not know. Is this the hand that killed my wife and children?” Kenneth didn’t answer, just ran a hand through his hair and sighed with despair.
Four years earlier, Kenneth, at twenty-six was working for a chain of wine bars. He knew the owner and his friends so was quite high up in its minor hierarchy. These friends were not necessarily of a law-abiding nature.
The bars were built from drug money, yet gave the façade that everything was above board, and not corrupt, but of course, behind the scenes there always seemed to be dealings and sales and dishonest handshakes and people who displayed their wealth like an amateurish gangster spending his money, joining the legion of them whom it was immediately obvious that they could not be trusted. Simply by their mannerisms, their appearance, an instant judgement could be made of them as to whether or not they could be trusted.
Gangsters and criminals sometimes made it so obvious they were on the wrong side of the law, and Kenneth was no exception. With his shaven head, his gold rings, his Christian Dior sunglasses, and Audi Quattro, he may as well have sign-posted himself as somebody whom you could not trust. In his capacity as a nearly-gangster, he acquired a ‘gold-digger’, a woman for whom the lifestyle was attractive. They loved to have the money splashed over them and tolerated her other half’s moods and activities.
It always seemed obvious that they cared more for the lavish way of living than the one who was doing the spending, because when she caught the eye of George Howell, she left Kenneth without a second thought.
Kenneth however, was smitten. He was giving serious thoughts to becoming straight, or straighter than he was by buying an engagement ring for Phillipa.
He was intending to walk her down to a canal side where it was fairly quiet and ask her to marry him. He had decided to get down on bended knee and didn’t want his friends to see him, so on the day he was to ask, he found he couldn’t contact her, and didn’t know where she was. Later in the evening, he received a text message:
‘Sorry honey. Found another man. See ya.’ That was it. One and a half years and she dropped him in a heartbeat. After that, he was not a nice person to be around. Not that he ever was, but he sank into a melancholic mood that only got progressively worse.
Two weeks passed by before he saw her again, in the window of a Malaysian restaurant, being friendly and happy with a man who could easily have been her grandfather. He waited at a bus stop opposite, and they eventually came out, Kenneth following them. With arms linked, they walked to a metallic silver BMW roadster, looking like it had just come straight from the car showroom.
Kenneth had nodded to himself. ‘Yes,’ he had thought. ‘She was nothing but a gold-digger.' There was no way she would have looked twice at him if he was a common-or-garden average bar-tender or unemployed waster.
What could she find attractive about a pensioner? The bulge in his trousers? He would have two. One of them would be his wallet, the one she stayed with him for, whilst giving him what he wanted. She had always been nothing more than a freeloading escort, or prostitute, leeching from wealthy men, pretending to love him, pretending to make him believe he gave her an orgasm, pretending he was a wild stallion in bed, and for that, he could not be blamed.
There was nothing wrong with it. If she was willing to give him pleasure in his aging years, and to pretend he was Mr Perfect whilst he gave her his credit card, then who was to blame her? Jealous exes perhaps, or men who can only see an attractive woman squandering away her life for monetary gain and a wealthy lifestyle at the expense of Mr Right.
George Howell was a big player in the gambling world. There was nothing illegal or unlawful about him. He just paraded around as if he was everybody’s superior, or leader. The police didn’t suspect him of anything and didn’t suspect anything improper. He had stakes in an alcohol franchise and a mobile phone company.
He was one of those people that always wore a suit, was constantly on a mobile, was always driving to meetings, and was never seen to do any actual work, but always seemed rich and authoritative. Phillipa was instantly attracted, and George paraded her around like a trophy, going to various functions and parties, showing her off. Kenneth, who lived in and around the same area, sometimes saw her with him and heard through various grapevines the updates of their relationship.
Meanwhile, boiling away inside him was the brewing anger of jealousy and hatred for them both.
‘How could she leave me for him?’ he kept asking himself, and as he would never receive an answer, his brewing anger approached boiling point.
When he found out they were getting married, he decided to confront them. He went around to their house and approached them as they were leaving to go to a theatre. A fierce argument broke out between them all, and within Kenneth’s jealous rage was the notion that he still had feelings for her, and the fact that she was getting married was a declaration of her commitment to George, and the final severing of the relationship with Kenneth.
He simply didn’t comprehend that it had already been cut.
‘Well you’re nothing but a gold-digger,’ Kenneth had shouted.
‘Don’t you speak to her like that,’ said George stepping between them. ‘Go on, get the fuck out of here. You lost her, I won her, you’re a sore fucking loser, now go away.’
‘What did you call me?’ he shouted.
‘He called you a fucking loser, now fuck-off,’ Phillipa had screamed.
‘Yes, go on loser,’ said George. With a bright red angry face, Kenneth pushed George to the ground and pointed at him.
‘That’s it,’ he had said. ‘I know you’ve got an ex-wife who you still see, and two kids from that marriage. Well, I’m going to carve them up, and then I’m going to carve her up,’ he said, pointing at Phillipa.
‘Then we’ll see who the loser is you fat fucking cunt.’ With that, he had turned and stalked away into the night, and within a week, what he had said he would do, he did.
George’s ex-wife, whom he was still friends with was found dead on her kitchen floor with slashes all over her body, as were his teenage daughter and twenty-seven-year-old son. All hacked and slashed in a frenzied attack. Kenneth didn’t think twice about doing it to Phillipa, such was his rage.
Revenge is a powerful motive, and after George had found out about them all, he was sought out by Kenneth who had thrown a bloodied knife at his feet.
‘Now we’re both losers,’ he had said. George had nodded and had simply approached Kenneth, grabbed his lapels, and pushed him back against a wall. Kenneth had let him.
‘You know you’re going to get caught, don’t you? Even if you’ve covered your tracks, I’ll lead them right to you, and I know people who owe me favours. One phone call and I can have you screaming in pain. I can have anything I like done to you. Money’s no object. If I said to somebody, skin this cunt alive I’ll pay you whatever you like, you know that somebody will do it. I think you and I both know that our lives are over. I have nothing to live for now. You’ve taken that from me, and if I let you walk out of here, you’ll be watching your back for the police or someone who I’ve paid to carve you up. Either way, we’re both fucked.’ George then threw Kenneth to the floor, and the whole weight of what he had done, and its implications flooded into Kenneth’s mind, and he knew George was right, both their lives were over.
‘Let’s make a pact. Let’s kill ourselves,’ George had said. Kenneth had simply closed his eyes and nodded.
‘There’s something I’d like to try,’ he continued, ‘An experiment.'
Kenneth had been allowed to leave. His bitter enemy sure that he would not run away, would keep his side of the pact. George had set to work on building the guillotines, knowing that the police would be bound to question them sooner or later.
He coerced Kenneth into helping him out, but most of the work was George’s. Kenneth sometimes seemed to waver in his commitment, causing arguments to surface about why they were there.
‘Two weeks you’d known her, and you were getting married?’ Kenneth had yelled.
‘It was love. I know love when I feel it.’
‘It was lust. She was just a fucking gold-digger.’
‘We loved each other.’
‘D’you really think she loved you? Some wrinkly old twat. Open your fucking eyes. She was after your money.’ Kenneth had received a punch in the stomach then, and simply said as he laid on the floor in pain, ‘Fine, suit your fucking self.'
After four days, the contraptions were ready, and the nerves coursed through them as they sat there, feeling as though they were being watched by the guillotines. A metal hoop was secured into the concrete floor, and two ropes attached, fashioned into a knot with a trailing rope which would be pulled, releasing both blades. A ten-inch high, four by four wooden square had been constructed between both guillotines so that it would capture their heads and stop them from rolling away. George had, for a long time been fascinated by various experiments throughout the ages that had speculated about the head remaining alive and aware after removal from the body. No conclusive proof had ever been discovered.
As blood is the very life force with which a person survives, George believed that if the head was separated from the body, it would still use up the oxygen in the blood for around twenty seconds, therefore keeping the mind conscious, keeping the person aware enough to realise they have no body.
George had bought from the pet shop a few animals to try out the contraptions. Four rabbits, two puppies, a guinea pig, and a koi carp. They easily worked, basically cutting them in half. Only one puppy's head seemed to survive two seconds after severing. It kept blinking as though confused, then abruptly stopped. The blades became stained but George had wiped them clean. The grey concrete floor was fairly bloodstained from the pets, as their corpses were dotted around the garage, a stench of decay permeating the air, but they seemed not to notice.
As George and Kenneth faced each other, they both knew there was no turning back.
'It’s time,' said George stepping up on the wooden construction. Kenneth did the same.
'So if you discover that we’re still conscious after our heads come off, what are you going to do?'
'Well, what can I do you, idiot? I just want to satisfy myself, OK?' They both laid down, putting their heads through the wooden circles, facing down into the square. George could just about see Kenneth who was in a similar position.
'Let’s turn around,' he said. 'Don’t you want to see it coming?' They both lay on their backs looking up at the blade. George wrapped the end of the rope around his right hand, ready to pull.
'Any last words?' he said, 'Any regrets, any apologies?'
'Apologies? For what?' said Kenneth. There was a few seconds of silence.
'Kenneth?" said George.
'Fuck-you.' He pulled the rope, and the blades were released, taking less than a second to slice off their heads, both of which cracked together as they fell into the wooden square. Blood splashed on the wood, and spilled from the stumps of their necks, and with wide staring eyes, both of them with their mouths moving, Kenneth, for the next twenty seconds kept trying to breathe as he looked into the eyes of George, who lasted twenty-five seconds, mouthing, ‘It works... It works... It works...'