Frankie Fey

by Rigby Taylor

Chapter 44


'We need a weapon.'

They scoured the room. Nothing removable that could be used as a weapon. Even the phone was wireless so no cord to strangle with. The towel rail in the bathroom was plastic. The chair was plastic. While Shiv was looking under the bed Frankie flicked the curtains closed.


'You what?'

'Look at this!' Frankie was on the chair carefully twisting at the rod that he'd used to close the curtain. The ring that held it to the runners opened easily so he pulled it out of the hole and passed the rod to Shiv. 'What do you reckon?'


The solid brass rod was about a metre long with a good handle at the bottom and almost pointed at the top where it had been attached to the ring and curtain runners.

The phone rang. Frankie picked it up.

'No, I don't want lunch!' he snarled.

Michael ignored his outburst. 'Your mate isn't answering his phone. Do you know anything?'

'How the fuck can I know anything when I'm fucking locked up in this prison? Perhaps the lucky bugger's dead!' Frankie slammed the receiver down and raced to the bathroom to close his window. Shiv's would be open, but there was no point in giving them the answers.

'I think we're about to have a visitor,' he said with a frown. 'You didn't answer your phone, so they'll be coming up here to find out why, and when they see your open window with no dead body at the bottom they'll come here. What'll we do?'

'Kill them,' Shiv said easily. 'They killed all those monks and guys up at the monastery, now it's their turn.'

'Fair enough, but how?'

'What's that shelf for?' Shiv pointed to a narrow shelf that encircled the room just above door height. It looked to be no more than twenty centimetres wide.

'Ornaments and things I guess.'

'I'm pretty light, let's hope it's strong enough.' He placed the chair behind the door hinges, pulled Frankie beside it, climbed on Frankie's shoulders then stepped up onto the shelf, remaining flattened against the wall for several seconds before falling forward, to be caught by Frankie.

'If you can stall whoever comes in the open doorway, I can shove this thing through their skull.'

'If you can stay up there long enough. Hang on.' Frankie ran to the bathroom and returned with the suction cup. After spitting on the rubber he climbed on the chair and shoved it against the smooth painted wall as high as he could. When he stepped down it remained attached.

There was no time to test it. Footsteps approached. They heard Shiv's door being unlocked just before someone started doing the same with Frankie's. Shiv clambered quickly up Frankie's shoulders onto the shelf and balanced without putting much strain on the plunger handle. Frankie passed up the rod then managed to be standing in front of the doorway when it opened ready to block whoever was entering.

Lu shoved a handgun into Frankie's face and began forcing him back into the room. 'Where's that f…' was all he had time to say before Shiv dropped onto his shoulders, simultaneously ramming the pointy end of the rod through Lu's skull. Lu dropped straight down, Shiv stepped off as if alighting from a horse, picked up the revolver, then helped pull the man behind the door seconds before Michael appeared in the doorway.

'Where's that scrawny black bastard!' He shouted, lunging towards Frankie, offering a perfect target for Shiv's bullet that made a mess of his neck but didn't stop him from swinging round to fire wildly back at Shiv, whose second shot got him in the groin causing him to drop to the floor, writhing and moaning; not loud enough to be heard on the street, so they didn't bother administering a coup de grace.

'Help,' gurgled the almost slain man.

The two young men looked at each other and shook their heads.

'Sorry, Michael. We're busy. But it shouldn't take you more than half an hour to bleed to death.'

While Frankie closed and deadlocked the door, Shiv returned to his room to put on the sari and sandals.

'Shame. I preferred you naked.'

'Me too, but I have to hide the blood and bruises. And my three-day beard! Front door?'

'I don't want to hurt Arnold. Let's hope there's a fire escape.'

They ran to the end of the corridor, opened the window and discovered a rickety iron spiral staircase that ended in the driveway.

Down at ground level they tossed away the room key and walked nonchalantly to the front corner of the building. Frankie peered through the branches of a cypress towards the front door. He pulled back.

'There's a policeman talking to Arnold.'

'What're they doing?'

Frankie looked again. 'Arnold's giving him an envelope. The cop's walking away. Arnold's gone back inside. The door's closed.'

'Just a bribe. Ok, it's safe to go, but I'll follow a fair way behind,' Shiv whispered, 'It would attract attention if a foreigner was seen walking with a scrawny, poor Indian woman. Go!' he whispered urgently when Frankie hesitated.

The street was busy with bicycles, handcarts, pedestrians, cars… all knowing what they were doing and where they were going. Neither young man had the foggiest idea of where to go, so Frankie just sauntered along acting as he imagined a typical tourist would, pretending not to understand the children begging. After several blocks he asked a man where to find a clothing store. The man shrugged and raised his hands in apology. He spoke no English. Frankie smiled and moved on, choosing an obviously wealthier man next time.

His informant pointed and told him to go to College, then right to what sounded like Beebeeganguly, then turn left, and then the directions became complex and impossible to remember, but Frankie smiled gratefully and set off, followed at a discreet distance by a thin and tired woman, her head wrapped in a sari.

It was a long, dusty, hot and enervating trudge, during which they passed several busy markets that Shiv shook his head at. On a narrow road in what looked like a slum, stood several magnificently decaying examples of British colonial architecture. At the end of another longer road, tall modern buildings loomed. Down on the street the two young men were dodging begging women holding their dead-looking babies in supplication, other pedestrians, bikes, cars and handcarts.

Frankie asked directions several times, each time being pointed in a different direction, until suddenly, opposite the end of a T-junction appeared a long, single storey red brick building faced with white arches and columns. Crowds were milling on the wide paved area in front, so he headed that way. "Hogg Market", the sign above the arches announced.

Frankie waited and Shiv sidled up. They were inconspicuous in the crowd, so Shiv pulled nervously at Frankie's sleeve and pretended to beg. Frankie nearly laughed aloud as their situation finally caught up with him. They'd just murdered two men and were on the run. Hungry, thirsty, homeless, yet Shiv still had the guts to make jokes.

'I don't normally give to beggars,' Frankie growled, pulling a thin wad of notes from his secret pocket and handing them to Shiv. 'But I'm feeling generous.'

After an exaggerated bow of servile gratitude Shiv scuttled away and Frankie sank onto an empty bench. He felt gutted. He'd be Ok, but what about Shiv? He couldn't just leave him to fend for himself. And he didn't want to. He liked him too much… unless that was the effect of their morning's excitement. He gazed around at the crowds; buying, arguing, selling. He felt intensely alive, sharp, yet oddly relaxed. A cloud of diesel fumes engulfed him as an overladen bus drove into the car park. Everyone was on the lookout for something. Searching, impatient, exhausted, but not in a slough of despond. A smell between rot and sweet drifted out of a nearby food stall. Plastic bags, cartons, food wrappers, cans, rotting vegetables…rubbish everywhere; on the streets, in alleys, in gutters and on roads. Someone laughed. A young boy asked for money. It was all so unknowable that his natural dislike of crowds mutated into numbing claustrophobia, filling his head with fears that he'd never be able to escape the swarming multitudes.

He'd gained an idea of Kolkata's size as they landed, but down here he began to realise how huge, how complex, how impossibly impersonal and divorced from everything he thought he valued was this sprawling metropolis that resembled nothing he'd ever experienced or imagined. As he watched and observed, yet another feeling stole up on him. Respect. Respect for individuals who functioned autonomously in this maelstrom; calmly attending to their needs, doing without apparent complaint whatever was necessary to keep the spark of life alive. Even the multitude of beggars. He couldn't give to all, but… he'd have to ask Shiv how to assuage his guilt.

A slow grin spread as realisation dawned. Like everyone around him he was aggressively individual, but so what? He was a flyspeck. Nothing to anyone and they were nothing to him. Ten million individuals eking out an existence in this insane city. Jammed together. Struggling to make ends meet. Another beggar approached, but Frankie still had no coins so waved him away. And then a handsome young man dressed casually but well, looking every bit as comfortable but more contented than those around him, approached as if they knew each other. Frankie took a step back before realising it was Shiv. Along with the sari he had thrown off all vestige of female inferiority. He seemed to have grown several centimetres and could never be taken for anything other than a virile male. His back was straight, his head proud on a firm neck, his feet shod in elegant slip-on leather shoes, his face serene.

'Shiv! You look magnificent!'

'Thanks to you. Do you realise how much money you gave me?'

'No, but there's more where that came from, so don't worry.'

'You gave me forty-thousand-rupees.' He handed the remainder back.

'No way! That's yours. I took a bundle of cash from Wiley's desk before we left, and there's more that we'll share later. But now you're looking respectable, help me buy an unostentatious shoulder bag, trousers, shirt, jacket and shoes that'll make me look like an honest but not very wealthy local. Oh, and disposable razors and a toothbrush. Then find us somewhere to eat and talk.'

'Yes, sahib,' Shiv grinned with an exaggerated Namaste.

Twenty minutes later Frankie was the proud possessor of a knapsack filled with a change of clothes. He slung it over his shoulder and followed Shiv across the road, where he spoke to a middle aged man.

'That's the first time I've heard you speak anything other than English. How come you speak Hindi if you're from Pakistan?'

'What gave you the idea I'm Pakistani?'

'You look a bit like a Pakistani guy in my class at university. Lean with great bones and a symmetrical face, almost too perfect. Most Indians are not so… I don't know… their faces are not so well organised, and if they're dressed as well as you are now, they've run to fat, which isn't attractive.'

'I think that was a compliment, but I'm too hungry to care if it isn't. Come on, that fellow said the restaurant over there's pretty good.'

After a salad, lentils and vegetables, followed by fish with rice, they were feeling comfortably replete but still found room for delicious white sweet balls with nuts and candied fruit. Finally, after rinsing their palates, and in Frankie's case quenching the fires of spicy food he wasn't used to, with bottled water, they talked.

'First up, what do I do about people begging?'

'Give them food or clothing, not money, at least never more than twenty or fifty rupees. Many of them are pawns of syndicates who take all the money their team of beggars gather, leaving them only a pittance. Some people say begging is an industry and they just don't want to work, but I don't believe it. Who would want to sit all day in the dust outside a railway station if they could do anything else? It's the result of capitalism, corrupt police and no social welfare. But I can't do anything about it, and neither can you.'

'Who are you, Shiv? You speak English so well, you are fit and strong, brave and resourceful… where do you come from? How did you get into this situation?'

'I was born in Amritsar, fifty kilometres from Lahore, so you were almost right. A typical lower class family with too many kids. My grandfather had an important job in a hotel and spoke excellent English, so to force me to learn it he never spoke anything but English to me until he died. I went to a local school and learned to read and write. When I was nine the transport company my father worked for went bankrupt and he lost his job, so I went to work for a carpet maker. But sitting in a dim room for twelve hours a day tying knots wasn't any fun, so I took off and lived on my wits; message boy, temple cleaner, washing cars, selling rubbish… then I was a kitchen helper in a cheap restaurant. The boss had half a dozen similar eating-houses in the State, and when I was sixteen he sent me to one in Chandigarh, where I made myself useful and became chief cook. I worked long hours and saved a fair bit… had a heap of five-hundred-rupee notes. But then they were withdrawn from circulation. We had a month to change them, but the queues were kilometres long and the banks helped their customers first. I had to keep on working and suddenly it was too late, so I lost my nest egg. Worse, our business was cash only, but no one had cash any more so we had to close. I saw the advertisement for the job with those three guys, applied and here I am. Poorer and wiser. What about you?'

'Middle class family, plenty of money, good schools, mother and step father died in car crash when I was fifteen, went to live with my father, then university where I learned nothing practical except to understand the machinations of world finances. And that's it. No trauma, no difficulties, no shortage of money. I feel ashamed when I think of how I've just accepted my luck as if it was my right. I came here to see if I was able to live on my wits without the emotional support of family. Instead, I've been saved by you and that makes me feel even more useless than when I left. I can't help wondering if your life has made you a much more resourceful and better person than me.'

'It's funny how other people's lives sound so interesting, yet to them it has been mostly boring. You're not useless; you also saved my life. What are you going to do now?'

'I want to leave this city. Mostly because I'm sick with worry that somehow someone will work out who did what and come looking for us. Also because I've realised I'm not interested in old British Empire buildings or looking at other people and their way of life as if they're exhibits in a fun fair. I've read a fair bit, Indian authors too, and what seems clear is that all humans are the same, basically, despite slight physical differences. It's only the circumstances in which they find themselves that make us think they're different. All groups have wise men and women who are respected but completely ignored, because for humans enough is never enough.'

'You're young to be so cynical.'

'Perhaps because I've read too much about the history of British colonialism. When I see an old colonial building I picture the wars of invasion and acquisition, the slavery, the cruelty, the millions of deaths and misery of the colonial period.'

'But whether you see them or not, doesn't change the past. You can have no effect.'

'I know, but having read about things like cutting off the hands of thousands of Indian cotton weavers so they couldn't compete with English cotton mills, or the ten million Indians who were starved to death when Churchill took all their food to build up food stockpiles in England in case they needed it during their second war on Germany, I just can't stop feeling sick. Especially as the food wasn't needed so the Indians died for nothing. I know life was not so hot before the British, but that's no excuse. Perhaps the worst effect of colonialism is that when the invaders finally went, they left behind the worst aspects of their own culture, having destroyed the integrity of the conquered people. Indian lives are now poisoned by puritanical and repressive laws and attitudes that have since been rejected by the British who imposed them.'

'You're referring to the decriminalisation of homosexuality?'

'Yeah. I know it's stupid to worry and care about injustice, but I can't help it.'

'Even though it's making you seem a bit crazy?'

Frankie laughed. 'Ah thanks for that, Shiv. I do go on don't I?'

'Yes. So stop thinking and now you're here, enjoy it.'

'I can't. It's too crowded. I love open spaces; places where there are no people and I'm unlikely to meet anyone. Where I can be myself without worrying I'm offending someone's sensibilities. So, as the rest of India will be as crowded, noisy, messy and upsetting as Kolkata, I'll go and visit a friend from high school who lives in Hyderabad, then head off home. What about you? Would you like to go to Australia?'

'I like crowded, noisy, busy, crazy cities and the anonymity they provide, as long as I have no family keeping track of me. Some of our restaurant patrons had family who moved to Australia to escape the restrictions of family. They said if you work hard you can earn a lot of money. They start family restaurants and shops and tend to stick together, form Indian societies, keep the festivals and customs, watch each other, gossip and create a carbon copy of the interfering, hierarchical family structures they thought they were escaping.'

'Which begs the question, if families are so interfering, restrictive and demanding of conformity, why do they persist? Why don't the kids just get up and leave?'

'Because in a land of dog eat dog with no social contract, no safety net for those who don't make it financially, the family is the sole buttress against adversity. It's fear, plain and simple fear of falling by the wayside and rotting along with the millions of grindingly poor people that is the glue that binds families. As for going to Australia, every Indian knows it's a racist country, so as I wouldn't feel comfortable with non Indians, and I don't want to live like the expatriate Indians, I'll stay in this benighted land where I know how to be myself and still feel comfortable. Perhaps start a restaurant, or a catering company, or a house-cleaning business, or… It depends on if I can find a backer.

'How much do you think you'd need?'

Shiv shrugged. 'About a million rupees.'

'Have you a bank account?'

'No. And those three bastards took my identity papers.'

'Can you get new ones?'

'If I go back to Amritsar.'

'If you get a bank account, I will back you.'

Shiv's face split in a grin of disbelief. 'Frankie, Frankie, Frankie, you are such an innocent. You don't know me. You are in lust with my handsome face and imagine I am as handsome inside my head. But I'm not. I'm a just an ordinary poor Indian who doesn't expect to ever have more than enough to eat and a place to sleep. If it's the roadside, that's Ok. If you put a million rupees in my account, I'd probably just blow it all on whores.'

Frankie shrugged. 'Once I give something to someone, it's theirs to do with as they like. If spending it all on pleasure is what you want, then fine.'

'But you'd never get your money back, let alone make a profit.'

'Yeah… well… I am not interested in profit. When I said I'd back you, I meant I want to give you enough to get back on your feet, a bit of money for you to do what you like with, because I like you and think you're worth helping. I know I haven't known you for long, but I believe in first impressions.' Frankie looked hard at Shiv as if calculating his worth. 'If you don't want me to feel good, then refuse my offer, but know that I will be miserable for the rest of my life.'

Shiv laughed silently. 'Frankie, I love you! But perhaps I don't want to have money. Perhaps it'll be more fun to remain fancy free and not get tied down in the business of making money. From what I've seen, money and responsibility are addictive and the addicts become slaves of their desire for just a bit more. It doesn't make them happy.'

'No, but the security it brings can free wise people from the shackles of fear, and allow them to be moderately contented. You won't always be young, strong, handsome and sexy.'

'Are you wise?'

'I'm working on it. What about you? Do you want a lover? Wife? Family?'

'If I was sexually attracted to men, I would want to live with you forever, anywhere, as long as you were there. But as I'm not, we both know that could never work. If we lived here you'd have no other friends to spend time with when I was out with my woman. And if we were in Australia I'd hate it if you spent time with other boyfriends and I'd have no friends to keep me company. We'd last six months and then it'd be over; and instead of loving you like a brother I'd start inventing reasons to hate you. I'm not upset about the last few weeks in the mountains, but it's taught me that I don't want a sexual relationship with a man.'

'I understand that. So, where to from here? A wife or a prostitute?'

'In India nice girls don't fuck before marriage, which is why at eighteen I'm still a virgin. My parents argued viciously. My grandmother made everyone's life a total misery – she was the only happy person in our house. I don't want children, there are too many already, so I can't have a wife because she will demand children and hate me, and the entire extended family will be on my back constantly if I don't give her one. So I don't want a wife. I'll hire prostitutes when I get enough money and use my hand until then.' His grin was enchanting.

'Make sure you always practice safe sex; disease is rampant.'

'Yes. Perhaps a rubber doll would be better, at least she wouldn't argue with me.' Shiv laughed again. 'So… what now for you?'

'I need to see if I still have some money in my account. Wiley had my Debit Card so it's possible he discovered how to use it. Let's settle the bill and ask the owner where to find an Internet Café.'

Talk about this story on our forum

Authors deserve your feedback. It's the only payment they get. If you go to the top of the page you will find the author's name. Click that and you can email the author easily.* Please take a few moments, if you liked the story, to say so.

[For those who use webmail, or whose regular email client opens when they want to use webmail instead: Please right click the author's name. A menu will open in which you can copy the email address (it goes directly to your clipboard without having the courtesy of mentioning that to you) to paste into your webmail system (Hotmail, Gmail, Yahoo etc). Each browser is subtly different, each Webmail system is different, or we'd give fuller instructions here. We trust you to know how to use your own system. Note: If the email address pastes or arrives with %40 in the middle, replace that weird set of characters with an @ sign.]

* Some browsers may require a right click instead