I’m all business-like as I plant myself at his table, my hands folded over each other. “Join our organisation.”
Paul Heatley wipes his glasses, places them on the tip of his nose, and slides them back into place. He strikes a match, clocks the karaoke singer with the helium voice, sets the Sambuca alight – and downs it in one. Breathes fire across the table my way and grabs the bottle for round I’ve-lost-count. Not bad to say he doesn’t drink.
I grab his wrist and shake my head. “No.”
“Take your hand from me, Beech. I’m in a good mood. Party mood. Dancing on the ceiling mood.”
“I want my answers tonight, before you slide beneath the table for the evening. Will you join our organisation?”
He laughs and shakes away my hand. Swigs another shot. “We all want answers. My bank manager, my wife, my boss, and me. Are you who you say you are?”
I nod. The pub heaves and cheers the next karaoke singer. Heatley grins at the dodgy ABBA impression and throws his name down the DJs ear. A couple of songs later he’s up at the mic, a bad impression of Michael Jackson’s Smooth Criminal spewing out his mouth. I grab the mic and perform The Police’s Murder by Numbers, though I can hardly remember, never mind hold the tune.
He pah’s and rocks out Killing in the Name by Rage Against the Machine. I encourage him by murdering Take the Money and Run by The Steve Miller Band.
We take a break and I’m easy with his next Sambuca. He runs a hand through his hair. “Your organisation is not my style. I’m a free spirit. And, I don’t do that kind of thing.”
I let the smile sit on my face. Makes Heatley shift his arse cheeks one to another. A new singer takes the mic, only he introduces himself with some godawful mid-Atlantic accent and plugs the band he sings for, The Bell Peppers, and where they’re playing this night. He sours my smile and winds Heatley up. The fella croons some Maroon 5 in a highly polished tone. Irritates the shit out of me, and more importantly, my target.
After that berk has finished, Heatley cleans his palate with Nick Cave’s There She Goes, My Beautiful World. It’s ballsy, it’s off-cue, it gets the crowd going. But mid-Atlantic Man ruins the mood again with a blander version of Mr Bland himself, John Mayer. It’s so slick Friends of the Earth should launch a boat against it.
Heatley screws his nose at mid-Atlantic’s call to his gig. It’s tonight. The laydees get in free, and drinks are cheap, apparently. Free wouldn’t sell cheap enough if we had to watch him. Heatley lets the Sambuca buzz his head.
I have a word with mid-Atlantic Man, out of Heatley’s vision. Tell him I’m a huge fan and put in a request for his next song.
I make my way back to the table. Heatley shakes his head, his mind made-up.
“I’m not that kind of man. It’s not my kind of work, Beech. I’m sorry.”
I purse my lips and say my regrets. “Well, let’s part on good terms – how about a duet?”
“Simon and Garfunkel’s The Sound of Silence.”
We make for the DJ, but mid-Atlantic Man has hogged the night again. Faces dull around him. Heatley rolls his eyes, but they spin when the wannabe closes his lids and nods like he’s at the artisanal fruit juice counter. He places undue import on the words, “Hello darkness, my old friend.”
I turn to Heatley and nudge his arm. “Well, what a shame. Your favourite song and all.”
Heatley grabs the mic from the man, and pushes him in the chest. mid-Atlantic Man pushes back. The instrumental wafts through the pub awaiting its Simon and its Garfunkel. Heatley, a civilised man, has Sambuca in his veins and some primal ancestor shoots out his actions. They fight over the mic and as the crowd surges I rabbit-punch Heatley in the ribs. He’s furious. Swings at mid-Atlantic Man and knocks him to the ground. Batters him with the mic until pulp smears the floor. Hello Darkness, indeed.
It’s done. The crowd drag Heatley away and I step in to help him. I show my teeth and they back away. I bend to his ear. “Will you join our organisation?”
Heatley can’t believe what he’s done. I mean, you don’t mess with The Sound of Silence, but this … he’s alive. It has nothing to do with the Sambuca anymore. He nods. “I’m in.”
“Let’s get out of here, then, there’s a few questions you need to answer.”
Paul Heatley is the highly rated author of noir cult classics, including Fatboy and An Eye for an Eye. He’s in a bunch of anthologies and has sown his fantastic short stories across a bunch of online magazines. Check him out.
A friend of mine doesn’t read fiction, paraphrasing Frank Skinner about it all being made-up and he has no time for any of that. What words do you have for such a philistine?
Paul Heatley (PH): Oh, wow. I mean, how do you even tackle something like that? You either get it or you don’t. And if you don’t, well shit, there’s a lot you’re missing out on.
What must a protagonist have to make you read on?
PH: The most important thing is having a story worth being told. If the protagonist has nothing going on then there’s no reason to keep reading.
Do you need a likeable protagonist?
PH: Not at all. You need an engaging and interesting protagonist, but they don’t necessarily need to be likable. So long as they’re compelling, that’s the key. It’s not like you’re planning on becoming friends with this imaginary person and spending time with them outside the pages of the book. I just have to want to read about them is all.
Name a great antagonist, in a novel or movie, and what they do for you.
PH: Lou Bloom of the movie Nightcrawler is a great antagonist/anti-hero. The scope of his ambition and what he’s willing to do to get the things he wants are thoroughly engrossing. He doesn’t even sleep! His means are highly questionable but there’s a lot to be learnt about pursuing your dreams and not letting anything get in your way.
What makes you throw a book out the window?
PH: Haven’t done it yet! Maybe I’m just selective about what I read.
Do you grit your teeth all the way to the end of a dodgy novel?
PH: I do, in the hope there’ll be something redeemable to find. Luckily I’ve only really come across one or two dodgy books I felt were a struggle.
What gets you writing? A great novel? Something you saw on the street or on TV? Something else?
PH: All of the above. I write every day so that keeps me motivated, and I’ll search out the inspiration I can find in any situation.
What did you learn about writing from the last book you wrote?
PH: Sometimes the story will dictate its own pace. You set out thinking you’re gonna write it one way, pace it a certain way, and the story says No, THIS is how we’re gonna do things.
What’s your next book, in 30 words or less?
PH: A hitman passes time while his ex-girlfriend attempts to escape her oppressive father and elude the various killers he’s sent after her.
Where can readers connect with you?
PH: All the usual places – Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter (@PaulHeatley3).
You can get a taste for his work with the following short stories:
Three, Two, One at Shotgun Honey
The Santa Clause at The Flash Fiction Offensive
Bo’s Burial at Spelk Fiction
City of Forts is now available from most digital stores and in paperback. Buy it HERE.