No Future Ch. 66bybradley_stoke©
Give Unto Others
"Stop that!" Roland shouted. "Stop that right now."
Osama regarded Roland with an admiration that was very much compromised by the very real fear for his own safety and a sincere wish that his friend could sometimes put prudence above charity.
The suit worn by the large unshaven man who Roland addressed were much smarter and more costly than those anyone normally wore in this part of London, but he was oblivious to the fact that it was now splattered with blood from the already critically ill man whose face he'd slapped several times with a pistol. There might once have been a time when his victim could have taken command of the situation, but no patient in the care of Roland's relief centre was ever in a state to offer resistance. The patient was even less able to do so now. His nose was smashed flat and several teeth had been punched out of his mouth.
"Are you telling me what to do?" the unshaven man challenged Roland. "You've got some fucking nerve."
"This man's already dying. You don't have to make it worse for him."
"The fucker owes me," the assailant said, as he held his victim up above the ground by his throat. "I've been looking for this cunt for years. The fucker's only getting what he always had coming."
"It's not right. Put him down. Let him die in peace."
"Don't fucking tell me what to do, you cunt," said Roland's unwelcome guest. He slammed his victim's face several times against the wall. A pitiful whine accompanied the first few impacts. He was then dropped onto the floor and kicked repeatedly in the face and ribs.
Roland continued to stand firm when the man in the designer suit had tired of kicking his victim and strode over to him. "Just how many fucking greaseballs and grasses have you got stashed here, fuckface?"
"None at all that I know of," said Roland. "This is a Relief Centre. We provide help for the poor and needy. You can see that we don't mean you any harm."
"Don't make me do something I'll regret, you cheeky fucker," said the man sarcastically. Without further provocation he punched Roland in the chest so hard that he doubled up and fell backwards. "I don't want any more of your lip. You've fucking crossed the line. You don't let cunts like Reg Reid into the manor. From now on, you either pay tribute or you and all these dopey fuckwit junkies and clapped-out whores are gonna be incinerated." He gestured towards the other beds where those patients who were sufficiently conscious were trembling with fear.
"I already pay rent to Harry Rogers," said Roland.
"Next time that fucker comes round, you tell him you're paying rent to Oban Rushmore. That's me, if you didn't fucking know already. Tell him that if he doesn't fuck off, I'll stick my fist down his fucking throat and pull out his fucking kidney. I've tolerated you cunts for long enough. Either pay up or dig a hole in the ground where we can bury you."
With these parting words, the man walked off still unconcerned about the bloodstains splattered over his suit. He made no attempt to hide his gun from curious onlookers in the street. He had no fear of the police and didn't care who knew what he'd just been doing.
"He's dead," said Osama who'd run to the assistance of the victim. "Reg is dead. I think that, towards the end, that thug was just kicking a corpse."
Roland bit his lip. He'd had no idea that this patient was in any way different from the countless other diseased, starved and destitute that he'd taken into his shelter. Would he have acted differently if he'd known? And hadn't the well-dressed gangster just claimed that the Relief Centre was now his property?
"We better dispose of the body," said Roland. "I don't think anyone else will volunteer to do so, judging from what we've just seen."
It was only a day or so later that Harry Rogers walked into the Relief Centre. He was wearing his trademark tracksuit which was conspicuously less expensive than Oban Rushmore's suit. This suggestion of physical fitness was totally out of place on a man with such a grotesquely obtuse stomach. However, it wasn't his fists that he relied on to win a scrap, but rather the pistol and flick-knife that he brandished ostentatiously.
"Oban, eh?" said Harry as he counted the notes that Roland handed over to him for what both parties euphemistically called rent. "That fucker's been muscling in all over the manor. Why'd he come here?"
"One of our patients was someone he was after," said Roland.
"Yeah. That figures," said Harry. "Oban never forgives a slight. What'd he say, then?"
"He told me that we'd have to pay rent to him rather than to you."
"He did, the cunt. And what d'you expect me to do about it?"
"I rather thought that the money we paid you would give us some protection from thugs like Rushmore."
Harry considered this momentarily as he shoved the wad of notes into his back-pocket. "You thought wrong there, Roland. It looks like you've got to pay rent to two landlords from now on. I'll still expect my wedge."
"But we've got nothing left to pay Rushmore now that we've paid you."
"Tough," said Harry. "Why not flog off some of those drugs you've got in the medicine cabinet? They might get a few quid on the streets."
"They're for the patients," said Roland.
"Well, that's not my problem," said Harry as he walked past an old woman who was gnawing on a crust of stale bread and cringed noticeably as he swaggered by.
It was only the following day that Roland got the visit he was now dreading. It was one of Oban's henchmen: a scrawny brown-skinned boy, who was also wearing an expensive and well-cut suit. His face was badly scarred and he flaunted his aggression by pushing the lapel of his jacket aside to reveal the gun-holster strapped to his chest.
"I've been told you've got something for me," said the boy.
"Who sent you?" Roland asked cautiously. He was as worried for his own welfare as he was for the several people in his care slumped around the room and anxiously watching the unfolding drama.
"My man Oban," said the boy proudly. "But you already knew that, you cunt. Where are the readies?"
Roland had been expecting this moment, but he didn't know whether there was something more that he should do. He shoved his hand into his jeans pocket and pulled out some notes. They came from his own private savings rather than from the money he'd set aside for managing the Relief Centre.
"Is that all?" asked the boy incredulously. "Is that fucking all? My man Oban's gonna be fucking mad if I only give him this much. Ain't you got nothing more?"
"Nothing," said Roland. "This is a charity. All the money we've got comes from donations and street collections and all of that goes on running the centre. We spend every last penny we have on providing food and rest to the poor and needy."
"To the fucking scum, you mean," said the boy. "Oban's not gonna like this one fucking bit. Give us more or I'll have to take something."
"We haven't got anything more," said Roland.
"I dunno about that," said the boy who looked around the room, presumably for something worth purloining in lieu of cash. After a moment or so, he relented. "You're right. There's fucking nothing here. What a dead loss. Don't you worry though. I'll be back."
He kicked an elderly man who was crouched on the floor and sent him sprawling onto his face. He then walked off while counting the notes and muttering obscenities as he did so.
"What do we do now?" asked Osama when Roland had told him what happened.
"I don't know," Roland admitted. "We can't afford to pay off two sets of mobsters."
"Can't we just pay off one lot," said Osama. "After all, that Rushmore thug did suggest that he'd hospitalise Harry if he got in the way."
"We can't play one group of villains against another," said Roland. "You can't trust them in any way whatsoever. And furthermore, we shouldn't do anything that causes harm to another person—even Harry."
Osama nodded, but he didn't seem convinced.
The next visit by Harry was rather sooner than the weekly cycle to which Roland had become accustomed. He was still wearing his tracksuit, but it was splattered with bloodstains and his face was covered with bruises. One eye could barely open from the swelling of his eyelid. When he opened his mouth, there was a fresh gap where once his front teeth had been.
He glared at Roland before he could express any sympathy for the man's obvious distress.
"Was it you who fucking spoke to one of Oban's boys and set him after me?" Harry asked.
"No, of course not," said Roland honestly, though he immediately suspected Osama. Roland had been rattling a collection tin along the plush thoroughfares of Regent Street and Oxford Circus all the previous day while Osama was working at the Relief Centre by himself. If the boy had returned for more money, would Osama have passed on what Rushmore had said to him about Harry?
"I don't fucking believe you," said Harry. "I'd know one of Oban's boys a mile off in their fucking West End suits. Why'd he want to rough me up then? Why'd he tell me to keep my nose out of his business? What was that all about then, eh?"
"I don't know," said Roland. "All I know is that Rushmore told me that I was to pay rent to him from now on."
"Well, of course he fucking would," said Harry. "But why'd he beat me up? He didn't need to know you were paying me too, did he? Did you grass on me? I should fucking kill you, you fucker."
Roland was getting quite confused by this. He was now expected to pay two sets of thugs for the privilege of providing charitable relief in East London. And given that he couldn't afford to do this, he was now being threatened with violence for being remiss.
"What should we do, Harry?" Roland asked, not unreasonably.
"Just fucking pay up," he said. "That's what. Fucking pay up. I don't care where you get your wedge. I don't think Oban does either. We're not fucking econ... econom... fucking experts. If you wanna continue to operate in this part of town you follow the rules. And if you don't, you're fucked."
Roland discussed this dilemma with Osama next time he saw him.
"What do we do?" he said. "We can't pay both Harry and Rushmore. And by trying to do so we've got no money to be able to stay open. What's the answer?"
Osama considered this carefully. "I think we've reached the end of the line," he said. "We can't go on. We'll just have to close the centre."
"And the patients?" wondered Roland.
"We don't take any more on," Osama said. "We close the soup kitchen. And within a week all the patients we've got will be dead."
Roland looked distressed by this. "Is that it?" he asked. "Is that all we can do? Has everything we've done been wasted?"
"Of course, it hasn't," said Osama. "There are many people whose lives we've saved. But let's be frank. We can't carry on. Not here anyway. Just by taking care of the patients we've already got puts us at risk from heavies who'll continue to come round and demand money from us. We can't offer relief to the destitute if we can't even offer them protection from violence. You saw how Oban treated Reg. You saw how one of his boys beat up Harry. The next people they'll attack will either be one of us or the volunteer workers. Or they might even turn on those we're here to help."
"So, it's hopeless," said Roland despairingly.
"It is here," said Osama. "But we can always open up another relief centre elsewhere. There are people in need all over the Republic."
Roland's face lit up. "You're right," he said. "From out of the ashes, the phoenix arises. I take it you'll come with me."
"What else can I do?"