It was the light that woke him and then it was the terror that kept him awake. The beam, from headlights on the road, shone directly through the thin curtains and filled his bedroom with shadows, those dark grotesque shapes that chased each other along the walls and leaped as if to escape an unseen menace. These twisted images intensified Allan’s erratic thoughts balancing illogically on a knife-edge and denied him the sleep he craved.
Overwhelmed by worry about the consequence of his decision that had invoked the threats from Muscles John, he lay each night in a paralysis and afraid to sleep. Whenever he dozed into the warmth and safety of his pillows the light beams sent shadows around him. He could only retreat beneath the sheets to hide from their mockery. He felt his stomach tighten and pulled the pillow beneath the sheets, it’ll be all right, won’t it? What had he agreed to do?
‘You don’t want to know, what’ll happen if this goes wrong.’ Muscles John had said. ‘I’ll see you on Saturday then.’ With his calloused hands he had grabbed Allan by the collars of his jacket and shook him. ‘Now, don’t be late.’
‘No Allan.’ His friend Iain had warned him. ‘Stay away. It will be like a death sentence and you’ll be chained to the debt with no escape.’
Iain would listen to his plans and only shake his head.
‘You’ll regret it. It’s not worth it.’ Iain had kept telling him. ‘Think about your freedom and what you’ll be giving up.’
All Allan wanted was a change in his life, to give up slogging along the streets every day delivering letters. His vision for the future and his dream, with his girlfriend Julia, was to own a restaurant. Muscles John had suggested a solution, but there were conditions.
Admiration that’s it, he should admire Muscles John despite the backslapping and uncomfortably tight hugs. He was not sure how to respond to the hard-headed and hot-tempered John from the old school of common sense. He just smiled and agreed to everything in his presence. How could he not admire him? The man started as a boy dealing in scrap iron from the dismantling of the railways and had used his gains over the years to build a large property portfolio. When two of his associates disappeared, after attempting to defraud him on a multilevel car park deal, it was reputed that John had buried them on his golf course. He wished he hadn’t asked him about the Jolly Roger flying at the thirteenth hole. John had just winked and gave a wide menacing grin.
On Saturday morning, he stood shaving while he confronted a picture of Muscles John he kept above the sink. ‘You don’t scare me.’ He took a deep breath to steady his hand as he carefully slid the open blade over his face. He didn’t want any blood on his collar, not today of all days. Iain had said he would bring a gun. Don’t be stupid and no guns, he had told him.
He met Iain on time and they waited for Muscles John to arrive. Allan kept stroking his face. It was important to have a clean shave and he shifted from one foot to the other.
‘Don’t worry. I’ve got it with me.’ Iain gave him an anxious smile. He patted his jacket pocket.
Allan’s legs trembled and almost buckled beneath him when he heard the door of the hall open. In walked Muscles John dressed in his Oxford Row suit, his large head beaming with that intimidating smile. A girl’s soft hand rested on his wrist. A hush followed by a moment’s silence settled within the hall. Everyone turned and watched Julia, and she was beautiful in her dress. The organ music played while Muscles John walked his daughter down the aisle