Silence didn’t come naturally to George Pearson. He was the joker in the pack, the talker, the one who always had an amusing tale or a one liner to raise a smile.
Except he didn’t feel so funny now, silence was the one thing keeping him alive. He’d talked himself into trouble. Big trouble.
He’d got himself into bother before, of course he had. A comedian who didn’t upset somebody along the way wasn’t doing his job properly.
Whether it was someone overhearing a cutting remark or somebody taking offence to an onstage quip, his natural charm had always got him out of the situation. A disarming smile, a compliment, an apology. The gift of the gab some people called it. It was a well-trodden path.
But not this time, this time he had crossed a line.
There’s one golden rule when you are a comedian, professional or otherwise; know your audience.
He’d worked the comedy circuit for years, come across all walks of life. From the roughest clubs to the black-tie corporate events, he knew how to work the crowd.
George wasn’t a sophisticated comedian. When he bounded on stage wearing a garish green wig, the audience knew that they weren’t in for a night of nuanced political satire or social commentary. He was basic but basic made money.
There were always hecklers, he’d been swatting them away for years. There wasn’t a single insult he hadn’t heard before. These amateurs coming out to taunt him after a few beers; they saw a comedian once in a blue moon. He did this every night, this was his living.
It wasn’t even an offensive remark, that’s what was most frustrating about the situation he found himself in. In fact the line was so common you’ve probably used it yourself. If you haven’t, your mother certainly has.
Even when he had overstepped the mark in the past and hadn’t been able to talk himself out of it, the security at the venue had intervened or members of the audience had stepped up to defend him. The offended party would usually sober up the next day and forget all about it; no harm done.
Not this time.
He’d worked this club on many occasions. The audience didn’t vary much, they loved him. He knew the place was under new management and he even knew that the new owner had a bit of a reputation. He now realised that he hadn’t done quite as much homework as he thought.
He’d been ten minutes into his act when a latecomer arrived and headed towards the front. Anybody with the faintest experience of comedians knew that he was going to be a target. George was on a roll and he already had the crowd doubled up with laughter, some already in tears. He didn’t want to spend much time on the late arrival, the act was going well without distractions but he couldn’t be ignored.
The man was well dressed, in his fifties and cleaning a fork on his handkerchief. A fork? Why was he carrying a fork? As always George focussed in on the one thing that stood out.
“Careful mate, you’ll have somebody’s eye out with that.”
That was it. One line. Not particularly funny or original but usually enough to garner a snigger of recognition in most crowds.
But not tonight.
Complete and utter silence. Not a nervous giggle, not even someone clearing their throat. Silence.
George knew immediately what he had done. He was frozen to the spot. If it was possible to feel the colour drain out of your body, he felt it.
The man with the fork dropped his handkerchief to the floor and approached the stage. Unhurried yet determined.
His friends tried to deter him, attempted to get him to reconsider, but he wasn’t a man to be stopped.
The audience scattered. Most heading for the door, knowing what was coming. A few rubber-neckers unable to turn away, the vicarious thrill of witnessing extreme violence outweighing the inevitable danger of becoming a witness.
As the man fought his way through the crowd George took his opportunity to run. He darted off the stage, grabbing his mobile and keys from the table behind the curtain as he bolted for the fire exit.
He barged through the double doors into the lane and ran to the car park. There were already a couple of doormen stood next to his car, it was clear who they worked for. The car was no longer an option.
There was a chainmail fence leading to the pub next door and he thought that he could make it. He shoved his phone and keys into his pocket and clambered over the fence, dropping onto a large bin on the other side. He couldn’t stop there, he knew that it would be the first place they would look.
He ran across the yard and a combination of bins, crates and a rickety drainpipe got him over the next fence and into the rear of a derelict bed warehouse.
It was dark if he kept away from the security lights. Not quite pitch black but dark enough.
A fire exit was slightly ajar and he eased himself inside, locking the door behind him. If nobody saw him come in, he might well be safe here.
Along one wall were leaded windows, almost full height but they let in little light; just the moon’s glow and the haze of nearby neon.
He got on all fours and crawled to the other end of the warehouse. He couldn’t see where he was going but felt his way and the floor was largely free of obstructions. At one point, he snagged his wig on something sharp but managed to drag himself free leaving the wig with a bald patch.
He huddled behind a pile of pallets and waited in silence; and prayed that his pursuers would give up.
He checked his phone; it was on silent as it always was when he was doing a gig. He could dial 999 but if he was heard, the emergency services would never arrive in time.
He could hear far off voices, laughter. Impossible to tell if it was coming from those chasing him or just ordinary revellers. A dog yapped in the distance.
Someone emptied bottles into a recycling bin a few streets away.
Then it was silent again.
His breathing was irregular, his heart beating fast. Badoom, badoom, badoom. He took deep breaths to calm himself.
He huddled closer to the pallets.
A security light was triggered, illuminating the warehouse. He clung to the pallets, confident that he still couldn’t be seen.
Peering through the gap he could see the warehouse was almost empty.
But almost wasn’t enough. One object in the middle of the floor betraying him.
Light glistened off the prongs of the fork as it picked the green hair from the springs of the mattress.
George knew it was over and was only a matter of time.
A crunch of glass under a shoe.
George removed the lurid green wig as he looked his pursuer in the eye.
The false eye that told George he was as dead as the stare looking back at him.