Chapter Five

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I shook my head to clear the blur and immediately regretted it. It felt as if my brain had been replaced with white-hot ball bearings. 

I opened my eyes slowly and was vaguely conscious of a rhythmically pulsing light. I wondered, half-dazed, whether the light was real or an effect of the blow I had received. Perhaps it was concussion, I certainly felt nauseous and a little dizzy. I was perplexed as to whether a man suffering concussion could actually self-diagnose, but at that moment it did not seem the most important concern.

I tried to raise my hands to rub my face, but they wouldn't move, they stayed firmly where they were despite several urges from my thumping brain. 

I began to panic. Jesus, Was I paralysed? 

No, I was upright and sitting on some sort of chair. I sensed that I was no longer in the alley, but that meant that I had moved. I didn't remember moving of my own accord, in fact I didn't remember much at all other than the black shape of a bottle whistling through the air and a multi-coloured burst of stars behind my eyes.

That meant that I must have been moved.

I flexed again, but my arms remained stuck behind my back; steadfastly disobeying my wishes. I could feel a burning sensation in my hands like pins and needles, so I couldn't be paralysed. Pins and needles meant lack of blood flow. 

I was tied up. That must be the answer. Everything was in such a haze, I struggled to order facts in my scrambled mind.

Was I a captive? Was I being held by those bastards from the alley? What else could they want? None of this made any sense; the only thing that seemed real was the pain that thumped in my head like an angry monkey with a hammer.

I twisted in my seat, trying to take in my surroundings as best I could. I had to take it easy because of the pain and for fear of toppling over. 

I was in an enclosed space and it was dark and small. The walls looked to be wooden, slatted and covered with shelves stacked with pots, jars and bundles of plants that cast eerie shadows and shone alternately in the pulsing blue light. 

My eyes stumbled upon a twisted grey shape that hung out from the shelves towards me. It looked, well, it looked like a squirrel on a stick ... Wow, concussion could seriously fuck you up. I blinked, trying to shift the fog from my eyes. The more I stared, the more I was convinced that it was a squirrel, bound by the paws to a foot-long twig that protruded from the wall.

I heard a soft click, distinct above the buzzing in my head. It was a human noise, a metallic noise and I turned my head to the left to investigate. 

I had to strain my neck to see, but sitting hunched in the gloom was the figure of a tall man. In front of the man was an upturned wooden crate serving as a small makeshift table. Resting on the flat surface of the crate lay an object that I did not have to blink to recognise. It was, without a shadow of a doubt, a gun. The dull metal of the barrel gleamed in the occasional blue light that flooded the small space I was occupying.

"Wakey wakey," the man spoke softly, his voice was deep and level. He made no move for the weapon that lay in front of him, the barrel pointing conspicuously at me.

"Who are you? You already have my money," I croaked. I was surprised at how feeble my voice sounded. It hurt to speak, in fact it hurt to blink.

"Ah yes, the alley." The man tossed a square object onto the crate top. It landed with a solid thump and flopped open, doubling its size. It looked very much like my wallet.

"Who are you working for Satchmo?" The shadowy man asked, not raising his voice nor altering the soft, level pitch.

"My name ... " I stuttered.

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