CUT OUT by Fergus McNeill

CUT OUT - book cover

Imitation is not necessarily just the most sincere form of flattery

Read a Short Extract



   It was the body of a man, slumped down in the corner at the side of the porcelain bowl, like a puppet with its strings cut – legs splayed wide, bald head slumped forward.  The arms were stretched out horizontally – one along the back wall, one along the inside of the stall – palms outward as if in surrender.
   Another click and the camera flash glared back from an ugly wet stain on the crotch of the dead man’s jeans. His skin looked sallow, but he didn’t appear to be that old. Brilliant white trainers, a slim red zipper top – expensive clothes that passed for stylish among the younger generation – and the dark shadow on his scalp suggested he was bald by choice rather than age.
   Harland crouched down, wanting to see the victim’s face, frowning as he leaned forward to –
   ‘Shit!’ He stumbled back, putting a hand on the floor to steady himself, as he glared up at the photographer. ‘Just . . .  give me a second, OK?’
   Wiping his fingers on the leg of his overalls, he realised that his pulse was racing.
   Turning back, he leaned in closer, trying to discern something in the alien expression on the dead man’s face. It looked almost foetal – eyes squeezed shut, lips pressed together...  
   ‘Superglue.’ Linwood’s voice came from behind him. ‘Or some other sort of fast-bonding stuff. Someone sealed his eyes, nose and mouth. Even his ears.’
   Harland recoiled slightly, as the awful expression before him suddenly made sense. Slowly, he turned to look at the man’s outstretched arms.
   ‘And glued his hands to the walls,’ he murmured.


   The second half seemed to unfold at a slower pace. Nigel found himself watching the clock in the top left corner of the screen, aware of the growing need to pee. He shifted positions once or twice, but he knew he would never make it through to full time.
   Eventually, he sat forward on the sofa and turned to Matt.
   ‘Mind if I use your bathroom?’
   ‘Sure.’ Matt’s eyes never left the screen, but he gestured vaguely towards the door. ‘It’s straight down the hall.’
   Nigel smiled. Just like the layout upstairs.
   He got to his feet, feeling a little unsteady. How many beers had he had? Then again didn’t usually drink at all.
   The sound of the TV diminished as he walked down the hallway. The bathroom door was painted in the same white gloss as his own. He pushed it open and instinctively reached for the light switch, an oddly familiar motion for a different place, then pushed the door closed behind him.
   Moving forward, he planted his feet apart and hurriedly unzipped himself, then sighed as the relief spread up through his body. He was surprised how badly he’d needed to go, had forgotten how beer went straight through him.
   Flushing the toilet, he turned to wash his hands. Bending over the basin, his eyes were drawn to the different products arranged on the shelf below the mirror. Toothpaste, shaving gel, moisturiser, a small plastic container that seemed to contain some sort of pills, and a sculptured glass bottle of aftershave.
   He leaned forward, bringing his nose to the top of the bottle so he could smell it.
   Very nice. Woman must love that.
   He made a mental note of the name, and determined to look for it among the sprawling department store perfume counters next time he was in town.  
   Straightening up, he turned to the towel rail, but was momentarily thrown to find there wasn’t one – just a blank space on the wall. He glanced around, suddenly at a loss, until he spotted a dark blue towel draped over the shower curtain. With a faint smile, he dried his hands, then went back out into the hallway.
   He walked slowly, pausing as he passed the bedroom. The door was ajar, and it was oddly tempting to look inside, but a crescendo of noise from the TV and a whoop from Matt spooked him, and he hurried back to the front room.
   ‘Two nil!’ Matt was pointing at the screen, where action replays were showing the second goal from a succession of different angles. ‘Whoa! Just imagine how it must feel to score like that.’
   He shook his head slowly, an expression of wonder on his face as he watched the Barcelona striker punch the air in exultant slow motion.
   ‘Incredible,’ Nigel agreed.
   Back upstairs, Nigel pushed his front door closed, then allowed himself to lean against it, a foolish grin spreading across his face. It had been a great evening, and Matt was a great guy. Just being around him filled Nigel with a tingle of unfamiliar confidence.
   He pushed himself upright and started through to the front room, but halted as he realised he needed something. Frowning, he stood swaying in the hallway, trying to concentrate.
   What was it? Oh yes . . .
   He turned and lurched towards the bathroom.
   Standing at the toilet, he gave out a long, happy sigh. This was how evenings should be, enjoying yourself and relaxing. He flushed, pressed the lever with an extravagant flourish, then turned to wash his hands. Drinking a few beers and watching the game with a mate. He nodded to himself as he dried his hands, paused for a moment. Taking the towel, he draped it carefully over the shower curtain and smiled to himself.
   It had been a great evening.

Copyright © Fergus McNeill 2014