Storyglossia Issue 28, May 2008.

A Place for Violence

by Kevin Wignall


Dan was mesmerized by the young guy in the pool. He was in his late teens or early twenties and looked about as graceful and athletic in the water as anyone he'd ever seen.

Of course, he probably wouldn't have been mesmerized if it hadn't been for the wheelchair. It had been there when Dan came out, against the metal railing of the steps with a towel on its seat. The kid was the only one in the pool but it had still been a few minutes before Dan had accepted the chair had to be his.

That's how long it had taken him to notice that his legs weren't doing any of the work, that they were thin and undeveloped against the kid's swimmer's torso. Even so, he produced the impression of someone who left the handicap on the poolside.

When the pool boy brought his drink Dan turned his attention to his book, looking up every few minutes, a glance at the kid's steady soothing progress up and down the pool, a glance to the hotel.

He'd taken a lounger by the side of the pool. The ones in front of the hotel faced across the pool to the beach and the ocean but he wanted to see the hotel. It wasn't a bad view anyway, the double-storey main building, the single-storey annex, both with their high thatched roofs. And the pool was fringed on all four sides by gardens and tall palms.

He'd almost finished his drink when the view deteriorated dramatically. He heard the pool boy first, a cheery, 'Good morning, Mr Tully.'

Mr Tully either didn't think so or didn't see why he had to share the sentiment with a pool boy. The guy was in his late thirties, probably only a few years older than Dan but he looked like he'd been living dog years. He was balding, fat, too tanned, yet held himself with a proprietary, walk-on-water confidence. He sullied the place.

His wife had a conversation with the pool boy, so quiet that Dan didn't pick out a single word. She was slim in a tired way, blonde, with body language that was desperate to be decorative and inoffensive to her husband—Dan could see it was killing her.

The two kids were the same. Maybe it wasn't killing them yet, but it would. They were both blonde, a boy and a girl, their builds teetering on the brink, showing they could yet take after either parent. The girl was maybe eight, the boy a year or two older and they both moved with the timid attentiveness of kids who were terrified of their father. Whenever possible, they chose to stand behind their mother.

Tully had taken his shirt and sunglasses off now and looked about fifteen months pregnant. He walked across to the steps and clicked his fingers at the pool boy. He pointed at the wheelchair.

'Get this piece of junk out of here.' There was a hint of something in his accent, Boston maybe. 'My kids trip and hurt themselves, there'll be hell to pay.'

His kids had each arranged themselves on a lounger next to their mother and were showing no childlike desire to get in the water. The pool boy approached and took hold of the wheelchair handles but spoke quietly to Tully, gesturing to the swimmer.

Tully was having none of it, and said, 'So he's a cripple, that doesn't give him the right to endanger other people. Move it.'

Dan wondered if this was possibly the crassest person on the planet.

The pool boy bowed and pushed the chair along the poolside, reluctant to disobey one guest or to inconvenience another. But as if sensing the discomfort of the pool boy, and perhaps having heard some of the exchange, the kid turned onto his back and called, 'It's okay, I'm done.' He was American too.

He turned in the water and glided over to the side where the pool boy was waiting with the chair. He heaved himself out at the same time as Tully crashed into the water at the other end, not even using the steps after causing such a scene about his access to them.

The pool boy held the wheelchair steady and the kid pulled himself up. He'd lost all his aquatic grace now, but he didn't do a bad job of getting into the chair and Dan reckoned there was a residue of movement or sensation in his legs. He knew the kid wouldn't have thanked him for it, but he couldn't help thinking to himself, 'too bad'


The kid didn't hang around once he was in the chair. He folded the towel over his lap, put another around his shoulders and wheeled back along to the hotel, as cool about it as a kid on a skateboard.

Tully had been swimming furiously, throwing up a lot of spray, but he stopped to look as the kid wheeled away. He looked smug, but with that victory under his belt, he turned to his family and called out, 'Pete, get yourself in here. You too, sugar.'

The two kids stirred and Dan took that as his cue to leave. Tully saw him getting up and looked over, as if wanting to stare him down or ask what his problem was. Dan ignored him, but as he passed Mrs Tully and the kids he smiled and said, 'How's it going?' They smiled back uncertainly, but didn't speak.

Later in the afternoon, Dan found the kid sitting in the terrace bar. He was reading and apart from an elderly couple in the far corner he was there on his own. Dan ordered a Tiger Beer from the bar and strolled over.

'Hey, mind if I join you?' He saw what the kid was reading, The Stranger by Camus, and wondered if befriending him was a mistake.

But the kid smiled and said, 'Sure—I'm struggling with this book anyway.'

Dan held up his Murakami doorstop as he sat down and said, 'Me too.' He put out his hand and said, 'Dan Borowski.'

They shook hands.

'Luke Williams.'

The waiter came with Dan's beer but once they were on their own again, he said, 'So what brings you here, Luke?'

'Just a vacation, you know.' Dan swigged from the beer and nodded. Luke laughed then and said, 'I'm going to college next year, Harvard . . . '

'Good on ya.'

'Thanks. Anyway, I wanted to get away on my own, you know, like travelling, but I've never done it before so this is my first big adventure.'

'Enjoying it?'

Luke smiled and said, 'Not really. The spa treatments are good.' He shrugged and said, 'What about you, why are you here?'

'Mate, I'm Australian, Bali's where we come to relax.' He watched a trickle of condensation making a run down the side of the beer bottle, then said, 'Truth is, I was meant to meet an ex-girlfriend out here but she had to cancel at the last minute. Thought I might as well come anyway.'

That was half true, at least. He was meeting Juliet the following week, but in Sydney, and she was an old girlfriend, not an ex—an important difference when it came to reunions. There was no need for Luke to know all that, nor that he lived in London and was probably the only Australian who'd never been to Bali before.

Luke didn't seem to know how to respond and said, 'What do you do?'

'Security analyst.' That killed that line of conversation. 'How d'you end up in the chair?'

Luke shrugged and said, 'Three years ago, riding home from a friend's house, some guy doing around sixty knocked me off my bike. They didn't think I'd pull through, then they said my legs were finished, but I got a little bit back. I can walk a little way with a frame.'

He reeled it all off with the speed of someone who knew it like a mantra—Dan guessed the question always got asked sooner or later.

'The guy go to prison?'

There had been no bitterness in the description of the accident or the injury, but the wound was still raw when it came to the guy who'd done it.

Luke sipped at his drink and Dan noticed the muscle under his left eye twitching as he said, 'The dick had been drinking hard, but him and his wife swapped seats. She claimed I'd come speeding off the sidewalk and into their path. I knew what I saw, but there were no other witnesses. The pair of them walked. I still see the guy around, still drives like a jerk.'

'That can't be easy, seeing him all the time, knowing he got off with it.'

'You have to live with it, I guess. I mean, what can you do about it?'

'You could kill him.' Dan waited a beat to let the shock sink in, then laughed and said, 'The world's full of jerks. Look at that guy this morning out by the pool.'

'Brian Tully,' said Luke with a mixture of contempt and grudging respect.

Dan looked askance and said, 'You know the guy?'

'Give it a couple days, you'll know him too. He's the kind of guy who makes himself known. I heard him telling someone in the restaurant the other night, he's like a mobster from Vegas.'

So Tully really was a jerk. Probably liked to act the tough guy but it was undoubtedly nine parts swagger, one part bullying.

'Luke, I'll guarantee he's from Vegas, but any guy who brags about being a mobster has gotta be way down the pecking order.' He swigged at his beer and added, 'Probably still not a guy you'd wanna cross.'

Luke nodded, but Dan could see he had a lot of pluck, that the presence of Tully and his insults was a big part of why he wasn't enjoying this vacation, and that he'd give anything to be able to get out of his chair and give the guy a smack. It was almost certainly better for him that he couldn't.

Luke visibly let the thought go and became brighter as he said, 'What are you doing for dinner tonight?'

'I reckon we could eat here in the hotel, maybe eight o'clock, pick up some girls, steal a boat—how about it?'

Luke laughed and said, 'I could manage the dinner part of it.'

'Yeah, you're right. It's a long time since I stole a boat.' He smiled and swigged from his beer.

Dan would rather hire a boat nowadays anyway, and he didn't chase girls when he was working, but they stuck with the plan for dinner. Dan got down there a little early, had a drink at the bar and looked out across the restaurant. It was less than half full but Tully's presence made it seem overcrowded.

The guy was loud, talking like there were twenty extrovert people at his table, not three timid ones. He knew a couple of people on neighbouring tables, too, and called lame jokes and comments across at them, getting polite, almost subservient laughs in response.

Dan glanced out at the intense blackness beyond the restaurant lights. The hotel prided itself on its ecological credentials, so the lights that were scattered around the grounds were low-key, providing just enough illumination to ensure no one on a late night walk would trip and sue.

There were no cameras, either, he'd already noticed that. And the staff were good at keeping out of the way. It was ironic, given the philosophy that underpinned both the hotel and its spa, that this place was ideally designed and situated for violence.

'You tell that to the gooks,' shouted Tully, following up his own bizarre punch-line with a raucous laugh.

Dan looked at where Luke would enter the room, looked at the tables that were free, calculated how Luke would get to each of them. He crossed the room then and sat down. When the waiter came, Dan asked for two menus and asked him to take the chair away.

'Mr Luke?'

'Mr Luke,' said Dan. The waiter nodded and whisked the chair away.

A minute later, Luke wheeled into the room and looked across to where Dan was sitting. He looked for a path to reach the table, but turned away from the obvious one and started looking for another.

Dan got up and waved him back toward the obvious path, the one that went past Tully's table. He walked over then and tapped Tully on the shoulder, saying, 'Mate, do you mind moving a mo just to let my friend through?'

Tully looked down at his own shoulder, a theatrical indication of how dangerous it was that anyone should touch him without permission, then looked up at Dan, trying to figure him out. He didn't look at Luke but said, 'There's plenty of room to get past.'

'No, see, there isn't—he's in a wheelchair.'

Luke looked alarmed and impressed, but the hint of a smile disappeared as Tully said, 'So what, everyone has to move around the cripple, is that what you're saying?'

Dan put his hand on Tully's shoulder, this time exerting just enough pressure to let him know how things stood, and when Tully looked up Dan fixed his stare, saying, 'Mate, I'm asking you to move because I can see you're the kind of guy who does the right thing when it matters.'

Tully stared back for a second or two, his eyes twitching, giving away his entire decision making process, then said, 'I didn't catch your name.'

'Dan Borowski.'

Dan held out his hand and Tully shook it, saying, 'Brian Tully.' He turned and looked at Luke and said, 'Just messing with you, kid, don't take it so serious.' He got out of his chair and pushed it under the table.

'Thanks,' said Luke as he wheeled through the gap.

'Decent of you, Brian, thanks very much.'

Tully nodded like someone convinced he'd just been scammed but unable to see what had been taken or how. And throughout the meal, Dan noticed him glancing over with a confused meanness. Tully knew he'd been humiliated in some way or other and was weighing up how he could get back at Dan or more likely at the kid.

He didn't get any quieter, but he never directed his comments at Dan and Luke. They were only a few yards away but he was rattled enough by his first encounter with Dan that he didn't want to risk another exchange just yet.

Luke didn't mention what had happened at first, but as Tully shouted for about his tenth beer since they'd sat down, his eyes lit up and he said, 'I get it—I've been wondering why you confronted the guy, and now I know. You did it on purpose.'

'Luke, I don't know what you mean.'

But Luke was having none of it, laughing now as he said, 'You chose this table on purpose, knowing I'd have to pass him to get here.

'Busted,' said Dan, laughing. He was impressed that Luke had worked it out, but then the kid was going to Harvard so it shouldn't have been that much of a stretch. 'You know, there's a place in India where the workers in the fields kept getting eaten by tigers. Then a tiger expert comes in, and makes masks for them, but tells them to wear them on the back of their heads while they're working—see, the tiger likes to attack from behind, so the mask makes it think it's looking at someone's face and that rattles it. Tiger attacks stopped overnight.'

'Is that true?' Dan nodded and Luke said, 'Cool. I still don't see what it has to do with you picking a fight with Tully.'

'I wasn't picking a fight. Sometimes you just have to show your face, make people understand they're not the only predator in the jungle.'

By the time they finished dinner, Tully's family had left and the man himself was at the bar. Dan looked at his watch and said, 'Think I'll turn in—it's been a long day and I'm diving in the morning.'

Luke looked envious and said, 'I wanted to dive out here, but the guy who runs it says they can't take me, something about the hotel's insurance.'

'You've gotta be kidding me.' Luke shook his head. 'You been diving before?'

'No, but I will, someday.'

Dan nodded and said, 'Tell you what, I'll have a word with the guy tomorrow, see if we can sort something out.'

'Thanks,' said Luke, but he smiled as he pushed himself away from the table. 'You won't get anywhere, but thanks anyway.'

Dan got up, and he knew Luke was talking from experience, that the kid would have tried every angle to get on that dive boat. They chatted as they made their way out of the restaurant, but Tully didn't turn to look at them. He was pretty drunk by now and Dan guessed he probably hadn't even noticed them.

When Dan got to his room he kept the lights off and walked out onto the balcony. He needed to get everything done in the next couple of days and was thinking through his options when he noticed the unmistakable figure of Tully swaying along in the half-light by the pool.

It took a second longer to see that there was a girl with him, one of the small local girls, her figure obscured by Tully's bulk as she led him by the hand along the side of the pool. At the far end, they made their way down onto the beach.

Curious, Dan left his room and followed them as far as the gardens that formed the divide between pool and beach. He didn't need to go any further—the compliant moans and Tully's breathy running commentary were bad enough without seeing it. And how typical of Tully that he should even talk himself up during bought sex.

Dan took a couple of steps back and found a small path that cut through the gardens to the side of the pool. It was paved so he could wait there without leaving footprints, not that he really believed anyone would care.

What really intrigued him was whether this was a regular thing, and what other solo jaunts Tully took. He was still thinking about that when he heard footsteps. It was definitely Tully because he was mumbling to himself as well, drunker than Dan had realized.

He saw him walk past and glanced out to see if the girl was with him—she wasn't. It was a risk, because she could still be lurking back there, but occasionally, instinct just demanded that the time was right. This was one of those occasions and Dan was happy to take serendipity over professionalism any day.

He stepped forward, eased up behind Tully and pushed him into the pool. Tully managed to spit out the word 'bitch' before he hit the water with a dull thud of a splash. Dan stepped back a moment, looking around to see if the noise had attracted the girl—unlikely, given that Tully seemed to be blaming her for the push—or any of the hotel staff.

Tully was struggling and sputtering back to the poolside and now that Dan was certain no one was coming he stepped forward and said, 'What happened, mate?'

'Bitch pushed me,' said Tully as he reached up to take Dan's offer of a hand, too drunk to be suspicious of his presence.

It was quick then. Dan grabbed the hand, used it to flip Tully over onto his back as he pulled him up out of the water, then used his free hand to crack the back of Tully's head down onto the poolside. It was so quick, Tully didn't even get chance to cry out.

As he slid him back into the water he turned him on his front again. The guy was unconscious and bleeding badly from the gash to his head, but it was best not to take any more chances. As things stood, a drunk had slipped after sex on the beach, cracked his head on the poolside and drowned—they'd probably name a cocktail after him.

For Dan, it had ended up being about as easy as he could have hoped, so easy he hadn't even had time to get an adrenaline buzz off it. But that was job done, and he really was going diving in the morning, so he went straight to bed now, and the following day he made no attempt to find out what had happened and none of the hotel staff mentioned it to him.

When he got back to his room around lunchtime he showered and dressed and was ready to head out again when there was a knock on his door. He opened it to the worn face of Stephanie Tully.

'Hi, what can I do for you?'

His breezy tone put her on the back foot, but she said, 'I'm not sure, at least, I hope you are who I . . . '

'You shouldn't have come here,' said Dan. 'Don't speak to me again.'

She nodded with an eager obedience that Dan almost wanted to shake out of her, then said, 'Thank you, anyway.'

'You're welcome. And I hope you realize I don't usually do domestics—it's only because you know Lo Bello.'

'I know. And I appreciate that. Did you get the money?'

He smiled and said, 'Lady, I wouldn't be here if I hadn't. Don't get me wrong, I'd have happily done him for nothing, but I try to limit pro bono work to about once a year.'

She smiled back, still uncertain, but he could see now the relief that was creeping into her. And it had been an accident, just as requested, ensuring none of Tully's colleagues would come after her—Dan found it hard to believe they'd have cared that much anyway.

He found Luke in the bar and it was he who was first to officially break the news about what had happened to Tully. The pool was closed for the day, but Luke made clear that was the only reason he was sorry. He didn't appear to suspect anything.

Dan made the right noises, then, as if remembering the really big news of the day, he said, 'Oh, tomorrow morning, hope you don't have plans—we're going diving.'

Luke laughed in disbelief and said, 'How? How did you manage that?'

'It wasn't so hard. You know, on the whole, people wanna do the right thing—you just gotta help them see a way.' He swigged from his beer as Luke thanked him a couple of times.

They talked diving for a while, but as soon as the moment allowed, Dan swigged from his beer and said, 'Anyway, I was thinking—tell me a little more about the guy who put you in the chair . . . '

Copyright©2008 Kevin Wignall

Kevin Wignall is the author of four novels, including Who Is Conrad Hirst? which is nominated for this year's Edgar Award for best PBO, as well as a number of acclaimed short stories. His work has inspired musicians and other artists, and both Who Is Conrad Hirst? and his previous novel, For the Dogs, have been optioned for film. He lives in England. His web address is Dan Borowski first appeared as a character in For the Dogs and subsequently in the Dagger-nominated short story, "Retrospective."