Nicky Phelan had lived in a one-bedroom council flat in East Ham for about three months now. It was a horrible area with boarded-up houses, jungle music blaring out at all hours, hoodies with fighting dogs on street corners, and the stink of curry from the Paki places up the road. But he’d been on the sick for nearly five years, and the social had been shunting him from one temporary room to another, so a bit of solid floorboard underfoot was not to be sniffed at.

Besides, he was only a short walk from the High Street, the supermarket and the boozer. Not that Nicky did much drinking these days. For one, it was too fucking expensive, nigh on a fiver a pint in some places. Secondly, his health had worsened of late. In fact, his GP told him he had the body of a man twice his age. Nicky had just turned forty and didn’t like the idea of resembling a bloody eighty-year-old. His back was the main problem, chronic lumbago, which made him walk like a hunchback. And Nicky was Type-2 diabetic as well, had blood pressure and heart problems, was on all kinds of pills, had been known to keel over in the street and regularly passed blood. He had teenage spots, acne almost, varicose veins and an irritable bowel. All things considered, Nicky was a bit of a mess.

Health issues aside, Nicky’s biggest problem was filling his day. From the moment he got up to the moment he went to bed, he battled to stave off the boredom. In truth, it was something he’d battled all his adult life. Since leaving school with no qualifications, he’d had a succession of poor-paying menial jobs, the kinds of jobs nobody wanted, followed by long stretches on the dole. In his time he’d worked in a food factory, shovelling bubble and squeak onto a conveyor belt or sorting through frozen chips, he’d washed dishes in a big restaurant, been a bin man, worked in a postal sorting office, an abattoir, on the checkout at a supermarket, for a removal firm, handed out leaflets, swept the streets and cleaned public toilets. Anything considered beneath human dignity, bar sucking dicks for loose change, Nicky Phelan had given it a go.

Nowadays, with his benefits (as long as he kept his discipline and didn’t go on the lash) he could just about keep himself afloat. In the mornings he’d have a cup of tea and a bit of toast, and watch an hour or two of television, usually Jeremy Kyle. The guests were his kinds of people, with his kinds of problems, even if he didn’t really give a fuck about who’d fathered whose kiddie or how many bottles of vodka so-and-so drank in the mornings. Then again, Nicky had never liked TV all that much. He always preferred being out and about; only he had nowhere to go now and no money to take him there if he did.

A little later, he might walk to the park or up to the High Street, to watch normal people getting on with their normal lives, the flash cars cruise by, or Asian birds in traditional get-ups, the veils and whatnot, pushing prams over bleeping pedestrian crossings. He’d shit himself if young lads with those vicious fucking dogs strutted past, but knew they had no real interest in him, ’cause he had nothing worth nicking. He might even ogle a few fit sorts in tight jeans and skimpy tops, but always felt bitter and angry when they flashed him a troubled glance, ’cause he could tell just how repulsed they were by his blotchy, acne-stained skin. If he was flush (meaning, if he’d just got his benefits), he might stop off at McDonalds and have a cheeseburger from their saver menu, just to while away another hour or so.

Then it was back to the flat, to the TV and that blonde bird on Countdown and what had become his daily wank. Curtains drawn, trousers round ankles, Nicky would press his cock right up to the screen, trying to jab it into the blonde’s mouth whenever there was a close-up of her face. These days he didn’t last very long, though (it’d become more of a habit than a pleasure) and had stopped using a tissue to come into, letting his little spurt of semen land on the carpet, where a dried encrusted stain had developed. This was followed by that cunt Edmonds on Deal or No Deal (which, Nicky hated to admit, had become, quick wank withstanding, the highlight of his day, even if the bearded twat pissed him off no end, with his smarmy noncey manner and shit one-liners). Almost everyday Nicky came close to kicking the TV set in, especially when Edmonds tried to get all spiritual about a game of fucking chance, opening twenty-odd boxes at random.

‘Edmonds, you’re a fucking cunt!’ was Nicky’s hour-long refrain from four to five o’clock.

Before settling in for the night, he had to think about his tea. Like beer, the cost of living had gone through the roof. These days a tin of tuna could set you back all of two quid–council flat caviar, Nicky called it–and as a result his diet had suffered (something his doctor blamed for his irritable bowel). Nicky’s meals consisted of Pot Noodles, tinned meats, beans on toast. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d been to the butchers or had enough money to get himself a nice piece of fish of a Friday. Takeaways were a blue moon treat. And he had to resist his sweet tooth cravings, even though he used to be partial to the odd Mars bar or packet of Minstrels.

With a plate balanced on his knees, Nicky would chew through another bland, tasteless meal, filling himself up with sliced bread, which he piled on the arm of his chair.

When finished, he washed up his plate and cutlery, made himself another cup of tea and sat himself back in front of the TV.

There was nothing much on in the evenings, maybe the odd documentary or reality show. Nicky liked things on embarrassing medical complaints, just so he could compare his own ailments, or laugh at someone worse off than himself.

Most nights, though, he’d drift off, thinking about the past, the times he’d been almost happy. Eyes closed, he’d imagine himself sitting there with a vodka and coke in one hand and a Super King in the other (at one time Nicky smoked forty-a-day), kidding himself that he was getting drunk and befuddled by premium booze and tobacco smoke. All of which inevitably led to thoughts about his ex-wife, Barbara.

Nicky met Barb down The King’s Head while he was working for the posty (which, financially, was the best period of his life). At five-foot nine, she was a little on the tall side, but had a killer figure, was all stacked up in the tit department, with a skinny waist, long legs, and a bouncy blonde perm that always used to move about a lot when she walked.

What Nicky liked best, though, was how friendly and approachable Barb was, not like those snooty cunts at school or down the local nightclub. Whenever she saw him she said ‘Hello, babe’ and always took a drink when he offered her one. Most nights, she got plastered and left with some fella. And Nicky liked the idea of her being attainable, of not having to work too hard or be too charming or flash to pull her. He liked the idea, if nothing else, of a one-night stand, a bit of sex, a body next to his for a change.

One Wednesday, after a big dart match, he finally got Barb back to his flat. She was in a right state. Some fella had promised to marry her and take her off to Spain, somewhere down south where it was scorching hot. But after he’d got what he wanted he never called her again.

‘Why do I have such back luck with men, eh?’ she said, perched on the edge of Nicky’s bed, pulling her leather boots off, teary-mascara tracks running down her cheeks. ‘Why can’t I just get hitched like my friends, start a family, do things proper?’

Her words touched Nicky, ’cause, even though he didn’t like to admit it, that’s all he’d ever wanted from life: marriage, the little lady with his tea ready when he got home from work, a decent place to live, kids, kick abouts down the park.

‘Well, Barb, for what it’s worth, I’d marry you in a minute.’

And he went on to tell her about his job at the sorting office, how much money he could bring home during a good week, his prospects, how he’d work every hour God sent to provide her with a good home. He mentioned clothes and holidays, too, all the things he sensed Barbara valued most.

‘Really?’ she said, standing up and stepping out of a big pair of frilly French knickers. ‘You’d do all that for me?’

Six weeks later, they married in a registry office.

Six weeks after that, Nicky had had enough, enough of Barb’s drinking, staying out late at night, and coming home stinking of aftershave. More than once he told her he wanted a divorce. But then she’d gobble him off, or let him have his way with her, and he changed his mind, ’cause he was too scared about losing these brief, unsatisfying sexual pleasures, and he let Barb keep her allowance and a roof over her head.

‘Fucking bitch!’ Nicky muttered, nearly spilling his imaginary vodka and coke.

As for the best part of fifteen years, he turned a blind eye to her indiscretions, indiscretions that became brazen and more hurtful (Barb started bringing men back to the flat and screwing them on the settee while Nicky listened in the bedroom.)

‘You love it,’ she used to say to him in the morning. ‘Bet you whack yourself off, listening to a proper man giving me a proper seeing to–something you’ve never been able to manage.’

Only when her looks and figure started to desert her, when everything went south, never to return, did Nicky feel brave enough to tell her to sling her hook. He’d just been signed off work with his back and wanted a bit of peace and quiet; he didn’t want Barb moaning and pestering him all the time:

‘Give us a tenner for a pint bottle of vodka and ten B&H, babe.’

It drove him mad.

In the end he got his mate, Goosey, to help him bag up her stuff, sling it out in the hall, and change the locks.

‘Fucking slapper!’ Nicky muttered, sending the imaginary ashtray holding his imaginary cigarette crashing to the floor. ‘Now look what you’ve made me do!’

Around that time, Nicky had a handful of close friends, people like Goosey, people he’d grown up with who didn’t mind sponsoring the odd pint or pouch of baccy, people who’d invite him round to their flats for a bite to eat and a game of cards. But Nicky never had much money and he started to take advantage of their generosity, to take everything as a given, like he deserved it, and they stopped asking him round.

Years before, Nicky’s parents had pissed off abroad. They used to phone and send him the odd postcard, but as soon as his health started to fail, soon as he was down on his luck and asked if he could move out there, a “fresh start” after the divorce, he never heard another dicky from them. His only sibling, a sister who lived down Brighton, wouldn’t give him the time of day, either. Once he turned up on her doorstep and she pretended not to recognize him, got her fella–big bastard, looked like he pumped iron–to give him a right good pasting, just so he’d never come back again.

At night, when he lay in bed, Nicky couldn’t help thinking about people from the past: Barb (the only woman he’d ever fucked more than once), Goosey and the boys, his family, and wonder what they were up to now and if they ever thought about him.

‘Fucking cunts!’ he muttered, switching off the lamp. In the three months since he’d lived here, he’d not spoken to a single soul, bar his doctors or people behind counters in shops.

Up until recently, well, maybe a year or two, he’d dream at night about romping around with birds with big flabby tits, he’d dream of threesomes, of giving two teens with pigtails a right good screwing. But now all he dreamt about was his daily wank, of holding his own cock in his hand, like the reality of his situation had infected his unconscious, and it couldn’t lie to him in the way it used to anymore.

This appalled him so much, he decided to get a prostitute, to try and create a few new fantasies to keep him warm at night.

What a disaster!

For starters, she weren’t much to look at, chunky, about forty-ish, with these bossed-up eyes and greasy hair scraped back into a bunch. And she was so clinical and businesslike, reeling off a list of can and can’t dos:

‘No kissing on the mouth, no anal, no touching my face or hair…’

And she did nothing to conceal her contempt for Nicky, not just as a grubby punter, but as a human being whose touch repulsed her. As soon as they lay down on his bed, she gasped and put her hand over her mouth, like she was trying not to retch. All of which angered Nicky so much, he was determined to get his money’s-worth, to show her who was boss. But, inevitably, he came before he even got inside her and was so frustrated and ashamed he refused to pay, told her she’d have to wait until he was ready to try again. But she was a big girl, had been about, you could tell just by looking at her, and she launched into one, calling him all sorts, threatening him, punching him and pulling his hair, pinning him to the floor, grabbing his wallet and cleaning him out.

Weeks passed.

He felt lonelier, more detached than ever.

Then, one sunny morning, he saw this old boy with a little dog playing in the park; the bloke throwing a tennis ball, the dog chasing after it and bringing it back. And they looked so happy and content, part of things, that it put an idea in Nicky’s head.

When he got back to the flat, he rang the nearest dog home and asked if they had anything available.

‘Nothing big, like…I live alone and ain’t been in the best of health of late, but could look after a little terrier or something…yeah, I’d give it a good home…don’t you worry about that.’

That’s how the dog came into Nicky’s life.

It was a terrier-cross of some kind, with grey fur and big black watery eyes. He called it Edmonds ’cause its coat looked just like the game show host’s wavy salt and pepper mane. And for a stray or mistreated dog (Nicky wasn’t really listening to the bird at the kennels when she told him its life story), it was surprisingly affectionate. Soon as Nicky knelt down and put his hand out, it shuffled forward, gave it a quick sniff before licking it all over.

‘Looks like he’s taken a shine to you already, Mr Phelan.’

On the way back to the flat Nicky picked up a few tins of cheap dog food and one of those chewable treats. As they walked along the High Street he noticed how people, young birds, especially, didn’t seem so wary or repulsed by him now. Most looked at the little dog on its lead with a cooing expression on their faces. Some even smiled. It was as if Edmonds legitimized Nicky’s existence. Even the hoodies nodded out a friendly hello and told him how much they liked his new dog.

At first, Nicky liked having Edmonds around, liked the way it would jump on his bed in the mornings and lick his face, like it was genuinely pleased to see him, and wanted him to get up so they could spend the day together. He liked the idea of the dog being reliant on him for its food and water. It made him feel important, and instilled a respect in the animal which Nicky had never managed to instil in a human being before, especially not his ex-wife. Most of all he liked the way Edmonds would jump onto his lap at night, as if desperate for affection. This Nicky could relate to. It reminded him of all those nights he climbed on top of the snoring, pissed-up Barb, desperate for a fuck, for the release ejaculation always provided, for the hope of intimacy–a warm hand on his face, lips on his eyelids–only to be pushed away and told to ‘Fuck off!’

The dog also gave him an excuse to leave the flat more regularly. It made him feel normal, not like some dubious outsider anymore. On occasions he even stopped and talked to other dog owners, while Edmonds and some hound sniffed each other’s arses or balls or cracks or whatever.

‘Not a bad morning.’

‘No, not now the sun’s got through.’

That type of thing, everyday, commonplace chit-chat that had been denied Nicky for many years.

He felt human, respectable.

What changed, Nicky could never really say. One morning, when the dog leapt on his bed, he realized it wasn’t genuinely pleased to see him, that the lapping tongue and wagging tail were all part of an act, to make him get out of bed and put some food into its bowl. Everything that had come before it felt like a deception, like Barb gobbling him off just so he wouldn’t kick her out. What had started out as something sweet and affectionate, Nicky surmised, was nothing more than a dirty conniving trick to make him do something for the dog’s benefit.

That afternoon, during his daily wank, he caught the dog staring at him in a funny way, with what Nicky took as reproach in its eyes, as if it was judging him, disapproving of him masturbating like that. Then it dawned on Nicky: it wasn’t reproach in the dog’s watery eyes, it was pity.

‘What are you gawping at, you little fucker?’ And Nicky aimed a kick at the dog, sending it rolling and whimpering across the room.

That first kick felt so, so good.

From then on, Nicky invented all kinds of complaints against the dog, just so he could punish it.

‘You ain’t been chewing the remote again, have you, Edmonds?’ And he’d march over to the animal and give it a good solid clip around the ear.

Or he’d keep the dog indoors until it couldn’t help but piss in the flat.

‘You filthy fucker, Edmonds! How many times have I told you about doing your business in here, eh?’ And he’d really lose his temper, chasing the dog around, dragging it over to its little puddle of piss and rubbing its nose in it. ‘There! That’ll teach you, you cunt!’

His whole day now revolved around punishing the dog. He became obsessed, creative, sadistic, until he’d compiled an arsenal of torture devices: a lighter and a strap, a penknife.

When he caught the dog sniffing around his come-stain again, biting the carpet, chewing on his dried semen, Nicky took things to a whole other level. He grabbed the dog by the collar, picked it up and took it through to the bathroom. On the side of the bath stood a pot of Vaseline, in a plastic cup by the sink, Nicky’s toothbrush. With his free hand, Nicky unscrewed the cap from the Vaseline. He then took his toothbrush, dug it into the pot, smearing the end until covered with lubricant. Sitting on the toilet, he turned the trembling dog around and plunged the end of the toothbrush deep into its anus. The dog yelped, tried to snap and bite, but Nicky didn’t care, he forced the end of the toothbrush right into the animal, digging down as hard as he could.

Eventually these attacks took their toll. The dog started to limp. Its coat had scabs and burn marks on it. It wasn’t so playful or active anymore. And other dog owners in the park noticed.

‘Is there something wrong with Edmonds?’

Nicky, never good at thinking on his feet surprised himself. ‘I think he might have cancer.’

‘Oh no! And such an affectionate little fellow…so full of life.’

On his way up to his flat, one of the hoodies shouted out to Nicky:

‘Oi, geezer, what’s wrong with your dog?’

Panicked, Nicky pretended he hadn’t heard, and bolted up the last flight of stairs.

Now the dog was partially immobilized, helpless almost, Nicky easily manoeuvred it into position in front of the TV when Countdown started, and got it to lick his erect penis and balls, right underneath, all the way to his arsehole. When he ejaculated, he made the dog lap away at the tip of his penis, where it was most sensitive.

‘Cor, that’s it, Barb,’ he mouthed, eyes scrunched-up, ‘mop up every last drop, babe.’

Then he petted and stroked the dog until Deal or No Deal started, whispering to it, telling him how sorry he was for his violent outbursts.

‘Look, Barb, you’ve gotta understand, I’m doing these things for your own good. You can’t go running around like you do…you’ve gotta learn to respect me.’

After the tender moment had passed, Nicky sat in his armchair and watched his favourite most hated game show. Towards the end, when a gormless-looking bloke in a wheelchair turned down a generous offer of twenty-four grand, Nicky could barely contain himself.

‘You greedy fucker!’ he cried. ‘Twenty-four grand! What I couldn’t do with twenty-four grand!’

And without thinking, so natural had the beatings become, he started to stomp all over the dog, kicking it around the flat like a football. It felt good, to have this kind of outlet, to work off his pent-up frustrations, to feel power over something, that he became oblivious to the dog’s whimpering. Only when the doorbell rang, and someone started hammering on the door, did Nicky stop and realize where he was and what he was doing.

The bloodied dog lay prone on the floor, not breathing.

The doorbell rang again.

‘Oi, geezer, what are you doing in there? We heard you lumping around…we heard your dog crying…If you’ve been beating it, I swear we’ll fuck you right up!’


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