Dogs everywhere, freaking him out. He hadn’t felt this way since bumping into the Monkey Man on Kings Heath High Street, Birmingham. Then, it was a deranged cabaret act at work: exhibitionism, British style, designed to rouse the masses from their torpor without succeeding, once again. Now, the surreal vision snarled at him with realistic intent.
The dog baring its teeth in front of him looked uncertain, so he took a run at it, growling so that it galloped away. It yelped back to its pack, lurking among a complex of dilapidated buildings. Above from his room in the monolithic Soviet-era hotel, they had looked very intimidating. Eye-to-eye, amid the thawing snow, they appeared a lot worse. You had to see them to believe them then confront them. And that he’d done, though he shook after realising the madness of it.
Steve walked down to the beach, his pocket heavy with the beer he’d bought for the occasion. The thought of its cold refreshment quickened his step, as did the slush-adulterated mud; the sound of the waves against a January shore too. The fact that that he’d just faced down a feral mutt made him need it that little bit more as well.
Sitting on a rock near the oncoming sea, Steve sipped at his drink and reflected on the brief encounter with that bloke with the thick beard, walking along pushing a toy ape in a pram. He’d been wearing a Sergeant Lonely Hearts’ Club jacket – a la The Beatles – while indulging in his parade, which involved blaring out a sixties’ ditty on a portable stereo. The passing public had been at turns aloof, amused and appalled. Steve, thinking that he had been the unconventional loner in the area until then, had stood there in genuine shock.
Then again, this was far from ‘normal’, Steve decided, downing his Ukrainian beer as Black Sea froth raged towards his toes. He looked back up at his 13-storey hotel, where the bar-maid had told him he was one of only 35 guests in its 2,000 rooms. Aside from the cleaners, Steve hadn’t seen anyone on the 12th floor where he’d been put. But he got an odd, chilly pleasure out of that. The lift would rattle as it descended to the lobby, as if at any moment it might break away and hurtle him to doom but Steve enjoyed this as well. Strange indeed.
He’d come to Odessa because his marriage had fallen to pieces and then so had he. Redundancy and drink had contributed to the grand demise, not unusually. There were brides to be had here, he’d been told and he’d gone to agencies in pursuit.
One woman was lined up for the early evening, so he knew the first beer needed to be the last, but maybe not. Who gave a fuck at this juncture? She was just a gold-digging bitch, in all probability, he said to himself, chugging back the last of his ale. The hotel bar beckoned.
He struggled his way up a slope, wishing he was the Monkey Man, agile as the name suggests, resplendent in his paraphernalia, rather than the dour figure he cut right now. The stray dogs looked upon him as if discarded prey. Not someone they would hasten to tear apart. Pity for them. Pity for him.
Colin Graham is a Birmingham-born writer/journalist who has spent a large slice of his life living in Eastern Europe, with stints in Russia, Poland and Serbia. He has had short stories published in Thrillers, Killers & Chillers, A Twist of Noir and Radgepacket 5. His non-fiction has been published in The Guardian, The Independent-on-Sunday and History Today, among a number of other journals.
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