The Standalones

Chapter Forty

Ken Preston

8 July 2024

Silhouette of a rock band against a spotlight and the words The Standalones

Ratzo’s feet were cold, and he was sure his toes were starting to wrinkle, they’d been in the bucket of water for so long. Wrinkled toes were the least of his worries, though. At the forefront of his mind was the gaffer tape binding his arms and legs to the wooden chair, the tape over his mouth, and Frankie Henderson standing in front of him and casually holding a live cattle prod like it was just a normal day at the office.

Which for Frankie Henderson it probably was.

The twins had ambushed Ratzo not long after he left Euston. Ratzo had been so caught up in his thoughts that he hadn’t noticed the twins until they were on either side of him, and he was powerless in their strong grip. They had tumbled him into the back of a van and brought him here to this warehouse, where they had gaffer taped him to the chair. Ratzo had been left sitting alone in silence for what seemed like an age.

And then Frankie Henderson had arrived. The twins had pulled Ratzo’s shoes and socks off and placed his feet in the bucket of water. Frankie had made a big show of producing the cattle prod, uncoiling the cable, and plugging it in. Just to prove a point, and probably because he enjoyed it, Frankie had prodded one of the twins with it. The cattle prod buzzed, and the twin yelped.

Now here they were. One touch of that cattle prod in the bucket of water and Ratzo would be electrocuted.

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“Now Ratzo, you and me, we’ve known each other a long time, haven’t we?” Frankie said.

Unable to speak because of the tape over his mouth, Ratzo simply nodded enthusiastically.

“And I like to think I’ve been good to you,” Frankie continued. “I’ve looked after you like you were a son, I have. Wouldn’t you agree?”

Ratzo nodded again.

“And you’ve had no complaints, have you?”

Ratzo shook his head as enthusiastically as he had been nodding it.

“But, like any family, I suppose we’ve had our good and bad times, haven’t we?”

Nod, nod, nod. Or should that have been a shake of the head? Too late now, it was done.

“We’ve always made up though, haven’t we, Ratzo? We’ve always stayed … well, maybe not friends exactly, but friendly. Loyal, right?”

This one was easier; nod, nod, nod.

Frankie sighed. “But now this, Ratzo. This … mess with the money you owe me.” He shook his head sadly.

Ratzo stared in silence at Frankie. He couldn’t decide whether to nod his head in agreement or shake it to say it was nothing to do with him. In the end, he did neither.

Frankie sighed again. He was obviously very upset.

“Take that gag off him,” he said.

One of the twins, the one who hadn’t been given a shock with the cattle prod, stepped forward and ripped the gaffer tape off Ratzo’s mouth.

Ratzo sucked in a lungful of air. “Frankie, listen, it wasn’t my fault. I’m telling you, I had the money, I had it and I was going to bring it right back to you, but—”

Ratzo clamped his mouth shut as Frankie raised the cattle prod and waved it from side-to-side.

“Now, now, Ratzo, let’s not get all hysterical, shall we?” Frankie smiled. It wasn’t a pleasant smile. “Besides, I have some good news for you.”

“You do?”

Frankie nodded. “I’ve decided to forgive and forget all about that money. I’ve realised now that expecting someone like you to be given such a responsibility and deal with it like a man was a big mistake on my part.”

Ratzo swallowed. Frankie never admitted to making mistakes. He didn’t like where this was going.

“So, you don’t need to worry about it any longer.”

“Thanks, Frankie,” Ratzo said. “That’s very good of you.”

Frankie Henderson made a big show of sighing again. “The problem is, Ratzo, due to your incompetence it seems that far too many people know about my business, and my current cash flow situation, than I would like. I am, as you well know, a very private man.”

Ratzo nodded.

“There’s Danny and Fred for starters. I’m not worried about them, though, the lads can sort them out.” Frankie waved the cattle prod from side-to-side as he thought. “And then there’s that pop group, what are they called again?”

“The Standalones,” Ratzo muttered.

“That’s right, The Standalones.” Frankie shook his head. “What a stupid name. What’s music come to, eh? It’s not like it was when I were their age. Cliff Bennett and the Rabble Rousers, now they were a band. Ain’t that right, boys?”

“Yes, Frankie,” said the twins in unison.

“But now we’ve got all this synthesiser pop, and boys wearing makeup, and girls acting like they’re boys. It’s all very confusing. Makes me sick it does.” Frankie paused, as though he’d lost his train of thought. “Where was I? Oh yes, The Standalones. They know all about my money. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if they’d spent some of it. That bag of cash has been in so many different hands I can’t be sure there’s even any of it left!”

 Ratzo nodded again. He couldn’t think of anything to say that would appease Frankie. He might even end up making things worse. And so, for the first time in his life, Ratzo made the wise decision to keep his mouth shut.

“But I don’t want you worrying about The Standalones, Ratzo, they’re not your problem anymore.” Frankie paused and gazed longingly at the cattle prod, as though he couldn’t wait to start using it. “There is one other person who knows all about my money, though. Someone I need you to make sure stays quiet.”

A cold chill settled in Ratzo’s stomach.

Frankie leaned in close. “Lexi Lost.”

Ratzo flinched at the sound of Lexi’s name.

“Now, Ratzo, I think I’ve been very generous forgiving you of all your mistakes, haven’t I?”

Ratzo nodded.

“And me and the lads, we’ll clear up the mess, won’t we, lads?”

“Yes, Frankie,” said the twins in unison.

“But Lexi, I’m going to leave that for you to sort out. She needs silencing Ratzo, before she goes blabbing to anyone about me and my hard-earned money. She needs silencing permanently, know what I mean?”

This was a perfect moment for Ratzo to nod his head in agreement, but he couldn’t. His head remained locked in position as he stared into Frankie’s dark, soulless eyes.

“And if you don’t take care of Lexi like I’ve asked, well, you know the consequences, don’t you?”

With a cold, humourless smile, Frankie Henderson opened up his hand and dropped the cattle prod into the metal bucket with a splash. Ratzo seized up, waiting for the agony of two hundred and forty volts raging through his system.

Nothing happened.

One of the twins held up the other end of the cable, disconnected from its electrical source.

Frankie laughed maniacally in Ratzo’s face and the twins joined in.

Ratzo closed his eyes.

Could his life actually get any worse?