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42

B ernie Maplethorpe laughed and slapped the bar with the palm of his hand. Thats funny, Chance, thats a bloody hoot, he said. Where did you hear that?

On the internet, said Chance. He nodded at the beer pumps. Do you want another pint?

Why dont we toss for it? said Maplethorpe. You can use your magic fifty-pence piece.

Its not magic, Bernie, said Chance.

You said it made decisions for you.

It chooses, said Chance. Theres a difference. I give it two choices, and fate decides the outcome. He clapped Bernie on the back. Anyway, Im done for the night. Do you want a lift home?

Youre driving?

Youre starting to sound like my wife, said Chance. What have I had, three pints? Thats nothing.

It puts you over the limit, said Bernie.

Now youre definitely starting to sound like the missus, laughed Chance. Ill take it easy and Ill stick to the back roads. He slid off the bar stool. Now do you want a lift or not?

Yeah, go on.

Bernie headed out of the pub with his new-found friend. Chance took his keys from his pocket and clicked the fob. The lights of a black Range Rover flashed.

Bloody hell, mate, thats a flash motor, said Bernie. What did you say you do for a living?

I didnt, said Chance, opening the car door and climbing in. I wheel and deal, duck and dive, anything that makes a quick buck.

How much would a car like this cost? asked Bernie, getting in and settling into the buttery-soft leather seat.

A lot, said Chance. He grinned across at Bernie. But I nicked it.

You did not.

Won it in a poker game, said Chance, starting the engine.

Bernie laughed. Im never sure when youre joking and when youre not, he said.

You cant take life too seriously, Bernie, thats what I always say.

Ten minutes later Chance brought the car to a stop outside Bernies neat three-bedroom semi.

Do you want to come and meet the wife? asked Bernie. Ive beer in the fridge.

Chance took his fifty-pence coin from his pocket and tossed it. It came up heads. Yeah, why not? he said.

Youre serious? You let the coin decide whether or not to come in for a beer?

Chance nodded. You should try it, Bernie. Its liberating. He climbed out of the Range Rover.

The two men walked together up the path to the house. Bernie unlocked the door. Honey, its me, he called. Ive brought a friend with me.

A young woman with permed hair and square-framed glasses appeared from the sitting room. She was overweight and wearing a denim dress that was at least two sizes too small for her. She had a face that was almost square, with several double chins, and flabby forearms that wobbled as she walked down the hallway.

This is Maggie, my better half, said Bernie, hugging her. Maggie, this is Chance.

Have you been getting my husband drunk? asked Maggie in a strident Belfast accent.

Chance flashed her a disarming smile. I dont think he needed any help, he said. His smile widened. Hes not drunk, Maggie. Two beers, thats all we had.

But now were home and dry Ill crack open a couple of cans, said Bernie, heading for the kitchen. Take a seat, Chance.

Bernie, your dinners in the oven, whined his wife. She sighed theatrically. He always does this to me. Says hell be home and then stays in the pub.

It was my fault, Maggie, said Chance. Im sorry. Ill just head off.

Dont you dare, said Bernie, returning with two cans of Harp lager. He tossed one to Chance. Youve got time for a beer. You can tell Maggie the joke about the two Arabs and the camel. He put his arm around Chances shoulders and ushered him into the sitting room.

There were two grubby sofas either side of a cheap wooden coffee table piled high with celebrity magazines and mail-order catalogues. Bernie pushed Chance down onto one sofa and dropped onto the other.

Maggie pushed her husband to the side and sat down next to him. What sort of name is Chance, anyway? she said, squinting at him through her glasses.

Chance smiled amiably. Its more of a nickname. He put his can of lager onto the coffee table, took out his fifty-pence coin, kissed it softly, then tossed it into the air. He caught it with his right hand and slapped it down onto the back of his left, then took his right hand away and smiled again.

Whats he doing? Maggie asked her husband.

He uses the coin to make decisions, explained Bernie.

He what? Maggie frowned. What sort of decisions?

Chance was already getting to his feet. He had the coin in his left hand and he reached into his jacket with his right.

Are you going, mate? asked Bernie. He grinned at his wife. The coin probably told him it was bedtime.

Chances right hand appeared, holding a cut-throat razor. He flicked it open and then smoothly slid it across Bernies throat. For a second there was just a thin red line across the skin and then blood spurted right and left as his mouth dropped open in surprise. The can of lager fell from his hands and rolled across the carpet. His hands went slowly up to his neck, bathed in glistening blood, but they barely reached his chest before he slumped back on the sofa.

Maggie stared at her dying husband, her eyes wide open. Her whole body was juddering as if she was in the grip of an electric shock.

Chance smiled at her. Do you feel lucky, Maggie? he asked.

She frowned in confusion. Her mouth moved but no words came out. A deep groan came from somewhere deep in Bernies chest and then he went still. Blood continued to pour from the gaping wound in his neck and it pooled in his lap.

Chance winked and tossed the coin high in the air.

Later, as he stood in the shower washing off the blood of Bernie Maplethorpe and his tiresome wife, Chance felt the water go suddenly scalding hot. He yelped and jumped out of the shower and then yelped again when he saw the girl and her dog standing in the doorway. He bowed his head and covered his private parts with his hands. Mistress Proserpine, he said.

I can see your coin is still coming up heads, said Proserpine. You made a right mess downstairs.

The coin guides me, Mistress Proserpine, he said. I am always grateful for your gift.

I need you to do something for me, Chance.

Anything, Mistress Proserpine, he said, going down on one knee. My life is yours.

And your soul, she said. Lets not forget your soul.


| Midnight | c