Billy Spider is admitted, via A&E at Guy’s Hospital, London, to a vacant bed in a mixed surgical ward. He’s been in a fight. He refuses to sleep in the bed he’s offered; he’s a regular at Guy’s, has a temper and is thus allowed to sleep under his bed in a blanket. He’s eighty years old and can’t remember where he was born; he only knows his date of birth, 1896, because it’s tattooed on his penis. His body is entirely covered in tattoos; his head is decorated with a tattoo of a huge spider.
Henry Naylor, another patient, gruffly hails a passing nurse from his bed, Oi, you, nurse, over here.
Shush, she says putting a finger to her lips. Be quiet; it’s the middle of the night; you’ll be waking patients up.
What’s that ugly bastard doing sleeping on the floor? Henry growls.
He can be violent, Henry.
Violent? That pip-squeak?
Just leave him be. He’s doing you no harm.
What’s his name?
He calls himself Billy Spider.
Funny bloody name, that is.
He worked for Al Capone.
Get off, will yer?
He says he was at the St Valentine’s Day Massacre.
Pull the other one. So, what’s he doing in here?
He’s concussed – he’s in and out of here all the time from fights.
Can’t you two shut up? Some of us are trying to sleep, a female voice calls from behind an adjacent curtain.
Try and get some sleep, Henry, the nurse whispers.
The ward is quiet but not silent; there is no such thing as silence in hospital wards at night: patients snore, turn in their sleep, mutter in pain, while, in the background, there’s an almost imperceptible continuous tinnitus-like ringing. The only sources of light are emergency call lights glimmering from above each bedhead.
Henry’s bored. He eases his six foot eight frame out of bed, goes to Billy and nudges the sleeping man with his foot. Billy wakes up, rolls out of his den and stands in front of Henry, who looms above him.
Great inking, mate. Fancy a chat? Henry whispers.
Billy points to the doors at the end of the ward that lead to the stairs.
On the stairwell, Henry says, You worked for Capone. I worked for the Krays. Makes us brothers-in-arms.
I’m Naylor by name and I’m The Nailer by profession. Heard of me?
Billy shakes his head.
It’s a pun. I dealt with miscreants. I’d nail ‘em to doors so the twins could have a word in their ear. Some died of fright. Some bled out. What do you think of that, then?
Billy opens his mouth and folds down his lower lip.
What’s it say? Henry asks, peering forward to see the tattoo.
It says, Fuck off! Billy’s fist smashes into Henry’s groin.
Henry tumbles backwards down the stairs.
Back in the ward, under his bed, Billy smiles, thinking, Brothers-in-arms? Tosser! He’s soon fast asleep wrapped in a blanket.
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© Phil Cosker 2020
Phil Cosker has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs & Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work. All rights reserved; no part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted by any mean, electronic, mechanical, photocopying or otherwise without the prior permission of the author.