The monster was on the loose again. How very careless she thought. You'd have thought they'd have learned their lesson by now. All those dumb provincial villagers running around. Still the scene always made her feel safer somehow. It was worth it to know there were still some demons out there. All around her the walls flickered wild with lack of sound. The phone shone black against black by her side. It was the kind of antique model used back before colour was invented. She knew that it wouldn't be long now. A ring that shivered on its hook like a homeless orphan;
"Is this a wrong number?"
Straight off she knew the voice. Hard, controlled, unblinking. She had a memory for voices the same way that other people had for faces. His name was Hall Small, he used to be a bouncer. A couple of years back he'd been involved in a fight that put him in a coma for six months. There were no witnesses. When he came round he had lost his memory. So sad, she smiled to herself;
"Yes, that's right."
"I saw your ad. Confidential conversation, all topics considered. Does that include people."
"Whatever you like."
There was a velvet pause. In the background she could hear the sound of a cat purring in its sleep. All at once she could picture the scene in her head. The unmade single bed and the litter of scattered betting slips strewn on the floor. Walls without windows, a dirty attic skylight.
"I'd like to talk about a girl."
"That's no problem, does she have a name?"
"Her name ... is Jocelyn Brown."
The girl who had it all. It was a subject she was well acquainted with. Looks and money, money and looks. Jocelyn Brown was a model and an heiress all in one. Around town she was everyone's smile. No-one would ever admit to having a bad word to say about her. But then that was how it had started. A wrong number that tole you whatever you wanted to know.
"What about her?"
"Does she have a good heart do you think?"
That's a new one she thought to herself. Hearts rarely came into these things at the best of times. Still it was all part of the service.
"Jocelyn Brown has a heart of gold."
"How do you know?"
"Because I've seen it."
She heard him cough away nervously and then waited while he rapidly stubbed out a cigarette on a plastic ashtray.
"Surely that's not possible."
"I know, don't ask me how they did it. It was in some society magazine I think, a couple of years ago, she couldn't have been much older than sixteen back then. She was holding it in her hand. Pure 24 carat gold. They said it was a groundbreaking operation. Turns out she was born with a heart condition that just got worse over the years. The doctors did tests and said the only thing that could save her was a full transplant. They say her father paid over five million pounds to have it made. Looked just like one of those Faberge eggs, even had her initials inscribed in diamonds on its casing. Still like they say a thing of beauty and all that. I don't know if you'd call it a good heart as such. Is that what you meant?"
The monster shook its head sadly. It was looking at its huge killer hands as though trying to remember who they belonged to. Basking in the blazing black and white sunshine, held at a distance, as though long ago they'd dropped something precious and rare;
"It can't have been her then."
His voice seemed close, a rub of stubble on her cheek.
"The girl I was waiting for, the night that they bloody murdered me."
"You don't mean you don't remember."
"No, I mean they bloody murdered me."
Outside she could hear an anonymous laughter. The simplicity of its sound was violence she could only sense. It was a Friday night and in town another weekend was about to begin. It was the magic hour of miracles and missing persons. She had seen for herself the dead rising from the grave, always the first to arrive, always the same bewildered look of wonder on their faces. Couples humming lightheaded through October gold streets. Smile after smile of the same delicious stupor. A sugar trail of sweets served in silver spoons. There, right at the centre of the honeycomb, the girl with the heart of gold;
"You mean murdered metaphorically?"
"I don't know, is that the same as someone using their bare hands?"
There was no need to ask anything else. She understood exactly what he meant;
"No, I meant it was a murder that didn't actually kill you. It was more something inside of you that dies. Something to do with Jocelyn Brown?"
She listened as he inhaled reflectively. The volume of his room was turned way up off any scale. His cat was now a tiger, a deafening purr in the darkness;
"I know someone was waiting for me that night. We was good together. But I think this was another girl. It was just the name rang a bell when I heard."
The monster was cornered in close up. Such a sad silly face she thought. Five stitches on its forehead like five kisses that knotted together a mind with no thought for its own destruction.
"Couple of weeks ago a friend of mine told me some girl called Jocelyn Brown had been asking how I was. Turned out she was very concerned about how I was doing. That's why I asked you if you thought she had a good heart. They had to operate on me too you know."
"You see it just so happens I was born with a similar condition. You were right about the operation it was groundbreaking, so groundbreaking in fact that before they'd try it with a heart of gold they thought they would try it out on someone else."
The dry rustle of a drink poured into a paper cup.
"But then five million pounds is a lot of money even if the real thing did cost twice as much. So instead of gold they used lead, you know just to test the theory so to speak. Took me six months to come back to life. Wasn't supposed to happen. I lost my left leg below the knee with the poisoning. One of the filters they put in my artery broke down. Do you think it's the same with a heart of gold?"
For a moment silence seemed to swallow them whole like a whale.
"Did you tell anyone else?"
"They think I don't remember. They think I'm just some big dumb freak. But I know what they say about me. That's why I called a wrong number I..."
The phone was suddenly disconnected. When she checked his number had been witheld. The monster was staring her straight in the face, mouth open as though it were about to say something. She sighed and got up to get ready and go out. Her ride would already be on its way. A few days later she read in the local press a man in his late thirties had been found hanging in his flat. There was no note. The coroner recorded an open verdict. So sad smiled the girl with the heart of gold.
At that moment the phone rang.