Jump to Main ContentJump to Primary Navigation
Top

Black Beauty By Stuart Neville

neville.jpg

“Play something.”

“I can’t.”

“You should,” he says.

The guitar sits there on the floor between us, nestled in its case, inky black. Light from the bedsit’s bare bulb reflects on its curved face.

“I can’t.”

I cough, spitting blood through broken teeth.

“Why not?”

He hunkers down next to me. Sixty, I guess. Strong. Big shoulders. Scarred face. He takes a pair of wire cutters from his pocket.

Snip, snip.

I’m trying not to cry.

“I can’t,” I say.

“Then why did you take it?”

“I thought I could sell it,” I say.

He points. “Do you know what that is?”

I shake my head.

“Course you don’t,” he says. “That’s a 1957 Gibson Les Paul Custom. All original. They call it the Black Beauty. I can’t tell you what it’s worth now, that doesn’t matter, but I can tell you I worked my arse off to buy it for my boy.

And it was worth every drop of blood and sweat to see him play it, to see him make his living off it, so he didn’t have to do the things I’ve done.”

“I’m sorry,” I say, but I know it’s too late.

“Sorry? Sorry you robbed it off him? Or sorry for putting him in hospital?”

“Just… sorry.”

“Then show me.”

“Show you what?”

Closer now. I feel his breath.

“Show me how bad you wanted it. Show me how much you wanted to play it. Look at it. It’s beautiful, isn’t it?”

I look at the guitar. I look at my fingers. I look at the wire cutters in his hand.

Snip, snip, snip.

“Pick it up and play it,” he says. “Play it well, or…”

Snip.

I reach for the guitar, touch the strings with my fingertips.

The last thing they’ll ever feel.

Ratlines by Stuart Neville is out now (Vintage)

(Image: Rex)

Related

horowitz.jpg

The ShortList crime challenge

sallis.jpg

Greatest Hits By James Sallis

horowitz.jpg

Three hundred by Anthony Horowitz

Comments

More

Michael Bond, the creator of Paddington Bear, dies age 91

He brought joy to millions of childhoods

by Gary Ogden
28 Jun 2017

Everyone's taking the piss out of Brooklyn Beckham's photography book

Are they being too harsh on the kid?

by Carl Anka
26 Jun 2017

The 30 most memorable literary fathers

These book dads certainly left an impression

16 Jun 2017

I judged the International Booker Prize shortlist by their covers

So the saying doesn't go

by Gary Ogden
28 Apr 2017

Women fancy men who read and this is the book that impresses them most

But it doesn't work the other way

by Tom Mendelsohn
28 Apr 2017

The physical Amazon bookstore is using really cool ways to group books

Online meets the real world

by Dave Fawbert
03 Apr 2017

14 new books you need to read in April

The best picks for your reading pile this month

by Dan Dalton
31 Mar 2017

This bookshop is giving clickbait titles to all the classics

"Teenage girl tricked boyfriend into killing himself" - anyone?

by Emily Reynolds
31 Mar 2017

These bored book store employees deserve all the Instagram followers

Bookface goes French at Librairie Mollat

by Dave Fawbert
21 Mar 2017

Philip Pullman has just saved us all from Real Life

Here's what we know about 'Book of Dust'

15 Feb 2017