Beneath the Eastway, alongside the River Lee, a man is slumped against one of the thick concrete pillars. He’s not dead, or dying, he’s simply resting. A long beard extends from his shaggy crop of hair and hangs down around his face; the ends clump together like stalactites and slowly rise and fall on his chest as he breathes. Around him is wrapped a filthy brown coat that looks like it might have once been worth something and on his feet are similarly tinged boots that have holes in, but still provide protection between his soles and the unyielding ground. The man gazes blankly at two boys on skateboards attempting to turn this dreary underworld into a playground. They steal the odd glance back at him, but the sight repulses them and they try to keep their focus on the task at hand. After all, how are they to know that those tired eyes belong to Chase Taylor, who was once the 462nd richest man in the world? Thanks to an aircraft leasing company he inherited from his father, Chase once had £2.4bn to his name. Now he has nothing and he only has himself to blame. Well, himself and Rose McKnight.
Rose was a powerful woman. She wasn’t breathtakingly beautiful and her hair looked like she’d cut it herself. She didn’t even have a wealthy family or a high-paying job like the majority of Chase’s clique, but she had a smile that could melt hearts and cut glass in one flash. Some referred to her as a player, others preferred not to refer to her at all, but everyone kept their distance except Chase, who found this wild card utterly bewitching. The two had met uneventfully outside a café after Rose jabbed Chase with her umbrella. He was ready to unleash his fury until he saw the culprit break into a smile, so he asked for her number instead. He didn’t worry about being rejected, Chase rarely got rejected.
On their first date they’d gone to the Heron Tower and as they rode up in the glass elevator, which operated on the outside of the building, Rose had pressed her nose and hands up against the cool surface, keeping a firm eye on the street dropping quickly below them. Chase had found this mostly endearing and only a fraction odd. As they sat down to eat Rose had asked Chase if he enjoyed the works of Ballard. Her fork had been paused midway to her mouth, a delicate piece of fish clinging to the prongs. Chase, who had barely picked up a book since school, informed her that he had no idea who this Ballard character was and noticed a flicker of disappointment in her eyes before she swiftly changed the subject.
It didn’t take long before Rose and Chase became a large part of each other’s lives and after a month they decided to take their fist trip together. They had planned a relaxing stay in the Peak District, but on the drive up they’d got into an accident. One of the tyres on Chase’s car blew, they spun out and hit a barrier on the M1. Neither of them were hurt, but Chase’s car was written off and the two of them had to spend the night in a Travelodge near Leicester. It was bare and basic, but they had a bed, which they put to good use. In fact that night Rose’s sexual appetite was insatiable. They’d barely slept by the time replacement car came for them the next morning.
As the next few months went by, Chase noticed a dip in Rose’s carnal enthusiasm. It hadn’t since hit the same peak it had on the night of the accident and when questioned, Rose admitted she couldn’t summon the same rush that the brush with death had afforded her. So that night they went out in another of Chase’s cars with the intention of wrecking it. He unbuckled his trousers before he put his seatbelt on and headed for the country roads of Surrey, where they could gain speed and up-end the car without affecting anyone else. As they accelerated down the pitch dark lanes, Rose placed one hand beneath her skirt and the other under the waistband of Chase’s boxers. He was scared, but aroused and kept his foot on the pedal.
Chase remembers that time of his life fondly, even though it spelt the end of the world as he knew it. The last time he saw Rose she was in a hospital bed in an induced coma. Chase broke down after that and gave up on life. Not life altogether, other wise he would have offed himself years ago, but the life he hadn’t worked that hard to acquire in the first place. The money quickly disappeared, or rather he was quickly disappeared from the money. The board of his company, who were largely appointed by his late father, voted him out as soon as they could. Chase stopped paying any bills, which for him were high and plentiful. Eventually he stopped going home completely and took to walking the lengths of dual carriageways across the city to get a rush from the roaring traffic that no drug could ever give him. He drank, sure, but not for fun or to forget, simply for something to do and to keep warm. As far as he knew none of his friends tried looking for him, but he didn’t care. Something inside him changed that night on the dim country roads and he can never go back.
Now he slumps because his legs are tired and he’ll wait beneath the Eastway until he can muster the energy to continue following it. Passersby quicken their pace when they see him, the teenagers, inured to poverty, carry on skating and every rumble from the road above sends shivers of delight through the poor man’s body.
Originally published in Shelf Heroes, Issue C.