Judas Pig Part 15

'And others like him. I been abused all my f.u.c.king life. That's why I ended up on the f.u.c.king meat rack.'

'Working wiv yer old man?'

'Nah, that was Smithfield, Deaffy. The old man worked up the meat market.'

'Wot's the difference?'

'f.u.c.king h.e.l.l, Deaffy, don't you know nothing? You go to the meat market to buy dead animals, and to the meat rack to buy live boys.'

'Well I never knew that. I always fought yer could look after yerself, boy?'

But before I can reply to Deaffy's last question, I have to take my eye off him in order to negotiate the Brighton turn-off. And by the time I look back into my rear-view mirror, it's too late, he's gone, just like that. Disappeared into thin air like a ghost in the machine. In a mounting panic and with a flush of cold sweat trickling down my spine, I slam down on the brakes and turn once more to look over the back seat. But all there is is air between me and the back window, so I just turn back to the front again and carry on driving alone, because that's the way it's always been. Just when I need someone to pour my heart out to, I'm back on my jack with not a friend in the world whose shoulder I can cry on. But it's true what my old uncle said. There ain't never going to be an end to my misery. No matter how much dough I earn or no matter how much dough I spend, it's always going to be the same, it always has been. For every six days of black clouds all I ever get is one day of clear blue skies. It just ain't worth it. Going to bed every night just to get back up in the morning to deal with the same old s.h.i.t, day in and day out. The buck's got to stop here. And if I'm honest with myself I was born to be alone. Marriage? Never wanted to get married, 'cos I never wanted to get divorced. And kids? f.u.c.k that, I ain't never wanted no kids. Would have broke my heart if they came out all f.u.c.ked-up because of all the wrong I've done. Bad karma and all that s.h.i.t. And besides, it wouldn't be right to pa.s.s my bad seed on to some poor innocent little b.a.s.t.a.r.d who ain't never done n.o.body no wrong.

DELROY JUST HAS this bad, bad feeling deep down inside, that the white BMW with the blacked-out windows parked outside the tower block where he lives is waiting for him. Call it what you will, gut instinct or just plain paranoia, but something don't feel right. So instead of stopping at his own motor he puts his hands in his pockets, lowers his head and walks right on past it. His first thought being, Spud Murphy. And his second, f.u.c.king leggit! But fear has already kicked in and clenched his heart tight in its clammy glove, squeezing out every last drop of his bottle and paralysing his running muscles. And it's all he can now do to keep breathing regular and carrying on walking, slowly struggling to place one leaden foot in front of the other. It's at times like this he wishes he had the b.o.l.l.o.c.ks to take Billy's advice and carry a gun. But on the other hand he's honest enough to admit to himself that even if he was packing, he ain't got the a.r.s.ehole to shoot a sparrow, let alone a human being. In fact, the one and only time he ever pulled a gun on someone, an absolute f.u.c.king no one, it was in a nightclub and they laughed in his mooey. So, he threw the tool away and then had it straight on his toes out of the back door. And even to this day he still gets the p.i.s.s taken out of him for that little turnout.

So, instead what he does is just clench his teeth, clench his hands deep in his pockets and moves on, staring down at the ground and scanning the chewing gum blobs while trying to look as nonchalant as possible, and all the while hoping and praying that it's a case of mistaken ident.i.ty, or perhaps just someone who's lost and needs directions. He thinks about giving out a little whistle as he walks, just to let the mush in the motor, now closely tailing him, think that he don't give a f.u.c.k, but then he remembers he can't whistle to save his life. So he strolls on in silence, heading as discreetly as possible to a nearby patch of waste-ground that leads to an adjoining council estate, knowing that if he can just make it to the broken fence that separates the two, he can hop over it in the knowledge he'll be as safe as houses, because cars can't drive onto it. Well, that's the wish, but in gangster-land wishes very rarely come true. And he ain't but a few yards from the safety of the outer lip of the waste-ground's verge, when his heart sinks and tightens further, as that all too familiar expensive and silky whoosh, that all top of the range motors make when their owners step on the gas, fills his ears. He then swallows hard as the BMW materialises in the corner of his left eye before screeching to halt by his side. And now he's begging on high for the ground below to open up and swallow him whole, and spit him back out in Australia perhaps, or anywhere. Anywhere but f.u.c.king here.

'Delroy!' shouts out a familiar voice from out of the wound-down window on the driver's side of the motor.

'Oh f.u.c.k, it's you, Danny,' says Delroy, half-smiling as he turns to face the car, and with what's left of his heart now in his mouth. 'Thank f.u.c.k, I thought it was Spud Murphy.'

'Get in the f.u.c.king car,' growls Danny, at which point Delroy makes to walk around to the pa.s.senger side. 'In the f.u.c.king back,' growls Danny again.

'OK,' says Delroy, meekly.

'Where the f.u.c.k is he?' growls Danny once more, as Delroy slips into the back and shuts the door, and Danny then slams his foot down on the gas pedal and does a U-turn, before steering the motor expertly through two metal poles that make up the entrance of the residents' car park that runs two floors deep under the tower block where Delroy lives.

'Who you talking about?' says Delroy, now starting to s.h.i.t bricks as the motor descends the first ramp and the natural daylight disappears, to be replaced by nothing except for the occasional, poorly-glowing interior car park wall light. The majority of which have been smashed to smithereens by local sc.u.m.

As Danny glides the car down further ramps into the murky depths of the second floor, Delroy's imagination starts running riot, computing crazily through a million and one would-be answers and excuses and possible alibis. But he don't know which one to choose in order to keep Danny on his side. So he just sits there silent and dumb and on the verge of tears, and thinking, how at this very moment he'd gladly walk away from all the dough he's due out of the Spud Murphy coup, just to be back upstairs in the real world and not a prisoner driving downwards into a stinking blackness normally only used by s.k.a.n.kyard junkies, who haunt the gaff to swap syringes and infected blood by shooting jank s.h.i.t up horrible withered arms, and who then spend all night talking b.o.l.l.o.c.ks, squat-s.h.i.tting onto old newspapers and p.i.s.sing into empty beer bottles.

'So, cat got your f.u.c.king tongue, has it?' says Danny, pulling up in front of a row of burgled and empty garages before cutting the car engine and then turning in his seat to confront Delroy full on. 'I'll ask you one more time, and don't give me all the old b.o.l.l.o.c.ks about who am I talking about. You know full well who I'm looking for. Now where the f.u.c.k is he?'

'Don't know, Danny,' rasps Delroy out of a mouth as dry as the bottom of a budgie's cage, as he pushes himself back as far as he can into the rear seat, terrified to be sitting alone in a deserted underground car park with one of the most violent gangsters in the country. 'He said not to ring him no more. Told me to lay low. Is there a problem?'

'Yeah, there's a f.u.c.king problem,' says Danny, flicking on the car's interior light. 'The c.u.n.t's out of his box on f.u.c.king s.h.i.t twenty-four seven. Not only that, he's just topped Big Spud, and he's riding around in a motor that's got me and my brother's dabs all over the f.u.c.king thing.'

'I don't know what the f.u.c.k's happening, Danny,' says Delroy, staring back at Danny, whose sinister scowl appears even more frightening in the car interior's yellowy half-light.

'I'll tell you exactly what's happening. Down to your silly little c.u.n.t of a cousin, Shakesy, and our freelance f.u.c.king c.o.ke-head of a friend thinking he's Wyatt Earp, I gotta go to war with Spud f.u.c.king Murphy.'

'What's Shakesy got to do with this?'

'Think about it, b.o.l.l.o.c.k-brain! Big Spud was after scalping the little p.r.i.c.k.'

'Nah, he knew Shakesy looks after me dog. He was just gonna use him to get to me.'

'f.u.c.king h.e.l.l, was you born stupid or did you have to work at it? Your cousin was riding shotgun for Spud Murphy. The little f.u.c.ker was in the back of the lorry minding his gear. We were gonna let him go, but Billy reckoned he'd lollar us all once Spud claimed hold of him, so he put one in his canister.'

'Nah, nah, no f.u.c.king way. Oh, what the f.u.c.k, man, he was only a chavvie,' says Delroy, dropping his head forward into his hands.

'Anyway, that's by the f.u.c.king board. And pull yourself together you little p.r.i.c.k.' At which point Delroy sits back up to take stock of Danny. 'That's better. Now you listen to me you little c.u.n.t. You got two hopes of getting out of this. No hope and Bob Hope, and Bob Hope's playing golf with Bing. Believe me, I'm gonna do Billy. He's been going downhill for too f.u.c.king long. And you're gonna set him up.'

'I can't do that, Danny, he's my friend,' says Delroy, his face frozen with fear.

'You ain't got no f.u.c.king friends, you mug, only me. Who you gonna run to now when Spud Murphy comes knocking? Not that useless junkie c.u.n.t, Billy. Now you bring the dinlow in, or I'm gonna slit your f.u.c.king throat like a dog, right here, right now.'

Delroy's never looked death full in the face before. But staring into the cold, black killer eyes of Danny right now, he knows the only way he's going to walk away from this is by selling his best friend down the river.

'OK, I'll do it,' he says.

'Course you f.u.c.king will, 'cos your a.r.s.ehole ain't worth a f.u.c.king carrot. And by the way, did you know that your best friend's been f.u.c.king the a.r.s.e off your sister behind your back?'


'Yeah, reckons she's absolute f.u.c.king filth in the sack. Now get the f.u.c.k out of this motor, you little n.i.g.g.e.r toerag, before I cut you to pieces for being the treacherous piece of s.h.i.t you are.' And with that, Danny drives off with a smile on his mooey, leaving Delroy standing in a puddle of junkie p.i.s.s and feeling like the loneliest man in the world.

I'M STILL FLYING high as a kite and trying to hold it down as I pull away from my Brighton flat to take the coast road leading to the nearby Seaford Cliffs, having just loaded three holdalls containing nearly four hundred grand onto the back seat of my motor. It's all the readies I have in the world at the moment, and it's true what my uncle Deaffy told me, it chucks up real bad. It goes without saying that every bit of dough that pa.s.ses through anyone's fingers has its own story to tell, but I doubt if any of it will have as b.l.o.o.d.y a history as any of this stuff on my back seat. It makes me laugh to think I used to get a serious stork on over the smell of this s.h.i.t. And thinking about it further, there's one other thing that really cracks me up, and that's when you get those pony British gangster films that the poncey upper middle cla.s.ses knock out every now and then. You know the ones, where after a bit of graft the mockney, RADA-taught gunman, or whatever, gets weighed off and the dough comes up all in fifties, wrapped nice and stashed in little black briefcases. Total f.u.c.king b.o.l.l.o.c.ks! Crooked dough comes as it comes, sometime big notes, sometimes little notes, but nearly always in supermarket carrier bags, and always chucking up to high heaven. You take it as you can get it. The wind outside is beating what must be near gale-force as I pull in adjacent to the cliffs and park up in a small man-made clearing. A quick shufti about the gaff lets me know it's deserted. Well, only a lunatic would think of walking them on a day like today. After unzipping the holdalls and pouring lighter fuel over the dough, I wind down a couple of windows halfway to allow combustion, get out of the motor then set the whole caboodle alight, before closing the door behind me and walking off to meet my destiny, with my head down and shoulders hunched against the elements.

I ain't got far when the sound of the car's windscreen cracking under the intense heat causes me to stop and peer back over my shoulder, to see my dough, now enveloped in a fierce crackling inferno of blue and yellow flame, shooting the last ten years of my life heavenward in a swirling, snaking column of acrid black smoke. And you know what? I don't give two f.u.c.ks. Instead, I simply turn back to face front and carry on walking, when for no reason I can fathom, I let rip with a large burst of manic laugher, while by force of habit pulling out my revolver to check it for bullets. But then more madness, as I find myself becoming extremely distressed to find there's one missing from the chamber. A panic ensues as I rack my brains violently, cranking my cells and wondering where the f.u.c.k it is. But sanity prevails once more, with the sudden realisation I left it buried in Big Spud's skull. A long winding path leads me down to some fifty feet or so from the cliff's edge, where I'm stopped dead in my tracks by an oncoming wind, howling like a banshee as it belts in over the top of the English Channel, and seemingly mustering all its might in its endeavour to push me back inland, as if trying to dissuade me from meeting my maker. But it's going to take a lot more than a little bit of inclement English weather to stop this muchacho from completing his mission. So I drop to my hands and knees and start to crawl over the damp gra.s.s, thinking, oh the f.u.c.king ignominy of it. Because I had a grand vision of myself bowling straight over the edge like a lovelorn matinee idol. Instead, here I am creeping along on all fours and heading to my doom like a lemming.

But today ain't a day to worry about what's made up most of my existence, that of style over substance. Because I've now only got twenty more feet or so to go, after which, the war with myself will be over, and my entire life will have been no more than a horrible f.u.c.king nightmare, worthy of nothing more than a few cobbled together lines in the local rag. Today's news, tomorrow some tramp's bog roll. Then just when I think the wind's getting up even stronger, by grace or good fortune, or maybe just the fact that somebody up there really does love me, it drops to a gentle breeze, just like that. And so, I climb to my feet, tidy up my barnet and move almost to the cliff edge and prepare myself to jump, when a chorus of ear-shattering squawks above me distracts me from my task, occasioning me to look up to see a small flock of nose-ointment seagulls, that have come down to watch this sorry-a.r.s.e end-of-the-pier show. And what's more, one of the cheeky little feathered c.u.n.ts has dropped twenty feet from its flock to get right in my face and is just hanging there in the wind laughing its head off at me. Now, I know I'm in a bad way, but I ain't in such a bad way that I'm having a seagull take the p.i.s.s out me. So, quickly pulling my gun back out, I c.o.c.k back the hammer and blow it to smithereens, watching with no small amount of satisfaction as it drops like ball of hot snot before disappearing under the precipice below me in a tangled ma.s.s of blood, guts and fluttering feathers. With the rest of the seagulls taking the hint and flapping frantically back off across the channel, I now steady myself, take one last look along the coast, before glancing tentatively down at the waves crashing into a foaming froth onto the rocks below. Then it hits me. I'm scared of f.u.c.king heights. That's right. Ever since I fell of a garage roof when I was a kid and broke my arm, I ain't never ever been able to climb even five steps up a ladder before suffering terrible attacks of vertigo. So why the f.u.c.k did I choose jumping off a cliff as a way to commit suicide? Must be the f.u.c.king drugs, they're not letting me think straight!

The dread of the long drop down sends me staggering back about fifteen feet, where I collapse onto my back and violently spew up a mouthful of green milky bile all down the front of my designer duds, and I don't even have a hankie to wipe myself clean. Instead, I roll over onto my stomach and rub myself off as best I can on the gra.s.s. So now things are getting sadder, because not only is my clobber covered with the stench and stain of drying vomit, but my mouth is tingling with that terrible taste of leftover sick. And I forget to pack the Wrigleys! But then I reason, what the f.u.c.k, for in a few minutes I'll be an unrecognisable mess, splattered like Humpty Dumpty on the rocks below with probably not enough of me left for a burial, after the crabs and the fishes have had their go. f.u.c.k all that burial s.h.i.t anyway. As far as I'm concerned they can sc.r.a.pe up what's left, lob me straight in the back of a dustcart and ferry me off to the local tip and toss me in alongside the rest of the garbage. It'd be a fitting end to my lifetime's achievement.

After a quick breather to gather my senses, I spin round on my stomach and crawl back to the cliff's edge like a lizard, to peer back over and watch as the waves crash and pound the rocks, spraying swell twenty feet into the air. And I can't even see the seagull I shot. Nothing, not a feather or single spot of blood. Every inch of it has been devoured by the incoming tide and sucked down to a watery grave. But it's got me to thinking that maybe, just maybe, jumping off a cliff to end it all ain't such a good idea. Seems like a pretty painful way to go, in the scheme of things. Worse than jumping in front of train. And least with that you get the satisfaction of f.u.c.king up the day up for Joe c.u.n.t commuter. And how about if, after having jumped, I don't die straight away. I'm s.h.i.t-scared of drowning as well. Standing back up I take a moment to deliberate, and decide to shoot myself in the head as I make the leap. That way I'll make sure I'm brown bread before I hit the rocks. And so, with my mind now made up, I put my gun to the side of my head and click back the hammer. Just one small squeeze, then it'll all be over. I close my eyes and here I go. Silence. The calm before the storm.

My phone rings. Can you f.u.c.king believe it? I forgot I even had the c.u.n.t-eyed thing on me. Surely I can't answer it now, not when I'm just about to top myself. I always said these things were a f.u.c.king menace. No privacy. But this is one cat that curiosity can't kill because I'm nearly already dead. But you know what it's like with a ringing phone, you just have to answer it. And so I do. And now picture the absurdity of this. I'm standing on the edge of a cliff tripping my f.u.c.king nut off. I've got a gun in my right ear, a phone in my left ear, and parked up a few yards behind me is an ex-Old Bill motor on fire with nearly four hundred grand in it. Not what you'd call a conventional lifestyle, is it?

'h.e.l.lo?' I shout into the phone.

'It's me, Delroy,' comes back the reply.

'You f.u.c.king c.u.n.t!' I scream back at him. 'What did I tell you about ringing me?'

'Sorry, mate, it's important. Where are you?'

'Standing on the edge of a cliff just about to blow my f.u.c.king brains out.'

'Don't f.u.c.k about, man, this is serious.'

'I ain't f.u.c.king about. What's the matter then?'

'The Spud Murphy dough's here, we gotta pick it up in the morning.'

'I don't need it where I'm going, son. You can have my share, how about that?'

'Don't be silly, man, for f.u.c.k's sake. I mean if you don't show, your firm ain't gonna weigh me on are they? They'll tell me to f.u.c.k off and then that's it, back to sucking on sherbet dips. Oh man, you can't do this to me.'

'For f.u.c.k's sake, every time I try and get out, something or some c.u.n.t drags me back in. You are one mongrel-eyed f.u.c.king string vest, do you know that? And by the way, anything been said about anyone getting topped?'

'Ain't heard f.u.c.k all, Billy.'

'I tell you one thing, this is the last f.u.c.king time any of you lot do this to me. Pick me up at my London gaff in the morning.'

'Sweet, nice one, Billy.' And with that I cut the p.r.i.c.k off and take a few steps backwards to sanity, stashing both my gun and phone back inside my respective jacket pockets as I do so, while at the same time taking a final look out to sea, before turning and strolling slowly back inland, only this time with the added burden of yet another failed suicide tucked under my Cartier belt. Jesus Christ, I mean I only set fire to my past in the belief I had no future, but now I've been dragged back into the fray once more, and all to bail out Delroy because he ain't got the b.o.l.l.o.c.ks to stand up for himself. It's a f.u.c.king failure of mine, that matter how much of a slag I think I am, or how precarious my own situation, I just can't say no to a friend that needs a leg up.

Smoke's still billowing from my motor as I make my way back, and in the distance the wailing siren of an approaching fire engine fills my ears. So to avoid any further complications, I decide to make my way back onto the Brighton road using an alternative path. After fighting my way back to the main drag through sprawling nests of bramble bushes that spitefully tear at my clothes and exposed flesh, I stop to have a quick rifle through my pockets, gutted to find the cupboard bare. In fact, I'm so f.u.c.king boracic I don't even have enough shrapnel to slum it back home on a bus, which means it's going to a long lonely walk back to my pad and my life once more. But looking at the bright side, at least the stress of the attempted suicide has knocked the b.o.l.l.o.c.ks out of my acid trip. The weather's starting to clear up, and what's left of the day's beginning to look really beautiful. There's even a rainbow forming. And I've just remembered that Once Upon A Time In America, the director's cut, is on at the Odeon Leicester Square tonight. Think I'll lose myself in that for a few hours. It's one of the greatest movies ever made. Very evocative watching the birth of a new nation, when anything was possible. Plus, it's one of the few times on celluloid where you actually get to see tough Jews sticking it big-time to the goyim, instead of the usual platter where us mob is seen being shoved into cattle trucks and then led like pacified sheep to be ga.s.sed and melted down for soap in concentration camp crematoriums. If more Yiddisher mushes were bad to the bone like Bugsy Siegel and Louis Lepke, those n.a.z.i slags would have been fought to a standstill.

But besides the film, the Odeon Leicester Square is such a great theatre. Ma.s.sive art deco auditorium, like cinemas used to be before they carved them up into pony little s...o...b..x multiplexes full of popcorn crunching Cro-Magnons. And because it's such an anonymous gaff, it's fantastic for causing a bit of mischief. You see what I just love to do is buy one of those large packets of chocolate peanuts and then find a nice quiet little plot somewhere near the back. I then place the chocolate peanuts one at time on the nail of my right thumb, and start flicking the little f.u.c.kers at heads way down in front of me. In fact, I've got it down to such a fine art that from the back row I can hit right up near the front with virtually hardly any arm movement. I've started loads of brilliant fights like that, because when the peanuts. .h.i.t some mug on the back of their canister, they'll gander round and blame someone sitting nearby, and not little old me plotted all on his lonesome right at the back. It's the little things in life like that, that keeps me from going over the edge, literally sometimes. The four hundred grand? f.u.c.k it, there's plenty more where that come from, and let me put it this way, on reflection I consider that burning to be sort of sacrificial. Which means that by doing it, I've just liberated myself from all the death and destruction it took to earn it. And it's only dough. Dough ain't my guv'nor; never has been, never will be. Besides, I've still a large f.u.c.king parcel to pick up tomorrow, which is more than enough to get me into the charlie game with my Cuban pals down in Miami.

TEN THE NEXT morning and I've been up since six, fresh as a daisy, straight and stone-cold sober, and pacing my living room floor biting my nails to the quick. My firm's just pulled up outside and belled me through the intercom system, so I guess it's time to go. But now that I am totally straight, to say that I'm more than a little gutted about burning all my dough yesterday is the understatement of the f.u.c.king year. I'm as sick as a pig on a spit-roast. That'll teach me not to f.u.c.k with acid. Probably not. Of course, I'd love to think that I can jack in all the other s.h.i.t I poison myself with as well. But alas, when you're a compulsive, as I am, abstinence merely makes the heart grow fonder. That don't mean I've changed my mind about slipping out the back door, which means that once we've got hold of the Spud Murphy dough and carved it up, I'll be off with a suitcase full of dough, a snide pa.s.sport and a s.h.i.tload of useless memories. I'm f.u.c.ked if I'm going to spend any more of my life sitting round Formica tables talking b.o.l.l.o.c.ks and dodging bullets. Yeah, I got in too deep, but now I'm just counting my lucky stars I've still got the wherewithal to cut my losses and make a break for the border, with my faculties still reasonably intact. After steeling myself with a couple of quick charlie hits and bidding a fond farewell to in the inside of my flat, I slam the front door behind me, lodge my keys down the rubbish chute and stroll towards the lift, with the noise of their clinking echoing inside my skull as they tumble down into the bas.e.m.e.nt bins.

Eventually the lift arrives and I walk in, hit the ground floor b.u.t.ton and descend. After a toe-tapping eternity, the doors open and I step out into the plush and soothing aura of the reception, tipping a final wink to the day and night porter, before strolling out onto the street outside through a set of automatic revolving doors, their smoked-gla.s.s windows masking a deceptively bright morning that sends spiteful shards of piercing sunlight into my eyes, stopping me momentarily in my tracks. After slinging on the obligatory wrap-arounds to ease the pain, I walk the couple of yards to our firm's Mercedes, open the back door and slide into the seat next to Frankie, with Stevie sitting to his right. As soon as I slam the door shut behind me, the bad atmosphere hits me in the face like a wet packet of s.h.i.t. Ain't none of the soreheads saying a word, not even Delroy, who's f.u.c.k-all part of the equation anyway, but who's nevertheless sitting upfront in the pa.s.senger seat next to Danny, and staring straight ahead with a face like a Catholic catamite on his way to h.e.l.l. And besides, what a stinking f.u.c.king liberty it is to be blackballed by these barbarians, just because they consider me to be a naughty boy for killing without their consent. f.u.c.k 'em, they don't have any credentials whatsoever to send me to Coventry. Sometimes I reckon they forget that like me they ain't no more than parasites, growing fat and ugly while gorging on the rotting underbelly of society, and who won't be happy till they've sucked every last drop of its lifeblood dry, leaving nothing left but a soulless skeleton. With all of us sitting here in tetchy stone-cold silence, Danny finally hits the gas and we glide away from the front of my apartment block, and I just can't help but take one last peek back, remembering both the good times and the bad times it's seen me through. But it's then that the uncertainty of my new future kicks me hard in the guts, causing a feeling of sickness to wash over me like a damp dirty flannel. And it's all I can do to grit my teeth, face back front and scream silently at myself to hold it down. Because I'm on my own now and have to stay strong, or else I'll crumble like a cookie dipped in coffee.

As we hit Jamaica Road I peer out through the side window, swallowing the pa.s.sing sights wholesale and for what may be the last time. And it strikes me as somewhat ironic that as much as I'm always griping about London being a p.i.s.s-hole, I start getting this strange feeling I am going to miss it. Perhaps Delroy's right about it being in the blood. But one thing I do know at least and that is that if I do venture back to the sh.o.r.es of this septic isle once more, I'll be a better man than I am now. A more humane being. Not like this f.u.c.king mob. They'll still be stewing in their own little cauldrons of petty hatreds and jealousies, while the rest of the world moves on. It's called progress. Look what it done to the dinosaurs! But just take a look at this f.u.c.king gaff. It's one blurred ma.s.s of cranes, skysc.r.a.pers and construction sites. Everything's changing so fast round here that it bears no resemblance to the city I cut my teeth on as a kid. This, the bottom end of Bermondsey for instance is one of my old, old stomping grounds. And that gaff over there that's now a tonced-up Thai restaurant, catering for the recently-arrived h.o.a.rds of yuppie c.u.n.ts, used to be a khazi of a boozer for locals called the William the Fourth. It was in there one night that a gang of neo-n.a.z.i skinheads came in and dug out one of my pals, Jimmy Whisky, solely because he was drinking with a black bird. It went off big-time, and we smashed the granny out of their pig-ignorant skulls. Left them bleeding and bewildered and rolling in the gutters, crying for their mummies. We even mullered one with a fire extinguisher. And when the ambulance crew finally arrived and took one look at him laying there with his half his head caved in and his body smashed to a pulp, they were convinced he'd been hit by a car.

This is Deptford. Deptford's always been a poverty-stricken pox-hole. Even us who were poor would come over the river to Deptford just to take the p.i.s.s out of the people round here, 'cos they were even more dest.i.tute than us. That boozer over there, the one that looks derelict, is The Harp of Erin. Back in the day we had it off in there with the Tullets, a real tough south London crime family. We done them, but only after a ferocious fight that saw buckets of blood being spilt over all the nearby backstreets. Unfortunately in the fray one of our pals, Stevie Stutter, got hit with an axe across his turnip and we had to cart him to hospital with it still embedded in his skull. Thankfully he made a full recovery, apart from the speech impediment. And that noodle bar over there, that's now all polished wooden floors and plastic chopsticks, that used to be a grease-encrusted chippy when I was a kid. Me and my mates used to come over this side when we bunked school and go there to eat lunch. If we were flush we'd have pie and chips, but mostly we were skint, so we'd buy an uncut loaf of bread between us from the bakers, hollow out the middle, ponce a portion of crackling for nishmans off of the bubble who ran the chippy, then ram the stuff inside the loaf and share that.

A stinky old paraffin lived in the doorway of the closed-down curtain shop next door. We called him Smokey Joe, 'cos he was always trawling the streets for discarded dog-ends. First thing every morning he'd raid the rubbish bins outside the chippy and help himself to a cold fish and chip breakfast. Tormented the life out of the poor b.a.s.t.a.r.d we did. Sometimes he'd chase us all the way back to the Greenwich foot tunnel. I also remember that the chippy had this old black cat that was always akip on the counter. One day Smokey Joe lost the plot completely, went berserk, run into the chippy screaming his nut off and pushed the thing into the deep fat fryer. Next day, the men in white coats came and took him away. We never saw him again. Over to the left used to be the old coal yards. It's a dockside housing development now. We'd break in there as kids, nick sackfuls of coal and go round the local houses flogging them. As we hit the one way system of newly gentrified east Greenwich, a welcome break in the back-to-back housing allows me to gaze out across a shimmering expanse of the Thames, to see a tiny tug pulling its heart out, towing a heavily laden barge upstream. Beyond, on the far side of the river looms Poplar, on the Isle of Dogs. Diverting my attention from the river sees me running my eyes across to the flats where I was born, sitting dark and foreboding, and sandwiched between a giant gas meter to their left, and a disused Victorian grain mill to their right. It's only two minutes as the crow flies from them to the luxury apartment I just left behind, but it's a long ladder to climb in the scheme of things. And thinking about it now, it seems like a lifetime ago I was a just snotty-nosed little oik in short trousers and k.n.o.bbly knees, blowing like an uncontrollable whirlwind through my wild and woolly neighbourhood.

They used to say that the test of a true c.o.c.kney was that you had to be born within the sound of the Bow Bells, and I was. But when I was born, not only could you hear them loud and clear throughout the East End proper, but most days you could also hear them peal out all the way across the river to here in Greenwich. But what with the terrible din of today's b.u.mper-to-b.u.mper traffic, you're lucky if you can hear them halfway down the Bow Road. When all's said and done you can't stop the march of progress, and I reckon that most of the buildings along this skyline have had their day, and that they should bulldoze them down and start again. Take the flats where I was born as an example. They still resemble the turn of the century poorhouses they once were, but the estate agents round here are offloading them to the unsuspecting and overpaid for scandalous amounts. f.u.c.ked if I'd buy one, no matter how much they try and tonce up the manor. This is where I grew up, it ain't where I wanna grow old. And not only that, even with all my new found wealth I'll never shake off the inferiority complex I acquired by dint of having spent my formative years in local authority concentration camp housing. I'd slit my throat first before having to move back into council accommodation. It always made me feel like a stranger in my own land. My family ain't there no more, neither. They got the right to buy, bought, sold and then moved out to Ess.e.x. Funny thing is that my old man was a dyed-in-the-wool socialist all his life, but he turned capitalist overnight and started voting Tory as soon as his house came on the market. Sometimes I get to wondering if they're still alive, although there ain't much I can do about it if they ain't. And if they ain't, and I ever get to hear about it, I ain't planning on making any visits to no gravestones, anyhow. And no point in visiting people when they're dead, if you never visited them when they were alive.

This hill we're climbing now leads up from the filth and despondency of Deptford to a pristine area of open gra.s.sland known as Blackheath. It's an area that always brought a welcoming breath of fresh air from the bad memories and pollution below. Although even this place is tarnished by the fact that it acquired its name during the bubonic plague, or the Black Death as it was more commonly known, that killed thousands of Londoners back in the Middle Ages. Pressed for somewhere to bury the dead and to try and stifle the contagion that was carried by fleas riding shotgun on the backs of black rats, the authorities piled the dead high on carts and ferried them out to this neck of the woods, before tossing them wholesale into ma.s.s, unmarked graves. Not that any of that mattered to us kids. We'd come up here just to see how the rich lived. They hated us, and we envied them. We'd also work the fairground whenever it came to town, or sometimes shovel up s.h.i.t behind Lennie Thorn's donkeys while they were giving rides to the kids whose mums and dads could afford it. He was a tight old c.u.n.t who even looked like a donkey, and who used to pay us f.u.c.k all, so we'd thieve dough out of his pouch when he weren't looking.

We're nearing the site of the pick-up for the dough from the Spud Murphy coup now. It's a family-run undertaking business that operates out of a former builders' yard right behind Blackheath railway station, and is owned by a pal of ours, Happy Fred, who's as miserable as sin. As well as ferrying stiffs, Fred also ferries drugs. Driving on down into the vale of Blackheath village, it pleases me to see here's one gaff that ain't changed hardly at all since I was a kid. And even though some stuck-up c.u.n.ts disparage it as a poor man's Hampstead, I still reckon Blackheath village to be different cla.s.s. Because as far as I can remember there's only ever been one proper bit of grief out this far, and that's when Ronnie Olive's best pal Polish Mick got his nut blown off as he put his keys in his front door in a little mews just behind the church. Lovely man, Polish Mick. And as it was Happy Fred that buried him, he never even had far to travel to his final resting place. After negotiating a tiny roundabout near the top of the village we hang a right, then drive slowly along a quiet leafy lane that leads to Fred's funeral business. On approaching the entrance to the yard, Danny eases off the gas, and as our motor slows to a stop, the loud crackling of loose chippings under the tyres diminishes to a quiet hush, only to broken by a teeth-grating crunch as he then pulls the car's handbrake full on.

'Who's holding the folding?' I say, unable to stand the enforced silence any longer.

'Manchester Vinnie,' snaps back Danny, without looking round.

'Proper man, him,' says Stevie. 'Used to be in the SAS.'

'Who told you that?' I say.

'He did,' says Stevie.

'f.u.c.king liar,' I say. 'He used to have a transport cafe down by the Blackwall Tunnel. SAS! Snacks and f.u.c.king sandwiches, that dopey c.u.n.t.'

Quickly volunteering to get out and pick up the dough just to escape the stifling environment of the car, I also instruct Delroy to accompany me, in order to bottle me off and keep dog-eye. Not only does it suit me to get out and stretch my legs and to get away from these dry-lunch-c.u.n.ts for a few minutes, but I desperately need some time to think my situation over. So, after climbing from the motor and closing the door behind me, I hand-iron out my car-creased clothes and then walk through the yard's entrance to start off down an uneven drive made up of oil-stained loose stone chippings, and head directly towards a run-down Portakabin sitting all on its ownsome about fifty yards or so up ahead.

'What is it with those c.u.n.ts?' I say to Delroy, out of the corner of my mouth, just as he catches up to me twenty feet or so away from the car. 'We're picking up f.u.c.king lottery winnings, but by the way they're carrying on you'd think we're going to a f.u.c.king funeral, and even you ain't said f.u.c.k all to me. Nothing wrong is there?'

'Nah, not at all, Billy,' he says to me, trying to catch his breath, and all the while eyeing me nervously, as we both then begin to march in time. 'I mean I don't know about them, but I'm just a bit nervous, that's all.'

'What you got to be nervous about?'

'Er, well, you know, all this dough.'

'This is the f.u.c.king easy part. The hardest part is worrying about what you're gonna f.u.c.king spend it on.'

'Yeah,' he says to me, grinning weakly through a forced smile, as the pair of us then have to move sharply to the right in order to pa.s.s an absolute f.u.c.king monster of a Neapolitan Mastiff guard dog, tethered to a metal post by means of a heavy-duty rusted chain, and that goes garrity at everyone that walks past, us being no exception.

On seeing us approach it goes into its usual frenzy, and starts lunging at us frantically, growling and snarling through a s.h.i.t-scary set of razor-sharp fangs dripping with sea-white foam, and almost tearing itself in two trying to break free from its bonds, longing to rip us limb from limb.

'f.u.c.king wrong, that is,' I say to Delroy. 'They keep that poor thing out in all weathers. No wonder it's gone f.u.c.king nutrock.'

'What do they need a f.u.c.king guard dog here for, anyway?' says Delroy. 'f.u.c.k all here to steal.'

'f.u.c.king vandals, ain't it?' I say. 'They started climbing over the fence and causing murder. Look at some of those headstones, been graffitied all over. Little f.u.c.kers. I caught one red-handed once when I was out jogging. Only a little p.r.i.c.k he was, still in school uniform and spraying a bus stop down near where I live. So I stopped and made him give me the can. Then I sprayed the little c.u.n.t from head to foot, gave him a kick up the a.r.s.e and told him to f.u.c.k off.'

'Nice one, Billy. 'Ere, how come Happy Fred's got two ambulances parked up with his hea.r.s.es over there?'

'Deregulated the f.u.c.king industry, ain't they? Anyone can own a private ambulance now. And you know what Fred's like round a pound note. He has his boys hovering over the short-wave like f.u.c.king vultures, tuning in to the emergency services' radio frequencies. As soon as they hear there's a road accident or someone has a heart attack or something, off they rush to the scene like Batman and f.u.c.king Robin. And what with all the cutbacks and stuff, chances are they beat the proper ambulance mob there and claim the job. And Fred wins both ways, 'cos if the punter mullers on the way to the hospital he gets to bury them as well. Wouldn't fill you with much confidence if you was at death's door and you knew that the ambulance you were being ferried to the hospital in was owned by a f.u.c.king undertakers, would it?'

'Nah, suppose not.'

'And take a butcher's over there,' I then say, pointing to a large open-fronted outhouse stacked from floor to ceiling with varying shapes and sizes of coffins. 'You got the paupers' ones made out of plywood on one side, right up to the solid oak ones for rich c.u.n.ts on the other. And what's the betting that after you've sh.e.l.led out untold shekels to give a loved one a proper send off in one of the oak caskets, Fred s.n.a.t.c.hes their body out and throws it straight into a plywood one instead?'

'You reckon?'

'Reckon? I f.u.c.king know. Anyway, f.u.c.k all that. Now keep schtummo and just follow me.'

Prising open the small single door of the cabin we step inside to be greeted by a dank wooden hallway before making our way along a narrow pa.s.sage towards a back office. For peace of mind I pull my gun out of my jock strap, stash it in my right-side jacket pocket, and on reaching Happy Fred's office take a quick gander through its perspex window. Once satisfied that all's sweet, I open the door and we stroll in.

'h.e.l.lo, Vinnie,' I say to Manchester Vinnie, who's lounging back on a leather recliner and slurping loudly from a large mug of coffee, while listening to a radio talk show on a nearby ghetto blaster.

'h.e.l.lo, Billy,' says Vinnie, looking up at me and Delroy and dropping forward in the chair, dumping his mug on the table before reaching across it for me and him to exchange the briefest of handshakes.

'Everything sweet?' I say, staring deep into his eyes, just to keep him unsettled.

'Yeah,' he says, his Adam's apple jumping nervously, a reaction that warms the c.o.c.kles of my heart. 'And I must say, Billy. It was a blinding bit of tackle. Went out straight away. We still got one lot left though, and that's that bit of Paddy gear. f.u.c.k-all wrong with it, of course. But Fred left a message to say that he wants to renegotiate on the price. Reckons it's a little bit lumpy, what you're asking.'

'Lumpy?' I say, pulling the edges of my mouth down into one of my well-practised grimaces. 'Custard's lumpy, Vinnie. You tell that tight c.u.n.t when he gets here, that I said f.u.c.k him and the hea.r.s.e he rode in on.'

'I don't want to get involved, Billy,' says Vinnie, almost falling off his chair. 'Anyway, the necessary from the first deal is in the two holdalls down there on the floor. Afraid I can't pick them up for you, mate, I've got a bad back.'

'Old war wound, eh Vinnie?' I say to him, straight-faced.

'Er... er... er yeah, that's right, Billy.'

Motioning for Delroy to pick up the two holdalls we exit the office, with only a silent nod to Vinnie, before turning the opposite way in the Portakabin and starting towards a door down the other end.

'You're going the wrong way, Billy,' says Delroy, struggling to keep up with me under the weight of the two holdalls.

'Told you to stay f.u.c.king schtummo.' Slipping through the back door with Delroy in tow, it's about twenty steps to a large hedgerow through which a large gap leads to the station car park. Climbing through first I tell Delroy to push the bags through, after which he follows me, fear now gagging his throat and preventing him from breaking his silence. On reaching a small rental car I pull out my keys, use the remote to open the boot, and then stuff in the holdalls before climbing in the front, clicking down the central locking and starting the car. In a mounting panic, Delroy raps loudly on the pa.s.senger side window with one of his gold rings.

'What you doing, Billy?' he croaks, having now found his voice. 'You can't just f.u.c.king leave... Billy!'

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