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FREELANCE BABY…

19 May

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SHAKESPEARE IN THE VALLEY OF THE SUN – A free-lance piece for the Arizona Magazine

(The surprising popularity of Shakespeare’s plays in a desert landscape.) 

An investigation into the popularity and influence of Shakespeare’s writings in 21st century Phoenix.

By Colin James 

            Margery fusses with her wig and quickly applies another coating of grease-paint. She can feel the swell of voices beyond the curtain — sense their expectation. An audience that’s wined and dined and who now expect to be entertained; after all they’ve paid their $15!
            The Pebble Creek Players have rehearsed for months, in fact the best part of a year. If they haven’t got it down by now they never will. They’re word perfect, and perfectly practiced. It wasn’t easy; a passage of trial and tribulation — long afternoons fortified with iced whatever’s. But tonight’s the night, the moment her amateur thespians will eke out their lives as shadows and poor players as they pace the boards of the Pebble Creek community center.
            Margery adjusts the prosthesis underneath her shirt, looks across the void, and smiles nervously at one of her fellow cast members hidden in the shadows. Slowly she ambles to center stage; difficult to do with one leg in Plaster of Paris however, assisted by crutches she does her best. Suddenly there’s a hush, the only voice that of the compere. “Ladies and Gentleman welcome to this evenings performance.” The voice is a mumble, the words barely audible through the thick curtain that separates the performers from the audience, or rather the Christians from the lions. “Ladies and Gentleman I give you The Greys, Pebble Creek’s answer to Shaftsbury Avenue and Broadway.” Applause. The curtain is lifted.

*

            Arizona sunshine beats down on black top as Snow-birds and visitors from colder states caper nimbly in newly acquired tennis sneakers defending their own side of the net. The laughter and mirth generated by an afternoon of tennis is palpable in contrast to the intensity of a small but dedicated “band of brothers” that while away the hours in rehearsal and recitation of a Shakespeare play in a private home across the street. Pebble creek, a Robson Retirement community on the west side of Phoenix, caters to those lucky enough to have left the work place far behind; an active adult retirement resort where no matter your flavor of distraction, it can be found behind it’s secure stucco walls. 

          Wendy Jackson, 65, a native of Madison Wisconsin and grandmother to six, holds a copy of Spark’s Notes “No fear Shakespeare” in her hand and reads aloud to the assembled mixture of silver haired ladies and gents who sit comfortably in a semi-circle around her. The text is Henry the V, the notebook a study guide for those introducing themselves to the works of Shakespeare. The Greys, the Pebble Creek Players is an erudite bunch who intend to perform the play later this year. The “happy few”, with drinks in hand, listen intently to Mrs. Jackson as she enunciates; sipping gratefully from freshly made iced-tea. 

            “Theater has always been in our blood,” explained Wendy, “My mother was a dancer and my father, during his military service, worked for a glee-platoon that put on productions for the troops. Although my father was often a little embarrassed of his service, he often spoke of his wonderful-war, entertaining front line soldiers. My father had been a painter and decorator before the war, so when they came looking for volunteers he was a shoe-in, as they needed someone to paint and construct the sets. I guess you might say that the grease paint and limelight was spooned into me as a child. Shakespeare came later for me, probably around the time I went to college.” 

            Wendy looks wistful as she relates her amateur dramatic experience. “Of course it all started in high school with the Christmas show and the annual production the drama society would perform for the parents and students. Once bitten by the bug, I never really lost touch with the stage, and the discovery of a deeper more thoughtful production developed in me with my first taste of Shakespeare. I remember it was Twelfth Night and I was lucky enough to get the part of the maid. Quite an undertaking however, clearly my director saw something in me that, looking back now, was probably a turning point. I’ve been involved in amateur dramatics, and in particular Shakespearian productions, even when pregnant with my two boys ever since. There is something in the language that is so enduring and meaningful. As my old director would say there is ‘cadence on the tongue and music in the ears’ when his plays are performed.” 

            But how much enthusiasm can there be for the Bard in a retirement community on the far edge of Phoenix? Is there really a market for a 16th century play-wright in the Valley of the Sun? 

            Wendy laughs, “You’d be surprised. Of course there’s always enthusiasm for the golden oldies,” as she calls the more popular Broadway productions, “but there’s always a lot of interest in Shakespeare. You’d be surprised how many people have made it to retirement, who only now are listening to, and enjoying his plays. She shakes her head and smiles, “Seems like a waste to me, but better late than never.” 

            The Pebble Creek Players have to date performed 3 sold out productions of William Shakespeare’s plays and alongside their theatrics have created both a reading club and a study group. “A lot of the residents,” explains Wendy, “can’t seem to get enough, and we’re always being approached by new people interested in joining our various groups.” 

            There is no age limit, or statute of limitations that makes the plays popular. When one thinks of Shakespeare penning his prose and performing his plays for the mob in London, clearly it wasn’t sunbaked Arizona that he had in mind. 

            It’s Friday night and a group of around 10 teenagers sit on a stage beneath florescent lighting at Saint Luke’s Church on the corner of 19th Avenue and Camelback road, a location popular on Sunday mornings with a largely Hispanic congregation. The group of young enthusiasts waits eagerly, chatting and browsing on their smart-phones. The teens have volunteered to participate in a Shakespeare workshop run by the Brelby Theater Company on the West side of Phoenix in Glendale. This older, less in vogue area of town, has suffered the effects of economic malaise. During the 16th century, when Shakespeare’s plays were being performed for a half-penny a time for the groundlings in Southwark, on the south bank of the Thames in London, The Globe Theater hardly had an address to boast of either. Glendale is now populated by lower income families, with a large Hispanic demographic. At least half of the kids waiting for Geoff Shelby, the organizer of the workshop and one of the principals of the theater, are the children of Latino immigrants and not all of them are legal. 

            Geoff a tall, gangly, salt and peppered veteran of the theater calls the kids to order and hands out copies of this evening’s texts. Romeo and Juliet; the balcony scene. 

            “Something they all know about even if they don’t realize it yet.” Geoff throws me and infectious grin and launches into Romeo, oh Romeo. 

            “Alright then who’s heard that before?” asks Geoff. A couple of hands go up in the air. “Who’s heard of Romeo and Juliet?” Several more hands appear. “You guys have been holding out on me. Seems you’ve have already heard of this Shakespeare character.” Laughter ripples through the small group that’s excited to get down to business. 

            “Shakespeare,” Geoff tells me, “is as relevant today as he ever was. It’s simply a case of getting young people’s attention. With so many distractions and sources of instant gratification one has to bring the plays to the fore, sit the kids down, and show them what they’re missing. It’s amazing to see the transformation from disinterest to over-the-top enthusiasm; their pride in being able to recite and remember tracts of text. You literally see the kids grow as they stand on stage and recite for their parents at the end of the course. 

            The Brelby company has been a feature of the Phoenix theater scene for well over 15 years and was formed by Geoff Shelby and fellow thespian Anita Rodriquez . 

            “At the time,” says Geoff, “there was no real theater. Sure there were movies but it wasn’t the same thing. Live theater grabs an audience by the throat and forces their senses into the action without the distraction of popcorn and product placement. We originally formed the company to perform one play however, since then we’ve done over forty. Shakespeare has always been a main-stay of our revue, an evergreen that audiences don’t seem to grow tired of.” 

            The Brelby, a not-for-profit organization, has benefitted from Arizona for the Arts funding, hence their community give back. “Ticket sales,” says Geoff, “ are unfortunately only half the story, and alongside our theatrical work we all hold regular jobs. Theater is our passion, unfortunately not our profession.” The look on Geoff’s face at the interaction of the kids is worth the million dollars the Brelby Theater Company truly deserves. He believes that keeping Arizona’s kids on the stage and off the streets is money and time well spent.

*

            Arizona is a keenly diversified state where one can ski Flagstaff in the morning and bathe in Phoenix sunshine in the afternoon; a state known more for copper, cattle and cotton than Elizabethan English theater. One can rodeo-ride in Buckeye or sling six-shooters in old-town Tucson, but one can also find the theater in all its diversified forms throughout the state, and surprisingly that of William Shakespeare. There is a ground swell of enthusiasts and over 20 independent theater companies, private individuals and interest groups, who devote their time to either studying his works or performing his plays.

*

            In the heart of downtown Mesa a very different atmosphere can be found from that at Saint Luke’s, although their intent is the same. The Desert Rose Theater, “The best theater you’ve never seen,” as they advertise themselves, are in the throes of final preparation. Unlike the Pebble Creek Players who were surrounded by garden furniture and cooling beverages there is a sense of urgency, a heated atmosphere of needs-to-be-done; a group in excess of 30 people, swarm around the theater building preparing for an opening night that is only a week away. The posters are printed, the blurb gone to the local press, and ticket sales haven’t been too shabby either. They intend to perform William Shakespeare Midsummer Night’s Dream and Kathryn Stewart, the director of the theater, is in no mood for half-measures, and even less time for anybody not directly related to the play. 

            With tousled brown hair and eye-glasses pushed up on her fore head, Kathryn is the epitome of efficiency. She continuously shuffles papers through her hands while we talk, and despite the interview, is keen to engage several people in conversation at any one time. In between her directions for stage management and interjections between actors, I discover her passion for the plays. 

            “I finished college in Washington, and joined a theater group directly afterward. With a liberal arts education and a passion for the stage, much to the disappointment of my parents, I took to the road. For me it’s always been Shakespeare. I’ve worked with other companies in the past, but it’s always a welcome return home when I go back to doing what I love best.” 

            Kathryn has trod the boards for the past 30 years and is clearly a devotee to her art. But why Phoenix? Why Arizona? 

            “The Rose Theater first came to Phoenix in ‘92.  At the time we performed mainly for schools and colleges. Now, much to my distress, the study of Shakespeare and his works has nearly disappeared from the curriculum and so we’ve had to make ourselves more affable to the public. This has meant more elaborate stage craft and a sense of utter professionalism in order to attract paying audiences. Although we’re a volunteer organization we do employ several professionals and very often contract actors for our leading roles. This allows us to take our plays on the road, and during any given year we cover most of Arizona. Our season is generally made up of four plays two of which are always Shakespearian in nature whether Shakespeare, Marlow or Johnson for example.” 

            Judging by the amount of people involved and the projected two weeks of four performance plus matinees, Kathryn has her hands full. I leave her to her work and head for my final Shakespearian experience.

*

            My destination is the aluminum and glass edifice of the Mesa Arts Center, An opulent, outwardly expensive monument to the theater and performance art. The center features art, dance and music, and is home to the Southwest Shakespeare Company, the most auspicious of all the Shakespearian players within Phoenix’s city-limits. I step into a polished steel elevator and wend my way to the office of Margaret Monroe, the current publicity director for the company. As expected Ms. Monroe is dressed in impeccable business attire and exudes and air of supreme confidence. A total contrast from Geoff Shelby and his make shift accommodation in Glendale. 

            “You have to understand that Shakespeare can be performed in many different ways,” she explains, “and have been on many different occasions. The fact that we’ve this beautiful facility and the ability to hire top notch actors doesn’t detract from the work being performed by others. You have to remember that during Elizabethan times there was also a differentiation between those who paid pennies to stand and watch performances in the rain, and those who sat on cushions in the balconies. Shakespeare is for everybody and in order to proliferate his works we offer a first class location with a first class experience.” 

            Although the company does receive some arts-council funding, it is a self-sufficient organization and turns a profit. When not performing in Phoenix, they take their plays on the road and even internationally. “Phoenix is a great base for us,” explains Margaret, “as everybody here is from somewhere else. Many residents have come from larger cities where they’ve enjoyed quality theater and so expect the same.” A classic case of the market will provide.

*

            Mrs. Menendez watches her teenage son as he leaves the house, walks down the garden path, turns, waves, and disappears into inky blackness. Menendez crosses herself; not in fear for her son but in thanks for a certain individual who’s come to town — a voice that will take her beloved boy off the street and keep him safe from harm. She knows exactly where Jose will be for the next two hours; in fact she knows where he’ll be every Tuesday and Thursday for the next two months. Secure and surrounded in the caring environment of the Brelby Theatre and Geoff Shelby; free from the scum who pollute the streets.
            So who is this masked man, the caped-crusader that has arrived to save the youth of Glendale? No man of steel, rather a man of words; a warrior poet whose plays and sonnets have brightened the planet for over 400 years; a writer who has chased away the shadows and illuminated the lives of millions. Parents of Glendale and Phoenix take heart. William Shakespeare abides in Arizona.

 

The End

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POE – ETRY

14 Oct

 

The stack of prepaid junk-mail had lain on his desk;  offers of credit cards, Caribbean holidays and a notification, courtesy of some no-named agency in the Philippines, informing him he was worth a million dollars in prizes. Buried beneath all the unsolicited correspondence he’d almost missed the letter.  He still didn’t know why he’d done it, why he’d stopped the shredder in mid-mangle and pulled the white envelope clear of the paper shards. It was personally addressed in a hand he didn’t recognize, franked from a sea-side town where he’d spent many happy hours. Maybe it was the recognition of the Florida state symbol foiled by the bright white of the envelope, or perhaps the shinning sun on the postage stamp, either way it had peaked his interest.

Slitting the envelope open, he read.

“Dear Bill.

Long time no see. I’m finally leaving the service and taking retirement.”

An old Navy buddy he hadn’t seen for years was hanging up his hat and heading for the beach. A great guy, and a good friend, but that’d been a million years ago.

I’ll be staying at the old house on the Cape and thought you might like to join me and maybe catch up on old times. Drinks are on me, so’s the vacation. Think about it. It would be good to get together after all these years.

The letter contained dates, addresses and a proposed time table. His old comrade wouldn’t be there for the first couple of days;

I’ve some pressing business to attend to, so if you’d like to come down and treat the place as your own for a couple of days  that would be great – in fact you’d be doing me a favor. Nothing worse than walking into an empty home!

Bill smiled, “Who wouldn’t want a fully paid vacation in a fancy beach-front house?”

Even now he could see himself sitting on the deck, toes in the sand, drink in hand, as he watched the liquid lucidity of an azure-blue ocean break and wash across golden sand. With the sound of gulls in the air, and a vision of sun-bronzed beauties wandering the beach, he’d quickly made his decision.

“Hell! After the year he’d had, he deserved it. What with the housing crash, the corporate restructuring and the latest unobtainable sales goals. Fuck yes! Work used to be fun, now it was just work. It’d been a tough couple of years, not just on the business side of things but his personal life had taken a hit as well. After the accident his wife had packed her bags and left, taking the maid and the dog with her. Married for over twenty years, she’d just got up and walked out. The bitch!”

It hadn’t been his fault, there’d been loads of people at the party that night. How could he possibly have been responsible for the death of the girl found floating in the hot tub. The police had been sympathetic but the media merciless. Descriptions of a drink, drug fuelled party, which although not entirely untrue, where exaggerated to the point where he’d been cast as a modern day Caesar overseeing weekend orgies and hosting untold debauchery behind the walls of his Malibu mansion. No blame could be attached to him, and there was absolutely no proof that he’d supplied the drugs. Sure, he had his connections and with the money generated by the housing boom at the time, it’d been too easy to get hold off. A quick phone call to the friend-of-a-friend of the loosely connected Cuban-exile contingent and the necessary had been provided.

Drugs, girls, whatever he wanted, and all just seven digits away.

He hadn’t known her. She’d had some foreign sounding eastern European name. Sure, she’d been a looker, judging by the newspaper photographs, but all he remembered was a water logged body tossed up on the pool deck with paramedics trying to pump her back to life. The moment had been surreal, the blue flashing lights of the emergency vehicles, the uniformed officials surrounded by half-naked party guests in little more than bikinis and shorts. A moment that had been far too serious for the light hearted party atmosphere that had prevailed. Of course the press had camped outside his door for weeks, bothered his family and accused him of God knows what. He was no plaster saint and he’d had his share of flings with girls so numerous he’d forgotten most of their names, but he wasn’t a murderer.

“Saborsky? Sikorsky?  What had the girls name been?” Didn’t really matter now, it was all so long ago.

Of course his fair-weather friends had deserted him, his phone calls going unanswered, his lifestyle of the rich-and-nearly-famous gone forever. After his wife had taken what little money wasn’t mortgaged into the house he’d moved into a regular neighborhood, with regular people, earning regular money. Guilty or no, the mark of Cain was upon him. Scarlet-lettered and treated like a social leper the invitation he held in his hand was a breath of fresh air.

He checked the calendar on his desk. There was nothing that couldn’t be reshuffled and decided he’d accept the offer. “Fuck it, what did he have to lose?”  He pressed the button on the intercom and spoke with the secretary outside. “Louise do me a favor and get a letter off to,” he dictated the address and the name. “In fact send a telegram,” that should get to his old buddy a little faster; hopefully he’d have an answer before the end of the day.

* 

Two weeks later Bill found himself waiting in the Florida sunshine on the side of a road. The telegram had come back in the affirmative.

…..Sounds good stop

Look forward to a few drinks stop

Relive some of those glory days stop.

Will send car stop

Details to follow stop……..

Planning on relaxing he’d packed a suitcase with a couple of tropical shirts, board shorts and some khaki slacks. Not required to dress-to-impress he’d judiciously left his ties and stiff collars in the closet where they belonged. He glanced at his watch; the car should have been there by now? The sun was starting to climb and Bill was beginning to perspire – a bead of sweat leaked from his brow.  Pushing his sunglasses up his nose he watched as a dark limousine indicated, moved out of traffic, and pulled up to the curb.

The door opened and a chauffeur liveried in black stepped out of the vehicle. “Mr. Brown? I’m here to collect you Sir.”

Brown climbed into the rear of the car – the suitcase was placed in the trunk. The interior of the vehicle was a gorgeous mix of richly stitched leather and Ebony carpentry replete with drinks cabinet, a television and a cassette player. Brown was impressed; clearly his friend had done well for himself. The glass slide partition between the front and the back slid down, and the chauffeur spoke over his shoulder. “Mr. Keagan instructed me to ask you, to make yourself at home. You’ll find drinks in the cupboard and there are some cigars, which you may appreciate, in the humidor. Anything else you need, just speak into the microphone and I’ll be more than happy to assist.” Brown thanked him, the partition slid up, and the vehicle glided back into traffic.

Bill couldn’t help but smile. It’d been a long time since he’d enjoyed any form of hedonism and he was about to indulge. Crystal-glass chinked and rattled as he decanted a generous helping of whisky. His fingers found the latch to the humidor, his eyes greedily selecting from the Cahaba’s and Monte-Cristos. Glass in hand and cigar in mouth, Bill watched the City disappear behind them as they headed for the coast. For the first time in months he was smiling. Life was good.

*

Bill woke slumped in the back of the car, the vehicle motionless the engine off. There was a heavy smell of whiskey and his shirt was damp, the crystal glass lay smashed on the floor. Not understanding what had happened Bill tried to sit up but couldn’t. His head was pounding and there was enormous pressure behind his eyes. He attempted to focus but found it difficult, went to move but felt hampered by his leaden limbs. There was a face on the TV screen. He was sure that it hadn’t been there before? Was he drunk, surely not?  Just because his means had diminished didn’t mean his bad habits had, and he was still a regular imbiber. He stared at the face on the screen not recognizing the image. He held his hand to his throbbing brow and forced himself into an upright position. Where was the driver? He stared through the darkened glass, there was nobody there. What the hell was going on? Looking out of the window he could see the ocean. The vehicle was parked on a slip-way, slightly angled down toward the ocean. Where they there? He didn’t recognize anything, but there again it had been a while since his last visit. Sitting erect and doing his best not to slide back down the seat he stared at the image in front of him. It was young woman. Something fizzed and clicked in his brain and he began to trawl on a dim recollection.

“Surely not?” The female face stared at him from a past life. “It couldn’t be?”

“Shirovsky,that was the girl’s name, the girl who’d died at his party. Stupid cow what had she been doing? Ruined his life she had. Her death had taken everything from him and yet it wasn’t his fault. The girl on the screen was her, he was sure of it. What was she was doing on the TV? It didn’t make any sense.”

*

The driver’s door opened and Bill watched as the chauffeur leant in. The man released the hand break and the vehicle lurched forward. Slowly and deliberately, the glass partition slid down. Like a face in a dream he saw the man’s lips move disproportionately to his words. “Mr. Shirovsky wants you to know that it really isn’t his fault.”

Bill pulled on the handles but to no avail, everything was locked. He did his best to kick at the doors but he’d no strength. He felt as though he were struggling in quicksand – everything he did, useless and weighted. “Hey, what’s going on?” he demanded. “Let me the fuck out of here! Hey arsehole. What the hell does that mean?”The chauffeur smiled and the partition slid back into position.

With the image of the drowned woman still on the TV screen,  Bill watched helplessly as the driver walked to the rear of the vehicle. Putting his weight against the car the chauffeur pushed. The vehicle slowly edged forward. Inertia took hold, and the limousine began to roll down the ramp towards the sea.

Bill still dazed from the effects of whatever had been in the whiskey was now keenly aware of his situation. “Let me out,” he yelled.

The car bumped into the ocean, the water slapping against, and enveloping the windscreen. Bill could only stare. Trapped inside the car, and weaker than milk, there was nothing he could do. Fear was taking hold and Bill, unable to resist his fate, could only sit and watch as the vehicle slowly floated from the dock and gradually dipped beneath the water. He felt his bladder release, smelt the piss – the warm liquid pooling in his trousers, the dark stain spreading across his lap

The chauffeurs words rattled in his head, “Mr. Shirovsky says it isn’t his fault. What the hell did that mean?”

The ocean pored through the doors and windows, the front of the car submerged as it surged relentlessly upwards towards his chest. He watched the screen flicker, the image of the girl disappear. He screamed but it came out as a whisper. Cold water raced into the vehicle and he fought to shift his position as the pressure of  inundation forced the air up into the roof of the vehicle. Struggling to hold his head clear he thought on the girl – thought about holding his breath – thought about dying.

 It hadn’t been his fault.

*

The chauffeur watched as the vehicle disappeared beneath the water, the residual air exploding to the surface in a tsunami of bubbles. With the car gone his task was completed. He turned and walked back to the waiting vehicle.

AUX PRINTEMPS

9 Oct

 

Contemplating the vista below, Bill fished inside his jacket for his pipe, tapped it into his hand, and then stuck it between his teeth. Leaning on a shovel, he watched as dawn broke, the lights of the town gradually extinguishing to reveal blackened chimney stacks and dilapidated rooftops.  For the inhabitants, warm showers and corn-flakes would be the order of the hour before another day of toil and struggle demanded their presence on factory floors.  A city slowly coming back to life; a magical now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t moment. What just minutes before had been a sea of lights and flood-lit streets, returned to daytime normality.

He packed the pipe with tobacco and reached into his trousers for his matches.“Damn it,” he thought,” where were his bloody matches?” He turned around. “Hey Jim, you got a light? I can’t find me frigging matches.”

Jim cursed; stopped work, fumbled in his pockets, and after a quick shuffle came up with a lighter. ”Are you going to help me out you lazy old bugger, or do I have to finish this all by my bleeding self?  He demanded.  

Bill smiled, told him to go fiddle with himself, and lit his pipe. Smoke billowed around him, the sweet scent of caramel filled the forest glade. “It was a beautiful spot alright,” thought Bill. “What was the word? Pristine, that’s what it was.”

 It was good to be out in the fresh air, at one with nature. He looked back at his son who was shoulders deep in the trench shoveling dirt for all he was worth. Father and boy, sons of the soil, unified in a common purpose – there was nothing like a bit of hard graft to unite and repair passed differences. It hadn’t been easy raising the lad – memories of a never satisfied wife who’d left them both in the lurch for what she thought was bigger meal ticket.

“Shame the meal ticket had left her for a younger pair of tits – life’s a bitch aint it?”

With record unemployment, miner’s strikes, and industrial austerity the effort it’d taken to put food on the table hadn’t always been easy. The list of cock-ups and myriad difficulties that’d gotten in the way of raising the boy right had often seemed insurmountable. He hadn’t done badly though, and the strapping man who was digging his way to Australia was a credit to him; all the fellas down the pub had told him so.

Ever since he and Jimmy had gone into business together, their fortunes had taken a dramatic turn for the better and life had suddenly become a lot more tolerable. No longer the two-up-two-down on Isambard Kingdom Brunel Terrace but a couple of semi-detacheds in leafy suburbia complete with P.V.C. windows and indoor plumbing. Finally they were moving up in the world.

The figure in the hole grunted and swore, the sound of a shovel flung high into the air thumped onto the ground. “For fuck’s sake dad, give me a hand will you? We’ll be here all bloody day.”

The sun climbed higher in the sky and the coastline along the south side of the town began to take shape; the boats in the harbor and the rock-ridden beaches all coming into view. Tilting his head to one side Bill imagined he could hear the voices of the men unloading freshly caught fish but it was more than likely just the tinnitus playing havoc with his eardrums. A brief spell with the artillery during national service, lobbing shells across desolate moorlands at imaginary communist hoards and practicing the defense of the indefensible, had put his piano playing days to bed for good, at least that would have been the case had he have ever played the instrument. Eighteen months of pure bull-shit, but at least he’d managed to wangle a trip to Germany. A smile spread across his craggy face as he remembered dirndl-dressed frauleins at the bier fests he and his mates would frequent on the weekends. It hadn’t been all bad.

Jimmy was starting to get angry. “Move your wrinkled arse you old git. I’m sweating my bollocks off over here.”

But that was a long time ago, a different epoch, life had moved on since then. Partnering with his son had probably been his best move; it was definitely his most lucrative. They should have done it years ago, but reconciliation is never on a time table, and after Jimmy’s release from nick it hadn’t been easy to pick up where they’d left off.

Bill watched as Jimmy climbed out of the hole and walked back to where they’d parked the car. He was a good lad. All it’d taken for him to realize it was a thirty year pain-in-the-arse and a short, sharp, injection of capital. He drew smoke into his lungs satisfied with his lot, happy with his circumstances. Turning his back on the view, he sauntered over to where Jimmy stood impatiently waiting.

The boot was open. “Give me a hand here, this bastard weighs a ton,”complained Jimmy.

Sucking on his pipe Bill looked into the boot,turned away, and then wretched, “Bloody hell boy, the bugger’s starting to stink!”

“No shit Sherlock, we need to get him out of there and then burn this bloody thing.”

Grabbing the corpse by the shoulders Bill and Jimmy heaved the body out of the car and dropped it onto the grass. Their latest post office extravaganza had gone slightly array and instead of making their usual clean getaway they ended up in a gun fight on the pavement outside. Bill was certain he’d taken out the guard; he’d watched him drop to the ground after unloading on him. He hadn’t seen the second man though, and as Jimmy jumped into the car the glass on the driver’s side had splintered, the bullets ripping through the interior and killing Danny their getaway driver. Luckily Jimmy had the sense to jump behind the wheel, and with a screech of rubber and a couple of backward shots for good measure, they’d headed for the hills. It would’ve been a little awkward to drop Danny at a hospital – too many bloody questions!

They dragged Danny by his legs and pushed him into the hole. Gasping from their exertions both men stared at the man in the woodland grave.

“Alright dad, you finish covering him over and I’ll do the car.”

“Lazy little bastard,” thought Bill, he always got the shitty-end of the stick. He stabbed the shovel into the heaped earth and scooped it over the body. The exploding car and ensuing fireball illuminated the corpse, giving Danny a final, if slightly macabre vitality before his face disappeared under the dirt.

Burning upholstery crackled as dense, acrid smoke from smoldering tires blotted out the town below and filled the clearing. Bill took one last look, stuck his pipe back into his pocket, and concentrated on the job at hand.

FREE CHECKING

25 Sep

 

Economic malaise is gnawing a hole in my wallet. Wait a minute, isn’t that what austerity is supposed to do, isn’t the economy meant to take its toll on the average wage slave? Let me throw a little energy saving, mercury-filled-light bulb-illumination on my situation and clarify exactly what I am ranting about. We’ve all experienced the so-called invisible effects of the economic downturn, the escalating price of gas, the deflation of house prices, and the plethora of for-sale signs that have sprung up overnight like fiscal-fungi in our thinning neighborhoods. Talking heads on BBCNNBCBS allude to political tensions in the middle-east, that it’s the attenuated Straits of Hormuz that are squeezing the financials, not an aggressive western embargo on Iranian oil causing economic shrinkage at the not-so-super market.

 My dollar is still the same size, yet the amount of product it buys has significantly decreased. The peanut butter jar, not just my optimistic outlook, is now only half full. The container, that used to hold lashings of the brown sticky stuff, has been down sized to hold a mere modicum of product deemed worthy for the same price. My bill’s metaphysical dimensions remain constant yet the amount of earthly return i.e the measure of spreadable deliciousness from the jar-of-plenty has clearly shrunk. Should I close my eyes, click my heels, cross my fingers, and hope for Aunt Em to make things better? Perhaps I’m imagining things, but then again no.  Consumer theft is in progress on every aisle. If it isn’t the pb-and-J then it’s the soap containers and shampoo bottles. Shades of a twentyfirst century Gulliver as I walk through an ever shrinking world; my shopping cart Swift-boated in the current of corporate greed. From the perspective of an Ancient Mariner the boards are shrinking without environmental embellishment, instead some pseudo entity in New York, with capital interests, is hedging and bonding my vessel of free enterprise with Titanic effect.

So where am I going with this?

I recently joined a credit union because I’m sick of banks – mortgaged to the hilt and foreclosed upon at the point of a paper sword. Enough already, Wells Fargo can go and fuck themselves at wherever stage they consider appropriate. So far so good – no problems, and they accept my remunerations as though I were a customer and not a virgin bride on prima nocta. Until today, hence my literary vitriol. The only downside to the upturn of my recent financial affiliation is the quality of their plastic. You know, that residual product derived from oil, hailed as the shape-shifter of modern society, the universal material of our current epoch – a manmade replacement for organic perfection?

“How would you like groceries sir, paper or plastic?” A common enough question at environmentally conscious grocers across America except, at my credit union, the only material they offer their psychedelic A.T.M. cards is in plastic. Personally I’d prefer wood. A nice mahogany or ebony, something that would enhance my own personal opinion of myself; alas! It would seem shaving pennies and gouging customers is the order of the day at the Desert Schools  Credit Union in Phoenix Arizona where I am offered a lesser, a faux if you will, plastic. I didn’t know it was possible, but there again I’m not a rocket scientist nor a plastic-ologist. I’ve been with the bank since February and am now the proud owner of bank card number five. Am I frivolous with my processions? Do I wantonly sling them hither-and-thither? No of course not, it’s a bank card; I keep it in my wallet, along with all my other cards!

 Due to the chemical combination that forms my blue and white garish access device to all that I hold financially sacred, the card has a tendency to split along its magnetic seam. Not such a big deal and a quick visit to the union, one would think, would resolve my pliable predicament. Several times this year I’ve walked into the building, proffered my spoiled cards, and within ten minutes been reimbursed with a brand new card allowing me to access my own impecuniosity. Today however, I had the questionable pleasure of meeting the delightful Tammy, a fully paid up, card carrying member of the fascist-bastard corporation, that does its best to cloak itself in the affability of a credit union. An endearing folksy title, a euphemism for community and neighborhood that offers the hard working, impoverished-employed a sanctuary, a safe harbor, for their monthly pittance. Unfortunately, turns out that the new boss is the same as the old boss.

It’s football Friday; Tammy has a football shirt on, so does every other employee. A cheap attempt at showing unity with their public, that they have our interests at heart, that deep down they’re on our side, not that of the Rothschild’s and the Bilderberg’s. She doesn’t remember me even though we’ve spoken on several occasions with regard to accounts, business contracts etc. But that’s okay, Tammy probably sees a couple of hundred clients a day.

I fill in the necessary paperwork. All is well with the universe, any second now I am going to receive my sliver of plastic, the world will continue to turn, and I’ll go about my business. Except it doesn’t.

Tammy looks at me from behind her football blackened eyes and asks me in if I would like to pay the five dollar renewal fee from my checking or my savings and then to add insult to injury, smiles.

Piss boils and a vein pulses on my forehead. My demeanor has obviously changed and before I split my shirt and turn green Tammy, in a moment of life preserving lucidity, pushes back her ergonomic chair on carcinogenic carpeting and asks tentatively if I’m angry? Angry – fuck yes I am angry – I would even go as far to say that I’m slightly perturbed; to say the least Tammy,I take exception. If that constitutes displeasure then I guess you have your answer.

I do my best to explain to her that this is the third card in so many months that has broken and that obviously the quality of their product is inferior and therefore why should I be expected to pay? Tammy feigning surprise asks me if I keep it in my wallet along with the other plastic fantastic that has never broken, despite the fact that they’re stored in exactly the same place, in exactly the same arse- controlled climatic environment. Naturally, and in a manner that would exemplify a father chastising a small child rather than an invading Norseman bludgeoning a pleading Christian, I try to clarify the reason for my disdain.

Free checking with enhanced costs! I’m loving it, but beginning to question my own sanity and reasoning of why I moved from one corporate entity to another? Surely my savings would be better off stuffed in a sock under the mattress? No late fees, no additional checking or early withdrawal charges, and no Tammy. Refusing to pay and carefully enunciating my four lettered explanation, I’m eventually offered a complimentary card so that I can continue to deposit my hard earned wages into the yawning coffers of the Desert Schools Credit Union.

I leave the building victorious; my bright shiny card nestled in my obviously inept wallet. Tammy has had the most exciting day of her banking career, now she to has a story to tell around the water cooler with her other football-shirted colleagues. “Do you remember the day when…?” A story that’ll be related from colleague to colleague; a saga of epic proportion that will be embellished and invigorated, with scar displayed enthusiasm with its retelling. Oh, the excitement! A day in the life of a corporate hireling or, as her brass anointed name plaque announces her, personal financial assistant.

Corporate greed is insidious; free checking accounts have turned into monthly stipends. It may be a small victory, hardly worthy of mention, but they’re my laurels, my lap of honor, my flag-flapping-gold-draped-medal-moment.

Mumbled platitudes of, “I’m just doing my job,” allusions of, “Ja mein Fuhrer. Heil Hitler! Please mind your step on the way to the showering facility.”

Vine Vide Viche.

FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE – RAPE 101

17 Mar

 

Picking up his jacket, the man reached out to her. “Thanks gorgeous, that was amazing.”

Anna smiled the smile she saved for her clients, kissed him on the cheek and gently coaxed him out of the apartment. What was it with these blokes? They were paying for sex, not love. Didn’t they know her time was valuable? Jesus! If she lingered and whispered sweet-nothings to every swinging dick that came through her door she’d never make any money. Did they really think she thought they were special, that they were the only ones? On a good day she’d see six of them, all of them the same -married, single, with jobs, careers, professions, titles and university accreditation. All of them looking for non-committal, illicit sex, but always yearning for something more – a heartfelt conversation, an emotional connection, the feeling they were wanted for more than just screwing shelves to mortgaged homes, weeding gardens, forty hours a week plus over time. Lawyers, bricklayers, school teachers and mechanics, even the occasional woman. Apparently there were females out there, who despite having the physical accoutrement to score in an convent, preferred the seclusion and security that went along with the services she provided. It made no difference. To Anna money was money; her moment of rehearsed ecstasy was brief but lucrative. As her clients lay gasping on her bed from their exertions, pinning her under their matted chests and heaving bellies, it wasn’t exactly l’amour she was contemplating.

The luxury apartment she’d acquired overlooked the river Ouse; an old bonded-warehouse that’d been turned into yuppie condos back in the eighties. It’d cost a packet and the brand new German automobile parked in the subterranean garage, purchased to accessorize her new found affluence, hadn’t just materialized out of thin air. When people talked about working-girls they didn’t know the half of it! Between escorting and scamming she’d done pretty well for herself. Not bad for a girl who’d left school with three o-levels and a set of double-dees.

As a lass she’d enjoyed plenty of male attention, never having to put her hand in her pocket. Realization quickly dawned upon Anna that her path, thanks to her looks, was paved in gold. Single pot culinary masterpieces in dingy shared accommodation had been exchanged for the fine dining and silk sheets. Sure she’d dated in her teens, but the gooey-eyed, sentimental love songs sung by her boyish lovers where nothing when compared to the overtures of the mature wealthy men prepared to treat her like a princess and pay for the privilege Escorting hadn’t been her first choice. She’d tried to fulfill parental expectation and do the college-thing however, the lure of easy cash in the clubs and bars around the city soon made her reconsider her profession of choice. Weekends stuck in bedsits with mountains of homework were not for her and the quotidian indecent proposals she received offered her the escape from the working class purgatory she so desired.

Anna kept up the pretense of college for a couple of years before committing to apprentice in the oldest profession. She’d told her parents she’d found a job as an air stewardess, allowing her to account for her time away and the money she was earning. She hadn’t found it hard, the life style she led more than made up for the sweaty half-hours she had to endure. Beautiful clothes, perfect make up, fun friends and wild destinations became the norm. It was from this pedestal of feminine invincibility that she’d ventured into black mail; an easy enough transition. Having stepped over one line it was simple enough to leap over another.

Her first mark had been a man who’d approached her in Betty’s Tea-Rooms on the High Street. Not an unusual occurrence- the sexuality she oozed attracted men like lemmings to cliffs. Nice enough fella and judging by the shoes and clothes he was wearing a man of substance. It was the little things she noticed, the expensive watch, the silk tie, the oversized wedding ring. They’d talked, he’d asked her out for drinks and she’d said yes.

Child’s play she’d thought to herself; they made themselves targets. For some reason men who cheat love to talk about their home, their kids, their jobs, and their wives. It was a wonder they cheated in the first place given the conversations that were always so up beat – how lucky, fortunate ,happy, (pick the adjective) they were, and yet here they were trying to get into her knickers as though she kept the crown jewels down there! They’d arranged a rendezvous, set up a time and place to do the deed. It had been easy enough. She’d left him asleep on the bed, rifled his pockets, taken his watch and pocketed the wedding band he’d judiciously laid on the night stand. With his credit card in hand and his driver’s license there was no fear of repercussion. He’d be stupid to call the police, especially with the photograph of his doting family nestled in her handbag.

*

Frank had been one of the first people she’d really got to know when she arrived in the city, always seemed to be working the doors of the hottest night spots in town. Nice guy, big as a brick-shithouse but always smartly dressed – handsome in a rugged, aggressive kind of way. He’d ushered her past red-ropes, jumped her through crowds and set her on the arms of several different wealthy men. Not being slow on the uptake he’d managed to coerce her into a little business proposition. Didn’t want to muscle in on the escort side of things, wasn’t looking to pimp her out, but there was something they could do together that could make them both a lot of money. Shed accepted an invite for coffee and it was then he’d discussed his plans.

Wiping the cappuccino foam from his top lip Frank leant across the table.“Married fellas, out-of-towners and race-go-ers with money, are always asking me for girls. Not just any girls but something a bit special like you. Offering big money as well. Fellas like that have a reputation to keep and nine times out of ten a family as well. The last thing they need is publicity of the wrong sort.”

The plan was to entice punters into hotels, get them naked and then photograph them in compromising positions. No sex required just a couple of snaps of the punter in his Jockies, Anna in her bra-and-panties and the job was a good-‘un – the money theirs. They’d never know what hit them and they’d pay up every time.  A couple of thousand quid was cheap compared to a divorce and their faces splashed all over the local papers. It almost sounded too good to be true!

The first one she met at the Ebor hotel, told her she was the most beautiful women he’d ever seen. Of course she played the virgin, fluttered her baby-blues and blushed in all the right places. Anna embelished the occasion with the panache of Garbot; with long lingering looks, furtive glances and brushed fingertips. The small felt box he’d slid across the dinner table with the necklace had been his first inducement. He’d later dropped her off, at what he though was her apartment, had his advances rebuked, and his cheek kissed.

Gorgeous in the console light of the parked car she’d taken his hand, “Never on a first date darling. I want you to respect me. I want this to be special.” Worked every time, the idiot would go home and fuck his wife like they were newlyweds in anticipation of their next meeting. The second meeting was always at a hotel, something posh and very public; somewhere there would be no fear of retaliation.

In the room he’d open the wine, while she’d make the excuse to slip into something more comfortable. The sound of a shower running softly and the soft silky inducement for him to take his clothes off would always get the punter down to his y-fronts and socks. Anna would walk in smelling delicious wearing a little something from Victoria’s Secret – classically beautiful but expensively slutty, and then join him on the bed. His arms would barely be around her before the intruder burst from the closet. Frank dressed all in black, with a balaclava on his head and waving a baseball bat was enough to scare the shit out of anybody

“Get off the fucking bed,” screamed Frank. “Now! Off the bed you fucking nonce!”  Standing at the foot of the bed with the club in his hand he was a hard man to refuse. “You too, you fucking slut. Both of you stand over there.” Screamed Frank, pointing his weapon towards the cowering couple. The camera would flash and the john would look for all the world like a naughty school boy caught peeking at dirty pictures rather than the captain of industry or doting husband that he supposedly was.

Despite protestations the camera flashed again. “Shut up and listen you twat! In a few days you’ll receive a call with an amount and a drop-off. Don’t fuck me around or these photos will go around the world. Don’t try and screw me ‘cos I’ve already given instructions to release these should something happen to me. Understand, comprende, capiche?”

The john nodded.

“It’s simple see. You pay the money, shut the fuck up, and these go away.” Frank brandished the camera stared down the client, who would invariably cower behind Anna, and then leave. Left with the client to clean up the pieces Anna would quickly get dressed, promise she’d never see ,or mention him to anybody, and urge him to pay the money.

The money was invariably delivered. The photos and negatives would end up with the John and Anna and Frank would share the rewards. Not a bad line of business, and something they were able to pull off fairly regularly.

Anna looked at the clock on the wall – it was a quarter to ten. She had to get a wiggle on as she was supposed to interview with their latest target, a man called John who was the owner-operator of the Slug and Cabbage, one of the most popular venues in York. According to Frank the man was minted and needed to be relieved of some of his ill-gotten wealth. An easy target; married with a couple of kids he couldn’t keep his dick in his pants. Anna would interview for the position of barmaid, something she’d done in the past, and within a couple of weeks worm her way into John’s good graces –although according to Frank it probably wouldn’t take that long. Then using their perfected modus operandi they’d take him down. Frank reckoned he was good for a thousand or five, not the sort of money you could earn on your back or for selling muscle for money on a nightclub door.

She needed to jump in the shower and wash the client of her. She could stillfeel his breath on her neck and his sticky cum was still in her hair. God he was disgusting! It wasn’t as though she was doing it for the money. The man who liked to be tied up, spanked and occasionally pissed on was none other than Inspector Pinkney of the East Yorkshire Constabulary .

She’d first met Pinkney a couple of years ago when he’d busted her on a prostitution scam. She’d been expecting some well-heeled client but instead when she’d answered the door Pinkney had been there. He knew everything and had threatened to take her down the station and bust her. A couple of years in Leeds wasn’t exactly what she’d had planned. Given the crackdown on vice that was going on in the city, especially the clean up around the railway station and Lendel Bridge, there was little chance of leniency. Anna was afraid she’d end up in jail cell with a couple of dykes that would fuck her to within an inch of her life and so the invitation to suck Pinkney’s dick and to make the matter go away seemed preferable.. Of course she’d got on her knees but the inspector hadn’t disappeared and she’d been forced to endure his increasing list of perversions on a regular basis. Pinkney, good to his promise, kept her out of Jail, and on a couple of occasions had managed to get her out of scrapes. Although a literal pain in the arse, he was a good card to have up her sleeve.  If the shit really hit the fan she could always rely on the inspector.

 Anna walked towards the bathroom, picked up her clothes as she went and tossed them on the destroyed bed. Handcuffs and a strap on dildo still lay were she’d left them. She’d tidy up later, she had to get in the shower and get out of there.

*

Smelling clean and expensive she looked herself up and down in the mirror. The black skirt over sheer stockings and high heels would take his breath away; her bosom threatened to explode through the laced shirt she wore, a hint of pink bra peeked from beneath pristine white. Anna was a vision. John the man she was going to interview with didn’t know it yet, but was already dead meat. He’d be putty in her hands, and in in a couple of weeks she’d be counting his cash. Grabbing her bag and keys she walked toward the door.

The telephone started to ring. Anna was late, she had to get going, she had to be there at twelve and the Slug and Cabbage was on the other side of town. She closed the door to her apartment. The answering machine would pick up, shed get it later, probably just a booking.

The answering machine kicked in. The honey chocolate tones of the gorgeous Helen, Anna’s working name filled the void. “Hi sorry you missed me. Not here right now but if you leave a name and number I’ll get back to you just as soon as I can.”

“Beep.”

“Hey Anna, Anna, it’s me Dmitry – pick up the bloody phone!” The sound of a man with an eastern European accent echoed through the room

“Anna it’s Dmitry. I’ll be in town tonight, maybe we can get together baby. Dmitry’s going to make you rich baby. Call me back, I missed you so bad.”

The machine clicked off. The red light on the answering machine pulsed.

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WANNABE

11 Mar

 

“Life has a funny way of messing with you and putting you in your place. Doesn’t matter what college you did or didn’t go to, the length of your resume or even the veracity of your pedigree; once fate gets her gnashers into you there’s no point in struggling. There’s a plan, you see, however, it’s one that we just aren’t aware of. It ain’t God, it’s not the aliens and it’s certainly not the fairies at the bottom of the garden, and as much as I want to believe in Leprechauns, it ain’t them either…

  Funny little Irish blokes with their pots of gold, rainbows, big buckles and large hats.

 I just can’t force myself to do it! Given society’s p.c. climate, the pot of the gold at the end of the rainbow may just be a homosexual reference for something else? Have to be careful these days, can’t just believe in any old rubbish!

 The way I see it there is more to this world than meets the naked eye. Blind as we are at the best of times, without our rose-colored spectacles, the world occasionally offers us a glimpse, a peek behind the curtain – a glitch in the matrix as Neo called it. People see all manner of strange things from spectral entities and dead relatives to whole roman legions marching through the center of town. I mean if you’re going to make something up at least have the courtesy of making it believable. One roman yes, but thirty, dirty, battle-weary Italians? It’s a bit of a stretch, especially the bit about the Italians being battle weary! We’ve all heard the joke bout the Italian tank with thirty six gears; one for forward and thirty five for reverse? But I digress, the Italians aren’t a bad lot – I mean there’s Pizza and other stuff that we can thank them for. Right?

Thing is see, I think we live in different dimensions, different levels of consciousness that we just can’t access. Sure we have the mediums and the Russell Grants of the world who can tell us exactly what’s in our future – but can they really? At the end of the day we see seven colors in a spectrum of infinite color and our hearing range falls within the Mutton-Geoff. No wonder we have such a problem understanding what’s going on around us, we can barely see and hear each other. You’ve probably noticed in most job listings they ask for good communication skills? Given that mankind is tapping a white stick and popping new batteries into its hearing device it’s a wonder the human race made it out of the starter-gate at all!

Fate got a hold of me at an early age. Wasn’t much good at school, but the one thing I could do was color between the lines and cut out correctly – an eye for detail is what the infant-school teachers said. As I progressed through my comprehensive education I discovered that I was also a bit handy with a pencil and a paint brush, to the point that my work was hung all over the school and was winning competitions in the local district. An acclaimed artist, a boy with a future – which was  all very well and gave me a goal but what I really wanted to do was discover buried treasure.

 I grew up with Treasure Island and Burt Lancaster leaping from ship to ship in old Pirate flicks, black-and-white swashbucklers featured at Saturday morning matinees. We’d draw treasure maps and mark all the pertinent points in black felt-tip pen.

…Twenty steps north to the shed, turn east and walk thirty steps to the bird table, another fifteen steeps to the barbeque island and  then, “ YO HO HO ! There you have it me hearties – dig you blaggards dig…”

With plastic-spade enthusiasm we’d blunt our implements on the iron-hard ground as we attempted to unearth treasure, or reach Australia – whichever came first. Happy days when a pair of underpants pulled down over your head was an eye patch and a bamboo stick a cutlass that would run any passing poor- unfortunate through. Sailing for the horizon o’er the Spanish Maine until your mum called you in because it was getting dark and your fish fingers were going cold.

I used to spend hours curled up in front of the portable television in the spare room watching grainy images of Jacque Cousteau as he discovered the never before seen world under the waves. The occasional ship wreck and acres of fish – the stuff of Boy’s Own stories books and Christmas annuals, but with a French accent.

 Sun beating of the Calypso’s deck, the drip of Mediterranean water as you emerged from the deep, instead of cold rain beating off a Yorkshire window. I even had a red wooly hat, which to the initiated signified something special; however, the ignorant just thought I was a Liverpool supporter. I’ve been called many things but Liverpool? York city was my team – at least they were on Saturday afternoons when we were waiting for the pubs to reopen.

Well, life passed me by and I never did get to wear the scuba gear, ambitions of frogmen and sunken galleons were put into cardboard boxes and stored in the attic with the other relics of childhood. Exams were taken and failed and the only school that would have me was the city arts college. Always a place for a loser at the arts college, in fact I have the feeling the bigger the loser the bigger the welcome. Diversity is what they called it then although looking back it was a little weird.

 Tomatoes or ‘TOW-MAY-TOES’,  it’s all one!

So I spent my three years scribbling and drawing, growing beards and shaving beards, dating lads, because that was the new-romantic thing to do, then going back to lasses because they were less stubbly.

Which brings me to the present  and finds me here in my own tattoo studio. Not a bad life and it’s a nice little outlet for my creativity. All manner of people walk through the door and there’s never a dull moment. That’s a lie actually because, if I have to ink another star on another backside, I may just have to end it all right there and then.

There’s the door bell!  Got to go, that’s my three o’clock – a lady that wants a bull’s-eye on her lower back. Asked her why, and she told me her husband was a dart player! Don’t get it myself. Bit strange if you ask me, but business is business!”

DAY AT THE RACES – RAPE 101

10 Mar

The latest installment for RAPE 101.

The tea was weak and the sandwich stale, so much for her Majesty’s fabled hospitality. Frank sat on a plastic chair sweating under the glare of bare neon bulbs in the interview room of the East Yorkshire Constabulary on Coney Street. Wanted posters and public information bulletins pinned to a cork board were the only other decoration in what had possibly once been a cloak room – rows of coat hooks still lined the wall. 

* 

            His day had been planned – a quick visit to Izzy to collect the gear, on to the pub to pick up wages he was owed, and then to the bookies. The Saint Ledger was running at Doncaster that weekend and he’d had a tip for a horse in the second. Emerald Warrior was a thoroughbred out of one of the local stables and a sure thing according to one of his regulars, an Irish Jockey, little fella, who’d sworn that she went like a bloody rocket. He’d planned to put a monkey on the nose to win and take his winnings off to some sun-splashed Spanish beach to enjoy some of the local brew and possibly a senorita or two. With autumn setting in it was starting to get cold and despite the thick jacket and leather gloves he wore on the door, the damp was starting to play havoc with his knee. An old war wound he’d acquired playing rugby back in the day that had been caused by an over-enthusiastic center half. He sat in silence, sipped his tea and rubbed his knee. 

            The car had come out of nowhere – no sirens, no nothing, just a squeal of breaks and a slamming of doors. Two uniforms, a couple of sour faced buggers, had climbed out and invited him in no uncertain terms to come with them. Dirty-deeds-done-recently ran quickly through his mind as he tried to place what they were nabbing him for. He’d been out the car stealing business for some time and although he’d been a bit heavy handed on the door with some of the punters, there was nothing that could be called unjustified; excessive maybe but not without cause. 

“Frank Johnson?” they’d asked.

He’d said nothing.

“Get in the car son. We want a word down the station.”

No point fighting it. The rozzers clearly knew who they were after. 

* 

The door opened. A man in his mid-fifties, dressed in a crumpled civilian suit, walked into the room. Scraping back a chair he sat down opposite Frank and threw a folder down – one of the photographs it contained slid from within and scudded across the table. Frank’s blood went cold. The look on his face betrayed him instantly. The momentary lapse told the copper everything he needed to know. 

“Bollocks,” thought Frank. He was done for. 

“That’s right Frank,” sneered Pinkney,“we’ve got you dead to rights mate. Looks like you’ll be doing a bit of porridge in Leeds.” Leeds was an old dilapidated Victorian prison that looked as though it had been used as the back drop for a medieval vampire epic. One man to a cell was a Victorian value, but Frank had heard the stories, how they crammed four fellas into a cell, twenty two hours a day, with nothing but a bucket and a roll of toilet paper. Bloody barbaric is what it was, especially in this day and age. 

“Who are you then?” Frank asked. 

“I’m Inspector Pinkney. I’m the one who’s going to put you away and throw away the bloody key lad, that’s who. You can call me Inspector.” 

Frank mumbled something under his breath and glanced at his watch. It was three o’clock, he should have been up to his neck in the Racing Post studying form and picking ponies, instead here he was being interviewed by the bloody pigs – a situation that was worsening by the minute. 

“Recognize those mugs in the photographs do you?” Pinkney flipped open the folder and arranged the pictures in front of Frank. By the time he’d finished the table was covered and every one showed Frank in a compromising situation. Frank said nothing – what did they know any way? They didn’t know nowt!

“Who’s that fella with you there?” He said pointing to the picture of a skinny man with a beard. Pinkney knew who it was, he wasn’t stupid, the backroom boys had already done the leg-work. For the last couple of months they’d watched the drugs and their dealers go back and forth. Pills mainly however, they’d recently switched it up and were now pushing coke. Thing was they didn’t know where the local pushers were getting it from, and that’s what the Inspector needed Frank for. 

Frank was sweating bullets. “That’s you, isn’t it lad?” The picture showed Frank carrying boxes into a lock-up. There was another man in the picture; thankfully the hooded sweat shirt hid his face from the camera. “Now we know its drugs Frank and you know how we frown on that type of caper? Do yourself a favor and let us in on the secret. Who’s that with you, and where are they bloody coming from?” 

The Inspector was enjoying himself, loved this part of the job – it was always good when you had the crooks on the wrong foot. A collar was a sure thing however, it wasn’t Frank he wanted, it was the person behind him, and the persons behind them. If they could wrap this mess up before soon, it would go well for his retirement and who knows, may even set him up for a gong. The missus would like that. A train down to London, tea at Buckhouse and a handshake from Lizzy. Pinkney could see himself now splashed across the Daily Mail dressed in top hat and tails with an O.B.E. in one hand and an adoring wife on his arm. He came back to reality, leaving behind his acceptance speech, and once again focused on the business at hand and the miscreant in front of him. Frank was a big bugger, someone he wouldn’t like to meet on a dark night, but in the grand scheme of things he was only a small fry. 

“Tell me what you know Frank and I’ll try to make this go away,” said Pinkney in the most fatherly voice he could muster. “Tell me who’s in charge of peddling this shit and I’ll see that you get off Scot free.” Promises the inspector couldn’t make, but right now in the sea of shit that Frank was drowning in, Pinkney was his only hope. Pinkney sat back in his chair and rubbed his face. He could still smell the dirty bitch on his fingers from this morning’s rendezvous. The extra-curricular that put the spring in his step and the sparkle in his eye. Nothing her-indoors needed to know about, something on the down low, his little secret. 

Frank shifted uncomfortably in his seat. This wasn’t happening to him. They’d been so careful with the distribution; the Poles were sticklers for secrecy! It’d been going on for a year and a half without a whiff of bother. 

Had somebody mouthed off? What the fuck had gone wrong? 

The photographs spoke volumes, there was no denying what was on the table. It’d been smooth sailing – the money had come rolling it. The pills were easy to lay off on the weekend crowd, and the demand for something a little more exotic had been a doddle to come by, all they’d to do was ask. The Eastern Europeans he was dealing with could lay their hands on just about anything, and with the guarantee of steady money were more than happy to cater to York’s party needs. The city had always been a chocolate town; the two major manufacturers of sweet confection, them and the railroads, had made the city what it was. The nose-candy supplied by the Poles had been the icing on the cake. Folk came from miles around to party on the weekend and enjoy the illicit product that was being sold in nearly every pub and club in the city, and it was all thanks to Frank. He’d been careful not to be excessive with his newfound wealth – kept his living costs moderate, no reason to point a searchlight at himself that screamed come and get me. 

Getting caught was one thing but grassing on the comrades was another – hard faced ex-military types with a severe lack of empathy. He’d seen what they’d done to one delinquent dealer who hadn’t taken them seriously. When the bloody, barely breathing, body had been thrown into the river, he was more than convinced he didn’t need to fuck around with this lot. In and out was the key. Make your money and disappear. The Poles were driving delivery vans over from Calais stacked full with tablets and blow. They wouldn’t think twice about putting a couple of bullets into him, the same way they had the other poor bastard who even now was feeding the fish at the bottom of the Ouse. 

“Frank you can tell me, or I’ll put you back out there and say you did. We can work this out one of two ways, either you are fucked or I can make sure that this goes away.” He tapped his fingers on the table. “Protective custody, new identity, different town, all within my power Frank. All you have to do is cough.” 

Frank was shitting himself, he could feel the flatulence pressing against his sphincter. Why the hell had he done it? What a fucking mess. Either he was screwed or he was royally screwed. His mind scrambled for a way out. He thought back to every episode of The Bill he could remember. How could he spin this thing and walk away? “I want to see a solicitor.” 

The Inspector smiled. “There you go Frank, now you’re thinking. Got one in mind or would you like me to recommend one?” The inspector smiled like a shark, revealing his tobacco-stained teeth. Frank had taken the bait and admitted his guilt before they’d even started. A couple of photographs weren’t going to get him an arrest however a full blown confession with a protective custody advisory would do nicely. Given the photographs no solicitor in their right mind would suggest otherwise. 

Then the inspector played his trump card and reached inside his jacket and produced another photograph, this time of a woman in her late sixties. “Recognize her, do you Frank?” 

Frank felt his tongue turn to sandpaper as he tried to swallow. The dryness in his mouth crept through his entire body. 

“Course you bloody do, seeing as how it’s your old Mum. We’ve had our eye on her too,” sneered Pinkney. 

“You leave her bloody out of this, she ain’t done nothing you rotten bastard!” 

“Temper, temper Frank. I was just making a little conversation, ain’t nothing written in stone just yet. Seems to me though she’s involved whether she knows it or not. Got a couple of my boys ready to go round her house later and have a word, a friendly visit if you will.” 

Frank despaired. Not his mum of all people. 

“That lock-up you’ve been storing your gear in belongs to her, makes her an accessory after the fact. How do you think your old mum will do in Leeds? Lot of women in there would probably take advantage of a sweet lady like her, if you know what I mean Frank?” 

Frank thought hard. The Poles would kill him but he couldn’t see his mum go down for something she hadn’t done. The copper was right, Leeds women’s prison was no place for a frail middle aged woman, besides she’d never done a wrong thing in her life. She’d no idea they were using his dad’s old lock-up for storage. There was nothing for it – he had to come clean. 

The drugs had been easy enough to distribute and with a ready clientele they’d soon made money hand over fist. Everybody was involved, from the bartenders to the security staff, there wasn’t a single one of them that wasn’t making a packet on the side. At first they’d kept it to the Slug and Cabbage but word, as it always did, had travelled and they’d started to supply the other pubs and clubs as well. It’d got to the point where they’d had to take even more merchandise off the Polacks, who for an astronomical price were more than happy to supply. Frank through his contacts at the garage and the network of connections on the doors had been able to get rid of the lot. The amount he was dealing in was mindboggling, overnight and without really trying he’d become a regular Yorkshire drug lord. There was so much coke being snorted in York that the whole bloody city should have turned white, a veritable narcotic Christmas every weekend of the year. He’d been careful, at least he thought he had – those bloody pictures, how had they got a hold of those? What about his mum? There was no way he could let her take a jump for what he’d done, shed never survive in Leeds. 

Pinkney stood up, stuffed the photos back into the folder and made to walk away. “Alright then Frank, if that’s the way you want to play it?” The inspector was the consummate actor; he’d played the role a thousand times before. 

Pinkney was old school bastard, you could smell it on him – Frank could try to slip him a bribe but he didn’t look the type. There wasn’t much for it, either way he was screwed. If the Poles found out they’d execute him and the others without a second’s thought. If he grassed then a shallow grave on the moors or a cold shower in the Ouse was the most he could expect. “What kind of deal?” asked Frank through clenched teeth. 

Pinkney stopped at the door, he had the man by the balls. Loved it when they squealed – nothing better than a perp spilling his guts and giving up his mates. It was the little things that made the job worthwhile, perks like the girl he’d enjoyed that morning. He smiled in delicious remembrance, sniffed his fingers once more, and turned back to the room. 

“Good boy Frank, seems to me like you’re brighter than what I gave you credit for.” The inspector sat down pulled out a note pad and pen, “Alright then lad start at the beginning. Tell me what you know.”

Check out the rest of RAPE 101 at https://writercrjames.wordpress.com/rape-101/