Darkness, where my dreams are all too real…

Short Story HRS written as part of the High Rise Project encompassing the Album HRS by Kallous Boys and the series of Poems High Rise Love by my Alter Ego in Verse Colin Hankey. No matter how long ago or how far away some ghosts are hard to shake, and JG Ballard did not help any! Enjoy.

HRS by Joe Manning

Billy sat on the top of the storage heater next to the living room window. Cold, cold like the rain on the windows. It was only August and the Council didn’t turn the heating on until September for the whole block. You paid for it as part of your rent, but if it was cold in August, tough, put another layer of clothes on or go to bed. No fireplaces, gas fires or other heating in these flats. And today it was cold. As it had been for the last four days. Cold and fucking wet. The rain lashed against the window and obscured the view, The beautiful view. Thirteen floors down children crawled like ants across the smouldering wrecks of cars left by joyriders who could not afford cabs back from the clubs and in the distance the incinerator of the local waste disposal plant belched smoke into the air, further in the distance the power station echoed this with it’s own noxious emissions , beyond that the river and beyond that South of the river, where no cabs ran, tube stations were rare and jobs rarer still. They still had a working windmill in Brixton for fucks safe. Different world. The Beautiful South!

Up here on the thirteenth floor the view was the bonus you got. Eid, Diwali, Guy Fawkes , New Year , whenever. Anytime there were fireworks you had the best seat in the house. More often than not though the most exciting thing was either the spotlight of the Police Helicopter looking for the Pirate Radio teams putting masts on the roofs, or supporting ground teams chasing muggers or worst still the Air ambulance descending past your window to the kids playground to land. Domestic, Gang/Drug Related or RTA. They did not come out for jumpers of which the blocks had plenty. Oh the other bonus , being on the top floor, no-one went past your window ( or through it if you had left it open) on their final descent.

Billy sighed, stubbed out the joint and looked for his trainers. He had to go out there today. The DWP waited for no man and Monday was signing on day. On a good day he could get there in fifteen minutes and he was not due to the office for over an hour but he was factoring in the lifts, the rain and undefined nonsense. In this town there was always undefined nonsense. Trainers on , Jacket on, Hat on. Testicles, Spectacles, Wallet and Watch and Phone and Keys and that shit little book the DWP liked you to fill in. Billy grabbed the bins from the kitchen. Chute room on the way out. Chute room, a nice name for a stinking hole in the wall where you threw your rubbish in the hope that it would A). Reach the bottom and the chute was not blocked and B). That there wasn’t smoke coming out of it. When it was blocked residents might try to clear the chute with the odd petrol bomb, when it wasn’t blocked kids from another high rise might set light to the pile of rubbish at the bottom. A friendly little territorial game. Happy Days.

He locked the door behind him top lock, bottom lock and middle. Thieving bastards around here had taken to using a chainsaw if you only had a single Chubb and Yale and cutting through the door above the locks so the top half swang open like a stable door. In and out in a matter of minutes with whatever they could. Neighbours are not gonna come out and question a crew with a chainsaw are they? He opened the door to the Chute Room and the stench was worse than usual like something had crawled in and died and the lights were out again. He placed one bag and one foot against the door to keep the bloody thing open and reached in. Something underfoot. Shit fuck shit fuck shit. A body. Something had crawled in and died. A sudden groan from the body was somewhat of a relief. Not dead. Undefined nonsense.Big Time.

Billy kicked the body, softly mind, just to ensure it was alive and it emitted another groan but did not really move. The Chute hatch was missing so he launched the bin bags in quickly and heard the satisfying whoosh and thump of a successful delivery to the room at the bottom of the block where the council collected from. Delivery made, he reached into his pocket and pulled out his phone , switching on its torch. The body flinched. Bright light. The body pulled its arms across its face and curled up. Another gentle nudge with his trainer. 

“You alive?” he asked. A muffled response. “You hurt?” Another muffled response. He didn’t think that long difficult questions were an option. The body lowered its arms and looked at him. Filthy dirty face, crusted puke, matted hair and some traces of blood. Dirty clothes,torn but not old and worn. One trainer,one bare foot. He could not just leave it here , neither could he be late for his appointment with the Department of Weariness and Pain. Ten minutes late and they would reassess you and that was you on some sort of sanction or unpaid work programme. He was going to regret this.

 “ Come on, get up,” he said. “You can’t stay in here and the caretaker will call the Old Bill if he finds ya. Come on” He held out a hand and lowered the torch. It croaked more than spoke. “ Got nowhere to go, got no money, dunno where I am.” Billy sighed . He was definitely going to regret this. “ Name’s Billy” he said “Come on , come with me. Won’t hurt you.”

A filthy dirty hand sat in his and he pulled the body to its feet. Jesus it fucking stank. He supported its weight and they moved back into the lobby, his foot away from the Chute room door, the retainer closed it behind them. There was no real struggle from the body as he pushed open the door to his landing and leant it against the wall . Top lock , bottom lock , middle lock. Front door open. He ushered the body into the flat and positioned it on the sofa. A quick glance at the time. forty five minutes to signing on time. He grabbed a bottle of Lucozade from the fridge and stuck it in the dirty hand to little response. Quickly down the hall he grabbed a sweatshirt and some jogging bottoms from his bedroom and whizzed back to the living room . The body had not moved. He took the Lucozade undid the top and put it back in the dirty hand. 

“Drink. “ he said. The body sipped at the bottle and coughed. “Right,” said Billy “ You are safe here. I have got to go and sign on . I will be back in an hour . Clean clothes next to you , bathroom down the hall, plenty of food in the kitchen, help yourself.” He spoke slowly and loudly like he was speaking to an idiot or a foreigner.

“Safe? “ asked the body. 

“ Yeah safe.” said Billy thinking he might have seen a hint of a smile. “Back soon.” And with that he was away. Down the hall, out the door , locking it behind him. Top lock, Bottom Lock, Middle Lock. He wasn’t leaving it in the chute room like some wretched animal but he was not coming back to find out he had left a junkie to turn over his flat. Thirteenth floor . Locked Door. No way out. Shit fuck shit fuck shit. He was already regretting this.

The body sat on the edge of the sofa , slightly stunned that it was here.It looked around the room. Books everywhere in neat piles. Seemingly endless amounts of vinyl LPs nestled in shelves that covered the walls on two sides of the room. A small TV sat on a blue coffee table covered in dust. Two guitars sat on stands next to the sofa , the only seat in the room, and the walls were covered in old magazine front covers held up with drawing pins and faded by age. The floor had an old rug in the middle on which sat a laptop , a pair of boots and a small floral tin, which looked like a vintage tobacco tin. Something in the room stank, badly, and the body remembered the clean clothes the man Billy had bought in and “bathroom down the hall, food in the kitchen, help yourself.” It knocked back the rest of the Lucozade headed down the hall, it looked into the first door. Bathroom. One of those interior jobs, no window, Xpelair fan comes on with the light. Clean though, fresh towels. The body stripped off the stinking clothes and pushed them to the side of the floor. Shower. Long hot shower. The body ached and the heat and cleansing water were nice. The brain too dull to be trying to process anything at all. Glad not to be lying on that floor. Glad to be getting clean. Half a bottle of shower gel and however long was good. Good. A positive thought. The body stepped from the shower and wrapped a towel around itself. The brain reminded it that there was food. Starving. The last thing it had eaten was that cheap breakfast when it arrived North of the river. When was that? The brain did not want to think and the body needed feeding. Back down the hall , into the living room, clothes on the sofa. A sweatshirt and some jogging bottoms. Bit big, but soft and clean. Clean. Nice.

The Kitchen was directly off the Living Room and small but he had said plenty of food and there was. Too much choice. The body created and wolfed down a peanut butter sandwich and half a pint of milk , while heating a bowl of soup and making a second peanut butter sandwich. Rain lashed against the Kitchen window and the body peered through the blur to realise that this place was some way up in a high rise block. The stomach turned and the peanut butter sandwich threatened to come back up. Where the fuck am I? The brain remembered what Billy had said “Safe” and at the moment he was nowhere to be seen there was food, shelter and clean clothes. Not unknown faces screaming obscenities as unseen hands beating and mauling, unseen feet kicking and stamping forced you into the boot of a car and laughter as the boot was shut. Then Darkness.

The soup bubbled noisily, reminding the body where it was and that it was still hungry. It wiped some tears from its face and served the soup and sandwich, taking them back to the sofa. It ate quietly trying not to think of anything, absolutely anything at all.

Out of the flat Billy had that choice to make. Lift or stairs, lift or stairs, shit prizes in a forgotten quiz show. The lifts were intermittent at best, the indicators no longer told you if one was coming once you pushed the call button and you needed to put your ear to the cold metal door to listen for the sound of whining gears. The other option was stairs, thirteen floors. That was twenty six flights of concrete where you might or might not have light, find a sofa wedged across your path, meet unfriendly types looking for nonsense , interrupt a girl at work or a group of junkies or worse still some old dear with shopping or a single mum with a buggy and feel obliged to help them up the way! The lift door slid open and for a change it was not swimming in piss. He pulled the old biro from his pocket that he kept for such occasions, stepped in and pushed the button marked G with said biro. The buttons, when not ripped out or burnt, were often covered with chicken grease , sputum or worse. The door slid close at its usual hesitant pace and the lift lurched before starting its descent . At this time on a Monday he hoped for a clean run to the ground with no one calling the lift from another floor ( this one only stopped at odd numbered floors), no need to have to have the unpleasantness of awkward chit chat or fearful silence. He laughed half remembering watching old thriller films with his mum as a kid, where the lifts had those little arrow indicators so you knew how far you were from your destination and how far away the villains were. Riding these lifts was more like Russian roulette: you pushed the button and prayed you would get there, having to check at any stop to see where you were. Some days he expected the doors to open and for him to be on another planet at another time, today it stopped at the fifth floor. He knew it was the fifth floor because the Terror twins stepped in. Twin brothers of around 8 years old but aged beyond their years.He pegged them somewhere between a shrunken Kray twins or them girls in The Shining. 

“Signing on day Billy?” they chirped in unison . If the DWP or council ever needed secret police or snitches in the block they should employ these two, they knew most peoples going ons and would occasionally take advantage of their knowledge for a small fee. 

Billy replied “Yes lads and why are we at home on a Monday? Half term or exclusion?” 

“ Home schooling innit.” responded the darker haired of the two. Jesus Christ thought Billy I dread to think what the future will bring if their family is teaching them. The lift stopped , ground floor , everybody out. He threw fifty pence at the Terror twins to watch them squabble and screech, zipped his jacket up, pulled his hat down and whizzed through the lobby and the broken outer security door into the big bad world.

The rain was easing but there was still a fair wind which the tower blocks only intensified and tunneled. Billy cut through the pedestrianised section of the estate , hopped over a wall, across a pay and display car park  and was in the town centre. Like many a place it had once been a reasonable town centre but in the grand scheme of things only for the shortest while, post war to the early 1990’s realistically when the boom/bust cycle ran ever faster and poverty hit the town. Past the closed down Magistrates court rumoured to become a new Wetherspoons, past McDonalds always full, then up the hill towards the station where the propensity for undefined nonsense increased with every step. Street wardens and Community Police Officers ( Plastic coppers is what Billy’s dad called them) huddled together in clusters for their own safety and if you approached them for any reason they were likely to tell you they were powerless. You ran the gauntlet of muggers , chuggers and sob story beggars at your own peril and unfortunately you had to go through this to get to the DWP, itself a mere bottle throw from the Wetherspoons next to the  tube station(Prerequisites for any new DWP office were its proximity to a pub, a tube station, a betting shop and a pawn brokers). Head down, full throttle, get this done, get back to the body. He ignored a couple of hollers to come and join them from mates already in the pub and shot down the side road. The doors for the DWP were open on time for a change and Billy danced the usual dance. He knew full well where to go and what to do but the queen of clipboards at the front door needed to validate her existence by talking to you like a piece of shit and telling you that you were allowed to go upstairs and wait. Once there you were greeted by Security. No hopers employed by Serco to give the place the air of an open prison. Maybe the DWP thought that this would make the clients feel comfortable , who knows? Certainly no one wanted aggravation just easy in easy out, although Billy’s dad had told him once of working at DHSS by the Boleyn at Plaistow when some unhappy claimant had tried to hold the place up for money with a rusty old air rifle. In those days the staff were separated from the poor and needy by plexiglass screens.  Billy sat and waited for his adviser to call him over, she wasn’t a bad sort but liked to chat  more than give advice, Billy assumed to use the time up alloted to her client for whom she had no advice at all. He knew all about her aunt and the insurance man , the cost of schooling her kids and the fact that one of the security team had taken a shine to her. He checked the time on his phone , she was nowhere to be seen and ten minutes late. The young asian chap stood just in front of him coughed and enquired . 

“ Billy Malone?” Billy nodded. “Follow me please.” the young asian chap continued. Dread filled Billy’s stomach, he had done a couple of days’ cash in hand for the Thompson brothers shovelling aggregate out of a ship’s hold down at Dagenham Dock and had earnt a ton a day . Had someone grassed? Was this the fraud team? They walked across to the desk opposite and sat down. 

“ Sorry to keep you waiting Mr Malone my name is Kuldip , your usual adviser called in sick this morning and I am running around trying to cover two posts, have you got your book?” Billy pushed the book across the counter and Kuldip gave it the most cursory of glances. 

“ No joy Billy? “ Billy shook his head. “You are still actively looking though?” Billy sat up straight. 

“ Yeh even taken to knocking on mates doors and asking if they have any work on their firms, but did not think that I could put that in the book as I can’t really evidence it.” Kuldip shrugged, 

“ Well at least you haven’t given up unlike some.” he pushed the tablet across the desk that you had to use to give an electronic signature. Billy took his time and as usual had a few failed attempts before it worked. He swore these things were biased against the left-handed but that was just his stuff. Signed on. Time to get the fuck back to the flat. God knows what the body was doing.

The body sat back on the sofa and sighed . OK, you are dry, clean and fed with some sort of clean clothing on, it told itself. The feet were cold and the body remembered only having one trainer on when it arrived here. Perhaps the other trainer was in the room that it had woken up in by bright lights and Billy. He said he would be an hour but the body had no idea what time it was and there were no clocks in this flat, not that time passing mattered at the moment, just the cold feet. Walking down the hall passed the bathroom the body picked up the lone trainer and made for the front door, stopping at the bedroom it rummaged through a pile of laundry neatly folded on the end of the bed and borrowed a pair of socks. the door beckoned, the latch could be put on while the trainer was retrieved it was just across the lobby.  Hand on the lever of the Yale lock and tug. The door did not budge. And again , and then again and again more desperately. It was locked . Fucking Billy had locked the fucking door, what the fuck for ? The door was kicked , foolishly as happens as that just hurt the unclad foot. The trainer was thrown at the door and a scream emitted. For fucks sake. The body sat on the floor and wept. Shit fuck shit fuck shit. Crying was not going to solve anything . Door was locked and the view from the window said that unless you were that French cunt that scaled buildings just to get arrested  the window was not an option as a way out. Sighing and muttering the body heaved itself from the floor and headed down the hall towards the kitchen, at the very least a knife was needed to confront Billy with when he got back. Passing through the living room the body remembered the tobacco tin and picked it up. Get knife, have a roll up, wait. That was the plan. Not a brilliant one but there was not much choice. The body looked around the kitchen, wow this boy liked knives. Two chunky wooden blocks full of knives of all styles and sizes. Why would you need so many and furthermore why would you need a leopard print ceramic knife? Shut up brain, find the biggest one. Job done. Oh and grab a little one and hide it in case he gets the big one off of you. The body took the knives and the tobacco tin back to the living room sat on the sofa, tucked the small one down the side of the cushion sat the big one on the arm and prepared to roll a fag . Opening the tin a smile came across the body’s face. Tobacco,papers and a lovely little baggie of sticky green buds. Bonus. Roll a fat one. He had after all said help yourself, fairs fair. Five minutes later. Whitey. The body slumped forward , head between knees, sweating. Stupid idea. Both knives were placed on the floor. The body lay down on the sofa and rode the wave of panic and nausea and clung to the cushions waiting for the high to level out. 

Duty done and out of the DWP building Billy shoved the book in his pocket, zipped up his jacket and strode off purposefully. He was gonna put a bit of a spurt on as he wanted back to the flat as quickly as possible. He was imagining carnage. Once the body realised it was locked in it was likely to have gone garrity and made a mess of the place, he knew full well he would if he had been locked in somewhere. As he turned the corner and passed the Wetherspoons he could see that his mate Tommy and some of the local scum , sorry rough sleepers, were in some sort of altercation. Further undefined nonsense that he had no desire to get involved in and didn’t feel required to assist as more bodies spilled from the doors of the pub baying for blood. Passed the station, the chip shop, betting shop, charity shop ( repeat) through the market and back the way he came. Still fucking raining.

As he approached the block he could see the ambulance and the Old Bill and the gawpers and gossipers . Shit fuck shit fuck shit. Brain screaming “turn and run Billy ” he walked on regardless. His block was taped off by the Old Bill. Bollocks. As he approached ther gawpers he heard a friendly voice.

  “ Ello Billy luv.” It was Jean from the twelfth floor. She had moved into the block when it was built and she was in her early twenties about forty years ago. For whatever reason she liked it here and stayed even after offers from the Council to rehouse her. She was not giving up her view and her three bedrooms for a poxy newbuild granny flat the size of a cupboard. Jean knew all there was to know about the comings and goings in the block and Billy ensured she never had to carry her shopping up when the lifts were out in return for the occasional bit of information/gossip over a curry and a couple guinnesses or if he was really lucky one of Jeans Sunday Roasts. He gave her a peck on the cheek , like you would your favourite aunty. 

“ Whassup Jean?” 

“ ‘nuvver jumper Billy” She replied. Billy almost threw up in his mouth and his knees buckled slightly. He did not want to know but asked anyway. 

“ Do we know ‘em?” He was really hoping the answer was yes. 

“ Fat Steve.” She replied “ You know him, tenth floor , thinks he is a superstar DJ and rehearses in his front room , your mate Tracey bashed him last year.” Billy sighed , Jean may have taken this as compassion when in reality it was relief. 

“ He werent fucking about” she continued unprompted “ Plastic copper over there says that he had filled his jacket up with glasses and bottles before he jumped. Cut him to shit when he landed.” Despite this news Billy’s eyes still glanced up to his flat to ensure the windows were closed. Jean was still rattling on “ Always thought he was a wrong un , you know what I mean , not just a cunt for the loud music but something creepy ‘bout him…” At that moment the Police dropped the perimeter tape. 

“ Gotta go Jean.” he said rushing off “ Need the loo. Catch you Sunday for a nosebag?” Jean smiled and waved as he dashed to the door, pushed past some herberts loitering in the foyer waiting to get out and jumped into a lift just as the doors were closing. Just Elaine from the ninth and her sprog Raekwon ( don’t ask) . They exchanged pleasantries and he passed the shopping bags out to her when they reached the ninth. Four more floors and no-one calling the lift in between, sweet. Billy stepped out of the lift, passed the chute room , through the internal door to his landing and got his keys out. Top Lock,Bottom Lock,Middle Lock. He pushed the door open and stepped back cautious that he may have a caged animal behind it. Nothing . Silence. He stepped into the hall which led straight to the bedroom and then there was a hard blind left towards the living room . On his more paranoid days he had debated sticking one of those round mirrors you get on the buses up so he could see around the corner. At this moment in time his paranoid self was smugly reminding him of that fact. He shouted his arrival 

“ ‘Allo it’s Billy. I’m back.” He thought he heard a muted voice and turned the corner and proceeded down the hall. The bathroom door was open and a pile of dirty clothes lay on the floor. Not the time to worry about tidiness Billy. He stepped into the living room. There on his sofa lay a clean young woman in her mid twenties. Pale and sweating in and hardly fitting his clothes but a damn site tidier than the body he had left here. He saw the knives on the floor and kept his distance and then the half smoked joint in the ashtray. He could not help himself 

“ Oh nice, helped yourself then…” he began . The body/young woman began to shout. 

“ YOU FUCKING LOCKED ME IN. WHO THE FUCK ARE YOU. WHY DID YOU LOCK ME IN?” Billy stepped further back . 

“Sorry, sorry,sorry…” he stuttered. “ I couldn’t leave you where you were, I had to sign on, i dont know who the fuck you are , you could be some thieving smackhead for all I fucking know. I didn’t know what to do , didn’t want to be turned over so I locked the door.” He could have rambled on longer but could see the look in her eyes and thought better of it. “Sorry.”

 He took his hat off and unzipped his jacket and took a breath. 

“ Look. You were in a right state and I thought I was doing the right thing.” The young woman began sobbing. Billy wasn’t good with emotional stuff and the knives still bothered him. “ Listen I ain’t gonna touch ya just wanna move them knives back into their proper blocks. Okay?” The sobbing continued as he picked up the knives and headed back to the kitchen . He could see that she had eaten and not tidied up. Slovenly or had someone somewhere who usually tidied up for her? The knives got a quick wipe and were put back in their proper home, he grabbed a packet of tissues from the cupboard and returned to the living room waving them at her. “Ere y’are. Look ,the doors unlocked alright? So if you want something else to eat or a couple of quid for a bus and you wanna fuck off we can just forget about this yeah?” BOOM. She was shouting again. 

“ Wanna fuck off??? Do I want to fuck off? I have some bloke’s clothes on, one trainer , no phone, no money and no idea where I am. How the fuck am I s’posed to fuck off.”

She was crying again, seriously. He really was regretting picking her up from the floor of the chute room. He should have chanced it and left the door unlocked when he went out. Maybe she would have nicked a couple of bits and fucked off. Anyway he was out of his depth here, emotions and all that. He picked up his phone and called for the cavalry. 

“ Hello Jean , yeah its Billy. Any chance you could pop up for a cuppa and a chat , I have got myself in a bit of bother and dunno what to to do.” A slight pause . “ No Jean , not that bad . Look could you just come up now I would really appreaciate it. Ta.” He put the phone back in his pocket. The young woman was staring at him. “It’s alright “ he said, “ my neighbour from a couple of floors down. She’s sound , might be able to sort you another trainer. I’m gonna stick the kettle on.” He retreated to the kitchen and stared out of the window. Still raining.

The kettle had boiled and tea was brewing in the pot when he heard Jean’s voice in the hall.

 “ Billy, I’m here” She had let herself in with spare keys, a reciprocal arrangement. She had locked herself out a couple of times going to the chute room or gossiping with neighbours on the landing. He had just plain forgotten his keys once and three locks and a locksmith was a costly adventure. He stepped from the kitchen just as Jean arrived from the hall. She looked at the young woman on the sofa and shot Billy a glance. 

“Oh Billy what have you done?” Billy’s jaw dropped, he spluttered and did a quick recap on the situation for Jean’s benefit before she assumed everything was his fault. “What’s her name then?” 

“Erm its…” he began. Before he could say anything else the young woman piped up 

“ Its Louise ”

Jean just shook her head . “ You didn’t even think to ask her name Billy? For fucksake. Go on, do something useful , get us that cuppa. Me and Louise are gonna have a chat.”

 Billy ducked back into ther kitchen and decided everyone was getting strong sweet tea. He got the biscuit assortment he kept for Jean out of the cupboard and stuck a few on a plate. All he actually wanted to do was fuck off back out. He knew the ear bashing he was gonna get later and going back out in the rain and even popping back to the DWP seemed preferable. Jean had asked Louise if it was ok to sit down and had perched herself at the far end of the sofa.

“ Right luv, first things first. Do we need to let someone know you are here and do we need to get a doctor for any reason?” Louise sat head in hands and rocked gently saying nothing. Jean did not push it, Billy put the tea and biscuits in front of them and stepped back. “ I tell you what we can do dear, sort some clothes.” Jean continued. Her granddaughters stayed when they wanted a cheap base to party in the city on breaks from uni and one of the spare rooms had a pile of clothes. Louise was slight and short  like her granddaughters and she reckoned the clothes would fit, if not perfectly better than those she was in. “ Where are your shoes?” Billy waved the solitary trainer . Jean took it from it and held it against her foot. Size 5 same as her. “Right” she said,” You can continue to be useful Billy. Nip downstairs and go in the back bedroom. Katy and Sue have a pile of clothes in there , bring up a choice of stuff, and in the living room I have an old pair of trainers, bring those as well. Me and Louise are gonna have some girl time. Go on fuck off. And take your time…” She smiled at him but it was not a cheery happy smile.

Billy was not going to argue , his head was screaming, he wanted a joint, he wanted to be on his own. Most of all he wanted to wake and find all of this had been a bit of an odd dream but that was not going to happen. With lifts only covering odd or even floors (what sort of cunt designs a block like this) the stairs were a sensible option when it was only three floors. He held his keys in his hand and pushed open the door to the stairwell. Caretaker had been in today; they were clean and swept. He slowly began his descent. There was no point in rushing, Jean would have started talking to the girl and that might go on for a bit. He stepped out of the stairwell and into the landing where Jean lived. She might seem like a soft old girl but everyone on this landing took turns to clean the floor, had a doormat outside their doors and there were plants on the windowsill cared for by all. Bill remembered when he was a kid, his nan lived in one of these blocks and all the landings were like this. Jean liked her landing kept the old fashioned way. He took the spare keys he kept from his pocket and just used the Yale ( middle lock) . Even though he had fitted a top and bottom Chubb for her Jean did not lock them unless she was leaving the block. He had given up moaning at her.  The flat was spotless and everything smelt of either fabric conditioner , Fabreze or Dettol . Clean Jean  the housework queen! He stuck his head in the kitchen and said hello to Frank. Frank was Jean’s pet cockatoo , swore like a docker and was both named after and had been taught to swear by Jean’s long departed husband. He [Husband Frank] wasn’t dead , he had just fucked off about ten years ago with some blonde after a good result on the ponies. Jean had not shed any tears over that , he was a burden. Billy picked up a bag for life from the neatly folded pile on the kitchen table and headed for the spare room. Jeans girls left plenty of clothes here so he picked up a couple of pairs of denims , some t-shirts , a sweatshirt and a zip up jacket and put them all in the bag . Underwear, underwear don’t forget that. He opened the top drawer in the chest of drawers, picked out a couple of pairs of knickers , he was going to pick a bra then realised he had not checked out the girl and had no idea of her size. On top of that he was feeling uncomfortable. Even though he had been invited in and told to get clothes just being in an empty flat and going through the drawer felt wrong. Reminded him too much of his early teens when he and his Tommy had been on a spate of break ins. They never robbed anything they just liked the buzz and Tommy being a bit odd like to have a wank into womens knicker drawers. This had gone on for most of a six weeks holiday from school until one day they broke into a place and found an old guy dead in an armchair. That was a shit day . It was bad enough finding him but then they realised he was a mate’s grandad and someone was going to have to tell the Old Bill. That was the end of that fun. Billy shoved the knickers into the bag, said goodbye to Frank who called him a cunt and headed back to his own flat.

 In the time it had taken him to sort out the bit of clobber someone had taken a piss in the stairwell. Dirty bastards probably lived here and had waited for the caretaker to do his job first. He climbed the stairs and  stepped into the lobby just as the lift doors opened. Fuck me it was Tommy. Billy could see the bloody knuckles and grazes on Tommys face obviously from the brawl outside the ‘Spoons earlier and could smell the booze from across the lobby . 

“ Billy bruv. I need a favour ya got five?” asked Tommy. 

“ Bit busy Tom,” Billy replied . He didn’t have time for this and Tommy was always in some sort of shit had been from day one when Tommy Wellington had been transferred to his school when he was given to foster parents in the borough after he had stabbed his biological Dad and was put into care. Billy looked at the floor

“ What? Aint got time for an old mate Billy? Come on ‘alf an hour and I will be off . Promise.”

“Thing is Tom , I have someone in the flat and…” Before he could go any further Tommy was rummaging in the bag and laughing.

“ You’ve got a bird in!” He laughed some more, “ Sly cunt.”  Billy saw this as an out and laughed and bowed his head further.

“ You know how it is Tommy.” 

“ Alright I’ll fuck off mate.” replied Tommy “ was only a small favour mate , been crashing on Fat Steve’s sofa for a couple days and I have come back from the pub to this shitshow . People seen me coming in and out of the block and I wanted to say I was here if the Old Bill asked. But seeing as you have some fanny on the go and it looks like she is staying that might be awkward. No worries mate I’ll be off. Dont s’pose you have a deuce ‘til I get paid again.” 

Billy stuck his hand in his pocket and pulled out a Tenner . Tommy snatched it before he could put it back .

“Cheers bruv. Give ‘er one for me.” And with that he was into the stairwell and gone. Billy sighed and stepped into his landing and then the flat. Middle lock only.

As soon as the front door had shut Jean started talking to the girl. “So darling , Billy found you in a bad way in the chute room. You living rough? You on the game?”

Louise looked at the floor . She really did not want to know how she had ended up here or talk about it but she needed to get her head straight and have a bloody good story to tell her Nan when she got home. The journey to here was not a pleasant one . The thought of facing Nan after the journey back somehow scared her more.

“Neither of those” she said to Jean and then just sort of faltered and started crying again. Jean patted her hand and went to the kitchen.

“ Nuvver cup of tea luv?” she enquired “I’m ‘avin one. Trying to get the chill out of me bloody bones. I had popped out to get a paper earlier , came back to find the block cordoned off by the law. Bloke on the tenth floor threw himself out of a window. Law were not happy . I am brewing in a pot so it will be a bit.”

Tommy was back in the ‘Spoons . A tenner off Billy , another Jacks left from this morning and about eight quid in shrapnel he had taken off some kid in the stairwell on the way down from Billys. Of all the times for Billy to have a bird in tow. Billy never had a bird, miserable cunt , sat up there writing bleeding poetry of the socialist worker variety and trawling through endless old books and albums researching some shit or other. Tommy was in a bad mood and Billy was not really a bad bloke , reliable , and solid to be honest; just the timing on this was shit. Billy knew him well enough to help him out of a scrape and ask no questions and generally wanted nothing in return. This little adventure was going to go south now Fat Steve was dead and the Old Bill would want a chat. His only hope now was that Tricker or Letchy came in , they were off their cunts most days to the point that if he had said he was with them they would be none the wiser. He stuck another quid in the fruit machine, sang Pretty Green in his head ,then  kicked it when it did not pay out. He got another beer in and found a cubby hole at the back of the pub. Fat Steve. Dead and still causing him aggravation. What a cunt.

Billy stepped back into the flat and walked down the hall. Too quiet for his liking .Jean was on the Sofa with Louise holding her like a mother holds a child that has grazed its knee. He put the clothes down next to Jean and stepped back.

“ How are we doing ladies?” he asked, trying to keep it light. Louise buried her face further in Jean and Jean just  grimaced and shrugged her shoulders. 

“ Do us a favour Billy, go and pour another tea.” Billy wasted no time in retreating to the kitchen and doing as he was told . He had excelled himself in making the wrong choice this time. He brought the tea back through on a tray that Jean had insisted on giving him for such occasions and loitered awkwardly. Despite the fact the girl was still in his tracksuit he thought he had to say something. 

“ Were the clothes any good then?” For whatever reason this seemed to stir the girl in some way and she sat up and rubbed her face. 

“Can he fuck off while I try the clothes on and we chat?” Louise looked directly at Jean when she spoke and was having no interaction with Billy. For Fuck sake he thought, find you on the floor of the chute room, bring you in out the goodness of my heart , feed ya, cloth ya, you smoke my weed and you look at me like I am a piece of shit , seriously I dont know why I…

“ Ere Billy.Forty quid.” began Jean. Go to the pub for a couple of hours, the Chinese will be open then, you can bring us a takeaway back.” He went to speak but Jean just waved the notes insistently, he did not get a word in. 

“That alright with you love?” She continued to Louise. “ We can ‘ave a proper natter and work out what’s what.” Billy took the two twenties and picked up his crap , testicles , spectacles , wallet and phone and grabbed a jacket. He nodded at the ladies by way of a farewell. As he left the room he heard Jean call after him. 

“Feast for two from the nice Chinese Billy, not that shit from the Chinese chippy. And call me when you are on the way back…” He was gone , jacket on out the door with Jean’s voice petering out behind him, down the stairwell, could not be fucked to wait for lift . A couple of beers and a Chinese , Jean would sort the bird and he could get back to normal. Poxy day. The Old Bill had incident signs all over the lobby, two plod on the door and the plain clothes were still all over Fat Steve’s flat.

Still fucking raining. No end to it today , head down he put a spurt on and headed to the Spoons. Raindown. By the time he arrived at the pub he was soaked but couldn’t care less. Past the permanent wall of smokers outside in last seasons’ West Ham strip a size too small , a pint too many. Inside he ran the gauntlet of the saga swingers, a bunch of sexagenarian single women happy to be your company for the evening for a couple of beers or for the night if you would stand for a bottle of spirits and a takeaway. He ran his hand over his hair pulling the rain out of his face and stood at the bar when he noticed Tommy in the corner. Might as well hear this sob story he thought . Got time to kill, money to burn and no desire to sit alone.

“ Oi Wellington you wanna refill?” He hollered in Tommy’s direction. Tommy looked up and his face changed from losing a bet to winning the lottery in an instant. 

“Oh Billy you fucking legend. Stella bruv, Stella .” Billy got the round in out of his own pocket , spending her money on Tommy did not feel right. He walked the beer down to the back of the pub and plonked himself down opposite Tommy who wasted no time at all. 

“ What happened to the sort then bruv? She fuck you off already?” Billy grimaced and sipped his beer. 

“It’s not like that mate. Jean popped in and they are having a girly chat.” Tommy chuckled. “Fucking hell mate I thought I was ‘aving a bad day. Jean will let her know what a knob you are in the romance department” Billy said nothing.

They sat in silence for the next five minutes , they had spent enough time over the years together to be comfortable with that. It was Tommy that broke the silence. 

“Old Bill still sniffing around the block?”

“ Yeh.” Billy replied. “ So what’s the shit with Fat Steve?. Cunt jumped out the window and you are keen not to have been there, so what’s the deal? You two have a lovers tiff and you chucked him out the window?” Tommy did not laugh, smile or really react to this in any way. “C’mon Tom” he continued “If you’ve got something to hide then it must be bad. Spill.” Tommy sank his pint , stood up,waved the empty at Billy and enquired? 

“ Nuvver one?” Billy nodded, chucked his beer back and gave Tommy the glass. Lecky had just walked in and was keen to get his own beer in quick so he didn’t have to get the round in. He nodded at Tommy and moved around to the other side of the bar .Shady cunt. Billy sat back and checked the time on his phone. No need to rush, Chinese did not open for another hour and a half and to be honest he did not want to rush back to whatever nonsense he had invited into the flat.

Tommy plonked the beers on the table and his arse on the chair, looked around slowly and then lowered his head. 

“ Started out as a bit of a laugh mate. We were in here a couple days back, me and Fat Steve. Normal Friday morning , we had been to sign on and had come in for a couple. He was in a funny mood and I just thought the Dole had given him agg. Anyway he says he has got a list of shit to work through , one of them bucket lists you know shit to do before you die. I just thought he was having a moody, but then he tells me. ‘Got six months mate. Cancer. Riddled with it.’

“ I aint good with all that honest stuff Bill, I like my life breezy and fun. But I was sat ‘ere and couldn’t think of nothing else to say so I says ‘what’s on the list?’ 

Jean picked the half smoked joint out of the ashtray and sparked it up. Louise had gone to the bedroom to try on some clothes, Billy was off giving them some space and she needed a wind down. It had been an odd day , a letter in the post from the ex with a cheque in it for two grand, Fat Steve launching himself out of the window and then this, whatever this was. Louise came back looking altogether more human. Still frail and still pale but more like a young woman than a refugee. 

“ You don’t mind, do ya?” asked Jean , blowing smoke. 

“I’ll roll another one, “ the girl replied. “He said help yourself”. Louise sat and calmly rolled as though she was at home. 

“So young lady. Are we going to hear your story now?” Louise knew that this was the end of Jean’s patience and this really was more a demand than a request. She put the finished article to one side and settled back on the sofa. 

“ What day is it ?” She began . Jean told her it was Monday. A bit of the colour she had regained drained away again 

“Ok well the last I really knew it was Friday and I had just got the tube from Brixton to Barking…”

“ I was shocked when he got the list out of his pocket,” said Tommy. “I mean it was proper, typed up, an’ all that. Had about twenty things on it. And he was carrying it around with him. Like he was desperate to tell someone about it and I was the muppet that was going to hear it.” Tommy stopped talking and just stared into the distance either thinking or distracted by the blonde that had just walked in , probably the latter.

“So? …” prompted Billy.
“Yeh right.” Tommy continued “ I was expecting the usual , win the lottery , play for West Ham, mend bridges with his mum, marry Elaine Grimes from school., but funnily enough most of it was achievable stuff. Join a Library, watch a sunrise, that sort of thing. But the odd one that made me laugh out loud was the one that is the problem. Kidnap someone.” Tommy paused and sank the beer. 

“My round?” he asked but Billy was flush,had time to kill and at this moment in time Tommy’s story was more enticing than going home. 

“I’ll get it mate” Billy said and shot off to the bar before any argument could start between them. No word of a lie these two could argue about whether they were in fact arguing. Been the same since they were kids and it was an integral part of their friendship. Billy rocked up to the bar just as Lecky was picking up a round to take back to his table where the low life Monkwood was trying to ease Gypsy Jan ( Leckys Mum) out of her pension and probably her knickers. Billy had no time for either of them and when Lecky nodded in Tommy’s direction smirking as though in some sort of judgement Billy couldn’t resist. 

“Still pimping your mum out ya cunt?” Lecky lost his smirk and moved off sharpish. Billy turned his back on him and waved his glass in the direction of the first barmaid to catch his eye and waited.

Louise sat on the floor and breathed deeply. Jean said nothing but the look on her face told Louise that this was a one way street and there was no turning back. 

“ My Nan is a baker and also a proper history nut. So over recent years, what with them historical reenactment tv programmes, like Victorian Farm and shit, she has had me on errands getting books and maps and stuff for her and has talked about writing her own book ‘ Black British Bakers’.” Jean rolled her eyes but Lousie was on a roll and was not going to stop. 

“Yeah serious, and it is relevant to my story Jean. Anyway we have that Windmill in Brixton that still grinds flour for bakeries and other people so she has had me researching other London windmills so that’s how I ended up in Barking , on a research trip to the local library to find archive stuff on the Wellington Windmill that was at the edge of town. Internet is alright up to a point but sometimes you have to go old school and start digging in paper. Can I light this up?“ she asked, waving the freshly rolled joint . Jean said nothing and handed her the lighter. 

“Anyways I got the tube over Friday and had started out early so when I got out of the station I thought I would get a cheap breakfast in the nearest cafe because the rest of the day was gonna be in the library. It was pissing down with rain and I was not sure how long a walk it was to the library, so when I saw the ‘Spoons, I thought ‘big cheap breakfast and a beer’. Nice.

Billy plonked the fresh pint in front of Tommy who had torn up every beermat on the table and was now starting to destroy the menu. If you didn’t keep this one engaged he was just gonna ruin something, anything, anyone. Nothing, no response , Billy reckoned that Tommy had nothing going on in there, just the sound of an old fashioned dial tone from a landline. He coughed and sipped his beer. Nothing. 

” Oi oi. Earth calling Wellington.” Billy barked. Tommy chuckled and picked up his beer.

 ” Sorry bruv. Away with the fairies, still in the zone . Where were we?”

“List,Kidnap” prompted Billy.

“Fat fucking Steve!” Tommy shook his head, chuckled some more,took another swig of beer and continued. ” For fuck sake we were sitting here.Not like we were sitting somewhere secluded all the oldies in here on the five pound fry up and pint deal. And there he is Fat Steve lord of bullshit bellowing out that he has cancer and wants to kidnap someone.So it goes like this.

Tommy :

 ” Kidnap?”

Fat Steve:

 ” Yeh. You seen The King of Comedy?”

Tommy : Nods 

” You wanna kidnap a famous DJ and play him a set while he is tied to a chair?”

Fat Steve:

 ” Something like that. We could nab that bird over there and do something like that.”

Tommy :

 “Whoa fella. We?”

Fat Steve : 

“I’m gonna  need help putting her in the boot and someone to film it all.”

“I tell ya Bill, I sat dumbfucked for ages. Like my brain could not process it. Did he just ask me to…? Nah! But he did Bill that’s exactly what he asked next:

Fat Steve:

 “ Look Tommy go and chat her up. Tell her you are getting a round in. Get me a Shandy coz I am driving. When she wants to go I can offer a lift . Weather is shit. She won’t say no. You follow into the carpark , we shove her in the boot and take it from there…”

Tommy 

“..from there?”

Fat Steve :

 “Yeh well I have not got the whole plan together yet have I ! I only found out about the Cancer two days ago and I started the list yesterday so there are as yet undefined parameters.”

“ I dropped me fucking glass Billy. Grade A fucking nutter!  Had to get another round in anyway as I had dropped the dregs of that one, so that’s how part one of the plan went into action.”

“ Despite the rain and the early start I was feeling good.’ Louise had begun to open up. “Running errands for Nan and seeing her smile always made me feel good. Spending a day in dusty old books just upped the delight. I have always loved libraries…”Jean interjected with a firm but reassuring hand on the arm.

“ Stay on plot dear, you will feel better once you have brought it all up.”

Louise breathed deep and looked at Jean , it was an odd turn of phrase but Jean was right , she was trying to avoid the story.

“ Anyhow , I had ordered a big breakfast and a bottle of stout, put my notebooks on the table and was making some notes while I waited for breakfast . Pub was busy for nine thirty in the morning but mostly it was pensioners, who like me were taking advantage of the cheap breakfast plus beer. Group of guys in hi-viz by the door desperately wanting to smoke but not fancying the rain and a couple of lowlife already shitfaced in the corner, swearing and dropping glasses. I tried not to be noticed and waited for my food. Everything collided at once . I finished my beer, my breakfast arrived and one of the lowlife knocked my notebooks off the table. At the time I thought it was clumsiness but looking back it was his way in.”

“ Sorry luv” he said “ Just had a bit of bad news and dropped me glass, obviously the shock has gone to me legs an’ all.” He stooped to pick up the notebooks , she now felt sorry for him! 

“ I hope the news wasn’t too bad?” Louise enquired. The bloke responded he did tell her his name but it did not make sense , possibly european but he sounded local.

“Ah it’s me mate see? Got diagnosed with cancer, just a bit of a shock.” As he picked up the books he flicked nosily. “ Ooh local history ,nice”.  He paused awkwardly.

“Yeah?” said Louise walking straight into the Lion’s den.

The bloke sort of shuffled like a teenage boy about to ask her on a date.
“ Yeh well I was gonna suggest like , but you are having breakfast…”

“ What?” asked Louise “what were you gonna suggest.”

“ It’s just my mate over there is a proper history nut and I thought if we could sit and chat it might take his mind off of things, you know the cancer and stuff.”

With the most tentative “ Erm ok?” as a response the door was open.

“ Right let me get you a beer “ he said heading to the bar and hollering over his shoulder. “ Steve , Steve come over here and meet my mate…” Steve was halfway there already.

“ Anyhow Jean, that’s how it started” She stubbed out the end of the joint in the ashtray and went to the kitchen, she filled the kettle, switched it on and returned to the sofa. Jean had the face of a woman who had heard this sort of tale before but was going to sit through this with you anyway. 

“ They were easy company and despite Steve’s bad news, he seemed happy to talk about the history of his town, the fishing fleets, the ice wharf , the old town quay. Steve looked more dismayed at the fact that he was ignorant of a local Windmill than any concern I had about his illness.We had another couple drinks and despite the fact I was happy and comfortable I decided I best crack on with the research for Nan. Still fucking raining out there.”

Jean had a horrible feeling that she had heard this story before , albeit with different players, and knew where this tale was going. She picked up the cups.

“ Carry on luv. I’m just gonna rinse these , I can still hear you through here.”

Louise dragged her mind back to the pub.

Louise:

“ Listen guys, I have to get to the library and get this stuff done. No point in coming this far and not doing it. How far is the Library from here?”

Tommy:

“ Its only about 10 minutes walk but you’ll get fucking soaked out there. Come on, one more drink won’t kill ya.”

Louise:

“ I’d love to but I have to get this done.” 

Fat Steve:

“ Look my car is in the carpark at the back, I’ve only been on shandies. There is a car park at the Library. I’ll drop you if you like? Door to door. One more pint won’t kill ya”

Jean had returned to the living room leaving a fresh pot of tea to brew in the kitchen. “ You ok to carry on?” Louise nodded and fiddled with the lighter.

“ No alarm bells Jean, nuffin’ I genuinely thought he was trying to be nice even though he was a bit weird and thought fuck that rain I am taking this ride. We had another beer  and then I packed up my stuff and me and Steve headed towards the car park. He told the other bloke he would see him later. We got to the car and he said he was getting a brolly out of the boot so I had something to walk back to the station with. As he undid the boot I felt my knees knocked out from under me, everything went dark as some sort of bag went over my head and then I was kicked and mauled and lifted off the floor. I heard hysterical laughter as apparently the fat one had wet himself , I screamed and took a sharp knock to the head. I think one of them hit me . I heard the clunk of a carboot and everything went darker. I think I passed out.’’  

Louise ran to the toilet and threw up. Jean poured another tea. 

“Like I said Billy that is how part one started” Tommy picked up his pint and chuckled . 

“ Don’t know what I am laughing for. Fat cunt has got me in deep ‘ere mate. ” Billy patted Tommy on the arm and smiled .

“ Tommy, if there is just a hint of nonsense available you can find it. So come on, let’s get going with the rest of the story.”Billy cocked a snoot in mock indignation at the comment and then shrugged.

“People are funny Bill, easy to get them to do things . A beer, a bit of banter and a little sympathy and there she is standing next to the boot of Fat Steve’s car. I kicked her knees out from under her , Steve bagged her head, coshed her and we dumped her in the boot. 

Billy said nothing , this was part one he knew there was more coming.

“Anyhow. There we are, bint in the boot and me and Steve sitting in the car , a complete fit of giggles like we had just broken into the back of the sweet shop as kids. Fat cunt had pissed himself and was wriggling in his seat”

Tommy:

“What now then?”

Fat Steve:

“Fuck knows mate aint done this before.”

Tommy:

“ Are we after a ransom?”

Fat Steve:

“ We don’t know who she is, you cunt! How would we know who to ask for a ransom. Cunt.” Steve shook his head and took a breath. “ Nah we take her back to mine , I have a bit of fun. You film it. We bag and boot her again and drop her somewhere when it’s dark.”

Tommy:

“Maybe we just leave her in the boot and drop her somewhere later mate, I mean we have kidnapped someone you can scrub it off the list.” 

Tommy could not believe that he had been talked so easily to this, or the fact that they had actually gone ahead and done it. His nerve was going but he knew he was in for the long run. Steve had a few quid tucked away and his record collection was worth a fortune. Steve had no family to speak of, a sister he had not spoken to in ten years so Tommy was thinking some sort of recompense was in order for being involved. Fat Steve was staring at him.

Fat Steve:

“ Bottle gone Wellington?”

Tommy:

“It’s alright for you ya fat cunt you are checking out , what if this goes wrong and I get a fuckin’ nick?”

Fat Steve:

“ Look mate it’s not gonna go wrong. Not gonna kill her. Nothing that bad alright? And when they tell me it’s all over and give me a couple of weeks I will sort you out with a few quid. Alright?”

Tommy:

“ So . Back to the flat ?”

Fat Steve :
“Little bit of shopping first mate” 

Fat Steve put the car into gear and drove from the car park of the pub a couple of hundred yards until they were in the car park of the Shopping Centre. Fat Steve  reached under the driver’s seat and pulled out a small biscuit tin. He popped it open and rolled out some banknotes.

Fat Steve:

“ Right , here’s a couple of hundred, only spend cash. I’ll stay in the car in case she comes round and starts making a noise. I need some booze and some pretty bits from Anne Summers.”

Tommy huffed and puffed and grabbed the money.

Tommy:

 “ Seriously Anne Summers ! I don’t even know what size she is or what she likes.”

Their grasp on normality was somewhat skewed.

Fat Steve: “ Not for her you dick, for me, me . I want to look pretty for the camera.”

If there was a sound to someone’s jaw dropping then at that point Tommys jaw dropped with a massive clang.

Tommy:

“ You want me to get pervy birds underwear that fits you? What if they ask me questions and that?”

Fat Steve Laughed

Fat Steve:

“ What the fuck are they gonna ask you? So you have a big girlfriend sir? Fucksake mate, they just want money in the till.”

Tommy resigned to the task, undid his seatbelt and started to get out of the car. He could not resist.

Tommy:

“ Any particular colour darling”

A playful punch from Steve

Fat Steve:

“Purple and make the knickers crotchless”

Tommy sat back in his chair in the pub and waited for Billy to say something, anything.

“ Fuckin hell Tom “ Said Billy  looking at his phone and checking time. This might run into extra time and he had that other issue at the flat. Plenty of time at the moment and if needs be he would call Jean.

“ This is better than telly mate. Let me get another beer and you can tell me the rest.” The bar was thankfully empty and it was a quick return trip.

“Carry on fucker.” he prompted Tommy

“ Well I did the shopping and obviously got laughed at. Girls in the shop knew me. Fucking Pete Houghtons daughter manages it dont she. Got the piss ripped out of me mate they were walking behind singing ‘I like big butts and I can’t deny..’ as I picked up the bigger knickers that would fit Steve. Was actually pleased to get back to a car that had a terminal cancer psycho driving and a kidnap victim in the boot.” 

Tommy stopped talking for a moment as some old dear or other came over to ask if they could nick the menu and one of the chairs. Billy smiled and helpfully walked the chair across to the old dears table and politely refused the offer of a drink. On any other day he would have taken a couple of beers off her and flirted with her for a while, in exchange but today was not the day for it. He got back to the table just as Tommy was telling Raincoat Rob to fuck off over to the other side of the pub and ponce off someone else. Rob had no time for Billy and fucked off sharp at his return.

“ Tosser.” began Tommy “ He really fucks me off…” 

Billy interjected “ Yeah fuck that stuff Tom. Come on, finish the story jackanory.”

“ Yeh. So I jumped in the car . Fat boy peruses the underwear and thanks me for my good choice. Seriously, the day was just getting weirder. I knew the next part was coming . We had to get her back to the block, out of the boot and into the flat. Steve had a plan…”

Fat Steve:
“OK we pull up at the back of the flats next to the bin room . There are a couple of big old rugs stacked in the corner. We roll her up in one of those and take her up in the lift.”

Tommy:

“ Just like that?”

Fat Steve:

“Just like that!”

Tommy :

“And what if there is someone else there or the carpets are gone , or she starts screaming?”

Fat Steve:

“ Shut up Tommy , we are doing this.”

With that Fat Steve put the car into gear and drove out of the carpark and back out into the fucking rain. There was no noise from the boot and Tommy wondered if he had hit the girl too hard. The upside of the rain was no-one was hanging around the block when they arrived. Fat Steve reversed the car up to the scorched and blackened doors of the bin room and opened them. He poked his head back in the car.

Fat Steve :

“Come on wanker , I don’t want to hang around here. Help me get her in the bin room and get her wrapped up so we can shut the doors and I can park the car.”

Tommy:

“ Hold on a minute, how come I have to stay here with the bird while you park the car? What if someone comes along.”

Fat Steve :

“ Because. One . You can’t drive, you cunt. And two. There is a fridge full of beer, a bag of weed and five hundred quid cash that are all for you right now when we get up there. So shut the fuck up and get a spurt on. “

Tommy grumbled something under his breath and got out of the car as Steve reversed in as far as he could, leaving enough room to get the girl out of the boot. They rolled one of the rugs out in the corner of the room and pulled the bin room doors in as far as they could. Nothing but rain out there but Tommy had a quick listen up the stairwell and a look out along the path at the back of the block. All clear. Fat Steve had a roll of gaffer tape that had been in the glove compartment, so Tommy guessed how this bit was going. He pulled his hood up and stepped aside as Fat Steve opened the boot. She was crying and had pissed herself but was at least not screaming her head off or worse still dead. Steve sat her up and told Tommy to hold her while he taped her mouth and then her hands and feet. She put up a bit of a struggle as they lifted her out and wrapped her in the carpet. Fat Steve gave her a couple of kicks and a punch to the head and she was quiet again.

 “ Hold the carpet still while I park the car” said Fat Steve as he left the bin room and closed the doors behind him. Tommy should have run at this point. Stuck in a bin room in the dark with an abducted woman wrapped up in a rotten stinking carpet. The room was dark, cold and smelt. He reached out and heard her groan as he touched the carpet. He needed a piss, beer and nerves had reached his bladder. He turned to face the wall, took out his dick and pissed , hoping that his stream was not reaching her. A couple of minutes later the side door into the stairwell opened and there in the shaft of light was Fat Steve. 

“ Ready ?” he hissed. “ I have got the big lift doors wedged open with a brick. Grab one end , I’ll get the other. Let’s go!” Tommy faltered for a moment.

“ We are taking her in the lift? What if someone gets in? What if someone sees us?”

“ You wanna carry her up to the tenth. No? Didn’t think so. Shut up and grab an end.”

Quick, sharp they were in the lift , up to the tenth and into the flat.

Louise came back from the bathroom and Jean patted the sofa inviting her to sit again. Didn’t need much of an invitation her legs were like jelly. 

“ More tea love or would you like a cold drink?” Jean enquired.

“ Is there any beer? “ asked Louise , her mouth tasted of warm peanut butter and it needed something to wash it out and that was not sweet tea. Jean looked in the fridge, six cans of super strength Polish lager from the Offie on the estate. She grabbed two and went back to the front room. She took a deep breath as she handed Louise a can.

“ Louise, I think we should call the Police love.“ Jean had thoughts about where this story was going and thought that a police doctor might be advisable at this point. Louise cracked her can, took a slug, pursed her lips and spat out the word 

“No.” 

“Not yet Jean ,please. I want to tell you first get it all out and get it straight before some copper has me all confused with a million questions.

Jean sighed , she could not really argue with this. One of her daughters had been attacked outside the Palais and reported it to the Police. She told Jean they made her feel like “a slag and a liar”.

“Alright darlin’ we can call ‘em later. OK?” Louise nodded her head. Jean continued . “ I am gonna text Billy and tell him not to rush. OK?”

Louise took another swig of beer and barely nodded. The beer felt nice, fresh and fucking strong.

Billy was worrying about the time and getting back to the flat when Jean texted him and said make it another hour or so. Fuck me woman can chat thought Billy , sunk the half pint in front of him and waved the empty. Tommy nodded and headed back to the bar whilst Billy let Jean know he had received her text.

“ When I came round it was dark, I knew I was still in the boot of the car coz I could feel us driving and then we stopped. I was fucking scared Jean and I wet myself. There was some banging and bright light as the boot opened and I saw the shape of two blokes. I got wrapped up in something that smelt bad and punched and kicked a bit. I decided it was best to feign unconsciousness so they did not hit me anymore.” Jean knew Billy had done the right thing by getting the girl out of the chute room and by calling her but right now she really wished he had not. She went to the kitchen and grabbed a glass. She could not drink straight out of a can!”

“ I could hear them arguing as they picked me up and knew we were getting in a lift. I stayed schtum and decided I had to pick my moment to get out .”

Tommy returned from the bar muttering something under his breath about that cunt Lecky. 

“ Where was I ?” he continued plonking the beers down hard enough to spill a bit.

“Up to your neck in shit by the sound of it . Lift , Carpet , Body.” replied Billy.

“ Yeah yeah right. We got up to the flat with no-one getting in the lift and no-one on the landing.Once we were in Fat Steve got super excited.”

Fat Steve:

“ Right let’s drag her into the front room and get some tunes going.”

Tommy:

“Tunes”

FatSteve”

“Oh yeah it’s all about the right tunes bruv. All movies have a soundtrack”

They dragged the carpet down the hall and Plonked it on the floor in the living room.

Fat Steve :
“Just keep here still. I will be back in a minute. Do you wanna beer?”


Tommy nodded and did as he was told trying to process what was going on here . Movie. Soundtrack. What the fuck? Steve appeared a couple of minutes later; a fourpack of cold beer in one hand and a pillowcase and roll of Gaffer tape. He walked over to the decks that took pride of place in his living room and slapped on some generic piece of trance shit that annoyed the fuck out of Tommy.

Fat Steve:
“Righto, let’s unpack the guest and pop this over her head”

 He said this whilst waving the pillow case and  simultaneously proffering the   

cold beer to Tommy.

Fat Steve:
“Right darling we are gonna pop you out of the carpet and get you a bit  more comfortable. If you try and struggle or scream I will fucking hit you. Understand?”

No response from the carpet. Steve pulled an armchair into the middle of the room and then untied the carpet to some whimpering from within. They rolled the girl out and Steve popped the pillowcase over her head and bound her hands with the Gaffer Tape. He nodded anTommy and then the chair and between them they lifted her onto the chair where she moaned and shook but did little else.Tommy cracked a beer. The carpet stank so much that  Tommy gagged.

Tommy:
“What now ya nutter?”

Fat Steve:
“Two mins let me sort a playlist out”

Steve disappeared behind the decke to the laptop plugged into the desk and muttered for a bit. Then looked up jubilantly. Cocaine Sex by Renegade popped out of the speakers

Fat Steve:
“Perfect. Right. You have a beer and keep an eye on her and I am gonna go and have a shower and get changed into something more comfortable.”

Tommy liked  this track and he nodded along as the fact cunt minced out of the room singing along. Tommy shuddered.

Louise finished her can and took a deep breath . “ Once we were in the flat they unrolled me out of the carpet and put some sort of bag over my head. At last it did not smell as bad as the carpet and I was on some sort of chair and there was loud music playing.”

Jean had a sudden inkling of who the fat man was but said nothing, just nodded and squeezed Louise’s hand.

“ Anyhow nothing happens for a while just the music and then I heard the fat one shouting at the other guy about how to use the camera on the phone , there was a bit of mumbling and then the fat one shouted SHOWTIME and they took the bag off my head.”

Tommy continued . “Anyway I sunk a couple of the cans and went to the kitchen to grab some more . She weren’t moving or saying anything , I thought she might be concussed and that Steve had hit her too hard. I just got back to the living room as he appeared. Hair slicked back from the shower, full face of slap and all tarted up in the kit  I had to buy from Anne Summers . Smiling like it was fucking xmas. Blue Pearls Take Me Dancing  Naked in the Rain had just come on and he gets this fancy new phone out of the box and started telling me how to use the camera like I am some sort of retard. I would have slapped him but he was dressed like that and had a semi already! He asked me if I was ready. I nodded. He runs over to the bird and pulls the pillow case of her head and shouts ‘SHOWTIME’ . I start filming panning back and forth between them trying to match pace with the beat in the music. Whilst she is sitting in the chair he is doing some sort of grotesque pole dancer routine . Mate I don’t like to think about how gross he looked, even you would have said no.”

Billy shook his head and smirked. Only Tommy could slip a sly funny dig into a tale such as this.

“ Anyhow Fat Steve is very excited at this point and moves closer to the girl, slaps her hard across the face and pulls a knife out of the gold handbag slung across him. I go to step in but he is loosening her hands telling her she is gonna need them. I carry on filming like I am some zombie underling doing his masters business. He puts the knife away and carries on dancing way up close and personal to the girl when she kicks out at him feebly. Steve just grabs her foot and her trainer comes off in his hand. Mate just as though its planned he starts fucking the trainer shouting at me “film this film this!!!!.”

Billy felt his legs go from under him and his stomach turn over big time. Click click clunk the penny fell into place . One Trainer. Louise.

Billy slapped his arm on Tommys arm. “Tommy, Tommy shut up a minute mate. What did this girl look like ?”

“Fuckin ‘ell Bill are you getting off on this story?” He looked up to see Billy had his deadly serious face on. “ I aint good at faces Billy, you know that . Hold on, I will show you. Told ya, I filmed it all.” Tommy pulled the phone from his pocket and turned it on. Billy’s hand slapped down hard on Tommys before the idiot could wave the video about. Hissing profanities he held the phone flat to the table and stared at Tommy.

“ How does this end Tommy ? What happened to the girl?”

“That’s the thing innit . While Fat boy there is having shoe sex I suddenly need an urgent piss . He is shouting all sorts of cunts at me while I rush to the bathroom.” Tommy pauses as a barmaid comes to collect the empties.

 “ I am halfway through a manpiss when I hear shouting and crashing and assume he is taking it to another level and to be honest I don’t want to know. When I finish my piss and go back to the front room Steve is on the floor crying. The strap to the handbag is tied around his neck and he is bleeding around the crotch. Girl is nowhere to be seen.”

They sit for a moment or two in silence knowing this is not the end of this shit yet.

“ So Tommy boy what did you do next” asks Billy not really wanting to know but, in for a penny…

“ Grabbed whatever cash I could from around the flat, called him a cunt and took the phone. I fucked off mate , went home and had a shower and a kip. I thought I should check in the following day as I had left him bleeding. That’s until I get to the block to see Old Bill everywhere and the Terror twins informing me as eyewitnesses, that fat men don’t bounce. That’s when I came to see you for an alibi.”

Tommy sat looking at his beer wondering why with every effort that he made to stay out of nonsense did it always turn up on his doorstep when his phone buzzed. It was a text from Jean. All it said was “FAT STEVE!” They had reached the same page in the story. He knew now that the Old Bill were gonna have to get involved, he knew now he was gonna have to tell Tommy about Louise and he also knew now that despite all he had just been told he did not want Tommy going down for this. He lifted his hand off Tommy and the phone.

“ Got a lock on it or a pin or anything, this phone?” he asked Tommy.

“ Nah, ” Tommy replied. ” Got about three numbers on it, Lecky, Leckys mum (He chuckled) and Fat Steve’s agent for DJing gigs, a couple of iffy videos and some crap DJ app.

“ Are you in the video Tommy?”

“ No mate . for some reason I had the sense not to point the thing at meself or say much and Steve never uses my name in it , just calls me a useless cunt like he always has, I mean did.”

“ Your round mate” Billy pushed his glass across the table. “ I need to tell you something.” 

Leckys mum was cackling at full volume across the bar. He had an idea. He sat back stretched and smiled. Tommy and Lecky looked uncannily alike to the point you could mistake them for brothers. He tapped impatiently on the table and waited for Tommy to return, still smiling. He was midway through texting Jean “ Back within the hour. Bring Old Bill. Keep her there!” when Tommy banged the beers down on the table and plonked himself back in his seat.

“ The bird at the flat” said Billy soft voiced “I found her that morning in the chute room . One trainer.” He said nothing more, just watch Tommy slowly process the information.

“Shit!” replied Tommy and downed half his pint.

“She’s still there with Jean” Billy continued “ I’ve got a plan..” with that he leant into Tommy and whispered. Five minutes later they were finishing their beers and picking their shit up. Billy wiped the phone down and wrapped it in a serviette and stuck it in his pocket. 

“ Ready?” he barked as he took his last swig. Tommy did likewise and nodded. They strolled around the pub and over to the table where Lecky, his mum and Monkwood were getting seriously shitfaced. Tommy cuffed Lecky around the back of the head as they arrived .
“ Gonna video Monkwood and your mum at it are ya sick boy?” he bellowed as he held his fist clenched read to give Lecky a second dig.”

Monkwood was the first to stand so Tommy belted him and as Lecky rose Billy grabbed him from behind and slipped the phone into Leckys combat jacket pocket . “ I bet you would.” he mused on Tommys comment. Gypsy Jan chorlted. 

“Ooh young men fightin’ over me. Stop it. I’ll get excited.”

Lecky wrestled himself from Billy’s embrace while Monkwood hauled himself off the floor. Tommy had a killer left. 

“ What do you want Malone?” asked Lecky.

“ Fucks sake, you are proper moody pair aint ya?” chuckled Billy. “We only came over to see if you had thought about funeral plans for your fat boyfriend?”

Lecky was out of his chair and swinging fists but Tommy and Billy were reversing out the pub holding on to each other in a fit of laughter. The smell of the town straightened them out. Hot Fat, Greasy Chicken, Cheap Perfume and Weed lottsa Weed. Billy leant in and hugged Tommy good and hard. 

“Go on Wellington.” he snarled “ Fuck off. I got this.” 

Fifteen Minutes later he arrived at the block. The door was being guarded by a stunning little WPC ( younger sister of one of his mates as it happened).

“Billy” she said with a smile and held the door open.
“ I wanna tell you a story” he smirked and told WPC Warner a sordid tale of the guest in his flat and an overheard conversation in the pub. As they walked to the lift she radioed into her superior 

“ Sarge. I think we have found Cinderella.”

An hour later Lecky was just regaling the new barmaid Kristi with just what a fucking legend he was and how he was gonna “do that cunt Wellington” when a metropolitan police warrant card landed open by his pint glass. DS Ranter it said. 

“Now Mr Lectern.” began DS Ranter .Lecky mind racing everywhere, and yet still annoyed at being called by his real name, breathed deeply. The copper continued. 

“ How do you want to do this? Me , you and Officer Stanton walk out quietly, or my uniformed friends come in and drag you out , hurting you in the process?” Lecky looked doorward and saw at least eight lumps in stab vests blocking the exit. He put his head down and walked slowly in that direction. The hand of the DS resting firmly on his shoulder.

Three hours later. Louise had been interviewed by Old Bill and had just positively ID’d Lecky who as it turned out had been videoing mum and blokes at it and putting them on a website . Not only his own mum but mates mums as well. Putting that together with video on the phone in his pocket, Positive ID by victim and seen going into ‘Spoons on morning of abduction he was a nice easy nick for DS Ranter. Jean had offered to go to the Hospital with Louise and get a cab home once Louise was on a ward. She made a point of letting him know that he should be up when she got back as they would be needing a chat. Billy groaned, kissed both women on the cheek and left the Custody centre. Walked around the river barrage and nipped into the Offie for a bottle of vodka for him and a bottle of port for Jean. In no time at all he was back at his now empty flat.

Billy sat on the top of the storage heater next to the living room window. Cold, but at least the rain had stopped. From up here with a clear sky he could see all across the city. Thousands upon thousands of lights shone from other homes. Thousands upon thousands of fucked up people staring into the night. Untold fucking nonsense. He could see City Airport clearly from here and hoped one of the lights ascending from there was Tommy doing a runner to Danny Brown’s place in Spain. The shit might not stick to Lecky if the Old Bill did their job properly. He picked up his little tin and rolled a joint. Drinking could wait until Jean arrived. He texted Tommy “ Home Safe. Sorted. Love ya. “ He stuck Echo and the Bunnymen “ Heaven up Here” on the turntable , went back to sitting on the storage heater, sparked up and waited for Jean. Groovy groovy people. We’re all Groovy Groovy People…

Music is rotted one note…

A chance comment by my son some fourteen or so years or more has become something of a lodestar for me and an endless source of amusement. Dropping him at a bus stop one day I was distracted by the sounds and rhythms of some men shoveling sand and cement into a cement mixer. I think he had been talking to me and I had phased out, my return was him nudging me and stating ‘Not everything is music dad!’ Not to everyone I agree, but to me the sounds and patterns of life are music and can transport me away from mundane thoughts and stress. However I see this as passing moments of joy and I found that when visiting Whitechapel Gallery recently and stumbling across a Fluxus exhibition that some people want to kill the joy. Sitting listening to a nice piece of oboe and looking at artefacts such as those above I found myself happy , smiling and laughing out loud. Dirty looks and tutting ensued from other people in the gallery. Apparently art should be taking seriously. I think I might have been the only person there that day that took a piece of blank paper provided by the gallery, rubbed it against my ear and made music.

What you gonna do now…

Latest release from the reluctant , recalcitrant , retrospective Kallous Boys. The new album Pandemonium Shadow Show, a nod to Ray Bradburys magnificent novel Something Wicked This Way Comes, and a reflection on memories of childhood that twist and turn with age and answer less questions than they pose. Mastered by the gentleman and sonic sculptor that is Lawrence English @ Negative Space and now available over at their Bandcamp site – https://kallousboys.bandcamp.com/album/pandemonium-shadow-show

Where the houses used to be…

I spent years living in one of these system built monsters and yet it seems that “the housing crisis” demands that developers build more and more high rise. The Legacy of the 2012 Olympics seems to be that I can see less and less sky as I pass through Stratford. High rise living does not engender a happy life , noise travels indiscriminately and whilst promises are made I don’t believe any lessons have been learnt from previous disasters. Old blocks remain like ticking time bombs and new builds seem to go up quicker than your nipper playing with Lego!. Poem below voices my feelings and a couple of videos at the end of this post reinforce the view.

Where the Houses Used to Be.

Affordable homes

For Disposable people.

Cold Glass and Grey Steel

Continuously replace,

Warm Red Bricks and Bright Blue Skies.

Skies once punctuated by Hawksmoors Steeples,

Being blotted out by High Rise,

Upon High Rise,

Upon High Rise.

 

Ronan Point.

Larkanal.

Grenfell.

Multi Storey Tombstones

With inquiries in their name.

The pretty colour cladding

They wrap these buildings in

There to remedy

The rust and crumbling concrete

Of the original shoddy build.

 

Where the houses used to be

Elsie sits alone on the fourteenth floor

Down to her last quarter of tea.

And as the flames lick past her window

She sees the cranes in the distance

Building more towers,

Promising Luxury,

Replacing streets,

Replacing communities.

 

In years to come

There will be plaques of remembrance and cemeteries

Where the houses used to be.

 

Further reading….

 

Video Killed The Radio Star

For quite some time now I have wanted visual accompaniment to the eclectic electric output of my long term project Kallous Boys. In the age of the digital tool I thought I would be able to find some sort of plug-in that would allow me to compose with light , not one of those “visualisation” type things that some media players had. Something more controllable but thus far no joy. However I found the beauty above ( more detail here. )To combine that with the creature below would be … Bliss.

I love the sound of breaking glass

Time to Kill. St Pancras beckons and the British Library. I promised myself I would get to this exhibition – The British Library “Seasons of Sound”. Everything a Sonic Geek like me could want ( Yes Harley everything is music . EVERYTHING) Lovely little exhibition from the libraries sound archives. Stuff I knew nothing of – recording to wire, postage stamps that could be played and these known as Bone Music ,bootlegs of western jazz and rock n roll banned in soviet Russia that were cut to used X Ray discs – go read more – https://www.x-rayaudio.com/x-rayaudiorecords/