I think the story of my past came as a bit of a disappointment to Elvis. I’m sure he was expecting stories of espionage and near death experiences. The true story was far duller.
“Remember when we did our Computer Studies ‘O’ Level? Well the programming side of it only went towards twenty per cent of the final result but I got the full twenty marks,” I explained. “There was a software company that wanted to break into the games market. They had some friends on the examining board that tipped them off about anybody with potential. It wasn’t strictly legal but they had the money so they could pretty much do as they liked. They contacted me and asked me to go for an interview.”
“Landmark Software?” asked Elvis.
“How did you know?”
“They asked me to go down as well. I thought it was a wind up and ignored it.”
Elvis put the candlestick back on the altar. I wasn’t sure whether to continue with the rest of the story.
“And that’s where I’ve been.” I ended it there.
“Surely that’s not all of it. You haven’t been sat in a little office down south for the past fifteen years. Landmark is one of the biggest software companies in the world, admittedly it isn’t Microsoft but it’s big enough. You must be on a fair wage.”
“When I joined the company they had just started in the games market. It was beginning to really take off with the likes of the Spectrum and Commodore 64 so I was coming in at just the right time. I became one of their brightest games programmers and I got all the benefits that came with it. The fast car, the penthouse flat, I was doing really well but I wasn’t happy.”
“How couldn’t you be happy, all that money and flash cars?”
“I had no friends, not like the old days. The lads at work were ok but they were all computer geeks mainly. Sometimes you want to talk about something other than Bits and Bytes. I occasionally thought about getting in touch but there was always the spectre of Davison in the back of my mind.”
“You’re home now. What changed your mind?”
“When a company is paying you that amount of money, they expect you to put the hours in. I was working the clock round; it wasn’t as if I had a social life. My life was computers and I had no time to enjoy the little luxuries I had bought. I spent most nights asleep in the office.”
“It must have been tough.”
I’m not sure whether Elvis was being sarcastic.
“I decided to go it alone, set up my own business. We left on good terms and I left with a large pay off on the understanding that we worked at opposite ends of the games market. You don’t argue with a company like that so I set up on my own and went from strength to strength. You’ve even got some of my posters up in your shop.”
“I can’t see you as the big businessman. It must be a cut-throat world, how did you deal with it?”
“The games companies pretty much leave each other alone. There’s a certain amount of spying, people infiltrating the company and selling their secrets. You accept it as part of the business. It’s a bit cat and mouse but it makes life more interesting, you expect a certain amount of gamesmanship, if you excuse the pun but it never got rough.”
“How do you deal with people like Kev? Did nobody try and muscle in? You can’t move in Sunderland without Davison or Ingham taking a slice. It must be the same down south.”
“They tried but we were a new type of business. They didn’t quite know how to deal with us. I got a visit one day from a gentleman named Charlie Grenaco. He was well known in the area, a different league altogether from Kev. Despite the name I don’t think he was connected to the Mafia but he was still someone you didn’t mess with. He offered me an insurance policy for one thousand pounds a week. In the large scheme of things, it wasn’t a great deal of money but I wasn’t going to stand for it.”
“One thousand pounds not a great deal of money? You haven’t been living at the other end of the country, you’ve been on another planet.”
“One thing that Landmark taught me was that although money buys you a certain amount of power, knowledge is where the real power is. I’d become quite a proficient hacker in my time at Landmark and I had employed two of the best computer brains in the country. We froze his bank accounts, had his mobile phone, electricity and gas switched off. We even set up a phantom account with a home protection scheme where they call the police on your behalf whenever your burglar alarm goes off. We set off the imaginary alarm every night for a week. Having the police at the door wasn’t good for business so he withdrew his offer of insurance. We put everything back to normal for him and he left us alone after that.”
“He could have killed you. People like that don’t take kindly to people taking the piss.”
“I realised that. It was a calculated risk. I told him that I had tapped into his computers and if anything happened to me or any of my associates, the files would mysteriously end up on the computer systems of Kent CID. We had an uneasy alliance. I occasionally did some work for him, information gathering, that sort of thing. Whilst we had the upper hand and I didn’t like breaking the law, I didn’t want to push my luck.”
“Amazing, I didn’t think you had it in you. It’s good to see you are doing well. Any jobs going for an old school friend?”
“I’m out of the business now mate. I sold up just over a year ago, got out just before the dot com bubble burst. It didn’t affect the gaming market that much but we had gambled on moving onto the internet, thought there would be a huge market for multi player games. I was wrong; it was the first big mistake I made. Luckily the City had thought it was a great idea at the time and bought me out. I got out by the skin of my teeth. I sold up and went travelling. I’ve only spent three months of the last eighteen in this country.”
“This is all fascinating but there is one thing that is bothering me. You obviously have a fortune and you’ve already said that both money and knowledge get you power. You’ve tapped into computer systems of mobile phone companies and the electricity board. Why did you need Bumper, Gilbert and me to help you break into Davison’s? You could have done it yourself.”
“You’re right I could have. I could have sat at home in the South of England and ruined him. I could have paid someone to bump him off and it would never come back to me but that isn’t the point. He has to know it was us, he has to know that the people who he had made suffer for all those years had come back to haunt him. How did you feel after we had got out of the house?”
“Excited, scared, ecstatic.”
“Exactly, you needed the satisfaction of turning him over as much as I did. It all ends tonight, Elvis. There will be no comeback, he’s finished.”
When I eventually got to class it was full. The usual suspects were there, Kev, Gelder, and Tomma. All of them ready for a laugh at my expense. Elvis was already there and I sat down next to him.
“Alright mate?” he said.
“The usual,” I replied.
I took my trainers from my bag and removed the slip-on from my right foot. As I did, Kev snatched it from my hand.
“Lovely shade of blue, Wood,” he shouted waving my shoe in the air. Nearly everybody laughed. I bowed my head and tried to ignore him. “What do you think, Tomma?” He threw the shoe across the classroom.
“Give us it back,” I pleaded.
“Come and get it,” goaded Tomma.
I hobbled over to him, one shoe on and one shoe off. As I got to him, he threw it to Martin Gelder.
“Want to look at it, Gelds?”
I knew it was pointless trying to chase the shoe around the room and shuffled back to my desk. I put on my right trainer and went to get my left one.
“Looking for this?” Davison was now waving my left trainer in the air.
“Come on, give us it back. Burns will be here soon.”
“What do you say?”
“Please?” The word nearly stuck in my throat.
“No,” he laughed as he threw the trainer towards Tomma.
“Give him it back Kev,” shouted Claire.
“I haven’t got it.” He opened his arms wide with an innocent look on his face.
Claire wasn’t impressed.
“Then get it from your imbecilic friends and give it back to Pete.”
“Ooh. Give it back to Pete? Upset your little boyfriend have I?”
“Jealous are you?”
The smile was wiped from his face and I couldn’t help smirking. I soon stopped when he punched me and knocked me off my chair.
“Grow up, Kev.”
Claire’s face was now bright red and everybody was watching. The door opened and Mr Burns walked in. The crowd slowly moved back to their seats, all except Claire and Kev who stood staring at each other. I climbed back onto my chair.
“Come on, everybody back to your desks.”
He waited until everybody was seated and started walking up the aisle, looking at the ground as he went.
“Where’s your trainers, Curtis?” He was wearing a pair of Kickers.
“Forgot them, Sir.”
Of all days why did he have to choose today to do a shoe inspection?
“You all know the rules. You can wear your normal shoed to and from school and then change into to your trainers when you get here.”
The school had some bizarre rules but none quite as stupid as the shoe rule.
“I take it that you’re quite happy to wear down our beautiful parquet floors with your clumpy shoes are you, Curtis?”
“But they’ve got rubber soles just like trainers, Sir.”
“Don’t argue, it was a rhetorical question.”
Mr Burns moved round the class dishing out detentions as he saw fit. I was at the front of the class and the route he chose which meant that I would be the last person he saw. I heard the clicking of his segged brogues on the wooden floor behind me.
“Get dressed in the dark, Wood?”
“Are you trying to be funny? Where’s your other trainer?”
I looked across at Tomma. He glared back.
“Don’t know, Sir.”
“We’ll see if you can remember when you are in detention tonight then.”
I looked round the class for a friendly face to help me out. Perhaps Claire would say something; she had stood up to Kev after all. I looked at her hopefully; she smiled back sadly and shrugged her shoulders. Why should she bother?
Another installment of Leg It by Alan Parkinson to follow same time next week.
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