“Morning Mr Morris.” Kevin Davison stood in the doorway of the shop, temporarily blocking out the light.
“That’s not a pleasant way to greet an old school friend now is it?”
“What do you want Kev? I’ve got work to do.” Elvis put down his screwdriver.
“Glad to hear that you’re busy. That means that you shouldn’t have any problems paying the small rent increase that I’m imposing.”
“Again? It only went up two months ago.”
“That’s inflation for you.” Kev patted Elvis on the head. “It’s only fifty pounds a week more.”
“Fifty pounds? How am I going to afford that?”
Davison shrugged as he took Elvis’ glasses from his face and tried them on. “How blind are you?”
His two friends, who had come into the shop, laughed. “You remember Mr Thompson and Mr Couzens, don’t you? I think you’ll find that it’s insurance day.”
“Shit.” Elvis shook his head.
“I trust you won’t have any problems paying them.”
Davison went to hand the glasses back to Elvis, instead he dropped them onto the floor before standing on them. “Clumsy me. Never mind, accidents will happen.”
Elvis pedalled to the front of the tower block and freewheeled to the foot of the stairs. He never took the lift. The smell of urine was even more overpowering than it was in the stairwell and along with cycling to work, taking the stairs was his only sacrifice to fitness. He placed the bike over his shoulder. The old Raleigh racer wasn’t as good as the mountain bikes people favoured these days, but it did the job it was intended for. It was also cheap, £20 from the classifieds in the local paper. The bike had probably been stolen like most of the items featured in the classified ads, but he didn’t care. “If you can’t beat them join them,” he thought. As he reached the stairwell of the fourth floor he had to push past the local gang of teenagers smoking on the stairs in their brightly coloured Kappa tracksuits and ill-fitting baseball caps.
“Nice bike. What is it, a penny farthing?”
Elvis chose not to answer the junior comedian having long since learnt the lesson from entering into a debate with his sort. “Fucking little prick,” he thought and carried on along the corridor to his flat.
“Hiya love, good day?” Marie wasn’t looking for an answer and was already heading back to the kitchen where she was preparing the tea.
“Yeah, great now that you ask.” Elvis removed his glasses that were now held together with sticky tape and rubbed his eyes. “First, I found the rent for the shop had gone up, and then our friendly local insurance men came for their monthly payment, reminding me just how important it is to pay them on time. More important than putting food on the table it seems.”
“What was that, love? I couldn’t hear you, the kettle was boiling.”
“Nothing, just saying how busy I’ve been. Nothing for you to worry about.” Elvis picked up the paper and slumped into the armchair, realising that Declan had been sat alone on the couch.
“Alright, son? Good day at school?”
“Got any homework?”
“Finished it,” said Declan.
“Already? You’d better go and check that it’s right seeing as you’ve finished it so quickly.” Elvis flicked the remote control and after a few seconds, the television came to life. Declan trudged into the bedroom and slammed the door behind him.
“Mind that door, you’ll have the bloody hinges off soon.” Elvis scanned the channels on the television without anything registering.
Declan took his sopping wet exercise book from his bag and threw it against the wall where it left a damp stain. He lay face down on the bed and began to cry.
“You haven’t got a clue what it’s like, Dad. Not a clue.”
“Fucking stupid cow.”
“Will you stop that?” Marie was annoyed, and Elvis knew she was right.
He had sworn at the television an average of three times an hour tonight. It wasn’t his worst performance, but he could tell that things were getting on top of him.
“She is a stupid cow, the twisty faced old trout.” Admittedly, Deirdre Barlow wasn’t the normal target for a vitriolic attack, but she was winding him up.
“It’s make believe, Elvis. It’s only a TV show.” Marie laughed as she stood. “Do you want another can, love?”
“Yeah, go on,” he said, embarrassed at his outburst. “We need a holiday Marie, although I can’t see when I can get the time off work, or the money to pay for one.”
“Don’t worry, love. We’ll manage.” Marie headed into the kitchen.
“Boring old Twat,” said Elvis as Ken Barlow walked onto the screen.
It took me a while to find Elvis. Looking through the phone book for Paul Morris brought up nothing. It was only when I was flicking through the paper and stumbled upon an advert for Costello’s Computer Repairs. It was worth a go.
I found the shop on the outskirts of town. All the units either side were boarded up and this appeared to be the only one with any signs of life. When I walked in Elvis didn’t even look up.
“With you in a minute.”
Bits of computers lay about all over the place in some sort of organised chaos. Posters on the wall advertised Frogger and the VIC 20.
“Isn’t it about time you modernised?” I said.
“You what?” The thick rimmed spectacles peered over the VDU screen. Elvis had filled out a bit since school but was pretty much identical to how I remembered him. His shoulders were slightly hunched which made him look a little smaller than his six feet two inches. He had been this height since he was fifteen making him stand out from the crowd.
“Bloody hell, Pete. I haven’t seen you in years.” A big grin spread across Elvis’ face.
“Still wearing the Elvis specs, I see.” The thick lenses and black frames were exactly as I remembered.
“No, these are safety glasses.” He took them off and I realised it was possibly the first time I had seen him without glasses. His eyes looked uncannily small and squinted. He then proceeded to replace his glasses with something equally thick and cumbersome held together with an Elastoplast. The old Elvis was back.
“Where have you been?” Elvis moved from behind the computer, still carrying a slight limp from the accident. “And more importantly, what brings you back?”
“Thought I’d look up a few of the lads, organise a bit of a school reunion.” I reached over to shake his hand.
“Count me out, I hated school and so did you as far as I can remember. What makes you want to meet up with all those twats?” Elvis concentrated back on the shell of a PC he was working on.
“It’s been fifteen years now, Elvis. Water under the bridge as they say. Let bygones be bygones.”
“They can stay gone as far as I am concerned. I just want to keep my head down and get on with my work.”
“You seem to be doing all right for yourself, your own shop and all that.” I looked around at the banks of computers and monitors lined up against the walls.
“If it was my own shop. Everybody seems to want a piece of it. I’m struggling to keep my head above water.”
“Sorry to hear it. If there’s anything I can do?”
“Yeah, piss off with your stupid ideas about school reunions for a start. While you walked away from all that shit I’ve been up to my eyes in it for years.”
“It was just an idea…”
I didn’t know what to do next. Elvis had been pleased to see me, but I seemed to have touched on a raw nerve. He came out from behind the computer and drew up a swivel chair for me to sit on.
“I’m sorry, mate. Been under a lot of pressure recently, you know how it is.” He flicked the switch on the kettle and sat beside me. “How do you fancy coming over for a bite to eat tonight? Marie will be made up to see you again.”
“Things can’t be all that bad. Is she still as fit as she used to be?”
“Careful, that’s my wife you’re talking about.” Elvis pretended to be hurt.
“It’s just a bit of a shock. How long have been seeing her?”
“Since the thirty first of January nineteen eighty-seven.”
“That’s a bit precise.”
“Yeah, our first date was Elvis Costello’s gig with the Confederates at the City Hall.” Elvis pointed at the tour poster on the wall.
“You certainly know how to treat a woman,” I said as Elvis passed me a mug of coffee.
“Luckily, she’s into the same music. We’ve seen every gig he’s done in the north east. Our honeymoon was in Dublin in eighty-eight. He did a gig with Christie Moore, it was fantastic.”
“What, the gig or the honeymoon?” I said, and Elvis was a lot more relaxed now.
“We’ve got a little lad now as well, although he’s not so little anymore, he’s nearly twelve.”
“Let’s guess, you’ve called him Elvis?”
“Not quite, he’s called Declan. Is 7.30 alright for you tonight?”
“Yeah great. Where are you living now?”
“Forest Court. Number 125. Your trip might be worthwhile.” Elvis grinned. “I think I might have something you may be interested in.”
“I’m intrigued. See you then.”
“Sorry to have bitten your head off earlier. It’s really good to see you again, mate. I’ve missed you.” Elvis gave me a strong bear hug that took me a little by surprise.
“It’s good to be back. See you tonight, I can’t wait to meet Junior Elvis.”
It was good to see Elvis again and I was looking forward to seeing Marie and little Declan. The thought of a miniature version of Elvis made me chuckle. “And I don’t care how many gigs you’ve seen, none of them will beat eighty-one with the Attractions,” I said.
“Can’t argue with that,” agreed Elvis. “See you tonight, mate.”
It was the first time I had been on the Forest Court Estate. I had seen countless others all over the world and they rarely differed. I felt sorry for Elvis. He was a good lad with his own business, yet he was living on one of the most run-down estates in the city. A burnt-out Ford Sierra blocked the entrance to the car park, so I left the car on the road opposite. The orange street lighting illuminated it to provide a little security. A young lad, about ten years old, cruised by on his mountain bike looking me up and down working out what he could scam from me. He doubled back.
“Look after your car, mister?” I remembered this from when I was a kid. We used to offer to look after people’s cars when they went to the match. Patrolling the streets on the lookout for potential wrong doers. This offer was more sinister.
“I’ll give you a fiver if it’s still here when I get back.”
“Five quid and I’ll let you keep your kneecaps.”
He thought about it for a while then he must have realised that the only people driving a BMW Z3 on the Forest Court estate were likely to be drug dealers or connected in some way. He accepted my offer. I knew he wouldn’t bother hanging about long waiting for a fiver, but at least my car would still be in one piece when I got back.
I walked past the burnt-out Sierra and headed for the stairwell. Broken glass was strewn all over the car park and the usual graffiti covered the walls.
In the entrance of the stairwell sat a man in his forties with his head in his hands. Balding with an ear ring in one ear, he had a tattoo on the skin between the base of his thumb and forefinger on his left hand. The initials FC showed that he was an original Forest Courter. Like a borstal spot, it showed where you had come from and marked you for life. He had lived here all his life and was unlikely ever to move.
He looked over at me, but not in the threatening way you expect when confronted by a stranger in a dark stairwell. He looked a broken man, not caring who or what I was. Usually the appearance of a man in a suit would set the alarm bells ringing. Inevitably it was the police or a funeral director. He looked as though he would be happy to see either if they took him away from here. I offered a half smile as way of a greeting.
“Alright Mate? Haven’t seen you for a long time.” His voice sounded familiar. I looked a little closer and realised I recognised this man. I couldn’t put a name to the face, but I knew that I had gone to school with him. He hadn’t aged well.
“And you can take your frigging clothes with you an’ all.” A woman’s voice screamed from the balcony above us. A pair of jeans hit the ground at our feet.
“Meet the missus,” he said as he picked up the jeans. The crotch had been crudely cut out with scissors. “Caught me playing away from home with the barmaid down the club. She’ll get over it, it’s not the first time.” He shrugged his shoulders in a gesture of apathy.
“Here’s the rest of them.” I looked up just in time to see a wardrobe being edged over the balcony. I dived into the stairwell as it came crashing to the ground, splintering all over the car park. He shrugged again.
“See you later, mate,” he said, possibly expecting the marital bed to come flying down and join the wardrobe.
“Hope it all works out for you.” I said as I began climbing the stairs to the fourth floor where I found Elvis’s flat.
The light was out on the stairs and you could feel the ever-present dampness. It was slippery under foot due to the slimy residue that had built up on the concrete stairs over the years. The ammonia like stench of urine burnt the hairs on the inside of my nose. This place was depressing. Surely Elvis could do better than this.
A good wine may have been a bit pretentious, so I settled on a bottle of plonk and eight cans of Boddingtons. I was quite taken aback when Declan answered the door. He was the double of his dad even down to the specs. I got even more of a shock when I saw Marie. Short cropped hair and another pair of thick glasses. I was beginning to feel under dressed. They were all clones.
“Hi Pete, good to see you again.” Marie gave me a hug and a peck on the cheek. “What have you been doing with yourself?”
“This and that, you know how it is.”
“I don’t actually. You disappeared fifteen years ago, and nobody has heard anything since.”
“Yeah, I’ve been busy. How are you anyway?” I handed over the wine and cans. Marie seemed pleased with my choice.
“Good, good. Elvis is doing well at the shop and Declan is excelling at school, right little bright spark he is. Chicken all right for you?” She shepherded me into the sitting room. “It was all a bit short notice. You could be a vegetarian or anything.”
“I haven’t changed that much, chicken’s great. Do you see many of them from school then?”
“Yeah, now and again. Down at the shops and that. Elvis says you were wanting to get a school reunion going.”
“It was an idea.”
“I thought you hated school and most people in it. Why do you want to go over old ground?” Marie took my jacket.
“Just interested I suppose. See how people are doing now. Gilbert for example I wonder how he’s getting on.”
“Fucking hell. Gilbert Douglas is a Bank Manager?” I was shocked.
“Mind your language in front of the kid.” Marie slapped me on the arm.
“Sorry, it’s just I can’t believe that Gilbert’s a Bank Manager.”
“She’s pulling your leg, he’s a gardener.” Elvis walked back into the sitting room carrying a bottle of Bordeaux that put my plonk to shame.
“Thank God for that. You had me worried for a moment, I thought the world had been turned on its head.”
“We were keeping this bottle for a special occasion. I guess a visit after fifteen years can be classed as a special occasion.”
I suddenly felt quite embarrassed by the bottle in my hand and tried to hide it. Elvis noticed, so I attempted an excuse.
“It was the only wine they had. If I had a bit more time I would have got something better.”
“No problem. Marie loves Liebfraumilch.”
She gave him a sideways glance. “Yeah, I’ll pop it in the fridge.”
They obviously assumed I had fallen on hard times and didn’t want to embarrass me.
“Let’s eat. I’m starving, and I can’t wait to show you your surprise.” Elvis looked excited. “Another face from school you might recognise, but possibly not quite as you may remember it.”
“Come on then. What is it that you’re so desperate to show me?”
The meal had been lovely. Chicken with Basil and cherry tomatoes in a cream sauce. The wine had relaxed me, and I was feeling at ease.
“Do you remember Mr Burns?” Elvis moved over to a PC in the corner.
“I could hardly forget him, the old bastard,” I said. “I was hoping he was dead.”
“He’ll probably wish he was soon. You know I fix computers?”
“Well, the other day I was sitting in the shop doing a bit of work and who should walk in but old Burnsy. He’s got this top of the range PC. Bit of a surprise considering what an old fart he is.” Elvis tapped away on his keyboard. “His hard drive was buggered, and he wanted to know if I could fix it. Cheeky Bugger wanted a discount because he used to teach us. I should charge the twat double for what he put us through.”
“Too bloody right,” I said as Marie cleared the table. I headed over to the PC.
“I went around to his house, but it was a bigger job than I had expected, and I had to take it back to the shop.” Elvis inserted a disk into the drive. “I got it up and running and being the nosy bugger I am, I had a bit of a poke about in his files. See if there was anything in there about any of his old pupils. I came across some files that were password protected. It made me think because there’s only him and his old bird in the house and I’m sure she doesn’t know how to work the computer. Passwords are a doddle to override when you know what you’re doing.”
“Enough of the computer master class, Elvis. Are you going to get to the point?”
“Yeah, I was about to. Have a butcher’s at what came up when I got into the files.”
“Fucking hell!” My jaw dropped when I saw the screen. I had to grab the back of the sofa to regain my balance. The wine must have been stronger than I thought.
“Makes interesting viewing, doesn’t it?”
“Interesting viewing? I can’t believe it.”
“And that’s not the best of it.” Elvis clicked on another file.
“Yeah, I don’t think it would go down too well with the PTA, would it?”
The next chapter will be released soon. If you can’t wait, Leg It is available on Kindle, Paperback and Hardback.