Two burly men passed me as I entered Elvis’ shop, each one carrying a PC.
“Business picking up?” I said.
“Not quite. Didn’t you recognise them? That was Tomma and Nick Couzens from school.”
“What were they doing here?”
“Come to collect their insurance payment. I didn’t have the cash, so they took stock instead.”
“How much are you paying them? Those computers must be worth a fortune.”
“Too much,” Elvis rubbed his eyes. “What can I do? They work for Kevin Davison.”
“Why didn’t you tell me about Claire and Kev?”
“You’re obsessed, Pete. You always have been. Why can’t you move on and forget about her?”
“It’s not that easy, Elvis. Do you fancy a pint tonight?”
“Can’t afford it mate.”
“No problem, I’ll get them in, seven thirty in the Ivy? I’ve got a little business proposition for you.”
“What do you think?”
Elvis and I were tucked in a quiet corner of the Ivy House. The pub had been refurbished a number of times over the years; the feel of the place was still the same despite two rooms having been knocked into one. At the bar end stood a pool table and alongside that was the entrance to the Gent’s toilets.
Whilst the Ivy House was by no means a drugs den, it did have that element within its clientele and they chose to congregate at that end of the bar. The regular procession of sniffing, edgy twenty-something’s emerging from the cubicles would seem obvious to anybody who bothered to take the time to notice.
Elvis and I chose the far end. There was a coal fire and comfy armchairs along with a big screen showing Sky Sports Centre.
“Fuck off, you twat.” Rodney Marsh was on the screen yet again, annoying the viewers.
Elvis had said that you could feel the pub get warmer the further up the bar you went, and I knew what he meant. It wasn’t physically warmer; there were radiators at the pool end. It was the warmth of atmosphere and the lack of the distrusting paranoia that emanated from the drug takers further back. We needed to talk, so the fire end suited us fine.
“You can count me out, no way. Absolutely not.” Elvis had gone pale.
“I thought you were on my side. I thought you felt the same.”
“I do. No, I don’t, well to a certain extent yes, but not this. No, definitely not. You’re on your own with this one.”
“What have you got to lose?”
“What have I got to lose?” Elvis was glowing red, like the blazing coal fire behind him. “You self-centred, prick. I’ll tell you what I’ve got to lose.” He leaned over the table and raised his voice. The angrier he became, the higher pitched his voice was.
“All right, all right, keep it down. People are beginning to look.”
“Let them look. What will they see? One man who has a wife and a child to feed. A home, albeit a modest one, but a home all the same. Don’t forget the business, I’ve built that up since I left school. They’ll also see you. Someone who disappeared fifteen years ago and has now returned under the pretence of meeting old friends, but you had a hidden agenda all along. You wanted to use these so-called friends to do your dirty work.” Elvis threw a beer mat across the table. “Well, fuck you and your stupid fucking ideas. I’d appreciate it if you kept away from my family and me from now on. You might as well have this back.” He handed me the invitation for the reunion. “I was right all along.”
We stared at each other for a moment whilst I composed myself.
“If that’s how you feel I’ll respect your wishes. But remember the next time some hired thug comes around to the shop asking for money that should be going to your wife and child. Money that should be putting you in a home that isn’t modest. Money that should be invested in a business that after fifteen years should be huge with your talent, but instead is a little boarded up shop on the outskirts of town. Remember, when that business goes bust and you lose your home and your wife and child. Remember that you had a chance to change all that and you turned your back on it.” I was now also shouting, angry that Elvis couldn’t see the chance he was about to throw away.
“Yeah, I’ll take my chances along with everybody else thank you very much.”
With that, Elvis downed his pint of Guinness and headed for the door.
I slumped back in my seat and contemplated my drink. I looked up at the screen where Rodney Marsh’s mug was grinning down at me.
“Will someone turn that cunt off?”
The black Shogun swept into the car park and clipped the edge of the fruit and veg stall, sending the oranges and grapefruit tumbling to the floor.
“For fuck’s sake,” said Bumper as he scrambled around, picking up the fruit that was now rolling across the ground.
“Morning, Bumper, lovely day for it.” The shaven headed figure of Kevin Davison emerged from the 4-wheel drive. “I take it you have something for me?”
Bumper went into his money belt and counted out five, twenty-pound notes. He handed them over reluctantly.
“I think you’ll find you’re fifty short, Bumper.”
“There’s a hundred pounds there. It’s the right money.”
“Silly me. Did I not tell you that the rent had gone up? It’s now one fifty a week. Come on, chop chop, I haven’t got all day.” Bumper took another fifty from his pouch and handed it over.
“Don’t mind if I take these do you?” said Kev as he took a bag of bananas. “Don’t worry about the oranges, I’m sure you can claim on your insurance.”
Tomma wasn’t surprised when he got his visit. It was long overdue. He’d been careless, and somebody was bound to notice. He was just glad it was Nick.
It was two days since he found out, Friday afternoon it was. Tomma normally went to the bank on a Thursday to top up the Oz account, but he’d been busy running errands for Kev. Friday was always a nightmare in the banks, all the factory girls cashing their paycheques then pissing it all away on the Friday night. He got caught in a queue and was therefore late getting to The Whistle. Usually he wouldn’t take the Oz book anywhere near the lads, but he was late. When he arrived most of the lads were already there. Tomma took off his jacket to play pool and the book fell out. Nick had picked it up and gave it back to him; Tomma hadn’t been sure whether he had seen inside it. He was now.
“I’ve been watching you Tomma and I’ve got to admit I’m impressed. Making all this money for the lads and they love you for it, but there’s something that’s been bothering me,” Nick took a swig from his can. “I’ve seen how much cash we make, and everybody takes a cut and goes home happy. You’ve got Kev wrapped around your little finger and that means you’ve got every little wannabe crawling up your arse. But I know you’re stitching us, I know your cut’s that little bit bigger than everybody else.”
“I’ve got you sussed, and I want a part of it.” Nick leaned forward in his chair. “I’m not a greedy man, fifty, fifty will do. But if I ever think you’re stitching me then a little birdie is having a word in Kev’s ear.”
This delayed Tomma’s plans. He had just over twenty-thousand pounds in there, not quite enough to get him away for good. Not now that he had to hand over half of that to Nick. It wasn’t fair he thought. After all he had done for these lads he deserved a bit extra. He wasn’t sure that Kev would see it that way.
He slumped back in the chair. He wasn’t going to try and lie his way out of it. Any of the other lads would have gone straight to Kev, but Nick was different. He was only in it for himself.
“Okay, it will take a few days though.”
“That’s okay, I can wait.” Nick drained his can and threw it in the bin.
Tomma watched Nick from the door and thought about disappearing straight away. He could easily do it he had the money after all. But he wanted to do it right. He knew how much he needed for his house and he wasn’t leaving before he got it. He would just need to work that little bit harder. Corners would have to be cut.
It wasn’t difficult to find Bumper; after all there weren’t that many six-foot bananas in the health club’s car park.
“Pete? Jesus it must be at least ten years…”
“Fifteen, Bumper. It’s been fifteen years since you’ve seen me.”
“Yeah, fifteen eh? Bloody long time. You seem to be doing all right for yourself, very smart I must say.”
“Thanks, you haven’t changed a bit I see.”
“The outfit you mean? It’s my trademark now. Bit of a pain in the arse to tell you the truth, but it keeps the punters happy.” He held out his hand and shook mine firmly.
“How did you get the idea to dress as a banana?”
“I’ve worked on the market stalls since I left school. There hasn’t been much money in it up until now. Then I had the idea to open a stall here. You know what they’re like, all these fitness freaks, more interested in looking like they are being healthy rather than becoming fit. That’s where I come in.” Bumper offered me an orange, I shook my head. “They’ve got to be seen to eat a lot of fruit, so I hit the jackpot. The outfit was just meant to be for the first day, get myself noticed. It had such an impact I decided to keep it for a while. I couldn’t get rid of it now even if I wanted to. All the young lasses come out of the club and they can’t wait to come and see Bumper the Banana boy. Sad really, I know they’re taking the piss, but as long as they are spending, who cares?”
“You are making a bit of money then? It’s good to see someone from school doing well for themselves.”
“Not as much as I would like unfortunately. One of our school’s other success stories is making a mint out of me.” The bitterness in Bumper’s voice was all too evident.
“How did you guess? He owns this place you see. Charges me rent for using his car park and gives me the benefit of one of his insurance schemes. Basically, I give him money and he doesn’t beat me up. Pretty much the same as school, nothing ever changes that much.”
“I bumped into him the other day. It’s surprising how far brute force and ignorance will get you these days.”
“I take it you know about Claire then? It’s a shame, she used to be such a nice lass.”
At least Bumper didn’t try and hide it from me.
“Yeah, it was a bit of a surprise. Anyway, the real reason I’m here. How do you fancy coming to a school reunion? See how everybody else is getting on.”
“I thought you hated school, why do you want to go back? It’s all a bit depressing if you ask me.”
“You’ll come along then?”
“Yeah, wouldn’t miss it for the world.” A big grin now spread across Bumper’s yellow face.
“Best have an invite then.” I passed him one of the invitations.
“Jesus, is that who I think it is?” he said.
“The very same.”
“Classic. Does he know you’ve got a copy of this?”
“Not yet, but he will when he gets his own invite. It would be rude not to invite the teachers along wouldn’t it? I think it’s only fair that his wife receives an invite as well,” I said.
“Definitely. You’ve turned into a bit of a bastard since you’ve been away.” I think this was meant as a compliment.
“I try my best. It’s quite fulfilling this revenge business. I’m getting a taste for it.”
“Wouldn’t mind a bit of it myself. I’ve got plenty on my list who I’d quite like to pay a visit to in the middle of the night.”
“It’s funny you say that. I might just have something you may be interested in.”
Before we discussed business, Bumper had an invite for me.
“Look mate, I know it’s short notice, but I’m getting married next Friday. One of my aunts has dropped out, varicose veins playing up or something. There’s a meal going to waste. I’d be chuffed if you could make it. Elvis and Marie will be there.”
“I’d love to. Congratulations. Who’s the lucky girl?”
“Bernadette McLaughlin. She was two years below us at school.”
“Bumper and Bernie’s bananas. I can see why you’re marrying her,” I said. “Are you having a stag night?”
“Just a couple of pints with Gilbert and Elvis on Saturday, you’re welcome to come if you’re up for it.”
“Definitely, I’ll be there.”
“You said you had something that might interest me,” said Bumper, “what was it?”
“It can keep.” I didn’t want to upset him before his big day. I was also a little concerned about seeing Elvis again. He had been quite upset the last time I had seen him, and I hoped he hadn’t told Marie of my plans.
“Haven’t you noticed how much money he’s spending? How do you think he could afford that jacket? Four hundred quid, he has to be taking the piss,” Tomma lent across Kev’s desk. “Look at the amount of Charlie he’s getting through as well. Something has got to be done and quickly.”
“You’re right Tomma, but he’s been one of my best mates since we were at school, how could he do this?” Kev sat back in his leather chair and sighed.
Tomma sat uneasily in his seat and looked around the office. There were numerous pictures on the wall of Kevin with various B- List celebrities. These were only outnumbered by the number of photos of Claire.
Kev sat behind an oversized mahogany desk in a luxurious leather swivel chair. In the corner of the room was a life size porcelain tiger. No doubt as expensive as it was tasteless.
“People get greedy, they’re not satisfied with what you’re offering so they choose to help themselves. It could happen to any one of us, but he’s your mate, you need to sort it out. It’s him or the business Kev, you decide.”
Tomma had to protect the Oz fund and attack was the best form of defence. It didn’t matter what Nick said now, he had planted the seed in Kev’s mind and it would not be up for discussion.
“Who’d have thought one of your mates would do that to you? I suppose it’s the game we’re in and I need to deal with it.” Kev was devastated at being ripped off however he was not going to let it get the better of him. “Okay, I’ll sort it. I’ll make sure the thieving bastard never gets caught with his fingers in the till again. Promise me this doesn’t go any further, I don’t want it to look like any little Johnny Fuckwit can come and have a go.”
Kev went to the drinks cabinet and took out a bottle of Jack Daniels. “Fancy a quick one before you go?”
“No thanks. I have to be off.” Spending this long with Kev was beginning to make Tomma feel uncomfortable. He knew he wasn’t too good with a drink inside him and didn’t fancy slipping up.
“Quick, phone for the Fire Brigade.” I threw my mobile at the old woman walking her Yorkshire terrier. She was oblivious to the smoke coming from beneath the front door of the large house that we were passing. Two faces peered out from the upstairs window. They were young girls; I had to act fast. I ran around the side of the house where a pair of ladders were standing against the half-built extension. I carried them back around to the front of the house and placed them against the main wall.
“Open the window!” The girls were either unable to hear me or too scared to take anything in.
Flames were now licking at the front door and had spread to the curtains at the downstairs window. I hammered on the window, but still got no response from the girls who stared back blankly. I had to break the window but had nothing to smash the glass. I heard the window below me crack as the flames took hold. I was heading down the ladder to get a rock from the garden when the upstairs window opened. A woman in her late twenties whom I assumed to be the girls’ mother was standing there.
“Take the kids. Quickly, the fire’s spreading.”
The older of the girls who appeared to be about four, climbed onto my back whilst I took the younger one in my right arm. Steadying myself with my left hand, I carried them both to safety, returning for the mother as the fire engines arrived.
“Step back please. We’ll take over from here.”
The two children cuddled into their mother as I gave her my jacket.
“How did it start?” I said.
“I don’t know. I was on the phone. The first I knew of it was when I heard the girls screaming. I ran through from my bedroom to find you at the window. Thank God you were passing.”
A silver Range Rover pulled into the drive behind the fire engines.
“What the fuck is happening here?” A shaven headed hulk climbed from the car. “Who are you?”
“I was passing when I saw the smoke,” I said.
“He saved us, Joe. He got the bairns out. They would have been dead.”
He shook my hand. “Joe Ingham. Looks like I owe you a big thank you. I don’t know what I’d do without Elizabeth or the kids.” He picked up the youngest, kissed her and put her back down. “Can I have a quick word, mate? What did you say your name was?”
“Hi, Pete,” he led me away from his family and the crowd that had gathered. “If there’s anything I can ever do for you, just let me know. I’ve got a lot of contacts in this city.” He handed me his card.
“There’s no need. I did what anybody would have done.”
“Just the same, let me know. Did you notice any cars or anybody acting suspiciously when you were passing?”
I thought back to before the fire. “I don’t think so… no.”
“Bastards!” He kicked a plant pot over and it smashed against the ground. A few people looked over. “I’ll fucking kill whoever did this.”
I backed off a few paces as he seemed ready to kill right now.
“Do me a favour. If you remember anything, let me know before the police. I need to take care of this myself.”
“No problem.” His family had just been attacked and I wasn’t about to interfere.
“Someone’s going to pay for this.”
“They’ve attacked my family, Kev. What’s going on?” Ingham was furious.
“They tried to kill Elizabeth?”
“What’s happening, Kev? You better not have anything to do with this.”
“I can’t believe you’re accusing me. We have history, but I would never attack a man’s family.”
Tomma shot Kev an anxious glance. The bad blood between Kev and Ingham ran deep. He hoped Kev wasn’t involved.
“Okay, okay. I’m just a bit wound up. If you hear anything let me know,” said Ingham.
“Of course, I’ll put the feelers out,” Kev put his arm around Ingham and led him to the door. “Don’t worry, Joe. We’ll get the bastards.”
“I need to get everyone together.” Ingham looked Kev in the eye. “I want everyone to know how serious I am.”
Tomma looked worried. He could do without this. When Ingham pulled away from the drive Tomma turned to Kev.
“You’re not involved, are you?”
“Of course I’m not, you stupid twat.” Kev looked worried. “Don’t you get it? If they are willing to attack Joe’s family in their own home, they won’t think twice about coming after us.”
“Shit.” The barman eyed the crowd that had come through the door. Tomma was at the front, closely followed by Nick Couzens and about twenty other unpleasant looking men.
“Is your boss in?” said Tomma.
“No, he’s out for the night.”
“That’s a shame. I’ll have a bottle of Becks.”
The barman went to the fridge, a little apprehensively, and retrieved the bottle.
“That will be one eighty please.”
“Yeah, whatever.” Tomma took the bottle without paying and went to sit down.
“I’ll have the same.” Nick was now at the bar.
“I’m sorry, I’m not serving you until your friend has paid for his beer.”
“Look, son, you have two choices. Either you get me my beer now or you get seriously hurt. What’s it going to be?”
“I don’t want any trouble, but I can’t give beer away, I’ll lose my job.”
A bottle flew past the barman’s ear and smashed into the optics behind him. Tomma grabbed him by the shirt and dragged him over the bar.
“Your boss owes us money, so be a good boy and do what you’re told.”
Nick jumped over the bar and emptied the till as Tomma landed a kick in the barman’s stomach. This was the cue for the rest of the lads to start smashing the bar to bits. The Guinness mirror behind the bar shattered as a stool hit it. Customers ran for the door as the glasses started flying. Two lads had thrown the fruit machine to the floor and were attempting to smash it open. Two more attempted the same with the cigarette machine. The barman lay, cowering on the floor. The sound of breaking glass nearly drowned out the sirens of the police cars that were approaching.
“Police, let’s do one.” Everyone pushed for the door, smashing everything in their path.
“Nick, quick let’s go this way.” Tomma was holding open the fire exit.
Nick looked at the crush at the main door and ran towards Tomma. As Nick went through the door, Tomma slammed it shut behind him and joined the crowd at the main door.
“Tomma?” Nick looked back at the closed door then he felt the presence of someone beside him.
“Kev, what are you doing here?”
“Kev, I thought you weren’t coming tonight.”
“I had some urgent business to attend to. Have you got the money?”
“Yeah, here.” Nick handed over the bundle of notes. “Shouldn’t we be getting out of here? The pigs are around the corner.”
“Is that all the money?”
“Yeah, of course it is. What’s up, Kev? Come on let’s get a move on.”
“Sorry, Nick. You’re not going anywhere.” Kev produced a blade, his eyes glazed over as he stabbed Nick repeatedly in the chest. “Did you think you could get away with it? Nobody, but nobody messes with Kevin Davison.” The stabbing became more frantic then with one final lunge, Kev stabbed him in the eye. “Do you hear me? Don’t ever fuck with me again.”
Nick wasn’t listening, he was already dead.
The next chapter will be released soon. If you can’t wait, Leg It is available on Kindle, Paperback and Hardback.