“Hello Geordie, long time no see.” Mike Teale welcomed an old friend.
Mike was in his late forties, overweight, but immaculately dressed. His black hair was slicked back; he wore grey slacks and a navy blazer over a pale blue shirt and yellow tie. His brand-new Mercedes SLK was parked outside.
There was a small crowd gathering now. It had been a long time since all the faces had been seen in the same place. Junior Carling, Ingham’s right-hand man, came in blocking out the sunlight from the door momentarily. At six foot six, he was easily the largest man in the pub, also the only black man. His muscles filled out his tight, white polo neck jumper. His hair was receding but tidy and he had a large black moustache. He was one of the few people who could carry it off. Both the jumper and moustache did little to cover the large white scar he received when he was at school.
Ingham was in amongst the group sitting alongside Teale. He had offered to introduce me; I had declined explaining that I just wanted a quiet pint and to watch the match. Ingham had gone back to the crowd, seemingly not offended and carried on with his conversation, occasionally nodding in my direction.
The group of ‘Businessmen’ took up most of one corner of the pub. The greetings were all loud and exaggerated. Mobile phones rang incessantly, constantly interfering with the picture on the televisions. The regulars were clearly annoyed but said nothing. After about ten minutes the younger crowd arrived, Davison’s gang.
Aged between early twenties to early thirties they looked altogether more aggressive. Most had short, cropped haircuts and sported tattoos. The younger ones wore Stone Island jumpers and jackets, the uniform of the football hooligan. They loitered on the outskirts of the crowd, not sure how close to get. Handshakes were exchanged, and drinks were purchased, the mood became a lot less jovial and more business-like. I couldn’t hear what was said but observed that the one noticeable absentee was Kevin Davison.
As quickly as the crowd had arrived, it dispersed. Mike Teale was the first to leave. None of them knew me but must have heard about me from Ingham. A fleet of Mercedes, Porsches and BMW’s screeched away from the seafront pub. The only group remaining now, along with the regulars, was Davison’s gang. They tried to look moody and aggressive, but failed to impress the fishermen and lifeboat men that frequented the pub. I laughed to myself and wondered if they still called themselves the ‘St Pat’s casuals.’ I drained my pint glass, and still thirsty, headed back to the bar.
Elvis had been drinking heavily since his meeting in the Ivy. He wasn’t a big drinker usually. A couple of cans on a weekend, a trip to the local with Marie every once in a while. He couldn’t afford it. Marie hadn’t seen him this drunk in a long while and she was worried. She knew he was having a drink with Pete, after all he had been working hard and he deserved it, but she wasn’t expecting this. He’d been drinking all weekend. Music was blasting out of the Hi-Fi and Mrs Corby was already banging on the ceiling. Elvis was oblivious to the thumping from upstairs.
“I can’t stand up for falling down…” he sang along with the music then realised the irony of the words. “Did you hear that pet, I can’t stand up for falling down?” He then stumbled onto the floor in a fit of hysterics, taking the contents of the table with him. “Do you get it? I can’t stand…”
“Yes, I get it. Now are you going to be quiet? The neighbours are complaining.”
“Let them complain. The only reason the piss stained old bag is moaning now is because it’s us. Don’t you see if it was any of the other hundred and one families on this estate she wouldn’t dare? Too scared of the consequences.” He attempted standing but ended up breaking the chair.
“What are you talking about? Mrs Corby’s never complained before. The music is too loud.”
“Yeah take her side. Just like everybody else. It’s only because you know I’ll not fight back. I’m a coward. Didn’t you know? Scared of my own shadow, that’s me.”
“What’s dad doing, mam? He’s not still practising for ‘Stars In Their Eyes’, is he?” Declan had wandered into the sitting room.
“Go back to bed, Declan.”
“I heard him singing. I thought he was practising. He is good enough, Mam.”
“I know, pet. Now go back to bed.”
“Yes, that’s right, son. I’m practising, practising being a doormat, letting everybody walk over me.”
“What does he mean, Mam?”
“Nothing. Now get to bed, this is your last warning.”
“Goodnight son, sleep tight.” Elvis waved at his son.
“Night, Dad.” Declan went back to his room but stood listening at the door.
“I hope you’re proud of yourself, scaring the bairn like that.”
“He’d better get used to it because it gets a lot scarier the older you get.”
“I don’t know what’s got into you lately. You’re moody, you never listen to your music anymore…” Marie shook her head in disgust.
“You’ve just told me to turn the fucker off.”
“You know what I mean. You haven’t been the same recently. What happened to the old Elvis?”
“He’s gone. He got trampled on and died. This is the new Elvis and you’re going to have to get to like him.”
Elvis opened the door of the cupboard and raked through the mess that lay inside.
“Maybe I don’t have to get to like him,” Marie said, “maybe I want the old Elvis back.”
“You can’t have him. It’s new Elvis or nothing.”
A pile of boxes now lay behind Elvis as his backside stuck out of the cupboard.
“It might have to be nothing. If you don’t buck your ideas up, you’ll lose Declan and me. You think about that when you’re trying to get over your hangover tomorrow. I’m going to bed now. You can have the couch.”
Elvis backed out of the cupboard and slumped against the wall. In his hand he held a plaster cast that appeared to have come from a child’s broken leg. He laughed as he read the names of everybody who had signed it. He also studied the map that had been drawn in red felt-tip pen. Everything was there, the field, Pritchard’s house, Tate’s and most importantly, Inkerman Print. It had been over twenty years since he had broken his leg. A tear formed in his eye as he remembered when they were kids. ‘Man Out Of Time’ was now playing on the hi-fi. As always, Elvis Costello’s timing was perfect.
I thought about the meeting in The Whistle. Why had all the main faces in the shady, Sunderland underworld got together now? All except Davison that is. It bothered me that they could be plotting something that could ruin my plans. I needed to speak to Ingham to find out what they were up to. I took his business card out of my wallet and rang the number. A young female answered.
“Outlaw Entertainments, how can I help?” I smiled when I noticed the name of his company.
“Could I speak to Mr Ingham please?”
“Who should I say is calling?”
“I’m not sure if he’s in, he’s a very busy man.” She obviously didn’t recognise the name and was trained to treat anyone she didn’t know with suspicion.
“I appreciate that he’s busy. Do you mind checking, please?”
The phone went silent for a moment then a voice appeared on the other end.
“Pete, how are you doing, mate?” He then proceeded to have a side conversation with his secretary. “This is the man who saved the bairn’s life. Don’t ever put him on hold again.” I heard her apologise in the background.
“Sorry about that, Pete, that’s what happens when you give barmaids a bit of responsibility. What can I do for you?”
“Look it doesn’t matter if you’re busy.”
“I’m never too busy for you. What are you after?”
“I was hoping to go out for a spot of lunch. I’m a bit out of touch with the restaurant scene in Sunderland and I was wondering if you could recommend anywhere.”
“Why don’t you come over to the club at lunchtime? I’ll show you around then take you out for dinner.”
“Don’t expect much of the club mind. It’s a bit of a dump during the daytime. About one suit you?”
“See you then.”
Ingham had been right about the club. I rang the buzzer on the main entrance and a young girl in shorts and T-shirt opened the door. There was a strong smell of bleach where the cleaner had sluiced the steps to get rid of the smell of vomit and piss. She took me upstairs and we walked across the dance floor to the back of the club. The lights were all on and Radio 2 was playing out of the PA system. The carpet was almost black with a combination of spilt beer, chewing gum and cigarette ends.
“Depressing isn’t it?” Ingham came out of his office and shook my hand.
“I’ve got to admit, it isn’t what I was expecting.”
A cleaner was vacuuming in the far corner attempting to unearth a pattern on the carpet.
“We’ve had them steam cleaned, it doesn’t work. They’re too filthy. We wait about eighteen months then replace them; it’s all tax deductible. Or at least that’s what my accountant tells me. Come on, I’ll show you around.”
It was all as he predicted, pretty dull although I couldn’t help but be impressed by the DJ stand. He had to be an engineer to operate it. There were two PCs, a huge mixing desk and the controls for the lighting.
“The lighting is automatic, but the DJ can override it if he likes.”
He flicked a couple of switches and the strobe lights streaked across the floor. The rest of the place was as expected. I could tell Ingham was humouring me by showing me the club. I made enough agreeable noises to look like I was interested, but I wanted to get the conversation around to Sunday’s meeting and Kevin Davison in particular.
“Do you fancy lunch then? I have a friend with a restaurant. He doesn’t normally open at lunchtime, but he makes an exception for a few close friends and me. You’ll love it.”
Ingham was spot on with his review of the restaurant. The food was first class and, for someone who doesn’t open at lunchtime, he appeared to do quite a good trade. I recognised a few faces from Sunday. Most people appeared to know each other and nearly all of them came over to acknowledge Ingham.
“Was it somebody’s birthday on Sunday?”
“How do you mean?” Ingham was struggling with a particularly awkward oyster.
“It’s just there was a big crowd of you out on Sunday. The pub was packed.”
“Oh, that? It was just business. I’m not going to kid you Pete, I’m sure you have worked out what type of businessman I am. I hope you don’t mind, but I took the precaution of checking you out. It was little bit difficult at first; you were the man with no past, disappearing for fifteen years. I have a lot of contacts around the country and I spoke to some friends down south, I’m sure you know who I mean. I know enough about you to know that you’re okay. As long as you pose no threat, you will be fine with me. Try any of that funny business and I’ll kill you. Do we understand each other?”
I knew my past couldn’t be hidden forever, but I was glad that, despite his threat, Ingham appeared to trust me.
“I’d appreciate it if you kept my past to yourself for now. I’d rather people didn’t know the full story.”
“No problem, I’m just protecting my interests. You know how it is. Don’t know why you need to keep it a secret though. Sunday was mainly a social gathering with a little bit of business thrown in. We have a lot of business going on at the moment and I need everyone to be one hundred per cent on the ball. It was a bit of a team building exercise. I was a little disappointed that a friend of yours didn’t turn up.”
“I wouldn’t call him a friend as such. We just go back a long way”
“Whatever. I wanted to know who was making a move on me. You already know about the fire and then some money went astray. I think Davison’s non-appearance tells its own story, don’t you?”
“You don’t know for sure.”
I found myself in the strange position of defending Kev.
“I know enough to know that he’s taking the piss. That man is walking on very thin ice.” Ingham gave me a stare that told me not to argue with him.
I hoped that Kev hadn’t upset Ingham too much. I had plans for him. I had to be the one to finish it, not Ingham. I needed closure.
The next chapter will be released soon. If you can’t wait, Leg It is available on Kindle, Paperback and Hardback.