The Followers

This unfinished* piece is an homage to the Dylan Thomas short story of the same name. I’m very familiar with his hometown because when I was a kid I spent just about all of my summer holidays and quite a few of my Easters and Christmases at my Grandpa’s house in Swansea, so I recognise that Thomas’s voice is so authentic that it evokes the spirit of the city perfectly.

However I was very much born and bred in London – Kentish Town to be precise – and as I speak the language reasonably well I thought I’d have a pop at trying to tell a little tale of my own. 

Large chunks of this story are true; Mick and I were very much best friends back then and we did get around quite a bit in a series of cheap motors (starting with a knackered old mini my dad sold Mick for about fifty quid rather than scrapping it and then spent the following months driving to rescue us whenever it broke down). We also followed people in cars on a few occasions, but never to the best of my recollection in the wilds of Essex.

All of the geographical details, the places and many of the girls and the situations are real, but aside from Mick and Dave, all of the other names have been changed to protect both the virginally innocent and the lasciviously guilty.

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The council block was colossal. It wasn’t the tallest in that part of town but its immense breadth seemed to dominate the entire horizon. The shadow it created in the bright moonlight was so enormous that when the doors swung open the harsh fluorescent light that spilled from the lobby seemed little more than a match flare. Two figures stepped into the temporary spotlight and strode on rolling their shoulders as they went. As the doors fell back behind them the light diffused through wired glass and provided little more than a dull glow.

The two young men chatted as they walked towards their waiting Ford Anglia, totally unaware of the dramatic picture they presented. Which – given the amount of money, time, thought and effort they had both put into the way they looked – was a bit of a shame. It had to be said they really were looking pretty crisp.

Mick had gone for a classy casual look. Fringed and tasselled ox-blood loafers, followed by an inch and a half of bright red cotton, then over a yard of maroon/gold two-tone Trevira that shimmered beautifully in the dramatic light. Although his strides were made to measure and featured zip side adjusters, they also benefited from the additional (stylistic) support provided by half inch red braces, which he clipped to the waistband precisely above and dissecting the pair of double pleats on either side. The braces nestled against a white crochet three button Fred Perry, with narrow claret and blue stripes around the collar and short sleeves. As he walked Mick pushed his hands into the pockets of his stone coloured Harrington jacket, turning them ever so slightly outward. This apparently unconscious mannerism, allowed him to not only display all his lovely attention to detail, but also to provide a teasing glimpse of the glorious red tartan lining.

Dave’s heavy, highly polished black wrap around brogues (with steel quarter tips clacking rhythmically as he bowled across the paved courtyard) set the tone for his altogether dressier option. Beneath the ten lace holes on each shoe, he wore powder blue socks that coordinated perfectly with the silk display handkerchief at his breast, his equally redundant braces, and the large gingham check of his long sleeved button down Ben Sherman. The whole effect was beautifully draped with the best John Colliers (and their weekly instalments plan) could provide by way of made to measure mohair. The light silver-grey whistle attracted and reflected the pale light exactly as it was designed to. It featured all the latest details: pleated trousers with side-adjusters, a three button jacket with a 14 inch single vent, four buttons at each cuff, slanted side pockets with flaps (including a ticket pocket on the right side) and of course a button hole in the narrow lapels. Dave favoured a single hand in the sharply slanted right trouser pocket. This allowed him to pin back that side of his jacket revealing the dove grey (artificial) silk lining; one of a pair of impeccably positioned braces; and, directly below the right hand silver coloured clip (not as easy to find as the gold ones, but well worth the effort he thought) a button flap coin pocket, nestling neatly between the waistband and the pleats.

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A few yards from the roadway they heard a faint wolf whistle and turned to see the lights flash on and off twice in a first floor window. The glass was dark now, but it swung open a crack at the bottom and an arm hung out waving what appeared to be a pair of lacy white knickers. A laughing voice stage whispered through the gap, “Make sure you call us before the weekend.”

Dave waved the packet of Kensitas she’d written her number on, returned it to his left inside pocket and blew a kiss towards the blind window in the mountainous block. A fainter whistle drew their eyes up and away to another arm waving something which appeared to be a cuddly toy. It looked like Snoopy, but it was difficult to be sure from where they stood, as the second arm was at least seventy yards to the right of and nine floors above its twin.

Before Mick could respond to the latest greeting, the small room on the first floor lit up and the arms at either end of the building withdrew so quickly they could have been attached to the same body. Inside the closer room, light from behind a hippy psychedelic shade revealed a midnight blue ceiling with a crescent moon and minute points of silver painted on it. The walls below were entirely covered with crowded bookshelves, photographs and posters. Standing directly in front of the largest one (which featured Marc Bolan) was a very pissed off looking man in a grey dressing gown.

He was standing with his right profile to the window, talking to a space just below its line. As he mimed his anger, he occasionally pointed in Mick & Dave’s general direction but it was obvious that all he saw in the front-lit glass, was yet another angle on the domestic drama he and his daughter were silently playing out. After around a minute of finger wagging and unheard threats and sanctions, he turned to the window and stared at it blindly for a second or two, before looking past it and spotting the lads standing beneath a lamp less than 30 yards away. The one in the shiny suit — the one with the dark hair — flashed him a winning smile, which collapsed theatrically when dad grabbed a handful of curtain in each hand and jerked them together violently.

Mick and Dave continued watching the darkened glass for a few moments, before swinging their gaze up and across to look for the other window. But they couldn’t even agree what floor it had been on. Scanning up and down the towering charcoal wall at hundreds of largely lightless windows, they decided that Joe Cool had turned in for the night too. They stepped across to the Anglebox and stood on opposite sides with their elbows resting on the roof, as they tried to decide what, if anything, could be retrieved from the remainder of the night.

“I told you they were schoolgirls.” Mick moaned as he unlocked the driver’s door. He was using the right key, but it didn’t matter because most keys would’ve done the job. He climbed in and leant across to release the passenger door. Dave stuck his head in smiling, but didn’t attempt to get in. He preferred to keep out of the way while Mick went through the ritual of undoing the Krooklok. He cursed it, tugged at it and hit it, all the while stamping bad naturedly on the clutch peddle which was attached to the other end.

“Oh come on Mick be fair, they’re doing their A levels. Pauline is six months older than me!” Dave was squatting in the open passenger door, in awe as always at Mick’s unerring ability to become absolutely enraged by the same thing over and over. He finally managed to release the lock and tossed it into the back in disgust.

“Which one was Pauline?”

“See. That’s exactly what I was saying Friday night. If you just paid a bit more attention to some of those little details you’d stand a better chance of getting your leg over. Pauline was my one — yours was Helen.”

The car started on the first turn. Mick took the cloth that hid the cassette player and wiped the condensation from the inside of the screen, before turning to Dave and snarling good humouredly: “Doesn’t matter what their names were, because they both had to be in bed before midnight; and now wer’e in bloody Barking with nothing but a quick kiss and grope each.”

“And a couple of phone numbers!” Dave interjected breezily.

“And a couple of schoolgirl’s phone numbers! Yeah what a great trade off for finding ourselves way out in the far East with the evening finished before quarter past twelve.”

“Oh come on Mick. We’ve still got most of two quids worth of juice, in the motor and we gotta have at least a dozen fags between us. We’re set for hours. Let’s just put the music on and go for a drive.”

“Drive where?” Mick made no attempt to put the car in gear.

“Well any direction except East I suppose. If we go any further East we’ll end up in rice fields.”

“Paddys.”

“No Paddys are your lot where we live — they come from the West. I meant we’re so far East we’re almost in China.”

“I know what you meant, I was telling you rice fields are called Paddy-fields.”

“And I knew what you meant! I just didn’t say it because you were already pissed-off and I thought if I said “Paddy-fields” you might think I was talking about potato fields, take it the wrong way and think I was winding you up about being a Mick… Mick.”

“You thought I didn’t know what a rice field was called?”

“Not neccesarily, I was just playing safe; but you thought I didn’t.”

“And I’m not a Paddy!”

“Alright you’re Michael Francis Patrick O’Leary; you’re Catholic; you live in Kentish Town; and you work on the buildings as an apprentice plasterer — who says that makes you a Paddy?”

“I’m not ashamed of being Irish!” He rounded on Dave in a rush of patriotic fervour.

“What do you mean Irish? You were born in the Royal Free Hospital and you go to Clacton for your holidays. The closest you’ve ever been to the Emerald Isle was that disco we went to at the Irish Centre. Do you remember? You insisted on drinking Guiness, even though you screwed your face up every time you took a mouthful.”

“It must’ve been a dodgy barrel.” Mick said leaping to the defence of something he considered to be an important Irish national institution.

“Dodgy barrel my arse! I think we might have heard a few of the Murphy lads say something if they’d had an iffy keg. Forget your heritage, you know it’s muck; stick with light and bitter – it’s better! You like to think you’re as Irish as Guiness, and I suppose you are… Especially when you consider that it’s brewed inside of the North Circular at Park Royal!”

Mick switched the engine off and turned in his seat to take up the argument, but for a moment couldn’t remember whether he was denying he was a Paddy or wrapping himself in the Green White and Gold

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“Face it Mick, you’re not a Mick. If you’re so Jaysus Mary & Joseph how come you asked that girl to dance to the Irish National Anthem at the end of the Murray Street disco? When you think about the look she gave you, we were lucky to get out of there without being tarred and feathered.”

Mick’s mouth opened, but he realised from long experience they were going the route of all their pointless debates and they’d be there all night. He smiled, turned away from Dave and restarted the car as he remembered the original question.

“So which way are we going?”

“Well, off this estate might be an idea to start before some dodgy Essex geezers come along and enquire if we ain’t just a bit off of our manor. We agree East is out and South will bring us to the river — to a lovely sewerage outlet I believe — North would take us towards Epping… That might be a laugh?”

They trickled slowly off the concrete road and drove south down North Street.

“What about Dunkin Donut in Ludgate Circus?”

“What and then go straight home to bed? Come on Mick. Are we out for the night, or are we still at school too?”

“I’m not going on one of your ‘lets get lost in Essex for hours’ things, just because we’ve got a couple of quids worth of petrol in the tank.”

They drove to the London Road in silence and turned right. Dave could feel the night slipping away. He knew Mick was probably about to do the one thing he really hated: go directly home.

If going straight home was bad, going back the way he’d just come was even worse. Left to his current mood Mick would head back down the Barking Road, past the West Ham ground, along past Canning Town (where the whiff from the Tate & Lyle factory would give them a second unwelcome reminder of those awful spoonfuls of malt they were obliged to swallow at St Joseph’s) past the Blackwall Tunnel, then on down the East India Dock Road and Commercial Road to the City. At least from there Mick would head up the City Road and home through the Angel. Which would spare Dave the ultimate repetition of having to go past the Bank and St Pauls, and along Fleet Street and the Strand, only to arrive back at the Lyceum. They’d left the Ballroom early at just past eleven to take the girls home. So to arrive back at the Aldwich and then go straight up the Kingsway — the route they’d taken from home less than five hours earlier — was a dreadful prospect.

Dave was a great believer in cause and effect, even if he didn’t think of it in those terms. All he knew was that if you moved around enough, interesting stuff happened, sparks flew and possibilities occured. He had absolutely no idea what would happen if you backtracked your entire evening, and he really didn’t want to find out. He enjoyed getting lost, because in his experience that was how you found things. Admittedly getting lost in Epping forest without girls didn’t offer a lot of potential but trying to find an uncharted Northern passage through Wanstead and Walthamstow, or some interesting side streets through Stratford and the back end of Hackney could provide infinite possibilities

He lifted the padded cover on the add-on handbrake console and began lifting out cassettes and holding them up, trying to find the answer to Mick’s mood by the light of the passing street lamps. He found the one he was looking for, pushed it into the machine, held the FF lever until it ran to the end, then flipped it over. After a few seconds of hiss and another couple of crackles, music began to seep up from somewhere near their feet. And that was it. By the time Stevie got to “Ooh baby here I am, signed, sealed, delivered, I’m yours” for the first time, Mick was singing along.

I’ll Say Forever My Love was playing as they passed Upton Park and they turned it down for a moment while they wound down their windows, waved their fists and shouted “GO ON YOU SPURS!” at the empty streets. The instant they declared their challenge, the traffic lights a hundred yards ahead of them switched to amber. It was as if fate wanted to check what they were made of, because they came to a halt at a red right outside The Boleyn. Although the lights were off in the pub and the whole area looked deserted, they spent a very long and nervous minute waiting to exhale.

Dave spoke as soon as the amber lit up beneath the red: “So which way we going?”

“Keep going this way I guess.”

“Yeah but not all the way back to the City pleeease. Just about everything between here and the Bank is grey, shitty and falling down — and we’ve already seen and smelled it all once tonight.”

“So which way do you wanna go?”

“Turn right at those lights.”

When they arrived at the lights, they were red but this time the lads sat and chatted as they waited. A large Mercedes passed in front of them and the lights switched to amber as it crossed. Moments later in the total absence of any oncoming traffic, they turned onto Greengate Street. Diana Ross purred at them huskily: “If you need me, call me. No matter where you are, no matter how far. Just call my name and I’ll be there in a hurry, on that you can depend and never worry…” and they were off singing again.

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Mick was the first to break off.

“Have you got any idea where this goes? Because this is hardly the bleedin’ scenic route either.”

The road curved round to the left and Dave spotted Plaistow tube station.

“Yeah we’re in Plaistow!”

“Oh yeah wonderful. And have you got any idea where Plaistow is?”

“Yeah, of course I do… it’s on the District line!”

“So’s fucking Wimbledon. That doesn’t really narrow it down much does it.”

“Good point. OK how about this: it’s where my dad was born!”

“Great, that’s dead reassuring. So if we drive past Limerick next we’re laughing — we just follow our roots until we get home.”

“There’s no need to panic Mick, just stick with Len he looks like he knows where he’s going.”

Mick followed Dave’s nod and noticed that the car in front carried the registration LEN 7.

“And how do we know where Len lives?”

“Well I doubt if it’s anywhere around here — not in a brand spanking new Merc!” Dave pointed out with reasonable logic.

“Yeah, but that’s not a lot of help if we don’t know which way he’s going.”

“That’s the whole point of following him, he’s going this way.”

“But he might be going the wrong way.”

“How can he be if we’re not going anywhere in particular? He was coming from the South and he ain’t heading East, so what’s the problem?” Dave pointed ahead dramatically: “Follow that car!”

For a while they were the only two cars on the road. The lads chatted and sang along as they drove at a respectable distance behind the big Benz. At the top of West Ham Lane a patrol car screeched up the road alongside the police station, pulled out between the silver Mercedes and the tatty maroon Anglia and tore off in the direction they’d both just come from.

“That’s one less old Bill to give us any aggro.” Dave said nodding at the blue lights which were already disappearing into the distance.

“Yeah, but there’s always plenty more.”

Mick was right. There were always plenty of police willing to pull two smooth-faced teenagers late at night. Soon after Mick bought the £120 Ford (with a bit of help from his Mum) they’d been stopped in Dalston at around 3am, guilty of nothing more than being fair game while driving past a side turning with a police car lurking in it. Mick was told that he was “lucky the car wasn’t reported stolen” and that his signature (which they made him do twice just to be sure) matched the apparently legal licence he’d shown them. He was then presented with a producer for insurance and MOT and warned by one unconvinced officer that he’d ‘clocked him’ so he’d better watch himself.

The worst bit was that no more than a mile further up the Balls Pond Road, they were picked up by a police van, which followed them up and around Highbury Corner, before flashing them as they pulled onto the Holloway Road. Climbing out of the car, less than five minutes after their encounter with the overly zealous filth down the road, they’d thought the Laurel & Hardy sized policeman and woman would have seen Mick’s slip with the ink still wet, laughed and waived them on their way. But if anything the producer was taken as an indication of guilt, and they decided they needed to thoroughly search the car. When all they came up with was a thrupenny piece, a dodgy rust hole in the footwell under the carpet on the driver’s side, and a durex wrapper from down the back of the rear seat, they sent them on their way warning them their ‘cards had been marked’.

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After a couple more remarkably similar experiences, they’d decided that it must have been something in the tea at Stoke Newington nick. Mick took to carrying all his documents and whenever realistically possible they avoided a large area to the North and East of the City at night time.

When they reached the lights at Stratford Broadway, Mick suddenly recognised where they were and decided to forget their pursuit and head West. He only relented and reluctantly agreed to keep following Len, when Dave reminded him that going that way, would take him back through precisely the part of Hackney, which had had always been the worst for police harassment.

The big saloon swished up the Leytonstone High Road, with the small Ford following in its wake. As they passed the Harrow pub, Mick suddenly rounded on Dave angrily.

“Doesn’t the Pillsbury Dough Girl live down that road?”

“Uh hum.” Dave murmured non-commitingly and turned up the tape. “…friends said it couldn’t be done, but all I know is now I’ve won, ‘cos third finger left hand that’s where he placed the wedding band…”

Mick reached across and turned Martha Reeves back down.

“I can’t believe you pulled a stroke like that. I thought our equal pairs only agreement was supposed to rule out stunts like that.”

Dave said nothing. As Mick had rightly stated, the ‘equal pairs’ convention was designed to avoid exactly those sort of situations. They’d arrived at it way back in April, when Mick was landed with Bridget the Midget as part of a dodgy package deal brokered by Dave. At that time Dave’s attitude had been blatant. He’d known “Bridget” and Tracy made an odd couple but face it, Trace was gorgeous and she was hot to trot; what was a boy to do? He convinced himself Mick would understand

Funny enough Mick didn’t see it his way at all. He thought that being set up with a girl who came up to his breast pocket in high heels, was taking the piss. When Dave attempted to pacify him later by saying: ‘at least she was up for it’, Mick took it as a tasteless pun. ‘I felt like a bleeding perv when I was giving her one!’ he’d protested. ‘If you ever pull a stunt like that again…’

Which was why they’d arrived at their protocol. It had only been in operation for a few weeks when Dave paired Mick up with Karen’s friend Sue. It had happened over a month earlier, but Mick had only stopped ranting about it in the last week or so – and now it had come up again.

The trouble was, when Dave started talking to Karen at the door of the Bird’s Nest, he was just passing time while he waited for Mick to get the car. He never for a moment expected to pull a stunner like Karen in two-and-half minutes flat. But pull he had. By the time Mick tooted from across the road, she was eating his face and grinding against the ache in his trousers — all on the front step of the disco. So when she said she had a friend and suggested the lads should give them a lift back to Wanstead Flats, it just seemed to good to be true. Dave naturally accepted Sue on Mick’s behalf sight unseen.

Karen was absolutely mouthwateringly luscious. So much so that Dave couldn’t work out how he hadn’t clocked her earlier in the evening. Her legs were phenomenal. They constituted well over half of her not inconsiderable height; and every mindblowing inch of them, plus a couple of crescents of her lovely tight bum, were on display beneath minuscule brown velvet hot pants. The bib and brace set up that was part of the shorts, barely managed to contain her breasts as they nestled unconstrained by a bra inside a cream short-sleeved lambswool jumper. The fact that he took his eyes off her body at all, was testimony to just how stunning her hazel eyes and thick chestnut hair were. She was unbelievable. How bad could her friend be?

“A fucking albino…” Mick spat at him venomously “…a pudgy fucking albino!”

“She didn’t have pink eyes did she?” Dave said in an ernest tone.

Mick threw him daggers. “How would I know? They were such tiny fucking slits, hidden as they were in mounds of… of fucking dough! it’s difficult to say. They could’ve been yellow for all I know — or care! And what was she wearing? Her mum’s bleedin’ curtains?”

“Alright, I admit I really misjudged that one and really messed up but you can see how it happened. You’ve got to admit Karen was an absolute Bramma.”

“Yeah and her mate was a complete porker.”

Mick turned to glower at Dave again, but Dave was staring pointedly ahead, determined not to meet his gaze. Which as it turned out was a good job because he noticed the lights at Church Lane turn red and yelled a warning just in time for Mick to screech to a stop, narrowly avoiding a collision with the Mercedes, which had come to a smooth halt just ahead of them. The driver scrutinised them in his interior mirror, as though it had just occurred to him that they’d been behind him for some time. He glanced over his left shoulder and revealed the profile of what appeared to be a balding hawknosed man in his fifties. As he turned back sharply, the lights changed and he gunned the big car up the deserted road.

“Quick, Len’s making a break for it!” Dave exclaimed, happy for any excuse to distract Mick from disappearing back down that particular road to nowhere. It wasn’t like he hadn’t suffered on the deal for fuck’s sake. He’d been forced to give Karen the elbow because on the two occasions he’d been out with her, Mick had given him so much grief afterwards about stitching him up with the Pillsbury Dough Girl, that he was afraid the whole affair was going to break up a friendship that dated back to their primary school days at St Joe’s.

Fortunately Mick reacted to Dave’s instruction instinctively and they scuttled off after the rapidly disappearing taillights. Their quarry rushed to the empty roundabout, before braking hard and driving slowly around it. He exited onto Hollybush Hill, then took a right fork and whooshed along New Wanstead. He wasn’t exactly pushing the Merc but although a 30mph limit was still in force, he had sped up noticeably and was doing between forty and forty-five. It was clear something about them had made him nervous, because he’d been spot on the limit ever since they’d first picked him up. Dave had commented on it. Before they even saw the police car in Stratford, he’d said that Len must have a drink in him, as he seemed to be making sure he didn’t give the old bill any excuse to give him a tug.

The streets were deserted but at the crossroads with the High Street, both cars were forced to wait at yet another set of red lights. Len was nervously checking his mirror, while Dave and Mick speculated about why he was getting so twitchy.

“Perhaps he has had a drink and he thinks we’re plain clothed police.” Mick suggested.

“What do you mean ‘Plain Clothed’? This ain’t no schmutter. When have you ever seen the filth looking this sharp?” Dave shot the cuffs of his shirt and brushed an imaginairy fleck from the lapel of his jacket.

“You know what I mean. We could be undercover, driving in one of those moody under cover cars. The ones with the numberplates that don’t really exist.”

Dave tilted his head and gave Mick a quizzical look, before nodding knowingly.

“Well we could be!” Mick protested

“Yeah, and we’re deep undercover in a car that on the outside looks like a shitty 1963 Anglia, but underneath has a Jag V12 shoe-horned in and…”

“You’re taking the piss now. And if my car’s so shitty how come you want to spend so much time driving nowhere particular in it?”

The Mercedes crept across the line impatiently as the lights remained steadfastly on red. At ninety degrees to them, the green lights cast an eerie glow along the empty High Street and down the tree-lined road towards the railway bridge at Snaresbrook Station.

“Of course I’m taking the piss but since when has that been against the law? You know I love your car and I especially love the stereo!”

He reached down and pushed the volume slider up, just as the Four Tops finished explaining why it was all in the game called love and doo wopped away. Both left and right finally reflected amber and while Edwin picked up the beat with 25 Miles, the front car began rolling forward more persistently. It was in the middle of the junction before the orange light showed beneath the red; and it took off with a squeal of tyres.

“OK Bullet, let’s see you stick with him.”

When it came down to it the big car was going nowhere. Chasing its lights past the hospital and down the Chigwell Road, it was clear that whatever Len’s reasons had been for buying the Mercedes, they certainly hadn’t been about its dynamic qualities. He braked hard before even minor deviations and negotiated the bends so slowly that we were back at a steady three car lengths behind him long before he reached the Southend Road.

As they drove through Woodford Bridge, Len spent too long staring nervously in his interior mirror and almost hit a lone car which was parked outside a small parade of darkened shops. He saw the Cortina late and lurched sharply to the right. In his panic he must stabbed the accelerator, because the back end slid around viciously, missing the front wing of the innocent Ford by inches. For a moment it looked like he would mount the pavement and shoot across the village green opposite, but he must have got his foot off the throttle and onto the brake, because the big car quickly regained its composure and gingerly continued on its way.

Dave had shouted ‘Woah!’ the moment the drama began to unfold less than forty feet ahead of them, but Mick was ahead of the game and already had his foot on the brake to make sure he put as much distance as possible between them and any possible fallout from Len’s panic.

If the Mercedes recovered quickly, the same couldn’t be said for its driver. He drove away very gently, before settling at a steady crawl. Dave leant across to look at Mick’s speedo needle, it was barely struggling above twenty and with the giddy-up strains of the Reach Out (I’ll Be There) rattling out of the speakers, it made their pace seem even slower.

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“I bet it’s pretty smelly in that Merc” Dave declared with a pained expression on his face “I hope he hasn’t put any nasty stains on his nice leather seats.”

The dawdling black limousine reached a fork in the road and took the right one, which was signposted for Hanault. Mick followed automatically and they rolled slowly past large detached houses behind walls.

“Jesus, look at these drums! It’s like the Bishop’s Avenue in Essex — God knows where we are? Don’t you think we’ve just about done this trailing Len thing? We can’t carry on following him at this speed, it’s ridiculous.”

“Yeah, I guess so, let’s scrub ‘round it and head home.”

Mick had already started to slow down, when Len braked and pulled into a large U-shaped driveway

“Wow, looks like Len’s home. Pull up on the other side of the road, so we can have a shufty at his place.”

They came to a halt opposite a gawdy white villa, just in time to see Len slam the door of his car and head towards an oversize spotlit door, which stood between a pair of fluted white pillars. He was carrying a briefcase, which he tucked awkwardly under his arm as he fumbled with two hands to get his key into the lock. The door swung open and Len looked quickly back over his shoulder in their direction before hustling into the house and shuting the door sharply behind him. A few moments later, he was standing in a large picture window directly above the front door, with a ridiculously large and ornate crystal chandelier glittering behind him. He stepped to the right side and fiddled with something in the corner and heavy oyster coloured curtains swished smoothly across the divide.

“So do you have any idea which way’s home?” asked Mick

“Of course I do.”

“Really?”

“Yeah, just before we turned off there was a Chigwell 3/4 mile sign.”

“And where the hell is Chigwell?”

“Approximately… let me see, one thousand, three hundred and twenty yards from that junction just back there I’d say.”

“Very clever, but that puts us back in Plaistow territory…”

“No, we’re miles from there; that’s where my Dad was…”

Mick flashed him a ‘don’t start giving me your dumb innocence bollocks again’ sort of look and continued. “We’re back in Plaistow, as in we know we’re in Chigwell…”

“Well we might not actually be in Chigwell. That’d depend on how far the town boundary extends. In fact, now you come to think about it, is Chigwell a town or a village?”

“Have you finished?” Mick’s tone that made it clear that that joke had been taken way too far — and then stretched a bit further. “Like I said, it’s no use whatsoever knowing the name of where we’re at, because we don’t know where anywhere out this way is in relation to the rest of the world. Or more to the point, in relation to Kentish Town.”

“We know where Hanault is. Don’t you remember that day we spent there fishing?”

Mick couldn’t help laughing as it came back to him. “Yeah I do as it happens. It was the first and last time we tried it. We didn’t catch a single fish and we had our rods and tackle — what there was of it — knicked! Yeah I remember it, the only problem is we were about ten at the time and your dad drove us there, so I haven’t the foggiest where it was. I suppose I must have been too busy playing I spy or whatever, to notice the route.”

“No seriously, I remember how we got there, it was straight up the Eastern Avenue past Giants Hill…”

“Gants Hill.”

“Yeah I know it’s Gants Hill, but that’s the whole point; I’ve been travelling up and down the Eastern Avenue, whether it was to Southend or to my Aunt Sylvia’s place near Romford, since I was tiny enough to have read it wrong — and I’ve called it Giants Hill ever since.”

“So you’re saying that we should head further into the wilderness, just so we can find a dark park that we went to in the daytime about eight years ago?”

Dave nodded. “Yup.”

“…And from there we’re going to pick up a trail that’ll take us back to the A12 — if we’re lucky!”

Dave nodded again. “Yup.”

“And where does the A12 go?”

“All the way to Great Yarmouth, if we turn left when we get to it…” Mick’s face began to darken, so Dave continued quickly and ever so reasonably, “…But if we turn right — which of course we will — it’ll take us back towards town.”

Mick switched the engine off and turned to face Dave as the distinctive intro to “It’s A Shame” followed on from the Four Tops.

“Are you serious?”

The left side of the light coloured curtain moved back a little and Len’s dark silhouette appeared in the corner. Dave waved to him, smiling amicably and Len shot back behind the wall as if he’d aimed a gun at him.

“Rarely; but that’s not the only reason I’m your best mate…”

There was a lot of truth in Dave’s answer and the fact that he was wearing his irrepressible smile and holding a fag out underlined it – although it also had to be admitted that his constant piss-taking, winding-up and general cleverdickiness really got on Mick’s tits at times.

“…We’re also the dynamic duo on the football pitch, doesn’t matter if we’re playing twin centre backs or twin centre forwards, we scare the opposition shitless.”

Mick took the cigarette and a light from Dave’s neat soft touch electric Ronson, inhaled deeply and smiled as he the thought of all the games they’d played together, mostly in the Sunday League over Hackney Marshes but there were also those two matches they’d played as ringers for The Royal Academy of Music.

There’d been one against another posh music school and the other had been against RADA. One of Dave’s girlfriends had had a brother who was at the Royal Academy and he’d asked the boys if they’d like to play, “to inject a little steel into the attack”.

“Except that big fucker from RADA, do you remember him?”

“Yeah,” Mick rolled his eyes and nodded, “he was about seven foot tall and built like a brick shithouse.”

“But ever so polite, you can’t beat a good public school education. I was all over him whenever we had a corner; pushing, elbowing and leaning on him and he didn’t say a dickie. In fact when I bounced off him and ended up on the deck, he picked me up and apologised ever so nicely.”

“Actually they had some decent players, skilfull at least; they looked really useful during the warm up but they lacked any bottle when it came down to a competative game. It was the same with those other musicians. Do you remember? Most of them were playing in gloves”

“Yeah it looked strange, but I guess that if you’re a good enough at playing something to get into a place like that, you’re not going to be overly keen on doing anything that might fuck your hands up.”

Mick inhaled deeply and nodded sagely.

Dave suddenly laughed, “I was chatting up this really tasty girl at the Birds Nest the other week and she was telling me how much she loves playing the piano so I said, ‘I used to play for the Royal Academy of Music’ and she said, ‘Wow, what did you play?’ and I said…”

“Centre forward! Boom boom!”

“Yeah well it’s a brilliant line.”

“Obviously, you’ve certainly used it often enough. It’s getting as stale as your playing card trick.”

“It’s only stale to you because you’re always with me when I use it and you know the punchline; but the birds lap it up.” Dave replied, as if offended by the suggestion that he was ever less than irresistably witty when he put a move on a girl. “It’s the same with the card trick; it rarely fails to deliver at least a hug and a kiss.”

Mick shook his head, smiling ruefully. “And that’s the most important thing.”

“Absofuckinlutely; it’s what makes the world go ‘round.”

The card trick involved offering the targeted young female a deck of cards and inviting her to choose any one without showing Dave what it was. He would tell her to tear it in half, then tear the two halves in half, and then tear them again. He’d then pass his hands over and around the hand containing the pieces of card in a suitably mysterious manner before looking earnestly into her eyes and telling her to throw the card up in the air, which she would and he’d step in under the falling pieces pull her towards him and say, “Congratulations you’ve pulled!”

Mick brought the conversation back to something that he actually cared about, “Have you got any idea who we’re playing on Sunday?”

“Dunno but I hope it’s not another fucking police team, why do they all have to be such nasty aggresive bastards? You’d think they’d want to do something different on their day off.”

“Yeah” Mick reasoned, “although you’ve got to admit they might be vicious bastards but they do have brilliant facilities when it’s their home game; it’s a different world to the cold water in the cattlesheds over the Marshes.”

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“That’s true; and they’ve got cheap bars so you don’t have to run all the way up the hill to The Spread Eagle to get a pint before closing after the match.”

“Shame they’re all such horrible evil bastards.”

They both nodded and smoked in silence for a few moments before Mick chirped up again.

“Do you remember that game with Soldo on the Scrubs? The ball bounced all the way over by the prison wall and when we stopped and looked around and there were two different 22 man scraps going on. ”

Dave laughed out loud, “Yeah, except one of them, the one involving the old Bill, was more like a fifty man punch-up by the time the subs and all the wives and supporters had steamed in.”

“Did you see the ref? He looked dead chuffed to have got out of the ruck without getting a clump himself.”

“Yeah, he was just standing at the edge of the pitch, chatting to a couple of supporters from the adjoining game, waiting for it to blow over.”

“It didn’t ‘alf go on though didn’t it! Seriously I thought they were going to have to send the riot squad out from the prison.”

“It’s bang out of order when you think about it,” Dave said suddenly serious, “if it was anyone else kicking off like that the old Bill would fucking nick them – they’re a fucking law unto themselves.”

They enjoyed another moment of silence as the Detroit Spinners faded out to be replaced by the fat brass of Junior Walker’s Allstars.

“Have you seen El Condor?”

“Do what?” Mick looked at him genuinely confused.

“The film; you know, it’s set in Mexico and it’s got Lee Van Cleeve and Jim Brown in it.”

“Who?”

“Lee Van Cleeve, the bloke with the skinny mean face who’s…”

“In all of Clint’s westerns, yeah I obviously know him;” Mick cut in “but who’s Jim Brown?”

“He’s that massive brown ex American footballer who was in The Dirty Dozen.”

“What the big coon who ends up killing Telly Savalas?”

Dave looked confused. “I thought it was Charles Bronson who done Maggot? Either way, yeah that muscly coloured bloke.”

“What about him?”

“Nothing, it’s not about him, I was just trying to let you know what film I was talking about.”

“I’ve never heard of it.”

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“Well, I went to see it last Saturday night…”

“Saturday? Who’d you go with?”

“Maria; Maria Connolly.”

“Is that the pretty blonde who works in the bakers opposite the library?”

Dave nods

“When did you pull her?”

“Well I went to buy a donut on Saturday morning – partly because I clocked her from outside and she was looking particularly tasty – and we got chatting…”

“What and she went to the pictures with you the same night?” Mick seemed to find the idea incredulous. “You jammy bastard, where’d you go?”

“The Forum, but what’s that got to do with anything.”

“Nothing, I just hoped you’d taken her to the Tolmer because you’re such a cheapo.”

“Nah mate, there ain’t no fleas on Maria.”

“How do you know, did you get to check her out thoroughly?”

“Nah, did I bollocks, I didn’t even get a hand up her jumper; she’s one of those professional virgins that La Santa Union specialises in; looks gorgeous but makes your nuts ache!”

“Serves you right.” Said Mick with more than just a trace of venom.

To be continued…

 


*This short story is approximately 80-85% finished but crucially it’s missing its punchline (Dylan Thomas’s tale ends with a ghostly apparition). Obviously I know exactly what is going to happen (and if I say so myself, it’s a really good ending), I just have to finish writing it. However, given that I started this some time around the tail end of the last century and I always have more than enough other distractions to ensure that’s unlikely to happen, I thought I’d share what I have so far in the vain hope that there’ll be such a clamour to hear the climax that I can crowdfund the collection of shorts I’ve been planning to publish for almost as long.


 

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