Flashing blue lights severs the darkness as I approaches The Griffin. Two medics barges past me, carrying a stretcher. It's hard to see who's on it, his face is so cut-up and bloody.
I goes inside. It's brighter than usual and quiet for a Friday. Debs is mopping up bits of glass and blood and lager. Martin and Trippy are trying to fix a broken table. I steps up to the bar. Big Jim's on me, eyes blazing.
"What happened here?" I says.
"Never fucking mind what happened here..." he growls, sucking a bleeding finger, "...I need an extra man for tonight...you in?"
"Me?" I says.
"No, Bill'n Ben the fucking flowerpot men, of course fucking you."
He leans his giant head towards me, his stubbly lips brushes the inside of me right ear. I feels his hot breath inside me as he whispers "Gotta serve somebody up."
He offers his huge, bleeding hand. I takes it. It's like shaking hands with the Krays or Al Capone or someone. It's sweaty and hot. His grip's firm, not like me Dad's. I looks into his eyes " they're like dark caves - you don't know what's lurking inside but you knows it's dangerous. I looks at the thick, 'chelsea smile' carving a path through his stubble.
"Don't let me down," he snarls. Then he lets go, swirls his long black coat, and swishes out the pub like Zorro.
"You best go," says Trudy, mopping the floor. "Filth'll be here any minute."
"You're right," says Martin, downing his pint.
"Pigs might fly," quips Trippy, putting his Irish scarf on. "Stevieboy, what're you doin'? Fancy a kebab?"
"Alright," I says. "Yeah."
We leaves the pub and walks down Dalston High Street. It's hectic: giggling, high-heeled girls going out on the razz; fake moschino-clad rude-boys vending gear.
"Did you see the state of him?" laughs Trippy. "Fucking blood everywhere."
"Cunt deserved it. Everyone knows you don't call Big Jim B.J." says Martin.
"Who was it?" I says.
"What's it got to do with you?" barks Martin. He grabs me round the throat and pushes me against a shop window. Passers-by pass by. "What'd Jim say to you?" he says.
"Asked me if I wanted to work, that's all."
He lets me go. We walks on. No one speaks. There's an Indian kid with one leg begging on the step of the kebab shop. He only looks about ten. We goes in.
I loves this place, black and white Godfather photo's all over the walls. The owner's obsessed.
I orders a Deniro shish, Martin gets a large Pacino (Pacinos come with extra hot sauce) and Trippy gets a Doner Corleone. I gives a Sicilian sausage (sausage roll) to the kid on the steps. His eyes almost pops out his head. Then the three of us walks back.
"Why do you feed that paki cunt for?" says Martin.
"Martin," says Trippy. "You're a fucking vigilante. Do you know what that means?"
"I do nonces," says Martin, shovelling in kebab.
"It means you administer justice on behalf of those too weak to defend themselves and whom the penal system has failed to protect, according to the general consensus of the common people i.e us. Now, your man there..."
"Your 'boy'," I says.
"It's a figure of speech," Trippy sets me straight. "Your man there..." he continues, "if you didn't notice, is too weak to defend himself...."
"Oh, forget it," says Trippy. "It's like educating fucking Rita."
"Jim said we're 'serving someone up'," I says, chewing me shish. "What does that mean?"
"It means doin' the cunt in," says Martin.
"Serving him up.." says Trippy, "I dunno...delivering him...to God, I suppose, on a platter...like John the Baptist's head..." he sounds pleased with his imagery.
I stops dead.
"Well, what did you think it means, like...?" Trippy stares at me, eyes wide. "...that we're all popping around to serve him dinner? Do I look like Jamie fucking Oliver?"
Martin laughs and chokes on his chips.
"You look like you've seen a ghost," Trippy says to me. "C'mon. It's freezing!"
"Listen," grunts Martin, still laughing and choking. "I'm goin' round me birds for a bit. See you later!" And he goes.
We keeps walking in silent for a bit, stuffing our faces.
"Come here." Trippy grabs me arm and pulls me down an alley, narrow and cluttered with bin bags. He stops a few feet in. The only light is from the moon, peeking nervously over the rooftops. Trippy looks up at me, his luna-lit eyes liquidy with cold. He sparks up a fag and offers me one. I swallows me last mouthful of shish, chucks the wrapper, and lights up the cigarette.
"Look," he says, in a serious tone usually trenched-in behind the court jester. "I'll have a word with the boss if you like. I mean, he won't like it, 'cause you've said yes already. He hates people going back on their word. It's the cardinal sin. Infact, if you do pull out, lie low."
"I mean, the boss seems to have taken a shining to you, like you're the prodigal fucking son, or something. I mean, he doesn't usually use people he doesn't know, if you know what I mean. So if you back out now, you might be, y' know, considered a traitor to the cause."
"Cause?" I says.
Trippy steps back, looks both ways to make sure there's noone around. You never knows who's listening. We could be bugged. The FBI could be on us this second. I feels like I'm in one of them Frederick Forsyth novels - an undercover agent " The Jackal.
Trippy continues... "You know we're on a mission tonight. And when news gets out, literally, when it hits the headlines tomorrow, you'll know it was us, and the boss isn't the type to take those kinds of risks. So if you back out, you'd best disappear, for your own safety like, that's all I'm saying."
A black cat walks along the fence, demonic green eyes glaring at me. It flicks its tail and disappears.
"Listen," says Trippy, hoisting himself up so he's sitting on a dustbin, "we've all been around for years. I've known the boss for seven. Done five years with him, like. Martin an' him grew up together, went to borstal together, man, they're practically brothers. We're family. A clan. Like the fucking mafia. I mean..." he lights a fag... "who are you? Nobody knows you. You've only been around five minutes, like. You don't wanna get mixed up in all this shite. You wanna be an actor, don't you? Go and be an actor. Prison changes you, man. You seem like a nice kid. I like you. You seem...sensible. Stay out of this. This is our world, not yours. This ain't fucking Goodfellas. It's Bad fellas. And it ain't a fucking film. It's real. I'm telling you now, for your own good, get out of here, and don't come back. I'll have a word with the boss, tell him your mam or da got sick or something, that you had to..."
"No!" I says. "We shook on it. I'm in."
"Are you sure, like?" Trippy looks at me, eyes wide, expectant, hopeful.
"I'm in," I confirms.
"Suit yourself," says Trippy, and he marches down the lane, calling back, "Eleven. Don't be late."
I goes back to me squat, plonks meself on me mattress, finds me rizla on the floor and a bit of red-seal I left under me pillow, and skins up in the dark.
Serving someone up? To God?
I lights the joint, takes a few puffs, and enters the world of the deep. Sam. Samantha. Beautiful Sam. If I'd stayed in Bristol.... I wonder who she's with tonight, what she's doing, who she's kissing, making love to? Me heart drags me into the the hell of loneliness. I gropes in me jeans pocket for me wallet and takes out her photo, strikes a match so I can see her face...so pretty in the orange flicker, doll-features, doe-black eyes ...the match burns out...I strikes another for one more glimpse of perfect beauty...that cute, salacious kitten smile. The innocent child juxtaposed with the nymphomaniacal glint...the match sizzles out and my Sam disappears in a puff of grey, curling smoke.
Another match. No more. None left.
Thoughts come back to the present. The power of now. What if I just stays here, in me squat? Says I fell asleep. Forgot about it. Or what if I runs away? Or goes home? I can hear me Dad's voice now:
'You big girl's blouse. Come running back to mummy and daddy! What're you man or mouse?!"
Lenny kills that girl he loves. She flops like a fish on a line.
Poor Lenny. He didn't mean to kill her.
One day I'll take Big Jim to see him. When I tell him what he did (to me) he'll fucking kill him.
I goes to the sink in the bathroom, turns on the tap and splashes me face. The water's icy cold. Awake now. Checks me watch. Flipping hell. Half past ten. That's being stoned. Time flies. I'm hungry, looks in the fridge, a tin of corned-beef. I scrapes the meat out with me fingers, mmmm, turns the TV and the gas heater off, leaves.
The wind bites shrewdly so I puts me hood up and heads towards The Griffin. I can't see the van. No ones around. Checks me watch. Ten to. I'm early. I puts me hands in me pockets to warm up. Bright headlights zooms towards me, a white van skids and stops. The side door slides open. Big Jim's head pokes out in a black woolen burglars hat. Talk about stereotypical.
I gets in, sits on a toolbox in the back which digs into me ass. The van pulls away. A beam of light streaks through the window illuminating the red eyes on the serpent tattooed on Martin's neck.
"Alright, pal," comes Trippy's voice. He punches me in the arm.
The van's clunky and rocks from side to side. Jim hands Martin a small plastic bag. The flash of street light illuminates white powder. Martin takes a pinch and snorts it up his nose. Trippy does the same. I copies and sniffs it up hard. It's bitter, but kicks in fast. Takes the edge off the dope. I'm more awake now. More alive.
A lump forms in me throat. I thinks about Sam and wonders how I ever let her go and does she still love me and could I get her back? I think I still loves her. I wish I was with her now. Where are those genies when you needs 'em? I looks around for a magic lamp. Is that oil can a magic lamp. I reaches across, me finger tips just touch the side. I gives it a feeble rub....nothing. No fucking genie. No three wishes. What would be they be anyway? Get me the fuck out of here would be the first one. Second? Sam. Third. Dad.
I hands the bag back to Jim who hands me a pair of gloves. "Put them on."
I peels them on, they're tight, pvc. Martin and Trippy do the same. The van stops.
"We're here," says Jim.
We gets out the van. It's a dark, quiet lane behind a big building, like a school or hospital. Martin bangs the toolbox on the pavement. Jim opens it, takes out a hammer, and gives it to me. It's heavy.
"What's this for?" I says.
"Well I thought while we're there you could put a shelf up ..." says Jim.
"...what d'you think it's for?"
"I dunno," I says.
"For whacking the prize nonce," says Trippy.
"Initiation, son," says Jim. "You're the virgin. Gotta break you in. There will be blood, as they say, but hopefully it won't be yours."
"Put it this way..." Jim takes a chisel from the box, grabs me around the back of the neck and digs it under me chin. "Do him, or I do you."
He lets me go. There's an awkward silence.Then Jim laughs and says, "Don't worry, only having a bubble! Got you there, Son!"
Martin laughs. Trippy takes a mallet from the box and Martin takes a monkey-wrench. "Just your average household do-it-yourself murder weapons," jokes Trippy, slapping me on the back.
"When you hit him," says Jim, "you hit him hard, once, crackdown on the crown." He emphasizes crack and demonstrates the action on me.
"Right." I nods and feels the weight. I holds its iron head in me gloved left hand, me right around its grip. I've only used a hammer once before, for an Easter play, for banging nails into the cross.
In the sky the moon scowls at me. The stars twinkle indifferently as if they're a backdrop to a children's story and not an imminent act of mindless violence. An animal screams.
"Right, let's go!" says Jim. "Stevie, up ahead."
I obeys and walks ahead, comes to a wired fence. "Must be where he hunts his prey," whispers Jim, nodding to climbing frames and swings. "Right, over you go."
I climbs over the iron gate. It's awkward with the hammer. I clangs a bit, everyone follows, and now we're in a street. A row of houses is opposite. They've got drive-ways, front gardens and gates.
"Ballies on," whispers Jim, throwing me something. I catches it, dark and soft, then watches the others pull it over their heads. I does the same. It tugs at me hair but it's warm on me face. I looks at the others, totally black. I thinks about Macbeth's words: Good things of day begin to droop and drowse, while nights black agents to their preys do rouse.
Big Jim looks both ways, then marches across the street, holding his machete tight to his leg, camouflaged by the darkness. He turns around and whispers "Follow me."
I follows him across the street. Jim pushes open the gate, which squeaks. We edges to the front door. Martin and Trippy hide in the bushes along the edge of the garden.
Jim rings the bell. A curtain moves upstairs. "Stay out of sight, under the window," says Jim. I obeys. Seconds later a woman's voice inside, "Who is it?"
She sounds old, about forty or something.
"Police, there's been a burglary," says Jim. "Just need to ask you a few questions."
Chain slides on latch. Door opens slightly. The woman's too-many-cigarettes husky voice says "Which house?"
Jim puts the chisel to the door and whacks the lock off, barging inside. "Come on!" he barks.
The woman screams, "Fuck off you cunts!"
I turns round to see Martin punch her. Her jaw cracks. Her head whacks the wall and she slumps to the floor.
"Upstairs!" says Jim.
I follows, glances back at Martin and Trippy dragging the woman, groaning, along the hall.
We goes upstairs. It's pitch black. Jim barges in a room. I follows. No one. Jim leaves. Into another room. Someone here. A shadow in the corner. Jim's on him, a struggle.
"Come here you fucking cunt!"
"Fuck off, fuck off." The adversary's voice is weak, epicene, effeminate.
"Now!" barks Jim. "Do the cunt!"
I steps in, hammer poised. It's too dark. I can't see.
"Fucking do him!"
Me eyes begins to adjust: Big Jim's holding a small, squirming, skinny man, hand over mouth. His wangly legs lash out.
Jim's glaring at me. I steps in close, brings the hammer behind me head, ready to swing. Me heart somersaults. Me eyes well.
"Do him! Fucking do him, son!"
His crown splits like an egg. The gooey yoke sprays on my hands as the heavy body slumps and thumps the floor. It jerks a few times, like the last few flops of a dying fish, or in this case, whale. And then it's still.
Except for a continuum of snivelly, wordless sobs from the small, frail frightened mouse, crouching in the corner.
I drops the hammer on the wooden floor with a clunkety clunk and flies down the stairs in the pitch black. A shadowy figure hovers at the bottom; Martin, monkey-wrench at the ready.
"What the fuck's going on?" he says.
"I've done the deed," I says, remembering Macbeth, and feeling the same warm, sticky sanguine sliming over my fingers.
"You what? Where's Jim?"
"Upstairs," I says, "He's still upstairs."
I darts through the hall, out the front door, and into the streetlights. Trippy and Martin's shouting voices drown under the siren as it gets closer, louder. Distant blue flashes sever the darkness. I peels off me bally and chucks it.
I runs, and runs, and runs...