Man or Mouse

by Mark Dark

As I goes in the pub two ambulance men barge past me carrying a stretcher. Its hard to see whos on it hes so cut-up and bloody. Bits of glass stuck in his face blinks blue in the light.

Its empty inside and brighter than usual. Debs is mopping up bits of glass and blood and lager. Dogface and Trippy are fixing a broken table. Sky News is on with the sound off: Saddam Hussein being hung. Execution of a lawless tyrant the words says.

Big Jims on me, eyes blazing. Oi, Brizzer!

Alright, Jim, I says. What happened here?

Never fuckin mind what happened here, he growls, licking his wounded hand like a bear with a sore paw. Im a man down for tonight...are you in?

Who, me? I says.

No, Bill n Ben the fuckin Flowerpot Men, of course fuckin you.

He leans his ogrish head towards me. His stubbly lips brushes the inside of me ear. I feels his hot breath as he whispers, Gotta serve someone up.

He offers me his giant, bleeding hand. I takes it. Jims a face. Its like shaking hands with the Krays or someone. His grips firm, not like me dads. I looks into his eyes, theyre like dark caves: you dunno whats lurking inside but you knows its dangerous. I studies the thick pink chelsea smile carving a path through his greying stubble. Reminds me of Scarface.

Wicked, I says.

He lets me go, swirls his long black coat and swishes out the pub like Al Capone. Ive got his blood on me hands. I wipes it on me jeans.

Made a pact with the devil, have you? jokes Debs.

Dogface slams the broken table leg on the bar. Fuck this!

Go on, fuck off, says Debs. Filthll be here any minute.

Sorry about the furniture, like, says Trippy. Brizzer, fancy a kebab?

Alright, I goes. Yeah.

As we leaves the pub the ambulance speeds off, its blue light flashing and siren screaming.

Normally Old Bill taking that cunt away, says Trippy. Did you see the state of him, like?

Prick deserved it, says Dogface. You dont call Big Jim B.J. Every cunt knows that.

Who was it? I says.

Whats it gotta fuckin do with you? says Dogface.

Nothing, DogI

Suddenly he grabs me under the chin and forces me backwards against the wall. From nowhere hes raised the broken table leg behind his head, threatening to smash it in me face. Whatd Jim say to you? he growls.

Nothing, I says. Asked me if I wanted to work, thats all.

When? he says.

Tonight, I says.

And you said?


Dogface lets me down, chucks his disposable, makeshift weapon, snorts phlegm and phlobs it on the ground.

No one speaks as we walks on and enters the chaos of Dalston High Street: pissed Arsenal fans spilling out the pubs; giggling, high-heeled girls out on the razz; fake Moschino-clad rude-boys vending crack. We arrives at the kebab shop. Theres an Indian kid with one leg begging on the step. He only looks about ten. As we leaves I gives him a bag of chips. His eyes almost pops out his head.

What dyou feed that Paki cunt for? says Dogface as we heads back.

What? I says.

This is London, not Bomfuckinbay.

Dogface, says Trippy. Youre a fucking vigilante. Do you know what that means, like?

Yeah. It means I do nonces, says Dogface.

It means youre a self-appointed doer of justice on behalf of those too weak to defend themselves, says Trippy, and whom the penal system has failed to protect, according to the general consensus of the volunteer committee i.e. us. Now your man there in case you hadnt noticed is too weak to defend himself.

Dogface grunts.

Oh, forget it, says Trippy. Its like Educating fucking Rita.

We walks a bit further stuffing our faces.

After a bit I says, Jim said we gotta serve someone up. Whats he mean?

He means we gotta do the cunt in, says Dogface, taking a bite of his doner and getting chilli sauce on whats left of his nose. The doctors didnt sew it back on too well. The surgeon turned out to be the owner of the house they robbed, Trippy said, which totally freaked Dogface out.

I dont know, says Trippy. Serve him up? Deliver God, I suppose, like a pizza, on a John the Baptists head.

I stops dead.

Well , what dyou think he meant, like? Were all popping round to serve him dinner. Do I look like Jamie fucking Oliver?

Ive had enough of this cunt, grunts Dogface. Im fucking off for a bit. See you later. And hes gone.

We keeps walking, Trippy and me, eating in silence, then suddenly he grabs me arm and pulls me down an alley.

What the fuck?

You and me need to have a little chat, like.

The alleyways narrow, cluttered with bursting bin bags and reeks of festering food and piss. Its dark; the only lights from the moon, peeking nosily over the rooftops. We stops. Trippy looks at me, his squinty eyes liquidy with cold. He sparks up a fag and offers me one. I swallows me last mouthful of shish, chucks the wrapper and takes the cigarette.

Look... says Trippy, his usual squeaky Irish jester hidden behind a more serious tone. Dont fuckin come tonight, like.

Why? I says, using his fag to light mine.

Because violence is like drugs and sex. Its not for kids.

Im not a kid.

Alright, but youre not a fuckin man, either. How old are you?

He sounds like me dad now. Youre not a man, youll never be a man and all that bollocks. Eighteen, I lies.

Look, mark my words, its dangerous. You could get banged up for life, like. We all could. Is that what you want? I know you wanna prove youre hard to the big boss...


Ive seen the way you creep up to him, looking for a fucking father figure. We all have. Thats why Dogface hates you - sibling fucking rivalry.


You think youre the first lost fucking sheep to creep off the streets looking for a shepherd, like? Londons fucking crawling with you.

What are you on about?

Fact is, the boss has taken a shine to you, like youre the prodigal fucking son or something. I mean, he doesnt usually use people he doesnt know, if you know what I mean. He isnt the type to take risks. Weve all been around for donkeys. Ive known the boss for fifteen years, since I came over from Dublin, likedone five long years with the cunt. Dogface is like his surrogate sonadopted him in prison, like. They were both doing a ten stretch for armed fucking robbery.


Were family. A clan. I mean, who are you? Nobody knows you. Youve only been around five minutes, like.

Trippy steps back, flicks the orange glow to the ground and crushes the dogend under his shoe. I takes the final drag of mine, flicks it and crushes it the same.

You dont wanna get mixed up in all this shite, says Trippy. His voice lowers. Im telling you now, for your own safety. Because to tell you the truth, like, I gotta bad fucking feeling about tonight. I dont know why, but...

A loud meeeow! We both jump and turn to see a black cat sneaking along the fence, back high, staring at us, green eyes glaring. It flicks its tail and disappears.

You see, a fucking omen! says Trippy. Listen, he turns back to me, take my advice, fuck off home and dont come back. Ill have a word with the boss, tell him you got sick or something, that you had to...

Nope, I says. I shook on it.

Are you fucking sure, like? says Trippy, eyes wide, expectant, hopeful.

Definitely, I says. Im in.

Suit yourself, says Trippy, and he skips down the alley, the happy-go-lucky leprechaun. Eleven oclock. Dont be late.

I goes back to me squat, turns on the electric heater, plonks meself on me mattress, feels around on the dusty floor for me Rizla, gets the bit of red-seal I left under me pillow and skins up in the dark.

Serve someone up? To God?

I lights the joint, takes a few puffs, and enters the world of the deep. What if I just stays here, in me squat? Says I fell asleep, or forgot about it. Or what if I runs away? Or goes home? I can hear me dads voice now:

Come running back to Mummy and Daddy? What are you, man or mouse?

That sets me thinking about Of Mice and Men, what we read at school. Lennie kills that pretty girl. She flopped like a fish. Poor Lennie. He didnt mean to kill her.

Fuck! The job! What time is it? Fuckin hell! Half past ten. Mustve fallen asleep! Fuck me, its freezing. Heaters off. I goes for the light. Nothing. Electric mustve blown again. Fuck. Joints half-smoked in me fingers. That was lucky. Could have burned to death! I feels me way to the bathroom, turns on the tap and splashes me face with icy water. Thats better. Awake now. I dries me hands, puts me coat on and goes, cranking shut the door behind me.

I puts me hood up and heads for the pub. I cant see the van. No ones around. Checks me watch. Ten to. Im early. Suddenly bright headlights zooms towards me and a white van skids and stops. The side door slides open. Big Jim leans out the drivers window.

Alright, son.

I gets in the back, sits on a toolbox which digs into me ass. We pulls away. A beam of street light flashes through the window and lights up the snake on Dogfaces neck. It stares at me for a split-second with its red, demonic eyes. And then its shadow.

I cant believe youre bringing this cunt, says Dogface.

Shut it, says Jim. Hes my boy.

I have to say, on this occasion, I do agree with Dogface, for once, like, says Trippy, we shouldve had a vote.

Hes a slippery cunt, says Dogface. I dont trust him.

Jim breaks sharply. We screeches to a stop. He turns off the engine and turns around.

Right, now listen. Im the chairman of this fuckin committee. What I say goes. If youve got a problem, you can fuck off now.

No one moves or speaks.

Right, says Jim. Thats fuckin settled then. Lets go to work.

We drives away. The van jerks and rocks. Trippy hands Dogface a small plastic bag. A flash of street light illuminates its white powdery contents. Dogface takes a pinch and snorts it up his nose. Trippy does the same but they dont offer me none. Jim cranks the music up, Knocking on Heavens Door, Guns N Roses version. Trippy and Dogface shout along. But soon the music stops. So does the van.

Here we are, says Jim. The land of Oz. Now lets go and see the fuckin wizard.

We all gets out. Its a dark, quiet lane behind a big building, like a school. Dogface bangs the toolbox on the pavement. Jim opens it, takes out a hammer, and hands it to me. Its heavy.

Whats this? I says.

Whats it fuckin look like? says Jim.

Yeah, erI know, I meanwhats it for?

Well I thought while were there you could put a fuckin shelf up, says Jim.

Dogface sniggers.

Its for whacking the prize nonce, like, says Trippy, slapping me on the back. But dont worry. Its not dangerous. Just your average, household, D.I.Y murder weapon.

Initiation, son, says Jim. Youre the virgin. Gotta break you in. There will be blood, but hopefully it wont be yours.

Trippy takes a mallet from the box and Dogface takes a monkey-wrench. Jim takes a chisel.

Now, when you do him, says Jim, hit him hard, crack, right on the crown. He grabs me shoulder and brings a chisel down hard and fast towards me head. He stops just in time.

Dogface smirks.

Wicked, I says.

Dogface puts the toolbox back in the van. I holds the hammers cold iron head in me left hand, me right hand around its rubber grip. Its heavy as fuck. Ive only used one once before, in the school play at Easter, for banging nails into the cross.

Suddenly something dives low over our heads with a high pitched eeeeeeeek! Dogface jumps. What the fuck was that?

A bat, says Trippy. See, you cunt...another fucking omen.

Trippy, says Jim. Shut the fuck up! Right, lets go. Bristol Boy, up ahead! Follow that lane.

I obeys and walks in front. The lanes dark with high, ivy-tangled wire-mesh walls. Soon we comes to a metal gate.

Must be where he hunts his prey, whispers Jim, nodding to a lit up playground.

I climbs over. Its awkward with the hammer. I clanks a bit, everyone hushes me and follows. We jumps to the ground into a quiet, residential street, lit only by sporadic streetlights.

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 its warm on me face. I looks at the others, totally black, except the whites of their eyes shining through the slits.

Big Jim looks both ways, then marches across the street, camouflaged by the darkness. He turns around and whispers forcefully Come on!

I follows. Jim pushes the garden gate, which squeaks open. We edges to the front door. Jim rings the bell. A curtain moves upstairs.

Stay out of sight, under the window, whispers Jim. I obeys.

Seconds later a womans voice: Who is it?

She sounds really old, about fifty.

Police, theres been a burglary, says Jim, winking at me. Just need to ask you a few questions.

Pause. Chain slides on latch. Door opens slightly.

Jim smashes the lock with his chisel. The woman screams. Jim barges in. Come on! he says.

I follows but turns to see Dogface punch the woman. She falls back. Her head whacks the wall.

Upstairs! says Jim.

I races up. Its pitch black. Jim barges in a room. I follows. No one. Into another. Jim hits the lights. A bedroom, a small, grey-haired man in the corner, in blue pyjamas, squeezed in the gap between a wardrobe and the wall. Jim pulls him out.

Come here, you nonce!

A struggle. A voice, weak and frail, No, no, please, dont hurt me, dont hurt me...

Jim locks his arms behind his back.

Now! shouts Jim. Do the cunt!

I lifts the hammer behind me head with both hands, ready to swing.

The nonce squeals in Big Jims hold, his scared blue eyes piercing mine, lashing out with his spindly legs, a fly in the grip of a spider.

Fuckin do him!

I steps in close. Me heart thunders. Im soaked in sweat.

Do him, son! shouts Jim. Do him, you cunt! What are you fuckin man or mouse?

I swings the hammer forward with full force.


His head splits.

Blood sprays and splats me hands. Its hot and sticky.

The body slumps and thumps the floor. It wriggles, squirms, and jerks a few times, like the last few flops of a dying fish.

Then the ogrish head lolls to one side...

And its still.


Except for weak, snivelly, wordless sobs.

I hears Dogface call up the stairs. Jim, old bill!

I drops the hammer on the floor with a clunkety-clunk. I pelts down the stairs, head spinning, heart racing, out of breath, body shaking. The lights on now. The womans on the floor, moaning, groaning. Dogface and Trippy, weapons at the ready, stare wide-eyed at the blood on me hands.

Wheres Jim? says Dogface.

Upstairs, I says. Jims still upstairs.

Jim! calls Trippy. Old Bill! Lets get the fuck out of here, like. Lets go!

I runs out the front door, into the darkness.

Trippy and Dogface shouts after me but their voices drown under the screaming sirens getting closer, getting louder.

Jims still.


I runs...and runs...and runs.

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