NEVER TRUST NOBODY
By Johnnie Johnson
Barry goes to ask an old friend for help and asks about a gun.
‘Yeah, I think you’re right, son. If I was you I’d get myself tooled up.’
That’s the best he can do. Offer advice. That doesn’t cost much.
A wry smile. ‘Not got much these days. I do a few bits of trade. I’ve got a good Makarov. Never used in this country. I know that because I know the chap who brought it in. Russian geezer. He says it’s never been used here and I take his word for it. It’s clean.’
He stands up. ‘I’ll let you see it. I can tell you it’s a good’un.’ He leaves the room and is away for a couple of minutes. When he comes back he hands the gun over to Barry who weighs it in his palm, holds it by the handgrip, checks the magazine release. He’s never handled a Makarov before.
‘Bit on the heavy side, don’t you think?’
‘Well,’ Chez answers, his head on one side, ‘yeah, a bit, but it’s very popular in Europe. Does the job. And the great thing about that mag release is that it won’t snag on your clothes like some of them. I think it’s a good little number and it’s yours for three-fifty quid.’
Barry extends his arm, points the gun at the far corner. Slowly he swings it round in an arc. The muzzle is no more than six inches from Chez’s brow. Yes, it’s a heavy weapon but in Barry’s hand it doesn’t waver.
‘What the fuck you doin’?’
Barry smiles. ‘I’m just seeing if I remember what it’s like to shoot somebody.’
Eight year old Tom, a boarding school pupil, is asked to go to the Headmaster’s room
…the door opens and the Headmaster’s secretary comes in and Mr Gratton smiles at her and raises a hand and says, ‘All right, gentlemen. Just hold on. Here’s Miss Clarendon with some matter of national importance.’ Some of the boys laugh but most do not as they are not certain what Mr Gratton means.
Miss Clarendon, she’s nice as well because if anyone is sent to her office to get the key to the store cupboard she always asks them how they are today and now she’s speaking quietly to Mr Gratton, giving him this information which he has said is of national importance. Tom wonders if something has happened to Mrs Thatcher.
‘Fine,’ Mr Gratton says as Miss Clarendon goes on trying to apologise for interrupting his English lesson. ‘That’s okay, Miss Clarendon.’ And he turns to face the class. In fact he turns to face Tom.
‘Tom,’ he says – he’s the only teacher who calls them by their first names – ‘the Headmaster would like to see you. Pop along there now.’
And Tom stands up, his stomach feeling funny and his legs feeling as if they they’re going to fold up under him. What has he done wrong? He cannot think what he might have done to lead to his being sent to the Headmaster’s study. Nobody was ever sent for like this. Unless of course they’ve been ‘up to no good.’ But he hasn’t been ‘up to no good’. He’s sure of that. Pretty sure anyway and as he leaves his desk and walks to the classroom door he turns over in his mind what it might possibly be about. And the same thoughts occupy him as he walks along the corridor towards the door. The Headmaster’s door.
Miss Clarendon has walked along just behind him and as he hesitates at the door she points to her office, across the corridor on the left.
‘Just go in there, Crisp,’ she says and she pats him on the shoulder.
Some extracts require no explanation
…propped up against the wall. It’s as though he’s decided to sit on the floor and wait for them. But he doesn’t move. His expression is blank, eyes open, mouth open. His shirt stained, blood from his chest, blood from his head, blood from his hand. Like a discarded toy sitting there.
… and no need to explain this either
‘…in the garden…waiting for me…’
The voice dies away as though the speaker is struggling with his words.
‘Here just give me…yes…the towel.’
That was dad.
A groan and then the first voice resumes.
‘I know what’s happened here. They saw me down that club. Must’ve had some idea that I was working here…’
‘Hold still…This may hurt a little.’
Then a stifled cry of pain. Whatever it is hurts a lot. Tom hears what he knows are bad words.
‘Okay, okay,’ dad says in calm and gentle voice as if he was talking to a child. ‘Here, just sit up…yeah, that’s right.’
Then Tom is standing in the doorway. The lady is at the sink with a towel in her hand. Dad is kneeling down over Mr Withers whose face is a mass of blood running freely down his cheeks. Tom has never seen anything like it. Both cheeks are cut, long cuts from the eye to the jawbone. There’s another cut across the nose and Tom thinks he can even see pink flesh. Mr Withers’ left eye is swelling. But Tom’s not frightened by what he sees. He’s horrified but not trembling or being sick or anything like that.
‘It’s me bloody back, mate,’ Mr Withers is saying though his voice is indistinct. ‘They come at me with baseball bats. Standing in the shadows waiting for me. They could only know when I was coming back if somebody tipped them off.’
Sonny, a minder, has an evening off
Wally laughed. ‘Yeah, three years. Got out about six months ago. Did the doors at a place in Riverside and then this one come up so I fancied a bit of country life.’
They talked on for another twenty minutes, asking about so and so, about this and that, about different jobs they’d been working on.
‘Working for a bloke called Chandler,’ Sonny was saying. ‘Got a kid and he’s got an idea that somebody might snatch him. Already had some trouble. Some of these fellers who he’s worried about picked the kid up and – you won’t believe this – they took him to the fuckin circus then brought him home. Work that one out.’
‘It’s a funny’un, that is,’ Wally agreed. ‘And what d’you say he’s called this employer of yours?’
‘Chandler’s his name. He’s all right and his missus is a pleasure, a real lady. I’m not sure but I fancy, I mean I’m just guessing, but he’s in a bit of trouble with somebody and my bet is Wendell.’
‘Interesting,’ Wally said but he didn’t pursue the matter further. He turned back to the reason why Sonny had so suddenly come here.
Well, Sonny tells him. He’s twenty-one and fancy-free. Or more like fifty-one and very fancy-free. He had the night off. Have a bit of fun, eh? Couldn’t stay out all night but anything that Wally knew of, just for a few hours’ entertainment, you know, ‘just swing it my way.’
‘Well, we’ve got some accommodation here if you feel you need it. Cost you though. Three hours max.’
‘I’m pretty flush at the moment. This job pays. I could run to three hours. Then I’ll have to get back…if I’ve got the strength.’
She was a small blonde, the girl who came over to Sonny only ten minutes after Wally resumed his duties. She was a lovely girl, very attentive and polite which you don’t always get in these situations. And when she was stripped down he couldn’t believe his luck and when she got to work on him he thought he’d gone to heaven. You get what you pay for. Sonny swore to himself that he’d be back here again.
It was about that time that Wally Potter phoned Trey Bruce for the second time in the last hour. Yes, Sonny was busy at the moment, had his hands full, Wally guessed. But he’d be leaving maybe round about midnight.
Tom’s father has returned from Africa (well, not exactly Africa)
‘It’s as final as that and you’ll have to get used to it. There’s nothing you or I can do about it.’ Dad sounded impatient.
‘But why?’ A plaintive voice, a voice on the edge of weeping.
‘Well, Tom, look here now,’ and he felt his hands suddenly enfolded. ‘It’s my work. I have to change my name. We all do.’
But why? Could dad tell him why?
‘Why do I have to change my name?’ he insisted. ‘Nobody else has to.’
‘No, well, other people don’t do the same kind of work as I do.’
‘What work? You mean in Africa? Another boy at Pendleview, his dad works in Africa and he hasn’t had to change his name.’
‘Depends on the work, Tom.’
‘What work? What work makes you have to change your name?’
‘Can’t tell you that, son.’
‘Is it a secret?’
His father nodded his head and muttered a reply that Tom couldn’t hear.
A silence while Tom pondered. He’d never known this about dad’s job. Mum had never told him that. It must be very secret.
‘You mean you do secret work? Where?’
‘Africa,’ his father said in a low voice. ‘And here as well.’
‘You’re a spy? You mean that you’re a spy?’
‘That sort of thing, son. Yeah, like a spy. I’m on secret work and you mustn’t never tell no-one.’
He wouldn’t tell anyone. Not now that he understood what his daddy did for a living. He was a spy. Tom had never met a spy before. But he knew they did dangerous work.
Detective Inspector Parnell has been transferred
It’s no secret that Parnell’s moved on. Onwards but not upwards. Should’ve moved up at the last place, should’ve made Chief Inspector, but instead some people listened to the rumour mill. People who had wanted rid of him must have been pleased to hear what they were being told. But nothing could stick because Parnell’s a wily old bird and he leaves no traces. He goes his own way. He’s not the gentlest of men when villains get shirty but he’s equally independent when those upstairs start spouting their theories. So they’ve transferred him from down there to up here, from the Riverside patch to Adenham, the county town. Not so much happening here, not like down south. And none of the dirt and grime and bustle of the old place, the dilapidation of failing shipyards, closing down-sales, queues at the Labour Exchange, the Saturday night brawls and the fucked-up kids and their fucked-up parents. And all these lazy buggers are concerned about is Maggie Thatcher’s heartlessness or the price of fags or how we haven’t won a World Cup for over a dozen years.
And these, Inspector Parnell has loved, believe it or not. And has missed with all his sometimes flinty, sometimes understanding heart.
So now he’s with the ‘clodhoppers’, the ‘turnip eaters,’ the Sunday–churchgoers, the anyone-for-tennis gang and the smart-arse bankers. Actually it’s not as posh as that. It just seems so to him.