The Reds and the Blues (In Old Ingham Town)

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Chapter 4

I found it hard to trace Eddie Fisher, despite him being a baghead, but it turned out that he wasn’t doing the dirty work anyway. He had got someone younger, a certain Wayne Ross, to seek out Jonny. Knowing that Jon had too much pride to refuse the offer of an arranged rumble, and that he would not tell his older friends about it, he thought the best plan would be to write some sort of challenge on one of the Old Youthy interior walls. How did he know about the ‘secret’ hideaway? Eddie Marsh had told him. As someone who kept his eyes open, he had spotted Jon’s brother Leo sneaking in one night. How did he know he was Jon’s brother? He just did.

Luckily, I too am someone who keeps his eyes open. Jon and Carl may have kept their secret well, but they trusted people – like their brothers and Revs – who were useless at it. I, and quite a few others too, had seen such idiots enter the building on many occasions. Naturally, we paid our own visits later at night, to see what they may have gotten up to. We were impressed by the look of the place, I must admit. I was envious that I had only previously attended the place when it had been an official youth club, and when it was no fun at all.

I went there to keep a kind of secondary eye, by establishing how much they had been smoking and drinking etc., on the boy I wanted to shield from harm. The night before the ‘rumble’ was supposed to take place, it was divinely fortunate that I popped in and saw what had been written. I was on to it straight away, and gathered a small crew together. Of course, we said nothing to Jonny and the boys, as in no way did I want him to know of my plight to defend him. My problem was in knowing how to apprehend Jonny’s enemies before they reached the park. After all, I didn’t even know for sure who they were. Eddie Fisher may have been on his tail, but that in no way meant that it would be him showing up.

I decided that the best course of action would be to wait at the bus stop outside the main road entrance to Privet Park, as I was almost certain that the whoevers would be from out of town. Just in case, however, I got hold of a guy called Rog Berry. Rog was a fair bit older than Jonny, but he sold a lot of weed to kids on the park. I devised an elaborate plan in which, should the enemies be someone he knew that had perhaps been on the park all night, he would run and tell me immediately. Then, if Jonny and the boys got into trouble, we would save the day. This would mean I would blow my cover as the secret protector, but at least Jon would be OK. Foolproof, I thought.

Sure enough, the boys we sought were from out of town. The 10:55 bus from Elswick pulled up on time, and we sat inconspicuously at the bus stop as a small mob of lads jumped off, looking ready and willing and spitting and making fighting talk. It was obviously them, and had to be. Once they were at a safe distance, we followed.

Despite being that ‘safe distance’ away, we managed to hear almost every word they were saying. In all honesty, they didn’t sound too hard at all, and I thought it a safeish bet that Jon and co. could handle them alone. But then, luckily, I heard the better part of their plan:-

No fear, boys. No fear at all. When they see us, they’ll think us outnumbered. That’s when Almo and the boys from Elmswood show up from the other side of the canal!. Any of those muppets that come along to help them will know that they’re dealing with TWO fucking towns. Bingo.”

Bingo indeed. As soon as we were safely away from the main road, we pounced. I will not go into detail, but it must be said that we sent the little shits packing. We knew that their accomplices would be waiting on the marshland that divides Ingham from Elmswood, and so we made our way there. On the way, we were careful to be as discreet as possible. It may have been dark, but we still wanted to make our way across Privvy Park without being seen by Jon Pallace and his mates. I don’t know if we succeeded or not, but it didn’t take long before we made it to the marshland.

One of the little bastards was clearly visible from quite a distance away. Moreover, he appeared to be making quite a brave gesture. It is nice to see such naivety coming from those who we would normally see as the young and innocent, harmlessly sticking the V up at their elders and betters and getting their arses out. ‘Who the f**k do they think they are?’, we usually asked, and despite your noble intentions haven’t you asked it before? Only me and my type admit wanting to kick the f**k out of them, because it truly is a deviant thing to admit to. But surely, and by this I mean surely, to do so – to admit to wanting to do it – is not as bad as doing it itself. As human things, we are born with evil desires like lust and violence and all those things, and the person who denies such desires is the person who lets them fester by not having the balls to face up to them. We have all heard of the pillar of the community who has done no wrong in his whole life; the one of whom the parishoners say, “Ooh, isn’t he a marvellous man!”. Not that all ‘marvellous’ men are like this, but isn’t he that same man that keeps all those frustrations bottled up, because he has never faced them, and on one mad day waltzes into a supermarket and massacres sixteen people? I have always believed that aggression is a good and holy thing, but it must be channelled into the right stream. In us all, I truly believe, is the inate instinct to destroy the wicked little bastards that roam our good Earth. All that stops us is the reasoning that, if they do not affect us directly, those whose business it is will be the only ones permitted to punish them. Oh my Sweet Lord, how great a thrill it is to be one of those lucky people!

We chased the whoever, and all his whoever mates, over the swamp and into the canal locks. As in before, I need not go into sordid detail as to what we did. All I need say is that we gave them sufficient terror to keep them away from Jon Pallace for a good while at least, if not forever. Despite all my good intentions at keeping the situation away from the said Jonny, however, he had seen some of the incident. But I didn’t care. When he asked, I simply told him that it was none of his business.

22

Piers Adrian didn’t swear me to secrecy or anything, but I had enough insight to know that it would be best not to say anything about him to anyone. Fellow Monsters Dave, Bob and Buckie, along with Andy Mears and Paul Rowland, were with me on the night of the park scenario, but they knew nothing other than that I was looking out for a mate. It wasn’t that unusual.

I made repeated visits to Piers’ estate, and who would blame me. I wanted so much to bring Dave and the boys, but that wouldn’t have been quite proper. As well as him being quite a fascinating bloke who has given me fascinating stories to tell, he turned me onto a whole new, romantic side of myself. But apart from these experiences with him, which would fill a book in themselves, he gave me some vital information at an astonishingly appropriate time.

He told me about an Arab businessman, Wasim Al-Quitain. For as long as he could remember, Al Quitain had been the rival businessman who would be most likely to outbid him, poach his workforce, or clinch the deals he wanted. He was, for want of a better expression, his business ‘nemesis’. This accolade, however, was not one that extended to personal feeling, for Piers did not see himself as primarily a businessman. Business, to him, was something he just happened to necessarily have to do in order to be the champion he was. The Arab tycoon, however, lived and breathed solely for money and the gain of it. They were playing different games..

The mentioning of his name may have merely chit-chat, had it not been for the fact that Al Quitain had a stronger connection to Adrian and the family. A relative of his, and Piers knew not the complete detail, had at some time emigrated to England in the 1970s. More specifically, this relative had set up his own business, married, and raised a family in none other than Ingham. His name was Nusam. Ali Nusam.

Despite knowing everything else about everything else, Piers knew not of why he had always been wary of Ali Nusam, who was but a mere minnow in comparison to the likes of Al Quitain. He was nought more than a market stall trader; a day-to-day wheeler-dealer whose sights would be set no higher than the dirty roof of a northern building. Al Quitain had, touch wood, never crossed him, but the mere presence of a member of his family on the same island was enough to make him sit up. On meeting me, the bearer of Jon’s special painting, Piers had done his homework, scientist that he was, on my good self. Naturally, he had made enquiries into the obscure Manchester borough of ‘Ingham’, and found that it was the same little backwater that Nusam had made his home. Coincidence? Piers believed that there could be no such thing, believer that he was.

Piers had deduced that Ali Nusam, humble market trader, was an instrument of his cousin Quitain. Somehow, and of this he had always somehow been sure, Quitain knew of his secret society, and that is why he had never been too far away in the complex world of commerce. Yet Piers had not jumped out of his leather hammock with shock and spilt his martini, for he did not see Quitain as a threat – or even enemy. The tycoon was playing a different game, the money game, and he did not oppose champions like Adrian or heroes of any sort, because he had no values in that sense. Bad men, contrary to popular belief, have as many values as good men, the only essential difference being that they are the complete opposite. The Al Quitains of this world may either abet or hamper the efforts of the good and the evil, but they will never intend to do either. They are simply looking after themselves, in the only way the know how.

If his suspicions were true, however, Piers had to establish exactly just how dangerous Al Quitain’s knowledge was. If he knew about Jonny, or indeed the painting itself, who else did? If he had made the effort to install his cousin to watch over the gifted child in some way, he must have known how important he was. True, he may have just been seeing the dollar signs around such a prodigy, but how far would he actually go to make a fortune from him? If he knew the monetary value of the boy, there could be no doubt that he understood that he was valuable in the most profound way to champions of right or wrong such as Piers Adrian and his faceless enemies. Indifferent motives or no, he was a massive liability. A darker, more terrifying question also had to be asked: From whom did he discover the deep secret in the first place? How, in God’s blessed Earth, did he know before him?

Piers asked me what I knew of Ali Nusam. I told him not much, but that I could say more about his two sons, Abdul and Joachim. They were only teenagers, but had already made names for themselves as nasty pieces of work. To me, they were just kids who posed no threat; I have seen tearaways such as they develop into fine, decent men, and who was anyone to label them as snakes before they had a chance to prove otherwise. Nonetheless, Piers became uneasy when I told them of their dodgy reputations. “Al Quitain is not a violent man,” he said, “That is why I don’t fear him. Violent family is all I need, Mal.” It seemed that Piers was playing devil’s advocate by seeing the danger of the situation. Perhaps he had had it too easy for too long, and he was expecting the bubble to burst.

“Keep an eye on the boys, will you. There is potential danger here. Do you remember when I told you that, at the moment, there is nothing you will have to do that you have ever had any problems with in doing before? Well that situation may well change, if you don’t nip the danger in the bud. Keep those boys away from Jon. Remember, though, that they may not want to hurt him. They can do him, and therefore us, as much harm simply by being his friend. Their influence could be just as dangerous, for they may be well aware of what they are doing. Unlike Jon Pallace, some children are assigned their roles at a very early age, when they have no fear in carrying out those orders. But your experience, Mal, will be more of a match for their fearlessness.”

In a peculiar sort of way, Piers’ faith in me was beginning to have the opposite effect that he must have wanted it to. ‘Experience’? I was only twenty-four years old. If anything, fearlessness was the one thing I thought I had. Now, I was being told that I would have to resort to using some alien quality because somebody out there was madder and badder than me. Such encouragement would be better off served to someone older and wiser than myself. Someone like Piers Adrian. Perhaps, for all his greatness, he had finally become lonely at the top and resorted to talking to himself.

No more than three days after that visit, Joachim Nusam, the younger of the brothers, made the Nusam-Pallace connection strikingly clear, and the timing was ridiculously magic. Imagine my disbelief as, after days of spinning those concerns about whats and whos and ’why me?’s and ’can I?’s, Buckie told me in no uncertain terms that, the night before, outside the youthclub, there had been a fight between none other than Joachim Nusam and Leo Pallace, Jon’s little brother!

The little turd was only thirteen, and now he was getting into teenage palavas. Now I honestly had no idea what was to happen next. My initial instinct was to go over to the Nusam house and threaten his dad, for Joachim was too young, but Buckie let me know that Leo, little beefer that he was, had sorted him out good style all on his oddy-knocky. I felt relief at this to begin with, but then all sorts of questions were posed. Would this invite comebacks to Jon from the elder brothers of Nusam’s crazy crew, or would they leave well alone as little Leo was actually younger than the trouble-causer? If so, that would be good, but then, as is often the fashion, would Leo be invited to join their nutty gang? Either way, Leo had made a name for himself, and being well-known could only hinder his brother’s safety. This kind of crap was all that I needed.

I let things lie, said nothing and, luckily, nothing further came of the event. But just as I was cosy in my complacency, an old ghost jumped back in. Its name was Wayne Ross and friends, and now things really started to get baffling. Joachim Nusam and the enfants terribles had strayed onto Brookview cemetery one night, idiots that they were. They had not chanced upon bumping into twenty or so tool-wielding maniacs who had nothing better to do than hang around in places of the dead and hope that they could make dead of the living, and they suffered for their ignorance. In the carnage that followed, several were put in hospital and one, a nice lad called Ste Simpson, was given some sort of brain damage. The whole thing was sickening, but it must be said that it did pull Ingham together. Grazer, whose little bro’ was one of those put in hospital, went through the roof completely. The teenage gang had thrived on having older brothers, but in truth those brothers were not the bullying type. Unbeknown to most, the youngers never had to call on their brothers’ help for any sort of retribution as the threat was powerful enough. With Wayne Ross and co, however, the story was different. They had elder brothers of their own, and these brothers were old adversaries of Grazer and crew. On top of this, they were probably twice as mental. I think ‘fearless’ is the word.

I got involved with the planning of all-out revenge that followed. We had one key advantage: most of Elswick’s nutters had been banged up. Yet, accompanying this was the one key downfall: we didn’t know exactly who was and who wasn’t, and so the enemy was virtually impossible to see. As someone who got about and had contacts all over the show through the dojo and my music, I offered my services in the matter of tracing individuals. I was less conspicuous than the others, being someone who had apparently ‘left all that behind’. Indeed, I never remembered ‘taking it up’ in the first place.

Tony Morrison, my friend from the dojo, was the guy I went to first. Strangely enough, he had heard of both Wayne Ross and Joachim Nusam, but only as sons of a Tom Ross and Ali Nusam respectively. Tom, he said, had been quite a face around Manchester in the sixties, but was now doing life for murder and no one knew where or whether he was still alive. Ali Nusam, I was surprised to hear, had done a ten-year stretch in Strangeways for a ‘gang related incident’. Piers had got it wrong. He had believed Nusam to be some sort of Al Quitain plant, but in actuality he had lived in the country for many years before Jon’s birth. The story got curiouser and curiouser.

The most baffling news of all, however, was that, somehow, Tony knew of the Pallaces. He told me of a man called Kieron Moore, who had fought and been paralysed in the Falklands. He spoke of his admiration and upmost respect for a hero who had almost died in saving the life of an innocent little girl who had been trapped under a ton of rubble. Unlike many who, understandably, would succumb to desperation and see only futility in a worthless existence, Kieron Moore picked himself up and made the most of what talents he could still use. Now, he was a great many things: a campaigner for the supply of aid and compensation for fellow war victims and their families; a teacher and social worker to children and adults with disabilities; above all, a pillar of the community that all peoples could come to for his wisdom. An all round good egg.

He lived in Calford now, but hailed from Ingham. His family still resided in the town, and were good friends with the Pallaces, the youngest being the same age and best friend of Theo, who was nine or ten. Tony could even remember his name: Simon. He could also remember that Kieron had expressed concern about the Pallace boys for the bad company they kept. Kieron worked with young offenders, and had seen Jon and Leo with a number of them on several occasions. He dreaded to think of what their parents didn’t know they were getting up to.

I wondered who these ‘offenders’ were. Being boys who went to school in Elswick, it clicked that perhaps this Wayne Ross was someone they may have known. I asked Tony if he would, politely, probe Kieron Moore about Wayne Ross. He said he would.

A day or two later, Tony came round with the news that Kieron had seen one of the Pallaces, he didn’t know which, with a couple of his ‘clients’, Matthew and Kevin. The same Matthew and Kevin were full members of Wayne Ross’s gang, and this meant that they were very close to him. So then, if none of Elswick’s older generation could be found, we at least knew how to find Wayne Ross and his boys. The only downfall was this: we would only know who this ‘Matthew and Kevin’ were through whichever Pallace brother knew them well.

It would have been simple to ask Jon if he knew Wayne Ross, but then he would only ask further questions. Little Leo, on the other hand, would be naïve enough to blag. I got Pete Rainer, Carl’s brother, to get the truth out of him. He did. ‘Matthew and Kevin’ were in his year at school.

I told the boys, and they did the old waiting-at-the-school-gates routine. After some sort of interrogation with which I was not involved, they found to their dismay that Wayne Ross, and most of his crew, were inside. When I heard this news, my secret reaction was different than their very public one. They wanted revenge only, whereas I wanted to keep my boy safe. I was relieved, and they were furious.

It then occurred to me, scatterbrain that I am, that there was still an unsolved mystery in this ‘Eddie Fisher’. I hadn’t got a satisfactory answer from Piers. He may have implied that the scaghead was nothing to worry about, but perhaps he wasn’t listening. I asked Grazer and some others if they knew him, or knew of him, and they knew no more than I. Perhaps there was nothing more to it after all. But then again, he would always be at the back of my mind.

My life took a strange turn at around this time, the summer of ’90. I met a girl called Marie Mason, the sweetest foxiest and downright scrumptious thing I had ever seen. When I say ‘met’, I actually mean ‘started seeing’, as I had been introduced to her at the Poll Tax gig of the previous year. We had clicked immediately, and if I hadn’t had so much on my mind I would have chased her from the outset. She was a complete darling, and clued up too. She was years beyond her age. In fact, she was only fifteen.

We waited ’til her 16th birthday before we did anything, but that seemed to matter little to her furious mother and family. My peers, too, were pretty shocked. Only Piers seemed happy for us. He knew that, in the great mediaeval times of Shakespeare and Bacon, it was respected practice for girls of such age to marry experienced men who had been around a bit, for these were the partners that would do them the most good. Even today, in some parts of the world, it is the common custom. It is only the dirty macs and raincoats that have given older men the bad name. These disgusting perverts care only for the cheap, submissive thrills that young girls can give because, in essence, they are cowardly bullies who can not get it up a woman of their own age. The original and true love is one that stems from the desire to protect and serve such innocents, and help them to grow as women. In Marie, I saw someone that deserved my help. Someone that could be guided to real beauty by someone as well-meaning as me. Besides, I knew that she would be one hell of a goer.

Marie was the same age as Jonny, and we would often go out on ‘double dates’ with he and Alicia. Pubs: nay. But clubs: you couldn’t keep us away! Jon and the girls could go unnoticed in such places, as the climate then was more geared toward the deterring of trouble-causers than the under age, who usually enriched the scene with their zest and innocence. It was all about ecstacy; being luv dup. It wasn’t a lad culture like the Indie thing. Couples like us made the scene what it was, and so no one was arsed about under-age drinkers because there weren’t any. They were too busy having pills and being happy.

Marie surprised me with the amount of people she knew. She was on first name terms with half of Calford, and this was because her mum was well known in the area. She even knew, albeit indirectly, a number of my contacts in the gig scene. It took me a few months to find out that she could sing, and really well. We started putting our heads together in order to come out with worthies, and before long we were recording material and doing the odd gig. This process took something like three months.

One of the gigs was at a place called Harry Belafonte’s, on Portland Street. It was only a small affair, so we were just jamming really and having fun. The atmosphere was fine: no nobs whatsoever. No stressheads. Just the good old ‘craic’, if I may be so bold. We were nearing the end of the set, just easing down you know, lazing away. Some dark guy - not black, but dark, if that makes sense, said goodbye to his friends and made his way, alone, to the front of the stage. I made him welcome, and he smiled at me. Marie made him welcome, and he smiled at her too. He smiled again. He kept on smiling.

What was he looking at? I would have hoped, and did hope, that he was watching a man and a woman making sweet music together, but it soon became clear that he wasn’t. He was watching Marie only, but not so much watching as leering. Strong word that: leering. Leeer-ing. Think of the leerer as you say the word. See the tongue coming out of his snakey head; his eyes narrow and loveless and his breathing that of the nervous rapist; jealousy and inadequacy his major drives; a sick, lost mutant who will have no hope of glory less it be notoriety, or if not that than the ability to tempt good men into losing their tempers. God no, I thought. Oh God no, please don’t let me lose my temper. Not now. Not in front of Marie.

I continued to play, but could my anger be heard in the music? I tried to hold the thought that the song’s end was not far away, but that only seemed to make it more distant. I took another look at him, the leech. His eyebrows were black and woolly, and joined together. He sizzled in front of Marie; a depraved, venomous paedophile. I could smell him. I could smell my own fury. Moreover, I recognised him. I actually knew who he was, the odorous perverted little c***.

It was him, Eddie Fisher. Who was he and what the f*** was he doing here, and what was his place in my life? I finished the song as quickly as I could, wanting to kill him, but by the end he and his leering had gone. Marie looked distraught, and it dawned on me that she knew him too. I gave her a cuddle, and asked how she knew this Eddie Fisher.

“Eddie what?” She asked. His name’s Mark. Mark Adrian. He used to be my boyfriend.”

My first instinct was to connect this so-called Mark Adrian to the so-called Piers Adrian, and my second was to go visit the latter and see what he had to say about it, but I thought better of spending my hard earned cash on a trip to Wales that would no doubt prove fruitless. If Piers had anything to tell me about ‘Mark’, he would surely have spoken already.

Marie told me that she had cavorted with El Slimo more than a year before, when she was still fourteen. The dirty bastard was older than me, twenty-seven to be exact, but moreover he had been a right c*** with her, and had even knocked her about. I had sensed that someone had mistreated her in the past, but I had no idea it was him. Now my dislike for the cretin welled into pure hate; I had too many reasons to hunt him down.

Yet the mystery surrounding him was somewhat unnerving. Marie had a lot to tell about him, but it was all about habits and idiosyncrasies and occasions, and none of it about where and who he came from. She had met him through her mother. Only she could know more. But she hated me. Or at least I thought.

I spoke to Tony Morrison again, but he knew nothing of the name, even after asking Kieron Moore. His advice was to pay a visit, no matter how daunting, to Marie’s mum. As with all his advice, I knew he was right. Not that twat who had to do it though eh.

Jackie Mason lived in a dodgy flat in Calford’s dodgiest estate; a hotbed of high crime and low life. People in such areas were at one time, believe it or not, the salt of the Earth, but council negligence had turned these environments into Mad Max worlds. I had walked the ‘Sunview’ estate (and the sun is a very hot thing) many times, but the older I got the more noticeable, and therefore vulnerable, I felt. I remembered the lawlessness of my own mind during teenage years, and when I edged past the scallies on the corners I was aware of their dog-eat-dog ethic; seeing a big guy like me as a bully waiting to happen and knowing that they had to be ready for me. If only they knew the truth, they would eat me straight away. Like pitbulls, if they smelt my fear they would translate it as attack. But like vultures, they may also translate such fear as the invitation to rape me for what little I had. To bully or be bullied. That is all they know. The grown men shuffled around in a murk of either guilt or fear, or both. They had been the same once, and it had been their influence which had been the foundation for such criminals. Unless, of course, they had been one of the few innocents, alive or free only because they had never been as mental as the peers who were now dead or in prison. They shuffled for much the same reason as me. They knew that guilt, to the scals, could only be read as fear.

Respect for elders was almost dead in this desolate place. Its only home was in the sacred untouchables: middle-aged women. Men of the same age were fellow battlers, and anyone of any younger age also carried the same threat. Old people were too feeble to be respected; their frailty was too much of an invitation to be ignored, and supplies were always too low to let invitations go amiss. It was the hardened mothers that reminded boys of who they were and where they stood. It was they, in their warped minds, who they were battling for. Without having any respect for their mothers, they would never have any hope of fulfilling the dream of one day respecting themselves.

Like a haven in this depraved forest, like a glen of tranquility, Jackie Mason’s Lioness den stood out from the others in the middle of a first-floor row which could be seen from the street below. Number 27, with a purple door. That was it. I stood gawping for a second or two in the Autumn twilight, and was about to move when I heard the sound of unlocking coming from inside. The door flew open, and Jackie moved into view. She looked upon me in disdain, awaiting what I had to ask as if she knew it was something at least I thought was important. I simply asked if I could come up. Her lips managed a wry smile and she whispered, “Come on then Shorty”.

The door was left ajar for me, as if I was expected to do my own welcoming. I made my way in, creeping through a dark and dusty hallway that reeked of experience. I popped my head through the first door on the left and found it to be a toilet. I tried the second. It was a storecupboard. I tried the third. It was some kind of bizarre and sick aquarium. I went left and opened. There she was, dark unknowable head raised to that black old sun in a doorway to another room, both halting and giving invitation to whatever space was behind her. I couldn’t see her eyes, and so that dark conspiring head in front of me could have been anyone’s. She could have been the most beautiful woman on Earth.

Perhaps she was. “Drink?” she said seductively, whether she knew it or not. She gave me no chance to answer, turning and disappearing from view. I took a seat, looking around at the features of the dimly-lit browny-red room. It had antique objects; exotic furniture; josticks and all that funky garb. Somewhere in the midst of it all was a stench of mischief; anticipation before a sick punchline. She came back in, and I could see her clearly now. The lines on her face told only part of the story. The rest of her: her clothes, dark skin and hair, told the tale of a woman who had been through wars.

“What can I do you for?”, she asked.

I had to be subtle in my reply, but failed miserably. “I..erm, well I thought it about time we…”

“Got to know each other?”

“Well, yeah. I know we haven’t made the best of starts but - ”

“Mal!” She interrupted, “I am a mother, and there is a lot more to being a mother than you think. My concerns for Maria are not just about the obvious things such as age, or whether her boyfriends might be dodgy or not. I’ve known her for sixteen years, and I know what is best for her. I know who is best for her, and how dodgy or what you’ve done in the past has nothing to do with it. Know what I mean?”

I didn’t, but I nodded anyway. She carried on telling, but merely seemed to re-iterate what she’d just said. The short and long of it, from what I could make out, was that she had had some pre-conceived notion of how I should look and talk. In other words, she didn’t want someone as dodgy as me after all, and was full of shit.

Cunningly, I used this avenue to get closer to the point. I asked about previous boyfriends, and whether they had fit the pre-conceived notion or not.

“Why do you ask?” she said.

“I ask…because I want to know if Marie’s been hurt…in the past.”

She gave me the look of a woman who wanted to believe me, but couldn’t. All she had to say was “Drink your drink”, and so I did.

“Tastes funny, doesn’t it?”

“Yeah, exotic. What is it?”

“It’s a kind of…fruit. It’s called Amchem. It comes from the Virginia Swamps; an Autumn fruit. The Native Americans have been using it for thousands of years to stimulate…well…”

I was unnerved. “What?”

“Well, you know, the mind

I wiped my brow with relief.

“Some people would kill for the drink you’re drinking now. The Indians, right, had to endure rigorous tests to get it, because it grew in…uninhabitable places in the swamps. If a young warrior proved himself worthy of attempting the challenge, he was…sort of…put forward by one of the tribe’s elders. He was given seven days to find and bring back the fruit, which was sacred to the Indian people. If he didn’t return in time, he was considered dead…”

“What if he came back late?”

“If he came back late, he was still considered dead, because he had failed. He was an embarrassment to his tribe and himself. You see, the Indian people believe that their God rewards goodness with strength, and so if a man wasn’t powerful enough he could only be evil. If the warrior failed the test and returned to the tribe, he would either be cast out or despised for the rest of his life.”

I took another sip, graciously this time. “And the reward?”

She smirked, and made a little chuckle. She stood up and walked across the room, out of the light and out of view.

“The reward! The reward, young man…is the drink itself!”

She was putting a record on, and as I tasted the nectar again and was hearing the first few sound of whatever tune it was, I had some sort of sensation and pondered what this reward could be. Is this what she did, this Jackie Mason? Did she lure innocent young men like me into her sordid den of iniquity and give them forbidden fruits? I had been in strange places before, but none that I hadn’t imagined to be so. I had come to this place to try and prove that I was, deep down, a good guy. Little did I know that that same woman I had come to convince wanted only to prove to me that she was, deep down, a better woman than I could possibly imagine. She was euphoria, and I, deep down, was little more than a slave coming of age to know that he can be nought more in his entire life. Which sort of warrior was Mal Bellis? At that point, I only wanted her to let me know.

I was passionate, and jumped out of my chair without control. Like some little brainwashed idiot I wanted to dance, and yearned for Jackie to come out of the darkness and dance with me. Before too long she was there, and we were stood eyeball to eyeball and filled with horn.

STOP!!! My reasoning came back, and I remembered who and where I was. This dark, wizened minx had spiked me. I was under her spell, and as it dawned on me her expression became full frustration. She shoved me off balance so I fell backwards onto the couch, her eyes all daggers and her tongue writhing in her head like some predatory lizard. This would have been a bizarre sex scene if it weren’t for the absence of role play. This was real. She was going to rape me, in more ways than one. The bone-on was only the start of it.

In my powerlessness (and not knowing whether it was her hands or my fear that was keeping me down) I blacked out; sank into a recess of my mind forgotten by security. This was the land of eternal running; the chase of rabbits forever mad with fear; the manhunt, legs turning to jelly as they know there is no escape. Children flee from monsters. I was one of them; a child, heart-pounding head spinning darting through the forest. The womb is a dream. The nightmare is knowing it is so far away. The same enclosure once made you feel snug, but it now it stops you from breathing. You want to get out. Is this what it’s like to be born? I squeal like a pig, alone, but find company in my mind. Someone I call ‘me’ is seeing this nightmare, and I may be running but I’m seeing the chase. Who’m I with? There’s loads of us; all children innocent and knowing nothing. We just run. It’s dark as Hell.

Can Hell afford us tears? I see others running; they’re in Hell too. How can Hell have sympathy? We run together. We are in the same Hell and we know each other. The recess I was in was no longer a blackout, for feeling came into my head when my heart felt their pain. They were running just as I was, and I wouldn’t wish this shit upon even my worst enemy. Can Hell afford us sentiment? Somehow, I made these rabbits out to be human, like I was; a boy and a girl, no older than six and no younger than three. I not only wanted to run with them. I wanted to protect them; to help them escape. The boy was six and I couldn’t see his face. The girl was four, and Marie. Can Hell afford us Love?

Love! Love, Love, my friends: rearing its ugly head whenever the danger’s not real enough. With every angel comes the sickly demon that wants to rape it. That sickly demon, despite being as worthless and useless as you think it to be, also aims to take your pride and honour, (and ‘love’), and stick it so far up your arse that it finds your mind and makes it bleed. He is an evil little bastard, and he makes you furious. This is the part of Hell that, as we all know, Hell can afford. The demon was very real, devaluing my little woman with his perverted glare. Now I was to become the hunter, and in doing so become one of the many angry monsters that were doing the chasing. How could I win? Why did I have to kill or be killed when I wanted to be…good?

The perverted monster was Eddie Adrian, or whatever his name was. He chased the children for the same reason a bully does. He was a bully, left out of all the games and friendship-building that make us warm and loving, but being too sensitive to let all that go. Essentially, that is what a bully is: someone who is left out but doesn’t want to be. I have been a bully myself, but at some strange time in my life decided that I would be cold. I found it easier to ignore the crowd rather than stamp on it. Fuck em. They’re all demented anyway, good luck to the wankers. Part of the reason why I grew to despise bullies so much is my hatred for the way they feel the pathetic, worthless need to fit in; to bow down to the selfish c***s who ignored them. They have no pride. They are cocky, but not confident. They swagger rather than glide. They stomp rather than mooch. Mark Adrian was in my sights, as Marie was in his.

A sickening came to my stomach when I questioned what it is to be either a lover or a fighter. At this moment in time, I was thinking only of my hatred for Mark Adrian, and not of protecting my beautiful beloved Marie. Of the two of us, he was the one with Marie in his head, not me. Inside my head was violence and hatred only, and it made me question who was the bigger monster here. Mark Adrian may have been one sick puppy, but it was all for the want to fit in. I, on the other hand, had ignored my social gifts in favour of elevating myself. Not much of a hero now, was I?

When I looked more closely at the little boy, Marie’s brother, I saw that face again. He was Mark Adrian too.

I awoke the next morning in the same writhing position. Jackie walked in when she heard me stir, and simply said: “Bit the worst for wear aren’t you love. Perhaps you’d better go.” And so I did. I was relieved to escape such madness.

I told no-one of the weird experience. Over the days, weeks and months that followed, I came to the gradual realisation that having empathy with Eddie Fisher was something I needed in order to know him; to know thine enemy. To know the enemy is essential, for to know him is to know why we fight, and the Cause for the war is more important than any of us. A man like me reaches an age where fighting for himself is not enough, and he realises that it never was. I didn’t want to be an unaware porn in someone else’s battle anymore. I wanted to be a Knight, willing as the King that leads him.

I didn’t want to find ‘Eddie Fisher’ just yet. Perhaps that would be a walk into an ambush. Instead, I kept a closer eye on Marie. And Jon Pallace, don’t forget him. In September, Alicia got the daunting news that she was…pregnant. She was only sixteen, and Jon just a year older. Despite all the obvious obstacles, I was given another challenge. What would this baby’s place be in this fantastic, supernatural web of intrigue, honour and passion?

Oh, dear oh dear oh dear it was all bollocks! It had to be. ‘Piers Adrian’, who the fuck was he? ‘Mark Adrian’? Get to f***! People don’t have names like ‘Adrian’ anyway. If this baby was to be born with anything like sanity, he couldn’t have twats like me around. I tried to forget. I tried to forget all about it, for the sake of those I at least thought I loved. Throughout the pregnancy, Alicia and Jon heard no strange talk from me. No way in the world was I going to jeopardise their mental safety and spoil their fun. I didn’t speak to Piers Adrian for months. No way in the world was I going to let him jizz my head up.

Nine months later, on June the 16th, Alicia gave birth to a boy. Fantasy would force me to say: “A BOY!!! THANK HEAVENS!!!”, but I didn’t let it. Instead, I wrote a card and was there for them. They named him Billy, and I enjoyed watching him grow. Marie adored him. I could see her being a good mother, but I didn’t say a word. Watching Billy made me ponder childhood in general. I thought of myself as a nipper. I thought of Marie being little, and how we would have liked or disliked each other had we been in the same playschool. It was all very gay really. I was leaving behind the life of revelry and bananas, being clucky and safe and respecting things. My band was liquidated as a result. I had no time for my good old boys anymore, and they left me to the gaydom. Marie and I played well together, and so the band splitting up didn’t seem such a drastic thing – even if it was. Yet amidst such happiness, shit was happening. War had kicked off in Croatia. Saddam was threatening the stability of the West. The West was threatening the stability of human goodness with computers, robots and the processing of natural life into neat little test tubes that could be cloned and cloned again. Gimme Shelter. The Antichrist is on his way, hiding behind a smile and a ‘have a nice day’. Take me away and make me gay. Nature has no place today.

What was I turning into? Some sort of war was going on, and I wasn’t part of it. I had become content, and I didn’t deserve to be. I had spent my whole life detesting those proud types who think they have earned the right to be satisfied with their lives just because they have ‘settled down’, and now I was becoming one of them – or already had. Worse still was the encouragement I got from Marie to be such a person. She wanted to be one herself, and was only seventeen. Worse still was the fact that I was heavily tempted to submit. Even worse still, and perhaps the worsest of all, was the fact that Jonny was close to submitting – or already had. Little Jonny; Jonny.B.Good. He wanted to join the convention that would kill his spirits, and he was one of humanity’s only hopes.

I decided that I would do my upmost, and go to any lengths, to make him an animal again. In doing so, perhaps there was hope for me also. And all of us. In Jonny Pallace, I saw the key to this whole soulless mess. I would make him have his mid-life crisis, make him question his place properly, before his life had really begun. I may not be liked for it, but a true trooper does it all for love and nothing else. We went out on the town. We drank gallons. We ogled. We swore. We danced like maniacs. People got offended. We fucked em. The ladies in our lives worried for our stability. “Go stick your stability up your f***ing shitepipes!” we said, “It’s only yours you’re worried about anyway! Stick to your own warped niche in life and leave us to ours. We burn for you!”

The rollercoaster would have been sound. With more time, we would have excessed ourselves to supreme clarity as the light was burning brightly at the end of our sordid tunnel. One only has to worry about physical health in such a quest. The mind, in all its glory, embraces such abandon in much the same way that the butch father embraces his puffy son when he announces that he will join the rugby team after all. Yes, the rollercoaster was a sweet and viciously exciting one, and even moreso for myself for I remembered that I was the one driving it. Jonny got into endless bother with Alicia, but it wasn’t his fault that she was too dense to see the danger in him becoming what he would have become otherwise. It is not the trooper’s job to explain himself, for he cannot be understood. No, it is the job of poets and philosophers and overpaid shrinks who know fuck all. The trooper is not offended by being misunderstood, because at some stage in his mission he realises that the truth behind the rollercoaster is known only by an elite group. He is proud to be one of this magic circle, and so he should be. With such pride to keep him going, he can take the whinings of his ignorant spouse and shove them up right back up the arse they came from. Keep drinking Jonny. Next door is only a footstep away.

But what of this?: amidst the chaos; the wars and mass-production and constant bleeding of nature’s brain; amongst the lack of direction that can only be called loss of God; amongst the artificiality that can only be called the loss of Life. Came…something else. Another life. Another what?

I’m sure I haven’t forgot, but something makes it hard to remember. Another life. Another life!

With the crash and tumble of all good things replaced by others, the rollercoaster came off its rails with sudden fury. Jon looked to me to keep the ride going, but I was suddenly powerless. “Another life!” boomed some sort of God-voice, and we were on the ground again. I looked to Marie for help, her being my contact in the conventional and sick world. She was crying, but when I looked closer I saw that they were tears of joy. I saw wrong. As she spoke, I realised that they were not tears of ‘joy’ at all, for joy is something only troopers can know. They were tears of laughter, for she had me by the balls:

I’m pregnant.”

And with that, trooperdom was dead. In fact, it had never even existed.

When a pregnancy is under way, the families and friends of the happy couple gather around to give their support. Cards and flowers etc. come flooding in from all sides, and it is very nice.

Of course, the mum-to-be is given the greater attention, and this is only right as she has to go through all the torture of pregnancy and childbirth, and as a woman requires more attention anyway. But the amount of attention given to future mums is not the root of the problem I am about to discuss. My grievance is with established fathers who think they have the right to give ‘advice’ to men they don’t know, simply because they have done something that childless men haven’t.

We are all unique and different, and it is this individuality that is merged between two lovers which becomes a new and independent life. A baby is not a material thing; a toy that needs a bit of messing about with to work properly. It is the sum of two parts, the mother and the father, and they will know it best. If they are left alone to develop and learn, these parents will give the child the best possible start in life if they love it enough. “What you need to do is show them who’s boss..” or, “What I find makes them laugh..”, are pieces of advice that would be better suited for cooking programmes.

My particular situation was very strange indeed. I had always seen the day I became a Dad as a triumphant occasion, as most would say it is, but my mind was in turmoil. Not only had this child come along and pushed me off my rollercoaster; it had invited itself into Hell to boot. I wouldn’t have wished such a world as this on anyone, let alone the fruit of my loins. Yet Marie caused the conflict in my head. The child inside her made her glow like a newly-born woman; her cheeks becoming rosy and her complexion warm. Her expression matured, overnight, from that of a confused angry adolescent to that of a wise secret-keeper who knows she has the cream. This wise new hen may have grinned with victory for having got me by the balls, but that romantic slide that all men eventually succumb to made a warm noise in my belly. She could only be gorgeous, and for those mini-moments all was well in my mind. Armageddon was forgotten when I surveyed that cosy, delicious part of woman that carries rather than tempts us.

I had been reckoning that poor old baby would probably never know it’s mother’s beauty, what with growing up in Hell and all. I began to reckon that I could be wrong, after taking a recap. Piers Adrian and his amazing poetic story, with all its wonder and dazzlement, and Jon Pallace, and Eddie Fisher, and Nuclear War, and the whole completely mental thing, was too much to have taken so lightly. As a 25-year old, I was a person hardened to events and sequences, and strange ways of thinking, that were unbelievable to other people. Going off to Wales and hearing a wild story like that, told by some one like that, was not at all trippy to me. I may have believed it, but I didn’t get carried away. In fact, I didn’t even get stirred up. Over the years, all these notions of being a hero, and of battling evil and the like, were purely that: notions. My heart didn’t really believe in my causes. It couldn’t have, because if it did then I would have been running about in a state of deep paranoia, sweating and shitting myself and trying to slay dragons in the supermarket. Oh no, I was keeping all that gear at arm’s length. I was objective, separating fiction from reality and getting on with ‘real life’.

Perhaps it’s all about ego. Here was Piers Adrian, the head of some kind of cult, asking me for help. That help required was only of a small quantity but I, in my vanity, could not see how it could be. I thought myself some sort of saviour, when really I could be little more than a porn. At some stage, perhaps when ‘Mark Adrian’ came into the picture, the truth hit me and sent me west a little. The rollercoaster was my protest over being a nobody.

In the hopeless Ingham streets, I saw who the ‘nobodies’ really were. I was a ‘somebody’ after all, because I had the perception to see past the grime and whingeing and futility of everyday life. As long as I had an imagination, I had hope for a better life. My offspring need not necessarily be a mere product of a Hellish place. Instead, I could do my upmost to make he or she something special. I thought of little Billy, and remembered the legacy of Piers’ mate, Billy Wright or whatever his name was. He believed in some sort of ‘pure family’ that would save humanity. Perhaps he was right, and the Pallaces were this family after all. If so, I did have a major role to play. The power of the thing hit me right between the balls. This time, it really did seem all that trippy.

Right on cue, the phone rang. It was Piers!

“Malachy? Is that you? Where in the name of Wars have you been?”

I laughed aloud. I don’t know how he had found me, but I’m glad that he did.

“I think we have to talk, don’t you? Come right away, and don’t dawdle.”

“Why? What’s the hurry?”

“Oh, my dear Malachy, you’ve missed so much. If you miss any more, you’ll miss it all.”

“Miss what?”

“It’s about Mark Adrian. You’ve heard of him, haven’t you?”

“Well, yes, I…what about him?”

A dramatic pause. Tick…Tock…Tick…Tock.

“He’s my nephew, Mal. He’s my nephew, and now he’s dead.”

And as if things weren’t trippy enough already.

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