An Elephant

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Chapter 1: Dog

Chapter 1: Dog

Beware of the Dog”

- Warning sign

“We have to be aware of all that’s happening around us from now on” he instructed. Dog looked like anyone’s worst nightmare of a football hooligan. He was an absolute monster of a man: six foot two, but most imposing due to his huge, jutting, barrel chest, unnaturally prominent above his belly. He had massively broad shoulders carrying powerful arms and a grown-out skinhead, now at number four, licked on either side above the shoulders and collars, by tattoos. The tattoos snaked up both sides of his neck around his left ear, half covering part of his cheek and descending from the hairline on the other side of his face. He had everything from the elephant god Ganesh, Chinese dragons, Thai script, Japanese flowers and snakes, ancient warrior images of Musashi and Crazy Horse, all the way to ‘Scotland’ and ‘Mum.’ Just beneath his flattened, wide nose he showed traces of a harelip operation.

He was bursting from beneath his green Lacoste polo shirt which covered more tattoos plastering both arms past the wrists. His ink spread beneath his black Fila shorts, covering two thirds of one leg and all of the other, right down to his black Adidas Samba originals. He had a small nick in one ear like a tomcat in springtime, and was visibly scarred along the left side of his jaw and no doubt elsewhere. Some might say he looked more likely to beat his chest than to clap, and whilst highly alert he had a weary, dead look in his eyes as if disappointed by the weakness of those around him. Dog could bend two pence pieces with his fingers.

He paced purposefully out of his hotel on his way to Place St George, accompanied by Angry Grant and the very nervous-looking Boots, staring intently around him as he strode. He dropped his Ray-Bans from the top of his head to cover his eyes, and scanned the way ahead through the heat haze that poured off the shining cobbles. He looked left and right and intermittently checked behind them, paying attention to any available exits, possible incidental weapons, the likelihood of an ambush, or some kind of police operation. He ushered Boots to walk in front of him.

They had only been in Marseille since the evening before, so Dog had not had the luxury of checking out the surrounding area at length, but he had taken a brief scout around at midnight and had chosen a very particular route for them to take to Place St George.

French café society meant that they were likely to be left exposed on their approach to the meet. They would need to walk past terraces, tables on the pavement, and lots of people. Today the clientele were most likely to be England fans. They would likely be spilling into all available open spaces, especially in the area of the big screen at the beach.

“I thought Place St George was over in that direction” said Grant.

“It is, but that school between here and there is basically a building site, and direct routes make us easier to trace or follow, so we go the long way round.”

Years earlier, the keener of the football faces, which had included Dog, would often go to away grounds a week or two in advance of big games to familiarise themselves with the area and check out the pubs and street layouts. They would make themselves aware of escape routes, places for possible counter attacks, and things like skips - possible armouries - and then report back to the rest of the firm.

As the trio walked, Dog considered how the French have shutters on the outside of their windows, rather than curtains or blinds on the inside like in the UK. The effect was the same: you can see out through the cracks and gaps from the inside, but you can’t see in, and outwardly you don’t know if you are being watched, which can be unnerving for one prepared for trouble. The only sounds came from streets away.

Eerie he thought. It’s a bit like going to White Hart Lane. They were approaching a small pedestrian side road to their right, and Dog focused on the sound of a quiet conversation that emanated from around the corner. Are they speaking Polish? He tensed a little and edged in front of Boots, just as four men wearing Romanian tops rounded the corner and walked past them. He exhaled deeply. I don’t like all these people milling around in different directions. It was unlike the singular flow to the away ground on match days in England, and added further uncertainty.

After they had passed, all four Romanians turned to look at Boots’s England top, then looked directly at Dog, and then talked amongst themselves in their native tongue. Dog was used to this - his stature and tattoos always drew a great deal of attention - but he merely kept note of their position out of the corner of his eye. Angry Grant looked at them with his trademark sneer that said something like ‘Yeah? What of it?’

After a few long seconds, Dog interrupted the tense silence:

“Films wasn’t it?”

They had been discussing various favourites as they were preparing to leave the hotel: favourite actors, favourite beautiful women, favourite television, now they were discussing cinema.

“Goodfellas” said Angry Grant, predictably and emphatically. Then, slightly less predictably for Dog: “My favourite bit’s where Ray Liotta goes out with his future missus, after she has a go at him in front of all his mates for standing her up. He proper takes her out: he parks the car where he likes, goes in the secret back entrance to the club and everyone treats him like a real player: the bouncer at the door, the customers, even the cook as they walk through the kitchen. Then he gets to the main bit and the head waiter shouts at the others to put a table down at the front. Then a table of obvious hoods send over a bottle o’ champagne and the girl sits down and says to him: ‘What exactly is it that you do?’ and it’s all done without any camera changes… Fucking class!”

Angry Grant then quoted Liotta’s first line of narrative in the film with a passable New York accent: “As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a gangster.”

Dog nodded with approval as much as his bulldog neck would allow, and said:

“My favourite film is ‘Angels with Dirty Faces’.

“Never seen it.”

“James Cagney, 1938. He plays an escaped bank robber. I don’t want to spoil it, but at the end, only his childhood friend who became a priest, knows the truth. All the other characters get the conclusion totally wrong, and there’s such…” he paused, as much for genuine pathos as for effect, “…bravery.”

As he finished the sentence he looked away sharply. Although he’d never admit it to anyone like Angry Grant or Boots, it was the only film that had ever brought tears to his eyes, and he welled up a little every time he thought of Cagney’s final scene of ultimate heroism.

Suddenly there was a clicking noise that Dog focused on, as a woman over the road to their right swung open her wooden blinds with both her hands and looked straight at him, but she just checked the pavement both ways and then emptied an ashtray.

“I’m a big fan of ‘One flew over the Cuckoos Nest’, too” said Dog, consciously changing the subject.

“Have you read the book?” asked Boots.

“No, I haven’t.”

“It’s written by Ken Kesey. According to ‘The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test,’ Keysey worked in an insane asylum and wanted to write a novel about the experiences of the inmates. To be authentic he did his own research into their experience; he even got someone to give him electric shock treatment.”

“Really? Didn’t know that” Dog nodded with pleasant surprise. He was curious about some Boots-style background knowledge to one of his favourite films.

“Kesey also tried some of the drugs they were giving to the inmates,” Boots continued. “One of them was very experimental and all-but unknown at the time – LSD.”

“Fucking drugs again!” said Angry Grant, “All you ever think about” but Dog was all ears, and whispered:

“Keep your voice down, Grant!”

“After taking it, Kesey thought ’E-V-E-R-Y-O-N-E should try LSD” said Boots. “He went on to form the Merry Pranksters, driving the original magic bus around the States, having acid parties and turning people on, long before it was made illegal. He’s the reason its use spread, and we all take acid today.”

“Who’s ‘we’?” asked Grant, but Boots ignored him.

“When he wrote ‘Cuckoo’s Nest’, he wrote it from the point of view of Chief Broom, not Jack Nicholson’s character. The inspiration came from his experiences with peyote. Every time Kesey took it, he was visited in his trip by the same native American Indian – The Chief.”

Dog raised his eyebrows, then looked about him again, as a foursome approached them from up ahead - two couples, late teens, clean cut, speaking Spanish. No threat.

“Blade Runner” said Boots. He had been more or less silent earlier in the day, speaking only when spoken to, but now Dog noticed his nerves seemed to be getting the better of him, invoking an anxious chatter. He looked highly agitated, and he kept lifting his large England shirt to wipe the sweat from his pale face.

“I’m not fucking surprised it’s something like that, with all the fucking drugs you take” said Grant. Boots was undeterred by Grant’s belligerence and quoted the beginning of his favourite line in his favourite film:

“I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe...”

“What I can’t fucking believe is why you’ve put that purple colour in your hair, you fucking prick.”

“That’s enough” said Dog to Grant. Boots would never be forgiven for dying his hair just for this day of all days, without prior warning. “Like I say, you need to keep an eye on what’s happening, you don’t want to be an easy target, and you don’t want to be noticed.” Dog eyed Boots who sniffed and nervously ran the skinny fingers of his left hand through his greasy purple highlights, then decided the hand was better off at his side.

From around a corner ahead and to the right, came a group of six England fans, who meandered towards Dog, Boots and Grant. Leeds accents? he wondered. Body language is OK - They had been drinking but appeared in good spirits as they approached, and Dog looked on as Boots walked straight down the middle of them. Boots, what are you doing?

The northerners continued on their way, threading past the trio with two Scandinavians walking not far behind them. What have I told you Boots? Dog was riled but said nothing. Don’t get between potential threats or people in the same group. This had obviously not occurred to Boots, who simply coughed and carried on, swinging his bag carelessly. Dog shook his head. Amateur.

Angry Grant broke the thirty-second silence, and not unsurprisingly, the subject was violence.

“Who was the first person you ever properly hit, Dog?”

“Karl Drake,” answered Dog. “He was my older brother’s mate. There were a few of them around our house at half term, I was eight and he was twelve.” Boots looked up at him, and Dog hoped his story would be a welcome distraction for Boots’s nerves. “My parents were at work, and my brother and his other mates were in the garden. Drake was always a bully, and he knocked me over in the living room for no reason. He was hitting me while holding me down on the floor with his knees…”

What Dog didn’t mention was that Karl Drake was also eating a Mars bar at the time. He was chewing it and letting it dribble out of his mouth onto Dog’s face and hair, laughing as he punched. Dog’s shoulders were restrained under Drake’s knees and all he could do was move his face around so the chewed-up Mars Bar and saliva didn’t go into his eyes.

“…When he’d decided to call it a day, Drake stood up and looked at me and said: ‘So what are you gonna do now?’ I stood up and just lashed out. By total fluke I caught him right on the side of the chin. It was a terrible punch, one of those kiddie punches with your thumb tucked inside your fist, it hurt me for days. But he span around and then went down, really slowly, like in slow motion, and eventually landed in the dog basket behind him, curled up just like a dog. Then he wet himself! He wasn’t quite out cold, but his face went totally pale and he started shaking like a leaf with the surprise as much anything. It was so weird to see him, shivering and looking straight through me with shock in his eyes, and a wet patch growing in his crotch.”

“Wow!” said Grant with manic, wide eyes.

“My brother and his other mates thought it was hilarious. Drake never bullied me again, but he turned into a total wanker with everyone else. He was inside for ABH for a while, but I saw him at the match recently. He always says ‘hello’, but he’s shit-scared of me, and I know he hates me. My brother and his mates took the piss out of him for years because of what I did to him; they probably still do. I was called ‘The Dog Basket Kid’ for a while, then it was shortened to ‘Dog Basket’ and finally, just ‘Dog’.”

The sense of strength that this experience had brought Dog had never left him. He had discovered very early on in his life that he preferred ‘fight’ to ‘flight’.

He checked the time again. He wore a rudimentary diving watch that would normally look oversized, but not on his enormous forearm. He looked at Boots, at the other people in the street, and took time to study the surrounding buildings. Like so much that day, the architecture was unfamiliar to him, and he particularly disliked the fact that he understood very little of the snippets of conversation he heard around him; There were small groups of people that either arrived from the road ahead or that overtook them from behind, apparently harmless, but noisy and unpredictable nonetheless. I’m not used to this: I’m not properly in control at all… and with no proper back-up he thought. Not good.

The road took a bend to the right revealing a pavement café with six tables outside, all twenty four seats were taken, but no one was standing. First bar with no English outside it thought Dog. As they passed it, he saw it was full of locals and other continentals and the sign said ‘Patisserie’.

Cake shop. No alcohol he realised. He smiled and a bead of sweat ran down from his upper lip. That explains the lack of Brits... Still, Café society means a lot of people are nearby and out in the open. I prefer them contained. All these roads and paths are getting narrower, with less room to manoeuvre, and nothing to hide behind.

Immediately after the patisserie came a pair of enormous refuse barrels like giant wheelie bins. He checked no one was behind them as they walked by and he half wondered if somebody might even pop out from inside one. Somebody jumped out from behind one after a Burnley game once, and tried to stab him with a syringe; something similar had also happened to him with a Feyenoord fan.

Dog watched two apparent locals as they approached, keeping an eye on their movement and the intent in their eyes. They appeared interested in Dog, because of his physical presence he supposed, but they passed with their heads down.

Luckily it’s not as busy around here as I thought it would be. They must all be at the big screen on the beach.

He looked at Grant who was checking out the departing locals with another sneer, and then at Boots, who continued to cough and sniff, while nervously wiping under his nose with his left hand. Classic trait of someone who snorts a lot of powders. Boots was sweating right through the white England shirt that was draped over his skinny frame, he looked pale and drawn, and Dog noticed he was starting to visibly shake with the tension.

Grant’s overprotective body language could draw attention, and he would probably love some trouble, just for kicks; Boots’ll be lucky if he gets through the afternoon without bursting into tears.

The road snaked around to their left, and up a slight incline, where Dog could see more heat haze rising off the cobbles ahead. Almost every building they walked past was a glaring white or yellow, the only relief for the eyes was the dirt and the occasional set of dark shutters.

Why am I here? Dog wondered, not for the first time. He looked at Boots, shook his head and considered, for the sake of safety, whether he should break from normal protocol and carry the bag himself.

With people like this to look after, Dog was beginning to get seriously disillusioned with the close protection business altogether. Kevin paid him very well indeed, but was it adequate reward for the risks in this kind of venture?

He looked at the loose cannon and then at the bundle of nerves, who scratched his purple hair with one hand and nervously clutched the black holdall with the product in it.

I can’t believe Kevin talked me into this. I’d love to be in France just to watch some football he thought. Instead I’m here as a professional bodyguard getting paid to look after this fancy new drug and babysit… he looked at Boots, Beaker from the Muppet Show.

His eyes rolled and he shook his head, stiffly.

“We’re getting closer to Place St. George. Keep your eyes and ears open.”

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