Saturday, February 17, 2007

Chapter 2

It was a mild night for December and the walk up the steep incline of Parliament St had me sweating by the time I turned into Gambier Terrace. A knot of prostitutes gathered under the street light at the corner of Faulkner St. It was only nine o'clock and their best trade wouldn't start until the boozers kicked out.

'Are ya doing a bir o'bisness, luv?’ one of them asked as passed by. She took hold of me by the waist and walked with me a few steps. I felt her hand go down to my back pocket feeling for a wallet. Another time I would have shrugged her off and refused with a smile, but tonight some small angry worm turned in my head.

'How much?' I said.

'Ten for a wank, fifteen for a suck, and twenty for a fuck.'

She was about nineteen but the smack had taken its toll and what might have once been a pretty face was now thin and pasty with eyes that never quite connected with your own. She was wearing cheap patent leather high heels, a lycra miniskirt, and a leather jacket that would be unfashionable in weeks, if it wasn't already. Her legs were bare and her hair was pinned up in a topknot that reminded me of a pineapple. I thought of Tom's two daughters and the contrast couldn't have been more stark.

'Not enough' I said.

'Yer what, la?' A bemused expression flickered across her face and she cocked her head on one side.

'Not enough. I'd want a fuck of a lot more than twenty to shag you, wee girl.' My remark took a while to register but when it did her reaction was predictable. She raised her hand to punch me in the face. I caught her by the wrist, slowly shaking my head and keeping my eyes fixed on hers. She must have recognised the anger in my face. The fight went out of her. I stared at her intently for a second or two longer, released her wrist and turned to walk away.

'Go and fuck yourself, den, you mad paddy bastard' Her nasal screech was like finger nails running down the blackboard of the winter night.

'I will so. Nothing beats sex with someone you love.' I spoke without looking back.

Any further abuse was interrupted by the arrival of her minder. Another smackhead. In his twenties with a mop of dirty blonde hair combed low in a fringe almost to his eyeline, he wore the scally uniform of shell-suit and trainers. He was a little taller but thinner than me. They could have been brother and sister. The same pallid looks and mean, darting eyes. He blocked my path and spoke over my shoulder to the girl.

'Dis fucker bothering you Marie?'

'Fucking bastard thinks he's clever, Kev.' He turned his attention to me.

'You been giving lip to my judy, arseface?' I looked into his face and said nothing.

'I'm talking to you, you fucking queer. Are yer deaf or wha?' I continued to look into his face. I could feel my blood rising. I knew I wanted very badly to hurt him, also very badly. 'You heard, cunt, are you fucking deaf? he said. 'Now fuck off before I make you.'

The ugly meanness of his features was echoed in his voice but I didn't feel like playing the role of scared punter that night. I stood there, staring him out. He reached out to grab the front of my coat. I side-stepped past his arm and grabbed his wrist. I twisted his arm up his back and pushed him face first into the thick hedge that ran the length of Gambier Terrace. He yelped as a thin privet branch whipped into an eye. I continued to push up on his arm and down on his head with my other hand. Marie tried to grab me from behind. The other girls had disappeared into the night. I ran my heel down her shin on to her instep and heard her howl and swear in pain. She let go her hold on my jacket. She'd have to wear tights tomorrow.

His head went down through the hedge and his forehead made solid contact with the low wall beneath the hedge. I ground it into the sandstone parapet and would have gone on but the anger left me as suddenly as it arrived. He was shouting in pain and anger. I held him there for a few seconds and then bent and talked close into his ear. His cheap deodorant failed to mask the sour milk smell of his body odour.

'You're a lucky wee boy tonight, Kev. I'm not going to tear your arm off however much I want to. And believe me I do.'

'Gerrof me yer fucking bastard' he hissed 'I'll fucking do you next time'

'Count yourself lucky if you last til the next time, wee man. You're in no position to be giving out threats.' I applied some more upward pressure on his arm as a reminder.

My anger had subsided so much I'd begun to wonder what I was doing and more importantly how I was going to bring this situation to an end. I lifted my hand off his neck and reached into his pocket. There was a knife, a five inch butcher's tool with a thin worn blade and an evil point. I wondered how many drunks and old ladies he'd threatened with that.

'Not nice at all carrying something like this around in your pocket, wee man. You could cut yourself badly. I think we'd be as well to hand it in at the station, don't you?' I nodded down the road towards Hope St nick.

'Fuckin' 'ell. I didn't know you were a bizzie, mate, you should 'ave said. I'll kill that fuckin' bitch Marie'

'You'll do nothing of the sort wee boy, except run and hide every time you see me coming. If I see a mark on that girl, I'll do more than twist your arm. I'll pull the fucker off and feed it to you. Understand?' He nodded his head frantically.

I flung the knife high over the hedge and heard it and in the soft undergrowth. Marie had disappeared. I pulled him up from the wall, turned him round to face down the Terrace. I raised my foot and gave him my boot up the arse to help him on his way. He went sprawling on to the flagstones. I hoped it hurt.

'Now fuck away off and remember what I said.' He picked himself up and ran off up Faulkner St. I'd have to watch out for him the next time I walked along there after dark.

I continued my walk to the Irish Centre. At Hope St there was some activity outside the police station. Gang trouble over the past few months and a number of shootings meant the local bizzies had started tooling up. Herren Heckler and Koch were doing good business with Merseyside constabulary these days and Messrs. Smith and Mr Wesson weren't far behind them. Armed police on every corner made the city feel more like Belfast than Belfast.

Body-armoured cons were loading into a transit minibus festooned with matt-black grilles. They looked like something off the Deathstar. I half expected Darth Vader to step out and see them off. May the force be with you indeed. They wore side-handled batons, handcuffs, and other equipment on Batman utility belts slung low on the waist. Much good they would do them facing a sawn-off Remington. Mind you, so far the dealers had only been killing each other.

I knew what Tom would have made of all that. In all his time on the force, he never even owned a set of handcuffs. He'd joined up in the days when Liverpool policemen had to buy their own. He'd refused on principle. First he could find better ways of spending the ten or eleven quid they cost and second, as he put it. 'the day I need a pair of cuffs to bring in some buck on my beat, is the day I jack it in and go back to the land of the bogs and the wee folk.'

Outside the Philharmonic pub a coachload of tourists were being set down. I wondered what brought them to Liverpool in December. The Beatles, probably, and an domestic economy that still functioned, unlike the one in this city. In ten minutes they'd be back on the bus after photographing each other in the brown marble toilets where John Lennon once threw up.

I walked on and I could see the lights reflecting through the stained glass tower of the Metropolitan Cathedral at the end of Hope St. It was a building that inspired a mixture of awe and shock. It stood on its own embankment, a gargantuan space capsule come to earth in Liverpool surveying the whole of the city from sea to shore. The prods had had the decency to build their cathedral into the side of a hill. Not the taigs. It was a message to the whole city when it was built in the sixties. 'This is our town' it said, in no uncertain terms. And wasn't everyone to know it? Even the Protestants were Catholics in Liverpool.

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