“Oi that hurt. Stop it you crazy cow.”
That one was an orange onyx ashtray and it bounced off my shoulder before leaving a hole in the grass. Any higher and I’d have been lying spark out on the garden I was standing on.
It all started a week before when I got called into my editor’s office after a few weeks of reporting on Christmas nativity scenes.
“Harry, Joe ‘Jawbreaker’ Jones, has been nicked, go and cover his trial and the impact on the community. Take Max with you for the photos when the trial ends.”
I’d only been in the job a year, and this was my first real assignment. I’d covered court cases before as a trainee when I went and watched cases about minor stuff like shop lifting and drunks being wheeled out in front of a magistrate, but Mad Joe was serious. He and his family had been terrorizing the area for the last 20 years and he’d got away with it every time. He was a nutter. The case lasted a week and it was a foregone conclusion, he was going down and when the judge returned to pass sentence he was given five years. His family, sitting next to me, shouted and booed when the pronouncement was given and when I started to ask questions I was given a thinly veiled threat from one of the younger members of the family.
“Piss off unless you want your pretty little fingers broken,” was how he phrased it. My fingers are neither pretty nor little. These gnarled things had worked hard on my late father’s farm and good genes had made them the size of dinner plates, but I took his point and left it for a day or so to go and talk to some of his victims. They were scared, the family had long arms and they were keen that their protection racket wouldn’t stop funding their middle class lifestyle just because Pa had gone away for few years. A few “off the record” conversations with no names and no pack drill hadn’t given me enough for a paragraph, never mind the four columns that my editor expected for the Friday edition. I needed to do something drastic.
“Max, I need some decent snaps so I can build a story, let’s do some detective work.”
Max, was the same age as me and just getting started. Luckily he was as keen as I was stupid and he was up for any plan I had.
“Alright ‘arry what’s the plan?”
The plan, was to follow the little thug that had threatened me and find out what he was up to. He was easy enough to find, the ‘family’ drank in shithole of a pub where they were given free drinks in exchange for not burning the place down. Walking through the stained glass wooden doors we approached the bar and the place fell into the kind of deathly silence that would have allowed a gnat’s fart to be heard. All eyes fell upon us like the spotlights on an escaping prisoner and I leaned on the bar and ordered a couple of beers from the barman, who looked at one of the family, before being given the go ahead.
“What do you want, pal? I told you to get lost unless you want your hands broken.”
“I just want a drink is that so wrong?”
“Drink it and leave, it’s on the house.”
I expected as much and Max and I necked our pints before peeling my jacket sleeve from the sticky beer drenched bar and heading out into the frigid February air and into our car that parked up the road.
Three hours later and we were still there, feeling like castrated metal apes.
“Jesus it’s cold,” I complained for twentieth time, as I breathed on my hands.
“Oh shut up ‘arry, it’s fuckin’ winter. You know it’s gonna last for another few months. Anyway I reckon he’ll be out soon, he must have something to do today.”
Max’s intuition was spot on and next time we looked up, this bloke and a couple of mates were leaving the pub. They climbed into a nearby Cosworth and had disappeared round the corner before my Montego had even got warm.
Just as we turned the corner, in the same direction that they’d gone, and cursing myself for not keeping the engine running we saw the same red RS being stopped by a Panda and the boot was open with a police officer holding, in his gloved hand, a sawn-off shotgun.
“That’s one for the good guys. Max, get a picture of that will you, I think I have my story, but first let’s go and tell the poor man’s mother.”
A five minute drive and we were outside Ma’s house and I knocked on the door.
“I know you. You were outside the court when my Frankie was sent down. Barry told you to get lost.”
“Yeah, I just saw him having a conversation with the policeman holding a shotgun. It seems like you may be losing a son as well. Now do you have anything to say for the Herald?”
She slammed the door in my face and the next thing I know pots, pans and a lot of abuse are being thrown at me from an upstairs window.
The photographs were great; especially the ones of me cowering behind my car after the ashtray nearly dislocated my shoulder and her other children speeding down the road to rescue Ma and coming over with baseball bats to damage my hands and Max’s camera. And we sped off for the good of our health.
Barry was locked up for a six months and I was given a death threat, which, after the windows on my car were broken, I took seriously enough to hand in my notice and see what Hong Kong could offer to a probationary hack.
Copyright Stuart Carruthers 2013