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Authors: Martyn Waites

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BOOK: Born Under Punches
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‘All right, all right …' He spoke loudly, firmly, the natural authority in his voice moving like a knife through the men's raised voices, cutting their arguments down to silence.

‘Come on,' he said. ‘This is ganna get us nowhere.' He turned to Dean. ‘Yes, Dean, we need to fight. But we've got to be clear what we're fightin' for. We're not ganna go round torchin' them, even if they are coppers.'

He looked around the table. Dean was silent, eyes glaring, but he backed down. From the looks Dougie got from some of the other men, it seemed as if they shared Dean's opinions.

‘Look, lads, let's be reasonable about this,' said Dougie, placating but firm. ‘Let's study wor options, talk them through.'

He waited until he had the men's full attention, then continued: ‘Now, we've known the scabs were comin'. For ages we've known that. An' I know that doesn't make it any easier. But what we have to do now is organize. We get in touch with the local executive. Get them to bus in pickets from Yorkshire, Lancashire and Nott'n'hamshire. We helped them, they'll help us. They'll wanna show solidarity. Then we get Terry Collier, our MP, to make a fuss. He's no problem, he'll make his mouth go.'

‘Aye, he'll talk, but there'll be nee action,' said one disgruntled voice from the table. Others agreed.

‘Aye, well,' said Dougie. ‘He does what he can. He's a good Labour man.' He gave a small smile. ‘But he's also a politician. So don't expect too much.'

There were a few half-hearted laughs. Dougie continued: ‘Get the people who are on our side to do what they can. Any other unions who might.' He knew they wouldn't get much support there – most of the other unions had been told that if they helped the miners, their jobs would be next to go. ‘We'll get that journalist laddie an' all, he'll make a fuss for us.' Dougie leaned forward, eyes roving around all the men in the room. ‘Now, look, you're aall doin' a grand job collectin' an' your wives an' lasses runnin' the kitchens an' takin' care of the food parcels an' that, but we've got to keep goin'. We've got to get on that picket line, stand in front of those gates an' not let them pass. Not let them in.' He hammered his fist into his hand. ‘We. Do. Not. Let. Them. Pass. You got that?'

The men nodded, murmuring their assent. Their voices, their intentions seemed stronger, more resolute, their faces and postures hardened.

‘Right, good,' said Dougie, something of a spark back in his eyes. ‘I'm gonna hand you over to Mick.'

Mick rose hesitantly to his feet. Glancing at a sheet of paper in front of him, he spoke, in halting tones, of how much money had been collected through donations, what the food parcel situation was and how the soup kitchen was going. With the NCB and the government refusing to pay strike pay, and local councils refusing to pay benefits, the miners were relying on savings, charity, donations and a stoical optimism.

Mick reached his summing-up, unable to keep the fear and diminishing self-belief from his voice, face or frame. To the men around the table, watching Mick was like looking into a soul mirror, listening to their hearts. Dougie was the ideal – how they wanted to appear. Mick was how they feared they really were.

He finished speaking, sat down. At his words, a pall had fallen on the room, the optimism and solidarity of Dougie's words replaced by the reality and hopelessness of Mick's. Dougie sighed. They needed something. A lift. He stood up.

‘Look,' he began, ‘I kna' things are bad. We all kna' that. We've got to keep it together, not give in. It's not time for quittin' yet.'

He talked to the men. Of mining and community. Of comradeship, bravery, laughter. He gave them history, he gave them passion, he gave them anger. With the voice of a street-corner orator and in words of a common dignity. He fed them self-respect. They took it in, they ate it up. When he finished speaking, their fears were assuaged, their bellies full with pride.

The meeting was at an end. The men stood up, began making their way out, hearts slightly lighter than when they had entered, bodies ready to keep up the fight. Where once they would have gone to a pub or a club, shared pints and stories with friends, now they just made their ways home, back to their families.

Alone with Mick in the empty hall, Dougie began tidying up, Mick helping him. Dougie avoided the other man's eyes. It was one thing to inspire a roomful of people, another to be asked point-blank if everything would work out fine in the end. And Mick would ask. He was a good man, a sound organizer, thought Dougie, but he had no strength. Soon he would ask for reassurance, and it was something that, looking straight into Mick's frightened eyes, Dougie couldn't give.

Mick, his chair stacking complete, crossed over to Dougie, mouth open to speak.

Dougie smiled. ‘Right, Mick, we've still got work to do. Who's ganna make the first phone call?'

Larkin was pressed up against the wall, legs bent, shower water bouncing off his naked body. He was oblivious to the cold of the tiles against his back, unheeding of the discomfort in his leg muscles, untouched by the water as it hit him. He was aware only of Charlotte, her legs stretched, wrapped around his thighs, her arms braced against the wall as she pushed her hips backwards and forwards with increasing, rhythmic urgency. Her mouth was locked on to his, tongues entwined, his hands roamed all over her body, caressing, alternately gentle and rough; stroking her breasts then pinching her nipples, running first fingers then nails down the skin of her back, each movement eliciting a moan or a sigh from Charlotte.

They were both lost somewhere between love and lust, sweetly oblivious to everything but each other.

Then the phone rang.

Larkin was lost, didn't let it register. Charlotte heard the noise, opened her eyes.

‘Phone,' she said, reluctantly untangling her mouth from Larkin's, her body's rhythm unconsciously slowing.

‘Ignore it,' replied Larkin breathlessly.

The phone kept ringing.

‘Might be important,' Charlotte said, her body grinding slowly to a halt. She gave a half-smile. ‘Could be someone offering me a job.'

Larkin sighed. ‘Go and get it, then.'

She swung her legs off him, picked up a towel, made her way to the front room, dripping.

Larkin, alone, began to feel the coldness of the tiles, the discomfort in his legs, the irritation of the water. He stood slowly, willing the circulation back into his limbs and switched off the shower, just as Charlotte re-entered the bathroom.

‘For you,' she said, less than happy.

Larkin stepped out of the bath, moved towards the door naked, his erection tall and proud.

‘Hey,' said Charlotte.

Larkin turned.

‘Don't be long.' She let the towel drop to the floor. ‘I'll be waiting for you.'

Larkin stared at her body, smiled. ‘Stay hot,' he said, and exited to the front room.

Charlotte sat on the edge of the bath, smiled. Her mind flicked on to their earlier argument, the one that the shower had solved. She sighed.

Sometimes I wonder what keeps us together, she thought. What keeps me with him. We're complete opposites, almost enemies at times. But there's something …

They were sexual twins; sex with Larkin was electrifying, despite the fact that they seemed to have settled into a conventional relationship.

She heard Larkin replace the receiver and moved her hands between her legs, to regain her previous ecstasy. He entered the room and she turned to face him, parting her legs to give him a better view of what her hands were doing, where her fingers were. She saw his semi-deflated erection, smiled.

‘Looks like you've got some catching up to do,' she said. ‘Come here.'

Larkin stayed where he was. ‘That was Dougie Howden, the strike leader over in Coldwell. He's got a date for them busing in scabs.'

‘So? Deal with it in the morning.'

Larkins' eyes were lit by another kind of passion. ‘I can't. I have to do it tonight. Write it up straight away, get as many people alerted as possible, steal the lead on the others. This is what we in the trade call a scoop. Sorry.'

Charlotte stood up, walked towards him. Suddenly she felt exposed, angry at revealing her previous intimacy before him, and clutched the towel to her body.

‘Sorry? Right, well, you just do that! You just run off and save the world! Who do you think you are? Fucking Superman?'

Larkin felt his earlier anger resurfacing. ‘Listen, this is my job! If it was something to do with your career, you'd have been out of that door already!' He moved directly in front of her, finger pointing. ‘And anyway, if your needs are so important, you shouldn't have answered the fucking phone!'

Charlotte's eyes narrowed to tiny, blazing embers.

‘Fuck you.' Her voice was small, controlled and dangerous. ‘I'm going out now to see my friends. Not because my career depends on it, but because I enjoy their company. You can do what the fuck you want.'

She swept past him out of the bathroom. Larkin sighed and sat on the edge of the bath. He heard Charlotte angrily make her way to the bedroom, heard the door slam shut. He stared at his reflection in the mirror for a moment, his mind not articulating his thoughts clearly.

Eventually he sighed again, pushed his wet quiff back from his forehead, stood up, wrapped a towel around his waist and walked towards the front room.

The flat was then gripped by silence, the electronic burr of the still-live stereo humming with tension.

The silence was soon broken by the sound of the front door slamming followed by the clacking of Larkin's typewriter.

Argument resumed.

6. Now

Larkin, carrying a notepad, pen, dictaphone and the mildest of hangovers, knocked on the front door of the Coldwell Addictions Treatment Centre. The door was opened by a woman with vibrantly dyed red hair, a black T-shirt, baggy, blue Carhartts and trainers. Mid-twenties, Larkin reckoned.

‘Hi, I'm Stephen Larkin. Here to see Tony Woodhouse?'

The girl frowned for a moment before her eyes came alight. ‘The journalist?'

‘That's me.'

She smiled slightly, noticeably wrinkling the skin around her mouth and eyes. Either she had laughed a lot or cried a lot in her life. Larkin didn't know which, mentally revised her age upwards.

‘Come in,' she said.

Larkin followed her up the stairs.

‘Have you had a look around?'

‘Not yet.'

She smiled again. ‘I'll do the honours, then.'

The woman, who gave her name as Claire Duffy, showed him round, then sat him in her office with a mug of coffee.

‘You don't mind if I start work, do you? Tony won't be long.'

‘Fine by me.' Larkin sipped his coffee, looked around. ‘The centre. It's a lot better provided for than I thought it would be.'

Claire smiled. ‘One of the perks of having an ex-football hero as a boss.'

‘Yeah?'

‘Opens doors us mere mortals never could.' There was an edge of amiable sarcasm to her voice.

Larkin nodded. Football hero? A handful of appearances for Newcastle, not even a regular first-team place, and then a career-stopping injury? Did that make him a hero? Larkin said nothing. But filed the information away.

He stood up, crossed to the window, looked down. The small town was struggling to wake: buses taking straggling commuters to Whitley Bay and Newcastle, shops opening to meagre trade, keen shoppers and aimless human flotsam spilling on to the pavement. On the low wall outside the public toilets sat a lone man, age indeterminate, bottle of economy cider at his side. He stared straight ahead, either at nothing, or something only he could see. Just waiting. An early riser or a late nighter, thought Larkin. He wondered if the man was still aware of the difference. One of Tony Woodhouse's last surviving community members. The man became animated, started talking, addressing an invisible audience. Perhaps he carried his community around with him, thought Larkin.

He glimpsed a red car rounding the corner. A gleaming Puma with a disabled badge on the windscreen. It pulled up directly outside the building. Larkin watched as Tony Woodhouse hauled himself painfully from the car, wincing slightly with every step.

‘Here he comes,' Larkin said.

Tony Woodhouse locked the car door, straightened up. His left leg was aching more than normal, dull throb sparking to painful, attention-sapping stabs. He knew, without looking at the sky, that it would rain soon.

He gave a grim smile to himself. Tony Woodhouse and his amazing gammy leg. Psychic weatherman.

He looked at the man sitting by toilets. ‘Mornin', Jerry.'

The man looked at him, a smile split his broken face. ‘Mornin', Mr Woodhouse.'

Tony nodded, then looked up towards the front windows of the CAT Centre and saw an unfamiliar face looking down at him. The face smiled. Tony frowned in response. Then he remembered. The journalist. Louise's brother.

Tony smiled back, threw the vague arc of a wave, thought: How am I going to play this? Answered: The standard story, complete with liftable quotes and handy soundbites. Give him that, send him home happy.

And see if he has a hidden agenda.

Persona in place, Tony made his way painfully to the door.

‘So,' said Tony with a pleasant, open smile, ‘what d'you want to do next?'

The centre was getting busy. Larkin was beginning to get some sense of the need for the place. People had been in and out all morning, some stopping to talk, some just wanting somewhere to go.

Larkin was in the same uncomfortable armchair he had occupied on his previous visit. He had asked Tony about his life and work, made notes, taped the whole thing. There was nothing there he hadn't heard already. A sketched-in life story.

It was clear to Larkin, even in the short time he had been there, that Tony Woodhouse was popular with both staff and clients. He had an easy, amiable charisma people responded to.

BOOK: Born Under Punches
9.82Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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