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Authors: Mark Timlin

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BOOK: Guns Of Brixton
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    'Morning,
Chas,' said Mark.

    'Morning,
Mark,' replied Chas. 'Sleep well?'

    'Not
bad. It was weird.'

    'I expect
it was. Tea or coffee?'

    'Tea
I think,' said Mark, unused to being waited on.

    'Any
breakfast?'

    'Maybe
later. Who's about?'

    'Just
you and me so far. Martine will be down soon and when she's ' gone to work I'll
take the boss up a cuppa.'

    'How
is he, Chas?' asked Mark. 'How is he really?' 'He's dying.' 'So it's true.'

    'Course
it is. He wouldn't lie to you about a thing like that. It comes and goes.
Remission, then bad times. Remission again. You ever known anyone with cancer?'

    'No.'

    'It's
a filthy thing but he's coping with it. Seeing you's cheered him up.'

    'Why
didn't he get in touch before?'

    'Scared
you wouldn't come.'

    'I'd
walk over hot coals for that man.'

    'You
haven't seen him in years.'

    'You know
why.'

    'You
should've done.'

    'I
know,' said Mark. 'Don't you think I feel bad enough about it without you
getting the cosh out?'

    'OK,
Mark. But I thought it should be said.'

    'And
now you've said it.'

    'No
hard feelings I hope.'

    'What
do you think?'

    'I
think it's good to see you back.'

    'And
I think it's good to be here.'

    'Fair
enough,' said Chas. And Mark knew that things were all right between them. Just
like old times.

    There
were footsteps outside the kitchen and Martine entered, interrupting their
conversation. Today she'd dressed warmly, with fur- lined boots.

    'Will
you look at the weather?' she said. 'I might get lost in a blizzard.'

    'Not
much chance of that with that nanny you're wearing,' remarked Chas. Martine's
overcoat was bright scarlet with a fur collar. Red hair and red clothes often
didn't work, but with Martine they did. In spades.

    'Do
you like it?' she asked, doing a spin. 'It's new.'

    'Lovely,'
said Mark.

    'What
about breakfast?' asked Chas.

    'I'll
get something at work.' 'No you won't. Take off the coat and sit. I'll get you
some eggs.'

    'Oh
Chas, don't fuss. I was just leaving.'

    'Don't
"oh Chas" me. You're not going out on a day like this without
something inside you.'

    'I'll
be late.'

    'Blame
the weather.'

    'He's
just like Mum used to be,' said Martine.

    Mark
laughed at the memory. She was right. Hazel had never let them out in the
morning without something to eat, despite their protests. 'Breakfast is the
most important meal of the day,' he said. Just like Hazel.

    Martine
squidged up her eyes at him. 'Don't you start,' she said. 'It's bad enough with
Chas bossing me about.'

    'I
wouldn't dream of bossing you about, Martine,' said Mark.

    'You'd
better not.' But she did as she was told, took off her coat, hung it outside
the kitchen door and came back for a plate of toast and scrambled eggs. When
she was finished Chas said, 'Let me run you up to town.'

    'No,
Chas, you're all right. The roads'll be terrible. I'll get a bus to Brixton and
go by tube.'

    'You're
quite the democrat these days, aren't you?' said Mark. 'Seems to me I remember
you having to get driven everywhere when you were a kid.'

    'I told
you last night, times and people change. I work for my living and I enjoy every
minute of it.'

    'Selling
cheap schmutter at inflated prices,' said Chas.

    'The
clothes at the shop are the best, Chas, and you know it. Stop ganging up on me,
the pair of you.'

    'OK,
miss,' said Chas and gave her a hug as she got up to go. 'But call me if you
need anything.'

    'I
will,' she said, kissed him hard on the cheek, wiggled her fingers at Mark just
like she had done the previous night and left the room. A minute later they
heard the front door slam and peace descended on the house.

    'She's…
er, quite a girl,' said Mark.

    'They
broke the mould. Only one like her was Hazel,' said Chas.

    'Yeah.'

    'You
want some breakfast yourself now?'

    'Yeah.
Watching her eat's given me an appetite.'

    'Full
English?'

    'Sounds
good.'

    Chas
got out the frying pan and prepared eggs, bacon, mushrooms and fried bread
which Mark wolfed down. When he was finished and the china and cutlery was in
the dishwasher, Chas said, 'So what have you been up to all this time?'

    'What
a question,' said Mark. 'It's been eight years.'

    'I
know, I've been here all that time and watched the boss wishing you were too.'

    'Come
on, Chas. I had to go.'

    'I
know. But where?'

    'Didn't
Dev tell you?'

    'I
heard you kept in touch. Little Irish git never let on.'

    'I
told him not to. I'd've known.'

    'I
know you would've,' said Chas. 'We'd've been out for a visit.'

    'I
moved around.'

    'Where
to?'

    'All
over Europe.'

    'How
come?'

    'I
fell in with this bloke.'

    'What
bloke?'

    Mark
knew he'd have to tell at least some of the story, so he lit up a cigarette,
took an ashtray from the stack on one of the units and began. 'When I left
London I went down to the coast. Got on the ferry… You know, walk on, walk off,
and went to France. I had my passport, but they, hardly bothered with it. Then
I-caught a train to Paris. Hung out for a few days and got a job.'

    'What
kind of job?' asked Chas.

    'In a
bar. Started out cleaning up, washing up. You know the sort of thing. Casual.
Then one night one of the barman didn't come in and I filled in for him.'

    'You
speak French now?'

    
'Un peu.'

    'Do
what?'

    'A
bit.' Mark held up his forefinger and thumb a half inch apart. 'It wasn't hard.
Most of the people spoke English, though they don't let on until they get to
know you. I made mistakes, but I learned. I was young and I think the bloke who
owned the place fancied me.' He saw the old fashioned look on Chas's face. 'But
don't worry, Chas, he didn't do anything about it. He had hot and cold running
geezers up in his flat. He didn't need me.'

    'Where
did you live?'

    'Got
a room with one of the chefs. Mental. He was always out of his head on some
designer drug or another. But when the tips started coming in I rented a room
off of a customer who had a little house up in Montmartre. Fucking beautiful it
was. High ceilings, roof terrace and just down the way from the bar. Life was
good. Then I met someone.'

    'A
bird?'

    'No.
Another bloke. Old boy. Name of Cam. Mr Cam everyone called him. I never knew
what his other name was, or if that was his first or last. He could've been
sixty, could've been eighty. And he wasn't gay. He wasn't much of anything.
Just a nice old bloke as far as I was concerned.'

    'So
what happened?'

    'He
used to come in the bar every night and sometimes lunchtime. Tiny bloke. Only
about five foot tall. And… Well I never worked out what he was 'til he told me.
I knew he was from the far east, but I had no idea where. Then one night we was
rabbiting. He spoke English better than you and me, and he let on. Vietnamese
he was. From the south. Pissed off when the Americans left. He'd been up to
something dodgy, I found out later. Buying black market stuff from the Yanks.
Petrol, weapons, anything. Anyway, he'd been to a French school when they were
trying to occupy the country before the Americans came, and was as good at
French as he was at English, so he moved to Paris and set up in business.'

    'What
kind of business?'

    'Monkey
business. But at first he told me he was importing works of art. He looked the
part too. White hair, smart suits, and spats would you believe. Anyway we got
friendly. He loved the steak and chips in the bar and he was a good tipper. So
one night I was locking up the place. Yeah, I got to be trusted enough to have
the keys, and the old boy had been in, and when I came round into the alley at
the back of the place to dump off some rubbish, there he was along with four
other Asian blokes. But big blokes. And they're jabbering away at each other
and I can see it's all about to go off. Now, I've been a good boy all the time
I've been in Paris. Kept my nose clean. But I'm not- going to have all this. I
could've just pissed off but instead I get involved. The old boy tells me to
leave it, but I don't. You know me.'

    Chas
nodded.

    'And
one of these other blokes gives me a shove and I shove back and away we go.
Blimey, I've never seen anything like it. The old boy's like bloody Jackie
Chan. Bish, bosh, he's off and we do for them.' Mark laughed at the memory. 'At
least he does three and a half of them and I do half of one, and I'm on the
floor covered in blood with my jacket all torn, and the old boy's standing
there and his suit ain't even creased. So he picks me up and takes me round the
corner to this little club I know nothing about, and he says, 'No cops,' and I
say back that it would never occur to me to call them, and he gives me a funny
little look but don't say nothing. And this club's full of Vietnamese too, and
they start on at him because apparently they don't want any round eyes there.
That's what they call us - round eyes. But he's as good as gold. He starts on
at them in Vietnamese and must explain what happens, because after a minute
they're all over me like a rash. Anyway the barman gives me a large brandy and
then Mr Cam whizzes me upstairs to his flat.

    'It
turns out he owns the whole gaff, see. And there's this beautiful Vietnamese
girl there. His granddaughter I find out later. Her name's Lan. So she cleans
me up and takes my jacket to mend where it's torn. Anyway, to cut a long story
short, when I'm patched up, he calls me a cab and sends me home. The next day
I'm as stiff as a board and call in sick. It's not a problem. But in the
afternoon when I'm sitting in front of the telly trying to make head or tail of
some old American film dubbed into French there's a knock at the door and it's
him. He's bought me a big bag of fruit and a bottle of some Vietnamese rice
wine and we sit down for chat.

    'He
tells me that the blokes who gave him a hard time are North Vietnamese
gangsters trying to muscle in on his club which was why he wouldn't call the
cops. And he's grateful for my intervention as he calls it. I tell him I'm sure
he didn't need it the way he could handle himself, but. he's still full of
thanks and tells me if I need a doctor he'll cough for the bill. I tell him I'm
fine, I've had worse, and end up telling him the story of why I left England.
Not all of it mind. And suddenly he asks if I've ever killed anyone. Well, you
can imagine that sort of puts the kibosh on the conversation there and then.
Except I own up. I tell him yes I have, and he tells me he guessed. Can always tell.
Which, as it goes, tells me a bit about him too. And he offers me a job there
and then. He likes my bravery and loyalty he says. I just tell him I didn't
like the odds, and he laughs. So he should've, as he could've sorted twice as
many in my opinion without breaking a sweat. Import and export? I say and he
laughs again. And that's when it all started.'

    'Christ,'
said Chas. 'Do you speak Vietnamese now and all?'

    
'Di
di mau,
' said Mark.

    'What's
that mean?'

BOOK: Guns Of Brixton
6.35Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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