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Authors: Mark Timlin

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BOOK: Guns Of Brixton
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    Mark
hugged Jenner again, and there were tears in his eyes.

    'You
keep doing that and people will think we're a pair of poofs,' said Jenner, but
Mark knew he didn't mean it, and besides, there were no hostile witnesses on
that bitterly cold day on the side of the freezing waterway.

    'I
dreamt about Hazel last night,' said Jenner, changing the subject suddenly.
Hazel had been his wife who had died ten years before of heart disease. 'I
dream about her a lot these days. Cor, she was just the same.'

    He
brushed at his eyes with his glove. His eyes were wet too. 'Bloody wind,' he
said. 'Making my eyes water.' Mark nodded, but they both knew the truth.

    'I
could actually touch her,' said Jenner, his gaze looking miles beyond the far
river bank where the Millennium Dome loomed, large and empty. 'She was all
warm, just like she used to be.'

    'She
was a great woman,' said Mark. 'She was like a mother to me. We had some
laughs, didn't we?'

    'Laughs.
You remember that bloody laugh of hers? It was like a bloody corncrake.'

    Mark
smiled. 'And could she drink.'

    'You
and me both under the table,' said Jenner. 'But that's not why we're here.'

    'Why?'
asked Mark.

    'Things
are going mental over there,' said Jenner, taking in southeast London again
with a sweep of the cigar in his hand. 'Something's going to give, and I'm too
old and fucked up to sort it.'

    'Like
what? What's going to happen? Tell me.'

    'It's
all going to go off soon, I know it. Come back with me. It's been too long
since you visited. Sort things out. There'll be blood on the streets if you
don't. My blood. And I want what little time I've got left.'

    'Jesus.
But will I be welcome?'

    'You're
always welcome, you know that. Except you never come.'

    'You
know why.' 'But that's all in the past now.'

    'Is
it?' Jenner nodded. 'I'll take your word for it,' said Mark.

    'You
do that.'

    'Fine.'

    'Just
tell me why you never got in touch before.'

    'Oh
come on, Uncle. You know. Christ, you better than anyone.'

    'But
me, Mark. I can understand anyone else. But why blank me?'

    'I
blanked everyone. It wasn't easy. Jesus, I left my whole life behind.'

    'Not
even a call until yesterday. Not one call in how many years?'

    'Eight.'

    'Yeah,
eight.'

    'I've
been busy.'

    'Too
busy for me?' It was more of a challenge than a question. A recollection of
favours done and favours owed that could never be repaid even if both men lived
far beyond their allotted spans, which was unlikely for one of them at least.
But most of all it was a simple reminder of a relationship that had lasted
since the younger man had been a boy.

    Mark
Farrow smiled at the memories. 'All right, Uncle John,' he said. 'Tell me all
about it.'

Chapter 2

    

    'Twill.
All in good time,' said John Jenner. 'But first, let's go for X a drive.'

    'Do
what?'

    'A
drive.'

    'Why?'

    'Why
not?'

    'Where?'

    'Some
old haunts I want to show you. Remind you of things. We can have lunch.'

    'Where?'

    'Brixton.'

    'Brixton.
For lunch? What, bad pizza in the market? Or ackee and peas? Pie and mash?
What?'

    'You
have been away too long. It's a hot spot now, Brixton. And as it goes there is
a terrific new Caribbean restaurant I go to. Don't look like that. They've got
tablecloths. It ain't like the old days with formica tables and kitchen chairs.
They've even got a wine list.'

    Mark
Farrow grinned. 'All right, you're on.'

    'We'll
go in your motor. Come on, I'm freezing. I'll let that lot in the Merc know
what I'm doing. They'll keep us company.'

    The
pair walked back to the cars and John Jenner keyed a number into his mobile and
whispered some instructions. 'Who's driving you about these days?' asked Mark
when he was finished, nodding at the Bentley, its engine still running.

    'Chas
of course. Always Chas. Wouldn't trust anyone else, apart from you.'

    Mark
laughed. 'Chas. Fuck me, I would've thought he'd've got his bus pass years
ago.'

    'Don't
let him hear you say that.'

    'Don't
worry, I won't.'

    They
went together to the Bentley and the driver's window rolled smoothly down.

    'Chas,'
said Mark, squatting down on his haunches by the driver's; window. 'How've you
been?'

    'Can't
complain, Mark,' the massive man in the driver's seat replied with a voice that
rumbled like an old volcano about to blow.

    'We're
going for a ride together, Chas,' said Jenner. 'Then on for lunch. Mark'll drop
me back home later. I'm on my mobile if you need me for anything.'

    'OK,
Boss,' said Chas. 'I'll be there. You be careful. Hear?'

    'You
worry too much, Chas. I'm in safe hands with Mark and our friends back there.'
He pointed with his thumb to the Mercedes Benz.

    'And
you don't worry enough,' said Chas. With that he let the window glide up, put
the car into gear and pulled away from the kerb, did a three- point turn and
headed back the way'd he'd come.

    Mark
Farrow and John Jenner went together to the Range Rover, Marl pressed the
button on his key fob and the car's lights flashed once, the horn beeped and
the locks opened. Jenner went to open the front left-hand-side? door, then
realised his mistake and walked around to the passenger side with a shake of
his head. They climbed in, Farrow behind the wheel, where he keyed the ignition
and pushed the heater control to full.

    'Still
at the old place then,' said Mark as they waited for the car to warm up.

    'That's
right. Just like always.'

    'I'd've
thought you'd've moved years ago. I was amazed when Dev told me you were still
there. You must rattle around like a pea in a pod.'

    'No.
Chas lives there permanent now. And Martine's back.'

    Mark
looked surprised. 'Get away. Dev never told me that either. What happened to
that husband of hers?' to that husband of hers?'

    'She
caught him over the side with some bird. It's a long story. I'll tell you while
we're eating. And don't take the piss out of that old house. We had good times
there, didn't we?'

    Mark
nodded.

    'Anyway,
it's worth a fortune now. I had an offer of half a million a few months back.'

    'Half
a bloody million. You couldn't give those mausoleums away a few years back.'

    'Like
I told you, it's a hot spot. Now come on, time's wasting. Drive.'

    'Where
to exactly?' Mark asked.

    'Just
head south. Don't tell me you've forgotten the way.'

    Farrow
shrugged, started up and did as he was told. They motored down to the East
India Dock Road closely followed by the Mercedes, took the Rotherhithe Tunnel
south, then through the Elephant, Denmark Hill, Horne Hill, along the Norwood
Road, and as Jenner directed, took a right at Tulse Hill station and drove up
Leigham Vale until they stopped outside an old Victorian heap of a school.

    'Hitherfield
Road Junior School,' he said when the Vogue came to a halt.

    'Yeah.
This is my old school,' said Mark.

    'And
mine. This is where we met, your dad and me,' Jenner said to Mark. 'Year one,
seven years old.' 'When was that again, Uncle John?'

    'Don't,'
said Jenner. 'You're making me feel old again. Billy was crying those blue eyes
of his out after his mum left him that first morning,' Jenner went on.
'Couldn't even tie his own shoelaces. I had to teach him.'

    'And
you gave him a bloody nose,' said Mark with a laugh. 'Just showing him who was
boss,' said Jenner, laughing himself. 'And then he knocked your tooth out.'

    'It
was loose,' said Jenner. 'I put it under my pillow and got half a dollar the
next morning. That's twelve and a half pence to you.'

    'The
tooth fairy,' said Mark Farrow. 'I never did see that little bugger, much as I
tried to stay awake.'

    'Nor
me, I think it was a conspiracy.'

    'Good
times,' said Farrow.

    'But
don't it look small? The school.'

    'Yeah.
We grew up,' said Mark. 'Where to now?' Under Jenner's instructions Mark rolled
the car through back streets towards Brixton and this time Mark recognised the
route and shook his head in disbelief. 'Christ, not the Strand.'

    'The
very place,' said Jenner. 'Our next school. Strand Grammar. Always bloody
together. I couldn't get rid of the silly sod. He never thought I'd pass my
eleven plus. Mind you, nor did 1.1 always reckoned I'd end up at the Brixton
School of Building with the no-hopers. But couldn't let my boy go to the big
school all on his own. He'd have no one to protect him.'

    'No
one to get him into trouble more like,' said Farrow.

    'You
should've seen us, Mark,' said Jenner. 'That first day. All spiffed up like
toffs. Caps, blazers, white shirts, grey shorts. Can you imagine it now? We
weren't allowed to wear long trousers until we were in the second year.
Reckoned we wouldn't get into so much trouble in shorts. Boy, were they wrong.
The whole year our knees were skinned raw.' He laughed out loud at the memory
and Mark joined in. 'Weeds, they called us new kids,' Jenner went on, 'and the
older boys tried to put us head first down the toilets. We soon changed their
minds though. Fuckers. They'd never seen a pair like us. Yeah, we showed 'em.
Couple of them got bloody noses too, and they didn't try again. And we got
threatened with six of the best by the head. We were shitting ourselves.'

    'Did
he do it?' asked Mark, intrigued at this insight into the childhood of the
toughest man he'd ever known.

    'No.
We both cried our eyes out and he let us off. Crying with laughter more like.
But he was always easy. Not like the bloke who took over from him later. He
caned me so often I think I should have a permanent groove in my arse. I can't
believe I let it happen, but things were so different then.

    And I
knew if my old man found out he'd give it to me double. Now I reckon the
bastard was coming in his undies when he gave me six of the best. But he's dead
long ago, and I danced with joy when I heard about it.'

    The
Vogue stopped in Elm Park, Brixton Hill, the Mercedes still close behind. They
were outside another Victorian old school building, this with a statue of some
old philosopher with an open book on his knee and I young boy beside him,
mounted high on one wall. They both got out.

    'He
always hated that bloody statue, your dad.' said John Jenner. 'Scared the life
out of him. He was always scared without me around.'

    'You
were his best friend,' said Mark Farrow.

    'This
place looks small too,' said Jenner. 'Dump. Good job it closed years ago.'

    'What
is it now?'

    'Adult
education centre,' replied Jenner.

    Mark
looked up the road, a puzzled look on his face. 'Where's my old school then?'
he asked. Tulse Hill Comprehensive, the massive building that once dominated
the sky line of that part of south London, was gone.

    'Knocked
it down years ago. It was rotten with asbestos and everyone round here hated it
from day one.'

    'Me
included,' said Mark.

    'Yeah,
I know.' said Jenner. 'Come on then, let's go and have something to munch.'

BOOK: Guns Of Brixton
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