Chapter Zero

Rude Awakenings

The scent of ionised concrete; the underpass, dripping the evening rain, thundering a hundred regrets into my brain.

“Alright granddad?”

“Good evening young man, please stand aside – ach!”

His forearm pins my throat to the wall, his blade flashes under my nose.

“Stand aside? Oi oi, the old fool’s losing his marbles – thinks he’s fuckin’ Charles Bronson!”

Cold laughter booms from the shadows, another two young’uns come into view.

Time slows, my senses quicken.

“Oh please,” I rasp, “please don’t hurt me, let me go home.”

“Empty ya fucking pockets!”

I slipped my memorial pen out of my breast pocket, held up in front of his face,

“It’s gold plated. It’s all I have. Please, I’m too old for this, I’m not a well man.”

“Let’s have a butcher’s then, ay?”

Reaching to grab my pen, his cutthroat razor slipped, slashing my hand – Blood!

My blood.

Everything has a price, we’ve all gotta pay tribute, we’ve all gotta pay our dues. Even me – and I’d not seen blood on my hands for over twenty years.

“Oopsy-daisy, sorry ‘bout that, granddad, it was—”

It was the last thing this cunt said – my pen drives hard into his eye socket, my walking stick slaps into his groin.

Screaming onto his knees, dragging me down with him, again and again I drove my memorial pen into his eyes.

It was easy logic, a religious matter, my Gawd-given right!

It was over quicker than a blink.

Chapter 1

Easy Logic

Bloody hell, I was only going home from the pub, I was.

Fuck’s sake.

Eighty-two years a scholar and a gent, I am. Scholar on account I talk a lot of sense, and gent on account I knows when to keep stum.

Mr Barbelo.

Just another old cunt, deep in his own private perdition down his Brixton local. Ever chance The Effra Tavern in the early 1980s?

You might recall I always did you the courtesy of a smile at the bar, or at least a nod on the way out. Think back. Geezer with the Trilby hat; three-pint man, always left around half-nine before the gaff got mobbed with young’uns…?

Didn’t think so.

Tap, tap, tap, went my misery cane, echoing through the underpass, drip, drip, splash, went the concrete roof, like it always did. And I thought about my tower block, the elevator, rattling the stink of urine up to my empty flat – and I thought, maybe one of these nights it won’t stop, maybe it’ll just keep going up, and up through the roof, into the starry sky, hurtling over the moon all the way to Happy Place, where people like me find peace at last, and shoot guns, riding on clouds…

The twentieth floor is the farthest you’ll find anybody on my block, where the Dixons nest, burrow, and fester – nasty South London family the lot of them. And a floor below, Barbelo returns, and slumbers, dreaming my nightmares into the greasy-grey dawn.

Every night, except this night; the lamb returns as the lion, or doesn’t return at all.

Self-educated, I am, always had the knack for easy logic, but three of them, one of me? And my memorial pen. Hardly rocket science, is it? Three of the gawky, brain-dead cunts, versus me.

I suppose I should be thankful for the wakeup call. Truth was, I’d been pegging the path of the walking dead a long time.

He bled, hard. He screamed even harder. Nah, no regrets. My pen was mightier than Excalibur when I struck his eyes again, and again.

The other two ran from the slaughter – splish, splash, huff through the underpass – but if they’d only paused to ponder… just how old I was, just how much my stiff little fingers ached, well, perhaps they could’ve helped their friend. If friend he was. Whatever this soggy bloody mess in my arms was to these junkies.

A true friend does not die alone. Never. I know, because friends I had, once…

So I left him where he lay. The underpass was his tomb, and my resurrection. Tapped my cane home, numb, nothing hurt; it never does at first, and so I sang,

“Raise the scarlet standard flying high, beneath its folds we’ll live and die…”

Tap, tap, tap. I was covered in my scarlet flag alright. My pen was mighty, but his blade was sharp. I was cut, not as bad as he should have cut me, ay? Should’ve done the job in proper order, if he was gonna start. In for a penny, in for a pound – first rule of combat, first rule of any craft: follow through, always.

Silly bunny.

I don’t recall getting home. I only knows that when I did, I felt – fuck me sideways, yeah – I felt good!