Take Down The Union Jack
A Cal Innes Story
by Ray Banks


......."I'm saying we need to make a stand in our own communities. I'm saying we need to tell our present council, 'Yes, we're here. Take notice of us.' And I'm saying any legislation is wrong that leaves good, honest, hard-working Britons to rot in the flats while our immigrant friends live in luxury. It's dead wrong. I don't want to make this about us and them, but that's what it comes down to, ladies and gentlemen."

......A murmur of approval. This stuffed shirt with his tie too short for his body takes a moment to drink from a glass of water. He leaves scum on the lip of the glass, clears his throat. His name is Jeffrey Briggs and he wants to see me after the meeting. I can't say I'm looking forward to it.

......"Our party," he continues, "isn't a party of hatred. We don't hate anyone. But we do reserve the right to be English. We do reserve the right to feel proud of our country, to respect our traditions, to be patriotic about who we are and where we're going."

......The murmur becomes louder, voices calling out now.

......"And what happens when your average Joe Bloggs, your man who's been working ever since he got out of school, learning his trade, working every hour God sends to provide for his family, took a beating by Thatcher, what happens when that man sees drugs on his estate, prostitution on the street corners, asylum seekers scrounging dole and getting a free ride? Where are all his taxes going? Certainly not the schools. Certainly not to the hospitals. Certainly not to the police force, the fire brigade, the youth centres. Certainly not going to anything he believes would help pull this country out of the mire."

......A few hear hears. The bloke next to me hasn't blinked throughout. His hands are balled up into fists. He looks like he's ready to take on the world.

......"And let's not kid ourselves. Britain isn't British anymore. The Scots have devolved, the Irish want nothing to do with us. Some might say England is nothing."

......He pauses, letting that last statement hang in the air.

......Somewhere in the room, a chair squeaks. Uncomfortable.

......"Some might say that. I say England is the backbone to Great Britain. Without England, Britain would be a series of small islands in the Atlantic."

......I don't want to be here. In fact, if I didn't need the job - I mean really need it - I wouldn't be within twenty miles of this place. For all the bollocks with its butterfly house and elephant rides in the town centre, Bolton is still Manchester's little brother. All of the problems, none of the self-respect and this room holds the worst of the worst. I see various ex-cons, former boot boys with blue ink creeping from under their shirtsleeves. Uncomfortable with formality, but trying to look the part of the establishment anyway. They call themselves English National Socialists. Nazis masquerading as left-wingers. Even the BNP won't touch them.

......Fuck this, I'm going for a smoke.

......Outside, the sun is just starting to set, casting an orange glow over the buildings. Just another northern town. I blow smoke into the air. It's still warm out here, has been for the past week. Good weather's not unusual, but sometimes I forget it exists.

......Up the road a group of kids are banging a football off a wall. They're enjoying themselves and being loud about it. One of them bends over to tie his shoelace, ends up with the ball bounced off the back of his head. Hard. He zeroes in on the culprit and starts pounding him.

......I shouldn't be here. But money is money. Last Monday, my dear old Micra gave up. Just coughed out and died on me. If I knew anything about cars, I might have been able to help. But I don't. So she's stuck in a lock-up, covered in a sheet until I can raise the folding to get her fixed.

......Take a last drag off the Embassy, listen to the filter crackle, then dump it. The doors to the youth club open. People start filing out, talking amongst themselves, some of them squinting against the fading sun. Pamphlets everywhere, badly photocopied Union Jacks and lots of exclamation marks. I stand to one side, let them pass.

......I take a deep breath. Suppose it's time to talk to my client.

****

......."Let me tell you something, Mr. Innes. I'm representing the values and opinions of the people. They wouldn't have me stand for councillor otherwise."

......"I understand that, Mr. Briggs. I honestly do."

......"I represent the silent majority. They're crying out for the opportunity to ditch the Old Gang and vote for the only party that will make a substantial difference to their community. It's time to make a stand, Mr. Innes."

......I don't doubt it. But I'm not for canvassing. "Listen," I say. "I'm not here for the party line, okay? I'm here because you said you wanted to speak to me. If it's about how there ain't no black in the Union Jack, then I'll be leaving right now."

......Jeffrey Briggs stops talking, starts breathing through his mouth. His ruddy cheeks, blustering manner and chubby fingers all scream ex-Socialist gone to seed. But below those tufts of fluff he calls eyebrows, his eyes have fire in them. "You're not politically aware. I can understand that."

......"Voter apathy," I say. "It's an epidemic."

......"You couldn't be more right," he says. Briggs pick up a pamphlet, hands it to me. I stick it in my pocket.

......"You'll want to read that."

......"Why did you call me, Mr. Briggs?"

......He sits on the edge of the stage and wipes sweat from his forehead with the back of his hand. It glistens in the light. He sniffs. "Take a seat."

......I look around, grab one of the folding chairs. Leaning forward on his knees, he looms over me.

......"I know you don't agree with my politics, Mr. Innes. You hear our party's name and you think swastika. You think football hooligan, am I right?"

......"It's not my place to judge," I say.

......"You don't see the inequality. A Muslim kid can go to school in a veil, but an English kid can't wear an England football shirt on non-uniform day. Racist attacks on whites are hardly reported. They're just street crime. But an attack on a black, that's national news. Stephen Lawrence is a saint, but young white victims like Gavin Hopley and Sean Whyte don't count. Positive discrimination doesn't work. It just breeds contempt."

......"I see."

......He smiles, exposes his teeth. One of them looks loose in the gum. "I'm not advocating violence, Mr. Innes. I'm a simple working man, and all I'm advocating is proper political processes."

......"Like I said, it's not my place to judge. And you said you wanted to speak to me. If it's non-political, I'll see what I can do. If not, I won't charge you the consultation fee."

......Briggs leans back. His stomach hangs heavily over his belt buckle. He regards me for a second. Wondering if I'm the right man for the job. I try my best to be patient.

......"It's my son, Tom." Briggs sucks his teeth. "He goes out all night, comes in looking terrible in the mornings."

......"How old is he?"

......"Twenty."

......"Then he's probably out drinking," I say. "He's legal. Nothing I can do about it."

......Case closed, move on.

......"It's not drink. Drink I can handle. Who doesn't like a drink? He's not a boozer. I'd smell it on him."

......"Have you asked him where he goes?"

......For a brief moment, Briggs' eyes flare. "What do you think? 'Course I have. Lad's a bloody mute as soon as I show interest. I need you to find out for me."

......"I'll look into it," I say.

......As I leave, I start thinking about it. Manchester's my town, not Bolton. Taking the time to find me and call me in on this, it doesn't sit right. From what I can see, it's a simple case of tailing the lad, and any Bolton dick could do that. But a job's a job, and I can't afford to be too picky.

......When you're desperate for cash, you don't ask too many questions.

****

......Turns out simple working man Briggs lives in a very nice little semi-detached with a box garage on the side: good-sized and well-kept garden, satellite dish, the lot. If I didn't know better, I'd think he was just an ordinary guy, albeit one who's not short of a bob. I'm parked up the road in a pus-yellow Fiat Uno, the only car in my price range that I could rent. I hope Briggs' son is either blind or out of his gourd. If not, he'll see me coming a mile off.

......I've been sitting here for two hours. My right leg has gone to sleep, but I can't be seen walking about. This is the kind of place that has Neighbourhood Watch, a street full of curtain twitchers, one hand on the nets, the other poised on speed dial to the police. It's an Ever Decreasing Circles suburbia. And the thought of living somewhere like this gives me indigestion.

......Briggs' son doesn't appear to like the neighborhood any more than me. He pulls a light blue anorak onto a skinny frame as he comes out of the front door. His features are bland, expressionless, even though he's obviously being shouted at from inside the house. He reaches the gate, unlatches it, and stifles a belch.

......I take the opportunity to capture him on film. Zoom in and I notice he's got bad skin, pocked where it hasn't erupted.

......Briggs appears at the front door, suit trousers and polo shirt. He says something to his son that I don't pick up. Neither does he, or he just ignores his father, skulking off down the street. I get a shot of Briggs for good measure.

......I wait five seconds, then start the engine. I don't have to drive far. At the end of the street, I see that anorak disappear into a grey Volvo, Bhangra blaring from inside. Doesn't bode well for a National Socialist's son. Another photo op. The Volvo pulls away from the kerb, barrels towards town. I keep three cars behind all the way.

......Look in the rear view mirror. The street is clean. Don't know why, but I'm wary of being followed these days. Always get the feeling I'm being set up. Especially when I'm working for clients I don't like. I'm not comfortable in this car, either. It's too new, too squeaky, the gear stick's stiff and it's about as discreet as a cold sore. The engine sounds like a rubber band whirring in a tin can.

......I try to keep my eyes on the Volvo. It cruises below the speed limit, taking its time through the town centre. My camera sits on the passenger seat, shaking with the ride. Whatever Tom Briggs does, wherever he goes, I'm supposed to provide documentary evidence. My word isn't good enough; neither is a typewritten report. Briggs wants to see it all with his own eyes. And I'm not one to begrudge a client, especially when I'll be charging him through the nose on his expenses.

......The Volvo dips to the right, pulls into a supermarket car park. I carry on up the road, pull in as near as I can, limber up behind the camera and zoom in.

......Tom Briggs, out of the car. A couple of Asian guys next to him. Low-slung jeans. Using their hands a lot when they talk. Snap. One of them turns my way, points at something in the middle distance. All three laugh. That's their catalogue pose. The comedian has corn rows under a flat cap. The other Asian lights up a joint, leaning against the Volvo. He tokes on it, hands it to Tom. Tom takes a hit. I take a picture.

......Hanging out with Indians, smoking the weed. No wonder he doesn't tell his dad where he goes at nights. Even though these guys probably aren't asylum-seekers, dole scroungers, or terrorists and they certainly don't look like they're living in luxury, they're still coffee-coloured, and it's likely that's all Briggs cares about.

......I'm surprised that Briggs doesn't smell it on Tom the moment he walks through the door, though. I don't look forward to handing over these pictures. But like I said, a job's a job.

......The joker takes the joint. Tom joins the smoker at the car.

......They're in the middle of conversation when another car appears in the car park. I think it's a Saab. The car crawls towards the Volvo. Headlights off, it's difficult to see how many are inside. The front passenger door opens. I watch a light-skinned Asian get out. He's wearing a hoodie. I can barely make out his face, but I take a picture anyway. This guy has dealer written all over him. His walk is loose, his head perpetually down. The joker moves to the dealer, they talk. Tom watches.

......I see cash, a wad of it, in the joker's hand. The dealer makes a grab for it and the discussion becomes heated. Joker shouts something, takes a step back, hands up. He points at the dealer. I watch Tom's face. He's scared. So's his mate. They've visibly straightened up against the side of the Volvo.

......Another picture taken. Experience made me set up this far away, and self-preservation keeps me here.

......The dealer advances on Joker and his hood falls back from his face. I snap again, make sure I get this bastard in focus. The dealer grabs Joker by the arm, but he can't hold on. Joker pulls himself away. Before I know it, Tom's between the two of them. One hand keeping Joker back, the other slicing the air in front of the dealer. Voices raised, but I can't make out the words.

......The back passenger door of the Saab opens. A guy dressed head to toe in black steps out. He looks like a bouncer, fat with a shaved head. But muscles under that fat. He goes down on film, too.

......That second is all it takes.

...... A sudden yelp, a shout. I swing the camera back to Joker and Tom's disappeared. Back to the dealer and the bouncer, they're getting into the car.

......Where's Briggs' son?

......I lower the camera, and spot him immediately. Focus on the car park tarmac, and Tom's there, on his side, his knees curling up towards his stomach. Joker's with him, pressing his hands against Tom's midriff. He's bleeding. My finger stutters on the button; I take three photos in quick succession.

......The Saab pulls away, brings the headlights up full beam and barrels out of the car park. Joker gets to his feet, takes a few running steps after the car. The smoker is frozen by the Volvo. One hand covers his face, his legs look like they're about to give way.

......There's a moment of silence as the Saab's back lights disappear from view. I watch Joker walk slowly back towards Tom. He looks down, then at his mate in the car.

......Talking now, the smoker shaking his head violently, backing away towards the driver's door. Joker shouting. He spits at the ground. The smoker gets into the Volvo and cranks the engine. Joker looks down at Tom, then back at the Volvo. He runs to the passenger side and jumps in.

......A spluttered start and the Volvo squeals as it pulls out of the car park. Tom extends one arm and falls limp.

......Shit.

......I chuck my camera into the back seat of the Fiat and start the engine.

****

......"Keep the pressure on it and you'll be alright."

......I shouldn't get involved. But then, what can you do? The lad would know he's been followed the moment his dad gets his hands on the pictures I took. And I wasn't about to leave him there, bleeding his last in a deserted car park. Right now I'm gunning the engine, fiddling with an A-to-Z, and desperately trying to find the nearest hospital.

......Tom's in the back seat, his anorak stained a deep red where he holds it tight against his stomach. I check the rearview. Light from the street catches a pale face, hollow cheeks. His Adam's apple bobs up and down, as if he's trying hard not to throw up. His eyes have glazed over, his forehead looks wet.

......All I can think is What if he dies back there? The blade I found next to him wasn't big, but I don't know where or how deep it went. I wasn't about to check, either. What else was I supposed to do?

......Bolton railway station on my left becomes a blur, but I take a right onto Minerva Road and the hospital's in sight. I try to ease down on the brakes, hoping to make the stop as smooth as possible, but the clutch jumps at the last minute and the Fiat lurches forward. Tom moans from the back. I get out of the car, sprint to Casualty.

......"There's a lad in the back of my car. He's been stabbed." My breath comes out in rasps, the sides of my face red hot. One short run and it feels like my lungs are about to cave in.

......Two medics leave the building with a stretcher. The people sitting around me shift into a faceless mass. And it's only when I see Tom whisked away that I realise my jaw hurts. My head throbs in sympathy. He's okay for now. The easy part is over. I'd wait until I get my breath back, but the fluorescent strip lighting in here is battering my head.

......I get up, out into the comforting gloom. Wipe dry lips and reach into my jacket pocket for my phone.

......Now I just have to tell his father what happened.

.****

......When Briggs arrives I'm outside smoking. Still dressed in the polo shirt, although the suit trousers have been replaced by a pair of battered jeans a size too small. He looks like a defeated man. His eyes are red-rimmed. I'd swear he'd been crying if it wasn't for the stink of single malt on his breath.

......"How is he?" he says.

......"I don't know. They wouldn't tell me."

......"What happened?"

......I throw the cigarette to the ground and step on the filter. "He was stabbed."

......"Why?"

......"He was buying, there was an argument, a knife was pulled, he got in the way."

......"Buying?"

......I look at him. His face hardens. "My boy's not an addict," he says.

......"I think you should go in and see him." I start to walk away. His hand clamps on my shoulder.

......"My boy is not an addict." It's almost a warning.

......"I never said he was, Mr. Briggs." He removes his hand. "Now's not the time to discuss this. I'll be by tomorrow. We can talk about it then."

......And I head back to the car, still feeling the weight of his hand..

****

......Briggs' office is a Portakabin on a building site south of the town centre. Around me is the skeleton of a building, the large billboard outside showing an apartment complex. The lots on either side of the site are wasteland, For Sale signs in view. Up the road, I can make out a series of dishwater-coloured tower blocks, the old council stock. On the streets, the smell of halal cooking is overpowering. I pass a builder filling his face with a kebab. Some people have a fucked-up idea of breakfast.

......I knock the mud from my shoes as I step inside the cabin.

......"Shut the door," says Briggs.

......I do so. "How's your son?"

......Briggs looks at his desk. "He'll be okay."

......Silence sits heavy in the tiny room.

......"Did you bring the pictures?" he asks.

......I pull out a brown envelope. "Developed this morning."

......He holds out his hand. I let the envelope drop to his desk. He doesn't flinch. Briggs thumbs open the envelope and studies the photos. He frowns, chews the inside of his mouth. Takes a deep breath before he sets the last photo down and looks up at me.

......"Thank you, Mr. Innes. I appreciate what you did last night. More than some, it looks like."

......"They panicked," I say.

......"Then they're cowards."

......"So what now?"

......Briggs shakes his head. One finger taps the top photo as he stares at me. "What do you think I should do?"

......"I think you should hand those photos over to the police. Let them do their job. I got a pretty good shot of the bloke who stabbed your son."

......"You did. But then what are the police going to do? I told you what happens to racist attacks on whites."

......"This wasn't a racist attack."

......"What would you call it?"

......"I'd call it a drug deal gone wrong."

......"And I told you about that, didn't I?"

......He's adamant. I look at the floor. "Okay. Well, you do what you have to."

......"I'm glad you understand, Mr. Innes. How much do I owe you?"

......I charge him more than I should. He reaches into his desk drawer, pulls out two banded stacks of twenties and hands them over. The band is a dark shade of red with a faded insignia. I shove the cash into my jacket pocket. A thousand quid is a lot of money for a tail, but then I did bring his son back in one piece.

......"One more thing," I say. "And this is free advice: Don't do anything daft. It's not worth it."

......He smiles to himself. It gives him a third chin. "Then seeing as you're no longer an employee, you'll forgive me if I tell you to mind your own fucking business." He looks at me, eyes sparkling under those hefty eyebrows. "This has nothing to do with you, Mr. Innes. You probably saved my boy's life, and for that I thank you. But that doesn't entitle you to start advising me. I'm a grown man. I'll do what I want about this."

......"Fair enough," I say.

......Even though I know it'll be anything but.

****

......When I drop the Fiat off at the rental place, I get a long lecture about returning the cars in a decent state. Apparently, all the blood on the back seat is going to eat into my deposit.

......Fine. Whatever they want to charge, they can. I'm knackered and I can't be bothered putting up a fight.

......The next stop is paying off a mechanic built like a jockey's whip. Then driving to my office in my Micra. There's still a rattle somewhere in the engine, and it's not a comfortable ride, but at least it's familiar.

......I still have copies of my photographs. Sitting at my desk, I turn them over one by one, an untouched mug of coffee beside me. Job's over with. Paid in full. But something doesn't sit right.

......A copy of the Bolton Evening News is open to the page where Tom Briggs, son of ENS candidate Jeffrey Briggs, was found stabbed last night in what police believe to be a racially motivated attack. I stretch the crick out of my neck, sort the photos again. It's pretty obvious what's going on. That stack of banded twenties is a pay-off.

......I pull the same band out of my jacket pocket. Set it on the desk with everything else. I reach for the coffee, take a sip and wish I hadn't. Stone cold.

......My boy's not an addict.

...... But Tom acts like a junkie, he makes stupid mistakes like a junkie. And I'll be buggered if those weren't tracks I saw on his arms when I hefted him into the Fiat. It explains the bad skin, the bony frame. But it doesn't explain why Briggs had him followed. Any idiot could see Tom was using. So what's with the denial?

......I have an idea, but it's not one I want to cling to.

......Racially-motivated attack, my arse.

****

......At seven o'clock on the dot, a white van pulls up outside Jeffrey Briggs' house. A bloke I recognise from the meeting, the one with the eyebrow ridge and the prison ink, steps out and marches up the path to the front door. Another bloke with a body like a drainpipe stays in the van, tapping his thumbs against the steering wheel.

......I reach for my camera. Take a few shots of the van, train the lens on Briggs' front door. Sure enough, after a few minutes, Briggs appears with the ape. They're talking. I snap a few. Briggs looks deadly serious, the big guy listening with all the intensity of someone who has to concentrate to tie his shoelaces. This doesn't look good.

......When Briggs hands the big guy a clutch of photographs, my photographs, my heart sinks. He can't leave it well enough alone. The ape nods his understanding, heads back to the van and pulls himself inside. The headlights flare and they're off. I put the camera to one side.

......I'm going to get my arse kicked here. I know I am. It's inevitable. Just as sure as shit follows sustenance. I pause before I turn the engine over. I have to. My hands are shaking. But if I leave it here, I won't know what he's playing at. And if the situation turns nasty, I want evidence.

......Following the van is easy. These guys aren't thinking about being tailed. As far as they're concerned, everything's hunky-dory. Besides, if Briggs warned them about me, he would have told them I was driving a yellow Fiat Uno. Broke as I must have looked to him, he wouldn't think I could afford a change of wheels.

......By the tower blocks now, the van starts to slow down. At first I think I've been spotted, but I can see the ape's hand come out from the passenger window, pointing up the street. I try to follow his indication, but it's too dark.

......The van speeds up then, the engine hitting its peak. It lurches forward, swerves and mounts the pavement in front of a trio of Asian lads. The passenger door opens and the ape steps out. The Asians start giving him verbal.

......As I pass in the car, I can make out Joker.

......The ape gives me the evil eye as the back of the van opens up and three guys jump out. Joker makes a run for it.

......His mate, the smoker, isn't quick enough. The ape flicks out a car aerial and whips it hard across his face.

......And once he's down, two of the guys from the van start heel-kicking him.

......I slam my foot on the brakes as Joker slams against the side of the Micra. I lean across and unlock the door for him. He slides in, still staring out at the street.

......"You got a phone, mate?" he says.

......I chuck him my mobile.

......The ape starts running straight for us. I struggle with the accelerator. The engine won't catch. That gyppo fucking grease monkey did me over. Joker slams the lock down with the heel of his hand as the ape reaches my side of the car. The big bastard wrenches the door open and wraps his arm around my neck before I get a chance to speed up. Then I'm out, legs kicking, slammed onto the road. I can't see properly.

......The ape's boot catches me full in the face.

****

......I wake up with a bastard behind the eyes, a reservoir of blood in my mouth. I spit onto the road. It hurts when I swallow and there's a disc of pain in the centre of my forehead. Try to get to my feet, but it doesn't take. I drop to the tarmac and sit there, staring at my feet.

......Try to stand up again, but I only manage to get to my knees before my stomach can't take it and I spew. I crawl through it, focus on the Micra. When I'm close enough, I pull myself into the driver's seat and sit back. My back aches, my head spinning. I wipe at my mouth with the back of one hand and try to blink the pain in my skull away. They could have killed me. They could have left me for dead. It wouldn't be the first time.

......Reach in my jacket and fumble out a crumpled Embassy. I light it with a bloodied hand. After a few drags, the sickness goes. I look out at the road. Joker's disappeared, but the two lads with him are lying on the pavement. After a short rest, I get out and check them, see if Joker's mates are okay.

......They're in bad shape, but breathing. Just. I find my mobile, scratched to shit but still working, and call the police, tell them to send an ambulance. I'm in no condition to go dragging these lads into my car. It's all I can do to get myself back to the Micra. Then I put the car into gear, wrestle with the clutch to keep the engine running, and drive slowly home.

****

......I'm too scared to sleep, afraid that after the knock to my skull, it might be the last time I close my eyes. So I stay up. I drink some vodka and listen to CDs. When I get too sodden, I drink coffee. I walk around my flat. I shower. And most of all, I think about those photos. I thought Briggs would go after the dealer, I really did. Doesn't make sense to me that he'd leather the two lads with his son. His friends. Unless the ape got it wrong and went looking for the two guys Briggs knew for definite didn't stab his boy. But then Briggs must have pointed them out to him. So it doesn't add up. Unless. . .

......There's stupid, and then there's idiotic.

......But there's only one way to find out.

......I check my watch as light streaks the sky. It's six. I have another coffee, the last of my cigarettes, another shower to wake me up. Then I change into clean clothes and head out into the world again. My head still throbs; the morning light doesn't help matters. I pop some Nurofen, hope that'll do the trick and get behind the wheel of the Micra. Turn on the radio to keep my eyes open.

......I drive to Briggs Construction. By the time I get there, the first builders are starting to walk through the gates. I park up, get out of the car and walk along with them. I must look like I feel. Some of the builders don't make eye contact. Straight through the site, I push open the door to Briggs' office. No need to shake the mud off this time. Let the fucker's floor get dirty.

......He comes out of a side office, clutching a mug that says "World's Greatest Dad". Looks at me. Stares at the massive bruise on my head. Says, "Mr. Innes. I thought I'd paid you in full."

......"You did," I say. "That's not why I'm here."

......He smiles with half his mouth. It makes him look like a stroke victim. He leans against his desk and sips from the mug. "You been drinking, son?"

......"It was a rough night if that's what you mean."

......"What are you doing here?"

......"I want a few answers."

......"I don't think I have to give them."

......"Yeah, you do. Otherwise I go to the police."

......"And why would you do that?"

......"Because you're trying to instigate a race riot on your own doorstep."

......He laughs into his tea. "You're a barmpot, son."

......"How's the campaign going, Mr. Briggs? Things still chugging along?"

......Briggs puts his mug on the desk, folds his arms. "That's none of your business."

......"Just wondering, because I keep copies of the photos I take, y'know."

......"You trying to blackmail me?"

......"Nah, mate. You didn't hear me out. I send a copy of the photos from the other night to the local rag, they might make something out of it. I send a copy of the photos I took last night to the same place, maybe a copy to the police, and then it seals the deal."

......"Fuck're you talking about?" He picks up his mug again. The way his wrist is tilted, he looks like he's all set to fling it at my head.

......"I'm talking about you setting your own son up, Mr. Briggs. 'My boy isn't an addict'. Jesus, man, you almost had me with that. I honestly started to believe you were that bloody blind. And then you give him money to go out and score with."

......He shakes his head.

......"The banded notes in your drawer, Jeff. Same band's on the wad Tom handed over. So what's the deal? He steal from you, or did you set him up with a nice little score maybe, then you get me to follow because you want to fuck over some local dealer, get the glory but none of the heat. But the dealer's too hard for you, is that right? You don't want to risk your boys getting the shit kicked out of them. I don't blame you, mate. From where I was standing, they looked like nails. So you go for the soft targets, a couple of lads who'll be in plain sight, a couple of lads who'll be missed. And that's what it comes down to, eh?"

......"You're taking the piss." Briggs works his mouth.

......"It comes down to you using this to jack up the tension one more notch. Round here, it shouldn't be that hard to do. Stir things up even more, set everyone against each other. And it all means more cash in your pocket. If things kick off, you've got your pick of the land that's left and a guaranteed victory with the voters."

......"I think you better leave." His hand has grown pale around the mug.

......"I think you're right. But I thought it best to give you fair warning. And the next time someone offers you free advice, you better take it."

......I walk to the door. Briggs finds his breath, the growl in his voice again. "I won't suffer, son. You wait and see. We'll weather this. You can't kill the party by fucking with me."

......As I open the door, his voice becomes louder. "You think you can piss around with me, you got another thing coming. You bleeding-heart left-wing cunt. You can't stop the people from voting for who they believe in."

......He's still shouting the odds when I get to my car. I slide in behind the steering wheel. That kind of anger, that's what I wanted. A confirmation, just to make sure it wasn't the brain damage talking. I'll let the police and the press do the rest of the digging for me. It shouldn't be too difficult to connect Briggs and the attacks. And it's a short step from there to nosing through his financial records.

......Reach into my pocket, pull out the ENS flier. It says, "MAKE YOUR VOICE HEARD!!!"

......Yeah, it wasn't about the politics. Wasn't about making any voice heard. Briggs just got greedy and mean with it. As I pull away from the kerb, I ball the flier and pitch it out of the window into a pile of churned dirt.

......Call it making a stand on behalf of those who can't. Like the two lads breathing through tubes at Bolton General. Or call it what it is. Just another dirty job.

Copyright (c) 2004 by Ray Banks.



"Walking After Midnight" was Ray Banks' first appearance in Thrilling Detective. Previous Cal Innes stories have also appeared in Handheld Crime, Hardluck Stories, Shred Of Evidence and Plots With Guns. His first book, "The Big Blind" was published by Point Blank Press last year. Ray can be contacted through his website, The Saturday Boy.

How's that? Not as good as being born up a tree, but there you go.

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