The Little Man


Nobody he knew would have stolen Keith Kinsey’s car. That car was sacrosanct, like his house, his holiday villa on the south coast, his children, his wife, his space at the greyhound track, even his seat at West Ham.

So, walking out of his Essex home at seven thirty on a September morning and seeing a Jaguar-sized space where his car had been the night before was a shock. He didn’t want to take the Range Rover into the West End. He had no wish to use the Porsche in Soho because of the kind of wankers who used Porsches in Soho.

Kinsey stood and looked at the spot that recalled his 1972 white E-type and went momentarily blank. Fumbling, he pulled the mobile phone from the inside pocket of his overcoat and speed-dialled Tommy Mallion.

“Talk to me”, Tommy had learnt that from a TV series, he liked it because he didn’t have to give any information away.

Kinsey could see Tommy in his boxers and T-shirt, coffee in hand, waking from his regular three-hour sleep. He heard the country music in the background mixed with the pinched sounds of the three Mallion children preparing for school; he smelt the scrambled eggs and ham flowing through the fresh, Costa Rican coffee aroma. Tommy was a man of habit; he was reliable.

“Tommo, someone has stolen my Jaguar.”

“That’s not good mate. Where was it?”

“Outside the house.”

“Your house?”

“Yes, my fucking house!”



Their conversations were often triangular in shape, tapering to monosyllables from a reasonably informative base. They’d known each other since primary school, aged five, a gang of two that attracted a wider membership on illustration of their particular forms of rucking. Neither family solved things by talking; there was really no need when your “life-choice options” were based on wanting, finding, getting, keeping.

This end of the triangle meant that action was called for. Tommy was fuelling himself. Tommy waited.

“Tom, why would someone be stupid enough to nick my Jaguar?”; a question, strange, un-Kinsey-like. But in recent weeks the boss had been showing occasional signs of uncertainty. At Stratford dogtrack, the previous Wednesday, Kinsey stood looking into the middle distance, quietly humming the theme tune to Match of the Day ‚Äì a program he’d stopped watching three years before when he had equipped the house with cable (not exactly purchased of course, more an acquisition). This was not what Kinsey did, he didn’t hum, he didn’t stare, and he didn’t wring his hands obsessively, he certainly did not wipe his eyes with the back of his hand. Kinsey looked you in the eye, sized you up, acted on instinct, and kept his hands in his pockets or at his side.

True, in the forty years that he’d known Kinsey, Tommy Mallion seen him cry; he’d cried when West Ham beat Arsenal in the 1980 Cup Final. He’d cried once in the playground at school when he’d been burnt with a cigarette, he’d even cried when his mother was cremated. These were all acceptable situations ‚Äì aside from the fag-incident, but that was soon dealt with during metalwork class.

Anyway, Stratford dog track – could have been a bit of torn bookie’s ticket, could have been some sawdust. It was the in-tune, quite delicate humming, and the blank staring that couldn’t be accounted for so easily. Still, time moves on, we change a little with age, maybe Kinsey was thinking about his mum. They’d bought more beer, got a tip for the next race and they’d moved on.

“Tommy, who would have stolen my motor? It’s not on Tom, it’s off, it’s a bad thing. For God’s sake Tommo, there’s nothing sacred any more, there’s nothing standing still. You can’t even park a car outside your own house without some ankle-biter coming along and abusing you. I love that car Tommy, you know that. I’ve had some good times in that car, and now someone’s taken it away.” The phone went dead.

Kinsey turned around, crunching the gravel, and went back under the gables, through the hardwood, metal reinforced front door and into his sitting room. He checked to ensure that all his prints of Admiral Lord Nelson remained on duty on each wall. He plonked himself down on his recliner. He flicked the TV to video and hit play to restart the “West Ham Greats” compilation he’d been watching the night before. His mobile rang and he switched it off.

Martin Peters was moving up the right wing at Upton Park, in a game against Burnley. He pushed the ball ahead of him past a defender, Geoff Hurst was moving into position just inside the eighteen-yard line. It was a classic move that ended in another Hurst goal. Kinsey, Tommy and Tommy’s dad, Chas were in the crowd behind the Burnley goal, in the Chicken Run. It was 1965‚Ķ or so.

The forty-five year old Kinsey wasn’t concentrating on the game however. He was trying to see himself in the crowd. He’d been trying to find himself, cheering, looking tough, smiling, confident in that crowd for three or four nights now. He knew he was in there somewhere.

He got up and went to get his cigarettes from the sideboard, letting the tape run on, hearing Kenneth Wolstenholme extolling the values of Ron Greenwood’s footballing academy.

Tommy put the phone down and turned to his wifey, Alison.

“Keith’s motor has been nicked, right from in front of his house, his E-Type, just like that. I’ve got to go out”. He drank his coffee, tapped each of his boys on the head and went upstairs to get changed.

On the short journey over to the Kinsey’s he made some phone calls, more in hope than in expectation. The chances of anybody admitting to anything were slim.
Tommy thought about the E-Type, it was a pleasant enough motor, it came with the kind of glamour that appealed to Kinsey. It ran when it was expected to, and it was a status symbol of sorts. It didn’t seem to be worth the grief that it appeared to be giving his old friend though, and that was vexing. Kinsey had been powering down in the past six months, not starting anything new, making pacts rather than indulging in aggressive acquisitions.

He had no immediate family to worry about, his mother had died three years previously, his father thirty years before that. The Kinsey wife and the Kinsey kid were in Spain, had been for five or six years. The kid, Stephan, was slow, not the full load, breach birth, brain damage, upsetting.

Any sense of fatherhood seeped away after the first round of wetting the baby’s head. Everybody was raucous but in a way that suggested that the main man should be treated with due care and attention. Everybody said once drunk enough, that the advances in medical science that would be made over the ensuing years. Keith sliced his time in the nursery thin when he realised, on its second birthday that any kind of relationship would be pipe-dreaming. The child, his son, the packet of him sent to life by him, wouldn’t say anything to him. Kinsey hadn’t been able to square the attention Stephen needed with the attention needed to keep it and its mother fed and clothed in a suitable style. He didn’t talk about Stephan a great deal. No one talked about Stephen very much.

The wife was moody.

To the beautiful, unpredictable, classy slut, Angela, the child was an epiphany. His reliance meant that she had something more to do than sit around the house looking great and feeling like she should be slopping out every morning and evening. The separation could have been a combative affair, as Kinsey had been able to convince himself that the wife and kid were off on a lengthy holiday. The sun would be good for the child.

Angela tried again and again to make him look in the child’s eyes, to take joy in the smile of recognition that warmed his face when sighting his father, but Keith couldn’t be doing with it. After six months when the teething made sleep possible only in the West End flat, he’d suggested they get a nanny.

“We can get out again, people have been missing you. It’ll give you a chance to get back into shape, to enjoy yourself.”

She’d rejected the suggestion out of hand, the baby in her arms making chirrups and coos even as its father was attempting to off-lay any responsibility. Kinsey had lit a cigarette as Angela flew at him in a kind of temper he’d never seen before. He was stumped for words. He went to the club.

Now he sat in front of the video, with the kid’s photograph staring back from the gold frame on top of the TV. He wanted it in home, away from him, away from his wife, out of the house, somewhere nice to visit, somewhere that it could dribble and mewl, cough and lie pale in the quiet with people who found that kind of thing acceptable. He wanted it gone but he could hear it now, upstairs, chattering in a hidden language that Angela appeared to understand.

He wanted to see himself. He’d thought that with a son he would be able to see himself somehow. Maybe he could. A tiny cripple unable to cope without having everything done for him, dribbling confusion and showing no fear as the rest of the world walked by. It was possible, he thought as he rewound the move to the point where Hurst picked up the ball, that he’d deserved the be saddled with a wife who loved this damage more than the stability that he’d tried to provide.

As far as Tommy could see, Keith was sitting pretty.

Keith turned off the video, he was going to leave the TV blasting white noise, but it seemed too untidy, a little too brash sitting there kicking out chaos. He went upstairs and changed out of his suit and into a pair of dark green cords, a black polo shirt and a zip-fronted red fleece. He put his feet into loafers, brogues and cowboy boots before finally settling on a sandy-coloured pair of hiking boots. He placed his Tag Heuer chronometer on the bedside table alongside a bottle of Pelligrino, the Spanish bullfighter ashtray and the radio alarm clock, adjusted the quilt, made sure he had his wallet in his fleece pocket, sat down and began to sob.

His hands were on his knees, his feet planted firmly on the rich carpet, his upper body shaking violently. As the tears came, he began a low, dark growling moan that maintained a frequency that seemed to resonate with every thought that he was trying to block off. He looked ahead, refusing to bow his head. He saw the door with his dressing gown hanging off its single, faux golden hook. He closed his eyes and tried to picture himself in his Jaguar, tooling down the Embankment passed Hungerford Bridge, on his way to his reserved spot in the NCP carpark next to the Ship pub on Wardour Street.

As he drove, he had a tape of Churchill’s speeches on the CD player. The E-Type was a manual, and he had control. He drove at a constant 45mph, knowing where he was going ‚Äì Soho, a bit of business, some chat, a coffee ‚Äì he was prepared for familiar faces, the same old flannel, the same dance of negotiation, compromise and increased profits that he’d been engaged since he left school.

As he drove, the river to his left parted slowly – upstream disappearing towards the sea, downstream towards the source Рrevealing centuries of debris, mud-filled hulks, sails and footprints. The footprints began in the middle of the river and travelled in circles, he looked again and saw the sails were covering bodies, their blood flowering out like water colour, tie-dying the fabric. Once in a while, one of the bodies turned over, as if in sleep.

There were four hulks, wooden ships, each on their sides, prows pointing up stream, masts broken. Suddenly one of them fell to pieces, leaving its ribs showing. The others followed suit, their skins sucked into the mud. He remembered a visit to the HMS Victory in Portsmouth, he’d hated it, the smell, the claustrophobia. He’d especially despised the picture of Nelson lying ready to die, surrounded by his officers who looked down on him. The battle won, they were thinking of their rewards, their glory, the career paths that defeating the French and the Spanish would offer.

As far as he was concerned, Nelson was the top boy; Hardy, Collingwood, all the rest not only lacked his skills, they also lacked his charisma. It was that which attracted him to the lord admiral. Someone, a long time ago, had told him that charisma was a quality that no one could gain; all the money in the world couldn’t buy you charisma. You could cheat and look like you had talent, but there was no way that you could make shortcuts to charisma.

He bought a postcard of the picture anyway.

Understanding that this was some kind of waking dream, he stopped the car in the middle of Parliament Square and walked back to the Embankment. The tableau was still there, the bodies moving slowly, tossing and turning, the ships disappearing, nothing making very much sense. The sun was high in the sky being refracted in all directions by the riverbed slurry. He lifted his right hand to shield his eyes, and realised that it was covered in mud and the mud was peppered with small shiny stones, glistening shards, lumps of gem which got into his eyes, right into his cornea, into the optic nerve, travelling at high speed; he followed them as they moved towards his brain. The mud and gems hit his brain, strangely with a thud that resonated out and into the river causing its bed to rupture and swallow its own contents with a deep, greasy sigh.

The traffic had started again. The river swept back in. People walked by ignoring him.

He stood up from the bed and walked to the bedside table again, opening the top drawer, he took out a small, leather-bound notebook and a child-protected pot of pills, wiped his face with the back of his sleeve and walked downstairs to the kitchen.

His address book was renewed every year so this one was coming to the end of its lifespan. He turned to the ‚ÄòS’ entries, picked the phone from the wall and dialled a number in France. While he waited for the call to connect, he lit a cigarette, and tore some notepaper from the pad stuck next to the phone. He was crying again, but this time it was more controlled, almost harmonic. Another part of him prepared the statement he was about to make.

A woman answered, took his name and went off to look for the Monsieur. Kinsey waited, tapping his cigarette, tapping his fingers. He thought about a cup of tea, filled the kettle, placed a teabag in a mug and, phone shouldered, got the milk from the fridge.

“Allo? Keith?”

“Andre, how are you? Sorry to call on a workday but something’s come up that I need to talk to you about”, the kettle boiled and clicked itself off. Kinsey started pouring the boiling water on the bag.

“Go ahead, sounds important,” Andre Salzar was a bonded importer of food and wine, based in the north of France, working out of Cherbourg, he kept a large house in a small village 20 miles east. Unmarried, hard, refined and a serious maker of money, he and Kinsey often swapped apartments ‚Äì Kinsey’s in the West End, Salzar’s in Montparnasse. They’d known each other for about ten years having met at a car auction in Spain when they both bid for a 1979 Aston Martin Lagonda. Salzar had taken the bidding to stupid heights, Kinsey had followed, Salazar had won. Things went on from there.

His English accent was good, clean, he disliked being disadvantaged with the world’s most commercial tongue. He’d spent a deal of time in Bristol and Portsmouth and was a regular visitor to wholesalers in the UK. He knew when to use the hard “aitch” and the soft “th” sounds, and he was aware that while French was sexy, it was not business to be too sexy.

Ten years younger than Kinsey, he was sartorially untidy but always untidy in the best cuts and most elegant shades. His reputation as a hard man came from ruthlessness rather than from any physical stature. He was less than five feet eight and weighed enough to be laughed at at school. Not that this mattered, as he had been born into reasonable sums of money. His father had made a franc or two in the 1950s as a supplier of halfway decent viands to some halfway decent hotels in Le Havre and Rouen before passing on his contacts, and a few tricks to Andre who built on the deal. Andre took pleasure with staying just about rightsided of the law while ensuring that his margins were always healthy and his overheads always low. To this end he employed a small coterie of regulars and didn’t appreciate the kind of natural wastage that saw many larger companies’ turnover of staff. Andre worked on loyalty and a deep knowledge of the people he came into contact with.

“I have lost a great deal of money, a bad deal Andre, a very, very bad deal. I was stupid”, Kinsey interspersed sips of tea with Rothmans drags, he made a note on the paper and waited.

“We all make mistakes Keith, we all lose money. It’s not good but it happens. How substantial is your loss?” Andre’s tone was calm, matter of fact. In Kinsey’s mind their friendship went a little deeper than the market would normally allow. He wanted to hear the Frenchman’s calm.

“Substantial. More substantial than I can think about right now.”

“More than a wound?” Andre was looking at a database as he talked. It had been delivered on CD-ROM a year previously, loaded onto a secure hard disk, and was only ever updated by him, “A deep wound then? But not fatal?”

“No, not fatal”, Kinsey didn’t know. He wasn’t even that certain that he’d lost the money, there had been a bad deal in the last month. “I have to go now, I have another call. I’ll call you back”.

“Let them wait Keith, you don’t call me up like this after six months and then want to go away again immediately. Tell me about the trouble”, Salazar closed the database, took a glass of water and sat back.

“The truth is Andre, that I’m”, he began to shake, his torso gently convulsed, he spilt tea, “I am under attack Andre. That’s the truth. There’s nobody here, I was thinking about my dad but then my phone rang and the football‚Ķ can you hear me Andre? Someone is cheating me, talking over me, behind me, my car is gone, my wife won’t come home.” He was screaming at the top of his voice.

“I can’t help you Keith. I’m sorry”, the phone went dead and Kinsey was left in his kitchen. He turned to his phone book and made another call, this time to Spain, then another to Suffolk except he dialled a wrong number but kept screaming. His voice was ripped to pieces, loud and vile to himself, so loud that he didn’t hear Tommy walking into the kitchen having let himself in with his spare set of keys. He didn’t realise when Tommy took the phone from his ear and the cigarette stub, still burning from between his lips. He didn’t register Tommy leading him into the lounge and putting the spliff into his mouth after sitting him down on the couch.

He breathed the in the weed and things began to take on the familiar paranoid high – one that he could contend with because he and Tommy had spent many years winding each other up in exactly this state.

Having sat Kinsey down, Tommy wondered what to do next. The boss had obviously been crying out loud and the more he looked at him, the more he realised that the other bits and pieces he’d noticed in the last two or three months were probably, maybe, part of it. Kinsey was a thinker though, ever since school he’d been capable of doing weird stuff in order to get things done. Kinsey said, “I takes leaps of faith mate, if the road looks blocked, then maybe there’s something in the obstruction that you can use to your advantage, or maybe you just take another road, or maybe you cancel the journey, it all depends. But occasionally when you’re faced with a problem with no obvious solution, you have to take a leap of faith.”

Usually at the conclusion of a deal-that-didn’t-look-like-a-deal, Keith would take Tommy out to a Greek or Lebanese restaurant, pull in the full mesa and explain some of what had been happening. Lately however, the boss had been keeping everything to himself, explaining nothing. He hadn’t been smiling much either, nor had he been going out except for reserve games or to visit the occasional prostitute ‚Äì he phoned Tommy on his mobile to tell him whereabouts in London he was likely to be.

Now, hunched on the sofa, a rapidly dampening joint in his mouth, he didn’t look as if he could make a decision to save his own life.

“Keith, don’t you have meetings today? Aren’t you supposed to be in Wardour Street?” Tommy was standing behind Kinsey, looking down on the back of his greying hair, no bald patches yet.

“Tommo, do you remember school?” Kinsey was looking blankly at the TV but nevertheless he was sitting up.

Tommy was unsure what to say or do, “Course I do K, can’t fucking forget the place,” common ground, that was good, common ground.

“It was bollocks wasn’t it Tom? It was just all bollocks,” Kinsey sat back and took another drag on the grass, he was smiling with the corners of his mouth, bigger than a grin.

“Right it was, the sport was good but the rest of it was bollocks, that’s why I stopped going.” Tommy, sitting one the couch’s armrest, leant over to get the joint.

“You stopped going because you were too fucking thick-skinned to learn anything. That’s why we all stopped going. We stopped going because that was us. We had better things to do with our lives. We only learnt from people we fucking trusted or situations that we make a difference to. That’s why the sport was good, that’s why the business is good,” he was still smiling, his eyes were closed.

Tommy was uncomfortable but not quite sure why. He wanted to change the subject but didn’t know how.

“School of hard knocks isn’t it Tom? University of life? We didn’t even learn from our own families we were that hard. When they tried to show us something, we had to prove them wrong, do it better, do more of it, do it larger and louder and do it more fucking certainly.

“Certainty is the thing that made us so successful. Know what we are doing at all times, in all places. Control the times and the places. Hang on to that control.

“That’s why made our territories, made certain of them, sure that we knew them better than a fucking taxi driver. We love it. We are certain. We’re certain or we don’t get involved. Do you know Tommy,” he passed the joint to Tommy, “that some people think that our certainty is a sign that we are stupid and don’t have any imagination. We’ve always used our imaginations Tom, we live on them. Getting to the point of certainty is where we use it all Tom. Making it all make sense, that’s what I do.”

“I am trying to understand what you’re going on about,” Tommy stood up and went into the kitchen. While he rumbled around sorting out tea-making regalia, Kinsey put on the video of some West Ham game from the 1980s, the season he started to get sick of it; the away games especially. West Ham were playing someone in blue, probably Portsmouth. Keith, Chas and Tommy were in there somewhere. Coked up, a little tipsy but nothing they couldn’t handle. And this bunch of south-coast, seaside town tossers were ringing a bell and mouthing off about hating cockneys. Wankers.

Kinsey wasn’t sure that he really hated them. He’d never had a particularly good time in Portsmouth there had been numerous rucks and minor tussles, nothing to write home about, not like Millwall, Scouse, Geordie or Leeds. He’s been celled up overnight once, D & D and “a bit naughty having that nasty cheap blow on you”. But that was par for the course, you could get that in Bristol or Birmingham. But he couldn’t, watching the video now, feel that he hated Pompey. Lying back now, full length, on his sofa, he didn’t get it at all.

Keith’s mobile phoned vibrated in his pocket, he looked into the kitchen and saw Tommy skinning up on the worktop. Kinsey flipped open the phone, queried the display for a familiar number, didn’t find one. “Yes?”

“Nice cars, E-Types, lovely. Very Roger Moore, very powerful for their age. Good pullers, but nothing too shocking. I like E-Type Jaguars. However, I have too many of them and I would like to let one go for a reasonable price. It’s one of the white ones. I prefer the red or green. I wonder what a car like this one, sitting just near me, safely, would be worth to someone like yourself?”

The voice was young, late teens or early twenties. The accent was one that Keith recognised from the television, the glassy side of posh not the diamond side.

“What do you think you are doing?” What else could he ask and expect to get an answer?

The voice harshened slightly, patronising, “I am offering, ” it stabbed, “to sell you an E-Type Jaguar automobile which I have in my possession, a white E-Type Jaguar that I have no use for any longer.”

“My fucking car,” Kinsey fought the hash-blur that made one side of his head drift away from caring about the car and the boy on the phone.

“I have no idea about that. Would you like it to be your car?” the voice had no worry in it. Kinsey should have known how to judge voices, it should have been a skill he’d acquired, but he’d always been poor at it. He needed to see people’s faces before he could gauge how much of what they said was relevant and how much of it was the performance necessary to take part in the various dances of negotiation. He couldn’t conjure a picture of this boy other than the one he always used. He often saw people as himself when he was at their particular age. This accent however, did not match him at twenty, there was no trepidation in the confidence, there was no notion that the boy was searching for words, or relaxing into clich√©. Kinsey just could not see him at all. Instead he saw the river with the detritus and blackness.

Kinsey switched the phone off.

Kinsey wanted to meet the voice, just to see if they were worth a shit.

He thought about bringing him to a warehouse in Ilford for examination. The KGB used to lift people from their homes, their places of security, early in the morning, in their nightwear, blindfolded. It all helped to cause distress and maximise low self-confidence, Kinsey had seen this somewhere. He wasn’t one for too many theatrics, but occasionally he appreciated the chance to play the part. He’d invite a few guests along, people he wanted to do business with and who might appreciate a small show of strength. It would be three o’clock in the morning when the voice arrived, blindfolded, in T-shirt and boxers. It would be July, still air, rotting town, sweating chancers in slow cars wishing they had convertibles. There would be ten other people in the warehouse. There would be drills, hammers, saws. No, this wouldn’t be a DIY lesson, this would be a lesson in manners. This would call for pencils, papers, pencil sharpeners, chalk, rulers, a pair of compasses.

The assembled company would chat the racing form. The voice would be sat facing a blackboard on which someone would have written:

LESSON ONE: Geography
LESSON FOUR: Physical Education
LESSON FIVE: Religious studies

The blindfold would be removed.

“School is in. We have taken the register and class is present. Now the headmaster would like to address the class”, Kinsey would look stern, dressed in a double-breasted, grey worsted suit with a plain red tie.

“Always know your geography. Know where the borders are, learn about local customs and taboos.”

He would walk to the boy and with a pair of compasses and carve the word: RESPECT into his left cheek. He would replace the blindfold, give the kid a slap to shut him up.

Andre Salazar’s secretary had booked flights to Gatwick, arranged for accommodation at the Dorchester, organised the currency and had the car waiting before Salazar had finished cancelling his evening’s entertainment. Normally he would drive himself to the airport, but at such short notice, and with so much to get straight, he needed all the time he had left to think.

He sat in the back seat of his Mercedes Benz and scoured his laptop for all the information he’d stored on Mr Keith M Kinsey. Kinsey was an unimaginative minor villain who lacked the basic emotional capabilities to be storm-turned by any kind of mental turmoil. Salazar looked again. The last time they’d met in London, they’d gone to some interminable musical show, eaten a Chinese meal in China Town, drank a few pints of execrable English beer at a pub called, of all things, The Red Lion and taken a black taxi back to Kinsey’s apartment. They’d drunk a reasonable brandy and Kinsey had gone home, driven by one of the gorillas who had been shadowing them the whole night.

The next day, they’d gone to a football match between two London teams packed with foreign imports and weasily looking English adolescents after which they’d visited various of Kinsey’s haunts so he could show off. Nothing out of the ordinary, even the Chinese meal smacked of Anglo repression; dry duck and salty vegetables following the statutory chicken and sweetcorn soup.

Salazar had smiled because there was nothing to worry about.

Jamie Reece sat in his flat in Wakefield, West Yorkshire, eating his breakfast, feeling ordinary, chewing slowly. He was dressed in a cheap blue and red tracksuit and expensive Nike trainers, his face was egg-oval with tiny eyes and a long straight nose over a thin mouth and a thinner moustache.

He was six feet two. He was eighteen. He was a good driver, at speed, in the dark, in somebody else’s car. He liked girls. He liked music. He liked staying in bed until he showered at five in the afternoon. He liked getting off his face in clubs. He liked rich looking women. He liked it when the sky went dark over the hills. He liked fighting with his sister who he lived with. He liked his sister’s baby, called Janet after her grandmother. He liked cutting up other people’s sounds.

He finished his breakfast, looked at himself in the faux diamonte, guitar-shaped mirror with “Memories of Elvis” on a plastic plaque at its lower side. He felt the money in his pocket: ¬£200. He inspected his hair and skin, went into the bathroom and checked again, he had to steal some exfoliant, some moisturiser, his sister didn’t care what she looked like now, she was 22. She didn’t have any stuff worth using. He splashed on some water, thought about shaving, poured the hot water on a face cloth, waited a few seconds, sat on the lavatory, leant back and slapped the cloth on his face, hard. He thought about the cocaine he was going to buy.

He shaved slowly, foaming the gel on his face rather than his hands, grooming his sideburns, making extremely sure not to nick himself with the disposable Bic razor, a new one. He thought about kissing Leticia, gently, with no tongues, kissing her on the cheek and then the mouth. He thought about lying with her in the caravan near the playing fields with the speakered-up Walkman playing Gabba tunes.

He rinsed his face, added moisturiser, returned to the lounge room, lit an Embassy Number 1, it was 5:45. He needed a chip sarnie and a tequila to get him started. Tonight was a Thursday, tomorrow he was returning to London in the car, he had to get a new mobile phone from Iain tonight.

Salazar sat on the plane, happy, scruffy in a dark blue suit with claret and blue tie, brown shoes and a black belt. Drinking champagne and coffee, he played a Doom-style game on his Sony laptop. Computer games fascinated him because of the money that they were generating, he’d seen the craze grow, gone to the occasional trade show and read magazines on the subject. He’d even tried programming a game but had given up when it began to eat up too much of his time while still looking like stick figures throwing twigs that disappeared as they arced mathematically through the air.

The game he was playing was the third in the series, and came with plot as well as thrills. Game-makers seemed to have grown bored with the idea of levels, non-linearity was the thing, so he was unsure where exactly he was in the great scheme of things. Ideally, he would have liked to have been playing online, against real people who hesitated occasionally before opening fire, or tried to message you with insults-lite. Salazar never hesitated before ramming a few rounds from a chain gun into your torso. He wasn’t brilliant at this game though, he had a great deal to learn about technique, he just had nothing to learn about instinct and desire, if he wanted you dead, he would chase you down until you were dead.

Salazar’s game had been about slaughtering priests and monks ‚Äì controversy sold. He’d set it in the dark ages in Ireland, you could play monk or Viking. Or you could play the 20th Century voyager who had dropped back in time (he/she was supposed to be trying to get back by capturing one of the over-illustrated “books of the dead” that contained some incantation or other). Of course, being from C20, you brought a great deal of heavy armour as well as they knowledge to realise what “Summoneth the AK-47” or “Call ye up Heckler and Cock” meant when unearthed in one of the ancient books.

He’d done a modicum of research. He’d made sure, when scripting, to ensure that the religious tower defenders had enough hot liquid, excrement and boulders to drop ‚Äì as a nice touch he thought, they could also melt down the relics, chalices and crucifixes to pour on the heads of the giant Vikings. The Vikings, if they got close enough, could light fires around the bottom of the tower in order to cook the brothers alive ‚Äì true friars.

He’d taken the game to a friend of his in sales at a huge French software house. They turned it down, so he got one of his techie-boys to create a website for “Sword Slaughter”. This was his fifty-first website on various subjects ranging from wine to pornography via cars and football. One in five sites made him money, the rest were there to keep his boys in practice and to have the name Salazar proselytised across a wide audience.

The plane was half-empty, first class only speckled with Hugo Boss, Paul Smith, D& G, YSL, Adrienne Landau and Herm√©s, most people were travelling alone, immersed in the Financial Times, Wall Street Journal, News Week or Cosmopolitan. However, three rows in front of Salazar were two rock star looking youngsters. Euro trash from the toes up, they were also obsessing over a computer, Salazar had seen Microsoft Excel’s familiar face has he brushed past on his way to urinate. There they sat, male/female-female/male in banzai head-scarves, tasselled black suede bum-freezer jackets half covering ironic Mickey Mouse and Futurama T-shirts, and cowboy boots for fuck’s sake. Northern-Euro-Trash, the worst kind. They were mulling over figures, drinking Evian and speaking in half whispers about pointage, dollar-crosses and below-the-line calculations at the margin.

This was a world that made Salazar very, very happy indeed. He was chuckling as he sat down in the first class lavatory, wondering if they had a column for “misc instrument smashing” or “roadie stress counselling”. He thought back to his time in a rock’n’roll band in his teens. They were good, tight, had all the equipment, fights and future they could want but they split over a power struggle concerning the bass player who looked good, played well but couldn’t take orders. The camp had split much to Salazar’s chagrin, with the drummer siding with bass while keyboards and rhythm guitar went with Salazar.

What finally did for them ‚Äì aside from the politics ‚Äì was performing an horrendous gig at a club owned by Salazar’s uncle in Rouen.

They were due to start with a cover of “Eye of the Tiger”, followed by originals called “Snake Eyes Woman”, “Craftsman”, “Elegant Whisper”, “Just Gotta Play”, “Be There Girl”, “Love Is The Answer”, “War Of A Lifetime” and “Retrial”, dropping in covers of “Who’s Going to Drive You Home”, “Highway Star” and “Stir It Up” before ending with the self-penned epic, “Loved Like a Cross of Thorns (My Heart is Killed by Faith)”.

They got as far as “Love Is The Answer”, before the bass players laid into Salazar with his guitar, flat-side into his chest. Everything erupted, bouncers appeared from everywhere, dragged the bass player from the stage and beat the shit out of him. After that they lost the impetus and split up, Salazar kept some of the tapes.

He’d lost track of the game and was dead, so he ordered more champagne and a double espresso and turned to the database. He organised a search for anything to do with Kinsey and discovered the following:

West Ham United:
Bobby Moore, Bolyen pub, Chicken Run, Arsenal Cup Final (1980).

These keywords were what he could remember from his conversations with Kinsey, they each been mentioned more than ten times.

Jaguar E-Type, Range Rover, Porsche, Sunbeam Alpine, Castrol, M1 motorway, Aston Martin Lagonda.

Angela (wife), Stephan (son), Paul (cousin), Mark (cousin), Angela (cousin), Roger (sort of nephew), Lucas (sort of nephew), Harry (sort of nephew), Marion (cousin), Jackie (cousin), Cherie (unknown).

André Salazar, Angela Grass, Briony, Carl Potter, Degsy, Fran, George, Graeme Childs, Ian McDonald, Jaqueline Le Fevré, Jason, John K, John L, Johnny Driver, Johnny Smokes, Lillian, Luther Price, Mags the Slapper., Mallion, Marcus, Marlon, Marty Roth, Mickey Breaker, Nicky Grant, Paul J, Paul P, Paul R, Pauline Fletcher, Phil G, Phil P, Phil R, Raymond, Ronald, Scott Parnell, Steve B, Steve F, Steve L, Steve M L, Sue M, Sue R, Sue T, Tom (Tommo, Tommy, T)

Tofu (hates), Jelly, Rice Pudding, Steak, chips, turkey, sprouts, pizza, strawberry Hagen Daz, Lion Bar.

Angela Grass, Johnny Smokes, Luther Price, Ronald Parsons, Carl Potter, Ian McDonald, Scott Parnell, Philips, Steve M, Steve F, Richard Brown, Mr Teds, Jason-Jason, Alec Stokes, Alfred Ewing, Ron Redwood, Bobbie Bryson, Stuart Glanville, Shakar, Sulzeer Adams, Ruth Ryland, The Crawfords, Coopers and Lybrand.

Homosexuals, reggae music, new agers, Muslims, Guardian newspaper, psychologists, Millwall football club, Chelsea football club, disloyalty, absentmindedness, Christmas, Japan, creosote, celery, alternative comedy, income tax, The Sex Pistols, National Insurance, Anthony Wedgewood Benn, computers, child molesters, Hasidic Jews, Picasso, Ken Livingstone, Germans, Minis, subtitles, religion, Spike Lee, the media, Paparazzi, beggars, students, the Irish, public transport (makes him feel poor), reading.

Dog racing, eating out, Norman Wisdom, Will Hay, West Ham United, game shows (“The Price is Right”, “Family Fortunes”, “Catchphrase”) It’s A Knockout, Jaguars, Elephants, Crocodiles, England, Old Speckled Hen bitter beer, Easter, his mother, Tommy Mallion, Tom Jones, Bill Cosby, Robert Cray, The Commodores, Lionel Richie, Diana Ross, Princess Diana, Admiral Nelson, The Bee Gees, cleanliness, hashish, cocaine, stamps, “Bridge Over the River Kwai”, “The Longest Day”, “The Italian Job”, “Zulu”, driving long journeys, books on tape, history, geography.

It was a hazy database at the moment, he had to make more links, right now it was broken up data, far from being information. Salazar found that frequency analysis always seemed to throw up unexpected, but useful results and was keen to harvest what he had so far. It was annoying to him that he didn’t know Kinsey’s birthdate, it was generally irritating that he didn’t know how often Kinsey ate out, whether he did so mid-week or only at weekends. But one thing did stand out, Kinsey talked a lot but never gave anything away.

He lived alone, didn’t even ‚Äì to the best of Salazar’s intelligence ‚Äì have a housekeeper. He never mentioned girlfriends. Obviously, he was homosexual. Obviously.

The rock stars in the forward seats were arguing loudly about points off the top. One was standing, his CD-Walkman or WalkCD was still plugged into his head, and he was screaming at the top of his voice in bad English. The stewardess drifted over to them, offering calmness and serenity, attempting to reseat the tall blond man.

“Percentages, for fuck’s sake, forget the capital input and concentrate on the percentages you dumb mutha-fucka man!”

The stewardess, exhibiting immaculate technique, got as close to the standing trash as possible without seeming to aggressively invade his space, she offered friendship and smiles. Salazar watched her, directly, not pretending in the English way to avoid becoming involved in the situation, he was enjoying it immensely. The rocker slowly sat down.

“He doesn’t fucking understand you know man. He doesn’t get the big picture. We’re here, travelling in First Class, going to London, to play in London, to play a big fucking gig, and he doesn’t understand,” he was trying to gain her support, strange as he was sober. All Salazar could see from his position of the smaller guy was the back of his head shaking slightly from side to side, then turning to his companion now seated near the window.

Seconds later, the smaller guy rose, took the computer and moved to an empty seat adjacent to Salazar. He sat and muttered to himself as he flipped away from Excel and launched what looked like a C programming application but turned out to be a sequencer. Salazar looked on, the small guy turned and smiled, looked back at the computer, looked along the plane to make sure that his compadre was still sitting, and deleted the song that was on screen. He shut down the laptop, closed its lid, and folded his arms.

“That guy is a real pain,” he told Salazar in a reasonable accent.

“We all know one”, Salazar offered back.

Kinsey was skinning up now. It was good grass, fresh and herbal. He had decided not to tell Mallion about the phone call. Rather he hadn’t decided, he was pretending that it hadn’t happened. He couldn’t decide anything.

“I’ve been trying to find us in the crowd at West Ham Tommo. I’ve been watching those videos for weeks trying to see if we were in there. There are games that I know we went to, but I haven’t been able to see us. I am starting to think that maybe we didn’t go”, he formed a roach from the cardboard backing on the packet of kingsized red Rizzla paper and placed it on the lefthand end of the proto-spliff. He sat looking at the weed, it looked sumptuous, it seemed to be oozing oil, he didn’t want to add the tobacco, when he was in the USA he’d smoked tiny joints, free of tobacco, passed around within a roachclip. He didn’t like it, the joint got too ragged but he did like it because it was quick.

Tommy was sitting on the floor, leaning on one of the armchairs to the right of the TV, his head turned slightly to look at Kinsey who was lying full-length on the sofa. He’d poured himself a Scotch, it was 1:30. The floor was scattered with funsize packets, empty of their Mars, Snickers and Bountys, there were crisp packets, some orange peel and a huge bar of fruit and nut ready for eating. He was very stoned and wanted to get the giggles, but Kinsey kept going off on strange verbal marches, which knocked Tommy back into himself.

Kinsey started to cry again filling Tommy with a confused feeling that he should do something. Frankly he wanted to run, to get away, go to a pub and stoned sit reading the sports pages, drink a pint of lager, maybe buy a bottle of something and spend some time in a betting shop. He tried to find something to talk to Kinsey about.

“What about the car mate? What are we going to do about the car? We can’t have this kind of thing happening, if this kind of thing happening gets out, well we can’t have this kind of thing happening can we? What’s the plan?”

“There is no plan Tommo. There’s no plan. I don’t want the car back.”

Tommy reached out for the fruit and nut and snapped off eight squares.

Kinsey hadn’t been eating, he had no munchies, he was used to an empty space inside him and didn’t want to fill it. Tommy recalled the last time they’d come across anybody who had the front to steal from them, on their own turf.

“It was sweet, sometimes I think we should have taped it, sort of a corporate video production. I remember one tall kid, we broke his legs. We broke his knees with the corner of that blackboard.”

“And the black kid?”

“Yes, fucking yes”, this had given Tommy the biggest buzz. He knew that in the new world you couldn’t be a racist, it made limited business sense, all that NF and BNP stuff was fine in the 1970s but time had moved on even for Tommy Mallion. However, this black kid didn’t benefit from Tommy’s new capitalist liberalism, he caught the full force, he cried his eyes out.

“I don’t remember what you did. What did you do Tommy?” Kinsey stretched further not comfortably, but as if he was trying to push out some pain or other from his chest. His tone was honest, but he’d stopped crying.

“His six-fucking-pack stomach. We unpicked it. With those compasses, we unpicked his stomach muscles, we gave it some more definition.”

“We killed him didn’t we?”

“I don’t know about that Keith. We got him to hospital, we didn’t touch anything else about him”, Tom stuffed more chocolate in and wondered whether Kinsey was going to finish rolling the joint.

“He was bleeding all over the place. Did that teach him a lesson? He was bleeding.”

“For fuck’s sake Keith, that was fucking ages ago, and we’ve whacked people since then. What’s the difference? It’s not as if we didn’t know what we were doing. You planned it out, you took hours.”

“We don’t ‚Äòwhack’ people Tommy, we’ve never ‚Äòwhacked’ people. Al Pacino whacks people, Robert De Niro whacks people. We killed people.”

“Five or six people, people like us, people who would have killed us if‚Ķ” Kinsey finalising the joint, cut Mallinson off knowing how the sentence would end.

“‚Ķwe didn’t kill them first. Not really the fucking point is it Tommy?”

“Oh for fuck’s sake Keith, if this is all about your fucking conscience then we may as well fuck off to the boozer and get it out of our systems there. I’m sorry mate but this is bang out of order, it’s too late, you can’t change it, you can’t undo any of the damage, alls you’re doing is damaging yourself and that will damage the rest of us. This is stupid.”

Kinsey was really not concentrating on any of this, he’d had this conversation before many times. This was one of things that was dragging him down, over and over again, repeating the arguments, looking for where the strength would come from the weaknesses. Living alone since the death of his mother, and being bored with the television, he’d been reading a great deal. His mum had a wide selection of detective fiction, thrillers, books that made him laugh, books with detective priests, hard-bitten American private eyes, drunken English academics, old women. He’d moved onto true crime, a place he enjoyed, reading and re-reading the Krays’ biography, Hyndley and Brady, the Richardsons. From there he’d found her collection of stranger, unclassifiable books, mostly unreturned library editions ‚Äì she gave a false name, address and ID to the library ‚Äì books like “American Psycho”, “Trick Baby”, “A Rage in Harlem”, “Last Exit to Brooklyn”, “Suedehead”, “Fever Pitch”. In fact he’d found out a great deal about his mother when snuffling through her books, he’d never realised that she read so much. She didn’t seem the type, she liked a drink, went out, wasn’t a wall flower, didn’t hide what she felt, liked to get involved, drove his father away, tapped him with her wooden stirring spoon, organised the finances, took the hard line on most things. But somehow throughout all of this, she read books.

All of her extensive library were well thumbed, gone over again and again, occasionally with pencilled margin notes in an untidy hand that slid from left-slant to right, from capitals to joined-up lower case, form strong to hardly visible. The notes were often followed by exclamation marks, small doodles of faces, knives and stars, and the word “No” appeared a great deal. All in all, Kinsey calculated, his mother must have stored up to five hundred books in her room, in the loft, scattered around the house, even in the garage. But until her death, Kinsey never had her cracked up to be a reader. She’d certainly never forced it on him, anything but, she was keen that he got out of doors, active, playing sport, climbing trees, riding bikes. She never allowed him time to himself, it was almost a sin in her book for him to stay inside the house save to watch sport on the television. They would always sit together on FA Cup day, especially back in the 1970s when the day would begin at some ungodly hour with “It’s A Knockout” and “Top of the Form”, the opposing sides made up of fans of the teams that were going to compete in the afternoon’s game.

Every year would see presents of cold meats, lemonade-heavy shandy, pickled onions, eggs and gherkins, chocolate pudding, maybe a crafty drag on one of her Benson and Hedges, always the chance to swear at the TV. Kinsey’s mother would pretend not to understand the game, the players or the occasion itself, but Keith knew that when the Wembley suits had been shown off, the final pre-game interviews carried out with old heads and young star-eyes whose dream it had always been to play in a Wembley FA Cup Final in the unnatural sunshine that always came with the game, his mother would come in from the kitchen, perch on the armrest of the sofa and say: “I’ll just watch the kick-off, then I’ll have to be getting on. Who do we want to win?”

Keith would always plump for the side from the south or failing that, for the underdog. His mother would always opt for the other side when she eventually sat down, inevitably with fifteen minutes gone. Just as inevitably, she rose from her seat at half-time, disappeared to the kitchen to return with more shandy, sandwiches and rice pudding with strawberry jam and a crisp, cinnamon skin which he would save until last.

To Kinsey, FA Cup day meant more than Christmas and birthday where other people would involve themselves, randomising the course of events outlandishly, causing stress with their enjoyments. FA Cup day finished with Kinsey and all the other kids on the street, rushing outside as soon as the Cup had been raised, to replay the game in the park. Except their game lasted until the fading daylight gave way to the lights from the overlooking towerblocks. Keith, Tommy, Marcus, Stevie B, Lawrence Golder, Mickey D, strange Sarah who went on to a job in the city, Paul McGuigan (who died at sixteen) Ian Ford (who joined the army and died in the Falklands), Hughie Parks, (the musician who moved the Canada), Stuart Barlow (who never shut up) everybody. Sometimes thirty kids.

FA Cup day 1962, the Double-winning Spurs team from the previous year defeated Burnley. Kinsey was in two minds, Burnley were dirty Northerners, Spurs were glamorous London rivals, Burnley played in claret, Spurs were from London. Burnley could stop Spurs from winning the Double. Spurs could keep London on top. It was confusing, Kinsey opted, as did most of his mates for Burnley though. One kid didn’t, obviously didn’t.

Stuart Barlow had been mouthing off about Spurs this and Spurs that, he was 12, the son of an insurance salesman, all airs and graces. He’d been to see Tottenham-poncing-Hotspur twice that season, he had programs and a scarf that he wore occasionally and should have known better. As far has he was aware, everybody had been supporting Spurs that afternoon, so out came the scarf and the brags about how his Dad could have got him into see Jimmy Greaves, how Bill Nicholson was a personal friend, how he was going to play for Spurs. Give him his due, he was a neat little player, quick feet and a good left peg, he played for the school and area teams, but he wouldn’t shut up about it. Nor would he shut up about how he was going to college. So they broke his left leg. With a brick, with several bricks.

Kinsey was an observer. Barlow was taking a breather, it was seven o’clock in the evening, he’d already scored six and made about ten. He was sitting on a pile of planks on the building site that had emerged over where The Feathers used to be a few yards from the park itself. Kinsey had been decked by a bigger kid, taken out in a two-footed, sliding, plimsoled challenge that had brought tears to his eyes which he quickly dried while limping off to squat far enough away from play to be assured of not getting the ball. He looked up from his grazed shins and saw four or five older lads walking over to Barlow. Smart kids, very slick, all mohair three-button suits, parkas and early evening speed. From the look on Barlow’s face, it seemed as if he was pleased to see them, he was figuring that they’d come over to congratulate him on his victory that afternoon at Wembley. He held up his scarf with both hands, arms spread over his head waving it reverently, he was a dickhead thought Kinsey who could see it coming.

One of the parka’s grabbed his right arm, another his left, each tied the scarf tight around Barlow’s his wrists. Kinsey moved a little closer, being careful to avoid the chance of inclusion ‚Äì you could never tell how these things would turn out. Once in earshot he resumed his examination of his injuries, looking up every so often.

Barlow was still sitting down, his head arched back trying to stop the tips of his shoulder blades from touching and his back from cracking. He was almost looking behind himself, he looked like a circus freak or a still photograph of Greavsey celebrating one of the 37 league goals (a Spurs record) he’d scored that season. Kinsey recognised the 14 year old standing in front of the contorted boy as his cousin Colin Jeffers, so thin that his nickname was Razor or Razor, made even more emaciated by the speed that he guzzled in neckfulls most days. He was extremely wired, screaming at Barlow to “fucking shut up you fucking girl, you fucking Yid girl, you fucking snobby little Jew-boy cunt girl!”

Barlow wasn’t Jewish, a lot of the lads there were Jewish, Martin Miller was Jewish and he was holding Barlow’s left wrist, tugging it every so often then ensuring that Stuart didn’t topple over. Martin Miller didn’t bat an eyelid.

Razor Jeffers was stamping his left foot in some rhythm, up and down, up and down, down, spitting at Barlow about how he was always lying to everybody and how a little Yid bastard like him was only ever picked for anything because of his left foot. It seemed that Razor had a real, substantial problem with that left peg and its effectiveness. He was a clogger himself, when he wasn’t being brushed off the ball by younger kids, kids like Barlow.

But his family were strong, stronger than Barlow’s; wider, more together, louder, more popular, more accepted, more connected. They didn’t want to move away from the area. Kinsey was part of that family on his mythical father’s side, he seen the way that Razor acted at home, how his father indulged his elder son’s tempers and demands at the expense of his three sisters, two brothers and mother. It was if one child was all the man needed, the others were dragged in behind when he wasn’t looking, distractions. Colin was his lad and Colin knew it from early on. The Jeffers were well off in there way, they made their cash in the business athletics of ducking and diving, bobbing and weaving, picking things up here, “investing” them there, helping out bigger mobs, taking fees from smaller. They took up three houses on the street, spreading gently like a thick fog that you only noticed when you were in the middle of it.

Kinsey had stayed with a chunk of the Jeffers clan in their caravans down at Bracklesham Bay for two weeks every year since he was four. He got on with Colin when the older boy could be bothered to make an appearance, usually to get some cash, or get away from somebody or other. Despite the age difference – five years, vast, an entire school career ‚Äì Razor decided early on that little Keith had more spunk (as he called it then without sniggering) than any of his brothers. They’d talk, well Razor would talk, Kinsey would listen, about music, football, sex, clothes, anything that came into his mind. They’d even talk about reading; magazines and that. They tortured the odd seabird, having shot it down with Razor’ dad’s air rifle ‚Äì maybe six, maybe seven over the years. It became the event that confirmed the holiday.

Snapping off a beak here, twisting a wing, slitting the dirty white body open with a penknife, shooting out the eyes from greater and greater distances (having first pinned its wing-tips to a “No Swimming” sign with kitchen forks), removing feet, burning feathers with matches, trying to find the arsehole to split it with a Stanley knife blade (sometimes letting red ants crawl in after they’d shoved some chocolate in the widened hole), trying to locate the sex, tying it with fishing twine, rolling it in sand and petrol, lighting it, burying it up to its neck in the low-tide mud (or upside down or sideways so one wing flapped ‚Äì they’d removed the other), drowning it in crabbed rock pools, holding it to the exhaust pipe of one of the two Morris Oxfords that took the happy summer family to the coast (Razor would ask his dad for the keys, his dad would give them and then return to the Daily Mirror), frying it slowly on the engine. Hours they’d spend, “better than ants” was Razor’ comment, “better than torching ants, you can’t hear ants, you’ve just got to imagine them. Bollocks to that”.

Keith threw up the first time, Colin was surprisingly understanding, explaining that this was how humans showed that they were better; birds and animals were here to show people that they were superior. Colin told Keith what they put in sausages, how he thought it all got there. And weren’t sausages Keith’s favourite? Keith, acid throat, told him that he preferred steak and kidney pies, Razor said: “Same thing, same thing, it’s all meat, it’s all from animals, Christmas turkey is from birds, even the brown meat”.

Kinsey also had nightmares the first time, the bird came back (“they do that, little fuckers, won’t leave you alone for ages, they try all the stuff on you that you did to them, then they go away, but you’ve got to make them,” said Razor.) But the bird didn’t try the same things, it was sad, it sat at Kinsey’s feet in his kitchen at home, looking up at him and moving its head from side to side slowly.

But Colin was right about one thing at least in dreams, you could hear the bird. It told the five-year old boy about its family out at sea on a secret island that only seagulls and their friends could visit, it told him that injured and dead seabirds were carried there by their friends and families who went looking for them if they hadn’t returned after two days. It looked up at Kinsey, its wings still punctured by forks, one eye gone, it even gave off that smell of burning feathers. Boy Keith looked down, he was sitting in his high chair, like he had as a baby. Then the bird was joined by others, weeping birds, woman birds and smaller, chick-child birds all of whom went to work mending and comforting Keith’s bird who continued to explain that the wonderful, magic island was sunshiney and clear, full of laughing, playing, chicks and bird friends like lions, tigers, cows, bulldogs and elephants.

The other gulls would pick single feathers from each other and use these to replace those that had been tugged out of the tortured seagull’s body, they used grass to mop and tie its wounds, they patched its missing left eye with a glass bead, and in seconds it was complete once again.

“Would you like to come to our island?” asked the renewed creature.

Kinsey nodded, eager to get out of the chair and visit the magic place.

“Well you can’t. You never will be able to. You can’t, you can’t, you can’t”, very sombre, very harmonious, very definite. And then they all left, flying out through the walls, together in a line, wing-tips touching, feathers linking and intertwining, noiseless and effortless, they all disappeared, leaving Keith in his high-chair unable to get out, looking after the birds as they moved across the sky, dirty white, together, silent.

Kinsey looked up from his knees and saw Colin looking at Barlow in the same way as he used to look at the gulls ‚Äì all of which were buried in the same place in a box under the “No Swimming” sign.

“‚Ķlife isn’t fair you cunt. For fuck’s sake, hasn’t anybody ever told you that. What planet are you and your Jewboy family from? Course it’s not fair but fair doesn’t come into it. I do not like you. No one likes you. You stink, you get lucky, you fucking get everybody else’s stuff, you goal hang, you nick goals. And with your left foot you wanker. This left foot”, he leant down and, removing Stuart’s plimsole and sock, pushed down on the toes until the entire foot seemed to be a straight line extension of the leg.

Stuart was moaning, Kinsey discovered that many people do this under physical duress, they don’t scream much, they moan, almost as if screaming would add to the pain while moaning would soothe it. Until Razor cracked his big toe, broke it with pressure, Stuart looked him in the eye. When the toe snapped however, he threw up, the puke bubbling in his upturned mouth.

“Bend him forward fast,” snapped Razor, and then to Stuart, “I really fucking despise you, I told your mum that when I was fucking her last night and she agreed. I really fucking hate everything about you. I hate you. We all hate you. Everybody. All of us. Do you know why?”

Stuart was choking on tears and sick.

“I said, do you know why?”

Stuart made a noise, a childish noise, a whining “No”.

“Neither do I. Funny that. Neither do I. I don’t really care either.”

Kinsey figured that it was about time that the other lads had a word with Razor but none of them showed the slightest signs and recognising that this might be approaching the “Too Far” sign. The two standing behind Jeffers were looking around, eyeing up the area, ensuring that nobody would interrupt. This, realised Keith, was an ambush from the start. This was no off-the-cuff (spurs of the moment) action born from boredom or the game. This had been in planning for a while. So when Jeffers knelt down and picked up a half brick and passed it to his lefthand lieutenant, then passed another to the right before taking one himself, it came as no real surprise.

“I think it’s because you’re so fucking rubbish at everything else. Maybe it’s because you’re, I don’t know. I don’t really care either,” now standing, he lifted his half-brick over his head, “Crack or thud? Thwock! Or Pow! Zap! or Thump!? What’s it going to sound like?”

Keith couldn’t really see Stuart Barlow. He was there all right, right in front of his eyes, fifteen yards away, being held ‚Äì his arms, neck and back must have been killing him ‚Äì but Keith couldn’t see him. It was like his mother said about looking for something, that you sometimes it was right in front of your face and you still couldn’t see it. What he could see was the building site, the park, his knees, he could see his supper ‚Äì toast, Marmite, tea ‚Äì more clearly than Barlow. He could see Barlow’s legs, his arms, his chest and neck, his feet, his ears, his mouth, chin, cheeks, thighs, calves, his scarf, his grey short-sleeved shirt, his blue jeans, his socks, his vest, his pants, his nipples and genitals. But none of these elements were connected, they didn’t make a whole. It was like Keith has opened a kit for a boat and had lost the picture from the box and had no interest in finding the instructions.

The sound of the bricks hitting the boy was also as disconnected. It didn’t sound anything like the suggestions that Razor had put to his prey, and it followed Kinsey like a pop song and the seagull’s scream. It was that simple, over that quickly. Once it was done, Razor wandered over to Keith and told him to go and get some help for the poor lad who had come a cropper on the building site, “I was going to cut his tongue out to stop him talking, but I don’t think he’ll say much. Go and get your mum or someone, quickly”, he pressed the penknife into Kinsey’s hands having first wiped it clean on the black and white Spurs’ scarf.

Salazar wasn’t exactly sure what he wanted to do when he got to London. He was aware that he wanted whatever it was that enabled Kinsey, a man of such limited talents and non-existent style, to live the life he did. The paucity of fact meant that he was going to have to busk the coup rather than map it out in advance. If he was honest with himself, the improvised nature of the adventure held some appeal in itself.

He was honest with himself as often as his concentration would allow. It was a valve for him, it ensured that no extraneous information would seep out when he wasn’t expecting it. Being naturally undisciplined, he had learnt to develop a number of tricks and exercises to impose some sense of order.

What he did know was that Kinsey felt close enough to him to call from the depths of some kind of breakdown. Had Kinsey called when drunk or high on the drugs that he insisted on taking at the least opportune moments, Salazar would have noted it, saved it for later but this was different, it was a sniff of a chance. Combining the assumed breakdown with the assumed friendship was enough for now.

After a quick tour up and down the Tottenham Court Road to check for bargains ‚Äì a new hard disk, some RAM, a copy of Norton Utilities, some games and a mouse ‚Äì he checked into the Stakis on the Edgware Road. Up in his room he picked up his messages, assured himself that his mobile phone was workings properly, logged into one of his email accounts, checked two of his websites for access times, made a phone call to his chide one of the code monkey’s and praise another, sat back with a mineral water and phoned his usual escort agency.‚Ä®
He wasn’t going to contact Kinsey until tomorrow, it wasn’t as if the thug was going to snap out of things before then, let him stew for a while. Salazar thought of him as a large pig, pock-marked, over-fed and past the point where it could be served to any decent company. To cook a pig of such pedigree, you would have to add plenty of alcohol and spices and then simmer for a long while to get rid of the many impurities. Once you’d melted all of those off, you might if you were lucky, have enough for a half decent meal.

The escort agency, based locally and very discreet ‚Äì one of Salazar’s companies provided web space for it ‚Äì was busy but could always fit in a client of Mr Salazar’s reputation. He ordered up a pair of blondes, tall, one silent, small, wiry and tanned, the other muscular, French-speaking (school French), pale and tall. They came to his room fifteen minutes apart and both took showers while Salazar described them to his copy of Microsoft Word. He’d booked both for the evening and could extend his purchase of their time for as long as need be.

He asked whether either was hungry, making it apparent that he would like to eat, and both acquiesced quickly. While phone-shouldered and ordering club sandwiches, two bottles of non-vintage champagne and some chocolate, he changed into a bathrobe, indicating that he would like the taller of the two to lie on the bed while the other was to stand, naked, in the window of the 8th floor suite, back to the street.

“I would like you,” he looked toward the window, “to go down on you,” he looked at the bed, “quietly please, I would like to watch the news. Do not cum. If you think you are going to cum, stop and swap. Do you understand?” Both escorts nodded in assent.

Salazar watched the news on Sky, the switched to CNN. He didn’t bother watching the whores, merely offering up volume-control orders every so often. After ten minutes he turned back to the bed and said: “Stop now. I would now like you to have an argument about the sex. You,” he talked to the taller one,” are upset that you were not able to come, while you are exasperated about the constant whining. I will join you when I see fit. Do you understand?” They did and they acted out the scene but before Salazar could slip in between acting as the peace-maker, room service knocked on the door.

Every so often, Salazar would have asked the young hotel servant into the room, right into the melee, you never knew when it would pay off. This time however the tray was wheeled in by such an unattractive figure that Salazar merely took the cart himself, not even bothering with a tip – you could do that in England and he liked that.

“It’s time to eat now,” he ordered. Both rose from the bed, the smaller one acting the coquette much to Salazar’s disgust, “nothing kinky, just eat please. No wine either. Both of you drink water, from the tap in the bathroom.”

As he ate he thought about enabling Kinsey to destroy himself while simultaneously ensuring that he could maximise his profit from the endeavour.

While Salazar enjoyed himself, Jamie Reece was halfway down the M1, the new Motorola phone sitting on the seat beside him. He was going to meet Jake B in his flat on Berwick Street, parking had been arranged in advance. The E-Type Jaguar had a new CD player fitted, it had been resprayed to an even whiter white. Its chrome had been polished, its tyres changed, its plugs cleaned, its oil changed, its bearings greased, its alternator upgraded, its wheels balanced, its windows cleaned and its timing improved. Jamie was going to be sad to give it back, but for ¬£1,000 purely to take it up to Dewsbury, garage it, ensure that the work was done on time and then drive it back down, he wasn’t complaining. He was thinking about the money and being in London. He’d already decided to get a new flat in Leeds, somewhere near the Corn Exchange. He was going to take the DJ’ing seriously and had already tried to get some dates set up. For the first time he could remember, he was feeling young and contented.

He’d met Jake B at a rave near Stevenage six months ago. Jake seemed to be in charge of the event and was doing the rounds, geeing everybody up, checking what sounds were working, what tunes were called for, finding out where everybody had heard about the gig. Jamie had picked it up at another club in Coventry then bounced around the service stations and phone boxes with his mates. As usual he’s brought a few Gabba mixed cassettes with him to play in the car. He suggested that Jake might like to check them out for later and they got into a debate about the relative merits of Trance versus Gabba, one extreme to the other. Jake had to move on but suggested that Jamie join him and see how things happened.

Jake was called all manner of names by the people they met along the way: Alfie, Bateman, Mac, Hunter, even Maggie and he answered to all of them. He could speak to anybody from hardcore crusties to upper-class slummers, never changing his tone. After half an hour, they “repaired” to Jake’s Renault Espace and out came the cocaine. It was unbagged and packed tight in a KFC family bucket, reaching a quarter of the way up. It glistened.

“Cocaine”, explained Jake B as they sat down, “plays with the dopaminergic synapses. Dr Kim Janda of the Scripps Institute in San Diego however, thinks that he has come up with a method of stopping the effects of cocaine, including may I add, crack cocaine. He has been experimenting on rats. Despicable man. Rats are excellent animals very intelligent, not in the way that we think about intelligence, not the kind of intelligence that MI6 go after, or Alan Turing was trying to discover when he cracked the Enigma Code, of course Turing didn’t adhere to the codes that you should adhere to. Turing was homosexual. Are you homosexual? It doesn’t matter to me if you are, I have experimented with it but I don’t like it, I prefer women, there’s something about women that sparks my circuits. Women enable me to synthesise dopamine. I like that. I’ve known people from the North who are very, very wealthy. You are from the North aren’t you? Yorkshire?”

Jake spooned out a measure of coke and leant over to Jamie, putting the spoon to his nose. Jamie, already jagging out on the cheap E that he’d bought at a service station, sniffed.

“Is it any good?” Jake seemed genuinely concerned, “I bought a great deal of it from someone in Leicester, I gave her some Heckler and Cock semi-automatics and a bootleg of John Lennon and David Bowie recording Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds with obscene lyrics, they were very high. You don’t believe any of that do you? Where would I get semi-automatic guns from? Is it any good?”

“It’s fucking great man. Smooth,” Jamie was impressed.

“Have you done very much cocaine? How do you judge it?”

“I don’t get hold of much. When I do though, I go mental with it, it’s fucking great. I love it. It’s my favourite outside of E. Have you got any E?”

“I don’t like to have the stuff around, far too unorganic. It also dims the judgement somewhat. I’m glad the cocaine is good though, I was a little worried about it to be honest with you. Thank you for being my taster. What do you do for a living?” Jake helped himself to a smaller spoonful and sat back, he was enveloped by his fake-fur parka, its hood up. He pulled his knees up so he could rest his chin on them and looked intently at Jamie waiting for his answer.

For his part Jamie was numbing up quite nicely, starting to feel a little god-like, with the same kind of paranoia that gods must have.

“Do you reckon that God gets pissed off with everybody wanting stuff and that from him? If I was God, I’d have fucked off to a different solar system and invented people who couldn’t talk.”

“What do you do for a living?” Jake was chewing, his chin still on the platform of his knees so the top of his head bounced up and down inside his hood.

“I’m going to be a DJ, going to Ibiza next year.”

“What do you do for a living now?”

Jamie pulled a quarter bottle of White Cane rum out of his jacket pocket and opened it, took a swig and offered the bottle to Jake who refused it by not taking it. The last job that he’d had was babysitting for his sister for which he was paid ¬£5 off his rent. Before that, after leaving school he’d worked in a computer shop but was sacked for fighting with his manager at a party. Right now he was circling work, checking things out, running errands for people.

“I’ve got to get my decks sorted out and mix up some tunes. Mixing tunes is taking up most of my time.”

“That’s excellent, for my sins I’m tone deaf, couldn’t tell a good song from a bad one. I rely on my people to advise me of that kind of thing. You should think of me as brutally crippled, missing out on one of the sheerly wonderful senses. But that’s what I have people for. What do you think of me?” He sat up at this point and pulled down his hood. He was wearing a cerise T-shirt with “Metal Merchant Jam Buster” written across it in gothic script, the neckline was dayglo green, he had necklaces of multicoloured beads strung on leather thongs, three of them, and a silver outlined fish on a gold coloured chain. He was looking Jamie straight in the eyes. His eyes were brown.

“I don’t understand man?” Jamie was feeling grittingly high now, he didn’t want to be sitting down, he wanted to be going mental out there in the open, by a big speaker.

“First impressions are, to my mind, pointed and exact most of the time. I think you are an unemployed young man from the North of England who is reasonably well tapped into the zeitgeist. You probably have a wide experience of this country, at least in comparison to your peers. This means that your fears are not of experience. You weren’t much interested in school, as an aside you are a Taurus, you like tunes because of their immediacy, you’ve tried to learn a musical instrument, probably the guitar but have had your ambitions deflated through lack of funds. You are a youth of ambition blocked by an accident of birth that has financially disabled you. You are keen to extend yourself. You are not homosexual. You like Gabba. Your name is Jamie. Your taste in clothes is again limited by your ability to pay for them. You are not afraid to use your fists to make a point, but only as a last resort. You have never been in prison. Now, what do you think of me? It’s a very un-English question I know, but we’re all young Europeans now aren’t we?”

“Fucking hell,” this kind of directness was astonishing to Jamie who was used to answering questions with single words, and was not used to anybody asking him that one. When he thought about it in the split seconds that the cocaine allowed his brain to use, he’d spent a great many years among people whose main activity in life was to avoid that question except to ask and answer it behind its subject’s back. This was a “fucking hell” moment.

“You’re called Jake”, Jake nodded, smiled.
“You’re from the South”, again, nodding.
“You’re rich”, a shake of the head.
“You’re tone deaf”, nod.
“You’re not homosexual but you’ve tried it”, an energetic nod.
“You’re a young European”, a broad grin.
“You own a Renault Espace,” a shake of the head.

“Very good. Very well played indeed. I don’t own this Espace, I am borrowing it from my sister’s husband. Wealth is relative, poverty is absolute though, I live somewhere in the middle. I would like you to do some work for me, how does that sound? I would like you to nanny a very special car for me. It’s my uncle’s car, he loves it dearly but is busy. His birthday is approaching and, because he has been so good to me ever since my parents died in America when I was young, I would like to restore it to a state that suits my uncle’s reputation. Because it’s his birthday, this has to be a secret. If you would like to meet me in Colindale’s KFC ‚Äì that’s a northern suburb of London, I will give you directions ‚Äì next Wednesday at seven o’clock in the morning, I will give you all the relevant information and some money. Could you do this for me? I want the work done outside of London you see. I hear that there is an excellent specialist in Jews-bury. Do you know Jews-bury?”

“Dewesbury”, Jamie corrected.

“You see, I would look like such an idiot. It’s excellent that we met. Will you help me out? Does it sound good?”

It sounded so good that Jamie was now approaching London, trying to remember how he got to Soho.

Kinsey felt like he no longer had the faintest idea what had been happening. Teletext said that the time was four in the afternoon, and he was stoned, unable to stand up even though he wanted to get the to loo. The room was small, full of fluffballs, the carpet apparently shredding itself in front of him. He looked around him in disbelief that all the work he’d put in over the last twenty years had been for this.

Tatty china, a dusty television, pastel, fading wallpaper, packets of various fast food and cheap confectionary, over-flowing ashtrays and a few videos spread out amid the lads mags and juice-filled glasses. He was so stiff from having lain in the same position, leaning on one arm, pretending to look interested either in the TV or Tommy, that it was painful to sit up straight.

He wanted to do something but didn’t want Tommy to come with him, but it looked cold, windy outside, although it wouldn’t darken for another three hours he felt that three hours could pass very quickly. But he still wanted to do something even though he didn’t want to instigate it, he didn’t want to prove himself to anything any longer, he didn’t want to have to make a point about anything. Better that he lay on the sofa until they went to sleep, then they’d wake up and whatever passed for normal would remerge.

Still he wanted to do something, eat something maybe, put some music on, have a bath despite the effort required, he needed not to feel that he was lying there, dying, slipping away, not making an effort, not keeping his end up, no showing good form, not playing the game, not being one of the boys, not being fit, not being ready, not being eager for it, not being up for it, not being ready to head it, touch it on, push it out, large it, leg it, peg it, fuck it, love it.

As usual, he’d lost his train of thought and found himself half-sitting, half-standing, preparing to go somewhere or re-comfort himself. Teletext said 4:15, he still wanted to do something, he needed to retain this numb feeling rather than wasting it on the couch, watching a wall, listening to Tommy humming to himself as he watched another football video, occasionally passing a split and asking: “You alright Keith?” before hitting fast forward, chuckling, rolling another spliff, farting, snatching some crisps from the bag. He wanted to carry it out with him to the world and let it see that nothing could touch him, nothing at all, everything would bounce out, away from him, nothing would stick.

He realised that he was wearing his shoes, this would save time, conserve effort. He knew his jacket was in the hall, hanging off a brass hook embedded in a laquered mahogany panel screwed into the rawlplugs and then to the wall by brass-topped, tungsten screws. He knew he hadn’t dry-cleaned his jacket in six weeks or so, and it was starting to look scruffy which meant it would not keep the cold out as well as it should.

He could feel the cold coming into the house, the central heating wouldn’t click on until five, so autumn was creeping in like a voyeur. He was chilly, down to his fingernails, he was icing up and all he could imagine was that any heat there was must be bouncing off him, and that it would continue to bounce off him from now until he got straight again, or got even more stoned; Tommy was into the second quarter of the South African, all buds and oils sweating away in the snap-top plastic bag. Kinsey wasn’t sure, however, if he could get any more stoned, so he was condemned to get colder and colder.

There was nothing else for it, he would let himself die of the cold, maybe his body would be preserved, maybe even his brain. He could come to consciousness decades later and start all over again. He could know who he was by finding himself in entirely alien surroundings. With only blank faces and new things to stare at, he could reinvent himself as an entirely new human being. They wouldn’t know, nobody had ever written anything down about him or for him. He hadn’t been recorded, except maybe once in a band he’d played in at school but that would tell them nothing other than he enjoyed music, even in the future, people would still understand music.

He hadn’t been filmed, and his family photographs were run-of-the-mill, giving away nothing but seasides, birthdays and Christmas. He wasn’t a photograph keeper either, he lost them or gave them away. He didn’t know how he was going to begin again. Even into the future, he would know nothing, he would be a freak, he would be studied and assessed, examined and explored until they new everything about him. They would be able to find out things about him that even he didn’t know, or didn’t admit to himself of knowing.

And his fingers had gone numb, the chocolate he was trying to eat was cracking in his mouth when he could negotiate the silver paper. He was shaking again, and he was starting to feel very sick. He wanted to warm up, but he felt that if he did, he would hurl.

He looked at the faux-fire, scanned the radiators, he knew how to set them, make them work. He wanted them to work, but he couldn’t see himself doing it. He buried himself deeper into the white leather settee and looked at the television which was showing Monty Pyhton repeats; the best bits visually sampled and then stapled together to make compilations. It made him feel ill as they danced around dressed like Gumbies. He never understood Monty Python, he couldn’t get it. He didn’t find it funny, he found it confusing and disquieting, it disturbed him. But now he couldn’t take his eyes of it now.

Tommy was warm, he was wearing and open necked, dark purple shirt tucked into his light-coloured jeans which stopped just above his white Nike trainers. But he was concentrating so hard on Kinsey that he realised that more heat was called for. He didn’t bother Tom, he loved the heat, Barbados, Jamiaca, Iibiza, Florida, he loved them.

“Fancy a coffee K?”, he asked as he made his way over to the artificial real-log fire, “cup of tea? I’m going into the kitchen to sort out the central heating anyway.”

Kinsey grunted, he was controlling his stomach and even a slight effort took valuable brain time away from the task in hand. Tommy meandered into the kitchen, the speed he’d taken as insurance was slicing away at him, cutting into the hash haze. He was aware that Kinsey was stoned immobile, incapable of doing any damage to himself, or the business, and this was a comfort to him as he prepared tea and toasted cheese sprinkled with dried oregano. He had decided to get Kinsey away from town for a week, take him over to Las Vegas for a locked-on good time, the flight would relax the man, and then the sheer life to be lived out of the MGM Grand would wipe away any cobwebs that remained. Also, it would enable Tommy to arrange for things to be tidied up at work. Who knew what Kinsey had been up to in the last day and a half? But getting K to do anything that he didn’t want to was always going to be a battle. He walked back into the sitting room to find Kinsey foetal, scrunched into the corner of the sofa, his head buried in his hands, sick pooled in front of him.

“Let’s get you up mate, let’s clean you off. Time for bed I reckon,” Tom was relieved, it was ten thirty, there was going to be football highlights on the box in ten minutes, which was all the time he needed to get Kinsey up the stairs, washed and dried and into bed. He looked down and realised that they’d all felt that way from time to time. Incapable. No one else was supposed to see these moments, moments when everything fell into nothingness, when all you wanted was for someone else to come along and make everything work. People didn’t get that stoned on grass or booze without wanting this. Tommy had been like that just after his second was born. He went out to wet it’s head, got caught up in a birthday bash, went on to a house party and found himself unable to do or to want to do anything the next day when he should have been playing football. He lay around for the day and couldn’t be bothered to get out of bed. That was how he assumed Kinsey felt.

It took him slightly less than ten minutes to get everything sorted out, Kinsey was capable of walking, of climbing the stairs. Tommy showered him down, and wrapped a dressing gown around him before lying him on his side, facing away from the wall. He could feel Kinsey shaking has he shoulder-led him to bed. He left the hall light on and went back downstairs where he skinned up another joint, put his feet up on the coffee table, sipped his tea.

Jamie made heavy work of getting to Wardour Street and the car park. He was nervous about driving around the centre of London, and his fear was turned into aggression as he rushed amber lights, ensured that no one cut him up and generally voiced his concerns to all and sundry. All the time he was soaking up the London that appeared around him and the Jag. It was raining when he drove through Hampstead, the colours were saturating, apparently talking on all the water they could before the street lamps took over from the weak winter sun. Everything was crawling along the roads until the junctions when everything split at speed, looking for lanes. It seemed to Jamie that everybody else knew where they were going and had their lanes jumps timed to the last possible moment. He found himself re-tracing his steps several times having missed his exit, he found himself ferreting down side streets, all of which were so parked up that travel at more than 10mph was impossible. The rain came on heavily just as he popped out in Camden Town, he checked his directions and realising that there was still a hell of way to go, pulled over and parked up next to the markets.

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