Friday, 30 April 2010


Number one:
That Old Rat Lee Dawson

“Yids’ll do it this year”

The Black Elvis bit his bottom lip slightly and drew his eyes as narrow as one of the button holes on the fancy shirts he wore. Taking a moment, he caught the measure of Frank. The slumped shoulders, the thinning, greying hair, the furrowed brow, the chewed pen scanning over the newspaper page. Not a bad bloke. Nice even.

Nice, sure. Nice like a fed wolf.

“’Ere, Carl. I sez yids’ll do it this year. I got a feeling”

The Black Elvis poked his hat up skyward with his index finger before bringing his hands to rest in the familiar, comfortable place. Thumbs through the front two belt loops, wearing his belt from black to brown.

His jeans, though washed and pressed, had just begun to show their age. Fraying at the seams.
Never Levi.
Levi weren’t union and mamma worked the garment trade.

His lone star buckle glinted in the dull mid-day pub lighting, catching colours from the fruit machine. When he turned, it would reflect the fairy lights that boarded the mirror behind the spirit shelf, covered with currency from around the world.

500 rupees, 50 Gilders, 10 Dirhams, notes from Australia, New Zealand, Canada, South Africa. One dollar American, pried from the fingers of someone fool enough to talk back.

“I sez yids’ll do it this year. I got a feeling”
“You say that every year”
“I know. But this year I got a feeling”
“You say that every year too”
“I know, but this year...”

The Black Elvis knew better than to kick a sleeping dog, but the sky was heavy, the day was slow and the barrels were already changed.

“No one told you, Frank? You’re on the wrong side of the river to be a yid”
“You say that every year an all. Who’mI gonna follow? Hammers?”
The Black Elvis shrugged.
“Palace? Fuck off. Chelsea?”
“I’m only sayin’ is all”
“Amount of bloody gooners you get round here. How far are we from Highbury?”
The Black Elvis shrugged again.
“Only sayin’ is all, Frank”
“My granddad. From norf London, wernt’e”
Yet again Frank was looking for a fight where there wasn’t one. Frank did that a lot. The Black Elvis just shrugged again and Frank went back to his paper in silence.

The front door squeaked, letting in a sheet of light, car noise and natural atmosphere before creaking shut and sealing the microcosm again.

“Someone... Someone. Car parked outside, in ‘e. Some bloke. Look! He aint left enough space to get out. Look! Good luck getting out mate!”

John’s high pitched voice danced over the low hum of the Jaeger cooling machine that Jan had insisted would pay for itself within a couple of months. John pointed over his shoulder.


Frank slunk off his barstool and walked to the window. The two men peered over the painted flowers on the windowpane.

“That one, Frank”
“The Toyota?”
“The Toyota, look”
“Oh yeah, look. Have to be a good driver to get out of that without a scrape”
“Jan aint gonna be happy, is she? She likes to park there, don’t she, Carl?”

The Black Elvis looked up from polishing a pint glass. His eyes cut through the daytime gloom of the Star, meeting John’s eyes straight dead on.

“I said Jan’s not gonna be very happy about this, is she?”

The Black Elvis continued to stare.

“About this muppet- he’s not left enough space to get himself out”

The Black Elvis continued to stare.

“An’ his back wheel is all over Jan’s spot”

The Black Elvis continued to stare.

“The spot where she likes to park”

The Black Elvis continued to stare.

“The Toyota”

The Black Elvis continued to stare.


“No” Said The Black Elvis.

“No, I don’t ‘spose she will be”

The Black Elvis returned to cleaning the pint glass. John rubbed his hands on his chest in a downward motion, left after right after left, catching his wedding ring on one of the threads.

“It’s funny, knew someone would do something like that, I had a feeling”
“There’s a lot of that going around today” said The Black Elvis in a near whisper.
“How are you anyway, John?”
“Yeah, yeah, good, yeah, yeah”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah, cheers Carl”
“What can I get you?”
“I’ll... I’ll... I’ll have a fosters cheers Carl”
“No problem”
“Cheers Carl”
“And how’s Anne?”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah, not bad, you know, yeah”
“Yeah yeah, alright she is, yeah”

The Black Elvis nodded and smiled without smiling any. John and Frank knew it was there.

“Excuse me?”
“Hernia. She’s got that hernia. Didn’t, didn’t know what it was. What it was, had a terrible pain in her stomach. Terrible pain, you know? She didn’t know what it was and we were ever so worried and she thought it might be women’s problems but then she went to the doctor and she said it was hernia. Might have been from when Sam was born even and just got worse. That’s what I think, but they don’t know”
“Sorry to hear that John”
“Thanks Carl”
“She gonna be alright though?”
“She should be alright”
The Black Elvis laid the full pint down on a beer matt in front of John and wiped the frothing head from the side with his beercloth.

“Cheers, Carl”
“£3, yeah?”
John handed over £3

“How’s the job hunting?”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah... not really... not really too well actually Carl, thanks”
“No, I’m trying down the Job Centre but they aint got nothing for me. I mean, they tried sending me to a, wossit, a internet cafe down in bloody Croydon but then they took one look at me and sent me packing, you know, sent me packing. Too old, innI? Said I had to know about chart music. Chart music? I said. What, like the Pop charts? Top of the Pops? CDs? They said that Top of The Pops weren’t even going on the telly no more and that no one bought CDs and that it was all off of the internet now and mp3s and ipods and that. Urban, they said. I know about urban, urban is where I grew up, innit, but nah, they said. Urban means RnB and dance music and rapping, it doesn’t mean round here anymore, I don’t think”
“Ha! You, in an internet cafe?” Frank said, looking up from the sports pages.
“I know!”
“What do you know about the internet?”
“I know, that’s what I’m saying”
“Give you five minutes on there and you’d have lost all your money to some scam or something”
“I’m no good with computers”
“You’re no fucking good with much”
John looked at the floor, at the patterns, at anywhere but Frank.
“And you heard from Sam? From uni?” asked The Black Elvis, who found himself playing peacemaker almost as often as bartender.
“Nah... nah, not for a few days. Last I heard from her she’d dumped that, that, that, uh, Simon and was about to do some exams in, in, in...”

“OI OI!!!”

The door swung open and Lee walked in like a cocky knife through a shitty atmosphere.
“Yes, yes, yes gentlemen, how’s it going? Frank?”
Lee held out his hand. Frank obliged.
“Afternoon Lee”
“Alright Lee!”
“And Mr. Carl”
“Hello Lee”
“Very good to see you Gentlemen. Now, Carl, I would like A pint of Krony and a double whiskey on the side, something with a Glenn in the name should do it, and the same again for these fine lads, and of course whatever your having”

The Black Elvis raised an eyebrow and nodded, thinking he might have a Guinness.

“Bloody hell, Lee, you gone mental?”
“Much as I’m not inclined to agree with John or jeopardise a free drink... yeah, what’s this about? You knocked your granny off at last?”
“My boys, you’ve either got it or you don’t got it and I, my boys, have got it”
“Got what?”
“IT, my friend, IT”
“I heard you got it of that Shanice bird last week”
“Eye. Teeee.”
“And I heard she got it off that old rasta who sits by the bottle bank”
“Laugh it up and enjoy your drinks, boys”
“Go on then”
“Alright, I’ll give you a clue. What night was it last night?
“Yeah, Sunday”
“Fucking hell, I knew you boys were sharp but I didn’t realise I’d stumbled in on a MENSA meeting. No! Think about it, what was it last night? Only happens once a year?”
“Oscars, you uncultured twats! Oscar night, weren’t it? The red carpets, the glitz, the glamour, and for your old pal here, a tidy fucking win”
“Oh yeah, you get the Oscar for best original bullshit?”
“Better than that, my friend- 11 wins and 2,500 sheets for me”
“Fucking hell!”
“Just come from the bookies- JUST. FUCKING. LOOK. AT. THAT”

Lee threw the envelope, thick with oversized pink notes, down onto the bar.

“Think of all the wigs you could by with that, Carl- get yourself a new jumpsuit and some proper gold chains, eh- or a fucking holiday to Gracelands, see where they planted the old fat cunt, eh?”

The Black Elvis raised an eyebrow again and nodded slowly, letting the blasphemy pass.

“Or John, that’d help with your Sam’s uni bills, or a season ticket for you Frank, eh? Couple of years probably. Ha! Tell you what, lads- there’s a new sheriff in town and it aint the cunt in the cowboy hat. Yes sir, yes sir. No offence, Carl”

The Black Elvis’s eyes grew thin again as he watched the three men fix their gaze on the envelope. He could practically see them salivating.

This wasn’t good.
This wasn’t good at all.

“Go on then” said The Black Elvis. “Tell us your secret”
“No secret to tell, just backed the right winner, didn’t I? Avatar? It’ll get something, I thought- it’ll get something, but something technical. It’s long enough after the war, plus it weren’t that critical, you know, so it had to be Hurt Locker. Academy’ll be all over it I thought. Plus, woman director. Times changing, academy wants to show it’s moving on too. Push, too. Sapphire, whatever it’s called. But them taking all the ones they did? I just had a feeling. I just knew, somehow. There’s only so much you can learn, you know? I just sorta knew it. I tell you, I haven’t had a win like this since Return of the King! Cheers lads!”
Lee knocked back his double whiskey, put the envelope back in his jacket pocket and winked at John as he sauntered off to the toilets.

“I’m off for a shit”

Lee shoved his hand against the ‘s’ in ‘hombres’, opening the toilet door at a needlessly dramatic speed.

Frank went back to reading his paper. The Black Elvis could hear him breathing through his nose.

“Cor, did you see that packet? Frank? Frank? Did you see that packet?”

Frank said nothing.


The Black Elvis just nodded.

The three men said nothing, each contemplating that amount of disposable money.
Lee returned, whistling.

“Jesus, I don’t think today could get any better. There is nothing like a good shit when you’re in a good mood, is there boys?”

The three men said nothing.

“Alright, alright. It’s not like I did it out here. Awww, come on! You boys can be happy for me, can’t you?”

The three men said nothing.

“Ok, ok. I can see joy towards your fellow man might be in a little bit of short supply, but I don’t mind. I’m a decent man and I shall see you in the good times as you have seen me through bad. Carl! Same again four times, if you please!”

Lee threw a £50 note onto the bar.


The Black Elvis obliged, as was his occupation. He set the drinks down in front of the three men.

“Cheers Lee” said Frank, from the sports section.
“Yeah, yeah, yeah thanks Lee” said John, from the side of the bar.
“No worries, lads, but this is your last lot, yeah? I can’t be chucking all my winning at you alkis. Man’s gotta stand up on his own two feet sometimes, eh?”
“You what?”
“You know, man’s gotta stand up and be a man sometimes”
“Man’s gotta stand up... what in Christ’s name are you shitting on about, Lee? You got lucky”
“Nah, nah, nah, nah, nah. Skill, mate. I knew, see?”
“But you also got lucky. You’re just the same old blagger you ever was, it just paid off this time”
“Alright old man, bitter? Can’t stand that I’m making something of myself?”
“Instead of being some sad old bastard sat on a bar stool”
“Supporting some team from the wrong side of town”
“Yes mate? Yes John?”
“I’ll show you the wrong side of town”

Frank stood up from his bar stool.

“You know you’re saying about standing up and all that?”
“Yes mate”

Lee turned to John, ignoring Franks attempt at aggression.

“Does that mean you can pay Frank back that money he leant you?”

Lee fell silent.

“Well, yeah, I mean...”
“Ha! Yes indeed! Good one, Jonathan! I seem to remember it was for your rent, no?”
“How much was it? £200?”

Lee sighed, took out the envelope and began counting out money

“It was... nah... nah, you know what? Too easy. Nah”
“You don’t want it now?”
Frank chewed the end of his pen.
“Here’s the thing. If I hadn’t lent you that money, you’da got kicked out I don’t suppose”
“Well that’s what you were saying to me. Almost crying, he was”
“Oi, I wasn’t...”
“And if you’da got kicked out, you wouldn’t have most likely been able to place that bet, I don’t suppose”
“Yeah, but...”
“So you could somehow think of that as a kind of investment”
“Now hang on...”
“All I’m saying is that I’d be within my rights to claim it as some kind of investment and therefore a proper return”
“Hold up...”
“All I’m saying is I’d be within my rights...”
“Nah mate, that’s a load of bollocks yeah...”
“See, I don’t know about that, cos it’s not just me. Thing is Lee, you’re always on the scab in here, aint you? Pint here, pint there, all adds up, don’t it? You add a couple of old John just the other week, I seem to recall. Him on the dole!”
“Yeah, he’s right, you know. That money was meant to go on a side of ham for a roast, but I let you have it cos you said you’d pay me back. I got in a lot of trouble for that”
“See? And Carl, how much does he owe you? Carl?”

The Black Elvis sighed. He didn’t much like taking sides in these kind of affairs as everyone’s opinion was the right one and everyone else was wrong. It wasn’t like religion or politics or something you only thought you had some involvement in (though he had seen some nasty rows over these), owed money was something that could quickly go vicious and wasn’t as easily forgiven. Mind you, Frank had a point, he was out too and his inclusion in the matter might bring around swift mediation.

The Black Elvis reached behind the bar to where he wished a shotgun was and dusted off the hardback rule-lined book entitled ‘TABS’.

The Black Elvis reached for his eyeglasses and rested them on the end of his nose. His hard worked finger traced over page after page of agreements, poor excuses and a soft heart on his part, until he found Lee, maybe the poorest excuse of the bunch.

The Black Elvis read and muttered to himself. Two of the three men looked at him in anticipation, hardly able to breathe. John had wandered off to play the fruity.
“Well, cut off is normally a ton but since I knew Lee’s old man, I cut him off at £150”

The Black Elvis closed the book and put his spectacles away.

“See that, £150. Off someone who knew your father. And John...”
“Yes mate?”
“About you, not to you mate... and John. His family roast ruined. Probably with his daughter home from uni. Know how often he sees her? You can’t put a price on that, now can you?”
“Aldi do a good deal on pork, I was gonna go there”
“Not the point John”
“Oh. Well, don’t forget Anton, too” called out John, over his shoulder.
“Hey?” Said Frank
“H..what?” Said Lee
“ ” Said The Black Elvis, as he silently watched the conversation continue.

John held the bells and pressed nudge.

“John? What was that about Anton?”
“Yeah. Yeah, John? What was that? About Anton?”
“Hey?” John looked around. The machine nagged at him and then made a depressed blooping sound as his hold ran out and his game was lost.
“Oh” said John
“Yeah John”
“Oh. Oh yeah. Anton, he came in the other day looking for you, Lee. I think it was about the ‘you-know-what’ you got on tick. Isn’t that right Carl?”
Carl raised an eyebrow.
“John! Jesus! Shut up!”
“Oh come on, it’s not like Carl doesn’t... I mean you know, don’t you?”

The Black Elvis just stared.

“About the...”

The Black Elvis just stared.

“With the...”

The Black Elvis just stared.

“When Anton...”

The Black Elvis just stared.

John ran out of words.

The Black Elvis just stared.

His mouth ran dry.

The Black Elvis just stared.

John started to sweat. Little beads on his brow at first, then under his temple, then big bastard droplets like the ones that poured from the taps on the beer adverts. Slowly falling into an already full pint. Condensation running down its side. John tried to think of that beautiful icy beer and not the itching anxiety that cold clawed its way through his back. John knew he’d put his foot in something, but from the silence he couldn’t tell how bad it was. He just wanted someone to say something. Anything . Let him know just how bad it was so he could start apologising or making amends or something.







“What was that, John? Sorry, miles away”

The three men breathed an inaudible sigh of relief. Lee joined John by the fruity. Frank followed, folding his paper up, tucking it under his arm and taking his pint with him.

Lee leaned into John.
“So, John mate, what *exactly* did he say?”
“Oh, you know...”
“Cheers. That he wanted to talk to you”
“And how... how did he seem to you?”
“Typical isn’t it?” said Frank
“I’m trying to have a private conversation with my friend here, if you don’t mind...”
“No, no. Don’t mind me. I just think it’s a bit rich, is all. Here you are, trying to get something out of him without even paying him back first”
“Old man, would you just fuck off?”
“Alright, alright, get angry at me all you want, doesn’t mean I’m wrong though does it?”
“Fucking hell. How much was it, John? £5? £10?”
“Just think, that lovely meal they could have had”
“... £20. Score. Here you go John”
John looked up from the fruity.
“Hey? Wassat Lee? That for me?”
“Yes it’s for you, now just tell me about Anton”
“Here, Lee?”
“Aint you got any pounds? For the fruity”

Lee reached into his right front pocket and shoved a load of pound coins on the table next to John’s pint.

“OK? Now”
“Oh, well. I dunno. I guess he looked...”
“Kind of, i dunno really”
Frank laughed.
“Bit like himself really”

Frank laughed again. Lee slapped his forehead.

“What does that even mean? Was he happy? Angry?”
“I spose you might have called him agitated maybe. Yeah. A bit, wossit, agitated. Like he wanted to know where you were. Pretty urgent, like. But you know him, he never rushes about or anything like that. Mr. Cool. I mean, you could tell though”
“Oh fucking hell”
“Everything alright, Lee?”
“Yeah. No. Yeah. Fine. Yeah”
Lee stormed back to the bar and knocked his whiskey back.
“ ’nother please, Carl. Cheers”
The Black Elvis obliged, as was his vocation.
“Cheers” said Lee again.
“And again cheers Carl, thanks”

Once again, The Black Elvis obliged. The whiskey disappeared as quickly as he could fill the glass.

“Cheers Carl. One more and I’ll settle up”
“Yeah? You sure thats a good idea?”

Lee pointed at the table in front of his glass three times whilst knocking the rest of his pint back.

“You got troubles there, Lee?”
Lee said nothing.

“Now, you might find the answer with money. Maybe. One thing I do know is you won’t find it in this bottle, here”

The Black Elvis took the bottle down from in front of all that funny, exotic money once again. Suddenly, something occurred to him. After pouring, he put his foot up on the stool on the business side of the bar and leaned onto his raised leg. It was the position reserved for storytelling and educating.

“You know, Lee, way back in America in the 1800s, in the time of the great gold rush and so forth, many a man would sell up everything he owned to buy a pick, a pan and a dream of a fortune. Some knew what they were doing, knew the ways of the mountains and that art of prospecting, some had no idea and the dream broke far more men than it made. Ruined many, many lives, some of them smart and greedy alike. Sometimes there wasn’t much call for a distinction. Families too. Hit them the hardest, I’d wager. But when some knowledgeable old type knew where to mine, or some young fool struck lucky, they would take all that mountain had to give them until it ran dry. But after they had done, I’ll say it, raping the land, the good men, the men with a decent bone in them would try and undo what they had done. Take down the equipment, close up the mine and heal the wound they had left in the mountain. Pay respect and tribute to mother earth, who had treated them so well”

The Black Elvis took his foot down off the stool and put the bottle back on the shelf.
Lee took a moment to process the story, first recounting the narrative and then wondering if it had any relevance to his current situation. He did this all with a slightly lost look on his pus, aimed straight in the direction of The Black Elvis.

Lee drank his remaining drink and got up to leave.

“Uh... yeah, cheers Carl, yeah. Thanks. Uh, look, I’ll, you know, I’ll come by tomorrow and settle up with you tomorrow, OK? I’ve gotta run”

The Black Elvis raised an eyebrow and once again invested more faith in the young man than they both knew that he deserved.

“OK then, Lee”
“I will, I swear to you”

Lee patted himself down, shoved his hands in his jacket pockets and started towards the door, his hurry and swagger almost Chaplin-esque.

“Oi!” shouted Frank

Lee ignored it, continuing towards the door.


Frank walked in front of the door and held his hand out towards Lee’s chest.

“Hang on a minute”
“Hang on a minute”
“Fuck do you want?”
“You aint walking out of here, owing us all that much, with the money on you. You’re a nice bloke Lee, some of the time at least, but I can’t let you walk out not paying us”
“Yeah?” Lee swatted Frank’s hand out of the way.
“Fuck you gonna do about it?”

The Black Elvis watched as the two men eyeballed like back alley Toms and the pot that had been cooking the last hour or so began to boil over.

Frank brought his hand back up. Lee grabbed him at the wrist. John put another pound in the fruity.

Against his cantankerous nature, Frank wanted to ask Lee to stop, to reason with him, to make him see his point. But the time for talking was long over, so instead Frank punched him in the face. Lee went reeling, still holding onto Frank’s wrist and the two men fell to the ground. They both scrabbled on the pub carpet, Lee trying to make good his escape and Frank trying to stop him. Lee got to his feet and made his way towards the door, but Frank dived at him, pushing him over a table. Both men fell towards the window, which cracked, holding, but ruining the tulips that Jan had painted.

The two men staggered, huffing, dazed and cut, squaring up for another round of something neither of them wanted, waiting for the other to make a move. Blood and sweat ran down the cracks in Frank’s face, through the worries of cup finals, playoffs and the fleeting promise of victory and into his eyes. Lee’s muscles tensed and his heart pounded as he prepared for his latest gamble. John put another pound in the fruity.

Lee’s eyes flitted between frank and the door. He stood posed, ready like a cornered wildcat.
Frank’s gaze did not leave the young man and he readied himself for the next round.
John’s fingers hovered over ‘nudge’.

The Black Elvis’ hands landed on both the offending men’s collars. They both became compliant and he silently marched them towards the door.

Outside, The Black Elvis shoved them both against the half brick wall that fronted the pub. His eyes became thin and mean and he pointed at them each in turn. Tattered and torn, they both looked at the floor. There were no words that could be said, except the one they expected to hear.

“Barred” said The Black Elvis.

Somewhere in the background, they heard a procession of sirens. This was replaced by a whoop of joy and the repeated sound of metal clattering against plastic.

The Black Elvis walked back inside. Behind him, Frank dived for Lee’s inside pocket.

“Carl! Carl! Carl! Carl! Here, Carl! Look at this!”
The Black Elvis turned his attention towards John, trying to ignore the pain in the ass that was the broken window behind him.

“Yes John?”
John looked up at him, both his hands full of pound coins, as the fruit machine continued to pay out.
“Look, Carl! Look! It paid out a mint! Just look! All these months I been playing it and it finally worked”
The Black Elvis smiled.
“Well done, John. You deserve it. Good for you”

Out the corner of his eye he could see Lee holding a tattered envelope with a look of nauseous shock on his face. The air was thick with pink bank notes, taken up by the breeze.

“Good for you”

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