Manchester slingback, p.1

Manchester Slingback, page 1

 

Manchester Slingback
 


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Manchester Slingback


  Manchester Slingback

  Table of Contents

  Cover

  Title Page

  Dedication

  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  Chapter Five

  Chapter Six

  Chapter Seven

  Chapter Eight

  Chapter Nine

  Chapter Ten

  Chapter Eleven

  Chapter Twelve

  Chapter Thirteen

  Chapter Fourteen

  Chapter Fifteen

  Chapter Sixteen

  Chapter Seventeen

  Chapter Eighteen

  Chapter Nineteen

  Chapter Twenty

  Chapter Twenty One

  Copyright

  Manchester Slingback

  Nicholas Blincoe

  Thanks to Robert Blincoe, Leila Sansour, Martin Delamere, Chris Sharratt, Richard Thomas, Lisanne Radice, Jane Gregory and Peter Lavery for their help and advice.

  Thank you to Raissa Sansour for her hospitality.

  Chapter One

  Davey Green stood at the bar, loosely penned, drinking an Old Fashioned and resenting the low balustrade surrounding the bar area. A sign read: No drinks at the gaming tables.

  Earlier that evening, he’d been worrying about the state of his suit. Looking at himself in the mirror of his low-star Marylebone hotel room, he got as far as making up a rule: Never buy a thing from a place with Mister in its title. He’d been robbed by Mister Sox, Mister Fire-Surround and Mr Hi-Fidelity. Now he could add Mister Bollocks Suits to the list. But once through the casino doors, he started to relax. Very few of the punters had made anything but the most sluggish attempts to satisfy the suit spec. Most wore some kind of sports-jacket-and-matching-trouser affair. Hardly anyone of them suited with style. Quite a few were wearing towels on their heads, Ariel-white under the dimmed-down lights.

  Davey arrived in London forty-eight hours ago. What he always said, getting to the smoke was nothing but a drag. The journey was a wretch, both the ride and the come-down… riding out of of Piccadilly Manchester and touching down at Euston. Eu-stoned? You bet. The weird tinny taste of McEwan’s coloured his breath as he stepped off the train and he hadn’t sobered completely since. Forty-eight hours…

  That first night he was wearing an anorak with a cagoule hood. Eskimoed up because it was pissing down. The first thing he had to do was bag a membership card. He took a short bus-hop from the station to Baker Street, followed by a long trek down the wet streets until he found the casino doors. The law demands that all punters join a casino two full-clocked days before they place their first bet; and Davey was the law. So he paid his dues and stood in the gilded and tufted lobby while he filled out one of the casino’s stat forms. Then he found himself a local hotel and spent the next forty-eight hours in hotel limbo, limbo-dancing, porn-channelling.

  Davey leant back on the bar, keeping half an eye on the bartender. Everyone working the casino had their specific uniforms. Bartenders in dark-blue waistcoats, croupiers in a lighter shade. The pit bosses were allowed to wear jackets. The more clothes they got to wear, the higher they’d got on the casino scale. Right at the dizzying peak was Jake Powell, the manager. He got to wear an evening suit… and a good one.

  Davey called the bartender over, nodding his head slightly so the bartender would follow his look.

  Over on the far side of the room, Jake Powell was moving between the tables, like a prince caught under alcove lighting.

  ‘You know that guy Jake?’

  The bartender was unsure, not knowing whether Davey was asking a question or beginning a sentence. ‘You mean Mr Powell?’

  Davey just winked. ‘Me and him, kiddo, we go way back.’

  The bartender looked doubtful, but who could blame him? Compare one with the other: Davey Green and Jacob Powell, one looking like shite and the other definitely not. Davey hadn’t seen Powell in almost sixteen years. If he wanted to mark the changes he could say the lad had put on some weight but, then again, he would have had to. Anyone over six foot couldn’t stay ten stone for ever. Powell was still slim, around thirty-four years old. And he had the advantage of the only well-thought-out suit in the place.

  Davey told the barman to line up another: ‘I’m just off for a slash.’

  The lavvies were something else. Black marble with gold trimmings, every surface a reflecting pool angled to catch Davey’s bad points. You want them enumerated? Davey took a long hard look and decided he was being too hard on himself. What he looked like was just a little worse for forty-six years’ hard street wear but it was nothing to skrike about. All it meant, he was sometimes underestimated, sometimes overestimated. It was what you’d call situation-sensitive, and either way he could exploit it.

  There was a young Arab kid standing at the washbasins, splashing water into a loser’s face, his hands shaking so much the water was squirting everywhere. By the time Davey joined him at the basins, the marble was dripping but the kid was semi-dry and ready to go on his lonesome way… although he wasn’t yet out of trouble. A step from the exit, he ran up against the lavvy attendant who was armed with a canister of eau-de-cologne. Davey heard the hiss as the poor kid was hit by a quick-burst spray, followed by the clink of coins ringing off the attendant’s plate: the lavvy man’s tip. Judging by the sound, it was nothing more than bus-fare but the kid looked wrung out. Worse off than before, and now he didn’t even smell so nice either. When Davey came to make his exit, he was already lavvy-savvy. He hammed up a sign of the cross to keep the perfume vampire away. But he tipped the man all the same.

  His latest Old Fashioned was sitting on a casino own-brand circle of tissue paper. Smiling up at him. He took a sip and called the bartender over. ‘Tell Mr Powell to step over, will you. I want a word.’

  He got an ‘Okay’, followed by a mumbled ‘Sir’. Seconds later, he saw a waistcoated messenger float across the floor and approach Powell with a backward nod towards Davey’s spot at the bar. Powell took a look but registered nothing. Perhaps he was too far away to recognize him – good old Detective Inspector Green. It was sixteen years after all… and Davey wasn’t an inspector back then.

  Powell took his time, keeping to a slow stroll, and even pausing to talk to a member of his staff en route. When he eventually squared up to Davey, he said: ‘Can I help you, sir?’

  Green smugged him out. ‘It’s been a while, Jake, lad. But, yeah, I reckon you can help me out again.’

  Powell showed nothing, just calm, as he said: ‘I don’t think so.’

  He delivered the line with a casino smile and a wave to the bartender. ‘We like to make the first drink complimentary for new members. Though it’ll have to be the third in your case. Good luck at the tables.’

  Powell turned and walked away. Davey hadn’t reckoned on that, the lad coming over so suave. In the time it took him to walk over, he’d found out Davey was a new member and was finishing his second drink. Even worse, he’d also guessed this couldn’t be an official visit, not if Davey had gone to the trouble of putting his name to the membership list.

  Normally, Davey Green relied on presence and sleek wit. Above all, the ability to scare the shit out of people like Jake Powell. But there was his first mistake, assuming Powell was still the same kind of person, still not quite a grown-up. Haring down to London half-cock, Davey just hadn’t thought it through. For the kid to run a busy casino, he must have had some kind of temperament transplant.

  Davey started after him, catching up by the second roulette table. ‘You don’t think you’d better take me to a private room, find out what’s on my mind?’

  ‘No.


  ‘What if I cause a scene?’

  ‘That’s why we have security.’

  ‘Maybe if I started by saying you offered me your arse over in the lavvies.’

  ‘I’ve had worse said about me. This is a casino.’

  There – a fragment of his Northern accent showing through. But it didn’t give Davey anything to work with. He decided to regroup.

  *

  Jake watched as Davey Green swivelled and rolled and headed back for the bar. Looking at the back of the man’s head, Jake felt his own pose slip a little.

  A girl, one of the waitresses, caught his look. ‘Are you all right, Mr Powell?’

  ‘Mm.’

  ‘You look like hell.’

  ‘This is hell and I’m in it.’

  Over the next hour, Jake took another turn around the tables, always careful to keep his back to the bar. This should have been an all-sorts night, a mix of weekend punters, social gamblers, fun-lovers and all-out addicts. The bigger the mix, the more the different styles worked to dilute the overall ambience. But tonight it seemed that not only was everyone losing, everyone cared about it, too. You could feel the fretting in the air. A single note, close to the head, bouncing off the tables like a scream.

  A woman with bruised luck held a chip over the number twenty-three, then veered off for twenty-eight. The bet made, her fingers fluttered away, casting uncertain shadows on the last of her last chips. Next to her a fat man was cropping his pile with pudding fingers, craning the top half over the baize to cover the junctions of three separate four-number bets; the remainder pushed with his free hand to cover the deuxieme twelve.

  The croupier dinned out the order, ‘No more bets,’ and swung the wheel like he was doing it in his sleep. As he released the ball, a punter in a white suit dropped five blue chips onto the table, calling a bet on the quarter of the wheel around the zero.

  Jake shot a look over to the pit boss, not so much because the bet was late but because the croupier had managed to hypnotize himself. One of Jake’s jobs was to keep the somnambulists circulating, make sure they never settled into everlasting repetition. Into anything predictable. The pit boss caught the look and clicked his tongue at the croupier. The boy jolted awake, called the number twelve, and settled the bets before withdrawing from the table.

  White-suit had guessed what was happening even before the number came up. Now he was shouting that he wasn’t going to be fucked about, he wanted his lucky croupier to stay. The pit boss gave the standard apology: it was time for the boy’s break. But it didn’t go down; white-suit had a stack of imagined slights and a Bible’s worth of rights. Wanting to know what they thought they were pulling on him? Acting like he expected them to chain the boy to the table. The guy should have known he’d blown it; shouting only fractured the peace. And, once that happened, there was no chance of any rhythm reasserting itself. White-suit had hexed himself. Just another proven loser trying to bid up his luck against the weight of the casino.

  Jake gave him a moment, hoping the truth would dawn on him before it was a matter for security. It worked. The guy stopped, glared round and shut up.

  Finally stomped off for the bathrooms. Whatever was going through his head, he was beaten. Maybe later he would see another fragile spiral of predictability and hope to ride it out.

  Jake kept an eye on him as he marched across the casino floor, only losing him as his trajectory crossed with Davey Green’s. The policeman had left the bar and was wandering among the tables.

  The rest of the night, Jake was trailed by bursts of Davey Green. The man pumping out a stream of bullyboy northern comic patter as he chose the best locale for his lonely chips. No one had ever gone to such trouble just throwing twenty quid away. A small man, nicotine-yellow face and watery eyes, but he kept up the club-comic act to the end. Over at the cheapshot roulette tables, Jake heard him talking to the girl croupier, saying: ‘I tell you what, it looks like I’ve had me fucking chips, what do you reckon?’ Even singing: snatches of early Kylie and, one time, starting on Dead Or Alive’s ‘You Spin Me Right Round’.

  There was a woman in a sequinned jumper, padded shoulders and juggernaut earrings standing next to him. Green looked her over, winked and said: ‘You feel lucky, missis? ’Cos I tell you, I feel like a lucky little punk.’ Jake carried on doing his job but was not so engaged that he didn’t notice Green leave. It was about three in the morning and the man was telling the world that solitaire was the only game in town, the words slurred into a drunk chug-along as he made for the exit. He wasn’t the last to leave, but it was close. The casino was emptying down to the last few freaks all chasing despair like maniacs. Jake hated that he was so good at his job. Keyed to the main chance, making it sit up and work out. If he yawned at the other side of the room, he could send the balls or dice into a spin. Maybe it was a disease. Wherever he went, he shrugged through the chaos that ripped other peoples lives apart, just like it was nothing. Leaving him in his own little black hole: nothing but pure depression. Jake was sunk deep into it by the night he left Manchester. He kept with it over the years until it had outlasted the drugs, the alcohol and all of the cigarettes he’d given up smoking. Recently he’d begun to think about Prozac, but could never make it to the doctor’s for a prescription because he worked nights and slept most of the day. All he knew – the great joke – was that everyone he met wanted to be more like him.

  The bartender came rushing over. ‘Quick, the toilets.’

  Jake started running, without knowing the problem. It had to be bad. He saw the brush first, lying on the carpet feet from the gents’ door. Another two paces and he saw the attendant, stretched out on the marble floor with blood washing out of his face.

  ‘What happened?’

  ‘That guy – the nutter in the white suit.’

  Jake knelt down, finding the bump of a pulse in the man’s soft neck. The move left a tacky residue of blood on his fingertips, musky and sweet from aftershave. The bottle was shattered, leaving only the pump-cap: its silver snout and plastic-tube tail making it look like an alien bug crawling on the tiles. Jake looked back to the old man and saw the splinter of porcelain embedded in the gash below his eye, a fragment of the china saucer the guy used to collect his tips.

  ‘Anyone called an ambulance?’ Jake was up and already moving for the door. ‘An ambulance – do it now.’

  Baker Street was empty, nothing but the full-length reflection of the streetlamps and soft young trees in the rainwater road. Jake looked up and down, and ran for Portman Square; it opened up ahead of him, empty. Sidetracking, he crossed the road, trying to listen for the sound of an engine or the squeal of a taxi brake, anything to pinpoint. To chance. When he caught it, it came from the mews behind the burnt-out kosher restaurant: the beep of a car alarm and the flash of a white suit. Jake came running, keeping to his toes. The guy heard him at the last second, and turned to get a punch full to the face.

  Jake dummied the first kick, putting it high into the guy’s chest because the balls seemed too quick. Better to leave him with the taste, pause for his sight and breath to return, then just begin over, working him over. The guy reeled as he caught a back heel to the side of his head, an elbow driven into his chin. Then an almighty hoof square to his gut that lifted him off the ground. As his body flopped to the cobbles, Jake was thinking: break his fucking spine. One time with a boot heel, just fucking stomp it. But he stopped himself in time.

  The man had left his car keys jutting out the door lock. Jake opened it up and took a look around the leather-upholstered lux interior. There was nothing he wanted, nothing in mind but finding his bearings and running through the odds. Maybe he could fake a car crash. The guy ran himself over, m’lud. There was a briefcase under the passenger seat. Jake flung it out, making sure the steel-tipped edge bounced off its owner’s head. He flipped open the glove compartment, a London A—Z, a bottle of Admiral eau-de-cologne and a cheap electronic calculator, freebied and discarded, blazened with the nam
e of an offshore banking outfit. Jake took the cologne and walked back to the body.

  He put a few boots into the man’s ribs, waiting for him to curl into a ball before kicking him over. Kneeling on the cobbles, Jake grabbed a handful of hair and started working with the atomizer, pinching the man’s nose tight-closed as he sprayed the syrupy gunk over the back of his throat. The man thrashed; Jake just shifted his knee to the guy’s chest and kept pumping. The guy’s eyes started goggling. Jake sprayed them too, as much to give him time to swallow as to blind him.

  The perfume smelt sulphurously volatile behind its saccharine sweetness. Jake could set either the man or his car on fire, though it might attract attention. The fire-station was two blocks away. Anyway, he was beginning to bore himself now and he couldn’t think of an easy way to end it. All he could do was walk away; leave the man gagging and thrashing on the road. A slo-mo thrashing after the beating.

  Ahead of him, someone said: ‘Nice one, son.’

  Jake looked up to the narrow entrance of the mews, between the shadows of the buildings.

  A Manchester voice saying, ‘Why didn’t you just fuck him?’

  Davey Green stepped out of the shadow. He was wearing a quilted schoolkid’s anorak with the collar turned up. The crowning touch was the thin nylon hood, close to his scalp like a swimmer’s cap and pulled tight with a draw-string. He looked like a novelty condom, but he seemed happy in himself. Saying: ‘Come on, Powell. You know we’ve got to talk.’

  Chapter Two

  1981 oh yeah…

  …Jake was heading for the boys’ room when the drag act started in the main bar. Sean and Fairy stayed behind, hutched into a corner booth with two other geezers: one elderly, one not so. As Jake stood, the older guy twisted in his seat and pinned his gaze on Fairy, saying: ‘Now your friend’s going to miss all the fun.’

  Fairy threw Jake an arch look and said, ‘He’ll be back.’

  ‘Oh, don’t let him rush on my account.’

 
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